The sound of prowling animals awoke Loric the morning after his sister left. They scratched the bark around the base of the trees and called up to him. “Loric where is your song?” “Do you fear the dawn?” “Fear it more than others for today you die!”
Shivers ran through him as he crouched on the wide limb that his home sat on. The time of his death had come! Perhaps they won’t see me,I can stay here all day. But then Loric remembered who he was . He straightened up and looked down into the half-dark below him. “Go find another’s bones to chew ‘Speaker-for-animals’, Loric Tolorion will die when his song is done and not a note sooner. Kha-vanth Tolos Andartha!”
He spoke the ritual words of warding and shook loose some shelf- fungus, “Go eat your tails and gnaw on this!” he cried as he pitched the hard shell-like fungus down into the dark. His effort was rewarded with a snarl of outrage. “A special death for you, Tolorion-son, a slow, painful one.” Then silence.
Still shaking, Loric smiled grimly to himself. There will be no skins drying on Cid’shaa’s Tree this morning. None of the Tolorion, that is.
I wonder how I WILL die today? Stretched across a wasp’s bole no doubt, after taunting the ‘Speaker-for-animals’ so boldly. There was no use in avoiding it, so he shook off his fears and went to meet the day. He said his prayer to the Spirit and just to prove himself added a new line that just occured to him;
Spirit of the Wood,
Spirit of the Wood
I’d come be with you,
If I could.
The sun’s a-risen
and today I die,
My spirit’s awakened
to you it flies.
He leaped out to a vine nearby and absent-mindedly descended to the ground . I wonder if any of the others will die today, I’ve been so wrapped up in my own ordeals that I’ve forgotten that I’m not the only one trying to become a man this day. Jakul perhaps, Yione surely. He’s never had a hard time doing anything.
Loric walked the hard packed clearing in silence and wondered where the Downlander’s were. He caught a movement on a path that led to the clearing where he and the other boys were tested for their knowledge of bush-craft. That’s right! He thought to himself, there was still time to recover his kesh-blade from the pit before he died. If he could work it loose then it would be much easier to survive the Shreaving.
A man could do anything once he had his kesh-blade. The forest would clothe him, feed him, protect him and receive him when his song was done, the Spirit willing, that is.
With no more hesitation Loric padded swiftly and silently down the path and round an ancient Liamas tree to where the Pit was. The log on which Minial had sat while witnessing Loric was still there. And the Liamas bark rope he had fashioned was coiled up neatly around one limb. The smell of Liamas was everywhere and its heady aroma made Loric smile in remembrance of the fever he had when only four years old, and of Eadie’s potions of Liamas bark and pond-scum.
Eadie’s hut was set by the river,where it would be a short walk for her to gather water. Not that she ever did menial work on her own, she always seemed to have four or five downlanders aiding her and doing her work. It was there that she kept the roots and herbs, poultices and potions, and it was there that she kept the Teline.
Loric decided that teline was the only way he could manage to pull the kesh blade from it’s bonding. He had seen men using the Teline when the limbs of several ice-laden trees had given away and fallen on the Downlanders huts. They had chewed the green stemed plant and it gave them the ability to move the heavy limbs and to think like many hands on the same arm. Loric’s father had been on the nets freeing ice when that happened, and no amount of Teline could help him when he fell, his song was sung.
With a shiver he went to Eadie’s hut and listened, when no one appeared he went in and searched the many hanging vines and drying strings for the Teline. Dimly he was aware that somewhere within the forest the Downlander’s were preparing for his death, and that of the other boys who would chance the Shreaving this day. Pushing the thought aside, he continued his search with determination.
After a bit of frantic searching he found several small pieces wrapped in a waxy leaf from the copo tree. Hurrying back he avoided taking the direct paths. There was nothing wrong in his taking the teline; everything was there for those who wanted it,he just didn’t want to die before he recovered his knife.
Taking up the rope, Loric breathed a quick prayer and solidly anchored the rope to a limb on the log. He leaned out as far as he could and looked down into the dark hole of his last trial.
The bottom was hidden in the early morning shadows but he could see the hilt of the kesh blade sticking out of the side right where he had left it.
“Blade of my father, have you been lonely here in the soft earth? Or have the roots of your brethren kept you warm with talk of leaf and burr, nut and thorn?”
Loric ‘walked’ himself down the side until he was level with the knife and took from his belt a short green stem of the Teline plant. It was kinked and had tiny hairs along the length of it. He broke off a small piece and chewed it briefly.
When he felt a burning in his throat he double-wrapped his grip on the rope and then looped it around the ornate hilt of the knife.
PULL,he thought to himself, pull! It was always hard to think when he chewed Teline. What it gave in strength, it took in reason. Until later when it took strength too. Loric felt the muscles in his neck go taut and his heart raced so loud he was sure that everyone in the village could hear it.
He took large gulping breaths and felt a tightness in his chest. When his arms and legs twitched their need to be used he growled and pulled on the rope. He ground his teeth and tasted blood, for a wild moment he thought of his position and wished he hadn’t chewed so much.
Then the knife began to give, it made a slow sucking noise, reluctant to leave its earthen sheath. Loric spat on the wall and pulled all the harder, too far gone to notice the green-red spittle that ran down his chin. There was a groaning noise, then the sound of the blade sucking free of the earth. With a cry of triumph Loric straightened his back and held aloft the newly freed blade. Its resin-coated length gleamed darkly in the sunlight.
Loric leaped out of the pit and dropped his rope unnoticed on the ground. In a moment he had run around the Liamas tree and then kicked the log into the hole with one foot. He felt a rush as part of him realized that he couldn’t have moved the log normally and that he would have a large dark bruise on his heel to remind him for many days to come.
He did four backward flips and flicked his knife at the Liamas tree in mid-spin. It struck the rough bark with such force that bits of bark went flying in all directions. He laughed uncontrollably at the sight and walked on his hands over to the tree. When dark ropey tendrils dropped on him from above he showed no outward concern, allowing them to envelope him completely. The morning light was cut off abruptly and his breath began to be squeezed from him from all sides. There was a sharp pain in the top of his head where the hard bony beak of the creature was biting him but he could give no resistance. He welcomed pain and howled his pleasure to the Spirit.
“I marvel that I know no fear Spirit, I have lived as a Tolorion, and I am dying as a Tolorion! Eee-yoooo, a-yay!”
Loric’s cry of defiance did not go unheard, Cid’shaa was at hand and replied in a loud voice of cracking bone and booming drums.
“You WILL fear Tolorion-son for I have sent a Devathma to consume you! I promised you a slow painful death and this you shall have! But as your spirit flies to join the Spirit of the Wood, be at peace. I will tell your brethren that you died with honor, like a man. Thus you will be borne anew, like a man!
Darkness began to take Loric and the Teline started to wear off. He could not have called out if he had wanted to, and he did not. With a glad heart he went into the darkness…dying like a man!