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”
By R. Peterson
Pangaea …around three-hundred and eighty-million, six-hundred and thirty-two thousand, four-hundred and nineteen sunrises ago …
Bright Eyes sat in a darkened corner of the family’s cave and watched as New Leaf, Under Rocks and five other young females dragged three dead aspen trees through the opening in the granite cliff. The wind was blowing from the north and already the frozen white flowers had fallen from the sky. Food for the sacred pit was becoming harder to find. He broke several branches from one tree and sniffed them as the females paid their respects to Keisha, the oldest female in the troupe. The wood must be dry without any trace of moisture or the Fire God would be angry and leave them.
Under Rocks fed Keisha fruit from a rabbit-skin bag tied around her neck with woven-grass fibers. Keisha raised her twisted fingers and shook her head as Under Rocks thrust another dried berry toward her mouth. She pointed to Bo the eldest male lying under a pile of firs next to several wooden racks holding drying fish. He had been sick for days and would need the black fruit now that most of his teeth were missing.
Bright Eyes broke several twigs from one branch and slowly placed them on the tiny flames. You were gone for many nights, he signed to New Leaf holding up five fingers. He had been planning to ask if they might mate.
Krug’s females have gathered every piece of dry wood within two days fast walking New Leaf told him and the others with grunts and motions. We saw a pile almost as large as a mountain beside their lodge.
Bright Eyes could not understand why some families took so much of everything. There was plenty of wood, fish and berries for all if only they did not take more than they needed.
Light on Water placed a bundle of long tapered leaves tied with a leather string at Keisha’s feet. The aging Spirit Talker had been showing the young female how to find various herbs and the correct way to crush and use them for healing. Keisha smiled and made the sign for good, patting her stomach. Light on Water bounced back to her place by the fire with her eyes twinkling.
Bo sat up in the pile of skins and allowed Under Rocks to feed him seven of the berries before he motioned no more. The six full moons of cold was beginning early, the family unit would need all the food they could store to survive until the warm weather came again.
The cave filled with excited sounds and signing as Moab and four other hunters returned carrying two Bouquetin lashed to poles. Every part of the large mountain goats would be used: the hide for clothing, the meat for food and the bones and horns for tools. The hunters placed the animals before Bo, seeking his approval. “How did you kill creatures so large?” Bo asked them with grunts and gestures. He knew the young males hunted mostly tiny animals with rocks, and sharpened sticks. It took at least four grown males to bring down something this big.
“The spirits shook the mountain and these were injured by falling rocks,” Moab gestured. “We were spearing fish nearby and heard their cries.”
Bo smiled at their good fortune as the females began to skin one of the animals with flint knives and cut the meat into strips for drying. He motioned to Bright Eyes. “Take this other goat to the lodge of Krug as a gift and ask if they will share their wood.”
Bright Eyes was skeptical, he had always found Krug and his clan selfish in all their dealings, but he had great respect for Bo and would do as the leader asked. He motioned to two young hunters, Adak and Moab, after he placed more twigs on the fire. “Help me to carry this. If we hurry we can be back before dark.”
Bo rose from his furs and crawled across to the fire. He would tend to the flames while they were gone. He absently fingered the two iron-pyrite rich stones hanging from a thong around his neck. The rocks were his most valuable possession. The fire must not be allowed to become hungry. If it did, the deity might leave the family and an elaborate ritual of striking the stones would have to be made to get the spirit to return.
The Krug family lodge was on the opposite side of the water-cut ravine, a low-ceiling area under several huge slabs of fallen stone. A mountain of firewood had been piled to block wind from the south and west sides. Krug and three males appeared with sharpened sticks when Bright Eyes and the two young hunters waded across the stream packing the goat carcass.
“The clan of Bo offers this animal and two rabbits each moon in exchange for enough of your fire food to last through the winter,” Bright Eyes signed. He gestured toward the mountainous piles of wood. “There is enough wood in your pile to support both families through the coming cold.”
“Bo offers what is not his!’ Krug stomped his feet on the ground and showed his teeth. “The goats, the rabbits and the fish all belong to us. You are not wanted here!”
The three males with Krug licked their lips as they gazed at the goat’s carcass. There was enough meat on the animal, when dried, to feed the family for ten days, and the horns and bones would make dozens of tools and weapons. Krug could see the other males patting their stomachs the sign that they wanted the animal. They began to spread out trying to surround the enemies.
Adak and Moab dropped the carcass and picked up river rocks. Bright Eyes removed the heavy branch the animal had been lashed to and held it in one muscled arm above his head.
Krug motioned for his males to stop when Bright Eyes and the two males refused to retreat. He could feel the young eyes on him and he knew the heavy branch and the rocks could do great damage. Even a small injury could make surviving the winter very difficult. After a moment, he gestured toward the goat and then toward the piled wood. “Yes,” he signed. “The Clan of Krug will always share with its neighbors.”
Bright Eyes, Adak and Moab were relieved that there would be no fight. They left the animal for Krug and the others and filled their arms with the precious wood. New Leaf and the other female members of the clan would return tomorrow to get the rest.
There was much feasting and telling stories in the Cave of Bo that night. There was almost enough dried meat and fish to get the family through the winter and a supply of firewood had been secured. Bo, even though sick, told the story about how Mawka had saved the family from a lion many seasons before. Bright Eyes went to sleep very late and contented. He had seen the look of admiration in New Leaf’s eyes for securing the wood supply. Before one more winter Bo would give leadership of the family to him … and then he would choose his mate.
Bo was shaking him awake. “It is late,” Bo signed. “Something is wrong!”
Bright Eyes looked around the cave. All the females, including New Leaf, were missing. “Keisha went with them to gather the traded-for wood. Perhaps her injured leg makes them slow?”
Bo shook his head and pointed outside the cave entrance to the clouded sun high in the sky. It was snowing. “They should have returned many times with the fire food.”
It took Bo much shaking to awaken the young males. They were all tired and they had eaten much. “Half of our family is missing,” he told them. “They must be in trouble.”
Bright Eyes, Moab, Adak and two younger males were all ready to leave when the females appeared at the cave entrance. New Leaf and Under Rocks dragged an unconscious Keisha. All of them were bleeding. “When we tried to take the fire food they threw stones,” Under Rocks signed. “One of the females jabbed Keisha with a stick when she stumbled.”
“Krug agreed to the trade,” Bright Eyes marveled. “How could this have happened?”
“The Clan of Krug asked that we join them,” New Leaf said. “Krug already has two mates, but he wants more. He says that we will all die without his fire!”
Moab stomped the ground and began to pick up rocks. “We gave the goat for the wood!” he growled.
Bo stopped him and the others before they could leave the cave. “They are more than us and we still do not have food for the fire,” he said. “We must deal with Krug at another time.” He pointed to where the snow was beginning to fall even faster. “Everyone, even the males must travel to where the wood is and bring back all they can.”
Bright Eyes looked at the falling snow and he knew they were desperate. “Who will look after you?” he signed.
“Keisha will when she awakens from her sleep as she always has,” Bo explained. “Until then, I will look after her … and also feed the fire.”
Bright Eyes looked at the meager supply of wood, with only two to keep warm it would last for several days and there was plenty of food. “We will be back on the fourth sunrise!” He showed all the fingers on one hand. “This is my promise.”
An inch of snow lay on the ground with large flakes still falling. The entire family assembled for the journey including children. Two very young males not over five years in age struggled to be first in line. Loos, the son of New Leaf shoved Under Rocks’ son Gom and he knocked over a stiffening Ibex skin drying on a wooden frame. Gom held on tightly and cried out as the rack with him on it slid down a small hill.
Moab was angry with the two boys and threatened to make them stay behind, but Bright Eyes had a better idea. “Have each boy carry a bison hide and as many leather cords as they can manage. “But how will they return with food for the fire?” Moab grumbled.
“You will see,” Bright Eyes told him.
The snow was two inches deep as they found shelter under a large fallen tree the first night; all the smaller branches had been stripped away by Krug’s family. All that remained were a few twigs. Bright Eyes would have liked a fire, but the magic stones for making the flames appear were still around Bo’s neck. Besides, it sometimes took days to make a tiny flame appear. When he became leader of the clan he would make acquiring more of the precious rocks a top priority. They draped the skins the boys had brought around two sides of the fallen tree and made a crude shelter to keep out the wind. They huddled together for warmth.
“Tell us the story of Mawka and the lion,” Adak begged.
Bright Eyes moaned and pretended to be asleep until all of the voices under the furs were pleading and poking him. The wind was suddenly calm and large snowflakes drifting toward the ground seemed to be waiting for his voice. Bright Eyes tried to hide his smile.
“The lion was huge and ferocious with teeth as long as a man’s arm … its name was Cruzime …” Bright Eyes began.
Bo’s family moved out at first light. By mid-morning, the sky was clear and bright. Sunlight on the fresh snow made the entire family squint and rub their eyes. They were going blind. Bright Eyes stopped and asked New Leaf and Under Rocks to cut long strips from the dark parts of the Ibex hides with a horizontal cut in the center of each. He helped each family member fasten them to their faces so that only the tiny slit crossed the center of the eyes … and they continued their journey.
It was almost dark when they reached the place where the wood had not been gathered. Ancient tree limbs lay twisted and scattered across the ground next to a long deep ravine that looked as of a mountain sized stone had been hurtled from the sky by an angry God and gouged out a trench.
Bright Eyes had the boys spread the Ibex hides out on the snow and directed the females to sew them together with leather strips. He secured two limbless branches on each side making a crude travois. “Pile the wood pieces on the skins,’ he signed to the family. He struggled to make the others understand his flash of inspiration. “We will travel at night and in the early morning when the frozen ground should make the heavy load slide easily.”
By the end of the second day they had an enormous amount of wood on the skins, more than their group could have carried in three trips. Moab looked at the huge pile and shook his head. “Too much,” he grunted.
It took all the family members pushing and pulling on the poles to get the load to budge. Once it began to move it slid across the snow easily. They were near the end of the long trench when they stopped to rest. It was New Leaf who spotted the glittering rock reflecting the last rays of daylight. “A light has fallen from the sky,’ she signed. Bright eyes left the others and went to investigate.
Something about the rock reminded Bright Eyes of Bo’s magic stones but the shiny parts glimmered in a different way. It was also very heavy … misleading for its size. It was almost as large as his head. He found an empty place in the wood piled on the skins and placed the strange object there.
The family members complained that they were tired and wanted to rest for the night. An unknown anxiety kept Bright Eyes moving. It wasn’t until long after the sun rose and the frozen ground began to get soft, making the pulling slow, that they stopped.
Bright Eyes walked over to look at the strange rock several times while the others slept. Something about the object made him want to return to the cave as soon as possible. Bo would want to see what he had found. As soon as the sun set low on the horizon and it began to get cold again they moved out.
The family began to make happy sounds as they neared the cave. Adak and Gom made chattering noises like squirrels. Something was wrong. The faint trail of smoke that escaped from the top of the cave was missing. Surely Bo had not let the Fire God go away hungry! The stones around the fire pit were in disarray. Cold black ashes rested where the flames had once burned. New leaf and Under Rocks shrieked when they found Keisha buried under the snow just outside the cave entrance. Dried blood covered the outside of her frozen skull.
Bright Eyes searched a low ceiling passage at the back of the cave before he found Bo. Chunks of ochre, carbon and calcite littered the ground where the family patriarch had been drawing magic symbols on the walls. At first Bright Eyes thought Bo must have lay down on a large chunk of the red mineral, crushing it as he went to sleep. When he looked closer he discovered it was blood. The oldest member of the family was as cold as the ground below him.
Moab approached with angry grunts. The racks of dried fish and other meat were all gone. Everything in the cave that had any value, including the spears and firs were all missing. Bright Eyes looked at Bo’s too pale chest. Red marks still showed where the magic fire stones had been torn from around his throat.
Bright Eyes staggered in a kind of sleepy daze as Moab led him to the cave entrance. The entire family was screaming in fear and despair. No group of people could survive the harsh winter without food and fire. What kind of animals could do such a thing?
“This was not animals!” Moab showed Bright Eyes a large group of human prints partially buried under the snow along with tiny scraps of dried fish. Bo and Keisha’s killers had feasted as they traveled with their pilfered treasure. The tracks led across the frozen river to the lodge of Krug.
To be continued ..;.