The Black Monks

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The Black Monks

The red tailed hawk swooped down and latched its talons on the small squirrel. Soulewine halted; the hawk met his gaze even as it held the squirrel in its grip. Soulewine waited. The hawk’s necessity for food far outweighed his need to move along. The squirrel gave a few helpless gasps, maybe its body relaxing into death. The hawk kept its gaze on Soulewine, its hunting skills no doubt telling it to ensure the prey was dead before flying off, his presence not helping with the hawk’s need to wait. In less than a minute it was over. A powerful flutter of wings and the hawk was away with its food.

So soon from life to death was what he had been thinking about before this surprise encounter. Some by chance, some by design, some inexplicable, some as ordinary as a dying fruit upon the vine in late autumn. Did death even matter? Was it all not but a circle, like the seasons, birth, growth, decay, and death again? So, why did any cycle matter any more or less than another? He was playing with himself of course. No one cycle was the same as any other; and any farmer knew to vary the crops in a piece of land, as the sameness would soon deplete the land to where nothing worth eating would grow. Was one cycle more important than another? Had he but lived the one, it might be an easy answer. And if he had, was his merely a bigger circle embracing the many for the others? He smiled now as he continued walking up through the foothills.

There was a question. What was a circle? An important question. He had passed the tree line, he noticed. He stopped and looked at the sky for any sign of his hawk. But the sky was clear and empty. He set his gaze to the mountain ahead, snow about half way up, even as they were in the late throws of summer; a cold and forbidding place, that mountain.

His staff resonated a trickle of energy, sending out a little more warmth, a smattering more heat to compensate for the low burn of his relaxed pace against the increasing drop in temperature as he climbed. He would reach the summit by sundown; anytime sooner and he would in all probability meet with the same fate as the small squirrel, though he doubted they would offer him such a quick death. They knew he was coming of course, but they liked to stay in their mountain fortress, and they knew he would come to them; all they had to do was wait.

All cycles did not have the same importance of course, nor did they have any particular formula for what might be the start, the middle, or the finish. Seasons might be predictable to some degree, but the great cycles were not. Which left no measure as to witness if a cycle was nearing its ends or merely expressing some nuance of purpose and design that only history would decipher, should any tidbits of memory and attachment be allowed to remain. It rarely was such the case.

He knew one thing, the death and destruction was not over: neighbor turning against neighbor, fires, earthquakes, floods, droughts, terrible storms, all on the increase to where no one felt safe; even the animals were beginning to disappear, whether death had taken them, or they were in hiding, no one knew for sure. The other druids agreed all such pestilence was on the increase; all of their prophesies predicted blood on the moon, which translated to blood all over the earth.

Soulewine had but one choice. He would offer up his soul to the hounds of hell to find a way to mitigate what was happening. But he knew, as sure as the Four Cities sat at the corner of the world, so too, did the Black Monks have their hands deep in the belly of these disasters.

He would not look up again until the sun was set. It was then that he would reveal one of his own secrets. The Black Monks would pay dearly if they came to take his soul.