sun's rays flickered through the highest reaches of the
leafy boughs, then died. Dusk descended over the glade
where Kaer rested. Only his eyes showed movement.
Motionless, he remained, cooled by the scented air drawn
in from the surrounding woodland. Matters of great
importance occupied his mind. He had recovered the
Shintae, the long-lost Stone of Power. His long years of
search and hardship had been worth the sacrifice; the
end of his mission was within his grasp.
mind wandered as he fingered the short sword at his
side. Memories of deeds done and enemies slain, far away
in the west among the mountains of Cantae, were vivid in
his thoughts. On the ground beside him lay his trusty
bow, an old and valued friend. It had saved him on many
occasions beyond the edges of civilisation. The young
man stooped to gather the weapon from the still warm
ground. Close by, a solitary timber-framed cabin stood.
He turned towards it, content that, if only for a single
night, he would sleep in his own home.
darkness had fallen, Kaer could picture the building,
built with his own sweat and toil - its heavy planked
walls and angular straw-thatched roof, supported by
wooden cross-members. Shutters covered the narrow
openings cut into the walls. An arched doorway led into
the first of three large rooms, with several smaller
chambers at the rear. Highly intricate carvings and
multi-coloured tapestries decorated the internal walls.
A variety of woven and deep-furred rugs lay scattered
over the wooden floors. Most of all, he recalled the
stone fireplace in the main living area; and how, on
winter days, a roaring blaze spread warmth to everyone
inside. Even on a warm summer's evening, it felt good to
remember such days.
this thought in mind, Kaer moved round the cabin towards
its doorway. To his surprise, it stood open. He ran his
fingers around the opening, where he found the door
frame's shattered remains. Alert, for a moment or two,
he listened to the sounds of the night, but could detect
nothing untoward. Satisfied he was alone, he removed a
tallow-lamp from his pack. Using his tinderbox, he
succeeded in lighting the wick. With eyes shielded from
the glare, he stepped over the remains of the door.
Earlier thoughts of triumph faded as he gazed at the
scene of destruction that greeted him. Weary, he
wandered from room to room. It was evident that, during
his lengthy absence, someone had ransacked the entire
native of the forestlands of Marae, at a fraction under
six feet in height, Kaer stood tall for his race. Long
brown hair flowed down to touch the top of his broad
shoulders. Weather-beaten cheeks faded into a wide
hairless chin. Piercing blue eyes gazed out from beneath
broad eyebrows that angled down towards a finely
chiselled nose. Because of constant travel, his
well-worn clothes were faded and stained. A creased
brown tunic, hanging limply from a slightly hunched
back, covered the upper part of his torso. The garment
blended into the surrounding woodland, as did his
deerskin trousers. A pair of stretched-hide moccasins
covered his feet. His grass-coloured cloak lay beside
the pack he had rested on the floor beside him.
leant against a wall, his senses dulled by fatigue. Had
this been otherwise, Kaer would have moved on. In doing
so, his story might have had a much different ending.
Too tired to think with any clarity, he slid to the
floor. His head nodded once, twice, thrice. Moments
later his eyes closed. He fell into a deep but troubled
time later, in the small hours, those who had wreaked
the damage to his home returned. This band of savage
mountain men, warriors from Cantae, was skilled in the
art of the hunt. They moved silently. Taller than the
average forest dweller, their black hair, long and dirty
after months of travel, hung down their backs. Their
black rooted unkempt beards, dyed ginger as their
customs dictated, had grown to reach their chests. Over
muscular frames, they wore tunics of dark grey. These
garments, woven from rough and crudely spun yarn,
blended more readily into the rocky mountainsides than
the forests below. Their thick-hide trousers were heavy
and cumbersome in the heat of summer on the lower
antithesis of the forest dwellers who, overall, lived
peaceable lives, these inhabitants of the mountains had
evil embedded in both heart and mind. A single glance
into their dark eyes revealed the hatred that smouldered
deep within their souls. An all-consuming loathing for
most living things filled their daily lives, whether
creatures of the wild or strangers from another land.
Arguments and feuds were a part of daily life in Cantae.
Those who perished during combat could be counted the
lucky ones. Prisoners, whether from elsewhere or their
own kind, came to a hideous end - something that, in
particular, applied to those from the forests.
origins of this hatred of the woodland folk lay in the
distant past. Centuries ago, in self-defence, the people
of Marae took up arms against the invading mountain
hordes. With the enemy driven back to the foot of the
Cantaen mountains, the Maraens engaged them in battle
below the cliffs of Sorealai. Here, the lowlanders
inflicted a crushing defeat on the forces of evil. Few
Cantaens escaped the ensuing carnage, but those who did
took with them the embryo of the Hatred. This had become
instinctive now, the young were born with it; the elders
added to it by their teachings.
awakening was both sudden and violent. As he rolled
around the floor, an excruciating pain radiated from his
side. Through pain-filled eyes, he gazed on a pair of
dirty boots. In that instant, he recognised the style
and origins of the footwear. That Cantaens had created
the havoc within his home was never in doubt, but for
them to remain nearby surpassed Kaer's understanding.
things came close to their loathing of the forest
dwellers, other than their fear of them. Few Cantaens
ventured into the forests. Of those who did, none dared
stay long in any locality. Damage to the cabin was old;
layers of dust had settled over Kaer's scattered
possessions. He had believed the despoilers long since
departed, but current circumstances were extraordinary.
He had reclaimed the Shintae and, for that, the Cantaens
would make him pay a high price.
had made Kaer careless, which, in turn, and led to this
disastrous ending to his mission. There could be no
triumphal return to Myssous, the Maraen capital. There
the High Council had charged him with the task of
recovering the Shintae. He had failed them, himself and
his country. The Stone might have the power to create,
build and heal in the hands of the just, but, in those
of the degenerate, its potential for evil had no equal.
This ancient relic had been the deciding factor at the
Battle of Sorealai, where wise men had transmitted its
energy to the warriors in the field.
the final moments of the conflict, a lone Cantaen
warrior had infiltrated the Maraen lines and surprised
the wise men. In a frenzied attack, he had slaughtered
those who had surrounded the Shintae. As he made his
escape he seized the Stone, then took it with him. In
the confusion he fled into the mountains, pursued by a
company of Maraens. Despite their desperate search to
relieve him of his prize, he evaded them. Along with the
Shintae, the warrior disappeared without trace among the
many searched for the Stone, it had vanished. In time,
both sides accepted its loss. Now, five hundred years
had gone by since the last expedition sought its
whereabouts. The story passed into legend. There it
seemed destined to remain until, three years ago,
runners arrived in Myssous from the border. As they
related their disturbing news, senior members of the
High Council of Marae recalled the fables they had
learned in childhood.
from their villages in the foothills, deep in the shadow
of the mountains, the messengers had warned of strange
happenings taking place, over the border, in Cantae. At
diverse hours of the day and night, villagers had
witnessed bolts of lightning play around distant peaks.
Accompanied by the faint sound of thunder, this
phenomenon occurred with or without visible signs of a
High Council members with greater knowledge suspected
what the cause might be, though none dared voice their
thoughts aloud outside their chambers. Border-scouts
received instructions to reconnoitre the enemy lands, to
gather what information they could. On their return,
they brought news of large bands of armed Cantaens
flocking towards the central mountains.
by this latest information, the Maraen leaders
dispatched others, in an attempt to locate the exact
source of the lightning. These forays proved costly.
None of the scouts involved returned. Six months after
the first troubling signs, again, messengers bearing
ill-tidings hurried towards the coast. Now, columns of
smoke billowed from the tips of the highest peaks, while
huge flashes of fire replaced much of the lightning.
coming of winter curtailed any further exploration. The
following spring, as the snow thawed, another scout
volunteered to go into the mountains. The leaders,
desperate for knowledge, accepted his offer. Months
passed without word or sighting of him. Long before the
scout crawled back over the border, delirious and with
severe wounds, even the most optimistic member of the
High Council believed him lost. Unable to talk, he
lapsed into a coma. Some time went by before his broken
body healed and he regained consciousness. As his mind
cleared, he was able to decipher his jumbled thoughts
and the details of his mission unfolded.
many weeks, he had hidden by day and travelled by night.
By this method, he had worked his way towards the centre
of enemy activity. After he had followed a supply column
for several days, the scout had come across a large
concentration of enemy troops, camped in the Subrat
valley beneath the towering peak of Mount Subae.
a hillside overlooking the area, the scout took cover.
He settled down to watch. In an open area near the
centre of the encampment, guarded by a large contingent
of warriors, he located a group of wise men. For several
days the scout observed the Cantaen sages as, day and
night, they worked in relays over what appeared to be a
small stone. This article, no larger than the palm of
his hand, was set on a pedestal in their midst.
Backwards and forwards, the wise men paced, while the
object of their attention pulsated. At night, when the
camp became still, the sound of the sages, muttering in
ancient tongues, carried to the scout's hiding place.
occasion, one of the wise men would utter what must have
been a special incantation. Whenever he did, he raised
an arm, whereupon forks of lightning flashed from the
strange fragment of rock. The bolts spiralled towards
the sage, to encircle his outstretched arm. To wherever
he pointed, a place on the valley side or a distant
mountain peak, the bolts streaked towards his target.
There, sheets of flame would erupt, scorching vast areas
of land around it. The heavy crash of thunder
reverberated, as clouds of thick, acrid smoke billowed
high into the atmosphere.
days later, a thunderbolt landed near to where the scout
lay hidden. Compelled by the flames that leapt up around
him to break cover, he stumbled into the path of a
passing patrol. Although badly wounded in the encounter,
he made his escape. More by instinct than any conscious
effort, he wove his way through the mountains back to
High Council had to admit their darkest fears had come
true. Legend had become reality. The Shintae existed -
its future use dependent on the whims of a sadistic
leader and his bloodthirsty nation. Unpalatable as these
facts might be, matters could be worse. No matter how
spectacular lightning bolts and sheets of fire might
appear, they displayed only minor examples of the
Stone's power. Given sufficient time, the Cantaen wise
men would learn how to make greater use of its
considerable latent energy. Faced with such a certainty,
the country's leaders had to act. Somehow, they must
retrieve the Shintae. Once back with them, they knew how
to exploit its potential to protect Marae. The High
Council had records of such things the enemy lacked.
With action a matter of great urgency, the Maraen
leaders sent word that Kaer should attend them with all
no others looked for the Stone now, Kaer was the
exception. Close to thirty years of age, he had devoted
much of his adult life to this quest and to the study of
the Shintae's history. He had slipped away from home on
his fifteenth birthday to commence his mission. The
years that had elapsed since then had been far from
easy. Tales of his exploits had spread throughout both
Marae and Cantae. His talents were unique.
now, the elders had left him in ignorance of the events
taking place in the west. The country's leaders had
feared to risk him too soon, but, since this latest
news, it was time to call on his talents. They knew of
no-one else capable of the task in hand.
to the south, where the mountains met the sea,
messengers found Kaer camping high in a rocky pass. From
there, he had journeyed up the coast to Myssous, where
the High Council had apprised him of the facts. Within
the day, the young man set-off towards the border. The
year that followed had been one of travel and dangerous
adventure, during which he had been successful in
recovering the Shintae. In time, he had made good his
escape from Cantae, but, in doing so, in secret, had to
slip across the frontier.
avoid the many Cantaen patrols that sought him, Kaer had
entered Marae far from any border settlements. Unable to
call on an escort of border-scouts, chance alone had
dictated his route. Some strange quirk of fate had
directed his footsteps towards his own home and into his
a pain-filled haze, Kaer's roving gaze steadied for a
moment on the eyes of the Cantaen warrior who towered
above. Deep pools of hatred stared back. Sartae, head of
the Cantaen Guard, struck out at him with fist and boot.
The blows become more severe as the beating intensified.
Kaer lapsed into unconsciousness. His attacker, robbed
of the pleasure of watching him suffer, aimed one final
blow at the head of his helpless victim.
hours passed before the prisoner regained his senses.
The sun approached its zenith. Beyond the cabin walls,
the forest resonated with the sounds of the creatures of
the day. Kaer's face had swollen beyond recognition,
eyes mere slits amid the bruising. A ringing noise
filled his ears. His whole body ached, except for his
arms and legs, where the tightness of the ropes that
bound them had strangled all feeling. Despite his
injuries, Kaer's initial thoughts centred on the
Shintae. Had he been able, there would be no need to
feel for the pouch around his neck to know it had gone.
In his misery, he attempted to roll over. The pain this
manoeuvre created caused him to groan.
Sartae!" shouted a voice from nearby. "Come
quick! He's awake."
guard's cry brought home the gravity of the situation to
Kaer. Until that moment, his main concern had been for
the Shintae, his own safety of secondary importance.
Unbidden memories of the treatment he had seen inflicted
on prisoners by the enemy raced through his mind; the
twisted, broken bodies he had stumbled across during his
years of wandering.
the fate of prisoners taken by the Cantaen Guard
occupied his thoughts the most. Much more skilled in the
art of making death more painful and protracted than the
average Cantaen, to fall into their hands was
unfortunate. To find oneself at the mercy of their
chief, Sartae, turned the unthinkable into a nightmare.
In a land where cruelty had become a normal part of
everyday life, his inhuman deeds had become legendary.
Kaer had forced a gap between his blood-encrusted
eyelids, in search of a means of escape, he stared round
the room. Had his limbs been free, he might have tackled
the pair of guards at the door and the others by the
window. Unarmed as he was, it would be better to die
fighting than by torture. In desperation, he ignored the
pain as he struggled with his bindings.
the guard called again "He's awake and
moving." With sword drawn, he advanced on Kaer.
Sartae's word of command rang out from the doorway.
"You treacherous dog! No-one touches him, apart
from me. Out of the way, fool," he bellowed,
thrusting the guard to one side.
strode over to a now indifferent Kaer. An evil grin
spread across Sartae's face as he stared down at his
victim. His laughter broke the silence, an unpleasant
sound, the product of a warped and twisted mind. Soon,
the room filled with a dozen others, all who chortled in
a similar manner, as if at some demented joke.
resigned to his fate, closed his mind to the sound. He
had done the best he could, but that had not been
enough. Now, he had to suffer the consequences. With the
back of a dirty hand, the Cantaen leader wiped the tears
of laughter from his face. Sartae glowered at his
victim. With every passing moment, malevolence
intensified in his eyes. Towering over the still form,
Sartae presented a terrifying sight. His long,
ginger-beard brushed against the huge green-leaf of
authority woven into his brown tunic. His thick hair
reached the middle of his shoulders. A band of black
leather encircled his head. At the band's centre, it
held the large jewel of seniority firmly against his
forehead. The splendour of the gemstone dazzled Kaer.
When he began to speak, it compelled him to cast his
be it," he said, his voice devoid of fear.
"You've won, for now, but I won't give you any
pleasure in your games to come."
had suffered their 'entertainment' before. He knew that,
although his body could be broken, his spirit had
your victory Sartae. Make the most of it, because it can
be nothing more than temporary," his voice
strengthened, "others of my people will come. Where
I've failed, they will succeed. May your remaining days
words echoed round the room. He smiled. No matter how
hard they tried, these despicable creatures could never
subjugate the soul of his people. His smile turned to
laughter. The act releasing some of the tension that had
been building within him over the months.
open defiance enraged Sartae. His face turned red, veins
on his forehead protruded. Never had he faced a
situation such as this. When brought in front of him, no
matter how brave a prisoner might be against his men, he
or she cowered in fright - yet this insignificant wretch
laughed in his face. Sartae's anger overflowed. In blind
fury, he grasped his sword. He raised the blade, ready
to strike. At the last moment, he stopped himself from
delivering the killing blow. Only a supreme effort of
willpower enabled him to control his rising temper.
Naked hatred shone in his eyes as he slammed the sword
back into its sheath.
the fires and bring me the irons when they're hot,"
he said to the guards, his voice choked with fury.
"As for you," he addressed himself to Kaer,
"your ploy didn't work did it? You thought you
could make me so angry, I'd kill you without thinking,
eh? By nightfall, we'll see who's laughing."
stormed out of the room, almost trampling underfoot the
guard who was standing by the doorway. No sooner had he
left the room when, from outside, came the sound of
running feet. One of his outer sentries raced towards
came the breathless cry. "We must hurry...a large
party…of Maraens is coming this way."
much time do we have?" Sartae snapped, as he
stepped outside, back in full control of himself.
"Come on, speak up!"
a quarter of a league away," the sentry replied,
"but they don't suspect anything, their weapons are
everybody, prepare to leave. I'll deal with the
prisoner," Sartae commanded his followers.
speed, he moved back inside towards his helpless
you doubtless heard," he said, glaring down at
Kaer, "some of your countrymen will be here soon.
They'll be too late, because you'll be dead before they
arrive. It's a pity I'm unable take you with me,
otherwise we could have continued with our meeting
later, but you'd only slow me down."
so sorry they've ruined your fun," Kaer lisped
through swollen lips, his voice laden with sarcasm, able
to savour in his final moments the disappointment of his
But no! I've a much better idea. I'm going to spare your
life. Well, with some luck, you might survive for a day
or two. To kill you outright would spur on your
compatriots, rather than slow them down; but if they
find you injured, they'll have to split their forces.
They're certain to leave a number to nurse and protect
you. With fewer in pursuit, we stand a far greater
chance of escape."
strained at his bounds. It would be better for him to
die, than the world face the consequences of Sartae's
escape with the Shintae. Pain shot through Kaer's side
and chest. Sartae stood back, blood dripping from his
sword. For the second time that day, Kaer left the world
behind. Deep he sank, into a dark, unyielding nightmare
from which there seemed no hope of return.
from The Shintae 2nd Edition - Copyright Brian R Hill 2017
Number: 248882 - UK Copyright Service