An Arrow in the Leg
Swifty's village, the surrounding woods, the Tribal Peninsular, the sky overhead and the sea to the south was the 'world' he was raised in. Until he proved himself an apt hunter it was taboo to venture outside. Although he was moderately safe from attack, starvation and other fatalities, he felt something immeasurable pulling him away from his safe little world, and like all things that tempt, particularly the young, he knew in time he would explore them. But there was a problem; to qualify as a hunter one had to kill a deer, or some other game that could feed his village. How long since a deer had been caught on the Peninsular? How many moons ago was it or should he count in seasons? He tried to count the days backwards and lost himself, nothing memorable had happened to act as a marker. He shook his head in dismay. His time would come. Typical of any day he and the other male teenagers of the village hunted for deer in the local woods. Most of the time they stalked each other, played that they were warriors exploring the wilderness, or they scoured for rare berries and tasty roots. On this day, however, Lucky, his best friend, suddenly crouched behind a tree and sniffed at the ground. He dabbed his fingers onto a dry leaf, now dark and glistening with a liquid, sniffed his finger tips and then turned his hand into the symbol of a strong deer pissing then meandering away.
Swifty and his other two friends, Belly and Sunny, glowed with excitement. They spied in every direction and listened intently to an easterly sea breeze filtering through the woods; dry leaves rustled, branches groaned and a woodpecker chipped at a tree trunk. Then came the spirited singing of birds; the small type that are hardest to snare. Belly crept alongside Lucky and together they studied a barely visible trail of deer tracks. It wound around another tree, trotted over, corrected itself and veered north. The four boys followed in earnest and then Sunny saw the deer. They flattened themselves to the ground. The deer was under one-hundred paces away, standing behind a thicket of sour berries, basking in a ray of sunshine. The boys crept closer. One eye stared in their direction, which to them was right at them--its predators--yet stood still as the trees. Sunny made a hand signal to fan out and surround the prey. Then the deer's ears twitched to the direction of the wind and with a sudden kick it bolted out of sight, scampering deep into the darkness of the woods. The boys, spears in hand, crept forward to the deer's last position. It was a small sunlit clearing and with their spearheads they traced the hard imprints of hooves as the deer launched itself and fled, in a direction opposite to that of the wind, which itself carried a peculiar sound.
The stream at the eastern edge of the woods was an established border for the boys' tribe, and carried by the wind, intertwined with the trickling of water was a feint, melodic giggling. Piloted by instinct the boys crouched to the ground and in a loose arrow formation delicately crawled through the woods. Before the bank of the stream, still in the cool shadows of the woods, they closed into a line, camouflaged and silent, observing what they knew to be the only taboo territory on their Peninsular that was not outside of it. Before them, a good stone throw away, was a bend in the stream where it collected into a small pool. The stream then continued around the eastern plain and into the sea. Standing by, or carelessly floating in the clear water of the pool, were four young women; more women than the boys thought themselves men.
"Plains Girls," Sunny whispered with an aching, despair.
Belly, Swifty and Lucky knew of the plains on the peninsular and the severe decree of the elders to avoid the inhabitants there, yet had never seen proof that there were living beings to avoid, healthy in body and soul, that had escaped the 'sickness' of the past. Yet here was irrefutable proof, giving some credence to the taboo, that there were people, and even from a distance it was clear they were different; the light of bright minds shone from their steely eyes.
Sunny, with an extra year or two of age and therefore to his friends, infinite maturity, spoke highly of the young women, but in a shy whisper.
"See the tall one: Black Horse. Cunning like a fox. An artful trader. Once she traded an old bone knife for a clay stewing pot from my mother."
The tall one was six foot tall, standing naked on the bank, wringing her long blonde hair over her shoulder, the droplets sliding onto her chest and running down over her belly. Droplets clung to her skin and when she breathed and stretched her body sparkled. She closed her eyes and tilted her face to the sun. As eldest she was an example of what the others would grow to be. She was tall enough to rival most young men and her frame was that of a very capable woman; broad shoulders, wide hips, long arms and legs. Her tone was at first displeasing. Her skin was tanned by nature, days out under the sun and nights bracing the cold, and her flesh was lumpy; evidence of compact muscles guided by quick reflexes. In one moment she appeared as a half starved nomad from a vanquished tribe, and in the next, when her cool and alert gaze observed the flight of a hawk overhead, she epitomised the perfect hunter; lean and mean, hungry and merciless.
"The two in the water," Sunny's breath quickened, "Some say they ride horses."
Belly smarted, "So they can get on top!"
"On top; man and beast, like in the stories. For hunting. Some say their horses died three winters ago, some say they still ride."
Lucky's pulse raced. "So they are the Plains Girls," he croaked, "I feel like I'm dreaming."
Sunny withdrew, the others followed, and safely out of sight, he grunted, "They are a dream: You see it but you can't touch it. And they are hunters and traders, playing their eyes and minds against all that come against them, and never to be trusted..."
The boys' silent sigh was capped by the sound of a hand splashing and then synchronised, sweet and teasing laughter. In unison, the boys spun around and cast their eyes, again, to the stream.
The two in the water were twins, younger than the tall one, and play singing, their voices soft, accents sharp and penetrating:
"When the moon does not show,"
"And all are asleep we shall go,"
"Armed with knives and pride,"
"Through the woods that surround the lake,"
"Over the hills that are home to venomous brown snakes,"
"Into the mazes of the grasslands where horses roam,"
"And we shall take some home."
They stretched out their limbs and floated placidly in the pool, staring up to the wide blue sky before them. Swifty imagined partaking in their journey, breaking out beyond the confines the world as he knew it.
One twin rolled into the water and faced down to observe the bottom; a darting fish, a sunken leaf. Then she rolled over to the bank, her lean torso slicing out of the water, her hand sliding among her furs, removing a pumice stone.
"And she," Sunny pointed to the right of the pool, "See those boots."
She with the boots slowly undressed. First she untied her fox-skin scarf, pulled down her fox-skin skirt and then began to untie her boots. Her boots were a fur slipper, stitched into a deer skin cover with long leather straps that wound up her calf. She patiently placed her belongings next to her bow and quiver of arrows. Her skin was covered in a thin silty mud, a camouflage for hunting and repellent of insects.
Meanwhile, Black Horse, dry and naked, silently slipped her feet into her boots and tied the straps, listening to the wind; the plains, their lands, were silent bar the hush of the long grass.
The twins in the pool lay on their backs, floating. Their knees, subtle breasts and pretty faces were above the water. Each softly sang separate stories to themselves.
The fourth, covered in camouflage, tousled her shiny hair and picket out bits of leaf.
Sunny whispered, "Brutus told me there were five."
Lucky asked, astonished, "From one mother?"
"From one mother," Sunny repeated, and squinting his freckled face, drawing his long fringe off his face with a crooked index finger. "But we can see only four."
Belly counted, "Yes ... Four."
Swifty could certainly see four but judging by the rotation of the Plains Girls as they bathed, they were apt to change their appearance and numbers for sake of concealment. As his father had warned, True Hunters never reveal their True Numbers.
"Do you know what I think," Sunny said, a gleam of keenness exciting his eyes, "The Plains Girls are lonely. Brutus told me he saw the eldest, Black Horse, duel by wrestling a man from our village."
"Who?" Belly demanded.
"Brutus didn't say. It was probably him. And she won and instead of giving her his spear or food she jumped up on him and fucked him senseless."
Lucky imagined it were him to be beaten but proclaimed his disbelief. "No!"
"And now," Sunny hypothesised, "Maybe we can try. Maybe we can duel over something and lose. It's our turn to be real men."
"Real men," Belly nodded.
"Warriors and Lovers!" Lucky announced with simplistic pride.
Sunny continued, "So we should run down there and tell them, straight out, no messing around," but was stuck, then assumed, "That we're ready."
Lucky shuddered, "I don't want to duel; they're prick teasers and mean. Look at Black Horse, she's fit. You'd better watch yourself if you want to fuck with her in a hurry."
Sunny's eyes narrowed on one of the twins in the pool; she flittered her fingertips over the surface. Below the ripples was the alluring shape of her body.
Belly sighed, "We're not meant to talk with them, ever. How cruel is that?"
Sunny agreed and stated, "But we can trade with them, everyone is allowed to trade, are they not? Trade brings peace. And we can say we are Warriors and Lovers and with us they will be Warriors and Lovers, too. They are good traders, the Plains Girls, my mother told me."
Lucky coarsely whispered, "But your mother is dead."
Sunny frowned. "Her spirit told me in my dreams."
"What else did she say?"
"Everything I need to know ... Anyway ... The Plains Girls are lonely," Sunny had decided, "So let's run down. If they run away, Black Horse will stay and duel with one of us, and we know what happens if you lose with her, eh? I'm up for it."
Belly and Lucky exchanged restrained sighs and simultaneously glared at Swifty.
"I have an idea," Swifty spoke for the first time since they had entered the woods, "I too have heard of them but never believed anything because until now I have never seen them ... And I have never seen lasses like these before. We don't know what to do, do we?"
Sunny sneered, "So what? Pussy!"
Swifty continued, "We don't know who they are and we can't trust them but it doesn't mean we should run off. Not now that we're so close. I think we should walk down and talk to them and don't duel or try to trade ... We can just wash with them ... The stream is the border of the tribes ... That is not taboo, is it, to wash?"
The four of them eyed off the course of the stream. Yes it was an established border and a common ground, where the competitive nature of villages could be neutralised.
"So we walk down?" Lucky asked, too excitedly.
Swifty recommended, "Slowly, we have to show peace."
"Peace ... Brutus told me how to make peace with women," Sunny exhaled over his younger fellows, "Watch me."
"Careful!" Swifty pleaded.
Sunny, the tallest of the four, stood up, motioned for his three shorter friends to follow and in their well practised arrow formation silently walked down to the bank on their side of the stream, their spears pointed towards the earth. Swifty sensed that their unison of perfection would get them too close, slowed his pace, inspiring his companions to follow suit. Then an un-spoken command halted them at a safe distance, the same command that alerted the four Plains Girls. Seeing the four boys from the neighbouring tribe, the Plains Girls were a blink away from reaching for their weapons but cautious to force a skirmish. In this air of anxiousness, Sunny's excited voice sprang from his mouth into a calming yet wavering song, his free arm waved at them from high above his head as he pressed his partly ornately tattooed chest forward into the breeze.
"Oh beautiful warrior women, hunting and trading women, of the Plains, there is no reason to run."
The Plains Girls' eyes locked on the boys, plotting and configuring the only rational outcome they knew.
Sunny gaily beckoned to his audience, singing proudly, "So pretty like the sunlight on the clouds at dawn. As graceful as a falcon swooping, as soft as a pouch, you make me cry without knowing." Sensing his words were making an amicable impact, he continued in a heartier manner, "Warrior women we see you in the stream, a stream shared by two peaceful peoples. Please do not run, we wish to join you. We mean no harm, see we come in peace, look at us, we are overjoyed to see you, to be near you. See you make my cock hard as a rock," he held his spear erect from his body as his penis poked up, lifting up his short skin skirt. With his free hand he pulled the words from his mouth as he spoke, "Harder than the cliffs at Mount Death! Do you miss the strong arms of a man, as I miss the soft breasts of a woman?"
All the while, Swifty was thinking: Four Plains Girls caught off-guard. The two in the pool were too far from their bows and arrows but upon sizing up the state of their foes, slightly raised their nubile, glistening selves from the water. Their effectiveness was gauged by Sunny, Belly, and Lucky, fixated on the ripe, taunt, pouting figures. The eldest, Black Horse, with her boots on, posed as another decoy by running one hand over her crotch, teasing a golden tuft of her pubic hair, and then resting her hand on her hip, now jutted out in a challenging manor. Her camouflaged sister, appearing entertained and subdued by Sunny's words, cunningly crouched to the ground, one hand toying with an arrow, the other sifting through the grass for her bow. Yet to the attentive Swifty, where lay, dead, hunted or washed, the fifth?
Sunny sincerely expected an answer and seeing the faces of the Plains Girls attentive, but passive in reply, boasted with great frankness, "Today we are here, tomorrow you will miss us! Make up your minds!"
Then Swifty saw the fifth. She was positioned off the bank on the Plains side of the stream, behind a wall of tall yellow grass and with the grass tied around her limbs she appeared part of the plains. In one seamless move she revealed herself, pulled the string of her bow back, locked one eye on Sunny's groin, minutely shifted the aim of her arrow and released it. The arrow sailed through the space between her twin sisters standing in the pool and struck Sunny in the outer thigh. He hopped on his good leg and wailed like a dog mauled by a boar. He fell to his good side and wriggled off the bank for where Lucky and Belly retreated for, the safety of the woods. It was Swifty who remained, by crouching behind a nearby log washed up on the bank from some long ago flood, and studied the Plains Girls; the twins in the pool submerged, swam under water and slithered onto the banks like snakes into the grass, Black Horse and the camouflaged one scooped up all their belongings and fled with long leaps into the grass. The fifth and youngest, probably Swifty's age, stood at her position observing the retreat with a proud and satisfied smile. Her eyes scanned the flurry of activity and scrutinised the only one left: Swifty had tried to hide, could be hit, but hadn't run. Knowing that if she wished, she could skewer his observing eye, Swifty then raised himself to his full height and seeing the pool deserted, waved to her in a friendly, though cautious, manner.
She glared, cautiously and callous, giving way to a mischievously sly wink, aimed right at him.
Swifty nodded her way, tilted his head and ear to the silence, and made a slight shrug.
She smiled, a congratulation to herself and then to him, and gave a short stiff wave, held her bow to her side, and using the glimmering head of her arrow, tucked her long blonde fringe away from her face and behind to her ear, her rounded face forming a mischievous grin.
Swifty stood his ground, staring at her, forcing a gleeful smile that dropped as she dropped her pretence of cheekiness. Now it was a duel, a stare-out, a strange union between two stranger minds. Behind Swifty was the whimpering of Sunny, behind the girl was the abrupt whistle of a sister. Swifty placed his palm to his breast then levelled it over the pool and up to the girl. She made the same gesture, nodded to him intently, and again, then twisted and ran, swallowed into the grass of the plains, the hush of the wind concealing her escape.