Birth of an Omen

The mother had been through an arduous pregnancy, plagued by distress and ill omens. Many feared what would be birthed,with the more easily alarmed in the tribe fearing a monster that would destroy the settlement, if not the world. The calmer members had noticed the influx of carrion eaters such as crows and jackals in the area, and suspected an avatar of Kanabar, god of death, and made the best of the time they figured they had left.

As the labor progressed, the tribe as a whole grew more anxious, and only the shaman was aware of the drawing near of those same carrion eaters that had become so common in the last few months. She noted they had surrounded the birthing hut, but kept to the trees, out of sight, and that most of those animals were crows and ravens. While not uncommon in the area, a flock of those birds, mixed so as to invalidate any specific terminology, with no fighting, and not even a stray sound, so close to a settlement, was very odd. The corvids of the area had long ago learned that the village was not a safe place to fly, as every so often a foolish young elf would attack one. They always made their displeasure known, but eventually just left the immediate area, and seldom flew over it except in large numbers.

The shaman knew what this meant, and felt a pang of sympathy for the child, and it’s long life ahead of it, provided it was not killed by superstitious fools early on. She kept silent about the unseen congregation, though she knew the child’s bleak fate would be evident soon enough.

After several more hours, as dawn neared, the child was born, to the relief of the mother and father, and the shaman. A healthy young boy, his grip was quite firm on the shaman’s finger as she cradled him in her arms before giving him to the child’s mother. As his mother first laid eyes on her first child, a single tear trailed down her cheek as she saw the much more evident signs of what the shaman had not mentioned.

The boy’s skin, while it would not have been out of place in a human city, was remarkably pale compared to the ruddy, olive-brown complexion of the wood elves. The fine, sparse hair on the child’s scalp was a shimmering, almost black colour. These traits, while unusual, were nowhere near as damning as the child’s eyes. One eye was deepest black, a pit of darkness in the child’s face. The other was a startling red. Between his pale skin, dark hair, the odd colour of his eyes, and with his angular face and thin frame, it was clear that the boy was marked as Raven’s child.

The boy’s father moved to place a reassuring hand on his mate’s shoulder, and to place his other upon the child’s head. Quite apart from a usual newborn’s distress, and gentle retreat into it’s mother’s arms, the boy’s eyes swiveled and watched it’s surroundings intently, taking everything in calmly, even clenching it’s small fists in what might in another child be a strangely unwitting parody of a seasoned warrior’s preparation to fight for his life, but in such a marked child, that was truly what it was. As the sun rose above the horizon, the birds in the trees around the birthing hut had begun to make their presence known, chattering and cawing, softly at first, then louder and louder, until the sun broke into the sky, and the first ray of dawn lit the boy’s face, at which point a great sound, like a raven’s caw, but louder and deeper, the cry of a giant raven, unknown to be anywhere so far south, sounded, frightening many of the tribes people, and causing the fighting men to suddenly look about for a weapon, before the great bird launched into the sky from the forest, spreading it’s wings, and flattening saplings with great gusts coming off the vast feathered planes. Then, then the elders and learned of the tribe knew the truth of the omens and trouble of the woman’s pregnancy.

***

An hour later, the men of the tribe had surrounded the hut, carrying spears and swords. The chief pushed his way into the hut, sword held at his side, but muscles tensed. The child’s mother and father could smell the smoke of the torches outside. Father and shaman stepped forward, between chief and mother and child.

“The child is death and destruction to us, the omens were seen by the whole village. Give him to me so that I may prevent the fall of the world, even if it is too late for my tribe.” the chief demanded of the pair.

“You will not harm my son.” the father said, his own muscles tensing under dark skin, tattoos of bears and scars of their claws canvasing his body.

“I could give the order to burn this hut.” the chief replied.

“And you would face a rage of true fire, forcing me to fell my own friends and burn my own village to the ground.”

“Damnit, Surugosh! You know the fate of this child!”

“Fates are merely vague, likely futures.” the shaman said, suddenly. “They are readings of what may come, in terms vague enough to be almost entirely certain.” The two men looked at the shaman as if she had picked up a greatsword and strapped on iron plate mail. Surely what she’d just said was as much a betrayal of her gifts. “I of all people should know that much…” she said, staring back at them.

“Did I not save your son last autumn, Rel?” Surugosh asked of his chief.

The chief’s eyes closed as his head tilted downwards, remembering, “Yes.” he replied quietly. “But you ask more than just a life for a life. You ask that I condemn my entire tribe to death.”

“Our tribe will not weather such hardships at the hands of Baragos. I promise it.”

The chief’s head snapped back up at the mention of the name, “You- you named it Baragos? How can you be so brazen?” the man roared in outrage.

Surugosh smiled a thin, taunting smile, “A little bird told us to. He-” and here Surugosh’s voice took a hard edge to it, “is Touched by Raven, after all… surely as I was Touched by Bear and held her sign at my birth.”

“Very well, but your child will not escape this day unscathed, to hide his darkness from the tribe. You know the very least of all possible ways for this to end.” the chief said, grimly, with great sorrow on the edge of his voice.

“I also know how all prior Touched children have taken the mark. I’m sure my son will show a demonstration of the strength he will hold in later life.”

The chief left the hut, and as soon as she could, Maratha stood from the birthing cot holding her son against her shoulder, and followed her mate to the center of the village where a fire had been started, and a thin rod of metal stood out of the coals. The village smith stood waiting, and held out his hand for the boy as his other reached for the metal. He shrank back from the cool and fiery gazes of Maratha and Surugosh, as the shaman pushed the weak man back, taking up the white hot brand herself. Maratha reached up and pulled the shroud that covered her chest and child, bearing his back and shoulders. The hours old boy turned his head to look at the shaman out of one eye, holding her in his sight. His eyes closed, and what to anyone else seemed like a infant’s inability to hold up it’s head, was in fact the assenting nod of the man Baragos would grow to be.

The shaman held the brand lightly, and pressed the long disused, jagged, hot end, shaped like a long beaked bird in flight, into the infant’s tender flesh, holding it there as skin burnt and smoked, and the child made no sound. His eyes had opened again as the metal neared his shoulders, and sought the chief, staring at him. But that gaze was more than that, the chief felt it pierce his own eyes, and stare into his soul. He fought, but soon had to close his eyes and turn away.