Friday, October 9, 2015

Beyond the Rim Installment 20

"In the western foothills, far from this city and far from the Queen, lived a peaceful people. They harvested the crops of the wild trees of that region, a fruit of which I cannot even begin to tell you, and herded cattle. There were among them no rulers, for each house was far from the other, and against one another there was no ill will. Thieving was harder than honest work in those days, so far apart did people live, and also because the wilderlands were not without danger. Though humans did little that was unfair to one another, nature himself was harsh, for he did not care to have humans in that place. The hills were sacred to him; they were to him an art he had made, and to see them sullied with human flesh made him angry.
"Nature sent his manticores down from his sacred slopes, from those temples to him above mist and cloud, and they scoured the hillsides, gobbling goats and sheep, and chasing people into caves or under roofs.
"A certain of the manticore descended upon a lonely lodge, where lived a young man by himself, without wife or child. The beast descended from the sky with a roar, invoking that unutterable name of Nature, which no ear but..." and Thurgod winced, "no ear in this valley can hear in total. The roar was terrible, but the man was brave, and he burst from his lodge with a long spear.
"But this manticore was more terrible than others. His tail was long, and split into three on the end, each spiny spike dripping with greedy venom. From his jaw draped a beard longer than the man in height, advanced by two fangs nearly like tusks."
"Like what?" asked Oorgo.
"Like teeth the size of arms, little one."
Oorgo had learned that perfect balance of fear which makes the story more exciting but does not distract from it.
"The manticore was most beautiful, perfect in each dimension, sullied only by its love of human blood and even, when most enraged, the blood of manticore."
Oorgo gasped a little, as he had learned that the bard enjoyed. He had heard that manticore and yeti were too civilized to eat one another.
"The sight that greeted the man was terrible. Even in the moment it had been on the ground it had slain nine of his animals in the very fold, each now writhing on the ground as the venomous tail slashed about, looking to catch more. In a surge of bravery the man leaped forward, plunging his spear into the flank of the brute, caught unawares, for the lodge of that man was carved into the hill, and few would have seen it even from the ground.
"The manticore whirled about, its tail indiscriminately swatting down a few living animals, which lay still on the ground in petrified fear. The suddenness of the turn caused the man to drop the spear, and he lay sprawled on the floor of the fold, the manticore staring into his own eyes."
"The manticore said, 'Fool! I am a beast of majesty, and you a petty human. Your wound is nothing to me,' and even as it spoke thus one of its tails curled around the weapon, still lodged in its flank, and cracked it off, then dug out the head. The venom expunging from the tail proved a balm to the flank, and its blood ceased quickly.
"Then in a flash the middle tail of the manticore slashed over its own head and struck the man in his foot, pinning it to the ground. The greedy venom rushed in, and slowly seeped from the foot to the ankle, and then towards the knee.
"'Nature will have its way with thee,' growled the beast, and then it launched into flight. The man dragged himself back into the lodge, where he found his own ax and severed his leg just below the knee, just above where the venom had reached.
"In the following dayshe built for himself a false leg so that he might still walk, and tend to the animals. For a year he lived thus, until the leg was no pain to him. For another year he lived, and soon none could have told he had ever fought a manticore. In another year he took a wife, and in another year he had a son. In another year, the manticore returned.
"It was the same noble beast that had come before, and now it had spotted the fold again. When it struck the ground it remembered the lodge, and forgetting the animals it strode towards the door. It could smell the human smell. But before it even reached the door the door was flung open, and the man emerged, holding again a long spear. He said, 'Take the animals and go, or I will spill your blood again.'"
"The beast laughed, 'Was my blood spilt in a time past? I have no fear of you.'"
"'The scar on your left flank belies you, as does the grass which never grows where your life was drained, if even only for a moment.'
"'Shall I flee and be left hungry, because a man pointed a bit of a tree and a stone at me?' it bellowed, bristling its tails.
"'Do not flee hungry, but full, for all the animals may be yours, and you need not fear to spill blood.'
"The beast replied not at all, but turned and in a handful of moments had slain every creature in the fold and devoured it, and then it flew away."
"After five more summers the beast returned, and said, 'Not your animals this time, human. I must bring home human blood. Give me your son.'

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