What is that, zarnog?
Her bemused stare prompted him to point across the plain.
“It seems riders come to make war on the Dog tribe.”
What is war?
“Something which only men do. They fight and kill in great numbers.”
“Do not go down there! You will die with then!” Zarnog shouted after him.
Her words rang true in his ears. An entire village would soon die yet he only thought of Andessa. She dwelt among them. True, she plagued his thoughts and he would live in misery without her, but he could think of something far worse. If she died without even trying to protect her and her people…
He clenched his teeth, refusing to think of the alternative as he ran on in search of the rest of the pack. Natha leant under a log, digging furiously at the ground. She sensed his presence and turned.
Little sister, I want you to hunt with me.
He sniffed her excitement.
Just you and me? she queried.
What are we hunting?
Today, we hunt men. Gather the rest of the pack and head toward their lair.
Natha smelt fearful.
Do not just gather our pack, but other packs too; as many as you can. Tell them not to attack all men, only the ones with the silver skins. I realise I ask much of you…
Natha had already turned and darted off. He feared he may have sent the little bitch to her death, but Natha would have dived into a volcano if he asked her.
Natha yapped as she skipped among the trees, calling for the rest of the pack. She found Kerm first, asleep with his head resting on his paws. He rolled a curious eye upward at her barking.
Get the rest of the pack said Natha.
Why? he said in a surly tone.
Because Tonunda says to. He wants us to run to the man lair. Today we are killing men.
He has gone mad.
Do I tell him you refuse?
With indignant mutterings, Kerm got to his feet and headed off, leaving Natha alone. She ran to the far side of Tonunda’s den and picked up the scent of dogs, but none familiar. In a small bowl amongst densely growing scrub, a rival pack of dogs tugged at a dead pig.
Sliding to a halt a few paces short of their frenzied feeding she waited. They swung their heads aside at her. Their leader left the carcass and crept toward her with all teeth bared.
You know the price for coming onto another pack’s land he growled. We will eat you alive.
I am Natha, sister of Tonunda she said proudly. If any of you so much as curl their lip at me, you will answer to him.
The pack leader stopped. Tonunda? We have heard of him. The packs speak of the tiger dog slayer.
And your names too can rise into legend with his. He asks that you fight at his side, now ,on the plain against the men with the silver skins.
What say you? he asked the gathered dogs.
They barked staggered pledges.
We run to the plain yapped the leader.