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

CHAPTER XXII

THE FISH PEOPLE

OG AWOKE with the consciousness that he was underground. It was not a cave; at least not a cave in the rocks. The walls about him were earthy. He was in a burrow like the burrow of some huge ground squirrel. By the wan gray light that filtered in through an opening at the end of a long passageway he could see that there were others in the burrow beside himself. He could make out the huddled form of Ru and Dab and the wolf cub. They were all captives.

Before he could speak to Ru the shaft of gray light was blotted out by someone coming down the passageway. He could hear the sound of feet approaching and several men talking. A big hairy fellow stepped into the burrow and looked at them, then called to someone behind him.

Others crowded in and seized Dab and dragged him down the passage. Then they returned and hurried Og and Ru out into the open.

Og looked about curiously. The village reminded him of a colony of ground squirrels. It was composed of scores of holes burrowed into a big clay bank that overlooked the lake. In and out of these holes scuttled the thinnest, scrawniest and most ill-kempt lot of Hairy People he had ever seen. Assuredly things had not gone well with the descendants of the followers of Da since they had been cast out by the Hairy People. The only big and strong men he saw anywhere were the five hairy fellows with huge stone hammers who guarded him and his companions as they marched across an open space toward the entrance to a particularly big burrow at the upper end of the village.

As they walked Og noted that there was a peculiar stench about the place; the smell of fish rotting in the sun. It came from a peculiar mound beyond the clay bank above the village and Og concluded that this was the altar to the Thunder Bird that Dab had spoken of. Og saw too that these people, living for a generation beside the lake had conquered their fear of water as he had. He noticed with interest that there were a number of queer crafts beached on the shore. They were composed of groups of logs lashed together to form rafts. He saw some of them far out with men lying flat upon them looking into the water. Each had a long stick cut so that the fork of a tree was inverted and formed a hook. He saw a number of these sticks lying outside the doorway of each burrow and he concluded that these were the fish sticks that Dab had told him of with which they hooked the huge sluggish mud-fish out of the lake.

But he could not observe much more before the guards brought him to the doorway of the big burrow toward which they were walking. A powerful hunter with stone hammer stood in the entrance but he stepped aside when the guards, shoving Og and Ru and Dab ahead of them, entered.

In a corner where the light from the doorway fell upon him Og saw a big man, with puffy, flabby cheeks, and huge paunch lying on a pile of skins. Og could see at a glance that the man was very sick and weak. He could scarcely raise his head when they entered.

"We have brought them, Oh, Da," said one of the guards.

"Good. Give them to the Thunder Bird. They will satisfy him. Then will I become strong again," said the old chief.

A cry of terror escaped Dab as he heard the Da speak. He had been miraculously saved from that death once. Now he must face it again. Og and Ru grew weak too, but after a moment Og spoke.

"If the Thunder Bird has made you sick, Oh Da, then why not kill the Thunder Bird?"

Da looked at him from bloodshot eyes for a moment.

"Fish-belly fool, who can kill the Thunder Bird?"

"We have killed the cave leopard, and the great cave bear. We can kill the Thunder Bird too," said Og. "You see for yourself we cheated him of Dab."

"Yes, you cheated him of Dab and he is still angry, and I am still sick. But how would you kill him? If he were dead the Fish People would be rid of a great curse. Always my people are working to catch fish to feed his belly. If he were dead we would all have more to eat."

Og had noticed their shields, and leopard skin packs and their bows and arrows and stone hammers lying in a corner of Da's burrow where their captors had doubtless put them when they brought them to the chief.

"Give us back our weapons before you put us on the altar for the Thunder Bird. That is all we ask," said Og.

"Good, it shall be," said Da.

Eagerly Og and Ru lashed on their shields and seized their stone hammers and their bows and arrows. A moment they paused to fit the hammers in their belts and to lash their shields upon their arms.

Then silently the guards marched them out into the open again and turned them toward the mound upon which they fed the Thunder Bird. But before they started up the slope Og turned and seized the wolf cub, who had been following at their heels, and holding him by the loose skin of his back tied a goat skin thong about his neck. Instinctively the wolf cub knew that something was about to happen to him and he slunk along with tail between his legs whimpering in a frightened manner.

Up the slope toward the top of the mound the three boys and the dog trudged, the guards close behind them. Og could see that the entire village was watching them from below. Men and women looked from the doorway of every burrow and somehow Og and Ru experienced a strange sensation of elation at this. They felt themselves more the hero than the sacrifice.

To the top of the mound the guards accompanied them. But even these big strong hunters armed with huge stone hammers scanned the sky with fearful eye while they were up there and they appeared glad indeed to hurry down the slope once they had seen the three boys and the cub safely on top. At the foot of the mound they took their stand with other guards completely surrounding the place so that there was no way of escape for Og and Ru and Dab.

On top Og looked around. It was a filthy place. All about were strewn the dead and partly eaten bodies of big fish, with here and there parts of animals, all brought to appease the appetite of the Thunder Bird. They were rotting in the sun and giving out a dreadful stench. Og could see at a glance that the great bird was not the only visitor to this altar of sacrifice. Tracks of a great sabre-tooth tiger, and claw marks of a cave bear were evident, too.

Suddenly Og heard shouts from the village below, and Dab with a frightened cry grasped Og's arm and pointed upward. Far, far above them in the cloudless blue sky Og could make out the form of the great bird wheeling slowly about in the air. It had seen them come up on top of the mound and it had learned through the years that whatever was put there was meant for itself. It was getting ready to drop out of the sky and bear one of them away to its craggy aerie.

Og began to talk very fast then explaining to Ru and Dab a plan that had been taking shape in his mind. To Dab he passed his stone hammer while Ru strung an arrow in his bow. Then, working swiftly, Og dragged the rebellious wolf cub to the center of the mound and by the thong about its neck fastened it to an arrow that he stuck deep into the ground. As much as he disliked to do it Og had decided that the wolf cub must be the bait for the big bird. Og backed away then and fitted an arrow to his bow, too. He took a station on the opposite side of the mound from Ru, and looking upward watched the maneuvers of the big bird.

Evidently the presence of three on the top of the mound disturbed the Thunder Bird, for it wheeled and hung on its great gliding wings for a long time as if it suspected a trap and was afraid to descend. Then suddenly it seemed to make up its mind to claim what belonged to it, for with a scream that came down shrill and clear to the three boys and made their blood go cold, it suddenly launched itself, plummet like, in a swift plunge.

Og cried a warning to Ru to stand steady then, and both with bows upraised and drawn, and all their muscles tensed and ready watched the swift descent of the bird. Down it swept, wings partly folded against its body. Its great head with its yellow hooked beak was outstretched, and its terrible talons were drawn back ready to strike and seize its prey.

Og could hear the whistling of its body through the air grow steadily louder. He could see its great yellow eyes glaring fiercely. He could see a crestlike formation of feathers on its head upraised in anger, and for a moment he was swept with fear; fear that if they failed one of their number, perhaps all of them, would be killed or maimed by this terrible enemy from the sky. Never had time seemed so long. Never had he waited so tensed and alert for an enemy to strike. Nearer and nearer drew the menacing black bird. Within a good bow-shot above them, plunging downward with the spread of an arrow, its great blanket-like wings suddenly spread like black clouds on either side. At the same instant its scaly yellow legs with their terrible armament of talons shot outward and downward, and with a scream that all but made Og's heart stop beating it plunged straight for the wolf cub, cowering in the center of the mound.

An instant it seemed to hang in the air ten feet above the animal, and in that instant Og yelled to Ru and loosed his arrow. Came the sharp strum of their bow strings and the thump of the arrows striking home, and Og saw with a feeling of elation his shaft bury itself deep into the body of the great bird just under its left wing. He could hear Ru's shaft strike and he saw it protruding from the black breast while feathers caught in the draft of the great fanning wings whirled aloft and scattered in the wind.

With a wild scream of rage and pain the Thunder Bird seemed to leap upward in the air its great wings fanning in powerful strokes. Half a bow-shot it rose beating the air frantically and glaring at Og with its terrible eyes. Swiftly Og fixed another arrow in his bow but before he could draw it to the head, the great bird suddenly collapsed in the air and fell to the ground with a jarring thump. Like great flails the huge wings beat the ground. Feathers flew in all directions. The wolf cub yelping in fright was bowled over and over by the turmoil, and Dab, who leaped to deliver a blow with Og's stone hammer was knocked half way down the slope of the mound by one of the beating wings.

For a moment Og and Ru stood silent and tensed and watched the struggling of the dying bird. Then Og gave voice to a cry of triumph that was echoed by scores of voices in the village below where the Fish People came running out of their burrows like a colony of huge ants.

Up the mound they came, Da's hunters in the lead, and seizing the wings of the great bird they dragged it down to the village and to the entrance of the burrow in which the sick chief lived. Da had been moved to the doorway of his hole in the clay bank to watch the encounter and when Og and Ru and Dab came up to him surrounded by the throng of Fish People bearing the dead Thunder Bird a look of happiness spread across his face.

"You have taken a great weight from me and my people. You are brave hunters. Do you come from the Hairy People. From the—?"

Og nodded.

There was a far-off look in the eyes of Da. "Once we were Hairy People. Da, my father brought us to the lake. We became Fish People. All went well until this Thunder Bird came to the lake country to carry off our children and bring evil upon us. Now that it is dead all will go well once more. I will become strong. My people will have more food to eat. They will become strong too. You are brave hunters. Will you stay with the Fish People?"

Og shook his head.

"We look for a new home for the Hairy People. We must go on."

"Show us then this mighty weapon that killed the Thunder Bird. Show it to my hunters. Teach them to use it," said Da looking curiously at Og's bow.

Og and Ru did more than that. They stayed in the village of the Fish People half a moon and showed the hunters how to make bows and arrows and how to make fire. In return they learned how to catch the mud-fish with a fish-stick, and when they continued on their travels Da's people gave them one of their rafts of logs on which to journey down the lake. And Dab, because he had become very fond of the two Hairy Boys and because he had not parents or relatives among the Fish People went with them.


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