Hard Times and Hard Lessons

Like most of the children, you spend much of your first winter hunting rabbits or bigger game in the environs around Dunmar. Not everyone is suited for this pursuit, but most are and it is vital that you do your part. There are a few holy men in Dunmar, and they know the making of food through magic, but their best efforts fall far short of the many bellies that need filling. You hunt hard, sometimes staying out for days at a time, but still some die for lack of food. Not a great many, but enough so that everyone is touched by loss. By mid-winter, the creatures near Dunmar become rare, forcing you to go out further and stay out longer to bring home the same amount of meat, but you do what you must, suffer what you must, and still more die. Some go out to hunt and don’t return. You yourself have come across the tracks of hobnailed boots that are too large for a man. Something stalks these mountains as you do, and it considers ten-year-old children to be prey.

When the spring finally breaks with Newday, no more than eight and a half hundred children remain. The townsfolk have suffered at least as much, but each of them has eaten from the game you have brought in and there is no resentment. As the snow begins to melt away and green shoots start sprouting from the warmest spots, the first order of business is to dig many holes to bury the dead. It is a dreary and tear-filled task, hauling the bodies, mostly small,  back and forth in carts and lowering them into the holes. Everyone helps and it is handled quickly, but emotions that have been held closely through the winter break through. It is a terrible thing to hear, such wailing and crying out, but you learn that it is necessary, this pain, that you may put these times firmly in the past and move on.

The growing season is short up here in the mountains, but the soil is good. You learn a lot about a few aspects of farming before the snows come again. The work is brutal and boring, but after the final harvest, there is enough to hold out through the winter with careful rationing. Next year should be better.

The effort invested in agriculture precludes much training in anything else, but every child that remains has learned much about hardship, hard work and loss. You are all stronger and tougher. Your appreciation for what it takes to put food in your mouth and a roof over your head is acute. You have little time for idle talk or play, but what you have is used well, as such things tend to  work out.

All too soon, the snows begin to fall again. There are more granaries this time, and they are full. There are cellars full to bursting with canned vegetables. It seems unlikely that any will die of hunger this winter, but it is still necessary for everyone who can to hunt game. There is little milk or cheese to go around, and few eggs, but everyone gets just enough protein to get by because of the ceaseless hunting done by the chosen ones.

None die from hunger the second winter, but some of the hunters do not return. The next spring thaws come with only eight hundred or so children remaining. It is doubtful that any of the parents of these eleven and twelve-year-olds would recognize their sons and daughters, and those that did would swear they were possessed by the spirit of a much older person; much harder.

Your remaining time in Dunmar includes much-more-specialized education, although the hard work never lets up. Life high up in the mountains is not easy, nor is it gentle. People die from savage beasts and worse out in the wild. People fall from steep places or break through the ice. People make mistakes and freeze as a result. But each year, the students of Dunmar Academy are more and more capable, more resourceful, and more experienced. They have become, in a word, hard to kill.

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