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“I Am Brahkis” Episode 5

The Adventures of an Intellectual Barbarian

The call of the wolf is disturbingly close, coming from just the other side of the rise. With a quick scan in the moonlight I can tell most of the shaman’s hill is barren of trees, painted with plenty of grass and stony outcroppings. Forest encircles just beyond its base though, which is unfortunately where I am. Woods, hiding plenty of night creatures, lie to my immediate left, and peering into them brings no solace.

I pick up my pace as an answering call comes from somewhere behind me, and cut up the hill as soon as I reach it. I bound upward with powerful thrusts, using my hands when necessary to gain purchase on the steep slopes. The stone is abrasive against my palms but I ignore the pain, bending my mind toward reaching the top.

Three quarters of the way up I spot a crudely erected lean-to, draped with wolf pelts, shielding a fire from the wind that blows in challenging gusts toward the summit. A man, similarly draped by the furs of wolves, sits there, cross-legged, staring calmly into the flames. I stop when I know I am plainly in sight, doubling over with hands on my knees to catch my breath.

Looking behind me, I am pleased to find nothing chasing me, at least nothing I can see. “Greetings, Spirit Shaman of the Shadowwolf clan,” I pronounce once the air in my lungs permits me. “Your Chieftain has need of your service.”

He looks at me without moving the rest of his body. “Come sit by the fire and warm yourself, young Brahkis. Oh yes,” he says, registering my surprise upon being addressed by name, “I know who you are. I am not surprised, though, that you don’t remember me.”

“Should I?” His revelation has me slightly unbalanced, but it doesn’t stop me from accepting his offer. I take a place across the fire from Yorilis, making note of his weather-worn features, the grey in his beard, and the callouses on his hands.

“You were only a pup when I last held you,” he says.

I laugh. “I hope so – I doubt you could lift me now.”

His eyes narrow. “What has brought the child of Dhorgrim to my lonely hill in the dark?”

The smile fades from my face. “Hagen has been poisoned. Bitten by a giant spider. His father blames me, and has sent me to you as punishment, hoping you have an antidote. If you do not, you might just have a new neighbor, because I can’t go back empty-handed.”

It was Yorilis’s turn to laugh – a stifled, croaking sort of sound. “Visiting me is a punishment, eh? You have to respect our Chieftain.” He shakes his head. “Venom of the Giant Anubis Spider is nothing to trifle with, Brahkis. Even if we neutralize it now, if more than one sunrise has passed since he was bitten, it might leave permanent debilitation.”

“I would be grateful for anything you can do. For Hagen’s sake, as well as mine.”

Another wolf howls, and then I hear snarling from atop one of the cairns that dots the lee side of the hill. I am up on my feet a moment later, my knife drawn and ready. “How do you live here, Yorilis, surrounded by enemies?”

The Spirit Shaman has not flinched, however, and continues warming his hands by the fire. “Why do you think the wolves are your enemy? Have they declared it so?”

“That one seems to be doing a pretty clear job of it,” I say, pointing my blade at the bristling canine.

“Be at peace, Brahkis, and embrace your nature. You have the heart of a wolf, or do you doubt this?”

I hear his words, but I am looking at the wolf, who is still growling, and I see his pack inching up alongside. I am unsure what the Shaman would have me do, but it doesn’t escape me that he has yet to show fear of these beasts. Perhaps he has lived among them long enough not to be afraid, but isn’t that foolishness? What would keep them from tearing him apart if they are hungry and no other game is near?

“HOW-OOOH!” Yorilis lifts his head to the sky and howls.

I watch in amazement as the wolves cease snarling and lift their heads as well, joining in a chorus of haunting cries, presented to the moon.

“HOW-OOOH!” he howls again and the lead wolf licks his snout, then turns and saunters off back down the hill.

I look at the Spirit Shaman in disbelief, but he is staring back into the fire.

“Be at peace, Brahkis, for you will still need your strength tonight.”

I sheath my knife and sit back down, but not before I look in every direction, making sure the wolves are not creeping closer in silence behind me.

“Do you hold some sort of power over them?” I ask at last, for Yorilis is offering no explanation.

“Not power. Kinship. You hold it too. You knew this as a child, but will have to rediscover it. Now listen, however, for there is not much time if you are to save both Hagen and your standing among the clan. I can make a potion to cleanse the poison from the Chieftain’s son, but there is one ingredient I do not have, and you must fetch it. It grows in the forest, and you must collect it before sunrise, for the snowbell only blooms at night.”

“The flower?” I ask, familiar with the plant. “How much of it do you need?”

“I require the nectar – a half-dozen bulbs should be adequate. The vines creep along the trees in the woods near here, seeking out the moonlight.” Yorilis stretched out a hand toward me as I stood to go. Truly, there was no time to waste. “Be cautious, Brahkis, for there are restless spirits haunting this hill, and they often go wandering in the dead of night.”

I think I shall have my hands full enough with the wolves.

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