Chapter 1

“I thank you, little sister”, Bohz told her, taking the bundle of fruit and nuts from Rei’s hand. He was truly grateful for the gift and visit.

“Mother helped me gather them” she said. “She misses you”.

Bohz frowned at this. “Does she?” he wondered aloud. He lowered his eyes from her gaze, unable to stand the pity he saw there.

“Of course” Rei assured him, “Father, and our brothers too”.

Bohz grunted, meeting her eyes again with a scowl. “I doubt that, very much” he told her. Shaking his head he turned away from his adopted sister, taking the bundle she’d brought him to place it on the furs spilling out from under his simple shelter.

Rei made a few steps to follow, then stopped. “They are shamed by what you did Bohz, that is all” she reminded. “It will pass… one day. Then they will visit you too”.

Placing the bundle carefully, Bohz plonked himself down on the furs beside it. He then tossed a spare fur right by his small hearth so that Rei might sit with him, but she remained standing.

“You broke the idol Bohz. How did you think the clans would take it?”

He hung his head, still embarrassed by it. “It was the solstice, Rei. I’d had a skinful, like everyone else. I… think I wanted to put a grass hat on the idol’s head, just for fun. Was I to know his great appendage could not hold my weight? It is supposed to be one of his strengths”.

Rei had to suppress her smile, silently chastising herself. The truth of it was, she believed in the gods as much the rest of the clan. What Bohz had done- breaking off the very symbol of clan prosperity, was a grave act- an omen of bad times ahead. All made mistakes however, and no-one had died or fallen ill yet, so she hoped, if all went well, some day her brother would be allowed to return.

“I can not stay, brother” she told him. “Father will fret over my safety. The other clans, they… everyone is still so upset. Please be careful out here, won’t you”.

“I’m sure I will be fine out here little sister” he reassured, but he wondered too, how long it would be before someone with something to prove came looking for him.

* * * * *

Bohz lay on his furs looking up at the sky. Rei would be back at the village by now, he thought. Father would be scowling at her, knowing exactly where she had been. His brothers would be too. Mother would pat her on her shoulder, offer a subdued smile, letting her know that it was all right. They would say nothing however, for she was still young and they knew her kind heart- that she was sure to visit the shame of the clan, offer him some comfort. In her youth, she would be forgiven.

None would mention Bohz though, for as Rei had said- he had shamed them, gravely. Those more superstitious would even believe he had put their lives in peril, that the gods would show disfavour, or wrath- the hunting would be bad, or, an illness would come, a terrible storm, or similar. He found he was rolling his eyes at the thought, for he was not even sure the gods were real- a creation of the mind to explain the forces of nature, perhaps. He had seen no sign of direct intervention by any god, ever, he believed, only the fairly predictable turn of the season. Surely, if someone had broken his manhood off in a drunken stupor, he would strike them down in the instant that it happened.

Bohz found himself laughing. Perhaps he would forgive some of the women of the clans if they had done it to him whilst in a tumble.

Something caught his eye then even as he heard it- a rush of something passing in the air overhead. He sat up, looking around, but whatever it was, it had already passed beyond the line of the trees surrounding his small camp. Quick, it was, he thought, and buzzing- some giant flighted insect? He’d best beware, for such monsters were not unheard of, and the tales all said they were man-eaters.

He felt a rumble then, as if the ground quaked. But no! This was something coming his way through the air too! He scampered over to the trees, squatting and looking up and around, until finally… there!

It was metallic- shinier and lighter than the craftsmen of the known villagers were able to make, for sure, and it gave off heat in waves to the rear of it, and underneath, and a faint blue fire here and there. “A ship!” he marvelled.

Times in the past they had arrived. Everyone knew the stories from the elders, seen the pictures on painted stone that they made- traders from the stars! Some even said that the ancestors of the tribes had arrived in such vessels- to settle and make this world their own. None of Bohz’ age had ever seen one however, and while all children hoped and dreamed, it had been so long ago that he had never given thought to seeing such a thing in adulthood. But now!...

Excited, he leapt up, ran out into his small clearing to watch it pass by. He had no idea how high it was travelling- a clear day and no clouds to judge it against, no point of reference in his mind to even make a guess at how big it was. The elders said that they were the size of the village, but what he saw was not much bigger than his hand as he looked up at it. Beyond the tree line it flew- heading toward the village of his people, and he made to follow, then skidded to a stop.

Would he be welcomed, even in such a unique event as this? Or would he shame his clan to appear before these star traders? Perhaps, if he stood back, watched from a distance, no-one would notice he was there? He spun on the spot, not knowing what to do, before finally making for his shelter. There he picked up his overskin, for he might be out into the night, quickly put his head through the hole and let it fall askew over his shoulders and torso. Next he took up his pouch- a few small gems and such already in it, and he added a few more meagre items he possessed that might be worth trading. As he turned to leave, he also took up his double bladed axe, purely out of instinct, and took off through the trees toward his family’s home.

* * * * *

A short while of wild sprint and he began to think that the overskin might not have been the best idea- sweat poured down him, plastering his long brown hair to his face and neck, getting in his eyes and making the overskin slap wetly against his back and chest, his skin boots soggy, sagging and beginning to squelch. Come nightfall, he would need it though, he thought, if it dried enough, that is. If his people saw him and drove him away, it may be a sad cold walk back to his camp. He ignored the sweat and kept on running, but trying to pace himself better and not make it worse.

Around thick brush and a stand of rock, he was suddenly brought up short. He dived instinctively into a roll as one of the men before him swung the metallic baton right at his head. Coming up at the ready in a squat, Bohz realised that the attack had just missed him.

“Ho! Theys come to us!” the other man said.

The dialect was foreign- different to Bohz’ own tongue, but similar enough that he caught the gist of it. “Star traders” he said as he stood up, pensive. “I did not mean to startle you. Forgive me. I mean you no harm”.

“It bleedin’ talks!” the one who’d taken the swing told the other.

“Ha! No’ so good but” the other said. “No’ so floont, is ‘e?”

They were quite ugly, Bohz thought, but chastised himself for being rude, silent though it was. They had flat wide faces, heavy brows and a pushed up nose, a jutting lower jaw with crooked and haphazardly-spaced long teeth, pushing their upper lips into a sneer and allowing drool to trickle out at the corners of their mouths. Soil-grey and dirty skinned, they were thick of neck and wide of shoulder, though not as wide as Bohz’ own kin, and squat with it too, whereas Bohz’ clan were all quite tall, with he himself being the shortest to his brothers.

The two men could be brothers, or close cousins, he thought, so similar did they look. Similar clothes and packs too- well made of fine cloth and leather, but ragged and stained- did they have no pride? Again- he should not judge!

“Well… put ‘im down then- bind an’ tag” the second man said.

“You jus’ back me up” said the first. “Make sure ‘e don’ get a bite o’ me wi’ tha’ axe”.

“I’ll be ‘avin tha’ axe” the other man told his companion.

“No’ if I be gettin’ i’ first!” the first said.

They sneered at each other briefly then advanced on the somewhat confused clansman.

Bohz leaned back from the swing the first man took at him again. It whizzed past his face and he shook his head in disbelief, not understanding exactly why the man had done it. The second man was on him then, a baton of his own drawn from his belt and making a high pitched whistle as he raised it. The baton slammed across Bohz chest and released the electric charge it held.

Bohz staggered back, his muscles convulsing and his knees threatening to give way under him. “What magic?..” he thought, and fought to stop himself from going down. The ugly men danced about before him, batons at the ready, grinning and looking on expectantly. When he didn’t fall they advanced again, but Bohz didn’t want to take another sting from their over-powered weapons.

As the first came in Bohz retaliated, bringing up his axe and knocking the baton aside, then driving the hilt in his hand at the man’s ugly face. Blood sprayed from his mouth and he staggered back. The second man was there too though, and again his baton found Bohz- across his back, dropping the clansman to one knee this time.

The world swam before Bohz eyes, his body urging him to lie down to recover. “Not here to trade”, he was thinking, trying to work it out, as a kick came in at his face.

Honed instinct kicked in. The ugly man’s foot passed by Bohz nose as leaned back then stood upright in one fluid motion. His axe swung up and over his head in an arc as he went, coming down again to split the ugly man’s skull open and drop him down on his rear.

The other man, with his nose now flatter and running blood, roared and ran at Bohz, as the clansman pulled free his axe. Bohz took a long step forward to close the gap, swinging his axe ahead of him with a spray of gore. It caught the man in the neck, halting his forward momentum and flipping his legs up to drop him flat on his back.

Bohz realised he was growling with his heaving breath, his heart racing as the swell of the fight pumped through his veins. He glanced between the two ugly men, prone either side of him and covered in their own life blood. Had he done wrong in downing them? he wondered. But no- they had attacked him, stinging him with their strange, powerful batons. Bind him, one had said- ‘bind and tag’- he wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but they had intended to attack from the start. The right was with Bohz to defend then- that was the law of his people.

His people.

Panic shot through Bohz, and he looked up to the sky while his thoughts raced. They came from the stars, not to trade. Did they mean to take this world then? His eyes darted around, trying to gain orientation, and… There! Smoke rising above the trees! They were headed to his village! His family!

He took off again through the trees at a sprint, the two ugly dead men forgotten behind him.