NOTE: Any resemblance to real people and events is probably NOT coincidental.
THWACK. An arrow stuck into the target, about two inches from the center. THWACK. Another took its place, just to the right of the first, closer to the center. THWACK. Finally a third pierced the center of the target. The archer walked up to the target and pulled out the arrows. Razor sharp tips tore the cloth covered bag as he carefully twisted them out. He slipped them back into his quiver, then unstrung his bow and strapped it on.
He turned, walking back into the small settlement. A group of small cabins ringed the western edge of the clearing in a half circle, and a moderately large hall lay across from them. People bustled across the clearing, mostly men, but also some women and children. Mountainous terrain surrounded them. The village was set in a valley in the largest mountain range in the land. No one unwelcome had found it yet. The September breeze rustled the golden leaves of the aspens.
“I see you’ve been practicing your archery Owen!” A tall sturdy man walked up with a leather tunic and a 5 foot broadsword on his back.
“Yep.” The archer replied with a grin. “I’m not as good as Marcus, but I’m working on it.”
“It may save your life someday son.” The man replied with a smile.
Owen, for that was the archer’s name, was an almost 15 year old lad, of medium height, well fed but not fat, and strong. His brown scruffy hair hung down over his hazel eyes, and he was always pushing it aside. He was clad in a tunic and leather jerkin held by a worn leather belt. He carried a bow and arrows strapped to his back and a long hunting knife of his own forging at his side. He, with his master’s help, had forged many of the weapons and tools found in the camp.
His master, Ho`rin, had died in a skirmish with the enemy only a few months before, so Owen was the only one of the villagers with the knowledge of metal smithing. It kept him busy, but he also had time to practice his archery and fighting skills in his spare time. He had a decent break at this time, because they were out of metal. Usually they could manage to trade or steal some metal bars for him to work, but recently, they hadn’t gone to the villages.
Ho’rin had been a good master. He had taught Owen all the fundamentals of smithing, but Owen knew that with more time he could become much better. Ho’rin had died when he had gone with several other villagers to trade for metal in some of the nearest towns. Somehow, the local garrison of soldiers had found out that they were rebels, and had tried to follow them back to the village. Ho’rin was too wily, though, and led the soldiers on a merry chase through the mountains.
Unfortunately, the soldiers realized they were tricked, and ambushed them as they slept. One of the men had escaped, but Ho’rin fell fighting off the soldiers. Owen had been full of grief, but knew that his master’s bravery saved the village from destruction. After this, the village council decided that it would not be wise to leave the mountains for a while. This is why the metal was scarce.
Owen walked back through the camp to his own cabin. Men, boys, women, girls, all the people around him were outlaws. They had been since before he could remember. He wasn’t born here, but was rescued by the refugees after his parents died. They had fled into the mountains, some of the only people who could resist. Stephan, who we have already met, was the leader of the outlaws, and had been a soldier under the previous king. He only fled when there was no hope left, and bore many scars of the battles against the enemy.
Owens father Martin had been a royal messenger, and had travelled all over the kingdom. His mother had been one of the queen’s maids. Stephan had told Owen how his father had been killed by the enemy’s troops, and brought to the castle with an arrow in his back. His mother had been killed by a catapult ball in the siege on the castle. Stephan had managed to rally some of the soldiers and break out, but not before rescuing the infant Owen from the wreckage. Many of the men had rescued their families as well, and they had been joined by peasants and villagers who did not wish to live under the rule of an evil king.
Owen passed some girls kneading bread. They chatted and gossiped, and didn’t notice, or at least he hoped they didn’t, as he peaked out of the corner of his eye at one in particular. Nai, the daughter of the carpenter, Rory, had been on his mind for a while now. But it was just recently that his small crush had become something more, something real. He watched as her blonde hair fell around her face while she talked with the other girls.
The only person Owen had told about his liking for Nai was his best friend, Kallan. Kallan’s older brother, Marcus, had no eyes for girls, but Kallan understood, somewhat, although he made fun of Owen constantly. He had not yet had a pretty girl catch his eye, but Owen knew his time would come. There was no avoiding it.
Marcus, on the other hand, was completely different. Although he had just come of age, and could be married as soon as he wished, his mind was not on love or marriage. He was a little over a year older than Owen. He spent his time honing his skill with a bow and practicing his hand to hand fighting skills. Besides that he was a lover of music and poetry, and annoyed Kallan and Owen many a time with his makeshift harp and flute.
Kallan walked up next to Owen. “Hello lover boy.” He said quietly, a smirk on his face. His light brown hair was cut fairly short, but he still had to keep his bangs combed to the side.
“Your time will come!” replied Owen, shoving him back. "Just wait till some pretty girl catches your eye and you end up head over heels in love. Then what'll you say?" Then he grinned. “I am a love struck fool, aren't I?” They walked toward the cabin where Owen stayed with Kallan and Marcus family. Keegan, their father, was the second in command of the outlaw band, and also Owens adoptive father. He and his wife, Kaylee, had raised Owen along with their own rambunctious bunch of youngsters. Owen was grateful, although sometimes Keegan proved a hard father and strict disciplinarian.
Owen and Kallan walked up the steps to their well built home and opened the door. Kaylee was a small but tough woman, her blonde hair, which Marcus had inherited, pulled into a tight bun on the back of her head. She was trying to change the diaper of the youngest member of the family, but two of the 4 boys were running around and under her feet, fighting with toy swords. Kallan laughed, then grabbed the boys by the collar and pulled them out onto the porch.
“Fight out here you two!” He said with a grin. “If you’re good enough, I’ll even fight with you myself.” Kallan was well known as one of the best swordsman in the village, even though he was but 14 years of age. He practiced constantly, and had received many bump and bruise from dueling his father and the other elders. His pride and joy was the short sword Owen forged for his fourteenth birthday present.
Owen, on the other hand, was moderately good at everything. He couldn’t beat Marcus at archery, or Kallan at a swords fight, but he was decent enough at both. He had a good singing voice, and he and Marcus would sometimes sing together when they had nothing else to do. Although he could not beat Marcus or Kallan at these things, he could wipe them clean at hunting and living in the woods. Kallan was more interested in these things than Marcus, so sometimes Owen would take him out on a hunting trip, tracking an animal for a few days through the wilderness, camping as they went. Sometimes they were successful, although Owen was better alone.
Owen sat on the porch watching Kallan duel his younger brothers with a wooden stick. He went easy on them, though sometimes he would lightly touch them on the ribs or shoulder. Owen laughed. This was one of the things that he enjoyed about living up here, away from harsh laws and in freedom. At least the families could let their children out of the house.
The small village had its fair share of troubles. In the hardest winters, they barely survived. Because of the mountains surrounding them, they were protected from some of the harsher weather that came to the high peaks, but the snow fell and the ground froze anyway. During that time, they stayed in their houses except for the occasional foray out to get wood or to hunt.
There was not much good ground for planting crops, so they lived on what coarse grains they could grow in the meadows. Luckily, wild game was plentiful, and almost all their meat relied on the skill of the hunters. They stored up great quantities, preserving it by salting and smoking it so that it would not go bad.
The skins of the animals were also used to be made into warm clothes and jerkins for the men, as well as the wool from the small and haggard flock of sheep and goats. They had been attacked by wolves, and their numbers were few, but each year their lambs made the group a bit larger. Most of the male sheep and goats were slaughtered for meat, but the females were kept to continue to grow the herd. The goat’s milk was also drunk regularly, and few of the younger folk had ever tasted cow’s milk.
The hall was the center of life. There they ate many meals, socialized, and some nights, would sit around the large fire pit in the center and sing and dance. Meetings were held here, and in the winter, the livestock would be brought inside as well to shelter them from the cold. Only Stephan, his wife, Angela, and their three boys actually lived in the hall, in a small room in the back. It was their responsibility to make sure that the fire kept on burning and the room was ready for whatever it was needed for.
Owen stood up and walked over to the center of the village, where Stephan and one of the other men, Baird, was working several deer skins into leather. He began to scrape one of the hides clean of flesh and fat, working silently, listening to the men talk.
“This winter will be a tough’un, and early too, that’s for sure.” Said Baird. “Birds are already leaving, and animals are coming down from the high places.”
Stephan kept stretching his hide onto a frame as he replied. “We will need to get a good store of food before the snow comes. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a first snow before October.”
“We already have the grain harvested and stored. What we need most is meat.”
For the first time, the two looked at Owen. Stephan said “What do you say, Owen? You think you and a few others could go on a hunting trip for a few days?”
Owen looked up. “I think I could. I’ve been itching for a chance to get out, so I’ll pack tonight and head out early tomorrow. Who should I take?”
Stephan looked thoughtful. “Well, Arthur and Morden will probably go down the valley, but you could take Kallan and go up Beartooth Mountain, if you don’t mind. The biggest herds of deer will be up there right now.”
“I’ll see what Kallan says.”
© Aidan Moon 2012