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THE RETRIEVER-- Chapter 4 by Mark Dawson
"Do...do you think the mighty spirits are punishing us?"
Verick knew why he asked the question, but did not expect to have it thrown into the breeze. He sat back to back against Drak's large frame and stared out over the battlefield as if in a void. The Orcs walked among the lying bodies and poked them with their swords and lances. If the body twitched, the Orc pushed the weapon through the neck. If it didn't, the Orc moved on. Out of the hundreds of dead that littered the plain, almost all of them were from Rykla or the Upland army.
"What's that you say, boy?"
"The spirits," he said. "Are they punishing us?"
He felt Drak turn his head, the ends of his dark hair lightly brushing the top of his.
"What are you talking about?"
"The Rykla clan. We've done something to upset them. Today was the day they decided our time has come." He darted his eyes to the large domed sky, and believed the spirits were still watching through the clouds, laughing. He then looked to the ground again.
Drak snorted. "You're talking nonsense."
"No, no, I'm not. Look, look around at all the dead." His voice became distant as he started to see something else in his mind's eye. "They...They are like the fish."
"Fish?" Drak said, turning away. "What fish?"
"...on the beach."
He saw the dead soldiers become fish, and the swaying brown grass become bold white sand. He was brought back to the day when he had returned from the sea and had seen what was washed up dead on the shore. As a young boy he would often sail out in a boat with his father, a fisherman in the sea village of Argulum, to catch the week's inventory. And when they came back to land, nothing but the sand waited for him, and he would jump out the boat to run up the beach in bare feet, proud his father, once again, had caught more fish than any man in the village. His father would hold up an example of his prize, a net of fifty or more, and smile at him as the water crashed at his back and the sea gulls hovered overhead. For the first nine years of his life, that beautiful sight carved into the recesses of his mind.
Until one overcast day it was interrupted when he saw the mile of lifeless fish along the coastline, and saw how his father stood up in the boat with a look like he had seen an apparition. Verick had never seen wild eyes before, certainly not from his father, and he watched him stumbled backwards, scaring Verick to the point where he couldn't move.
"My father was a very important man," Verick said. "The greatest fisherman you'd ever see, and when I was little boy I remembered I asked him why, why was he the greatest. Why was he able to catch more fish than all the other men? And he took me into his bedroom, pulled out a bowl from under the bed and placed it on the window sill toward the sun. He poured in some purple and red powder and lit it with a magnifying glass. When smoke started to form, my father kneeled before it, closed his eyes and started mouthing some words. I didn't know what he said, or whether he made them up, but the way his lips moved, they were something he had repeated a thousand times."
"He told me he did that twice before the noon sun and twice at night, and on some days, he took something of great value—a gold ring, a cherished article of clothing, a sliver plate—and placed it on a raft and let it float out to the sea as an offering to the people in the clouds.