Enga Dancing Flower knows her Neanderthal tribe is in trouble. The dark seasons are becoming longer and the mammoth herds are fleeing south. When the tribal leader is found stabbed to death, the new leader thinks Enga did it. Expulsion and certain death loom. Enga must find the murderer to save her tribe -- and herself.
Teek Pathfinder, the youthful son of the Healer, knew what to do. He tore a strip from one of the hunting skins and bound her leg to slow the flow of Red from Ung Strong Arm. Enga Dancing Flower breathed her relief and went to lie next to her twin for the duration of dark time.
Some of them would have to return to the village with Ung, but the group did not want to travel when they could not see the predators waiting for them. Too many had died that way.
Fee Long Thrower shifted her pregnant belly and, taking stock of the troop, began to bed down in the grass between the watering hole and the woods.
Kokat No Ear is not here, she thought-spoke.
A finger of cold walked up Enga’s back and she sat up. Where is he? asked Enga. When he rushed toward us, he must have been trying to warn us of the peccary he had seen.
Tog Flint Shaper read her thought and her fear. He summoned several others. Help me search the tall grasses. Then Tog spied a smear of dark liquid in the grass, leading toward the trees.
He must be in the forest, thought-spoke Tog. He ran into the woods, black with nightfall now, following the even blacker trail of Red and summoning the other three males to come with him.
The females squatted next to each other and waited. The males sent no thoughts to them. Enga checked on Ung. She was sound asleep. The wound still bled, but now seeped instead of spurting. Enga felt her shoulders relax just a notch.
Brother Moon moved through the sky, shedding shards of light through the spruce trees, showing the trampled mud of the water hole and touching the small band of spear throwers with its pale glow. The females did not expect good news. They dared not look at each other. Hunting was dangerous. This had been proven to the Hamapa over and over.
Enga reimagined her dancing. Had she let her thoughts stray too often from her task? Was it her fault the hunt had ended badly? She must not think so much of Tog when she danced next time.
At last Tog Flint Shaper relayed back an image of Kokat No Ear. The females held hands and bowed their heads to receive it. He sent them a flash of sorrow. Enga and the others steadied their breathing and closed their eyes to receive the vision.
Kokat lay on his side, on a bed of moss, his arms curled over his head protectively. He appeared asleep, a peaceful expression on his poor scarred face. But just below his face, Red poured from his neck. His Red and his life had left him through that wound. Tog Flint Shaper showed them how he believed Kokat had died. Enga felt Tog’s sharp grief and sent him a thought of comfort.
The peccary¸ thought-spoke Tog, must have attacked Ung Strong Arm, then gored Kokat No Ear and dragged him here, into the woods.
Fee Long Thrower answered him. We were so intent on tending to Ung Strong Arm, we did not even receive feelings of distress from him.
After the males hauled Kokat No Ear out of the woods, several of them stripped his body of his hunting garments, a lion-skin breech cloth and foot wrappings.
We must notify the tribe, thought-spoke Fee Long Thrower. Nanno Green Eyes should know. And everyone else, too, of course.
Fee took it upon herself to do this. Enga stayed out of that stream of thought. Nanno Green Eyes, Kokat’s mate, had never liked either Enga or her birth sister. Enga never went nearer Nanno than she had to. Now Nanno would have more reason to detest Enga and Ung, since she would probably blame them for Kokat’s death. Enga gritted her teeth, determined to shield Ung from Nanno’s wrath when they returned.
Nanno’s outcry drilled into Enga’s head, however much she tried to shut it out. It came sharp and piercing and impossible to ignore, throbbing through Enga’s mind. After it subsided somewhat, the small band readied Kokat’s body for his final resting place.
I will stay with Ung Strong Arm while they go to expose Kokat No Ear, offered Fee.
It is my place to stay with my birth sister, answered Enga.
You might feel better if you assist the final rites for Kokat. You will be with Ung for a long time in the future.
Enga wasn’t sure that was the right thing for her to do, but she did not feel like resisting the older female.
Teek Pathfinder and another male, their way well lit by fat Brother Moon, went to find a suitable site. The two males returned soon and Enga joined the dispirited group as they carried the naked body to a large flat rock amid the grass on the expanse of prairie.
The Hamapa would normally smear his body with bear fat so his going would be quick, but they had none with them, so, after sprinkling a few flower petals on him and mourning briefly, they turned away and left. None of them wanted to witness what would now happen to their tribal brother. Kokat’s body would return to the natural order of things, feeding the animals that would then feed the Hamapa.
Enga curled up next to Ung, but slept only a little, and fitfully, disturbed by dreams of peccaries and their dripping tusks. She awoke often to make sure the Red of Ung had not begun to spurt again. She knew Ung would lose her life if too much Red departed from her body.
At one point during dark time, Enga jerked upright. She had not danced her best. She hadn’t concentrated on the hunt while she danced. Instead, she had tried to impress Tog, had thought of him. Again, she wondered if the hunt was a devastating failure because of her. Ung shifted and groaned and Enga checked her binding, then lay down beside her. She slept little the rest of dark time.
When Sister Sun should have embraced her Mother Sky, she instead hid behind thick layers of gray cloud garments, and Mother Sky began shedding light tears. Hot tears of frustration sprang to Enga’s own eyes when she realized they would make their return trip in rain and mud.
Tog and Bahg Swift Feet, another male on the mission, volunteered to carry Ung back to the village. The remaining two males and the other two females would stay and attempt to get a mammoth when the herd came back to the watering place. If it came back.