Crack. The resin buried deep. Momentary distraction. Logs never dormant under intensity of this hearth fire. Tiny explosions adjust the blaze. Embers opening red eyes and showering sparks up the chimney.
Only distracted for a bit.
I got the ash shaft securely in the vice while I shave fluff off inside the follicle. Gently between tweezers. Release the sliding jaw. Use tiny badger hairbrush to breathe glue onto the rim. Fix it to shaft, equidistant from two white gander feathers. They face towards the bow. The black—goose fletch—faces away. Arrow after arrow. Hour after hour.
Outside is silence. Blue. Only seen in frozen land. At night. No wind. Utter stillness. Air thin. Birch and rowan pricked with icicles, spruce elder-tufted with snow, walkable ground thick with it. Powder and firn.
Wolf lies on a rug at the grate, lids half closed, head on forepaws. Wolf and me at peace. Sister and brother from another mother. Hearing miles and miles. If there is other people sound—jangle of a bridle, kick of a heel against flank, the sound of breath. Whether on foot, on horseback or riding the sled, if other people approach we will be gone. There is no other way to travel this far. Petrol-vehicle will not go at least a day before it finds here.
I am not in this forest because I am this place.
Da had lived to his fortieth year, but Mam died when I was four.
Da and the wolves stalked with me strapped to his back. To get me used to territory. Me Mam and the other women hunted iron traps that other people ordered set to break wolves. Or us.
She missed the one took her leg off. Dead before anyone found her, blood like crimson butterflies on snow and Mam like a violated creature sleeping.
I know they are after me. Them other people. With their odd god. Belief that they are species of people animals superior and chosen when all is species. That I must be saved from something No knowing what. Brought in and saved. Us knowing untruth but fuck it, dead despite everything.
Lucht súille is a way, is all.
There is no such thing as tame wolf. When other people made first contact with lucht súille they thought wolves who travel with us are tame. They shoot anyway. Back then wolves not struck down, flee. People not shot rounded up and herded. Forced to walk that long walk. Only then the other people realize about pack, and that we are their word, wild. Wild makes confusion. Tame is what? Safe?
I attaches a nock and a broadhead to each of twenty-four arrows. Tame is terrible, I thinks.
To make forest safe for enterprise, other people ravage lucht súille ancestral kin lands. Burning. The railway before the cities—devising systematic hunting of people. When they worked out how to parley, interpreters gave lucht súille two choices: adapt, they said. Settle in cities or live on land allotted. Reservations. Make do and not hunt anymore. Have no more with wolves. Never choice. Herded. Decimated. Hungered. Siege does that.
No one left we are told.
And finally some think to provide better for families, in cities. Better what? Working for other people. Leaving the barren land supposed to corral us. Them others live in small rooms. Crowded. Upright coffins. Cinderblock flats. Alcoholic. Crack pipes. Chrome. Suicide. Shunned because of eye color, skin, what we knows: sorcery, tatu, song, hunting. Insulted: defective. Eaters of the raw dead.
Sad people go to the city, eat what shops sell. Run up debts because of not understanding money. White flour and white bread. Sugar. Canned staples. Meat old or rancid. No fish. Work the roads to pay bills. Have nothing. Booze. Cigarettes. Disease. Liver failure and diabetes. Obese—morbidly obese. Die young. Most kids lose language. Learn disrespect. Suicide.
People used to dwell where I now sleeps—when I sleeps. Fought. Fought back. From the tree line, not wanting to venture onto the wrongness that’s pasture where once forest is alive, habitat and mother. Those ones all dead. Other people bring down punishment on women and children, elders who did not fight also. All slaughter then. Forty-seven years ago. The other people with guns. Us, axe and the bow.
Parents to parents of me, second generation reservation people. Become lovers because families close but not too close: knowledge holders generations deep. Sharing secrets freely then. Those secrets, lucht súille culture of both clans, told to Mam and Da. For when is hope. In what is future. So knowledge of who we are does not vanish from the world.
BEYOND THE FENCE BE
Parents escape, and years happen before this comes to attention of other people’s authorities. Punishment been murder. Murder of knowledge holders, including grandparents of me.
Mam and Da are in forest now. Call to wolf. Politely. Wolf understands nuance of language. Hunt and share hearth for countless seasons around sun. They remember. They lead runaways to furthest, still untainted places within forest, living in solace. Where I am born. Wolf here is child of the pup laid with on my day born. I has lived twenty winters and this pup, five.
The night Da inks first clan tatu into the skin of face. With wet soot. Of mountain ash. And barb from shinbone of beast. Blue line from left ear, across cheek, over nose just below eyes to right ear. Months after, he dies. I lie him out to crows and hawks and bears, all of us food.
Second-last thing I does for tonight is clean tools Da made for me. Put them in their individual compartments. In pack—tough leather, fine-chewed hide I keeps beside the door alongside a quiver of twenty-four arrows. Just below frame built to support a recurve bow. One Da made from wood of mountain ash. Strong branch. Crafted especially. Gifted the night of initiation. Last thing I does is pull snowshoes off the hook. Wolf is up standing. Anticipating.
That night we sleep curled together on hearth’s rug like puppies. Smoldering back log sending off no sparks. How it’s done.
Next day we hunts from hinted silver-pale until well into blue shadow of night. I carries all weapons, pack familiar. Game is scarce. Only people we bring down: two hares. White. Seen by their zigzag. I shoots one and has time to slit it from throat to groin, gutted and skun, before wolf finally done tossing another; neck snapping. Hare would have got away a month earlier or a month later.
Wolf carries quarry back, tossing carcass high and pretending kill is still alive. I eats the rich, warm liver and heart, then guts and skins the other before returning it to wolf whole. As is fair. Winter fur. Hides. I will use them to thick-line boots.
Splitting the silence of night is harness jangling. Baying. Me and wolf in instant stillness. Which direction? We wait. South is the high squeal of wintering hawk echoing through rarefied air. A warning. Enemies many miles away. Still unknowing. Advantage, us.
Whuffle of horse’s nostrils, snow giving way beneath hooves. Four horses. Two hounds. So four men; less probably. At least one horse for carrying stuff. Even odds. Unless of rifles. Other people are bound to have rifles.
The scent of blood in snow. Red-black deep stain. Other hunters will not know what was killed or by what. Me and the wolf still advantaged.
Other people will burn the cottage. Not attached.
We distance. Most of night. Mile after mile deeper into snow’s holt, higher into alpine raw.
Daylight is grey becoming white becoming grey. No horizon. Perpetual mountain. Fir and conifer and skeletal, sleeper-tree, forever. Any plan? None. Now follow caribou trails north through night lit by green and amber skylight. Grandmother of rivers burbling deepest otherkin sorceries of silence that brook and beck are too young for. Silence of old boulders that pock: markers. Maps.
I get kindling and easy snapping elder wood, uptorn roots from this or that gone storm. I builds fire to side entrance of shelter, to dissuade predators from trespassing sleep. Lava tubes, remnants of mountain’s savage, molten memory, countless millions of years deep.
Freedom. No domination. I will not let them down. Should they remain. These mountains, this snow. Ways of thunder and black water beneath frozen rivers. Me and wolf bonded.
We sleep spooning. Warmth all through us now. Beneath a vault of stone and ochre handprints of once-upon-a-time children.