the ancient one, the first snow
Matu softly awakened Onu.
Onu stirred quickly and tensed. He held his breath a moment, smelled the familiar air around him, then relaxed and opened his eyes. Frost glistened on his eyelids. He breathed in deep the crisp scent of the first snow. He sat up, Matu exhaled into her hands and held them against Onu’s face. The warm moist air immediately returned the blood to his cheeks and melted the frost. Matu then dried his face with the furskin she wore around her body. Onu shoved her hand away, tenderly, then pushed himself to stand. His head bumped and raked against the rock and soil wall of the small dugout around them. He lost his balance and fell with a thud back onto the furskin bedding, bits of root and dirt clinging to his hair. Matu threw her head back and laughed loudly. Onu growled at her as he clasped his hand against the pain, then began to laugh too. He got up and tackled her, but she effortlessly caught him and locked him into an embrace. She loosened her grip and he pushed away. Onu got up and shook the earth from his head. The cold morning air tickled with icy teeth along his skin as he stood outside the hovel. He shivered and pulled himself back into Matu’s warmth. She hugged him, grabbed his furskin cloth off the rock behind her, where it warmed aside a small crackling fire. She put it around Onu and massaged the warmth of the furskin into his body.
The light was soft and cloudless that morning. Like the river they had crossed, the sky was a splash of pale grey, icy blue, and darkness. It was a young cold sun. It would only look upon them a hunt’s worth of time, then fade to ever longer night. The frost would deepen. But today would be bright and warm. The clear sky and wind brought a deep joy to Matu, who yelled out a bellow of praise. The weather for many days before enveloped Matu and Onu in a flat light. The clouds had hung so low, they sometimes clung to their skin, causing them to damply shiver while the cold deepened. The awakening sun brought the landscape into view, and what Matu looked upon had made her gasp: The earth rolled and sunk through the distance, and then suddenly became leviathans on the horizon. Ice draped over their stark stormy shoulders like cloudy white fur. She had seen the endless ice desert and its ancient wall once in her youth, but never had she seen the great rock that broke out of it. Matu, in a moment outside of time and full of fear and humble majesty, beheld an endless broken wall. As if an ancient barrier was slowly breaking under the weight of reality.
Onu followed Matu’s stare and mewled at the impossible sight. It reminded him of a story Matu had once told him about a wandering tribe long ago in a time of stories beyond memory. The tribe had wandered so far, they found an end to the endless desert of rock and ice. They fell off the edge and into this new land, ruled by mammoth beasts and endless game and harvest. The first nomads and hunters.
The silence of awe and stillness was broken by the crackle and spit of hot meat. Cooking on the fire was a hare. Its scent woke in him a fresh and yearning hunger as he remembered killing the hare the day before in the river valley. Matu had taught him to trust his body when tracking an animal, moving silently and intentionally while keeping every sense focused on the prey. The knowledge of movement deep within his memory, his body moving based on uninhibited instinct. Absolute presence. Eyes trained ahead, ready for the slightest movement across his peripheries.
They went still, every muscle completely frozen and held in place. As slow as time would allow, Matu reached into a small pouch tied around her waist and pulled out a stone. She passed it to Onu, who then drew his arm back, eyesight not swaying from the hare’s head. Absolute focus. His arm snapped like a bow string.
Seeing Onu’s awakened hunger, Matu moved herself out of her paralysis. She removed the meat and tore off a leg for him. They ate the cooked hare in silence, focused on what little warmth and sustenance was sparingly provided by the meat and sharing in awe as the great stone giants woke and grew in the dawning light. A plump furry animal watched them from its hole in the ground a rock thrown distance from the fire, eyes on their food. It would count itself lucky that it was not noticed against the brown and grey ground behind it.