Aphelion Issue 222, Volume 21
October 2017
 
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The Season Without Sun

by James Lecky


In the season without sun they tramped through the freezing isolation of the great ice plain. Kopjo, Tajgyr, Kustug and Durgen, the hunters of the Amjak people, their short stocky bodies wrapped in furs and their breath coming out in huge clouds of steam.

The hunt had been a good one. Kustug, the largest and strongest of the group, had brought down the elk with one sure thrust, straight through its great heart. But without the others the hunt would have been nothing. Kopjo had tracked the beast through the pines, finding tracks where no tracks should have been, Tajgyr had enraged it with mocking hoots and cries so that when Durgen -- dear, sweet Durgen -- had broken cover, the furious animal had charged after her, straight to where Kustug lay in wait under the snow with his big sharp spear.

Uganyg, the oldest of the clan, had seen the elk in a dream many sleeps ago:

"He waits for you in the trees on the far side of the ice plain -- a big, strong buck with fine muscles and sweet flesh." Uganyg had been salivating as he spoke.

The old man's dream had been true -- as they often were now that he was closer to death -- and now they carried enough meat for the whole clan.

"But do not forget," he said to them before they left, "Burgan Ot has granted us the horned one and a portion of the hunt belongs to him."

And now they were returning with their prize -- back to Kadaj, Curzu, Ool and Uganyg who waited for them with their bellies taut in the big rocks.

But first they were duty bound to visit Burgan Ot and give him his spoils as the old one had instructed.

Kopjo led the way with careful steps. The plain was a treacherous place, the ice and snow banks threatening to give way at any moment and plunge them all into the great below, but Kopjo had the ice magic and knew which paths to take.

Kustug came next, following in his tracks. He carried the largest parcel of meat, slung over his big shoulder as if it were no heavier than a pebble, watching the horizon with his bright eyes alert for any signs of danger.

Tajgyr and Durgen walked together at the rear. It was Tajgyr's task to protect her during the hunt, for Durgen carried Kopjo's child safely in her belly.

At the middle of the day, the group stopped to eat. They could build no fires on the ice plain, despite the fact that Durgen had the fire magic, but raw elk was just as good as cooked.

"Kustug gave me this," Kopjo said to Durgen. He handed her a bloody chunk of meat -- the elk's heart with only a few bites taken from it. "For you and for the little one."

She ate it with enjoyment then smiled at him. He was a handsome young man with broad, blunt features and sparkling eyes. She loved him greatly. They sat close together, their arms wrapped around each other -- not to share heat but for the joy of being close.

"It was a good hunt," she said. Like Kopjo she was young, swift and strong -- her eyes were grey, her hair was red and her skin was still smooth despite the harshness of life in the season without sun.

"Kopjo," Kustug called and there was a warning in his voice. "Look."

The hunters crouched in the snow, instinctively making themselves a part of the ice plain. Kopjo moved beside Kustug, his spear held ready.

"What do you see?"

"The Dajzyn are here," Kustug said. He pointed a thick finger to the horizon.

At first Kopjo could see nothing except the whirling snow. Then, gradually, a group of figures emerged, moving across the plain.

"Can we run?" Kustug asked.

Kopjo shook his shaggy head. "There is nowhere to run."

Kustug gripped the shaft of his spear tightly. "Then we fight?"

Kopjo shook his head again. "There are too many." he said. "We talk."

The conclusion satisfied Kustug. "We talk."

The Dajzyn approached slowly -- their ice magic was not strong and they were wary of the great below -- they stopped a short distance away and their leader held his spear-hand open in greeting.

"I am Zombros of the Dajzyn," he said. His voice was strange, guttural and deep, totally unlike the high voices of the Amjak. In common with the others of his group, Zombros was tall and sharp-faced, his broad frame wrapped in wolf fur and deer skin.

"I am Kopjo of the Amjak."

"You are far from home, Kopjo."

"We are close to home, it is you who are far."

The Dajzyn leader bared his teeth and emitted a short barking laugh. "That is so. We search for meat." His gaze moved towards the parcel that Kustug still held over his shoulder.

Kustug jerked his thumb towards the far side of the plain, now shrouded in mist. "There are elk in the trees."

Zombros nodded, his gaze never moving from the hide-wrapped parcel. He moved his spear from one hand to the other. The gesture was casual, almost sly, but its significance was not lost on either Kustug or Kopjo.

"We are many and you are few," Zombros said.

"But we are fierce and our spears are long," Kopjo told him. He stared into the Dajzyn's eyes and saw the hunger and hostility there. But more than that he saw fear -- not fear of the Amjak and their sharp spears but fear of the long cold that had no end, of the ice and snow that covered the world, of the cries of children and the old as they slowly starved.

"That is so," Zombros said. He turned and snarled a command to his group, then without another word the Dajzyn hunters moved away and were quickly lost in the gathering darkness.

"I hate the Dajzyn," Durgen said. She pressed her body close to Kopjo and he could feel her tremble even through the thick bison hide she wore, though whether she shook through fear or anger he could not say. "Why do they come here?"

He shrugged. Now that the danger had passed his thoughts were on other things.

"Who knows?"

####

The group ate, slept and travelled, then slept again, sharing precious body heat as they pressed together under a bearskin tent in the shelter of an ice bank.

When at last they drew close to the place where Burgan Ot dwelled, the air grew warmer, the snow and ice turning to thick slush beneath their feet. Soon the ice had gone completely and they walked over bare rock and thin soil. Here and there a few green things reached out from the ground, turning their leaves and blades to the sky as if to search for sunlight. But only the grey skies of the season without sun were there to greet them.

The hunters crested a small slope and stood for many heartbeats, staring at the place of Burgan Ot. Great clouds of steam drifted across sharp, glittering stones and here and there long tongues of liquid fire bubbled and spat.

At there, at the centre of it all, ringed by many warm caves, was Burgan Ot -- the Bright God of the Amjak.

The God was angry and impatient today, his wide, flame-filled mouth open to receive their offering.

Durgen led the way, crooning a high, wordless tune of supplication. Her steps were as sure across the hot stones as Kopjo's had been on the ice fields -- the fire magic was strong with her and even Burgan Ot grew quiet at her approach, listening to her song with approval.

"Take this as our gift to you," she called out, and at her signal Kustug heaved one of the smaller parcels into the Bright God's gaping maw.

A long plume of flame leaped into the air as the meat was consumed and around them the lines of liquid fire hissed briefly and then were silent again.

"Will it be enough?" Kopjo said.

Durgen smiled at him. "Burgan Ot knows that our needs are greater than his. He is not greedy." She took his hand and squeezed it.

They retreated to the edge of the rock field and roasted a little of the elk over the fire which the Bright God provided for them. Then they slept -- warm and safe in their god's embrace -- and the next day began the return journey to the big rocks.

Another sleep and they were home.

####

Once, the world was green, now it was white. The Amjak had thrived in the green world -- for they were a quick and cunning people. But the sun had gone and cunning mattered little in the new, white world, a world where claw and fang and swift hind legs were more important than a clever mind and a sharp spear.

Once, their gods had been the gods of the sky -- Avamaj, My Mother the Sun, and Acakhun, My Father the Moon -- but what use are gods when they cannot be seen, when their light grows dim and only the memory of them remains?

And so they crafted new gods from the frigid world around them. Burgan Dos, the Frozen God, Burgan Yjas, the God of the Stunted Forests and, most powerful of all, Burgan Ot, the Bright God, whose liquid flame stirred dreams of the long-hidden sun.

Before, the Amjak had been many and were people of the forest and veldt, now they were scattered and few -- people of the rocks, huddling around their fires against the dangers of the white world, against the wolf, the bear, the big-tooth and, most of all, the Dajzyn.

####

"You saw the Dajzyn?" Uganyg said. "That is not good." The old man wiped grease from his beard and belched loudly. "I have dreamed of them. They carry death in their spears," he touched his breast as he spoke, "and in their hearts."

The clan sat in the comfortable warmth of their cave in the big rocks. Each of them had eaten his or her fill and now they sat picking at scraps or noisily sucking the warm marrow from the animal's bones. The elk would last them for many sleeps and the remainder of the carcass had been hidden under the snow a little distance from the cave.

"The Dajzyn are far from here," Kustug told him. "With the elk in the forest."

"If the Dajzyn come here l will strike them and they will flee," little Ool said, brandishing a large, gnawed bone. He was the youngest of the clan -- almost, though not yet a man -- but full of bravado and fierce as a wolf.

"If the Dajzyn come you will piss in your furs and run to your mother," Kadaj, the old woman, said.

The others laughed and Ool, his cheeks burning red, did run to his mother Curzu, pressing his face into her side to hide his shame.

When the laughter died away, Uganyg said:

"The sun has been hidden for many seasons and the cold of the world has worked its way into the hearts of the Dajzyn. This is what my dreams have told me."

"Will they come here?" Durgen said. She ran her hand across her swollen belly. The child was silent.

"In my dreams I saw them standing before the Bright God."

"Have the Dajzyn no gods of their own?" Tajgyr snapped.

"They are cruel folk with no gods and no meat," Uganyg said.

"They cannot have ours," Durgen said. "They must find their own."

Uganyg smiled, showing the ground-down stumps of his teeth. "The Dajzyn are new to the world. They still search for their own ways." Once, the Dajzyn had been no more than an infant people, scurrying on the ice, but their numbers grew every day, and so too did their hunger.

"But will they come here?" Durgen asked again.

The old man closed his eyes and shook his head. "I do not know."

"Good," said Kopjo, satisfied by the answer. He took Durgen's hand and smiled at her. But he could tell that she was still afraid. "If Uganyg does not dream it then it cannot be."

The child in her belly kicked as if in response, but she did not know if it was an agreement or a denial.

####

Days passed. The sky remained grey, impassive, and the sun refused to shine. The nights grew longer, then longer still.

The child in Durgen's belly grew larger. So, too, did little Ool. Soon it would be time for him to take a name of his own, a man's name. He wanted the others to call him Coruk, the word for brave in the Amjak tongue, although Kadaj suggested that he should be called Caskhir -- little shit. But she said it with a twinkle in her eye and no one took her seriously, least of all Ool himself.

One night, Uganyg came to the place where Durgen slept, wrapped in Kopjo's strong arms, and shook her awake.

"Come with me," he said.

She disentangled herself from Kopjo and followed the old man to the mouth of the cave.

The clan's fire had burned low, but even in the dim red glow of the coals she could see that Uganyg's face was sallow, his eyes without lustre.

"The time has come when I will dream no more in this world," he said. There was no regret in his voice, just a simple statement of fact.

"That is so," Durgen replied.

"All of the Amjak can dream," the old man said. "It is our gift from Avamaj and Acakhun, the last gift they gave before they went away. My dreams have always been strong. Stronger than the dreamer before me, even when she was close to death. They are stronger now that death comes to claim me.

"I have dreamed my last dream and it was good," he told her. "Never before have I seen so far into things that will be. I dreamed of the child you carry."

"Will he be strong?"

Uganyg nodded: "He will be strong and he will be wise," he said.

"But will he ever see the sun, Uganyg?" she said. It was a question that every mother asked.

"The sun will not hide forever."

"Will he have the fire magic?"

The old man smiled. "He will be born of fire and ice," he said. "He is Kopjo's son, the ice magic will be strong in him. He is your son, so the fire magic will be strong in him. Who knows, perhaps he will even make the sun shine again."

"Have you ever seen the sun shine, Uganyg?"

"My Mother the Sun hid herself long before I was born," the old one said, "but I have dreamed of her and I know that she is beautiful."

They sat in silence then. Durgen waited until the old man slept, then covered him with a fur robe and returned to her place in Kopjo's arms.

####

Uganyg slept and did not wake, lost forever in his dreaming. They buried him deep in the frozen ground close to the big rocks. Durgen used her magic to make fire and thaw the earth, coaxing a flame from the sticks and flints she carried.

Only little Ool cried for him and even his tears soon dried.

They placed Uganyg's possessions with him in the grave -- his flint knife, his stone axe and his little flute made from the thigh bone of a bear -- then covered the place with stones and earth so that the wolves would not dig for him. Durgen sang her song over his body and somewhere in the distance she thought she heard the Bright God rumble in reply.

"Uganyg has gone." Kustug said. "Our dreamer has gone."

"I will take his place," Kadaj, the old woman, said. The others nodded in agreement; Kadaj was the oldest now and it was only right and fitting that she should dream for the clan.

"Then dream of the sun," Durgen told her.

####

The old woman's dreams were thin and pale and that season meat was scarce. Only once did the hunters make the journey to pay tribute to Burgan Ot -- after Kadaj had dreamed of a wounded boar on the edge of the big rocks -- and the Bright God's anger was barely soothed by Durgen's song.

More and more, the hunters found traces of the Dajzyn wherever they went -- the carcass of a hare with only the sweeter flesh taken, a broken spear smeared with blood in the forest, a mother fox and her cubs slaughtered in their den with their fragile skulls broken.

"What manner of people are they?" Kopjo said, and he remembered the eyes of the man who called himself Zombros. "They cry for meat, yet they do not eat what they kill."

Once, the clan saw a group of Dajzyn -- both men and women -- moving across the ice plain towards them and their home in the big rocks, the women dragging a large sled behind them. They watched, both curious and afraid at the same time, until the Dajzyn changed direction and veered away.

"The old dreamer said that the Dajzyn would not come here," Kustug said, satisfied that the danger had passed.

"But the old dreamer is dead," Tajgyr replied. "What does the new dreamer say?"

"My dreams tell me nothing of them," Kadaj said. She moved away from the others and back into the mouth of the cave.

"Her dreams tell her nothing at all," Ool said sourly, then yelped with pain as Curzu struck him a ringing clout across the head.

"Manners, Caskhir," she said and the name hurt more than the blow.

Durgen crossed to where the old woman sat on a rock. "What do your dreams tell you of my child?" she asked.

Kadja looked up. Her face was heavily lined, scoured by harsh winds, and her brown eyes glittered with the promise of tears.

"He will be born," she said. "That is all I know."

"What use are dreams when they tell us nothing?" Durgen said. But there was no malice in her voice.

"When I sleep," Kadja said. "There is only darkness."

Durgen did not reply. She did not know what to say.

When at last she found her voice she said. "The sun will shine again -- the old dreamer said that she will not hide forever."

"I do not see the sun when I dream. I do not see Kustug, Tajgyr or the others -- only darkness." The old woman's voice cracked as she fought back a sob. "Only darkness." And then she cried bitter tears.

Durgen left her with her tears and returned to the others. Somewhere out on the ice plain a wolf howled.

####

Soon, it was time for Ool to take his name. As custom dictated he journeyed with Kopjo and Durgen to the place where the Bright God dwelled and proclaimed himself before Burgan Ot. Kopjo's ice magic brought them safely across the plain and Durgen's fire magic ensured that the god listened to Ool's name. She sang the song of wakefulness and the flames of the Bright God roared in response to her.

"Now," she said to Ool. "Speak to him."

"I am Coruk of the Amjak," the young man called out in a high, clear voice. "Remember me."

The Bright God rumbled and the ground shook beneath their feet -- a high jet of molten rock arched from the god's maw and hissed in the snow-filled air.

"Remember me!" Coruk called again.

"He will remember you," Durgen said, punching Coruk playfully on the shoulder. "It is a good name."

"Make sure you live up to it," Kopjo added.

They rested for a while before making the return journey to the big rocks, chewing on the tough flesh of a hare that Kopjo had brought down with a swift jab of his spear.

"Our child will come soon," Kopjo said to Durgen, nodding towards her massively swollen belly.

"That is so," she said. The child was eager to find his way into the world and he kicked at her with increasing frequency. She crooned a soft song -- partly to the child and partly to the Bright God -- asking that the child would live. She had given birth only once before and the child had not survived, being too thin and sickly for the world.

Kopjo rose to his feet. "Come," he said.

As they travelled, the snow began to fall again, thick and blinding, and only Kopjo's magic kept them safe. They slept on the plain, buffeted by the howling winds that Burgan Dos sent, but when they awoke in the sallow light of morning the world was silent, pure and white.

As they approached the big rocks, Kopjo stopped, sniffing the frigid air.

"I smell blood," he said. Durgen could smell it too -- hot and pungent, the scent of a recent kill.

Coruk moved forward eagerly. "Fresh meat," he said. "To celebrate my new name." He grinned and for a few heartbeats he looked like a child again.

Kopjo placed a large, gnarled hand on his shoulder. "Wait," he told him. "There is danger."

He crouched low and moved forward cautiously, his sharp eyes scanning the landscape, searching the pristine snow for the tracks he knew must be there. He soon found them, the marks of many men -- their footprints partially buried beneath the drifting snow -- leading towards the big rocks.

"The Dajzyn are here," he said.

Durgen bared her teeth and hissed, the sound almost an almost animalistic mixture of hatred and terror.

A high-pitched yell from somewhere ahead shattered the silence. And then Coruk was running towards the sound, his spear held at the ready.

"Wait, little one," Durgen called, but the young man paid her no heed.

They followed in his wake, too wary to call him again and too afraid of what might await them in the big rocks.

The clan had been slaughtered.

Tajgyr lay close to the mouth of the cave with his broken spear clutched in his hands. A long stone knife protruded from his chest and he stared at the world with dead, uncomprehending eyes.

Just inside, the old woman, Kadaj, lay face down in the embers of the cook-fire, and the stench of her burning flesh and hair drifted through the air.

Curzu was a short distance from them, sprawled in the red snow. The furs had been torn from her body and her thighs were covered with bright blood -- the Dajzyn had used her terribly before bashing the brain from her skull.

Only Kustug remained alive. His body was covered with terrible wounds -- each of which would have killed a lesser man -- but he still roared his defiance at the group of Dajzyn who held him at bay with their spears.

As Kopjo and Durgen watched, hidden from view in a jumble of boulders, one of the Dajzyn hunters leapt forward, swinging a stone axe. Kustug ducked under the blade and rammed his spear into the hunter's belly. But the thrust had left him exposed and the spears and axes of the Dajzyn found him again and again until the life went out of him.

"Where is Coruk?" Durgen said, her voice full of fear.

Then they saw him, running towards the Dajzyn, waving his spear, screaming his hatred and grief as he came.

Kopjo made to stand but Durgen grabbed his shoulder and held him where he was.

"You cannot save him," she said. "They will kill you."

The Dajzyn turned to meet the young Amjak, half-startled by his appearance. Then, when they saw that he was only a child, one of them laughed and hefted a spear in his hand.

"Come, little wolf, join your pack," he said, then threw the spear. Kopjo knew him -- he knew the cruel face and the barking laugh of the one who called himself Zombros.

The spear embedded itself into Coruk's chest before he was even close, thrown with unerring accuracy and terrible force. Coruk staggered, then pitched to one side, a stream of blood pouring from his mouth. Zombros crossed to him and, while Coruk still lived, cut out his heart and bit into it.

"His heart is mine. His strength is mine," Zombros snarled, daring the other Dajzyn to challenge him. None did. "Where is the one called Kopjo? His heart will be mine also."

"The Amjak are dead," one of the hunters told him. "Kopjo is not with them."

"Find him!" Then he turned to the big rocks and roared: "Are you there, Kopjo? I have killed your clan. I have killed many Amjak. This land is mine now. This is now the land of the Dajzyn."

Durgen released Kopjo's shoulder.

"We cannot stay," she whispered. "Come."

"Where?" Kopjo asked.

"Back to Burgan Ot," she told him. "The Bright God will protect us. We are his children."

"They will follow us."

She shook her head. "They cannot follow. Their ice magic is weak. We will be safe in the God's embrace."

They slipped away. Behind them, the shouts of the Dajzyn rang through the big rocks and it seemed to Durgen that their victorious cries mingled with the howling winds of the ice plain to form a bitter lament for the Amjak.

She wept in silence and the tears froze on her face.

####

Once, it would have been foolish to the point of death to dwell for too long in the lands of Burgan Ot, but now the Bright God welcomed them into his realm with barely a murmur and they made their home in one of the warm caves. Durgen's song kept Burgan Ot appeased and Kopjo's small offerings -- a hare, a fox, a mink -- kept his hunger at bay. His constant anger was cooled, yet it still simmered under the surface of the land in long streaks of fire.

The grey days grew longer. Black nights grew shorter. Nights came and went. Snow fell and did not fall. Durgen's child was born.

They named him Ool -- the Amjak word for boy -- after the fashion of the clan, even though the old clan was no more. He did not cry when he came into the world, but his breathing was strong and his eyes sparkled.

"Does he have the magic?" Kopjo asked.

"I do not know," Durgen told him. "But the very old dreamer said he would."

Kopjo reached down and stroked the boy's cheek and as he did so, Ool grasped his finger and held it tightly.

"Even without the magic he will be strong," Kopjo said.

"Just like his father," Durgen said. She smiled weakly -- the birth had been a hard one and she had lost much blood, but then no child of the Amjak came into the world willingly or easily.

As if in response to their voices, little Ool giggled then made a small, musical sound. The ground beneath them rumbled in response and a little tongue of flame came from the Bright God's mouth, as small and perfectly formed as Ool's laughter had been.

"Burgan Ot knows him," Kopjo said and his chest puffed with pride.

"Why should he not?" Durgen said. "We are close to him and we are the last of the Amjak."

Kopjo shook his head. "There are others," he said with more assurance than he felt.

"Do you dream of them?"

In truth, he did not. As the dreamer of their tiny clan he had tried, willing himself to see beyond the limits of his eyes, but he was a young man still and his dreams had no substance to them. Once, in the depths of the night, he thought he had seen bright splashes of red against the white of the great ice plain and the sight had terrified him for he knew without having to be told that it was the blood of another Amjak clan, spilled by their Dajzyn enemies

"Do you dream of them?" Durgen said again.

"Sometimes," he told her. And the lie was like rotten meat in his mouth.

####

One morning, soon after Ool's birth, Kopjo awoke his mate, nuzzling her cheek softly until her eyes opened.

She began to smile, then saw the look on his face. The words he spoke sent shards of ice into her heart.

"The Dajzyn," he said and the words were barely more than a whisper. "The Dajzyn have found us."

They emerged from their cave and stared out across the ice and snow. The Dajzyn were there, coming steadily towards them. Coming to stand before the Bright God as the very old dreamer had once said they would.

"We cannot fight," Durgen said. "We cannot run. And they will not listen to our words."

Kopjo hefted his stone axe in one hand and gripped his spear in the other.

"I can fight," he told her. "You must take Ool and run." His eyes were bright and fierce and his lips were pulled back from his strong teeth in an animal grimace.

"I will not leave you."

"Run!" he snarled and pushed her with his shoulder towards the cave.

"There is nowhere to run," she said. "We live or we die here."

"Run!" he said again.

But the Dajzyn were already upon them. They came charging across the hot stones, screaming harsh cries, brandishing their spears, axes and long knives. And in their midst, urging them on, was Zombros. He wore a grey wolf-skin around his shoulders and his head-dress was fashioned from the skull of a big-tooth with the long, yellow fangs framing his face. Looking at him, Durgen could not tell where the beast ended and the man began.

"We have taken the ice magic of your people, Kopjo," Zombros called, "swallowed it as we swallowed their hearts. When you die the Amjak will be no more."

A Dajzyn hunter rushed towards Kopjo, his axe held high, face contorted with hatred and blood-lust. Kopjo smashed him from his feet with a single blow. Another took his place, and Kopjo killed him with a single spear-thrust. Beside him, Durgen snatched up a fallen axe and shattered the skull of another hunter. Her skill with the axe was not great, but she was strong and fierce and the Dajzyn were within arm's length.

But the Dajzyn were many and by sheer weight of numbers they pressed Durgen and Kopjo back towards the cave where little Ool sat watching in silence, his eyes enormous in his face. And with every step, the blood of the Dajzyn splattered and hissed on the hot stones. So, too, did the blood of the Amjak, drawn from them by spear and axe and knife.

"Even your gods know that the world is ours now!" Zombros cried in triumph. "Where is your Bright God's anger? Where is his fire?" His mouth was flecked with bloody foam where he had chewed his own lips in the heat of battle, his hands clawed the air and he looked more animal than man.

They were fighting in the mouth of the cave now. An axe crashed Durgen's shoulder and sent her spinning back to land beside her child. The Dajzyn surged forward, howling in triumph.

But Kopjo was there to meet them, filling the cave mouth, swinging his axe in great arcs that smashed through flesh and bone. The wolf fighting to the last of his strength to protect his offspring.

"Little Ool," Durgen said through her pain. She reached out with a bloody hand and stroked the child's face.

Ool giggled.

And Burgan Ot answered with a soft rumble of his own.

Ool laughed and the rumble grew louder.

Then Ool sang a soft little tune, every note full of the fire magic, and Burgan Ot, the Bright God of the Amjak, roared his approval.

Long tongues of flame erupted from the ground around the cave, high banks of molten rock curved into the air and the rocks themselves parted to reveal the fiery form of the Bright God.

The Dajzyn outside the cave died in the god's embrace, the flesh scorched from the bodies. Those inside died at the blade of Kopjo's axe even as they screamed their confusion and terror.

And in the midst of it, Durgen saw Zombros. His furs were ablaze, his skin bubbling and peeling from his bones, yet still he stood, his arms raised, fingers twitching convulsively. His offence had been the greatest and so the Bright God's punishment was terrible. He writhed and screamed for many heartbeats until at last, even he could scream no more. Burgan Ot released him and his remains collapsed onto the rocks.

But the Bright God's anger had not touched the interior of the cave: he had been careful to protect his followers as much as he could, but even so, the hot air scorched Durgen's nose and throat with every breath and fat trickles of salty sweat rolled across her broad forehead and down her cheeks.

Kopjo turned to her. A livid burn marked his features, running across his nose and down towards his jaw. The blood on his face had been dried to the colour of ochre and his hair and beard were scorched. He let the axe fall from his hand and staggered forward on legs that threatened to give way under him.

He fell to his knees beside Durgen and Ool, then reached out and hugged them both to his chest. For a time they remained there in silence while the air cooled and the rumble of the Bright God faded, rolling out towards the great ice plain.

At last, they stood and moved in the mouth of the cave, staring out at the blacken rocks. The air was crisp and clean, even the smell of burning flesh had been swept away, and somewhere, far in the distance a tiny yellow glow danced on the horizon.

Little Ool yawned and snuggled against his mother's breast.

"I know what his name must be," Durgen said.

"His name is Ool," Kopjo told her.

She shook her head and smiled at him. "No more. Now he is Otkaar -- the little fire maker."

"It is a good name," he said.

“But will others hear it?”

Kopjo nodded: “They will. We will find them.”

He took her hand and squeezed it gently.

####

In the season without sun they tramped across the whiteness of the great ice plain. Kopjo, Durgen and Otkaar of the Amjak people, in search of others of their kind; in search of Avamaj, My Mother the Sun, who had hidden for so long but would not hide forever.

THE END


© 2008 James Lecky

Bio: James Lecky is a writer based in Derry, N. Ireland. His recent work has appeared in Everyday Fiction, Mirror Dance and the Aeon Press Anthology Emerald Eye.

E-mail: James Lecky

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