“We do not believe you are lying but we are no so convinced that you saw for true during the hunt,” proclaimed Jennar as he leaned forward in his massive chair of carved bone and wood. The Bloodwoods Clan elder looked to the other venerable members of the village on either side of him as he delivered his words. As he spoke the harsh sentence the faces of the other elder clansfolk softened, while Jennar gave voice to the thought that was on all their minds.
“Grandfather, I respect your wisdom but you were not with us on the hunt. You were not there when we came across the bodies. The only thing that could have slain our intended prey was a chimera,” protested Yola as he knelt before the grand dais where the elders sat. The clansman kept his eyes averted as he spoke, not daring to challenge the likes of Jennar with direct eye contact.
“And with respect to you, Yola, you are one of the strongest hunters in the clan but I will ask you this,” started Freena form the equally impressive chair placed beside Jennar’s seat of honor. The gray haired woman leaned back into the massive eerie throne of death from where she observed. She was slight of frame and the chair she sat in was oversized even for a full grown man so she offered up quite the contrasting visage. It would have been a comical juxtaposition were it not for the incredible volume of dignity and bearing that the elder woman was able to bring under her command. In any other nation Freena could have passed for royalty. She cleared her throat after a brief thoughtful pause. The small intermission in the dialogue was enough to draw all eyes to her person. “For all your time spent amongst the trees and all the hunts you have gone on, are you so certain that you have witnessed every terror that the Bloodwoods has to offer?” she asked with a maternal but cunning melody.
Yola shifted on his knees as he took the wizened woman’s words across his back like a punisher’s whip. Those clansmen who had gathered to witness the elder council could see the master hunter battling to control some sense of wounded pride. Yola’s breath came in a few uneven intervals as he fought off the sting of Freena’s statement and searched for the words to retort. “Grandmother, I will not claim to understand the trees fully. I would say it is foolish for anyone to make the claim that they know all there is to know about the Bloodwoods,” Yola said with humility marking his face but pride glinting in his eyes.
“Ah, so then you admit that what robbed you of your quarry could be something else. Perhaps something that even you have not seen yet,” Jennar said triumphantly. The elder nearly spilled out of his chair with a haughty measure as he delivered his words.
Yola chewed on his words like he was suffering a mouthful of poison. “That is possible yes, but it is much more likely that it was a chimera. The wounds we saw on the dead were like all known accounts of the beasts born of the red rains.”
“And what did you see?” Freena asked with her gaze shifting from Yola to Kalli who was kneeling beside the veteran hunter.
Kalli nearly squeaked at the surprise turn of focus. She managed to get away with only a small hiccup. She had expected to just be a casual observer in the proceedings. The junior clansmen had never once thought that she might be called on to actively participate in the goings-on. She felt heat mounting in her ears, not only from the weight of many eyes upon her but also form the ever growing silence as she failed to speak. A subtle cough form Jennar set her lips in motion. “It was like Yola reported, Grandmother. There were many freshly killed beasts that we found on the hunt but their meat was already turning to rot,” she managed to say with labored and halting speech as she had to carefully hand pick each and every word. In addition to choosing what she had to say, Kalli took painstaking care in selecting what not to add to her account. The heat in her ears felt like it was about to start charring her skin. She risked a glance up to see if the audience was satisfied with her brief summation. To her dismay, the gathered clansmen and the elders alike all had the postures and expressions of people who were waiting to hear more. “Yes, it was just like Yola said,” Kalli added with desperate hope that some more words, even if they were empty words, would lift the weight she felt on her back and cease the burning she felt.
“So you agree that this was a chimera who killed the prey on the hunt?” Jennar asked quietly. The elder silently fondled the pouch of prayer bones that were tied at his waist as his question cut fear deep into the young hunter.
Kalli had dreaded such a question. She had hoped it was something that could have gone unasked. When delivering her account she had made a deeply concerted effort to refrain from using the word, chimera. “I do not know. I have never seen a chimera with my own eyes so I can not say if it was one of them who killed our quarry before we got to it. I am surely not the best one to ask about the chimera, grandfather,” She said with marked shame. As she heard Yola’s sigh of disappointment at her side she felt tiny invisible daggers stab her in the gut.
“Hum, You needn’t sound so downtrodden my granddaughter. It takes much strength to admit you lack in something,” Jennar said in a calming fatherly manor. “So you can not say for certain that it was one of the red rain creatures. It is acceptable if that is all you are sure of.”
“Yes, I am not sure,” Kalli said while feeling the blades in her gut twist and turn with each word. She longed for this inquisition to be put to an end so she could start coping with embarrassing the man who had taught her everything she knew about the craft of the hunt. She wondered if she would even be able to look Yola in the eyes after today.
“It seems to me that blaming what happened during the hunt on the chimera is rather premature, even reckless when the only two members of our village who were there can not speak on the matter with certainty,” Freena said with a victorious cadence and raise of her eyebrow. She fiddled and played with the bronze ring bracelets that ran the length of her ash-painted forearm while speaking. After delivering her words to the general assembly she shared a silent moment locking eyes with Jennar and several of the other Bloodwoods Clan elders. “We are still safe here in the village, the trees will continue to keep the chimera far away from us. The hunt will resume tomorrow,” she said with royal poise. Her statement was received with a mixture of relief and apprehension from all gathered before the dais where she and the rest of the Bloodwoods Clan leaders sat. “Still we can not dismiss what happened. Clearly there is something perilous in the trees. We shall double the number in each hunting party. No less than four hunters for each trail. Now all should rest and prepare for tomorrow,” she said with finality. She stood, as did the other elders, and left the dais.
Kalli heard the rest of the village retuned to the normal atmosphere but she remained frozen in place. She slowly turned her head to look at Yola beside her. She felt like her skull and neck were a pile of stones grinding together, the motion was so labored and taxing. She met Yola’s gaze and her heart fell. She would have rather been, wounded, unarmed and face to face with a starved Elder Moor Lion then bare to look her teacher in the eye at this moment.
“It does not matter how many we send on the hunt. The chimera are here and we can not stop them,” Yola said softly as he rose and walked past Kalli like she did not exist.
Kalli had been hurt in battle before but nothing she had ever felt in the past compared to the sting that Yola’s eyes had cut into her sprit. It was after sunset before she found the will to stand and return to her tent. The sense of betrayal that she felt dig its claws into her spirit weighed on her like a mantle of rock. Kalli battled this new unseen foe long into the darkest hours of a sleepless night. Her only hope was the morning would bring some respite, and with it a chance to find redemption in Yola’s eyes when the hunt began anew.