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The Courage of a Lamb

    The young man ran softly through the forest, spear in hand.  He wore a light brown hood to hide his red hair.  He was chasing a buck as the final task in this Kheldic rite of passage.  His older brothers were with him, flanking his movements, but the buck was his to track and kill.  Thomas, the eldest, and Patrick were mostly there to critique his movements and help carry the buck back to the clan.  And to make sure Seamus didn't get lost, of course.
    They had been on the hunt for a day and a half already; Patrick was growing impatient, but Thomas kept him in check, reminding him that when they were on Patrick's hunt it took three days to corner the buck.
    Seamus silenced them with a quick hand signal and motioned for them to be still as he crept toward a clearing.  He brushed a branch aside and saw his quarry grazing on a blackberry bush.  The animal was facing toward him but had his face buried in the bush.  Seamus signaled his brothers to move around to either side of the clearing and waited.
    The buck seemed content to graze, glancing up occasionally.
    He heard the bird calls that meant his brothers were in position, and Seamus leaped in to the clearing.  His legs were tightly coiled springs propelling the youngkheld warrior toward his quarry before it could react.  Seamus was on it as it reared up to turn and run; from the stories of the other hunters in the tribe, Seamus knew the beast would react to a frontal assault like this and counted on it in his plans.  He thrust his spear up through the buck's ribcage and in to its heart.
    The hunter had the presence of mind to let go of his spear and took a few steps back as the creature fell.
    It hadn't died right away; he'd missed his mark and pierced the beast's lung, probably also severing an artery.  The buck struggled to right itself with a spear lodged in its chest.  Seamus could see the agony and terror in its eye as it thrashed about, its chest filling with blood, spilling out around his spear, until it gave a final twitch and died.

    On the trek back, his brothers were jovial, laughing and congratulating Seamus on his kill, boasting about the newest hunter in the O'Connor clan.  Seamus remained silent, alone with his thoughts.  If he closed his eyes, he saw the buck's death throes.  If he kept his eyes open, he saw his blood stained hands carrying the corpse of his victim.  Several times his stomach threatened to revolt, violently expelling its contents.  He managed to keep it under control knowing his brothers would never let him live it down if he retched so soon after his first kill.  Seamus made a silent pledge to the forest spirit that it would be the last innocent life he took.
    He held his tongue through dinner that night, allowing his brothers to speak for him.  Once his siblings had retired for the night, Seamus sought his father's council.  "Father, thirteen summers have passed since my birth, and in that time I have spent many days training for my hunt, learning the ways of our clan."
    Cian nodded, "Surely you have come to me to do more than state the obvious.  What troubles you my son?"
    "The hunt, father."  Seamus paused to organize his thoughts.
    "You did well, Seamus.  Better than anyone thought you would, and much better than your brothers!  You need not fear for your future, son.  You've proven yourself an able tracker and a formidable strategist, with the stones to take a life when needed."
    "That's just it though.  I cannea take another life."  Seamus paused briefly to gauge his father's reaction before retelling the buck's final moments of life, as he saw them.  The fire crackled and snapped, casting shadows on theelder's face.  Cian held his stony gaze on his son, appraising the boy.  "Exile me if you must, but I saw the pain in its eyes; I will nae put any man nor beast through that again!"
    Long moments passed while Cian, patriarch of the O'Connor clan, watched his son and absorbed what he heard.  "You know," he said at length, "When Patrick killed his first doe and saw the tracks of the now orphaned fawn, he bawled worse than Maggie as her teeth grew in." Cian smiled and motioned his son forward.  Tenderly he wiped the boy's forming tears away with his thumb.  "It took three days before he told me what made him cry, and then only after Thomas and I swore we wouldn't tell anyone.  A brave man can admit his faults and embrace them.  A wise man acknowledges the value of a life.  Seamus, my son, you are both brave and wise.  Only a fool pretends each death he causes does not affect him."
    As his father spoke, the boy wept openly, tears of relief that his father understood, and would not banish him, and tears of mourning for the buck.
    "Your uncle Jeryn is getting on in years.  We'll need someone to take his place as master skald to keep our stories alive.  He asked me to recommend an apprentice.  Your impassioned tale actually put me in your shoes in those moments, you know.  I can think of no better clansman to train with Jeryn than you."
    Seamus looked up in to his father's eyes.
    "Of course, that means you'll have to leave us for a time, walk the world on your own and spead our tales before you return with some of your own.  We'll announce it at the feast tomorrow night.

    Three months passed.  Jeryn had added literacy and memorization training to Seamus' daily routine.  He kept up training with his spear, the traditional weapon of the O'Connors, but focused on non-lethal strikes to slow or disable his opponent rather than kill him outright.  Finally, Jeryn pronounced him Journeyman Skald and declared him fit enough to travel the world.  He'd been taught a handful of the legends, some familiar to all khelds, some unique to MacTavish and O'Connor clans.
    Seamus lay on a pile of blankets in the back of a wagon headed to Solsten, a border town on the Northern edge of the nation of Kagnar.  He wanted to write more of his thoughts, but had filled his journal a week ago with two months worth awestruck musings of how grand the world outside Baergan Dohl truly was.  The rocking of the card made writing difficult at best anyway, so Seamus settled in to sleep until it was his turn to drive the horse.