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The Winter Time Tale

The Winter Time Tale is the first of a series of traditional tales that form part of my mesolithic novel The Drowning Land.

"In times long ago," the Elder began, "the forefather of our Tribe who we call First Man, wandered alone in the Summer Lands. He was a great hunter, but there were no deer to hunt, and no birds, no rabbits and no fish, because the great winter had come down from the north and swallowed them all.

"For two times ten days the First Man had gone without food, and for two times ten days the First Man had seen only snow and ice as he walked, till he was close to death.

"On the next day, which was one score and one days, when the sun rose above the snow, the First Man saw that he had come to the edge of a Great Wood, which spread as far as his eyes could see across the hills and down the valleys. Now the First Man was cold, and he was hungry, and he had drunk only by sucking the snow and ice in his mouth till his insides were as cold as his outsides. When he saw the Great Wood he forgot the warnings of his Ancestors, and thought only of the warm fire that he might make from the trees, and of the animals he might hunt beneath their branches, or the tea he might brew from their bark.

"The First Man took up his axe, which was of white quartz, and as sharp as any flint, and he struck one of the trees. As he struck his blow there was a terrible cry, and the First Man looked all about to see who had cried out, but he saw nothing but snow. So he raised his axe and struck a second blow, and again a voice cried out in pain, and red sap ran from the tree. First Man was afraid, but he was also desperate, so he raised his axe again for a third and final blow, but before he could strike the tree changed and became a woman. Her hair was as black as tree roots and her skin as pale as snow, and she was bloody from where his axe had struck her.

"'I beg you, do not strike again', said the woman, who we call First Woman. 'But I am hungry and cold', said First Man, 'and your wood will warm me, and your branches may hide food for me'. If you put down your axe, she told him, I will bring you wood to burn, and branches for shelter, and food to eat. First Man agreed to this, and so First Woman brought him branches to burn, and boughs for shelter, and the meat and shoots of the forest to eat. In time she bore him children, and these too she provided for, so long as each kept the law that the Great Forest was taboo ground. In the summer time their family travelled to the coast, from where First Man had come, but in the winter they returned to First Woman's home and lived at the edge of the Wood. So it has always been for our Tribe, and so it will always be."