The Prologue

The Prologue

A Story by The-Blue-Phoenix-Sings
"

Beware of: hungry predators and snow...

"


The night was young as it soared above the snow-coated hills. Stars blinked in its cradle, like separate snowflakes far away from the land’s hold. Blue, yellow, white, mingled in purple glow, the dust spreading over the brilliant centre almost bright enough to outstand the moon. It was like an offspring not yet hatched, a phoenix to be risen, one day…
  I sighed. One day, I would greet the skies with it. The stars on my wings. Or as my wings. That was my dream.
  It was like the day back then, as I lay in the snow, the stars twinkling over and the snowflakes brushing my face as they landed. I reached my hand up and wondered why some of the flakes never fell. Why those sparkling gems never descended onto my palm… Though they did vanish by morning.
 Dino said if there was an egg to be cracking, the pieces would fall, crash onto our lands like they sometimes do. I wondered then, would even the stars, the snowflakes far away from reach, come down?
 Though now I know they aren’t stars though they might sometimes resemble them. Yet, I still was not entirely sure about the shape above. One day, I’ll find out what you are. I whispered, eyes at its mesmerising swirl. More stars lit up, illuminating the tiny world beneath, painting the lands with silver-blue hues: the shade of my skin and everything round me, except for the shadow of the mansion.
 Somewhere below a door creaked and the snow scrunched with a sound I almost tumbled down the roof. I had to go. If they were to spot me lolling, I would get the stick or worse.
 The fall was soft, fortunately. I heaved myself up from the malformed angel my fall had caused, and grabbed the sack leaning against the barn wall. The night sky should wait. That includes you, too, mystery phoenix. I thought, gazing into the night with a dry smile. One last glance as the frosty air swirled up from my mouth, temporarily covering The Rising Phoenix in wreaths. I waited till the spiral cleared, wishing the phoenix would watch over me even tonight like it had so many nights before. There was something yearn-provoking in it, like a call from a distance you could not answer, only watch. I could give everything for getting to admire it a while longer, but the footsteps in the snow told it was poor hope.
 Had I been a hunter I would probably already be snoring to my pillow. Or had I been a carpenter, baker or even a herdsman I would probably be at bed now, too. But I was not a regular herder - that is to say, those who take care of reindeer or goats. Though I was no regular herder like those with their packs of sheep. Barnboy, they called me and indeed these creatures had a barn, only not spacious and certainly not fragrant, in a good way.
 At the edge of the yard, I peered over my shoulder to see if anybody had seen me, but the mansion stayed quiet. A shadow in the whiteness. The only sound was the wind accumulating the drifts as it pleased and droning through the pines. Something flapped past me and cried from somewhere on its perch, hidden in the pine’s canopy, its voice raw like the breeze biting into my nose tip. A crow. It cried again as I trudged over the snow-covered hills, the sack full of fresh kill weighing on me. The mere reek tensed my muscles. Familiar images instantly rose to my mind; the body and hoofed front legs covered with the thick and fluffy wool. The head, tail and bag legs scaled like that of a lizard. The mouth… I couldn’t even think of that. Overall, they looked like a mix of sheep and reptile. Some even found them cute. Adorable little fluff balls staggering in the snow. They only thought the practicality, the surface, but never did quite look behind that treacherous gaze of theirs. A sheepli wasn’t a wolf in lamb’s clothing, the lamb itself was evil.
 Though only few admitted it. Fools, I breathed, switching the sack to my other shoulder. They should have been here, seen the ones who did the work. Only an experienced feeder would know, there was no coming near these predators’ mouth or even claws. The spikes on the head did not quite encourage for petting either.
 And there, I could already see their faint forms move amongst the snow. Must they always shove me the most revolting of tasks?
 You’re a boy, you can manage just fine!
 Hah, they couldn’t be more wrong.
 Don’t whine, a tiny voice said inside me as my shoe sipped another gulp of snow. At least, there’s food and a roof overhead, no need to freeze in the cold outdoors, what more would you possibly need? It was like their contemptuous faces when I had entered the house.
 What would I possibly need, indeed? How about, a life without having to be stiff with fear of surviving every evening? Oh yes, that would be wonderful, add to that a proper dish of food, guess I would be good. Besides, I am freezing, I’m frostbitten even now!
 Yes, not even gloves could I afford. The day I came to them, cold and shattered from the journey, having crossed countless and countless of forests, paths or riverbeds only to find civilisation (and then some more, following the tracks of hunters that lead me here, this mansion, where) they took me in and tossed me some rags. ‘You can do with these.’
 There wasn’t even a coat, nor cloak or any warm outer garment. Only a pullover imbued with holes. To be fair, my own clothes were in better shape. I kept the trousers though and from the pullover, cut off the sleeves and with some atrocious sewing skills worked them into a scarf. Or well ‘cut’, merely just sped up the work of moths and time - they looked like threadbare anyway. The rest I put on, thankfully one day some stranger had lost a fur hat in the snow and I got my head warm. I don’t know which god I should thank from that.
 Only the hands… I still didn’t quite have anything for them. Usually, I kept them under the pullover, though, of course, I couldn’t use that now. For several times I had tried to snatch a piece of leather that was left over, but they caught me every time. And after that one failed attempt, Dino had been everywhere where there was leather or sheepliwool, his strong arms waiting, crossed over his chest to grasp round my shoulders.
 So, I had no gloves. Mittens, anything of the sort, and from time to time I switched hands carrying the sack and warming inside the pullover that lay loose over my tunic with only the belt keeping it from falling to my ankles.
 Oh and shoes! Some which would not waft in the air the reek of sheepli, and would keep the snow there, outside. I winced as my leg suddenly sank deeper in the drift I had intended to. Boy, I was snow-splotched before I even reached their pen.
 The cold wood struck my fingers. Beneath snow the wood was slick of frost as I heaved myself over the fence, the sack first then me. Some of the twigs thought better to cling to my trousers. Well, I was not going to a banquet, whatever. I got one twig out as a familiar softness brushed my feet. I leapt back from reflex and realised I had almost landed on it. Poor thing, it had been sleeping, buried beneath the blanket with its similar hued wool. Partly as my apology, it got to eat first.
 At least, I knew to expect that. Probably had done the same, had I been an animal out in the wild. Dug myself from view, like those who slumbered. Only sheepli did not slumber. They just warmed up. Really, a novice would be likely to get surprised passing by an empty-looking pen. Where are they? Then, somebody would point at the ground. He would raise his brow and they would explain. ‘Do like it indoors, but restless as they are would eventually gnaw the barn down.’ Or fight. All that sheepli needed was space and solitude. And food. I sighed, tossing another quarry in the snow as the creature below swam to the surface and then scooped the bird in its mouth, hungry, like a pike. That was what they told to others, I had to learn it through my heel.
 I tossed out some more. One hit a spruce branch and the sheepli got a little snowfall as it crawled out hungry for its dinner. I laughed. The snow almost covered its whole head only its jaws were visible, agape. I wanted to surprise it from its tail but thought better of it. It was a predator, unpredictable.
 One sheepli, I was sure it was the same each time, had adopted a habit to jump out of the snow right the exact moment as the quarry flew in the air, then catch it between its jaws and dive back like sinking the already dead prey. Only today, it missed the first one which another, brown-woollen caught first, lunging at it with gusto. Its lizard eyes flamed as it followed the brown one gulp down the hare, jealousy and probably ager mixed in its gaze, as I had thrown the quarry perhaps a bit too high.
Alright. I should probably stop teasing them and finish off early.
The faster done the faster out. More time for the night sky. Simple. I nodded to my own reasoning. Better hope it wouldn’t get too cloudy. I recalled seeing a faint cloudraft on the horizon. The snowing had ceased though.
 And like the boss had once lectured me: ‘The first and only thing you should know is to never, ever let a carnivore sheepli wait.’ She had cracked me a cunning and chilly smile, ‘if you don’t want it to grow impatient, angry and devour you as a whole.’ It was not the brightest bit of advice, a little like saying: don’t die and you’ll do fine. But certainly, one to be obeyed.
 The night grew darker as one sheepli after another poked their head above the surface only to vanish back beneath the whiteness with their bellies satisfied. I stared at the sight from the centre of the pen, alacrity itching in my almost numb fingers. Soon it’s over! I could almost see myself back up on the roof, with only the world looking back at me with its many shiny flakes. Just then, a sheepli dashed to my sight as if to emphasise: but not yet!
 I quickly counted. Only one was left. It stood before me. My fingers shook, but I couldn’t tell whether it was of cold or excitement. The sheepli had crawled out completely, from which I deduced it had to have waited the longest. It was bad, of course, though if there was only one to do the work, what can you expect? Seventeen was not quite the number you fed in moments. Sure, they had a fencing but instead of staying nicely in the same pack like sheep, the sheepli were sprinkled across their territory, and the pen too large to locate each of them outside.
 The black wool turned its head to me. Lick, lick, went its split tongue, touching the chilly night. Its hooves stood hidden beneath snow. Starlight glittered on its green-red scales. A row of spikes ran from its head, continuing down to the end of its tail.
 The sheepli crept closer. I dug my hand in the sack. It tilted its head a bit like a curious kitten. My fingers sank deeper. The sheepli stared. I stared back, continuing my digging. Strange, a quarry wasn’t usually this hard to get grip on. I used my other hand to roll the sack’s rims up. Hole, fabric, hole, fab - oh! My fingers met only cloth, the sack’s bottom. There was nothing, the sack was completely empty, from mouth to bottom. The sheepli’s tail twitched from side to side while its body fidgeted to and fro in an anxious motion. No doubt it was not impatient, waiting to see me pull my hand out, hold a big quarry. Its glare turned sharp as a hawk’s as it scowled at me, licking. I heard it hiss, then growl. Oh, no! It was worse than that more like oh rats and well. Because certainly, no well was quite ‘well’ with rats in it. Rats, why weren’t they here now, satisfying the predator before me?
 I could only wish the sheepli would keep its dentition to its own. It was almost the same size as I, only slightly bigger. I stared in its deceitful and cruel yellow eyes, still keeping my hand inside the old rag sack. I wouldn’t fall for that stare. Now that I saw it in front of me, hungry for sure, all hints for cuteness got replaced with the sheepli wolfing down their prey.
 Cold sweat gathered on my hand even despite the cold. The rhythm of its lashing tail quickened as the patience gradually melted from its eyes. Perhaps it would forgive me if I apologised I had counted wrong. Or actually, it wasn’t my doing to stuff those games in the sack, but the hunters’. And I could swear I had counted all the quarries by the time they handed it to me. Something was wrong, but to this individual, it was all the same. It was not interested in any explanations. It wanted its prey and it would surely get it. If there was no fresh kill then - I realised - that would be… me.
 It came as a shock. I almost slackened when it came closer, still licking the air. Though I knew those creatures better than to wait for any friendly lick to a cheek. Its penetrating yellow eyes cast an evil glance upon me, for a while I even thought I saw a grin. Sheepli might look cute on the face of it, but once you saw those hundreds of fangs these wool-lumps hide, you might have a second thought. Might. You should, at least.
 I yelled for help, but no one heard.
  Its breathing grew louder as it neared, crawling. It moved slowly. This one had already got its eyes on me. And now there was no one else to get in its way. I could see it in its narrowing pupils: this prey was taken. Any other creature should make way.
 Running was useless. Apologising was useless. Hoping was… or almost. And running would only attract a predator. It did not free its eyes from me, not even for a blink. Reasoning under its furious gaze was hard. And sadly, I hadn’t a single weapon or anything to fight with. Just the old rag sack, and sticks in my shirt. Helpful.
 My head raced with thoughts as I backed towards the brushwood fence. I could not endlessly keep that up and as long as I was inside, I was theirs. Its. Though, if I got to the other side… I shot a quick glance at the rickety but long fence a few strides from me. The gap I had come in was somewhere the opposite my direction. Too far. Could I crash through? Some of the brushwoods looked pretty nasty yet they did not look that durable either. A bush gave way easily under snow, a little like that maybe it was my part to play the ‘snow’ now? I was about to sprint when I suddenly felt stuck. Something was on my leg, sharp.
 The sheepli was faster than I had expected. There it stood before my eyes. Its tongue tickled  my shirt. It opened its mouth and bit it. My hand was still in the sack, I remembered. The sheepli kept biting my shirt. It had come too close. I would never get there like this. I had been wasting my time far too long for strategies. Now was time for action.
 With my sack hand, I slogged it on the head carefully avoiding the spikes. Again, and again, even with both hands. At last, it lost its grip. I took a few steps and fell. Oh rats, ice beneath snow! Brilliant. At least I would better get a mention if I died like this. Something like: and so Zitta, our brave sheepli feeder got eaten because he… slipped on ice. At least, at the very least I should be remembered among the elves, despite what terrible fate it would sound. Though how would they know what had happened if no one was here to find out?
 I tried to stand up, but the sheepli came to me. Luckily, hoofed front legs aren’t the best kind of features which with to clutch your prey. That is not to say, however, they were useless. And instead of grabbing me, the sheepli tried to kick me. And it did. All feeling disappeared in my right leg. As if the leg wasn’t there.
 Its hind legs though they were much more useful for the purpose it was after; pinning me into place and well, ripping apart. I wriggled under its hold as it stomped both forelegs onto my stomach, almost pressing out all air. I squirmed even more severely now that its tongue was perhaps an arm length from my face. I’d rather keep that, likewise the rest of my body. I thought grimly, realising my both hands were still free.
 The sheepli opened its maw, exposing all the four gleaming rows of nasty fangs, sharp as spears, readying to dismember me into pieces. It stretched forward and its mouth a finger length from me, threw the sack over its head.
 ‘Elven skin is bad, you should know it. Worse than tree bark,’ I scolded. Honestly, I had no idea what it tasted.
 Its yowls were terrible, but better obscured than not. Heart in my throat, I struggled to rise up, feeling the tingle of sensation returning in the other leg. Though it couldn’t carry weight yet.
 Great, I had to crawl, on all threes. Dragging my one leg feeble behind me, the fence slowly neared in my vision. How long would it take for the sheepli to get off the rag?
 Crawling on snow with bare hands and an injured leg was the last I could wish for, especially when you have to save your life too, but I had no time to stop warming up my hands. My elbows beat the blanket and I winced as my fists struck the white powder. If I was right only one sheepli would follow me. The blackwool. A quick glance to my side proved it. The other sheepli made no effort to poke their heads to the surface. So, they weren’t interested. I winced again. They were truly loners. For a blink, I envied them. Then the reality kicked in, in the form of the sheepli’s desperate cry.
 I dashed to the opening I had noticed earlier when it was about to devour my head. It was not as brilliant as the one I had come from, and there was no hope going over, but under… there was a tiny gap probably suit for cat, but a boy? Well, I had to try.
 The frozen twigs creaked, snapped and scratched me in protest, but somehow, I got through, taking perhaps half of that part of the fence with me. And somewhere there, my sensation returned somewhat I could rise to both feet though not walk properly.
 It was not the pain, but that I could not shift weight. A bit like resting on air; my leg would give way and sink even deeper in the snow. Limping was the only way - that - or hopping on one leg. I doubted crawling would be as effective or less painful. It did not help at all the snow reached to my knees as I went further. Somebody might rather call it stumbling, than hopping in the drift with one leg. It took several stumbles till I could run again. I looked at my clothes. The fence probably was no use to keeping the sheepli in if it desired out, thanks to me, same goes for the sack. Could be worse. And at least, now, I had a head start.
 Exhausted and snowy all over I ran across the icy grounds, the snowdrift reaching to the edge of my shoes which was barely past my ankle. I could not return to that place. And was already heading the wrong direction, anyway.
 Getting chased by a sheepli is one thing, but getting eaten by one is just a gross kind of fortune. In a distance I thought I heard it growling in fury, trying to get the sack off its head. It was not letting me get away so easily, I knew. I couldn’t even think of where I was going. Perhaps this was how the quarry felt. Run, forget the directions, just run!
Far below, behind the many hills a light peeked, warm and inviting. It had to be the one I had been looking at before, the nearby village. Only a few wing flaps that would be it as the phoenix flies. Oh, what a poor luck, I lacked wings. And a phoenix without its wings was as useless as a cat without its tail.
 I almost laughed aloud. A phoenix? What was I dreaming, I would never have the honour. Though maybe I could escape another way? Dig myself in snow, hide behind a rock, tree? No, it would sense me. And the landscape did not offer much to hide at. My eyes jumped between the maroon barks bustling by. Pine, pine, no, no, too low. More pines…
 Her yard would have suited my purpose, yet here… I stopped catching my breath, leaning my frost-bitten hand against one. Where had I even ran? I had no directions, but this was not the village. There were just trees with black canopies swaying overhead, offering no steps to come in level with them. They stood proud, out of reach as if saying, intruder.
 The heart still hammered in my chest, air battled my lungs. I could not stay. This forest offered no help. Though how vast was this? No time. I sprinted again only then noticing a smaller, crooked pine a few strides away on top a rock with branches spreading like offering a hand. I could hardly believe it, was this luck - No! Something tripped me again. A hidden tree stump, rock, root? No. My legs were too beaten. I just simply slumped down, face to snow. If I had found a good hide...
 Rise, up, up! Up! A voice screamed in my head as wind swept snow against my face. To the pine…! No use, I couldn’t flex a muscle.
 Just a little further, a little longer, catch my breath, run again.
 The pine…
 With my last strength, I wrestled my face from the blanket, blinking. I was too young to die like this. And then my hands dropped down beneath my weight. No hope, I would never make it. At least, I had the furry cap to warm my head from the cold blanket. Too bad, I hadn’t the chance to thank the god, whoever it was.
 At a distance the snow went up in whirls, and there I spotted the black storm. Running it came on four feet as I lay in the snow, out of breath and fingers numb with cold, too beaten to even shiver. It had shredded the sack into rags. Or had it been the brushwood? As if the sack wasn’t ragged enough. Some fortunate remnants of yarn and cloth had found a new home from its head spikes. I wondered whether that would be my last memory.
 The tired mind hardly understood what happened next. My eyelids were about to close. I blinked the snow out of my eyes, lying still as the sheepli came closer. My time was drawing near, was this really the end of my story? Could I end my days like this? Maybe tonight I’d join the stars. O sweet goddesses, I must have been raving at the death’s door. Though what if it was true? What if this would end now?
 Step and another the sheepli took, glaring me with an angry look. I had escaped but it had found me again. It was not going to give up, then.
 Please, I prayed, before you eat me, kick me unconscious, just one fatal kick. The sheepli stood there before me, unsure, plotting its next move. I could imagine how it was more than happy, finally getting its long-wanted supper. Maybe it was waiting some more resistance. Its attempt had been ruined at least twice, I was quite sure it wouldn’t let that happen thrice.
 Then, it seemed as if it had made up its mind. It stretched its neck and reached for me. I curled up and closed my eyes, every muscle tight with fear, waiting for the first painful bite.
 It never came. The heart hammered my chest. Slightly, I opened my eyes just to find out something stood between us.
A pair of boots blocked its way. I blinked and raised my head, blinking away frozen tears. Where had those come? Surely it couldn’t be a god had descended from the sky and saved me? Saving a mere farm boy, oh that had been luck! Or was I already dead? I bit my lip to be sure. I was certain no elf had heard me yell. Still, there stood one, a stalwart man in a warm furry cape, his rough maroon beard icy with snow. Eyes aghast, the stranger scowled at the sheepli.
 'No, no. Tuhma tyttö, tuhma tyttö.’ He scolded in his low-pitched voice but sounding rather enraged. Mean… Girl? ‘Chasing the wrong prey, you. This you’re after?' He said, reaching beneath his cape. It was a big rabbit. The sheepli's eyes glinted. Immediately, its attention slipped away from me. It grabbed the rabbit from the man’s arms and ran away, happy as ever after getting its supper.
 'Forgive me, lad, for everything.’ The man apologised turning his gaze back to me with an uneasy smile. My head was all hazy and thinking blurry. I stared at him through my fuzzy sight. Why was he apologising to me? Did we know each other? No. I was too sheepli-tired to think.
 'Certainly, a bad fortune, getting chased like that.’ It is, believe me, but I couldn’t nod my head. ‘Molli must have had a wolf’s appetite to be so keen on you.’
 I tried to speak, but no words came out, I could hardly even open my mouth. That sheepli doesn’t even know what it is to starve!
 'Oh, but, dear me, lad. What has happened to you? You look so haggard.' He knelt beside me and lead his spacious hand on my shoulder. True, my shirt had some more holes in it, thanks to Molli if that was its name.
 The man looked at me for a while before muttering. 'Coldness and frost, eagerly would take hold, of the one that slumbers, one who never wakes up. Though let us not let them bring you to the gates of Alinen, just yet. Can your feet carry?’ But I was already asleep. I felt the ground beneath me disappear as big arms curled round me. Hard and heavy footsteps crunched in the subzero snow until even the last sounds faded and I fell into darkness without stars.

© 2021 The-Blue-Phoenix-Sings


Author's Note

The-Blue-Phoenix-Sings
(the image is my own old drawing ^^)

Feedback:
1. Feel free to point out grammar issues, it's supposed to be British English here (I am no native ^^;). Thoughts about the beginning? And pacing overall.

2. Can you tell the main motifs present here and do they make sense? How do you feel about this as a prologue? World building? Is there enough to bring the setting to life?

3. I think you’re able to visualise the image of sheepli in your mind. Though can you tell me what kind of person Zitta is based on the info given here? And do his actions and choices make sense? It doesn't mention his age, but how old do you think he is in human age?

4. I also came to think of his clothing though does that past scene read too long? It feels strange writing past scene into a scene that is past itself though at the same time it feels natural and the reader won't probably know that as it's a prologue...

And as side note, I think I’m going to write his PoV later from past narrative to current narrative, like instead of “I saw, I ran, I said,” becomes “I see, I run, I say” etc.

5. Writing in I-perspective is hard, but I want to keep it that way here. Does his voice ring personal or do you have suggestions how to improve it?

6. This is something I should perhaps research, but I’ve heard the knife or puukko here, was the necessity for everyday purposes to carry with. It turns out Zitta doesn’t have one though otherwise he could stab the sheepli or try to fight it with a weapon. I’m wondering should he have one though or what ranks of people carried puukkos in general, not the lowest of the low, did they? Because the knife was also used for eating, pretty much everybody had them, I guess? Though in case Zitta has one he seems to have forgotten it somewhere but should I describe that here?

7. It should be clear to whom Zitta works. But should I emphasise the point why he doesn't leave? And what do you think made his employers take him under the household?
8. How do you think his employers will react when they’ll find out he has ‘escaped’ and the sheepli too? Does the freely-wandering sheepli give you shivers, and why? Any ideas what could happen afterwards? (Btw, Molli was formerly ‘Molly’, but I changed it to Finnish spelling to go along with the region. And ‘Molli’ means minor key or sound which I personally find more fitting to this black wool than ‘star of the sea’ if you take the Irish origin, they’re both still pronounced almost the same.)

9. Maybe you guessed from the context what Alinen is. In case you didn’t, here in Finland the old folk had their own terms for ‘underworld’ and, guess you could say ‘heaven’: Alinen and Ylinen. Alinen is like under Ylinen, which means above, they don’t quite translate and I feel underworld and heaven have more defined meanings especially nowadays, but in ancient times even the underworld wasn’t seen as such bad place and even that folk was honoured. And in some beliefs Alinen can be seen as the gate that leads to Ylinen rather than the equivalent to hell and how it’s seen today. In case you have thoughts of related to this, fire away~

Thank you for your time and support! <3

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Added on June 21, 2021
Last Updated on June 21, 2021
Tags: sheep, snow, frozen, feeder, boy, prologue, phoenix, fantasy, sheepli, elf

Author

The-Blue-Phoenix-Sings
The-Blue-Phoenix-Sings

Finland



About
A writer/artist/craftsgirl, interested in all things Medieval, Iron Ages, Heian Japan. A Storyteller, archer, big dreamer... aspiring to have my work bound into books one day. Currently I write some.. more..

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