I only wanted one thing, and that was father's approval, though it was hard to gain, therefore I settled for a third snout of pig.

"Look at you," Father barked, licking the bore hoof clean. "In four months it'll be your seventeenth fall - your last chance at manhood - and all you've done is stuffed your face with jowls and rhines."

"And snouts!" I smirked, swallowing the warm, greasy pig fat. I dropped my eyes on my third plate of golden-charred meat; each piece sweating and giving off a smell of smoky, hot flesh; a smell that made my nose remember and my tongue wet. "Father, I won't let you down," I crunched, "promise."

Father tossed down a bone, cleaned with the prowess of a wolf. "That's what you said on your sixteenth fall, and your fifteenth fall ... and look at you now ... still pathetic, much fatter, and twice as ugly."

I snorted.

"Do I amuse you?"

I shook my head, "Have you seen yourself, Father?" I bit into a thick, black piece of meat and tugged. It gave with a sharp tear, whipping my head back violently. I snorted and chewed, trying to keep the grease from spilling through my lips. "You've seen better days."

"Truly," the Horn Lord spat. "And you've seen none. You've been fat and ugly since the day you burdened your mother's cunt. In my day, I was built like a minotaur; husky and strong; not like you ... a worthless, fat pig. Hand me the liver basket!"

I placed the snout in his mouth. It took much effort to extend my thick arm across the table, and when I had, my father failed to extend his own. I grunted and rolled to my feet, waddling over. By the time I'd delivered the basket and found my seat once again, I was snorting heavier than a speared pig.

"And the biscuits ..."

My face twisted, looking upon the stacked meat that was my father. He glared back, cheeks round and purple. I grunted and rolled back to my feet. This time I hurried over and placed the biscuit basket in short reach, then hurried back before my snout grew cold.

Father guffawed. "It's good to see you can still walk ... especially when hungry."

Laughter rose from the four equally rounded bodies at the table. I glared at my two brothers and two sisters; each with buttered-brown hair and butter-brown eyes, like the flesh of a boar.

They were a round-chinned and hairy bunch, making it difficult to tell one apart from the other, yet I managed only by the stacks of meats prepared in front of each sibling: Breeba, the oldest, always ate the ears of the pig, while Bromba, a year younger than I, only ate the cheeks and jowls; the youngest two, Horkk and Doomda, ate anything much like I did, but preferred the loins and hocks. Though our father fancied both, making it scarce, although he was kind enough to share on this day. Something had him in the giving mood. But what?

I was about to chew when father asked, "Have you congratulated your sister?"

"On what?"

"Last week Breeba had her first blood. She has reached womanhood, or had you not heard?"

The candle light made Breeba sparkle, though it was her greasy skin that gave her the shine.

I grimaced, "Is that what that smell is?"

I searched the table of platters that were still heavy with thick, greasy meats. I avoided them all, instead taking the snout from my lips, and dunking it into a black bowl of gravy. It dribbled down my fingers, washing my hand and the sleeve of his deer-hide robe black.

I drove my teeth into the snout. "If all I had to do was bleed ... I'd take that over a boar hunt -"

"The women bleed, and the men draw blood, you worthless coward!" Father's fist fell heavy against the sturdy oak table, sending a bone tumbling across the top, until it drowned in meat sauce. "How was a child of such idiocy even bred?"

"By mother's cunt, remember?" I snorted, dunking the hoof once more.

"Do you know what this means?" Breeba rang in her deep, burly tone. "Eroh will be a man on the morrow ... And as a man, he'll need a bride."

"And you won't be his first choice, nor his second," I snorted, causing my other siblings to join my chorus. "I love you, Great Sister, but I must be honest, and you must turn and face your reflection from time-to-time. You've had eighteen summers yet only just drew first blood ... you look to be the bride of a swamp toad ... yet your price is the hand of a boy Horn, who'll one day be Chief horn, though only has the eyes for one."

"Whom?" Father's brows buried. "That horse bitch, Nhedri?" I shrugged and chewed. "She hasn't had her first blood ... nor will she before I have spoken to the Chief."

"But isn't it the Chief whom does the speaking; and the asking for that matter?" I pulled my eyes towards the cottage ceiling, rubbing my chin. "Or so I thought."

Father's gaze was long, still, and studying. "He does. But he is also wise enough to listen. Reigrum has married five of his six daughters to the Horn Lords of the Horftz clans. No one man should have such power." The children perked up to listen. I sank further in my chair, picking through my plate of meats. "And four of the five have bred boys. If Eroh and Nhedri have a son, Reigrum will have a hold of the realm."

I tossed through jowls, hocks, and loins until deciding on a chewy slab of cheek. I took a bite, then tossed it aside, shaking my head. I flicked my eyes between platters until spying the blackened nostrils on Doomda's plate beside him. I snatched it and gave it a dunk.

"You weren't going to eat that, were you?" Before my brother could protest, I shrugged, chewed, and smiled. "A brilliant plan, Father, except you've forgotten one minor detail ..."

Large wrinkles rippled across father's forehead. Body stiff, holding back the eruptive force waiting to spill out within him. "And that is?"

"Eroh. The Chief will let him decide whom he marries. And it won't be my Great Sis."

"Preposterous." Father spat. His face reddening as brightly as the coals in the fire pit. "No King would allow a boy to make such pivotal decisions."

"Yet he will. I was there the day he told him." I swore, crossing my heart with my sausage-sized digit, painting my tunic with a greasy X. "It'll be Eroh's first decision, and the way the Chief will nullify his manhood."

Father's eyelid twitched.

The silence broke by the slosh and smacks of my tongue and lips. I quite enjoyed the snouts, chewy, soft, and juicy textures. And when finished, I looked around at my siblings' plates, though only spying a snout lying neglected on fathers plate.

I pointed, "surely I can barter two loins and a hock for that-"

Father sat with a maddening grin and a devious twinkle to his eye. One that made my stomach grumble and growl. Maybe it was caused by the snouts? I leaned back, rolling my slick fingers together.

"Have I said too much, Father?"

His smile deepened and eyes blacked. "No. You've said exactly what I needed to hear."

"And that is?"

I felt the air thicken. Each of my siblings sat upright, lips tight, avoiding their plates; worried they'd interrupt their father's thought. "You and Eroh are like brothers, correct?" He gave me a moment to digest the question, but not the time to respond. "What if you were brothers?"

"I already told you-"

"Did you not just say that Eroh would make the decision?"

"He did, Father. I heard him." Doomba quipped.

In that moment, I felt I should've asked before snatching the snout. Doomba was a vengeful little Hoofling. And to cross him, or in this case, take-something-without-asking, was enough to leave me marked until the brat found an equal or greater target. Which could take months?

I swallowed, my appetite lost. Or was I just full? "I did," I replied, "and what about it, Father?"

"Convince your brother to marry your sister." He picked up the snout, twirling it between his fingers. "If you do this, you'll finally have my approval."

I felt pain and pleasure, like an arrow drove deep into my core. We had made that promise two years ago. Maybe Eroh would finally honor that. I had ... I did him that favor.

My thought faded at the sound of the snout clashing on my plate. It rolled several times before flopping on top of my meat pile. I looked to my father, who sat tall with approval.

"Do this for me. Do this for your sister. Do this for our family. But mostly, do this for yourself." He waved his hands. Chairs screeched as my siblings stood. Together they waddled out of the room, each with their bellies full, and heads spinning, leaving only my father. "You are a Krowtz and my son. Do not make me suffer a moment longer with your ignorance. Do your duty to our clan and help me join our tribes with the Chief Horn."

With that father rose, huffing and puffing, yet gleaming of new hope. I watched him wrestle the food between his teeth with his tongue. And then he left, leaving me alone with my thoughts and my fifth serving of pig snout.


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