Soufte

by Talia Hale

He found Soufte near the Great Oak, drawing long looping patterns into the dusty ground with a stick.

Soufte was still young, but Karrick knew he would grow up to be an idiot. He couldn’t throw his spear more than a few lengths, he couldn’t read tracks, and he couldn’t even clean someone else’s kill. Once, Karrick had taken pity on him and offered to show his brother how to cut the meat from a doe—stupid Soufte clipped the entrails, spilling shit into the guts and spoiling everything.

But Soufte was always good for a laugh.

That was why Karrick had gone looking for him. He held the thing tight in his fist, behind his back.

“I found something amazing,” he crooned. “From the Old Times!”

“You said that last time,” Soufte grumbled, not looking up from his dirt. “And it was just a piece of trash.”

“Yeah, but this is different! This is something powerful.”

Soufte glanced sideways at his brother.

“I found it in the Bones,” Karrick continued—that much was true, at least. “I was gonna show it to Elder, but I wanted you to have it. Don’t you know what this is?” He opened his fist to show the little silver thing. Soufte blinked uncomprehendingly. “It’s a Spiritcatcher.”

“Why would you give it to me?” Soufte asked, wide-eyed.

“Because you need something powerful. Catch a lot of souls in here, and you’ll be the strongest man in the village. But you have to keep it secret—it might frighten other people.”

Soufte scratched idly under his deerskin wrap, pondering this.

“Okay,” he said finally, closing his little fingers around the thing in Karrick’s hand.

Karrick thought that after a while, Soufte would realize the thing was garbage—like everything else from the Bones. But when old Antiga was lit up on the village pyre, Karrick found his brother watching quietly behind the mourning crowds, the little silver thing lying open in his palm. He looked so serious and determined, Karrick pretended to weep to cover his laughter. It was too good.

After that, he watched Soufte closely at the pyres and especially while they scoured through the Bones. Every time, Soufte would hold the little thing open at his side, hoping to catch some old, forgotten soul.

One moonless night, the village had gathered to hear Elder’s preaching. Dancing, spindly and wild, around the fire, he wailed about the coming darkness, the end-times. One day, he said, their village would become like the Bones. As if beckoned by the dark gods themselves, a sudden leaping gale burst through the clearing, whisking bitterly through the furs and skins of the villagers.

The fire went out.

Women wailed and men cowered— Elder’s words had been true. Panic seeped through the villagers like a cold wave.

A voice shrieked out from the crowd: “Look! Look!

Karrick peered about blindly, searching. His eyes found it just as everyone else started to cheer—Soufte, standing there with his hands cupped delicately around something glowing, like a beacon.

Flickering, but there and golden and beautiful—from out of the silver thing, a tiny flame. The souls of years long past.

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