Four men formed an escort on the path, leading out of the village, waiting for Sodnammoc to join them. Unable to look at anyone, he strayed into their midst. All five men moved off without being told. They remained silent as they trod the path out of the village. Sodnammoc peered at the other men through his brows. No of them looked at each other. Like him, they were too grieved for conversation.
The path forked at the first bend, leading up a small but brief incline, lined with trees. Moving on, they came to the crudely made alter. Not properly crafted by a mason, its almost flat surface rested on two even sized boulders.
Sodnammoc removed the swaddling cloth and placed the babe on the stone slab. For the first time since leaving the village, the child cried. No doubt it felt the dismal cold of the night.
Sodnammoc looked down. A boy?
He berated himself inwardly for feeling regret. For a boy to die was no greater a tragedy than the loss of a girl.
“Let us be going,” he muttered.
Unnoticed by the other men, a tear trickled from his eye. They shuffled back along the path, none of them speaking until they almost made it back to the village.
“Why was he not given the mercy of your axe?” asked Lekkel.
“A babe without defect is to be offered alive,” Sodnammoc said brokenly. “Well will return on the morrow to see if Yekunga has accepted the offering.”
He ground his teeth bitterly, already knowing the outcome. Yekunga would accept the sacrifice. The dogs always came.
The babe’s cries on the cold slab didn’t go on without notice. Canine ears heard the faint sound, growing louder as they raced toward the hill with the flat rock. Men sometimes left their runts to die there. A gangly grey and white dog broke from the trees on the hill. He had already sniffed for men whilst huddled in the undergrowth with more of his comrades. Their senses told them the men had already left the man-pup alone, but caution dictated their movements. It could have been a trap. Men sometimes waited in hiding with oversized fangs, harder than rock, which they could hold in their hands.
All simultaneously agreed they were in no danger and darted across the clearing. The beasts stopped by the side of the annoying pup and sniffed. It smelt good and newborns such as these were so tender.
On the right of the grey dog, stood a sandy coloured beast almost as big as himself but stockier. It had loose skin and floppy ears. He tilted his head, curled his lip and growled gently in warning; the man-pup was his to eat.
The dog on his left barely reached his shoulder. It had many a scar from its upper shoulders and down from disputes with larger dogs. Brown too, it had a constant fleck of white hairs, giving its overall fur a reddish appearance. Grey dog, gave him a soft growl too.