printfogey: Sena from Eyeshield 21 (sena vinter)
[personal profile] printfogey
Hello, Dreamwidth, my old friend!

For a long while now I've been amusing myself with thinking up a world set on a different planet, one with very long seasons, where people go through migrations in the spring and autumn and where their living patterns are very different in winter and summer. I haven't really bothered justifying the why of a lot of it. Much of the basic is heavily inspired by a short story by Ursula K Le Guin (which in turn seemed inspired by the lifestyle of migrating birds, although not being an ornithologist I wouldn't be able to say for sure). But some of the basics and much of the added things is just me.

I've wanted to set a long, maybe novel-length, original story in this world, but I've been very bad at coming up with a strong plot. And to be honest even the characters I think up seem awfully humdrum so far. So mostly it's just worldbuilding for the sheer fun of it, complete with conlanging detours even.

Anyway! Some weeks ago I was thinking of how people in this world might explain to themselves where the origins of some of their customs come from - I love reading creation myths and just-so-stories - and then I got the idea for this story. I think it's pretty self-contained.

The title I came up with is The Oldest Chant.

Back in those days, many centuries ago, the winters were quite a bit colder than they are now, even down in the south. The ground lay frozen for much longer, at least double the time compared to now, snow fell every winter and not just once or twice either; and then came the terrible time when the deities of Ice and Night grew incensed with humans. They sent long raging snowstorms, the kind we only hear about now from brave hunters venturing up north and sometimes having the misfortune to get trapped in such a storm; but in those days they could come to any village, town and field even here in the gentle south, raging and destroying and freezing. But the worst part came after the snowstorms were gone.

Then a crisp, clear and very quiet cold reigned, and on the icy roads of the south came monstrous beasts, led by the son of Ice and Night, who laughed with joy as the beasts found and slew prey - and their favourite prey was people. They were drawn to heat, at least if it was a small source of heat; they set upon houses, villages, even small towns with implacable strength and a tireless, insatiable hunger. Huge they were, their eyes golden and merciless, their bodies long and sinewy and cold, with fangs the size of a pashnak’s antlers, and claws that could rip through a man’s throat with one swipe. Only fire and chanting could drive them away, but there had to be many chanters and a lot of fire, much more than a village could provide. And only the highest, sheerest, and thickest walls would provide shelter.

So people did the only thing they could do. They left their homes and their frost-covered fields and their larders, grabbing what food they could find and fleeing to the nearest town. The villages were abandoned or destroyed by the beasts. The small towns either disappeared as well, or grew into large towns. And the large towns, they grew into cities. That, you see, was the birth of cities in this world.

Now tribes speaking different languages, who had until now been rivals or even enemies, were crowded into these early cities while death roamed outside the walls and the food grew ever scarcer. People didn't understand each other's language, their priests worshipped different gods and in very different ways, and despite the great fear of the ice-beasts, there was also still so much strife and fear and suspicion towards one another. And a great deal of hunger.

This wasn't for just one winter, either. Spring came, and the son of Ice and Night called his beasts together before they could melt away, bringing them into his great blue coat and then leaving for his summer home on the smallest moon. But the next winter, the snowstorms came back, and in their wake again a deathly silence spread over the land, as the icy beasts returned triumphantly on their glittering paths. Again mankind gathered into the cities, trying to survive; again they had to share their living space with other tribes than their own - as it has always been in the cities, ever since - and slowly, they must have started to learn each other's language, and co-operate against the scourge. But the true path forward came to be shown by the priests, and that was by accident. At least in part.

Now, the priests in those days were very different from now. They didn't look at underlying unities under the surface, there was no talk of different aspects of the same thing, of the secret unknowable names and natures of the divine. They were tribal priests who only worshipped their own tribal gods, and rejected the gods of other tribes even when those were very similar to their own. They were much more fond of animal sacrifice, and even did human sacrifice at times.

Still, then as now many people with spiritual sensibilities became priests, and in their own primitive ways - clumsy and blunt, sometimes harming more than they helped - they were often able to gather power from nature and from objects that aided the tribe in its endeavours. And so they were honoured and feared.

I've talked about the snowstorms and of the still days of death right after the storms. Well, there were periods of warmer times as well, back in those winters. Then, the winds would turn milder, the sun would shine warm and melt some of the snow away, letting animals graze on the grass and plants underneath. The icy beasts and their master didn't leave the region, but retreated into shadows, on the northern side of the hills, or into the forests underneath the tall trees, where the snow and the ice held on. They bided their time, and when they could they pounced on anyone who had managed to come close.

So it was not safe at all to come out from the cities, yet people needed to go out hunting and gathering firewood all the same. They had no choice but to brave the danger. And many did not make it back.

On one of those slightly warmer days, two small hunting parties of two different tribes happened to both set out from the same city. They were just four people in one group and five in the other. Which city, you ask? Well, the way I heard it, it was the ancient city of Alfèr, which is now just some ruins in the wilderness. The Magorans claim it was their city, when they tell the story, but I don't think so. The landscape doesn't seem right for Magora. But you know what Magorans are like.

Each hunting party had a priest in it, one man and one woman, but this was not out of piety but due to their hunting and tracking skills. Which is not to say those tribes were impious - on the contrary, everyone felt the need to appease and honour the gods. But they assumed there wouldn't be time to do any proper ceremonies. They needed to gather wood and fell their prey quickly, to get back to the city before nightfall came while always be ready to run should they get ambushed by the terrible ice-beasts.

Hm? No, I don't know which two tribes the hunters came from. They may even have been tribes that no longer exist, not with the names they used back then. What's important is that these tribes had warred with each other just one generation earlier and still feared and mistrusted one another as enemies. As the two groups spotted one another north of the city walls, they were wary and suspicious. Instead of joining together, one party set out towards the north-east, the other towards the north-west.

The hunting party that went towards the west couldn't see any hint of game in the abandoned fields they passed. Passing into the forest, trying to stay away from the coldest, most shaded places where the ice-beasts might hide, the paths they took slowly turned them back towards east and north. They surprised a falcon but were too slow with the arrows to take him down; they saw a fat, wild great lizard but it managed to slink away all the same. By midday they were still luckless.

And then a magnificent black-and-white pashnak broke through the nearby undergrowth and passed underneath the trees not far from where they were standing. The sunlight glinted on the edge of its antlers, it shook the mane from its high arched back, and tossed its long tail. One of the hunters gasped and reached for his arrow - but then the pashnak turned, happened to see the party, and set off towards the west. As one, the hunters ran after.

The hunt was on, but while the great pashnak didn't manage to shake the patient hunters, they also found it hard to catch up to it, or to have any kind of clear shot at the animal while it ran. Over rocks and fallen trees and creeks and many patches of snow it ran, underneath the high trees and through the undergrowth. Chasing after the pashnak, the party was now almost straight north of the city. The young man who was also a priest led the charge, being a skilled hunter as well, and he was seized with excitement. The pashnak belonged to the Goddess of the Hunt, but surely she could spare one of her own when they were so terribly hungry and needed to bring meat back home...

And then he stumbled out of a thicket and into a sunlit meadow. In the midst of it was the pashnak, but now it had stopped running. It was grazing underneath a great oak, its back towards the hunter-priest as if it no longer cared. The sunlight streaking in seemed to give the animal a golden aura. The green grass looked so fresh next to the patches of unmelted snow, which now glittered in the sunlight. The hunter-priest looked at all of this with his mouth open.

His comrades caught up with him, also lost their tongue for a moment, then turned more resolute. "All right," the oldest of them whispered. "Now's the time to take it down."

The hunter-priest stared at him, then quickly composed himself as the oldest man reached for his bow, grabbing his arm to stop him. "Hold it. Wait-"

Meanwhile, the hunters who went to the north-east didn't have much better luck. They managed to get two skinny rabbits early on, but they needed to bring home much more than that, and after that the game abandoned them. They came upon rivers that were too dangerous to cross, cold water running free in the middle while surrounded by thin ice; and much like the other party, they found themselves forced to abandon the grasslands for the forests.

Then their best tracker, who was also the priest in their party, found promising tracks on a hillside, and she led them on a path that circled back towards the west and the centre. In a small copse of beech trees they spotted a large wild ram in the distance, who must have become separated from his flock. The ram heard them and fled, and now the hunt was on.

The forest grew deeper, thicker and darker; and they couldn't run on as fast as they wanted to, with the danger of being ambushed by ice-beasts. Instead they had to focus on staying where the snow had melted, and particularly where the sun slipped through the trees. Again the tracker-priest led the way.

Finally they saw their prey again, his shape clear against the outline of the trees for a moment. Hurrying after it, they stopped as the trees thinned out and they saw the ram pausing to graze in a beautiful, golden meadow, the sun shining down on its horns and its wild fleece. Wild rams are much bigger than tame ones, and this was the biggest one any of them had ever seen. The tracker-priest was stunned by the quiet serenity of the scene, and she knew at once this moment had an importance beyond that of the hunt, although it was hard to guess what it was.

"Surely this beast is blessed by the Sun God," she whispered. Her tribe did view rams as one of the sun god's favoured animals, but that didn't usually stop them from killing them. But now - "Don't shoot yet," she told her tribemates. Then the trees rustled, and a great pashnak was seen at the other end of the meadow. And then, close to where they were in fact, they saw the shapes of other men and heard the sound of human voices.

So the two hunter parties met again at the heart of the forest. The two animals had hardly even looked at one another; they were grazing peacefully in that meadow while the humans glared at one another, and many urgent whispered conversations started. By this time, these two tribes had learned some of each other's language, although not much of it.

The hunters of the party that had gone to the east burst out, in a low voice so as not to startle the two animals in the meadow, "You no take ram! Don't mess our hunt! We track it down! Belong to our Sun God!"

"Who cares about your Sun God?" the hunters of the western party replied. "Just don't take that pashnak, we hunted him all the way here! He's been sent by the Huntress for our sake!"

The hunter-priest of the western party tried to tell his tribemates, "Listen, I don't think we should kill it. I think we should definitely let it be."

His tribemates stared. The most impatient one of them, who had two young children at home, burst out in a sharp whisper: "Are you crazy? Everyone back in town is starving! We have to take that pashnak down and bring it back!"

Meanwhile, the tracker-priest of the eastern party told her own tribemates, in their language, "Let me do my work, and I am sure that we will gain more from sparing the ram than we would from killing it."


"That makes no sense!"

"Then those people will only kill it instead, and our god meant for us to have it!"

"Are you sure?"

The tracker-priest paused and turned to look at the hunter-priest of the other tribe. He had just said something she wanted to hear again. She was going to ask him to repeat it, but at that point one of those people, looking impatient, took out an arrow and put it to the bowstring.

The impatient hunter said, "I'm all for honouring priests, but not when they lose their mind!" And the hunter-priest, who was going to stop him, was suddenly overcome with vertigo as a vision came over him for the first time.

In that vision, he saw his tribemate letting go and wounding the pashnak, startling the ram. But the pashnak, enraged, attacked and killed the bowman, and another hunter was gored by the ram. They did manage to kill the pashnak, but they were bleak and grieving as they brought the carcass back to the city, where it was devoured quickly and with no joy. They didn't succeed in driving away the ice-beasts, but on the contrary lost more people to them and to the hunger and cold than they'd feared they would. All subsequent sorties out of the city ended with at least one death; and in the next winter, he knew in the vision, everything would be harder and colder and more terrible than before.

Then a voice intruded on his anguish. "You stop that."

He looked up and reality came back to him. The tracker-priest of the other tribe had run over and was grabbing the arrow so his tribemate couldn't release it. "You stop!" hissed the impatient man. But now the hunter-priest was under control of himself again. "No, she's right," he said, and his tribemate reluctantly let go after meeting the priest's look.

Both priests let out a long breath. The other hunters, of both parties, were more confused than ever. The tracker-priest pointed at the hunter-priest. "You. Say what you said again."

The hunter-priest turned to look at the pashnak and the wild ram in the meadow again. Incredibly, they still ignored the humans in the forest. Of course, they must be famished…

He took a step closer to the tracker-priest from the other tribe, so he could keep answer in a low voice. "I believe we were sent here by the Huntress, our Goddess of the Hunt. But not to kill that beast. I have never seen anything so full of... of power..." He wasn’t sure even what to call it – suddenly "power" didn’t seem like the right word anymore. "I think we can do more with that - that strength, if I can gather it in and bring it home, than we could with the meat, bones and pelt of the pashnak."

The tracker-priest nodded slowly. "It’s a blessing of the gods. We shouldn’t refuse it. A blessing that you reject would turn into a curse." She used her own language now, and the hunter-priest was very bad at it normally. Yet he now understood exactly what she wanted to say.

"Blessings. Yes," he repeated in his own language. He realised the frightening vision he’d had was of a future where the blessing did turn into a curse.

As you well know, priests have ever since talked about that kind of divinely granted energy as blessings.

The other hunters of both tribes were still very unwilling to let the beasts go without even making an attempt to kill them. They looked at each other wondering if the priests had lost their minds. Finally the leader of the eastern party, who was in fact the tracker-priest’s brother, sighed and crossed his arms.

"All right, we’ll trust you," he told his sister. "Now, don't let us regret it."

The western party also gave in. And the two priests gazed at the beautiful sunlit meadow again, preparing to fall into deep contemplation.

"So... I’ll take the blessing around the pashnak, you take the blessing around the ram?" said the hunter-priest.

"That seems fair," said the tracker-priest, yet she was truly uncertain, because she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to divide the spiritual energy like that.

"Oh, come on," said her brother. "Why can’t you two just co-operate and pull in the whole thing together? Just as long as you don’t hand it all over to him," he added.

The two priests were astonished. But then the hunter-priest focused and started to gather in the blessing he could perceive of the scene, the spirit-light flowing from a centre around the pashnak to himself – but the threads of blessing were not gathered in tightly in a ball like he usually would, to contain them better, but floated aloft in the air above him. The tracker-priest also gathered the blessing in from a centre around the ram. Then she turned to the hunter-priest and the two of them slowly found a way to weave the threads of blessing together.

One part was sent by the Hunter, or Huntress, the other by the Sun; they had gathered them in best they could, with their clumsiness and superficial understanding of the gods’ true nature, and the weave they were able to make was very simple compared to what priests have been able to do in later centuries. Yet the blessing was strong and secure for all that, and its light shone brilliantly for all those who had the sight to see it.

Even the ordinary people, the other hunters there, felt awestruck by the sense of serene power, and warmed by the heat of a fire they couldn’t see, so that they forgot the winter around them, and forgot their fear of the ice-beasts lurking in the cold shadows.

Then the pashnak and the wild ram both left the meadow, going past each other in the other direction from the one they’d entered in. The hunters left, and turned south towards the city. But now they travelled together. I don’t think they walked very close yet, likely there was still a gap between the groups – still, they did go together.

On the way back, the two priests were not much use for hunting and tracking, as they had to focus on keeping the blessed spirit-weave together and bringing it intact with them. But their tribemates now found that luck had returned to them, and that their arrows flew truer and their spears and daggers pierced sharper than ever before. The impatient man of the western party shot down a pheasant that the party startled. Then the best tracker of that group picked up the trail of a pack of wild donkeys, and hunters of both parties brought two big donkey stallions down together. The two donkeys were the same size, so it led to no strife when the party took one each. Now they were all in very good humour as they made their way home to the crowded and fortified winter city.

However, it was not over yet.

For the gods of Ice and Night had noticed all of this, and now they were both angry that the Huntress (or the Hunter) and the god (or goddess) of the Sun had intervened. They felt that their anger towards the humans was very justified.

"How dare those two intrude on our well-earned castigation of the humans!" fumed Ice. "We should kill those mortals right now and here. You sweep them into a cloud of night, while I send spears of sheer ice against them! Then, we’ll raise our banner and ride to attack the Sun and the Hunter, in the ways of the old days!"

But Night was more doubtful, even though she was - and still is - the stronger of the two. "The Leader of the Hunt is very strong," she said, “and I would not wish to fight the Sun again too quickly."

Ice calmed down, seeing the truth of what she said. "That would be a hard fight," he allowed, "and a long one. But I do not wish to let these mortals go so easily. Or to see the affront to us go unanswered."

"Neither do I," said Night. "However..." She looked with her god-sight on the group of hunters making the way back to the city. "If humans in general could be more like these two priests were just now, to see beauty and be able to co-operate in protecting it - do you not think we would have less cause for wrath against them?"

"They have let us down so many times before," answered Ice. "No doubt, these humans too from different tribes will soon go back to hating, mistrusting, and stealing from one another. Perhaps the very moment they are back inside their city walls."

"Then let us send our son after them, and he will test the strength of their hearts,” said Night. "And if they fail, and I do think they will, he will carry out our revenge for us, and do so with pleasure."

"This is wise," said Ice.

And so they sent for their son, who was at that moment slumbering in a cave surrounded by his beasts. When his divine father and mother woke him up, and explained what they wished him to do, he rubbed his hands together and laughed.

"All right, then! Father, Mother, lend me some of your power, so that they shall have a formidable opponent indeed!" For he recognised that though this party of humans was small and weak, it was really about the whole future of this winter age of his that hung in the balance - and he did not wish to loosen his grip just yet.

Then, with his powers now even more terrifying than usual, he leaped onto the back of the greatest of the beasts and led the charge, galloping towards the plain in front of the city of Alfèr at the highest speed.

By now the hunters were at the treeline of the last copse of trees, and now they looked out at that wide sunlit plain, a patchwork of bare yellow grass and wet snow. But the moment they set foot on it, leaving the cover of the trees, a huge gust of wind blew up right at them, bringing great cold with it. Struggling onwards, they found the sky darkening above them incredibly quickly; before they’d even crossed a third of the plain there was a huge yellow-black cloud above them, the air was much colder than before, from both east and west two snowstorms approached. And in front of them now stood the Leader of the Ice-Beasts, the Lord of the Wintry Paths, on the greatest ice-beast anyone had ever seen, as large as a three-story house. He was smiling, and his eyes glittered.

Fear gripped the hunters as they drew back. They dropped their catches onto the ground and took up defensive positions around their two priests, one tribe to the left and the other to the right, drawing their bows and notching arrows, save for one who preferred to hunt with a spear.

The hunter-priest cried out, in his language, "Let us pass, O divine being! We mean you no disrespect."

The tracker-priest declared in her own language, "We mean no disrespect. We only wish to continue to the city and share this meat and this blessing with our tribesmen. Please let us pass, O divine son of gods!"

Because of the blessing they were carrying, their voices rang out very loud and clear across the plain.

The deity rode closer, and finally spoke, in a voice that made them shiver with cold. It was like the glint of icicles on a day of sun and frost; like the howl of a snowstorm raging for days; like the memories of the small towns and villages they’d left behind to be destroyed by the fury of the beasts. It was like feeling the very last bit of warmth disappear from your house as your fire died down with nothing left to feed it.

Each of them heard the words he said in their own language, which is what always happens when gods and godlings talk to humans.

"You shall not bring that weave of power into the city," he said, pointing at the two priests and their spirit-weave of gathered blessings, which he could see as well as they did or better, of course. “Those who sent me do not wish it. That was given to the forest, and you have stolen it, as can be expected of you filthy humans."

The priests opened their eyes to reply, but their words were swept away by the icy breath the godling sent out. Instead he went on, his eyes flashing like winter lightning, "It is the proper destiny for humans to freeze and starve and suffer during the coldest part of the year, to have to scurry together and leave the lands in peace! Such have my father and mother deemed, and well did they judge in doing so. Only this way can you humans pay for your many crimes."

The tracker-priest found her voice. "And do the gods think that doing such will make us humans any better?" she retorted sharply. "Since when does being miserable help people improve, when misery is all they know? Hardships can strengthen you, but you also need faith in yourself and those around you - and in the gods! As a priest, I wish to honour you. But when all we humans know is that the gods detest us and want us broken, how can we become better people?"

The hunter-priest, who again understood her meaning perfectly despite barely knowing her language, said, "She speaks for me as well. We humans often fail, both in what we owe the gods and what we owe to ourselves, and to the world around us. But the gods also need to uphold their end of the bargain! They should shine a light on a path for us to follow!" He paused to catch his breath, then went on in a calmer tone, "That is just what our Goddess of the Hunt and their Sun God - and maybe their Sun God is not different in truth from our own Sun Goddess - did in that meadow in the forest just now. We believe we honour their will best by bringing their gift back to the city."

The son of Ice and Night threw back his head and laughed, a chilling sound in the deepening cold. "Such pompous words! I care not for your phrases. For me, all I care about is to roam the world with my beasts, taking pleasure in their pleasure, in the beautiful death of hard winter. Yet I will still tell you this! You two are young, but still old enough to have heard about the times when winters were milder, not too long ago, when your parents were young. Do you not know what your tribes would get up to in those days? There were wars, kidnappings, raids, enslavements, sieges, and more wars!"

At that, the priests fell silent, avoiding each other’s gazes. The other hunters also looked away for a moment.

That was when the godling silently urged his great beast onward, and rode towards the nine hunters in attack.

The godling threw a whole array of glittering ice-spears at the humans, and the beast he rode slashed at them with his huge claws, and tried to get close enough to bite them. Yet he stayed his hand from lethal strength, for he was not done testing them yet. He sent a cold whip-gust of wind that scattered them in three parts, and drove them back from the city, towards the dark forest.

The hunters fought back with arrows and spears, and after they had been scattered, tried their best to draw together. They realised quickly that while their arrows just fell down to the ground when they aimed at the divine rider, the ice-beast itself did not have the same protection. While its skin was thick, it could still be wounded - unless the godling made an effort to protect it, which meant he had less ability to strike somewhere else.

In these moments, the hunters fought together. They didn’t stick to tribe only, but didn’t hesitate to step forward and attack their common enemy whenever one of the other hunters was in sore trouble. Only the priests were slow to act, wondering how to best use the blessing-weave. They whispered to one another, tried to focus, but couldn’t see how to turn it into an attack.

That was the first charge of the Lord of the Wintry Paths. As he paused, the hunters huddled close together again, around the two priests. They had been drawn back, but not the whole way into the forest. Some of them were wounded, but not so badly they couldn’t still fight.

Now the son of Ice and Night raised a hand and pointed it at the hunters, and a huge, cold wind rushed at them. But at that moment, the two priests finally acted. They joined hands, and let the beauty and serenity of the blessing-weave overtake them. They had realised, now, that the blessings of the meadow couldn’t be turned into a weapon for offense - but that they could make a very good shield. And they believed in it so strongly and poured so much of their own strength into it, that the spirit-weave covered the whole group and withstood the storm that the godling sent towards them, not just making the winds fall away but keeping the cold out, too, with that warm glow of protection. This time it was so strong that even the other hunters, without any spirit-sight, still could see it, at least for a few moments. Until the wind ceased.

That was the second attack of the Lord of the Wintry Paths. The nine hunters had withstood it, without any more injury or letting themselves be driven further back. But their opponent and his ice-beast had not taken any more injury, either. And they were still between the hunters and their city.

Then the two youngest hunters, one from each tribe - the ones who had taken down the wild donkeys together - told the priests, "You should chant." Chanting, together with fire, were the only things that seemed to work on the ice-beasts. Usually you needed to be at least double their group of chanters to have any effect, however. But now, what other choice did they have?

So the hunter-priest and the tracker-priest raised their voices and chanted about the Sun, and spring, about planting-time, and hope, and peace. Their voices and words in two different languages mingled with one another, and their tribemates chanted with them as best they could. All over the plain the words carried, and even inside the city of Alfèr itself the tones reached. Then the people inside the city hurried towards the gates, and looked down at the confrontation outside in awed silence.

They say that the oldest of all the chants we know today, the one that gets used for the first signs of spring in all the cities, towns and villages, no matter which priestly school the chanters belong to, that this chant still has words which cannot be understood today, from two languages nobody speaks anymore, mixed together and passed down through countless generations.

With the strength of the chant, the circle of spirit-weave grew wider and wider, until the edges reached the godling and his mount. Then the extra powers that he had been given by his parents Ice and Night were stripped away from him. And the power of the chant made the beast fall to its knees and whine, then roll over, so that its master had to leap off and stand on the ground. But that was the last thing the weave did. Now, its power exhausted, it was unravelled and dissolved into the air. The priests were sad to see it go, for they had hoped it could bring hope into the city.

And now they had no protection left against the godling. For he still had kept all his own power, and don’t think that he couldn’t have used it to crush them all with one blow where he stood, if he had chosen to.

But he didn’t. Because he saw that they had withstood the test that his father Ice and his mother Night had wanted them to face. And there might also have been problems with the Leader of the Hunt and with Sun. So the Lord of the Wintry Paths gathered his defeated beast into his cloak, raised his horn and called for retreat with a tone all the beasts could hear. And then he left. They didn’t see if he left for his summer home on the smallest of the moons directly, or if he went to the Northern Lands first. But he was gone from the south.

The hunters were exhausted, and some of them were wounded. But now people streamed out of the city to gather them in and to celebrate their victory. The hunters only barely had the time to collect the game they’d dropped onto the field and explain how it should be divided before they were carried inside, where they had to tell their story over and over again. The stories were passed from one to another, and those inside the city who belonged to neither tribe soon demanded to hear a translation, full of curiosity of what had happened. And so the tale of what had happened spread, and all were astonished.

Few were as astonished as the other priests. Back in those dark times, the priests had often been the ones that clamoured the loudest for raids and warfare with other tribes, seeing their gods as false or dangerous or evil. But now, two priests from different tribes had gathered in more divine power than anyone had ever heard of, they insisted on calling it “blessing”, and they had only grown stronger from doing so together. It must have been bewildering.

All the other hunters supported the two priests, however, and as they were all now hailed as heroes, this new message spread further. Soon, other tribes in other cities had heard the story, too. And all could see and feel that winter was on the vane, and the thaw had come for good. Just a week later, some of the fields could be plowed and sown.

The two young hunters who had taken down the wild donkeys together grew to be great friends and leaders of their respective clans, who also came to be leaders of that city, always making the effort to have peace between the tribes, to further alliances and reconciliation. The hunter-priest and the tracker-priest formed a partnership that lasted their whole lives, teaching others and going on to learning more themselves of how to accept the blessings from the gods in places of beauty and strength and to use that power for the good of others. They found a wholly new way of being a priest. And the rest of the hunters were also honoured for their part throughout their lives.

And that is the story of the hard winters of long ago, of how there came to be cities in this world, and how the different tribes started to be able to live together at least some of the time. That doesn’t mean that there were no longer wars and raids and hostilities, oh, no! As we know, those continued to break out for many, many generations. Yet ever since then it has been more possible to work for something else. And the priests have, more often than not, done their part in trying to keep the world together.

But sometimes still in the dead of winter, when the cold reaches the fields and creeps in through the city gates and the streets even here in the gentle south, the people draw closer to one another around their hearths. And they think of the wintry paths that glitter in the sun, wondering if the terrible ice-beasts and their laughing leader are once more at large. It is best to keep together and stay warm, during those days.

Well, that was all I had to say today. Shall we go have some roasted almonds?


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