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.


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