Roger Taylor: Farnor

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Roger Taylor Farnor
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Farnor: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Roger Taylor


Chapter 1

Darkness fell cold across Farnor’s face, extinguishing the myriad lights that had been flickering behind his closed eyelids and replacing them with shifting, blue-in-black shadows.

He opened his eyes with a start, momentarily fearful that some stranger or menacing creature had silently crept upon him as he lay, half dozing, under the gently swaying trees. It was not so, however. The darkness was only a cloud passing in front of the sun.

He made to smile away his reaction as foolishness, but, oddly, the unease persisted and with a frown he gazed around the sunlit woodland, searching for a sign of anything untoward that might have provoked this response. But there was nothing; just the rustling whisper of the wind-stirred trees and the innumerable splashes of bright sunlight flitting and dancing at their nodding behest.

Guilty conscience, he thought wryly as he struggled to his feet, brushing twigs and grass from his trousers and shirt. Loafing around in the woods when you’re supposed to be checking the sheep.

Thoughts of justification jostled for position as he walked to the edge of the wood and out into the brilliant spring sunshine. He hadn’t actually gone to sleep – well, hardly, anyway, and not for long – and besides, he’d get the job done – and there wasn’t anything special to do on the farm today…

He cut them short. They were a remnant from the times when his father would regularly interrogate him about his daily doings – or misdoings. Now, however, he was being treated increasingly as a trusted partner in the running of the farm; as a man, even though he would still be considered a boy in the eyes of the villagers for almost a year yet. It was quite amazing how much his father had learned over the past few years, he reflected.

Pausing, he looked down the valley towards the farm. It was hidden from view by the rolling terrain, but, as ever, he could feel its presence, solid and dependable; always there, always welcoming, a haven from all ills.

And yet, as he turned and began to walk up the valley again, he could still feel the shadow of the unease to which he had wakened. He had a faint memory of strange voices talking all around him… talking about him. The sound of the trees intruding into his half dreams, he presumed, but…

Almost angrily, he drove the end of his staff into the soft turf in an attempt to dispel once and for all the darkness that seemed reluctant to leave him. It hadn’t been the wisest of things to do, he supposed, going to sleep up here. Especially not with something worrying the sheep.

‘Someone’s dog gone wild,’ had been the usual opin-ion of the villagers to such happenings on the few occasions that Farnor had known them in the past; an opinion that was invariably proved correct after some judicious night-watching and trap-laying. The brighter sparks in the village would even take wagers on whose dog it was liable to be.

But it was different this time, for though only a few sheep had been worried, the damage to them had been massive and the traditional conclusion had been spoken hesitantly and in subdued and anxious tones. Then, like a mysterious creak in an empty house, Farnor caught a whisper of the word ‘bear’. Somewhat awkwardly, he put it to his father, only to receive a confident shake of the head and a lip-curling dismissal of the author of the suggestion.

‘Ale-topers’ talk. Berries, grubs, the odd fish, that’s all bears eat unless they’re desperate. They’ve little taste for meat and generally sense enough to keep well away from people.’

‘They say you can get rogue bears,’ Farnor offered. ‘Bears that have…’

His father cut across the tale with his final verdict:

‘The only rogues around here are those who should be working in the fields instead of swilling ale during the day and filling people’s heads with nonsense.’ Though he added, reassuringly, ‘It’s just a big dog gone wild, that’s all, Farnor. Probably from over the hill somewhere.’

From over the hill. The anonymous beyond. Where lived outsiders; people who weren’t ‘our’ people and who must necessarily be odd and thus quite capable of allowing large dogs to run wild and escape.

Nevertheless, and with a deliberate casualness, his father had from that time insisted that his son take a particularly stout staff with him whenever, as today, he was to go any distance up the valley.

As he moved further from the trees the last vestiges of Farnor’s unease fluttered away. Unconsciously he patted his knife in its rough sheath, then, impulsively, be swung his staff around in a whistling arc.

He began to daydream. His mind ran ahead along his journey. He would come to his favourite spot near the head of the valley and there sit down to eat the food his mother had prepared for him. Then, just as he was about to eat, he would notice bloodstains trailing across the ground. He would follow them and soon come to their source: the mangled body of a sheep. Almost before he would be able to react however, there would be a rustling in the nearby undergrowth and the culprit would emerge, charging towards him at full tilt: a huge hound, wild-eyed and ferocious, with bloodstained foam spraying from its snarling mouth.

A great battle would then ensue in which only Far-nor’s skill with his staff would save him from the lightning, killing reflexes of this monstrous animal until finally, slipping on the bloodstained grass, he would crash to the ground and the creature would be on him, teeth scarce a hand span from his throat.

Farnor drew his knife with a flourish and thrust it upwards into the sunlit air to emulate the final blow that would unexpectedly finish his attacker at the very last moment.

He laughed out loud in his excitement and allowed his fantasy to peter out with images of his triumphal return to the village and the wide-eyed appreciation of the villagers – and their children in the years to come – who would beg him to tell them, yet again, the tale of his mighty battle against the beast of the valley.

Then, though he knew he was quite alone, he glanced about, slightly embarrassed at this lapse into childish imagining.

Nonetheless, it was a good tale. It was the kind of tale that Yonas the Teller would tell with much drama on his rare visits to the village. Farnor began to embellish it and to mouth it to himself after the manner of Yonas. Then he began to imagine himself to be a great Teller, travelling not only to towns and cities about the land, but even to other lands far, far away. Lands ruled by great princes and kings, and full of noble lords and fine ladies. Farnor stretched himself tall; ladies who would smile knowingly at him and…

His foot sank into a cow pat.

An ignoble but vigorous oath rose up amid the unique incense released by the deed, and self-reproaches fell back down on him. ‘Dreaming again, Farnor?’ he heard his father’s oft-repeated comment.

A few ungainly, dragging steps relieved him of the bulk of his burden, but the remainder proved persistent and, despite a further brief, foot-twisting ballet, he was finally obliged to resort to sitting down and finishing the task with a clump of grass.

His poetic mood dispelled, Farnor strode on sourly, content for the time being to be earthbound; neither slayer of beasts nor Teller of tales, but a plain, ordinary farmer’s son out looking after his father’s sheep.

He was still so minded when he eventually came to the end of his journey: the place where, a little earlier, he had chosen to fight the ravening sheep-worrier.

‘That will be far enough,’ his father had said. It was his usual admonition; unelaborated, but laden with meaning. Farnor leaned on his staff and stared up the valley.

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