“Sir! Sir! One of our guys found some strange looking tracks near the camp,” one of the men says to the young leader at camp in the morning.
“Show me,” he replies.
The man leads the way out of the leader’s tent towards the tree Claudia had been posted up in. The marks looked chaotic and were difficult to follow when mixed together with Jasper’s. They did not seem to make sense to the men inspecting the tracks.
The young leader puffs his chest out and declares, “This could just be some strange creatures out here in the woods. They don’t look to be more than two animals at most, so don’t worry about it lad,” he slaps the messenger on the back, “they will bring no harm to our large group.”
“Of course sir.”
“See to it that camp starts to get packed up. We need to move out soon.”
The man nods at the leader before scurrying off to do his task.
“Laz. What have you found?,” asks the older leader, Zeph, as he approaches where Laz stands underneath Claudia’s tree.
“Nothing of consequence sir. Just some small tracks that will not affect us in the slightest.”
Zeph inspects the tracks.
“Don’t underestimate what appear to be small in number. They may one day come back to haunt you,” with this Zeph raises an eyebrow at Laz, sweeps his eyes once more over the tracks, and turns to walk back towards the camp that is in the process of being taken down by his hungover men.
Once Zeph walks far enough away, Laz spits in his direction, despising to be lower in rank to him. He hates being made out as incapable of differentiating a threat from a nuisance. He feels it’s a waste of time and energy to put forth the effort of investigating the trivial tracks, but knows Zeph will hold it over his head forever if he does nothing about it.
He whistles two of his men over to where he stands.
“What do you two boys make of these tracks?”
The three of them walk around, checking out the tracks, trying to understand the two different paths and how they tell a story together. These two men, in particular, are known for their hunting skills and are able to tell the differences between Claudia and Jasper’s tracks from each other.
“They must have been stationed up in these two trees. Makes me think they were trying to keep an eye on us. Doesn’t make me feel too good,” the taller of the two comments.
“Could be scouts that were sent to spy on us,” chimes in the second.
“You boys feel like you could scout out their trail and see if you can find their group? Get a head count on how many they travel with and any other useful information on them. We need to make sure these fellas aren’t going to be a threat.”
“Don’t see how such a little guy as this one must be could be too big of a threat, sir,” replies the shorter one with a smirk.
“I don’t give a damn if you think they won’t be. Just go check it out and report back,” he spits out at them.
“Yes, sir,” they both stammer to their leader and turn to start their hunt.
Laz walks towards camp and yells out, “Leave the camp up for now! We will be staying here for another night.”
Zeph stares at him as he calls out this order and then disappears into his tent.
Laz storms into his own tent and the camp can hear the women cry out from inside as Laz takes his anger out on those at the biggest disadvantage in his group.
“I know it will be difficult, but I think we should travel by the river. Our tracks will be impossible to follow and the river will lead us down the mountain,” Jasper says to Claudia.
They are slow to reach the river, and once they do, their speed slows down as they try to keep their feet on the rocks around the river, so as not to get completely wet, and thereby freeze to death.
As the day goes on, they each feel more at ease about the low likelihood of being chased.
Perhaps we were not worth their time after all.
“We need to eat,” says Claudia. She stoops down and begins gathering rocks and building a wall in the river to create a pool.
Jasper grabs larger rocks than Claudia is able to handle and helps her create a bigger pool to catch fish. It does not take long for them to have a couple of decent sized fish swim in their contraption. Jasper bends his knees and cups his hands as he slowly leans towards the fish. He grabs on tight to the slithering fish as it tries to wriggle its way out of his hands, and throws it on land. Claudia is ready with a stick she sharpened and stabs the head down into the ground. She pulls the body of the fish back as she lets its blood drain on the muddy bank.
Jasper is able to throw two more fish at her, each of which she also stabs and drains.
Once they are drained, both Jasper and Claudia use their knives to cut the fish open and eat the meat straight off the carcass. They are too tired to try to eat more civilized than this.
The two are squatting, eating away at these two fish while breathing heavily through their noses. Their need for food in their bellies trumps all other fears or social norms in this moment.
The blood on the mud from the fish trickles down towards the water and seeps back into that which it came.
The only sounds that can be heard are their heavy breaths, loud chewing and the serene flow of the water traveling south to north. Clouds are beginning to form and the sun disappears behind them.
Yes. Snow, fall.
Jasper looks up into the sky, fish bits stuck in his beard, as he silently pleads to the clouds to drop its soldiers. The skin and bones left of the fish that Jasper holds out in front of him as he gazes into the grey roof looks like a sacrifice he is offering up in exchange for snow.