Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Outtake from The Silver Wheel

Even though the published version of The Silver Wheel is very long, there were numerous scenes I had to cut. The experiences of Bryn and Cruthin during their man making ritual were some of the scenes left out. Since these scenes reveal a lot about Bryn and Cruthin's personalities, I thought readers might enjoy a glimpse into their worlds:

The darkening forest was full of sounds. The flap of wings and restless twitters as chaffs, finches and sparrows roosted in the treetops. The rustle of leaves as squirrels and mice settled into their burrows. The faint, stealthy movements of the night hunters—fox, wildcat and wolf prowling with soundless footsteps among the deadwood. An owl glided from branch to branch in the treetops overhead, like a pale shadow of death, and Bryn thought about how terrified a child would be to find themselves alone here. But he wasn’t a child. He was a man, or at least he would be soon, after he made his first kill.

He forced himself to ignore the anxiety squeezing his stomach. By dawn, he must have his weapon made and be in position in the alder bushes by the stream. It was no easy thing to get close enough to bring down a deer with a spear, especially the great stag he had chosen as his quarry.

At the thought of it, nervousness gave way to excitement and anticipation. He had no intention of settling for some modest beast for his first kill. Nay, he would bring back a spectacular quarry, something that would make his family and the whole tribe take notice. They must see him as so brave and valiant and cunning that they would know what an absurd waste it was for him to train as a Learned One, spending his days in study and quiet contemplation in the oak grove, his nights calling down the gods in boring rituals. He had so much more to offer the tribe, and his father, Tarbelinus, would finally realize that. He would have to.

Bryn allowed himself to savor the image of his triumph, to picture the stunned amazement on his father's face as he presented him with the massive antlered head of the forest king. It would be sweet, so sweet. In that moment, all of the Tarisllwyth clan would know him as a man, a warrior and someday, their future chieftain.

He exhaled deeply, then forced himself to push aside thoughts of glory. There was much to do yet. He still hadn’t found the right size ash branch for making his spear. Once he found the proper bough, he must whittle and shape it, using his small eating knife, the only weapon a boy was allowed to take when he went off into the woods for his man-making trial.

Bryn started walking again, taking long, man-length strides. The gods had favored him and given him the tall, broad-shouldered build of a warrior. He felt sorry for Cruthin, who was still small and slight, even though he had passed fourteen winters, two more than Bryn. As he reached the stand of ash trees and began searching for a straight, narrow branch to make into a spear, Bryn wondered what Cruthin was doing right now. Cruthin had boasted he meant to bring down not a prey animal, but a wolf or a wildcat. He would skin the animal and make their hide into a cloak, he said, so all the tribe would know his skill and prowess as a hunter.

Bryn's mouth twitched in amusement at the memory of his fellow student's bold words. Cruthin was clever, but there was more to hunting than cleverness. Bryn doubted Cruthin knew a thing about making a spear, how to choose the right wood, the proper length of the shaft, any of those things. Unlike Bryn, who stayed and listened to the men as they gathered around the hearth and talked of weapons and hunting strategy, Cruthin always left after the evening meal in the chieftain's hall was finished.

Nay, Cruthin didn't know anything about bringing down a predator. Besides, even the men of the tribe didn’t hunt such animals without dogs. It would be futile. Cruthin might manage to kill something, but it would be nothing compared to Bryn’s own prize. He would be the hero, the champion. Even Sirona would take notice of him.

He exhaled a sigh of longing. Beautiful Sirona, with her butter-colored hair and soft blue eyes, her flower-like face and fine, slim body. She hadn’t had her woman-making ceremony yet, but it must come soon. To him, she already seemed a woman, full of mystery and beguilement. He'd been trying to gain her attention and regard for almost a year, but she hardly seemed to notice. He needed to find a way to win her admiration, and making his first kill a magnificent one seemed the perfect means.

It all came down to this night, he thought as excitement and apprehension suffused his body. With sweaty hands, he began to examine ash branches, searching for the perfect, magic bough that would yield to him all his dreams.


* * *

The wolf was close. Cruthin could sense its spirit in the darkness. Lying in a thicket, his eyes closed and his body rigid with concentration, he reached out with his thoughts and sought to merge his own spirit with the wolf's.

He could feel its aloneness. No longer did it run with a pack, but struggled to find food on its own. There were vague memories of its former life—the comfort of other furry bodies rubbing against its own, shared smells, the joyous cries of the pack's voice echoing through the forest. But that was gone now. All that was remained was hunger, the raw, desperate urge to survive.

And pain. A throbbing ache moved up the animal's front leg, making each step agony. The injured limb emitted an odor that made the wolf uneasy, reminding it of carrion. But hunger drove it on, the instinct to hunt overriding everything.

Cruthin used that instinct to draw the animal towards him. He could hear it now, limping through the forest, gaining speed despite its damaged leg. He willed the wolf to smell meat, fresh and warm, oozing with blood. His spirit touched the wolf's and his thoughts entered its animal mind, tantalizing it with the scent of food. Saliva filled its mouth in anticipation and it increased its pace to a rapid, stealthy lope.

Lying in a trance in the thicket, Cruthin remained motionless. In the part of his mind not connected with the wolf's, he was aware of the danger he had evoked. He must draw the wolf close enough to kill it. If he came out of his trance too soon, the animal would realize it had been tricked and run away. But if he waited too long, he would become the wolf's victim. The power he felt in drawing the wolf must be balanced by an awareness of his own vulnerability.

Intoxicating to be part of an animal's world. The night forest a blur of grays. Innumerable odors and sounds everywhere. Dizzying speed. The wolf's spirit and his own as one. He was the wolf, chasing down its prey. Every muscle, every nerve poised. Panting, dripping jaws ready to snap shut upon the victim. Thick neck muscles ready to jerk and tear. Keen nose already smelling the sweet nectar of blood. Lolling tongue tasting the ecstasy of meat.

A thin thread connected Cruthin to his body lying in the thicket. He was barely aware of his own self, that he was the focus of the savage sensations that filled his consciousness.

And then the wolf smelled the true scent of his prey, instead of the phantom odors Cruthin had sent it. Man. Danger. The enemy. The wolf slowed.

In that moment, the spell was broken and Cruthin was back in his body. He could smell the wolf, its sharp, wild dog-scent. It circled the thicket, whining softly. Cruthin struggled to make his limbs move. His spirit seemed trapped in the trance.

The beast thrust its face into the thicket and growled. Cruthin tried to open his eyes, to jerk away. Hot, reeking breath covered him. Fear innervated Cruthin's body and his eyes fluttered open. In the near darkness he could barely make out the animal's form. The beast was inches away from him, panting heavily. In a pack, it would follow the lead of the others. But now it was uncertain. Fear or hunger—which instinct to obey?

Hunger was stronger. The wolf lunged, mouth open, fangs flexed.

Instinct also guided Cruthin's hand as it thrust upward with the knife. The knife blade grazed the wolf's head as huge teeth sank into the flesh of his upper arm. Screaming with pain and dread, Cruthin twisted and broke the animal's hold, then rolled farther away. His heart raced, his breath pumped like a smith's bellows. He fumbled for the knife he had dropped, fearing he had only seconds until the beast attacked again. The wolf had tasted blood. It would not give up now. At last he located the knife and picked it up. Blood poured down his arm and made his grip slippery. He stood and began to shout at the wolf, trying to scare it off.

It would not leave. Next it would go for his throat. The animal was quicker, stronger, had every advantage. All he had were his wits. But he dare not try to merge his thoughts with wolf's. The concentration required would make him slow and clumsy if the animal decided to attack. Sorcery could not help him. He was no better off than the other boys now. Alone in the forest with only a small knife for protection. Only a slim, puny blade between him and brutal, agonizing death. For a fleeting moment, the irony of his situation struck him. He might well have conjured his own end.


* * *


Bryn sighed with relief as he spotted his spear. He bent down and picked up the weapon, then held it out and admired its fine, deadly tip. If his hunt hadn’t been interrupted to rescue Cruthin, he might even now be using the weapon to carry the head of the great stag back to the dun.

Cruthin. What a fool. How could he have thought he could take on a full-grown wolf and prevail? He would be lucky to survive his injury. Even if he did, his arm might be permanently damaged. Cruthin’s whole future now depended upon the healing skills of Nesta, Sirona’s grandmother.

But in one way Cruthin had been fortunate. If Bryn hadn’t almost literally stumbled upon him, Cruthin would have a bled to death right here. Bryn grimaced as he glanced down at the blood-stained, trampled area where he'd found the other youth. Cruthin had still been conscious, but only barely. He'd moaned something and used his good hand to point in the direction of a large thorn bush. Bryn had been too concerned with getting Cruthin to the dun to investigate. But now that he was back here, he might as see what Cruthin had been pointing to.

Behind the thornbush, Bryn discovered a pool of blood. He followed the trail of blood until he found the body of a wolf about twenty paces into the bushes. A knife protruded from one of the animal's eye sockets. Bryn stared at the dead beast in amazement. "Cruthin, you did it," he whispered. The animal was extremely thin, its fur dull and mange-ridden. But it was a full-grown beast and a worthy prize for any hunter.

A sudden thought came to Bryn. He could pretend he had made the kill. It was more than possible Cruthin would die. He had lost a lot of blood and the wound would likely turn putrid and weaken him even more. If Cruthin never roused, no one would ever know he had succeeded in killing the wolf. Even if Cruthin did survive, Bryn could claim Cruthin had only injured the wolf and he’d tracked the animal and finished it off.

For a moment he tantalized himself with the thought of returning to the dun with the wolf's pelt draped over his shoulders. Then he pushed the idea away. No matter what anyone else believed, he would know he hadn’t killed the wolf. The idea of living with that secret weighing upon his spirit seemed much worse than having to spend another night in the forest, or even having to settle for a less impressive kill.

He dipped his fingers in the wolf's blood and scattered the sticky droplets on the ground. As he did so, he said a prayer to Cernunnos: "Thank you, great lord of the animals, for this kill. And favor me in my own hunt. Send the stag king into my pathway. If you do so, I will accord you a portion of every kill I make for the rest of my life."

Bryn sighed and wiped his hands on his tunic. Then, leaving the wolf where it lay, he took his spear and started down the path to the river. He was so tired, his legs didn't seem connected to his body and his eyes felt as if they had sand in them. But he stumbled on. If he could reach the river, he could wait there in his hiding spot as he had the morning before. It might be hours before any game came down to drink. In the meantime, he could sleep and try to regain his strength.


* * *


Bryn woke and came instantly alert. Something was moving around near the hazel thicket where he lay. He prayed it was the stag, come down to drink at the river. Stealthily, he picked up the spear lying beside him and rose to a crouching position.

Nay, it was not the stag. The animal moving along the riverbank was much smaller than the king of the forest. But it didn’t really matter what sort of prey was out there. This might be his only chance to make a kill. He'd have to burst out of the thicket ready to thrust his spear into the first target he encountered.

Bide your time. Be patient. See if the animal will come any closer. Bryn told himself these things even as his muscles throbbed with tension and his breathing quickened. It was agony to wait like this. For all he knew, the animal might be moving away from him. He might have lost his chance—again.

But he could still hear shuffling sounds. He strained his ears, trying to pinpoint the exact direction the noise was coming from. It seemed to be behind him. Impossible to turn around in this cramped space. He'd have to keep waiting.

He glanced up at the sky, visible through the green gold foliage of the hazel bushes, and tried to gauge what how early it was. There were still streaks of pink in the overcast sky. Not much past dawn, but most animals sought water early, before it was truly light. He might have only a few moments before all the potential prey returned to the forest.

Despair washed over him. He could scarcely bear the thought of another day here, without food, futilely following a game trail into the deep woods, where in the deceptive realm of shadows and dappled sunlight, the animals had every advantage.

But if he had to, he had to. He could no more go back to the dun empty-handed than he would settle for some puny, insignificant kill. Somehow he must bring down a substantial, respectable animal. Either that, or he would starve in the woods!

Once again, he thought of claiming Cruthin's wolf as his kill. But it was too late now. It would be obvious to anyone the animal had been dead a while. He'd have to come up with some story to explain why he hadn’t brought it back the day before. Another lie weighing on his spirit.

What was that? The animal was coming back. He could hear it. It sounded low to the ground, relatively small. But not some scurrying, pathetic little rodent. It made too much noise for that.

He waited as long as he could, then tightened his grip on the spear. With one smooth movement, he jumped up and sprang out of the thicket. The small boar had no chance to turn and run before the spear rammed into its body. It gave a shrieking squeal and writhed wildly. In seconds it was dead.

Bryn gazed down at his kill. A half-grown piglet. Old enough to be on its own and feed away from its mother, but hardly the dazzling prize he'd longed to bring home. Yet, a boar was respectable enough prey. If he hadn’t killed it, this small beast might someday have grown large enough to be dangerous. It wasn’t unheard of for men to be killed by boars.

Consoling himself with those thoughts, he bent over and braced his foot on the animal's body and yanked his spear out. There was a little gush of blood. Gazing into the boar's dark, sightless eye, Bryn felt pity mingled with a sense of power. He had taken this animal's life, turned it from a living, breathing creature into a carcass that would quickly be consumed. It was an awesome and rather terrifying thing he had done. Although the tribe hunted, butchered cattle and sacrificed a yearling bullock several times a year, this was the first time Bryn himself had killed anything with his own hands.

He dropped the spear and dipped his fingers in the pool of blood, then made a prayer to Cernunnos. "Let me be worthy of this kill," he told the god as he sprinkled the blood upon the ground. "And bequeath upon me its spirit, so that I might be as fearless in life and someday die as bravely."

Satisfied that he had shown proper respect, both to his prey and to the god of the beasts, Bryn slit the boar's belly and cleaned the carcass before spitting it on his spear to carry back to the dun. 

It was a long walk back. He had to stop and shift the spear several times so it didn't press so deeply into his shoulder. The boar carcass felt like a great sack of rocks. By the time he reached the dun, sweat was dripping down his body and each step was an act of will.

Somehow he made it to the feast hall, where his mother and her women were gathered. Rhyell rushed to greet him. "Thank the gods you are safe." She looked at the carcass slung over his shoulder. "And you've killed a boar! By Anu, you might have been hurt"

Bryn made a face. She was treating him like a child.

"Put it down and come to the hearth. I have some stew simmering. I'm certain you are hungry…and tired as well. As soon as you've eaten, you should rest until it is time for the ceremony and feast."

"I must take the boar to my father and show him what I have done,” Bryn responded.

At that moment Tarbelinus entered the hall. With a huge sigh of relief, Bryn approached Tarbelinus. Sliding the boar from his shoulders, he inclined head to his father and said, "I bring the tribe my first kill. I offer its meat to feed my kin and clansmen, but I ask the use of its hide to make myself a shield to use in defending Tarisllwyth territory against invaders."

Tarbelinus glanced at the hide. "You may have the hide," his father answered, "But I would suggest you have Dergo make it into a ceremonial satchel. As a drui you will have no use for a shield."

Bryn stared at his father, almost faint with despair. All that effort and struggle and still his father would not relent! If he had been able to bring back the great stag, then Tarbelinus would have been unable refuse him. It was Cruthin's fault he had failed.

But no, he told himself as he sank down on one of the benches. He would not blame Cruthin. That would be weak and unmanly, almost as bad as taking credit for the other youth’s kill. He would find some other way to convince his father he was meant to be a warrior. He would not relinquish his dream.