A fertile land. For centuries home to simple people. Their homes lie to one side of the valley, sheltered from the coldest winter winds, shaded from the noon sun. Huts of mud built by honest men and wives and laughing children.
All around tree limbs are heavy with ripening fruit. Overhead, a blue void shot with white lashes that shimmer and slide in the mirror below, its banks spattered with coloured blooms.
For so long this land a place of peace.
The peacemakers float above the eastern ridge, dark sentinels in line abreast. Huge vessels designed to carry troops and equipment wherever they may be required, their shadows span the valley entire. Drums throb and shudder, broadcasting orders to the bloodbirds that spill forth clutching barbed and bladed weapons.
Sinewy figures with tar-coloured faces daubed with vibrant streaks, they are a band of macabre, chattering clowns clad in scraps of armour and cloth and accoutrements gleaned from battles past. Animals’ hides. Scalps of enemies slain. The tattered flags of decimated tribes.
Dull and battered breastplates and helmets clank and clatter, not a suit complete among them. One is naked but for a bowler hat with rainbow feathers tucked into its satin band. The scuffed headpiece nestles above his brow, warms its tiny pointed ears.
Another wears high-heeled boots of purple leather and a cloak of fine white silk draped between its leathery wings. Some trail strips of coloured cloth that flow like maidens’ hair.
They dash like escaped shadows among the pitiful creatures that scurry and hide, or unfurl tobacco-leaf wings to sweep and soar.
The people of the village put up a brave defence. Muskets and pistols pop and clap, flinging riverbed stones in unpredictable arcs. A small canon thumps and rocks on wooden wheels, belching charcoal clouds that hang ahead of its stout muzzle.
The villagers’ few metal machines chug and clatter and wheeze and churn, spouting inky plumes and spitting clods of mud as they become bogged in mire, embraced by quag. They fight on as the bloodbirds pull apart their primitive artillery with bombs that send waves of heat and shock and spinning chunks.
The bloodbirds hiss and cry and warble throaty ululations. Limbs tumble. Heads roll. Abdomens spill viscera. They flick pointed tongues from razorteeth mouths as they slake their thirst.
Amid this terror a shattered man takes the hand of death. As his eyes cloud he sees the woman he loved and the sons they spawned and raised through winters and summers, and who set off across the world in search of a life. He recalls the building of their small home, its thatch now aflame. The years of famine. The years of plenty that followed the thread of gold discovered in the rocks. The laughter and the love. The unborn child who died.
Then his heart ceases and his blood begins to thicken, his fading watched over by the sun’s white eye, while all around the land lies so ravaged that a worker of the soil boy and man would swear it a stranger’s home, and weep with eventual recognition.