A scream of rage split the darkness. From the side of the fire where the women sat darted Esle, the High Priestess, a bloody bit of liver in her hand. Following her, and snarling like an enraged cat, came one of the maidens of the tribe. The aged hag, Esle, whose duty it was to declare to the tribe the will of Degar Astok, the mighty one who dwelt in the heavens and sent the storms to enforce his will, came to a pause before Uglik, the Chief and tribal Father.
"Una was eating of the man's piece," she shrilled as she held the fragment aloft.
Uglik dropped the thigh bone from which he had been ripping the meat in huge chunks. He took the liver from Esle and examined it.
"Bring me my spear!" he roared as he lunged forward and grasped Una by the hair. "Una has stolen that which is tabu to her and I will punish her."
Una moaned with fright but attempted no resistance. Uglik grasped his spear and raised it over his head.
"Hold, Father!" came a clear voice from the group of hunters who sat near the chief.
Uglik paused in amazement at the interruption. Anak, the Chief Hunter, rose to his feet and made a step forward.
"She stole it not," he said. "Anak, the Chief Hunter, gave it to her."
Uglik released the girl and stared at the hunter in surprise. Anak returned the stare coolly and Uglik raised his throwing-spear threateningly. Anak did not let his gaze wander from the Father's, but his grasp tightened ever so slightly on the sharp flint smiting-stone which he had taken from the skin pouch which dangled from his leather waist belt before he had made his announcement.
"Anak, the Chief Hunter, gave it to her," he repeated slowly. "Anak killed the buck, and half of the liver is, by the law of the tribe, his to dispose of. Does the Father deny the right?"
Uglik lowered the point of his spear and thought rapidly. Anak's act constituted unheard-of rebellion against his authority. On the other hand, the Chief Hunter was the cleverest tracker of the tribe and a mighty warrior in battle. The tribe of Ugar had lost most of its warriors in their long six-month march north from the fertile valley where the Mediterranean Sea now rolls. Uglik was too wise a leader to waste men on a trivial quarrel, able though he felt himself to kill Anak, should the latter cry the rannag, the duel to the death by which the Father must at any time prove to any challenger, his right to rule.
"It is the right of the killer to dispose of half of the liver of the kill," he conceded. "It is also the right of the stronger to take what he wills from the weaker. To Esle belongs the liver. The girl will not be punished. Anak will join me at meat."
Anak's face flushed momentarily at the arrogant tone of the Father's ruling. He realized, as well as Uglik, what had caused the Father to condone his semi-rebellion. He shrugged his shoulders and sat down beside Uglik.
Uglik ate slowly, looking meditatively at Una as she tore off chunks of the meat with her strong teeth and swallowed them. The girl was about eighteen and in the first flush of womanhood. Her tawny brown skin gleamed like satin in the firelight, which was reflected from her slightly curling masses of black hair. She stood eight inches over five feet and her entire body was built on generous lines, lines of perfect health and almost masculine strength. Anak's eyes followed the direction of Uglik's gaze and he grew thoughtful in turn.
"Is the Father satisfied with the Chief Hunter?" he asked ceremoniously.
"The Father is," replied Uglik in similar vein.
"Then the Chief Hunter has a boon to ask."
"I desire that maiden, Una, be given to me."
Uglik could hardly believe his ears. All of the women of the tribe belonged of immemorial right to the Father. While he might lend one for a time to a favored hunter as a mark of distinction,