WAIT!!! STOP!!! Don't you dare ask why I came back! If you post here, you will forget that I was ever here, I'm still gone, I am just posting to get some feedback for my book, I will post the first chapter, and if someone actually reads it I will do the second, the third is in progress, but may get pushed to the side for a bit while I feverishly work towards my A+ Degree.
And now, without further ado...Chapter 1...
Oh...here's a bit more ado...I have not named the book yet, not even a working title, because I am only on the third chapter, and, I have not quite decided what to call this Chapter yet, working title is simply, Enemies, but idea's are welcomed...ok, now...Chapter 1.
Chapter 1 - Enemies
Ayren M’andoren drew the goose fletched arrow to his cheek. It was a good arrow. He should know. He had been making arrows for him and his father since he was ten years old. That’s the way it was here in the Forest of Halayna, you had to carry your own weight. Whether old or young, weak or strong, male or female, everyone did their share. It had been that way for generations, as long as people had been here, and it would continue to be that way as long as there continued to be.
There was a slight breeze blowing, and he was 30 meters or so downwind from the deer in the clearing. The breeze was refreshing, even under the trees it could get hot in the early afternoon on the days leading up to midsummer, but more importantly it carried his scent away from the deer. This would be an easy shot for him. He had been using a bow since he got his first one on his tenth birthday.
He was just about to let the arrow fly when he saw something move across the clearing. The thing was closer than he was to the deer, and whatever it was…it was large. He relaxed his strain on the bowstring and watched to see if the creature would show itself. The deer must have seen some movement, because it lifted its head looking straight at the place where Ayren was staring. It didn’t even get its head fully raised. Something black streaked out of the forest where he had seen the movement, and struck the deer in the chest. The deer flew backwards in a shower of blood. It rose and staggered a few steps, blood streaming out around the place where the bolt, for crossbow bolt it was, still stuck. A few steps were all the deer got before it collapsed; a mass of twitching limbs.
A man rode out from the place where the bolt had come. He wore a leather jerkin and had a long sword on his back that was almost as long as he was tall. Ayren had only seen a few swords in his lifetime, and those were just the ones that the boatmen carried to protect their ship from river pirates, this one was a marvel compared with those.
His eyes were ripped away from the man, and he goggled at what the man was riding on. That creature was no horse. The only resemblance he could find was that they both walked on four legs. This animal was about 4 feet tall at the shoulder, which was the highest part of its body, and looked to be 7 feet long. At first glance the animal looked like it had armor on, but as he looked closer he realized that the ‘armor’ was part of the creature’s body. It had thick legs that had short fur instead of the armor covering the rest of its body, and paws like a cat. The monster’s mouth hung open slightly, revealing large sharp teeth stained a sickly reddish color. The animal had a horn on the end of its nose which Ayren guessed must be almost a foot long.
It moved with surprising agility, looking as though it were ready to leap, though surely an animal that size couldn’t…could it? It gave Ayren the impression of an animal of prey, like a lion, or a tiger like the one he had seen in the animal show in Genalla, or maybe a Cralahn. However, it also resembled another of the animals he had seen at the animal show too. A rhinarus? No, a rhoneirous? Well no matter.
Ayren looked back at the man, now he had reached the middle of the clearing and jumped down. The man was very dark-skinned stocky and short. He had looked short in the saddle, now Ayren saw how short he really was. He was not so short that he would stand out in a crowd, why Master Gillis the butcher was only about half a head taller, but this man’s shoulders were massive, muscles bulged through his tight shirt, and it seemed that Ayren should see the muscles in his chest through his jerkin. This man never took his right hand off the saddle where he had rested it on hopping down he reached out with his left hand, his left hand and picked up that buck. The animal must have weighed at least 150 pounds, and Ayren judged it to be a fair bit more, but with what looked like ease, the man placed it in front of his saddle. Then he jumped back on, and rode off into the forest.
Ayren followed him for, by the sun, seemed to be the better part of three hours alternating between a slow lope and a walk, in a west northwest direction. As he followed, a knot began to grow in Ayren’s stomach; he knew where they were headed. He kept trying to convince himself otherwise, that the man would make a turn soon, but he kept on in his course. The man went into a clearing, and Ayren was about to follow him when he saw a sentry. The sentry was perched up in a tree, and looking around plainly not seeing anything that moved in the trees below him. Ayren circled a bit to avoid him anyways.
Tears welled up in his eyes as he got closer and saw what had become of the home of Liel and Lisse Amleth and their five children. He hadn’t seen them as often as he had seen Eric and his family, but the two little girls Lara and Lena had loved being around him when he had seen them. They had been like his little sisters; his real sister always seemed to be finding some way to way to annoy him. Master Amleth had been a man Ayren admired, he was a big man, one of the best with the quarterstaff, and had been a better shot than most with bow, which was saying something around a place like Jorins Glade, where everyone, boy and girl, young and old knew how to shoot one. Liel Amleth was a good man, a little slow sometimes, but everyone had loved him. He was just the kind of a man you couldn’t dislike. Ayren thought that there was a small chance that they were holding him and his family captive inside, but in his mind it was almost vanishingly so.
He peered through the bushes a few feet away from the edge of the clearing and surveyed what was now the camp of these…these…well he supposed that they must be invaders, enemies. The words seemed odd when referring to the place where he grew up. No one here was anyone else’s enemy around Jorins Glade, in the Forest of Halayna. Sure some people disliked others sometimes, and there were fist fights occasionally, but never killing; no one was really someone else’s enemy. Most of the time problems were worked out without anyone getting hurt. People couldn’t afford to get hurt around here, they had work to do, so they stayed away from issues that would cause conflict. When things did arise, usually they were able to talk through it. The few times when a fist fight occurred, the most anyone got was a black eye and a few bruises; and a reputation that followed them about for the next month or more.
Most of the men he saw were short and dark-skinned like the first, though a few were almost a head taller. The quick thinking that gave him the reputation of always having a quip ready, told him that the taller ones must be the ones they used for spies, as they would be less noticed in a crowd. The men were sitting around on the ground playing cards, dicing, some in pairs of two playing a game on a square board which looked somewhat like Knights and Nobles, and here and there one was reading a book. There were lines of blanket rolls, and directly in front of each on there was an odd shaped saddle and saddlebags. Not far from any mans right hand, was a wicked looking battle axe with a long haft, or a sword almost as long as most of the men were tall, and a few men had things he couldn’t put a name to, chains attaching a spiked metal ball to a wooden handle.
Lying around the edge of the camp, were ten large Ironwood trunks. Attached to those trunks by short thick chains leading to small iron pegs, were animal like he had seen the first man riding. He counted twenty of the animals evenly spaced on each long hard trunk. Ten on each side, and they were attached with chains, these animals must be at least as strong as they looked, which was saying a great deal. The man he had seen in the beginning had walked through one of the openings between the logs, and was producing a chain and peg from a small set of saddlebags that seemed to be made just for that purpose. He proceeded to pound a peg through one of the middle links of the chain with a hammer also taken from his saddlebags. This didn’t tell much, only that sometimes they would have a longer leash. But there must be some catch to those pegs, an animal that size would be able to pull an ordinary iron peg out without any difficulty.
Ayren realized that it was getting late; the sun was well past its peak, he slipped out past the sentries; the men obviously weren’t used to the forest. It was easier than stealing pies from Mistress Nuiry had been when he was little. Or was until started wondering why her pies kept disappearing from off the windowsill; then she had started watching them like a hawk. After she caught him, he hadn’t been able to sit straight for a week. He hurried on his way towards home, with luck he could get there by dinner, tomorrow.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Eric ran the last stretch toward the M’andorens. It had been almost a month and a half since he had seen Ayren, he was anxious to get there as soon as possible. He only had one week. He wished he had been able to start out sooner the day before, he was a little tired from going so late last night, but he hadn’t really had a choice. When that tree had fallen over in the wind two nights ago, it had smashed part of the shed, and he couldn’t just leave, he had had to help his father at least remove the tree. He remembered looking at his father, the question plain in his eyes, his father had looked back, and then a little smile flashed across his rough face and he said, “Go lad, I can do this myself, I’m not so old as you seem to think, I can do a little work now and then.” That had been all Eric needed, he had run inside, grabbed his sack, bow and quiver, and started off. It was a good eighty miles to the M’andorens house. Trappers didn’t live next door to each other.
He had slept in one of the two huts he and Ayren had built right on the side of the track for just that purpose. One was situated about three quarters of the way towards the M’andorens, and the other positioned three quarters of the way towards the Ammels. They had built them almost five years ago now, and they had gotten quite a bit of use in that time.
He ran into the largish clearing that was the M’andorens home just as Ayren and his father were walking to put their hoes in the shed, they had been working in the garden. If Eric knew Ayren, he had probably been fervently hoping the whole time that Eric would show up that moment, Ayren hated gardening. As Ayren turned from the shed, he saw Eric trotting up. He ran over with a relieved expression, it was not the type he would have worn if he was relieved simply that he didn’t have to work in the garden any more that day, it was almost as if he was glad Eric was alive. He frowned at his friend and asked, “Is something wrong?”
“What? Oh…no.” came the answer, and then he added “Well, yes, but we’ll talk about that later. Come, it’s time for lunch, and then we can start out.” That was very unlike Ayren. He never had trouble with words, and never ever misspoke.
They went inside where Mistress M’andoren and Delain had a meal laid out. It wasn’t a big meal, Eric didn’t know what they did in other places, but all the trappers in the forest ate the big meal in the evening. As they ate Master M’andoren made conversation, “How fare things at your house Eric?” he asked.
“Good,” replied Eric, “well, I guess not, the night before last, a tree fell over in the storm, and crushed part of the shed. I had to stay and help father remove it, so I got a late start, that’s why I’m a little tired.”
“Storm? All that happened here was a few drops of water and the flowers being blown a bit.”
It always amazed Eric that a storm that had been so bad at his house had barely touched the M’andorens, and the other way around too.
Mistress M’andoren raised an eyebrow at Master M’andoren, “Blew the flowers a bit you say?” She said in a questioning tone that only hinted of sarcasm, “Eric, what he means to say is that it nearly ruined my flowerbed, as you must have noticed when you arrived.”
Eric paused for a moment; he hadn’t even noticed the flowers. He opened his mouth to lie, when Mistress M’andoren cut him off, “Don’t say that you did boy, men never notice these things.” A long-suffering sigh showed what she thought of that.
The rest of the meal passed in like fashion with Ayren asking how hunting had been, and Delain, and Master M’andoren’s mother who lived with them, saying something every now and then. After the meal, Ayren quickly grabbed his pack from the other room, and his bow and quiver from by the door, and they were off. They headed northeast, along a path, and as they walked Ayren started talking.
“Eric,” he started out, “we can’t hunt like we were planning. I have to show you something.”
“What?” asked Eric, they had been planning this for almost two months, and both he and Ayren loved to hunt, what could be on his friends mind?
“It’s the Amleths.” Ayren said after a moment, and then stopped, unable to say the rest.
“What about them?” Eric urged after a few moments of walking in silence.
“I’m not sure Eric, I think they’re dead.”
Eric stopped dead in his tracks; he was totally unprepared for this, Liel and Lisse, dead? The children too? It was impossible, the Amleths had lived in their house as the highest trappers north in the forest, for over twenty years. They couldn’t simply be dead. The words spilled out of his mouth, “Who? When? ...Why would someone do something like this?”
“Invaders Eric, enemies, I don’t know where they’re from, I saw them about five days ago when I was out hunting.”
Eric’s eyes grew wider and wider as Ayren related everything that had happened on that day. When he finally finished, Eric asked “Why haven’t you told your father?”
“I did,” groaned Ayren miserably, “but he won’t believe me, he keeps reminding me of 3 years ago.”
Eric’s groan was almost a twin of Ayren’s. What Ayren meant by “three years ago,” was the incident that had taken place on midsummer 3 years gone. Ayren loved pranks, and he was going to play a big one, he started a rumor that Master Gillis’s mill was on fire. All the men rushed out of the town, and ran the mile down to the mill. They found nothing wrong with it and returned, determined to find out who had started the rumor. Ayren had done a pretty good job of covering his tracks, but they found him out…Eric sufficed it to say that he had been glad that that had not been one of the pranks he was involved in. Since then, the men had forgiven Ayren rather quickly, but they wouldn’t really trust him very much...well, not in the area of news at least, a man would lend his traps to Ayren, and know that he would return them undamaged. But when he told news of any kind, people thought long and hard about what he had said.
They continued on their way in silence, both deep in thought about what Ayren had said. After going on like this for quite some time until Eric broke the silence, “What is it Ayren?” he asked.
Ayren glanced over at him, surprised, “What’s what?”
Eric smiled slightly, “You seem to find something…amusing.”
“Oh,” he said apparently surprised, “how did you know?”
“I know you Ayren, you get a certain look in your eyes when you’re reminiscing, and you were starting to smile too.”
“Oh, well I was just remembering the other day,” he said glancing back at Eric grinning widely, “I was in town with some things for Master Anla to mend.” Master Anla was the village blacksmith; he not only made things, but also mended traps, and pots and pans, and sharpened knives. There weren’t enough people around here for him to be able to get by just shoeing horses and making knives. “While he was working, I went a little ways into the woods to a little meadow, and picked a bouquet of wildroses. I went over to the Asgeirr’s, and saw Karin taking down the towels and bed sheets from drying. I walk on over there, taking care that she doesn’t see me, and stand behind one of the sheets. As she takes down the sheet, I give my best leg, and flourish the flowers. She jumps when she sees me, and drops the sheet. Then she giggles and takes the roses…She’s so pretty when she’s laughing...” he stared off dreamily.
Karin was one of the two girls that Ayren liked, she was of average height for a woman, was just slightly plump, which actually added to her beauty. She wasn’t stunningly beautiful, but she was very pretty, and was fun to be around when she wasn’t trying to practice being like all the married women, and sniff or roll her eyes whenever a man made a joke, or said much of anything worth saying. Ayren had convinced two girls, Karin and Eva, that he loved both of them, and was merely being polite to the other. It had gotten him into trouble more than a few times, though nothing really big…not really. He kept saying that he was trying to decide which one he really loved, and in the meantime he kept encouraging both of them.
“And?” Eric prodded after waiting for Ayren to continue.
“And what?” asked Ayren looking lost.
“And what happened?”
“Oh, that. Well, I thought that this was probably one of the best chances I’d ever get, and gave her a hug.” He paused here, and he seemed to be rather confused, women had that effect on men, and usually didn’t seem to realize it. “I tried to kiss her, but she pushed me away, with a stern look on her face as if she was my grandmother, and said in a voice that sounded like my mother when she caught me in the middle of a prank, ‘Maybe you can waste all your time trying to kiss every girl in town, but I have work to do, and thanks to you I have to wash this sheet again.’ just as if she hadn’t been all but telling me to. I don’t know about you Eric, but I’ll never understand women.”
Eric couldn’t help but laugh, Ayren had that effect on people, you couldn’t seem to stay sour around him long. Well, that wasn’t quite true, if you were angry with him, he seemed to have a way to make you furious. It was so true too, women were like those puzzles Master Anla would make, so complicated, and just when you thought you had them figured out, you found yourself even more tangled than at the beginning. “If there is a man that can understand them, he’s probably in a palace somewhere, advising a king, not hanging around with the likes of you and me. But if there is such a man, I want to meet him and ask him a thing or two.”
They walked on in silence again, remembering where they were going, and why. They rested by one of the many small streams that crisscrossed the path, and then continued until it started to get dark. This was rather later in coming, as it was the middle of summer. They stopped by another stream, and ate some of the dried meat they had along, and cleared a little space to make a fire and spread out their blankets. They made some tea, and sat by the fire neither wanting to talk. Ayren made a few half hearted attempts at jokes about the sentries being blind and deaf, and Eric laughed, but both were forced, and they went silent again, until Ayren crawled into his blankets leaving Eric with first watch.
Eric sat thinking, and stoked the fire when it started dying down, to deter wild animals. He thought about many things, about Kaliah Gilean a girl that he thought he loved, a girl that put his mind in a knot whenever he thought about her, he thought about past hunting adventures he had had with Ayren, and sometimes with one of the lads from town, but everything somehow or another led back to what he didn’t want to think about, the Amleths. Calculating time by the speed that the large oak log burned, he timed about four hours, and woke Ayren. Then he slept for the same amount of time before Ayren woke him to take the last hour before dawn.
They woke, and the next day they traveled in an even more somber mood than the day before, as the got closer and closer to their destination. At about noon, when they were within a few miles of the Amleths’ house Ayren led Eric off the path into a bit denser woods. They slowed, and went as quietly as they could, which was to say that they made no more noise than a rabbit. For all he had said yesterday about the sentries, Ayren wasn’t taking any chances.
Eric spotted the sentries before Ayren pointed them out to him. To be a hunter and trapper, you had to have a good eye, and Eric and Ayren were considered two of the best already despite being young. The sentries obviously weren’t used to trees, when Ayren had said he didn’t think they would notice a herd of deer more than 10 feet away, Eric thought he had been exaggerating. Now he wasn’t so sure.
They snuck close to the clearing, and as Eric peered between the bushes into the camp, he was amazed at what he saw. Ayren hadn’t been very forthcoming, which was unusual for Ayren, so Eric hadn’t known what to expect, but never this. Men everywhere, all short and dark and well muscled. They were lounging about at their leisure, but not far away from any one of them, lay a sword, or axe, or something he didn’t know what to call, with a handle attached to a spiked ball by a long chain.
The animals surrounding the camp made him goggle every bit as much as the men in the clearing. Like nothing he had ever seen, and they were eating. Each one had a deer, or some other large animal, and they were tearing them to pieces with dark red stained teeth.
Ayren tapped his arm and pointed, his whisper held a hint of surprise when he said “Look over there.”
Eric looked where he pointed, at the garden, and if possible, he was even more surprised than before. There picking vegetables, was Mistress Amleth and her two girls Lara and Lena. Big pots hung over fires, and when their basket was full, they went over to one, and set to work readying them to cook. If they were alive, then where was Master Amleth? Inside? Dead? But why would they kill him and spare his family? And where were the boys? So many questions and no answers. Ayren touched his arm again, and when Eric turned to look at him, unshed tears shone in the other lad’s eyes, he had a place in his heart for those two girls. Ayren motioned back the way they had come, and they left as silently as they had come.
When they got back to the trail, Eric stopped and looked at his friend who was still holding back tears, “We must do something Ayren,” he said, “they are a threat to everyone, we must know if they move. I’ve always been faster than you, I’ll go and tell everyone, your father will believe it if I say it too, and everyone will believe your father. If anything happens, if they move, anything, you get the news in as fast as possible.” His words held more force than he’d ever heard in his voice before, especially to his friend.
Ayren nodded, looking at Eric a little strange. Eric realized that he had been ordering his friend around, and telling him what to do, but there wasn’t time now to think about that, he had to get going. He started off at a run down the path, and left Ayren to go back and watch.
He ran for a good five minutes before stopping to compose himself, he couldn’t run all eighty miles back to the M’andorens, he would collapse from exhaustion long before half way. He started off again at a steady walk that he could keep up all day and all night. As he walked, his mind raced, so many things flew through his head. Why would someone do this? Where were they from? What did they want? What would the people do when he told them? What could they do?