The morning was still young, and dew still held to the blades of grass, in the distance the savage sound of the hunt could be heard. Around him the sound of footfalls and heavy breathing filled the air. The trap was set and the hunt was on. The hounds were getting closer but there was still time. Three men ran through the thick wooded forest, trampling grass and
dirt in their path. Their muscular bodies pushing them forward, closer to the funnel point. Each of the men were dressed the same, wearing thick leather hide hunting vests and black died leather hunting breaches. Noktar was the head of the three and was gaining distance on his friends. He was only six feet tall, which was short for men in the Garacki Tribe, but he was lean and well-muscled. His long black hair was tied behind him. Much like all the men the Garacki Tribe Noktar had dark skin and weathered features.
Noktar continued to run and it was his endurance and strength that pushed him forward. In his right hand he carried a short spear. A long black oak shaft which had a sharpened metal hooked point. The weapon was finely crafted and Noktar had taken considerable time in its construction.
The sound of hounds barking grew ever closer and Noktar could hear them drawing near. He knew the path the hounds were leading and he could hear the bray of the boar as it cried out in alarm. Noktar leaped over a fallen log and slid down a steep embankment. His friends slowed behind him. They had been less willing to charge ahead so carelessly. There were many hills, burrows and cliffs scattered throughout the forest and any one of them was one blind leap away from certain death. Still, Noktar was confident and reckless. With his pace never slowing he soon left his friends behind as he approached the funnel. Two steep embankments rose up on either side of the natural hunting trail. Noktar could hear the dogs closing in and he took up position. His two friends had not followed, but he was sure they would find their way soon enough.
The rest of the hunting party was running with the hounds, flushing out their quarry and leading it towards its fate or scattered to other funnel points, should the boar change its bearing. Noktar was an experienced hunter and worked well with his team. The tactics were simple. The spearmen would spread out and take up position throughout the forest, which could take up to several miles. They would try to loosely arrange in a circle. Typically they would be in groups of two or three. Then the hunting party would bring the hounds. Vicious beasts which were little more than trained wolves. The hunting party would run with the hounds, which were trained to unearth their prey. It was wild boar that they hunted and the wolves were skilled at flushing them from their hiding places. Once the boar was on the move the spearmen would begin closing the gap, following the guides of the hounds. Inevitably the noose would tighten and the boar would be forced to funnel through a path the hounds drove it towards. The ambush points were not a sure thing, but most boars tended to stay to the easier paths. It was their predictability that helped the hunters. A spearman would lay in wait until the hounds forced the boar to them. By this point the boar was in a panicked rage and would charge forward to flee the hounds.
This had been the tactics they had used and they had proven effective. Noktar heard the crash of branches breaking and the squeal of the boar with the barking of the hounds almost upon him. Noktar got into his stance and readied his spear and waited. His heavy breathing echoed in his ears as he tried to catch his breath and ready himself.
As expected the boar charged out from the bush, taking the easier downward slope that would lead it straight to the waiting spear. Noktar stood his ground and waited. The boar charged and when the range was right Noktar thrust forward, catching the boar under the chin, penetrating deep into its throat. The force of the impact pushed him backward but he held fast, using the boar’s momentum to plunge the spear deeper. There was a squeal of pain and heavy breathing and the boar tried to turn. Noktar was already prepared. His hands left the spear, which was still impaled into the boar and drew his hunting
knife. Within a moment Noktar had closed the distance and used the knife to open the jugular of the wounded animal. It took only a few moments for the beast to bleed out and collapse on the ground.
Noktar took a deep breath before cleaning the blood off his blade and retrieving his spear. It was only a few moments more before the hounds and the hunting party arrived. Noktar had claimed the kill and so left it to the others to clean and prepare the meat for transport. It had been the first kill of the day, and there were sure to be more.
Several of the hunting party had been given the task of carrying the boar back to the camp and Noktar had volunteered for the duty.
Life in the Garacki Tribe was simple. Every person, be they man woman or child had a duty to the Tribe. Noktar had been chosen at a young age to learn the art of the spear. Parts of his duties were to learn how to construct and upkeep such a weapon as well as its use. The men in the Tribe were divided into different sects. Some, like Noktar, were trained in the use of the spear and the skill of hunting the boar. Others were trained in the use of the bow and stalked the forests looking for dear. It was the least skilled and less physically fit men who were given the task of fishing. The women prepared the meals and tanned the hides, making the leather they used in their clothing, tents and other necessities. The Garacki Tribe was much like other tribes in the area in that they were run by a Shaman. Who was an elder of the Tribe who held not only the militant role of leader but also the spiritual role as well.
Noktar knew that some other tribes even had a priestess. These were spiritual advisors; women with supernatural abilities. It was exceptionally rare for anyone to develop these skills and often only occurred once in a generation, and then only with women. Noktar knew of only two women who held such abilities, one mother, the other her daughter.
The boar was prepared for travel. Noktar used rope to bind the boar’s feet and with his spear slid under the ropes Noktar and another hunter could carry each end of the spear and share the weight of the boar.
The hike back to the Tribe was long and tiring. They made poor time while carrying their prize but returned at midday. The boar was taken and given its final rights. This was a prayer ritual to thank the beast for its sacrifice. Noktar had no hand in that, or in the process of skinning and quartering the beast. His role was done and he was to return to the hunting party.
He had other plans in mind. Keeping his spear, he secured it in the leather band that held it diagonally across his back for easier travel. Instead of setting off East to meet with the hunting party he turned to the South and began to walk. The Garacki Tribe was nomadic, and changed camp every month or so, but no matter where they were Noktar always knew they remained to the North of the Argil Tribe who held the southern forests and mountain passes. It was his destination and a trip he had made more times than he could remember.
Noktar jogged through the trails, stopping to walk when he felt his breath grow short. It was not a long distance between the tribes but it still took several hours for him to arrive. He had grown up between the Argil Tribe and the Garacki Tribe. Though he was born Garacki, he often found himself spending time with those of the Argil. Specifically he went to see his childhood friend Ceade. They had known each other since childhood. Much had changed in their lives since the care free days as children. As time had gone on they both had grown. Noktar had gone from a lanky mud covered boy to a well-muscled hunter. Ceade had always been different. Unlike both the Garacki and Argil Tribes of dark skinned men and women Ceade’s skin was dove white. She stood out like a star in a sea of night sky. Noktar still remembered her as the carefree child that would run with him through the forest and follow him up the trees. Now she was more reserved, as befit a woman of her station. Noktar was aware that Ceade had developed supernatural abilities, but he chose to ignore that fact. She was now an apprentice Priestess, under the tutelage of her mother Solara. The only other person Noktar knew who had any unusual abilities. For almost all men and women in both the Garacki and Argil Tribes, the development of abilities changed everything.
Ceade was no longer looked at as a woman, but rather a paragon of the gods. She was shown great respect and reverence, but with that position came fear. Most had grown intimidated by her new status and had grown distant. It was inappropriate for one to socialize with a Priestess outside of official channels for reasons that escaped Noktar. The change did little to Noktar’s personal outlook and he saw Ceade as just that. Ceade. It was an outlook that was unique only to him.
She had developed the gift in her early teens, which was a difficult enough time in her life as it was hard enough without being shunned by her friends. Noktar had remained loyal and tended to ignore the rumors, dirty looks or otherwise unwanted comments he often received for his behavior.
It was growing to late evening when he found the Argil Tribe camp. They were not a nomadic people and had built a wooden palisade. They raised crops, sheep and chickens and knew the ways to work metal. It was what made them great allies and trading partners.
Noktar’s attendance had nothing to do with trade and was simply a social call. He entered the camp, saying hello to friends and acquaintances as he made his way around looking for the person he had come to see.
The night was pressing upon her. The winds rustled through the mountain pass, billowing the forest beyond. Ceade stopped her task momentarily enjoying the way it revitalized her, took her breath, and combed through her hair. It was exhilarating, such a sense of freedom, of youth and vitality. Reminded her of earlier days, when she was as reckless as she dare, when her and Noktar would throw caution to the wind. Looking up she could see no stars only the white capped mountain passes jagged edge as it cut across the darkening night sky.
The memory brought about a regretful sadness. Ceade missed him dearly, missed his trust, his confidence and friendship. It had been several weeks since he last made the trip to her, and even longer since she'd had reason to attend the Garackis'. It was ill thought of her to suddenly wish someone become afflicted, but the responsibilities of her position weighed heavily upon her as of late. She needed an escape, but saw only duty.
Climbing down from her perch, her pack filled with herbs, she decided she would hang them before morning. All would be gathering for the main meal, it was time for her to return. As she headed down the path the sound of voices became clearer, the fire burning in the center of their village burned brightly. She stood staring at it almost reverently, wishing to be on of them, someone who could just be a part of the tribe, not someone put in some higher place, not someone snubbed by her piers.
Forestalling she went first to her tent, taking care to hang each of her herbs, there were salves to be made, but in hindsight a task that could wait until morning. As it was there was very little for her to do day to day, as she was not welcome to help with the tasks of others, and took only care in their well-being. Hanging the last she sighed, if she did not partake of the meal she would most certainly be missed.
She stood there motionless, dreaming of nonexistence. Suddenly startled by the rustling of the tent flap behind her. "I was just about to..." And then she was stunned, as she was every time he surprised her.
"Ceade." He smiled, his armed stretched wide.
Without thought she threw herself at him, wrapping her arms about his shoulders. It was soothing, her world melted away when he closed his arms around her back completing their embrace. "I'm so happy your hear Noktar. I've been so lonely." She spoke into his shoulder, her voice little more than a muffled breath. He hushed her, and turned to lead her to the fires. Her routine very familiar to him. She stepped slowly, not wishing to hasten their separation.
"Are you staying long? We have much to talk about."
Mary McLeod Bethune
Noktar smiled when he seen the surprise on Ceade’s face. It had been weeks since he had been able to visit. In truth, he should not have come even now. His duties as a hunter would begin again with the rising of the sun but it was these day trips that he knew Ceade liked most. He knew the burden she faced and the isolation it brought. It was something that he could only know as an outsider. Noktar himself had been well liked in the Garacki Tribe, though his friendship with Ceade also found its share of concerns with the members of his tribe. It seemed that a Priestess was not supposed to have friends. A Priestess should have been above such worldly wants. Ceade was different and he knew it. Still, he would not allow that to ruin the visit.
"Ceade, it is good to see you. You look well, but a little pale. Have you been hiding inside this tent since I saw you last?" Noktar said with a laugh. It had not been the first time he had made light of her unusually light skin tone, Ceade shoved his shoulder roughly in mock offence.
"As a matter of fact I have been outside for most of the afternoon.” She motioned to her herbs with one hand, proving that she had indeed been quite busy.
” You look thinner than last time. Have you been outsmarted by the boars again?" She asked, trying to keep a smirk off her lips.
Noktar laughed, putting his hand over his heart as though she had stabbed him.
”Well, I suppose I deserve that. I should know better than to get you started.”
”Yes you should, but you never do. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Are you staying long?” Ceade asked, looking hopeful. Noktar shook his head slowly.
”I wish that I could, but we return to the hunt tomorrow morning. I wanted to come down and see how you were. Do you need anything?”
Ceade smiled using her official and practiced modest smile. It was the looks she used when out on official matters, and one that Noktar knew she wore like a mask. Although her smile still made her look happy he knew she was disappointed.
”You don’t have to do that you know.” Noktar said quietly. Ceade looked at him questioningly and after a moment realized what he was referring to. Her smile dropped and her disappointment showed.
”I’m sorry, you know I don’t mean to. You’re the only one who can see the difference. I wish you could stay longer. I have been without company and desperately want to have a conversation where the other person isn’t afraid to speak their mind.”
”Be careful what you wish for. You know I’ll always tell you my mind whether you agree or not.” Noktar answered simply.
”You don’t know how rare that honesty is. I could tell people the sky is purple and they would agree without question. It is frustrating and the only ones to speak to me are my mother and the Chieftain. But this you already know. Enough depressing talk. Have you eaten?” Ceade asked and Noktar shook his head. Together they left the tent and began to walk toward the cooking fire. The evening meal was a simple stew of various meats, herbs and nuts. The taste was passable but nothing memorable.
When Ceade approached the cook fire several of the other tribesmen bowed their respects and offered a quick comment of greeting before getting up and moving to the next cook fire. Ceade had become accustomed to the treatment and Noktar had seen it more often than he cared to. The tribes were superstitious in ways Noktar understood but did not agree with. It only took a few moments before the rest of the men and women around the cook fire also excused themselves from the fire and chose to go elsewhere to eat leaving Ceade and Noktar to enjoy their meal alone at the fire.
Ceade was the first to speak once they had sat down beside the fire with bowls in hand.
”Tell me, how does your Tribe fare?” Ceade asked, almost too eager for news. Noktar shrugged and tried to think of what had changed since last he had seen her.
”Much is the same. The forests are plentiful and people are happy. My father’s sister Samara had a baby boy. He seems to be doing well. Otherwise there is nothing much to speak of. ” Noktar knew his Tribe lived simple lives and he enjoyed it. Ceade smiled at the news.
”There had been much that has happened here since last you visited. We had an epidemic. Something had corrupted the river water we used to draw from several weeks ago. A great many people grew ill all at once. We were not prepared for such an outbreak. We did not know at the time that it was the water and it was feared that a plague had begun. Thank the gods it was nothing so sinister. I had sleepless nights working to ease the pains and cure those I could.”
Noktar listened intently. He would not have known had she not told him. Everything seemed to be normal when he had arrived.
”I am glad you were able to find the source of the problem. How are you feeling?” Noktar’s concern was evident in his voice.
”I am well, but I have concern for my mother.” Ceade said as she looked around. There was no one else near.
”My mother, the high priestess, grew ill. She was sick for several days and we feared she may pass away. I used my abilities to cure her though it was difficult. It troubles me that she did not have the strength to heal herself. There was even some talk of me assuming her position should she not recover. That thought of itself is terrifying.” Ceade said, with her last thoughts being hardly above a whisper.
”Ceade, you know what you’re doing. The time will come when you replace your mother and that isn’t a bad thing. It is simply the natural progression of life. You are well respected by the people in both the Garacki and Argil Tribes. Your name is known to even farther lands than ours. You’re stronger than you give yourself credit for. I wish your mother a long life but she is of an age where she should consider stepping down.”
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