Welcome to Sam'aen's World...
In a mysterious Earth surrounded by magnetic boundaries, 10-year old Sam’aen has never traveled beyond the cold northern forests of his hunting tribe. The palmreader whispers of a time Before, when people were free to wander the realm. One day, a visitor enters their isolated world and calls upon an unlikely hero... And Sam'aen soon finds his life tipping out of his control.
Chapter 1: The Hunt
Morning air, crisp and slightly tinged with the prickle of firewood, enveloped the forest. A pale strip of gold wove between the thick tree trunks and the cawing of a crow echoed in the distance.
Sam’aen sat cross-legged, sheltered inside a grove of small fir trees. He was weaving a pine-needle trap. He liked to wake up early – He loved the prickle of cold air inside his nostrils. He savored the calm of the morning, the subtle peace of the dawn that one could find only before the hunters and warriors awakened.
They woke up with noise, the sound of splashing water, catcalling to each other, stringing bows and sharpening arrows in crackling fires. Sam’aen woke up soundlessly, like a piece of the morning itself – fragile and silent in the middle of his forest haven. Last night, he had snuck out of camp again and he could already picture his sister’s annoyed face. But the Solstice Ceremonials had become too much. He had wanted some quiet time alone and a night in the woods was the perfect remedy.
The echo of battle drums began faintly in the distance as Sam’aen ended the row of needles with a piece of twine. Oh no, thought Sam’aen, he was going to be late again. He stowed the trap underneath a rock.
Sam’aen groaned inwardly as the echo of battle drums drew near. He could feel the vibrations rolling in the ground. He slid under the row of fir trees and raced back to camp.
Today was the Day of the Hunt, which Sam’aen had been apprehensively anticipating for the past six moons – since the last Kapa-Hunt, to be exact. But this wasn’t any just other Hunt. It was, in fact, thought Sam’aen with an uneasy turning in his stomach, the last Hunt of their childhoods. After today, the Council of elders would separate the thirteen boys, who had been together since their toddler year, by aptitude into their definitive roles within the tribe. This Hunt, in other words, was their last chance to prove themselves. The hunters would assign them some big game, followed by a series of arduous tasks.
Sam’aen arrived the edge of camp. He joined the row of fidgeting boys and tried to look as inconspicuous as possible.
The drumbeat quickened into a thunderous beating. Mothers and fathers began chanting war cries, beseeching the Mother of the Hunt for a good game. Sam’aen glanced at the other boys. They were stoic statues of themselves, formidable and at least half a head taller than Sam’aen. He felt very small amongst them.
The thirteen boys marched in line with the pounding drums, but as soon as the forest closed behind them and the brown path faded into foliage, the boys broke out into ununiformed clumps. Disarrayed war cries and excited laughter congested the morning air as Sam’aen felt himself shrink in importance at the back of the group.
Syron, the eldest of the boys at fourteen, restored order quickly, snapping his gold-crested bow at Gideon and La’kan. They yelped in pain and slapped Syron good-naturedly on the back – but Syron didn’t want to be seen as their equivalent. The Council had appointed him the unofficial leader and he wasn’t going to let his friends forget his superior position.
He looked at the twelve boys down the end of his crooked nose.
“Today,” he announced gravely as he wedged a burning essence stick into the ground. “We will hunt the Elk.”
The boys fell silent as the aroma of pine filled their nostrils. The Elk was the third sacred creature of the Mother of the Hunt. It could only be shot in one place: the heart.
Syron’s face, streaked with blue and red warpaint, looked so fearsome in the rising smoke from the essence stick that Sam’aen couldn’t help but flinch when Syron’s eyes flickered his way.
Syron leered like a hunter who’d spotted his prey. “Step forth, Sam’aen.”
Sam’aen inched forward, looking carefully at the ground.
“Where’s your war paint?” demanded Syron.
Sam’aen glanced pleadingly at the other boys. Their faces were unsympathetic.
“Answer when I speak to you!”
“I-I…I forgot,” stammered Sam’aen.
“You were supposed to break the dragon-bone,” spat Gideon. “You missed the Rituals last night, wandering off alone.”
Sam’aen’s heart sank. Oh no. Of all the nights he’d been gone – this was the one time they had noticed. He was in for it now.
Syron stepped closer, his confidence mounting. “And where’s your heartwood bow? We won’t be using oak!” he said mockingly.
Gideon sniggered as though he thought this was very funny.
“How do you think we’ll look at the Ceremony tonight? It’ll be a bad reflection on all of us!”
The boys murmured crossly among themselves.
“Take him out! Say he’s injured!” demanded La’kan.
Syron stroked his imaginary beard thoughtfully.
After a few tense moments, Syron smiled encouragingly. “Why don’t you head along to camp now and get your paint and gear? There’s still some time before the Mid-Noon.”
The boys gaped in shock at Syron’s sudden show of compassion.
“Well, hurry up!” said Syron. "Don't make us wait long!"
Sam’aen decided he had better run before Syron changed his mind. He turned and sprinted back to camp, through the packs of women washing clothes and healers engaged in discussion until he found Versaela filing her blade by the fire.
Versaela, a full half-head taller than Sam’aen, stood up and grasped his shoulders. “Why aren’t you with the boys? They didn’t beat you up again, did they?”
“No,” said Sam’aen breathlessly. “But I’ve got to get my war paint and bow and the dragon bone and hurry back!”
“Take mine,” said Versaela, reaching into her knapsack and pressing a fine white bone into Sam’aen’s hand.
“B-but it’s already broken.”
Versaela gave him a hard look.
Sam’aen sighed. It was true. He had never broken a dragon bone and he wouldn’t be able to now. "Thank y – urghhh.”
Sam’aen jumped as he felt a cold sting across his cheeks.
“Hold still!” said Versaela. She dipped the feather in powdered redwood and lazuli and brushed it across his cheek in the emblem of the tribe.
“And the bow,” Versaela said. “I don’t see why it’s such a big deal, but you can borrow mine.”
“Thanks.” Sam’aen, hoping he hadn’t taken too much time, raced back through camp and into the noiseless woods.
Sam’aen stopped at the place where Syron had marked the ground with a burning essence stake. It was still, too still. Sam’aen felt uneasy. No sound of laughing boys in the distance. They had sent him off, intending to leave him behind.
Twelve boys were enough. They did not care for the presence of the outcast, the thirteenth boy, the weakling, the cursed one. No, they didn’t care if he came with them in their last Hunt. He wasn’t one of them, after all.
A hollow emptiness settled in his heart as Sam’aen stared at the burnt-out stake. He had dreamed about this Hunt – he had dreamed that he would prove himself this time. He had imagined, that, by some unforeseen miracle, he, Sam’aen of the Nacreen Tribe and son of the Chieftain, would shoot the Elk through its heart. And his father would be proud of him. His father would smile at him, say that he was proud to call Sam’aen his son. Say that he would become as great a warrior as his brother Trey, or as great a hunter as his brother Gren, or as strong of heart as his sister Versaela.
The tribe healers would accept him. The boys would feel sorry for all the times they’d pushed him down. Yes, they would look at him through new eyes – they’d see him an ally or maybe even as a friend.
Cold teardrops stalked down the edge of Sam’aen’s nose and smeared the red and blue war paint as the images in his head turned to dust.
Many years ago, as a very small child, Sam’aen had wandered off into the woods alone. His father had been so distraught that he had gone off in search of his son himself. Sam’aen could still pick out fragments of memory from that day – the pounding drums, the smell of firewood and his father’s embrace.
It was Sam’aen’s favorite memory.
Sam’aen was the chieftain’s youngest son. He had two older sisters, both as beautiful as the summer, and three older brothers, each a better warrior than the last. And Versaela, closest in age to him, would one day be great.
Sam’aen, however, was the youngest, the scrawniest, and the most insignificant.
Not that anyone ever expected Sam’aen to lead the tribe. But he was supposed to be a great hunter at least. Maybe even a great warrior. He was supposed to become some strong, heroic figure, fit to dominate the battlefield glories or the big games in the woods.
By the time he was five or six, it was clear Sam’aen was a weakling. He would never become as great as his father. He was forever the child born too early, the fetus who did not complete the sacred carrying period. He must have been cursed. After all, his mother had died giving birth to him.
Most of the people of the tribe began avoiding him when he was seven. The healers, consumed by fearful superstitions, sent him on elongated tasks deep into the unmapped darkness of the woods, hoping he’d disappear somehow. But that was his one unwavering gift. Imbued with an innate sense of direction, Sam’aen always showed up back at camp, a little dirty and tired, perhaps, but always there. He was like a flea the tribe couldn’t get rid of, Sam’aen thought miserably. As the twelve others boys in his four-year age group quickly formed a tight friendship, Sam’aen found himself closed out, as though an invisible metal bar loomed between them. The boys soon found it easy to torment him for their own laughs.
Sam’aen didn’t know how he’d survive without Versaela. They were the youngest of the Chieftain's seven children. His sister, his protector and his mentor, Versaela had been the only one patient enough to teach him to hunt, string a bow, forage and combat. She simply taught him how to survive. He wasn't, after all, supposed to have survived. He should have died in the womb.