Lucee needs a plan so her people don't starve - winner November 2018 Cliffhanger Contest.
|Hidden crouched in the tall grass, Lucee pro Meetha brushed a lock of greasy hair from her sweaty brow and shaded her eyes from the bright sunlight. A short distance downhill, the family of three long-noses grazing near the top of Demon’s Cliff were the only game she'd seen in nine days. This summer’s drought chased away most of the fleet-foots her clan usually hunted, and even the dreaded long-tooths disappeared. Her people faced imminent starvation, so they looked to her as their Kindler to figure out a means for them to survive. Just one of those beasts could feed her small clan for a week. With no telling how soon other prey would wander into their range, this could be her last chance to save her people.
Sams pro Herca snuck over, his head and shoulders low and his spear horizontal to avoid detection. “Mother, what is your plan?”
Usually, it amused her how a muscular man twice her age and reputed to be the greatest hunter among the Twelve Clans addressed a diminutive and yet unmated girl as “Mother”, but that was the title she'd inherited when her own mother died in childbirth last year and Lucee became her clan's Kindler. Today, it scared her. Having only celebrated her fourteenth winter, she felt too young for such responsibly. She wished she were back in skirts, studying at her mother's feet, rather than out here in leggings leading the warriors in their hunt. Then she wouldn't have the most respected among them asking for her advice. Miracles were expected from Meetha’s great-granddaughter.
She returned her attention to the giant creatures at the cliff’s edge. Tool-stone spearheads were ineffective against these animals' thick hide, and their size was formidable. Lucee didn't like to think what damage the father long-nose could do to a man with those sharp tusks, and her malnourished warriors were tired and weak. She gripped her bone pendant and prayed to the spirit of her great-grandmother for inspiration. A breeze picked up, causing ripples in the grass that flowed from the east toward the cliff. Perhaps Meetha heard her great-granddaughter's silent plea because an idea sprang into shape in Lucee’s mind.
She turned to Sams. “Hide your warriors in the grass a spear-throw south of the long-noses. I'm going to force them toward you. When they get near, jump up and make a lot of noise. They will already be panicking, and your aim is to add to their fear and confusion, startling them so they run toward the cliff. Use your skill and cunning to trick one over the edge.” The drop was long, and the rocks below jagged. Afterward, the men would be able to reach the carcass below with no risk to themselves.
Sams nodded and smiled, his confidence in her magic such that he didn't ask how she hoped to achieve her impossible task alone. She also suspected he was demonstrating how compliant he was. Likely he had hopes of becoming her first mate and so taking over the position of clan chief from her father. Becoming a Kindler's Prime Mate gained as much power and prestige as any man could ever hope to gain amongst the clans. He looked handsome enough that she was considering the possibility. In fact, the thought of it sent colorful-flies fluttering through her stomach.
While Sams gathered his men, Lucee crept away toward the east. Once she had gone far enough that her scent wouldn't alarm the creatures, she angled north until she found a particularly tall and dry spread of grass. There she knelt and unwrapped her Kindler’s tools from her pouch. She sprinkled ground bark on her hand-stone base, then swung down her spark-stone striker. How her revered great-grandmother had discovered this quick technique for creating fire was a mystery, but it had revolutionized life for the Twelve Clans. She had practiced kindling since her sixth winter, so soon a patch of grass caught fire. The wind carried the flames westward. She stood and watched as the spreading blaze tore toward the cliff north of the long-noses, knowing they would react swiftly to escape this threat, driving them south into Sams’ ambush. She smiled. If the Creator willed it, thus plan would prove successful.
Suddenly, the surrounding grass bent toward her left as the wind shifted direction and picked up in strength. The flames nearing the cliff also shifted, burning a path southwest directly toward Sams’ position. Shouts of alarm filled the air. Her pulse raced. She'd intended to be her clan’s savior, but had she instead sentenced their finest warriors to an agonizing death?
Word Count: 752
Cover photograph by Charles J Sharp of Sharp Photography, sharpphotography.co.uk