Spirit of the forest- part 2

June 6, 2010

The small village of Dun sat nestled between two hillsides and surrounded by a large green forest. It was a hot spring day and all the men were out working in the fields and all the women and children sat dyeing cloths and hanging out laundry and sweeping out huts. In the center of the lone sheep-herding village was a circle of logs where the elders sat, telling stories around a smoldering fire, hot in the heat of the day. There were both men and woman sitting around the fire, their skin hanging like old, grey goat skin over their sagging bones. However the eyes of these elders still shone as bright as garnets in the bright mid daylight. Suddenly there was a ruckus from the corner of the village, making all the elders turn to see who it was.
“Its that Owen boy again!” exclaimed one of the elders, a female who’s long grey hair fell in long wavy curtains around her small round face. There was a sigh passed around the circle. A boy in his thirteenth summer came running in to the village square. He was normal looking except his exceptionally green eyes and large feet. His feet seemed to have kicked over every pail and chicken and small barn animal on his way over to the town center. His hair looked as if some one had tried to brush it with a pitchfork, it stood up in a million different directions in gold red spears. He dashed up to the town bell and began to pull it, the muscles in his arms tensing as he dragged the rough rope around. The laud sound of the bell made wives look out of there clay huts, small children clinging to there skirts and men in the fields, staffs blocking the way of there charge, goats and in some cases sheep, from dashing away at the noise. With in moments people began coming out of their houses and in to the town center to see what the ruckus was about. Some people, when the saw Owen ringing the bell, turned back to their chores, shacking there heads I exasperation. As soon a the crowd of people began to thicken around the boy one of the elders, a tall old man who was as skinny and as fragile as a bean pole, made his way through the crowd.
“What is this about son,” he asked the green-eyed boy.
“I was out watching my goats,” his breath was short so he had to stop and jab his thumb in the suggested direction as he took a breath,
“And one wandered in to the forest, the haunted forest.” There were a spattering of short gasps and exclamations around the crowd.
“And I followed him in, I have only the one goat so I had to find it. I followed him in to the deep thicket and when I finally caught him I heard a sound like thunder and I saw the Creeper” then there was both gasps of horror and guffaws of laughter through out the crowd.
“Their no such beast, that is but a legends to scare off children” shouted on man, to the agreement of many of the adults standing around him. The tall elder held up his hand for silence.
“Please explain how you know it was the Creeper,” asked the tall man, the one who seemed to be in charge of the meetings.
“Well it had huge yellow eyes that glared at you like they were going to eat you up! And the smell of death surrounded it like it does a slaughter house and it gobbled up my goat in one little bite!” there were gasps now but the man who had first protested shoved his way out of the crowd and walked back to his flock of goats. Others did the same, obviously not believing a word of the young Owens talk. Some however stayed, stricken looks up on there faces.
“I propose we send out a hero to kill the beast, to rid us of this goat eating, people scaring creature!” announced Owen loudly his fist raised into the air. There were but a scant few nods of conformity around the villagers; most people shook their heads in disagreement and exasperation. In a moment a young man stood, he was but Owens age but taller and his eyes were not as stunning. This boys name was Bernard Allan, and long he had been jealous of Owens fair eyes and hair. However he had also been trying to beat him in the yearly goat-herding contest and was beaten every year by the clumsy yet talented Owen.
“Why Owen, if you think the town needs a hero why not go your self? After all you are the best goat herder of the village,” the older boy looked around for agreement and many of the villagers indeed nodded along with Bernard’s idea. Owen had been bullied by this boy for years and knew that he was trying to humiliate him by admitting his fear of the forest and declining the post of hero. Owen was a coward, but he was not idiotic ether, he had good reason to be scared. The Creeper had attacked the village twelve years ago and had taken fifteen of the villages strongest men, the guard that had protected them from the monster for years. Among those men had been Owens father. Now every year on the fist day of winter the monster would come and take what ever it wished. However the monster was never seen. It would come in the dead of night and steal the sheep and the goats that he wished. Owen would be a coward, and would not be humiliated by this boy.
“I will go! Seeing as no one else has the guts I will go on a quest to kill this scourge, this monster!” everyone in the audience started into loud and raucous guffaws at the boy and they all turned there backs on him as he stood, hay in his golden hair, green eyes narrowed with determination upon a podium of humiliation. Bernard looked at Owen and grinned evilly at the other boy.
“Good luck, goat-mud!” he shouted, punching him none to lightly in the shoulder. Owen was tottered off his feet and landed in a pile of hay at the feet of Bernard. Behind him stood Collin and Arthur, his cronies who followed him around and held down the kids Bernard teased. They also provided an incentive not to stand up to Bernard. Unlike Bernard they were enormous, they had hands that could totally cover Owens’ and shoulders that looked to be stronger than any ox.
“I may not have the brawn, but at least I have the brain and the gut to do what’s right. I don’t go around steeling bread from little kids.” Collin and Arthur looked at each other, obviously confused a they made little ‘duhhh’ sound and Bernard stood taller over the fallen Owen, is face beginning to turn red as the green eyed boy looked up at him smugly.
“Why you…. I ought to…” growled Bernard,
“That’s enough Allan,” said a deep voice from behind Owen. It was the tall commanding elder. Owen knew him as Elder Quinn, the oldest and most important of the elder on the town’s council. Bernard scowled down at Owen with eyes as mud colored as a pigs sty that said clearly, ‘I’ll get you next time Owen!’ but Owen wasn’t so sure there was going to be a next time after he left for the forest.
“Doyle, would you come with me?” it Was Quinn speaking now, his voice rough like the stones the wood workers used to sand down the ax handles. Owen gulped and scramble to his feet as quick as he could and in his haste accidentally knocked over a wooden bucket full of hay. Embarrassed he righted it and followed Elder Quinn in to his large mud hut. The interior of the structure was much finer than any Owen had been in before. It had shelves full of fine treasure; shining or glowing stones, glass bottles of rich colored liquids, helmets that looked like they were made of gold and boxes and jars of herbs and spices that made Owen sneeze the moment he entered the hut. The candles that burned on the oak table in the middle of the room were not made of the smelly tallow that Owen and the other peasants used but a fine, sweet smelling substance that smelt like the honey his mother used to collect for them in the early autumn. On the table tablets of clay with scribbles on them lay covering the surface. Underneath them rested piles of papers that fell to the floor when Elder Quinn’s robes brushed them. Owen had never learned to read, peasant boys didn’t, but he had always wanted to learn, almost as much as he had wanted to learn the arts of a warrior.
“You must go on with your quest” Said Quinn, his back to Owen, his face to the fire place that blazed at the one main source of light in the dark room.
“I know, I was going to” Owen replied defensively.
“I doubt you would know this but there is a law of heroes. It says when you start a quest you must finish it.” Owen didn’t say any thing. He maybe a coward but he never backed down on his words.
“I never doubted for a second that you would back down on your word. I have known you since you were a babe, and I have known you to be an honest boy.” Owen didn’t know what to say.
“I wanted to give you this before you set out tomorrow morn.” He turned around, his tall form casting a skeletal shadow over Owen smaller statue. In his hands the man held something out to Owen. Not looking at the man Owen reached out to the gnarly hand that held a small cold object and took what appeared to be a stone. After closer investigation Owen indeed found it to be a small round stone, which had a round hole in the center.
“This stone will allow you to look into the dark and see the light and not be blinded by the great eyes of the beast.” Owen looked down at the little stone in my hands, marveling at the greatness and magic with in it.
“I didn’t know that the beast could blind one with just one look,” said the boy shocked looking up for the first time at the man in front of him. The Elders eyes were as white as glass as they stared back at Owen with out seeing him. Owen couldn’t help him self and he gasped,
“I didn’t know, I’m sorry…” but still he could not look away from the man’s blinded eyes.
“ Not many do, you are among those few. It happened many, many years ago, you were but a baby in your mothers arms.” The man turned his head away, shamefacedly.
“But Elder Quinn, how is it you still see with out your eyes?” asked Owen, unsure of the right words to use to ask the question.
“When something dies, you learn to live with out. You of all people should know that.” Said the elder. The words pinched at Owens heart, though he had been small when his father died, to young to remember it, it still hurt to think about. Changing the subject Owen said softly,
“Thank you Elder Quinn,” the man said nothing so Owen lead him self out of the rich yet sage smelling hut and into the cool night air. In the short minutes, which he had been, Quinn’s house the sun had snuck behind the tall trees of the deep and dark forest. Although there was no light Owen had no trouble getting to his hut, he could have done it in the dark. When he was younger he would go out with the other boys his age and use stick as swords and have mock battles in the darkness the swiftly run back to bed before their mother would find out they were gone. Owen also once would go out in the dead of night, climb over the gate and go to the lake on the southern edge of the forest to watch the reflection of the stars, skip pebbles and, once in the heat of summer, midnight swimming. All of the memories seemed vague, like they would no longer exist when he left for the forest, like they were slipping away into the mists like every word said in the dark of night and the hush of rainfall.
When he got home he opened the door to find his mother sitting on a chair by the fire, her head in her hands. When she heard the door close behind him she looked up at him and ran to huge her only son.
“Owen! How could you agree to go to forest! No one ever returns from the forest, let alone quests for the Creeper!” Owens mother was a small, red headed woman who was only as tall as her son. The pounded her fist against her only son’s chest as if to pound sense into his bone, to make him see why not to go into the forest. He took her hands to keep her from beating his chest and held her out in front of him.
“Mother,” he said, “ I will return, I will concur this monster that has take my father from me and now my goat.” His voice held strong, stronger than he felt his heart to be.
“You always were a strong, strong boy,” she whispered affectionately. The mother and son had a supper of lamb stew together followed by a hot cup of herbal tea that Owens mother brewed from the springs bounty of fresh herbs. As Owen walked over to his sleeping roll his mother asked him to come to her side. He walked to where she was standing, next to a large chest where Owen new to be his fathers. His mother opened it and took from its shadowy depths a long sword.
“Your father would have wanted you to have this, my boy,” she said, handing the weapon to her some. He drew it from its sheath and watched the fires golden light bounce off of the long silver blade. The hilt was of strong steel with gold vines inlaid in the handle like shining snakes. Owen felt a hot tear prick his eye,
“Thank you mother, for every thing.” He embraced his mother for what was maybe the last time. That night as Owen crawled into bed he made a promise to him self,
“I will return to Dun, I swear it.” Owen fell asleep to the soft breathing of his mother and the rustle of the thoughts inside his head.

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