It was a dull ‘thud’ that made Kevvo turn. The Big Man was slumping sideways in the kind of fall that said either blind drunk or stone dead. The yelling started shortly after, with men pointing towards a low run of dunes, hauling up shields, and looking to him for permission to advance. Confused, Kevvo took a step towards the dunes, and looked, stunned at one of his crew falling in front of him, a stick of some kind embedded in his neck. A man was shouting “Shield wall!! Shield wall!!” and a huddle began to form around him, the occasional cracking noise audible above the din. Ducking under the wall Kevvo heard another ‘pop!’, and over the shield bounced a stone half the size of his fist.
Kevvo looked around. It was barely first light, with many of the men still wiping sleep from their eyes as the slow rain of stones bounced off the clustered shields. Occasionally another stick would fly through the air and lodge itself in a shield, or if lucky, an exposed foot or arm. Cautiously, Kevvo glanced past the shields he was hiding behind. He caught a glimpse of something on the dunes, and his second peek out he saw it, a boy twirling what looked to be a leather strap.
“Them kids!!” He shouted to the men around him, and pointed to the dunes. The men in his huddle nodded, and cautiously they began to shuffle out of the camp under their protective wall. As their confidence grew they began to walk quickly, eventually breaking into a jog when they saw that their surprise visitors were, as Kevvo had said, only boys. Seeing the men starting to roar, and run, the boys bolted back over the dunes and out of sight. The Ockers laboured through and up the loose sand of the dunes and over the crest. The boys were running as fast as their legs could carry them down the back of the dune and towards a string of low trees that marked the edge of the bush, before disappearing into the foliage. One Ocker threw his spear towards a final retreating figure, but it lodged harmlessly at the edge of the trees.
“Stop!” Kevvo shouted, “Them gone…” he looked back towards the camp. A few more men were trailing slowly towards them while the remainder of the camp was in chaos, some tending wounded, others roaring at the surrounding bush. He could make out the prostate form of the Big Man, Jacko crouching near, perhaps inspecting the wound that caused the collapse. Kevvo looked back to see a couple of his men heading down to collect the stray spear.
One man, a Sinny-sider he knew to be brave but as stupid as a ox, was peering into the bush cautiously, his shield raised near to his eyes. The other man bent to pick up the spear when out of the bush a Herder stepped. A huge, brown man. He held a long bamboo spear that darted forward and down, slamming between the bending man’s shoulder blades. He collapsed in a heap while the Sinny-sider lunged forward, shield raised. The brown man roared, stepped outside the spear thrust towards him and seized the edge of the shield, tearing down and sideways as another brown man stepped out of the bush and stabbed with another bamboo. A short spray of blood soaked the two Herders before they grabbed an Ocker each and dragged them into the bush.
The Ockers stood gobsmacked at the crest of the dune, before a third huge Herder stepped from the bush and shouted. Everyone ran.