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Of Elk and Wildlings

We went up into the mountains here on an elk hunting overnight trip. It was myself and three other Guardians, Kal, Manny and Reyn. Packing the meat out is tiring, but the amount of meat you get means you can conserve other less perishable resources. Plus we jerk a lot of it and make pemmican for traveling, and we get the leather, sinew, bone, etc. Let's just say nothing goes to waste. When we go on these, we tend to use our bows. We can replace and reuse arrows, but making new bullets for rifles requires resources that are much more difficult to scavenge. What's more, the bow is nice and silent, which means you don't alert all people and animals for several miles to your presence. When you don't know what's out there, you are better off being as quiet as possible. Just after dawn on a cool mountain morning, I managed to get myself a nice sized bull elk. Unfortunately, when you are hunting with a bow, you sometimes have to track them some distance before they finally drop. When we finally caught up to the beast about an hour later, a group of Wildlings had already begun ripping apart the carcass with stone knives and their teeth. Dealing with Wildlings is always risky as you can never be sure what is going through their heads or what they might do next. When I say "Wildling," what I mean is people who have grown up on their own in the wilderness, usually in small groups. Adrias says the term is "feral," but they are something more than mere animals. Maybe "barbarians" is a better term. They can very quite a bit and some come close to having a sort of civilized culture. In fact, it's those ones that are the most dangerous as their culture is one of their own devising based on god knows what they remember and passed down from the old days. The group we found is part of what we call the "Younglings." They are descendants of a group of children who survived on their own after the dark. A remarkable accomplishment, but without adults, particularly elders, to help them along, their version of "society" has become very strange and violent. For example, their tradition is to kill or run-off the old. Being "old" means having any gray hair, among other things. Their rules are the rules of children and they behave like children in adult bodies. It's very...weird. When we came across the five of them, we pulled up short. Normally its a good idea not to confront them as they are unpredictable. On the other hand, it's not a good idea to let them get into their heads that they can steal your kills. You need to keep them in their place or you will find them digging up your garden next. It's much like running into a bear. You make yourself look as big as you can and make as much noise as possible. Much like a bear, when they don't retreat in the face of that behavior, you are in trouble. They didn't retreat. Kal never saw the rock that killed him, catching him right in the temple with a sickening crunch. He went down silent, lifeless and heavy. A rock, how caveman is that? My shotgun blasted two in the chest in quick succession while Reyn and Manny opened up with their pistols. It was over in less than 10 seconds and the five Younglings lay dead. It was completely pointless and irrational and that's the danger of Wildlings. We made a stretcher to carry Kal's body back on and took what of the Elk we could under the circumstances. We couldn't linger in the vicinity in case more Younglings showed up. It was a quiet, emotional trip back. Kal was a good guy and I will miss him. I remember when we first met at the Big Lake during the Pow Wow many years ago. He had just won a new in box harmonica and was proudly showing it off to the other would-be Bards. He had a wry smile and that harmonica was as much a part of him as the nose on his face. They were a pair destined to be together. The hardest part about living in this world is that anyone can be taken from you at any time and you never get used to that.

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