Mina's Children

by Windy Sales

Tags: Historical, Mystery,

Desc: Historical Story: Our species has spent millions of years on this planet, clawing and scratching our way to the top of the food chain. Along the way, we have only accepted one other species as our trusted partner -and that species is our most deadly enemy. How the heck did that happen?

What we really know:

We've always "known" that dogs are descended from wolves, but that's pretty vague. Actually, they are the same species. Dogs and wolves can interbreed. Geneticists consider dogs, Canis Familiaris, to be a subset of the East Asian variety of the globally-present Grey Wolf, Canis Lupis. Oh, there are some appearance differences, and they behave quite a bit differently around humans, but genetically they are the same thing. Okay, some background:

All "higher life form" cells have pretty much the same makeup. A nucleus that has all the cell's DNA, the instruction-set on how to be a good cell for this species of plant or animal, a cell wall that keeps all the good stuff inside, and a whole bunch of odds and ends that do different things as directed by the DNA, RNA, and various enzymes. One particular set of those odds and ends are called Mitochondria.

Mitochondria are self-contained organic power-packs, kinda like batteries. Actually, if you look at them close enough it's clear that eons ago when life was just beginning the mitochondria were actually independent life forms of their own. In fact, they seem to be very similar to some bacteria.

Whether it was a symbiotic relationship that turned sour, or one hungry cell ate a few of those bacteria but then couldn't digest them isn't clear, but the results are plain. The cell puts up with them and feeds them and keeps them safe, and in return the mitochondria help digest nutrients and export high-energy molecules that the cell can transport elsewhere and get important work done with.

The mitochondria also reproduce by splitting whenever they feel like it, just like any cell does. They just live their entire lives inside the larger host cell. And, it's not just some animals or plants. EVERY multi-celled life form, from elephants and sequoias all the way down to the fungi, has them. Basically, anything more advanced than a bacteria or a virus has them.

Why is this important? It's important because of the way sexual reproduction works. Normal cells reproduce by splitting in half. First the DNA helixes uncoil and split, then the cell itself splits in half and each half uses the DNA strand it got to create the missing half of the helix, becoming a complete cell again. Got that? Right. Of course it only works if the split is even enough that both sides get enough of the odds and ends to function as a complete cell. And, that's the whole story, for single celled life forms like bacteria and mitochondria, and even some larger life-forms like lichens, which are really only large colonies of single-celled organisms.

Now, in sexual reproduction, the female who produces the eggs does so by having an otherwise normal cell split as above, but the two half-cells do NOT regenerate the missing DNA. Instead, they each wait around for the missing DNA to be donated by a special "sperm" cell that is basically nothing but a helping of DNA surrounded by a delivery system. Still making sense? Those half-cells we call 'eggs' cannot live long, but if they get the missing DNA delivered in time they are complete cells. If all the DNA matches up right, the fertilized egg starts to split and grow. In nine months, if you're a human, you get a baby. Elephants take about two years. For dogs and wolves, it only takes about two months, maybe a bit longer. I think that rats are something on the order of a few weeks.

The part that matters here is that the mitochondria are all out in the cell body; they have nothing to do with the cell's nucleus or the DNA contained therein. Thus, an egg's mitochondria all come from the mother. The father does not ever contribute anything to the egg except some DNA for the nucleus. And, since the mitochondria used to be independent life forms in their own right, they have their own DNA that tells them how to do all the work of being mitochondria. That fertilized egg's mDNA is identical in every way to the mother's mDNA, since all it did was split in two. Unless there is a mutation in your mDNA, it will be identical to your mother's, your maternal grandmother's, her mother's, and so on all the way back as far as you can test.

In other words, you can track maternal lines through mitochondrial DNA which is donated only by the mother, the same way you can track paternal lines through the "Y" chromosome which is only donated by the father. If the mDNA is different, you aren't one of that lady's descendants, at least not through her maternal line. You might be descended from one of her sons, but not an all-female line of daughters. If it's the same, you are. Pretty simple. Of course the DNA slowly changes or mutates through the years, but even that is helpful because it happens at a fairly standard rate, meaning that you can see how similar two samples are, giving you an idea of how many years separate them.

Okay, now we can get back to our story. A few years ago (my notes say that this was popularly reported in the November 2002 issue of the magazine "Science"), some researchers tracking mitochondrial DNA were able to establish that all dogs are descended from no more than three different East Asian Grey Wolves. All of them. German Shepherds, Mexican Chihuahuas, Australian Dingos, Vietnamese dinner, Scottish Terriers, Japanese Chin. All dogs. Further, various clues that I don't completely understand apparently show that this split from wolves happened about 15 thousand years ago. Three wolves from northern China or Mongolia.

This is backed up by noting that the oldest consistent sets of dog/wolf remains ever found with human remains are from that age, and that part of the world. Note that word 'consistent'. Oh, we find scattered wolf remains buried with people earlier than that, all over the world, from accidental adoptions, but in northern China and Mongolia the finds are far denser, and from there everyone else got dogs, too.

This looks almost like the way military technology spreads. Someone invents the bow and arrow, or the chariot, or the crossbow, or the gun, or the tank, or the nuclear bomb, and before the century is out everybody and their cousin has them. In this case, someone invented a multi-use weapon system we call "the dog". We used that weapon system to hunt, to guard, to herd, to fetch, to provide companionship.

Still, wolves and humans have been in contact as long as there have been wolves and humans. Most of that contact has been violent. Both are hungry, and both eat the same things. If one kills a moose, the other wants to take it from the killer. And, when they get hungry enough, the wolves and humans have no problems eating each other. In many areas, the two are the only candidates for the position of apex predator. The two species try hard to clean the other out of 'their' territory.

There must have been a good reason why everyone suddenly decided that the big bad wolf was really their friend. And, the Mongolian nomads must have had an awfully good reason to put up with these wolves long enough for them to become the obedient and loyal dogs everyone knows and loves today.

Don't say 'docile', though. A week doesn't pass without a news story from somewhere about a mistreated dog proving that it still has a wolf's genes and turns on its tormenter. Or, sadly, in its desperation to control some part of its environment, strikes out at someone helpless who had nothing to do with its mistreatment. Worse, people often try to breed dogs for wolf-like behavior, although that's a waste of time and effort and shows a lack of understanding. The capacity for that behavior is already there. They already ARE wolves. Trying to breed dogs to 'be like' wolves is silly.

It's not true that Pit Bull Terriers are more vicious than other dogs. It is true that, since they have that reputation, people who want vicious dogs tend to start with that breed and mistreat them until they bring out the behavior that any dog would show. When I hear "Look at that vicious Pit Bull" I hear "Look at that mistreated dog". A poodle treated the same would react the same. The only differences between a poodle and a pit bull are size and build. And, some poodles are pretty big.

On a related subject, modern humans spread from Africa all over the world about 50-60 thousand years ago. They even reached a lot of places separated from the "old world" by open ocean. Everywhere except the Americas. And, actually, when you look closely enough, except for most of eastern Siberia. For about 40 thousand years, there were humans south of a particular mountain range in Siberia/Mongolia, but none north of it.

Sometime around 15 thousand years ago, that changed. A bunch of Mongolian nomads got past those mountains, wandered north and east, settled all over Siberia and Kamchatka, crossed the Bering strait, and populated the Americas, becoming our "Indians". The American Indians, often shortened to "AmerInd" to speed conversation, are most closely related to two specific ethnic groups in the old world: The Ainu, those natives of the northernmost Japanese islands, and some small tribes in central Siberia. In fact, the linguists agree that those Siberians speak languages more closely related to some of the Na-Dene group of languages spoken today in Canada than they are to any other Asian languages.

Okay, actually we're mixing up two separate ethnic groups. If we're being honest, it may have been more than two, but one large group of AmerInds that share a common language family are more closely related to the Ainu than they are to the rest of the AmerInds, and another large group of AmerInds that share a common language family are more closely related to those Siberians than they are to the rest of the AmerInds. Thus, at least two separate migrations, right?

So, we know where the AmerInds came from. What we don't understand is why it took them the better part of 40 thousand years to cross a simple mountain range. Humans crossed the ocean to reach New Guinea and Australia. They crossed mountains to reach Europe. They settled in places that had to have taxed their ingenuity. Up on mountains, down at the seashore. In the heat of the equatorial forest, and up near the Arctic Circle, for God's sake! They lived among lions, bears, elephants, crocodiles, and innumerable poisonous snakes. What was the problem with a simple mountain?

On yet another slightly different subject, the Pacific Ocean is surrounded on all sides by land, although the land to the far south is not habitable. Except for one section of this arc, natives all along the Pacific Rim used devices to help accelerate throwing spears. From Australia and New Guinea through Micronesia and south-east Asia, spear-throwers of various types are still used.

Similarly, the indigenous peoples on both sides of the Bering Strait still use them, as well as all the AmerInds from the Pacific NorthWest all the way down to South America. The only exception appears to be in central east Asia, that area now called China and Mongolia. Why everyone else, but not them? Of course it's possible that they used to have them, but have not needed them for so long that any traces have simply been lost in time, since that area was, if not THE first, at least one of the first to develop societies larger than hunting camps. Hmmm. Come to think of it, that last point may be relevant here, too.

Last, the ending of the Soviet "Iron Curtain" allowed researchers with modern tools to poke around in places that open-minded people had been excluded from for most of a century. Recently, some people digging inside a cave in northern Mongolia found all the normal stuff they were expecting to see for a long time, then they came across an abrupt change at the layer from about 15 thousand years ago. There's that number again. Below that layer, there were remains from the now-extinct Siberian Giant Hyena and its prey.

Apparently, those things were pretty antisocial, because there were no bear-gnawed bones, or saber-toothed-tiger-gnawed bones. Maybe some bear bones that had been gnawed on by the hyenas, but not the other way around. Above that layer, bears and other stuff but no hyenas any more. Below that layer, no sign of humans anywhere in Siberia north of that particular mountain range. After the age of that layer, humans everywhere but no hyenas.

Now, we know nothing about the behavior of the Siberian Giant Hyena, but we can reach some conclusions from that archaeological record and from the way their modern cousins behave. The "pygmy" (only in relation to their Siberian kin) hyenas still in Africa today hunt at night and have no fear of humans at all. There are reliable accounts of hyenas sneaking into villages and running off with babies.

There was no way that cavemen armed with spears could pass those mountains in northern Mongolia. The cavemen with their spears and teamwork may own those mountains during the day, but ya gotta sleep sometime. The Giant Hyenas own those mountains at night and you can't walk through an entire mountain range with your children in one day. That sounds reasonable as an explanation for why those happy-footed nomads stayed out of Siberia. Those hyenas block humanity's expansion into Siberia and from there into the Americas. Always have, always will. Until someone invents night-vision goggles and sniper rifles and hyena-proof armored cars. Or, obviously, until someone comes up with a different military tool that is just as good.

Oh, yeah, can't forget: That top-most -youngest- layer of hyena-chewed bones? It's the only layer with chewed wolf- or dog-bones. At that point you can't tell them apart. They have the right mDNA to be proto-dogs, though. Younger layers may have dog bones but they aren't chewed by hyenas. Older layers don't have dog or wolf remains, chewed or not.

The age of that split in the archaeological record under the mud in an obscure cave in Siberia allowed people from several different disciplines to put some things together.

Somehow, 15 thousand years ago, those primitive Mongolian cavemen who had been stymied for 40 thousand years or so found a way to defeat the giant hyenas. And, within 2-3 thousand years, they had filled Siberia and made their way to the Americas.

Oh, yeah. Every settlement found has wolf or dog remains. All over Siberia, all over the Americas. Okay, maybe not every one, but dogs are a constant. In fact, those wolves were clearly the very first animal we humans ever domesticated. All other animals became domesticated much later, and they happened at least partly because we already had the dog; we knew it could be done so we did it with other animals, too.

It's clear that those Siberian nomads who settled the New World had a very high regard for their dogs. We don't know what they liked about them, but even subsistence hunter-gatherers starving in the snow in Alaska as they searched for the Promised Land liked their dogs enough to share their meager food with them so that they could survive the trek with them. The dogs must have had some value to those nomads, a value so great they would support them the same way they supported their own children. Perhaps it was a religious dictum of some sort. "Thou shalt care for thy dog as thou carest for thy children."

What the hell happened fifteen thousand years ago, in northern Mongolia?

If you sit back and close your eyes, you can picture the scene in your imagination.


It was all Tuulat could do to keep from screaming at the spirits. What had he done, to earn this fate?

When the night-demons had attacked their camp two winters ago, they had lost the better part of their tribe. Their leader, many hunters, even some of the women and several children had been lost. Tuulat's mate and his oldest son, killed. His youngest, a girl-child, missing. There were many dead. There were four missing.

They had killed three of the demons, but the morning showed the tracks of four others who had stolen their meal and run back to the north, to the mountains. All of the missing were small children.

His son Tuulo would forever fight his demon for the spirits' entertainment, for they had died together. The small spear that killed the demon was his own, thrust through the demon's neck into its heart even as the demon jumped on him and bit him in half. Even in death, Tuulo had shown what a great hunter he would have been, killing a demon all by himself after only nine winters.

Tuulat had also killed one of the demons, when it stopped to feed on Naina after killing her. It must have been very hungry, to have ignored his spear until it was too late to avoid it. It was too late for his mate, too. Now all that was left to Tuulat was Mina, she who would always be his daughter. Mina was found hiding in the tent, the tent that Naina had died protecting and the demon had died trying to enter.

It was too late for many of the tribe. The demons had attacked during the night when no man could see, and they had slain many before stopping to eat.

They had known the danger in camping so close to the mountains, but winter was coming. The herds of deer that fed the clan between winters had moved away. Only the mountains had enough game to allow the clan to eat well all winter. And, if they were to find and kill enough meat, the hunters could not be delayed by preserving the kills. The rest of the tribe must follow the hunters. They would do all the work of turning the kill into dried meat, cured skins, and bone tools so that the hunters could continue to hunt.

They had to camp close to the mountains. The hunters could not spend days carrying or dragging their kills back to the tribe. If they were to eat all winter, the tribe must go to the mountains.

All the survivors met when the sun was setting on the second day after the attack. They had buried their own dead and moved the dead demons out of their camp. No one would eat demon-meat. No good could come of that.

The survivors agreed upon four things. First, they could not stay at the mountains and hunt. The demons could come back, and they themselves could not fight in the dark. Besides, with their reduced numbers they may already have enough meat for the few left to live all winter.

Second, they would join another camp. They were no longer strong enough to defend themselves. It would be better to join another camp.

Third, until they joined another camp they needed a leader. They selected Tuulat. He had never wanted to be a leader, except for leading a hunting party. He was not the oldest survivor but he was acknowledged as the best hunter of those who were left. And, surely, as much as the spirits had taken from him they also would recognize his skill and knowledge.

Fourth, Tuulat would teach them all to hunt. One demon had died with five spears in it, held by two boys, a woman, and two hunters. Of the five, only the woman and one hunter were still able to work. One of the boys had died. One of the hunters and the other boy were injured. The other two demons they had killed had died with only one spear in each, held by Tuulat and by Tuulo. Surely the spirits would allow him to teach the survivors all that he had taught his son. If all of the hunters had done as well as he or his son had done, they would have killed all of the demons and not lost anyone else.

So, Tuulat would be their leader, and he would teach them all to hunt. All of them. Man, woman, and child would all learn to hunt, and if the demons came back none of them would leave the camp with a meal in their jaws. The other hunters all had their pride, but they would swallow that in order to put the memory of that night behind them.

That horrible night was now two winters past. The heat was still growing, but the next winter would come soon. Winter was always coming soon. Tuulat was still the leader. He had learned much and was becoming a good leader. That was one of the lessons. Winter is coming. We need to prepare for it.

Before winter had set in that first time they had approached three different camps, all of their clan, but they had been rejected by all. The demons had claimed their camp. The other camps would give them gifts of food for the winter, but they must leave. No one wanted them to bring the demons to their camps.

They had been driven off by the hunters of the first two camps. They had left before they had spears pointed at them when the third one rejected them, although the third camp had given them much food to help speed their journey.

The gifts had been enough to end their worries about food for the winter, but they still had their reduced numbers to worry about. Tuulat had taken them to a place near the river with several caves. All of the hunters knew of it, and several of them had slept in one or another while hunting. When the snow left and the river grew the caves would be wet, but as long as it was cold it should be safe. He hoped.

The other hunters who had slept there agreed. The river never swallowed the caves until after the snow was gone. Perhaps the river could not see the caves when the world was covered with snow.

Perhaps the demons and other evil spirits could not find the caves, either. Still, they would treat the valley with the caves like a hunting camp. The hunters would take turns staying up all night with an older boy, one who was learning to hunt. Never again would the demons find them helpless in their sleep.

When they arrived at the caves they searched each one to make sure they were safe. One of them had a bear in it, but they had good spears. No one was injured and the bear added to their supplies of meat for the winter. Its hide and bones added to the camp's wealth.

When the sun had come back from its trip south and the snow began to melt after that first winter, all of the adults agreed that the caves were a good place to stay. It had been a good winter, if saying such made sense. No winter was good, but this one had been less bad than any other they remembered. Oh, the winter itself had been horrible, but as long as it stayed outside the caves in the valley they didn't mind. Perhaps it was true that the evil spirits could not find them in the snow.

They had not lost anyone to the cold this winter. All of the injured had healed as much as they would. With furs held up to block the wind, the caves had never been warm the way a tent could be, but they were never cold like the snow was, either. Two of the caves were large enough to use furs and wood to build shelters in, and those were almost as warm as a tent.

The survivors had merged all of the broken families. Tuulat had invited Keela, a good woman who had lost her mate that night, to live in his tent. They had given pieces of the tent Keela and her old mate had used to others who needed repairs after that night.

With the loss of several hunters the camp had more women than men, so as usual when that happened and none of the women wanted to join a different camp, some of the families had added a second woman to their tents. As long as they all got along, it was good for everyone. There was no more family work and more adults to do it, so life was easier.

As long as they all got along with each other. Tuulat was willing to accept a second woman in his tent, but he had asked Keela first and Keela did not want a second woman in her tent.

Keela had brought two children with her to Tuulat's tent, a daughter almost ready to mate and a younger son. Tuulat accepted them as his own children, and Keela accepted Mina as her daughter. Mating was a serious business, because all the people expected the hunter and mother to provide for their family, and in cases like this when one or the other brought children to the tent it was important that the other tell the entire camp that he or she accepted their mate's children as his or her own. That was the highest law of all the camps and clans. A hunter and mother supported their children until they were old enough to become hunters and mothers themselves.

Mina was a sweet child, but she was simple. She always had been. She had seen seven winters when the demons came, but she still acted like the younger children of only three or four winters.

Her body would soon be ready for mating but no one would want her. Hunters wanted a mate who could do everything a family needed when the hunter was away, and Mina still needed to be helped herself. How could she store and prepare food, take care of the tent, and help her own children, when the adults still had to watch her? Perhaps someday the spirits would bless her with wisdom, but for today she was still a child. Keela accepted, as Naina had before, that Mina would be her daughter for as long as she needed.

Another tribe with less food might have been forced to send Mina away, but as long as Tuulat could hunt that would not happen here. He and Naina, and now he and Keela, could provide for her and never asked the others for help feeding Mina. Besides, all the children loved her. She was one of them, only bigger.

Kaina and Arten were growing the way children should, though. Kaina would be ready to mate soon, and both she and her mate would be happy. There were several young hunters who would like to have her in their tents. When she chose one, the following heat would give them their own child.

Arten was several winters from that time but he, too was growing as he should. He was playful like all children were, but he was also attentive. He learned all that Tuulat and the other hunters could teach him. All that he needed to take his place with the hunters was time. As the winters and heats came and went, he would continue to grow and gain experience, skill, and knowledge.

That first winter's end after Tuulat became the camp's leader had been a time of confusion. They all agreed that this was a good place to stay for the winter and they should come back here next winter, too. What should they do now for the summer? Where should they go? While they considered, they had sent runners to the other camps to see how they were doing.

That had not gone well. Individually, the people of his camp and the people of the other camps all got along. There was no reason for disagreement or strife. When they met as camps, though, the other camps did not want their camp near them.

That made Tuulat and his people sad and angry. What had they done wrong? Should they have let the demons kill them all? Would that have been right?

No. Tuulat and his people were proud of what they had done. They had killed three of the demons. No one had ever done that before. He himself had killed one of them. Did that make him a bad person?

He didn't think so. Perhaps that made the demons angry with him, but he had killed one already. If they came back, he would do his best to kill more before they took him.

He and others spoke with people from the other camps whenever they met. All the other camps had lost people during the winter. His was the only camp they knew of that had not lost anyone to the cold. Did that make sense, if the spirits were angry with his people?

He and his people decided that the other camps were wrong to treat them as bad people to be avoided. They may not be bad themselves, but they were wrong for casting them out. They would not help the other camps as long as they were wrong. They would start their own clan, the demon-killer clan. Any who wished could join them, but they would not help those who had cast them out.

By the time winter ended, everyone was hungry. It always happened; it was just the way it was. His camp was doing well, though. There was little food left by the time the snow went away, but there was still some.

Many camps had no food at all by the time the snow went away. Tuulat's people told the hunters they met that they would take in any families that the other camps could not feed. But, they would only do it if those camps cast them out. The cast-out families would become part of the demon-killer clan. They would be welcomed and be fed and kept warm. And taught how to kill demons.

That first spring the small demon-killer clan gained four families. Each of the three remaining camps of their old clan sent them a family they could not feed. One of the camps sent two families.

All four of the families had mothers and children, but only one had a hunter. He had been injured several winters earlier, and was no longer able to feed his family as well as he should. That was it. There was nothing wrong with any of the new people except that none of the families had a hunter, and their old camps could not -or would not- feed them any longer.

The injured hunter, Taakal, could not use his left hand. He had been surprised by a pair of wolves while he was cleaning a deer he had killed. He had used his left hand to protect himself while he reached for his knife, and it was bitten badly. He would never use it again, but his camp had gotten the meat and hide from both the deer and the wolf that had bitten him. He still proudly wore the wolf's fur when he was cold.

Afterwards, though, he could not hunt as well. Hunting takes two hands. Carrying things takes two hands. Making a spear takes two hands. Throwing a spear only needs one, but holding one ready to be thrown and carrying another takes two hands.

Taakal still had much knowledge, though. He could talk and teach. And he could still walk and run. He could still hold or throw a spear. He just couldn't use his left hand. The next time Tuulat sent hunters out, he paired Taakal with another hunter and sent one of the boys along to carry things for him.

Pairing hunters or even sending larger parties was common, since it allowed them to kill and bring back larger game. The demon-killer clan was different in that it never sent out single hunters. All agreed on that change. They needed for all to be good hunters. If a hunter was so good that he was better alone than with a partner, then that hunter should be teaching the other hunters how to be that good.

Besides, they were not the only hunters out there. While they hunted deer or boars, wolves and other things were hunting them. Two or three hunters could stand with their backs together, if they had to, and even a whole pack of wolves would eventually decide that there were easier dinners to get elsewhere. Also, it was safer to attack something large with several of them.

And, as Taakal liked to point out, one hunter could always be surprised while working, or even in his sleep. It was better to send out two or three hunters together, as they could find or make some sort of shelter and then take turns watching for danger.

Taakal was very wise. Wisdom came with age, and Taakal was old. He had seen more than thirty winters come and go. He was not the oldest adult in the new clan, but he was the oldest hunter. Hunters don't live very long. Only the mothers who stay safe at the camp get to be old.

The various hunting parties usually came back with something for the people left in the camp to eat. Sometimes it happened that a hunting party came back to the camp with empty hands. Still, if they had taken one of the women or young boys or girls with them, they could spend the time teaching. Some skills were easy, or could be taught and practiced in the safety of the camp. Other skills could only be taught and practiced on the hunt with a sharp flint tip on their spear.

One thing that took the new clan most of the summer to realize was that the hunting parties always came back. It was common among the camps for a hunter to come back injured, or even to never come back. That was the fate of most hunters. They went out one day to find food for their families and never came back.

A group of two or three hunters, though, always came back. They may not bring food, but they always came back. Perhaps there was no game in that valley. Perhaps the youngster was too loud and scared the deer off. But, they could always discuss what had gone wrong, rest for a day or so, maybe trade people with another team, and then go out again.

Once they realized that, they made it clan policy. Everyone had something to teach others. Perhaps one hunter was better at moving quietly than the others. Perhaps another hunter had better sight than the others. Whenever possible, the demon-killer clan would send two or three experienced hunters out with one or two youngsters, the hunters to teach and the youngsters to learn.

People still got injured, of course. People slipped and fell. They got bitten or clawed or kicked by cornered prey. However, the injured hunter could be helped immediately, and if needed he could be carried back to camp for more help. Sometimes they got better. Sometimes they lived but with their injuries.

Sometimes they died from their injuries. It was as the spirits willed. Until the spirits were willing to tell the clan what they wanted, all they could do was continue as best they could. At least everyone knew what had happened. Everyone could learn from it. Don't charge a wounded bear. Don't walk too close to a cliff. Don't try to cross the river when the water is too cold. Don't try to cross a frozen river either.

As the summer continued and more of the youngsters became skilled in moving quietly and hunting, the clan was able to send more and more hunting teams out. Sometimes a team would be a mated pair and one of their own children. Those did the best, because the lead hunter considered his mate and his child's safety before making decisions, and was more careful. They didn't always bring food back to camp, but they always came back safely and could go out again in a few days.

By the time winter approached that first year, the demon-killer clan had more "hunters" than any other camp in the area. Not all the "hunters" were men, and not all of them were adults, but they could all track their prey or lay in wait while others drove it to them, and they could all throw a spear accurately enough to bring almost anything down. Not even an old bull moose could run well with a heavy ten-foot spear in its side.

And again the clan had more food than they needed for the winter.

When it became time to move back to the caves for the winter, they sent messengers to the other clans again, offering to take in any who were hungry. This time, however, they sent back the families that had been cast out in the spring. Those families, with the young hunters they had joined tents with, would be better speakers for the demon-killer clan than any of the original members would be.

There was not even any need to send any of the other hunters with them for protection. The women and the older children may not be able to run down a deer, but they could certainly deal with any boar that attacked them.

That had happened a couple of moons earlier, in the heat. Some of the women and children were in the forest gathering berries and herbs when they disturbed a sow with her piglets. They all dropped their baskets and picked up their spears, and the camp had fresh roast pork for the next couple of days. Afterwards, all the women and children stood a little straighter because none of the hunters had even been there. And no one was injured.

This time only one camp sent people to the new demon-killer clan, another woman with three children whose father had not returned from hunting back during the heat. Four more mouths to feed was not a problem, as long as the refugees accepted that their new clan did things differently than their old clan. When the refugees met their new clan-mates they found a much warmer welcome than they had expected.

When the demon-killer clan arrived at the caves for their second winter there, they found some others there. One of the other camps also wanted to use the caves. However, neither camp wanted to share the caves with the other.

This was when Tuulat did the thing that he became most remembered for throughout the other camps and clans. In the excitement of the discussion, he told the leader of the other camp that this valley belonged to the demon-killer clan. Cowards who were afraid of demons were not welcome in their valley.

Any who wished to become demon-killers would be welcome, but the cowards had pointed their spears at his people when they had asked for help. The demon-killer clan would repay that debt and point their spears at any cowards who came into their valley without invitation. And the cowards there now had not been invited. The clan of the demon-killers would welcome hunters who visited, but any camp that entered the valley would be sent away the way the other camps had sent them away.

There was no blood shed, but the other camp agreed to cede the valley to the demon-killer clan when they counted all the spears pointed at them. The other camp had more adult male hunters than the demon-killer clan did, but EVERY member of the demon-killer clan held a spear. Except for those so young they still held their mother's hand. Every mother holding a small child held a spear in the other hand. Every clan member old enough to walk unaided when the clan traveled was carrying a spear, and they were all pointed at the camp that had cast them out.

The camp leader had been chosen to lead his camp because the hunters and the mothers thought that he had the wisdom to make good decisions for the good of the whole camp. He made such a good decision here. The safety of the caves was not certain. It would be better to go to another valley and use their tents like they always did. Reserving this valley for the demon-killers to use was a little thing. There were other valleys.

After they left, their leader sent runners to the other camps to tell them of the grudge carried by the new clan, and of his decision to not fight with them over the caves. Winter was coming. No one needed to be fighting.

The second winter that Tuulat led the camp went smoother than the first one, as everyone except the newest family knew what they were doing. The two larger caves had the partial tents set up inside for privacy, and the openings were all covered with furs and hides to keep the cold out.

Winter was a time when there was little to do, and much time waiting for the heat to return. There were times when everyone stayed in the caves for weeks at a time, but even winter is not always cold. Even in the winter there were times when if it was not snowing they could go outside.

Whenever they could, they sent hunters out to see what they could find. If they brought something back, all would be happy for fresh meat, although a pair of rabbits did not go far. When the hunters brought back a deer everyone ate well, but if there was not enough for everyone the children got the fresh meat first.

Even if they found nothing, it was good to be out in the fresh air running and playing. Those hunts were good practice for the younger ones. Each group had a couple of older experienced hunters and one or two younger ones who needed practice and experience. It was fun to tell the youngest to lead them to some landmark, then when they got there look back at the trail they had left in the snow.

There is more of this story...
The source of this story is Storiesonline

For the rest of this story you need to be logged in: Log In or Register for a Free account

Story tagged with:
Historical / Mystery /