Jandrax 53

It occurred to Dumezil that there could be only one destination for young Dubois. The gig could be sailed upriver even in the melt if the wind were as strong as it had been for the last two days. There he could hunt alone and perhaps recoup his status. It would be extremely dangerous; no, it would be suicide. He could never survive it.

Well, the damage was done. He would simply tell the hunter’s council what he had found and they would look for his body. Or, rather, for the rifle.

***

On his way back from the Dubois house, Dumezil walked out to the hillock south of town where old Marcel was buried. Old man, he thought, staring down at the bare earth, why did you do this to us? You were the snake in your own Eden.

The sun was warm on Anton’s neck, if only by comparison to high winter. He squinted as he looked around. Water everywhere, great sheets of it stretching from the lake to the base of the hills, the remnant of the winter’s accumulation of snow. Soon all would be green again for a season. He remembered Bordeaux where the grass and trees were both kind and everlasting. Why, Marcel, Papa, mentor? Why this false hegira?

***

Positions on the barges were chosen by lot, but the elder Anton Dumezil had conspired to be assigned to outpost one each of the last five years. It made the trek easier for a man past his prime. The younglings were eager as always, poised for the slaughter. He could see little glory in sowing the ground with bones and entrails, though the hunt was a necessary pursuit.

Two-thirds of the male population went on the hunt, leaving behind only the women, the young boys, and a few older men like Levi-Stuer and Lucien Dubois. Chloe Dumezil cradled her infant son against her as she watched the barges depart carrying the younger Anton and the others. Her face was drawn with worry and disgust. It was clear that the men thought poorly of Anton, more for his surrender of the antler than for his actions during the last hunt. She had married him thinking him heir apparent to his father’s power. It was clear now that he was no such person.

Night fell on a town that was nearly half empty.

Levi-Stuer assigned guard posts to the boys and old men who remained. For many of the youngsters it was their first manly responsibility, and they strutted to their posts with bows strung and arrows bouncing at their hips. It was a pitiful guard, really, but Levi-Stuer was not worried. The others had not struck in several years and many believed that they had finally died out. They raided only during the hunt. Everyone seemed to accept that they simply struck when the guard was at its ebb, though some had suggested that they actually followed the herds. That was ridiculous of course; to do so they would have to travel thousands of kilometers a year.

Two nights passed without incident.

***

His name was Nightwind. He was slender but powerfully built, with no excess flesh. He wore herby hide breeches cut off just above the knee and high moccasins of longneck hide. He carried a bow and quiver which he hung in a greenhorn bush to protect them from moisture. His twin knives were of steel which he had forged himself, fashioning them lovingly over long hours. They were carried in a single sheath which was suspended horizontally before him, the blades overlapping, the handles projecting outward over each hipbone. He could draw either or both in a heartbeat. He wore no shirt, no jacket, and no cap. more tomorrow

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