- Author: S. P. Meek
Read book online «B. C. 30,000 by S. P. Meek (heaven official's blessing novel english .txt) 📕». Author - S. P. Meek
A scream of rage split the darkness. From the side of the fire where the women sat darted Esle, the High Priestess, a bloody bit of liver in her hand. Following her, and snarling like an enraged cat, came one of the maidens of the tribe. The aged hag, Esle, whose duty it was to declare to the tribe the will of Degar Astok, the mighty one who dwelt in the heavens and sent the storms to enforce his will, came to a pause before Uglik, the Chief and tribal Father.
"Una was eating of the man's piece," she shrilled as she held the fragment aloft.
Uglik dropped the thigh bone from which he had been ripping the meat in huge chunks. He took the liver from Esle and examined it.
"Bring me my spear!" he roared as he lunged forward and grasped Una by the hair. "Una has stolen that which is tabu to her and I will punish her."
Una moaned with fright but attempted no resistance. Uglik grasped his spear and raised it over his head.
"Hold, Father!" came a clear voice from the group of hunters who sat near the chief.
Uglik paused in amazement at the interruption. Anak, the Chief Hunter, rose to his feet and made a step forward.
"She stole it not," he said. "Anak, the Chief Hunter, gave it to her."
Uglik released the girl and stared at the hunter in surprise. Anak returned the stare coolly and Uglik raised his throwing-spear threateningly. Anak did not let his gaze wander from the Father's, but his grasp tightened ever so slightly on the sharp flint smiting-stone which he had taken from the skin pouch which dangled from his leather waist belt before he had made his announcement.
"Anak, the Chief Hunter, gave it to her," he repeated slowly. "Anak killed the buck, and half of the liver is, by the law of the tribe, his to dispose of. Does the Father deny the right?"
Uglik lowered the point of his spear and thought rapidly. Anak's act constituted unheard-of rebellion against his authority. On the other hand, the Chief Hunter was the cleverest tracker of the tribe and a mighty warrior in battle. The tribe of Ugar had lost most of its warriors in their long six-month march north from the fertile valley where the Mediterranean Sea now rolls. Uglik was too wise a leader to waste men on a trivial quarrel, able though he felt himself to kill Anak, should the latter cry the rannag, the duel to the death by which the Father must at any time prove to any challenger, his right to rule.
"It is the right of the killer to dispose of half of the liver of the kill," he conceded. "It is also the right of the stronger to take what he wills from the weaker. To Esle belongs the liver. The girl will not be punished. Anak will join me at meat."
Anak's face flushed momentarily at the arrogant tone of the Father's ruling. He realized, as well as Uglik, what had caused the Father to condone his semi-rebellion. He shrugged his shoulders and sat down beside Uglik.
Uglik ate slowly, looking meditatively at Una as she tore off chunks of the meat with her strong teeth and swallowed them. The girl was about eighteen and in the first flush of womanhood. Her tawny brown skin gleamed like satin in the firelight, which was reflected from her slightly curling masses of black hair. She stood eight inches over five feet and her entire body was built on generous lines, lines of perfect health and almost masculine strength. Anak's eyes followed the direction of Uglik's gaze and he grew thoughtful in turn.
"Is the Father satisfied with the Chief Hunter?" he asked ceremoniously.
"The Father is," replied Uglik in similar vein.
"Then the Chief Hunter has a boon to ask."
"I desire that maiden, Una, be given to me."
Uglik could hardly believe his ears. All of the women of the tribe belonged of immemorial right to the Father. While he might lend one for a time to a favored hunter as a mark of distinction, the suggestion that he completely relinquish his claim to one of them, and a young and handsome one at that, struck him with such astonishment that he was momentarily speechless.
"I desire that the maiden, Una, be given to me," repeated Anak. "She pleases me. I would have her carry my weapons on the march and sleep by my side in the camp."
Uglik leaped to his feet, spear in hand, but before the Chief Hunter's cool gaze, he wavered, again. Men were too scarce to waste, unless it became necessary.
"I will consider the matter," he said shortly. "I may lend her to you for a time, but I will not give her to you. Such is not the law."
"The Father who ruled before you gave women to his favored hunters," replied Anak. "I was the son of such a one."
"And Degar Astok assumed the form of a lion and punished him for his impiety by destroying him," retorted Uglik.
"Then Uglik killed the lion and so became Father," replied Anak, "since none dared challenge the slayer of Degar Astok. Is it not possible that Esle, who was young and who favored Uglik in those days, made a mistake? Despite his death, Degar Astok still has power."
Uglik's face flushed at the hunter's words.
"Degar Astok may be robbed of one body, but he still lives," he answered. "Say no more. I will consider your request."
Anak saluted and strode to the other side of the men's fire. He dropped down beside Invar, the youngest of the hunters. It was on his recommendation that Invar had been initiated into the ranks of manhood a full season before his time. The young hunter looked up with adoration in his eyes.
"This I saved for my friend, Anak," he said proudly as he extended a generous chunk of liver. "Invar will be honored if his friend will eat of the liver of his kill."
Anak took the morsel with thanks and ate it slowly. His thoughts ran to the tall maiden whom he had requested from the Father, and his blood boiled at the way he had been put off. He was half inclined to cry the rannag, but he was not yet ready for the death duel which would determine whether he or Uglik would rule the tribe. There was no other solution, for, while he ruled, the Father's word was law, subject only to the higher law of Degar Astok as given out by the High Priestess. This overlordship was more nominal than actual, for those priestesses who lived long lives were invariably those who found that the will of the Father coincided exactly with the law of Degar Astok. Anak revolved the problem in his mind for a time, but the repletion of raw meat in his stomach was not conducive to protracted thought. Gradually his head slumped forward and he slept sitting. The other hunters followed his example, leaving the youths from ten to seventeen to guard the camp, keep the fires going, and rouse the hunters should need arise.
The night passed slowly without alarms. Womoo, the lion, roared in the distance, and from near at hand came the coughing laugh of Kena, the jackal, who always prowled around the camp when the tribe fed on meat. Gradually the sky grew lighter. One of the children moaned in his sleep and raised his head. He rose, and with a word to the youth on guard, trotted off toward the stream which gurgled near the camp. He disappeared in the darkness. Suddenly there came a sudden scream, shut off in mid-note. Hardly had the cry ceased than the hunters were on their feet with spears ready in their hands.
"What is it?" cried Uglik.
"Loda went to the stream to drink," stuttered the guard. "He screamed, and I saw a gray shape run off into the darkness. It ran like Grup, the bear, but it was small."
"Bring fire!" cried Anak.
The youth seized a burning brand and led the way toward the stream. By the light of the torch Anak scrutinized the ground carefully. With a sudden exclamation, he pointed out to Uglik the print of a long and narrow, but unmistakably human, foot in the mud by the river bank. Uglik studied it carefully.
"What think you?" he demanded of Anak.
"It is the mark of man, yet not of our tribe," replied the Chief Hunter. "Such marks have I never seen."
"Wait until Degar Astok sends the light," directed Uglik. "As soon as you can trail, the hunters will go in pursuit."
Slowly the light grew brighter. As soon as he could pick out the trail, Anak led the way, Uglik with the warriors and youths following closely. The trail led straight up the valley for a half mile before it turned and followed a branch of the stream which came from a ravine in the valley wall. The hunters went a hundred yards up the ravine following Anak. The Chief Hunter paused and held up his hand. He sniffed the air and then led the way cautiously past a projecting shoulder of rock. On a ledge, half way up the hillside, sat two monstrous things.
They were manlike and yet hardly man. Their bodies were covered with stiff, coarse, gray hair which lengthened into a mane on the head and neck. Their foreheads were low and receding, an impression which was heightened by the enormously developed brow ridges, although the cranial capacity of the creatures was not small, as was evidenced by enormous bulges at the back of their heads. They walked on two legs but with a peculiar slouch, the torso inclined forward from the hips, and their eyes bent perpetually on the ground. Their arms were long and at times they bent forward so much that it appeared almost as though they were going on all fours. A close examination of their hands would have shown that it was impossible for them to hold a needle between the thumb and forefinger.
"Gumor, the gray ape!" cried one of the hunters.
"It is not Gumor," replied Anak, "although they are like his cousins. See what they eat!"
As the hunters of the Cro-Magnon tribe of Ugar saw the meat which the Neanderthalers were tearing, a cry of wrath broke from them. Uglik stepped forward and raised the war cry of the tribe. The Neanderthalers looked stupidly down at him for a moment. The huge male dropped the meat he was eating and rose, his mane and beard bristling with rage. With a roar, he charged down the slope, a huge flint smiting-stone in either hand.
The hunters closed up on Uglik. As the attacker came within range, he was saluted with a shower of stones which sprang harmlessly from his huge rounded chest. Uglik hurled his spear. It pierced the apeman's shoulder but did not make him pause. Other spears were hurled and struck their mark, but without a pause the Neanderthaler came on with howls of rage and pain, bloody froth flying from his lips.
Anak had not thrown his spear, and Invar, who stood beside his hero, had likewise retained his weapon. The apeman came on with a rush. Uglik sprang forward to meet him, but another hunter was directly in the path of the attack. He swung his flint smiting-stone with a will, but his blow was futile. He went down before a sweep of the apeman's arm, his skull crushed to fragments.
Uglik struck at the attacker. The Neanderthaler turned toward him, but as he did so, Anak hurled his spear. At close range, the stone-tipped weapon passed nearly through the apeman. He stopped his rush and began to cough up blood from a pierced lung. Anak seized Invar's spear and sprang to the attack. An unfledged youth who craved distinction, rushed ahead of the Chief Hunter, but his act spelled his doom. One blow of the huge smiting-stone laid him dead. Anak hurled Invar's spear and again his weapon found its mark. The Neanderthaler roared with pain and sank gradually to his knees. Uglik dashed in, knife in hand. He threw himself on the prostrate monster and stabbed him again and again. The blows struck home, but with a last effort the apeman threw off his assailant and struck at him with the huge stone which had already robbed the tribe of two of its members. Before the blow could fall, Samo, one of the hunters, threw himself in the way and took the blow on his arm. The arm bone snapped like a pipestem, but it was the monster's dying effort. With a shudder, he fell back dead.
A ferocious howl rent the air. With a smiting-stone in each hand, the female charged down at them. She was somewhat smaller than the male, but still a match for any two of the men. Uglik's face paled as he wrenched Invar's spear from the dead male and turned to face her. The howl was repeated from farther up the ravine. Two more males were approaching at a lumbering run, smiting-stones in either hand. Uglik was a brave man, but he was also a cautious leader. He did not care to expose his tribe to almost certain annihilation and he led a wild retreat down the valley, Samo, with his arm hanging limp, bringing up the rear. The Neanderthalers did not follow into the open valley.
Again at the camping place, Uglik called his hunters into council. The situation was grave enough. With the Neanderthalers so near them, it meant eventual annihilation to stay where they were, yet there was no place they could go. They had been driven from their old home by hordes of men who came up from the south. They had fought to retain their ancestral hunting grounds