Friday, June 1, 2012

The Wild Frontier: A Short Story of the Neolithic

This time you've had it.

You're done with your village.  Your prodigious weapon-making and hunting skills have netted you another kill, a young stag, that had eluded your cousins for weeks.  And yet here they are, leering at you arrogantly, telling you with mocking smiles that they'll be generous enough that they'll let you have a bite once they are done.  They have stung your pride and they delight in that.

You know what they'll do.  Bring the kill back to your father and grandfather, claiming it is theirs.  The old men will believe them, because you won't protest.  You gave that up when you were scarcely ten summers old.  You don't talk like the others.  You must choose your words carefully.  Words don't roll off the tongue like they do for the rest of your village.  Others have a way of persuading, a song to their words that you lack.  You are a fine observer and a poor speaker, and you've known this since the kicks and jeers of the boys became so rough, five summers ago.

It is no good appealing to the elders.  Your mother stopped protecting you, as all mothers must stop protecting their sons.  The wisest men in the village are too old to hunt so they never see your prowess.  It is their practice to listen to the eldest and most confident of the hunters, that is all.  Beyond recognizing that you are a hard worker, the elders take little notice of you.

Yet you're not completely alone in the village.  Another young man respects you.  He is no hunter, but he has watched you make a spearhead and set it into a shaft with grace and skill far exceeding men twice your age.  He has copied your technique, and--though you may hate to admit it--he has improved upon it.  Orphaned as a boy, he spends his spare time making sure his skinny little sister gets enough to eat.  No one else would deign to notice the shy girl.

A thought emerges through your shame and anger.  A few of the older men marveled at a view some of them had seen--a mountain pass was clear, just a few days' journey to the North.  The younger men took little note of it but you listened.  Tradition holds that the mountain pass has been closed by ice since the eldest villager's grandfather's grandfather was a baby.  Let the old men speculate on what spirits have melted the ice and opened the path; your mind is on more concrete matters.

As you turn and follow the meat thieves back home, shame drains out of you and is replaced by resolve.  At your first opportunity you relate your plan to your only friend.  There is pain in his eyes but he knows you are right--neither of you will ever be allowed to take a mate if you remain in the village.  You gather supplies while he talks quietly to his sister.

Just before daybreak the next morning, you are greeted by three misfits rather than two.  The skinny girl is hand in hand with the blue-eyed one who people say is too pretty for her own good.  Another orphan, her face is still bruised from the hand of a jealous young woman, a rival for the eyes of the men.

The four of you are dressed for travel, but your supplies are meager.  You are not worried about the villagers pursuing and catching you.  They will assume you are as good as dead.

You hoist the pack onto your back, pick up the best spear you've ever made, and nod silently to the other three.  The four of you set off northwards towards the pass.  Beyond it lie streams choked with fish, a multitude of herbs, and enough game to delight hundreds of hunters.  The villagers may be right--you may well die of starvation or exposure--but in you, pride has overcome fear.

You will build a home of your own, take a mate, and raise her sons in the certain knowledge they are your own, or you will die trying.  Pride will not protect you from death, but it will protect you from living in shame.