Jean showed Mist-on–water how to fire his rifle and she in turn instructed him in the fine points of archery and use of the lance. His leg still hurt with exertion, but he ignored it as always and found that he, could hold his own with Vapor and the others as long as they kept their speed to a fast walk. He could not trot or run.
Jean and Mist went hunting using Jean‘s technique of a slow stalk upwind and she killed a herby with the rifle. No other young member of the tribe had ever fired a rifle and she did an impromptu war dance around the carcass.
The lake lay far to the south and preparations for the turnabout were underway. For weeks the tribe had killed in excess, drying the meat against the flight. Now it came.
The herds had been restless for days. The herbies were milling in the brush, unsure of themselves, and the trihorns were even more belligerent than usual. Longnecks came within sight of the camp and the tribe’s children were held close at hand. All nature seethed with the imminent change.
Then they started. Here a humpox turned its shaggy head southward and there a herd of trihorns stampeded nervously, now trotting, now running, south. The herbies were quick on their heels.
The sun was southing, The melt growth still lay untouched to the north but the wildlife had turned away back toward the southeast, cutting away from the crumpled swath they had made and into the dry region of unharvested growth. The sun, too, had turned south, but there was no snow to melt. Snow there was – for it had followed the melt – but it lay far to the south and the herds were hurrying on to find it.
Some of the animals continued north. Always there were a few less gifted with instinctive intelligence and they went on into a fool’s paradise of heavy growth, munching their way toward starvation.
The tribe, too, turned southward. Now the animals were wary and lean. Jandrax could still kill them and now Jean’s rifle proved its worth. There was some fresh meat and some dried fruit and seeds, but mostly the tribe subsisted on the meat that they had dried in previous weeks.
They moved at the speed of the sun and even the tribe’s boisterousness was subdued by the barren land. It was low winter for a springtime tribe and their spirits were not accustomed to it.
The animals grew gaunt and many died. The children of the tribe ranged wide cutting seedpods for the domestic herbies and the elders rode more now, for they were the first to feel the short rations. Jean’s leg hurt constantly and he was hard pressed to keep up and to hunt. Mist-on-water was with him often, but had the decency not to comment on the pain she read in his face.
They came to the region of scanty growth. Snow had fallen here, though not in abundance, and every day southward brought them to greater moisture. It was not the unfolding of the melt as the colonists experienced it, for every day saw them in the latitude of the lal, but each day there were more young shoots and soon the headlong flight had slowed to the even pace of the long march.
Jean felt more at one with the tribe for their shared tribulation. He had been wrong in characterizing them as the children of eternal spring, for this ordeal was theirs twice yearly.
Now they were heading southward again and every day brought them closer to the colony and – home? more tomorrow