On the banks on the Smooth Snake river, about a morning’s walk from the sea coast to the south, the sun rose on the chilly morning of the first day of Spring. It is the vernal equinox and the Sea Otter, Bear and Willow clans have met here to celebrate as they do each year. There was much celebration over the past few days, as friends were reunited, trade deals made, marriages arranged, disputes settled and general feasting and song, dance and storytelling.
The mood was entirely jovial however, as this year, the meet has been joined by members of the Wolf clan, who came bearing news of a strange illness that was afflicting the prey, and even some of the hunters, in their territory. They told of hideous black growths forming on the bodies of deer, and the deer falling dead soon after. The concern among the Wolf clan was great, as not only were the prey believed too sick to eat and the clan was beginning to feel the tightness in their bellies, but a few days earlier two of the Wolf clan hunters had fallen ill with the same sickness.
There was talk as well of missing children and solitary hunters from Bear clan, Wolf clan and Willow clan. All three tribes reported people going missing while out on hunts or gathering wood or checking traps. It was noted that the disappearances usually occurred at damn or dusk, but tracks that were follow of the disappeared usually ended abruptly and seemed to disappear. So far the Sea Otter clan remained the only clan present who had not lost any one.
There was also a strange visitor to the meet this year. A man, a warrior from the deep forest, from the Auroch clan, had mad his way, alone, to the meet proclaiming he had come to bring good will to the peoples of the open forest. His name was Valkilmer, and he walked tall and proud in amongst the people gathered to see him and seemed especially keen to speak with local storytellers so that they might learn of his exploits. He said that he would continue his journey north after the meet, to see the Sea Eagle clan and further extend greetings from the Aurochs.
Valkilmer was approached by a young storyteller named Shine who sought to make the newcomer feel welcome. Upon learning that Shine was a storyteller AND a messenger between the clans, Valkilmer proclaimed that Shine would “tell his tale” and “sing of his great deeds!” Shine was a little taken aback and the boldness of this strange man from the deep forest, but nonetheless did his best to make Valkilmer feel welcomed and important.
Anja, a rather stone-faced hunter from the Bear clan, also extended welcome to the lone stranger as well as to the members of the Wolf clan, offering them food which she had collected from the Bear clan breakfast fires. Shine then took the opportunity to entertain the seldom seen Wolf clan with an exciting story and his audience was greatly impressed and engrossed in his tale! Shine received much praise, admiration and perhaps a bit of a following from these particular Wolf clans-folk.
Then Valkilmer, amidst the open stares and sidelong glances from people who had never seen someone from the deep forest before, strode out into the middle of the camp grounds and announced his presence. “I am Valkilmer!” he proclaimed, “from the mighty Aurochs!” He made quite the spectacle standing alone in the centre of a group of curious clan members as he held his spear proudly at his side. A bit of a crowd stared at him as he cast his gaze about as if reviewing his subjects, although others turned away, perhaps too shy or even a little embarrassed.
Despite the spectacle of Valkilmer vying for everyone’s attention, another crowd was beginning to gather around the Willow and Otter clan leaders (Seasni and Hi’Tenna respectively) as they discussed who should go on the hunt to bring back the prey which was needed to symbolically start the feasting. Valkilmer, Shine and Anja walked over to see what was happening. They were joined by a very large and imposing hunter from the Wolf clan who called himself Moop, and a young woman from the Sea Otters, Tallis, who couldn’t seem to contain her curiosity at what might be under discussion. Without a moments pause, Valkilmer offered himself as a worthy hunter to seek and claim this important prey. Hi’Tenna, the Otter leader, although approving of the idea of letting a member of the Auroch clan be part of the hunt so as to extend goodwill towards their clan, was concerned that Valkilmer may not have the skills required. The hunt, after all, must be a sure thing. At this point Shine stepped forward and vouched for Valkilmer’s hunting ability, insisting he was indeed a great hunter, and was an appropriate choice. The Otter leader seemed suitably convinced of Shine’s claim and agreed wholeheartedly to Valkilmer’s participation. Several Bear clan members stepped forward and nominated Anja for the hunt as well. Anja deferred to her clansfolk saying she would go if it was their choice. The Bear clan was in unanimous approval and Anja was included in the hunting party. Moop also volunteered for the hunt and was backed up by his clansfolk. So it was that Moop, Valkilmer and Anja took up their spears and bows and headed into the forest to find prey. Shine, not wanting to miss the opportunity to witness the great hunt, tagged along as well. And climbing up and along great tree boughs, they were all followed by the stealthy, and somewhat odd, Tallis from the Otter clan.
It was not too long before the party discovered the tracks of a deer leading north away from the camp. Anja, Moop and Valkilmer collectively were able to follow the trail for some time before another trail, that of a human, was detected meandering north as well. It was determined that the tracks were likely from a man traveling in no particular hurry. At that moment, Tallis who was hanging out in a tree branch, dropped to the ground behind them to see what was going on. Valkilmer, his attention absorbed in examining the tracks, heard the sudden snap of a twig behind him as Tallis landed and he whirled around and hurled his spear in her direction! Tallis, having luckily dropped to all fours when she landed, was missed by the spear by as little as a foot as it whizzed over her head and stuck in the ground behind her…. The rest of party stood in a moment of stunned silence, when Anja quietly collected Valkilmer’s spear and returned it to him. Valkilmer went back to examining the tracks as if nothing had happened. Just then, Anja noticed blood on the foliage near the man’s tracks, took a closer look and confirmed it was indeed human blood.
Shine, eager to improve their chances of finding prey and discover the meaning of the human blood, began preparing a ritual which he believed would allow him to contact any spirits nearby and learn from them where and how to best find the deer they tracked, or to gain insight into the story behind the blood. Moop remained with Shine as the rest of the party followed the deer and man tracks for another 200 yards or so when they came upon a small clearing where the ground cover had been crushed and the earth torn up in places as if something sharp were thrust into it again and again. Blood, only a few hours old, could be seen on the ground where the plants had been flattened. As the party stopped to observe this strange scene, they heard an aggressive snuffling coming from the bushes. Suddenly, a wild boar charged from the underbrush and headed directly for Anja! Anja was able to throw her spear at the charging beast but it glanced off its shoulder barely wounding it. Quickly, Valkilmer leapt forward and thrust his spear into the boar’s ribs before it could complete its charge. The thrust was a mighty one and the boar was stopped in its tracks and fell to the ground, breathing its last. Valkilmer, placed one foot upon the boar, and withdrawing his spear proclaimed, “I have killed this boar! Remember this Shine, sing of it in your tales of my deeds!” Just as quickly as Valkilmer had announced his victory, Anja ran to the boar and dealt the coup de grace to end its suffering. She made a prayer of thanks to the boar’s spirit and the world spirit and began straight away to clean the boar properly, leaving an offering to the Bear guardian, and then prepare the carcass to carry away with them.
Meanwhile Shine, with the sounds of the encounter penetrating his consciousness while he prepared his ritual, allowed thoughts of the boar to enter into his visualization of his ceremony, hoping to gain insight into what had happened to the boar. Moop, waiting with Shine as he chanted his way into a trance, began to get a little fidgety…
With Anja gutting and cleaning the boar, Valkilmer continued to examine the clearing and saw that there were more man tracks heading north-east and these tracks appeared to be carrying a great weight. While Anja finished properly cleaning the boar carcass, Valkilmer followed the man tracks to the north-east.
200 yards away Shine suddenly found himself perceiving the world through the eyes of a wild boar. He found himself sniffing about through the forest then suddenly the earth seemed to give way beneath him, he fell and found himself surrounded by darkness! He felt as if the very leaves and twigs around him were pressing hard up around his body and his face! And then, there was a searing pain in his back as something cut him down the length of his spine and then he was free and in the light again…. free and enraged! All he wanted was to strike out at that which had hurt him! He charged off into the bushes, his back bleeding and his mind obscured with the pain that consumed him. In addition to this vision, Shine also felt, momentarily, the clear emotions of a strong malicious intent as well as those of fear and panic.
His ritual finished and his trance broken, Shine walked with Moop to the clearing where Anja had just completed cleaning the boar carcass and tying it up so as it could be carried away. From the canopy above, Tallis peered down at them.
Moop, seeing the deer tracks leading northward and tired of waiting around, took off alone in pursuit of the deer they tracked while Shine, Tallis and Anja followed the course Valkilmer had taken and soon saw him paused up ahead, staring at something. Valkilmer, somewhat ahead of the rest of them, had moments before spied a man not some 100 yards distant kneeling perfectly still, his back turned to him. Valkilmer advanced slowly upon the man as stealthily as he could. Shine, Tallis and Anja followed suit, also seeing the man up ahead who seemed to not have noticed them at all. Slowly the party approached, weapons at the ready should this man be hostile, but still the man showed no sign of noticing them.
“Hello?!” Called out Valkimer, “I am Valkilmer! Who are you?!” but there was no response. Shine ventured a lively tune on his drum, as if to show the party was no threat, but still the man remained motionless. Changing tactics completely, Shine then strode forward an hailed the man again in a loud and friendly manner. Still no response. Tallis, moving through the trees above, now was able to see that the man knelt over the prone body of another man. Valkilmer saw this as well, and soon Shine and Anja could also see the other man. Getting as good a vantage point as she could from her lofty perch, Tallis tried to determine who the man was who lay on the ground. She could just make out his style of dress and guessed he was Sea Otter clan! She quickly climbed down from the branches and moved towards the man on the ground, anxious to determine if he was indeed Sea Otter and how he fared. The man’s chest appeared to be rising and falling from his shallow breathing, indicating he was indeed alive, but from up close several deep wounds could be seen on his chest and abdomen. The kneeling man still remained relatively motionless, his face twitching from time to time and his hands resting on the other man’s face and body. Tallis pulled on his jerkin and this snapped him out of his reverie. “Hello. Who are you?” asked Tallis as the others stood around a bit unsure what to do.
“Oh… hello….” answered the man, looking somewhat scared and unsure of himself, even not quite fully aware of his surroundings.
Valkilmer recognized the kneeling man’s clan tattoos as those of the Wisent, the deep forest Bison clan. Anja also recognized the tattoos. As well, From this position closer up the wounded man’s tattoos could now be plainly seen and he was indeed Sea Otter clan as Tallis suspected. Tallis recognized him as Kalik, a hunter whose personality won him no lasting friendships within the clan and who was somewhat disliked, but by no means hated.
To the kneeling stranger Tallis repeated, somewhat annoyed and concerned, “Who are you? What were you doing?”
The Wisent man seemed a bit more aware of his surroundings now, though he seemed still to shrink back a bit from those around him, as if frightened. He raised his hand to a headband decorated with feathers he wore across his forehead, touching it as if to confirm its existence. “I am…. Jub.” He answered, “I was healing this man. I found him here.”
The party considered his words, and Anja for one felt he was indeed telling the truth. The party looked to the man on the ground and though he was breathing the man’s wounds seemed too dire to move him and Shine suggesting he run and fetch Sita, the Sea Otter healer to come and see what she could do, and with that and ran back towards the clan meet.
Meanwhile, Moop had followed the trail of the deer they hunted for some distance, lost it momentarily, was looking to pick it up again and noticed he had come round in a circle and could see Anja, Valkilmer and Tallis standing and talking to this stranger. He joined them just in time to see Tallis reach out and pull the man’s headband from his head in response to which the man immediately slapped his hand to his forehead. Tallis, being the closest, was the only one just able to see the small, black circular tattoo on his forehead donating him as an outcast… Without missing a beat she gave threw him his headband back and looked to the wounded man on the ground, checking on his condition.
Back at the camp, Shine burst into the meeting grounds and sought out Hi’Tenna, the Sea Otter leader, and explained the situation. Kalik had been found wounded in the forest and Sita was needed to help him. Sita was summoned and slowly hobbled her ancient body over to where Shine and Hi’Tenna and several other Sea Otters who had gathered to see what the fuss was about.
“Why can Kalik not come and see me?” she queried in her quavering but kindly voice.
“He is near death Sita," responded Shine. “He only lived because another healer has helped him. This other healer is with him now, but his wounds are grave.”
At this Sita grew concerned. “Another healer? And Kalik so badly wounded? Take me to him immediately," she commanded, and she, Kalik and three other curious Otters entered the forest.
It was soon apparent that they would make to progress travelling at Sita’s slow and delicate pace, and so Shine and the three others hoisted her up and carried her in order to cover more ground quickly.
When Shine, Sita and the other Otters arrived at where the hunting party waited with Kalik, it was seen that Anja had already made a travois with which to carry the wounded man. The man from the Wisent clan, Jub, figetted at the approach of these new strangers and his hand rose to his headband. “Who are you?” questioned Sita of Jub once she had looked over Kalik’s body.
“I am Jub.” He answered, but backed away from her gaze.
Sita, though seemingly full of questions for Jub, now had her hands full with assisting the moving of Kalik to the travois. “His wounds are dire, but he is alive," she repeated as she applied a herbal poultice to his wounds and bound them with a hide wrapping. “We must get him back to the camp immediatly. Take him to my tent, and be gentle!” she warned. With that Kalik was lifted gingerly by the three Otter hunters and they and Sita started to make there way back to the riverside.
It was decided by the group, that although there was concern for Kalik, it was still of the utmost importance that large enough prey be found for tonight’s feast that would symbolize the abundance that was hoped for in the coming year. Anja, Moop, Valkilmer, Shine and Tallis slipped off into the forest again in search of the deer tracks that had been lost while Jub wandered in the direction of the clan meet.
It wasn’t too long before the party luckily picked up the deer tracks again and closed in on their quarry. Valkilmer approached quietly with Anja while Moop stayed back and took aim with his bow. Anja and Valkilmer split ways, Anja coming round to the front of the deer and Valkilmer approaching it from behind. Suddenly the deer was running! It must have heard them! Moop let loose his arrow but missed, Valkilmer’s shot hit home but was not enough to bring the deer down. The deer ran wildly directly at Anja who waited with her spear, but at the last moment is saw her and turned to avoid her. Anja sprang from her hiding spot and hurled her spear at the turning deer, hitting it squarely and bringing it down in a tumble to the forest floor. Immediately she ran to it’s side and gave prayers of thanks as she made sure it suffered no longer.
The deer was indeed a handsome stag and would readily be accepted as a sufficient kill for the feast and so the party quickly tied up the prey so that they could carry it and headed back to camp.
As the party headed back towards the river, Jub began to hang back. When they neared the encampment, he refused to come any further, but rather said he was fine where he was. The others couple not convince him otherwise and moved on.
Back at the meeting grounds there was a great cheer and celebration when the hunting party returned with such a fine specimen. Valkilmer boasted of his fine archery skills and received much praise but Anja kept quiet, not needing or not understanding Valkilmer’s need to be in the spotlight. The party inquired as to how Kalik was doing and were told he was very badly wounded but would, miraculously, survive.