Longtusk (Book Excerpt)
by Stephen Baxter
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The greatest hero of them all was twelve years old, and he was in trouble
with his mother. Again.
Yellow plain, blue sky; it was a fine autumn afternoon, here on the great
steppe of Beringia. The landscape was huge, flat, elemental, an ocean of pale
grass mirrored by an empty sky, crossed by immense herds of herbivores and the
carnivores that preyed on them. Longtusk heard the hiss of the endless winds
through the grass and sedge, the murmur of a river some way to the west -- and,
under it all, the unending grind and crack of the great ice sheets that spanned
the continent to the north.
And mammoths swept over the land like clouds.
Loose wool hung around them, catching the low sunlight. He heard the
trumpeting and clash of tusks of bristling, arguing bachelors, and the rumbles
of the great Matriarchs -- complex songs with deep harmonic structure, much of
it inaudible to human ears -- as they solemnly debated the state of the
This was the season's last gathering of the Clan, this great assemblage of
Families, before the mammoths dispersed to the winter pastures of the north.
And Longtusk was angry, aggrieved, ignored. He worked the ground as he
walked, tearing up grass, herbs and sedge with his trunk and pushing them into
his mouth between the flat grinding surfaces of his teeth.
He'd gotten into a fight with his sister, Splayfoot, over a particularly
juicy dwarf willow he'd found. just as he had prized the branches from the
ground and had begun to strip them of their succulent leaves, the calf had come
bustling over to him and had tried to push him away so she could get at the
willow herself. His willow.
In response to Splayfoot's pitiful trumpeting, his mother had come across:
Milkbreath, her belly already' swollen with next year's calf. And of course
she'd taken Splayfoot's side.
"Don't be so greedy, Longtusk! She's a growing calf. Go find your own
willow. You ought to help her, not bully her . . . "
And so on. It had done Longtusk no good at all to point out, perfectly
reasonably, that as he had found the little tree it was in fact
his willow and the one in the wrong here was Splayfoot, not him.
His mother had just pushed him away with a brush of her mighty flank.
The rest of the Family had been there, watching: even Skyhump the Matriarch,
his own great-grandmother, head of the Family, surrounded by her daughters and
granddaughters with their calves squirming for milk and warmth and comfort.
Skyhump had looked stately and magnificent, great curtains of black-brown hair
sweeping down from the pronounced hump on her back that had given the Matriarch
her name. She had rumbled something to the Cows around her, and they had raised
their trunks in amusement.
They had been mocking him. Him, Longtusk!
At twelve years old, though he still had much growing to do, Longtusk was
already as tall as all but the oldest of the Cows in his Family. And his tusks
were the envy of many an adult Bull -- well, they would be if he ever got to
meet any -- great sweeping spirals of ivory that curved around before him until
they almost met, a massive, tangible weight that pulled at his head.
He was Longtusk. He would live forever, and he was destined to become a hero
as great as any in the Cycle, the greatest hero of them all. He was sure of it.
Look at his mighty tusks, the tusks of a warrior! And he raised them now in
mock challenge, even though there was no one here to see.
Couldn't those foolish Cows understand? It was just unendurable.
But now he heard his mother calling for him. Grumbling, growling, he made
his way back to her.
Copyright© 2002, HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. This excerpt has been provided by HarperCollins and printed with their permission.