by Henry Wyckoff
A Highlander/Sentinel Crossover
Our village had no name. Maybe it did, but nobody ever used it and I was too young to know. But it had a place. It was high in the mountains, so high that only goats and Georgians would love it. Unfortunately, so did the Armenians.
In those days, I knew only a few kinds of people by sight: Georgians, Armenians, Turks, and Russians. I had heard of Kurds, Greeks, Arabs, and Jews, but I had never knowingly seen one. The strangers who came through were the kind who were going from one place to another. Sometimes, they were distant friends of my father and came by to drink some tea or pass a few nights over boiled goat.
When I wasn't herding the goats used for those feasts, I would be studying much harder than the other children. As far as I knew, I was the only boy who could read and write not only my own language, but also Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, and English, not to mention a few extinct languages (solely as an intellectual exercise, my father explained). I didn't know it back then, but that simple life of playing, studying, and herding goats was to be the best years of my life. Even when I complained about learning the language of bone-skinned devils from a faraway land, I didn't know how lucky I was
Early one morning, I was watching a faraway mountain range and heard a rider approaching. I didn't think much of it. When the rider finally arrived, I realized that this wasn't your usual event. We had a genuine stranger in our village, and that was a frightening realization. In these days, strangers weren't tourists; they were most likely to be bandits.
He certainly looked the part. He was a very tall man. You can see that even as an old man I look short, though I was tall for my village. This man was even taller than you. He was not like the tall men of your country, bony and starved. This man was tall and muscled like the bull. I think he could have juggled two horses and complained about the lack of a challenge. I also knew that he was a warrior because he wore scaled armor, the likes of which I'd never seen, covered with furs. His helmet had the mask of a dragon skull.
In my isolated village, I saw perhaps three soldiers in my life. I was not prepared for this, but my fears were soothed. He spoke in a language that my father had taught me as a game. This was a genuine language, he'd promised, though it was most assuredly dead. Father said it was the language of the Kurgans, an extinct people living north of us, in the land of the Russians.
I must admit, as an honest storyteller, that I was too young to treat this seriously, and could barely understand him. My practice, however, allowed me to be understood. I am told this is unusual.
In any event, the stranger said, "I seek a man. He is Tutyr."
I nodded, "My father. I will show you."
My father, who was busy repairing a coat, was not expecting to see this warrior. "Kurgan!" he yelled in joy. Then he rattled something in that language so fast I couldn't understand.
The warrior took off his helmet and I could see long, greasy hair fall back past his shoulders. His face was clean-shaven, and I could see the look that my mother the goat butcher sometimes had. She had a delight in gutting those animals, and I had the distinct feeling that this Kurgan would have the same pleasure in doing the same to a man.
I had never feared for my father, but I feared for him now, in the face of such an obvious killer, but he showed none. This warrior was smiling as well.
My father spoke to me, "Son, this is a man who saved my life as a boy barely older than you. He is the Kurgan."
"But father, the Kurgans are no longer, as you once told me."
"He is the last."
The Kurgan glanced at my father, and I knew that that glance involved this secret that I knew father kept, and that had not been passed on to me yet. He looked at me. "I am the only Kurgan." He spoke in Latin. My guess was that he did not speak my native tongue, and assumed that I was a good student of my father's. It was then that I truly began to understand that my language training might actually serve a purpose of my father's, other than as a form of status.
"I see," I made my way out of the house, so they could talk in peace, as was my father's custom.
The Kurgan would have none of it. With a loud laugh, he nearly sent me straight to hell with the force of his playful pat on my shoulder, which was probably intended merely to encourage me to sit. That was no problem. "Stay, boy. Your father and I have no secrets."
"What is your name, boy?"
"Well, Rujevicyn, stay and listen to tales that you'll hear from no other man!"
My father was obviously confused, but played alongwith it. I wondered if it involved this secret, or this man's barbarous ways -- which truly conflicted with the more civilized manners of his other guests.
Maybe it was that the Kurgan had something on his mind. "You know, I was not past your age when my father gave to me my first sword, but not a sword." If that doesn't make sense to you, remember that the Latin 'pilium' is but a step above a fish-poker. When he meant a sword, he really meant it. "How old are you, boy?"
"I am twelve this winter."
The Kurgan gave a disapproving stare at my father. "What is this boy doing without his manhood?" He drew a straight, long blade made of the new steel. It must have been the length of my arm, and was single-bladed. Its grip was wrapped with leather, and the pommel had the engraving of a dragon. "It's time, boy. Welcome to the world of men."
I, who had once seen the curved blade of the Turk, was awed at this unexpected but very welcome gift. No matter the age or the culture, young boys are always excited by weaponry.
My father was obviously upset at this, and spoke to Kurgan, "I have different plans. I want this boy to enjoy his childhood. Once he uses that blade, his boyhood dies forever."
The Kurgan nearly growled, "Better to die a man than as a boy!"
I wished that this time could have gone forever. Why? Because I had a sentimental feeling for a homicidal maniac about to explain in great detail how he dismembered a man and played jump rope with his entrails?
Not exactly. This was a much more preferable moment compared to that which followed.
I hesitate to say that it was the 'Armenians' that did it. A hundred years after the fact, I would be more inclined to say that it was a group of Armenians who got paid to help out.
The Kurgan stood up suddenly, interrupting one of his own stories about an encounter with the man who would later become jump rope material. "It's time to earn that sword."
"What is happening?" asked my father, afraid that he already knew.
"A raiding party, and someone who has a wish to sleep in hell tonight."
That seemed to be significant to my father, who nodded. "Good hunting."
The Kurgan smiled, and it sent chills down my spine. "The nice thing about my kind . . . there's no hunting involved. You just stand still and die."
By now, I could hear the horses, the screaming, and the fires burning. The gunshots too.
"Son! You stay with your mother in the house!" yelled my father, grabbing for a musket that he'd used in the army.
"No!" I fought back. "I'm no longer a boy!"
"Your mother is alone!" he slapped me across the face. "No man would let his mother die at the hands of Armenians!"
That did it. My mother was easy to find. Your culture and your movies seem to typify mothers and daughters hiding in a closet once invading armies come. Not my mother. She was ready to raise hell against any Armenian who dared enter her home. I soon knew that very well because with the sword I now carried, she nearly mistook me for a raider.
"Mother! You would kill your own son?" I was amazed the miracle that had just occurred. I had almost been scalded by boiling oil.
She stared at me as if I was some child playing a dangerous game. "Where did you get that sword?"
"The Kurgan gave it to me."
The gaze that came from her eyes would have put any other mother to shame. In that one glance, she managed to deflate that wonderful feeling I'd gotten when the Kurgan had given me that blade.
How do mothers master that anyway? I've never figured that one out.
Though our house was made of stone, we could hear the sounds of killing. They were far too loud for even my ears.
I could hear my mother speaking the names of those she knew must be dead or dying. A list that went on and on, just as the list of names in many of the books in the Old Testament, or the lists in the Iliad.
The sound was chilling, and it truly made me understand my father's reservation at my accepting the sword. I hadn't even killed a man, and yet I felt sick at the thoughts of death.
A raider entered the house, smiling stupidly as he saw me with my sword at the ready and my mother behind me. "Where did you find the sword, boy?" he asked.
His next was a long, prolonged scream. Mother tossed boiling oil on his face.
When I killed my first man, it was simply to stop the screaming that made me want to vomit. I had been crying for this man who would have gladly killed us, and that began only a few heartbeats after he began howling out his soul.
The last I remember was the lightning that suddenly erupted, and the breaking windows.
Opening my eyes again, I saw what I knew to be hell: the burned, broken skeleton of my village. My sword was somehow in my hand.
With no strength at all, I staggered around, "Mother? Father?" My calls echoed through the skull of a corpse.
At the moment, I was alone, somehow outside, and I wished I wasn't.
All around me were burning corpses, both Georgian and Armenian. I could see my father, his skull smashed like an egg, twisted in a strange contortion.
The Kurgan was speared to a tree, his mouth open. Blood dripped out like an obscene fountain. His fingers gripped his sword as if in rigor mortis.
My mother's screams, I could hear now, once my mind reconnected itself to my ears.
I don't know where I found the strength, but I found it. My mother was on the other side of the remains of our house. An Armenian was raping her.
For what seemed like many moments, I just stood there. I knew what I saw, but it was as if it were a dream, and one's body can't move. In my mind, it was like watching a dog or a horse rape a woman. It wasn't human, and my mother didn't deserve this kind of hell.
That's when my body could move again.
I grabbed the man's hair and pulled up sharply, not even noticing his own scream, or the hair that got ripped out in the process.
He was weaponless and screamed for mercy, but I didn't listen. I wouldn't have given him mercy even if I had.
I thrust the sword through his heart and twisted it, my grimace and howl nearly matching his own expressions in death.
I twisted it and felt my own insides crush themselves as his howl echoed through the village.
When he slid off my blade, he was flopping around, unable to stop the blood from flowing away.
A hand touched my shoulder, and I spun around.
"Ghost!" I backed away, my voice nearly caught in my dry throat.
It was the Kurgan, blood on his body but no indication of the wound that had taken his life. His grin drove me back against a wall. "I am no ghost, boy. I am the KURGAN!" It was a guttural howl that took the last out of my body.
I collapsed once more.
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