Warning: a bit of gore and battle violence
The sword in Starrin’s gloved hand seemed to weigh a hundred stones. He looked over at his leering rival’s sword, it dripped with bright fresh blood. The fat black flies circling Rahvie’s head made Starrin’s stomach flip flop. The last thing he needed was to upchuck his breakfast, here, in front of both their fathers, having hesitated so long was bad enough. Rahvie would be eager to rush back home and tell all the other kids of Starrin’s debacle of a day.
In the eyes of the villagers, he’d be seen as a boy, the humility of wearing boy’s britches another year would be too much to bear. At fifteen, he was nearly as tall as his father, Merle, with the same ice blue eyes and dark sienna hair, though he wore his shoulder length and tied back in a leather thong. The tween-age girls in the village stared a little too long nowadays, and visibly puffed up their budding chests as he walked by.
Rahvie was shorter and stocky, though not rotund like his grey-haired father, Ken. The ebony curls around his pale face were plastered to it by sweat. His lip curled up in a sneer as he gestured towards the injured doe in the clearing ahead. “Well, Star, you want me to finish her off?”
Starrin did indeed wish for Rahvie to kill the deer for him. He said, “No.”
Merle put a long-fingered hand on his shoulder and said, “Son, she’s in a lot of pain…”
Starrin said, “I know, I know.” He wanted to scream. His arrow had pierced under her shoulder, the way she struggled to breathe indicated a punctured lung. He cursed himself for missing her heart though he knew most shots did and a swift death by sword afterwards was nearly always the protocol. As he stepped forward on legs like tree trunks rooted in the earth, his father’s hand fell away and he longed for the days when that hand wrapped around his small one, encouraging him to stand and walk and run. He leaned over the dying animal and sighed heavily. Behind him Rahvie snorted, choking back a laugh. He heard Ken thump his son’s leather vested back and chortle.
The doe’s legs kicked feebly as Starrin’s shadow passed her face, like she was already an angel swimming in air. Her eyes were wild and round…and very beautiful, like luminescent obsidian stone beneath the surface of a spring-rain pond. The long soft lashes surrounding them were beaded with drops, like his little sister’s when she’d been crying. Thick crimson blood streaked her side from the arrow and down into the soft ivory fur of her belly. She opened her mouth wide to bellow… only a soft mewl came out.
He raised his sword and felt as though his heart was breaking.
Rahvie said, “Just do it already. I’ll count to three, then do it for you if you don’t.”
Merle said, “Rahvie, impatience is not a decent trait. It’ll get you killed in a hunt...”
Ken said, “Watch your voice now Merle. You’re talking to a man now.”
Starrin brought his father’s sword down in both hands. His sweat-sheened, well-defined biceps flexed, and veins bulged. He was thankful he had honed the blade to razor sharpness the night before. The beheaded doe was at peace at last. He bent his head and silently said a prayer for her, then walked into the woods, blinking away tears. It would not do to have gone through all this only to have Rahvie exploit his grief back home.
The young Newmen rode their ponies. The older men rode their horses with the bodies of the deer strapped behind their saddles. Rahvie and Ken rode fifty feet ahead, their eager voices carried when the wind breezed over Starrin and Merle.
“…a great mammoth stallion…shaggy feet…”
It was tradition that when the Newman Hunt was accomplished, the new man was entitled to their own horse…and sword.
“How about you son? Have you an eye for any of the herd?”
Starrin was silent.
“Uh, yeah…sorry Pater. A horse? The one that runs the fastest to me is the pale tan mare with the ivory mane. She gets so excited she dances.”
Merle laughed. “Not a great mammoth stallion?”
“Ha. That Newman will need a great big horse if he grows fat like his father.”
They laughed together. Then Merle said, “How about your sword? Shall we travel to Ironshire?”
“Oh Pater? Master Hanlon? Can we afford his handiwork?”
“A sword of your own is meant to last your lifetime. Would you trust Master Mooley to craft you one as fine as this?” He patted the sword at his side.
Mooley was Glassenshire’s blacksmith. He was a whiskey-scented old man who had little desire to advance his skills past horseshoes and harness tackle. He’d grown sullen and weary after his son’s brutal death. The young Mooley had completed his Newman Hunt; his father broke out a jug of whiskey to celebrate, they’d fallen behind the rest of the hunting party and had veered drunkenly off course. Old Mooley fell off his horse and passed out, when he awoke, the ground was soaked with blood and all that remained of Young Mooley was a hand and a scrap of the vermillion cloak he wore. The villagers had been distressed that wolves should strike so close to them.
Before Merle could respond, a fierce snarling arose from below the next hillock before them. Then a howl that ended in a shriek of pain. They galloped ahead around the bend and came upon Ken and Rahvie standing over a shaggy grey mound with an arrow in its mass.
Starrin whispered, “Oh no.” as he dismounted.
It was a grey wolf, upon her still body her silvery fur ruffled in the breeze.
Rahvie grinned so wide, drool dribbled over his fat lower lip. “I’ll have me a fine new furap for the fall hunts.”
Starrin turned away, hands clenched into white knuckled fists. He was not surprised to detect a soft whining coming from behind a fallen log. Here was the reason the men of Glassenshire did not kill female wolves in spring. Starvation was cruel. Six small puppies huddled together and cried for their mother. One by one, the pups wobbled to Starrin. He sat and allowed them to crawl over his lap, their little pointed tails wagging, their eyes barely open, their fuzzy pelts ranging from one nearly black, to mostly silvery grey. A female with pale tan fur sought his hand and suckled his index finger.
“What…?” his father started.
“That selfish wad of toad shite just slaughtered their mother.”
Rahvie said, “Hey. I didn’t---”
Merle said, “Shut up.”
Ken said, “You arrogant son of a whore, you can’t talk to my son---”
“You shut up too. This is a mess.”
Starrin said, “We can’t leave them here, they’ll die.”
Rahvie and Ken said together, “Why not?”
Ken said, “Come on son.” He turned and strode off, “This is ridiculous.” They left and the tension left with them.
“Pater, I will care for them.”
“I figured you’d say that. You must release them when they are big enough. Eight months. Got that?”
“Yes Pater! Thank-you.”
“Don’t thank me yet. How’s your Mater going to feel about wolves in her barn?”
“The chicken coop. The cluckers can run free in the barn. The coop’s fenced in and out of sight from the road.”
Merle nodded. “She still won’t be pleased. Don’t expect any goatberry pies this season.”
“Silvie will be thrilled.”
And she was. She took after their mother, petite and pretty, with pale freckled skin and soft brown eyes the same shade as their hair. Silvie was ten and wore her hair in a long braid down her back. She clapped and squealed with delight and said, “Can I hold them?”
Starrin said, “Yes. But don’t get too attached to them Sil, they just need our help for a little while then they must go free.”
She gave a little pout then smiled. “They’re so small. Let’s feed them, can we?”
Their mother gave Merle and Starrin the silent treatment for three days before giving in to the puppies’ charms, laughing as they tumbled over each other to run to her. “Well, they certainly are cute.”
For the first two weeks Starrin slept outside, next to the chicken coop. He was concerned that Rahvie would come around seeking more wolf pelts. He put off the trip to Ironshire for two months, until the pups were stable on their feet and alert as yard cocks in the morn.
At the Lessonhouse, Rahvie’s retelling of their Newman Hunt day grew old. The younger boys had laughed at Starrin, but the older girls co-miserated, and Ravhie realized his bullying had backfired. He brandished his new sword with bravado until the lessonmaster had scolded him for such foolish, careless behaviour.
Starrin and Merle trekked to Ironshire. Silvie said she would watch over the wolves in his absence.
Master Hanlon was pleased to see them. “My word Merle, young Starrin is as big as you are! He’s got your big hands too…” To Starrin he said, “Last I saw you was five years ago, ney? So leetle…now, big fine hunter. Let’s make you a fine blade.”
Merle explored the village, intent on bringing his patient wife home a fine silver set of cutlery.
Starrin stood by Hanlon’s side, intrigued by the master’s skills. “May I?”
Hanlon laughed. “Why not?” He handed him the iron mallet and laughed again when Starrin bent with its weight.
By sunset, he was wielding the tool as if it was part of his arm. He watched in wonder as the blade was made thin, folded, re-forged, re-pounded and so forth. With Starrin helping, the blade was finished in five days, two sooner than Merle’s had taken.
On the way home, atop their horses- Merle on his shaggy-maned Broadhorse and Starrin on his sleek pale mare, Precious- Merle said, “Now you’ve a fine new sword, shall we plan for a hunt?”
“Pater. I never want to kill innocents again. I tried to say so, Newman Day, but…” he shrugged.
“You going to be a grass eater?”
“No. Arnie doesn’t eat meat and he’s sickly looking. I just…I have nightmares of that doe. She haunts me. What if she had babies?”
“A wolf would take the babes, it’s the way of nature. I am a hunter---”
“---the best in the village!”
“Heh heh, so it is said. All the more reason why you should follow in my footsteps like I did in my father’s and so on. It’s our way. To be a great hunter is in your blood.”
After a minute he said, “What if I mastered a different skill? One related to hunting?”
Merle glanced over at his son, a sly look on his face, he lifted his brows, waiting.
Starrin said, “Master Hanlon’s offered to apprentice me. I wish to become a Master such as he…an artist with steel he is. He’s got only daughters. Our blackie is only good for horseshoes and tack, plus he could succumb to liver-shrivel any day. Master Hanlon said he’d make a profit having my help---”
“Son. Stop. I think it’s a fine idea.”
A half hour later, Starrin was yanked from a daydream by Merle pulling Precious’s reins, forcing her to stop. The horse reared and whickered nervously. His father’s dark horse was still, though his eyes rolled with fright and his tail flicked like an angry cat’s. Starrin hissed, “What is it?”
Merle pointed to a scrap of green cloth caught in a blackthorn bush. He put a finger to his lips then dismounted and crept through the dense brush.
Starrin whispered, “Green Thieves?”
In a small hidden clearing, Merle kicked apart some leafy branches and revealed a cookfire within a circle of stones. He sifted through the ashes.
Starrin waited, as skittish as the horses. He released the breath he’d been holding when his father stepped back through the bush. “What---”
Merle held up a blackened twig and Starrin shook his head, “I don---”
Merle handed the burnt thing to Starrin who turned it in his hand. It was a jawbone. He rubbed one of the three small sooty numbs and revealed the shiny yellow enamel of a tooth underneath. “Green Thieves. They really do eat people.”
The band of robbers were called so because they wore entirely green outfits when stalking victims in the woods. They were said to attack at twilight or dawn, when shadows ruled, and their clothing camouflaged them so well their victims did not detect them until they pounced.
Merle re-mounted and said, “Ayup. And they’re closer than I’ve ever seen. The horses are spooked. They may be nearby. Let’s go.”
Eight months later, Starrin was on the road to Ironshire, Precious lightly loaded with his packed clothes and enough food for the two-day trip. Eight wolves trotted along behind him on a rope tether, tied together. They were enormous and healthy, with lustrous thick coats, thanks to the good food and goat’s milk they’d been raised on.
The ivory colored one’s fur had highlights like burnished gold. The dark one was entirely black. Two were pale silvery grey, and two were darker grey, like burnt charcoal in a cool hearth. It had been decided that they’d be released halfway between the two villages and so they were.
Starrin watched as the six of them bounded into the forest, yipping happily. The darkest one the alpha in the lead. The pale golden one stopped, turned, and locked her deep amber eyes with his. His eyes welled and he scolded himself for being such a big baby. But he’d miss the wolf, who Silvie had named Lioness. “Go on Nessy. I love you girl.”
Nessy cocked her head, understanding on her face; she whined, grinned, yipped, and leapt into the woods after her siblings.
It was November. He would be making the trip back to spend Noelfest with his family the following month.
The woods were blanketed in white. Starrin’s breath plumed and mingled with Precious’s. He’d rigged his bow specially, so it sat close to his left hand. His father was meeting him halfway, with a hunting party, so he had only a day’s travel alone.
Just ahead, of to the left of the road, a clump of snow plooped to the ground. Faint rustling disturbed the dead silent air. Starrin, bow in hand, arrow notched, sat like a coiled python ready to strike.
Nessy leapt from the bush!
Her coat had turned white with the winter season, and he’d never been so happy to see another creature in his life. He shuddered as he realized how close he’d come to killing her. He leapt from the horse and hugged the wolf, burying his fingers deep in her thick, lustrous fur. She licked his face. He felt in his heart they were bonded.
A scream broke their reverie. Guttural and hoarse. Men’s voices were raised, he caught the words, “…Green Thieves…”
Nessy took off at a quick pace, Starrin leapt upon Precious and followed, hooves pounding the icy path. Starrin wrapped the spare strap around his thighs to free his hands, in a heartbeat, his bow was notched with an arrow at the ready.
Precious pounded after Nessy. The shouting and screams of battle went on ahead. Starrin and Precious leapt into a clearing that was reddened and muddy and filled with leaping green cloaks. Green Thieves!
Nessy howled long and loud.
The thieves moved so fast, Starrin could not aim on a single one. His father was a blur with his sword, blood spurted into the air; a Greeny fell under the big horse’s hooves and guts squashed out his gullet like bloody pastry cream.
Ken’s bloated corpse was missing its head. Rahvie huddled behind his mammoth fallen horse. Body parts were strewn through the bloody snow. The green thieves lassoed Merle’s stallion and nearly toppled Starrin’s father from the saddle. There were four dead on the ground, one wearing green. Starrin shot an arrow into the throat of a Greeny and his father’s horse nearly broke free…but there were too many.
Into the clearing leapt five huge wolves!
They leapt upon the Green Thieves and tore out their throats. Merle leapt from his horse and made sure with his sword, they were all dead. One of them wore a bronze crown, no doubt stolen, that signified he was their leader. Merle frowned, then flicked open the summer-weight dark green cloak he wore…underneath was one of red.
Timidly, Rahvie peeked from behind his dead horse. He saw the red fabric and said, “Young Mooley…”
The wolves surrounded him, snarling. He wore their mother’s skin.
Starrin helped his rival to his feet. Rahvie said, “The Wolves! They saved us!”
The wolves bared their frightening teeth until Rahvie removed the grey fur upper-wrap and handed it to Starrin. The shaggy furred beasts calmed and departed... all except Nessy. She sat contentedly at Starrin’s feet, licking the blood off her paws. Starrin scritched her behind her long soft ears.
Around them, six Green Thieves were dead, along with four hunters and Rahvie’s father.
The pudgy boy sat sobbing between his great stallion and the head of his father, tears running like The Three Folk’s Falls. “He’s all I had…”
Merle came over to him as Starrin helped him up. Merle handed Rahvie the red cloak and nodded to Starrin. Starrin said, “Stay with us. Master Merle will take you under. You’ll become a great hunter.”
Rahvie sucked gobs of snot into his nose and said, “I’m sorry I ever was so bad to you. I have much to learn…brother.”
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Thanks Guadalupe, for taking the time for a very thorough critique. I appreciate it and see your point often, though not always. Have you ever considered taking up the profession of a professional editor? Best regards, TH
Hi Tanya! I've been reading your stories for a while, and I saw that this one hasn't been approved yet, so I wanted to leave some feedback. I really enjoyed this story. The medieval feeling is really cool. Your world building is amazing! But there were parts where word choice, punctuation, or sentence structure would make it hard to read and pull me out of the story. So I did some line edit suggestions that might help the flow of the story. I hope none of these critiques come across as negative. You have an amazing writing style! Keep writ...