Boys Will Be Boys
Morning came early as the matrons declared the breakfast feast ready. Everyone devoured the venison in quick order, with accolades going to the hunters. The ceremony demanded that each man tell his version of the adventure. Chilcoat left his at “a job well-done” for his cohorts, but Bartan took the opportunity to expound on his critical role in the mission, and how he had missed a second kill by only inches. He had fortified himself with wine before breakfast and was willing to go to any length on the techniques he had used, and how Chilcoat had robbed him of a good shot. Most of the audience quickly showed disinterest in his tale, but thanked him for his effort, and returned to their evening’s preparations.
It was still too early to start work, but it felt good to be out in the daylight with friends and family. Tarra wandered among the specters, clad in their ghostly apparel exchanging news and gossip, until she finally found Chilcoat. She callously pressed the tanasin stick into his hand. “Daddy said to give this to you.”
He stood speechless for a moment then, as she turned to walk away, he called out to her. “What am I supposed to do with it? You’re the only one that can read the damn thing.”
She continued along her path toward the field-maidens with only a dismissive wave. He looked at the twig noting its smooth polished form had nicks and notches along its length. What at first seemed to be bud joints, now told the story of a careful artisan who had obviously spent many hours sculpting the distorted little wand. He pulled it in under his hood and stuck it behind his ear. It would have to wait. Right now he had to be sure Lannon was able to get his brothers setup to guard the fields.
It sounded like the cat was taking advantage of the carrion they had left last night and had cornered a scavenger back up the canyon. Larkon and his boys would be anxious to get the beast and Chilcoat would be hard-pressed to stop them. It just doesn’t feel right to me. Something bad will come of it.
He called to Rancon as he passed his tent. “Ran, will you join me?”
Rancon came pulling on his hunting garb and still eating. “What’s up—we gonna visit the kids?”
“Yeah, I think a few things need to be said in front of the others.” They suffered the short hike to the central plaza in silence. As they approached, Lannon was talking with his brothers. That’s a good sign, Chilcoat thought. Larkon and Bartan were nowhere around. That isn’t a good sign. He tried to get started on the right foot. “What’s up guys?”
“They still want to go hunting for that damn cat. They won’t listen to me,” Lannon reported.
“I know it would be great to take such a prize to the gathering, but I really think it’s a bad idea. I think someone will get hurt or worse… That cat is no threat to us if we protect ourselves. It’ll be moving to the high country soon and we can go back to our normal routine. In the meantime, we need someone to guard the fields and the job fits you guys perfectly.”
The boys stood silent for a few moments and whispered a couple of unintelligible sibling grunts to each other. Laot gestured to his swollen ankle and Lon looked longingly at the group of young women forming at the edge of the fields. “We have to go hunting. Dad’s expecting us.”
“Where is he? I want to talk with him anyway.” The boys looked at each other and then at Lannon who gestured toward the dump. “You boys go to the fields and get set up. Lan, you come with me. Ran it’s up to you if you want to come, but I would appreciate your support.”
“Sure. I wouldn’t miss it.” Rancon hefted his spear.
They once again made the trek to the gathering circle and as they neared the base of the rocks, Chilcoat cautioned the others to be alert and readied his bow. They both followed suit and slowed their pace. The group held fast and listened for traces of activity.
The scent of burnt herbs wafted over the boulder as the three edged quietly toward the opening in the blocks of stone that formed the gathering circle. This put them at a tactical disadvantage but it showed the boldness that must carry the day. Chilcoat drew his bow to the ready and led the way down the short passage. He motioned Rancon to guard the cross field while Lannon hung back as a third shot, should it be needed. Chilcoat edged up to peek around the corner and was satisfied that no one was sitting in ambush so he relaxed his posture and motioned the others to gather closer.
The three cautiously entered the central ring of stones. Generations of idle youth had left oddly sculptured boulders scattered across the floor of the arena. Larkon and Bartan sat on their usual wine-drinking platform. They looked up, quickly gathered their weapons, and ducked behind the stone.
Chilcoat called out to them. “Larkon, I need to talk with you.”
“I’ve got nothing to say to you that hasn’t already been said. Me and my boys are going to get that cat tonight and we don’t need your advice on how to do it.”
“Well, that’s what I want to talk about. I have your boys standing guard on the fields, so they won’t be able to join you tonight. I don’t think your hunt’s going to end well. Listen, you can hear the cat, it must’ve missed its prey and it’s getting desperate.”
“I hear it, and I think you’re right. It’s desperate. That means it’ll make mistakes and that’s why I’m going to get it tonight. I don’t need to listen to your cowardly foolishness. I’m going to do you a favor tonight and you won’t need to be afraid of that cat anymore. Lan, go get your brothers and let’s get going.”
Lannon stood defiantly looking at his father. “I’ve assigned them other duties tonight. If you insist on this foolishness, they won’t be a part of it.”
Bartan moved nervously repositioning his weapons. “We don’t need them. Let them hide with the women.”
“No! I want them with me learning how to get that cat, not hiding and waiting to become prey. Lannon, I want you to go fetch your brothers and you get ready for the hunt too. You can help.”
The opposing groups stared at each other for several moments. Lannon finally broke the silence. “I mean no disrespect, but, I’ve a family that’s become more important to me than your blessing. You’ve taught me always to do what I think is right, and I think Chilcoat’s right. Times aren’t good. We need to work together as a tribe. That cat isn’t like any other; it seems to know what you’re thinking. My brothers have hunted it for weeks now and they haven’t even come close, so I don’t think two drunken old men are going to do anything more than get someone hurt.”
Larkon stiffened in defiance and slurred his words. He obviously had had more to drink than Bartan. “So you really are an outcast. That old bag has you twisted around her finger. Well, you do as you want then, but I want my son’s at my side. I’ll go get them myself.”
Chilcoat confronted him. “I’m afraid I can’t let you do that. I’ve taken the robes of the Seer and I’ve decided that your boys are better off doing what’s best for the others. I’m sorry that your judgment conflicts with mine, but I’m trying to do what’s best for the community.”
Rancon stepped forward to stand beside Chilcoat with his bow at the ready.
Lannon did likewise, forming a line. “If you won’t abandon this plan, you’ll have to do it alone. I’ll not lead my brothers into such foolishness.”
Bartan fidgeted with his spear and looked to Larkon for assurance. “Come on, Lark, we don’t need the blessing of the ‘great and noble holder of the robes’. We’ll get that cat and then we’ll see who should be wearing them. Then maybe you’ll stop meddling in other people’s lives. Maybe then Tarra will be able to live her own life instead of being your—servant. She won’t have to listen to your ‘wisdom’ anymore and maybe then she’ll come to me as she should and not sleep with her brother.”
Chilcoat drew his bow taut. “Bartan, you would be wise to not say any more. You’re an outsider in this tribe and your position is weak in this matter.”
“I’ll decide who I sleep with.” Tarra stepped into the clearing and stood defiantly facing the pair. “I wouldn’t be your wife under any circumstances. You’re a loser, and I’ll not waste my time with a loser. And who I choose to sleep with is of no concern to you.”
Bartan stood perplexed, looking alternately at her and Chilcoat. “We’ll see about that. Come on Lark, let’s get out of here before that cat dies of old age.” The pair turned to gather their belongings and head out the far exit toward the dump.
Chilcoat barked, still on edge. “Tarra, why are you here? You should be tending your duties.”
“I’m here because I want to talk with you. I think that Daddy has spoken with me and you have to listen to what he has to say.”
“You listen to me. I know you had a special bond with your father, but he’s gone now—we have to move on—without him.”
“But he talked about you.”
“I don’t care. He’s visits me in the night too, but he has no answers to my questions. He only haunts my dreams with walks in the woods and pipes of smoking herb. Maybe I’m not right for this job because I don’t know what he is saying or what to do about any of the things that have happened. We’ve had storms like never before and the fire in the sky, and now the summer—instead of a time of plenty, has turned to a harsh and bitter trial. Still Yod doesn’t guide me—Dad doesn’t guide me.”
The clear hiss of an arrow ruined his little tirade as the dart struck the ground at his feet. It was the one he had broken the night before. The blunted tip gave the shaft an unbalanced flight and it lodged ineffectively in the dirt. Chilcoat and the others crouched, weapons at the ready, searching the tops of the surrounding boulders for targets.
“I figured you could use this!” Bartan laughingly shouted from beyond the farthest stones.
Chilcoat plucked the arrow from the ground, snapped it in half, and tossed it down in fury. “He’s an ass…” He turned to face Tarra’s disarming visage. “So what would Tangar have me do?”
“Follow the guide stick... He knows that things aren’t right. He had me dance with the Spirit to ask for guidance and He gave us this.” She reached up, plucking the twig from behind his ear, and held it defiantly in his face. “I don’t know what it means, but at least it’s something.”
Chilcoat recoiled slightly and gazed silently at the delicately carved implement. He reached up to grab it, more out of self-defense than desire to accept its importance. “Yes, it’s something, but what? Is it the spirit of our father, or is it the wishful fancy of a young girl?”
She held her grip on the twig and stared deeply into his eyes as they struggled gently for control. Eventually they both recognized the tension and dropped it with a muffled click onto the splintered arrow at their feet. In a flash of awkwardness, he retrieved the jumble of sticks. They reminded him of the gift he had given to Tangar at his funeral. He clinched the bundle of twigs as he once again faced the young woman.
The distant scream of the cat echoed on the wind as Rancon intruded in their exchange. “Are we going to follow them, or what?”“Or what.” Chilcoat separated the medicine wand from the arrow. With one last flash of Tangar’s company, he cast the splintered shaft onto the platform. “Let them follow their spirit. If they kill the cat, we’ll celebrate. If the cat kills them, we’ll mourn, but right now, we need to find some game. The stew will be thin if we can’t find meat soon and with all the commotion those two are making they’ll flush the game towards the falls so it should make our job easier.”