This is the prologue for my novel titled The Ostyragor, or The Wild Lands. Its is a 2700 word count by the WP program, but opinions on the story itself, or even the writing is welcomed. I am posting it for opinions, so please be gentle, but honest.
Furlon lay within his sleeping furs, clung to his sleep, and stubbornly refused to give up the image of his wife within his mind. Her golden skin kissed a light cinnamon color by the sun, her dark hair twined about his fingers while her eyes shimmered with tears that she begged him to taste. The wind had kissed the snow outside his tent, and carried with it the chill that caused him to shiver. The chill pried him from his sleep and from his dream. He was not happy to wake and find himself back in his tent, near to the border.
“Its been barely a week and I miss her already!” he cried. “No deer, no wild pigs, very few rabbits, but nothing worthwhile. How can this trip get any worse?!” Furlon muttered to himself. When he left the village on this trip just over a week ago, his pride had been wounded. He accidentally found the cache of leather belts, greaves, bracers, and weapons sheathes in his friend Ta'rak's home. Deep furrows of worry marred his forehead, and Furlon wondered just how he would cope now that he knew of his friend's treachery.
His thick and wavy brown hair was dotted with gray, as was his beard, but his dark brown eyes would stand out even more as he matured. He didn't consider himself ruggedly handsome, but Akeena saw something in his eyes, and she had bound herself to him for the last seven years of his life. Unfortunately, this trip was not what he hoped for, and the extra risk he took when he had come this near to the border of the Jaktagor had not paid off. All he wanted to do now was to swallow his pride, and go home.
The chill in the air pried his eyes open to the sight of snow within the confines of his tent. This startled him, brought him awake like a splash of cold water in the face.
“Snow?! But its still Heiketa! The Kalsean snows are still a couple of months away!” Furlon crawled out of his furs on stood on his knees within his leather tent. Heiketa were the autumn months of decline leading up to the snows and the months of Kalsea. When he poked his head out from his tent, the forest was white, a fresh blanket of snow covered everything from the trees and bushes, down to the ferns and flowers still in bloom. The animals of the forest would have to dig through this carpet of snow to get to the tender shoots of the vegetation underneath. He smiled. Good conditions for a hunter.
“Finally! A blessing from the Ancient at last!” he cried. He emptied the snow that had found his shoes, andpulled the cold leather over his feet. He crawled out of the tent on his hands and knees, and stirred his fire back to life. His fire had died down overnight, and the hot coals had been buried beneath the snow. With a little encouragement, he nursed the buried coals into a flame that warmed his body and spirit once more.
After the fire had warmed him, he ate a simple meal of rabbit with some dried fruit, and took another opportunity to examine his surroundings. He had come to this region with Ta'rak for the last twenty years, and he had become quite familiar with the area. It consisted of a mix of hardwoods and evergreens, birch, maple, spruce and pine. The leaves were already in the process of color change, which made the bright and pale colors of the evergreens stand out vividly. The rockier terrain this far north made it harder to grow through the soil so they grew further apart then they did in the south, but because there were no lumber mills this close to the border, the trees grew taller and thicker.
The snow presented a wonderful opportunity to any skilled hunter. It would allow him to track the animals more easily, shorten the trip, and keep his pride intact.
After he finished his meal, Furlon put the quiver of arrows on his back, his dagger in his boot, and picked up his bow. He worked his way north, kept the wind on his face and stayed downwind from any potential target. It wasn’t long before he picked up the trail. The snow was kind to him as it highlighted the tracks of a deer, and pointed out the telltale signs of an animal that had foraged for food.
For the better part of an hour, he stalked his prey, found a pile of dung in the tracks that still steamed as it melted the snow underneath. He was close. Another couple of hundred yards away, he came upon a clearing, and in the center of it stood the most beautiful sight he's seen in a long while; an enormous white tailed deer, almost too large to be real. Its fur had already started to thicken up for the winter months, and it sported an incredibly large rack of antlers. How he found it so easily this morning only snagged the briefest of his consideration.
Furlon tried to control how he breathed, to calm himself before his excitement got the better of him and alerted the deer. He edged closer, with the knowledge that even though the bow was almost soundless, the twang from the bowstring could produce enough sound to startle the deer. With such a sound, the deer might twist when as it tried to turn away. That would turn a sweet spot kill into a flesh wound or make him miss altogether.
He tried to edge closer, grimaced as his feet crunched the new fallen snow, readied an arrow, but when the deer's head came up, cocked its ears to listen, he froze instantly. What happened? Did he make a noise that spooked it?
The deer dug in its hooves, sprang forward, and galloped like a mad horse, straight for the hunter. Branches scratched at its toughened hide, but did not slow its mad dash. At top speed, it flew through the underbrush, and that rack of antlers would prove deadly.
“Ancient, please,” he silently prayed. Furlon readied the arrow, and loosed. It flew towards its target, hammered into its chest, and startled the beast in its headlong run. The deer lowered its head and the antlers caught in the brush. The forward momentum, together with the weight of its hindquarters, did the work the arrow couldn't. It broke the deer's neck and killed it instantly.
A wide smile split his face. The world finally looked much brighter for him and his wife. The hide he could use for his trade, and the meat would see them through the lean times.
His pride still ached, and in spite of the incredible kill, Furlon's thoughts turned to his friend, and those last few moments when he accused Ta'rak of giving him charity. The look in his eyes was enough to cause him to step back, and momentarily fear a man he considered close enough to be his brother.
He cleared his mind, and smiled as he approached the deer. “This thing is bloody huge! I hope it’s not from across the river.” The reminder of his location sobered Furlon up quickly, and his mind began to plan the trip home. His horse was strong, but this deer was monstrous in its size, at least twice the size of the normal three hundred pound white tail in their woods. He would need to build a sled from his tent and move it that way. It would take around three days or more to get home, but he couldn't leave it here to get help. It was too valuable to his family to leave behind.
Furlon paused and considered something his excited mind had missed. “Why did it run? It's full light, warm, and no else is anywhere near.” He was downwind, so the deer couldn't smell him. There wasn't any other animal around and yet the deer ran towards him.
He slung the bow over his shoulder to make it easier to get back to his horse, but he noticed something off in the distance. It was a patch of gray, and looked like a wolf standing beside a tree. If it was a wolf he’d have to lie in wait to kill it before he retrieved his horse. It was over a mile away, but a second look told him it was on the move.
Furlon readied his bow and patted his boot to be sure of the presence of his dagger. He was ready for this predator. The only time a wolf was predictable was when it came to their stomach. A free meal was hard for them to ignore. He felt a shiver go up and down his spine as the animal covered dozens of yards in only a few seconds.
“Holy, look at it go,” was all he could say as it loped closer and closer. Some features were discernible as it closed on the deer; thick gray fur matted from frequent fights, long sinewy body, and something he couldn’t quite understand. Its back looked white, not with fur, but with bone. As it entered a shallow depression, it disappeared from sight momentarily.
When it emerged from the gully, he wished it had disappeared completely. Thank the Ancient it was still a few hundred yards away. It had a feline head within which were its razor sharp fangs.
“Oh no! By the Fallen, no!” A riivaaja, Kirosi Cat, cursed and twisted, a distorted version of a bobcat, straight from the Jaktagor. It was a brutal and malicious killer, a nightmare version of nature distorted by an unknown power. No wonder the deer chose to charge him. He would have been easier to get by than this monster. Furlon slid around a tree, backed away from the deer, and tried to get out of sight.
“Damn, damn, damn!” he muttered. He wished he had brought a sword and not his hunting dagger. This cat was about two hundred and fifty pounds of cruelty and murderous intent. Its claws could shred his armor, and the set of bony plates that lined its spine protected it from downward slashes. His bow is a good long range weapon, but both the bow and the dagger would prove highly ineffective against this beast.
The animal's claws scrabbled on the stones at its feet, knife-like, they found purchase in the soil. The beast's spine curved, contracted and extended as it ran onward. The bony extrusions of its spine clicked against each other as it closed half the distance in a flash.
He was only able to put a hundred or so yards between himself and the deer when the cat appeared next to it. It stopped, examined the deer, sniffed the arrow and growled low in its throat.
“I’m not worth it. Go for the deer, go for the deer!” Furlon kept his voice at a whisper, hoped the cat stayed with the kill, ate and ignored him. It inhaled a scent from the deer and walked around its carcass.
Furlon continued to put some distance between himself and the cat, and with each yard grew more and more hopeful that it had not sensed him, and that he might yet live to see another day. If the beast sensed his presence he would have to try and kill it. He was a lone hunter, and he would not survive the fight that would be sure to come.
The cat still had not taken any meat from the deer and Furlon was already as far away as the cat had been when he had first sighted it. He turned to try to get a last look at the beast, but it was nowhere to be seen. He could still see the brown coat of the deer, but the gray fur was gone.
“Where did you go, you monster!” He felt apprehensive, and decided to quicken his pace. Furlon started to scan the surrounding trees. He caught a flash to his right, but pain lanced through his left shoulder.
He grunted, felt the area, and his hand found wetness. He raised it to his eyes and before he could see the liquid, he knew it was coated in blood. He heard a growl on his left, and he barely caught a glimpse of fur as it disappeared into the woods.
The cat was more than two times the size of a normal wildcat, at over ten feet long from nose to tip of its matted gray tail. A two hundred and fifty pound nightmare of fangs and razor sharp claws, covered with thick gray fur. For sheer size and strength, it would give a real lion a run for its money. For ferociousness and pure malice, this creature far surpassed it.
“It circled around me.” He pulled his bow off his shoulder and readied an arrow. Furlon ran from tree to tree as he tried to get back to his camp and get to his horse. The horse's hooves might persuade the beast to go back after the already dead buck. At least with the horse to protect his back, he might be able to get some arrows into its hide, maybe even win.
With his back to the trees, he tried to protect his blind side, which allowed him to dodge any side attacks, and maybe get an arrow off in the meantime. This was the best strategy he could hope for.
It tried to attack a couple of times from the side, received an arrow in its own ribs for its trouble. He was struck again from behind as he tried to get to another tree, and slashed his other shoulder as it leaped by. Pain lanced through him, the blood flowed dark through the leather. He scaned the area once again, looked for signs of the beast, faster and faster, but not quick enough. It struck again from behind, slashed his thigh as it ran off. This cat was taking him apart a piece at a time, making him unable to defend himself.
“Ta'rak, how I wish I had listened!” His pride had been wounded when he found the stash of goods in his friends house. He hadn't listened when Ta'rak warned him away from the border.
Furlon pulled his blade, and in his heart he knew it would not do enough damage to kill the cat. He hoped he could fend it off enough to escape, and tried to keep the desperation out of his strategy. For a short time, he was able to take a few shots at the cat with his dagger, stabbed it as it tried to slash him. Furlon ran to another tree, a large oak that completely covered his back, and that allowed him another arrow fired at point blank range. The arrow injured the cat, but not severely enough to kill it, and it did not change its mind.
Furlon ran to another large hardwood, but this time, the cat was on top of him before he could set up to fire another arrow. The cat's weight came at him from the side, knocked him away from the tree, and onto his back. The cat was on his front, claws dug mercilessly into his thighs and belly, right through the leather. He screamed, took his dagger and slammed it into the side of the cat repeatedly. It was now wounded badly, jumped off Furlon, and seemed to dash away.
Furlon turned over to lift himself to his knees and get to his feet. When he was up on one foot, the weight of the beast knocked him to the ground again when it crashed into his back. He tried to speak his wife’s name, but the air was knocked from his lungs from the impact of the fall. True to the nature of the feline species, it locked its large teeth onto the back of his neck, twisted and snapped his neck cleanly. The world went black, and mercifully, he felt no more.
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