In the afternoon Jean cut numerous wands of greenhorn and when he reached a knoll he worked through the night for a second time, scraping, curing, and sewing on the project for which he had sacrificed so much.
It was apparent to Vapor that the stranger was a colonist and might therefore present a threat. He was a cripple, however, and despite the fine rifle he carried he was no personal threat. The threat lay in what he represented; was he the first of a new wave spreading out to endanger Vapor’s people?
By now Vapor was convinced that this was no ordinary colonist. He had a strange self-sufficiency that no other colonist had ever shown. He lived on the land, not separated from it by walls of timber. When his boat had been destroyed, he had not panicked but had immediately begun a northward trek.
Only once since then had Vapor left him. He had crossed Mist-on-water‘s trail and had run his sister down to tell of this new wonder so that the information could be relayed to the tribe. Then he had returned to his role of unseen observer.
Once the stranger had wasted an afternoon drying meat and curing wood and hides, but otherwise he had made steady progress. He had made crude bows and found them wanting. Vapor’s own bow was a laminate of greenhorn and lal joined by a glue made from trihom hooves. It would cast an arrow swiftly and with power. A man could hunt with it, though not alone and certainly not if he were a cripple. Vapor wondered just what the stranger planned to do with his crude bows and why he bothered with them when he had a rifle.
For two nights now the stranger had not slept. It was plain that he had not learned to extract the juice of the siskal root to make a warding amulet and was therefore unable to trust himself to the mercies of the night. Vapor himself woke several times during the night to watch the work in progress, but he could not understand its meaning.
When morning came, Vapor could see that the stranger was dead on his feet and wondered what he would do now. When he saw, he laughed in amazement and admiration at the stranger’s imagination. He had made a bowl–shaped framework of greenhorn and now he stretched the trihom hide over it and lashed it tight. Then he turned it over and carried it to the shallow lake of snowmelt. It was apparent that this was why he had stopped in this particular place. Carefully loading his gear aboard, he pushed his makeshift coracle away from shore and poled to the center of the lake. There he dropped a stone anchor overside and lay down to sleep in comparative security.
Jean woke a few hours before sunup and poled to shore. He had slept eighteen hours, nearly an entire planet day. By moonlight he broke down and bundled his coracle and started out. He had made several kilometers by the time the sun rose and he walked the day through, rebuilding his coracle in the dusk. The next day he repeated the process, still eating dried meat and the fruits which hung everywhere. He stopped early the third day to hunt and quick-jerk the meat of a herby.
He thought he was doing all right, but he had no way to know. If he marched too quickly he would eventually reach the forefront of the melt and would need only to lay over one or two days to be back at the peak. If he marched too slowly, however, he would soon find game and fruit becoming scarce. So far he could detect no change either way. more tomorrow