There was a pronounced dampness in the valley that night of the type that heralds the onset of autumn. It soaked the grass and big grey boulders and the bodies lying scattered in the bog.
The hills above were silent. Barely a reed moved. Even the spiders had ceased their nocturnal spinning as though vaguely aware there were things out there, waiting.
A raven was the first to come forward; his shaggy throat and feathers fluttering as he swooped down through the gathering mist to investigate. His senses guided him in an unerring path, to a man who had received a cleaving slash to the mid-section, so deep you could see his liver; gleaming, naked and exposed. The ghoulish bird settled down upon him and after some tugging and pulling ripped out a beak sized, dripping morsel. A quick gulp and it was gone so he delved for another and another, turning his beak from black to red.
In the bushes and ferns, those that watched trembled – but not with trepidation, because the raven had proved to them that the humans were no longer worthy of fear. They trembled with excitement, because they knew there was a great feast ahead – an opportunity to boost their chances of survival. One by one they rushed forward to join him, wide eyed and nostrils flaring, determined not to miss out. They yelped and snapped at each other, twisting and crunching, their teeth biting through gristle and solid bone.
Instinctively they knew to build up their fat reserves and that protein was needed in order to grow a coat thick enough to keep out the cold. Millions of years of environmental conditioning had shaped them, imprinting this awareness on their primitive psyche over each subsequent generation.
It didn’t matter that they belonged to differing species or that some were just beginning their lives while others were almost at an end. All they knew was that in just a matter of weeks, or maybe even less, that a Northerly wind would sweep down from the Arctic Circle blanketing the valley in a layer of snow that could and often did last for months. Anything that helped them and their clans prepare for the inevitable had got to be worth fighting for. Life was everything to the living.
Dawn approached as they filled their growling stomachs to capacity; just a mere glimmering above the mountainous horizon. It was from that direction that the great golden eagle came, gliding softly on extended wings over an army of pine trees and firs. Invisible thermals carried her, over the shallow lake with its shores of granite and across the valley till she reached the hill on the opposite side. From high up between the clouds and earth she looked down and saw something interesting, half hidden in the thickness of the purple heather.
But scavengers were closing in. With a triumphant cry, she started to descend, wings pressed tightly to her sides giving her the shape of a Bronze Age arrowhead. Within fifty or so feet of her target she levelled off and a heartbeat later sunk her talons deep into an outstretched thigh. The corpse shuddered and twitched and with scream that echoed all the way to the Taiga River the young woman sat up waving her arms about so hysterically that the raptor flew away in shock.