I had fifteen Summers, and had reached my full growth a span of seasons before. It was past time that my clan consider me Sree. I'd first spilled my seed on the ground during my twelfth Summer, and had, right after that, spent my half moon's time alone in the forest, in order to prove myself to my clan a Mek Hunter.
In my clan, Mek means boy and Sree means man. For a Mek to get to be a Sree, there had to be unanimous agreement from the Sree hunters. At my last petition, I'd only received nine of the twenty two approvals I'd need. I couldn't understand why so many felt it acceptable to reject my claim to manhood like they had.
Our clan dwelled in four caves. The largest, the Sree Hunter cave, was home to our five clan leaders, as well as the other seventeen Sree Hunters. The next largest cave, for the women of our clan, held the forty three women and the seven youngest children of the clan. The next largest cave, was home to the five Mek Hunters, and nine younger boys. The smallest cave was for the eleven younger girls who were too old to still live with the women, but too young to be women themselves.
The men of the clan supervised the boy's cave, while the women of the clan looked after the young girl's cave.
The clan women belonged to the men of the clan. Any Sree Hunter could lay evening claim to any clan woman. It was first come first served. Sex took place in the woman's cave. The women prepared the food, serving the men in the Sree cave first.
My last petition to be accepted as Sree had exhausted the four opportunities each Mek was allowed. I was now left with only two choices. I could leave the clan, setting out on my own to find another clan who might accept me, or else I could stay, challenging those that refused to sanction my elevation to Sree Hunter status.
Only one of the five clan leaders had refused to approve my elevation. I couldn't challenge a clan leader. That was taboo. Still, that meant I might have to fight twelve times, in order to achieve my goal. No clan leader would stand alone to oppose my elevation to Sree.
While I'd exhausted all my petition opportunities, after each challenge there would be another vote taken on whether to acknowledge me as Sree. After watching my challenge, some of the clan's Sree Hunters might decide to support my elevation. Custom dictated that a defeated opponent would then vote his approval.
The challenge would be without weapons. Hands, arms, legs and body were all you could use. No biting or eye gouging was allowed. The challenge would conclude when one fighter could no longer continue, or until he signaled that he'd yielded.
With so few Hunters in our clan, issued challenges were not taken lightly. Everyone counted on the Hunters, for food, and for protection from outside enemies or other predators. Seldom did Mek Hunters issue challenges, and then, only when one or two Sree Hunters had voted down their petition. For me to do so, against thirteen unfavorable votes, would be unheard of.
The clan had gathered outside that night. The fire was built much bigger than usual. All anticipating that I would announce my intention to depart the clan. By tradition, I would be allowed to be the last to exit my cave. People expected to see me packed and ready for travel. I could hear all the excited murmuring when I came out of my cave in only my breech clout and moccasins.
"I am Grel, and I issue my challenge to Brelto. I think I am more Sree than you are."
Brelto had more than twenty Summers. He wasn't very quick of foot, and we matched up well for size. He certainly wasn't the worst fighter in the group that had opposed my elevation. What he was though, was the one Sree Hunter that I most disliked. If I lost against Brelto, I wouldn't issue any more challenges, I'd just leave the clan. On the other hand, if I succeeded in my challenge, I hoped that other Sree Hunters would change their vote and support my elevation.
The challenge circle was formed, and I could see that Brelto was confident that he would prevail. When I had been a young boy, Brelto had enjoyed tormenting me. He especially liked to catch me unawares and push me into water or drainage paths. I had little trouble building up some anger at him as we both stood waiting for the circle to close us in together.
Since I knew I was faster than him, but probably not quite as strong, I wanted to avoid wrestling and clinches. Instead, I wanted to hit and kick him from a distance, while using my greater speed to avoid any attacks from him. For his part, Brelto seemed content to wait for me to close with him.
I moved quickly to my left and unleashed a kick to his right knee. Backing quickly away as soon as it had landed. I circled left again, trying to get behind him. This forced him to put weight on his right leg as he pivoted, trying to keep me in front of him.
I stopped and once again lashed out with my left leg, delivering a fearsome kick to the same knee I'd attacked just seconds before. Instead of once more backing away. I remained where I was and punched at his face with my right hand, landing a solid blow to his left ear. Only then did I once again retreat. Still, Brelto refused to come forward after me.
I started circling to my left again, tentatively moving in closer as he turned with me. I lifted my left leg just slightly before putting it back down and lunging towards him. I managed to hit his face twice, first with my left hand, then with my right. This time I got hit in my forehead and got kneed in my thigh. I moved backwards before he could get his arms around me like he was attempting. When I stopped moving backwards he was chasing after me and I got in another good kick, this time right below his right knee. I knew that leg of his had to be hurting by then.
I managed to avoid a flurry of punches from him by moving straight back faster than he was moving forward. When I ran out of room to retreat, I quickly pivoted right and hit him with my forearm as I slid away from him.
"If you were truly Sree, you would stand still and fight me. Instead, you run away, like a frightened child."
My answer to his challenge was to stop long enough to kick him in his left knee, then continue moving back to the center of the circle. We had been fighting in the circle for awhile now, and I could see Brelto was beginning to fade from the unaccustomed excitement and physical effort. I thought he was beginning to wear down. Perhaps it was only wishful thinking on my part though.
I stood, right in the center of the circle. For the first time since my challenge had begun, I was standing flat footed, no longer up on the balls of my feet, ready to move away. I set myself for the expected charge from my opponent, but it didn't come. Instead, he too stopped, and seemed concentrated on trying to get more air into his overworked lungs. I knew I had him then.
I moved towards him and we exchanged some kicks and blows. Perhaps the exchange was pretty even, I don't know, but I did know that with the difference in our breathing, any exchange like this would probably work to my ultimate benefit. When Brelto dropped down to one knee, I put my own right knee into his face. I put everything I had left into it.
With that last effort the challenge was won. After this, all the Sree lined up and, counting Brelto, I now had thirteen approvals, and only nine against.
"Tomorrow night, I challenge Delvo." Saying this, I walked back to my cave. Delvo had only sixteen Summers, and had been elevated to Sree Hunter only four moons before. I chose to challenge Delvo because Lino, the clan leader who opposed my elevation, had lent his spirit to Delvo. Lino had always favored Delvo's side while we were growing up.