The Matriarch

May 2, 2008
The harsh, frozen breath of winder blew cruelly over the ice frosted face of a stone aged Eurasia, ruffling the sparse tundra grass in the early hours after dawn. The sun was weak and unkind that morning, its warmth barely touching the highest mountain peaks. A large herd of woolly mammoth grazed quietly on what remains of the last summers growth, using their large, curved tusks to scrap away the frozen ice and snow. A young bull calf begged his mother pleading for milk but was met only by a small grunt of agitation and a hard shove from his mother’s tusk as she turned.
Several hundred yards away, a group of Paleolithic hunters crept slowly toward the herd, crouching low, careful not to alert the huge animals. With the weather growing warmer, the hunters were seeing less and less of the great beasts which once roamed in abundance through their lands, these were some of the first they’d seen in several months. Their intensions were simple; they would sneak as close to the animals as they could with out binging seen then drive the herd over the edge of a cliff to the frozen tundra below.
At their lead was a young man, revered among his people for his skill at hunting the great mammoth,and having killed many animals for his age, he wore an upper piece of a mammoth’s molar around his neck. Though the others planned to work as one to herd the beasts, the young hunter hoped to kill a mammoth on his own with only his spear. As the group moved steadily closer, the hunter scanned the herd for a target and his eyes fell upon a huge cow to the outer left. She was older than the others, her beautiful face rimmed with grey, her right tusk had been broken in her young age and protruded straighter than the other, pointed sharply at its tip. As the young hunter with the mammoth molar necklace looked on with excitement, their gaze locked and he was startled by the intelligence in the old cow’s black eyes, she was the matriarch.
“You are mine,” he whispered softly, the icy wind ruffling his long, matted hair.
The hunters leaped from the grass with a wild cry, spears out thrust, they rushed toward the herd, the frightened animals fled in panic, their huge feet pounding across the hard packed earth. The group followed closely, shouting and whooping loudly but did not throw their spears; the fall would kill most of the animals.
They neared the cliff edge, only several yards away when the herd stopped suddenly and something changed. In one fluid movement, the animals turned and, with the matriarch at their head, they charged the hunters who fell quickly to the ground in mute horror, flattening themselves into the dirt as great mammoth feet pounded around them.
Though none were hurt, the hunters had lost a precious amount of time and would have to begin again without the element of surprise. For several hours, the group paced the herd at a distance, the man with the mammoth tooth kept his eyes locked on the matriarch and it was not until midday, when the sun had reached its highest point, were they able to launch another attack.
The hunters drove the herd forward with more determination the second time. They had a shorter distance to travel which gave the animals less of a chance to break away but also meant that they would be traveling at a slower pace when they reached the edge and would give the animals less momentum to carry them over. As the first mammoths reached the cliff, they slowed and in desperation, tried to turn however, because of their cumbersome size, they were unable to stop quickly. As the animals in back rushed forward, they failed to see the cliff edge and in their haste to escape the spears of the men, sent the first toppling over the edge to their deaths.
As some of the last stumbled over, a scuffle broke out at the back and with a wild bellow, the matriarch broke free, barreling left up a small slope to a much steeper drop further ahead. Most of the hunters disregarded her completely, they had more meat then they could eat in a whole life time, but the young man with the mammoth tooth, seizing his opportunity and charged after her, much to the protest of his friends.
The young hunter followed the matriarch to the peak where she stood at its edge, pacing angrily and throwing up her trunk in agitation, her heavy breath freezing in the cold air. The man clenched his spear tightly as she rushed him, black eyes burning with wild hatred. He leaped from her path just as her sharp tusks speared the air where he had stood.
“Ha!” he cried, moving in front of her, arms out stretched and teeth bared. “Ha!” he cried again as she began to back up, almost tripping over her bulky feet. She was only inches from the edge, in her old age, she had neither the energy nor the will power to charge again. But as the man stepped forward, the wild blood lust taking hold of him, their gaze again locked and he froze as he stared into the matriarch’s deep, expressive face, her black eyes perfectly reflecting his own fear. This realization arrived too late however, as the young hunter’s spear flew from his finger tips and met painful with the thick hide of the matriarch’s side, the unstable frozen ground beneath them began to crumple and together, they went hurtling to the tundra far below.
His body lying crumpled and broken in the sparse, Eurasian grass, the young hunter with the mammoth molar necklace lay only feet from his prey. Slowly, his breath coming in a painful rush, his fingers gently felt the course hair of the matriarch’s woolly brown cheek and as she blinked her wide black eyes for the last time, the two seemed to reach a mutual agreement. In death, their bodies froze in time, side by side, hunter and hunted, man and matriarch.

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