When the men from the west first breached our mountains they promised many things – technology in exchange for the use of our animals; finished goods in trade for our raw materials; and peace. Most of all they promised peace.
Naturally, that was the first oath they broke.
Even now, as they continue to encroach on the foothills - taking the only land that is capable of providing our food – they bring goods: fabrics that are rough and do nothing to keep the chill of the snow at bay, and beads and baubles that are too cheap even to glitter. They bring these things and they pass them out with smiles on their faces and guns in their hands, as if they are making a fair exchange.
They bring technology, as well. Pressurized guns capable of firing hundreds of rounds in a minute, capable of reaching far up the slopes of our mother mountains. And machines that tear up our fields, devouring fertile soil and leaving behind ruin and waste in the search for the metal and stones they call precious.
I adjust my long-gun in the crook of my arm. If they will not bring peace, then I will take it to them. I will forge an alliance the same way my mother-ancestors forged it in the deep times. I will hunt among their settlements until I find a husband. Once I make him mine, we will have peace.
I will cross their borders above the snow-line. Far above the gates and the guns they use to protect the pass. It is cloudy, I doubt they can see me even with their telescopic scanners, but just in case I put on my snow-cloak and cover Ye'var as well. He protests, mild, because it is not truly cold enough for him to wear the extra blanket, but it is necessary. His fur, mottled brown and black, stands out against the blue-white glare of the snow plains.
"Just for a little while," I say. "'Til we have passed the gates, then we will come down and you may walk free."
He harumphs like an old man, but reaches up with his trunk to pull the hood over his massive head. Only his feet are visible under the edge of the blanket. From a distance they will be nothing more than moving black dots against the mirror of the snow, much like the spots one gets from staring at the sun. No one will notice us.
I put one foot in the curl of Ye'var's trunk, grip the braided forelock with my free hand and climb up his broad forehead to settle on his back. "Go on. The sooner we're past the gate the sooner you can uncover."
He flaps his ears in agreement and I lay low, holding tight to his blanket and the thick fur underneath. The westerners make such an ordeal out of beast-riding. They have harnesses and platforms and safety belts to keep from falling. All of it proves useless when the animals refuse to move. It is the one reason we still have a foothold in the mountains.
The machines the men of the west have brought are terrible, but they cannot survive above the snow-line. Their joints freeze and their fires go out or melt through the snow and leave the mechana buried in ice. A few attempts have been made to scale the peaks on foot, but the altitude sickens them and the cold is too intense. No army can match us on the snow-plains.
Not as long as we have the mammoths.
Despite their size, they move swiftly through the snow and the cold has no effect, unable to pierce their thick fur or the layer of fat beneath their skin. They are the reason the Ka'nesh conquered these mountains in the deep times. They are the reason we still rule the peaks.
But with our fields all but gone, taken by men who want only what is under the ground, it has grown more and more difficult to feed our beasts. Every year there have been fewer calves born. Every year we lose a few more of the elders, and some of the adults. This year we lost one that was barely two hands old.
For this reason above all else, we must have peace. For this reason I am headed into the lowlands to hunt a husband.
We must have peace.