By Anne Elisabeth Stengl
(coming May 25, 2015)
He heard the drums in his dreams, distant but drawing ever nearer. He had heard them
before and wondered if the time of his manhood had come. But with the approach of dawn, the
drums always faded away and he woke to the world still a child. Still a boy.
But this night, the distant drums were louder, stronger. Somehow he knew they were not
concocted of his sleeping fancy. No, even as he slept he knew these were real drums, and he
recognized the beat: The beat of death. The beat of blood.
He woke with a start, his leg throbbing where it had just been kicked. It was not the sort
of awakening he had longed for these last two years and more. He glared from his bed up into the
face of his sister, who stood above him, balancing her weight on a stout forked branch tucked
“Ita,” the boy growled, “what are you doing here? Go back to the women’s hut!”
His sister made a face at him, but he saw, even by the moonlight streaming through
cracks in the thatch above, that her eyes were very round and solemn. Only then did he notice
that the drumbeats of his dream were indeed still booming deep in the woods beyond the village
fires. He sat up then, his heart thudding its own thunderous pace.
“A prisoner,” Ita said, shifting her branch so that she might turn toward the door. “The
drums speak of a prisoner. They’re bringing him even now.” She flashed a smile down at him,
though it was so tense with anxiety it could hardly be counted a smile at all. “Gaho, your name!”
The boy was up and out of his bed in a moment, reaching for a tunic and belt. His sister
hobbled back along the wall but did not leave, though he wished she would. He wished she
would allow him these few moments before the drums arrived in the village. The drums that beat
of one man’s death . . . and one man’s birth.
His name was Gaho. But by the coming of dawn, if the drums’ promise was true, he
would be born again in blood and bear a new name.
Hands shaking with what he desperately hoped wasn’t fear, he tightened his belt and
searched the room for his sickle blade. He saw the bone handle, white in the moonlight,
protruding from beneath his bed pile, and swiftly took it up. The bronze gleamed dully, like the
carnivorous tooth of an ancient beast.
A shudder ran through his sister’s body. Gaho, sensing her distress, turned to her. She
grasped her supporting branch hard, and the smile was gone from her face. “Gaho,” she said,
“I will,” said Gaho, his voice strong with mounting excitement.
But Ita reached out to him suddenly, catching his weapon hand just above the wrist. “I
will lose you,” she said. “My brother . . . I will lose you!”
“You will not. You will lose only Gaho,” said the boy, shaking her off, gently, for she
was not strong. Without another word, he ducked through the door of his small hut—one he had
built for himself but a year before in anticipation of his coming manhood—and stood in the
darkness of Rannul Village, eyes instinctively turning to the few campfires burning. The drums
were very near now, and he could see the shadows of waking villagers moving about the fires,
building up the flames in preparation for what must surely follow. He felt eyes he could not see
turning to his hut, turning to him. He felt the question each pair of eyes asked in silent curiosity:
Grasping the hilt of his weapon with both hands, Gaho strode to the dusty village center,
which was beaten down into hard, packed earth from years of meetings and matches of strength
held in this same spot. Tall pillars of aged wood ringed this circle, and women hastened to these,
bearing torches which they fit into hollowed-out slots in each pillar. Soon the village center was
bright as noonday, but with harsh red light appropriate for coming events.
Gaho stood in the center of that light, his heart ramming in his throat though his face was
a stoic mask. All the waking village was gathered now, men, women, and children, standing just
The drums came up from the river, pounding in time to the tramp of warriors’ feet. Then
the warriors themselves were illuminated by the ringing torches, their faces anointed in blood,
their heads helmed with bone and bronze, their shoulders covered in hides of bear, wolf, and
boar. Ten men carried tight skin drums, beating them with their fists. They entered the center
first, standing each beneath one of the ringing pillars. Other warriors followed them, filling in the
Then the chieftain, mighty Gaher, appeared. He carried his heavy crescent ax in one
hand, and Gaho saw that blood stained its edge—indeed, blood spattered the blade from tip to
hilt and covered the whole of the chieftain’s fist. Gaher strode into the circle, and the boy saw
more blood in his beard. But he also saw the bright, wolfish smile and knew for certain that his
sister had been correct. The night of naming had come.
“My son,” said the chief, saluting Gaho with upraised weapon.
“My father,” said Gaho, raising his sickle blade in return.
“Are you ready this night to die and live again?” asked the chief. His voice carried
through the shadows, and every one of the tribe heard it, and any and all listening beasts of
forests and fields surrounding. “Are you ready this night for the spilling of blood that must flow
Gaho drew a deep breath, putting all the strength of his spirit into his answer. “I am
Gaher’s smile grew, the torchlight flashing red upon his sharpened canines. He turned
then and motioned to the darkness beyond the torchlight.
The sacrifice was brought forward.
In the Darkness of the Pit, The Light Shines Brightest
Drums summon the chieftain’s powerful son to slay a man in cold blood and thereby earn his
place among the warriors. But instead of glory, he earns the name Draven, “Coward.” When the
men of his tribe march off to war, Draven remains behind with the women and his shame. Only
fearless but crippled Ita values her brother’s honor.
The warriors return from battle victorious yet trailing a curse in their wake. One by one the
strong and the weak of the tribe fall prey to an illness of supernatural power. The secret source of
this evil can be found and destroyed by only the bravest heart.
But when the curse attacks the one Draven loves most, can this coward find the courage he needs
to face the darkness?
Coming May 25, 2015
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