I crouched low in the snow, my back up against the brick wall behind me. The long cloak was spread around my form, fallen snow already gathered on it, making me look like a snowdrift. At least, I hoped it made me look that way. My hood was pulled low over my eyes and face, and I watched as much with my other sense as my sight. It was damned cold out, and the snow was flying like mad, building up quickly.
Thankfully, the thick hide that made up the lining of my cloak insulated the snow from too much of my body heat, and vice versa. The snow stuck well to the woven material on the outside, and didn’t melt into a slushy mass around me. No one ever really thinks about how much heat the body puts off. We are always so preoccupied with the cold we feel blowing against us. Let me tell you, squat down like I was for a couple hours in the snow, and feel it turn to water all over your booted feet, and you will know just how much heat you put off.
I hadn’t moved much in about hour. If I twitched wrong, my prey would sense it, and take off running before it got close enough for my snow-covered spear to be thrown, and take it down. My muscles were starting to groan and ache, angry that they had lain dormant and tensed for so long. Just a bit longer, I told myself, a bit longer, and maybe one will come this way.
I saw a twitch of brown out of the corner of my eye. I turned my vision towards that area without turning my head, and saw standing there a tall, majestic bull elk. His antlers spread well over nine hands long, and he had to be over 50 stone in weight. He would do well. The thick winter coat could be used to keep someone warm, like a child. Yes, this one would do well, for meat, sinew, bone, and hide.
My hand tightened on the spear at my side, and my upper arm drew in blood, preparing for the throw. I just had to wait a moment more, to let the bull come clear of underbrush in order to have a shot worth taking. I counted my heartbeats as he moved, clumsily to some, but graceful in my eyes. His legs carefully tested each step, to ensure his footing was solid and perfect. We could stand to learn from such beasts, the ways of the world around us.
His head, neck, and chest cleared the underbrush, and I smiled beneath my cowl. Without a cry or whispered word, I exploded into motion. My arm drew back, hefting the spear as my left leg stepped forward to give me leverage for my throw. No sound was made by me as the spear flew from my hand, threw the air, and struck the elk just behind his shoulder. The thin point of the spear punched through his hide easily, and the bugling belch from his throat warned all around that he was injured. I heard, but did not see the others of his herd burst into flight. Scarlet splashed onto the pristine snow from the wound as he moved to run.
I was scrabbling after him. I could not let him run far, tradition demanded that since I did not kill him with my throw, I must be close to him, and finish him with my knife. It was the only way to honor him, and sanctify the kill. My cloak flew from my shoulders, the rest of me clad in tanned leathers trimmed with fox fur. Perhaps someday soon it would be bear fur that adorned me in winter, but for now, the white fur of the winter fox would have to do. My blade was bare in my hand before I knew how close I was.
The spear stuck in his side prevented him from moving far or fast. I caught up with him swiftly, and grabbed for his antlers. Those antlers could gore a man, eviscerating him and leaving him for dead. I know, I had seen it happen to someone else from my town. He had lain for days, bleeding slowly, the creeping reek of offal and death gathering around him. In the end, he died weeping. No fit way for anyone to die. And that included this elk.
My hand grabbed one post of his antlers, and I threw my weight against his wounded shoulder, trying to use my force and the pain of the impact to drive him down. It kind of worked, as the elk bowed his head. His eye caught mine, and I saw no fear there. At least, no fear that one usually thinks of when they think of prey. No, there was the fear of death, the same fear all have when they do not have the conviction to know what death will bring them. There was no dishonor to this fear, and I knew I must strike swiftly and surely.
My knife hand shot forward, and the knife drew across the elk’s neck. I put as much muscle behind my strike as I could, shaking his antlers with my other hand to make the cut deeper. I hit the artery there, as gleaming crimson, hot and metallic washed over my knife hand. The elk bleated one last time, and sagged to the ground, twitching as best it could. He was not dying fast enough, this one. The fear was entering his heart, and that could not be allowed to happen. With a fierce shake of his head, he threw me from my grip and back a step. I had to finish it, and quickly.
Without a conscious though, I grasped the haft of the spear and pressed down hard. I felt the spearhead cleave through the flesh, and the bull twitch powerful below, a convulsion of pain. After a moment, I heard a rattling breath leave his throat. I looked down to those eyes, those magnificent eyes that had shown life and power not moments before. They had ceased to gleam. In reverence, I knelt and closed them with my bloodied hand. My knife had fallen to the ground, and I scooped it up.
Clasping my bloodied knife hand over my chest, still kneeling next to this great beast, I spoke quietly.
“Great Maker, you have seen fit to provide for me this day. Let not the spirit of this great beast wander the Spiritlands aimlessly. Gather him to your grounds, and provide for him sweet water and fresh feed, as his sacrifice has provided for myself and my people.”
I quickly got to work dressing him, preparing him to be dragged back to my town. All the parts were laid aside, other than the heart. My spear had torn his lungs, depriving him of breath, but his heart was complete. In reverence, I set it in the snow, packing it tight. The seat of his spirit must be preserved, until I returned to my home, and could set it free by fire, to claim its spot in the ever after.
After all, it was the right thing to do.