First appearances are deceiving. No one is what they seem.
– The Proverbs of Shedey’uwr
The deer staggered under the impact of the heavy war spear. He regained his balance then stood for a moment as if confused about which way to run. Storm didn’t give him time to decide. With an exultant shout, he burst from the bushes and flung himself on the stag, slashing savagely with his boot knife.
His quarry lurched under this new impact as the heavy barbarian landed on his back. He recovered quickly, flinging his head viciously from side to side. Storm sucked in his breath with a hiss as the antlers gored his left shoulder. His grip loosened and he felt himself starting to slide. He scrambled madly and his foot found purchase on the spear embedded in the deer, who bleated in sudden pain. Before he could do anything else, Storm lashed out with blinding speed, tearing open the jugular then leaped away, wincing with pain as the shock of landing jarred his wounded shoulder.
Although the stag was clearly dying now, he danced back as it staggered forward several steps before surrendering to the inevitable. It dropped, quivered a time or two then was still.
Storm grinned. A stag this size would feed him for days.
His grin faded however as he surveyed his wound. Attacking with his knife had been foolish. One of the first lessons he’d learned as a child in this world was even a timid animal will fight like a dragon when cornered. Living here in the civilized south was making him careless. He was lucky to get off so cheaply, with nothing more than a wounded shoulder – it could have been his throat.
Striding back to the bushes where he’d been hiding he stuck in a long arm and pulled out a battered backpack. Pawing through it he pulled out his medicine pouch. Spreading it open revealed the herbs, compresses, and bandages which made up the normal field kit of a T’thalian soldier, left over from his short stint fighting alongside their army as a mercenary. Washing his wound, he applied them with quick, practiced movements.
At more than four cubits and a span in height, Storm was three talents weight of pure muscle and power. His skin was bronzed from years in the sun. His shoulder length, black hair moved gently in the breeze as he dressed out the fallen deer. His short beard lent his face a rugged aspect but couldn’t hide his evident intelligence. He was dressed in the normal attire of his barbarian tribe to the north – leather vest, pants and high laced boots. Steel bracers covered his wrists and forearms. A great hand-and-a-half sword, sometimes known as a bastard sword, dangled at his side; the brilliant sapphire set in the pommel matched his piercing, blue eyes.
By sunset, the deer had been expertly butchered. Small strips of meat hung drying over the fire while Storm tore at a thick steak, his strong teeth ripping off huge hunks of meat he washed down with enormous pulls at his wine skin. His war-horse, a bay stallion, stood guard just beyond the fire. Specter’s flashing hooves and vicious teeth promised certain, painful death to anyone foolish enough to approach without his master’s consent.
As Storm hung new strips of meat over the fire he reflected the stag hadn’t really fought like a dragon but allowing himself to be wounded by it showed how far he’d drifted from the upbringing of his adopted barbarian family, the Bear Clan.
Situated on the lower slopes of the great Rampart Mountains which spanned the northern edge of Gaia, the Bear Clan roamed the mountains less than a hundred leagues northwest of the Shimmerwood where the elves of old still held power, creating many things of art and beauty.
He’d been found 24 years ago, lying on a rock in the midst of the worst summer storm anyone could ever remember. He’d been just a year old when Vamer and Nadia found him crying in the pounding wind, rain, and lightning. For 40 years Nadia had been barren and she saw him as a gift from the gods to ease the pain of an empty womb. Vamer, despairing of a son to follow in his footsteps, had agreed to raise the squalling infant as their own and they named him after the storm which was raging when they him.
Storm learned quickly as he grew, so quickly it was almost as if he was remembering old skills rather than learning them afresh. He excelled at hand-to-hand combat, besting everyone who raised a hand against him, often with new and unusual moves no one had ever seen before. Others saw the moves he invented and wanted to learn them. Then, it was discovered he was also a natural leader and teacher, eagerly showing the other children his new techniques.
When he was barely able to walk, Vamer began training him to fight with sword, spear, and bow. He was an indifferent bowman at best but he soon displayed an innate ability with spears of all kinds, especially throwing spears. He practiced every day, over and over again until he could bring down a rabbit on the run or spear a bird in flight. When he’d been with them 12 years, he used his spears to bring down one of the great northern bears who roamed the mountains. Killing the fierce beast for which the Clan was named was a powerful omen and the chief said he was destined for great things.
Swordplay was where he truly excelled though. From the first time he held a sword in tiny pudgy hands, it seemed to be an extension of his arm. He always knew exactly where the point was, how the edges were angled, the strength of the metal, and the speed of the blade. As he grew and used progressively larger swords with equal ease and proficiency, Vamer’s heart swelled with pride. Storm became his son in every respect.
He taught him to hunt and fish. Strong and overlarge for his age, he was clumsy at first but challenges inspired him to constantly improve. Under Vamer’s tutelage he learned the silent patience of the predator, crouching motionless for hours then exploding into furious action at the sight of prey. Like the great northern bears, he learned to turn over logs for the insects living under them and Vamer showed him how to scoop fish out of the water with his bare hands. His senses grew sharper with each passing day. He learned to track his prey for hours by scent alone. His ears could pick up the slightest movement in the forest. Like the wolves, he could run for hours without tiring. With Vamer leading him, he soon became every inch the savage barbarian legend painted his people to be.
Nadia loved him as only a mother could, from the moment she found him. Every question he asked, she answered or found the answer to. When he asked about The Six, the gods of Gaia, she told him they were the survivors of the Chaos Wars that had nearly destroyed Gaia at the end of the First Age when the many minor gods who had fled Elder Earth to create this new world, fought to the death for supremacy over it. When he named it the universe of g-minor, for the minor gods who created it, she laughed at his joke in spite of its blasphemous nature. Later, when he angrily dismissed The Six as monsters who should be destroyed, she defended him and kept the chief from banishing him from the Clan.
He was raised by the Clan but it soon became obvious he was not of the Clan. He spurned their savage interpretation of pride and had a sense of fair play entirely missing from their heritage. As he grew older he began to display a stubborn independent streak that led him into conflict with the Vamer and the other men, questioning the way things were done, assuming he was always right and they were always wrong. The fact this was often the case, served to anger rather than win them over. Arguments between him and Vamer became an everyday occurrence, especially as he grew older and it soon became clear Vamer could no longer overpower him physically.
Countering the anger he stirred among the men was his unusual generosity when someone was in trouble. He was always the first to offer a helping hand to the less fortunate or donate food and clothing to those who had none. When a child broke through the ice and plunged into the icy waters of a mountain lake, it was Storm who dove in and pulled her to safety, spurning any reward from her grateful parents. Despite his heroism, the incident only served to highlight his increasing strangeness because no one in the Clan could swim and he couldn’t explain how he’d learned.
It was Nadia who, against all odds, kept him in the Clan until the summer of his fifteenth year but even her love couldn’t hold him forever.
It was an ordinary hunting trip that caused the final breach. Storm was with Vamer and a large hunting party. They’d brought down three bull moose, enough meat to feed the clan for days, when Storm gave a casual order to one of the men four times his age. Claymon resented a youth of just 15 trying to give him orders and gave Storm a shove to push him out of the way. Storm’s volcanic temper erupted and he attacked. Before Claymon knew what was happening, Storm had him on the ground with a knife at his throat. His anger subsided as quickly as it rose and he let the man up but the damage was done.
Claymon angrily demanded Vamer make Storm apologize. When Storm refused, he and Vamer came to blows with the same result as with Claymon, Vamer found himself on the ground with a knife at his throat.
Storm let him up then cut himself a hunk of meat from the carcasses and took off into the forest. The men assumed he was going back to the clan but when they arrived at sunset, he was nowhere to be found.
The Clan never saw him again.