Razor Mountain — Chapter 7.2

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

The hunters and the fishers came back to the camp within minutes of each other. God-Speaker was feeding the fires, half lost thinking through his visions. The sun was behind the mountains, but still lent its light to the sky and the tallest peaks.

The hunters had stalked around the dam, and brought back a giant beaver and two of its young. The adult was as large as a black bear, and took three strong men to carry, slung across poles made from saplings. The hunters were more tired from hauling the creature than from the hunt; it had been felled with two well-thrown spears. The beaver young were much smaller, but still large enough to make several good meals.

The fishers had also done well. One of the nets had broken, losing most of the catch, but it could be fixed. The other two had come out of the river thick with fish. After weeks with hardly any fresh food, the prospect of so much made the people giddy. There was a flurry of activity. Some of them cut fillets of the fish and prepared them to cook or smoke on simple wooden racks. They scooped the roe from the bellies of the silver fish and passed them around. The bones and bits of leftover meat were put in waterproof skins and covered with fresh water. Then the people used fire-heated rocks to heat the mixture into a soup. Meanwhile, others flayed the huge adult beaver and the smaller young and butchered them with sharp stone knives.

God-Speaker volunteered to go back along the ridge and find clean snow and ice in the shadowy places where spring sun had not yet reached. It gave him more time to be alone with his thoughts.

The people cut up the meat and offal and wrapped it in skins filled with the clean ice and snow to keep it fresh and free of flies. It also lessened the smell of fresh meat, which could draw scavengers and predators, hungry after the long winter.

That night, they feasted on fresh fish, fish stew, and the organ meat of the beavers. The mood was festive. The fires were stoked with the deadwood strewn around the basin, and it sometimes burned with hisses and hints of strange colors, reminding God-Speaker vividly of his vision.

The hunters told stories of hunts in years past. The fires burned low and the moon fell behind the mountains, leaving a clear sky of bright stars. Braves-the-Storm spoke quietly about the journeys of the tribe through strange lands that the younger people had no memory of. He talked about the open sea in storm, and wild, crashing waves peaked with white foam. He spoke of icy shores in deep winter, and the booming of cracking ice underfoot. His low voice and the steady rhythm of his words were a sort of primal music.

They slept well, tired from hard work but full and happy and warmer than they had been on the mountain slope.

It was cooler the next morning, but still comfortable when wrapped in furs. There was plenty of work still to do, smoking meat and fish to preserve it, and taking in another, smaller haul of fish. The fires had to be fed, and the people now needed to go further and further to find wood. There were bits of old driftwood and long-drowned trees, but the only living trees in the basin were young saplings.

God-Speaker busied himself gathering wood and helping with other tasks here and there as he saw need. He had no particular skill in butchering animal or fish, or in preserving the meat or preparing the hides. Like any member of the tribe, he knew enough to participate in those tasks, but he had no names given to him for skill in these things as others did.

The people stayed at camp that day, but talk turned to travel again. As they took their mid-day meal, Braves-the-Storm sat near God-Speaker, Far-Seeing, and Finds-the-Trail. He chewed a piece of fish and nodded to God-Speaker.

“We followed the river to her ending, and she has given us a great spring bounty. We have new strength and we have good weather. We must give thought to the journey ahead.”

“We have only just arrived here,” Far-Seeing said. “Are there no more fish in the river?”

Finds-the-Trail smirked, but he said, “Fish are as good when your belly is aching from hunger, but I want more game to hunt. The animals are hungry after the long winter. They will come to the open water, but we will have to walk the shore to find them.”

Braves-the-Storm nodded. “There is the problem of wood, too. We cannot stay here and keep our fires lit. Already we must walk a long way to find wood. We might find another place like this further down the shore, with fish or game, and more trees.”

God-Speaker was hesitant to speak up, but he felt a tightness below his heart. The stone god hummed next to him.

“When we first came to this place…I had a vision,” he said.

Braves-the-Storm frowned. “Why did you not speak of this?”

“It was not urgent. There was much to do and I thought it could wait.”

“What did your vision tell you?” Braves-the-Storm asked.

God-Speaker pointed across the lake. “There is a hill there that looks like a bald head. It stands in front of a wide valley between those two mountains. If we travel along this side of the lake, we can climb that hill and see what lies beyond. My vision guided me toward that place.”

“That’s it?” Finds-the-Trail asked. “Go to the top of a hill and look around? I could have told you that the best place to see your surroundings is from a high place.”

“It is warmer here, near the lake,” Far-Seeing said. “Now is the time to stay and gather what we can. Fill our packs.”

“We can travel along the shore and still hunt and fish as we go,” Braves-the-Storm said.

Far-Seeing looked out across the lake. “There is another thing. Over along the opposite shore, I see more trees. The land looks like it makes shallower slopes. The streams from the mountains look small and easier to cross.”

He pointed down the shore on the left side of the lake. “This side looks more dangerous. There are fewer trees and that river looks much more broad.”

God-Speaker frowned. “It will take many more days to go around the other way to the bald hill.”

Braves-the-Storm took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. “The streams from the mountains will run faster every day. Crossing rivers will be dangerous. We should avoid that if we can.”

God-Speaker’s vision had not been specific. How could he translate vague feelings into urgency?

“I do not know. I do not want to leave the river either. But I am called to that hill. If the rivers are growing with the melting snow, it may be easy to cross now, and impossible in a few days.”

Braves-the-Storm nodded. “You make a good point. Perhaps we should try the shorter path, along this side of the lake. If it proves unsafe, we can go back and try the long way.”

God-Speaker nodded in agreement. The two hunters frowned, but they didn’t argue. The matter seemed settled, for now.

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