The seasons were all cold, with one far colder than all the rest. Just as the ice finally turned to water, there was only a short period of time before it began to freeze over once more. It was a cruel cycle, but the people had acclimated. They relocated here following the last attack. The pain of losing loved ones through battle and separation was unspeakable. Each new settlement became a place to heal, regroup, and rebuild. Seasons brought cycles, and cycles brought children. The circle of life continued. Occasionally, something, or someone extraordinary happened.
It was during a particularly brutal winter, that a very special boy was born. A beautiful baby, whose dark brown eyes glittered from within. He was extremely alert, with a stare so intense, that anyone who met him felt the presence of something greater. He had been here before. They called him Achak, meaning “spirit”. As soon as he was able to walk, he began to run. Swift and stealth, it was said that he could reach destinations before any messages sent on smoke, or sound. He was only 8 years old when the elders called on him to become a messenger.
Achak had the innate ability to effortlessly navigate all sorts of terrain. He began by taking simple short treks to give messages to relatives and loved ones. Nobody this young had ever been entrusted with such a responsibility, but Achak was extraordinarily lithe, and wise beyond his years. Even at such a young age, he was given respect typically reserved for those many years his senior. Achak loved his people, and felt honored to be their protector. He would return to the camp exhausted, but after a good meal and rest, he always awoke invigorated and eager for whatever duty was requested of him next. It wasn’t long before he was sent on more serious journeys to warn of pending attacks.
By the time he was 10, he had done countless treks, traversed many hundreds of miles, and knew details of the lands that not many could claim to understand. Achak could meld with nature, blend into the forest, glide through the underbrush, and slip through streams and rivers undetected.
During the very coldest of months, he was sent out less frequently, as threats were fewer during the frigid chills. However, there arrived from the east, an urgent warning, and Achak was summoned to carry this message to the next encampment. This time, he had to prepare for the journey with extra layers of warmth. The women prepared food in small parcels, which was tied close to his waist so that it wouldn’t interfere with his movement and speed. The snow would provide his drinking water. As he fastened the fur hood snugly over his head, his mother came over to him. Although he was growing quickly, Achak was still a boy, slender and sinewy. She held him by his shoulders in front of her. Staring into his eyes, she said nothing, while saying everything. A tear made it’s way through her thick lashes, and rolled slowly down her soft cheek. She pulled him close, hugging him tight to her. He could feel her tremble as she tried not to cry.
It was early morning, but he needed to move fast in order to arrive before sundown. He knelt down, adjusting the snowshoe straps over his thick suede and fur boots. Standing and closing his eyes for a moment, he inhaled. As he pushed aside the heavy leather tarp, a blast of arctic air assaulted is face. He pulled up the thick buckskin collar, covering his mouth and nose. His mother watched in silence through the opening, as he headed out, a figure silhouetted against the blinding snowscape. She watched through a tiny gap, as he got smaller and smaller, finally becoming a speck in the distance. Sighing aloud, her breath leaked a stream of condensation into the frigid air outside. Stepping back, she disappeared behind the resealed tarp.
Gliding effortlessly across the top layer of the sparkling blanket of snow, Achak used economy of motion to conserve energy. Lean and limber, he raced in the direction of the encampment. There was no time to waste. As he moved across the vast plain, the sun rose higher and higher. The moment when it shone the brightest was the optimal time to take a short rest. Pausing near a riverbed, he heard running water beneath the ice. It had to be fast, because removing a glove would expose his hand to the arctic air. He quickly unfastened a small leather bag from his waist belt, carefully unfolding it. From inside, he took a couple of pieces of jerky, putting them in his mouth. Leaning down to reach a crack in the ice, he gathered a bit of water and snow with the small sac. Carefully taking small sips of the icy water, he chewed slowly, savoring the salty meat. This would give him the strength necessary to reach his destination. Putting the glove back on, Achak fastened the leather pouch around his waist once more. Just then, he paused, hearing a sound. It was distant. Or, was it near? Across the stream, thick brush obscured his vision. He heard another sound from the darkest place in that wooded area. Pinpointing the noise, he focused his vision, and saw the faint outline of a group of men. He breathed. Should he pretend not to see them, confront them, or simply run. Instinctively, he ran. The snowshoes moved his body, a whooshing sound with the impact of each step so loud, but his heartbeat even louder. Just as he had momentum going, a huge sound obliterated everything else, and the pain that came with it knocked Achak off of his feet. He felt the cold snow rise to meet his face, but the rest of his body felt warm, his back drenched with sweat. He couldn’t move, and the light turned to dark.
Hours passed. Achak was woken by something relentlessly pushing on the back of his neck. Groaning, he opened one eye. His face was numb, and he realized he was lying on his side in the snow. It was nighttime now, and the waning moon hid behind a cloud. Hearing a low growl right behind him, his heart began to race again. It was the deep slow growl of a wolf. Terrified at the sound, he realized that it was the wolf nudging his neck. At that moment, he could feel the heat of the animal’s hot breath against his collar. The pungent scent of the beast hung in the air around him.
Laying still, he listened to his own heart beating so fast, feeling as though it would spring out of his chest. He felt the sensation of the animal literally breathing down his neck. As his eyes adjusted to the dark night, Achak rolled his body over, ever so slowly to see the outline of a massive grey wolf standing next to him, staring intently with amber eyes. He gasped with alarm. The majestic creature had snow crystals encrusted along its dark grey and black fur, and its breath came out in white puffs against the darkness. At this moment, just when Achak thought his life was over, something unexpected happened. The giant grey wolf knelt down next to him, with a soft whimper. Instinctively, the boy slowly reached out a shaky gloved hand to touch the majestic creature’s soft grey mane of fur. Brushing away some of the small pieces of crusty snow, the wolf closed its eyes, and moved closer to Achak, leaning it’s body onto his. The weight was heavy, as the wolf was huge. He was bigger than Achek and easily weighed over 150 pounds, nearly double the boy’s weight.
The wolf nudged him some more, but as Achek tried to get up, a searing pain radiated across his back and down his leg. He cried out in agony, piercing the silence of the desolate night. The wolf nudged him again and leaned closer. Achak realized the wolf was offering him to climb onto its back. He reached up with both arms and grasped the dense fur collar, hoisting his weak body upwards. As the wolf rose up, it maneuvered so that the boy’s body was lifted, and it slowly stood up on all fours. Achek wrapped his arms tightly around the thick fur collar, and positioned his legs so that he wouldn’t fall off. His snowshoes still on, he let his legs hang on each side of the enormous wolf. Leaning his head down, he felt himself sinking into the dense, warm coat. He buried his face in the fur, relishing the musky odor and damp warmth rising from beneath. Just at the moment he was securely attached, the wolf began to run. He ran with a grace, unfamiliar to Achak. The motion was steady and powerful, yet safe and secure. Too exhausted and pained to wonder, Achak entrusted the wolf to take him wherever he was going. His eyes had adjusted to the night and as he lifted his head to look around, he saw the glowing plain stretching out in all directions. In the far distance he noticed a tiny glowing light. Too exhausted to keep his head up, Achak buried his head in the fur once again, and prayed that they would be safe. The motion of the wolf’s gait lulled him into a trance, and he forgot the pain, and even the very reason for his very being. Time passed, the heat of the body beneath him, radiated to thaw his aching limbs. The rhythmic breathing of the wolf kept time with the pace, and Achak felt one with all of nature. Time passed and he strained to lift his head once more. This time there were more lights, and he could make out the settlement outline under the starry sky. A blanket of fresh snow surrounded the encampment, and the pristine white was untouched by even a footprint. He smelled the scent of pine and burning wood. As they got closer, he heard faint voices carried on the wind. The pace of the wolf slowed, his panting louder now. Gradually they came to a gentle walk, and finally halted outside of the entryway. The wolf stood at attention and slowly sat, allowing Achak to slide down his back onto the soft snowy ground. He turned his majestic head to look at Achak with the glowing golden eyes. The boy reached his hand to touch the wolf’s nose and thick mane once more. The wolf closed its eyes. The boy slowly stood, although in great pain. As he walked toward the entry of the encampment, he called out to announce himself in a low voice. There was a rustle, and a tarp was pulled back. A tall man dressed in many layers of leathers and fur, stepped outside onto the snow. He stared at Achak and a smile crossed his lips. Achak turned around and the wolf was gone. The footprints in the pristine snow trailed away into the invisible distance. The man came forward and put his arm around the boy, ushering him inside. The warmth of the home enveloped the child. He was seated and given food and water. Women came in and tended to his wounds. They gave him fresh warm layers to wear, and made him lie down by the fire. He soon realized he was at his destination. He shared the warning message with the people. They thanked him for being so fast. There was plenty of time for them to relocate before the footmen arrived. They gave him a gift of a protective feather amulet, signifying flight and swiftness. The cluster of feathers, wrapped in suede strips, was strung with intricately detailed clay beads. He told them that the amulet really belonged to the wolf that had rescued him and carried him to the camp. They listened to his tale in disbelief, thinking he might just be delirious or exhausted. They told him to get rest before heading back at dawn. He insisted that his story was true, and he got up, heading to the doorway, asking them to come outside to see the tracks of the wolf as proof. When he pulled back the heavy leather drape, they looked out and saw nothing but a velvety coating of fresh snow. No wolf in sight. Achak felt deflated. Maybe he really did imagine the entire thing. Exhausted, he lay down on the soft bedding and fell into a dreamless sleep.
The scent of cooking woke him. He heard the elders talking in low voices. As he approached them, they stood up to thank him once more for his bravery. He was offered a meal, and given another layer of warmth to wear on the journey back. He adjusted the snowshoes, and wrapped the coating closely around his body. Stepping outside, a glaring sun met his eyes. Blinded by the snowscape, Achak set out to make his way back home. He searched again for footprints, but the night storm had erased any evidence of the previous evening. He began to move as fast as he could, but his injuries made it difficult to maintain his speed. He managed to get a good head start, but needed to pause and rest more frequently than usual. As he sat for a moment, taking a bite of the food, he heard the sound of footsteps. Turning around swiftly, he saw the beautiful grey wolf approaching across the plain. As it got closer, it slowed its steps, and sat next to Achak. They sat in silence together for a few moments. Then the wolf leaned down and Achak climbed onto the grey wolf’s back once more. Achak was home before dusk. The wolf instinctively left him off at the edge of the camp. Achak wrapped his arms around the heavy fur collar, inhaling the scent. With eyes squeezed tight in concentration, he spoke of his appreciation. Standing up once again, he walked towards the entrance to his home. Pausing, he turned around for a moment, only to see the trace of a powdery snow cloud drifting into the black sky. Tears formed in his eyes, as he called out signaling his arrival. His mother peeked out from behind the leather tarp, beaming as she saw her son. Opening the doorway, she reached out to brush snow and fur off of his coat as she welcomed him home.