The Hunt Begins
“You sound like you're afraid Amyklas”, replied Aterus condescendingly.
“Afraid? Of course not”, replied his younger brother. “But the mounta-“
“I can see it all over your face, you can't hide your cowardice from me so easily little brother”, snarled Aterus. “Remember who you are, what you are. They dare not cross our paths”.
Rather than face the shame of letting his indignant brother force him back, Amyklas nodded begrudgingly and marched closer to the mountains. To return from the hunt without the bounty of the hills would no doubt earn them the ire of their father. The younger sibling gripped his bow tight and pressed forward, his eyes frantically searching for the beast that would spell the end of this grating evening.
Aterus crept further and further upward until the beaming glow of Atreidai was a distant memory, a chilling wind and cover of low light consuming him and his sibling. He crushed a small flower beneath his boot, his powerful legs disintegrating one of the few pieces of nature which could thrive so high. Once again Amyklas looked back upon his home, a tiny spotlight in the grey of dusk. The pair stood perched on the edge of the mountain range, the threshold into the strange foreign land of the Black Mountains.
The Black Mountains were tall and foreboding. Thick, rocky monsters soaring out of the earth looking over the young warriors, sitting ominously still, guarding their domain in which none should dare tread. They emitted some kind of strange energy, forcing a feeling of powerlessness over the young warriors. These were ancient formations that no man could move. They were unforgiving. They didn't earn the name Black for their colour; they earnt it for the monsters and magic which were said to dwell amongst them.
A rustle caught Amyklas’ ear. He snapped to his left and saw a snow fox pelting into the distance. Immediately an arrow flew from the bow of Aterus, embedding itself into the ground just behind the fleeing prey. With a scream of rage the senior of the duo stormed to his arrow and ripped it from the earth in which it sat. It broke in two under his iron grip. He let out a light growl of frustration before he turned back and locked eyes with his brother. A brief pause before a simultaneous nod indicated both knew what had to be done; they had to enter the mountains.
Aterus continued to lead the way, stalking and snarling like the beasts he hoped to claim before the sun fully set. He followed the tracks the snow fox had left behind. They couldn't afford to lose it; light was waning and meat was scarce, they had to catch something. Amyklas’ wariness of the ranges they found themselves in began to seep into Aterus, his pride preventing him from anything but pressing onward, as with the glory of nobility also came the oft crushing expectation. This harsh area in which they found themselves was dark, gently snowing and unsettling, but the Atreid lifestyle had battle hardened the young men.
Much to their dismay, the snow fox was nowhere to be found.
Amyklas sighed. Perhaps it was time to head home, he thought to himself. Before he could utter a word, Aterus raised his fist, anticipating the dissensions of his brother.
“Sons of Atreidai do not come home empty handed”, he whispered to Amyklas, his focus only intensifying as the wilderness which surrounded them became more intimidating. The declaration carried a sense of both his distraught and his determination. There would be plenty of food back at home, it wasn't hunger for a meal that urged him to press on, but hunger for the approval of his people.
“Aterus, we’ll find no prey here. Let’s go back, continue the search on lower ground”
Aterus paused. Amyklas had a fair point. This land was dangerous and infertile; they likely had a better chance closer to home, despite the sinking sun. As he pondered his options, he heard movement. The two brothers sprinted in the direction of the noise; in between the growing peaks and dying light they spotted a pair of very large snow foxes turn a corner through a narrow pass to their right.
They moved down the corridor swiftly with a growing sense of anticipation overriding their previous angst. In but a brief moment they would have a bountiful hunt, but more importantly a tale of fearlessness to take home to Atreidai. Their bravery to hunt through the mountains would be the stuff of myth and legend. Not many had journeyed into the Black Mountains and survived to tell the tale, few believed those who said they had.
They continued on their path and burst through the other side of the pass to find no large snow foxes, but a duo of far greater beasts.
They were speechless, which only grew worse when the burly men – if they could truly be called that – gripped them by the throats. They had only heard of the Mountain Men in songs and legends. Now they were face-to-face and the legends undoubtedly undersold them. The men of Atreidai were renowned for being skilled and powerful warriors, but the brutish monsters before them absolutely dwarfed the muscular brothers. Their gargantuan hands easily wrapped around their necks and they stood almost twice as tall. Their shoulders were broad and high, akin to the terrain which they called home. Their clothes were thick, woollen and ragged, as well as the jet black hair and beards which rolled down their bodies.
If Aterus could’ve cursed through the hand constricting his neck, he would have. The large snow foxes they hunted were not snow foxes at all; they were dogs.
“And who dares to enter these mountains to kill my dogs?”, boomed the man who gripped Aterus, loosening his paws just enough to let him wheeze out words.
“Aterus and Amyklas, the sons of Areus King of Atreidai and it’s lands”
“Fools pride once again undoes the Atreid. This is a grand insult.”
“An insult to all Men of Mountain”, roared the second man. Amyklas reached for the dagger which hung at his waist, beginning to unsheath it as the man which held him noticed.
“Ha! Little man, sheath your sword”
This insensed Amyklas. Such an insult against his family and people would not be tolerated. He ripped out his dagger but was slammed to the ground before he could strike, brutally winded by his assailant.
As he attempted to somehow scramble to his feet, he felt a crushing weight across the small of his back. The young prince had never felt such pain but did not let out a yelp; not in front of Aterus.
“Little man does not know why no Atreid dare venture here. Your father tells you what you want to hear. But not want you need to know.”
The Mountain Man raised his foot enough to let Amyklas get some deep breaths, but not to wriggle free of his control. He didn't want him dead, but he didn't want him to escape.
“You will go to your father. You will tell him we have the other. We will return him next sundown. You and your little people will prepare tribute. You will give us healthy young men, you will give us meat, you will give us gold.”
Amyklas felt a rush of fury and swung his dagger back. He narrowly missed the Moutain Mans calf, who then released his foot and kicked Amyklas in the gut. The Mountain Men spoke slowly but if they knew one thing, it was their own strength. Amyklas winced in pain, but the boot was restrained enough to not be fatal.
The Man let out a growl. “Insolent little man. Be gone.”
The two Mountain Men lumbered away from Amyklas, dogs in tow; a now unconscious Aterus slung over the shoulder of one. Amyklas mustered up all the strength he could, scrambled to the end of the pass, collected his bow and prepared to strike the men with as many arrows as he had. He took aim at the wide back of the man carrying Aterus, his hands shaking as he prepared for his assault. He shook violently trying to line up his target. His mind was swirling with the consequences. What would become of Aterus if he attacked? Would they kill him? Eat him? His father would be ashamed if he did not strike. Was the Mountain Man right? He was raised as if unstoppable, but that belief was far from infallible for the young prince.
It was time to act as the plodding giants moved close to the edge of Amyklas’ range. He maintained his aim.
Then, with a heavy heart, Amyklas lowered his weapon. He would wear the shame of defeat to ensure the life of his brother.