Silence echoed loudly within his head.
A single drop of dew fell through the darkness. It glistened with an unknown light, falling, eternally through the vast escape of the hereafter. Its endless fall came to a thunderous end as it clashed against the ragged skin of the bearded man’s face. Sn’jn blinked, and opened his eyes.
Sn’jn lay prostrate on threshed wheat, his arms akimbo and his clothes smelling clean but damp. For a moment Sn’jn though that perhaps he had been caught in a thunder storm. Perhaps he had slipped and struck his head, for he could not recall how he had ended up in this field, and he did remember the pain. More than that, he remembered and echo of pain, as if something had caused his body great harm, but for now could not recall exactly what had harmed him.
Slowly, surprisingly without stiffness, Sn’jn hauled himself to his feat and stretched. Despite the dampness that he felt he was warm and rather at ease. Checking himself over, running his hands over his body, clothes and armour, he was satisfied that everything was where it should be and that nothing appeared broken or harmed. He was, however, without weapon.
Content that he was whole, despite feeling naked without a blade, Sn’jn looked around. He stood deep within a field of golden maize, long fronds gently swaying in the wind. The zephyr was warm and brought a scent of cleanliness to him and a sense of completion to his warring emotions. The field stretched on to the far horizons and even the sky was oddly bright and the colour of tarnished bronze.
There was nothing here. For as far as he could see, Sn’jn realized that there was an utter lack of anything but golden wheat stems set against a burning sky and endless fields. For a moment panic struck him, but he quelled his fear, pushed it down into the same dark place that all his other emotions had fled to, and took a long, shuddering, breath. The fields were all the same length and depth, cared for and cultured. Somewhere there was a farmer, somewhere there was a keeper of the wheat, and therefore, life, other people, sound and voice. Hopefully, there he would also find explanation and direction. Realizing that without road or path that any direction was as good as the next, Sn’jn looked to the burning orb in the sky and headed west, towards the setting sun.
The golden wheat fronds swept about him, shimmering in the zephyr like an ocean of gold and honey. Still the fresh smell of life and relaxation came to him and endeavoured to gain his trust. Sn’jn fought a drowsy spell, thinking that he must have struck his head, and that the wound sought to bring him to dark sleep again. Gritting his teeth against the pleasure of rest, he strode on, more determined than before.
Sn’jn marched endlessly it seemed. Had it been hours? Days? Perhaps only minutes? He could not tell, he had even run in mad panic as the endless fields on rolling hills continued before him and around him. No breath burned in his lungs, never did he tire, nor hunger, for all the time that he spent on his journey, nothing of his body betrayed him.
“Am I dead?” Sn’jn asked himself. His voice was loud and unnatural in the silence. Stopping for a moment and looking around he saw nothing different in this small valley than he had seen for the moments, hours, or perhaps long days preceding. After a moment of looking around, wandering aimlessly where he was, he shrugged, and continued his journey. He reached the top of the valley and looking over the hill into the next valley had his breath stolen in a single moment.
Deep in the valley, beyond yet another wide field of golden wheat sat a simple stone farm house with yellow thatch and shuttered windows. A barren chimney spoke no ash, and the pen affixed to the one side of the farm held no livestock.
What caught Sn’jn’s breath was the recognition of the place. The juniper hanging from the eaves, the meticulous etchings around the door offering wards and protections to the spirits of the land for safety and fertility, they all spoke to him, called to him, and his hands ached in recognition of the work he had done to build it. It was his farm, his home, a place that he had fled when it was nought more than a burning husk.
Suddenly without agility, Sn’jn stumbled and fell down the hill towards the farm house, his frantic plunge through the wheat met with an urgency of hope and a denial of truth. The last he had seen this place it had been a charred husk, now it was as the day he had finished it. As he threw himself through the fields of wheat his voice barked loudly calling the name of the woman he loved.
His voice was raw, and unnatural in its exhaustion but the time he arrived at the farm house door. Bursting through the wooden door Sn’jn stormed into the common room of his farm, his home, his life. Again he called to her, his voice aching. There was no reply to his call. The house remained silent and empty, much like his soul. His chin dropped to his chest, his fists curled into balls, and his body shook.
With an aching eternity, his body shuddered, his breath stuttered, and his legs gave out. The mighty warrior, murderer, killer and savage fell to his knees. His eyes squeezed shut he cried out, his face a mask of sorrow and loss. The dark place within his chest shattered and broke, the dam of his emotions flooding his soul. His hands clawed at his face, his hair, the soft earth of his home, tears hot and salty burnt trails down his cheeks as he screamed and wept and shouted and cursed the gods above and below. He slammed his fists into the dirt and swore vengeance, spittle flew from chapped lips and eyes bulged in their sockets, and his heart broke and splattered his gut with hot acid and terrible bereavement.
Finally he turned from the farm towards the door, and there stood a woman. She wore a simple far smock, a bodice with a skirt. Her long golden hair fell about her shoulders framing her face in a halo of light. A juniper wreathe sat about her crown.
“Out of my way, woman, I do not have need for company.” Sn’jn said harshly through a savaged throat.
The woman’s eyes fell upon him much like a smiths hammer and Sn’jn felt the blood in his body echo with resonance at her gaze. Fire burnt from her body, her halo of hair sprang to life about her, and she lifted from the ground, a burning anger within her eyes.
“I am Asherah, goddess of this land and of you and yours. Mine is the dream of life and death, to give or take. None stand before me without fear, all stand before me and love me. I am that which is, which was, which will always be. I am the birth of the world, the moon and the sun, I am the virgin star, the compassionate harlot, the generous courtesan of life. Bow before me and worship me, for I am everything and all, and you are nothing but whim and fancy on my part.”
Sn’jn stared back hard, his body aching and screaming at him. Voices shattered his thoughts begging him to bow his knees and throw himself at the mercy of this goddess. Other voices called for him to throw himself with lust into her waiting arms, others to savage his own throat and tear the breath from his body for the affront on her presence.
Instead he went for his blade.
Surprised to find his hand clasping over the welcome hilt of his sword, he drew the sharp blade in one even motion, the fluidity of his form something mostly remembered. His skill was that of frantic fighting learnt on the battlefield. Practiced motions remembered by muscle and tendon. Technique shaved sharp by the very real death of defeat.
The blade swept out unerringly, levelling with the woman’s throat.
“I bow to none, woman.”
The woman smiled and Sn’jn felt his body enflame with desire and passion for her. He almost dropped his blade at the amazing effect of this woman on his loins.
“Be still thy blade warrior, this is why I have kept you and allowed you an audience, if only to tell you to return to your mortal shell and continue your fight. Something within you burns brighter than any star of the gods, something deep within you is the reason for my mirth. And you do bow, dear Sn’jn Harvester, you did so earlier, when you realized that here you would find nothing of your wife. You bow to her every moment, with every breath, with every beat of your black heart.
“And know this, dear Sn’jn, you will bow before another woman, not me and mine, nor you or yours, but one of you, from you, from your joining with the soul you loved so dearly, so deeply, the soul you forsook and failed when you succumbed to pain and despair.
“You will bow before her in chains, and beg from her nothing but death. You will do this, for it is written in the book of souls, and your life there is etched in eternal stone.”
Sn’jn ground his teeth, and then spat, “I make my own way, nothing will stop me.”
The woman looked away from him and as if marionette strings had been cut Sn’jn collapsed to the dirt floor, the strength of his being ebbed away.
“Yes, Sn’jn, you do make your own way, and that is why the gods despise you. Each time they write your fate in the book, some of it remains, and some of it drops from the page like dust. You are indeed a strange one.” She said.
“Enough for now, you have found once again your reason, and I have told you what I needed to tell you, so awake, live, fight. Now, Sn’jn. Awake!”