He would be safe, if he could reach the other side of the near pass, the demarcation of the clan home-territory and the true stranger-places, the high places where the wind and ice reigned. The sacrifice would still be complete, for his name was dead, burned in the sacred fire with everything else that marked who he had been, ties to clan and kin, along with his warrior's lock. The song of mourning would have been sung at sundown, the setting of the last moon of Spring, and he-who-had-been Red-Maker Wind-Singer would be utterly gone, given to the gods that the clan might live and prosper through the Summer, that game be plentiful and food abundant until time came for the Winter Choosing. The lot had fallen to him, as all had known it would. It was the way of things.
But he wanted to live. He had been the first clan-father to survive the full seven years of his term in a generation; he would survive this too. He could find a new name, make new arrows, carve a new amulet. He had serviceable clothes, once his best, now worn, but not outworn. He had the stranger's mite of journey-food, a good coal in his belt-case, the half-finished bow-stave, the beginnings of several arrows, and tools to finish and make what he would need. He had the blessing of his milk-mother, long passed though she was, and the carefully turned eye of the newly raised clan-father. He had his axe, the best he had made, and he had his cunning, un-fogged by some grace of the gods. All he needed now was a little, just a little, luck.
Almost he made it. Almost.
A few of the youths, not yet proven men, had been tracking him. At first it had been almost a game, but as the days lengthened, most of them fell away, returned to the slopes and valleys nearer the clan, preferring easier, less chancy and far less sacred sport. They would show themselves men in more ordinary ways. But the ones that remained burned with a rash anger, a fierce resentment at his seemingly charmed life; that he lived when their own fathers had not, for whatever reason. Their hunt had made it impossible to finish any of his arrows, to stop long enough to snare a bird or rabbit. They had chased him until he stumbled and fell over a steep slope to land hard on his right side, gasping for breath, chest on fire. It was a familiar injury, one he had survived before, but there was no time to rest or be easy while this one healed. Instead he shifted his pack and pushed on. He'd been lucky not to lose any of his gear. They harried him over the mountains, sending arrows and rocks his way whenever they were close enough. One of the shafts even found its mark, but he did not let it stop him.
The spire of rock that marked the ridge was in sight when they tried to ambush him, but the fickle weather turned on them as he passed it. A fierce, icy gust whirled away their arrows, sent the angry young men back down the path without knowing if any had flown true. They scattered like their hoarwithy shafts, their vengeful quest failed, their hands empty of axe or anything else they had sought to take from him, not daring to pass the pillar-stone. But the gods had won as well. The last angry, chance-flung rock had found its mark, striking the back of his skull, hard and definitely. He reeled as the wind pushed him down the slope, stumbling into a shallow declivity, a miniature valley in the rock, breath stolen from his lungs. The quiver dropped from his hands. Overhead, the clouds gathered black and heavy with snow.
A summer storm this high in the mountains would not be kind to a traveler. The narrow shelf of stone that had stopped his fall was under an angle of sheer rock that had its back to the wind. He tried to shake off the dizziness. It would have to serve for shelter. Carefully, he propped the bow-stave against the ledge, set the pack down, feeling the sharp twinge of damaged ribs, the deep ache where the arrow of the previous day had pierced his shoulder. If he could light a fire. If the storm passed quickly. If.
He forced himself up, over to the spindly bush clinging to a rock a few steps away from the shelf. The twigs would burn, if he could gather them before the snow began. His knee complained as he knelt, and he pushed away the irrelevant thought that it was time to have Swift-Hand make a new skin-mark to draw away the bone-ache. He would not see Swift-Hand again. The gently sloped slab was strangely comfortable. He would rest. Only a moment. On his side, legs straight, his bones were almost quiet. The strengthening breeze stirred his hair. He had not noticed when his hat fell off.
He would not make it over the pass. His head rang and vision swam, going dark and sparkling at the edges. The gods would have their full sacrifice. The last thing he knew was the soft, cold touch of snow, falling white and relentless before his dimming eyes, a shroud to cover him.
He still wanted to live.
Nameless, he floated in the void, a faint and flickering spark, and dreamed.
He dreamed darkness, and endless midwinter night, cold and cloud-black, no moon nor star to show stone from ice, no sun to coax shy spring from out the frozen earth, nor summer bring in with bounty.
Long and long that dream.
He dreamed then sunlight falling like warm rain, cascading down his shoulders. The unhealed ache of ribs, pierced shoulder, ringing head. Hands, he dreamed then, wielding sticks and scoops, fingers bare and mittened, urgent and insistent, yet careful with respect, as of the dead, touching, tugging, battering at the ice, pulling him free. Then kinder cold, softer air, ground as smooth and hard and perfect as his axe, and all around, beneath, above. A sound of voices like the hands, eager, amazed, careful and unsure.
"What is that?" exclaims someone. A woman answers, close by, "But, it's a man!"
A clatter of voices, overlapping, urgent: "An ice-pick? Or could be an axe, I suppose." "Careful!" "It has to be today. Pull!" "Is that a shoe?" "We have him." "What matters now is that we bring out a few more things for the archaeologists." "Into the casket now, gently."
"Roughly four thousand years old," A story-speaker's voice says, confident and wonder-filled. "And if the dating is revised, it will be even earlier."
He dreamed a village that was a jumble of villages, one house familiar in post and beam and angle, another not, a third stranger still. The clay bowl of a red-smelting furnace crouched low in the ground under a puzzling structure, not in the open air, and the spring was penned about with stone, the water captured where it welled up, not free to spill into a stream.
And all was fixed, the houses the same in summer as in winter, set in the same meadows and forests, always in one place. The herds went not to summer pasture, the winter store-places were not filled.
The sky was hazed, and oddly occupied with loud, peculiar birds that flew straight paths with unmoving and unfeathered wings, or spun and darted like ash-keys grown to giant size, or carved of stone, cast of some strange metal, and moved by unknown magic. On the paths around the village moved enormous beasts that rattled and smelled of furnace and fire, with people in their bellies clothed in petals and feathers.
"Why should the Americans get all the funding and the international attention? Hammond and his 'Jurassic Institute' and all that nonsense. Why shouldn't we get some of that?" a sharp voice asked, like a needle of cold pricking his skin, an ice-shard healer's awl. The marking pigment of such a one would surely be ordeal, not ease. "The cloning process itself is not proprietary. Think what we could learn! A park, a settlement of actual prehistoric people, not re-enactors, amateurs. Far more interesting than dinosaurs."
He dreamed of lightning, of agony, of skies torn like spiderwebs, of fields of fire, lakes of burning ice that covered land as far as eye could see from any watch-point that he knew. Arrows fletched with flame that flew from ground to sky, becoming sparks among the stars, and another silent, endless, dark midwinter night that ended with the rising of a silver sun, and golden moons, and stars in patterns he had never seen before.
"The nano-extraction technique has proven successful on even seriously degraded samples. Individuals are re-constructed with a range of original memory, knowledge and skill sets, from minimal and precisely focused to total-complete, anything and everything they ever knew, whether they remembered or had the physical ability still at death or not." The lecturing voice paused, and once again, ice-needles prickled at remembered skin. New marks to be layered over old. "The Firmary processes assure that any nano-construction generated from the information will be free of any of the ills or defects that caused their demise, solving the most immediate of the objections raised by my esteemed colleagues from the Ring. The specimen here is"
"Person," another, warmer voice interrupted, "he was a person. Not a 'specimen.'"
"The Iceman, then." A note of impatience before the lecturer regained his smooth tone and went on, "As I was saying, is, even after the tremendous length of time involved, in ideal condition for the complete regeneration process. Think what that could mean for the colonization of new worlds. Just think."
Words whispered in the wind, tapped against the ice. All kinds of voices, sounds and notes and intonations wondrous strange and new. "Ötzi" they said. Similaun, Hauslabjoch, Tisenbjoch, intoned “Der Mann aus dem Eis” – “L’Uomo venuto dal ghiaccio,” Homo tirolensis, Ice-man. Ötzi. Not just words. Names. A name. His name.
He would be Ötzi, Ötzi of the Ice. And with a new Name, he lived again, and anything was possible.