Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with new parts published every week or two. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.
It did not take long to come to the narrow part of the river. They found it was an even better crossing than it had appeared from above. Many of the rocks and boulders that had washed down the river collected here in a place where the water cut back and forth through a crack in a huge shelf of solid stone. The water was very deep and fast, but the crossing was narrow enough that everyone could jump it, even mothers carrying their children. The only child too big to carry was Black-Eyes-Staring, and he was nearly a man and able to make the jump by himself, under the worried eyes of his mother. They crossed one by one, with people waiting on the far side to catch them, until all were across.
The land was rocky and barren around the crossing, but they soon came to the trees that God-Speaker had seen from the ridge. They covered a broad area of rolling hills. Birch and pines grew far apart, surrounded by tangled bushes and undergrowth. All the plants and trees were eager for spring and had sprouted new growth and new leaves.
The people followed the edge of the forest, still within sight of the river, and soon came upon hoof-prints in a half-frozen patch of mud. The sun was still well above the horizon, but they immediately stopped and made camp. Several of the hunters took their spears and slings and went off into the trees while the rest of the people made quiet, excited conversation.
God-Speaker saw Braves-the-Storm at the edge of the group, and the man motioned for God-Speaker to join him. God-Speaker looked down to the pack that he had only just removed from his aching shoulders. He left the god sleeping there, in the middle of the camp, and followed Braves-the-Storm.
“If we do not hunt, we can at least look ahead,” he said as God-Speaker caught up.
They walked a little ways in the space between the trees and the river. The shadows grew long in the fading light. The water was quieter here. The furrow carved by the river cut deeper and deeper into the earth. They approached the edge and saw that the water was far below now. The walls of the little canyon were slick with ice. Even here, the gap between the walls was not wide. Braves-the-Storm picked up a rock and threw it to the other side. It barely cleared the gap and skittered into a line of gray boulders.
Suddenly, the shape of a person holding a spear came walking from behind those boulders, followed by several more. They were not quite shadows, but were hard to see clearly with the sun setting behind them. They stood in a line, looking across the gap at God-Speaker and Braves-the-Storm. It was a small group, much smaller than their own people. God-Speaker thought of the strange man who had invaded their valley days before. Did these people look the same? It was hard to tell. He tensed, watching for any sign of danger.
The man with the spear crouched and set his weapon on the ground. Then he stood and made a broad, sweeping gesture with his arms. One of the others spoke or made some sound, but it meant nothing to God-Speaker. He looked to Braves-the-Storm, but his face showed uncertainty too. After a few silent moments, the others walked back to the line of boulders, turned, and went out of sight up-river.
When God-Speaker and Braves-the-Storm returned to the rest of the people, it was nearly dark. The hunters had returned, not with deer, but with two more hares. It was less of a feast than everyone had hoped for, but once they had been skinned and cooked, there was enough for each person to have a small portion, and the mood around the fires improved. The pelts, caught between winter white and summer brown, would be fine and soft as well.
Braves-the-Storm told the people about the small group of others that he and God-Speaker had seen across the river. They had never had reason to fear other tribes before, but with the death of Makes-Medicine still fresh in their minds, nobody was excited to have another tribe somewhere nearby. Wood was plentiful near the trees, so they fed the fires until they burned high and bright. A few of the hunters took turns staying awake, watching the path back toward the river crossing.
God-Speaker stayed awake for much of the night too. The other tribe did not feel like a threat to him. The man had set down his spear in what seemed like a gesture of peace. Still, he worried about what they might encounter tomorrow, away from the river. He thought about Makes-Medicine. He tried to remember everything she had ever told him, about the spirits, about the rituals and the herbs and plants that could heal sickness. He could no longer ask her questions. He was afraid that he would forget something important. What secrets had she not passed on to him? What had he missed or forgotten? Those things would be lost to the people forever now.
He lay on his back, staring up into the clear sky. Among the bright stars, there were two streaks of light, one after another. He waited, frozen in place, and watched. Another streak. Another.
These, at least, he remembered. Makes-Medicine said that many signs could be good or evil, to be interpreted by the events surrounding them. But shooting stars were almost always a bad omen.
God-Speaker sat up. The god remained silent; a hunched black mass in its pouch. Far-Seeing squatted near one of the fires, half-dark, half illuminated, watching the void between the river and the trees. Everyone else was asleep.
God-Speaker lay back down. He closed his eyes and tried to remember everything Makes-Medicine had ever taught him.