There wasn’t a cloud in the blue sky. The type of blue that you see on a mid-winter’s morning; but seldom see early in the planting season. The trees were in flower and the ground had a plush consistency. It was a day when reading a book in the fresh sunlight would have been an ample reward for a week of tending the vines.
Or so one would think.
But it was hardly a day to be off hunting Zelbax… by yourself. Which is exactly what Mave Fabish had been off doing.
Actually his full title is Maven Fabish… but to pretty much everyone he is called Mave Fabish, or sometimes “the Mave”. He made full Maven several seasons back. First he labored as an Assistant, then made Associate, and then he was finally awarded full Maven at Venderbee’s None-Mal of High Study. Rare for a Maven to come from outside the Study of Vine and Agriculture.
But Mave Fabish stood alone in his pursuit of Antiquities and the manner in which people hunted for food, waged war or in general used weapons. In the spring and summer seasons he would leave the supervision of his vineyards to the younger staff in the Department of None-Mal and he would take himself off beyond Steep Rock to Far Steep Rock and Outpost Village… content to spend every waking moment alone, but occasionally with the help of others from the Department, digging, inspecting and uncovering artifacts from eras that existed before the Time of Troubles.
He would say that the Land of Far Steep Rock was sacred… that it held “within its heart every story that could ever be told.”
His field study was not without its dangers… and I am not talking about the weather, which is windy and cold in the spring and brutally hot in the summer. Nor do I refer to the “Wild Bands”… unlawful types from beyond Far Steep Rock, who make occasional raids on land and livestock and who have been known to kill a citizen or two.
No. The danger came from a variety of carnivorous beasts that treated Far Steep Rock as their home range. The most feared predator was the Ridged Zelbax. The Zelbax traced its origins to the common domestic sheep; but it returned to a feral stage at some point before the Time of Troubles, and it retained the lush wool coat of its herbivore “cousin”; but developed oversized razor sharp canine teeth for ripping flesh and jaws strong enough to snap the thigh of an adult human. The “ridged” referred to the high stance of its shoulders that supported powerful tendons allowing the Zelbax to reach high bursts of speed to bring down prey. An adult male could measure six feet at the withers and reach a length of fifteen feet from nose to tail.
One summer season the Mave had uncovered fossil remains that he judged went back before the Time of Troubles of an intact Ridged Zelbax and a collection of human bones. It was clear from the evidence that Zelbax preyed on nearby early human settlements. And in this case, this Zelbax had taken down what looked like an entire family!
The Mave told me the day he unearthed those bones he promised himself that he was going to kill a Ridged Zelbax before he died… not for its wool, not for the food; but to avenge what this beast had done to that family.
For those of us who know Mave Fabish, the story I am about to relate is at odds with what we know about the man… his peaceful and studious nature. A nature that is unchanged… whether he is whisking away dust from a fossil, or trimming his Hoolish vines, or relaxing over a cup of Wren Hoolish, or lecturing on the way the Ancient Germans skirted the Maginot Line and swept thru the Ardennes. Study war? Yes, most definitely. But to kill something? No, never.
But on the day of which I speak, his thoughts were on killing a Ridged Zelbax to settle a score for the fossil remains he discovered years before.
Fabish told me, “… it was time to settle accounts.”
He went well prepared for the adventure.
“Our ancestors would deploy a team of seven hunters. Four were armed with a centine, a spear 100 inches in length. They would stand shoulder to shoulder like a giant ‘fork’. The other members of the hunting party would be responsible for driving the Zelbax into the deadly phalanx of spears.”
I asked the Mave, “did it work?”
“Sometimes the hunters won. Sometimes the Zelbax won.”
“Well surely you went with more than a centine!”
He sipped some Hoolish. Thought for a moment… “No. Over the years Hector and I made some 50 centines! Each honed to killing perfection. I wanted to kill a Zelbax the old way… the way our ancestors did.”
“Who else formed your hunting party.”
“No. Years ago I decide that it would be me. Me alone.”
“Did you have a death wish?!”
No. The Mave truly thought that he could do this with no assitance. His plan was simply to drive the centines into the ground, clustered in the classic “attack four” presentation, spread the blood of a pouflon in the area as bait, then upon sighting a Zelbax to run scared and lure the wooly monster into any of a possible dozen “nested” traps.
“Great idea Fabish! You must have been drunk to come up with that plan!”
“Yes. I probably was. I had barely positioned the first four centines when a damned Zelbax was in on me! The only thing that stood between that mean son-of-a-bitch and me was a bottle of Hoolish and a sandwich!”
“He went for the sandwich?”
“I wish! And he didn’t go for the Hoolish either! He exposed his scary fangs, snarled once, then again… and without delay took a running leap directly into the centines!”
“Are you telling me… are you telling me that the Zelbax… the Zelbax committed suicide?!”
I sipped my wine and thought about this for a few minutes content for the break in the narrative. “Well… maybe the beast had a stressful childhood?”
Then the Mave looked this way and that. Sure that no one was in ear shot, “Look Santie, don’t spill the beans. I’ve been telling folks at None-Mal that I brought down a Zelbax by myself. And… you know, some of the ladies are hugely impressed!”
I guess this squared with what we knew about Fabish… a good soul who studied diligently the implements and manner of bringing death to man and animal… yet who couldn’t kill a fly… even if he was starving.
I poured each of us some Hoolish, “Mave Fabish… your secret is safe with me.”