I just posted a 10,000 word novella on Amazon. The story is an American Indian fantasy that involves a young brave fighting a monster for the return of his lover. There's a bit of history in the story, but it's mostly fun and a lot of action. I really enjoyed getting to write animal spirits as characters.
Here's a link to the novella.
And here's an excerpt:
Wearing buckskin breeches, his chest painted red, the warrior stepped unannounced from the forest, a shadow lifted from the shifting fog only by throwing the tomahawk at Taregan. The weapon flipped and the sharp steel head glistened.
Burdened by the weight of the buck deer across his shoulders, Taregan staggered for an instant, then twisted and dodged. The spinning weapon chopped into the brush behind the young brave as he dropped the deer.
“We have an enemy among us!” The painted warrior melted back into the fogbound forest.
“Who?” Another man’s voice rolled through the trees a little farther away.
Taregan folded into the brush as his father and his grandfather had taught him. Since he had been a young boy in the tribe, he had been trained in the paths of the warrior and the hunter.
Feeling the rough tree bark at his back, Taregan listened to the soft footfalls of the hidden warriors. Taregan wasn’t prepared to make war; he’d been hunting to provide for his family and the strength of the tribe.
“Is the Algonquin alone?”
Listening to the man’s voice, Taregan knew the timbre was different from the first two. Three enemies moved through the forest.
Taregan slid his deer sinew bowstring from the pouch at his waist, looped an end of the string over one end of the bow and dropped that end to the top of his moccasin. With practiced ease, he bent the bow and finished stringing it. Taking shallow breaths, he offered a silent entreaty to Bear, the spirit totem of his tribe, asking for patience and for strength to kill his enemies and warn his people.
“He’s alone,” the first warrior replied.
Wary and alert, tracking the warrior’s voice, Taregan slipped an arrow from his quiver. He kept the bow low and out of sight as he hunkered down and moved through the brush.
“He’s just a boy,” the warrior said, and Taregan knew the man intended to hurt and frighten with his words, just as the man intended to kill him if the chance presented. “He’s not old enough to be much of a warrior.”
Taregan wore fringed deerskin leggings, a breechcloth, and moccasins. The sash around his waist held his tomahawk at his right hip and the scabbarded scalping knife at his left.
The first Erielhonan warrior slid through the forest and stopped at a fallen tree. Taregan recognized the tribal enemy from the painted marks his foe wore. A chill trembled through the young brave. The Erielhonan sometimes carried poisoned arrows into battle.
Cautious as a beaver leaving the water to travel treacherous dry ground, the Erielhonan man rose from behind the tree.
“Has the coward fled?” one of the other warriors demanded.
Lifting the bow and drawing the arrow fletchings back to his jawline, Taregan stepped from the trees. The Erielhonan warrior turned to face the young Algonquin brave.
The Erielhonan man started to yell, but Taregan released the bowstring. The arrow darted as swift and lethal as a diving hawk taking a fish. Following the chipped flint arrowhead through the Erielhonan warrior’s throat, the ash shaft sank to the turkey feather fletchings.
The warrior fell, clawing at the arrow in his throat.
Taregan remained low to the ground, like a rabbit evading a hunting eagle’s sharp claws. The swirling fog took him in as he nocked another arrow to bowstring. Here in the deepest part of the forest, the shadows remained thick and dark even under a noonday sun.
Taregan ran parallel to the crest of the last hill before the lush river valley where his tribe had built their village even before the time of his grandfather’s grandfather. During that time, the Algonquins had warred with the Erielhonans over the ease of access the land provided to the river. Neither tribe claimed ownership to the land, which was an unheard of concept until the coming of the white man from the great ocean to the east and the strange lands beyond, but the sachems of both the Algonquins and the Erielhonans believed their gods had blessed them with the rights of hunting and fishing in the area. They could not live in peace.
Until now, the Erielhonans had reluctantly stayed away from Taregan’s people. As the young brave scanned the fog-shrouded forest around him, he wondered what had upset the balance between the tribes.
Even as quiet as he traveled, Taregan frightened a young doe from hiding. With awkward grace on too-long legs, a fawn with a spotted rump followed her mother down the hillside away from the men. The young brave froze, knowing if the two Erielhonan warriors had much experience they would do the same. Movement attracted a warrior’s eye when he stalked the death ground.
“That was a deer,” one man said.
“I saw her,” the other warrior said. “Perhaps when we finish this day, we can track her.”
“We already have the deer the boy left us.”
“We will take the other deer as well, to prove to the old ones how good the hunting is in this land.”
Listening carefully, Taregan placed the two warriors. One was behind and the other was uphill, between him and his home. Moving with quiet ease, the young brave traveled along the brush line. No leaf shivered to mark his passage.
Taregan approached the crest of the hill at an oblique angle, taking advantage of the thick brush. The ground, softened from the heavy rains only two days ago, shifted beneath his moccasins. If they caught his trail, he knew they could follow him.
As he went, Taregan’s mind wrestled with the questions the presence of the Erielhonan war party raised. If the group had only been a small band of hunters, they would have marked themselves with hunter’s paint instead of war paint. In the before time, before today and before the white man had come into the land and spread like a disease, the Erielhonan had not painted themselves so garishly. But they had found in their trading and in their warring with the Europeans that vivid paint colors and symbols struck fear into the hearts of the newcomers.
And if these Erielhonans made up a war party, had they come to murder lone Algonquin hunters? Or were they only a few of a much larger group?
The cover provided by the brush ended midway up the hillside. In time past, the river had sheared through the small valley on the other side of the hill from the deeper valley. The current had sloughed off part of the hillside, leaving a deep, crooked scar of bedrock.
The barren strip of land offered no protection.
Taregan halted behind the brush with an arrow nocked and the bow across his knees. The fog swirled like capering spirits across the naked strip of land. Rabbits, mice, and squirrels might never leave one side of the forest for the other and live out their whole lives there, knowing they risked exposure to predators if they crossed the barren strip.
Scanning the forest on the other side, Taregan knew the area was a good place for an ambush. If he’d had the chance, he might have used the place as such.
Nothing moved. No birds sang. The feathered and furred forestfolk knew that death walked among them.
If Taregan had known his family and his village were safe—if he had known that Kaliska, the young woman he had offered his heart to, was safe—he would have hunkered down into the woodlands and forced the Erielhonan warriors to seek him out at their own risk. But he didn’t know those things.
Offering a prayer to his gods, Taregan touched the deerskin medicine bag on his cougar claw necklace. The young brave hoped that all the skill and luck his grandfather had woven into the medicine were still strong.
Taregan exploded from the brush, driving his legs hard against the soft ground, feeling his moccasins sink in the soft earth till he reached the unyielding bedrock. The other side of the forest offered protection less than thirty feet away.
The Erielhonan warrior emerged from the sheltering girth of a white-barked poplar with a bow in his hands and took deliberate aim.
Never breaking stride, Taregan shifted his aim and let the arrow fly. The arrows crossed each other in mid-flight. Before Taregan could drop the bow, the Erielhonan shaft took him high in the upper chest. His own arrow skidded off a branch over his enemy’s head.
“He is here,” the warrior yelled.
As he dropped the bow to one side and the pain and fear of his wound seared his mind, Taregan lifted the steel-bladed tomahawk from his sash. He pushed through the pain, watching as the Erielhonan warrior dropped his bow and reached for the tomahawk at his side.
Only feet from his enemy, Taregan leaped and collided with his opponent, driving them both to ground. Taregan felt the arrow in his shoulder snap. His arm felt sluggish as he rolled to his feet. Pain gnawed at the edges of his conscious mind.
Sliding the tomahawk’s shaft through his fingers, he gripped the end of the handle so his blow would be most powerful. He stepped toward the Erielhonan warrior, who had come to his feet as well and blocked the tomahawk blow.
Taller and thicker than Taregan, the Erielhonan warrior disengaged his tomahawk and stepped forward. A cruel grin twisted his lips.
Taregan retreated, blocking his enemy’s merciless blows, then stepped to the left, lowered his tomahawk and caught the Erielhonan warrior’s lifted right foot with the underside of his blade. Taregan yanked upward, pulling his opponent’s leg backward, turning and setting himself, sweeping a high kick to the back of his opponent’s head, tripping him and driving him to the ground. Before the Erielhonan warrior could push himself from the ground, Taregan smashed his tomahawk into the back of the man’s skull. Bone crunched. The Erielhonan shivered and lay still.
Rising at once, Taregan transferred his tomahawk to his left hand, then pulled the broken stub of the arrow through his shoulder. The shaft had gone through his flesh and scraped bone, but he knew that he would live and heal.
“Where is he?” the surviving Erielhonan demanded.
“Your friend is dead.” Taregan took a fresh grip on his tomahawk as. Cold, gray tendrils of fog swept in as if drawn by the warm blood running down his upper body.
“You will die, too, boy,” the Erielhonan shouted. “Our shaman has made peace with the Serpent of the Lakes and joined the monster to our struggle against the Algonquin. Even now a war party journeys to your village.”
Kneeling, Taregan grabbed moss from a nearby tree. Gritting his teeth against the burning pain, Taregan shoved moss into the two wounds the arrow had made. He hoped the arrowhead had not been poisoned. The moss would leave scars, but for now the wounds were plugged to slow the bleeding.
Ever watchful, the young brave made his way to the hilltop and ran, stretching out his stride the way his father had taught him when they had run wounded deer to ground. The fog chilled his skin, but fear fired his heart.
“Run, boy,” the Erielhonan warrior yelled. “Run, but you’re too late.” His mocking laughter filled the emerald green forest around Taregan.