The hot, dry wind carried the scent of the great bull directly to He who Walks with the Wind. This was an old bull and would be tasty meat. It had probably been driven away from the herd by a younger bull. If He who Walks with the Wind was lucky, it would have been wounded in the fight that ousted him from the herd and, as a result, would be weakened.
Walks with the Wind sniffed the air again, checking his sensing of the beast. There was the rich deep muskiness of an old bull. It has a richness that was so different from the shallow smell of the young males of the herd or the tenacious stink of the rogues. The scent though, was overridden by the sickly sweet scent of putrefaction. The animal has surely been wounded, and the wound had turned bad.
Walks with the Wind had suspected the beast was wounded when he had first seen it ambling across the plain. He had not known, however, how bad the wound was. A slight injury would annoy the great bull and make him more dangerous than usual. Liable to attack without provocation. A significant wound would hinder the animal, maybe even slow it down, making spearing it easier and less risky.
The sound of two Digda birds caused him to look up. Here possibly was the answer to his question. They were descending to land on the bull, their raucous cries announcing their arrival. That meant that the wound was maggoty, and they had come to pick it clean. That told the old man that it was at least ten days old. It, therefore, could not be critical. If it had been a severe wound, the old bull would not have lasted for more than a few days. The large cats of the plain would have taken it, in its weakened state. As it was the wound, although no doubt painful and unpleasant, did not adversely hinder the beast. It would still be fast and robust. To have survived to its age it would also be cunning.
Walks with the Wind eased himself back against the trunk of the fallen tree whilst he considered the situation. The tribe did not usually hunt the great cattle of the plains. They were known for their strength and their courage. Furthermore, the herd would act as one to charge any attacker on mass. Something no huntsman wanted to face. However, the single bull by itself was a viable target for the hunt.
In normal times, as leader of the hunt, Walks with the Wind would not consider taking on such an animal. There was always easier prey. These were not normal times; there was no easier prey. There was no other prey.
The rains that usually fell as the tribe trekked across the high mountains had this year not fallen. They had not turned the vast plains green with growing grass, and the great herds had not been drawn here to feed within the tribal hunting grounds. This year there had been no abundance of jumping deer or wild horses that were the usual prey of the tribe.
The herds had stayed well away from the brown arid lands of the plains. Only the rogues and the outcasts had come onto the dry wilderness below the mountains. There had been little hunting for the tribe. There had been little for the great cats. Deprived of their usual prey, the cats had started to hunt the tribe taking from it both strength and knowledge.
She that Dances like Fire had been taken while digging for the roots that eased the pain of childbirth. Who else in the tribe had that knowledge? She had been an old one amongst the females. One whose moon blood no longer flowed. With her death, much wisdom and experience had been lost.
Worse though had been the loss of He who Knows the Water. Knows the Water had been stalking a loan buck antelope when one of the great cats had taken him. With him was lost vast knowledge, especially on the catching of the great fish when they came close to the shore of the tribe's winter grounds.
Walks with the Wind contemplated that soon the warm months would be on the turn. Already the guide star was low on the horizon. It was time for the tribe to return to the sea. The time by the sea would be hard without the knowledge of Knows the Water. Even when the tribe had made the months-long trek through the mountains and down to the shore, who was there who could lead the fishing? Who was there who could call the great fish into the bay to be speared to feed the tribe?
Walks with the Wind acknowledged, to himself, that there were still the shellfish and crabs. These could be harvested, and the tribe could live on them. It would not though be a feast as it would on the flesh of the great fish. They could not dry the meat to give them sustenance for the trek back to the plains once the warm weather and the rains came.
Indeed, thought Walks with the Wind, might it not have been better for the tribe to stay down in the caves by the sea? They could live on its harvest in the warm months as well as the cold, rather than making the trek to the plains. Had not She who Gathers stayed last season and survived? They had not been able to take her on the trek after she had stepped on a stonefish and her leg had swelled. They had expected her to die and be lost to the tribe, yet when they returned, she had survived. She had lived on mussels and crabs that she collected from the rocks, and on the grasses that grew on the shoreline. Also, she had told tales of a great run of fish that arrived a month after the tribe had left, and of the abundance of the catch she had made in her fish traps.
Maybe the tribe should stay down by the shore and gather from the sea, Walks with the Wind thought. Even in the span of his life, the bounty of the plains seemed to have got less. There seemed to be more and more dry years when the game was scarce. The tales of the old ones, told around the fire, did tell of such years, but said they were few and far between. They said a man might see one in his lifetime. He who Walks with the Wind had seen four, and this was now his fifth. Things were changing, and if they were, then the tribe must change how it lived.
If there were going to be more such dry years in the future, could the tribe count on the game coming to the plain? Maybe it would be better off staying by the sea. There may not be such an abundance of meat, but there was always food to be gathered.
Now though, the tribe needed meat. The season had been lean, and no meat had been smoked and dried for the trek through the mountains. They must feast on fresh meat to get their strength up for the journey. They needed dried meat to eat on the way. Without meat, the tribe would die.
Walks with the Wind signed to the other hunters to move out and surround the beast. As they moved across the wind, their scent would make it move towards He with Long Arms or himself, the two best spearmen in the tribe. There was a risk with such a move on a wounded beast. Then all hunting was dangerous, and this was a hazardous ploy, but there would be meat for the tribe, one way or another. That was all that was important.
When he had estimated that the hunters of the tribe had moved into their places, Walks with the Wind raised himself to observe the great bull. Indeed it had caught the alien scent of man and stood testing the air. This was not the behaviour that was expected. The beast should have moved away from the scent. Walks with the Wind gave a low trill, imitating a common shrub bird. He who Makes Spears rose up out of the dried grass of the plain and moved, crossing the wind, causing his scent to be carried more strongly in the direction of the old bull. The great aurochs caught it. Raising its head high better to catch it on the wind, the animal snorted as it tasted the scent. Now, thought Walks with the Wind, it would turn and move away from the scent, towards Long Arms and himself. He half rose from the shrub, hefting his spear, ready to drive it into the beast.
The beast, though, did not turn. It did not move away from the scent. Instead, it turned towards it. Its hoof pawed the ground, readying its body for a charge. As it turned, Walks with the Wind got a clear view of the corrupted puncture would in its wither. At that moment, he understood. Some other tribe was hunting on the plain, and this great bull had been injured in the hunt. It knew the scent of man. It was angry and wanted to hurt those that had given it pain. The beast lowered its head to charge. As it did so, Walks with the Wind ran forward to distract it from its target. He was too late. Before he was halfway to the beast it charged at Makes Spears, catching him on its horns and tossing him high into the air.
Walks with the Wind ran on towards the beast that now gored and stamped the body that lay on the ground. With all his might Walks with the Wind jabbed forward with his flint tipped spear. The thrust was far too late. At that moment the old bull turned raising its bloody horns and gored Walks with the Wind in the groin, tossing him high into the air.
Two hunters died in that hunt, and much knowledge was lost to the tribe. So too was the idea of staying all year by the sea. The tribe though had meat to survive the trek over the mountains. Walks with the Wind they honoured and ate at the three-day hunt feast. Makes Spears was smoked and dried for use on the trek. The tribe had meat.