The hiss of skis over packed snow was the only sound. The group, all wrapped snuggly in furs pushed forward along the trail without discussion, dragging two lightly loaded sleds behind them. The trail snaked around the curve of the mountain, surrounded by dense fir trees.
Finally, the trail opened onto a small plateau. Half-hidden log fences could be seen marking out snow-covered fields.
A wide swathe of a turbulent mixture of snow, ice, small boulders and broken trees cut straight through the area. On the plateau and the slope above, the path cut by the avalanche stood out starkly compared to the smooth, untouched snow on either side.
“Skit! It went straight through the Hurtig farm,” said the leading man. “There’s not a building left standing.”
“Look,” said one of the women as she pointed to the side.
A lone figure stood amongst the destruction, skis and a rifle strapped to his back.
The group slid on their skis down to the figure, calling as they came but they were ignored.
“It’s one of their boys, Medvin I think,” said the woman.
“Hey lad, are you hurt?” the man called but he was ignored.
Skis were removed and replaced with snow-shoes. The group made their way to the youth. A streak of blood across his forehead highlighted the grief-stricken, staring eyes. The first growth on his face signalling his approaching manhood. The furs emphasised the solid build common to the Hurtig family.
“It came with the dawn, when the sun first touched the mountain,” he muttered as he stared at where his home had once stood. “It rode on the front wave of the slide like a dolphin playing in the bow-wave of a ship. Then it steered the slide down to the farmhouse and it screamed its joy as they died.”
The group looked at each other and shifted uneasily. “The boy’s not making sense. He’s in shock.”
Despite their doubts, they looked up at the side of the mountain. The wide swathe the avalanche had cleared through the trees could be seen to curve as it rode the shape of the slope, then it straightened and drove straight down and through the farm.
They guided Medvin to the sled and sat him there, wrapped him in blankets and tried to get him to eat some hot stew from a pot that had been wrapped in furs to keep it warm.
“The rest were at breakfast. I was hunting for food,” muttered Medvin. “It was hunting for us.”
A search line was formed. Long poles stuck down into the snow, then a step forward and repeat.
While the others set to work, the woman sat down beside Medvin.
“What will you do now? You can’t stay here.”
“Your grandma’s been poorly, you could stay with her. She could do with some looking after, and you could do with someone to care for. It would keep you busy and keep your mind off things. But if that don’t work out, we’ll take you in. Your father was my cousin. That makes you family, for mine.”
Medvin paused and then nodded.
There were shouts and the search line converged. A body was found, dug out, wrapped in sheeting.
Eventually, they returned to the sleds.
“We only found the one, the others will have to wait until the spring thaw.”
“Who did you find?” asked Medvin, his voice a dull monotone.
“It was one of your sisters, Lahja, I think. We could take her back to the kirk, or put her back into the snow here. Either way, she’ll have to wait until the ground thaws before we can bury her.”
“She would have been milking the goat,” said Medvin after a pause, “instead of in the kitchen with the others. Put her back in the snow. Let her lie here with the others until Spring.”
The leader nodded and turned.
“Cover her with rowan branches, when you put her in the snow,” called Medvin with the first sign of life in his voice.
“The leader stopped and turned. “Aye lad, we know our business. We’ll put rowan crosswise over her. If one of them gets hungered, the rowan will keep it off of her.”
Medvin struggled to his feet. “I should help. Let me help.”
The leader started to protest, but then he stopped himself and nodded. “Come on then, lad. Let’s do it together.”
Later the skis again hissed through the snow as the group made their way back down the trail. Among them went Medvin, his hollow eyes glancing from side to side, searching the edges of the trail for signs that only he could see.
Medvin Hurtig still goes hunting. Now he doesn’t just hunt for food. He hopes you will join him on the next hunt.