Chapter 1

It has been a long hunt, and I grow weary. The prey this time is aurochs, it is large and will feed us for long, but it is also restless and will not stay still as we approach. Each time as we draw near enough to strike it moves and we must re-position again and again.

Beside me Unkgat complains once more. “Why will the dreadful creature not stay in one place, Ougo?” he whines. “Is this the usual, that always they move and we must pursue on and on?”

It is Unkgat’s first hunt with the men, I must be patient. He has but fourteen years and has only newly attained his growth. At least he speaks softly and does not frighten the beast with his noise; I have hunted before with other new ones who were not so careful and sent the prey into full flight with their voices.

Often the new ones are given to me for their first hunt; I am old, twenty-six, and I am the best save for Siefert, our leader. Soon I will be leader of the hunt, for Siefert is beyond thirty years and begins to slow. More and more does he trust to me.

But in this hunt Siefert still leads and I must deal with this cub, whose continued whining is eating at my nerves. I know that patience is needed, but mine is worn thin by this moving and moving again.

“It happens,” I tell Unkgat shortly. “Come, we must move once more, you and I must stay to this side of the prey so that when we strike we strike from all sides and it has no place to escape.”

“Can we not find easier prey that will not always move?” Unkgat asks. Perhaps it is his voice, which he makes through his nose, or perhaps it is merely my weariness, but I suddenly find I am not willing to continue this hunt with him.

“Go there,” I say, pointing. “Or go where else you like, I do not care. But go away from me, you complain too much and you tire me. I will guard this flank alone, as I do when I have no mewling babe at my side to whine into my ear.” He hesitates, and I know I am too quick to speak, but still I continue. “Go!” I tell him.

He turns where I have pointed and melts away, so softly I am not even sure I hear his going. This one will be a good hunter when he has learned to stifle his impatience. Almost do I call him back, but I have said my say and it is not good to show uncertainty before the young; I do not speak again. I make excuse to myself that it will be a lesson in his learning of the hunt.

I recognize that I have acted too harshly. Unkgat is young, it is natural in the young to lack patience, and the hunt has been truly long and slow. His complaints were not unreasonable, and I am wrong to react as I did.

And watching the prey carefully through the reeds as I move to stay on its flank, I am uneasy. It is true that I have done many hunts without help, but never for a beast the size of aurochs. It is not usual to find one that strays so far from the herd as does this one, so we may not often have a kill so big as this.

I know, too, that when one does leave the herd it is because that one is a bull, and young and powerful. This is not a beast old and weak and ready for taking, nor yet a babe strayed from its mother. It is one in its prime and will fight for its life. Without luck it can take many spear-strikes to bring down aurochs.

I would have been glad of Unkgat’s spear beside me if aurochs flees in this direction when Siefert at last declares the strike. But I have sent him away, now I must stand alone.

Even so, stand I must; the others depend on me to stop flight this way, and I will not fail them. Still, I feel very alone as I take position again by the aurochs that has now paused once more in its movement.

This time the beast’s pause is longer, and the others have time to reach their places. Carefully so as not to make motion that the prey may see I reach to grasp the first of my spears from where I have slung them on my back. I make it ready for my cast. All weariness is gone from me now and my heart pounds in my chest as I poise to run.

Siefert cries the strike and I see him appear from the reeds opposite me. I take up his cry immediately, as do the others; the noise from all sides will help to confuse the creature. I begin my run toward aurochs as I see the others appear from their positions.

Siefert’s spear strikes first, but it is a poor cast. The beast was turned away from him, and he hits only the rump. But the hurt makes the creature jump so that the next two casts, from the side where there is a better chance for a killing strike, miss entirely. And now aurochs is running.

Running directly toward me.

I cast my spear quickly. My aim is true and I see the spear sink into the animal’s chest. In time it will die from this wound, but I have not struck the heart and it does not falter in its charge. Dimly I see one, two, three spears strike its sides as I quickly grasp my second spear from behind me. I realize that I will not have time for a third throw, this one must kill.

Again I cast true, but my luck is bad. Just as I throw aurochs lowers its head and I see my spear glance off its skull. It is slowed now by its wounds but will be on me in an instant. Desperately I hurl myself to the side to escape the deadly horns.

In the corner of my eye I see Unkgat running toward me from where I have sent him. He races to the position where he would have been before except for my ill temper. His cast strikes aurochs in the neck, so that its head appears to twitch as the tip of that dreadful horn reaches for my vitals. Only the broad side of the horn takes me.

It is still a terrible blow, catching me squarely on the side of my chest. I hear the snap of my ribs cracking as I am flung into the air, and the breath is forced from my body.

Suddenly there is a mist all about me. Dimly I wonder from where it came, the day has been clear. As I fly through this chilling mist to wherever I shall come to earth I find I have time for many strange thoughts. Is this death, I wonder? Has aurochs after all killed me? I am too long in the air, it is not right.

Then the mist is gone and I feel myself strike the ground very hard—much more hard than should be, I can think just before all consciousness leaves me.

For the rest of this story, you need to Log In or Register