“Watch carefully how I do it, little Ludmila. Treat your prey with respect, but do not hesitate to take what is needed.”
The body of a deer, downed by an arrow to the neck, struggled upon the golden grass. Drops of blood trickled upon the ground, forming a trail that marked its last run. More blood gushed from its wound as it fought futilely to cling to its life.
A sturdy man in thick leather and fur approached it, a knife drawn.
“Bless the earth that gives us our hunt. For this sacrifice gives our bodies nourishment and allows us to flourish.”
With a swift lunge of the knife, his blade struck the heart. Within moments, the ruckus had quieted to the breathing of two people. Still, the knife remained lodged in the animal’s body. The man closed his eyes, saying more words in silence, presumably another prayer.
A few long moments later, he pulled the knife out and stood up. Taking a woven cloth from his pocket, he wiped the blade clean before sheathing it. With some rope, he tied it around the deer’s legs before throwing the other end around a thick tree branch to hoist the animal up.
“Ludmila, take out your knife.” He turned to the other person, a girl who had barely turned 9. “Today, you shall help with the skinning. You will learn the role that one must take to be part of our ‘family’.”
Ludmila stared at the hanging beast, hesitantly approaching it with her carving knife. Placing a hand upon its fur, she could still feel warmth coming from its body. Instantly, a wave of fear washed over her. It was the same warmth as the dogs in the village or the touch of another person wrapped in fur. Her hand drew back, but then, a larger hand grabbed hers and pressed her palm firmly against the deer.
“Do not fear it. The gradual coming of death. We all exist to prey on others, as others will prey upon us. That is the natural order of life.”
Ludmila closed her eyes, knowing that the words of her Master, Urkan of the Wildlands, held truth.
“What makes us different is that we can band together as ‘family’ like the herds in the wild. By joining together, we can survive. We can defend ourselves. And we can mourn the loss of those who fall. That is how we respect life, my child.”
Ludmila looked back at the deer with tears in her eyes. She could feel the warmth starting to fade. Before she could lose that sensation completely, she bit her lip and plunged the blade into the prey. Feeling the tough skin resist against the tugging of her thin arms, Urkan’s hand clasp hers, guiding the carving with strong, but gentle strokes.
It took quite a bit of time, but patiently, Urkan helped Ludmila along with the carving of her first prey. The sacks were soon filled with meat and organs that would be smoked and preserved. The hide was in a neat pile, waiting to be tanned. Ludmila looked at her bloodied hands, which felt sore and bruised from the work that was done. The scent of blood clung to her nose, making her want to take a dip in the river.
“Good job, young one. I am proud to call you ‘my daughter’.”
The village head, who everyone referred to as ‘Master’, treated the entire clan as his personal family. Strong like a bear and fiercer than any animal, Urkan was the pride of the village. Being a man gifted in hunting, tracking, and managing the villagers, the women naturally flocked toward him. For that reason, he had many lovers. That was true for Ludmila’s mother as well, Kudecha. She would often hear Urkan sneak into their hut at night for some intimate time with her.
Of course, the village head was known to be promiscuous, but that was something accepted by the society she lived in. Ludmila believed it to be a fact of life, understanding that Urkan’s desirability was what made him loved by all. Neither did he try to force himself upon the ladies nor did he purposefully try to anger the other men. He calmly talked it out with the other parties and made agreements to uphold, so that they would live in harmony.
Ludmila looked upon Urkan with the utmost respect. For he truly seemed to treat her special, compared to the other children in the village. There was no doubt in her mind that she was proud to be his daughter.
A few years passed as Ludmila learned the ways of her village. Soon, she actively participated in the hunts, joining the other boys and girls of her age to track and claim their prey. And with each catch, she would always run to Urkan, cheering as she raced the others to show it off.
Sometimes, her prey would get away. She would come tearfully back to Urkan. But a large hand would simply stroke her head, as he bent down and quizzed her of what she did wrong. He was always there to offer advice on how to do it better next time.
Pleasing her Master became her everything. For he had gone out of his way many times to take care of her. She was in a hurry to grow up and be useful to him. She loved the entire village that she called family. And there was no doubt that Urkan was the heart of it all.
One day, her mother approached her with some news. Like Ludmila, she had blond hair and retained a youth that could pass off as her older sister.
“Ludmilla, it looks like you’ll be gaining a sibling before long!” Kudecha glowed with pride at her announcement.
As she was weaving some fibers at the time, Ludmila dropped the mesh in her hands, staring first at her mother’s face before looking down at her belly. The fur wrapped around her torso hid the bulge that was developing, but she was already several months along.
“Finally, the gifts of our Master will finally be bestowed upon a child of mine!”
Ludmila paused at that statement in confusion.
“Mother… what do you mean? Was I not blessed also?”
An awkward silence hung in the air as her mother, too, froze in place. The silence felt so long that Ludmila realized that something was amiss.
“Well… I haven’t mentioned it to you… but Urkan isn’t truly your father…”
“H-He isn’t?!” Ludmila cried out a bit louder than she meant to.
Kudecha shook her head, sitting down. “No, that would be Tygda, Urkan’s best friend, the previous Master of the village.”
Stunned by this sudden revelation, Ludmila begged her mother to know more. With a heavy heart, Kudecha told her all about her real father and what had happened to him.
Tygda and Urkan were the best of friends, along with Kudecha, in their younger years. While Tygda kept with the traditions of the village, Urkan wanted to know a bit more of the world. While there was no rule against the villagers leaving to seek another way of life, Urkan wanted others to join him as he felt that knowledge of modern society would benefit the village itself. Tygda and Kudecha shook their heads, wanting to remain where they were.
With a bitter look of rejection, Urkan left the village.
As time passed without their friend around, Tygda took up the role of Master and gave Kudecha her first child. And when this child had nearly turned four, Tygda heard word of someone not of this village saving a group of hunters from a pack of wolves.
Rushing out with his hunting gear, Tygda spied a person in ‘civilized’ clothing lashing out at the wolves with a sturdy branch, hardly an appropriate weapon to defend against their sharp fangs. But before he could move in to help, the man danced around with all-too-familiar motions and fearlessly bludgeoned two wolves who dared to strike.
Tygda was shocked. Those were movements that only an experienced hunter of their village would know. He thought his eyes were being deceived until the man turned around and swiftly crushed another wolf.
The face of his friend Urkan smiled back at him. He had returned after many years, stronger than ever. He had learned much from the nearby city in the meantime, adapting modern fighting techniques into the traditional style of the hunter. After learning all he could, he decided to come home to them.
Both Tygda and Kudecha were overjoyed to learn that he had come back. Dressed in the traditional attire of leather and fur once again, Urkan looked much stronger and impressive than before.
His physique was thicker and more chiseled, but his head had also absorbed the knowledge of the ‘civilized world’ and brought it back to the village. Quickly, he went to work guiding the villagers on how to function more efficiently in their tasks. Metalworking and woodcrafting techniques to make better weapons, newfound knowledge of plants and animals for foraging and hunting, and carpentry to construct houses that guarded more against the elements – Urkan made a significant change to the village in little time.
“Together, the two of them ensured that everyone lived comfortably here,” Kudecha said with a smile. “And Urkan acted just as much of a father to you as Tygda did.”
“But then, what happened to Father? To the previous head?” Ludmila stared intently at her mother’s eyes, which suddenly looked downcast.
“That was… because of the outside world…”
Long had their village existed outside the notice of others. Few bothered to venture to this remote location, nearly a hundred miles from the closest town or city. They lived at the very edge of a large country, unbothered by the government ruling it. They were on their own, but they preferred for it to be that way. There was an unspoken harmony between them and nature.
However, that harmony was disrupted when the sound of foreign footsteps trodded through the woods. The loud rumble of an engine sounded as tires rolled over and crushed the foliage in its path. Men armed with strange weapons that fired projectiles intruded upon their lands.
Tygda and Urkan raced out with some others to intercept them, pointing their weapons forward to question what they were doing here. But one look was all they needed to know.
These were men who knew nothing about the peaceful coexistence between man and nature. They held a certain greed in their eyes. A hunger like they were constantly searching for prey.
And having found it, they pointed their strangely long weapons before a loud boom sounded.
Tygda was the first to fall, clutching his hand over a wound that appeared on his chest. There wasn’t even enough time for him to hit the ground before the next bang sounded, striking another hunter dead.
Quickly, Urkan dashed forward, using the low growing brush as camouflage. The others followed him in an instant, switching their minds to facing a hunt. With Urkan’s prowess in the woods, he soon came upon the foreign men and slashed the first one in the neck. Diving back behind the trees, he circled around and cut down another one of them.
Though a few hunters lost their lives, they had succeeded in slaying all but one of the foreign men.
Urkan turned to the last one, his eyes filled with rage.
“Why did you kill them!? Why did you come to harm my family?!”
One look at Urkan’s expression made the man cower in fear. It took only that for him to spill everything.
These men had poked their noses in this remote area to find fresh products to sell. With the country banning their business and the police shutting down their operations, there was no way for them to continue without a method to obtain their products.
Fresh organs to replace the failing ones in people anxiously waiting for an operation.
These men were poachers of human body parts, kidnappers that cut up people to harvest what their buyers needed quickly without going through all the normal trouble. Rather than wait for who knew how long, the rich coughed up a premium to repair their broken bodies.
Livers ravaged by alcohol. Lungs blackened by tar and smoke. Kidneys and hearts suffering from disease and poor lifestyle choices.
People were willing to spend a fortune for a new lease on life. And these people were willing to sacrifice the lives of others to do it. After their kidnapping sprees were cracked down upon, they next turned to the remote regions where no one bothered to look. The government could care less about the people that lived out here. They didn’t even know that they existed.
Furious at what he had heard, Urkan stabbed the man in the throat and left him. It was enough to make his blood boil.
“These men-, no, ‘scum’ do not deserve our respect. They care not for life. Leave them to rot.”
With that, Urkan went back to Tygda’s fallen corpse and cradled him in his arms. Tears fell from his eyes until evening, even long after he had buried his friend and said his goodbyes.
The next day, Urkan became the new Master. And with his efforts, the village purged the ‘men of civilization’ whenever they approached. For he knew that those would not be the only people that wished to commit the same evil. They would most definitely keep trying.
“And then, Urkan became your father. And a Master to us all. It’s been nearly six years since then. If it weren’t for his comfort all this time, the loss of your father would have driven me into despair…”
Ludmila’s respect for her Master grew severalfold. Even more, she wanted to become useful to him, just like how her father had. Now, she had another goal in mind – to be that which her father, Tygda, was.
She couldn’t be great like Urkan, but perhaps, a new ‘Tygda’ was needed to replace the one this village lost years ago.