Forum Activity for @nathan-miller

Nathan Miller
02/18/19 03:22:45AM
7 posts


West Coast Eisteddfod Online Short Story Competition 2018

by Nathan Miller

Another pair of crossed yew boughs parted. Past it, the forest opened out. Smaller trunks of more yew and other understory vegetation crowded together a few more paces past the remainder of the forest fence. Beyond that, oak and beech towered over us, massive trunks wider than my own armspan holding branches that scraped the sky.
Those branches held a leafy canopy dense enough to nearly blot out what sun managed to pierce the near-constant early fall cloud cover. Enough that I could remove my veil without the highly unfortunate and even more annoying risk of quick and severe sunburn.
“Your Highness? Are you sure this is a good idea? I mean to offense, of course, but there is a very good reason why no one ever comes here.”
I chuckled. “Clarys, there is very little that can intimidate one who has stared death in the face.”
“Of course. But from what I have heard, this is quite another way of staring death in the face.” She leaned closer and said quietly in my ear, “Most death does not have a mouth full of sharp teeth in jaws strong enough to bite a man in half.”
I cast her a sideways glance. “I will be sure to bear that in mind.”
She cleared her throat. “That is, I would really rather not be bitten in half.”
“Nor would I.”
“Yes, but it won't kill you.”
“True, but I am quite sure it would hurt a great deal. Until someone shoves my pieces back together.”
“Your Highness, you worry me.”
“You could have stayed behind, you know.”
“If you think I am going to just let you face it without me, you should think again. Your Highness.” She cast me a wry smile. I returned it.
“Clarys,” I said, “have I told you how glad I am to have someone like you watching my back?”
“Yes,” she said, “I believe you have.”
“I believe I have also told you to stop calling me 'Highness' in private?”
“Whatever you say, your Highness.”
I groaned. “Clarys, whatever will I do with you?”
A strange sound stopped us in our tracks within arm's reach of the wall of foliage. It was unlike anything I had ever heard. It reminded me of what I might have expected if one were to combine the calls of sea lion, sea gull, and cat.
We looked at each other wide-eyed.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” she said quietly.
I grinned.
“You are having far too much fun,” she said.
I chuckled. “What is the point of living if you cannot feel alive?”
We moved slowly between the smaller trees, some of them barely far enough apart for us to pass. The trunks grew gradually larger and further apart as we passed deeper into the forest, bark going from smooth to progressively rougher and more deeply furrowed.
The forest remained eerily quiet. No birds, no frogs, hardly even the rustle of leaves in the weak breeze. Except for the erratic cry of whatever strange animal made it, and the gentle rustling of our footfalls in the leaf litter, the place was utterly silent.
To the right, the forest floor sloped sharply away toward the river. It dropped into a deep depression where the river's course had once cut a bank and had since migrated away as rivers are wont to do, leaving a gravel bar peppered with alder, hawthorn, and ash.
Something else had also cut into the bank, dragging large piles of soil, sand, and peat out onto the gravel to make a large ring easily ten of my own arm spans across and as high as my waist.
The shattered remains of several large eggs, each at least the size of a human head lay near the center of the ring. Bones of all sizes and shapes, some whole and some broken or shattered, littered the floor. Flies buzzed about the few bits of flesh that still clung to a few of the bones. Small piles of dung lay outside the nest.
Atop the ring and outside of it, many large footprints had been pressed into the earth. Smaller versions of them ran all over the floor of the nest. Each print had three large toes, each as long as my forearm, like those of a wading bird without its rear toe. How a creature that size had managed to evade detection in Britain, let alone feed itself, to say nothing of maintaining a breeding population, was quite beyond me.
Clarys gasped. “Correction,” she whimpered, barely loud enough for me to hear, “I have a very bad feeling about this.”
“We came seeking dragons,” I said. “Did you not think we would find something like this?”
“I...I was...I did not...”
“You thought we were chasing rumors? Ghosts, perhaps? Something other than a flesh and blood creature?”
She nodded.
I grinned and gestured toward the nest. “Apparently, they do exist.”
“Another correction,” she whispered, “you are having for more fun than the laws of heaven or earth should ever allow.”
I chuckled, then moved on, staying well above the old river plain. I longed to go down there and examine the egg shells, the scat, everything. But I knew that some animals nested in the same places year after year and some of those were very particular about disturbances to their nesting sites.
Partway around the riverbank's rim, several small trees about the girth of my arm had been broken off about chest height. The pieces lay cantered off at various angles. A few of those had clearly been trampled, pressed into the earth and crushed.
The most recent set of tracks led northward and angled away from the river. I followed them a few paces aside. If what Mama had told me about dragons was true, then the beasts were sure to resent intrusion.
“Clarys,” I said over my shoulder, “you are breathing too hard.”
“That is easy for you to say,” she grunted, “O she who does not breathe at all.”
“Unless I am mistaken, I would say you are envious of me.”
“I have been watching you ever since you resurrected. Not having to breathe has...certain advantages.”
“Perhaps. Alright, certainly. But it is also very disturbing.” I stopped and listened. “The point, O sister I never had, is that your breathing makes it difficult for me to hear what might lay ahead.”
She gestured at the nearest footprint. “If it was what we heard earlier, I highly doubt my breathing will be able to drown it out.”
“Fair enough,” I said as I resumed my walk.
We followed the tracks ever deeper into the forest and ever further upriver. Almost without warning, the trail broke out of the woods and into a large clearing well over a hundred paces across. We both froze.
Within a ring of towering grey trunks lay a jumble of toppled trees, snapped and shattered branches larger than my own limbs, and trampled root-balls.
In the middle of the verdant clearing, a single animal lay on the ground among waist-high nettles and bracken. At first, I might have mistaken it for a great russet cow laying in a field, its head half-lowered to the earth.
This creature's head, mounted on a short, stout neck, was nearly as large as my entire body. Between its lips, I could see many sharp, dagger-like teeth. It slowly turned its head one way and then the other in the manner of a dog passively scanning its surroundings. Its eyes, from this distance, seemed more bird-like than reptilian.
“It does not look that dangerous,” Clarys whispered.
The animal turned its head abruptly toward us.
I cocked an eyebrow at Clarys. She cringed.
The animal flared its nostrils. I could hear its huffing breath across the space. Then it snorted and stood up. If it looked large laying on the ground, it looked even bigger standing up.
It was enormous, easily the mass of five good-sized draft horses. From the ground to the top of its head measured twice the height of a man. It stood on massive hind legs like a pair of palisade logs, mounted more or less in the middle of its body. It held an equally massive tail stiffly out behind it that counterbalanced the rest of its body. In front of a deep, barrel chest, it held two sturdy arms, each the size of my leg and tipped with three clawed fingers. Its head was easily the size of my entire body.
The creature held itself more or less level with the ground. Over rough skin the color of mottled brick lay a thin layer of what looked like a sort of mossy fluff.
It stood there almost motionless. In fact, if I had happened upon it in the middle of the forest, I might not have immediately known it to be alive, and not part of the general forest background. Perhaps that was how they had remained hidden for so long.
“Do not move,” I said slowly through clenched teeth.
“How do you...” Clarys started to ask.
“We cannot outrun that,” I said. “Besides, I have an idea.”
The dragon growled, a deep sound that I could feel vibrating clear to the base of my skull. It turned and took several large, ground-shaking steps toward us. It covered the space quickly and loomed over us. It bent its head down and let out an ear-splitting, eye-rattling roar.
A powerful gust of warm, damp air buffeted at my body. I immediately recognized the sickly-sweet odor of partially-digested meat. I had smelled it time and time again on the breath of cats. I blinked. Then I roared back, a pitiful sound in contrast.
The dragon shut its mouth, then turned its head to peer at me with one eye. It turned its head the other way and peered at me with the other eye. It growled. I growled back pitifully.
The dragon drew its head away and looked at me again along its snout. It tilted its head one way and then the other, blinking its large amber cat-eyes. Then it lowered its head again until its nostrils were less than arm's reach from my face. It snorted. I snorted back.
“” Clarys squeaked from behind me.
The dragon turned its head toward Clarys and started to growl.
I reached up, grabbed it by one nostril and jerked its head back down. “Bad dragon,” I scolded.
It started to growl again and I thumped my fist on the tip of its snout. “Fflyffu, stop that!”
“You...named it?” Clarys protested.
“Why not?” I began stroking the dragon's snout. A low, rhythmic rumbling sound began deep in its chest. “You see? She's not so bad.”
“She? How do you know?”
“I, uh, looked. No pizzle.”
“No pizzle? Amabilia, I am more occupied by that mouth full of teeth that could bite us in half as soon as look at us!”
“Ah. Well.” I shrugged. “I'm not terribly concerned about that.”
“Of course you aren't,” she snorted. “Being bitten in half won't exactly kill you.”
“Perhaps not,” I said pensively. “Do you think I might manage to pull my own pieces back together?”
“I worry about you.”
“Doesn't everyone?”
Clarys groaned. “What are we going to do with you?”
I ran my fingers along the dragon's rough skin, and over the small horn above its eye. “The real question,” I said, “is what we're going to do with Fflyffu here.”
“Amabilia, you can't name a draon Fflyffu!”
“Why not?” I ran my fingers toward the back of Fflyffu's head and the fine downy fuzz that began a handspan past her jaw. “She is, in fact, covered with fluff.”
“Because that's a name for cats.”
“Well, I like it. It's ironic.”
“Because no one will expect it?”
“Exactly. Not even when she tears into the armies of Henry.”
“Wait, wait, wait. You are not thinking what I think you're thinking.”
I grinned at Clarys. “If you mean using Fflyffu to drive the Normans back into the sea? Now, why on earth would I be thinking that?”
Clarys half-glared at me. “And how do you intend to accomplish that?”
I returned my attention to Fflyffu and her soothing purring sound. “I'm working on that.”
“Well, you had better work faster, because sooner or later, someone is bound to come looking for us. And I daresay it will be sooner rather than later.”
I sighed. “You're probably right.” I hooked my fingers into the layer of fluff just about where Fflyffu's shoulder was and pulled. “Fflyffu,” I commanded, “down.”
The dragon turned her head, peered at me for a moment, and snorted. Before I could speak again, she lowered herself to the ground.
“How did you do that?” said Clarys.
“I think we're developing an understanding.”
“With the single most violent, aggressive, and feared creature on earth?”
I grinned my own best dragon grin.
“Very funny,” said Clarys.
“Like I said, she's not so bad.” I petted a swath of fluff just behind Fflyffu's shoulder. “Perhaps a little irritable. So are horses, if you haven't noticed.”
“But horses aren't...” Clarys made an encompassing gesture at the dragon.
“True that.”
“Very well, O She Who Apparently Must Be Obeyed, now what?”
I considered Flyffu's bulk and tapped my chin pensively.
“Oh, no, you are not...”
Before Clarys could finish, I hopped up, grabbed Flyffu's ridgeline with both hands, and came to rest astride her back. She immediately swung her heard around and let out a grunting snort.
“I did not just see you do that,” said Clarys. “Your father will pass a brick if he finds out!”
I shrugged. “Better out than in, then.”
“Your father is the most feared man in all of Cymru, and that's all you can say?”
Fflyffu growled softly. I thumped her between the shoulderblades. “Oh, stop it.” The growl subsided.
“You're impossible,” said Clarys.
“Improbable, perhaps,” I said. I patted Fflyffu's back behind me. “Care to join me?”
Clarys shook her head violently.
“Not on your life!”
“Considering that I might not, in fact, be alive, per se...” I let the long-debated issue dangle.
Clarys put her hands on her hips. “I am not getting on that thing and that's final.”
“She's not a thing,” I protested. “And I could make it a command, you know.”
Clarys' eyes went so wide, they might have fallen out of her head. “ wouldn't!”
“Wouldn't I?”
“Please don't.”
“I could just leave you here.”
“What?!” she blurted.
I inclined my head expectantly. Even from where I sat, I could see Clarys start to quiver. I patted the space behind me again. After what might have been a couple dozen heartbeats, Clarys took a step forward, then another, and another, until she stood next to Fflyffu.
“Fine,” she said, “but if it...she...eats me, my ghost will haunt you forever.”
With considerable effort, and a little help from me, Clarys found herself perched behind me.
I grinned at her. “Not so bad, was it?”
“That remains to be seen,” she glowered.
I rolled my eyes. “Now who's being impossible?” I pulled on both sides of Flyffu's body with my hands and said, “Fflyffu, up!”
The dragon abruptly rose up in a single fluid motion.
“Right,” I said, “let's go see about those Normans.”

Nathan Miller
12/02/17 04:01:51PM
7 posts

Missing entry

Technical Assistance

Diolch yn fawr! :-)

Nathan Miller
12/01/17 08:56:14PM
7 posts

Missing entry

Technical Assistance

Now I'm wondering if maybe I accidentally posted it to the Poetry forum, and just wasn't paying attention.

Nathan Miller
12/01/17 08:12:42PM
7 posts

Missing entry

Technical Assistance

It was around 21.00 h last night, entitled "Rhuddlan."

Nathan Miller
12/01/17 05:51:20PM
7 posts

Missing entry

Technical Assistance

I have a wee problem.  I submitted my short story for the 2017 competition, following the instructions, mind you.  The entry seems to have posted just fine, BUT it does NOT appear in the list of entries in that forum.  What happened, and how can we fix it?
Nathan Miller
12/01/17 04:56:10AM
7 posts

Rhuddlan by Nathan Miller

West Coast Eisteddfod Online Short Story Competition 2017

Rhuddlan They say the walls have ears. You have heard it. We all have heard it. The truth, the truth few realize, is that walls have for more than mere ears. We have memory. A long, long memory. For me, it is a memory that seems to slip away little by little with each passing year. With each stone that falls, with each scrap of mortar that chips away, another little shard of myself is lost. I can feel it. That is not even the worst of it. No, the worst is knowing there are holes in my memory, in my essence, spiritual holes that perfectly reflect my physical holes. Just as my consciousness slowly slips away little by little, so it grew with each block placed upon the other when I was made. Oh, yes, I remember when I was new. My walls were whole and strong. They gleamed white in the summer sun. They sparkled with the snow under the winter sun. I could be seen from miles around. My moat was deep, my towers scraped the sky. Do not laugh about that. Do not ever laugh. I have heard of castles taller and grander than I. It was always inevitable. Also inevitable were the skyscrapers I hear the people have built in their far off cities. But I was tall, taller than all I surveyed. I dominated the lower Vale of Clwyd and that must never be mocked. They also say that if the walls could talk, they would tell stories. If they only knew the stories I could tell! The indiscretions committed by couples thinking they were being oh so discreet. The state secrets whispered in the middle of the night. Men and women wrapped in amorous embrace against my walls. The truths that would challenge, or outright refute, what the people think they know. I was strong once, very strong. I held the high ground, the highest in Rhuddlan. That is, save for Twthill. Oh, poor, poor Twthill. Even after all this time, on a still night, I can still hear her whimpering. Then I tell her I am here, and the whimpering tapers off. Sometimes she forgets that. But who can blame her? She is less than a ruin. A ruin of a ruin, and so there is little left of her substance. I have not decided if that is blessing or curse. Even when I was young, Twthill was already in bad shape, her mind unraveling. She used to scream. Oh, it was horrible. She was once strong in her own right, once the palace and fortress of Gruffudd ap Llewelyn. That was before my time, of course. So I had to piece it together from her erratic ramblings. Twthill was not often coherent even then. Sometimes she spoke clearly to me, but only sometimes. What I couldn’t learn from Twthill herself, I pieced together by listening to the people. She had been burned to the ground by the Saxons. I shuddered when I learned of this. It still sends a chill round my foundation. Such a fate is most terrible for a castle. Even worse, another castle, one lifeless and soulless, was soon after built atop of her. Oh, how I longed to shove that hill off and into the river! But alas! Castles cannot move. By the time my foundations were laid, the timber structure atop the Norman motte built on Twthill had crumbled. It had never known life. Why, I have no idea, and there is no one to ask who would know. But it sat on Twthill, weighing her down, crushing her. That filled me with sorrow. How, you might ask, can a castle know sorrow? I am strong. My purpose is, or was, military. To enable killing and, some would say, oppression. But it is in my nature to feel. I am built of the bones and blood of Cymru, and therefore it is my nature to defend it. Oh, but she did scream back then. And I wished then that I had known her when she still possessed her mind. I still wish it. She must have been magnificent! Even a castle grows lonely. That was less so when I was young, of course. Soldiers lived inside me. The king sometimes visited with his retinue. When the tide came in, the river surged up my lower moat, and small ships docked beneath my shadow. But after a while, I was left alone. Worse, men came and tore large rents in my walls and towers. Oh, how that hurt! Oh, yes, castles can feel pain. Do not think we cannot. Never think it. It dulls after a while, just as it surely does with you. And then they left me. Just like that. For many years, I sat there. Wind blew through the holes in my wall. Rock doves made their home in hollows where stones once were. Ferns grew in the chinks left by sloughing mortar. Grasses and meadow flowers grew up between my walls and within my moat. And so I remained for many years, a haunt for birds and foxes, a garden for ferns and flowers. People came occasionally to pick through the rubble that had once been my body. They hauled it away bit by bit. Some of it I watched made into garden walls for homes built across the way. As for the rest, I know not. Perhaps it found its way into the smaller structures built downslope. I can sometimes feel it, the way I image it might feel had I the ability to reach out the way the people can. But they obscure my view of the rest of town. That annoyed me. It annoys me still. But I still enjoy a commanding view of much of the valley of the Afon Clwyd. And far across the valley, Bodelwyddan Castle. He is brand new, and arrogant, and not much of a castle, all things considered. He mirrors me, or tries to, but he can defend nothing. Even so, he is one of my few companions. Him, the abbey down the street, and Twthill of course. And so I watched the path of the sun as it oscillated through the seasons. I watched the river rise and fall. I watched the snows come and go. I watched the birds on their way from the places they come from to the places they go. I watched the sheep graze the fields beyond the river. And from time to time, those sheep have grazed the grass of my grounds. But they have no respect and so they get on my proverbial nerves. After a long, long time, time I measured by the path of the sun, people again came to me. They made some repairs, replacing some of my stones. They hauled sheets and bars of steel and put them together in my towers and on my walls. They raised the proud dragon banner of Cymru above my head. They built a small house across my moat and a bridge across that where my original bridge had once been. And more people came. Not many, especially at first. At first, I was puzzled. They wandered about the grounds. They poked their heads into my turrets. They climbed my towers and walked upon one short section of one of my walls. They pointed small blocks at me, blocks they called cameras, doing something they called taking photographs. But they did little else. Year after year, the people came, wandered about me, took their photographs, and then departed. More visited during summer, and almost none during winter. And so I listened as I had before, so long ago. And I learned. Once again, I had become important. Not as a stronghold for war, but as a reminder. A reminder of what had been, of what had gone before. I could live with that. I hear Twthill whimpering again. Hush now, Twthill, my darling. Do not mind the people. This time, they come in peace. They come in love, to pay their respects. They remember you for what you were. Of course I am here. I will always be here.

Nathan Miller
01/28/16 10:03:54PM
7 posts

Running of the Elk by Nathan Miller

West Coast Eisteddfod Short Story Competition 2015

Running of the Elk
by Nathan Miller

Serfws paused just inside the forest fence while his eyes adjusted to the dimness. Beside him, small trees the girth of his legs drooped low branches to merge with the brambles that formed most of the wall of greenery separating the wide fields from the forest. Further in, the small trees gave way to their parents. Massive trunks with deeply furrowed bark held a sky of their own, their branches soaring high overhead, casting a deep, green shade that made all shadows even darker. The frequent passage of elk, deer, and men had ground up the leaf litter and worn path of earth that contrasted with the leaves.
He took a deep breath, his lungs drawing the still, woodland air into his nose. The familiar scents of a midsummer forest filled his nostrils. Strongest of all were those of his daughter.
He suppressed a snort. The young were so imprudent, doubly so when men were concerned. Where was she anyway?
Serfws lowered his head toward the path and sniffed carefully. His daughter had clearly followed the path for several paces, then veered away across-slope. He followed, ever alert.
The trees grew tall and broad here, their massive trunks spaced far apart. Serfws felt at ease among such trees. For the most part, the old forests remained untouched by men--men who usually feared to enter, particularly at night. Yet men still visited them from time to time, nearly always by day, their tools in-hand, sometimes taking such things as mushrooms, berries, or the bodies of the dead. Men were very strange, and very dangerous.
Serfws moved as quickly as he dared, his motion efficient and fluid. The wide spaces between the trees let him cover ground quickly and see far. After a while, he heard a voice like a babbling brook, an unmistakably human voice.
He slowed, creeping forward. He peered around a massive tree and froze. A dozen paces away, his daughter stood, her tail toward him. A few paces in front of her stood a man-child. At least, he thought it was still a child, nearly full-grown in stature, but still young in manner. Both daughter and child looked abruptly at him.
Serfws snorted for effect, and drew himself up to his full height. He stamped forward until he loomed over the two, then snorted again.
“Elain,” he said sternly, “back away slowly.”
“But father...”
“Do as I say,” he snapped. “She is dangerous.”
Elain looked at the man-child, then back at her father. “But she seems kind.”
Serfws peered at the man-child. He leaned his head toward her and snorted again.
“Croeso, Arglwdd Elc,” said the child. She slowly raised her hand toward his snout.
Serfws pulled away slightly
“Plesio, peidiwch ofni arna ti. Na dwi ddim yn ti brifo.” She smiled. “Rwyt ti hardd. Gwen verch Caradoc ydw i. Beth yw'ch enw chi?”
“What is she saying?” Elain asked.
“I do not know,” Serfws answered. “I do not understand their language.”
“Gwen?” A woman's voice floated through the woods. A man's voice echoed the call.
“Yma i!” the girl called over her shoulder.
Moments later, two adults crashed through the undergrowth. It always amazed Serfws that men made so much noise despite their small size. In fact, they made so much noise, he could have hoofed one in the dark with his eyes tight shut.
The pair stopped abruptly. One of them raised a stick, its shape one that Serfws recognized all too well.
“Elain,” he said, “run. Now!”
His daughter wheeled about and vanished from his vision, leaves rustling and cracking beneath her hoofs. Serfws snorted, then spun and lit out after Elain. A faint thrum and snap came from behind him. A cold sting erupted across his upper hindquarters, followed a moment later by a whack and buzz as the arrow meant for him embedded itself into the bark of a tree.
“Ewythr!” the girl shrieked. She sounded annoyed.
He left the voices behind him and caught up with Elain near the gap in the forest fence she'd used not long before.
“Father! You are hurt!”
He snorted. “I will heal. The scar will join the others.” He changed the subject. “What were you thinking? Have I taught you nothing?”
“She seemed so kind.”
“She will grow up to be like the others.”
Her eyes widened. “Surely she wouldn't...”
“Of course she would. She is one of them.”
Elain let out a long breath. “But why do they do it, father? Why do the men kill us and eat us?”
Serfws exhaled. “I do not know. In some ways, they seem more noble than the bear or the wolf. Perhaps even as much as us. In others? They are dangerous, Elain. That is why we must always look not only with our eyes, but with our noses and ears as well.”
“Yes, father.”
“Things are changing, daughter. Come, and I will show you what I mean. But you must be more prudent. Always pause to look, listen, and smell.”
Serfws led Elain through the forest fence and out into the bright sunshine of midday. He paused to let his eyes adjust to the light. Smelling nothing but the newly cut grass the men gathered up for their own purposes, and seeing nothing but a wide open field, and hearing nothing of consequence, he trotted off across the slope, putting some distance between himself and the forest that still clothed the hill.
He found a light, loping pace somewhere between a fast walk and a full trot, one that his daughter could maintain without difficulty. Around the hill they trotted, always keeping well away from the trees. Far off up the valley stood one of the strange stone structures built by men.
At length, they came out onto a cleared bench. Several sheep grazed the short-cropped grass.
Elain snorted at one of them. “How can you eat that?” she asked. “It is so...short!”
Several sheep looked up at her, their expressions vacant. “Baaa,” they said.
“What?” said Elain.
“Baaa,” the sheep repeated.
“Do they not speak our language either?” she asked.
“Does that surprise you?”
Elain looked back at one of the wooly creatures. “They cannot think, can they?” It was more of a statement.
“It would appear not.”
“Then why do the men not eat them and leave us alone?”
“They do.”
“I do not understand. Father, you spend so much time observing men, yet you scold me when I go and do the same.”
Serfws shook his head. “Because you do so recklessly and so I fear for your safety.”
She cocked her head. “Because I am the future?”
“Precisely. Next autumn, you will be of mating age.” He paused. “Do not look at me like that.”
“Like what?”
Serfws snorted. “The way your mother looks at me when...” He broke off, then changed the subject.
“The Creator made some of our kinds special. If only the others would see it. But look there, across the valley. That is what I wish to show you.”
Below them, two rivers met amid a wide, marshy plain. From the north, a large group of men made their way along one of the wide ribbons of cleared earth the men made for moving themselves and their possessions.
They were strange men, foreigners most likely, all dressed in red. They moved together, like a serpent, but slowly. Sunlight glinted and twinkled on them.
“Father?” said Elain at length.
Serfws suppressed a snort. “Patience,” he said quietly.
“Elain!” he snapped.
“They make so much noise,” she protested. “They cannot possibly hear us.”
“I am not worried so much about them as I am about what we do not see.”
“They are strange, father. I do not understand them.”
Serfws grunted. He turned and met his daughter's large, brown eyes. “Who does? But what have I always taught you about that?”
“To know a thing requires that I watch it.”
“Correct. Now we will watch. And you will tell me what you learn.”
He turned his attention back to the mass of men in the valley below.
The herd of red men spread out into the river's flood plain. They held shining slabs, similarly shining sticks poking out between them. They moved as a single body, like a flock of terns, first surging forward, then back, then forward again, their slabs raising and lowering in unison, a single shout rising together from their throats.
From somewhere out of sight around the curve of the hill, another, much larger, herd of men appeared and surged across the valley, clashing with the first. Serfws did not think they could be more different. The men of the second herd wore hardened animal skins and earth-colored cloth. They fought chaotically, but with a violent savagery. Serfws saw some of them concealed in the trees both across the earth ribbon and between himself and the stream, throwing arrows at the red herd.
The fighting went on and on as the sun crept across the sky. Men on both sides fell over to lay motionless upon the ground. The air filled with shouts and cries and screams.
“What are they doing?” Elain asked.
“What does it look like?”
“They fight each other. But I am too far away to see clearly.”
“It is called war. They are killing each other.”
A few moments of silence followed. “But...there must be a hundred dead on each side by now!”
“At least that many, yes. And only from this one day.”
“There have been others?”
“But their numbers continue to grow. I hear everyone talking about it. How can that be, if the men slaughter each other?”
“We are unsure. We think it is partly because only males go to war. Also, it seems that for them, it is always mating season. But you see why I tell you that men are so dangerous.”
“Besides that one of them tried to kill us in the forest?”
“Men will kill anything, even each other. Perhaps the Council is right. Perhaps we should forge an alliance with the wolves and the bears.”
“But do they not also kill and eat us?”
“Yes, but many of us believe that it need not be so. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. The Council fears that unless we unite against the men, they will eventually destroy us. Their numbers will continue to grow. And as they grow, they will spread and either kill us all, or push us out of Cymru.”
“Unless we can make peace with them.”
Serfws exhaled. “If only that were possible. No, I fear that our days may be numbered.”
“Why would the Creator allow such a thing?”
Serfws chuckled. “You ask so many questions, daughter. You make me think there could be hope for us.” He looked back toward the valley were the men in red moved toward him. “We have seen enough. It is time to go.”

updated by @nathan-miller: 01/28/16 10:04:36PM