I remember the choosing well. It was violence, right the way through.
We knew these men among men – huge men, armoured men, noble men – were there to take use to become one among them. They were men, for that was what the Bard had said. The bard was not one of us, yet he was not one of them.
We are a proud tribe’s people – this planet, our world, we are told, by the Bard, that this is but one among many. I did not know this, but the Bard had spoken. It must be true. He had been with them. He told us, that despite our factions, our tribes, our alliances and allegiances, we are but one people, one people among many. There was many a time when I wondered at what the Bard had said, what he meant, but it was not my place to wonder. It was my place to do.
I remember many a time, when I was but a wee bairn, cradled in my mother’s arms, glancing up from that soft embrace, to see the shimmering, flickering of starlight, gliding across the heavens. We knew that somewhere among that blank field, they were judging us. From the moment we were born, to our dying day.
The Bard had come down over 200 winters previous, though he looked not a day over 25, edging on the side of ancient. Many men were lucky to survive past their 16 birthday on our world. He had told us all of what to expect. We had seen them before. Gigantic men, 3 heads taller than myself, and I was no small man, coated in exotic armour, shimmering bright and polished amongst our drab greys and green to blend in with our surroundings.
In the past, they had come and taken a few of us, maybe 1 in every 4 generations, and taken them, disappearing in the blink of an eye. We knew not where, but they had been taken, and never seen again.
I liked the Bard. In my 8th winter, I had heard him tell my father about a hunt he was intending to go on. My father, the tribe’s leader had been ready to follow the Bard, eager to impress him, after my Grandfather had died, leaving the tribe in his name.
My dear Grandfather. He was the oldest man in the tribe, nearly 50 winters old, when he was attacked after settling a blood feud, claiming the lives of nearly 20 of our best warriors. He had fought bravely, so I had been told – his assailants all dead around him, but the poisoned arrow had taken its toll on the ancient, and he succumbed. It was a sad time for me - I had loved him, but time waited for no-one. I had to a new responsibility, and I would do what I could to earn the respect of the tribe.
My father quailed when he heard what Bard was intending to hunt. The Carcharadonts, huge creatures, the size of the Devlar Trees, which surrounded the forests of my home, huge great beasts they were. 4 limbed lizards, with razor sharp claws, and a mouth, spilling over with literally thousands of teeth. A tribe’s wealth and power was seen by the number of Carcharadont teeth they had. We had fallen on lean times, and we had heard tales of a family of the beasts moving into a nearby mountainside. It took the whole assembly of the tribes finest warriors, fully equipped and fit for war to kill even one, and the lean times we had had these last few winters had been hard on us all.
My father agreed when the bard said it would be foolish to attack them, and risk his men. Bard left, and gave me a wink as I lay hidden in the bush. I was amazed he could see me – I had spent years practising my hiding and hunting skills.
I followed him then, full of brash, boyish talk and over inflated sense of my worth, sneaking along – pointless, now I think of it, but what seemed to be the right thing. He whispered some words to the sentries on the ponies around the Gers, and slipped into the cold night.
It was barely spring, but to prove myself, I still went around in summer clothing, while even the more hardy veterans of war sat huddled in furs. Foolish as I was, it was nothing to this. I followed Bard for a week, maybe 10 days, I lost track, and the nights grew steadily colder as we moved into higher terrain. Looking back, I realised he was giving me a subtle hint to turn back, but I could not see it, too caught up in the chase was I.
When we reached the Montbardian Mountains, and Razor Tooth Pass, I realised we had found the Carcharadont lair; the smell was unmistakeable. These super predators could eat anything they wanted, but they had been picky, leaving scraps to rot in the open.
The Bard strode out, and for the first time in that time I had been away, I felt fear. A roar came from the Crevasse, shaking the whole mountainside, the loose gravel giving way beneath my feet. With strength born of desperation, I leapt forward, and held onto a rocky outcrop, fist closing over the sharp edge, knife edged flint scarring my hand. That was when I saw the Carcharadont. 25 metres long, head to tail, and twice the height of a man. This was the male, its body frill jutting out, blood rushing through to dye the skin a warning crimson.
With a roar, the beast launched itself at the Bard. He had seen it, and put down his pack. Armed only with his fists, he charged the creature, a mighty swing to the side of the jaw saw bloody spit and broken teeth flying as the heavy head swung away from the impact. In a flash, the rope tying the robes of the Bard’s cloak came off. Leaping up onto the beasts back, he looped it round the neck, and pulled as hard as he could. I saw the eyes of the beast widen as its air flow began to get cut off.
The salty tang of its blood began to steam into the air, as this unnaturally strong cable began to saw through its scaly armour. As I scrambled up onto the outcrop, I saw the blood vessels in the eyes pop, turning its socket red. Blood seeped out of its eyes. The wrestling between the two grew fiercer and fiercer, but the bard could not be shifted. With a great sigh, the beast collapsed, dead.
Suddenly, the ground began to shake under the heavier tread of something larger. The Bard, who had been busy sawing away with his knife at the foot long teeth looked up, then looked at me.
“Gur’Tark, quickly, pass me a straight branch, hurry lad, hurry!”
So shocked was I at being addressed, I hurried to the trees behind me, and drew my short wood knife. A few quick strokes, and I had cut the branch down, and I hacked the leaves and stubs off. Throwing it down, the Bard caught it. A nod of thanks, and then I saw him set to, and lash a tooth to the branch, making a makeshift spear.
“Stay right there! This beasties a big ‘un. Can’t be doing with you getting hurt” he said. I was scared, really scared by this stage. I had never seen the Bard like this. He had always been friendly and jovial – like a favourite uncle, whisking you up in his arms, and tickling you until you were both helpless with laughter. But this, this was different. He stood immovable as a Mountain, as dangerous as a tensed bow. Shifting his hand along the shaft, he waited until the mother of the Carcharadonts moved into the open space.
Seeing, or rather smelling her mate’s death, she stood up on her hind legs. I had stayed near the opening to the ravine. Standing as tall as her mate had been long, a clawed hand, talons the length of my arm slammed down, flattening the tree behind me.
With a mighty effort, the Bard launched his spear. It flew wobbling through the air; the impure lance nonetheless flew like a bolt of lightning. The beast had opened her mouth to scream a roar of defiance when it struck her, spearing straight through the top of its mouth. With a whimper that was as heartbreaking as the roar was terrifying, it toppled, lifeblood seeping from its eyes. Feebly, it tried to stand, but despite she was paralysed. I saw my opportunity, and dropped out of the tree. The creature felt me land on her shoulders. She knew the end was near, and feeling her pain, I summoned what little strength I had, and drew the spear through. She groaned with agony, but not a flutter of movement was there to encourage me to dive for cover.
Standing on her muzzle, I looked into her eyes. She blinked once; it looked like she was crying tears of blood. Drawing back, like I had seen my father do, I threw the spear.
I cried then. Although I had heard horror stories about what they did, I realised it was because they had to survive. It took the bard to physically pull me away. I was scared, cold, hungry, and upset. The adrenaline pumping through me the last few days disappeared, leaving me empty. The fact I had made our tribe rich and the pride of my father meant nothing, to what I had just witnessed.
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