nanowrimo 2010

An exerpt from "Wolves of the World" Werewolves running down prey

The pack got “protection” money from every business for several blocks in any direction. Ken assured Warren, however, that it wasn’t a typical protection racket – plain blackmail with threat of violence. The pack actually protected their territory. There was not crime but what they committed. Any robbery, any attack, any threat to people in their territory was met with extreme and most dire vengeance. Those avenged were sometimes forced to pay a price, but Ken assured Warren that it wasn’t extreme. Warren asked for an example. Ken gave him a lurid one.

“Over in t’bar out a da west end o’ da territory, a girl hadda problem.”

“Problem?”

“A sexual problem, yuh-know?”

“Rape?”

“Yeah. She was just a kid, seventeen, and didn’t know better. She and a friend took their fake ids to the wrong kinda bar. The friend ran when trouble showed up, but the girl didn’t. Susan, she was, I think. Anyways, Susie chatted up some bad boy and didn’t know what she was flirtin’ with, yuh-know?”
Warren nodded solemnly.

“She wound up bent over a bar stool and this douchebag and his fuckwad friends took turns on her for a coupla hours. The bartender didn’t do nothin and the place just cleared out and let ‘em do her.”

“How did you get involved?”

“Early in the morning, the bartender called the girl’s father to come and get her so he could close down. Asshole didn’t say nothin’ about what happened to her, just told daddy his little girl was passed out on the floor. Daddy came and took her home, thinking she was just passed out drunk until the next morning. She started spoutin’ her story, yuh-know? Daddy owns one of the stores we protect, and he called Lee.”

“Why Lee and not J or you?”

“Lee collects from the store Daddy runs, yuh-know? Anyways, Ray rolls over there and little Susie pours out her heart to him – look at him, yuh-know? He’s got the good looks – the trustworthy face, yuh-know?”

“Yeah. I can see where he might be easier for a young girl to talk to.”

“Yeah. Anyways, the whole story comes out, and Lee comes back and tells the whole thing to J complete with arm waving and tears in his voice, yuh-know? He made a full fuckin’ production of it.”

“He do that often or is that unusual?”

“Lee is usually quiet as a fuckin’ statue in front of the library. He don’t get worked up, yuh-know?”

“Must have made an impression.”

“Fuckin’ right! J started wreckin’ furniture and called everybody into the room. We went down and pulled that bartender outta his bed in the middle of the day. I mean that’s how pissed J was. We don’t do our dirty deeds in the daylight, yuh-know?”

“Makes sense.”

“Well the bartender, whose name I forget was one of our protected customers. He knew better than to let something like that happen in his place. We tossed him around until he gave us the names of the guys that raped Susie. Wasn’t too hard to get ‘em outta him. J was so pissed that he decided this bartender, maybe Jamie was his name, this Jamie was in violation of his contract.”

“I don’t get that?”

“When we protect you, you are supposed to report problems to us. When you don’t report the problems, you’re causin’ us problems, yuh-know?”

“Oh, I get it.”

“Yeah. Well, this Jamie was all bloody from bein’ tossed about, yuh-know? Claw marks, some cuts, his face was never gonna be pretty again, the smell of blood was strong. Anyways, J’s blood was up and he just bent down and chewed the guy’s face. Ray got in there too, got teeth into his shoulder, and pretty quick, there wasn’t much left but pieces. They left him like that. I felt bad. It was hard on the family, but that bartender was an asshole to let that happen and do nothin. He didn’t call us and he didn’t even call the police. Lee went round that day and told the guy’s son that he had inherited the business. That was pretty much the end of things. No police was ever called or nothin’ yuh-know? Just a closed-casket funeral and nobody asked no questions. They know better.”

“Wow. You all killed him just like that? For not doing the right thing?”

“Yeah. That’s what I mean when I say protection we collect is the real thing...protection. Now those three men what done the rapin’ they got what they deserved too.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask. How’d you do it?”

“J planned it all. Three nights in a row. We wanted some of ‘em to know what was comin’ and know they couldn’t escape it. J says it’s important to scare the folks around here sometimes. Anyways, the first guy we caught on the street the next night. J walked up to him and told him we knew what he and his friends did. He said he could stand and take it like a man or we’d run him down. The douchebag, thought he was a tough guy. He didn’t know who J was even after J told him. He definitely didn’t know what running him down meant, yuh-know?”

“Running him down, like in a car?”

“I bet that’s what he thought. Naah. When we run someone down, we chase ‘em. It’s kinda a game. If they manage to run outside our territory, we let ‘em go unless we catch them around again. It’s kind an unspoken rule. Folks know it. He didn’t. So, anyways, he just kinda looked at J like he dared him to do something. J leaned forward put his face right in the fuckwad’s and screams ‘Run!’ at him. We all heard that and let out a howl. That get’s ‘em movin’ let me tell you!”

“Howl?”

Ken looked at J and said, “Howl?” J nodded at him then said loudly enough to be heard over the other activity in the room ‘Howl!” A second later, heard the Tommies’ hunting howl. It was genuinely terrifying. Warren was actually shaken by the sound. The women in the room all cringed and more than one of them began a scream before their brute quieted them. The sound was a Wolf howl, the howl of a canine Wolf, but with the unmistakable tones of a human voice mixed in, the howl was long and almost sung. It carried a gravelly undertone that wasn’t quite a growl. It was like a choir singing simultaneously a cacophonous set of notes calculated to make you wet your pants.

“Oh shit!” Warren looked at Ken wide-eyed

“I said...It usually gets ‘em movin’”

“Oh fuck yes.”

“Well anyways, this jerk gets the picture, turns and runs. He keeps looking behind him like you was watching a Godzilla movie. A block down, he runs straight into a mailbox and does this beautiful flip – lands on his feet and keeps right on goin’. By this time, we’re all after him. He’s actually pretty fast, but nobody’s gonna outrun the pack, yuh-know? We let him run until he was breathin’ hard and getting scared. He tried doors here and there, but we make sure the neighborhood locks up, we eve lock doors for people when we find ‘em open. We don’t want nothing bad happening here unless it’s us, yuh-know? He’s just about to turn and make a stand when J pops up right beside him. We’re all fast, but J can do that, yuh-know, just put on a little burst of speed and show up like he popped outta the wind – especially at night. Well, the fucktard screamed. It was a high-pitched little-girly you’ve-got-me-by-the-titty scream. J grabbed his the guy’s junk and sunk in his claws. That got another scream. Then we was all there and J said ‘Eat ‘im’. You never heard a noise like the shithead made when he heard that. It was near the full-moon and we was all pretty wolfed out from that and from the chase, he was finally realizin’ what he had got into. J let him off pretty easy. Everybody took a bite or too then J reached down, grabbed the guy’s junk – he was pretty much naked now – and pulled it right off. Fucktard bled out pretty quick. J took the head too and the rest of us chewed the body up pretty good. We left the body where he lived and we put the head with the cock and balls stuffed in its mouth into a box. Lee took the box to the girl’s daddy and told him what was in it. He left it on the stoop and told Susie’s dad he could do what he liked with it. If he didn’t want it or if there was anything left when he was done, he could put the box in the trash and we would make it go away.”

“What did he do with it? Ye Gods, man that’s a ghastly thing to do!”

“When ya take vengeance, ya gotta show that vengeance was taken. I don’t know what he did, but he took the box inside and it stayed there a couple more days. He got another box just like it the next day and the next. After the bodies had been seen, we took ‘em and got rid of ‘em in the usual way.”

“Usual way?”

“Well, in this case, we buried ‘em. I don’t wanna upset you...”

“I’m a grown-up.”

“Well, sometimes we eat ‘em. Gets rid of ever’ thing but the bones and those are pretty easy to burn then scatter around.”
nanowrimo 2010

An exerpt from "Wolves of the World" - working title

As the afternoon waned, they came to the end of dense forest. Before them lay a wide stretch of grassland, torn up by the passage of many hooves. Bits of green showed in the fading light, grass growing beneath the six-inch layer of snow.

The hunt formed itself. The right-hand, Logan, James, Duc, and Crow remained mounted and began a slow walk along the tree line. Warren was directed to stay near Logan and to do nothing under any circumstances. The left-hand, Martine, Matt, and Rich, set off across the field to encircle any prey that was found. The “dogs” as Akay called them, dismounted and tied their horses to the trees. Joe, One-Crow, Mike and John would hunt on foot. They would follow the tracks and the caribou scent. They would be the ones that selected their prey and called the right-hand and left-hand riders to it.

As Warren rode off with the right-hand, he saw the hunters begin their search. John, Mike and Joe all ran with a long loping stride, forward leaning, and noses forward, seeking a scent. It was only after they had ridden a while, that Warren realized that the hunters had not made any sound running. How did they do that in the crusted snow?

Riding in the dark beneath the full moon, the bareback riders were a fell, dire, danger-fraught group. They were fully “wolfed out”? What else would you call it? The big horses they were Morgans, but big for the breed. That is what Mike had told him at least. He said the pack had been breeding this particular herd for over one hundred fifty years. The horses had tremendous stamina, that at least was evident to Warren. They’d been ridden for hours through the forest that afternoon, with only a brief rest around sunset. Now they were energetic, eager, and oblivious to the appearance of their riders.

Warren was reminded of “the wild hunt” the hunt that is common to Germanic and many other cultures. Here were big men on powerful horses hunting under the moonlight, their eyes yellow and white fangs glimmering. In the far distance, Warren heard a sound, the yip a dog might make. Everyone turned toward it simultaneously. It was a signal that prey had been identified. Akay let out a similar yip to let the hunters know they had been heard. Warren listened carefully and he heard a third call that must have been from the left-hand, probably Martine.

The hunt was on. All the riders urged their horses to a trot. Another yip caused them to change course and was answered by both the left and right-hands. Then the hunt began in earnest. From nearby, directly ahead, came a howl that was indescribable. It was the howl not of a wolf or a man, but of a werewolf. It has to be heard to be comprehended. It frightened Warren, shook him to his depths. It had a quality of pure predation. He shook with genuine fear when it was echoed by each of the riders that surrounded him. The horses reared. The riders pressed them into a gallop, howling again as they did. Of a certainty, this was the Wild Hunt. He pressed his own horse into a gallop, trying hard to keep up.

Ahead the runners came into sight. They were chasing a magnificent caribou. It was truly enormous and it was fleeing at great speed. The runners were keeping pace. It was obvious they could catch him if they chose. They followed, herding him toward the encircling horsemen. Without warning, Akay and the others leapt off their horses’ backs. The horses immediately stopped and stood completely still – such had been their training. Warren’s own horse was at full gallop and crashed through them, narrowly missing collision. The right-hand was in front of the caribou, and it turned only to find itself facing the left hand. It turned again and the runners were behind it. I began to circle. The circle narrowed until it was forced to rear and strike out with fore-hooves and to kick with its hind hooves. It lowered its head and charged – Duc stepped out of its way and slashed at it with his claws. First blood. The pack howled simultaneously, freezing Warren’s very soul as he sat astride his now standing horse. The werewolves now took turns charging at the big stag. Each took an opportunity to claw at it and to draw blood. The stag was now making a sound between a trumpet and a shriek. The pack closed in. Akay leaped easily six feet through the air to land on the stag’s back. He sunk his teeth into its neck and grabbed its head, twisting. It fell to the ground and the pack was on it. Akay stood over it, holding the horns and gave a tremendous wrench. The neck was broken, and the life fled the caribou. Akay howled. This was a different howl. Even Warren felt the note, not of triumph, but of warning. He was claiming the kill – that was obvious. The other werewolves drew back, some more quickly than others did. Calm descended slowly. The Wolves stood around their kill in a circle, Akay at the beast’s head. He drew a long knife from somewhere about his person, a bowie from the look of it. He carefully leaned down and pressed the knife into the deer, piercing its heart. Then he slashed its throat. He spoke, gutturally, his prognathous jaw and protruding canines coloring his speech, “Hang it up. Cut it up. We take it home. Tomorrow maybe.”

The “wolfiness” level dropped suddenly. The werewolves looked the same, but now they became man-like hunters who were field dressing a kill, cutting it up to take home for supper. A moment before they had been animals. Now they were more like humans. Warren was amazed that it had come in an instant.

Duc and James lugged the beast to a nearby tree and managed to hang it from a branch. Crow did the cutting, evidently his area of expertise. John and Mike were detailed to retrieve the left-hand and right-hand’s horses. They had run miles in the moonlight. It was after two in the morning, but neither werewolves nor horses seemed as tired as the one human present. Warren sat atop his mount nodding.
Quill pen

Encapsulated World: Just a snippet I may work on after NaNoWriMo 2010

Encapsulated World

The First Sentients

The years of disagreement were long. The approaching danger was distant and argument persisted long after it should have. Agreement was reached a century before disaster was to strike. Cataclysm would come. In three mighty blows, it would come. In a century, a great comet would strike the planet. The combined power of all the wizards that lived could not prevent that event. That power, insufficient to stop the comet was enough to control where it would hit.

A great slow moving rock trundled through space. It would reach the world one thousand years after the comet-fall. This great slow-moving rock, would fall upon the world. Its impact would be greater than the faster-moving comet for it was much greater in size. Some thought it might crack the world for it was nearly one tenth of the planet’s diameter. The debris hurled into the air would last for millennia and the air would not be breathable. Any life that yet lived after the impact of the comet would be doomed.

Yet a third disaster was in the making. Another great rock, a quarter of the size of the planet was approaching. Some thought it would strike the planet; others thought it would swing nearby and pass on. Some thought its slow rate of motion might let it be captured by the world and held captive. Its diameter was a quarter of the worlds. If it struck the planet, only rubble could survive. If it was captured it would become a close-orbiting moon whose effects on the planet below could only be conjectured.

A site was chosen for the comet’s fall. It was felt the populace could be evacuated from the spot within the century. The location chosen, it was felt, would somewhat mitigate the damage.

Their choice; The Pillar of the Sky. It was the highest peak of the highest range of mountains on the planet. If the comet came straight down upon it, it would strike rock and crush itself against the world’s very spine.

The greatest mountain in the world would be shattered by the impact. Dust and debris would darken the world for a thousand years. Mankind, with wizards’ help could survive in such a world. The wizards worked a great work of thaumaturgy and the comet was diverted.

Thereafter they set to work trying to find a means to survive the millennia of darkness to come. Great floods would ensue.

nanowrimo 2010

Wolves of the world. A first installment

Warren Maxwell had been retired for almost two years when in the spring of 2007 opportunity knocked at his front door. The opportunity came in the unlikely guise of a man in plaid hunting shirt and baggy jeans. Warren took an instant dislike to the man, his nerves jangled in the guy’s presence. There was something “off” about him. He remained, nevertheless polite and asked the visitor’s business. “I am Bоўк Navitski. I have read your articles often and would like to speak to you.” “Speak to me about what?” “It will take considerable explanation. May I come in?” “No. Not until you explain more.” “You are feeling nervous in my presence, aren’t you? Do you think that is a little odd? Do you think the nervousness you feel is out of proportion?” “What has that to do with anything? If true…” Warren covered badly for his slip, admitting nervousness. “It commonly happens to me. I assure you I am not hostile in any way. I am actually a fan; I would like to talk to you for a while if you’ll permit.” “I still want a topic.” “Very well. You have been an advocate, even a champion of some of this state’s ethnic minorities. I would like to bring another minority to your attention.” “You must know that I am retired. I no longer write for the papers.” “That is not important to me. I want nothing from you.” Warren Maxwell made a decision that went completely against his grain. He opened the door and invited the man inside. As he passed, he looked at his visitor closely. He was some six inches shorter than Warren’s own six feet. He was broadly built, broad shouldered, but not bulky. He gave a vague impression of lean strength. He had a strong, but not offensive body odor. His hair was unkempt without appearing slovenly. He had facial hair. Warren searched his mind for a better description, but his visitor had not precisely a beard, a moustache, or any configuration of facial decoration that he could name, he just had facial hair. It ran high up on his cheeks, low on his neck, and while too long to be called stubble, it seemed not long enough to qualify as a beard. It was a bit sparse, but seemed more like the hair on one’s head than a beard. Warren jerked himself out of his musing when he noticed his visitor simply standing and looking at him. “This way, please. We’ll sit in my office. The chairs there are actually more comfortable than the living room.” “Thank you. That suits me.” “Your name, Mr.?” “Please call me Bоўк. My name is Bоўк Navitski.” They walked through Warren’s foyer and down a short hallway into the room Warren styled his office. The room was equal parts office, living room and breakfast nook. Warren lived in this room more than any other place in the house. This is where he wrote. When he waved toward a chair, Bоўк sat down. Warren took his own favorite chair, the big swivel behind his desk where he could reach the keyboard, the phone, and all the essentials for writing. It was his comfort zone. “Can I get you something to drink? Coffee? I have bottled water, but that’s about the limit of it… I’m not well stocked for visitors.” “Nothing, thank you. I appreciate the offer.” For his part, Mr. Bоўк Navitski looked comfortable. He sat in a stance that didn’t look relaxed. He was firmly seated in his chair, but he leaned forward. His arms rested on the arms of the chair, but it looked as though he could use them to propel him in a leap at any moment. His legs were spread wide and his feet firmly planted. Warren had been reading body language for decades. This man was an “alpha”, a man accustomed to leading rather than following. The forward stance indicated energy and strength. The spread legs were a dominance move, a statement something like “I’ve got a set so big I can’t close my legs”. Those feet planted firmly said, almost shouted, “I’m not moving until I get my way”. It was then Warren noticed something he had very rarely seen. Since he sat, Bоўк had not moved at all. He hadn’t adjusted himself, fidgeted, brushed his hair or dusted his clothes. These are all signs Warren saw in people who wanted something and were preparing themselves to explain what. Not Bоўк. He made no unnecessary movements at all. As he sat and looked at Bоўк, playing the “pressure of silence” game to make him speak first, Warren suddenly realized where he had seen that habit of stillness before. It shook him. The only other time he had seen someone so relentlessly controlled was when he interviewed Derek Wayne Goyne. Goyne was the world’s most prolific serial killer to date, a true sociopath, and an animal in human form, a monster. “What do you want?” The words came in a rush with a pleading tone that almost embarrassed Warren. Bоўк missed none of Warren’s appraisal and was confident that he knew just what was running through the man’s mind. He had read Warren’s columns for thirty years. He had read both of Warren’s books and was confident he knew at least the basics of how he thought. “Please, Mr. Maxwell, please relax. I have said that I want nothing from you and that is the truth. I have read your writings, columns, books, for thirty years. I am genuinely a fan. It is because of what you have written that I wish to tell you my stories.” “Mr. Navitsky? Did I say it right?” “Yes, you did, but please – Bоўк.” “Bоўк then. So call me Warren. What is it you want to tell me? I get the sense that this is a serious matter to you.” “It is. It is quite serious. You see, my brother passed away some time ago and left some work unfinished. Until now, it has been impossible for me to go ahead with his wishes, but now the time has come. Because I have read your work for many years, I think you are the proper man to tell this story to. You can do with it what you will, write about it or not, but I know that if you write about this matter, it will be treated justly.” “That’s the second time you have said that you’ve read me for many years. You don’t appear to be more than thirty. Have you been reading me since your Elementary School days?” Bоўк barked a light laugh. It was an abrupt and slightly raucous sound. “I am older than I appear Mr… uh, Warren.” “Well, you have been polite. You have been courteous and responded to courtesy. You have flattered me. All the conventions have been observed. Why don’t you just tell me what it is you want to say.” “First, please, permit me to extract a promise.” “I will promise nothing unconditionally. If you don’t trust me with some knowledge you are about to share, then don’t tell me. I don’t work any other way.” “Nothing of that sort Mr… Warren. What I ask is that you keep an open mind. I am about to tell you something hard to believe. Please don’t reject what I say out of hand. I don’t insist you believe me at first hearing, but I ask you to promise me that you will remain willing to be convinced. If you reject me out of hand because what I have to say does not fit your preconceptions, then nothing I do or say will ever convince you I am telling the truth. Conversely if you remain open to proof… well, convictions yield to truth, prejudice does not.” “So this ethnic group you mentioned… you suspect I may be bigoted toward them?” “No, not that. I simply feel you are almost certainly predisposed to disbelief. Nearly everyone is. I just want your assurance that you will give my story the same consideration, the same sharp, insightful investigation you would give … say a crooked politician.” “Very well. That is a promise I will make. But, Bоўк, you do realize that I am no longer writing for the public? I have no connections with the news business. If you have a story that needs told, I am probably not the ideal person to set it before the public.” “I know, but I also know that a man such as you has resources. If you feel the matter important, the people who need to listen will listen to you.” “OK. That’s true. So hit me. What’s the shocker? What’s the big story?” “I’m a werewolf. One of thousands.” Warren facepalmed. “Bоўк, furries are not an ethnic group. Goth may be a lifestyle, but none of them are actually vampires. If you want to grow out your beard and growl at your buddies across a campfire on the weekends, it’s none of my business. It’s not a story.” “I remind you of your promise so recently given.” “Are you saying you are a real werewolf? Not a lycanthrophile? Not a member of a club? You are a real howl-at-the-moon change-into-a-Wolf-when-the-moon-is-full werewolf.” “I am saying precisely that. Will you look at my hands?” Bоўк stood and stepped toward Warren. Despite an effort at self control Warren skittered back in his rolling chair. Bоўк looked at him and stood his ground. “Do you see? You sense something from me. Please examine my hands.” Warren rolled forward and did so. Bоўк had perfectly normal hands in most respects. You might not think them odd unless you looked closely. The backs of Bоўк’s hands were hairy, furry in the way his facial hair didn’t precisely look like a beard, Bоўк’s body hair didn’t precisely look right. Bоўк’s fingers were short, unusually so. His nails were curved rather far around the fingertip and rather longer than looked comfortable. They were very much like claws. Warren turned Bоўк’s hand palm up and saw there muscle of a sort… pads of flesh, would, perhaps, better describe it. The man definitely had a hand with a close resemblance to a paw. Warren thought to himself “A handshake would give him away.” “Are your feet like this?” Bоўк kicked off his shoes and tugged at his socks. His feet were in every respect similar to his hands. Warren thought to himself that they could almost legitimately be called paws. Unbidden, Bоўк unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it off. Bare-chested, Bоўк was hardly bare at all. Once again, his hair, his body hair, seemed not like body hair. It was longer, thicker. It looked softer – like fur. “Touch,” said Bоўк. Warren reached out reluctantly. He touched with a fingertip. Bоўк took Warren’s hand and pressed the palm flat against his chest, “See?” Warren retrieved his hand. “Well, you certainly have qualities I would expect in a werewolf, but these are simply explained as just qualities with which you were born.” “There are thousands like me. If it is a genetic trait it breeds true. And so what if it is a genetic quality. Does that make us not werewolves?” “Well, as I understand it, werewolves are supernatural creatures. They change under the full moon, can only be killed by silver bullets, that sort of thing…” “My brother and I argued long years about the nature of Wolves, supernatural or natural. I think we are simply a species that has developed parallel to humans, homo sapiens sapiens. We are perhaps canis lupus sapiens. But there are two things that seem unnatural, if not precisely supernatural. We are very hard to kill. Anything less severe than decapitation or consumption through fire or acid or some such drastic destruction of the entire body will be something from which we can recover. We heal very rapidly. Wounds, from silver weapons, though. Those heal slowly if at all and leave scars. But this could be natural to my species and seems unusual only in comparison to yours. Lizards re-grow tails; humans do not re-grow limbs. That doesn’t mean a reptile is supernatural.” “Well, that is true enough on the face of it. What do you mean by rapid healing, though?” “Bоўк reached across Warren’s desk and took hold of a letter opener. He plunged the tip an inch deep into his chest and dragged it upwards across his neck to a spot just under his ear. The gash was deep and bloody. Warren started out of his chair, seeking for something to stanch the blood. Bоўк took him by the arm and sat him back down in his chair. As Warren looked, Bоўк used his plaid hunting shirt to wipe away the blood. Beneath the blood, a fine white line vanished as Warren watched. “If that had been a silver knife I would be seriously injured.” “Well, you know how to make a dramatic presentation. But, I’m sorry, I can’t take this as proof. I can think of half a dozen stage magicians who could have done what you just did. “ “Please, keep an open mind. Please don’t assume that because a thing can be faked that I am faking it.” “You’re right. I promised.” “Would you care to stab me yourself? I just ask that you don’t stab me in the eye. I hate that.” “What?” “Stab me yourself. You will see there is no fakery.” “No. I can’t do that.” “It would prove my point. You really can’t reasonably hurt me.” Warren paused for a moment. Just what the Hell was actually going on here? He decided to call Bоўк’s bluff. “Come with me.” He led Bоўк to the kitchen. “Put your hand on that cutting board. What if I cut off a finger?” “A very good test! As long as the blood is still flowing I can just press it back on and everything will be fine.” Warren rummaged in a drawer and extracted a small cleaver he used for de-boning chickens. Bоўк stood with his hand on the board, fingers spread. Warren approached and raised the cleaver. Bоўк looked at him calmly. Warren raised the cleaver higher. Bоўк watched. “Damn you! You would let me do it!” “Yes. Do it! It is an excellent test. I couldn’t be faking it if it is your idea and you do it…” “You’re crazy.” Bоўк reached over and took the cleaver from Warren. He brought it down in a flashing arc and severed his thumb from his hand. Warren made an indescribable noise. Bоўк put down the cleaver, picked up the bloody thumb and pressed it into Warren’s hand. Warren looked at it in revulsion. Bоўк had his remaining thumb pressed over the stump that was spurting blood all over the cutting board. Warren looked at Bоўк wild eyed. “Here. Take it!” Bоўк did not. “You are convinced that is really my thumb?” “Yes! Just take it!” “No fakery?” “No! It’s real! Now take the damned thing!” Bоўк accepted the thumb. He calmly pressed it against his hand, aligning it carefully. The spurting blood began to slow. While Warren watched the skin re-grew around the cut. The thumb became re-attached. Bоўк raised his hand and wiggled his fingers, clenched his fist, moved the thumb quite naturally. Warren felt vaguely faint. “Do you want me to clean this up, Warren? You look like you need to sit.” “Sit. Yes.” Warren turned to the refrigerator, reached inside and grabbed a bottle of water. He walked straight to his office chair, sat and chugged about a third of the bottle of ice-cold water. “Well if that wasn’t supernatural, it was certainly unnatural.” “Unnatural to your species, not to mine.” “We’re not talking lizard tails here.” “No, but I have a hard time thinking that my skin re-growing at a rapid rate, my muscle tissue and bone matter re-generating swiftly is a matter of divine intervention.” “Well, when you put it that way, so do I, maybe. What was the other thing?” Bоўк looked questioningly at him. “You said you and your brother argued about two things. What is the other one?” “Oh. The full moon.” “You mean to tell me you really change during the full moon?” “Yes. Not into a four-legged Wolf.” “Then what?” “Well, you have noticed that I have a lot of fur.” “Well, yes. I’ve seen men with a lot of body hair, as much as you.” “I have fur.” “Well, yes, you do. I guess that is the right word.” “It is not usually this way, but the moon will be full tonight and tomorrow night. My fur gets thicker at those times. It will be getting thicker still tonight. My teeth will change when the moon rises tonight. That is rather painful. My paws will change too. The nails will curve still more and get a little longer. My brother argued that this could not be natural. Moonlight simply does not have this sort of effect; it is just reflected sunlight. The position of the moon might affect the tides, but not the physical make up of a select group of creatures on the planet. I could never refute him, but I still do not think the changes supernatural.” “If not supernatural then what?” “I don’t know. Given the opportunity, some geneticist might find an explanation. But no such person has ever been given the chance. We could never take the chance.” “What do you mean?” “Well, think about it. ‘Capturing’ a real live werewolf would be like bagging a live bigfoot. It would be studied literally to death and dissected in incredible detail. More would be sought and found and dissected. My people stay hidden for just this reason.” “Your people. You spoke of an ethnic group. Is that how you regard yourselves? A community of werewolves? A tribe perhaps or nation of werewolves?” “Well yes, more or less, but I want to ask a favor. We dislike the word werewolf and prefer just to be called Wolves. Werewolf brings up stereotypes, characters from an Abbot and Costello movie. Calling a Wolf a werewolf is a bit like calling a Jew a Yid or someone from Japan a Jap. If not precisely an ethnic slur, werewolf summons images we all find distasteful.” “Oh. Sorry.” “You couldn’t know. But to answer your question. There is a very loose affiliation of Wolf packs that you could call a community. We rarely communicate between packs. We are very territorial and our only contact with another pack is often when they stray into our territory and must be rebuffed.” “Rebuffed?” “Fought. We defend our territories, as do our wild brethren. We fight. We fight literally tooth and nail.” Warren watched Bоўк for a moment, thinking. Bоўк exhibited no impatience. He was immobile in his seat. “So. Your decision to reveal yourself to me, and to expose your brother Wolves was purely your own? A unilateral decision?” “No. I didn’t mean to imply that there was no communication at all. The decision to reveal ourselves was made about thirty years ago. It has taken this much time to get the agreement of what we think is a majority of packs to go ahead.” “Thirty years to make a decision? And I thought Congress was glacial.” Both men, or man and Wolf, smiled at the slight jest. “We live a long time, Warren. We don’t rush to decision as quickly as men, and we are spread across the world, few in numbers and shy about meeting even our own kind.” “How long?” “About four times as long as a man. Three hundred years is about the limit.” “So when you said you are older than you look…” “I was born in 1799,” seeing Warren trying to do the math in his head, Bоўк added, “That makes me two-hundred eleven years old. “You said few in numbers…” “Almost literally one in a million. With seven billion people in the world, that leaves about seven thousand Wolves. I think the number might be a little higher. Certainly there are fewer than ten thousand of us.” “Why certainly?” “It is a matter of territory size. Our territories are large. In the Canadian Rockies, there is just one pack. In the US, Montana and the Dakotas are home to just one pack, perhaps two. New York City has just one pack of Wolves in the entire city.
nanowrimo 2010

Compulsion - Meditation - Eulogy - For Nickki

Compulsion — Meditation — Eulogy

          I am at once drawn to and simultaneously pressed away from my current train of thought. I must write, but it fills me with a terrible guilt as well. I feel a bit silly writing down my meditations on my sister's pet. They form a eulogy of sorts. Who writes a eulogy for a dog? I do. I feel terrible publishing this. I wrote a eulogy for my mother and it never got published. Well, the paper edited it to about three lines. It is barely possible that more people will see this than saw what I wrote about my mother. What does that really say? Why does it make me feel so bad? Why do I persist in writing this even so?

          I did not know Nickki in her youth. She was as much an outdoor as an indoor dog in those days. She soon came indoors, however. A legendary confrontation with a
enormous
chow
three times her size may have decided that, I am not sure. Nickki cowed the chow. She earned thereby a fierce reputation that she lived up to for fifteen years.
Princess Nickki
Princess Nickki
          "Her days as an inside dog were a bit less fraught with danger. She had the run of the house (including the kitchen) and frequent access to table scraps. The right to enter the kitchen was one she never ceded despite attempts to keep her out. Her companion of her later years Jirel was trained never to enter the kitchen. Nickki regarded this, I think with a bit of disdain.
          For a time, Nickki spent a great deal of time with my parents. My mother indulged her tremendously. My father did too, but he did so surreptitiously. It was among them that she really learned her "notorious" behavior. I really knew Nickki only in her later years. She had already attained her status as "Princess Nickki". That is what she was, not a ruling Queen, not enough dignity for that. No, she was more the imperious Princess who would have her way. A diva, a drama queen, a master thespian was she. She always got her way. She was definitely the dominant dog in the house. Maybe the dominant personality, period, humans included. Jirel a good three times her size and weight was buffaloed at the first meeting and stayed out her way to the very end. Despite imperious tendencies, Nickki was a loving pet. She seldom cuddled, but she was eager for a good ear-scratch, a chin-scritch, or the hours-long belly-rub. Her servants were glad to do this. She spent many an hour perched on the love seat (her private domain) surveying her domain, her legs crossed in front of her as a suitable rest for her chin. In her latter days, those of 20 hour naps and snoring, twitchy dreams of chasing rabbits (no doubt), she remained ever the imperious ruler of the household.
We are diminished by her absence, the kingdom lacks its Princess. I miss her every day, the sadness I feel inexpressible. Nickki came to my sister Janet after the death of her husband Roger. I feel in many ways, Nickki's fifteen years with her maintained a link to Roger. With that now severed I cannot imagine my sister's feelings.
nanowrimo 2010

She’s Dead

Nothing brings you back to living in a fairy tale like a good hard does of reality.
She's dead.
My wife, my redhead. My son, my beautiful boy. My father, the rock of my faith. All dead.
My job didn't last long. I didn't want to do it anymore. They took the car, they took the house. They wouldn't pay me anymore. They there’s something wrong with my mind.
She's dead.
The mission was cool and all and I didn't mind sleeping there much. It was kinda dirty.
She's dead. They're dead.
I left the mission when they kept stealing my clothes while I slept. It is actually safer down by the park. Not in the park, but outside it. Usually there's a store somewheres with a big dumpster. Just push it out a little and you can sleep behind.
She's dead.
I don't feel like walking all the way to the park every night. I like the street right here downtown. I can find a door somewhere that is open or a place out of the cold. I usually get better food here too. People give you a lot. I tell them about her a lot.
She's dead.
After a while They stop looking at you. I'm pretty dirty I guess. I notice that little kids avoid me now, even the little high school types. I try to do what I can. I sleep inside most of the time now. There's a telephone building that is unlocked. It hums all night. She used to hum while she worked.
She's dead.
I'm usually hungry now. I don't move around much. People won't talk to me anymore. They don't even listen. I try to tell them something, so they'll help. So they know.
She's dead.
I don't try to talk to them any more. They don't care. Nobody cares. They should. I think they should. I need to tell them - about . . . Her.
I need to do something. I don't remember what. There's something I have to remember. It is about - them. Them . . .
I have to go somewhere. Where do I need to go? Nobody will tell me. I need to get to . . . Where, no, I mean who? I'm not sure. I need. I remember. No. I don't remember. I . . . I. You. I don't know . . .
I don't care . . .
I don't care . . .
nanowrimo 2010

I remember

In response to the writing prompt: “area codes”

I Remember

I remember this kid, couldn't have been more than five, who was brought in my first day in the emergency room. He had tangled with a lawn mower somehow and his father had his severed arm packed in ice and his stump tied off with a tourniquet made from a cable tie. The doctor tried for an hour to re-attach that mangled hand and arm but the kid just gave it up. The father pounded his head against a glass door and nearly broke it.

A couple of years ago a woman came shrieking into the lobby, claiming demons were drinking her blood. Security grabbed her, and the intern on duty bundled her off to a psychologist under mild sedation. The psychologist sent her back asking us to remove the several dozen leeches from her back.

Sweet old Mrs. Bailley saw us about once a month just after her social security check came in. She used the cash to buy a bag of candy and then pigged out. Her blood sugar went through the roof every time and she got so sick she had to call 911. She did it every month. She got to be a regular. One of the orderlies got some flowers for her every time she came in. She even brought a little bag with her each time and showed us all her grand children, the new babies in the family, and told us all the gossip. Last month, the strain was too much. After we gave her the usual insulin and left her to rest, she just lay down and peacefully died. She didn't get to show her pictures this time.

Some guy with a crazed look ran in the front door, slammed past security carrying his twelve-year-old daughter shouting, "Code blue! Code blue!" He watches too many hospital shows on TV. They're just called a "code" around here. The girl was dead. The doctor examining her found traces of barbiturates and heroin. He also found signs of sexual activity. When he told the father she was dead and asked about sex and drugs, the guy pulled out a gun, put it in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. It took half an hour before he coded.

Sometimes I hate working here, in my area, codes are memories.
nanowrimo 2010

Sixteen

When you were young and I was sixteen our days were filled. We spent them lavishly and our love for one another could withstand any test. You worshiped me, hung on my words, demanded my presence, my opinion on all things, my participation in every little game you played. I was glad of it.

The difference in our ages gave me all the advantage. I was the "experienced" one. I used you. You wanted to please me. I abused you, you were a little afraid of me. You did what I wanted, when I wanted it. You wanted to.

You hung with me through High School, though I ditched you often enough. You thought I was ashamed to introduce you to my friends. I just thought it was uncool. Right up to my Senior year you thought I was the coolest guy that ever lived. Some distance was growing between us. You didn't really step back, but we both knew what was going to happen.

I went to college. I left you behind. We phoned a while, then let it slide. You followed me to college, but it was not the same. I had different friends, I had a new girl-friend and you didn't get introduced. When we met it was no longer glad smiles and a warm embrace, just a casual glance, a nod, a civil recognition of one another.

Out of school, living our lives, our paths cross. We speak briefly, strangers now. We don't call. We don't write. Contact is uncomfortable, not fun, not the joy it had been. The love faded, the camaraderie, the need for each other vanished.

We are just strangers now. Strangers who happen to share some history. You keep in touch with my parents as much as I do, but we seldom see them together. They tell me how you are and I guess they report on me to you. We have nothing in common any more.

What happened, baby brother? Where did we lose it?

In response to the prompt: “Sixteen”
nanowrimo 2010

Just Like A Kiss

Just Like A Kiss...

Just like a kiss to change my mood in a moment. She kissed me welcomely at the movies and turned a horrible mood into one of anticipation.

Just like a kiss to change my day in a moment. A peck on the cheek at the end of the day let us sit down to dinner at the end of what had been a horrible day and enjoy it as though it was the best day of our lives.

Just like a kiss to change my heart in a moment. She whispered "I love you" through a kiss and nothing in the world mattered as much to me as she. No thing was as important to me as marrying her.

Just like a kiss to change my year in a moment. She kissed me and told me she was pregnant and my head spun in circles for a year.

Just like a kiss to change my world in a moment. She said we needed a new life for our child and kissed me. In six months we I was a realtor in the Midwest and she worked in a department store.

Just like a kiss to change my soul in a moment. My father was dead and she kissed me to console me. It warmed me and took the pain away.

Just like a kiss to change my life in a moment. She kissed me and said that my age and my bald spot didn't matter. I stopped worrying that she would ever leave.

Just like a kiss to change me in a moment. She kissed me passionately and every time I was a bashful fifteen year old no matter how old I got. I never forgot that ever.
nanowrimo 2010

Short Story: Fantasy: 6k: Hunters

Hunters

Part 1: Interlude

     Hawk and Arlo swam, splashing, and circling one another in a pool so clear it had no color but that of the sky. At the North end of the pool water fell from above. To the left it provided a pounding stream and at the right a mist barely more than a misty fog.

     Arlo rose from the pool and stood to the left letting the water pound the aches and tiredness from his wiry body. He was five-and-a-half feet tall and perhaps one hundred ten pounds. His hair was long, straight, and black. Brown eyes looked past a nose with a high prominent ridge over small, neat mouth with cherry-red lips. His face was narrow with a small chin. He had longish ears. He would have had an elfin appearance had he not been so dark. As he scrubbed himself he looked at his friend who had chosen the right-hand side of the falls.

     Hawk and Arlo were of a size but Hawk weighed nearly fifty pounds more. He sometimes complained of being overweight but he was built broadly and carried no obvious fat. His auburn hair was short. He shaved it close to his neck and ears to keep it from catching in the trees and brush when he hunted. His nose rested above a wide Cupid's bow mouth. His eyes were dark brown. He had the square chin that bespoke the firm character of a man of the land. The mist collected on Hawk's shoulders and rolled in rivulets down his body making slight chills even as the sun warmed him. His torso was a sculptor's find. Broad shoulders lay back above a spine as straight as a birch and solid as an oak. His chest was strong above his stomach, a twin ridge of washboard muscle.

     While Arlo admired his friend's physique, he was glad to forgo the work it took to maintain it.

     Together the boys moved to the grassy bank. Arlo took a knee and placed one hand on the ground. Rivulets of water ran from his feet, from his hair, across his body, until it ran off his hand into the grass leaving him dry. "Now me," said Hawk impatiently.

     "I should leave you to dry on your own." Arlo knelt, placed his left hand on the ground and his right on his friends belly. Water traveled across Hawk's skin to Arlo's hand then across his body to the ground until both were dry. As the boys combed their hair with their fingers, Arlo said, "That's too convenient. How did I manage before I could do it?"

     "You were lazy before you could do it. I'm sure you found a lazy way to do it then." Arlo straightened his arm, raised his palm to show the flat of it to Hawk and thrust toward him. Hawk looked shocked, bounced backward a couple of feet and stumbled into the water.

     Hawk climbed out. He spluttered, "When did you learn that?"

     "When I learned the other, actually. The Mage found that I had dripped a spot of water from my hair on one of his books and threatened me if I ever did it again. Then he set me to moving furniture much too heavy as a punishment. He had to teach me that push so that I could move it. I can pull, too."

     "Does the Mage ever teach you anything just because you're his apprentice?"

     "No, he considers an apprentice to be just another house servant, but one allowed to touch the books. I'm not even allowed to read them - not that I could."

     "You can't read?"

     "Of course I can read!" Arlo was slightly miffed, "It's just that they're all written in some language that hasn't been written or spoken in thousands of years." While they spoke the boys dressed. Their attire was distinctly different.

     Hawk first drew on a collarless green shirt of a stiff, almost fibrous material. The sleeves and cuffs were close fitting, designed not to catch on underbrush or other obstructions. His pants laced up the sides with thin leather string. They were of glove-soft leather from a deer he had himself slain and tanned. Hawk's boots were of similar material. They rose to mid-calf where the leather was very pliable and soft. At the ankle and on the sole the leather was reinforced and rigid to protect his feet. He laced these boots from ankle to top with leather straps an inch wide and tied them at the back in a hard knot. Over all this he added a narrow tabard of a dark dusty green. It had no insignia, not unusual in a young man as yet unmarried and not yet ready to pledge to a house or a village. He wrapped a belt nearly two inches wide around his body twice. To one side he affixed his short knife. Its blade's length was no more than the width of his palm. To the other he tied his long knife, the blade of which barely missed being a short sword.

     Arlo's clothing was strikingly different. He began with his shoes. They were little more than hardened soles with straps affixed. These straps wrapped around his ankles and up his legs to just below the knee. There he tied them at the front with an ornamental knot using string of dyed and polished leather that laced through the straps. The rest of his clothing consisted of a single strip of bright red cloth. It was about two feet wide and more than twenty feet long. It was made of a gauzy material quite silky to the touch. It draped about his shoulders, wrapped about his waist, and tucked here and there to make a loose toga-like garment. It provided comfort and great mobility and had an elegant appearance. Above his heart, Arlo pinned a sigil, the sign of the House of Corvus, that being the Mage's house, of course.

     "I'd best get back to my chores. If I don't the Mage will find some terrible, subtle way to torment me for not spending every hour of every day attending his comfort." Hawk laughed at the familiar complaint. "Myself, I'm headed East for a day or two. There is a hart there I've seen trace of. It is a big buck and I want to bring him back. We need the meat and I want the hide."

     "Go then, hunter, and return swiftly with your prey."

     "Fare well apprentice, learn swiftly and well." It was their tradition to part so mocking in staid tones the solemnity of their elders' habitual words of parting.

Part 2: Tedium

     Arlo's time passed both swiftly and slowly. The routine of his work was tedious and seemed to last much longer than it did. The few duties assigned to him that he enjoyed seemed much too brief. A significant amount of his time was consumed carrying water from the creek near the manor. He carried drinking water for the mage and for himself. The servants of the house carried their own. A small amount of water was needed for experiments. He also carried bucket after bucket for the hot bath the mage insisted upon every single night. Once done with carrying water, he had to boil it before it could be used - the mage insisted on it - then pour it out into glass carboys to cool. This done, he spent time gathering kindling and dry leaves for the mages small laboratory fires. Arrick, the mage's steward and the other house servants tended the fireplaces, but the mage always had some cauldron boiling or some great glass retort steaming or dripping out some esoteric substance while seated above tiny tabletop fires.

     The most enjoyable duties for Arlo were also, in many ways, the most arduous. The mage assigned his apprentice one room then another in the manor to clean and organize. Each room was a library and each was covered in the dust and grime of half a century or more. Still, Arlo loved his work in these rooms. Per his instructions, he removed all the books from the shelves which he then dusted and polished to perfection. He dusted the books then, even to opening them and dusting interior pages where age or poor binding had allowed dust to gather. As he cleaned the books he found that it was sometimes necessary to recopy pages or entire books. Rebinding was also a common task. When all the books were restored to a pristine condition he would mark the shelves with categories. The books he placed appropriately. The boy took pride in his work and felt genuine ownership of the task. The mage had told him that this work was to be done because the books were to become his. In the future, he would read these books. Nobody could remember everything in every book, so it was needful that Arlo be able to find a book when he wanted it. The mage had his own system and could send Arlo after any book he had categorized in his youth. Any in rooms Arlo had refurbished would be the boy's responsibility to find - and find swiftly if he knew what was good for him. Arlo was taking his refurbishing to extremes with each room, stripping and polishing the floors. Sometimes he pulled up large portions of the floor and replaced the boards so that it would be level or so that it would not creak. The furniture in the rooms was always of the massive sort found throughout the manor, but even here Arlo made a point of seeing that tables were level, that chairs did not rock, that doors hung level and closed snugly. He thought of himself as the owner of these rooms and wanted them to be perfect. The mage had lived in the manor for one hundred fifty years that people knew about; likely he was the one who built this manor over the site of the old one. The mage who had lived there and might just be this mage was reputed to have lived in that house for nearly three hundred years. When the time came, Arlo might live in this manor or one like it for just as long. Though his chores kept Arlo busy, his mind returned now and again to Hawk. He had expected his friend to return to the manor at the end of the second day with a large deer and an even larger exaggeration of his hunting prowess. The third day passed with little concern. With Hawk, "a day or two" almost always meant precisely that, but any hunter might pursue his quarry some extra distance and need some extra time to get home.

     After the fourth day, Arlo became mildly concerned. He visited the village of Dunwalt. Every mage seemed to generate a village around him. Visitors would call on any mage, seeking his services. Unless the mage was willing to host them, and the mage of Corvus Manor was not, an inn grew up. Farms appeared to supply the inn. Generally a grocer became the intermediary between the farmers and the inn, supplying wagons and carts to bring in produce or haul home the goods that produce bought. Wagons and horses brought about stables and a smith, and so on and on until all the businesses of a village were present. The village, of course, gave its allegiance to the mage and received his protection in return. So when Arlo entered the village he was deferred to and received graciously until it was learned he was on his own business and not that of the mage. Though the change in attitude was appreciable, it was slight; Arlo would be the mage one day. He became more nearly "one of us" from the village than "one of them" from the manor.

     His first stop was at the village store to see if Hawk had brought in meat in the last day or so. Ordinarily the manor got first choice of anything Hawk brought in, he was given a stipend to insure it was so, but when the village was in need, Hawk sometimes cared for his friends first. The mage had no objection. Finding that Hawk had not visited, Arlo visited Aunt Magen, the matriarch of Hawk's family. She had not heard from him for more than a week. She somewhat snidely suggested he seek him out across the street, and dismissed Arlo with the same imperious manner he saw daily in the Mage.

     "Across the street" was the home of Rura. In the tongue of her Southlander parents, Rura meant both "moonlight" and "love". Though she was two years his junior, Hawk had fallen in love with her, appropriately, underneath the moonlight of a harvest celebration. Horrifying the conservative, obstinate, and exaggeratedly orthodox population of the village, Hawk had openly declared his love for her. Though the mores of Dunwalt would hardly permit them each other's presence, they managed occasionally to look upon one another and to exchange a polite sentence. Nobody in the village doubted that they would be wed. None of the young men of the village even considered crossing Hawk to change the possibility.

     At the home of Rura, the house of Fatine, he spoke to Grandfather Alda. He assured him that Hawk had never set foot in his house and would not until the appropriate time came. He winked. That made Arlo wonder just what he was being told, but he concluded that Hawk was not there or that if he was nobody was about to admit it.

     While in the village, a rare enough event for Arlo, he could hardly forgo a visit to the inn. He took the opportunity to partake of some cooking other than his own and listen to the village gossip while sipping a mug of ale. The gossip was of little genuine interest to him. He cared not at all for the state neither of the potato crops nor which good wife was seen in the wrong place at the wrong time. One piece of news did leave him a bit disturbed. A couple traveling from Wains, a city some twenty days to the East and another ten North had a tale to tell of a narrow escape from bandits. They had been beset but thinking quickly, they had cut the reigns of their pack animal and galloped away. The bandits seemingly were content with the animal they could take without a chase and did not pursue.

Part 3: Resolve

     After a meal and a second mug of ale, Arlo returned to the manor. He decided to worry "constructively". The mage was often lectured him on the subject saying he spent much too much time on matters over which he had no control. Better to deal with that which could be controlled and plan for things that might reasonably happen.

     Arlo sought out one of the rooms he had not yet cleaned, a room of maps. He sorted through the mage's distinctly odd filing system until he thought he understood it then searched out the maps he wanted.

     There were three. The first was likely useless. The date on it put it more than five hundred years old. It lacked much detail anyway. A detailed map was available, but all the notations on it were in a language he couldn't understand. The third map, the most modern one, less than eighty years old, was close in correlation to the more detailed map and its notations were readable. Working between the two maps, he began drawing a new one. He marked the line of the road that he knew from traveling it personally. It was little altered from either of the maps. The three small creeks shown on the most detailed map were not on the other, but he drew them in on the assumption that even if they were dry, the creek beds would still be discernable. The river, the one that fed the manor's pool where Arlo and Hawk had so recently swum, was marked and it's course to the East clearly visible. Arlo had to make a decision. To travel north of the river if Hawk had traveled south meant they were almost certain to miss one another. There were few river crossings indicated on either map and Arlo knew from the village and from traveler's talk that the availability of these was different as the seasons changed. Knowing nothing of hunting and the habits of beasts, at least non-magical ones, he was at a loss. Searching back and forth between maps, he finally found, on the oldest map, the least detailed, some small drawings of what might be deer and thin lines that he thought perhaps meant game trails. If the beasts had held to this habitat for half a millennium then they would be south of the river, between it and the road. South it would be.

     On the morning of the sixth day of Hawk's absence, something that seemed to bother nobody else, Arlo prepared to seek his friend. When he had asked the mage the day before if perhaps he could use his vision to seek Hawk and see if he was in trouble, the mage dismissed him quite casually, "Your playmate will return in good time. Get on with your chores."

     "Playmate" indeed. Arlo had been more than slightly angry over the word but, he hoped, had not shown it. The casual dismissal of his concern did, however solidify Arlo's resolve. He would hunt for the hunter.

     Arlo worked rapidly through his chores, the hauling of water and the gathering of kindling. Those things would be noticed immediately if not done. Once they were completed, he retired to his room and changed clothes.

     He put on a gray shirt of much the same fabric as that worn by Hawk, a coarse linen-like and fibrous cloth that would not be easily torn if caught by a branch or a thorn. He laced up a pair of leather pants made for him by his friend and noticed that though they were only a year old, they barely fit him. They were almost uncomfortably tight. He found a pair of boots with hardened soles and laced them tightly. They were waterproof, or nearly so, and would protect his feet against sharp rocks. To this he added a leather pack made in a flattened square some two feet by two and about half a foot thick. He slung its long strap over his shoulder, tied off to the corners and had a handy sack to carry a bit of food and a decent blanket. Then he went to the kitchen in which he daily-prepared meals for himself and the mage. He took a small amount of fresh food, a larger amount of dried beef and fruit, and found a few items he thought might be useful. He had no hunting knife so there was a wicked carving knife and another smaller one he decided to take from the kitchen. So equipped, he left, as surreptitiously as he was able and set off to the east in search of Hawk.

Part 4: Hunting the Hunter

     Arlo was thin and wiry, but also strong from his daily labors. He was not a skilled woodsman or huntsman but, as any man of his village and station, he knew the basics. Alternately running and walking, he traveled east remaining south of the river and close to it in search of hunter's paths or game trails. For the rest of the day he found few of either. None of them led east. As the sun set, he looked for a likely spot to spend the night. He saw a glimmer of light reflecting off water as he walked and he followed it to a small spring that fed a trickle of water that doubtless fed the river. Beside the spring he found a spot where grass had been matted. This looked like the sort of spot Hawk would choose and this almost-not-a-camp his sort of place to lie in for the night. Hawk had expounded at length to Arlo about his preferences in hunting. Some hunters lit a great fire and slept beside it not just for warmth but also to keep animals at bay. Hawk preferred a less intrusive, subtler camp. He rarely built a fire. He did not cook while hunting preferring to live on what he could find in the forest and on dried meat he carried with him. Lacking a fire, he just bedded down near a supply of water and wrapped himself tightly in his blanket to keep any small creatures from joining him for warmth. As to larger beasts he had his own method of keeping them at bay. Before sleeping he would walk the perimeter of his tiny camp and make water as he walked. He would circle his entire camp if he could. The scent of his urine told animals that a large carnivore was near. Arlo laughed at the reminiscence but did the same.

     He awoke to the rose light of morning. He drank his fill at the small spring then packed to go. He had no more fresh food. He had packed little, having no way to preserve it, but dried meat filled his belly.

     Traveling with at least a little confidence that he was on Hawk's trail he soon came across a game trail that led eastward. He found and followed several such throughout the day.

     Toward evening he ran out of trails to follow. Lacking recourse he just continued east. Shortly after sunset he found another suitable camp. There he repeated the previous night's actions and again slept dreamlessly awaking to a rose sky.

     Running east he at last found the game trail he had been following the previous day, or one like it. His sense of urgency was growing. He was in his third day of travel. He had seen no certain sign of hawk and was beginning to wonder if his friend was back at the Manor having a hearty laugh thinking of him. After all, it was now nine days since Hawk's departure from the manor. If he was not at home his circumstances were dire.

Part 5: The Bandit's Camp

     The sun was westering and Arlo considered turning back. After all, he had traveled as far to the East as Hawk was likely to have come. As he slowed, walking quietly to rest and consider the matter sounds came to him from the forest ahead. Men's voices laughed deeply and raucously swore. Arlo slowed, moved off the game trail and did his best to move silently forward. Though unskilled in stalking he approached without being noticed. He moved slowly down the bank of a small dry stream and climbed extremely slowly up the opposite side.

     As his eyes rose above the level of the bank he peered through some low bushes. He saw a situation that in an instant told the full story of Hawk's troubles. Before him, Arlo saw a bandit camp. There were five of men. The obvious leader wore ten rings on his fingers, a dozen chains of gold about his neck and odd bits of elegant clothing. He watched Hawk across the too big, too bright, campfire. To one side three shabbily dressed men, obviously thugs threw dice. It was from them that the laughter and the cursing emanated. Behind them was an imposing man wearing a breastplate. That he wore it even in repose marked him as a soldier, as did his shield and long greatsword. He had restless eyes and a hard look about him.

     Across the fire from the bandit leader, hawk sat with his back to a small tree. His hands were behind him, doubtless bound behind the tree. His feet were bound loosely before him with a single light cord.

     Arlo moved infinitely slowly to a position where he was certain he was out of the bandits' line of sight. Once positioned there, he waited until Hawk was looking in his direction and bobbed up once just above the shrub before him. Hawk, wisely, showed no reaction other than to look away. Arlo was nevertheless certain he had been seen. He and Hawk had peered into one another's eyes for a brief moment.

     Arlo receded to the streambed and moved around the camp with utter slowness and silence until he was as nearly behind Hawk as he could manage. Remaining concealed, he could, from his vantage see that hawk's hands were bound. The bandits had used a single light cord. Hawk could seemingly free himself. Arlo thought swiftly and decided there must be something else binding Hawk. Was it magic? Arlo thought not. None of the men had any indication of the talent about them. Those with it could sense others of their kind. What hold then? He thought for what seemed forever. At last he decided he would have no choice but to free his friend and rely on his actions to develop the situation.

     Arlo moved forward very slowly, a plan beginning to form. Then he halted. He saw at the feet of the bandit leader Hawk's bow and quiver. Was this what kept Hawk in place? Was the bandit a bowman? Damn! Indecision beset him. Should he go with his original plan to use his magic to push the bandit leader into the dry streambed behind him and rely on the confusion to let the two of them run? Should he instead get Hawk's weapons into his hands?

     The bandit stirred as though to rise and Arlo's instincts overwhelmed his planning. He stepped into view and struck what he thought was an imperious pose. With an exertion of his will he fed the bandits' fire. It grew hotter until it burned with the blue-white heat of a forge fire. Its flames rose to the height of a tall man. Posing again he crooked a finger at the bandit and made motions as if hauling on a rope. The bandit, shocked, stumbled forward taking step after step resisting to his utmost. At last he fell forward into the conflagration before him. As he screamed, Arlo raced to Hawk and slashed his slender fetters. Hawk rose and dove nearly in a single motion across the clearing. He grabbed his bow and quiver.

     The three bandits that had been throwing dice stood benumbed as their leader thrashed and crawled on the ground. Screaming, he was unable to smother the flames that burned him. Behind them the soldier-like bandit slung his shield on his arm and drew the long greatsword from its sheath at his back. He advanced slowly toward the two boys ignoring the other bandits entirely Hawk nocked an arrow and aimed at him. The man stopped.

     By now the leader had collapsed and was a silent smoking corpse. The erstwhile dice players looked at the two boys before them. These bandits were hard men. They were brawlers accustomed to taking what they wanted. Two boys, even a bowman and one with a hint of sorcery about him did not intimidate. The man nearest Hawk, a bald bullish and fat-bellied bruiser drew his weapons. He shambled into a run with his two long knives outthrust. Hawk loosed. The thug dropped in mid-step and moved no more. There was an audible snap as the arrow broke off when his body met the ground.

     Arlo, in the same moment, struck a dramatic pose and made a clawing motion at the two remaining dice throwers. Making tugging motions as though reeling in a kite he intoned in what he hoped was a sinister voice "I can pull the soul from your bodies!" Feeling Arlo's sorcerous pull, the men began immediately to plead. Arlo released them. He gestured dismissively and they fled.

     Only the soldier remained. He looked hard at them, threw his shield across his back and returned his sword to its sheath. He turned to the horses picketed on the far side of the camp. Mounting one and leading another he departed.

     "Hurry!" said Hawk, "There is a woman prisoner."

     Arlo now understood. Hawk's compliance had been the price of the woman's life. They searched quickly. Sadly they found her dead. Hidden behind the spot where the horses were picketed her body lay concealed by underbrush. She lay stiff and cold. The damage to her body was ugly. The expression on her face indicated she had not died easily.

     "They made me hunt for them in return for her safety." He pointed to some trees where Arlo saw three deer hung by their heels, gutted and skinned, ready to butcher.

     "They lied."

     "Arlo, they were bandits. I thought they lied. But could I take the chance?"

     "No."

     "Let's bury her before it gets dark. She deserves a burial, but I do not want to sleep in this place."

     Arlo said, "Let's get rid of the dead bandits. They should not lie near her."

     "Yes."

     The fat knife wielder took all their strength to move. They dragged him to the edge of camp and rolled him into the dry streambed. When they took hold of the burned bandit leader, both were surprised and dismayed at his quiet sighing squeal of pain. They could see no bit of him not reduced to char. Both found it hard to believe that he lived. Hawk cast about and quickly found his knives. He carefully thrust his long knife between the bandit's ribs, into his heart. He made no noise. They dropped him into the streambed, rolling him atop his evil confederate.

     "Animals will cleanse this place of them," said Hawk. "She won't have to be near them."

     "Who was she?"

     "I don't know. They never called her anything but "the woman" or much less flattering things."

     Arlo exhaled a slow and thoughtful breath.

     "Arlo, you can draw. Can you draw her likeness that we can show it to travelers in hope her family may know where she rests?"

     "Yes. The thought does you honor, Hawk."

     "Do you need to draw her now?"

     "No. I can do it once we are home. I will never forget her face."

     With no tools for the digging, the boys used their hands to scoop out a shallow grave. They placed her there in a dignified position and covered her. They took the time to cover her grave with a cairn of rocks to protect her remains from scavengers.

     Taking the three horses that remained, they each mounted and loaded the deer Hawk had taken onto the other.

     Arlo asked, "Do you know the shortest route home?"

     "Yes, let's go this way." They rode away from the bandit camp and did not once turn for another look.

Part 6: Homecoming

     They rode for perhaps two hours at a walking pace. They continued well past nightfall. They wanted to travel some distance from the site of the day's vile happenings.

     "How did you find me Arlo?"

     "Luck, mostly. I traveled East along the river following game trails that went East. When I saw no game trails I just continued east. You said you were traveling in that direction and I thought that the game might be close to the river. It was just luck that I heard the bandits and didn't stumble unawares into their camp."

     "East?"

     "Yes."

     "Along the river?"

     "Yes."

     "The river is a good forty miles North of here. We are near the main road where it forks to the South to the Southlands highway and North to Wains. The bandits were preying on travelers near the fork."

     "Uh…"

     "You were LOST!"

     The boys looked at one another. Hawk's face bore a hobgoblin grin. Arlo felt himself blushing. Together they broke out into howling laughter that lasted until they were both nearly in tears.

     Practically exhausted from laughing, they made camp. Hawk built a fire because he feared the deer carcasses would attract predators. They both walked the perimeter alerting the animals of the forest that large carnivores were present. They then picketed the horses as near the fire as possible and slept close to them. At least, they slept as much as they could. Arlo dozed, waking often. Whenever he was awake he saw that Hawk was too. Hawk hardly slept at all.

     In the morning the boys mounted and headed toward the road. They reached it early and turned west. It took them the full day and well into the evening to reach Dunwalt. They did not halt there, though the boys discussed stopping at the inn. Rather, they turned their horse's noses toward the manor and pounded on the door shortly after midnight.

     Arrick the mage's steward was quite angry at being awakened at such an hour until he saw the horses and deer the boys brought. The manor got its pick of such things and Arrick already planned on taking two of the horses and the best of the deer. More horses would make the manor richer and the work easier. From the look of the deer, they were quite large and would supply good eating for some time.

     The stable boy was summoned and the horses led away. Arrick and the boys each took a dear carcass across their shoulders and took them to the larder to be butchered in the morning. It was then, finally, time for sleep.

     Arlo led Hawk to his own room. There was but a single narrow bed, but Arlo found enough blankets and soft quilts to build Hawk a well-padded mattress on the floor. Arlo offered his friend the bed, but Hawk, accustomed to sleeping on the ground was quite content with his pallet of quilts. Arlo, for his part, welcomed his own bed like a lover returned after a long absence. Both boys slept soundly and dreamlessly.

     They were awakened by the smell of food. Someone had entered and placed on Arlo's table a large covered platter. Hawk was surprised at this because his hunter's habits should have awakened him when anyone at all approached. He had been very tired.

     The platter, once uncovered, held a whole roast chicken. New potatoes floated in chicken gravy. Patis, the manor's chef had also included a largish loaf of soft crusty bread and her wonderful feather-light biscuits. There was also a generous supply of precious butter and cool fresh milk. The boys ate avidly, enjoying each bite. Arrick was evidently pleased with Hawk's bounty of deer. When they were done they looked at one another and frowned. The time had come to account for themselves to the mage.

     They delayed the confrontation as long as they possible. Both cleansed themselves at the basin in Arlo's room, washing off the stink of the road as best they could. Hawk brushed and cleaned his clothing making little improvement. Arlo changed from his "hunter's" garb to his usual red apprentice's garment. In the end, they could delay no longer. They walked as slowly as they were able through the several corridors to the mages room.

     As apprentice, it was Arlo's privilege to enter without knocking. Today, due to Hawk's presence, they paused before the massive portal, knocked quietly, and waited.

     The mage's bass voice called through the door, "It's about time you woke. The afternoon is near gone." It wasn't. By Arlo's estimation it was, at most, slightly after midday. They entered, and paused at a distance, not precisely fearful but plainly unsure of themselves.

     "Approach," said the mage "your troubles are not that great."

     Looking slightly embarrassed they stepped forward to a conversational distance. The mage looked them over, looking each of them in the eye for a long time. "Tell the tale," he said.

     Hawk began, Arlo interjected as needs must, and between them they gave a full, if rambling account of the events of the last eleven days. When they were done, the mage leaned back in his big chair looking like an angry monarch on his throne. Again and at length he looked them, one at a time, in the eyes.

     "Hawk, you are a huntsman and have skill in the woods. It was stupid of you to allow the bandits to capture you. How did it happen?"

     "Mage, I don't know. I was standing, bow drawn, aimed at a deer when I just went black. The knot on my head says I was struck from behind. I don't know how anyone was able to sneak up on me. I was out for a long time. As much as a day, I think."

     "There is a lesson there. Even when intent on your quarry, remain aware of your surroundings. You could have as easily been killed as taken prisoner."

     "Yes."

     "Still. You showed spirit. You handled yourself as well as you could. You showed honor and a spirit I respect. Take this…" here he held out a silver sigil of the house of Corvus precisely like the one Arlo wore, "if you will."

     Hawk was slightly taken aback. The acceptance of the sigil would in many respects determine his future. Alliance with the mage's house would guarantee his safety in many circumstances. In the village it would lend him prestige. It would insure he would never again go hungry. It would also assure that his marriage to Rura; already almost an absolute, it would become an unquestioned certainty. He bowed, stretched out his hand and took the sigil. "I am honored." So saying he pinned it over his heart as he had seen Arlo do. "You will keep your stipend. You may also reside in the manner if you choose."

     "Yes. I mean, please, I would like to do that."

     "I will speak to the steward. He will find a room for you now and a bigger space when you marry."

     Hawk found himself reddening. He tried also to control the smile that seemed destined to spread across his face. "Thank you."

     The mage now turned to Arlo. "Stupid boy!" Arlo retreated half a step at the angry tone and the loudness of it. "You risked all your training, your years of learning, and my trust in you as apprentice to dash into the woods alone with nothing resembling a coherent plan. You might have been killed! You might be lost still!" Arlo actually trembled at the mage's anger. "If this had not come out well, I would thrash you! As it is, you have inconvenienced me endlessly. You are days behind in your chores. The servants of the house have had to do your work. Properly, you should have persuaded me of the need for your actions and allowed me to help. I could quite easily have scried Hawk's location and sent half an armed village to rescue him. As it was you endangered his life and your own."

     Arlo began a stuttering apology.

     "Silence," the mage interrupted, "no apology is appropriate; it shows weakness in a mage, or in his apprentice. Your loyalty, ingenuity, and hardiness speak well of your adventure, but it was ill advised at best and stupid at the worst. Return to your chores. I will think of lessons to improve your judgment."

     The boys retreated. Hawk thumbed his sigil toward Arlo and smiled. Out of the corner of his eye, Arlo caught just a glimpse of something he never thought to see. On the mages face, there was a glimmering, just a hint, mind you, of a smile.