Sunday, 29 September 2013

A Bedtime Story But Not For The Children

Time again to tell a tale, at 1600 words.

The Time Before

Slogg and Slogga had come to the edge of the plain, but were wary of returning to the forest.  Things had been heard bumping about.  Large things, with big teeth and predatory habits, better avoided.  The Hunter Gatherers knew better than to enter an unknown where the noises were loud and random, go in and there was a good chance the only way you would come out was in the dung of your consumer.  Three children, Slagg, Sligg, and Slugg, fought noisily and randomly, and scared away the few small fresh choices of meat available for capture. 

There was no scavenging to be found.  Dogs had got there first, Slogga had wondered about trying to use them in one way or another, but had not succeeded, and had scars to prove the futility of the attempt.  The family had been pulling a crude sled on which a few dirty balls of flesh, green with mould and covered with dust and flies rested.  They were the supplies for the oncoming winter, and there were not enough.  Slogg pointed to the children, but Slogga shook her head violently; there was not enough substance on them yet. 

Slogg yelped with hunger, “Wors mi tee, lass,” and threw a few pebbles at Slogga.  She picked up and threw a large lump of rock, “Gerroff thee pig.”  The time she had spent working out at The Clubbing Cave in female rites of passage had been helpful.  Slogg, the veteran himself of especially vicious rites, of many blood-lettings, and much violence, ducked and genially spat at her.  She smiled, it meant he still lusted after her parts

There was a loud crash and a dazed mammoth staggered out of the forest and made for them.  Slogga had got it in one, but the creature was angry.  The family would have to be quick, but they had hunted together many times and did not need telling.  They spread out quickly, confusing the mammoth, and as it slowed, Slogg moved quickly behind its forequarters, and as a foot came to ground, gave the tendons on the heel a vicious slash with his long club, its flint inserts cutting easily through the skin and muscle. 

Slogga did the same as the rear foot hit the ground, and the mammoth toppled.  The children grabbed the ears, and in the few seconds they were able to restrain it.  Slogg struck at the jugular, and the life of the mammoth began to ebb away.  There was food for a month, perhaps two or more.  And there was something else.  Slogg grabbed a stick, urging the children towards the great corpse, shouting “Gerronwivit issen.” 

It was their job to skin it, to create one large piece, and then to extract the tusks and major bones in such a way that the family would have a large shelter in which to tear the flesh apart, and either eat or roll the remainder in dung and dirt for it to keep.  When this had been done it was time for the ritual.  Firstly the erection of the frame and cover, or as they called it in their uttering, “t’ entry”, and then carrying it in ceremony about the territory they were to mark as their camp, holding it from the inside.  A moving and shaking dead mammoth was an instrument of dread and fear to all who witnessed it.

Then all the fun and joy was spoiled.  A grain growing settler emerged from the long grass.  There seemed to be a lot of them about lately.  An intrusive and bossy lot, they bred easily and fenced off land without consideration for others. The sounds they made were disturbing, an endless twitter which was incomprehensible. 

Slogg and Slogga had noticed that already that they and their children were the only ones of their own kind left in the area, the others had gone, thanks to the earth scraping and planting people.  Even the few remaining Neanderthals, a quiet and gentle people, always cheerful and helpful, apparently had moved away to avoid the scrapers who were unsatisfactory, loud, and demanding immigrants.

The farmer pointed to the remains of the mammoth.  "Are you other persons of uncertain origins aware that this is an endangered species, protected by the formal regulations of my tribe, in due consultation with a wider groups of interests, and with the full authorisation and indeed sanctions of our all powerful and wonderful gods?" 

Slogg did not really know what he was talking about so responded in his normal friendly way, "Lissen sunshine, any more and you’re an endangered species yoursen."  Slogga gave her usual greeting, in the way of her people, to the farmer by hitting his right buttock with her spear.  The children threw the unwanted parts of the mammoth over him in welcome.  They liked to make strangers happy.

"We know your types, this area is now under our supervision, a protectorate, to ensure economic growth, and the productive use of available resources.  All this indiscriminate hunting of beasts and taking things from wherever you please will have to end.  Further occurrences of this nature and you will be brought before our leader.  There could be severe penalties, including loss of dung rights.  Now I want the mammoth." 

"Tough" said Slogg.  The farmer sniffed, "Well I dare say the meat is on the robust side, but a little gentle simmering will release the essential nutrients, as well as giving a delightful tender flavour, especially when augmented by a careful choice of herbs.  Served on base of baked grain products with a dressing of oils, it can make a family meal something of a dinner party in its atmosphere.”    Slogg gave the farmer a crack over the head with a shoulder blade of the deceased mammoth, his normal way of conducting a discussion.

The farmer ran screaming into the bush, bleeding heavily, and then fell into the large pit that the Hunter Gatherers had prepared earlier to trap some prey.  The spiked timbers at the bottom held him fast and his shrieking intensified as his life ebbed away.  Slogga shook her head, Slogg still had not learned that the skull formation of the farmer tribes was much less strong than their own.  There had been a lot of this happening lately and it had all ended in tears.  And the meat that the people of the farmers provided wasn't up to much either. 

They were a strange lot, when Slogg and Slogga had taken only a couple of their smaller children for a light lunch one day, the parents had been quite emotional and excited, she wondered what they thought children were for.  Worse still, was that they did not fight bravely man to man, woman to woman, child to child.  The men formed groups to give each other shelter, and used weapons of mass destruction.  It was cowardly and shameful but they gloried in this form of war, and all too often they were the victors.

Slogga marched up to Slogg,  "Trouble at t' pit, get shifting, lad."  Slogg was inclined to agree, the hunting and gathering on this part of the plain was getting to be a bore. It was strange, when he was a lad it was colder, there were large beasts about with good meat and plenty of hide.  It was the fault of the farmers, all the burning and felling of trees they were doing.  "Aye lass."  There was always food in the forests, despite the risks, so they could let the children grow and perhaps breed in turn. 

Slogg, Sligg, and Slugg folded up the skin of the mammoth and bore it slowly into the trees.  Slogga followed once more pulling the sled.  At the edge before they disappeared from the sight of the people of the plains, Slogg stopped rapt in thought.  After a while he began to rub two sticks together in the way of the farmers and to blow gently on the smouldering that had begun. 

Soon he had made a fire from the strands of grass.  Slogg kept blowing, and the flames grew.  Slogga stared in wonder.  This was new, the farmers would have to take notice of them now, learning some of their tricks, and applying them in positive management of the environment. 

The fire began to spread, the wind taking it towards where the farmer families had set themselves down.  The fire became bigger and spread rapidly.  From the shelters of the farmers came a delicious smell, that of flesh roasting.  Slogga had always wanted to try it.  When the ground cooled they would go to find the meat of the roasted farmers and see if was as good as it smelt when lightly burned. 

It would not have the richness of dung and urine cured animal and bird meat, but might be easier to chew with worn teeth. They could use fire again.  Tomorrow they would set light to the forest as well.  “Eh up,” she shouted, “Tee’s ‘ere.”  Slogg jumped up and down, there was hope for them yet. 

And, perhaps, a future, soon, before winter, they would walk towards the setting sun and the great water.  Perhaps they might venture into the lands at the edge of the ice where those that remained of the old peoples still challenged the laws of Nature and showed respect for their ancestors.  “Thee niver gnaw thy luck,” said Slogga, a phrase picked up from the farmers. 

If a good sized cave was free by a river, with all the life they needed around then their days might become easy again, and Slogg could once again draw and paint on the walls as his father and his father had done.

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