Beasts of the Four Kingdoms: The Hunt
A YOUNG BOY WATCHED FROM BEHIND A TREE. He eyed his prey with skill and knowledge. To him, these two went together hand-in-hand as a bow and an arrow. The prey, a beautiful snow stag, was standing between two oak trees. It rubbed its antlers against one of the trees and then shook its head.
Cad walked quietly and slowly towards the stag, hiding behind the roots of trees every twenty seconds. Slung upon his shoulder was a bag filled with nuts and berries as a snack during a long hunt. In one hand were three acorns and the other hand were two. Cad squat quietly, waiting for the stag to continue scratching its antlers. His waiting was not in vain.
In several minutes, the stag was rubbing the excess velvet; Cad smiled. He sought a good place for a distraction when he noticed a nice nearby shrub. He aimed and tossed the acorn at the bush. In an instant, the stag’s head flew into the air looked left, then right. But it still didn’t move. Instead, it started eating the early grass of spring.
“Blast it!” Cad mumbled under his breath. He picked another acorn and this time threw it right at it. The stag nearly leapt off the ground as if it was shot with by an arrow. It darted quickly into a clump of ferns and disappeared into the forest.
Cad smiled. “Perfect.” He whistled a loud and shrill call and waited. In several seconds, a bright fiery bird broke through the tops of the trees and then plummeted to Cad. Right as it seemed as if the bird was about to knock Cad off his feet, it stretched out its wings, braking right in front of him.
Cad said, “Good show, Ember. Now, would you please stop fooling around and scout where the stag went?”
Ember answered with a “Creeyah!” and flew into the sky. Cad watched as she sped in the stag’s direction, and then disappeared into the blue sky’s clouds.
For that moment, Cad leaned back against the tree’s large roots and took his time snacking on almonds. A couple of squirrels crept close to him, scouting for their fellow clan mates on what this stranger was eating.
Cad knew that they were watching him and he could have easily shot several of them with one stone from his sling. But Cad knew that there was something greater than a squirrel.
“Beck should have caught it by now. Let me just check.” Cad whistled again. “That bird could hear me a village away and still comes home with a hare in her claws.” At that moment, Ember zoomed through the trees and a lighted on Cad’s gauntlet.
“So girl, where are they?” Cad asked. He loved doing this because it always reminded him of the work it took to teach Ember the signs of direction: left wing for North, right wind for South; left talon of East and right talon for West. After several long months of training, it had finally paid off, making hunting much fun and tiring.
Ember raised her right wing and her left talon, meaning they were southeast. Cad grinned and started walking.
“Good girl.” He said. He lifted his arm higher and Ember flew higher into the treetops, but not too high for Cad to lose sight of her. He followed her directions until he was tangled in ferns and broken branches. Several of them were burning, which was quite strange since he hadn’t smelled any smoke earlier. Cad was suddenly worried.
“I’d better find Beck and that stag soon—”
“Hey, Cad, over here!”
Cad looked around him but saw nothing. Then, with the keen eye of a hunter, he saw a small round face hidden between a clump of ferns. Smart lad, Cad thought as he moved closer, using the plants and broken branches to his advantage of catching prey.
Beck smiled from behind the leaves. “I was waiting for you, ya’ know?”
Cad shrugged and stooped down to Beck’s level. The boy was lying on his belly under several broken branches and other kind of debris. On his head was a tawny-red cap with a slick green feather tucked into the band. Lying under Beck’s stomach was a sturdy, ancient bow.
“What are you doing?” Cad exclaimed. He could see Beck’s eyes begun to worry.
“What do you mean?” the boy asked.
Cad rolled his eyes. “Why are you lying on top of the bow? Don’t you understand that it is a sacred object to me as a Huntsman?”
Beck gave a boyish grin. “Nag, nag, nag!” he said getting up. “Don’t worry your silly little self, Cad. I not only kept the bow safe but I also shot down the stag you sent me.”
“Yep. Over there.” Beck pointed to a nearby tree where the stag’s carcass was laid by its trunk. In its neck was an arrow, much to Cad’s relief.
Cad and Beck started walking over to it. “Good,” he said. “At least you got in the neck this time.”
“Yeah,” Beck laughed, “last time I got it in the antler.”
Cad did one of his rare smiles. “I remember, I remember.” The two boys sat down in the dirt and leaves and took out their mountain knives. The knives were about a foot long, the handle being around four inches. Even though mountain knives were double-edged, the left side was jagged, which made cutting vines, ropes and raw skin.
For the next couple of hours, Cad and Beck skinned the whole stag. After they were done bagging the meat into three separate cloth bags, the two traveled back to the village. On the way, Beck, who was usually talkative, was quiet. Cad noticed this and understood; when he was twelve, he also had those moments when he’d just be silent.
But Beck was different. Beck was the only person in the village that wanted to be his friend. Beck was the one who decided they should go hunting and Beck was the one who didn’t think of him different than any of the other villagers. But Beck also didn’t know why the other villagers discriminated against Cad over the others. At least, Cad didn’t think so.
“Yeah.” The sun was getting higher and dawn’s cool breeze’s swept through the forest like a flock of birds. Primroses, Blairees, and taylas bloomed as the sun’s light as it shimmered through the leaves.
“Is it, well, true?” Beck asked.
Beck stopped walking, causing Cad to slow down.
Beck answered, “That you’re part… woodsman.” The boy wished he hadn’t said anything; Cad’s face turned red and his green eyes became bright with fury. Cad grit his teeth, his jaw became hard and his neck stiff. Without even looking at him, Cad asked:
“What do you think?”
Cad looked at Beck, who was looking down as if in shame. “Well… I think that even though most woodsmen are thought of as barbaric and ruthless… I think that they’re just very private people who… use nature as one of their defenses. That’s all.”
Beck cringed, as if he was waiting for Cad to bash his head against a tree. But Cad didn’t.
Instead, he laughed. Not just a chuckle, but a real, scarce Cad the Hunter laugh. Cad gave Beck a heartfelt pat on the back.
“Ah Beck. You’re probably the only one to make me laugh,” he said.
Beck looked at with awe. “Really?” he asked excitedly.
“Yes. You see, not everyone likes me in the village. They think it’s strange for lad of my race to be so one with nature. Like this primrose for instance.” Cad picked it up. “I can feel it telling me to shine it near to the sun.” Cad did so and when he did, the flower bloomed so wonderfully that even Beck wondered, could this boy who was like a big brother to me actually be part woodsman? Only the race of woodsmen could be so one with nature. It was the command that the Almighty had given them scores of years before.
But for the last thousand years, woodsmen were thought of as barbaric and strange to move from one place to the other and being able to literally become entangled with nature. The people of the village had said that the moment that they had known that the baby in orphanage was special was when he was able to make a tulip bloom.
That’s when the rumors began spreading that his father was probably a ruthless woodsman warrior who kidnapped Cad’s mother in a raid, forcing her to be his wife. The rumors became even worse when they said that Cad’s mother had then started seeing other woodsmen during her time in their camp. Then one day, she ran away to the people’s village, the Village of Nora. She then gave birth to Cad in the village’s sick house, where she died during delivery.
Cad was then placed into the orphanage until he was bought by Taron, the Blacksmith and his family. That was how Cad had met Beck. Beck was Taron’s one and only son. Now, Taron did not mind that the strange lad was teaching his son the way of hunting. Nor did he care that they visited the crazy dwarf Alfred. But what he did mind was if Beck wanted to learn the strange ‘plant-talking’ or ‘beast speak’ that rumor’s said that Cad could do.
Now had ‘some-what-ly’ talked to a dog or pig, understood its problem, told the animal’s owner what it was ‘telling’ him, fixing the problem. And the incident that started all the rumors, that was only when he was a child… or they thought.
Right then, Cad had just helped a flower bloom in the morning’s dawn. To Beck, that was remarkable, even after the seven years Cad had been with his family.
“Amazing,” Beck whispered.
“Thank you,” said Cad. He blew the flower until its petal soared high into the sky and became one with the wind. “Now, let’s head back to the village before we get our hides whipped by your old man!”
Beck grinned. “I’ll race you there!”
~. . . . .~
After Cad and Beck walked into the village, they headed for the Village Square, a trading place for hunters, merchants and peddlers. Young and old, meek or strong, all went to the Square every Fifth Day of the week at Lionground.
There, merchants, hunters and peddlers set up wooden tables, laid out their possessions and started the haggling of sales.
Cad would sell squirrel, fowl and sometimes hare. When Cad and Beck would drag their table and set it in-between the vagabond Aria and Issachar, a sea merchant from Sari. It wasn’t that Cad had special feelings for her, but he had to admit that Aria was a very interesting young woman. She was about nineteen and had been on her own since thirteen. It was a legend that her parents had died by a band of wargs* by their farm in Kornelia. She later sailed across the Maiden’s Pass and traveled with a caravan of gypsies and vagabonds. There she learned how to use a sling to her own advantage by hunting small animals.
But the most prosperous way she made money by her sling was that she stole fruit from noblemen’s orchards by shooting apples, peaches and oranges off the trees by their stems. They would fall into the barrels that the workers would leave under the trees.
Aria would then take the fruits and sell them at the market; which she was doing right now.
“Greeting, Young Hunter,” she said with a smile as Cad stood, carving a small piece of nadika wood. Aria had never called Cad by his real or pet name. She always called him “Young Hunter” and spoke with a strong, thick Kornelian accent. “How didst your hunting this fair dawn?”
“Well.” Cad replied. “Beck actually shot the stag this time.”
“Yeah, in the neck!” piped the boy excitedly. “Those pointers Cad’s been teachin’ me really works. And even yesterday, Papa said that someday I might ride with the King’s huntsmen!” Beck sat on the dirty ground and looked dreamily at the morning’s azure sky. “Think about it,” he continued, “me, your own Beck, riding in the company of the King’s huntsmen.” Beck gasped. “Maybe I’ll get to ride by the King himself!”
Aria looked at Cad worryingly. The smooth carving he had been making a couple of seconds ago became a rough, chipped and sharp looking dagger. Cad’s face showed anger, embarrassment and fury.
During the past fifty years, King Landon had driven the woodsmen and their clans further and further from their southern forests, and more and more to the northern waters of Zavia and Hansgard. The King decided that those “barbarians” should be pushed to the world’s edge. He’d also sent out raids and attacks upon peaceful woodsmen villages and camping-grounds. The once large woodsmen of 300,oo became the dwindling thumber of probably 6,000.
And even though Cad wasn’t official sentenced having “wood-blood”, he still hated the King tyrants because of prejudice.
“Curse that dirty dog!” he mumbled.
Beck picked at the ground with the toe of his boot, trying to avoid the awkward air that hovered over the tables. His effort was in vain. Aria eyed the moving customers, who passed by Cad’s table without even a glance at his possessions. Why won’t you cowards let others have their own opinions or ideas. Aria almost burst. If Cad doesn’t care a bucket for the King then that’s his fault!
Aria spied an old man across the line of customers that walked down the tables. He was clothed with a white bear cape, a soaring chipmunks** hat, fox skinned boots and a long thick beard. He walked with an interesting staff. It looked like an ordinary staff, except the top was sharp like a spear and tied at both ends was a string.
“Excuse me, Sir?”She called out to the old man. He stopped himself from giving three coins to the duck man who hunted ducks for a living.
“Yes, girl? What is it that you want?” the old man demanded.
“I see you are wearing a diversity of animal skins. I see it’s a hobby of yours to buy pelts and furs.”
The old man looked at her with confusion but answered. “Well, yes it tis… Why does it matter what I buy? Are you a peddler of fur?”
“Oh no, Sir,” Aria assured. “But, the young man a table down from me is. Please, come over this way and take a look.”
The old man walked across the grass and to Aria's table. The girl pointed to Cad’s station, in which the man turned to look, glanced back at Aria , nodded silently and walked down to Cad.
“Excuse me, young lad,” said the old man, “but how much would you want for that fox tail?”
Cad almost leaped off of barrel. But, instead, like a mature young merchant, stood up in the calm, steady manner. His eyes, dark and blue, stared at the man with honor and no shame.
“If we are discussing the kind of animal that it is, then I could give you a fair price. But, if you want this for it’s rare silver fur color, then I’m going to have to raise the price. Deal?”
Cad almost smiled at the perplexity and confusion on the man’s face. And then the man’s face became grave and grim. “Since you are a very shrewd merchant and fur trader, I’ll give you thirty lailin.”
“Thirty!” Cad cried. “Do you know how hard it is to hunt a stone fox?”
“Do you know painful it is to slay a dragon?” said the old man. He pulled a tooth from inside his layers of fur and put it right in Cad’s face. Cad suddenly became quiet. “I thought so. Anyway, either thirty lailin or nothing, take it or leave it.”
Cad thought for a moment, deciding what to do. Right as he was about to answer, Ember, who was on his shoulder quietly cawed. The old man quickly diverted his eyes to the young bird.
“What kind of creature is that?” he demanded.
Cad breathed in deep, awaiting for what the man would say. “It’s a phoenix, sir.” He saw the old man trying not to laugh.
“Kind of small for a phoenix, dontcha think?”
Cad’s face turned red. “No!”
The old man took a step back, and grinned a wide toothless grin.
“She’s a pahara, which in the forest language means ‘night phoenix’. These kind are only as large as falcons and can alight a flame at well during flight at the age of six months old. This one’s only four months.”
“Then which ones are the they that can fight dragons, burn small villages and send shivers down a warrior’s spine?” the old man persisted.
“Those are kohorras. They range from the colors of… Does that even matter now? I say twenty lailin and that’s final!”
The old man, openly annoyed, threw the coins on the table, grabbed the tail and walked further down the line.
Cad, who had a furious look on his face, turned to Aria and Beck and grinned broadly. “I do love a good deal.” he declared.