Years later it was clear to him that his father had tried to warn them, but it was already far too late. They came not long after he arrived, already nursing a fatal wound. Long after he had confronted every individual involved in the attack and come to learn how truly small they were, his memory of that day would cast them as terrifying, overwhelming giants.
They were merciless rather than cruel; their swift efficiency ensured no suffering from their victims.They dispensed of his father first; despite being in no condition to put up a fight he still posed the greatest threat to them. Though his mother and aunts were murdered in what seemed an instant, the sound of their screams would ring in his ears for the rest of his life.
Yet fast as they were, he still slipped away. His father had trained him relentlessly for just this turn of events, had seeped the routine deep into his muscle memory. Though he was unable to save the love of his life and her sisters, the old Chari warrior’s sudden appearance had been enough of a signal; his training kicked in and he ran deep into the woods, towards the hidden grove his father had shown him.
The Chari raiders did not stop at his family or the house; they burned the entire farm to ashes. The chase began before the destruction was completed; when it became clear that their primary target had fled they formed hunting parties and split up to cover more ground. He was quick on his feet, however, and his father’s hiding place served its purpose well. He was able to stay the night there without being found.
He did not feel safe staying in one spot, however, so the next day he began walking away from where he believed they would be coming from. He was hungry, but did not know where to find food. Halfway into the day he came upon a pond, which he drank from the quench his thirst. It didn’t take long for him to start feeling sick. After a few hours, he was even more hungry, and dehydrated, than he had been to begin with.
On the third day, he spotted a family of coatimundi. He was weak, and his mouth and throat were painfully dry. But he was of the Chari, and even in his state he was a match for at least one measly little racoon creature. He waited patiently, and then scrambled over, adrenaline surging as he clasped one of the cubs. He sank his teeth into its throat as it writhed in his hands.
It was hardly the level of sustenance he was used to even in his humble Chaco home, but it gave him the strength to wander on for a few more days. He eventually came upon a stream, and this time the water did not make him sick. He lingered there for a few days, but as his strength returned so did the anxiety of being found by his family’s murderers.
He was five years old at the time. He slowly learned the terrain, the best places to hunt, the plants that did not make him sick. The Chari were relentless in those years; he narrowly escaped them many times. One of them had successfully gripped him once and he had broken his arm in order to get free.
The encounters grew increasingly violent and getting away more difficult. Three years after his family’s deaths, he decided to stop running and start fighting back. He followed a hunting party from a safe distance for months, observing their habits, eating the scraps of their kill. Heart beating wildly, he crawled what felt insanely close in the dead of night. When one of them went to relieve themselves, he sprung up and beat the hunter to death with a rock. Terrified and elated, he crawled a great distance away, then climbed up to the top of a tree.
The next day he did not move an inch, but he heard them tearing through the area, could feel their anger and frustration. Sabueso smiled to himself.
Sabueso grew quite good at picking them off one by one. As the years went by and the confrontations became more and more direct, he grew in strength and skill. Once, when he was twelve years old, a hunting party got the jump on him. He did not try to run. At the end of the confrontation, his right arm was broken, his belly had been pierced, but he was alive, and they were not. And he would heal.
As his confidence grew, he became more aggressive. He followed hunting parties back to the Chari village, gathering information on the people that lived there. He decided he would make them pay for any more action against him. The next time he was confronted by a hunting party, he left one alive, but took an arm and a leg from him and put out one of his eyes. Before the maimed hunter could return to the village, the boy snuck back and burned down his home, just as they had done to him so many years ago. The warrior would be able to tell all who was responsible. He continued to make direct assaults on the village in response to aggression against him, and in time the hunting parties became fewer and further between. The Chari children spoke of him in whispers, like a monster of legend.
He had become quite good at hunting down his food, but early on he found he could do better by trading with the scattered households of the Chaco. The households, mostly Guarani families, would trade him their crops for meat, as well as for protection. Many would-be thieves and murderers met their end when they sought to trifle with families under his protection.
It was through these families that he was eventually introduced to Manuel, the merchant. Manuel bought from Chaco farmers and many others, and then sold their wares back in Ciudad del Este. “They tell me that you protect the families around here, and bring them meat,” the older man said to him.
The boy grunted; he understood, but was not used to talking. The merchant looked him over with cold appraisal.
“Do you have a name?” at this, the boy came up short. He did have a name, he knew it—his mother had given him one. But it had been far too long since anyone had called him by it, and he had forgotten. At that point, he had almost forgotten what his own mother’s face looked like, never mind his own name.
“They call you many things here,” Manuel said after receiving no reply, “some of them not so nice. My favorite is sabueso, for your keen ability to find game.” There was a twinkle in his eye as he said the word; the idea of this lean, surly boy as a wrinkled old bloodhound clearly amused the merchant.
“Sabueso is fine,” the boy murmured, and it was.
Manuel needed a bodyguard, and while skeptical of Sabueso’s age, the villagers vouched for his strength and ruthlessness, and he came cheaply. Sabueso agreed to follow him for a time for food and lodging. As a result, at the age of sixteen, Sabueso left the Chaco for the first time. The dangers in a place like Ciudad del Este were no less real, but so long as he had an employer, they would hopefully exclude things like starving or drinking tainted water. And he would be far, far away from the Chari village.
Though now employed in the business of dealing with violent and dangerous people, Sabueso felt safer than he ever had. Surely in Ciudad del Este he need not fear Chari hunting parties ambushing him while he slept.
He would learn the hard way that the Chari were far more dedicated to his extermination to let him off because of a little distance.