A shivering youth walks through the crunching snow, his leather moccasins protecting his feet from the damp. The moccasins are the only clothing he has that is not ragged and worn, and holes throughout let in even more cold air. He can see smoke coming from the other side of the snow-laden hill in front of him, and continues in that direction.
The people in the village, wandering from duty to duty, see a youth of about seventeen or eighteen in tattered clothes walking into the clearing at the center of the tents, spikes protruding from a landscape of white in the midst of the mountains. The source of the smoke is surrounded by people, using the fire for cooking or cleaning or simply for warmth in the case of several of the elderly. Several men rise from their posts, spears at hand, and Pimne’s stride slows.
“What business have you here, tattered one?”
“Please, do not point your spears at me. My village was destroyed by a monster with flaming eyes. I have nowhere else to go.”
“A monster, eh? Sounds like you took your elders a bit too seriously. Though such things may have existed in the past, the Great Mystery has swallowed monsters up in its wisdom and mercy. More likely the monster you speak of was the Comanche tribe. I’ve heard terrible things about their raids, that they burn what they don’t take, be it belongings or beings.”
The youth shakes his head, hands raised in front of him, palms facing out.
“Not so! Or at least I know of no tribe that is composed of skeleton men with flaming eyes.” The guard raises an eyebrow.
“In any case, Pimne, as long as you promise to cause no trouble you are welcome to shelter here. And if you truly have lost your tribe, our elder will hear your appeal to join our village. And I would add that contributing to our hunting party would greatly increase your chances.”
Pimne bows his head at Qaletaqa. “I greatly appreciate your hospitality in these dangerous times.”
“I don’t know about dangerous times – other than the occasional mad wolf or bear – and even these respect those who respect the Great Mystery. But I do welcome you to our village, Pimne. May your stay be fruitful.”
They walk further into the village, the eyes of the others following the new face. Pimne smiles at them and waves, but his gesture is not returned.
“We don’t get too many visitors out here at the feet of the giants,” and he bows his head at the mountains that rise up in front of them, “but those that we do have tend to be war scouts. They are left bound out in the wild and Great Mystery may decide their fate.” Pimne glances at Qaletaqa and frowns.
“Well, as you can see, I am ill-equipped to be a war scout. I am simply a victim of unfortunate circumstances.”
They arrive at the center of the village and here at least no eyes rotate towards them. The activity and bustle continues as leather is boiled and scrutinized. A piece of hide is dropped into a pot of boiling vegetables and is picked back out by the cook, who hurls both it and an insult at the perpetrator, who laughs and dodges the steaming missile. Pimne walks up to the laughing man and picks up the leather from its place among steam and snow.
“This is a fine piece of hide. It would make a nice hat to cover one’s ears.”
“It may smell a bit like radishes now, though, ha ha ha!”
They smile at each other and Qaletaqa relaxes a bit, smiling at the friendly exchange. Just as he does, Pimne wraps the piece of leather around his hand and grabs the pot of boiling food by the handle and dashes off, leaving its owner stirring air.
“Stop! Thief!” Qaletaqa says, reaching for Pimne. His yells are drowned out by those of his fellows, who leap to their feet and chase the fleeing Pimne, but even holding the still boiling stew he is faster than they, and though unnoticed, nary a drop is spilled.
Pimne doesn’t slow down until the village and, more importantly, the people are out of sight. The mountains rise up in front of him, closer in appearance than actuality. Looking around, his brown eyes light upon a tree under which there is a bit less snow. He heads towards this tree and clears away the snow with his foot, sweeping it back and forth. Sitting with his back to the trunk he places the pot on the ground in front of him where it creates a neat circle of melted snow. The steam causes the branches above Pimne to drip and he wraps his head in the piece of leather.
“A heated hat. If only all garments had such virtue.” He reaches over his shoulder and peels a piece of bark off the tree and, stirring the pot, scoops up the meat and vegetables and brings a barkful to his mouth and blows on it.
An empty pot later and Pimne is patting his stomach and burping as the sun sits in the center of the sky. Hopping to his feet, a flap of leather falls over his eye and he tucks it back into the wrap. Jogging in place, he looks around, puffs of breath visible in the chill.
“Guess they gave up! I’m sure they won’t miss one pot of stew. Maybe I’ll visit them again tonight, see if they’ve perhaps cooled off a bit. For now, those hot springs Qaletaqa mentioned sound very nice, and that’s no great mystery.” Laughing, he begins to walk towards the mountains, the sun retreating as he approaches. The crunch of the snow is the only sound to be heard, and the sky is streaked with purple and orange as the sun sets. Finally he reaches the feet of the mountains, a pathway worn by many feet visible among the forested rocks and muted greens of pin trees on the slopes. Pimne picks up his pace as his eyes sight upon the path, jogging towards it. The snow steadily becomes patchier as he follows the path, and a faint mist can be seen floating above the rocky outcrops on either side of him The occasional leafless and dried-up tree pops up from in between the rocks. Pimne’s head flicks from side to side at each crevice as his feet pad along the smooth stone, a nice change from the yielding snow. However, he comes to a halt as the sound of singing reverberates down the trail.
“Who else but me would be up here this late? The answer – of course – is someone like me.”
He walks at a slower pace, feet rolling from heel to toes, silent. The sound comes from all directions as he approaches, the steam from the springs obscuring the surroundings. The voice is clear, a baritone that flows from one note to the next.
“Raven flies on feathered wing,
but walks on feet so fair.
He fancies himself a bird, a king,
of what land but no-where.
Crown his head with willow reed,
clothe his form with fire,
from his beak what portents ring,
what mischief might conspire.”
Pimne ducks down as he approaches the end of the path and peers around the corner of a boulder. A man is sitting in the steaming water, head leaned back, eyes closed. He has long black hair hanging just short of the chest-high water. As he finishes singing he leans back forward revealing a frown upon a face that tapers to a point, and eyes that are green and just as sharp. His arms are stretched out to either side of him, the lean bicep muscles relaxed.
“Oh Raven, I wonder what trouble you’ve gotten into this time. Reckless fool.” And he smiles at this remark. Bubble appear on the surface of the water near the man and Pimne has time to think there are things all men have in common before a figure bursts up from the water. The singer’s smile turns to a grimace again and he holds a hand in front of his face, blinking.
“Kaga, you are useful for your knowledge of current events but your manners leave something to be desired.” Meanwhile, Kaga is spluttering and snorting, his long hair stuck in think black and pepper grey strands to his face.
“How long was that? In my younger days I could stay under for at least twenty minutes,” he says, bony chest heaving.
“You lasted about two minutes that time, you old fool. You’ve been doing this for an hour now and your time submerged has been getting progressively shorter, thought that first time you did last ten minutes.”
“It’s this cold air. Everything is harder when it’s cold.”
“No no, it’s definitely all the hot air. It flies out of your mouth at an alarming rate, it’s a wonder you can hold your breath at all. In any case, why are you here, Kaga, if you hate the cold so much?”
“The same reason I’m anywhere. There’s some kind of creature here, I can feel it.”
“Surely you don’t refer to the giants? Someday you’ll have to share with me how you so consistently find these fiends. Though I can handle them when they appear, I cannot find them before or after. Did Coyote perhaps teach you some trick to sniff them out? Your nose is certainly big enough.”
“That’s a tale for another day,” he says pinching his nose and snorting. “Meanwhile, your trousers are being stolen.”
And Kaga is correct, for the whole time they’ve been talking Pimne has been creeping towards the tree where their clothes are hanging. He has just reached the tree as Kaga says this and his hand is closing upon the hem of the pants leg.
“HEY! Don’t you – ” He stands up, water flying with his movement. Pimne’s hand snaps shut upon the fabric and he turns to run, pulling the pants with him as he goes. The cloth is warm to the touch and also of a rougher texture than it would appear. He glances at it as he runs, his fingers now tingling where they grasp the fabric. He hears footsteps behind him and, looking back, he sees the young man running after him naked, water streaming off him as he sprints. Pimne laughs and speeds up, halfway down the trail now, his legs a blurred arc beneath him. His pursuer slows to a stop as he speeds away.
“Well. That’s pretty fast.”
Kaga trots up behind him and pats him on the back. “How about that! You got snuck up on. Quite shameful.”
“What’s shameful is your appearance. Put some clothes on, you’re hurting my eyes.” And he turns and heads back up the trail.
Pimne slows down and glances over his shoulder again, the hots springs and his pursuers now out of sight.
“And I never got in the water! But I did need some new pants.” He holds the vivid slacks in front of him, eyes moving over the colors, blended from maroon to red to orange to yellow in such a way that the eye barely notices as one changes to the next. As he looks at it, the colors grow brighter and flare into white, and he cries out and drops the cloth onto the ground.
“What exactly have I stolen this time?” he says as he bends down to pick up the now ordinary looking trousers. His mouth drops open as he sees that the snow has melted where the pants fell.
“You’ve stolen the breeches bequeathed to me by the Sun after I bested him in a staring contest,” a loud voice says from the branches of a nearby pine. The man from before drops from the tree, body forming a Y as he falls.
“I am Veeho, and right now I am not sure whether to be pissed or impressed,” he says, glaring at Pimne, whose eyes are wide and staring.
“How in the world did you get ahead –”
“What is your name?”
“I am Pimne –”
“Your name suits you. Sneaky and slippery fast, just like a weasel.”
“And now look, I had to borrow a pair of pants from that filthy Kaga. In any case, how did you manage to sneak up on me? There are not many with footsteps light enough to avoid my ears.” Pimne’s eyes narrow and a slight smile forms on his face.
“Well, I –”
“Actually, it doesn’t really matter,” his eyes wandering to the up and to the left as if noticing an interesting cloud, “I was able to catch you anyways. My main point in talking to you now is to let you know that those breeches are quite dangerous, though you seem to have taken note of this already.”
“Yes, they were burning my fingers!” Pimne slings these words out before he can be interrupted again, and displays his fingertips, the skin of which is peeling. “I’m still trying to figure out what the trick is –”
“Oh, there’s no trick. Holos.” And with that word, the pants burst into flame, causing Pimne to drop them for the second time in ten minutes, and this time he falls backwards onto his butt as well.
“The Sun never had a problem holding them, but I guess humans like us have to be wearing them to get the full effect. Try it out, I’ll lend them to you for a while out of, eh, respect for your alacrity. I’ll find you later but if you need me sooner, you can call me with this,” and Veeho plucks a long black hair from his head and ties it around Pimne’s little finger before he can object. “Have fun now!” And with that he jumps and, with a popping noise, where there was a man is instead a sparrow, which flies off into the air, tail flicking.
( ©2015 Sean Dorsey )