CHAPTER TWO – THE FOREST

17 Oct

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
” To a primitive man the world held only fear and the fear of danger… ” This is the second part of a thing I’ve called “The Birth of the Gods” – but that title may well change as I write more parts.

Umbaga was in a quandary, or he would have been had he known what one was. He was, though, caught between the forbidden territory on one hand and the drooling teeth of Old Man Tiger on the other, and he knew what he feared most. He could see those teeth, their yellow threat as real as the unmade track beneath his feet.

What, he wondered in a fleeting second of breakneck thought, would Juju do? She was the brains and she had the ideas, so what would she do? After all, he always put a lot of faith into the wisdom of the woman in his family: most men did, for it was well known that women could see further and plan better than men.

When men took command there were wars, and wars led to bloodshed. Wars led to tears. Wars led to weakness.

He contemplated his position.

The Unknown Territory was, as the same suggested unknown and any dangers it represented were equally unknown. But Old Man Tiger was far from being unknown. He was right there and from his posture Umbaga knew that he must be poised to leap at any moment ” and the only direction he could leap was forward, onto the frightened flesh of himself. He must get away in less than the time it took a savage tiger to pounce.

There was no choice. No possible alternative.

Umbaga charged wildly into the forbidden Territory, crossing the boundary marked by the pissing stump, praying to a whole range of gods that the tiger wouldn’t follow him or if he did would get swallowed in some way by an unseen pit.

But behind him Old Man Tiger licked his lips and growled low and long before, without any warning, turning and virtually sauntering back the way he had come, seemingly losing all interest in the man who would assuredly have made quite a fascinating and delicious prey. But then, unknown to Umbaga, Old Man Tiger had recently gorged his fill and certainly wasn’t hungry, and rarely killed just for the sake of it.

But all that was unseen and unknown by Umbaga as he plunged desperately through thickets that were strange to him.

The most important thing for a hunter was an intimate familiarity with the landscape because no man knew, when away from home in search of a hearty meal for a ravenous family, what dangers might lurk behind any old tree. There were more creatures in the wild than Old Man Tiger, many more, and the lone hunter could only survive if he exercised great caution whilst simultaneously knowing where he might escape to if a sudden threat forced him. The brave hunter was no match, in an even fight, to many of the creatures he shared his hunting grounds with.

It was no good if he didn’t know the landscape, and Umbaga had never ventured beyond the pissing stump before.

No man ever did. It was a boundary post that had been there since time immemorial and the whole tribe knew it. There were other boundary markers, too, like the one down the river where there were vertical cliffs where a hunter could quite easily fall to his death, and there a boundary rock, well pissed on, marked a warning. Then there was the one beyond a day’s march towards the setting sun beyond which lay the great desert where hunting was impossible, and a boundary cairn marked the dangers that lay ahead, a cairn that reeked with the aroma of urine. Those two boundary markers warned of difficulty and danger and it only made sense to observe them, but this one, this pissing post, warned of the unknown, and to the heady hunter that was even more threatening because it was unknown.

It had been there for many an age and it warned of what had always been the Unknown Territory, one that most assuredly hid goodness know how many dangers, and tales were told round camp-fires by old gaffers with hoary breath who claimed to have been there once, long, long ago, but when questioned were forced to admit that it wasn’t they who had passed the pissing stump but other, older, now deceased gaffers who had told fine stories on raw winter’s nights of how they had wandered way beyond the boundaries of their own hunting grounds.

“Now I’ll have a tale to tell,” muttered Umbaga grimly to himself.

He slid behind an inviting tree, needing to check how far Old Man Tiger was from him. He was somewhat surprised that he hadn’t felt the noxious heat of the creature’s breath on him already, not heard the splintered sound as the brute pursued him into a land he didn’t know, and put it down to the fact that he himself was fleet of foot.

The tiger was nowhere in sight. Umbaga could see, in the middle distance and mostly hidden by undergrowth and saplings, the pissing stump, so he hadn’t raced that far into the Forbidden Territories. He could see the vague path he had trampled in his haste to escape the dread creature, the way brambles and other plants were bent or snapped where his feet had scrunched them, and he could see, gathering all about him like a dread shadow the trees that even now, so close to familiar ground, were utterly strange to eyes demanding familiarity.

“Me get lost in here,” he warned himself. “Me go back…”

He took one step from behind his shelter-tree and stopped dead.

He was struck by a sudden brainwave. He couldn’t see Old Man Tiger, but that didn’t mean that Old Man Tiger couldn’t see him. If he, Umbaga, was capable of shrinking into the shadows behind a hoary old tree then so was the dread beast, and that probably explained why he was out of sight right now.

“Me not go back,” he muttered, “Old Man Tiger hiding, Old Man Tiger get me…”

That was the best he could do in the way of making up his mind. What would Juju do? Would she agree with him? Or would she have some fine female idea, the sort beyond his thinking, that would take him back to his home and family without any need of him travelling even further into the Forbidden Territory?

As ever, he couldn’t get his head round the cleverness that was Juju so he shook his head in an attempt to clear it of the ragged edges of fear that still played their drums inside it.

“Me go further,” he decided, rightly or wrongly.

And having made up his mind he stepped further from his protective tree and loped manfully further into a forest that he didn’t know.

© Peter Rogerson 17.10.16

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