First Person: a novel

The first story ever told

A little affectionate parody of my favourite poet, crossed with a fairy tale Milton would have despised…

Introitus

 

Of  Cinderella, and her sisters two,

(On whom th’ancestral virtue scorned to sit

As one who in a public house relieves

Himself by squatting o’er the filthy seat

He scarcely dares to touch); and of her looks

Untrammelled yet by men nor womankind,

Which graced that greatest treasure of her home,

Surpassing far the duller jewels which lay

Unwinking on her sibling’s duller breasts;

And of her scorning of the Prince, who sought

Her hand (we say, though meaning so much more),

In favour of that second Helen, fair

Cordella, sister of that greater lord

Of Afric far, whose presence at the Ball,

Though fondly sought, did’st yet begin that path

To ruin, scorn and so much shameful pleasure –

Sing, Muse, that did’st inspire the lovely songs

Of Sappho, and exalted so the isle

Wherein she wrote that even to this day

Its very name describes Cordella’s love

For Cinderella, and the latter’s love

For her – and draw on this my feeble song

That it may fitly scribe that happy time

When fairy-tale first ‘scaped its constant theme

Of heterosexual love and wedding feasts

That ere too many lines are yet transcribed

My readers may have set before their eyes

As true a tale of love as any song

Or story could describe – in short, this tale

Begun in shame and shattered family pride,

Yet ending (though indeed it lives on still)

In mutual happiness and public joy.

 

Actus Primus

 

The early-rising solstice summer sun

Found Cinderella kneeling at the grate.

In rags and tatters clothed, she yet returned

The sunlight’s gaze as ancient Roman lords

Accepted fertile lands, fast-flowing streams

And gold and silver as their rightful due

From lesser kings and foreign potentates;

Just so did Cinderella tribute take.

As if the very sun were set afire

And hung in heaven’s blazing firmament

That she might thus its riches duly note;

Incorporating every glowing ray

And every dancing mote in her own form

To such effect that when the sun withdrew

His vitiated corse behind a cloud

The dismal garret grew not more obscure

But pulsed with light which centred on her face.

Her pride and confidence (thus not in doubt

And ranged with her unrivalled pulchritude)

Led strangers to the house to wonder why

Her sisters (on whom Mother Nature’s hand

Had sat less kindly; and whose manners too

Lacked Cinderella’s charm and graceful poise)

Might govern her as harshly as they did.

In fact, though through her mother more imbued

By far with noble wit and grace was she

Than either worse-born sister – still did they

Her temperament and disposition rule

To such extent that to their every whim

She had perforce to bend; without the kind

And constant interventions of her Pa

Her life itself – though even with this aid

Her place was no more valued than a slave’s –

Had yet been forfeit. So, upon this day,

With which our long-postponéd tale begins

Our heroine was found upon her knees,

Engaged in scrubbing at the age-worn dirt

That marked the floor around the household grate.

So busy with this thankless task was she

So loud as well the scrapings of her brush

That several rapid knocks upon the door

Passed by unheeded; whereupon again

The servant of the Prince (for it was he)

Raised up his sturdy cane against the door

Belabouring the oak with sterner teak

To such effect that one might even think

Beelzebub himself was at the gate.

Now even Cinderella, far away,

Was startled by the noise and ran downstairs,

Conceiving even as she hurtled on

That such a racket, and at such an hour,

Must import news of greater novelty,

Than all the frequent gossip-laden tales

Which easily engaged the simple minds

And simpler interests of the neighbourhood.

In light of Cinderella’s lonely state

The daily correspondence  of the world

Still passed her by; in all her twenty years

The daily post had brought her not a note.

Yet still she hoped; especially because

The usual letters would not come for hours.

The servant, not a party to these thoughts,

Was just about to raise his stick once more,

When suddenly the heavy oak drew back,

And Cinderella shyly peered outside.

“I bear an invitation from the Prince.

He wishes your attendance at the Ball,

The yearly SunDance Ball; at which your age,

Your heritage (and dare I say your looks)

Command your presence. Furthermore, he adds,

That if the cost should prove prohibitive”,

(This last attended by a curious glance

At Cinderella’s pitiful attire),

The King himself will supplement your funds,

So eager is the Prince to see you there.”

With this, the servant smartly clicked his heels

(The leather shoes, of good and supple calf,

Each sewn and stitched by Church’s finest hand,

Supplied him by the Prince, whose whim it was

To clad in such fine raiments all his men

That servants might thus understand at once

Not only his desire to treat them well

But their complete subservience to him;

These shoes at once had Cinderella seen,

And in them the reflection of her clothes,

Which dreadful sight had made her so ashamed

That only with the servant’s final words

And promise that her dress might be obtained

By funds beyond her own pathetic purse

Had she thought that she would indeed attend

And thence began to ponder whither she

Should turn for the provision of her gown,

And if it in the High Street must be found

Or if she might presume to have one made…)

And was about to turn away to leave

When Cinderella, comprehending not,

His foppish sleeve did grasp to make him stay,

And asked him if the Prince’s Royal Command,

Did truly mention her and only she,

“For”, as she pointed out, “my sisters two

“Were surely meant by this – they are the ones

“Who constantly attend such gracious balls,

“Whilst I concern myself with nothing more

“Than helping with their manicures and hair – 

“In short, I lack experience in such things

“And certainly would not adorn the scene,

“In such exquisite glory as would they – 

“Still less know where to stand or how to dance…”

At this the servant interrupted her.

“I grow impatient with your modesty,

“This unbecoming modesty which hides

“Your charm, your wit and undisputed grace

“Which with your beauty have commended you

“To th’attention of my noble lord the Prince,

“And whose disparagement and too faint praise

“Indicts his taste and thus diminishes

“Those qualities which he in you discerned

“As signs of gentle pliability.

“Perhaps I should return and tell him, then,

“That Cinderella scorns his kind regard

And chooses rather to immerse herself

“In tasks beneath her dignity and note.”

Though disconcerted somewhat by his tone,

(And further by the Prince’s noisome faith

In ‘pliability’ as measurement

Of how a noble lady should behave

If she should crave the notice of a man)

The glory of the ball, and greater still

The glory of her sisters’ absence too

Demanded she respond – “I meant not that

“Good gentle man – I shall indeed attend

“And please inform your master of my joy.

“My joy and gratitude he shall observe

“And I shall strive to make him always glad

“That in his noble disposition he

“Did please to notice one of little note.

“Good man, I may not tarry any more.

“My heavy daily tasks are much delayed

“The clock will strike the hour of seven soon

“And I have much to do. Tell me but this;

“At what hour, and upon which glorious day

“Am I thus summoned to the Prince’s Ball?”

Her ignorance might be excused by one

Less haughty and peremptory in style

Than he who faced her now – nevertheless

She reddened as she realised her mistake

And looked at th’invitation once again.

“The details you will find upon the card

“Which I have lately given you – the note

“There at the bottom which demands reply

“You may ignore – I will myself pass on

“Your pleasure to my master straightaway.”

With that he turned upon his charming heel 

And strode away, nose wrinkled in disgust

As in the corner of his eye he saw

The droppings from the farmyard’s crawling beasts

Had smirched his charming stockings to the knee.

Unconscious of this, Cinderella smiled

And clutching to her breast the precious card

She skipped her way back up the winding stair

Picked up her cloth again with beating heart

To recommence her task with hope renewed.

 

(End of Act One. Act Two will deal with the jealousy of the two sisters, their attempts at sabotage and their father’s attempts to mediate, and will end with the arrival of the Alexander McQueen voucher from the King for Cinderella’s dress. Act Three will cover the purchase of the dress, the revealing of Cinderella to the world as a creature of shining beauty – like heroines in Hollywood films taking off their glasses and shaking their hair loose – and will end with Cinderella’s arrival at the Sundance Ball. Act Four will begin with Cinderella being introduced to the Prince and dancing with him, but constantly watching Cordella and vice versa. During a break in the music, they begin talking and Cordella persuades Cinderella outside for a fag and a snog. They will – of course – fall instantly in love, but the Prince will come looking for Cinderella and in her confusion to escape she will lose her left Jimmy Choo boot, which will be taken up by Cordella. Act Five will describe Cordella’s search for Cinderella, the King’s proclamation of death on Cinderella, the countermanding of this by Cordella’s father at the U.N. Security Council meeting, Cordella’s finding of Cinderella and their joyful marriage in Hawaii. )Image

An object lesson in writing?

The lovely people at the Weekly Writing Challenge have set the latest idea for writing: choosing one object, and either describing it in a straightforward way or using it as some kind of springboard for other ideas. So, without having any idea of where it might lead, I took the advice of choosing the nearest object – my pen. What follows is deliberately unedited, although it is hardly surrealist automatic writing: my consciousness does not easily yield to whatever passes for my subconscious. Like Phaethon, then, let me take the reins and follow the horses of inspiration wheresoe’er they lead: even to disaster.

My pen

image of my pen

Reversed, a shining black circle, looped and whorled with gold: a black hole luring a tame sun. The contradiction, bright-dark, creating and swallowing its own shadows, flows down the onyx lines. Streamlined as a classic yacht arcing through the white sea of the page and leaving no trace behind, helmed indifferently and promiscuously. Still downwards streams the black, a Styx co-opting me as its Charon, until its domination is halted by another band of gold. Here the symbols spiral beyond control – the world-snake, a wedding band…is it encircling or restricting, holding or trapping? Then, of course, the mind rests in a shallow truth: it is all and none of those.

Now, beyond the impassable gold, a new vision emerges: the mask of Agamemnon, gold and silver, furrowed with thin, infertile lines. The bronze nose-plate becomes a curve, following an invisible wind, pierced with a spirit-level hole half-way up. Perhaps this is where the Muses are supposed to enter. The ploughed silver narrows, narrows, until it too is domed and ended, framed and made lifeless: a butterfly etherised and pinned in its antique frame.

With the lid open, the slim craft surges forward, released once more – a greyhound, straining against its gold collar, is not more eager for the off than this balanced instrument, poised as a dart. Even here, though, the darkness has gouged a hemispherical bite from the curved bow; a reminder of the darkness inherent in all writing, which seeks to reshape the world to its own ends. The black swoop rises into the gold, so that the nib becomes a false nail, adding bite and danger. And last…and last, only with close attention, three black dots of discarded ink mark the very end, to be enclosed again within my fist: my own Black Spots, with their intimations of mortality.

So much for the pen as object: even as art. When poised to use, though – then, I dream, it becomes the Ur-pen, holding within it every instrument that humans ever held, to carve their desires into the flesh of an unyielding world. It is the supple iron of an anonymous Mesopotamian clerk, etching his precise commodities forever into wax tablets, to criss-cross the tiny civilized world in the unseeing hands of messengers. It is Homer’s stylus, and from its fragile end burst Cyclops, bronze shields, horses and men garlanded with sweat and blood, their deaths sung unendingly so that the voices rise even to Olympus. Now Dante grasps the pen, and in his hands it is a goose quill, plucked from the same bird that filled his pillow: now Beatrice slips quietly from the very tip, to admonish me from her gentle Paradise. In cheap lodgings Shakespeare grasps it, and paints his characters so large that living people diminish beside them. It is Johnson’s pen, shrill, admonitory, exacting, and the gold flickers with the guttering candles of three in the morning, when shadows grow larger than those who cast them and etch their fears on those still awake. Eliot slides it over his white wasteland, and the pen speaks in many voices; many languages; not least that of the broken husband, dismissing his wife to her living death with another stroke of that teeming pen.

And it is, of course, other pens, other lands, other memories: the broken ballpoint with which a prisoner of war scribbles a forlorn note, entrusting it to his guard with less hope than a child pushing a message in a bottle. It is a child’s crayon, left across a clumsy picture of a father seen only at night; a lover’s pen, a mother’s pen, a teacher’s critical, friendly pen, despair and delight hovering at the very point. Last and least, it shrinks back from these epic vistas and narrows to the present time, and sits in my hand, taunting the white page, always ready to tattoo its ancient pattern; my pen, yet not entirely mine.

A room of one’s own?

I write this in my study. In front of me, an old replica of a Minoan chariot statue, in bronze and itself green with age; a ship’s clock in a glass dome, like a mechanical Victorian stuffed watch; a silver fountain pen, and a leather journal. To my left is an old globe. The desk is a treat to myself – a lovely 1840 walnut desk, small, with a faded green-tooled leather top, and round brass handles. Through the windows, the garden spreads before me – the old apple tree is budding once again, as are the many roses, and scattered around in clumps that bear no relation to geometry are crocuses and tiny irises, with the jade-green stems between them promising tulips, bluebells, fritillaries and daffodils soon. Beyond, to the east, rises the ancient Ridgeway, the green hill like a foam-topped wave over the valley-spread town below, and hiding in its ancient folds the great White Horse who, they say, leaves his hillside at night to search for fodder among the midnight-sheathed combes.

All this is written, dear and intrepid reader, with no intent to boast: I am fully aware of how lucky I am to have such a place of respite. I raise the point in my title to ask whether you, too, agree with the lovely Ms. Woolf about the importance of having a room of one’s own, which one can dedicate to a particular task? Would you like one, but are unable to justify setting aside such a space permanently? Are you a proud multi-tasker, able to work with Olympian indifference in the kitchen, dining room or bathroom? And, I suppose, the hidden question behind all these – to what extent do one’s surroundings make a difference to one’s writing when, in theory at least, we should be dedicated to filling up the white spaces like a toddler in a minimalist bedroom?

Ah me: such musings are delightful even when answered only by the voices in one’s head. However, should my as yet invisible audience wish to reply, I should be delighted to know its thoughts. Until then, I trust you are absurdly well and quite incoherently happy. May your manifold evenings be filled with greengages of contentment, and spread with the blackcurrant jam of fulfillment.

 

It’s only words…

But we are commanded
To rise, when, in silence,
I would compose my voice.

Geoffrey Hill, Men Are a Mockery of Angels

The word, and nought else,
in time endures.
Not you long after,
perished and mute,
will last, but the defter
viol and lute,

‘Iliad’, Humbert Wolfe.

We have no more beginnings.

George Steiner, Grammars of Creation

No speech seems foreign to me, even when I cannot understand a word.

Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct.

Some inspirations for my writing. For it is not only the cold universe which breathes beauty in our ears and eyes, but, often, those after-burned images of creation we call words can sear themselves into the echoing heart.

The welcome mat. Please wipe your feet here.

How very well you are looking, O reader mine. Really quite ostentatiously charming and bronzed. My name is Dominic Scott, and you are, naturally, whomever you wish to be. Perhaps the more forthcoming among you might wish to record your nom de clavier in the responses section so helpfully adduced below. I shall waste no time in reading them. On the amusing Louis XV occasional table you will find an array of drinks. Do help yourselves; put a record on the gramophone; rest your feet on one of the many soft kittens at your disposal. I shall be with you directly.

Now – indulge me so far as to listen to a little introduction. I am the author of First Person: a novel about the very beginnings of language. The story follows two generations of early humans along the path of language, and describes the changing world of these tribal hunter-gatherers as language defines, and yet simultaneously masks, their world. It is a story of final choices, which once made are irrevocable; of a fading immersion in the world of sensuality; it is the very first step on a path which has changed our world so entirely that it is impossible even to think without it.

Try it. Try to think of a simple object: an everyday item such as, let us say, a scarf. Picture the scarf in your head, in as much detail as possible. Hold the image for ten seconds, without at any stage allowing the word ‘scarf’ to enter your mind, visually or aurally. It is – just – possible for some of us. I cannot manage it – some can, for a little while. The point is that language is so ubiquitous that we can hardly think without it; so accepted that we no longer think of it as an invention; so wholly embedded in our nature that we forget there was a time when it did not exist. My novel discusses the world before language, insofar as such a thing is possible, and traces how that world changes utterly once it is comprehended not through the hand or nose or eye – not through any sensual interaction, which is the way of the animal – but through an arbitrary sound, created not for verisimiltude but for ease of use. It is a commonplace, following Saussure, to say that the sounds c-a-t have no necessary relation to a furry mammal whatsoever. What is less discussed is that our world is so thoroughly mediated – even vitiated – by language, that those arbitrary sounds obscure the thing itself, so that our very memory of a cat is no longer its scent or feel or even the pattern of its coat but, primarily, its label.

Enough, however, I hear you cry, of such persiflage. Let us sample this book of which you speak so fervently, that our eyes be opened. I shall post here the merest introduction: the prologue, a mere 1800 words or so, as a little taste. Henceforth I shall be guided by you, dear ones, hypocrite lecteurs, mes semblables, mes freres (et soeurs, bien entendu!). Should you wish for more, I shall post more: should you wish to know more about me, I shall reluctantly comply with your prurient desires insofar as I can. Either way, I shall be delighted to hear from you, at your convenience.

For now, let me fade into the background like Puck while my words speak for me:

‘If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream’

First Person

Prologue

They had always lived in the valley. There were thirty of them, though they did not know it, and none could readily distinguish memory from dreams.

This was both blessing and curse. Uncertainty softened the vivid reds of their bloody lives, and they felt sorrow only dimly, like the scent of yesterday’s rain. Yet each generation learned its lessons anew, and painfully; though their elders enacted clumsy rituals of hunting or flint sharpening, these palsied mimes seemed mere parodies to the young: and all too soon, the strength was taken from the new hunters, and age gathered them before they knew it. Yesterday and tomorrow merged into a blurred present, though all felt the seasons change and moved with them, instinctively, like the animals they almost were.

The valley was a deep, uneven scar – two days’ march across and uncounted days long. It was their world. Bleached bones carpeted its broken floor, striped with stunted scrub and honeycombed rocks. At night the bones gleamed white, and the people patterned them to mark the paths between their seasonal homes. The jawbone of a lion heralded the thorn-covered entrance to the current camp, and was perhaps a reason no rival folk had sought to move into the territory: it spoke, as the people could not, of a terrible protective power, and the dead teeth flashed whiter than in life. Whatever the reason, there were no memory-dreams of Others even in the eldest, who had seen forty summers and would see, perhaps, five more.

Morning stretched indolently above the mean, apologetic river-bed that had carved open the valley in more imperious days. Night had temporarily stemmed the feverish recitals of territory from the birds, but now their calls echoed again, and the monkeys of the rocks above chattered to themselves in the hot, slow dawn. A listless wind sank into the valley, toying with the scrawny branches of stunted trees that cowered from the advancing sun. Streams of ants beat a silent, restless tattoo from rock to dust to nest, each bearing an immense leaf on its scorched scarlet back like a six-legged Atlas. Slowly, the sun picked out and annihilated every shadowy crevice in the rock walls, awakening the world as yet unrisen. And the dry valley flooded with light.

One of the people, acting perhaps as unofficial sentry to the group, squatted easily on sturdy haunches near the entrance to their shelter. His eyes searched among the shrubs and stones, seeking danger – or, perhaps, some private delight. He was sixteen years old, and a man among his people, but the world still seemed, in his morning and strength, a place to love more than fear. In his clever hands, which needed no eyes to see for them, he held a smooth pebble and a sharp splinter of grey rock, and he shaped the stone with swift, sure angles that came from deep memory. Yet not wholly memory: for what he made was something new.

At other times, in the still evenings, when the people gathered by the defiant fire, he would fashion, as they did, arrows and spear-heads. He could make flint to crack skulls, or slivers to carve skin, as well as any. But these dawn moments were for him alone. The shape he made now came out of shadowed thoughts he could not share, or understand, or even remember. What was certain was that the lines grew out of the landscape his eyes saw now, and though his eyes seemed fixed on the distance and never at any time dropped to watch his hands, still he knew that if he closed his eyes his hands would cease to carve. He also knew, in the limpid way he knew when rain was coming, that this kind of rock-shaping was a solitary practice. As soon as he was joined, he would drop the stone he was working on at his feet and never, by any chance, touch it again. From time to time, one of the others would be puzzled for a moment if they came across these odd pieces of stone – so sharp at the palm-side they hurt to hold, or with the cutting edge too blunt to serve. These stones fit no mould the others could understand, and clouds would come into their minds for a while. But then, one more puzzle in all the overwhelming mystery of their world could not hold their attention for long. The strange stones did not matter: or rather, they mattered too much to make any difference.

In his head was an antelope. He could not see it with his eyes but in his mind it moved and, unconsciously, he moved to match it. His head bent now to taste the brittle grass, or test the diminishing water, as the mind-deer moved from shadow to shade to almost light in the valley of his brain. The man had no way of knowing if the others also saw things that were not there, though he thought not. As long as he could remember – which was not very long – he had been able to picture a world in his head which did not quite match the world outside it. On more than one occasion, he had begun with an image from the world, and forced it to do his bidding inside his brain. And more than once, in some way he could not begin to understand, his thoughts came true, and the thought-prey had slipped through his mind to sit quietly where he had put it.

Though by the standards of the people he was young, he had already shown some great successes as a hunter. They had all obeyed his gestures telling them where and when to move, once over several hours. The signs he had made had been so complex they could scarcely follow, and some of them had thought of turning wearily towards the shelters, when without warning , the beast that until then only he had seen had emerged before them. Some among them could move more silently than he, more swiftly; others showed more cunning in surrounding, trapping and killing what they found. Yet none could see what was not there in their waking thoughts, and bring such thoughts, apparently, to life, except him. Only for him cold the observation and memories, which all possessed to some extent, be transmuted into prediction.

For now, though, the young man was not thinking of hunting. As the shape grew in his hand, it looked nothing like his head-antelope. If he concentrated on his hands in order to control them even more exactly, the creature fled and would not return. The stone shape was, rather, testimony to the animal’s presence – carved by its absence. Since he could only carve when he had a thought-creature in mind, not when a real animal was before his eyes, his private sculptures were abstractions. Around his feet were scattered carvings of smells haunting a dying bush; of imprints in morning grass: echoes, in his voiceless world.

A noise behind him awoke his thoughts to the present. He dropped the stones and all their meanings, turning to greet the woman who had moved towards him. Her eyes were eloquent, silent questions on danger and predators, roots and water, and he responded with hands and with his mobile face. As they sniffed the morning air together, he was joyfully lost once more in the communion through which his people sought to know the day. She caught on the wide wind the acrid scent of cat, and showed him where to find it: but it was old, they decided, and of little danger now. Then antelope came to his nose and set his heart trembling.

By the pool in the shade of the yellow rocks; a morning away. There might be meat for the people – and he might lead the hunt, as the quarry’s discoverer. It might even be the day he had longed for, when his own hand would be the one to pierce flesh first, and feel his stone seek out the path to the heart. He gazed fiercely at the woman, not seeing her, or seeing what was beyond her – and she laughed. She, too, now caught the scent rising in her nostrils, and could share his excitement. Their quarry was a herd, and a large one for their scent to carry so far. Before too long the group’s thirst would be slaked, and if it moved far from the pool the people would not be able to hide their scent. The man knew as well that his mind could not follow the herd beyond, to lands he had never seen. It was time to wake the others.

The delicate thought-antelope melted in the wake of this violent, hot, blood-filled scent. Scampering over the stones, the man stepped through to the shadows where the others lay. Behind him, the woman came more slowly: she had seen many hunts; most, failures. She watched his young feet disappear into the darkness. But his feet could see better than his unaccustomed eyes, and he woke none by chance. Quickly touching each in turn on neck or shoulder, he made the prey noise: a low, consonantal rumble which mimicked the nervous hooved creatures well enough to be usable ten body lengths from the most alert herd.

Nightmares were endemic and essential as pain for the people. They served a similar purpose: to warn of present or approaching danger. Not one of them, save the year’s newest, had lived a year without waking to a nightmare made flesh for someone. Usually it was the scent of blood, or its fading trail, that led them to what was left of one who would never dream again. Once, two summer’s past, the people had been woken by the sound of a cat’s teeth meeting in a woman’s throat. Though that enemy had been desperate indeed to seek its food amidst so many, and had at last been driven off by sheer weight of numbers, the victim had spilled her darkening life-blood over the length of a whole darkening day. For months after, the image of the great beast guarding its living prey had remained fresh in their minds, never far from the surface. Whilst memories were fading now, the people’s dreams were haunted still. They knew that those who slept too deeply might never wake at all.

So now, each awoke to the touch completely and swiftly. Only the eldest man, their chief, who had hunted since before most of his people were born, grumbled a little, and shifted over. He was becoming a liability. Twice in the past year, his slowed reactions and heavier feet had lost them meat after a day of stalking. Yet it would not have occurred to any of them to leave him behind.

The men, and those women not nursing, gathered at the entrance. Each one tried, with eyes and nose, to gauge the direction and distance of their target. Each took a spear for the killing as the scent rose, along with a sharp stone for the division – if their luck would hold so far. The arrows were no good for such a hunt – not true enough for large, wary animals, and incapable of killing anything much larger than a hare. Moreover, a lightly wounded animal might alarm the herd for days to come every time the wind blew its blood-smell towards them; it might, too, alert other, deadlier hunters who needed no weapons but their bodies. It was always better, the people understood, to abandon a hunt altogether rather than attack without a kill. Once all had their weapons, the chief moved between them to the front, pushing past the young man who had first scented the prey with no malice. He took his own weapon – the only spear that was not held in common – and met each pair of eyes as he, too, made the noise of their prey. Hugging the contoured shadows, the people moved as one towards their uncertain future, in perfect silence.