Nyarai crept through the tall grass with her hunting bow in hand and an iron ax by her hip. Her tawny halter-top and skirt, both banded with wavy brown stripes, further hid her within the yellowed savanna. Perspiration dripped from her brow, chilling her dark umber skin in spite of the baking afternoon sun.
The other Vavhimi had chosen her too young. No way in Mwari’s name could Nyarai do this and survive.
Ahead of her the stegosaurs ambled in the field amidst scattered aloe and cycad trees. Any single one of the lumbering giants could feed all her neighbors back in the city, with the pebbled hide providing shields for the Mambo’s royal guard. The pentagonal plates that shimmered like copper on their backs would bring in a fortune from merchants in all directions. So would the ebony spikes glinting at the tips of their tails—assuming they did not get Nyarai first.
No, she could not let her fears drown her hope. She was a Muvhimi, a hunter of the Vazhona nation, and she could not let her peers down.
Nyarai slipped an arrow from her quiver and laid it atop the bow, aligning its head with one of the stegosaurs’ rumps. On the far side of the field, the savanna gave way to a woodland of mopane trees where the other Vavhimi awaited. They had sent her not to kill any of the stegosaurs, but to drive the herd into their trap.
It was a simple, classic strategy when described out loud. Nyarai could only plea to Mwari the Creator, and to the spirits of her foremothers, that it would be as simple to carry out.
She drew her bowstring with tender care, not letting it creak. Still the bow wavered in her clammy grip. The stegosaurs lowed and grazed, and she prayed in murmurs that they would not smell her.
Nyarai let go.
The arrow whistled over the herd without hitting any one of them. They stopped and craned their little heads up, grunting, but then resumed foraging.
Cursing her poor aim, Nyarai fetched another arrow and tried again. This time, she hit one of the stegosaurs on the hip.
It threw up its neck and brayed to the heavens in shrill pain. The whole herd followed suit in a bellowing clamor of panic. Their plates flashed bright yellow-orange as they turned and stampeded towards the mopane forest, thrashing their spiked tails behind them.
Nyarai smiled. So far, this had not been hard after all.
She sprung up from hiding and chased after the fleeing stegosaurs. Between her strides she launched more arrows into their ranks, with each one’s flight scaring the herd into an even faster gallop. Never would Nyarai have guessed that such enormous, heavyset reptiles could move with such explosive speed. At the rate the stegosaurs ran, they would smash themselves into the trees before Nyarai’s peers even had sight of them.
Instead they all veered to the side and avoided the forest’s edge altogether.
That was not right. Nyarai hurried alongside to the herd and loosed another arrow before them, hoping to guide them back in the right direction. The stegosaurs did not change course, except for one. He was an ancient, massive bull whose plates glowed a furious red as he charged back at Nyarai.
Every muscle in her body turned stiff and cold as stone. She had not even blinked when all four of the stegosaur’s tail spikes flew towards her face in one wind-churning swing.
Nyarai dove to the ground, rolling under the bull’s attack, and bounded away into the woods. Much to her surprise, the beast came crashing after her before she even had the chance to goad him with her next arrow. She sprinted in zigzags between the trees, hopping over the bushes and logs, but Nyarai could never escape the steamy heat of the brute’s bellowing breath.
Her sandal banged against an exposed root and tripped her. The stegosaur raised its foreleg over her, ready to crush her into a pulp with one step. Snatching her bow back, Nyarai released one more arrow into the dinosaur’s shoulder. It was her last.
After the beast lurched backward with an angry blare, Nyarai continued her flight until she spotted the stone ramparts of the Rusvingo Vhimi, the great enclosure which reared above the treetops. From atop these walls her peers among the Vavhimi waved down at her, hooting her name while brandishing their bows and javelins.
“He’s coming!” Nyarai cried. “Be careful, he’s a big one!”
She passed through the Rusvingo Vhimi’s open gateway and slowed to a stagger until she collapsed onto the dirt floor. Aching strain throbbed throughout her whole body, from her arms down to her calves, and her panting had blown the moisture out of her throat. Yet, by the mercy of Mwari, she had carried out her part. She would only need to sit and watch as her peers dispatched their prey from above, much as they and past generations of Vavhimi had trapped and dispatched all the game whose rotted bones littered the enclosure’s floor.
Underneath Nyarai’s feet and hands, the ground shook. The stegosaur’s roars and bellows, more furious and deafening than ever before, echoed off the walls with its entrance. And it stomped straight towards Nyarai.
All the Vavhimi shrieked the Vazhona battle cry with voices every bit as piercing as the stegosaur’s. Whooping with ferocious glee, they showered it with their arrows and javelins. None of their projectiles could sink deep into the reptile’s thick skin by itself, but the barrage had to weigh it down and trickle the blood and life out of it. What had once appeared a mighty monster now flailed its tail and head like a squirming lizard under the Vavhimi’s iron downpour.
Nyarai almost felt a smidgen of pity for the helpless animal, but then it hammered its bulk into the wall to shake its tormentors off. One of her peers, a woman by the name of Fudzayi, struggled to keep her balance until she plummeted onto the enclosure floor. The stegosaur charged to the fallen Muvhimi with a roar of restored valor as she struggled to get up.
Nyarai could not let her die. Vavhimi always fought for one another, even to the death. She ripped her ax out, yelling with bloodlust, and jumped in front of Fudzayi.
Wind swept past her face, as did the stegosaur’s tail spikes. Blood sprayed from the gash across her cheek as she landed back onto the earth.
The attack had come swift and sharper than a blade. Nyarai would repay it in kind. A single toss of her ax, right as the stegosaur had drawn its tail back for the next swing, and its little head came off its neck with a clean cut. The massive body toppled over with an earth-shaking thud.
All the Vavhimi cheered and chanted Nyarai’s name, praising her as if she were some kind of hero. And they must have been right. She had thought herself too young, too weak to drive any of the giant creatures into the Rusvingo Vhimi. Yet here she sat with the biggest one of them all, dead from one throw of her ax. Not even the Mambo of all the Vazhona could claim such a feat for himself.
Nyarai ran her hand over the wound in her face. It ran deep through her skin and hurt like the flames of many brush fires.
Fudzayi laid a hand on her shoulder and smiled. “That, my friend, is the mark of a Muvhimi.”