Prose Header


by Arthur Davis

Part 1 appears
in this issue.


Before he could respond, there came a series of shattering blows to my front door. While I was only startled, Ambrick drew his dagger, sprang into the hall and pulled open the door.

Standing in the doorway was a giant that blocked the darkness behind him. Feathers sprang from his shoulders and headband. He heaved breathlessly as though he had torn through the fabric of time to reach his destination. He pulled his dagger out of its sheath as soon as he saw Ambrick.

“Stop,” I demanded.

Ambrick held his position. “He is my enemy. He is the enemy of your ancestors.”

“He lies as he deceives,” the savage responded. “I am Cusak, chief of my tribe.”

The man was half a hand taller than Ambrick and just as solidly constructed. I have counseled leaders and conspirators. I have taken sides and know how the truth of history can be manipulated. Each man was prepared to kill the other and yet, in their aggression, I was more infused with life and purpose at this moment than at any time since my return to England.

Ambrick was unmoved, his twisted dagger at the ready. “This man can see through your disguise,” he said motioning to me as though we had already set an alliance.

“You consort with evil,” Cusak said, with eyes you could hardly doubt. On his right bicep was wrapped an amulet identical to the one on my desk. Exactly like the one set in the middle of Ambrick’s black leather tunic.

“In my lodge you will obey me. Remove your daggers. Now.”

Ambrick turned on me. “You would betray your own people?” he shouted in disbelief.

“I alone will decide who are my people and who are my enemies.”

“You are a fool to believe this beast or give him sanctuary,” Cusak declared and lowered his weapon.

“The fool will be the one who defies me. I will not warn you again.”

Both warriors sheathed their daggers and removed their belts. Ambrick let his fall to the floor while Cusak hung his on the coat rack in the hall. Ambrick returned to where he was sitting. Cusak surveyed the room suspiciously before sitting.

There is a tribe of warring natives, just within the northern perimeter of the Belgian Congo where Jesuit priests interceded on behalf of peace some years ago. They were butchered and their bodies cut in half so that each of the warring parties could claim victory. I hadn’t come this far in life to be consumed by warring nations, even if my past was the key to their future.

“You have been at war with each other for many years. What have you accomplished but grief for your mothers and sisters and a tragic legacy for your children. This land, my land, runs red with your blood, and in spite you come to my lodge and ask my intervention so one can destroy the other.”

“I came here so that the conflict can be ended,” Cusak said.

“You came to lie,” Ambrick protested.

Cusak rose and took a step closer. “And you are not a butcher of my people?”

“Enough,” I demanded. “Are either of you prepared, with or without my help, to slaughter every last man, woman, and child of your adversary’s tribe? Because that’s what it will take. Until every soul is sent to the grave, there can be no peace. Are both of you prepared to completely destroy one another?”

I had seen savagery before. I had seen one tribe butcher another. I had to take control of this moment with as much courage and bravado as I could muster and believe, as had these two warriors, that I truly possessed the power of peace. Still, I had no intention of sacrificing myself on the alter of ambiguity.

“His ancestors took our land,” Ambrick said dispassionately.

“My ancestors took back their birthright,” Cusak replied studying the room and the fireplace. He seemed curious about the smoothness of the floor underfoot and after returning to sit, kept moving his foot along the heavy flooring boards as if to test where there may be a trap or hollow.

Cusak seemed especially fascinated with my collection of daggers and swords cresting in an arc over the mantle of the fireplace in my study. I was prepared for him to reach for one and end the contest here and now.

I suspected Ambrick had already anticipated that possibility. Both men were remarkable in their trappings and demeanor, mirror images of the other’s intensity and command.

Apparently so powerful was the spirit that resided within me that both leaders had staked their lives on securing my cooperation. I stared down at the amulet on my desk and recalled the torn nightshirt. The events that shuttled me back in time and returned me to my bedchamber began to take on a shape and a defined imagery.

In the distance, I saw men in battle and men dying. I saw horses fall and warriors press on after being mortally wounded. I saw the woman on her horse set and release an arrow that found its mark in the heart of those who opposed her.

“I know you both. I recall your land and your tribes and sympathize with the terrible situation that drove you through time to my door,” I said. “You have come here to save your people. There is no more noble cause.”

The more I sat with these men, the clearer and more complete was my recall, though I remained unable to determine on which side my sympathies fell.

Cusak clutched the amulet strapped around his bicep. “Here is the brother to the gift I gave you.”

Ambrick jumped from his chair and grabbed a dagger from over the fireplace. “Liar, he already has the brother of this one,” he said slapping the dagger against the face of his own amulet.

Cusak did not stir. “The traitor knows when he has been treed.”

“Put it down, Ambrick. Now, or you will force me to take sides against you.”

“You have already defiled your ancestors by letting this cur into your lodge.”

Cusak leaned back with some satisfaction. “If you are the best of your nation, then we will not need the help of this man to defeat you.”

Both presently laid claim to my previous intervention and to those of my ancestors. Both were animated and convincing. They had come forward in time, by what means I remained uncertain, to bring me back as their ancestral ally.

What if I chose wrong? I had every reason to believe that one would not let the other, or I, survive that journey. And, what if there was more to the story than either cared to reveal? What if these two did not represent all the parties involved in the savagery?

“I have decided,” I began, pausing to reflect one last time on so important a decision, “I will not return with either of you.”

They were startled. The singular purpose of their mission was only made more impossible by the presence of the other. They could not go back empty-handed. I believe each would rather die in the struggle than let the other succeed in winning me over.

“You must,” Ambrick insisted. “You have already taken sides with us. You must see the battle to its end.”

“Because this man knows it cannot be so,” Cusak answered.

I found myself admiring both men, believing in their cause and — however articulately they presented their case, in this home, in my study — their antagonisms seemed to lessen to the point of civility. What caught my attention was not Ambrick’s moderating demeanor but Cusak’s poise in the face of a man, two men, whom he believed may have already taken sides against him.

What also struck me as the evening continued was how similar the voice and mannerisms, the very posturing and passion of these warriors. While Ambrick might have been a year or two older, he held his head and was as demonstrative with his hands and eyes and intonations as was Cusak, who accepted that time had dealt him a great disadvantage from the beginning.

Their tribes had once been one, united and the strongest in their land. A dispute between the tribal chief, Ambrick’s forefather, broke out with one of the elders who had an incontestable following with many of the other elders. I had seen such internecine discord before. Political manipulations were not a creation of the nineteenth century and whether Disraeli or Gladstone, or Ambrick or Cusak, one’s cause was always noble and the other, an unacceptable threat.

“You both have come to me for help. While I have already recognized Ambrick’s cause, Cusak has clarified some important issues.”

Ambrick’s smoldering glare exploded. “You cannot turn your back on your brothers!”

Cusak remained unmoved. “Only time will tell who is the liar and who is the brother.”

It was evident that each cause had some justification. What most appealed to me were the similarities and not the differences between these two antagonists.

I walked over to the wall and pulled down a Belgian saber taken from a chieftain in a South African province. I had worked with his tribe for a rainy season, helping him improve both farming practices and revetments against his enemies. It was a ceremonial sword although, from the scratch marks on the cutting side of the blade, it had seen its days of combat.

“If I ran this sword into Cusak’s heart, would it please you?” I asked Ambrick.

Cusak got to his feet and grabbed the sword from my hand. Ambrick stood at my side relieved. “My people would celebrate as never before. You would be revered as would a god.”

“Or if I plunged this dagger into your blackened heart, would that make me a king in Cusak’s land?” I asked, pulling a stiletto letter opener from my pocket and pressing the point into his tunic next to the amulet. “No?”

I returned to my chair while both men sought out the meaning of my example. I was not certain of my grounds, but needed to diffuse the self-righteous hubris that was making simple rationale impossible. I considered what might have been Brian’s counsel at this moment. I remained confident in mine.

I waited as the room stood silent. Finally, only the crackle of the fireplace could be heard on the moors.

“By the way, and I am certain neither of you will agree on this as you don’t on every other issue but, before you kill each other, you may as well know that you are brothers.”

Now both men were upon me, Cusak with the Belgian sword and Ambrick with my letter opener. In his scarred hand, it suddenly looked fierce and menacing.

“You mock my people?”

“And our peace?”

“Brothers,” I repeated, “in every way but the obvious.”

“Liar,” Ambrick practically roared, as fire raged in each warrior’s eyes.

“It’s obvious that both of you have justification for your cause, though nothing warrants spilling so much blood that both nations are destroyed. I suggest that we go out outside and I will give you each a suitable weapon and I will return to the tribe of the one that survives the combat.

“You are both brave warriors upon whom rests the future of your nations. I do not wish myself such a task. I will be here for both of you but not for either of you alone.”

After a second, both men nodded their approval.

“Then you would kill your brother to save your nation?” I asked both men.

“We are not brothers. It could not be so.”

“You waste my time,” Cusak said, clutching the sword tightly.

“You are both brave and kin to each other. I can see it in your eyes and the way you talk. You came from the same womb. From the same spirit and love. You fight with the same courage and character. If we go out on my lawn, one of you will die. He will have murdered his brother.”

Neither man, so possessed of pride and arrogance, reacted by saying that they had not, could not have been sired by the same mother.

“As you wish then. We will settle this now, and for all generations to come.”

I picked up a matched set of British Corps lances, a gift from Colonel Gregory Lathrop who quashed the famous Indian uprisings of 1848.

I walked out of the study and onto the lawn, and ran the points of both lances into the ground. I moved to the stone bench at the edge of the pond, the exact spot Ambrick came through. What was out there that allowed both men to transect time, to come through the centuries and why to Dunsmoor at this juncture? Time would reveal its most precious secrets. It always had.

Impatient, I returned to the light that poured forth from my study. Both men were seated as before. Ambrick’s Belgian sword rested against his knee. A small, but hopeful sign. Cusak was animated, presenting, and convincing.

As he finished, Ambrick picked up with identical physical intonations. Neither man saw the reflection of his mother’s soul in the other’s eyes. They were both blinded to the obvious similarity. Cusak touched his arm with his other hand. Ambrick glanced down at his chest. Each wanted to know where the other obtained the identical set of rare gold amulets. As did I.

“There is a legend in my land,” I offered for consideration, “that no man prospers when all are at war. There are times for battle and for peace. Only the bravest man knows which is appropriate.”

“You have shown us much. For that we are grateful.”

“We will return to our tribes. When we have decided, we will come back for you,” Ambrick said rising to his feet.

“You are both brave warriors upon whom rests the future of your nations. I do not wish myself such a task. I will be here for both of you but not either of you alone.”

“We know this now,” Cusak said.

“You take with you my blessing and know that my land is yours.”

“That is why we came for you,” Cusak said.

“Your ancestors are in our camps as we speak. They are making spears and daggers and waiting for our return,” Ambrick said.

“Your ancestors are our elders. They were the ones who sent us here to seek your counsel. You are their only hope for peace.”

I came to this land without knowing why I had been drawn to it. Brian exclaimed it was far from civilization or ‘rational man.’ But it was the land of my ancestors. I was the progeny of these two warriors.

“They are wrong. You two are their only real hope for peace.”

“You are our brother,” Ambrick said setting the Belgian sword back on its mount.

“The elders were right to send us to you,” Cusak said.

My life had changed; had been altered forever. I was exhausted. Drained, as I had never been. In saving their lives, at least momentarily, I felt as though I had preserved my own. The clock warned me of what I already knew. Dawn was approaching. I went upstairs and collapsed into bed.

I woke up the next afternoon refreshed and heartened, in a nightshirt without marks of combat or coincidence.

I got up and, from the bedroom window of my home, my Dunsmoor, noticed that the two lances I struck into the ground the night before were gone.

Copyright © 2016 by Arthur Davis

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