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Og — Boy of Battle
Irving Crump
Dodd, Mead & Co.
1925

CHAPTER XXI

THE THUNDER BIRD

 
OUT side the cave the world was dazzling beautiful to the Hairy Boys. Never had they seen anything quite so wonderful. Reaching away in all directions were snow-covered peaks with here and there wisps of clouds enshrouding them. Directly above them was the bright blue sky from which the brilliant sun looked down and made the white-clad world sparkle and glitter. It was cold, but Og and Ru snuggled down in their goat skin clothing and were very happy. Even the wolf cub, nestled in the hollow of Og's shield between his shoulders seemed full of life and spirit.

Og observed that they seemed to have come out on the very crest of a long ridge of mountains that reached east and west. They had been driven up the south slope by the wolf pack and Og felt that it would be best for them to continue on across the ridge descending by the north slope. Traveling over the ice-covered rocks and floundering sometimes hip deep in great drifts did not prove to be the easiest kind of traveling for the Hairy Boys, however, and it took them a long time to top the ridge before they could look down the northern slope toward the foothills that lay in that direction. Indeed it was mid-day before they caught a glimpse of what lay beyond.

But when they saw the land on the far side of he ridge they were not disappointed. Away below them spread out like a great green bowl was wonderful valley, thickly forested with sequoia trees, that began at timberline on the slopes of the mountains and grew denser toward the bottom of he valley. In the very center was a long lake that reached away toward the lower end of the valley until it seemed to be lost in the mist of the distance. It was a delightful spot and somehow as Og and Ru looked at it they felt that somewhere down there they would find the new home for the Hairy People which they were looking for.

Tired with their efforts they crouched on the snow under the shelter of a ledge of rocks and rested, while they took from their leopard-skin pack sacks, strips of goat's meat they had stored there as provisions on their journey over the ridge. There was no wood to be found in this land of ice and snow and so they could not make a fire over which to cook the meat. But it was not so long since the Hairy People ate all their meat raw and Og and Ru relished it almost as much that way. Indeed they were very hungry and they consumed many strips of meat as they crouched there and looked down into the valley.

And while they ate Ru called Og's attention to a great bird that he saw high in the sky and apparently hovering over a particular spot on the shore of the lake. Even as Og looked they saw the great bird drop, swift and straight as a flying arrow, out of the blue. Down, down, down it plunged into the valley miles below them to disappear behind the mass of forest that fringed the lake. It was some great bird of prey, and it was striking for a kill. They wondered vaguely what the bird was after. It must be a veritable winged monster, for though it was far away still it appeared big to Og and Ru.

With concentrated interest they watched the forest-clad point jutting out into the lake in the valley, behind which it had disappeared. Presently they saw it rise with heavy flapping of its great wings and start slowly upward mounting higher and higher above the tree tops. It carried something in its talons, but the Hairy Boys could not make out just what it was from the distance.

Up it mounted, higher and higher, then suddenly it turned and headed straight toward them; toward the craggy snow-clad peaks behind Og and Ru. The two boys watched it come; watched it as it swept toward them on outspread wings and as it drew closer they could not help but marvel and grow a little frightened at its enormous size.

Its body was larger and heavier than Og and the spread of its huge black wings was so great that its shadow as it sailed across the snow toward them, looked like the shadow of a cloud across the sun. As it drew nearer Og could see the great black head and ugly curving yellow beak. And in its terrible talons it carried a form that looked surprisingly like that of a half-grown Hairy Man — a young boy.

As it sailed toward them, the wolf cub that lay sprawled beside Og taking bits of goat flesh from his fingers, began to whine and cower and creep closer for protection. Both Hairy boys were growing equally as frightened. They stood up and while Ru gripped his stone hammers firmly, Og hastily strung an arrow in his bow. Tense, silent they waited. They could hear the wind whistling through the great bird's feathers. They could see its big lustrous yellow eyes fixed on them. It was dropping lower. It would pass within short bowshot over their heads. It seemed to be making for a great ledge of rocks just behind them and higher up the mountain. As it drew closer, and its shadow, traveling ahead of it across the snow, passed over them Og saw with surprise that it was a boy that the great bird held in its talons and that he was alive. He could see that the boy still struggled feebly despite the terrible claws that were fastened in his shoulder and the thick of his leg.

At this discovery Og cried out in anger and despite a warning from Ru with a swift motion he raised his bow and sent an arrow whistling at the oncoming bird aiming at the broad black breast as it sped over their heads.

The Hairy Boys could hear the thump with which the shaft struck the thick plumage of the great bird. But it had not flown true. Instead it struck the eagle a glancing blow in the shoulder, just above where one of the great wings joined the body. In an instant the air was full of black feathers, and the eagle dropped the huddled form it clutched and shot high in the air screaming in its anger. For a moment it hovered out of bow shot above them. Then it swooped downward full at Og and Ru, its hooked bill open and its ugly talons extended to seize one of them and bear him aloft with it.

Og and Ru went cold with fear then. They crouched flat against the cliff, and Og sped another whistling arrow at the great bird as it plunged toward him. But the arrow missed its mark and the next instant the huge winged creature like black doom was hovering over them striking at them with its cruel feet. Og dropped his bow then and seized his stone hammer, and swinging this above his head aimed blow upon blow at the hovering bird. Ru too tried to knock the creature down with a well timed swing, but the eagle, quick, alert, watchful kept out of reach and watched its chance to dart in and strike at them with talons and beak and its huge falling wings that struck such a powerful blow that Ru, struck on the chest, was knocked sprawling.

This was what the bird had evidently tried to do, for the moment Ru was helpless on the ground it darted down toward him screaming triumphantly and tried to dig its talons into his back. But Og with a cry half of fear and half of anger, leaped toward Ru even as the bird darted down. At that he would not have been able to save Ru from terrible punishment under the claws of the bird had it not been that Ru had kept his turtleshell shield fastened to his back while he rested. In falling he sprawled face downward and when the bird struck its talons only rasped along the rough surface of the shield. Again and again it struck, and delayed to make a third attempt to sink its nails into Ru's flesh. Og swung a mighty blow at it with his stone hammer and caught it glancing on the body and knocked a huge patch of feathers out of its thick plumage. Before he could strike again it recovered its balance and mounted screaming to wing once more.

This time it flapped well above them. And while Ru picked himself up it hovered over them and screamed in a frenzy. But it did not renew the attack. Apparently it had had enough. It flapped angrily away continuing its piercing screams until it came to rest on the edge of a crag well up toward the top of the mountain where Og could see a pile of sticks and rubbish that he knew must be the monster bird's nest. The great bird gone Og and Ru bent their attention to the huddled form that lay in a snow drift not far from them where the eagle had dropped it as the arrow struck it. The boy was still alive though badly cut and bleeding. Og gathered him up in his arms for he was thin and emaciated and carried him back to the place beaten down in the snow where he and Ru had rested and eaten.

The boy was unconscious from the fall, and Og uncertain what to do under such circumstances, laid him prone on his back in the snow. Who he was neither he nor Ru had the slightest notion. He was not of their tribe, they were certain for they knew every member. And they did not know that there were any other Hairy People on the face of the earth save their little colony. Og and Ru pondered as they watched. Who could he be? Where could he have come from?

Suddenly Og remembered something that had happened a long, long time ago; something that was legendary; that only the oldest men of the Hairy Colony remembered. Og had heard Gog, the old leader of the tribe who had been killed by the Tree People, tell of it. He had heard his blind father talk of it, too, just before he died when he used to sit by Og's camp fire all day and tell stories of the past. Ru had heard the story, too. He recalled it when Og mentioned it.

Once in the days before the great volcano had set fire to the world and driven the Hairy People from their home, the tribe had been much larger. The great Fu-Fu, the scar-faced one had been the leader then. Da was a young man. A strong young man but treacherous. He wanted to be the leader. By sly tricks he sought to discredit Fu; to make him look ridiculous in the eyes of the rest of the Hairy Men. But old Fu was too wise to be caught by young Da. He had seen through his treachery and turned it against him and the Hairy Men had banished Da from the colony; banished Da and his handful of followers. And they had gone out into the world, no one knew where. Nor did they care. Da's people became the lost tribe. Could it be then that they had found their way into this valley beyond the snowcapped mountains? Could it be that this boy that the great bird had carried up to the heights was one of them?

Og suspected that this might be so. He watched the boy a little longer. Then he bent over him and washed the blood from his wounds with handfuls of snow. Slowly the boy showed signs of returning consciousness and after a time he opened his eyes. Og spoke to him. The boy looked frightened.

"By what name are you called?" he asked.

"I am Dab son of Dab," said the boy in a tongue that differed only slightly from the language of Og.

"Are you of Da's tribe?" Og queried.

At the mention of the name a look of fear overspread the boy's face.

"Yes the tribe of Da, son of Da — the Fish People," said the boy.

With some effort he sat up then, and pointing down the valley toward the shores of the lake, he indicated where the lake people dwelt.

"Good, we will take you back," said Og.

But this did not seem to please the boy. The look of fear crept into his face again.

"No. No. I do not want to go back. They will give me to the Thunder Bird again. I do not want to go back."

"They will give you to the Thunder Bird? What talk is this?" demanded Og, puzzled.

"That was the Thunder Bird. He is a demon that carries people from our village when we do not feed him. He casts spells upon us. Brings sickness and death. The great Da is sick now, and only by giving me to the Thunder Bird could the spell be removed. So they put me on the mound where they feed the great bird fish and he carried me away."

The boy's attitude and the great bird they had just encountered could not help but arouse fear even in the staunch hearts of Og and Ru. But they were curious to know more.

"Why do they feed him fish? How do they catch these fish?" The last question puzzled Og a great deal for he had often wondered how he could trap or kill some of the great fish he had seen swimming in the lakes and rivers over which they had traveled.

"Da, the chief, makes us feed the Thunder Bird fish," said the boy, "Da has mighty hunters around him, and they make the people give half of all the fish they catch to the Thunder Bird. And half of what we catch is not enough to feed us for sometimes one man will work three days to catch a mud-fish. We are thin and hungry. It is not easy. Our fishermen have long sticks cut from the fork of a tree. This makes a hook. A man must lie and watch for a big fish to swim slowly past. Then he must hook the stick into its gills and pull him up onto the raft. Sometimes he will miss as many fish as he has fingers before he catches one. Still Da makes us give half of the catch to the Thunder Bird because he is afraid of the spell that the bird will cast upon him if he goes hungry. But fishing has not been good, and Da's hunters have not been successful. The Thunder Bird has gone hungry and Da is sick with the spell. He lies and groans in his cave and the Thunder Bird flies over the village and screams at him and the Fish People. Da was afraid he would pass on to the land of dead men so he made his hunters take me up to the mound and leave me there to be carried off by the Thunder Bird. He will put me there again if I go back. I have no father to protect me; to fight for me. I do not want to go back."

"Go with us. We will not go near the Fish People then," said Og.

At this Dab seemed quite happy. And when Og gave him several chunks of goat flesh this painfully thin boy devoured them ravenously.

"Red meat is allowed the Fish People only once every full moon, when Da's hunters bring in more than Da and the Thunder Bird can eat,' said Dab, as he bolted a third and then a fourth chunk.

Because they saw that he was shivering in the snow chilled air, Og gave him a piece of goat skin to wrap about his body, and Ru cut enough from his jacket to wrap about his naked feet. Dab was highly pleased when he found himself dressed as Og and Ru were.

And when Dab was ready the three with the wolf cub romping on ahead of them started down the mountain through the snow. Down toward the timber line where the great sequoia forest began again they hurried for they were all eager to be out of this land of snow.

By nightfall they were deep in the forest of great trees. But in spite of Og's efforts to avoid the lake he found that the natural slope of the land had forced them to approach closer to the upper end of it than he had wanted to.

With darkness Og and Ru made camp, and much to the mystification of Dab they built a fire. Dab had natural fear of the flames and it was some time before Og and Ru could induce him to crouch down in the warm glow beside them. He watched them roast chunks of goat meat with consuming interest however for the odor of it as it sputtered over the flames made his mouth water. And once he had tasted it he made a veritable glutton of himself eating all that the two Hairy Boys would give him.

Dab had profound respect for these new companions and timidly asked where they came from and about their people. For a long time by the march of the moon across the heavens they talked, each asking curious questions of the other until presently Ru's head dropped between his knees and his hands folded across his neck in the characteristic sleeping position of primitive men. His loud breathing told Og and Dab that he had passed on into oblivion. Og and Dab realized then that they were sleepy, too, and huddling closer to Ru they followed his example, while the wolf cub curled up in a ball beside them.

And when they were all breathing loud and regularly and the flames of the fire had died down to glowing coals, into the circle of dull light from the embers crept four big shouldered, and long armed men, each carrying great stone hammers. They were the hunters of Da.

As silently as shadows they slipped up behind the three sleepers. Closer and closer they came, each with his huge stone hammer upraised and ready for a skull-crushing blow. But before they were within striking distance, like a steel spring the wolf cub uncurled from the position in which he was sleeping and with a snarl leaped at the nearest of them.

In an instant Og and Ru were on their feet and reaching for their shields and stone hammers. Dab with a cry of alarm leaped across the smoldering fire and hid behind a big tree. The unexpected attack of the wolf cub disconcerted the hunters for a moment and in the brief space Og and Ru were able to prepare themselves for their onslaught. Back to back with shields upraised and stone hammers swinging they met the four big hunters of the Fish People as they leaped in to crush them down with their ugly weapons. One swung a terrible blow at Og's head, but Og caught the stone hammer on his shield and turned it aside and as the man staggered past him carried off his balance by the sheer force of his own effort Og crashed his own hammer down on the back of his neck and he slumped to the ground his head wobbling grotesquely on his broken neck.

Ru was not so fortunate. The other three bore Gown upon him together and although his stone hammer bit deep into the hairy chest of one the other two hurled themselves on top of him and by sheer weight bore him to the ground. Og whirled to help Ru but even as he turned the wounded man threw his stone hammer full at Og's head, and though Og flashed up his shield for protection he did not move quite quickly enough and the handle of the heavy weapon hit him a stunning blow on the temple. For a moment he stood with legs braced trying to fight off the dizziness that came over him. Then suddenly he collapsed and dropped to the ground.


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