Saturday, December 27, 2014

Spitting at the Sun -- conclusion

A story of mine from a dark fantasy anthology titled Hunt the Winterlands.  The narrator is the Loremaster from a tribe of orcs whose world changes when a strange object falls from the heavens and lands in the distant Daggar mountains, plunging the land into an eternal Winter.  An ambitious rival, Borklan, claims that this is a new god and persuades the tribe to expel the Loremaster.

Wandering through the frozen wilderness, the disgraced Loremaster comes eventually to the place where the object fell and sees that everything Borklan claimed was true.  Despairing, he resigns himself to death.

Spitting at the Sun

(c) 2011 by Kurt Wilcken


            Death was long in coming; and before it did, I felt the jab of a kick in my ribs.  I rolled over and saw Borklan standing over me.  “Get up, old man,” he said.

            “Go away,” I said, burying myself back into my cloak.  He kicked me again.  “What are you doing here?”

            “I need to talk to you, old man.”

            “Why?  Has the tribe tired of you already?”

            He would have kicked me a third time, but by now annoyance had overcome my weariness and I blocked his foot with the shaft of my spear.  I sat up and returned his baleful glare.

            “The tribe follows me now,” he boasted.  “Even Gurthang fears me and defers to my authority.  I let him keep the title of Chief but he knows I can destroy him with a word.”

            I grunted to show my lack of surprise.

            “Under me the tribe has increased its territory.  We have taken many farms from the human-lands.  We have raided other tribes of Orcs, and when they saw the strength of our god they joined us.  We are a mighty people now with Goblin slaves and vast lands and we are growing greater every day!”

            “Goblins!,” I snorted.  “Since when have Orcs associated with Goblins?”

            “They are our slaves!”

            “It sounds as if you enslave Orcs as well.  Do you eat their flesh too?”

            “I have not come to argue with you, witless old man.”  He clenched the hilt of his sword and bared his teeth.

            “Then why have you come?”

            We glared at each other for a space; then he gathered his temper and continued.  “There has been some dissent.  The old men of the tribe, of course, fear the new ways.  They only see their own power weakened and not the new strength of the tribe.  But they are weak and have no support.”

            “Then who opposes you?”

            He hesitated again.  “The women,” he spat.

            For the first time in many weeks, I smiled.  Like many young warriors, Borklan dismissed the women of the tribe as being of little account, merely because they do not hunt and are not permitted to speak in the Council.  But women have their own wisdom, and a deep understanding of things which every Loremaster must know.  “What say, then, the women?”

            “Since the coming of the Sleeping God, there has been no spring.  The grass and trees remain sleeping under the snow and there is no new growth.  I have explained to them that what weakens the humans makes us stronger, but they are foolish and do not listen.”

            “The women gather fruits and roots to sustain the tribe when the hunting is bad; and they make bread from the grains of the field.  It is right that they fear a winter without spring.”

            “Their foolish chatter is poisoning the rest of the tribe.  They say that you were right and the tribe was wrong to banish you.  There is one way to stop this talk.”  Borklan drew his man-sword and pointed its tip at my throat.  “Come back to the tribe and tell them you were wrong.  Tell them that they must now worship the new god.”

            I laughed.  “Are you truly that desperate?  Has your god not proved himself that you need an old man’s word to support it?  Go back to your followers, Borklan.  You will get no help from me.”

            Borklan’s face took on a visage like the sky before a storm.  “There is one other way, old man, but I thought to spare you.  If you will not come back willingly, then I will take your head back without you and everyone will see whose god is the more powerful.”  And he raised his sword to strike.

            As he did so, I beheld the dull red sky in the east and saw a bit of flame peek through the clouds.  It was dawn, and the Sun, weary and cloud-encumbered was rising over the distant hills.  There would be no challenge to the Sun this morning; for like him, I was weak and defeated.

            And in that thought, another thought came, as the brushing away of a branch reveals the view of a valley beyond.  The Sun had been defeated, even as Borklan had said; and yet, every morning it still rose.  In his own way the Sun was also issuing a daily challenge; not that he had any hope of defeating his opponent any more than I had hope of defeating the Sun; but rather in the same spirit as our own ritual.  Each dawning was the Sun’s act of defiance against the Power that had bested him.

            The questions of the youngsters came back to me.  Why do we not worship the Sun as the humans do?  Because we are Orcs; we are proud and independent.  The Powers may beat us down with their strength, but they do not win our worship.

            But what if…

            What if one of the Powers were to relinquish his own strength, to let a foe humble him?  To be crushed into the earth and yet still spit defiance at his enemy.  Such a Power I could respect.  The Orcs serve no masters, but such a Power I could call my brother.

            Borklan paused and did not strike his blow.  I think he saw something in my eyes.  Whether I had seen a vision or heard a spirit he could not say, but I think he recognized that some great thing had happened to me, because in his eyes I saw fear.  I met his gaze and uttered the words of the Challenge:

            “I am a free Orc, the son of free Orcs.  I bow to no Power, neither in the Earth nor the Sky nor the Sea.  Though you may smite me, my spirit shall endure.  So do your best, you maggot’s son, and still I will defy thee!”

            He gave a snarl of rage and swung the sword at me, but although his borrowed man-sword was good for intimidating those of the tribe, he had little practice in its use.  Whereas my many years, which he so blithely mocked, included much experience fighting with a spear.  I caught his foot with the butt end of my spear as he attacked and sent him tumbling to the ground.  His blow, meant to hew my neck, merely grazed my ribs.

            I rose to my feet, more quickly than he anticipated and stabbed at him.  He rolled out of the way, but the point of my spear left a long gouge in his forearm.

            He scrambled clumsily to his feet and brandished his sword before him.  I kept my ground; I had not his speed, but the length of my weapon was greater.  After a couple feints to test my defenses, Borklan decided the same thing.  He tossed aside the sword and recovered his spear, but as he did so I thrust my spear into his side.  He howled in pain, and I gave the spear a twist as I yanked it out to make him howl the more.

            We circled each other warily, spear versus spear.  I was hobbled by weakness and age, but he was equally crippled by the wounds I had delivered.  He braced his spear against his body with his good arm and made a sudden charge.  Expecting the charge, I dodged to one side and drove my own spear into his face.  The point sliced up across his cheekbone and into his eye, penetrating into his skull.

            His weapon dropped from his hand and he fell to the bloodied snow.

            I stood over him for a moment, catching my breath.  His good eye rolled back and forth in his head as if trying to find me.  “Do not think you have won,” Borklan croaked.  “The Sleeping God remains there beneath the Earth, and his power rules this land.  The day will come when he awakens.  He will destroy you all…”

            “One may be bested and still not be defeated.  That lesson I should have learned from Urg-Dar, but I learned it anew this day from my brother the Sun.  Your Sleeping God defeated you long ago, and there is nothing left of you for me to curse.”

            He answered me not.  Perhaps he had already died and did not hear me, but I like to think he spent his final moments trying to think of a reply.

            That was several days ago.  I grow weaker by the day and do not expect to live much longer.  I regret that I lack the skill of men to put words down onto parchment that their wisdom can live beyond their lives, but I will do what I can.  I will lift the biggest rock I can and whisper my story to the spirits of the earth, so that if someday some traveler rests on this spot the spirits may whisper it into his ear.  Then I will go peacefully to the halls of my ancestors, and when I meet the spirits of my fathers, I shall also greet my new brother, the Sun.

            Hear my story, O traveler, and remember the wisdom I have learned.

            One may be bested, and still not be defeated.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Spitting at the Sun -- part 3

A story of mine from a dark fantasy anthology titled Hunt the Winterlands from a couple years back.  The narrator is the Loremaster from a tribe of orcs whose world changes when a strange object falls from the heavens and lands in the distant Daggar mountains.  The cataclysm caused by the object does not affect the orc tribe right away, but the following winter is a harsh one that drags on into the summer months.  An ambitious young warrior of the tribe named Borklan has gone off to learn what has happened and returns speaking of a new god, "The Sleeping God", who has brought the eternal winter and will enable the orcs to crush the race of men. 

Spitting at the Sun

(c) 2011 by Kurt Wilcken

(part 3)

            “We are free Orcs!”  I shouted to make myself heard over the raucous mob.  “We worship no gods such as men do.  If there is some war among the Powers as Borklan says… IF such a thing has happened, then it has nothing to do with us.  We shall live as we have always done, according to the lore of old!”

            “The world has changed!” Borklan replied.  “The old Powers are dead, and you are a master of dead lore.  A new world demands new gods and a new lore!  The Sleeping God will lead us to victory!”

            “Victory!” the warriors of the tribe shouted.

            The elders of the tribe looked at one another and at Gurthang.  They felt what I felt; the mood of the tribe was a swift river carrying Borklan along, but threatening to overwhelm anyone who stood in his way.  Gurthang rose from his seat and stood before Borklan, planting his own spear on the floor with a dull noise that stilled the shouting.  “Do you then lead the tribe to war?” he growled.

            The murmurs of the warriors ceased.  Gurthang was pressing Borklan to openly challenge him.  If Borklan called his bluff, he might lose; although past his prime, Gurthang still possessed much of the strength of his youth, as well as many years of battle craftiness; and if the Chief bested him, the tribe would no longer heed Borklan no matter how persuasive his words.

            Borklan lowered his head and again smiled his deadly thin smile. “The Chief leads the tribe as always, and I will follow you, my Chief.  But the Chief cannot lead well if he relies on poor advice.  Your old Loremaster would have us hide in our holes from a dead Sun.  The tribe needs a new Loremaster.”

            “Ojah!” shouted one of Borklan’s friends.  “Borklan!  Borklan!  Down with the old lore!”  The other warriors took up the chant.  “Borklan!  Borklan!”

            Gurthang turned his gaze to me and bit his lip.  We had earned our spears together as boys.  I had stood by him when he challenged Dripthew, the tribe’s previous chief.  Now I saw dreadful decision in his eyes.  I needed no casting of bones to read his future: Chief only in name, he would desperately cling to his position while Borklan gave the commands, until the day that Borklan decided he needed Gurthang no more.

            “What then of our old Loremaster?” Gurthang said in a low, defeated voice.

            “Kill him!”

            “Meat for the pot!”

            “No!”  Gurthang’s voice regained a bit of his accustomed thunder.  “The Loremaster is a holy man.  It is not for us to lay blade upon him.  Let him take his spear and some food and leave this tribe.  His fate shall be in the hands of the Powers.”

            I think Borklan would have preferred I die right there, but the tribe, after some grumbling and muttering, agreed to Gurthang’s counsel.  The Loremaster, after all, speaks to spirits; and evidently they feared that even a discredited Loremaster might call down calamity upon the tribe.

            So they cast me out.  They permitted me to keep my spear and my casting bones and a small bundle of the herbs I used for healing.  They gave me a waterskin and a few pieces of dried meat.  Some of the younger hunters threw stones at me and Gurthang did not stop them.  Still, I felt more pity for him than I did for myself.  My own catastrophe was so sudden and complete that I could barely comprehend it.  I would stop every now and then and look back at the tribe, each time smaller and more distant, as if my expulsion were a dream that might fade away.

            For many nights I traveled.  I continued to perform the ritual Challenge to the Sun each dawn, more out of habit than anything, and a stubborn determination that the traditions be followed, even if I were the only one to do so.  Then I found what shelter I could and pulled my cloak over my head to sleep, fully expecting to die before the next sunrise.  Within a few days I ate the last of my food.  After that I hunted when I could find game and dug into the cold earth for roots when I couldn’t.  When I could find neither, I hungered, and walked on.

            Occasionally I would pass a farmhouse or a village of men, abandoned and alone; or the carcass of some wayfarer, man or beast, who had perished.  I found one, a fighter with an empty scabbard  and guessed this was where Borklan found his sword.  The scavengers had left little meat on the bones, but the man’s knife was a better one than my own and I gladly traded it.

            One day I came to a village of the Elves, deep within a silent forest.  A circle had been drawn around the village to protect it from enemies and I could feel its magic as I approached, but the village itself was still.  One lone Elf sat in the center of the village, in dirty robes; surrounded by skeletons and as thin as a bone himself.  He bade me come into his circle where it was safe, but I saw the hunger in his eyes and heard the madness in his voice.  Here was a mage who had created a magic barrier to protect his home; but being afraid to leave their circle, his village ran out of food.  One by one, they had starved to death.  And what then?  The Elf wouldn’t say; but the blood on his robes and the bones at his feet told me all I needed to know.  He cursed at me as I left him behind, but his curses meant nothing.

            For many weeks I wandered without aim, not caring where I ended up; but the spirits guide our footsteps and lead each man to his destiny.  And so my own footsteps led me to the Daggar Mountains, to the spot where Borklan’s god had dug a great bowl of dust and death.  No trees stood in that deadly hollow; they all lay on the ground as if knocked down while trying to flee some great calamity.  What few traces of buildings I saw lay scattered amongst the rocks, even as Borklan had said.  The very spirits of this place were alien to me and spoke in a language I could not understand.

            I sat down and there I pulled my cloak over my head and wept; for until that moment I had hoped, in some small corner of my soul, that Borklan had lied to us about what he saw.  Then I knew that this new Power was stronger than any of the other Powers I had ever seen.  I curled up like a hedgehog and waited to die.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Spitting at the Sun -- part 2

I'm posting a story which originally appeared in a shared-world anthology titled Hunt the Winterlands, devised by my good friend Alex Ness.  The anthology's setting is a world of Dark Fantasy where the land lies under a curse of eternal winter due to a mysterious event long ago.

My story is set about the time that event happened.  Our narrator is the Loremaster of a tribe of Orcs.  His job is to teach the young of the tribe the story of Urg-Dar, Father of Orcs, who refused to bow down to the gods and was cursed by the Sun; and to perform the daily ritual re-enacting Urg-Dar's defiance.  He is the repository of his tribe's collective wisdom going back for generations.  But everything he knows is about to change...

Spitting at the Sun

(c) 2011 by Kurt Wilcken

(part 2)

            It happened one night in early autumn.  As I cast the bones to augury the night’s hunt, one of the hunters cave a cry and pointed to the heavens.  “A star is falling!”

            I meant to rebuke him and explain, as my father had told me, that the stars are the Children of the Night Sky suckling at her myriad teats and that occasionally one will pull away causing the milk to spurt out -- I have seen such things in the sky, and indeed they do look like a star is falling to the superstitious -- but when I looked up myself I saw that he was right.  I saw a light, much larger than a star and brighter, plunging towards the heavens leaving a shining trail, as straight as the edge of a knife.  It struck the horizon far in the east and a glow of fire lit the rim of the world.

            The sun rose late that morning and glowed a dim, sullen red behind a shadow of cloud.  I spoke the words of the ritual, proudly defying the sun; but in my heart I felt a tremble of fear.  Why, I wondered.  The sun had risen to a red sky before; more times than I could count; and as Loremaster, I knew how to interpret such signs.  But I did not know how to interpret this.  The bones had augured no calamity.  The only ill omen I could see was the grim, calculating look in Borklan’s eyes.

            That afternoon Borklan came before the Council.  He had grown into a strong-armed warrior in the years since the time I had cuffed the lore of the tribe into his skull, and the younger hunters admired him for his skill and his courage.  “Something great and wonderful has happened today,” he said.  “A piece of the sky has fallen to the earth!  We must send a party to seek it out!”

            “Such talk is foolish,” I argued.  “What we saw is strange, I do not deny, but it can have nothing to do with us.  Let the sky keep to the sky’s own business.”

            “How will we know if we do not look for it?  This is undoubtedly a sign of some great occurrence.  Who can tell what mysteries lie where the sky-piece fell?”  He struck the ground with the butt of his spear to support his argument.  Many of the younger folk of the tribe murmured in agreement.

            “You are merely speaking great words to make yourself seem more important.  I say again, it has nothing to do with us.”

            The Council argued back and forth, but the tribe’s chieftain, Gurthang, decided the matter.  “The Autumn Hunt is almost upon us.  I cannot spare a scouting party to go off fetching pieces of moonbeam.”  The elders of the Council chuckled, but I saw another reason behind Gurthang’s ruling:  He too saw Borklan’s ambition and sought to check it.

            Borklan crossed his arms and scowled.  “So be it.  Then if you women are too cowardly to seek the piece of the fallen sky, then I will go myself!”  And with that, he strode proudly from the Council chambers.

            He left that sunset, carrying a spear, a knife and a bundle of rations, and headed eastward in the direction of the Daggar Mountains.  He did not return the next day, nor the day after that. 

            Weeks passed and the nights lengthened as autumn passed into winter.  The tribe rejoiced with the waning of the year, because the longer nights meant more hours to hunt and the men of the human-lands remained behind their village walls waiting for springtime.  But this year the frost came sooner.  Clouds shrouded the sky nearly every night and when the wind blew from the east it carried the bitter grit of dust.  So dense lay the clouds on the eastern sky that some mornings I could not even see the Sun until it had risen well over the horizon.

            Strangers began to cross our territory.  First we noted an increase in game, which brought much food for the tribe.  Then the occasional band of Goblins would venture into our lands, always coming from the east.  Our warriors killed what they could and drove the rest away, for the Goblins are thieves and make poor neighbors.  One day, shortly before Midwinter, a group of humans passed through, traveling quickly with their possessions in carts.  These we slew also, sparing only one or two for questioning.  As Loremaster, I have learned some of the human tongues, but the language of these was strange to me.  I could make out but few words:  “ashes”, “darkness”, “death.”  They were evidently fleeing something which they feared even more than they feared us.  Gurthang and I decided that there must be some great war to the east which all these people were fleeing.

            I nearly missed Midwinter’s Day.  Although I kept careful reckoning of the passage of the suns, I had difficulty tracking the seasons of the gloom-encumbered sky.  Again I began to worry.  The days were growing longer, yet still the land lay in the cloak of winter, as if the world had forgotten about spring.

            Although spring never arrived, Borklan did.

            He came striding across the snow, just before dawn, using his spear as a staff and wearing a sword at his side like those forged by the humans.  “I have returned!” he shouted.  “Hear me, my people!  Everyone come and listen!”

            Gurthang confronted him, his brow knotted like a club.  “So you have returned.  And do you think the Council has time for traveler’s tales?  I am Chief and I call the Council.”

            “I call not the Council, but the whole tribe!  Old and young!  Warriors and females!  All must hear what I have to say!”

            “So, young braggart,” I said, standing by the Chief, “You went off seeking a piece of the fallen sky.  Did you find it?”

            Borklan met my mockery with  a blade-thin smile.  “I found more.  I found our destiny.”  Then he turned to the people of the tribe who had begun to gather around him.  “Let me tell you!  For many weeks I traveled when I left our tribe, until I came to the Daggar Mountains.  High into the mountains I climbed until I came to a pass and on the other side I saw a wide hollow, miles and miles across, as if a giant’s club had smote the earth.  And in that hollow I saw nothing but ash and destruction.  The trees had been knocked over like sticks, and the rivers choked with dust.  I saw villages of men that had been flattened as one might kick over an anthill. And I saw the bodies of men and beasts picked to the bones.

            “I continued on across the devastation until I came to the center of the circle, where the very stone of the earth was shattered and I found a deep pit that had been filled in by rock and debris.  I could feel that within that pit lay a Power, a Power greater than any one that Orc or Human, Elf, Dwarf or Goblin had ever before seen.  And the Power took me, and I fell into a deep sleep and entered the spirit lands.”

            The tribe gathered around Borklan, enraptured by his story.  I found myself bound by the spell of his tale too.  I had intended to mock him as a liar, but I could not.  I recognized truth in his words and it frightened me.

            “I know not how long I traveled in the realm of spirits, but when I awoke, I understood many things.  A new Power has come to Earth, greater than the Sun, greater than the Sky.  With one blow he has overthrown the old Powers.  A new age has come.  Hitherto was the age of the Sun and the dominion of Men, but the Sun has been defeated!  No longer do we need to fear it!  No longer do we need to cower underground until sunset!  A new god has arrived!  He sleeps now, but his power goes out into the land.  This is the Age of the Sleeping God!  This is the Age of the Orc!”

            At this blasphemy, the spell broke and I found my tongue.  “We are Orcs!  We serve no gods!”

            “Hah!  Pathetic old man!  You pretend to challenge the Sun with your daily mutterings when really you fear him and use the fear of others to cling to your position in the tribe.  Well, hear my challenge!”

            With that, Borklan turned to the east, and I realized that as he had spoken the Sun had indeed risen above the horizon, red and sullen.  Borklan raised his sword high over his head and shouted.  “Hear me, O Sun!  You are defeated!  You are powerless!  Your reign is over!  A greater god has crushed you and scattered the children of men before him.  In this sign we will triumph!  We shall seize the human-lands and we will not stop until all the earth is ours!  The Day of the Orc is now!”

            We all cringed, waiting for him to fall, burnt by the rays of the Sun, but yet he stood.  One by one, the people of the tribe realized that  the Sun was not burning them as it used to.  So weakened was the Sun by the dense clouds that covered him, that his face could no longer harm us.

            The youths of the tribe started up a low chant:  “Borklan!  Borklan!”  Other voices joined it.  The Chief looked to me uneasily; he saw his rule slipping from him and expected me to put  a stop to it.  Borklan also looked to me, daring me to try.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Spitting at the Sun -- part 1

This is a story I wrote for a dark fantasy anthology my friend Alex Ness complied a couple years ago titled Hunt the Winterlands.  The stories of the collection were set in a world where a tremendous catastrophe long ago had plunged the land into a centuries-long winter.  (Alex lives in Minnesota; can you tell?)

My story is set about the time of the catastrophe and tells how the shaman of an orkish tribe deals with the sudden changes in his world.

Spitting at the Sun

(c) 2011 by Kurt Wilcken

(part 1)

            Long ago when the world was yet new; when unstained was Earth by the blood of the weak; the Great Powers whom men call gods descended to earth and called all the peoples together.  “Choose among us whom you will worship,” they said, “and we will bestow upon you our blessing.”

            And so the Father of Men stood forth and chose the Sun to worship, for his power and majesty; and the Mother of the tall Elves chose the Stars for their beauty; and the Father of the burrowing Dwarves chose the Earth for her deep wisdom.  And so each of the peoples of the Earth chose one of the Powers to be their god.

            Lastly came Urg-Dar, the Father of the Orcs.  “What say you, Urg-Dar?” the Sun asked.  “Whom amongst the Powers do you choose to be your god?”

            “I choose none!” Urg-Dar replied.  “For what use have I of gods?  If I want something, I take it by the strength of my own arm!  If I lack something, I endure by the power of my own will; and if I desire wisdom, my own mind will teach me what I need.  I desire no god’s protection.”

            Then the Powers grew angry at Urg-Dar’s speech, and the Sun spoke thus:  “Hear me, Urg-Dar!  Though you scorn the gods’ favor, you cannot doubt their power!  From this day forward, my face shall be hateful to you and you will hide from my presence!”

            And Urg-Dar looked upon the Sun’s face, and the brightness of the Sun was like a spear in his eyes, and the rays of the Sun were like a fire upon his skin.  But Urq-Dar flinched not, even though the tears welled in his eyes as if he were a female.  “I have no desire to look upon a face as ugly as yours,” he said proudly, and only then did he turn away.

            Such is the story my father told me and his father to him, and his father’s father for unknown generations.  And for just as long, each morning the Loremaster of the tribe has stood out under the open sky to greet the dawn and remind the Sun that we, the Children of Urg-Dar, are still here and we bow to no god.

            And such is the story that I once told the youths of my tribe, for like my father, and his father before him, I was a Loremaster.  I spoke to the spirits; I instructed the tribe; and every morning, I challenged the Sun.

            Always when I taught the youths, some would ask questions.  “Why do we fear the Sun?”

            “We do not fear him, but we respect his power,” I would answer.

            “If we worshiped the Sun, perhaps we could walk under him in the daylight as the Children of Men do.”

            “We are free Orcs, and worship no Powers, whether the Sun above or the Earth beneath.  That is the meaning of the Morning Challenge.”

            Then one surly lad in the back of the others said, “I think the Morning Challenge is simply to make the Loremaster look important.  Surely the Sun does not hear his words, nor would he heed them.  It does not take deep wisdom to stand in the mouth of the cave and speak great words.” 

            Borklan, the lad was.  Even then he was querulous youth; always arguing and testing, as if the Wisdom of the Past was an enemy to fight instead of a father to obey.  Sometimes in meeting his barbed questions and defiant tongue, the wisdom my Father gave to me failed me and I had to resort to giving the lad a clout on the head.

            So I took Borklan by the arm and dragged him to the mouth of the cave and waited for the morning Sun.  “See then!” I said.  “If it is no great thing to stand and speak words, then stand with me.  You are full of words yourself; speak them to the Sun and see if he hears you!”

            As we waited for the dawn, I saw fear in Borklan’s eyes, for no Orc likes to be under the Face of the Sun.  I had been taught by Loremasters, and so I knew the tricks; how to avoid looking directly at the Sun’s Face and how to cloud my mind to block the pain of the sunlight on my skin.  Borklan knew not these things, and so when the eastern sky grew pale and the Sun’s bright disc crept into sight, he squirmed in my grasp, trying to flee, while I boldly spoke the words of the ritual.

            When the ritual was complete, I released Borklan and cast him back into the cave with the rest of the tribe.  “Do not mock the wisdom of your elders,” I told him.  “For thus these things have always been, and thus shall they ever be.”

            And Borklan was silent; but he regarded me with a hatred and resentment that I later came to remember.

            For many years my tribe lived as our fathers had before us:  hunting game in good times; grubbing for roots in bad; and sometimes venturing out into the Human-lands to raid the villages of Men.

            Then the sky fell.