It was impossible to distinguish whether the purple – blue hue was mist or fog. It had the appearance of neither but rather seemed to be someone’s attempt to make a mist having gone wrong. The substance whirled about in vast eddies and appeared to stretch into infinity in all directions. It was not thick enough to hamper visibility and yet nothing else could be seen; no ground; no sky; nothing. With a strange regularity a purple whirlpool would form in one part of the vastness and rapidly move to a new location before settling back into its surroundings.
And then a small dot appeared. This dot became increasingly larger as though it were either a distant object coming closer or a small object growing in size. As it enlarged it took the shape of a face and continued its growth in size until it occupied almost all visible space; and then it stopped. The face was almost an exact circle but was badly pot marked, the marks being remarkably like the craters in a moon. The mouth was a long crooked slit which could well have been made by an axe blade and instead of hair the top part of the face was covered in a grey, green moss. The only movement was from within the eyes. These were large, round and consisted of thousands of small dots that were constantly changing colour. No two dots seemed to possess the same colour at the same time and the myriad they created was hypnotically mesmerising.
Without use of voice or movement the face produced a message. ‘El Torath is yours to get’. The message was repeated several times very slowly as though the words had incredible importance and then in an instant the face again became a small dot before disappearing completely. Only the mist remained.
A thick gnarled piece of wood landed heavily on a group of hot coals disturbing their uniform redness. In a mindless act of revenge the coals forced the dead section of tree to rapidly decompose. It began to turn black and then sent three tongues of orange and yellow flame to light the dark night. Just above and behind these flames was a mass of hair whose colour so closely matched them it could have easily been mistaken for the fire itself. Contrary to the flames, however, this mass widened as it rose until it finally engulfed the lower portion of a head, leaving exposed only two brown chapped lips and a rather long freckled and weather beaten nose. On either side of the upper bridge of the nose and just under a second mass of orange, yellow hair, which at the sides hung down to join the first, were two small wrinkled eyes. Their light grey irises reflected the flames growing from the log the man who owned them had just added to the fire.
“Why so solemn this evening Cudat?” a voice asked. Cudat raised his eyes from the flames. On the opposite side of the fire sat Eral. A young man, Eral had yet to accumulate the massive wrinkles that surrounded Cudat’s eyes but as with Cudat they were light grey and shone out amazingly from the mass of hair which was bright yellow, containing none of the orange of age. His beard was shorter, better kept and left more of his face exposed, but apart from these differences the two looked similar and were at times confused for brothers though they were in fact unrelated.
Cudat regarded Eral’s smiling face for a moment and then returned his gaze to the fire. “My son Tizar dreamt again last night”, he said at last.
“Oh!” Eral joined Cudat in gazing at the flames. “Was it the same one?”
Without looking up Cudat nodded his head slowly. “This makes six times since the last full white Moon.
“I’ve never been one for omens Cudat”, Eral replied. He leaned over to a small barrel resting on a log by the fire and poured some of its contents, a dark frothy brew, into two large earthen mugs. “Have some mance”, he said handing one of the mugs to Cudat, “it always livens you up”.
Cudat absently wiped some of the froth from the top of his mug and flicked it into the fire where it hissed and steamed. He swallowed a mouthful of mance, then looked at Eral. His expression was pained. “I can trace my line back for thirty generations”, he whispered, “and there has never been a dreamer among them”.
Eral emptied the contents of his mug with one swig. “What has Hadel said?”
Cudat made no reply but instead returned his gaze to the fire. He was beginning to regret having made Tizar’s dreaming public. It was an accepted fact that in the Torathan tribe there could be only one dreamer at a time and he, of course, held an important and highly regarded station, that of chief adviser to the council. The position of dreamer was almost always passed from father to son. Should a dreamer be born into another family a challenge would be mounted to determine who the rightful tribe dreamer should be. The loser of such a challenge would then be either killed or banished.
A dreaming challenge had not been mounted within living memory and Cudat could not bear the thought of there being one involving his one remaining son. The position of dreamer had been in Hadel’s line for forty three generations and it was obvious he was not going to relinquish the position if he could avoid it. But there had been something inside Cudat that told him what was happening was somehow important and that it needed to be shared with the whole tribe, especially as the dream mentioned El Torath itself.
Yet the decision to tell Hadel had weighed heavily on Cudat’s mind and he was now close to despairing for Tizar’s future.
“Was the forecast that grim?” Eral’s voice interrupted Cudat’s thoughts.
“He said nothing.” Cudat replied. “He just pointed his jubar toward the black moon and then stalked off.’
Eral glanced casually at the black moon situated, as it always was, just to the right of the white moon. He chuckled softly as he refilled his mug with mance. “Between you and me”, he whispered, “I’ve always thought that Hadel’s dreaming was hocus pocus and that Jubar of his nothing more than a glorified stick.”
“You don’t want to let the council hear you say that.”
“Well what does he do? He never hunts, he never fights, he just says the odd thing to the council and for that he gets one of the biggest hutches in the tribe and all his meals for free, not to mention the free women.”
“Your talking heresy!” Cudat was now leaning so far forward his beard seemed to disappear into the flames. His eyes had widened and nostrils flared. “The problem with you Eral”, he continued, “is that you are too rebellious. Its going to get you into much trouble one day, believe me.”
Eral’s grin disappeared and his face became determined. “I’m not the only one who thinks this way. There are many who share a similar belief”.
“They may share your belief”, Cudat returned, “but none are so stupid to voice it as you do. I warn you to take care.” He sat back and sipped at his mance. Slowly a smiled cracked across his craggy features. “Youth!” he said at last. “What do youth know or understand?” Always they question; until they grow older and then they find themselves giving the next generation the same answers they questioned when they were young. It’s easier that way. You may question the religion and social structure of the tribe Eral but what would you replace it with?”
Eral shrugged. “I still say Hadel is a pretender.”
“You could be right Eral, but even so that does not help young Tizar’s situation.”
“But if it does come to a challenge…” Eral began.
“You are a good friend Eral” Cudat interrupted. “I have known you since you were a small boy, ever since your father and I fought in the Taigre war together and though I know your heart is strong, your mind is often muddled. If it came to a challenge what hope would young Tizar have against forty-three generations of dreamer? None I’m afraid.” Again Cudat’s face grew sullen and he stared once more into the fire. In an act of sympathy and respect Eral lowered his head and gazed into his mug.
For some time they sat in silence watching the flames, both almost motionless except for the refilling of the mugs and the occasional adding of another log to the fire. Both were oblivious to the movements and voices which surrounded the many other fires in the village, the constant clamour of insects that infested the nearby creek at night but could never be found during the day, and the slow path of the two moons across the starlit sky. It was finally a voice that made them aware they were not alone.
“I have news Cudat.” Cudat looked up to see a large muscular man. He was taller than the average Torathan, being about fifteen hand widths in height and his hefty frame was made to look even bigger through the thick duhig skins that covered his chest and shoulders. The skins were pulled in tight around the waist by a thick red belt with a triangular gold buckle. From this belt hung a long sword, the hilt of which was fashioned into a gaping mouth, whose teeth reflected the firelight. Cudat had never spoken to the man before but recognised him as Gah, chief messenger to the council.
“I have news from the council.” Gah said to ensure that Cudat was listening attentively. “You are required to appear before the council at next sun down to discuss the matter of you son Tizar’s alleged dreaming. The council instructs that you be told of the seriousness of the allegation and trusts that you will not be so foolhardy to disregard it’s request of an appearance. What is your response?”
Cudat was taken aback by Gah’s total formality. “Tell them I will be there.” He said quietly.
“I will so inform the council.” Gah replied and without another word or even hesitation he strode off.
“Hadel acted quickly.” Eral said when Gah was out of hearing. “I dare say nothing like this has happened to him before.”
“No one has dreamt of El Torath before.” Cudat replied. “It is no doubt seen as a portent.”
Eral gave a short, quiet laugh. “Superstition.”
“It is religion!” Cudat glared.
Eral fell silent. It was an argument the two had many times before, and Eral knew it was pointless to pursue it further. The older members of the tribe stubbornly stuck to the old superstitions and refused to recognise the newer beliefs and theories held by many of the younger Torathans. He idly thought of the day when his generation will be the council leaders. It will change, he thought to himself. It will change.
After another lengthy silence Cudat rose to his feet. He bid Eral a goodnight and without waiting to hear a response he walked back to his hutch. As with all Torathan hutches it was a crude but sturdy structure made from the branches of the balak tree which grew along the edge of the creek near the village. The branches were lashed together by pieces of vine into bunches which were tied to a frame of larger branches that had been embedded vertically into the ground. Duhig skins were used for the roofing, door and, if necessary, partitions inside the small structure.
Cudat pushed the door skin aside and ducked into the hutch. For a moment he stood lost in thought, then he gently opened the skin partition to reveal Tizar’s room. Tizar was asleep, almost totally covered with blankets. He was sleeping on his side, facing away from Cudat so that all Cudat could see was a tuft of yellow hair.
“My poor son.” Cudat said to himself. “If only your mother was still here to help us through this.” Slowly he let the partition fall back into place. Feeling incredibly tired he lay himself on his straw bed in the hutch’s only other partition. Lying on his back, he stared at the roof which gradually became more visible with the light of dawn.
Everywhere was smoke. Tizar ran from burning hutch to burning hutch crying for help but could not find one Torathan standing. Looking around, all he could see was bodies that littered the open areas of the village. The bodies of the women, though he couldn’t understand why, were naked. Running blindly, he came across his father lying on his stomach. He turned his father over to find that half of his face was missing. Maggots filled one of the empty eye sockets. Shocked, he looked up only to find himself confronted with a large, round craggy face partially covered with green moss. “I told you to find El Torath.” The face said.
Tizar woke with the first light of dawn to find the face of his father peeping through the skin partition. He seemed especially old this morning, the small furrows on his brow and around his eyes were more pronounced and the eyes themselves gazed wearily.
“Good morning father.” Tizar said sitting up.
“Get dressed.” His father replied. “Today is the day you join the hunt.”
The skin fell closed and his father was gone. Tizar stood up excitedly. For ages now he had been telling his father that he was old enough to hunt, that his archery lessons with Eral had made him proficient enough with the bow to hit a target at four hundred paces. “A duhig is more than just a target” was his father’s usual response.
After dressing, Tizar emerged from the hutch to find his father, Eral and Credan waiting for him. Credan was about the same age as Eral but was shorter, stouter and, unlike Eral who was almost always smiling, was in a constant bad mood. Eral would joke that if Credan didn’t learn to smile he would go orange before his time and Credan’s hair was in fact beginning to go orange around the temples. Tizar looked around slowly half expecting to see bodies in the village, the sighed with relief when he saw the women tribe members making breakfast preparations over open fires as usual. A hard slap on his back brought him back to his senses.
“And how are you this morning lad?” Eral beamed.
“I feel like a warrior!” Tizar pronounced proudly.
Eral laughed. “You’re only fifteen lad. You have another six years before you reach manhood and some years after that before you can describe yourself as a warrior.”
“Must we take the boy with us?” Credan groaned. “He will only get in the way.”
“He’s a good lad.” Eral said, coming to Tizar’s defence. “He’ll be fine.”
“The boy has to learn.” Cudat said flatly.
“But he is so young.” Credan protested. “It should be another three years before he joins a hunt.”
Cudat looked at his son who appeared confused by this confrontation, then he turned to Credan. “I have decided to take him now.”
“But why?” Credan asked.
“I have my reasons.”
“Let the old man alone.” Eral intercepted laughing and putting his arm around Cudat’s shoulder. “If he wants to take his son on a hunt there’s no tribal law saying that he can’t is there?”
“Well no…” Credan mumbled.
“Then let the man have his whim.” Eral reasoned.
“But Torathans always hunt in threes.” Credan persisted.
“So why don’t you stay home and let us have a fun hunt for a change?”
“If I don’t hunt my family don’t eat.” Credan said darkly.
“Well there you are then.” Eral jibed, playfully pushing Credan in the chest. “So today the three are three and a half.” He winked at Tizar who gave an embarrassed smile.
“Then lets be off.” Said Cudat. “The day is wearing on.”
“What about breakfast?” Tzar asked.
“We eat on the trail.” His father replied, and with that the four started heading out of the village, Tizar trailing the other three.
The long branches of the jineg tree reached out horizontally from its large trunk at about the height of three men. They extended in all directions from this centrall pillar until, no longer able to support their own weight, they drooped earthward, the tips penetrating the soil under which they formed new roots, some of which would sprout another massive trunk. The large triangular turquoise leaves covered the branches so thickly that little could be seen inside the circle these created and the visible appearance was that of a solid dome. Many such domes erupted in clumps from the vast scape of bright yellow flowers that dominated the plant life in the area the Torathan called Masigue Valley.
A long muscular tube rose from the yellow sea, snaked around slowly, stopped still, then made small jabs at the air before disappearing. It was almost immediately replaced by two black bulbous eyes which emerged almost unnaturally from a small hairy head. This head darted from side to side a few times, then fell beneath the flowery yellow carpet only to quickly reappear a short distance away. Though a continual series of appearances and disappearances the bulbous eyed head marked a path toward the nearest jineg tree.
Despite the fact that Tizar was sitting only a short distance from Eral he could only vaguely make out Eral’s figure leaning against the trunk of the jineg, so deep was the shadow cast by it’s leaves. He could also see an animals long snout curling around the trunk and, unnoticed by Eral, dipping its end into the side pocket of his quiver. Eral turned to sight the snout just as it found what it was looking for. He grabbed it and pulled it with all his might bringing the animal it belonged to careening into view. For a few seconds it sat stunned, its black eyes seemingly rotating on its squat head. Then it was up and heading for the nearest branch, using its trunk as a fifth leg which, being longer than the other four, caused its body to hop up and down as it quickly ran with its stubby tale gyrating wildly. As it reached a branch its snout wrapped itself around it and swung the animal up and out of view.
“Damn kooti.” Eral cursed.
“It was only doing wahat it was born to do.” Tizar remarked.
“It stole my lunch.” Eral complained. “Oh well, with a bit of luck we will have fresh duhig for lunch.
“How much longer do we have to wait?” Tizar asked.
“As long as it takes. You should know.”
Tizar looked away in embarrassment. Although this was his first hunt he knew the procedure well. Each of the three members of the hunting team hid in a jineg tree so that together they covered a triangular area of the flowered plain. When a duhig happened into the triangle the three would converge on it until within easy shooting range. Should the duhig discover one of the hunters and run, it would still be a relatively easy target for the other two. Tizar felt silly for having asked the question, but despite the fact he knew it could be a long wait and a duhig may not show at all, he was having trouble containing his excitement.
It didn’t have to be contained for much longer. While he was gazing at the ground Eral had looked through the tree canopy and had spied a target. At Eral’s word Tizar peered cautiously through the leaves. A large duhig was feeding almost in the centre of the triangle.
Silently the two Torathans pulled their hair over their eyes and stealthily moved through the leaves and out into the flowery plain. They crawled keeping their bodies low and their heads just above the level of the flowers. Their hair, which was virtually the same colour as the flowers, kept them camouflaged from the eyes of the duhig. Some distance beyond the duhig Tizar noticed small dashes of orange moving amongst the yellow and he realised that soon his father would be too old to hunt. He wondered if this was the reason he was asked to join the hunt so soon.
After what seemed an incredibly long time it appeared to Tizar that the duhig was almost within shooting range. Tizar had seen the bodies of many duhigs after hunts and he had, on occasion, seen them wandering in the distance but this was by far the closest he had ever been to a live one. He marvelled at how much larger they were alive than he had imagined them from looking at their lifeless corpses. He began to feel nervous and tense and desperately longed to ask Eral if this was normal but he knew all too well that speaking, even whispering, was forbidden once a hunt had begun so he tried to ignore the nervousness by concentrating with all his might on the duhig which he now felt was so close he could touch it.
His concentration was broken by a movement to his left which he caught out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head slightly and noticed that Credan, who was closest to the duhig, was now standing. Credan had his bow fitted and was aiming at the duhig which was busily grazing and had not yet noticed Credan’s presence. Tizar watched transfixed as Credan steadied his aim. In the exact same instant as Credan fired the duhig shifted slightly to one side. Credan’s arrow flew past the duhig narrowly missing its right ear. The duhig must have heard the arrow’s passing for it stood erect in alarm and then Tizar saw his father suddenly rise from the sea of yellow. He fired his arrow as he rose but quick as he was the duhig had spotted his movement and was already starting to bolt away from the danger. The arrow, which had been aimed at its heart, caught the duhig in the rear flank sending it crashing to the ground. For a moment Tizar lost sight of it as it tumbled below the level of the flowers but astonishingly it bounced back into view and with a mixture of horror and excitement Tizar realised that it was running with a painful limp straight toward him. Recalling his hunting training he quickly took an arrow from his quiver and simultaneously fitted it to his bow, flicked his head back to clear his hair from his eyes and stood up. The duhig was now extremely close and for the first time Tizar realised that it stood as tall as him. Though limping it was moving with some speed and there was obviously a lot of power in the animal. Its brown eyes were wide in terror, mist snorted from its nostrils and white foam promulgated from its mouth. When the animal registered that another assailant was standing in front of it the eyes widened even more but it was committed to this course of action and refused to deviate.
Tizar found himself mortified. Despite knowing that he should fire, his muscles refused to obey his now wildly spinning mind. Horror, excitement, pity, revulsion, remorse and anxiety overpowered him in quick succession while the duhig shortened the distance between the two of them to the point where Tizar was convinced it was going to run him down.
Then the duhig’s speed unexpectedly slowed. The front of it grew in stature as it rose higher above the flowers. As the duhig lifted its front legs skyward Tizar could clearly see outlined against the blue, and protruding from the great animal’s heart an arrow shaft that was rapidly turning red as it became enveloped by blood pulsating from the wound. The duhig continued to rise until it was almost standing vertical on its rear legs and then its body started to slowly spiral ground ward in a large arc. As it did so it turned its head and fixed its gaze on Tizar. It had never occurred to Tizar that an animal’s eye could register emotion but this fact hit him now like a hammer and it scared him that instead of emoting pain or hate, which would be expected, those deep brown eyes expressed pity, not for itself, but for Tizar. Their eyes interlocked with a mixture of understanding and confusion for a few moments then the duhig crashed to the ground and disappeared beneath the carpet of flowers. Tizar stood perfectly still. All he could see were Credan, his father, the blue sky and the yellow endless flowers. It was though the duhig had never existed.
The sensation of a hand resting on his shoulder and the sound of Eral’s soft voice interrupted Tizar’s numbness.
“You can relax your bow now.” Tizar realised that he was still aiming his bow at the now empty space where the duhig had been. He relaxed the bowstring and slowly replaced the arrow in his quiver.
“Your supposed to shoot while the duhig is in front of you”. Eral whispered in Tizar’s ear.
“I don’t know what happened”. Tizar said meekly. “I just froze.”
“It’s not uncommon for one on his first hunt.” Eral reassured him. “That’s why for the first few hunts you team up with an elder.”
Cudat had walked to where the duhig had fallen and was looking down at the dead animal. “I’m getting too old for this.” He muttered.
“Nonsense.” Eral replied. “There’s still plenty of yellow left in you yet. Your shot was far better than Credan’s. Sometimes I wonder if he can tell the difference between a duhig and a jineg tree.”
“It moved just as I fired.” Credan protested.
“Always with the excuses.” Eral jibed. “The wind was wrong, my arrow was bent, the duhig smelt my foul odour.”
“Now look. If your saying that…”
“Credan,” Cudat interrupted, “won’t you ever learn that Eral is joking?”
“Not much of a humour.” Credan snorted. Then he turned his attention to Tizar. “I froze on my first hunt.”
“Oh that’s right. Make the boy feel a complete failure.” Eral laughed.
Tizar moved to where the duhig lay motionless in the flowers. It looked smaller than it had when it was running and it occurred to him that this was because there was something missing, though he had no idea what that could be. The animal was lying on its side with one eye looking skyward. The large brown eye was now expressionless, devoid of the emotion Tizar was sure he saw just before the animal fell. Without knowing why he kneeled down and closed the eye of the duhig. “I’m so sorry.” He whispered.
This is the first chapter of a fantasy novel I have been working on called The Torathan