Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Wolf's Ascent:A Calabrian Tale of the Clans of the Men of Old

The Gryphon spread its wings catching the updraft of the winds, the gift of Aeros, Lord of the Air. The beast felt the familiar and comfortable grasp of the knees of its rider, hugging its sides. The rider's chest was pressed tight against the Gryphon's back, the arms wrapped securely and lovingly around its neck. The Gryphon knew no days without its companion, and seldom took flight without her upon its back.

The beast's keen sight spied what perhaps no other creature in Calabria saw. Over a mile below, a blue Wolf crept to the edge of the Greenwood. Blue is perhaps as valid a color as any, for in the sunlight the Wolf glistened, the silvery pelt matching the blinding highlights of the stream; and out of the sun, the Wolf became one with the shadows for any lesser eyes than those of the Gryphon.

As the Wolf reached the edge of the cliff, a subtle transformation occurred. Surely a man of the civilized valley of the Merchant's Republic would have questioned what he saw, had he been able to perceive it at all. In a flash, the Wolf was standing on its hind legs. Where a moment before a lupine crouched, now stood a gracefully muscled Man. His hair was black, and his keen grey eyes gave a quick glance up in the sky towards the gryphon and rider. On his calves and forearms he wore leather greaves and bracers, dyed to a grey luster. A matching leather doublet protected his torso, and on his back he wore the grey fur of a wolf. A dagger at his side was his only weapon.

Fingus glanced up in the sky, and thought he could make out the silhouette of a Gryphon, dotted against the clouds. He had more immediate concerns, such as making the ascent as quickly as possible. He reached up, and grabbed a familiar handhold. He had climbed this cliff many times since his youth. It had been during one such climb that he met her. But never before had he climbed has high as he was going to today.

His well toned muscles and years of such activity, as well as his acquaintance with the cliff face, made the first part of the ascent nearly effortless. His brothers often goaded him as being lesser than themselves when it came to fighting. But he knew that none of them could climb as quickly as he could, nor could any of them climb as high as he was going to today. As for the commoners of the valley, there were few among them that would have any hope of such an ascent.

He had been to the valley. The people of the small hamlets were pleasant enough, and welcomed him graciously, if somewhat suspiciously. But he had only been to the Village of Harrow once, where he was greeted with a combination of fear and derision. From the village he looked upon the walled town of Carrnach in the distance, and could only imagine the reception he would receive there were he to stroll the paved streets.

The sun was well past the highest part of its arc in the sky when Fingus neared the top of his ascent. He welcomed the heat of Pyros against his back as he climbed, and his hands were grateful for the warmth of the rocks on this autumn day. The winds of Aeros increased as he approached his goal; a flat ledge some thousands of feet above the gorge of the Red River. As he brought himself up upon the ledge, he took a quick glance around.

The entrance to the cave was where he expected. The songs of old held many secrets, and he had hoped that his interpretation of the songs was correct. The cave entrance was a good sign. He looked back towards the gorge, and could see the Gryphon turning on its wing. From this distance, he could make out a rider, one of the Gryphonym, clinging to its back.

Steeling himself, Fingus crept toward the opening of the cave. There was a foul stench about the area, and the cave entrance was littered with bones. He crouched for a moment, but dared not disturb the bones for fear of making the slightest unnecessary sound. There were bones of Goats, Men, and creatures he could not identify. Some of the bones were larger than his entire leg. He was certain now that this was the place.

He crept forward, slowly and carefully into the cave. He was relying on every skill and instinct he had learned since his youth. The smallest misstep could spell his doom.

As he rounded a corner, and his eyes adjusted, he could see a large cavern, lit by smokey torches. He was grateful for the smoke, as it would make his concealment easier. He followed the irregular patterns of wavering shadows. He could now hear the unmistakable snoring of a very large creature.

Continuing stealthily across the chamber, he could now see the shadow of an immense manlike form against he wall. The chest was rising and falling steadily, if at a much slower pace than that of a sleeping man. He knew his goal lie in the opening at the far side of the cavern, and continued on his way.

Reaching the opening, he stepped into the darkness. At this point he knew he needed to risk some light, and nervously reached for his flint and tinder. Three times he struck before he was able to light the candle he had brought. The Giant's snoring became fitful.

Before him was a wondrous sight. Coins and gems. Swords and shields. Crystals and objects of wonder.
But he did not come here for any of this. His goal was singular. The songs told of it. Of the hero Brian Convel, and how he had lost his life in this very cave. The brooch he wore to hold his cloak had to be here, somewhere in all this clutter.

Fingus said a prayer to Phanes, Lord of all creatures, both beasts and men. He then closed his eyes and relied on his senses... his sense of scent. Even after all this time, surely the brooch would still hold a scent of his people? Slowly, one by one, he blocked out his other senses. The snoring of the giant faded away. The red beyond his eyelids turned to black. The salty taste of the deer meat he had eaten earlier in the day melted to nothing. Even the firmness of the stone beneath his feet became numbness. All there was was smell. Hundreds of smells. Thousands of them. But somewhere, mixed in with all of them, was the smell he was searching for. He caught a waft of it, and stepped towards it.

The smell grew stronger and stronger. Now it was before his nose. He opened his eyes, and was staring at a small pile of treasure. He had to reach in, to move it about. Carefully, one by one, he set aside jewel and coin, necklace and dagger.

And there it was. A pair of diamond eyes glistened at him in the candlelight. His heart raced as he beheld the visage of the Wolf. He reached for it, and as he tugged on it, the entire pile of treasure came cascading down to the floor.

He had no time to lose now. He dropped the candle, tucked the brooch in a pocket of his doublet and raced out of the small cave. Too late, the Giant stood now, blocking the exit to the large cavern. It held an immense club, and was just waiting to swing at him.

Fergus darted this way and that, and the Giant's club came crashing down inches away from him. Before the creature could take another swing, Fergus tumbled between its legs, and ran for the cliff with every bit of speed he could muster.

He heard the Giant's steps close behind. He dared not look back, but trusted in the friendship he had kindled in his youth, and forged through his adolescent years. He ran. Ran towards the brink, which dropped thousands of feet to the Red River below. He ran. And he leapt.

A bone came whizzing by his ear as he fell gracefully into nothingness. He panicked for an instant in spite of himself.

Then he felt the immense talon of the Gryphon grasp around his waist. As the beast turned into the sun, carrying him effortlessly, he could hear the endearing taunting of her voice from above its back. "You didn't think I wasn't going to catch you, did you?"

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