The Snake Hunt
"There they are."
Shima glanced they way Valash was pointing and noticed a herd of Runners, tethered to various objects, about a hundred paces away. Her own Runner had grown harder to control the closer they had gotten to the snake's den. It could smell or sense the serpent and wanted to do nothing more than to get out of harm's way.
Valash was having the same problem. Suddenly his Runner bucked and Shima could only watch as her cousin was thrown unceremoniously onto the sand. The frighten Runner raced back toward the Holt.
Shima dismounted and keeping a firm hand on the tether of her beast, she offered Valash her hand and pulled him to his feet. Both of them watched as his mount vanished over a distant dune. "Do you think she'll find her way back to the Holt?"
Valash finished dusting the sand off his pants. "Yeah, that's one thing most Runners do remember from their training, is to return to the camp."
** Problems, Valash? **
Shima located the sender first, on the dune where the other hunters waited. ** The creature sensed the closeness of the serpent. I even had a hard time controlling my mount, Nirene. **
** I know, I lost my mount as well and so did Azra. **
By now Shima had made her way to the other nervous Runners. Finding no free rocks, she ended up securing her rope on another hunter's beast.
"Are we all here?" She inquired.
"All but Trebor and Aglo."
"Well, if you had teamed me up with Valash instead of Kiin, maybe I would be running late as well." Brekke responded with a grin. "I wonder if those two lovebirds found anything but each other, this hunt."
** Trebor . . . Aglo . . . how close are you? ** Shima inquired.
** We are right behind you, Shima. ** Aglo responded.
Turning around Shima spotted the pair nearing on the back of a single Runner. It would seem the Lovemates too, had lost a mount. Then the young huntress searched the gathered elves until she found Seelee laying on her stomach, watching something over the top of the dune that rested nearby. Shima removed the two throwing spears from their place on her mount. The Throwback was not very useful when it came to Sand Cobras. So, Shima relied on the first weapon she had ever used, the spear. Climbing the dune, she dropped to her knees before reaching the summit. The rest of the ascent she made on her belly.
Seelee glanced over at her when she finally made it to the archer's side. ** Where is it? ** Shima asked.
Seelee held her hand, out in front of her, and opened her fingers. **The right eye is right above my thumb. The snake's left eye is between my third and forth finger. Judging from that distance, I'd say we're looking at a small male. **
Shima used Seelee's guidelines to locate the small mounds that would indicate the Cobra's eyes. She found the right one but no matter how she searched, could not see the left eye. Kigen had always said she would have to walk on a Sand Cobra's back before she noticed it.
Shima motioned for everyone to gather around her at the base of the dune. All joined her, except for Seelee, whom she left to keep an eye on their prey.
** First we blind the creature. Mother, you will take out the right eye. Seelee, your target is the left. If we're lucky, that might just finish the beast. ** She got silent agreements from both.
Shima looked over the other elves. Along with herself, Moon Singer, Zardesh, Nirene, Halban, Star Hawk, Azra, and Isbeth all carried spears. Brekke, Trebor, Moon Tiger, and Aglo had their bows with them. Shima noticed Kiin too carried a quiver of arrows across her back.
However, the white-haired elf's own words of warning came back to the huntress. "If I use my bow someone will get a bottom full of arrows . . ."
Shima smiled and shook her head. She looked at the other weapon Kiin held. It was a staff, a little longer than the elf was tall, with a razor sharp tip made from metal. She had seen Kiin kill a boar with ease with that simple weapon but for a Sand Cobra it would be no good.
As for the rest, Jasha's stone club, Valash and Moon Tiger's swords and FireHeart's net and dagger worked well enough for small game but not for the giant Cobra. The same could be said for Cyraff's dagger. However, Shima had witnessed the silent elf use a spear once before to save her son from a crazed dirt pig. That left Seeker and Bee Sweet. Such brave young huntresses, Shima felt bad they could not be in on the kill. However, the young Waterseeker and Tanner would help with the harvest of the Cobra.
"Halban, Moon Singer, and Isbeth go as quietly and as quickly as you can to the snake's east side. Stay about a hundred feet away from his den. Zardesh, Nirene, Star Hawk, and Azra, you circle to the west side. Again stay back. Everyone take at least two throwing spears with you."
"Brekke, Trebor, Moon Tiger, and Aglo . . . you will join Ame and Seelee at the summit of the dune. The only place a Sand Cobra is vulnerable to arrows is his eyes, nostrils and mouth.
"Sure give us an easy target," Brekke answered with a grin.
"The rest of you, keep the Runners from stampeding. We've lost enough mounts, I don't want to have to walk home after this is done."
Shima looked over at the silent one that stood outside the huddled group. "Cyraff?" The huntress offered the elf a spear.
"What?!?" The blond-haired male at her side shouted. "I have to play livestock boy, while she is in on the kill?"
** You shout like that again, FireHeart, and I'll use you as bait for this hunt. ** Shima replied facing the irate hunter. FireHeart and her had been clashing ever since Onsha had left. Shima had been blaming it on the fact that he thought Onsha should of left him in charge. Last night, though, Sharana had taken her aside and explained that her and FireHeart were too much alike and that was why they quarreled so often. Shima could not believe her and FireHeart had anything in common. However, it boiled down to one thing, he was her elder and that alone demanded respect if nothing else.
"We are not doing this hunt for the glory, FireHeart. We are killing this beast so we can survive." Shima took a calming breath and then continued, "I don't think your net will be any good with a Cobra, how are you with a spear?"
FireHeart laughed and taking a spear from Shima he launched it toward the tethered Runners. Shima was not sure where he was aiming but she knew where the deadly missile was headed. ** Seeker, drop! **
The blind elf fell to her knees as the spear sailed over her head and struck the Runner behind her. The mount fell to the ground without a sound.
In fact there was no sound for a long moment as Halban ran over to check on Seeker and the fallen Runner. ** The Runner is dead. Seeker is shaken but she will be all right. **
Trebor smiled. "I guess that means you're walking home, FireHeart."
Aglo elbowed her Lovemate in the side. "Only if you join him. You lost a mount as well, my beloved."
"But I didn't kill my ride," Trebor responded with a slight growl.
Shima faced FireHeart, trying to keep her anger in check. The sandy-hair male looked at her, then to toward Seeker, and then back at Shima. "I'm sorry . . . my foot slipped. I'm a better shot than that."
A child's taunt was on the tip of Shima's tongue. "Can't hit the side of a cliff . . ." However, the genuine look of distraught that FireHeart still wore made her swallow it unspoken. Instead she sighed and said gently, "A Sand Cobra is a pretty good size target and we might need all the help we can get. Why don't you gather up a couple of spears and join the hunters on the east side."
Shima turned her attention toward Cyraff, who had yet to make a reply. The mute elf looked at the spear in the huntress's hand but then shook her head. Instead she took out a small bag from the pouch on her side.
"What are you going to do with that?" FireHeart asked with a laugh. "Throw it at the snake?"
Cyraff snarled silently at the conceited elf and then looking at Shima nodded her head.
"How close do you have to get?" Shima asked.
Cyraff held her hand inches in front of her face.
"That close . . ." Shima ran her fingers through her hair. "Okay, you stay back with the Runners. Have it ready if we need it." Shima looked over the small group of hunters. "If we're lucky, Ame and Seelee's arrows are all it will take to kill this snake. However, this serpent is the reason the game is scarce, so we have to take it down . . . understand?" She got nods from everyone but FireHeart who was already walking away.
** Okay, then . . . here's wishing for a fast clean kill and may the High Ones watch over us. **
The group quickly divided and went to take the positions she had asked them to. Shima stopped Isbeth from following Moon Singer. ** Are you ready for this? You don't have to do this yet, regardless of what Seelee thinks.**
Isbeth looked at Shima and the huntress saw fear but she also saw determination in the young elf's eyes. ** I am a little frightened, Shima, but you always told me a little fear is a good thing. **
Shima nodded her approval. ** You'll do fine, just remember you only have two spears . . . take your time and make sure they strike true. **
Isbeth nodded and hurried to catch up with Moon Singer. Shima walked over to the group surrounding the Runners. There were six hunters, Jasha, Valash, Cyraff, Kiin, Seeker and Bee Sweet.
** Be ready, I might need you all. You can never tell how a Sand Cobra kill will go. Just make sure we have mounts when we're finished, though. **
Jasha smiled as his hands molded the tethers of the Runners into the rocks around his feet. "These beasts are going nowhere, Shima. Just get us some dinner."
** What's the bait? **
Shima flinched at Seelee's term but what else would you call it. To hunt Sand Cobras, not only did you have to spot their lair before they spotted you; you also must get them to rise out of the sand. A dead Cobra still buried under tons of sand was useless.
The task of bait usually fell on a dune dog, since a Runner was always too frightened. Tora, in his prime, was the best. However, he was no longer in his prime . . . and sometimes could not maintain a fast speed. Ato was too small, the snake may not even rise for an attack. Seelee's Safekeeper was the best bet.
** Trebor . . . No! **
Aglo's cry of alarm caused Shima to disregard stealth and race up the dune. The sight she came upon caused her to freeze in her tracks. Trebor, on the back of a terrified Runner, was racing out toward the waiting serpent.
** Trebor, you fool! ** Zardesh cried.
** Archers, be ready, ** Shima warned as the sand began to shake. Ame and Seelee's arrows were released in unison. Ame's hit dead center in the snake's right eye. However, Seelee's arrow just bounced off the target she struck.
Both Shima and the archer were taken back . . . what had happened? Then the mound Seelee's arrow had hit began to slide down the rising hill of sand.
** It wasn't the second eye of the Cobra! ** Brekke called out.
** Then where's the other . . . oh no . . .**
Shima watched in horror, as the whole horizon seemed to rise to greet them. Their prey was not a small male. The hood of the snake eclipsed the sun as Shima stepped back in awe. What rose out of the depths of earth was an enormous female.
** Trebor! **
Aglo's scream drew Shima's attention back to the elf that had used himself as bait. His Runner suddenly lunged causing Trebor to lose his seat. The dazed elf fell right in front of the towering wall of scales.