View Full Version : Karn

11-12-2009, 07:49 PM
The time had come. It was Midsummer’s night. Karn Cloud-Dancer sat at his desk and wrote his father a letter. He had done so each year since coming to the Academy, but never once had he received a reply. For all Karn knew his father could be dead. A new chief could be receiving these letters.
For a while, as always when he wrote these letters, he became lost in the memories of ten years ago……..

The time had come. Karn had never before seen the like.
It was midsummer’s night, and the feasting had been plentiful. There had been footraces and contests of strength. Horse-archers had given a magnificent display of their skill before the assembled tribes, wheeling like one body and shooting their arrows along a monstrously long plank, their arrows shot with such precision, spelling out their salutations to the assembled chiefs and the Chief-of-Chiefs.

Never before had such a gathering been gathered in the northern lands that the Southerners called the Tribesland. The few years of unprecedented peace had seen the tribes grow strong, and relationships between them grow stronger.
There were representatives from all of the northern peoples here, for the first time since history was spoken from bard to apprentice.

Here Karn could see the Orc chieftain locked in conversation with the Khan of the Cyclops. And at the head of the table, Karn’s father, Charn Hard-Spear sat deep in conversation with the Magus of the Ogres, a tall hulking figure, whose smile showed rows of yellowed, but still sharp teeth.

Karn’s stomach fluttered, the gathering was in aid of one tradition that all of the northern peoples shared, be they Goblin or Orc or human or Wylder Centaur.
Midsummer’s night was the time when young men came of age.
Among humans, boys in their sixteenth birth-year were considered men after Midsummer’s night, when the tribe’s only shaman presented them with their totem-stone.

Totem stones were pieces of rock chiselled from the rock of an ancient volcano that lay in the centre of the Tribesland. It was considered a holy place, where no violence could be done. The shaman then held a small piece of the holy rock and envisioned the young men of the tribe. And somehow each young man got a totem-stone that reflected their personality or skills. Karn knew little about it. Apart from the Ogre Magi and the tribe’s shaman, magic was considered a filthy thing to his people. Those who relied on magic over their own strengths were considered weaklings.
Karn sometimes wondered at this. Couldn’t magic be one of a person’s strengths? It was best to keep wild thoughts like that to yourself. Especially when the Chief-of-chiefs was your father.

The drums started low, a monotonous bass beat that thrummed through the valley. Karn tensed, this was what he had been waiting for. The totem-stone ceremony was about to begin.
The drums built and built. The sound grew louder, vibrating in Karn’s body. The beat grew faster and faster, until it seemed to Karn that the drums must surely burst their skins at such treatment.
Suddenly they stopped, but the feeling of vibration stayed with Karn a moment longer, and his eyes sought out his tribe’s shaman; Ori-jak.

‘Today we witness the rebirth of our tribe’s boys. We witness their rebirth as men of our tribe, and we charge them with the responsibilities of manhood:
To conduct themselves with honour and speak no word they will not keep. To ensure the tribe’s safety, and to honour its chief and abide by his rule.
Let those who would be reborn come forward’.

Karn sighed, it had begun. He glanced at his father, still in conversation with the Ogre’s Magus, who gave him a quick glance with a smile and a wink. Karn smiled back, but his father was already talking to the Magus again.
Now all he had to do was wait. It was customary for the chief’s son to receive his totem-stone last. To teach humility, Karn supposed. Or perhaps patience.
He longed to be down there with the other boys, his friends, watching as each approached the shaman and received his totem-stone.
But he would not go to the shaman. The shaman would come to him.

He could see Mijka laughing and already showing off his totem to the others waiting. Karn could not make it out clearly, but he thought it was a bear’s head or a wolf. Mijka would like that. He was a huge lad for his age, a great wrestler, and he wanted to follow his father’s footsteps to be part of the chief’s honour guard. Karn supposed he would get his chance now.
Karn wondered what his own totem would be. Every boy did, hoping for a bear or wolf or eagle. Or a spear or arrow. Those totems marked the boys out as future warriors, and every young boy dreamed of them. Other totems such as the hammer marked out important trades like smithy and fletching. Others were much rarer. A harp or flute marked a bard, one who would learn the great songs of history, to preserve the tribes memory and honour. But there was a rarer one still .Once a generation a boy received the skull totem, that marked them out as the shaman’s apprentice, but Benji had been the shaman’s apprentice for five years now, so no-one thought of it for themselves. Nor would they. Though the shaman held an important position of the clan, healing the sick and advising the chief, they dealt with magic. Magic was too much of a taboo to Karn’s people for a boy to want to be a shaman, and usually new apprentices spent the first years of their apprenticeship rebelling, until they realized that the tribe needs it’s shaman.

Karn watched as each boy was given his totem-stone by Ori-jak, and reborn as men. He watched them rush to waiting parents to proudly show their totems and receive warm hugs and congratulations.
Then he saw his father leave the Magus and stand up. Karn stood up too and walked to the end of the dais that had been erected for the chief’s feast-table. His father stood by his right shoulder, awaiting the approach of Ori-jak.

As he had been told to many times as he had practised the ritual with his friends, he knelt before the shaman and stared up at the old man’s dark eyes. The feathers in his hair seemed like a thunderbird’s plumage rising behind his head, and his dragon-skull staff was hung with bones of many different creatures.

‘Who kneels before me this night’ intoned Ori-jak, loud enough for the assembled chiefs to witness.

‘One who would be reborn as a man of the tribe’, replied Karn, staring deep into the shaman’s eyes.

‘Then let the God’s know his soul and give him a symbol to shape his life’, answered Ori-jak, completing the ritual.

Reaching into his sack, the shaman drew out the piece of holy rock, and still staring into Karn’s eyes, clasped both hands over the lump of stone.

There was no shimmering lights, no herald to announce what was happening. One minute the shaman was staring into Karn’s eyes like piercing black daggers, the next they fluttered back in his head and he let out a low moan. Sinking to his knees, his eyes still rolled back in his head he began to speak in a strange voice not his own.

‘Those who fled in scorn in hate, called back to the foul mother’s embrace. Must be met by Ice and Fire, Earth and Air by those who dare. The land shall tremble and lives be taken. For soon the world will be forsaken of all hope’.

With a final moan Ori-jak’s eyes snapped back to Karn’s. The assembled chiefs were stunned into silence. Karn felt his father’s big hand grip his shoulder painfully. This was no part of the ceremony. But the words remained in Karn’s mind, like a terrible prophecy of things to come.

With a shake Ori-jak recalled himself and stood up.
‘What just happened?’ he asked. ‘Why was I on my knees?’

Karn’s felt his father loosen his grip.
‘Perhaps playing with your magicks has loosened your wits. Or mabe you have been at the dream-pipe too long. You sank to your knees babbling some nonsense about Earth and Ice or some nonsense. Perhaps you will remember what you are about shaman, or maybe Benji should be promoted early’.

The other chiefs laughed at Charn’s rough attempt at a joke. But it sounded forced.

Staring the chief in the eye, the shaman hissed, ‘I forget nothing Chieftain. And I do not play with magicks. Nor have I been at the dream-pipe. I will finish this and then retire to my tent, awaiting your apology’.

‘Be easy my old friend’, said Charn. ‘I mean no insult. Now, Ori-jak, shaman of the Thunderbird clan. Make my son a man’.

With a sniff of derision, the shaman returned his gaze to Karn. Throughout the whole episode, his hands had still covered the piece of holy rock that would be Karn’s totem stone.

‘Karn Hard-Spear’, he intoned. ‘With this totem are you reborn as a man of the Thunderbird tribe’.

Ori-jak’s hands opened, and he lifted the totem-stone to present it to Karn, then…..stopped…staring at it.
A gasp went up among the chiefs as Karn beheld his first glimpse of the totem-stone he would wear for the rest of his life. He hardly heard the echoed gasp of the assembled tribes as they too glimpsed his new totem-stone.
Thrown into sharp relief by the bonfires was the shape of a lightning bolt, made out of black stone, and glinting in the redness of the fires.

‘What trickery is this!’ thundered Charn finally. ‘Do you seek to anger me Shaman. Is this some petty foolishness that you think funny?’

But Ori-jak too was staring at the totem-stone in shock and disbelief.
‘My chief….this is no work of mine. The holy rock can not be shaped except by the will of fate and the Gods’.

‘But….what does it mean?’ asked Charn. ‘Never have I heard of a boy receiving a totem like this. If this is not your work shaman then speak. What does this mean for my son?’

The shaman stared at the totem and his eyes widened as he realized the meaning of it. Turning his head to stare at the chief his lips moved, and his breath rattled in his old lungs, but no sound came forth.

‘Speak!’ roared Charn.

‘My chief’, the shaman started, licking his lips nervously. ‘This totem mean that your son is….is destined…to be a….a’

‘A what!’ yelled Charn, striding to grasp the shaman by his bony arm and shaking him.

‘Your son is destined to be a wizard!’ screamed the shaman in fear and pain.

The word hung in the air…..and thundered in Karn’s mind.

‘This can’t be!’ roared Charn. ‘You lie! No son of mine will be a filthy wizard! My son will be a mighty warrior, a strong hunter. My son can’t be a wizard’
Charn’s voice had died down to a terrible whisper as he stared into Ori-jak’ fear-filled eyes.
‘You will make him another one. Yes. Another totem-stone. One that will not lie, one that I can be proud of’.

Karn felt a sting inside him at his father’s word. One that I can be proud of. Karn realised at that moment that he was alone. His father would not accept him now. Neither would any other tribe.
And a whisper of thought, that had been wriggling at the back of his head since the fateful words had been spoken reared it’s head and said haven’t you always wondered what it would be like? To do magic? Don’t you think that magic can be a man’s strength?

‘I….I cannot, my chief’, said Ori-jak. ‘Fate and the Gods have spoken, they will not give him another destiny just because you will it’.
‘Then he will have no stone’, said Charn harshly. ‘And he will be a man by my word. Any who choose to dispute it can meet my spear in battle’.


Charn spun to face his son.
What am I doing? Karn asked himself. Speaking before he had thought.

‘I will not face life without a totem-stone, to be seen as less of a man. I will take the stone father. And I will not be a weakling. I will hone my mind and body. And I will make magic a man’s strength’.

His father stared at him for a long time. Breathing hard, and staring at him. Like Karn was a stranger that his father had seen for the first time.

‘Then take your stone Karn. But you will not stay in my lands while you wear it. And you will not sully my name. You are Karn No-Spear to me now. I have no son.
Get out of my sight’.