The warming March sun had shone all day. Although the air remained frigid in the many shadows, out in the open the surface snow was melting in its glare. Then, as commonly happens in early spring this far north, when the sun began setting and the shadows grew longer across the snowy field, the melted snow surface froze and soon the entire meadow was covered by a crust of icy snow thick enough in places to support a walking man, thick enough everywhere to support almost any child, and plenty strong enough throughout to support the wolverine.
He ambled across the snow for the far edge of the meadow certain he would not fall through. This was his element. His wide paws were made for this, they were like snowshoes. Crust this thick was like bare ground to him.
The doe on the other hand did not have an easy time of it. Her hoofs were narrow and more often than not pierced the crust as she stepped across it. When they did, she sank to her elbow in the snow, and the icy edges scraped against her leg and belly. But she was starving and had left the safety of the forest for some of last year’s grass, visible along the opposite edge. The clearing was wide and would take long to walk around and her belly was too empty to resist the exposed shortcut.
The wolverine had meant to sleep into the evening darkness before resuming his hunt, but by late afternoon his stomach ached and shouted and drove sleep away.
The doe was cold and tired and thought only of food.
A small birch grove, like an island in a sea of white, lay between the two and they had not yet seen each other.
He looks like a large, brown badger as he shuffles along. He’s just short of three feet long and heavy set with short, thick legs. The only sound he makes as he moves across the snow is the shee, shee, shee of long, curved claws slashing crust with each step. His head is close to the ground and his tail drags along behind him partially erasing his track. His eyes, small and yellow and set quite far apart, glance down and forward and now and then to his sides, and his ears, almost hidden in the deep fur, are awake and alert. His nose sniffs for traces of food. He is hungry and bad-tempered.
His sleep had been short and shallow. He dreams only of food these days. The night before had been long and fruitless, full of faded spoors. He’d seen nothing, except for the fox that’d slunk away and out of sight, too fast to catch, to wily to outsmart. So he had caught nothing. Exhausted and frustrated by early morning he had burrowed down under the low, snow-laden branches of a spruce. Sleep would not come. The sun rose to shorten all shadows before he finally drifted off.
He was not fond of daylight.
The forest knows one thing about him: He kills well. Clever and tireless, he can track and slay animals many times his size and often does.
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