(This is part three of the Dead Man's Curve series. Are you looking for part two? It's in the Crossover subsection. -- BfB.)

Hither Rode the Vagabond

--A Tale of the People

Know, my children, that once this mighty tree under whose shade we rest was but a sapling. In those days my father's grandfathers walked this land, and they lie beneath it still.

These were the days the People came to this land, whose earth is black as the sky at night, whose grass is as tall as a man and whose trees reach to the clouds.

The People did not live here always. In the days before, the People lived in a far land, near the terrible and merciless men of Koth-Shem, who turned greedy eyes upon the People. One awful day by treachery and violence they slew our mightiest and drove us out over the hills.

It was in these days of misery and shame that the thrice majestic took pity upon the People, and sent to us from the hill roads and peat bogs His avatar, the chariot Eremizu.

In these years Eremizu bore a vagabond named Keynoe who knew Him not, nor of her chariot's fame.

Now Keynoe had traveled the far corners of the lands, and grew wise in the ways of men. When the woman astride her chariot Eremizu met the People in the wilderness, they broke bread together, and the People lamented until their keening reached the clouds and the ears of the thrice majestic. The vagabond was moved, and pity woke in her heart.

"Lo," said she, "I have seen a land where the earth is black as the sky at night. There the grass is as tall as a man and the trees reach to the clouds. Neither man nor woman saw I there, and the land itself spoke of its loneliness, for it is derelict. There the People shall be welcomed by the land." So spoke the vagabond.

"All praise to the thrice majestic," answered the People. "Hail Keynoe, who has by His mercy found us in the wilderness. Lead us to this land that we may end its loneliness forever. There the voices of the People will sing the praises of the thrice majestic, and our children's voices shall rise as birdsong to make Him smile."

"I cannot do this thing," said Keynoe, "for it is not my way to turn back upon my path."

Then the chief of the People asked, "What seek you in this pathless wilderness, Keynoe?"

"It is not the way of the traveler to seek," answered Keynoe, who was wise even among travelers, "but to journey for its own sake. I neither turn back, neither do I remain for the fourth day lest I cease to travel. But I abide among the Outsiders for three days, and then return to the road."

"Will you then abide with us for three days and learn our songs and our ways?" asked the chief, who was clever even as chiefs reckon cleverness. "Thus you may show us the path the People must follow."

Keynoe beheld the suffering of the People, even the children of the People, and pity waxed in her heart.

"Three days shall I travel with you and no more, and I shall lead you on the path to the land of black earth and tall grass and trees, though it means turning back upon my path. This much shall I do for the People." And the People rejoiced, and they sang songs of the kindness of Keynoe's heart.

Three days did Keynoe guide the People through the winding paths and foul bogs and the trackless wastes astride her chariot Eremizu, who was the thrice majestic though she knew Him not. Three days she sang our songs and shared council with the chief and ate with the People.

And on the morning of the fourth day she said farewell to the People. Not all the clever words of the chief would sway her, nor could pity overcome her, but she rode away from the people by the path she had come.

This much displeased the thrice majestic, and in His guise of Eremizu He spoke such words to Keynoe that softened her heart, until she turned about again and returned to the People before the fourth day was ended. Then the People sang loudly songs of the kindness of Keynoe's heart, and of the wisdom of Eremizu who was the thrice majestic though they knew Him not, for these were after the days the thrice majestic had revealed Himself to his charioteer Arjuna, and after the days His chariot was reforged. This is a different story.

So it was that Keynoe led the People past many perils, until they came at last to the land of the black earth and the tall grass and trees, in the days when this mighty tree under which we rest was but a sapling. Here the People rejoiced, and they slaked their thirst at the river and the thirst of their beasts, and they feasted upon the berries and the honey. On the second day they built huts for themselves and put away their tents forever, and the chief set down his plans for the paths, and the storehouses, and the pickets, and the gate to the picket and the dam. The voices of the People sang the praises of the thrice majestic, and the voices of the children rose as birdsong, and in His heaven the thrice majestic smiled.

Now Keynoe shared many tales in her days with the People, of wars she had seen and Outsiders she had met and sorrows she had endured, and even of a magic land which pierced her heart as a barrel, until love flowed from out of her heart like red wine. Woe that in those hard days none wrote down her tales, for the stories of Keynoe are lost on the wind, and her voice is silenced.

In the days of the hut building Keynoe spoke again of riding forth upon her chariot Eremizu and returning to her ways. But the People lamented. Lo, the People had pinned their hooks deeply into her heart which the magic land had opened! So it was that Keynoe relented, and she forgot for a time her journeys and lived among the People as one of them. And the People gave her honor even as a chief, even as their savior sent into the wilderness by the thrice majestic.

It is said that Keynoe took for herself one of the People into her bed, for her heart had been opened. In later days men seeking glory said that they had been chosen by her to share her bed though she spoke it not. Since that Keynoe wore the raiment of a man, a proud woman did boast that Keynoe had taken her into her hut. But though Keynoe's heart poured love as a barrel pours forth wine she was yet wise in the ways of the world and she kept her own council. Yet Keynoe conceived not, nor bore she children that her blood might be mingled with the blood of the People.

In the heat of summer of that year, the watchers saw clouds rising from the paths, and saw that before these clouds rode a mighty host. And lo, they saw even the hated pennants of the hosts of Koth-Shem! The watchers flew to the chief of the People with the woeful word of the coming of war and of death.

And the People wept, for they could not withstand the might of the slavers of Koth-Shem even in the days of old. And the chief gnashed his teeth, and he spoke sad words of returning to the roads, and of leaving this land of the black earth and the tall grass and trees. Then the People wept as one.

Thus it was that Keynoe mounted again her chariot Eremizu, who was the thrice majestic though she knew him not. And she rode out, away from the People toward the paths of the warriors of Koth-Shem.

And the watchers saw that Keynoe astride Eremizu taunted the army with her words and her weapons, that they turned upon her. Then the mighty host of Koth-Shem pursued Keynoe even to the hills, until the cloud of their passing dimmed the sun, and behind the dust all vanished into the hills forever.

Never again saw any of the People the vagabond Keynoe, nor heard they her mighty chariot Eremizu. Nor would Keynoe sit with the chief and the fathers to tell of her travels again.

Know, my children, these were the days when the mighty tree under whose shade we rest was but a sapling, and none now live who beheld Keynoe nor Eremizu. Whether the cruel men of Koth-Shem slew her or made her slave, or whether she fled into the roads by her guile and the grace of the thrice majestic, none among the People may say. And this is a great mystery.

Yet this tale shall fathers tell their children so long as the People live in the land where the earth is black as the sky at night, where the grass is tall as a man, and the trees reach to the clouds.