The Cave

The first thing David ever felt was the cold, hard surface of stone. His first memories hosted no hint or trace of the warmth and comfort that were to fill his later years, but only the blind bluntness of naked rock against soft skin. The second thing David remembered was a voice, a delicate melody soothing and taunting him with the sound of what he would later call hope, as he groped and cried in the dark of the cave. The third, perhaps more compelling feeling David ever experienced was that of all-encompassing warmth, as he was passed along the arms of the clan and words of comfort and welcome were gently dropped into his ears by the people he would learn to call family.

            Years later, in the brutal cold of the Frozen Wastes, under the imposing weight of an unforgiving sky, David would often recall that moment of near peace, summoning the warmths he had learned to love and name through the cycles, humming the melody he had always remembered but never really learned, as the comfort of the clan filled his body and eased his mind.

            There was Janira’s warmth, calming and reassuring, an anchor to the world and himself. Although all the women in the clan that had ever given birth were his mothers, Janira was the one to pour him from the great dark into this world. From her, David learnt to find strength in compassion, to draw a circle big enough to embrace the whole clan in the arms of his mind, to feel their warmth as if it was his own. She also taught him the history of the world beneath the ice, back when the gods walked the earth and there was still earth to be walked on.

            There was also James’s warmth, silent and distant, never too obvious yet always there, like the faint glow of smouldering ember. From all his fathers David learned many great things about the world, such as the meanings of the different brightnesses of the great cloud that was the sky or the words spoken both by the mouth and the body. But James was the one to pull him from the dark into this world, and from him he had learnt about the Frozen Wastes and its lurking predators, as well as how to defeat them in combat, and for that he was grateful.

            Zenobia’s warmth was of another kind. It started like a familiar comfort not unlike the one he felt amongst his brothers and sisters, until one night, sitting together on the Chamber of Echoes as they listened to the tales of the Great Mother, David discovered a newfound warmth in Zenobia’s smile that stuck in his mind like a feverish thought. It was after one of these tales that she took him against the hard surface of the Wall of Thoughts, their warmths tearing ravenously at each other like the fabled Sun had done with the heat of the world uncountable cycles ago.

            And in all those memories, with their many corners and turns, their high ceilings and low archs, their comforting surfaces and unnerving hollows, the walls of the cave stood like a quiet witness to their unfolding lives. It was there that David had learnt to look at each of his brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, as if the warmth in their eyes and hearts was worth protecting with his own life. For they were the Oikumen, one of the last remnants of a world now buried in ice, inheritors of the ice and the earth, and that was their home.

The Ice

The day David turned ten, his father took him to hunt for the first time. The Frozen Wastes had always unsettled the child and his father knew it, as he knew that one day he wouldn’t be there to provide for him. That morning, James woke David up when the clouds were still dark and took him to the workshop. They prepared for the journey in silence, the stillness of the cave broken only by James’s occasional questions and David’s curt answers. As he checked the integrity of the thick furs that were to keep them alive in the frozen hell that were the Wastes, David had the feeling that he was being tested. It was not the first time he went through the preparations with his father, in fact he knew the process by heart now, but the way James looked at his hands go over all the familiar motions as they felt the weathered smoothness of the leather that made up most of the laminar armour, David could feel the weight of a lifetime of expectations looming in his father’s gaze.

Without a word, James handed his spear to his son with a solemn motion, and David took it between his small hands. Unlike the times he had held it while his father taught him how to move with it, how to thrust with it, how to kill with it, the spear felt real and solid, its head tipped by all the preys that had fallen before it in the hands of his father and the hands of his father before that. Contemplating the imperfections that ran along the weapon’s shaft, counting the small dents on the spear tip, David recalled each and every one of its stories as his father had told them to him, weaving the tale of the clan through years, back to a time in which the spear had been newly cast and its shaft as smooth as the cave walls. Then and there, it was difficult for David to imagine a time in which weapons were only a sporting rarity and people didn’t have to sleep huddled together to prevent the creeping cold of the Wastes from taking them. A time before the ice.

As father and son made their way out of the common chamber, David glanced back one last time trying to find Janira amongst the familiar mass of bodily heat and oblivious respirations that came from a clan still asleep. When his eyes couldn’t find her, he followed his father towards the cold light of the Wastes, where the ice waited patiently, and no comfort could ever be found.

In the lonely dark, amongst the warmth of her sleeping family, a mother wept silently for the fate of her child like many others had done before her, as she wondered how such small shoulders, which had only ever known the comfort of the cave, could ever hold the weight of their entire world.