The four hunters crested the last hill proudly carrying the prizes of the hunt. They followed the path nestled in the stony canyon down toward the sea. Fires blazed invitingly outside the cave to guide them home as the light from the sky faded. In the distance, a Were gave a howl, and the hunters were even more thankful to be heading safely home.
Gao was the first to meet them. He was almost ready to go on the hunts and had that mix of excitement, anticipation, and terror that most of the hunters remembered. They grinned as he drew near and huffed, out of breath. “Good food tonight!” Han shouted as they passed Gao. The boy stood up and ran back down the hill ahead of the group with the energy of youth..
Gao passed a woman walking up the hill toward the group. Even in the dim light everyone recognized Mo heading up the hill toward them. “Many spear holes this time, blind hunters?” she shouted. She covered her eyes with one hand and pretended to stab a spear wildly with the other.
“Maybe no food for you tonight, Mo!” Han said, laughing as he got close.
“Maybe I use hides with holes for your clothes,” she said with a smirk, getting a close look at the animals. She ran her hands along the skins as she walked along, nodding and murmuring to herself, planning how to use the skins in her mind. The group carried the bounty into the cave and it down in Mo’s work area. Using her cutting stone she stripped off the hides, separating them from the meat, and putting the skins aside to treat them later. Kel hobbled over and quietly helped cut up some of the meat for the feast tonight.
Han went to see the chief sitting near the entrance of the cave while the rest were taking care of the meat. “We bring much meat,” he said with the pride of a successful hunt in his voice.
“Yes. Soon my son Gao will go, too.” It was a statement, not a question posed to the hunter.
Han chewed at his lip in silence before speaking the other news. “We saw tall ones with shining spears. They hunted the wild green beasts while we hunted animals.”
Zun gave a little grunt. “Maybe it is good. The green ones attacked in the past.”
Han nodded. “I stay away, like you say. No fights with the shining spears.”
“Good. Now enjoy the night and the meat.”
The two men stepped outside the cave into the light of the giant fire. The whole tribe would there enjoying the warm brilliance and the food. Kel was tending meat cooking in the fire while others were busy preparing other parts of the feast. One person was preparing some fruits to be roasted, while another took hot stones and put them into bowls filled with roots and water.
Even the children had gotten together and started singing a little song about eating meat as they ran around playing. Gao was obviously torn, wanting to be near the hunters to show he was becoming a man, but also wanting to join in with the singing fun the children were having. Han laughed and went to join in the children’s song, showing Gao that there is no shame in a man having a good time.
More people came to the mouth of the cave as the meat cooked. Han went to talk to everyone after leaving the children to their games and songs. Young Sen stood slightly apart from the rest, as she usually does, staring at the fire. He turned to greet her when she said, “You saw the tall ones again.” Her gaze had not left the fire.
“Yes,” Han replied. frowning. “How do you know?”
“The smells. The way they smell.”
“How do you know their smell?”
“Don’t know,” she said quietly, eyes still fixated on the fire. She wandered off, deep in thought. Her behavior often confused Han, but he just shrugged it off as always.
Han wanted to watch the sea for a bit while the tribe prepared the meal. It always refreshed him after a long hunt. He sat on a stone next to Gar’s father, Gris, facing out to the sea. The old man smiled his toothless smile at the hunter. “Meat,” the old man said with a laugh.
“Yes,” Han replied. “Gar hunt good.” The old man laugh to himself and watched the sea quietly with Han nearby.
Han stared off into the sea as the happy sounds of preparing the meal happened around him. He watched the waves flow up onto the beach in the dimming light. Even when the sun had set and the dark twilight hid the ocean from view, he still listened to the crashing of the waves in the distance.
The smell of the cooking meat was driving everyone crazy with hunger. Kel took the meat from the fire with care and placed it in the wood bowls. People gathered eagerly near the fire when Zun clapped his hands loudly once, twice, three times for attention. Everyone stopped and looked at the leader.
“Hunters bring us food, and we feast with them. We thank the hunters as we enjoy food.” Everyone murmured in agreement and reached out to the hunters who smiled tired smiles in return.
Han took a bowl with roasted meat and some mashed roots and sat on a stone near the fire. He looked around at the people enjoying the food he had helped bring back. Han smiled, proud of his ability to bring such life to the tribe.