Through the night, Dry Otter prayed. He asked the Gods for luck in his hunt, courage to face his fears, strength in his arm, and the knowledge of knowing what to do and when to do it. He had been a part of a few hunts, which gave him some experience. Leading a hunt, however, was a different thing.
It would be up to him to decide how to approach the herd, from which angle to attack, and how best to plan for anything unexpected. The shallow valley in which the bison herd gathered was in a place he knew well. He’d hunted there before, and not just for deer or elk, but even on his own for smaller animals like rabbit, porcupine, or beaver. This was something Dry Otter felt worked in his favor.
As he prayed, an idea began to form in the back of his mind. Two hunters would approach the herd from behind, with torches ready to light. The other six would be scattered around in front of the herd, so when the two men lit their torches, the fire would drive the herd towards the waiting men. If luck was with them and the Gods were kind, the hunters stood a good chance of bringing down many beasts, giving the tribe a good supply of meat with which to start their new year.
When the coals of Dry Otter’s fire burned low, and the morning dew gathered on the grass outside, he banked the coals, gathered his weapons, and exited the shelter. Already Dazzled Light was standing near the large communal fire the tribe shared. With him were a few others: Three Eagles, the old war chief and a leader of the tribe, as well as his best friends, Afraid of Bear and Howling Wolf. Kicking Deer arrived at the fire at the same time Dry Otter did. Within the space of a few breaths, Dark Coyote, Two Cranes, and Red Hawk joined them. They waited only for White Bear.
When the hunters impatience grew to match the brightness of the fire the braves stood by, he finally came to join them.
“What took you? The sun will rise soon.” Dry Otter’s agitation carried in his tone, though he stood stone still.
White Bear grumbled and turned towards the group, “River Song didn’t sleep, and cried much of the night.”
The older men, those hunters who were fathers, nodded. They were familiar with the challenges young children could pose to getting a good night’s sleep. Dry Otter and his two friends looked angry, but otherwise held their tongues. The success of the hunt depended on the men getting along, and anger would bring bad luck. None of them wanted that.
Dazzled light chanted a prayer while he painted the markings only he knew upon the faces and bared chests of the hunters. They used thongs made of deerskin to hold their long, black hair away from their bronzed faces, then joined the shaman in prayer.
When they were finished, the group turned and left for the hunt, with Dry Otter in the lead. The group broke into a ground eating trot, following a trail that lead away from the tribe, up over the rolling hills , and into the valley where the buffalo roamed.
It took only a few minutes in the lightening dark to locate the herd. The sounds of which carried with their smell on the wind. Dry Otter couldn’t help but smile at his luck at the hunters arriving in the valley downwind of the herd.
It didn’t take long to find the path the bison took to enter the valley, and only a few more minutes to find what Dry Otter needed to make his hunting plan work; some dung from one of the huge creatures.
The hunters all took handfuls of the dung, and wiped it on their bodies. The practice, one as old as the legends of the tribe, was perfect for masking the odor of the men and their fires from the beasts they hunted. It would allow some of the braves to move ahead of the herd, but keep the bison ignorant of their presence.
While they worked, Dry Otter spoke up. “I have a plan for this hunt, which I think will work well.”
“And that plan is?” White Bear asked as he threw the rest of the dung back on the ground and brushed off his hands.
The young hunt leader outlined his ideas, then asked for two volunteers to stand by, behind the herd to start the drive when signaled.
“It is a good plan, one with little danger to us, but great chance of success. I will stay to drive the herd.”
Proud of himself, and warm with the elder’s praise, Dry Otter allowed himself a smile. He looked at the other men, and smiled again when his friend, Afraid of Bear, also agreed to stay behind with his elder brother. It was his manhood rites that were held last autumn, before the death season came.
They agreed upon what signal to use to start the drive, then the other six braves broke into their trot again, this time over land and off any trail, working their way around to the other side of the herd. When they were ahead of the herd by a good bit, Dry Otter asked three men to stay where they were, while he and two others went over to the other side of the little draw the herd would be funneled into. After everyone was in position, and after another quick prayer to the gods, Dry Otter took a deep breath and gave the agreed upon signal, the cry of a hawk- which would be misplaced this early in the morning. Just moments later, the cry was returned. First by the three men across the draw, and then, much fainter, by the two men behind the herd. Just a few minutes following this, the whoops of the two men drifted over the wind, soon followed by the ground shaking rumble of stampeding buffalo. The hunt was on.
© 2016, Tim Hillebrant. All rights reserved.
The author has granted WritersCarnival.ca, its affiliates and syndicates non-exclusive rights to display this work.