SPATHA STERCAE



SPATHA STERCAE, by James Frederick William Rowe

 

Many thousands of years ago in deep antiquity, yet still after the age of the Gods, a giant came down from the Frima mountains to visit oppression upon the Veirans. A thing of hate, pride, and hunger, the giant made sport and meat of they who would in time conquer the world, but as of yet lived as rude savages in the tribes of old amidst the hills.

They called him Vorax, the gluttonous, and the Veirans tried many vain attempts to rid themselves of him. At first, they thought to fight him by force of arms, and the men were assembled for war and sent to do battle with the giant in his abode set high in the mountains and near to the fallen ruins of an ancient fort of the ancestors of the Gods. Though even at that time valourous, the men of Veira were as nothing before the might and terror of Vorax, who defeated them with utter ease as he had four arms—one which held an axe, another a club, one a spear, and the last a sword—three eyes, and skin like adamant. Moreover, though the giant was hardly even scratched in the fray, he nevertheless took great insult in the effrontery of their rebellion. Accordingly, he returned insult for insult and began the moldings of what he called the Propugnaculum Priorum Hominum—the Tower of Former Men—but the Veirans called plainly a tower of shit for from such was it made. The fetid fortification would be daily built higher as the giant shat more of the men he ate, until it loomed as a new peak in the mountains and mocked all who looked towards the giant’s home.

Force having failed them, the Veirans turned then to faith and petitioned such priests as they had amongst them to figure out a way to appease the giant. Thinking the giant as a punishment sent by one of the divines, these priests thought to gather all the animals sacred to the Gods and deliver them to the giant for sacrifice. So they came assembled in their most holy vestments, with their hair shorn as an act of humility, and with animals of all types bedecked in garlands, gilt, and garbed in ritual finery following in tow. The giant allowed their approach unmolested, and once they congregated before him, the eldest priest advanced upon his knees to speak to the giant.

“O! giant Vorax, wrath of the Gods, take these humble sacrifices as a piaculum, that our sins might be expiated, and your anger may be assuaged.”

Laughter like the reverberation of a gong bellowed from the belly the giant as he lifted the priest in one hand as a child might a puppet, “Wrath of the Gods I may be, but assuaged I am not!” And thinking nothing of his blasphemy, he bit off the priest’s head and went to slaughtering his holy fellows. “Well will Vorax eat of fat priests!” he proclaimed when the feat was done, and thereafter freed the animals for he had no taste for any of their flesh and knew how it would gall the people to find that their sacrifices had come to naught.

The Veirans having failed twice were utterly demoralized, and seeing that they had been proven ill fit for the task swallowed their pride and sought aid from foreigners. They equipped messengers and sent them faring far abroad to all lands that would take them, to petition the assistance of such heroes as might relieve from them the oppression.

So it was that messengers came to Walsharie and Ahsecia, Zeer and Cacke, Renotona and Indroonia, Kint and Oncora, Asiluria and Lorland, and returned over the years with men of renown who would test their mettle against Vorax in exchange for the promise of honour and wealth the messengers had been instructed to make. These brave men would arrive with great fanfare and boasting of their achievements in the land of their birth, and many were kings or princes, or else sorcerers and wizards claiming great might, and many brought a retinue of retainers with them or came riding on great beasts, and all were bedecked in the greatest finery with gleaming armour and swords of bronze.

Not a one would prevail against the giant.

But not only did they not prevail, but Vorax suffered all their extravagances, all their boasts, and all their arrogance that he might shame them the more for failing so utterly, and so as to bring greater misery to the people who invested such hopes in their play magnificence. And after he had smeared their blood upon the mountainside, and consumed their flesh in a gory feast, he took to making sport of these would be heroes by flinging their severed-heads from a great sling down upon the Veirans, and later would even make use of his enormous strength to send the heads flying all the way back to the birth-places of these heroes, that the Veirans soon could convince no more heroes to come and save them from Vorax.

So it came to pass that the Veirans were utterly defeated, and his campaign of feasting went unabated for several generations. But even as men will live upon the very slopes of volcanic mountains that periodically consume all they have because olives grow best in the soil, the Veirans too made use of Vorax. Over time he became their executioner of all men who violated their laws, which soon became a great many as the Veirans became desperate under the yoke of Vorax which reduced them to a state of dire want such that outlawry was rampant amongst them.

Amongst such outlaws as were captured was a cattle-thief by the name of Torius. Though at that time it was counted valourous for a man to make his way in the world stealing the cattle of others, it was nevertheless punishable by death to be so imprudent as to be caught in the act. In Torius’ case, he was caught as result of an unlucky arrow through the neck of his horse, so at least he could claim it was not his foolishness that led to his demise, but this was cold comfort as he was taken to the giant regardless, being brought up the mountain by two guardsmen with his wrists bound.

Now in order that the guardsmen who brought Torius might not share his fate in being devoured by the giant, they delivered him during such time that the giant was known to be ranging abroad in search of a fresh victim amongst the shepherds which still lingered, for want of forage, too often near the giant’s home. So it was that they travelled to Vorax’s lair at dusk, when the slopes were bathed in a russet light and long shadows fled from the sinking sun to deepen every crevice of the mountainside. The approach was first easy-going, as the way was not over-steep, though this soon changed as a pungent stench wafted down from on high. It was the stink of the Tower, which was so overwhelming in its assault that it overcame the perfumed bandanas that they had tied across their mouths and noses to protect themselves from this. Gagging from this foulness, their progress became tedious, and was made all the worse by the fact that soon the droning of thousands of flies broke even the comfort afforded by silence. But at least they were not bitten, as the flies were kept well fed from the excreta of the giant.

Finally, they attained the broad, flat expanse near to the mountain’s summit where Vorax had long lived. Besides the Tower, there were the ruins within which the giant bedded and which were made weather-proof by a thatching of bones, and upon the ground was scattered the swords and armour of fallen men which the giant had discarded as one might the shell of crabs.

“Yugh, let us hurry!” spoke the lead guardsman “I wish to be gone from this place without delay!”

“For fear of Vorax?” laughed Torius. “For recall: It is not you, but I who faces him today.”

An unforgiving elbow was driven into his ribs by the guardsman in the rear, “He speaks of the stench, thief, and you well know it.”

“Come now, a dead man cannot jest?”

“Sit down and shut up!” and with this the guard forced Torius upon a rock.

“Enough!” the lead guardsman interjected. “You can prattle on to yourself as you wait for the giant, but I am done with this place.”

But Torius would not be silenced, “Have we Veirans so abandoned our valour that we do not even equip our heroes for battle and would keep their wrists bound so they cannot even hope to defend themselves?”

“You are no hero,” answered the guard with cold contempt, “and how dare you think you are up to the task when great men have all failed before you?”

Torius defiantly retained the gaze of his guard with his own, “I think nothing, I simply wish to try. I am dead either way, am I not?”

The guard snorted, “Pssh! Fool.”

“Call me what you will, but a sword would be better than your insults.”

“You think we would furnish you with a weapon?”

“It would, at least, be the honourable thing to do.”

“That you might slay us and flee?” again he snorted. “Do you take us for fools?”

“There would be no honour or purpose in slaying you. Besides, would not my entire family be subject to this same fate were I to do something as foolish as that?”

“You’re an insolent bastard, Torius, but nevertheless: Gnaevus, cut his binds.”

The other guard looked aghast at his fellow, “Are you serious, Junius?”

“Yes! Cut his binds! He may take such weapons as are scattered about here.”

“Count yourself lucky Torius,” said Gnaevus as he complied, “that Junius here is a sporting man.”

“I count myself very lucky indeed,” answered Torius as he flexed his wrists and stood from the rock. “Now, away with you two—I’ve my death to prepare for!”

The guards then left Torius as they were ill disposed to remain in that foul place any further, leaving him only with the mocking, “May his stool be loose that you might be freed of him quicker!” But these parting words were lost to Torius’ ears as he went already in search of a suitable weapon to arm himself with.

Many were his choices amongst the weapons of the slain, but few caught his eye, and only one did he in the end choose. A brazen spatha, a long sword, though mostly coated in a green patina, was by a miracle unbent and kept its sharp point. Testing the blade in his hand, he found the sword well balanced, and though it had failed once against the giant, he swore that it would not again.

Now Torius knew he had not long before Vorax would scramble up the mountain with his feast for the night in hand, so that he had to make haste and find a suitable place to conceal himself. However, throughout all the ruins he found precious little in the way of hiding spaces that would suit his concealment, specifically before the keen sight of the three eyes of the giant. Though at first he was not much worried, thinking he would come upon a place to hide sooner rather than later, as the sun sank and the inky sky revealed its wealth of burning jewels he began to fear he would find nothing. Worse, he heard at a distance the giant’s approach, and panic crept upon him.

Now it is in times of duress that men might come to countenance that which they would never before, and so it was with Torius. There was only one place he knew would conceal him, but it was so loathsome he did not consider it seriously. Yet now that Vorax was near upon him, he had no other choice but to make use of this last resort, and so he plunged into the shit of the Tower at its softest and freshest point even as the giant reached his home.

The filth was thick with maggots and its stench was unimaginable, but somehow Torius kept his wits about him and did not succumb to either retching or fainting, though that alone was worthy of heroic accolades. Moreover, that he might not be blind to what transpired without, he took his little finger to poke the slightest of spy-holes from out which he could gaze upon the giant’s movement.

The scene before him was as ghastly as it was expected: Vorax, having brought back a young shepherd, mocked him as he tied him to a spit.

“Your father left you to die,” gloated Vorax over the terrified youth, “betraying his flesh to save his own. Would that you had a braver father and you’d not be my supper!”

A fire was then lit under the boy, and mindless to his cries, the giant cooked him. He did not even offer him the mercy of a quick death, but seemed to delight that he would suffer much agony before he became his meal. It took all his will for Torius to not intervene, but he knew it would be foolish to attack the giant then. Nevertheless, Torius offered a silent promise to avenge the youth and assure he would be the last victim of Vorax’s hunger.

The cries died with the boy at last, and soon thereafter Vorax began to sample of the boy’s flesh. Displeased by its rawness, the giant let him cook a while longer till finally he was satisfied and ate his fill.

Following his supper, Torius hoped that the giant would fall asleep, but this was not to be. The giant was very much awake, and amused himself for some time flinging stones at far distant night birds, which owing to his remarkable sight, were more often than not struck dead on the first try. This persisted for a while until there was heard a rumbling in the giants gut, and much to Torius’ horror, the giant sauntered over to the Tower.

There are some sights that man was not meant to see, and the ungirding of the giant’s crude britches was one such sight. Worse, it was done right before Torius’ hiding place, such that he was saved from the stench of the giant’s loins only by the greater stink of the shit within which he was encased. The squatting that immediately followed was likewise an unthinkable horror to behold, but it was in that sight that Torius also saw a slimmer of hope. For in the very moment that the giant fell upon his haunches and spread his cheeks, Torius saw what may be the giant’s sole vulnerability, unaccustomed as it was for entrance as opposed to exit. Wasting no time lest the giant unburden his bowels too quickly and bury him still deeper, Torius immediately lurched up from amidst the dung-heap and with all his might jammed his sword against the giant’s anus. As he thought, the organ offered no magical resistance, no supernatural invulnerability that had harmless turned the blades of so many other heroes, only the accustomed difficulty of shoving a sword against muscles of prodigious strength flexing to expel. Yet because these muscles, as strong as they were, were not expecting the barb of Torius’ blade, Torius was able to ally the desperate might that he summoned to take advantage of this one chance, to the surprise of the attack itself and so drive the full length of his sword deep into the giant’s gut.

Vorax’s roar was so loud as to rattle the mountain, and were it not for the fact that Torius was still largely encased in the Tower, he would have been pulled with giant as he instinctually leapt forward from the source of agony. But as Torius was held down in place, the giant’s own leap would prove an even more grievous hurt to him, as the sword was viciously ripped from out the wound and yards of coiled intestine and a shower of shit and blood followed with it. He had gutted himself even deeper, and a long, thick rope of his entrails followed after him as a tail, leading all the way back to the tower and to Torius who was struggling to free himself.

“You!” cried Vorax in agony and fury as he turned to see the man “You did this!” And with his yell, the giant charged Torius.

 

By a hair’s breadth was Torius able to evade the giant’s charge, only to see Vorax ram headlong into the tower. Being made largely of dried excrement, the Tower could not endure the shock and crumpled. But because it so crumpled, the giant’s body was hardly halted, and unbalanced from the collision he had no hope to arrest his fateful progress to the cliff’s edge. So it was that Vorax pitched head first from the mountainside and fell to his death, taking with him half the mountain in his tumbling and with his Tower of Former Men following near behind in an avalanche of dried dung.

Spatha Stercum

###

 

Few, at first, expected Torius’ return: though they saw no body next to that of the broken corpse of the Oppressor, they could not account that a man could send Vorax pitching headlong, nor survive the collapse of the Tower, without himself perishing in the deed. So it was that Torius’ return was still a marvel even though they discerned the cattle thief return’s in filthy triumph well before he came within ear shot, or even within sight–the great stench, and a few hundred of those black flies, duly served as heralds of his coming. And if the stink had spoiled the surprise of his appearance, it did not dampen the crowd’s ardour, as he heard their chanting as he approached near:

Ave Spatha Stercae! Hail Shit Sword!”

“Shit Sword? I have been called worse!”

“What then of champion, great hero of the Veirans?”

“Provided that entitles me to a bath, I should be quite glad to be so called!”

So it came to pass that Torius was greatly esteemed amongst the Veirans and was raised to the rank of a prince amongst the tribes, and ever after retained his title Shit Sword as an epithet of honour, however crude. And it also came to pass that in time Torius’ son was given the title of Sterculus, little shit, in honour of his parentage, and his grandson also, and thereafter all his descendants took such as a family name which yet remains common in Western Magna Veira, where to a clever stratagem is described in a slew of scatological terms, and great ingenuity is accounted a gift of the latrines.

 

The End

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James Frederick William Rowe is a Rhysling-nominated poet and author out of Brooklyn, New York. In the last few years, he has cut out a substantial niche in the speculative poetry front, having seen over forty poems published internationally in such markets as “Big Pulp”, “Tale of the Talisman”, “Heroic Fantasy Quarterly”, “Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine”, and “Bete Noire”. His efforts also include a growing number of poems suiting the literary audience. His works have been described as having a, “…style that is bold, imaginative, crisp, and refreshingly simple, yet profound.” He is especially proud to be a Frequent Contributor to “Songs of Eretz Poetry Review” where his work is featured on a monthly basis.

When he is not writing verses and crafting yarns, James is employed as an adjunct professor of philosophy in the City University of New York, is pursuing a Ph.D. in the same subject, and works a variety of freelance positions. The author’s website can be found at http://jamesfwrowe.wordpress.com.

 
 

 


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