A new nation forms far away from it's aged and rotting ancestoral parent. An Evolution.
Times are good, and things are going well in Thurgaard. The mead flows with little foam as the summer has been cool and the winter’s ice harvest stored in the hillside dugouts, is still plentiful enough to chill the kegs this late in the season.
Wide smiles and laughter are corner to corner, wall to wall. Kurt stands after sitting through four tall, wooden tankards of the fermented honey and nectar. He stumbles as he lifts one tree trunk sized leg over the bench. A trip to the steaming trough out back is needed. Kurt lowers his head and zeroes his glassy stare on the door. With some speed, he manages to cut a relatively straight line but misjudges the distance and his momentum.
The clamor in the room stops and all eyes turn toward the door as Kurt’s body is stopped by the four inches of pine. The thunk of the collision is followed by a “hoof” as his wolf and bear skin padded butt hits the floor.
Kurt shakes his head to clear enough space for a single fuzzy thought to form. He looks up, grins an ear to ear smile and laughs a laugh that starts out as a baritone siren from his chest and bursts out of that tangled, wet beard as a roar. The room explodes in a chorus of belly laughs, and the frozen ground under the building vibrates.
Standing up, with a little help from his friends, Kurt carefully measures the remaining distance to the door latch, reaches out a warriors forearm, and gently unlatches the door with a flare of his hand, as if to say, see, I got the latch part right! He stands, weaving a bit, and scans the room with challenging eyes. The room goes completely silent in anticipation of something, and then he smiles. Everyone breaks up for the second round of thunderous laughter.
A rush of air bursts through the slightly open door as it tries to reach the other side of the room so it can fly up the chimney. The door swings open before anyone is ready, and only stops swinging when it meets the giant foot of Kurt.
Low to the floor, a coal dust colored mass enters with the help of the air rush, and manages to escape the stomp of Kurt. The alert door hound yelps, and catches the attention of a quick thinking younger who grabs a wooden bucket of snow water and slams it on top of the infiltrator, and captures it, as Kurt slams the door closed.
In this land, a door is never opened by one person only, for there are demons ever waiting to enter. At this stage of infiltrating, they are weak and easily thwarted. Brooms, a bucket, the flame of a torch (its worst fear, for it will flash burn to oblivion) are the usual defense. This night, in a moment of carelessness, one almost made it in.
For nearly a century, Thurgaard stood as the classic model of a newly emerging culture. It wasn’t always so! In the beginning, its inhabitants were driven to this water bordered peninsula by the gods and priests of their former mountainous, inland home. These home gods had become ruthless, greedy, self-serving, and cruel.
This group had suffered enough and had left to find a new home. They traveled west until stopped by the sea. They multiplied, grew strong and wise. They established and wrote down new rules of conduct, the history of their ancestors, and the battles with other tribes along the way. Their survival is witness of the hardiest of people with a tremendous will to survive.
Now, the most virulent and aggressive demons have found them. The discovery by these demons was not personal. They seek out and trouble any life form they can find, but they especially relish humankind.
In small numbers, demons are no more than a serious nuisance, but if they can get into the minds and bodies of the weak, they accumulate and gain strength. As the demons increase in numbers and strength, they begin to manipulate once healthy minds, and rot the threads of a successful society’s weave. When the weakened fabric comes apart, the demons attempt to overrun the remaining strong who now must fight, flee, or cease to exist!
Their ancestors ran away a century ago. These offspring like where they are and will run no more! The solution is straightforward but is considered cruel by the weak, and the people that forget the past and lead with their heart.
Thus, goes the tale of the Thurs (Toors) and their new beginning.
Start-up Solders and Meg
“Sig, take a piglet to the Grain Keep and trade for a bushel of wheat,” Sig’s mother, Grede’ orders, “I’ll need to make flour for bread tomorrow.”
Without hesitation, I drop the oak, two tanged fork I was using to remove the old, smelly straw from around the nanny goat and our front door.
Out this far from the village center, and in the ‘outer ring’, the nanny was tied to a singular post next to the front door of the earthen cabin.
In the amount of time it takes a thrown stone to reach the edge of the forest from the border of our plot, creatures of the forest can grab a goat that wanders too far from the protection of humans.
“Take the hand cart, the grain will be heavy!” she said.
“OK,” I said loudly because, I was already pulling away, heading toward the Keep.
I had hoped something like this would happen. It’s been a long time between escapes to the middle of the village, one of my favorite things to do.
I get to leave the daily chores for later-later, and then get to experience the business of the village. There are smiths, and tinkers, weapons makers, and soldiers. Horse, reindeer, and ox pulled carts from the other side of the outer ring, distant villages, and local trade, are hustling up and down the rutted and hoof pocked dirt streets. And finally, my most favorite, anticipated thing!
Meg may have come to the village center from the opposite side of the rings.
I’d seen her maybe four times this season, and each time, we were able to steal a little time for ourselves. The first two times, we came with our adults who were so busy with their business, we only had to sneak a little. Looking back, I believe we were allowed to think we were clever. The grownups had a good winker those afternoons.
Now, we are both sent to trade for stores or supplies without supervision. We think we are the same age, at least close to the same, or close enough to the age our elders believed we were responsible. Later we learned it wasn’t an age thing so much as a measure of maturity that took place without our knowledge.
The first time you were seen, making a correct life decision without the comfort of an adult, you were closely observed for a time; to make sure these decisions were deliberate and not spontaneous. Both of us must have passed the examination.
The village has spread out to three kilometers and thirty two rings since it began as a single ring of stone, mud, and stick shanties. The area around it had natural supplies of food, minerals and building materials. It truly wasn’t that difficult to survive for my hardy, adventurous people. They already knew how to take care of themselves and live off the land without destroying it or its gifts. The fact that the Seekers (they called themselves Seekers in the beginning) stopped searching and planted themselves, had created an abundance of time. This luxury made our survival even easier!
That was the long term, bigger picture. In the short term, life still had the day to day challenges and battles which continually tested each individual. The ones that made smart decisions and are able to win the little battles were still standing and able to move on to the next challenge. Those who were unlucky, unintelligent, or weak, were not allowed any responsible decisions that affected anyone but themselves, or were no longer around.
If they couldn’t care for themselves in the long term, sooner or later, the demons would infest them. Once the first couple of demons attacked the body and mind, it seemed every unattached demon within range would attach themselves for their share. The end always came swiftly, and the victim was rarely aware as the demons numbed, and then consumed the consciousness first.
Lost in ourselves and our tasks, we didn’t see the trouble coming. Three boys from one of the inner circles had spotted our clothing, and had begun to follow.
Our dress could be recognized because it was obviously restitched from old military rags. The start-up soldiers were housed in the outer ring with us, the plot farmers, and the gatherers.
The military, particularly the start-up soldiers, were the first line of defense for the village. It gave the many unskilled men and women an entry level position to pay their dues. The plot farmers and gatherers who broke the outer land that was not yet claimed by the village were happy to have these protectors mixed in with them. Often, the farmers and gatherers would build shelters and feed these young soldiers to keep them close. In turn, the soldiers would share what they could. This was a win-win for everyone and created lasting friendships! These friendship bonds helped to make the fabric of this village tight and strong.
At first the three followed from afar. What started as a conversation amongst themselves, graduated to a loud, brash conversation that could be heard by anyone nearby. It wasn’t supposed to be heard but, young, mischievous enthusiasms tend to ignore everyone and everything outside of their own bubble of interest.
“Meg!” I said, “Do you hear?”
“Ya,” she said, “they started following us from a middle ring. I’ve seen ‘em before when I was with my elders trading hides. One of them belongs to the furrier; the short one belongs to the tanner. I’ve never seen the other.”
“They’re getting’ closer, what should we do?” She said.
“Diggers, diggers, what are you doin’ in here?" The question was unkind, loud on purpose, but only slightly threatening.
It was common for outer ring peoples to be harassed by the inner ring cubs. The elders know this behavior is immaturity, and would not happen if one of their ‘responsibles’ was near. It may indicate a mind out of its proper social position. At any rate, most were considered pests and ignored.
It didn’t matter much because as I turned my head back in the direction we were going, from looking back judging distance, I ran into the chest of a start-up soldier, my neighbor.
The three troublemakers were stopped mid-stride by the stare looking over our heads. Smart young cubs can sometimes identify hints of danger.
“Troubles?” he said.
“No!” we said in unison.
We were, after all, in the middle of deciding what to do. It wasn’t trouble yet. Our answer was an independent conviction to handle our own problems, in unison!
Our start-up soldier was not naïve (the son of a twelfth ring sergeant). He knew what he saw, what he heard, and he knew why we answered the way we did. He only remarked, “I’m there if you need me.” It was the right attitude for an up and coming soldier, and a friend. He knew our attitude was what was required to survive.
Meg and Me
With a little help from our friend, Meg and I made it to the central granary. The piglet was tired of having his hind legs tied and was squealing and struggling. That high pitched squeal only made me more anxious to make the trade with the keeper, and get on with more important business, Meg!
Meg was in the village with her father this day. He was delivering firewood to the Smithy, and dried willow branches he’d gathered along the river, to the weapons maker. He’d barked and stripped the willow sticks, and then his friend the Smithy dried them over the rising heat at the top of his kiln. The firewood delivered to the black smith was gathered from falls in the forest while going to and from the river when gathering the willow. It was the journey with the loaded cart to the interior of the village that was difficult. The wooden wheels of the cart required firm ground to roll easily, and Meg’s dad Kris had only one reindeer to pull the heavy cart. This meant several trips into the village each week.
The chances were usually good, I would meet Megan. Upon reaching my side of the village, I’d walk straight through to the path her and her dad had to use on their side. Then I’d track back to the Smithy’s shop and look at his wood pile.
This method was not particularly dependable. Sometimes the Smithy would get wood from other people. So, I had to come up with a plan.
At their entrance to the village, a log bridge had been constructed over a stream and its wash. I had her place a large stone on the village end when she is in the village, and then move it to the country end, on her way out. I could see the stone on the village side without actually walking all of the way to the bridge. This signal rock saved me many, many steps and much time.
I caught up with her today because the signal rock was on the village side even though the wood pile was low. I found them between the rock and the wood pile in the market street. This street was close to the grain keep which, was next to the bake shop.
All manner of fresh country goods and city made supplies could be found here. Eggs from geese and ducks, fresh piglets, goats and reindeer, wolf cubs, and bear fur for the bed. There were ladies spinning cloth from cottonwood cotton and goat hair. There was even a man who could sew fresh leather bottoms on your walking boots, while you waited!
Together, Meg and I watched a healer put a poultice on the carpenter’s hand after she took out a large wooden splinter. She had poultices for everything, and charms to ward off demons, sprites, and trolls. They say she could look at the lines on your hand and tell you what your future had in store! She wasn’t from Thurgaard stock. Her hair was darker, and she had warm brown eyes that sparkled. Although this was true, she was welcomed and loved by the Thurs as one of their own.
So many wondrous things were here, but the days grow short, and day grows short, we’ve got to find Meg’s dad, and I have a full cart of wheat to pull home.
We found her dad at the arrow maker. He was ready to leave, and was happy to see us walk up. Kris Ericks had no problems with me. He knew I come from good stock, and although I was a distant relative, (as most of us were) I was not a close relative. So, I was proven, not close blood and had satisfied two of her father’s requirements.
He tousled my hair and handed me an arrow, a newly completed arrow with tribal markings still drying. At first, I thought he only intended for me to look at it. I did not own anything as nice as this arrow. A small stone arrowhead was pine pitched, and cross tied to one end, the shaft was smooth and straight, and the fire hardened, notched end had a feather on two opposite sides. I was grinning from one ear to the other.
I looked up to see the broad shoulders of Kris walking away leading his deer cart. I felt the smile fall away as it was replaced by the look of shock when I realized he meant for me to keep the arrow. Meg was riding on the back of the cart. With a single open hand, Meg cross body waved, smiling. My smile came back, bigger!
I needed to start toward home. I’d had a great day, arrow in hand!
A Gang of Demons
The ground was firm, it hadn’t rained for three or four days so the ridges and ruts had blended back down to thin dust. I didn’t feel the leather harness cut into my shoulders or chaff as much as it normally did. The trip home went quickly as I uncontrollably smiled, reflected, and lifted my right hand up to see that I owned a brand new arrow.
I arrived home an hour after the sun set. The cold air was already settling to the bottom of the low spots. I was happy to get inside of our cozy, little house where the warmth of the fire in the stone hearth, and the hot, tasty, marrow and vegetable broth chased the chill out through my kidneys and shoulders. I’d stashed my new arrow under my bearskin comforter. For now, it was mine not to share. The right time would come.
My father had already removed his boots and leggings and was sitting feet first toward the flickering glow of the hearth with his cup in hand. He had come home late also, his leathers and feet wet from harvesting wild grass from the edges of a slough. This was his third harvest from that slough this summer. Tomorrow he will take the cart to the slough and bring it back piled high with bundles of the long grass and its nutty tasting seeds.
Mom would gently whip the seed bearing end of the grass against a notched rail in the yard so the grain would fall on to a straw mat and basket. Then, the long straws would be neatly bundled and stashed to the side for later conversion to mats, baskets, or were processed into goat nuggets by our nanny. There was no waste, as the nuggets were used as fertilizer or dried and used for fireplace fuel in the winter. The compacted nuggets burned hot and often glowed through the night.
Those seeds could be roasted, added to soup, turned into flour, or fried with wild onion and mushrooms. They dried and stored well so they could be used all winter.
I slept sound last night, my treasured arrow by my side. It was difficult to throw off the fabric lined bear fur this morning. The little corner of the house where I slept caught none of the reflected warmth from the coals in the hearth, and the walls I slept next to weren’t much warmer than the temperature outside.
I heard my dad get up and opened an eye in time to see his gigantic shadow move across the wall and ceiling as he headed for the outbuilding where we took care of our morning business.
It wasn’t that we had a structure only for this, but, we had a building to protect our goat and buffalo from the demons, trolls, and other forest creatures that needed our beasts for fuel.
My dad had fashioned a seat in a corner that had an opening to a bucket beneath accessible from the outside wall. I never did find anyone else that had such a convenience. Most others had the bucket kept just outside the back door. We kept a bucket there for emergencies and extremely cold nights.
“Better hurry if you are going to help your dad!” My mom said.
“Got it.” I answered, “Ccccoooold!”
“A fog came in this morning, and there’s frost on the ground. Rub a little tallow on your boots so they'll stay dry inside. Your dad already threw some nuggets on the fire so you won’t have to do it. You better get ta movin’.” She says while she handed me a hot mug of last night’s broth for now, and a wrapped hunk of bread with a big piece of soft venison jerky for later.
The air was so still, I could see the fog swirl behind me as I walked. Our house was in a low spot sheltered by a small stand of aspen trees. The concentrated fog here was thick and made my face damp. I would suck in the fog drops when they rolled down my face and over my top lip.
Stopping to listen, I could hear my dad pulling the cart through the aspen stand and toward the slough. His habit was to wait for no one, and today, he was again true. I knew the trail well and soon spotted the back of the cart. I startled him a little because the fog deadened most sounds and all others were drowned out by the rattle of the wooden wheels.
My dad did not say much in the mornings but did manage a, “Good!”
I answered with a smile and buried my hands a little deeper in the slots cut on each side of my fur parka. I did mumble something like “euh” when I remembered my arrow. I meant to bring it, but in the rush to catch up with my dad, I forgot it. I honestly didn’t have a place to put it anyway.
My dad said, “What?”
I covered quickly by saying, “cold!”
My dad saw the movement first. He reacted by stopping the cart, and kneeling on one knee, to see under the fog. The fog had lifted three feet up from the ground and was thinning.
“I thought so,” he said as he reached into the cart, pulled out two torches and lit them, “Demons!”
I had been so busy fretting about the arrow and licking dew, that I missed them. They had moved in close to us in the fog, but were retreating as the fog lifted. My dad eyes caught one moving as it fled. Now, I got down on one knee like my dad but looked in the opposite direction. I caught a glimpse of the dark shapes moving away, just as they disappeared behind trees, and into the yet trapped fog.
A small village of natives got diseased about ten kilometers from here. The demons multiplied like flies and devoured the souls of the weakened. A few of the surviving strong stopped by our village and told us what had happened.
Our soldiers got there, as soon as possible and burned the place, but most of the demons had already moved on to search for more souls. These must be some of that bunch. There were too many in this one spot to be the usual, random scavenger.
We never have problems with wandering spirits here, because these scavengers devoured them quickly. A single demon can usually dispatch an already separated soul.
As my dad spoke, the fog began to burn off quickly. The temperature had reached the point when the air could no longer support a fog cloud this close to the ground. It cleared as quickly as a sunrise rises.
The danger over, he snuffed out the flames of the torches in the dirt.
Strapping on the carts leather harness, and while in the motion of picking up the yoke handles, my dad said, “We’re going to have to burn ‘em! When there are this many, they’ll cause trouble for everyone in our village until we thin ‘em out.”