Og, Son of Og
Dodd, Mead & Co. 1965
Chapter 7 Saber-Toothed Savage pp 45-50
illustrated by Vivian Holder, David Hall
Somehow he knew that this ability to remember and to think made him different from the Ape People. They seemed never able to remember anything save painful experiences or where they found food. They never could hold long to the same idea, and they did not know how to make anything but a very crude form of nest.
But young Og knew he was different. He had thought out a way to escape from the Ape People. He had remembered how his father Og, Son of Fire, had been the first Cave Man to capture fire and use it, and he had done the same. He remembered how the Cave People had used flint for knives, how they had made spears and stone hatchets. With some effort he had made all of these things. He had even constructed a crude raft on which he drifted down the flood-swollen river, toward the sunrise where he was sure he would find the village of his people.
That raft, made of tree trunks lashed together with vines, had carried Og and his two captured wolf cubs far in the right direction. Then when the river began to swing the wrong way young Og had managed to run the crude craft aground among some large boulders. Leaving it there, he and the wolf cubs, who were now the Cave Boy's constant companions, started overland toward the hills from behind which the sun came up. They had not gone far before Og began to wish that they had not left the raft. In fact, if the craft had not been stranded so hopelessly high and dry that he could not refloat it again, he might have gone back and continued the journey down the river.
They were in dangerous country. A menace was abroad here that made young Og's hair stand up on the back of his neck and caused chills to race up and down his spine. The wolf cubs were aware of it too. Their neck hairs bristled and subdued growls rumbled in their throats. They sniffed the air anxiously. Og's keen nose soon detected what they smelled. There was a faint cat odor coming down the wind. Sometime, last night, or the night before, a ferocious saber-toothed tiger had passed this way. They were probably on the savage creature's hunting range. Her den might be somewhere upwind among the frowning ledges that buttressed the hills in the distance. It was not good to be here. The sooner they could get beyond those hills the surer they would be that they would not furnish a meal for that great, shaggy killer.
Staying close together and watching furtively every boulder and every thicket, the boy and the wolf cubs traveled fast. But they did not travel late for the Cave Boy realized they must hole up early and have plenty of fire wood if they hoped to feel even partly safe from attack by the cave tiger after dark. So when they found a sheltered place among some boulders, close to good fire wood, Og made camp, started his fire and began to collect fire wood to last over the dark hours.
In the process of doing this he found one tough, hardened stick that resisted his stone axe. In fact, his axe bounced back so hard and so fast when he chopped it that he hit himself a resounding crack in the forehead with the smooth, round back of his axe head. For a moment his head whirled. Angry, he was about to take another, harder crack at the stave when he stopped as a thought burned into his mind.
Here was a piece of wood that was tough and hard. It fought back when it was hit. That was the kind of wood Og, his father, had used for the first bow he had made. Og, Son of Fire, always said good bow wood was the kind that fought back. A bow and some arrows; that was the kind of a weapon the Cave Boy knew he needed. It would make him more of a match for a sabertooth than did his spear and stone axe. Maybe he had found the material to make himself a bow and arrow.
Putting the stave carefully aside so it would not be used as fire wood, young Og began to hunt down supper for himself and the wolf cubs. He found several good round throwing stones and began to stalk some giant hares that resembled kangaroos. The wolf cubs helped him by slipping around behind the creatures as they came out of the thicket toward dusk. The cubs drove the big rabbits toward the Cave Boy, who hid behind a boulder. And when the creatures got within good throwing range Og would whip a well aimed stone at them. He missed the first one because he was thinking too hard about bows and arrows, but he got the second and third, hitting each in the head. However, both times he had to rush out and drive oft the young wolves with hard clouts or they would have torn the game to pieces and devoured it.
The strong odor of the tiger had disappeared completely next morning. With nothing to remind him forcefully of this fearsome animal, Og began work on his bow stave and arrows. Crouched by his fire, with his flint knife and rough rubbing stones, he began to shape the stave and the arrows.
Young Og remembered that his father used the big sinews of the little three-toed horse for his bow-strings. But with only his spear and stone axe as weapons, his chances of killing one of these swift, furtive creatures were small indeed. What he needed for such fast game was a bow and some arrows. And he could not have these until he killed a wild horse. The whole situation became suddenly all mixed up in young Og's mind and so puzzling that for a time he wanted to abandon the whole idea forget about it as the Ape People disposed of any problems that trouble them.
But he had done too much work on that bow and those arrows to give them up now. Maybe with the help of the wolf cubs and some good luck he might be able to kill a three-toed horse with his spear. There were bands of them to be found in almost every valley. There must be some hereabout or the great cave tiger would not hunt this country. The little horses were what the saber-toothed one preyed on.
Hiding his almost finished bow and his arrows among the boulders, the Cave Boy put his stone axe in the thong about his waist and, picking up his spear, called to the wolf cubs. Together they made their way down the hillside and moved along the edge of the forest until they came to a broad meadow in the valley bottom. There Og was not long in finding traces of the little three-toed horses.
He discovered their droppings and the prints of their feet with the large central toe flanked on either side by shorter, smaller toes. Following these tracks, he saw, above the waving grass, the dark, striped backs and occasionally upraised heads of a small feeding band of the swift creatures.
The creatures had keen noses. And good eyes. They were easily alarmed too. Even now as the Cave Boy watched them, he could see that they were restless. They kept testing the air and cocking their ears. It was going to be hard indeed to get close to them. The Cave Boy wondered whether they had already caught his scent. They seemed ready to bolt. Something assuredly was worrying them.
Suddenly they did bolt and young Og, with a grunt of dismay, discovered why. As the horses threw up their heads and started down the valley on drumming hoofs, a huge, tawny cat with great jaws and long canine teeth leaped out of the tall grass. For an instant the shaggy form, its ears flat, eyes glaring, and great claws extended, seemed to hang over one of the horror-stricken creatures. Then, the tiger dropped on the little horse's back, bearing the frantic animal to the ground and clamping savage jaws into its neck. The saber-toothed one stood there, huge feet planted on the flanks of the dead horse. It glared about while its stubby tail lashed from side to side fiercely. Then it voiced a savage, challenging roar that seemed to shake the trees of the forest.
"Hi-yah! The Killer!" cried the Cave Boy softly. Trembling a little with fear and excitement at what he had seen, he crouched lower among the roots of the sequoia and laid a hand of caution on one of the wolf cubs. But they needed no warning. Their hair bristled in fear and soft growls rumbled in their throats, and they too flattened their bodies against the tree trunk. Silently they watched the tiger, as it roared again and again, still glaring after the disappearing band of horses. Then its powerful jaws closed on the three-toed one's neck and, dragging the carcass, the big cat started toward the boulder-strewn slope of the nearest hill. There it climbed to a ledge where it could look out across the valley while it ate.
So far was it across the meadow to the hillside that the tiger and the horse were just brown spots against the gray of the ledges to Og. But he well knew that the saber-toothed one was feeding there. He realized it was time now that he and the wolf cubs slipped away and got out of that valley if they too were not to furnish a meal for the cat. But once again the Cave Boy's mind was working. He knew that when the tiger was heavy with food it would often abandon its kill and seek a place for a nap. If this one did that, Og thought, he might be able to get close enough to the dead horse to hack out one of the big tendons on either side of the backbone. And possibly he might even steal some of the horse meat. He would like to be able to boast that he had thus cheated the Killer.
It was a risky idea and young Og tried to forget it. But the thought persisted that this might be the only way he would be able to get a bowstring. So finally, instead of going cautiously back to their camping place for his bow stave and arrows, the Cave Boy began to make his way through the long grass across the valley toward the ledge where the cave tiger feasted. The wolf cubs reluctantly followed.
Climbing among the boulders, down wind of the tiger, the Cave Boy and the young wolves worked on toward the ledge. At the same time they climbed higher on the slope so they could reach a position where they could look down on the Killer.
Slowly creeping forward, then pausing to listen, by cautious stages they reached the beginning of a ledge that was higher than the one on which the tiger rested. From this they could look down upon the place where they hoped to see the carcass of the three-toed horse. But they would have to gain the edge first, and in doing this they must be doubly careful. The tiger was still on the ledge. Og was sure of that. So were the cubs. They could smell the tiger. Also they could hear her breathing; a heavy, purring sound that suggested that Og's hope had been realized.
Heavy with food, the Killer had indeed gone to sleep. But it had not abandoned its kill by any means. On the contrary. As Og and the wolf cubs, crawling on their bellies, reached the edge of the upper ledge and looked over, they saw the tiger lying with one huge paw resting possessively on the torn body of the little horse. But the cat was assuredly asleep. Og and the wolf cubs could see that the fierce eyes were closed, though the long whiskers twitched fitfully.
Their nearness to the huge cat made the wolf cubs nervous. They drew back from the edge of the ledge and looked at the Cave Boy with troubled eyes. Og was frightened too and felt like doing the same thing. In fact, he wanted to clear out of there as much as the cubs did. But his mind was working again, this time with the most daring thoughts. Softly he drew back and crouched against a boulder. It would be a great boast, he thought, to be able to tell his father he had killed that cave cat. How proud he would be to wear that tawny skin in the Cave Village.
He wondered whether he could drive his spear through the big cat's body from that ledge on which he crouched. Perhaps. But could the creature be killed with one spear thrust? He would have to be very lucky in striking a vital spot. And even then, before it died, it might claw its way up onto the ledge with him and kill him before he could split its skull with his stone axe. The whole idea was too risky. And yet
But if it missed! Or if the cave cat woke up while Og was shoving the boulder over the cliff's edge! He shuddered. In spite of these thoughts the Cave Boy laid aside his spear and, standing up, got behind the boulder. He was trying to decide whether he could push it over. It seemed perfectly balanced and close enough to the edge to be tipped over with one mighty shove. Og braced his hands behind it and squared his powerful, sloping shoulders. Carefully he found places to plant his feet, the wolf cubs watched him with troubled eyes.
Then suddenly Og's face tensed grimly. He put everything he had into a mighty heave. For a moment the boulder resisted. Then it began to tip and Og grunted and shoved harder. With a grating sound and a shower of pebbles it went over the edge and plunged downward.
But the tiger was not sleeping so heavily that the sound of the boulder rolling over the edge did not waken her. With a snarl she tried to leap to her feet. She was only part way up when the great rock smashed down on her rump and crushed her hindquarters to the ground. For a moment it pinned the creature there while the great cat clawed and struggled and glared upward at the frightened boy staring down from the cliff.
Even that huge boulder was not able to pin the powerful cat down. Its struggles were so fierce and frantic that the boulder rolled part way off its body and the cat was able to drag itself free. Then, in spite of a broken back and crushed hindquarters, it began to drag itself up over the rocks toward the cliff above where Og and the wolf cubs stood paralyzed with fear.
The wounded tiger was truly a horrible sight. With savage, yellow eyes glaring, tufted ears flattened in anger, great jaws open, it clawed its way upward. Og stared down into those terrible eyes, almost powerless to move. That was not true, however, of the wolf cubs. They took one frightened look and fled.
The snarling roar weakened. For just a moment the great claws scratched frantically at the rocks, then slipped backward. The tiger disappeared over the edge, to go crashing down beside the carcass of the horse. There it lay, convulsing fitfully until death stilled it, while on the shelf's edge young Og stood staring down. But when he realized that the big cave cat was really dead, he voiced a mighty shout of triumph that brought the wolf cubs scampering back to him.
"Hi-yah!" he cried finally. "I have killed the great cave tiger. We shall have horse meat and I shall get a bowstring! The Cave People will be proud of Og, Son of Og."