Shima stepped out of the river, after her swim, feeling refreshed. It was a glorious summer morning. The sound of laughter brought her attention to the tribe's youngest members who were still enjoying the stream. Akan was standing on Isbeth's shoulders and the next moment did a flip into the water. Sasha was waiting impatiently for her turn.
"I am so bored!" It was Seeker, who had spoken. The young elf sat at the edge of the water, skipping stones.
Shima finished fastening her breechcloth around her waist. "Why the foul mood, little one?" she asked, reaching down for her top. As her fingers brushed the fabric her ears picked up the faint sound of a rattle. Shima froze and noticed that Seeker's hand had also stopped mid toss.
** Rock rattler, ** Shima warned.
The children in the water halted their games and all eyes turned to the huntress.
** Where is it, Seeker? ** Shima relied on the blind elf's heightened senses to locate the serpent faster than she could.
The soft rattle came again. ** It came from behind you, Shima . . . almost two feet to your left. ** The child responded in lock sending. Shima thought it was for the other children's sake and then Seeker lock sent again. ** I don't think it's a rattler, though. **
** What do you mean? ** Shima asked
** It doesn't sound right and I smell something . . . **
Shima was not sure she could hold her position much longer. If Seeker were right, it would not matter. If it was a rock rattler than the smallest movement would cause it to strike.
** What do you smell? **
** I smell . . . Kumo! **
Shima groaned, as the rattle grew fiercer. ** Do you think you can hit the "rattler" with that stone in your hand? **
For her answer Seeker flung the rock. It sailed over Shima's left shoulder and struck something solid. Her target responded with a yelp.
Shima smiled as her brother stood up rubbing his shoulder. "That hurt," he accused.
The huntress walked over and took the item he held in his hand. It was a rock rattler's dried tail. "And what you did wasn't very smart either. It could have been my knife instead of a stone that struck you."
"Nah, I trained you better than that."
The children laughed and went back to their games. Shima finished lacing her top and reached for her pants. "If we're done being your entertainment for today. I think you should go find better things to do."
"Like what," Seeker groaned. "There isn't anything for him or us to do!"
"Oh yeah, " Kumo said, snapping his fingers. "That reminds me. Onsha wanted to talk to you, Sister."
"I want you to be the head huntress on this hunt."
Shima stared at Onsha, startled. "Are you sure? There are others who are more experienced than I am."
"Are you questioning me?"
"No, my Chieftess . . ."
"Good, now select your hunting party and then have Althair lead you to the herd of striped deer he located."
** Seelee! **
Shima's call received no response. The elf checked the position of the sun. It was past noon, the archer should be awake. Walking over to Seelee's tent she was approached by a growling Safekeeper "Seelee, are you awake?"
"What do you want, Shima?"
"Onsha wants me to lead the hunting party. I was hoping you would come along."
A groan answered her request. Followed a moment later by, "okay."
** Moon Singer! **
** Wouldn't miss it, Shima. I'd rather be there myself to skin the deer after the kills. It seems like someone always damages the hides. **
Shima smiled. She had promised Moon Singer that someday she would bring back a pelt that the tanner might be able to use. The Throwback kills were always too sloppy.
** Secca? **
** I guess somebody has to come along to make sure everyone stays out of trouble.**
** Seeker? **
** What?!? **
** What good is she to a hunt?!? **
** My hunting party . . . my choice! ** That command brought silence to the cries. Shima looked over at Onsha and noticed that her Chieftess and Secca had exchanged a mental message. Onsha met Shima's eyes and nodded her head.
** Seeker! ** she cried again.
** Coming! ** The young elf's excitement was sensed by all.
"What about me?" Kumo inquired.
"If I didn't ask, you would follow." Shima replied. "So, I guess I'll ask . . . coming, Brother?"
The small group of hunters met Althair by the exit. Shima looked over her choices. Both Seeker and Moon Singer were on the back of Runners. The rest would hunt on foot. Althair promised the herd they pursued was not that far away. Besides a large group of animals made a lot of noise and would alert any Desert Cobras out and about. Seelee paced with Safekeeper at her heels. No trace of her tiredness remained. She was impatient to get started. Across her back a quiver of arrows bounced with every step. Althair was there with his dune dog, Midnight. Around the Runner's feet the wolf of Moon Singer, CloudStreak, and Seeker's dog, Spot, pranced. At Shima's feet Tora sat waiting for a command. She had told Ato to stay with her son. The small dog was disappointed not to be going on the hunt but Shima promised to make it up to her. The huntress searched the camp with her eyes until she found her son. He and Sasha were playing in Ame's garden.
** You be good for Grandma. **
Akan turned toward her and waved. ** I will, Mommy. Have a good hunt! **
** He'll be fine, Sister. ** Kumo strolled up with Mizu at his side.
** I know. **
Everyone was there except for Secca. Shima watched as the elf in question came into view with Onsha at her side.
"Are you ready, Shima?" Onsha asked. After Shima nodded her head, Onsha turned to the others. "Secca is my Second, you all know that. However, for this hunt, you must agree that Shima is in charge. She has final say on whatever actions transpire this day . . . is that understood?" Shima watched as everyone nodded. "Then as my farewell, have a safe and successful hunt and may the winds guide your way."
The hunt was on.
** All right, does everyone have their targets? **
** If you had chosen Seeker to stay with the Runners instead of Moon Singer we would be able to bring down five instead of four. **
It was Seelee who was complaining. Shima sighed; leading was not all it was cracked up to be. ** We will have a hard enough time getting the meat back before it spoils as it is. We do not need five deer. **
** Well, it still seems a little silly to me to bring a blind elf on a hunt. ** Seelee answered.
** She'll be just fine, now get ready. ** Shima turned to the young elf beside her. ** Are you ready, Seeker?**
** Yes. **
Seeker would not play a major role in today's hunt. She would help Shima finish off her deer if needed. However, it was enough for the young elf just to be there.
Shima searched for the others. On her right, about twenty feet away, Secca kneeled with her bow notched and ready. A little further right from Secca was Seelee. The archer had her arrow already aimed. Shima tried to find her brother but was not surprised when she could not see him. Shima stood up slightly and took out her Throwback.
** Okay on my mark . . . one, two . . .**
** Oops! **
Shima groaned as Seelee let her arrow go too soon. It struck her chosen deer in the throat. The wound was not enough to kill the animal but Kumo appeared at its side and with his sword finished the job.
The attack startled the herd, causing them to bolt. Shima adjusted her grip and with a snap of the wrist sent the Throwback on its way. The second after the weapon was released; Shima was on the move. The angle had been wrong. She knew the Throwback would only maim and not kill the buck she had chosen. Her weapon buried itself in the deer's right hind leg, shattering it. The buck fell to the ground.
"Maybe, this won't be as hard as I thought," Shima said as she unsheathed her knife and advanced for the kill. As her blade dropped, the deer's head shot up. Only Shima's reflexes saved her from being gorged by the full set of antlers. The huntress ducked down and rolled free of the deer as it struggled to its feet.
"Don't worry, Shima, I got it!" The huntress watched in awe as Seeker launched herself at the injured beast. Shima had no time to call out a warning as the deer struck at the child with its barbed antlers. The small elf effortlessly rolled under the deer's attack and plunged her knife into the ribs of the animal.
Shima shook her head and smiled. She joined Seeker and after a small struggle the buck laid dead between the two hunters.
** Good kill, ** Shima told the child.
** That was fun! Can we do it again? ** Seeker laughed.
Shima looked around. Kumo and Seelee were already cleaning their kill and Secca had brought down another with her arrows. Three deer in all, a good count. She sent for Moon Singer and Althair to bring the Runners and bond beasts to them. Shima had chosen, at the last moment, to keep the bond friends out of this hunt.
A short time later . . .
"You ruined the pelt! I'll be lucky to get enough material to make you breechcloth, Shima." Moon Singer glanced over at the huntress.
Shima replied by raising an eyebrow. "I wasn't too concerned where my blade struck."
"Excuses . . . excuses," Moon Singer mumbled but a small smile appeared. "I guess this one is for meat only. Remember you owe me one pelt that isn't splattered with blood and hacked to pieces. Take a lesson from the others. Kumo managed to keep his cut to one and Secca's deer's pelt is hardly touched."
Shima felt a small hand on her arm. "I thought it was a good kill," Seeker spoke up.
Moon Singer stepped forward and patted the child's shoulder. "It was a very good kill. We have a lot of meat to bring back to the Holt. Why don't you help me get these deer ready to travel."
Seeker and Moon Singer walked off and Seelee came forward with a lopsided grin on her face.
** Sorry, I blew it. ** Seelee smiled apologetically.
Shima dismissed the apology with a shrug. ** No harm done . . . but you might want to say something to Seeker. She did well today. She'll make a fine huntress one-day, sight or no sight. **
Seelee nodded her head and walked over to where Seeker was helping Kumo fasten the meat onto a litter. They had brought two litters that attached behind each Runner. With the meat from three deer both were over flowing.
** Come on, let's get back to the Holt before nightfall. **
The successful but tired band of hunters once again let Althair take the lead. Shima hoped for a nice peaceful hike back to camp.
** Humans! **
Althair's warning sent familiar chills down Shima's back. The hunting party was at the base of a large dune. Althair was at the summit. Shima needed to know what he knew.
** Althair, how far and can you tell how many? **
** They are at the base of the dune, on the east side. I can count seven humans. **
**Do they look like bounty hunters? **
** Priest? **
** Armed? **
Anxious sending bombarded the tracker. Shima frowned.
The elves fell silent. Seeker and Moon Singer quickly dismounted their Runners and placed a hand over the beaks of the birds to keep them quiet. Kumo laid a hand on Mizu to calm him. The various dune dogs were unmoving as statues. Shima did notice that CloudStreak's hackles were raised.
** Moon Singer, calm your beast. ** Shima commanded.
** Sorry, she hates humans just as much as I do. ** A mental command from the elf caused the snarling beast to stifle its protest.
** Althair, tell us what you see. **
** There are just seven humans. Four are males, two of which are in their prime, the other two; one is aged and the other a child. The three females consist of a mother, her aged mother and a child. They also have two zwoots in their party. **
** Nomads, ** Shima acknowledged. **Are they armed? **
** The two young men carry hunting spears. **
** What are they doing? **
** They seem to be following the same herd we did. **
** Which means . . . **
** They are headed this way. **
If Shima heard the muffled cries behind her, she paid them no heed. Instead she pressed Althair for more details.
** One of the males is headed this way. He probably wants to scout the surrounding territory. **
** Secca, what are we going to do? ** Seeker pleaded.
Secca made no reply. Instead she glanced over at Shima. **Well, huntress?**
Onsha's farewell echoed in Shima's ears. "Shima is in charge. She has the final say on whatever actions transpire this day . . ." If Onsha and Secca had the confidence she could lead this hunt, then so be it. Shima did realize alone she might not have the skill needed. However, she was surrounded by over a thousand years of experience.
** What are our options? ** She asked.
** We can run and hide. ** Seeker suggested.
Shima considered the idea. Glancing around, she took in the surrounding area. Except for a few cacti the land was barren.
** We have no place to run to and no place to hide, ** Kumo answered.
** We could easily out run the clumsy humans and then circle back to the Holt another way, ** Seelee suggested.
** We wouldn't be out of sight before the human reaches the summit. He would see us, Onsha wouldn't like that**" It was Secca who had spoken.
** She'd like it less if somebody ended up dead, ** Seelee retorted.
** We won't die, ** Moon Singer answered. ** I say we forget running and just kill them. A few less humans in the world is not a bad thing, trust me. **
Shima flinched at Moon Singer's harsh words. But out of all the ideas, it seemed like the only option. ** Secca, Kumo, come with me. Seelee, you get your bow ready, but stay back. Moon Singer, protect Seeker. **
** I am here as well, Shima. **
** Seanu! ** Seeker silently cried out.
Shima nodded her head, finding the winged elf in the sky. **Stay out of sight . . .**
Seanu's laughter was evident in her reply. **Humans never look up, unless it's raining. **
** True enough, but stay up high. If things get troublesome, your only objective is to get Seeker out of harm's way. Our Chieftess will have my head if the tribe's only Waterseeker is injured. **
** I will be ready. **
Shima, Kumo, and Secca crept up the dune until Shima's hand brushed Althair's boot. ** How close is the human? **
She would of liked to look herself but as close as the human must be, he would not miss seeing her. Althair clothing made him almost invisible.
** Less than a hundred feet. **
Shima slipped her Throwback out of her sash. Glancing behind, she noticed Kumo and Secca had already unsheathed their swords. They would have to kill all of the humans that laid eyes on them. The huntress only hoped the screams of the male would scare the others away. She had no qualms over killing the males; she had killed a human before. However, the children . . .
Then Althair offered her another way. ** Perhaps, huntress, now is the time for the cunning of the tiger and not the claws of the mighty beast. **
Shima's eyes met the other's and she nodded. Quickly she thought to herself, "cunning, tricks . . . trickster . . . Kumo!"
** The human will be upon us in a matter of seconds. **
There was no time to tell the others of her plan. Abandoning her Throwback she reached inside the small pouch under her sash.
** Shima?!? **
A soft rattle answered the silent plea. Shima watched as Althair's body became ridged. ** Relax, friend, it is only Kumo's toy. What effect is it having on our friend? **
** The human has stopped. He's checking the ground at his feet. **
Another rattle joined Shima's. It was followed a moment later by a second and then a third noisemaker. Shima looked over at the twosome beside her. Kumo, who was trying hard not to laugh, had two rattles in his hands. Secca shook the third.
** That did it, ** Althair told the others. ** He's turned tail and running back down. **
Shima listened to the harsh sounding words the human shouted, but could not understand them. ** Brother, what is he saying? **
Kumo, who knew the language, listened for a moment. Laughing softly he told the others that the scout thought there was a pit of rattlers buried beneath the sand. ** He wants to lead the group around the dune. ** Kumo frowned as an argument broke out between the humans. ** The old one wants him to find a safe path over the dune. **
As the humans fought amongst themselves, Shima looked down at the group below her. Beasts and elves alike were still as stones. Not even Seelee interrupted the silence, on this side of the dune, with a careless hum.
Turning her attention back to Kumo, she watched in relief as the lines on his face eased. **He won't come back up here and neither will his brother. The women agree . . . they are going around the dune.**
** Which way, Althair? **
** They are headed north, away from the Holt. **
** Then lead us south, friend. Everyone, walk lightly. Let's keep the dust we kick up to a minimal. **
It was not until the Holt was within sight that Shima felt her tension ease. Seanu had told them, earlier, that the humans had made it around the dune. They never once looked the way the hunting party had gone.
Secca grabbed Shima's arm, preventing her from entering the camp along side the others.
** You did well today. Kaze would be proud of his daughter.**
** It felt strange not turning to you or the others for leadership. Instead you all turned to me. I could not have done what I did, without Althair's advice or even Kumo's trinkets. **
** You showed good leadership qualities. You asked for help and advice but when it came right down to it . . . you followed your heart. **
"Are you two coming or not?" Kumo called out.
"You go on, Secca." Shima turned away. "The sun is setting. I will join you shortly."
Secca retreated to the entrance of the Holt. From there she watched Shima on her silent vigil.
** So how did she do, Sister? **
Secca glanced over at Onsha. ** You've made a good choice.**
** It is in her blood. **
** But more important . . . it is in her soul. **
** Someday, when the time arrives, Shima will be a fine leader.**