Carnivores of Darkness and Light: Journeys of the Catechist, Book 1 by Alan Dean Foster

Simna stretched as he tried to see over the tops of the grass. “Etjole, something’s coming! I can hear it.” He inhaled sharply. “And smell it.”

“What is it, Simna?” The herdsman’s blade did not waver. Boruba-Ban-Beylok was starting to smile.

“Can’t tell. Animal of some kind. No—animals. More than one, less than a dozen. Big.” He drew his sword. “If we’re going to make a stand, we’d do better to find a cave to fight from, or at least higher ground.”

“No.” Ehomba kept his attention on the small green man standing before him. “I stay here. Climb to safety if you want.”

Simna stood with his back against the protruding rock, torn among common sense, personal desires, and admiration for the stupidly brave herdsman. The internal conflict found him in an agony of indecision.

“You know I can’t do that! You saved me from Corruption, not once but twice. I can’t run out on you!”

Ehomba nodded agreeably. “Good for me. Then stand, and be ready.” He met the sangoma’s stare with an unwavering gaze of his own. Startled by its unexpected depth and intensity, the Tlach stumbled slightly before recovering his balance.

“A herdsman, you say you are? Are you sure?”

Ehomba’s tone was rock steady. “In the pastures a man must learn to stare down predators that threaten his herds and flocks. When one is used to doing that, locking eyes with another man-thing is never very intimidating.”

Something large and heavy was smashing its way through the grass toward them. In spite of himself, Ehomba turned to look in its direction. Boruba-Ban-Beylok sniffed expectantly.

“Now you will learn the folly of challenging a sangoma of the Tlach! Your death approaches. Prepare yourself, herdsman! And don’t say that I didn’t warn you.”

“They’re coming!” Leaping from his rock, an agitated but determined Simna took up a defensive position alongside the herdsman’s back, facing the green wall with his sword held firmly in both hands. “Whatever it is, is coming!”

The grass parted and a glowering brown face glared down at the three bipeds. A second facade, splotched with white, emerged nearby. Two flat-surfaced, sharp incisors protruded downward from the upper jaw, each longer than Simna ibn Sind’s body. Black convex eyes stared down at them while the upthrust ears were each as big as a good-sized steer. The fur that covered each animal was thick and silky, and the round, compact bodies traveled on gigantic, immensely powerful feet.

Ehomba stared back while a gargling sound emerged from the throat of the startled Simna. They were hares, the herdsman saw immediately.

Hares as big as elephants.


NEITHER MAN LAUGHED. EXPECTING SOMETHING TOOTHIER, they nonetheless did not lower their guard for a moment. A small hare could bite off a man’s finger, while a larger one like those that inhabited the Naumkib country could knock the wind out of a person with a single kick, or do real damage if such a blow struck a vulnerable area. Hares the impossible size of those they now confronted should be capable of biting a horse in half or kicking down a castle wall. Though not what was expected, they were no less potentially lethal.

Ehomba wondered at his own surprise. In a country of tree-high grass, what could be more natural than to encounter grass-eaters of equivalent size?

He was watching the triumphant sangoma carefully. He had not seen the little green man trace any arcane symbols in the air, nor had he been heard to enunciate any mysterious phrases. His voice had not been raised in alarm, nor had he uncorked a gourd or bottle of concentrated musk. Therefore the appearance of the titanic hares was most likely a consequence of their mere presence in the area, and a natural curiosity about the source of human conversation. The boastful sangoma might know their ways, but he had done nothing thus far to indicate that he commanded them.

Which did not make their present situation any less potentially perilous. With an admirable effort of will, Simna held his ground when his natural instinct was to run for cover among the rocks behind them. That, Ehomba suspected, was what Boruba-Ban-Beylok had intended to do the instant the hares made their initial appearance. With his small size and knowing the ways of the new arrivals as intimately as he surely did, he was doubtless counting on finding a place of safety long before the travelers did, leaving it to the hares to finish off the unbelievers.

Ehomba put up his sword. Using his spear as a walking stick, he marched straight toward the nearest of the immense leporids. Still holding his own weapon out in front of him, Simna made a grab for his tall friend—and missed. He did not follow.

“Etjole, are you crazy? They’ll bite off your arms—or your head! They’ll stomp you into the earth! Etjole!”

Ignoring the well-meaning swordsman’s warnings, Ehomba approached until he was within paw-length of the nearest hare. Glowering, it leaned toward him, both front paws extended. It could easily pin him to the ground, or pick him up and, with a single snap, bite off his face.

Now, it is said that there is no talk among hares, and that they reserve all such ability for their death throes, for as everyone knows, the scream of a dying hare is as piercing and soul-shattering a sound as exists in nature. But most men know nothing of the lives of such creatures, for they are familiar with them only as garden pests, or a possible dinner. Not so with Etjole Ehomba, and not by accident or chance.

The great ears inclined forward to listen to the softly speaking herdsman. With a single short hop that caused it to emerge entirely from the grass, its white-faced companion moved intimately close. Both enormous leporids remained quite still as Ehomba whispered to them. Only their whiskers and oversized nostrils moved, quivering without pause.

Boruba-Ban-Beylok was positively beside his diminutive green self. “What are you waiting for? Kill them! Kill them both! They are intruders, interlopers, blasphemers! Tear them to pieces, crush their bodies beneath your great feet! Take them up and hurl them—”

He broke off as the point of Simna ibn Sind’s sword replaced that of Etjole Ehomba at the front of the sangoma’s green-skinned throat. The stocky swordsman was grinning nastily. “Here now, bruther, that’s about enough noise-making out of you, don’t you think?” He glanced significantly in the direction of the soft-voiced conversation that was now taking place between prodigious hares and easygoing herdsman. “We wouldn’t want to interrupt a friendly chat between man and beast, now, would we?”

Ignoring the presence of the sword as much as it was possible to do so, a goggle-eyed Boruba-Ban-Beylok gawked at the unreasonable trio, the two huge hare heads bent close to the tall intruder so as not to miss a single word of his gentle discourse.

“No—it’s impossible! No man may talk with the great grass-eaters! Such a thing cannot be!”

As time continued to pass without the immense herbivores attacking, Simna grew increasingly at ease. “You have eyes, don’t you, wise man? Tiny, beady, nasty eyes, but eyes nonetheless. Believe it: It is happening.” He nodded in the direction of the most unlikely conversation. “My country friend there may sometimes smell of cattle piss and sheep droppings, but he is just full of surprises.”

“This can’t be happening.” Moaning, the distraught sangoma dropped to his knees.

Moments later Ehomba broke off the talk and rejoined the other two. Behind him the great hares waited, following his progress with their bottomless eyes, noses twitching, whiskers as long as a man’s leg quivering. The white-faced one turned away and began to gnaw at the nearest grass stalk. The green span disappeared into the oversized, mechanically grinding mouth as neatly as a log into the maw of a sawmill.

Fully aware that his life was on the line, Boruba-Ban-Beylok gazed up at the solemn-faced herdsman. “Don’t kill me, warlock of an unknown land! Please don’t! My people need me. They rely on my knowledge and skills to help them survive in the grass. Without me they will panic and perish.”

“I doubt that,” Ehomba replied. “I have no doubt that you are a person of importance among your tribe, and master of some small competencies. But I think they would manage to find another to take your place.”

“Too right, bruther.” Nodding agreement and smiling wickedly, Simna shoved the point of his sword more firmly against the green man’s neck.

“However,” Ehomba went on even as he rested his free hand on the swordsman’s arm, “I will kill another only to defend myself, and that is no longer necessary.”

“Awww.” Openly disappointed, Simna reluctantly drew back his blade. The air went out of Boruba-Ban-Beylok. Then he rose and gestured in the direction of the hares, who were both now munching contentedly on the towering grass, indifferent to the small drama being played out in their vicinity.

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Categories: Alan Dean Foster