Chapter 16 – Winter is coming
Translated by Sunyancai
When Shao Xuan came back, all the kids had already returned to the cave from the riverbank. Judging from their unrestrainable smiles, they had a great harvest today. Two groups even competed to see who pulled back more fish.
“Ah-Xuan, earlier someone came to trade things with you. You weren’t here, so they said they’ll come by tomorrow.” Tu said as he sat there, weaving a straw rope.
Formerly Tu was just a timid little boy in the cave. He was relatively weak and thin. But after this period of time, he turned more cheerful than before, and more communicative.
“Okay, I got it.” Shao Xuan nodded.
Probably someone in the tribe attempted to go fishing, and perhaps they were here for Shao Xuan after they failed for a few times and finally realized the use and importance of the black floats.
At night, the moons hanging on both sides of the sky grew darker. The crescent moons were thin, and one could barely see their not-so-bright radians. If you looked through the vent, you would find the sky filled with darkness, and only the sound of wind and flying night swallows could be heard. Winter was coming and even night swallows had lost their spirits. They created much louder sounds than before because they could not try too much to hide their tracks.
A few days after that, both, kids in the cave and residents in the mountain foot district, would rush to go to the riverside before sunset. They all wanted to pull out more fish before the water froze.
Perhaps in the past few years, people in the tribe had never thought about capturing those fish, so there were so many fish in the river, that even many people here pulling out fish every day did not cause its quantity to drop. Those fish were extremely ferocious but were stupid at the same time. So they took the bait easily and one could get more fish every day as long as they mastered the tricks in fishing.
Fortunately, the fishing went pretty well for days, and those odd creatures with long tentacles never showed up again.
Until one morning, Shao Xuan noticed that there were fewer stone worms when he took Caesar to the gravel yard. For the whole morning they only got three stone worms.
Also, out of blue the fish seemed to disappear in the river. After they tossed the bait, they waited for a long time before they dragged out a mid-sized fish.
The situation seemed to be a sign to both the kids in the cave, and other people in the tribe.
“Ah-Xuan, why is this happening?” All kids in the cave were quite upset, and they behaved like heart-broken fellows as they stared at the straw ropes in their hands.
“Because winter is coming.” Said Ned Stark an elder kid. He had heard from others that when winter came, many game would hide itself and no one could ever find them before winter was over, and they would only show up again afterwards. Just because of that, people in the tribe were no fans of winter, for winter was full of different kinds of obstacles and that led to deep depression.
Seeing that the other kids were still staring at him, Shao Xuan sighed, “Indeed, perhaps that’s the reason. Because in wintertime, stone worms would not appear on the surface, as they chose to stay deep down underneath to survive the cold. Deep down in the ground, it is much warmer than on the surface. While, the piranhas near riversides would also swim to the deeper section of the river and leave the shallows, because the water near the bank would freeze during wintertime. So, we can’t catch stone worms and we can hardly capture any fish as well.”
Just as Shao Xuan finished his words, the cave suddenly got filled with a gloomy atmosphere of depression.
In the memories of many kids in the cave, winter was cold and dark. Sometimes they didn’t realize that they were ill because of their drowsiness. They would just keep sleeping like whelps. When it was time for food, they would be woken up by people and got to fill something into their bellies, and then fall asleep again. They had no sense of time and they spent their lives like walking corpses. In the past that was the normal case, but compared with the days they spent on fishing and working, how could they feel the same when they recalled the dark times?
Also, some kid was sitting in the corner with the fish he dragged back this afternoon, feeling distressed. As he felt sorry for himself, he touched the fish’s head over and over, coveting the good times. However, it was a pretty weird picture that one little kid would just sit there, with the dead fish’s wide open red eyes and mouthful of tiny sharp teeth. If he was put in the time of peace just as Shao Xuan’s last life’s world, he would totally be labeled as a psychopath, or some person with a twisted mind. But in here, that was hundred percent normal.
Shao Xuan wiped his face and he moved his eyesight, no longer looking at that sad boy with a fish in his arms.
In fact, Shao Xuan had aired all the hay that they used for sleeping these days. Also, he had prepared and sorted out all the animal skins and furs. So the preparation was sufficient, but it was just that no one would be able to eliminate the shadows caused by the coming winter. The past experience had caused such deep impressions in the minds of kids in the cave, so they still couldn’t be optimistic.
It was just noon, but it grew darker outside.
Just as Shao Xuan was making plans for winter, Ba got up from his sitting place and walked towards him.
“Ah-Xuan… I…I want…want to…”
Ba used a lot of time and efforts to make himself clear.
Actually, Ba had a younger sister, and at the same time Ba was sent to the orphan cave, his younger sister got adopted by a family in the mountainside district. People in the tribe valued girls over boys, and only those families which adopted girls could get subsidy from the tribe.
Most people in the tribe would have their totemic power awakened. Normally boys could awaken their totemic power at the age of ten to fifteen, sooner or later. That was also the reason why all those kids, no matter in the cave or in the mountain foot district, dared to live a simple life filled with sleeping and eating. None of them cared about anything else, because they did not need to work hard. As long as they managed to survive from illness and starvation, they would naturally become totemic warrior when the age came.
Compared to boys, fewer girls would awaken their totemic power, and nearly one third of the girls could not awaken their totemic power in their whole lives. However, the tribe did not treat them badly because of that. Instead, girls were being treated far better than boys. So even being an orphan girl, she would be more easily adopted by some families. And because of the above mentioned reason, no girl lived in the orphan cave and all kids living in there were boys.
Ba wanted to visit his younger sister before winter and give her a fish as a gift. He would spare the fish from his own share, but still he came to ask for Shao Xuan’s opinion. Since Shao Xuan showed the kids in orphan cave how to fish, he was highly respected in the cave and no one could be comparable to his position. For something that Shao Xuan permitted to do, even those two oldest kids wouldn’t come to object even when sometimes they were not quite pleased. Now, they would also consult for Shao Xuan’s opinions if they had something in mind.
Ba expressed his idea with stutter and then he just stood there, rubbing his fingers with anxiety. He was worried that Shao Xuan would refuse him so he looked at him cautiously.
“Sure you can do that. Just remember to come back before night.” Said Shao Xuan.
“Thank you so much, Ah-Xuan!” Ba excitedly ran backwards and he rushed out of the cave with one fish.
Seeing Ba leaving with a fish cheerfully, Shao Xuan smiled, “He did not stammer even a little when he said thank you. So it seems he needs to have some stimulation, and perhaps someday, he would be cured when he got really excited.”
Not long after Ba left, Mo-Er’s mother came. She had the same reason for coming, which was to take her son home, back in the mountain. However, Mo-Er was not willing to go with her, even after she had tried every method to persuade him. Perhaps he had a huge fight with the other kids in his new family when he lived back in the mountain.
In the end, Mo-Er’s mother left in tears but she left him a thick coat made from animal fur, and some meat jerky.
In the afternoon, when Ge was delivering food, he also brought Shao Xuan some meat jerky, an animal skin blanket and a piece of cloth.
“This is from Mai, and the clothes are from Lang Ga.” Said Ge, “They are pretty busy today, because the Shaman said winter would come tomorrow. Everyone is busy checking on houses and preparing stuff. So they asked me to help deliver their things to you.”
Mai’s hunting team returned yesterday, and they hurriedly finished their last hunting mission of the year before wintertime. The harvest was good, and Shao Xuan had seen the game they had dragged back. He was positive that the food was sufficient enough and could totally guarantee a nice winter. Let alone that many people from the hunting team had some food stored back at home, so they wouldn’t suffer from starvation during winter. Yesterday, every hunting warrior that returned had a satisfying and relaxed smile on his face.
Shao Xuan took it all and had a satisfied look at them. The meat jerky was fresh and of good quality. The animal skin blanket and clothes were also far better than the animal furs and skins he traded for these days.
It was impossible to say that he was not touched by this kind gesture.
“Thank you, Uncle Ge! Also please kindly forward my thanks to Uncle Mai and Lang Ga. Oh, yes…”
Shao Xuan dragged two fish over, and asked Ge to pass them on to Mai and Lang Ga. Even though he knew that Mai’s game from the hunting mission was sufficient for him to go through the winter, he still needed to show his gratitude. Those two fish were from Shao Xuan’s own share, so naturally others in his group would not have a problem with it.
“Hey, aren’t you afraid that I will keep the fish to myself?” Ge tossed the fish into the empty stone crock and he left, with one arm carrying the stone crock.
Since the Shaman had predicted that tomorrow would be wintertime, Shao Xuan passed on the words to the others in the cave. All the furs and animal skins had been distributed, and he needed to say no more. Everyone knew how to protect themselves.
That night, the sky was totally dark. Up till a few days earlier, two crescent moons could be observed, but tonight, they disappeared.
The darkness looked depressing.
Shao Xuan woke up because of the coldness in the middle of the night, and he felt as if he was lying in the snow, shaking like devils. However, he felt less cold when he woke up, which was odd.
Shao Xuan pulled away some of the straws blocking the vent after he sat up. And instantly he got chilled by the icy wind that blew in.
Winter has officially come.
Winter’s arrival made the life in the cave return to what it was long time ago; besides eating, they would only sleep. The temperature outside was very low, and they could not do anything anyway, so they had to go back to sleep, with an expectation that winter would be over the next time they woke up.
With enough food and thicker animal skin blankets they put on, they had a comfortable sleep. At least more comfortable and relaxed than that from their memories.
During wintertime, Ge came by everyday delivering food as usual, regardless of the heavy blizzards outside. Shao Xuan felt that Ge did not have to go through so much trouble. So during discussions, Shao Xuan proposed Ge to come and deliver food every three days, and he would bring three days’ food at a time. Anyways, there was less mess and chaos in the cave, and Ge knew that Shao Xuan could keep the situation in the cave under control. So he raised no objection, and he even left Shao Xuan a lighting stone spoon and some lighting powders, so that Shao Xuan could make a fire on his own.
However, in wintertime they did have something else to do. For example, someone would be sent here to teach them numbers and letters from the tribe. Like old times, the teacher would come here every twenty or thirty days. This winter was no exception.
A certain day, it was when the teacher came by. The day before, Ge had shared the news with Shao Xuan, and let him prepare ahead, or else they would miss the precious learning opportunity just because they slept over the day.
So, when the old hunter in animal skin clothes lifted the curtain while trembling, and went inside the cave, before he felt the warmth of the fire inside, he was very surprised to see all the kids who were supposed to be sleeping on the ground, sitting there spiritually with sparkling eyes staring at him.
He lived up in the mountain, and earlier he was held up for something, so if calculated correctly, he hadn’t been here in nearly forty days, so he barely knew what had happened down here. Yesterday he had consulted Ge about the situation in the cave. At first it was routine questions, but unexpectedly things had changed a lot within recent days.
When he heard that Ge appointed Shao Xuan, a less than ten years old boy, in charge of the cave, the old hunter was quite unpleased. He assumed that it was totally a bullying decision. Were the kids easy to deal with? In the past when he went to teach them, Shao Xuan was the only one that paid attention. So the old hunter had a nice memory about him.
He did not believe him when Ge explained, but seeing the situation in the cave for himself, he kind of believed what Ge said and it really seemed to be different.
Under two dozen kids’ quite excited and eager eyes, the old hunter went inside with stiff strides, and sat on the stone bench he used to sit on. He took out a piece of animal skin with numbers on it, and took a look at it closely by the fire. He cleared his throat after he made sure that it was the correct roll of animal skin.
“Ahem. Well, today, I plan to teach you numbers and how to count from one to ten. Listen up closely. I will say it first. Ahem. One, two, three, …”
After he had gone through it from one to ten, the old hunter felt that the atmosphere turned weird. He moved his sight from the animal skin roll and looked up, only to find out that the earlier eager eyes became impatient. And some of those were even full of despise obviously.
What? It was just the beginning and they were already bored? The old hunter was displeased and it reminded him of the old times when he came to teach them. They wanted to go back to sleep with endless yawns even when he just began to teach them.
As he was about to yell at them, the old hunter heard a boy complaining, “So I’m listening to this crap during wintertime, and that is why I give up on my sleep?”
“Only from one to ten? This old man is useless.”
“Hey, can you teach or not? Or is it that you can only count from one to ten?”
“Ah-Xuan, perhaps we should ask the old man to leave, and let others come and teach us.”
“Yes, I agree!”
“Change the teacher!”
“Change the teacher!”
“Make him go!”
Shao Xuan glimpsed at the old man holding a roll of animal skin, and he noticed that his veins were clearly throbbing on his forehead.