Ultan, the tribal shaman, had performed her duties well. The hunting was good this morning. The sun was hardly up yet already they had downed two deer, another two and they would have enough. They could return to the village and relax.
Ite, senses straining, had seen something. She raised her hand and summoned the small hunting band to a halt. They fanned out around her, all eyes piercing the thick forest greenery searching for the prey her keen eyes had seen. Ite gestured. In the undergrowth they could make out a pair of extremely large boar scratching at the ground under a large spreading oak – their large tusks and snouts gouging at the leaf mould, scratting for last year’s acorns. Two huge prime specimens of succulent pork on the hoof. Luck was with them today.
Fortuitously the hunters were upwind. The boars had not scented them.
Ite indicated for Grifid and Sadb, her two most skilled hunters, to work their way round into a position to take a shot. Silently the pair, notching arrows into bows, glided into the forest and were instantly lost to sight.
Ite beckoned her husband Cinid and Brianag ‘the strong’ to join her and indicated to the other three that they would move more to the left. Eilin, Faelan and Eonan nodded and began to take up position. Cinid, Brianag and Eonan held their spears at the ready and Ite, Faelan and Eilin notched their arrows. All eyes were firmly fixed on their prey as they fanned out to silently encircle the wary unsuspecting animals.
The hunters slipped through the undergrowth without as much as the rustle of a passing breeze. Like the well-rehearsed operation it was, they closed in, each knowing their role and how they fitted with the others. The trap was set. Slowly the net closed ever tighter. If Grifid and Sadb spooked the boars the likelihood was that those two massive beasts would career in their direction. Everyone was poised. A charging boar was a dangerous beast. That’s when bravery and the skill and strength of a spearman counted. A hunting group had to trust each other implicitly. Lives depended on it.
The small group of humans cautiously edged closer and closer. One of the boars raised its head, alert, sniffing the air. The other ceased its snuffling and stood to its full height, head slowly turning this way and that, searching for danger. For a second the two creatures were as still as statues, sensing something was not right, searching for the source, ready to flee.
From out of the shadows an arrow flew like a flash of brown, striking the larger of the two creatures mid-chest, burying itself deep into the flesh, piercing the heart so that the beast instantly dropped dead.
With a great squeal its companion sprang away, feet scrambling as its short powerful legs thrust at the loose loamy soil seeking to propel it into the undergrowth. The great beast was heading straight for Cinid. He remained crouching in position, angling his spear to take the impact of the gigantic beast. A boar of this size in full charge was a terrifying sight yet Cinid did not flinch, calmly adjusting the point of his spear, aiming to take the force of that charge and allow the momentum of the huge animal to drive that spear point into its vitals.
Apart from the bears and wolves, few animals were more dangerous that a mature boar. One slash of those fearsome tusks could slice a man’s belly open and leave him tripping over his own spilled guts, or gash his thigh from groin to knee, yet these thoughts did not pass through Cinid’s mind as he prepared to take the full force of the charging beast on his spear.
Beside him Ite rose from the undergrowth with her arm straining on the bow string. Before she could let fly a missile struck the beast full in the flank and Sadb rose out of hiding to observe the product of her skill. The second boar was lying on its side a few short feet away from the worthy Cinid. Its chest rising jerkily, heaving as it gasped its last breaths.
The tension burst into joy like the flash of a kingfisher hitting the water. All around the hunters emerged into view, laughing and cheering. Two large boars to go with the deer. There would be much feasting tonight. Backs were patted. Hugs were exchanged. Voices raised in victory. Everyone wanted to touch the two hunters, to absorb their triumph, to share in the success.
Ite stood apart, leaning on her bow and watched. Tonight there would be much rejoicing in the village as the exploits of the hunt were embroidered and the tales recounted. The two magnificent boars were cause for celebration.
Her brow furrowed at the thought. Tonight, around the fire, she knew Ultan would lay claim to this success. The shaman, mistress of performance, would hold the village in awe as she recounted how her magic had delivered the deer and boars into their hands. And they’d believe her. She’d lead them in ritual dance and celebration as she recounted her journeying through the aether to seek good fortune. Ultan would lead them in chants of praise to the Gods who had been so benevolent, make her offering and throw her magic powders into the flames to make it roar and change colour, to spark with fury. She’d give them all her potions to make them delirious with joy and vulnerable to her guile.
Ite was resigned. Tonight there would be no trouble. Grifid and Sadb would be lauded and all would be peaceful.
She put her morbid thoughts to one side. Right now there was ample cause for celebration. The hunt had been hugely successful. They could return in triumph.
When she had allowed enough time for the rejoicing to run its course, for Sadb and Grifid to dig out their arrows and bask in the glory of their kills, she called them to order.
They set about gutting the dead animals and cutting the saplings to create the poles from which the carcasses of the boars would be carried. They returned to their earlier kill and did the same with the deer. With eight of them there was sufficient to shoulder the four large bodies. The weight of the two boars were considerably heavier than that of the deer but they would rotate the carrying on the three miles back to the village. Buoyed up on adrenaline the task did not seem onerous; even the heaviest of the animals appeared light.
A mile from home they passed by the edge of the ‘forbidden land’; the place that Ultan explained as the home of the Gods. Here, the forest ended, the barrier that nobody could pierce lay as a massive dome looming into the sky, a sheet of warm ice so smooth and impenetrable, dark and foreboding. Nobody could see through into the world beyond but often the Gods could be seen flying in and out of their kingdom.
Ultan regularly performed the rituals to appease those Gods and, so far, the supreme beings had been bountiful. Even so, every time they passed near to the area everyone became quiet. It did not do to attract the attention of such powerful Gods.
As they approached the clearing where the great wall of the Gods was visible they came to an abrupt halt. There was a collective intake of breath. All eight of them stood transfixed, beset by a feeling of dread.
The wall had disappeared. The pathway into the kingdom of the Gods was open. Beyond was a series of unnatural straight lines, structures built by the Gods, a world so surreal as to be terrifying. The precious carcasses hit the floor, unnoticed. Hands automatically reached for weapons. Feet acted without instruction, edging them slowly backwards into the safety of the forest. Even the fearless Grifid was overcome.
The world of the Gods was visible to them and it was utterly bewildering.
A cloak of fear descended on them.
They retired into the foliage to peer into the forbidden land with minds full of questions.
Why had the Gods removed the barrier? Where were they? Had they gone?
After a short while Ite controlled her emotions and indicated for them to gather. She instinctively assumed her role as leader and, despite their fears, they obeyed without hesitation.
While not relaxing their darting eyes, their initial shock was already beginning to subside.
It felt like sacrilege but Ite was overcome with the need to investigate. Never had anyone in the history of their tribe entered the kingdom of the Gods. Besides, if she did not seize the moment Ultan would take charge and her authority would be lessened.
She could imagine Ultan taking over, orchestrating a response, communing with the Gods and leading the whole tribe through her elaborate explanations. The thought riled her.
Taking control of her jagged nerves she took command and motioned them forward, propelled not so much by curiosity as the need to assert her authority. These were dangerous times. But then weren’t all times equally dangerous? Even when they did not appear to be? Life was a game; a game played in earnest. You had to seize the opportunities when they arose. This was one. It had fallen to her to enter the forbidden land and maybe come face to face with the mighty Gods who ruled the universe. There had to be a reason for this. Perhaps it was a test of her courage?
With Ite leading the way, the fear-stricken band of warriors edged forward into the forbidden lands, weapons clutched in sweaty hands, senses strained, muscles tense. None of them would allow their fear to overcome them. If Ite led then they must follow, yet even Grifid’s thighs were trembling as they inched forward into the unknown expecting to be struck down at any moment.
Jrrred was looking decidedly weary. Her eyepods were visibly drooping and her cloaca was dull and pale. The bedraggled trut she now was as she stood before her furious management team was a sorry mile or two away from the commanding figure she had been of old. The trouble was that she had backed herself into a corner with her fit of pique. Now she was paying. Like the stubborn Trut she was, she remained determined to stand her ground in the face of all opposition, even though she knew she was wrong.