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A Very Important Event
It was a day that went down in the history of the small cave village of Rock. It was the day of the very important event. Excited conversations and passionate debates had raged for months prior, all in anticipation of that day. Now it had come, and the villagers were preparing.
All about the village, cave wives were running around their cave homes, cooking over the fire, tending to the children, and curling their hair with bones as if anyone would be paying them any mind. Cave men and boys stood around, trash-talking and finalizing their bets. Two cave girls hovered around them, eager to join the discussions, to add their insights and insults. Like the men who excluded them, they kept their hair flat and tangled, and wore coats of animal fur, one in a dark, shaggy brown, the other a shorter tawny. The girls sulked for a while before glaring at each other’s coats and slinking away.
There was a buzz that affected all of the villagers, but none as much as Mrs. Bep Stone. She was the Hostess. As far as she was concerned, this was her event. As a cave wife, she was the keeper of the house, and she was determined to make everything perfect. The other cave wives would be watching her, judging her, while the men tended to their side of the event. The event was vital to all of the villagers. Or all of the intelligent ones, at least.
There was a sad little number in the village, who would have no part in the event. The scoffed at their brothers and sisters, the noble beings who had lifted their knuckles from the ground to pursue a worthy cause. These vile creatures chose to spend their time shut up in their caves, marking the walls with odd, misshapen figures that they called letters. They were useless. Fortunately, their kind was easily to forget. They were forgotten today now as the others gathered at the Stone family’s cave.
The cave was spotless. Bep had made sure of that. There was a roaring fire, and near it was an impressive platter of food. She was particularly proud of it, as well as the decorations. There were two groups of people arriving; those clad in brown and those in tawny. As Hostess, Bep would have no one calling her anything but fair. She was the mediator, splitting her home in two, one side for each group. It would be noticed, however, that as the guests filed in, she stood decidedly on the tawny side of the cave, and that the fire was slightly shifted toward the same side.
Guests filled the cave, each keeping to their side. Within the confines of one side, all were friends. Any previous animosity was forgotten, petty squabbles set aside. But between the two sections, where a large area had been left bare of villagers, hatred spilled into the cave.
The hum of conversation from the gathering crowd quieted. A little cave boy tugged on his mother’s hog-skin dress, and asked her if it was finally starting. “Not yet, Zug,” she whispered, aware of the distasteful stares she was drawing from the other cave wives. “It’s time for the sacrifices. Just watch.”
The sacrifices were one of most important traditions leading up to the event. Both sided had their own sacrifice. The strongest man from each group was chosen to kill the appropriate beast. Kef, one of the straight-haired girls, had volunteered, only to be laughed at. Everyone knew that cave girls were weak creatures who stayed in their caves and served the men. Kef was standing in a brown corner of the cave, leering at the task she would never get to do. Like the boy Zug, she wished that the event would just start. Not that she’d ever admit the likeness, of course. Zug was standing on the other side of the cave, wearing tawny.
Kef’s mood did not improve when the first sacrifice was brought into the cave. She joined her side in a chorus of booing and hissing. The animal was a large mammoth, its shaggy brown hair matching the color of Kef’s coat. It was a magnificent beast. Anyone could see that. Kef and her companions were hissing at the man who was dragging the poor beast in. He was dressed in tawny, bringing cheers from the other side. He gave a speech that made Kef sick before slaughtering the animal with a long, sharp stone. Half of the cave wept and looked away, while the other cheered even louder.
Soon the triumphant glow in the eyes of the tawny-clad was replaced by a sullen glare. They knew what was coming. A man in brown dragged in a huge, tawny wildcat. Enormous, curved teeth sprouted from its mouth. The saber- tooth snarled through its cloth muzzle. Kef laughed at the animal as Zug whimpered and cried. His mother held his hand, stroking it gently.
The man gave his speech and cut the beast’s throat. Kef cheered along with the others, knowing she would have done a better job. But hardly mattered now. The sacrifices were over, and the event was beginning. Cheers rose in the crowd, from both sides now. Then everyone was silent as they watched six men run to meet each other. The men were in two groups: one wearing brown, the other tawny. A seventh man stood between them, wearing a neutral gray. He turned to look at the crowd.
“We all know that it’s time for the big game,” said the man. There was a pause as the whole crowd cheered. “We’ve got the greatest teams of all time here: the Mammoths,” there was a roar of cheers from the brown-colored side of the room, “and the Saber-Tooths!” The other side of the room returned the roar. With that, the game began.
The premise of the game, or the Sport, as it is properly called, is simple. The leaders of the two teams are both equipped with long sticks, with which they are to beat a boulder. The boulder is in the center of a large circle that had been marked on the ground with a line running through it. When one the men beat the boulder out of the circle on the side opposite him, his team won. He became a hero alongside his teammates, assuming you weren’t talking to fans of the other side. The four men outside the circle had just as necessary a task, one that required even more skill. Their job was to chase each other and beat their opponents to the ground. Without them, the Sport, simply couldn’t take place.
The Players themselves, who were at the center of attention in Rock, were as varied as the animals that represented them. They had real names at one point, normal names like Ruk and Hup, but not anymore. The first time they stepped on the field, they had become Players, and remained that way ever since. The leaders were named after their teams, for Saber was a quick, fierce man, while Mammoth used his hulking mass to his advantage. Many male Mammoth’s fans wanted to be their hero, and most of the woman wanted him for a husband. Kef had decided a long time ago that she wanted both.
The other two men on the Saber-Tooths were Wolf and Bear, both quick of wit and movement. Mammoth’s team-mates were Sloth and Bison. Sloth was even larger than Mammoth, and the three men looked quite similar. In fact, Mammoth and Bison were brothers, and the three had trained together from birth. All six Players had been chosen from the strongest newborns to be prepared for the most honorable jobs in existence. The crowd looked on as the Players showed what that training had taught them.
The grace of the Players and the beauty of the Sport were overwhelming. The crowd held their breaths as Saber swiftly beat the boulder past Mammoth, with all of his speed and ferocity. Mammoth was playing along, biding his time. Saber was not surprised when Mammoth took a mighty swing at the boulder, knocking it nearly back to the center. Like Sisyphus, Saber trailed after the boulder and pushed it once more toward his goal, aware of the massive forces against him. Outside the circle, other struggles were taking place.
As if they were dancers in an elegant ballet, the four remaining players had each chosen a partner. With Sloth against Wolf, and Bear against Bison, the fights raged on. Sloth had Wolf for size, but he was a slow, lumbering fellow, and he tired easily. Wolf was chasing him around the field, wearing him out. Bear and Bison were more closely matched, and the two halves of the crowd cheered and hissed when one man or the other landed a blow. Eventually the two were on the ground, wrestling.
As this went on, the leaders rolled the boulder here, there, and back again until Mammoth gained control and moved slowly forward, unstoppable as a glacier. Saber tried to counter, attacking from one side, then the other, but it was no use. As Mammoth moved closer to his goal, a chant rose up in the crowd, the music of it filling the cave.
“Mammoth! Mammoth!” Kef’s side of the cave cried. In desperation, the Saber-Tooths fans took up a chant of their own. Cries of “Saber!” overtook the first chant, and, just on the edge of the circle, Saber overtook Mammoth himself. Two new cries of relief and dismay ran through the crowd. Both had an edge of surprise. Saber-Tooths fans who had looked away returned their attention to the game. Mammoths fans who had started spending their bet-won money in their heads stopped in their mental tracks.
The cries for Saber grew louder. Even Bear chanted from the headlock that Bison had him in. The Mammoths fans tried to rally as well, but it was no use. Mammoth was resigned to taking feeble whacks at the boulder as Saber plowed past him. Eventually, Kef was the only one still cheering for him. Her chant dissolved into sobs as Saber neared the edge of the circle. In one last effort, Mammoth mustered all of his remaining strength and hit the boulder. Unphased, Saber drove the boulder the remaining distance, pushing it past the circle. He had won.
The roar from the Saber-Tooths fans was deafening as the man in gray stepped forward to announce the outcome of the game. Mammoths fans who still had the spirit glared at him. One of them yelled, “Shut up, we know what happened!” It was Kef yelling through her tears. The man awarded the Saber-Tooths their prizes of emeralds and gold. It was the least that could be done for men who were so essential to society. The Mammoths, like their fans, trudged home. They left a trail of blood, their fans a trail of lost betting money, both mixed with bitterness and tears.
The Saber-Tooths fans stayed in the cave, celebrating like a family. The Sport brought the villagers together more than anything else. It was the ultimate way for them to bond. There was a party that ran late into the night, with dancing and drinking. The Mammoths decorations were thrown into the fire. The villagers went home when the party was over, leaving the glowing picture box behind.