My first attempts at writing fiction reflect my inattention during high-school English classes and my lack of attending formal writing classes. You will discover misspellings, grammatical errors and story-line ambiguity, among other things. In spite of these short comings, I hope you will be entertained enough to recommend the following three adventure stories to friends and family.
1 – The Murdochs is an adventure of Scottish brother and sister heirs to a whisky fortune. They become crack shots and decide to tour through the immediate post Civil War American West, challenging all comers to shooting competition and offering big cash prizes. They become American icons who use their shooting skills to thwart Company intrigue, assassination attempts, and New York City gangsters.
2 – Thylacine follows two high-school friends who discover a thought to be extinct population of Tasmanian tigers while working summers at a sheep ranch in Tasmania. They desperately try to save the remaining marsupials from hunters and Middle Eastern animal collectors.
3 – Wolfric and his son lead their Pleistocene clan against other humans tribes expanding into their territory. The clan domesticates horses, hunts mammoths and battles invaders as glaciers melt and change the landscape 15,000 years ago.
The Murdochs – Chapter One
Gavin was bored with the family business. At twenty-four, he and his recently deceased father had already turned the small family distillery in Glasgow, Scotland, into an American monopoly. With the End of the American Civil War and the expansion West, the demand for quality scotch whiskey skyrocketed. Murdoch’s new location in New York City was immensely successful. Buyers were lined up every morning in front of the “Murdoch Scotch Whisky Limited” building. Prior to his death Gavin’s father, established distributors in New York and Boston. But now, the whole country was a growing market for good scotch whiskey. Murdoch distributors moved West as fast as they could by land and by sea. The special smooth blend Murdoch scotch was the preferred brand in all American cities. To many, whiskey was a medicinal, a remedy for all the woes of bustling and wildly growing American cities; cities populated by the desperate, the sick, and the tired searching for a palliative. To the elite, it was a sign of good taste and culture.
Gavin did not drink his family elixir, not even occasionally. He considered himself too busy and too smart to be slowed down or influenced by alcohol. On his seventeenth birthday in Glasgow, a group of friends coaxed him to celebrate the occasion with a drinking party. Gavin lost track of how many drinks he put down in the course of that evening, but on the wagon ride back home he became deathly ill, so ill that now the very smell of scotch made him sick. He wondered why so many loved the gold liquid that tasted so bad. Yet, it had made the Murdoch family one of the wealthiest families in Scotland.
When his mother passed away, Gavin returned to Glasgow from NYC, for the funeral and to convince his sister, Annie, to leave the homeland and return with him to the adventure and excitement of America. This she did with relief that she would not be doomed to a life of a house wife and doting mother for a whiskered rich landowner. She told Gavin there was plenty of time for that later and she wanted adventure now; she wanted to experience more than a sooty industrial city in Scotland.
The everyday business of marketing and selling Murdoch Scotch Whisky was left in the able hands of one quarter part owner, and most trusted family member, Uncle Jim Murdoch. Uncle Jim was paid additional salary to oversee the company and insure that shipments of the famous whisky continued to flow on schedule to ports in New York and Boston, and to the new markets opening across the expanding American nation. The New York distillery was now producing more scotch than the original one in Glasgow. Relieved of the burden of keeping the business going, brother and sister could now follow their passion and explore America and especially the great American West.
It was the turn of the century and cheap land was the great enticement for shiploads of immigrants. The West was offering a new life, but also hardships equal to what they experienced in Europe. Still, they came.
Now that the Transcontinental Railway was completed, the siblings decided to use it to explore the West. As they traveled west toward the great Mississippi, the lawless towns boggled their minds. The lawlessness intrigued Gavin and worried Annie. Gavin, being young and an adventurist, decided he should be able to protect himself and Annie while they traveled. In a small Indiana town, they were robbed at gun point. Gavin knew little about the American West other than what he had read in unreliable cheap picture fiction books. They crossed the great Mississippi and paused their westward trek in St. Louis, MO. Gavin took Annie to a famous western supplier, “Westward Ho,” that outfitted travelers heading west by wagon and train. The store sold everything a traveler could need or want.
What interested Gavin most were their selections of firearms. They had every rifle and handgun ever designed in the nation and in Europe. They also boasted elaborate firing ranges where clients were able to test fire any weapon in stock. One unique firing range included facilities for shooting mechanical moving targets and firing while on simulated horseback. There was expert instruction in the use of the latest scopes and ammunition. Gavin and Annie had been schooled in the use of firearms since they were children. Their dad took them with him whenever he went hunting so they were already excellent shots. In St. Louise, they became daily users of the firing ranges. They practiced their skills faithfully, often twice a day for hours at a time. It became an obsession with them. Eventually, they both set all shooting records at the “Westward Ho” ranges and were unbeatable in competition.
“Westward Ho” offerings delayed the sibling’s westward exploration but they relished the opportunity to learn a new skill. For a while the siblings joined the popular “Shaw’s Wild West Show”, that was touring the American Mid-West, and met cowboys, Indians and even a few real gunslingers skilled in the fast draw technique.
Gavin and Annie became sharp shooters with both handgun and rifle. They took additional lessons in the fast draw technique from retired sheriffs and even a famous outlaw, recently released from prison. Fast draw techniques fascinated Gavin when he first read about it as a youth in Glasgow. He wondered, why were some individuals so fast and accurate and some so much slower. He used to debate the issue with friends back home. He surmised that anticipation of an opponent’s intentions had much to do with success, but there were other important elements. He knew that the first person to make a move had a great advantage over his opponent, all else being equal. Accurate anticipation was vital.
Gavin analyzed the gun-fighter’s draw motion by breaking it down into three elements: Reaching for the weapon, removing the weapon from the holster, and finally, raising the weapon to a firing position at waist height or higher. It took Gavin several frustrating months to figure out a best fast-fire technique by trial and error. On the firing range with He had a special time piece built and installed on the firing range
After much experimenting, Gavin realized that shooting from the hip was more difficult than he had anticipated. Accuracy from this position was dismal. Shooting at further than forty feet from the hip decreased accuracy by about 70 percent. Even with expert instruction and tedious practice, shooting from the hip was still unreliable, especially at longer ranges. The best solution was the open front holster and naturally fast reflexes, which seemed to run in the Murdoch family.
Gavin hoped he would never have to prove his fast draw theory in a gun fight, but if he did, he would feel more confident that he could protect himself and his sister. Annie also experimented with the new technique. In addition, she insisted her guns be altered so trigger pulls were more delicate. Pulling a heavy trigger killed accuracy. Gavin agreed and had his pistols altered to “hair” triggers as well. The siblings became infatuated with target shooting and made a point to practice it whenever they got a chance. Initially, they traveled through the Midwest entering target shooting contests and won everything they entered. Eventually, they began sponsoring their own competitions offering big cash prizes to anyone who could outshoot them. No one could, although many tried.
The Murdoch’s fame spread as did the name of their quality scotch whiskey. The Murdoch business continued to grow and Uncle Jim could barely keep up with the orders from new markets.
Gavin’s true love and interest was the American West so he and Annie returned to exploring it as soon as they could. The wild American West offered adventure and danger which the siblings relished. Prior to a planned trip west, Gavin received a message from Stanford Mills, then Secretary of State, requesting the siblings meet with him in Washington, D.C. Mills had a fascinating request. He wanted the Murdochs to represent the federal government and assist lawless territories set up law enforcement offices and court systems in what hopefully would become a model for the thousands of towns currently being established in the new territories and states. The Murdoch’s sterling reputation would be invaluable in this endeavor, so believed Secretary Mills and President Garfield. The Murdochs accepted the challenge and prepared for the trip to the wild west territories as official federal officers, who’s authority transcended that of local officials who might not care to cooperate. They brought documentation with them that suggested military intervention if towns did not cooperate.
Cattle towns were notorious for lawlessness. Bars lined main streets, brawls and shootings occurred every night and local sheriffs and traveling judges were overwhelmed. Gavin and Annie studied the situation carefully and got approval from Secretary Mills and President Garfield for their plan. They knew it would be extremely controversial.
The Murdoch’s first encounter with a lawless, out of control town occurred in the cattle town of Junction City, MO. It was typical of what they would encounter later. If they were successful in Junction City, word would spread and hopefully make their job easier in the future.
It was decided that Junction City would to be a gun free town. Town officials posted signs all around town announcing a rodeo and shooting contest with big prize money. In fact, the top five finishers would receive generous cash prizes totaling five hundred dollars each. Anyone who could outshoot either of the famous Murdochs would receive another five hundred dollars. The event was well attended as were the Main Street bars. Competitors were pleased with the opportunity to win up to a thousand dollars. Gunslingers from all over the Midwest and West showed up to compete for the cash. Some traveled by train from as far West as Colorado.
The rodeo was a huge success, but the shooting competition was icing on the cake. Target shooting with rifles and handguns took up half a day and although no one could match the Murdochs’ accuracy, everyone had fun and some walked away with big prize money. The fast draw and shoot completion was last. The judges rang a bell and used stop watches to determine the fastest draw and then examined the targets for accuracy. The finals found two competitors left, Gavin and sister Annie. The onlookers then considered it a draw after ten even draws and ten bullseyes in a target.
After the festivities, the happy crowd received the bad news from the town sheriff and mayor. “Junction City is now a gun free town.”, they announced. Everyone must check their six shooters and rifles at the sheriff’s office, when entering Junction, and pick them up upon leaving. All those who disagreed with the new law were advised not to enter the town, or leave their weapons at their home ranches. Dissenters were advised to take their complaints to the Murdochs who would be available at the sheriff’s office. Only a few drunks showed up to complain.
Had there been another town close by the cowboys might have gone there to drink and brawl, but the nearest town was two hours away on a fast horse. Reluctantly the cowboys checked their guns at the sheriff’s office. They went to the same bars, got drunk, gambled, womanized and fought, but it turned out after a month, no one was killed in a gunfight. The policy was successful. Even the cowboys were pleased. They could have a drunken brawl and survive to brawl again the next time. No one had the nerve to challenge either Murdoch, so the siblings never had to shoot or intimidate anyone. Junction City enjoyed peace and quiet for the first time since its founding in 1790.
Gavin and Annie packed up and moved on to Central City, KA. where they sponsored another rodeo, and shooting contest with another big prize to be shared by the best five shooters. Most of the competitors were cowboys, except for an Englishman who showed up at the last moment. He was a slim middle-aged man with a finely styled moustache and goatee. He brought with him a reputation as a fast draw sharp shooter. He wished to earn a little fame and cash by a head-on competition with the famous Gavin and Annie Murdoch, so he claimed. After the competition, Central City would be given the official news about being gun free. Rumors about the change were already circulating around town.
A large banner advertising Murdoch scotch whisky was hung across Main Street by the new state distributer. Local bars were well stocked with it after a train arrived with crates of the gold liquid.
After the rodeo was concluded, the shooting completion began. The crowds grew, lining both sides of Main Street where the competition would take place. The first event was handgun accuracy at fifty paces shooting into gunfighter silhouettes with bright four ring bullseyes on their chests. The top ten shooters went on to the next round at sixty paces. Then, the top five would shoot at seventy paces. Accuracy was essential. However, if a competitor drew too slowly, he could be disqualified by the boos from the festive crowd. Gavin, Annie and the Englishman had perfect scores at fifty and sixty paces. At seventy paces both Gavin and Annie outshot the Englishman to his great chagrin and obvious anger. Apparently, he was not use to losing. He was good, but had several shots slightly off bullseye. Gavin and Annie competed against each other in the finals until each had fired twenty perfect shots and the judges and the crowd deemed the competition to be a draw. The crowds and the gamblers loved it.
The fast draw contest was next. It consisted of pairing the contestants who were to stand side by side, draw when a bell was rung and fire at bull’s eye targets. The contestants had to fire a total of six fast consecutive shots per round. A combination of accuracy and fast shooting moved a contestant on to the next round. Each round eliminated half the competitors until two were left. During a practice session Gavin and Annie watched the Englishman carefully. He used a short barrel revolver and a small holster, both of which made for a very fast draw. Nevertheless, Gavin seemed confident that the Englishman’s accuracy was lacking. Annie did not compete because the Central City Mayor deemed it unseemly for females to compete against men. Gavin’s warm up with his unique open front holster fascinated the onlookers. The betting odds between Gavin and the Englishman were even as the completion began. In the semifinal round, six Cowboys, a Scotsman and an Englishman squared off.
The winners of the competition had to shoot quickly and accurately after the starting bell was rung. Competitors received points for firing first and for finishing six shots before their opponent did. The judges then would examine the targets for accuracy. Eventually, all the cowboys were eliminated and the Englishman and Gavin were left. The crowd grew silent, waiting for the bell. The late afternoon was hot with no breeze to clear the street of Gun smoke. The smoke hung heavy around the competitors and all but obscured them from the crowd lining both sides of the town’s main street. The crowd finally settled down and grew silent. The bell rang, and both competitors drew fast and fired smoothly. It was obvious that Gavin completed firing his six shots first. The Englishman obviously fired the last shot. The crowd cheered and called Gavin’s name loudly as the obvious winner. The designated judges hurried to the targets to access the accuracy of the shooters. All of Gavin’s shots were exactly in the bullseye, but strangely, the Englishman’s target only contained five bullet holes. As the smoke cleared, the crowd noticed Gavin slowly drop to his knees and then fall flat on his face. Annie was the first to reach him. He was bleeding from a gunshot wound to his side. The town doctor arrived and tried to stop the bleeding. Gavin was carried off the street to the Palace Bar and placed on a billiard table. The crowd packed the sidewalk and street outside concerned about Gavin’s condition. Ten minutes later the doctor looked up at Annie and smiled, “He’s OK, I stopped the bleeding. The bullet went in and out without doing major harm. He will recover. Just keep his wound clean and bandaged.” Annie cried in relief at the news. It was one of the few times she cried. The crowd cheered when they heard the news that Gavin would recover.
Annie looked around the Palace Bar for the English man, and then ran outside to the street. “Where’s the Englishman?” she demanded. Nobody knew. He was gone, and no one had seen him leave or knew in which direction he went. The sheriff scratched his head and said “How on earth did the Englishman miss his target by so much and hit Gavin?” No one could answer that question. The town serif and mayor thought it was a terrible accident.
Annie had her own theory. “That damnable Englishman shot my brother deliberately!” She screamed. “In the confusion of gunfire and gun smoke, his last late shot must have been directed at Gavin.”
“Why would he have done that?” asked the sheriff.
No one could answer that question except the missing Englishman, who was nowhere to be found in town.
The sheriff hustled down to the telegraph office and sent messages to the four nearest towns to be on the lookout for an English looking and sounding dude with moustache and goatee, riding fast. An artist was already drawing up “Wanted Posters” to be sent out to surrounding towns. Newspaper reporters were writing their stories and waiting in line at the telegraph office to send them to their papers. The “gun Free Town” project was forgotten in the excitement.
While Gavin recovered, the Murdochs waited for a response from President Garfield and Secretary Mills about their first success. Unfortunately, there had been a national election. Garfield was voted out of office and the “Gunless Town concept” lost favor in spite of its initial success. The “town without guns” experiment died on the vine.
After Gavin recovered, the disappointed Murdochs moved on. They continued sponsoring rodeos and gun competitions and enjoying the expansive country. They commissioned The Great Western Coach company to build a special coach so they could travel in comfort. The coach was loaded on a flat car when they could travel by train, but unloaded and used to reach the smaller towns that did not have a railway depot. To increase interest in the already popular rodeo and shooting competition, they upped the prize money to anyone who could outshoot either them. No one could although many tried. Wanted posters of the Englishman were posted in every town they passed through, but there were no leads.
The Murdochs moved on Westward.
In the cattle town of Rolling Hills, Kansas, the siblings stayed in May’s Hotel on Main Street. They were in the midst of dinner when they heard gunshots from across the Main street. Dinners rushed to the windows to see what was happening. It was the bank; it was being robbed and the four robbers were apparently still inside. Gavin and Annie grabbed their rifles and waited on the hotel porch for the robbers to exit. Town Sheriff Roberts joined them. As the four bandits exited the bank, Sheriff Roberts ordered them to “Throw your guns down and put up your hands.” The bandits replied with a hail of bullets that took the sheriff down, shot in the arm and calf. Annie bent over to help him as another volley of shots rang out and shattered restaurant windows making everyone run and duck, except Gavin. He had to protect his sister and the wounded sheriff, so he took four rapid shots with his lever action rifle, and then, all was quiet. Four nervous horses pulled on their reins at the hitching post and as the smoke cleared onlookers could see four bodies lying still in the street in front of the bank. Gavin hoped that would be the last time he would have to kill someone, or, that someone would try to kill him. But, he was mistaken because another shot ran out and a bullet clipped a notch out of Gavin’s ear. With blood pouring down his face, he dove for cover back into the boarding house and yelled out, “Any one see the shooter?” No one did, not even Annie who was searching where the last shot might have come from. Every one waited a few minutes before two deputies crept cautiously into the bank looking for the last shooter. They found no one. Eventually, Gavin and Annie guessed the last shooter was a lookout for the others and had fled. She cleaned and bandaged Gavin’s ear, but it would forever be scarred from the close miss. Any closer and Gavin could have been killed by a bullet through his brain.
The siblings returned to the boarding house and finished their meal while the deputies cleaned up the street. The townspeople and wounded sheriff were grateful for the help of the Murdochs and soon there was a large crowd outside the boarding house cheering the siblings. Word spread around town and to neighboring towns of the shooting. Rumor had it that the number of bank robbers, killed by the Murdochs, was fifteen. Reporters from Eastern newspapers showed up wanting to interview the Murdochs. Their fame grew and publishing houses sent writers to document the now famous sharpshooters. Interviews always were well lubricated with Murdoch scotch. The business was rapidly growing along with the fame of the siblings.
Gavin and Annie were invited to join several famous touring Wild West Shows, but they declined; they were still headed West to California, but first to a special area in Wyoming they heard about.
They were told a wild area was reputed to be a natural wonderland of natural sights never before seen anywhere else in the nation. They joined a band of adventurous tourists who, like themselves, were from back East. Their little caravan found the fabled area, called Yellowstone by the Indians. Three local white trappers offered to guide them to the natural wonders. The trappers were a surly group but did an excellent job guiding the group and providing them with fresh meat and sturdy cabins they used for trapping. The Murdochs and the tourists were led to the most wondrous sights; pools of boiling sulfur water and clouds of steam bubbling from deep underground through brightly colored rocks and surrounded by snow and ice; they saw huge geysers periodically shooting water and steam two hundred feet into the air; waterfalls that winter had turned into elaborate ice sculptures; vast herds of bison and elk that were constantly harassed by wolf packs. The scenery was spectacular but the tourists had to be rugged because of the cold nights. Their timber shelters were poorly heated by open fires and everyone suffered. After a week of exploration and viewing the most beautiful scenery they ever had seen, the tourists and the Murdochs were cold and weary, ready for the comforts of the nearby town of Parkland.
The morning of the day they were to depart they were surprised by complaining guides. The trappers demanded more money from the tourists, triple the amount agreed upon. The Murdochs had the cash, more than enough to pay for the other eight tourists, who were short of cash, but they balked at their guides demand. The day before, the guides were pleased with the generous payment for their services. They had been in good spirits, about to be paid a year’s worth of trapping for a week catering to the city folk. What had changed? It was obvious that the trappers did not know who the Murdochs were because most of their complaints were directed at Gavin.
Gavin stepped forward and casually pulled his beautiful nickel plated 45 revolver from his parka. Annie did the same.
Gavin addressed the trappers: “Gentlemen, would you consider revising your charges downward a bit?”
Annie added: “Downward to what we agreed upon, Gentlemen.”
The tourists gasped and stepped backward away from the Murdochs. They were afraid and would have agreed to the Trappers demands. The trappers seemed not to be intimidated by the pretty guns and likewise, the Murdochs were not intimidated by the burly trappers.
The trappers laughed and one blurted out, “Do you know how to use that pretty gun, boy”
Gavin assured the man he did. “Much better than you Sir.”
Nevertheless, the head trapper was stubborn. He insisted, “We deserve more that what was agreed upon.” He seemed to want to pick a fight with Gavin. It appeared money was not the top priority for him. “ I think I’ll take your money and that pretty six shooter.”
“Tell you what Sir,” Gavin added, calmly looking into the head trapper’s angry eyes “I’ll give you a choice. Take what was agreed upon and guide us back to town, or go for your guns right now. The wolves will be feeding on your frozen bodies by morning.”
The trapper, who had confronted Gavin, was pulled back by his companions, who were intimidated by Gavin’s calm confidence. They conferred with each other and eventually agreed to the original deal. The head trapper, who had argued with Gavin, was reluctant and threatened to shoot this kid and take his “pretty gun.” He was not about to back down to this smart-ass tourist.
By now, Annie was fuming. She had enough and lost her temper. She addressed the trappers in a loud voice. “You bastards are messing with Gavin Murdoch, best shot in the West. You are lucky my brother is so accommodating. I would have shot all of you if we didn’t need you to guide us back to Indian Flats. If you don’t get us to town by nightfall one or more of you will not be doing any more trapping, ever.” She could tell the trappers had heard of Gavin and Annie Murdoch, the best shots in America.
As she spoke, a crow, that had been scavenging around their camp for the last few days, just happen to flutter in a near-by tree top at the edge of the clearing about 25 yards away. Annie looked up, raised her gun, aimed quickly and fired. The cawing stopped and the crow dropped to the ground hitting tree limbs all the way down. The trappers and tourists were amazed and intimidated. All discussion about fees was ended.
Gavin played along with Annie’s threat. “Please Annie, don’t shoot all of them. Let one live so he can guide us to town.”
That was all Gavin had to say. The head trapper backed off his demand for more money and claimed he was just joking. The tourists packed up were led back toward the town. By late afternoon they could see Parkland in the distance. As they rode single file, a shot rang out and a bullet whistled by Gavin’s head. A second shot followed and shattered a tree limb inches from him. In alarm the tourists split up and galloped off in different directions looking for cover, and hanging low in their saddles. An hour later, the tourists and the trappers met up down the road to Parkland. “What was that? Who the hell was shooting at us?” screamed Annie. The trappers claimed it must have been drunk Indians. She screamed an obscenity at the trappers who never said another word. They seemed eager to get back to town and get paid. But, in Annie’s mind, there was no doubt, someone definitely was bent on killing her brother.
Back in town the trappers got their agreed upon pay. Gavin and Annie suspected they knew more than they let on. Annie claimed they were in on the attempt to kill her brother because they made it a point not to ride close to him, and they gave Gavin ride the only white horse they had. Annie was sure that marked him as the target from a distance.
Gavin told the town sheriff about the trapper’s attempted breach of contract, and the shooting on the trip back to town. Gavin warned the trappers that he and his sister would pass through Parkland in the Spring. “If the sheriff tells us you tried to intimidate tourists again, so help me I’ll kill you.” Gavin did not mean it, but the trappers believed him.
As the siblings walked across the street to their lodgings, they heard the sheriff say to the trappers, “You idiots just tangled with the Murdochs. Had you pushed them a little further, you’d all be dead right now. They’re the best shots in the world. You are lucky to be alive.” The trappers trudged down the street toward the Parkland City Bar, where several well – dressed gentleman stood.
Chapter four – Companions
The Murdochs decided to move on through Colorado. By now, they had hired two teenage half Indian, half white, travel companions. The Murdochs met them as they passed through a Sioux reservation. The brothers were working the tourists by performing Indian dances and showing their skills with Bows and arrows. Chris, short for Christian and Bart, short for Bartholomew were twin brothers. They looked so similar, Annie insisted they always wear different clothing. If they did not, they were difficult to tell apart. The lads helped them pack and unpack, drive the Murdoch’s new coach, cook meals, care for the horses, etc. The lads became good friends with the Murdochs. When the Murdochs were not traveling by train they traveled in their luxury coach in relative comfort. They rode well gaited horses much of the time but often retired to their sturdy coach upon which their baggage was loaded. The young lads took turns driving the coach and leading the other horses. They were an immense help because the Murdochs had acquired gear relating to the shooting competition they continued to give in select towns along the way. The coach provided sleeping areas and protection from the elements for all four of them when no other accommodations were available.
Annie still had the belief that someone was out to kill Gavin. She suspected every stranger they met on the road and seldom left her brother alone in a position he could not protect himself. On the road to Flathills, CO. the Murdochs acquired mysterious traveling companions. Four mounted men with a pack animal appeared behind them on the road and kept pace with them about one half mile back. Annie brought their appearance to Gavin’s attention, but he had already noticed them. When he asked the boys to speed up or slow down the four men adjusted their speed as well. It was suspicious.
One evening in the fading light, the Murdochs were alarmed by the sound of shooting. They armed themselves and cautiously investigated. They spotted two of the mysterious travelers in an open field about fifty yards from their coach pointing their rifles in the Murdoch’s direction. The firing resumed and the Murdochs ducked behind their coach with the boys. The boys, who by now were good shots themselves, prepared to defend themselves and the Murdochs. Annie advised they turn and scan the woods behind the coach for the other men. The two strangers walked nonchalantly toward the Murdochs, then stooped to pick up something in the field.
Then one of the men, a black bearded man, greeted the Murdochs.
“You all alright?” the man called out. “Didn’t mean to scare you. We were hunting for tonight’s chow.”
The Murdochs relaxed somewhat at the man’s friendly greeting.
The men introduced themselves. “As traveling companions to you good folk, we wanted to be good neighbors.” They held up two tom turkeys, still dripping blood from the loss of their heads. They presented one kill to Bart and suggested they and the Murdochs share the evening meal together.
The Murdochs could not refuse the friendly gesture and asked Chris and Bart to take the turkeys and prepare them.
The man asked if the Murdochs minded if the four of them camped near them that night. The Murdochs agreed.
After an excellent turkey meal, the travelers sat around the campfire and chatted. The men were on their way to join family in California. Although there seemed to be nothing suspicious about them, Gavin was uneasy. He was sure he had seen the bearded man’s cold grey eyes before. He could not place just where yet. Annie too, was concerned. She seldom forgot a face.
After a pleasant evening, the travelers said “good-night” and bedded down near the Murdoch’s campfire which was left burning. Flickering shadows and a crescent moon enveloped their camp. Gavin asked the boys to take sleeping shifts so as to have someone always on guard. A whip-o-will serenaded them as the siblings fell asleep in the coach.
About midnight when the last embers of their fire had died, Annie shook Gavin’s arm. “I think I remember where we saw that bearded man.”
“Where” whispered, Gavin.
“Don’t you remember? It’s the English man who shot you in the competition and then disappeared?” Annie whispered back.
Gavin thought for a while. “Could Be, but he had a heavy English accent and no beard.”
“So what, he could have many accents. Actors do.” She replied. “I’m almost positive it’s him.”
The siblings lay awake for a while, uneasy about who the black bearded man might be. Finally, they drifted off to sleep to the sound of an owl calling in the darkness and crickets in the grass.
The silence of the night was shattered. “Stop! Who’s there? Stop or I’ll shoot!” It was Chris’s voice. All bedlam broke loose next. Shots were fired from both sides of the coach into the coach. Gavin grabbed his sister and rolled to the coach’s floor. Bullets whizzed through the walls and doors of the coach. They heard return firing from the top of the coach where Chris had been sleeping, and then more shots from under the carriage of the coach where Bart had been sleeping. Gavin and Annie found their guns and prepared to return fire, but at who? They could see no one lying on the coach’s floor. They open the coach’s door and prepared to fall out to the ground when they heard another shot followed by an agonizing cry.
Gavin whispered to Annie, “Someone’s been hit.” Then, both siblings tumbled out of the coach to the ground and searched the darkness. They fired at the gun flashes out in the darkness. The crescent moon came from behind the clouds and provided a little light. Everything was silent. Gavin called out, “You all right Bart?”
Bart replied, “I’m OK.” Chris piped up also, “I’m OK too.”
The four lay quietly for several minutes, ready to return fire as needed. Then, in the darkness, they heard the sound of galloping horses receding into the night down the road from where they had come. The four lay quietly in the darkness, not sure the danger had totally passed. Finally, Bart whispered, “I’ll check to see if they’re gone.”
“Be careful”, Annie whispered back.
A minute later, more shots were heard. “Stay back they’re trying to trick us.” Bart warned. Someone is still out there.”
The Murdochs hugged the ground as another volley of shots splintered the coach’s doors. They heard Chris and Bart fire back, but they were afraid to join in because the boys were out there in the darkness, someplace.
Another few minutes passed, the shooting stopped and everything remained silent. Soon they heard more horses galloping away from their camp down the road. Crickets, silenced by the gunfire, finally began chirping again.
Bart volunteered: “Our guests were damn killers. They must have been hired to kill us, or more precisely, you Gavin.”
“Yeah” Chris replied, “But everyone is OK. We did good.“
“Stay where you are and keep alert.” Gavin advised. Everyone lay back on their sleeping pads and waited for morning.
Finally, the Eastern sky began to lighten. The Murdochs and the boys determined all the shooters were gone.
One of their horses remained behind tied to a fallen tree, so they searched for its rider. They found him face down in a little pool of blood. Gavin searched the man for identification and found something that he could hardly believe. The man was Scottish and from Glasgow. That seemed so odd. The siblings were amazed. Was there a tie in with this man and the distillery and, Uncle Jim?
“What a coincidence!” Annie exclaimed.
“I don’t believe it is a coincidence. Something strange is going on.” Gavin replied. “I recognize that dead man. He was Uncle Jim’s body guard. He usually kept out of sight, and ran errands for UncIe Jim. I never really got to know him.
While the boys packed up their gear and Annie prepared hot tea and honeyed muffins, Gavin remained deep in thought. He still found it hard to believe that Uncle Jim, had anything to do with the attempts on Gavin’s life. Uncle Jim was Gavin’s most trusted friend and relative. He asked himself, “Why would his father’s brother want to kill his nephew?”
Gavin congratulated the boys for being so brave and Annie gave them each an envelope with a cash bonus, which they both refused. But, they did accept a heartfelt hug and kiss from Annie.
Gavin and Annie talked about the possible connection between Uncle Jim and the problems they were encountering. “What was it that caused good people to do bad things?” Annie asked.
“That’s easy” Chris volunteered. “Money, love and hate.”
Gavin replied, “Uncle Jim doesn’t hate me, I don’t think he does anyway. He has plenty of money with his quarter share of the business plus his salary… and, he told me himself, that he loved me as a son.”
Bart added, “This may sound silly…but maybe a quarter share is not enough. Could it be he believes he is worth more than a quarter share?” If you die, he is that much closer to owning the whole company.”
“No, no, no, that can’t be. Jim never spoke to my Dad or me about wanting more of a share.” Gavin sputtered with some doubt in his voice. “It just can’t be.”
Annie had been silent, in thought. She finally spoke up and gave her opinion. “Well, it seems to me that Uncle Jim’s involvement in this is the best explanation for the attempts on Gavin’s life. I hate to think he is involved but… it looks like he is. Maybe he got involved to deeply in gambling and has debts.”
Gavin continued her thought. “So far, that is the best explanation.”
They all agreed, but now, they pondered what they should do about it?
“What about this dead guy?” Bart asked.
Annie replied, “Load him on his horse and we will take him to the nearest town.
Bart and Chris did what Annie told them. They were feeling good about their performance in the shoot-out, and they were gratified that Annie and Gavin treated them as friends rather than employees. They felt as if they had been “adopted” by Annie and Gavin. Now, more than ever, they felt part of the family.
The Murdochs dropped the body off at the sheriff’s office and explained the circumstances. They described the man with the black beard and the sheriff assured Gavin he would have a poster made and have it circulated around the state. On the poster, it would be stated that the wanted man sometimes spoke with an English accent and sometime did not have a black beard. The sheriff said the chances were slim that the wanted man would turn up.
The first thing Gavin did was to upgrade the coach. The boys installed bullet proof panels in the doors and sides just in case they might need the protection in the future.
Before the Murdochs could deal with Uncle Jim, they needed more proof that he had conspired to murder Gavin. They decided to leave the coach behind with the boys and attempt to back track the bearded assassin themselves. The next town they came to was Averdale. Gavin and Annie met with the Averdale sheriff and reported what had happened. Then, Gavin went to the telegraph office and presented his official federal government identification and badge too the operator.
“I’m tracking a dangerous assassin and I need your help.” He said. “We think he sent a telegram from this office to New York City a few days ago. There may have been a reply from New York that day or the next. I need copies of what was on those telegrams.”
The operator replied that by law he was forbidden to disclose… Gavin interrupted him. “I am a government marshal working on an international murder case in behalf of the President. Your government insists that you turn over this information to me immediately.”
Fortunately, the telegraph office kept duplicates of all telegrams in its files. The intimidated operator turned them over to Gavin. There were two messages, one from William Briggs to Jim Murdoch, and one from Jim Murdoch to William Briggs.
First telegram: To Jim Murdoch (stop) First attempts failed (stop) Plan another soon (stop) It will be done. (Stop). Signed William Briggs.Reply telegram: To William Briggs (stop) Urgent! If you are successful (stop) Your reimbursement will be doubled when you finish job ( stop) Hope you make a killing soon (stop) Signed Jim Murdoch
Gavin almost laughed out loud as he read the telegrams. So, it was Uncle Jim, as they suspected. This was the evidence he needed.
Before he left the telegraph, office Gavin ordered that the operator not divulge what had occurred. Gavin indicated any such divulgence would be considered a federal crime, punishable by a year in prison. “I’ll return tomorrow to see if any other telegrams between these two parties have been sent. Above all, don’t tell this Mr. Briggs I was inquiring about his telegrams.”
Gavin left the telegraph office the way he had entered, unnoticed through its back door. He returned to his camp outside of town to share the messages with Annie and the boys.
The next day Gavin returned to the telegraph office, again unseen through the back door and got copies of two more letters recently sent that morning, and just received.
First telegram: To William Briggs (stop) Imperative you are successful (stop) It is matter of life or death (stop) Great rewards (stop) Signed Jim Murdoch
Second telegram: To Jim Murdoch ( stop) It will be done soon, no worry (stop) GM will be no more (stop) Willian Briggs.
While Gavin was reading the telegrams the office door suddenly opened and the bearded William Briggs strode in. Both men saw each other exactly the same time. Both men reached for their guns but only one shot was fired. The telegraph operator watched as William Briggs keeled over backward, his right hand on his gun handle, the gun still in its holster. Gavin told the operator to get the sheriff.
When the sheriff arrived, Gavin explained everything to him. After picking up a couple of deputies the four of them walked down the street to the Walker Boarding house where Mr. Briggs had been staying. The lady at the front desk said Mr. Briggs’s companions were probably across the street in the restaurant having breakfast. The sheriff, Gavin and two deputies entered through the salon’s swinging doors and approached two men eating at a corner table.
At their approach the three men looked up in alarm. The Sheriff ordered the men to unbuckle their gun belts and raise their arms.
“What’s the charge Sheriff?” one demanded.
“Attempted Murder” replied the Sheriff.
Gavin stood away from the Sheriff and deputies. It was obvious the gunslingers were professionals and knew who he was.
Gavin informed them.
“I am Gavin Murdoch. I just killed your boss William Briggs.”
The three men did as Gavin expected. They looked at each other and then simultaneously went for their guns. It was the worst decision they ever made in their lives, and the last one. Before the Sheriff and deputies could react, Gavin had drawn and fired three times. The men fell to the floor with their hands still on their holstered guns.
The Sheriff and his deputies looked at Gavin in amazement. They never saw anyone draw that fast. In fact, they ever really saw him draw. They knew he probably saved their lives.
Back in camp, Gavin explained what happened. “Just as well” Annie said. “They deserved it.”
Now, Gavin and Annie had one last score to settle. It was with Uncle Jim.
“We have to go back to the New York office and confront Uncle Jim.”
Annie answered, “I agree. We have the telegraph messages that are evidence of Uncle Jim’s plot to murder you. But why did he want to do that? What was his motive?”
Gavin answered, “I’ve been thinking about it and think I know why. Bart is right. Uncle Jim currently has a one quarter share in the business. I’m sure he thinks he is worth more than a quarter share. Maybe he has debts we don’t know about.”
“Maybe he has an expensive lady friend.” Chris added.
“But his quarter share in the business is a fortune now, and it increases every day.” Annie replied. “It’s more than enough for Uncle Jim and Aunt Emily, and all eight of their children.
Then, turning to Gavin, “You and Dad did all the work setting up the business from nothing. He had nothing to do with that.”
Gavin replied, “I know, but I still would like to hear his explanation. I have a plan. Tell me what you think of it.” Gavin explained what he had in mind. Annie thought it was great. It would require sending a bogus message to Uncle Jim, from the deceased assassin, William Briggs, saying he was successful in killing us and he was coming to NYC to collect his money in person. Gavin smiled, “And then, we show up and surprise Uncle Jim. He won’t have time to change the books. I’ll check the company’s business records for any irregularities and confront him if there are some. There are bound to be many. Even if the books are clean we have him on an attempted murder charge. If we let him know we are alive and coming to New York, he will have time to prepare a cover up. We need to catch him totally by surprise”.
“Our appearance will probably give him a heart attack.” Annie added with a half grin on her face. Chris and Bart laughed out loud at her remark.
Gavin and Annie left their travel coach with the boys in St. Louis and took the train to New York. The city had changed since they were there last. They hardly recognized the neighborhood as they traveled by cab from train station to the old family home north of the business district. The large house was built by Gavin’s dad when the business first moved to the city. It was used by the family infrequently because Gavin’s dad died soon after it was built and his mom moved back to Glasgow prior to her own death. The mansion looked deserted except for one dim light in a window. Annie rang the bell and they waited. She rang several times more before the door opened and they were greeted by an elderly man, who the siblings recognized as Richard, the original butler hired by their dad so many years ago.
Richard recognized them immediately and was pleased they had returned. He greeted them warmly. “There are many repairs needed on the Mansion.” He said. “Its dusty and empty in since you left three years ago. Your Uncle Jim and Aunt Emily moved downtown to be near the business and left me alone to take care of the house.”
That night Gavin and Annie planned carefully for the confrontation with Uncle Jim the next day. The home itself, was destined to become the home for Chris, Bart and the Murdochs for years to come.
The next morning Gavin and Annie paid a visit to Mayor Bonsett’s office before going on to the Murdoch distillery and offices. Mr. Murdoch Senior had been astute in the ways of city politics. Politics were essential for business success in old Glasgow as well as New York. A substantial political contribution and a case a Murdoch Scotch was delivered faithfully to New York City mayor’s office every Christmas. The name Murdoch opened most any official door in the city.
After visiting with the mayor, the Murdochs went on to Murdoch’s Scotch Whiskey Limited in downtown Manhattan. They stepped out of the cab in front of their building. It had not changed much since they left, except now the large double front doors were guarded by a rather large uncouth appearing person. He inquired as to who they were and what they wanted. He said, “I have orders not to let anyone in who don’t work here, or have an appointment.”
Gavin opened his coat jacket to reveal his nickel plated 45 revolver. “Listen my good man, I am Gavin Murdoch and this is my business. Stand aside.” The man didn’t know how to respond. He stood there totally befuddled, so Gavin and Annie brushed by him, opened the doors and entered. They went directly to the business office in the back, through a room full of workers labeling and packing bottles into crates. Those who recognized Gavin and Annie stood in respect and waved. Gavin and Annie walked straight into the “Manager’s Office” without knocking. Uncle Jim was sitting behind the huge hand carved desk, that Gavin’s dad had imported from Scotland. He looked up with an annoyed expression on his face, for having been disturbed. It took several seconds before what he saw, sank in. it appeared as if he had seen a ghost. “I, I, I thought you were…ah, ah
Gavin interrupted him, “Yes, we were held up. Didn’t you get our telegram?”
“If fact,” added Annie, “we were almost killed. Someone actually tried to kill us. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you Uncle Jim?”
Uncle Jim’s face turned ash white, he tried to recover his composure. “N, N, No, of course not! Why should I? I am glad to see you are both in good health. Now, ah, please tell me what…”
Gavin interrupted him again. “We’ll tell you about that later Uncle Jim. First, tell us about yourself and Aunt Emily. Have you been well? After they had gotten through brief pleasantries Gavin said, “The first thing I want to do is take a look at the books.” Gavin walked over to where the files of all transactions are recorded every day. “Why don’t you heat up some tea and send out for lunch. We can eat and you can help me understand how the business is doing.” Uncle Jim stumbled through his duties as if in a fog.
Later in the afternoon Gavin closed the last transaction book. He looked at Uncle Jim and said “The business seems to be in good shape, despite the missing funds. I have many questions about our bottom line. It does not reflect the excellent sales and profits we have experienced. We should have 20 percent more cash reserve. Please explain Uncle Jim.”
At that very moment the office door burst open and the burly doorman and three other tough looking men barged in. “What the hell is going on here.” a man with a cigar in his mouth asked, “and who the hell are you?”, as he looked at Gavin.
Gavin calmly turned to Uncle Jim and asked “Who the hell are these men who can burst into your office without knocking?” I’ll have to throw them out.”“No!” Uncle Jim blurted out. “Please, let’s be calm. I’ll explain.”
Meanwhile, Annie quietly moved behind the men.
Uncle Jim confessed to Gavin that he had gambling debts, big debts. “I had to use the business as collateral. I just got in too deep to pay it and the interest off by myself.” Uncle Jim was almost in tears. “I had to take cash from the company or they would have killed me. I even sent Emily back to Glasgow so she would be safe.”
Annie slipped out of the room unnoticed and went to greet a group of men who were gathering at the front doors. Among them was Mayor Bonsett and Police Chief Ryan. were several uniformed police in the group. She led them back to Uncle Jim’s office door. They stood silently and listened, unseen by the mobsters.
The head mobster told everyone to shut up. My name is Pat Monahan “Dis guy owes me five towsan bucks.” pointing to Uncle Jim, “and I’m going to collect it from him or dis compny, I don’t care which. So, who’s gonna pay me? Or, do I have to kill somebody?”
Gavin spoke up, “I’m Gavin Murdoch and I own this company. Pointing to Uncle Jim, “This man no longer works for me.” Gavin turned to Uncle Jim and said “You’re Fired Uncle Jim.” Turning back to the gamblers, “I just fired him. He has no further access to company funds, so you will have to take up his debt with him personally.”
Uncle Jim hid behind Gavin, clutched his arm and pleaded with him. “I’m your father’s brother…you can’t do this to me…They’ll kill me.”
The mobster lost patience and pulled his gun out to scare Gavin. The men who accompanied him also drew their guns. The mobster threatened Gavin. “Either you pay up or you’ll regret it.”
A voice from the back of the room loudly ordered “Lower their guns. I’m Police Chief Ryan. You are all under arrest.”
The surprised mobsters all turned to see who gave the order.
The Chief continued. “and this is the Mayor Bonsett. You gentlemen will hand over your guns to my constables.”
The gangsters never said another word and meekly handed over their guns.
The Chief cleared the room and loaded the mobsters into a waiting paddy wagon to the applause of the Murdoch employees.
After the room was cleared, Gavin turned to Uncle Jim and handed him an envelope of cash. “This should be enough for a boat ticket back to Glasgow. We never want to hear from you ever again. You will never enter the facilities of the family business again in Glasgow or New York. Understood? We hope the gamblers don’t catch up to you in Scotland, for Emily’s sake.
Poor Uncle Jim was totally destroyed and began sniffling as Gavin took him by his arm and escorted him to the street. As the paddy wagon pulled away with the gangsters, Gavin thanked the Mayor and Police chief.
Gavin turned to Uncle Jim and said, “Uncle Jim, be grateful you won’t be doing time in jail for conspiracy to attempt murder and embezzlement.” Annie added, “Give Aunt Emily our love.” With stooped shoulders, Uncle Jim wandered down the street and disappeared into the bustling noon-time crowd.
Gavin and Annie turned to their applauding workers. The upper floors of the business emptied out as workers flooded down the stairs to join the celebration. They knew exactly what was going on. They knew the Gangsters had taken over the business and now, finally, Gavin and Annie would set things straight.
Annie shed a few tears again at the warm reception from their workers. After the hugs and handshakes were over Gavin announced that he was giving everyone the rest of the day off, a 10% raise, and a complimentary bottle of scotch. Annie and Gavin were heartily cheered again as the workers filed out. They would have a good story to tell when they got home.
City newspapers got hold of the story and the next day’s papers were full of the confrontation, and of course, and Chief Ryan’s and Mayor Bonsett’s courageous action against crime in the city.
Annie and Gavin decided it best to spend a few months in New York to attend to business and make sure gamblers did not return or harass the business. Gavin sent a message to a close cousin in Glasgow offering him a job in NYC.
There was bound to be repercussions on the arrests. Police Chief Ryan posted a constable at the front and back door of the Murdoch business, just in case.
The next week, Annie and Gavin received an invitation to dinner at the Mayor’s Mansion. After dinner, before it got dark, Annie and Gavin put on a shooting exhibition in the Mayor’s back yard for the mayor, Chief Ryan and several other city big-shots. All of them took home silver dollars that were shot out of their fingers by the siblings. The mayor and guests were thrilled at the exhibition insisted the siblings conduct several clinics on the fine points of shooting for the constabulary sometime in the future.
Gavin telegraphed Chris and Bart to let them know all was well and to invite them to the Big City. Annie telegraphed money for their trip. The twins were ecstatic about their first trip East. Gavin and Annie wanted to introduce their two most trusted friends to the New York elite. The boys arrived and were overwhelmed with the big city. Every day they visited another section of the city. Their dark faces enabled them to go where a lighter face could not. They insisted upon being of some useful purpose to Gavin and Annie, such as security for the family and guests. Their presence would prove to be a needed defense against New York city’s gangsters.
A week later Annie received a strange letter in the mail. The return address was Hamilton Bermuda. Inside the envelope was a letter from Jeanne McGann, Annie’s best friend when she was in school in Glasgow. Jeanne had married a businessman from Bermuda by the name of Ambrose Gosling. Ambrose had recently inherited the family business, Gosling Brothers Spirits, LMTD, from his deceased father. Gosling Brothers had a monopoly on the wine and rum trade in Bermuda. Their main office was in London, England. Jeanne and Annie had long planned a reunion, and Jeanne hoped this would be a good time for it. They could catch up and see the sights of New York together. Jeanne also wanted Ambrose and Gavin to meet and possible do some business together.
The next page of the letter was from Ambrose addressed to Gavin. Ambrose wanted to discuss the possibility of expanding Gosling Brothers Spirits into New York and Boston. He also was interested in introducing Murdoch Scotch into Bermuda and then New Brunswick and all of Canada. Gavin was immediately interested and asked Annie to set up the visit. The old Murdoch mansion was more than big enough to accommodate the visitors. In fact, the whole West wing was available for guests. Maids, cooks, butlers and ground keepers needed to be hired, but the Murdochs planned to do that anyway.
The last paragraph of Jeanne’s letter asked, “If it is possible, we would like to bring Ambrose’s older sister Ruth, and his younger brother Benjamin with us. They have never been to the United States and this would be a great opportunity for them. I hope I am not imposing on your generosity. Don’t hesitate to let me know if I am.“With enduring love, your friend. Always, Jeanne”
Annie thought to herself, “How exciting! Finally, the family home would become a real home, filled with laughter and love.”
Gavin agreed with Annie, “We have plenty of room, they can bring anyone they wish and stay as long as they wish. It should be fun.”
Annie was excited and began planning for her guests immediately. There was much to do.
While the Murdochs prepared for Bermudian visitors, NYC gangsters were planning revenge. Half of their gang was in jail and the survivors were furious. Jim Murdoch had vanished still owing them five thousand dollars. Their reputation was at stake. Other debtors might think they could also welch on debts.
The first inkling Gavin had about Uncle Jim’s lingering debt came when a wagon of scotch was high-jacked from Grand Central train station. The police had no clues but suspected the same gang that controlled Uncle Jim. But, unfortunately, there was no proof of who did it. A second wagon of scotch was hijacked a week later but still there was no indication of who did it. Gavin was sure who did it and thought he would have to take matters into his own hands.
The social section of the NYC Times newspaper made a big deal about the soon to arrive visitors from Bermuda and the business section had an article with a headline, “Booze Giants Meet”. The hoodlums thought the Murdochs would be” easy targets for revenge.
A month before the arrival of the Bermudian Guests, Chris and Bart noticed a strange man lurking on the road outside the property walls. The same man showed up several other times, but never realized he was being watched. The boys reported their discovery to Gavin who suspected, correctly, Uncle Jim’s gamblers were out for revenge.
“Follow this person and see where he goes, but don’t let him see you.” Gavin told the boys. “Let’s prepare for the worst.”
Gavin worried that any act of revenge by the gangsters would ruin the upcoming visit of their Bermudian guests. He and the boys decided they must take the initiative and strike first.
Gavin reported his fears to Police Chief Ryan. Chief Ryan sympathized with Gavin but felt he could do little without more evidence. “This is unofficial of course, but I suggest you go ahead with your plan. I’ll have my men nearby if you need help and to clean up after you do your thing.”
“Perfect” Gavin responded, “Start thinking how I can be of service to your department.” The Chief smiled and two men shook hands.
Gavin did not let Annie in on his plans. She had enough to do planning for their guests.
The next night Gavin and the boys armed themselves. Gavin had a new invention to show the boys. It was a tube-like extension that fit over the end of their pistols. Its purpose was to muffle the sound of a pistol shot. The boys were fascinated and equipped all their guns with the clever invention.
Gavin and the boys took their carriage to a dark warehouse on the outskirts of the city. They noticed two police vans parked nearby, hidden behind an old building. There was a light in the window on the second floor of the warehouse.
No guards were evident so Gavin and the boys entered the unlocked door and silently ascended the stairs to the second floor. Through a crack in the door, they saw six men sitting around a table busily eating and drinking. A half empty bottle of Murdoch scotch sat on the table and an empty one was on the floor. In the corner of the room was a half empty case of Murdoch scotch.
“Follow my lead”, Gavin whispered. They drew their guns and quietly stepped into the room.
The six men looked up, totally surprised. Gavin noticed all the men were armed with pistols in shoulder holsters.
“I’m Gavin Murdoch. I understand you gentlemen think I owe you something. What can I do for you?”
The gangsters saw Gavin and the boys were armed and already had their guns drawn at their sides. The gangsters did not know what to do, so their leader said, “Jim Murdoch owes us five tousand bucks and he skipped town. So, you, Mr. Murdoch are gonna have to pay for his sins.”
“You gentlemen are dreaming. Your beef is with Jim Murdoch not me.” Gavin replied. “We are here to settle up with you once and for all. I hear you have plans to crash a house party I’m about to have. I’ve come to announce that you are not invited, and to insure you don’t show up.”
There was a short silence that seemed much longer. The gangster leader finally responded with a long series of curse words. Gavin and the boys stood quietly. After the gangster chief tired of cursing, he looked at his gang and smiled, perhaps thinking he had intimidated Gavin.
Gavin replied, “So, does that mean you are planning to attend my party… or not?”
The gang leader cursed again and decided to act; he went for his gun and his gang followed his lead.
The police outside did not hear six popping sounds from the warehouse. What they did see was Gavin and the boys leaving by the door they just had entered, just five minutes earlier.
Gavin tipped his hat as he and the boys passed the incoming police.
“They’re all yours’s gentlemen.” He said. “We’re finished here.”
Gavin looked over his shoulder and saw the police enter the warehouse with guns drawn.
Later that evening, back at the Murdoch mansion, the three friends retired as if nothing happened. Gavin was almost asleep when he heard a soft knock on his bedroom door. “It’s me, Annie.”Annie had a premonition, when she could not find them earlier, that Gavin and the boys were out “fixing things” so the visit of their friends would not be interrupted.
“What did you do tonight? Did you settle with those terrible gangsters?” She wanted to know everything and Gavin knew he’d get no sleep until he told her everything. Although Annie was feminine and gentile, to those who knew her well, they knew she could be tough minded and sometimes, appropriately crude. Annie laughed when she heard Gavin’s comments to the incoming police. Above all she was relieved. Now she could continue to plan for her guests without worry.
All four city newspapers covered the murders with glee. There was much crime in the growing city, but a mass shoot-out between gangsters, was always top news. Police Chief Ryan was pleased to have most of the biggest New York gang behind bars.
On Sunday afternoon, May 1, Annie received news that her guests had arrived and were waiting on Pier Five downtown at the Battery docks. Gavin and the two boys were ready for their arrival with three elegant carriages. By early evening all the guests were safely settled into the beautifully renovated Murdoch mansion.
That evening was everything Annie had hoped for. It seemed everyone mixed easily. Jeanne, Annie’s childhood friend had not changed at all and her husband Ambrose, was tall and handsome, and truly as intelligent as he was charming. His younger brother Bryan was Annie’s age. He and Annie had much to talk about. He was fascinated with her Western adventures and could not hear enough of her stories. Annie and Jeanne were especially watchful of Gavin’s reaction to Jeanne’s elder sister, Ruth. She must have been close to 6 feet tall almost as tall as Gavin himself. She wore her dark hair long over her shoulders. Her beautiful dark eyes always seemed calm, as if she already knew what someone might say to her. Gavin was intrigued but unsure of what he should say to this beauty from Bermuda. It was the first-time Annie ever saw her abundantly confident brother lose a little of his confidence with a beautiful and charming woman. Annie and Jeanne thought the two were a perfect match, and hoped for the best.
The Bermudian guests hardly knew what to make of Christian and Bartholomew. They were the first Native Americans they ever saw. They knew very few educated ex slaves in Bermuda who spoke, as intelligently, as the half breed brothers. They marveled about the stories of bravery Annie told concerning them.
Christian and Bartholomew had other duties to attend to so could not linger to long with the Murdoch’s guests. There was still a potential risk from the few gang members who might remain, fuming that their gang had been decimated.
The first evening and night at the Murdoch’s was quiet. Chris and Bart patrolled the grounds on stealthily on foot, the way their father had taught them in their youth. They had become adept with the use of telescopes that could bring most of the estate grounds into their view.
The second evening the boys spotted a rider circling the estate. He stopped several times at the estate’s heavy iron gate. The third evening he returned, his horse pulling a small cart laden with two heavy boxes. He quickly stashed them in the dense bushes next to the front gate. Both boys kept close track of him, but made sure he had no idea he was being watched. When the stranger left, the boys checked the boxes. They reported to Gavin that the boxes were filled with dynamite.
Gavin planned to celebrate the arrival of his guests with his own fireworks on the estate grounds, but now, this was his chance to enhance the fireworks with the explosives left at his front gate. Gavin and the boys checked out the explosives later that night. They were more than large enough to blow the massive front gate down had they not been moved. Gavin had Chris and Bart move the explosives into the woods along both sides of the road, but leave the empty boxes and long fuse at the gate so the perpetrators would not notice the change. Chris and Bart kept watch until about midnight when two mounted men appeared on the dark road to the Murdoch mansion. Chris signaled Annie the fireworks were about to begin, and Annie announced to her guests about the fireworks display in their honor. In the darkness of the house everyone waited expectantly at the front windows. The two dark figures rode up to the front gate; one dismounted from his horse to light the fuse.
With a little fumbling in the dark he managed to strike a match and light the fuse. Unknown to him, Chris had replaced his slow fuse with a fast one, which in turn was connected to the string of explosives along the road in both directions. Instead on a single blast large enough to take the massive iron gate down, there were a series of smaller blasts. The first one appeared to injure the dark figure who lit the fuse because he was blown backward several feet onto his back, holding his face and screaming in pain. The subsequent blasts lite up both sides of the road and sent the other rider galloping away in terror. The dark figure dragged himself away into the night. The next day at breakfast the guests were informed of Chris’s and Bart’s little game with the gangsters. The boys were applauded heartedly. Gavin warned his visitors that the gangsters may not be finished trying to exact their revenge on the Murdochs. But, he confidently assured them Bart and Chris were doing a superb job protecting them all, and would continue to do so.
Although personal attachments were not initially planned by Annie and Jeanne, it was inevitable that such things had a way of occurring without planning. Annie could not help but be attracted to Jeanne’s brother in law, Bryan. They were the same age and had the same interests. He was especially interested in guns and Annie’s great skill in shooting intrigued him. He convinced her to take him to the backyard range and give him lessons. Bryan caught on quickly and both he and Annie spent long hours on the covered range every day. The shooters had to be reminded by Gavin to change their clothes often due to the strong odor of gun powder. It became a standing joke that Annie had to hire two additional maids to just do their laundry.
Gavin was intrigued by Ruth. She always had a subtle smile on the face but seldom initiated conversations. She seemed to be somewhat of a mystery. Her sister-in-law, Jeanne, said She was educated by imported professors from Europe and the States. She assured Gavin and Annie that she was just a little shy until she got to know someone. Then, she could be quite fun, and even mischievous. Ruth was the oldest of the Gosling siblings, one year older than Ambrose. Her parents were disappointed that she was not a boy, to carry on the family name. Ruth enjoyed the distinction of being the eldest, and in her mind, the wisest. She often gave, her brothers Bryan and Ambrose, good business and personal advice, of which they were grateful. Bryan recognized his elder sister’s common sense and always relied upon her input.
But, to Gavin, Ruth was a total mystery. He often asked sister Annie for advice and always gratefully took it. But still, he did not how to approach this tall, intimidating beauty. To Annie and Jeanne, it was obvious these two needed a little personal guidance. In a crowd, they seldom addressed each other. They needed to be alone with each other.
“Then it’s decided,” Annie said in private conversation with her friend Jeanne, “We need to arrange an outing for just the two of them, so there will be no distractions from the rest of us.” They will be forced to talk to each other.”
Jeanne agreed, “Absolutely. Once she gets talking about one of her special interest Gavin is bound to find her both charming and fascinating.”
“So, exactly what is it that turns her on?” Annie asked.
“Well,” answered Jeanne, “She likes sailing…and swimming…and…
Annie interrupted “Sailing it is! Sailing is perfect. It will put both of them alone together on a sailboat. They will have to talk with each other.” They both laughed heartily at the plan.
Not more than several miles away from the Murdoch estate, there was a delightful little reservoir lake that helped supply the nearby city with safe water. Annie arranged to have a Murdoch/Gosling outing, on the shore of this lake with plenty of food, wine and, a small rented sailboat on the beach.
Gavin would soon discover that the demands of sailing for a novice include both sailing with the wind and then sailing back against the wind. Gavin knew nothing of these skills and would, for once in his life, be well over his head in the confines of a sailboat. Ruth would have to assume control, and be forced to teach Gavin what to do and not to do.
“It is a perfect set up,” said Annie. Jeanne agreed. With a little teasing from the girls Gavin and Ruth agreed to take the sailboat out into the lake.
Gavin naturally assumed the position at the tiller as he and Ruth were pushed out into the lake. The breeze was strong and filled the sail. Within a matter of minutes the two were racing along, almost out of sight of their waving families.
“This is great fun” exclaimed Gavin. “This is the first time I have ever been sailing. Nothing to it.” He shouted to Ruth, who had been sitting quietly with her usual sly smile.
“You’re doing great so far Captain.” Ruth took off her cover-up and stretched herself out on the port seats. Gavin could not but help notice her beautiful figure. He felt he had to compliment her some way, “Nice bathing suit” He said. “What happened to the middle section.” She laughed at his “off the cuff” joke. It was cute, and of course, she knew her two-piece bathing suit would have attracted stares from anyone who saw it.
Gavin looked back to where they had started miles away down the shore. “Look back there!” He shouted, “we’ve covered quite a distance. Maybe we should head back.”
Ruth replied, “Good idea Captain. Think you can handle it?” She was almost laughing as she spoke.
“Sure, no problem!” Gavin shouted back over the flapping sound of the sails.
Ruth watched as Gavin did his best to turn the boat around. Several times she reached up and prevented the fast swinging boom from knocking Gavin overboard. Eventually, the boat wandered into a little sheltered cove. Gavin managed to pull down the sail and paddle the boat onto a small sandy beach. “I thought we could take a little rest here and open this bottle of your ‘Gosling Brother’s’ wine.” He knew she did not believe him but he didn’t care; he was having the most fun he ever had in years.
After three glasses of wine, Gavin found it easier to admit that he was unable to sail back to their starting point against the wind. Ruth laughed at the admission. “About time the great Gavin admitted defeat.”
Gavin was embarrassed but flattered that this attractive woman was entertained by his lack of sailing skills. He could not but help laugh at himself.
Ruth and Gavin laughed together for the first time. The ice was broken. One subject led to another and before they knew it the sun began to cast shadows on their little isolated beach.
“You better take over at the helm. There is no way I’ll be able to sail this damn boat back to our beach. What can I do to help Captain?” Gavin said as he stood up and saluted.
Ruth leaned toward Gavin. “I just need one thing in payment for rescuing us in this storm.”
“What’s that?” asked Gavin. Ruth leaned close and planted a lingering kiss on Gavin’s cheek. Gavin laughed and looked into her beautiful eyes. He summoned his courage and pulled her close to return the kiss onto her soft lips. The trip back to the picnic would have to wait a while as Ruth and Gavin lay back down in the grass, in each other’s arms.
Later, as the sky darkened, Gavin finally pushed the little sailboat back into the lake and then settled back next to Ruth as she sailed them back to the family picnic. It took multiple tacks, even for her, an expert Bermudian sailor, before she finally maneuvered their boat to the beach where they started.
Annie’s and Jeanne’s eyes met in the knowledge that their plan apparently worked. They saw Ruth snuggled comfortably next to Gavin in the stern of the boat. Everyone suspected what had happened and everyone was pleased. There were several wise cracks and many sly smiles. The two families seemed to be developing strong ties. The future looked promising.
New York City was a big city with numerous and tenuous underworld weeds with deep roots. Pull one out, and another grows in its place simply because the earth was so fertile, and illegal money-making ventures were an ongoing temptation. The Murdochs knew they had not yet seen the last of syndicate crime, but they had no way of knowing about the passengers of a steamer from Glasgow that had just docked on pier 34. Six men debarked carrying heavy duffels; they were met by three local men who had been patiently waiting for them. One of the men debarking from the steamer looked familiar, something like Uncle Jim, only with a full grey beard, and a confidence that the old Uncle Jim sorely lacked. Uncle Jim was back… with a vengeance, and a plan take control over “Murdoch Scotch Limited”.
Each time one of the Glasgow passengers crossed the gangplank the skipper of the ship tapped his pipe on the metal railing of the gang-plank. It was distinct enough to be heard on the dock where two dark skinned youths lingered in the shadows, watching them.
It was easy to tell that the Glasgow passengers were impressed by the size of New York. Uncle Jim took the five Scottsmen to a local boarding house in the downtown area. As Uncle Jim explained multiple times to the Scottsmen, they were to seek employment tomorrow at Murdoch Distilleries, Limited, who at that time were conveniently hiring. All five were given jobs and accepted into the mostly Scottish community. After a week employed, Uncle Jim thought they might be enjoying themselves too much. After all, there were many fair lasses that worked at Murdochs. Soon, the five new immigrants were happily immeshed in their work and the after-hours social life of the Murdoch employees. Uncle Jim seemed not to be enthused about their contentment and had to remind them they had agreed to the murder plot and would be handsomely paid when Uncle Jim took control of Murdoch Scotch.
Unknown to Uncle Jim, his nefarious plan had been long discovered by none other than Uncle Jim’s Wife, Aunt Emily. She was bitter having been forced back to Scotland and away from all her New York friends, and she resented her husband’s plans to take over the company. Emily had fallen out of love with Uncle Jim years ago and was offended by his dishonesty and disloyalty to the family name, Murdoch. She kept in touch with Annie to Annie and Gavin and warned them of her husband’s plans. Chris and Bart kept close track on the five Scottish visitors and letting Gavin and Annie know of their every move. Positions at Murdoch’s were purposely made available to the men from Glasgow so Gavin could keep his eye on them.
Uncle Jim had chosen his gang poorly. The young men from Glasgow were more interested in good jobs and fair lasses than in a murder plot. Soon, they were taken into Gavin’s confidence without Uncle Jim suspecting a thing. Annie and Gavin liked all five of the Scottish boys and they became fast friends with Bart and Chris as well.
Uncle Jim’s carefully planned murder of both Gavin and Annie using the sharpshooting English man had failed miserably and now, unbeknownst to him, his current plot was also destined to fail. Uncle Jim, driven by desperation, was about to attempt a bombing, which he expected would be blamed on the local mob. It was planned that the Scottish youths would design a bomb, similar to the one’s used, where they had worked in the Glasgow coal mines. A bomb was to be planted on the main factory floor next to Gavin’s office and be detonated when Annie and Gavin entered the store in the morning. The bomb was a dud, of course, supplied by the police department, but it looked convincingly real, and Uncle Jim bought into the plan and the device. Uncle Jim waited expectantly several blocks away from the Murdoch packaging facility. The blast never occurred, but the police, along with a passel of reporters, raided Uncle Jim’s boarding house room and arrested the bewildered Uncle Jim. The Glasgow five testified against Uncle Jim and Aunt Emily’s letters were used as additional evidence insuring Uncle Jim’s conviction of attempted murder.
All five Scottish lads were all happily married within a year of their arrival at the New York docks. They were hired as security guards and protected the wagons loaded with scotch on the way to the great train hub, Grand Central Station. The New York gangs abandoned their vendetta with the Murdochs, and did not attempt to hijack any more shipments. Murdoch retaliation was too great a price to pay. Defenseless victims abounded in the City of New York.
Weddings were still in the planning stages when Annie and Gavin, accompanied their houseguests, visited Bermuda for a month. It was to be a double wedding in Bermuda and then another double wedding in New York upon their return. The serenity of Bermuda was not as attractive to the Goslings and Murdochs, as the hustle and bustle of New York City. And then, there was an ongoing national demand for the resumption of the Murdoch shooting competition and rodeo.
California showed great interest in hosting the Murdoch Sharp Shooting Competition and Rodeo. The show was booked to play two months in both San Fran Cisco and the City of the Angels. The competition drew competitors from all over the world.
(to be continued)
Chapter One – The journey
Roy Dimwitty said good-by to his mom and dad the night before, and then early the next morning walked the short block to the bus stop with his luggage. He picked up a copy of the NY Times from the news stand on the corner to read on his subway trip to downtown Manhattan. The D train took Roy to Columbus Circle and 59th street where he walked the short distance to Ian’s home and waiting transportation to Kennedy Airport.
It was Saturday, so the subway was almost empty and left him plenty of room to open and scan the paper without elaborate foldings required in crowded subway cars. His mind wandered as the doors closed and the cars lurched forward into the dark tunnel. Tomorrow was his college graduation day, June 1958, and he would miss it. Hunter College in the Bronx had been close to his family’s Bronx apartment and was free. He regretted the college did not have more to offer in the way of science courses, but four years of free college had been a panacea for him, if not for the bankrupt city government.
In a few hours Roy would be on a direct flight to Australia and then connector flights to New Zealand and Tasmania. The rest of the journey would be by private plane to the Townsly Ranch. But for now, he scanned the Times as he had done for years while commuting to The McBurney School for Boys in downtown Manhattan. Roy recalled that his social studies teacher always opened class with a discussion of the latest news. McBurney was where Roy met Ian Townsly. The boys became fast friends, played on several varsity teams together and vacationed together at Townsly Sheep and Wool Processing Limited, (TSWPL) in Tasmania. Actually, the four summers of high-school were anything but a vacation; the boys worked seven days a week at Townsly, learning the trade, shearing sheep, and processing wool. Much of their time was spent manning park ranger stations strategically placed along the southern boundaries of the ranch. A sturdy six-foot high wire fence separated the grazing lands from the foothills and mountains to the south, which were park lands and off limits to visitors. Summers at the ranch had continued through college although the friends had attended different schools. Ian was now a graduate of Harvard and Roy was about to graduate from Hunter. Ian had a dual major in business and animal husbandry while Roy had been a zoology major.
The familiar rattling and screeching of the subway car was comforting to Roy, who spent much of his life on subways commuting back and forth to high-school and college from his family’s Bronx home. Roy had just about finished scanning the paper when he noticed a short paragraph on the next to last page. It read “June 2, 1958: Extinct Animal Sighting Reported. The Tasmanian Daily News reports Thylacine sightings in the Southern Mountains. Thylacines, better known as Tasmanian Tigers or Tasmanian Wolves, became extinct in Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania due to relentless bounty hunting at the turn of the 19th century. The last surviving Thylacine died in an Australian zoo in 1933.” Roy carefully tore out the announcement and put it in his pocket. Mr. Townsly would be interested.
Roy lugged his knapsack and suitcase up the stairs of the Columbus Circle station and over the few blocks to Ian’s home. Ian’s mom and dad were standing out front with Ian as a cab pulled up. Short greetings and good-byes barely gave Roy time to give Mr. Townsly the newspaper clipping. A faint scowl flashed across his face as he read it and then passed it on to Ian.
The flight to Australia was long and gave the boys plenty of time to discuss the newspaper article and their summer plans. Little did they know their stay in Tasmania would be extended. More importantly, they would not only face adventure, but also unexpected danger.
Chapter Two – Townsly Sheep
The boys were tired and napped on and off during the flight. Roy recalled his first visit to the Townsly Sheep Ranch and his encounter with a Tasmanian ghost. Roy’s father faithfully recorded this unusual adventure for a book he was writing about his son’s adventures. That adventure, July, 1952 is worth being included in these writings.
Roy and Ian rode along the southern border fence, checking on the sheep and repairing fence as needed. In a wooded area, a tree had crashed down and flattened a portion of fence. There was evidence that an undetermined number of sheep had slipped through the opening into the transitional forest belonging to the Park Service. The boys and the border collies had no trouble finding and rounding up about twenty wayward sheep. By that time the winter sun had slipped behind the trees and darkened the little glen where they found themselves. The boys built a cozy fire, had some chow and settled in for the night. Later that night, the dogs became restless and woke up the boys. Something above them on the mountain slope was coming their way. Minutes later a wallaby broke out of the tree line and bounded quickly through the clearing as if something was chasing it. Less than a minute later a dark shape about the size of a large dog appeared out of the blackness and bounded across the clearing with its nose to the ground and disappeared into the darkness. The boys held the excited dogs close so they would not give chase. The sheep milled about so the boys eventually released the dogs to control the sheep. No sooner than they had done that when they heard more crashing sounds from the darkness above them. Four small versions of the dog like animal, bounded through the clearing and disappeared into the darkness as the first one had. The whole encounter took not more than a few seconds, hardly time for the stunned boys to comprehend what had happened. Ian was the first to take a guess. “They weren’t dogs, so the only animals they could be are…tigers.” Roy shook his head, “Can’t be, Tasmanian tigers are extinct…aren’t they?” “Yes, so they say”, replied Ian, “but there are rumors that a few have survived and still prowl these mountains.” “Let’s call your dad on the short wave and tell him what we saw.” insisted Roy. Ian had a better idea, “Better yet, let’s tell him in person when he drives up here the day after tomorrow. That way, no one will be able to listen in on our news.” The boys couldn’t sleep after their adventure and talked the rest of the night hoping the extinct marsupials, if that’s what they were, might return. In the morning, the boys and the collies drove the sheep back through the downed fence into the grazing lands. They repaired the fence and then finished their inspection down the fence line. Two days later, Mr. Townsly arrived at the ranger station with a hot meal, and a home-made pie from Ian’s mother for the boys. He did not act surprised or excited at the news of possible tiger sightings. He smiled and explained to the boys that he knew there was a tiny population of surviving tigers in the wild and he and the park service had trapped several and were setting up a breeding research facility deep in the mountains. “I hope you boys will assist our efforts.” Ian and Roy assured Ian’s dad they would love to assist. Mr. Townsly swore the boys to secrecy. “No one must know, because poachers and the Press would interfere with the breeding effort.” The boys kept their word and were thrilled to be part of the worthy endeavor.
From the Australian International Airport, the boys flew to the Hobart airport in Tasmania. They easily found the familiar way across the tarmac to a private hanger. A small corporate jet awaited them, and soon they were on their way to the Townsly Sheep Ranch in the southern border lands.
Chapter Three – Assignment
As in past years, Ian’s dad had planned the boys’ itinerary carefully. Since their first visit years ago as high-school freshmen, much had changed at Townsly Limited. The Thylacine breeding program was successful. A breeding station had been set up in a remote mountain valley, and patrolled by The Tasmanian Park Authorities. The Townsly Ranch had become an integral part of the research and breeding due to its extensive private grazing lands on the northern border of the “off limits” park area. Ian’s dad had willingly and generously devoted much effort and resources to the project. It was gratifying to him that his son Ian shared his enthusiasm in bringing back a ghost from the past. Now Ian had a friend who shared his enthusiasm for the breeding program.
The next week was busy. The boys packed their four-wheel drive vehicle with extra gas cans, and food and water. Driving would be easy through the grazing lands, but once on the wild side of the boundary fence it would be rough going. The dirt road was minimally maintained and purposely disguised as much as possible from prying eyes above. Much of the construction and maintenance material was initially transported via this dirt road, but now it had become overgrown and was in disrepair. A small airfield on the research grounds was mostly hidden by camouflaged netting and fake boulders. Currently, the road was just a supplementary supply route now that the research facility had been completed. The main entrances to the park were on its southern border where there were several small towns. Ian and Roy were fascinated with the efforts to keep the facility invisible to prying eyes. The facility was not only a breeding center for the Thylacine, but it was also a research center for the preservation of many other marsupials that were becoming threatened. The Tasmanian devil was currently battling for survival after a deadly virus swept through their populations. Marsupials were slow in adapting to changing environments. Their genetic similarity made them prime targets for stress related disease caused by climate change and pollution.
“Hey Roy, Take a look at this report about trespassers into the grazing areas and the restricted park.”
“Each year there are more. Who the hell are they? What do they want?” muttered Roy.
“My dad tells me they are mostly wealthy hunters who want to brag they have bagged the rarest animal in the world.”
“Look here Ian, there are several pages reporting that the press is eager to shoot the first photos of the tigers. There are rumors of the existence of a research center, and the world press demands the Park Service give them the story.”
“No doubt that time will come, but for now the research center must be kept a secret from everyone. Incursions into park land are attempted more often now than ever before. Dad wants us to check the northern access and keep an eye out for hunters and photographers.”
“Was it your dad’s idea that we should take along these scoped rifles and high optic binoculars?”
“Yeah, why do you think he insisted on us doing target shooting all these years?”
“And all the camping trips we took.” Roy added.
Ian continued, “It says here that we will be relieving two rangers, who have been scouting the area for the past month. They will drive our four-wheeler back to the ranch and we will take their mules to scout through the rough county around the research center.”
Roy said, “It all sounds like fun to me. Our training will come in handy. I wonder if we’ll meet any trespassers.”
The boys studied their maps of the valley, where the Research Center was hidden, and the surrounding low mountain ridges. They already were completely familiar with the Center’s layout having spent many summers helping with its design and construction. All the buildings were either draped with camouflaged netting or built underground. Wooded areas hid the outdoor habitat areas from the air.
Ian and Roy completed the first leg of their journey successfully and met with the two rangers and their mules. The rangers reported they had observed at least two parachutes, but were unable to find them in the dense primordial mountain forest.
Ian told them, he and Roy would keep their eyes on the sky over the valley.
The four-wheeled drive disappeared into the distance and left the boys to themselves and the four pack mules, two for riding and two for supplies. That night they made a small campfire and hoped their presence had not been discovered. There was a light frost on the ground and trees the next morning but it was gone by noon and the rest of the day was cool and pleasant. Roy had to remind himself that the seasons were reversed in the Southern Hemisphere. Summer in the USA was Winter in Tasmania. They saw marsupial wildlife as they rode around the lip of the valley. This was good news for the predator tigers and would surely help them become established in greater numbers, as they were one hundred years ago. The boys could barely identify the research facilities even with their most powerful binoculars, because they were so well camouflaged. One evening they smelled a campfire before they had built their own. They were getting closer to the intruders.
Ian wondered who the intruders are. “Hope we don’t have any trouble with them.”
Roy replied, “We have to find them first. We have the legal right to detain them and call for help on the short-wave radio, that is if we can get the call through the mountains. Right now, we have no contact, but at a higher elevation we’re bound to have better reception.”
Chapter Four – Confrontation
The mornings were spent eating breakfast, packing up the mules and moving to a new location. The afternoons were spent with the high-powered binoculars scanning the mountainside for movement. The boys kept their viewing stations and the mules well hidden in the trees and boulders. It was mid-noon when Ian called to Roy, “I got something.”
Roy zoomed in on an area about a mile away on the forested slope. There, leaning against a tree, was a man in camouflaged clothes sipping a beer. The shiny beer can gave his position away. Not far away another man was relaxing I front of a campfire. Next to him was a woman. She was easy to spot because she was very blond. The beer can and a blond was the only way Ian could have spotted the group. The woman was busy typing. Occasionally she would look up and out into the valley, and then continue her typing. Eventually, she stopped typing and crawled out onto a rocky ledge where she had set up a tripod and camera with a large telophoto lens. She seemed particular interested in the area of the valley where the research center was located. It appeared that she had not yet located it because she soon turned her camera to another area of the valley.
Roy ventured, “She might be a reporter and the men are her guides. So far no rifles, just one hell of a fancy camera.”
Ian and Roy tracked the three intruders for two days, each day creeping closer to them.
Ian observed, “They’re getting close to the research center. That woman looked right at it several times but apparently did not see it.”
“But, they soon will.” Roy added, “She took pictures of the area, which after enlargement and close inspection, may show the research center.”
“I think its time we made our presence known to them.” suggested Ian. “We need to ask them… rather, tell them they must leave the valley. We have the authority and the ranger badges. We can escort them out of the valley and back to the grazing lands. As soon as we can, we’ll let the ranch know we have visitors and the park rangers can take over.”
Roy was worried. “I sure hope we don’t have any trouble.”
Chapter Five – Bad News
Meanwhile, back at the sheep ranch, Ian’s dad had been in touch with Park authorities. There was bad news. The park authorities had uncovered a hunting consortium designed especially for wealthy clients. For $100,000 professional guides would covertly escort hunters into the park from its southern border. The price was steep but there were many wealthy clients eager to hunt thylacines.
Ian’s dad was perplexed. “I can’t believe it! Hunting in Park lands is not legal, is it?”
Jeffry Richardson, Director of Park Services, assured Mr. Townsly that is was not, but there were no restrictions on photography, and the hunting expeditions were advertised as photography expeditions. The park rules were being challenged in the courts and the outcome was unsure.
Mr. Richardson explained to Mr. Townsly, “The legal argument is, photography does no harm, in fact, that is what parks are for; for the enjoyment of the public.”
Mr. Townsly fumed, “That’s a bogus argument and you know it. It’s a very sensitive area because the research center is just getting established. If you permitted park visitors with cameras into all areas of the park, how could we be sure the visitors would not carry guns as well? We can’t control all the accesses. The park is just too large.”
Richardson nodded his head. “Of course you’re right. But for now, the issue is in the courts.”
“I suppose we can attempt to keep visitors away from the research center by posting no trespassing signs but that would take thousands of signs and hundreds of park rangers. And, even that would not assure that our thylacine repopulation effort would not be put in jeopardy.” So argued Ian’s dad.
Richardson explained, “Big money, clever lawyers, ambiguous laws and political indifference makes our job difficult.”
Townsly worried about the boys, “My son and his friend are patrolling the northern access road to the research center and the northern valley rim at this moment. They are under the impression they have the authority to prevent visitors from entering the valley where the research center is located.” Ian’s dad added. “Some of these hard-core hunting consortiums may not comply with the park rules, as my son thinks they must. There could be some problems if they meet up with some of these unsavory characters. I’ll try again to reach them by short wave.”
On the northern slope overlooking the valley, Roy and Ian were about to confront the park intruders. Little did they know the legality of their actions was still unsettled.
Fresh out of college, blond Ashly Parker hoped to become a wildlife photographer and writer. She had heard the rumors of surviving thylacines and hoped to find them. For months she had been frustrated in attempts to get park rangers to guide her or even get official permission to enter park grounds. Ashly finally discovered the newly created Nature Consortium which claimed to be a guide service to world parks. Tourists, photographers, and eventually hunters were to be its clients. For Ashly, this was her way into the Great Tasmanian park system and her opportunity to discover and document the existence of the extinct ghost, the fabled thylacine. Little did she know she was being used. Ashly unknowingly had become the cover for this so-called “Nature Consortium”, in reality the “Hunting Consortium.”
Ashly’s had no idea her two guides were notorious criminals who had been arrested many times for poaching and trespassing. Their assignment by the Consortium was to find and scout out potential hunting sites.
Thus far, no thylacines had been seen but these men were excellent hunter/trackers. They discovered tracks and collected spore which definitely proved thylacines currently prowled the park. The potential profits were huge. The, so called, Nature Consortium offered a week’s guided camping trip in the park, guarantying rare wildlife photo opportunities for $10,000. To special clients, a confidential second contract offered a hunting experience of a lifetime, a chance to hunt an extinct marsupial for $100,000. Wealthy hunters were lined up hoping for the opportunity. A successful hunt with trophy was valued at one million dollars, a cheap price for multi millionaires. Illegal trespassing and hunting was currently only punishable by a five thousand-dollar fine, so the illegal hunters had little appreciable financial risk. Ian and Roy had no idea they were up against a “no holds barred” well organized hunting consortium that would stop at nothing to begin this lucrative business.
The evening before their planned confrontation with the trespassers, Ian and Roy tried again to use their short wave to talk to Ian’s dad. They gave up after several tries. They were on their own.
“Let’s go ahead and confront them.” Ian urged. “I’ll enter their camp and invite them to leave the park. Just in case there is a problem and they resist, you can cover me from the brush. If need be, you can use your rifle laser to impress them. I don’t think it will come to that but if they have weapons we may need to temporarily confiscate them.”
Roy looked troubled and added, “They may not like that. They probably have hunting rifles, and I have no doubt they have side-arms. Those guides look tough to me. I’m worried.”
“But, if we take the right precautions we should be O.K.” Ian argued. “You will be hiding with your laser scoped rifle. I’ll have my rifle and I’ll take the magnum. I’ll be firm but polite.
Roy added, “Make sure you smile…and avoid arguments.”
Ian excitedly replied, “O.K. Let’s do it in the morning right after they break camp.”
Ian’s dad tried to contact the boys several times that evening and the next morning with no luck.
The boys were up early, crunched on some energy bars and packed their gear. They tied the mules fifty yards away and quietly approached the trespasser’s camp. Roy positioned himself with a clear view of the camp while Ian quietly walked up through the trees behind the blond woman while she busied herself with her cameras. The two men had already packed up their gear and were patiently waiting for the woman to finish her packing. They were all surprised as Ian stepped from behind a tree and greeted them.
Chapter Six – The Confrontation
“Good morning campers. I hope I didn’t startle you. I’m Park Ranger, Ian Townsly.”
Ian showed the badge on his belt. “Can I be of any service to you?
No one replied. They needed time to come up with a reply.
Ian continued, “You are not lost, are you? If so, I will be glad to guide you out of the park.”
Initially, the woman was absolutely startled, but eventually regained her composure and replied. “Oh no, we’re not lost. I’m a professional photographer and just shooting wildlife. I hope to see and photograph a Tasmanian tiger if there still are some in this park.”
One of the men interrupted and introduced himself and the other man. “No, we are not lost. We are guides for Ms. Ashly. We are not breaking any laws, are we?”
Ian replied, “Actually you are. The park is not open to tourists or hunters at this time without a permit. Do you have a permit?”
The guides admitted they did not have a permit.
There was an awkward silence.
Ian replied, “In that case, I will be pleased to escort you out of the park. Where would you prefer exiting the park grounds?”
The men looked at each other nervously until the girl spoke up. “I’m on a photo assignment and I’m not finished. I need a few more days. Surely a few more days won’t matter. We promise to leave as soon as I’m finished.”
Ian smiled. “I’m sorry Mam, I have my orders. I have to escort you out of the park. As soon as you pack up your gear we’ll get started. Do you have a vehicle parked somewhere or did you hike in?” He got no answer.
The two men whispered to each other while Ian spoke to the blond woman. They backed away and one looked at his rifle leaning against a near-by tree.
One of the men interrupted Ian’s conversation with the woman. “We appreciate your offer officer, but we have been contracted to guide this good lady for one week and if we don’t, we stand to lose what’s coming to us. You are welcome to keep tabs on us, and in two days, guide us out. We appreciate your help but we are not leaving until we finish our job.”
Ian was clam but firm. “Sorry friend, I can’t let you do that. You are trespassing. I have no authority to let you stay. You must let me guide you out of the park. I’m afraid you have no choice.”
Roy was close enough to hear the conversation. He wished Ian wasn’t so hard-nosed and let the intruders stay a few more days. But now, he and Ian were committed.
Roy noticed both men slowly retreat to where their rifles leaned against a tree. He aimed his rifle and clicked on the laser sight. Ian noticed the movement of the men also, and warned them, “Gentlemen, please don’t make this difficult for us. You gentlemen are in the sights of my partner. Please take a look at your chest.”
A laser red dot quivered on the jacket of one of the men and then the other.
Ian continued, “Further moves toward your rifles will be reason for him to take further action.” The warning unnerved both men and they remained still and said nothing more. They must have realized that even successful resistance would be complicated with the photographer as a witness. Besides, they were not fools. They cussed as they finished packing their gear.
The blond girl was unaware of the dangerous situation and interrupted. “Well, if you rangers insist, I’ll compensate my guides for the extra two days. But, I definitely will file a complaint with the park administration.”
Roy stepped from his hiding place and collected the two rifles leaning against a tree. He did not see any handguns. He held his rifle in a ready position to discourage resistance, but there was none from the sullen guides.
As Roy introduced himself, he figured the blond was about his age and was attractive, very attractive. Her name was Ashly McGuire.
The boys led the men and Ashly back to their camp and the mules. Roy loaded the confiscated rifles onto one mule and then turned to Ashly.
“How ‘bout I load some of your gear on our mules?”
“Thanks” she replied. He and Ian turned to her guides to make the same offer but they had disappeared into the woods, leaving their gear behind. The boys guessed that the guides had an all-terrain vehicle hidden not far away.
Ashly noticed her guides had disappeared and asked Ian, “What happened? Where are my guides?”
“I’m afraid you’ve been deserted. I suspect your guides were up to no good. We were warned that parachutes were seen several days ago. Supplies apparently have been dropped into this area for some reason. They may have been using you as a cover for them being in a restricted area of the park. The fact that they left their rifles and gear with us means they have no intention of being turned over to park authorities. We need to clear out of this area. There may be other intruders nearby.”
Ashly was incredulous. “Why did those men posed as guides? Why are they so interested in the park? Is it because of the tigers?”
Ian was convinced Ashly had no connection with the Consortium, except as a client, but he was reluctant to tell her about the Thylacine Research Project. Roy laughed to himself as she pestered Ian about why the Park was closed and why the consortium was involved. She had a hunch there was a big news story hidden somewhere.
The boys resisted Ashly’s insistent questions for a day as they traveled out the park, and then, reluctantly, Ian gave in. With Roy’s permission, he told her about the Thylacine Research Project. Both boys were suckers for Ashly’s charm.
When the three reached the grazing lands they finally were able to contact Ian’s father on the short wave. Two rangers were on the way. They would take the mules back into the mountains and Ian, Roy, and their new-found friend planned to drive back to the Townsly ranch. They anticipated the worse from Ian’s dad for having told Ashly about the research center.
Ian warned Ashly, “Ashly, we should not have told you about the Thylacine Research Center and the breeding program. My dad will be annoyed and may give us hell.”
Ashly advised the boys, “Let me explain it to him first before you both try. I may be able to smooth things out a bit.”
Chapter Seven – New Friend
Back at the Townsly Ranch, Ian introduced Ashly to his parents and several park officials. Ashly charmed Ian’s father and mother. To the boy’s surprise they took such a liking to Ashly that Ian’s dad eventually invited her to become the official Thylacine Research Project Photographer. She was thrilled and told the boys later that she believed this job was going to be her big break. The park authorities had neglected to adequately document the project’s progress so everyone was pleased. That night the boys had a good laugh about how things turned out. Ashly would be become an important part of their team, and would be good company.
A week passed and there were still no signs of the two men posing as Ashly’s guides. Finally, it was decided that the boys and their new-found colleague could return to the research center withthemsafely. Ashly was eager to start her photographic documentation of the research facility. Rather than take the two-day over-land trip to the research center, Ian’s dad chartered the single engine company plane. The hidden runway was cleared just prior to their arrival and the little plane landed safely and cruised into it’s hanger. The boys gave Ashly a tour of the center. Needless to say, she was impressed.
She was also puzzled. “Why on earth couldn’t I see this complex of buildings and enclosures before? I had my camera focused on this very area.”
Roy answered her question. “That’s because Ian and I purposely designed this place to be invisible to the eyes of unscrupulous guides. I guess we did O.K.”
The fenced boundaries of the Research Center encompassed over a square mile. From the air and surrounding mountain slopes, the center could not be detected. The landing strip and plane essentially disappeared shortly after being used. Phony rocks and brush were rolled into the actual runway.
Research labs included genetic research and embryo implantation. The actual indoor denning areas and outdoor habitats had generous space for the thylacines. Every animal had open access to large natural habitat areas. When females came into heat, suitable males were selected for breeding. Some females were selected for artificial fertilization from the Sperm Bank. The program was a great success considering it started with one captive female and one captive male. Gradually, more wild thylacines were trapped and added to the genetic pool. Occasionally, no matter how careful the center was, a captive animal escaped back into the surrounding mountains. Immature thylacine were occasionally reported by park rangers, so the researchers knew populations were managing to survive and reproduce in the protected environment of the park.
The Nature (Hunting) Consortium was expecting to cash in on, what they covertly advertised to their clients as, the “The Hunt of a Lifetime.” Once the Consortium pressured and bribed Tasmanian politicians into allowing wildlife photographers into the park, hunting was bound to follow. The Consortium already was funding new roads and camp sites. Soon, there were multiple back roads crisscrossing the wild park lands. All photo safaris groups were searched for guns before they could enter the park, but nevertheless rangers occasionally heard shots echo through the mountains. The origin of the shots could never be determined but the remains of one thylacine had already been found. It had been blasted with heavy caliber ammo so the skin was unusable, but the head, skin and paws had been removed for trophies.
Ian’s dad and the boys knew the research project had been compromised and its very existence threatened by a recent legislative decision allowing public photo safaris. Politicians, who had approved the research project years ago, now were threatening to cut back on its funding if the Research Facility resisted opening the park to campers and photographers. Some critics wanted to close down the whole research operation. They had generous financial support by the Consortium lobbyists.
Roy, Ian and Ashly sat down with Mr. Townsly and the research scientists. They tried to figure out how a released thylacine had been located and killed in the wild. Every animal at the center was tagged before it was released into the wild. An electronic tracking device was attached, so at any given time the researchers could find its approximate location in the park and when it was moving or denning up. The light research plane made numerous flights crisscrossing the park to gather this vital information. The next month a second animal disappeared mysteriously. Everyone suspected the so-called Photography and Nature Consortium was to blame, but it remained a mystery how they found the illusive marsupials without aerial tracking?
Chapter Eight – Traitor
A month passed without a solution while Roy pondered the situation. In the meantime, Ian and Ashly were hitting it off and were usually found in each other’s company. This left Roy alone to his thoughts. He often roamed the grounds of the facility checking on fences and the thylacines. Everything always seemed normal. One night, while Roy sat outside near the research lab recording thylacine activity, a light went on in one of the lab windows. He thought nothing of it until the blinds were pulled. Why pull the blinds, he thought, and who was working this late? Roy got up and wandered over to the ground floor window. He could see a figure inside through a crack in the blinds. It was Ashly! She was standing at the wall map where push pins indicated the latest locations of all the released thylacines. He watched as she marked the location of an animal, on a park map she had in her hand. She quickly turned off the lights and left the building. Roy was furious. It was obvious now, she was the one who had passed on the location of the thylacine to the Hunting Consortium even while she and Ian was enjoying a growing personal relationship. Ian’s dad, the research staff and both Roy and Ian had trusted her.
Roy wondered, “How will I break the news to Ian and his dad that she was passing on the locations of the thylacines so hunters could be guaranteed to get a trophy for their million-dollar safari? She sure had them fooled.”
Ian was devastated when he found out, and his dad was furious that he had misjudged this woman.
Roy offered a plan, “Let’s enter a false location for a released thylacine on the map, and let Ashly give the false information to the Nature Consortium. If plans went, as they hoped, Hunting Consortium safaris would flounder. Clients who paid a million dollars for a thylacine trophy, and received nothing in return, would be pissed and demand their money back.”
Two months passed and that was exactly what happened. The Consortium soon floundered and closed up shop, at least temporarily. With the help of the local police, the Consortium was charged by Tasmanian federal agents for their destruction of protected wildlife, and a slew of other charges A hidden video camera caught Ashly in the act of recording thylacine locations. She seemed hardly surprised when two agents approached her in the research building’s dining area, announced the charges against her and led her away. Strangely, she took her arrest stoically.
Roy knew Ian and Ashly had developed a serious personal relationship, but there was nothing Ian could do, even if he wanted to. It would take a while for Ian to get over her but he said nothing as they led her away. Roy was sure his friend would survive just fine. He was tough.
There was still one lingering problem. Park Rangers periodically reported the sound of gunfire in the park. Apparently, thylacines were still in danger by another safari that had sneaked into the park.
Roy and Ian decided to accompany the rangers as they set out to find that last illegal safari. Ian and Roy knew approximately where the hunters were going due to the last false location Ashly had passed on to them. The rangers and the boys beat the safari to that location and waited in ambush. They did not have long to wait. Two guides and a hunter showed up rifles ready and began searching for the Thylacine den and hopefully a nursing mother and several pups.
Roy and Ian immediately recognized the two guides they encountered when they first met Ashly. They were the same guides who disappeared into the mountains rather than be escorted out of the park and be arrested by the authorities.
The rangers called out to the hunting party to lay down their guns, but they refused. When the rangers identified themselves and stepped into the open, the lone hunter/client complied. He put his rifle down, but the two guides did not. All they could see were two rangers because the boys remained behind, in hiding. Both boys knew exactly what to do. They turned on their rifles laser scopes and targeted the guides. A red dot rested on the chests of both guides. When the guides saw the laser dots they froze, and then slowly and reluctantly lay down their rifles. The rangers hand cuffed the guides and escorted the little hunting party back the park gate and the awaiting police.
Chapter Nine – Justice
The mystery of the missing thylacine had been solved. The Tasmanian court system charged the defunct Hunting Consortium with high crimes against the state, and its owners and a handful of hunter-guides were arrested and charged. The boys were told Ashly admitted her part and exposed the whole operation. All involved were giving stiff sentences and the Consortium backers were heavily fined due to Ashly’s testimony.
The Townslys and Roy did not attend any of the court sessions. They did not have the heart to see Ashly sitting in court with the defendants and testifying under those circumstances. Ian had a difficult time giving Ashly up, but it was hard on everyone; they all liked the charming and intelligent girl.
For the next few weeks, all was well back at the Research Center but everyone was depressed. It just did not seem the same without the effervescent girl, always cheerful and helpful. In the midst of their gloom Ian’s dad got a letter from the Federal Court. The court requested the presence of Mr. Townsly, Ian and Roy in court. They flew into town and showed up at the time requested. A bailiff showed them to an empty court room. Ten minutes later a judge appeared and asked the three to stand. He proceeded to read a proclamation recognizing the outstanding service the three had provided in capturing the poachers and terminating the existence of the Consortium. The boys smiled and congratulated each other and shook hands with Mr. Townsly. The judge motioned to the bailiff who left the court room, soon to return with Ashly. She smiled at the boys shyly and had a twinkle in her eyes. She sat down on the bench in front of them.
The judge continued, “Ms. Ashly Wilson is to be likewise commended for her part in the successful conclusion of this case. Her bravery in pretending to be in the Consortium’s employment, and in recording and reporting all the Consortium’s plans and moves in the park enabled the State to prosecute this case successfully. Therefore, the court wishes to present Ms. Ashly Wilson with this official framed document, listing her contributions to the case and her bravery.”
The boys were dumbfounded at first, but their shock quickly turned to joy. They rushed from their seats and embraced Ashly. Mr. Townsly just stood there and smiled as if he had known about the intrigue from the start. It was quite a turn of events.
The next day, the Research Center staff threw a party for Ashly. Ian, especially, was delighted. Everyone’s attitude immediately changed from gloomy to happy.
Mr. Townsly and the kids returned to the sheep ranch and relaxed. All was well for a while. Mr. Townsly now had time to attend to company business and Ian and Ashly were together all the time renewing their growing relationship.
But, Roy was restless without the company of his best friend. He took this time to return to the Research Center and do something he always wanted to do. It was something he was admirably suited to do judging by his past history concerning animal behavior. Roy’s father was convinced that his son had a unique ability to understand and communicate with animals. He encouraged Roy to test this ability with thylacines. Roy agreed to conduct some experiments. This would be a new adventure and a challenge for him.
Since he was two years old, Roy’s father meticulously recorded his son’s interaction with animals in his diary. Roy loved animals and they seemed to take an unusual interest in him. Though his childhood he had a series of unusual interactions with both wild and domesticated animals. When the Dimwitty family vacationed in the country or on a farm Roy’s dad recorded his son’s unusual encounters with farm and wild animals. As a zoo-keeper and as a ranch hand, there were many other encounters with animals that were out of the ordinary, and suggested that Roy had an unusual ability to understand and communicate with animals.
Roy always keep his parents aware of the progress of the Thylacine Research Center and of the uniqueness of the thylacines. His dad was often concerned about Roy’s safety. But, now that things settled down, he had many questions about the nature of thylacines. Roy could not answer most of his dad’s questions. For example: Were thylacines aggressive to humans in captivity and in the wild? Did they have the potential to be domesticated like dogs have been through evolution? Was their thinking process and intelligence similar to other marsupials or to other mammals? Did they react to human kindness? In the past, Roy could only guess. Now that the Research Center was back to its normal activities, Mr. Townsly returned to raising sheep and marketing wool. Ian was totally occupied with Ashly and his research, which left Roy with time to do some of his own research.
Chapter Ten – Father of Thylacines
Soon after Roy returned to the Research Center, he had an opportunity to adopt four thylacine pups. Their mother died during their birth and the pups needed constant care, or they would have died as well. In as much as Roy was looking for a project, the research staff suggested he rear the pups. This meant bottle feeding at least six times per day with an experimental milk mixture designed by the center’s marsupial husbandry scientists. In addition, Roy was expected to hand wash the pups several times per day duplicating the normal tongue washing their mother would have given them. Roy insured they were kept warm during chilly nights and cool during hot days. One of his main jobs, as they matured, was to provide them with everyday learning experiences such as prey acquisition and killing techniques.
Roy searched, but there was no scientific literature on the subject of rearing thylacine pups. His experience was to be the first. Roy relished the challenge and hoped he was up to the task. He faithfully and accurately recorded his research with the help of the resident researchers and shared everything with his dad in NYC. Mr. Dimwitty told Roy he would use the information in the new book he was working on.
At birth, thylacine pups are tiny, much smaller than the newborns of similar sized mammals. The vestigial pouches of adult thylacines were hardly suited for one pup much less four. During millions of years of evolution, nature had determined that the species had a better chance for survival with multiple births rather than the single births of most other marsupials. Marsupials, such as the kangaroo family, had single births. The embryo like babies, called joeys, are barely able to squirm from their mother’s birth canal upward through a forest of belly fur to the sphincter pouch opening. Therein, the babies attached to a single nipple. Appropriate amounts of maternal milk are secreted according to the babies growing needs until the joeys were able to suckle on their own.
Sometime in the past the maternal pouch and single nipple of kangaroos became obsolete in thylacines and other predator marsupials. The predator marsupial lifestyle gradually diverged from the typical non-predator marsupial lifestyle.
The change had worked exceedingly well… that is until recently, when humans and sheep farms appeared. The thylacine slaughter began when it was rumored that they were sheep killers. Over reaction to the rumor and a generous government bounty on thylacines decimated them and soon they were thought to be extinct. Fortunately, the wild regions of Tasmania, where humans have never set foot, provided a few potential opportunities for the species to survive. Thus far, the only confirmed sightings were in Tasmania.
Roy recalled the time in college when he was working as a substitute zoo keeper at the Bronx Zoo. One afternoon, at closing time after he closed the Kangaroo and Wild Swine building, he witnessed an event few people had ever seen before, the birth of a baby Grey Kangaroo. Roy was in the process of checking each animal as he walked by the row of indoor cages. He noticed what he first thought was a drop of blood on a female kangaroo’s belly. It wasn’t blood, as he had feared. It was a newly born joey which moving like a little inch worm. He watched the tiny joey crawl up its mother’s belly fur toward the pouch. It soon became evident that the joey missed the pouch opening and squirmed past it. Once the mother’s instinctive behavior was disrupted, she scratched the embryo like joey out of her fur and it fell to the cage floor. Roy, reached through the bars and picked up the joey, which was the size of a newborn mouse. He wrapped it in his handkerchief and called the zoo vet. In spite of immobilizing the mother and placing the joey next to her nipple in the pouch, the procedure was unsuccessful. Roy watched the mother closely for the rest of the Christmas vacation and afterward called the zoo for updates. It was an experience Roy never forgot and it increased his love and interest in animals.
Back at the research center, Roy was experiencing other unique events. The pups were growing rapidly and thriving. It was not until four weeks that they first opened their eyes. Subsequently, they became more active and it was a constant chore to keep track of them. In two month’s Roy placed them in a large cardboard box with bedding. The pups wined when they were hungry and made yelping noises when they were frustrated or were fighting with each other. During the forth month Roy took the pups outside for their first exploration of a habitat area. They were extremely stimulated with every new object and experience. At their fifth month, the pups had enough strength and coordination to run awkwardly. Roy noticed that they seldom tired and he had to forcibly retrieve them from the habitat area for the night. In fact, he soon realized that they preferred the nighttime to the daytime. They began sleeping through the day and running around their enclosure at night as if they were hunting.
Roy eventually put several small live lizards in the habitat and was amazed how quickly they found and killed them. Next, he hid several snakes in the habitat. They quickly found and dispatched them. They fought over the remains and ate every bit. Next experiment was with small marsupial rodent like animals. These animals immediately became their favorite prey and food.
At six months, the pups looked like adults only smaller. They had the beginnings of adult dorsal stripes and the characteristic long heavy tail. Most strikingly, was their mouth gape. Thylacines were traditionally known for their wide gapping mouths. Roy measured the gape of all the pups. It averaged at 170 degrees, at least 20 degrees larger than any other animal on record. Roy surmised why thylacine mouth gape was so large. Could it be that their preferred prey were large marsupials such as grey and red kangaroos? The wide gape might enable them to grab and hang onto a fleeing roo. On the other hand, when cornered, roos normally stood erect and fought. Nevertheless, a large gape and bite would certainly be critical in killing any marsupial, including the large roos. It was just a guess and Roy had no way of proving his theory.
Another interesting fact was that thylacines had more teeth that other non-marsupial predators. They had two extra pre-molars. And, thylacine teeth were serated and sharper than any other mammal predator their size.
Now that they had almost reached adult size, except in weight, Roy noticed how active they became at sunset. They loved to run. Except for a few stops to smell, and poop they seldom stopped until they found prey. When the sky lightened in the morning they returned to their sleeping dens. For the rest of the day the four slept. Roy found that he had to add three more den sleeping boxes so they could sleep alone and not squabble.
Although the thylacines now preferred to spend more time by themselves in separate habitat areas, they remained bonded to Roy and came when Roy called to them. He named the two males, Tiger and Wolf. He named the females Mars and Soo. Soon the thylacines would be mature and be thinking of mating. Roy and the research staff had to separate them so brother would not mate with sister. The siblings were not bothered when the separation came and accepted it without complaint.
Roy spent time alone with each animal. They always stopped their activity and responded to Roy’s voice when he called. If they were out of hearing of Roy’s voice he used a silver dog whistle which was a present from his dad when he was a child. It had a high decibel range beyond human hearing. Whenever he blew it, they came running at full speed and would almost bowl Roy over in their enthusiasm. He greeted them in a knelling position and stroked their faces and heads. They enjoyed Roy’s touch and often laid themselves against Roy’s body. They never tired of licking Roy’s hands and always attempted to lick his face. Generally, they acted very much like canines except for their constant activity at night and of course they never wagged their long heavy tails. Roy guessed nocturnal hunting was instinctive.
Roy walked daily through each habitat area and seeded it with small game both alive and dead. He supplemented the wild game with a special mixture of marsupial chow the researchers had mixed up. Roy knew that the time would come when his “kids” would be set free to roam the park alone. He wondered if they would remember him and respond to his call a year from their release. The release day eventually came and the whole research staff, including Mr. Townsly, Ian and Ashly attended. This release represented the largest single release the Center had made. It was a milestone in its nine-year effort.
The two female and two male thylacines wasted no time once they realized they were not confined. Their cages were opened outside the perimeter fence and without a look back they ran in separate directions and disappeared into the darkness. The staff cheered. Roy fought back swelling tears and turned back to the Research center. There was a party but it pooped out early because everyone was emotionally and physically drained.
Roy spent the next month at home in the Bronx visiting his parents and sister Millie, who was now in college. But, he soon became restless because he knew there was much work waiting him at the research facility. One month was enough, so he returned to the isolated island south of Australia.
Chapter Eleven – Murder
Since his departure Roy thought things would finally settle down, but they did not. Rangers found evidence of more hunting in the park and another missing thylacine. The “Nature Consortium” was no longer in existence, but individual hunters were apparently taking advantage of the parks huge size and unpatrolled borders to slip in and out to hunt at will. Now, more dirt roads crisscrossed the park and there were not enough rangers to patrol deep within the rugged terrain. Park rangers had better radios now for communications now, but so did the illegal hunters.
Roy was angry and thought he would try to intercept and arrest some hunters himself. Hopefully, his efforts might give the impression that hunters were being caught and prosecuted. Mules, once used by park rangers, were replaced by all-terrain vehicles. With the new dirt roads, the rangers could more rapidly reach distant parts of the park to check on shootings. Ranger stations were set up to report forest fires. These stations were useful in reporting the sound of gun fire as well.
Hunters were careless and forest fires were often their fault. The small force of park rangers was thinly spread out across several of the huge parks in South western Tasmanian. Their task was immense but their presence was vitally important. Roy’s first penetration into the park’s interior had some initial success. A ranger station reported sighting a vehicle and sounds of shooting on the slope of a nearby mountain. In addition, campfire smoke was reported.
Roy and two rangers decided to investigate. They located the campfire smoke and snuck up on the campers, or were they hunters? Roy would soon find out.
Roy wore the silver canine whistle his dad gave him around his neck. He wondered if it still worked with the thylacines after six months separation. He blew the whistle periodically while in the park, but so far, there were no results.
Roy and the rangers located a campfire several miles off the dirt road. They left their all- terrain wheelers behind and approached the campfire quietly. Three men sat around a small fire and three rifles leaned against a nearby tree. When the rangers and Roy stepped out into the firelight and announced their presence, the men seemed surprised but not alarmed. It was a friendly greeting. They swore they were not hunters and showed Roy their camera equipment. They were just photographers having a good time shooting pictures of the wildlife and drinking beer. Roy and the rangers searched the camp site, but in the dark they could not see anything incriminating. They accepted the camper’s invitation to share their meal and spend the rest of the night with them.
In the morning Roy woke up to find the three men standing over them with rifles leveled. They tied the rangers and Roy to trees and took their rifles, hand radios and supplies. Roy overheard the three men trying to decide what to do with them. In the daylight, Roy could see thylacine remains at the edge of the clearing. Flies buzzed around the carcass. Its skin including attached paws and head were nearby, drying out.
When the men were occupied elsewhere, Roy tried to move his canine whistle up from around his neck, over his chin and into his mouth. Finally, by lying on his side, he was successful. He bit off its thin leather strap, spit it out and hid the small whistle in his mouth. Whenever the men were occupied Roy blew the whistle. He was helpless to do anything else.
The three hunters left Roy and the rangers alone for several hours as they separated and went out to check their trap lines. While they were gone Roy and the rangers tried unsuccessfully to wiggle free of the ropes that bound them. Roy continued blowing his silver dog whistle without any seeming results. That evening the hunters returned and decided to abandon their campsite and establish a new one miles away on the next mountain slope. Hopefully they could trap another thylacine. Their skins were worth their weight in gold. Collectors were lined up to hunt, trap or buy thylacines, dead or alive. Capturing one alive would be the biggest and most valuable catch. The hunters had several live traps set and two collapsible cages ready in the event they were successful. They already had a buyer waiting who was hoping to sell a thylacine to a zoo in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis still had a standing offer of a million dollars for a live and healthy specimen.
The hunters left the rangers and Roy tied up at their first campsite while they packed up and moved into a new area yet to be hunted. In desperation, while they were away, Roy continued to blow his dog whistle. That evening two of the hunters returned to the campsite and their captives. They discussed what to do with them. The options were shoot them or just leave them tied up. A million dollars was too much to jeopardize by letting them go. Roy and the rangers were well aware of their dilemma and tried to convince their captives to leave them tied up rather than shoot them. It was the best of two bad options.
While the hunters built a fire and were having a cup of coffee, Roy felt a nudge on his left arm. He turned to see a broad tan head with big black eyes sniffing his arm. Another dark shape was on his right side nudging Roy with a large wet nose. Roy immediately recognized them as Tiger and Wolf, the two male thylacines he hand-raised. Both animals licked Roy’s hands, now bloodied by the tight plastic ties that bound his hands behind the tree. Somehow, a little nibble from sharp marsupial teeth snapped the bindings from Roy’s hands and he slumped forward. the hunters noticed Roy’s movement, got up and walked over toward him. The thylacines crouched down and backed into the shadows out of sight. Somehow they must have sensed the danger. The human they knew as friend was bloodied and threatened by the two men approaching. The thylacines were always protective of Roy when they were in captivity. Roy hoped they still would be even after being free for so long. Would they remember? Would they attack the hunters? Roy did not have to wait long to find that out.
As the hunters approached, Roy lunged forward and tried to stand up. He staggered and fell to his knees.
“He’s free one hunter yelled. Grab him, or better yet let’s just shoot them. No one will ever find out what happened to them.”
The aggressiveness of the approaching hunters triggered the attack response in the thylacines that Roy hoped for. The hunters could not have imagined that two thylacines lurked in the shadows not more than three feet behind Roy. As Roy struggled to his knees one hunter kicked Roy in the chest and sent him toppling backward. In unison, both thylacines attacked. They landed on the hunter’s chests knocking them both flat on their backs. Roy heard a low guttural growl from both animals. The thylacines wasted no time in going for the instinctive kill at the throats of their prey. One hunter managed to raise a hand to protect his throat. It seemed to disappear in Tiger’s gaping mouth. The hunter screamed as his hand was mauled. Bones, blood vessels tendons were crushed and sliced by a mouthful of sharp teeth and powerful jaw muscles.
Not being fast enough to protect his throat, the other hunter met a more serious fate. Wolf’s canines chomped into his throat and sliced a major artery. His garbled scream was sickening. As blood spurted, Wolf chewed on his neck. Roy staggered to his feet and tried his best to pull the thylacines off the hunters. Finally, he was successful, but by then both hunters were in critical condition. Roy tried to stop the bleeding from the neck wound, but the hunter soon lost consciousness and lay still in a pool of blood. The other hunter screamed while holding a mangled and bleeding hand. Roy did his best to keep his body between the hunters and the thylacines while he quickly fastened a tourniquet around the hunter’s arm. It stopped the bleeding, but not his screaming. Roy freed the rangers. The rangers got the hunter’s guns in expectation that the third hunter would soon appear. In a few minutes, he dashed into the clearing, gun in hand. The rangers knocked him to the ground while Roy struggled to keep the agitated thylacines from attacking again. He knelt down and put an arm around each animal holding them next to him. Finally, he was able to grab the loose skin on the back of their necks and pull them away from the hunters. They tried to pull away and attack again. Roy feared they’d become confused and attack the rangers by mistake. He held on with all his strength to keep them next to him.
The rangers cuffed the surviving two hunters and led them back to their off-road vehicle. They called in for assistance and medical aid. The Tiger and Wolf were attracted to the dead human lying in a pool of blood and Roy could hardly keep them away from the corpse. He believed they would have fed on it if he had let them.
A thought flashed through Roy’s mind. “What if the thylacines enjoyed the easy killing of humans? What if they had lost their fear of humans? What if they started hunting innocent park visitors? He shuddered at the thought.
About an hour later, the sound of the ambulance siren and the flashing lights were more than the marsupials could take. Roy walked them off into the trees and hugged each animal. They licked his face, their bloody muzzles streaking his face red. Then he shooed them away as best he could. They loped away together. Both stopped momentarily to look back at Roy. Roy stood thoughtfully. He wondered if he would ever see them again. He wondered if he should tell authorities exactly what had happened. He thought it best that he did not, and hoped the rangers would agree. They agreed, so as to keep the newspapers from sensationalizing the confrontation and discouraging campers from using the park.
The two live hunters were taken into custody and the injured hunter was taken to the hospital, with what the rangers said was a hunting accident. Both hunters were eventually tried and convicted on attempted murder charges. The deceased hunter was taken to the morgue. The next morning’s paper had a lead article about a hunter being killed in a hunting accident. It was assumed that he accidentally shot himself in his hand and his companion in the neck while loading his rifle. Park visitors were told the park continued to be totally safe as long as they did not violate park rules.
That night Roy called his dad and mom in N.Y.C. to tell them of his dangerous adventure. His mother was Dad were upset that he had taken such risks, but Roy’s dad was fascinated about the story and said he would definitely use it in his next book. He asked Roy if he and Millie, could visit the research center in the near future. Mom did not wish to make the long trip and hike through a park, but they did. Arrangements were made and a month later they arrived on the Center’s research plane.
Roy was kept busy keeping track of Millie. She planned to follow her brother’s career and was gathering information for a college thesis paper. By now, Millie was in her twenties and had been accepted to graduate school. The young PhD.s at the Research Center were interested in her because she had grown up to be a very attractive and intelligent young woman. Needless to say, she was popular, cheerful and interested in every one’s research specialty.
Chapter Twelve – Switch Partners
Now that the excitement had died down Roy needed to complete writing papers on his experiences with thylacines. He intended to submit papers to several prestigious journals and several popular magazines such as National Geographic, Nature, National Wildlife and others. Ashly asked if she could collaborate with Roy, supply the graphics and help with the writing. Being a co-author of articles in these prestigious publications would help advance her career.
Ashly threw herself into working on Roy’s project and spent less time working with Ian. In Ashley’s absence, Millie latched onto her brother’s best friend. They hit things off splendidly and she helped him with the administration of the research center, which was her main interest. Ashly, also, was pleased with her involvement with the more scientific aspects of the Thylacine Research Center. Everything was on track for a while. Roy’s dad had a visit of a lifetime and after a month went home with enough material to keep him busy on another book about his son, Roy the Animal Boy 2, The Thylacines.
It was not long after when The Research Center was asked by both New Zealand and Australia to help them establish thylacine preserves on both islands. Extensive national parks were planned, with specific borders, fences, entry gates and staff. Eventually, fire towers, visitor centers, and restaurants were to be added. Thylacines were expected to be a great tourist attraction. Where else on the earth could visitors see an extinct animal in its natural habitat? Of course, being the only source of thylacines, the Research Center was asked to supply all the thylacines and expertise. Research fellows, intern administrators and animal handlers came to the Center to get their training. Other marsupials were to be included in the mix. Thylacines needed something to prey upon…and prey animals needed predators, such is evolution. This policy was controversial, and not totally adopted in all the parks, even though the killing process and the fresh meat was vital to the well-being of the thylacines.
These were busy times for Ian, Roy, Millie and Ashly. The responsibilities were huge and they all had to mature quickly and raise their administrative and research skill levels. They had become the only experts in the natural and artificial breeding of rare marsupials. The Thylacine Research Facility became world famous. Other Centers were doing the similar research with endangered species but, so far, no lab had been successful in bringing back a major thought to be extinct quadruped species. Ian’s father was fortunate to have discovered and rescued the last few remaining thylacines before they actually became extinct. But, to bring back and sustain a truly extinct species in the wild was an immensely greater task.
Chapter Thirteen – Platypus
The Tasmanian thylacine success was big news around the world. Letters of congratulations poured in. Big shot visitors flew in; newspapers and magazines sent photographers and feature writers. Scientists visited to tour the Center. The towns surrounding the park were flooded with tourists. A small airport was under construction. The park service sponsored tours through the park and conducted visits to the research center. Roy, Ian and Ashly gave interviews every day in person and on the phone. The Tasmanian politicians who once threatened to cut funds to the Center now bragged about their foresight and support.
Within two years the Research Center had bred and released ten thylacines into the wild. Zoos in New Zealand and Australia constructed state of the art animal parks with no cages or fences that could be seen. All animals lived comfortably in natural habitats. Breeding programs insured the survival of numerous marsupials now endangered. They included thylacines, devils, red and grey kangaroos, wallaroos, wallabies, tree kangaroos, wombats, bandicoots, bilbies, koalas, tree possums, quolls, and sugar gliders. The administrators of the park systems decided to include one native non-marsupial, the platypus, in the animal parks. Wild platypuses, once common in the three islands were re-established in fenced in wild isolated areas of the parks and were protected by park rangers. Platypus and marsupial safaris were popular on the islands.
Wild population of platypuses in Tasmania were discovered by an unfortunate emergency. How this discovery came about was directly related to Roy’s hand raised thylacines. It was an early June morning and a winter wind chilled the park. Roy and Ashly were sleeping soundly when the phone rang. Roy picked up the phone and sleepily whispered, “This is Roy, what’s up?”
“This is Gordon, night security. Sorry to wake you Roy but we got a problem here, out behind the section three perimeter fence gate.
“It’s 6:00 AM. “So, what’s so important?” Roy asked.
Gordon replied, “We got a sick thylacine, it looks likeTiger…wait a minute, another one is straggling in, now we got two sick thylacines. I’m pretty sure it’s Tiger alright, but now I think Wolf is at the gate as well…They both look exhausted and are barely able to move. They’re making strange noises I have never heard before. Better come quick.”
Roy bolted out of bed wide awake. He threw on some clothes as he told Ashly the news. Roy was out the door of his bungalow before Ashly even rolled out of bed. He jumped in a golf cart and sped down the path that led to the perimeter fence gate. Gordon had the gate opened and was squatting down next to the sick thylacines. Both animals were barely breathing.
“Gordon, load one into my cart and one into your cart and we’ll take them to the hospital. Don’t forget to follow contamination procedures. They might have a contagious disease.
Ashly and Millie joined them at the hospital as they carried both animals inside. On the way over Roy called Frank, the head vet. He burst in shortly after the thylacines were laid on the examination tables.
Roy waited patiently as the Frank took vital signs. “Looks bad. I don’t know what’s wrong with them.”
Millie noticed something unusual about Tiger’s left front foot. “What’s this Roy?”
Roy and Frank shifted their attention to Tiger’s foot. There were several small swollen cut marks on his lower legs and one on his face. Similar wounds were found on the front legs and face of Wolf. The injuries were hardly noticeable through the fur except for a slight swelling and redness.
Roy looked up at the vet who was examining the injured areas of both animals. He shook his head, “I have no idea what caused these wounds or how to treat them.”
Ashly asked Frank, “Were they bitten by something?”
“No, I don’t think so. It doesn’t look like a bite.” He replied.
Roy was concerned, “The swelling is spreading. We have to do something.”
Frank interrupted, “Of course, of course! I know what’s happened! I saw photos of this years ago. It’s extremely rare. A zoo keeper had the same kind of wound and swelling. It was written up in a journal, I forget which one. He was feeding Platypuses when he carelessly picked one up and was stabbed.”
Ashly did not undertand. “Stabbed?”
Roy explained, “Yes, stabbed. I should have guessed. Both Tiger and Wolf were hunting together and were stabbed by, what I would guess, is a male platypus.”
Frank explained further to Ashly, “Male platypuses have sharp spurs on their rear legs. When agitated, or in this case, attacked by hungry thylacines, they protect themselves by striking out with these poison spurs. The wounds can become painful and even deadly deterrents. We need to put both animals on IVs with a special detox medication. If we are in time, I think we can save them.”
With a grin on his face, Frank turned to Roy, “Roy, it turns out you were a poor thylacine father. You never taught your pups to stay away from duckbills.”
Roy grimaced and replied, “Never even crossed my mind, but now I know.”
Frank, wrapped the thylacines in ice blankets to keep their soaring temperature down, strapped the animals down to the surgical tables and hooked up the IVs. There was nothing else to do but wait and hope the treatment was given in time to save them.
While they waited, Roy was deep in thought, and then said, “If our thylacines were not raised here at the Center, they would have just curled up someplace and died alone. Instead, they came back to the place they were born and raised. I wonder how many other wild thylacines have attacked platypuses and been fatally stabbed.”
Ashly guessed, “There is no way of knowing.”
Frank had an idea, “Let me make some calls and see if I can find any other recent cases.”
While he searched, Roy and Ashly checked the vital signs of their patients.
Roy announced, “Finally, pulse rate, blood pressure and breathing are normal. And, the swelling is going down.”
“We saved them! We saved them!” Ashly shouted out with glee.
Frank interrupted. He had a colleague on the phone who had a suggestion He said there is very little published about treating Platypus stabs, but judging by the few successful treatments, a vaccination against vascular swelling might be effective.
Roy suggested, “I suppose we could vaccinate all thylacines before we release them into the wild.”
“That might work.” Frank said. “Another approach might be to introduce our captive thylacines to the dangers of platypuses before we release them or ship them to other parks. It would be a hassle, but it’s better than having dead thylacines.”
By now both patients were stirring.
“We better get them off the tables and into cages for observation,” suggested Frank.
An hour later, Frank was convinced the thylacines were totally recovered.
The cages were transported back to the side gate and the thylacines were released. They hesitated just long enough to lick Roy’s hand before he slapped them on their butts, and sent them on their way. They loped off into the tree line and disappeared.
Ashly commented, “A lesson learned. We never would have suspected this was happening in the wild except that Tiger and Wolf apparently thought it best they return to Roy and the security of the Center.”
Frank was pleased. “We were fortunate.”
Thereafter, all thylacines transported to other parks, that had wild populations of platypuses in Tasmania, New Zealand and Australia, were vaccinated before they were introduced into the wild.
The research staff found and studied the park platypuses. Eventually several were captured and placed on exhibit in glass front exhibits which allowed visitors to see them swim, burrow and raise young. It was a popular exhibit. As Roy discovered, platypuses are primitive mammals. They have a soft sensitive duck-like bill for searching out crustaceans in streams. Their webbed feet are like a duck’s but they have sharp claws. They have the fur of a mammal or marsupial. Another unusual feature is that they lay eggs with leather like shells. Female platypuses don’t have pouches or nipples. Milk glands secrete milk through their belly skin. The milk concentrates in abdominal grooves which the babies are able to lap and suck up. Some experts claim the babies sucked milk from clumps of belly fur the same way other species suck from nipples. There was still much to be learned and the Research Center was the perfect place for the research.
They next thing the Thylacine Research Center decided to do was change its name to The Marsupial Research Center. Increased funding enabled Roy and Ian to increase the Center’s staff. Twelve, scientists and animal specialists prepared to move into a new research building. Living quarters were under construction for the staff that needed them. Ian and Roy were appointed as Co-Directors of The Marsupial Research Center. Not bad for two guys still under thirty.
Chapter Fourteen – Up in Flames
The following year several mysterious events occurred that baffled the Center staff and threatened the very survival of the Center. One night in May the fire alarms sounded, waking Roy, Ian and their ladies. Both men smelled smoke as they stepped out onto their bungalows’ front porches. They looked to the south side of the Center and saw flames. It appeared that the old wing of new research building was on fire. They raced to the fire site. There was no doubt that the building was going to be a total loss. Ashly and Millie soon joined them and the night crew. They connected water hoses to the Center’s lake and started the pump. Their main objective was to keep the fire from spreading to the new wing. The park and the town fire-fighting crews eventually arrived with their water trucks and hoses, and the fire gradually was brought under control and finally extinguished. The new wing was saved, to everyone’s relief.
Roy, Ian and the officials from the park’s and town’s fire departments picked their way through the smoldering ruins and discovered a startling fact. Fire Chief Sims called Roy and Ian over to announce, “I’m afraid I have some bad news. Take a look at this.” He reached down into a pile of charred pipes. “This is what’s left of your ceiling fire extinguishers. And, here is evidence that they never became active.”
Ian and Roy were astonished.
“Can you tell why they didn’t work?”
Simes replied, “Can’t be sure why they did not work Roy, but I am sure they did not function.”
Ian muttered, “Damn!”
Roy asked, “Chief, was this an accident or intentional?”
Chief Sims replied, “Sorry Roy, I really can’t be sure. It could have been either.”
The Research Center was insured for fire damage, but had to hire a team of lawyers to make their case in court. It took months before the court determined the fire was an accident. To every one’s relief, the Center finally won full compensation from the insurance company and started to rebuild the destroyed wing.
Chapter Fifteen – Imported Killers
Just when everything appeared to be under control, Roy received a call from an excited park ranger. He had just sighted a dingo in the park. This was surprising and disturbing news. The presence of dingos might spell disaster for the park. Dingos were smart and resourceful pack predators. Unless eliminated from the park, they would out compete the thylacines and upset the balance of nature in the marsupial world.
At a hastily called staff meeting, Roy and Ian reviewed the potential dingo threat and how it might impact on the Research Center and the park system.
Roy explained, “Wild canines were introduced to Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania by the first humans to settle the islands one hundred thousand years ago. Some dogs abandoned the settlers and discovered a land of marsupials ill equipped to defend themselves from the new mammal predators. Certain marsupial populations plummeted in Australia. New Zealand was less affected and Tasmania, the least effected. These wild dogs evolved into the modern dingos. The dingo is a medium sized tan dog with a curled tail, a large head with strong jaws. Most people would not recognize them as dingos and think they were just mutts. They are extraordinarily intelligent, and hunt together in packs. Together they are able to bring down the largest toughest grey kangaroo bucks.”
“So how did a dingo, or possibly several dingos, find their way into the Tasmanian Park system?” asked Roy.
“No doubt about it,” replied Ian, “they were intentionally introduced by someone with a bone to pick with the park system, or us. Possibly, it might have been past owners of the Hunting Consortium. Introducing dingos, or any animal is, of course, against the law but still quite easy to accomplish. All it would take was a private plane with a load of captured dingos. Trucks could easily transport them to the parks where they would be released.”
Someone suggested, “Couldn’t we trap them?”
Roy replied, “Yes we could but I’m afraid we would end up trapping our own thylacines.”
Another suggestion from the staff was, “Why not send hunting parties out and hunt them?”Roy replied, “We may have to resort to that, but it would be our last resort. It just wouldn’t look good, for us shooting native dingos on the very territory they once hunted.”
The heated discussion went on for several hours. Everyone had a chance to say their piece. Roy and Ian thanked them all and then retired back to Roy’s bungalow with Ashly and Mille in tow. The four discussed the problem deep into the night. The next morning, they met again over breakfast.
Roy suggested, “I think we have to tranquilize them. That will take some close up shooting. Do you think we are up to it?”
“We sure are.” Said Ian. “You and I are the two best shots here, and the girls have been practicing every day. Ladies, you are invited to join us in the hunt.”
“OK”, Ashly said, “We are willing to go out hunting every day until we get them all. We can do it. I know we can.”
“Then it’s settled” Ian said… “we have to shoot them with tranquillizing darts, if we can get close enough.”
Roy added, “I love Dingos and admire their tenacity to survive, so we must not hurt them. We need to get within 100 feet to have any chance for a good hit, and within 200 feet for a lucky hit.”
Ashly asked, “Do we hunt at night or day?”
Ian answered, “How about we try both?”
The next afternoon about twenty volunteer hunters assembled with their tranquillizing guns, each in a all-terrain vehicle They packed food and water and sleeping bags. It was a thrilling sight to see such resolve. Off they went with a roar in all directions.
A week later, some of the hunting parties had returned. They tranquilized and caged four dingos that were transferred into habitat enclosures designed for them. Eventually the rest of the hunting parties returned. No other dingos were seen in the park so Roy figured they got them all. The captured dingos were eventually put on exhibit in their own large habitat areas with educational visuals explaining their relationship to Australia and Tasmania.
Whoever seeded the park with dingos, hoping to destroy the parks natural balance, had failed. They had in fact helped create a new educational exhibit that visitors loved. Dingos were an integral element in the settling of Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania, and needed to be included in the park systems.
Chapter Sixteen – Sabotage
The Marsupial Research Center grew and prospered. Funding from the Parliament stayed proportional to the Center’s needs. Each time a crisis occurred the boys and the Center’s staff managed to solve the problem. But, the boys began to have suspicions. Could it be they still had an enemy? Little did they know that an enemy would soon threaten the very existence of the whole Research Center.
The first problems were with hunters from the Hunting Consortium; then there was the fire in the old research wing. Everything was lost including some valuable equipment. The exact cause of the fire was not determined, but the ceiling fire extinguishers had unexplainably malfunctioned.
The next problem was even more puzzling. Dingos, long absent from Tasmainia, mysteriously appeared in the park and had to be dealt with. There was no explanation how dingos got into the park. Roy and the Research staff were at a loss how to explain their appearance.
Roy and Ian had a theory and called a meeting of all the staff and the newly appointed Board of Directors into the Center’s lecture hall.
Roy began, “As you all know we have had several setbacks here at the Center. Usually, when an accident happens, the cause of the accident can be determined and actions taken so it never happens again.”
Ian added, “But in the case of our recent fire, no cause can be found. It was not carelessness or equipment malfunction. So, what was it?” None of the staff had an answer.
Roy continued, “We have a hunch which will shock many of you. We believe that the Center has an unknown enemy and the problems we have encountered were intentional. We have at least one traitor on our staff.”
The staff crowding the lecture hall gasped at the idea. They could not imagine one of their fellow workers would intentionally do such a thing as killing animals and burning buildings.
Roy continued, “Please stay alert and double check everything. We insist that each of you ask a co-worker to review every major decision you make. I know this will be a hassle, but it has to be done. If you see a violation of this rule you must report it. Any questions?
There were no questions, only silence. The Center staff filed out of the hall leaving Roy, Ian, Ashly, Millie and the newly appointed Board of Directors, (BOD) sitting on the little stage.Roy told the BOD what he and Ian were planning to do. “We need to do a thorough search through all the Center’s personnel records, and check all employee backgrounds again. Maybe we will get lucky and find the person or persons who are sabotaging our work.
Ian added, “In the past we had several serious problems with a now defunct group called The Nature Consortium, better known as the Hunting Consortium. They were convicted of illegally interfering with the Park Service and The Center’s work. Several of their guides were convicted of attempted murder and the Consortium was fined and forced out of business. We thought they were long gone, but thylacines are still extremely rare and there still are unscrupulous hunters who want to bag them for trophies. In addition, we know for a fact that the Princes of two Middle Eastern nations are offering over a million dollars each for live healthy thylacines for their personal animal collections.”
Roy paused to let his theory sink in. “We believe the Hunting Consortium is still active. They are doing their best to destroy what we have created and discredit the Park Systems. They would like easy access to all Tasmanian parks so they can hunt thylacines. Again, as you know, there is a world-wide demand for these rare animals.”
Ian added, “Please stay alert and report all progress. Thank you for your cooperation.”
For the next week Ashly and Millie reviewed all employee’s records hoping to find a hint of a corrupted employee, but had no luck.
Chapter Seventeen – Poison In the Darkness
Everything went well for the next few months until another unexpected disaster struck.
The morning animal staff called Roy. A staff member announced, “More bad news boss. All the thylacines are down. I don’t know why.”
Roy asked “Down? What do you mean down?”
The staff member relied, “They’re all lethargic, won’t eat and they’re all drinking a lot of water.” They should be anxious for breakfast but they are not eating. They are not even interested in live food.”
Roy replied, “I’ll be right there.”
Roy and Ashly dashed over to the habitat area. True enough, something major was wrong. Roy had never seen the thylacines act like this. He scooped up some fresh stool samples from several of the animals and ran to the animal hospital. Veterinary Frank was on duty and he hurriedly checked the samples.
Frank stepped back from the microscope and said, “Nothing here to see. These samples are normal. It’s got to be something they ate last night out in their habitats.”
Roy shook his head, “But that’s crazy. How could all the animals eat the same thing that got them sick…unless it was something we fed them. We are their only source of food and the keeper swears he has feed them only our standard approved food pellets.”
Frank asked, “Maybe one of yesterday’s visitors threw something over the fence into the habitat areas.”
Roy answered, “I suppose that’s possible but it’s so unlikely. If it was a visitor, he or she would have had to throw the same amount of poisoned food over the fence into every habitat without being seen. There are “no feeding” signs on every habitat fence. Yesterday we had many visitors and if someone threw food it would have been seen and reported.”
Frank suggested, “Let’s go back to the habitats and see what’s happening.”
The time they got back to the habitats, the thylacines were no worse. Roy and Frank observed them all day and tempted them with their favorite live food. Roy closed down the area so no visitors could enter. Finally, in the late afternoon the thylacines started showing interest in the live food.
Frank exclaimed, “I believe we’ve seen the worst. They look better.”
Roy agreed, “You’re right Frank. I wonder what got them so sick.”
Roy had one of his hunches and personally checked the outer perimeter fence. In a place overgrown with bushes he finally found a small opening, plenty large enough for a person to crawl through. There was evidence that only a single person had used that opening. But the fact that the opening was purposely hidden from view indicated that it might be used again.
Roy had a rushed meeting with the center’s security guards because shadows were already lengthening in the valley. By the time Roy and Ian and four security guards started out to the breached fence area it was already dark. Lights on the inner security fence were seldom left on because the thylacines preferred the darkness as they roamed their habitats. The lack of light made it easy for intruders to approach the thylacine habitats without being detected. That is exactly what Roy wanted them to do. Roy and Ian carried heat sensing equipment so they could see thermal images in the dark. They showed the heat given off by a live body.
Roy had a plan. “Two of you go to where the fence was breached and remain hidden. If intruders attempt to come through the fence stay hidden and let them come. Ian, you take one guard to the right of the thylacine habitat and I’ll take one to the left. Stay hidden and don’t make a move until you hear me blow my whistle. The lights will be switched on at that moment.”
Everyone moved rapidly into position and waited. About 2:00 AM Roy saw some movement at the breached fence. Three figures squeezed through the opening and stealthily moved down the slope toward the habitats. They were carrying bags of something and had rifles slung on their backs. Roy and his guard stayed motionless as the three approached their hiding place. It was so dark that one intruder passed Roy within an arm’s length without knowing it. The intruders continued on and finally stopped about fifty yards from the habitat fence. They opened their bags and took something out. It was hard for Roy to see, but it appeared they were preparing to use sling shots to shoot food pellets over the Habitat fences into the thylacine enclosures.
Roy thought to himself, “Damn! That’s how the thylacines got sick. They ate poisoned pellets that were shot into their habitats from a distance. Apparently, the intruders did not have enough poison pellets last night, or the poison was not strong enough to kill, so they returned tonight, just as I guessed.” Roy had to control his temper. He thought to himself, “They deserve to be shot.”
Instead of reaching for his rifle, he reached for his whistle. Its shrill sound shattered the silence and immediately the interior fence flood lights turned the night into day. The instant light was blinding and froze the intruders in their tracks. Roy, Ian and the security guards shouted out to the intruders “Raise your hands and don’t move!”
None of the intruders obeyed the commands. They dropped their sling shots and readied their rifles. One made a run up the slope for the hole in the fence and the other two attempted to run back into the research complex. Roy yelled again for them to stop. When they did not Roy and the guards fired warning shots into the air.
The intruders stopped momentarily and fired back at their pursuers. Roy had instructed Ian and the guards what to do in this situation. A volley of shots quickly brought all three intruders down, each one holding a bleeding leg or foot.
An ambulance waiting at the Administration building was soon on the scene along with a police van. The intruders were headed for the hospital and then faced police interrogation.
The saga of the poisoned thylacines was not over for Roy. As he and Ian walked back through the crime scene he noticed the bags of food pellets the intruders had dropped. He picked them up and examined the poisoned food pellets.
“Take a look at these pellets.” Roy said, as he showed several samples he had picked up. “Aren’t they exactly the same as the thylacine pellets we use?”Ian agreed, “They’re exactly the same.”
“How do you suppose they got three bags of our special food pellets?” asked Roy.
Ian shook his head, “Bets me, unless…”
Roy interrupted, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
Ian nodded his head and exclaimed, “It’s got to be one of our animal handlers, or someone with access to food storage areas.”
Roy beckoned Ian to follow him, “Follow me, I think we can easily find out.”
Roy and Ian checked the files to see if an unusually large amount of food pellets were ordered from central food supply. Sure enough, this week’s orders were up from last week’s. The increased orders were signed for by a new animal handler, a Mr. Pesci. Roy Ian and two guards surprised Mr. Pesci as he was cleaning out his desk, getting ready to sneak out of the park.
Pesci admitted to his part in the plot to poison the thylacines. Each day he smuggled bags of food pellets out of central stores. He gave names and the location where he delivered the pellets.
Roy and Ian decided to observe as the police raided the address they were given. Three persons were arrested. And, a file cabinet of incriminating evidence was confiscated.
The next week Roy got a call from the court prosecutor that there was a direct connection to the defunct Hunting Consortium. In fact, according to the discovered files, the same directors of the Consortium were behind all the attempts to sabotage and discredit the Marsupial Research Center. They were still free on bail, pending the termination of the court proceedings.
Court proceedings eventually convicted eleven individuals and their financial backers of a conspiracy to destroy the Center and open up the vast Tasmanian parks systems to hunting. There actually was a bill currently being argued in parliament that asked that all park systems be open to hunting two days per week. There was evidence that the parliamentarian who promoted this bill had been bribed by the past owners of the Hunting Consortium. It was revealed that there were still many potential wealthy buyers. As hunting and trapping lessened the number of thylacines, the price would inevitably increase. Had the plan worked, the Center would have been doomed. Thanks to the alert Center staff and Roy’s foresight and good hunches, the future looked good for endangered marsupials.
Chapter Eighteen – Kidnapping
The four friends plus Ian’s mother and father drove into the town nearest the Center. It had prospered since the marsupial Research Center became famous and tourists streamed in from all over the world. They picked a quiet restaurant to celebrate the successful prosecution of those who threatened the Center. The restaurant, as did many other restaurants in the area, featured a special dish, grilled choice kangaroo steak with eucalyptus sweet sauce. It was surprising how many tourists ordered it. After placing their orders Millie excused herself and went off to the ladies’ room. Ten minutes later she had not returned so Ashly went to look for her. Ashly returned with a puzzled and frightened look on her face. Millie was not in the ladies’ room or any place in the restaurant. Roy and Ian raced outside while the rest of the party questioned the waiters and receptionist.
The receptionist said the husband of a sick lady just helped her out to their car not more than ten minutes ago. The receptionist said her husband and another couple almost had to carry her out because she could not walk.
Ian’s dad was on the phone immediately to alert the local police. Unfortunately, no one knew the description of the car. Roy was deep in thought. He remembered when he drove into the restaurant’s parking lot a party of three lingered at the front door as if waiting for someone. At the time, he thought nothing of it. He also recalled that a tan SUV was parked illegally at the front door and had made it difficult for Roy to drive by. Again, he thought nothing of it at the time.
When the police pulled into the parking lot, they immediately recognized Roy and Ian. Roy gave them the description of the SUV and that two men and one women were waiting out in front of the restaurant. The description of the vehicle went out to police in town and to neighboring towns. There was nothing else Roy could do except worry.
Roy listened to the police radio reports. Roadblocks were erected on all roads out of town and on roads into the two nearest towns.
Roy asked, “So where else could the kidnappers go? They can’t go East, West or South because roads are blocked. To the north we have the park and …”
Roy stopped and looked over at Ian. They both were thinking the same thing.
Ian stated, “The park would be an ideal hiding place. There are many camping sites and motels in the park and more motels around the park at its many entrances.”
Roy agreed, “In fact, they could drive north through the park and come out on the other side east of Townsly property.”
Mr. Townsly interrupted, “I’ll tell the police to alert local police departments north and east of the park.”
Roy said, “Well, now that we have everything covered outside the park by the Police, what about within the park? It’s a huge park, as you all know. It has more roads, trails and small camp sites than ever before. It would take an army of park rangers to check everywhere.”
“It’s discouraging.” Ian added, “but we can’t just sit by the phone and wait for the kidnappers to call.” But, that’s what they did, hoping for a phone call from the kidnappers. Finally, it came. It was brief, demanding one thing.
“If you want her back unharmed, you must wire two million dollars to account Vc-#3862996640, in the Capara, Venezuela bank. You have one week to make arrangements.”
Roy asked “How are we going to raise that kind of money?”
Mr. Townsly interrupted, “Don’t worry about it, Townsly Enterprises will have the total amount at your disposal by tomorrow.”
Ashly cried out in joy and hugged Mr. Townsly while Ian hugged his mom.
Ian was fuming. “Damn! If they hurt Millie we should string ’em up ourselves.”
Roy, tried to calm Ian. “I feel the same way, but it’s not going to come to that. There has to be some way we can rescue her. She can’t be far from here.”
Everyone went back to the hotel, where the Townslys were staying, and booked rooms there. No one got any sleep.
The morning papers and the radio and TV news reports were filled with news about the kidnapping. Not surprisingly, the community was outraged.
About noon, Police Chief Ryan called and said there was a development. He wanted to come right over. The whole family was present when there was a knock on the door. It was the Chief and two children, a boy bout 10 years old and a girl about 12. Both were obviously aboriginal islanders, and both spoke excellent English.
“These kids have a story to tell which may be of great help.” The chief excitedly explained. “This is Maria and this is her brother Joseph. Maria tell them about your Great Grandfather.”
Joseph interrupted before Maria could utter a word. “Great Grand Father showed me the fishing shack he and his son built on Flat Mountain Lake many years ago…”
Sheriff Ryan interrupted, “Hold on Joseph, let your sister tell the story.”
Maria continued the story, “That’s true, Before there was a park, for many, many years, the ‘old ones’ had a fishing shack on the lake.
Originally they just pitched a tent, but later built a one room shack. Each year they improved it through many generations”
Joseph added, “No one has been up there for at least forty years until Great Grand Father showed it to me this summer. It’s really a neat hide away. I was telling my boss at the food stand, where I work, about it and he seemed real interested. He said he might like to use it someday. He asked if I could show it to him. So, we drove up there that afternoon, took over an hour to get there and an hour back, so. I was late for dinner. That was two weeks ago.”
Maria scolded Joseph, “The shack was a family secret and you should not have told your boss.”
Joseph answered, “I know I shouldn’t have showed him where it was. I wish I hadn’t”.
Maria continued, “When Great Grand Dad heard about the kidnapping, he said his shack would be a great place to hid out for a while. He was just kidding, of course.”
Joseph added, “That’s when I said maybe my boss was one of the kidnappers. Everyone laughed at me for saying that.”
Maria continued, “But later that evening, Great Grand Father spoke up after thinking about what Joseph had said in humor. Great Grand Father said, “That is where they took the kidnapped lady.”
Joseph butted in again, “We laughed at Great Grandfather ‘cause we thought he was trying to make a joke. But, He repeated it again. He was not joking. He said he had a vision, like the “first people” had so many years ago.”
Maria said, “Mom and Dad said I should call the police and tell them what Great Grand Dad said.”
The room was silent for a while, until Ashly spoke up. “We should respect the ways of the ‘old folk’ and what Great Grandfather said.”
Joseph volunteered, “I can show you how to get to the fishing shack. No one knows where it is except me and Great Grandfather, not even Maria or Dad or Mom. They’ve never been there. And the lake isn’t even on the park map.” Again, the room was silent.
Chief Ryan spoke up. “It will do no harm for us to check it out.”
Roy immediately said, “I’m with you Chief.” Let’s do it right now, It’s just an hour away.”
“But what if Great Grand Father was right and the kidnappers are there?” Asked the Chief. “We really need to take some backup with us.
Ian immediately volunteered, “I’ll go.”
“That’s fine, but I mean real backup, the Chief said. We’ll take some of my officers and some armed park rangers.”
Mr. Townsly volunteered, “I’ll go too.”
“No, Mr. Townsly, you’ll need to stay here to arrange the money transfer in case it’s needed, and to take possible calls from the kidnappers.”
Mr. Townsly agreed. He did not want the kidnappers to suspect they were going after them.
Roy, Chief Ryan, Great grandfather and Joseph led the police cars to Flat Head Lake turn off. No one had ever been there for many years. The old road had been closed since 1954 due to a rock slide.
The raiding party had to hike in the last quarter mile and passed a tan SUV well hidden in the woods as they hiked by. They arrived at the shack in early morning just as the sky was brightening. One policeman hid in the nearby-out house and one policeman behind it. Ian and Roy snuck up to the house on the windowless side. They rest positioned themselves in the woods near the house, but stayed well hidden.
Suddenly, the creaking shack door swung open and a woman appeared in a night dress. She stretched and looked around. Then, she went back inside the cabin and returned, pulling Millie out onto the porch. Millie was reluctant to do anything they wanted her to do. The woman slapped her and then dragged her toward the out-house. When Millie refused to open its door, the woman did. To her surprise, two arms reached out and grabbed her; her mouth was quickly taped shut and she was warned not to make any noise. One policemen escorted her away into the woods, and one helped Millie hurry to cover in the woods.
A few minutes later a man’s voice called from within the shack. Apparently, he wondered where the women was. He stepped out onto the porch and called again. Ian could see he had a pistol tucked into his belt. He called the woman again and then stepped off the porch and walked over to the outhouse. He knocked on the door and called the woman’s name again. When he received no reply, he opened the door. He was met with the barrel of a 44 magnum revolver inches from his nose. He, also, was escorted into the nearby woods. Immediately Roy, Ian and the police chief advanced to the house and stepped onto the creaky porch, holding their rifles ready. They were met with a volley of shots from within through the thin shack walls. The Chief fell back off the porch, grazed in his arm. Roy and Ian raised their semi-automatic hunting rifles and emptied both magazines through the door and walls of the shack while a medic policeman dragged the Chief off the porch and tried to stop the bleeding. Another policeman called for an emergency helicopter. No sounds came from the shack. Policemen cautiously open the door and, with guns ready, went inside. “All clear!” they shouted. “We got him. This guy in here is dead.”
Everyone was relieved and congratulated each other. Great Grandfather smiled broadly showing his yellow teeth, which he seldom did. He would have another good story to tell his other great grand-children.
Millie was in great shape and did not seem any the worse for wear. She was pumped with excitement and was on Roy’s cell phone telling her mom and Dad she was alright.
When they finally returned home, Ian corralled her and ushered her back to their bungalow. Likewise, Roy and Ashly retired to theirs. They were exhausted. The Chief’s wound was not serious enough to prevent him from talking to reporters at the hospital.
The next day everyone slept in and then met for a late breakfast about noon. It was announced that there would soon be a double wedding. It would take place in the park next to a small scenic lake. Only family and close friends were invited. That included Great Grandfather and family, and the police, and park rangers who rescued Millie.
Chapter Nineteen – The Wedding Vision
After the wedding, everyone was invited to a big bash at the ballroom of the largest hotels in town. It sounded like it would be fun, and it would have been except for an unforeseen event.
The morning of the wedding was beautiful. A small tent was set up with cold champagne for the two dozen special guests. A guitarist strummed a few tunes before the ceremony. The brides and grooms stood on a boat dock with a secular official who gave the vows to both couples. It was a beautiful ceremony.
As the ceremony concluded, what sounded like a distant shot was heard, and Ashly screamed and fell into Roy’s arms. As he laid her down on the grass he could see her white wedding dress had turned red. One of The Research Center’s vet rushed to her, assessed her wound and worked to stop the bleeding. A woman screamed into her telephone to send emergency services while Chief Ryan and his deputies visually searched the surrounding woods for the shooter.
No one noticed Great Grandfather standing alone at the edge of the lake. He was standing looking out over the placid lake fondly remembering his past six wives, when the shot rang out. He did not turn to see Ashly fall, but heard the screams. Maria was the first to see his arm go up and his finger point. She tugged at her mother’s arm and said, “Great Grandfather has seen something, maybe a vision Look at him. He’s pointing across the lake.”
As Roy leaned over Ashly, Maria’s mother pulled on his arm. She pointed to Great Grandfather, still standing quietly pointing out across the lake. “Great Grandfather had a vision. You need to share it with him.”
Roy followed Great Grandfather’s pointed finger. After a moment of searching the opposite shore line he spotted the place where Great Grandfather was pointing. Roy called out to Chief Ryan. “Quick, come with me!”
Chief Ryan took Roy’s advice immediately. They ran to the Sheriff’s police car. “Don’t turn on your lights or sirens,” Roy told Chief Ryan as they pulled out on the main road. The park rangers followed in their car.
It did not take the little posse more than five minutes to reach the spot where they thought the shot came from. During that five minutes, Great Grandfather whispered something to Joseph, who immediately ran to his father’s pickup. He opened the door and grabbed the old hunting rifle hanging across the back window. He ran to Great grandfather and gave him the gun and a handful of dusty shells. Great Grandfather dropped all the shells to the grass, except one. He slipped the shell into the rifle’s chamber and then motioned to Joseph to stand back. The old man positioned the rifle barrel on a tree limb near the shoreline and then stopped for a moment. He pulled old wire framed spectacles from a breast pocket and put them on. Then, without hesitation, he took careful aim, looked up once to check for wind on the lake, and fired.
Police Chief Ryan and Roy silently rolled into the entrance ramp of a small picnic area next to the lake. The lot was empty except for one empty dark sedan near the exit ramp. There were several picnic tables, but one had been moved to the water’s edge. Roy was the first to reach the table. On the table was a shooter’s tripod with a scoped rifle mounted on it.
“Are we too late?” asked Chief Ryan. “Is the shooter gone?”
“Apparently not.” Answered Roy, “Take a look.” As the Chief reached the table he saw a man lying on his back with blood trickling from a hole in his forehead.
Five minutes later, while they were still examining the body, an old red pick-up truck rolled into the parking lot. In it was Joseph’s dad, Great Grandfather and Joseph.
Great, Grandfather’s shot from the wedding party location across the lake to the shooter was about two hundred yards. Later, Joseph told Roy that Great Grandfather never missed at that close distance. But now, something was on Great, Grandfather’s mind as he walked around the crime scene. He whispered to Joseph and pointed down the path along the shore to Magic Falls. Joseph immediately took Roy’s hand and pulled him in that direction. Joseph was so insistent that Roy and Chief Ryan and several officers followed. The path led to what had come to be a favorite tourist attraction. Magic Falls was the main source of water for the lake. It was a forty-foot cascade of water that thundered into a churning basin, and then flowed out to the lake. The mist was thick and the thunder of the water fall was deafening. Joseph became more insistent as they neared the falls.
“Another bad man is hiding in the falls.” Joseph excitingly blurted out. “Great, Grandfather says there were two shooters.” Joseph pulled out the little knife he always carried in a leather sheath at his waist and away he ran, down the trail to the falls. Roy followed as fast as he could on the winding trail. Joseph reached the falls and immediately turned and waved for Roy to follow him. He disappeared behind the sheet of falling water. Roy followed Joseph behind the falls
A slippery and stony path behind the falls led them upward about forty feet toward the top of the falls. Joseph stopped and pulled Roy up next to him. He pointed through the mist. There, crouched down on a rock where the path abruptly ended, was a dark and wet figure. Joseph waved his knife and yelled at the figure before Roy could stop him. The figure turned to face them, hesitated just a moment and then hurled himself into the falling sheet of water in and disappeared. Joseph followed right after him. “Jump hard and out!” he yelled back to Roy as he disappeared into the falling water.
Roy had no idea why he followed the little aboriginal boy but he did. He had come to trust the kid. He leaped out into the plunging water and immediately found himself falling into a powerful up-draft. It threw him off balance as he fell the forty feet into the basin below. Roy landed on his back with a huge splash, but totally unhurt. The up-draft had been strong enough to slow his fall.
A yell from Joseph brought him to his senses. Joseph was chasing the dark figure back to the parking lot. Roy followed. The figure scrambled into the dark sedan and gunned the engine. As he did, Chief Ryan’s police car rolled in front of him blocking his escape. Joseph danced around the car, knife in hand while Chief Ryan pulled the man out of the car and put handcuffs on him. The suspect was not the shooter but turned out to be an ex-guide for the defunct Hunting Consortium.
Still soaking, Roy hurried back to the wedding party and his wounded bride. Ashly’s bleeding was stopped by the attending vet and an ambulance rushed her and Roy off to the hospital.
The next day she joked about where she had been shot. It was a superficial wound in and through the flesh of her left buttock. Later, at the hospital her doctor told Roy there would be no lasting damage…except for a scar. When Ashly heard that, she made Roy promise they would consult a plastic surgeon in Hobart as soon as possible. Everyone had a good laugh.
As for the dead shooter, he was eventually identified as the ex-President of the Hunting Consortium who was out on bail. He was deeply in debt from his failed business. Initially, he had unsuccessfully tried to sabotage the Research Center so he could trap or shoot thylacines for Middle East Buyers. Even one thylacine would have saved his business and paid off his mounting debts. He was bitter and the shooting was simply an act of revenge. Now, he no longer had to worry about those debts.
Great, Grandfather became a local hero. It was difficult to tell if he enjoyed his fame and all the interviews, but Joseph and Maria did. They acted as translators and PR agents. They became the most popular kids in town and frequent visitors to the Marsupial Research Center. To their delight, Roy found after school jobs for both of them at the Center.
The Marsupial Research Center directed by Roy and Ian continued to prosper and insure that Marsupials would not soon fall victim to civilization.
Ian, Millie, Roy and Ashly lived happy and productive lives at the Center… until an unforeseen event occurred that threatened the Center and their lives.
Chapter Twenty – Forest Fire (to be continued)
WOLFRIC – Pleistocene humans are threatened by climate change and other humans
It was the end of the Pleistocene Era, about fifteen thousand years ago. Human populations, that survived the ice age, now had to deal with warming temperatures and the changes it brought. Changing climate stimulated innovations, new technology and the domestication of animals that made the survival of humans possible. But, as human populations increased, contact with other humans often caused conflicts, as it does today.
This is the story of a Mammoth Clan that for generations annually migrated from their Summer bone and ivory lodges of the northern grasslands, to their caves in a sheltered valley to the south. But, change was in the wind.
The Clan – Related human family groups that migrated according to the seasons.
Wolfric – Leader of the Clans and father of Little Cub.
Little Cub – Wolfric’s son who was renamed Edom.
Edom – Son of Wolfric.
Indi – Edom’s mate.
Auroch Riders – Warrior and traders from the South who rode giant ox like animals called aurochs.
Immigrators – Tribes from the Northwest that were driven into Clan territory by glacier-melt floods and the aggressive Indus Camel Riders to their South.
Indus Camel Riders-Warrior tribes from the south who forced the immigrators South into Clan lands.
Great Black Wolf – Wolf pack leader and companion of Wolfric.
White Wolf – Offspring of the Great Black Wolf and companion of Little Cub (Edom).
Runners – Horses.
Bow weapons – Bows and arrows.
Bow cords – Bow strings
Killing sticks and feathered sticks – Arrows
Doncs – Donkeys
Ice wall – Glacier
Moon – Month
Generation – About 25 years
Mastodon, Mammoth – Elephant like animals
Throwing stick – A hand-held stick that fitted into the end of a spear shaft and enabled a hunter to throw a spear a longer distance.
Floating islands – Ancient Ships
Meta – Metal
It was just another day in their migration. The small Mammoth Clan plodded along a wide but shallow river that rushed over flat boulders and sometimes dropped into small narrow canyons. Some of the Clan walked along the shore and some waded in the river itself hoping to find crawdads and lazy fish in shallow pools. They dragged and carried their sparse belongings; important things like furs and clothes to protect themselves from the cool nights in the caves and rainy days ahead. They lugged choice stone cooking bowls, flint and iron fire starting stones, and cutting stones vital to their survival in woven baskets slung over their shoulders. Each adult clan member carried enough food for several days and the men all were well armed with spears of different lengths, some for throwing and longer ones for stabbing from a distance. Some spears had fire hardened points and some had sharp flint stones fastened to their tips with hardened tree sap and leather twine. All the men carried stone clubs and sharp flint knives. The Clan members were dressed with expertly layered clothing designed and sewn by the clan women.
The Clan traveled this very trail to the Southern Caves for many generations, more than the oldest member of the clan could remember. This migration brought them from their fair weather hunting grounds on the Northern Plains, where mammoths and mastodons still roamed, to their cave labyrinths in the south and milder weather. Fortunately, their summer lodges made of mammoth tusks and rib bones covered with mammoth and bear skin hides were situated in a valley surrounded by mountains that were a barrier to the advancing ice wall and cold temperatures.
Ages ago, the river bed, they now followed, was a raging torrent that created their protected valley; its power carved many caves in the high rocky banks. The river valley had once been a perfect habitat for the giant beavers that dammed the river and created the fertile soil and lush valley filled with thick bushes and aspen trees. The beavers were giants, larger than the cave bears, but had poor defenses and long ago fell prey to the short faced bears, the long toothed lions and, the most feared predators of the time, humans. The surviving beavers were forced to migrate far up river to a high plateau, a land of mixed woodlands and fewer predators, perfect for new dams. The life-giving river flowed through the Clan’s sheltered valley to parts unknown; legend was it flowed to an endless Salt Sea.
Deer, aurochs and bison often migrated down the river from the grasslands into the lush valley inhabited by the clans during the cold weather time on the grasslands. In the past, mammoths and mastodons also inhabited the valley, but the changing climate and prolonged human predation now limited their habitat to the Northern Grasslands. Mammoths had been the Clan’s prime source of food for many generations, but the changing climate and constant hunting by the Clans had decimated them.
Predators such as the ever-present wolves, long toothed lions, hyenas and short face bears were never far away. Small scavenger cats, foxes and coyotes were everywhere, many migrating south along with the clan. Most wolves had lost fear of the humans and knew food scraps and the remains of game would be their reward sooner or later as they followed the humans. They had a mutual understanding with the humans; their presence protected the Clans from large predators in exchange for animal carcasses. It was a natural association in the process of growing.The trek south from the grasslands had slowed due to the oldest clan member, whose eyes were useless and her leg joints crippled with disease. Every step was painful and labored. Fortunately, her belongings were willingly carried by her grandchildren. She was the grand old mother who had birthed so many and was related to nearly everyone. The clan now numbered thirty-six including Eight infants carried by their mothers and twelve adolescents. The matriarch was proud to be grandmother and great grandmother of most of them. In her youth, many of the children had slept with her for warmth and many men had been her mate. She was lovingly called Old Grandmother by everyone. But now, she lagged behind the clan with her group of young followers.
Little Cub’s father was called Wolfric due to his able leadership and close association with the great black wolf pack leader. As leader of the clan he tolerated its slowed schedule because he himself was one of the great grandsons of the old woman and his heart was sad at the thought of losing her. But, he had a specific and vital duty to his Clan and the other Clans migrating to the valley caves. Were Wolfric’s clan to arrive late to the caves, there would be poor site pickings and less desirable caves available. Deep caves, that provided better protection from rain and winds, were sought by all the clans. Fires were more difficult to maintain and food more difficult to cook in the shallow caves. Children would have less space to play safely. The clan rule was “first come, first choice of cave.” And, other related Clans were just days behind them.
The Clan was still ten days from the winter caves, and they had to hurry. Wolfric looked over his shoulder and saw the women and children helping Old Grandmother, but it seemed that she got slower every day. Now, with each few steps, she had to stop to catch her breath. She had been relieved of her carry things days ago, but still she struggled along with just the weight of her clothes and a fox -fur shawl which she clutched around her shoulders. Her daughters, and grand-children constantly urged her on but it was no use. She stumbled and fell many times and had to be helped up. Her hands and knees were bloody from the falls. Wolfric cut several long poles and made a little platform on its end, padded with skins so the old one could lie on it and be dragged along. He pulled her for several days himself. This was an improvement but still slowed the clan. Now, the river trail was no longer suitable for his sled.
The leader’s decision was a hard one but it had to be done. Old Grandmother expected Wolfric’s decision for days. She witnessed many similar events in the past where a Clan member had to be abandoned for the sake of the whole Clan. Clan members unable to keep up with the fast-moving Clans just gave up and sat down under a tree or a sheltered place awaiting the end. Predators would eventually find the dead or dying human and have a meal. They would enjoy the warm flesh and gorge themselves. Scavengers would quickly consume the remains. But, the predators would not linger long. They would continue their way southward tracking the humans. Most of the Clans felt this method of death was the intended way and made the most sense. Wolfric was the exception. He had another solution for those too weak and unable to migrate South.
Words were not spoken when Wolfric finally came to Old Grandmother and helped her to a comfortable place under a tree. Her daughters cried as they gathered wood and built a fire for her. They left her enough food for several days, and then were shooed away by Wolfric. Mournfully, they left the old one to herself and the fate nature intended. Some children had to be dragged away by their mothers. Finally, they lost sight of her at a river bend in the river. Tears were shed by all of the children, most of the women, and even a few of the men. Everyone would miss her company, but most importantly, they would sorely miss her accumulated wisdom and stories around the campfire.
Once the Clan was out of sight, Wolfric knelt by the old woman and stroked the tired but still smiling face. Her eyes were closed now and Wolfric patiently waited for her breathing to stop. A tear rolled down his cheek as he called her name for the last time. There was no answer. He could not detect any breathing. He took a deep breath before striking her a quick blow to the side of her head with his stone club. She slumped over, all life definitely departed. Wolfric had to be sure there was no life left in her when the scavengers arrived. Now he knew for sure she had no more pain. The Wise One felt a wet nose against his bare leg. The great black wolf leader, his companion for many seasons, was at his side patiently watching what he had already seen many times. Wolfric reached down and scratched the great black head and said, “Take her quickly to her ancestors, as you have done for others for so many seasons, my friend.” Then, Wolfric turned and hurried to catch up to his people down the river. He did not look back as the wolf pack joined their leader next to the still human body. Nature would claim its own.
The Clan did little hunting as they traveled south along the river. They were well stocked with smoked meat and bags of roots and berries they gathered along the way. Occasionally, a careless deer was killed and the clan shared the fresh meat.
Soon, the Clan had made up lost time and was actually ahead of schedule. They were confident they would have first choice of the best and deepest caves low on the cannon wall.
The sun came and went nine times. Wolfric recognized every turn of the river and knew they were close, he urged the clan on even faster to where the river was once mighty and had carved out multiple caves on both sides of the great valley.
Wolfric’s Clan arrived in the valley first and chose the same cave they had occupied for many years. It, and all the other caves on both sides of the valley looked directly out on the valley’s flat sandy river channels that flowed beneath the caves. Fishing always was good. Many game animals came to the water in spite of the occupied caves. With so many game animals, the long toothed lions, hyenas, wolves and short faced bears were commonly seen hunting in the expansive river valley. Because of this, only armed adults were allowed to enter the valley floor and children had to stay in the caves unless accompanied by armed hunters. Those clan members in the valley, who were not hunting, purposely made noise to warn the predators away. This usually was enough to avoid an accidental meeting with a bear or lion. The ever-burning campfires and series of thorn barricades on the narrow trails up to the caves from the valley floor kept the caves safe. With protection from the hunters, Clans often visited each other and traded in the valley. Now was the time for young adults to pick mates and often join another Clan. Some Clans would eventually leave the summer camping grounds with more members and some would have fewer members. Usually, clan population remained constant or grew slightly as babies replaced the those who died of old age and in hunting accidents.
These were exciting times for unmarried young men who would stake out a claim for a young female and threaten to fight for her. Fights seldom occurred as there seemed to always be enough young females to fill the needs of the maturing males. Nature took it natural turn both in death and creation.
It was still dark when Little Cub woke up. He was warmly buried under several soft animal skins with his siblings. With some difficulty, he disentangled himself from them without wakening anyone. He pulled on warm clothes and walked to the cave entrance where two boys his age were dutifully tending the entrance fire. Little Cub walked over to the edge of the cave and looked down into the darkness of the river valley and then across to the far side of the valley and the night fires of the clan people who lived there. He heard the cry of an auroch as it tried to escape a predator down in the dark valley. Little cub casually relieved himself over the side of the cave as he listened to the sounds below. One of the fire tenders, a close friend of Little Cub, joined him.
“Maybe the hunters will take us with them on their hunt today.” Little Cub ventured. He would plead again for that privilege in the morning. With his father’s guidance, he had made his own adult spear and attached a sharp thin flint to its end. He had already used it to kill a rabbit and several other rodents he found in the cave. He could skin and gut a small animal as fast as any clan member. Up to now he had to watch from a distance as the hunters surrounded and killed an auroch or wild pig with their spears and clubs. Flint knives were sharp enough to skin a large animal in a short time. Pieces of the animal were carved up and quickly carried to the cave before the kill attracted the long toothed lions and bears. There were always remains left for scavengers. Lions were the animal the humans feared the most. Large cave bears mostly ate plants and berries, and were not a threat, but the smaller but more aggressive short faced bears were to be feared. Little Cub sat down on the cave’s edge and watched the Eastern sky turn from black to a light blue. Dark hunting shadows flew across the valley as the sun rose and warmed the West side of the valley. Hunting bats gave up their search for insects and darted back into the depths of uninhabited caves. The East side of the valley stayed cool for most of the morning until the sun was high enough to warm it and the chilled inhabitants. At fifteen seasons, he was ready for a real hunt of dangerous animals. Today, the half the hunters planned to stampede a small herd of bison into fast flowing river channel so the other half of the hunters could ambush them as they climbed the opposite steep bank. They hoped to separate several young animals from their mothers and kill them in the confusion. That very plan had worked many times before.
The hunting party started out as soon there was enough light to see. The hunters separated into two groups as planned. One group waited on the steep bank of a section of fast flowing rapids, with two of the boys, while the other group and Little Cub circled around behind a herd of grazing bison on the other side of the river. There were not more than twenty animals so the hunters formed a semi-circle around them cutting off escape up-river and down-river. The hunters yelled and charged the herd which bolted toward the river. As hoped, the whole herd stayed together as they stampeded. Unfortunately, the bison never reached the river; they were diverted by two hyenas that ambushed the lead bison and turned the herd around in its tracks, backward into the hunters. Two hunters were bowled over by the stampede and the rest scattered, except for Little Cub. A half-grown bison headed his way, but instead of running for cover, Little Cub jammed the butt end of his spear firmly into the ground and directed its point at the approaching bison’s chest. Little Cub held his spear steady until the last moment, when he dove to one side to avoid a collision with the bison, that weighed four times his weight. The dust was thick as he picked himself up from the ground so he had no idea if his plan had worked. He stumbled through the dust and then tripped over something soft. It was the young bison impaled on his broken spear. It was dead. Little Cub screamed in victory; he had made his first kill. As the dust settled his joy turned to fear. He saw a fearsome sight loping toward him from the river. The hyenas, having missed bringing down a bison, were searching for another chance, and here before them was a kill for the taking. Little Cub backed away slowly hoping the hyenas had not yet noticed him. Both hyenas sniffed around the dead bison.
Finally, one hyena tore open the bison’s belly and jammed his head inside, pulling at organs, but the other hyena nervously sniffed the air in Little Cub’s direction. Little Cub continued to back away slowly as the hyena approached still sniffing the air. Little Cub could not hide from or out run this huge predator and his spear lay broken in the dead bison. The hyena finally saw Little Cub and froze trying to determine what this creature was and if it was dangerous. Little Cub never understood why he reacted as he did at that moment. He jumped into the air waving both arms and screamed as loud as he could. The hyena crouched cautiously, and then backed off snarling. The other hyena stopped feeding and retreated with its companion. They had never encountered such a strange threatening animal. Little Cub continued to jump and prance up and down and make threatening mock charges while continuing the screaming. He held up both his arms and opened and closed his hands as if they were claws. The hyenas backed off until they bumped into heavy brush along the river. They lost their nerve, turned abruptly and ran along the river bank without looking back.
Little Cub was elated and continued to scream at the hyenas. He did a little dance aroundthe dead bison and then heard a strange sound which sounded a little like laughter. He looked up and then behind himself. Standing around him were the hunters and his father. They were laughing at Little Cub’s victory dance and song. This would make a good story back at the cave around the fire. Little Cub was embarrassed and not sure what the hunters thought of him. Did they think he was silly or brave?
The hunters skinned and cut the bison into pieces small enough to carry. They loaded choice organs and muscle meat on their backs and headed down river to the nearest shallow crossing closest to their cave. The hunters gave Little Cub one thing to carry back, it was the bison’s heart. They fondly patted him on the back and shoulders. Little Cub’s heart raced with joy. It was an honor to carry the heart. He stopped to retrieve his spear point and then joined the hunters as they carried their meat back to the cave. They met the other hunters on the way back. They had been unsuccessful in their hunt due to the hyena’s appearance, but their spirits lifted when they saw their companions with the load of meat. They marveled at the story of Little Cub’s kill and braveThat evening there was much talk, celebration and feasting. Around the cooking fire, Little Cub’s father, Wolfric, was the first to brag about his son’s achievement. Thereafter, each hunter told the story again and again from each separate point of view. Two hyenas soon became four hyenas, then six. Soon the story had Little Cub driving the six hyenas away with his magic song and dance. The feasting continued far into the night. Finally, Little Cub’s mother and father dragged their exhausted son away from the celebration and pulled him down next to them on a bison robe in the cave’s interior. His father dragged another bison robe over the three of them, and soon the family was asleep, cuddled together, safe and warm. Two of Little Cub’s younger siblings snuck under the furs with them. It was a day and a story the Clan would tell for generations. Little Cub never was quite sure whether he had scared off the hyenas or the hunters had. It did not matter, he felt that day he became a man and a hunter for the Clan.
The next half moon was to be the beginning of Year Trading Days, where Clans and individuals had the opportunity to trade and bargain for needed items. A wide sandy expanse in the middle of the valley, where the river parted, was chosen for the event. Often, total strangers from down river attended and brought with them exotic items such as pretty bracelets, shiny bright stone necklaces, carved ivory cups and hair combs One new trader caught everyone’s attention. Nothing was known about him except he was he was from the far South. The statuesque man was dark as the night sky and two heads taller than any clan member. He had no hair on his thin muscular body and shiny head which he usually covered with a wrap of unfamiliar bright material. A similar material, also not from an animal’s hide, was draped around his slim body. When he smiled, his bright white teeth were a wonder to Little Cub and his friends. He was so different looking, he attracted everyone’s attention, especially, when he mounted the auroch-like beast he had ridden in on. He rode it wherever he wanted to go and it would obey him as he pulled on leather straps attached to a shiny ring in its nose. It was truly a marvel no one ever could have imagined was possible. A Man riding an animal! This strange man also brought items with him that he called meta. He laid them out on his soft material and let everyone touch them. They were shinny orange/brown but there were several pieces that caught everyone’s attention. One was brilliant yellow, like the sun had been captured in it, and the other was shinny like the white moon. He had several pieces in his bag that had already been shaped into jewelry and even knife blades and spear points. They were very hard and heavy, but not as hard or sharp as flint. He wore this strange meta attached to his ears, and on his arms and ankles. Everyone was interested in acquiring a piece. Later in afternoon the stranger unwrapped a strange new weapon to show the clan. The older hunters had heard about it but never seen it used before. He called it a bow weapon. It shot small thin sticks with feathers attached to their ends and sharp flints or meta points attached to their tips. The next day he promised to demonstrate how it was used. Little Cub’s father invited the stranger to join them in their cave that night and share fresh meat. The clan provided bearskin rugs for the stranger by the fire and helped lead his auroch up the trail to a safe place past the first barricade. Little Cub and his friends watched the strange man sleep until they drifted off themselves. That day was momentous for all the clan families, but tomorrow would be even more amazing.
In exchange for bear and bison skins, leather clothes, quality flint knives and spear points, the tall stranger traded jewelry and shiny stones. Finally, it was time to demonstrate what he called a “bow weapon”. He threw an old bearskin over low bushes far down the river bank and challenged the best spear throwers in the clans to hit it with their spears. No one could do it. It was out of spear range. The best throwers in the clans could not reach half way to the target unless they used their throwing sticks. But at that distance they were inaccurate. Even the stranger with his long arms could not come close.
The stranger showed his white teeth in a big smile as he unwrapped a skin package. In it lay a long piece of wood, as long as Little Cub ’s leg, and a thin braided leather cord. Several smaller thin sticks lay beside it. The stranger flexed the wood and fastened the cord to both ends so the wood remained slightly bent. Then he took one of the thin pieces of wood with feathers glued to its end and stuck its notched end onto the middle of the cord. Everyone watched as he raised the crossed sticks toward the distant bear skin target. He tilted the wood sticks upward and pulled the cord backwards to his nose and straightened the arm that held the bent stick. In a flash, he released the cord from his fingers and as the bent stick straightened, the feathered stick flew like a hawk toward the target. To everyone’s amazement the feathered stick flew past the target and stuck into a nearby sandy bank. The next feathered stick landed close to the target and the third stick hit the target. All the hunters ran up to the bearskin to examine it. The feathered stick had penetrated completely through the bearskin. The hunters and a contingent of boys examined the stick and the skin carefully. They asked the stranger to do it again, which he did, hitting the skin again. Again, they ran back to the target to examine the stick with feathers that flew like a bird. The hunters examined the large stick with the cord attached to its ends. They wanted to try the bow and feathered sticks themselves. One man from each Clan family was selected to try the bow. None hit the target, but Little Cub’s father came the closest. The Clansmen tried using the bow up closer to the bearskin so all could hit the target. Not only did they hit the target but they sent the sharp sticks through the heavy skin. This impressed everyone. The stranger did something next that fascinated the clansmen. He took a feathered stick that had small sharp meta point and attached to it with tree resin and a thin braided cord. He let the hunters examine it. Then, the stranger shot the feathered stick through two thicknesses of the bear skin. Even a strong hunter could not drive a sharp knife through two thicknesses of a bear skin. The stranger then shot his sharp stick through three thicknesses of bear skin, to the amazement of everyone. The hunters sat in awe and silence as they thought how effective this strange device and could be when hunting mammoths. They could kill an antelope while it was out of spear throwing range and several hunters could kill a bear without having to get within spear range. Up close the weapon could easily wound or kill the largest shaggy bison or elk through its saggy winter coat. Every clan wanted to trade for the bow weapon
Unfortunately, the Clan soon discovered the high price for the new weapon. The stranger took several skin wrapped packages from his pile of trade goods and opened them. Inside each package was a bow, a braided cord and three feathered killing sticks. They were for trade, but the price was high. The price startled the Clans into silence once they fully understood the high cost.
Word of the human price soon spread to the woman who were watching the stranger and their hunters negotiate the price. The women were upset and angry. Little Cub and his friends did not understand at all. The stranger walked over to where the women were gathered and pulled out several young girls; one girl for each set of bow and feathered sticks. As soon as the women fully understood the extent of the trade they pulled their daughters back and stepped protectively in front of them. They angrily shouted their discontent to their mates and fathers of the girls. Never before had any of the clans forced a girl to leave her family. Young men and women always had a choice.
The tall stranger had negotiated this price before with other clans and tribes, sometime successfully but usually not. He knew that these young clan females would fetch a high price to the south. Back into his own nation, the unique fair skinned women would be worth many cattle, and much power.
Little Cub’s Clan and the other families, gathered together at the trading days, had no way of knowing that to the south other tribes had experienced similar traders, all attempting to trade weapons for young females.
Little did the hunters know that just two day’s travel to the south, awaited a group of the stranger’s companions, all with auroch mounts and all carrying bow weapons. With them, securely tied, were girls from southern tribes. What the strangers could not achieve by trade, they took by force. Those tribes that agreed to sell or trade a girl were soon to discover they were deceived. And, they soon discovered their trade was deceptive. The bow weapons were not as they were expected to be.
After a heated discussion among the leaders of the gathered Clans, it was agreed that Little Cub’s father would speak for all the Clans. But first, he approached the gathered Clan’s women clutching their daughters. Although the stranger knew little of the Clan’s language, Wolfric led the women out of hearing range and explained what the men had decided. The women were appeased.
Wolfric explained as best he could to the stranger what the conditions of the trade were to be. All furs and leather goods were tradable but no young girls would be traded. The stranger stopped grinning. His white teeth vanished for the first time behind tight lips during his visit. He took Wolfric and the clan leaders away from the women and explained again that he only wanted young women, girls if possible, who would marry rich young men of his nation to the South. His explanation was not believed by Wolfric or any other of the Clan leaders. They had come to realize this white toothed man was really trading for slaves. Slavery was against the rules of the Mammoth Clans. No one could be forced to function as a slave or forced to marry against their will. This was the long tradition of the clans. The custom had been successful for generations, as long as anyone could remember. The custom worked well and it would take more than a smiling stranger and bow weapons to change it.
Wolfric, backed by the Clan leaders, faced the stranger again, totally united. He explained again as best he could, “No Clan members wanted to leave and he would honor their wishes.”
The stranger’s face darkened into a scowl. For the second time since he arrived on his auroch, his white teeth could not be seen.
Again, he argued how valuable the bow weapons would be in hunting and fighting their neighbors.
The Clansmen were surprised at the stranger’s argument. They never fought with their neighbors. Cooperation was crucial if they were to survive hard times. The Clans shared hunting grounds and winter quarters. They intermarried, traded and socialized with neighbors at gatherings such as the one at the end of summer. Trading, was a way of life but war among the Clans was unacceptable in their history!
While the negotiations were going on, Little Cub and his friends snuck over behind the auroch to get a closer look at the bow weapons. Little Cub was eager to try one of these strange bows. He stole one from the pile laid out by the stranger. The boys ran into an open space down the river with their prize. Once they were well away from the trading area, Little Cub unwrapped the bow. He tied the cord as the stranger did and flexed it several times. Little Cub took one of the thin sticks and tried to attach it to the cord. It was difficult, but he finally succeeded. Little Cub pulled the string as far back as his strength would allow and then let go. The little spear flipped up high into the air and then fell back to the ground. Little Cub wanted to try again but his companions thought they could do better. All four of his companions tried the bow. Each pulled the bow weapon back as far they could and then let go of the cord. After each of the boys had an unsuccessful try at pulling the cord back it was Little Cub’s turn again. This time he pulled harder on the cord. He pulled it back to his nose and then straightened his arm like the stranger had done. Before he could let go of the cord, it broke. It snapped in his face and left a red welt on his cheek. Little Cub’s companions laughed at the failed attempt, but Little Cub knew he had done nothing wrong.
“Don’t laugh” He yelled over his friend’s laughter. “I did nothing wrong.” Little Cub examined the broken cord to see why it had broken. He ran it up and down through his fingers and noticed that there was a rough area in the middle of the cord where the little spear had been attached. He looked carefully and noticed a series of small cuts in the cord. Little Cub’s companions examined the cord and all agreed there were little cuts in it. The boys talked it over and finally decided there was no doubt, the cord had been purposely cut and weakened.
They rushed back to the auroch and the other bundles of bows. The hunters were still arguing with the stranger and did not notice the boy’s second theft. They stole another bow and ran back along the river. The boys huddled around Little Cub as he ran his fingers over the middle of the cord. They all took turns and agreed it felt rough in its middle like the first one had. Upon close examination, they could see little cuts in the cord like the first one. “What does this mean?” asked one of Little Cub’s friends.
The boys talked it over and all agreed that both cords had been purposely weakened, and would break after been used a few times. But, why, they wondered, would the tall trader want to weaken his trade bows? It made no sense to the boys. The bows would be no good for hunting or fighting if need be.
Little Cub and his friends discussed their discovery and decided Little Cub should tell his father about the weakened bow cords. It was possible that there were other defects in the trade bows as well.
Little Cub was hesitant. Who was he to tell the hunters that the bows were defective? They might be insulted to have a boy tell them something they should have discovered themselves.
Meanwhile the trading session was not going well. The tall trader from the South was visibly angry. He finally threatened the hunters. He pointed to the bows and said, “I have companions that will be here soon and they are all armed with bows. If the girls were not traded, they will be taken by force. And, many of you will die needlessly.”
Never had the clans ever received such a threat. They were proud hunters and defenders of their hunting grounds and families. They did not take favorably to the stranger’s threats. Little Cub’s father took the hunters aside and reminded them that the bow weapons would kill many clan members in a war.
Little Cub and his friends joined the group of hunters and listened. Little Cub approached his father and tugged on his hand. He continued to tug on his father’s hand until his father looked at him angrily. “What do you want Little Cub? Can’t you see that I am busy with important things?” Nevertheless, Little Cub dragged his father away from the hunters. His friends gathered around while little Cub confessed they had stolen two bows and cords. The cords broke after only being used several times. Little Cub told his father that the stranger was trying to cheat them. Little Cub’s father called the hunters around him for a private meeting away from the tall Auroch Rider.
He explained, ‘’Even if we throw this stranger out he will return with others, armed with the bow weapons. They could kill us and take our young women.”
The hunters suggested that they could take the stranger’s bow weapons to defend themselves, but little Cub’s father explained that his son and companions had found them to be defective and they were not able to shoot many the feathered sticks before the cords snapped on the bows. “They are little use to us. If we must fight the strangers, we must do it on our terms.”
The hunters returned to the pacing stranger who was now even more angry than before. He realized that trading was better than fighting, but these uncivilized cave men needed to be taught a lesson. “I warn you all, my men will come here and kill everyone except the young women who we will take back to our nation. You cannot beat our bows with your spears. You cannot defeat us!”
His threats scared some of the hunters but angered everyone and especially the women who heard the threats. They screamed and wailed at the aspect of losing their daughters.
The hunters agreed that it would be better to die in battle rather than give in to the stranger. Little Cub’s father announced the Clan’s decision to fight rather than give up their young women. He announced to the stranger, “We will not trade our young women.”
The stranger, upon hearing the news, was furious. He packed up his bows and other trading items and mounted his auroch. As he slowly rode away he appeared to be talking to himself. He turned several times and shook his fist at the gathered Clans. “I will be back you fools. We will take all your young women. We will kill all who resist. You are an ignorant people. You will all die.”
The Clan people watched the stranger disappear down the valley and into the trees along the riverbank. They were unable to understand all his words but they had no doubt about his rage. They knew the stranger would be back, and he would bring a war party with him.
That evening, all the Clan leaders meet in Wolfric’s large cave. Even the women were invited. Wolfric called his son and his sons’ friends to come before the council. He explained to all what the boys had done. He chastised them for stealing the bow weapons and then wacked his son in the back of his head as punishment. The council laughed and the women screamed with delight. They sang a chant of praise and then a chant of bravery in honor of the boys.
Soon after the festivities and the passing of food, prepared by the women of Wolfric’s Clan, the meeting got down to serious business. It was decided that the hunters could not stand in the open and fight against the bow weapons. They would be slaughtered before the enemy got within spear throwing distance. Another choice was to pack up and return to the summer hunting grounds. But, this would take time and still be no guarantee their enemies would not follow. The clan council was unable to come up with a good plan. In a battle, the Clan hunters might outnumber the war party and perhaps win, but the loss of life would be terrible.
There was a prolonged silence in the cave, except for the crying of babies. An old man stood up and slowly walked up to face the council. The campfire smoke billowed around him as he spoke and it made appear he was standing in a sky cloud. “In my youth”, he said, “my grandfather took me on a hunting trip far up the river that flows through our Valley of the Caves. We traveled up river through the narrow pass which is the source of our water. True it was then, as it is now, a difficult journey through treacherous rocks, rapids and the great powerful water fall that seems to drop from the clouds. But, just beyond the great water fall there lies another valley similar to ours, and a great lake. In this high valley dwelt giant beavers that stand taller than a man and are the weight of two cave bears. My great grandfather told me the legend of how our valley and the upper valley was created by the giant beasts. They built lodges and dams that blocked the water and created great lakes. Our forefathers killed most of the beavers in our valley for food, and the remaining ones moved to the upper valley before the great sky waterfall and rapids existed. To this day, their damn still holds back the huge lake of water. The lake was not created, as some believed, by the gods. It was created by the giant beavers, that stopped most of the river from flowing through the treacherous rock canons and rapids. Our river is small now compared to the huge torrent of water it once was when it created our caves in our protected valley. Perhaps one day the beavers will reclaim our valley.”
Another elder man voiced his agreement with the old man’s story. “What he said is true, at least according to the ancient legend.”
“How does this story help us? How does the giant beavers help us?” asked Wolfric.
The old man continued. He pointed his finger at Wolfric and replied. “When the strangers attack we will wash them away with a giant flood from the giant beaver. You, leader of the Clans, will find the giant beaver and ask him to send us his water.”
The council room fell silent. Finally, Little Cub’s father felt he had to say and do something. “I will go and have council with the giant beaver. I will ask him for some of his vast stores of water. I will ask him, please send us a little of your water to wash our enemies away. We are your people; you made our valley; We have not disturbed you for many years; we have protected your home from strangers; We have left you in peace; our ancestors have long ago made peace with you. Now in our time of need we call upon you to help us.”
The council nodded their heads and murmured to each other that this was a good plan, the only plan. It was quickly settled that Little Cub’s father and a band of hunters would make the perilous climb up the escarpment, along the great rapids and up the great endless water fall to the upper lake and the home of the giant beaver. Everyone hoped the giant beaver would help them.
The next morning, Wolfric and the hunters began their journey past the rapids. They climbed carefully around the huge rocks and deep whirl pools. They climbed up past the giant water fall that fell from the sky. True to the old man’s words, the waterfall did not fall from the sky. In a day’s time of hard climbing, they finally reached the great upper lake. The hunters gasped when they saw it. It looked limitless; it stretched from horizon to horizon, with what looked like many beaver lodges protruding from the placid water. But, standing immediately in front of the waterfall was a huge earthen and wood dam, constructed ages ago and still maintained by the beavers. It blocked the lake water except the small flow released over the waterfall and into the vally of the Mammoth Hunters. Wolfric tried to imagine the terrible destruction if the dam would ever burst. The huge volume of water would sweep away their valley floor and all of its animals. Even the huge bears and aurochs would be swept away if they were caught in the flood. Had the great mammoths still inhabited the valley, they too could not stand against the great deluge from the upper lake. The only survivors would be the people safe in their caves up above the valley floor.
Wolfric and the men with him hoped the Auroch Riders, who wanted their young women, would also be swept away if they were on the valley floor. “This is where our fight will begin and end.” He told them. “It will be on the trails from the valley floor to our safe caves. The thorn barricades, made to keep out prowling long toothed lions and short faced bears, will have to be built larger. They will have to be constructed more strongly and be defended by us to stop the strangers with their bow weapons. We will kill them with rocks and our throwing spears from above.”
He continued, “Our greatest challenge will be in the timing. How will those at the dam know when to release the water? And, how much water should be released? How long would it take the water from the upper lake to reach the lower valley?” Wolfric and his hunters discussed possible answers to these questions. They prayed to the giant beaver gods, in case there were some. They prayed to every god they could think of. They reasoned, it will would do no harm to ask all the gods of nature to help the Clans. “Our cause is just and the stranger’s cause is not. So, with all the gods on our side,” Wolfric predicted, “We have a chance.”
A plan was agreed upon. Four hunters were to stay at the dam and be prepared to enlarge the hole in the dam by a body length, to increase the water flow. They would do this upon seeing a smoke signal from below in the valley. The flood into the valley, hopefully, would catch their enemies by surprise. The Clans would have to retreat to their high caves and barricaded trails. They could fight the strangers from above with rocks and spears and prevent them and their aurochs from avoiding the rising water. They would be swept away and drowned if the plan worked. Little Cub’s father hoped the trails up to the caves would be occupied by wild animals trying to avoid the flood waters as well. If so, the Auroch Riders would have a real fight to reach the caves. The Cave Clans had watched the angry Auroch Rider slowly disappear into the distance along the shore of the river, back to his own lands. It was feared he would soon return with a large war party.
Little Cub’s father returned from the upper lake to the valley to make arrangements in the caves. The people needed to store food and weapons and increase the size and strength of their thorn barricades. The thorns were as long as a finger and as sharp as a sliver of flint. The cave people immediately did as was needed. They also sent out scouts to the South to look for the tall strangers who fight with bows and ride aurochs. In a few days’ time, all was ready. Signal smoke fires were ready to be lit, food and water was stored. Spears were stock piled. Everything was ready for war, a war of survival.
A half-moon later, scouts reported a band of tall strangers riding aurochs had entered the southern end of the valley. The strangers numbered about twenty and they all carried bow weapons.
The giant aurochs plodded along slowly so the Clan scouts easily kept track of them. When the aurochs and their riders reached the middle of the valley along the main river, Little Cub’s father gave the order to light the signal smoke fires. The Clansmen at the dam in the upper lake saw the smoke signals and opened a gaping hole in the ancient beaver dam. The lake water rushed through it, over the sky falls and through the rapids with a roar. The flood rushed into the valley rivers causing them to rise abruptly. A three-foot high wave of rushing water swept southward through the peaceful valley rivers and flooded all but the highest hills. The rapidly rising water drove many animals before it. A few predators that could climb, searched for ways up the steep sides of the valley.
The Auroch Riders were met head on by stampeding animals. They were fleeing from something, but what? At first, the ground shook and the aurochs became restless. They tried to turn and follow the other animals as they streamed past them. Soon, the Riders heard a sound as if they were approaching a waterfall. They noticed the water in the river began rising and soon they over flowed its banks. To the Auroch Rider’s astonishment a three-foot wave of water containing branches and small trees appeared ahead, surging toward them. The aurochs tried to turn back, but the advancing wave of water engulfed them. It stopped the aurochs in their tracks. Their riders did their best to guide their mounts to the sides of the valley, but the incline above water level was too steep for the awkward aurochs. Two of the Auroch Riders were swept away, with their mounts. The rest were forced to dismount and lead the aurochs through the waist deep current. Eventually, they found one of the steep trails that led diagonally up the canon walls to Little Cub’s cave. The Riders left their aurochs tied to trees along the bank, and then with bows drawn, advanced up the trail. A long toothed cat driven there by the flood blocked their way. It pounced upon the first rider and killed him before it leaped away. Moments later, the Auroch Riders were met with an avalanche of rocks from above. Several of their number were injured and one lay groaning on the trail, bleeding from a serious head wound. Two staggered back down the trail while the seventeen others continued their climb. Around a sharp bend in the trail they encountered the first barricade of sharp thorns. It stood the height of a man and was securely anchored to the boulders above. The Auroch Riders lay down their bow weapons and began cutting down the barricade. Half way through the task, a silent flight of spears sailed from above and one found its mark. An Auroch Rider fell, spurting blood from a spear in his back, and tumbled to the valley floor and the surging water.
The Auroch Riders now numbered sixteen not including the wounded. After a sustained effort, they managed to cut a hole in the barricade and continued up the trail with drawn bows. Again, an avalanche of rocks rained down on them from above knocking two attackers off the trail down into the rushing water below in the valley. Now the attackers numbered fourteen plus wounded. They were furious. Never before had they faced such resistance, and they had not yet even seen their enemy. They charged forward, bow weapons ready, expecting to soon reach the cave, but around the next bend in the trail they encountered another thorn barrier, as large as the first. The frustrated warriors screamed in anger. They had to lay down their bows again and then began cutting down the barrier. It was tedious work which was made more difficult by the constant rain of rocks and spears from above. Two more of the attackers were killed by heavy boulders from above and fell to the raging water below. One, who was severely wounded dragged himself back down the trail to where the aurochs stood belly deep in the rushing current. Now, the attackers numbered eleven, plus the unable to fight injured.
Shadows began to creep across the valley and the sky began to darken. The attackers grumbled as they continued to cut thorns away from the trail and pull thorns out of their bleeding hands. The trail was narrow so only two men could work at one time. After much hard work, the thorn branches were cut away, the two unarmed workers were surprised by two clansmen armed with their long thrusting spears. The spears were as long as two of the tall attackers themselves. The Auroch Riders turned to run but as they did they received lethal spear thrusts into their backs. Before their companions could raise their bows the clan warriors had disappeared up the trail and out of sight. The attackers chased after the fleeing clansmen until the trail itself vanished. The first attacker slipped into the void and fell screaming to the valley floor. Now there were eight attackers left, plus the wounded below. The wounded attackers retreated back down the trail and huddled next to their aurochs.
The remaining Auroch Riders were discouraged, and now the valley was becoming dark it was more difficult to see. They had not yet fired their bows and soon they would not be unable to see the narrow treacherous trail. Their leader, the trader who argued with Little Cub’s father, was furious and wanted to continue up the trail, but his companions refused. He reluctantly retreated down the trail with them to where the oxen were held, still belly deep in rushing water.
As they reached their aurochs, a well-aimed boulder bounced down from above and struck an attacker directly on his head, spurting blood over his companions. Now there were seven attackers left. The tall men tried to find cover from more rocks thrown from above. They had to crouch down in cold water next to their aurochs for the night. They ate what little food they could find in their soaking packs and drank muddy water. The attack on the valley was not going well. The surviving Auroch Riders wanted to leave the valley and return home but their leader would have none of it. He planned to resume the attack in the morning. In the darkness of the night, with only a crescent moon peeping through scattered clouds, the Auroch Riders hunkered down next to their animals. No sooner than they nodded off to sleep, some crouching in cold water and some on the shore, the boulders began falling again. Several aurochs were hit and injured by large boulders bouncing down the slopes. The aurochs were terrified and bolted into the dark rushing water. All night long, the rocks fell from above. Two more Auroch Riders were injured by falling rocks. It was a long night for the survivors. As the sky brightened and the stars faded, the weary Auroch Riders shivered behind what little cover they could find on the shore next to the rushing water. They were wet, tired and hungry. Most of them had been hit by rocks and were nursing their wounds. All the aurochs were gone along with their supplies, and the rain of rocks from above continued. It was futile to attack again and it was impossible to leave the valley due to the rushing high water. A few islands of solid ground remained in the valley and it was decided to try to reach the nearest one. At least they would be out of range of the rocks from above. Most of their aurochs were there on the island standing shoulder to shoulder, fending off several wolves that had taken refuge there as well.
The Auroch Riders plunged into the water and struggled toward the island and their aurochs. Spears rained down upon them as soon as they left their cover. Two of the wounded Auroch Riders never made it to the island. They were speared as they struggled to reach the island and were swept down the swollen river. Now there were only five fighters and several wounded Riders. They crouched at the edge of the island behind the oxen that were fending off the wolf attacks. The Aurochs Riders each still had a bow weapon and many sharp pointed killing sticks. They would be useful protecting themselves from the wolves and cave people. The surviving Auroch Riders knew they were beaten; they had no food and nowhere to go except retreat back out of this accursed valley of death when the river water subsided.
The surviving Auroch Riders screamed at their leader, “You lied to us, you promised that our bow weapons would easily slaughter the cave people men and all the young women would be ours for the taking. You told us we would trade the women for many cows and be the richest people in our nation. They were all lies!”
Their leader had no answer for his men. They were right, he had underestimated the cave people who were so primitive they wore animal skins. He was enraged and embarrassed about his miscalculation. He sullenly took their criticisms but planed for revenge. His discouraged men had no idea that their leader was, at that moment, planning to raise a larger force of raiders and attack the valley again. But now was not a good time for him to tell his men of the plan.
Little Cub’s father and the adults of the clan were pleased with themselves. No clan member was killed or wounded and all but four of the raiders were killed or wounded. The story of this battle would be told around the Mammoth Clan’s campfires for many generations to come.
Little Cub’s father ordered his men to light the smoke fire, so those at the dam would know to repair the dam and stop the flood. The repair plan was to drag large dead branches into the gap and fill the spaces with mud and smaller branches, as the beavers had done. This they did but it did not stop the water flow as they anticipated. As they worked to restore the dam to its original state they noticed three large objects swimming in their direction. They were the heads of huge beasts with long flat teeth. The first one rose from the depths and attacked the men. Two other giant beasts joined the first and drove the terrified clansmen off the dam onto the shore. There, in safety, the men watched the giant beavers as they began repairing their dam by hauling large logs, cut branches and mud to the breach in the dam. The beavers worked faster and more efficiently than the men could have, and soon all but the original measured breach in the dam was repaired. For good reason the beavers left this opening in the dam as it had been. The clansmen assumed the upper lake would overflow its shores without this opening to release excess water. The giant beavers were wise. The beavers stood guard next to the dam until the Clansmen left the area and began the treacherous climb back down the side of the great water fall, around the rapids to the valley.
Later that day, on their little end of the island behind their animals, the Auroch Riders noticed the water had slowed and the water level was retreating, leaving mud and debris everywhere. The aurochs also noticed and stampeded through the wolves toward the south end of the island. Strangely, the wolves did not pursue the animals. Easier prey lay before them. The wolves howled and soon more wolves appeared.
The leader of the raiders ordered his men to stand up and fight. “We have enough killing sticks to kill all these wolves. Prepare your bows. Be brave. When we kill the wolves, we will catch our oxen and return home.”
All of the remaining Auroch Riders, and some of their wounded, prepared to shoot the wolves with their bow weapons.
From the cave, and trails to the cave, little Cub’s father and the Clan fighters watched as the battle was about to begin. The lowering of the water flow left the little island surrounded by mud and debris. The Clansmen hoped the wolves would be successful, but when the remaining Auroch Riders put feathered killing sticks onto their bow cords, they worried.
Little Cub’s father prepared his hunters for the worse. “If the Aurochs Riders kill the wolves, we will have to kill the Auroch Riders ourselves. Gather your spears and prepare more rocks.” The Clan watched as the wolves, now numbering at least twenty readied for the attack.
The leader of the Auroch Riders ordered his men to shoot their killing sticks. “Kill the wolves!” he shouted over the growls.
The able Auroch Riders, pulled back their bow cords and were about to let fly their killing sticks when a strange and unexpected event occurred. The watching Clansmen heard several pops and then, several more. The Auroch Riders looked at their bows in horror. All the bow cords, that propelled the sticks, had snapped in two. The sticks fell harmlessly to the ground as the wolves attacked.
The Auroch Riders turned and retreated into the mud. They were soon stopped and found their legs trapped in the mud up to their thighs. They could not move their legs at all. They could not even turn to face the wolves, that stopped before they too became entrapped in the mud. One wolf leaped onto the back of the nearest Auroch Rider and sank its teeth into his neck. As he fell face down into the mud, the wolf balanced safely on his back tearing at his neck. The other Auroch Riders feared for the worse, but the wolves did not resume their attack. They backed off realizing the deep mud was to be avoided.
An elder Clansman voiced an opinion that bothered Little Cub’s father. Let us thank the gods for their intervention, magically breaking all the enemies bow cords. Little Cub’s father rejected this idea. There had to be another reason.
He told his people, “I think the bow cords broke because they were soaked and weakened in our flood water. I can’t think of any other reason. If a god wanted to intervene, he could have done it long before today. A god could have hidden our valley from the invaders.” The clan agreed. “If it was a god, it was not a wise or powerful god.”
The surviving Auroch Riders desperately tried to free themselves from the mud, but they only sank deeper while the wolves prowled along the shore. They complained to their leader again. “It is your fault our companions are dead; it is your fault we lie here wounded and exhausted; it is your fault we are trapped on this island, stuck in this terrible mud with a wolf pack threatening us.” Their leader had no answer.
The Clan people listened happily as the Auroch Riders argued among themselves. As evening approached, the Clan leaders returned to their cave and met in council.
Little Cubs father posed the question, “What shall we do about the Auroch Riders? Should we try to save them…or not?”
“Why save them?” a woman shouted out “They would take our girls and kill our men. Let the wolves kill them.” Many people agreed.
Little Cub’s father posed another question. “Should we save a few so they could return to their nation and tell them of our victory? It would serve as a warning to the rest of their nation not to invade our valley again.”
Little Cub spoke up and surprised the Clan with his wisdom. “If we sent Auroch Riders back, it must not include their leader, for he is an evil man responsible for much suffering.” ‘’A young but wise opinion.” one of the elders replied.
Another elder said, “We must act now if we are to save any of them. They will all soon be killed by the wolves.” The elders went to the edge of their cave and looked down on the plight of the Auroch Riders. The wolves had attacked and several of them had managed to grab hold of the flailing arms in an attempt to drag the men to the shore. There was much screaming from below.
“Alright!” said Little Cub’s father. “We shall save the remaining Auroch Riders.” He and the hunters took their spears and ran down the trail to the water until they were on the shore. Wolfric yelled at the wolves and waved them away. The wolves turned abruptly and retreated into the bushes. By now, all the remaining men trapped in the thickening mud had been bitten and chewed upon. Their hands and arms, ears and shoulders were bitten and bleeding. The great black wolf watched as the Little Cub’s father approached. It slowly padded over to stand by his side and together they watched the Clan people dig and drag the wounded attackers out of the mud. The Clan women stopped the bleeding and bound their wounds with soft clean deer skin, but they were afraid they were too late for the tall leader of the Auroch Riders, whose arms and hands were terribly torn and bleeding while trying to protect himself from the wolves. A Clan woman began binding his wounds when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up, it was Wolfric. They said nothing but looked into each other’s eyes. She stopped binding the man and left to help with the other less wounded. The leader of the Auroch Riders looked up at Wolfric and raised his clenched fist. In his imagination, he was still planning a future raid on the valley. Little Cub’s father watched as the leader of the Auroch Riders took his last labored breaths while his blood mixed into the black mud.
The Clan people managed to catch several of the aurochs still on the far end of the small island They put the surviving raiders on the animals with a sack of food and then escorted them southward on the remaining dry land and through the debris left by the flood water. Little Cub’s father watched them slowly disappear into the distance along the shore of the muddy river, back toward their own lands.
Little Cub’s father turned to his hunters and families and announced, “I am sure, the Auroch Riders will never invade the valley again and try to steal our girls.” The Clan cheered at the news and then happily started back along the trails to their caves. A few children lingered to watch Little Cub’s father knell down and run his hands over the black wolf’s huge head and down his back. No words were spoken. As Little Cub’s father turned to join his clan climbing back up to their cave, the rest of the wolves appeared and attended to the dead bodies. By morning there were very few remains left.
After a day escorting the aurochs with the wounded riders out of the valley, Clan hunters felt the wounded Riders could manage on their own. They had a new leader now. Their original one had died a horrible death for his poor decision of attacking the Clan people. The new leader was not about to bring more Riders to attack the valley again. He had learned an important lesson. The valley of the wolves was too dangerous to enter ever again.
A celebration was planned as soon as the water receded and the mud hardened in the bright sun of the next days. All the Clan families attended. The hunters went out and killed wild pigs and deer for the big feast. The women searched for berries and roots that survived the flood. After the feast the clans gathered around their campfires. Stories were told and retold of Little Cub’s bravery and that of the men at the dam confronting the great beavers. The men who fought on the trail told their stories of bravery. Talented cave members already began painting the story of the war on their cave walls so future cave people could keep the legend alive and tell it each year.
The Auroch Riders never returned. The valley of caves was considered too dangerous. The cave dwellers stationed scouts at the south end of the valley for the rest of the cold season in case they returned, but they never did. It was not long before the cave dwellers figured out how to make the bow weapons for themselves, and soon all the clans used them for hunting. If war came to the valley again, the bow weapons would be used for protection. The clan hunters soon learned how to make better and stronger bows and killing sticks. The bows were strengthened by laminating several slices of flexible wood together with tree resin. The bow cords were water proofed with animal fat and thickened for strength. The bow weapons were more difficult to pull back but the clan hunters soon strengthened their arms and shoulders so they could pull the cords back to their noses. Little Cub practiced for a whole moon before he was able to pull the bow cord to his nose. To do so was considered a sign of manhood.
Little Cub’s family clan was given the name of Wolf Clan and Little Cub’s father became the undisputed and popular leader of all the gathered Clans in the valley. The Aurochs Riders left meta samples scattered on the dry islands. Clan artists learned to identify and collect similar meta in and around the valley. They melted it in stone pots and make jewelry from it. Experiments were made by mixing several meta samples into a harder meta which was formed into sharp ax heads, knives and killing stick points, like the Auroch Riders carried. The Wolf Clan were clever people; they were modern humans, whose descendants were about to conquer the earth by understanding nature. They rejected many old superstitious beliefs but adopted new ones, as needed, to help them deal with their difficult and changing lives. There was no doubt that they would make mistakes but still manage to be survivors.
END OF PART ONE
Even in the sheltered valley, the cold months were tiring with thirty plus people, including noisy children, cooped up together in a cave. But, everyone knew it was a necessary confinement. The cave was dark except at its entrance. Fires deeper in the cave’s interior gave a limited flickering light so the clan had to choose between the chilly bright cave entrance and the slightly warmer dark interior. The entrance fire provided very little warmth; it was primarily for protection should a bear or lion get by the thorn barricades on the trails below. The interior fires provided more warmth but unfortunately the clouds of smoke that usually flowed back into the caves depths and out unknown exits above, sometimes flowed in the opposite direction. Then, it hung low and occasionally forced the clan to the entrance for fresh air. Usually, children could play safely in the caves interior while their mothers were preparing food and making clothing.
The Clans noticed that this cold season was different from previous ones. It was milder than usual and the rivers that ran through the valley often overflowed their banks due to melting snows in the mountains trickling into the valley by numerous streams from above. Hunters did not feel like hunting through the valley when it was so muddy and difficult. Game animals disappeared and food stores in the cave became scarce, so the hunters were eventually forced out. They did not always return with food, but they always returned with mud caked leggings and foot coverings which were difficult to clean and dry. The women, were always kept busy making new warm clothes, but now, water-proof clothes were more practical. The men wore layers of garments. Snug fitting soft deerskins were fashioned into under clothing. The women were skillful in sewing pieces together to fit the proportions of each man. The next layer was soft winter caribou and the outer layer might be rain repellant bear or bison. Each outer garment came with hoods. Footwear was bear or bison skin with a firm sole of heavier leather. All the clothes were water-proof as much as possible, but all eventually leaked. Climbing down and up the trail to the cave was tedious, and dangerous if it was wet or there was snow on the trail, so, well-fitting, furry soled footwear was imperative. The Clan had learned about good traction from the sure footed spotted winter cats that occasionally wandered down from the high mountains.
Unfortunately for the Clan, the warmer temperatures allowed stored meat to spoil more quickly and forced the hunters out to hunt more frequently in the wet valley. Generations ago the Clan invented a pulley system using a long hand braided leather rope. When a deer or a quarter of a bison was tied to one end, the rope was placed over a pulley stone at the lip of the cave. A pulley stone was a heavy stone found in the river with a smooth notch in it. It was a valuable item, passed down from generation to generation. Once The braided rope was laid in the notch, every able person was expected to be a puller. It was a game for the children and they chanted words as they pulled until the meat reached the cave lip.
“Pull, pull, pull, the rope-
pull up meat so we can eat,
pull up wood so we can heat.
Pull, pull, pull, the rope”.
Long ago, the Clan had to haul water from the river up to the cave the same way, until it was discovered that deep within the cave interior, flowed a stream of water from the mountains above. It was a perfect arrangement and spared the clan much work. Other clans discovered similar streams of water deep in their caves as well.
In spite of the warm weather, the mud and the food spoilage, the Clan hunters managed with daily hunting and the women managed with the constant cleaning and drying of clothing. Lines were stretched across the cave entrance so wet clothes could be hung out to dry in the sun.
This season, the cave dwellers had a new member, a rambunctious white wolf pup ran through the cave putting his nose into everything and licking every face within range. The clan was his pack. He had to be taught about not stealing food and pouncing upon sleeping Clan members. New-born children and infants were his children; he had to lick every one of them every day. Accepting a wolf pup as a Clan member was a unique arrangement which began shortly after the Auroch Riders were defeated.
The great black wolf and his pack, awakened the sleeping clan one early morning. The howling below the cave entrance was persistent. It drew Little Cub’s father to the entrance. The wolf pack was gathered directly beneath the cave entrance and something was wrong. Several hunters, and Little Cub accompanied his father down the trail and around the thorn barricades to the valley floor, which was almost back to normal after the flood. The wolves dissolved into the thick brush except for their leader that stood protectively over a little bundle of white fur. The black wolf picked up the little bundle and walked over to Little Cub’s father where he dropped the bundle at his feet. The bundle moved and then whimpered in distress. Little Cub was the first to react; he snatched up the bundle of fur and clutched it to his chest. The great black wolf turned abruptly and disappeared into the brush. The morning light revealed to everyone that Little Cub held a thin shivering wolf pup, near death, in his arms. The hunters turned and began the climb back to the cave and morning food. Little Cub and his father stood alone wondering what to do with the shivering pup that was too weak to walk and could barely stand.
Little Cub’s father told his son “The pup is destined to die without a mother’s milk. There is no hope.”
Little Cub begged his father to let him try to feed the pup some soft food. “The wolf pup will die if I do not try. Please let me try.” His father shrugged his shoulders and turned to climb back to the cave.
Little Cub followed with the pup in his arms. The Clan children crowded around the little dying pup. Little Cub tried unsuccessfully to feed it as it cuddled in his warm arms next to the fire. It was not tempted by human food, it needed a mother’s milk. After repeated futile attempts to feed the pup, Little Cub hung his head and cried.
To his surprise, the pup was plucked out of his arms by his own mother, who carried it to a warm corner of the cave and pulled a soft fur over them both. Wolfric knew what was happening; he smiled at his son, took him by the arm and led him over next to his mother. Little Cub’s aunt joined them and gently took little Cub’s nursing baby brother from Little Cub’s mother, and placed him on her own breast. Eventually, both pup and human would nurse together at the breast of Little Cub’s mother. At first the arrangement seemed strange to Little Cub, but the next day when the strengthened little wolf pup began whimpering and squirming after a night of feeding, Little Cub was overjoyed. He felt he now had another new brother. He and the pup soon became inseparable, except when the pup was feeding at a human breast. The pup accepted the Clan as its pack and thrived. This was the first time such an event ever happened as far as anyone could remember. Human milk was easily substituted for wolf milk and the pup grew quickly.
The mild winter in the valley finally broke. What little snow and ice there was, began to melt more rapidly and the rivers below the caves filled with rushing icy water. As more sunny days followed, the rivers soon returned to normal. The children were finally allowed to accompany hunters on brief excursions out of the cave with the women, who were ready to gather new spring plants to garnish their food. The women found that if they planted some of the tiny plant seeds, little green sprouts would appear that eventually grew into large plants. Little gardens appeared in several areas below the caves and were dutifully tended by the women. While the hunters guarded, they also fished with great success, and taught the children how to do the same with woven nets and bone hooks with squirming worms.
The growing time was a beautiful time of year. The sun rose higher above the valley each day and every blade of grass and leafing plant reached upward to the warm light. Hunting was easier now and game was more plentiful. All the Clans of the valley prospered. There were a few deaths over the cold months but there were many more births in the Clan caves.
Wolfric made it a point to visit every Clan cave to see how they had survived the winter. This year several senior hunters accompanied him. Also, along for the tour, was his son and a fast-growing white wolf pup that considered, as his own, every Clan family he visited. The children of each cave swarmed over him and he loved every minute of the attention. He smelled licked every child and mother. They were his family.
The Clans had survived another winter in good health. The caves provided shelter, the valley provided good hunting, but most of all, the caves had provided a good defense from the Auroch Riders, who had threatened their very existence. Most importantly, the clans now had bow weapons for hunting and defense. The hunters made new weapons every day until they had a good stockpile. They practiced every day with their new weapons until they became proficient. Their first hunts were very successful. Wild boar and deer were easily slain at a distance with the bow weapons, but each kill looked like a porcupine with feathered sticks protruding in all directions. The hunters were practicing and soon would be ready to demonstrate their skill with the new bow weapons on a larger beast. The real test was bringing down a bison or elk. Feathered sticks might be useful in driving an aggressive bear or long toothed lion away, but actually killing one with them, would be another challenge. The hunters wondered if they could kill a mammoth with the bow weapon. There still were several mammoth herds roaming the grasslands in spite of the mild and wet winter. Last year the great antlered elk were fewer, as well, but still could be seen occasionally. The Clans wondered if it was related to the milder winters.
Little Cub’s white wolf pup was growing fast and was forever hungry. He figured how to get past the thorn barriers, and down into the valley. He disappeared for days at a time, but he always returned. Little Cub’s father explained to his son that the white pup was no longer a pup, but was now a young wolf that needed to learn the ways of the wolves. He was, no doubt, running with his pack, learning how to hunt and kill. He had to establish his place in the pack, second only to his father. In spite of becoming an expert killer, the young white wolf still made the rounds of the new human babies in the caves. He smelled and licked each one. He still acted like they were his. He never growled, or stole food or showed any aggression with any of the Clans. He stayed close to Little cub and slept with him or Little Cub’s mother, who had nursed him. It was a bond that could not be broken.
When hunting with the Clan hunters, the young wolf stalked for them. When game was near he was quiet and approached stealthily. If detected, he attacked with lightning speed, often holding a deer or wild pig until the hunters could catch up and finish the kill. The hunters always rewarded him with his favorite parts of the kill.
One warm night after the Clan ate the evening meal, Little Cub’s father had an announcement to make. He called Little Cub up next to him and spoke of his bravery with the Auroch Riders, his compassion with the wolf pup, his loyalty to the Clan and his respect to his elders. He has grown almost a hand taller and was stronger since last season. It is time” he said “to make my son a man. A man should not have the name of a baby animal. A man requires a man’s name. What shall we call him?” he asked the Clan.
The first suggestion had everyone laughing. “Let us call him Big Auroch. Everyone knew the size and strength of the giant aurochs.” After the laughter died down, it was decided to change Little Cub’s name to “Edom, First Son of Wolfric”. Everyone liked the name, so many of the Clan just called him Edom for short.
As the weather warmed and the days grew longer, the clans of the valley began preparing for their migration back to the grasslands. Six of the tame aurochs had lingered in the valley so it was decided to capture them and load the clan’s belongings on them for the migration back to the grasslands and the mammoth herds. The sick or elderly could ride them as well. The giant aurochs were not fast but their huge size, broad backs and calm disposition worked well for the clan’s needs. In the wild, under attack from predators, the giant aurochs did not run; they formed a circle with calves in the interior. Their huge size, over a head taller at their shoulder than the height of any clan member, and their great horns, wider than a man’s height, discouraged predators, even the long toothed lions. But, the aurochs were docile with humans and were ideal pack animals. They grazed on most grasses and leaves but left huge unmistakable dung heaps where even they went. The clan women soon discovered that plants sprung up where ever there was a dung heap. They used the dung to fertilize the spicy plants that added taste to their food, especially to old or partially spoiled food.
The migration was on. After a moon of slow pleasant travel with no real deadlines to meet the Clan left the river trail and turned North. Before doing so, they passed the place where the old beloved grandmother died. Edom and his father inspected the place under the tree. The spear was still standing where Wolfric had placed it, but there was no evidence of human remains, not a bone, not a scrap of clothing. A food bowl was found a short distance away but that’s all. Some of the Clan thought the gods had taken her, but Edom and his father knew better and had no reason to believe that gods were involved. But, if that belief made people happier, they could believe it. If superstition interfered with the welfare of the Clan, Wolfric stepped in and resolved the situation. He explained how mother nature resolved all things in time.
Animals, that had sought protection from the prairie’s sweeping cold wind storms, were already migrating northward and breeding along the way. Bison, Quagga and Auroch calves would soon swell the great herds of the plains. There would be good hunting on the trek back to the grasslands. Hopefully mammoth or mastodon herds would be more numerous on the grasslands this season than last.
Over all, the migration went better than most. The young white wolf led the hunters to game along the way, more than they could eat. The meat was shared with the other grateful Clan families. It was the most pleasant migration any one could remember. There were no deaths and no injuries. And the weather was mild. All the children wanted to ride on the broad backs of the great aurochs. Finally, where two rivers joined, the Clans split up, some continuing North and some turning North East. In spite of this separation, the Clans were still able to communicate with smoke signals and runners. A fast runner could travel the distance between Clan encampments in half a day. The Clans planned reunite at this very spot seven moons later and head back to the caves. The Clans bid their friends goodbye and continued on to their old camp sites and to the mammoth lodges. Each year mammoth bones accumulated and were used to build and repair the lodges, but there always was breakage because the bones were chewed upon by meat eaters and rodents. The Clans needed to hunt mammoths or mastodons every year to replenish their supply. The tusks and rib bones were stood upright and fastened together at their tops. A tree trunk sometimes acted as a ceiling beam. Bear skins and mammoth skins were thrown over the top. During warm days, the skins were peeled back to let air circulate through the structure. During a late cold spell or during early rains the lodges remained warm and dry. It was a practical summer home. The aurochs were tethered behind a sturdy fence of thorns and small woven willow trunks next to the Clans’ mammoth lodges. Worries were non-existent except for occasional heavy thunder and rain storms. Small scavenging predators stayed clear of the lodges once they discovered the odor of the white wolf. Most importantly, inter-Clan conflict was non-existent for as long as anyone could remember. Disputes were easily settled by clan leaders and elders.
The Clan took just two days to set up and repair their bone and tusk lodges. Some of the old mammoth skins from previous years had rotted or been chewed upon by scavengers during the cold time and the Clan’s bison hides, even when sewed together, did not adequately cover the whole roof of the lodges. There was no doubt the Clan needed to go hunting for bison and mammoths as soon as possible.
The hunters had looked forward to this first hunt in the grasslands for many moons. This was the first time they could use their bow weapons on a large animal and they planned carefully how to do just that. They were unsure how much damage a feathered killing stick could do to a running bison or elk if they managed to hit it. They wondered if they could they even hit fast-moving quagga?
The Clans were grateful for the increased numbers of runners. The herds of runners were bound to provide abundant meat if they could ever be stalked successfully. They were fast animals that ran in vast herds, with erect black hair on their necks and long full hairy black tails on tan bodies. They were stocky sure footed animals that were adept at escaping predators These animals were warier than the bison and were more difficult to approach. Wolves occasionally hunted them but were seldom successful in bringing one down due to their speed, endurance and aggressiveness. In the past, the Clan people were seldom successful in getting close enough to spear one, but now, with the bow weapons, they expected better luck. The Clan people did not know that the runners would eventually change their whole way of life and have a unique and profound relationship with the Clans.
After a fresh meat supply was obtained the next priority would be new mammoth or mastodon hides. The hides, tusks and rib bones of either tusked animal would meet the Clan’s needs, although mammoth tusks and ribs were larger and better suited for the lodges.
The hunting party started out in single file with Wolfric leading and his son Edom at his side. The young white wolf was now almost at adult size. If he kept growing, he would be larger and stronger than his father. His father’s pack was never far away and could occasionally be seen in the distance. Today the hunters crept close to a herd of grazing siaga antelope. Unknown to the hunters a pride of long toothed lions was also stalking the antelope.
The lions attacked first, driving the antelope toward the Clan hunters who had their bows drawn. The hunters stood up and fired, as the antelope dashed through their numbers. Several antelopes fell in the barrage of arrows. But, then came the lions, chasing the antelope. The hunters were taken by surprise and reached for their traditional long spears. They huddled together not knowing where a lion might appear in the high grass and dust. Several hunters were knocked to the ground and mauled by the lions before the other hunters could drive them off. There was much confusion and several injuries. After the dust settled, four antelopes lay dead, and three hunters were slightly injured by the lions. The lions themselves were as surprised as the hunters and quickly dispersed. The hunters bled out their kills and carried them back to the lodge where they were prepared for the evening meal. The injured hunters boasted of the battle with the lions. Other than a few racking claw marks that would leave scars, the wounds would heal. Lion scars were a sign of bravery, so no one complained.
The next morning the hunters gathered again with their Bow weapons and spears. The mammoth hunt was on. Wolfric led the hunters north to where the great mammoths usually fed on the lush tall grass. Mastodons fed on willows and tree branches so they were not expected to be encountered this day. This Mammoth hunt was different from the others because three aurochs, ridden by Edom’s young friends, accompanied the hunters. The aurochs would be useful in carrying the tusks, meat, and rib bones back to camp. In prior years, more time and effort was often spent carrying the tusks and meat back to camp than in the actual hunt.
Edom and the grown wolf pup led the hunt with Wolfric. A day of fast walking and running by the hunters left the three aurochs and their riders far behind, but, they would catch up in due time.
Finally, the hunters made camp when it was too dark to travel safely. They ate dried meat and rolled into their sleeping robes. Edom pulled the white wolf under his robe next to him. He eventually drifted off to sleep dreaming of the great mammoths that he had only seen in paintings of on cave walls. Edom was awakened sometime in the night by a cold wet nose nuzzling his neck. The white wolf heard something in the darkness that neither of them had ever heard before. The hunters were also awake, lying in their sleeping robes listening to the trumpeting of mammoths. It was an eerie sound coming from the north and echoing off valley walls. It was a sound that children might easily believe came from the gods. Edom and his white wolf could not sleep and while they and the hunters lay in the darkness of a cloudy night that blotted out the moon and stars, the trumpeting came closer. Eventually the trumpeting seemed to surround the hunters and the ground shook as if an earthquake was about to begine. The white wolf became uneasy and it was all Edom could do to keep him next to him under the robe.
The hunters couldn’t sleep either. They lay under their sleeping robes, with their bow weapons and spears in their hands. They waited quietly and patiently for the first light. As that light came, the hunters were amazed at what appeared around them. Out of the blackness, on all sides loomed huge dark shapes swaying from side to side. Deep guttural sounds and heavy breathing came from the dark shapes. The hunters realized they were in the midst of a snoozing mammoth herd. There were at least as many animals as the number of a person’s fingers and toes. The great beasts were sleeping now, but as the sky lightened they would awake to find their mortal enemies in their midst. The hunters knew a stampede could be deadly. Wolfric motioned to the hunters that they lie quietly where they were and not move. Apparently, their smoldering campfire had covered their scent. Edom lay quietly holding the squirming black wolf tightly in his arms. Finally, the black wolf could stand it no longer and let out a series of growls and a long whine. The great dark shapes stirred. They did not fear wolves themselves, but wolves sometimes harassed their calves. Strangely, these mammoths did not stampede and the hunters soon realized why. The herd was composed of bulls that did not fear wolves or long toothed lions or humans. In fact, several of the dark shapes moved closer to find this wolf in their midst. Edom and the hunters froze as the bulls slowly approached, their hairy trunks swinging from side to side sniffing the ground. A huge hairy trunk reached toward Edom in the morning light, sniffing the strange human animal. Its bristles were thick and coarse on Edom’s neck and chest; its breath was warm and pungent.
The white wolf could be restrained no longer and with a fierce growl it lunged forward and savagely bit the probing trunk. The mammoth bellowed with alarm and pain, and then quickly withdrew. Suddenly, all the mammoths were awake and alarmed. They milled around in confusion and then stampeded in all directions. The hunters were not intimidated by the confusion. At this close range, some used their heavy spears to thrust into the inquisitive mammoth’s side. Some of the hunters reached for their bows, and placed a feathered killing stick onto the cord and fired at close range into the mammoth just behind its front shoulder. The mammoth exhaled with a great whoosh and groan and dropped to its knees as the spears and killing sticks pierced its lungs and heart; it swung its great head and long curved tusks from side to side until its rear legs gave way as blood gushed from its side, trunk and mouth. It died in an upright sitting position, its head resting between its fore legs and its trunk stretching straight out in front of it between two of the largest tusks the hunters had ever seen.
The other mammoths were soon gone in a swirl of dust and the thunder of the stampede. The soft tundra shook as the mammoths ran in all directions. Fortunately, no hunters were trampled. The heavy duty bow weapons worked perfectly; they had penetrated the thick hide and muscle between the great broad ribs as was hoped. The battle was so exciting and exhausting, the hunters needed a brief recovery. They sat down next to the dead mammoth to catch their breath. They looked at each other to make sure everyone was present and then let out howls that startled the white wolf and Edom. It was their howl of victory. There was much chatter and laughter as they climbed onto the great shaggy beast and examined it. Its tusks were unusually long and curved. This was an old giant bull, so large that the hunters would have avoided it in the daylight. Not long after the mammoth herd disappeared into the misty dawn, the hunters heard a familiar call from the boys who now road the plodding aurochs into camp. The boys had heard the eerie trumpeting and then the thunder of the stampede followed by the howls. They were surprised to find out, the howls were from the hunters themselves. They stood in awe before the fallen giant. They had never seen a whole mammoth before, only hairy parts hacked from the beast and brought into camp.
The hunters worked quickly, skinning the mammoth, packing choice parts in net bags, separating bone from flesh and scraping much of the tissue off the great hide so it would not be too heavy to transport back to the lodges. The rest of the day was spent loading the aurochs and making pulling sleds. The white wolf howled continuously until the hunters heard a faint reply from the South. Before the hunters left their camp, for the trip back to the clan lodges, the great black wolf arrived with his pack. He boldly led his pack in amongst the hunters. The wolves had lost all fear of the Clan people. They immediately began feasting on mammoth scraps and bones, and licking up the blood. Thereafter, the wolves gradually became even more friendly and spent more time in and around the Clan’s Mammoth camp, often sleeping next to working women and playing children They served a useful purpose by protecting the Clan from attacks from wandering long toothed lions and short faced bears. Occasionally, the Clan heard the wolves howling after treeing a lion or harassing a bear. Meat scraps from the Clan were rewarded to the wolves for guard duty.
The hunter’s trip back to the mammoth lodges went slowly due to the heavy loads the aurochs carried and pulled. The hunter’s spirits were high because they had some wonderful stories to tell about sleeping in the midst of a mammoth herd and killing the giant bull mammoth. They were eager to tell their women how well their bow weapons worked and how brave they were.
Edom was maturing fast; At seventeen seasons, he was now an experienced hunter and a strong young man. Many of the young women looked at him as a potential mate but clan taboos had to be considered. It would be best that he joined with a girl from another clan lodge. There were several times each year when the clans mixed together and the young ones had the opportunity to court. Edom would have to wait until the next gathering of the Clans if he wanted a mate.
The season for warm weather was finally here, it was a welcome change from the cold caves, but, something was different. It was agreed upon that the weather was warmer than usual and there were fewer lingering cold days and no late snow. Wolfric was uneasy. He arose early and walked to a hill just west of the valley where the clan’s mammoth lodges were located. Something was wrong. His son joined him. “Look at the sunrise, does it seem different to you?” his father asked. Edom looked but noticed nothing different. “Look at the haze in the mountain passes. It appears there is a major movement of herds. Normally, the bison and wildebeests would be grazing, not moving toward us. To the South it appears there is movement also. Can you not see it my son?” Edom looked again and saw nothing. His young mind was on other things, not the subtle haze on the horizon. Wolfric continued watching the growing haze to the West. Other clan members watched with Wolfric. They all seemed concerned. Wolfric wondered if the warmer hot season had anything to do with the growing haze to the west. Wolfric sent out two hunters to scout to the West. They took enough food to last several days so they did not have to hunt as they traveled. Wolfric urged them to hurry, so both hunters started due West at a slow run, designed to travel a long distance with few rest stops. They soon disappeared over a Western hill. Wolfric returned to his lodge but seemed concerned all that night and the next day. The evening of the third day the scouts returned. They were exhausted, having run to the West until they encountered vast herds of bison, wildebeest, auroch, and quagga all moving East as if driven by some unknown danger.
The Clan scouts continued West past the moving animals until they discovered what was driving the herds. From a high mount, they discovered long trails of humans as far as their eyes could see. The human tribes trudged along pulling and carrying their belongings. Armed men forced them along by beating them with their spear shafts. Those who could not keep up were stripped of their belongings and food supplies and abandoned. The scouts watched for a while and then decided to return to the Clan with news of what they saw. They ran all day and night to bring the news of this vast human migration, the largest anyone ever had seen.
Wolfric was alarmed. Within another half-moon, the human migration would reach the clan’s summer range and the lodges. Although animals were plentiful and hunting was good, huge numbers of migrating humans would eventually drive the animals away or kill them off. The humans would threaten the peaceful warm months the Clans had enjoyed for generations. Wolfric wondered if the migrating humans planned to settle near the lodges and the Clan’s hunting grounds. Most importantly, he wondered if the new humans peaceful or were they war-like? Wolfric expected the worse. He understood human nature when under stress. The humans from the West might threaten the very existence of the Valley Clans. Wolfric sent runners to all the other valley clans. Most of them were within a day’s travel from the Wolf Clan. Wolfric warned them of the impending invasion and asked that the Clans send all their hunters to defend their hunting grounds. The Clans were instructed to make more feathered sticks and heavy bows although great quantities of them were already available. Wolfric was not about to take any chances.
The day finally came when the first scouts from the migrating tribes appeared at the crest of a Western hill. They were surprised to see the mammoth lodges of the clan people spread across the valley before them. Soon a tall man with a feathered hat joined them. He seemed to be their leader. He, and a small band of men, stood on the hill crest and waited. Wolfric and a small band of Clan hunters and elders walked out to meet them. The other Clans had sent their well-armed hunters to protect their traditional hunting grounds, but now they waited, hiding in the tall grass, bow weapons ready, while Wolfric met with the humans from the West.
The man with the feathered hat held up his hand and waved. Wolfric waved back as he and several hunters approached. They noticed the strangers also had bows, but they were of the same vintage as the bows of the Auroch Riders and inferior to those of the Mammoth Hunters. Wolfric and the feathered stranger approached each other and tried to communicate. Their languages were different but had enough similarities that the two leaders could understand each other with the help of sign language. The feathered stranger indicated that he and his people intended to settle in the valleys of the Clans because there was much fresh water and good hunting. He told Wolfric that the ice mountain has stopped creeping forward and was melting. The flooding had forced them to temporarily leave their own lands and look for dryer lands.
Wolfric had never seen the great ice wall that had once relentlessly moved southward each year, but he had heard stories of it. The ice wall stood the height of twenty men in some places and moved southward more than the length of twenty men every season. Crumbling ice was heard rumbling in the distance. What was once rolling grasslands filled with roaming mammoth and mastodon herds was gradually becoming covered with thick crumbling, moving ice. Wolfric had heard the thunder of the cracking ice once when he was young. As it crept southward, herds of muskox and giant elk were forced south. They usually migrated past the Clan’s Mammoth Lodges at night, displaced by the great ice wall.
But now, the weather had changed. The ice wall no longer advanced. The Clans did not understand why this was happening but now they knew a great change was happening. The feathered stranger explained that he had to leave their traditional hunting grounds to escape the melting ice, soft tundra and the flooding it brought. “This high valley” he said, “was what we were looking for. Its height and the mountains surrounding it will prevent the high flood waters from reaching it.
Wolfric understood the dilemma of the strangers. They had little choice but look for a new home. But, he had a right to defend his warm weather territory. It was the clan’s ancestral home for as long as anyone could remember. The paintings on the cave walls told of clan history that went back to the beginning of the earth. The Clans always owned and hunted the valley of the caves and the summer grasslands hunting grounds. There was not enough land and water to accommodate the strangers who outnumbered the clans ten to one. Wolfric had already briefly conferred with leaders from the other clans. They agreed with him that their lands could not be shared indefinitely. The strangers must move on to the East.
Wolfric addressed the feathered stranger, “You may travel through our lands and hunt as you go, but you must move on to the East. You will find good hunting and weather to the East” The feathered stranger hesitated and finally said “I will confer with my tribal leaders and meet here with you tomorrow morning.
Just to be clear, Wolfric repeated his demand, “You cannot settle here, you must move on. This valley has been ours since time began. It is not large enough to be home for your tribes and our Clans. You must move on; you have no choice.”
The feathered hat man scowled at Wolfric. Who was this impertinent man who was ordering him to move on. He stepped to one side and made a motion with his hand. One of his men rushed forward with a short spear, that had been hidden in the chief’s robe, and trust it into Wolfric’s side. Wolfric was fast enough to parry the spear thrust, but it still wounded him slightly. He groaned and rolled back down the hill as the clan hunters retreated along-side of him. Although their bow weapons were ready they did not have a chance to use them. Hidden figures in the tall grass had been watching the negotiations carefully. They reacted quickly. A silent flight of feathered killing sticks flew overhead and struck down every stranger standing on the crest of the hill, including the one who stabbed Wolfric and their leader, with the feathered hat. The strangers just crumpled to the grass together as if by magic. There were so many killing sticks everyone on the top of the hill was hit at least twice, most were struck three or more times. As the clansmen carried Wolfric to safety, a war party of fifty of the invading warriors charged over the crest of the hill with spears raised. They had not yet realized the danger they were in. A whoosing sound was the last sound they heard. They too, crumpled into the tall grass all pierced at least once by another flight of killing sticks. A third group of warriors were more cautious. They raised their heads over the tall grass at the hill crest to see what had happened, when they too became the targets of yet another high flight of killing sticks that fell onto them almost directly from above, wounding or killing most of them. The strangers withdrew in disarray. Never before had they seen the feathered killing sticks appear from nowhere. Who was shooting them? The Clan’s modified bow weapons hurled killing sticks three time longer than the bow weapons of the migrators and the Auroch Riders, and five times longer than thrown spears, even with throwing sticks. Invading this peaceful and protected valley now appeared to be a horrible mistake and misjudgment of their, now dead, war chief. His lifeless body lay at the crest of the hill with three feathered killing sticks protruding from him.
That night the Clan hunters returned to the hill crest to retrieve their feathered sticks and to scout. The invader’s bodies remained where they had fallen, untouched by their comrades, who were afraid to approach the killing grounds. They were superstitious about the unseen warriors who killed there best warriors so easily without even being seen. It appeared to the immigrators that the killing sticks fell from the clouds themselves. The Clan scouts gathered up all their feathered sticks; they would be used again in the future, and the clan did not want the strangers to learn how to make their improved feathered killing sticks. The Clan scouts crept close to see what the strangers were doing. The strangers were having council meeting around a huge fire. There was much angry shouting after the slaughter of their best warriors without a single dead enemy. A man with a feathered hat and long robe seemed to be defending the action of the warriors. “They were killed by magic,” he claimed; “they were killed by an evil god who was angry at the tribes for some unknown reason. Someone had sinned. Those guilty of these sins needed to be found and punished so the warriors would be protected from the deadly feathered sticks.” There was silence. Finally, a tribe elder slowly rose and approached the new war chief. He turned his back to him and the warriors gathered on one side of the blazing fire, and addressed the non-military elders. Meanwhile in the darkness, the Clan hunters crept as close as they could, without being discovered, to listen. Again, the language was similar enough to theirs that they could understand most of what was said.
The Elder said “We have made a grave mistake in attacking these mammoth hunters. They have weapons that kill silently and accurately from great distance. I have just been told by our scouts that the deadly killing sticks have disappeared from the bodies of our dead warriors. This is great magic and a sign from the gods that we have attacked a people whose gods are greater than ours. We need to make peace with these people who dwell in houses made of mammoth bones and tusks. They are brave and skilled hunters. I will talk to them in the morning and ask their forgiveness. We will select the fairest young women we have and give them to the mammoth people for our dindiscresions. We will ask them to let us pass by their homes into the lands of the East where the floods will no longer threaten us and we will be safe from attack by our enemies.
There appeared to be unanimous consent from the tribal leaders, except for the war chief who continued to shout at the elders and their supporters. He turned to his warriors and motioned that they should join him. “Kill these old men. They would have us surrender to these savages who use magic weapons and…” His last sentence was cut short when a long feathered killing stick passed through his chest and embedded into the ground with an audible thud. The war chief tried to comprehend what had just happened to him; he looked down at his robe, now rapidly turning blood red. He tried to speak but his throat was choked with blood; he dropped to his knees and flopped on his face. The Council members gasped and searched the darkness outside the light from their fire.
The elder council member immediately claimed the arrow came from the Mammoth Gods. “This is a sign we must make peace with the Mammoth People. I will speak to them tomorrow morning.” In the confusion, no one thought to retrieve the killing stick; when the elders finally looked for it, it had disappeared as well. The elders were not surprised; the Mammoth people had powerful magic and gods.
In the darkness, the Clan scouts snuck back to their lodges. Now, warriors from all the Clans were arriving to defend their summer lands. They were ready for war. Their Bow weapons could decimate any attackers long before the lodges were reached by the enemy.
As the sky lightened no Clan warriors were to be seen by the three migrating elders on the crest of the hill overlooking the mammoth lodges while they waited to counsel. The Mammoth clan warriors lay hidden in the tall grass, bow weapons ready. The three elders from the migrating tribes stood still and appeared to be waiting to council with the Mammoth Clans. The three men could see the mammoth lodges with smoke arising from cooking fires from where they stood. A few women and children were seen around the lodges, but no men were evident. The three men thought this was strange; where were the men? Was this more magic?
Wolfric, still suffering from the minor spear wound, appeared from a lodge with two elders and a dozen hunters. They walked slowly up the hill to council with the strangers. Wolfric greeted the strangers as if he were never wounded. They were amazed and were convinced this again was powerful magic. He still wore the blood-stained tunic but showed no signs of injury.
“I am Wolfric, the leader of the Clans. I came to you in peace and you tried to kill me. I came to you to help your people find new lands to settle, and you tried to kill me. Why did you try to kill me and why do you want to war with my people? If we must, we will kill your whole tribe.”
The same elder who spoke at last night’s council meeting answered. “Those who wanted war and tried to kill you no longer wish your people any harm.” As he spoke, four men approached, carrying a large woven basket. They set it in the grass in front of Wolfric. The elder pulled back it’s cover to expose the heads of six of their warrior chiefs, still wearing their head feathers. “The War Chiefs are no more” Said the Elder. “We wish you no harm. We ask your help and guidance through your lands into the East where we hope to find lands free from the melting ice floods and mud.
Wolfric smiled to himself and he was sure that the others with him were pleased as well. In the early morning light, he turned and raised his hands to the hidden clan warriors. The assembled warriors rose quietly from their defensive positions with bow weapons ready. The Migrator’s Elders were astonished and intimidated at the numbers. They realized that a war with these terrifying Mammoth hunters could not be won. There would be a terrible slaughter had they opted for war.
Terms for the passage of the strangers through the lands of the Mammoth hunters were agreed upon. Guides would be provided to aid in the speedy passage to Eastern lands, free from flooding. The Migrator’s passage would take at least one moon, but the danger of a war was over and the daily life of the Clans returned to its normal pace. The Clan hunters agreed to supply food to the migrators while they were in the Clan’s territory.
Edom was witness to the threat from the strangers and the peaceful resolution arrived at due to the demonstration of the power of clan fighters and the wisdom of his father. He had learned much about leadership which would serve him well in the future, but now he had other things on his mind.
The small grey animals with big ears and thin legs, that the clan called doncs, grazed throughout the plains, they sometimes galloped near the lodges on their way to the river. They had loud weird calls that the children called brays, for a small animal. Edom and his young friends decided to capture one of these creatures, not for the cooking fires, but for a pet that might be trained to pull a sled or carry a rider as did the aurochs last year in the Valley of the caves.
Netting traps were set along the trail that led to the river and the watering hole for the herds. The boys waited quietly and patiently. They did not want to capture an auroch or quagga, or anything too large for them to handle. Finally, a small herd of doncs wandered down to the river. At Edom’s signal the nets were dropped from surrounding trees on the unaware herd. The boys let all the doncs escape except a yearling, that became entangled in the netting. The boys untangled him and put ropes on him. He Kicked and heehawed mightily as they dragged and pushed him to a small enclosure they had made of branches and saplings woven together. The boys took turns stroking him and talking to him. For the next quarter moon, there was always at least one boy with the colt day and night feeding him and giving him water. The boys walked and pulled him around the little fenced in area. The colt eventually calmed down and allowed the boys to place several skins upon its back without bucking them off. Over the course of another quarter moon, the colt grew calmer. The colt easily tolerated heavy loads and soon the boys were able to ride him. He bucked for a while, but eventually calmed down. Wolfric watched the boys’ activity with interest. The potential of this simple experiment was considerably, more than his son and his friends ever imagined. Wolfric imagined a line of doncs tied to each other carrying the clan’s heavy furs and skins from winter to summer homes. Adult doncs were easily strong enough to carry a person, such as an ailing grandmother.Wolfric gathered his hunters and showed them what the boyshad done. He told them, “This new form of transport will change our lives and make our migration easier. It will spare the discomfort of our old people when we travel. There are many doncs on the plains around us. Let us capture as many as we can and tame them so they will carry heavy loads in return for our protection. The Clan agreed to the wisdom of their leader. Thereafter, when the hunters were not hunting, they were capturing doncs. They made several more enclosures of woven birches and thorns to keep them from prowling lions at night. The white wolf was a real asset in keeping predators away. The boys were given the task of cutting grass and hauling it and water to the donc enclosures. Wolfric was pleased the doncs took to taming so well. They liked the arrangement and thrived. As the doncs became accepting of loads on their backs, some were given to the migrants passing through the Mammoth Clan’s land. The doncs speeded up their passage to the East. The doncs adjusted well and were highly valued by all the Mammoth Clans.
Although the boys were busy with their tasks, they had another idea, also taken from the Auroch Riders. Edom suggested to his father, “Why not capture and tame a larger and faster animal like a runner or a quagga to help us travel and hunt?”
“Hunt?, his father said, “How will they help us hunt? We are good hunters now.”
Edom replied, “We will train them to carry us while we chase bison, and elk, and auroch.” We will no longer have to lie hidden while hoping animals will come close. Wolf Boy’s father interrupted his son. “Yes, that makes good sense, but what will we do with them in the winter months when we live in caves. Can we protect them from the short faced bear and the long toothed lion? We cannot take them into the caves with us. Or do you suggest we free them each winter?”
His father was right, but Edom was not about to give up so easily. He would have to figure this one out to the satisfaction of his father and the elders.
Even though Edom did not have the full approval for his plan, he had the full backing of his friends, now experienced in capturing and taming doncs. The boys welcomed the challenge and soon they had captured a “runner colt” in their nets. This animal was similar to the doncs, but it was bigger and stronger. It was also more aggressive and more difficult to tame. Edom was correct, it could carry heavier loads and run all day. But Edom and his friends still had not figured out what to with the runners during the colder months when the clans lived in the caves. He and his friends thought there must be an answer. He knew runners could survive on their own on the northern grasslands so why could they not survive in the valley of the caves if they were protected with tall thorn fences and numerous camp fires.
The boys continued their efforts to subdue the runner they had caught. They soon realized that body language was vital. It helped them to understand the runner and for the runner to understand them. Ears laid back flat against the runner’s head was a sign of anger and aggression. Ears forward, a sign of interest. The boys discovered many such signals which were a great help to them. After the runner tired itself trying to escape or bite the soft braided ropes was repeatedly thrown over its neck and back, it must have realized that the boys meant it no harm. They gave it water when it was thirsty and prairie grass when it was hungry. They fussed with its long neck hair and brushed its dirty body and long tail. The brushing felt good and soon the runner was looking forward to the training sessions. It accepted first one skin on its back, and then two. Soon five heavy skins were easily tolerated. Edom leaned onto the runner’s back and then, ever so slowly, swung his leg over so he had a leg on each side of the runner’s broad back. The runner bucked Edom off several times but eventually tired. Edom or one of his friends continued this training until the runner was accustomed to their weight and accustomed to being led around the enclosure by a soft rope wrapped around its neck and head. After just a half moon of training, Edom told his father he and his friends were ready to show the Clan what they had accomplished. The Clan had been watching the boys and were pleased to give acclaim to their efforts. Members of other Clans were invited to attend the demonstration.
With most of the Wolf Clan and representatives of the other clans in attendance. The boys tied a small bear skin to the runner’s back. Then, Edom leaped from the ground onto the runner’s back. As the runner ran around the enclosure another boy leaped upon its back behind Edom. The boys rode the runner around the enclosure directing it in one direction and then in the other direction. The runner reared up several times but the boys held on to the smiles and approval of the Clan. The boys were able to guide the runner where ever they wished it to go. Finally, the boys gave the other hunters an opportunity to mount and ride the runner. The last demonstration was the most amazing to the hunters and Edom’s father. Edom mounted the runner with a bow weapon and feathered killing sticks. As the runner ran around the enclosure, Edom held on with his legs and fitted a killing stick to the bow cord. He aimed it at a bison hide draped over the fence and released the killing stick in full stride. The hunters laughed and nodded their heads in approval as the killing stick hit its target. Each boy rode the runner and fired his killing stick at the target. Each Clan hunter had to try to do the same. Soon, most the hunters were able to duplicate what the boys had done.
That afternoon, Wolfric called a council of all the elders. Soon they assembled to watch the amazing demonstration. By the end of the day the runner was exhausted, but a hunter from every Clan had an opportunity to ride the runner and shoot killing sticks from its back. The Clans returned to the lodges that evening and contemplated what they had seen and done, and how it might influence their hunting technique in the future. Wolfric suggested that the runners could be used to defend Clan territory from enemies. One thing was for sure, more fenced areas had to be made and more runners had to be caught and trained.
One afternoon, a moon later, as the final group of migrators trudged through Clan territory, they heard what sounded like a stampede of quagga or bison. A cloud of dust appeared behind a hill. As they watched, a herd of runners galloped over the hilltop. But, to everyone’s amazement, all the colorfully painted runners had human riders on their backs…holding their terrifying bow weapons and spears. The migrators watched in awe as the Mammoth Riders galloped by them shaking their bows above their heads. The migraters would long remember this display of Mammoth Clan power and tell what they had seen to those who had already passed through Clan territory.
If the Migrators were ever to return to Clan territory, they would be and soundly defeated. The Clans were now secure from enemies from the South and North, for the near future, at least.
The warm moons in the grasslands were ideal for the training of both doncs and runners. More importantly, the Clan hunters had to learn about the runners. Each hunter selected one runners for his own. Runners came in one color; all were tan with short erect black manes and long black tails, but the hunters painted their mounts colorfully. The hunters were proud of their runners and soon learned to train them without the help of the boys. Eventually the runners learned what their riders wanted them to do by leg pressure, weight shift and voice commands. Even though a hunter was occupied with his bow weapon, with both hands, his runner was tuned into his rider’s needs by voice commands and weight shift. Certain sounds meant “run faster” and other commands meant “slow up”. Runners were brave and gladly would run into a stampeding herd of bison, or even along-side of an angry mammoth, so a hunter could shoot several of his killing sticks into the killing spot just behind the mammoth’s shoulder. All runners were cared for by their riders as if they were family members. But, the question still loomed, “What shall we do with our runners when we migrate to the winter caves?”
Edom thought deeply about this problem and finally came up with a solution, the only solution that might work.
“Father, why not take some runners with us to the valley and leave the rest behind, in the pens we have made. A few of us can protect them and feed them, and even ride them as the weather permits. They are hardy and better accustomed to the snow and cold than we are.”
“Would you be willing my son to stay behind to care for them while the clan moves back to the caves?”
Edom had anticipated his father’s question. “Yes Father, I will, and so will my friends. I have already talked them.” Wolfric smiled at his son’s answer. He already knew his son would volunteer to stay behind on the grasslands for the cold moons now that the weather was becoming milder. The mammoth lodges were sturdy and were designed to stay warm on the coldest nights for those who stayed behind. The runners would not be a problem. They were accustomed to the cold and they usually sought shelter in low areas in thickets of willows.
“My son, you must provide shelter for the runners. Near the lodges. You must build barriers to stop cold blizzards and rain. I am sure you and your friends, and several of the hunters and their families will do well on the plains during the winter. We will stock the cold storage areas with meat and roots and berries. Ice will melt in the lodges, so water will not be a problem. I will ask for volunteers from all the clans, and you will select the boys from all the Clans to spend the cold moons in the grass lands.”
Edom was pleased with his father’s decision and spread the news to his friends and to the youth of the other clans. When he asked for volunteers, everyone volunteered. The adventure appealed to everyone, especially boys wishing to make their reputation in the clan.
They started preparing right away. Edom was confident they would do well. The runners would be ready to ride when the clans returned to the grasslands and their mammoth lodges after the moons in the caves. Also, another problem would be solved. Occasionally, vagrant hunters temporarily occupied the mammoth lodges in the cold times and left them is disrepair. This would never be a problem again now that the lodges would be occupied year round.
Wolfric had listened to the migrator elders as they passed through Clan territory. From them he learned the climate was changing and was less cold than past seasons. He agreed. They told him that until recently, the great ice wall that had crept southward each year, had now stopped moving, and in the past three seasons had receded drastically. One elder migrator told him that, as the great ice wall advanced it changed the land. Every year the ice wall scraped the land flat. The colder temperature killed off more of the wooded areas. But now, as the ice wall receded, the flattened land provided an ideal environment for prairie grasses, willows and tundra. It opened up the landscape and provided food and space for mammoths, musk ox, quagga, antelope, bison, and giant elk. Vast herds of caribou moved rapidly across the land always looking for new grasslands and tundra. The grasslands not only provided an ideal environment for grazing animals but also for predators such as the giant cats, bears and wolves. The animals themselves adjusted well, given enough time. Humans also adapted well to the changing climate. It stimulated them to develop new tools and weapons, and make better clothing and shelters.
But now, as the ice wall was retreating, the run-off water created lakes and rivers of mud. It melted the tundra and flooded human encampments. With the warmer temperatures came hordes of mosquitoes so thick that one could not avoid breathing them in without a covering one’s mouth and nose. Other stinging insects also made life miserable and hunting difficult. The vast herds of caribou migrated looking for relief from the insects. Those changes forced their migration Eastward into the higher mountain valleys and the Mammoth Hunter’s territory. Herds of game animals migrated also, looking for grasslands and relief from the mosquitoes. Wolfric had a hunch that the migrators were not telling him the whole truth about their migration. He suspected there was another reason they were on the move. The Clans were to discover this reason soon. But now, Wolfric had decided about the runners they planned to bring to the Valley of the Caves.
Edom listened as his father explained his plan. “We will build fence pens and shelters directly below our cave We cans protect the runners, aurochs and doncs from above and shoot down at predators with our bow weapons if needed. Our wolves, will be of help in protecting our animals and keeping predators away. We will feed the wolves more than usual to keep them close. What do you think my son?” Edom agreed. The plan sounded like it would work. The volunteer boys and hunters were asked to gather immediately. More pens and shelters needed to be built near the lodges in preparation for the cold moons.
Although Edom was busy planning and building, he always found the time to mount his favorite runner and scout around the clan’s territory. One morning, as his runner galloped over a hill, he noticed a wisp of smoke in the distance to the North. It came from the trail that the migrators had taken as they passed through the area earlier in the season. Edom turned his runner north to investigate. When he reached the well-worn trail, he noticed a small tent and a smoking fire. Several articles of clothing were hung to dry on green willow branches. There appeared to be someone lying down in the tent, and someone crouched over next to a little stream washing clothes. Edom slipped off his runner silently and approached the figure. It appeared to be a young woman with long flowing black hair. She did not look like a migrator because her skin was darker, but not as dark as a Auroch Rider.
She did not hear Edom approach behind her, so when he greeted her she was so surprised that she slipped and fell into the stream. When she saw Edom laughing at her, she scrambled out of the stream and grabbed an old spear lying on the bank. Edom stepped back and smiled at the girl. He guessed she was about his age. She had beautiful dark skin and long black shinny hair tied behind her head. Her nose was long and straight and her dark eyes were piercing and wide with alarm. He guessed she was taller than he was and very slim. She definitely was not of the same tribe as the migrators who looked more like the Mammoth hunters.
“I am Edom, son of Chief of the Mammoth Hunters. Are you a Migrator?
Because of language differences, it was difficult for them to communicate but they managed. “I am not one of them. My mother and I were captured by them when I was a child.” She motioned to the tent. “She is dying, we need food. We were abandoned by the migrators and everything of value has been taken from us. We will surely die.”
Again, Edom smiled, “No, you will not die.” The girl looked back at him hopefully and then turned and hurried back to the little tent. She dropped to her knees beside the still body of an older woman. “Aieeee!” she wailed. “She is dead. My mother is dead.”
Edom knelt down beside her to see for himself. “Yes, she is dead.” He let the girl wail and said nothing. Eventually she stopped and looked over at Edom, her eyes wet with tears. “Will you help me with her body?”
Edom nodded his head. “How do your people deal with the dead?”
The girl looked back at him surprised. She asked herself, “Is this man stupid? Does he not know how to send a person to the next world?”
Again, Edom smiled and guessed what was going through her mind. “We bury our dead if the earth is soft. If not, we turn them to ash by fire.” He paused, “Either way they are returned to mother earth and what they were before they were born.” Then he smiled and added, “Sometimes, if we are moving fast, we leave our dead to the long toothed lions or wolves, whoever gets there first.”
The girl’s eyes widened in fright. Her gaze was fixed on something behind the strange Mammoth hunter. What she saw was a giant white wolf running up behind the man before her. The wolf leaped up and knocked the man down and then went for his face. She watched as the man laughed out loud and let the wolf lick his face. “This is my brother, White Wolf, he won’t hurt you, but if he is hungry, he may wish to eat your mother.”
The girl screamed and fell back to cover her mother with her own body.
Edom immediately realized his words of humor were inappropriate. “I am sorry, he won’t eat your mother… unless I tell him it is alright to do so. His words were sincere but did no good as the girl continued to wail over her mother’s body.
Edom thought it best to say nothing more until she stopped crying. She eventually stopped crying and looked up at the strange man and the giant wolf now lying beside him with its head in his lap. The wolf’s eyes were closed as the man rubbed its face and ears. Then, she saw the runner gallop up behind the man, stop abruptly and nuzzle his back. The girl sat next to her dead mother and silently watched the three in amazement.
The girl finally sighed and placed her dead mother’s hands across her chest and then turned her on her side. She covered the body with a tattered skin and then walked away toward a clump of willows. She gathered some dry branches and grass and placed them over the body. Edom followed her example, gathered more grass and dry branches and handed them to the girl. She looked at him and saw the concern in his eyes. They were kind eyes and the furrow in his brow showed he shared her sorrow.
Edom watched as she tried to light some tinder. He had to help her shaky hands get the blaze going. They both stepped back to watch. It was a strange sight, a girl and a boy, a giant wolf and a runner sanding together watching a blazing fire burn itself out until the old mother was a few bones and ash. Finally, when the fire turned to embers, the girl turned to the boy and said something that Edom took to be a “thank you”. She took the ragged skin that was a tent, picked up a food bowl and the old spear and turned to the worn trail of the migrators going east.
Edom grabbed her arm and pulled her to the runner’s side. With an effortless lift, he threw her to the back of the runner and quickly grabbed its mane to prevent it from taking off back to camp. He bounced up in front of her, and grabbed the loose rein and let the runner have its head. The girl slipped her arms around Edom’s waist, pressed her body against his back and held on as the runner galloped on through the tall grass, jumped a stream and continued on till it was near exhausted. The girl had never traveled so fast in her life so she screamed half the way to the lodges. Finally, they burst through the grass into a clearing with a little stream running through it. On both sides of the stream there were strangely shaped skin covered lodges with women working outside and children nearby. Everyone stopped their activity and watched Edom ride into the camp with the dark woman with long flowing black hair seated behind him. Her long black hair seemed to become part of the runner’s long black tail.
Edom slid off the runner and pulled the girl off beside him. He took her by the arm and pulled her to his father’s lodge and called his name. A voice from within replied. The lodge was open on one side so there was adequate light to see Wolfric as he sat with a group of elders. They were surprised to see his son’s companion.
Wolfric asked his son, “Where did you find this woman? She is not of the Clan, nor of the Auroch Riders, nor of the migrators.”
When Edom explained to his father and the council, the oldest council member rose to address the council. He explained where the girl was from. “When I was very young, my grandfather told me stories of these people. Far to the Southeast across the endless salt water there is a great nation of ancient people. It is called Indus. She is of them, her face and hair and color makes her of them. When I was a young man, traders from Indus arrived in large floating islands and carried with them strange humped animals. The traders looked like her, there is no doubt. I do not know how she came to be with the migrators, but I guess they captured a trading party from Indus and took her mother as a slave.
The long-haired girl stood in silence, her eyes darting around the lodge. She kept close to the young man an even held onto his arm as the council members had their say. Finally, after much talk and a few laughs, it was decided that she was Edom’s responsibility and he would have to take her as a mate. How else could she survive? The council members and Wolfric were smiling as they dismissed Edom and the girl. Edom heard laughter coming from the lodge as they walked away. Someone said “He is old enough to be married and have his own children.” Edom heard his father say “It is about time he took a mate. I want a grandson.”
The rest of the clan wanted to meet the girl and soon there was a crowd around them. People from nearby lodges heard the noise and swarmed over to them wanting to see the new clan member.
The long-haired girl’s name was Indi. Her mother gave birth to her after an Indus trading party was attacked by the Migrators and she was captured. Her father was an unknown Migrator.
Indi had never seen a Mammoth Hunter camp before. She knew of Mammoths although had never seen one, and she had heard about Mammoth hunters. She was told they were cannibals who ate their own dead babies. A moon ago, rumors were spread that the Mammoth Hunters were defeated in a battle and were forced to let the migrators pass through their lands unmolested.
When Edom and the clan heard this story, they laughed. The Council of Elders had laughed also, but rumors were told that they were also angry at the lies. The Migrators were not to blame but their leaders were. Were they to return to the land of the Mammoth Hunters, they would be severely punished.
Edom had much explaining to do to his mate to be. She never stopped asking questions. She always smiled and, on occasion, laughed along with the other women. She was well liked and accepted by the clan. Soon there was a little ceremony to make the joining official. Indi did not complain about the arrangements made for her and the handsome young man, and Edom did not complain either. Indi was a peasant and attractive young woman. She was hard working and skilled at making clothes and cooking. What else could a young man wish? Above all, she was pleasant.
To Edom’s surprise, and to the clan’s surprise, his new mate Indi, wanted to ride a runner. She finally got her mate’s permission to do so. After patient instruction from Edom she became a good rider. Then, she begged Edom for her own runner. She insisted upon a female runner, with a mane and tail as black as her hair. When she rode her long black hair and her runner’s black tail flowed in the wind as one. The hunters were surprised when they saw this girl riding, as the wind, next to them with all their skills.
As far as homely duties such as making clothes and cooking food, Indi managed well, but her heart was not in it.
Edom did not complain, because his woman was equal or better than most men riding a runner. She even learned to shoot the bow weapon as well as anyone, even while riding. She could mount in a bound and dismount while moving. Most importantly, she loved her new mate and he loved her. They spent much time together “under the fur” which meant making love, as all newly-weds did. There were many jokes about their sleeping area with all the hanging skins that gave them a little privacy.
Indi was smart. She quickly learned the language of the Mammoth Hunters. She told Edom about her life with the Migrators and happened to mention a rumor she had heard. While it was true that the changing climate and flooding convinced the Migrators, they must move East into the territory of the Mammoth Clans, there was another reason for the migration. The migrators were being attacked from the South. Indi’s people, the riders of the humped beasts, began arriving in force on large floating islands that moved across the endless salty water. They were taking revenge for the routine killing of their traders by the Migrators. At first there were just a few of the invaders but their numbers increased rapidly. They were fierce warriors that already defeated the Migrators in several battles with their humped beasts. Edom was surprised at the news. If it were true, the invaders eventually might reach the grasslands and the Mammoth lodges. But, he was of the opinion they would not travel or attack in the coming cold time. If an invasion were to take place, it would come next season at the beginning of the warm season. Edom and Indi met with the council and told them the bad news. If it were true, the Mammoth Clans could expect war after next season’s migration to the grasslands. There was much planning and preparation to do.
Hundreds of miles away on a small connecting inlet from the Great Southern Sea, three ocean-going floating islands glided onto a sandy beach. Their cargo surprised the local fishermen tribes. Never before had they seen so many warriors dressed in leather armor. They unloaded large numbers of the humped animals, that also wore similar armor on their sides. The warriors were armed with a small type of bow weapon, but all their killing sticks and long spears had sharp shiny points of meta. The fact that they brought no trade goods meant they intended to raid and plunder. Word of these newcomers worried the fishing people along the coast and the news spread inland with traders. Rumors of the invaders finally reached the Mammoth Clans as they prepared to migrate back to their valley and the caves. Conflict seemed inevitable and so the Clans began their plans for war. Wolfric thought it best to pack up belongings early and make the trip to the valley as fast as they could so defenses could be set up in case the Indus raiders attacked there. He had some good defensive ideas other than flooding the valley again. That would be the last option.
Edom was worried, as was were all the Clans. His new mate, Indi, knew the invaders wereher people. She remembered stories her mother told her about traveling across vast waters and landing far to the South. Her parents were part of a trading expedition until the Migrants captured them and killed all but a few women.
Edom and Indi shared this information with Wolfric and the Council. Wolfric felt the Clans had several big advantages if war came. Firstly, they had improved bow weapons. Indi agreed, because she had seen the bow weapons of the Indus invaders that had been captured by the Migrators. Secondly, the Clan had the runners and were more mobile than the riders of the humped beasts. Even though they were outnumbered, the clan could win the war with the invaders.
As the aspen turned gold and the temperatures fell, the Mammoth Clan started their migration back to the Valley of the Caves. As decided, Edom, most of the Clan’s young men and a few adult hunters and their families stayed behind to care for the captive runners and doncs. Indi, of course, stayed with her new mate and helped prepare for the Idus invasion.
Edom knew that cold temperatures and snow did not adversely affect the runners as long as they had some protection from the cold wind in their enclosures. The runners were able to plow through waist high snow with no problem. Except for wolverines the runners were the hardiest and strongest animals on the plains for their size, and as it turned out, they were the easiest to tame. The runners were ridden every day, especially in the western parts of the clan’s territory. That was the direction the Invaders would first appear. But, Edom still did not believe they would come until the beginning of the next warm season.
The cold season was not severe so the Mammoth Clan encampment did well. Fresh meat was always available and ample supplies of fire wood were pilled nearby. Everything seemed to be going well until a band of Edom’ friends galloped into camp after scouting the western clan territory. They rushed into the main lodge with bad news.
They discovered the Black Wolf’s pack feeding on a humped beast, like the ones the invaders rode. They back tracked the trail in the light ground snow to an encampment of about fifty men and their tethered humped beasts. The men were huddled in tents with smoke coming from the open tent tops. There were two more dead humped animals, apparently, victims of the unaccustomed grassland weather. Indi told the mammoth hunters what she was told by her mother. Her land had no cold weather and although the humped beasts were excellent mounts on hot sand, they had no experience in snow and with cold temperatures and rocky ground. It was obvious the invaders were having a hard time because they were eating their dead humped animals instead of hunting. The Clan scouts watched for a while and then galloped back to the lodges to report on their discovery.
That evening Edom and the few Clan members took council together. Edom asked “Is this bad news or good news?” The council was puzzled at what he asked. Edom explained. “These riders of the humped beasts are obviously unaccustomed to cold weather and snow. They huddle in light tents with no bison robes to keep them warm. They feed off their riding animals. They act like they have never seen the white flakes from the sky.” Edom stopped and watched for the reaction to what he said. The lodge was quiet for a while in thought until the senior adult hunter rose. “I think Edom has an important question he wishes us to consider. When is the best time to attack an enemy?” The council answered together “When He is weak.” Edom nodded and added “And when we are strong.” Their warriors are weak and cold. They have no furs, no warm lodges, no warm clothes except those stolen from their victims. Their humped beasts suffer from the cold. Can you imagine the message we could send to their leaders by defeating this advanced group?” The Clan all smiled nodded their heads in agreement. “But, we don’t have enough time to tell Wolfric.” A hunter said. “Can we do it without him leading us?”
Edom answered because he knew everyone had that question on their minds. “As the son of Wolfric, I know him the best. He would approve of our action. I will take full blame if our little war goes wrong. But, it will not go wrong. We can do it. We can prevent a major war by defeating their small poorly equipped warriors now and send a few survivors home totally terrified of us.” Everyone laughed at the prospect and agreed the plan was a good one.
Indi was present at the council meeting and added her voice without being asked. “They are a superstitious race. Everything they do must be done with the approval of their priests They look for signs from the gods before they do anything. We must give them a sign.
“What will that be?” asked a hunter” “We will think of something.” Indi replied.
That night, under soft bearskin belly fur, the couple tried to imagine a “sign from the gods” that might frighten the invaders. Several ideas were thought of.
One was to draw a circle of blood around their camp site. Another was to steal their remaining humped animals and leave huge footprints as if a giant human stole them. Other ideas were thought of but these two were the best thus far.
In addition to the superstitious signs, the clan hunters wanted to burn the tents down with the invaders inside. “We can spare two to take the message back that this is a forbidden land filled with dangers and death.” Indi suggested, “How about a mammoth stampede through their camp? Is that possible?” Everyone laughed. “That would certainly be a terrifying experience for the invaders.” she added.
Edom thought about it. With the help of the runners, a mammoth stampede was not out of the question. It just depended if there were a herd of mammoths or mastodons nearby to stampede through the invaders camp. The plan was worth considering.
Two night later it was reported that a mammoth herd happened to be close enough to stampede through the invader’s camp. The humped animals, tethered nearby, were suffering from the cold although their riders had thrown extra tent material over them.
Indi scratched a picture message “from the gods” on a flat stone showing many dead men lying together under the feet of a mammoth. She drilled a hole in the stone and pulled a leather rope through it. It would be tied to the neck of one of the surviving humped beasts. Holes were cut in several old bison hides so they would fit over the beasts’ humps. They would help them survive long enough to carry their riders back to the floating islands. This adventure would be interesting.
Two nights later, the Mammoth Hunters began the attack. Hunters aroused the nearby mammoth herd and drove it near to the camp of sleeping intruders. The mammoths were lethargic and quiet at night but could easily be awakened and stampeded into the invaders camp on short notice.
The signal was given to start the mammoth stampede. The sound of approaching trumpeting mammoths awakened the sleeping invaders who had never heard or seen a mammoth As they staggered out of their tents, in alarm, with their bow weapons and spears ready, they were met with a hail of killing sticks from the Mammoth Hunters. Some invaders chose to stay hidden in their tents but when the stampeding mammoths flattened their tents and some of their companions, they came out fighting. It was to no avail. Although the Mammoth Clan Hunters were greatly outnumbered, they mowed the invaders down with their killing sticks.
Indi took pity on them and cried out to the Indus survivors in their native language, “Surrender! Throw down your weapons and you will be spared!”
They quickly did as the voice commanded and threw down their weapons. Only about half of the Indus warriors survived the mammoth stampede and the killing sticks. The other half stood shivering in the falling snow watching the trumpeting mammoths disappear into the darkness. However, they realized that right before them was their most deadly enemy. The silhouettes a dozen dark figures clad in bison robes with bow weapons at their sides stood motionless before them. They looked mysterious and formidable in the snow with the morning light behind them. Next to them was a tall female figure who spoke their language. The Indus warriors felt they must have angered one of their gods. They fell to their knees and begged for mercy. Edom and the clan warriors let Indi give the orders. She said, in the loudest voice she could muster, ”Take your humped beasts home and tell your chiefs and priests that we will kill any invaders of our lands. In the future, no mercy will be shown by Mammoth Warriors. Our mammoths will crush you if you enter our lands again.”
The Indus survivors gathered what food and clothing they could find in the flattened tents and were escorted to where the humped beasts stood. Those covered in bison skin were for the wounded and sick. At first the Indus refused to mount these strange hairy animals until they were shown that their humped beasts were under the hairy skins. The wounded Indus were placed on the humped beasts and the rest followed on foot down the trail to the South and their floating islands.
Edom told the clan members “Time will tell if the riders of the humped beasts will return. Hopefully, the invasion is ended before it started. Tomorrow we must send a rider to the caves, telling my father of our victory.”
Finally, the migrating clans reached the winter caves with no casualties along the way. The doncs, aurochs and runners were wonderful beasts of burden. They carried furs, supplies, and people with health problems. It was the fastest migration the clan had ever completed.
The hunters constructed pens for the beasts of burden immediately, while the women settled into the caves and did the ever-important housekeeping, as women had done for generations. It kept the caves clean and organized and, above all, sanitary. Sewing areas and hide scraping areas were set up. New stretching frames were prepared for fresh hides that were forever being given to them by their men to be fashioned into clothing and blankets. Food storage containers had to be repaired and replaced. Ashes from previous fires needed to be swept out with straw brooms and fire wood needed to be collected and hauled up to the cave. Water skins needed to be replaced and filled. Preparing fresh meat for drying or cooking was a daily chore. Clan hunters took their women on daily foraging through the valley collecting edible roots and a variety of berries and nuts as they became available. On occasion the women took the time to fish with their mates and children along the many rivulets in the valley. Fishing nets were set up and had to be checked often, so bears would not steal the catch. Cave bears were easily dissuaded with yells and stones thrown at them, but short faced bears usually put up more resistance. They actually considered the Clan as prey. Hunters encountering a Short faced bear used a special warning whistle to call for help from other near-by hunters. The whistle was made by placing two fingers in the mouth on the tongue and blowing. The bears usually backed off rather than face a group of hunters with deadly killing sticks, but occasionally a young bear put up a fight and had to be killed. The clan hunters became expert with the larger more powerful bows they had designed.
Spears were another matter. The hunters had already designed improved throwing sticks, called atlatles. they increased the distance and power of thrown spears which now mostly had meta points as well as flint ones. Each had its purpose. Throwing sticks were arm extensions that were held alongside a spear shaft and attached to its end. Hunters found they could double the distance a spear could be thrown by using this technique. Young boys were encouraged to practice this technique and the bow technique at every opportunity. They did not have to be encouraged because this was fun to them.
When the rider arrived from the grasslands and informed Wolfric and the Clans of the great victory over the Indus invaders in the snow, Wolfric was extremely pleased. The rider described the mammoth herd stampeding through the enemy’s camp flattening tents and invaders. Wolfric guessed that his son had something to do with the victory. He was proud of his son. He would make a good leader someday. The rider told of the role Edom’s mate played in the victory. Her knowledge of the invader’s language helped a great deal. The surviving invaders from her tribe were warned never to return to the Mammoth Clans’ territory ever again. She warned them the territorial borders were constantly being patrolled. Any incursion would be met with the full might of both the mammoth Clans and their mammoths. The Wise One and the Clans people laughed at this exaggerated claim but it must have been believed by the Indus people because they never ventured to Clan territory again, at least for many seasons.
The doncs and runners brought back to the Valley of the Caves, were well cared for and ridden every day. The pens built for them were large and the fences were strong and covered with thorns to keep the long-toothed lions out. A stream flowed through the pen so fresh water was always available. The wolves did a good job, when present, keeping the cats, bears and hyenas away. The young boys tending the fires at the cave entrance each night had the additional duty of protecting the runners and doncs with their bow weapons. A fire burned all night in the middle of the area giving them good visionThe cold season in the valley was mild once again and the Clans were pleased. Melt water from the retreating ice wall flowed from the north, eventually joined the high mountain rivers and found its way into the valley. It caused the rivers to overflow their banks somewhat and form small lakes on the valley floor again. Fishing was the best it had ever been. Ducks and geese were everywhere. These were good times for the Mammoth Clans.
The good times in the valley were also a time of preparation. Within the last few years the Mammoth Hunters way of life had been threatened by three different invasions. First, the Auroch Riders, were soundly beaten. Next came the Migrators, who were driven from their home territory by floods from the great ice wall and the invasion of the Indus Camel Riders. Lastly, it was the Camel Riders themselves who were confronted with a mammoth stampede. Wolfric had a premonition that the territory of the Mammoth Hunters would likely be invaded again. The peaceful Mammoth Hunter society was gradually shifting into a war like society.
The Mammoth Hunters had several advantages over their opponents. They had the new improved long bow which shot killing sticks over twice the distance of their opponents. Lamination of the bows with several layers of select strips of wood made the bow cords more difficult to draw back, but by now all the hunters and young boys had strengthened their arms and shoulders by daily practice. Now, the range of their killing sticks was longer than ever before.
Another advantage was the fact that all the Mammoth Hunters were now mounted on sure footed and fast runners. A unit of mounted hunters was able to move rapidly and keep out of range of the enemies’ killing sticks. The Mammoth Hunters practiced their war techniques all year in their valley and on the grasslands. They were ready if and when the next invasion from the Indus Riders came. With the milder weather, Mammoth Hunter scouts now patrolled the Western grasslands year around. And Mammoth lodges were occupied year around as well. The Clan’s fighting forces had to be split to guard both the valley and the grasslands. All the separate Clans united against the common treat of invasion, and it was on the way.
Scouts reported to Wolfric and Edom that camps of the Indus Riders were forming up on the North-Western border of the grasslands at the mountain pass. Wolfric sent an urgent message, to the caves throughout the valley, “all able adult men should immediately report to the grassland lodges with their runners and bow weapons. In less than one moon, the hunters arrived, on their runners, ready for war.
Wolfric and the elders also traveled to the grassland lodges. They had planned carefully for the defense of their lands and it was all wisely based upon the mobility of the runners and superior bow weapons.
The first incursion into the grasslands by the Indus Riders was not met with resistance. Lines of riders and warriors on foot entered the grasslands unopposed. Their scouts either returned without seeing the enemy or, if they saw the enemy, they did not return at all. Whenever the Indus riders saw a group of mounted Mammoth Hunters they formed up their battle lines, inviting an attack. But, the Mammoth hunters never attacked; the Indus riders finally got the impression that there would not be an outright conflict. It appeared the Mammoth Hunters did not wish to fight.
They were wrong, of course. Mounted Clan Hunters began their resistance by attacking the long supply lines of the Indus Riders and foot warriors as soon as their whole force occupied Clan territory. The Humped beasts were too slow to confront the fast-moving runners, and invader’s killing sticks never reached their marks. Wolfric and his elders had devised an elaborate battle plan, perhaps the first one in human history ever planned this carefully. The Mammoth Hunters fought in mobile groups of thirty riders. There were five groups, each with his own supply of food and water, and each group armed with long bows and a more than ample supply of killing sticks. Additional supplies of bows, killing sticks and spears were available in hidden stashes around the valley.The Clan Hunters rode along the drawn-up battle lines of their enemies just out of killing stick range and fired their own killing sticks into enemy ranks causing many casualties. While this was happening other units of Mammoth Hunters attacked from the other side of the enemy battle line. The plan was to envelope and attack from all sides. When the Indus Riders led a charge on their humped beasts, the Mammoth Hunters easily retreated with their fast runners while another group of Mammoth Hunters galloped in behind them and attacked from the rear. The losses of the Indus Riders were huge. Their camps were attacked every night by rains of killing sticks, often with flaming shafts. Every day the Camel Riders rode out of their camps ready for battle; every day they were unable to engage the enemy and returned with their wounded and dead.
The five battle groups of Mammoth Hunters continued their mobile attacks with no losses, except a few injured from accidents. Finally, after many losses, a column of Indus Riders surrounded the main cluster of Mammoth lodges and prepared to attack. Units of Mammoth Riders watched as the humped beasts broke into a gallop, and then all hell broke loose. The humped beasts stumbled and fell; some veered off to the side and some stopped in their tracks, unwilling to advance. Eventually over half the beasts were lying down and bellowing in pain. Their riders soon discovered why. Large sharp thorns, identical to the ones on barricades along the trails to the caves, had been seeded across the grasslands between the lodges and the invaders. The large flat feet of the camels, well suited for sand, picked up numerous thorns. Units of Mammoth Hunters appeared behind the stalled charge and sent flights of killing sticks into the field of injured beasts and their hapless riders. Less than half the camels and their dismounted riders limped back to safety. But, there was no safety anywhere. Units of Mammoth Hunters harassed the stalled column of Indus Riders for the rest of the afternoon and into the night. The rain of killing sticks was relentless.
Morning found the column of Indus Riders utterly destroyed. The few surviving camels and their riders hastily retreated back to their main camp under a continued rain of killing sticks. Wolfric had prepared the Clan warriors well. Clan women brought an endless supply of killing sticks and food to their warriors.
The attack on the Indus survivors continued the rest of the afternoon and into the night. There was no place of safety except under a dead camel. Even that did not protect the Camel Riders because the Clans set roaring grass fires that swept into their camp. By morning, the camel rider’s camp was totally destroyed with hundreds of dead and dying. As the sky lightened, a full retreat was ordered by the Indus leaders. While the retreat continued, arrows rained down on them until they left the grasslands and entered the trail through the mountain pass that would eventually take the back to their floating islands. Stragglers were spared once the retreat had begun. They were warned, in their own tongue by Indi, that they must never return to the Mammoth Valley.
Wolfric was pleased. The Clans could live in peace, at least for a while. The lesson he had learned was plain to see. All adult males must be more than hunters, they must also be warriors skilled in riding the runners and using the bow weapons.
Edom bravely participated in the war on his runner. His mate, Indi, often accompanied him on her own runner and acted as a translator. She helped negotiated the final retreat of the Indus Riders. After the war, the couple planned to settled down to a peaceful life, and hoped to start a family.
When the last of the Indus Riders finally left the Mammoth Valley, the Clan’s mounted units disbanded and returned to their ivory and bone lodges. They hoped for peaceful years ahead, but they remained prepared for the worse. They planned to protect their ancestral lands in the grasslands and in the valley with all their might. But, as always, change was inevitable.
END OF PART TWO