“What do you want us to do with your father’s lodge?”
Athlan shrugged. “Give it to somebody who needs it—or tear it down. It doesn’t matter to me. Be well, My Chief.”
And then he turned and went back into the forest.
Early the next spring, Longbow returned to the land of the Tonthakans, and he found Athlan’s cave without much difficulty. “Have you decided to become a bear, Athlan?” he asked. “Taking a long nap might be nice, I suppose, but I’m fairly sure that your stomach will start to growl at you after a few weeks.”
“It gets windy around here, Longbow,” Athlan explained, “but almost never windy enough to blow a cave down.”
“I see your point,” Longbow replied. “Is the hunting good around here?”
“Very good. We’re far enough away from any village that the deer don’t even realize that we want to eat them. When they’re hungry enough, they’ll even graze in the meadows in broad daylight. That means that I don’t have to get up in the middle of the night anymore.”
“You’re lazy, Athlan.”
“I need my sleep, Longbow. I am just a growing boy, you know.”
“The trouble there is that you’ve stopped growing up. Now you’re starting to grow out. Give it a couple more years, and you won’t be able to squeeze through your cave mouth anymore.”
“Did you want to go hunting,” Athlan asked, “or would you rather stand around making funny remarks?”
“Lead the way, friend Athlan,” Longbow replied.
It was several years later when Dahlaine came to the Tonthakan Nation to advise the archers that the Domain of his younger sister Zelana had been invaded by the creatures of the Wasteland. Athlan was fairly sure that Longbow was having a wonderful time by now, but he had other things on his mind just then. Dahlaine’s “Nation” idea was beginning to fall apart. Old Chief Dalthak was pretty much over the hill now, and Kathlak had discarded his previous practice of pretending to discuss matters with his father and had begun to issue commands without “consultation,” and right now the Deer Hunter Tribes needed a leader who knew what he was doing. There had recently been a number of incursions into Deer Hunter territory by the Reindeer Hunters, and they refused to explain why.
In keeping with Dahlaine’s “Rules,” Kathlak issued a call for an “Emergency Meeting” to track down and correct any problems. The Bear Hunter Tribes came to the village of Statha to attend the meeting, but the Reindeer Hunter Tribes didn’t bother. The raucous chieftains of the mountain-dwelling Bear Hunter Tribes suggested what seemed to Athlan to be the best response. A few punitive incursions into Reindeer Land would quite probably get Dahlaine’s immediate attention, and then he could deal with the matter. From Athlan’s point of view, that was one of the obligations of the gods.
Kathlak didn’t see it that way, unfortunately. It appeared that he was willing to go along with Dahlaine’s absurd “Nation” idea. Peace was nice enough, Athlan conceded, but every now and then, peace didn’t work, and it seemed to Athlan that the Reindeer Hunters had decided to fall back on the good old idea of war.
The “Emergency Meeting” didn’t accomplish much, and the Reindeer Hunters continued their raids down into Deer country, burning villages, killing men, and abducting women. Athlan and his friends began to make preparations for an extended war to teach the Reindeer Hunter Tribes a few lessons about good manners.
The incursions of the Reindeer Tribes into Deer Hunter territory continued throughout the rest of the spring and well into the summer, while sketchy, and probably exaggerated, reports of the wars in the West and South arrived from time to time.
It was quite obvious to Athlan that Kathlak was keeping a tight lid on his anger about the incursions of the Reindeer Tribes into Deer Tribe territory. Dahlaine’s establishment of the “Nations” had been intended to bring peace, and Kathlak was doing his best to keep that peace intact. To Athlan’s way of looking at things, however, Kathlak’s refusal to retaliate just encouraged the Reindeer Tribes.
It was about midsummer when Athlan came up with a way to avoid direct retaliation while still letting the Reindeer Tribes know that their incursions were a very bad idea.
“All right, then,” he told a goodly number of his friends one hot summer day when they’d gathered in the forest to discuss the matter, “Chief Kathlak has ordered us not to retaliate, but he didn’t say a word about ‘defend,’ did he?”
“Not that I remember,” the young archer named Zathal said. “What did you have in mind, Athlan?”
“There are only four or five trails leading down from Reindeer Land into Deer Land,” Athlan explained, “and not really all that many villages up there. If we had a good number of archers hidden in the woods near those trails and villages, a very large number of those intruders from Reindeer Land could suddenly turn up dead, wouldn’t you say? We don’t really have to go up into Reindeer Land to find targets, since the Reindeer Hunters are coming on down here. All we’d have to do is wait for them and then kill them before they can even set fire to the villages. We know that country up there much better than they do, so we’ll have all the advantage. I don’t think we should waste time shouting war cries or any of the other things people do when they’re fighting with each other. Just drive arrows into them and then disappear back into the forest. We won’t violate the border of Reindeer Land, but we will stop them dead in their tracks when they come across our border. There might be a hundred or so of them that’ll come across that border, but I’d say that they’ll be very lucky if two or three manage to get home again. The Reindeer Tribes aren’t really all that bright, but I think they’ll get the point—eventually.”
“Would it offend you if I made a suggestion, Athlan?” young Zathal asked.
“Probably not. What did you have in mind, Zathal?”
“Dead things start to rot after a while, and they don’t smell very nice. After we’ve killed those Reindeer Hunters, we could drag them all on up to the border and just leave them there. The wind usually comes up from the south at this time of the year, so after a little while, that border area’s going to stink pretty bad, don’t you think? That stink might persuade the Reindeer Hunters to go play somewhere else, wouldn’t you say?”