Nimrod accepted his lot in life only for the sake of survival. He was the third son of his tribe's chieftain. Had he been born first, he would have been trained to stand among the greatest warriors in the world. Each day would be devoted to the spear, sword, club, bow and sling. When his training was through and he proved himself in the field, any rival goatherds would shudder at the sound of his battle cry. The effeminate idiots who entertained the idea of raising sheep would flee to the hills, leaving their villages filled with women and plunder to his mercy.
He fantasized about all of this while he pushed his family's goats around. His father was blessed with two surviving sons and a daughter he could marry to someone wealthy when she turned fifteen. His eldest son bore honorable scars from countless battles and wore the skeletal fingers of enemy chieftains around his neck. After every battle, he returned strutting alongside his camel, beaming with pride or stoic with defeat. Successful campaigns meant goats, cloth, metal, jugs of beer or women. Nimrod's second brother had died at age eight, when he was only five. He had two younger brothers, but both died before their first winter. He also remembered an older sister that was kidnapped by a hated rival clan. In retaliation, his eldest brother and father led a war party that burned their tents and murdered men, women and children as they sprang out of sleep in horror. They rode out before the camp could retaliate. The next day, they found his sister violated and dead beside a rock.
Nimrod's role in the tribe, like death, war and seasons, was necessary and unchangeable. He steered the family goats between grazing grounds, watering holes and sources of shade with a pointed stick. When the goats tore up all the grass and shrubs in one area, he would prod them to another area designated by his father. If a wolf, lion or bear threatened the herd, beat them into a circle, billies on the outside, does and kids on the inside. Stand your ground, yell, sling a stone, and don't let it close. If you absolutely can't distance yourself, attack the underside or flanks with the prod and call for help. Bandits are to be killed outright.
Every day he prayed to his family idols for bandits, lions, wolves, anything. His prayers were often answered. The rush of the petty battles was incredible. On the first day herding by himself, he'd put a stone between the eyes of a wolf almost twice his size and gutted it with his prod while it lay stunned. He returned to his tent with a pelt and a brace of teeth and claws, grinning like his brother after a victorious day. But there was no fanfare. It was what was expected of him, no more or no less. By his sixteenth year, Nimrod had lost count of the skirmishes he'd won. But he knew damn well how many goats he'd let die during his career. Five: two carried off by bandits, one maimed by a lion and the other two torn open by lions. Each casualty meant a little branded stripe on the inside of his arm. If he tried to hide them, the fabric of his clothes would rub them and make him wince. Some days he began to curse the gods for his fate, but quickly apologized. Rebellion of any kind meant certain death. Mankind was powerless without order.
In another year, he would fight in the battles. Times were good, so only men seventeen years and older could abandon their herding duties when the need arose. His father spoke of times when every child, male or female, able to swing a club or throw a spear would be enlisted. The prospect kept him herding goats.
One day his brother led a force to ambush a rival tribe despite ominous words from the oracle. She saw death and misfortune in the leaves and terror in the way the birds flew. They hadn't much use for the old crone anyway. She spent most of her days lying among the rocks drinking poor beer, not bothering to sweep away the hops from the surface. Sometimes her mumbled or howled prophecies had some shade of truth, but most of the time they were goatshit. The tribe feared to get rid of her in case she was actually a woman of the divinity and not some harmless lunatic.
A thunderstorm passed overhead for a few minutes, bringing the whole tribe together to watch in awe. But the awe was short-lived. Not an hour later, the war party returned, wide-eyed, bloodied and gasping. Nimrod's brother was not among them. In hushed voices, the warriors recounted the story. He was leading the charge, and about to throw a spear into the back of a warrior, when a stroke of lightning smote him where he stood. Everyone paused while he screamed and jumped around, tearing his clothes off and screaming like an animal, his hair and beard standing on end. Then he collapsed, and the enemy struck. They managed to flee without losing anyone else.
Nimrod was still for a long time. The great An, Father Sky, had decided to strike down the tribe's hero as he led a charge. Everyone whispered of what they could have done to offend Him so. Women began to cry. Nimrod's empty shock quickly turned to hatred. The gods wrote the destinies of men. Nobody knew what could happen except old drunken women, and it didn't even matter. Men were not supposed to understand, just accept. If someone opposed a great plan, the great An could send white fire from the sky to strike him dead. Everyone, even the mighty, were powerless.
He broke away from the fringe of the crowd and ran to his tent. He snatched his father's bow and, with a masculine scream that unleashed sixteen years of quiet rage, released an arrow at the sky. To this day, no one has fired an arrow as far as the boy did that fateful day. It tore through the air and vanished into the gray band of clouds. His scream had drawn the tribe, who watched him panting, digging his fingernails into the bow and waiting for the arrow to fall. It finally reappeared, a little stick spiraling towards the earth. Nimrod sidestepped and it plunged into the ground where he had stood. No one spoke as he jerked the arrow free and gawked at it, his mouth forming silent words.
Thick, dark blood coated the arrow like tar.
The oracle staggered through the crowd and stared at the bloody arrow.
"I suppose the gods do bleed, then…" she muttered before retreating to her jug of beer in the rocks.
And so began Nimrod's war against the gods.