Legend of Rudolf. Page 4 of 22|
It happened so suddenly, the little one could scarcely believe the reality of it. All in a rush: the sudden cracking of the very ground in front of him, his mother’s terrified bellowings; then the horrific sound of something large crashing into water. But there was no water, there was only – And then the mock-solid ground splintering and groaning even between his small hooves, so that he squealed, stumbled backward, skittered, fell, was buried for an instant in a heavy shower of snow, scrambled up, shook himself, bleated, ran forward, then stopped, peering into cold darkness.
His mother had vanished.
He cried, cried into the gloom, cried for her to come back out of hiding, cried for her to stop playing this game. The wind snatched his cries and tore them to pieces. He jumped forward again, and then brought himself up, suddenly, staring with eyes afraid to interpret the meaning behind what they saw. Where once had been solid land, there was now a field of water stretching into the gloom. Large chunks of ice moved on its dark surface. Snowflakes touched it, withered, and went out. There was nothing else.
Where was the herd? Where was his mother? Beside himself with fright, the little creature pranced madly back and forth, his tiny hooves scattering snow sparks that briefly lit tiny spaces in the gloom. Above the rushing of the wind he could hear the ice crunching and groaning as it pushed against itself, and splashing sounds as chunks fell into the water.
The little one stared, not wanting to believe what he was being forced to learn, what the dark waters were telling him: he was alone. The effect was physical, causing him to bellow into the gloom, causing him to prepare to spring into the waters himself and so join her. But then, above the groaning of the ice, above the sounds of his own voice, and mingled with the cries of the wind, other cries came to his ears. Distant cries they were, distant in both space and time, cries and howls of creatures whose purpose was to gather against and attack those whom nature left unprepared.
He was such a one! The cries were directed at him!
And following hard on this knowledge, the ageless instinct to stay alive arose in him, and he ran, ran away from the water’s edge, ran – no, leapt, rather – quickly and surely, as though powers larger than him had suddenly taken over, giving him clear sight, sharpened hearing, and terrible, brilliant strength. On and on he ran, on hooves suddenly so sure, outrunning the crying voices, outleaping even the wind it seemed, a feather in the world, swiftly flying and vanishing into the void --
-- until, just as suddenly, all strength left him, and he became a stumbling, terrified youngster, the crying voices now inside him, never to leave, and he only trying now to find some safe shelter where he could rest.
At last, such a haven opened before him: a small hollow of needles sheltered by the large bole of a huge fallen fir. As all strength drained from him, he staggered forward, pitched headlong into the hollow, and knew no more.