In the depths of the long midwinter night young Mara waits in the tents with the members of her tribe. Celebrations and rituals are underway to usher in the end of winter's darkness and welcome the light of the sun. But not all is well. Her mother has sickened and her end nears. Lessons of life and death and the hope of new birth are revealed to Mara.
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Fierce winds raged and howled across the campsite, buffeting the dark fabric of the tents and twisting guide ropes until they almost snapped. The cluster of flapping shelters bound together where they had been joined by the women. While the winds keened outside, the tribe huddled beneath the largest canopy, a tiny shaft of light glowing in the center from the smoke hole directly above. A fire burned high and strong in the middle. Boys among them tended the blaze, reverent in the selections of wood and scrub they added. Three dozen men, women, and children had pressed into the central tent, the place of meeting, to hear the words of their chieftain, Alaric, on that cold midwinter’s eve. The fire kept the tendrils of frost and death at bay, just barely.
Still, like the others, Mara wore layers of wolf, beaver, and buckskins. Next to her, Betha nursed her small baby though the child was hidden beneath furs as well. The winds cried out again, expelling more frigid air and snow across the clearing, ripping at the tents some more, and pulling pegs loose at the far ends. Word spread and two of the men left the place of meeting to secure them again.