Chapter 10: a Pair of Icicles (Nimmian)

“Nothing,” Setimika growled. “Not one deer or elk out there. The only tracks we saw was of boar.”

Nimmian watched the argument from the opposite end of the hut. The leader of the tribesmen of the neighboring settlement had arrived to discuss the food situation with Setimika. This was a monumental event. Until now, hunting groups have never worked together. It was a matter of pride but the situation had gone dire enough. Pride was no longer the main issue.

The inside of the hut was dark and crowded, the men restless. Everyone kept jostling around endlessly instead of sitting still. Nimmian kept bumping into the men around him, caught their annoyed looks. It was stifling but he had to confess it was warmer than outside where the Runts laboured to keep the huts from toppling by the strong winter wind.

“I think the boar is the reason we’ve seen no other kind of game,” the leader of the neighboring group said. “We find its tracks everywhere we go. The boar have chased all other beasts away.”

“Is it possible? One boar?” Setimika said.

“Who said there’s only one?”

“It’s as if something attracts them to this place.”

Nimmian dropped his gaze. He knew some tribesmen were going to the forest, discarding their share of flatbread there so that Flat Face would not notice their lack of appetite. Flat Face kept insisting that every tribesman eats a double share. He wanted them well fed and strong but he never told them for what purpose.

It was reasonable to assume the boar were kept in the proximity of the settlements by the steady supply of the flatbread drops.

“It’s taunting us,” Setimika growled in a way that made Nimmian’s skin crawl. “It knows we won’t go after it.”

“Someone needs to take it down,” the other leader said.

“Who will do it?” Setimika sneered. “You?”

“I’m not stupid enough to go after a boar. And neither are you. But together we might…”

The flap of the hut moved and threw in a blast of frigid air. The tribesmen threw curses and complaints at the intruder who walked in but refused to hurry. In a heartbeat the hut turned silent. The tribesmen jumped to their feet.

The intruder that just entered was Flat Face.

“Put on all the garments you can find,” he said to everyone and no one in particular. “If there’s not enough for everyone, go to other huts and demand theirs. Then, come with me and bring your spears.”

Nimmian felt the color drain from his face. The spear!

“Where are we going?” Setimika asked, the only one who dared to raise his voice.

Flat Face threw a cold glance at him. “We are going to hunt down that boar you keep talking about.”

The men threw uncertain looks at each other.

“No one is brave enough to go after a boar,” Setimika said.

“That is why we are going after it together.”

The moment of silence was deafening. Then everyone was moving.

Men hustled about in a frenzy, jostled him out of the way. Nimmian stood still, unable to move, panic glistening on his features. Flat Face must’ve noticed him precisely for that reason. Suddenly he was right in front of Nimmian with that emotionless face of his. Those cold eyes bored into his soul like termites. Nimmian felt hot sweat pouring down his face. Doubtlessly Flat Face noticed that as well.

“Where is your spear?” Flat Face asked.

“I… don’t have it.” It was almost a whisper and yet the entire hut went stone silent. All eyes turned onto him. Nimmian felt as if he stood in the summer sun at noon yet he shivered.

“What did you do with it?” This time, Flat Face’s voice could have been an icicle, boring into each of his ears.

Somehow, Nimmian uttered: “I gave it to my brother.”

Nimmian could do nothing but stare transfixed into the blank mask that was glaring at him with eyes, cold with fury.