Arakie exhales, and his breath frosts in the cold air.
As I study him, the mournful howling of dire wolves carries upon the wind. Xeno's ears prick and a low growl rumbles in his throat. The big packs worry him. Arakie tells me Xeno is the last of his kind, an ancient wolf born long before dire wolves began to trot the glaciers like lords of the ice. I try to imagine how it must feel to be the last of his kind. There are times when Xeno points his nose at the sky and howls long and hard, then he listens for a response that never comes, hangs his head, and moves on. He never seems to lose hope that one day another of his kind will answer his call.
I reach for the ptarmigan I hunted this afternoon. When Arakie wakes, he'll be hungry.
Xeno lifts his head and gives me a feral accusatory stare, as though demanding to know what took me so long to start supper.
Quietly, I tiptoe across the lodge, skewer the bird on a spear of driftwood, and prop it over the flames to cook.
Arakie's voice is soft. "Everything all right?" "Yes. We're safe. Go back to sleep."
He weakly pulls down the muskoxen hides to peer at me. His skeletal face is tight and pained, the paleness softened by the firelight. Thin white hair hangs over his sunken cheeks. "Worried...about your family?"
"We haven't heard any news in over two moons. Why have the runners stopped coming? My best friend, Quiller, used to come—"
"It's...cold, Lynx. No one...wants to travel."
"Or maybe the last Sealion People are running for their lives. The Rust People have hunted us down for generations. After the peace agreement fell apart, they must have started hunting my people down again."
His breath rattles when he says, "You're all warlike Thought it would help you."
"Sealion People are not warlike," I object.
Arakie just smiles, and it occurs to me that the last fight between Sealion People and Rust People was, in fact, started by Sealion People. In retaliation the Rust People slaughtered most of my village. I don't want to believe we are to blame for violence that has lasted centuries, but maybe he's right.
Arakie sighs. "You believe...in peace. So glad. If no one believes...peace...impossible."
Kneeling before the fire, I add more wood, building it up until flames leap and crackle beneath the ptarmigan.
"The last runner said there were only forty-five Sealion People left in the world. If the latest negotiations failed, over one thousand Rust warriors could have surrounded them in a heartbeat. There may be no Sealion People left. Except me." I pause to think about the Rust People, Neandertals, before adding, "You once told me that in the end one species would prevail. What if—"
"Just life, Lynx." He desperately sucks in a breath, struggling for enough air to say, "Species...go extinct. Others rise. At least...I I hope they will."
His eyes fall closed.
Arakie tells me that he is probably the last modern human. Over the long centuries, I suspect that like Xeno he, too, has cried out again and again, praying another human voice from his long- lost people would answer, and, hearing none, hung his head and moved on.
"Sorry, didn't mean to sound sharp," I whisper. "I'm just worried."
Reaching over, I quietly pull the hide up over his shoulder to keep him warm.
When he drifts back to sleep, I return to sit in the doorway and watch the beach trail while the ptarmigan cooks. As the darkness intensifies, the zyme fills the world with green light. Most of the campfires of the dead vanish in the onslaught, but I see two Jemen sailing through the sky in their ships of light. Arakie tells me they are empty, just satellites. He says a treasure trove exists in the sky if we could ever get to it.
Marvels of technology, they were placed in orbit during the great war to facilitate attacks...My Sealion elders speak of that ancient war around the winter campfires. It occurred in the
Beginning Time when the Jemen split in two. The leader of the Jemen—the Old Woman of the Mountain—ordered most of the Jemen to sail to the campfires of the dead. They became the Sky Jemen. But a handful of heroes willingly sacrificed themselves to remain in our world. We know them as the Earthbound Jemen. These heroes carved out a great hollow in the heart of the glaciers, a place where they hid cages of animals and plants, and vowed to continue their search to find a way to kill the Ice Giants. One day, when they've won the war with the Giants, they will release the animals and plants into a warm and beautiful world.