Continued from The Giant’s Shield (Part II).
Dawn arrived, and as a stray ray of sunlight hit his face, he scowled and opened his eyes. Everything around was unfamiliar to him: from the soft, wet moss beneath his body, to the local sounds of foreign birds and bugs. For a moment, he thought he heard Horse stamp one foot, as though eager for something. When he looked around, she was nowhere near.
On hands and knees, he crawled from his resting place and dusted off his damp fur and leather clothing, but stopped as his eyes fell on that eerily smooth cliff face. It looked like the same shape as the shields that knights might carry, although this one was stone and easily stood as tall as twenty houses, if not more.
Around the shield, the trees seemed to suddenly stop growing, leaving a half-circle that was the length of three humans laying end to end from the center to the outside.
Finally, Ask looked up as high as he could. The top of the cliff was so far away, but the top of the shield was only half as tall as the sheer side, and it slanted slightly, as though rested against the other stone. As Ask tried to understand this, the animal calls stopped suddenly. It was like each one died at the same moment. The goblin looked around, then darted behind the shield and peeked out.
As silent as a slit throat, something Ask had never seen before approached the tree he slept under and sniffed at it. It rose and looked around.
The creature was twice Ask’s size and looked halfway like a lizard, with enough man to stand upright. Its head was a blunted triangle, and it pulled its lips back as it breathed through its teeth.
Black eyes, darker than any night Ask had seen, peered around for several long minutes as Ask took the sight of the thing in. It wore armor of blackened, diseased tree bark, and carried a spear, although it ended in a curved blade rather than a point, and it seemed to be made out of burned glass that reflected the sun’s light strangely.
The thing turned its head toward Ask, and he ducked back and held his breath, hands over his mouth.
It seemed like forever until the sounds of birds and bugs returned, and the youth crept from his hiding place.
That thing, whatever it was, scared everything here. Ask did not want to know why, and quickly decided that climbing would be the best way to escape the thing’s territory.
He needed food first. His stomach growled loudly, and Ask was not about to risk that being heard by a weird monster with a magic spear.
He was not going to do anything that might catch its attention, if he could help it.
Food. His eyes scanned the edge of the clearing that surrounded the shield, and he scratched his head. Cities were easy to find food in. This wasn’t a city, and he felt lost. He had no weapons, no tools, no knowledge. A forest was not a desert. Plants here probably wouldn’t have water inside. Animals weren’t underground, not with all the roots from the trees in the way.
So, for a time, he wandered and explored the area nearest the shield. He found a sharp rock and a sleeping doe, but while he was quiet enough in a city to sneak around undetected, a forest was another thing entirely. A twig snapped under his foot, and the animal looked up at him.
Her eyes looked like Horse’s eyes, a little bit, and he turned away from her. Stupid Horse. He couldn’t say it out loud. His body rebelled when he tried.
Time moved on, and near noon, Ask finally found a meal– a sleeping lizard that wasn’t too puny. He killed it in one blow with a “Thuck!” of stone on flesh, and eagerly tore into its meat with teeth and claws.
It wasn’t enough, but it was a start. He sought deeper into the forest, and finally found something with a bit more meat– an injured bird. Blood and feathers stuck to him when he was done, but at least he didn’t feel starved anymore. It would keep him for the rest of the day, if his body still worked like it did back in Njolr.
His body wasn’t like it had been in Njolr. He had muscle and meat on his bones, and his flesh was tougher. He looked at his own hand, then made his choice– he would hunt until he was sure he had enough to eat, and hunt some more to ensure his trip up the sheer cliff wasn’t hungry.
Deeper and deeper he went, finding and eating whatever animals were unwary or injured, or even freshly dead. As his hunting ended, he felt ill, but carried the rest of his catch back to the shield, where he used strips from his pants to tie the food to himself. Task finished, he looked at the sheer stone and backed up, then ran and jumped onto it for an easier start before he used his hard claws and his muscle to pull himself up and up. Every foot of progress felt like an eternity.
The sun set, and he wasn’t very high at all.
He continued on, until he came to the top of the shield, and rested there.
Silence woke him, and he peered down. The moonlight did little to illuminate anything, but he thought he could make out movement near the base of the shield, and then he watched as the vague figure slipped into the forest.
Ask let out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding, and as noises returned, he found sleep again.
The morning sun was irritatingly bright as it shone down on Ask and warmed him quickly, until he became uncomfortable.
The smell of his previous catches wasn’t making him entirely comfortable either, but he ate one of the rabbits before he took a deep breath and began to climb again.
The silence returned after he climbed another fifteen feet up the sheer face.