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The Dog Prince

March 22, 2020

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Beware the lord who asks of wolves what he would of men:

‘How dare you come here and insult me in this way?’

~ The Iron Mountain Clause

 

At the end of the world nothing is more precious than secrets and every Warlord is master of one: Men are singed, biting hogs in the sun. When the bellows of the hordes peel for killing, the Warlord keeps bellies warm with fire.

That is why the arrival of the Dog Prince is bittersweet. For tired guards and bone men, gaunt mechanics and skull hunters, the sight of those dogs in formation is wasps in the eyes. Columns of war brutes with nail-spiked collars. Shepherds and sight hounds sleek as night rain congeal at the Dog Prince’s side. He stands there, as usual, with that panting statue the wolfhound.

He steps down from his skeleton sled and drops a palm of rag beans to the team in harness. They eat with green eyes fixed on the Warlord’s men, a gawking ring of leathery fear armed to rotted teeth with hunger—and not just for food. Some of the men notice how far they have shrunk in the presence of all of this fanged discipline.

And yet, the arrival of the Dog Prince also bodes well—fuel cylinders wet for the taking, a finger smooth crate of hand grenades in an un-buried train. Perhaps a newly fallen bull, its flesh whispering to the nucleated morning. A vaporous feast for flies. Dreams of unknown stores to be sniffed out by a Dog Prince-for-hire. That’s what the temporary humiliation of seeing such well-fed dogs means to men. They would rather eat than bow to dogs even as they make way for them now. Those dogs, stout and fierce, their gauntleted paws slicing hot sand. The bearded wolfhound, tall and stately gray, marching dutifully behind his master to meet the Warlord on the black steps for terms.

The Warlord grunts behind a plexiglass vaporizer: “Have your dogs found food or fuel for us this time, Dog Prince?”

The Dog Prince has a winding sheet on the color of the desert. The straps beat a rhythm against his chest in the wind. Only his mouth peeks through the wrappings around his face. Goggles mute his eyes. When he speaks, it is only Babylon.

“Babylon!” screams the Dog Prince.

Whispers from the men.  What? Who is that?

Again, the Dog Prince yells the name and again the Warlord is left to mime the confusion of dogs, tilting mottled horns at the oddity and adjusting his vaporizer with a snap of the side mount.

A hundred times before, the Dog Prince had come to mount the black steps and to paint his teeth with the same soot as the Warlord. They had struck the usual terms many times before but never had they howled them in this way. And men, like dogs, react to new or loud things with much flinching and some shame for having flinched. All of that thickens the leaded air of the black steps.

“What is this Babylon?” growls the Warlord after the third shout, which prompts a fourth from the Dog Prince.

This time, the Warlord notices the gesture the Dog Prince makes as he shouts. A splaying of the hand. Flesh exhaled, as if the wind should name its accuser with men’s fingers. The gesture is clearly directed at the wolfhound.

The Warlord turns to face the horselike creature whose steady black eyes make him laugh, cough, and then look away.

The Warlord’s vaporizer muffles sacred words. “Babylon be damned, Dog Puke! Have you lost your mind? You dare come here. Insult me in this way?”

The Iron Mountain clause.  Shifts in the sand. Well-worn handles on makeshift crossbones and spears—the whole scene a tableau of grip and fidget, sunsear and dogswatching.

And then the Dog Prince bows as Babylon clomps forward. The dog’s black eyes hold steady behind grey whiskers that curve with his gait like tusks.

The Dog Prince speaks from his bowed position: “Babylon. New leader of the family and first in line in all things. Babylon.”

Spiders and rust in the Warlord’s vaporizer: “Am I to make terms with a dog?” Laughter from bellies used to howling. Brown teeth, yellow, and none, all showing. Black eyes watch.

Louder then from the one still bowing: “Babylon. New leader of the family…”

“Fine then,” through the Plexiglas vaporizer. “Which is it, Baby Loon, food or fuel?”

Even louder from the one still bowing: “First in line. In all things.”

“Terms. Terms.” The Warlord says while pulling the strap away from his lips for the dog to hear, and the dog hears less than it smells from the Warlord’s lips. And that is all it needs to know.

Babylon is a Minotaur indifferent to bulls and men. He is hungry only for vaporizer and bloody plexi. There are no more terms or messages to be exchanged. Each leather sleeve is an envelope in grease, posting flesh. The dogs race to read their grim letters—the arms and legs of those who only moments before had been dreaming of dog livers charred to the dunes with butter rock and smoke stick.

At the end of the world dogs come to terms better than men. This is the last secret. And it is his alone. Still bowing before the carnage, the former Dog Prince holds on to it with little concern. The places where his eyes had been scream inside his goggles, but he is still hopeful for a place in line.

A beta nips him up and so he stands. His nose turns to the sky mindful of the Western crag along the horizon. There, the salted fires of the next camp of men make eyes for the night to see us with.

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From → Archives, My Stories

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