The Hunter and The Demon
[Yes, I realise I never finished the Gaming the Studies series. Life got busy, work, law exams, illness, etc. and I got distracted. This post is related to what has been distracting me for the past week or so, since reading my way through a heap of Hugo nominations from this year and a few previous years as well.
I used to play Dungeons and Dragons, back when time was cheaper, and I still enjoy the adventure of a good fantasy story. Before I started reading the nominations, I had a few seeds, a few elemental ideas, floating around my head for a character I might get to create if I were to ever play again. With my mind awash with creativity from all the great stories I had read, those seeds grew into something else entirely.
This short story is the first substantive piece of fiction I’ve written, asside from the dribs and drabs for D&D, since… well, I was struggling to pass high school English. So it might be a little rough and in need of an edit or two. It’s also a little longer and a little more reflective than I had expected. And it gets a little dark.
I hope you enjoy.]
Drip… drip… drip.
Hearing was always the first sense to return. Pellwyn had noticed the pattern whenever he regained control. He tried to focus with the little energy he could muster to block out the buzzing in his mind. He could hear his raspy breath, rushing in and out. There was the crackle of a fire and the bubbling of a boiling liquid. Some sort of mechanical device was whirring and clicking across the room. Pellwyn returned his focus to the dripping. It’s repetitive nature soothed his tired mind as memories began to return as well.
Pellwyn had been walking from one town to the next, his feet crunching on the dried autumn leaves and petals. He preferred to travel alone, avoiding the intruding voices that inevitably arose when travelling with others. His body was fatigued from his seemingly endless travels, but his spirit still nudged him on.
When the old woman called down from the wagon her voice sounded friendly and her words kind. Pellwyn realised how much he missed the soothing sound of a kind voice. There seemed little harm in giving his legs a rest for a while and the old farmer appeared to pose little danger to a young warrior such as himself.
Pellwyn took his spear and dropped it over the edge of the wagon, hearing it clatter as it landed. He then took off his pack and climbed onto the wagon, his feet crunching down on the scattered grain as they landed on the wagon floor.
There was a man sitting on the back of the wagon that Pellwyn had not seen from the ground and he was caught a little off guard. Pellwyn suddenly felt unsure where to sit. He looked to the woman for a hint, but she had already turned her attention back to the restless, snorting horses. He decided to take a seat opposite the young man as sitting diagonally would place him the furthest from the woman and that might seem ungrateful.
The scruffily dressed man, who looked older than Pellwyn but younger than the woman, barely seemed to notice that there was a new passenger. Once the woman had the horses under control she introduced the man as her nephew. The nephew grunted out a short greeting but quickly returned his attention to the keg he was nursing between his knees. He ran his fingers around its rim and tapped them on its top. Pellwyn felt relieved that he would be sharing the back of the wagon with someone else who would keep to themselves.
As the horses pulled the wagon slowly along the cobbled road, the woman attempted to hold a conversation over her shoulder with Pellwyn. She quickly figured out from his brief, mumbled responses that he lacked the desire to chatter. Without the old woman’s voice, the gentle cycle of creaking and cracking from the wheels, and the beat of the hooves clopping on the stones, massaged Pellwyn’s ears until his body relaxed and his spirit was calm.
The peaceful ride was broken when the wagon stopped and two more passengers were invited on. Their voices did not sound friendly and their words were of a rough, foreign tongue. Pellwyn wondered what they thought of him in return or how their kind would expect him to respond to their presence. He shrunk as best he could into his corner of the now crowded wagon, wondering if any of their strange words were directed at him.
Pellwyn began to recognise a few words within the pointed annunciations and poking tones. The language was one he had encountered a few times when he was younger. His mother’s position in their tribe meant she had entertained visiting outsiders. This gave Pellwyn the chance to talk to the visitors, some of whom were kind enough to teach Pellwyn a few words from their own language.
“Where … I … skin.” He tried to focus but the words made little sense as they prodded at him with their mysteries.
Pellwyn self consciously noticed his cloak had fallen open and he wrapped it around himself to cover his exposed arms. Were they talking about my skin? The thought wrapped around Pellwyn’s mind as he felt his chest tighten.
The woman turned from her horses to join in this secret conversation. “Wolf … green … want … warrior,” the sharp words pressed themselves further into Pellwyn.
They must be talking about me! He felt dizzy as his chest began to twist and turn. It was a sensation that was familiar to him. It was one that filled him with an urgent desire to stop the talking.
Pellwyn worried about the thing inside him. The negative vibes will feed it! He would try to resist its power, but he was too tired from his travels to put up much of a fight.
“You need to stop talking,” Pellwyn loudly ordered the now startled strangers.
“Stop talking yourself, you rude thug,” came the terse voice of the old woman, lacking her earlier kindness. Pellwyn’s chest knotted itself further in response to the cutting words. The thing inside him was gaining strength and he knew it would soon overpower him.
“Quiet. QUIET!” he shouted at the woman with pleading desperation.
Now even the nephew looked up to respond in a condescending tone, “What kind of beast child are you? Didn’t your father teach you to respect your elders?”
The word stabbed at Pellwyn. Their pain caused the tenseness in Pellwyn’s chest to rapidly take over his whole body and his mind went blank.
Pellwyn remembered that the whistling wind cleared away the dull buzz as he came to on the wagon. He remembered that the voices were gone and that their owners were gone too. He remembered that the horses had been restless, repeatedly neighing and scratching their feet at the grassy ground. And he remembered the wine leaking from the split keg, flowing through a crack in the wagon floor and dripping into a puddle below.
Drip… drip… drip. Drips and heat.
Touch was the next sense that Pellwyn regained. He felt his hands covered in heat and wetness as if they had been dipped into a hot soup. A flat and hard surface pressed against his buttocks where he sat. He felt a tightness in his stomach and the rapid rise and fall of his chest. The floor slid too easily under his feet as if someone had spilt a bucket of milk. He felt a strange stickiness on his face as he released his tense expression. The warmth on his hands seduced another memory into returning to Pellwyn’s mind.
It had taken some time for Pellwyn to find the small town. The first night he slept in a soggy alleyway because he lacked the courage to approach the inn. He was still young, only just old enough to be considered an adult. This was the first time Pellwyn had been in a town since he had left his tribe. He was searching for a way to escape the summer rains.
Life had been so easy when he was in the tribe. He had a cosy place to sleep in his mother’s hut and was free to help the tribe however he could. He had learnt the rush of the hunt and the vibrating beat of the drums. He liked to play the drums. The rhythmic sounds and sensations from the drums were soothing and he could play from the shadows while everyone’s eyes were on the dancers.
In the town, Pellwyn didn’t understand how things worked at all and in it his spirit felt like a trapped animal. After the first wet night, he braved the looming door of the inn. He was rewarded with the dry air that floated around a crackling fireplace. He was also greeted with the additional challenge of approaching the innkeeper about food and a room. The innkeeper looked Pellwyn up and down before accepting him with a gruff voice and taking the coins with his rough leathery hands. This only made Pellwyn feel more out of place. The food was simple and the bed was basic, but it was the best Pellwyn had known in his journey so far.
The cost Pellwyn paid for each night quickly consumed the money that he still barely understood. He had not yet learnt the art of selling his skills with a spear. He spent the next few days alternating between aimlessly wandering the damp streets for opportunities to replace his coins and cowering in the surety of his room.
On the day he paid his last coins to the innkeeper he realised he had failed to even approach a single person in his search for income. He considered selling the wolf’s head brooch that kept his cloak pinned shut, however he dismissed the idea of selling his prized possession. Pellwyn wondered if another night on the streets would grant him the courage he needed.
That evening there was a strange patron at the inn. As Pellwyn sat eating the last meal he could afford, the strange woman wandered and weaved around the room. She ranted and raved at the other patrons and the innkeeper. She was dressed in an extravagant style and spoke in a manner that made Pellwyn believe she was important or powerful. He assumed that this is why the innkeeper put up with her antics.
Pellwyn had seen people of that style when he lived in his tribe. They appeared unbound by the rules that other people would follow. They could seemingly act aloof and still command the respect of the tribe. The tribe members also acted differently around such people as if following a different set of rules to normal. Pellwyn pulled his green cloak tighter to hide himself and tensed up as he realised he did not know these rules.
He froze as soon as he realised the woman had turned her attention to him. I just want to be left alone! His thoughts sped around in circles finding no way of escape.
“Well aren’t you a curious young brute,” she mused and slid up behind where he sat eating. He felt a stinging energy radiating from her that caused him to instinctively shift away. “Don’t be shy boy. I want to see your strength,” she said as her unwelcome voice pierced into Pellwyn’s mind.
He huddled over his meal and frantically wondered how he should react. He hoped she would go bother some other patron, or the innkeeper, or maybe just disappear altogether. She didn’t leave. Instead she placed an icy hand on Pellwyn’s arm which sent shivers up to his neck.
Pellwyn felt flush with anger. I’m not your toy! He clenched his teeth and tried to remain still.
He then felt her lean down, her moist breath hitting his ear as she whispered, “I just want to play.”
Pellwyn reacted by suddenly standing up and away from the table, and in doing so knocked his bowl of stew onto the strange woman’s clothes. His head spun with nauseating panic as she shrieked and stung his cheek with a quick slap. A compulsion, from somewhere deep inside, caused him to strike the woman in return. He stumbled as he felt something growing within him, something taking control.
Pellwyn struggled to control his body, however he quickly had the innkeeper in his face. The two were so close that he could feel the spittled breath of the innkeeper’s shouts. He cowered down to escape the innkeeper and find some inner strength, however his position only made the innkeeper’s presence heavier and more imposing.
The innkeeper grabbed down at Pellwyn to pull him back up, but only succeeded in grasping the wolf’s head brooch and pulling off Pellwyn’s cloak. Pellwyn stood as his whole body tensed and his mind began to waver. He was close enough to feel the heat from the innkeeper’s body. The innkeeper shoved the cloak back into Pellwyn’s chest. As Pellwyn felt the brooch bend, crack and crumble, the innkeeper’s abuse dulled into nothingness. Pellwyn strained all he could, but his efforts failed and all his thoughts faded away.
Pellwyn remembered how his senses returned quicker in those earlier days. He remembered how he had first heard the crackling of the fire and that moments later he had felt its great heat. He remembered that he had realised that the entire inn was engulfed in flames. And he remembered he knew it was time to run again.
The warmth covering Pellwyn’s hands began to fade. The dripping had eased. As his breathing began to slow from its quickened pace, a noxious smell wafted into his nose.
Smell was the third sense to return. The dank odour had an awful mix of the sourness of week old sweat and the stench of sulphur. Pellwyn threw up a little into his mouth as his sense of taste returned as well. He wished that all things were as easy to expel. There were other, subtler tones in the air as Pellwyn swallowed to clear his mouth. There was the smell of a damp store and the aroma of a kitchen. The cacophony of smell pulled another, deeper memory back into Pellwyn’s consciousness.
Pellwyn sat looking into Brynmor’s glowing face and they shared a gleeful cry. The two young boys had been friends since they had learned from each other how to escape their cribs and crawl away. Brynmor’s mother had just returned to the camp and she had promised to take them on their first hunting trip.
The excitement overcame the boys and they leapt to their feet. With boisterous mischief Pellwyn pulled down the string of dried lavender hanging over the doorway, scattering the petals across the floor. As they ran outside, it’s calming scent did little to slow the two boys. They weaved in and around the many huts and shelters that formed the spring camp, each chasing the other in a game with no rules.
The boys had played at lot together as children. Pellwyn’s mother and Brynmor’s father were both comforters of the tribe. Where the hunters brought food to feed the tribe and the makers worked to supply the tribe with tools and shelter, the comforters helped to meet the inner needs of the tribe. The boys spent much of their time under the supervision of the comforters while Brynmor’s mother and the other hunters were away.
Full of energy and filled with a playful desire to escape his pursuer, Pellwyn ran into an area on the edge of the camp that only the hunters were supposed to go. It was here that the hunters butchered their kills, slicing the meat and cleaning out the innards. The unexpected smell knocked the joy right out of Pellwyn. He stop running, bent over and vomited up his morning meal.
“You won’t make much of a hunter if you do that around the prey,” joked Brynmor, still full of humour. Pellwyn knew his friend had already been sneaking over here, following his mother as she worked despite the scorn it earned him.
Five days earlier, Pellwyn’s little hands had reached high into the smoke at the spirit catching. He had stretched so far to grasp his hunter spirit and then he had pulled it close in the swirling air of rosemary and ash. His mother had told him the spirit would be bound to him and how she would help him grow from the outside, while it helped him grow from within. The spirit would be bound to him until the adulthood ritual, when they would fuse as one.
Now was the time when the children of age were initiated into their chosen role. Today was the day when Pellwyn was supposed to start learning to be a hunter. Pellwyn was worried. Am I not good enough to be a hunter? Pellwyn wondered what would happen to his spirit if he didn’t become a hunter. Would I be rejected by the tribe? The thoughts raced through his mind. He felt a strange tightness in his chest.
“Let’s go, I bet it’s not always this smelly,” reassured Brynmor. The words from his friend helped Pellwyn’s thoughts slow down, and he returned to imagining the hunting adventure they were about to embark on. Pellwyn wiped his mouth clean and then followed after his best friend, the tenseness in his chest releasing and the unpleasant moment slipping from his mind.
Winding their way slowly toward where Brynmor’s mother would be preparing for the hunt, the boys passed by where some of the children of age were being initiated as comforters. One of the girls skipped passed Pellwyn, a chain of red carnations playfully dangled over her head, twirling amongst her wavy chestnut hair. Their sweet fragrance filled Pellwyn with feelings of happiness and ease. The girl turned back to offer a quick smile at Pellwyn before she completed her spin and continued on her way. Pellwyn recognised the face of Anwen but had not previously noticed her spirit. He felt a strange desire to stay and enjoy the sweetness, a desire he did not yet understand.
“Come on,” came the cry from Brynmor who had managed to get quite a bit ahead. Pellwyn took a deep breath as the excitement of the pending hunt took back his focus.
It took several hours for the hunting party to find its prey. The two boys and Brynmor’s mother had been joined by another hunter and his daughter. The small animal stood on the ridge-line, trying to conceal itself within the trees, as the adults tried to keep the children quiet. The hunter readied his bow and took aim. The arrow flew through the trees and struck its prey. The two boys turned to each other with wide open eyes. They then turned and rushed off ignoring the cries of the adults.
Brynmor edged ahead as they raced through the trees to where the creature had fallen. In pushing himself to catch up, Pellwyn’s foot landed on something slippery. He lost his balance and fell onto the grass, the rocks and a slimy ooze. The weird substance stunk like the worst sort of dung he had ever smelt, and it stuck to him like glue.
“Clean that off child, it will drive the animals away,” Pellwyn heard the voice of Brynmor’s mother as she came into view.
Pellwyn desperately rubbed at the goo with his sleeve, however that only resulted in it being spread out. Child? I am a Child-of-Age! Pellwyn worried that he had failed some sort of test and was no longer of age. Pellwyn panicked as he tried to figure out how to get himself clean. What if I can never get this off? He felt his stomach twist at the thought.
As Pellwyn frantically rubbed at the ooze, Brynmor burst through some branches, scattering the leaves with glee and carrying his arrow-pierced prize. I’m a failure at hunting too! Pellwyn’s thoughts whirled as his legs trembled below his now paralysed body.
“What’s wrong with Pellwy-eew!”, the judging voice of the hunter’s daughter only made his mind spin faster. Pellwyn summoned all his willpower, forcing one leg to move and then the other, and ran into the woods to escape his shame.
Pellwyn remembered how he cowered in a hollowed out tree stump. He remembered he had spent hours hiding in his stink having no idea how the tribe would ever accept him were he to return. He remembered that his mother’s warm caring hands had reached into the stump to rescue him. He remembered how she carried him from his favourite hiding place whispering kindness into his ear. And he remembered how her gentle lavender scent had displaced the harshness of the ooze.
Pellwyn managed to clear his mind of the unpleasant smells that troubled him now. His hand now only felt slightly warm, and his breath was slow but deep. There was no more dripping. He began to make out the blurry outlines of the insides of a tavern.
Vision was the next sense to return. The dull light from the lanterns illuminated the brown wooden barrels and green glass bottles that stood behind the bar. A rattling pot sat just beyond the flame of the fireplace. The yellow flickering light darted out through the tables and chairs creating a forest of shadows. Through the small round window in the nearby door, Pellwyn could see a few lights moving off in the distance in the dark square, suggesting there was life, at least on the outside.
His mind drifted as he remembered arriving at the tavern. His tattered, faded cloak did little to shield him from the cold silence of snow covered streets or the long darkness of the winter nights. Pellwyn had been paid for collecting coin owed to a merchant and had hoped that a night indoors would provide some respite from the burden of his journey. His young body was exhausted and his spirit was dull and numb.
Attempting to return his focus to his present situation, Pellwyn looked around and began to notice the red. Puddles of scarlet on the tables, a sea of maroon on the floor, and a crimson molasses slowly drifting down his hands. The colour brought a more vivid memory to the surface of Pellwyn’s mind.
“Where is Rhiannon? I want Rhiannon,” blurted the outsider, using some of the few foreign words that Pellwyn understood.
Pellwyn put down the soft red flowers he was chaining together and looked across at Anwen to roll his eyes. The man’s extravagant clothes and his bronzed skin made him stand out even without his arrogance. Pellwyn didn’t know what annoyed him more, the way the outsider constantly chased his mother around, the way he corrupted her name with his harsh language, or the fact that the outsider had just interrupted the best chance he had to spend time with Anwen in days.
Anwen put her soft hand warmly on Pellwyn’s arm, which calmed his irritation. He looked down and saw how her skin differed slightly from his own. She had a freckled, peachy skin that matched the skins of most of the tribe. His was skin was ashen, as if he had been stained by a pinch of soot when he was born. Anwen got to her feet and responded to the man in her gentle soothing tone, “I’ll take you to her.”
Pellwyn watched as she lead the man away, her chestnut hair flowing down the back of the layered red dress to meet her rounded hips. Anwen always made him feel at ease, made him feel that life was good. Pellwyn hoped that after he had been through his adulthood ritual, Anwen would comfort him in the way she had been comforting other adults in the tribe.
He tried to focus on his work with the flowers, however their fragrance proved an impossible distraction. His thoughts wandered from the possibilities of adulthood, to the evening festival, to Anwen. He imagined how the flowers would soon play their part. Their sweet scent would dance on the night air, the flames would dance in the darkness, Anwen would dance in the light, and Pellwyn’s hands would dance on the drums. He rarely felt as content as when he had both rhythm and beauty to calm his spirit.
Once he had finished preparing the carnations for Anwen, he got up to see what other work needed to be done. One of the makers called out to him to help with the wood. The fire would need to burn throughout the night, not just to light the festival, but to later be a roaring inferno to meld the spirits in the ritual. The makers had been out chopping down trees the day before, however the wood all needed to be collected and prepared.
Pellwyn broke into a run as he headed towards the faint sound of striking axes in the distance. It felt good to stretch his tall legs after being still for so long and his spirit felt free in the trees. He enjoyed how he could make the fresh forest air rushed over his face and how he could escape into a blurry world of green and brown.
A whiff of rosemary caused him to slow his pace and he saw the charred branches where the new children of age had caught their own hunting spirits a few days ago. Pellwyn thought back through the years to his own spirit catching and then forward to his ritual which would take place that night.
Anwen had been through hers the year before last. Pellwyn wondered what it had been like, as she hadn’t told him much and children of age weren’t permitted to witness until their year. His mother had told him how he and his spirit needed to be fused into one in order to find their true place in the tribe. He began to worry that he wouldn’t know how to act out his part of the events. The wood he picked up felt light compared to the weight of his concern.
On his way back through the forest he spotted a small group of the young hunters like himself. They were showing the outsider how to throw a spear. Pellwyn didn’t think they should show their hunting skills to someone without a spirit. The others had disagreed.
“We need to show him how,” one of them had explained in an earlier argument, “It’s important to him.”
Pellwyn wondered whether the outsider would turn into a hunter. Was he here to replace me? A sense of abandonment entered his thoughts. His pace slowed as he kicked at the sticks and stones.
Walking through the camp he spotted Anwen sitting with some others preparing food for the evening festival. Pellwyn felt the weight lift from his mind and his brisk pace returned as he moved to drop off the wood. He wiped his hands on his clothes to remove the smell of the sap, a smell which would not work well with the food. Once he was at the cooking area, he reached down to pick up a knife and board, and his nose met with a mix of spicy aromas.
Looking around at the group to find a place to work, he became mesmerised by Anwen as she crafted a meal with skill and passion. Her gaze was fixated on the food, her senses tuned, as her arms conducted a colourful swirl of roots, fruits and leaves. Pellwyn knew the balance would need to be just right in order to properly invigorate their bodies and spirits. Before he had the sense to sit to assist her, he heard his mother call out for him. Pellwyn sighed, put the cutting tools back, and walked off to find her. His disappointment was muted by the fact he knew he would need her wisdom and instruction to guide him through the ritual.
Rhiannon stood in her red ceremonial dress, waiting as Pellwyn entered the hut made from wood, mud and grass.
“Yes, mother?” he gently enquired, trying to hide his frustration.
Rhiannon was normally forgiving of his moods, however since the outsider had arrived at the camp her temper had been short. She managed a reassuring hand on Pellwyn’s shoulder as she again explained the importance of the ritual. The smell of the lavender hanging in the doorway helped to ease their mood. They sat for a while and talked about the past, about adulthood and about Pellwyn’s future in the tribe.
“You must get ready for this evening,” she said while motioning towards the bed. A ceremonial costume made from cloth patches of three shades of green was laid out on the flattened pile of animal skins and straw. A circlet made of rosemary leaves sat at its head. “I must go now, but I will return later,” Rhiannon said as she went out the door, leaving Pellwyn alone with the clothes.
Pellwyn was bothered by how much time she had been spending with the outsider. To Pellwyn, outsiders seemed to have a strange understanding of the role of a comforter. They obsessed over the physical acts. They didn’t seem to understand at all that the comforter was there to nourish their mind and tend to their spirits as well. He also noticed they became possessive over those who comforted them, as if the comforter owed them some higher duty than was owed to all the others.
Pellwyn shook his head at the strangeness of such people.
Pellwyn began to wonder if this outsider, this man, was anything like his father. His mother hadn’t told him a lot about his father. His father had travelled to the camp and was comforted by Pellwyn’s mother while he stayed. She had told him that something had gone wrong, his father had to leave and had never returned. He had never thought to ask much more.
The tribe worked to raise their children together, so he had not faced disadvantage growing up. However, there were some times where he missed not having a father, times like now.
The costume only took Pellwyn a few moments to put on. He sat on the bed and wondered what else he needed to do to prepare. He noticed a few things had been placed on top of his mother’s lock box. There was a set of face paints, a bone dagger and a wolf’s head brooch.
He had used the face paints before, however did not know how to apply them for tonight. The bone dagger was unfamiliar to Pellwyn, but he had heard that the adulthood ritual for hunters involved a sacrifice. He wondered for a moment about the unknown creature that had supplied its bone.
The base and pin of the brooch was made from copper, with grey painted clay forming the head of the wolf, and a malachite crystal for the eye. It looked similar to the ones all the adults wore for the festivals. Pellwyn knew that by tradition that his mother had crafted the wolf’s head brooch herself, one of the few things not from the hands of a maker.
Pellwyn sat and thought for a while about what he might need to do with these items during the ritual. Coming to the conclusion that his imagination would yield no answers, he got up and left the hut, not wanting to sit still. He began to worry about the coming ritual and how it might change him. He wandered aimlessly around in the afternoon sun, past the piles of wood and then past the cooking curries and stews. He felt strangely lost and out of place in the home he knew so well. Glancing around the camp, he caught a glimpse of Anwen and felt a sense of hope.
Anwen was huddling with a few of the other younger adults in the shade behind one of the huts. They seemed to be passing around some sort of strange object amongst themselves. When Pellwyn got closer he recognised the tube of dark glass as one of the many that the outsider had brought to the camp.
Anwen noticed him approaching and she took a step to the side so they could stand together. They watched as the others passed the object around, each taking a drink from its thin end, in what Pellwyn thought seemed a bizarre ritual. When it was Anwen’s turn she tilted her head back and lifted the end of the object to her lips. As she took a swig, she winced a little, which sent a small wave down her dangling hair. After she lowered it, she started to hold the object out towards Pellwyn, however one of the others grabbed her arm to stop her.
“No, his ritual is tonight, we shouldn’t,” the voice cautioned.
Anwen appeared in two minds as she looked from Pellwyn to the others and back. Pellwyn was in two minds too, wanting to know about the strange object, but also not wanting to do anything to jeopardise the ritual.
“Watch out, it’s him!”, hissed another suddenly in hushed alarm. The group scattered.
Anwen’s face offered an apologetic smile to Pellwyn as she skirted away. Pellwyn saw the outsider approaching with his mother and some of the hunters. He looked down to the ground to avoid their gaze. He turned and walked off in the direction of his mother’s hut.
Later that afternoon, a grinning face popped into the doorway. Pellwyn was surprised by how long it took him to see through the wavy lines of green paint and recognise Brynmor’s bright face.
“I’ve finally escaped the endless fussing of my father,” Pellwyn’s friend explained as he bounced through the doorway, dressed in his own green costume and crown.
Pellwyn wished he had a father to fuss over him, to prepare him for that night. He managed a meek smile in return. He wanted to go and play with his friend, to dash and tumble around in the forest, but he knew this wasn’t the time and his heart had misplaced its joy.
“Hey, you’re not ready yet. We should do something about that,” Brynmor stated suddenly seeming a little less gleeful.
Pellwyn had noticed that Brynmor always seemed to be one step ahead. He began to worry that he would never be ready and that the ritual would fail. He didn’t want to fail in front of his friend and felt his stomach tightened at the thought.
Brynmor looked back over his shoulder and said, “I passed by your mother, she was talking about you to that outsider. I thought you would be ready.” He turned back to Pellwyn, as the green lines on his forehead wrinkled with concern.
Anwen abruptly flew in the door with her chestnut hair drifting behind. “I’m sorry Pelly. Those were for… after the ritual. We didn’t want to… be found out by him,” she explained with little pauses.
Anwen seemed strangely distant. Her voice sounded off balance, lacking her usual calming tone. He wondered what had been in the outsider’s glass tubes, and what its dark magic had done to her. Why must he always be in the way?
Pellwyn fumed to himself. He thought about making this outsider the prey for his next hunt. Pellwyn began to worry this outsider might ruin his ritual, he became concerned that his spirit might abandon him. What will I become without my spirit?
“I’m going to go get Rhiannon. Pell is not prepared,” Brynmor declared, as he left through the door.
As Pellwyn stood there with Anwen, he realised that if he failed he wouldn’t just be letting down his friend, but he would be disappointing Anwen too. Anwen rambled about the mischief she had been up to, seeming as if she were numb to Pellwyn’s angst. The lonely doubt weighed down on Pellwyn and his chest felt heavy.
After a few moments it was Rhiannon who burst through the doorway, bumping an off balanced Anwen aside.
“Sit down so I can get the paint on straight,” his mother fretted as her hands grabbed his shoulders with vigour.
The thoughts had been racing through Pellwyn’s mind so fast he hadn’t even noticed he was pacing around the hut. Though once Brynmor squeezed back into the hut there wasn’t all that much room left to move around.
He wondered if the face paint being done wrong could cause the ritual to fail. He realised he wouldn’t just be letting down Brynmor and Anwen, he would lose his spirit in front of his mother and the whole tribe. The fear made his whole body shake and shiver. He wanted to run, to flee into the trees, but the three of them were in his way.
“Quickly, be still, we must get you ready,” Rhiannon commanded, “We cannot keep him waiting.”
Him. The outsider. Why must everything be about him?!
Pellwyn raged inside his head. He imagined driving his spear into the outsider’s heart. The anger mixed with the fear and Pellwyn’s head began to spin. Distracted by fantasies of spite, Pellwyn barely noticed he could no longer make out the faces of the others in the room. His mind spun faster as their bodies blurred into shapes and the shapes dissolved into colours and the colours blended into a blinding white rage of loathing and dread.
Pellwyn began to sense himself losing control and tried to focus on the world in front of him. In his frustration and confusion he focused on the soothing lavender, however the familiar scent quickly faded into the bitterness of his hate. Pellwyn felt tremors run down his limbs as he rapidly lost all sense of his place in the world, feeling like he was tumbling over and over into a bottomless pit of despair. He fought to hold on to the voice of his mother, however even that slipped away and his mind completely dissolved into nothingness.
Pellwyn remembered the red.
He remembered the crimson oozing out of the large crack in Brynmor’s forehead, masking the green lines of paint as it consumed his dangling eyeball. He remembered the scarlet draining out of Anwen’s mouth and neck, flowing into her twisted, matted hair, drowning the carnations scattered around her. He remembered the maroon that leaked out and stained Rhiannon’s body as her broken, lifeless hands failed to keep it safe inside. He remembered how he sat there wondering what repugnant magic, what horrid beast, had fashioned the wretched scene before him. And he remembered how he ran, leaving the tribe behind forever.
Pellwyn looked around at the familiar hues in his present location as his vision cleared.
He saw a corpse with a severed torso, its reeking guts sprawled out onto the floor. By the door, a decapitated body leaked the warm blood that flowed to the large puddle at his feet. He could see a strange clicking box embedded in the face of a body crammed beneath a nearby table. There were others, a mutilated arm stuck through an upturned chair with its shoulder hiding in the shadow, a head slumped in a pool of burgundy on the far side of the room, and a snapped, bloodied leg poked out from behind the bar.
Pellwyn’s memories of these tavern dwellers were faint and disjointed. In his mind he saw the beady eyes of one, the rosy cheeks of another and the wide open mouth of a third. He recalled being unsure about what he had done to deserve their jeering, but knowing that it would be their doom. Their mockery had awoken the force within and his weak resistance was quickly overwhelmed.
He began to feel a tug of remorse at the grotesque scene.
The final sense to return was the one that Pellwyn dreaded the most. Pain. Not the pain of his body, that had come back with the sense of touch. This was the pain of being. The pain of knowing. It was the agony he shared with his spirit. It was the eternal ache that kept the memories coming back.
Pellwyn saw the movement of lights out on the dark streets. He figured that it was probably the night watch, or some concerned townsfolk coming to see what the commotion was about. This time Pellwyn decided not to run. He lacked the energy to move, but that wasn’t why he made his choice.
It was because he now understood.
Pellwyn needed their help. He needed their help to defeat the thing inside of him. He needed their help to seek justice for the dead. He needed their help to seek vengeance upon the evil. He needed their help so his spirit could be free.
He saw a lantern shining through the small window in the door. He knew someone was just outside, about to enter and discover him. The knowledge made his pain fade away. He closed his eyes and bowed his head. His breath was calm and steady. Three tears fell from his face when the opening door blew the stench from his nose. The cool night air washed over him as his spirit felt relief.
And as the footsteps approached, Pellwyn surrendered to his fate.