Vapor was anxious to return to his people, to milk his weary weeks for all the glory they would afford.“I will go at once. Will you stay to watch the stranger?” Nightwind said that he would and Vapor took up his amulet and set out at a soggy trot along Nightwind’s back trail.
Nightwind had agreed to watch the stranger, but he was not bound to do so in the same manner that Vapor had chosen. Vapor had remained out of sight; Nightwind was more inclined to give the stranger something to chew on. He slipped back into his moccasins as soon as Vapor’s footsteps had retreated, then walked noiselessly down to the edge of the lake. There, in the center of the stranger’s firepit, he thrust his ornate spear.
Jean woke late and lay for a time, lulled by the gentle motion of the coracle. He was secure now in his ability to survive – always barring accidents – and for the first time he could relax and let some of the tensions of the last weeks drain away. The melt was a beautiful time – or a beautiful place, depending on one’s orientation. For the colonists it was a time, a season of excitement, of blood and meat, of planting and harvesting. During the melt, the colony rose from its cranky somnolence to prodigious feats of labor, only to sink into lethargy for another year when the melt had passed.
But the melt was always present somewhere on the planet; in Jean’s new perspective it was not a time but a place, a moving, eternal spring. The colonists never saw the beauty of the melt for they were too deeply engrossed in harvesting what it offered against the bleak months of winter. While Jean had trekked north, busy with his own survival, the beauty of the place/time had soaked into him, making him thankful for the misfortune that had forced him to follow the melt. Now, lying quietly in the coracle, he watched the sun rise and drive away the night’s chill. The edges of the water were lacy with ice here on the forefront of the melt, making delicate patterns of sunsparkle. All around him were the waxy yellow lal flowers growing on the fast-sprouting bushes, mingled with the green of new leaves. If he stayed in place for many more days the yellow would be supplanted by the red siskal flowers and the purple of the greenhorn, but he need only trek hard once again to reach this region of yellow where the leer abounds and the melt makes war on the last regiments of snow. He felt a curious peace and luxuriated in the beauty around him. His only tempering sadness was that he alone was present to watch the miracle that was the melt.
Surfeited with laziness, he poled to the water’s edge. He stopped, the pole dripping forgotten in his hand.
There, thrust into the ashes of yesterday’s fire stood a proud, feather-ornamented, steel-bladed lance. more tomorrow