Razor Mountain — Chapter 7.1

Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with new parts published every week or two. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.

The mountain steppes gave way to gentler, gravel-strewn slopes. The people continued to follow the deep gorge carved by the river as it fell through a series of falls. The air grew warmer, and soon the mist coming off the rapids and falls landed wet on the rocks around the canyon, instead of turning to ice.

They came to a rock shelf, and standing at the edge they looked down into a huge basin: a low point between the many mountains all around. The river fell over the cliff in a roaring falls, then cut across the flat ground of the basin toward a lake pooled at the center. However, before it could reach its destination, it was blocked by a pile of felled trees. This dam had backed it up to form a smaller pond. From there, it cut a new, shallower path around the blockage and found its way by a longer path toward the larger body of water.

A murmur ran through the people as they gathered on the ledge. The dam meant there would be giant beavers who had wintered in this warm valley. However, other streams glinted along the slopes around the basin. The lake would be growing daily as the spring melt from the mountains funneled down into the basin. It would cover the dam, and possibly fill the entire area. The beavers might already have fled the rising waters.

They had to leave the river and walk along the ridge until they found a place where a slope gave them access down. Once they reached the basin floor, travel to the beaver pond was easy. The ground was thick with green growth, thanks to the rich soil surrounding the lake.

They stopped to make camp in the early afternoon within sight of the beaver dam, but distant enough to avoid spooking the creatures. The hunters prepared their spears and crept off to hunt. Some of the people made fire, while God-Speaker and several others went to look at the river and get fresh water.

The river cut easily through the soft earth of the basin’s floodplain, but not through the layer of rock beneath. It was wide and shallow here. As they approached, God-Speaker could see the gleam of fish in the water. Some were small and silvery, others were larger, with pink flanks. The people filled their water skins, then returned excitedly to the campsite. As soon as there was word of fish, they unpacked nets made from braided animal sinew, carefully maintained for opportunities such as this.

Swims-in-Cold-Water was the best net-maker, and she examined each net for any broken or brittle sections. She rubbed them with a fresh coating of precious animal fat to ensure their suppleness and prevent the water from drying them out.

Hunting was the purview of the young men, but fishing was something that most of the tribe could participate in. Older men and women without young children, as well as the children verging on adulthood could all participate. The most limiting factor was the number of nets. Most of the remaining people gathered the nets up and went back to the river. Even if they couldn’t all participate, they could watch.

God-Speaker remained behind with Strikes-Flint and Cuts-Hide, the mothers of the youngest children. He found an area of soft moss and new grass where he could sit away from the noise of the children playing and meditate with the stone god. He looked out over the still water of the lake and the spring colors around the basin, up to the white peaks just starting to verge into the orange and purple of the setting sun. The colors spread across the sky.

God-Speaker listened as Makes-Medicine had taught him. With his inner voice, he asked for her guidance. They had reached the end of the river. Soon, he would have to leave her.

The stone god did not speak with words. It had rarely spoken to him since Makes-Medicine died. It hummed with life, sometimes so soft that he could barely perceive it, sometimes an almost violent vibration. That humming told him things, showed him things. The colors of spring and the colors of sunset blended and mingled. He was surrounded by color. There were no edges, no barriers between one thing and another. No barriers between one world and another. Sky and earth and water and even the invisible world of spirits were intermingled.

It was always this way, God-Speaker realized. Everything connected to everything. It was only his own weakness, his own mind turned in on itself that prevented him from seeing more than a glimpse here and there. He wondered if this revelation came from Makes-Medicine, or the stone god, or if it was simply a fact of the world that he had discovered by accident.

Makes-Medicine would be there in the spirit world. He could reach out to her, just as he could reach out to the stone god. He didn’t need the physical presence of the river or the stone. If only he could see this way all the time. If only he could believe in the permeability between one world and another all the time.

He wondered how long he had been in this state. Time had no meaning here. Even as he wondered, he felt it beginning to slip away. He wanted to hold on, but he couldn’t. He was afraid that this was some unique moment that he would never be able to recreate, but he sensed that fighting it would only cause it to dissipate faster. He let it fade slowly, savoring. As the world reformed itself around him, one thing stood out.

On the far side of the basin, just to the left of the lake from where he sat, there was a gap between two distant peaks. Blocking that gap was a wide, round hill with a bare top. It looked like the top of the bald head of some great giant almost entirely buried under the world. God-Speaker saw that the bald hill would be the perfect vantage point to look out at the world beyond those two mountains. This, he knew, was the direction the people must travel.

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