When the Little People had come to the Land, one of the first things they’d learned was to talk to the dogs who’d come with them. Mostly, the dogs listened to what they had to say, which were pretty simple concepts. But occasionally there was the odd stubborn or just hateful dog that had to be dealt with. Of course in those early times, when humans had initially entered the territories of the Clans, there hadn’t been that many dogs; and there hadn’t been very many people. But even in those first days it had been found that talking and negotiating with the dogs was imperative.
There were, of course, rules that had to be followed. Everyone knew this, and the continued survival of the Clans made it absolutely clear that these traditions were good and right. This is what had seen them all through countless seasons. Their voices still carried on the mountain winds and could be heard mixing with the cascades that tumbled down from the glaciers. This was proof that the old ways were the good ways and should continue to be honored.
Now the human beings were numbered so that it was impossible to conceive of their mass. And the dogs, too, were on the land like fleas. Dogs were not like their cousins the wolves and coyotes and foxes. They were almost as easy to deal with, but there was something chaotic and frustrating with the way they saw the world. This was, it was known, because they had become adhered to the ones who had become their masters. Some dogs freed themselves of that. They were sometimes heard barking from ridges or banding together in poorly organized packs that tried to howl and make themselves heard in something that approximated sanity. But these dogs were rare. Most of them were swallowed up by the coyote and wolf packs; as meals or as members, but swallowed they generally were.
Now the land of plenty was shrinking. The humans had squeezed it down and down until there was not much of it left that was free of their stinking crowds and free of their noise and their mischief. Some clan members had advocated a changing of the old ways, in some attempt to deal with the flood of human flesh that moved across the mountains and into the valleys like foul water. So far, though, those voices had been silenced and forced into thoughts that were not given vent. This was good.
In time, it was hoped and thought by most of the Clans, that the humans would fade. The land could not possibly support so many of them. Stories had come to them all of the earth made dead by the constant squatting of so many of them on the face of the world. And most of the members of the clans had traveled safely to see how the humans who lived nearby could foul and poison everything that they touched. Rivers were killed. Fish stocks were depleted. The air around their encampments, where they resided in permanent lodges, stank so that it was painful to endure it for very long. These things were evident. The humans, it was believed, could not last forever. Eventually, they would have to either change their ways or go away.
It was proven that things could go away.
The lions with great fangs—fearful creatures that lived now only in the collective memories of the Clans—had been cleared from the land by the humans. There had once been creatures so large that they were like hills of hair and ivory. These, too, had been hunted and consumed until there were none remaining. The humans seemed not even to remember them. They knew this because there had been attempts to communicate with the humans. But the small, puny, hateful things could not speak. They couldn’t even truly speak to the dogs with whom they incessantly traveled. Strangely, dogs and humans could not talk to one another. Not in the way that was right and natural. This was another puzzle to the Clans, and something to be pondered as time progressed.
Big Hand of the Elk Clan thought of these things as he struggled with the communications he’d attempted with the dogs who had recently appeared. These dogs had proven exceedingly stubborn. They would not speak directly to him, and he could only detect their intentions obliquely, by listening to the negative commentary that passed from one to the other. They were in a small pack, led by a human who, as usual, lay back and waited for results that Big Hand could only guess. This was the way many humans hunted. He’d seen them doing this for years, and the clans all knew that this was how they stalked many of the same animals that sustained the clans themselves.
Generally, these dogs could be reasoned with. Or they could be dissuaded from getting too close to clan families. Sometimes they could be frightened away, or warned off through violence. But there was always another path to take whenever the unfortunate occurred and the dogs would not leave the clans in peace.