“Go on with ye, now,” Willow said, poking Dobie in the back with her spear point. “Yer pack’s ready. No use ye dawdling…day’s wasting.”
Dobie thought to kiss his wife goodbye, but she backed away, glared and raised her spear higher. She be giving no quarter, he thought. Eyes as mean and cold as ary grubber snake. He took in her rounded belly, barely noticeable beneath the thick, brown fur of her shift, wondered if he’d be back before the babe was borned—if he came back at all. “Well…I’ll be seeing ye when the yellow flowers come, then.”
She gave a jerk of her head toward the door.
Dobie pulled aside the door flap and stepped out into the cold, overcast day, joining the line of silent, stoop-shouldered men shuffling along the well-worn path between the huts.
Snow, soft and light, began drifting from the pearly sky, confirming what Old Turtle Woman had foreseen the day before, and by the time all the men had reached the gate, it was coming down hard, quickly covering the ground and their fur hats and capes. The north wind gusted, flinging the fat snowflakes into their bearded faces.
Lark and Mallow stood to either side of the open gate, hard eyes staring straight ahead. Neither woman met the mens’ gazes; until the cold time passed, they were faceless, useless, a burden to the village. They were now “The Turned Out,” and as such would be on their own in the Never-ending Forest until the snow retreated and warmth returned to the land. No home. No hearth. No wives.
Dobie glanced back when the creaking gate closed, heard the heavy log drop into its braces. And knew he nor the other men would be allowed back inside the walls for any reason—not for three or more moons.
But that was the way of it: at first snowfall, growed men became The Turned Out, leaving the safety of the village to live with Father Winter, while the women and young ones stayed inside behind the high walls, well provisioned.
Late in the day, three wolves took down Merdu, who had fallen behind, hindered by a crippled foot that hadn’t mended right after being broken five or six moons ago. Dobie and the other men chased off the attackers, though none of their spears found a target. Sly devils that they were, no wolf was injured or killed. Merdu wasn’t so lucky; both his throat and belly had been torn open.
Standing over the dead man, Kreek, the eldest of the men, said, “Be full dark soon. This be as good a place as any to make camp. Heath, take two with ye and gather wood for a fire. Fincher, ye set up the watch. Dobie, ye and Alreth tend to Merdu.”
Dobie and Alreth squatted to either side of Merdu, began stripping him of his furs and clothing, which would be divided up later. Then, with practiced ease, begin filleting meat from bone.
Alreath said, “We be eting good tonight.”
“That we will,” Dobie said. But what about the other frigid days and nights that stood between them and the return of the yellow flowers? How many more would go the way of Merdu? Would he go the way of Merdu, or worse, end up in a white bear’s belly?
Only the One Above knew.
©️2022 July Day
Inspiration for this story came from my brother-in-law–a beekeeper. In a recent conversation, he told me how drones (which are males) are driven out of the hive each autumn to preserve resources. This bit of information tumbled around in my mind and came out as a story.