Below is my contribution to the second part of another writer’s story. In Italics is the original story by DangerDean. Regular text below is my contribution. Thanks Herr Wendig for the challenge, again. Danger Dean didn’t give it a title, so I’m calling it: GREEN AND BROWN IN RIVERLAND
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.
During the River Tribe’s common meal at midday, Birdkin went to find Shinetooth Eightfingers. Around the glen where the Gathering Circle was, there was much chatter about the events of the day before. Birdkin spotted the Whisker Sisters; they stood in front of the prison hut. A couple of kids chased the River Tribe’s domesticated water fowl. The Honwoos honked and barked, and the children giggled and yowled in delight. Greywhisker nodded towards Birdkin as he crossed the glen to the far end and moved closer to the prison hut, giving him awkward pause. Greywhisker always went out of her way to greet him, which sometimes irritated her sister, Blackwhisker. He approached the fire circle that stood about six stones from the prison hut; five of the old women of the River Tribe were processing the hide of the big cat and preparing other pieces of the carcass for use.
“Birdkin,” one of the old women inside the fire circle and closest to the prison hut called. She motioned for him to come to her.
Birdkin approached, kneeling down in front of the matriarch. “How shall I serve you, dear wise one?
The old woman’s dark hair was streaked in white. She let out a giggle that denied her many moons with the River People, “You are a right respectful lad, Birdkin, but it is not how you shall serve me, but how I shall serve you.” Birdkin raised his head to look at her, tilting his head to one side like one of the Honwoos did when checking for predators. This made the old woman chuckle, “Relax, Birdkin. Old Tannerlass means you no trickery.” She stood up, her old bones now giving her age away in her stiff movement, and came to him and placed a beaded leather necklace around his neck. At its center was one of the large teeth of the Cat his hunting party had killed. The old woman had cleaned and shined it and layered it with fish fat to make it glisten. “We thank you for your bravery yesterday,” said the old woman, Tannerlass.
“Thank you for such a blessing,” Birdkin said. The old woman nodded and Birdkin left the fire circle, heading back to the Whisker Sisters.
Grey Whisker smiled at Birdkin’s approach. “Stand your duty,” Blackwhisker growled, a long scar on her right cheek growing taut with her irritation. Unlike her sister, Blackwhisker had no patience for Birdkin, save as a hunting party member. She gave Birdkin only the most cursorily respect.
“I am not here to tear you from your duty,” Birdkin said. “I just wondered about the condition of our captures.” Greywhisker and Blackwhisker sandwiched between him. Greywhisker painted all in the powder of white river rock and Blackwhisker painted all in the powder of black river rock. They were born on the same day, Blackwhisker during the end of the night, and Greywhisker born at the beginning of the day. They had always been a part of his world, but weren’t in it always, though. There was comfort and discomfort with them always for Birdkin.
“They are as fine as any capture,” Blackwhisker said. “Shouldn’t you be seeing Shinetooth right now?”
“Aye,” Birdkin said and puffed out his chest and straightened his shoulders back, to give Blackwhisker a reminder of his elder status above her. He had 24 moons on the Whisker Sisters. “I know that he will ask about the captures. I will just be sure that they are ready for their trial.”
Graywhisker immediately moved to allow him to pass. Blackwhisker grunted, but acquiesced.
Inside the confinement hut sat two of the members from People of the Village patrol that had broken the ancient truce. The green acorn woman and another scout found after the Cat was dead.
Birdkin approached the green acorn woman. He stood only a stone and a half away from her. “I wanted to properly pay my respects and give my gratitude to you for your actions with the Cat yesterday.
The green acorn woman said nothing. She just stared at him, her eyes that of a practiced hunter.
Birdkin took a step back, surveying her sinewy, muscled, green arms. They held such strength like he had not seen in a woman before, he tilted his head in curiosity.
“I see why they call you Birdkin,” the green acorn woman said.
“And what do they call you?” Birdkin tilted his head to the other way, blinking rapidly.
The green acorn woman met his question with that silent stare he’d given him after his reverent sentiment.
Birdkin was not flustered, “Very well. I shall just call you Green Acorn Woman.” He laughed at himself, and then went around to the other prisoner. He was a young boy, barely to hunter status as The River Tribe. Unlike Green Acorn Woman, he wouldn’t look at Birdkin, and clearly had been weeping, as stripes of tear tracks streaked his face. He was very lanky, as if he hadn’t quite finished growing. Both the capture’s green skin was so interesting to Birdkin. It had this luminescent almost. It was like stars in a night sky, but pulled down to the Riverland.
“What do they call you, lad?” Birdkin nudged the boy’s foot trying to get him to look up at him.
A scream rose from behind him, a battle cry. Birdkin spun around grabbing his knife in one fluid motion, before him was a charging Green Acorn Woman, her teeth bared and fingers curled like a Cat about to attack.