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OZALKIS - Excerpt

678 AUC (76 BC), summer
Forty miles southwest of Tbessa, Kingdom of Numidia

Oppressive heat added swirls into the air. Seventeen-year-old Ozalkis and his seven-year-old nephew Adherbal stalked a group of red deer in the afternoon sun when Oz raised his hand, indicating the need to stop. For once he wished they had brought long spears instead of their bows and knifes. Ranging farther every day into the mix of sparse evergreen woods, bush, and dry grasslands at this southern edge of the Aures Mountains in the eastern Atlas range, the two were happy to encounter any game, be it barbary sheep, boar, gazelle, screwhorn antelope, oryx, or hartebeest. Though now he had spotted another kind of hunter and knew they were in trouble. A barbary leopard had joined them, one of three dangerous local predators. The others were the barbary lion and the atlas bear. Though perhaps less powerful than a pride of lions or a mother bear, a leopard’s inquisitive nature meant it wasn’t shy when encountering humans.

Oz pulled on the cloth of his tunic where it hugged his chest. It stuck to his sweaty skin, annoying now that he had become tense with worry. He studied the boy next to him. They shared a distinct brown complexion, curly dark brown hair and brown eyes, different from the lighter skinned people that were the majority in Numidia. Adhe’s nose though was slightly smaller and less sharp edged than his own, which also had a hook reminiscent of an eagle’s beak. He sighed in resignation. I can’t let anything happen to you.

“We need to hide in the bushes. Stay silent,” Oz whispered. They both pushed into the acacia growth to kneel, snapping dry branches in the process. Though their simple cotton tunics, left unbleached in their light brown color, helped them blend in, the key was distance. Oz and Adhe always stalked their prey from downwind. The huge leopard had the same idea. Creeping, the cat made its way closer to the deer until it was only a couple hundred feet away from him and his nephew. It sniffed the air, turning sideways until it stopped in the direction of their hiding spot. Ozalkis shoulders slumped and he closed his eyes. Oh no. Now a showdown is inevitable.

He looked up to see a frightened Adhe looking at him with big eyes. “Promise me you will wait until I shoot before you let your own arrow go. I want the cat to go after me in case I only wound it,” Oz declared. He waited for a clear nod from Adhe before pulling his string close to his cheek, keeping the nocked arrow pointed at the big cat as it stalked towards them and letting it fly at twenty feet. The cat increased its pace at the last moment, resulting in the arrow only grazing the cat’s right shoulder, causing a roar of anger. The leopard sprinted the last ten feet before leaping. Oz dropped his bow and drew his thin long knife, holding it outstretched in his right hand in anticipation. Quick movement from the right let him know that Adhe had launched his arrow, clearly missing its target. The huge cat hit Oz like a battering ram and launched him backward. The back of his head exploded with fiery pain before everything went black.  

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