The Wanderer, Part 30
This story is part of a series, this is the thirtieth part.
You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1
and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 29
Tas trudged behind Ice as they shoved their way through the piling snow. Tas couldn’t remember the last time he had seen the sun. It was now mid-winter and Ice was much larger, but still a pup. He was always full of energy, once they were outside in the snow he would take off and circle constantly. Tas and Yao both found him to be the most indescribably perfect companion. Yao had explained to Tas his belief in the Chi; the currents of energy flowing through the universe and that it was no coincidence that they had found the pups. Yao had begun training Ice from day 1, mostly to identify animals and to teach him how to be a scout for their hunting party. They had become quite an efficient team; once Ice had begun to point them in the direction of prey, they were easily able to find several of the packs of elk and buffalo off the nose of their new wolf friend. Occasionally Ice would find a fox, or a smaller critter like a snow rabbit, and Tas wasn’t quite sure how he did it, but Ice would just be sitting there, eating a new carcass, or playing with his food before decapitating it with his massive teeth and jaw.
They would find food today, Tas was sure of it. He continued to huddle in his jacket, the wind was fierce and icy as the ground. Ice ran ahead, crossing into the upper ridges while Yao and Tas trudged below.
They moved through the swift wind and deep snow. It was now mid-winter and they needed more food to survive. They had been very efficient with their hunting lately, but Yao was charitable; he had given away too much of their catch to their neighbors. If they caught nothing today, Tas would go hungry tonight and tomorrow would be a struggle. Yao would as well.
Ice continued through the snow, head down, his white fur covered with icicles, though Tas couldn’t see them now, as he was just barely visible on the ridge line of the mountain. Tas shielded his eyes when the wind howled through their canyon. Yao wasn’t talking again; it was miserable. Suddenly, Ice picked up a trail, and as fast as Tas had ever seen, took off over the cliff. Tas and Yao followed, Ice would wait for them below, hidden in the snow.
Tas heaved side to side trying to keep his momentum going upwards. Yao and he would take breaks in the lead to keep their speed up, usually they would switch twice every hill. They finally made it to the top, breathing heavily and sweating which they normally tried to avoid; but their dinner was at stake.
Tas could just barely make out Ice against the lower levels of the ridge and a pack of hairy ice elk were huddling together, protecting their young in the center. That was fine; Tas would shoot an arrow through the eyes of one of the males. He had plenty of practice, but had never seen male elk this tall before.
He lined up his sight of the bow, arrow notched in his cord. He flexed his bow hard, the wood moved with his hands and he remembered what he had felt so often lately; the rush of his focus. Time seemed to slow down, his vision became clearer and he could see in more detail, and he seemed to think and react faster. Tas looked down at his scar momentarily and saw it seething; was this curse also some kind of gift?
He refocused on the largest male elk and shot him right in the head with his thickest arrowhead. Ice ran out after the arrow made contact and grabbed the elk by the neck, and ripped its throat open. The pack had fled in the confusion, the elk didn’t even know what had hit him when he collapsed. Ice was ecstatic, he was eating the neck and head; Yao always let him get some of the larger kills before they skinned it and cut out the meat. Yao began immediately, tearing the fur away with his sharpest dagger.
They spent the next two hours tearing the meat away from the bones and Ice patrolled the outskirts. They had to make sure no larger predators came to steal their catch until they were done taking all of the meat that they could carry. They finished getting as much as they could and began to walk back through the snow, leaving the carcass behind. Some other animal would come to finish it off, Tas was sure.
They moved as fast as they could with the arms full and their packs were heavy. They took a break when they reached the halfway point, much to the dismay of Ice. Yao pointed out that they had to carry much more than Ice in the way that only Yao could and Ice quieted. They drank their water and continued through the snow, ready for the long day to be over and to sit down and cook their catch. Tas had truly learned the full appreciation of his food from Yao, that was something that he couldn’t deny. He looked at the old man, swinging exhaustedly into the snow, so close to their home that he could see the shadows of the fire dancing on the snow outside.
Yaina and her warm smile were ready inside with soup and blankets for both of them. Tas had grown to appreciate Yao’s niece in so many ways. The house was nearly always spotless and she greeted them each day as they arrived back from the cold. She was like a second mother to him.
They undressed to their undergarments and wore the blankets over their shoulders and sat down to slowly drink their soup and warm their bodies. The end of the day always seemed to be so cold. But wearing light clothes and drinking their soup, they felt like kings for the ten minutes that they rested.
Then Yao got up to begin curing and cutting the meat for their dinner and to be made into jerky. Tas helped him, then began cooking both of their steaks once Yao had gotten through most of the meat to be put aside for jerky. But the sizzling of the venison was so appetizing that Tas’ mouth began to water.
As they sat down to eat, Tas couldn’t help but grin, he was so happy. They ate in near silence, the three of them enthralled by their meal and the new energy coursing through their bodies. Tas ate until his stomach hurt, then lied down and fell immediately into his sleep; this day was like the day before and the days before that and Tas was getting stronger with each one that passed.