Copyright (c) 2016 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
Part 4 … “To Kill for Fire” … continued
By R. Peterson
Pangaea …around three-hundred and eighty-million, six-hundred and thirty-two thousand, four-hundred and thirteen sunrises ago …
Bright Eyes staggered away from the cave in a daze. The sorrow and the memories would not go away. He wandered next to the frozen stream where Bo had taught him and the other hunters how to spear fish with sharpened sticks. The family patriarch had taught patience. Do not chase the fish Bo had instructed with grunts and gestures … make them believe you are a source of food rather than a hungry hunter. Bo had dug into the stream bank and gathered tiny wiggling creatures from the soft soil. Facing the sun, so no shadow would be cast on the water, the worms were scattered on the surface of a deep pool. Bo had stood motionless as a tree trunk with the sharpened stick raised over his head. You must be quiet and still enough to feel the beating of your own heart he had told them. Notice how fast the fish swims and where it goes. When you see the eyes of the fish, jab at the place where it will be on your next heartbeat or you will miss.
Bright Eyes remembered the racks of drying fish at the back of the cave, now all gone. Bo had been a great leader.
Twisted willow-frames lay next to the stream, their drying hides missing. Broken sticks and scraps of leather were all that remained in the area where the clan females spent so much of their time. Bright Eyes remembered sitting next to Keisha as she scraped fat from the skins with a chunk of jagged flint. He often begged her to tell him stories about the legendary Mawka. The old woman had seen the spirit of all things moving on the surface of water when Bright Eyes had not been much older than a baby. She had insisted that whenever the family moved to a new location that they remain motionless with their eyes closed next to the water until she obtained approval from the Gods. Who would gather herbs and be the clan healer now that the family leaders had gone to join the spirits? Bright Eyes knew that Keisha had been teaching Light on Water all that she knew, but he didn’t know if the young female was experienced enough to take on such an awesome responsibility. He shook his head and moaned. It didn’t really matter. Without weapons, food and fire the family could not survive more than a few days.
When Bright Eyes returned to the cave he found all the younger hunters picking up rocks from under the snow and preparing to attack Krug’s lodge. “They have taken our food and our fire,” Moab signed. “This means war!”
“We must have a supply of food before we go into battle,” Bright Eyes told them. “If we are injured in a fight we will never survive!”
“When we go to hunt meat, they will steal all of our wood again!” Moab grunted.
“Two of us will go on the hunt, the others will stay here and gather a large supply of rocks,” Bright Eyes signed. “If Krug or any of his lodge approaches the cave, fight them off.”
Noting that Moab was the last to drop his rocks, Bright Eyes picked him for the hunt. The young male might have agitated the others to attack without preparation. “We will return with meat in the morning,” Bright Eyes told the members of his cave. “Huddle together under the skins we used to carry the wood and you shall keep warm. We will have food and fire … this is my promise.”
The snow was falling even faster as Bright Eyes and Moab left the cave armed only with a sharpened stick and a club.
Game was very hard to find. Bright Eyes startled a rabbit from a snow covered thicket, after they had traveled for over an hour, but it was too fast and Moab missed it with his spear. A cold wind came from the north and blew the freezing snow into their faces and quickly covered their tracks. Bright Eyes decided to follow the river bank. If they were successful and obtained meat, all would be for nothing if they couldn’t find their way back to the cave.
The wind was now howling like an angry animal. The snow was blowing past them so ferociously even if an Ibex stood right before them they wouldn’t be able to see it. “We must find a place to wait out the storm,” Bright Eyes signed to Moab.
A long hour later, during a lull in the wind, Moab spied a clump of shaggy brown fur vanishing into the stream bank. The opening, although long, was only large enough to crawl into and Moab screamed when they came to a much larger chamber and a ground sloth lunged at his face. Only a hint of light entered the cave and Bright Eyes missed several times, hitting Moab more than once, before his flailing club and the young hunter’s thrusting spear, finally brought the biting and tearing monster down.
Bright Eyes and Moab collapsed trying to catch their breath; their own blood mixing with the sloth’s on the floor of the den.
“The first time your club struck me I thought perhaps you wanted to eat me,” Moab whispered to Bright Eyes with a grin that was missing a tooth. “The second time, I was almost sure.”
Bright Eyes smiled. They were both happy as they cut the fresh meat into tiny pieces and felt the still-warm blood sting their frozen lips. They were tired but they ate … then they ate again.
“There is not enough here to feed everyone, but we will return with what we can,” Bright Eyes said as he wrapped what was left of the meat in the skin and placed it outside the burrow.
They huddled together in silence as the storm thickened and finally the last light vanished. Only the howling of the endless wind outside kept them company … and then it too was still. Time is but the movement of light and in darkness it does not exist. They must have slept … for when they woke-up the world had changed.
Water dripped from the roof of the den and ran across Bright Eyes’ nose; he sat- up and sniffed. The air felt warm. Only a faint glow of light showed where the buried entrance to the burrow was. He shook Moab to wake him and they slowly dug their way out.
The frigid wind that had blasted from the north before their long sleep now gusted from the south cautious and warming. The center of the fast moving stream had thawed in spots and Bright Eyes noticed the pointy heads of hungry fish as they broke the surface in a small hole and sought food. He dug through the snow and found the package of meat wrapped in the sloth’s own skin. Bright Eyes broke the flesh into tiny pieces and scattered them across the hole in the ice as Moab held his spear ready.
The scattered meat caused a feeding frenzy. Each thrust of Moab’s spear brought up one fish, sometimes two. By nightfall the stream bank was littered with fish. Bright Eyes stripped the twig ends from a supple willow branch and threaded it through several dozen gills. It was all they could do to drag the load as they headed back to the cave by the light of the moon.
The cave was too quiet. Bright Eyes could only think about when they returned with the wood and found Bo and Keisha both dead. They had only been gone for a few days … or had they? Surely the clan would still be alive! The wood that they had collected was still piled by the cave entrance and Bright Eyes noticed the strange rock he had brought back still hidden in the pile.
Moab came from the cave a moment later. “Empty,” he signed. “Everyone has left!”
Bright Eyes did not understand. “Where could they have gone?”
Moab pointed to movement on the far side of the wide frozen stream. Krug’s camp had doubled in size. Bright Eyes thought he could see New Leaf and Under Rocks among the females breaking and carrying firewood.
With a roar of rage Moab started across the frozen ice. Bright Eyes chased after and caught up with him at almost the center. “There is no sign of struggle in the cave. Our people chose to join with Krug,” he signed. “Maybe we should join the Krug clan too.”
“To be slaves?” Moab pushed Bright Eyes away and gestured to the familiar family members now doing all the hard work while Krug’s people sat by the fire and ate. “Some things are worse than death.”
Bright Eyes could not stop him. He threw his arms in the air and called after him. “There are too many … come back!”
Moab was across the ice when Krug and two other males approached with their hands raised in greeting. Moab ignored their welcome pushing past as he moved toward the lodge. Bright Eyes heard him call out to New Leaf as he climbed the bank. They had always been friends. Bright Eyes looked but could see none of the young males from his camp.
Suddenly Krug and the two others rushed Moab from behind. He turned and fought the three larger males with a strength far beyond his size but when his spear became tangled in four grasping arms; Krug thrust his own spear into the young hunter’s side.
Bright Eyes saw New Leaf scream and drop the load of sticks she was carrying just as a bloodied Moab crumpled to the ground. Krug and the two males hurtled stones at the writhing male until he stopped moving. The members of Krug’s camp were crying in terror and confusion until he held his spear high in the air and silenced them.
Krug swaggered to the edge of the ice and called in a loud voice while staring directly at Bright Eyes. “You are welcome to join our clan!” He held his spear high in victory and laughed. “You will receive the same welcome as your young hunters.” Krug gestured to a pile of bloody human bones being fed-on by carrion.
Bright Eyes was gripped by a fear and loneliness so great his legs refused to support him. How could the Gods of his fore-fathers have let everything turn out so badly? He heard the ice crack as he fell to his knees. The spirit that Mawka had seen floating on the surface of the water must be far below, trapped by the solid ice. There would be no glimmer of help from the Gods. A memory of Bo jumping from a tree to challenge Buel the Alpha Male of Mawka’s family with a broken tree branch stuck to his hand made Bright Eyes smile even as the end approached. If this was to be his last day before he entered the spirit world he would make Bo and the other spirits proud. He slowly rose to his feet and issued a challenge making his voice loud enough for Krug’s entire lodge to hear.
Krug and the two males laughed as they danced on the bank. Krug’s entire clan came to the frozen river to watch. “Come and receive your welcome!” Krug called in a loud voice waving his spear in the air.
Bright Eyes slammed his club onto the ice. “I challenge you Krug!” he yelled. “I challenge you to fight me alone!”
Krug was at least twice the size of Bright Eyes, but still he hesitated, some instinct warned him of danger. “Drop your club and cross the river and we will allow you to work for food scraps!”
Bright Eyes beat his club on the ice again. “I will not die a slave,” he said. “Does Krug fear to fight me alone?”
Krug’s entire clan, including the females from Bright Eyes’ cave, began to murmur as they looked at their leader. A challenge to an alpha male was instinctively passed down for thousands of generations … time could not easily put it aside. Krug started across the ice and then paused … he turned and gestured toward the two males from his camp. They joined him with whoops and yells as they advanced across the ice with their sharpened points aimed directly at Bright Eyes.
Krug’s spears were twice as long as Bright Eyes’ reach with his club. There would be no contest. Krug and the two others stayed in a tight group; there would be no way to fight them one at a time.
Bright Eyes beat the ice with his club again. If this was to be the end, let it be a fight that would be talked about around the fire for generations. Krug and the hunters were almost to the center of the frozen river. Bright Eyes could see the gleam of their teeth as they smiled.
Bright Eyes was not afraid. He was only sorry that he could not witness the glimmer of the spirit God as it moved on the face of the water. Mawka had said that it was what guided and gave purpose to all living things.
Krug and the others were near. They appeared much larger than Bright Eyes remembered as they crossed the ice. Krug began to thrust his spear forward with every step he took. The others did the same. Bright eyes took a step back and then another. Krug and his hunters laughed cruelly and quickened their pace to a run as their feet pounded on the ice.
Suddenly Bright Eyes stopped. Bo’s voice seemed to echo up from under the ice into his mind. It was the last thing the clan leader had ever said to him. I will look after my people … and also feed the fire.
“I trust you!” Bright Eyes said as he raised his club for the last time. “If only I could free your spirit from the cold!” He struck the ice with all the force he could muster. A group of blackbirds roosting in the trees took flight and their wings beating the warming air mixed with the sounds of the breaking ice.
With a crash like lightning striking a tree, a crack spread across the frozen river and then forked as it went around Krug and his charging hunters. One moment death was just ten steps away from Bright Eyes and then it vanished, replaced by an enormous plume of water and shattered ice.
Bright Eyes stared as the water slowly settled and became calm. The sun appeared from behind a cloud as the females went wide around the hole in the ice and approached him. New Leaf and Under Rocks bowed low on the ice as did all the female members of Krug’s clan. It was a sign of respect for their new leader.
The cave was large enough to hold all the members of the new family, but it was decided that this cave would be used for sacred purposes only . Bright Eyes helped to transfer the fire across the river at a shallow spot a half mile upstream. Once the main fire pit was burning brightly, Bright Eyes ventured into the back of the cave to the special place where Bo had painted designs on the cave walls. Bo’s last drawing was a dark human figure holding a round object toward the stars.
A crack on one side of a small chamber and a recessed hollow in the rock made an ideal spot for fire and a place for smoke to escape. It was a sacred spot spoken of always in hushed and reverent tones. Bo had created fire here many times and had always offered wood and flesh to the flames after a hunt and while he painted his symbols. The offering must turn to ash and the dust given to the wind. Bright Eyes knew he must offer a sacrifice for the safe return of his clan. This time meat and wood did not seem good enough. He considered offering spears and other weapons but that too did not seem enough.
New Leaf approached carrying the strange rock that had been found at the end of the gouged out place in the earth. “I thought you might want to keep this safe,” she said as she placed it at his feet. “We found it in the pile. A light that falls from the sky must be very special.”
Bright Eyes picked up the shiny rock. It was even heavier than he remembered. He closed his eyes and waited patiently for a sign. He was sure that the spirits would direct him.
Light on Water spoke as she dropped a load of wood at Bright Eyes’ feet. “The fire must be very hot and burn for many days to turn that offering into ash,” she said pointing at the rock.
Bright Eyes nodded as he stood up walked across the chamber and placed the rock onto the recess in the stone into the Mouth of God.
Bright Eyes broke the dry wood into small pieces and fed the flames for two days. The surrounding stone walls became so hot he had to place a large stone in front of the fire to keep the heat from scorching his arms. A brisk wind rose from the river and swept across the cliff top outside and sucked air through the tiny openings and made the fire roar. There was plenty of wood. Bright Eyes was determined that the Gods would be placated as he fed small sticks through the cracks to the flames.
Each morning and each evening Bright Eyes moved the blistering hot stone cover and checked the rock that New Leaf had said came from the sky. He did not eat, only drinking small amounts of water … as he fed the flames and watched. On the fourth sunrise the rock began to glow dull orange. The next morning it glowed red … and in the evening … white.
Bright Eyes woke from a deep sleep; his ears still heard the dream sounds. Mawka was speaking to the spirits … thanking them for a gift. How long he had been in a slumber? He rushed to examine the fire. How could he have allowed the flames to go hungry? The last embers were almost gone, but so was the strange rock. A pool of silver colored liquid had ran from the Mouth of the Gods and cooled into a thin flat puddle on the sandy floor of the cave.
Bright Eyes poked the strange liquid with a stick but it seemed solid like ice … but not cold … and even harder than stone. Bright Eyes stared in awe. The God of Fire had accepted the rock from the sky and had given this strange substance in return. He lifted the flat piece of iron in his hand. It was still warm and new to the world … like a baby.
THE END ???