According to an old Xian custom, each bridegroom should kill a stag, which he presents to the family of his bride. The number of points on the stag's antlers indicates the number of children the couple will have. This custom is followed by many present Loglanders, though they don't actually believe that the point count of the horns corresponds to the number of children. Nowadays the typical Loglander family has 2.4 children. However, the family of the bride is happier when the stag presented to them by the groom has fine antlers with many points.
BabyJane's parents had died, and her family consisted of one of her father's brothers. He strongly adhered to the old customs, so she wanted me to get a stag. She invited him to the wedding.
We had accepted the offer of Mr. Snorrydin to marry us, so I decided to go to his town and spend a few days there before the wedding for stag hunting.
For the traditional stag hunt, one uses not rifles but bows. As I had never fired an arrow at anything, I had to learn how. Every day I went to Marx Park. I had discovered a small clearing which apparently almost nobody frequented. I placed a round target at the clearing edge, and shot a lot of arrows at it. I practiced many shots standing, sitting, or reclining. I aimed the bow at the target from underneath a bush, holding the bow horizontally near the ground, and over a bush, holding the bow vertically higher than my head.
I shot running or rolling on the ground. In short, I practiced all of the many methods of shooting that I could invent.
After a few weeks, I was sufficiently expert at archery, and sent almost all the arrows into the golden middle ring of the target.
"Good!", I said to BabyJane, "I must soon go to Mr. Snorrydin's and hunt a stag.
I rented a car from Avis, that tries harder :>), and drove to the town of Mr. Snorrydin. He and Mrs. Snorrydin wholeheartedly welcomed me, and let me use Grom's bedroom to stay until I got a stag. After we had eaten the noon meal, Mr. Snorrydin suggested that I go alone to the forest, and make a fire with my flint for Grandfather Fire, and ask him for help in the stag hunt.
I drove to the Holy Lake of the Princess, because it was such an exquisite spot, and built a small fire at the edge of the lake where yellow irises were growing. I had a long serious talk with Grandfather Fire, and thanked him for his earlier help. For example, he had helped BabyJane and me to be rescued by Hoover from the Lojbanistan military, and he had helped Fred to find Derf. I told him that I enjoyed work in the laboratory, and welcomed staying in Loglandia, and of my love for BabyJane. I asked him to help me to succeed in the stag hunt, and to get two beautiful many-pointed antlers, for me to offer to BabyJane and her uncle and please them. While the small fire was dying, two swans took off from the middle of the lake, and flew around over me, and I heard their wings go swakswakswak, until they disappeared over the trees to the north.
When I returned to town, I saw Mr. Snorrydin sitting on a bench outside the bar. I stopped the car, and sat with him, and we drank beer together.
He said "I think your fire succeeded. There is a Loglandian proverb 'Two hearts that fly like swans will reach the far shore'."
I peered at him, curious about his remark. He drank some beer.
"Don't worry", he laughed, "I'm nothing but an old fart"
The next day, Mr. Snorrydin and I left the house before dawn, and climbed the mountain to the north of the town. He had borrowed a pony from one of his neighbours, to carry the stag that I hoped to kill. The pony was grey and quite small, but strong-legged. We climbed for two hours, and arrived at the top of a ridge. He tethered the pony to a tree below the top, and we quietly crawled to the edge of the ridge. On the other side of it was a valley, and the trees thinned out in it. I saw a herd of deer peacefully grazing the grass growing near a stream.
"Look", Mr. Snorrydin whispered. He handed me a pair of binoculars.
I looked at the deer herd through the binoculars. There was a large old stag, with broad many-pointed antlers.
"The old brother", he said, "then and now handsome and well. However, he will not remain long as chief of the herd. Before long, a young stag will challenge him, there will be a fight, and he will be defeated. He will have to go away and wander sad and alone until his death. No one will remember him. It would be better for him to give you his beautiful antlers, and die a brave and dignified death. Then he would be remembered for a hundred years to come.
I had a sudden fear of killing such a handsome and great animal. I felt a hollow in my belly.
"You must go down in that gully, because there the wind is from the herd, and you won't be seen by them". He pointed to the right, and I saw a gully on the valley slope.
"Do you see", he said, continuing, "that he is standing at the edge of the herd in the direction of the wind? Thus he will be the first to sense any danger. Because of this, you must approach the herd from the side. If you creep to that small tree, the herd will not see you. Then you must crawl to the herd from the tree by that shallow trench. Do you see it?"
"Yes", I said, "Are you staying here?"
"Yes, I am staying ", he replied. "If I crawled, the deer would think a whale was approaching. Good luck! Shoot straight!".
I returned to the other side of the ridge, to hide me from the deer herd, and went to the gully that Mr. Snorrydin had pointed out to me. There, I started carefully to go down from the ridge to the valley. The deer herd continued as before to graze peacefully, and the chief lifted his head a few times and sniffed the air.
When I approached the tree that Mr. Snorrydin had pointed to, I dipped my hands in the mud, and rubbed my face. The deer herd was now a hundred meters away. To be certain of hitting the stag in the heart, I mut be at most ten meters away. I laid motionless on the ground, and peered through the grass. The deer continued to silently graze as before.
I slowly and silently prepared an arrow, and set the bowstring in its notch. The bottom of the trench was wet, and my clothing was soon soaked. I moved my limbs very slowly and sequentially, and in particular, my right arm first, then my left leg, and so forth. And the movements were sufficiently slow that the deer were not conscious of them. And I tried too to breathe completely silently. I felt as if time had stopped. The stag suddenly looked toward me, and he made soft sounds from his nose, and took several steps toward me. I froze, and stopped for a time that seemed endless. He finally lowered his head to the grass and continued to graze. I cautiously began to crawl again.
The herd was moving slowly upwind, and fortunately the trench let me approach it. After a long crawl, I was near the old stag.
I very slowly placed the bow parallel to the ground, and it was concealed from the stag by the long grass. I placed the arrow correctly in the bowstring. I prepared a second arrow so I would be able to shoot again quickly. The stag slowly moved toward me. I almost stopped breathing, and prayed that he would make a small turn so I could clearly see his side.
The stag lifted his head, sniffed the breeze, and turned. He briefly stood, so that I could see perfectly the position of his heart. I lifted the bow, pulled the string, released the arrow, and quickly placed the second arrow in the bowstring. The stag bellowed and took several steps. I stood up, and pulled the bowstring. However, no second shot was needed. The front legs of my stag collapsed and he staggered and fell, and lowered his head. The herd scattered quickly and ran off. I ran to the stag and readied the knife that I carry in my belt. However, it was not necessary. The stag's eyes were already dull.
"I thank you, Brother", I said, "and I honour you". I felt my eyes fill with tears.
Mr. Snorrydin ran down the hill and joined me. He was panting and knelt near the dead stag. He murmured something in the old language, then fell silent, and hugged me.
"Old Brother", he said, "gave himself to you gracefully, and you, I am pleased, gracefully took him".
He showed me how to remove the innards from the stag. He kept the liver, and put it in the abdominal cavity, which he closed with a cord. He marked my forehead with the stag's blood, and then cut off two small pieces of meat, and handed me one.
"You must eat the meat to preserve the strength of the stag" he said.
I ate the meat, and in fact, the lukewarm meat was soft and pleasant tasting. He also ate.
The other innards remained on the grass like a many-coloured steaming heap. We dragged the body of the stag on the grass to a place somewhat distant from the innards. We washed our hands in the stream.
He said "you are younger than me, and thinner. Go up to the ridge and bring back the pony to me." He sat down on the grass.
The pony whinnied when it smelled the blood, however, it stood motionless while Mr. Snorrydin and I lifted the heavy body of the stag and put it on its back.
We returned to the town from the ridge by another route which was longer, but less steep than the one by which we arrived.
Mrs. Snorrydin came out of the house on hearing the sound of the pony's hooves.
"Wonderful!" she said, "What a beautiful stag! And many pointed! You will need a whole school to accommodate all your children!"
"You are a silly old woman", said Mr. Snorrydin, hugging her. "You will frighten Alex, and discourage him from marriage, and he will leave Loglandia, and forget the beautiful bride. And, alas, we will be deprived of our friend by you".
She laughed, and hugged me. "Be brave, Aleks. I will gladly look after all your children, and this stupid old man will spoil them."
Mr. and Mrs. Snorrydin quickly and expertly butchered the stag, and hung all the pieces on the many hooks in the meat storehouse. Mr. Snorrydin put the hide on a rack, for it to dry in the wind, after he rubbed it with the stag's brain.
I stayed with the Snorrydins until the next day. Mr. Snorrydin talked to me a long time about the old Xian customs, and the many spirits of the forest. Indeed he tried also to teach me Xian words and sentences, but I could not pronounce them, and they laughed and teased me in a friendly fashion.
The next morning I put the antlers and my bow in the trunk of the car and left the town for Grasic.