Excerpt from 'Reflections Over Lake Taern'

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Fantasy Realm

An excerpt from the in-progress Nomads: Passage Two - Reflections Over Lake Taern

Submitted: September 22, 2017

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Submitted: September 22, 2017



Days of rain followed their trip to the Village, one after another, which forced Njord and Vaeta to move their camp down by the hidden pool’s large rocks. Fheor came once but, fat drops of water fell in torrents, and Vaeta came down with a black cough. Njord did his best to keep a fire going under a large ledge and made sure to give her plenty of warm water with cedar leaves and herbs. Eventually the rain passed, as did the cough, and Njord saw the Shepard rise in the night sky. With it came midsummer heat, and the lake was bursting with life.

The thinning of the moon continued over the days that followed, and a small bit of unease grew in Njord’s stomach. The feast was to be large and that many people together could be unpredictable. Tarvale was unpredictable. Njord followed the moon easily, and so the pair, who now had thin skins on in account of the heat, set off on their skimmer as the sun was rising over the lake.

They met Fheor on the north tip of Stony Island, where he lived with a community of four hand or so. Signs of human touch were all around their trails, a gentle one, yet there the same. And a few of the huts were thick and strong, likely standing for many summers. The small group set off in half as many boats, and soon joined a growing stream of skimmers and rafts headed for the Village.

Under the charcoal grey cliffs, a beach stretched along a small bay. The beach itself was covered in boats, as more continued to arrive, and the scene was enormous to the two nomads. Dusk was only a faint hint on the air, but already bonfires blazed and a mass of people climbed the gentle slope and the outskirts of the Village proper. He had never seen more people in his life. Njord steered their skimmer close to the high cliffs in a spot he could remember. It seemed the whole lake was showing for what Fheor’s companions were calling Feast of Black Moon.

He could tell it made Vaeta uneasy, the way passers looked at her. She had not wanted to come, but Njord insisted it would be a grave insult to not appear at least for a little. Fheor's companions made farewell and headed off with purpose, so Njord took the lead and headed upwards to Tarvale's hut, where he could already see the largest flame of them all. He kept an eye on Vaeta lest she be overwhelmed by the people and colours. She was radiant in the dim light and at times he caught her reaching for a boneknife that wasn't there. For after all it was a day of festival, and no weapons were needed.

Many small fires could be seen all over the near countryside, and the number continued to grow leading the center of the Village which seemed entirely lit. The scent of cooked meat and laughter filled the air, loud enough for Njord to scarcely hear. The trio found their way slowly to the top and finally gazed upon three great bonfires and scores of feathered dancers stomped in the firelight, waving their hands to the stars.

Tarvale greeted them with thundering laughter and bound from the head table. He was covered in white and red feathers, as were his wives, and he ushered the three toward. Ceremony bade them greet each of his seven wives, two Njord knew, the other’s names faded in the merriment. There were high men and women from the lake across from Njord with half of the chief’s wives. The witch-doctor Emong was opposite the chief at the far end of the table covered in dark red feathers from head to toe. Tarvale himself sat at the head of the table; with his first wife Renna seated on his right, and Vaeta placed at the seat of honour to his left.  Fheor sat beside the pale woman, and Njord beside him, with the youngest wife to his other side. Red-haired like all the rest, her name was Jaienn.

Tarvale roared like a red stonebear until the mass of people on the heights quieted, and only the flames of the fire raised their voices. He began by thrusting up his massive stone axe in one hand so all could see.

“Tonight is not time for the axe or the spear. It is a time for meat and drink. Here I place my might,” he bellowed and buried the wicked axe into a stump behind, “so that we may celebrate the coming of mother moon from the sky, and a warm summer!’

A cheer rang up from the feasters and fists not holding clay cups pounded on wood.

“Be well brothers and sisters, for the sky is cloudless, and the fires are tall. The Guardian watches, and the Village prospers. Aha!” The chief downed his cup and shouted for another, and the feast began in full.

Njord could not remember much of it at the end, it was all so loud and things blurred before his eyes. His head was swimming with sour berry wine, and portions of cooked fish on sticks followed pieces of boar and legs of geese. Berries and flowers of all shades and colours filled his vision and all men and women rose from their seats to stomp in the firelight. Old friends shouted greetings from all across the table to the young healer who was young no more. And soon Njord found he forgot the knot in his stomach and began to enjoy himself.

Njord talked to Jaienn, and learned of what had happened at the lake since he left all those turns ago. Tarvale’s war was just beginning, and Njord had wanted no part in it.  She was a pleasure to talk to, loud and funny, Njord was drawn into her conversation and didn’t want to leave. He did overhear Fheor laughing like a madman when Vaeta asked if the cup in front of her was filled with blood. She was eager for Fheor’s attention and avoided the looks and comments of the Chief for the most. Renna did not hide her distaste for the silver haired Vaeta, with a face he hardly recognized anymore.

Njord was clapping his hands to the slapping of wooden logs with sticks, and cheering the dancers with the rest when a blood chilling scream cut through the air.

“Keeeeeeeeeee! Keeeeaa!” And a black feathered man strode out of the shadows. In his hands were three short spears. The crowd gasped and several Swan warriors rushed to the Chief barehanded, but the stranger only called out once more.

“Keeeeee! Tarvale. Seven wives are not enough, but you will take another? By what right do you have to this silver woman?”

“I am no man’s!” cried Vaeta rising from her seat in a fury.

“Quiet woman,” said the black feathered man as he continued walking. Fheor calmed Vaeta and moved her away from the Chief, Njord hushed the fiery woman and assured her to wait. This was not really about her.

“You are fat, and you are slow, and you are only a Chief of Swans. Under the Black Moon, I would challenge you, under the Black moon I would be Chief!”

Emong rushed forward to put on the air ceremony, waving his staff dangling with shells around. “From two there will become one, under Black Moon. Gorga son of the Guardian, does come before Tarvale Chief of Lake Taern. Under Black Moon there will be one!”

Chief Tarvale growled low in his throat and stalked over to the stump holding his axe. “So be it, Gorga. Under Black Moon I will be Chief.”

Gorga was built like a sabertooth, muscled yet lean, and moved with the same grace. Tarvale was no doubt drunk, his cup was never empty. It was a false trick to wait so late into the feast to challenge the chief’s might, and Njord saw the red man sway over to his two-handed axe.

No sooner had he touched the haft than Tarvale was barreling toward is foe. Teeth bared and stone axe held high. The black feathered man hurled his first spear and cursed when the chief rolled to avoid it, rushing onward. Another stone tipped spear flashed in the firelight and Njord heard one of the wives scream as the shaft tore a piece of the chief’s belly. But he kept on, and soon was upon Gorga swinging his axe.

The lithe man skipped aside and flicked his last spear quick as a snake, darting in and out of Tarvale’s reach. He scored hits the onlookers waited in hushed silence as the two danced about. Tarvale stumbled but the black man got too close and was struck backwards with the axe haft. The challenger regained his feat and licked sweaty lips. With another harsh scream he lept with sudden quickness and thrust for the chief’s throat. His scream died on his lips and echoed into the night when the axe crashed into his chest.

Blood fountained into the air and cries happy and angry rose out of the silence. Chief Tarvale fell to one knee and bellowed to the moonless sky in a savage roar. He put a hand to his side wound and it came away dripping red. Njord was there in a heartbeat wishing he brought his pouch when rough hands shoved him aside and he fell in the dirt. Emong growled at him and bent to tend his master’s wounds.

A pale hand helped him rise and Njord saw Vaeta’s worried face.

“We should leave,” Njord said, and she nodded her obvious approval. Searching for Fheor Njord froze when Tarvale cried out and shrugged off the witch-doctor. His face was covered in the blood of his foe, and his feathers his own.

“Silver woman! Vaeta Moonstar, there is non who can best me, Chief of the Lake. You belong to me now. Come and you can be my wife of wives. Faithful Njord has brought you here for me, the Guardian blesses me as the rising sun, so I must have a moon of my own.”

“I did no such thing, Tarvale, Chief of the Lake,” Njord said speaking up, “Vaeta is her own woman, born of a blizzard, and she belongs to only the wild. Not even to a great chief such as you can own the wild.”

“Look around you weak fool!” Roared the Chief, “I made this Lake in my image when you fled like a coward. I say what is mine. Come woman or I would take you myself.”

“Try and take me,” Vaeta said with a snarl. White feathered Swans were coming from all sides when Fheor broke in.

“You would spill more blood on a night of Feastival Chief? You proclaimed this a night one without axe and spear did you not?”

“Do you dare Sparrow? Gorga broke that pact and I only claim what is mine by rights.”

“He speaks truth husband,” said Jaienn from the edges of the gathering. Tarvale rounded on her in such a fury as Njord had never seen on the man. Yet she continued on, “It is against the Guardian to bloody a guest of your table. Gorga was a fool to challenge you, yet he was never present at your table. In the shadows that one waited. The sun will rise tomorrow my Chief .”

The hush at the young woman's words chilled the air, and Njord feared for their lives. Tarvale growled and wiped a handful of blood form his face. In a instant he broke and limped to his longhut, witch-doctor and wives scurrying after. Swan warriors held their distance but followed Njord and Vaeta with dark eyes. Njord called for Fheor to leave, but he saw the man grab a hold of Jaienn’s palm and press something into it. The archer said quick words to the red-haired girl, and returned to join them.

Not quite running to their skimmer, Fheor split off from them in search of his community, cursing that he didn’t have a few back on the heights. Njord and Vaeta wordlessly pushed off their skimmer from the sands and began the trip back across the lake. The soft lap of the water and a call of a loon were their only companions under the Shepard and stars.

© Copyright 2020 Jacob Harroway. All rights reserved.

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