A stone age hunter tries to rescue his clan from slavers
|The spears Madock had given me were heavier than what I was used to, and I felt a slight soreness in my back that I wasn’t accustomed to. When I climbed the birch trees surrounding the encampment the blade of one of the spears strapped to my back left a deep scratch on one of the branches, making me appreciate the use of stone blades over the wooden tools my clan had been used to using. I watched as the lithe group of Innikai hunters walk towards the bridge where more of their tribe waited for them, their bodies covered in red paint and the bones of those unfortunate enough to cross paths with them. Some of those bones would rattle with every footstep those demons would take, and the arrogance of that enraged me. They had never gone to sleep hungry, and were thus not worried about scaring away any animals as they walked through the land as it were theirs to own. Yet another one of their slaves.
Leading the group was the Red Queen, scourge of the Three Valleys and the living Goddess of her people. She wore a light brown kilt of what appeared to be the fur of a sabre tooth cat, with an assortment of knives at her belt that shone in the sun she was said to command. Her black hair was adorned with the bones of the previous Queens before her, the red paint on her torso depicted the sun and the birds that lived in its’ Queendom. None of the Innikai ever uttered her real name, and no one from the other tribes would risk bringing a curse upon them by trying to learn it.
“We kill her!” whispered one of Madock’s hunters, knocking an arrow to his bowstring in the branch below me. “We kill her now!”
“Stop talking.” I whispered, with the Queen and the hunters surrounding her there were too many of them for us to fight. There was a chance that we could kill her, maybe one of us would be lucky with our bows, but then we would never be able to sneak into their camp and free my clan.
The leader of the group waiting for the Red Queen walked forward, he was one of the biggest men I had ever seen, almost as big as the northern cannibals. His entire face was covered in red paint, and there were two scars on his bald head from arrows that weren’t strong enough to pierce his skull, according to legend. He wore a necklace of bones, decorated with two tusks from a boar. None of my people knew his real name; we simply referred to him as The Boar. The Innikai slavers that had captured me referred to him as such as well, for names held power and only the Red Queen was more powerful than him. He carried a long spear with a blade made of the same black, shiny rock as the Queen’s knives. It was said to be sharper than even Madock’s stones, and could only be found in the southern lands of the Innikai. At his belt was a long piece of bone, probably from a mammoth, with a blade made from the black rock that glistened, signaling death to come to those who gave him the reason to use the axe.
The Queen and The Boar walked forward to meet each other, the latter handing his spear to a young woman. The two legends then pulled each other close and shared a passionate, toxic kiss. It reminded me why I was there, and I held onto the branches tighter. They spoke in their demonic language that I wished I didn’t understand, probably cursing the very air we all shared that day.
“We need to kill them before their spawn turns the world to ash.” Another hunter in the branches below me said, readjusting her deer horn headdress. Madock had promised me that the people he would bring were all experienced hunters, capable of hunting heads as well as the mammoths that lived to the west. But they had lived in terror due to the Red Queens of the Innikai, and that hatred was passed on through the generations.
“I don’t see a baby in her, do you?” I hissed, “We wait.”
I had met Madock when I escaped the Innikai slavers and ran off to the west, dozens of seasons ago. Some of the large, burly cannibals we called Screamers had taken a grove that was sacred to our people, and I had helped him retake it. Being of the same tribe, I asked him to repay the favor by helping free my clan.
Once the Red Queen was done talking with her lover, she turned and left, taking her group with her. The Boar then yelled out, ordering his hunters back to the encampment to watch those they had taken captive. The encampment was surrounded by a wall made of logs, the kind I had hoped to never see again. Over the walls I could see a large idol made of bramble, made in the shape of a woman. There were probably holes in the ground where they kept their slaves, or there could have been what the Innikai called cages.
There was no word for cages in my language.
“We wait a little longer, then split up.” Madock said. He had been hiding in the bushes behind the tree I had climbed, but was now standing at its base. His beard was black like the stones the Innikai made their weapons out of, and was cut short. He quickly strung his bow with an expert’s hand, and knocked an arrow to the string. “Half of us go up that small hill, shoot at the demons from over their wall. The rest of us follow The Boar.”
Those of us that had been hiding in the trees jumped down, readying our spears and bows. I lead a small group to the small hill next to the wall. Any one of us could easily jump over the wall from the top of the hill and into the encampment, possibly on one of the mounds of earth that the Innikai would dig tunnels into for their homes, or to keep their slaves in.
I remembered the beatings they would give us, and the scars around my wrists from the years of having them bound together. I remembered wanting to burn them all along with their God of Sun and Fire that they all feared so much, to turn them and all they touched to ash to the world would forget the sickness they were to this earth. And I remembered killing the young boy when I escaped, a spitting image of his father The Boar, who didn’t need to die. But they didn’t need to make me a slave, and he was in the way of taking my life back from the living devils.
I was too busy remembering what I promised I would do should I ever come back to this hell on earth to see the Innikai woman, holding a spear and covered in red paint and readjusting her kilt as she appeared out of the bushes and walked down the hill we were heading towards. She opened her mouth, but before she could let out the cry that would alert the others I lunged out with my spear, stabbing her in the neck. I dragged her to the ground, but didn’t pull the spear from her neck until a few moments had passed, so the gurgling of blood didn’t make any more noise than was necessary.
The other hunters went on without me while I freed my spear from her. I took her bow and sparse arrow quiver. I tied the quiver to the thigh of my left leg, even if there were not many arrows, the quiver itself could serve as some meagre measure of protection. The bows the Innikai used were of a stronger wood than most of ours and I had never truly understood how they could shoot their arrows farther than any other tribe I had seen.
We all hid in the bushes on the hill, and I felt my insides turn to water as I saw the encampment once again. It didn’t seem real, being there again, it felt like some sort of dream. For a few moments that seemed to last forever, it felt like I was a slave again. I could feel the skin around my wrists slowly erode from being bound; my hands blister and bleed as I moved the heavy stones to build idols for the God they loved and feared, and the hands of The Boar and so many others who would visit the slave pen at night to satisfy their needs. Terror struck me like the whips had and I tightened the grip on my spear to remind myself that I was here to end that.
I was no longer a slave, but in my mind I was still conquered.
The sound of cracking whips brought me back to the present, as I slowly crawled forward to look into the encampment. Painted warriors whipped at captives carrying bundles of straw and bramble to a large mound in the center of the encampment, most carried axes or spears, but two carried whips. There were small huts where the elderly shaped clay into pots, prepared soups, and ground herbs for medicine. Some of the slaves were tilling a small field of the golden food that their God had taught them to grow food from the ground. There wasn’t enough so that they didn’t need to hunt anymore, but it allowed them to never know what is was to starve.
Some of the slaves were Radounn from my own clan, others bore the resemblance of the Radounn people with hair the color of blood and fair skin, but I did not recognize them as members of my clan. Seeing that the evils of the Innikai reached farther than I had thought made me angry.
“They’re a plague on this earth.” One of the hunters behind me spat.
“Don’t talk,” I whispered. “Don’t move till we hear the signal.” I wasn’t going to risk my clan’s lives for her zealousness. I appreciated her enthusiasm, but the last thing anyone needed were hunters thinking with their emotions instead of their minds.
I looked down to where an older Innikai woman with the scars of a sabretooth across his back walked with a young Radounn boy. The boy was younger, younger than the one I had killed when I escaped the encampment, and held the woman’s hand as they walked to a small hut with bone charms planted on stakes surrounding it to protect the home from evil spirits. I strained to try and see where The Boar had gone, to see if I could maybe shoot him with one of his peoples own bow, but right when I spotted him he walked into a hut with two other members of his tribe.
I looked back down to see the old woman begin to grope the boy, who tightened his lips and closed his eyes to the evil being done to him. Without hesitating, I knocked an arrow to the string, took aim, and let loose. The arrow pierced through her neck, and I saw blood spatter across the child’s face.
“Signal Madock,” I whispered. “We move now.” I then stood up and jumped over the wooden wall and into a pile of furs by the hut where the old woman was taking the boy. The boy, who recognized me as one of his clan, opened his mouth in shock, but I quickly put my hand over it. “We’re here to save them.” I whispered, “Don’t make any noise.”
There was the sound of an owl hooting which served as the signal to Madock, and the hunters I was with began to jump over the wall and into the secluded area near the hut. An older man walked out of the hut after hearing a hunter curse as he landed on his feet awkwardly, but he was pushed back into the hut after a hunter stabbed him with his spear in the gut. I turned to the hunter who landed awkwardly, who was massaging his ankle.
“I’m okay.” He said, and I turned to the young boy.
“Where are they keeping the rest of the Radounn?” I asked him
“They dug mounds of earth into the hill, some are kept there. They dug holes in the ground and kept other there, there are Screamers here as well, as slaves.”
“Stay low, show us where they’re kept.”
He pointed to the north end of the camp away from the hill we had jumped over from, where mounds of earth had been dug and served as pens for the slaves. There were groups of Innikai going into the pens and dragging a few of my clan to the small field where they were growing the golden food, one of them I recognized as my brother Karoosh. Surrounding the mound of bramble and straw were wooden squares of sticks that covered the holes where other, more disobedient slaves were kept. I remembered spending cold nights there as a child, sleeping with the dead bodies that had been left there, forgotten. There was the sound of another owl hooting, and we knew that we were to start the killing.
“Hide in this hut; only go out if it catches on fire.” I said, pushing the child into the nearby hut. I knocked another arrow to my bowstring, and crouched low as I moved forward. There was a blood curling scream by the main entrance, and I recognized Madock’s war cry as the Innikai slavers all cried out in alarm.
“Now!” I said, and aimed my bow at an Innikai who walked out of a hut to see what the noise was. I let go of the string, and the arrow plunged into the side of his head. The other hunters in my group moved forward, heading towards the large mounds of earth. They would go into the huts on their way there, the tips of their spears covered in blood as they left.
Madock and the six hunters with him ran into the center of the encampment, attacking the slavers supervising the captives. The captured Radounn building the mound soon turned on their captors, smashing their skulls in with rocks or wrestling axes from their grips to arm themselves. I shot an arrow at an Innikai with a whip, but missed. The Innikai then turned to see who had shot at him, and I fired another arrow at him. That one also missed, and I was out of arrows. I took one of the spears strapped to my back, and aimed it at him as he began to run at me.
“Radounn pest!” He screamed, and I threw the spear. He tried to move out of the way, but wasn’t quick enough. The spear plunged itself deep into his collar bone, and he went down. I didn’t have time to think about how disturbingly easy it was for me to remember their language before I had to take the remaining spear from my back and join the fray.
I stabbed another Innikai in the back right as she raised her club to strike down one of the elders my clan, and helped the elder up as she went down.
“We did not think you would come for us, after we gave you away.” He told me as he stood up “It is good to have you back.”
“No one should be used like a tool, but I am not back.” I said, and shoved my spear into his hands. I picked up the club of the Innikai I had stabbed; there was a large piece of the shiny, black rock tied to the front of it that would make it so it would cut into whoever I hit it with. I looked towards the group of hunters I had snuck in with, and saw that they were fighting at the earthen mounds where much of my clan was being kept. I lifted one of the latches of straw that covered the holes in the ground where other captives were kept, and saw three decaying naked bodies. It took a moment for me to see that there was a fourth body, a man curled up with whip marks covering his back. “We’re fighting them, get out!” I yelled, and moved on to another latch.
As I bent down to open the latch, there was the crack of a whip and a searing pain across my back. I gasped and closed my eyes, but I opened them immediately because it wasn’t happening again. I wasn’t a boy, I wasn’t helpless, and I could do something about this. I could fight back. I turned around to see a man wielding a whip, and his snarl turned into a smile as he recognized me.
“I did not think I would see you again.” He said, moving his arm back to swing his whip at me again, but a burly Radounn man came up behind him and stabbed him in the neck with a deer antler knife. The man looked at me with cold gray eyes, and I saw that it was my brother.
“Karoosh…” I said, but he didn’t respond. He merely nodded, and moved on to continue the fight. I turned to see other Innikai rush out of their huts to grab weapons, some of them simply ran into the woods. I saw the Boar fighting outside of his own hut.
The Boar yelled in rage as he stabbed a Radounn man with his spear, lifting the man up and kicking the lifeless body off the blade. He turned to face a woman, who thrusted a spear at him. He side stepped her and grabbed the spear shaft just below the blade, kicking her down as he yanked the weapon from her hands. He then thrust the spear into her gut, not bothering to wipe the blood the spattered on his face.
“Boar!” I yelled in the language I wanted to forget, wiping the sweat from my hands onto my pants. I had been afraid of the battle that was about to happen, but I needed to do this. He would want to focus on me, and the longer I distracted him the more Radounn would be free and help with the fight. I had to free myself once and for all. I would no longer be conquered. The man that haunted my sleepless nights turned to me, and smiled.
“I wondered if I would see you here again.” He said, He took the axe from his belt and held it in his right hand, licking the blood around his lips. “I’ll have fun watching our elders take you like they used to, you were always so tender.”
“I could say the same about your son.” I spat back, tightening the grip on my weapon. The Boar’s eyes narrowed at that.
“Don’t you speak his name!”
“Should I tell you how easy it was to bash his head in? How he stood like a scared rabbit when he saw me? Or do you want me to tell you how many times I smashed the rock against his skull? How old would he have been today? Would I be able to kill him again? Would I have laughed as hard?”
The Boar roared as he ran at me, like a mammoth charging as his feet seemed to shake the earth we stood on. I silently prayed for the spirits of my ancestors to help me cleanse the earth of this evil spirit and banish him to wherever the God his people loved lived. As he got closer, I stepped to the side to swing my club at his back, but he spun towards me and parried the blow with his own weapon. We circled each other, hissing and spitting curses on each other’s ancestors. None of the Innikai dared to get in the way, for their chieftain was notorious for punishing those who got in the way of his prey.
“I’m going to bash your children’s skulls in front of you before I kill you.” He snarled
“My children won’t have to live in a world where you walk the earth.” I said, and leapt forward, swinging the club down at his head. He grabbed my wrist, and lifted me up off the ground. I struggled and flailed my feet. He raised his axe and swung it at me, but I kicked the shaft of the weapon, knocking it out of his hand. Then I kicked him in the chest with my other foot. I then remembered the bone knife at my belt, but before I could draw it he head butted me, and I felt the club slip from my fingers as his grip tightened. I finally drew knife from my belt, and stabbed his wrist.
He screamed as he let go of my hand, and I fell to the ground, cradling my arm while I sat on my knees. I looked up to see the back of my foe’s hand as he slapped me across the face, and I fell backwards. I heard his screaming as I rolled over, trying to find a rock or anything that could be used as a weapon, and I found a long piece of a deer antler, smashed from a Radounn hunter’s headdress. I picked up the antler, and stood up to face the man that haunted my dreams.
He was on his knees, screaming in some tortured mixture of rage and agony. For a moment, we appeared to be one and the same. Although we wore different clothes, worshipped different gods, fought with different weapons, we were both in pain. We were both feeling agony from what happened years ago, and we were both there, ready to kill over that agony. But he was still my enemy, he had plagued my people and my dreams for too long, and I was going to end it.
I walked towards him, spitting the small amount of bile that had risen from my stomach. He pulled the knife out of his wrist, and looked up at me.
“He was only a boy.” He moaned, the paint on his face stained with tear streaks.
“So was I.” I replied in my own tongue, and swung the antler down onto his face. He tried to swing the knife at me, but he wasn’t fast enough.
The horns on the antler raked his face as I swung them downwards, slashing his left eye, his nose, his cheek and his lips. A part of the antler got stuck in his chin.
The blood gurgled in his throat, and he dropped the knife as he leaned backwards. He coughed once, and began to choke on the blood. I reached down and picked up the knife, but I didn’t move forward to kill him just yet. I watched as the blood dripped down his face and chin and to his neck, and how it dripped down to his bare chest and the rest of his body. It washed away the paint he had been covered in, and I saw him for the first time as another man.
I walked forward and placed a hand on his shoulder. He looked at me with his one remaining eye, and I felt like I knew then what it was to be a human in this life. I then stabbed him in the neck, and there was more gurgling. I stabbed him again, and a third time, leaving the knife in his neck as I walked over to pick up his axe. The fighting throughout the rest of the camp had begun to die down with the Radounn over powering the Innikai, and many of them watched me as I picked up his axe and swung it down onto his so called impregnable skull, crushing it underneath the weapons’ blade. His head dented as blood poured out of the wound and his now lifeless body slumped to the ground as I tossed his axe away.
The surviving Innikai stared as they knelt in surrender, their will to fight dying along with their famed leader. They were beginning to see him as I now saw him, as a mere human. Their dark eyes began to fall upon me, and I knew that they would see me as I saw The Boar, as a demon spirit sent from the ends of the earth to curse them and plague their dreams. The fabled axe was now no longer the bringer of death to my people, or the tool used to bring salvation to the Innikai, it was merely an axe. A tool like any other, it was simply made of a stronger stone than I had ever used.
The Radounn who were not howling in triumph or taking revenge on their enslavers were also letting their eyes fall upon me, and I knew that I was forever changed in their eyes. I was no longer a hunter that had escaped the Innikai in their eyes, I had also become their version of The Boar, slaying the foes of our people and leading them to salvation. I was the all-powerful, ferocious hunter of heads that would be feared. I would make their hunters afraid to venture out to find food; I would be the one who haunted their dreams. I did not want to conquer these people, but I had.
Three of the hunters that came with Madock had been killed, and the rest of his group was trying to make a space to put them while they figured out what to do with the bodies. There were members of my clan opening the rest of the hatches that were buried in the ground, sorting out those who were yet to be free, and the dead bodies that were left there. I saw the Radounn from clans I had never met before sorting through the bodies and wailing in grief, and I suddenly didn’t care about my revenge, or burning the Innikai with their Sun God, or the Red Queen. There was nothing that could make this worthwhile, I had never seen this much sorrow before.
“Bind their hands!” I yelled out, and took off my shirt to cut strips of cloth that could be used. I could take another from one of the now empty huts, or I would just make one from the pelts of a hunt. I didn’t want to think about the future though; I didn’t want to think about anything. I wanted to keep my hands busy and my thoughts dormant. “Use these.” I told a younger man who walked forward to take the strips from my hand. He passed them to others, and they barely met any resistance as they moved to tie the hands of the surviving Innikai behind their backs. One man tried to resist, and shoved the man away, but my brother was there and hit him on the head with a club that looked to be made with the bone of a sabretooth.
My brother turned to look at me, and we stared into each others eyes for a few moments. Seeing that there would be no reprimanding or protest from me, he shrugged and walked over to where our elders were sitting. Everyone had stopped fighting, and that helped calm me down. For days before Madock, his hunters and I made our way to the encampment, I felt as if my blood were on fire. I had constantly been afraid, jumping at the slightest noise anyone made. Now it felt as if those anxieties had fallen into a slumber, and I wanted nothing more than to leave this place forever and sleep.
I walked along the dirt pathway, past the mounds where I had been kept as a child, and towards the huts I had meandered through when I snuck back into the encampment. I never had the chance to truly realize how little this hell on earth had seemed to change since I was a slave, and the realization haunted me. The boy whom I told to go and hide in the hut could have been me in another life. He could have been hiding his anger from the moment the sun rose to the moment he was allowed to sleep. He could have been like me, and never showed any anger or sadness at what was being done until they put him in the holes in the ground, only letting his tears shed in the company of those already dead. He could have watched his sister be mutilated and die bringing a child into the world, and that could have pushed him over the edge and made him bash the head of an Innikai child in with a rock.
My feet stepped in something wet, and I stopped walking. I knew it would be blood, but I didn’t know it would be the blood on an Innikai child. The child was still alive; the gash in his belly was deep but would not kill him for some time. He looked up at me, his eyes wide with fear as he saw me. He looked darker with my shadow over him, but I could still see him turn pale with the loss of blood. He was a human too, just like The Boar, just like so many others. He was lying over the body of a woman, one of his hands pressed down on his wound, the other holding the hand of the dead woman.
My first thought was to kill him. I could have made it as painless as possible, bash his head in with a club or stab him with another spear. I could have smothered him with the clothes of the woman he held on so tight to, but that would not have done any good. A knife could only cut clay, but gentle hands could hold it together. There had been enough killing today, enough hate, and if anything all I had done was create more reasons for our peoples to hate each other. It had to end somewhere.
“Wait here.” I told the boy in his tongue. “I won’t hurt you, you’re going to survive.”