The Creatures' Realm - Salaha Kleb - ebook

The Creatures' Realm ebook

Salaha Kleb

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"There where I stood … I awoke to the beauty of the realm I wandered, and yet death seemed to be hovering above me the deeper I dared to go." When traveling tribes happen on a vast, until then unruled region in quest of a place to settle, they claim the entire land theirs, all but conscious of the realm they have entered—that of beast. Three years later, Artias, the first man ever to have survived an encounter with a man-eater, decides to apprise everyone of these great critters that wake at the absence of light; unfortunately, he is unaware of the events that are to follow his arrival at a small village, where just recently a beast prowled about … . Though set to aid the people, even vowing to ward them, he cannot keep the creature from falling upon a man in the dead of night. Blamed for the fellow’s passing, Artias faces the cruelty of human nature, losing his temper no sooner than being accused of having ill intentions. Elsewhere, vengeful men—all of whom have committed many a misdeed—are in search of him. Nevertheless, however vile they are deemed to be, it happens that Artias is much alike these fellows; because he, too, has led himself astray. Although he finds heaven in their company, many are the men who want them dead forth on; Artias has unintentionally interfered with the doings of fiends, hindering them in their task, which eventually leads to the discovery of a horrible truth. A story that fundamentally focuses on the beast in us.

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Dedicated to the readers

This book is entirely a work of fiction. The names, locations, characters and incidents in this novel are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, whether dead or alive, locations or events is solely coincidental.

CONTENTS

Information for the reader

Prologue

Before

Beginning

Prepare

Prowl

Lurk

The unwary

Resolution

Mutual

Oddity

Fellowship

A brave Man

Happening

Alert

Wails

Tribulation

Janderas

Ordeal

The Bane of Assistance

Shoulder to shoulder

To Grief, Avenge, and Come together

Among your Kin

Strain and urge

Help

Feast

To Face the Truth

Love and hate

An Honest Promise

Awakening

Inquiry

Knaves

Seeking understanding

The Face behind the Mask

Allies

What was, is and will be

E 0.6

Glossary

INFORMATION FOR THE READER

I. This is a story of the time during the Eras Dawn of Arjovan, taking place in E0.7, three years after the discovery of the land in E0.10.

Eras from Dawn of Arjovan to Eronomus’ birth

Dawn of Arjovan

The Creatures’ Realm

Raise of Armora

Fellenveil

Rise of man

Harganos’ sword

Garhos Jaro

Vengarth rage

Neerdos’ perish

Ferja’s death

Eronomus’ birth

II. An asterisk (*) indicates that there is more information about that which it marks in the glossary.

III. The names in this story do not follow English pronunciation. To help you pronounce the names nevertheless the following information on speech sounds may serve as a guideline.

Vowels

a as in car

e as in end

j equal to y

u as in you

o (short) as in not / nod / lot

o (long after ‘r’) as in so / nor / or

Consonants

g as in gizzard

v as in van

h as in house

All life under the Sun is equal—and to be treated with courtesy

Anonymous

Prologue

There! A truly imposing man—with strong arms and broad shoulders, bearing a keen blade and a bow—is striding across a glade, in a whisper saying, “Whoever you are, death shall claim you for your doings. All you have taken already, another soul and another soul and another soul. No more! I will find you and blame no beast for your doings—you cannot deceive me!”

With drawn blade he steps into the forest, heading for where many souls have gone missing.

“A cave,” says he, recalling everything his kin have apprised him of: ‘Not far from a prairie in the south is a cave, and there we found the body of a man, cut down with a sharp blade. We buried him in a glade through which runs a river, but long we may think: Whoever his slayer, he must be found—something foul is going on. People lose their way, end up adrift, are claimed by beast’ or die of hunger; but this man, he has been cut down.’

Afore twilight he can see the grassland arising between the trunks of all the trees shading the earth; unfortunately, dense green foliage either blurs or obscures everything around him: long it may take to find the cave within this verdure; and for night will be descending soon—and hence preventing a search—, he proceeds straight towards the open field to camp beyond the forest’s edge.

Yet, beside the largest tree he has ever seen in his life, with roots much taller than him, he happens on an abandoned wagon, with someone’s possessions lying scattered about the rear.

For one wheel is broken and an axis as well, he imagines the wagon struck against a root or rock.

Whatever the cause of the crash, it may be that the wagoner traveled on by horseback along whomever else with him; though if so, “Why, then, did everyone leave his possessions?” he can only wonder.

Whilst drawing nigher unto the wagon, he stumbles across a blood-soaked body cloaked in lush greenery: a woman, barely in her thirties, cut down with a sword. However sad the site, it seems, he is close to finding whom he hunts; for whatever befell this poor maiden, there are traces of a fight, undoubtedly between two men by the size of the footprints—perchance someone struggled with her attacker.

A mere step away from the corpse a trail of blood shows on the foliage, leading him farther and farther into the forest at the onset of night.

Cleaving his way through the plant life, he comes to a halt on espying another body ’neath a tree; and there, just a few steps farther ahead, a figure is lurking about a shrub, a figure with gory skin and filthy hair: a whiff of menace is about this man, for he is holding a bloody blade.

“Foul man that you are,” cries he. “Turn to face me!”

And the figure turns around, unveiling a familiar face. And the man can’t but step back a pace, shaking his head, raising his sword, uttering, “Surjes!”

Before

Of a journal

There where I stood among trees and flowers in my search for game I awoke to the beauty of the realm I wandered, and yet death seemed to be hovering above me the deeper I dared to go.

In the gloom of night, when all I held was a torch, it came to me, emerging from the greenery around me; and I could see its gaping maw when the beast drew nearer, growling and trembling me to my very core. I could do nothing; rooted to the ground, I dared not to move, to breathe, to take but a step. That it would be quicker than me, that I knew; that it was stronger than me, by far more powerful than I could ever be, that I knew; that it was alone, that I assumed; that it would leave, that I would have never thought, but it did: though gnashing its teeth, striking the earth with paws broader than my skull, it did withdraw into the night.

I felt blessed, protected by a force beyond my understanding, virtually unable to grasp what being there stood behind me, scaring off all the critters near me.

Only just I could escape, running to the end of my breath through the dark ’til there came a glade where was the hill that I ascended to my future. Upon this hill I made a firm decision. Yes. I deciding to take up a demanding task, which might claim my life if ever I would forget the realm I live in.

Beginning

They found rivers and lakes, the greatest trees yet to be, and mountains of phenomenal height, and they came upon falls and glades in forests and wandered across plains covering a sheer endless range—it seemed everlasting.

For eons, from the very first era before the birth of Man to all the ages and centuries thereon, had the region endured, growing in greatness year by year. Ere the long-lasting stage of gloom and ash following frequent eruptions of volcanos, Mother Earth was flourishing at its greatest, yet thereafter, when darkness perished at sunrise and rain flooded the region, its foremost creations were born. Prime critters roamed the land and trees formed forests, which shaded the earth and brought forth new plants and flowers, which dispersed their seeds and sent their bloom past the trees, winded to and beyond plains, glades and more.

Long after the human race came to be, kingdoms began to rise only ever around this imposing region, for therein live beasts no men is due to tame. Yet, in E0.10, traveling tribes ventured unintentionally into this land in quest of their own grounds; and there, where no kings have ever been throned, ancient glories awaited them. It was unruled, unblemished and pure. Hence they claim the land theirs and named it after the word for (the) Sun in ancient tongue, Arjovan.

In the following year, they began to invite those who lived in oppression to join them and told all who had but little to call their own to come to them; and always, every day at dawn, they praised these sacred grounds that they had claimed their own, though remained blind of the beasts they were among. Many of these great critters are nocturnal and too strong to fight off, and they are by far too many to drive off. Living below or upon earth, roaming the land in packs or alone, hunting, fighting, scavenging, these creatures grew with the region; yet all that people had chosen to see was the purity of nature, the chance to begin afresh, to live where no sovereign could reach, and thus their efforts to be sheltered from the night’s mortal threats have been a trifle. Above all else, villages were raised without a stockade or any other kind of barrier. Some of these villages are found in the forest, right within the creatures’ realm*, and though it is that inhuman cries make known whose place on Earth Arjovan is and how little can be done against something which sheer voice can deafen a man, people assume to be safe as along as they stay inside their houses or near a fire until dawn as it is this that had averted an attack by creatures in other lands before. If it weren’t for a hunter who wanders from village to village to tell everyone that at night man-eaters wake to feed and that these beasts struggle not with a simply wooden door, nobody would be aware—actually aware—of the peril they have been in to this day.

The hunter, truly an honorable and brave man, faced many dangers on his travels yet never lost his motivation or drive, and with his bow on his back and his knife in hand he heads through the forest, resting on trees at night and heading on at day’s first light*.

The Sun’s light brightens earth and sky when he comes across a small village in the forest, Odas. He halts in his tracks and roams the village with his eyes, seeing merely a few houses standing widely separated from each other. Plainly constructed homes which front doors cannot keep a man-eater from entering are everywhere dominating the village’s appearance. That the people dwelling here survived until now is thanks to a fool’s luck.

Men and women—some old, some young, others small or tall—are found outside, going about their daily chores. He sees them talking with each other, simply enjoying the life they share with one another, and it strikes him that they give little thought to the quickness with that it can end. What worries him even more than their thoughtlessness is that nobody seems to be interested in talking to him: they tolerate his sudden emergence as if he were one of them. In many ways this appears as if Odas has no Elder who’s to decide whether he, a stranger who might as well be a scoundrel, is welcome.

Wondering whom he shall approach, he walks over to an old man sitting on a bench in front of a house and asks him who the head of Odas is. Unfortunately, he was right: the people living here see no sense in choosing an Elder and consider a show of hands better that having just someone telling them what to do. When there is nobody he can turn to, then the hunter must warn each and every soul personally—a truly time consuming task for someone who is in a rush as there are many villages more yet to be warned.

With annoyance he looks at the old man, understanding from his age that he has not much time left.

“May I ask you something more?” he inquires on sitting down next to the old fellow.

“You may.”

“What is your name?”

“Is that what you wish to inquire of me, stranger?”

“I merely wish to know with whom I am speaking.”

“Tarion is my name, and who is asking me for my name?”

“Artias.”

“Well then, Artias, what did you wish to ask me?”

“I wonder, Tarion, I wonder if there is someone you can turn to when you’re in trouble?”

“Well, I guess that be Arianna. But tell me, stranger, are you in trouble?”

“No, no, I merely wish to speak to her.”

“About?”

“About the wilds, Tarion, about the wilds—can you tell me where I can find her?”

“Come, Artias, a walk will do me good.”

Tarion rises and paces away as Artias asks, “Walk where?”

“To Arianna of course.”

With a limp Tarion walks along a grassy path through Odas, glimpsing at Artias from time to time. A man of such height is rare and one of such supreme strengths as revealed by large arms and broad shoulders even more. Seeing Artias’ strong legs, Tarion smiles.

“I used to walk a lot,” says he, “but not anymore since I broke a leg.”

“Were you a hunter?”

“A hunter? How come you assume so?”

“If I would be living in a village, I could not imagine any other reason for walking if it weren’t for hunting.”

“So hunting is where you heart lies?”

“Yes indeed.”

Tarion escorts him away from the village to a house almost entirely surrounded by massive trees. There is merely a small track leading from Odas to the house, a track that has been used many times over as the flattened grass shows.

Embraced by trees near and far, they walk close by each other towards the entrance. To then discover that the front door was breached takes Artias aback, and he forthwith draws his knife while carefully treading closer, advising Tarion to stay behind him in a whisper. Quickly but carefully they enter the house, finding themselves surrounded by shards of wood. The door was opened with such force that the hinges were torn off the wall and the hooks securing the broken batten bent out of shape.

The house is small, barely larger than a hut and as roughly constructed, offering just about enough room as needed for a fireplace, two beds, a shelf, and a closet. Within quite the distance from Odas, with no solid fencing, this place is like a calling to every beast searching for fare.

“It just came in,” they hear a trembling voice saying and thereupon see Arianna sitting in a corner, her arms embracing the body of a boy. “My boy, it killed my boy.”

Her lovely eyes are drenched in tears, and she cries as she lays her head on her son’s chest, wishing he’d still be breathing.

Artias crouches down before her, laying his hand on her shoulder. He can see the pain she goes through when she lifts her head and looks at him, gulping back her tears.

“We shall bury him,” he says with a soft voice. “Come, let me help you rise.”

He looks at Tarion and tells him to summon ever member of the village at once. “I have something to say.”

Tarion nods and helps him carry the boy’s body outside where they lay him down upon the ground, and then he departs to gather everyone.

“Do you have a shovel?” Artias asks Arianna.

“I told him not to check, but he would not listen—he simply went.”

“Went where?”

“We heard a yelp and then there was a sound of scratching. I thought it’s just someone trying to scare us, but it wasn’t. He approached the front door and then something just forced its way inside and bit him in the shoulder. It sucked his blood. I heard how it was sucking. I tried to help him, but my efforts, they were in vain. It ran off when I came at it with fire, but my efforts were in vain—my boy, dead he is.”

“How did that creature look?”

“Odd, bizarre! Yes, bizarre is the right word. Odd, so bizarre, with horns.” She falls on her knees next to her son’s body and holds him in her arms, crying.

“How could I let you go,” she weeps, “oh, how could I!”

“You did not know what was out there on the prowl. Do not blame yo—”

“I did not know. I did not know, and now he is dead, because I did not know. I should have known … I—”

“Tell me, Arianna, tell me how the noise sounded like?” Artias bends down and tenderly lays his hand on her back, stating that he must know. “It is of utter importance.”

She does not hear him, though. Artias is quick enough to understand that the pain she feels for her son’s death is so great that his words go unheard; and he thereupon, in utter silence, assumes in sight of her boy’s color of skin that she is not his mother and perhaps took him as her child in hopes of giving him a better life, and though she might have given him just that, she feels as if she brought by his death.

It takes time until her tears are shed, and she withdraws from the body and lies down on the ground, staring at nothing but the tree crowns above. Lowering his head, Artias wishes he would have arrived earlier. Perhaps he could have saved the boy’s life then. To show Arianna his sympathy is the only thing he can think of doing right now.

“In dead you will be reunited again,” says he and continues: “And then you will laugh and smile and feel only joy.” All that he says seems to fade away before even reaching her.

With struggle he leaves her alone to look around the house. He searches for traces, tracks, trails, or any other kind of marks that might help him find out what kind of creature assailed the boy. There is a track, much different to the one leading to Odas, coming from the forest. Whatever worn a path into the ground was heavy and had feet similar to such of a badger. Till to the house the track leads, and the wall emerges with scratches where it ends, deep scratches made by claws. The wall bears many such scratch marks some of which were made at the same spot, as if the creature had been trying to cleave its way in through the wall for a while.

Men and women come running to the house alongside of Tarion and gather around Arianna while others begin to look around the house in search of whatever it was that caused her son’s death. Artias hears men taking to each other and trying to guess “what monster could have done such a thing to a young boy” as he heads around the corner, walking right into them.

“Halt,” they say and seize him by the arm. “Who are you?”

“Calm yourself. I am here to help.”

“Says you!”

“Ask Tarion. Now, let go of my arm, and let us return to Arianna together!”

“You know her?”

Artias gnashes his teeth and advises the men to let him go.

“I am here to help I said. Do not make it hard for me to do so.”

“We shall ask Tarion whether or not he knows you, and then, then we will let off you.”

They escort Artias to the others, as yet not knowing who he is. They ask their fellows who are helping Arianna on her feet if she is okay before they even think about seeking Tarion.

“She is not well,” Artias says, needing merely a glimpse to tell that she never will be again. “As I see it, her son was attacked by something that had laid eyes on him and her for some time.”

“What you mean by ‘laid eyes on him and her’?” asks a man. “Who are you anyway?”

“His name’s Artias,” Tarion answers. “He is a hunter.”

The man—not tall nor hefty but short and slim, with skinny arms and legs—approaches Artias, at once asking, “What did you mean by saying it had laid eyes upon him and her?”

“The wilds are full of dangers, full of creatures prowling about and picking their prey with caution. Whatever took the boy’s life was feeding off blood.” Looking at the guys on his side in whose grasp he is kept from moving, he tells them to let him go; and as they do so, he continues: “I do not know of any creature gulping blood, but whatever it was, it could come back. We must return to the village at once and bury the boy. We will see further from there.”

All that the people hear is that Artias said it might return, and this rises fear in them, and they ask each other what can be done against such a peril.

“Tarion,” Artias calls the old fellow to him. “Odas is near but she lives here. Why so?”

“Is that important!”

“To me it is.”

“Well, I asked her many times to come to Odas, but she always said she rather live here. Her father built the house long ago. That is why she still lives here. That and because she says certain herbs grow not far away from her house.”

“Herbs?”

“Yes. She, she treats the wounded and the ill as best as she can with these.”

“So she is a healer?”

“I guess you could say it like that.”

Prepare

There came a man who vowed that no soul shall be left to his death forth on. Pledged to protect he did, but as yet he knew not what would befall.

The folk of Odas begin to prepare the boy’s grave at the rear of the village. Arianna is watching her fellow citizens digging a hole, with struggle trying not to think of the terrifying thing she saw and how it came bashing in, seizing and biting her beloved son—a truly dreadful incident.

AT THE HEART OF ODAS: Artias is talking with three men, who claim themselves hunters like him, to find a way to deal with the great critter, which could return again to feed once more.

With courage he stands before them as he says, “We could spend the night in Arianna’s house and see what may come to greet us, but—”

“Are you mad!” one of the men says. He carries not only a bow but also a small axe and emerges physically strong. Having such a man’s support in the coming night would certainly make things easier and less dangerous, yet Ardegan, as this man’s name is, does not think Artias’ idea a smart one; because “If something happens here in Odas, we’ll not be knowing of it. When Arianna was attacked, nobody heard anything, so there is no telling if we will hear anything should our fellows be attacked tonight.”

“Which is why I go alone.”

“Alone? No! What man would I be if I’d allow that. I shall join you. My fellows will stay here and watch over Odas as closely as I shall over you!”

“Two men are not enough to guard everybody. We must find a way they can alert us. Say, do you have a bell?”

“No, I do not.”

“Do you know someone who might have one?”

“Nobody in Odas has or ever possessed a bell. But I have a trumpet.”

Artias smiles his joy and grabs Ardegan’s shoulders with both hands.

“Splendid news! A trumpet, better even than a bell. I suppose your friends know what to do with it?”

“Blow it when they see something?”

“Yes, right. Now, I see so many ways into this village.” Artias turns to the other two men on his side. Both of them are hearty and swift on their feet. Appearing capable of defending themselves and experienced in hunting, these two men are reliable assets. Tindras and Gilgaron, men with courage and strengths, willing to assist Artias in his cause, look keen to act.

“Let me ask you,” says he to them, “let me ask you if your ears are sharp and your eyesight keen?”

“Do not worry. If something comes, we won’t be missing it,” say they.

Artias nods proudly and claps Ardegan on the back.

“Are you sure you wish to spend the night with me in a house I cannot doubt to be sought by the beast again?”

“I am.”

“Very well.”

“What about everyone else,” Gilgaron asks with worries.

“I must know which house is built best. For that we must take a look at each.”

“No need to,” Tindras utters proudly. “I know which is best. Mine.”

“I hope you do not mind having guests.”

“Yes, well, Odas might be small, but I don’t have enough space for everyone.”

“I am aware of that. The houses are rather small indeed. Children and women shall be brought into your house. The rest—”

“They will be needing someone who can defend them should it come to an encounter.”

“Whoever’s good with the sword and not a coward shall stay with them, preferably four men.”

“Not one of us knows how to wield a sword, Artias—we aren’t warriors.”

“I see.” Artias reconsiders his plan quickly, looking around Odas while doing so. “Okay, let’s do this differently, then. Is there a tavern in Odas?”

“Yes.”

“Does it have two floors?”

“Yes.”

“Show me.”

The tavern—not a shabby nor moldering one but a simple and fine one built with effort and skill—lies not far from the track leading to Arianna’s house and has, what is most favorable to Artias and his fellows, a balcony from where Odas can be observed better than anywhere.

“Everybody shall seek shelter in the tavern,” says Artias. “They shall stay on the second story for the night and remain silent ’til dawn. Gilgaron, you and Tindras shall gather everyone and take them here, and all through the night you shall stay on the balcony and keep your eyes and ears sharp and your bows set. If you see something, then do not blow the trumpet. The risk that you attract attention is too high, so do only use it if you are in danger.”

At Ardegan Artias looks when he asks him to get the trumpet, and then he lets all of his fellows know that he must leave them alone for now.

“I will seek you out later,” he assures them.

“What are you up to?” asks Gilgaron. “You should not go to Arianna’s house alone! I insist that we—”

“I merely wish to speak to Arianna, my fellow.”

“If it is the beast you are going to talk to her about, then you should wait until she is herself again.”

Artias knows this already and therefore waits until Arianna’s son lies buried underground before he approaches her, keen on gathering as much information on the creature as possible. It is not easy to asks her about the very thing that killed her son, and he hesitates when she turns away from her beloved’s grave, staring at him as if joy would never again find into her heart. And he—who cares for every soul he is among, striving to ward them and fight for them and even die for them—can see the tears by which her eyes shine and the few running down her cheeks. She may try to keep her feelings at bay when all that she desire is to scream, but O how great must be her pain, how unending her suffering.

“I wish I wouldn’t need to ask you this,” says he, “but I must for everyone else’s safety.”

“You want to know about the beast, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

She nods and draws a breath, looking back at her son’s grave one last time before asking the hunter to join her on a walk through Odas.

“It was skinny, very skinny for its power,” she tells him, treading the path with shaking hands.

“Could the ribs be seen?”

“What? Why would that matter? Are you even listening to me!”

“Arianna, I know of a creature that is slim but very powerful—”

“It wasn’t slim. I said it was skinny, its waist was. It had no shoulders only such an enormous neck, and I saw horns across its skull.”

“Horns you say.”

“Yes.”

Silently Artias thinks about all the beasts he has been dealing with to this day; sadly, not one matches her description: a creature with a skinny waist, a great neck, and a horned skull is nothing he has caught sight of yet.

“Tell me, how did its eyes look: big, small, sunken into the skull, or standing out?”

“Its eyes were green, yes, I remember. Green. But it is … I do not know—please, it is hard for me to think of it.”

“I understand,” Artias says, aware of the torment he puts her through. “I shall not trouble you with this any further. Please, go to the tavern shortly before day’s last li—”

“The tavern? Just why would I go there?”

He does not know whether it is wise to tell her of his worries; yet, sooner or later, she could find out about his secrecy, in which case she is not going to trust him anymore. Only the truth and nothing but the truth he decides to speak.

“It may return again for prey.”

“I say, what can be done? If it comes, then—”

Before Arianna breaks down he says that he has slain many beasts already (which is a lie) and that he will protect Odas and her come what may. “Not a soul shall be taken by the beast anymore.”

Looking upon the hunter as a strong warrior, she nods and makes her way to the tavern, preferring to be there before the Sun even begins to fall.

“I will not be seen outside any longer,” says she, “no more.”

“I do wish you only the best,” Artias whispers and moves on in search of his fellows.

Ere long he finds his three allies near a house next to an enormous trunk of a great tree. Gilgaron’s home comes in sight tiny next to the tree, although it is among the biggest houses in Odas, with a strong door—much unlike such of the others—and a porch.

“Have you fetched the trumpet yet,” asks Artias.

“Yes,” Ardegan says, showing him a trumpet in quite ‘displeasing’ condition—not quite what Artias has been expecting.

“Does it even work?” asks he, certain that it will sound just as it looks.

“Sure it works. You wanna hear?”

“No, I rather not have any creature hearing its sound until we will be needing it. I must ask again: Are you sure—and I mean absolutely sure —that it works?”

“I am.”

“Good.”

Nodding at the house, Artias says that he would like to discuss the steps to be taken in the coming night inside. Gilgaron does not mind having guests and even tells the hunter that he may come and go as he pleases. A kind offer but one Artias cannot accept, for it is not his home but his fellow’s.

The front door appears solid; and inside, the house lets anyone who enters be filled with a feeling of comfort and warmth. The fireplace—truly nice and well-made, with a fine bench and table before it—adds much to the comfort given by four walls and a roof. Together they head into the kitchen and take place at a small table in the center, politely declining their host’s hospitality.

“We have urgent matters to discuss,” says Ardegan shortly, “so sit down, Gilgaron, and let us begin.”

“Nightfall is approaching,” Artias speaks loud and clear, letting no word go unheard, “and when all that lies around us will be cloaked in darkness, we must be ready to face death; so tell me, do tell me, my fellows, do you waver in sight of death?”

“We have never faced death before,” say his fellows, “but we shall not waver.”

“Fine men you are, strong and courageous. Let us go through—”

“Do you think it will come to the tavern?” Gilgaron asks.

“I cannot say it won’t. Hopefully, though, it will come to Arianna’s house, where me and Ardegan will be awaiting its coming—we will find the being in the dark.”

“Maybe, maybe it isn’t alone,” Tindras utters anxiously. “We might be outnumbered here.”

“I found a track leading from Arianna’s house into the forest. It appears as if made by only one beast, not two nor three but one. Be that as it may, we cannot ban such a though from our thinking—it is always better to expect the best yet be prepared for the worst.”

“I have been expecting the worst ever since I had seen her son’s body—I knew him ... a good boy he was.”

“I am sure he was. Now, you do still remember all that I have told you earlier I presume?”

“Yes.” Ardegan speaks for the others.

“Each one of you does?”

“Yes.” Tindras speaks for the others.

“Good. May you tell me again, then?”

“Whereas you and Ardegan will stay in Arianna’s house for the night,” says Tindras, “we are going to do so in the tavern and keep an eye over Odas. Should the critter show, then we shall only sound the trumpet if in danger—certainly, we must keep folks calm, too.”

“So it is. Good, now, how well is your aim, my fellows?”

“I can pierce you a leaf, Artias,” Gilgaron says, proud of his aim.

“So can I,” Ardegan says, nodding to each word he utters. “No problem doing so.”

Also Tindras seems confident. They are all skilled in archery as it seems. However, something leaves Artias’ and Ardegan’s fellows with bated breath, and they ask, “What if you will be attacked? You have no trumpet.”

“We won’t be needing one.” Artias rises from his chair and draws his knife at once. “With this fine blade I shall cut its throat should it dare and face me.”

“Brave words,” utters Ardegan, “if you are going to keep them.”

“Most certainly I will.”

“I do not doubt so,” says Gilgaron, “but do not act rash when under attack.”

“I may be reckless at times but do not ever act foolishly, my friends.”

“And how shall we take the beast down?” wonders Tindras.

“We need spears, or any long staff or stick with a pointed end.”

“Staffs usually do not have a pointed tip,” Ardegan explains shortly, “and neither do sticks.”

“We will make them have one. We cut them to shape and hold the tips into the fire to make’m strong.”

“So now all we need are staffs,” Tindras says, “or sticks.”

“So it is, my fellow. Do you have any sticks or staffs?”

“How long must they be?”

“Around eight feet (2.4 meters).”

“The forest has plenty,” Ardegan comments.

“I am aware of that. I was merely hoping you might have one or two.”

“Sorry,” say his fellows.

“That’s okay.”

Artias sheathes his knife again and nods at the entrance.

“I will get us some sticks, and you, my hearty fellows, you should inform the people of our plan meanwhile.”

“No,” Ardegan cannot allow the hunter to go out alone into the forest, “I will join you.”

“No need to—I am quicker on my own.”

At a swift pace Artias leaves the house, allowing his fellows no time to raise objections. He strides straight into the wilds and begins his search near Arianna’s house in hopes of finding something of interest such as another track. Though he finds quite a few sticks that will serve him and his companions well once cut to shape, there is no track near and far equal to the one he found earlier.

Standing in the forest all by himself (embraced by trees, barely able to see Odas through the dense vegetation), Artias looks up at the tree crowns, trying to catch a glimpse of the sky.

“I wish I were a bird,” says he; “how much easier could I have traveled then, and perhaps I would have been quick enough to reach you in time. Your son, yes, his death is tragic, but what I dare not say to you … this realm is not ours but that of beast’.”

Notwithstanding his belief, he shows his respect to Arianna’s son by pledging to himself that nobody shall die tonight and that he shall protect the people of Odas, and then, to make sure that he really did not miss any tracks, he checks the ground one last time and thereupon returns with seven sticks upon his shoulder. They are heavy and make him sweat and swear at their weight until he can dump them in front of Gilgaron’s home and stretch his back. Keen on having everything prepared as quickly as possible, he immediately looks around for his fellows, who are still going about informing everyone of the course of actions in the evening.

He draws his knife and sets about tapering the sticks when Tindras comes to him.

“You certainly were quick, Artias,” says he.

“I know where to look—did you tell everyone yet?”

“No. I saw you was returning, so I thought I lend you a helping hand.”

“Do you know were Gilgaron is? I should like to use his fireplace.”

Because Tindras is a good friend of Gilgaron, he may enter his fellow’s house at any time, needing no permission to do so, and this he tells Artias who cannot tolerate such a behavior. No matter how close they are, Tindras should ask his friend first before simply stepping into his house or use his belongings.

“Your behavior in this respect is a strange one, Tindras. I must insist that you ask him before using anything of his.”

“We know each other forever, Artias. He doesn’t mind—I can assure you he doesn’t.”

“That may be so, my fellow, but I must insist nevertheless.”

The hunter’s behavior doesn’t even slightly insult or bother Tindras; he looks upon those who approach him and others with respect as goodhearted and fair, and so he agrees with the hunter and sets about finding his kindred spirit. A mere moment passes ’til Gilgaron joins Artias, asking him, “Did you see Tindras? I know he’s somewhere around.”

“He is looking for you?”

“Is he?”

“Yes. See, I need to use your fireplace but wish to ask you before doing so.”

“Go ahead, mine’s yours. You help us deal with a terrifying beast, so you shall not feel as if you must ask me for anything—simply take what you need.”

“But—”

“Please, hunter, feel free.”

“I just appealed to your friend’s conscious and now—”

“You did what?”

“Well, I thou—”

“He simply wanted to use my stuff, didn’t he?”

Artias says nothing; answering the question would make him feel like if he turn traitor to Tindras, and he is angry at Gilgaron for asking him such a question.

“Ask him,” he says angrily, “I am not to tell you! He is your friend, your companion, so dare you ask me a question that could accuse him of doing something unrighteous.”

“I was just asking?”

“Most certainly you were.”

“Listen, hunter, it never bothered me when he took what he needed, so do not think that I want to accuse him of anything. But, anyway, I wish to ask you something, if I may?”

“You may.”

“Say, hunter, did you fight in battle?”

“Why are you asking me this?”

“Because, at times, your words are more such of a warrior than a hunter.”

For an instant the thought that his fellow is trying to assess him rushes through Artias’ mind. He nevertheless says: “Few of my kin are still alive. Many had died by fighting bandit tribes. Yes, given that, yes, I might be a warrior as much as I am a hunter.”

“Bandits, huh? These wicked tribes of theirs rummage the plain and dwell in mountain caves. There is a village in the northern plain* that was assailed two years ago. Many were slain that day. Your kin, brave men they are fighting these tribes.”

“Men and women, my fellow, men and women.”

“I shall light the fire, my friend,” Gilgaron says as he enters his house. As a sign of friendship he leaves the front door open: Artias shall know that he can step in and out as he pleases.

Arming the sticks with pointed tips, the hunter makes one after the other ready for the evening. When the fire is crackling and burning, Gilgaron emerges from his house again, eager to help Artias taper off the wood. To his amazement, the hunter has already finished and even smiles as he rises, saying, “My knife is sharp.”

“Obviously.” Taking up a few of the sticks before Artias carries them all inside, Gilgaron returns to the fireplace and sets them down nearby. Ardegan and Tindras come to them then, knocking politely on the open door to signal their arrival.

“Already finished,” says Tindras, surprised. He takes one of the sticks, glad to see that the hunter chose beech, continuing, “You made some fine weapons here.” He hits the ceiling as he tries to hold the spear erect next to him. “They are long.”

“Sadly only seven feet (2.1 meter),” says Artias. “I would’ve preferred eight.”

“Still long enough, really. Arianna’s house isn’t that big, so I think—well, seven feet may still be too long.”