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The Wooden Bull

- Martin Laurie

From the Journals of Khurgantus, Green King of Alkoth during the Years of Separation.

The Carmanian assault failed once more. Finally, after a long day the warriors on the wall stood down. Fully five thousand Carmanians and their allies had been devoured in this last futile effort to scale the green wall.

My Brother in rule, Red King Uribus slew their greatest champions as they made it to the ramparts above the Flayer's gate. The wall ate their puny souls, and Urbius' mace crushed what was left.

That night, a great weariness overtook me. The Carmanians' resolve to overrun us seemed as unbreakable as our wall. I slept fitfully, even the comfort of Shargash's presence did not douse my concerns.

When Uribus roused me to perform our regular morning observation of the Carmanians, a strange sight greeted our eyes. They were gone! Their whole army had disappeared. Their entrenchments were abandoned and the dust of their marching columns could be seen many miles distant. As we rejoiced in the golden light of our victory, something attracted my eye near the Flayer's gate. A huge wooden bull stood outside the gate, crafted to resemble one of their sacred animals. The heathen statue easily reached the height of five men. It was built on wheels and decorated with gold and iron that glittered in the sun.

"Uribus!" I cried. "We must have this Bull!"

"Why?" Growled Uribus. "I don't want anything of theirs!"

"It is their offering to Shargash, their plea for union in his cycle of death and renewal. It is their strange, foreigner way of propitiating our God of All!" I was ecstatic, the idea of such an offering warmed me. I could feel Shargash's pleasure at my thoughts.

Uribus was not so learned in the cycle of renewal as I, being more concerned with breaking things than seeing to their rebirth. "Humph! The Carmanians don't care for the Thunderer. I say we smash it with a Skyspear to show Shargash's power. Then maybe they'll see how much they should beg forgiveness for their attempt to sack the Great Enclosure of the Destroyer!"

"Please brother, listen to me in this. I feel it is right. Shargash is in me now and guides my thoughts."

Uribus scowled, but he knew that my words were true. The beat of Shargash raged in us all that day, for the god still stirred from the previous day's offering. "Very well, have your bull! But use your own men to bring it in. I'll have no part of your concerns! I must summon a muster to march after the barbarians!"

And so it was that my Elevens heaved to their arduous task as they slowly hauled the great bull statue through the Flayers' Gate, and deep into the city.

All along the procession's path, the people of Alkoth cheered our trophy. I led the way, waving and laughing with the joy of Shargash!

Finally we came to the Fifth Gate, the Great Enclosure.

The bull was brought inside, and we piled our own offerings to Shargash around it.

We finished our elaborate preparations by torchlight. The people danced to the drums as the ceremony grew more raucous and intense. At the height of their ecstatic convulsions, I hurled a burning brand up high and watched as it arched down onto the bull. Our own well-oiled offerings of squirming slaves, broken weapons, and the meagre remains of our siege-food reached to the bull's shoulders.

For a brief moment silence descended on the ceremony and we watched the inferno leap into the sky as homage to the Purifier. In that silence I thought I heard screams coming from the Bull, cries of pain and fear as the purifying flames rose higher. Shargash devoured the bull with tremendous speed!

I looked around and saw that others heard those screams too and a moment of divine realisation came upon me. "'Listen Alkothi! The defeated spirits of our enemies scream in the fires of the Devourer. He brings even them into the Enclosure! Shargash gives us their cries to show his pleasure at our victory!" As I spoke to the crowd, the bull collapsed into the flames. Finally only its head remained, staring skyward in defeat as my people of Alkoth completed their dance of joy.

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September 11, 2000

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