Concerning the Deer Riders


It is madness I say, madness, but I’m going to try writing a small story as a post. I feel like this might not be the best format for it, but it is getting me to put something in electronic format that is only written in pencil in a composition book. Since I have the power to edit these posts I am going to exercise that power when I have a title for this little story.

The Deer Riders

The three boys came screaming across the plain, bare back on horses nearly as wild as they. The old man stood watching their antics, shaking his head. As one they turned toward where he stood before his lonely tent isolated on a little rise. They galloped toward him jostling and shoving each other yelling as they came, “Grandfather!”

“OH HO!” He called to them as they halled up before his camp site and piled off their mounts as if spilled from a cup, but never stumbling or falling, “and what demon is at your heels my lads?”

The tallest boy snorted derisively, “Grandfather,” he began in patronizing tone,”we bring you food for your supper. There’s no demon…” The boy shrugged a large bag off his shoulder and over his head and shoved it toward the old man.

He caught the bag by the strap, “No demon?”  The elder rummaged in the bag and came out with an apple.

“No Grandfather” they laughed.

The old man whistled and around the tent plodded a gaunt old mare. “Here then m’lady, a sweet for the sweet.” He patted the mare and she nuzzled him. He dug a hand back into the bag and came out with another treat. “That’s enough, go on.” The horse turned and wandered off. “So lads, where’s the rest?”

The boys glanced at each other, unsure, but the oldest boy was left to answer, “The rest of what Grandfather?”

“Well Gollen, I’ve one sack from you. Surely it doesn’t take three of you to bring one sack? Where are my other sacks? Did you eat my dinner, sack and all Bres?” The old man tickled the smallest, who though short was surely the roundest. He was rewarded with a squeal of delight. “And you too Markoos. nothing for me? I’ll have to get it out of your belly too.”

The other boy shrieked as his Grandfathers fingers tormented him and he had to fling himself on the ground to escape the tickling. “Stop it.”

“No?” the boys grinning shook their heads, “Just the one bag then?” They nodded in unison. The old man tugged at his beard pondering, “What good are three boys then? What could you possibly want?”

Gollen spoke up, “We thought you might tell us…”

“…About the deer riders,” the younger boys supplied.

“Well, I guess I could tell you what little I know. Bres, here lad, give your old Grandfather a hand.” He handed the bag to the shortest boy and held back the flap for his grandsons as they jostled and shoved to be first through the doorway. “Say, that bag seems heavy enough for four dinners. Might you boys want a bite to eat?” The old man grinned at murmured affirmations. Lately he remembered his youth better than the day before and he remembered being hungry most of it.

They were settled around a little fire, bowls full of stew and thick crusted bread. They were well into their food before they noticed that their grandfather wasn’t eating. Markoos spoke up, “Aren’t you going to eat Grandfather.”

“No no, you go ahead, I already had a bit from my pot.” besides, anymore I need my meat well stewed or I can’t chew it. Say, Gollen, be a good lad and hand me that water skin.” He smiled at the boys quick crisp movements, ah to be young, “Thank you.”

He poured a bit of water in the pot, then taking out his knife cut up bits of what was in the bag and added it, stirring the whole of it, before returning to his seat with a flaming taper. He lighted his pipe and puffed on it contemplatively. “Let’s see. What do I know about the Deer Riders?”

The boys nodded, all eyes on their grandfather. “Well, I’ve seen a lot in my day. When I was born there were the Gael who ruled, and then there was us. But in those days we weren’t the folk of Scythia. We mostly walked instead of riding horse…” The boys all gasped, incredulous. “… but then that was way before we ever met and fought the uglies, before all the Gaels but the horse folk were driven back to the great mountain and we alone lived on the plain, and it was before we ever saw a bramble elf.

“A bramble elf?” all three looked puzzled, but it was Bres who had asked, “what’s that?”

“The wee folk, you know, the deer riders. They live in their faery rings mostly, but it is the same folk that ride the deer too.” The man puffed his pipe and the boys quieted. “We weren’t as brave then, not really. It took facing the foul folk and chasing them off the plains to really be brave, but we were braver than most I’d say. The world was young and we saw something new most every week.”

The Gaelic masters, for so they thought of themselves, kept demanding more and more of the other folks near them. We pitied the Browns and the Blacks, the Yellows and the red skinned folk, but our white skin allowed us freedom and we seized on it to live on the fringe. The Gaels that lived near us were decent enough folks who didn’t act on their prejudices, especially when they were poorly defined without a marked difference on the face of it. Still, back then it was always there.

Now we’re all Scythians, we protect the children of Epona, and we are all equal, but it wasn’t always so, and it wasn’t so when I was your age. The folk at the fringe depended on each other, like we do, that was a big leveler. But  soon enough, when life grew less marginal, when you could count on more than yourself and your neighbor, you began to see that they thought they were better, that their lives and their rights were a bit more important than yours.

It is an ugly feeling to be seen as lesser. My folk always fled from it, moving out into the wilds until the civilization of the Gaels that we left behind caught us. Then we’d move off again.

So you see, it seemed that we were brave, but we wouldn’t stand up to the power of the Gael, the Celts, we ran away. Many of the border Celts who drove us ever outward choose to follow us because they despised the rot at the center of their empire and admired our industry, self sufficiency, our bravery. They followed because they didn’t like what so many of their kind had become, but still they had confidence that if a white-trash wildling could make a living on the fringe then by Cernunnos a Celt could too and do better…” The boys looked confused and a bit restless. The old man took a few puffs on his pipe.

“…but you wanted to know about the deer riders.” The man puffed and watched the boys lean back into the fire light, eyes bright. “I mentioned we used to walk instead of ride, and I also told you that my folk were in the habit of running away from the folk that came behind us. Well it was in my fifteenth year that that the running had to end for us. The far north was a hard place to scratch out a living. But it was in this place that we came upon folk who had done so for generations, the deer riders, the bramble elves, the wee folk.”

Our camp was along a wide river. there had been an amazing run of silvery fish. We had feasted on their meat and even taken the roe from the hens. We had dried the flesh, and we would have meat for a very long time. But the key to our lives was never to rest. The men of the village had banded together to hunt the bear who had gathered for the finned feast, and our women were busy curing the hides and smoking that meat too. Never waste an opportunity was our credo.

So it was that I walked northward. I had smoked bear meat and dried fish in my pack. I had a bow and many arrows. The too, I had a mission, to seek out our next opportunity.

The high places always called to me. Many others followed trails and water courses as they are the places that yield most life giving opportunities. I used these common ways too, of course, but the mountain tops afforded perspectives and allowed a foresight that one never gets in the valleys. So it was that I saw the Faery circles before I ever saw one of the little people.

I had been laboring toward just such a high place as my day was drawing to a close. Along an otherwise uniform ridgeline stood a rounded knob of bare stone. It was easy to mark when the sun was low, it fairly glowed, and so I toiled toward it up the ridge.

Pretty soon I knew that the ridge was far from regular. There were copses of short dense trees in rocky valleys, and brambles everywhere. The brambles did not fail to push me off my approach, time and again, until I actually lost sight of the rocky knob.

A coney darted out from my path, too quick for me to do aught but ready my hunting stick in case I got another shot. As the sun sank I got a couple of them and my mood improved as I roasted fresh meat over a roaring bramble and scrub wood fire.

In the morning my concern returned. My camp site was fairly clear, but all around the brush confined my vision if not my way. I considered turning back, but resolved to toil a little more up hill in the hope I might site my goal or failing that get a good look at which way I might return.

It was not far to a crest and as I topped it I was relieved to see the rocky knot, now much closer, but well off to my left. the unforgiving flora, the brambles, had driven me well off my course.

I turned to see the way I had come, and in truth my nemesis, the brambles. They were not hard to see against the trees. Oddly, it seemed the trees were not very deep, but rose again in the distance. There was nothing to be gained staring back, so I decided to continue on to the knob.

My way steepened and became precarious. the sun slipped below the crest and the wind came up, chilling the sweat of the climb on my skin. I stumbled into a small stream bed. Falling to my knees, my hand fell into wet. A short stumbling, toe subbing climb brount me out onto the top of the knob.

The stars were out in profusion, a glittery riot in the sky. I lay down, happy to be on the hard rock of the knob. I watched the traveller rise quickly and then the Mother brightened the night. I thought about the bramble walled forest below and would have risen to see it in her light, but the day had taken its toll and I found myself asleep.

It is odd to say it. I was asleep and somehow I rolled inside myself  and rose, though my body lay there. I saw me asleep upon the stone. The flesh of me more tired than the spirit who would look. There was a moon lit gem in a ring of dark wood. I saw a mound near it. It was then in fear I realized I was not upon the knoll, but instead I hung below the moon and could not even see now where my body lay. I had a panicked thought that I had died, was the Mother taking me? I looked up at her shiny face and breathed again.

This is the end of the first installment of The Deer Riders.

The Deer Riders continued