It took a little more than an hour for Gargus to reach the rocky edge of the Green Sea Valley, as it was labeled on the maps he had seen. As he walked down the natural ramp to the valley floor he understood why the ones who first saw it name it so, the green grass was very tall and it did move in the wind to give the appearance of waves on a vast green ocean. He enjoyed the feel of the grass on his large bare feet as he forged a new path through the knee high grass to the riverbank.
The morning sun warmed his mint green skin and gave brilliance to the three inch wide stripe of red hair that ran from the widow’s peak on his forehead to the small of this back. Today he wore an emerald green vest, unlaced and the leather laces with the silver buttons swayed with his steps, and brown shorts that went just past the knees. His Stompers, sandals with an inch wide piece of triangular cut stone sewn into the widest part of the sole, tied around his neck and kept time with his steps like a metronome.
“I hear you,” Gargus said as he patted his grumbling stomach. “Just a few paces more and we will have bread and cheese…and maybe some Moonberry wine too.”
True to his word, it was only a few paces before he reached the stump he and his father would sit on to “gear-up” for the day’s hunt. Gargus untied the burlap-like duffle that held his breakfast, wine skin and the turtle knife given to him by his father, a six inch long, and two inch wide curved blade with a four inch Blackwood handle. Gargus sat on the stump, turned his back to the sun, stretched his legs so his heels were in the first few inches of the river. He ate his breakfast of bread and cheese while watching and listening to the slow moving river.
He had always wondered what was on the other side of the river, if there was another side of the river. He had not seen it, not even from the top of the valley. There must be another side, he thought. Maybe if I scaled one of the mountains I could see it, but then again I don’t do heights well. Maybe it’s better left to the imagination.
Gargus took the wine skin out of the bag and squeezed it until his mouth was full of sweet Moonberry wine. Another squeeze of the skin and he was ready for the hunt. He took his Stompers from around his neck and replaced them with the wine skin. He slid his feet into the Stompers, stood up and with the bag in his left hand and his right hand through the leather loop of his knife he started walking towards the south along the riverbank.
“Now remember son,” Gronik said to his twelve year old son on his first Mud-Turtle hunt. “Make sure you hear the crack of the turtle’s spine before you try to pick them up.”
“If you don’t hear the loud crack of their spine they may still be alive and try to bite you,” Gronik said as he looked his son in the eyes.
“Look father, a turtle!” Young Gargus excitedly said.
“Well, go stomp on him,” Gronik said with a slight chuckle in his deep voice.
The twelve year old was as tall as his father, but was as thin as a sapling, and was on the turtle in three steps. He jumped and landed his right foot square on the turtle’s shell.
He bent over the turtle to pick it up when he heard his father yell “NO!” In his excitement Gargus had forgotten his father’s warning. The turtle shot his head out of its shell with a hiss and with its mouth agape clamped down on the fleshy part of the young hunter’s hand.
Gargus let out a terrifying scream as the pain shot up his arm. Gargus fell to his knees and stated beating the turtle on top of its head with his left hand, but the turtle only increased the pressure of the bite.
The turtle’s jaw released the tender young hand. Gargus grabbed the bleeding wound with his other hand.
“Let me see,” Gronik said as he was trying to catch his breath from the short sprint and jump that ended the turtle’s life. “I think you’ll live but we better head back and have that wound tended to.”
Gronic cut a strip out of the burlap-like bag and wrapped around the slowly bleeding wound.
Gargus stopped on looked at the scar left on his hand from that day, and then patted the golden turtle skull that hung from his gold chain. His father had the skull dipped in gold and gave it to his son on his thirteenth birthday. You’re right father, he thought. I will never reach down until I hear the loud crack.
Gargus had walked for almost a half hour before he saw his first turtle.
He put the dead turtle into his bag. Then he saw another one.
He picked the turtle up and that’s when he heard a strange noise. He tilted his head to point his right ear towards the sound. Is that a horse? He said to himself. I didn’t know there were wild horses in the valley. He looked up and saw a large black horse standing on it hind legs thrashing at the air with its fore legs. What’s a saddled horse doing out here by its self, he thought as he stood up watching the terrified horse. He took a step and that’s when a glint of light hit his right eye. Gargus shielded his eyes from the light and that’s when he saw him.
It was a human dressed in a red shirt with a black vest, tan pants that were brown from the knees down and…Mother of chaos, he said to himself. He has a dagger drawn!
* * *
“Relax human,” Gargus said in a demanding voice. “I have no need for a fight.”
It talks, Thrine though in amazement. Daggers of the Demon this monster talks!
Gargus stopped and stood straight so his whole imposing frame was witnessed by the human.
“Mother of Chaos you talk!” Thrine excitedly blurted out. But now, in that split second, his wished he could grab those words out of the air and stuff them back so he could say them in a less startled voice.
“Of course I talk,” Gargus said without hiding his disgust for the statement. “You humans don’t have a lock on intelligence, even though you might think that way. Now as I said, relax this is not a place for death.”
“Tell that to the turtle in your hand,” Thrine said in a more calm and royal voice.
“Ha…” Gargus chuckled. “You have a point there. I meant to say this is no place for warriors to spill their blood. Now, if you will sheath your dagger we can continue on a friendlier path.”
“And you knife,” Thrine said as he pointed to the turtle knife hanging off of thick right wrist of Gargus.
Gargus dropped the dead turtle from his left hand, pulled the knife off of his right and tucked it away in a side pocket of his hunting vest.
Thrine took a calming breath and put his dagger in its sheath. A couple of more breaths and a swipe of his forehead with his sleeve to remove the sweat and he was ready to continue on a friendlier path. He held out his right arm and raised his palm to calm Nightwish, who was still stamping the ground.
“It’s alright boy,” Thrine said in the calmest voice he could muster. Nightwish slowly calmed down but grumble in protest.
“I am Ki…Thrine Drackmore,” he said as he stood up from his defensive crouch.
“I am Gargus Nax, Grand Gorison of the Cublic Clan,” he said proudly. “I offer my hand in friendship.”
“I accept your offer and offer mine as well.”
Gargus took three strides and stood in front of Thrine. He extended his hand and so did Thrine.
“Your glove,” Gargus said as he shifted his gaze from Thrine’s eyes to his gloved right hand.
“My apologies, Gargus,” Thrine said as he hastily removed his black glove. “No offence meant.”
Gargus reached out and firmly gripped Thine’s forearm. His fingers wrapped completely around it. Thrine did the same but his hand only went half way around the massive mint green forearm. Gargus shook Thrine’s arm three times and then released it.
Still standing on the stump, Thrine was a good head shorter than Gargus. He stared at his massive new friend. Gargus’ eyes were human-like shaped but were red with black irises. His face was oval with a lantern jaw and protruding chin. His nose was broad but not bulbous. His thick lips were parted in a crooked smile bearing, what Thrine to believe, normal looking teeth. Gargus’ hair, Thrine thought it more resembled fur, started at a point just above the bridge of his nose and went up to his forehead forming a “V” that continued into a three inch stripe over the top of his head, at least that was all he could tell at this angle.
Gargus looked down at the human standing across from him. He had shoulder length wavy red hair, not unlike the color of his own hair, a thin beard that followed the chin line from ear to ear and a moustache that followed his thin upper lip and down both sides of his mouth until it met the beard. His nose was thin and his eyes were dark blue and had the shoulders of a man who new labor.
“I don’t mean to be rude,” Thrine said calmly. “But what manner of being are you?”
“I see you don’t mince words,” Gargus chuckled. Then he put up his hand palm first, seeing his new friend looked like he had phrased the question wrong. “No, you didn’t say anything wrong and I like a man who says what he feels. Your question is that of an inquisitive mind. I like that too. I am a Manitorik. I live in the town of Cublic, just past the forest behind me above the Green Sea.”
“That is what we call this valley.”
“We have no name for this place,” Thrine said as his heart rate returned to normal. “In fact this place is not on any map that I have seen.”
“Odd,” Gargus said with a tilt to his head. “Let us sit.”
Gargus sat crossed legged on the ground and Thrine started to sit on the stump.
“You don’t mind do you?” Thrine asked not wanting to seem better than Gargus. “At least this way I can talk to you without getting stiff in the neck.”
“No, no,” Gargus laughed. “I take no offence. Sit, sit. Would you like a drink of Moonberry wine?”
Gargus took the wine skin from around his neck and offered it to Thrine. He took the wine skin and then looked at Gargus.
“Here I will show you,” Gargus said taking the skin. “Just point it towards your mouth and squeeze.” Gargus filled his mouth and swallowed. “Ah,” he sighed. “Nothing better than Moonberry wine to celebrate a new friendship…here.” Gargus gave the wine skin back to Thrine.
Thrine took the skin, pointed it at his mouth and squeezed. The wine hit him in the nose.
“It’s much better if you drink it,” Gargus laughed.
Thrine used his sleeve to wipe his face then tried again. The wine hit the back of his throat and he began to cough. Gargus was now laughing uncontrollably.
“You might want to squeeze it a little softer.”
On the third time Thrine got a mouthful and swallowed it. The wine was strong and he immediately felt his body warm from the inside out. His eyes rolled to the top of his head under his squinted eyelids.”It’s very potent,” he said through a cough.
“Yes,” Gargus chuckled. “I suppose it is.”
It took a couple of more passes for Thrine to get a handle on how to drink out of the skin and to start feeling the effects of the Moonberry wine.
“I’m afraid I have not been completely honest with you Gargus, my new friend,” Thrine said as he passed the skin back. “I am actually King Drackmore of Marneth. I live in the capitol city of Holluse, about a day’s ride past the forest here. I haven’t been here since my father died twenty years ago. I used to come here, when I was much younger, to take refuge from my father and his lessons on how to be King In fact I am sitting on the stump I carved my name into with the dagger I he gave me as a birthday present not three days before he died. The very one I have here.”
Thrine took another drink and passed the skin back to Gargus.
“That’s a very interesting piece,” Thrine said as he pointed at the necklace around Gargus’ thick neck.
“Oh…yes, the turtle head,” Gargus said. “I too carry a gift from my father.”
Gargus told the story of the hunt and showed off the scar on his hand. The rest of the day was filled with stories and laughter as the two men traded tales of their past. Gargus squeezed the skin but nothing came out.
“We are out of wine and soon we will be out of daylight,” Gargus said as he slowly stood up. “We should do this again.”
“Yes, yes we should,” Thrine said as he slowly rose from the stump, then stumble. “I think it’s a good thing that Nightwish didn’t have any wine.”
Both men laughed, clasped arms and agreed to meet by the stump in a week.