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The boar was so close I could taste the stench of it. I pressed the butt of my spear into the rocky ground and shouted a challenge.
The bleeding pig squealed and charged right onto my spear. It hit the crossguard and broke it off. I held on, staring at my death.
Tem covered my body with his. He screamed as the pig gored him. I crawled away, pulling him with me. Dad cheered as the pig bled out.
Dad and I lay bloated with pork at the door of our hut. Dad said, “That boy, he’s too stupid for you. Getting gored like that.” I blushed.
Dad turned serious: “Truly, Sawi, it can’t be. Tem returns to his tribe next month, or those Yah will kill us – like they killed your Ma.”
“I know, Dad.” He laid his hand on mine: “If Tem doesn’t heal up and go home, your brother’s life is forfeit – and all our lives too.”
“Chief!” screamed my best friend, Iv. Dad stood. Iv wept: “Your son! The Yah have murdered their peace hostage. We are at war.”
Dad ordered Tem and I inside. We sat silently, holding hands. Tem kissed each of my fingers. I said, “My tribe must kill you now.” “I know.”
Tem said, “Everyone dies. My life switched with your brother’s life bought our tribes ten years of peace. That is enough for me. I am full.”
4 – do day 5 very late tonight!
Dad stood guard while the village waited for him to decide the blooding hour, and who would make the kill. Tem and I didn’t leave the house.
“Sawi? Will it be your Dad who kills me?” “Don’t speak like-– why are you smiling?” He grabbed my hand and pulled me awkwardly, so I fell.
Tem kissed me, knocking our noses together. I gasped. “You fiend! My Dad’ll kill you—oh!” We dissolved into helpless giggles.
Dad saw me staring into our fire and said, “I will stop the blooding as long as I can.” I looked into his eyes, and bowed my head.
“Tem! Wake up!” He blinked at me. I said, “I’m going to go into Yah land – and save you.” He said, “Don’t get killed.” “Same to you.”
Tem said, “My Mum loves me. She’ll help you.” I held his hand, and kissed him carefully. We didn’t knock noses. I crept away into the night.
I found the ruined stream where my mother’s bones still lay, with many others from both tribes. The Yah bank was black with shadows.
No-one speared me as I crossed the naked grass. I stepped into the freezing water, dislodging old skulls so they rolled on down the river.
I dreamed of Tem’s death, and saw him burned until his bones turned black. My fresh water was half gone, and the thick air stifled me.
My foot ached and I found a bloody wound. I pulled out a piece of someone’s skull, wrapped my foot in banana leaves and walked on.
I hacked through a thorn bush and came face to face with a young boar. We stared at one another. I saw the rage redden its eyes.
The boar lowered its head and I slammed the handle of my knife onto its snout. It was young and fit – too young to be wily.
I slid through the trees, listening for the boar’s pursuit. It didn’t come. I knew I should return and bring it down, but I didn’t want to.
I ate my last food and wished I’d killed that stupid boar. Except I was the stupid one, because it definitely wouldn’t have had pity on me.
Iv always said the Yah drank their pee. She said they preferred it. I’d asked Tem, but he just looked at me funny. If only he’d answered.
I drank the last of my water, and decided not to drink urine. My Dad would never forgive me for behaving like a stinking Yah.
I woke up wet with sweat, and knew before I looked that my cut foot was red and swollen. Why couldn’t those stinking Yah live a bit closer?
Finally a coconut tree! Food and water all in one.
I tried to climb the tree and failed three times. My body was too weak. I lay back looking at the coconuts, and carefully drank my tears.
A face breathed into my face, smelling of mangoes. “Ehhh,” she said, and trickled water over my lips. I choked, and she held me up.
She bathed my swollen foot and gave me coconut porridge to eat. I lay helpless, and she sang lullabies. I said, “You’re Tem’s Mum.” “Yes.”
“I will carry you to our village. You will be safe with me.” She slung me over her back and stepped through the undergrowth with sure feet.
Tem’s Mum Jil tended me all day and night. Her sister Res fried fish and sweet potato for me. Jil went to speak to the chief.
Res shuffled closer. “Tem is alive. We will go and save him.” “Thank you,” I whispered. She said, “But your father must die.” “No!”
Jil and Res argued into the night, and I slipped in and out of dreams.
Jil said, “My husband will see you now.” “What? No! Was it him that killed my brother? I can’t defend myself!” “Hush, child. Wait and see.”
A huge man entered the women’s house and knelt by my mat. “I am Hof,” he said, “and I loved your brother. He was a mighty hunter.”
My throat closed with grief. Hof said, “Your brother was killed, but not by us. When you are strong, you will come and see.”
Hof served me food with his own hand, and no-one called for my blood. Many there showed the signs of mourning, but none showed signs of war.
I ate my fill, and slept until I was no longer tired. My foot was bathed hourly in cold stream water and honey, and began to heal.
I told Jil that I needed to see my dead brother. She took me deep into the forest and dug carefully under a stripped tree. I held his hand.
We brushed off the dirt and lifted my brother onto the dead leaves. I recognised the shape of boar tusk wounds, so like Tem’s side.
“Tomorrow I will go home,” I said, “and tell my people. Tem might still be alive, and I can stop the war before it begins.”
Jil snorted as we slept, and my eyes snapped open. Res knelt over me, knife in hand. I rolled and she missed me. She shrieked. “Filthy Bek!”
Jil grabbed for Res, but she missed. I snatched a gourd of water and ran outside. Three Yah waited for me with knives and clubs.
Hof burst from his hut bellowing with rage, and stood between me and them. I shoved Res and ran, but I heard Hof scream like a dying boar.
Two of the four angry Yah hunted me through the day and night and day. I climbed the trees and swung through the branches like a monkey.
One of the Yah urinated right beneath me. I watched to see if he drank it, but he didn’t. Too bad. It’s possible Iv was misinformed.
At last the Yah gave up the hunt for me, and I stumbled upon a grove of peanut and coconut trees beside a stream. I drank deeply and slept.
I washed my foot carefully and feasted on coconuts – and bananas. The fish in the stream winked at me until I caught one.
I slept again, and wondered if I should take my chance to stay far away from war – and live.
I dreamed of Tem again that night. He called to me in pain as the goring he’d taken for me festered and swelled like my ruined foot.
I began the long walk home.