0010 – Cap & Grazer: Idyll, Part 3

The village of Dark Hollow was usually a sedate, calm place. But this was when its granaries and larders were full, when the stores of meat, wrapped in linens and buried deep down in the cool earth, were plentiful. Dark Hollow’s small compliment of hunters provided a steady supply of game to the villagers, but at a diminishing rate; they always ate up supplies faster than they could be replenished.

For this reason, twice a year, Dark Hollow held the Hunt Festival. On this day, the men of the village would gather, regardless of their usual occupation, under the experienced leadership of the full-time hunters.

The village occupied the space at the bottom of a valley, between a gentle but tall incline and a vast, still lake, with the lake’s other side bordered by sheer cliffs. The forest at the top of the manageable slope provided a rich, natural bounty, and after six months of barely having its surface scratched, it invariably proved full to bursting. The Hunt was as much an issue of population control for the local wildlife as it was of providing for the people who lived there.

The Hunt Festival also provided a convenient coming-of-age rite for the young men of Dark Hollow. Being an adult man in the village meant knowing how to hunt, after all. On the first Hunt after a boy of the village turned fifteen years old, he would charge out at the head of the column of experienced hunters, scrambling up the muddy slope to the forest, accompanied by elated cheers of encouragement from the gathered crowd below. While the adult men would hunt in the tame, bountiful, oft-prowled woodlands nearest to the village, the boys being tested would go on ahead, braving the deepest and darkest part of the dense, primal woodland beyond the basin.

The challenge posed to the boys was this: “Return with a Lurker, or not at all.”

Lurkers were borderline inedible, a meat of last resort. This was not why they were valued by the village. They were valued for their sharp teeth, for their muscular, sleek bodies, for their brutal claws. They were valued for their malice-filled eyes, for their terrifying visage. They were valued as trophies, proof of the transition from boy to man.

Not that anyone would ever destroy the comfortable feeling of their home by actually displaying one. Aside from anything else, any children in the house would never sleep again.

Cap was still several years away from having to undergo this trial. Whenever the subject was raised, he would perk up with enthusiasm, often saying something like “I can’t wait for my turn!” or “I wanna be a man!” even as he internally pissed himself at the mere thought of seeing a Lurker up close. The beasts were terrifying. Not even the strong, crafty men who made up the village’s permanent hunting squad were fond of the idea of actually running into one.

None of this, however, seemed to bother the one boy in the village who was actually due to face one at the upcoming Hunt Festival. His name was Grazer, and he was a plump lad with a relaxed demeanour.

Grazer rarely seemed bothered about much of anything. To Cap, this made him the coolest boy in the village.

“How are you going to do it?” Cap asked Grazer.

The two boys were sitting on a haphazard platform of damp, bright wood, built at the top of the incline, overlooking the village. Grazer was tall, his thick legs easily reaching the rich mud of the slope below, but Cap’s feet dangled in the air above it. Below, smoke rose from the chimneys of most of the three or four dozen houses that comprised their little hamlet, the evening’s cooking fires already lit.

Grazer wasn’t even looking at the view. He was staring straight ahead, at the forbidding wall of the immense grey cliff, out beyond the lake.

“I dunno.” Grazer replied. He’d seemed as though he was thinking, but his response indicated otherwise.

Cap looked at him in surprise. “The festival’s in two days!” he exclaimed. “You really haven’t given it any thought, have you?”

Grazer lowered himself slowly backwards, shuffling until he lay with his back on the moist planks, his knees at the edge now rather than his thighs, his own feet dangling lazily in the air like Cap’s.

“There’s got to be a trick to it.” He said, staring up, seemingly right into the fading, obscured sun. “There’s no way Lackspores killed a Lurker.”

Cap thought about this. Lackspores was a weedy, retiring man who ran a little farm down by the waterfront. He could barely lift his own plough.

“Maybe he…” Cap reached. “Maybe he just outsmarted one. He’s clever.”

Grazer give this some thought. “He is. But he’s a wimp. Can you even imagine him charging up the hill?”

Cap laughed, hopping down a short way onto the slope below, skidding to a halt before doing his best impression of this spectacle, his limbs flailing ineffectually, an effeminate cry issuing from his quivering lungs as he flopped up the hill towards Grazer.

Grazer had turned his head to watch, and was laughing a little now, the low chuckle of an older boy amused by the low humour of a little brother.

“I expect there’s… I don’t know, a really good bow or something. And poisoned arrows.” Grazer theorised. “Just sitting in a little hide, right at the start of the deep forest. Something like that. Something to make it easy for the weak guys. Nobody’s ever failed to come back, have they?”

“Wouldn’t that taint the meat?” Cap asked him.

“Who’d know?” Grazer replied. “Nobody eats the damn things.”

“I wish I could go with you.”

“No you don’t.” Grazer saw right through him.

“I do!” Cap said, punching him in the side. “I do, and I will!”

“You’re ten!” Grazer protested.

“So? I’ll find a way.” Cap promised. “Just you wait. I’ll be there.”

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