Opposing clans must find a way to communicate, but Ughu has other ideas.
Lost In Translation
By Ian Harrison
“Migodown, fish-fish spear-get,” explained Ughu.
His wife Meg-Meg literally fell for the diminutive warrior. Shpeeka-Dinglish boys were tasked by tribe elders to catch, kill and eat a predatory beast. Hunting prowess was judged by the new skin each wore home.
Many Shpeeka-Dinglish coming-of-age hunts saw only two of four boys return.
Mugha’s thin, sharp spear was useless in his quivering hands. The sabre-toothed tiger killed swiftly, and Ughu raced from his friend’s broken body, taunts of cowardice nipping his heels.
Conceding that neither boys nor tiger were chasing him, Ughu detoured toward a nearby farming village. The Ribberjish clan were friendly; their language, easy to understand.
Ughu the fully-fledged warrior finally returned home, dragging an elderly sabre-toothed tiger carcass and Meg-Meg miles back to the Shpeeka-Dinglish village. Meg-Meg’s scalp and gravel-rash wounds healed. She gave them a son, Mugha, honouring Ughu’s childhood friend. Mugha absorbed both languages, yet Meg-Meg struggled with Shpeeka-Dinglish.
“Wherego dadanow?” She sang to Mugha.
“Himgodown, spear-spear fish-get, Mumma-ma.” Mugha said.
* * *
A river formed one boundary of the Shpeeka-Dinglish tribe’s land. Ugha excelled with smaller prey; accurate but not especially powerful – a good thing. Many tribesmen shattered skulls of their would-be betrothed. Once accustomed, Meg-Meg was grateful for Ughu’s softer touch.
“Ughu.” The chief’s emissary broke Ughu’s concentration, his spear splashing wide.
“Ognam, my good fellow. What can I do for you?”
“Meg-Meg’s from the northern tribe. Have you heard anything about their forthcoming attack?”
“Nothing – they’re peaceful. Your scouts must be mistaken.”
“Outcast Ughu wearing crippled tiger-hide,” sniffed Ognam. “You speak their language. Advise them if they approach, we’ll retaliate.”
Ognam and his troupe turned on calloused heels, a well-rehearsed departure, leaving Ughu to retrieve his spear from the muddy river floor.
“Hi Dad, how was fissing?” Asked Mugha, all gap-toothed smiles, sitting on a green-leaf cushion atop a small rock stack.
Ughu held them up proudly. “Can you count?”
“One… two… many!”
“I’ll teach you proper numbers,” said Ughu.
“And fissing! Teach Mugha fissing! When I come too?”
“When Mugha reaches my belly-button.” Ughu held out a hand, indicating the height.
“Ughu, Mugha! Whatyouboth say-say? Haltnow drip-drip mifloor.” Meg-Meg felt left out of the conversation if they weren’t all speaking Ribberjish.
“Misay wegodown fish-fish when Mugha loftierget.”
“Meg-Meg,” Ognam’s claims bothered him. “Do-do Ribberjishmen evergo stick-cudgel bigbigtime othertribes?”
His time with the Ribberjish farmer clans convinced him their aggression was strictly defensive : crops and livestock, against predators.
“Mihave hubbygo cudgel-cudgel mihead with timberclub. Leave bigindigo lump-ache. Normal hubbycome, bring-bring fresh fragranceblooms or nice chocky-chocks. Ribberjishclan not likego stick-cudgel bigbigtime.”
“Mitake Mugha for long-long walk. Wego see Ribberjishclanchief. Weback, one openfist circlesuns.”
* * *
“Ughu.” The Ribberjish chief remembered him.
Much had changed in five short years. The Ice Age was well and truly over; a creek that once ran through the village had dried up, baked beneath the scorching Gondwanaland sun. Crops had failed, despite it being almost harvest-time. The livestock that Ughu remembered had all but perished.
“This Mugha. Mison. Meg-Megson. She notlike big-big walk. Meg-Meg have happy-smile, longlongtime.”
Whatever grudge the Ribberjish chief may have held against Ughu had evaporated with the passing of time. Or, perhaps because of drought and opportunity, he was treating Ughu like a long-lost son. Mugha started grizzling, clearly unsettled by the close heat within the chieftain’s tepee.
“Mugha look-look handsome. Meg-Meg irises. Meg-Meg nostrils.”
Mugha cracked, overwhelmed with attention.
“Ah,” grunted the Ribberjish chief over the crying. “Mugha have Ughu tonsils.”
The lackeys laughed.
“Ourcreek godry. Sunken-well godry. No sky-deluge, many two-openfist circlesuns.”
“Whatyou nowneed?” enquired Ughu.
“We wantcome deluge. Newplant crops drink-drink. Give baa-baa-moo big-big drink-drink. We notcome Shpeeka-Dinglish caves. We not dirty-dirty riverdeluge. Just drink-drink. Then wegofind new brown-earth. Dig-dig new greencrops.”
That seemed fair.
The chief smiled, relieved. One of his men produced a small, colourless stone.
“Wego dig-dig deep in black-earth old mountaincone. Find hard-hard sparkle-igneouss. Wetry cudgel-cudgel. Not can crush-crush. You give-give shiny-trinket sparkle-igneous to bigchief Shpeeka-Dinglish, forlet us comethrough, go drink-drink. We comethrough, two-openfist circlesuns, stay two-phalange circlesuns. We look-look new brown-earth for Ribberjishclan.”
* * *
“They’re invading. I was lucky to escape with my son,” lied Ughu to the Shpeeka-Dinglish chief. “Ten days’ time.”
Meg-Meg discovered the diamond immediately, quizzing Ughu endlessly about childhood friends, tribe chieftain and the diamond.
“You notlike Shpeeka-Dinglish bigchief?”
“No, no respect there.” Ughu replied.
“Ah, misorry, Meg-Meg. Shpeeka-Dinglish bigchief think-think me scaredy-coward. Imply minot big-big warriorman.”
“You not big-big warriorman.” Countered Meg-Meg, gently. “Yougo fish-fish.”
“Ribberjishbigchief want migive sparkle-igneous Shpeeka-Dinglish bigchief. Clan come-come drink-drink our fishingriver, find new brown-earth.”
“But milike sparkle-igneous.” Meg-Meg hadn’t taken her eyes from it.
“If I keep my head down, we could keep it after the war,” thought Ughu aloud.
* * *
Hundreds of farmers with livestock arrived early, surprising the Shpeeka-Dinglish tribe with many warriors away, hunting. Ughu the interpreter was hauled before both unhappy-looking chiefs.
“Themtry stick-cudgel. Yousay wecome drink-drink. Give Ughu sparkle-igneous. Tell-tell bigchief – or sheepman stick-cudgel Ughu with baa-baa-moo bigcudgel.”
The assembled crowd gasped as a Ribberjish shepherd, used to defending his flocks from tigers, brandished his crook with rippling muscles.
“We warned them but they invaded, sooner than you said. After teaching the Ribberjish a lesson, you’re next. Mugha’s brother Spingo, will relish turning you into a human colander.”
Crowds held their breath, except one small child.
Mugha raced fearlessly to his father’s side. Menace in both chief’s eyes set him crying. Sunlight caught a tear and the Ribberjish chief pointed at the glistening.
“Looklike sparkle-igneous wegive bigchief for comethrough and drink-drink.”
“No,” contradicted a defiant little Mugha. “Dad gave that diamond to mum.”
“They talk-talk Mumma-ma’s shiny-trinket,” he blabbed.
With his bilingual son’s inadvertent betrayal, Ughu cursed in his second language. “Kakaplop.”