The beginning of a fantasy tale I have been fashioning
The wind was a relentless entity. The custodial element swept through the forest with a fervid intensity, cleansing its floor of detritus, preparing it for the forthcoming sheets of ice and snow. The wind awoke the voices of the forest as well. Hollows moaned, branches whistled; leaves to stubborn to be removed from their parents clapped.
Amidst the cacophony and turmoil sat a man. He sat impassively, eyes closed, back and head resting against an aged blywood tree. His legs were crossed, knees lying on feet. His shoulders were relaxed, arms slack, hands resting on the Marion long rifle that lay across his lap. He seemed to be asleep.
His clothes were a patchwork of skins and leathers; the colors a mesh of greens, browns, and greys. The pattern arrangement allowed his body to blend with the surrounding foliage. An untrained eye would not notice him—a trained one, barely.
He listened to the wind, taking in its song and letting it pass through his body. The song brought voices to his ears. Voices he long to hear for they had been silent for some time. Voices that made his chest tighten and his eyes become hot with tears. He heard the giggles of his children as they played around his feet. He heard his wife whispering his name after being together, “Edmond, my love.”
There was a change in the ambient noise of the forest. Edmond pushed the voices from his ears. He slowly opened his eyes. Fourteen yards before him stood a stag. Without a sound he stood and brought the Marion into to firing position. He peered down the barrel aligning the sights while gently thumbing the hammer back to the full cock position. The stag turned its head to look at him, alert and looking for the source of the new sound. A heartbeat before he depressed the trigger, a scream echoed through the wood. The stag spooked, leaping and bounding into the brush, vanishing from the hunter’s sights. No longer concerned with the stag, the hunter’s attention now focused on the origin of cry.
Within moments of the stag’s escape, a familiar presence materialized at his side. He turned to look at his hunting companion, Benjie. His dress was similar to Edmond’s camouflage with some adornments hanging from various areas deemed spiritually powerful. Their eyes met briefly; volumes of information passed without speech. They silently hurried in the direction of the wail. As they approached, more sounds could be heard. Shrieks of agony, terror, and outrage mixed with squawks of excitement, lust, and savagery to create a requiem for the innocent.
They approached the crest of a hill cautiously, both sliding to their bellies and creeping to the apex. They peered down into a dale where a homestead had been arrayed roughly half of a furlong from their outlook. On the reddening ground laid three bodies with three men moving among the lifeless forms; their painted bodies glistened with sweat. They began stripping the bodies of belts, boots, and other useful clothing. One grasped the hair of a corpse and began running his blade across the scalp. The flesh peeled under the sharpened edge. With a yelp and a yank, the skin tore free. The cadaverous head dropped to the ground as the man raised his trophy high, letting out a holler of joy and hubris.
Benjie laid his rifle on the ground and drew his gulang from its bulao wood scabbard. He crept backwards and disappeared from Edmond’s periphery. After a few moments, the hunter eased his Marion out, steadying it in a firing position. He took in the entire seen before him. One man was knelt over a woman, running his hands up and down her cooling body. The second, finished with his kill, walked passed the first and began heading toward the homestead’s dwelling. The third still basked in the glow of his gruesome memento. He was separated from his cohorts by a fair distance.
Edmond took aim at the fiend occupied with the woman. A moment passed, then another. A shout of surprise erupted from the man entering the domicile. Without hesitation, the hunter pulled the trigger, releasing the hammer. The flint struck the frizzen, igniting the powder in the pan. An imperceptible hesitation occurred as the chain reaction ignited the powder in the barrel, propelling the ball toward the target. The ball struck the man in the heart, throwing him backward. A glance at the fray unfolding was all the hunter could spare. His companion dispatched his foe quickly; bright red lines glistened where the man had been laid open. The final raider had reached down to produce a rifle from the grass. Edmond grabbed Benjie’s weapon, readied it and fired. It nicked the man, not seriously injuring him. It did force his hesitation, which allowed Benjie to close the distance. The murderer raised his weapon chest high to snap off the shot. Benjie whirled to his left, not slowing for an instant. The cubit long blade of the gulang sang as steel scythed through bone and muscle, while momentum carried off the man’s head. The corpse was motionless for an eternal second. The weapon discharged harmlessly as the body sank to the ground.
Edmond joined his friend at the grizzly scene. They made sure the assailants were dead, wanting no surprises. They took in the scene around them. ** The blood of the bodies carried on the air as death set in. Benjie and Edmond went over the bodies delicately, not wanting to desecrate them further.
“Crighton.” Benjie said, identifying the victims.
“Yes,” agreed Edmond, “Ignorant that this was too close to the Aoanan.”
“The Crighton are beginning to move north Cao’caubi,” stated Benjie; using the name he gave Edmond on their first meeting, “they will push against your people.”
“And the Rennard will push back—again.” said Edmond, finishing his friend’s thought. Benjie, with no visible emotion on his face, gave a tiny nod of agreement. They continued their survey, going over the attackers as well. They took powder horns, flints, and other items they could carry easily.
They moved into the house. They took shirts and other clothes that they loaded into sacks. Edmond found several leather bound books. He found some thongs, tied them together, and then loaded them into the final sack. They rigged the sacks across their backs and belts as to allow them to move quickly. They began out the door when Edmond saw a pile of blankets. He bent down to pick them up when he heard something. He bent closer listening to the blankets. It was a whisper of a sound, light as a feather. He gently moved the blankets aside, revealing an infant boy. He was peacefully sleeping, not arousing as Edmond picked him up.
The Saganani pridesman turned toward his friend and saw the child.
“Is he dead?”
The two men looked at each other. Benjie stood and said stoically, “We should take care of him before we leave, my friend.”
Edmond looked into the child’s sleeping face. The earlier emotions began to deepen his expression.
“The Aoanon will be looking for these three, Edmond.”
Benjie saw his friend’s eyes grow wet.
“Jefe will not accept him.”
“Was I so much different than this boy when you took me in?” Edmond asked, pain leaking into his voice. Edmond’s head slowly rose to meet Benjie’s implacable eyes. The beloved friends who had been through seemingly several lifetimes once again spoke only with a look. Benjie softened, and met Edmond’s gaze with understanding. He nodded his agreement. Edmond wrapped the slumbering child into the blanket and fastened it to his chest. With Benjie in the lead, they moved into the forest, away from where they had entered the dale.
The child slumbered for the first hour of their journey. Edmond was amazed at this because Benjie set a rigorous pace in order to put a fair distance between them and the homestead. They bounded over downed trees and low hanging branches. The child bounced gently on Edmond’s chest as they moved, waking only slightly from time to time, but never once crying out. They would stop from time to time, pushing their senses out, feeling as well as seeing or hearing to determine if they were being followed. The forest would sing its symphony around them. When they were satisfied they would return to their irregular course. In the second hour, unbeknownst to Edmond, the child was siliently awake. It had given the hunter a frightful start when the child reached out from his bundle and touched Edmond’s chin. Edmond had gasped audibly, which made Benjie stop and turn, looking for danger. Edmond flushed with embarrassment and Benjie turned back to the path.
A silence fell over the forest. Edmond froze where he stood. He looked toward Benjie. The Saganani warrior had vanished. Edmond extended his senses into the woods around him. He could detect at least four distinct presences. He moved quietly into thicket on his right. Thorns scratched his hands and face, tracing narrow red lines of blood. He crouched deeper in, thorns penetrating his shirt and leggings. The hunter laid his rifle on the ground and drew his knife. He cut the child loose from his chest. Not a sound came from the blanket. He covered the child’s face and placed him next to the rifle.
The silence was deafening. His heart thumped in his chest. His ears burned and twitched. Two men appeared six yards from Edmond’s thicket. They walked softly, their leather-clad feet soundlessly pressing into the earth as they picked their way through the terrain. Edmond ‘s breath was shallow. He gazed at the men, watching their eyes scan the forest.
He relaxed his muscles, knowing that he would strike soon. As the men were closing on the thicket, a mass of flesh and hair landed behind the two men. They turned away from the thicket to look what had fallen. With their back turned to him, Edmond exploded from his concealment crossing the distance with a graceful speed. He stomped his left foot on the back of one man’s right knee, while inserting his blade into the left side of his companion’s neck. He twisted the knife, opening the wound. As he freed the weapon, his left hand swung out finding the hair of the first man he had attacked. He seized a handful of the man’s long, black mane. Edmond shifted his weight, forcing the man’s head backward, exposing his soft, tan skinned neck. At that moment, Edmond peered deeply into his prey’s eyes. The man stared calmly back at him, accepting his demise. The blade penetrated the fragile skin, momentum pushing it through the muscle. Tears welled up from the dead man’s eyes. Edmond withdrew the blade and released the man’s hair. His body now slack, crumpled to the ground.
“They are all gone Cao’caubi,” Benjie said, reappearing from nowhere. Edmond’s body began to tremble from the excitement. He looked down between the two men he had just killed. The head of a third lay on the ground. He raised his eyes to see Benjie wiping his gulang clean.
“The child?” asked Benjie.
Edmond turned quickly and ran back to the thicket. He knelt down and pulled the blanket out, lifting the flap to see the child smiling.
They came to the Saganani village several hours later. It was long past sunset and the two companions were depleted from the day’s events. They walked its perimeter before finally turning into the site.
“Tayo-tayo lang,” called Benjie as the entered the village. Out of the dark a pridesman walked silently, coming from their blind side. He stopped, cradling his gulang in the crooks of his elbows; he pressed his palms together in salutation to two newcomers. Edmond and Benjie slowed, both mimicking the gesture. The pridesman vanished as eerily as he appeared.
The companions heard giggles intermixed with the bumps and knocks of horseplay coming from their lodge. Benjie opened the door to see his eldest son, Tigas, stalking his youngest daughter as if he were a forest cougar. Sirenha giggled with the thrill of the chase as Tigas playfully leapt at her, pinning her to the ground. Her giggles became uncontrollable laughter as she squirmed from his grip to freedom.
In a corner of the lodge his twins, Agwe and Agui wrestled. He watched as their namesakes played out in their movements. Agui burned with intensity, his movement quick and sharp, while Agwe flowed from one movement to the next, gently trying to extinguish his brother’s advances.
Amid the children’s games, his beautiful wife, Amihan, and eldest daughter, Corazon, prepared the evening meal. The two men stepped into the lodge, closed the door, and began putting down all they carried. The children, seeing the father returned, converged on him from all points of the room. His arms had barely emptied when his children overwhelmed them again. He embraced them all, then had them put away his and Edmond’s packs. Benjie walked up behind his wife and lifted her lithe frame into the air, causing her to yelp in surprise. She twisted in his arms to face him, smiling and laughing. Her body slid closer to his and the lift became an embrace, followed by a passionate kiss. He placed on the floor gently and slowly broke their kiss.
She pointed to a large wicker basket lying near their bed mats. He moved across the short distance and knelt near the basket.
“Mangahas,” he purred the babie’s name, “kumusta?” he said in a light, cherubic voice.
Amihan turned her attention to Edmond. She was slightly taken aback at seeing the child. She smiled and came closer. She noticed a tiny smile on her friend’s face that had not been there in years.
“We rescued him from the Aoanon,” answering the question in her look.
She took the child into her arms, allowing Edmond to finish unpacking. Benjie began to relate their adventure to his wife as they settled in for the evening. They placed the orphaned boy together in the basket with Mangahas and all gathered around the table that sat in the center of the lodge. As they ate, Benjie and Edmond continued to recount their adventure and rescue of the Crighton child. When all were finished, the table was cleared, Edmond and Benjie began going through the items they collected, placing them into piles. Some they would keep; some they would sell or trade. Amihan, with Tigas’ help, got Sirenha and the twins ready for bed. Corazon tended to the babies.
“He’s quiet.” She said.
“Incredibly so,” said Edmond, his eyes glancing over the writings in one of the books, “not a peep since we found him.”
Corazon rubbed the boys’ stomachs eliciting coos from both boys in the basket. She looked at Edmond and asked, “Sino siya?”
Without looking up, Edmond spoke. “If I am reading this correctly, the family’s name was Hawthorn.”
Corazon’s fingers grazed something in the boy’s blanket. She picked up the child to investigate.
“Does he have a name?” asked Benjie.
“David. I think. If I am translating this properly the family was a man and wife, with two sons. David is the last name entered.”
They were quiet for a few moments. Corazon pulled a delicate gold chain from the deeper folds of the blanket. It materialized into a necklace with a locket. The weight of the locket made it pendulum scattering bits firelight. Corazon returned the boy to the basket and brought the locket to Edmond.
“No, it is a keepsake. Some people carry delicate art with their family’s faces on it in pieces of jewelry like this.” answering Corazon’s question, “It won’t provide any protection from the black spirits,” referring to the anting-anting’s spiritual properties. He unlatched the clasp, opening the gilded frame. Two finely painted visages stared back at him. Amihan came to the table. Benjie adjusted himself for her, allowing her to sit in his lap. She lay against his body and played with his black tresses.
“Are you going to bring him to Neddlestown, Edmond?” Asked Corazon.
“No,” replied Edmond still studying the images, “there were only four names listed in the book coming from Crighton. He has no family left here.”
“Do you have a new son?” she asked.
Edmond looked up. Sorrow that had been etched for an eternity on his face seemed to fade a little.
“Yes, I do.”