Four Arrows

Four Arrows

She rose from the bed with a dark sense of foreboding. She shared a cave with her husband, set in the high canyon. He had left before dawn to hunt. The larger game migrated towards the east during the day while resting at night in the canyon valleys nearby. He changed his pattern of hunting to track the mule deer as they grazed before sunrise. She dressed slowly, aware of the shamanic energies arising within her. They directed her to the imminent danger He was walking into. She stood very still at the lip of the cave, observing the first rays of daylight caressing the valley below their cave. She swayed back and forth sensing the early morning breeze and the energies arising within her mind and body. She stayed rooted in one spot, and concentrated on Him. She could foresee the danger. Without waking her friend Long Willow, She took down her powerful long bow from the cave wall, selecting His four best arrows. She knew she would need every one of them, as she stilled her fear.

He had left carefully so his tracks were scarcely visible. She drew on her mountain upbringing where she knew the trace of every creature. She quickly found his footprints, following them eastwards. She noticed a rock cache with small animals that He had hunted, along with several broken arrows. Not the game He was looking for, but vital to keep them alive. She carefully replaced the rocks exactly as they had been built. The tracks led her to a dried up gulch where she saw the heavier print of his forward foot. She again sensed the shamanic energies. This was where He had stood to shoot a larger game animal from his bow.

He had stood in that exact spot at dawn, drawing a steady bead on a large mule deer with his last arrow. His previous arrows had shattered on impact and He noted in his mind the tree these arrows had come from. His final arrow was made from stronger wood and would deeply penetrate the unaware mule deer, starkly outlined by the early morning sun. As He released the arrow from his bow, the prey moved in the same instant. The strong, swift arrow did not provide a clean kill. It went deeply into the mule deer, high in the muscles of the left foreleg. He whispered a prayer to the animal for causing unnecessary suffering. He proceeded to follow the wounded creature to end its misery. The arrow had not pierced the heart but had cut right through sinews and muscle. The erratic and painful trail left by the dying mule deer strayed into Tonto Apache territory.

Eventually He caught up with the mule deer, exhausted and on its knees, close to a sandstone butte reaching into the morning sky. He dispatched it with his hunting knife and enacted his gratitude by cutting out part of the heart and liver, placing it on a natural rock altar. He put tobacco by the stone as an offering. As He began to gut and skin the mule deer, He became acutely aware that He was no longer alone. He had been spotted earlier by a Tonto Apache scout as the wounded mule deer drew him into their territory. The scout called in two other warriors to corner this stranger hunting on their land. One of them – the smallest – started to climb the sandstone butte to gain an advantage, while the other two approached in a pincer movement that provided no escape. He saw all three and knew they would kill him. He had only his hunting knife and a bow without arrows. As He slowly backed into the rock face of the sandstone butte, a spontaneous, silent shout screamed in his mind calling out to Her for help.

And there She was. Standing with her bow fully drawn, She commanded the edge of a clearing close to the sandstone butte, well shielded from sight by small ash trees. Her first arrow sent death screeching to the scout climbing the butte. The arrow pierced the climbing scout through the heart and he fell with a heavy thud on the rocky floor below. This surprise attack made the tallest warrior run towards her at the edge of the clearing, but an arrow was already coming his way from her bow. It went right through his throat. As he turned, dropping his weapons while clutching at his throat, her third arrow went directly into his heart killing him instantly. The third warrior was in fierce hand to hand battle with her husband and had gained the upper hand, throwing him against the rock wall of the red sandstone butte. As he raised his battle axe to strike a death blow, her fourth arrow, shot powerfully with great accuracy, entered below his armpit, through his chest into the heart. The warrior fell forward. Her husband tore the battle axe from his assailant and finished the death process with a swift smash to the skull. It was over in a matter of seconds.

Breathing heavily, He stood there with the warrior’s battle axe in his hand. She, with the stealth of a mountain lion, approached the two other scouts, now motionless on the ground. Her hunting knife was drawn, but there was no need. They were both dead. She walked slowly towards Him. He was in total awe of this magnificent woman, his wife. He fell to his knees in front of her and wept as He wrapped his strong arms around her legs. She lifted him up and gently wiped his tears away.

His voice came out as a sob. “Did you hear me …….”

“My husband, I heard your shouted scream long before you uttered it in your mind. I knew what was to happen and have been tracking you since dawn, knowing the danger that would befall you.”

He would never understand her gifts of seeing and felt humbled by her presence in his life. She was filled with gratitude that his life was still with her, as she feared the dislocation a different outcome would have created. They stood together, motionless for a moment, then His strategic sense quickly asserted itself.

“We must take the arrows out of the slain Apache scouts and from the mule deer. Leave the bodies right here, just where they have fallen. The animals and vultures will come and scatter their remains and cover some of our tracks.”

She nodded her consent. The sun had begun to rise and they had to be meticulous. They created a false trail to a pass in the canyon wall that lead to the southern plateaus. Retracing their steps to the killing ground by the sandstone butte, they began the painstakingly slow removal of all trace of their passage westwards. He took care to relocate the rock cache he had built for the small animals he had killed – two rabbits and two small grouse. He retrieved his shattered arrows and threw the rocks in the pinyon forest, leaving one dead grouse for vultures to find and scatter their unmistakable presence over their tracks.

As night fell they rested under a large rocky outcrop sheltered from view by a clump of juniper trees. Safe from any scouting party, it had a clear vista of the steep path that led to this temporary sanctuary. The night was warm, as they listened carefully to the sounds of movement. They did not detect any indication of an Apache pursuit. A curious desert badger inspected them, grunting and growling. They saw the outlines of mule deer in the valley below, as they listened to the evening chorus of insects, toads and lizards. The deep coughing sound of a cougar caused him to stiffen and regret that he had no arrows. He looked around for rocks that would fit into his fist and glanced up at the evening light. A golden eagle had settled in the high branches of a tall pine. He relaxed, suddenly feeling safe with this night companion confirming affinity since his childhood.

Before the break of dawn they continued their careful journey, with many detours to throw off any pursuers, before they got close to the safe haven of their cave. She stopped and gave the woman’s small grouse call. Long Willow loomed out of the morning darkness, with her long bow leveled at them, battle axe slung over one shoulder. She had stationed herself at a hidden juncture of the trail leading to their cave, ready for the worst. She had sensed the same foreboding that drew Her out at dawn, but did not have the gifts of seeing. He whispered briefly what had happened. Long Willow nodded silently and beckoned them to go on to the cave while she checked that they had not been followed. Long Willow returned several hours later in the dark. They did not light a fire, wrapping themselves in blankets and animal skins for warmth. They humbly offered prayers for the three slain Apache scouts. They did not leave the cave for a week, surviving on dried berries, water and their scant supply of dried meat. Long Willow maintained a sharp vigilance during this time, her long bow trained on the trail far below.

No-one came their way.

They were safe. 

Ian Prattis

Ian Prattis, Zen Teacher, Anthropology Professor Emeritus, peace and environmental activist, was born in the UK. He has spent much of his life living and teaching in Canada. His moving and eye-opening books, essays and poetry are a memorable experience for anyone who enjoys reading about primordial tendencies. Beneath the polished urban facade remains a part of human nature that few want to acknowledge, either due to fear or simply because it is easier to deny the basic instincts that have kept us alive on an unforgiving earth. Prattis bravely goes there in his outstanding literary work. A stone tossed in the waters of life.

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