Fear encapsulated him, stone cold and sweat inducing. He felt it in his gut, his heart hammered in his chest, his eyesight blurred, he felt nauseous, his breathing was too fast, and he could control none of it. He knew running was futile, hiding even more so, they would take years to complete the hunt if necessary. Definitely not one man, possibly two, yet most like three pursued him beyond the physical world, and into the spiritual. He knew he must have met them, otherwise the song would not work, yet he could not figure out why he was so very tired knowing the song had begun. Submitting to his conclusion, knowing that death via illness or accident awaited him, he shed his skins and spears and hunting sticks and went to the bush. The bone was pointed and he was sung. Death was next to follow.
Their shoes, hidden from the eyes of women and children, were made from long feathers and the fine down found in the secret spots of an emu; blood and woven hair held them together, allowing for silence in the wearers movements across the plains of earth and out onto a level no man beyond the singer and the sung could comprehend. The wearers were the scales between earth and nature, the arm of the ‘Lore’, the judges between right and wrong. Hunting with impunity, undertaking rigorous and complex ceremony, dislocating a little toe was included in the process; spilling their blood to the ground, enhancing the powers that lay within it. Huge amounts of energy being consumed in the ritual, the cost to those in the shoe’s enormous. When they came, nothing could be done to stop them, the inevitable inescapable. To be sung, as this was what was happening, was to kill via something similar to a curse. A bone, the most important part of the ritual, sacred and powerful beyond words, yet useless without the shuffling song of the most sacred initiated men. Made from the shin bone of a young man, carved to a fine sharp needle, attached within the hollow of the bone via a mixture of blood and the resin made from spinifex burnt by fire and reduced to tar, creating the strong adhesive holding the fine woven pubic hair of a virginal girl after her first moon. Blood from those singing was drawn from its sharp tip, flowed along the hollow of the bone, finally passing over the resin, and onto the the length of hair at its end, ready now for the song to start, giving power to it. From there the true song began, accompanied by the shuffling precise dance. With exception to the Elders ruling a ceremonial lifting from the Lore, nothing would stop the feather footed assassins.
Lengthy scars ran horizontally over his chest, broad and crude, proving he was not just a man by age, but rather by rite as an initiate into manhood six seasons earlier. Further scars crossed his upper arms, and he had felt the sharp stone in circumcision; he had sat and travelled with the Elders, learning the Lore from them. Cast out to the bush for the prescribed amount of time, he had slowly found himself, and on his return, he had earnt his place among the men, and now could take a woman; but not a woman of his tribe. White, jagged and long, the scar running diagonally across his forehead came from his first raid, and the battle that followed. Hit by a thrown hunting stick, his face had opened up like a ripe fruit. Blood had nearly blinded him, and it was mostly by luck that he had fought his way out from beneath the death that fell around him. Fear after the blow that hurt him had steeled his focus, and he killed his first man in sight of the Elders. His spear flying hard, straight and true taking a running man through the chest. And yet, his tribe was driven away. Out numbered they fled, and he still had no woman to take back. One moon later, his tribe had raided in another direction, yet the result was the same. The season changed and his tribe moved to the next camp, the cold came with no woman to keep him warm or cook for him. Men laughed at him for having to do woman’s work, and his anger grew.
Dust from the dancing of the song coated the singers to the knee. All three had started singing and the dance together, the greyest head taking the bone and pointing it. After a while, two had stopped, while one continued, the bone always in his hand, his singing as ceaseless as his precise shuffling movements. Later, when the sun had gone back into the earth, the bone changed hands, and another took up the song, the power continuing and never broken. The nightmare call of the curlew crying, and the movement of kangaroo’s through the bush were the only other sounds in the night beyond the singer, bone now held by the third and youngest of the greyheads. The song did not stop.
Another moon passed, and now the children also laughed at him, calling him “woman man”, the men had stopped talking to him. No longer did he share the fires at night with others of his tribe, he started to hunt alone. One morning the Headman spoke to him, and told him to go walkabout, he was not to return until he had a woman to bring back with him. He would no longer be a man until he did. And his anger grew. Wrapped in his skins, picking up his spears, and hunting sticks he left immediately, walking toward the sun into the cold. Many days passed without him finding other people, nor a woman, and his anger began to shape him. He toyed happily with the visions of returning in the night and spearing the Headman, taking his wives, and making them his own. No one would laugh at him then, and he would have many sons from them to honour him. One morning he smelt smoke on the wind. The wind was coming from where the sun came up from the earth each day, and he quietly followed that scent. After half a day he found a camp. It was small, and he had never seen it before. Looking out from his hide in the bush he saw two girls, both past their first moon, therefore could be taken. The girls were the loveliest things he had ever seen, none of the girls from his camp were as pretty as these two. Over three or many days, he had forgotten which, he had watched them from his hide and had wonderful images of himself walking back into the camp of his tribe, with not one but two wives, and how much of a man he would really be in the face of the Headman and everyone that had laughed at him! Another night passed, and the following morning he saw the men leave carrying spears and hunting sticks away from where he lay watching. When half of the day was gone, he crept closer, and spied the two girls in their camp, and saw where they slept. That night, the men had not returned from the hunt, he waited until the fires died down, watching all the while. Slowly creeping from his spot, he moved silently to where the girls lay under skins together. Going to them, he poked them awake with his spear, and told them to be quiet or he would kill them. With wide eyes they both stood, shaking in fear and cold, and he told them to pick up their skins from the ground, and wrap them around themselves. With his spear tip he poked them again and told them to walk, which they did, he was secretly very pleased with himself that they came so quietly and easily.
The song increased when the sun came up from the ground in the morning, all three men joining in once more, lifting the power in the bone to its highest again. By the time the mist had left the ground, a very small tremor entered the bone, and they knew they had found him. After a time, two of the greyheads stopped to rest, the other continuing with more urgency than yesterday. When the sun was on top of their heads, the three sang together again, faster and louder, and the bone shook enough that it could be seen moving in the oldest greyheads hand. The eldest and the youngest greyhead stopped, and the middle greyhead took up the bone and continued the song.
Many days away from his new wives camp, the girls became head strong and give him trouble. First they sat down in the middle of the bush, and would not move until he poked them with his spear hard enough to make them bleed. Then they would not cook for him. They would not lay with him. They started to laugh at him, telling him what a mistake he had made, because they had been raided from another camp two seasons earlier, and they were both promised to the Headman from the tribe he had stolen them from. One morning he became angry with one of the girls for laughing at him, he took up a hunting stick and hit her on the head, accidentally killing her. When the other girl saw what he had done, she went into a rage and attacked him with a rock, hitting him on the side of the head, knocking him down and running away back in the direction they had come. It took him all of the day and the day after and all of his skill to catch up to her, but she would not stop. He threw his spear at her to frighten her, but he hit her through the back, and the tip came out through her belly. When he got to her, he placed his foot on her back, and tore the spear from her, telling her that she was going to die because was his woman and should do what he said, then he turned around and left her there on the ground where the ants were beginning to swarm to her blood and bite her. But she did not die, her wounds only bled, and there was no smell of her insides coming from them. When he disappeared completely from sight, she struggled and hobbled and crawled back three or many days and nights to the camp he took her from. She told the Headman what had happened, and then died because of the bad spirits in her wounds that had made them swollen, purple and leak foul smelling pus.
The Elders were summoned from a distant tribe, many days walk toward where the sun went back into the earth.
It was then that the song began.
Yarr! Click the picture above, turn off the lights, turn up the sound and get amongst it.
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