Hero Historia: Jericho Rising 4

Hero Historia: Jericho Rising 3
Hero Historia: Jericho Rising 5

The stone spire of Jericho’s tallest tower was a source of awe and wonder within the hearts of the Bear Clan tribesmen. Even hours distant across the plains it stood proud and tall, an architectural wonder far beyond the simple huts the Smoke Mountain clans built. It stood as tall as the tallest trees, with a glimmer atop, as if a second sun burned at its pinnacle.

The journey through the Sea of Grass had been uneventful, despite Broad’s hope of encountering a lion to hunt for a skin of his very own. They found none, though plenty of game along the way, felling two fast-moving antelopes, and the meat would serve to sustain them on their journey.

Broad had taken the horns. Gifts for their new hosts, gratitude to the people of Jericho for taking them in.

Drawing closer, the scope of the city became clear, as impossible as it seemed.

“It’s as big as a forest!” Clay said.

“The entire Tribe could camp inside,” Broad said. “All four clans.”

“Five clans,” Clay said.

Broad didn’t respond, putting a hand on his brother’s shoulder, and Clay remembered. His excitement died a little, but only a little.

At first Clay had taken Jericho to be one massive hut, an unbroken structure of unbelievable size, but when they were closer he saw that the camp was surrounded by a great wall, hundreds of feet on a side. Surrounding the wall was a steep-walled ravine deeper than a man was tall, further across than any but a Champion could leap. He wondered, briefly, if the people of Jericho had built their wall at the edge of the ditch, or if they had somehow managed to dig something so impressive around their walls.

It seemed impossible, but there it was.

“Look.” Broad pointed with his chin.

In the distance a couple stood among a herd of some kind of small animals, goats or sheep. The beasts ate placidly among them, not acknowledging the humans in their midst.

“Their magic is strong,” Clay said.

“It is as the Old Ones said.”

The brothers were rewarded with a closer look at Jericho’s inhabitants when they reached the gates. Two men stood at the entrance to the city, spears in hand. The warriors were shorter than the hunters of the Smoke Mountain tribe, with similar features, close-cropped short hair and well-groomed beards. What stuck out most to Clay was how clean they were, how well kept their flax garments, and the wariness in their eyes.

“We come from the Smoke Mountain,” Broad said. “We want to join your people.”

The two men exchanged a glance.

One spoke, and there was a strangeness to the way he made his words, though Clay could not place it. “Why should we let you? Two more mouths to feed.”

“Two more bellies,” the other said. “And you know how much a tribal can eat.”

“We bring gifts,” Broad said, holding up the antelope horns.

“What do we care for your trinkets?”

“We are hunters.” Clay lifted the paw of his lionskin. “We can bring meat and furs for Jericho.”

The two men were interested in the skin, reaching out to touch it. “Where did you get this?”

“My brother killed a lion in the Sea of Grass,” Broad said. “We are both mighty hunters.”

“We do not need hunters,” the first man said. “But your backs look strong. If you give us the lion’s hide, you can come in. If you are willing to work.”

“What kind of work?” Broad asked.

“Farming. Repairing the wall. Carrying stone. Does it matter? Or is that beneath such mighty hunters?”

Clay hesitated. The fur was his, a hunter’s prize, the rightful trophy of his prowess. He’d almost died there, in the Sea of Grass, fighting a beast of tooth and claw. He had intended the skin to be passed down to his eventual son, along with the story of how he had killed it.

But now the Bear Clan had fallen. Broad and Clay had nowhere else to go. Jericho was the last chance they had to live among men, instead of wandering like beasts in the wilderness.

It was not a good choice, but it was an easy one.

Clay pulled the skin off of his shoulders, bearing them to the sun’s heat, and handed it over to the guards.

They looked pleased. “Welcome to Jericho.”

“What do we do now?” Broad asked.

One of the guards elbowed the other. “Take them to Forkbeard. He’ll put you to work, give you a place to sleep.”

The other guard nodded and led the way through the walls.

The city was beyond anything Clay could have imagined. Massive structures of clay brick and mud lined narrow streets, up against one another like trees in the forest, like the huts his clan had built but on a much grander scale.

And the people. So many people. A crowd, walking, talking, staring at the new arrivals. There were as many as Clay had seen at one of the tribal moots.

“There must be hundreds living here,” he said to Broad.

Their escort laughed. “Many hundreds, tribal. Wait until all the farmers come in from the fields.”

Hundreds. How could so many live in a small space, without killing all the game, without gathering all the plants? They didn’t move with the seasons as the clans did. It didn’t make any sense.

Clay felt small. Insignificant, compared to the accomplishments of the people of Jericho. They had a mastery of the world the Bear Clan had never even thought to achieve. This was a powerful magic indeed, and he would try his best to become part of it.

***

“What do we do?” Clay asked, looking at the furrowed dirt stretching out before him.

“It is almost the time of planting,” Forkbeard said. He stood tall for the men of Jericho, older and wiry in the way of an experienced hunter, and had a split down the middle of his beard. “But first the soil must be prepared to accept the grain.”

Clay felt a certain trepidation at the man’s words. He didn’t understand what they meant, but it sounded like magic. “Are you a shaman?”

Forkbeard laughed. “I am a farmer. We have no shamans here.”

Broad looked uncomfortable. “Then how do you know what the spirits want?”

“Jericho has no need for spirits, for we are wise in our ways. Look at the city, and all you will see was created by the hands of man. Here, in the fields, we have learned the secrets of the soil.”

Clay shivered. A powerful magic. But to discount the spirits?

Forkbeard handed sticks to the brothers. “Here. You must till the earth. Make it ready. Turning the soil will make the crops grow all the more, so that when we harvest there is more food for the city.”

Clay held the stick at arm’s length, peering at it, wondering at the magics it possessed to accomplish such a feat.

“What grows here?” Broad asked.

“This field?” Forkbeard craned his neck. “Wheat or barley.”

“I don’t know those,” Broad said. “This seems like much effort. Our gatherers just find food growing all over the place.”

“And they gather it, and it is gone,” Forkbeard said. “Farming is a way of telling the earth what plants to give us.”

So it was like being a shaman, Clay reflected, even if the men of Jericho didn’t think of it that way.

Forkbeard walked to the field, dragging his stick through the earth, stirring it up. “You see? Like so.”

Clay copied his actions. It seemed simple enough.

“Where is the food?” Broad asked, sifting through the dirt Clay had churned with his big toe.

“First we till the fields. Next week we make holes and drop the seed. When the time of harvest comes and the plants are tall, we reap the grain.”

Broad started. “That is long to go without eating.”

“There is plenty of food, tribal. We grow enough to last until the next harvest. And more, for trade to those who come for it.”

“That is… that is so much food!”

Forkbeard smiled. “Do you see why we do not hunt? Why send a hunter out to bring back a day’s worth of meat, when the same man can feed many by working the land?”

The older man left the younger with their sticks, and the brothers did their best to shift the dirt like they’d been shown. It soon proved more difficult than it had first appeared, and by midday the brothers were covered in sweat-streaked dirt.

“Broad?” Clay asked.

“Yes?” Broad had been humming tunelessly.

“If Jericho does not hunt, where do they get their meat?”

Broad paused to wipe the sweat from his brow, smearing mud across his forehead. “Maybe they grow it from the ground. Another magic.”

“I do not think that that is a thing that happens.”

“Maybe not.” Broad said. “Maybe that is why they are all so small.”

“Not enough meat,” Clay said.

“Or maybe they trade for meat.”

“It would be simpler to hunt.”

“We are their guests,” Broad said. “We want them to take us in. Accept us into their tribe.”

“I know.” Clay picked up a heavy stone and rolled it out of the field. “I would rather be hunting.”

Broad’s words had wisdom. They had arrived without kin to speak for them. No one knew their deeds. Their voices were small. Clay resolved to do what it took to gain their acceptance.

“Maybe we would do better on our own,” Broad said, rolling his shoulders. “We can leave. Live in the woods, live like hunters. What does Jericho have to offer that we cannot acquire ourselves?”

Clay spotted Forkbeard returning along the wall and elbowed his brother to quiet his complaints. They redoubled their efforts to look busy until the overseer reached them.

“You did good work, for your first day,” Forkbeard said. “It is enough for now.”

“Thank you,” Clay said, jamming his stick in the soil.

“Come in, cool off, and have some beer. You can stay at my home until we find a more permanent place for you.”

“Sounds like a good plan,” Broad said. “What is beer?”

Forkbeard smiled. “Beer is the greatest magic. It is why Jericho was built.”

***

“I like beer!” Broad grinned, holding his mug high. “This is the greatest of magics!”

Clay didn’t disagree.

***

Forkbeard’s home was a structure built around a flat clay courtyard large enough to have fit the Bear Champion’s hut comfortably. The overseer walked the brothers over to one of the curtained doorways.

“This was a supply room. I hope you don’t mind.”

Broad was in high spirits. “Of course not! We’re grateful for your generosity.”

Forkbeard grinned. “I’ll come get you in the morning, and we’ll head back to the fields.”

“Is planting next?” Clay asked.

“Not for weeks yet,” Forkbeard said. “There’s more tilling to do.”

“But we finished the field,” Broad said.

“You finished that field,” Forkbeard said. “But there are more. When the growing season is upon us, you will see the fields’ verdant growth extending from the city to the horizon in all directions. It is a beautiful sight.”

“Such a task,” Clay said. “How do you finish?”

“You never finish,” Forkbeard said. “There is always something to do. It never ends.”

It never ends. The words echoed in Clay’s ears as their overseer left them.

Broad lead the way into the storeroom.

Sleeping furs had been laid out near stacked clay jars, and Clay fell back upon them, forearm covering his face. “I would rather be hunting.”

“It’s not so bad.” Broad stood in the doorway, watching the courtyard. “Hard but honest work. And beer is good.”

“It makes me sleepy.”

“Good,” Broad said. “You haven’t been sleeping.”

“I’m surprised you can. Every time I close my eyes I see Father’s body. I see the clan, scattered to the winds. But you? You were there.”

Broad sat alongside his brother. “It is not healthy to hold on to that which is past.”

“You sound like a shaman. It’s not past for me,” Clay said. “The foreign tribe is still out there. Unpunished for their dishonorable ways.”

“Our laws are not their laws.” Broad lowered his chin to his knees.

“There are some laws that all must obey,” Clay said. “They did not need to kill our hunters, to take Father’s skull, to end the lines of Champions.”

“Clay.” Broad sighed and lifted his head. “I have not been entirely honest with you about what the Old Ones said.”

Clay sat up. “What do you mean?”

“They did say they could not call back Bear to make me the Champion. At first.”

“What did they say?”

“They did say that the Way of Champions was over, but they gave me these.” From his furs he produced a pair of clay spheres.

Clay took one. “What are they?”

“The essence of Bear. What could be given without the skull. One for each of us.”

Clay held his ball up into the moonlight coming through the door. There was a marking on it, though he couldn’t make out what it said.

“With these we can become Champions. Not as great as Father, but greater than normal men.”

Clay closed his fist around it. “Why did you not tell me sooner?”

“I wanted to give you the chance for a peaceful life, Clay.”

Clay shook his fist. “That was not your choice. These are our birthright, Broad. They are all that remains of Bear.”

Broad turned away. “I know now. And the Old Ones said that someday the foreign tribe would come here, to Jericho. You will want to fight them. Maybe, with the power of Bear, it will not be your end.”

Clay opened his hand again. “How do I—”

“Crush it in your fist.”

Clay took a deep breath, then clenched his hand around the charm. He felt its shell shatter, felt something warm and wet inside.

“It’s—” he began.

The pain stole his words as it felt like a thousand fire-ants were burrowing into his palm. Clay screamed and fell on his side, clutching his fist to his chest. All he knew was the fire as it spread up his arm like a swarm of tiny arrows, exploding in his heart.

The world whited out.

***

Clay woke to Broad shaking him and calling his name. He opened his eyes, groggily, and rolled to sit up.

Broad was staring at him.

“Did—” His voice sounded deeper. His hand went to his throat. “Did it work?”

Broad nodded.

Clay looked down at his hands. They seemed larger. There was a fading redness in the palm that had crushed the charm.

“You’re bigger,” Broad said. “Not as big as Father. But bigger.”

Clay felt bigger. He felt stronger. Powerful. He stood, his head almost reaching the roof of the storeroom.

“Shoulders, chest are broader,” Broad said. “You look a mighty hunter.”

Clay looked at his shadow. He wasn’t as barrel-shaped as the Bear Champions had been, still skinny of proportion by their standards, but he was easily the size and stature of the other clans’ Champions.

“How does it feel?” Broad asked.

“Good,” Clay said. “Strange. But good. I can feel the power of the ancestors humming in my blood.”

Broad grinned. “Working the fields should be easy tomorrow.”

Clay laughed. “The way I feel, I could till them all in one day on my own.”

“Shh! Don’t let Forkbeard hear you.”

“Okay, now you. Crush your charm.”

Broad’s smile faded. “Now?”

“Why not?”

He looked at the charm. “I don’t know. I think I just want to be Broad.”

“I don’t understand. You were going to be chosen to replace Father.”

“I never wanted to be Champion, Clay. I just wanted a simple life. Eventually Jericho will discover they have a Champion in their midst, and they will ask things of you.”

“Do you think so?” Clay asked. “Champion of Jericho… that is a position of respect.”

“And responsibility,” Broad said. “I don’t want responsibility. I just want to farm. It suits me.” He held the charm out to his brother. “Here. Break it yourself, maybe you will grow more powerful. Or give it to your son, so that he too may know that life.”

Clay didn’t take it. “Broad—”

Broad put the charm in Clay’s hand. “No, take it. I don’t want it.”

Clay put a hand on his older brother’s shoulder. “I will hold it for you. Only for now. Until you change your mind.”

Broad smiled. “If that makes the choice easier for you, brother Bear.”

Clay shook his head. “Bear is no more. Just call me Clay.”

A serious look crossed his brother’s face. “You will fight when the foreign tribe comes to Jericho?”

“I will fight. If they have kept Father’s skull, I will take it.”

“Then you must learn to fight men.”

“I am a hunter.”

Broad shook his head. As am I, but when they attacked us… none were ready. None could help Father. Killing men… is not the way of killing beasts.”

“How do I learn?” Clay asked. “If I just started killing men, they would exile us. And I don’t want to kill the innocent.”

“I do not know,” Broad said.

Clay frowned. “You aren’t much help.”

“I am a great help! I gave you the power of Champions!”

“You mean you stopped hiding the power that the Old Ones told you to share with me?”

Broad laughed. “Hold on to that cleverness, brother. You will need it.”

Prospectus

Excerpt from On the Origin of Extra-Normal Capabilities by J. Wainwright (Cambridge, 1892)

While no chrononaut has, at the time of this writing, managed to travel back through time beyond the origins of the Roman Empire, and no immortal can make a legitimate claim to living any earlier than Babylon, the evidence clearly supports the theory that capabilities transcending the human date back to the New Stone Age at the very least. Malformations of skeletal remains recovered in the Near East, Africa, and Orient lead one to the conclusion that some men exhibited a range of grotesque adaptations similar to what we see in the modern world, though perhaps not to the same degree.

Without a concrete written language we must turn to legend and apocrypha.

While the media treats these supernal individuals as a new development, we cannot deny the mark they’ve left on history. Physical evidence clearly indicates that figures such as Gilgamesh, Beowulf, and Achilles not only did possess the legendary traits we attribute to them, but that so did many others.

Returning for the moment to the New Stone Age, we see a potential origin for these unique talents at sites such as Jericho and Çatal Hüyük in the graves discovered there. Being closer to their source, did these ancients have an understanding of these capabilities that we ourselves lack?

This thesis will examine that question.

Michael Coorlim

Michael Coorlim is a teller of strange stories for stranger people. He collects them, the oddballs. The mystics and fire-spinners, the sages and tricksters. He curates their tales, combines their elements and lets them rattle around inside his rock-tumbler skull until they gleam, then spills them loose onto the page for like-minded readers to enjoy.
Michael Coorlim

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Hero Historia: Jericho Rising 3
Hero Historia: Jericho Rising 5

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