“I’m not sure that ordering them to practice with their spear-throwers will accomplish very much, Dahlaine. They may all say they’ve been hard at it for hours and hours every day, but if I’m not right there watching them, they’ll probably exaggerate the amount of time they really spent practicing.” He gave it some thought. “Maybe a contest of some kind would encourage them to do what we want them to do. There are twenty tribes in this general vicinity, and they’ve been more or less at war with each other for as long as I can remember. If I suggested competition—which tribe can throw their spears farther and more accurately or something like that—it might just be seen by those tribes as a substitute for war, except that nobody gets killed. If I were to tell them that you want to find out who’s the finest spearman in all of Matakan, they’ll start practicing day and night. Eventually, I suppose, somebody will turn out to be the best, but by the time we find out just who he is, they’ll all be better than they are right now.”
“That’s brilliant, Tlantar!” Dahlaine exclaimed. “Animosity suddenly turns into friendly competition, and we get what we want without shedding any blood.”
“None of ours anyway,” Tlantar added.
“I almost never ask Dahlaine why he wants something, Chief Tlartal,” Tlantar told the chief of one of the western tribes. “When he wants something, I just do what I can to make sure that he gets it. Right now, he seems to have a burning desire to find out just who the best spearman in Matakan is. That’s why I came up with this ‘contest’ idea. I don’t know if it really means very much, but if it makes Dahlaine happy, we should go ahead with it, wouldn’t you say?”
“I don’t suppose you could just ‘accidentally’ forget that my tribe’s part of your ‘Nation,’ could you, Two-Hands?”
“I’m afraid not, Tlartal. Besides, it just wouldn’t be the same without you. Tell your men to start practicing. It’s early spring now, and Dahlaine would like to find out just who the best spearman in Matakan is sometime in the autumn, so your men have all summer to practice. You might want to make an issue of ‘the best in all Matakan.’ If your men start yearning to be famous, they’ll probably practice even harder.”
“We’ll see, Tlantar,” Tlartal replied without much enthusiasm.
As Tlantar Two-Hands had been quite certain would be the case, the younger Matans enthusiastically accepted the challenge he’d placed before them, despite the nearly unanimous skepticism of the tribal chieftains. Being “the best” can be tremendously important to men who had only recently left their childhood behind them, while the notion that some gangly juvenile was far more likely to reach that goal than a middle-aged, flabby chief probably gnawed at the innards of almost every chief in all of south Matakan.
As Dahlaine had suggested, Tlantar laid a great emphasis on “greater accuracy” and “farther away.” As he’d been sure would be the case, the taller young men of almost every tribe outperformed their shorter friends. Longer arms made longer casts in most cases. The shorter men concentrated on accuracy, and even though they couldn’t cast a spear as far as their taller companions could, they almost universally drove their spears into the exact center of their targets. Longer range and greater accuracy almost never came out of the same hand.
Tlantar had some other things that he needed to consider. People who hunt with spears almost never carry more than one spear, but he quickly realized that there were many differences between the hunt and a war.
It was later that spring when Dahlaine briefly returned to North Dhrall to advise Tlantar Two-Hands and other leaders of his Domain that the war in his sister’s Domain was going quite well—largely because of the presence of the outlanders.
“Just exactly how are those outlanders and your sister’s warriors dealing with the invaders?” Tlantar asked.
“They’re building things called ‘forts’ for the most part,” Dahlaine replied.
“What exactly is a fort?”
“Basically, it’s a wall that’s made out of rocks—a fairly high wall, actually.”
“And is it likely that they’ll do things the same way when they come here?”
“I’m sure they will. Why do you ask, Tlantar?”
“It came to me several weeks ago that Matan hunters usually carry only one spear, and once they throw it, they’re out of business. That had me more than a little worried, but these fort things the outlanders build might solve that problem. If our people make lots and lots of spears, they can carry bundles of them to the fort, and the creatures of the Wasteland will run out of people before we run out of spears.”
“That’s not a bad idea, Tlantar,” Dahlaine said approvingly. “Oh, there’s one other thing you should know about. The outlanders make their weapons out of metal, not stone, and they’ll be bringing a lot of that metal with them when they come here. It may not be as pretty as stone, but there’s a little fellow called Rabbit who can turn arrowheads out by the hundreds in a single day. Spearheads are larger and heavier than arrowheads, but I don’t think that will mean anything to Rabbit and the other metalworkers. All that you and your men will have to provide will be the shafts, and then Rabbit and his friends will set up a ‘spear factory’ right there in the fort. I’d say that they’ll probably be able to make them faster than your men will be able to throw them.” He hesitated slightly. “Tell me, Tlantar, what’s your opinion of the archers of the Tonthakan Nation?”
Tlantar shrugged. “Their arrows are probably good enough to kill deer, but I don’t think they’d work very well on bison.”
“I don’t think that’s going to be much of a problem, Tlantar,” Dahlaine said. “The bug-people we’ve seen in the ravine above Lattash are all smaller than a deer that’s only half grown, so Rabbit’s arrows in the hands of the Tonthakans will almost certainly kill most of our enemies. I’m almost positive that there are much larger bug-people, though, and that’s when your men—and their spears—will come in. Don’t waste your spears on the little ones. Save them for the big ones.”
“As you desire, Dahlaine,” Tlantar replied without a smile.
“You should try to get over that, Tlantar,” Dahlaine said sourly.
“And maybe you should try it as well. You irritate people when you say obvious things to them. You did know that, didn’t you? I’ll send the southern tribes down into the woods that lie along your southern border to gather up spear-shafts so that we’ll be ready when the one called Rabbit arrives.”