Monster’s Warning (A Chuck Wendig Challenge)

Posted: April 14, 2016 in chuck wendig challenge, Fantasy, Fiction, Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

A short piece for this week’s challenge as I am running smack dab into the deadline. I highly recommend checking out some of the other entries. I know I will be.

Kargen crouched on a massive branch, watching the riders go by in the distance. They were headed toward Jubilee, a little nothing town out on the edge of civilization, right before it gave way to dense forests and hard scrub. He counted ten riders, and even from a distance, he could tell they weren’t your typical frontier folk. The way they sat in their saddle was a giveaway. Most folk out on the frontier adopted a slouched position, easy and relaxed. These riders though, they were too upright, almost too alert. Then there was the way the sun light reflected off their armor. Any harness out in this part of the world was a leather cuirass at best, not the black iron these riders wore.

Kargen worked spit into his mouth, left it in the leaves at his feet. He pulled his coat tighter around his body as a cold wind picked up, rattling the branches around him. He knew winter was still a few weeks away, but it was close, and the further north a person got, the further up into the mountains, and well, winter was already there.

He wrinkled his nose, scratched under his arm. “Don’t owe them a damn thing.”

Except Jubilee was the nearest town in about a hundred miles. Except the locals didn’t bother to hide their disgust when they looked at Kargen. Except the riders were garrul, like him. Except Kargen had no tribe. Except where there were ten riders, there were sure to be more. The summer had been cruel. Too hot. Too dry. Life in civilization was heard enough; he could only imagine what it was like among the garrul. A hungry tribe was a dangerous tribe, and these outriders were looking for a nice, soft target.

Kargen dropped from the branch, legs bending to absorb the impact as he fell into the pile of leaves he arranged under the branch. He ran toward his horse, hobbled nearby. An ugly brute, Kargen hadn’t bothered with a name. The horse didn’t seem to mind one bit.

A winding trail, little more than a deer path, wound through the forest. Kargen let the horse find its way in the dimming light. He had a feeling he knew where the garrul would camp, and he could only hope they would stop for the night.

The light from their campfire shone through the night long before he could hear them, the smell from their cookfire causing Kargen stomach to grumble. He hobbled his horse, not wanting it give him away. It flattened its ears at him and tried to nip his shoulder, but he stepped out of the way and gave it a narrowed eye look. The horse didn’t look contrite, but it didn’t try to bite him again.

Kargen moved through the woods, years of woodcraft coming to his aid. He stole closer to the fire, close enough to hear their muted conversation, their laughter. They hadn’t bothered to post a watch. Why would they? The king’s rangers never patrolled this far out, and there was nothing more ferocious out here then the garrul. You would have to be suicidal to attack them, and nothing else in the forest was as a feared as a garrul raiding party.

Staying crouched in the shadows, Kargen watched them. He wondered what would happen if he stood up, strode into the firelight. Would he be welcomed as long lost kin? Would they put an arrow into him without asking questions? Would they try to turn him away?

Kargen shook his head, curled his hand around the haft of his axe. Ten blooded warriors.

He waited until the fire died down, waited until he saw the shadowy forms of the warriors settle down into the beds. All except one.

Kargen stood up slowly, wincing as he straightened his knees. Getting old. Too old maybe. He grinned, his over long canines jutting from his mouth. Not too old yet, however.

He strode into the camp, axe held down back behind his leg.

“Ho, brother,” he called out, raising his left hand in greeting.

The garrul on watch looked up, wrinkled his squat nose. Kargen was close enough to pick out the single line of scarification on both cheeks. A young warrior, recently blooded. His helmet lay on the ground next to him.

“Who are you?” The guard reached for his spear.

Kargen smiled. “A friend.” He whipped his axe around, scything it through the air. The guard didn’t have time to react, falling to the ground hard, his head caved in from the blow.

“What?” One of the other garrul blinked up, mouth gaping open as realization dawned in small black eyes. Kargen snuffed that light with a brutal chop of his axe.

The other garrul were alerted now, yelling to each other, struggling to free themselves from their bedding. Kargen struck swift as the wind, axe rising and falling until his arm ached, until he felt his heart would burst.

He felt a lance of pain burn across his back, and he spun, nearly falling over. A old warrior stood before him, white hair bound in thick braids, six lines of scars across his weathered face.

“Why?” the old warrior asked. “Why kill your own?” He rested a massive sword across his chest. His voice held no sadness, only curiosity.

“You ceased being my own a long time ago. My tribe no longer exists.”

The old warrior snorted. “So you hope to get in the good graces with the humans then? They will never accept one like you. They only tolerate their own kind. The blood you shed will never be enough for them.”

Kargen shook his head. He thought of a warm bed and an ale. He thought of being able to hide away from himself, even for a time. He thought of blood and the fire that had consumed his tribe, slaughtered by rival garrul. He thought of his children, his mate, murdered at the hands of old warriors like these.

“You said it was for them?”

A month later, a patrol of the King’s Rangers came through the clearing. Carefully arranged on sharped stakes, they found the skulls of ten garrul arranged in a circle around an old fire pit. The commander of the rangers wasn’t sure what to make of it, but could only guess it was a warning of some sort, though from who and to whom he could not tell.

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Comments
  1. dcxli says:

    Great story. You seem to have the character pretty well in hand.

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