Tokas had amber eyes. Everyone else in his tribe had black eyes. If his hair had not been as dark and glossy as the raven who followed him everywhere, he would have been looked on with suspicion, but with only the eyes different, he was merely distinguished, special. His line of work was capture. Not people but all the other shapers that slipped in and out of the tribe’s domain. Sometimes they were big, sometimes little, sometimes dangerous and sometimes not. He drew no salary and was provided no equipment. He worked by bounty, so he could not get lazy. He liked that. So did the raven, bobbing its head up and down in assent.
But more recently he’d been slacking off a little — not much. The raven hopped up to him where he lay on his stomach. seeming to doze. The big bird twisted its head from side to side, looking with one eye and then with the other, and calling out hoarsely “NAAAA”. Tokas laughed. Not as lazy as he looked sprawled in the grass of the high ridge, he had been making plans.
“Sometimes a water stream must stop and pool up to find the best outlet,” he explained. “It’s almost high enough to reach the notch now.” There was no water — it was a metaphor. The notch in question was obvious enough in the distance, a pass between high mountains, but water was not the problem. The notch was where the burlys crossed. There were far too many of them these past months and they were breaking into houses, which they normally did not do. Their motive was always one thing: hunger.
The writer stopped. Maybe it was too obvious that “burlys” were a lot like bears, but since they represented one of her natural history expertises, it was smart to draw on them for the sake of coherence and resonance. The raven was good. But mostly she liked the amber eyes idea. Heroes should be loners. That was the entrance for the immersive reader. People looking for immersion wanted to leave their ordinary lives. Loneliness. Imagine. Escape.
Should she go medieval or American Indian? Was it possible to mingle the two? She’d give it a try.
The burlys had never crossed through the notch until the authorities made the People put their dead in little houses instead of in the caves and tree branches along the rivers. Burlys loved to eat People beyond all other foods. So his plan was to build a little house with nothing in it, but a very strong little house that a burly could not break out of, then trap the animal in it.
Tokas and Raven went out along the ridge towards the notch but before they got there, they saw a small house at the edge of a patch of aspen. it was not a death house that he knew about, so he thought it would be an ideal way to speed things up — he could reinforce THIS house instead of having to build one from the ground up. Raven flew overhead as he carefully slipped up a grassy way that became a path to the house.
“AAAAAWWWWW,” cried the raven in warning, and Tokas faded into the edge of the copse. It was a burly, its high silvery shoulders rolling, coming along the trail from the other direction — he could see it went past the house on up towards the notch. The burly did not hesitate but went right into the open door of the house,
Moving soundlessly and readying his bow, Tokas came to the door and stood looking into the darkness of the interior, waiting for his vision to adjust. The burly inside roared.
Then there was a sharp clear cold voice just behind him. “Put down that bow,” said a woman’s voice, “Or I will pinion you in my own doorway.”
“There’s a burly in your house! I am protecting you!”
“That burly is my lover. Kill him and you kill me, but not before I take you with us.”
“GAAAAAH” croaked the Raven.
Naw, thought the writer. That’s too hokey. I’d better have the Raven say something else. I like getting sex into it and a warrior woman, but I’d better decide about this bird. Is it a female in love and faithful to Tokas? Or is it just a standard familiar, sort of a protective pet? And is this burly a real bear or a guy in a bear cloak or something. I like the idea of a real bear, though that means no human-type sex. Is that so necessary? Can’t there be a sort of fusion of hearts? Most of the readers will be female.
The burly must have come to the door; he could smell its rank fur and hear its jaws clacking — even feel the heat radiating from the beast — but he could not take his gaze off the woman’s face. She had amber eyes. She nocked an arrow and drew her bow. He was frozen between her and her burly lover.
Raven broke the deadlock with a hoarse cry and pummeling wings, sending a spray of ebony feathers into the air. In the sky the two moons were converging as they always do at dusk, exchanging places through a momentary fusion before they passed on their separate paths.
Tokas ducked just as the amber-eyed woman let her arrow go. There was no sound at all from the burly, then a crash, and a terrible cry from the woman as she realized what she had done. Her arrow had pierced the chest of the burly, plunging through his silver fur to bury itself in his ruby heart. Unable to bear the consciousness of what she had done, she fainted, closing her amber eyes, so thickly fringed with black lashes.
Hmm. Better change “bear” to “endure,” Double-meaning not intended. And is that too many times to talk about the amber eyes? They’re turning into a major plot point. Maybe the deal is that this is his sister and that they both come from the country through that notch — so what would be different about those other people? Bear lovers?
Tokas was standing between two bodies. He checked the burly to make sure it was really dead in it’s spreading pool of blood that had no place to go. Then he stepped back to the sprawled woman. For a moment he thought she had somehow seized his bow and arrow, but his grip on his own was tight, so they were unaccountably identical. In fact, the clasp on her cloak, a twisted and carved chunk of amber mounted in silver, was identical to the one below his own chin. The raven pecked at the clasp on the woman. She opened her eyes.
Tokas demanded, “Who are you?”
“Don’t you know? I am your twin.” The two moons in the sky met and merged.