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▶  More from Fiction Yusef of the Dusk
Axe Food
Scene Six: Yusef of the Dusk

Her dusky tresses no longer befuddled the furtive men of day or the hungry men of night.

Yusef pondered the meaning of this, dumb with drink, wordless Truth easing into the Beyond even as he tried to grasp its silky threads with his slipping mind, a man whose hour has passed without his knowing awaking to his infinite solitude.

He had oft known victory in that moment when her astral locks curtained the world and the hunted knew not the comfort of light and the hunter stalked not yet through true dark; that time of the trysting of the planes when those who toiled and despoiled knew pause, when all men save fools, dreamers and Yusef of the Knife waned, equally ill at ease.

Her crooked blessing withdrawn and her glow of allure sung in silent, stardust notes, Yusef felt the curse laid upon him with her love, felt the hunger in his belly, the loneliness in his heart, the power of his enemy, towering in glowering mirth, thirsty beneath his fork-bearded grin for his blood and covetous too of his aforetime lucky head to dress the prow of his miserable dhow.

Fool Yusef, bringer of a knife to an axe dance—good as cleaved already as I reel on wine-sodden legs.

Her demand that he prove himself in the coal-glow stained night while she luxuriated in dazzling milk-white light among the twinkling specks of the sea-bottom blue heavens, brought a deep, fatalistic stroke against the muted gong that was his mind’s ear.

He would not slink away like a mere rat.

Yusef of the Dusk, Yusef of the many soft bottoms conquered in the silken shadows as killers shod in steel, honed their cleaving craft on fields afar, had been caught foolishly jesting and bloody-handed in the path of a mighty night, floundering in the bloody afar. With a graceless grunt the luck-run man of the shadows resigned himself to dark Death, wanting only to soar above and beyond this sea-stroked stain on the stony void he was born to—free to kiss oblivion.

But he could not give in, give up or give over. Too much ego, too much bravado—feigned until it had become him—strained at his desire to sink into the sky above, containing him, corralling what it was to be him, to be Yusef, until the being was too close, too constrained, too snarling mad to be restrained.

The Varangian, forked beard sweeping double mail, ember eyes smoldering in steel-rimmed sockets, drooling wine as he hefted axe, the wicked beard of steel hanging like the man-reaping tool of some jealous god in the night sky—her radiance aflow from its sheening arc—snarled in his animal language, easily as drunk as Yusef and spoke a single word that invoked the bear of the Atlas Yusef had slain while running like a clip-winged vulture from those blue-skinned devils…

The muzzle-frothing bark of the steel-cloaked bear was lost in the savage ululation of some deranged creature, with something of the wolf, the jackal, and the hyena about it, all twanging discordantly from the same besotted throat, sounded shrilly as Yusef charged.

No footman charges the Cleaving Men and lives.

No footman am I. I am the proud rider, the stable creeper and canal leaper. My horse, where is my faithful horse?

I have no horse, so must be dead. Yet I move!

This fool, flying to his doom, cannot be Yusef, the slacker by the heat of day, dagger through the tendrils of dusk, dancer through the soft night?

Who is this hyena of a fool hurrying into the arc of the reaping axe?

They called him Yusef for a time—now the kites call him breakfast.

As the devil-bearded fiend brought his steel beard streaking down, Yusef sprinted on tiptoe, howling, across the few paces of terrible ground, his shamashar braced against the inevitable mighty blow, his wicked, sharp dagger of a needle point braced against his own breast as he made of himself an arrow and sped toward that enemy chest, intent only on that grunting, heaving, cleaving heathen.

Norse bark and mongrel howl melted together as the shamashar shattered, the wrist supporting the hand holding it snapped, the muscular rear end that had propelled Yusef through the devilish arc received a terrible chop that nearly relieved him of his mansack from behind—and he was in, half-butted but inside the giant’s guard—the links of mail parting like soft thighs and bursting like wine bubbles as he crashed into the wall of a man, pinned himself to him, and drove his hairy, steeled form back into the surf like a felled palm.

They hit the rock-cushioning surf and sunk to the giant’s shoulders, chin to chin, beard to beard, nose to nose, eye to eye, and he who had fallen uppermost in this drunken dance of death-dealing fools remained arrogant to the last, even as his mind swam and the Dark One emerged to engulf him, Yusef snarled, wine-red lips dripping sardonically, “Choked on this food, did you, Lord Axe?”

The dying of the big man was not his to savor, forever curtained by the descending hand of darkness from his petty view.

Reverent Chandler: The Saga of Fend

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