A/N: Five months. Even I couldn't believe it when I saw how long it had been since I updated this. I have nothing to say except I'm really sorry to have left you hanging this long. I never meant for this story to just drop off like that, but it just happened. I had school and other stories that I wanted to get posted too. I always planned on getting back to the forbidden lands, but it just seemed to get pushed back. I hope all of you readers didn't give up on this, and I'm sorry it took me so long to finish it. But I hope you enjoy it anyway.
Chapter 10: The Horse and The Rider
Wander sat alone, just a few steps from the shrine. The air was thick and dripping, and the sun beat mercilessly down upon him. Only a few days had passed since his had spied the uncovered skin of Mono's back, and Wander knew not what to make of it. Mother and son had hardly spoken since then. He noted that they rarely even ate together. She would prepare the meal, and then she would leave him. The day after he had spied her bathing, Wander had known that she now feared him. He had seen it in her darkened eyes. In all truth, he was as fearful of himself. He had brought pain upon himself when he saw the worrisome spark looking back at him. It had burned him, and now he sat with his own back towards the burning, punishing eye above him, allowing it to scorch him.
If that had not been enough, Wander looked down upon the bruises that littered his chest. He had beaten his hands upon himself that day, and he still bore the marks. He knew not why he had done so, but he supposed that it was a due reward. When Mono had seen them, she appeared as any mother would at seeing her child harmed. But he had moved away from her, unsure of what he might do should she place a hand upon him. He had not told her, but he was glad of the pain he had done upon him, for it had driven such thoughts from him. It had not lasted, yet relief of any length gladdened him.
Wander drew his knees up to his chin. He felt such shame at what he had done, and he knew he should. Yet, he wondered why he wished that image to linger at times. He did not know what word he could say to describe Mono. He had always glanced at the shape of her legs as they worked, the gleam in her dark eyes, the flowing stream of black from her head, the shade of her skin, and he found each of them stirring, and he could not find any word he knew that would fit. He had seen many blossoming plants that had produced buds and later flowers of all colors when their time was right. He wondered if he could fittingly compare Mono to such as those, although she seemed far different from any growing thing. He did not even know how to describe those first fruits of the earth, and so he doubted that such a description would fit her.
It was not just her form he found stirring, but her heart as well. He had seen her face so many hardships, and she had come through them. With her by his side, he had done the same. Yet, the days seemed to have chilled her, just as winter chilled the land. Wander supposed that the fault was also his for having spied on her.
It was the middle of the day, and it was not long before he would eat with her. When he joined Mono in the shrine, they hardly spoke a word to each other. Wander looked upon her in between bites of the fish that she had caught. She sat a fair distance from him, resting on her knees, instead of crossing her legs beneath her. Even at the distance he was, Wander could see cares he could not understand working their way across her youthful face. She seemed to fear him, and though she had reason, it was but another unanswered question to the confused man.
He still wished he could cross the floor to her side, and he knew not why. To him, it felt as though he hungered, but food could not satisfy. He wished he could ask her of such things, but he knew not how to do so. Why did he feel so ill and yet so pleased in her presence? Why did he find himself thinking about her? Why did he feel the need to follow her that day? Why did he feel a strange tightness against his garment when his dwelled upon her for such a long time? He wondered if she could give him answers or if she would merely dismiss him.
Wander growled in frustration as he ate. His shoulders hunched forward as a scowl appeared upon his face. He found himself unable to abide the taste of fish. He wanted meat, but he had not hunted. It gladdened him to have a new thought to chase away the old ones. When he had finished, he sought out the company of his bow and the small skin quiver of arrows. They were such fitting companions for one such as he. They did not shy away from his touch, nor did they look upon him with ill-favored eyes. Yes, he would hunt today, and perhaps at least quench his hunger for meat. But a new thought began to grow alongside his longing for the flesh of animal. Looking up the winding path, Wander supposed that he could hunt in a rather new way.
Journeying up to the gardens, he found the horse, Agro idly grazing among the browning grass. Though she had told him little, Mono had once mentioned how men would ride beasts such as this one. The ears of the horse twitched as he heard the sound of approaching footfalls, and his head sprung up to meet his visitor. As Wander neared the animal, Agro neared the man. When they met, Wander reached out to stroke the horse as he had often done.
It seemed to him that Agro was very much like Mono. In his eyes, Wander could see the cares of age, yet though he seemed slower than when his visitor was but a boy, the horse also seemed to have a slight spark of youth within his flanks. The young man was most hopeful that such a small burning had not died, as was the way of fire. Though flame would turn to ash in time, Wander hoped that it was not so with the animal. Allowing the beast to smell his hand, Wander led the horse away from the shrine.
It amazed him that Agro would willingly follow his lead without restraint to compel him. Though he had grown with the animal, Wander knew not the ways of a horseman, though he had known from Mono's words that men would ride them. He was glad that his mother was not in the shrine as he left; he did not wish to give any answer if she had seen him and no doubt asked what he intended on doing with the old horse. When they were a safe distance from the shrine, Wander stopped and looped the strap of his quiver around his shoulder. With bow in hand, and the strap running across his bare chest, he wondered if he looked anything like the hunting men who lived outside the land.
Coming up to the side of his companion, he gently lifted one leg and soon, he found himself atop Agro. He beamed with pride as he thought of what he had now done. Mono had not permitted him to do anything such as this when he was a boy, and so he felt quite pleased to have seated himself upon his fellow traveler. He knew not at first how to urge the horse forward, but he soon found that with a light kick, Agro indeed moved, as if it were in his nature to do so.
With no thought to where he would ride, Wander turned the horse away from the shrine to the south, though he did not know such a direction.
The calling of birds and the rustling of hurried wings sounded over the grasses as Wander rode Agro among them. The horse neighed and whinnied in sounds that his rider could only guess were the sounds of glee. As the fowl took to the air, Wander notched and shot arrow upon arrow at his prey. With a kick, he urged the horse into a run hoping to bring even a single bird to the ground. Agro's hooves thundered against the ground. His breaths loudly sounded in Wander's ears. Wander's own heart was beating wildly as his body shook from their pace. Upon the sight of more birds to his left, Wander dug his knee into the flanks of his bearer, and Agro turned. He knew not how he knew to guide the horse, but he did not care. Again, he loosed an arrow, reveling in the rapid pace of his beating heart and Agro's beating hooves.
With a great cry, he urged the horse on faster in pursuit of his winged game. Left and right, he turned Agro as he caught sight of them. He did not know their names or even if they were fit to eat, but Wander did not care at present. He only wished to continue the hunt. At times, he thought he saw a bird fall from the sky. At other times, he knew only his arrow had fallen.
When at last, his quiver was emptied, he tugged sharply on the hairs of his friend, and Agro came to an obedient halt. Wander marveled at how he knew to do this, or that an animal such as this one should know to stop for such a silent command. Wander dismounted, grunting slightly as the force at which his feet met the ground. He turned his eyes skyward, and he watched many flocks flying here and there shouting whatever warnings birds would give their fellows. His arrows were spent. He supposed Mono would reprimand him for wasting them with no game to present to her. Wander cared not for it. All that he thought of was the quickened beating of his heart, the rapid breathing of he and his companion, the loosening of his boiling blood in the thrill of the hunt. Yet some strange sensation coursed along his back, as though something were crawling in time with each beat of his heart.
Wander quickly dismissed it, for he was too pleased to think ill of the moment. Spreading his arms, he cried out, "I am a man!" He knew not why he made such a declaration, for he knew so little of the ways of man. Yet as he felt the release of his earlier burdens in such a savage sport, he felt as if he were truly one. A nervous neigh from Agro, however, cooled his blood, and he supposed that his shout had frightened the horse. Stroking his nose again, Wander walked a fair distance and called for the horse. He had determined that he should walk so that he might find his arrows, if they had indeed felled a bird. When Agro came to him, he set off back along the trodden path they had made.
When he had come again to the shrine, the afternoon was beginning to age. He had gone slowly as he searched along the path, but he had only come across three birds in number with an arrow stuck through them. He carried them slung over his shoulder, and he had felt the slow coursing of blood for a moment before the carcasses had run dry. It did not frustrate him to have lost so many arrows, for Wander felt strangely happy at what he had done. He wondered if he had done any great feat to hunt from the back of a horse, and he wondered what might Mono think of his deed.
He saw her standing at the top of the winding path. She hurried down to him, and when she drew nearer, Wander saw the look of worry common to his mother appear again in her eyes.
"Where have you been, my son?" she asked. Wander could not help but again look over the tanned skin of her limbs, and yet on this occasion, he seemed to push any notion aside. "Where have you been, and why have you taken Agro?" Mono asked again.
"I went hunting, mother," he replied, holding up the fruits of his labor. They were not plump birds, but they were still of a rather good size. The necks were what truly set them apart from the other sorts of fowl Wander had seen in their home, for they were quite long. He thought that perhaps Mono would know their name, and he was curious to know.
"Three geese," she said, "Three geese for all of your arrows."
Wander frowned at the mention of his losses, and he quickly answered back, "It was the first time I hunted birds, mother. Isn't that worth something?"
"Of course is it, son. But we need your arrows to survive, just as we need my fishing spears and snares. You can't waste them because we will need to make more. Tomorrow, I want you to gather the wood and stones that you'll need; but for now, well done."
At her words, the hunter's face brightened, and he proceeded to tell Mono of how he forced his prey to the air and shot them as they flew, though he said nothing of his riding Agro.
"I wish you could have seen me," he added with excitement.
"I imagine you were quite the sight, Wander. You are becoming a great hunter. But tell me this, how did you keep up with them? Did you ride Agro?"
At once, Wander let his eyes fall to the ground. He had been found out. He clenched one hand into a fist and pawed the ground with one foot. He knew not what he could say, save for two words. But as he thought to say them, his face willed itself to rise. Mono tilted her head as his eyes met hers. Though he could see them not, his eyes seemed to reflect a pride in his work. The thought that he should feel no shame in what he had done began to swell within his chest, and he answered firmly, "I did."
Mono sighed and her shoulders sagged. "I have told you since you were a boy that you were not to ride him. How do you even know how to ride a horse?"
"I don't know, but I did it."
"Wander, Agro, is old. He is strong, but he is still old."
"He doesn't look it," Wander answered back.
"He may not, but that does not change his age. And though you may have found it thrilling, what you did was more foolhardy. Wander, I have known men to be killed with such recklessness. If Agro had thrown you, I would probably be digging your grave. For my sake, son, please don't ride him."
"But he didn't throw me, and I plan on riding him again." Mono bared her teeth in an exasperated fit.
"First you were climbing walls. Now, you're hunting while on horseback. Can you obey in this? Wander, I forbid you to ride Agro as you did. When you sleep tonight, think about me and what it will be like if I have to bury you." A silent clap of thunder sounded between mother and son, and it shook the two of them as they continued to look upon each other. Unfaltering streaks of lightning flashed across their eyes. Each breath was an unrelenting gale. At length, however, the storm passed, and Mono reached to take the fowl her son had claimed. "Come," she said, her voice now softer, "let's prepare these fine birds."
Wander watched as Mono removed the feathers and set about preparing their meal for the night. She held back as much meat as she was able in order to preserve the rest for their winter store. Any part she knew how she might use, she saved. Even as he observed her cooking the meat in gratitude, another part of him felt a twinge of disdain at her ordering him about as if he were still a child. He was a man. She had said the words herself once, and he had proclaimed it. A single spark of disregard lit within him. He gave no thought to putting it out, and by the time he slept, it had fanned itself into a flame. When he thought of the rushing of the wind against his face, the rumbling of hooves in his ears, the pounding of his heart within his chest, and the wild thrill of the rapid hunt, Wander silently resolved to ride again as he had done.
At the sun's first waking, Wander arose before Mono. He looked around to spot her sleeping form some ten steps away from where he had lain. He silently crept to the winding path, though he winced as the chills of the morning dew pierced his bare feet. Still, he found the coolness a comfort when he thought of the burning sun and dripping air of the late morning and midday. Slowly, he made his way to the path. With a nervous swallow, he began to descend it. Once or twice, he had to catch himself as the collected dew unsteadied him. He feared that he might fall, and Mono would doubtlessly hear him should he cry out. He let his tongue run over his lips, even though he did not know why, and he continued.
When he reached the bottom, Wander crept to a hole in the wall where his mother would store the dried meat. He reached his hand into the gap, and it returned with a large piece of what was one deer meet. Holding it tightly, Wander left. He quickened his pace but only slightly. Only when he reached the grasses outside did he will his legs to run, though he slowed himself again to eat. His belly full, he set himself to the task of finding small stones with which he could sharpen into arrowheads and also long sticks to craft into arrows. He thought that it would take a good part of the day to fill his skin quiver again, and so he thought it best to begin at this early hour. For most of the morning, his efforts gained him little, although as morning gave way to midday, Wander began to find the needed stones.
When the sun again glared hotly down upon his shoulders, Wander turned his steps back towards the shrine. The grasses, once chilled, were now a dried and prickly path underfoot, and though he had long grown accustomed to such a rough course, he was not pleased to walk upon it. Yet, he beamed when he thought of the thrill that he would no doubt have. He had only found three sticks and four rocks, but Wander cared not for the number. He cared only for the arrows that they would make.
At length, he returned to the shrine, only to find Mono waiting for him with a most displeased face. Her hands rested disapprovingly upon her hips, and again her foot rose and fell as it always did when her mood turned foul. "Where have you been?" she asked sharply.
"I went looking for wood and stones to make arrows," Wander admitted, holding up what few he had. At this occasion, he found it far too easy to forget what strange stares he would have given her. He disliked how she spoke to him.
"Why did you leave without saying so?"
"I didn't think I needed to say anything. After all, if I'm a man, I shouldn't have to come to you just to ask."
"It's not a matter of permission, Wander," Mono replied with a glare. Wander noticed one hand tightening into a fist. "I have always come to tell you of where I plan to go for the day. For that matter, why did you leave so early?"
Wander felt his back grow stiff as the question reached his ears. He could feel a slight bead of sweat forming on his brow. He thought back to the days of the strange voices and images that came to him in sleep, for he had not given an answer to her then. "I thought you might have kept me busy," he said at last, "and I wanted to get this done first. We do need the meat, don't we?"
His mother said nothing at first. The two of them only stared at each other. As he looked upon her, Wander could see an indiscernible glint in Mono's eyes. Was it doubt or disbelief? Was it disappointment that he had spoken untruthfully, although he understood little of the ways of guile or deceit? Was it fear then? The thought that he was now being challenged roared within his mind, and at once, he felt his face grow hot in anger. His muscles grew tight, as he continued to meet her gaze. Though he could not see his own eyes, he appeared to her as if he were hoping to dissuade her as though he was a great bear. He thought he saw her take a slight step back, though he knew not for certain if she had. At last, Mono spoke.
"We do, but next time, please tell me where you are going before you set off on your own." Her voice was soft and gentle, and Wander felt as if he were growing smaller as her answer calmed him. Slowly, she approached her son. "Now, let's eat and start on the work that we have to do for winter."
It took a count of three days before Wander had crafted enough arrows to fill his quiver. For one day, he continued to forage and gather wood, rock, and crawling plant. For the second and third, he cut the wood and made it into shafts, sharpened the stones, and fixed them together with the plants. All the while, he thought with boyish excitement of the coming ride atop the grand horse that he only now learned to ride. He, on occasion when he was left alone, could not help but act as if he were already on the back of Agro, and it was as if the rushing wind were already blowing over his face. When at last he had stocked his quiver, Wander could hardly bring himself to sleep that night. For tomorrow would bring the hunt, and at last, he knew he could put aside what notions the sight of his mother brought to his mind. Yet before he would forget such dreams, in sleep, he could not help but dream again of her.
The next day, after he had eaten and Mono set herself to work, Wander took Agro, and again rode over the land. For much of the ride, he urged the horse into runs, though he now slowed him in order to survey his surroundings. Sitting on top of the great animal, Wander thought much of himself. He knew nothing of kings, for he had never heard the word. However, as he sat tall and proud and looking over as far as the eye could see in each direction, he felt as though he were indeed one. This land was his domain, and it brought him pride to think of it as such. Spotting movement ahead of him, Wander gently kicked Agro to spur him into a walk.
Across the way, Wander's eyes fell upon a number of deer. They had not yet heard him, for they kept their heads down. He was still a fair distance from his prey, but he smiled as if he had walked into their midst unseen and unknown. His shoulders tensed, and his back stiffened as he made ready. Preparing his bow, Wander urged his horse into a run. His lips parted as a loud cry pushed its way them. The head s of the deer suddenly darted up in wonder and fear. By instinct, they began to flee, but the hunter was not deterred. With a neigh, Agro gave chase, and his master turned his bow here and there, shooting arrows towards the flanks of his quarry.
Though he only felled a single deer, Wander again felt such pride in his chest that he again looked into the sky and called out with a primal cheer. His heart pounded again within him, and he danced about, kicking up small pieces of dirt. He did not know why he carried on in this way, but he did not think on it.
In this way, Wander continued to hunt. He would goad the animals into flight, only to pursue them. Often he was rewarded with no meat, but the days came when he brought home a hearty deer or even a few birds. But he no longer thought of the necessity of his efforts. All he thought of was the wild rush of the wind and the thrill that was now his. Even when Mono spotted him leading Agro back to the shrine, he was not discouraged. He was reprimanded often sternly, but he cared not. He would continue to do this thing, if only to spare himself and her the heated glances and notions that had followed the few years that he had come of age.
One warm night, after of hunting as he did for a count of four days, Wander lay down in the garden, looking up at the clear sky. His hands rested behind his head, and his face was agleam with pride. He had only recently returned from another hunt, and though his mother had again met him with wrath, he was quite content. He had not thought of Mono as he once did. Even the sight of her limbs and her neck did not stir him as before. Oh, he still found her a sight to behold, but he was gladdened to have found something that stirred his blood far more. Though he still found himself question the thoughts that lingered on, he no longer felt the need to ask why or fearfully think of asking Mono of them.
He smiled as he thought of all he had done. He lived only now for the hunt and the thrill of success, both in the kill and in eluding his mother. He could easily forget her words of rebuke. He could easily put aside the shameful glances he had given her. He could easily put aside those unearthly voices that had once haunted him. He remembered them far too well, but he no longer allowed himself to ponder the meaning of what they had spoken to him. But they continued to whisper in his ear, despite his efforts to silence them.
"Know this, when thy heart can withstand no longer its own beating, thou wilt release us from this fleshy binding."
With every moment, he heard those words echo and again until at last he fell asleep. He knew not if the voices spoke again because of what he had done, but he cared not. If they thought to keep him from riding, then they too would find that he would not be stopped.
A/N: Seems like nothing much happened right? I mean Wander's just learning to hunt. But I figured that with how he's feeling towards Mono, he would welcome any sort of distraction since he still doesn't get it. You also have to figure that he would probably come to ask himself why he couldn't ride Agro, espeically since they know each other. Besides, you had to figure he'd be even a bit rebellious. But I wanted to really give the message that in a way, he's self-medicating if you will. Except instead of Mono, now he has being a thrill seeker to focus on.
For those of you who are wondering why he's able to ride Agro especially after his big fall in the game, think back to one of the earlier chapters. Since Dormin is no longer split up, I figured that it's power might still be leaking out slightly, so I had it heal Agro's leg. And that's also given him some other effects. Not bad for an old horse.
I had also intended on something slightly different when I started this chapter, but it sort of grew in its own way. By the time I got to that last bit, I thought it was time to stop because it was just getting longer. I also thought it might be a good idea to link back to Dormin talking to him.
Anyway, once again, I'm sorry it took so long to finish this. Hopefully, it doesn't take me so long to finish it. Let me warn you in advance, it's going to be a doozy, at least I hope it will.