Preview of “The Kinsman’s Tree”
Enjoy these excerpts from the recent release of The Kinsman’s Tree, from Timothy Michael Hurst. Enter a world of epic fantasy, and meet two of the characters destined to shape its fate in unexpected and exciting ways:
At the clash of the cymbal, both threw their knives. The two throws were so alike in speed and trajectory that, zipping past one another, they cut the air over the center of the pitch in an “X,” the crowd exclaiming their amazement at the sight. Mūk-Mudón’s knife, however, began to fall apart as it approached the target, though the speed and accuracy of the throw was such that bits of his knife yet gently stirred the target.
The more fortunate Imafel’s knife remained whole, and sunk deep into Mūk-Mudón’s target on the right, the tip of the blade piercing the target to show through the back. The force of Imafel’s knife sent the target whipping at the end of its tether, and Mūk-Mudón sighed in disappointment, and awaited the sting of the migas.
On a peripheral level, Mūk-Mudón understood that the anticipation of the painful bite was meant to shake his resolve. Nevertheless, he was too excited to experience their sting to back down now. From the start, he’d had every expectation that he might have to endure the venom, and had found the effects on the prior contest’s loser interesting, to say the least.
Observing from the sidelines how much Mūk-Mudón was enjoying this, Belláphorus rolled his eyes, and shook his head, throwing his hands in the air as he turned away from Mūk-Mudón.
Placing his hands on his hips maternally, he spun back around to point a finger at Mūk-Mudón, “I’m not carrying you around on my back all day! Not again!”
Without turning to look his friend, Mūk-Mudón waved, a silly grin on his face. Imafel with chagrin recognized that this opponent wasn’t shaken in the slightest at the prospect of the migas’ sting. He glanced over at the large red-head on the sidelines, and smirked, happy to see another shared his vexation.
All this passed in the few short moments as the target stilled. Overhead, counterweights ratcheted and the hammer fell. Mūk-Mudón closed his eyes, ignored the gasps of the crowd, and fell deep into his own awareness. From the outside, it might have appeared that Mūk-Mudón sought to escape impending pain when, in truth, he shuttered all other senses to focus on the agony.
The hammer banged into the right side of the box, and again the migas stirred, buzzing angrily inside. Mūk-Mudón felt the first set of mandibles sink into the flesh atop his foot, then pain exploded across his perception, splashing searing, white light against the inside of his eyelids. He resisted the urge to withdraw from the torment, and instead bent all his will on exploring the plentiful misery to discover its roots within flesh and nerves, mind and heart.
Long ago, Mūk-Mudón had decided that pain itself was not an obstacle. Rather, fear was the barrier to victory, cowering in consequence of pain, harm, and humiliation. This was a challenge he intended to overcome. For long moments, he endured silently with legs trembling and tears streaming down his face. After long moments, the waves of torment ceased to beat upon the shore of his awareness, and he opened his eyes to discover the world quite a different place.
Mūk-Mudón blinked once, and then again, attempting to clear his vision, which the migas’ poison distorted. While the center of his focus remained for the most part clear, the edges of his vision swam and drifted, clouded in a yellowing haze.
It was distracting, and somewhat disorienting, but not insurmountable. With effort, he made out the knives before him, Imafel across from him, and the targets overhead his opponent. Shifting his focus, however, revealed more difficulties, and his focus drifted loosely past his intended target, requiring he correct his focus again, yet gently so as not to scoot past that which he wished to see.
It was a tedious effort, and one in which he would have failed if not for his prodigious willpower. Once he had affixed his focus to a target, it proved difficult to keep there, as at random his gaze might meander. After his eyes wandered a few times, the image of the old spectator striking the side of his head sprung to Mūk-Mudón’s mind. He chuckled, again unsettling Imafel, who had yet to see an adversary laugh after feeling the migas’ sting.
Mimicking the old man, Mūk-Mudón batted the side of his head with a palm, and found it quite effective in correcting his vision. Pondering the codger’s lazy eye, Mūk-Mudón wondered migas were responsible for the fellow’s stymied vision. No matter. Right now, Mūk-Mudón intended to win this contest, if only to prove to himself he could, and so reached for one of the knives before him.
It was then that he discovered just how much it seemed the venom had sapped his physical strength. His right hand felt slow and heavy in reaching for one of the knives, and put him off balance such that he almost fell over, and doubled instead at the waist, the ankle stocks helping to prop him up.
Strange . . .how slowly his hand extended. An interesting thought occurred to him, and he decided on a quick experiment. The crowd murmured in perplexity and impatience at the golden-haired youth’s odd behavior while Belláphorus watched his friend with eager anticipation. Mūk-Mudón would succeed brilliantly, to everyone’s surprise but his. Belláphorus had seen Mūk-Mudón work through a hundred such seemingly hopeless situations, each time winning through in unexpected, audacious fashion.
Mūk-Mudón felt inside his pouch for another coin. It didn’t matter what kind. As quickly as he was able, he retrieved one, focused on it best he could, and dropped it. The coin, ever so slow and heavy, tumbled to the ground, where Mūk-Mudón observed the ponderous splash of sand around the coin where it struck. Uttering another chuckle, this one louder, Mūk-Mudón returned his attention back to the game, more confident than ever in his victory.
The Etom of Endego subsisted on what they could grow, scavenge, or hunt among the underbrush or low branches of trees. Trade and commerce likewise flourished among their kind. It had been while scavenging amongst the tall grasses outside the grove that Nida’s husband Jaarl went missing, leaving her to hatch their egg and fend for the family by herself. Beneath Endego’s singular and squat rubber tree, stood their humble home, a round, sandswept hovel with a domed, straw roof. Inside, a plentiful and bustling extended family chattered in anticipation as they crowded around the nest that stood in their midst.
From the ground up, the expectant parents had together formed the cradle out of clay, molding a stout pillar to the height of a low table in the center of their home. Across the column, they had laid sticks radiating from its center, to afterwards cover with yet more clay, forming a shallow depression atop the base. Though excited to welcome her child into the world, Nida found the nest a bittersweet reminder of her husband Jaarl’s recent disappearance.
While she had yet to fully reconcile her grief at Jaarl’s absence, the joy of her child’s impending birth won the day. Looking to the depression where their egg nestled, Nida reached forth timid fingers to caress its surface, marveling again at its texture, at once akin to both paper and rubber. The life inside, responding to the warmth of her hand, knocked sharply against the very spot she touched, and rocked the egg slightly within the hollow.
The rounded edge of the nest and swaddling clothes laid around it kept the egg from accidentally rolling off onto the floor, but Nida still gave a startled and excited cry at the impact, a smile on her face. Such pounding and pressing from inside an egg was typical, and the pupa would continue to do so with increased frequency until it had broken through to emerge. It wouldn’t be long now.
As all watched in breathless quiet, a faint glow grew inside the egg, growing brighter each time the egg shook. Evidence of the pupa’s efforts came ever more rapidly, and each hopeful attendee anticipated the arrival of their clan’s new member any moment now. The shaking continued for a time until, suddenly, unexpectedly, the egg fell still, and the light within grew dim.
Nida’s heart plunged with dread as she imagined the worst of all possibilities. What could possibly be wrong? She resisted the urge to tear open the egg, knowing that to do so before her pupa was ready would render her child weak and susceptible to the debilitating Blight. Instead, she cried out in her soul to the Creator, Lord Elyon, pleading for some small mercy, some grace for the moment in form of protection for her unhatched child. A deathly hush fell over the small crowd.
Those gathered perceived the answer to her whispered prayers, as almost too quietly to notice, a lilting chorus echoed forth from a mote of light on the wall. In size and brilliance, it grew, stirring the stale, crowded air within. The twinkling, shining light, now an orb the size of an Etom’s head, refreshed them as it turned the sour odor of the cramped dwelling into a lovely fragrance befitting the most Heavenly garden. The wind grew from breeze to gust, and from gust to gale as the chorus rose, a swell of strength and beauty in song, scarcely fathomable.
The forceful wind parted the crowd, who turned from their places around the nested orb to face the spectacle. With minimal effort, one might escape its beauty, which rivaled enchantment, though for the wonder of it, not many might choose to do so. The wind and wordless song fell silent. Light alone now rose slowly along the curved wall to traverse the ceiling over the quiescent cradle.
In her awe, Nida had momentarily forgotten her still and darkling egg, and now recalled the tragedy with a sharp gasp. She turned to behold the wonder of the moment had touched none more deeply than her pupa, for there he was, a beautiful youngling of their tribe, his face turned up into the radiant marvel. The earlier gust had blasted the shivering husk of egg onto the floor, and the grublet stood, his smoothly ribbed, pale-blue skin now revealed as he lifted his face into the golden light that streaked over him.
While it was not uncommon that an Etom newborn might stand at birth, sight did not come to them until several weeks thereafter. A scaly, protective growth, usually lost as the child’s sight strengthened, still covered the eyes of Nida’s son. Yet how was it that he followed the light in its course until, directly over top him, it stopped?
So still he stood atop the cradle, inconceivably small with face upturned and stubby arms uplifted in the shower of twinkling golden rays! Newborn tears welled from beneath the scales on his eyes to fall streaming down his face. Loosely, the scales slipped from his eyes, and tumbled down to reveal beautiful golden eyes that blinked wetly in the radiance.
He smiled toothlessly, rose on his toes, and stretched himself upward, reaching into the light. As if something now lay in his hands, he drew them downward, cupping them close to his chest. In a momentary rush of wind, the light hastily withdrew, the starlit globe shrinking until it disappeared altogether, and all stood dim by comparison in the warmly-lit hovel.
Copyright 2017 Vixen & Grove
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