Author Topic: Hunter's Mark  (Read 255 times)

Offline jadynm1234567

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Hunter's Mark
« on: December 30, 2019, 11:01:16 PM »
I couldn’t figure it out. I’d had many, varying in complexity and meanings, and I’d always, instantly, known what they symbolized. But I’d never had one as complicated as this. I continued to stare at it in the steamed mirror of our tiny bathroom. The tattoo stared back, it’s clashing designs confusing as ever. As soon as I had a grasp of what one part of it signified, another contradicted it. The bold lines for courage, against the thin, wavering ones for fear… The flame for anger, the soft fade that I knew meant peace…
I gradually drifted from my thoughts. I was wasting time. I’d figure it out, whatever it was referencing would occur, and then it would disappear. Such was the way of the Hunters’ skin. Perhaps it was because our senses were sharper than most that our very skin foreshadowed our futures. Not that they were always right, of course. Humans are the only ones capable of fulfilling their own futures. But it gave a helpful hint every now and then.
I grabbed my boots, (the reason I was in the bathroom in the first place, before I was distracted,) and stepped carefully out of the room. It was even more steamed in the main room of the house than the bathroom; it always was, given that it was where Mother washed. Mother was Clearwater’s Washwoman, as she occasionally said, with a hint of pride in her otherwise drained voice. As if that was something to be proud of. As if anyone else wanted that Title. As if that paid her better.
She was bent over the pot over the fire, sweat beading down her neck as she stirred wearily. Oddly, she wore her hair up, but the long bangs out. You could see the unnaturally pale skin of her neck plainly, but the thin, dull, copper threads covered her face completely. I often wondered at how she saw anything.
I wouldn’t be able to tell you the color of her eyes, though I imagined that they were as colorless and dreary as the rest of her. Perhaps that’s why she hid them. Eyes can often reveal too much about a person. People might think more of her if they can’t see the dreary hopelessness of her eyes. Not that you could see her eyes if the hair wasn’t in the way; her head was always down, either over the laundry or when she was studying her feet as she made her way through the village to deliver clothes. Her own clothes were as faded as her hair, and as tired as her eyes probably were. I couldn’t tell you much about my mother, in truth, and none of my father.
My feet were put into my well worn boots. The scuffed leather molded to them perfectly. I grabbed my knives, hooking them on my belt. I paused on one, rubbing my thumb on the smooth handle. They were like old friends in my hands, familiar and safe. I proceeded to exit our little shack.
“Where are you going?” My mother asked softly.
“To the market, with Roxie,” I replied.
“If that’s the case, why do you bring your knives?” I placed a hand over them protectively.
“I was thinking of coming back through the woods.”
   “Alright.” Her reply was a quiet dismissal. I made my way down the makeshift path from our dwelling to the paved road of our village. As I continued, several people caught my glance, nodding respectfully.
Although I was not the most social of creatures, my job was to help protect the people in this and nearby villages from wild beasts that occasionally threatened their safety. It was noble, but my reasons for it were not. Only the Hunters can collect meat safely, so only those can hunt. Not that the village depended on the Hunters’ meat; there were plenty of herders and shepherds, and there was a marketplace only a few miles walk away. But some bought from us out of obligation, or for convenience. We don’t have set prices; we take what we can. Although no one would let a Hunter go completely hungry, generosity only goes so far. Particularly towards Hunters that were fresh adults and female. As if I hadn’t seen more with my fewer years than their many. As if I hadn’t proven my worth as a Hunter several times over, shattering expectations.
I kept my eyes and ears open for Roxie, although I was sure that wouldn’t be particularly difficult. Sure enough, I saw a shining sun of hair and heard a voice that birds would envy chirping cheerfully very shortly. After a few minutes of my walking towards her, she spotted me.
“Raven!” She squealed in delight and ran towards me. Her hair was weaved with emerald ribbon that day, matching the vivid green of her eyes, which were vibrant and sparkling with life. At one point, Roxie had given me a ribbon, but I refused to deal with such nonsense things. They gave me no pleasure, but Roxie certainly enjoyed trivial things. Granted, she had time and expense for them. Not only did she have the ribbon, but she had on a bright dress that matched. Her shoes, despite being ridiculously impractical, must have cost a fortune. Roxie skipped circles around me, and stopped to look at me with a glint in her eyes that made me sigh externally. She only had that look when she wanted me to do something.
“So,” She began, “I was hoping you’d find a flower.” Roxie had a rare and unique gift with plants, particularly flowers and herbs. She fancied herself the next Healer of Clearwater, which was a possibility, though for the life of me I couldn’t see sunny Roxie dealing with the sick and dying.
“Any reason?” I inquired. She pouted prettily.
“Mine died.” She laughed, as if it didn’t matter, but I could see the lines under her eyes, the ones that showed the sleepless night that she tried to hide. She had nursed that plant the way a mother nurses a child, and had most likely shed many a tear over it. I sighed.
“I can look.” Her smile threatened to blind me.
   “Really? Thanks! You’re the best Raven.” She hugged me, and I stiffened until she let go of me. Oblivious to my discomfort, she began to chatter about this and that, a constant noise in my ear as we started toward the market. I tuned in and out, paying close attention to her description of the flower, and tolerating her talk of plants. Some flowers were blooming, some herbs were ready to be harvested. She stopped abruptly.
“Dad!” She ran (as well as she could in those shoes; I swore for the life of me I’d never wear them) up to the huge man in front of a spacious house.
He was balding, and covered his sturdy build with a large apron stained with various blots and splashes. Considering he was the butcher, it was acceptable enough. He ruffled Roxie’s hair affectionately, and waved a hand in greeting to me. A slight smile flitted across my face.
Roxie’s father had been a constant present throughout my childhood. If he ever found my silence and demeanor unusual, he didn’t treat me any different for it. Perhaps he trusted the judgement of his daughter.
Although Roxie was universally well liked, she had few close friends. I remembered the day she chose me as a companion.
It was in the later days of our childhood. I had begun my formal training for the Hunters shortly beforehand, although my own training was more than sufficient. The trainer showed me a table full of weapons, and told me to pick. My hands went automatically to the knives. I searched among them, weighed them with my hands, feeling for the right fit.
“That’s a good choice for a secondary weapon, but we’re trying to pick your main weapon.”
“I want this to be my main weapon.” At my words, he’d laughed.
“How would you hit things long distance?”
“I’d throw them.”
Throwing knives is so impractical,” He pointed out with a pained expression. “You’re literally throwing away your weapon! And you’ll miss more than you make. A Hunter’s aim must be precise and true.” I had looked him straight in the eye, and told him calmly, in all seriousness,
“I won’t miss.” The instructor spluttered out a few more reasons before I turned to embed the perfectly balanced knives into the wooden target. And his protests fell silent.
“Very well. But you must have at least three at all times. You will aim for the head, heart, and throat. And if you fail any sort of training with it, you must switch weapons. Is that clear?”
I think they feared I was violent, in my cold ways, but I wasn’t. I found no joy in hurting or maiming anything. The animals and mighty beasts that were my targets I acknowledged and respected, as all people should. And I would never take another human’s life. I simply didn’t see the point in romanticizing the hunt. It is a bloody and horrific job, even if it is an honorable one.
The following day, I had been skirting the edges of a common play place for children. There had been a particularly rowdy group of girls swarming toward one child playing under a tree, a bit like angry bees. I have always found girls my age distasteful, and these were no exception. At least the boys only hurt physically; girls not only hurt physically, but mess with the mind, tear apart emotions. And it looked like the vicious little beasts had found a new target. I had meant to continue my way, but my feet seemed to guide themselves back to the gleeful clique. There was a small gap, and I quietly looked through. There was a small girl on her hands and knees, weeping. Her hair was being tangled with mud, pulled into knots. One girl on the side of her kicked dirt into her face.
“Where is your mother?” The one that appeared to be the leader taunted. “Oh, that’s right… She died, didn’t she?” The sobs increased in intensity. “Who will protect you now? Your father’s too busy, after all. Or maybe he’ll keel over like your mother.”
“Let her be.” All heads turned to me. Although it was well known throughout the village that I was being trained, they seemed to feel confident in their superior number.
“Why should I? Always prancing around in her fancy clothes, thinking she’s better than us…” The leader sneered, and spat at the girl.
“Let her be,” I repeated. The leader’s face twisted in ugly anger.
“Oh, you think you’re better than me too? Maybe I should teach you the same lesson.” She started toward me, and found her hair pinned to the tree by two of my knives. Her eyes grew wide as saucers.
“W-what are you doing? You can’t hurt anyone! Your job is to protect us, not hurt us!” I moved until I was directly in front of her, and threw my last knife at the top of her head, a mere inch above her head. I could see the fear in her eyes, and held back a noise of repulsion at my own behavior.
If only there was another way that they would learn…
“I didn’t hurt you. But you would hurt another.” I inclined my head to the girl, who was still crying. “Do not do what you would not want upon yourself.” I pulled out my knives. Although my departure was swift, I let my eyes continue to display my warning.
The next day the girl in the dirt had found me after my training. I stared at her, not recognizing her without the dirt and tears. And then she smiled, that blindingly perfect smile, and hugged me. For the first time in my lifetime, I was startled. She released me, and held out her hand to me.
“Hi! My name is Roxie.” When I didn’t take it, she took my hand and shook it with both of her own.
From that point on, Roxie was constantly by my side. We never spoke of that incident, but I assume that she felt indebted to me. If she did, she’s more than repaid it. She has been the sun to my shadow for all those years, and loved me in spite of my eccentrics. Even if she did try to fix them on occasion.
“Raven, are you really wearing that?” She eyed me critically. “I know you still have that dress I gave you. And it’s brown, how plain do you want it!” She threw her hands up in exasperation. I smiled slightly. My clothes, which consisted of mud brown pants and very dull green shirts, were a constant irritation to Roxie. But they were cheap and convenient for hunting, so I didn’t care.
“I can’t run in a dress.” I smiled again as she growled in frustration.
“You don’t need to run today. We’re just going to the market and back.”
I said nothing, and kept my facial features carefully neutral. She despised it when I cut through the woods on the way back. Most would remain silent at my expression, but Roxie knew me a bit more than most. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Raven-”
“You know, I was thinking of pulling my hair back in some way so it stays away from my eyes, but it isn’t long enough for the standard ways. Do you have any suggestions?”
   Roxie’s eyes lit up. Even if she knew it was a ploy, she simply couldn’t pass an opportunity to fill my head with hair knowledge when I had to at least pretend to pay attention. It wasn’t entirely a ploy, either; my shorter black hair, despite being straight and easily untangled, did hurt my eyes when it was whipped into them.
“You could do a headband, but wear it like a circlet.”
“What on Earth is a circlet?” I questioned.
   “It’s like a crown, but on your forehead.”
“How would that keep my hair away from my hair?”
“It wouldn’t… But it would look pretty.” Roxie added sheepily. I rolled my eyes.
“Oh, come on Raven! With your eyes, it would look super fierce!” She sighed dreamily. My eyes were a clear gray, the color of water when frozen.
“You aren’t making any logical sense again.” We arrived at the market.
As was the usual, it was full of the bustle and activity that only a place filled with people can be. It was quite a large area, and had several colorful stands around the perimeter. They were designed to be eye catching, with the brightest fabrics they could afford and many baubles and trinkets that caught the light. Many sent out various scents to tempt customers. The result was an unusual mixture of mouthwatering roasting meat and sweet and spicy seasonings and delicate clouds of perfume that was somehow pleasing. Voices mixed with the smells and sights, shouting and calling, laughter and exclamations adding to the din.

Offline PIJ1951

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Re: Hunter's Mark
« Reply #1 on: December 31, 2019, 08:51:59 AM »
I'm not a fan of fantasy, but you write well. The idea of tattoos appearing on a person's skin foretelling their destiny (?) is interesting.

My only criticism would be how your story starts. A character getting ready to face the day ahead - bathroom - putting on their footwear - saying Hi to Mom. . . it's all been done a million times before. Then you place the plot on hold while you dump some background information on the page to explain the role of the Hunter. The paragraph sticks out for all the wrong reasons. There has to be a better way of acquainting the reader with a Hunter's obligations - preferably by weaving them into the story itself as the plot unfolds.