Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Today’s Word: Doyen

The Doyen of the Twelve hunkered down with his disciples, his nose pressed firm against the trench wall. Other men scrabbled along the concave floor, breaking loose tiny avalanches of scree, but the captains got them stopped quickly.

"How far off are the medusas?" asked the Doyen of his first councilor, a large man named Tonce.

"Spotter says three miles east, but the wind is blowing in from that direction, my lord."

The Doyen nodded, still facing the dirt. The giant, jellyfish-like medusas could cover that amount of ground in minutes, especially if the wind favored them. With their kilometers long tentacles, the beasts could almost reach that far so long as they sensed prey milling about on the ground.

He was running a risk, giving his disciples this mission. If they failed, if something went horribly wrong, the entire Twelve could be consumed by diaphanous sacks of hydrogen. And, worse, Lanta would be lost.

"How many are there, Tonce?" asked the Doyen.

"Spotter says three, your grace."

The Doyen nodded. "Pour the tar and set the fires. Don't wait for my command, start shooting the moment you believe they're in range."

"Yes, your grace."

Tonce rolled to his right and called for the captains. One of the younger disciples – probably seventeen if a year – let out a gasp and everyone's eyes, even Tonce's and the remaining members of the Twelve, turned to see the first medusa rising over their trench to the east.

Its tentacles hung down lazily, as if it were careless what lay below on the green earth. But this misconception was dispelled quickly when one of the massive tendrils snared a cow from a nearby pasture. The hysterical bovine screamed as stinging buds pierced its flesh, deadening the muscles in a mater of seconds, silencing the thing's cries to a horrid gurggle. In a moment the cow was lost from view, as the massive arm rose upward, lifting it to the medusa's waiting mouth some two kilometers overhead. A shower of blood and one leg with hoof still attached, rained down into the pasture.

"No time to gape, men!" cried the Doyen, rousing his disciples to arms.

One of the captains sparked dry hay to flame, which he in turn used to set a moat of tar afire.

Young disciples – deacons in the Faith – carried the arbalest missiles to the tar moat, setting their tips to the fire, then returned them to the machines which only captains were allowed to operate.

The Doyen saw scores of flame arrows fired from longbows and crossbows rise from the trench seeking to damage the medusa, but he had little hope for their success. It was impossible for them to climb high enough to hit the thing's body and the tentacles were virtually impervious to any attack known to man.

His only hope was the arbalest.

Tonce gave the order and a captain triggered the huge machine to fire. Its arrow flew away faster than any bird the Doyen had ever seen take wing. Its flaming head did not go out, rather it seemed to burn more brightly as it rose away from the trench.

The huge flame arrow was only halfway through its climb when the medusa's tentacle started to move.

"Oh, God," whispered the Doyen, as the now tiny missile bounced off the side of that massive limb. Three other tentacles, each the width of a large tower, rose over the trench wall, and swung inside. Disciples screamed as they were carried away to a gapping maw in the clouds.

Tonce ran forward, and took the Doyen by the sleeve of his damask shirt.

"We must shelter in the cave, your grace. You mustn't die in this place, while Lanta is still under siege."

Reluctantly, the Doyen followed his first councilor through the trench to a cave of thick stone that opened into it.

Tonce collapsed on the loose rock at his master's feet.

"I have failed you," he said, his deep voice hoarse with emotion. "The Twelve are lost, all but me, and I am dead in my failure."

The Doyen placed a hand on Tonce's shoulder.

"They are not dead, my loyal disciple."

Cheers erupted over the sound of fear and pain outside, followed by a heavy thud and the sound of something massive burning.

"They have taken one from the sky," said the Doyen, looking out the cave mouth, though there was nothing to see besides the first bend of trench. "Soon we shall have airships to match the Ogema, and then Lanta shall be ours."

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