A Journey Homebysirreadsalot10©
Author's note: This story was written for the summer lovin' 2010 story contest, so please don't forget to vote after you have read it. This is the tale of a man's journey not only to his physical home, but also to discovering that home, most of all, resides in the heart. I sincerely hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
An icy wind blew in from the north. It blew across the ice hills and picked up speed as it raced down the snow covered slopes. The wind kicked up loose snow and whipped it into the air like smoke rising from a fire. Three men crouched behind a rock that jutted out of the snow, and pulled their mammoth furs around them as the chilling wind beat at them.
Gunter, the older man who led their hunt, held a leather leash attached to the neck of a garg. He watched the six-legged beast as it sniffed the air and then the ground through the layers of snow and ice. The six nostrils in the garg's snout were so sensitive that it could track a week old scent through snow deep enough to cover a man to his head. The garg trembled with anticipation for the fight it's simple mind knew was coming.
"We're getting close," Gunter said to the two younger men crouching behind him.
"Are you sure, father," Kaden asked over the wind.
"Look at the garg," Gunter said. The animal quivered and whined in turns, then pulled at its leash before returning to Gunter's side "He feels the long tooth's presence, and I fear it knows we hunt it and is now hunting us as well."
"We have been close before, and the long tooth has alluded us," the other young man said. "I pray to Gawa that we get our vengeance at last."
"Patience, Aerik," Gunter said, "Vengeance for Ella and Greta is at hand. Go to the sled and bring up the rest of the gargs. We will need all of them to kill the long tooth."
Aerik lurched to his feet and made his way to the mouth of the shallow canyon where they had left the sled tied to a frea tree. The frea trees dotted the white covered landscape, they were the only tree that grew in the long winter, and their hardy fruit was a mainstay in the diet of the people that lived in the icy wastes.
An anger even colder than the biting wind burned in Aerik's heart. They had been hunting the long tooth for sixty days and had traveled far from their village in pursuit of the savage beast. His thirst for blood had not slackened since the day the long tooth had killed his intended wife.
The beast had come down from the ice hills looking for food and found the village women clearing the runoff trenches north of the village. Fueled by its hunger, it attacked without warning. It savaged Gunter's wife, Greta, killing her, and drug his daughter Ella away.
Aerik was twenty-one annum's old and had begun to despair of the elders ever picking a wife for him. When the elders had finally announced that Ella would be his wife he was overcome with joy. He knew of the girl, and her face seemed lovely beneath the furs that the people always wore to fight off the cold.
He had never seen a woman's body before, since outside their own homes they were always bundled with layers of Mammoth fur. He had no sisters and his mother had died when he was a baby, so he didn't even know what a woman looked like in her inside clothes.
He was overcome with excitement at the prospect of undressing Ella and discovering the delights of the marriage bed. He had listened to the older men in the sweat lodge talk of the pleasures that awaited him, and he was almost dizzy with anticipation.
Ella was taken by the long tooth just two days before they were to exchange their marriage necklaces. They had found her body eaten beyond recognition a few leagues from the village. Gunter and his son, Kaden, overcome with grief at the loss of their women folk had demanded a vengeance hunt. Aerik, as Ella's intended husband joined them.
They gathered supplies for a long hunt and set off with eight gargs. One of the village shamans also joined them. They would need his magic when they confronted the deadly beast.
Twenty days into the hunt, a large ice wolf had attacked them. The wolf had killed one of the gargs and the Shaman before their spears finally brought the monster down. They pressed on despite the loss of the garg and the Shaman's magic.
Aerik fumed as his fingers, clumsy from the cold, worked to free the garg's from their harnesses. If only Ella and Greta hadn't been in those stupid ditches. The village elders required every member of the village to spend time keeping the runoff trenches clear of debris in case summer came.
When summer came, it was always without warning, the heat would melt the ice in the hills causing great floods, and without the trenches to guide the water around the village, it would be swept away.
Aerik knew why the trenches needed to stay clear, but the loss of Ella made him unreasonable and he blamed the elders for their stupid adherence to old traditions. There hadn't been a summer since his great, great, great grandfather's time, and probably wouldn't be another until he was long dead, and now he had nothing.
Aerik sighed as he freed the last garg from its harness and holding the leashes, headed back up the canyon. He sent up a silent prayer to Gawa that this would be the last day of the hunt.
"Are you ready?" Gunter asked the younger men.
"I am father," Kaden said.
Aerik only nodded that he was ready.
They divided the gargs among them, and with spears in one hand and leashes in the other, crept deeper into the canyon. Their senses strained for any sign of their prey, and the gargs silently stalked as the scent of the long tooth filled their snouts.
Their only warning was the gargs, almost as one, raising their heads toward the top of the shallow canyon to their right. The long tooth screamed as it leapt down from the ice covered rocks above. Its long, dark striped, tawny body arched gracefully with deadly claws extended as it plummeted down toward Aerik.
Aerik flung the leashes holding the gargs away, and dived away from the leaping beast. He rolled gracefully and surged to his feet. He spun back toward the beast, spear at the ready.
The beast landed with a thud in the spot where Aerik had stood, and scrabbled its claws into the icy canyon floor to regain its footing. It screamed in rage at missing its intended prey.
Gunter and Kaden released their gargs and the six-legged animals howled and spread out flanking the long tooth. The men and gargs surrounded the large beast, and for a moment silence descended as though the world itself was taking a breath.
Though they had traveled far to kill the beast, they couldn't help but admire its natural beauty. It was as long as three grown men were and weighed as much as six. Muscles rippled beneath its dark striped golden fur as its muscled body moved slowly, stalking them. Its ears were laid back and it lashed its striped tail back and forth as it gazed at them with slitted green eyes. Its mouth was filled with sharp yellow teeth and two of its top fangs stretched out of its mouth and curved down as long as a man's forearm.
The silence seemed to stretch on forever but, in truth, was barely a few heartbeats. The beast screamed, breaking the unnatural quiet and Gunter yelled the command to attack. The gargs began darting in at the legs of the long tooth while the men jabbed at it with their spears.
The beast was unnaturally fast and pierced a garg's body clean through with its long fangs as several other gargs went for its back legs. It shook its head flinging the mortally wounded garg into the air and spun to face the gargs harassing its rear. It swiped a garg with its long claws and tore it nearly in half.
The men jumped forward and thrust their spears into the beast's exposed side as it turned. It screamed in pain and spun again, breaking off Kaden's spear where it stuck in the beast's side. For an instant Kaden stared at the splintered shaft in disbelief. It cost him his life. The long tooth swiped at him with its claws. The deadly sharp talons sliced through the layers of fur and ripped him open from his chest to his lower stomach. His insides spilled out onto the snow in grotesque coils as he collapsed into the snow.
Gunter screamed in anguish and tossing his spear aside fell to his son's side. He desperately began scooping up the entrails and trying to stuff them back into his dead son's body.
"No!" Aerik screamed as the long tooth shook off several gargs and leapt onto Gunter's back.
The beast screamed and then bit down onto Gunter's head. Its long teeth pierced his upper chest and sank deep into his body. Gunter's hands flailed around and then fell limply at his side.
Aerik leapt forward and thrust his spear into the beast's side, then leapt away as it screamed and turned to face him. The beast focused its malevolent gaze on Aerik and stalked toward him. It was bleeding from its wounds and from Kaden's broken spear where it protruded from its side. Gunter hung garishly from the beast's mouth, still impaled on its long teeth, his legs swinging loosely as the beast prowled toward Aerik.
The gargs darted in at the long tooth's legs and it turned on them in a fury. It spun so fast that Gunter's body was hurled into the wall of the canyon with a sickening crunch before falling to the ground. The beast's attack on the gargs was so furious that blood and bodies flew in all directions as it ripped its claws through them.
Aerik howled and jabbed his spear into the beast's back. It screamed and whirled so quickly that Aerik barely retained his grip on his spear. He lurched back and his heel caught on a rock. He fought for balance and lost. He sat down hard and watched his death approach.
The beast screamed again and leapt on him. Aerik's heart froze and he blindly thrust his spear toward the enraged animal as it crashed onto him. The weight of the beast slammed him to the ground, and his breath exploded from his lungs. The long fangs grazed his cheeks as they passed to either side of his face and pierced the icy ground, pinning his head between them.
Aerik squeezed his eyes shut and waited for death to come. After a moment, he realized he was still alive and opened his eyes. The long tooth's mouth was only a few hand widths from his face but the only movement coming from the beast was the expanding and contracting of its ribs as it breathed.
Aerik tried to turn his head but the long yellow fangs held his head immobile. Suddenly the great beast made a sound and its hot foul breath washed over him. The sound startled him and his body jerked as fear coursed through him.
The fear was quickly replaced with confusion. He had never heard such a sound from a long tooth before. It whined and mewled pathetically as its breathing became labored. It whimpered and then took three breaths each weaker than the last before it gurgled and then moved no more.
Aerik lay there for a moment just thankful to be alive before trying to free himself. It took him quite a while to climb out from under the smothering weight of the dead long tooth. Finally, panting for breath, he struggled to his feet beside the once fearsome monster.
His spear jutted from the beast's back where it had gone all the way through its body. He grunted with effort as he tried to pull it the rest of the way through, but despite his best efforts the spear was stuck fast. After several attempts, he gave up and picked up Gunter's discarded spear from the ground.
He staggered toward the gargs to see if any remained alive and almost fell as the adrenaline left his body. He caught himself with the butt of Gunter's spear and sank to one knee. Sadness for the deaths of his companions, relief that the long tooth was dead, and joy at being alive surged through him. He was overcome with emotion and wept among the dead.
When he had recovered, he found that only three gargs remained alive and one was so grievously injured he had to kill it to stop its suffering. He took the remaining two back to the sled and tied them to the frea tree before returning to the bodies of Gunter and Kaden.
He spent half of what remained of the day gathering stones. He laid Gunter and Kaden beside each other and built a cairn of stones over them. When he was finished, he stood silently for a moment before raising his face to the heavens.
"Gawa," he cried, "Hear your servant. Please welcome these men into your kingdom. They were brave and true. They never faltered from the path you laid before them. Please Shepherd them into your heavenly garden where it is always summer and winter never comes."
He fell silent, gathered up his spear and trudged back to the sled. He went through their supplies and discarded much of it. Two gargs couldn't pull the sled with that much weight on it. When he was satisfied with his supplies, he built a small hollow dome out of blocks of packed snow for him and the gargs to spend the night in, out of the freezing night wind.
He crawled in through the opening and then called the gargs in with him. They would huddle together for warmth through the freezing night. In the morning, they would begin the long journey home.
Something startled Aerik out of his sleep. Alarmed, he quickly looked around the interior of the small snow hut, trying to find what had woke him. Finding nothing out of the ordinary, he settled back down.
He flinched as something cold and wet dripped onto his face. He wiped it off and examined the roof of the hut more closely. Light filtered down through the snow roof, and It had a glossy sheen of moisture over it. Here and there, a drop of water fell to the ground as he watched.
The gargs shifted and whined as he untangled himself from them and crawled out into the morning light. He blinked in the bright sunlight and held his hand over his piercing dark eyes to shield them from the glare.
When his eyes adjusted to the light, he saw melting snow everywhere. He was so astonished that he didn't notice how hot he was feeling under his mammoth furs. It wasn't until a drop of sweat ran into his eye that he noticed his discomfort.
"I don't believe it," he said aloud as he rubbed the stinging sweat out of his eye.
He removed his fur hood, freeing his long black hair to cascade down his back. He also removed one layer of his furs and lashed them to his supplies. He called the gargs and harnessed them to the sled. With the sun beating down as they started their journey home he finally had no choice but to believe, summer was coming, and it was coming fast.
The gargs were beginning to struggle by the time the sun reached its zenith. The rails on the sled were sinking into the slush instead of riding on top of the snow. Aerik soon realized that they would have to abandon the sled.
He let the gargs rest while he fashioned a pack for their supplies. He had to abandon everything that he couldn't carry with him. He and the gargs would have to hunt for food when their supplies ran out. He discarded another layer of his furs, shouldered his makeshift pack and they set out on foot.
Over the next few days, the temperature continued to rise, and the snow and ice melted at an alarming rate. Aerik was down to his inside clothes now and struggled through long stretches of mud and slush.
He and the gargs had trudged halfway across a valley when he heard a rumbling sound coming from the direction of the hills. He thought hard trying to identify the sound. It sounded a little like a mammoth stampede, but that wasn't exactly right. He gazed in the direction of the roaring sound and then up at the dark rocky peaks above that should have been white with snow and ice.
The blood drained from his face when he realized what the sound was. "Run!" he yelled at the gargs and took off as fast as he could go through the mud. He ran until his lungs hurt, with the gargs loping along beside him.
The roaring grew louder as he ran desperately for the far side of the valley. Only one thought occupied his mind as he labored on. He must get to high ground.
He spotted a rocky mound off to his left and altered his direction toward it. He glanced to his right and saw the flood of water coming down the valley. A great boiling froth rushed toward him, uprooting frea trees and destroying everything in its path.
He would never make it to the other side of the valley. The rocky mound was his and the gargs only chance. He reached down deep inside and found the strength to increase his speed.
The onrush of the flood became so loud it was deafening. The roaring assaulted his senses and he bordered on the edge of panic. With a final surge, he reached the mound and scrambled up onto a rock on the side away from the coming tide. He called to the gargs and they scrambled up beside him. He climbed toward the top as fast as he could with the gargs following close behind.
The wave of deadly water collided with the far side of the rocky mound with a crash as loud as thunder. It engulfed the bottom of the mound and rushed around it with incredible speed. Aerik was barely above the water and he desperately grabbed at the closest garg and hoisted it above the surging flood. The other garg yelped as the merciless rush of water swept it away. It struggled valiantly to stay afloat, but soon disappeared beneath the turbulent surface.
Aerik and the garg waited for two days for the water to recede, but it never did. A lake had formed around the mound on which Aerik had taken refuge. Water covered the entire valley. He could see the shore not far away and knew he would have to try to reach it before his food ran out.
The water didn't seem to bother the garg. It would jump in the lake and swim around, almost as if it was born to it, before returning to Aerik. It would shake its whole body, slinging water in all directions from its black spotted brown fur, and then rub up against Aerik looking for a pat on the head and a tasty morsel of dried mammoth meat from Aerik's pack.
Aerik had no idea how to swim and judged that the water would be close to being over his head by how high it had settled around the mound. It was either chance it or starve to death, so he shouldered his pack and with a silent plea to Gawa leapt into the water.
He went under but his feet hit the bottom with the water only a few hands above his head. He pushed off the bottom in the direction of the shore, and sucked in a quick breath when he cleared the surface.
He sank to the bottom again and jumped toward land again. He found that pulling through the water with his hands kept him up for a little longer before he sank again. He tired quickly and panic threatened to overwhelm him as he struggled toward safety.
He was almost at the end of his strength when his feet touched the bottom, and his head didn't go under. He almost sobbed with relief as he staggered onto firm ground. He collapsed onto the muddy ground and panted for breath, until the garg, who had made it to shore quite easily, licked his face.
"Come on boy, let's go home," Aerik said patting the animal's head, and then climbed to his feet.
Over the next several days, it got even hotter, and the muddy ground began to firm up as the excess water evaporated in the heat. Then something so wondrous happened that it astounded Aerik. The world bloomed.
Seeds that had lain dormant in all the annums since the last summer warmed the world sprang to life. Grass as green as a long tooth's eyes sprouted as far as the eye could see. Flowers of every size and color blossomed, filling Aerik's world with a myriad of scents and colors that he never imagined existed.
It became so hot that Aerik soon discarded his inside clothes and fashioned himself a loincloth. He felt naked, but the heat left him little choice. He tied his long black hair into a long tail with a leather cord and resumed his journey.