Read The Wild Lands: Legend of the Wild Man Online

Authors: Joe Darris

Tags: #adventure, #action, #teen, #ecology, #predator, #lion, #comingofage, #sasquatch, #elk

The Wild Lands: Legend of the Wild Man

LEGEND OF THE WILD MAN

by Joe Darris

copyright 2013 Joe Darris

Smashwords Edition

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www.joedarris.com

 

For Dylan and Luna,

The first wild ones I knew

 

Table of Contents

The Wild

The Garden

The Spire

Epilogue

Acknowledgements

About the
Author

 

Part I

THE
WILD

Chapter 1

 

The hunt, most sacred of all dances. Its brutal
rhythm is the heart of every story, listen children, as I tell of
the greatest hunter to ever feed death to the earth's hungry
belly.

His muscles ache with fatigue, but his wits
are sharp with hunger. The air is cold, the sky bright from the
full moon high up above. He shifts his weight from one leg to the
other. His gaunt thighs tremble. He has pursued the prongbuck all
night, neither gave the other a chance to rest. They are dancing,
each hoping to outlast the other in that mad game of survival.

After their night of chase, each knows the
other. He knows the prongbuck smells his sweat, the strain of his
muscles, his resolve. The buck knows the hunter is hungry, and
strong. He knows the buck is frightened and tired. He knows the
buck thinks he is not. This is good.

The dance between them began when the sun was
highest. He found the tracks of a prongbuck and its harem. In them
he found a fawn. prongelk are difficult prey once they are full
grown, the prongbuck that rules over each harem is invulnerable.
But when the elk are young, before their antlers develop their
deadly prongs, they can be caught, and are delicious. The hunter
followed the tracks.

He caught up to the harem in the late
afternoon, in flood plains by the great river, feasting on lush
plants thriving in silt. It was a large herd, with thirteen
females, and two fawns. They grazed peacefully, their jagged
antlers floating as their heads bobbed below the grass.

All hunters know the plains are forbidden.
They must learn the old legends--the stories of the sky people, the
ancient gods, the Hidden—-before they can leave the safety of their
home and become men. The young hunter knows the stories well: there
is a tree that steals the lightning from the clouds, guarded by
prongelk. The prongelk's minds are not their own, they belong to
the Hidden. But the hunter, young and foolish, did not heed the
legends.

Stories
, he thought, and then
descended from the forest and his tribe's sacred land. He had seen
the prongbuck high above his harem, surveying the plains below him
with big, wide set eyes. The hunter sensed an opportunity.

An adult prongbuck weighs a boulder. Horns
jut out in front of its skull then curve around in lazy spirals.
The buck either knows how to crack ribs and skulls with them, or is
dead. But their antlers are the true danger. They run back and
curve around the beast's huge shoulders, a deadly shield against
anything brazen enough to try to attack its muscled flank. They are
spiked and twisted weapons, each with dozens of prongs like hooked
daggers, ready to stick and stay in whatever the buck deems a
threat.

The hunter understood the beast's explicit
show of strength, but ignored it. The prongbuck was too far from
his harem. He, with his youth and speed, could kill the fawn before
the prongbuck could save it, and once they smelled death they would
move on, and leave the fawn for him and the inescapable
scavengers.

The hunter drew his knife and scampered down
the hill as quickly and silently as the shadow of a field mouse.
The prongbuck harem spotted him and scattered. Their antlers are
impressive and make good carved knives, but they are not weapons.
Female elk lack the size and strength that make the bucks so
powerful. They bounded away in giant leaps. He had caught females
before, but the fawns were much easier game and had suppler flesh.
He turned back, his mouth watering. Instead of the defenseless
young, there was what should not have been: another buck!

Prongbucks do not share. They are fiercely
territorial and prefer death to brothers. The other male should
have torn this smaller one apart. The hunter's mind reeled; he had
circled the herd searching for a male, before he spotted the one on
the hill. He hadn't seen the thick horns or pronged antlers among
the harem. The females had obstructed his view of this buck until
the last moment. The hunter wondered if the prongelk had somehow
seen him coming and tricked him. It did not matter.

The buck charged the young hunter,
multiplying momentum by the killing power of rows of anarchically
spaced spikes. This male was not as large as the other, but was
well into adolescence and a huge threat as it thundered towards the
hunter. This one's antlers were less developed than the buck up
above, but they were blacker, black as new moon.

Not good
, thought the hunter.

His knife flew from his hand and stuck deep
into the prongbuck's shoulder. He had missed the heart.

The hunter does not miss.

The young buck had readjusted its approach
out of his blade's path. The hunter braced himself for the
collision; if he dodged the buck would slice him apart with its
pronged antlers. Cracked ribs healed more easily. But the animal's
eyes were wide with pain. It awkwardly slowed its charge, then
changed its mind, lifted its deadly crown and bounded over him and
up into the scrubby foothills that ring his lands. He reached for
his knife but could not seize it. He had won nothing to replace
it.

The hunter gave chase.

Hours after sunset, when the stars twinkled
and the moon hung high overhead, the hunter struck. He waited until
the buck was fatigued and tasting death. prongelk can be tricked,
but not if they are strong and confident. Legends say fear is
needed to drive the Hidden from their minds. The hunter did not
believe in the legends, only the method. Sensing the buck's fear,
he made a beast's call. The buck's tired mind conjured images of
great cats and packs of wolves. Its tired nerves carried it into
the perceived safety of the hunter’s forest without a second
glance.

Once the prongbuck moved into the woods, the
young hunter only had to herd it further into the underbrush. As
the way grew thick and tangled, the prongbuck's horns became a
hindrance. It would be unable to gather any speed to escape or
attack. It would be doomed. It would be his. But for now, it had
weapons, as well as his knife. His only advantage was the pain and
fear it felt close to its heart. So he drove it deep into the
woods, and pondered how to retrieve his blade.

Now the buck nibbles grass, trying to restore
its energy. The hunter allows this. He needs to rest his legs for
the final sprint, and hopes that if the animal lowers its head to
eat, his knife might slip free. By a stroke of luck, it does. The
hunter gazes at his bone-knife resting in a puddle of blood and
dappled moonlight. The savory smell of blood, like rust and salt,
reminds his body of his hunger and his stomach growls loudly. The
prongbuck hears. Nothing awakens an animal's senses like another's
hunger.

The buck enjoyed its last moments of
pleasure, but it has heard him, and the final chase will begin.
They both know this. Each knows the other from the hours and miles
they shared together. They know each other in the intimate way that
only the hunter and hunted share. They know the other's smells, the
other's sounds, and they both know the other is starving, near
death even. The buck hears his final warning and tromps off. It
struggles with the tangles of vines that ensnare its antlers. The
hunter almost feels sorry for it, but will not hesitate to save
himself. Hunger is stronger than empathy.

He moves forward silently, scoops up his
knife and carefully dries its hilt on his leathers. A fresh crack
runs lengthwise down the blade. The point must have struck bone and
the prongbuck's running stressed the fracture. He has carried this
blade for a long time. He hopes it will last through one more
kill.

The land rises slowly into the tall cliffs
not far ahead, something the prongbuck misses in its delusional
state. It will be cornered soon, stuck between a wall of solid
rock, and the hunter in his tangled forest. If the buck realizes it
is coming to a cliff, it will turn on him. The hunter is ready for
this, knows this is how the hunt may end: a head on sprint finished
by his blade or the buck's. The prongbuck does not know this. It
still thinks it can escape without battle. When it realizes there
is no easy escape, that it must duel for its life, its heart will
pump hard, and its fatigue will leave it. The less time it has to
feel its reserves of strength, the better. He knows he can take the
animal, but it needs to be confused as well as tired and desperate.
He quickens his pace. The prongbuck does the same.

He sees the clearing before the prongbuck
does. The animal's wide set eyes cannot see as far ahead as the
hunter's, another way the forest helps finish the elk. It could
have seen him approach from almost any direction on the plains, but
here, the elk’s big eyes are blind to what is in front of it.

It is time. His legs lunge forward, his
throat roars and his teeth growl at the being that will save him
from starvation. The buck hears him and flees. It bounds forward in
awkward jumps, constantly turning its head this way or that as its
massive horns tangle and snare in vine or branch. The hunter gains
on the buck. Suddenly it is free of the woods, leaping in the
meadow in clumsy thankful arcs.

The young hunter clears the tangles of vines
and brambles easily. He feels skin tear as his arm brushes a spiny
bush, but the wound does not feel deep, besides, if he does not eat
soon, nothing will matter. He emerges from the forest just as the
buck reaches the cliff face. The clearing is smaller than he
expected, and the buck is already rearing its prongs above it,
turning its momentum around and back towards the hunter. Its stony
front hooves, black as its antlers, kick pieces of rock out of the
cliff face, its back legs plow the earth.

The hunter takes careful aim from the edge of
the forest with his knife, and casts it with more intent than a
seer casts bones. The blade flies fast and true, and does not waver
or spin as it glides through the air towards the throat of the
buck. He can almost feel the blade pierce the soft leathery skin,
the tough muscle and finally the jugular. His stomach growls
savagely at the thought of warm blood. The blade flies closer and
closer. It halves the distance to the prongbuck, then halves that
distance, then the next, each moment feeling as long as the one
before.

Something is wrong. The beast jerks its head
quickly to the left in a supremely unnatural motion that starts
from the head and not the body of the animal. It looks painful and
bizarre for the buck. It looks as if someone has roped its antlers,
and yanked them —perfectly— into the path of his blade, sparing its
neck from his weapon. The hunter’s vision, heightened by
adrenaline, shows him each shard explode outward as the stone knife
shatters harmlessly.

Something is very wrong. The buck looks
around for just an instant, as confused as he. The hunter senses it
understands, same as him: it did not save itself. It welcomes the
precious moments of life just the same. Then the buck lowers its
massive rack of pronged antlers and charges.

The hunter has seconds to react. He leaps
backwards and grabs the limb nearest him. In a burst of primate
agility, he swings around the branch and scrambles up the tree. The
buck careens under him, seemingly unaware of whatever threw the
weapon it deflected. He briefly considers letting it run by, back
to the plains and to freedom. It is no normal prongelk, its horns
are too black, its motions to clever (perhaps it is forbidden for
good reason) but his stomach grumbles and those thoughts vanish
like puddles of rain on hot stone. He will not succeed at another
hunt without a knife, and though his tribe would surely provide him
with one, the hunter is young and brash and does not like owing
anyone anything, so he risks his life. As the buck bounds past him,
he leaps from the branch, and centers himself above its broad
back.

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