A Simple Blade
The discussion of alternatives animated the evening meeting. Some people quickly decided that the lake had comfortable advantages over the concept of moving anywhere in the heat. Others were sure they couldn’t pass up the “temple-in-the-sky.” Many of the undecided wanted some assurance or sign that they were doing the right thing.
“I have none,” Chilcoat stated simply. “I don’t want anyone to feel that I know more than they. I didn’t get a big flash of light or voice from the sky or anything like that. I just feel that we’re too many to live off the crops we’ve been able to grow this season. There’ll be those who will not have enough. If some of us move to the temple—village,” he corrected himself. “We may be able to get by for another season. It may be that we’ll do well, or we may starve so that those that remain here may live. If we’re able, we’ll rejoin the clan at the harvest gathering. Maybe by then the weather will be back to normal and we’ll all be happy to tell stories of our adventure.”
Bartan stood with Laot and Lon and put his arm around Katlan. “I, for one, will be happy to remain here and gather the crops we’ve worked so hard to keep alive.”
Laot spoke contemptuously to Chilcoat. “Besides, we still have a cat to kill.”
Chilcoat started to respond but reflected on his own childhood and the loss of his parents. He remembered how he hated everyone for letting them die. He silently spoke a prayer for the boy. Yod, please help him to someday understand.
Rancon spoke from behind the fire pit. “You’d be wise to leave that cat alone and move to the falls with the rest of us. We’ll return at night to tend the crops and stay away from that cat and her cubs. They’ll soon be as formidable as she, and then we’ll really have our hands full.”
Chilcoat tried to ignore Bartan’s obvious bluster. “I think Rancon’s right. If everyone leaves this place and lets that cat alone, maybe she’ll forget the taste of man and move back to the high country.” He noted that in their absence, Bartan had endeared himself to the grieving widow and her sons and now stood as the man of their household. Maybe that’s a good thing. The boys can teach him to hunt and maybe he’ll benefit from a mature woman set in her ways.
Chilcoat wondered if Lan would come with him or stay to try to defend his family. “Anyone who thinks they’ll be coming to the new village, please think carefully. The trip will be very difficult. Our carts won’t fit on the trail in places, and there are many miles of stones. We may have to leave things behind, and once we get there, there’ll be more work and no guarantee that there are enough crops to feed us all.”
Bartan pulled Katlan close for assurance and challenged Chilcoat. “It sounds like a bad idea to me. I think we stand a better chance together here as the clan should be.”
“I’m not asking anyone to go who doesn’t want to go. It’ll be a great sacrifice, but it’s a sacrifice that must be made for the betterment of us all.” Chilcoat turned and left the clan to argue their points without his involvement. He went to the lagoon and sat quietly in the shade dressing the stone he had taken from Tarra. The voices from the arguing crowd rose and fell almost in a chanting rhythm in the background as he diligently struck at the stone. Small flecks and splinters fell through his skilled fingers as the rock slowly took on a more lethal aspect. “It’s a good stone that Lan found and deserves a hunter’s edge.”
Rancon stood at the lakeshore behind him. “You’re going to get waterlogged sitting in a puddle like that.”
“Yeah, I just wanted to finish this before the light’s gone.”
“Nice work. Where’d you find the stone?”
“Lan found it in the ravine on our little adventure. We should check it out sometime. It could be a good source for tool stones. It’s too bad you won’t be joining us.” After a short hesitation, Chilcoat admitted, “I really could use your help.”
“Yeah, I’d like to come, but I just can’t move my son. The heat’s taken a lot from him. He played too long in the lake a week ago and he hasn’t recovered from the burn.”
“Maybe Tarra knows of a cream that’ll help. I’ll ask.”
“Thanks, that’d be great… She’s turned out to be quite a surprise. She seems to have learned a lot from that crafty old geezer.”
“Yeah, she’s quite a handful alright. I thought she was going to poison Lan a couple of times.”
“She’s more than a handful; she is a woman to be reckoned with. People are talking, you know. They say you’ve taken her away from Bartan, but won’t take her as a wife as you should.”
“People should mind their own business.”
“I’m just telling you what happens when you run off into the bushes together for weeks... and speaking of Lan, has he committed yet?” Rancon tried to change the subject. “In case you didn’t notice, Bartan moved right in while Lan wasn’t around, so I don’t know how welcome he’s going to feel at home.”
“Yeah, you better keep an eye on Bartan. I don’t trust him. It was kind of odd how he claimed to have already searched the place where we found Larkon’s weapons.”
“Yeah, he’s a character alright. He got drunk the other day and bragged about how you owed him for taking care of things for you, ’before Larkon had a chance to finish off what his father started’. I think he’s full of crap but Katlan seems to like him. Her mourning was short.”
“Oh really? Well, that changes things a little I guess. If her boys accept him, maybe he’ll straighten out.”
“Yeah, it’s been working out pretty well with them guarding the fields at night. I think he likes the authority and he’s not so pressured to show his hunting skills.”
“Just the same, I think you need to keep an eye on him.”
“I think he’s a coward and I doubt he’ll ever challenge you.” Lannon spoke as he approached. “He’s weak and not good with weapons, but you need to watch your back. He might poison your wine like a woman.”
“Lan, it’s good to see you finally managed to crawl out of bed,” Rancon jibed.
“How are things at home? Have you decided yet to go or stay?” Chilcoat wanted to get to the point quickly.
“I think that I’ll be coming with you. Things between my folks haven’t been good for quite a while. Few feel Dad’s absence deeply. He was a good hunter and taught his sons well, but he was a mean drunk and didn’t treat us good,” Lannon spoke apologetically. “Bartan seems to make Mom happy, and my brothers treat him as a friend. But Charona and I aren’t comfortable there. If we’re welcome back in your house, I’ll be thankful to join you.”
“Of course, I am happy to have you, if you think your brothers will be OK without you.”
“I’ve talked with them about Bartan and the cats, and think they’ll be OK. They’ve changed their thinking now that there are three cats on the prowl. And I think Lon has found girls more interesting than the cats lately, so he’s content with guarding the fields and keeping the women safe.”
Lannon returned at midday with Charona and their meager belongs. She dropped her bundles and hugged Chilcoat warmly. “It’s good to see you, old man. I’ve missed your smiling face.” She kissed him on the cheek.
“OK, you two break it up, I’ll get jealous,” Lannon chided.
“You should be jealous. If he wasn’t married to my sister, you wouldn’t stand a chance.” Charona kissed Lannon and swept up her bundles in a flurry of exuberance.
Caran was glad to have her sister back in the family. They hugged and began a quick sibling-speak conversation that resulted in giggles and laughter that gave Tarra an uneasy feeling.
“I’m glad to rid of that Larkon clan, they’re a needy bunch. Lan’s the only normal one in the family,” Charona confided in Caran.
“I’ll move my stuff.” Tarra said as the two women continued their cryptic bursts of dialog and gestures. Tarra gathered her bedding and dragged her things out of the sleeping alcove.
“Here, let me help. It’s the least I can do.” Charona grabbed the edge of the bedding and helped position it near the hearth where she had been before. She had to move Chilcoat’s bed a little since it had expanded into ‘her territory’ during her absence. “It’ll be just like old times,” Charona smiled and tried to put a good face on the inconvenience.
“It’s only for a little while. Soon we’ll be on the trail and no one will sleep well,” Caran reminded everyone.
Charona pulled up next to Tarra and helped smooth out some wrinkles on the far edges of her bed. “So little girl, you’ve really started something.”
“I’m not a little girl—but yes, I guess I have. I am sorry, I didn’t mean for any of this temple stuff to happen. It was just supposed to be a simple spirit-walk. I’ve watched my father do it many times and nothing like this has ever happened.”
“Don’t be sorry, child. It’s the best thing that could’ve happened to us. I’m rid of that horrible Larkon bunch and I’m back with my family, and we get to go on an adventure. What could be better?” Charona hugged her gently. “I just hope it all works out. I sure would hate to die right now.” They laughed and hugged again quickly.
“I’m glad you two are getting along. I love you both, and really need your help getting through this.” Caran gathered the children’s laundry.
Chilcoat entered dripping from his bath carrying his clothes in one hand and the finished spearhead in the other. The women all fell silent and looked up as if he had interrupted something. “All right, if you’re going to talk about me, at least wait until I get some dry clothes on.”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” Caran chided. “We were talking girl stuff that doesn’t concern you in the least.” They all giggled at his expense.
“Yeah, well, I’m not sure that’s any consolation.”
By now, Lan had joined the group and was also wet from his bedtime bath. As the two men struggled to recapture some dignity, the women giggled at their awkward attempts of modesty.
“Oh, here, I almost forgot.” Chilcoat dug the spearhead out from under his pile of clothes and held it out to Tarra. “I finally put the finishing touches on it.”
She sat silently gazing at his outstretched hand. It was the most beautiful thing she had even seen. He had transformed the crude gray stone into a sleek amber blade sculpted to a fine point with uniform serrated teeth running along the length of both edges. It was a killing blade not a kitchen knife. She admired the workmanship and commented, “Yes, it’s very nice.”
“No, take it, it’s yours. You’ve earned it.” Chilcoat pushed it into her hand and turned to look for some food.
She sat silently gazing at the stone and looked up at Caran and Charona for disapproval. They both sat bewildered at the transaction. They had never seen a killing blade given to a woman before.
“What am I to do with this? It’s a great honor, but I know nothing of its use.”Chilcoat looked up from his plate in surprise. It had never occurred to him that it was a social blunder. It was just a gift to someone he cared for. “It’s yours. You’ve already proven that you know how to use it, it just needed to be sharpened a little.” He dismissed her concern.