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“I Am Brahkis” Episode 17

The Adventures of an Intellectual Barbarian

“Our clan is under attack?” Rulgor’s response predictably ignores my request. “What makes the Roaring Bears think they can invade Shadowwolf territory without consequences?” he roars, looking not unlike a bear himself, freshly un-burrowed from hibernation.

I hold my tongue, though the truth is that their clan has been pressuring ours aggressively for months, usually gaining ground. All signs pointed toward eventually testing our settlements – Rulgor was just too stubborn to acknowledge them. Reminding my chieftain of this during his building rage seems unwise.

“We must gather our warriors, summon them from all the glens,” Rulgor continues. “Brahkis, I want you to plan the assault with my son!”

I am surprised, thinking myself out of favor, and thus, slow to respond. “Is H-hagen well enough for battle?”

Rulgor waves a hand dismissively. “My son is strong.”

I nod, recognizing my chieftain’s blindness once again. I am too tired to argue. “I have not had sleep, my Chief, may I retire?” I keep my head lowered, wishing to end the interaction as soon as possible.

Rulgor scratches himself and looks around his shelter as if he’s misplaced something essential. “Mmm,” he dismisses me with another wave, and I back out of the enclosure, leaving him to his thoughts.

It is an honor to coordinate an attack of this significance, I think as I stumble in the dark, heading toward my own shelter. The first rays of morning are showing themselves, but it’s not enough to mitigate the clumsiness of fatigue.

The clan rarely executes much beyond simple raids, and even those have grown fewer as our numbers have dwindled over the years. Strength has long been rewarded above cleverness in the clans of the North, but what becomes of us when our strength fails? Perhaps Rulgor understands that I am one of the few living here who has already pondered such questions.

I forget about Shadow until his whine reminds me from across the yard. He’s still dutifully sitting where I told him to stay. “Come on, then,” I wave, welcoming him to join me as I slip into my enclosure. We don’t keep dogs at Treehorn Hall, which is probably a good thing at the moment. I don’t possess the patience to separate snarling animals, given that I once again barely get my boots off before curling under my furs.

With my eyes closed, I feel Shadow lay across my legs, assuming a position I find hard to believe comfortable for any species. I haven’t the strength to move him, and soon enough, I am dreaming of huge spiders.

I wake to warm, smelly licks across my face and a sense of movement outside. When I break into the sunlight my suspicions are confirmed – it is clear that word of the Roaring Bear invasion has reached every corner of Treehorn Hall. I am reminded of my duty to plan the reclamation of the Golden Valley by the sheer number of weapons being carried back and forth. Arms are being separated by type into piles on the inside of the outer wall. Shadow licks the salt from my palm as I take in the commotion.

I am famished, too, and far from eager for a reunion with Hagen, given that he almost died on our last foray together. Against my better judgement, I decide to peek into the Great Hall to see if any early dishes are laid out for supper that I can poach. The doors are propped open; men and women, more than usual and mostly strangers, come and go from the communal gathering place, and I hear the din of numerous voices exiting the Hall from half-a-dozen paces away.

Sure now that there is no chance at a quick meal, my curiosity compels me to peek inside, though what I find is hardly a mystery. Dozens of kinsfolk have already arrived while I was sleeping, whether rallying to our Chieftain’s call for vengeance or seeking the safety of our strong timber walls.

Crowded gatherings are not anything I enjoy on a pleasant day, and I could easily get stuck in here for hours trading stories with old cousins or speculating on the conflict ahead. Although I’m sure some of those seeking refuge brought supplies, there is no doubt we could use more food, and I’m happy to do my part by hunting in solitude.

“Come, Shadow.” I snap my fingers as I back away from the Hall, hoping to retrieve my bow and slip out of the fort before anyone pays me too much attention. I love my people and would gladly fight to defend them, but that doesn’t mean I want to spend too much time around them, either. I get the feeling that the weeks ahead may be rough to handle, whether I go off to battle or simply stick around my shelter.

The elk aren’t as plentiful as in years past, but I know a few paths they like to walk and streams they frequent. I can get where I need to be by twilight if I keep purposeful steps. I wonder if having a wolf by side will help or hinder me on the hunt. Shadow is behaving now as if I raised him from a pup, and our new situation is both strikingly odd and oddly comfortable.

We reach a lightly wooded slope with a creek slanting down it after nearly an hour of silent travel. It’s a good place to wait, and I lay on my stomach in the brush with an arrow nocked to my bowstring. Shadow watches me for a few moments, possibly confused as to why we’ve stopped, then goes on ahead on his own, disappearing over a rise to the left of my ambush spot.

Has he abandoned me, or is he simply taking ownership of his hunger? I decide not to worry either way, choosing to enjoy the cool breeze that cuts through the brush and the sound of summer birds that have made the taiga home. My patience is rewarded by the emergence of a doe and her yearling fawn at the top of the hill.

They step carefully down the slope, sniffing the air, but nevertheless drawn to the water. I rise on my elbows a few inches, getting a better line of sight, only to have the bush beside me suddenly rustle.

Startled, I look over and see a grackle staring back at me, only a few feet away. “Oh, you better not ruin this shot for me,” I whisper, unsure if he can hear me. Yet by the time I look back at the elk, they’ve already pranced a few paces away, deterred by something, though not fully spooked.

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