Mark of Cahim

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Literature Text

He remembered the shepherd's eyes, the sun-creased skin beneath them orange and cracked like baked sand.  The man had pleaded with him, drawing tears from eyes so worn by exposure that it seemed impossible to draw anything from them.  His son was dead, he had said, taken by a beast a fortnight ago along with three others.  The magistrates of the poor district had done nothing just as the man's claims had gone unheard until the day he'd been brave enough to beg at the Prince's feet during a feast day's procession.</p>

"It took my son!"  The shepherd rasped in a desperate sputtering of words.  "No father should send his son beneath the sands!" </p>

Prince Ramah remembered that look just as he remembered the empty hollow in Sabylla's eyes the night she gave birth to a stillborn son.  Their hopes and dreams of a future had been taken from them in a quiet bundle of spoiled rags never once given the chance to learn how to ride a stallion or make mischief in his mother's embroidery.  Heirless and broken, Ramah had swallowed his own spirit that night, leaving a hollow in his throat that made his food tasteless and his breaths half-remembered.  That is until he saw the shepherd's eyes.  He came alive again with another's shared sorrow.  He could fix this.  At last with his own hands, he could fix something.

He'd rode out that night donned in the cloaked guise of a traveling hunter, determined to do what others would not.  An errant desert beast was a simple matter for a soldier.

A bout of pain and contracting muscles drew him back from the dying memories.  Heavy hands pinned him, keeping his body from twisting itself against all sense and function.  Fingers desperately tried to separate dirt and blood from crushed armor and tattered skin. A flurry of voices rang all around him.

"Keep him down lest he open the wounds further!"

"The fool's killed it and himself!"

A wooden bit was forced between his teeth while another attendant tore a piece of plate from what remained of his shoulder.  Still another pair of hands pinned a leg, attempting to splint it from the fall he'd taken from his horse.  Even a seasoned warhorse had flinched in the face of such an animal.  The beast stank of rotting corpses, its fur matted with blood and filth.  They had never seen the likes of it in their lands before, nor hoped to again.  It'd taken a spear cast from afar and another sword in the gut to bring it down.  He had gotten so much closer than he had originally planned.  It moved like a nightmare, something that crawled its way through his darkest dreams.  The damned thing had bitten him just as the blade drove in.

"It's alright, just listen to my voice." The ring of a feminine lilt floated to him from far away.  The delicate cold hands of the Healer's daughter gripped his cheeks, her skin pale against a dark complexion that grew more pallid by the minute.  Her calm words drowned out the cacophony of frantic voices that buzzed like flies around a corpse.  She cooed and soothed, running fingers through dark hair slicked against sweaty cheeks.  Ramah caught her gaze for a moment long enough to take in the fine-boned features of her face.  She rooted him on earth, this child that could not have been more than 16 or 17.  His own breath rasped loud and heavy in his ears, the only thing he could hear besides her voice.

"A-Alta?" He sputtered deliriously, his words tripping over the bit in his mouth and stopped by her gentle insistence that he remain quiet.  His horse, had it lived?  Broken thoughts came to him in a feverish haze, another contraction of muscle forcing his vision into blackness. His eyes pinched closed, too overwhelmed by the battery of pain that assaulted him from within and without.

A new sensation grew inside him, a burning in the pit of his stomach that steadily grew into a throbbing that encompassed his whole body.  It tore at his bowels and curled him into himself like a newborn.  Even the strong hands of the peasants could not keep him flat.  He wasn't aware of the screaming until he was swallowing chunks of the gag he'd bitten through.  Fingers cramped and bent unnaturally as the ball of pain in his gut ate its way from the inside out.  Fingernails dug into the table beneath him, carving out curls of wood as they dragged along with no outlet for their clenching violence.  Shouts rose around him in panic at what they thought were death convulsions, no one noticing the pop and tear of splitting skin along his fingers and face until it was too late.  He choked on his own breaths that stuck in his lungs with each wave of pain.

Ramah thought they were his own screams at first, but they grew shrill and numerous, as screeching and ear-shattering as dying birds.  Clawing, biting, screaming, twisting, he did all he could to fold into himself and make the pain and the noise stop.  Somewhere in the distance, he heard the girl's voice whisper in a prayer.

And then there was silence.  A reeking memory of the creature's breath spiced with blood and rot.  Darkness gave over to a will to make everything that moved lie still and quiet.

* * *

When next he floated back to awareness, Ramah awoke heaving the contents of his stomach, his body curled in the darkness of a smoke house.  The tattered remnants of his cloak clung to his nude form, Ramah instinctively pulling what he could about himself.  Tired eyes caught the tell-tale chips of something solid in the blood he'd heaved up, but he could not bring himself to comprehend what it could be.  The smell of the drying meat around him and a musky underlying scent of rot drove him limping to his feet and out of the cramped space hung with gruesome garlands of slaughtered goats.  Outside the hovel was a world he barely recognized.  A blaring white sky grated against sensitive eyes.  From a line of laundry he stole a pair of dusty pants and hobbled along with the aid of a shepherd's staff that had been left by the drying house.  Like a beggar, he moved unseen past huddled and moaning crowds, his sense of courtesy ignored in lieu of utter confusion.

Snippets of conversations floated to him through a haze of overwhelmingly loud voices.  Would that they would stop talking so he could understand!

"Ahrun guide them, they burned in the night.  The entire family, lost!"

The smell of smouldering wood tinged his nostrils, familiar and at once lined with a hidden scent of cooked flesh.  He felt his bowels twist at the acrid scent and continued moving past a wailing woman uttering prayers into the morning light.

"Cahim's curse brought this down upon us!  Now you will believe an old woman's warnings!"  An old crone raved past him, the entire path of tiny houses lined with crying people rocking against one another at the devastation that had assailed them in the night, a mere flicker to the eyes of the capitol city not even visible from their doorsteps.  Ramah walked unsteadily through the destruction that mirrored so strongly the aftermath of the battlefield.  Yet somehow, their cries were louder, the smell of ash and decay filling his nostrils till he choked on it.

Nobody stopped to help nor did he seek to ask.  Another sight in the hellish landscape gripped his gaze, Ramah's unsteady legs carrying him begrudgingly forward through a crowd that ignored the filthy beggar.  In the village square they'd lashed a dead man to a post.  His eyes had rolled back into his head, peering unseeing to the heavens while a bloated tongue hung from his mouth.  Flies settled amongst the crevices of the man's stripped form, the vermin and heat of their lands quick to reclaim the corpse.  A foreigner, from the looks of the red hair that fell in greasy locks past his shoulders.  Under the third rib, he carried the slit of a spear wound and deep in the gut the hollow wound of the sword that had killed him.  There on his forehead, painted in red dust, the word 'Cahim'.  Ramah's knees gave out beneath him and he found himself kneeling in grisly awe.

Knowledge of the name trickled back to him in bits of stories and manuscripts related by aging teachers and dusty books he had no care for as a young man.  Upon the land, the Maiden of the Night Shores visited three terrors upon the living world in her wrath against the Sun God, Ahrum's, violent advances − the Hungry, the Thirsty, and the Hidden.  Those who crawled the earth in the skins of beasts, their maws never sated with all the flesh of the earth.  Those who wore the skins of men, forever drinking sorrow and ash.  Those who hid in the spirits of men, swallowing happiness and spewing lies.   Cahim, the first of the Hungry Ones.  Cahim, whose bite consumed a man's soul and flesh.  Here they would leave the foreigner's body to rot in the purifying sun, his soul to be eaten by birds and flies.  Old women would spit at it as they walked by.  Children would throw stones.  They would curse him until his memory troubled them no more.

Ramah touched a hand to his shoulder where, in some nightmare of none too long ago, the beast's teeth had sunk into his chest with its dying breath.  Just a day's ride away, his wife was waiting for him, expecting him back from an errand of state by the morning.  The dead man's clouded eyes peered past the red mark, the open mouth gawking at him. 

Had it been so simple to eat a man's soul?

The dust of a desert wind caught in Ramah's eyes.  It was then he knew he would never see his home again.
Image featured in this deviation is Song of Exile by =ladydove7

I was challenged by a friend, =kdeln, to get some writing done by the end of last year so I decided to sit down one night, clear my head, and let the words flow.

I wrote this some time ago now in an attempt to get inside of my character's head, a man by the name of Ramah Sirhaan, prince to a desert kingdom and an exile cursed with lycanthrope.

I sense there's something grander in the scheme of things with this character. His stories are begging to be told beyond this little bit of flash fiction. Yet another character in my head craving for his own novel, perhaps?

I've also decided after writing this to move away from traditional werewolfism as his 'affliction'. I have in mind something perhaps more sinister and less ex-fantasy-rpg-character-I-used-to-roleplay in tone. :plotting:

Yes this is unrefined and probably makes no sense, but I'm proud of myself for just getting any amount of creative writing done outside of work these days.

Feraghi Song of Exile by Niyaz makes great reading music for this story :pointr: [link]
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MrsNox's avatar
Wow, that was great. I think I understand what happened in general, but why can he never return home again? The imagery was fantastic, but the point of what happened to him between riding out and getting injured is unclear. I really enjoyed this! :D