When no one records history, the here and now exists outside of time. Without a record of yesterday to guide our actions, there is only today upon which to shape tomorrow. Such was the truth when the Gods walked among us in the Age of Giants. Immortal beings need not reconcile yesterday, today and tomorrow, for they will always be. Thus, they live an eternity in the present, in the moment, confident in the future upon which they attach no more import than where their next meal will come from. This is their greatest strength and their greatest weakness. When they created mankind and endowed them with a limited existence, time was born. Had they known the strength of passion that comes from living a life that is but a blink of the eye in comparison to their own, they may have granted their progeny longer lives. But how could they know what the future might bring, for they are eternal?
Kalen, the Battle God, one of the creation Gods, possessed a different view than His brethren. He married a mortal and then agonized when she died, cheated out of His love by this annoyance called time. In His grief, He ensured one of their blood would always exist in perpetuity. An immortal bloodline passed down through the generations. It was true then and it is true now. Blood cannot lie. And though nature and her awesome power may seek from time to time to inadvertently extinguish bloodlines, those who are God blessed do not return so easily from whence they rose.
Shafts of sunlight pierced the leaf canopy, splashing the forest floor in golden, yellow, and orange pools as though an artist randomly flicked paint upon canvas. Dewy pearls of moisture collected on leaf and bark reflecting sunbeams, becoming tiny sparkling prisms more numerous than the stars. Towering Douglas firs, giant cedars and gargantuan redwoods, stretched skyward more than fifty times the height of a man with trunks thicker in diameter than four men might encircle with joined hands. Five-hundred-year old giant cedars, whose pliant and succulent green boughs mushroomed groundward like umbrellas, conducted a slow motion duel for sunlight. Random granite boulders, whose table like tops were large enough to erect a small house upon, spotted the forest floor—tertiary leftovers, haphazardly cast off igneous crumbs millions of years old. Wherever topsoil capped those stone tables, tenacious pine trees with green needle stooks that dabbed sticky sap on passers-by, took hold. Ropey roots the thickness of a man’s thigh clasped the boulders, reaching over and down to stab wood fingers into the soft forest floor—the boulder cradled lovingly within a woody grasp. Tarn, the five-year-old boy laying on the ground beside his father, imagined they had intruded into the land of giants, of the Gods, such were the proportions.
Pleasantly pungent to Tarn’s nose, sticky pinesap gathered in granulated lumps, combining pleasingly with crisp and clean cedar aromas. Patches of scrub growth prospered upon stream banks that funnelled cool and refreshing waters into crystal pools home to fat brown trout that fought like tigers to land. Too many layers of decaying leaves and needles, too little access to permanent sunlight, and too many predators who loved to nibble at tender green shoots kept the mature forest floor clean and tidy, absent of undergrowth that let the boy’s eyes wander unimpeded. An endless procession of marching ant- and beetle trains performed additional housekeeping duties carrying leaf, nut and dead insect burdens up and down tree trunks, and over and around fallen logs.
A soft summer breeze set the treetops swaying like slow-dancing lovers, making the sunlight flicker on the forest floor, sending out strobing pools of warmth and light. Leaves rustled in the distance, no more than a gentle tambourine whisper. Their shaking increased as the wind rushed closer and closer until the rustling was overhead, drowning out all other sound, and then it was gone, having passed their position. Soon enough the wind gentled, and the leaves quieted, their voice fading as the gust heaved on by like a long roller breaking upon the shore. In the near distance, the wind departed the forest altogether to ruffle waves on warm ocean waters. At this close proximity to the Western ocean, a companion gust was never far behind.
Tarn noted all these sensations, bored with having to remain motionless with nothing to look at except trees and shrubs and bushes and birds and insects. A copper-haired squirrel foraging winter stores captured his attention. Somewhere off to the right, beyond where his young vision penetrated, the distinctively sharp stuttering sounds sung by a gaggle of wild turkeys reminded him of two merchants haggling like old women over a bolt of cloth. Above him, a pair of drab brown, white speckled sparrows whistled and chirped noisily as they took turns chasing each other from tree to tree, twisting and turning, diving and swooping from branch to trunk and back again. His body cried out for movement. Stag hunting was dull, he thought. Not what he imagined it would be like. Connor, his father, squeezed Tarn’s wrist, communicating an unspoken understanding, urging just a little more patience.
The sharp snapping of a twig breaking interrupted the rhythm of forest noises. Connor’s muscles tensed as he braced his hands beneath him, releasing a deep and controlled breath as he rose fluidly to one knee; the slender spear cocked and coiled above his shoulder. Following along the spear’s length, Tarn sighted an antler rack. A buck stood back from the stream in a copse of red berry bushes, quiet as a statue, surveying the area cautiously, head canted to take in sound. Its magnificent brown and black and white coat blended seamlessly with the forest, making it difficult to decide where it began and the forest ended, until it moved. The ten points of its tapered antlers mimicked tree branches most wonderfully, Tarn thought. What he wouldn’t give for a piece of antler from which to carve a knife hilt.
The cautious old stag tilted its majestic head upwards to taste the air currents; its nostrils, around which whiskers tufted grey, billowed open and then constricted, only to flare again. Satisfied all was well, it advanced toward the purling stream, no less regal for its vigilance. Instincts informed the forest monarch that quenching its thirst was dangerous. Tens of thousands of years of evolution made it pause a few seconds longer. Tarn watched leg- and shoulder muscles ripple powerfully. Scenting nothing to alarm it, the stag lowered its black-velvet muzzle to the tiny whitecaps and drank deeply with soft suckling sounds, front legs splayed to the sides to let its lips reach water. Connor slowly rose to his full height, focused arm- and shoulder muscles, and cast his first spear. Before the slender rod travelled half the distance to the stag, he threw a second spear with his other arm.
The stag stopped drinking.
Its head rose. Caught in a sunbeam, water droplets hanging from its muzzle sparkled. A niggling warning tried to take hold.
The first spear pierced the stag’s neck where it joined its shoulders. When the stag jerked its head up in shock and pain, the second projectile caught it just behind its front leg, separating hide and ribs to skewer a madly racing heart. Seconds became an eternity as the buck staggered, stubbornly fighting death’s call; first crumpling to its front knees, and then falling over sideways to the ground, one front hoof pawed the air in final protest, head and antlers up—the last to lie down. Ere the stag expelled its last breath, Tarn ran forward, his boy-sized spear held high. His father’s proud laughter filled Tarn’s ears as he threw his spear with all his might.
At five years old Tarn stood taller and was more solidly built than other children his own age—a hint of what was to come—but he was only a child and his cast fell well short. Connor unloosed an Asgard battle cry and ran after Tarn, challenging his son to a footrace. When Connor came abreast of Tarn, he scooped him up with one hand and hugged him to his chest. The stream lay directly ahead. Thigh muscles bunched and released, catapulting Connor and his charge across the narrow span where he landed with pantherine grace on one hand and a knee beside the fallen stag.
Having set Tarn down, Connor took his skinning knife and slit the belly of the buck from rectum to breastbone. Blood, guts and body gasses rushed out to fill the air with heady sweetness. Rivers of blood now soaked the forest floor, pooling, slowly draining through layers of needle and leaf. Tarn’s nose wrinkled at the metallic, coppery scent. Almost as soon as it arrived, the unpleasant smell became bearable, and then forgotten as the presence of lungs and stomach and liver and other boyhood interests took precedence.
Three deft cuts later, Connor held the quivering stag’s heart before a wide-eyed Tarn, its aorta and ventricles dripping ruby droplets.
“Here boy, eat.”
“Should we no thank the Gods first?”
“Bah,” scoffed his father. “That’s thy mother’s way. Our God is Vulcan, God of the forge. He wants no thanks. He showed us how to mine ore and to forge steel, how to fashion weapons, not how to use them. This we perfected on our own. My spears downed the buck, not his. Now eat, like this.”
Connor’s strong Hyperborean teeth tore away a mouthful of sweet and succulent flesh. Blood cherry droplets spilled onto his closely cropped red and blonde beard. Emulating his father, Tarn grasped the warm and jiggly flesh in both hands and enthusiastically bit into it. Warm and sticky blood covered his mouth, chin and cheeks by the time he sawed off a hunk, making it hard to hang onto his prize. With cheeks bulging and juices squirting, Tarn chewed. Venison heart exploded tender and sweet. Wearing a surprised grin, he swallowed the first mouthful hurriedly and tore off another. A wide grin showed Tarn’s pink-stained teeth. Connor looked upon his blood-smeared son, ruffled his hair while bellowing laughter and pride.
“Now, watch and learn how the hide is removed.” While Tarn chewed, he followed his father’s knife as it danced circles and half steps through sinew and muscle. Connor stopped his task and froze. Slowly, like a wave gathering momentum, a deep rumbling passed beneath their feet. “Do thee feel that, lad?”
“Vulcan rolled over in his sleep.”
“Where does he slumber?”
“In a mountain far, far from here.”
“Then how can we feel—”
A more violent shaking of the earth interrupted his question. Fighting to stay on his feet, he trembled with a mixture of excitement and fear. Once the rumbling subsided, an unnatural quiet kidnapped the forest. Large branches crashed heavy and hard to the ground. Leaves and twigs floated and fell close behind. A dust curtain had risen in response to the earth being shaken and stirred, becoming dirt clouds floating over the forest floor like a fog over a morning lake. Not a sound could be heard. The forest waited deaf and mute. The pause drew out, longer and longer until silence became nearly unbearable, until eardrums threatened to explode for lack of sound, and then a daring cricket chirped, followed by a nervous twitter of a chipmunk. Seconds later everything returned to as it was before. Both Tarn and Connor exhaled, each having unknowingly held their breath.
“Wash in the stream.” Tarn complied as Connor rolled the hide around the choicest cuts and tied it with fresh sinew. Apprehension and nervousness showed in his movements. To leave so much meat behind was criminal. Though he feared no man or beast, Connor’s tribal superstition of the Gods had unnerved him. When Vulcan shifted in his sleep, no good could come of it. “Ready thy feet, we leave.”
Without further words, Connor struck out through the forest taking long strides that forced Tarn to run from time to time to keep up. The ground started to shake anew. Trees trembled, blurring in and out of focus. Leaves and nests, dead branches and other debris, rained down. Birds cried alarm and took flight. Tarn hurried faster, casting his father nervous glances. Connor acknowledged his presence with a grunt that projected similar unease; wild and superstitious eyes darted left right. Tremors were not unheard of, but never did they gain in strength and never so close together. The trembling ground raised hackles on the nape of his neck. When the deep rumbling intensified, he cast the meat aside, picked up Tarn, and broke into a run.
He leaped over fallen logs, dodged low-hanging boughs, and sidestepped boulders racing to their hidden canoe. At the edge of the forest and the stretch of sand separating forest from ocean, the ground heaved, tossing Connor into the air. With catlike agility, he righted himself in mid-air to land on one foot and knee, Tarn safe in his arms. Mystical superstition made saucers of Connor’s eyes, pupils panned, skin turned ashen and pale. Where do you run when the world rises against you?
Tarn stared out across the ocean.