Here’s another pov. I think I’ll post a chapter of each pov character and that’s it. This is Vit Sev. He’s a gaan, a sort of viking-like people from the islands to the north. The gaan are pretty hardcore violent folk. Each isle’s tribe follows, worships, a different animal. Vit’s tribe is the Owl tribe but ever few years a new Pack Lord is elected from one of the tribes. Unfortunately the new Pack Lord is a Pike, a particularly violent tribe. He’s planning something that hasn’t been done for centuries, he’s planning to call the Gaan Horde to arms and sail for the lands of Eastol, for the Stone and Iron Lands. Vit is thrown right into all of this.
Far below him was the town of Vult, nestled in between the two great rocky outcroppings, the Low Baar and High Baar. From up here he could only make out the Pack House with its wide, squat tower rising high above the tightly packed timber houses. The dock was full of ships; all of them flat hulled wavers. There seemed more today than usual but he didn’t have time to count ships. He had a boar to hunt.
“You’ll fall if you keep looking back,” shouted Kaal.
Kaal was further down the mountain but that was because, as always, Vit’s brash cousin had chosen to climb the more difficult route. Vit had chosen the easier option, one with lots of footholds and resting places, not because he doubted he could make the other way. It was because he was desperate to hunt. The boars had only just returned to the Flat Top from the lowlands and he had never hunted one up there before.
“It’s you who’ll fall if you keep watching what I’m doing,” shouted Vit and then he was climbing again. He reached an arm up and grabbed hold of a firm piece of rock. He inched his legs higher until he found a good hold and then his other arm was up and he was pulling his body up, higher and closer to the summit. The Bay Bell rang to signal more ships coming into dock and glancing back he saw three wavers moving towards the Water Gate. He strained his eyes to make out what pack flag they flew from their masts but they were too far away.
“More Pike, I bet,” called Kaal.
He was probably right. Ever since the pack voted in a Pike called Bann Karak as the Pack Lord, the Pikes had taken advantage of their new position as head Pack. They had been sailing from island to island, to every last one of the Othershores, exerting their authority, showing all the Packs they were in charge. Vult was an Owl town, always had been even though the rest of the island of Taan was mostly Heron or Badger. Owl flags flew from the Pack House and Vit knew no Pike Pack Lord would change that. His father had told him this happened every time a new Pack Lord was voted in, the pushiness, the mock-power plays. It was the way of things.
Vit looked away. He was almost there. Almost at the top. He couldn’t wait to see his father’s face when he brought a boar home. Maybe Kaal would get one too and everyone would know the Sevs were true hunters. He climbed on. His arms were aching and his legs were burning but still he climbed. The last few metres were the hardest. The summit jutted out so to claim it he would have to cling to the underside and then quickly throw himself around. Kaal had an advantage there. His trickier route had taken him away from the overhang and meant he had a much easier final few metres.
“You tired yet, cuz?” shouted Kaal.
He didn’t even sound tired. He was older than Vit by a year and in everything else he was more than Vit, taller, stronger, faster, and braver. But Vit was the better hunter, that couldn’t be disputed by anyone. Vit could catch more fish than any other fisherman in the city, even the veterans, and he had brought home more deer than even his father. He was an expert with his bow, his eye was perfect. The boar would stand no chance today.
He smiled and pulled himself up to the overhang.
“Not a bit, cuz,” he shouted back though he was breathing hard.
He was hanging now and for hundreds of metres beneath there was only air. He was clinging to the slippery underside with only his hands. There was nowhere to plant his feet now. He wasn’t scared, he was only tired. That could be a killer on a climb, tiredness. You could be brave as any man but if you lost energy before the end you’d fall and be as dead as any coward. He took a deep breath and he threw his body around until he felt his feet touch grass, then he was heaving himself over. All the world was a blur. He saw the green of trees below, the blue of the sea or maybe it was the blue of the sky. He wasn’t sure.
And then he was steadying himself. He was upright and he was standing on the flat plain of the summit of Mount Haazer. He took a moment to breath. He was dizzy with excitement. He had done it. Even though he knew he would it was a grand feeling to stand on top of the world and know you’d beaten the mountain.
He sat himself on the grass and checked his arrows. All the flights were good and his bow string was taut. The yew bow was a good one and an old one, his grandfather had made it. The arrows were long and it had taken him years of practice just to pull the string. His chest was strong from it, his arms too. That helped with the climbing. A bowman was a good climber.
Eventually Kaal joined him. His cousin was barely sweating and he had a grin on his face as wide as Vult Bay.
“That was fun,” said Kaal as he checked his own arrows and bow.
“Fun was it?” said Vit. The Bay Bell rang again. It seemed far away.
“More of them,” said Kaal, “at least my old man will do well. The pub has never been so busy.”
“Magg’s girls will do better than your dad,” said Vit. “I hear Pikes can’t take their ale.”
Kaal walked to the edge and peered off to the town below.
“Fifty ships I’d say,” he said, “and that’s just today. Maybe it’s something more than just a visit from the Pack Lord. Maybe something’s going on.”
Vit shook his head.
“Not what my dad says,” he said, “he says it’s just Karak flexing his muscles, showing how mighty his Pikes are. All we have to do is kneel and kiss his arse for a few days.”
“What would your dad know?” said Kaal, laughing. “He’s a bloody tanner. All he knows about is piss and shit, not what goes on inside a Pike’s head.”
Vit ignored the jibe. Even his own cousin couldn’t resist the chance to get at him for what his father did. But Vit didn’t care what people thought about his father, the city needed a tanner and his father was the best there was. So what their house stank, so what he’d probably end up a tanner himself. Life needed tanners, the world needed tanners.
“Come on,” said Vit, “we should make a start. The day hasn’t got much light left.”
Kaal nodded and they started off over the plain, jogging slowly. Occasionally they would stop and check the droppings. Soon they found warm muck and knew they were close. There were some leafless trees near the centre of the plain, their bark bleached by the vicious mountain winds. They climbed a tree each and waited. They were silent now, no joking or winding each other up. They were silent and they waited.
The Bay Bell rang three more times before they saw their first boar. It was a female and so they left it. What Vit wanted was a big fat male, one whose head would look good over his father’s hearth.
A light mist fell on the plain and the air grew chill.
“So much for summer,” whispered Kaal.
Vit said nothing. His cousin was right, they had hardly had a summer. There was only the rain and the mist and the cold. The Othershores were no distance from the Icelands but they would always get a week of two of summer. This year there had been no such season and soon the bay would freeze over and the snows would come for six months. That was the way of things, thought Vit.
He watched the mist, waiting for a boar to come through it. The mist had a green hue and there was the smell of burning on the air.
He heard Kaal whistle and looking down he saw something move through the trees.
“Big one,” whispered Kaal.
Vit didn’t hesitate. He held up a hand to tell Kaal he wanted this one and slowly he climbed down the tree. When his feet touched grass he went low. He eased an arrow out of his quiver and gently pulled back the string of his bow. He could hear the boar’s deep grunting breaths. It was feeding, munching on the moist grass. He followed the sound, his feet tiptoeing over the ground. He was so close now he could feel the heat of the boar’s breath. Where are you, he said to himself. He aimed his bow to his right and listened. He knew at any moment the boar could dart out and rip his stomach open with its tusk. But again, just like the climb, he wasn’t afraid. If anything he was excited. His heart raced but his hands didn’t shake. They held the bow still as he moved it to his left. He heard a grunt and he let the arrow fly. The boar cried out in pain and then it was running.
“I got him,” cried Vit and Kaal was jumping from the tree to his side.
“Which way?” asked Kaal.
Vit listened. He could just make out the boar’s panicked squeals.
He ran and Kaal followed. They ran deeper into the mist. It was thick now and the smell of burning was strong but still they ran. For a moment he thought what fools they were being, at any moment they could have run clear off the edge of the cliff. He pushed the thought aside. No, they would catch the boar. He had shot it. He had killed it, he knew he had. Now all he had to do was find it.
But soon the boar’s squeals faded and there was only silence again.
“Where is it?” asked Kaal.
Vit looked this way and then that and suddenly something was coming towards him. A huge dark shape flew at him and without thinking he lifted his bow and slammed it hard into the shape. There was a flurry of feathers and blood splashed on his face. There at his feet was an owl.
“Sweet blood,” gasped Kaal, “you killed a damn owl.”
Vit fell to the ground. No, anything but that, he thought. It was a dire sign to kill your own Pack animal especially for anyone of the Owl Pack. It was no easy thing to kill an owl so when anyone was unlucky enough to kill one, they were certain to face something terrible.
Kaal stepped back.
“Why did you hit it?” he asked. His voice was trembling. Vit had never heard his cousin sound scared but he heard it now.
Vit lifted the owl up. It was only a young barn owl. He held it against his body. It wasn’t dead. He could feel it breathing.
“It’s alive,” he said.
“Quickly,” said Kaal, “we have to get it to Lan Tenno.
Lan Tenno was Vult’s only doctor but he was as adept at fixing up sick animals as he was at healing people.
Vit looked at the bird. His bow had crushed its rib. Yes, it was breathing now but he doubted he could get it to Lan in time.
“It won’t make it,” he said. The thought crossed his mind to finish the poor creature off. It would be a mercy. Maybe that mercy would redeem him, save him from whatever consequences attacking it might have brought him.
“You have to try,” said Kaal.
His cousin was right. With all thoughts of the boar gone they ran. The misted had lifted slightly and they could just make out the western end of the summit where the ground sloped away and the descent down was easier. They could have come that way up but it would have been no challenge. The hunt was about challenges. Now, with the bird’s breathing slowing against his body, Vit was thankful for the easy way down.
He held the owl firmly as they descended. It was hard to climb with one hand but he was determined to get down and Kaal stayed close. At last they reached the bottom but still they had a good few miles of woodland and marsh to get through. From time to time, Vit would look down at the owl. Its eyes were closed. Blood seeped from its beak. But still it breathed.
When finally they reached the mess of shacks that was the marsh end of Vult, the Bogtown, Vit almost believed the owl could be saved. As they darted down the cobbled streets towards Maagen’s Square where Lan had his shop, he started praying.
“Oh, Lord of Beasts, hear me,” he whispered, “Oh, Lord of Beasts, protect me.”
He said the words over and over. He had never liked praying. It was a thing for the old and the weak but now as he said the words he truly believed there was a Lord of Beasts in the Lost Forest sitting on a throne of bones, listening to his prayer.
As they ran into Maagen’s Square, Vit hardly noticed the crowds of pike-masked men. It was Kaal who shouted for him to stop and his shout made the Pikes notice them.
“What have we got here,” said one. His black eyes peered through his wooden mask. The Pike’s mouth was gaping, showing two rows of sharp wooden teeth. Long blonde hair cascaded down the man’s back. The Pike Tribe were unusual in the Othershores, they didn’t have the dark auburn hair of the other tribes. They looked more like a Stonelander than a Gaan but they were more brutal than any other tribe. A red K for Karak had been hastily painted on the man’s shield and at his waist was a nasty looking cleaver. “Look lads,” he said to his friends who were all leaning outside Woon’s Hog supping pints of Kaal’s father best stout, “two sweaty little owls and one dead little owl. Guess which is which.”
The drunken men laughed.
Vit made to move on but a fat pike-masked drunk stepped in his way.
“You going to cook that bird,” slurred the drunk, “coz I quite like a bit of roasted owl.”
Again his friends laughed and this time Vit and Kaal laughed too. It was a nervous laughter. It was a laughter the fat man didn’t like.
The Pike poked him in his chest, the force almost knocking Vit over.
“You taking the piss,” he said and his hand went to the cleaver.
A figure passed between Vit and the drunk. Even from the wrinkled back of his bald head Vit recognised his uncle Saal.
“Calm down, lads,” said Saal, “these boys are my family so I’ll have no trouble with them. Drink your beers and leave them be.”
The fat man hesitated. He was in the mood for a fight but he was in the mood for more beer too and Saal had the beer. Vit sighed as the fat man moved his hand away but then something very strange happened. The fat man fell to his knees and in an instant all the Pike men in the square where on their knees.
Heavy boots stamped over the cobbles.
“What have I interrupted here?” said a deep voice.
Uncle Saal dropped to his knees too and turning Vit saw why. There standing before him was Bann Karak, the Pack Lord of the Othershores, Vit’s king. Karak was wearing a mail shirt and a green kilt. He had a broadsword strapped to his back and his arms were thick with war-rings. Kaal knelt but Vit was too awed to do anything. The owl made a strange gurgling noise and Karak’s gold plated Pike mask looked down to the bird. Vit could see Karak’s green eyes through the eye slits. He had never seen anyone with such green eyes.
“What have you there?” asked Karak.
Instinctively Vit held the owl closer.
The green eyes looked surprised.
“Do you hide something from your Pack Lord, boy?” asked Karak.
“N…n…no,” stuttered Vit, “it’s just an owl that’s all.”
“Give it here,” said Karak. Still Vit hesitated. He had hurt the owl, it was his owl really. He had to fix it. He thought of telling Karak that but instead he held the owl out and Karak took it from.
“You have injured your own pack animal,” said Karak.
Vit shook his head but Karak did not let him speak.
Instead he held the bird up.
“See here,” shouted Karak and all the crowd looked up at the bird. Blood dripped onto Karak’s mask but he seemed to not care.
“An omen some would say,” said Karak, “an ill omen for this boy. Our customs say that to kill your own pack animal brings you ill luck but I say this. I am Pack Lord and I absolve this boy of his crime.”
Vit couldn’t stop looking at the owl. Its eyes were open now, almost as if it had been woken back into life by Karak’s booming voice.
“Hear me,” shouted Karak, “hear me Owls of Vult, hear me Pikes of Kadadorth. Hear me all the Packs of these Othershores and all the peoples of this world. I am Bann Karak and I say this bird’s death is a good omen.”
No, thought Vit, it’s not dead, not yet. But even as he thought that he saw Karak hands tighten around the bird and then the Pack Lord was crushing and crushing the owl until it was obscured within his hands. The owl made no sound. Blood seeped through Karak’s fingers and when he was done he dropped a mess of wings and bones to the cobbles.
“I say this,” cried Karak and he lifted his mask. His eyes seemed even greener now they were released from the mask but they were the only fair thing about his face. The rest was covered in scars and his top lip was cut wide open, an old wound. His teeth were sharpened and his ears were missing. All that he had left to hear out of were two holes surrounded by a scabby mess of flesh. “I say that this owl’s death is not an omen but a sacrifice. I give it to the Lord of Beasts to proclaim a new Hunt begun. Hear me now sons of the Othershores. Your time has come to kill. The Horde is awakening, blood is calling us. The Hunt is on.”
The crowd roared. Karak brought his bloody hand to his mouth and licked the owl’s blood from it.
Vit was the only one standing. He could not move. He had thought that it would be a few years yet before he would face the Hunt but now it had come for him. The owl’s death had brought it, he had brought it. He glanced at his cousin. They would face the Hunt together. Hundreds of boys from every isle would be abandoned on the Hunt Isle and the only ones who would make it home would be those who had killed their peers, their friends. Those who had hunted boys like them.
Blood stained Karak’s teeth and the Pack Lord smiled as the crowd shouted his name. Even the Owls in the crowd were calling their new lord’s name. Even Kaal and Saal were calling it. Only Vit remained silent.