“There is an error.” The Glyph stated.
I froze in place and glanced around. The warnings had become rare in the last few years, it’s just my luck that I’d be right in front of the Glyph as it announced the error.
In my grandfather’s time, the town would have immediately assumed that I had caused the error. I would have been killed at the foot of the Glyph to atone for it. Thankfully we knew that didn’t always work. Even after killing the person suspected to be the source of the error, there would be a plague. Now I would have to go through a trial but I’d be spared the sword, for a time.
“There is an error.” The Glyph repeated.
A crowd began to form. Jash Malcrom walked up quickly, “Stay where you are boy, running will just make them hunt you.”
“Yes sir.” I responded.
The crowd began to murmur, wondering if we would face another plague.
Governor Craeg’s door swung open. He somberly put on his hat and walked into the town square. The crowd parted for him so he could carry out his duties.
“Tell us what you know of this error, Mechel Hill.” He said sternly.
“Honestly sir, if I have anything to do with it, I could only have done it by accident.” I said.
Creag walked up to the Glyph. Long ago, he destroyed the last of a plague, after that the Glyph would sometimes answer him. “Glyph, what is the error?” He requested.
“Insufficient permissions to access data. There is an error” The Glyph answered.
He tried again. “Glyph, where was the error made.”
An arrow of light appeared on the ground next to the Glyph and 200 next to it. The crowd murmured again. Two hundred would put the error a quarter of the way around the world.
I breathed a sigh of relief.
Creag put his hand on my shoulder. “I think we can safely say young Mechel has not set foot out of the town, so the error could not be his.”
There was a pause, and then the crowd let out a happy shout. One by one the town’s people came up and shook my hand, or patted me on the back. They were of course still worried that there would be a plague.
Jash stepped up again now. “Mr. Creag, there is still something we need to think about.”
Creag’s face scrunched in frustration he wanted to be done with this. “What is is Mr. Malcrom?” He asked impatiently.
“It could be that the Glyph is telling us that young Mr. Hill, must correct the error.” Jash suggested.
Creag put his hands on his hips. “Jash, are you stupid? What would he even be able to do? We’ve never figured out what the Glyph means by the error. Sometimes we make it end by finding the person that caused it, sometimes we never find it and just have to deal with the plague.”
“Maybe someone left town and is wandering out there. Maybe young Mechel is meant to go out and find him?” Jash said.
“So maybe there’s someone out there? Maybe they caused the error? What is the boy supposed to do? Kill him? You want to send a boy out into the wild to go out and kill a man?” Creag said.
“Do you want to risk it? What if we do nothing and the Glyph sends a plague?” Jash demanded. He turned to the shaken crowd that was starting to clear away but now froze in it’s tracks. “Do you want a plague? The Glyph is telling us something about the boy! If he succeeds in ending the error, he’ll be a hero! If we do nothing, we could lose whole families to the plague! Do you want that?”
Murmuring erupted all over. It was clear that something had to be done.
“I will go!” I called out.
Creag cringed. “Son, you won’t last a day out there.”
“Maybe not sir, but if I don’t and people die, it could be my fault.” I said. I could not openly admit that I really wanted to go because I’d be able to see the things I’d only heard about from the hunters. Even if it meant that I’d die shortly after.
Creag shook his head. “You’ll need help. Sending you out into the wild is the same as killing you right here at the foot of the Glyph.” He turned to Jash. “You’ve been hunting before, you know the wilds, you go with him. If you believe that the boy has to end this, he can’t do it if he’s dead, you’ll have to keep him alive. You’ll need a hunting party, so gather men and supplies.”
Jash looked angry at first, but he calmed himself and slowly took on a look of determination. Jash was now too old to be going out on hunting expeditions but he often talked of his exploits. “Fine, I’ll get the men, we’ll leave at first light. Come on Mechel, we need to go and explain this to your father.”
I knew my parents wouldn’t receive the news well, my eldest brother had died on his first hunting trip. After that my mother made my father promise that none of us would join hunting parties. We walked through the crowd, their whispers swirled around us as we walked by. I tried desperately to think of a way to ease their objections but I really couldn’t think of anything that would smooth this out.
Jash approached my parent’s front door and knocked gently. I think he worried he’d cause a further rift between our families. Our families had a complicated history. Jash and my father went on several expeditions together and something happened between them that my father wouldn’t talk about but would say he owed Jash. My mother had something against Jash though, and tension was always high when he visited.
My father opened the door, recognizing Jash, he quickly slipped out the door, looking behind to see if anyone was watching.
“Jash, what is it?” He muttered, his voice suggesting that his presence was unwise.
“Tow.” Jash nodded. Tow was his nickname for my father, another mystery I was never able to unravel. “I have important news. The Glyph has called out an error and Mechel was in front of it.”
My father looked at me and then quickly back at Jash. His face grew pale. “No! What are you saying?”
“The boy isn’t the source of the error.” Jash said, gesturing to calm down. “We have an understanding though,” Jash paused for several moments, perhaps to emphasize what he was saying but maybe he was signaling my father of something they had agreed on long ago. “That the boy must go on an expedition to resolve the error. Creag has ordered that I arrange it and go with him.”
My father’s face went through a series of expressions from relief to confusion to increasing alarm.
“Jash, you know I can’t!” Father cut himself off.
Jash nodded, “You know that if there was a plague, Mechel and probably your whole family would be blamed. He would be killed and who knows what else would happen.”
Father looked down at the ground for a while. He tried to say something to Jash but nothing came out of his mouth. Finally he looked at me. “It’s best that you don’t come in. Wait here.” He said and slipped back into the house.
Inside I heard my mother asking who was at the door, then what was he doing. I didn’t hear an answer.
I looked up at the brightness of the sky and traced the curve of the world as it wrapped up around us. I tried to guess where we would be traveling to, a quarter of the way round the world. I could see the curve of the land as it stretched up above us, the whole world a sphere, and we, walking on it’s interior. Looking too far up, the sky’s brightness obscured the other side of the world, but through the brightness on the edge, I could make out lakes and forests of near where we would be going.
If there was a man out there, it was much too far away to see.
I heard father telling my mother to stay in the house. My heart sunk, I would not see her before leaving. Although it would avoid a great deal of trouble, I was crushed that I may not see her ever again and now I wouldn’t see her at all. I began to reconsider going.
Before I could do anything my father emerged from the door carrying a pack, his bow and spiral arrow, harvested from the horn of an Alk. It was his prized possession from his hunting days.
“Mechel, you’ll need these. Only use the spiral in an emergency, Jash will see that you have more arrows for common use. Remember what I taught you about handling a bow, you’re a good shot, but an animal moves when you fire an arrow at it. Lead your target, hold your breath on the draw. Jash can show you how.” Father said, speaking slowly and deliberately. He blinked away tears as he spoke.
I started to cry too. I hadn’t cried in front of my father since I was five years old. I felt embarrassed, but nether father or Jash scolded me as they would have normally.
“You need to go now before your mother tries to stop you. You’re a man now, too early.” He turned to Jash. “Take care of him, teach him.” He clapped his hand on Jash’s shoulder.
Jash nodded. “I will Tow, I’ll die before I let anything happen to the boy.” He looked back at the house and squinted. “I’ll take care of him.”
I hugged my father and we walked away, tears still rolling down my cheeks.
Jash now scolded me “Stop those tears, we have a lot to do before we depart and I can’t have the hunters see you crying.”
“Yes sir.” I said and did my best to stifle my tears.
As Jash lead me away, I turned back several times an watched my father slowly go from looking stunned, to leaning against the doorpost and slowly sliding down until he was sitting on the ground with his head in his hands.
“Sir, what is the understanding between you and my father.” I asked.
Jash looked at me sideways. “Mind your own business boy.” he said with a little less force than he usually addressed me with.
“Yes sir, but seeing as I’m somehow involved in that understanding, an’ I may not ever see my father or mother again on account of your stepping in and speaking up when the Mayor was done with me, it’d only be natural that it would be my business now.” I said.
Jash huffed. “That may be so.” he said and then fell silent again.
“Well sir?” I prompted.
“Things ain’t as simple as most people think. Out in the wild, there’s more than just beasts. You’ll see for yourself soon enough. Hush now, we’ll talk of it later, we’re going to see the sisters and I can’t have you asking questions with them around or they won’t come with us.” He said.
“You want the sisters to go with us? I thought they never go hunting with a man.” I said.
“That’s true, but they might agree to go out ahead of us. I’ve run into them on the trails before and we’ve helped each other.” Jash said.
We approached the great hunter’s hall. It was one of the ancient buildings, some say it was created at the same time the world was made. On the outside were markings in a language only a few in the village understood anymore. I happened to be one of those that could read the ancient text.
“Hunting Ground Visitor’s Center” was what the raised letters said that sat on the top of an overhang high on the building. The hunting center was immense and hummed with an odd aura.
“Welcome visitors, our facilities are at your disposal. Visit the provisioner and the armorer before you head out into the wild.” said a voice out of nowhere.
Jash put his hand over his heart. “Thank you Guardian of The Hunt. Bless our hunt today.”
I mimicked him in asking for a blessing, I put my hand over my heart and said the words “Thank you Guardian of The Hunt. Bless our hunt today.”
Of all men, the hunters seem to be the most superstitious, with rituals and blessings for everything they do. The Guardian of The Hunt was their patron. It is said that long ago, the provisioner and the armorer were given tools and weapons for hunting that could protect from an Alk’s charge or the venom of a Cerpant. Now she gave us nothing, permission had been denied.
The Visiter’s Center was built of a stone, harder than any other. No hammer would chip it, no paint would mark it. In the middle of the building, the main hall had four trees that lived, each one had it’s own glimmer of the animals out in the wild. From the trees, a mist would come down from the branches and in the mist, visions of animals. Because of this, the great hall was sacred, only those that were about to go out on a hunt were allowed to enter.
Jash stopped in front of the heavy double doors of the great hall. He raised his hand and touched them gently. A concerned look washed over his face.
“Sir?” I probed.
He shook his head. “Is this a hunt? It would be disrespectful to go out and kill a beast without following the traditional hunt preparations.” He sighed, “Yes, we should prepare for a traditional hunt.” He turned to me, “You will be the hunt master.”
I shook my head, “No sir! I can’t be hunt master, I’ve never been on a hunt before!”
He rubbed his beard, “Normally yes but you are the one hunting for the cause of the error the Glyph called out. You were closest to the Glyph so it falls to you to correct it. You’re the leader of this hunt, not me. I’m just here to assist.”
“But sir, I don’t even know what I’m looking for.” I objected.
He smiled, “A hunter finds what comes to him. A hunt master just makes sure the hunters are in the right place an’ they have what’s needed for the trip.”
“Honestly sir, I don’t know how to do any of that.” I said.
“That’s why I’m here to help you, I’m too old to be a hunt master and I’m far too old to be a hunter. I’ll advise you and you lead. Now mind me Mechel.” Jash said.
I breathed in hesitatingly. “Yes sir.” I answered.
“Good, I advise you that you will need the help of a small mobile hunting party. We can’t go lumbering around with thirty men or we’ll never get there in good time. I have mentioned getting the help of the sisters but we’ll need porters and at least two other hunters. Normally the first thing I’d tell you to make sure of is supplies, but tonight we need hunters more than an accurate tally of the food we’ll carry. The sisters don’t carry food with them anyhow.”
“Sir.” I started.
Jash gave an annoyed huff. “Mechel, your father said you were a man today, so stop calling me sir, like a boy. The hunters won’t respect you if you’re callin’ us ‘sir’ all the time.”
“Yes s. . . Mr. Malcrom. I mean, I understand Mr. Malcrom.” I said.
“Better.” He said and gave a faint smile.
“Do I pick the other hunters Mr. Malcrom?” I asked.
“You can try, but most times the hunters pick you. Unfortunately that means we’ll probably have a crew of young glory hounds that are looking for Alks. It would be wise to avoid them if you can. In our case, we’re headed way out into unproven land. There could be good hunting out there but we can’t guarantee it.” Jash said.
“How do I secure provisions?” I asked.
“We’re starting out with no funds for this trip so you’re right to worry about that but we need to move fast on recruiting. We’ll deal with the rest shortly.” He said.
We entered the banquet hall, where hunters and porters gathered. There hadn’t been a call for a hunt recently so there was only a dozen or so hanging on to the hope that someone would take them. Seeing Jash enter, the room began to stir.
“We’re not here for these ones.” Jash whispered to me.
We walked past the young would be hunters, some of them were just a little older than me.
Griegor Parish oversaw the banquet hall and knew the comings and goings of all the hunters. He sat cleaning out drinking cups. He was an enormous man, built like a wine barrel. His left leg was shattered when he was a young man and he now walked with a crutch. Even so, his ability to break up fights and toss out drunkards was legendary.
“Jash Malcrom you old dog, you’re not looking for a hunt are you?” Griegor asked.
“Griegor, It’s good to see you. I’m charged by Craeg with aiding Mr. Hill here in leading a hunt.” He said with quite a bit of amusement.
Griegor chuffed and shook his huge head. “What? Since when does Craeg appoint children to being hunt masters?”
“He does when the Glyph says there’s a hunt two hundred out.” Jash stated.
“Mr. Malcrom, that is not how it happened.” I objected.
Jash shot me a look that would usually be accompanied by “Quiet boy.”
“Mr. Hill is right of course, although that’s almost what happened. Griegor, the Glyph said there’s an error. It’s two hundred out and Mr. Hill was standing next to the Glyph so it’s gotta mean he’s connected somehow. We need to set up a small party to accompany us in a hunt for the cause of the error.” Jash said.
Griegor rocked on his bench visibly bothered.
“I need to know, are the sisters out?” Jash asked.
Griegor rolled his eyes and gaped his great bearded mouth. “Jash, you’re really off like bad cheese!” His face grew red and he stared at Jash disapproving. “You know they don’t want to see you!”
“They will now. Just tell me, are they in town or out?” Jash demanded.
Griegor sighed. “They came in two days ago.” He said and waved Jash away.
Jash turned to me. “Good. We’ll set you up at the table right there. When people come up to you, tell them about the hunt, but don’t go on talking them to death. If they aren’t interested we don’t want them. You don’t want anyone that doesn’t have a hunt under their belt, we already got one inexperienced member, we can’t take any more.”
“You’re just going to leave me to this? What about provisions?” I complained.
“Provisions are taken care of.” He winced. “More or less, I know how to get what we need. I’ve got to go and convince the sisters to join the hunt or we won’t be able to move fast enough. You’ll do fine.” He said as he slipped out of the room.
For two hours, I sat at the table. I was talked about by everyone in the room, but no one sat down to talk to me about the hunt. I began to realize Jash knew this would happen.
Janna and Ashlyn Tammin the sisters, entered the room quietly but they may as well had a trumpet blast herald their entry by the way the room reacted. For a moment attention was off of me and on them. Janna was older and rounder than Ashlyn, both had greying hair but they had a ferocious energy under complete calm that made them seem half their age. They were hunting when Jash and my father were little boys. Anyone else would have had to stop hunting long ago.
Silently they moved to my table and sat down. Jash entered behind them with a wide smile on his face.
“You’re Tow’s younger son? You have his eyes.” Janna said.
“Yes mam. . . Yes Miss Tammin.” I answered.
Janna eyed me warily. “And you’ve never been out in the wild before?”
“No Miss Tammin.” I said.
She spat on the floor. “Don’t call me that, call me Janna.” She said.
“You’ve never been outside the gate?” Ashlyn demanded.
“No, this will be my first hunt. I’m actually too young.” I answered bewildered.
They seemed reassured by this. I wondered why they wanted to make sure I hadn’t been hunting before. I would have thought they’d be looking for experience.
Janna slammed her hand down on the table. “We’ll enter the great hall and leave ahead of you tonight. We’ll meet you out on the trail.”
She turned to Jash. “You know our rules.”
“Good, we look forward to this.” Ashlyn said, smiling a terrifying grin as they both slipped out the door.
Suddenly five prospective hunters sat at my table with more standing around waiting to sit. I’m unclear as to how, but somehow word was already out and more hunters were showing up. After talking to thirty or more men some with half a dozen kills to their credit, Jash disapproving of nearly all of them, we selected three men and two porters. I had no idea why Jash wanted the men he did. They didn’t have the most kills and they didn’t seem to be qualified any more than the others.
We picked Morg Feder first. He hunted with a spear. He had been on five hunts, two as a porter and had two kills.
Next was Thain Jessop who carried a bow. He had been on sixteen hunts and had five kills.
Then we picked Lien Mills who had been on three hunts with one kill. He was a trapper.
Our porters were Hane and Dilan Russ, big muscle bound brothers that I had known from my street, good natured hard workers and quiet.
It seemed the rest of the dinning hall was confused by our choice of companions. There were many that had much better success in their hunts and many with more experience traveling far out into the wilds. The complaining started to turn bitter and Jash pulled me out of the room and brought me to the great hall.
“It’s best we got out of there. Some don’t take rejection well.” He said.
“We still haven’t arranged for provisions.” I objected.
Jash nodded. “You leave that to me. Go into the great hall and get some sleep. If you call out the name of the animal you want to hunt, the trees will show you that animal. Study it and how it moves.” He said as he guided me into the hall and shut the door.
“But!” I objected too late for him to hear me. “I’m not hunting an animal.”