The time has come...


Literary fiction


George Archer (United States)

Cam-Mhor the One Eyed was the Deer-Lord in a remote glen a hundred miles north of Strathfada, where the summers were short and the winds cooler. The wild bees droned, making honey while the sun shone, and the midges were out in full force. They rose in great clouds above the grazing deer, who were constantly snorting and shaking the stinging pests away. The heather was in full bloom here, turning the glen into wastes of mauve that reflected its colour back into the cloudless sky.
Caldor, son of Cam-Mhor the One-Eyed, was uneasy. He stood apart from the herd and wondered how he would put the case to his father. The young stag’s keen eye caught a movement up on the brae. A rabbit was scampering through the heather and high above it soared a golden eagle, his wings hardly moving as he watched his prey. The rabbit knew his life was in the hands of their creator, the Wind, and spying the cover of a rickle of stones now leapt for it. Huddling as far in as possible, he sat there panting as the eagle swooped down with his talons close in to his breast, the breeze whistling audibly through his feathers. Trembling, the rabbit felt a rush of air and glimpsed the wicked talons that would have shredded his life away. Swiftly, the eagle leapt upwards and flapped his wings so that the tips touched. The large bird wheeled about several times before he flew towards his eyrie on the crag.
Caldor smiled inwardly, shaking his head at the rabbit’s luck. He climbed the high deer-path that ran around the slope, until it reached the grassy knoll where his father grazed.
Cam-Mhor was truly a beast of kingly proportions, though he was now past the peak of his prime. His horns were thick and black as the devil from rolling in the peat-hags. Cam-Mhor was Monarch of all he surveyed from his height, but he had paid for it. His right ear was torn, there were several deep scores in his flanks and his left eye was sightless from a wicked jab he had received defending Caldor’s mother many years before.
Cam-Mhor was certainly well pleased with all that stretched out before him in the September sunlight; but Caldor was not. Something stirred in his blood, some intense longing he could not understand. It was something greater than the desire for mates. Caldor was not like his fellow stags; he had yet to discover distant lands and summits. Pausing in his progress, he laid back his head so that his antlers almost touched his back and belled his discontent. Several of the big stags in the herd raised their heads and bellowed back.
Caldor reached a point a little below Cam-Mhor. He waited, and knocked a couple of stones with his hind leg, but still the monarch paid him no heed.
‘Have you leisure, my Lord?’ he said impatiently.
His father raised his head high, so that his shaggy neck curved deeply from chin to belly.
‘Well, what is it, boy?’ Cam-Mhor grunted. ‘Don’t just stand there. Come up and join your King!’
Caldor himself had the stature of a royal, yet he was young. Ten tined and broad-headed, though still not as deep-chested as Cam-Mhor. How quickly do the leaves turn russet, and fall, and the branches then grow green again. It was not long since Caldor was a dappled calf sucking his mother’s milk and bucking in play. Now he was tall and well-muscled, as fine a youth as any in the glens of Alba or beyond.
Caldor climbed four more steps then stood at a respectful distance from his father on the summit.
‘Speak!’ his father ordered.
‘The roaring-time is here, father. A longing flows through my blood and the summer grass has made me strong.’
‘So?’ Cam-Mhor said, ‘If you weren’t, you’d be no son of mine. It is fitting that the blood should surge at this time. Go forth and take wives, my lad, for one day you will stand where I stand now and lord it on the hill. You must take wives, Caldor. There is no other way to silence the blood.’
‘Aye, father, but not from this glen.’
‘What!’ the patriarch roared. He glared at Caldor, who dipped his antler-point into the turf and scored the green, exposing the red peat below like a wound. ‘And why not? Look below you, son. Do you not see the loveliest hinds that ever a stag beheld? Do they not please you?’
Several heads below were up now, ears pricked. The gossips were dying to know what was going on. They would know soon enough.
‘They please me well, father,’ Caldor said. ‘But still I must go. The Wind told me as much.’
Cam-Mhor raised his good eye up the heavens. ‘Aye, so you heard it too,’ the old Lord said, sighing.
‘It said, singing among the pines, that I should seek elsewhere for wives, and for one in particular, a white hind of rare beauty. The Wind said I must carve out my own kingdom.’
‘And so you shall, so you shall!’ Cam-Mhor said, resigned to the losing battle. ‘Here, in these hills of mine! Soon you will take them from me, and rule in my place. This is the law! I shall one day retire to the outer limit of the herd and glorify you from afar.’
Caldor was moved by this.
‘My mind is made up. I have come to say farewell. I tarry only for your blessing, my Lord.’
There was leaden silence between them and below the whispers now ran among the herd that Caldor was leaving. All heads rose, all ears pricked, all mouths ceased chewing, for this was sad news indeed.
Caldor is leaving! The pine marten heard it and the mountain-hare and the heron, so that in no time at all, the linnets stopped singing above the moor and all was shadowed by a great silence.
‘I am glad your mother is not here to see you,’ The Deer-Lord said. ‘It would break her heart.’
They both remembered well how she had died two winters back. The storm had howled and roared, the air smoking with snow. The earth had been earth no more, only a limitless expanse of white, layer upon layer of snow. The deer had tried to shelter among the boulders at the head of the glen but they were weakened by the cold. Numbed and exhausted, Caldor’s mother had lain down in the snow and never got up again. Many died that winter; many old ones that had survived a dozen winters, many calves who had not yet lived through their first. Not two weeks after the storm the sun shone heartily and melted the snows and it was spring.
Cam-Mhor’s eye glistened, thinking of the mother gone, of the son now leaving him. He turned his head away.
‘I knew it long ago. I knew you would leave. There was a great silence that day, when even the grass was still. And out of that great silence The Wind whispered, “One day he will leave, Cam-Mhor, he said. “He will go in search of his own people. He will be great, o King, greater than thou, and the whole world shall know of him.”
Now Cam-Mhor fixed his good eye on his son and lifted his antler crown.
‘So be it, go to thy greatness! Go with blessings, my son. And remember this. You have been fortunate here not to have seen Man; for this glen is too cold and barren for the likes of him. But I have seen him Caldor, in my youth. He is dangerous, my son. Shun him. He is dangerous, and cunning like the fox. He carries great power with him, for he has a dark wand from which he throws lightening. I have seen him, son, and even I was overcome with fear.’
‘I will remember, father’.
The sun was sinking and the air was heavy with red-and-gold. Caldor reached the summit of the ridge far above the herd. He turned and stood there a moment, a silhouette against the red orb of the sun. Then he laid his antlers back and belled. It was his farewell, for when he quitted the sun’s disc he was swallowed up by descending veils of purple shadow until he was lost entirely from sight.

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