posted 02 April 2022 07:03 EDT (US)   
Another tale of a mythical time in a foreign world. Enjoy!

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The council fire burned hotter than normal as the youth approached it in nervous steps. The heat washed over his sweating body. He was glad. The heat of the fire masked the fear in his heart at what he was about to do.

Behind the fire sat the three men and one woman, their faces stony in the dancing light of the fire. The youth saw pride in the face of his father, but nothing in the other three.

He knew he should show no fear. What he was about to do had been done by every warrior before him, male or female, yet the weight of the event was crushing. Every step forward toward the four was forced by the utmost of courage. For when he reached the fire, he knew he would be forced by rite to give up his most trusted companion, one that had been with him since he was born.

The elder looked down upon the youth with cold eyes. The champion beside him gazed at him with a twinge of regret. The high priestess looked at him as if he were of another clan. These unfriendly glares almost caused the boy to falter, yet his father's resolute presence reinforced his failing courage and he completed the short walk to the fire.

He wondered why he had chosen this day for the rite. Clan law stated the rite must be performed before one reached seventeen summers. He was but thirteen. He could go, turn away, and no one in the Clan would say a thing about it. But no, he was ready. He would become a man this day. His resolve solidified. It showed on his face.

The elder noticed the determined look and nodded. The
ceremony began.

The boy's father stepped forward around the fire and held out his hand. The youth knew this was the hardest part of the rite. Fighting every move, he forced his hand over his shoulder and onto the grip of his birthsword. He drew out the fifty-inch blade with slow but steady progress. With a visible twinge of regret, he handed the sword he had carried since birth to the man who made it. His father accepted the unfinished blade, carefully wrapped it in a deerskin cloak, and handed his son a long-bladed dagger. The dirk was now the only thing the boy carried besides his clothing.

"Armed such, you are ready for your task," the priestess intoned. "You must kill, boy, in order to become a warrior. If you cannot kill an animal, you do not have it in you to kill a foe when battle comes. Go. Prove to us and yourself you are the man you claim by this rite."

The boy lifted the dagger in salute and strode from the fire.

It had begun. He was on his own now. Without his birthsword, he could claim no help from any clansman. Without his birthsword, no clansman would aid or abet him. It was he against the world, as it ever had been among the rough mountain folk.

He entered the forest, seemingly unaware of the two warriors who trailed him. He paid them no heed, for he knew their purpose. They were to watch over him to ensure he completed this rite unaided. They would neither interfere nor offer the comfort of companionship.

He walked the trails and studied the ground patiently for hours. He became one with the forest, letting each and every sound penetrate his mind and being. This was his hunt, his kill. Rats and other vermin were no good. Rabbits and squirrels, though they took skill and speed to kill with a dagger and were tasty in the stewing pots to boot, were worthless. He needed a kill worthy of the hunter he would become.

Deer were the most common prey for the rite; stags were preferred. They were armed with horns that could spit a youth, making them a worthy opponent. Wild dogs with their sharp teeth were almost as common. Wild boars were almost as dangerous as wolves, both of which were brought in by those destined to become champions. No boy in his right mind dared try to bring down a bear with but a dagger, but it had been tried several times. And on one occasion in clan history, it had been done successfully. For this boy, a stag would be more than welcome.

It almost seemed as if Varuna, Goddess of the Hunt, was watching over him in the afternoon of his third day. Before him, the tracks of a large deer crossed his trail on its way to the small stream the boy knew lay off to his left. The tracks, still sharp around the edges, were fresh. With a cautious whoop, the boy hefted his dagger to let his watchers know he had found prey.

The tracks did indeed lead down to the stream. He saw the deer there, head dipped as it lapped water. He concealed his excitement behind an iron mask. He must become the hunter, one with the forest and with the spirits who favored the deer. He closed silently in on his prey.

The deer was a stag, he saw to his glee. A three-pointer. It was a worthy foe. He eased closer.

The deer raised its head sharply. The boy froze. Yet the deer must have smelled him because it suddenly took off.

It didn't get far. Not two bounds from the stream it fell over as a large, black clump fell on it from above. Tossing its antlered head to and fro, it fought a desperate struggle against the young panther which had attacked it. The panther held on for its life and meal, flopping across the back and head of its prey. Infuriating pain which shot through it as one spiked antler gored it through its hind leg. The panther finally got his mouth onto the neck of the stag and bit down for all he was worth. The neck snapped with the crunch of bone and the stag dropped.

"Steal my kill, will you?" the boy shouted in rage. He lunged at the panther in full fury, startling the forest cat who had neither smelled nor seen his approach. The cat hissed evilly, noting with cunning eyes the talon of steel in the boy's hand but too pumped up with the excitement of a fresh kill to care. It laid its ears flat and prepared to pounce.

The boy should have died right there with the panther tearing out his throat. Yet the wound inflicted by the now-dead stag hampered its leap. Instead of landing on the youth's chest and bowling him over, it landed before the youth and in range of the long dagger.

The boy closed with the forest cat and thrust one hand under the cat's jaw. He locked his arm to prevent the cat from using those magnificent teeth to rip out his throat. With his other hand, he plunged his father's dagger again and again into the exposed underbelly.

The panther had lost the use of his teeth and the wounded leg took away his mobility. The plunging dagger tore at his guts, yet he was far from finished. He still had his strength and his claws, which together could reduce this pale, furless beast before him to shredded man-burger. He fought in the mindless, savage fury his kind were known for.

The boy fought in the silent, intense manner his folk were known for. Torn and gauged by the claws of his foe, he let neither the pain nor the blood slow him. He continued to plunge the dagger deep into the beast, trying for the lucky shot which would pierce the beast's heart and leave it a sagging piece of meat held up only by the hand on its neck.

The boy's strength was waning, but so was that of the panther. An opening in one of their defenses had to come. It was the panther who finally sagged, its great life force expended through the myriad deep wounds in its abdomen. The boy stood, bleeding and victorious.

He raised his dagger into the air. "I have killed!" he shouted, letting the world know a new warrior had come to his clan. He looked to the two watchmen for their approval. By the gods, a panther! At thirteen, no less!

"Your kill was spoiled," stated the one, matter-of-factly. "The panther was wounded before you met him with steel."

"But it was a panther!" the boy retorted. "I killed it in fair combat, as per the Law of the Rite."

"It should have ripped you apart," the other watcher agreed. "Lucky for you it was too young to know how to fight properly and wounded by the stag to boot. Your test continues. You are not a man yet."

The boy scowled, robbed of his triumph. Killing a panther, even a young one, was an incredible feat by anyone's standards. But the law was the law. The panther had been wounded by the stag and was thus discounted. He cursed first the watchers, and then himself. He knew the law as well as they did, and they were right. Now he was wounded and bleeding with nothing to show for it but two carcasses and no kill.

He was determined. He could not return home until he had made his kill. That was the law. He could not have his wounds healed and try again later, either. He had made his choice at the fire. He would have to make his kill as he was.

There was no law against healing oneself, though. With a cold smile, he began searching for the herbs and plants. He had seen his mother make disinfecting poultices for his father enough times that he knew what to look for. He found the herbs and returned to the carcasses.

He carefully cut a strip of hide away from the stag and washed it in the stream. Then he bound the herbs together and pressed them onto his wounds. They stung like Hell's own devils ripping at him, but he held them in place until he got them bound. Only then did the pain begin to subside. He cut a few strips of meat from the deer and roasted them over a small fire.

Night fell. A howling nearby awakened the boy. He rose with a startled motion, then grinned as a plan formed in his mind. He set about making that plan come to reality. He gathered a large pile of dead pinewood and placed it near his fire. Then he slung the panther up into a tree to hang over a bough. He sliced the neck of the panther to allow its blood to flow. He dragged the stag over to the small fire and let it lay beside it. Then he climbed up beside the panther and waited.

Within two hours, his plan worked. Wolves, drawn to the scent of blood and death, came to scavenge what they could from another's kill. They came timidly at first because of the small fire, then with more courage as no life seemed evident. The boy waited until they began tearing into the stag's body before he pounced.

He landed on the back of one wolf as it lay feasting and tore at its throat with his dagger. He gouged a deep wound, but even he knew it was far from a killing stroke. The wolves leapt up and scattered.

Cursing, the boy raised himself from the ground and looked about. Luck was still with him. He had not torn open his wounds, nor had the wolves fled entirely. They had merely drawn back to the forest to see what the noise was about. Their yellow eyes glanced about before looking toward their leader.

The leader of the pack stalked forward. The others followed. The boy smiled. Though he had not killed, neither had he scared them off. He may yet kill before the sun rises.

Unafraid, or rather more afraid of failure than death, he stalked forward to meet wolf. The wolf, bleeding from the neck, studied the boy before him. Then he attacked.

The pack attacked with him. The boy let one wolf roll off his back while he faced the leader. Another tore at his arm, ripping a huge chunk of skin off before it darted way. The boy lunged at the leader. His dagger tore the muscles from its shoulder as it glanced away.

The wolf scampered away, leading his pack with him. This was not going well. He had scented fear in the boy, but that fear had not presented itself under the pack attack. It was better to wait until he slept to take the meat.

The boy saw the pack retreat and cursed again. Wincing at what he had to do, he charged the pack. Doing so brought him away from the pile of pine he had, ready to kick into the fire to scare off the pack once his kill was made. Now he would have to do it the hard way.

The pack regrouped behind its wounded leader. Teeth bared, the Alpha male came forward. The pack sensed the coming battle and began to surround the boy. They did not complete half of their encirclement when the boy lunged.

The wolf met the lunge in mid-leap. His teeth flashed for the boy's throat. They met a bleeding hunk as the boy threw his wounded arm crosswise into the beast's jaws. He pushed it further and further back until the arm was behind the fangs and out of danger. Then he struck with his dagger, stabbing again and again as he had with the panther.

The wolf was no panther. Big and strong, wily and cunning, he was simply no match for one of the forest cats, much less a match for one who had killed a forest cat. He died with molars still grinding against the boy's arm and his paws feebly battering the boy who killed him.

The rest of the pack did not notice or care about their leader's demise. They finished their encirclement and began darting in and away to draw the boy out of position. Then they would kill him and eat like forest kings.

A bright explosion of fire and a loud shout behind them sent them scampering away. The boy watched the pack disappear before turning to see what had frightened them.

It was the two watchers. They had kicked over his pile of wood and driven away the wolves. It made no sense to him. They had helped him, against all law and custom. By rights he should be dead and them reporting his failure to the council.

Then it struck him. They had acted only after he had killed the leader. He had made his kill. He could now return home with the carcass of the wolf in tow and reclaim his birthsword. Only now it would be sharpened, as befits a warrior of the Clan.

He was no longer a boy. He was a warrior now.

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII

[This message has been edited by Terikel Grayhair (edited 04-02-2022 @ 07:05 AM).]