The Culling 2

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The thaw was in retreat as storms off the north re-froze the land and destroyed the early flowers.

I pulled my body into a ball trying to conserve my body heat against the cold. I could hear the timbers shift around me in the fierce winds and thought of Eoghan who had swallowed a greater storm into his body. I could not imagine the power.

I slept then with the wind and cold and the golden presence of Eoghan in my dreams.

The wind moaned and the room was still dark as my mother groaned out of her bed. I rose as well and threw some small sticks of wood on the coals and then carefully built the morning cook fire.

My mother trudged in and pulled a pot with congealed fat over the flames, "You waste too much wood," she grumbled as she warmed her hands over the flames. "Don't be a layabout! Fetch your brothers!"

I grunted and pulled on what warm clothing I had. It smelled of sweat and animal grease. Warm smells. I punched the sleeping mounds still on the mat we all shared as a sleeping place. Niklas and Ralf gave twin yawns and started shuddering with the cold.

I hefted the frozen water basin near the flames and went out into the wind to see to our poor few animals.

When I returned, I could smell the thin gruel of the morning meal and saw Agnieska's girlservant, Betha, a wiry, suspicious eyed creature, huddled next to our hearth.

"She needs to see ya this mornin'." Betha said in a flat inflectionless voice. "You need to hurry with no eatin." She slyly smiled at my frown and the sound my belly made at her announcement.

My mother looked disgusted, but said, "Leave soon so you can work soon. Go see the wise woman."

The snow blinded me as I walked into the wind, watching for the marks for the path in the snow to Agnieska's hovel. My clothes were patched together pieces of fur and too small, i kept pulling pieces and trying to make myself smaller as I trudged as quickly as I could.

"You're late boy," Agnieka stared at me with something like hatred and something else. She had called me in like this every few months since I was a child. She had a large fire in her hovel and the place stank of drying plants. She muttered chants as she stirred a pot on the fire.

"Sit down laggard. You know by now what to do.". I pulled off my clothes and sat naked before her fire. The scented steam wove around me and I felt far away. The room seemed to fade away from me and I was in a gray mist and could only hear the harshness of the wise woman's chants. A cup was pressed to my lips and I drank the hot, foul liquid down.

There was a long silence and then the mist glittered green around me. Then a triumphant whisper, "You're mine now."

I don't remember going home, just suddenly becoming conscious and finding myself doing my usual work at our house. My empty stomach rumbled as I tried to stay patient with my two younger brothers' games as we tried to patch holes during the lull in the storm. The noon hour was drawing near, "Be careful not to waste and put everything back, I need to get me to the blacksmith's.". They grunted and Niklas tried to kick Ralf's legs out from under him.

"Hurry," I hissed at them, "before the storm comes."

John the elder was the strongest man in town and the only blacksmith for miles. Fate had given him many children but all of them girls. He employed two of the village boys to pump the great bellows for food and iron working skills.

The heat of the shop smacked me in the face, John stood before the anvil an unfinished hook shaped piece grasped in the tongs. His brawny forearms bare and bristling with hair, I tried to sneak a look at the working of the muscles as he swung the heavy hammer down.

"Quit your gaping boy, Maugh needs spellin'. I quickly ran over to replace the exhausted boy and pulled hard on the bellows, creating an intense flame.

And so it went for several hours. I occasionally felt dizzy but shook off the feeling. I was in the back room finishing the clean up when I heard the door open and close. John began, "i'm sor..." he stopped.

There was silence and then a deep voice rattled the tools on the wall, "I"m looking for Gregor."

John had always been the biggest man I had ever seen so I was shocked when I came out and saw the huge man in front of John. He made John look puny and childlike. He wore a cotton tunic and leather jerkin and breeches with a hooded cloak thrown back to expose his dark, reddish hair. While he was properly covered, his musculature was so extreme and overly developed that his clothing bulged outwards all over the place. His chest pushed out in front of him and I could clearly see the fantastically huge mass of the muscle deforming the leather. I could see the indentation where the deep canyon ran between those fantastic shieldplates of brawn. The cotton of the tunic was stretched like a second skin over the magnificent craggy roundness of his upper arms. His incredible hands, big and thick were easily several times the size of John's own large hands.

John seemed to shrink away intimidated by this immense man.

"He, he's in the..." john gaped speechless.

I stepped forward held mute by this man's power.

He smiled, briefly, dazzlingly. I felt my knees buckle.

He sternly faced John and said authoritatively, "We are going."

Outside, he carelessly picked up a huge leather pack one handed and slung it over one of his monstrous shoulders. I marveled at his thickness and the graceful, confident ease of his movements. His thick heavy legs easily broke a path in the snow. He looked more beast than man, but even the great bears seemed smaller.

"But my mother, my brothers,". I found the strength to ask.

"i bought you from your mother," he looked at me almost gently for a moment, "We need to move Gregor. The soldiers will be coming soon and I don't want to be near this or any other village when they do."

I stopped for a moment and he turned impatiently again towards me.

"Sir, what should I call you?"

The brief dazzling smile shone out and he laughed, "Gregor, you may call me Jedrek."

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