Stars bright. The sun still long to rise. Few have slept. A man on the other side of the fire, hard bony face of tattoos. Blue face. Blue body of pictures and magic. He’s sharpening his spear for so long I swear it could cut holes in moonlight, the air, slice a song in half.
Eyes meet now and then. Warrior eyes. In all I see the glint of fury like angry wolves. Not any wolves, those with mewling pups behind. Cornered in our own land by you.
Get out of this country. It’s not yours to despoil and enslave. You’ve come too far.
We die in the dawn – but not for nought. Every one of us will destroy two or three of you. Those of you who flee and live shall suffer lifelong horrors. Moments when you will scream in front of your children, weep in public or wake in frantic panic, fighting, sweating, confused. You’ll not be back. Run home to Rome, safe but not sane. Unmanned.
A thin warrior to my left, painted for battle already – his eyes would shrivel any heart, freeze it. He’ll go down not knowing he’s dead. He’ll still fight while his eyes close for the last time.
Sharp tang in the air, not fear: ferocity.
No one talks. No need. We are together, ready, powerful. A thousand desperate men.
Why did you fools come? Who sent you here? Are your gods insane?
Sparkling fire spirits twist as someone kicks a log. Crackle, spin, ripples in the air, our hidden fires deep in clefts and gullies.
You don’t know we’re here.
A man, an ally from a distant place, long white hair like we’ve never seen, binds a bowstring. Not too much, just enough to hold together. Twist and test. Coils it the clever way so the loops spring apart, no tangling: quick when needed.
A tree of a man has one of your swords, like a toy in his huge hand. His other holds a pitchstone dagger to the full moon. He’ll see light coming through the very edges of its blade.
Did you pillagers expect a welcome? Do you think we’ve become weak? How can your memories fade so fast?
Someone rolls in his sleep. A hand pushes him back from the fire. Sharp crack, snap. Rabbit bone broken for marrow.
The sleeper’s grunt. Hiss of goat-fat in flames. Little lights in a far glen. Men tending fires to make us seem over there. Worry enemies, always worry them: confuse. Let you chase me to a cliff while my friends hurl down rocks. Dig pits, spikes. Falling trees. Enfilade of arrows and run, run so fast we cannot be pursued. You, the enemy in your metal clothes, like beetles, slow, tripping, can’t cross bog and mire. Watch you struggle helpless. Watch you sink.
Smoke, red embers, drifting ash. Here, silence still. Voices saved for the screams of hate, wild fury. The gods will speak and howl through us. You made them angry.
A chief walks between fires. We stand. Blue paint smearing thick on each other. It is time. The wildness comes into our blood. We’ll paint you red. We’ll make you still for ever. You’ll lie and sink in peat, forgotten.
We stretch and flex, preparing.
I soften pellets in fire, roll them, make silver eggs. Metal we stole from your houses. The heavy metal, hard when cold: fast from my sling. Through your forehead. Through your eyes. Through your throat. My spear and dirk ready. All will drink of you this morn.
Go home, hide behind your wall again. Can’t your gods and leaders learn?
We’ll die today but you’ll flee, too few left. Hidden behind us in places you’d never find, our children and women, our old and frail stay safe.
Why do you waste yourselves coming here?
Your charging horse, driven mad by gorse, bloody and agonised will plunge into hidden gullies, riders smashed, just as we drew them before and before and before.
The faintest star fades and we flit like ghosts up the brae, through frosted crags to fall on you from above.
©Gary Bonn, 2018