The Barbarian Trials
By Jordan Hill
Larin slept the night of the fight with the goblins in despair. He had finally found what happened to his father's spear, but what it implied about his father's fate was terrible. Larin grimly vowed to use it for eternity beside his longsword. Like most boys his age, he was trained in the use of a spear as well. His father's spear, which he now thankfully owned, had been crafted with steel by the civilization to the east. The same culture had created Larin's longsword, since Larin's people did not work in metal. Yet Larin noticed there was something different about this spear. It seemed to tingle in his hand, and the edge of the leaf-shaped head was rimed with frost. Strange indeed. Larin vowed to think more about what this might mean.
The next morning the lad was itching for battle. He felt rejuvenated and wanted nothing more than to get this wild trek over with. "I need to kill a stag," he told himself. That is what would get him title of man, a stag with a huge set of antlers. He thus set off to the east into a lesser part of the forest and then headed to the north, where he expected to find a deer.
Larin had been searching all day for any sign of a deer in the forest in which he had been for six days so far. He only had eight more days left in which to complete the task of becoming a man of the Stag-Hunter tribe. Trudging forward, he soon came upon a small clearing around the middle of the day. Wiping the sweat from his brow, Larin began to curse his luck, but his scowl broke into a smile in mid-curse. A doe had just traipsed into the clearing and begun munching on the tall grass. Larin crouched down to the ground, where he steadied his arm. This would suffice for half of his kill, he thought.
His arm steadied and poised to hurl his fathers iron crafted spear, he thought he had the doe. But just as he was about to throw his spear, the doe was gone, bounding off into the forest. Larin cursed himself for not throwing it sooner. "What had made the doe run off?" Larin asked himself. He looked to the sky for the answer, where he saw dozens of birds flying the same way the doe had fled. "What in the world?" Larin stammered. Never had he seen something like this phenomenon of a mass exodus of woodland creatures, all fleeing in the same direction.
Larin took a step forward, but he nearly stumbled as the ground began rumbling. He looked to where the rumbling was coming from in the trees. Deer suddenly, unbelievably, leaped from the forest and jumped all around him, passing him on both sides. It was as if someone had delivered the quarry of his hunt right into his hands. "Now is my chance," he roared and hurled his own crude spear at a stag, his powerful young sinews rippling as the shaft left his hand. The magnificent stag fell into a wounded, unconscious heap. Nevertheless, Deer kept stampeding all around Larin, and, amazingly, one jumped clean over his head. After all the deer had disappeared, Larin looked at the direction they had gone and noticed they had all fled south. "Something big must have happened to the north." Larin spent the rest of the day in the middle of the forest with the stag, cleaning it. Larin soon became lost in thought; he expected to find some measure of peace in the familiar task of skinning an animal, but his mind would grant him none.
"Why doesn't this feel right?" Larin asked himself. He had been thinking about the morality of the kill. He hadn't hunted the stag. The stag had come to him; it had been all too easy. "In my heart, this does not fulfill my task. Also, why were all the animals running away? Still, I should not waste all this meat. I think I should bring this back to the tribe first and discuss there the strange events I have seen." He still had six days left of the trials and it would take him about three to get back to camp with this huge deer. Perhaps he could catch another near the village, he thought, although he knew that wasn't likely. Still, it soothed his conscience. So off Larin went to get back to the village, the large load of meat draped across his back, held in the skin of the stag. On his second day going back to the village, in the distance he saw faint plumes of black smoke billowing from the area. He did not know what to expect, and he started to panic. "I hope the village is not in trouble," he told himself, but deep down in his heart he knew something was wrong. It was late in the evening, and he knew that there was still a long way to travel. It would avail him little to walk all night, and if he needed to fight, he would have no strength to do so.
He awoke the next morning with the smoke still rising. Gathering his belongings and the body of the stag, he started the final leg of his trek to the village. He walked along an unnamed river, following its banks, until he came upon his village-or where his village should have been. Instead, there lay tons of smoldering debris. Larin, starting to break down, began sobbing. "W-what in the nine hells could've done this to my village," he screamed, his voice breaking
"L-Larin, is that you?" It was Alfen's voice.
"Alfen, why are you here?" Larin asked his friend.
"I saw the smoke and realized that it was the village. I rushed back to find a few of the others here, and they started to span out to find survivors. We don't know what happened here," Alfen told Larin.
"Well whatever it was, it is gone now," Larin whispered, hoping that his words were true.
The young barbarian walked over to where his longhouse used to be, lost in despair and anger. Yet he was drawn out of his deep emotions by something shining under some smoldering boards. Could anything of value remain in this rubble, he asked himself. He rushed over and moved the boards, ignoring the pain in his fingers as the hot wood scorched him. He smiled as he saw his longsword, unscathed, and his face lit up at the thought of now wielding two great weapons, his father's spear and his eastern longsword. He was elated at the thought that he now had good protection, but was still saddened at the probable loss of many in his tribe.
Suddenly Larin felt another presence coming up behind him, and he spun around on his heels. "Larin, you made it," A barbarian teenager who had shoulder length brown hair said, elated.
"Did you find anything, Aiquio?" Larin asked the barbarian.
"Nothing. There is no trail of the rest of the tribe fleeing. There are also no bone remains here in the village," Aiquio exlained, his own pain evident on his face.
Several hours later, other teenagers arrived back at the village one by one. They had started a small fire and they huddled around it, conversing about what happened. "When I got my deer, all the birds flew south, and then suddenly hundreds of deer stampeded through the area where I was from the north," Larin told the other boys. So on went the conversation for a few hours well into the night. They cooked some of the meat that they had brought back. By nightfall all fifteen barbarians who were sent out were back in the village, although all were shocked and perplexed.
The sun rose behind dull gray clouds the next morning. The fire had burned low and everyone was still asleep when Larin woke up. Setting some more logs on the fire to get it going again, he sniffed the air: it smelled of rain. Larin walked over to where his longhouse had been, although now it was just a pile of smoldering sticks and charred stones, and sat on a log. "Why did this have to happen to our village?" He asked somberly. He hadn't slept well the previous night, knowing that his mother might be dead. A tear ran down his cheek, but he wiped it away. A man of the Stag-Hunters needed to be strong.
One by one the other fourteen barbarian teenagers awoke, and they all sat around the fire again, eating and drinking in silence. "Well what are we going to do?" It was Aiquio who spoke up. "We have some relative location of where the disturbance was in the forest, thanks to Larin," he continued.
"Why don't we go check it out? Some of us can stay behind in case anyone comes back to the village," A young barbarian with long, sleek black hair said. "What happens if none of us come back, though? Or if whatever or whoever did this comes back?" Alfen questioned the other Barbarian.
"Then they come back, and we destroy them," The barbarian retorted grimly, his fists clenching in determination.
"But our village couldn't hold out against them; what makes you think that a group of us can?" Alfen asked, voicing the question in Larin's mind.
For about an hour they all discussed their options, probably the most abstract conversation any of these barbarian peoples had ever had, and finally Larin spoke up. "We could make signal beacons, and if either of the groups comes under serious attack then you light the signal fires, and we will know something is wrong. Once the signal is lit, we will come rushing to you or you to us." It was a very good idea, it seemed at the time.
The rest of the day they decided to set up a defensive area around the remains of the village. Luckily, the barbarians had found a weapons cache underneath a ton of rubble, and they secreted the weapons around the area. They then constructed out of the charred hulks of longhouses several watch towers, one at each corner of their defenses. They continued to improve everything until they could no longer see through the blanket of darkness...