Capstone

Capstone Eric M. Bahle July 12, 2008

The High Priest Goram surveyed the crowd of onlookers beyond the outer circle. He searched the upturned faces for doubt and it wasn’t hard to find. Many of the people hadn’t even been born when He Who Fell From the Stars had come to them. They hadn’t seen the fiery trail as the star fell, blazing into the mountainside.

Goram himself was still a boy and just an apprentice to the old shaman Tor, there had been no High Priests then. After all these years though he could recall in vibrant detail the swath of destruction. They followed a great furrow of earth to the star’s final resting place. Great fragments of the star were scattered everywhere and Goram’s hand was still scarred from where he touched one, unaware of the intense heat it still held.

When they came across the stargod for the first time there was some difference of opinion on how to proceed. Tor felt that such a visitation from the heavens was an unheard of blessing for the tribe. He was sure that worship should start immediately to gain the favor of the stargod. Bran, the chieftain was a little less impressed with an unconscious god flat on his back and bleeding from several wounds.

He motioned to one of his warriors who moved forward and raised his stone-headed club. Goram had often wondered what things would be like today if the god hadn’t woken up. If he hadn’t managed to scramble backward and reach the weapon at his belt. Goram couldn’t remember the warrior’s name but there wasn’t much left of him and Bran decided worship might be the way to go after all.

The stargod was a study in contradictions. He was head and shoulders taller than any of the tribe but thin and weak looking. Despite the apparent weakness his wounds healed quickly and now, years after Tor and Bran were both dead, He Who Fell From the Stars showed no real signs of age.

The stargod had neither bow nor spear. He carried no club, no knife even, but the weapon he did carry was impossible to stand before. Many had died beneath its gruesome power before the neighboring tribes had been subjugated and joined in the Great Labor.

At first it was a challenge just to communicate. The god refused to wander far from his star and Tor had the whole village relocate to the mountainside. It was most of a year before Tor and He Who Fell From the Stars learned enough of each others’ language to have even a basic conversation. Goram, perhaps because he was young, had shown a talent for learning the stargod’s language. That, he knew, was the reason he had so much power now; not any inherent skill as a shaman.

Goram’s tribe worshiped, fearing the death-hurler he wore, but most were convinced the god was deranged. He spurned most of the gifts and sacrifices. The finest amber and copper didn’t interest him. He showed nothing but scorn for their finely knapped flint spears. He did take the women but only after they had been dunked in the river and vigorously rubbed with something the god called ‘soap’. He wandered around his broken star with his strange amulets and fetishes.

Even after he learned the star-language, Goram understood little of what the god said. He claimed that he was somehow riding inside the star and compared it to the hide covered coracles that some of the tribes used to travel the rivers. When he said this Goram would always nod as if he understood but then he would look at his scarred hand. How could a boat made of something so hard and heavy float in the sky? And yet, here Goram stood, searching the skies for just such a boat. He Who Fell From the Stars (or as he insisted Goram call him, Vik) was certain it would come and carry him away.

It had started years ago. The god had started walking up and down the hills, ranging out farther and farther. One day he had returned to the village shouting about ‘geodetic energy flow’. Old Tor had told Goram about the hidden lines of power in the land but Goram had never felt them. The stargod had followed one down out of the hills until his amulets told him they stood over a great cluster of intersecting lines. To Goram it just looked like more grassy plain but thus began the Great Labor.

Most tribes had to be subjugated and convinced to take part. Vik used the death-hurler over and over and many died. Eventually Goram convinced him they could get the people to work more willingly. If they helped the god build his ‘signal focusing array’, the god could share the wisdom of the stars in exchange. It worked, more or less. Goram had spent much of his time during the Great Labor convincing chiefs that they were still important and that the star-wisdom would be worth it. Goram wasn’t entirely convinced of that.

It was true that Vik had taught them how they could move the giant stones and raise them with ropes and complicated contraptions called ‘pulleys’. The stones were unimaginably heavy and everyone was awestruck when they succeeded in placing the first lintel stone. But most of Vik’s wisdom was on the movements of the stars and Goram noticed that this helped Vik send his ‘distress signal’ more than it helped the tribes.

Then there was the star-water that Vik taught them to make. Goram had outlawed drinking the star-water during daylight after six men died. They were crushed while trying to raise one of the standing stones while under the star-water’s influence. They still fought at night when they drank it but that didn’t affect the Labor.

Goram looked away from the crowd and toward the ‘array’. It was magnificent. He had to admit that. Only stone of a certain type was good enough for Vik and the gathering of it had been a great difficulty for it lay far away. Goram let his eyes rove around the outer circle to the great inner circle. If Vik was right this focused the energy that the outer circle was gathering from the earth and sent it…somewhere.

Goram wasn’t sure what he believed anymore. He turned to He Who Fell From the Stars. Vik was the only one besides Goram who wasn’t looking up. He didn’t look worried and this convinced Goram that a message had been sent. Goram was the only one with a real command of the star-language and he used it now.

“It’s true isn’t it?” he said. “It’s coming to take you away.”

The stargod opened his mouth to answer but a loud screech split the air. Everyone looked up and there was the star-boat. It didn’t look anything like the coracles but Goram understood that it was indeed some kind of craft. It descended rapidly and stopped dead before hitting the ground. It hovered and there was a pulsing sound, quiet but already Goram’s head was hurting from it.

“There’s my ride, Goram,” He Who Fell From the Stars said. “Looks like this is good-bye.”

Goram looked around at the throng of tribes. Everyone of them had prostrated themselves at the appearance of the star-craft. There were no more doubtful faces. “No more wisdom from the stars?”

“You don’t like me much do you?”

“I won’t be sorry to see you leave, Vik.”

“I like your honesty,” he said and laughed. “And I always liked you. You’re smarter than these–”

Vik waved a hand at the people facedown in the grass and used a word in the star-language. Goram didn’t know what an ‘ape’ was or why you would want to shave one.

“Well, I do have some more star knowledge for you.” Vik opened one of the casks he had gathered around him for his trip. He handed Goram two heavy lumps.

“You know what that is?” Vik asked.

“A piece of copper and a piece of tin.”

“Correct. And it’s hard work to mine and smelt them. But it’s worth it because if you mix them together you get this.” Vik removed a knife from the cask and handed it to Goram. Goram thought of it as a knife but it was big, as long as his fore-arm at least, and heavy, though the edge was keen. It was clearly a weapon meant for a powerful warrior.

“What am I supposed to do with this?” he asked.

“You’re smart. You’ll think of something. Here.” Vik tossed him the death-hurler. “That ran out of power years ago. Nobody needs to know that but you and me.”

Goram stood for a long time after Vik was gone. Eventually the people stood as well and milled around pointing at the sky and at Goram in the stone circle. Goram knew it would be awhile before anyone worked up the courage to approach the circle but that was fine. Goram needed the time to think.

 

About Eric Bahle

Eric Bahle stopped going to his real job so he could be a full time digital author and storyteller. He loves being in the woods with his bow or on the water in his kayak. He lives in Pennsylvania with his lovely wife and a mongrel dog. He is working on his next bestselling story.