tagNovels and NovellasThe Chief Pt. 02 Ch. 12

The Chief Pt. 02 Ch. 12

byamicus©

TWELVE

Mist rose and low clouds swirled about the tops of the tall evergreens as Sahjeed stood before the assembled group of men. Their morning meal and hot drink finished, campfires covered over and weapons checked; the large, mostly quiet gathering looked at the Chief and First Guard.

Duulaat had slept very little; he probed and tested the alertness of the perimeter guards long before Sahjeed had risen.

The land slowly changed from flat with a few small rises, to mostly rising hills and small valleys between, as Sahjeed and his men moved east, away from the river and the wide valley. They were divided into three groups of about twenty each and kept within sight of each other.

Towering Pine and Fir trees, hundreds of years old and some reaching two hundred feet and more into the low clouds, left a thick spongy carpet of needles on the forest floor and their shadows limited the growth of brush and small trees. The forest engendered an eerie silence, even the wind ruffling the treetops high above, could not be heard.

Wolf appeared ahead of the column and found his way to Sahjeed. "My Chief, we did not go through the deep of the forest before. We followed a stream to where it came down from the high land. I am uneasy...I see no tracks of men and very few sign of game...the quiet here gives me a strange feeling..."

Sahjeed nodded and signaled and several other men, including Duulaat and Alahbaand, gathered around. "I thought perhaps going a different way than you did before might show us other things, tracker. I too feel closed in by the forest and I have seen nothing. What is your feeling?"

"We move faster without fighting the brush alongside the stream, my Chief, but I would feel easier following the water between the hills at the edge of the large trees."

Sahjeed glanced at the others around him, "It seems all share your apprehension, Tracker, let us follow the small waters."

Duulaat cleared his throat, "My Chief...traveling as we do, in three groups...I am also uneasy and unsure as to what orders I would give if one group or another comes under attack. But I do not see how to move otherwise; as one large group, we are also at risk. I would favor more open ground."

Sahjeed nodded, "Signal all the men to gather in, let us take a short rest. Wolf, how far and how long to return to the small stream?"

"There are two waters, my Chief, and in between is where the tracks lead into the high ground." Wolf pointed to the north, "I know the one that lies in that way better; there are places to camp, places that can be defended. But I would have us move in the other direction, there are parts along that stream that I have not seen. It is not far to one or the other; we must climb a hill in either case and then go down to the water."

Sahjeed nodded, "We shall go as you say, Tracker; rest yet some more and then send your scouts out."

They paused again as they crested the hill to the south. Through the trees they could see higher hills off in the distance and, far down the hill, sunlight broke through and showed a treeless meadow.

"The water is just beyond the clearing my Chief."

"Thank you Wolf," Sahjeed glanced in all directions, "Is it possible to climb one of these trees?"

Alahbaand stepped forward, "If someone will let me stand on their shoulders, I think I can go up...perhaps that one?"

Two of the tallest lent their shoulders as the young man gained a hold on a low branch and slowly worked his way up the huge trunk of the towering tree. The men watching kept changing positions as Alahbaand ascended and went out of sight behind branches from time to time. The men finally just relaxed and rested, surrounding the tree, looking up when clusters of pine needles and the occasional cone bounced downward from the tree.

Finally, as Sahjeed paced around, looking up every few minutes, they could see the boy slowly descending from branch to branch.

A scraped and scratched and sticky Alahbaand clung to the low branch until his feet found the shoulders of the waiting men. "Smoke!" he gasped, and held up four fingers, "That many smokes!"

They waited until the boy could breathe easy again and listened as he gave the directions and distances of the spirals of smoke rising above the trees. "Suulumaag's village, much...smoke, but..." he pointed, "to each side and where the highland begins, a single smoke from each, my Chief."

The Chief brought the two men from Suulumaag's village before him. They insisted that no one from the village would hunt near the highlands. They shook their heads and would say no more.

"What are we about to face, my Chief?" asked Duulaat.

Wolf came clumping rapidly back to the group of men, "My Chief! Men, four bodies...hanging from the branches of trees! They have been there a long time...ah, animals and flies...there is not much left."

Sahjeed once again questioned the men from the village; they claimed to know nothing.

The Chief called a conference and stood before the men, "You know what I know. We do not know what lies ahead. I would have your suggestions."

"I do not think we should go down the hill, as I did, to where the dead ones are; but the tracks I saw were old," offered Wolf.

"The smoke is before us, toward the highland and on each side," said Duulaat.

"The smoke before us, toward the high ground, is more that way," Alahbaand pointed, "Closer to the smoke in that direction, there is a wide area in between."

"Would it be hunting parties?" asked Sahjeed.

"Perhaps," said Wolf, "But having a fire shows they do not fear being seen. I do not know."

Sahjeed paced back and forth for a moment and then faced them, "We will go in the direction Alahbaand has pointed out. Scouts must be very quiet and very alert; we must all be that way!"

They came down from the hill through the heavy forest and into a small clearing as Wolf met them near the last tall trees. "There are many tracks of men along the bank of the stream, my Chief, and the smokes can not be seen from here. We must be very cautious, but I think none are near."

"Thank you, Tracker, rest now...we will refill our water. Duulaat, twice as many scouts...make a circle around us on both sides of the water."

"Yes, my Chief."

They followed the fast moving stream toward the rising hills as the sun climbed full overhead. The men were on edge, watching closely as scouts trotted out in four directions and returned, being replaced by others who set out at a fast pace. They finally drew to a halt as the stream turned and came down in a small waterfall.

"Between here and the other stream is where the tracks go up into the high ground, my Chief," said Wolf.

The men relaxed as new scouts went out and formed a perimeter; they ate and drank in silence as Sahjeed walked among them. He joined First Guard Duulaat alongside the stream.

Duulaat did not meet Sahjeed's eyes as he spoke, "I am very uneasy, my Chief. I have lost the feeling of excitement in our search. I know we seek those from our village that did not return. I do not think they live."

Sahjeed looked away and did not place his hand on the First Guards shoulder as he usually did in a gesture of encouragement. He sighed and pursed his lips. "My friend, I too, have bad feelings about this journey to find our people. I too, think they are no more. The men who were killed and hung from the trees; who were they? Are they ours, from Suulumaag's village, of the new People? I cannot know, we cannot know. We must go on. We must be alert; we must be ready for anything. I have spoken."

Duulaat stood and blinked at the formal ending of the Chief's words; he understood. "I will speak with the men, my Chief; we will do as we must." The First Guard moved quickly away, leaving Sahjeed gazing into the distance.

Wolf pointed out the wide and much used trail that led up into the high ground. "I have been a small part of sun's journey up this trail before, my Chief, there are many tracks both going up and down."

Only small bushes and tough grasses clung to the broken and jumbled rock that led into the high ground, a few small trees dotted the rocky hillside. Sahjeed could see some distance up the nearly barren landscape.

"If we choose to go into the high ground, it should be at first light, I would think," said the Chief.

Duulaat agreed as he stood beside Sahjeed. Wolf came alongside them, "If we go up the trail to the next stream, I would remain near by this dark and keep watch, my Chief."

Sahjeed thought for a moment, "Not alone my friend, I think you have a good idea, but I would leave you with some men, just in case..."

"Two hands, enough for some scouts on outpost and enough to fight if need be," Duulaat suggested.

"Alahbaand can scout for you my Chief, he has learned quickly," said Wolf. "There is a place to camp near the water, it can be defended, the boy can lead you to it; it is not far back along the second stream."

Sahjeed looked around, "Are we all good with this?"

No one offered any further suggestions; Duulaat selected ten men to stay with Wolf and sent out scouts as the main party prepared to leave.

Sahjeed grasped Wolf's arm, "Be alert my friend, we will return at just after first light."

Wolf tightened his grip on the Chief's arm, "The boy is good, but I wish I could be your eyes."

The sun moved lower in the sky as Sahjeed and his men worked through heavy brush and large rocks alongside the second small stream of water. They paused for a short rest and were moving again when a scout from the rear of the group of men ran through the ranks and approached the Chief.

"I think we are being followed, my Chief!"

Sahjeed stopped suddenly.

"I was just about to turn back and before me, a deer ran into the open, which they seldom do in light, and then birds rose from the ground in the same direction. Something made them flee, I do not know what."

"Thank you, scout, you have done well. Duulaat!"

Sahjeed told the First Guard of the scout's report.

"My Chief!" Sahjeed turned to the sound of Alahbaand's shouted voice at the front of the line of men.

"The place I am to lead us to, has been used! The ashes in the place of fire are still warm!"

Sahjeed and Duulaat looked at each other with a quick hard glance. "My Chief, I would leave two hands with bows behind us to slow them down if they are many, and we should move quickly to the place ahead."

Sahjeed nodded, "Do it! I will go ahead and place the rest of the men. First Guard, do not stay with those left behind, join me, quickly!"

"Yes, my Chief!"

Sahjeed found the site, 'defendable', as Wolf had said. The creek had widened and was shallow. The circle of rocks where the recent fire had been was partially covered by an overhang of rock and vines. Across the shallow stream was a jumble of small trees and larger fallen logs washed down during the rainy season. Behind the covering trees was a bluff; their backs would be protected by the steep hill.

The Chief placed the men across the stream and sent several down in the direction they had come from with orders to harass and then fall back to the main body of men.

Sahjeed was looking over what he had done when he heard shouts from the trail they had followed. Duulaat appeared first, followed by the others of his group.

"We were attacked! From the side! No one was lost, but some were injured, they are many, my Chief!" The First Guard gasped and sat down heavily. "They have protection against our small spears. They hold something before them with one hand, the small spears just bounce off!"

"How many?" Asked Sahjeed.

Duulaat showed both hands, three times. "Some went down, I do not know how many."

"Alahbaand!" shouted Ahjeed.

"Yes, my Chief," said the boy, running up.

"Tell those we placed alongside the stream to stay hidden and wait until they pass, then come in behind them! Hurry! Duulaat, across the stream, there is cover. We will fight from there!"

The shadows had lengthened when they heard the first screams of pain back along the trail. The first of the high ground warriors burst into the clearing holding skin shields of different colors in front of them as they sought out Sahjeed's men.

Those who had been left behind begun finding their way back, following and loosing arrows as they could.

"Long spears in front! Two lines, bows ready!" shouted Duulaat.

The high ground warriors saw the tracks heading into the shallow water and turned as one, shields up, and plunged into the shallow, fast moving water toward Sahjeed's men.

Sahjeed's men, who had been left behind, saw the high grounders commit and crossed the stream behind them, firing arrows into the backs of the screaming warriors. Only a few reached the first line of the Chief's position and were killed by the long spears as they tried to climb the bank. A few scattered moans and cries were quickly squelched by Sahjeed's men. An eerie silence fell over the panting warriors.

Duulaat and Alahbaand went among the men, Sahjeed walked among the fallen high grounders; he crossed the stream and stood before the overhang.

"We have only a hand of injured, my Chief, none are serious, they are being attended to." Duulaat spoke with pride.

"Your men did well, First Guard. Those who thought to come in behind saved us from the close fighting that would have happened. They had the shields, it would seem they know of the short spears we use, yet they do not use that weapon. I wonder why?"

"I can not answer, my Chief. Ah, I think this is not all; we saw other fires. There may be others near by," said Duulaat.

"They used this place as a camp, I would think," said Sahjeed.

"Yes, I think so," said the First Guard. "What are you thinking?"

"That we should build a fire, a large fire and place the bodies around as if they were still alive. If they come, they will not know anything has happened." Sahjeed said slowly, thinking as he talked.

Duulaat blinked and opened and closed his mouth as he listened.

"If there is enough dry grass, we can use the short spears with fire and put the fire behind them," said Sahjeed.

Duulaat stood erect and with his right hand pushed his long spear forward, the butt of it on the ground. "My Chief, when you said that I must fight and you must lead, I did not understand. I thought fighting well was enough." The First Guard turned away and began to set the scene as Sahjeed had described.

From a distance, the still figures around the blazing fire seemed animated in the flickering light; those who appeared to be sleeping under the overhang and others, sitting against trees, also seemed natural. Duulaat had men with bows, hidden and positioned along the trail both above and below the campsite. Only the crackling and snapping of the wood in the fire broke the silence as darkness fell.

They heard them before they saw them. Easy sounds of laughter and chiding conversations as the large band of high grounders came into the light given off by the fire.

Greetings were called out and then screams and mass confusion as the short spears whizzed through the darkness. Many fell before they could raise their shields and turn towards Sahjeed and his men.

The Chief watched, almost in sadness until screams and cries from the opposite direction pulled his head around to view with startled eyes, another band of high grounders rushing in from the trail they had taken into the site.

The battle suddenly changed as the new group had their shields up and plunged into the shallow water towards the main body of Sahjeed's men. Those of the first group of high grounders also rallied and ran into the water with shields up and spears extended.

The two forces collided and spears were replaced with stone knives and hatchets as men on both sides screamed war cries and pain as weapons bit into flesh.

Duulaat at Sahjeed's right was grappling with a screaming warrior as Sahjeed thrust a spear and connected, he pulled back on the handle but the warrior grabbed and held. Another warrior pulled his arm back and thrust forward. A flash of naked flesh and a body flew through the air bearing Sahjeed to the ground as the high grounder's spear swept down.

"To me! To me!" screamed Duulaat, as he saw the Chief go down. The center of the line was breached and Duulaat could see they were outnumbered and in a bad position. He slashed and screamed and felt the pain and cursed and slashed again, expecting to die.

New screams filled the air as the charge of the high grounders stopped and they turned to face a small group of men shooting arrows and screaming, thrusting spears and then the knives and hatchets.

In a few minutes, the battle was over and only the carnage and the pain and the moans and screams remained.

Duulaat, bleeding from several cuts, crawled back up the hill, "Chief! My Chief!

Others came towards him; they pulled the bleeding body of the boy off Sahjeed and quickly sat him up. Blood trickled from the Chief's forehead and his chest and arms showed cuts and gashes.

"I live! The boy? He saved me! Does he live? See to him!" Sahjeed tried to shout but his voice was but a hoarse croak as he tried to clear his eyes.

"He lives, my Chief!" Said Duulaat, "His wound is not bad; he lives!"

The group of men surrounding the Chief parted and Wolf came thumping up, his staff showing red at the tip. "The Chief? He lives?" shouted the Tracker.

"I live, Lobolaaht!" said Sahjeed, "Thanks to the boy you trained and only because of him, but I live!" Sahjeed was helped to his feet, "And we all live because of you! How did you know to come?"

"You have been injured, my Chief!" Wolf said as he moved closer.

"Not badly, I think, my friend, but the boy?" Sahjeed shuffled toward where Alahbaand lay.

"He will survive, my Chief," said Duulaat, "He took the spear point in the back but it glanced off the bone in his shoulder. He is not badly hurt."

"He took the spear that was meant for me," said the Chief, "I could not have stopped it; I saw it coming, it would have killed me, I am certain."

"We were lost, my Chief," said First Guard, "They had us, but for the men with Wolf, we would be no more."

"They passed by us as the sun went down, my Chief. We saw the glow of the fire against the clouds; I knew you would not have such a fire. I sent the men at a fast run. I arrived only in time to crack a few heads. I regret that I am so late to arrive."

Sahjeed let a small grin cross his face and tapped a finger to his forehead; "It is your eyes and your mind that has saved us, Tracker, one could ask no more." The Chief turned to the First Guard and the smile left his face, "We lost many..."

Duulaat lowered his eyes, "Yes, my Chief, I do not know..."

TWELVE

Mist rose and low clouds swirled about the tops of the tall evergreens as Sahjeed stood before the assembled group of men. Their morning meal and hot drink finished, campfires covered over and weapons checked; the large, mostly quiet gathering looked at the Chief and First Guard.

Duulaat had slept very little; he probed and tested the alertness of the perimeter guards long before Sahjeed had risen.

The land slowly changed from flat with a few small rises, to mostly rising hills and small valleys between, as Sahjeed and his men moved east, away from the river and the wide valley. They were divided into three groups of about twenty each and kept within sight of each other.

Towering Pine and Fir trees, hundreds of years old and some reaching two hundred feet and more into the low clouds, left a thick spongy carpet of needles on the forest floor and their shadows limited the growth of brush and small trees. The forest engendered an eerie silence, even the wind ruffling the treetops high above, could not be heard.

Wolf appeared ahead of the column and found his way to Sahjeed. "My Chief, we did not go through the deep of the forest before. We followed a stream to where it came down from the high land. I am uneasy...I see no tracks of men and very few sign of game...the quiet here gives me a strange feeling..."

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