Home > Foregone Conflict

Foregone Conflict
Author: Stan C. Smith

1

 

 

Ambush

 

 

47,669 years ago - Zaragoza Province of Spain

 

Skyra-Una-Loto had lived through ten cold seasons. Now it was her time to kill. She gripped her spear with both hands to keep them from trembling. Skyra had waited many days for this opportunity, and she did not want to fail. Failure would result in a beating—not only for her, but also for her birthmate Veenah. If Skyra could make a kill, today would be a good day.

She sensed, however, that Veenah would rather be back at Una-Loto camp making capes and waist-skins or flint-knapping spear heads and khul blades.

“I killed an ibex on my first hunt in my tenth cold season,” Skyra’s birthmother said in the Una-Loto language. Skyra was listening intently, but Veenah was staring over the rock at the herd of ibexes feeding on the hillside. Their birthmother grabbed Veenah’s scalp and turned her head. “I killed an ibex on my first hunt in my tenth cold season,” she repeated. “Today you will each kill your own ibex. Show me where you will thrust your spear.”

Skyra growled impatiently and pointed to her ribs near her armpit. Veenah did the same. They had practiced this more times than Skyra knew how to count, targeting an ibex pelt stretched over a bundle of dried grass. Her birthmother had good reason for being so persistent in her lessons for the two girls. Skyra and Veenah were different from the other nandups of the Una-Loto tribe. Because of this, their tribemates hated them. Some of the men even wanted to kill Skyra and Veenah, and if the two birthmates failed today, perhaps those men would finally convince the others to agree.

“Many of the males will run ahead of the females,” their birthmother said. “You must be patient and wait for a female. Do you understand?”

“Rha-ofu,” they both replied. Yes.

Skyra knew this. She had known for many days. Female ibexes didn’t have horns and were easier to kill. They also provided better meat. Every Una-Loto hunter knew their first kill would be a female ibex. At least their first major kill while hunting with the adults—Skyra and Veenah had already killed pikas, rats, lizards, and vipers. Today, though, was different. Today they hunted with the tribe’s best hunters.

Her birthmother grabbed Skyra’s cape and pulled her to the other side of the gap between the rocks, leaving Veenah where she was. “One of you on each side. Do not show yourselves to the ibexes, even after you hear them running. Wait. Let the males run by, then look around the rock with only one eye. Choose your female before it gets close. Follow her with your eye. Thrust when you know it is time to thrust. Where will you thrust?”

Again the girls lifted their elbows and pointed to their ribs.

“Thrust hard, thrust true, then release. Do you understand?”

“Rha-ofu.”

Skyra and Veenah had even practiced releasing their spears as their birthmother had run past them carrying the ibex pelt. Today, during the real hunt, if they released too early, their spears would not penetrate deep enough. If they released too late, the ibexes would tear the spears from their grip and break their wrists. A broken wrist would not heal quickly, which would give the men one more reason to want to kill them.

Their birthmother put a hand on Skyra’s head, gazed into her eyes, and whispered, “Kami-fu-menga-ulmecko. Idi-bilaimo ati-de-lé-melu imbo-oh-nup-tekne-té.” Listen to me speak, woolly rhino and cave lion. My daughter submits to you in return for your strength. She stepped past the gap, did the same with Veenah, then gave a hand signal to one of the other hunters.

It was time to kill.

Skyra peered over the rocks. Six hunters had already emerged onto the open meadow, spaced out evenly to convince the herd there was only one direction for retreat. Several of the creatures raised their heads and stared. They let out a few shrill whistles, sounding almost like birds, which prompted the other ibexes to raise their heads also. The approaching hunters made themselves appear wider by holding a weapon out to each side, in one hand a spear, and in the other a stone-bladed axe called a khul.

A wave of whistles passed through the herd. One of the males let out a huffing snort and took off running away from the driving hunters. The wave of whistles turned into an eruption of snorts as the other males broke away from the group to follow the first. Then the entire herd began pounding across the meadow toward Skyra, Veenah, and the other concealed hunters.

Skyra pressed her cheek against the rock, refusing to expose herself before it was time. A few breaths later, male ibexes charged through the gap, snorting and throwing up dust and bits of gravel with their hooves. Skyra gripped her spear as she watched them flying past, one set of curled horns after another.

There it was—the first ibex without horns. It was time. She leaned forward just enough to watch the remaining females coming toward her. Only a few were left. No time to be choosy. She eyed the very last female coming on her side of the gap, positioned her legs as she had practiced countless times, and pushed off against the dirt while thrusting.

Her spear hit the ibex’s shoulder instead of its ribs. Skyra felt the solid impact before releasing her spear. The force of the thrust knocked the creature from its feet, but it immediately rolled over, throwing off the spear, and started getting up. With muscle memory due to endless practice, Skyra reached behind her head and pulled her khul from the sling on her back. She transferred the weapon’s handle to her other hand as she scrambled toward the thrashing ibex.

On its feet now, the creature’s back was as high as Skyra’s chest. It was dazed enough to hesitate for a breath, which was more than enough time for Skyra to swing her khul downward to sever its spine behind its shoulders. The ibex went down again. It was still alive, but it wasn’t going anywhere, so Skyra took this opportunity to check on her birthmate.

Veenah was on her knees, cradling her wrist against her belly. She was hurt. Her spear was on the ground a short distance away, and her ibex had escaped.

Their birthmother was standing over Veenah with her khul drawn, ready to defend her daughter.

“Veenah has failed!” shouted Gelrut, one of the dominant men who hated the twins. Gelrut strode over, holding his spear up to make sure everyone could see the blood from his own kill.

Skyra scanned the ground near the gaps in the rocks where the other hunters had waited in ambush—three other ibexes had been taken in addition to her own.

Gelrut pointed his spear at Skyra’s ibex, which was still gasping and trying to get up, although it could no longer use its hind legs. “Fusa,” he ordered. Kill.

Skyra stepped over to the creature and drove her khul’s stone blade into its skull, destroying its brain. She should have struck its neck, but she knew the brain was favored by the dominant men for its flavor, and Gelrut in particular was fond of challenging the other men for the right to eat it himself. Skyra glared at Gelrut in defiance as she pulled her blade from the split skull.

He shifted his gaze from the dead ibex and stared at Skyra for several long breaths, baring his teeth in an expression of hatred.

Gelrut had beaten Skyra so many times that she was no longer afraid of the man. He had seen twenty cold seasons and was twice Skyra’s size, but he and the other men actually feared the twin sisters who had the strange ability to predict whatever the men were about to do. They didn’t understand Skyra and Veenah, and some of them wanted to kill the girls to purify the tribe.

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