Light wind to tame the heat, and a clear sky.
A good day.
This is the most important hunt of my life.
It comes to all boys at the age of fourteen suns.
Five of us go to the low country, to hunt Vigla.
We must bring home five spears or knives with Vigla blood.
Five boys, five days, five strikes of blood.
Vigla are strong and wild.
They run on four legs, and walk on two.
When they stand, they are twice the height of a man.
Vigla do not fear us, and have a tough hide.
We struggle to get a spear deep enough to do damage.
They are fast on four legs, and their claws are long and sharp.
A pack of five boys cannot kill one.
Rare even for four full-grown warriors to send it to death.
Still, we hope to face the Vigla, draw blood, and live!
The honor of the test comes to us, together, when we come back safely.
I will lead us.
Already at fourteen, I am taller and stronger than the rest, skilled and fast with knives and spears.
Three suns ago, the fire dreamers spoke to the wind to discover my spirit animal, Vigla.
I tell no one.
It must be secret, until after this hunt.
The Vigla spirit watches over me, strong and deadly, a good spirit animal for a hunter and warrior.
A moon ago, my friends nicknamed me Vigla, but today they wonder if the name is bad luck for the hunt.
No one will call me Vigla on this trip.
I am troubled.
It is forbidden to hunt and eat your spirit animal.
The dreamers say it is allowed for the test, but I am sick inside.
We leave at first light, the trip a day and a half each way.
We must begin the hunt on the morning of the third day, and start for home, the morning of the fourth.
One day to hunt, or we will not reach home in time.
Tradition demands our return by sunset at the end of the fifth day.
That sunset is our enemy.
Return later, and there is no honor in the trip, even with Vigla blood.
Many are tested, but only one in ten groups return safely, with blood, on time.
We each carry a pack as we travel, with dried meat and roots for the trip.
There is no time to hunt for food, but water is easy to find along the way.
Each of us carries a spear and a short knife.
I also bring two of the driga, the long knives, in my pack.
They are not popular among my people, but chiefs are expected to be skilled with them.
My father taught me to use the driga.
He’s a quiet man, and a great hunter, the elder brother of the current chief.
My mothers are so proud of him.
“Did he ever want to be chief?” I once asked Elder mother.
“Once,” she says quietly, “but his brother killed the old, mad chief in combat, and your father’s hope was gone.”
“He would never challenge his brother for the right to be chief.”
Sometimes a chief dies in battle with our enemies, and the council finds a new chief.
Other chiefs must face the madness.
It often comes to a chief when he reaches fifty suns.
A chief has many privileges, but striking women and children are not among them.
A mad chief will hurt his wives, his children, and lead his people into ruin.
It is dishonorable for many to attack him, or one to attack him from behind.
A single warrior must challenge him in open, fair combat.
A chief at fifty has lost none of his strength, and the madness makes him even stronger.
It is rare, but if none can defeat him, the fire dreamers pray for his death.
The Low Country
The five of us go quickly to the low country, arriving a few hours before sunset on the second day.
We stop at a village, and give the greetings of our chief, and small presents that we carry.
My people are friendly with the people of the low country.
Once a year the groups meet to trade and celebrate and take mates.
Their chief calls us to a meal.
This chief has at least a dozen wives and too many children to count.
Some of his older daughters serve us.
It will not be long before we will take a mate, and several of his daughters are beautiful and strong.
In the morning we rise early and paint our faces and upper bodies in the old ways.
Then we take some dried meat, and our weapons.
We have leather on our feet and some cloth at our waists and no other clothes.
This is the way.
The chief’s daughters, the children, and many others watch us as we prepare to go.
The chief yells a war cry and raises his fist high with his favorite spear.
We yell in return, and bow to him.
The spears we carry are extra sharp to penetrate the thick hide of the Vigla.
Each of us carries a small waist pack with dried meat.
The other four boys carry a knife in a sheath at their waist.
I carry two long knives in sheathes that are tied to each leg.
The boys are not happy that I carry the driga.
“Jaina,” they say, “what good will the driga do you?”
“You won’t get close enough to the Vigla to use them.”
“If you need a knife for something else, the short knife is faster and lighter.”
“I’m as fast with mine as you are with yours,” I answer.
“True,” one says, “but you’d be faster with the short knife.”
There are not many Vigla in this forest.
Some men will dig pits and line them with sharp sticks to kill a Vigla.
This is an easy way to kill a Vigla, if you are lucky to have it fall in your pit.
The honor of this test comes when we meet the Vigla, no farther away than the length of a spear.
We will wait by the river where they must come to drink.
The Vigla are not swimmers, so we can escape it easily, by entering the river.
We cannot simply strike a Vigla with our spears and jump in the river.
The blood will be washed away.
We need to return with bloody weapons.
We form a prayer circle in preparation.
Four warriors stand to the four sides of me, and I raise my right hand high.
Elder mother says I have some talent for fire dreaming, but that will not be my path.
I make a circle in the center of my chest as she showed me, and bring forth a little green fire around my hand.
I spin around four times, and touch the heads of each of my brother warriors with the fire.
“We call upon the world to hear us!”
“We hunt Vigla not for our pleasure, but because we need to be strong for our people.”
We wait for hours by the river, until the Vigla walks slowly to the water to drink.
My four friends cover their skin with mud to block their smell.
Two young warriors wait on each side of the path that leads to the water.
This is the plan.
At my signal, the four of them will strike the Vigla with their spears in the lower part of the four legs.
Before it rises up to attack them, I will strike it on its chest from the riverbank and distract it.
While I strike, the four will throw their spears into the bushes and jump into the river.
I am at the edge of the river, and the Vigla are poor swimmers.
I will have time to toss my spear into the bushes, and still escape the Vigla, if the world follows our plan.
We will wait for a safe moment to return and collect our bloodied spears.
We see the great beast moving toward the river.
Its smell is strong, it’s claws and mouth covered in blood.
It has just eaten.
This will make it slower.
The beast growls a great sound as it approaches the river.
I do not fear easily, but a deep taste of fear passes through me.
I let the fear come, and go.
The fear does not weaken, unless we hold on to it.
The Vigla is slower than usual, but we know that it is still fast and deadly.
The four strike with their spears, and I strike a moment later.
Yes, my spear distracts it, for a split second, from the attacks on its sides.
Then it tosses its head and flicks away my spear into the river!
The Vigla moves sideways, knocking over one of the warriors on its right.
Then it turns its head to find what attacks it, and see if there is still something here to kill.
The warrior is not hurt, but how will he rise in time to escape?
There is only way to save him.
I pull the long knives out of their sheaths and leap at the creature, striking it in the underside of the neck, and taking one of its eyes.
The angle of its head is perfect for me.
It opens a soft part of the neck which cuts easily and deeply.
The Vigla is a warrior.
It does not stop until it dies.
It bleeds quickly, but I still must escape its claws.
I use my long knives to block its claws, and I keep slashing at its head.
My warriors attack its legs from the sides with their short knives.
The wound in its neck is larger now, and too much of its blood is upon the ground.
It falls, and twitches.
It will not rise again.
For a moment we look at each other, shocked that we have killed it.
Then I scream the cry of victory, and the others join in.
Blood and Blessings
When the screams are done, we sing a song honoring the spirit of the dead animal.
A few moments later, many warriors and the chief of the low country come into view.
“What is this?” I ask confused.
I wonder if they are watching to see if we need help.
To help us in our test would dishonor us.
Even planning to help us would shame us.
The chief comes up to us.
“Wash off the mud,” he says to the four warriors still covered in mud.”
“You need to be painted in blood.”
After they wash off, the chief dips his own knife in the Vigla’s blood.
He spreads the blood on our faces with the flat side of the knife.
I am first for I am the leader.
He answers my unspoken question.
“We watch you, but not to help.”
“I felt that blessings were with you today, and your day would be full of honor.”
“I wanted to see it myself.”
“What a sight!”
“Have you ever heard of a Vigla being killed during the test?!”
“I was right about your good fortune,” he says loudly.
He pounds each of us in the chest lightly, a sign of affection.
There are tales about this chief and his ways of seeing what can’t be seen.
The chief’s warriors cut off the head and feet with the teeth and claws.
The warriors will work hard to drag them back to the village, along with some of the meat.
The chief leads us, followed by me, and my four warriors.
When the chief gets within sight of his village, he begins the yell of victory and we all join in.
The people of the village raise their voices, and the ground shakes from our yells of victory.
My heart is happy.
I’ve done well today.
That night we taste Vigla at a feast in our honor.
The chief chooses five of the unmated girls to feed us our first plate of Vigla.
The five of us wear necklaces that have been made of the Vigla’s claws.
My necklace also has his long teeth, for I met him face to face.
“You are troubled, Jaina,” says the chief.
“The Vigla is my spirit animal.”
“Bad enough that I must hunt and kill it today, but eat it, too?”
His face turns quiet.
“Your brother gave itself to you,” he says.
“Accept the gift.”
The chief commands that I eat first of the Vigla, in his place.
One of the chief’s daughters feeds me, and she unsettles me as she looks me in the eyes.
She is as beautiful as any, maybe more so, but there is something else, a fire in her eyes.
Later when she moves away she pretends to ignore me, but I catch her looking at me.
Elder mother says:
look for beauty and strength and fire in a mate.
You will get more pleasure from the beauty if there is strength and fire behind it.
“You like her?” asks the chief noticing my gaze.
“She is beautiful,” I answer.
“Of course she is beautiful,” he says loudly.
“Beautiful wives do not produce ugly daughters.”
“She is the oldest girl from my first wife,” he adds.
“She has a strong spirit, but she is loyal.”
“If she accepts you as a mate, she will do anything for you.”
“She has my skill at feeling when it’s going to be a good day or bad.”
“Nanik is the finest of all of my daughters.”
“I will accept no ordinary man to marry her,” he says, pounding my chest again.
“Your mother and I will talk.”
The time of mating for me is a year away.
There is a saying: “The first wife is chosen by the mother.”
Elder mother must approve my first mate, but I know then.
Nanik will be the first of my wives, and the heart of my family.