Chapter 1: Outcast
Copyright© 2005 by Porlock
Sex Story: Chapter 1: Outcast - A young Hill Man warrior, exiled from his mountain village, seeks adventure, finding danger and romance in the midst of a war between religious leaders and the king of his country. Apologies to H. P. Lovecraft for story elements adapted from his mythos.
"And so the Gods of Kath stretched forth Their hands, drawing the ships of our revered ancestors to Them across the abyss between the worlds." The somewhat nasal voice of the young Priest, Shenfu, droned on hypnotically in the gloom of Kathool's temple, telling again the ages old story of how the Gods of Kath had tricked the Mad One.
Some driven by boredom, others lured by rumors of a special treat, nearly all of the people of HighVillage were there. Shantar squatted near the entrance with several other young men, the only one among them allowed to do up his hair in a warrior's braids. His thoughts were fixed on far more pleasant things than this tale of ancient treachery. The story was one he'd known since he was a small child, and he had better things to think about. Like Chenji, Shenfu's wife. She was also the reason why he wasn't seated with the other warriors. A few more moments to let the ceremony get well under way, and he would be out of the circular door...
"The Gods waited until Kathool was asleep in His house under the sea. Using the powers that were Theirs, They sent the souls of two men and two women to dance in His dreams. As They had planned, Kathool's mad fancy was caught by His new toys, and He slept on..."
Shenfu had done well in the months since he and Chenji had come to HighVillage. Between the time of planting and the beginning of harvest season, he had hired men to rebuild the nearly ruined temple. During the cold winter days, aided by a spate of earth tremors, Kathool's blood thirsty rites had caught the interest of many villagers who had nothing better to do with their time. The crowd's interest quickened as a dog was led before the altar, a plump, half grown pup donated by one of the faithful.
"To keep Kathool from waking, souls of animals as well as people..."
They watched avidly as the dog was chained to the low altar, falling silent to better hear its shrill yelps as the first ritual cuts were made in its tender hide. Shantar took this opportunity to slip out through the round door, circling around to the hut where he'd lived alone since his fourteenth year, the winter his parents had been caught by an avalanche.
Chenji was waiting for him, keeping well inside where no one could see. Older than her priest husband, she was strikingly handsome rather than merely pretty. He reached for her, eager for her embrace, but she pushed him away.
"Shantar, you must flee at once! Hurry, I've already started gathering up your things."
"Flee?" He stared down at her in blank astonishment. "But... but why, my Chenji?"
"Shenfu, of course. Someone told him about us. We both knew that this would happen, sooner or later. He's long suspected something, but had no idea who to blame. Now he knows for sure, and he is boiling with rage that it should be you, a mere youth. He expected it to be at least one of the sub chiefs of HighVillage. His vanity is wounded, and all that he can think about is to strike back. He would have beaten me, had he dared." She straightened her shoulders proudly. She might only be the wife of a low land priest, but she was still a woman of the High Hills.
"And so I am to flee from Shenfu?" Shantar's laugh was loud in the tiny hut. For all his youth, he was a full head taller than any of the other warriors in HighVillage. His sword, a wickedly curved blade heavier than most, was feared and respected, as was his skill with the bow. "He is only a fat village priest, keeper of a ramshackle temple and some clumsy idols of wood and clay. I spit on his God, and on the ceremonies that draw the ignorant and fearful to him. I will not run from such a one!"
"Don't be such an idiot!" She looked like she wanted to take him by the shoulders and shake some sense into him. "Won't you understand? As soon as the first part of the ceremony is over, and the sacrifice has been made, he will charge that you are a heretic who blasphemes against the Gods. He will declare your life forfeit, claiming you for Kathool's own. There are enough men who hold grudges against you, or who owe him favors, to support his claim. The rest of the villagers will keep silent while your body is tortured, your soul sent to serve Kathool at the bottom of the sea!"
"If I must go, then come away with me. I will lead you forth from these barren hills and lay the marvels of all Kath at your feet, from frozen Sian to mighty Talai of the tropics. I will show you the emerald islands of the WesternSea, gleaming under the three moons..."
"You will lose that thick head off your brawny shoulders if you don't go, and quickly," she interrupted, a trace of a smile tugging at her lips. "We've both had our fun, but now it's over. Shenfu would declare us both outcasts, and the life of a wandering fugitive is not for me. I can calm his rage, once you've gone and he has had time to forget. Now, hurry and go. He will suspect, of course, but he mustn't know for sure that I came to warn you."
Most of Shantar's belongings fit easily into his saddle bags. Fuming, he buckled on his sword, hung his short recurved bow and round shield from his saddle, donned his light iron cap over coiled braids, and was ready to go. Chenji stood all this while by the door to the little dome shaped hut, watching. She gasped as Shantar crushed her to his chest, returning his kisses as fervently as they were given.
"Now go! Go, before they come for you."
"I'll go, but I'll always remember Chenji, who came to warn me of danger."
Keeping a growing anger under stern control, he led his pony cautiously between neighboring huts, keeping as much space as he could between himself and Kathool's tall cylinder of a temple. He passed close to the barred entrance to the gronch caves, hurrying to avoid the musky reek of the giant lizards and the smoke from the slow fires protecting them from the springtime chill. He'd lost count of how many times his youthful pranks had earned him spells of tending the gronch fires, and shoveling lizard droppings. He could hope for no such merciful fate if they caught up with him, not this time.
At least the men of the High Hills wouldn't stand for the use of the low landers' slave drug, though even that might have been preferable to the fate that Shenfu planned for him. He shuddered at the thought of the probable, no, the certain alternative to his successful escape. He'd attended a few of the first ceremonies after Kathool's temple had been rebuilt. They had been enough to make him stay away, except for a few times lately when he'd looked in to make sure that Shenfu would be kept busy. He had seen small animals put through the lengthy, painful ritual that sent their souls to serve in Kathool's dreams. Far better to die a clean death by sword or arrow than that!
"Find him!" He winced at the cry raised by Shenfu, in the doorway of his temple. "Kathool's favor to the man who brings him to me. Alive, if you can, but bring him!"
Safely past the edge of the village, Shantar swung into the saddle and kicked his pony into a gallop. The trail out of HighVillage was narrow and steep, winding its way up the side of a barren ridge before beginning its long drop to the low lands. He looked back as a shrill yell of fury echoed across the thawing fields, then dug his heels into his pony's ribs. Behind him, a mob of villagers poured out from between the huts, led by green clad Shenfu. Another backward glance showed him the priest, a tiny splotch of green against dark rocks, beginning the ancient chant for the casting out of a heretic.
Shantar was more concerned with the men who were ignoring the ritual in favor of more direct action. Men he'd hunted with, had counted as his friends! He would have reined his pony around to meet them, had there been but two or three, but six were more than even he dared to face. Then, too, they had been his fellow villagers...
His steed was more than a match for any in the village, but there were places along the trail where arrows could be sped downward from one loop of the winding path to the next. As he rode, he could see dark clouds sweeping in to meet him from off the sea, but he feared that the storm wouldn't arrive in time to do him any good.
"Run, Ferl!" He urged his pony to greater speed as an arrow glanced off his upraised shield. Another shaft went whistling past his head into the depths of the canyon. His pursuers were aiming high, letting their arrows fall down the steep slope. They were trying to score with a lucky shot, but he knew that the odds were against them. Another arrow shattered on the trail behind him, and then the most dangerous stretch was past. He continued at a slower pace, saving his mount's strength, taking deep breaths of the sharp mountain air. He sang snatches of old drinking songs in a clear baritone as he rode, thinking happily of all the adventures that might lie ahead. As long as his pony didn't pull up lame, his pursuers would have a hard time catching up with him this day.
And if they did catch up with him? Well, there was that old tale about a man who caught a tiger lizard by the tail...
The storm he had seen from the ridges was nearly upon him, gusty winds whipping dust into his face. There was no shelter close by, but he'd spent many a stormy night out in the open. By the time that the storm hit, he and his pony were close against the base of an overhanging rock wall, safe from the worst of the lashing wind driven rain that made traveling impossible.
It seemed strange to be here, alone in the storm. Always before, he'd traveled toward a goal, or at least had his home village to return to. Not that he'd been happy in HighVillage. He'd always been somehow outside of village life. As a boy, he'd been larger, stronger, more adventurous than his fellows. He'd gotten into trouble too often, asked too many questions of the Village Elders. As he grew older, taller by half a head than any man of the village, it had gotten worse. HighVillage was isolated, keeping to the old ways even more than most villages in the High Hills. When his parents had been alive, his father had taken him on an occasional trading trip, riding down to meet caravans where they would trade furs and mountain tea for bronze arrow points. After their deaths, he'd been all alone. There had been nobody to talk to, to answer his questions about the world outside.
Huddled close to the face of the rock, he took into sleep with him the face of Chenji. He'd paid little attention to Shenfu at first, with his wild talk of Gods and sacrifices. Then he had met Chenji and, greatly daring, spoken to her. She'd smiled at his avid interest in the world beyond the village, talked to him of what little she had seen. Their friendship had deepened into something more, or at least he had thought so, but something that had to be hidden. Now he was running away, but someday...
It was late on the third day of his flight when he reached the old caravan trail. It snaked its way along the upper edge of a nearly uninhabited stretch of plains country that lay between the mountains and the sea. The Low lands, Hill men called it, a derisive name for all that they saw as wrong with Kath. Pulling his pony to a halt, he pondered which way to turn. The hard ground wouldn't take footprints, and his pursuers would have to guess which way he'd gone. There had only been a half dozen of them, at least that he'd seen. With any luck, from here on he might only have two or three on his trail.
He should turn north, up the trail to his right. The snows of Sian might be dreary, but pickings should be better there for a wandering soldier of fortune than in Talai to the south. Wherever the Royal Court resided, there would be too many soldiers about for the comfort of a Hill man. Neither would the Great Temple of Kathool with its hordes of priests be a welcome sight for one who so recently had been branded 'heretic'. He was about to urge his mount to the right, up the trail toward Sian, when a faint whistling scream drifted down the wind from that direction, setting his pony to dancing nervously.
"Easy there, Ferl," he soothed. "Tiger lizard, but it's a long way from here. Sounds like it might be after a wild gronch."
His mind made up for him, he cantered down the trail to the left, heading south to Talai. Even if he'd been willing to face a tiger lizard's berserk fury and poisoned fangs, the creatures were held sacred to the Royal Family. To kill or injure one was punishable by a lingering and painful death, no matter what the provocation.
He was following the winding trail across a boulder strewn waste through lengthening shadows when an arrow droned past his ear. Flinching, he kicked Ferl into motion, spurred on by wild yells from his pursuers.
"Death to the heretic!"
There were three of them, their ponies almost as fresh as his. He tried to keep boulders between them and his unprotected back. His best hope was to keep ahead of them until dark, then slip away. They were gaining on him when he rounded a cluster of boulders into the middle of a camp of armed men. They fell away in front of him as he galloped through, his war cry answered by shrieked curses. He could hear the commotion as his pursuers were met by the aroused camp, and his thought was, "Bandits. Must be. No wagons or pack horses."
He guided his pony in a zigzag course, and the few arrows the bandits sent his way missed their mark. Risking a hasty backward glance, he saw two of the bandits scramble onto their ponies while their fellows swarmed over his luckless pursuers. Their ponies weren't apt to be a match for his over any distance, but they were fresh and had a good chance of catching up with him before dark.
"Go now, Ferl. Go!" He urged his tiring pony up the winding trail. Picking a spot where boulders clustered under a steep bank, he swung aside. At the top of the bank, he sprang from the saddle. A handful of arrows stuck into the dirt by his side, he eagerly awaited the bandits. Had they turned back? No... There they came!
Whipping their scrawny ponies unmercifully, they galloped after the lone man who had escaped from them. They slowed among the boulders, and that was when he struck. Four arrows whistled down as fast as he could bend his bow, and the two bandits lay sprawled in the dirt. Their scrawny ponies galloped wildly away. They would soon rub free of their flimsy gear, perhaps to join a herd of wild ponies somewhere back in the hills.
Now, should he turn back? Try to rescue his fellow Hill men? Shantar shook his head. They'd brought their fate onto their own shoulders, and by now it was probably far too late to help them, one way or the other. If they still lived, he'd only have to fight them, perhaps kill them himself...
His own pony rested and ready to go, Shantar retrieved his arrows and pressed on into the dusk. He knew of a sheltered hollow not far ahead, one that held a small spring. Caravans often stopped there, since it was easily defended and had the only good water nearby.