The Clapping Water
And the Fairest of Twelve at the Shimmering Lake
Hey, guys. Another Realm Story. Same as the other two, and pretty old. We’ll see. Hope you enjoy.
An ocean breeze calls forth the feeling of comfort. The feeling of warmth and of a directed love. The sound of the birds calling in the gray dawn is like being awakened by a loved one, warning or berating, but still… kind and caring. The feel of wool is like love at first sight, that is the reason so many hate it and still others love it. The taste of a sour berry is like good words, they sting, though they are sweet morsels. But the sound of clapping water is like no one sense. It drives a feel of horror, of actions beyond our control. Most of all, it beckons us to feel, hear and taste our own failure.
Sir Jamon knelt by an old man. His neck was bleeding profusely. Jamon didn’t need to feel for a pulse, he could see one.
The gray-haired peasant heaved. A splatter of blood gurgled from one of his chest wounds. “They took the lady.”
“The daughter of the chief.”
Jamon didn’t need to know anything else. A skitter went down his spine. He looked up. The cottages were burning. Fallen were everywhere and the surviving few wept beside the prone bodies of their loved ones. Tanned yet ashen skin was baptized in blood. The blood giving way to tears. The world was not an innocent place. He looked past the flames. A cool wind swept through the oaken boughs of the trees beyond. Jamon felt a weak grip on his arm.
“Save her. By the code of your knighthood and the glory of our God, save…”
The pulsing fountain became a calm stream to the ground. Jamon ran his gloved fingers through it. He stood quickly, spun around, and whipped out his sword.
“Will justice ever be wrought?!” A starved woman cried out to the cloudy sky.
“Today it will.” Jamon placed his hand on her shoulder. “Who was it that did this killing, pillaging and burning?”
She whirled around. Seeing his full armor and shining sword, she dropped to her knees. “Kill them and save the lady.”
“The worshipers of the bronze serpents, Nehushtan. They have killed my family and taken the lady.”
“The chief’s youngest daughter, the fairest of the twelve. Follow them east, to the shimmering lake. We need her to guide us now that her family is gone, and she is a beautiful lady for any knight.”
Jamon ran to his horse and leapt upon it. The mare lurched forward with her muscular flanks tensing. Jamon ducked on the saddle and she drove into a gallop. As the storm wind eddied through the tall trees, Jamon kept his horse going. He wouldn’t stop. The Shimmering Lake he knew, but of a group of serpent worshiping marauders, he had no idea. Jamon wondered what they wanted with the lady. His horse jumped a log and lightning struck in the distance. He feared though, that he knew what they wanted. He recalled the words.
Whenever animal worship is involved, the lives of humans are the sacrifice.
He had only heard it said once, but he had seen it often on his travels as a knight. Jamon pushed his horse faster. He had to hurry.
Serpents were common in his part of the realm, often found in secluded areas and clustered together. One could never be too prepared. Any new place. Any unusual stream, cliff or forest could be home to a dragon that was best discovered before dead. They bred and morphed rapidly, creating an everchanging and elusive predator. Jamon peered ahead in the dark of the cloud cover. He caught a glint like the wing of a beetle. It was green and moving. And it was wide. The Shimmering Lake.
Sir Jamon dove off his horse, tethered her and moved into the underbrush. He advanced slowly toward the lake. He could now hear the water hitting the shore. It sounded like the beating of a heart. A heart of evil. A pulsing wickedness. Jamon shook off the inclination but the connation never fully fled. It sank into his mind, embedded like a dagger. He swallowed and moved onward, breaking from the brush in a reel that left him on a silver sanded beach. Instantly his feet sunk down a handbreadth. He looked around.
To his right, his eyes followed the soft turf until he came to a small port like village. The shanties were decrepit yet occupied. He could see a large crowd of people swelling outside the buildings. They surrounded a group of horsemen. Jamon could see even from the far distance that they were celebrating the raiders and their plunder. Among them, the leader, a large man with a braid of black hair led another horse. On it was mounted a woman. She was a princess. He could tell even from the distance her regal form and perfect shape. Her hair had to be purer than gold and shone like the sun even as the flying rain beat down on it. Her lips could have been fire.
Jamon swallowed. He had to find a way to save her. Maybe they would place her in a hut for a while before the sacrifice. He could save her then. But as he watched, she was taken from her horse and walked through the town. The citizens split respectfully. The black leader came to her side and pointed toward the water. Before him, across the choppy waters, Jamon could see about a hundred feet from him and the shore to the village, was a small island. Though only the size of a hut, it stuck out of the water like a gray blister. In the center was a massive wooden beam, its purpose he could guess. He turned back to the lady. The man with black hair tried to move forward again, but she refused to walk and fell to the sand. He easily yanked her to her feet and carried her to a small boat. A party of men joined him in the cutter, and they began to cross the rocking waters. Jamon shifted and ducked behind a tree as the men came nearer to the island. They docked and placed the woman on the stone against the wooden beam. They tied her to it. Water plumed behind the cutter as the oars hit the waves. He fell back against the tree. What could he do? When would the dragon appear to devour his appointed meal? Now? Days later?
It was about two hours before sunset, though it would be darker than night before then. He looked back at the cutter. As they returned to the village, large chunks of meat had been thrown into the water. But nothing appeared. Nothing but the clapping waves. Jamon stared. There was something.
He could make out a serpentine body. Hundreds of serpentine bodies. The black reflective of their tails would flick up and slap the water. Even from the distance, the sound of the clapping carried in the wind. The lady had turned her head. She could see him. And she beckoned. The wind tore at her hair. It whipped her face.
Jamon stepped toward the water. He could save the princess while the dragons fed. But he couldn’t. Jamon placed his boot in the water. The force of the waves hit up to his knee. He took another step into the water. His last. The water before him shot up. The black scaled beast had rows of handlike fins. It reared up to his height and snapped at him. He leaped back, falling onto the beach. Its triangle head shot forward and snagged his boot. Jamon let him have it and fled backward. But the serpent ventured no further into the sand. Instead, it sank away.
Jamon shook. He had not even thought to draw his sword. He looked up and watched the princess. She waved frantically. The sun was setting fast, and the waters of the lake were rising. Jamon reached up and unlatched his breastplate. He stripped off all of his armor. He kept his jerkin, tunic, and pants on, but pulled off his other boot. He replaced his belt around his waist and kept his sheath and sword. He wasn’t going anywhere without it. He returned to the water and stepped in. This time three dragons rose out of the shallow area. He drew his sword.
Jamon jabbed at the first. It evaded his blow and snapped at him. He stumbled in the murky water but managed to bear his sword against the strike. It glanced off the serpent’s neck and it didn’t retreat. But it didn’t attack either. He squared off with the three, but beyond them he could see hundreds of other snake bodies surrounding the island. He glanced back at the three. A serpent shot forward and clamped onto his leg. He hacked at the jaw of the beast. It released. But the head of another was aimed at his chest. It slammed into him. He flew back.
There was a thunk as Jamon landed on the beach, digging a furrow with his shoulder. His head hit against a solid tree trunk. He tried to sit up, but his vision blurred, and he vomited. He tottered backward.
“STAY AWAKE, KNIGHT!”
He pushed himself to his feet. Jamon swooned and knew no more.
Slowly the world came back. His bare feet were being lapped by the water. A scream. Jamon flew to his feet. But now he remembered his hopeless plight. Lightning struck and lit up the dim night. Rain fell like a drowning waterfall. Another long scream. Jamon took a step toward the lake. The tide had risen. He stepped in the water, no serpents interrupted him. There was yet another anguished scream. A bolt of lightning fell. For the only millisecond, he could see clearly across the clapping waves. The lady was on an island of moving serpentine bodies. They were consuming her. Jamon began to move. The next scream ended abruptly. They had won.
He waited until the next flash of lightning. The snakes swarmed all over the pole and the rock island. He turned and ran back to the shore. He felt it coming. Like a tidal wave, the swell of defeat, of failure, of cowardice, pounding his soul. He stumbled onto the beach. Sir Jamon drew his sword and hacked at a tree branch. He whirled and flung the blade into the water. He couldn’t see it, but he could, over the roar of the storm and clapping of the waves, hear it splash into the murky water. Rain pelted him and beat down his hair. He didn’t care. Jamon turned and ran, weeping tears to mix with the rain.
The storm calls us to face the challenge. The screams of the innocent, to take up the challenge. The serpents, to fight the challenge. The clapping water, to lose the challenge.