“I wish we had killed this thing,” Shem said, shifting the squirming hog around on his shoulders. Despite its snout and feet being bound, it had an alarming freedom of movement. Two gashes on his back suggested that he had been given worse of the tasks. He had been against the idea in the first place, especially as he had to be the one to track, catch, bind and carry the hog, but Dego insisted there was no other way.
“If we killed it, then we wouldn’t be able to show my father what this little guy can do.” Dego scratched Silverhide under the chin. He still found, what he assumed was its laughter, to be a little chilling. “I still say we should have used vines to bind it.”
“Vines? If even you can break them with your shriveled arms what chance do they have against a wild beast?” He broke into a sprint as they neared the entrance of the village, clearly eager to deposit his passenger as quickly as possible. The women had built a strong fire to cook the leftovers from the previous night’s feasting for a midday meal, but little remained from day to day now that Dego’s pet was feeding itself whenever it pleased.
Shem turned his back to the ring and dropped the hog on the dry ground, which elicited a muffled squeal. The hunters laughed at the sight of the squirming beast.
“Look at that! Shem has spent so much time with Dego, he forgot that you kill the pig before you bring it back!”
Galen quieted the hunters around him as he stood. He motioned for Shem to approach, sighing when he saw Dego strolling into the village, carefree and coddling his pet.
“I suppose this has something to do with my son and his worm?” Galen gave the hog a nudge with his foot, turning it over and inspecting it. He took out a knife and cut the bindings, letting the beast stand and shake off the ache from being carried.
Dego stopped at the edge of the ring, leaning over and resting his chin on the warm rocks. A fire seemed unnecessary at this point in the day, but that was part of the genius of the design: the sun prepared them, and the fires bathed them with the power to cook the meat properly.
“Silverhide can kill it,” Dego explained. “He can kill anything.”
“I know it can murder a feast pretty well, but against a live thing?”
“Just watch.” Dego crouched and urged Silverhide to go, assuring it that it was ok to go wild. He stepped back and watched his father’s face to see how he would take the revelation that his “worm” could be more than useful to the tribe.
The hog spied the serpent as it cut back and forth across the ground, snorting loudly and stamping its hooves. When the creature showed no sign of backing down the hog began to bellow and spit, but Silverhide was not intimidated.
“The pig will stomp that worm into the ground,” Galen said, chuckling.
“Just watch.” Dego’s cheeks hurt from the knowing smile he wore.
As the hog made its charge, Silverhide coiled and then exploded forwards, shooting up the flared nostrils of its attacker. The hog skidded to a halt, baffled at what had just happened. After a moment of confusion it began to buck around wildly, screeching and squealing loudly until it began to convulse and fell over on the ground. Silverhide soon emerged from the hog’s side, shivering and shaking off the mucus and blood of the beast’s insides.
The gathered hunters were joined in stunned silence.
“That was…amazing,” Galen said, breaking the silence first. “How long have you known it could do this?”
“We found out this morning,” Dego answered, beaming. “He did it to an eight-point stag and a couple of foxes we stumbled across.”
Galen stroked his chin, his mind racing with possibilities. He reached over and patted his son on the head, saying “Good job boy. You did the right thing in making me spare the worm.”
“It’s not a worm, father.” Dego wasn’t sure if his tone was spiteful enough. The other hunters gathered around the carcass of the hog, marveling at Silverhide’s handiwork.
“A stag, a hog and two foxes? All this morning?” Galen asked, incredulous. “If it can produce that kind of result every day, we could possibly triple our total! He can more than make up for your lack of effort!” He gave Dego a hearty slap on the back, laughing.
Stopping suddenly, Galen held his hand low to let the others know that something was amiss. The hunters all quietly spread out, picking up their bows and spears that lay scattered about the ring and leaning against the huts. They quickly found cover, most ducking behind the walls of their homes or into the huts themselves. As soon as the fire had been collapsed and covered with treated animal skins, the women took up flint daggers or disappeared into their huts, and in only a matter of minutes the village appeared empty.
Dego and Shem huddled behind two of the largest stones, just inside of the ring, and tried to pear through the thin spaces between the stones to see what had alarmed Galen so wildly. Soon enough, they could hear the sounds of men approaching, one particularly boisterous voice cutting through the muddle.
“See lads? I told you, a village! A ruddy village on this island! Didn’t I tell you?”
“Yes, captain,” came a monotone response.
A small group of men entered the village, dressed in flimsy and colorful clothes that had seen better days. At the head strode a plump bearded man who waved a shining blade around, and Dego could not help but utter a gasp at how marvelous a weapon it was.
“Look at ‘em…mud and sticks and grass. Primitive if ever I saw it. Spread out and search the area. If you find anyone, bring them to me,” the captain declared with a lick of his lips. He watched as his men split up and began entering hut after hut. It did not take long before the first scream was heard and one of the strange men came running out of a hut with a stone dagger squarely planted between his ribs.
“They’re bloody savages! They’re hiding everywhere!”
“Right then! Pistols out lads!” the Captain shouted. “If you don’t come out I’m going to start shooting, and I bet a pretty penny that my bullets will beat your sticks and stones!” He raised a tool in the air, a device that was part wood but mostly shone like the blades they carried. Dego thought that man was either crazed or bluffing, unsure as to what kind of threat it could be even if it was a weapon. When no one emerged the pistol made a thunderous crack and smoke shot out.
“What is all this racket?”
The flap to Acar’s hut drifted open, the little shaman shuffling out into the daylight with a thin grey wisp of smoke at his feet, shuddering as he coughed. Fresh air was a rarity to the old man. He blinked and looked around the village, seemingly unsurprised by the appearance of the strangers in the midst of his home.
“Galen?” He called out. “Galen, what’s going on?”
The hunter emerged from the side of the shaman’s hut, his arm coiled and ready to throw his spear clear across the ring if he needed. He could do it easily enough too.
“Go back inside old man. Those men have guns with them.”
“Guns?” Acar squinted at the captain. “Why are there men with guns?”
“Eh? What’s that?” The captain turned to a young boy at his side. “Ursa, did I hear them right? Did they call this a gun?”
“Aye captain, they did, sir.”
“Put the spear down lad,” the captain ordered, pointing his gun at Galen. The hunter did not move for a moment but eventually let his hand go limp, the spear falling to the ground. “The rest of you, make any moves and my men won’t hesitate to shoot you down.”
The captain slid his gun into his belt and pulled his pants up, waddling around the ring to Acar. He glared this way and that to watch as men and women began to emerge from their hiding places. He should have been alarmed at the sight of so many people, but he remained calm.
Standing before Acar, he took the measure of the man, then looked at Galen and chuckled. “Are you the boss around here?”
“Boss?” Galen tried the word out.
“The leader,” the captain sighed, pinching his brow. “Are you the one in charge around here?”
“Yes,” Galen responded. His eyes kept darting to the gun nestled snuggly between the man’s belt and overwhelming gut.
“Well then, I guess you’re the man I should speak to…” He pointed proudly to his pistol. “I suppose you’ve had some experience with these weapons then?”
“Once, many years ago,” Acar confirmed, nodding his head slowly. “A man like you came here. He had guns and swords and wore coats of fine material that I have never seen before. He gave me a small…’scarf’, he called it. Never cared for the thing much.” Acar licked his lips. “Quite warm out today.”
“Forget the bloody heat, tell me…was this man called the Fanged Harrier?”
“Eh?” Acar cocked his eyebrows and shook his head. “I don’t know if he ever used such a ridiculous name, but we knew him by the name Samuel.”
“Samuel? That’s the name he was born with.” The captain grinned. “We have indeed found the Harrier’s hidden island. I hope you’ll be telling me where he kept his treasure then, or we’ll be putting a bullet between your eyes.” The captain drew his gun and placed the tip of it against Acar’s forehead.
“Grandfather!” Dego shouted, darting across the fire ring and leaping over the edge of the ring before his father raised his hand.
“Dego, stay where you are!” Galen looked at the gun, sweat beading on his brow. “We do not know what you mean. If you are speaking about Samuel, he came here many years ago and brought nothing with him. He stayed here for a time and then left.”
“That’s it? You expect me to believe the Harrier never left any treasure here?” The captain twisted the gun around, digging into Acar’s skin, but the shaman did not flinch. “You’re a tough old fart, aren’t you?”
“I have my moments,” Acar responded flatly.
“Why didn’t the Harrier return?”
Acar’s eyes briefly darted towards the fire ring, then back at the captain. “Shame, I would say…but I don’t really know. The few men I’ve met from beyond our shores are strange indeed.”
“Shame?” The captain looked over his shoulder at Dego and Shem, but as soon as he turned Galen struck his gun hand and punched the man squarely in the jaw. Sprawled on the ground, the captain looked almost comical, until he raised his gun and it let out another thunderous crack. Galen fell to his knees, limp. A crimson trickled began to run down his side.
“Father!” Dego ran over to Galen and caught him before he collapsed on the ground. “Father! Are you alright?”
“Dego?” Galen coughed, blood spattering on Dego’s face. “Boy?”
“Damn,” the captain muttered. “Should have hit him in the bloody heart.”
Dego stared at his father, the man slipping in and out of consciousness. Acar knelt and drew some herbs from a pouch tied at his side, sprinkling them on the wound and began to chant something low and indistinguishable.
“He shouldn’t have stood up to me, lad. I’m the one with the gun,” the captain laughed. He stopped and stared at the boy, Dego shaking violently. “What’s wrong with you boy? Going to strike me like your father?” He aimed his gun at Dego, grinning.
The hog’s corpse shivered as Silverhide emerged, belching and squeeing.
Dego growled. “NO! Attack! ATTACK!”
“What the hell…?” The captain holstered his gun again. “Is that…? Ursa!”
The young boy ran over to his captain.
“Have you ever seen a creature like that before?”
“No captain…but I’m a young man, I haven’t been around the world much.”
“Well, I have, and I can tell you I haven’t seen anything like it. I’ll be damned…” he stroked his beard. “Guess we won’t know what the Harrier stole, but we found ourselves a familiar all the same!”
“Are you sure captain?”
“If that thing’s not a familiar, I’ll give you my ship lad.” He drew his blade and made a motion to his men. “Catch the thing before it gets away you lards! We can sell it in the Wilheim markets.” The men did not move, and the captain drew his gun again. “If I have to shoot one of you, I will.”
“If it’s a familiar captain, how are we supposed to catch it?”
“It’s only a danger if it’s bonded with someone, and I don’t suppose these dirt-clingers know a thing about familiars if they don’t know what a gun is.” He aimed the gun at the serpent and fired, the bullet striking a stone on the far side of the ring. “Didn’t anyone bring a chest like I asked? How were we going to carry any of the treasure back?”
“I have it, sir,” A shaggy, haggard man responded, struggling to lift a box as large as his head off the ground.
“Good man, Brownstreak. You two,” he said, pointing with his blade to two of his men, small round men at that; “chase the creature into the box.”
“Leave it alone!” Dego shouted. “He’s my friend!”
“Your…?” The captain let out a long, low laugh. “Your friend? My boy, I don’t care if it’s your arm. I’m a pirate. If I want it, I’ll take it!” He motioned to Silverhide again. “Now, take it!” He watched as his men tried to catch Silverhide, failing to do more than chase the creature around the fire ring. The serpent seemed to delight in the chase as if it were some game, squeeing every now and then.
“You can’t take it!” Dego reached down and picked up his father’s spear, a weapon larger than he had handled before. He lifted it as best he could, but he knew he wasn’t strong enough to handle it.
“Look at you boy, struggling with that stick. You’re a pitiful sight.” He struck Dego across the mouth with his pistol, sending the boy hurtling to the ground. “Now stay down.” As he turned away from Dego, the boy wiped the blood from his chin and picked up the spear, using all his strength to drive it into the captain’s back.
“Son of a…!” The captain reached behind him and pulled the spear out, tossing it aside. He turned back to Dego, rage flooding his eyes. “How…dare…you…!” He raised his blade over his head. “A quick death is too good for you boy. I’m going to hack you to pieces!”
With the blade poised to strike him down, Dego could not move. He saw Shem trying to come to his aid, but two of the pirates held him back and even a strong hunter like him would be easily cut down by the steel blades they held against his throat.
“I…I don’t want to die…”
“Too bad, lad.”
The blade came down swiftly, stopping just above Dego’s head as a light shone from inside the fire ring, bright and brilliant. The captain covered his eyes as he tried to make out what it was.
“What’s going on there?”
“It’s the familiar captain!” Ursa shouted. “Something’s happening to it!”
In a flash, the creature, glowing like the sun itself, shot out of the ring and slithered right up to Dego, striking the boy in the chest as it had so many other beasts. This time, though, it did not pierce the boy, but rather spread like a drop of water splashing against the ground. Dego felt his body washed in warmth, and for a moment he was covered in light.
When the light subsided Dego felt heavier, and he could not feel the heat of the sun nor the chill of the winds. His skin was silver like the blade that hovered over his head and he felt his body flooded with energy.
“The boy’s been armored! That snake was a familiar!” the captain growled.
Now boy, a voice echoed in Dego’s head, you have the power to defeat these men.