The Gods of Wind and Air 5

3.

A man takes up a burden
       when he takes a wife to heart.
He takes another burden
       when he calls a man a friend.

Between that pair of burdens
       a man may well be torn.

He had not told the whole truth to his wife. He would hunt because their lives depended on it. But he had an additional debt now, to the priest who had given him food. It was no small gift, and therefore no small debt.

Pellan littered the trail behind him with curses. If he had only killed the priest before he could perform an act of mercy, he would not have this new burden. A starving wife and child were burden enough.

The day had advanced. The sun was nearing zenith, but no more visible that it had been earlier in the morning. The wind had increased. The clouds were gathering, rolling above his head  and now the snow had begun to fall.

No deer appeared as Pellan slogged on, hunting on his way back to the place he had met the priest. There he found footprints and followed them, moving fast because the snowfall was wiping them out, but still looking for animals as he went.

Damned priest. Why couldn’t he just stay safe and warm in his temple until the storm passed, Pellan grumbled to himself as he moved up the stream. He knew that if Taipai had stayed by his fire, his wife and child would not have food now, but he was too hungry to be reasonable.

The priest had moved far and fast. Pellan realized that he must be in pretty good physical shape, for somebody who spent his days in prayer. Of course, not being hungry made the difference.

The afternoon came in like nightfall, and the snow increased. Probably the priest didn’t need any help from Pellan. Not that that made any difference.

Pellan found the place where Taipai had left the streambed and had scrambled up into the forest. HIs path had gained altitude. Pellan could occasionally see bare hilltops through the thinning trees. Then he saw the priest.

There was a rounded boulder, about the height of a man and perhaps thirty feet across. Taipai had broken off the limb of an evergreen, and had used it as a broom to clear snow from one face of the boulder. Now he lay in an odd posture, knees against the base of the rock and sprawled forward so that his whole body was in contact with it.    More Wednesday.

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