Hearts of Iron, Tears of Ink

Over silent stones, pockets full of ardour ramble; men trampling a pause, a path, their faces of granite armour guarding their hearts’ paces, cause the wood to paint itself somber. Centurions commanding damnation have a wayward crow’s execution to ponder; charged as they are, reluctant but humbly obeying what hoarse-voiced edict superstition calls them to commit, they follow. Graven order, hewn out of chaos, chisels into each soldier a conception of faceless obeisance his expressionless grimaces murder. Abortive of emotion, each foot fists its locomotive portion onto the pebbles of the incomplete way northwest, past the highway-traveling town where others usually end; but up and continue they must, and dutifully they march rounds of circumspect hesitation, unbending in their procession through that forest where hopelessness greets oblivion.
          Askance, the condemned’s onyx eyes roll into a fevered glance, and that crow, his wings torn from tandem operation, his sight menaces him with its tincture of a horizon turned to burning, sunset engulfing all of them: himself, his captors, those automaton companions. He hears the pavement paining, their hearts crackling under the soot of his sighs, the loose gravel complaining of abandoned work shaming the boots of empire which blackened and which shook its uncertain avenue from the damp earth. If he could, the dusk-cloaked convict who fled his murder would rise and happen to find a way, such that he and the ground might hallow themselves—returning to order what man had used up and left lying in blight.
          Abusing augury, the capital had offended destiny by sending as offering a bird whose sole impurity was that his boundless soul had trespassed fortune’s boundary, the crow had overhead the machinery of tyranny and he knew too much. Wealth of wisdom often startles ignorant men; when, in the pursuit of their passions, rumour comes calling, revealing something painful in them. On swift wings, truth makes dumb those lovers of gluttony whose Icarus-like appetites fill with dread and fall, crashing where this creature now finds himself, having been shot down from darkest angel’s flight, speaking truth to all. A messenger, a purveyor of portent, this crow stood no trial but had from his breast’s left cleft, his liberal wing shorn; taken only for conveying a heaven-sent parcel of information.
          This crow, agèd in spirit and advanced in years—centuries by human standards of comparison—had brought to the emperor his first tears, and so he must die. By necessity, his death has been sent with a legion of Stoic escorts, all oblivious to what he has done; burying one bird, which has caused a man, a tyrant, to get lost in thought, which too often happens to men when thought is not marked on their charts.
          Reaching nightfall, all stop; at highway’s end, the journey blows in like a wind, breathing its sigh as if just about to begin. The wood has cast off its reluctant guide—no path of crushed rock can at all now be felt and feet fail as much as eyes—soldiers so soon throw away their sight. Silence itself has a sound when fear feasts on fattened ears, starving minds of dietary logic; each ear opened magically like a mouth of a grave, starving to hear of the time, of the place, where each man knows not himself to be; to taste any thing that might resemble familiarity.
          Pilgrims in an unholy land, the tar-feathered convict cleaving to the floor of his cage, unlike the rest of the retinue, knows past what and where the unmarked road goes; it is the trail toed when men fail to follow their hearts. Loneliness itself has a map, drawing men bereft of affection’s blessing to a wilderness where screams themselves each suffer alone, and shouts stand out even in a crowd of sheep driven similarly from the cliff of their denial’s home. This party has reached that point, uncertainty jagged as the crevice of a precipice, its chill piercing as a broken mirror shedding its glass.
          The thicket of the forest’s guests glance around into the caverned heart they inhabit together, yet each feels alone; the air intoxicatingly noxious as stolen æther, grasping from their lungs the breath each covets of the other. Dredging energy enough from altruism’s well, the crow himself yelps to tell them of the exit, but none of the soldiers hear it for the reverberation of an approaching army’s sound, freezing their march, and opening up the ground. Their fear betrays them, and like pox-stricken children, they fall to bruised knees; muscled men—heroes, once-called—finding themselves without self-concept crawl in a fit of frenzy and trembling.
          They plead, and they pray; they plead, and they pain to understand the damage, comprehending only the carnage of being felled in a forest where war itself cannot tread. Their incarcerated cargo, the crow, he foregoes freedom—his cage, his heart’s container, having cracked open like a child’s ribs under a juggernaut—he flees not from but to them. On hobbling foot, the raven-flecked feathers of a wounded heretic fly from him as he moves in to move them, to prove to them that soldiers and sinners are on the same commute: to fight their demons haranguing their bastions invisibly, clouding over their souls’ sight.
          Handicapped of the freedom of flight, the nameless crow throws his weight emanating languidly from his remaining wingèd shoulder onto a shattered bone one of his captors endured on his own descent, when all the darkness looked alive and the light abandoned him. The crow, he knows the armies both—their demons and his escorts—so he shows humility to the mortals, since they can only return home if they recover their souls, and their souls right now have no wings, no feet, no morals, on which to saunter forth.
          The past, asking something of the present, resents them who ignore its question; if men will not listen, will not entertain the burden rolling within them, an immortal sea of foaming desperation will enfold them, drowning all hope of recovering what men call fulfillment. The past corners the crossroads unseen by the party of fallen legionaries, as the standard-bearer, the aquilifer clutching his quandary, colours the situation bleak, since there is no sunlight in this deep to keep his charge fiery. The bronze eagle, the flag weeping its imperial appeal, all of its symbolism is falling sacrificial victim to the dusk skirts of oblivion swallowing them; chastising these men for having given in to the miasmic breath of midnight temptation: the illusion of complacency being something calming. As such, midnight now entombs them in a wilderness no intoxication can enliven; an addiction to sensation has deprived them of their strength, their minds of their alignment.
          Scorpio has crawled into their ears, and all of them are dying to hear an echo of a murmur they will never come near; in fact, the effort itself is murdering them. At times, the constellations rise from their house to taunt men on earth below, going so far, so low, as the stars now are, to torture them; plotting revenge with mercenary precision, against warriors too timid to face the heavens bricked up within them. When a crow speaks, when its caw causes scandal, its beak breaks the tomb and leaks a torrent of this fire; flame carried from across the universe, through every of its grinding spheres, to streak the glass of fragile hearts beating passion into humid death, panting.
          The exterminating bird, killing himself as he comforts a world killing itself, he creaks into each fallen man’s inmost part, through his bloodied ears, an unguent he had been sent to deliver, come execution, controversy, aversion, or whatever situation hell thinks it can use to hinder truth. His mortal wound perfumes the crowd with lavender fumes, oozing forth arteries of odes to coax men into movement.
          Faceless fear kisses the walled up doors of its belligerents’ lips; slipping through cracks, heinous words work their attack, but the crow has kissed into each wayward thought that appears, an elixir more powerful than theirs. Wreaking his last havoc, the convict fowl pours into the cracked bowl of his captors’ heads, a freeing prayer that fills them with hope; the soldiers cast off their weapons and rattle their failed regalia, standing up again to face compassion, erect in the face of dejection. Each man’s demon recedes from him, tilting its hypothetical chin in chagrin, perplexed that a wounded thing could revive from damnation the very servants charged with the task of betraying him. The mortals, having risen again, limp Lazarus-heeled into formation; a phalanx of penitents parched for purity drink each other’s inward light and feel it fill them from within, unable to say it, but grateful to sustain this transient existence.
          A chorus calling a column forth hollers onto the invisible force before them, subduing each his own demon as the crow crosses the soil under them with a sign his claws draw, knowing it will sew up the ground that opened to claim his solemn carriers. A battle of song whitewashes the darkness, and destitution falls through its handicraft; self-loathing with its patchwork of cracks, smooths its flaws and as the forest again presents a path, the soldiers march—nude, renewed—toward a view of dawn’s skin. The sun again towering above, its collar of warmth intact, ministering to penitent palms the solar communion they have trespassed shadow to grasp. Only one of the company of men turns from victory to peer back, and he observes not the ragged bird, but a single feather lying next to a string of words graven cursively, coiling into the soil behind him; a phrase he cannot understand but for the meaning of which he vows to toil.