Behind him, there was the slow, easing creak of a bowstring dragged back. Jon stopped his breath, going completely still. A snap of air announced the loose.
The doe bolted with a crash of snapping twigs. Its russet fur vanished into the half dead thicket. The two brothers remained, both starring at the fallen arrow rising from the icy mud. His brother shoulders fell.
Jon moved quickly. He bent to pull the shaft from the ground. “Let’s follow.”
“The sun is setting.” His brother said, but followed Jon, trained steps light across the dappled forest floor.
“We have hours still.” Jon settled the game bag over his shoulder again, not dwelling on its easy heft. He pushed his way through the thicket as they followed the deer’s bounding tracks.
The air grew sharp with cold and the long shadows slowly filled the spaces between the trees. “We should turn back.” His brother’s voice was soft behind him.
Jon shook his head. “No.”
They moved on, pace hurried and breath forming in front of them. The doe’s trail was long lost, but Jon pressed forward in search of the herd. With every passing day winter closed on them and their larder emptied.
Again his brother spoke. “We’ve gone too far.” The golden light of the afternoon was gone, the brown ice under their boots more treacherous with each step.
“Just a little farther.” Jon reassured, the gnawing in his stomach paining him more than the growing closeness of the trees. The low dark boughs brushed their shoulders as the brothers ducked their heads and moved forward.
“What of the–” His brother whispered, holding his strung bow half knocked.
“Just stories.” Jon pushed forward.
The hunters moved deeper through the beech, oak, and elm, their steps silent amidst the crack and settle of branches. Night grew, and the brothers pressed on, the younger behind the elder, the forest ever growing around them.