"There's my boy, the young Horn, ready to become a man!"
My father's voice boomed like thunder across the thatched roofs of Huntloch Village; a voice proud and honourable. Loved by all, so much so, that when he roared the villagers raced to their doors and windows, peaking out and drawing up their ears to listen.
I felt myself shrink in his shadow. A Chief who had so much love and gallantry, how could any boy such as me live up to such a man? "It wasn't supposed to be me," I whispered, "you were to wear the crown." I wanted to curse Eilor for having me bear the burdens and weight of a firstborn. But I held my tongue. The Horn God's listen and I needed them on my side for the hunt.
"Come, Eroh, come!" My father waved his enormous hand. "See what I have for you."
He stood in front of the great torch pit that sat in the middle of the village. The wood stacked near high as the eastern and western towers erected around it. It would be here that they would cook for my manhood feast on the morrow, and here where the ceremony would take place. It was a beautiful clearing, filled with freshly carved and oiled cedar tables and benches; and filled with the old memories of songs, feasts, fights, and dancing from other manhood ceremonies. Now it was my turn.
I looked up at my father, trying to keep the pink from my cheeks, which was a hard task under the watchful eyes of the crowd that had gathered around us.
Father was a great man of tall, strong bones and thick muscles, with a face and head of hair equal to that of a mane; brown, brushed, and braided; the thick bush concealing his broad chin and hard cheeks, hiding all but his black eyes. Around his torso he wore a large, golden-brown pelt, laced at the chest, with white fox furs around the collar and sleeves; and over it, thick boiled leather, laced and etched with symbols of antlers and axes. The same worn and weathered leather as the greaves that covered his chases, thighs, and shins. They were father's hunting armors. Each piece had held true over the many years; still firm and flexible, giving him the ability to move freely, lunge, and hack with minor restraint.
My leather's had hardly left the tannery; seeing few hunts and not a single battle. Each piece sat too hunky and rigid for my slender frame, though the tanner promised me they'd become more flexible in use, and a snug fit once I'd ripen up ... whatever that meant. I adjusted the leather skirt as I took a step closer to my father.
"A gift to you, My Boy!" He pulled his arm from around his back, clutching a long, rounded tipped club. My eyes grew, looking upon the cedar that was smooth, glimmering of oil, and smelling of fresh-split wood. "Do you like it? I carved it myself." He beat the head into his calloused palm. "It is a fine weapon. One that'll build muscle, deflect blows, and end the lives of lesser prey."
Father took two gallant swings, with such force, the wind caused the hairs on the villager's heads to stand. He guffawed, marveling at his work, then held it out to be taken.
"Go on, my boy. It's yours."
MY palms were clammy. I wiped them on my leather, then had them greet the oiled handle. When I took the massive club between my fingers, my father released his hold. The burden was too great. The rounded-head thudded into the dirt, leaving a deep indention. The laughter that followed rose from the villagers' voices, only silenced by my father's Kingly stare.
"You made it seem like you were holding a spoon, Father." I laughed, easing the tension in the air, which gave the villagers the courage to smile and laugh once more.
Hearing this, father's brows rose from the sunken region above his nose while his yellowish-white teeth appeared behind his thick mane. "Is that in truth?" He guffawed above the crowd. "Don't you worry, my Boy. In good time, you'll be holding it with the same certainty. Now. Give it a man's hurl."
Silence spread amongst the villagers. I felt their eyes; those cold, questioning eyes. They watched me with intrigue, waiting to see if I had the same prowess as their Chief. They would not follow a weak leader, nor did I expect them to.
"This is my moment." I prayed. "May I show them how I've grown."
I kept my feet still, then twisted at my hips, gripping the handle while rolling the head of the club along the dirt. Once positioned, I squatted, tensing the muscles in my thighs and calves. "That is where the power comes from," my father often told me, "through strong legs." And with that, I felt energy push downward from my hips. When it met the balls of my feet, I lunged upward, jerking the club with me. The swing had a beautiful arch, starting from the back of my heels, lifting above my head, and falling with heavy blunted force to my toes. It didn't have the same speed nor power as my father's effortless swing. Nor could I do it with one hand. But what it had was finesse and beauty, if there was such a thing.
I took a breath, smiling, now alive more than ever. The tension that'd been taut inside me eased with the cheers and whistles of the villagers. After a few more swings and applauses, the villagers dispersed back to their cottages and their duties. Father then led me home with praises, chants and monstrous roars.
Our home was the largest cottage in Huntloch. Built of thatched roofing and wattle walls. It sat on a stilted platform, just tall enough to allow the stream to pass beneath the base, even on a stormy day. Father built it here, and this way, to keep the villagers from feeling divided.
On the western side lived the robust villagers; their Lords husky and brutish. They were the muscle of Huntloch, who did the hunting, fishing, gathering, and battling; and those who brought laughter and destruction to the village. I spent most of his days on the Western side at the sparring ring, the gambling halls, and the archery ranges; when I didn't have young horn duties to attend to.
On the eastern side were the wisest villagers; the Tauralytes and the Lord elders, whose powers were in their minds. Most of them were tall, fat, or dainty folk, and much too serious for my liking. But they were those closest to the Horn Gods, therefore I always paid tribute to their causes, and stayed mindful of their words, as his father taught me to do.
On the porch, Mother and my sister sat on two oak chairs, wrapped in their spring pale-brown deer hide robes. Their bodies were half exposed, allowing the cool wind to breathe against their pale chest and pale legs. In their hands were two long-pointed sticks, both moving in nimble and precise fashion, pulling from skeins while prodding a web of yarn together. They were crafting new black and gray quilts for the upcoming winter. A tradition every spring.
Mother paused, drawing her sky-blue eyes upon me. She smiled warmly, raising a hand to greet us. Both father and I dismissed her gesture with one of our own.
Lylef was not too keen on waving and instead continued to work her webbed puzzle.
We approached, and father boasted, "You should've seen him, Yrdrid ... had the entire tribe in an uproar." He shot a burley smile in my direction. He then halted at the base of the porch and looked up the steps. "My boy took that club and swung it down with the finesse and strength of a Chief."
"This is simply untrue," I chuckled, preferring to sound proud. "Father gives me far too many praises for far too few of deeds."
Mother touched her chest and raised her lips. Not the dark, worn lips of a winter born, but the warm, soft lips of summer born. A proud smile given only for me.
Lylef raked Yrdrid's smile away. "I agree with Eroh. Father talks much too highly about you."
"Nonsense," father guffawed, waving a finger at Yrdrid. "We've raised a boy with too much pride," He nudged my shoulder, nearly sending me to the dirt. "Sometimes a Chief must boast about his greatness. For if he doesn't, the history tomes will be unkind to his name."
Lylef rolled her eyes.
Mother nodded, stroking her long braided loch of golden-brown hair. "This is true. But remember, Children ... if all you do is boast, as your father does, then that is all that will be written and remembered about you." We laughed. Mother grinned and winked at our father. He noticed.
Father's eyes sparkled like gems, catching all of our gazes, but only gleaming for mothers. We all knew that adoring look. He ascended the steps and stood before his Chieftess. Mother giggled, outstretching her arms to defend his approach. "Enoch ... don't," she squeaked, but it was too late. He took her hands, and she gave into his power. The magnificent mane that grew upon father's face draped across her smooth, pale flesh, and together they expelled a song from their wet, interlocking lips.
I chuckled at their indecency.
Lylef appeared sick. "Gross!" she chirped, dropping the needles and half-webbed quilt into her lap to shield her eyes.
Father hung over mother for a moment longer before he pulled away, allowing her breath and her now reddened flesh to return to its pale complexion. He guffawed and grinned at us. "That is why I love your mother. She is the only person in the world who has the courage to speak to me in truths." He stroked her hair with tender affection. "One day you two will know what that feels like."
"I'd prefer to be possessed by skin armour," Lylef snapped.
Father boomed, "Tell me my ears have deceived me ..."
"Never repeat those words." Mother's soft tone now split the air like a knife. "The God's are always listening."
Lylefs shoulders raised and fell. She never knew when to keep her mouth shut. "Why are these words forbidden?"
I did my best to rescue her, but she'd never see it that way. "Because there is no greater pain than to be possessed by Skin Armour." I recited the words of Elder Kadamyrr Horkkot.
My parents nodded in approval.
Lylef rolled her eyes.
"You know better than to speak such folly," Father chimed, kneeling to find her eyes. Even on one knee he towered over her like some great giant of the north. "Look at me ... I said look at me." Lylef crossed her arms, pouted, then looked up, gazing through his thick mane; a look somewhat disconnected and somewhat bored. "To be possessed by skin armour is to endure the most agonizing death one could imagine. You understand that, do you not?"
"How do you know?" She asked. "Have you experienced all deaths?"
"I have not ... but it is told in the tome tales by our great ancestors."
"And did they experience all of them?" Lylef sunk deeper into her seat, tightening her arms to her chest. "Because I don't know anybody who'd volunteer for that."
Shut up ... I wanted to blurt out, but I too was curious. I fought back the muscles twitching in my lip.
Father was less successful. He guffawed loudly. "Hollow hells, Lylef. Do you have to ask questions that would even make the elders ponder?"
Lylef raised her chin like the Chieftess she'd become one day. "I'm still waiting for an answer that makes sense."
Mother did not share our amusement. She waved a finger and shook her head. "After all these years, Enoch, and you're still too soft on them."
"I can't help it, Yrdrid," Father chuckled between closed lips while scratching the guilt from his mane. "Our dear daughter brings up a good point."
It was like our mother to step in and handle the matters within their house. Father could rule a realm of fierce men, scheming lords, and godly elders, all with the iron heart of a lion. Yet in our home, the only one who held all the power was our mother.
"Now listen, dear daughter." Mother sat tall, and very Chieftess like. Lylef noticed and coward back into her seat until mother flicked her wrist, rousing her to sit upright. Once Lylef obeyed, mother spoke in a tone softer than air yet more power than their father's thunderous booms."To be possessed by skin armour means to be ruled by evil. Would you want that?"
"But father and the other Lords and warriors wear it. Why is this not evil? And why are they not possessed?"
"Because they wear it with restraint. And anything of power, if respected and used wisely, can be used for good." Mother drew her hand towards me. "At the manhood ceremony, in the days to come, your brother will be bound to his own suit of skin armour. He has been taught the importance of its use ... and knows the consequences of enduring its burden for too long."
"And why haven't I been trained? We women have as much purpose as do men." Lylef wanted to be molded and bound to a skin. She'd been asking for a suit since she learned to voice her own opinion.
"Because women do not have the strength nor means to shape in this matter ..." Yrdrid placed her warm hand upon her daughter's belly. "Though you are correct. The God's have given us our own burdens to bear ... and that is to bore children for the likes of men."
Lylef glared at me like I'd decided this burden for her. She replied, "I'd prefer men grow the bellies and women grow the horns." She then giggled and turned toward our mother while the black in her eyes came into light. "I apologize, and I promise you mother that I will not use these folly words again."
Mother smiled, "And I can promise you I'll hold you to that promise." Then pecked her summer lips upon Lylefs forehead.
I watched shadows creep across my sister's pale flesh while she turned upon me. "But I can't promise you I won't be envious of my dear brother once he's got his."
I chuckled, "you shouldn't be, little sister ... I've heard the shaping and molding process is even more painful than the possession." And though I wasn't certain if Elder Kadamyrr Horkkot had spoken in truths. I felt a fearful tingle creep down my spine, aware that I'd learn soon enough.