The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 81

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"And I go with Anak!" cried Invar. "More than one of the cousins of Gumor will know that the Chief Hunter of the tribe of Ugar and his friend have visited their home."

Uglik paused. No trace of fear entered his heart, but the wily politician saw the force of Anak's argument. He would gain doubly by the course that the hunter had proposed.

"Go in peace, and with weapons," he said as he lowered his spear. "Esle will take your weapons and make spells over them that will increase their might. At dawn you shall go. The word of death is on you, so come not back to the tribe again. Once you leave the camp, you are outlaw."

"So be it!" replied Anak.

Shortly before the dawn, Esle crept to Anak's side.

"I've wrought spells over your weapons, Chief Hunter," she said softly, "and over those of your companion. Remember this when the cousins of Gumor attack you."

"I will, hag of evil," said Anak grimly. "Better will it be for you that we never return."

"Why leave?" came Esle's insinuating voice. "I am still ready to help you. Cry rannag on Uglik in the morning. Your weapons have had my attention and his have not. That alone would decide the fight. Slay him and the warriors of the tribe will fight at your back. I know spells, and mayhap, they will prevail even against the cousins of Gumor."

"I go but for vengeance, Esle," said Anak wearily. "With Una gone, I have no desire to live."

"There are other maidens who are fair, Anak, and when you are Father you will have them all."

"Leave me, Esle," said Anak shortly. "I desire none but Una."

"And may the cousins of Gumor crack your bones between their teeth," she hissed venomously as she slipped away into the darkness.

As the sun rose above the horizon, Anak and Invar took their way up the valley. Each carried three flint-tipped throwing-spears, while a good supply of flint throwing-stones were in their skin pouches. Half a mile from camp, Anak turned to his companion.

"I thank you for coming with me," he said, his hand on Invar's shoulder. "It is the deed of a brave man."

Invar flushed and looked down.

"The least that I can do is to go to Degar Astok with my friend," he said.

"It is the deed of a brave man, yet I think we are not yet ripe to die."

"We go against the cousins of Gumor, do we not?" asked the lad.

"We do."

"And is that not death?"

"Mayhap, and yet, I have a plan. We may live."

"How can we two expect to do what all the tribe of Ugar dare not try?"

"The tribe of Ugar, or a dozen tribes of Ugar, could not conquer with Uglik leading them," replied Anak, "yet we two may do so. Hark now to my plan. Like Gumor, the gray ape, his cousins walk ever with their eyes cast down. While we have been hunting, I have been spying on them in their home. Never have I seen one look up, and it may be that they cannot. Above or on a level with us, they can easily kill us. If we stand on the rocks above them, they cannot see us and will be at our mercy. They can run as fast as we on level ground, but going uphill, we will leave them as Guno, the deer, leaves Kena. They are few in number; I have watched and seen but two hunters and three females. It is my plan to scale the cliffs and watch them below us. When the time is ripe, we will launch our throwing-spears. If we fail to make a kill, we will bound up the hill and escape to strike again."

Invar looked with admiration at his leader. The habit of connected thought and reasoning was new in the world in those days. Such boldness of conception as was shown by Anak's plan was a thing for marvel. As the ramifications of the plan seeped into Invar's brain, his face glowed with enthusiasm.

"Anak should be Father of the tribe of Ugar!" he cried.

"That may yet come to pa.s.s," replied Anak enigmatically. "If I kill Uglik, however, it will be to avenge Una, not to win the chieftains.h.i.+p. Now keep silence, for here is the home of the cousins of Gumor."

Cautiously the two hunters pa.s.sed the mouth of the ravine and climbed the slopes of the valley. Once on the level ground, they moved to the edge of the ravine and looked down into it. Nothing could be seen moving. Anak led the way a hundred yards farther up the ravine.

"Below us is a cave where dwell two," he whispered. "Make ready your spear while I sound the challenge."

He raised his voice in a wild howl of challenge. For a moment there was silence. Then from the ravine came a hoa.r.s.e rumbling bellow. An enormous male made his appearance, his mane and beard bristling with rage. He darted his eyes. .h.i.ther and thither, seeking the source of the challenge. Again a hoa.r.s.e roar came from his broad, thick lips. As it rose to a crescendo, Anak hurled his spear.

His aim was true. The point struck the Neanderthaler at the junction of his neck and shoulder. As it struck, the haft flew from the spear and bounded down the slope. The first point made only a surface wound.

The apeman roared with pain and rage. Still he did not see his enemies. With careful aim, Invar launched his weapon. The stone-tipped spear struck the giant's groin, but the haft broke and the head was barely buried in the flesh. The Neanderthaler p.r.i.c.ked up his pointed, lobeless ears, and located the source of the shout. By bending back his torso, he looked upward. With a roar of rage he started up the slope, a huge flint smiting-stone grasped in each hairy paw.

Anak and Invar dashed up the slope ahead of him. The keenness of the Chief Hunter's powers of observation was attested by the fact that they easily increased their distance from their pursuer. As they ran, Invar's foot dislodged a boulder which thundered down the slope. The Neanderthaler did not see it coming until it was too late to dodge. The stone took him full in the chest and he rolled down the slope, a shower of smaller stones going with him.

He smashed against a tree. With shouts of triumph, Anak and Invar bounded down the slope. The Neanderthaler was dying, his chest crushed in. Invar raised a spear and drove it at his heart. The weapon struck fair, but again the head of the spear came off the shaft. A sudden thought illuminated Anak's brain.

"Esle!" he cried in rage. "She had our weapons last night!"

He studied the two spears remaining in his hand. Each of them had the hide las.h.i.+ng which bound the head to the haft cut through. The weapons were useless.

Invar's face paled. From up the slope a roar a.s.sailed their ears. The female was rus.h.i.+ng down at them, smiting-stones in hand.

"Fly, Invar!" cried Anak. "Run up the slope and throw down stones at her. I will hold her for a moment."

"Invar stays with his friend!" cried the boy stubbornly as he gripped his useless throwing-spear.

"Run up the slope!" stormed Anak. "It is our only chance. Remember how the male died!"

Slowly the idea penetrated Invar's brain. With a shout he dashed away. He circled the oncoming female and got above her. Anak hurled one of his crippled spears. It struck her full in the chest, but made only a flesh wound as the handle dropped away. The female roared with rage and hurled herself at the hunter. Anak leaped to one side and ran for dear life. The clumsy female checked her rush and turned after him. He rapidly gained on her. A shout from above reached him.

"Run to your left, Anak!"

The hunter swerved sharply to his left. Invar threw his shoulder against a huge boulder on the slope. The stone rocked but did not fall. Again the lad exerted himself until his muscles cracked under the strain. The boulder tottered for a moment and then rolled down the slope, gathering momentum as it rolled. It was deflected from the direct line of the female's attack, but a smaller stone it dislodged struck her on the shoulder and knocked her from her feet.

"More stones, Invar!" cried Anak.

The two exerted themselves and an avalanche of rocks thundered down the slope. The female strove to rise, but she was overwhelmed. Down the slope rushed the two hunters, intent on finis.h.i.+ng her with their smiting-stones and knives. She lay in a twisted heap, whimpering plaintively. Invar's knife found her heart, and she sank back dead.

"Well struck, Invar!" cried Anak. "Would that we had spears. Others of the cousins of Gumor are coming."

Bellowing roars came from higher up the ravine. The two hunters bounded back up the slope. Down the ravine came another female, followed by a fourteen-year-old boy. Contemptuous of their a.s.sailants, the hunters betrayed their whereabouts with shouts. The female accepted the challenge and climbed heavily up the slope toward them, the boy trailing her and aping her cries with shrill shouts.

The hunters allowed her to approach to within a few yards before they threw their combined weight on a huge ma.s.s of rock. The boulder gave and thundered down the slope. It brushed past the female but did not strike her.

"Higher up and try again, Invar!" cried the Chief Hunter.

They bounded up the slope. Anak paused and hurled a flint throwing-stone with deadly aim. It struck the female a glancing blow on the face, tearing the flesh from one of the prominent brow ridges. She stopped, momentarily blinded. Invar raised a rock high above his head with both hands and cast it at her. It struck her on the chest and she fell backwards. Again Anak's strategy was successful and an avalanche of rolled rocks overwhelmed her. The boy turned to fly, but the fleet-footed Invar overtook him and the knives of the two hunters quickly put an end to his career.

As they bent over his dead body, a shrill scream rose on the air. It was not the voice of an apeman, or an apewoman, but held a human quality. The hunters straightened up and sought the source of it. Again came the scream. From the mouth of a cave above them bounded a girl. She won momentarily to freedom, but a huge Neanderthal male followed her from the cave. His hairy arm seized and dragged her back.

"Una!" cried Invar and Anak in one voice.

Forgotten were strategy and tactics. Anak bounded up the slope, Invar at his heels. Into the mouth of the cave they charged. The huge male dropped the girl and faced them with a growl. Anak hurled a throwing-stone, but his aim was poor. It rebounded harmlessly from the great arched chest of the Neanderthaler. With a roar, the apeman charged.

The hunter sidestepped the rush and swung his smiting-stone. The blow was deflected by the upraised arm of the apeman and fell on his shoulder. Invar hurled a throwing-stone which found the monster's face and made him pause. The apeman recovered himself and rushed at the youth. The boy met him, smiting-stone in hand, but one swing of the heavier flint broke through his guard and stretched him senseless on the floor, blood flowing from a gash in his head.

Anak hurled another throwing-stone which caught the apeman on the back of the head, dazing him. With a shout, Anak closed. The effects of the blow had been only momentary and the Neanderthaler met his rush with both his stones swinging. One of them tore a long gash down Anak's back while the other laid open his thigh. The apeman dropped his stones and wound his long hairy arms about the hunter's body. Anak threw himself back and the two rolled on the floor, the apeman striving to crush the life out of his slighter opponent, while Anak smote futilely with his smiting-stone at the hairy body. Slowly, the hunter's ribs gave under the pressure. Spots of fire danced before his eyes. He strove valiantly, but his muscles were as a child's, compared to the enormous development of his opponent. With a gasp, his body went limp.

Una had watched the struggle with horror-stricken eyes. As the apeman's grip tightened about Anak's body, she gave a low moan. Her gaze fell on the discarded smiting-stones of the Neanderthaler. She sprang forward and lifted one in both hands. The apeman threw back his head to give a roar of victory. The note never issued from his throat. The huge flint which he had chipped patiently to a sharp edge, struck him on the back of the head. With a gasp and a convulsive shudder, the apeman rolled over, his skull crushed in.

Invar slowly recovered consciousness, and now sat up. He looked dully at the dead body of the Neanderthaler. Beside it, Anak lay in a pool of blood. He staggered to his feet, asking dully: "Is Anak with Degar Astok?"

"Not yet," replied Una. "Help me to stop the flow of his blood."

"He said there were five of the cousins of Gumor," said the boy as he looked around apprehensively. "We have slain but four."

Una pointed toward the ravine.

"The other lies there," she said. "This one slew his mate an hour gone. I think he designed me to take her place."

Fever took Anak, and for three days he hovered between life and death. Then he slept and woke conscious, although his strength was badly sapped by the fever. There was no lack of food, for game was plentiful and Invar had found and mended the throwing-spears which Esle had tampered with. Slowly Anak recovered his strength. A month after the fight he stretched his muscles and announced himself as well.

"I return to-day to the tribe of Ugar," he announced.

"Can you return?" asked Invar doubtfully. "Remember the word of death."

"That, let Uglik answer," replied Anak. "In peace or in war, I will return. Soon the winter will come and here are warm caves and game in plenty. Here shall the tribe make a home."

"Where you go, there go I," exclaimed Invar.

"And I likewise," said Una.

"Una will stay here until we return," replied Anak in a tone which brooked no argument.

The girl pouted, but a sharp word from Anak settled the matter. Throwing-spear and smiting-stone in hand, the two hunters approached the camping place of Uglik's tribe. They were within a hundred yards before they were seen. Esle set up a shrill cry.

"Here come those on whom the Father pa.s.sed the death word. Slay, oh, hunters!"

Anak raised his hand and made the sign of peace.

"Wait before you attack two such as we," he said. "We are bearers of good tidings. By our hands, the cousins of Gumor have died. Think you, do you care to attack two such as we?"

The hunters looked at one another doubtfully.

"He lies!" shrilled Esle.

"We do not lie!" retorted Anak. "Their bones, picked clear by Kena, lie in their ravine. We come in peace to lead you to their home. There are warm caves and game in plenty. We will rejoin the tribe if the Father will remove the death word. Otherwise, attack us if you dare, and the tribe of Ugar will join the cousins of Gumor."

Uglik's face plainly showed hesitation.

"The death word his been pa.s.sed," he said doubtfully. "It can be withdrawn only by a sacrifice to Degar Astok."

"We two have offered five of the cousins of Gumor, and a boy. Is that not enough?"

"It must be a human sacrifice!" cried Esle.

"Then, hag of evil omen, traitor to Uglik, attempted slayer of Invar and me, I offer you!" cried Anak furiously, his spear raised.

"Sacrilege!" she shrilled, darting behind Uglik. "Slay the defamer of the G.o.d!"

"What mean these charges, Anak?" asked Uglik darkly.

"Esle tampered with our spears, which you ordered her to strengthen for the battle with the cousins of Gumor," said Anak. "They broke in our hands. With only smiting-stones and knives, we overcame them. Further, she tried to plot with me to kill you and take your place."

"He lies!" cried Esle in a quavering voice. Uglik turned a black face on her.

"Enough!" he roared. "The sacrifice is sufficient. I withdraw the death word. Anak, the cause of dissension between us is gone. Rejoin the tribe in peace."

"I bow to the Father," replied Anak, suiting his action to his word. "The tribe of Ugar has gained three members."

"Three?" asked Uglik.

"The maiden, Una, was not slain, but borne away alive by the cousins of Gumor. I have rescued her and she waits in the valley of plenty."

"Then Degar Astok was right when he told me he should have a new High Priestess," said Uglik, licking his lips. "She shall come to my cave and take the place of that worn-out hag, Esle."

"She will dwell in mine," said Anak shortly. "I have taken her for mine and I will not give her up."

"The word of the Father is the law of the tribe," said Uglik.

"That is true. I ask that the maiden whom I have taken in war be given to me in peace."

"The maiden, Una, dwells in the Father's cave!" said Uglik.

"Then cry I rannag on you, Uglik, the Father!" cried Anak. "I challenge you to the fight to death, which you may not refuse and continue to rule."

"And on you I pa.s.s the death word!" shouted Uglik. "Hunters-"

"The Father may not pa.s.s the death word on one who has cried rannag," retorted Anak. "Such is the law!"

"Such is the law!" echoed the hunters, glad of an excuse not to attack the two hunters of whose prowess they knew so much.

Uglik looked from one group to the other.

"When the sun starts to rest, the rannag will be fought," he answered. "When I have slain this traitor, Una becomes High Priestess. Hunters, bind the hag, Esle, that she may not escape. Anak, lead the way to the valley of plenty."

Packing up was a simple matter for the tribe of Ugar. In five minutes they were following Anak to the valley of the Neanderthalers. When they arrived, Uglik picked out the largest of the caves, and told the hunters to choose their own. In a few minutes the tribe was established in their new home. Esle was released from her bonds, for it was essential that the High Priestess of Degar Astok prepare the ground for the rannag.

Anak and Invar walked slowly up to the cave where Una waited.

The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 81

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The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 81 summary

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