A Life on the Ocean Wave
Sean O'Rourke lay still on the traditional bull's hide as his mind slowly returned to normal after it's day and two night's journey into the realm of Manannan.He sighed, got up from his bed and went next door to the study where he sat at the table with the light from the window streaming over it as the dust motes spun and sparkled there. He took up his knife and one of the squared tallies of wood lying in a corner of the desk, and began to notch the corners into one of the oghams customarily used for such reports.As he wrote, Bridget the servant girl came in with a warm earthenware bowl of beef broth, a piece of buttered wholemeal bread and a wooden spoon, which she silently left beside him as he wrote. He was a Birdman, one of the Watchers who surveyed this world and others, and whose heavily edited reports kept the kings and druids of Eire informed of much which others did not know that they knew.
'A Life on the Ocean wave!
A home on the rolling deep!
Where the scatter'd waters rave,
And the winds their revels keep!'
He heard Bridget softly singing the old song to herself as she went about the housework. It was often used as part of an induction ritual, and she had heard it many times.She was a pleasant cheerful girl, and he wished her well in finding a young man with whom she could start a family. He turned his attention back to what he was writing.
It was hard to control the course of such journeys as he had undertaken. The spirits, the elementals and the creatures he contacted all had wills of their own, besides being playfully capricious, and it was not wise to try to force them too much. They did however follow patterns and acknowledge greater spiritual entities, and were often friendly, so a good deal could be learned from them.It was not so much a matter of obtaining information from them, as of participating in their life and consciousness.Most of those who made use of predictions about the weather, or the likely location of schools of fish, or the political and economic developments in foreign countries, did not know or care where the information came from, or that it was only a minor aspect of the spiritual activities of such men as Sean.
He had crossed and scanned the Ocean with the eye of a gull, had found and followed fish in the company of porpoises, had sounded the dark depths of the sea with whales.He had danced with the elementals of air and water as they had created clouds and storms, he had ridden the Hurricane, and felt the exhilaration as the storms stirred up the waters and blew themselves out over land. He knew the link between the storms of mass emotions in people and the weather that materialised around them. He had crossed continents with the consciousness of animals and birds, some opening access to aspects of existence not otherwise available to humans. He had entered the minds of men and had felt the shaping of events before they came to pass.His body had never left his homeland, but his spirit had ranged further and deeper than had most men.
His latest trip had taken him across the Atlantic, noting the weather patterns moving towards Europe, the stocks of fish and the movement of those sentient sea creatures who lived on them, and the general sense of the place and time. He had encountered the spirit of Sigurd, the old Icelandic skald who had similar interests, and together they had surveyed the Coast of Death on the other side of the Atlantic. It was a horrible place, still bearing the scars of unclean destruction after many centuries.Even the fish and sea creatures offshore had been sickened and had not properly recovered. Apart from the contorted ruins and areas of rubble where nothing grew, and which were surrounded by areas of sickly and distorted growth, and relatively unaffected areas where strange and savage men subsisted, the whole region was spiritually as well as physically desolate. The sense of evil was strong there, old evil from before the destruction, compounded by that event, haunted by so many whose souls had been destroyed or irredeemably distorted. It was not physically or spiritually safe to linger there.
He had followed the island chain of the Caribbean. This was an area of natural beauty, unfortunately still morally and physically polluted by the savagery of it's inhabitants. He had skimmed the west coast of Africa, and seen it to be in a similar state. The old squabbles over oil had ended with the oil, long ago; but the inhabitants had benefited no more from it's absence than they had from it's presence. Squabbles enough remained, although oil no longer provided an occasion for them.
Had he known, he could have reflected that the disappearance of oil had at least benefited the world in a minor way.No longer was it possible to easily hold conferences of petty tyrants, known outside their countries of domination chiefly for the bizarre and extravagant nature of their attire, or gatherings of pompous and pretentious politicians posing for 'photo opportunities'. A whole menagerie of 'international aid organisations' which had principally aided the growth of their participants' self esteem had faded away without much loss to the causes they had supposedly aided. In fact, Sean gave no thought to oil, because he had never known it, and it had no interest for him. The world got along without it, rather as it had before it had come into use.It's absence was not a reason for sorrow, and the remaining people were less crowded. A bit like the effect of the Black Death. Had someone explained to him that cheap oil had powered a lot of mechanical devices which had enabled a many more people to live, and to live more comfortably, than would otherwise have been the case, he would have asked about the value of those lives; what had the extra people done to justify their existence? Had they lived intensely? Had they devised anything useful? Had they shown a physical or spiritual return on the 'talents' invested in them? If told that they were mainly useless eaters, often criminals and layabouts who harmed other people and were a drain on resources, defended by sentimentalists and government employees whose own income depended on them; he would have pointed out that bad consequences were to be expected from the reign of quantity over quality, and that things were better now.
Some areas of West Africa he found were fairly heavily populated, with a semblance of government,where the cheerfully stoic people tried to conduct their lives with as little as possible reference to government. Other areas were simply victims of that semblance. All were agitated by continual conflict as the Muslims pressed down from the north, waging jihad against the remaining Christians and animists.
As he passed down the length of Africa, he had seen the remorseless jihad, and sensed it as a burning spearthrust into the vitals of the continent. The Arab slavers had burned their way well into central Africa, and were busily depopulating what had been the Congo and adjacent regions, sending a stream of slave caravans back down the Nile to market the survivors in Cairo. Further south there had been mines of fabulous richness. These were now of course merely fables. Some ruins were faintly discernible, but even the Chinese had given up trying to extract anything from them in a ceaseless fight against the diseases, the locals, the difficulty in keeping machinery running, and the distances. The further he passed from the penumbra of Arab influence, which brought trade for simple goods like clothing and pots and hand tools, ahead of the religious conversions, fanaticism,jihad, slavery and death, the more primitive the condition of the people became. Only an archaeologist would have noticed faint signs that Europeans had for a short time maintained a thriving civilization there.
There was little sign of large animals.As soon as the flow of funds from tourists had ceased, and the ego-stroking visits promoting 'conservation',from foreign celebrities to local 'big men',so had any local interest in conservation, or even any ability to protect the game for which Africa had been famous.They had soon been killed and eaten. No more gorillas in the mist. No more elephants, rhinoceros, buffalo,hippo, lions, leopards, giraffes, wildebeest,zebras,kudu, eland, even impalas and gazelle. Just scrawny cattle, some crocodiles, snakes and the ever more successful mosquitoes and tsetse flies spreading disease. Sean had had only a vague idea about these creatures and what they had looked like, but he had managed to contact their group souls. These were understandably shy and hostile to humans, but he was enough of a nature-druid to somewhat overcome this reluctance and get an impression of their appearance and consciousness, and understand why they no longer wished to live on earth.
He had passed the southern limit of this increasingly dark continent with a sense of relief.Table Mountain still stood majestic in it's setting, but apart from a few huts and cows in what had been Cape Town, there was little sign of human presence. There were no ships rounding, what to it's discoverer had been, "the fairest cape in all the world". Now there was nothing but the wind and waves blowing in from the south, with only the fishes and seabirds between that shore and the ice of Antarctica.
Joyfully Sean's spirit had leapt to whirl with the winds and as an albatross swoop to the waves, where the birds soar, the whales sing and the winds scream over endless, restless, rolling sea.
"We shoot thro' the sparkling foam,
Like an ocean-bird set free,
Like the ocean-bird, our home
We'll find far out on the sea!
A life on the ocean wave! . . "
Blood of the Earth
Major Augusto Hernandez sat patiently on his horse and smoked a cigarillo as he waited for his men to clear the area of dense bushes ahead. They had tracked a wounded savage into this hideout, and the major wanted to be sure that he had been dealt with before they resumed their steady advance. Already they had killed fifty nine of the savages in the six days since the patrol had crossed the Mississippi, and had taken their ears to prove it. Most of those had been a lucky catch, admittedly, from surprising a small village in the swamp, but they still counted towards the government bounty. Idly he wondered what the total would be for the full two weeks. He had a bet with Captain Roberto Morales that it would exceed one hundred, and he felt lucky.
He knew why patrol activity had been intensified. His Excellency the provincial governor and some of his friends, including his own commanding officer, Colonel Gomez, wanted more land on which to grow tropical crops.Naturally this meant that the land had first to be cleared of savages.This land was too good to be kept from profitable cultivation any longer. Many centuries ago it had borne crops of cotton and tobacco, but it had fallen out of use in the Time of Chaos, and ever since it had been occupied by the savages who had no use for cultivation. After such a long fallow period the yield would surely be very good.He knew that demand for cotton, tobacco, sugar, tropical fruit, coffee, sisal or anything else which could be grown efficiently on a large scale would be strong. The government would smile on local developers who could reduce the country's reliance on the produce of the plantations
and factories of Brazil, saving scarce foreign exchange. It was likely that, if necessary, some degree of protection and even subsidy could be secured, assisted by the right arguments and appropriate generosity to people in a position to be helpful.He himself was hoping for some land or shares in the scheme.
It was also good to extend the territory under Mexican control, especially if it had once belonged to the still hated Yanquis. At first, in the Time of Chaos, when Mexico reclaimed everything taken from it by the Yanquis, there had been too much turmoil to be able to bring this area under control. It had fallen under the sway of gangs of savage criminals, who had raided Mexico when they weren't fighting each other.Then when the Mexicans had become strong enough to defend themselves and launch punitive raids into what had become known as the Blacklands, things stabilised a bit. A regular trade had arisen in which the savages captured and sold their fellows into slavery in Mexico, or via the Caribbean islands, to the plantations in Brazil. Some of their leaders even attempted to form their own slave run estates, without much success as conditions were not sufficiently stable for reliable commerce. Now it was time to open the next phase, in which effective Mexican control would be asserted along the Gulf Coast, and sufficiently far inland to permit the functioning of estates, whose prosperity would solidify Mexican control and add an important new province to the country.Naturally he hoped and expected to increase his own standing and prosperity as a founder of the new province.
Whilst he smoked and waited, he glanced to his right, out over the Gulf of Mexico. Even after half a millenia, there were still twisted fingers of steel rising out of the water,the ruins of oil drilling platforms. The shore was also littered with the the rusted residue of buildings and equipment associated with the old oil industry, heavily overgrown. They seemed like sea monsters which had crawled there to die, or been cast up by the sea, caked with their own blood, or that of the earth which they had injured. Or, perhaps they were like the bloody shattered bones of insolent titans hurled to earth by angry gods.What was it about oil and it's relics which seemed as if man had over-reached himself in using it? Perhaps it was meant to remain as blood within the body of the earth, from which it had been impious to take it. See what a fate had befallen those who had taken the lead in that enterprise, and what trouble they had caused for those Mexicans who had followed their lead.
There was a sudden flurry of shouts and shots, which told him that his men had completed their task. A few minutes later Sergeant Miguel Garcia emerged from the bush grinning as he held up a couple of black ears, from which blood still dripped to the ground. He smiled and nodded to the sergeant and gave the order to advance.
Blood of Sacrifice
Cacique Montezuma Garcia was a man experienced at his work. He had conducted many sweeps of the Blacklands, and led back many thousands of savages to Mexico-Tenochtitlan City. In earlier times his precursors had cleared the more fertile parts of the land, and had captured slaves to labour on it. Things had changed, and nowadays the captives were needed, not for labour, but for sacrifice.
Things had changed in Mexico. Population had grown inexorably faster than resources became available to feed, clothe and employ them. Perhaps more important was the shift in attitudes and behaviour. People had lost faith, and even interest, in a religion imported from Europe and the attitudes and failed technology associated with it. Increasingly they turned to the gods of their ancestors, gods who demanded blood, not just pious words. Perhaps the change had come through popular superstition, which had re-interpreted and absorbed the saints and devotions of Catholicism into new versions of the older faiths. Jesus had become a Flayed One, assimilated with Xipe Totec 'Our Lord the Flayed One',and in popular beliefs, blood was demanded on every occasion. For ages people had resorted to murder and black magic in search of economic fortune and social success. They sought out witches to cast love spells and curses, or to defend themselves against the real or imagined curses of others. Every petty dispute, each minor illness, became an affair of sorcerers.The populace became afraid of their own shadows, each person imagining him - or more fervently, her -self to be surrounded by ill-wishers deploying immense powers of malicious destruction.Those who rose to the top in this society were more cunning and ruthless, but no less superstitious than average, and certainly did not fail to avail themselves of all means of procuring their self advancement.All of this required immense outpourings of blood and money.The country was adrift on a sea of blood. Many priests had become religious generalists, willing to supply rituals for any faith. It was even rumoured that the Pope himself doubled as the head of the religion of Huitzilopochtli and presided over some of the human sacrifices wearing the cured skin of a flayed man.
This had naturally increased the demand for captives to be sacrificed, and it was Garcia's job to supply them. He himself was a devotee of Tezcatlipoca, the patron god of fortune, war and sorcery.He felt protected by him, and thankful for his guidance. He had frequently strolled through the city, admiring it's tall pyramids of sacrifice, it's throngs of bustling people, and it's meat markets where the butchered corpses of the sacrificed were displayed for sale amidst clouds of buzzing flies,as meat to sustain the people. He supposed that he and the shoppers here had often partaken of the meat of sacrificed savages whom he and his men had captured. Although there were farms where slaves were bred and fattened for market, this was slow and expensive; and many preferred the taste of free range meat. He was pleased that his efforts, approved and guided by the gods, helped to nourish the people with the meat, and the gods with the blood of those sacrificed. So busy was the ritual schedule at the main pyramids, and so voracious the demand for their produce, in all the main cities, that ceremonies continued even at night, illuminated by the light cast from bowls of flaming liquid which still oozed from the ground at sites associated with the ancient and long discontinued practice of oil drilling. The underworld deities associated with 'oil' had long ago withdrawn their favour, but now it seemed they might be starting to relent.Perhaps they had been influenced by the deluge of blood pouring on the ground, which perhaps they saw as recompense for the oil that had been taken from the earth. He had seen many grotesque ruins along the coast and in the sea off the Blacklands where he pursued his business, and wondered vaguely whether they might have had to do with the mysteries of oil.
He had always been a landsman, and had worked to the north along the Gulf coast, but he had met colleagues who were seamen and raided the islands of the Caribbean from their bases in Yucatan.They had even passed on rumours that, far to the south, the Brasilians raided the coast of Africa.
Over time the rich pickings from the north had dwindled. Settlers had moved into the coastal lands and established towns and estates. He and those like him, had to travel further, striking inland and eastwards, and then south through the swamps of what had been Florida, infested with snakes, alligators and savages of a particularly virulent ferocity.Some teams were already working up the Atlantic coast. As the savages had disappeared, white men had filtered down from the highlands of the north. These people were much better armed and organised than the savages, so not many had been captured, although their rarity value brought much higher prices. Now Garcia had formed an audacious intention. He meant to make a fortune and enhance his reputation as a warrior by being the first to capture large numbers of these people.He knew it would be arduous and bloody, but he had made arrangements with other leaders and had five thousand men, well armed with clubs, spears, bows, obsidian knives, and even a few muskets from Brazil. Days had been spent in rituals and ceremonies, prayers and sacrifices. Priests had declared the omens to be propritious, and the expedition had set out, carrying plenty of supplies, with whips and rope for captives, cheered by the people they passed.
Now they had passed the area of Mexican settlement and pressed ever northwards towards the region inhabited by the mysterious white men.Garcia did not know, and would not have deviated a step had he known, that he was headed straight for Brigadier Aurelius Jones and his men, entrenched behind a well surveyed and ranged killing ground, supported by artillery and cavalry.There would be a decisive clash between men fully confident of the favour of their gods, and men just as confident in their rifles, cannon and tactical training. Whoever won, much blood was about to be sacrificed.
Cptain Septimus Stuart sat his horse and observed the scene in front of him.This was Clan MacPherson territory, and he noted the white and grey of their tartan saddle blankets, cockades in their caps and the pennants on their wagons, as the men rode around their scattered herds of cattle, horses and bison. They were all drifting south in front of an increasingly chilly breeze. The northern horizon was darkening with storm clouds as the winter season approached.
He knew that the tartan was an affectation, a bit of nonsense thought up by a haberdasher back east, who had found an old book of tartan designs, had samples produced at a woolen mill,and then sent salesmen on an amazingly successful campaign across the Plains; many of whose inhabitants liked to think of themselves as romantic characters, free men in sympathy with the vague but stirring tales told of Scottish Highlanders from the distant past. Some of the leaders of this group may have been called MacPherson, so it was an instant sale, and an encouragement to their neighbours to find an association with another colourful and distinguishing pattern.
The Republican government kept an eye on such things. They approved of ties to ancient identities, even if more than a little bogus, because they pointed to the greater truth of common European origin and sympathy.There were other groups, guilds, tribes or associations which boasted of other notionally eponymous identities. There were Men of Wayland among the smiths. The Sons of Hermes formed an association of merchants, for instance. Some of the horseclans, particularly those whose leaders could claim Germanic ancestry, called themselves Goths. None of them could claim a symbol of identity as spectacular and apparently historical as the tartan. Some of the envious Goths advanced a claim to share the tartan because of the very ancient tartan-wearing mummies of white people found long ago in the steppe borders of ancient China. The Scots derided this, saying that the Goths were much later arrivals on the Eurasian steppes, and that only in Scotland had the tartan been perfected.
Stuart smiled to himself thinking that the notion of Goths must have been a little hard for the Romanophiles in Pittsburg to swallow. They were well aware of the great battle of Adrianople in 378 A.D. when the real Goths had inflicted a crushing defeat on the Romans. Perhaps they had rationalised acceptace by remembrance that many Goths had served faithfully in Roman armies and even as senior Roman officers. Perhaps, he mused, it had been the easier to accept because the defeat had been inflicted on the Roman Empire, not on the Republic. Of course, the old Americans had also disliked the notion of Empire even though they had become one. It was said that the Romans had acquired an Empire by fighting strictly defensive wars, and the old Americans by defending 'democracy' around the world. In any case, he was sure that the American Republic intended that their Goths remained American, loyal and useful.
He had spent the warmer months riding the Great Plains visiting the various groupings inhabiting this vast grassland. It was the task of officers like himself to keep a finger on the pulse of the Plains.He had noted their needs, absorbed their news, adjudicated minor disputes, kept them aware of the power of Pittsburg and it's benificent interest in their welfare and claim on their loyalty. Wryly he noted that he was not without romanticism himself, as he caught himself comparing himself to the Political Officers in the North West Frontier tribal areas of the old British Raj in India.
As he headed back towards the encampment,Stuart reviewed the history of the Plains. After The Collapse of the old America, the Mexicans had swept through the region, killing almost everyone. They had only established effective occupancy in the south, and the rest became a vast wildlife reserve. Slowly herds of bison, cattle and horses established themselves and roamed freely, eventually attracting some predation from Mexicans and Americans.Wolves or coyotes seemed to have done for the sheep, or perhaps it was the Mexicans. When the Republic was firmly established, they turned some attention to making use of the resources provided by these herds.Slowly people began to resettle the area, a few farmers and growing numbers of herders and hunters. The annual forays for meat and skins to take back east became more systematic, and people who had reason to leave the east behind them drifted onto the Plains, where as permanent inhabitants they felt more free. Back east, some quipped that this movement benefitted both source and destination.
The Republic knew it could not intensively settle much of this vast area. It was very glad to keep the Mexicans out of it, and worked to develop groups of nomads who would be a counterpoise to them. The cavalry potential had been obvious. The Republic mounted it's own cavalry partly on horses from the Plains, took an interest in horse breeding there, sent it's units to train there, and above all, encouraged and recruited the Plainsmen to function as light cavalry. The Mexicans could do the same, but the Republic hoped that their own Plains cavalrymen,supported by regular units of 'galloper guns' horse artillery, would make a Mexican attack via the Plains too costly to be worthwhile, by harrying it's communications. Now that there were steam gunboats patrolling the Mississippi, the Republic felt a lot more confident about it's western defences. Indeed, the shattering of their cannibal raiding assaults in the old Southern states, and subsequent expulsion of all Mexicans west of the Mississippi, had given the Republic the confidence of a good defence line. The Plainsmen were in full control north of the Arkansas river, and infiltrating south of it, nudging Mexican influence away from the Mississippi,providing a glacis in front of the moat protecting Fortress America.
The comparison Stuart most liked for the Plainsmen was with the Cossacks of Eastern Europe. The name had supposedly derived from the Turkish for free man or unruly wanderer. They had attracted all sorts of people squeezed out of a more settled life, and formed a miscellany of groups serving or fighting the Poles, Russians and Turks. Very romantic characters in folklore, they had mainly served the Tsars as light cavalry and frontier guards and had helped the eastern advance of Russia into Siberia. The development of the old America had proceeded so rapidly that the railroads and then the oil-based surge of automobiles and aircraft had settled and leaped over the Plains very quickly in historical terms. The disappearance of oil had brought back distance as a major factor in life, and the Plains certainly represented distance. The second development of America was going to be much slower, and the Plains would have longer in which to play a 'romantic' role. The Plains Indians had almost fitted the bill the first time around, but although the buffalo had returned, the Indians had not. So, Highlanders, Goths or Cossacks, whoever they were likened to, the American Republican Plainsmen would have their hour.