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The Eternals - Judgment of the Fifth Host, ch. 5

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All main characters are copyrighted by Marvel Comics. This is a story of the Bronze Age Eternals.

Previous chapters are arranged in sequence on my blog.

Chapter 5

The group stared up at an image of Makarri. But before long, the image focused on his face, his goggles, his open eye beneath. Each felt a strange change as the image of his eye grew to dominate their view, until their vision passed through his iris and their perceptions changed. They realized that each of them was now seeing as Makarri sees, feeling as he felt, knowing his thoughts and memories that were triggered by each sight.

Never before had he seen anything like this.

For centuries, Makarri had run in the Carpathian Mountains. The winding paths through rocky hillsides and the close, fog-filled valleys attracted him. It was only a few minutes from Olympia for him. The villages were few and scattered enough that he was rarely spotted. Even if he was, he knew the villagers were easily superstitious enough to find a legend to explain away the unaccountable red streak. Makarri knew each path and vista here.

Over the same centuries, Makarri had seen his share of battle. He had witnessed the wars of men, occasionally siding with those men whose cause appeared just to him. He had contested on the battlefields with Deviants. He knew war was never desirable, but that evil must be resisted.

He knew tribal war had come again to the Carpathians, as it did at least twice a century, filling his running paths with movements of ragged troops, their thin fur cloaks covered in dust. So he had kept away these last few months. He didn’t need to see their skirmishes. They were familiar and squalid, lacking any clear meaning.

But never had he seen anything like this.

Along the west side of one of the wider, more well-worn paths, a stout pole was planted every thirty yards. Every one was sharp on the skyward end. On every point was a black painting of gore, abuzz with flies. Dressing every pole like a nightmare flag, the body of a man, impaled. Some were headless, some handless, some opened at the gut to spill food for vultures onto the ground.

Makarri stopped just beyond the impaled figures and walked back slowly, to convince himself that what he was seeing was real. There was no mistake. The stench hung close in the valley like the fog. Makarri’s jaw and fists clenched. This kind of brutality was too much to ignore.

He knew he was nearing a village, so with a thought he assumed the figure of a wandering pilgrim. He walked slowly but resolutely down into the village. He saw eyes behind the few unshuttered windows of the thatch-roofed mud houses. The village was built around a spring-fed fountain. The only figure in the street was a washer woman filling jugs.

Makarri approached her and asked if a stranger might fill his bowl from the fountain. She eyed him a moment then stepped away to make room. When he had filled and drained the bowl twice to convince her he had been traveling, he stepped away so she could take away the jugs.

“Tell me, good lady,” Makarri said, “Where are the men of this village? The children? It is still as night here.”

Her eyes widened slightly and showed tears before she ran from the fountain, leaving her drawn water behind. Makarri watched her disappear into a house not far away. Carrying her jugs, he placed them at her doorstep then turned up a side path toward what looked like a rough chapel.

Inside he found a young man, not more than 15, wearing a priest’s robe that was clearly too large for him. When Makarri convinced him to speak, he told of Vlad, the raiding Wallachian noble who had lately come through this part of the mountains. The people of the village were Saxons and Vlad wished to end a historical Saxon claim to his rule. So his men had come to the village in force and dragged the men into the square at spear point.

The young man’s voice trailed off. Makarri told him which road he had taken to come there. The priest nodded.

“So you have seen. Even my master, Father Tadeusz, hangs there. His cassock is bloody. His cross is stolen. I was simply his altar attendant, not yet ordained. But now I wear his robe since there is no one else who knows the prayers.”

As the day drew down into dusk, Makarri learned that most of Vlad’s men had gone further east, to engage the Ottomans. A garrison of spearmen remained in the next town, patrolling the road. The surviving boys and the stout women whispered of attacking them, but no iron implement was left in the village. The Wallachian men had long spears, broad swords and shields of bronze-strapped oak.

Makarri did his best to comfort the young man, and then sat a while in thought.

“Are there no men at all?” Heavy silence.

“If you called in the square tomorrow, would the women come to you?” A nod.

The next morning, with the women and children gathered in tense quiet around them, Makarri and the young priest stood on the stone basin of the fountain. The priest introduced Makarri as a holy pilgrim, come to give them a word of comfort. Few met Makarri’s eyes as he began to speak.

“My friends, I am a poor wanderer seeking the light. But as I have sought it, I have found it. There are forces for good beyond the imagining of the evil men you have suffered from here. Today, I tell you, these vile men will be given into your hands.”

The crowd gasped and every eye locked on to the Makarri-pilgrim. The young priest lost his balance and slipped down in the crowd. When Makarri began to speak again, their eyes cast around as if they feared to be overheard. Some began to back away slowly.

“You think this is not possible. It would take a miracle. Today, I tell you, miracles will happen.”

In a red flash, Makarri was gone. The crowd screamed. Some fell to the ground. Some turned on the priest asking what new devilry this was. The poor boy was speechless. Makarri had said he would give a homily of encouragement, beg his wage and continue toward Rome.

Down the wide path, Makarri found what he was expecting. The garrison of Vlad’s spearmen was marching on patrol, nearing the village. When he had scouted them before dawn he had seen them massing and learned their direction for the day. Now he appeared before them in the road, looking like a blacksmith and waving a branding rod.

“You thought your work here was done. But Saxon men still breathe in these mountains.”

He hurled the rod at the nearest shield and turned to run, at a man’s speed, back toward the village. The spearmen gave a roar of anger mixed with excitement and chased him. Their arms ensured that they could not overtake Makarri not matter how much he held himself back.

In the square, the women and children heard the roar and soon saw Makarri running up the road, looking to them like the vanished pilgrim. They screamed when they saw the armed troop close behind him. Many fled immediately for their homes, their lives. Makarri called after them.

“Wait! I promised a miracle. Observe it.”

The young priest and the bravest of the women turned back to look. Again they saw the pilgrim disappear. There was a red flash and the arms and shields of the Wallachian patrol disappeared too. The next instant, a spear was in the hand of the young priest, broad swords in the hands of the stern women. One more red-blurred instant and the patrolmen fell flat on their backs in the path.

When Makarri looked back, the villagers were rushing forward. Each one called the name of the father, the son, the brother they had seen impaled. Makarri resumed the run he interrupted the day before, confident of today’s outcome.

When he ran by this village in the coming weeks, he was gladdened by what he saw. The villagers moved in the street. They had buried their dead and burned the impaling staffs in the square. Vlad’s main force remained in the east. The fog burned off each morning to reveal a village where hope tempered mourning. Content, Makarri began to run a different course.

The images faded in the black holoscreen. After a moment, the Eternals felt their own senses return. Ikaris’ voice boomed out.

“So, silent Celestial, you know of Makarri’s good deeds. I am pleased you acknowledge this. They are not uncommon.”

The red-helmeted Eternal stood tall, with a proud smile. The amethyst form of the Celestial made no movement or sound in response. Then the image reappeared.

It was the same wide path descending to the village. But the stakes had returned. This time there were the bodies of women. There were children. They saw a large bloody robe hanging loosely from the frame of a young man, which soon shimmered and dissolved into the image of the scale, now tipped further down against the Eternals.