This story is by Leila Tovo Larsen and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Skaia Falkorsdottir was born in the little mountain village of Yvpak. Her parents were warriors, hunters and adventurers. They were also an explosive couple…
“What do you mean Skaia stays at home? She must learn to defend herself.” She said furiously.
“It’s final, we are not talking about a bear or a wolf, it’s a fucking tiger.” He was tall and thick, a very typical Yvpak man.
“Tigress.” – Corrected Sighe. She was beautiful in a strong way, her body was trained for fighting beside her brothers and bringing meat home.
“The fucking animal has slaughtered two young men.” Said Falkor with an incredulous stare.
“Ashka was probably defending her cubs and…”
“Don’t you dare call the beast by a name, my friend’s kids got killed woman!” Falkor raised his fist and stared at his wife with hateful eyes. She gazed at the floor and shut down. His mother had been killed by a tiger, she knew. But something felt wrong, she tried to put it into words:
“I’m scared of the ‘spirit of the mountain’. If we harm the animal the gods may get angry at us.” She mumbled politely.
“Nonsense.” Screamed Falkor as he grabbed his axe, kicked open the front door and left.
Skaia’s humid stare showed the painful fear in the heart of her mother.
Sighe took Skaia before the fireplace.
“Look at the flame my love. Life is just like that, beautiful, warm and inviting, always changing forms, it burns and also turns to dust. Don’t fear Skaia, gaze the whole fire, don’t fear.”
“Feel the wind Skaia, how cold is it?” She stood up quickly and the wind threw her to the ground. Falkor laughed from his belly. “Don’t try to fight it, just feel it, let it swirl around you.”
“Falkor!” Called a hunter, he was in a big hurry. “The tiger is around the village attacking our goats!” Falkor’s expression changed from bliss into deep hatred, he raised his axe and ran down with the man.
The little girl was left alone in the bushes not far from the house. She laid in the grass and observed how clouds merged into different gracious figures. She heard some steps and sat up to see who was coming.
“Ashka…” Skaia said, paralyzed by fear.
She was huge and white, around her mouth and chest the traces of her meal colored her in bright red. The tigress came closer, looked at the little human pup with serene eyes and sniffed her hair causing her tickles. Skaia opened her little hands towards the warm fur. The animal stood still breathing with her mouth open; a strong smell came out. The tiger then left with a majestic walk. Skaia felt full of happiness and awe and threw herself to the tender freshly-scented grass. The sun warmed her body and she felt very excited about sharing what happened, but it was a secret, she knew; a secret between her and the Great Spirit.
“‘Sodena’ ruined that family’s harvest.” Said Sighe in a bad tone. “We can’t oppose ‘her will’.” Falkor shook his head and kept on dismantling the pantry that with so much effort Sighe had filled for the winter.
“If you so much love Spalatine, your goddess, you should know that before ‘Sodena’, the ‘Great Spirit’ or whatever, your devotion has to be towards your family. Your family is all your people Sighe; Let go that apprehension. I’ll hunt a white deer and exchange it up North.” Sighe had a disappointed expression, trading was no more as generous as the last exchange before winter in the little Yvpak. The northern villages were colder and there were many more families to sustain.
“I don’t want you to kill the deer of that forest, it gives me a bad feeling.”
“Everything gives you a bad feeling!” Falkor lost his temper and seeing that his woman was withering he stood up and surrounded her with his strong arms. He started swinging gently. Sighe knew there was nothing to do against her man’s decisions; that same determination sometimes fascinated her.
“We are one, my love.” He said. And he gently pulled her hair to a side to kiss her neck and feel her scent. He undressed her and caressed the soft skin of her toned shoulders, then grabbed her waist bringing her chest to his. They instantly became fire and when the passion was over Falkor looked into his woman’s eyes: she had that particular stare just as if in front of her eyes a huge field of sun-bathed flowers were dancing to the gentle breeze. She put her hands on her grown belly; Falkor grabbed them and kissed them many times. She was fostering their second child.
Skaia was outside, she would not come in when their parents were loving each other. ‘Sodena’ was there for her giving her butterflies and birds to play with.
They followed the footprints into the mountain, they could hear her angry roaring.
The mountain had a huge hole; apparently, a landslide had killed a lot of people. Winter had not arrived yet and the corpses were rotting under the sun.
Up in the mountain, Ashka’s cubs were standing trapped. The way up had fallen and the tigress could no longer reach them.
“It’s nobles.” Said Sighe furiously. “They had been using “machina”, look!” An excavator machine was among the earth and corpses. “They were using the forbidden force that once almost destroyed life from our land! Our people had to pay Ashka’s rage with the life of two young ones.” She stared at Falkor, who sustained her stare, this was far more dangerous than what he thought it would be…
“We must leave no trace, nobles must not know we discovered their secret.” Commanded Falkor to the little group of explorers.
Ashka was half way up roaring. Sighe took her climbing gear and her man did the same without a word; the “spirit of the mountain” led them to an important discovery and they had to repay or they’d lose more people trying to fight her desperation.
Climbing was very hard because the mountain face was unstable, but together they were unstoppable.
Ashka ran down to get her offspring. They were almost reaching the ground when they saw a noble sentinel spotting them. Falkor had a hit of fear in his chest.
The tigress stared at Sighe intensely and left with her cubs.
That stare came to her mind the whole night, she felt a tremendous unease and desire to run away. Falkor hugged her to make her sleep, she was high in fever.
“Wake up everyone! The nobles are attacking!” One of the hunters entered their house without even knocking and threw the axe to Falkor who was instantly out ready to fight.
“Stay in the house Sighe, I will come back to take you if we have to escape.”
Sighe went for her spear and put Skaia in front of her eyes.
“Love, evil men are coming, they want to take the life out of your body. If they come…” Sighe shed some tears, the screams outside were closer and louder. “…You will run away like the deer of the forest, and no one will see you, no one will catch you, you understand? Skaia nodded and dried the tears from her mother’s face. “Now we wait for your father…” She stared at the eyes full of life of her little one. Skaia rested her ear on her mom’s belly. “She has a thousand names, she owns us and it’s where we all begin, stand and come back to… who is it?” Asked Sighe, with a smile full of compassion.
“I know! I know!” Skaia smiled and grabbed her mom’s face to get her attention.
“She’s our food, she’s all forms, all colors and flavors and the breath we all share, she’s the light and warmth of the flame…”
“Sonana!” Said happily over the noise of people surrounding the house.
“Sodena, Skaia, always be grateful to her.” Sighe’s tears fell like rain on Skaia’s forehead.
A noble warrior opened the door and found the woman hiding her daughter behind her, she had the eyes of the tiger; ready to give her life to protect Skaia’s. Sighe killed the man and went outside.
“Mama your hand is ‘shaky’.” Said Skaia before finding her father covered in arrows.
“Skaia run!” Sighe pushed her daughter away dropping tears non-stop and screamed: “Go! I’ll find you there.”
Skaia stopped just some distance away to see her mother fighting three men. There were more coming, shooting arrows. Sighe got hit and men grabbed her and undressed her.
Skaia ran away.
She knew her family could not be found in her hometown anymore, so she headed to the northern mountains where, as Sighe told her, the spirits of the loved ones came back to Sodena’s eternal play of form as tiny snowflakes.