Friday, February 28, 2020

A Fine Piece of Silver by Kyle Brandon Lee

An arrogant and amoral hunter seeks a mythical lion that is not really a lion; by Kyle Brandon Lee.

"Many legends contain at least a single nugget of truth and in most legends, that nugget is dung."
Resian Proverb

Poking the dead beast elicited no response.

"No matter how many times you do that, it will not change," Arkus Roselek stated as he watched his younger partner continue to prod the deceased animal. Arkus removed a silver flask from his coat and unscrewed the cap to take a healthy drink. Still, Drobir used the blunt end of his spear to futile ends. "Are you expecting it to explode?"

"I've heard stories that some animals will play dead," Drobir answered.

"Yes, you heard them all from me. And I have no doubt it is dead. Otherwise, it would disembowel you in annoyance."

Arkus stood, replacing the flask in his coat and removed a small horn. Uncapping its large end, he blew into the smaller, blasting a bellowing sound through the forest.

"I hate that ugly noise," Drobir complained.

"But you shall never hear such a noise through the western islands." Arkus bragged. "No one but I have slain the Kreglian bull of Fal'shen."

Drobir mockingly mouthed the words that Arkus recited.

"The Kreglian horn belongs to me and me alone," Arkus went on.

Within minutes, three men dressed in furs brought horses and a wide shouldered pack ox to where Arkus and Drobir stood over their prize.

"Welcome, gentlemen," Arkus blared. "Let us load my trophy upon the ox. We shall travel back to Resy and declare our victory over the monstrous Veseekian lion."



"That's not the Veseekian lion."

"Come again?" Arkus asked, nearly choking on his drink upon hearing the bad news. He walked to the large table the beast lay upon and rose a finger at the woman he only bothered to call The Evaluator.

"It's not the lion," the white haired woman repeated. She had a name. She told it to Arkus multiple times in fact.

"Based on what?" Arkus asked, in denial.

"First, this is a lion."

"Yes, that is the point of hunting the Veseekian lion."

"The Veseekian lion is actually a panther," The Evaluator explained.

"Big cat is a big cat," argued Arkus.

"Not in this case. The Veseekian is only a lion in legends. When the story began it was misidentified."

"It's a panther. So, what?"

"The Veseekian lion is also blue."

Arkus furled his lip and looked at the deceased beast on the table, its fur the hue of tawny yellow.

"Do you actually know what you're hunting?" she asked. "Did you read any of the posted material?"

"I leave the details to my partner."

"You found this already dead, didn't you."

"The bounty only required I bring the corpse. Not actually kill it."

The Evaluator rolled her eyes and glanced at the body of the lion. After a few calculations in her head, she reached into her robes for a few coins.

"I can stuff and mount this. Probably sell it to a collector. Don't think I can do anything with the meat. Bones could be of value. What a waste," she sighed. "I can only offer a few coins."

"Done," Arkus accepted, cutting The Evaluator off.

"If you truly intend to hunt the Veseekian lion, good luck with that. You'll want to find one of the area's more experienced hunters."

"I am the most experienced hunter in this area," Arkus crowed.

"Right."

"I am. Just ask me. I'm important."

"My advice to you is at least get another set of eyes. Your partner clearly hasn't a mind for details."

"Drobir is a bit of a dolt," Arkus admitted. "He's apt to poke things with a stick."

"I'm sure," The Evaluator added as she returned to her table and examined the lion further. "End of the street. Old excuse for an inn. Just a glorified tavern where anyone who passes out drunk upstairs will find their pockets lighter by morning. The bartender likes it that way. You're going to need muscle to hunt the lion. You'll find it there."

Arkus stood there scratching his chin.

"What was that? I wasn't paying attention."



Drobir sauntered into the nameless bar and sized up the numerous drunks, malcontents, travelers and a priest in the corner. A moment later, Arkus burst through the double doors, expecting a warm welcome, pomp and adoration. He received none.

"Dullards," Arkus grunted.

"The priest noticed," Drobir countered. "No, wait, he called for another drink."

"Let's be done with this. There are beasts to hunt."

Arkus pushed past Drobir and charged to the bar. The keep behind the wooden altar of libation planted his fists into the grain and stared at his latest customer. The man's scraggly beard and salt and peppered hair obscured a keen eye for character. He knew he would find none in Arkus.

"Bar attendant, your finest wine."

The stare continued.

"No wine?"

Stare.

"Then, the house drink."

The bartender pulled a questionably clear mug from under the bar and filled it with a dark liquid from an unmarked black bottle. Had Arkus been a smarter man, he would have asked about the symbols on the side and their ominous meaning.

"Wonderful," Arkus said but paused before saying anything further. The drink began to foam and steam. "Wonderful."

"The priest loves it," the bartender stated.

"And what denomination is he?"

"Arkus, I found someone," Drobir interrupted.

"Pay the man and then show me."

Drobir looked at the foaming drink and hesitated. The bartender looked at him, eyes thinning. Drobir rapidly pulled coins from his pocket and set them upon the bar. Satisfied, the bartender stomped off to another customer.

"Who are we seeing, Drobir?" Arkus asked as he scanned the room.

"I'm told that his name is Gael. He's not from the area though. Far off east. But I'm told he'll be the best hunter in the area, besides you of course."

"Of course," Arkus repeated.

"I don't believe he hires out though," Drobir warned.

"I'm sure he does. What man worth his salt doesn't want good coin? How do you trust a man who doesn't want to be paid?"

That man in question sat not too far from the priest, eyeing no one in particular but seeing all before him. His youth could easily be mistaken for inexperience, but the eyes were weary, especially of the two who approached him.

"Gael, is it?" Arkus called.

"No."

"To your name?" Drobir asked.

"That, and your presence."

"May I sit?" Arkus said before settling into the chair. "I will sit."

"I'd prefer you not."

"I hear you are a very capable tracker and hunter," Arkus looked at the steaming mug of dark drink on the table before him. "And I see you have a taste for the finest of drink. I've had one myself."

Drobir turned to see Arkus' drink still at the bar.

"I'm not interested," the hunter said.

"But you've not heard my proposal," Arkus replied.

"I do not need to in order to say no."

"I am in need of assistance to hunt the Veseekian lion," Arkus continued. "Not necessarily to kill the beast. I am more than capable. But there are those I wish to share the glory with."

"There are?" Drobir asked under his breath.

"Perhaps you've heard of Arkus Roselek?"

"No."

"I once dispatched a herd of Resian barfyook and Darfulian coitra as they rampaged the countryside north of Noljesco. As thanks, they gifted me with a Kestrelian Hammer six-shooter. I don't think I have to tell you what kind of honor -"

"If it's not relevant to your leaving, I wish not to hear it," the hunter interrupted, eyes fixed in growing anger at Arkus. Arkus, however, could not read the hunter's expression.

"I'll be honest with you, Gael."

"Not my name."

"- the Veseekian Lion is a terror, slaughtering whole villages in one night -"

"Doubtful."

"- and I, being the good natured and altruistic man I am -"

"Also doubtful."

"-w ish to put an end to this creature's reign of terror. Think of the orphans?"

"You said everyone was slaughtered."

"Do you not at least owe it to your conscience to investigate the beast?" Arkus asked.

The hunter at this point had no response. As much as he already disliked Arkus, he could not overlook the possibility. Though hardened eyes peered out, youth betrayed him.



The hunter crouched to examine what Drobir observed as a mere patch of dirt. Arkus daydreamed about glorious days he deluded himself into believing were real. The two other mercenaries in the party could not have cared less.

"Is that special dirt?" Drobir asked from atop his horse.

"A fresh track," the hunter said.

"Is our lion close?" Arkus awoke.

"A slightly different shape than the lion you brought in. More in line with a panther. Heavier but smaller."

"And blue?" Drobir asked. The hunter closed his eyes, summoning patience.

"It's heading west towards those hills," the hunter finally answered. "Likely seeking shelter for the night. As should we."

"Or we could catch it by surprise. Bring the beast to the ground."

"That's a horrible idea. There will be no moonlight with the overcast sky and all of you stumble along like pregnant cows."

"Cows are majestic," Drobir pointed out.

"This is a safety concern, Arkus. I'd advise we wait till morning to continue pursuit."

Arkus pondered what the hunter said and turned to the other two in the party.

"Gentlemen, I have advised our trail guide Gael -"

"Not my name."

"- that we will make camp for the night and rise early to slay the beast," Arkus announced much too loud.

"Which beast are we hunting again?" asked mercenary the first.

"I thought we were on escort duty," responded the second.

The hunter bowed his head, wondering not for the first time which god he had angered to be placed with such a company of men.

"Cows are delicious, too," Drobir pronounced.

"All of them," the hunter mumbled. "All of them."



The next morning brought a light fog through the hills, making visibility even more treacherous. Despite the hunter's best advice, Arkus demanded the party push on. By this point, the hunter felt it his moral obligation to keep the group from breaking their collective neck. He had moved on to wondering about the gods' vile humor more than their anger.

"We're close. I can sense it," Arkus whispered, spear at the ready. This was not the first time the hunter heard these exact words on this trip. Still, he led on, seeking out tracks.

"Do you smell that?" Drobir asked. The hunter put up a hand to bring the party to a stop.

"Blood," the hunter said. "Fresh. It's been hunting." The hunter's eyes darted to the ground, quickly finding a trail of blood mixed in with the grass and earth.

"Is it dragging its meal somewhere?" Drobir asked. The hunter was almost impressed with the question.

"The Veseekian lion is solitary," the hunter reasoned. "It would only bring its meal somewhere else to keep it from other predators or if it was -"

"We shall follow the blood," Arkus laughed in hardly a whisper.

"Are you trying to get killed?" the hunter demanded to know in a hushed tone.

"No mighty beast has slain me and none ever shall. Isn't that right, Drobir?"

"Arkus Roselek is certainly unkillable."

"You are tempting that claim with every passing moment."

"Shall we follow the trail or not, Gael?" Arkus blurted.

"That is not my name."

"Follow the trail we shall," Arkus smiled and led the way, spear at the ready. Drobir followed. The hunter sighed and fell third in line with the two mercenaries behind.

Arkus pressed forward at a cautious pace, making the hunter thankful for at least a small portion of divine intervention. The smell of blood grew stronger, corresponding to increasing levels of Drobir's anxiety and Arkus' misplaced confidence. A low rumble of a growl stopped them in their tracks. The echo of the trees and hills bounced the sound all around them. If this was indeed the Veseekian lion, they could not discern its location.

"Steady," urged the hunter. Two sets of running feet followed the command. The hunter turned to see the mercenaries fleeing for their lives. He expected their screams to follow but none came. "Eyes open. It's close."

"We shall have this beast slain," Arkus called out. "We shall return to town upon wiping its blood from our spears and fists -"

As Arkus spoke, the beast passed from the fog, the drowned light revealing a panther with metallic blue fur and streaks of black hair running from its ears, down its neck and behind its shoulder blades, easily mistakable for a lion's mane. Its eyes, golden and bold, locked on the trio.

"Hold very still," the hunter warned.

"And let him strike first?" Arkus growled.

"Shut up."

"I will not -"

"For me to escape, I just have to be faster than you. Remember that," the hunter said, silencing Arkus.

"I think it's eating my soul," Drobir whined.

"Don't look it in the eyes. Do not engage him in any way," the hunter continued. He took a step backward. The blue panther turned to him but did not charge. Its growl reverberated in the hunter's chest.

Yet, a small sound made the greatest impact.

"It's a she," the hunter whispered.

"What does it matter the damn sex?" Arkus asked, the beast turning at him. Then he heard it too, the mew of a panther cub from behind the mother.

"She's protecting the child," the hunter said before taking another step back. "Lower your arms and slowly walk backwards. Do not turn your back or give it any reason to pursue."

"We came all this way to retreat?" Arkus said, not controlling his volume.

"If you don't want to have your throat ripped out, I would suggest you keep quiet."

Arkus remained momentarily silent and eventually followed the hunter's instruction. Drobir did the same, still worried about his soul.

"We will retreat and come back a later time," Arkus told Drobir.

"No," the hunter interjected.

"What do you mean no?"

"I do not hunt animals with child."

Arkus scoffed at the thought. The Veseekian lion's last glances were upon him as it returned into the fog. The hunter continued to walk backwards, urging the other two to do the same.

"Do you realize how much coin we could earn, not just from the beast but its cub? We could live -"

The hunter grabbed Arkus by the collar. Drobir did not dare intervene, as he still continued to walk backwards.

"We will not hunt the lion. I do not orphan children, human, animal or otherwise."

"Unhand me, hunter," Arkus spoke in an uncharacteristically hushed volume. "Do you see the pristine piece of silver on my hip?" That's the Kestrellian Hammer six-shooter. You no doubt have heard of it, even if your likely low birth has neglected you the opportunity to see one in person. I wager I'll reach my hip before you can do anything. Care to see what the bullet does to one's insides at close range?"

The hunter sneered and let Arkus go.

"That's what I thought."

"I'll take you back to camp. You can find your way back into town as I doubt you'll find your way back to the panther," the hunter said as he walked away. "Be warned, she knows your scent. She'll smell you coming."



Once back at camp, the hunter began to gather his things and put them into his bags. He did not care what happened to Arkus from that point on. He could warn Drobir of the danger Arkus brought him to but the dullard would no doubt ignore it.

"Can she really smell us coming?" Drobir asked.

"I am sure of it."

"What if we mask the scent?"

"Nothing covers the smell of stupidity. Especially to a creature that intelligent."

The hunter felt a sudden impact at the base of his skull. He collapsed to the ground with Arkus standing above him, rock in hand.

"Don't underestimate our stupidity."

"Do shut up, Drobir," Arkus said rolling his eyes.



The hunter woke later, sun high above him. His horse stood nearby faithfully but he found both Arkus, Drobir and their horses gone. The hunter attempted to stand but a moment of dizziness kept him to a knee. He vomited from the vertigo.

Composing himself finally, he stood. The world still spun but he managed to climb his horse and guide it back to where Arkus and Drobir had no doubt gone.



Even with the fog lifted, the terrain seemed foreign, doubled by the throbbing of his head. He kept his eyes to the ground following the tracks left by the others. The forest grew darker the further he went in.

A shot fired like thunder, the echo ringing in the hunter's mind as a painful reminder of Arkus' betrayal. He prodded his horse to move faster. Another shot, then another. The hunter urged his horse faster still.

At a distance, he saw silhouettes high on a rocky crag, the largest at the edge of a cliff. Two other figures stood nearby, one with his arm extended towards the larger.

The hunter's horse would only climb so far up the crag. Desperate for time, the hunter dismounted and succumbed to another bought of vertigo. When it had passed enough to leave him seemingly clear minded, three more shots echoed followed by Arkus' cries of triumph.

"We have done it. The beast is slain," Arkus rejoiced. "And if I may say Drobir, I am quite the marksman. These holes should not spoil the hide, don't you think?"

Drobir did not answer.

"Drobir?" Arkus turned to see his sidekick crumpled to the ground, the hunter holding his own rock. "And here I thought I was generous in mercy. As you can see, I am triumphant. The Veseekian lion is vanquished and its cub is primed for capture."

The hunter's eyes glared to see the panther cub mourning its mother, blood smeared into its fur as it fruitlessly tried to nudge its parent to breath. The hunter began to advance on Arkus.

"Do you forget this fine piece of silver?" Arkus asked before pulling the trigger. There came a click but nothing else. Arkus pulled the six-shooter close for inspection. "Shit."

Arkus fumbled in his pockets to find bullets to reload but the hunter was upon him, driving his fist into the shooter's face. Though the hunter possessed the advantage at first, the vertigo once more sent him reeling. Arkus backhanded the hunter, forcing him to his knees and followed that with a boot across his jaw.

"You, I can come back to, but that little beauty," Arkus said turning back towards the cub, "Will fetch me more than I can carry."

The cub cowered as Arkus approached. He reloaded, not to kill the youngling but to intimidate it with the instrument that killed its mother. The hunter pushed himself up and collapsed between Arkus and the cub. It gave a startled mew as the delirious stranger offered protection from the thunderer.

"You can't," the hunter spat.

"What sort of hunter are you?" Arkus answered as he raised the fine piece of silver to the hunter's forehead. As the boisterous adventurer prepared to fire, his attention was taken by a low growl. He turned to see the panther cub leaping at him. The youngling bit down upon Arkus' wrist, teeth digging deep into the muscle. The six-shooter dropped and Arkus flailed about trying to dislodge the cub's bite. "Off me, demon."

Finally letting go, the young panther landed on his feet readying another attack. Arkus staggered backwards, catching himself from tumbling over the edge.

"This is on you, Gael," Arkus screamed. "This is on you."

The cub lunged again, this time straight into Arkus' chest. It rebounded to land back on all fours but Arkus came off his feet and over the edge of the crag, smashing into the rockface as he went.

"That's not my name," the hunter said. He reached for the six-shooter and took the silver weapon in hand. It felt heavier than it looked but the hunter had no need for it. The cub growled at the weapon, not at the hunter. Finding the seam and lever, the hunter managed to disassemble the six-shooter into three smaller pieces, a design choice meant for easy maintenance. The hunter dismantled the thunder the cub so feared, the thunder that took its mother. He tossed the pieces over the edge in different directions.

The cub calmed.

"Gallion," the hunter said. "Gallion is my name."

The young hunter's world went dark.



His eyes cracked open for but a moment. Gallion saw the cub sitting near him, facing away and down the path leading to where he lay. Gallion's eyes shut and he lost consciousness once more.



Suddenly awake, the hunter's head throbbed. He pushed himself to an elbow and noticed a ball of blue furred warmth curled up against him. Gallion placed his hand upon the cub and felt its breathing. A soft purr began. Soothed, Gallion lay back down.



After sharing a meal of roasted rabbit with the cub, Gallion returned to the mother's body. He piled rocks around the great Veseekian lion. Drobir was gone and after a long search, Arkus' body could not be found. Gallion wondered if another animal had made off with them and smiled at the somewhat appropriate image.

Gallion prayed over the mother panther and stood. He looked to the cub who looked back with its head tilted in expectation.

"Do you intend to come with me?" Gallion asked. The cub stood and rubbed against his boot. "Fine, then I should name you."

Gallion looked out from the top of the crag and scanned the breadth of the forest. Gallion nodded.

"Maybe you'll come to find a name you like yourself," Gallion said. He could feel the cub purr against his leg.

"Let us see the world."

Gallion led the way back to the city. His new partner followed.

4 comments:

  1. Great story. I loved how the cub ended up with the hunter and can only imagine the adventures they will have together.

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  2. As a kid I always imagined having wild animal friends. Love your animal friends, dont eat them.

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  3. Good story with good tension. Gallion's moral compass proved more effective than Arkus's pomposity in the end. Wonder if Drobir has it in him to cause Gallion any trouble down the road.

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  4. Very funny! Enjoyed several hearty laughs along the way.

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