If you don't like fiction, or fantasy, you are hereby absolved of continuing reading this post.
The Gate of Horn and Bone: A Novel of The Madok
1. What this is not
This is not the story of the City of Ys. True, in some sense our tale begins there, but places destroyed by gods are unlucky points of departure for any journey; even journeys composed solely of words. They are also unlucky destinations, but that is another tale for another time.
Instead, let us begin next door to ruined Ys, as it were, or at least in distant view of it, in the sleepy garrison town and nominally holy site known as Nine Gates. Specifically, the thread of our tale begins in the dusty shadow of the Fourth of the aforementioned Nine Gates, the Gate of Horn and Bone.
Standing fully three man-heights tall and skull-thick, the Gate of Horn and Bone was indeed composed of some amber-colored antler and osseous matter in varying shades of yellow and brown. Thick slabs of the one and the other had been cunningly assembled into a skewed checkerboard pattern, and fused together seamlessly by some arcane art. None then residing in Nine Gates could say who might have fashioned it, why it might have been constructed, or what impossible beast or beasts had expired to furnish its raw materials—though those who noticed such things spoke admiringly the complex interplay of colors, form and texture the Gate presented to the world at large. When they bothered to think on it. Certainly it was a lovely thing compared to the slate gray wall that girded Nine Gates on three sides, and was as incongruous in its surrounds as a jeweled collar on a bog toad.
Our story begins on the day the Gate of Horn and Bone opened.
2. A minor event of some consequence
One might consider the opening of a gate, even a gate as singular as the one just described, to be of no major consequence. Normally one would be perfectly correct. The Gate of Horn and Bone, however, had never opened or been opened in the entire history of its rather mysterious existence. Perhaps of even greater consequence was the fact that no-one noticed the event except for the boy who pushed on one side and walked through to the other. And as he was newly arrived to Nine Gates, he had no way of knowing his entrance might be considered significant, at least by those who made it their business to be aware of events that would shape the course of history.
3. Concerning a curious custom of the War-Brothers of Ys
While historically inclined to rape, pillage and plunder (at their employers’ behests), the mercenary company known as the War-Brothers of Ys hold sacred certain duties and customs begun in their formative years in that now-defunct city. One such custom is the duty to supply the city of their birth with new citizens in order to offset the staggering numbers of young men who fled Ys (and its crushing tax system, and its human sacrifice lottery) to seek service in their company.
Despite the fact that Ys no longer exists and has not for some twelve centuries, the War-Brothers ritually spare one young boy in any sacking they effect, and send said youngster to Nine Gates (it being, geographically speaking, within spitting distance of Ys-that-was). It is doubtful whether any among the War-Brothers knows the circumstances or history surrounding this custom, or that its usefulness died with the city twelve centuries before; but it is a near-certainty that none of them would particularly care if they were told. The War-Brothers are great respecters of custom. When it suited them.
At the time concerning this work, the War-Brothers had been stationed in Kungssar for nearly two decades. The latest boy they’d sent on to Ys was one Ut. The circumstances surrounding his selection were somewhat less than the sacking of a city, and rather more like a tavern brawl that had gotten severely out of hand.
Ut, being essentially a penniless orphan who mucked the tavern’s stables for meals, was initially bewildered by the War-Brothers’ insistence that he ‘took a trip down South’, but the fat purse and slab-sided mule they gave him to effect his remove from the capital city of Kungssar (ahead of the local constabulary and their probing questions as to the nature of the brawl that had seen three city blocks burned to the ground) awoke Ut’s sense of adventure and wanderlust. So to Nine Gates and nearby Ys-that-was he went, having no other enticing destination in mind.