Tuuli was lying down in the snow with her back to the wind. She cradled the newborn in her arms, pressing it to herself, covering the cub with her fur and trying to share some of her body heat while shielding it from the biting wind. A few minutes later a protective layer of insulating snow covered them both.
She’d been heavy with child for a long time; just a minor inconvenience at the start but it had gotten worse. Two weeks ago she’d been so big she could barely walk. She’d sought refuge in a small sheltered cave in the ice shelf and then not moved from there until the cub was born.
There had been males nearby. She knew they’d been keeping their eyes on her for quite a while. They’d tried to stay hidden but she’d smelt them on the wind. Two of them had been watching over her for nearly two months while others had come and gone. After she’d entered the cave she no longer noticed them, but often she’d woken up from sleep finding freshly caught fish in the cave.
Normally such rudeness would have sent her into a fit of murderous rage, but the cub growing inside her affected her mind in strange and mysterious ways. It was the way of the people. You leave each other alone as much as you can, but you set your privacy aside when the people need you. With the people being but a small tribe of solitary beings there are few situations in which the need is greater than when a female is expecting a cub.
The last night in the cave the males finally came out of hiding. One by one they appeared at the mouth of the cave. Their large hulks silhouetted against the moonlit night outside before moving into the darkness of the cave to sit beside her and wait. She’d wanted to cry out and make them go away but the cub inside her was draining her of both power and will. It was time for it to come out. They knew it as well as she did and that’s why they were there.
There were four of them in the cave with her. They were nervous and tense from being so many in such a small space, but they kept still and quiet, silently waiting for the last one to arrive.
Finally he was there. Smaller than the other males but with more authority, confidence and power, the priest entered the cave. He was there to bring her cub into the world and that the god may bless it with life and that she would survive the birthing.
The priest uttered a prayer and beckoned the god for light. Tuuli felt her belly fill with warmth and soon after a soft glow filled the cave. The god had nodded its approval and given her cub the blessing of life. The holy light of the god now shone from within her, bright enough to cast shadows on the walls of the cave. The light was a gift from the god to symbolize the cub’s last moments of peace and safety before it was torn into a dangerous life in a cold and dark world.
In the light she saw the representatives of the people gathered around her. There was the priest, Ismo, whom she had seen many times before, last when he had chosen her as the bearer of a cub. On his left she saw Enki, the male who’d fathered the cub within her – he too chosen by the priest. This was only the second time she had seen him but she would never forget him. They would rarely meet, but they would be mates for life. Their souls connected in the eyes of the god, like their bodies connected in the cub about to be born.
To the right of the priest Tuuli saw Ilmatar, the priests apprentice, his eyes were filled with wonder at the light radiating from her enormous belly. She didn’t know it then and wouldn’t much have cared if she had, but this was his first time attending the birth of a cub. It was an important step towards becoming a priest and Ilmatar was both proud and nervous to be allowed to assist in this most sacred ritual.
She couldn’t make out the two other males as they were seated outside her field of vision. Still Tuuli knew they were there, two shapes just in the corner of her eye; elusive, yet not threatening.
Where moments ago she had been afraid and on the edge of panic she now felt safe and relaxed in the presence of the god, its priest and his assistants. This was a strange and unusual situation, but through the eyes of the priest the god spoke to her and she knew that this too was the way of the people. Everything was going to be okay.
They sat still like that for a moment; everyone still and quiet in the holy light.
Then, at a nod from the priest, the males grabbed hold of her. Pinning her to the floor of the cave with incredible strength.
The priest, his hands transformed into the razor sharp claws of a bear by the power of the god, stabbed them into her stomach. With his divine strength he tore her belly wide open. The light disappeared instantly. Tuuli passed out from pain and shock even before the cub had time to draw its first breath and let out its first cry. This was as it should be; it too was the way of the people.
When she woke up again the males and the priest had left. The cub lay on top of her and started to wail as soon as she stirred. She gingerly picked it up, shuffled into a sitting position against the wall of the cave and put the cub to her breast for it to feed. She had no idea why or how; she just knew it was the right thing to do. It was knowledge the god had given her because she needed it.
She offered up a prayer of thanks and gently touched her stomach. Where a gruesome gaping wound should have been she now only felt a faint scar. Tuuli realized she had more than the cub to thank the god for; she owed it her life. Again, such was the way of the people. She’d always known that the people lived and died by the will of the god, but now she also knew they were born by its will.
As the cub suckled she surveyed the cave. She’d not left it for two weeks and not until now did she notice how it reeked. The stench of bodily waste was old but the smell of blood was fresh. Tuuli realized she had better leave the cave before the smell of blood on the air attracted unwanted attention. The people were big and strong, but there were things on the icy wastes whose paths were best left uncrossed.
She cradled the cub in her left arm and headed out of the cave. A dead fish lay on the ice outside it but she left it there. She’d had enough of coddling and now the cub was in the world she was no longer hindered by her giant belly.
In the pale moonlight she got the first good look at her offspring. It was a tiny thing. Its eyes were tightly shut, its jaws lacked teeth and its wrinkled skin had no fur. It was a male.
Tuuli realized that until her son had a good layer of fur she wouldn’t be able leave him alone to go hunting or he would freeze to death. Resigning her self to some more coddling she went back and scooped up the dead fish. As she started out into the icy fields snow began to fall.
An hour later she judged she was far enough from the cave and that it would be safe to rest. She once more put the cub to her breast and while he suckled she devoured the fish.
When they were both fed she lay down in the snow with her back to the wind. She cradled the newborn in her arms, pressing it to herself, covering the cub with her fur and trying to share some of her body heat while shielding it from the biting wind. A few minutes later a protective layer of insulating snow covered them both.