In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. … The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them.
(Genesis 1:1, 6:4)
[Author’s note: Addiyr is pronounced as əˈdir]
At a slow walk, Addiyr rode his big brown horse Stalwart between the shadowy towers of giant hardwoods. The trunks of these primeval trees were fifteen feet and greater in diameter, and their lush crowns touched the sky at more than two hundred feet overhead. Scattered shafts of light that pierced through to the forest floor afforded barely sufficient illumination for following a wagon path that was seldom used and hard to discern. So it had been for the past hour.
Layered leaf litter ahead made the path even more difficult to distinguish. Addiyr halted to lean his tall, muscular frame over toward the ground and check more closely. Stalwart nickered a seeming question.
“All is well, my friend. I’m just making sure we’re not drifting off course.”
Spotting a faint trace of a wheel rut, Addiyr straightened and gave Stalwart a pat on the neck.
“No, we’re on track … unless the most recent wagon driver had been drifting himself.” After a brief pause, Addiyr added in a lower voice, “Here’s praying not.”
Though wanting greater speed, Addiyr considered that a bit of slow pace was probably good for Stalwart. They had ridden hard during the first part of the day, and for days before. And there remained over one hundred miles yet to cover before his trip was done.
Not much farther on—less than ten miles—lay Mawat, smallest of the outlier villages in this thinly populated region of the world. Little hope for success in his venture had ever been expected there. The fading forest road augured that little hope was actually no hope. Thankfully Mawat was Addiyr’s last planned stop. Most of the remaining travel would be the return home.
Ahead the forest began to thin and brighten. Entering the light, Addiyr scanned the greater scope of his surroundings. Around him he could see colorful birds flitting through the understory as they sounded their calls and pursued the business of feathered life. Flowering and fruiting shrubs enticed visits from darting hummingbirds and questing orioles, and from restless squirrels and honeybees, as well as from animals of much greater size. At one small tree laden with large bright red fruit, and off about seventy feet, a mature plate-back lizard nosed around the forest floor, gobbling up a plenitude of fallen drupes. Absorbed in its feasting, the thirty-foot-long creature didn’t notice, or perhaps bother to acknowledge, the slow, quiet passing of horse and rider.
Addiyr smiled. He observed the displays of nature with deep appreciation, and some wonder at the fascinating form of the colorfully dappled plate-back with its spiky tail. Pleasant counterpoints to the deep weariness he felt.
It had been two months of traveling now … two months of negotiating a circuit of the scattered settlements established near the Wynderrin River and its tributary streams in this west central region of Wynderrin Country. That effort had not proven fruitful according to original purpose. The news and rumors picked up from certain villages might be valuable, though the news had mostly been bad. As for the rumors … they were strange and alarming, and hopefully untrue. Addiyr wondered what he would find in Mawat.
Probably nothing of worth, and my effort to get there is just a further waste of time. Like this whole trip has been. He sighed. Why must Father be so unreasonable? I could have spent this time away from home more successfully, if only he had agreed.
Addiyr contemplated the unjust recriminations he expected from his father for returning empty-handed. Bitterness began to creep into Addiyr’s heart, and he sensed with alarm a morose tugging whirlpool of emotion.
No! Snap out of this!
Addiyr shook himself and encouraged Stalwart to a trot. The woods were opening up and the path was now easier to discern. Feeling confident about his course, Addiyr pressed for even more speed. Getting his and Stalwart’s blood flowing seemed the best immediate antidote for threatening despondency.
As he rode faster, Addiyr’s thoughts flew past Mawat and to his eventual connection with the so-called Wynderrin Highway, the long ridge road that ran north-south through Wynderrin Country. At that juncture he would head south to home. He briefly entertained the notion of heading north instead, and then quickly dismissed it. His father had said “No!” to the northern prospect from the outset, insisting Addiyr only visit the central region villages. A mistake, Addiyr had believed, and he had tried arguing so. But now, in journey weariness, Addiyr hardly cared. If he were to go north, despite his father’s opposition, he would need to endure another four hundred miles of travel to reach a desirable goal—the northernmost extent of Wynderrin Country. Yet there, at the coast of the Tiykonian Sea, lay the large and prosperous town of Chespekay.
Chespekay engaged in trade and commerce with the central region villages, as well as with Myldoven, another large coastal town over five hundred miles to the east in the northwestern corner of Fytheholde Country. Addiyr was certain that these towns—places he’d heard of, but had never visited—had an abundance of what he had sought for in vain the past several weeks.
Metal. Much-desired metal.
Metal ore was rare in central Wynderrin Country. Rich soils and flowing streams … they were in abundance, and had drawn Addiyr’s father and others to the region. The central region villages prospered in their pleasant situations, and traded their agricultural wealth with the north to obtain needed metal supplies. But now the local metal stockpiles were gone. This, among other discouragements, had been Addiyr’s finding everywhere during his travels.
The metal supply in Addiyr’s own village was almost exhausted itself. And the continued prosperity of his village demanded more … of one type and another. Iron, bronze, copper, tin. Raw ore or ingots. Finished tools, weapons, hardware, and utensils.
Father is right about one thing—we need more metal.
Caught up in his musings, and regrets that he couldn’t have just gone north to Chespekay in the first place, Addiyr was taken by surprise when he came around a blind bend and was greeted by a savage roar. Stalwart drew himself to a sudden halt and reared back with a whinny that was half alarm and half fury. Addiyr worked to settle his steed while scanning for the source of the sound. It wasn’t hard to find.
There, to his right, off the path and less than forty feet away, was a horned-snout hunter lizard, standing about twelve feet tall on its two powerful hind legs and weighing over three thousand pounds. Size alone made it prominent; its bright yellow-and-orange hide emphasized the fact of its presence. The creature loomed over the carcass of a well-decomposed, adult male elk.
The fearsome predator, bearing a spine-ridged back and long thick tail, had been tearing off chunks of rotted meat when Addiyr and Stalwart intruded upon its feasting. With a huge mass of shredded flesh dangling from its large spike teeth, the beast took two steps toward rider and mount, leaned forward, and bellowed again, proclaiming ownership of the putrid, maggot-infested prize.
Stalwart danced in place and tossed his head.
“Easy, friend! Easy!” Addiyr spoke to his faithful companion while keeping his eyes on the hunter lizard.
Not sure of the best course of action—either rapid flight at risk of triggering a chase response, or continuing on slow and steady, and thus maybe relaxing the beast—Addiyr made a quick calculation and opted for walking Stalwart forward down the path. He figured they could bolt if necessary.
Addiyr called over to hunter lizard as Stalwart pranced a bit in complaint at the slow pace he was being held to.
“All right, big and ugly. We got the message. See? … We’re leaving now. No need to chase us. None at all. You just go ahead with your meal.”
The hunter lizard roared again, perhaps offended by the opinion of its looks, but it made no move to attack.
Man and horse passed on.
After gaining what seemed a decent separation, Addiyr encouraged Stalwart back to a trot, which the big horse readily accepted. Having been reminded of the need for vigilance, Addiyr scanned ahead and around as they continued their course.
Less than an hour later they arrived at the outskirts of Mawat, refreshed and with the jolt of adrenaline from encountering the hunter lizard now faded. A mile back Addiyr had found a stream, and a large pool with silver fish flashing within and foot-wide emerald dragonflies darting above. He and Stalwart had slaked their thirst with the cool water. Then Addiyr had stripped and bathed in the pool that served to both cleanse his skin and lift his spirit.
Guiding Stalwart into Mawat at a slow walk, Addiyr was struck by the quiet of the settlement ahead. No laughing, shouting children. No adult voices. No sounds of dogs or livestock. No clanging and knocking of tools. Granted, it was a small village, yet there should be some noise of life. But coming to the center of the settlement, Addiyr saw that Mawat was no more. Whatever vibrancy of human presence had once pulsed through the meager cluster of buildings was gone. Weeds grew tall at the entrances to shops and homes. Dried leaves had accumulated in walkways. Large webs with bright yellow orb spiders stretched across open doorways and windows. A broken table lay on its side in the middle of the main path through the settlement.
“It seems, Stalwart, that the good people of Mawat have abandoned their village. Perhaps due to the same troubles we’ve seen elsewhere?”
Stalwart gave no answer.
Addiyr surveyed the deserted village a bit more.
“Well, my friend, let’s just take a look around and see what we can learn.”