A New Spring Approaches
Son of Grander stepped from his home in Greater Chitown on a brutal February day and let the snow pelt his skin. His long winter’s nap had been necessary, true, but it had numbed his body to the world. Winter’s Breath stabbed through him and made him feel alive again. After a brief time, it was mostly just really damned cold, so he went inside.
The pain reminded him of the battle. He had healed during his hibernation, thankfully. It no longer caused him to wince to lift his arm. He spun his arm around to celebrate this fact. The first sign of the famous Son of Grander smile creeps across his face. However, his joy led to carelessness and he knocked something to the floor.
Son of Grander kneeled down to pick up the item and the smile disappeared. The tomahawk pulled from his side still bore his mortal signature upon its rough blade. Son of Grander touched his side where the scar remained. The battle rushed back from his memory and overwhelmed him for a moment. He sat on the plain wooden floor and digested the past. Then he stood up and began to digest a huge breakfast; hibernation takes a lot out of a man.
As he picked at the scraps that remained of twin hunks of dried and salted beast, he considered his next move. It was hard to believe the battle would be upon him again so soon, relentless like the seasons.
Soon, it was time. Son of Grander packed his warrior’s bag, put on his best walking cleats, and thrust into the sharp cold to walk the land and gather his mates for the next battle.
The Big Tilde Awakens
The Big Tilde slumped in a chair thrice his height and twice his width, made from cold cinder. The entrance by Son of Grander into the grandly stark hall did not disturb his slumber. The wisps of facial hair told Son of Grander that the Big Tilde had been taken his winter’s respite at his throne, no doubt moments after returning home from the battle. His massive Slugger club lay at his feet and his hair was still matted with the blood of the royals from whom he took this place in the battle. They would not bother him again.
Son of Grander tried to gently wake the Big Tilde with words and then with a poke from the discarded club. Finally, Son of Grander beat on the cinder with the club until the Big Tilde awoke with a start.
“WHO DARE DISTUR… oh, hey, Grander-Son.”
“It is time, Tilde Maximus. The ave primero has sent his first lyrical missive and we must marshal our forces at the grounds to resume our fight for Los Tigres and wi…”
“Son of Grander,” Big Tilde groaned, “you talk too much with too many words.” He took possession of his lumber from the Fleet Wordsmith and hugged him warmly. Clearly, each move pained the Big Tilde; he had been through more wars and lost the elastic ability of youth to shake completely free from the previous battles.
Grander-Son pursed his lips and then gathered himself, standing tall again. In his best Greater Chitown accent, he stated succinctly, “We gotta get the band of brothers back together.”
“Yes, yes. I know that, Son of Grander. We’re on a mission and so on.” The Big Tilde paused. “It will not be easy this time. We are all older this time.”
Son of Grander returned to form. “We are always older, Tilde Maximus, unless we are not. I choose the former.”
The Big Tilde chuckled and patted his friend again. “Perhaps… perhaps I should bathe before we go.” Son of Grander nodded a bit too emphatically.
As both men stepped into the chilly spring breeze, they were greeted by a bouncing sprite with a tiny replica of the Club of Tilde Maximus, roughly carved from a large branch from a nearby tree. “TILDE! TILDE GRANDE! It’s me! How are you? How was your slumber? Are you going out to the hitting fields again? Are you?”
The Big Tilde rolled his eyes. “Hey, Rudi.”
“No, remember? I’m El Tilde Pequeño! Remember? Remember how I fought in the hitting fields last battle? Remember how I fought? It was sooooo great! Are you going again? Can I go with you? That was so great!”
Tilde Maximus ran his fingers through his magnificent locks and looked to the Son of Grander. “Really? We let him out there?”
Grander-Son nodded reluctantly. “We lost many men and were taking conscripts and children at one point. He… did strike a few timely blows, sir.”
Big Tilde glanced between the man and the boy twice and then sighed so deeply that his mighty chest moved slightly. “Alright, Rudi. You can come with. But you have to be quiet, alright?”
“Yessir!” Rudi saluted with his stick so enthusiastically that he left a mark on his forehead. However, he did not wince until the two men had turned in front of him and began their journey again. Rudi scooped up his belongings and followed with a skip in his step.
Getting the Band Back Together
The rest of the band of brothers were gathered as before, the path worn between stops now. These men had stood back-to-back against the hordes so often that their uniforms were permanently marked with the blood of brothers.
The Professor was found in his usual location, pontificating to a gathering of scribes and youngsters dazzled by a forceful voice filling the void of silence. As he convinced those present that his skin and the skin of those like him could easily convert the radiance of the sun into a delicious fruit juice given the proper alchemy and judicious use of his thin mustache, he was gathered into the growing band with hugs, firm handshakes, and a rubbing of the head of Rudi for luck.
The ambush of Tigers moved slowly but with an assured stride towards the walls of the city-state of Detroit. As the men moved in field, they pulled Perfect Placo from his work tending a small patch of farmland directly under him. Sure, his perfectly kept field was not large, but its fruits were delectable.
They also scooped up Mr. Inge-credible, whose ability to stretch himself to seemingly impossible distances to defend the Men of Detroit’s position had saved them numerous times. In his rush, Mr. Inge-credible forgot to grab his club. Everyone agreed he would not need it anyway and they soldiered on.
Two men were sent into the chamber of Elijah the Jackal, the mighty yet fragile warrior that had led the Men of Detroit so often before. The two men carefully wrapped a series of blankets around Elijah’s arms, legs, and chest. A padded helmet was slipped over his head and cushions strapped to his feet.
Elijah the Jackal waddled out into the spring sun to greet his fellow warriors with incredible care. This system had worked the last two battles and no one dared take chances anymore. He would crush all that crossed his path with his mighty club if only someone could just lash it to his hands.
Pudge was found sharpening his ignorant tools over a grinder, ferocity on his face that could easily be seen through his protective mask. He had worn this face before, but the cragged lines on that once-smooth face gave them more intensity. The Son of Grander sensed it could be Pudge’s last battle but said nothing. When the band was spotted, Pudge flipped off his mask and whipped a piece of armor at The Big Tilde, who caught it casually with his off-hand and then warmly hugged his old friend.
Re-elect the Mayor
The Men of Detroit were building to high spirits as they approached the abode with “City Hall” scrawled on its door in some kind of finger paint. “Hey, City Manager!” “Honorary Leader of Men!” “Mayor!” “Come out already! The natives scream for you to attend to their zoning issues!” The laughter resonated and grew and then uncomfortably faded when no answer came. The men looked away from each other, examining the ground beneath them.
Rudi, of course, spoke first: “What’s going on, huh? What’s up? Is he asleep? Should we wake him up? I’ll wake him up! I’ll shake him awake by bouncing on his tummy and he will come out! Why don’t I wake him up? I’ll just go inside and wa…”
“ENOUGH.” Tilde Maximus glared down at Rudi. Rudi was chastened deeply and began to cry, though he did not know exactly why.
The Big Tilde turned to the assemblage. “Son of Grander, you are our man of words. Please say a few.”
Son of Grander was made from birth for these moments. He took no pride in this, but he found honor in this privilege. He stepped forward and pressed his hand on the door lightly, touching “Hall”. It opened a notch and he yanked his hand away.
He faced the group. “The Mayor was elected by none of us but cared for all of us as if we had. He could not batter back a flea with his club, but he defended his turf masterfully. He also did great card tricks. He will be missed.”
Son of Grander closed the door a bit too firmly as the group turned and left with the battles past and future at the fore of their silence. Tilde Maximus pulled Rudi onto his shoulders and carried him to the city walls.
Approaching the City
At the city walls, the archers could be seen practicing at targets pressed to the outside wall in the rough shape of Pudge. Pudge rushed forward to greet his young charges. “Who is this young man?” “We found him at the winter carnival; he is young but so strong!” “And this one?” “He is a charge of the Bore-Ass, but we have accepted him like the others.” “You are wise. Bondo! Lando!” And so on.
The Big Tilde pulled Pudge to the side after a time. “How do they look in this season? I see they have marked your visage in roughly the same spot with frightening accuracy.”
“Aye, they have, Maximus. Again, we must see how they hold up through the long battles. But I am optimistic and proud, Tilde. Oh, and a little worried about the Zoom Zoom Man; he appears to have a new axe. I shall take it from him when his back is first turned.”
Grander-Son broke up the homecoming. “Gentlemen, we must speak to our leader now. The time comes upon us fast to defend our walls. May I suggest we step inside?”
The city erupted with cheers as the Men of Detroit entered. Young men, hoping to catch the eye of the warriors and be accepted for battle, held aloft baskets of food; older men offered daughters as wives. The good warriors waved and shook hands. This, too, was part of the warrior’s role; confidence must be given to the people they stand for. (Do not worry; no wives were taken. Have you ever tried to take one on the long road? It’s a fool’s gambit.)
The Oracle Provides
The Men of Detroit gathered in the Stadium’s bowels to prepare. History reeked from the walls of the preperatory room, where warriors both proud and strong carried the clubs and the archer’s bows for generations before these virile men. These walls spoke of pain and loss and victory. Son of Grander always felt this as an intellect and pressed his hand against a locker once held by a man that protected the ground he patrols now.
The Big Tilde, though, would not need such historical reference. He was battle incarnate, the warrior’s creed coarsing through his humours. He felt he had been at each of those previous battles, wielding larger clubs in darker times. Therefore, he did not fear the battle or ultimate failure, for he knew he would always return to this place. His courage carried them all.
The Son of Grander again spoke for the group. “Deadeye Jim Lee, we have returned to serve the City of Detroit through your wise direction. We bring honor. We will bring victory.”
Deadeye Jim Lee scanned the room. “I see The Mayor will not be joining us. The Oracle told me this would be so as the last battle ended, but I hoped otherwise.” He let the silence weigh down the room for an interminable time; it was a rare display of emotion from the grizzled sage.
Rudi leaned over to Son of Grander and whispered a little too loudly, “Who is the Oracle?”
Son of Grander patted Rudi on the shoulder and whispered, “The Oracle Dave watches over us and provides for our future when we cannot see it through the haze of battle. He is not perfect, but he is wise.”
Rudi pursed his lips. “Dave? The great Oracle’s name is Dave? Not, like, Davidus? The Great and Powerful Dave? Super Dave?”
Deadeye Jim Lee continued. “Elijah the Jackal. Step forward and accept The Mayor’s burden. You will cover the ground he once tread, for it is far less dangerous and will cause you less damage. We’ve been quite lucky with you recently; let’s not press the gods’ generosity more than necessary. Do him honor. And, y’know, hit something, too. That would be great.”
Elijah the Jackal complied, stepping forward to accept the assignment, but not without ripping a toenail. His mates carefully helped him to his chair.
The Professor interrupted rudely to ask the question they all wished they could ask. “Who will take Elijah’s ground? We are short one.”
Rudi leaped forward, finally sensing his opportunity. “Oh, fine Deadeye Jim Lee, sir! Sir, I can take his ground! I have the skills! I can serve anywhere! I will be solid! I will bring glory and success to Detroit! Let me serve! Me! I can do it! Me! El Tilde Pequeño!”
Deadeye Jim Lee arched an eyebrow at Big Tilde. “Rudi?”
Big Tilde shrugged sheepishly. “Rudi.”
Deadeye Jim Lee patted Rudi’s head. “No, son. Your time will come.” He turned and walked back to the group.
Rudi started after Deadeye Jim Lee. “But sir! I can…” A huge hand came down on his shoulder with a thump. The Big Tilde shook his head at Rudi. Rudi slumped into a nearby chair and tossed his stick to the ground next to him, folding his arms for unnecessary emphasis.
The Professor leaned over and whispered in a dramatic conspiratorial tone, “We could always conjure up The Great Neifi again.”
As the chorus of laughter finally died down, Deadeye Jim Lee raised his voice dramatically. “The Oracle has sent a replacement for the short field. Men, step outside and meet your new warrior mate.”
Everyone rushed out into the hall (except Elijah the Jackal, who moved gingerly in his safety suit) and found an imposing shadow just outside the door, leading to a man of mystery in a hooded cowl that masked his face and his intentions. The band of brothers gathered around their new mate and peered at him intensely.
The warrior slipped off his hood to a chorus of gasps. “HIM.” “How did he get here?” “Was he not on the field of battle for them just last fall?” “Where did he come from?” “Why don’t I get a hood?” “Hush, Rudi.”
The Big Tilde nodded. “It had to be like this. I understand. Welcome, warrior.”
Son of Grander lingered behind the group with Deadeye Jim Lee. “What was the price for him? It must have been high.”
“The highest, Grander-Son. Perhaps too high. Still, the Oracle does what is best.”
The Battle Waits for No Man
Tilde Maximus spoke and the hall fell silent except for his thunderous voice. “Men of Detroit, we fought with honor in the last battle. Yes, we fell to injury and could not beat back the hordes of natives long enough. Yes, we were cut off at our last attempt to flank the prize by the yanks of the East. Still, we showed we have the ability to claim Victory’s Maidenhead as ours.”
The Big Tilde pointed his club in the direction of the field of battle. The sounds of spring’s battles started to filter through the massive doors. “This battle is ours; let us leave no doubt. Stand up, Men of Detroit, and fight!”
As the band of brothers charged into the sharp sunlight with victory in their throats and in their hearts, The Big Tilde put his hand on Rudi’s shoulder and held him back. “You are not Tilde Pequeño yet. Fight with honor when you are called on and you will maybe become him. Or, even better, you will become your own man. That, too, is important.” Rudi nodded solemnly at the advice and stood at the edge of the battle field to watch.
Son of Grander paused momentarily and reached into his warrior’s bag. He pulled out the tomahawk, studying its lines and its story written in its stains and pockmarks. It would be put to better use this season, returned to its owner with a sickening thump. It would be wielded for a victorious Detroit. The Son of Grander smile returned as he strode onto the field.