The boy awoke to the sound of his younger sister tending the hearth, bringing the dying flames back to life. Last night was bitterly cold so his mother stayed awake to ensure that the fire did not go out. It must remain lit, not only to keep the cold at bay but also to bring light into the home to ward away the darkness. His eldest sister once told him that monsters roam the forest outside of the village during this frozen time of year and that the fire keeps them away as well. He is not certain if he believes her but the awful howling he heard last night sounded otherworldly. Either way, the warmth emanating from the hearth is welcomed during these dark and frigid times.
Today is the day that the boy’s father will take him on him first hunt. His older brother would not stop bragging about the size of the deer he had caught during his first hunt so the boy is eager to prove himself by catching a bigger one. His brother is on the cusp of manhood so this will be their family’s last winter with him before he joins the warband to begin his initiations. In a few more years it will be the boy’s turn as well and he is eager to begin his own rites. The boy had often dreamed of the glory he will win during the summer cattle raids and of the beautiful girl he will one day make his wife.
His father pulls him from his reveries when he enters the house with more wood for the fire, the cold morning air following him into the house. He tells the boy to grab his things so that they can begin their hunt, already the distant sun is rising. The boy grabs his spear, knife as well as his bow and quiver of arrows. There is still much for the boy to learn regarding the spear but he is an excellent shot so that alone should catch them a few rabbits at least. Grabbing a water skin and some dried meat, father and son depart their home to begin their hunt.
They pass by the house next to theirs on their way to the forest and the boy sees why they had left so late. A small mound of stone has been erected near the house and his father tells him that the old women who live there had died during the night. The ground is much too hard this time of year for a proper burial so the stones have been placed around her body to appease her spirit until she can be laid to rest when the earth has thawed. A young girl around the boy’s age is crying next to the stones, the women’s grand-daughter, so he calls her name and boasts that he will catch the finest rabbit for her to cheer her up. She says she will be more impressed if he can bring her a deer instead and so the boy swears to her that he will but she will owe him a kiss when he returns. She laughs loudly at this, her sorrow forgotten for now and the boy thinks about how he will marry this girl when he is older.
The boy and his father leave the village and make their way into the woods fo begin the hunt. They make traps for rabbits so that if they fail to catch larger game at least they will not go hungry. The father praises the boy on his knots, impressed that the boy has picked up these skills so quickly. Traps set, the pair make their way further into the woods, following a path that deer have been known to use this time of year. They walk quietly for what feels like hours when they come upon a clearing full of grazing deer. As they approach the clearing, the man gestures to his son to get his bow ready and to stay out of sight. The boy does as he has been taught and pulls back the bowstring, aiming his arrow at the nearest deer. He lets the arrow fly and it lands firmly in the deer’s chest. The herd scatters and the hunters chase after them. The boy fires a second arrow and it hits the deer in the hind leg, slowing it down enough for his father to grab it. Pinning the deer down, the father struggled to holds back its head so that the boy can finish it. The young hunter hesitates for a second when he looks into the eyes of the deer and sees the fear in it but he runs his knife across its neck, ending its suffering.
The man lets go of the dead deer and clasps his hand on the boy’s shoulder, proud of his son’s courage. They clean the deer together so that they can make their way back home. The boy offers to carry the deer back to the village but he is too small to lift it despite all his effort. His father lets out a booming laugh at his son’s display of strength and tells him that one day he’ll be strong enough. They walk back to the village with their prize and check their traps in the way back. Most are empty but one has snagged a rabbit. The boy grabs it and asks if he can give it to the girl who’s grandmother has passed on. His father ponders this and tells the boy that a women would not be impressed by a dead rabbit but she may appreciate some new fur gloves as well as some stew. The boy nods and runs back to the house to tell his brother all about the hunt.
This is something new I’m trying out for the site. I enjoy writing stories so I tried to write a slice of life story set during the Iron Age. I hope you enjoyed reading it. Season of Hunting is part of a series of seasonal stories so be on the look out for those in the near future.