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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My Name Is Fergon

The boy was far from home when dawn lit the sky with its rosy glow.  His breath froze immediately in the subzero air, and his skis left parallel tracks for miles behind him.  He skied on at a tireless pace, putting miles between himself and home.  If there had been someone to see him pass, they would have noted an eager smile and a determined scowl fighting for dominance on his young face.
“I will succeed.  My father will be proud.  It is my fifteenth year and I will earn a name and become a man by hunting the White Bear.  Alone.”  The last thought gave him a shiver that he quickly attributed to the cold.  He wanted to hurry and get to the Ocean of Ice now, but he knew to pace himself.  If he were skilled and brave, he would still need all his energy to lure and kill the great northern bear, and even more energy to bring its pelt home as a present for his mother.  And nobody would ever call him boy again.
Any other culture would have considered his parents distant, if not downright abusive.  But the Northland is a harsh environment, and they knew that the best gift they could give their son would be the strength to survive anything it could throw at him.  The boy could still remember his father coming home from a hunt with half his face and one arm mauled by a bear that refused to die.  He remembered, not the blood and tattered flesh that hung off him, but the look of determination, the slow, smoldering strength in his father’s eyes, and his mother’s only comment, “Where there is life, there is hope.”  Old Scrama, the village healer, had done what she could, and his father lost only a little strength in his arm, and would carry the scars to his funeral pyre.
With the rising of the sun, a breeze began to blow in from the northwest.  The boy altered his pace with the breeze, slower when it was strong, faster during the lulls.  He had two days still to travel, and knew better than to fight the weather that Auril might send his way….

The white bear sniffed around the dead bird, wary of …something.  The large white birds did not normally lie there in a pool of blood, but winter was coming on, and free food was the best kind.  But there was a taint of something on the kill.  Something that stirred memories older than the bear, something buried deep in the bear’s bones.
Finally, hunger overcame wariness, and the bear licked at the blood.  It was fresh and tasty.  Caution disappeared as the bear settled down to crack the bones between its great teeth, oblivious to the hunter downwind who quietly drew his bow to his ear.

Fergon finished drilling a hole in the tooth with his knife, and added it and the remaining claws to the necklace.  The boy had perished in the hunt, reborn in the bear’s blood as Fergon, “Fearless”.  The bear had fought tooth and nail, taking eight arrows and one deep spear thrust before finally dying, claws and teeth sunk into the boy’s shield.  Fergon would remember it forever with this necklace.  Tooth and nail.  Perhaps the bear’s strength would be added to his when he wore it, like the magic swords his father had told stories about. 
Fergon smiled as he remembered his father’s tales of men who went away to foreign lands and returned with outlandish tales, wholly unbelievable except for the booty they brought back.  Drinks that healed mortal wounds, swords that never rusted and were always sharp, a ring that kept the wearer warm, though he wore nothing but a breechclout in the dead of winter.  He wondered what the truth was, for many in his tribe had mastered the art of storytelling, such that every journey was transformed by the telling into an epic odyssey, and every scrap a fight to the death. 
Fergon knew that he would never find out what lay beyond the horizon, for he was his parent’s only son, and had to take care of them as they grew older.  He had to hunt for the tribe, sharing his kills with the farmers who shared their crops with him.  It was the only life he knew, and the only one he would ever know.  But that couldn’t stop him from dreaming about what was beyond the horizon.

The return trip was not as easy.  The bear had been a large one, and its hide had a mind of its own.  It kept coming unbound, or knocking against his spear and bow, tripping him as he skied.  He had to re-tie it seven times on the first day, and twice today.  Even if the hide stayed put, its weight alone was enough to slow him down.  He sighed, realizing that the return trip would take three days, and he might lose some of the hard-earned respect he knew a successful hunt would bring.  He pressed on, so that he could at least return during the brief daylight hours tomorrow and show his trophy to the rest of the village.

The first sign of trouble was the smoke on the horizon.  There was always steam from the volcanic vents that kept the village warm through the long northern winters, but black smoke clouded the southern sky.  No Northman built a fire that smoked like that!  Fergon picked up the pace, skis and poles pumping like a machine, more curious than cautious….

Fergon crested the final hill, winded from running the last half-mile, and stopped in shock.
The village was gone.  Everything had been burned, except for the now-scorched stone walls on some of the houses.  Strange men in red robes and furs strode about the village as if they owned it, rifling through chests and dumping out their contents on the muddy ground.  There was no sign of any of the villagers.
Fergon stood in disbelief, mouth agape.  His hunter’s eyes picked out a dirty cloth sack lying on the ground in front of his house and shock jolted him again as he realized it was his mother, lying dead in the mud of the village that had raised her.
Numb shock turned to boiling rage in a flash.  He dropped his pack and the bearskin he was so proud of, slung his spear, and limbered his bow.  He would die this day, taking many of the red devils with him.
The first arrow took a red-robed figure through the throat.  He fell back, clutching at the crimson stream gushing from a severed artery and tried to scream. 
The second hit another in the back.  He looked down in disbelief at the bloody arrowhead sticking out of his chest, and sank to his knees.
A robed figure who was speaking to the second victim looked up and saw Fergon striding forwards and drawing his bow, his face a rictus of anger.   The robed man barely managed to avoid the third arrow by launching himself headlong into the mud.  Fergon had already switched targets and fired at a fourth, hitting him in the shoulder.  The third man got up out of the mud, pulled something out of his pocket, and began to chant, tracing intricate symbols in the air with his hands.  
Fergon had a fifth target, and had nocked and drawn a fifth arrow, but something happened just as he was about to release the arrow.  A wave of energy swept through his body, leaving his skin tingling, and suddenly he couldn’t move.  Fergon watched his target realize the situation and run inside the shell of a house.  He was frozen stiff as a board, unable even to release his bowstring.  He could do nothing but watch helplessly as the wizard who had ensorcelled him approached, followed by more of his kind.
“Why, it’s nothing more than a boy.”  The wizard spoke slowly, with a strange accent.  He stopped and stood directly in front of the arrow.  Fergon tried with all his being to will his fingers to release the arrow, but they would not. 
The wizard reached out and plucked the arrow off the bow.  “Tsk-tsk, boy.  Don’t you know these things are dangerous?”  The wizard looked at the arrow carefully, then up at Fergon.  “Now whatever shall we do with you?” he asked, twirling the arrow in his fingers.

Fergon shifted the slave collar around his neck so he could touch the necklace his owner had “so graciously” let him keep.  He was careful not to move the collar too much or it would punish him again.  He had learned over the last weeks that he could not fight it, just endure the paralysis and pain that it brought. 
His master was a Red Wizard of Thay.  The Red Wizards had opened a magical portal to his village, killed most of his people, and sold the rest into slavery.  He had stumbled on the scene after the slaves had been sold, and his master had closed the portal.  Now his parents were dead and he was a slave.
Fergon paused a moment, touching his necklace.  His father would never know that he had become a man, would never know his own son’s name.  The young slave had told himself countless times that he would have gladly arrived home before the slavers came, just to tell his father that he had succeeded, though it meant his death.  A wave of sorrow swept over him as he thought about the things that never would be, all because of a few extra hours’ travel.  “I am sorry, Father.  I have failed you.  You will never know my name, and I will never again hear your stories,” he whispered.
Despite his pain, Fergon could not just give up.  Where there is life, there is hope.  He had seen sights that made his father’s stories tame by comparison.  Cities that stretch farther than the eye can see.  Magic used to hurt, kill, and torture.  Monstrous creatures handled like so much cattle.  Wizards flying on carpets.  A mighty demon, held prisoner by nothing more than chalk marks on a floor.  His young mind drank it all in, and thirsted for more.  He was only beginning to learn of the new world around him. 
They could chain his body, but mind and spirit were his alone.  Just as his father’s spirit had not been conquered, only vanquished from his body to fly to the halls of his ancestors. 
Fergon realized then that he would see his parents again, in the halls of his ancestors, after his own life was over. He would tell his father his name, and regale them both with stories of what he has seen and done in this strange world south of their village.  He thought back to the stolen dream of his victorious homecoming and realized that it wasn’t stolen after all, just delayed.  A ghost of a smile touched his face for the first time in weeks.  There was life; there was hope.
“Boy!  Are you daydreaming again?  Finish sweeping or I’ll flay the skin from your bones.” 
Someday, he would be free of this evil man.  He would be free to live his life, and it would be a story that would be told for ages to come.  

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