This is the beginning of the short story I was referring to in my last post about anachronisms. I have not finished it at this point, but thought everyone might be interested in what it looks like so far (without the modern time references).
The morning hunt had not been very successful. They weren’t going home empty-handed, but all the party had been able to bring down was one small deer, barely enough to feed everybody for a couple of days. Not only had they not seen any of the larger game they’d been seeking, but there had been little or no sign of the game even being around. It was like all the elk and bison had left the valley.
Which was entirely possible.
“Maybe it’s time to move camp,” Bear suggested as the four men trudged up the trail toward their encampment. A thick forest of oak and pine grew to either side of the path. A small stream burbled and splashed a few paces to their left.
Wolf nodded. “Maybe.”
It was not the first time the idea had entered his mind. The game had been growing scarce over the past few weeks. They needed to be where the game was.
“The snows will be coming soon anyway.”
Again, this was nothing Wolf hadn’t already considered. They probably had another moon or two before the prospect of being snowed in became a real concern. But they needed to store up some meat before then, or they’d be in trouble.
“We probably would only have to travel a day,” Bear said. “Maybe two.”
“We’ll discuss it when we get back,” Wolf finally told him. “The time for planning is when everyone is gathered around the fire, not alone on a game trail.”
Bear nodded. He was thick and stout and habitually carried his head low, looking up through his eyebrows at you like a bear. He was also Wolf’s closest friend and had been since childhood. They were nearly brothers.
“Your judgment is valued,” Wolf told him. “This just isn’t the time or place.”
Bear sighed but nodded. As it was, the other two members of their party had probably not heard a word of their conversation. They were a few paces behind Wolf and Bear, the deer slung between them from a spear shaft.
Wolf stopped cold. He raised a fist and everyone else in the party also stopped as if frozen in place.
Something was wrong.
Wolf wasn’t sure what exactly had alarmed him, but he wasn’t about to continue until he figured out what it was. There were enemies everywhere. The forests hid predators: lions, bears, and at least one pack of wolves; there were also other bands of hunters in the area with mouths to feed who might just kill them for their puny deer. When survival was at stake…
It paid to be alert.
For a few beats, all four men stood there on the trail, not moving a muscle, barely even breathing. Wolf had completely shut down conscious thought, focusing all his energy into his senses. He scanned the forest around them, searching out anything that looked unusual, out of place, or suspicious. All he could see were the trunks and branches of the oak and pine and the bright foliage of the undergrowth. Nothing drew his attention.
The only sound was the rustle of gentle breeze jostling the leaves. The only scents that of pine needles and damp earth. Nothing unusual.
But something had alerted him and he trusted his instincts. What was it?
Again, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
Then he heard it: muffled footsteps. Running footsteps. Two feet, not four.
Without another word, all four men slipped off the trail and quietly concealed themselves in the brush. To a man running down the trail, there would be no sign they’d ever been there. Even the deer was quickly concealed under brush and leaves.
The footsteps grew louder. Closer. Then a young boy appeared around a bend in the trail, running toward them.
“It’s Runs Like Deer,” Bear murmured.
Wolf had recognized the boy also. He was ten years old and the fastest among the boys from their camp.
Wolf stepped out on the trail well ahead of the boy. “Hold, my friend. Why such a hurry?”
Runs Like a Deer, slowed to a stop. His skin shown with a fine sheen of sweat and his breath came fast and deep. “Grandfather sent me to find you.”
“Why? What happened?”
“Magpie’s baby,” he said between gasps of air. “Monsters took him.”
By now, the other men had gathered around the young boy.
“Little Grasshopper? What happened?” Elk Horn asked, panic edging into his voice. He was Magpie’s mate and Grasshopper’s father.
“I don’t know. Magpie came running back into camp, saying monsters had taken her little one.”
“When?” Wolf asked the boy. His question also kept Elk Horn from bolting toward the camp. “When did it happen?”
They needed to know much of a lead the monsters had.
“Not long. Grandfather sent me to find you right away.”
Wolf nodded and looked up at the others. “Let’s go.”