“Burn”by Helena Sorensen
“Hush, Sim! Wait.” Abner hissed. He stopped, and the three stood silent, their eyes searching for some break in the impenetrable darkness. Behind them there was a sound, a low, heavy rolling. It rose gradually, growing and spreading, until they were surrounded by the insatiable thundering growls of many Wolves. They had been marked.
The air grew colder and, suddenly, their lights were snuffed out. They stood in almost total darkness, isolated for an instant from everything but their own thoughts.
For Abner, that moment was like the coming of doom. His darkest fears had come upon him. They would surely be devoured by the Shadow. He had failed to protect his son and Simeon, and his wife and daughter would be alone, vulnerable. He was overcome with a sinking despair.
For Simeon, the extinguishing of the lights by some nameless dark in the heart of the Wood was almost more than his frail heart could bear. Panic overtook him. His pulse raced, and his skin was covered with clammy sweat. He trembled uncontrollably.
But the darkness was not complete. Not quite.
The people of Shiloh were born with a certain incandescence, a certain radiance about them. They shone. Though they did not know it, this light was the last remnant of the glory that belonged to them before the world was unmade. Babes came wet and shining from their mothers’ bellies, and they lit their parents’ cottages as well as any lantern. But the Shadow took its toll. Children learned too quickly that no shining dawn ever came to that world. Too quickly, they learned that they were hunted, always hunted. They saw the faces of hunger and death. They felt the fear. Their glory faltered and faded and finally vanished.
It was rare indeed to find a child of five or six who radiated any light at all, rarer still to find a man or woman come of age who still possessed some hint of their glorious birthright. But they could be found. Orin’s skin glowed faintly when he worked at the forge. Abner’s face shone, just slightly, when he marveled at his son’s skill with the bow. Wynn was luminous when her husband stepped through the door of the cottage, and Phebe fairly blazed when she sang.
Amos’s pulse had quickened too, when the darkness fell, but not from fear. Unlike the others, he felt remarkably alive. His mind was clear, his senses acute, his muscles relaxed. He let out a long breath, fixed his eyes on the cold torch in his right hand and spoke one word: “Burn.” A red-orange flame shot up from the oiled cloth.
All at once, the menacing growls of the Wolves ceased.
The Hunter’s Path was warm and bright. Amos whistled a little tune.
“By the gods,” Abner swore, staring in awe at his son. Amos burned brighter than the torch, and it was he who filled the wood with radiance. Abner raised a hand to rub his chin, then dropped it again.
“Are we goin’ on?” Simeon asked.
“’Course we’re goin’ on. We’re almost there, right Da?” Amos replied.
Abner paused a moment before nodding. “Aye. We’ll go on.” He turned and led the boys down the path. Not half a hundred paces ahead, they came to a broad meadow. Where the trees opened up, the dark was thinner, and the hunters could see a dozen deer, scattered across the tall grass, grazing.
Abner laid aside his cold torch, drew an arrow from his quiver, and fitted it to his bow. Guided more by the gentle rustling of the grasses than the clarity of his vision, he shot an arrow into the meadow and heard the thump of an animal falling to the ground.
One day, I’ll be able to make that shot, Amos thought. He didn’t yet have the strength to make a sure kill from such a distance, but he knew he would, and he marveled at the easy power with which Abner moved across the meadow, retrieved the deer, and slung it over his shoulder. They wasted no time there, hurrying back to the path with their kill. On the return journey, Abner took up the rear, slowed not at all by the weight of the beast he carried. Simeon traveled ahead of him, full of thoughts and questions. And Amos led the way, carrying the torch high and looking, for all his twelve years, like the warrior he knew he would become.
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Editor’s Second Note: This is an excerpt from Helena’s wonderful YA fantasy adventure. For more, get your own copy of Shiloh.