Sunday, 12 May 2013

The Call of the Owl

This is my first fantasy creative piece for the module Sci-Fi and Fantasy. It was hard to write at first but once I got into it I really enjoyed it. part of me wishes I had done a fantasy piece for my ECP now. 

I got the grade back for this the other day - 69% one mark of a First! I'll be honest I was annoyed because the marker's comments were useless, like 'I didn't know who the main character was', most likely its Pikku the person I keep mentioning. Then, there were only three typos that they picked up on and they said 'best have it read by other readers', three of my friends already had a check over it. I was so close, yet so far. 

I still have hope for my second fantasy piece, which I will post after it's been marked. 

Here is the map that accompanies this piece. Enjoy! 

The Call of the Owl
Based on the stories of the Cherokee

Pikku looked across the city. It was such a change from her home, the small village of Keko, nestled within the mighty trees of the Elema forest. From the aviary tower of the castle, Pikku could see the whole of Mahtava - from the start of the Maht River that snaked down the cobble roads, all the way to the southern wall; an impenetrable barrier that stood above the city, casting dark shadows on the slums. The fortress-like castle was carved out of the very rock of the Varjo Mountains, offering the greatest protection. Before Pikku had arrived at Mahtava she had heard rumours of secret passages leading into the mountain’s depth, but she had yet to find any.
She leant further out of the tower’s window and watched the people as they decorated the main street with maroon banners and bunting of the Mahtava crest. Traders were already setting up their stalls and selling wooden carvings of bears with white heads and paws. The boundary gates were opened and the common people spilled in to join the rich, who were already gathering by the castle gates along the river.
Prince Musta, son of King Vahva, was due back from the Alku Hunt soon. Pikku turned from the window. In Keko she would hunt rabbits and squirrels with her bow and arrow, as her family needed to eat. Here they didn’t hunt out of necessity, but for sport. Outside the walls a massacre would take place; flesh, bones, and blood despoiled the Jahti Planes.  No spear, sword, or axe was spared. Nor was any man. As soon as a boy reached one and five years he was given a horse and a weapon, then sent to take part in Alku. When he returned, he was a man. No woman was allowed on the hunt and for that Pikku was grateful.
There was a rush of air and a hawk-owl landed on the perch by Pikku’s head. It rustled its wings indignantly, golden eyes narrowed.  Tied to its leg was a small scroll. When Pikku reached for the note it nipped at her fingers. She swatted at it.
‘Do you want me to have this or not?’
It turned its dark feathered head, sharp beak upturned, and let her take the note. As soon as she untied the parchment, the owl flew away up the tower. A dirty white glob fell from above, spattering on Pikku’s shoulder.
‘Hey!’ she called out, rubbing at the mess with the sleeve of her tunic.
A hoot sounded from the rafters.
‘No good bird,’ she muttered with a scowl.
Pikku knew what the note would say before she even unfolded it.
Prince Musta is returning.
With a slight nod Pikku tore the note into tiny pieces and threw them out of the window where they were carried off into the wind. She then pulled the horn from her belt and gave it a mighty blow. The sound reverberated across the city. The traders hurriedly opened their stalls and the people flooded the streets. Pikku watched from above as the crowd’s excitement grew. Then, at the far end of city, the Southern Gates opened with a groan. Horns blared loudly. The hunting party had arrived. Pikku hurried from her tower to gather with the rest of the people at the castle gates.

The streets were already overflowing when Pikku reached the gateway. She was too short to see much so she elbowed her way through the gathering to the front. The chattering people cheered as the hunting party rode into view. Horses thundered down the cobbled streets, their flanks slick with sweat and blood. The men that rode upon them had swarthy skin with bulging muscles under their leather tunics. Prince Musta led the riders, a smug smile played across his lips. The banner of the white-headed bear flew above him, whipped about by the autumn wind. Behind him, pulled by two horses, was the body of a black bear, three arrows protruding from its blood-matted fur. Pikku’s stomach lurched. The smell of birds was nothing compared to the stench of rotting flesh. Once within the boundary walls, in the square, Prince Musta leapt down from his horse. As he swaggered to the bear’s carcass he drew his sword from the highly decorated scabbard.
Pikku fell back into the mass and let herself be jostled aside. There was a deathly silence. Then, a metallic twang as Prince Musta’s sword sliced through fur, muscle, and bone before hitting the blood stained cobbles. Cheers filled the air. Pikku fell to the ground as her legs gave out beneath her. She heaved, but the little bread she had eaten that morning refused to come back up. Gagging painfully, she pulled herself to her feet and stumbled away from the square. Jeers and shouting came from the crowd and Pikku couldn’t help but look back. The bear’s head swayed above the crowd mounted on a spike. The shaft was smeared with congealed blood. Flies were already feasting on the bear’s glassy eyes. The spike moved forward, carried by Prince Musta to the middle of the square. He stuck the spike into the ground and faced his people. The noise died down. He raised his arms above his head, his hands and forearms splattered in the bear’s blood. He called out, his voice deep and strong.
‘Let the search for the Etsija begin.’
The tower was stuffy and the smell of bird droppings was overpowering yet Pikku avoided the window.  If she were to look out of it she would see the mouldering bear’s head. The raw muscle of neck had shrivelled around the spike. The fur was scraggy and falling out, leaving bald patches of greying skin. The eyes were completely gone, as was half the nose. Its mouth hung open, dried blood blackened the once ferocious teeth. The tongue was long gone. Pikku was unsure if the flies had got it, or the slum dwellers had.  Her stomach convulsed at the thought.
The bear’s head would remain in front of the castle for twenty-five days, when the Etsija, or best hunter, was found. If Pikku thought the Alku Hunt was bad, that was only the beginning of the true massacre. All the men that went on the Alku Hunt now had to prove they were the Etsija, searching far and wide for the best kill. Some men had travelled across the Jahti planes and brought back the carcasses of the most exotic beasts. Pikku shook her head, it was all pointless.
Only Prince Musta could win.
The solitariness of the narrow aviary tower was overwhelming Pikku. Without the window to look out; the tower was a very dismal place. Pikku left the tower to get water from the well for the birds. At least it’s something to do, she thought, hurrying down the winding stone stairs. Cool wind caressed her face as she made her way into the open courtyard of the castle grounds. As she winched the full pail up from the bottom of the well she thought of the stories of the Etsija she had been told as a child.
‘It was one and four suns after the Alku Hunt and a man came back, but it wasn’t the Prince,’ her mamma had told her one night by the fireplace. ‘It was a great warrior named Soturi. He dragged a huge beast behind him, a Suuri wolf from the Hamara Lands. Only a few people had seen one before, most thought they were only legends. The Suuri wolf was presented to King Vahva and he praised Soturi highly. But when Prince Musta came back three suns later he was not pleased. Some say the great warrior was banished, others say the Prince killed him, but there are those who think the Prince had him cursed, turned into a bird of the night, an owl; one of the greatest, but least appreciated, hunters.’
‘Oh, mamma,’ Pikku had argued, ‘an owl isn’t the greatest hunter, a bear or a lynx is.’
Her mamma gathered her up in a cuddle and said, ‘You’ll see for yourself one day, little Pikku.’
Pikku splashed her face with water. She hadn’t believed her, but after working in the aviary and seeing the brutish prince, she was starting to reconsider.

Once her pail was full she made her way back to the tower, careful not to spill a drop. The tower was quiet as most of the birds slept during the sunlit hours. She filled the troughs, cleaned the floors, and laid out fresh seed, all the time avoiding the window. She was wiping down the perches when she noticed a small, fluffy, white owl staring at her.
‘Oh, hello,’ she said and gave it a pat on the head.
‘Hoo,’ it replied, nipping at her fingers.
She moved to clean the next perch when the little owl landed on it.
‘Excuse me, I have to clean this.’
Pikku picked up the owl and placed it on another perch. It bristled its feathers, and flew straight back to her. That’s when Pikku really looked at it. There was no copper band of Mahtava around its right leg, and it was much too small to carry any parchment. What amazed Pikku the most, were its eyes. They were the most startling blue she had ever seen. No bird had had blue eyes before. They focused on her with an intensity she had never seen in an animal.
‘Where did you come from?’ she asked absently, staring into its eyes as she rubbed its feathery head.
‘Whoo hoo.’
‘You’re not from here, are you?’ she wondered out loud.
It shook its head. ‘Ooh hoo.’
Pikku stopped stroking it.
‘Did you just answer me?’
‘You can understand me?’
It nodded its feathery head vigorously. ‘Hoo hoo.’
Pikku sat down on her wooden stool, and frowned. The owl blinked at her before hoping from the perch to sit on her knee.
‘Hoo whoo. Hoo hoo. Ooh,’ it hooted quickly, bouncing up and down on her knee. It wobbled as it lost its balance. Pikku caught it before it toppled.
‘Sorry little owl,’ she said as she placed him back on a perch. ‘But I can’t understand hoots. I think the sunlight has confused you.’ She patted it on the head once more and resumed her cleaning duties.
The owl stared after her, then flew higher up the tower with a low, ‘whoo.’
It was the ninth sunset of the champion’s hunt, and no hunter had returned yet. Pikku was about to pour water into the trough before she returned to her chamber for the night when she heard a commotion at the top of the tower. She put down the pail and looked up into the darkness. There were several angry screeches and caws, vicious pecks, then a feeble hoot. From the top of the tower fell a white bundle. Pikku let out a gasp as she realised it was the blue-eyed owl. She put her arms up and caught the feathery lump. Its eyes were closed, but its chest still rose and fell, and Pikku could feel its fluttery heartbeat beneath her fingers. She placed it carefully on the stool. It didn’t move.
The sky was darkening quickly; Pikku grabbed a nearly melted candle and placed it close to the owl. Grabbing the pail, she dipped her hand in the cool water and tried to get the owl to drink. Its eyelids flickered. Holding her breath, Pikku quickly pulled her hand away. Its beak opened and closed. Its wings twitched. The sun finally dropped behind the city wall. A sudden whoosh of cold air blew around the tower. The candle went out.
In the darkness, Pikku heard shuffling and scratching. Pained hoots turned to agonised groans. There was a crash as the stool splintered, knocking over a crate of seed. She fumbled on the ground and finally found the candle again. Hastily, she lit the wick with a flint.
Pikku squeaked. Where the little white owl had once been was now a naked man. He lay on the ground, his muscular arm flung over his face. His massive body filled the little floor of the aviary tower, his giant legs tucked up against his broad chest. Scars riddled his body, from his fingertips to his – Pikku pulled off her outer-shirt and threw it over him.
 Pikku hovered around him uncertainly. The birds in the tower were now awake, not bothered by the mysterious man, as they flew from the window to hunt. After a few deep breaths, Pikku nudged the man with her foot. He didn’t move. She nudged him harder. Biting her lip, she stretched over his body and picked up the metal rod used to open the higher windows of the tower.
She held it above her head and said, ‘Hey, man. Get up.’
She gave him an experimental prod with the rod. When the man still didn’t move Pikku picked up the pail of water and emptied it over his head. Jerking, the man let out a moan. She let the pail drop with a clatter and grabbed the rod.
‘I have a weapon,’ she stuttered.
The man ignored her as he sat up and rubbed his face. Pikku’s arms started to ache and the rod drooped.
‘You can put that down,’ he finally said. His voice was deep and rough. ‘It wouldn’t help you anyway.’
Pikku held the rod higher in defiance. The man raised a thick eyebrow at her, his blue eyes glittering. She leant the rod against the wall and crossed her arms to hide her shaking hands.
‘Who are you?’ she demanded, but her voice still wavered.
The man looked around, then down at the shirt that barely covered him. He smiled as he stood up, the shirt falling to the floor. Pikku’s eyes widened. Cheeks burning, she looked down at the ground.
‘I am the warrior Soturi,’ the man exclaimed, ‘and I am here to claim back my honour and kill Prince Musta.’ 

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