Among leers, the female is the more deadly and they almost always run in pairs. One always shoots the female and leaves the male.
Jean relaxed his forefinger and waited, sighting past the bayonet fitted at the end of his rifle. The male dipped his head, then tipped it back to drink. Long minutes passed, but a hunter must be patient above all things. The male moved back into the bushes and Jean wondered if he had erred and thrown away his chance. Time passed.
Jean’s caution was rewarded as the female strutted forth, her pink feathers iridescent in the noon sun. She was cautious. After carefully scrutinizing the area she dipped her head, then tipped it back. When her eyes were skyward, Jean shifted his aim slightly to cover the spot where she had drunk. When she dipped her head again, he fired.
The leer collapsed as the shot echoed across the pool. There was agitation in the bushes and the male burst forth.
For a space of four heartbeats Jean watched as he charged. Time seemed to hang suspended. Jean heard the insects buzzing nearby, thought of Chloe, of the warmth of the sun, and of the fabled toothless birds of other planets. He did not think. of his weapons any more than he would think of his foot or his arm. They were simply there, a part of him.
The leer darted his head forward, teeth aimed at Jean’s neck. A little sidestep, just as old Renou taught; the shock of contact as the teeth met on the hard leather shield at his shoulder; the shock of the bayonet going home; the shock of Jean‘s back striking the sodden ground as hunter and prey fell in a tangle of limbs. Then up, thrusting and parrying against that sinuous, deadly head. Finding the rifle torn from his grip. The sudden fear; the warm comfort of a blade hilt. The sudden overhand slash that ended it all.
Jean swayed on his feet, bleeding from a score of insignificant lacerations; his shoulder was bruised and painful. But the leers were dead, both of them, and he had been alone.
Anton jammed a section of leer haunch onto the stick he had sharpened, then held it to the flame. He had not made a kill during the day and he communicated his irritation through curt movements at the fire.
Jean leaned against a backrest woven from a living greenhorn and fought back a scowl. The hearts of his leers hung over the fire, but Anton had given no word of approval. Still, Anton was his friend, so he ventured, “Tomorrow your luck will change.”
“You seem to have it all. Besides, I don’t need luck.”
Jean clamped his jaws shut and started forward, then relaxed. Anton was ready for him to make a move. Anton had always belittled him, but never before had he actually goaded him. “What’s wrong with you, Anton. You act more like an enemy than a friend.”
Anton sat back and something seemed to go loose inside him. He smiled with no humor. “Maybe I’m just surprised that your luck carried you through so easily.”
“Like you said, luck had nothing to do with it.” Anton motioned toward the steaming hearts. “Two leers, one rifle. I call it luck.”
“What’s wrong with you?” .
He shrugged. “Nothing. I was just surprised.”
“Why? When have I ever shirked any task? Why should you expect me to fail as a hunter?”
“Oh, shut up and eat. You’re just strung out from the hunt.”
This Anton is the patriarch’s grandson. The patriarch’s son, also Anton, now leads the community. Ugh, too many people, too few names. more tomorrow