The Yoke of Eternity

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Review Chain


Hauel meets his first mainland human...

Chapter 3 (v.2) - the first encounter

Submitted: March 07, 2019

Reads: 47

Comments: 1

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Submitted: March 07, 2019

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Chapter Three

The First Encounter

 

After two nights on the ocean, Hauel’s most precious belongings were no longer tables, bowls, or chairs. They were a gourd of fresh water, a makeshift raft, and an oar. And he even lost those when he came within swimming distance of the shore, a distance that intimidated him at first glance. The waves toppled him over, separating him from his craft.

Nevertheless, he swam. His cloak played with an undertow, and his father’s sword weighed him down at the waist. He swam on his chest, and when his arms tired, he flipped onto his back and kicked. When his legs gave out, the shore tempted him not far away. He resorted to his Marked One training to close the final distance. He took a breath and allowed himself to submerge below the water. Down, down he sank a toss into the crystal blue sea with the water nudging his back.

His eyes were already used to the slight burn of salt water, and he needed to see where he was going, so he watched below his feet as little, yellow flat fish scattered beneath his sandals. The sunlight of the late morning waved on the small mounds of the sandy sea floor. His feet touched the bottom, sending a small cloud of particles up that felt like breath around his ankles. His lungs tingled; the beginning stages of air deprivation. He exhaled slightly to relieve the burn, then kicked off the ground and sent himself jetting up to the surface. His chest hurt with stagnant breath, but his mind was strong. He released the last of his dead air just as his face broke into the breeze above. The pins in his breast were slaked, then his head once again sank below.

Up and down he bobbed like this as the waves pushed him closer and closer to the mainland. After about a dozen of these bobs, the surface came just to his eyes. And yet, the world around him became more and more befuddled and blurry. Everything became quiet and black, and Hauel scarcely knew whether he was alive or dead. He thought that he continued to bob, and yet he could not feel his feet. All he felt was what seemed to be a swollen, numb face.

He came-to, awakened with a mouth full of dry sand that stuck to his tongue. His heavy eyes didn’t open. He could only twitch at the fingers, even though he felt the whole of his arms prickled with the thousand tiny needles of muscle exhaustion. His legs felt like stone and his sword dug into his side.

The darkness of ill-remembered time became only a waking dream as dim light showed the world again through his eyes. The recent overcast skies soothed his tired mind, like when his mother would draw his blanket up to his face when he was child. The mass of clouds sagged low, streams of ribbon puffs sailed even lower beneath, and the sky threatened rain.

The feeling of pins and needles that persisted throughout his body faded to a mere tingle. With the retreat of the pain, he thought that he would try to stand again. His fingers twitched, then his palms. His arms bent at the elbows bringing his hands to the ground, and he lifted his head. He made it up to his knees and spat the sand out of his mouth. Even after two nights without food, sand was still unappetizing. His dry pallet swarmed with the bitter taste of salt.

Hauel tried out his hollow legs and stood. He found himself gazing up at a dune which blocked any kind of sight beyond itself. Calculating its height, which was not particularly sizable by any means, he judged the flimsy state of his body and whether or not he could make the climb. He concluded that it was probable, if not favorable.

The hissing waves ran over his feet one last time as he walked north across the sand, like a drunk man as he strived to keep his balance on the shifting ground.

Hauel’s slow pace was rewarded as the gradual sound of the ocean faded. He stopped at the incline of the dune, analyzed a successful way up. His first step slid slightly. He bent and used his hands, pawing at the occasional tufts of grass that grew there.

At the steepest point, he reached up and took hold of a bony bush, void of leaves or needles, and began to pull himself to the crest of the mound. The roots snapped one by one until only the thick, center root remained, taut as a cord. He eased his weight onto it with a gradual tow, and just before it uprooted, he pulled himself up.

What little water that was left in his body accumulated on his brow, rolled down the side of his face, and was drank by the sand below. A vast flatland, peppered with occasional dunes of various heights, expanded northward. Brown shafts of marram swayed in the oncoming, frequent cool gusts of wind that shooed the gulls away.

Rare yellow beams broke through the gathering clouds at curious angles. Wisps of feathery nimbus floated above, and the smell of rain thickened like smoke around his head. The clouds strangled the last light of the sun as the circles of light closed until swallowed by a grey that only nature can produce. A pale blue branch of lightning crawled about the sky with the lazy roar of thunder following it. Hauel lifted his head and raised his arms as a thick wave of rain came stampeding across the land and trampled his face.

-------

The heavy rain washed the salt and sweat from his body and clothes. He stared in a daze at the endless pools of fresh water before he bent down and drank from the ground.

Thick flashes of lightning followed trembling thunder above. The winds pushed him this way and that, howling in his ears, and the land darkened like pitch.

After walking for hours in a northerly direction, the wind, rain and all the verbosity of the storm began to relent. Even as the sheets of rain thinned, the world maintained dark, signaling that Hauel had walked all day and was already into the night.

Through the thin veils of yawning drops, a final bolt of lightning came down like a beam, touching the ground and igniting the world clear as day. In that brief light, Hauel saw a mound capped with great stones, toppled and ruined. He made his way towards it, pulling his soggy hood just a little more over his face.

The rain fell with a drizzle on the structure, and the sound of thunder was far off to the west, murmuring like an angry old man. Some moon and dreary stars broke through the passing translucent clouds and offerred a glimpse of the great cube stones before him. They looked ancient, older than Hauel, cracked and chipped with rough, shorn edges. What the structure was a monument to, or what its function was could not be deciphered, and was probably lost from all knowledge ages ago.

A large brick, twice as tall as him, leaned its corner on the side of another, creating a small triangular hole along the ground.

He took his sword out of his belt and cupped it beneath his arm. He crouched down and leaned into the hole, worming his way back and forth until he was entirely inside with his shoulders pressed against the walls. Altogether, it was warm and safe, and no sooner had he decided that it was so, he was fast asleep.

------

The sound of robins made it into the dark shelter. He woke to their echoes, high pitched in his ears. Feeling like he had become part of the stonework, he rolled his shoulders and neck as best as he could in the cramped compartment. His bones ground together and his muscles cracked, the telltale sign of getting along in years.

Shuffling out of the hole offered an effective warmup as he pulled himself up and stood on his feet. The sun had come up over the horizon and he had missed the sunrise with all the brilliant colors that come after a storm.

He inspected the ruins, their coarse sides rough on his hands. It was a good sign that he wasn’t too far from what he came to the mainland for. The older the structure, the closer he was to answers.

He had a vague understanding of the History of the world, provided by his father; the White City and the Hoffelnein war, the cultivation of Eloheim and Atlas, the return of the Hoffelnein and the propagation of humans. However, his father kept most details to himself. Hauel recalled occasionally asking about the Histories, but each time his father refused to offer additional context saying, “it is beyond your understanding” or “it is pointless to speak on it further.” If nothing else, this journey could provide answers to those questions, offering at least a little bit of closure before his eventual, and hollow death.

Now able to see the sun, he plotted a course true north. He wanted to go west, but the world was wide, and from the bits and pieces he had put together from what his father said after returning from his many expeditions, the southern lands were sparse in human colonies. He needed a map, and preferably a horse. His best chance at obtaining either was at a human village or city. He ground his teeth at the thought, after all up until this point he had been taught to kill humans, now he must rely on them.

He picked wild grains and found a few thornberry patches. After no food for four days, the red berries burst with salivating sweetness. A dichotomy that he often observed during the time of year of his annual fasting was that the longer that one goes hungry, the better any food will taste. He meditated on this thought as he chewed.

By the time the cool evening came around, his clothes dried and he had recovered much of this strength that was taken by the sea.

Hauel lay on the soft ground with only his cloak and the stars to cover him. His pride was planted on his training as a Marked One. Any Lig’Shaddin untrained in the art would not know how to survive out here in foreign lands, without food or even a bag. Though his pride was quickly quelled when he recalled that his father had done this very thing and more for millennia.

The next day, he covered fourteen leagues, an impressive length for one who relies on locust and wild wheat for sustenance. It neared sunset when his feet scraped against hard ground. The wagon road, dense and weedless, seemed frequently trodden. It went far to the east and west, only dipping and rising with subtlety to either horizon.

He decided to break for the day and sleep. In the morning he would head west along the road, hopefully taking him to a village at some point.

-------

 

“Look, pa! He moved!”

“I saw it.”

“He ain’t dead then?”

“What do ya think, boy? Do dead things move? Well, do they?”

A round, red beetle came into focus, crawling on the underside of a grass stem, and the smell of dirt was at Hauel’s nose. He was angry with himself, he should have heard these people approaching and woke up before they saw him. He rocked back and forth, trying to get his blood flowing again.

“Look, pa, there he goes again! Do you see it? He’s movin’ again. Look!”

“Blast it, son, shut yer mouth! Don’t I tell ya a thousand times a day to shut it? I’m seein’ it just the same as you!”

Hauel came to his feet, arching his back. Yellow sunlight drew shadows on the distant hills to the north. He found himself staring down a human male and its offspring who sat on a half-rotten oak cart. Their clothes had poor workmanship with obvious threads spaced out and frayed. The bland, faded colors caused Hauel’s upper cheek to twitch. A pathetic, smelly, half-horse chewed on a crude metal bit, salivating a white froth as flies bit at its ears. Its stubby legs and crooked spine made plain its poor genetic quality that would have been bred out by intelligent beings.

The man was short, stocky and grey haired. His pale blue eyes studied Hauel. A tweed hat sat on his bushy white brows. His thick, scarred fingers loosely gripped the reins. The blonde child was freckled with amusing brown dots, gap toothed, and judging by his asymmetric facial qualities, was possibly an idiot.

The man chewed his cheek looking Hauel up and down. A fat finger pointed, and he spoke in a slow, loud voice, “You all right, son?” The thick man leaned forward, his crooked teeth showing under his lip. “Hoowhat’s-yer-name? Where’re-ya-from?” he asked as though Hauel were the stupid one.

Hauel’s hand twitched and went to his side beneath his cloak, touching the tip of his sword handle. Fighting four hundred years of training, he lowered it again. There was nothing more in the world that Hauel wanted at this moment than to fulfill his destiny by separating the man’s head from his neck.

But, Hauel thought, I need to know where I am.

Hauel’s voice carried with little effort. “My name is Hauel. I am from a village to the south.”

The man turned his ear. “What’s that? Howl? Like a wolf howl?”

For the first time in many years, Hauel wanted to shout. He wanted to curse and use physical discipline to correct the insolent human. Instead, he answered in the same calm and restrained manner as before. “Yes.” His eye spasmed. “Hauel.”

The boy looked up at his father, “What a strange name!” the boy said. His father brought his rough hand across the boy’s face, not quite hard enough to leave a mark. The slap made quite a symphonic note, a feat which must have taken much practice to accomplish. Hauel raised an eyebrow. Such precision and control were rather impressive for such a crude creature. He made a mental note to practice such a strike, because he liked the way it sounded.

The man shrugged and grinned with embarrassment. A breeze blew by that rustled Haul’s cloak, and the man held his hat on his head. “Well, Howl, there was a fellow ahead of me by a few hours, it’s a shame he didn’t pick ya up. ‘Course it was probably hard to see ya with that dark cover on. My wife says that doin’ good to strangers will bring good luck. If ya want, you can hop on my cart and I’ll take ya to Greenwheat.” Being offered no answer, the man said, “It’s two days to walk, but I could get ya there tonight.”

Hauel looked the direction that the cart was facing, ensuring that it was heading west. He had already seen several crates in the flat-bead, and a sack with a loaf of bread sticking out of it. Were he to kill the man instead of accept the offer, Hauel would be delayed at least a day, and time was of the greatest importance now. “I would be most appreciative,” Hauel said with forced effort. “I have been in the plains for some time now, and my legs could use the rest.”

The man smiled as a bead of sweat came down the side of his face. He held out his calloused hand. Hauel reached across the boy and gripped it without shaking it. His palm was like bark. “Heh. Well this here’s my son, Gib. My name’s Genby.” His eyes flashed with humor as he nodded to his half-horse, catching a whiff of the beast. “And that’s Steak.” Hauel nodded, hard and focused. Genby didn’t let go, instead, he tightened his grip, his eyes became suddenly stern. “Where are ya really from, Howl? There ain’t any villages south of here. You speak too proper to be from anywhere close. Ya sound like a Westerner. Why do ya got a sword, Howl? You runnin’ from someone? Yer already a liar, son, are ya a thief and a killer too?”

Sweat accumulated between their hands. Gib sat stiff against the backboard, wide eyed and clenching his seat. Hauel didn’t change his demeanor. “I have not lied to you. My people are a private folk who forge and carry swords without breaking any law. You would not know my village because we have purposefully hidden ourselves. As for my speech, I cannot make any reason for you; it is the only one that I have known, yet I have never been to the West. I do not flee from any law, nor are my intentions cruel. I only want to get a great deal away from where we are now.” Lying was rather convenient, Hauel discovered.

Genby squinted one eye and loosened his hand. “Fair enough. You can’t be too careful on the road.” He sat back and retook the reins. “When ya make this trip as many times as I do, yer bound to get ruffed up every now and then by some metal-hungry crook.” He held up his forearm showing a long scar going down it. “Got this three years ago. I beat him half to death, and since then haven’t had any trouble. The marshals have got off their asses and been patrolling now and then, too. Townsfolk practically had to burn Lord Bryan’s mansion down before he paid any attention to this road.”

Gib broke in, “Pa, I don’t want him to come with us! He ain’t from ‘round here, his skin’s too dark! He’s tall an’ scary!” With stunning reflex, Genby slapped his son with perfect precision. Hauel was sure to savor the sound.

“Ain’t no way to treat someone, regardless! Well,” Genby said with an embarrassed grin, “go ahead and hop on in the back. Don’t mind ma’boy.” Hauel jumped on the back of the wagon. “I’ve tried everything with him. I’ve beaten him, starved him, shut him in a closet, but he’s still as rude as ever. All I can do is pop him on the cheek so that he keeps to himself for a while.” He clicked his cheeks and whipped the reins, and the half-horse pulled them along. Hauel sat against the side, and the peeking bread caught his eye. The heightened sense of smell that accompanied starvation explained why the stink of the animal did not bother the other two. It also explained his fixation on the bread, the cheese that he could not even see, and the smell of fresh water inside of a closed barrel.

Hauel gripped the railing as the cart jostled, its wheels creaked and bounced on the hard road, skipping on the occasional stone or dip. Steak pulled the load like a faithful, if stupid, beast. “Oh, and Howl,” Genby said, “ya look a little thin in the cheeks. Why don’t ya go ahead and take a portion of that bread there. It’s there in that burlap bag. There’s some cheese in there too.” Hauel opened his mouth to protest. “No, don’t argue,” Genby said, “I insist. I’m just tryin’ to get some more luck is all, really. Open that barrel there.” Hauel went for barrel lid. “Yep, you got it. Just drink from the ladle is fine. Pass one up to me when yer done.”

After he ate and drank, Hauel’s stomach ceased to cramp. He stared south, with the wooden board hard against his back. The ocean had been too far away to be seen or heard for days now, but this was the first time he looked its direction. He felt like he was making some progress, quite speedily actually. Other than when he was at sea, he hadn’t almost died yet, and his first human encounter went rather well. There was no sign of his father, and his mind was glad to believe that his people were going on with their lives without him.

“Genby,” Hauel said.

Genby half looked back, “Oh, he speaks! I thought that ya might go the whole trip without sayin’ a thing. What’s on yer mind?”

“Why is your horse named Steak?”

“Oh that? It’s to remind him that if he ever quits workin’, I’m gonna eat him.” And he let out a loud, rolling laugh. Gib stared at Hauel, peeking over the wooden backboard. Hauel stared back until Genby slapped his son one last time. Genby looked at Hauel with embarrassed eyes, then continued driving.

“This must be how the Kaybin feels,

Seperated from himself

I would make every deal

To return to my former wealth”

  • Book of Starlight


© Copyright 2019 C. S. Spence. All rights reserved.

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