Last Flight of the Admiral Stalkforth 2
The earth was dark-brown, almost black, and smooth as a tightly drawn canvas. Narrow furrows were etched into the ground, forming giant looping spirals. Wooden buildings several stories high circled the area. Though they were built on stilts, they nevertheless curved upwards into top-heavy bungalows. Elaborate scrollwork decorated the facades, the roofs were thatched with light-green filaments, and brightly colored banners streamed from randomly protruding nodules on each. High above, the trees leaned inward and wove a congested ceiling of branches and leaves; only scraps of sunlight pierced the canopy, locking all in perpetual, ethereal twilight. The air hung in place like a heavy curtain and ferried an overwhelming floral scent.
In the center of the village a lone figure lay on the ground. Other than him, the place appeared to be deserted. The soldiers stepped gingerly onto the patterned earth and the air rippled around them to accommodate their mass. They walked across the clearing and stopped before the man. He gazed upwards wide eyed and not blinking, and only the faint rise and fall of his chest betrayed death. His hair splayed out on the ground around him framing his upper body, and a dense beard obscured his face, giving his eyes a wild glint. For someone lying in the dirt, he was remarkably clean.
The Officer nudged him in the ribs with a black boot. “Look at me, savage.”
The man remained motionless, staring up at the entwining foliage.
The Officer started to speak, but a violent snapping sound from above cut him off. He looked up just in time to see several massive red birds alight from the trees. Each carried a sheaf of branches in its beak. They had hewn a gaping hole out of the canopy directly above the men. “Ophthala-birds,” one of the soldiers whispered reverently.
The newly freed column of sunlight shone straight down on the comatose man, illuminating him and him alone. In the sudden brightness something flashed red on his inner forearm. The Officer glanced down and noticed it was a large piece of jewelry. He knelt and inspected it. It appeared to be a crude replica of the bird they had just seen, fashioned out of dozens of small metal pieces dyed red and strung together. Then he noticed very small writing on each of the pieces. His eyes widened in disbelief and in a rush to stand up he stumbled backward. He steadied himself and waved his squad in.
“That bird on his arm,” he said breathlessly as the others gathered round, “it’s made entirely out of Naval medals of rank.”
“Does that mean…?”
“Yes, this is Admiral Stalkforth.”
The entire group genuflected and inclined their heads. Several sniffed back tears.
Meanwhile, the man continued to lie paralyzed, gazing straight up into the hole of sunlight carved out of the canopy.
“Awake my sovereign,” the Officer said, staring pointedly at the patterned earth.
For the first time the man blinked. Then, like the sun god arising at dawn, he slowly sat up in the pool of gold to regard the silvery twilight surrounding. Still staring straight ahead, he scratched his ear and smiled foolishly.
“Admiral,” the Officer whispered, and prostrated himself further.
The man looked over and noticed the soldiers, apparently for the first time. He blew his nose and then began massaging his legs.
“Hello gentleman,” he said cheerfully.
The Officer looked up from the dirt and frowned. “Admiral, we have traveled a long way to discuss, ah, certain matters with you. Is there anywhere we can talk in private?”
“Of course, my rooms are just over there.“ Then he stood and began stretching vigorously.
The Officer and the soldiers shot to their feet and saluted crisply. The stretching went on for some time while they remained at attention moving not so much as an eyelid. Finally, after bending over backward and clasping his ankles firmly for a full minute, the Admiral smiled and motioned for them to follow. They walked over to a building on bowed stilts at the western edge of the village. It was tucked away under the stooping boughs of a broad, gnarled tree, and the only manner of entrance was a flimsy ladder made of what looked to be finely wound hair.
“Wait here men,” the Officer instructed as he watched the Admiral scamper up into the elevated chamber. After a moment of hesitation, he followed in kind.