Ava's Chronicle - Renewal
The sun began, finally, to creep above the mountains to the south, and slowly, almost imperceptibly, the snow began to melt. Winter began to give way to the early spring, as frozen brooks began to flow, swollen with melt-water, as the first tiny flowers began to bloom along their banks.
It was time for the Star-Fire clan to begin their annual migration north, following the caribou herds to the coastal tundra, to take advantage of the brief opportunities that the brief summer would provide. The clan began its preparations as soon as the sun began to climb above the peaks, and, almost overnight, the world around them transformed, from endless white to brilliant greens.
Avlynka smiled, enjoying the warmth of the brilliant sunshine on her face, breathing deeply, enjoying an unusually warm spring day. The snow still clung tightly to the sides of the mountains, as indeed, it would do throughout the summer, but in the valley, and as far north as she could see, the flowering meadows, the aspens, the rolling tundra, were seas of vibrant green, meeting the sapphire-blue sky at the horizon. She wore a pair of leggings and a knee-length tunic, both of leather, her boot-laces flopping as she climbed the hillside, climbing to obtain a vantage point on the vast, meandering river plain off to the west.
She smiled as she squinted into the sunlight, as a river of brown and black dots flowed across the floodplain, paralleling the Ulga River; the caribou were heading north, towards the coastal prairie, to rear their young and feast on the rich summer grasses. From her vantage point, perhaps two thousand meters above the valley floor, she could see for... well, forever. Below, she could make out the deep brown and green kenkii of her clan's camp, and, as far as the eye could see in any other direction, she saw no other people: just endless green, stretching towards endless blue.
Avlynka searched for other herds, but, as she expected, saw no more. She spent a few moments making quite sure she got a good estimate on the distance and direction of the migrating caribou, and began to make her way back down the rocky slope, towards the treeline, a few hundred meters below. She quickly made her way home to relay the news.
Summer would be short, there was not much time.
“They are to the west, on the west side of the River.” Avlynka proudly explained to the assembled elders. “Moving north, towards the plains. Thousands of them.”
“They are already north of us?” Kyllsa asked, her expression dark.
Avlynka nodded. “Yes, perhaps... ten kilos or so.”
“They are moving early.” Ladok, an elder from a rival lodge, said with a sigh. “They will beat us to the escarpment... we must hope for another herd.”
Avlynka looked at Kyllsa, who shrugged slighty, then spoke up. “I didn't see any other herds... I believe only the one, from this valley...”
Ladok frowned. “Of course. You know everything, Avlynka. Who am I, to doubt you?”
Avlynka nodded and looked at the ground. “Well... perhaps, there are...”
“No.” Kyllsa interrupted. “There is only the single herd that winters in this valley, there has always been only a single herd. That is a drawback of this particular wintering-place. The hunters should go now, go ahead... they can beat the herd to the escarpment.”
Avlynka lifted her gaze, looking for any sign of an impending reply on Ladok's face. He scowled and glared at Kyllsa for a moment, then nodded, grudgingly. “Yes. You... are right, of course.”
“Avlynka, go tell your father what you saw.” Kyllsa ordered. “No time to waste.”
She nodded and ran across the camp as fast as she could, toward her home, her flopping boot laces whipping her legs as she ran. Her parents were carefully packing their belongings into a small trailer, a trailer that would be towed behind the snowmachine when they moved. “Dad!” she screamed excitedly, breathing heavily from her run, “The caribou... they are north of us, and moving...”
“Get your rifle, and whatever you will need to go ahead and follow the herd.” her father replied, smiling. “You're going to go be our eyes. Take whatever you will need for several days.”
Avlynka stood, blinking in amazement.
Tarja stepped outside of the kenkii, alarmed at her daughter's shouting. “What is going on?”
“Avlynka has learned that the caribou have begun their migration early.” Olno replied. “She is going to stay near the herd, and keep in contact with us on the radio.”
“But the base radio has already been taken down...” Tarja replied, casting her gaze at the Lehtonen's kenkii; as if to confirm what she had said, Yura Lehtonen walked outside, carrying the radio set towards her family's trailer. The antenna mast lay on the ground next to the trailer, in sections.
“Well... that complicates things.” Olno replied with a frown.
“We just need to know where the herd is, right?” Avlynka replied.
Avlynka shrugged. “I'll fire a shot, every few hours. That should give you some idea. And I'll leave markers.”
Olno smiled. “Good idea. Go. Pack. Make sure you take enough food, some water, cartridges, a change of clothes, and anything else you might need.”
Avlynka nodded and ran into the tent, but only after removing her muddy boots; she dared not arouse the ire of the Spirits, not now.
With the aid of her father's snow-machine, its skis replaced by wheels for use in the grass and mud, she easily caught up with the caribou. Avlynka remained one or two kilometers behind the herd, who, thankfully, were in no hurry to get anywhere in particular; newborn calves slowed them down, as did frequent stops for food, rest, or simple play. Even the caribou celebrated the end of Matar's long winter, a winter that lasted for most of the 1,357 day long solar year. Warm weather and sunshine was a relief to all of northern Matar's inhabitants, be they two or four legged.
She watched the herd, laying on her belly in the short, soft grass, taking care to remain low and downwind; if spooked, the herd would run wildly for several kilometers, taking them further from the hunting party which would, hopefully, catch up with them soon. Every few hours, she would fire a single gunshot, and make a small pile of stones, sticks... whatever was at hand, really, and rest the empty cartridge on top of it. A single loud noise, especially a distant one, never really alarmed the animals; the most they would do is look around for a moment, and then quickly resume whatever it was that they were doing.
Three days after she had began the pursuit, the sound of a gunshot reached her ears. She scanned the horizon, the valley behind her, hoping to catch a glimpse of who had fired before replying. Being as remote as it was, northern Matar was a common target for unscrupulous bands of Matari slavers, and Avlynka had been warned to never, ever reply to a signal like that, unless she was quite certain who was sending the signal. Seeing no one, she remained quiet and scanned the hillsides and valley in the direction of the shot.
After several tense minutes, she saw a small group of snow-machines, a few kilometers up the valley behind her; eight of them. She smiled, knowing it was probably her clan, but remained low, hidden, and quiet, until they were finally close enough to clearly identify as being members of her clan.
Avlynka stood and waved her arms over her head, smiling brightly. They approached and shut off their engines, and she was delighted at the sight of her father and Yura Lehtonen, among others.
“Dad!” Avlynka squealed, hugging him tight. Once he had returned the embrace, she smiled and pointed down the valley, towards the feeding herd of caribou. “See?”
Olno watched the herd for a moment, and nodded. “We are still several kilos from the escarpment, too.”
Avlynka nodded. “So, we will do the drive tomorrow?” she asked.
Olno looked at the sun, estimating the remaining light; “Yes, I think. The clan is two days or so behind us, which is good... with tomorrow, eh, they should catch us a day, day and a half after the drive. So the skinning and meat-cutting all should be just about done when they arrive.”
Avlynka nodded, smiling. “It will be nice to have the leather to finish my dress, before the Midsummer.”
“You'll have plenty of leather to work with, after tomorrow.” Olno replied.
The small band made their impromptu camp, talking around a small fire and sleeping in turns, keeping watch over the caribou. The sun never dips far below the horizon so far north, and the blue night sky, illuminated by light from Matar's moon, was bright enough to read by. As the sky to the southeast began to brighten, they roused awake, made their plans, and ate a quick breakfast of jam, bread, and smoked salmon, all items that would be replenished over the short summer.
The plan was made; the band would split into two groups, one of which would move ahead, going through the floodplain and around the herd, the second that would remain behind. The herd was just reaching the escarpment, a forty meter high cliff face, several hundred kilometers long. Here, the Ulga River tumbled down the escarpment in a beautiful waterfall, the thundering noise and billowing mist providing cover for the hunter's movements... and water, to clean themselves following their bloody work.
The herd prepared to pick its way down the escarpment, down a gentler slope where a rock slide, eons ago, had made travel for the animals perilous, but possible. As the herd bunched up, all waiting their turn to head down the hill, the hunters made their move. The band that had circled around charged in on their snow-machines, revving the engines, shouting and screaming, firing their rifles into the air, splitting the herd and driving part of if towards the escarpment. The second part of the band, Avlynka among them, charged in from behind, straight towards the animals that had been cut off from the rest of the herd, and leaving them only one escape route:
Over the edge of the escarpment.
The panic-stricken animals ran with abandon, leaping off of the edge, falling and tumbling down the steep rocky slope to their deaths, forty meters below. The hunters quickly drove their vehicles down the slope that had, only moments before, been covered in caribou, who were now wildly running to the north and west, and dispatched any surviving animals with rifle shots.
Avlynka felt an emotional duality that she had never experienced before as she stood, looking at the dead caribou; fifty-three, they had killed. The number of dead animals bothered her, the twinge of sadness as she gazed at the death she had helped to cause. At the same time, however, she felt relief, for a successful hunt, for enough meat and leather to see her clan through a good part of the winter to come, for having played her part to perfection.
Avlynka knelt on the rocks next to the river and offered a quick prayer, thanking the Spirits for providing for her clan and family once more. She then rejoined the group, and took her place among them, assisting with the chores of skinning and cutting. Her clan would make camp nearby for a week, or two, while hides were scraped and dried and meat was sliced and smoked, and then they would be off again, heading farther north, to take advantage of another seasonal migration of a different type.
“Dad?” Avlynka asked as she worked her knife.
“Yes?” he replied, looking up from the animal he was skinning, next to hers.
“Can we eat some of the meat tonight?” she asked. “I am sort of tired of salmon.”
Olno laughed, as did several of the others nearby. “So am I, Dreamer. We sure can.”