War Chest

The Neanderthal carefully checked the wind direction before moving into position in the dense brush at the edge of the clearing. The smoke from the communal fire confirmed his guess. He was downwind. He slowly eased his hairy head up over the slight mound of dirt that gave him cover. The scene before him was a picture of the typical communal life of a small clan of humans.

Because he was in good cover, he watched for quite a while. They were very much like his own clan over twenty kilometers from here. The children played loudly and wildly, like all children. The women were gathered together in two groups. The smaller group was cooking the evening meal at the fire. The other, larger group were scraping a large skin that had come from a big animal. A Bison was the Neanderthal’s guess. It was big. Five women worked hard at scraping it and drenching it with water. They were almost finished. Other than two men left as guards, the rest of the men were gone. No doubt they were hunting, he thought. What he didn’t know was that one man was watching him carefully from the cover of the treeline. Since he was only one man and seemed to pose no immediate threat, the man just watched and did nothing else. But he stood ready to call out for help if the man made any aggressive move.

As the light began to fade toward dusk, the Neanderthal pulled back from the mound and slipped away into the forest. He began to trot faster to reach his campsite cave before dark. He moved quickly through the sparse trees and kept a sharp lookout for hungry predators that were just beginning to awaken at this time of the declining day. When he arrived at the small cave, he had to have a cold camp as his small fire had gone out. He raked through the ashes, but it was no use. The fire was completely out. He gathered a few of the concealing branches he’d used to hide the cave and pulled them in front again to offer a small measure of protection and to give him a moment to get ready if some animal tried to get in to get him. Once he had them woven together, he laid back on the dirt and rearranged his skins to serve as a blanket. He went right to sleep.

At first light, his eyes popped open and he squatted forward to look outside. After a short time, he was reasonably sure there was no large animal outside waiting for him to come out. He’d seen bear tracks near here yesterday. He crawled out of the small cave hole and stood up, stretching for a moment. When he had the cave hole covered again, he headed off in the direction of his own clan. His short spear held at the ready, he started to trot again. If he kept at it, he could be there by the time the sun was directly overhead.

He arrived faster than he thought, his hunger driving him on. He’d only stopped twice to drink from small streams. When he walked into their clearing in front of the big cave, Three men walked out to welcome him back. His woman appeared carrying an empty animal skull top with a hot soup in it. She also handed him several pieces of dried meat. He took them gladly and sat down to eat noisily, the three men standing and watching him eat. They wanted to know what he found out about the other new clan that had moved into the edge of their hunting grounds. When he’d finished eating, he tossed the empty skull bowl to the woman and stood to tell the men what he’d seen. He wiped his greasy hands on the fur of his skin coat and began to talk in his gutteral voice.

He was the new leader of this clan after defeating and killing the older leader in a planned fight. The older Neanderthal had abused everyone in the clan for a long time and one day he knew he had to challenge him. He made his plans and prepared several weapons hidden behind a rock at the edge of the clearing. He’d started an argument with the old man’s main wife, knowing the old man would come out to defend her. When he did, he stopped arguing with her and started on him. The old man had depended on his status as the leader of the clan and had always ruled by cruelty and abuse. He came out to the edge of the clearing to put this young man in his place. He was a threat to his power as the leader. What he didn’t know was that this was an ambush.

The younger man argued with him and questioned his right to tell him anything. The older man was enraged by that and started to beat the younger man with his fists. The younger man waited for the right moment to push the older man back and away. When he did, the older man came back in a charge like a bear. The younger man took several steps back and picked up a club with a good-sized rock laced to it with leather thongs. As the big, older man moved in, he swung the club from below and hit the man’s arm with the club. There was a sickening crack as his arm broke between the elbow and shoulder. The older man howled with pain and anger. But his cries of rage were cut off sharply as the younger man brought the club up again for a smash on his head. The skin on his head split open to expose his skull and blood started to spurt from several torn veins and arteries. His skull had been cracked but was still intact. He dropped like a skin filled with stones. It took over five minutes for the swelling under his skull to kill him. The blood had spread over a wide area. His broken arm had fallen under him when he fell and was twisted at an odd angle.

The younger man howled out his defiance in a war whoop. That was to tell everyone here that he had defeated the old man and was now claiming the prize of being the leader. He looked around to all the men to see if there were any challengers. There were none. After several silence-loaded pauses, he looked at the body of the older man. He was dying. The younger man ordered several women and especially the older man’s wife to move the body to the edge of the cave. She stood crying for a moment until he smacked her with his open palm. She had a momentary look of defiance, then acquiesed and helped pulled the old man over to the cave. By the time they had him moved, he was dead. One woman began to rub off the blood from the spot where he was killed with dirt. They didn’t want to draw predators to the site. After a few minutes, they began to wash off his body and prepare him for burial at the back of the large cave with the other dead. The graves showed that these people respected their dead, and they buried the person’s possessions with them. It seemed to offer them comfort with the death of a member of their clan.

These thoughts drifted through his mind as he related what he saw at the home fire of the other clan. The three men sat near the fire and took it all in. After a while, the young leader had stopped talking and waited for them to absorb what he’d said. They sat and said nothing for a few, long moments. Then, all at once, seemingly, they all started to discuss what to do. When they were going strong, the leader held up his hand and everyone stopped talking. He told them that these new people were invading their hunting space and they must go. He had seen them with the remains of a bison. There were just a few of those in this territory and it would be a strain on this clan if they had to share the game. He said that the clan must begin to build a war chest of weapons. They had to leave. This had been their territory for several generations and longer than anyone could remember in the clan. These invaders had to be driven away. They must make plans to get rid of them.

As he stood by the fire and told the men this, a short spear thrown by an atlatl whistled through the air and struck him through the neck. Two others soon followed and hit him in the back. He had a look of surprise as he fell forward, dead, in front of the three men. They were transfixed by the vision of the violent death they had just witnessed.

The area around the cave suddenly erupted with whoops and yells as the Cro-Magnon war party rushed the cave killing everyone with stone clubs and spears. There must have been at least twenty men stabbing and slashing the small clan of Neanderthals.

In a few minutes, it was all over. Everyone except two women of child bearing age had been killed. The two women had been bound and were being taken to their camp. The Cro-Magnons had been spying on them for weeks and had built up a war chest of weapons with which to kill the Neanderthals. When they first came to this area, they had scouted it out and discovered them. Because of the scarcity of game, the Cro-Magnons had to eliminate their competition. When they were done, they left the cave to the predators that would come soon to eat their bodies. Life was hard for them here.

War Chest

Jim Hall

Fayetteville, United States

  • Artist
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Artist's Description

When you hear certain things, like names,etc., you sometimes prejudge what you hear by what you really think. Many times, you’re right. JH

Artwork Comments

  • Alison Pearce
  • Jim Hall
  • Jim Hall
  • fullcirclemandalas
  • Jim Hall
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