Chapter 1: Initiation

The effects of the herbed water dwindled like the twilight around them. Darkness consumed the light and Ebskil watched the stars emerge while the induced calmness sapped out of him. It felt unnatural to relax as the initiation approached, especially with his terrible luck. The knot of dread in his gut returned but he grasped onto the small pleasantries for dear life.

For once, he blended in among his friends. Mud covered his white hair, dirtying it to a dark colour to match the rest of the teenagers. The only features making him stand out from his tanned clan were the watery blue eyes and an unusual birthmark on his thumb. Ebskil painted over this bleached skin, shaped similar to a tree, and felt unlike himself. He treasured the birthmark, as if it held some wonderful secret about how to be the destined hero he was repetitively told about.

“Ya ready, Ebs?” Tamil asked, his chubby face breaking into a large grin. His nervousness showed throw his shaking fingers.

“As ready as Changil on hunting day.”

“Oi, that ain’t my fault!” Changil exclaimed from across the fire, over Tamil's laughter.

The first day of hunting occurred at fourteen, where the boys kept close by the older men of the tribe to learn. Ebskil stayed with his uncle instead of his father, the chief, since he feared to be an embarrassment. They all hunted a ‘gunder’ — a grey, feline which stood nearly as tall as a man — together, hiding in the branches of tall trees. Changil ruined their opportunity to attack, as he disturbed a nest of territorial birds which swooped him with the aggression of a large predator. It spooked the gunder but everyone was too lost in laughter at Changil’s demise and squeals to care about the lose of a meal.

“Alright, boys! Time to show the clan our new men!” Ebskil’s uncle, Clatil, announced. He blew a bird whistle and it sounded like a million species flew through the air around them.

After fixing his leaf skirt, Ebskil followed his friends towards the camp. They chanted with each step, keeping their voices low and stance proud. One by one, they left the shadows and entered the open space. Cheers grew in volume as each person returned to the tribe, celebrating their re-entrance as a ‘man’. Above the small trees and huts, green phlames appeared. It triggered Ebskil’s anxiety. His heart beat louder than the drums echoing in the forest and his palms turned clammy. What if it went wrong? Would the tribe accept him? What if his father failed? All these questions and more swirled in his head, encouraging his nausea to return.

“What are you doin?! Go!” Clatil barked and shoved Ebskil, last in line as per tradition of chief children, into the clearing. “Make us proud!”

The crowd hushed. Ebskil stumbled but tried to move his heavy feet along with the drum rhythm. He glanced around, marvelling at the large bonfire, torches and transformation of huts into coloured tents. Slowly, he arrived in front of a specific tree, hidden by many shadows, as planned, and ensured his back hit the trunk. In the tribe’s ancient language, he announced his promise as a man, to protect the tribe, and lifted his arms to the side. Bright, green phlames emerged from his hands and fuelled the bonfire. It rose in bright greens, oranges and yellows swirls, creating the greatest display of all. From this, everyone felt safe, comforted by the heir chief’s glorious power that matched their current leader.

Too bad it was all a lie.