Another couple of days working in the village, and you can go hunting. Umm, several of us will follow along, just to make sure you didn't just stumble over a magnificent old stag that dropped dead of natural causes."
Dog tried to glare but wound up laughing. "Follow along?"
"Quietly. Apart from an occasional joke. But not when it might mess up your hunt."
"Oh . . . this will be . . . an interesting hunt."
Ice grinned. "I expect to truly enjoy it."
The next day they walked out to study the wash tub water supply. A bit of a hike as the ground rose abruptly, and he could see a cliff face through the trees.
Which was not bad. Pipes from upstream delivered water to the big pots where it was boiled and the whites washed, and to the huge stone tubs where the women added boiling water for washing colored clothing.
"And bathing." Ice added. "Separately from washing the clothes, mind you. I'm sure Zizi will show you how that works."
Snickers from the other women.
Dog looked around and failed to spot his favorite Tree.
"Oh, Zizi's checking the filter at the top of the waterfall. It gets leaves and twigs in it and cuts down the water flow." Bhuruu waved uphill where the waterfall could be heard somewhere beyond the screen of trees.
Dog grinned. "I'll go see if she needs any help."
He found a path and followed it through the trees to the stream. The waterfall was about twenty meters tall, splashing down over out-thrust rocks and the roots of the trees clinging to the edges of the stream and the steep hillside.
The stream had eroded back into the hill to form a short canyon and a nearly straight drop to a wide pool. It was enchanting and Dog swatted a thought that it was a shame to use it for industrial purposes, as he spotted the pipes angling up the canyonside to the top of the falls.
Women were doing something up at the top, and Zizi turned and waved.
Yipped as she grabbed, slid and dropped, got a hand on a long root and slid, both hands on the root and stopped on the brink of a serious drop, legs hanging over a five meter drop to jagged rocks.
Dog bolted up the canyon and started climbing. The current had eroded the soil around the roots of the big trees, and climbing was easier than trying the rocks. Just below Zizi, he found a solid hand hold on an extended root for his right hand, and a foot rest on a solid rock for his right foot.
He stretched out, a tiny crack, not enough to call a foot rest for his left boot, but it was better than nothing. Left hand up to grab Zizi's foot.
“If I push, can you get a better grip? Maybe to your right?”
“Y, yes.” He pushed slowly straightening his arm, felt her weight shifting right, kept lifting and twisting to help her shift sideways.
“I can't let go!”
“Swing your left foot over here. I'll inch my fingers under it, now move your right and let me get a good grip . . . Can you get your right knee up?”
“Yes . . . I'm going to try to reach for it. What if I push you too hard?”
“I have a good grip grip on a big root. Go.”
She shoved off his hand. He put his weight on his right leg, pulled himself to the right, ready to grab . . .
“I got it, I can, I think I can grab it with my other hand.”
Dog stiffened his arm under her foot. “Go ahead.”
One last shove and then Zizi's feet were scrambling out of sight.
Dog got both hands on his big root, swapped feet on the good foothold and stepped out to the bank. Looked up the steep rockface to where he could see Zizi . . . untying a rope?
“My Hero!” She pulled the rope away and it was pulled upward.
“You, you . . .”
A laugh behind him. Ice, of course.
“Dog passes the emergency response test with flying colors!”
“Yep now everyone knows that you respond instantly and effectively to an emergency.”
Dog clambered down roots to almost flat ground. “You didn't tell me about a test!”
“Of course not! How were the hunters to know how you would respond if you knew ahead of time that a fake emergency might happen?” Ice deflected the first swing and backed away laughing.
Dog stalked down stream, muttering dire threats under his breath.
Ridhe grinned. “Tomorrow looks like a good day for a hunt.”
They set out in the predawn, and headed southwest. Crossed the stream on a log bridge and climbed a ridge.
Ridhe waved an arm at the panorama. “Now we will follow you. A hundred steps behind.”
Dog eyed the four paths leading off the ridge. Closed his eyes and reached magically for the glow of mammals, the larger the better. Nothing but squirrels and rabbits.
He picked the middle path and headed downward.
Nothing quite like hunting unknown territory.
He kept his eyes roving, but checking the ground. No fresh hoof prints, droppings, or other indications.
Two ridges on, he felt something to the southwest and started moving more slowly looking for trails angling south . . . Ah, nice fresh tracks. Lots.
“Wild hogs?” :: They aren't Jewish, are they? ::
Amusement from Ice. :: Nope. A nice fat sow to pit roast would be yummy. Mine you, the boars can get very big, and they have a really bad attitude. ::
Dog had dealt with enough of the domestic variety to believe that. And walked cautiously down the trail. They weren't more than a kilometer ahead, and he didn't want to have to chase them down.
I didn't think about carrying dinner home. It's going to be a pretty good hike back, already.
The gentle breeze was from the west, so he was good there. He just had to be really quiet.
And dammit, he could hear a stream. If I have to cross a stream it's going to be hard to not warn them . . .
The trees thinned, slender willows and birch, instead of the giant sycamores and chestnuts behind him. A rustling in the brush and vines . . . he knelt, and froze. Exactly as ordered, a big sow, tromping vines, looking for the wild berries.
Dog reached back slowly and pulled out two of his three arrows. Not that he doubted his ability to take her out with one, but this was one hunt he didn't want to mess up. He nocked the arrow, drew and aimed behind the sow's shoulder.
A swirling breeze . . . the sow's head rose . . . a squeal behind her.
Dog loosed as a half grown piglet bolted out of the brush. The arrow took it high on the back and it fell, squealing.
The sow spun looking for an enemy and Dog's second arrow dropped her.
Lots of squealing, now.
:: DOG! Run! Get up a big strong tree, fast! ::
Dog spotted a long back sticking way up above the brush and made a dash for the big trees. Jammed his bow over his head and one arm and jumped for the lowest limb of a sycamore and swung up . . . looked back at what was coming and leaped for a higher branch, and maybe one more to be safe.
He looked down as an immense boar reached the tree and reared up to jump, front legs scrambling for purchase. He jerked his feet up out of danger and clung as the tree shivered under the assault.
Tusks ripped at the tree, maddened red eyes . . .
Old Gods! That thing must weigh a ton . . . no, closer to two . . .
The boar turned its head to look over its shoulder, and dropped down. Backed up and charged.
Slammed the tree truck and ripped at the bark . . . dropped back and backed up further for this run.
“Ice, I think your friend made him mad.” Ridhe's voice drifted down from a tall tree.
“I'm sure Dog made him mad.” Ice's voice from another trees.
Laughter from more.
“So,” Dog paused for another crash. The boar eyed him, eyes filled with hatred, turned a bit and dropped down. “How long before he goes away?”
“Goes away?” Some one called back.
“Oh, I've heard they go away after the hunter's dried body falls from the tree and they eat him,” from yet another tree.
Dog clung as the boar charged again . . . turned his head to look and dropped back.
That's a thought. I can even pretend to be stupid.
“How about if I shoot him in the snout? Will that hurt enough that he'll run off?”
Multiple Trees laughing.
“Go ahead and give it a try!” Hunter Ridhe, laughter in his voice.
Dog pulled the bow over his head and felt for his last arrow. Held on while the boar hit the tree again. Quickly nocked and drew.
The boar turned his head a bit . . . the arrow hit perfectly, sinking deep, blood flowing as the boar thrashed in the brush, reemerged without the arrow, blood flowing in spurts as he made one last charge, fell back and staggered into the brush and out of sight, a crashing and the angry squeals were cut off.
“I think he went down the gully over there. Might be dead.” Ice sounded a bit dubious. “I'd give him at least half an hour to make sure he's bled out.”
Dog eyed the gouges in the tree trunk, then eyed the brush. Closed his eyes. “Bloody hell, I think there's a dozen of them still out there. How aggressive are they likely to be?”
More laughter. “They aren't as big, but they'll swarm you.”
A faint odd shrieking howl from the east. Not a wolf, but some sort of canine. Maybe.
Three quick yips, repeated from the other side, and suddenly the rustling brush was all moving west.
Dog closed his eyes and watched the glows moving away, all of them except the one, and it was fading fast.
“So can I fetch my kills before whatever that is gets here?”
Ice swung down from a tree. “Yep, that was the hunters faking out the swine. Let's just see what you've got.”
His big sow got approving looks, and the piglet a few lipsmacks, but they all kept looking toward the sounds of water.
Dog eased through flattened brush and looked over the edge of the deep gully. He picked up a rock and tossed it at the boar's head. The beady eye didn't blink. “I think it's dead, but there's no way to get it home.”
Ridhe nodded. “But you'll want a few trophies. Go gut your other pigs, we'll see what we can bring home, of this one.”
Dog nodded. And started grinning. The sow will feed the village, and the pigglet will be extra for, hmm, Zizi, or should I give it to the Elders as a whole?
Or maybe I should worry about getting it there, first!
Even field dressed the sow was close to eighty kilos, the piglet another ten.
Three ridges. Twenty kilometers. I can do it.
He was not quite staggering as they walked back through the village gates. They'd obviously been spotted, the women were clearing out a nice big roasting pit.
Ice called over to the worried Elders, “The Hunters are arguing over what to tote back home, from the biggest boar I've even seen. Hunter Ridhe said it was Dhimoni nguruve.”
The Chief snorted. “We'll see what they bring.”
Dog eased the piglet off one shoulder and the pole the sow was strapped to off the other. “The hunter give his kills to the village.” he inclined his head to the old men, who nodded back, then the women took over.
And the wretchedly grinning Ice made him grab clean clothes and walk back uphill to the laundry trough for a long, and thanks to magic, hot soak.
By the time they got back to the village, the piglet was turning over a spit, and the sow was presumable in the now covered pit.
Zizi, grinning madly ran up to hug him. “Everyone will have a little pork tonight, then tomorrow we'll feast properly. And everyone is wondering what the Hunters will bring back. There's a horrible old boar that's killed people and ruined crops for years. I hope it's dead!”
Dog nodded. “It was huge, but I got a lucky shot in and it bled to death.”
Zizi hauled him off to Rumakova's house and fed him lunch, then he curled up on the sofa and fell asleep.
Woke to the sun setting . . . and the Hunters staggering through the gate.
Ridhe waved back beyond the gate. “We'll have the butcher it out there, and dig more pits.” He sagged down on a bench. The other hunters didn't even bother with furniture or dignity, flopping exhausted on the grass of the village square.
Zizi looked out the gates and yipped and stepped back. Peeked out.
Everyone crowded to look, pointing and exclaiming. Dog groaned and limped stiffly out . . .
“How did you get the whole thing home?” He looked back at the exhausted Hunters. Back at the huge carcass. And those tusks . . . Yeah, he remembered those tusks. It was a hell of a lot of meat, hide, and bones.
Ridhe laughed. “We couldn't decide whether to bring the head for proof, the meat, or maybe the hide . . . so we finally brought it all.”
“You'll need to cut it up to pit roast it. Or make hams? Or, or . . . What do you do with that much meat?”
Muby laughed, walking out, armed with a large knife in one hand and a clever in the other. “You boys? Get shovels and start digging. Six pits should be enough.”
“So, Dog, do you want the tusks, or we could boil the head and you could have the whole skull. With those tusks.”
Dog looked around at the Chief. “Would the village like the skull, to display?”
The old man grinned. “Yes.”
Dog looked back to where the women were skinning the boar.
I don't believe I killed that monster.
The roasted piglet was delicious.
And the next day the pit roasted sow was tender and smoky.
And three days later people came from all over the region to feast, trade, make music, dance and especially gawk at the hide of the beast hung over a frame.
And Dog and Zizi got up in front of five villages of people to say their vows.
Which made it legal and binding in the minds of everyone there. A week later they were back in Center City, and registered the marriage. But that was just paperwork.