Authors: Alan MacDonald
ggy knew that he only had one chance â if he missed, they were all dead meat. The Henna were swarming towards them howling like beasts. Iggy drew back the bowstring, took careful aim and let go . . .
The flaming arrow fizzed like a rocket through the air, soaring high over everyone's heads.
Snark groaned. âYou missed, you idiot!'
But Iggy watched the arrow and saw it bury itself in the roof of the largest straw hut â the one belonging to Karratop. Within seconds the flames caught and began to spread, licking hungrily at the roof. Black smoke billowed into the dark sky. The Henna stared wild-eyed in terror. This was powerful magic!
they yelled, pointing to the flames.
As they watched the wind caught a burning spark, carrying it to the roof of the next hut and setting it ablaze. From one flaming arrow, the fire was now threatening to sweep through the whole camp. Panic took over. Men and women ran in all directions, some falling to their knees and calling on Shani to save them. Others tried to put out the fire by throwing spears or sticks, but this only made matters worse. Suddenly the ground shook with a mighty crash. Chief Karratop saw the roof of his hut collapse, reducing it to blackened straw and dung. He muttered a curse. The Urk boy was responsible for this â the one with the tiny shooting spears. Karratop whirled round to look for him. But there was no sign of either Iggy or his two companions. Once again they had done what Urks do best and vanished into the dark.
A mile away at the top of a grassy hill, Iggy looked back. Above the mountains rose thick columns of smoke where the huts continued to burn. It was amazing what one little pointed stick could do.
Hubba shook his head. âWhat you call them things again?' he asked.
âArrows,' replied Iggy.
âDeadly. But how'd you get 'em to burn, like?'
âNut oil. Snark was covered in it. While you were juggling, I coated one of the arrowheads in oil, then held it in the fire. All I had to do then was hit the target.'
âClever,' said Hubba, impressed. âI'd never have thought of that.'
The journey home was long and tiring. They reached the Valley of Urk on the afternoon of the fifth day. For much of the journey Snark said little, perhaps trying to think what he was going to tell his father.
As they crossed the river a horn boomed out, warning the Urks of their approach. Men and women swarmed out of their caves and stood waiting at the top of the hill as Iggy and his friends climbed to meet them.
Once Iggy had been duly hugged and kissed by his seven aunts and fifteen cousins (not counting Umily), Chief Hammerhead came forward.
âWell, young Iggy. Back safe and sound?'
Hammerhead rubbed his hands. âSo then. What about that reward, eh?'
âAh, the reward,' said Iggy, who was hoping he might have forgotten.
âYou got the firestones?'
At the mention of firestones the crowd pressed in closer, eager to get a glimpse of the glittering haul of treasure. Iggy glanced at Hubba.
âThe thing is, Chief, it wasn't that simple . . .'
âNo,' said Hubba. âTurns out they was all cannonballs! They wanted to eat us!'
âGreat Urk!' exclaimed the Chief.
âYes,' said Iggy. âIf it wasn't for Oosha, we would never have escaped.'
âBut you must have got something, surely?'
Iggy shook his head.
While this conversation was going on Snark had been hanging back, trying to avoid his father. But Borg had seen him and dragged him away by the arm.
âWell?' he demanded.
âIt were horrible,' said Snark. âThey captured me and tied me up â'
âYes, yes, never mind that,' snapped Borg. âWhere are they?'
Snark looked blank.
âThe firestones, you fool. How many did you get?'
Snark stared at his feet. âRoughly?'
âWell, counting the ones I dropped . . . um . . .
roared Borg, forgetting to keep his voice down. âYou brainless lump!'
âIt weren't my fault!' whined Snark. âI had hundreds but they was too heavy. Look!'
He showed his father the rip in his furs where the firestones had torn a gaping hole. Borg groaned and turned away in disgust. Why couldn't people do the simplest thing? He
those little stones. How else was he going to get his hands on the High Chief's necklace? He put his hand inside his furs and brought out the one firestone he'd kept all this time. Perhaps there was still a way. Glancing over, he saw that Hammerhead seemed to have got over his disappointment. He was examining a long curved stick that Iggy was showing him.
âAnd you shoot her like this?' he said, drawing back the string and letting go with a twang.
âYes,' said Iggy. âOnly it fires these arrows.'
âYou should see 'em. They're deadly!' enthused Hubba. âBetter 'n any spear!'
It was Borg who had spoken, pushing his way through the crowd. âYou can kill a bear with 'em?'
âI don't see why not,' replied Iggy.
âHow?' asked Borg. âBy poking him in the eye?'
The crowd roared with laughter.
âLike I said, it fires arrows,' repeated Iggy, fitting one of the flint-head arrows to the string. He took aim. The Urks in the front row stopped grinning and took a step back.
Borg folded his arms. âDeadlier than any spear?'
âYes,' said Iggy. âSpears are all right, but this is more accurate.'
âAhh! More accurate!' said Borg with heavy sarcasm.
Iggy scowled. âI'll prove it if you like.'
Borg smiled â this was just what he had in mind.
âPlease, show us,' he said. âBut let's make it interesting. Chief, what do you say to a bet?'
âAll right,' said Hammerhead, who had never been known to refuse a wager. âWhat's the stakes?'
Borg opened his hand to reveal the large red firestone. Hammerhead's eyes shone with greed.
âMy spear against this boo stick,' said Borg. âIf I lose, you get my firestone and if I win, I get â let's see â your necklace.'
A gasp escaped the crowd.
Hammerhead frowned. âMy necklace? The High Chief's necklace?'
âI can't bet that.'
âAs you like. Then I keep my firestone.' Borg snapped his hand shut and turned away.
âWait!' cried Hammerhead. He turned aside to Iggy and lowered his voice. âDoes this thing work? Can you beat him?'
âNo contest,' said Hubba confidently.
Hammerhead nodded grimly. âYou better be right.' He turned back to Borg.
âAll right, I accept. What's the target?'
Borg looked around. His eyes roved over the trees and rocks on the hillside before settling on something closer at hand.
âI know,' he said. âWhat about you?'
âMe?' The blood drained from Hammerhead's face.
âIsn't that a bit, like, dangerous?'
âOf course not,' said Borg. âWe're not actually trying to hit you. The winner's whoever comes closest. But of course, if you're scared . . .'
Scared? That settled it, Hammerhead wasn't having anyone say he was scared.
The Urks gathered at the Standing Stone to watch. There was nothing they loved better than a contest of skill, especially one where someone might get hurt. Iggy, on the other hand, was regretting that he'd allowed Borg to talk him into this. So far he'd only practised shooting at trees and straw huts â a human target was a different matter altogether. What if he missed by miles with everyone watching? Even worse, what if he didn't miss at all?
Hammerhead marched off to take up his position fifty paces away. He stood under a tall beech tree, trying not to look nervous. He muttered a prayer to the Spirits of the Ancestors and took a deep breath, hoping it wouldn't be his last.
âReady!' he shouted, waving an arm.
Borg stepped forward, having chosen to go first. He was going to enjoy this. Of course he couldn't actually
Hammerhead, not in front of the whole tribe, but he could come close enough to make it amusing. Either way, he couldn't lose. When the boy and his stick failed miserably he would win the contest and the Chief's necklace would be his. Only a moron like Hammerhead would have agreed to such a bet.
Borg flexed his throwing arm. A breathless hush had fallen. Snark handed him his favourite hunting spear â the one with the deadly razor-sharp tip. In the crowd, Umily turned away, unable to watch. If her dad got himself killed, she vowed never to speak to him again.
Borg stood very still with the spear balanced in his right hand. He began his run-up, drew back his arm and let fly with a loud grunt.
The spear flew straight and true towards the target. Hammerhead shut his eyes.
Something splattered on his cheek which might have been blood. He opened his eyes. He was still breathing. The spear quivered in the ground, so close to his feet that it had almost trimmed his toenails. He wiped the mud off his face and waved to show he was unharmed. A mighty cheer went up and the crowd chanted the easy-to-remember Urk war cry.
âURK! URK! URK!'
âURK! URK! URK!'
Borg turned to Iggy and smiled.
âYour turn, boy. Let's see you get closer than that.'
Iggy took his boo and selected one of his arrows (the one that was almost straight).
âYou sure about this?' asked his dad.
âI'll be fine,' said Iggy.
âIt's not you I'm worried about.'
Iggy took a deep breath. It was too late to back out now.
Under the tree, Hammerhead had taken his post again, resisting the urge to run for the nearest cave.
Iggy squinted through one eye and took aim, trying to remember what he'd practised.
Breathe slowly. Keep a steady arm. Try not to think of blood.
He drew the string taut and let it go. The arrow hummed through the air in a perfect arc.
Hammerhead yelled out, certain that he was dead or wounded or possibly both. The crowd had gone silent. Slowly he opened his eyes. The arrow had missed his left shoulder by a hair's breadth, pinning him to the tree trunk by his furs. With an effort he pulled it out and held it up.
The crowd roared:
âIGGY, IGGY, IGGY!
URK, URK! URK!'
Iggy's cheeks glowed. No one had ever chanted his name before.