Authors: B. V. Larson
Tags: #Genre Fiction, #Arthurian, #Superhero, #Fantasy, #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Epic, #Magic & Wizards, #Paranormal, #Horror, #Dark Fantasy, #Mythology & Folk Tales, #Fairy Tales, #Paranormal & Urban, #Sword & Sorcery
Fantasy Books by B. V. Larson
Twrog was a Deepwood Giant of middling size. He had fingers as thick as tree branches, huge flapping ears and teeth like walnuts. Being no more than two centuries of age, he was young and inexperienced for a member of his lonely race. He had wandered the murky depths of the forest along the River Haven’s western border all his life. Normally, he kept away from the humans who lived in the Haven and the Fae who danced upon their mounds. Today however, two strangers had entered his territory.
The first creature claimed he had come to warn him about the second. This being was a member of the Wild Hunt, a dead-thing known as Voynod. Among the Wild Huntsmen, Voynod ranked high. He was often called the Dark Bard, which Twrog gathered was due to his playing of music and his odd costume of rancid, black cloth. Twrog cared little about rank and status, being a solitary creature. The Wild Huntsmen were dead-things, and Twrog knew better than to trust the Dead. They were tricky—even trickier than humans that still drew breath. Normally, Twrog would have doubted the Dark Bard’s word. No one trusted one of the Dead without good cause. But he had seen the human invader Voynod spoke of with his own eyes, wandering among the birch and ash trunks of the Deepwood as if he owned place.
“Imagine,” said the Bard, leaning forward in his saddle. Ancient leather creaked with the movement. “Imagine the unmitigated
the man must have to come here into your lands.”
Twrog shied away from Voynod slightly. He did not like the smell of dead-things. This one was so ancient it no longer had an odor of decay, but the musty smells of the long-dead still disturbed the giant’s sensitive nose.
“Is not right,” said Twrog thickly. He was not good at speech. The bulging muscles that clung to his jawbone were meant for cracking bones and sucking out marrow, not forming fancy sounds.
“No!” agreed the Bard. “Not right at all!” Voynod’s horse, which was as dead as its rider, stepped closer as if knowing what its master wanted. Twrog’s eyes strayed to the horse, and his face twitched in disgust. Skin, flesh and hair covered most of it, but here and there the gray-white of a bone could be seen. The horse’s eyes were tiny lavender flames.
“This man ignores the Pact that keeps his own people safe,” continued the Bard. “Just the very fact the human breathes your forest air befouls it. His presence despoils this sanctuary of natural beauty.”
The Bard’s melodic words conjured an image in Twrog’s large, slow brain. To the Deepwood giant the River Folk intrusion seemed monumentally unfair. The puny humans insisted on maintaining their Pact with the Faerie, the Dead and other creatures like Twrog, forbidding all but humans entry into the Haven. At the same time however, they felt they could cross the borders into other folk’s territory at will. To add insult to injury, the human was a hunter seeking wild boars, which were a major part of Twrog’s diet this time of year. He could not spare a single pig.
The forest around the two beings was unusually hushed. A tall ash tree loomed over Twrog and Voynod, but the rest of the region was populated by lowland oaks. The giant was squatting, as was his nature, upon a boggy spot of ground. A single fungus thrust up in front of his feet, but he had been careful not to touch it. The mushroom was known to the River Folk as a
due to the fungus’ odd golden shroud which grew to encircle the central horn of white. Twrog’s name for the mushroom was
, as the growths made an unpleasant smell when trod upon. Maiden’s veil or stinkhorn—whatever the name, this variety often sprouted half a foot in height in a single night.
“The River Folk have their river,” said Voynod intently. “They have their boats and their fields, but that isn’t enough for them, is it?”
Twrog blinked up at the dead-thing on its horse, uncertain as to the correct answer. He did not like the Bard, but he did not fear him, either. He had an attitude toward the Dead that was rather like a farmer’s attitude toward large spiders in the barn. They were disgusting and to be avoided whenever possible—but they were not to be feared.
Staring at the Bard, Twrog thought of the wonderful smells the river man was emitting from his rucksack. Far from ruining the forest, to the giant it was as if the hunter spread perfume with every step. Twrog’s mouth dripped with saliva. He eyed the Bard dully, forgetting he had been asked a question at all.
Voynod rolled his eyes quickly, then bent conspiratorially close. “What I want to know, noble giant, is this: what are you going to do about it?”
“What are you going to do about this creature that parades itself in your woods?” Voynod demanded.
The giant had first scented the human the day before, but it was not the stink of the hunter’s small clay pipe or his flagon of ale that had caught Twrog’s attention. Rather, it was a
scent, a meaty scent that he could not quite place. Twrog knew every wild flavor of game in the forest and every fish in the river. He could identify every fowl as it was roasted, but this odor was slightly different. If he had to gamble, he’d say it was pig, but there were other smells as well, mixed in with the typical musky scent of a boar.
Although he could not identify the scent that so flavored the air, it was definitely mouthwatering. He decided to track the hunter, even as the man tracked wild boars along the gloomy forest trails.
“What are you going to do?” pressed the Bard.
“I’m going to eat it,” Twrog said, thinking about whatever the human was carrying. He desperately wanted to know what made such wonderful flavors in the air.
The Dark Bard cocked his head, and then nodded slowly in approval. “I suppose that will do,” he said.
* * *
Today Arlon of the Thunderfoot clan wore his hunting outfit: a homespun tunic of wool, poorly-dyed and stained to a splotchy brown. He liked the tunic, believing it made it harder for animals to see him. He gripped a crossbow in both hands, the iron prod of which had been carefully scraped and oiled until it was free of rust.
When he had first entered the Deepwood three days earlier, the banks of the Berrywine River had been overgrown with a profusion of marsh violets and bog asphodel. As he’d tied his boat to a tree and headed inland, he’d spotted a variety of birds, including three buzzards and a rare red kit flying overhead. All that changed as he delved more deeply into the forest. The birds had quieted, and those that still sang were distant and forlorn. The canopy of leaves overhead thickened until only snatches of blue-white sky could be seen.
Arlon was not afraid—not exactly. He’d been in the Deepwood before on dares as a teen and on occasional expeditions since then to chop down a hardwood tree or to hunt for birds’ eggs. Like most River Folk he didn’t
the Deepwood, but he was wary of it. Strange events occurred out here beyond the borders of the Haven. Odd beings lived and danced beneath these trees at will. There was no rule of law with them—the peace treaty known as the Pact did not extend to this quiet sea of green leaves.
He had to question the wisdom of coming to this place alone. Arlon was no foolish youngster. At forty-two, he was an experienced woodsman from the west shore town of Hamlet. Arlon had rarely ventured into the Deepwood along the western bank of the Berrywine, even though it was close to his home. He’d spent many nights of his life in the forests of the east bank, in the region known as the Haven Wood, which was inside the borders of the Haven and quite safe for River Folk. The Deepwood that bordered the fields outside Hamlet was a different matter entirely.
Arlon knew the venture was something for a younger man to undertake, but hadn’t been able to refuse Molly’s offer back home in Hamlet. She’d told him she would marry the man who first brought her fresh boar meat for her birthday dinner—and he’d taken the invitation seriously. His own wife Dera had passed on some winters back leaving him with no children. He didn’t think he would get too many more invitations to share a bed with someone like Molly. She was ten years younger than he and strong, with three daughters of her own in need of feeding. Her husband had been lost to merlings last spring, and like all couples who meet one another after having lost their mates, the two had felt an instant kinship.
“Is this an open invitation, then?” he’d asked her in a voice that was regrettably gruff. He could not help but wonder how many other suitors had been told to prove themselves in this fashion.
“Absolutely,” she’d said, throwing her nose high in the air. “Anyone who brings me a fresh boar steak for my birthday dinner—hunted down by his own mettle, mind you—will be given my hand.”
Arlon had made a sour face. He’d been on the verge of making a nasty comment when Molly had touched his arm gently and smiled. “The trouble for all the rest,” she said quietly, “is that you are the only one that I’ve told about the contest.”
Arlon had blinked, and his frown had melted and transformed into a smile. A contest with only himself as a contestant? He ought to be able to win
Molly had provided him with a cured ham for his journey. He had looked at the ham in surprise. If she already had a ham hock, why did he have to bring her a wild pig for her birthday? He did not question her, however. Perhaps this bit of irony was part of the test. He gazed into her eyes, ignoring the fine lines of care and age that circled them. He saw in her face the beauty she once was. He wanted her, and so he took the ham and the sack and set off to prove himself to her. He was no drunken lout, no matter what had been whispered around the taverns since Dera’s death. He would win this new woman—by bringing her six boars, if that’s what she wanted. His only hope was that he could find a small, young pig. Boars were dense of meat and thick of bone. They were notoriously difficult to carry out of the forest. Perhaps, he thought, this was part of the test. Did he have enough strength and manhood left to provide what his woman needed? He vowed to prove to her that he did.
With less than a week to go before Molly’s birthday, Arlon had decided to hunt in the Deepwood rather than the relatively tame Haven Wood. He knew the boars weren’t due to be in rut until the winter and now they would be fat and plentiful after a long summer of feasting on truffles in the forest loam. The piglets would be the easiest to find and shoot with his crossbow. They would be the lightest and easiest to dress and carry out of the forest, too. Boars were rare in the Haven Wood in this season, usually hunted out by the end of summer. But in the Deepwood, where few hunters dared to travel, he hoped to easily find wild pigs. His plan was simple: he would bring one down and take it back to his boat which waited on the shoreline several miles to the east.