Word Count: 1411 Average Read Time: 7:03 Time Completed: Third Day’s Writing
The smell wafting up from the pot below Crevai was intoxicatingly hearty after a long day on the hunt.
Full of wild grains and tubers from the fields they tended on the far side of the hill, soaking with the broth they’d made from herbs traded for from the Pure, and then, nestled within and slowly soaking into the whole of the pot, their prize for the day: the meat from two birds, shot out of the sky by her older sister, Refrana.
Crevai was not the best at hunting, though she was of age, and therefore would join in that most important chore. She was much better preparing the animal, skinning it, cleaning it, cooking it.
And of course, her favorite part: eating it.
Of course, she was not allowed to merely focus on that. She was part of the Stamm: A race of people who, through word, deed, and magic, were devoted to a specific animal. So devoted, in fact, that as their numbers grew, they would begin to naturally (or magically) adopt the traits (both positive and negative) of the animal they would laud above all others.
Crevai was part of the Fuchs Stamm- Those Stamm devoted irrevocably to the Fox.
Part of being Fuchs Stamm was cooking and prepping and eating, yes. Especially for Your Den, the most important group. But there were no specialists amongst the Fuchs Stamm- just those with a talent for some things over others.
Today, Crevai had gotten to cook. Tomorrow, it would be Refrana’s turn, and Crevai was to do that which she hated most: Tending the fire. Making sure it was lit until the moon was well overhead took most of the night, and worked all of her body to near exhaustion. Wood was taken from the forest as it was needed: Trees were cut only under the setting sun, all night the fire was stoked with the tinder from the forest and those trees felled during twilight.
And no, the logs felled as the sun set were not to be chopped by anyone but the firekeepers from each Den.
But tonight was her night, the night she got to do that which she liked most: make and eat a delicious meal with those important to her. She would make the most of it, so that when she was alone beneath that blackened sky gathering wood to smoke the great fire, she would remember how that was possible: Her mother’s work tonight.
She added a bit more water to the pot, and stirred it to prevent the grains from sticking to the bottom and blackening under the heat. Taking a spoon she kept nearby just for the purpose, she tasted the dish. And found that it needed something.
Something familiar, but importantly missing from this pot of food. What was it? She’d tasted it many times before, and could easily describe those dishes which had it: The cheesey bird mess folded between bread, the mixed herbs and crisp roots covered in sour wine and fat, the breads filled with tallow and green flakes of this herb.
That is what it was. Dahnya. And she was certain of where to find some, just over by the border of the forest, where her family had been chopping trees as the sun set. She could be there and back before the pot needed stirring again.
Stoking the fire with two small twigs her mother had brought her, she left her Den’s house, running off towards the forest.
The cold wind bothered Crevai more than most of her kind. That’s not to say it was intolerable, but she would definitely prefer to be inside than out, and then definitely nearer to something warm.
So when she left the comfort of her home to run into the night, she stole a stoal from the hook just outside the door. With a start, she recognized it as her sister’s, which was odd, considering the nights hunters should all have been around the great fire just now, commiserating over the events of the day.
Perhaps Refrana had been given a new pelt of some sort, she thought, and shrugged. Maybe Vix had finally worked up the courage (and the skills) to make her something. But that was a conversation for another time.
Wrapping it around herself, Crevai set out. She knew she mustn’t tarry, as the food might burn should she be away for too long. She hadn’t burned food in three years, since she had been a child of only 14 winters. To burn something now would be childish, and put a damper on everything the next run of chores would hold for her.
She ran quickly in the silent cacaphony that was the night wind. That was her second talent: Running. Should the need arise, she could outrun just about everyone she knew. Fairly useful in day-to-day activities, but useless enough that she had never really been praised for it.
At least, by anyone other than her father, who had taken an interest in her speed from an early age: on the hunt one day, shortly after she’d bled for the first time and began the journey into adulthood. She found herself cornered by a buck they’d been hunting in the forest, and her father was shouting to her from the sidelines to keep her wits about her.
She did as she’d been taught: felt along that string of attention all prey had, and waited for it to twinge with wild abandon, showing just a tiny drop in focus. There it was. She bolted out to the left, just as it charged forward, and got away- straight passed her father, in fact, who then had to deal with an angry and annoyed buck coming for him shortly thereafter.
Once he had safely dispatched the beast, he found her and remarked for the first of many, many times: “You’re fleeter than a Fox, little pup.”
There it was! The small bush of Dahnya she’d seen earlier that day. It was still here and still in one piece. Sliding to a halt in front of it, she picked a few sprigs from it, and dashed back towards the Den. With any luck, the food would not have begun to burn yet.
Finding her way back in the dark was never difficult, thanks to the great fire. She only ever needed to look to the sky, and spot to smoke stack rising in the distance. Heading towards the smoke would always lead her home, and there was never more than one smoke stack in the sky, for they lived far away from any other Stamm… Let alone the Pure. It was fool-proof and easy, and even in the pitch black of the absent moon, she could always spot such a large cloud. That was the way she’d always done it, only today, there was something amiss.
There were two large plumes of smoke in the distance, albeit right next to one another. Odd, she thought to herself. Who had made that second great fire? Were there more Stamm nearby? Or had the fire keepers made a mistake of some sort?
The former would be the bigger problem, of course. Such occasions were rare but memorable, when the Stamm would try to claim their neighbor’s lands. The resulting conflict was often long lived, and even more often very bloody, with generations on both sides being affected (and, in smaller parts, effected) by it.
If that were the case, though, usually they would show themselves by day. And if that had happened, Crevai would know about it by now.
It was possible that the fire keepers had decided to slowly move the great fire, as well. That was a lot of work, and would make tomorrow much harder on her, but always done for a good reason.
Though usually that reason was the receding line of the forest, or the ground being too moist to light a fire that night. Unlikely, again.
Troubled, she ran faster, until she saw her Den. She saw her Den, and she fell to her knees. She fell to her knees, and she began to wail. She knew now who had made the second great fire. She knew now how it happened, and why: Three sprigs of Dahnya, now cast to the ground before her.
Her Den, moreso than all of the other alit Dens nearby, was ablaze in the night.