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“I Am Brahkis” Episode 2

The Adventures of an Intellectual Barbarian

My intellect warns me to flee, back the way I came, clear from the shadows of the spiders’ webs before they all pounce. But I follow my instincts, which lead me to find and protect my pack. Not waiting for more of the hungry vermin to find their courage and descend, I duck under low branches and weave between the trees. The forest grows darker around me the deeper I head, but it doesn’t take long to find my brothers.

Hagen comes into view through an angle of slanted trunks, but it is not the poacher he’s found. He is on his knees, back toward me, one arm pushed against an elm tree, barely propping him up. Crushed carapaces litter the floor of dead leaves underneath him, though four live spiders crawl unimpeded on his legs and back. He has already lost too much strength to fight them.

I am perhaps six long strides from reaching the son of my chieftain, but I halt to reach over my right shoulder, slipping the knotted loop of cord from around the haft of my throwing axe before retrieving it. It is a well-made, finely balanced thing – a gift from the clan’s weapon-smith for saving his son from the rushing waters of the Tereche.

An especially large, eight-legged monstrosity is rappelling and spinning a line of silk directly above Hagen’s head, tasting the air with its legs. I don’t have to guess about its savage designs. A single exhalation is all the time I can afford to gauge the distance and rate of descent before letting my axe fly. Thorax-cleaver, my aim names the throw.

Eliciting a hideous screech, the spider is nailed to the elm by my axe. My left hand bears the down-turned blade of my knife as I surge forward to clear the vermin from our leader. Kurjat emerges from my flank, screaming his frustration as he gathers webs upon the broad head of his battle axe. Hagen could use the help.

Luckily he holds still as I kick and stab the spiders intending to claim him. His face and chest are dressed with the sticky remains of the creature’s webs, though for the moment his body is clear of the eight-legged devils. Kurjat crushes another with a downward swing of his axe before speaking the obvious, “Brahkis, we need to get him out of here.”

I agree, of course, though not with the look telling me I will be the one to carry Hagen. Unwilling to argue until more arachnids arrive, however, I sheath my knife and hoist my clansman across my shoulder. Hagen is heavy and his limbs nonresponsive, but a groan as he is folded in two tells me he has not yet crossed over.

“Where is Protan?” I question, as the fourth member of our party remains noticeably absent. Kurjat shakes his head solemnly and hefts his axe, leaving me to interpret his silence.

“This way,” he calls as an afterthought, already heading deeper into the woods. I have no reason to trust his judgement, but am quickly too far behind to argue. My field of vision is limited by my burden, and I won’t be able to hear past my heavy breathing if the spiders are stalking us, leaving me uneasy.

The grackle calls from his perch on a low branch ahead. Is he encouraging or mocking me? I cannot decide. Sunlight streams to the forest floor ahead, and Kurjat leads us in its direction. He waits for me in a clearing, and I lower Hagen to the ground as gently as possible, though the remnants of webbing on his torso work against our separation.

“What happened to Protan?” I ask again while crouched over our leader’s body, studying Kurjat’s face while attempting to steady my breath. He doesn’t answer immediately, still peering back the way we came, no doubt looking for the movement of spindly legs. “We cannot leave him in there.” My voice is forceful, its demand finally claiming Kurjat’s attention.

His lips are trembling and I read the fear in his eyes. “Too—too many,” he says, shaking his head. “They were covering him like a second skin. He could not have survived.” Kurjat loosens his grip on his axe, and let its heavy head sink to the rich earth. His entire body slackens as the tension of our ordeal slipped from his frame.

The ring of sunlight in this clearing would not shield us from danger, though it seemed somehow safer than the heavily shadowed woods. “We cannot stay here, Kurjat.” Hagen suddenly seizes with a cough and groans again, though his lids were only partially open. “And we will need a second skin if Hagen falls, for his father will surely take the ones we wear.”

I retrieve a bladder from the fur-lined satchel strapped across my torso. Removing its stopper, I inhale the soft, calming fragrance to ensure I selected the right one. I pour some of the oil on my palm and massage it into the exposed skin of Hagen’s face and neck. When I start doing the same to myself, Kurjat speaks up.

“What is that, Brahkis?”

“Lavender oil,” I respond, not bothering to look at him. “It will sooth the bite, and vermin find it unpalatable.”

“What have pallets to do with spiders? And what warrior carries lavender in his satchel?”

I replace the stopper and let my eyes weigh heavily on his pale face. “Do you know how useful lavender is?” Kurjat’s face remains blank, so I shrug and pack away the bladder. Let the coward’s marrow get sucked from his bones. I felt sorry leaving Protan to his fate, but truthfully, there was nothing that could be done now.

“Lead the way,” I say, hoisting Hagen back across my shoulder. “Unless you want to carry him?” Kurjat grunts and pulls his axe from the ground. “Not that direction,” I argue as he steps eastward, deeper into the wood. “We need to get him home, and quick. North and then west, giving the nesting grounds a wide berth.”

I sigh as I fall in line behind his corrected course. Hagen is getting heavier by the moment.

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