by Sir Various
A magical stone causes contention between two cousins.
|Author’s note: The Plot was conceived by A E Willcox. The storyline was a combined effort. The story itself was written by Sir Various, and A E Willcox edited it. Prompt used: 1. A mystical gem that has unusual powers. (2606 words approx.)|
Harok found the seeing stone hard to hold. Its pale blue, uneven crystalline spears dug uncomfortably into his palm, while he used the other hand to brush away the drips of sweat beading on his tattooed forehead. Even deep in the forest the heat from the late summer sun pressed on his neck and shoulders and he longed for a wind to stir the leaves and cool his brow.
The prey would be ahead. As usual, Gundar had caught the trail sooner than him, but Harok would not let him have the honor of the kill. Gundar shared his tribe’s blood, and bore the marks of a great hunter; but whatever Gundar might claim, Harok knew he, Harok Hawk’s Feather was the best, and would remain so.
Harok crouched, the undergrowth and hanging vines providing cover from Gundar’s keen eyes. His large toothed hatchet was more difficult to hide, so he simply leaned it against an ivy clad tree trunk. The cry of a hawk above the leaf canopy drew his attention upward, and gave him a shiver of anticipation.
Harok grasped the stone with both hands and it began to pulse with light. It contained the clear blue sky within it, giving him the power to hunt as the hawk hunted, searching the land for prey from on high, and striking with the same swift speed. He gazed directly at the seeing stone, and in his mind he began to fly. He loved the sense of freedom the stone gave him and as the hawk ascended, his spirit soared.
The trees diminished, as he climbed higher, and the vista expanded. He could see himself crouched far below, his body no more than a tiny speck in a sea of green. He could see the hunting party at the forest edge, their tiny forms hunched over, stalking their own game. They were his brothers, his family, and his tribe. He belonged to them as they did to him. In these moments of sky-borne freedom, his fondness for them deepened and strengthened his will to earn the leadership which he knew he deserved. He always kept them well provided with food, even in the lean season, using the magical vision his crystal gave him. When the time came for him to put on the black bear hide mantle of the chief, then he would share this gift from the sky gods with the tribe.
To the east, smoke from the tribe’s tanning racks rose in wispy tendrils and the sight of the large cluster of huts in the temporary summer village close by warmed his heart with pride. He cast his gaze over the plain, the dun-colored grass rippling and swirling from the little wind spirits which danced over it, reveling in their youthful play before the sky gods sent the big winds of autumn, which drove the dark clouds of rain before them, dampening both the ground and the mood of the tribe’s elders.
In the furthest distance gray-blue cloud-topped mountains, where the sky gods lived, rose from the horizon like a jagged row of teeth. Once, he had tried to get a closer look, but his vision blurred and faded away the nearer he tried to go. At least he could never get lost, on his sky-borne journeys with the seeing stone to guide him.
He brought his mind back to his true purpose. Though he enjoyed the beauty of the glorious land, he also needed to hunt. The stone gave him the means for good sightings of prey and to keep track of Gundar.
Harok’s cousin had picked up the scent of a sounder of boar, but had not yet come upon them. The boars rooted in a small grassy clearing by a creek; its course wound close to the place where Harok squatted in the undergrowth. He saw he could use the stream as a way to get to the clearing before Gundar. He would lay claim to the boars and all the honor would be his. Again the tribe would sing this night of his skill and he smiled at the thought that again, Gundar would get nothing more than a pat on the shoulder.
Harok relaxed his concentration. The ground appeared to rise upward and he descended toward it with the same rush as when he had first left it. Nausea overtook him as his swirling senses re-entered his body, but soon dissipated. Stiffly he got onto his knees, the stone weighing his arms down as if anchoring him to the earth. He mustered his strength again and then he stood. Even so, it took a moment to readjust to the containment and lack of vision his return to earth gave him.
He thought the land seemed always less vibrant and warm on the ground, but shrugged off his gloom and placed the crystal seeing-stone in a leather bag beneath the plain stones he kept in it. He bore the extra weight of the crystal without concern as he was too attached to it to leave it hidden somewhere, and was too afraid it might get found. Harok grabbed his hatchet and made his way to the creek.
Wide and clear enough for him to stand upright, the water course led him on a meandering path through the forest. Clumps of long thin-bladed grass dotted the creek, waving gently in the breeze funneling along the channel, which lay open to the sky. He broke into a run, splashing thorough the cool shallow water and followed the creek easily as it curved gently towards the clearing he had seen from above. Gundar would tread with caution; make his path step, by step for he did not know either of the clearing, nor that the sounder of boar he sought rooted there.
As Harok neared the glade he slowed his pace and reached it moving with stealth so the sows would not be aware of his presence. The grass in the clearing grew tall in the sunlight, and the herbs and colorful flowers would have made the place seem enchanted had not a number of sows set about trampling them into the dirt as they snuffled around looking for food. Harok guessed they had young and knew their litters would be hidden somewhere nearby. He could not immediately see any signs of them, but it did not matter because those three sows would be enough to feed the tribe for a week or more.
Taking care not to startle the sows, Harok pulled two fist-sized stones from his pouch, taking care not to touch the seeing-stone. The rocks were fine weapons and he could throw them with unerring accuracy. The sows would scatter as the first one fell, so he needed to be quick with his strikes. He placed one stone on the ground, and then swapped the large hatchet to his left hand readying it. Harok waited until the nearest sow faced him, then swiftly stood up and hurled the stone. It hit the beast solidly felling it immediately. It twitched for a moment as if running to its after-life.
Harok startled the sows and panicked them. The nearest ran directly towards him as he had intended. He held his hatchet firmly with both hands and as the beast ran at him, he swung the heavy weapon downward and cut into the gristle of the her neck, disabling her. The sow’s momentum caused her to stumble on past him and then she plowed into the ground, leaving a wide, shallow furrow carved by her shoulder. The mortally wounded sow bled profusely, yet it still struggled to stand. Its eyes rolled wildly, then fixed on Harok and trembled as he approached. Harok did not stop to reflect on the life-force he took, but simply lifted his heavy hatchet and swung it down, crushing the animal’ skull with ease.
It was almost too easy. Harok knew he could track the third sow with no trouble at all and a brief thought flitted through his mind, perhaps he could let Gundar have it - he was family after all. Harok shrugged the thought away - Gundar could find other prey elsewhere. He didn’t care that he always used the seeing stone to steal kills from his cousin.
Harok soon found the third sow hiding in the long grass by the creek. He knew it would not stray far from its young. He dispatched the last sow as easily as he had done the first.
Then, as if Harok’s thought of Gundar had summoned him, Gundar appeared at the edge of the clearing, sweaty and grimy from his exertion. He did not approach immediately, but stopped instead, just within the trees, staring at Harok and the three dead sows.
Gundar pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes. “So, Harok, again you spoil my hunting. Again you steal honor from me from me.” He then slammed his leather bag of stones against a tree trunk. “Again!”
“Cousin Gundar, I do not know why you get so upset,” Harok said, walking up to him, sitting the bloodied hatchet on his shoulder. “Why are you so displeased? Are you not glad the tribe will again be so well fed?”
Gundar stood silent, scowling and tense. His weapon, held tightly in his hand, rested by his right leg,
“Gundar, cousin, be contented,” Harok said, reaching out an arm to pat him on the shoulder. “The sky gods have brought our tribe a great gift.”
“Yes, cousin.” Gundar knocked Harok’s hand away with a venomous growl. “Your skill as a hunter certainly has been…gifted, as you say.”
Harok frowned and eyed Gundar beneath lowered brows. Did his hunt-brother know of the seeing stone? Gundar was a mighty hunter and in truth, if not for the seeing stone’s vision, Gundar would surpass his own skill. And, therefore, if Harok wanted to become the chief, then Gundar must not discover the seeing stone.
“Cousin, I have slain three boars for the tribe.” Harok gestured behind him, yet he kept wary eyes on Gundar as his mood seemed volatile. Harok’s hunter instinct warned him of danger and he knew he must remain alert.
“I see your--deed, Harok. I had their path, I had their scent. When we were boys you were never as good as me and even now you are less skilled.” Gundar took a step forward and raised his voice. “Yet, you have come here too fast, for I did not give you the trail and you killed these three--all three!”
Harok raised his eyebrows. So, Gundar was jealous of his kill. How ludicrous! Nevertheless he gripped his hatchet tighter, but kept it on his shoulder. He guessed if he brought it down, the movement would incite Gundar to greater anger.
Gundar then said, “You stand there with your trophies, like you are blessed by the sky gods. But, I know the truth, Harok!” Gundar glanced down to Harok’s pouch, and Harok needed no more confirmation; his hunt-brother knew.
“What truth, cousin?” Harok took a step to the side, shifting his weight so he could bring the hatchet down swiftly without losing balance.
“You use…magic!” Gundar spat a glob of spittle on the ground at Harok’s feet, and his tattooed face twisted in disgust. “Dark magic. I have seen you use your evil. I have watched you partake of the fire-demon’s gift, and you bring your cursed trophies to our tribe!”
“It is not evil, cousin. It is a boon. Our tribe prospers because of my use of this stone.” Harok pulled the blue stone from the skin pouch. “We can use this, together, as brothers of the hunt. We will lead our tribe to greatness and prosperity.” He held the rough crystal, now pulsing with azure light, towards Gundar while tightening his grip on the hatchet.
Gundar, ignoring the offer, bellowed with rage and launched himself at Harok, swinging his hatchet around towards the seeing stone.
Harok dropped it, and then brought his hatchet down from his shoulder as Gundar came closer.
Gundar’s swing missed him. In his rage he had over-extended and Harok brought his own weapon down and struck Gundar’s shoulder.
Gundar cried out, his back arching in pain as he stumbled away. A thick gush of blood flowed down his shoulder and arm, yet he turned to face Harok and stood tall, his expression set with resolve. “You will not curse our tribe, our blood, Harok. I will use my pure blood, my blood of the hunter, to cleanse your dark demon magic.” He reached up to his bleeding shoulder, wiped the blood away with his hand, then smeared it across and down his face. “May the sky gods give me strength.”
Ha! Harok thought with a frown. Did Gundar truly believe he was doing the tribe a favor? How could he persuade Gundar now? He had drawn his blood, and now that essence of life thirsted for violence, and he Harok Hawk’s Feather must quench it.
Harok readied his hatchet.
Gundar rushed at him again, though his attack lacked his previous fury. Even so, as he closed, he brought his hatchet around and aimed at Harok’s head. Harok had to duck to avoid the powerful swing, but as he did so, Gundar kicked out at his head and connected with it squarely. The kick launched Harok backwards, and he hit the ground with a thump and his heavy hatchet fell out of his hands. He held his head, trying to ease the blinding pain. Blood gushed from his crushed nose.
As he went to wipe the blood away he saw a flash of blue light beyond Gundar and his hurt at once faded. The stone. He must protect the stone!
But Gundar now stood over him, his toothed weapon held up ready to strike again. Nevertheless, Harok tried to scramble toward the seeing stone, but as he moved, Gundar brought his axe down on to his leg, cutting deep into the thigh.
Harok yelled in agony and rolled onto his back, his bloodied face turned upwards to the sky. Gouts of dark crimson blood spurted from the brutal wound in his thigh and pooled into a ruddy mud in the dirt beside him.
“Your tainted blood is released, cousin,” Gundar said as he watched Harok try to stem the heavy flow without success. “I have set you free.”
Dizziness soon overtook Harok, but the pain eased. This would be a swift death, he thought. He could not find the words to speak to Gundar, to explain to him that his conclusions were wrong.
The seeing stone lay just a few feet away, and he stared longingly at it.
Gundar followed his gaze. A dark cloud seemed to pass over his eyes, and he set his jaw as he turned to face the blue crystal.
Harok watched Gundar raise his toothed weapon, and it seemed for a moment as though time slowed down so he could witness, in each lengthened, heart breaking second, his cousin’s heavy weapon descend and shatter the crystal.
A bright flash of light blinded Harok briefly, and then, there was nothing.
The edges of his vision darkened and he lay back on the ground, giving up on the leg. There was no point fighting death now. Gundar had cursed him, not saved him. Gundar had not set him free, but instead consigned him to a prison, a captive fully constrained to the earth, forever.
Harok’s eyes closed sensing the chill of death fill him as his life and his freedom drained away; the cry of the circling hawk above confirming his loss.
Then as Harok took his last few breaths, Gundar spoke, his hard anger now tempered to gentleness. “Rest cousin, and know the tribe is safe from the fire-demons. You will fly with the sky gods now.”