Why was it here? Someone/thing had left it, of course, but for what purpose? To see what he would do? To exchange it for something of his?
He had nothing to match its quality except his rifle or his blade, both of which were indispensable. Finally he took a fishhook, line, and sinker from his supplies and draped them over the spear as an offering. Whoever wanted to contact him would have no difficulty in doing so and Jean’s leg would make it impossible to track that one down. Nevertheless, he took time to examine the tracks left by the spear’s owner. Moccasins; he memorized their design, rolled his coracle, and went on. If the owner of the spear wanted an interview, the opportunity was his. As for Jean, he would simply go about his daily routine.
Nightwind was pleased. The stranger had not taken the lance; therefore he was either honest or cautious. He had left a gift and a fine one. The fishhook was obviously of offworld manufacture and therefore to be treasured. In leaving a gift the colonist had shown himself to be generous – or cautious. He had not left a gift of meat to taunt Nightwind’s hunting prowess, nor had he tried to lie in ambush.
Nightwind hefted his spear and trotted after Jean, thinking to devise other tests. It was not to be.
Jean woke to the gentle rocking of the coracle and the first slant of sunlight. He was uneasy about the lance he had found the previous morning and when he raised himself to look toward shore his uneasiness proved itself. This morning he saw not a lance but a dozen moving human forms. They waited for him to pole to shore.
For an instant he considered poling to the opposite end of the pond and running – where? The futility of that action was so apparent that he discarded the thought as soon as it formed.
Trying to seem unafraid, he poled directly toward the crowd on the shore. His heart beat heavily with both fear and anticipation. He had seen no human face for many months.
At the center of the group stood one commanding figure, a gray-haired woman. Her physical stature was slight, but she radiated confidence and authority. At her side stood what had once been a mighty man, very dark and short, now stooped with age. Beyond him stood a young man of Jean’s age, his face welcoming, and another of the same age but less friendly. This last one carried the lance Jean had seen the morning before.
Jean grounded the coracle, noting how the remainder of the party held back, and staggered ashore, shamed by the clumsiness his wound engendered. He faced them across a little space, his finger on the trigger of his rifle, both hammers cocked. The woman noted this and smiled. “Welcome home, Jean Dubois. I am Helene Dumezil.” more tomorrow