Friday, December 09, 2005

Fiction, Forest Walker by Craig Smith

Forest Walker
By Craig Smith
Copyright (c) 2005 by Craig Smith

Today was practice day.

Betro went zooming across the well-beaten track, speeding through the forest. Trees flashing past him, in a blur of green, brown and yellow. Betro then swerved around the corner, dashed across a bridge and came to a skidding halt. Producing a storm of dust that wafted away down the track. Betro never got bored with the practice track. It was always slightly different to the day before. The best for Betro was when; it had rained the morning or night before. There would be huge puddles to go splashing through, and skidding around a muddy corner was a whole lot more fun. He was pretty sure that his beast Slyther, a giant cat like creature, which was purple in color and had four huge paws, liked it as well. Besides the mud gave the cat an excuse to go play in the river afterwards.

If Slyther wasn’t with Betro, at the track or lazing about in town, she was at the river splashing around with some of the other beasts.

"What was my time?" asked Betro jumping off the back of his beast, trying to catch his breath. Even though Slyther did most of the work, it was still quite a workout for Betro.

"Your were a fraction better, then your all time best; but there was still some room for improvement," said Tootoro who had been sitting on a rotting tree stump, waiting for Betro to finish the course. Betro knew that lap times didn’t matter that much in the race. When it came to rider against rider and beast against beast but he felt that it was good to have a time anyway. That way when he was in the race he would know if he could do better or not.

"Wahoo! I beat my all time best?" asked Betro.

"Yes, by three seconds," said Tootoro not even having another look at his sand-timer. Tootoro was Betro’s best friend and trainer, if it wasn’t for him, Betro would most probably be in bed, dozing away, Betro liked to sleep and leave things to the last minute but Tootoro was always there to coax him along.

"I couldn’t have done it with out Slyther," said the blue skinned boy stroking his giant cat like creature. The big cat then turned towards the way they had just came, and let out a low growl. Betro knew this was a warning. Over the years the pair of them had learnt to watch out for each other’s backs.

When Slyther was a little kitten, some big bear of a beast trampled her. Her leg had been broken. At that point some of his friends had suggested that he end the ‘thing’s’ life and start over but Betro stuck with the cat and they both pulled through. Betro thought it will worth it. He would bet any money in the world that he had a tighter bond with his beast then any other rider in town.

Betro and Tootoro turned as they heard someone coming down the track, towards them. It could only be another racer.

"I thought we had the track to ourselves," said Betro, pulling Slyther off the track. His leather and seashell gloved hand pulling on the cat’s reins. His other gloved hand went up and brushed away his too long yellow hair. He was planing to get cut before the big race. The main reason why he had grown his hair long was because he felt that it made him look older then he really was, but it sure got in the way.

"Me too," said Tootoro getting up off his seat. He stretched his hands out towards the mid-afternoon sky. Tootoro was a paler blue then Betro. He spent hardly much time outside, and if they had any training to do Tootoro would normally wear a hat but the day was cool and partly overcast.

A racer and his beast then came rushing around the bend, and within moments they recognized that it was Dorgo and his creature Iguaga, which was a giant green lizard. The darkly dressed youth named Dorgo skidded to a halt, in front of Betro and Tootoro. Iguaga was baring its teeth, at Slyther. Iguaga and Slyther didn’t like each very much and had many encounters before, some resulting in small fights that had to be broken up with a lot of coaxing and shouting. But Slyther had grown bored of fighting her opponent and found other ways of tormenting the lizard like Iguaga. Like at that moment she was staring away pretending that Iguaga wasn’t there and when Dorgo turned his head away, she would pull a tongue. This vexed Iguaga immensely but was unable to do anything about it because Dorgo always had Iguaga on a short leash.

"You’re wasting your time you know that?" said Dorgo looking down at them, literally and figuratively speaking.

"You wish, Dorgo," said Betro, puffing out his chest, and staring darkly at Dorgo "Slyther and I are ready for you."

"We’ll see about that."

Betro, Slyther and Tootoro then spent the next few days preparing for the big race, spending almost every day training or going over the course. Tootoro also put both of them on high-energy diets. Betro and Slyther didn’t like the taste of the stuff Tootoro put before them but they didn’t complain. There were a lot of other people training for the race too and it was quite hard to find a place where you could train in peace.

The whole town was a buzz with the upcoming race. With many choosing their favorites, and many placing sizeable bets on them to win. And it was the general consensus that Dorgo was the favorite. He was the reining champion after all. Betro also had quite a few supporters backing him too. And there were several other contenders challenging for the championship and grand prize. It was the biggest ever. A brand new house and free food for a whole year. Betro was especially excited about this year’s race because it was the twenty-fifth anniversary since the first ever beast rider race. It was the big one everyone wanted to win. Just about everybody in town was excited, and just about all of them had someone in the race or knew someone in the race.

During the last few days before the race, the race organizers prepared the track, placing markers and barriers. The day of the race then came around, with more then half the town spread around the course of the track, which ran through forests, desert and swamp areas. There was even said to be some people who made the trek from out of town. It was a thing that didn’t happen very often, except for trade wagons. Some of the out-of-towners mentioned, that there was increased activity coming in the desert area, some of the people even said that they had been robbed, reportedly by the nomadic raiders. But these reports were ignored because nobody had seen any of the nomads for a long time. Decades had passed since their last raid, and most weren’t worried because the nomads had almost been wiped out. When they had last attacked the town. Betro had heard stories that the raids on the town had been getting worse and worse until it got so bad that the townspeople got fed up and decided to fight back and planed an ambush for the nomads. A lot of townsfolk lost their lives that day, but they thought it worth it to be rid of the nomads and their often-brutal raids.

The competitors were eagerly waiting by the starting line. All seventy-eight of them. The beasts growling at each other. Their owners were also, flinging more then a few insults around. The air was tense around the area. Betro was near the middle of the pack, his stomach in knots. Betro was worried for himself and Slyther; many competitors had been badly injured in previous events, some of the riders had even been killed or knocked off their mounts. His muscles were sore with the amount of tension that was running through his body. Betro was a bit surprised that he seemed to relax, after the trumpet had been blown to signal the start of the race. That was when the real scrambling started, with the beasts shoving and pushing their way forward. Now that the race had started he didn’t feel that bad anymore, it was just up to him and no one could get in the way to mess up his chances.

The wind whistled past his ears. Betro looked left and right, beasts and riders were clawing their way forwards.

The first stretch of the course was flat and wide. It was there to give the racers a chance to spread out a bit, before they hit the first narrow bend. Betro made his way up to the top ten, Slyther’s agile body ducking and diving past the others. They then hit the obstacle-course part of the track where they had to jump off wooden logs into big pools of water and mud; some of the riders didn’t land properly and were soon trampled by the others. Betro had Slyther had a close call on one of the jumps, when they jumped too early. Landed in the mud and lost a lot of traction.
"Move it!" shouted Betro. Flicking his reins.

A rider landed next to them; almost covering them head to toe with a wave of mud. Another beast then landed on Slyther’s back, claws first; Slyther roared and dashed forward. Slyther took a swipe at the offending beast after they had caught up with it.

"Hey watch it!" shouted the racer. Betro, hardly hearing the other’s voice, over the rush of the wind.

Betro didn’t reply. He gritted in his rebukes, laid down low and urged Slyther on even faster.

While Betro was doing this he caught a glimpse of Dorgo. His main rival was already at the next bend far ahead of everyone else.

"How does he do that?" Betro asked himself, ducking under the swing of a vicious club. Betro looked back at the rider who had taken a swing at him, it was the butcher’s son, the big bully of the town. Betro was shocked. He thought that the officials had clamped down on that sort of thing. The butcher’s son and another goon of rider then broke out in a fight, after they collided with each other at the bend. Betro luckily steered clear. He knew that their chances of getting to the end were now very slim. He would be surprised if both of them got back to the village alive.
The race was fought back forth this way, for about twenty minutes before they emerged from the forest and out into the desert area, which was featureless, except for the shifting dunes of sand. And Dorgo was nowhere to be seen. Betro had lost a few places and was now thirteenth or fourteenth, when he went over a dune with a few others. They almost collided with a few of the leaders who had stopped in front them. Betro wondered why they had stopped but he soon found out why, there were a whole lot of riders in front of them, standing in the little valley below. These riders were facing them and it didn’t look like that they wanted to race. Sitting on their beasts with swords in their hands. He could tell that they weren’t taking part in the race.

"The nomadic raiders!" whispered Betro but that wasn’t the most shocking thing because standing in front them was Dorgo. Betro’s mind reeled, what was happening? What was Dorgo up to? The opposing riders then started to howl and shout out, as if they were getting ready to charge. Dorgo then put up his hand and called for calm. The nomads stopped almost instantly. What hold did Dorgo have over these fighters? And what was his reason for this? Most of all Betro was worried about the race, would they be able to carry on? He doubted it. This brought up anger in Betro. The race was ruined and his chances of becoming famous or respected person in the town were dashed.

And then the pieces fell together in Betro’s mind; Dorgo had always been an outcast, bullied by the other children because of his darker blue skin and unusual features that were similar too those of the nomads that were around him. Betro knew that the race was over. These raiders were here to fight.

"What is the meaning of this? Who are you brutes?" asked Mace, one of the bolder villagers. He forced his bear like beast to the forefront. Mace had respect. He was an ex-champion and had been the mayor of the town for some years. This was the kind of respect Betro was after.

"These brutes are my people," said Dorgo. "And we will not suffer in silence anymore," said Dorgo.

"What does this have do with us or the race?" asked Mace. Betro felt sorry for Mace, this was his last race. The older man had vowed to retire, after this race, but now his memories would be blemished by this interruption.

"It has everything, to do with it. While you enjoy yourselves, my people suffer, reliving the day your town killed most of our people."

An older man in the gathering crowd of racers came forward. "I was there on that day and it was not our fault, your people raided our town, stole our live stock, killed our men and took away our women," said the older man almost spitting.

"Enough of your talk old man, we didn’t come here to discuss, we came here to fight," said Dorgo, looking up down the line of fearsome riders and beasts that made up the nomadic raider party. Betro looked at the beasts closely, some were truly fearsome, and four of them even rode around on the backs of scorpions. And the weapons! Betro hadn’t seen such ghastly things in his life, some had skewers on them while others sported horrible looking spikes. Betro couldn’t but think that the nomads had spent a lot of time preparing for this day.

"For years we have built up our strength and now we will use our new strength to kill you all, and take your town for our own." Dorgo then blew on a horn, which made the very air vibrate around them. The lightly clothed raiders then charged forward, their various weapons raised in the air.

The old man and Mace then raised their crude weapons and charged too, they weren’t prepared for battle, but this didn’t matter, they had their way of life to protect. Even though the use of weapons were banned most still carried them just incase but none of the racer’s weapons were as sharp or finely tuned as they raiders’ were. They weren’t going to give up their families and homes without a fight. Betro had subconsciously backed away from the front of the racers, unsure what to do, watching as some of the officials were cut down. The first ones to go. Betro didn’t know what was going on, who were these people? And why were they attacking us? A Nomadic Raider was a thing of myth, monsters that got you, if you wondered off on your own or didn’t do your homework. And why was Dorgo their leader? A boy who had been raised by the church, to love and care for things.

The one thing he did know was that he wasn’t going let these raiders destroy his people or take his town. Betro wasn’t particularly happy about them ruining the race either, he had spent months preparing, it was only his third race and he had felt that he had a good chance this time around. So he went back into the forest, got off Slyther and went searching for a heavy branch. It didn’t take him, too long to find one. He first tested it, it felt light, but it could still carry one a hell of a wallop. Betro then raced back towards the frontlines, passing a few the riders that were running away or rushing back to town warn the people there. And when he went back over the hill, he saw a full-scale battle raging, with beasts and riders, fighting each other viciously. He could see that Mace was fighting Dorgo and his lizard, Mace was fighting hard but it looked as though he was losing. So Betro made his way forward through the battle, avoiding getting tangled up with the other riders, as much as possible.

Mace was dead. An axe sticking out of his forehead. Betro hadn’t been fast enough. Mace’s beast was gone.

Betro attacked Dorgo. He hoped going for their leader would boost their chances. Maybe their resolve would break if their leader were taken out. He used his heavy branch to defend from the heavy blows of the nomad leader’s axe but it was Slyther and Igugua who were doing most of the fighting, ripping each other apart. Throwing their riders around. The four of them fought oblivious as to what was happening around them but they did hear the cries of the dying, piercing through the noise of growls, grunts and shouting.

They seemed to be evenly matched, with both of them only getting the upper hand for short periods of time.

"Why are you doing this?" asked Betro, holding tightly to his saddle. "You have lived in the village, with us all your life."

"I know. You and your people teased me the entire time," said Dorgo. "And now you will pay for the all the harm you have done to me. I had found the raiders in the forest during one of my earliest training sessions, that was, when I found my real family."

"I never teased you," Betro replied. "I might have ignored you, but I never teased you."

"Oh yeah, what about that time you and your friends, killed my pet bird," said Dorgo taking a violent swing at Betro.

"I never did such a thing, I heard about it but I never took part in it and if I did I would have been deeply ashamed of myself," said Betro. "Although I will say I’m sorry anyway."

"Not good enough," said Dorgo, killing a man, who had been trying to pull him off his beast. "You left my people to die."

"I did not, I wasn’t even born when the nomadic raiders last attacked the village."

"So? It was still your people who killed them."

This arguing and fighting went back and forth for close to twenty minutes. Betro could see his younger cousin Bolten; he was lying, only a dozen feet away, his head had been bashed in with a club. Betro shook with anger. This was only his first race; the boy had been so excited and had spent so much time preparing. Betro found that he had new strength, he charged forward and swung wildly, his club going right for Dorgo’s head but Dorgo was too fast and his axe came up just in time. His club got stuck to Dorgo’s axe. Betro held on tight. Slyhter shot off, while Betro clung on to the branch. Betro fell hard on to the ground. The wind knocked out of him. Dorgo swung around and came forward to attack Betro.

"Wait!" shouted Betro as he looked out at the battle scene.

"What is it?" spat Dorgo, only just managing to stay his hand.

"Our people, they are dead!" said Betro, looking out at the carnage that surrounded them. Dead riders and raiders were strewn everywhere, their beasts dead or gone. There were still a few others fighting, but there was only a handful.

"You mean, your people are dead," said Dorgo before he looked around. His face suddenly dropping as he saw that there were maybe only seven or eight other people still alive. Dorgo then dropped to the ground. "What have we done!"

"What have we done! You mean what have you done?" said Betro, who was torn up and filthy; tears fell from his eyes. A lot of his family and friends were dead.

Dorgo then rode off; his beast had a nasty limp, Slyther had slashed it during their fight. Dorgo started gathering his people up, getting ready to leave. Betro did the same, noticing that there were some townspeople who had rushed to their help amongst the slain. But there were a sill a few, who were still arriving from town. These people were shocked at the carnage but soon recovered and helped Betro and the others tend to the wounded. This took some time.

Betro then noticed that Dorgo had collapsed to the floor from exhaustion, Betro was tempted to leave him there but his conscious got the better of him and he waded over with some others and helped him up. At the time Betro wasn’t too sure why he did this. Did he feel sorry for Dorgo? The kid who had been a bullied by the other kids of the town or was it that he wanted justice or revenge?

Afterwards they returned to town, some of the injured riding the beasts. While others were carried or dragged. Dorgo slept right through the night and into the mid-afternoon before he woke up, moaning and groaning. But he was soon shouting when he realized where he was. The fact that he was strapped to a stretcher didn’t help either. Betro was soon by his side calming him down. Dorgo did so but he didn’t speak a word until he was released two days later, saying that he would never come back. He also hoped that the townspeople would rot in hell. Some of the people of the town wanted his head but Betro and a few others said that they must let him wander off on his own and see how he fares away from the food and shelter of the village.

Betro and the others were happy to see the back of him, with the amount of work they had to get done; there was no room for troublemakers. With most of the townsfolk gone there no more time for beast races or anything of that kind, the people had to focus on keeping themselves alive and this feat was made harder by the fact that most of the slain were the young men who ran the village. The next few weeks passed like this until Dorgo and the much smaller group of raiders showed up. The townsfolk were weary and tired, but they ready to fight. However they soon found out that they didn't have to. The raiders were there to make peace. They couldn’t survive out in the wilderness by themselves anymore. Hunger and desperation had overcome their hate and bitterness but the question on Betro’s mind, was for how long? And he was sure that some of townspeople had revenge on their minds. He some times thought about it, himself.

The End

No comments: