There once was a young gravelock who, due to a lack of creativity on the part of his parents, was named Gravey Locks. All his life he dreamed of taking his place amongst the clan’s most important members but by the time he was old enough to be eligible for the position he found that someone had taken his spot and that further applications were no longer being considered. This was a discouraging blow for an ambitious youngster like himself so it shouldn’t be surprising that he didn’t immediately consider his cause to be as lost as a less biased individual might have viewed it to be.
As anybody who knows their gravelock history can tell you, the leader of the tribe and runaway favorite to win the prize of “most eligible sniffer of the year”, was Uhu Longnose, founder of the longnose tribe. It was often said that if you wanted to be considered a true longnose you had to have one but, sadly, Gravey was a direct descendant of the less renowned Yuhu Shortsnout and he had inherited not only his ancestor’s regrettably downsized honker but a stature to match so it was clear that, from a purely physical standpoint, he would never be able to measure up to his peers.
However, never let it be said that gravelocks do not reward greatness in other forms. An impressive enough feat, regardless of the size of the individual who performed it, would allow that individual to hold his head up as high as he could manage—and it didn’t take much to impress a gravelock.
Take, for example, the case of Blurt, a warrior of the tribe who had become famous because, on one occasion, he’d gotten stepped on by a snargl and failed to be completely flattened. Now he sat—for standing was no longer an option—at the chief’s right side. Imagine, then, if he had actually slain the snargl. His popularity would have known no bounds!
This and similar thoughts floated through Gravey’s head as he considered his future. Certainly a battle with a snargl would get him noticed but he intended to go one better. If you want to make a real impression, he reasoned, there’s a lot to be said for exoticism. It was with this in mind that he decided to bring back the head of a striped fangbear.
Gravey Locks departed one fine morning for the forests of Khaile where he hoped and confidently expected to encounter the fearsome beast, known for its hatred of humans and its love of crunching on their bones. If anything were to bring Gravey the fame and fortune that he sought, the head of a fangbear would be it. Not that there was anything about heads particularly; as trophies go just about any identifiable morsel would do but a head is, of course, the traditionally accepted token of prowess.
He had taken great care with his appearance that morning—for a warrior should never underestimate the powerful effect of good grooming. He had polished his claws, sharpened his teeth, and even dragged a serrated bone through his tangled mess of hair the better to convince the lice that lived there to seek other lodgings. With these preparations made, he carefully selected from his wardrobe a jacket and a pair of trousers with plenty of holes for it is always best to look a little battle-damaged when returning triumphantly from one’s latest adventure. He hoped that these adjustments would make him look fierce and wicked not only for the benefit of his tribe but also for the bear because it is often said (with a certain amount of truth) that a nervous adversary is nearly as good as a dead one.
He walked for a time through the verdant underbrush, searching for the elusive prey but all he found was the occasional discarded bottle of Aescalonian Roasted Bean brand potion (now with an all-new recipe). Unfortunately, most of them were nearly empty but he managed to lap up a few refreshing drops from bottle. It made him feel jittery and a little irritable but it put a bounce in his step nonetheless. Just as Gravey was starting to feel hungry and a little annoyed that the forest’s litterers had not been considerate enough to throw away anything more substantial, he reached the motherload. The trees cleared away into a veritable dumping ground of old bottles, battered helmets, used socks, more-than-usually-used undergarments and various other unidentifiable bits of cloth, glass and metal. And there, in the middle of it all, was his goal.
Truth be told, he was a little disappointed that it wasn’t bigger. He sighed in disappointment. He had been imaging something grand and towering with dangerous teeth that filled the heart with dread and the loins with moisture. Instead, what he found had large, puffy eyes and two jaunty ears that swayed about its head like reeds of grass. It did have a pair of very large fangs but it was currently employing them in the rapid deconstruction of a carrot and didn’t appear to have immediate plans to disembowel anything. Beside it lay the head of a fallen lettuce.
“This one is too small.” thought Gravey and the fact filled him with indescribable anger. Had he walked all this way to defeat a foe that was scarcely as big as his left foot? Had he so scrupulously groomed himself, going against centuries of gravelock tradition, only to have a creature the height of his shin somehow defy the laws of physics by looking down at him? No. He had his pride. He would find a bigger bear. He stormed off into the underbrush, barely taking the time to give the offending creature a petulant thump on the head.
He hadn’t walked far when he came to another clearing. This time, before he even arrived, a loud sound announced that he was not alone. Something large was making a huge racket and as he broke through the trees he saw what it was. A huge monster was rubbing its back vigorously against a tree, scraping the bark off as it did so and clearly obtaining considerable pleasure from the act. It had a rapturous expression on its face as though it knew that this was the life and that it was living it. After a few moments, a beehive fell to the ground and the creature leapt upon it with all fours, tore it open and began lapping up honey with ravenous delight. It was enough to make even the most cynical of hearts smile.
Gravey’s heart, however, did not smile. Instead it grinned maliciously. This, it thought, was a much worthier foe and his clenched fists twitched slightly to indicate that their opinion was more or less along the same lines.
But then Gravey noticed the creature’s claws and his heart began to revise its opinion. He considered its massive fangs and his fists also began to have second thoughts. He saw how the creature’s muscles rippled beneath its fur as its paw scooped another helping of honey into its mouth and his heart decided to relocate to his stomach while it continued to reflect on the situation. Finally, he made a quick mental calculation of its size relative to his own and his feet joined in on the discussion, shuffling backwards and demonstrating what they believed to be the best course of action.
Suddenly Gravey realized the value of clemency. This fangbear, he realized hopefully, meant him no harm so it would be a little unkind to just attack it out of the blue. True, the monster’s head was large enough that, if he were to bring it home, it would certainly gain him a considerable amount of fame but did he really need as much fame as all that? Too much of a good thing, he reminded himself, could be too much and it would certainly be possible to get famous with a far smaller head than that. One of his litter mates, for example, had become the toast of the burrows for nothing more than an unusual talent for making omelets and he had enjoyed his fame for a full month before someone pointed out that his recipe was just raw snargl egg. Far better, thought Gravey, to leave this creature alone.
“This one is too big.” he said—though quietly because the fangbear was now napping and he didn’t wish to disturb it. He silently backed away and headed further into the forest.
Eventually he came to yet another clearing and he was just starting to wonder about the fact that there seemed to be an awful lot of places with no woods in the woods when he noticed that, like the last one, this clearing was also occupied. Something was sleeping peacefully on a patch of grass and Gravey’s expert knowledge of Khaile’s wildlife immediately identified it as a fangbear. This one was a bit smaller than the last so Gravey’s heart began beating wildly with the hope of redeeming itself. His fists twitched expectantly.
This fangbear had sharp fangs and a long snout, much like the last, but it had a leaner physique and longer legs from what the young gravelock could see. On the other hand, its fur was tired and grey, patchy in parts and unkempt as though no hand or paw had bothered to groom it for some time. It was, in a word, mangy.
For some reason this bothered Gravey. He had been looking forward to conquering a noble beast. Not only did it sound better in the retelling but it was also much more presentable when you mounted it on your wall. His blood started to boil. To think that his adversary would have the gall to present itself to battle in this fashion. Did it have no self-respect? No honor? Had he come all this way just to come skulking back to his tribe with the pelt of some sad, depressed creature that had clearly given up on life? No! He was here to do battle with a beast of legend.
He could hold back his anger no longer. With a heart full of offended sensibilities and a fist full of whatever fists are usually full of, he marched up to the offending animal and gave it a great big thwack on the nose. It sat up suddenly with a confused expression on its face. For a moment it looked dazed and it seemed to be wondering what had hit it. Then it shook its head and looked down at Gravey and it was clear from the look in its eyes that it still considered the question to be unresolved. The two great warriors looked at each other in silence for a while. Then the fangbear threw back its head and howled.
Gravey staggered back in shock. He had read very little about fangbears—in fact, he had read very little in general—so he’d had no idea that fangbears actually howled. That was not the full extent of his lack of zoological knowledge, however, because at that instant many pairs of glowing, yellow eyes began appearing in the spaces between the trees all around him and he was acquainted with the surprising fact that fangbears travel in packs. One particularly large, white one near the back eyed him with a hungry gaze.
Gravey could sense a lost fight when he saw one (having been in quite a few) and this one certainly fell into that category. He turned and ran through the trees which shows that he had at least a little bit of combat sense. The sound of howling, charging beasts followed him for several miles but experience with running from those who had the upper hand had trained his endurance and he eventually got away. As he exited the trees of Khaile and entered into the more dusty trails that headed for home, he thought to himself that fame was overrated and that perhaps there might be a place for him as a polisher of the tribal skull shrine.