Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Great Hunt

Hunter's Hill

Every year during the Sacred Time hunters from all across Balazar converge on the citadel of Trilus for the Great Hunt. This ritual decides who gets to call himself 'Hunter', and count himself (and sometimes herself) an adult in their clan, and who amongst the Hunters is the greatest.

The fun starts up to two weeks before the event, as parties of hunters from the various clans come and camp on the Hunter's Hill, a ditch and rampart earthwork on a hill a couple of hundred yards from Trilus. All domesticated pigs and horses are kept out of the area as a mark of respect to Foundchild, (and because many hunters will kill them for meat, not accepting that it is possible to own a live animal). The only clan that sends no one at all is the Blue Bear clan, though attendance from a number of clans is low with many youths from eastern clans going to Taksmound to be initiated.

Within the circle all clan feuds are supposed to be put aside, and the Master Hunter's word is law. People who are judged to have broken the truce are given until the following dawn to leave the circle, and when they do they will be permissible prey for the duration of the following hunt.

The Games
The games held at this time used to be informal contests of skill between bragging hunters to pass the time until the ritual began, but since King Yalaring began offering prizes they have become more formal and for some hunters a more important part of the occasion than the hunt itself. When King Glyptus began offering a few prizes by way of keeping up with Yalaring, and King Skilfil of Dykene offered prizes for the hunters at the 'Old' Hunt at Taksmound, politics and prestige have got mixed in, much to the annoyance of the more serious minded and traditional Shamen.
On Freezeday of Truth week Yalaring, his chief priest of Tharkantus, the Great Hunter and whoever Glyptus has sent to represent Elkoi, open the games with libations and sacrifices, and wine, beer and meat are distributed to the hunters.

The sports vary every year, depending in part of whether Glyptus or Yalaring thinks his tribe can win the competition. Glyptus always sponsors distance running as the Grey Wolf clan almost always come first, Yalaring sponsors sprint as the Sables almost always win. Games such as the traditional wrestling, the 'catch the greasy boar' game, archery, javelin (accuracy as well as distance is important), hauling the carcass (a deerskin full of heavy sand is lugged up and down a hill then finally taken up a tree), dog racing and dog fighting, jumping and drinking competitions have all been part of the event over the last few years. 

Some prizes are well worth having; the distance running prize is a black loping dog from Glyptus own kennels and Yalaring offers a magic arrow for the sprint, but other prizes can be a bit more peculiar – enchanted bear fat for the wrestling, the boar itself and the guarantee that one will father a son in the next year for the boar catching, a headdress of yellow feathers for the archery, a smilodon skin cloak for the carcass hauling and so on. 

This year there will be a Shield Push contest, with teams from the Elkoi city guard and the Lunar garrison and from among Trilus' warriors. The prize will be a silver inlaid shield donated by the Temple of the Reaching Moon itself. The Lunars are quietly confident, the Triloi win over the Dykenean Tharkantus templars last summer was a fluke.

The Hunt

On Godday of Truth week, the shamen set up their drum and chant circles and the serious business of the hunt begins. Everyone swears the Hunter's Oath and gets the sacred warpaint mark of a participant in the Great Hunt. Some shamen offer other marks in return for sacrifices or as favours to men of their own totems. These give bonuses for the duration of the hunt (the two weeks of Sacred Time). The Pure Hearth mark offers +10% resilience, the Two Stone mark gives a temporary hero point to any hunting dog, Rigtaina's mark gives +10% Spirit Walk and +10% Tracking while in forests, the Darkness mark gives protection from trolls at the cost of being a target for elves, while the Old Tree Mark has the opposite effect, Balazar's mark gives +10% spear attack. Last year a Five Moon Shaman from Elder's Rock offered the blessing of the Red Moon, which tied the hunter to the Lunar cycle, weakening him on days of the dark moon, but making him much stronger when the moon was full. This year Throggar Giant Baiter will offer the West Wind mark, greatly enhancing missile range when shooting with the wind behind you. 

Some hunters will have sought other blessings at Hearth Spirit sites before the hunt begins and some shamen will offer fetishes with spirits who are bound to serve until the end of the Great Hunt only. Those who do not break the fetish on the last day are asking for trouble.

Only flint weapons may be used and only a loincloth may be worn. If the hunter made his own weapons (and most will have) they get 1 temporary hero point, and personally slew the beast that made his sacred hunting garment he gains +10% Survival.

The hunters disperse in all directions, many making forced marches of several days before looking for game to make sure they are well away from the mass of other participants. He who strikes the final blow gets the kill, and it is common practice (though strictly speaking not within the spirit of the hunt) for fathers to weaken a game animal and allow a young son to finish it off to gain their initiation. 

The beast must be of reasonable size (SIZ 10+) and either edible or capable of eating a man, and must be witnessed by a shaman of Foundchild in the field or the head taken back to Hunter's Hill. Succeeding in three hunts in a row and having sufficient skills and knowledge to satisfy the shamen of Foundchild makes you a Great Hunter. The Hunting Shaman who brings in the best beast is made Master Hunter. Ogolorph Windshaper won last year with the head of a huge Sabre Tooth tiger, but Willarnia Oakbow of the Great Sables says she is going after a Cave Troll this year.