“Eodin, stop the cart, will ya?”
“Huh…what? Jon, we’re only a mile from town. If we push…”
“Listen, if you don’t stop now, I’m going to leave a lovely accident all over this bench. I had a little too much fun last night, enough for …the three of us”.
“Just stop the cart Eodin, you know how he gets when he tries to impress the tavern wenches.”
“That’s it though, Ferris, he can’t control himself, and we’ve stopped plenty already”.
“Yeah, you know what my pa used to say? He said that…well…he said that…uh…”
Eodin stopped the cart. “That’s exactly what your father said, nothing. Get out, and make it quick. We’re already behind schedule, and we have to deliver this table or Master Lewdin will have our hides.”
“You know what…Eodie…I think that Master Lewdin has a firm hold of your man parts. That’s why when he says….when he says for us to do somethin, you’re the first to do it.” Jon stumbled out of the cart, and using the heavy plod of a self satisfied drunkard, proceeded to make his way off the path. “So take that, besides…you need to learn to loosen up a little”.
“He’s right Eodin, you do need to take it easy sometimes. We all know how hard you work, and despite the fact that we all started our apprenticeships at the same time, you’ll be the first of us to become your own carpenter. I know that you’re saving up money for Jan’s bride price, but you can’t marry her until you can provide, and you know this. Even you will take another year to make it on your own.”
“Yeah, another year!”, yelled Jon from the woods. “In the meantime, you should be more like me, you should be a…uh…lady’s man! You gotta learn to…take it easy. Listen here, you gotta know how to charm them, you gotta know how to dance, and you gotta sing like me!”
Eoiden rolled his eyes and turned to Ferris. “I can’t afford to take it easy. Sure, the whole town knows that we love each other, but that isn’t going to stop her father from taking the bride price from someone else. I just can’t take that risk. Maybe if I work harder, Master Lewdin will allow me to become a journeyman. Maybe I can get a loan, or maybe we can just run away together. Whatever!” Eoiden waved his arms in the air. “I just know that I love this girl with everything that I have. I just want us to be together. Besides, the faster we get to town, the faster I can give her this.”
“Oh wow, you scoundrel, let’s have a look at it then! Did you hear that Jon? Our Eoiden has finally learned what the drawstrings to his purse is for!” Ferris turned in the cart, and scanned the nearby forest. “Did you get lost Jon, or did you simply forget how to get back? Hurry up, let’s see what Eoiden bought for his sweetheart!”
“Wait a second Ferris, did you hear that?
“Exactly, its quiet, Jon isn’t singing anymore. What is that idiot up too? Listen, you stay here, and I’ll go and find him. He probably fell asleep in his own piss.” John jumped out the cart. “Throw me that walking stick would ya? I have half the mind to brain him when I find him. Maybe then we can make better time with him asleep”.
“Be careful Eoiden, he might ask you to hold his man parts while pisses and sings his tavern ditties. Just holler if you need help dragging back the Lady’s Man.”
Eoiden turned to the forest, calling out for Jon. Once they got back onto the road, they could finally drop off the table and head back home. Eoiden usually hated making deliveries, but anything that would curry favor with Master Lewdin was a good thing. First things first though, he had to find Jon and get him back to the cart.
“Jon! Where are you?!”
This was exactly the type of thing that he didn’t need right now. Master Lewdin was a man that valued good work, and though he was generous with his apprentices, he also valued efficiency. Producing a late delivery wasn’t something that his business was known for. And while all three men were technically on equal footing, Eoiden knew where the blame was to be placed.
“Come on Jon! No more of your games, we need to get back on the road while there’s still daylight!”
Something…felt odd. The same type of feeling you get when you’re about to make a mistake, but you make it anyway. The forest was deathly quiet, a quiet that was unsettling due to its completeness, as if the forest itself waited in expectation of something…
“Eeeooodin! Get back here now!”
What now? Eoiden rushed back to Ferris, irritated with the idea of a secondary setback. He tried to shake off the feeling that something was wrong, the same tingly sensation that keeps you up at night as a little boy, but he still couldn’t get over it…
“What’s wrong Ferris? I still haven’t found Jon, are you alright?”
“Get in the cart now! I saw something on the other side, over there.” Ferris pointed at a small clearing amongst the trees. “It was the biggest….wolf….that I’ve ever seen. But it wasn’t… a wolf that is, it was something else, but it was big Eoiden, too big!” Ferris frantically scanned the woods, head darting about at every imagined danger.
“We can’t leave Jon, especially with a wolf out there. Listen, I have to go back, but I have my staff. I should be ok if it’s by itself, you know that the local magistrate hunts those things every summer. We haven’t seen a large pack in ages. Just wait a moment while I go get Jon. Stay put, and…just keep the horses calm.” Eoiden motioned for Ferris to sit down.
“You don’t understand Eoiden, that wasn’t just a wolf. It was something else, something bigger. We need to get out now! Hurry, just….just find Jon soon…” Ferris stared fervently into the woods. “I’ll take care of the horses…hurry.”
Eoiden turned around, and headed back the way he came. Instead of being preoccupied with work, he paid close attention to the forest around him this time, looking for the path that Jon must have made. There! It was plain to be seen if one just opened his eyes. All he had to do was follow it to Jon. “Jon, where are you?! Ferris thinks that he saw a wolf, we need to get back now!” Why did the idiot have to walk so far into the wood?
Eoiden cleared a small embankment, and saw what appeared to be a sign of a struggle. The forest floor showed evidence that some confrontation occurred here. The ground itself was filled with grooves, deep gashes like the ones a bear would make. For the first time, Eoiden experienced genuine concern. Something was wrong, and even though the road was patrolled by the local militia, one could never be too sure in regard to bandits. Suddenly, things weren’t so funny anymore
That’s when Eoiden heard something, something that shouldn’t be happening…
The wagon, that contained his best friend and his latest piece of work, was speeding away. Eoiden rushed to the forest road in order to catch up, but he had to run ahead if he had a hope catch the wagon before it gained too much speed. He wasn’t sure what was happening, but if he didn’t gain ground soon, Ferris would leave him behind. Why was he doing this, it wasn’t like Ferris to be spooked so easily.
Eoiden managed to clear the forest, but he was too late. The wagon was too far down the road, and he couldn’t catch up to it anyway. He saw Ferris in the cart, but was that Jon on it as well? He’d have to walk all the way to the town, and when he made it back there, he would have some choice words to share with his friends, the same friends who apparently managed to play some prank on him. There was nothing else to do but to start the trek, and contemplate some sort of worthy revenge. Just then, before he took his first step, Eoiden heard something odd. Actually, he felt it first. It was like an earthy rumbling, but then it managed to turn into something reminiscent of a growl. Turning around, Eoiden looked for the source of the sound. There, in the middle of the road, was something he never seen in his whole life.
Whatever it was, it stood taller than a man, and had the same type of posture one would expect a person to have. In its hands it carried a primitive axe and what appeared to be a small hairy bundle. The creature, for Eoiden had not the words to describe what it was, proceeded to toss whatever it was holding at his feet. Looking down, Eoiden realized that it was not a bundle at all, but a face that was altogether too recognizable. It was Jon, enough of his face was intact for Eoiden to recognize that this half portion of a head belonged to his dear friend. Every primal instinct urged him to run, to fight, to do something, so he looked back at the thing that did this to his friend. But it wasn’t alone. Two more like it joined the first, so Eoiden made the only choice possible, and began to run for his life.
Scrambling down the road, Eoiden realized that he would probably never make the mile journey to the town in time. Those things looked fast, and time didn’t appear to be a luxury that he could spend. Instead, if he cut through the woods themselves, he could potentially halve his journey, and increase his chances of making it to help. Too scared to look back, Eoiden plunged into the wilderness hoping to lose his aggressors in the brambles. What happened next was hard to explain, due to the blind terror that fueled Eoidin’s escape. All he would later remember was that he just ran, and ran, until he broke free of the forest in front of the town. After that, it was a mystery, obscured by a dull sound and white light.
Eoiden woke up to a throbbing pain at the back of his skull. Apparently, someone woke him up with a bucket of water, as evidenced by his dripping clothes. Eoiden quickly gathered in his surroundings, only to discover that he was tied to a post in the middle of town. Why was he here? What happened? Who did this to him? How did he escape those things in the forest? The first answer to his questions hit him in the gut, but its meaning would elude him for a few more moments.
As he recovered from the pain spreading throughout his stomach, and regained the ability to breathe, Eoiden recognized an undeniable truth. The town that he fled to was not the town of his memory. Sure the buildings were the same, and the streets looked to same too, but there was an undeniable difference as well. As he looked around, he saw others tied to each other in the town square. There weren’t many, but some of the townsfolk he recognized. And there, there on the ground, he saw Ferris. His body was broken, posed in a manner that only the dead could endure. His eyes seemed to look at Eoiden, pleading for help, pleading for a forgiveness that Eoiden was unable to give. Then he saw the things, the creatures from the forest, which was strange, because they were everywhere. Why hadn’t he noticed them first? Why wasn’t he thinking clearly? He must have been hit on the head rather hard...
On closer inspection, Ferris was mostly right. These creatures resembled wolves, in that they looked like a mixture of a man and a dog, but their coloring was all wrong. Their coats were a hodge podge of black, browns, and tans. There was no uniformity in their coloring, in that each individual had its own unique blend of those said colors. And they were armed. And they were eating.
Eoiden had to fight down the bile that threatened to come up. Two of the creatures were fighting over a piece of meat, a piece of flesh that would have been unrecognizable if it wasn’t attached to a person’s shoe. Eoiden looked for anything, something to take his focus away…
A commotion down the street provided Eoiden with the first answer to his many questions. A group of these things were marching a person in his general direction. Manacled, this person also possessed a collar about his neck by which he was led. He had an intricate series of tattoos on his jaw line, marking him as a member of the Herosh, a race of people from the Far East. The man appeared to be ancient, and possessed the mannerisms that only the scholarly seemed to possess. They threw him down in front of Eoiden. The man refused to look up, and with the quietest of whispers, began to speak.
“If you value your life, don’t look at them in their eyes. It’s a perceived challenge, and as you can well tell, you aren’t in any shape to be winning those.”
The creature immediately behind the Herosh made a guttural sound, something again to the growl he heard other, punctuated with nuances that suggested speech. As impossible as it seemed, these things appeared to have a language. Obviously, Eoiden was at a loss to even begin understanding how this was to be, but apparently the Herosh wasn’t at the same disadvantage.
“My master wishes you to know that this is only the beginning. The Khan has started The Great Hunt, and that there are only two outcomes for your people, Death or Tribute.” The Herosh paused, apparently listening to what the monster had “to say” next.
Eoiden struggled against his bonds, searching for anything, something to give him hope. Sitting as he was, his hands were close to his pockets. There, he found something…
“My master says that you are to spread the word of his coming. You are to be his little bird, crying to the others of your kind that your end is near. You will be his herald, proclaiming the terrors that your people will have to endure.” To emphasize the fact, the Herosh scanned the sacked town, at the dead, at the things eating the townsfolk. “If they struggle, your people will die slowly, many will die as they are consumed alive. If your leaders capitulate, they shall retain their positions but must pay tribute in the form of gold and slaves.”
Eoiden still couldn’t believe what was happening. Tribute and slavery? How did this Herosh understand this thing? What was going to happen to him? What was going to happen to these townsfolk?
“My master says that in order to be his bird, you will need strong legs and a good beak. Some birds, according to him, don’t need to fly and have no need of other things. Remember his words, and cry to your people about what you have seen this day.”
As the Khanis carried away their selected herald, the Herosh looked down at the ground. There, discarded by his gaolers, were the man’s hands. The Khanis were very efficient, cauterizing the man’s wounds immediately at what remained of his wrists. The man lost consciousness, and with that blessed release, had escaped the world that he now found himself in.
But only for a little while.
The Herosh leaned down, inspecting the hands, and found something amiss. There, in the man’s hand, was something shiny. Picking it up, the Herosh recognized the bauble for what it was, a small silver ear ring, popular with the women on this side of the world. It had to do with a marriage rite or something. Why was he holding it? Who was it for? Did it even matter?
“Poor fool. You will spread the word of what you’ve seen here today. You will go to your city, to your lord, and deliver the terms that you heard. What you don’t know is that the Khanis have lied to you. There is only but one outcome, and it is neither tribute or slavery. It is death. Hopefully you will die tonight, before you can spread your lies. Hopefully you will die, so your people can escape the fate of mine.”
Edited by WeReWalRuS, 12 April 2012 - 07:54 AM.