12.The End of Summer.
Sitting on her lion skin rug outside of the hut that she shared with Dark, Shine played with her little brother, Lucky. The clan had named him ‘Lucky’ because he’d been lucky to have been born. Then he’d been lucky that his mother had left him high in a tree where the lions couldn’t get to him. His luck continued when his cries had helped One-Eye find him after his mother had been eaten; next he was lucky that Elm still had milk and was willing to feed and look after him. Lastly he was lucky when his father’s new mate, Star, who already had two children by her dead mate, took him as one of her own.
Of course, Lucky wasn’t the only new child born to the clan since last winter; Elm had a little girl. The Wise Woman had admitted to Shine that she’d been relieved when the baby had come out looking more like her than the child’s father. Her ears weren’t pointed and she wasn’t particularly hairy and unlike Cub, she hadn’t grown sharp pointed teeth.
Chase had given birth to a healthy boy and as Elm had predicted she’d soon lost all the extra fat she’d built up during her pregnancy. Now she had a new baby to care for and she felt pretty again, Chase was a much nicer person to live with and the jokes about her quickly faded to nothing. Soon all the hunters were jealous that One-Eye could catch himself such a pretty mate.
Yes it had been a good summer in so many ways. The tribe had learnt to build huts and use the slings, Dark had taught them to make. The huts meant that there was somewhere to shelter from the summer rain and you didn’t get soaking wet while you tried to sleep. But the most important gift Dark had given the tribe was the sling. That simple thing of leather meant that even women and children could drive off predators. A hunter could break the leg of even the biggest bison with a single stone making it easier and safer to spear and kill. Hunters like Shine and Dark could kill with a single stone at ranges further than anyone could throw a spear even with a throwing stick. The sling had meant that more hunts were successful meaning more meat got back to the tribe. More meat meant there’d be more food over the cold winter months and fewer babies would die.
Looking up at the sun, Shine saw that it was nearly time for Dark and the other hunters to be coming home; they’d been away looking for the mammoths. It was that time of the year when the tribe would be heading south again to spend the winter in the valleys south of the mountains. It was also the time of the year that the mammoths started coming south to escape the harsh winters on the plains to the north. It was the custom since before anyone could remember to hunt the mammoth at the end of summer. The meat they got would last them until they got settled in their winter home.
Scooping up Lucky in her arms, Shine carried him over to his stepmother and father’s hut, Star was sitting outside the hut making a basket while she watched her other two boys play at hunting imaginary mammoths. With a smile she took the child from Shine’s arms.
“Has he been good?” Star asked as she put the baby to her breast.
“Of course,” Shine grinned thinking that next year she’d have her own baby…with luck. “He’s always good.”
“You’re right,” Star nodded her head, “he’s no trouble at all,” she nodded towards her own boys, “not like those two night-monsters.”
“Kids today, huh?” Shine shrugged before taking her leave of Star and heading back to her own hut.
Hearing a commotion on the other side of the camp, Shine ran down to the river to see the hunters approach from the other side. By the way they waved their weapons and cried out they’d found the mammoth herd and it was close by. Feeling like an over excited little girl, Shine ran back to her hut and crawled inside. Sitting in the dark, she frowned. Huts were good for keeping the weather off but they were dark inside and you couldn’t have a fire. You could leave the flap open to let out the smoke, but that let in the wind and the rain. Shine had thought about cutting a hole in the roof but that of course while letting out the smoke would let in the rain worse than leaving the flap open. However hard she thought about it she couldn’t think of a way to solve this puzzle.
However, in the mean time the dark of the hut would be her friend. Crouching near the flap hole, Shine waited for Dark to return so she could surprise her. Hearing her mate outside calling to her, Shine stifled the excited giggles that almost escaped her mouth and crouched as still and as quiet as she could, almost as if she was waiting to pounce on some unsuspecting prey, which in a way she was.
Climbing into the hut, Dark felt something leap onto her from the dim interior. Just for a moment she thought that some animal had got into the hut and was trying to eat her; she was half right. Tumbling across the hut’s skin covered floor, Dark tried to fight off her laughing mate for a while and then gave up and let her pin her to the floor. Sitting astride Dark’s tummy, Shine smiled down at her mate before leaning forward to lip-nuzzle her (a part of Shine’s mind told her that they still needed a better word for lip-nuzzling, but that could wait).
“Missed you,” Shine said after breaking away from Dark’s soft, inviting lips.
“I’ve only been away a day,” Dark pointed out, “maybe I shoulda stayed away longer if this is the sorta welcome home I get.”
“Noooo,” Shine whined playfully as she lay down on top of Dark and buried her face in her mate’s hair, “one day is a day too long…”
“We found the herd,” Dark said as she felt Shine’s hands start to roam across her body.
“Stuff the herd!” Shine replied before she started to lip-nuzzle with Dark again, this time neither woman broke away.0=0=0=0
After snuggling two or three times, Shine and Dark lay in the warm comfort of their hut. Lying with her ear pressed against Shine’s belly, Dark listened intently.
“Are ya sure there’s a baby in here?” Dark glanced up at her mate.
“Sure I’m sure,” Shine laughed; she’d snuggled with one of the unmated hunters from another clan to get the baby inside her.
“How do y’know?” Dark frowned up at Shine.
“A woman just knows,” Shine informed her mate mysteriously; it was a fact that Dark showed little interest in having children of her own or indeed any knowledge of how to look after them.
In her birth-tribe only a relative few women had children and they didn’t have family clans like the tribe did. As a result, Dark was ignorant of even the basics of childcare. However, she did enjoy hunting the night-monsters more than Shine ever had. The truth was that Shine had never wanted to be the girl who hunted the night-monsters; she’d always just wanted to be someone’s mate and be Mother of the Clan when her mother gave up the post or died. Now she had what she’d always wanted and both she and Dark were happy with their lives.
“Will ya be alright to join the hunt tonight?” Dark wanted to know, “It won’t hurt the baby?”
“Only if I get stepped on,” Shine laughed, “in which case the baby being hurt will be the least of my worries.”
“If ya sure,” Dark persisted; secretly she was excited about the baby as Shine was.
“Dark!” Shine rolled her eyes and slapped her mate playfully, “I’m not a delicate flower, you know. I’m still as tough and strong as you…I mean who got ambushed when they came into the hut?”
“Why you!” Laughing, Dark pounced on Shine and pinned her to the floor.
“Shouldn’t we be getting ready for the hunt?” Shine struggled weakly not really wanting to free herself from Dark’s grip.
“Oh, I think we can fit in one more snuggle before we have to get ready,” Dark lowered herself down onto Shine as their lips touched and they started to snuggle for all they were worth.0=0=0=0
Standing on the crest of the ridgeline, Shine, Dark and Lone-Hunter waited for the mammoths to come. The shallow valley lay before them peaceful under the twinkling stars and full moon, the long grass stirred in the cold breeze that came from the cold lands far to the north. The cold wind brought the mammoths and the mammoths were the harbingers of winter.
The valley looked peaceful and innocent but it was perfect for the hunter’s needs; running down the centre of the valley was a cliff higher than three mammoths. The cliff couldn’t be seen until you were almost on top of it. It had even caught out one or two hunters in bright daylight who’d known it was there; they’d fallen to their deaths leaving their mates to find new partners.
Every year for as long as anyone could remember the mammoths walked south towards the warmer lands through the valley. Every year without fail the tribe took one or two mammoths to supply them with meat for their own trek south. Often Shine wondered why the mammoths didn’t go another way. Everyone new that mammoths lived as long as people, that they had long memories just like people did, so why did they walk into the same trap every year? Shrugging, Shine didn’t know the answer, perhaps the mammoths did things the same way every year for the same reason they appeared to know winter was coming.
Looking to her right, Shine caught her first glimpse of the herd. The big slow moving giants moved through the night towards the ambush sight. This made Shine shrug and ask herself why the mammoths kept moving at night? A thought struck her, maybe the mammoths did know they were going to be attacked, perhaps they thought the dark would make it harder for the people to attack them. But Shine knew it would all be in vain, the tribe had fire and there was no defence against that.
“Big,” Dark commented; Shine remembered that this would be the first time she’d hunted the mammoths.
“Yes they’re big,” Shine agreed, “but there doesn’t seem to be as many of them as there were last year…Lone-Hunter?”
“I think you’re right,” although Lone-Hunter couldn’t see as well at night as Shine and Dark, the mammoths, as Dark had pointed out, were big and hard to miss. “Every year, or so I’m told,” Lone-Hunter said quietly, “there’s been less mammoths than there were last year.”
“What if one day,” Shine gave her friend a worried look, “the mammoths don’t come?”
“Then we’ll hunt something else,” Lone-Hunter pointed out, “hunting’s easier with the slings Dark gave us.”
Feeling Dark swell with pride next to her, Shine smiled knowing that what Lone-Hunter had said was the truth. If one year the mammoths didn’t come it wouldn’t be such a disaster as it might have been before Dark brought the slings to the tribe. Turning, Shine looked down the slope behind her to where the other hunters of the tribe waited around the fire. They each carried a spear and a torch; the spears wouldn’t be used until after the hunt was over. It would be the torches that would be their main weapon.
“Down,” Lone-Hunter called softly; the three hunters crouched down as the mammoths got closer, it was almost time.
Turning again, Shine waved her arm to signal the hunters to light their torches and spread out in a line just on the fire side of the ridge where the mammoths couldn’t see them. A young boy ran up the slope carrying three lit torches for the hunters on the crest. Shine signalled the excited boy to stay back. It was still too early for the hunt to begin.
“When do we start?” Dark whispered; her eyes shining bright in the moonlight, she was as eager as an inexperienced hunter to start the hunt.
“When the lead mammoth gets level with that stone,” Lone-Hunter pointed to a lone stone that marked the edge of the cliff, “that’s when we start and not before.”
“Okay, okay,” Dark nodded her head but Shine could tell her mate wanted to rush forward and start the hunt now.
Resting her hand on Dark’s arm, Shine tried to calm her mate, it seemed to work because she didn’t charge at the mammoths but remained squatting in the long grass.
“Any moment now,” Lone-Hunter tensed as he raised his arm ready to signal the other hunters forward; the boy crept forward and handed the hunters their torches.
Just as the lead mammoth drew level with the stone, Lone-Hunter jumped to his feet followed an instant later by Shine and Dark. Together they shouted and waved their torches above their heads as the rest of the hunters ran up and over the ridgeline. Together the hunters swept down in a long line towards the mammoths. Everyone shouted their hunting cries and waved their torches about so as to drive the mammoths towards the cliff.
Surprised by the sudden appearance of the tribe the mammoths trumpeted their alarm. Some turned towards the hunters while others milled about in panic. The hunters knew that they must keep the mammoths panicked. If the great, hairy creatures formed themselves into a defensive ring the hunt would be over before it had really begun.
Screaming and yelling as she got closer to the herd, Shine waved her torch in front of a mammoth’s eyes. Trumpeting loudly the mammoth retreated from the small, bright dancing thing that had suddenly appeared from out of nowhere. Taking several steps backwards the mammoth seemed to realise just how small and puny the light-creature was. Trumpeting again, this time in rage the mammoth charged towards Shine.
Dancing out of the way of the charging beast, Shine watched it carefully over her shoulder as she ran. Always aware of the position of all the hunters around her and where the other mammoths stood, Shine led the beast away from the herd and towards her fellow hunters. Shouting a warning, Shine saw the first sling stone fly through the air and heard the meaty thump as they hit the mammoth. Before the hunt had started it had been decided that a sling stone wouldn’t kill a mammoth, but it would hurt one and drive it off…with luck.
The mammoth stopped in its tracks as the stone hit it, but it didn’t turn away. Coming to a halt, Shine turned to face the beast as more stones made the dust rise from its great shaggy coat. There was something odd happening here, something that had never happened before and it made Shine feel uneasy like she did when…
Before her wide eyes the great mammoth sat back on its haunches and trumpeted loud enough to make Shine’s body shake like she had a fever. The mammoth lifted it trunk to the night sky and Shine saw it start to change in the moonlight. It was like when Moon-Wolf changed from being a wolf into a man, only the mammoth wasn’t changing into a man, it was changing into something more terrible.
Standing with her torch in one hand and spear in the other, Shine watched in wonder as the mammoth turned into a parody of a mammoth. A mammoth with claw-like hands, long sharp teeth and evil, red glowing eyes. A hunter strayed too close to the terrible creature and was snatched up in its trunk. Screaming and struggling the hunter was lifted off his feet to be placed in the night-monster-mammoth’s mouth. Wincing at the sound of the hunter’s bones being crushed as the night-monster bit down, Shine threw away her torch.
“BACK!” She yelled as loudly as she knew how, “EVERYONE BACK!”
Hearing a stone whiz by her ear, Shine saw Dark load another stone into her sling, knowing what she had to do, Shine ran over to join her mate as the other hunters retreated back over the ridge.
“Is this normal?” Dark asked with a grin as she loaded yet another stone and started to whirl it above her head.
“No,” Shine took her own sling from around her waist as she saw Dark’s stone hit the night-monster in the face with terrific force.
The air was split with a terrific *CRACK!* as the stone hit home and the night-monster staggered back on its hind legs. Making a roaring sound more than a trumpeting sound the night-monster started to walk towards the two hunters on its rear legs, almost like a person. The two women whirled their slings and sent stones whizzing towards the night-monster with fantastic force, but still the night-monster advanced. It hesitated and roared in pain as each stone hit but it still came on determined to trample and eat the little annoying creatures.
“This isn’t going to stop it,” Dark pointed out as she sent another stone at the night-monster.
“We’ll have to spear it or something,” Shine called whirling her sling once more.
Unexpectedly a spear appeared in the side of the night-monster. Looking over to their left, Shine and Dark saw Lone-Hunter fit another throwing spear into his throwing stick.
“You didn’t think I’d leave you to have all the fun, did you?” He laughed and threw his spear.
“If you get killed,” Shine cried, “Dusk will never speak to me again!”
“Then we better kill this thing!” Lone-Hunter launched another spear at the creature who’d now stopped and appeared undecided who to crush and eat first.
“Keep it distracted!” Shine called as she dropped her sling and picked up her spear.
This was the new spear that One-Eye had made to replace her old one. This spear was longer than her old spear but just as sturdy. The spearpoint was made of a long incredibly sharp piece of flint that One-Eye had chosen especially from the very best flint so it was unlikely to break.
Moving in under cover of her friend’s stones and spears, Shine clutched her spear ready to thrust it into the belly of the night-monster. The creature had halted its advance as it tried to pull the spears from its flank and ward off the stones that hurtled towards it. At first it didn’t notice Shine until she was almost within spear thrusting range. When it did it stood up on its back legs and towered over the diminutive hunter. It roared in anger as it took a swipe at the little creature that dared challenge it.
Dodging under its clumsy lunge, Shine stabbed the night-monster in the belly. Hot, foul smelling blood sprayed over her body as the beast screamed with pain. Withdrawing her spear, Shine stabbed again and again. Through the red-mist that fell over her eyes, Shine was aware of Dark and Lone-Hunter stabbing at the night-monster with there own spears. Rolling on the ground the creature writhed in agony as the hunter’s spears cut into it time and time again. Eventually the night-monster stopped moving and a few moments later the hunters stopped spearing it, it was dead. They stood panting for breath around the creature’s carcass resting on their blood-wet spears.
“So,” Dark panted, “what do we do now? Eat it?”
“EWWW!” Shine replied looking at her mate in disgust.
“HA!” Lone-Hunter laughed, but sobered as he looked around, “Looks like the herd got away.”
“Whatever,” Shine said tiredly, “it doesn’t matter we can hunt something else.” She paused to think for a moment, “Perhaps this is a warning,” she gestured at the dead night-monster, “maybe we shouldn’t hunt the mammoths any more.”
“Perhaps you’re right,” Lone-Hunter agreed.
“So, if we’re not going to eat it what do we do with it?” Dark wanted to know.
“Leave it for the scavengers,” Shine said as she turned away from the corpse and started to walk slowly back to camp.
“Whatever ya say,” Dark agreed, “Hey!” she grinned at Shine her teeth white in the moonlight, “Ya wanna snuggle when we get home? Ya know how I like to snuggle after a fight.”
“Snuggle?” Shine groaned as Lone-Hunter chuckled quietly, “Yeah why not,” she sighed, “but only after I’ve washed off all this blood.”
“But its the blood makes ya look so snuggleable,” Dark pointed out.
“You’re gross, you know that don’t you?” Shine laughed.
“But that’s why ya love me,” Dark replied with confidence.
“Yeah,” Shine replied with a sad sigh, “I expect it is.”The End.0=0=0=0Author’s Advertising!
You might want to take a look at ‘The Odyssey of the Cave Slayer’ which should be posted by the time you get here. Its just a quick fic that I wrote to get rid of a plot bunny.