How the chieftain could see through his mask to shoot, ParuMe didn’t know. Formed from a single, flawless piece of stone, the mask was a marvel that no craftsman could copy. It had been a gift—the Storyteller said—intended for the moon itself, and he could well believe it. The mask was the perfect likeness of a human face, carved and polished into sacred stone, and in many ways it was better: that black mask would never show any spasm of pain or look of fear. But for all its beauty, for all its impossible flawlessness, it looked like a suffocating and heavy thing to wear. However, when SutaKe drew his bow, he did so with the ease of any warrior, and directed his arrow as though the mask’s eyes were his own.
The arrow, tipped with obsidian and guided by the best red feathers, buried itself deep in the flank of the boar. The animal kicked and raged, but with no assailant to be seen it could do nothing in retaliation. Turning, it made to flee the clearing, and ParuMe’s heart leapt as he realised that the direction it had chosen was their own. Beside him, SutaKe moved to take shelter behind the nearest palm trunk, but KanaKa inched forwards, his bow drawn and level. As the boar continued its mad rush, he loosed his arrow low, driving it in deep beneath the heavy head.
That wound was dire, and would have killed any lesser creature outright. But the boar was great and, instead of falling, charged the bushes where KanaKa had shown himself. As it tore through, ParuMe saw the warrior lifted and thrown by the animal’s vast head, his legs appearing upwards for just a moment like crooked trees sprouting among the ferns. He landed on his side, just beyond the edge of the undergrowth. Further on, the boar stopped and turned, the arrow in its chest broken by the charge.
“My spear, boy!” KanaKa stretched out a hand. “Give me my spear!”
But the boar had already begun to move. The ground shook as it hurtled towards the fallen hunter. KanaKa’s spear already in his hands, ParuMe lunged forwards, driving the wide point between the ribs of the boar. It was as though he had grabbed hold of the tusks themselves. Furious, the creature turned, and ParuMe had to struggle to keep hold of the spear as the boar bucked and writhed. The force of the struggle pulled him from his feet and dragged him across the ground, but still he held tight: the long shaft of the spear was the only thing separating him from the thrashing tusks and hooves of the boar. This brief, panicked struggle was followed by a sudden stop. The boar fled into the undergrowth, the upper third of the weapon still embedded in its flesh.
“Idiot!” KanaKa stood and slapped ParuMe across the face. “I could have stopped it: and without breaking my finest spear! Now we must find where the boar went to die, and my weapon must be mended.”
ParuMe let KanaKa drag the spear shaft from his shaking hands, then watched as he set off along the boar’s deep trail. “Dolt,” he muttered as the hunter walked away. Almost immediately, he remembered that the chieftain was standing close behind him. He turned to look, then realised too late that his guilty expression would betray him even if the offence had gone unnoticed.
SutaKe’s expression, however, was as neutral as ever. ParuMe tried to guess what his face would look like beneath the mask. Probably angry but, if he was lucky, perhaps only disappointed. “Your master is a respected member of our tribe and a close friend of mine,” he said. “His honour must be maintained.”
“Sorry.” ParuMe looked at the ground.
“...even when he does act like a dolt.” Behind the mask, SutaKe might have been smiling. “Your loyalty is impressive, even if your behaviour is not. Had you let the boar trample him, you would be a free man now.”
“I...I really didn’t think of that.”
“I imagine KanaKa didn’t either. I may remind him of it later.”
Together, they joined KanaKa and the boar’s trail until it came to the river. Here, the boar had leapt or waded, but there was a narrower crossing place downstream. ParuMe and the hunters made this longer, safer journey, knowing that the boar could not have gone much farther. ParuMe was already halfway across when KanaKa spoke.
“SutaKe,” he said. “There is a footprint here. A footprint with no toes.”
ParuMe made his way back to that bank. There, sharp and clear in the dense mud, was the footprint. As KanaKa had said, it had no toes, but there was space for them. The end of the print was smooth and round. Also, the impression was more or less flat, with no distinct mark from ball or heel.
SutaKe studied it, but not closely.
“Have you ever seen anything like this?” asked KanaKa.
“I have, once before. This was made by a shoe.”
ParuMe felt a shudder run down his spine. That, and the adventure with the boar, made him bold enough to speak to the chieftain directly. “Like the KasseKo wear on the mountain?” He had never met that tribe, but he had heard many, many stories.
“Like that,” said SutaKe, “but no. This visitor has come from much farther away. Much, much farther.” Reaching into a pouch on his belt, he took out an object wrapped tightly in hide. When he unwrapped it, it gleamed with the light of the sun.
It was a knife, but not a knife like ParuMe had ever seen. The edge was one smooth curve, like no knapped stone, and its surface shone like water. It looked as though it should have fallen from the sky—a cutting wind frozen solid—but there was also something unmistakably human about it. The wooden handle bore the marks of tools, and being undecorated seemed almost crude. SutaKe held it above the shoeprint, as though comparing the two. In their roundness and smoothness, there did seem to be some connection between them.
“Steelmen have come,” SutaKe said at last.
“What do they want?” asked KanaKa.
SutaKe re-wrapped the knife and returned it to his belt. “Before long, I am sure they will tell us.”More even than when he had insulted KanaKa, ParuMe wished that he could see the chieftain’s real face, and this time he felt he almost could. SutaKe’s voice, flat and hard, suggested that it would look much the same as his face of glass.