He marched down the side of the mountain with more than a thousand men behind him. He was pleased that there was no opposition; pleased that this was looking far easier then he had planned for. He came upon an encampment near the base of the mountains on the edge of a stream. The women and old men met him on the edge of the camp and offered their meager hospitality, sitting down to hear what he had to say. Their men were away hunting.
He explained to them that he claimed all the lands on this side of the mountains, and as citizens under his crown, they were to pay him taxes every year. He explained that the taxes would pay for roads over the mountains and the building of towns to support farmers who would come and tame the land. He laid out the amount of gold and gems they were to give him now, but he began to realize that they weren’t being impressed the way they should be.
They patiently listened to everything he said, but it was obvious that they did not understand the glories he was willing to bring to them. They were not forthcoming with any gold or gems and they were not impressed with his vision of civilization.
Angered, he demanded his taxes from these obstinate people, but in response, they just rose from where they had sat to listen to his wisdom and proceeded to pack up their meager belongings and leave his presence. How dare they leave without permission? How dare they not pay their taxes? How dare they keep his riches hidden from him?
In a rage, he rose up and struck down the first of these heathens he reached. It was a young woman holding a little girl, perhaps two years old who, in turn was holding a handmade doll in her arms. Less than twenty minutes later, every woman, old man and child was dead. He ransacked their belongings and threw it in the fires creating a great smoking monument to their idiocy. His search uncovered three rough gems and a child’s hand full of gold nuggets.
Returning from their hunt, the hunters topped the rise as he was looking with disbelief at the abysmal example of the treasure that had to be here somewhere. Maybe the men had the wealth. Maybe they didn’t trust their women with the gold and gems; women could never be trusted with wealth unless it was to flatter their beauty.
Stunned at the carnage before them, the hunters looked in disbelief at the destruction laid out before them. Their families had been decimated for no reason they could see. They had certainly been no threat against the masses that swarmed over the small camp, but the men were here now. Things would be different now.
Anger cursed their souls and their cursed souls echoed across the mountains and reverberated through the plains. When the hunters charged screaming their challenge to the wind, the soldiers laughed at their puny attack; after all, what were twenty men against a thousand. They would die quicker than their women had.
The soldiers quickly learned that knives and arrows were not their only attack; long before the hunters got close to their ranks, the horses turned on whoever was closest. Hooves flew and teeth flashed. The men had little choice; they had to defend themselves by killing many of their own horses. By the time most of the horses were dead, many men were dead too; the horses had been well trained.
Next came the birds, hawks that had hunted with the hunters swooped after eyes and throats and soon other birds reached the battlefield and became mixed with the arrows that flew with deadly accuracy.
The soldiers couldn’t tell where to strike next. Though most of them were armored, their small assailants got past their swords and shields and found vulnerable flesh. The hunters were still well beyond their reach when the first of the men started to run away from this unnatural battle, others soon followed and before long, there was a rout.
He could not rally the men to fight back, in truth he saw that they could not have fought back if they had rallied; they could only run in hopes of getting away from these crazed creatures. They had to be mad, driven to madness by these witches, but where was all the gold?
The next attack to come came on four feet; wolves, coyotes and foxes materialized out of the tall grass and trees around them and tore at any who fell behind or turned to fight. Hawks circled and dived after any advantage and soon they were joined by eagles, ravens and a multitude of other winged hunters both large and small. Higher in the mountains, the solitary bears and mountain lions gathered to add their threat and terror to this hunt.
In their wake came the hunters. Any bodies they passed that still breathed were relieved of their breath with a cold swipe of their knives and they ran on.
Their night camps were circled by howling wolves and crying coyotes, and they got little rest because of it, though they were spared the flight of the multitude of feathered fiends. Those who retained packs were forced to share whatever supplies were left with their fellows. When that ran out, the packs were discarded.
The running slaughter changed to a frightening and deadly chase after that first night, and through it all, he was spared. He was the leader. He was the center of the storm; it was he who needed to learn from this destruction.
On the southern side of the mountain wall, he tried again to rally his people. His numbers were less than two hundred ragged and haunted men, yet still he called on the villagers and farmers they passed to fight, fight for their land, fight for their lives, fight for their sanity against the madness brought down on them by the witches from the north. Some did, but most could only hide in their cellars hoping the madness would pass them by.
Their stand was little more than a hitch in their rout and men continued to be brutally harried and killed if they fell, all the way to the palace gates. Only there did the attack cease. Most of the birds rose up, circled and slowly disbursed. The foxes, coyotes and most of the wolves melted away. The hunters pounded on the palace gates and demanded entrance.
He had no more fight left in him. He could only surrender and hope they left him his life. He ordered the gates thrown open and the hunters marched into his palace as if they owned it.
“Have you learned your lesson?” asked the tall dark man who stood in front.
“What lesson?” he asked. It behooved him to understand exactly what was expected of him.
“The other side of the mountain wall does not belong to you. You and your people are forbidden to cross - ever. Because of what you have done, the mountains are now cursed, forever. You did this; you brought this down on us all.”
A beautiful young girl walked into the room just then, her yellow hair curled around her silver tiara and then cascaded far down her back glittering with diamonds, her pearl encrusted dress brushed the floor. “Father, you’re back. Who are these people?” Her voice was the gentle chime of silver bells, at odds with the anger and fear that was still so close.
The leader stepped forward with breath-taking speed and entangled his hand in the girl’s golden hair. “I will take this with me. It will ensure you never forget.”
They were gone with his greatest treasure before he could fathom what had just happened. He had lusted after gold and gems, and instead of gaining wealth beyond his wildest dreams, he had lost his only daughter.
Outside, they mounted on willing mounts that had no saddle or bridle, and the girl was thrust into the lap of the man who had claimed her.
The memory of their journey back across the mountain wall became disjointed and then sporadic and eventually halted all together, but not before they rode back into the camp where it had all begun and looked into the mountain stream that ran red with the blood that washed off the side of the mountain in the cold rain.