A Chapter by Tom

We meet Darstan a b*****d living in Toromont and his friend Paulus the Lord of Horns son and heir a couple of days before the yearly branding ceremony.


Chapter 1


Paulus cut the air with a sharp down cut of his stick, close to Darstan’s ear.  Darstan met the blow, slipped to the right and ducking under the two locked poles flicked his wrist to bring his own stick neatly around his head and against his foes neck, stopping just short of an impact.  “Yield, good ser you have been fairly matched and beaten,” Darstan gloated.

“I s**t in the milk! Fairly beaten? Give me a bull-lance or bull-hammer and I’ll tear your innards out and crush that smile of yours into the back of your skull.” Paulus threw the stick to the side and slumped down on the patchy piece of grass and rolled ungracefully to reach for the flagon of firemilk. He took a large swill and sighed as some of the fermented mixture dripped from his chin. “Drink some firemilk, you quick bastar…” He cut himself off, “I didn’t mean to call you a b*****d Dar, was just spitting my words as normal,” Darstan sat next to him and stared at the great valley plains before them,

“I know you didn’t, don’t worry about it.  It’s true!” he smiled and took the flagon of firemilk and took a gulp. “Pfffff, what is that, by the Lord of Beasts that tastes like cow s**t and swamp water.”

“Ha, that’s a vintage Dar, I stole it from the cookmaster’s cellar.  You don’t know who your parents are but I can tell you one thing, you ain’t no Horn Lord’s son. Ha.”

They drank the rest of the flagon and feasted on cold meat pies, hard cheeses and cured meat strips smoked with Tendrock wood then dipped in plains honey and powdered with needle chilies, famed for their intense heat and the great delicacy required in picking them.  Many a cook’s boy had lost a finger to the needle chili, a quick swipe of a hand across a cooks counter and a chili would pierce deep into flesh and if not completely removed would burn with such intensity that most chose to lose a finger to the cook’s cleaver rather than bear the pain.

Darstan lay in the afternoon sun, the sweat glistening on his forehead and the sour taste of firemilk in his mouth.  He knew Paulus would become a man of the herd in two night’s time with the branding ceremony, he also knew he would never perform the ancient act.  The branding was reserved for legitimate sons of the Hornmen and although he had done much of the same training as Paulus, the final bond between beast, tribe and herd would never be consecrated by him.  He was good with the bulls and he rode as well as the next Hornman but he had never life bonded with one beast alone.  Paulus had life bonded aged just three with a small calf - Quelan. A bull that now stood second in stature only to his father’s war bull Quelon and still had a year or two left to mature.

“Being my second, you better have a couple of them big teeted milk girls lined up for me Dar,” Paulus grinned, “None of them skinny types you’re always gawking at!” Darstan continued to stare into the blue sky as a few wisps of cloud began to appear,

“Two milk girls you want when you haven’t even had one yet,” Darstan saw the shadow of the empty flagon too late, it caught him on the side of the head with a healthy thump as he tried to roll unsuccessfully out of the way.  Paulus stood and dusted himself off laughing heartily at the sight of Darstan’s face as he rubbed his cheek.

“Quick Dar, but not quick enough, Ha! Come on the evening storms are brewing let’s get back to Toromont.” Darstan continued rubbing his cheek where the clay flagon had caught him unawares and stood.  The breeze had picked up and in the distance the dark rolling clouds of the evening storms were funneling their way between the great ridge mountains towards them, faint flashes and gentle rumblings belying the force of the storms.  The plains valley was no place to be in the evening of summer, with no cover and no trees, or buildings the great forks of lightning had ended many an unlucky or foolish man’s life.

Paulus made the quiriquai call to Querlan and another smaller bull feeding in the distance.  The two animals made their way to the boys, one soon to be Hornman and Darstan.  Mounted, the riders kicked hard into the sides of the beasts and they hammered the plains with their hooves, heads down and grunting.  

The bulls of the Hornmen had been bred for thousands of years to be long of leg and strong in stamina, but they remained powerful beasts with thick, muscled necks and a headstrong bravery that had sent many a horse army reeling in the wake of their charge.  The Hornmen learned to ride the bull calves before they could walk and at age five began to practice with small wooden bull-lances and bull-hammers.  Famed for their strength, appetite and the quantities of drink consumed, they were a quick tempered people, equally at home in a brawl or a battle. Darstan was never, and would never be one of them.

The two boys arrived in Toromont just as the first rains of the evening began to fall on the baked grass, the dry earth soaking the water like a sponge, it would not be long before the land had quenched its thirst and the dry grassy plains would be puddled and sodden.  Toromont was built upon a giant knoll in the plains, encircled by an outer wall ten meters high with four Great Gates at each point of the compass.  Within this wall was another wall, even higher at twenty meters with four more entrances, each one positioned exactly between two of the Great Gates.  Armies that broke through the first defenses would find themselves trapped between the two walls and the Hornmen would send their great bull cavalry through two of the inner doors to meet the invaders, crushing them between the two charging forces.

It had been two hundred years since the Great Gates had been closed and an army had attempted to subdue the Hornmen.  Paulus’ ancestor Gethrin Toromund Lord of the Horns, had united the horn tribes five thousand years ago and had built Toromont.  He was first to unite the tribes of the Tuskmen, the Long Horns and his own, the Short Horns and settled them in Toromont on the Eastern plains of Caliae.  

The position of Toromont had been chosen for its location at the end of the narrowing plains valley, wedged between the two massive lines of mountains known as the Great Ridge Mountains.  The rich, fertile grasses kept their animals well fed and strong, whilst the evening storms of summer provided natural protection against the burning of their vital crop by nature or foe.  In the autumn the Hornmen would herd the bulls into a continuous line that stretched far enough that each flank touched the rising slopes of the Great Ridge Mountains on both sides.  The immense harvest scythes were attached to each bull’s harness, ten bulls to every scythe and they would make the slow harvest walk along the entire length of the valley.  The cows would follow behind with carts that the women and children would fill with fresh cut grass, whilst the men toiled with the scythes being dragged through the long, tough pasturage.  When they were done they would feast on beef, scented with spices and simmered slowly with barley flour, cow’s blood and firemilk until the meat had softened and a rich, black gravy enveloped it.  This was washed down with barrels of hot bloodwine and flagons of pungent firemilk.

Below Toromont was the largest larder in Caliae, the Grasstore. It ran a thousand meters down from the main keep and stretched out three thousand meters on each side.  It formed a honeycombed network of store rooms for the vital grasses and other foods.  Access to the Grasstore was controlled by the Master of the Plains who also held the location of each store room and what it held.  It stored enough hay and grasses to feed twenty thousand head of cattle for three years in the event of a siege and yet it had remained almost empty for some time. When full, which it had not been for at least five hundred years it could maintain twenty thousand head of beast and their masters for a decade or more.

Toromont itself was large enough to hold ten thousand head of bull and ten thousand more of cow, though the enduring peace had seen those numbers dwindle to just three thousand of each.  The cows were used for food, firemilk, bloodwine and the prime stock for birthing the famed war bulls of the Hornmen.  The smaller bulls, known as the lesser beasts, not suitable for war would be killed for feasts, or used for labor. Many were used to turn the great water wheels that pumped the Hornmen’s water from an ancient well at the foot of the Grasstore providing water for them since Largunus Torbalt had extended the Grasstore to its current depth.    

Darstan rode the small bull through the inner gate between the Eastern and the Southern Great Gates, it was raining much heavier now and the ground was starting to give under the hooves of his bull.  He gave the animal to one of the young lads charged with the feeding and cleaning of the lesser beasts and made his way towards the Golden Ox tavern.  He had learnt not to name the lesser bulls he rode, they were most likely going to be killed and eaten come the autumn and he didn’t enjoy the thought of feasting on a beast he had ridden and named.  Paulus had left him at the inner gate and made his way to see his father, the Lord, about his branding along with the other boys due their rights of passage.  He arrived at the tavern door and one of the milk girls smiled at him and tugged at her muddy dress around her bosom. “You must be close to your branding boy, ya know they say it’s bad luck for a bull to be branded before he’s mounted a cow,” she smiled enticingly and tugged her dress until her n****e was nearly in view.

“I’m not going to be branded,” Darstan said “I’m not a Hornman and never will be,” he smiled gently.

“Aww you poor thing, well give me a silver and I’ll see if I can’t grow a horn on ya,” she laughed, it was infectious and despite the rain Darstan smiled back and threw a copper to her.

“Get yourself a drink Macy,” he walked into the tavern.

© 2013 Tom

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loved the dialogue and had some good amusing us some more of this world

Posted 8 Years Ago

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Added on May 28, 2013
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