Author: David Henson
The hunt has been good. Zolt feels inside the pouch stitched with sinew to his belt. He removes a long, curved tooth and touches it to his forehead. The charm has worked well, though the tracking took him farther than he intended. Now the light crouches too low for him to trek back over sharp terrain. Worse, the sky threatens more snow. Zolt removes an antler from his pouch, holds the horn above him and chants.
Even though he wears a fur cap and a coat, leggings, and loincloth made from skins, he knows he won’t last the night without shelter. From the ridge-top, he can see an opening at the throat of the ravine. The hill is too steep to attack straight on so he sidewinds his way down.
At the bottom, he rummages in his pouch for his turtle shell, painted with triangles and circles, and thanks it for his safety. He then touches a rat’s tail to his aching knee and jaw.
Snowflakes gather in his beard. He raises the antler again, then squeezes through the crevice. Once inside, he removes a strip of dried meat from his pouch. He rubs the turtle shell in a circular motion around his stomach before eating.
Worn out by the day, sleep overcomes him before he’s completed his nightly rituals.
The stink awakens him. He makes out a grunting shape lumbering through the dark. He flattens himself as far from the opening as he can and grabs the turtle shell. Slobbering jaws jut in toward him. A huge claw scrapes dirt and stones. Chomping jaws reappear. After a few more grunts, the beast ambles away. Zolt promises to add another circle to the shell.
Zolt keeps watch till he feels sleep invading him again. This time, before succumbing, he removes a long weed. It’s knotted in the pattern of prayer prescribed by the elders. Fingering the knots, Zolt recites The Seven to keep the fire from filling the sky as it did in the time of the ancients.
Then one last talisman to ensure the safety of his clan. He takes from his pouch an amulet and touches it to his heart. The ornament has been handed down since the burning sky. Inside it is an image of a female, male and two smalls. A long, narrow charm, the color of blood with stripes the color of snow, hangs from a knot at the neck of the male in the image. Zolt wonders what magic it held.
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