The Wanderer, Part 28
This story is part of a series, this is the twenty-eighth part.
You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1
and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 27
Tas continued through the thick snow barely tracing Yao’s footsteps through the darkening sky. They were nearing the end of the day and hadn’t found anything yet; nothing since they saw the three men killed by the bear. The continued against the mountain, traveling back down the steep hills and slopes, but still alert for anything that they could hunt. Tas could tell that Yao had gotten very tired; his pace had slowed by at least half and he kept catching up to the old man. The wind started to bear down heavily on them and they continued their descent crouched against the side of the mountain to shield from the wind as much as they could.
Tas looked up the mountain and saw a larger beast roaming, some kind of white wolf. It pushed forward against the side of the mountain like them, but kept its head lowered and continued forward quickly through the harsh winds. It was far above them, but the majestic animal was hard to take his eyes from.
Tas continued on a higher slope through the snow, watch the wolf as it moved against the wind and off into the distance. Yao was slowing down again, Tas could tell he was distracted.
He unwrapped his mouth from his leather neck-strap and spoke loudly in Tas’ ear, though just loud enough to compete with the raging wind. “We should track the Wolf’s den!” Yao shouted. “We could find a kill to steal!”
Tas nodded, though he was skeptical. This was one of the first times that he had ever hunted and he found the whole ordeal to be completely pointless. There was far more waiting, moving slowly, and stalking than he had initially expected.
Yao moved at a faster pace now, their daylight was running out and Tas knew that they would be fighting the clock to return to Bahar before dark. It seemed to get colder every minute.
They found the wolf’s prints easily and followed them back over the mountains, though after 30 minutes they turned to moved down a slope. Another 30 minutes of wading through the dense snow and they reached a rocky outcropping; the den.
Yao began slowly, moving in towards the sheltered outcropping and then motioned for Tas to do the same. Tas could hear a faint whispering sound through the stone, almost as if someone were yelping inside. Yao looked back at Tas, having heard the same sounds and they continued forward. There were pups in the small cave. Yao found them, maybe a month old, hiding in a warm thicket of brush, leaves, and pine needles. There were three of them, one was asleep and the other two were yelping and trying to move away for Yao, but unsuccessfully.
Yao picked one up by the back of its neck and held it up for Tas to see. A pure white coat was growing heavily over some spots and mostly pink skin. It was cold in the cave, but the pups seemed to be alright. Tas pet one for a moment, then found himself being bit savagely by the pup’s already long canines. It began to play with his tattered leather jacket and Tas realized that it was snuggling against him and trying to get warm. Almost as if it liked him.
Yao saw the whole thing and started to get that stern look that meant he was thinking hard. He grabbed the second pup that was awake; this one was a boy and much more rambunctious. Almost immediately Yao had to lower the pup quickly back to the ground because it was biting him savagely in the hand. Tas’ pup was rather more quiet and alert.
We should bring these two with us. We can train them to hunt with the Bahar, and perhaps you can train that one.
Tas was stunned. The possibility of taking this animal with him had never even crossed his mind.
“What about the mother? Won’t she worry?” Tas was not happy to split apart a small family; it reminded him of his mother.
“These pups have a much greater chance of survival with us. They could be hunted within the next few weeks; most Bahar would eat wolf pups; or they would likely die to the elements. Life in the high mountains is not easy Tas.”
Tas nodded, though he didn’t really understand. It felt wrong to take this pup from its mother, but like Yao said, it would probably die if he didn’t.
“We should just bring the one.” Tas offered. He felt guilty about taking one, but if he left the other two, he could feel better about it. He was already starting to think of names.
“No, we have to take two.” Yao sighed. “My cousins will require a payment if we are to eat tonight. We must either kill one to eat, or offer it as a gift to them. They have quite a large bestiary actually; the pup would be a hunter and have a nice life in the palace.”
Tas was very sad to leave the cave with the young wolf pup in his hands; he felt as if he were robbing a man of his most precious jewel; but Yao continued to remind him that it was for the best. Yao hadn’t been wrong yet. Tas sighed, then left the last pup behind and went with the old man.
Even as he felt guilty, he could feel the young pup warming herself against his chest and he thought of the perfect name, Ice. He smiled then said to the pup inside of his jacket; “What do you think of Ice? Do you like it?” A small yelp confirmed his suspicions; this was no average animal and no small coincidence. Tas looked up at the sky, darkness was settling heavily on the landscape. They continued against the harsh winds and Tas felt the pup now keeping him warm as they trudged through the snow; it was colder and windier than anything Tas had ever felt. He was so thankful to have the pup to keep him warm now that he began to forget his hesitations about taking the pup from its mother. He began to get a funny feeling that he would need Ice far more than she would need him. He shuttered against the cold, sure that they had another hour to trek before they would arrive in Bahar. But the pup kept him warm and he enjoyed checking in with her every few minutes.
“What do you think Ice? Is there a god?”
The pup was silent this time; perhaps she had fallen asleep. Yao was starting to move faster now so Tas doubled his speed and continued towards the old man, with his new companion wrapped snuggly against his chest. Into the cold they marched, against the wind and ready for this long day to come to an end.