From early summer to summer, and then to autumn; the seasons of the northern forests ceaselessly changed. When the trees’ leaves shone gold and flocks of migratory birds began to cross the firmament, the bucks wore down their antlers as they appealed to the does with imposing honks like broken flutes.
Before long, the land was once again covered in frost, and by the time Ouma and others returned with the reindeer in tow, the youths adored Van like a father. Van also found it difficult to part with them but once the reindeer were back, the busy days of winter preparations started again.
Despite their unwillingness to leave, Kiya’s nephews returned to their settlement with their family.
Four puyka had conceived over the autumn. Everyone rejoiced when Kiya’s nephews sent news of a further three pregnancies on their side.
When the time came for the tax collectors to visit, Van took Yuna with him and spent the whole day in the forest, but the tax collectors were so overjoyed about the puyka conceiving at long last that they went back without noticing that the residents of this settlement had increased by two.
Since they were able to smoothly obtain a tax reduction, the household was able to use that share for the winter stock. The number of pelts for sale also increased proportionately with the big amount of game hunted by Van.
Since Kiya’s nephews were being sent to Kazan this year, Ouma happily handed them the pelts and dried meat. When they came back with their cart loaded with small mountains of clothes and grain, the folks of the two settlements gathered for a big party, and enjoyed the food and drink to their hearts’ content.
Once Kiya’s relatives returned to their own settlement, Ouma looked up at Van in a good mood.
“All this n everythin’ else’s thanks to ya.”
As Ouma clapped Van’s shoulder, Yuna, who was at Kiya’s feet, parroted, “Ish sanks to yoo.”
Everyone burst into laughter when she even started to clap Van’s leg.
Last year’s winter preparations had been filled with bitterness as their hearts were weighed down with gloomy thoughts, but this year’s preparations were filled with bright anticipation for the next year. Smiles graced their faces and they happily exchanged stories about the past summer.
Later on, Van would often reminisce about the events of this year. That incident on an early summer’s day when Yuna, who had entered the forest with Kiya, returned with her cheeks stuffed full of mocho berries, the summer he spent with Toma and the nephews, the autumn when they watched the puyka’s dances of love, the big party, and long nights of late autumn they spent laughing heartily thanks to the many stories.
This year had turned into a memory that would light up his heart like a warm lamp for a long time to come.
Spring of the following year was very rainy. The cloudy days dragged on and on, but once early summer came around, it was much sunnier, and all of the pregnant puyka safely gave birth to healthy fawns.
Toma had grown quite accustomed to handling puyka, he had even managed to reach the stage where he could dash through the forest while skilfully straddling the child Zuppy had borne last year.
Kiya’s nephews came over to inform Van and the others about the birth of the fawns, and asked Van to come with them to help with the domestication. He returned with them to their settlement and stayed there for a while, helping with the forming of bonds.
The fawns born that year had all fairly strong bodies. At first the nephews seemed uneasy as the fawns were more attached to Van than them, but as the nephews patiently interacted with them, the fawns gradually started to show affection towards them as well.
After telling them that they could call him if something troublesome happened, though they were absorbed in their bond building, Van went back to Toma’s place.
That was because Van believed that, If they give it a chance and try things by trial and error, they’ll discover things that they couldn’t have discovered if they had been taught instead. They will continue to grow through their own effort in such a manner.
Just like the previous year, Ouma’s group departed for the summer pastures with Kiya’s relatives and their combined reindeer, but once the first winds of autumn began to blow, they quickly came back.
“Gold spiders’ve built their hives real high this year. Winter’s gon’ be tough.” Ouma said as he started to prepare the autumn sacrifice after he returned.
Last year they still only had a few reindeer and couldn’t afford to sacrifice any, but this year many fawns were born, and since there were a few weak fawns amongst them, Ouma planned to offer sacrifices for last year to the gods as well. Since it would be rude towards the gods, sick fawns couldn’t be sacrifices, but he culled the fawns that wouldn’t be able to survive a harsh winter but seemed healthy so the burden on the herd was reduced while also increasing provisions.
Though they had made sacrifices every year in his hometown, once Ouma began the preparations for the ritual, Van left the settlement for the forest. Watching the weak fawns be culled was heart-breaking.
Not in the mood to hunt, Van sat down in a pit not far from the settlement, basking in the refreshing, colorful light of a larch that had turned crimson. This area closely resembled the forest in the back of his parent’s house back home. That was probably why he always felt at ease when he came here.
Closing his eyes, he felt as though he was submerged in a shallow pool of water and basking in golden light. It seemed to him as if the bottom of that water was connected to some far, distant place, and if he just quietly swam for long enough he could reach his wife and son.
As if he had been stabbed by a needle, a dot of sadness appeared and then spread, deep in his heart. Breathing in deeply deeply, he could almost hear a voice.
Opening his eyes in surprise, he spotted a small figure running towards him in-between the trees. Her stride was still somewhat shaky, but she ran over without tripping over anything.
Realizing that Yuna was quickly growing out of her baby phase and into a child, Van watched her for a little while without calling out to her. When Yuna discovered Van in her dash across the fallen leaves, her whole face bloomed into a smile.
“Pa! Founsh ya!
Yuna jumped into his arms and he lifted her with a “Heave-ho,” rubbing his nose against hers. The tip of her nose was as cold as a puppy’s.
“How did you know that you could find me here?”
In response, Yuna laughed, “Ihii.”
“I jus dit. I meen, I no shaw yuu. You shee, big sish, grannie, an uncle shaid dat Yunacha wud be in de wey wit de lil rendeer, so Yunacha came to Pa.”
Van smiled wryly. It appeared that she couldn’t get any attention from Kiya and the others as they were busy with the preparations, and probably came here after getting lonely. This child was perceptive, and at times she would run over to Van even when he wasn’t visible from the settlement.
Now that I think about it, it’s fairly odd, but the world is full of surprises. There might be some kind of invisible connection between me and her, just like a puyka fawn would find its mother even when they were separated.
The warmth of the body in his arms, and the scent of the sun slowly warmed his chest. As he tightened his arms around her as he was filled with a sense of preciousness, Yuna also hugged him tightly with her small hands.
I want to watch this girl grow and reach her prime. Eventually she will become a little girl, a girl, and then a mother. I want to see all of it with my own eyes…
Van was flustered as these emotions surged forth within him. He was scared by how easily he had ended up thinking something he mustn’t think.
Even after the ritual of sacrifice, plenty of reindeer remained this year.
Ouma was in a perpetual good mood during the preparations, saying, “Long as we auction off a bunch o’ them reindeer, food’ll be aplenty. Been ages since I last went to the reindeer market in th’ old capital, but they’ll be old faces round who c’n catch me up on news.”
It was decided that Toma would accompany him as well. Toma’s face sparkled as he departed, unable to contain his joy over having reindeer to sell.
Yuna frantically waved goodbye to the men leaving on the backs of reindeer in the transparent sunlight of autumn. When she couldn’t see their figures at her own height anymore, she badgered Van to let her ride on his shoulders, then kept waving for a long time.