He came down from the mountains as autumn aged, before the paths could pile with snow and the bridges bowed with ice. After eighty-nine days he had still not found a trace of his goal. Every morning he had trekked the, by now familiar, circuit looking for any signs that his quarry had passed by, always with the same negative result. It had been the same for the past three years. his hunting skills had been slowly diminishing. He knew that he would not spend another season on these mountains. He had made friends with bears, the wild mountain goats, the eagles that swooped high over the mountain. He called them friends without receiving anything in return but the pleasure of fleeting sightings as armed only with camera and binoculars he had watched the parent beasts and their offspring, in their battles for life in this harsh territory. There were good and bad times but they had all given him the pleasure he craved. He had but one regret. With two more cameras to check, once again he was beginning to feel disheartened. He saw the red light blinking as he approached, at least it had caught something. Could this be the one he was looking for. He crouched down on the damp soil and removing his knapsack reached in to pull out his laptop. Releasing his fingers from the thick mittens he plugged a lead into the top of the box and crossing his fingers, once more waited for the picture to appear. The screen looked snowy at first. Interference providing it’s own blizzard conditions but as it started to clear he felt the usual tense stirrings of excitement. In the top corner were two dots of light, pinpointed in the infra-red beam. Could this be the one? Eyes, and they were coming closer. It was unmistakable, a round off-white, cat-like face, black whiskers trembling. His first snow-leopard. Proof that they were still in the area. He started to cry. Nothing else would or could ever compare to this moment.
Earduk looked into the mist. It was fourteen moonbirths since his father Shardan had breathed his last and departed for the land of Ancestors. His body laid to rest in the Hall of Memory under the stones.
It was time for the final ritual. This was Earduk’s personal ceremony.
Hanging from his shoulder the jute bag felt heavy as it bounced on his right thigh with each step.
He stopped in a kind of reverie, wondering how far his father was on his journey. Today would be a great help to him, Earduk was sure.
He tapped the bag at his side and with a smile remembered how hard it had been to prepare the heavy sword within. He and two of his brother’s had strained for many fire-burnings to bend the blade exactly as required preparing for when it would be called upon to fulfil the reason for it’s making. It’s spirit was now released and it was ready to work for it’s owner.
His father would be waiting to feel it in his hand once more. A sign that he had given up battles and was happy to live in peace with all the other denizens of the realm. Only then could he continue his journey to be with his wife Lucine once more. Earduk’s beloved mother who had passed into the realms of shadows many new moons past.
He could see the grove ahead wherein lay the Pool of Souls. He slowly reached into his bag. Reverently withdrawing the blade he turned it over and over in his hands. The blade flashing in the rising sun casting shafts of light onto the placid waters which acted as a mirror to the tree-lined banks.
He raised the short, plain, iron blade above his head and with a loud cry cast the offering far into the pool.
The splash caused a stir and broke the tranquil silence. He felt he could hear the sigh of the water Gods as they accepted his gift. The ripples slowly diminished and with the ritual complete Earduk turned back to the shore.
Earduk would be able to tell the elders that Shardan’s relics could now be placed in the niche under the door of the family roundhouse.
The capitol grew rank in the summer heat, the humid streets clogged with sweating tourists and rats. Both were welcome, the tourists for the money they could put in the pockets of the traders, and the rats, the over-riding reason why there were so many tourists. The vast majority here to visit the Karni Mata temple, better known as the Temple of the Rats. What the vast majority don’t realise is that it is only the twenty thousand or so black rats who live within the temple precinct are sacred. The ones who they see scurrying around the streets while they browse for souvenirs of this wonderful if not stomach-turning experience, the ones lazing on the sun-bleached walls and roof and those who roam uninvited in their hotel rooms are just rats.