Authors: Alan MacDonald
Firestones are For Ever
um was not impressed. She was expecting some nice rhino meat for supper, but instead Iggy had returned with an extra mouth to feed. He could tell she was annoyed by the way she kept stabbing at the fire with a stick.
âWho is she?' she scowled.
âI'm not sure,' replied Iggy. âHer name's Oosha. She almost got trampled by a woolly rhino. I think she's a bit upset.'
âUpset? I'll give her upset!' snapped Mum, brandishing her stick. âWhat am I meant to feed her? And where's she gonna sleep, I'd like to know?'
âWell . . . with us,' said Iggy.
âTalk sense, boy! There's no room.'
True the cave had got a bit cluttered lately, what with all the sticks, feathers and flints that Iggy needed for making arrows. But he could tidy up, or at least shove all the mess to the back.
âShe could be anyone! A savage!' grumbled Mum. âWhat if we wake up an' find we're all dead?'
âWe won't!' sighed Iggy. âAnyway, if you're dead you won't wake up.'
He broke off. Oosha had come out of the cave, where she had been trying to get some rest. She was about Iggy's age with bright red hair woven into braids. Most of the girls Iggy knew had hair the colour of mud (apart from Umily, the Chief's daughter).
Oosha went over to Iggy's mum and reached out a hand, touching her cheek.
âPutty,' she said.
âUhh?' frowned Mum. âWho's she calling potty?'
âPretty,' said Iggy. âShe said you're pretty.'
âDon't talk soft.' Mum went back to stabbing the fire but Iggy could tell she was pleased.
After supper they made up a bed of furs for their visitor near the back of the cave. Mum kept a hunting axe beside her during the night â just in case.
Next morning when Iggy woke up the girl had gone. Her furs lay neatly folded in a pile. He found her outside the cave where she already had a fire going. It seemed like a good chance to try and find out a bit more about her.
âI'm Iggy,' he began. âWe are Urks.'
Oosha looked puzzled.
âThis is our home â the Valley of Urk.' He pointed to the hillside with its rocks and caves. Oosha laughed. She probably hadn't the faintest idea what he was talking about. He tried again.
âWhere do you come from?' he asked. âWHERE â OOSHA â FROM?'
Oosha pointed at him. âIggy!'
âYes, I'm Iggy . . .'
âYes . . .'
âSave Oosha life!'
âI know,' said Iggy. âBut what about you? WHERE IS YOUR HOME? HOME?' He pointed to his cave. Oosha seemed to grasp his meaning. She dragged him to the edge of the hill and pointed beyond the forest to a range of blue-grey mountains in the distance.
âThat's where you live â the Cloud Mountains?'
âBut who are your tribe?'
Henna. Iggy had never heard of such a tribe, but then again he'd never been as far as the Cloud Mountains. He had only seen them on a clear day when there was a break in the rain or fog.
âMy father mighty big cheat,' said Oosha.
âYes. Big Cheat of Henna!'
âI think she means Big Chief.' Iggy turned to see that his dad was awake and had been listening to their conversation. At least they were starting to get somewhere. If Oosha was a chief's daughter, then she must be important. People would be looking for her. But what was she doing wandering around in the forest getting herself chased by woolly rhinos? Iggy tried another question.
âHow did you find us?'
âYou lost your tribe?'
Oosha nodded. âI scare. Then I see hairy nossrus. I scare to sick.'
âAnd that were when Iggy saved you?' said Dad.
Oosha looked at Iggy with shining eyes. âIggy brave. Brave worrier.'
Iggy went a little pink. He'd been called a lot of things, but never a brave worrier before. Not even by Umily when he had rescued her from the terrible Slimosaur.
Oosha was taking off one of the long necklaces she wore. She held it out to him. It had a single crimson stone which sparkled like morning frost. Iggy had never seen anything so beautiful in all his life.
âFor you, Iggy,' said Oosha. âOosha make thank.'
âIt's amazing,' said Iggy. âWhat is it?'
âFirestone,' answered Oosha. âShe bring you good luck.'
Iggy wore the red firestone proudly round his neck, over the wolf-fang necklace that he'd been given when he became a Son of Urk. It drew admiring looks from the rest of the tribe. Yet over the next few days he was dissappointed to find that he wasn't the only person to own one of the beautiful stones. Oosha seemed to give them away freely to anyone she met. Other members of the tribe took to wearing firestones on bracelets, necklaces, or even dangling from their ears. Hammerhead was overheard talking to his daughter about the red stones and wondering if someone might want to make him a gift of one.
Normally the Urks were suspicious of outsiders, but as the days turned to weeks, they grew used to Oosha's presence and even began to accept her. They liked her friendly smile and the funny way she talked. The women sat happily while she braided their hair or combed it with an old fishbone. The men liked the way she listened to their hunting stories, gasping when they described how they'd overcome a woolly mammoth by tying its trunk in knots. Not everyone was impressed with the newcomer, however, as Iggy found out when he bumped into Umily, the Chief's daughter. The two of them had become close friends after the adventure with the Slimosaur, but since Oosha's arrival Iggy had seen little of Umily.
âHuh! You as well,' Umily grunted, pointing to the stone round his neck.
Iggy touched it. âOosha gave it to me. Isn't it beautiful?'
Umily shrugged. She didn't seem that impressed.
âOosha says her people call them firestones,' explained Iggy.
âGood for Oosha,' said Umily. She walked faster, heading up the hill towards her cave. Iggy tried to keep up with her.
âWhy don't you like her?' he asked.
âWho said I doesn't?'
âIt's pretty obvious. You've hardly spoken to her.'
âSo? What's it to you?'
âI just want to know, that's all.'
Umily sighed wearily and turned to face him.
âAll right, tell me one thing,' she said. âWhat's she want?'
Iggy looked puzzled. He spread his hands. âNothing!'
âNo?' said Umily. âAll them firestones she gives away. Why? What's she after?'
Iggy stared. He couldn't believe Umily could be so suspicious. âMaybe she's grateful I saved her life,' he said. âMaybe she's the kind of person who likes giving presents.'
âAnyway,' said Iggy, â I don't see why you're so cross.'
said Umily, turning on him.
âI'M NOT CROSS! I COULDN'T CARE LESS!'
She stomped off up the hill as if the grass needed flattening. Iggy stared after her with his mouth open.
he following evening Iggy found Oosha sitting on a rock above the valley, watching the sun sink slowly in the west. At supper she'd been quieter than usual and didn't want any wild pig's liver. In fact Iggy had never seen her taste meat at all.
He sat down beside her. Her eyes searched out the mountains in the far distance which were streaked with red.
âI expect you miss it,' said Iggy.
Oosha shook her head. âI happy here. Like cave. Like Valley. Like making frogs.'
âMaking friends,' said Iggy. After two weeks Oosha's Urkish was improving but she still got certain words muddled. They watched the setting sun for a while.
âBut still, you must want to go home,' said Iggy.
Oosha shook her head. âHome far. Many walk.'
âBut you know the way?'
âForest not safe like cave,' said Oosha. âFull of animal â boors and welves.'
Iggy knew what she meant. His mum and dad were always warning him not to go to the forest by himself. By day it was a dangerous place and at night it was downright scary. Besides, Oosha was a girl â she probably didn't know how to handle an axe or shoot a boo and arrow. If she was ever going to get home, she'd need help â someone strong and brave to protect her.
âWhy don't I come with you?' said Iggy. âI could look out for bears and wolves. Make sure you get home safely.'
Oosha looked alarmed. âNo, Iggy. I not ask this.'
âWhy not? You can't stay for ever. What about your father, the Big Cheat? He'll be worried about you.'
âMmm,' said Oosha. âBut you have Cheat. Hogglehead. He not let me go back.'
Iggy shrugged. âI don't see why he'd stop us. He's my uncle so I'll talk to him if you like.'
Oosha nodded doubtfully. Talking about going home seemed to make her worried. Iggy supposed it was natural. She must be homesick. She probably didn't want to get her hopes up in case it didn't happen. In any case, he thought, it wasn't a bad idea to get Hammerhead's permission. If the High Chief agreed to the trip, then his parents could hardly refuse.
In a large cave further up the hill, Hammerhead and Borg sat opposite each other absorbed in a game of Flints. Like most games the Urks enjoyed, it had very simple rules.
HOW TO PLAY FLINTS
1. There are two players. Each starts with a small pile of flints.
2. The object of the game is to win your opponent's flints until he is âflinted' (or out).
3. The player who starts holds out his fist in front of him. His opponent must try to guess how many flints he is holding.
4. If a player guesses correctly he gains the flints for his own pile. If he is wrong his opponent whacks him hard on the knuckles. (This is called âknuckling'.)
5. Players are allowed to put each other off by humming, farting, pulling faces or choosing a difficult number like five.
Hammerhead was usually clueless at Flints, but today he seemed to be on a winning streak. Beside him was a large pile of shiny black stones, while Borg was down to his last three. It was the Chief's turn to guess. Borg brought his fist out in front of him and recited the traditional rhyme:
âMud in your eye, mud in your ear,
How many flints do I got here?'
The Chief stared at Borg's fist, trying to decide. His opponent had only three flints left, which, according to the Chief's calculations, meant he must be holding one, two or all three of his flints (unless it was none). So far Hammerhead's guesses had proved uncannily accurate, almost as if Borg was letting him win. He made up his mind.
âOne!' he said. âNo, wait . . . Two!'
Borg raised his eyebrows.
âThree!' cried Hammerhead. âYou got three!'
âIs that your guess?'
Borg groaned. He opened his hand to reveal three small black flints.
I winned again!' bellowed Hammerhead in triumph. He collected his winnings and added them to the large pile of flints beside him. âOne more round?' he suggested.
Borg turned up the palms of his hands. âHow? I'm flinted.'
âCome on! You must have more!'
Borg shook his head. âThat were the last. Unless . . .'
âUnless you want to raise the stakes, like?'
Borg reached inside his furs and brought something out. The Chief's eyes lit up. It was a firestone the size of a ripe plum. In the dim light of the cave it seemed to glow and wink like a diamond. Hammerhead had seen his nephew, Iggy, wearing a stone like this and ever since he had been dying to get his hands on one. It was just the kind of thing a ruggedly handsome Chief ought to wear.
âSo, one more game?' asked Borg.
Borg laughed softly. âAnd what's in it for me?'
âFlints. I got plenty,' said Hammerhead, indicating his pile.
Borg shook his head. âFlints I can get. This is worth a thousand. Look at her!'
Hammerhead was looking â in fact he was having trouble tearing his eyes away. Borg turned the crimson stone so that tiny pinpricks of light raced across the roof of the cave. It was hypnotic.
âWhat do you want for her?' asked Hammerhead, wiping the dribble from his beard.
âDepends what you got.'
Hammerhead cast around his cave. âSkins? Furs? Mammoth horns? Name your price.'
Borg's eyes narrowed to slits. There was only one thing he wanted and it was hanging round his opponent's neck: the ceremonial whalebone necklace passed down from one High Chief to the next. Just as a king needs a crown, no chief could rule the tribe without the necklace.
âOne more game,' said Borg. âBut let's make it interesting . . .'
Borg cursed his luck. Someone had blundered in, just when he was getting so close! Why didn't people learn to knock at a cave before entering? Quickly he tucked the firestone inside his furs, out of sight. His business with Hammerhead would have to wait for another day.
âOh, sorry, Chief,' said Iggy, coming in. âI didn't know you were in the middle of a game.'
âThat's all right,' said Hammerhead. âBorg were just going. He's flinted. So what brings you here?'
Iggy took a deep breath. He wished Borg would hurry up and go â the grim-faced elder gave him the creeps.
âIt's about Oosha,' he said.
âYou know, the girl we found in the forest. She's been staying with us but I think she wants to go home.'
âAh.' Hammerhead looked relieved. He thought it might be some difficult question like what to do about the dreadful stink from the bone-pit. âWhat's it to do with me?' he asked.
âWell, you're Chief,' Iggy reminded him.
âYes, High Chief. So I thought we should ask your permission.'
âPermission? Oh well â hmm â that's different!' said Hammerhead. âI got to think about that.'
He stood up and put on his deep thinking expression, which was very similar to his I've-eaten-too-many-nuts expression. He paced up and down a few times, then looked up.
âI've decided. She can go.'
Borg coughed loudly. âIs that wise? This Henna girl, what do we know about her?'
âNot much,' admitted Hammerhead. âI didn't even know she were a girl.'
âJust my point. Then how do we know she's not . . . a
Hammerhead looked startled. âWhat do you mean?'
âMaybe her tribe sent her,' Borg went on. âMaybe they're out to steal our caves, or our women.'
âOr our flints!' cried Hammerhead.
âBut Chief, she's not a spy!' protested Iggy. âAll she wants is to go home. What if I go with her?'
âHmm, I don't know, ' said Hammerhead. âIt's a risk.'
Iggy's eye fell on the shining pile of flints on the ground. âOh,' he said. âDid I mention her father is a Chief?'
Hammerhead looked up. âNo!'
âObviously not a High Chief, but still, I'm sure he'd be grateful if we return his missing daughter. He might even offer some sort of
âReward? Like what?' said Hammerhead.
âI don't know,' said Iggy. âMaybe some of these stones. He touched the gleaming firestone hanging round his neck.
Borg saw the look of pure greed in Hammerhead's eyes. It was remarkable the attraction of these little stones, he thought. They cast a spell over people. If he could just get his hands on a dozen or more, what power he would have then! He would make a necklace that would drive someone mad with desire â someone like Hammerhead, for instance. The old fool would give anything to possess them. But first things first. He needed the firestones â and the girl could lead him to them.
âMaybe the boy's right,' he said. âIf she's a Chief's daughter, we should help her get home.'
âReally?' said Iggy, surprised to find Borg agreeing with him.
âCertainly,' nodded Hammerhead. âIt's our duty. And if there's a reward . . .'
âI only said there
be,' said Iggy.
âBut if there is, then I should claim it â as Chief, like.'
âJust one thing,' said Borg. âThis tribe â the Henna. Where do they live?'
âIn the Cloud Mountains,' replied Iggy.
âA long way. We can't have you going by yourself.'
âI thought of that,' said Iggy. âThat's why I'm taking Hubba.'
Borg laughed drily. âEven so. Take someone else â someone who can hunt. '
âMakes sense,' agreed Hammerhead. âWho was you thinking?'
Borg stroked his chin, pretending to consider the question. His face brightened.