by Ey Stargazer
A boy finds a tunnel under his bed filled with all sorts of strange creatures
|This had to be the dumbest idea ever, and not just because we were ankle deep in sludge, freezing in soaked clothes and holding pointed apparatuses all while standing close to people we didn't particularly like. It was the annual picnic that the elders insisted on holding despite the freak snowstorm that had hit in the morning and the torrent of rain that it had transformed into not long after. We were supposed to be having a javelin throwing competition. A couple of the boys started to push at one another, mirroring the cause for our prolonged wait to start. Two or three of the adults, considering who were talking about it could easily have been more, had started up a random fist fight, though I highly suspect it was over a lost game of rock, paper, scissors, that had stolen the attention from the game at hand and was rapidly turning into a full scale brawl.
We are not a barbarian race. I know that seems like an oxymoron as more than half of the mature people in our clan are presently fighting like grade school boys whilst the other half turn red in the face cheering such encouraging things as 'bite him harder', 'stop hitting like a girl', and, my favorite, 'stop being such a girl, your eye will probably recover'. We are in fact the instrumental trading partners for both races at the bottom of our mountains, on opposite sides of course. One race is all about plants and culture, growing and cultivating, they give us produce for our minerals and entrust us with getting what the other side is famous for; meat and wood. Yes the north side, the one about which I have just been speaking, has an abundance of beautiful treed forests but heaven forbid you even try to take a knife in there, you'd have better luck jumping off our mountain or at least your odds for survival would be about the same.
I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, the squishing sound of my goat leather boots bringing a smile to my face that I hastened to banish. I glanced to my right, being careful not to move my head. Beside me stood Gavin, two years older than me and more than a head and shoulders above my form that had not as yet received a very much coveted growth spurt. His eyes spoke of his annoyance, not just with the elders but with his own situation. He was the younger son of one of the village elders, a village further down the mountain from us but more off the main road so not as prominent. I knew what he was feeling; frustration. I was feeling the same way, if the adults would take a moment to look around they would see how ridiculous they looked. Were they not aware that we were looking to them for guidance? Gavin's steel grey eyes caught mine. I stared in shock for a moment before breaking my gaze. I was about to be killed.
Gavin leaned sideways towards my ear. I was for a moment thankful for my leather cap with its flaps that hung down over my ears. "How long do you think they're going to go at it this time?"
I was understandably surprised and not just by how deep my peer's voice already was. We as a people are not known for our patience and staring at someone tends to be an act of war worthy of getting punched in the eye. The more I think of it the more barbarian we seem.
I swallowed in an effort to calm myself a little and half whispered back in the hope of not drawing attention or offense, "considering how fast they started, I would be surprised if they were done before the sun gets over the peak." I returned my eyes to the sludge we were standing in, the ice chips had nearly all melted but it was still lumpy and clung in weird shapes to my boots. I more felt then saw a slight smile cross Gavin's face accompanied by the whisper of breath being controlled so not to be heard as an audible laugh.
"I wonder if they would notice if we went back inside."
I traced a strange shape on the ground with my eyes as I decided if he had spoken to himself or was addressing the question to me. I could hear a few incoherent mutterings behind me. Couldn't understand the words but I knew the voices, it was a few of the other boys from my village, mostly older who had recently uncovered some strange enjoyment out of not doing what they were told or disliking everything that came in their path. I stole a glance toward Gavin. He was still looking at me. My eyes returned to the ground. "That might be the only thing that would make them stop."
He made a grunting noise, then blew air out of his mouth the way I've heard his father do when he's trying to keep himself calm.
My back was starting to get itchy from the cold and the damp. I heard one of the boys behind me ask whoever was next to him how likely the brawlers were to notice if he threw a mud ball at them. I detected Gavin looking back at him. I'm happy I didn't see exactly the look he levied at them. They were silent. Gavin was both the oldest and the tallest in our group, any one older than him would be in the group of adult brawlers. I moved the javelin I was holding slightly so I could scratch my back with it.
"Can you use that thing?"
I froze mid stroke of bringing it between my shoulders.
Our home is one of fifteen villages that encircle our mountain, the tallest in the range with the others being nearly vertical in their slops which makes it the only one passable from one side of the range to the other. Eight of the villages find most of the their employment in mining the cliff faces on either side of the mountain, four in the lower areas are more concerned with farming and cultivating crops, two closer to the summit tend to migrate up and down with the seasons raising goats. Our village is at the lower shoulder of the mountain so the main road passes through and we are the principle hub on the trade route. In the mining villages the honorable method of defense, military prowess or whatever you want to call it is use of swords. In the farming villages they use staffs and clubs. The goat herders use slings. And most of our village uses swords since they are a more elegant weapon that looks better for the traders that come up from the other sides. I am skilled with the javelin.
It happened by accident.
My little sister Letti is in charge of one nanny goat and her two kids. Being as she is only five years old it is rather easy to tell which the goats under her care are since they most often appear with some sort of small pink flowers tangled in their hair. I watch most of the rest of the flock; nearly seventy five ornery, smart to the point of annoyance, hairy goats. While near the forest grazing the goats I had observed her, with her nanny on a leash and the kids trailing behind, walking along close to the forest looking for the kind of moss she had deemed perfect for her goats to graze one. I was at the time using my crook to lift a kid out of a crevasse that it had been an expert at finding its way down but had not been quite as proficient at getting out. I let it bleat for a while so it would perhaps remember not to do this again. I had barely put the kid back on its feet when the bleating of the nannies got more focused. I took a quick survey. What I saw nearly froze me in my tracks. There was my sister, sitting on the ground picking flowers while her goats tried to crowd the side of her that did not have the approaching wolf. My sister and a wolf nearly four times her size and me with a good fifty goats between us. My father always taught me to keep a sharp stick along with my crook. In a moment of equal parts terror and brilliance I took that stick in my hand and heaved it as hard as I could in the direction of the predator. That shot dealt more by luck then by any skill I possessed. It passed through the neck of the beast and into the tree on the other side. It was only then that Letti turned, screamed, and hauled her tiny flock back toward the village.
I sunk to my knees and attempted to catch my breath, the goats bleated some more and one billy kid crept up to the back leg of the wolf and gave it a butt for good measure. I tested how shaky my legs were the approached my apparent kill. It was dead all right, but I couldn't help going over in my head what could have happened. If my amateur shot hadn't hit where it did, I would have lost my sister and probably a good portion of the flock. It was in that moment that I made myself a vow I would not leave something so risky to chance again if I could at all help it. Even now I know that was a lot to put on myself but I'm her older brother! If I'm not able to protect her then who can? Every day for hours after that whenever the goats didn't actively need me I would be setting up targets and practicing taking shots from different distances. Learning to still be accurate in the wind was difficult.
Yes, I knew how to throw it. Of all the games and sports they encourage us to do at these gathering javelin throwing was probably the only one I was anywhere near confident with.
"I'm terrible with it," Gavin continued, startling me out of my musing, "I'm okay with a bow and arrows but this thing." He held up the javelin for inspection, "uh-uh, not going to be pretty, and I'm not so sure how any of the rest of these us are going to fair either. Who came up with this contest?"
I was pretty sure the village elders all got together the night before the picnic and voted on this stuff. I hope my father didn't put this one in just to show me off. I got the feeling that a rock was materializing in my stomach. If what Gavin said was true and none of the other boys were going to be any good at this then it would look like I had petitioned for it to be in just so I could show off. I fixed my eyes on the sludge anew, I'm not so sure I wanted to experience the kind of beating up that would take place if they thought I was trying to make fools of them. Suddenly I was desperately hoping that they would forget the competition in the midst of their fight. I heard a slight bleating. I furrowed my brow, I put the goats in the fold last night and no one was supposed to take them out until tomorrow. I sighed and shook my head, if one was out the rest wouldn't be far behind.
"What's wrong with that goat?"
"Yeah it looks purple."
Probably posies; that meant it was one of Letti's kids.
"Well if it has some kind of disease that's probably for the best."
"Yeah, with that wolf behind it and all."
Gavin and I finally whirled around to see that the others were talking about. My fears were confirmed. There was one of Letti's kids running as fast as it could and bleating up a storm while a rather skinny looking wolf pursued it. Easy distance. No wind. Before I could consider the other boys opinions I had let my javelin fly. I wasn't going to let one of our flock be taken, especially not if it was one of my sister's. I struck him through the chest. He made a terrible yelping noise. I knew how the procedure worked. I ran toward it. An injured wolf was dangerous, while it was immobile I had to put it out of its misery quickly. The whispers of the boys added to the noise of the adults brawl behind me and I pulled the hunting knife I kept at all times in my boot out. I dispensed with my task quickly. Once I was sure the wolf was not going to suddenly get up and bite me I put my hand out to retrieve my javelin. I heard footsteps behind me. Heavy but not enough to be an adult. I very slowly turned. I wasn't sure what kind of expression I would find on Gavin's face. Please don't let him be angry.
"He did it again! He did it again, daddy!" Letti's high clear voice pierced and broke all the noise that everyone was collectively making, she then rushed them into momentary silence by continuing. "He got another wolf that was after my goats!"
If they weren't staring at me before they were now.
Gavin was looking at me in disbelief, not disappointment but he definitely did not seem to believe what he was seeing. He opened his mouth to say something.
"Your son can throw that thing?"
Gavin and I both froze. It was one of the elders from on the north side of the mountain.
"Yes, can't yours?" My father.
The elder, I think his name was Gotfried made a sputtering noise, "it is a highly revered sport in the northlands."
I heard the leather creak in the now still air as my father crossed his arms. "You suggested this activity and your son can't even do it."
I quickly cast my eye and caught the boy in question shifting nervously on his feet.
Gotfried refused to admit the point. "Where did he acquire such skill? Aren't the sticks you carry simply for use in prodding the goats?"
"Not exclusively." I mouthed the words as my father said it. I wasn't sure if my father was going to relate the story of the first wolf but, since he didn't, I assume he thought Letti's exclamation was sufficient to the point. The adults recommenced arguing.
"So you can use it." There was some slight accusation in Gavin's tone. I slowly wiped my knife, what could I say, when he asked the first time I didn't say anything. At least he wasn't mad about my ability.
"He saved my goats again." Both Gavin and I turned to Letti, she was smiling broadly oblivious to our awkward conversation. She had her kid back in tow, though it looked more than a little shaken. Then she grabbed as much of me as her little frame could fit into a hug, "Thank you big brother."
I shifted the knife and cloth to my right hand and used my free arm to hug her back, "You're welcome Letti, now you'd better get that kid to your nanny so he can calm down a bit."
"Yes, big brother," she smiled at Gavin for good measure and skipped off dragging her kid behind her
Might as well get it over with, "I wasn't sure if it was going to seem like I was bragging and I didn't know that I would be the only on that could do it."
Gavin knelt down beside me and poked at the wolf, "That makes sense I guess, when you didn't say anything I just assumed that it meant you couldn't."
I sheathed my knife. "I guess I would have too," we looked back at the adults. "They're at it again."
Gavin moaned and rubbed his forehead, "every.single.year."
I smiled, "well you have had to endure this longer than I have." I walked over to a nearby fence and grabbed a rope. I began to tie a knot around the wolf's hind legs. 'Maybe I should put in a suggestion that they make this a three day affair that way they can get their quibbling out on the first day, they can make us do a bunch of random sports and competitions and we can all eat ourselves silly on the second day and then we can actually spend time getting to know each other on the last day.' I gave the rope a last jerk, put it over my shoulder and started dragging.
"Where are you going?"
"To the tanners it's best to do this while the animal is still warm it makes their jobs easier."
Gavin looked back at the brawl of adults. "But...''
"Oh he isn't there, Linus never goes to these things," I paused in my hauling to smile over my shoulder, "he says, 'it's a waste of time when I could be getting work done, everyone always seems to need new leather and no one seems to pay a lick of attention to how long it takes to make.' "I resumed walking, "he goes on for a lot longer than that but if I recited the whole thing I'd still be going when I reach his tannery and then I'd have to explain what I was doing and, well, Linus is a big man and I'd rather not risk getting on his bad side."
Gavin fell into step beside me, "you know you're a lot more talkative when you're in the middle of something."
I halted. He was right, I resumed pulling. "I guess I stopped thinking about it."
"So you started talking when you stopped thinking?"
There was something severely wrong with that statement, I looked at him quizzically. He was trying very hard not to smile. Then he started to laugh.
"You're the first person that hasn't blindly agreed to that."
I let myself smile, I think I may have just gained a bit more standing with my peer, "saying that I only talk when I don't think probably won't speak well for my mind."
"So where is the tanner anyway?"
"Across the road, over the lawn, down a bit of a hill, in this little cut out by a mini cliff."
"Whoa whoa, how long are we going to be walking?"
"Don't worry, it's pretty much all downhill."
The shoulder of our mountain is still in the lightly forested portion, by the time you reach villages much higher than ours you're getting into more scrub and shrubs. During summer my dad sends me up there with the flock, goats like nothing better than small bushes. Further down the mountain and the trees get so thick you sometimes have a hard time getting through them. Linus' tannery is already in a slightly heavier treed area. Thankfully, though Gavin was from further down the mountain form me, he was able to both keep up with and assist me with maneuvering the wolf over my home country.
"The sun is trying to come out."
I glanced upwards, the sun was just behind the cloud but getting bright enough to be nearly unaffected by the layer of clouds still trying to held back its warmth. I moved the carcass so it was balanced on the edge of the small cliff. "Took it long enough. By the way," I stood, "we're here." I smiled and gave the wolf's back a firm thrust with my foot. Gavin gave a bit of a start when the sound of the wolf hitting the ground took on a much more alien kind of sound, and a number of oaths that probably were not intended for boys our age.
"Who the devil, was pig headed enough to assault my person with this'' there was a pause in the tirade, "Ed!" I started to chuckle. "Where are you, you little whippersnapper? Get over here before I tan your hid the next time I see you!"
With no further ceremony than to smile back over my shoulder at a rather confused and not yet sure of his amusement level Gavin, I hurdled myself off the cliff to land with rather accurate wind driving out accuracy on Linus' shoulders.
The big man's laughter rumbled out as he used one hand to grab my upper arm full around its thicker part and swing me off his back, "Done it again haven't you? When are they going to put you on wolf patrol?"
"Maybe when they become more of a problem." Linus bent down to examine my quarry, I looked behind me to see if Gavin had made it down the small cliff.
"This'll need a wash, lad, good shot though, you want the fur on again?"
I nodded and waved to Gavin as he came round the corner.
Linus was still bent over the wolf, "You know Ed, you may not think that one or two wolves in the space of a few years isn't in the category of a problem, but a wolf in the middle of a village packed with noisy people, yes I could hear them from here, does present a problem," Linus became quiet. Gavin and I looked at each other.
"In my village, we only recently saw some wolves, we haven't seen them in quite a while."
Linus didn't quite look pleased, "That isn't something I'd care to hear in light of the circumstances."
That wasn't cryptic at all. "What do you mean?"
"I'll talk to your dad about it, Ed, in the meantime any plans for what you want me to final this into?"
"I just wanted to get it here in good time," I smiled, "I still remember what you told me after the last one."
"Sir, I'm afraid I'm not satisfied by your answer, and as Ed is a child of this village I'd say he has a right to know about your suspicions as do I due to your implication."
Linus gave Gavin a wary eye, "You've got some spunk boy, but are you sure you want to know what I might tell you?"
Gavin set his jaw, cast around and then sat himself down on a conveniently located log that had all the bark taken off of it is make it more suited to sitting on in a way that said he was prepared to be there for a while.
Linus threw the wolf over his shoulder, "Alright boys, if you're going to be that insistent about it, but," he held up one of this thick fingers at us, "I will not be held responsible for your night mares.
"When I was a lad, it was very much like your own growing up years, the wild beast stayed out of our way and we let them be for the most part. Then over the course of a few years when I was turning to an adolescent, we started seeing wolves near the villages, then wolverines, then bears. This was a problem as they were going after our flocks, crops, and anything else they could get their teeth around. And there was one other thing about them we noticed,' he lowered the wolf into a vat of water, 'they were all,' he gave the wolf a squeeze for emphasis, 'extremely skinny. The elders in the villages started paying more attention, there is a moment when you start to realize that you are missing the sound of birds, there aren't the chirps from the ground hogs, rabbits aren't being a problem with the crops, the hunter's haven't brought back any dear in a long time. At first they came to the conclusion that the predators had simply overstepped themselves when it came to their eating habits and were now running out of food,' he took a piece of some kind of soap and started scrubbing down the coat, 'but then, without our doing all that much culling, the predators started to disappear. Most of the adults were rather happy that the predators were now dying off that meant that the more friendly animals would soon start to reappear. My Grandpa was nervous, that made me nervous, and one day, much like you two have done right now, I confronted him about it. He told me of a nearly identical experience that he and his generation had had when he was much younger." Gavin and I looked at each other, if this had happened before it must have been rather serious. "Now things never got as bad as they did in my grandfather's day, the next year the deer and rabbits slowly started to return, and it was several more years after that before we next even heard a wolf, but based on the reports we got from the North and South lands, it was indeed the same problem that the prior generation had had. Do you want me to smoke the wolf meat? It makes a good jerky."
I stared at Linus uncomprehending for a moment my mind still very much wrapped in what he was saying, "Oh yes, if it isn't any trouble."
"No trouble at all."
"What about the,'' Gavin searched for the word, "strange happenings from you grandpa's time?"
Linus paused to look at us in some slight confusion before making a kind of understanding sound. "I would ask why you haven't figured it out based on the evidence, but it seems that the more time goes on the more people try to convince themselves that is was their imagination, that there are no horrors to be dreaded that we are powerless over. We don't tell our children for fear of scaring them, when we should be warning, that not all that goes bump, or roar, in the night is merely an overactive fantasy of an energetic mind." He leveled us a serious gaze, "think, my boys, you've shown that you're capable of that. What could be happening when the grass eaters disappear without a trace, the predators are driven into the towns before beginning to disappear from the woods altogether themselves?"
Linus began to dry the wolf that he had freshly pulled from the water.
Gavin and I sat there looking at each other. I guess that was one thing I could have warned Gavin about, Linus always preferred to make you come up with answers to your questions yourself before he would consider giving them to you straight. Thankfully he was satisfied by my peer answering for both of us. "A larger predator is eating the others. Maybe the bear was taking out the wolves."
"That would be more likely to be the other way around, but you've got the idea." Linus crossed to the other side of the cave he had carved in the side of the small cliff, "a larger predator with nothing to fear anymore from the ones we normally see, feeds for the first year on rodent and rabbits, moves on to wild goats, then to deer, and then when there are not others left the wolves and so on." He began to rummage through a chest of old leathers, "No, not a bear, my boys, not a wolverine." He straightened to look at us, "on this mountain, we truly do live in a careful balance of nature, and a number of creatures that only come around every decade or so," he started to untie the string on the roll in his hands, "in older days we provoked them in our ignorance, in the closer times it seems we are living passively in each other's shadows. Have you figured me out lads? I'm talking about," he let the leather unroll as he held the top, "Monsters."
We stared in amazement at what our eyes were seeing, it was a diagram of more than ten separate beasts, many that had the markings around them to indicate fire, massive claws, powerful limbs, or sometimes none at all, wings and tails. The leather was an old but well-oiled, very dark as its base color, the figures on it were stained on with a red tinted ink, not fine in its lines but still well distinguished.
Linus gave it a light shake, "My grandpa made this after the beasts were gone, then were only here for a while, we didn't know where they went at first, but then when the Southers and the Northers came to trade they began to tell stories of these creatures wreaking havoc on their crops and herds, many towns and cities were being destroyed. It happened then and it happened when I was a boy and given what you two have told me it seems very likely that it is going to happen again soon."
Gavin and I sat in silence not sure what to ask next. Linus began to roll the picture back up, "I'll take it that neither of your fathers bothered to tell you about this." He laughed in an effort to lighten his story, "Not even in an effort to scare you? I'm a little surprised." He used the now rolled leather to point at Gavin, "Especially yours, for Ed's dad, with that little lady of his; that I can understand."
"So what do we do now?"
Linus shrugged, "well, considering how the last event went, with very little, loss of herds on our part at least, it seems the best thing to do is not hunt alone, graze your goats and get them in the fold well before dark, and never," he walked up and tapped my chest with the leather, "Never go out into the woods alone." Linus held the leather there long enough for me to take the hint and take it gently from his hand.
"You boys go ahead and get a better look at that, your grandpa's should be able to tell you some decent stories about the time it happened to them. I'll be skinning this in the back, if you'd care to assist me with stinging him up to do something useful with the meat then I'll call you when I can use the hands."
Gavin watched over my shoulder as I slowly unrolled the leather again, we studied the figures wondering what each was and took turns practicing drawing them on the dirt of the ground with a stick. It didn't take too long before Linus called us back to give our aid with quartering and hanging the meat of the wolf out in his rigged up smoke hutch in the back of his shop. He then replaced his heirloom leather into the chest and sent us off back to the village, "Make sure you're back before it gets dark, you here, and Ed I'm going to expect you to come back in a few days to help my process the bones and take the meat home with you."
"Thank you, sir."
"Thank you Linus, and thank you for the story, we'll be sure to ask about it." Gavin had already found the easier path from the tannery up to the top of the cliff which gave a much straighter shot back to the village.
"So," Gavin started as he offered me a hand over a log, "Do you think what he said is true? About the monsters that is."
I jumped off the log and brushed some dirt from my hands, "Well, I've never had much reason not to believe him, and it makes a lot of sense about the disappearing animals." We both fell silent and indeed we could not detect much at all for song birds or rustling in the underbrush.
"But what if it is just a bear, what if he was just trying to scare us."
"Well there should be one easy way to find out," we resumed our trek, "take his advice and ask the elders. I doubt they have any conspiracy to scare us."
"What about keeping us out of the woods?"
"There are simpler ways."
"Are they more effective though?" Gavin sighed, "My dad always says that a little fear goes a long way where a promise won't, I'd hate to be skeptical but..."
He let his voice trail off, but he didn't need to continue. I nodded as we scaled the fence to the field. I couldn't argue with his point, it was valid and on more than one occasion I had known the adults, especially the elders to employ just such a method to keep us in check. Our minds were both reeling with possible different explanations and we ended up walking slower. The growling of our stomachs brought us to realization at about the same time our eyes allowed us to clue in to how dim the light was getting. Being both growing boys the former was the stronger sensation. I had the feeling that Gavin was about ready to demand the distance we still had to go to get to the village when I heard the familiar bleating of the goats. We were a little more east of the village then we had been aiming for but the path from the folds to the village was much smoother then cross country and if taken at a good sprint would take very little time to reach our destination. I was slightly wary after what Linus had said so Gavin knocked some bark out of his boots while I made a quick round of the folds to make sure there weren't any holes in the fences or successful escapees from them.
Our folds were an excellent design that we had been given by some of the more mountain upward villages. They involved rocks, hard packed dirt and sod that went over the goats in a dome with some protected windows near the top to let in sunshine but built in such a way as to keep out all rain except for on the most windy of days. Each fold held at least fifty goat in it. We had three folds that belonged to my family, often my father took half and I took the other half out for grazing in the local area in the winter. In the summer though I was often placed in charge of the entire flock and given provisions for a trip further up the mountain to give the winter pastures time to recover. My dad would keep any nannies with kids that he was concerned about back at the house. There were a number of other folds but they all contained a different kind of goat. My family's goats were a medium size which grew thick winter coats and were very good for milking, the young male kids, of which we rarely had any shortage, were good for meat. The goats that belonged to the other villagers were mostly pulling goats, good for carts of heavy loads and during summer that was nearly always someone away to get some supplies from other places, someone coming back, a couple moving items from the Southers up to be traded to the Northers, and vice versa. I checked in on these much taller goats, nearly all were sleeping peacefully and then rejoined Gavin to continue our walk to the village.
We had finished, just this past summer, a large hall with a large variety of oil lamp stands, and a large dance floor. It also held a lot of tables and had a loft when more were needed. The loft was a fun place to be. It provided an excellent viewpoint to watch the adults do the only thing they seemed to be better at when they all got together than spontaneous fighting; dancing. We all have our specialties, and every village is good at several things related to survival, but when we all get together, well as has been seen already we can seem slightly barbaric, at least when you can get everyone into a dance hall out of the cold they tend to get to something that at least resembles refined activity, or at least by the Northers estimation.
As we approached it now it was well lit from the inside against the rapidly darkening world. The music was being played rather loud. We approached quietly, suddenly remembering that we hadn't told anyone before we left. My dad would be fine with it, he knew my habits, but Gavin's father, well that was an unknown question.
"With all the carting we do from the southers going up, that is where most of our resources go. I often end up spending a lot of my time with my uncle in the mines in one of the west villages." Gavin and I crouched a bit and walked up to one of the windows, "He's almost always more concerned with my brother's behaviour than mine but anytime he takes me with him to any other village, well he's got this theory that anything I do is going to directly reflect on my brother."
We moved toward the next window, "Why should that matter? My dad always tells me to let my behavior speak for itself." We glanced through the window.
"Your dad is not the village leader, with three sons."
"I don't see how that makes a..."
Gavin moved toward the door, "I don't think you've met my brother."
We heard footsteps behind us and turned to see most of the women from my village, my mother included approaching laden with large covered pans of food. My mom barely started to open her mouth before Gavin and I scrambled to open the double door as wide as we could to let them pass in. That also thankfully gave us a very easy pass into the hall without calling attention to ourselves. I followed close to my mom in case she needed me to move anything before she would be able to put her tray down, which as luck would have it she did.
"Your father was wondering where you got off too. You usually aren't down at the tannery that long."
I shoved a basket of rolls out of the way for her large pan filled with a roasted goat leg. "On our way back we ended up close to the folds so, after the wolf incident earlier, we checked on them before coming back."
"Well I dare say you took your time," she picked up a bun and pressed it into my hands, "now don't go hungry, and be sure to let your father know where you were."
I smiled and gave her a quick hug before going off in search of my father. I wasn't sure where Gavin had managed to get off to but since he was in the building I wasn't too worried. It took a while to find my dad in the packed hall but, as soon as I had explained my most recent whereabouts he told me to enjoy myself and not stay up too late. Given leave to go about having fun at the party, I went off to sit up in the loft after filling a rather heaping plate of everything from roast goat to baked apples. Now I was poised and ready to watch the evening unfold. Having no interest in dancing myself I was very content to watch. It was always interesting to watch the mix on the floor. Children, some younger than me, hopping around in rough time to the music, young men and women dancing basic figures that get more complicated and graceful as their age increases. The ladies wore simple dresses, mostly in brown hues, generally made of wool from our goats. I was so absorbed in watching that I didn't hear the slight rustling behind me.
"I take it you got in no trouble." I turned sharply to my side, and watched Gavin settle down beside me.
"Of course not, did you?"
Gavin sighed in a very controlled manner, "he kept himself from exploding but I'll hear more about it on our way home tomorrow."
I watched him quietly as he used a crust to poke at some stewed meat.
"Sorry, it never occurred to me that that would ever happen."
Gavin nodded, "I went along with you; you didn't force me to come. I'm glad for you though. I envy you that." He made an effort to smile at me, "I wish I didn't know what favoritism felt like."
Again I was speechless, but I wasn't sure that that was a bad thing this time, I didn't really want to say anything. We both sat in the loft, atop folded piles of our own legs, plates in our laps watching the swirling figures on the floor below. There were some of the men of the village routinely going around the room checking on the lamps, and the ladies were almost constantly rotating through who checked and brought more food. At some point late in the evening they would eventually stop bringing constant supplies of meat and fruit and switch to just rolls and cheese.
Letti had already gone to bed, in fact most of the women from the other villages, if they did come to the picnic in the first place had already left with their smaller children to get a head start back to their homes. The evening whorled on, people slowly trickling out gradually thinning the room, some took some provisions with them from the platters, most of these were going to be leaving very early the next morning.
"I should go, my father intends that we leave at first light tomorrow."
I nodded, Gavin continued to stare at the people below us, than I spotted my grandpa. "Would you care to ask one of the old elders about what Linus said before you go?"
Gavin took a moment to pry away his eyes, "sure."
We scrambled to our feet and moved down the stairs out of the loft. We placed our plates on a passing tray and continued to the other side of the hall where I had seen my grandfather sitting down. He was close to the oldest person in our village, but still pretty spry for his age. He and my grandma lived in a simple hut about five houses away from ours. My grandma was quite a bit younger than him.
"Hello boys, done messing with the ladies and come to torture the infirm, eh?"
"I don't see anyone to fit that description, sir," I grabbed a couple chairs so Gavin and I could sit across from him.
He smiled, "no one infirm here?'"
Grandpa laughed so hard that several couples close to us briefly paused in the dancing to stare at him. "Good lad, bringing it right back at me, now tell me what can I do for you?"
"Grandpa," I paused to consider how I would word the question, "Have you ever seen a monster?"
"Have I seen a monster? Why boy, I was nearly eaten by a monster. It was a terrible day, why I was just a little bit older than you are now and there was this one summer when out of the blue hundreds of.."
"Robert, I don't think you should tell that story." Gavin and I turned wide eyes to my grandmother. "There's no point in scaring them silly to the point where they can't sleep and refuse to go out of their houses. Besides," she leaned closer to us, "I'm quite certain that he is making the whole story up."
I can't be certain what Gavin was thinking but, that seemed to me to be more of a confirmation than not. Now granted my grandfather was somewhat prone to embellishing stories, but embellishing in the exact time frame and along the same lines as another story that I had just been told independently?
No, I didn't think that was possible. Or not any more impossible than it would be to get grandpa to tell me the story if my grandma was present. So Grandpa switched to a more mundane story of his childhood about rebuilding the village from scratch, though he spoke mostly in a lower tone and kept looking over his shoulder to be sure that his wife was not going to make him switch again. Thus the evening came to a close, as soon as grandpa was done his story, my grandma herded me out the door and sent me home to get a good night's rest.
It was a quiet evening, a light wind in the trees was the only sound as I walked the distance to my house. I tried to calm my minds work, I would ask my grandpa tomorrow to come with me to check on the goats and get the story from him then. That should take care of it.