The Wanderer, Part 27
This story is part of a series, this is the twenty-seventh part.
You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1
and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 26
Tas woke with the creeping light of dawn, his furs were disheveled and Yao was already awake, making tea and preparing his wool and fur coats near the fire. Tas yawned heartily, he was finally sleeping regularly, without any dream-walking, nightmares, or intruders. His meditations were also becoming more powerful, the night before he slid into sleep without even noticing.
Yao was moving much faster than usual, his arms were racing to pack everything into this larger wool sac that Yaina was holding for him. He was fully dressed and was packing smaller weapons and some of the left-over jerky and filling his water sacs to full. Tas got up quickly and dressed adorning the furs and leathers that Yaina provided to protect against the bitter cold that he knew waited for him outside. Both Yao and Yaina helped him to rapidly set the leather straps of his leathers, then moved onto the thicker furs that would cover his shoulders, back, head, thighs, and torso. By the end, Tas felt as though he must look like a bear because he was completely covered in white and grey furs. Yao held a spear, a longbow and two swords; one longer and thinner and a second that was more blunted and smaller. He holstered the weapons outside, waiting for Yaina to finish strapping the heavy furs to Tas shoulders.
Tas swaddled outside; he had never felt so heavy and over-encumbered in his life. But as he walked into the cold, he realized that he wanted every pound of extra warmth that he could get; the wind was wailing and the cold pierced through his layers of thick cloth. Yao looked unhappy as well, though Yaina looked perfectly acclimated. She would hunt in the morning, then return at night as many women in the village would. The men usually stayed out later, sometimes not returning at all if they didn’t have anything to present to their partner. Yao had told him the night before that they would likely stay out until dark each night, when the cold was too much to handle. Tas was going to be trained properly.
It took Tas the entire walk to the hunting group to get comfortable in his clothes. He altered his face mask several times against the howling wind and finally settled with his mouth uncovered and cold, but able to breath deeply. He warmed as he walked.
As Yao arrived first, he got several stares of disbelief from the hunters and huntresses. Several laughed, as though they couldn’t believe their eyes and were trying to wake themselves. But Yao stood firmly and silently, ignoring them all. He waited for Tas, who received different stares as he arrived; stares of confusion and questioning. He felt like an outsider here, more than he had felt it anywhere else. Everyone seemed to be grouped up and huddling around their horses or packs, but Tas and Yao were alone. Several darker skinned men and women seemed to be carrying more and standing at the outskirts of the fire, but Tas didn’t understand why. Then he saw Yao’s cousins enter the circle with what could only be a large group of their personal slaves. The brothers were fully armored and carried nothing, not even a weapon.
A mammoth walked behind their group, an animal larger than any Tas had ever seen. It made the earth tremble with its footsteps causing Tas to crouch to maintain his balance he wondered how such a huge animal could come to exist in this cold and hard world. But he saw the scars and the half of a missing tusk and re-estimated; this mammoth had seen its share of battle and hardships. It was heavily armored and fully prepared for its human riders to mount; spears were located at each of the giant quadruped’s 4 corners and it was mounted by one of the darkest men Tas had ever seen with full control over the beasts movement.
Tas and Yao stayed where they were for a time and let the others pass. The light of the sun began to peak over the horizon as they began their walk, to the right and what must have been south since the sun rose in the East. They walked for hours until the sun was high and they were both fatigued from climbing rock faces and hiking quickly over the treacherous and snowy terrain. Tas drank slowly from his half-full waterskin and continued his climb, looking for animals that they could claim as their supper.
Yao seemed to know already where to go and Tas could help but gasp at the cold air; he was higher than he’d ever been and breathing was as hard as Yao warned it would be. After another 15 minutes of climbing, Tas began to feel light-headed and his legs were growing heavier and heavier. Yao didn’t notice, but Tas had to stop and gasp for air; he couldn’t continue.
He sat for several minutes, regaining his breath, until Yao returned down the hill, looking angry at first, but then as he approached saw the pain that Tas was in.
Yao helped Tas to his feet after what seemed to be just another moment and they began to walk horizontally on the mountainside. The snow was thick and the weather was uncooperative; Tas nearly felt like he would be thrown from his feet and had to wrap his arms around his fur coat to feel secure. He and Yao stayed low as they crossed over the mountainside, still in search for something to claim as their hunting trophy.
Tas noticed that two men below them were traveling in the same direction and wondered if they were going somewhere specific. Yao was not speaking to him, but he felt much better after they had lowered their altitude several hundred feet.
Everyone moved in silence towards a forest, where Tas could see another was headed quickly with his two hounds; huge dogs that had vicious teeth and showed them and they pulled violently against their master’s grip.
“Something powerful in there!” one below yelled as the trudged through the snow, speed increasing. Yao began to grunt with the effort and Tas went as fast as he could; he was falling behind quickly.
With a earth-shattering roar, a bear stomped through a thicket of brush charging the two men below. This bear was far larger than any creature Tas had ever seen and he crouched low to hide in the snow, peeking over the ledge to watch the bear impale the first man with while the man lodged his spear in the bear’s shoulder. The second swipe from the bear decapitated the man. The second man began to run but the bear sprinted not 25 meters then caught the man by the near. She ripped the back of his neck open, then looked across the valley at the third hunter; his spear was over his shoulder, ready to be thrown. He waited another few moments, then heaved his spear at the bear.
Immediately the bear started forward, an unstoppable force that seemed unafflicted by the heavy thud of the spear. The bear ran into the second man and swiped him to the ground, giving him no room to run away. The bear looked up the hill, but seemed to be uninterested in Yao and Tas. Tas stared at the bear as it seemed to size him up, then grabbed the corpses of the two men that he had killed and began to drag them back to what Tas assumed must be a den.
Yao and Tas continued in the snow, looking for game that was a bit more reasonable than what they had seen with the comrades.
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