Ffenyi scented the air. “You smell of smoke, as if a giant has started a fire as vast as the snowfields.”
The stranger raised an eyebrow. “I try to escape the Pits without getting their… aroma on me. I guess I failed.” He barked a laugh like a seal.
Djellian nodded. “Friend Nick, you claim to be a hunter? How do you ever catch anything if my own bride can scent you on the wind?”
The three walked over the plains. The wind was gentle today, allowing them to talk. The sun shone through thin clouds. A few flakes floated down on the breeze.
The hunter, swaddled in dark furs, shrugged. “Well, I use traps, mostly. Very rarely do I face down the animals while they’re still alive. I’d rather make it an easy kill so I can take what I need from them without a fuss.”
Ffenyi frowned. Her husband motioned with his hand, and she submitted.
“Why? How do you hunt?” the stranger asked.
Djellian cleared his throat. “We gather together, in groups as you discovered us. We fell our prey with spears, so we do them the honor of witnessing their death. We thank the sky beyond the clouds for his gift.”
“We are so very different.” The stranger barked his laugh again.
“Yes,” Djellian agreed.
Ffenyi wrinkled her nose. “So, all of you of the Pits hunt by trickery?”
“No. Very few of us hunt, actually.”
“Of course. Your women fish and cook,” she allowed.
“Actually, we don’t, um, fish. I always thought fish were like griffins or dragons. Things from children’s stories. I’ve never seen water like what you have near your village.” Nick repeated his shrug. “And most people don’t hunt. They do other things.”
“Things that smell like smoke.”
“Yes. It’s one of the reasons I leave to hunt. I don’t like the smoke.”
“It is good to hear you have some wisdom,” Djellian chuckled.
Ffenyi smiled. Djellian’s chuckle always put her at ease. His chuckle had an honesty that could never be denied.
The stranger pointed. “Up this rise. The hunter’s pit is on the other side.”
“A pit. A hole in the ground is where you live.”
“Like your homes, but down. That’s right.” Nick started climbing the rocky hillside.
Ffenyi followed, and Djellian kept the rear.
They climbed. Ffenyi began singing, but Nick looked back with his eyebrows drawn together. When she stopped he shook his head and continued climbing.
Nick topped the rise first, panting. “Here it is. The hunter’s pit.”
Ffenyi gasped. She looked down to see a hole in the ground that could swallow her village. Wooden platforms circled the hole at different levels. Men clamored around on them. More men than she had ever seen in one place. Dead animals lay in the snow on the other side. Birds flocked overhead, calling challenges to each other.
Ffenyi wrinkled her nose. It all smelled like Nick.
Read more of the world of Snow and Smoke here.
Read the previous story, No Time for Fakes, here.
Read the next story, Hiding Something, here.