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Authors: Pedro Urvi

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BOOK: Marked
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The moment in which Komir’s life would take an incomprehensible turn and would never be the same again.

With his head under water, unable to breathe and suffering an unbearable torture, Komir made one last, desperate attempt to break away from his attackers and get the precious air he needed.

I am going to die. This is the end of me. I am drowning.

His efforts were futile; his desperation became absolute.

Get off me! Let me breathe!

And in that moment of infinite anguish, an incredible blue light awoke inside him, emanating from the deepest part of his being. The light started to flicker as if taking on a life of its own. The luminous, dazzling radiance was concentrated in the center of his chest, forming a brilliant circular area like a small lake feeding off his body’s energy. The strange light began to gain in intensity, radiating more and more powerfully. Komir felt it building inside him, and even with his eyes closed he could make it out clearly. A mysterious, powerful energy, formed by thousands of particles coming from his whole body, flowed toward the center of his chest. He did not understand what it was but clearly felt it radiate from inside him. The light continued gaining strength as if striving to leave his body, and he felt as though his chest was going to burst.

The panic over the certainty of a horrible death completely consumed him.

And in that moment of total agony and desperation, that mysterious light that had been building up and growing inside him did the unimaginable.

It exploded toward the outside of his body.

Like a volcano.

With a supernatural force.

Komir immediately sensed that the pressure that had been seizing his body had disappeared completely. He raised his head out of the water and inhaled the long-awaited air. He coughed amid convulsions as he spit out the water he had swallowed that was flooding his lungs. He leaned back on one arm, trying to recover as he took deep, gasping breaths. Finally he was able to get control of the spasms and stopped coughing.

He was alive! Alive!

He looked up. His five attackers were lying on the ground, scattered a few feet away, sprawled out in grotesque positions like rag dolls. They looked... dead... as if something had violently struck them and launched them furiously through the air. He looked at them, frightened.  They must have hit the ground with an immeasurable force.

Komir slowly sat up. He felt extremely tired, not only from the terrible beating he had taken but from something else. He was empty... completely sapped of energy, as if all the vital force in his body had evaporated. He could barely stand up. 

He slowly began walking, staggering over to where Akog was lying. He was bleeding from his nose and ears and had lost consciousness but he was breathing. He was still alive. His face and arms were covered in ugly bruises, as if he had been dealt a dreadful beating. Komir checked the condition of the others and they showed similar symptoms. All were alive, though just barely from what he could tell. He stood there, frozen, looking at the five assailants, not able to comprehend what he was seeing.

But this can’t be! What in the world happened? What was that light inside me? What have I done?

Not understanding what had happened, he rushed off to get help.

Komir remembered it well, as if he had just experienced it.

He also remembered the terrible reaction that followed the fateful event.

A few days after the incident, Komir found out that his five attackers’ injuries were more serious than he’d initially thought. Legs, arms, and ribs had been broken. Akog and Belgo, who were in the worst shape, had suffered injuries that would keep them in bed for months. The rest would need long periods of recuperation as well.

When they were questioned about what had happened, the group accused Komir of heresy, of being a Sorcerer of the dark arts and having used forbidden magic against them. The accusation unleashed all kinds of controversy, rumors, and bad blood among the families and even within the Bikia tribe itself. The parents of the injured boys showed up at Komir’s home, armed and out for blood. Ulis, Mirta, and Komir drew their weapons and prepared to defend themselves against the aggressions of a dozen parents and relatives of the five wounded boys. Furious and full of rage, they sought revenge—especially Akog’s despicable father who was the instigator, provoking the rest of them.

Thankfully, Auburu, the matriarch and leader of the tribe, had arrived in time to intervene. With her special charisma she’d managed to diffuse the situation and keep Norriel blood from being spilled. But the situation was far from resolved, including after a meeting of the Tribal Council in which all those involved in the incident testified before The Twelve. Komir was absolved by the Council, but the parents and families of the wounded were greatly displeased and, even though they had to comply with the law of The Twelve, set out to turn the majority of the town against Komir, making use of all kinds of poisonous lies. 

That drove Komir into complete isolation within the tribe.

The only good that came from the unfortunate incident was that, from that moment on, his life improved substantially in that no one bothered him anymore. On the other hand, the few people that had once upon a time talked to him or had shown him a bit of kindness suddenly were afraid of him and began to avoid him.

It was as if he had been marked by some kind of plague.

Cursed by the three goddesses.

But that was past history. The strange light that had saved him and at the same time condemned him that fateful day had never again revealed itself. Komir begged Ikzuge, the Sun Goddess, and her sister Igrali, the Moon Goddess, to not let it appear in his life ever again—since all he ever wanted was to be just like any other Norriel.

Maybe the Ceremony of the Bear would get him one step closer to his wish.

Just maybe...

Condemned

 

 

 

With the first light of dawn, Althor, the octogenarian Master Smith of the Bikia tribe of the Norriel, was already checking the work done by Bamul, his pupil and an expert blacksmith. It was the day of the ceremony and was therefore steeped in tradition. Every piece created for the great Ceremony of the Bear was of exceptional quality. Forged in Bamul’s metal workshop, in his native Orrio, they were true works of art. The Master Forger carefully lifted up a long double-edged sword, weighing its tempering with an eagle eye. In a series of studied movements through the air he checked its flexibility and strength. Its cross-shaped, broad handle, which allowed for the sword to be used with one or both hands, was engraved with the insignia of the Norriel tribe, the name of the celebration, and the year. These swords were a bit longer than the old-fashioned ones of the western part of the continent of Tremia, and owning one was a great honor within the tribe.

“I see you have once again increased the reach of the sword a bit,” commented the Master Forger, winking at Bamul.

“Yes, Master. I continue to perfect the technique you taught me so many years ago. They are a little less flexible and somewhat heavier, but as strong as the best short sword. And they provide a better reach for our warriors.”

“I am sure they will appreciate that advantage in combat. Nothing like facing an opponent whose sword is weaker and shorter,” he chuckled.

Bamul smiled. “Master Warrior Gudin likes them—he’s already commissioned two dozen for his instructors and for the guard warriors.”

“I do believe you are going to have plenty of work in the coming days.”

“This order is not a problem... But once word gets out about these swords I’ll have thirty tribes commissioning them.”

“From the looks of it, business is prospering. You’re going to retire rich and famous!”

“Yes, just like a certain honorable Master Forger who’s rumored to be living out his retirement in the mountains near the mines, completely dedicated to studying the secrets of steel. I know you, Master; you only allow yourself to be seen on occasions when the tribe hierarchy demands it,” the younger artisan refuted sarcastically.

Althor could not help but laugh.

“How was the trip down from the mines, Master? I hope the rigors of the long trip haven’t caused you too much suffering,” Bamul inquired.

“At my age all trips are difficult, and they are becoming more and more punishing. My bones hurt more all the time—it’s my age, you know—so what can I do! But I am always enthusiastic about making this trip. I feel a great passion for this celebration. I very much enjoy seeing how, year after year, you improve my techniques.”

“Your words are a great honor for me, Master. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

“Let’s get back to the reason for my visit. Where do you have the coats of mail—the ones for the victors of the competitions?”

The blacksmith called to one of his apprentices, a tall boy with disheveled dark hair, and asked him to go get the armor from the basement of the workshop. He reappeared a short time later with several coats of mail and placed them on the table.

“They cannot compare to your exquisite metalwork, Master. Please do not be too hard on me when you evaluate them.”

“You have nothing to worry about,” said Althor as he picked up one of the pieces and examined it closely. He carefully checked over the ring and rivet work. A classic pattern—four on one for interlocked rings, right?”

“Yes, Master, just as you taught me. Regretfully, I must confess I have not been able to evolve that technique much. But I have lengthened the sleeves so they cover the forearm and I’ve raised and reinforced the neck for better protection.”

“Excellent work. I am sure these will serve our young warriors well and, having been made by your hands, they will last a lifetime.”

“That will depend on the number of battles in which they get involved,” replied the blacksmith with a smile.

The second of Bamul’s apprentices approached and announced the arrival of Master Warrior Gudin, who was waiting in the outer part of the foundry.

Bamul and Althor went out to greet him.

“Good day, Gudin,” said Althor.

“It certainly is,” agreed the Master Warrior as he tapped his chest with his fist and bent his head forward to salute them.

Gudin was the personification of a warrior god: tall and broad shouldered with sculpted muscles from a lifetime of training. He conveyed a feline agility and an enormous physical might, as much in his demeanor as in the way he moved. His dark eyes, beneath his long, smooth, dark hair, radiated tranquility and a sense of balance. But undoubtedly what most attracted attention to the great Norriel warrior were his scars. His body had been punished by the unequivocal marks of countless battles. Several horrific scars were visible on his face, eyebrows, chin, and left cheekbone. That man had been to hell and back on more than one occasion. A true specimen of the invincible Norriel warrior. Because of his vast experience and charisma he was highly regarded in the Bikia tribe. His exploits on the battlefield were legendary among the thirty tribes. Likewise, his tireless work teaching youth and leading veteran warriors had made him into an institution. His renown and notoriety were not just limited to the Bikia tribe; they extended to the rest of the Norriel tribes as well. Everyone knew and respected him, young and old alike—including the rest of the Master Warriors.

“Are you here to make sure everything is ready for the big celebration today?” asked Bamul.

“I am, Master Blacksmith. I’ve just visited Honar the furrier and he has the bearskin capes ready as gifts to give the young ones for their passage.”

“Wonderful! A Norriel warrior has to have a good bearskin to shelter him from the cold—and to strike fear in the heart of his enemy,” commented Althor as he took a seat in one of the chairs to rest his weary bones.

“I’ve also visited the carpenter, and he has shields made from the best lime trees all ready to go. A total circumference of three hands to protect our warriors, and reinforced with iron through the middle and on the edges.”

“Made in the traditional style. Light and strong, and not so costly since they are not completely made of metal,” noted Bamul.

“The cost must always be a consideration. We have to produce many shields for our warriors and steel is scarce. It is a sign of the poor...” lamented Gudin.

The Norriel were not a rich and advanced people like their neighbors in the lowlands—the great kingdom of Rogdon, where their many soldiers had the best steel that wealth could buy. The Norriel reserved the use of steel for forging swords, and what was left over they used to create coats of mail. But the majority of the warriors wore suits of armor made of tanned leather that were reinforced with wood because they could not afford anything else.

“We cannot give steel weapons and coats of mail to all our young ones. Only the champions of the competitions will receive those as their reward; that is the best I can do.”

“Bamul ... always thinking about costs and profits... Soon he’ll be the richest man in all thirty Norriel tribes!” Althor quipped, smiling mischievously.

“Of course, I have to get ready for the long winter of old age—though I see you, Master, feel fantastically well,” Bamul threw back at him.

The three laughed, filled with a warm sense of friendship. They’d known each other for many years and had shared quite difficult times in the past. Life in the highlands of the West was cruel; the Norriel were well aware of that fact. They were a people accustomed to the rigors of the highlands—the inevitable wars, the scarcity, and the impoverishment.

“We should really get moving and join the celebration,” commented Bamul.

“Everything is in order here. I’ll finish inspecting the spears and then we can head to the village square to enjoy the festivities,” confirmed Althor.

“Perfect. Don’t take too long—this year we have considerably more visitors than usual and the village is overflowing with people,” warned Gudin.

“Apparently they’ve come to see this year’s two young standouts. I’ve even seen visitors of other tribes who’ve come to see the ceremony. Looks like the gossip mongers have spread rumors far and wide,” explained Bamul.

“You’re talking about Komir and Hartz, right?” asked Gudin.

“Exactly—especially Komir. Everyone wants to see this enigmatic young man because of all the mysterious rumors about him. They want to check out the boy’s mettle—see if he excels in the sword competition as he’s expected to or if it’s all just a bunch of rumors. There’s always been a dark shadow—a negative aura, even—hanging over that boy wherever he goes. He will never be able to break free of the stigma caused by his dark origins... you know, his arrival to our town... marked in blood... eighteen years ago already,” said Bamul, shaking his head.

“And besides that, no one has forgotten that horrendous incident along the river bank some years back... just awful what happened to that boy... everything about him is ominous and unusual,” added Althor as he raised his hands in praise to the goddesses—as would any good, superstitious Norriel.

“As for that hulk, Hartz, you suppose he’ll be what people are expecting? Everyone wants to see if he can knock out everyone they put in front of him. But I believe this year there is another young man from a neighboring village that is absolutely gigantic, and they say it will be a confrontation of epic proportions,” explained Bamul.

“Gudin, you who have taught them everything they know and who have so many years of experience with this—what do you think? What surprises are in store for us today?” asked Althor, intrigued.

“First, allow me to say that all the rumors and other nonsense circulating about Komir are nothing more than rubbish. He is an excellent young man, noble and obedient. Certainly the stigma and all the malicious superstitions haven’t done him any favors. You should nip those kinds of senseless commentaries in the bud and leave the boy in peace. As for the competition, I believe we are going to witness an historic afternoon. An afternoon that will be talked about for many years to come in our tribe,” predicted Gudin.

“Those two young men are that good?” asked Bamul as he leaned back against the window to feel the warmth of the morning light.

“Actually, my friend, it has been many years since we’ve had such outstanding warriors. They possess a natural ability for combat—an innate ability, I assure you; not just the fruits of training and practice. I tell you, truthfully, they are special—very special.”

“Then let’s hurry along to see the show!” exclaimed Althor, making a beeline for the door.

 

 

 

Komir sat at the old kitchen table, waiting for his good friend Hartz. It was a cool morning, and although Ikzuge, the powerful Sun Goddess, was still awakening with sleep in her eyes, the dryness of the air announced the probability of a blazing hot day.

His parents had already left for the much anticipated celebration. Mirta had wanted to get there early to enjoy browsing the numerous goods and Ulis had no choice but to go along with her. Komir took a drink of water from the wooden cup, trying to dissolve the knot in the pit of his stomach.

The Ceremony of the Bear!

The event that would transform him into a warrior and would mark him for the rest of his life.

Luckily, Hartz would be with him. He always felt better in the company of his oversized friend, not only for the sense of protection his companion instilled in him but because of his untamable spirit, his extroverted character, and his sense of humor that invariably cheered Komir up—even on the grayest of days.

Hearing the familiar whistle Hartz and he used to call out to one other, Komir was brought back to the present moment. He stood up and hurried out to meet his friend.

“Hello, Hartz,” he said, greeting him with a hug.

His strapping friend returned the hug, lifting him off the ground.

“Ready for combat, little pal?”

“I will be as soon as you put me down!” laughed Komir.

“Today will be a great day, I just know it. Tons of skulls to crush.”

“And on top of that they’ll give you a prize for doing it,” Komir merrily added.

“True—I hadn’t thought of that. Oh, I do believe this is going to be a great day!”

Looking at Hartz, he thanked the goddesses for such a good friend. He and Hartz had not been friends for that long even though they lived in the same village and were the same age. In fact, until just a couple years ago they had barely said a word to each other outside of Udag. That had no doubt been due to Komir’s stigma within the community, even though Hartz had never confirmed that assumption. But Komir knew his buddy well and knew he was superstitious like everyone else and terribly afraid of the mysterious and the unknown.

The friendship that now united them had not been born of camaraderie or proximity but had been forged as a result of a fortuitous and traumatic event that would join them together forever. It had happened two years before, during a hunting expedition organized by Ugor, Hartz’s father. Komir had been invited due to the friendship between Ulis and Ugor. Ulis had insisted Komir should take part in the hunt so he did, respectful of his beloved father’s wishes. During the hunt, Ugor was gravely wounded by gray bears and the two boys had had to survive an epic journey to save him as they were in the highlands, several days away from their village. It had been that chilling, desperate experience that had forged the unbreakable friendship they now shared.

BOOK: Marked
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