Sunday, September 4, 2016
1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Perry
Name: Matthew Perry
Genre: Young Adult
Title: The Outlanders
The concussion of hoof-beats shattered the stillness of the hill and launched a flock of black-birds, shrieking and jeering, out of the wind-twisted trees. The spell was broken: eighty Isthilia warriors had watched there for hours with no more movement than the rocks, but when the horses surged up the low rise, eyes wild and nostrils blowing steam, the men rose from the ground like phantoms to take the bridles and bring them in. The scouts had ridden hard and they dropped from their saddles like drunks.
Peir, the chief Rhigan, arched backwards, hands pressed into the small of his back, feeling the pop and release of compacted discs. The blackbirds formed a tower that billowed high overhead and bent to the south, as obvious in that empty land as the smoke from a bonfire. He eyed it with misgiving as he limped up the hill.
The Rhuan sat on a rock at the summit as if carved from it. Peir made a visor of one hand against the overcast glare and made his report.
“We found a trail. It’s recent. They’re heading south.”
The expression on the Rhuan’s face flickered like a ripple across a still pond. He looked north where the restless grass ran on and on to the eldritch wall of trees that hemmed in the horizon. The forest appeared to be only a day’s ride away but it was a trick of perspective due to the size of the trees, which were bigger than anything in the world except the mountains.
“Winter’s coming,” he said. He could see it in the thick air tumbling above the forest, hundreds of miles away.
Peir nodded. The wind out of the north was insistent and smelled of snow.
The Rhuan clasped his hands together and held them between his knees. “How many?”
“They made sure to cover their tracks, but I’d say at least three hundred.”
“Three hundred?” Without turning, the Rhuan was aware of his own eighty-six warriors – Rhiga – on the hill all around. He could feel their individual and collective signatures in the eiathar, that web of energy connecting Father Sky and the Great Mother. The hill pulsed with tension.
“Three hundred Reavors traveling south just ahead of the winter storms.” He stood up on the rock and looked into the eiathar in that direction but could see no sign of them there for hundreds of miles. “What’s their plan?”
Peir waited a moment to see if the Rhuan would answer his own question. The north wind did not let up. “You think this is another ambush, like last year?
“Last year.” The Rhuan said it as if the taste of the words was toxic. Last year forty-one Isthilia died not far from this hill in an ambush that he failed to foresee, their ashes now part of the grass and soil of the Outlands, their eiathar released into the universe. He shook his head. “Can’t be an ambush – why would they be travelling south when they know we head north at this time of year? What made them leave the forest and travel south when winter’s coming to the Outlands?”
A sound at the edge of audible range made him squint up into the distant altitudes as a last tardy flock of geese made their way south. “Waited too long to migrate and now they’re in a hurry.” He looked at Peir and the sharp lines of his face folded into a smile. “They come from the edge of the world, where the land breaks itself apart against the sea. I went there once, when I was young. That was a long time ago – over three hundred years!” He laughed as if it was just the two of them sitting around a fire, drinking tea, and they had all the time in the world. “I still remember it though – it made a big impression on me. At the edge of the world the air is full of birds – you can’t imagine the numbers. And the sound! I can still hear it in my memory.”
The Rhuan shook off the reverie; his eyes lost their glow. He jerked his chin to the northwest where only the stumps of a mountain chain were visible beneath the swollen clouds. “That rain wants to turn to snow. I’ve asked it to hold off, but it won’t hold long. Any day now the North Gate will be closed, buried by snow and we’ll be cut-off from the valley. We have maybe three days.”
“Three days?” Peir looked back to the north, and the way home. “ Looks like we could be in worse shape than your geese.”
The fabric of time stretched around them, pregnant with possibilities. The eighty-six warriors around them leaned forward, impatient. Horses nickered softly as they shifted and waited. Peir watched the face of the man before him, trying to fathom the thought process taking place beneath the hard planes and soft creases of the surface.
The Rhuan’s eyes were closed, his head back - the eiathar hummed with the eagerness of the young men for action, a cyclonic storm of desire and fear and adrenaline that closed in on him till he felt like he was drowning in it. Forty-one died last year and I saw nothing. This year again I saw nothing. Am I getting too old?
“Okay, Peir,” he said. “What should we do?”
Peir shook his head and smiled. “Not my decision, Ellis, you know that.”
“You’re the Chief Rhigan of this warrior society.”
“You’re the Rhuan of all the warrior societies.”
Ellis, the Rhuan of All the Warrior Societies, looked down at a rip in the leather cuff of his gauntlet as if surprised and saddened by its existence. He brushed at it as he thought out loud. “If we turn north now and go home, we’ll make the pass before the storms, but we’ll be turning our backs on Reavors running loose in the Outlands.”
Peir said nothing.
“If we ride south, after them, we may find ourselves cut off from the North Gate and forced to take the long way home.”
Peir waited. Above his head a pair of kites stood in mid-gyre against the dome of the sky like insects caught in amber. The wind, which had been blowing steadily, seemed to congeal in a dense bubble around them. Time ceased to exist.
Ellis, the Rhuan of All the Warrior Societies, pinched the rip in his cuff together with thumb and forefinger but when he released it, it spread apart again. It would either need a stitch or it would unravel all the way. “Well, we can’t allow Reavors to run freely across the Outlands. Whatever they’re up to, we have a duty to investigate – even if it’s a trap.”
Ellis’s face was inscrutable but Peir knew the Rhuan was thinking about last year and the lost forty-one. “Let’s do our duty then,” he said.
The vacuum of silence was shattered by a collective whoop of excitement that made the horses side-step and whinny. Time lurched back into gear with an accompanying babble of men’s voices and excited laughter that rose up into a crescendo until the veteran Rhiga circulated among the young men dispensing advice in low voices.
Ellis was back up into the saddle as if the ground had tilted and he needed only to shift his weight. “Take me to where you found the trail.”
The eiathar drew tight like a bow string just before release