Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with new parts published every week or two. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.
The next day, the people packed their things and broke camp. God-Speaker made signs to the river and spoke quietly, standing apart from the others. He knew now that he was not really leaving her. He had seen how weak the barriers between the worlds could be. He could reach out and find her, if he had the skill. Still, it felt like a goodbye.
It was easy travel along the lake shore, a relaxing change from the hard scrabbling through the mountains. Their surroundings made it clear though, that this was only a break. There were more mountains in their path, regardless of the direction they chose. The sun was bright in the sky, and the snow on the slopes was melting. There were puddles in every little depression, and little rivulets running over the rocks everywhere. They crossed several small streams that had clearly only just started to carve their way through the soft dirt, growing moment by moment.
It came as little surprise then, when they came over a low hill and found a real river. It was at least as large as the river they had followed to the basin, the river of Makes-Medicine. It came over a great rushing falls far up the slope, visible by the cloud of rainbow mist, but barely a whisper of the rushing water to be heard from their place far below.
This river was not just from the spring snow melt, although it clearly had swelled in recent days. It followed a path carved deep into the rock, and it had a wide mouth that spread out well above the current lake shore. The level of the water was several feet below the lip of the river’s gorge. The water was deep and dark, and rushing fast. At its narrowest, it was too wide to jump, and though it was shallower closer to the lake, it was many times wider there. Though the weather had been warmer in the basin, it would be dangerous to wade through. Even if nobody was taken by the current, the mountain water was freezing. Pieces of ice came floating down, crunching against the rocks and showing the speed of the water.
“There,” said Far-Seeing. “Not even a day of good travel before our way is blocked.”
He squinted and shielded his eyes from the sun, looking across to the far shore of the lake. “It looks like easy terrain on the other side.”
Braves-the-Storm looked in the opposite direction, away from the lake and up the slopes of the basin, toward the falls. “The trees are better here. There is something we could try.”
The slope was soft rock, layered with rich black dirt and green with moss, grasses and shrubs. It was enough soil for a decent number of pines to find places for their roots to take hold. There were a few that rose straight and tall. They could provide enough wood for a few days of fires at least.
“Let us stay here for tonight,” Braves-the-Storm said. “This is a good place to camp, on the hill. We could not get back to the old camp before night anyway.”
“But we will go back?” Far-Seeing asked.
“Of course,” Finds-the-Trail said, leaning on his spear set in the soft earth. “We agreed to try this way and see if it was passable, and then go around the other way if it wasn’t.”
“Another day of travel will only make more rivers of these little streams,” Braves-the-Storm said. “As long as we are here, let us try to make a bridge.”
The people were used to traveling, but they usually went around obstacles like this, rather than crossing them. Many seasons ago, when they traveled along the shore of the endless ocean, they had made small boats. Now, the knowledge of making them was lost to all but one or two. They had some knowledge of bridge-building too, but it was a rare thing to build a bridge to only be used only once, and the people rarely stayed in one place for long.
While some of the tribe gathered wood for fires, and several of the hunters went off in hopes of finding more game, Braves-the-Storm directed God-Speaker and several of the older men to the straightest, tallest trees, and they took turns chopping with their broadest stone hand-axes. The trees were as thick as a hand’s length, from fingertip to wrist. It was fairly soft wood, but it was still hard work to chop through, and they had to be careful that the tall trunks didn’t fall onto anyone. By the time they were done, their hands and tools were sticky with sap.
As night fell, they dragged the two trunks to a flat place near the river. Braves-the-Storm had them dig a trench in the dirt near the edge of the river. Then they rested and ate.
The hunters came back without having caught anything, and God-Speaker could hear Far-Seeing and Finds-the-Trail complaining about the time they were wasting on the wrong side of the lake, and speculating about better hunting across the water. Everyone else, however, seemed happy enough to have good food to eat and less freezing weather for sleeping.
That night, there were strange noises in the distance: roars and yips. The fires were kept burning bright, and several of the hunters stood guard with their spears in hand. Nobody heard anything come close, or saw any predators’ eyes reflecting the firelight in the darkness. Still, it was a potent reminder that even in this seemingly peaceful valley, the world was dangerous.