Jandrax 71

By Jean’s calculations, the north tending melt would return to the latitude of the colony about 180 Harmony days after his departure. His excursion toward the center of the island had occurred on the eightieth day of his journey so it was clear that he would need speed to reach the opposite side of the lake in time to catch the returning melt.

He need not have worried. The new sail and sideboards gave him speed and, more important, let him lie closer to the wind so that he could proceed more directly toward the west. Where before he had fought helplessly against the wind, he now cut purposefully toward the southwest on an endless tack. From first light until long after dark he held his course and every night he wrapped himself in the hide sail for warmth.

Every night he dreamed of Aeolios and her beauty, and he dreamed also of the presence.

Had it been real?

Thirty-seven days out from the island, Jean sighted the opposite shore of the lake in the sunset. By noon of the next day he had reached it and beached the gig. It was a low shore, icy and snow-covered. He had not brought skis, for his crippled leg prevented their use, so he was restricted to floundering near the shore.

He shoveled away the snow from the lee of a cutbank and tore up the ragged remains of last melt’s bushes to build a fire. Wrapped in the sail, he luxuriated again in the feel of solid earth.

He stayed overnight, basking in the warmth of the fire and planning. He roasted fish in the coals. In the morning he would start south, following the shore until he reached the melt.

He followed the shore southward for two weeks, beaching the gig each night for the comfort of a fire. Soon the snow showed signs of noon melting; the surface was glazed and hard when he went ashore in the late afternoon. Then it was still liquid in the afternoon. Two days later he began seeing patches of bare earth.

Now he was coming into dangerous territory. Soon the first of the leers and krats would appear if his theory was correct. He stopped sleeping ashore, but anchored just off shore and watched. The next evening he saw a krat. It cautiously descended to the lake shore searching for danger. Jean tracked it with his rifle, but his ammunition was too scarce to waste on such a small, bad-tasting carnivore.

The next night he saw tracks of leer and krats. In the morning he waited until nearly noon before abandoning his post. That night he saw leers but they were too wary to approach the gig.

Jean was becoming angry. His hunts had been frustrated before and he had taken it in stride, knowing that there would always be another day. But then he had been whole. Now he knew that it was his lameness that stood between him and a kill and he was getting almighty tired of fish.

He put out further into the lake and sailed south four days without approaching the shore, intending to reach the region of high melt. When he put to shore again the character of the land had changed completely. The snow was gone and the creeks were flowing bank-full in roiling, muddy flood. His visibility was restricted, but he could see the tops of the lal bushes waving in the wind and the lakeshore was a sea of muddy tracks. more tomorrow

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