This is my submission for Chuck Wendig’s latest flash fiction challenge, the Four-Part Story. It seems like a somewhat complete story, but of course it leaves several big options for continuation. I like this world, and might do something with it, you know, if I finish all the other things I started.
The hunt would be successful, Birdkin thought, and all because of him. None of the River tribe had caught any meat this time, and it had seemed like they would dine on nuts and greens because of it. But now he, Birdkin Riverson, was poised to fill the larders of his people. He had spotted a vole sniffing and scratching its way through the forest and he was poised to fall upon it. He was stretched taut on a branch above, camouflaged. His skin was already as brown as the bark, and his long hunting coat—brown with hints of green—hid the rest of him. Once the rodent approached his blind he would drop on its back and cut its throat with the his knife. He would claim the heart as his warrior prize and mount the teeth as a necklace, or on a war club, or maybe a war club necklace, he wasn’t sure.
The animal came nearer, twitching its whiskers as it scrabbled in the dirt for seeds. Birdkin started to loosen his grip, then froze. Across the feeding trail the vole was using, past Big Cedar, but definitely in River Tribe territory, was a Village Tribe scouting party. Three that he could see, crouched in a thicket chewing on trail rations. They weren’t making any effort to hide, but he wouldn’t have seen them if he wasn’t up on the branch. He let out a birdlike chirp, which alerted Blackwhisker and her sister Greywhisker, perched in a crook of Gnarled Oak. They looked toward him and he pointed toward the hostile patrol. More subtle chittering and chirping alerted the entire hunting party, which began converging on the three Village people.
Birdkin watched his vole trundle through the brush past him and sighed. No meat for now, but this was more important. If the Village Tribe was bold enough to break an age-old truce something had to be done about it.
This had been a wide-ranging hunt, and riverfolk spanned the area around the enemy patrol. Now with a few well-timed signals they moved silently over the forest floor, weapons drawn, and before the villagefolk saw what was happening they were surrounded by surly, growling River people brandishing bows, swords, pikes and knives. Shinetooth Eightfingers stepped forward and addressed them.
“You are in the land of the River People, which is ours by ancient truce, and in which the presence of People of the Village is proscribed.” The three Village people seemed unperturbed.
“State your business, and explain why we should not make you a fine meal for ravens.” A lanky, green-skinned warrior of middle years stepped forward.
“Our business? We wanted to take an afternoon stroll to a part of the forest we’ve never seen. You have pretty lands here. I can’t tell you why you shouldn’t kill us, except that we made it onto your lands undetected and more of our people may decide to take afternoon strolls. They would not take kindly to our deaths.” A squat, heavily-muscled nutbrown thug piped up.
“And we killed your sentries without you noticing so we—“ A green woman in an acorn helm swatted him in the back of the head.
“Shut your seed-hole, Dirteater.” Two River Tribe scouts ran up to the group.
“We found Thistle and Mossbeard! They’re dead! Garrotted with spider silk!” A collective growl rose from the assembled River people.. The green patrol leader grinned slyly, but his satisfaction was cut short by fierce whistles from Blackwhisker and Greywhisker.
“Cat!” Everyone yelled in unison, and scattered as the animal, a striped tom, landed in the clearing. It swatted its massive paw toward the three Villagers, knocking Dirteater unconscious several feet away. The animal leapt to him and held him down with a paw, not noticing that Dirteater’s two companions were now attacking it. They first threw pikes at its flanks, then before it wheeled around began hacking at the back of its legs with their swords. The River folk were stunned. No-one they knew had tried to take on one of the cats in battle. It was unheard of, until now.
The Whisker Sisters drew their bows and let fly volleys of arrows at the beast, while the rest of them surrounded it and aimed arrows and spears. The bravest and most foolish closed with the creature and tried to stab it with their small weapons. Birdkin was one of these, climbing tufts of fur on its leg and hacking tendons before he was thrown off again and again. The cat was not used to its prey fighting back and attempted to flee, but it could not shake off its attackers. The green woman in the acorn helm spun a weighted length of woven silk above her head, then released it to spin around the cat’s front legs. She pulled it taut and the animal began to topple, yowling in fear. Most of the warriors who had been climbing its flanks jumped clear, but Birdkin, who had made his way almost to a shoulder, kept hacking away, unaware that he was about to be crushed. The green woman, seeing this, leapt forward and into the air, tackled him around his midsection, and propelled him out of danger. He looked up at her, and tried to thank her, but hitting the ground had knocked the breath out of him. He mouthed the words just as his own people surrounded her and dragged her away.
Once the cat was down and they had access to its throat the crowd made quick, if messy, work of the beast, then took inventory of the situation. Three River warriors lost their lives, as did Dirteater and the Village patrol leader. With the work of the rest of the tribe they would have meat to last for many moons, which was fortunate, as they didn’t know when the Village Tribe would make its attack. They withdrew for the night, and Birdkin, snug on his moss bed, dreamed of a green woman in an acorn helm.