“That one there,” the grenz points over the thatch roofs of the houses, towards the western sky, just above the setting sun, “Do you see it?”
The rain has finally stopped, for a few hours at least, and the sky is clearing as the sun sets. The girl follows the line of the thin green finger, squinting her eyes against the orange glare of the vanishing sun. She sees nothing at first, but the sun is sinking, the light is fading, and soon enough the stars begin to emerge. The old one is pointing at a small red spot. She knows this one.
“A sailor told me that one’s called the Eye of Andus,” the girl says smiling.
The storyteller sniffs. “Sailors can call it what they like. That’s Ayla’s star. She put it there after all. Andus is behind it. See the bull in the stars there?” he shifts his finger down slightly, just above the horizon. The girl squints again, but even though she can see the stars, she can’t see the bull. She can never see the pictures in the stars. People spoke of great heroes and beasts and beautiful princesses being immortalized in the stars, but she could never pick out the right points.
“Well, all the same, that’s Andus,” the Grenz says as he lights his pipe with candle he brought outside. “He’s been there chasing Ayla across the sky for half a century now. He may chase her forever, but who can say?”
The girl squints harder, trying her hardest to see the bull, she thinks she can see the horns…maybe.
“Why is he chasing her? What happened?”
The old grenz considers the question, puffing on his pipe, “Well…it is skipping ahead a bit in Ayla’s tale, but it ruins nothing to know this story now. I will tell you of Ayla and the Bull of Narine.”
Long ago, in the land of Narine, a young woman loved by the heavens was walking through the forests of that land. No one knows precisely who she was, but the story goes that on that day, by chance or some cruel design, she found herself in the den of a wicked troll. The monster roared and bellowed, and thought to make a meal of the girl. She cried out for help, but she was too deep into the woods to be heard.
Except by a passing bull aurochs.
This was Andus, the greatest bull in all Narine, and he heard the lady’s cry for help. He rushed through the trees, leaping out to attack the troll. They wrestled and fought, but a bull of any size, even an aurochs as great as Andus, is no match for the hellish strength of a hungry troll. The troll tore at Andus with cruel claws and wicked teeth.
The girl prayed for a miracle, to let the bull kill the troll and save them both, and this was a young woman much loved by the gods. They blessed the bull and gave him skin harder than any metal under the sky, and the fortitude to survive any wound besides. The troll’s claws cracked and blunted against the hide of Andus, and the bull finally gored the monster. The girl was thankful, and she kissed the bull upon the head, and praised his bravery. She then departed, and I fear I know no more of her story.
Of Andus though, it is known that he left the forest and returned to the fields, for he lived in the commons of Narine.
It is known also that a farmer, with more courage than sense, sought to yoke this greatest and strongest of aurochs, to work his fields and perhaps breed to his own stock.
Andus was enraged. He was a hero afterall. He had slain a troll, saved a maiden, and been blessed by the gods. He would not yield to the farmer’s yoke, and when the farmer persisted, Andus trampled him beneath his hooves.
The farmer’s clan sought vengeance upon Andus, but those who were not trampled like the farmer before them were gored upon the aurochs horns.
Word spread to the local lords that there was a killer bull roaming the commons, and they dispatched their household guards to deal with him. Though armed with strong steel, their weapons could no more pierce the hide of Andus than the claws of the troll. Those who did not flee, met the same end as the farmer and his kin.
The lords appealed to the King of Narine for help, and though he sent many great champions to fight the bull, and called upon powerful wizards to slay it with their art, Andus remained. Be it metal or magic, there was simply no weapon that could slay the Bull of Narine.
And this is where Ayla entered the story. Though Narine is far from the Witch-Haven as the crow flies, the Witch-Haven has many borders that cannot be drawn upon a map, and it is across one of these strange borders that Ayla crossed, in search of food and supply for her journey.
She came upon a land living in fear of a monstrous bull.
You see, Andus had grown more furious and wild with each attempt on his life, and he would not suffer any living thing to crossed his path without attacking.
Ayla listened to the woes of the people of Narine and she wished to help, for she was reminded of the hopelessness that had befallen her own land when the Wandering Wood threatened them.
She resolved to defeat this bull, but how to do so? She had great faith in her green hammer over common steel, but this foe could not be killed by even a weapon as great as that. Still she resolved to try.
So she ventured out into the commons, and she found Andus stalking furiously from field to field, trampling anyone and anything he could find.
Ayla called out to him.
“Bull, what madness has overtaken you? You have run off the people, killed many of them, why can you not leave them be?”
Andus roared with hideous rage, “It is they who would not leave me be! I am Andus, greatest of my kind, and blessed by gods, and yet they sought to enslave me, then to kill me! I will slay any human I find for this offense! You as well, child, if you do not flee quickly!”
But Ayla put herself in his path and would not move.
“That I cannot do. I cannot deny you have been wronged, but if you carry on this way the innocent will suffer. If it is within my power, I will stop you.”
Ayla spun, red cloak a spinning blur as she brought the hammer down. Again and again Andus tried to run her through with his black horns, but each time Ayla spun and denied him. Ayla struck him each time, trying to find some weakness in the divine protection of the bull, but she could find none. They fought like this for hours and hours. Ayla’s hands ached from the weight of her hammer, he legs cramped from the constant motion of the dodge, even her eyes were growing tired. Andus never tired though, and he pressed his advantage as Ayla slowed.
Each charge was dodged more and more narrowly, until there was a mighty ripping sound. Andus had caught a corner of Ayla’s cloak with his horns, and had torn it.
Ayla knew the fight would not be much longer. She was tiring, Andus was not, and she could not harm him.
She thought quickly, while redoubling her efforts to dodge. She let out a whistle. It was not a normal whistle though, it was a secret whistle known only to a few who are good friends to the ravens and their queen, and when two of the birds appeared Ayla made a run for a nearby thicket, zigging and zagging all the way so as not to be caught by the pursuing bull. Once beneath the trees, she hid herself beneath a fir tree, where Andus passed her without realizing.
“Ayla, Green Hammer, Wizard’s Bane, Raven Friend, what monster attacks you here?” the ravens croaked quietly.
“The Bull of Narine. I have fought him all day and he does not tire, and though I have struck him a hundred times he does not feel pain,” she explained, “I have a plan to defeat him but I will require your aid. Are you the fastest of the Raven Queen’s birds?”
“You will find none faster.”
“Good. You must need be fast for this task.”
Ayla reached into her pack, pulling out a bolt of red cloth she had acquired to patch her cloak, and giving it to the ravens, she stepped out from under the fir tree and called to Andus.
“Our fight is not over, great bull. Come, let us finish it.”
Andus roared and charged forward. Ayla summoned all the strength she could and dodged with a flourish of her cloak. Andus turned to face her once more, and Ayla brought the hammer down between the bull’s eyes, laughing giddily at him.
“I will tell you this: you will not tear my cloak again.”
Andus was beyond words, so deep was his rage, and he reared and bellowed and brought his hooves down at Ayla’s head. His hooves hit nothing, and when he looked Ayla was not before him. Roaring he wheeled and looked all about him to see where she gone, and off between the trees, he could see her red cloak, fleeing into the woods.
Andus gave chase, but knowing that the human girl would tire and slow and he would finally kill her.
But Ayla was not beneath that red cloak. It was carried by the two ravens who answered Ayla’s call.
They lead Andus through the wood, over hills and rivers and roads, until finally they lead Andus right off the edge of the world. And so there he is, stuck in the stars, chasing a red cloak he thinks is Ayla until the end of time.
The old grenz takes another draw on his pipe, gesturing to the stars again, “In Narine, they speak of a day when Andus will realize his mistake and come crashing back to the earth to menace mortals once more, but for now, he continues his chase.”
“Are the ravens still up there? In the cloak I mean,” the girl asks.
The grenz pauses, then blinks, “You know, little one, I hadn’t thought about it. I imagine they figured out a way back. Ravens are full of little tricks like that.”
The girls kicks a bit of drying mud, “It’s sad about Andus.”
“Yes it is, little one,” the grenz agrees.
“He saved somebody, then fought back when somebody tried to attack him. It doesn’t seem fair.”
“Things rarely are,” the grenz sighs, knocking his pipe upon his boot, scattering the spent tobacco, “Come now, I will tell more of Ayla’s tale inside. I have a keep to earn by that fireplace after all.”