In the Lowlands
Two days later, warriors came down from the plateau. They clambered over rocks and filed through fern-shaded gullies. Each carried a long, fire-tempered spear. All were afraid.
‘How far?’ asked a young man.
‘Half a day’s walk,’ guessed another.
‘It is good down here,’ said a man daubed with lines of white clay. ‘And warmer. There would be rich hunting. We could bring our wives.’
‘No,’ said the eldest. ‘This is not our country and we did not come to cause trouble. We stay only long enough to do what we must. Then we go home.’
At midday they emerged from a stand of trees and moved through high pale grass. They saw smoke in the distance, but no people. A little later, one of the men pointed.
‘There it is,’ he whispered. Silently they spread out.
‘Can you smell it?’ someone called, and everyone could.
‘Is it still alive?’ asked another.
‘Alive or dead, we made this problem much worse,’ an elder said. ‘Now we will give it to the earth and leave it in darkness.’
Day after day they laboured, shovelling and carrying. Their digging sticks were replaced many times and their hands blistered. Eventually, even the lowlanders came out of hiding and helped. By the dusty end of summer, they had finished. A long, low mound of earth ran along a gently sloping ridge.
Wearily, they turned for home.
‘We did the work of men,’ said a youth. ‘I will dance it for the women.’
‘No. This is a secret tale,’ said the leader-of-stories, ‘Speak of it only in our company.’
Their world returned to familiar rhythms, but, as ever, tales outlived their tellers.