The Eternal Song, Part Eight: Forest

Overhead the tree rats chittered, hidden by a thick canopy of laurel leaves. Birds chirped and trilled. A light drizzle fell, its soft patter a near-constant background noise that went almost unnoticed after two months in the forest.

With an arrow on the string, Tahu-at waited silently in the hope of catching a glimpse of feathers or fur. There wasn’t much else to hunt. The island had no large game other than antelope, which had almost disappeared from the grasslands. It was said that wild goats still roamed the mountain above, but he’d wasted two days searching and had found no trace of them.

In the warm humid forest, he wore nothing but a loincloth. Any other clothing would only get soaked through, and there was no sense wearing out the few shirts and breeches he had. The other tribesmen had been doing the same. By now he’d mostly gotten used to damp leaves touching his bare skin and squishy ground under his feet.

His right arm started to tremble. Lowering his bow, Tahu-at rubbed the puckered scar, getting little relief from the pain that never quite went away. The Healer had told him that the bone was well mended; but his arm ached in this damp climate like the creaky joints of an old woman sitting next to her hut, predicting a storm on the way.

A large black spider crawled over his toes. Tahu-at ignored it. Spiders like that could be found all over the forest and were not venomous. They could even be eaten, if nothing better turned up. In his opinion, the spiders didn’t taste much worse than the mushy tubers that the women dug from the swampy ground near their new village. No matter how many herbs went into the cooking pot, those tubers still tasted like mud.

Some of the goatherds had gotten their beasts safely away and were keeping them penned at the edge of the forest. The goats would make easy pickings in a raid, but so far the settlers had not pursued the People into the murky gloom of their new dwelling-place. Tahu-at suspected that the settlers had a dread of the forest, believing it cursed by whatever strange gods they worshipped. They might well be right about that.

The birds and rats went on making their gleeful racket from unseen perches, as if mocking his efforts to hunt them. A branch swayed above his head, and he caught a glimpse of black fur that soon vanished again. In frustration, he snatched up a rock with his left hand and flung it into the canopy of the nearest tree.

“Curse you!”

Tahu-at wasn’t sure if he meant the tree itself, or the elusive prey in the branches, or the forest in its entirety. His voice carried only a short distance in the heavy air, as if the forest conspired to silence him. Some birds took wing; but by the time Tahu-at raised his bow, their ghostly silhouettes already had disappeared into the fog.

Ah, there, another spot of black fur was showing through the leaves. Taking careful aim, Tahu-at let an arrow fly. But his right arm started trembling again just as he took the shot, and he missed by several handsbreadth. The rat leaped for another branch and was lost from sight once more.

The ill-fated arrow fell toward the ground in a wide arc, barely disturbing the wet heavy leaves through which it passed, as if both the arrow and its owner had become insubstantial in the forest. Tahu-at heard no sound when it finally struck the earth.

Part Nine will be posted next Wednesday.

Part Seven: Shards and Dust.
Part Six: Warning.
Part Five: Gifts.
Part Four: Midsummer.
Part Three: Hunters or Hunted.
Part Two: Rehearsal.
Part One: Beauty.

on 06/15/11 in Art/Play/Myth, featured | No Comments | Read More

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