The Longest Walk
A fable by rjg
“The Longest Walk”
A fable by rjg
Beren son of Berling sat relaxed but alert. The biting wind began to blow, from the north across the vast expanse of ice. Beren moved his heavily muscled arms up to push the long plaits of dark hair away from his steel grey eyes to improve his peripheral vision. His eyes sharp as spear points could resolve a single leaf on a tree at half a mile. That is if there had been a leaf or a tree. The elders called this place Desolation Road. No food, no shelter and you were visible like blood on snow.
Beren and his small band were having second thoughts about leaving the safety of the clan. Could it be that they were too young and inexperienced for the journey of the hunter? He had never been out alone this far from home. The boy was frightened, although he would never have admitted it.
This was not a simple matter of proving themselves as men and great hunters. Demographic pressure had been building for some time now. There was little food and too many mouths to feed. The ground was icy and unyielding, unfit for foraging. The ice sheet endless in every direction and the winds’ bitter cold breath bone numbing. Over the years many clans had migrated to find a more forgiving climate. The few that returned told tales of an endless world of ice. The only road from which no one ever returned was the path the tribe traveled now. South.
As Beren stood to turn the meager piece of meat roasting over the campfire, he could see an intense pair of unwavering eyes; barely visible from the spot where the fires glow was dimmest and where the flames dancing shadows play tricks on the eyes. But Beren knew this was not some shadow phantom. The hungry eyes belonged to the same shaggy wolf-like creature that had been dogging their camp for three days and nights.
Those eyes were deep blue like the color of the water where the ice meets the great sea. His rough bushy coat, a dapple grey and the color was just different enough from the polar background to alert any possible prey to his presence and make him a liability to the pack.
Beren removed the seared flesh from the spit, as he mulled over the wisdom of Berling. The boy had been instructed by his father. The ways of the wild, and how to survive in it were familiar to him. To defeat your enemy you must know your enemy, but to make your enemy an ally would be the wisest policy. If this was a wolf why was it alone? Wolfs were pack hunters, why was it following them, what did the creature want? Was it a scout? Was it injured? Driven out of the pack? Most importantly, would the wolf attack, if indeed it were a wolf?
The clan remained in close proximity to the fire as some members gathered whatever they could to stoke the fire. Hopefully if they built it big enough it would keep them from freezing to death as well as keeping the wolf at bay. Although Beren kept busy with his chores, he maintained a watchful eye on the wolf. Beren had seen wolf packs in action. They were fierce, intelligent, using coordinated attack patterns to wear their prey down and then rip it to shreds. If it came to a straight up fight, Beren didn’t stand a chance.
Beren noticed that as the fire got hotter the animal inched closer. It was then Beren decided to heed his father’s words. What if the animal was cold and hungry and couldn’t fend for itself? What if he could provide warmth, food and eventually shelter, if in essence he became the alpha male? It might work and if it did Beren would not have to be looking over his shoulder every minute, he would have a partner.
He cut a small ration of meat from his portion and tossed it to the animal, the flesh falling just inside the bright ring formed by the dancing flames. Cautiously the creature accepted the food and fled quickly into the shadows.
The fifty frozen wraiths marched steadily southward as the moon waxed and waned. Each night Beren would share what he could with the animal he named Naid. Every week Naid had come a little closer, crawling in a show of submission and eventually taking the flesh from Beren’s fingers. When Beren awoke one morning the dog was curled up alongside him.
The clan trekked further across the frozen wasteland. The fifty now forty five. The glacial world seemed to go on forever and their spirits were at low ebb. The forty five now forty one. The men grumbled and the women whispered. The children were silent. There were no songs or games. Some suggested returning. Only Beren’s iron will kept the group together.
Naid had made himself an indispensable member of the clan, alerting them to danger with his yodel-like bark and pulling loads on a sled. Naid and Beren had formed a bond of loyalty and trust that transcended any man beast relationship that Beren had known.
They trudged on mindlessly putting one frozen foot in front of the other. Mile after mile. Day after day, until Naid who had been running out in front, raced back to Beren in a highly exited state. The two flew together to a spot where Naid had pawed through the ice and snow to reveal what appeared to be a pile of rocks. They dug for many minutes before the rest of the clan gathered to help. Once the rock pile was revealed Beren recognized immediately what it was. A grave. The artifacts that they exhumed were recognized as those of their landsmen. The clan had come this far. Perhaps they had gone farther.
Their hopes soared. Beren, Naid and the remaining thirty eight pushed on with renewed vigor. Gradually the ice gave way to a conifer wood and a bountiful land of fish, large game and many edible plants. There they settled and foraged for food along the coastline. Clans became tribes. Tribes segued to nations. Humanity became alienated through language, culture and custom. Separate as the sky above from the mud below. Successive generations would push further and further south to populate what is now known as North and South America, a ten thousand mile march in fifteen hundred years, completing the longest walk humanity has ever taken.
However, the bond of trust, friendship and love formed be-tween man and dog remains intact today, as when it was born between Beren and Naid.