Newt, Fadestar, and Crackle had spent the night telling stories. It was Crackle's turn.
“All right,” she started, a glint in her eyes that promised something both strange and scary, and maybe not all together true. “We’ve told elf stories all night, and it’s getting dull. How about we move on to something more… exciting? I’ve never told you about Horn-Hand before, have I?” With that said, she began…
You know how One-Leg has a wooden leg, right? Well, humans sometimes lose limbs, too, you know. Once, there was a human with no hand. He traveled to our land on one of the large boats the humans had – he’d lost his hand to a great sea monster.
But the man was strong, and he lived longer than most humans do – and hunted better than any other Painted Faces living today. In fact, he was so good at everything he did, the humans looked up to him. Some were scared of him, though.
One day, he decided he would make a hand – a hooked horn-hand. So he climbed the steep mountain to the place where the hooked-horn goats were – not like the ones we have now, these were bigger, and meaner. The man was so strong that he wrestled one down all by himself. Before he slit its throat, the goat talked to him. It asked, “What are you going to do with me?”
The man told it that he would eat as much meat as he could, and that he would then take the horns and use one for a hand. The goat didn’t like the sound of the man using one of its horns for a hand. “You might use my horn against my family.”
The man laughed. “My horn-hand will become dull and old one day, so I will have to hunt again. I will take down another. For today, you are enough.”
The goat warned him, “If you use my horn against my family, then you will use it against yours, too.”
Laughing derisively, the man shook his head in disbelief, and then slit the neck of the goat. He took both of the hook-shaped horns. He planned to fashion them into hands. He would use one, and have another in case the first one wore out.
Many seasons passed. Horn-Hand, for that became his name, had gotten very used to his new hand. In some ways, he liked it even better than his real one. Then came the day when he had almost worn through the second horn – and he needed new ones.
There was a whole herd on the mountain, and Horn-Hand chose his prey. Before he killed the goat, the goat looked at him and said, “Remember what my cousin, the one whose horn you use for a hand, told you?”
Horn-Hand paid no mind to the goat and took its life, and its horns.
When Horn-Hand’s son was born to him and his mate, Horn-Hand was so happy. He reached out to hold his son, but accidentally stabbed the boy with his horn-hand. The baby bled so much that it died. His mate was so angry that she tore after him in grief and anger. He was shocked, but couldn’t help that he responded to defend himself. When he did, he accidentally stabbed her, too. There was no healer, so his mate died.
Horn-Hand was devastated. He built a home on the edges of the human tribe’s territory, near the water. He took long walks by the sea, and he rarely talked to his people. No one was angry with him, though – most felt it had been an accident.
Eventually, he met a woman who was not afraid of him and they mated. When she gave birth, though, he wouldn’t even hold his child. The girl grew up strong and courageous and one day asked him to take her out to see the land around their territory. He was nervous, but he took her.
They talked and talked. He told her of his earlier sadness, how he had accidentally killed his first child, and how he had killed his first mate. The girl was shocked. When they neared the mountain with the hook-horned goats, the girl pointed to them. “Is that where you got your hand?”
He nodded, then told her the story. She clapped her hands at it. “Father, don’t you see, that’s why the first baby died. The goat told you it would happen! And now that that baby died, the curse is lifted!”
Horn-Hand had never really thought about the curse of the goat, but his daughter’s explanation made sense. That was why he had killed his son. Tears spilled from his eyes as he finally understood what had happened. ‘Why didn’t I think of that before?’ he wondered.
The daughter again pointed out, “Father, since you killed only one of the goat’s relatives, and the horn has killed one of yours, then you are free. As long as you don’t kill another one of the goats, you won’t hurt anyone else!”
So excited was the daughter that she didn’t notice the frown on her father’s face as he considered whether she was right. He wasn’t sure. But he was too late to say anything, for the girl, who had never known her father’s embrace, threw herself at him.
Her face contorted in pain as he stabbed her in the gut. His eyes widened in shock and despair. There was no way to save his precious daughter’s life.
“Father – ” she gasped, and died in his arms.
Horn-Hand was devastated, angry, and grieving. He climbed the mountain and found the great hook-horned goats. It sounded to him that they were laughing at him. He was so angry that he started slaughtering them with no mind to eat them – only to end their lives, just as he had ended his children’s. He killed every last one, so that there are no more, and never will be.
When it was over, Horn-Hand miserably made his way back to his people, pulling the body of his daughter on a travois behind him. When he neared the gates, alone, the girl’s mother came rushing toward him. Tears were streaming down her face. “What happened?” she asked.
Horn-Hand tried to back away. He had killed so many of the goats, he knew what would happen if she neared him. But she wouldn’t stop. And so, she died, too.
Horn-Hand looked down at his bloodied mate, and back at the body of his daughter. He turned toward his people and called out, “Kill me, please! I have taken too many lives to live.”
But his Chief wouldn’t. Instead, he banished Horn-Hand to the forest. “Do not ever come near your people again.”
Horn-Hand stood, mouth open in disbelief that he had been allowed to live. No one would look at him after that, or speak to him. No one neared him. And he moved into the forest, never to be seen again. He tried to stay away from the others, but sometimes, a lone human would enter the forest – and wouldn’t return.
He's out there now - older, but still just as able. Sometimes, on nights when the moons are dark, Horn-Hand is nearby. If you go too close to him, you might feel him… First you’ll feel a poke in your back, and if you don’t run, the poke will grow sharper and sharper and –
“OW! Aaieee!” Crackle screamed, jumping and running to the other side of the clearing. Whirling around, she turned to face Notch, who was holding a stick and laughing at her.
“What?” he asked innocently. “Did Horn-Hand poke you in the back?”
“No…” she said warily. “Of course not. It was just a story!”
“Sure it was, Crackle. Sure it was,” he said, winking to Newt and Fadestar, whose eyes were wide and wondering.
And suddenly, Crackle wasn’t so sure.