The Hunting Trip.
Ihloden gazed in horror and fascination at the creatures that stood below him. The tree in which he had climbed was constantly blocking his vision with its branches. He snorted quietly in anger and the tree whispered back in an annoyed voice.
‘You must be careful. Those are Karvaahs! They will kill you if they find you. You must be protected.”
Ihloden looked at the tree in surprise; he did not know that he projected his displeasure. His mind sent as apology back to the tree, but still tried to peer over the branches. The Karvaahs moved towards the cave. Their skin was milk white while their hair was as black as a Raven’s and fell to their shoulders. They were naked except for a black metal mask that covered their noses and mouths. Their bodies were perfectly proportioned and their muscles were well defined. They also had no genitals and their buttocks were just a smooth sheet of skin. Ihloden stared at them in amazement as they entered the cave; how did a race like that ever survive? The Karvaahs slipped out of the cave and was now looking about in what seemed like confusion. But their eyes said different. Ihloden saw the coldness in them and knew that they were methodically scanning the forest around them like he did when he was hunting. One of the Karvaahs turned to the other and Ihloden saw a small square of metal rise of the skin as if it moved through liquid. A series of other small squares immediately followed it and raced in sequence across the Karvaahs chest. The whole line of metal squares then sank back into the white skin. Ihloden’s jaw dropped. The Karvaah that was facing the first one grew a huge triangle of metal in his chest. As that sank back , the other one raised small circular metal studs out of his arms and as one went down, another came up, so it rippled down the arms. As the Karvaahs continued the strange signals, Ihloden realized what it was that they were doing. They were talking! He watched in fascination as the Karvaahs finished their speech to each other and then headed into the trees. He was so shocked at what he had witnessed that he just sat in the tree for a while. He could not believe what he had seen. It was impossible for creatures to grow metal out of their skin like that, like it was natural to them. How did they eat, or pass waste or anything like that? The tree broke into his thoughts.
“You can come down now. It is safe,” it said.
Ihloden shook himself out of his stupor and slid down the tree. The huge feather was still in his hand. He looked at it and shook his head. Too many strange things had happened in a short time. He set off to find his way back to his camp. He strode about in a daze, his mind running on the Karvaahs and unable to grasp the fact that a creature that could produce a feather of that size actually existed. He walked only simply aware that the massive power of the Land was guiding him back. He finally found his pack and carefully tucked the huge feather into it. Then he slung it over his shoulder and set off on the long journey home.
He stepped out of the woods and began to trekking back through CloudWood, with his face set towards Lower Behurd. It was long past noon with the sun was low in the sky. He got about three hours distance from the cave site before he had to stop for the night. He had an uncomfortable night. He kept waking up thinking that the Karvaahs were around him. All he saw were shadows and black gloom. When he did fall asleep his dreams were haunted by the white skinned creatures and the shadow of a beast that had huge feathers. He was awake long before the sun had risen and by the time the rays were filling up the forest, he had left CloudWood shrinking in the distance.
He walked the distance between CloudWood and Lower Behrud as fast as he could; only taking breaks when he felt like his legs would not carry him any longer. He felt a fear in his chest that just made him want to get home.
The sun was just past its height when Ihloden entered the Forest of Lower Behurd. Once inside he breathed a sigh of relief and the fear lifted from him. He looked around and began to think of getting some game, to show for his absence.
“To your left,” The trees whispered, “Deer.”
Ihloden jumped at their unexpected intrusion. But he grinned none the less and moved quickly to slip out his quiver. He bound it about his waist, strung his bow and slipped a knife into his belt. He stowed his pack in a tree and then began to stalk left through the forest. After a few minutes of careful crouching and scanning; he finally saw the group of deer. He smiled and knelt behind some bushes. He could see the deer’s fur from where he was hiding. The wind kissed his exposed chest as he fitted the arrow into the string. He raised the bow silently and aimed true. A soft twang from the bow sent the arrow straight into the head of the largest deer of the pack. Screams erupted from deer as their dead kin fell among them and they scattered. Ihloden leapt up and took down three more before the rest escaped beyond his bow’s reach. All the deer had been struck through the head and had died instantly. He gave a whoop of joy and went to retrieve his deer. The trees rustled and he felt their displeasure at this killing. But he just grinned, they were vegetarians anyways. He set to the heavy task of stringing up the deer and carrying them to a nearby stream to cut them up. He went back to get his pack and took out the harness that he used to carry game. He stacked a deer on it, then tied the straps around him and walked backwards all the way to the stream. He repeated the journey till all four deer were lying neatly on the bank. He then set down his pack that came with the last deer and took out his assortment of knives. He chose three, struck them into the ground and placed the rest back. He went to a deer and with swift motions cut the stomach open; cleaned out the guts, entrails and removed the genitals. Then he skinned it and cut up the meat and stored it in a neat pile on the harness. He was on his last deer when the trees hissed at him.
“Run! Hide! Ihloden!”
Ihloden looked up and saw a flash of orange fur. He gasped and jumped up.
“In here!”a bush called out.
Ihloden took one look at the thorns on the bush and decided. He leapt into it and buried himself in the thick leaves.
A huge orange cat almost as large as he was, stalked into view. Ihloden held his breath as the Fangor sniffed his deers. The beast snorted and then went to the water and drank. It seemed like an eternity before the beast lifted its head. Ihloden held down the desire to whimper. The bone spikes that ran along the middle of the back and down the tail of the Fangor were wickedly sharp. The cat swished its tail and sniffed the air. Suddenly it turned around. It raised its nose high and sniffed. Ihloden stiffened. It had smelt him. The blood on his hands was reeking and the stench was clinging to him. The cat’s eyes focused on the bush where he was hiding. Ihloden saw the red iris of the cat expand and shrink as it spotted him. He clenched his jaw. No thorns in a bush can stop a Fangor. The cat crouched and a smile seemed to play about its lips. It began to slowly move toward him. Ihloden felt his throat tighten; he was staring his death in the face and he could do nothing about it. The cat crouched and readied its hind legs. It was going to pounce on him. His breath began to come rapidly and as the beast sprang he closed his eyes.
He expected to feel hard teeth and excruciating pain, but instead a howl of pain ripped through the air. It wasn’t him. He snapped his eyes opened and almost screamed. A huge steed was standing in front of the bush. The horse was taller that he was by far. He pushed further back into the bush, ignoring the pain of the thorns sticking into him. The steed looked back at him and its mane and tail of fire filled his vision. There was a kindness in the steed’s eyes and he knew that it had come to save him. The Fangor was crouched with most of its fur burned off. It got up back and the horse whinnied; flames shot out of its nostrils. But the sound of the whinny was like wind rustling through a thousand trees at the same time. It was deafening. The steed stamped and flames shot out from under its hooves. The Fangor gave a nasty look at Ihloden and then ran off into the forest.
The steed looked back at Ihloden and tossed its fiery mane. It then raced back through the forest. Ihloden tried to get up, thorns tearing into his skin, to see where it went. He saw the steed race out of the forest. He struggled out of the bush and followed after it like a man in a trance. He came to the edge of the tree and looked into the open space of plains beyond. Outside in the plains a tall man stood. He was wavering like smoke and his black hair was moving as if it was being tousled by the wind. The man reached out his hand and touched the muzzle of the horse. He was taller than the steed. He stroked the muzzle affectionately then looked at Ihloden. He raised his hand in greeting, turned and walked away; the steed trotting beside him. Then without any sign they vanished into the air. Ihloden began to shake. He went back to his kill site and finished skin the last deer. He then piled all the meat onto the harness, secured it well, gathered his pack and ran for home.
Ihloden emerged from the forest hours later. In his fear he was gotten lost; everything had seemed strange to him. The burden of dragging the deer was nothing; his fear had given him strength. When he saw Nurilah in the field outside her house, he simply dropped the harness and screamed. Nurilah came running to him and he collapsed in her arms. He was shaking so badly she had troubling holding him.
“Ihloden,” she said roughly, “hold yourself man! What happened?” He didn’t answer. “Ihloden!” she said. He looked into her eyes but he was not seeing her. The things he had witnessed in the forest haunted his thoughts till he was sure that they were all set to jump out and capture him once more in their magic. Nurilah saw the unseeing look of horror in his eyes; she sighed, picked him up bodily and carried him to her house. She set him down on her hard bed then went out and fetched his catch. It was while before she returned. When she did, she found that Ihloden was staring into space, rocking to and fro with his arms around his drawn up knees. His arms and face were still covered in deer’s blood. Nurilah shook her head, quickly poured liquid into a cup and brought it to him.
“Drink!” she commanded. He looked at her, then the cup and slowly reached out and took it. He raised it to his lips and drank. He suddenly pulled it away and sputtered.
“That’s terrible!” he cried, as the cloudiness of his mind became suddenly clear.
Nurilah smiled, “I know,” then paused, “What happened Ihloden?” Ihloden took a deep breath and felt the fear rush in to cloud his mind. He shook his head.
“I…..I went to hunt and I walked to the Krogas. I was searching and I found a cave,” he stopped. Nurilah came, sat beside him and began to wipe the blood off his face and hands.
“Go on,” she said gently.
Ihloden swallowed, “I found eggs in the cave and there was one of them that was…. different.”
“In what way?” Nurilah asked.
“It was shiny,” Ihloden replied, his head turned to the side as he envisioned himself back in the forest, “It broke to pieces when I touched it. There was a huge feather too, longer than my entire arm. So strange.” His voice took on a dreamy edge as the memories flooded his mind. “Then the Karvaahs came,” he continued, “I ran up a tree and they looked into the cave as well. But they did not find anything. They left and I came home. I hunted some deer and while I was cleaning them I got attacked by a Fangor.”
“A Fangor!” Nurilah exclaimed.
Ihloden nodded, “Then a huge steed of fire came and rescued me. Then the steed went to a man that was almost ten feet high. Then they both disappeared.” Ihloden voice was shrill as he turned to face Nurilah, “I am going crazy, aren’t I?” Nurilah’s eyes were filled with tears.
“It is often that one hears of legends, Ihloden. But very few live to see them come true.”
“What do you mean?” Ihloden asked.
“The time that Lyficen never wanted to see, has come. The Griffin that he wanted dead has been born. Oh Lyficen, thy days are numbered!” Nurilah said with joy written all over her face.
“Griffin? You mean the Griffin of Legend! That was his egg?” Ihloden asked in awe, “Are you sure?”
Nurilah smiled and chanted softy,
“Egg of shining gem so bright,
In it lays the beast foretold,
Arise! Arise! Your foe to strike!
And end the reign of darkness bold.”
Nurilah smiled again, “Nor is it very often that one sees that the Winds of Cysia.” Ihloden looked at her confused.
She laughed, “You didn’t realize that the steed of fire was one of Evanshna’s steeds?”
Ihloden surprise changed into shock, “Evanshna? The winds of Cysia that you told me about? I didn’t believe what you said. How can the Winds be people?”
“Cirvan made them so. And what Cirvan makes no man questions,” Nurilah said seriously.
Ihloden shook his head, “Mother and Shila will never believe this when they hear it.”
“For they won’t hear it,” Nurilah said quietly.
Ihloden flung back as if stung, “Why not?”
“You said it yourself, they will think that you are crazy. Or they will just put it down to your drinking. Either way this it too valuable information to be taken as a joke. A slip of the tongue about this to anyone and Lyficen’s hoards will be down here in a flash. This village cannot stand before him,” Nurilah replied harshly. Ihloden frowned.
“I will not lie to them. Why will Lyficen come here anyway?”
Nurilah sighed “Have you not been listening to me? That Griffin is death to him. He cannot die unless that Griffin kills him. If Lyficen knows that it is here he will send his forces to kill it and then Cysia will never be free again.” Nurialh paused then continued, “You must protect this knowledge. It is our only hope.” Ihloden frowned harder then sighed and nodded.
“I better go now,” he said tiredly, “thanks for listening.”
“Anytime,” said Nurilah sounding relieved, “I sent your catch to your house already. But you better clean up before you go home. Your mother will not like you coming home smelling like dead deer.”
Ihloden smiled grimly and trudged to the large bowl at the back of Nurilah house. His mind was troubled as he washed out the blood. He then waved good bye to Nurilah and set out for home. His heart was heavy, it seemed like the whole world had fallen and he alone was left to hold it up.