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Episode 001:
A Boy and His Horse


   The Boy was short, and that is why his parents named him Shrew. He hated being the smallest of seven brothers. He was always last in the family: last to eat, last to get his salt, and last to get his own horse. His mother told him it was because he was the youngest son, and she assured him that he would grow up one day. But even his youngest sister Feya was bigger; the village had given her a packhorse before him.


   His father said it was because she was a good shot with the bow and needed an animal to carry her kill.

   It was the first day of the great caribou hunt, when all of the able-bodied hunters left the village. Feya was invited, but not little Shrew. He was too small to handle a bow and had to stay in the village. Feya was invited, but not little Shrew. He was too small and had to stay in the village.

   “Don’t let this get you down, my son,” said Shrew’s mother, as she rested her palm on his shoulder.


   “We all have our part to play in the village. You will be here to defend Kurhass while the hunters are gone.”

   “It isn’t fair,” answered Shrew. “Last year, they said I could go this year. This year, they’re telling me I can go next year. Will they tell me the same thing next season?”

   Shrew’s mom leaned down and kissed her son on the forehead.

   “You have to practice with your bow. If you had passed the test, you’d be up there with the hunters.”

   “I know. But I’m too small for the bow. Why can’t I take my sling?”

   “You are the best man in Kurhass with the sling. No one doubts you there. But the sling will not bring down a caribou.”

   “That’s what everyone says, but I want to prove them wrong.”

   “You know what you can bring down with a sling?”

   “What’s that?” asked Shrew.

   “Bad men who try to attack Kurhass while the hunters are away. You could be a hero.”

   “I don’t want to be a hero. I want to be a hunter.”

   Shrew and his mother stood to the side with the rest of the folk while the hunters waited with their pack horses for the Elders to give their prayers. Feya and his older brothers stood up with the rest of the hunters. Shrew counted the hunters with both hands, but he gave up when he ran out of fingers. There were more people leaving for the hunt then there were people staying behind.

   “Why does Feya get to go hunting? She’s just a girl.”

   “Your younger sister passed the test with the bow. And the hunt is about bringing home food for the village, not about being a man or a woman. Besides, she may only get to go on one or two hunts before she is with child and her responsibilities keep her here in Kurhass.”

   Behind the hunters stood the Elders’ hut, which was framed with the bones of an ancient beast that used to roam the grasslands. The Elders told stories about the hunters who brought down these giant beasts. No one alive had ever seen the giant woolly beasts with tusks that protruded from their face, but they were still the most popular stories told around the communal fire.

   An old man with long white hair and dark leathery skin walked out of the Elders’ hut and joined the hunters. He wore leather pants and a jacket, with red fox fur draped around his neck, and he lifted his hands in the air.

   “Kurhass. We stand here about to receive the blessings from our Heavenly Father and Earth Mother. Oh, Father in Heaven, watch over our warriors and deliver them back to us safe and unharmed. Oh, mother of the Earth, bless our hunters with your flesh and provide them with the food we need to survive another winter. Our gold parents, we praise you and receive your blessings.”

   After the chief gave his prayers, the entire village lifted their hands and prayed.


   “Our godly parents, we praise you and receive your blessings.”

   Shrew saw the tears in the villagers’ eyes as they prayed and wondered why they felt so emotional. The hunting party always returned from the hunt packed down with meat and fur. However, he did recall stories from the communal fire of the time the hunt failed, and no one returned.

   The hunters waved as they passed through the village and into the grasslands. Shrew waved to his seven older brothers and even his sister Feya, but he dropped his hand as soon as they marched past. While the last of the hunters walked out of the village, Shrew sulked and wandered through the back row of huts. He didn’t want to see anyone right now.

   “You’re just like me, little guy,” Shrew whispered. “Too small to be taken seriously. Don’t worry. I’m going to take care of you.”

   Shrew walked his horse through the bushes and down to the river Kur. He stopped to watch his animal eat the fresh grass by the beach rocks and sand. While they sat along the edge of the stream, Shrew heard branches breaking. Something was following them. He turned around just in time to see his mother walk out of the bushes.

   “There you are. I was looking all over for you.”

   “I want to be alone right now,” said Shrew.

   “You know what you should be doing?”

   Shrew shrugged.

   She pulled a bow from behind her back and held it out.”

   “What is this?”

   “Instead of hiding and sulking, perhaps you should practice your skills. It’s the only way to make it on next year’s hunt.”

   “Thank you,” answered Shrew, as he reached out and took the bow.

   “Take your Ekwos with you,” said Shrew’s mother. “He may be small, but I believe in him too.”

   “Father said he was going to kill him at the end of summer if I couldn’t put him to work.”

   “That’s just your father’s bluntness. There will be no need to eat your little Ekwos if the hunters return with a full load. And if you can get your Ekwos to pull his own weight, there will be even less reason to eat him over the winter. Your father believes in you, that is why he gave you an Ekwos. They are calm and dumb and if they are properly trained, will carry their weight in dead caribou. Before the Gods blessed us with the ekwos we had to carry our kills back to Kurhass.”

   Shrew held the bow in his hands and pulled back the string. His shaking arm couldn’t quite extend all the way. He lowered the bow.

   “Keep practicing. That’s the only way you will make the hunt.”

   Shrew took his bow and strapped it to the back of his horse.

   “I prefer my sling,” he said. “I can peg a rabbit between the eyes from twenty-four paces.”

   “But you can’t bring down a caribou with a sling.”

   “Just because no one has done it before doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”

   “I do not doubt you, my son, but please take the bow and practice. There are deer in the south. If you bring one back, it will show the Elders you are ready for the hunt.”

   Shrew’s smile faded as his mother patted the bow strapped to the horse’s back.

   “I’ll do my best, Mother.”

   “That’s my boy. Have you named your Ekwos yet?”

   Shrew looked at his runt of a horse and pet its thick furry neck.

   “I want to name him Hope. Because I have hope for him.”

   “I think that’s a terrific name. I have hope for both of you. Now go out there and get some practice. Don’t come back until you’ve exhausted all of your strength or you’ve killed something with the bow.”

   “Yes, Mother,” said Shrew with a smile.

   “Take this.” She handed him a copper knife. “I sharpened it last night, so be careful.”

   Shrew admired the shiny blade as it reflected the sunlight in red sparkles. He knew the significance of the blade and how much ore it took to forge. The smelter had made it for Shrew’s father as a wedding gift.

   “Thank you, Mother. I won’t let you down.”

   “I know you won’t. I’ll see you tonight.”

   Shrew hugged his mother goodbye, grabbed the rope tied around his horse’s neck, and led the animal down the banks of the Kur River. He knew his mother was behind him, watching, but he kept walking without looking over his shoulder. Shrew was determined to prove something of himself and to everyone else. Today he was going to bring down a buck.

   The river Kur flowed around the village, protecting it on three sides. The Elders claim the founders settled the bend because it was easy to defend, and the water would provide them with life. Their houses were built between the river Kur, and that is why the settlers named the village Kurhass.

   “A good little Ekwos you are,” said Shrew as he patted his horse on the side of its neck. The day he’d received his little packhorse had been the best day of his life.


   “Don’t worry. I’m not going to let my father and brothers eat you this winter. We’ll prove to everyone that we can bring home as much food as they can.”

   When they made it to the bend in the river, Shrew led his horse through the tall grass and into the plains. He was too short to see above the leaves, leaving them stuck between the tall, sharp blades. He parted the grass as he walked through it, allowing his horse to stop and eat the short sprouts growing on the ground. Even though he was anxious to find and kill a deer, Shrew let his horse enjoy the snack.

   “Come on Hope,” said Shrew. “It’s time to go.”

   He tugged on the rope to get his horse up and then dragged it a few steps before it followed behind. Shrew took a big sniff of the air, hoping to catch the scent of his prey, but all he could smell was the grass, and something a little foul.

   After parting the grass with his left arm and stomping some of it down with his leather shoes, he whispered to his horse, “Something’s come through here already. You can see where it parted the bushes.”

   Shrew looked back at his horse, hoping it understood his words, but the dumb beast kept eating the sprouts from the ground. After a quick tug on the leash, Hope lifted its head.

   “Do you even know what I am saying? Never mind. No wonder my father says all horses are dumb.”

   Shrew stepped through the grass and looked at the path made by the animal that had come this way before. He scanned the ground for the prints of either man or beast but could see none. He looked left then right, and guessed which way was the best. After taking a few steps through the parted grass, he bent down again and looked at the dirt.

   “Prints,” whispered Shrew. “It looks like a deer came through here.”

   Shrew looked back over his shoulder, hoping his horse was paying attention, but the animal was bending its neck to eat again. Instead of letting it take a mouthful of grass, Shrew tugged on the rope. It was getting warm, and a bead of sweat dripped down his forehead and off his nose as he examined the print in the mud.

   “We’re going the right way,” whispered Shrew.

   They slowly and quietly followed the trail before Shrew spotted what looked like black pebbles on the ground. He bent down and picked them up.

“It’s fresh. They’re close by.”

   Shrew dropped the fresh deer scat and continued through the tall grass until they came to the end of the patch. He stepped out onto a plain of short grass and moss that rolled with the hills. Flowers bloomed, and where there was once snow, puddles reflected the sun.

   Before barging into the open field, Shrew watched. That’s when he saw the deer. The excitement nearly startled him. He quietly pulled the bow off the back of his packhorse.

   “Stay calm Hope,” whispered Shrew. “Don’t move a muscle.”

   After Shrew had removed the bow and quiver of arrows from the straps on his horse, Hope bent down to eat more grass. Shrew struggled with the arrow as he loaded it into his bow, trying to keep as quiet as possible. He never took his eyes off the deer. When the arrow was ready to shoot, he drew back on the strong. His right arm wobbled as he couldn't quite get his arm to extend all the way back. He took a deep breath. It was hard to keep his right arm tight and even harder to keep his arrow straight.

   “Heavenly Father, give me strength, and Mother Earth, bless me with your flesh.”

   After reciting his prayer, Shrew released the arrow. It flew true, straight up into the air, and came back down. His aim was perfect. He was going to bring home a deer. He was a hunter.

   But then the arrow fell on the ground, and Shrew realized how far short his arrow had fallen. The deer heard the sound and darted into the tall grass.

   Despairing that he would ever be taken seriously as a hunter, he turned away and saw his horse, still eating grass.

   He was angry that he’d missed his shot and felt hurt that his horse didn’t care. But after watching the contented animal eat more sprouts, he smiled and rested his cheek on the side of the horse’s neck.

   “I love you, Hope. You know what it’s like to be small. To be rejected.”

   Birds were soaring through the blue skies. It was a beautiful day, and Shrew wasn’t going to let his failure with the bow get him down. After tying the bow back onto his packhorse, he pulled out the sling from the satchel on Hope’s back.

   “We don’t need a bow. And we don’t need to go on that hunt. We’re not giving up yet, Hope. I’m going to kill something, and it isn’t going to be a rabbit. I’m going to be the first man in Kurhass to kill a doe with a sling.”

   Shrew pictured it in his mind. He imagined swinging his arm around and around before letting the rock fly through the air, striking the deer’s head, then charging in with his blade to finish off the creature. Could today be the day he did something no one had ever done before?

   Hope stopped to eat more grass, and Shrew gave him a few seconds to get a couple of mouthfuls before tugging on the rope again.

   “Come on, Hope. We can’t sit around all day and eat.”

   No sooner had he spoken than he saw a small patch of red berries on the ground. They were perfectly ripe. He crouched down and stuffed the berries in his mouth. Their sweet juice gave him a burst of energy. He felt great.

   The red berries were Shrew’s favorite.

   A snap in the bushes alerted both Shrew and Hope. Their heads lifted in the direction of the noise. Neither of them moved or made a sound. Hope’s ears stood erect and turned to face the bushes.

   Nobody moved a muscle. Even the wind stood still.

   It was too loud to be a rabbit. Something big was moving in the bushes. Very carefully, and very quietly, Shrew reached down. He never took his eyes off the bush as he slid his fingers across the ground. He needed a rock that was perfectly round and just the right size. He knew he had the right stone when his fingers grazed over its surface.

   Shrew placed it in his sling. When he raised his arm, the horse took a few steps back. Shrew started slow, spinning his right arm around his head until the weight of the rock stretched the sling. A subtle hum vibrated through the air as the sling picked up speed.

   The bushes snapped again. This time Shrew saw precisely where the noise was coming from: twelve paces away, directly ahead. Another quick movement and the snap of the bushes betrayed the animal’s presence. The ground was moving. Shrew’s eyes locked onto the tiny creature hopping across the short grass. He released the sling, and his rock zipped through the air, striking the small rabbit in the head. The bunny jumped and flipped backward, landing on its back, its feet kicking in the air.

   Shrew sprinted forward and scooped up the rabbit with both hands. He knew Mother Earth would not bless him with more food if he let the poor creature suffer, so he popped the rabbit’s neck to put it out of its misery.

   “I got you,” Shrew said with excitement. “My mother will make you into a delicious stew.”

   Shrew showed the rabbit to his horse before stuffing it into a satchel strapped to Hope’s back. “Do Ekwos enjoy rabbit stew?”

   The horse looked at Shrew with a blank stare before leaning down to take another mouthful of fresh sprouts.

   “You’re probably just as happy eating grass. That’s okay. My family loves stew. They’ll be happy.”

   Shrew led his horse through the field until they came to a dried-up creek bed. Water never flowed here, but the rocks were smooth and round like the ones in the river. He kept his eyes out for another rabbit. If there was one, there were probably more. Shrew was very careful as he walked over the loose rocks. They rolled under his feet, making noise and alerting the animals in the area.

   Once he was back on the soft grass, he reloaded his sling.

   “Where did they go?” Shrew whispered to his horse.

   The wind was gone, so perhaps every creature in the field heard them coming. Or was it the smell of the horse? Shrew looked at his companion, who took a moment to lift his head and stare at him while he chewed.

   “You do smell. Perhaps you are scaring away the rabbits.”

   The horse stopped chewing for a moment and looked at him with a dumb stare before going back down for another mouthful.

   They wandered the plains for the entire afternoon, gathering red berries and eating them. He even found a few rocks with copper veins. He stored those in his satchel to give to the smelter when he got back. But they did not find any more rabbits.

   “We’re getting pretty far from Kurhass. Do you think we should go home?”

   The horse looked at Shrew with grass and drool hanging out of its mouth. Shrew was starting to doubt the intelligence of the creature when it perked up its ears and turned its head. The grass dropped from its mouth.

   Something was close by, and his horse could sense it.

   Shrew held Hope’s leash with his left hand and spun the sling with his right. The swooshing of the sling was the only sound in the still afternoon air. He scanned the ground in front of him, looking for the brown fur of a tiny bunny rabbit. They were so hard to find when they weren’t moving.

   Then Hope backed up, kicking his front legs. He shook his head and snorted. Something was wrong. That was when Shrew noticed something foul in the air. It smelled like death.

   It reminded him of the dogs after a long swim in the river Kur. If it smelled like dogs and death, that could only mean one thing: a wolf was near. And if he could smell it, then surely it could smell him.

   Suddenly Shrew felt very small, and he wished his older brothers were by his side. But he knew to keep calm and, no matter what, never to let his sling down.

   “It’s okay, Hope,” whispered Shrew. “We’re going to get out of here.”

   Hope took several steps back. Shrew had to hold on tightly to the leash just to keep his horse from turning and running away. If Hope abandoned him now, Shrew would be left alone for the wolves. Other than a big bear, the wolves were his greatest fear.


   “Easy, boy. We’ll get out of here.”

   Shrew was looking at the ground to keep himself from tripping when the bushes in front of him rustled. That’s when he saw it. A wolf’s head poked out of the bushes; its eyes locked onto him. It snarled, showing its teeth.

   “Heavenly Father, protect me,” prayed Shrew.

   His heart pounded through his chest, but still he kept his right arm spinning. If the wolf charged, he had only one chance at saving his own life.

   The horse made a nervous grunt and pulled the rope from Shrew’s grip. That moment of distraction gave the wolf his opening. Shrew looked back in time to see the wolf stepping out from the bushes, exposing its entire body. As soon as it charged, Shrew released the sling. The rock zipped through the air and pelted the wolf on the tip of its nose, sending it yelping and howling. The noise spooked Hope, and he yanked the leash from Shrew’s hand. His horse galloped away through the tall grass.

   “Hope!” shouted Shrew, but it was too late. His horse had abandoned him.

   Shrew looked back at the wolf, who was busy pawing at its nose. The wolf looked up and locked eyes with Shrew, opening its mouth and baring its teeth. Shrew had heard the stories from the Elders. Wolves could tear the flesh right off your bones. Shrew pulled out his copper knife and stared at the wolf, waiting for it to charge. But instead, the wolf pawed at his bloody nose one more time.

   Shrew ran.

   He sprinted full speed, trying to follow Hope. He was too short to see over the tall grass and just prayed he was going the right way. The sharp blades left cuts on his hands and face. In the confusion, he dropped his sling, but he never looked back.

He burst through the bushes into a clearing, where his horse was tangled by its leash in a dead tree at the end of the field.


   Shrew stumbled and ran across the clearing, where his horse was struggling to pull himself free from the branches.

   “I’ve got you, Hope. Don’t worry.”

   Shrew panted as he cut at the leash with his copper knife. Unfortunately, it was exceptionally thick. When he looked over his shoulder, he saw the wolf at the bottom of the field. It didn’t charge. Instead it stood there, analyzing the situation.

   “What’s wrong? Afraid to get hit with another rock?”

   The wolf took a few steps forward, lowering its head.

   At that moment, Shrew realized he had a way out of this mess. He stopped cutting and looked into his horse’s eyes. Hope was the one stuck, not Shrew. If he left his horse and ran as fast as he could, he’d probably make it back to Kurhass before the wolf was finished eating. All he had to do was run, and he would be okay. But Hope would die.

   And if he cut the rope, his horse would run—and Shrew would die.

   Were the gods forcing him to choose between his own life and that of his horse?

   “I’m not going to leave you here. I won’t let my brothers eat you, and I’m not going to let this wolf eat you.”

   Shrew sawed through the leash until it snapped. Hope bucked, and stood on his hind legs. Immediately, the wolf attacked, sprinting across the open field faster than a speeding arrow. The sight of the charging wolf frightened Shrew so much that he dove halfway over his horse, only to get himself stuck on the straps wrapped around Hope’s back.

   “Calm down, Hope,” shouted Shrew, as he grabbed onto the horse’s thick mane.

But the horse took off at a sprint. They raced through the tall grass as the blades sliced at Shrew’s hands and face. While he pulled himself up to a sitting position on Hope’s back, he dropped his copper knife.

   That’s when it struck him.

   “You’re carrying me, Hope. We’re flying!”

   Hope galloped through the tall grass, and for the first time, Hope could see over the top. The hills rolled up and down, and he could see Kurhass village in the distance.

   But it only took a split second to lose his focus, and Shrew slipped. He landed face-first on the back of the horse and slid back. Desperately he clung to its mane and pulled himself up before crouching down and gripping Hope’s neck.

   “Take me home, boy.”

   As he bounced up and down on the back of his horse, Shrew could see the dark-gray blur behind them in the tall grass. As they entered thicker bushes, they slowed down, and the wolf gained speed. Shrew could hear the growling and snarling from the wolf as it closed in.

   “Hurry, Hope. He’s right behind us.”

   When they broke through the tall grass and entered another clearing, the horse broke into a full gallop. They were moving so fast the still air turned into high wind. It was hard to keep himself from falling, but Shrew held tight. He never let go. He even snuck another peek at the wolf.

   “You’re doing it, boy! He’s falling behind.”

   Shrew looked ahead but lost his center of balance, and the next bounce knocked Shrew face-first into his horse’s neck. He let go of the mane and slid right off the side. As he fell, he reached for the straps, hoping to hang onto the side of his horse, but he grabbed the bow and quiver by mistake.

   He hit the ground hard and tumbled end over end, coming to a stop with his face up to the sky. When he sat up, he saw the wolf running at full speed. His life had come down to a matter of seconds.

   “Father!” shouted Shrew. “Help me!”

   Shrew got to his knees and raised his bow. There was only one arrow. Staring at the open jaw of white fangs charging him, Shrew loaded his arrow into the bow and yanked his arm back as far as he could. His elbow and bicep shook, but he managed to pull the string all the way back until it locked into position.

   The wolf was leaping into the air, ready to rip the flesh off Shrew’s body, when the boy released the arrow. The energy flowed through the string and fired the arrow right through the wolf’s mouth. The wolf yelped, growled, and yelped again. The arrow was lodged in the back of the wolf’s mouth. It rolled over, and chomped Shrew’s leg, before releasing and yelping in pain.

   The wolf yelped and rolled across the ground, giving Shrew the opportunity to crawl away, the bite on his leg hurt too much to stand. He turned back to see the wolf roll and tumble with the arrow sticking straight out the back of its neck. It was wounded, but it was far from dead.

   “Mother Earth, save me. Please.”

   Shrew prayed as he crawled backward, leaving a trail of blood in the grass. He was afraid to look at the damage to his leg. The wolf tossed a few more times before it straightened out and looked from side to side. When the wolf saw Shrew lying on the ground, it locked in on its prey and slowly crept forward.

   Now Shrew truly was defenseless. No Knife, no sling, and no arrows.

   But just when all hope was lost, Shrew’s prayers were answered. Hope charged out of the tall grass and circled around the wolf, chasing it off.

   “Thank you, boy,” said Shrew, as he stood up on his good leg. “I knew you wouldn’t abandon me.”

   Hope knelt down, making it easier for Shrew to pull himself onto its back. Once Shrew was back on his horse, the wolf limped back into the bushes. Then Hope galloped through the tall grass back to Kurhass.

   They ran through the last patch of tall grass before trotting across the plateau to the village. One of the village women screamed as the boy, and his horse slowed to a trot and passed her by.

   The commotion brought all of the villagers over. The women’s mouths hung open in amazement, and the men stared in disbelief.

   “He’s riding the Ekwos!” shouted one of the villagers.

   Shrew smiled. Today he had done more than prove himself with the bow. No man or woman had ever ridden a horse, or any animal. He had become one with Hope. Shrew was the most special man in all of Kurhass, and Hope was the most special Ekwos in the world.



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