Monday, November 2, 2009
Alright, here's chapter one of my NaNoWriMo project. If you like, feel free to let me know what you think. Critiques should wait; all response should be positive right now. Seriously-- this is no time for editing.
Servant of the King
Lakhoni heard the growl louder now. The inhuman tones sent shivers up and down his spine, his shaved neck and scalp suddenly icy with fear. Ducking low-hanging branches, twisting around saplings and lifting his feet high to glide over brush, he danced with the forest just like Lamorun had taught him. The memories of chasing his brother through the forests around the village flashed quickly through his mind and dissipated in the panic that was flowing up from his gut.
The growl came again. Closer. How could it be closer and still Lakhoni heard no thumping, no running through the forest? Even the most graceful of creatures, the mighty panthers that sometimes stole into the village to carry off untended babies, made the noise of running during the final chase.
Lakhoni threw a glance over his right shoulder. He knew he shouldn’t, but he could not stop himself. All he saw was the dim light under the trees. Turning quickly back to the path ahead, he flung himself down, only just slipping under a low-lying branch. His breath caught in pain as he rolled twice, the late-fall brambles and bushes tearing at his the bare skin of his arms.
Panting, his breath streaming out behind him like terrified clouds, Lakhoni leapt at a strong sapling, catching the trunk with his right hand. He allowed his momentum to carry him in a tight turn around the tree, hoping the sudden change in direction would gain him a few moments. He had to warn the village.
He heard the frantic, heavy thumping of his heart. It felt as if it would pound its way up his throat and out through his mouth. He had to run faster! Digging as deeply as he could Lakhoni lengthened his stride, focusing tightly on the world immediately before him. He allowed his senses to quest before him, then float back to him, touching his instincts and guiding his movements. His back twisted right even before he could tell it to, his left leg kicking sharply out to the left and his right leg tucking tightly under him. The moment his right leg hit the ground again, he spun left, arching backward to dodge under another low branch.
The Dance with the Forest flowed through him, the spirits of his ancestors guiding his movements more now as Lakhoni let go of control and simply concentrated on forward motion.
The growl came again. As if it were in his ear. Lakhoni’s concentration sundered, his senses scattering in all directions. He stumbled. Pain flared on his shoulder as the gnarled claw of a hibernating tree slashed him. His right foot came down wrong on a root, twisting under him. He fell to the ground. He relaxed his muscles and thought enough to try to roll with the fall, but suddenly he was rolling out of control.
The river! How could he forget? He tried to slow his fall, but realized that the river might be his salvation. Instead of stopping himself, he tried to focus on where he would enter the water.
A ragged stump that jutted out from the rough river bank caught him in the side. He felt his skin tear, then blazing pain filled him, followed by shuddering cold as he splashed wildly into the water. The autumn waters were shallow and he slammed his face onto the bottom of the river, the smooth stones not scraping him but gouging the right side of his face. He scrambled and spluttered, swallowing what must have been an entire sheep gut full of water. Luckily, the shallow waters of the late season meant that the current was not as strong as normal, and after a few moments of disoriented scrambling, Lakhoni was able to put first one foot, then the other under him. He rose from the river, slashing the frigid water from his face, his cool-weather leggings soaked through.
He had to move. They had to be warned! Lakhoni stumbled up the west riverbank, looking to the sky to get his bearings. He threw a glance across the river, then upstream. There. Far upstream he could just barely make out the Maiden. The distinct rock formation with falling water acting as its hair assured him he was still on the right track. He hoped he was not too late. He turned, knowing he only had a few hundred yards until he could shout the warning.
Pain flared in his right ankle as he tried to run. As he bent to examine his ankle, a spear of pain slid through his stomach to his back. He gripped his side with a hiss. Warmth covered his hand instantly. The cold of the river water must have numbed the wound to his side, and now Lakhoni wished he could somehow carry that cold with him. The pain burned through him as if it were the glowing tears of the Great One spilling down its side. He had to move, he knew the raiding party must have gotten ahead of him by now. He had to warn his family! His mother, his father—still recovering from the battle with the wild boar—his two sisters: they had to hide.
He forced his body forward, feeling as if he would fall. The first step lanced pain up to his knee and through his torso up to his head. Gripping the wound in his side tightly, he took another step. He hissed as sharp agony slammed into him again. Another step. Lakhoni bent over and lost his lunch of coal bread, deer meat and river water. He felt as if the pain wanted to make more room in his body.
He stumbled; grabbed a nearby branch. He had to warn them, tell them to hide. He knew it was a sin to go against the king’s wishes, but if he could tell the village people to hide, nobody would tell the raiding party it was him and none of his family and friends would die. A few more steps, more pain, but he felt as if he could put the pain aside, keep it contained somewhere that was inside him but was apart from his senses. He stumbled over a root, suddenly feeling more warmth cover his hand and drip down his side.
He was not going to make it. He knew he should shout, try to get the village to hear him and hide. But the raiding party would know and they would hunt him down. It was said that those who opposed the king’s wishes were not allowed to die for weeks. Lakhoni stumbled on, wishing Lamorun was with him. Lamorun would have the courage to do what had to be done. He would shout as loud as he could, hurling his defiance at the raiding party. He would run through the pain and make it just in time.
Lakhoni gathered himself for a final burst of speed, opening his mouth to shout.
Blackness fell upon him like a wet, heavy blanket, accompanied by an explosion of fire in the back of his head.