He dropped down on a broken stave and sat inert. Slowly he forced himself to consider the meaning and implications of his plight.
Jean could not return, yet he had not entirely planned to return. He realized then that he had been thinking, in the back of his mind, of returning to the island, to the abode of peace, there to spend his life in the company of the semi-human dilwildi. The fear that had driven him away had abated over the subsequent weeks, but he had not acknowledged his plans even to himself.
Now he could not return to the island, nor could he return to the colony by water. The wood in the gig would not make a raft even if he could recover it all, and there were no trees here. Perhaps there were trees in the mountains that his map had shown to be several hundred kilometers to the west, but there was no way he could reach them, nor cut them down, nor return them to the lake. The bushes that grew during the melt were all but useless for wood.
He could not go by water and he could not remain where he was. Soon the melt would pass, and he would starve here. Without shovels he could not dig a permafrost cellar, nor could he hope to fill one while hunting alone. He would starve if he remained, nor did he wish to remain cut off from his fellows in such a desolate place. Solitude might have been acceptable amid the beauty of the island but not here.
He would follow the herds. There was no other hope.
For years the younger colonists had speculated whether the others lived nearby or followed the herds. Only a few would champion the latter position. It seemed absurd that anyone could survive constant migration, or that anyone could trek so many kilometers every year. Now Jean would get a chance to prove or disprove the theory. It was not a prospect that pleased him.
He searched through the wreckage of the gig, recovering his few belongings. These he bundled together and then he laid out the torn sail. It was too large to carry so he carefully cut out a sleeping robe from the best of it and then sat before a fire made of the pieces of his gig and made himself a fresh pair of moccasins from part of the remainder.
As he sat, he calculated that the melt moved at an average rate of thirty-five kilometers per day. He would be hard pressed to maintain that pace day after day, especially since he would also have to hunt and avoid being hunted at the same time.
He would not survive. Somewhere he would be too slow and a trihorn or longneck would get him. Or he would run out of ammunition. Or, worst of all and most likely, his leg would not let him keep up the pace and he would slowly fall behind the melt until low winter and starvation overtook him.
If so, so be it. His earlier shock had given way to a new fatalism. His one great adventure was ended and an even greater one had begun. It would be better to die thus than to have lived out a miserable life as a half-man in the colony. Yet he did not look forward to death as he had before, for it would be sweeter still to survive and return.
Night was about him and the fire was low. He had not slept the night before and now he must. He might die from sleeping, but there was no help for it. He put his finger through the trigger guard, his thumb on the hammer, and let go of consciousness. more tomorrow