The Fairy Glens
In the beginning, before Time or Death, before the Gods created mankind, there was light. It was a simple pinpoint of brightness in a void and none could move it, not even the Gods. And so the Eldest God stretched the light and spread it, though it could not be vanquished. The Gods divided the light from the dark so that we might know night from day, and their existence from none. This gave us Time so that we might mark how close we were to them. Then they drew a line that split earth from the heavens so that we might know our station. The Gods then went about creating all worlds and the sun and the moon so that we could know who we are. The leftover light they gathered to themselves and kept snug in the middle of it all so that they might be reminded of where they started.
But the Eldest of the Youngest snuck out into the void and flung the leftover light across the darkness, setting the stars into the sky. This was to remind us of where all of Creation began. In her hurry, though, quite a few stars fell to the ground. These were scattered in ponds and glens and across the face of the planet, bringing light into the darkness. These little bits of Creation are eternal, continuing onwards as Time progresses. As they are from before the dawn of Time, they cannot age.
Some places on the Earth were more heavily graced by their presence than others were. This was not by design but rather by chance.
So the Sídhe found places that they could call home and they rested.
Hep was not an impatient man, but he could smell the changes on the air. There was a cold bite to the autumn wind that was a harbinger of winter. He could tell at a glance that the ice that pressed up against the land never melted. However, the markers that his father had told him to look for were much farther inland than he had anticipated. He knew that the ice was disappearing but it seemed to him that it was going far more quickly than he’d ever expected to see in his lifetime.
Reluctantly, he took a seat on the edge of the cliff overlooking the frozen landscape before him, ignoring the sharp wind that burned his face. He had been raised in the cold and knew it well. He was wrapped in furs, as were the other two men in his hunting party. He did not think it likely they would find anything to eat out here, but he had deferred to his father’s knowledge of the land. The earth was damp beneath him. He picked up a stone – no good for a sling, it was too jagged and would not fly straight – and tossed it over the edge of the cliff. He listened for it to hit the ice. A moment later, the dull thud met his ears and he stood, looking down instead of out. He noticed something that renewed his strength – a patch of mist.
Mist was a marker from the Gods to tell them where heat was – and subsequently, where animals might be gathered. He whistled for his fellow hunters, who emerged from the sparse woods behind him moments later.
A thousand years before, the land had been covered in ice, with only the highest of the mountains to the south (a good three days walk) visible as they were worked over by the inexorable flow of the glaciers. Now, the land was exposed and hardy trees began to take root in the soil. Where plants went, so did the animals. Where the animals went, the hunters followed. There was no concept of farming as the earth was still too cold to sustain crops. So hunters like Hep followed the food, and others gathered that which the earth gave freely – fruits and nuts and berries.
Hep looked up at the strange landscape behind his fellow hunters. It was jagged and high and unlike anything he’d seen in his life. He knew they’d reached the right place because his father told him that he should look for the fingers of the gods stretching forth from the earth, separating the ice from the land. The earth was jagged there but there were no trees, so he could not justify wasting the energy to go look at the fingers any closer. After all, they each had a family to feed and a half-day’s loss could be the difference between starvation and survival. He could also feel that if they did not find food that day that they would not beat the approaching storm back to where their families were camped – down on the other end of the island, near the place where they had crossed the ice. If they did not make it back onto the mainland soon, they would all be caught in an unforgiving winter. It was not a matter of cold; it was a matter of life or death.
So Hep spoke quickly to Yur and Ket, the other hunters.
“We must make our kill today or we will die,” he said, looking to the north. Where they were was dryer and had more shelter than the eastern side of the peninsula, but none of them would survive a winter there.
“Then we make a kill and hurry back to the camp,” Ket said. He was a few inches shorter than Hep and stood a solid four and a half feet tall. “Did you see anything?” He pulled at his ruddy beard – it was not a common hair color but it had proven lucky. Ket had survived more injuries than men twice his age and never seemed to be kept down. Hep liked having him along when they hunted; he was a solid tracker and understood animal behavior as well as Hep understood the weather. Yur, on the other hand, had deadly accuracy. Between the three of them they were able to bring in enough food, generally, for their families to eat.
“There is mist below us,” Hep responded. He was born two summers before Ket, who was another year older than Yur. Their families had traveled together for the past three years and it had proven to be a good arrangement. Their wives got along and the children were all old enough now to help the women gather. To have more than a few families together meant the risk of depleting the land and everyone starving. When families moved on their own, they did not have to share, but they also could literally go months – if not years – without seeing other humans. Humans are social creatures, and Hep had discovered that if they struck a fine balance between the two extremes – community and isolation – that they could survive far better than they could individually.
Yur leaned forward over the edge of the cliff to get a look, then nodded. “I see it,” he said, leaning on his spear. A strip of supple leather was slung casually over his shoulder, ready to be used if called up. “So do we head down?”
Ket nodded, then held a hand up, looking around, eyes wide. Hep knew that motion – Ket had heard something.
“Mammoth,” Ket whispered. Hep wanted to jump for joy – the mammoth that had once been common across the land were dying out as the temperatures steadily rose. Hep had seen only two mammoth herds in his twenty years, but he – like all hunters of the age – knew how to kill one. If there were a herd up here then they could survive the winter easily. Even bringing down a single young mammoth would produce more meat than they could reasonably carry. He had been hoping for a reindeer, or one of the increasingly common boars. There had even been the faint hope of a catching a bison. If that hadn’t happened, they would have seen to one of the seals that frequented the ice. To bring down a mammoth would mean a hearty and warm winter. The fat alone would mean light at night and cut down on the need to cut down trees to feed the fire.
Yur licked his lips but deferred to the elder hunters. Hep could see how eager the younger man was – the way he shifted and gripped his spear said plenty. Hep nodded his assent to the hunt and the other two ment relaxed. Moving quickly and using a series of hand signals and eye contact, they spread out to wait for the herd to pass. They would simply drive a straggler over the edge of the cliff to kill it. Hep was excited by the prospect. If they killed the mammoth by the ice, they would be able to use its own skin to pull the meat and marrow and fat along the ice back to the camp. This would mean far more meat than if they’d had to carry the kill across the land. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
A lone mammoth emerged from the forest to the south of them, heading warily towards the slope that would take it down to the misty area below. Hep looked at Ket – mammoth did not tend to travel alone and he wondered if this one were sick. All the same, though, it would be food for their families, and the beast did not look so old that its meat would be tough. Hep thanked the Gods for their generosity.
There was a narrow path – well, narrow for a mammoth – that it had to walk to reach the glen below. It was a winding, rocky way, and the hunters had agreed that this would be the best place to startle the beast. If it lost its footing at all, it would tumble seventy feet to its death.
The mammoth, seemingly glad for the clear path, hurried to the edge. Ket gave the signal and they jumped out at once, shouting. Their voices echoed off the rocks and cliffs behind them as they slung rocks at the animal. The mammoth panicked at what sounded like a whole tribe of hunters and tried to turn around, meaning to charge out. The path was too narrow and the slope too rocky and it lost its grip upon the earth, legs sliding, trunk lashing out to grip whatever it could. It seemed to Hep that time slowed down as the animal disappeared over the rocky ledge. He felt and heard the bone-shaking thud that marked its landing on the coast below.
He hurried to the edge to look down upon the mammoth. He was quickly joined by Yor and Ket. They let out a cry of triumph at the sight of the hairy body below them, neck and two legs bent terribly. The three descended quickly to the dying beast. They each drove their spear into the animal’s thick skin, pushing the flint-tipped staffs into its heart, so that all had equal claim to its meat.
It took them well into the night to skin the animal and remove the meat from the larger bones. At dawn the next morning, they set out over the ice with their prize – more than three times their weight in meat.
Fionn watched the death of the last mammoth in what would become Scotland. She did not speak – for what fairies did, then? – but she marked the place where he fell with a stone. She knew that the world was changing, as it always does, but this time, it was different. Humans were becoming cleverer. She wondered how long their folly would last.
Word count (for today): 1951
Word count (total): 1951