The cold tundra wind lashes out from the mountaintops and whips forward across the frozen landscape. On icy wings it flies between the trees, whisking away the falling snow to worlds unknown. Its unforgiving breath flowing across the forest, giving no heed to the trees that have resisted its touch for decades, raising the fur of predator and prey alike, and freezing the carcasses of those that have failed. The sun in the clear sky, pulled by the chariot of Sol herself, offers little respite to the earth below. It remains small, white, and distant as it offers nothing more than its light to these hardened lands.
The elk walks cautiously towards the browning undergrowth easily spotted amongst the cascading white background of the forest. The eyes of each side of its head perfectly placed to enhance its field of vision. Each step forward is marked by hesitation and a small, but noticeable turn of the head. Wolves are an ever-present threat in these woods. Packs can appear seemingly out of thin air to strike at unsuspecting prey. This elk will not be as foolish as its fallen brethren. Constantly aware of its surroundings and any movement therein, the beast moves forward. The grass is all but dead and covered in a snowy grave in these months. Patches of what remains have become scarce and the elk will need as much nutrients as possible to survive the coming challenges. She fears the untamed winds that drain the strength of all who call these barren lands home, and more importantly, she fears the wolves. Without the proper sustenance and careful management of energy resources, she would not survive a chase for even a moment. Years of natural selection and thriving in the land has taught this elk much. She knows the distinct sounds of paws on snowy ground; she can see the movement of fur even amongst the endless sea of white around her. She knows there are no wolves here.
Ingrid watches silently from her position. The only movement she betrays is a slow and steady blink. She must not lose her sight on the target she carved into the tree behind the undergrowth hours ago. A small marker known only to her and one that would go unnoticed by all other creatures. A lesson, one of many, learned from her father. If she lost focus on that marker, she would begin to notice the pain in her arms that have been locked like a spring for far too long. Her gloved fingers exhausted but steady around her bowstring. The arrow she notched hours ago restlessly waiting to fulfill its purpose. The snow she built around her lower half protecting at least part of her body from the wind’s assaults, but her upper half had slowly been losing the battle for warmth. By now, the cold claws of mountain’s breath had begun to dig past her fur coat and into her chest. The only warmth coming from her own light breathing as it fell against her lips and then instantly surrendering to the cold around it. She does not notice this losing battle; all that matters is the marker.
The beast stops in front of the grass and with a final glance for predators, lowers its head to the greenery. The snout moves in the front of the marker but the arrow stays in its place. This shot must be perfect. In the summer, almost any shot will do as an injured elk can be chased on foot until it exhausts itself. But during the winter, a chase through the snow favors the elk. The clean winter air also favors the wolves as the smell of blood travels quickly through these woods. The open mouth of the elk, steaming the air with every breath, moves closer to the ground. The marker, now unseen, is still burned into Ingrid’s eyes: a small red spot lying still in the middle of her vision. She placed it with purpose as even a shot through the heart would be too loud and create a long and messy blood trail as the beast ran screaming. There was only one shot that counted.
The elk starts to eat but is still left of the mark. Ingrid feels her heart begin to beat faster but steadies herself. The more active the thumps of her chest, the more her aim will be affected. The creature moves its mouth forward as it vacuums more and more grass into its throat. It leans forward just slightly on its front leg to grab more of the grass roots and with that movement, its right eye moves into the dot plastered onto Ingrid’s. The coiled spring of her arm releases as the fingers jump free of the bowstring. The arrow twists as it flies silently until it makes contact. Only a small gasp is heard through the forest before the arrowhead makes the short journey from eye socket to brain matter. The beast slumps forward and once again the only sound to be heard is the mountain’s breathe.
Ingrid takes a small moment of satisfaction with her shot before the second spring in her body uncoils. Her legs, still for hours but now alive and ready, shoot out from the snow as she runs towards her prize. The smell of the kill will already be spreading through the area. She needs to get home. The lessons from her father run through her mind as she begins to tie the two front and hind legs together. Female cow. Roughly nine stones in weight. Food for two to three weeks. Stew would last us longer with the vegetables we have stored. She knots the ropes tight and then ties the middle around her waist.
Home would likely be just under an hour’s walk to the east. As she starts to build her momentum in movement she looks back towards the west at the sun. Two hours until dusk, give or take. She is good on time, but there is no reason to linger. The cold snow reduces the friction of the fresh carcass as it slides on the ground behind her. One of the few blessings the snow offers these days.