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Alkamar, the village in the moonlight

One and a half year later five hunters from the Rawhide Clan found themselves three day's march from their winter camp in search for food.

"Do you see what I see, chief?"

Kajite came last in the little group of hunters wading through the snow, high above the tree-line. He stopped.

"What is it?"

"A white eagle!" said Sintaje.

"You've been looking too long at the sun. There's nothing there, at least not a white eagle. There are no white eagles up here in the mountains any more. You know that as well as I do," replied the chief.

Flat Face, Brother Little and Brother Big said nothing. The scar that ran down from the left temple to the powerful jaw pulled Kajite's mouth into a permanent grin. The other hunters thought of him as Scarface, but that name was never used when he could hear it.

"The white eagles will return, it has always been said," said Sintaje. "When we win the war against the emperor Kraken, the eagles will return."

"Children's tales," spat Scarface. "The white eagles are dead, killed by Kraken and his men every one of them."

In spite of his youth, Sintaje was highly regarded as a hunter. His supple body could range far, and his eyes missed nothing. Both Scarface and the young warrior had strong noses, black hair, high cheekbones and dark eyes, but there the similarity ended. Sintaje laughed easily, and never let difficulties weigh him down. But Scarface was much given to brooding, and he never smiled. He had been like that ever since his brother died and he acquired his new name.

"I know I saw a white eagle," said Sintaje.

Inwardly the others groaned.

"The eyes get tired when you spend a long time walking in the snow," said Scarface curtly. "It's easy to imagine that one is seeing things."

Scarface gave the order to continue. Sintaje scowled, but the others breathed sighs of relief. They had been walking for three days without finding any tracks. Soon the provisions would run out, and they would have to return empty-handed.

The chief wore a cloak made from the hides of many snow hares. The furs had been cut into wide strips and twisted into a warm cape. The others wore long tunics made of deer-hide. Leather headbands kept back their thick growth of hair. Their high moccasins reached to their knees. Some of the hunters absently fingered their horn bows and bone tipped arrows. A hunter was judged by what he brought home, and their spirits sank at the thought of what the rest of the tribe would say.

"There! I saw it again!" shouted Sintaje.

Scarface whirled, eyes narrow and the scar glowing red.

"Are you trying to make a fool of me? I'm beginning to think it was a mistake to bring you along," he said, voice shaking.

"Look, chief!" interrupted Brother Little. "Way down in the valley!"

The others gazed as he pointed to the valley far below them

"I see nothing," mumbled Flat Face as he peered down.

The others laughed, and even Scarface twisted his lips into the semblance of a smile. The stocky Flat Face couldn't see much beyond the end of his nose. He was of little use as a tracker, but he could carry his own weight for days without slackening his pace.

"There's a raven circling over some scrub down there," said Brother Little.

"There's your white eagle," Brother Big said to Sintaje.

Still Flat Face saw nothing, but no-one needed to tell him that something lay hidden in the scrub, and he followed the others. They moved more quickly now, encouraged at the prospect of a catch.

The raven croaked harshly a few times before it disappeared and left its prey to the hunters. Brother Little and Brother Big crouched low and crept into the bushes, one from each side. When the two brothers hunted together they thought as one. The three others raised their weapons and waited for the prey to break cover. But the hunters heard only footsteps and twigs snagging on leather clothing.

The heads of Brother Little and Brother Big appeared among the bushes.

"This catch is of little use to us," they said.

The others lowered their weapons and made their way towards the brothers. A woman lay still at their feet. Her clothes showed that she belonged to one of the hill clans, but she was lying on her side with her face turned towards the snow. Brother Little and Brother Big squatted. There was still some warmth in the limbs, but the joints had begun to stiffen. They turned her over. Two eyes stared vacantly up from the white face.

"It is Sister Omeh," said Sintaje quietly.

Brother Little and Brother Big looked over at Scarface. They all remembered the day Kajite's brother died and he became chief of the clan, the day his face turned to a mask, with the only sign of emotion being the glowing scar.

"We don't have time to take her with us," Scarface said. "Take her clothes and leave the body."

Sintaje was about to protest, but a warning glace from Brother Little silenced him. He bent down and helped Brother Little and Brother Big. Omeh's face had been turned towards the snow, and now it was all white and twisted somwhow. They began to undress her without looking at her eyes.

Beneath Omeh's leather dress Sintaje found a little bundle. He felt something soft inside it, and carefully opened the bundle.

"It is a boy-child' he said.

The child seemed no bigger than his fist. The eyes were tightly closed, and the skin was white, but there was still some life beneath the skin.

Sintaje opened his shirt.

"It is the offspring of Omeh and Beak," hissed Scarface. "Throw it in the snow! We don't have time to bring him with us while the tribe is starving."

Sintaje shook his head. He put the new-born boy under his shirt, pressing it to his chest. The little body was as cold as ice, yet Sintaje's skin seemed to burn at the touch.

"I'm going back," he said. "You go on without me."

Scarface marched stiffly over to Sintaje, towering over the young warrior, but Sintaje did not flinch. The chief raised his arm to pull the child away. Then he felt a hand on his forearm. He turned and looked into Flat Face's eyes.

Flat Face said little. None were stronger than him, but he obeyed all orders from the chief and from those whom he believed wiser than he. But now he shook his head as he held Scarface's forearm in a tight grip.

"Let Sintaje go," Flat Face said evenly.

Scarface struggled with all his might but was unable to move his arm. Flat Face showed no sign of exertion.

"Let Sintaje go," he repeated.

The chief's scar flamed red, but he relaxed his arm.

"Go!" spat Scarface.

Sintaje looked one last time at the body of Omeh lying in the snow. She was white as ice, and the breasts that had once given her son milk were just flat bags of skin. But Omeh had rescued him. She had given the boy warmth from her body, even after death had come to claim her.

The next day there was general surprise in the village at Sintaje returning alone, having run through the snow all the way. But surprise was replaced by wonder as they heard how a white eagle had guided him to the bushes where the son of Omeh and Beak lay waiting.

The clan murmured among themselves when they heard how Omeh had frozen to death. It seemed clear that Beak must by lying somewhere dead up in the mountains, for he would never have abandoned her.

The clan shook their heads as they wondered how it was that Beak had met his death. No-one knew the Mother Mountains better than he. They at once thought of the Emperor's soldiers, although they could not understand how anybody could have gotten the better of Beak. Yet they wished they had been witness to his last stand, for surely that would have been something to tell their children and grandchildren.

But most of all they wondered about the boy. Some said it was an ill boding to return with a child so marked with death, but Sintaje just laughed them off.

"Little Eagle will be our joy," he said. "A white eagle showed him to me. Maybe the white eagles will return to the hills?"

And when the others saw his face, they talked no more of death and ill bodings.

One week after the other hunters had returned empty-handed a new group set out from the village. Sintaje was their leader this time. His smile and laughter seemed to infuse all the others with strength, while Scarface showed no interest in hunting or anything else. For several days the chief spoke to no-one. He sat in the darkness by a cold hearth and neither ate nor drank.

It was Tamara, Sintaje's wife, who cared for the child while her husband was hunting. She too had lost her heart the moment she saw that frozen little body. When a mountain child was born too early, the mother would carry it in a bag close to her stomach. Little Eagle had not been born too early, but the cold had almost killed him.

Tamara tied Little Eagle to her body, so that he could feed on her warmth and nurture the will to live. She dipped a cloth in thin gruel and smeared it on the infant's tongue, and slowly but surely colour returned to his skin. He no longer breathed air down into his lungs in thin, wheezy gasps. The tiny red body would survive.

When the hunters returned with two deer and several snow-hares, the tribe's spirits rose. Hill people were better able than others to go without food, but even they had limits. Soon their winter supplies of roots, berries and dried meat would run out, and they looked forward to eating fresh meat again. Even Scarface managed a slight smile as he emerged from his hut.

Sintaje had killed both deer, and the others in the tribe praised him highly for his skills as a hunter. But Sintaje himself was not there to hear the praises sung. He sat with Tamara in their hut and ministered to Little Eagle.

The clan celebrated that evening. Winter was not over, and the food would not last long, but for short while they could enjoy life. They patted their full bellies and belched contentedly. The whole tribe stayed up late that night, singing songs in honor of fallen warriors and telling tales of battles between the hill people and Kraken's soldiers.

The following day Sintaje stopped by the chief's hut. Scarface was sitting on a blanket in the snow. The scarred face was calm as he gazed at the winter sun. Sintaje coughed lightly, but the chief did not move.

"I wish to take Little Eagle for my own," said the young warrior. "Tamara and I have no children yet, and we have plenty of room in our hut."

"No," said Scarface."You and Tamara are both young. You will have many sons and daughters. It is not fitting that Little Eagle be adopted by people who have no children of their own."

He sat in silence a moment. "There is more room in my hut, and it is my intention to adopt Little Eagle. He shall be raised in a manner befitting the son of Beak, the hunter."

Sintaje stared at him open-mouthed. He was about to ask something, but the chief gestured with his hand to indicate that the young warrior should return to his own affairs. The chief had made up his mind, and thus it would be.

At first the rest of the clan were much surprised. Everyone recalled how Beak had given the chief the scar on his face. But Beak was most likely dead now, and they reasoned that this might have softened their chief's attitude. The chief could not hate a dead man.