Because this blog is not just an outlet for my religious musings, but an attempt to get me to write better and with greater frequency, I'm going to attempt to bash out a fiction short piece once a week for what I'm calling Story-time Saturday. I'm calling it that because it's my blog and because alliteration is very much a Norse thing.
Crying does you no good. Tears freeze, strength warms.
Erik sniffed as the cold air seared his nose, making his eyes water. Father's words had kept tears from spilling down his reddened cheeks for most of the day, but daylight was fading and his failure was near. The wood was quiet and still around him. A thin layer of snow covered the ground, having snuck past the thick branches overhead. His eyes searched the snow for any sign of game, but it was unblemished save for his own rambling tracks. For the tiniest of moments, he allowed himself to give in to despair, to stop trying to swallow the knot in his throat. His family was hungry. They were counting on him.
He would return home again tonight with nothing to show for his work. Father would lie in the corner, his leg propped up, taking far too long to heal. Mother would look up, hope lighting her eyes, only to dull to disappointment before she would smile that hollow we'll-make-it-work-somehow-smile. His sister and brother would be playing on the floor, unaware that tonight they would again get most of the dwindling food. Erik knew he would stare jealously at their plates, knowing it was his own fault and hating himself for hating them.
He cleared his throat loudly and swallowed hard. "No," he said aloud, startling a finch above him. "Not tonight. Tears freeze, strength warms." Eyeing the sun through the trees, he judged he had nearly an hour left before nightfall. Perhaps he could catch a hare. Saliva flooded into his mouth at the thought of hot, roasted game. Erik shook his head and ignored the rumble from his stomach. His numbed fingers tightened on Father's bow as he set off in a new direction, even further from home. He checked the arrows on his hip, making sure they weren't frozen together again. That had cost him a doe last week, but he had told no one how close he had come to such a bounty. Satisfied he wouldn't have to fumble loudly for an arrow, he set off again. Erik pulled his coat a little tighter, feeling the wind caress him as it tried to steal his warmth like a pickpocket from town.
A disturbance in the snow stopped him. The tracks were uneven, and one of the hind legs was barely leaving a mark. He grinned in the fading light. A buck would be nearly impossible to drag back to his home alone, but by the Gods he was going to try! He reached into his quiver and pulled out an arrow, and kissed the tip. He had no idea if that did anything, but it always seemed to work for Father, and tonight he was going to need all the luck he could get. Readying the arrow, Erik made his way though the woods, following the tracks as fast as he dared in the fading light.
Suddenly the buck was before him, hiding at the edge of a clearing. Its neck outstretched and ears perked, the animal was obviously desperate for the greens which still poked through the snow far from the protection of the trees. Erik froze, terrified for a moment that he was upwind and the deer could smell him. A strong breeze snapped through the woods and into his face, which split into a wide grin. He was downwind. Everything was going well, and the buck began to venture into the clearing. The buck's leg appeared broken. It was fortunate Erik managed to cross its track before another predator did. He slid towards the clearing's edge when the sound of a breaking branch shattered the silence of the clearing.
The buck's head shot up from the greens, and Erik despaired. Except the prey wasn't looking his way, its attention was focused on the far side of the clearing. Erik took that opportunity to slip closer, quietly praying that the sound was not someone else after his prey.
The buck went back to the greens, which were already half gone. You're hungry too, huh? thought Erik with a twinge of sympathy. As he began to draw the bow, a flash of movement caught his eye. It was a woman, but not like any woman he had ever seen before. She moved gracefully as a cat, the strength of her limbs singing with every movement. Dressed in white hides, she circled the clearing towards him. Her dark hair fell across her back in a midnight curtain. Her face was a clash of beauty and power.
His shock at the sight of this beautiful woman in what he thought were deserted woods held his jaw open and his tongue still until she was face to face with him. For the briefest of moments, he wondered if she was going to kiss him. As their breaths merged in the air between them, the deer forgotten, a warmth flooded through the young man. He began to speak, but quickly as thought her hand clamped over his mouth and amusement lifted her lips. Her dark eyes looked into his, then to the right. He followed her gaze, belatedly remembered the buck and nodded. Her hand moved from his mouth and gestured for him to draw the bow.
Confused, he shrugged and notched the arrow again, drawing the bow as his father had taught him, and prepared to loose the arrow. He nearly let go in shock when he felt her hands on his arms, lifting his elbow and straightening his shoulders. He shot a glance at the woman, but she pointed back to the buck. Returning his attention to the deer, he noticed the greens were almost gone. Time was running out once more. His arms began to strain from holding the arrow at the ready for so long, his muscles unused to the heavier draw of his father's bow. He sighted the arrow and prepared to fire.
"Wait..." a voice whispered in his ear. Somehow the woman was behind him and held his hands so delicately, he was not even sure she was touching him. A pressure so slight it might have been an errant breeze adjusted his aim up and to the left. "Now."
The bowstring slipped from his fingertips with a whisper, and the KWANG of it returning to rest surprised him so much that he jumped, falling on his butt. He looked about, but the mysterious woman was gone. He looked around and saw the tracks of her approach, but no evidence of her departure. Then it occurred to him he hadn't heard the buck cry out. Disappointment flooded him as he realized he must have missed completely, the injured animal running off while he was sitting stupidly in the snow. Turning, he saw a heavy, dark shape in the center of the clearing, unmoving. Disbelief etched onto his face, he edged out towards the buck, quickly notching another arrow just in case the buck leaped up again. Finally he was close enough to see that his shot had been perfect. Right through the eye, the buck had been dead before it hit the ground. He removed the arrow from the carcass and looked around again for the mysterious woman, to no avail.
Two hours later he finally made it home. The light shown from the windows flickered as he watched Mother's shadow pace, watching for his return. He was late, but he knew there would be celebration this evening, full bellies all around, and a strange tale to tell.
He smiled, filled with pure happiness for the first time in a long while. He would look around with pride at the table tonight. His sister and brother would sleep well, and no one would resent a little extra left on their plates, aware of how big brother had brought food home for everyone. Mother's eyes would light up at the sight of a healthy catch, and tears of joy would spot her cheeks as she helped clean the carcass. Father would smile with pride and relief.
Some day, Erik would sit at his own table in the early winter darkness, sharing a meal with a wife and children. He would tell his wide-eyed sons why hunting arrows are kissed before the kill, and the tale of the Lady who helped him hunt when he needed it most.