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After It Fledges
By James Dunham
Autumn fog rolled like rivers between the mountains, fading the grasses and shrubs to boulder gray as Anika carried a basket of clothes down the glade’s east end, through barley and wheat fields and around high rocks in the fog, toward the stream—odd that she couldn’t hear its water. Not for the first time, a heat in her abdomen swelled to her chest and neck, the sweat sticking her tunic to her skin. As summer had settled to autumn, she’d failed to convince Berke, her would-be suitor, what this heat and the lengthening spells between bleeding told her: her body had given up childbearing. She might bleed again in a moon or two, or never, but Berke held out foolish hope. Behind her, crowded where the mountain’s forested slope briefly leveled out, the thatched houses of the village receded into the cold, thick air. The stream was too quiet. Anika set down her basket and knelt at the edge of the water.
It ran low, too low given the rains of the past few days, the flow smaller now than she’d seen it since summer. The sight stirred memories from her youth, of thirst, of death. She left the basket and climbed back up the rise. At the crest, two young hunters ambled from the woods with bows, sharing the weight of a red deer.
“Bring jugs and jars,” Anika called. “Hurry.”
As she was the village’s sibyl, they did not question her. They followed her into the village, laid the animal in a butcher’s wagon, knocked on wooden doors, and raised their voices through narrow windows while Anika went into the fields, herding farmers and children away from their barley weeding and sending them eastward down the glade.
Men and women crowded and knelt with bowls and scooped water into clay jars, others ferrying barrels down from their homes, moving the full jugs aside to make room, children standing watch to catch any vessel that might tip in the wind.
The sun broke through the gray sky, and as Anika went back into the village to ask potters for even unfinished jugs, the lifting fog uncovered the mountain face. Its soul, the eastern furu, towered above the forest, the blessed tree’s needles holding green while cherries and rowans had begun to turn red and yellow. Anika stopped to bow and give thanks to the soul of the mountain for abundance in the crops, health in the goats and pigs, for the children, the elders, and for the season of cool and rain. She hurried on again into the village. Her neck burned along with her chest, and she tied back her hair.
By midday the stream ran too shallow to scoop, and villagers had to dig their bowls sideways between the stones to catch any water.
One of the elders raised her voice above the crowd: “Let the rest of it flow. The forest will need it downstream.”
The men and women carried the many jugs and jars up the hill, Anika joining the procession with a full pot of her own. The villagers split into throngs, and stored the water safely in homes and barns. The sounds of the community walking and working as one echoed Anika’s youth.
When she’d been a young woman, so many more years ago than it felt, the stream had died during the night, and they’d found it dust dry in the morning, no chance to collect water. Back then, one expedition hiked up the mountain to find the source of the change. A second group, of which young Anika had been part, traveled the day’s journey downstream to where the gully joined the larger river. There they drank deeply and filled skins to bring back, borrowing from a neighbor settlement two goats to saddle with extra water.
Hiking back up took two more days, and on returning to the village they saw and smelled smoke. At the edge of the barley fields they found everyone else kneeling, circled around a pyre where heads and feet protruded from the flames, some elders and some children, who had not survived the three days of thirst. Anika and her group did not approach, but put down their water and dropped to their knees on the path, not interrupting, allowing the souls of their kin to fly up with the smoke or return to the ground undisturbed.
When the fire died, leaving ashes and splinters of bones, villagers rose from their prayers. They came to Anika’s group in silence, and helped carry the water without greeting each other. Their mourning faces, red from the heat and dark with soot, still lurked in the undergrowth of Anika’s mind, deciding every so often to surface.
Back then Anika and her fellow travelers had approached the ashes and looked into them, uncertain of whom among their families and friends they would not see again, but suspecting, knowing within, who had been too ill or weak to survive the sudden drought.
An elder woman joined them, and shared the names of those who’d succumbed. She knelt as before, and her dry hands scooped the ashes, sifting them into burial urns. Her arms quivered and a bone shard punctured one of her palms. The bead of blood turned the gray ash around it black. Young Anika reached out and held the elder woman’s wrist.
“Hold the urn. I’ll scoop for you.”
For the two days afterward, the village rationed the water brought up from the larger river, mourned the empty beds left by their loved ones, and waited for the upstream expedition to arrive home. On the sixth day after this first disappearance of the stream, the flow returned, and the uphill party arrived back that evening. They had found the water had shifted course a long ways up, flowing down what had been an offshoot that ran under the eastern furu.
Those who’d gone upstream told how they worked to mold the land with logs and rocks, diverting the water back down its original path. This meant cutting off all flow from the other gully and the furu, and in return, the village agreed that each hunter should carry a full jug when traveling up the mountain, and empty the water at the roots of the sacred tree. And at the end of every day, a person from each family should collect a spare jar of water, in case the stream should once again leave them during the night. Such practice protected the village from drought for three dozen years.
After this new disappearance of the stream, the village convened and sat in circular rows among the boulders and the grass, the elders in the outermost circle, the children in the center.
Anika, standing near the outer row, spoke to the assembly reverently, in her mind a wave of new deaths waiting just beyond the horizon, kept at bay only by the water they’d spent the morning gathering. “It’s clear the stream has shifted course again,” she said. “The land we molded before has broken. The stream has gone back to the eastern furu. But the death we accepted all those years ago must not return.” In spite of all the water they’d collected, she said to again send people down to the river, in case the stream could not be diverted this time.
She sat, and the villagers murmured agreement in her wake. She shut her eyes and listened in her thoughts for an instinct about the furu. The mountain’s soul had no need for extra water. The tree had grown for hundreds of years, had been the destination of pilgrimages for wisdom, had towered so tall over the surrounding trees that its life and strength were visible from any clearing on the southern face. If the body fell too weak for the soul, the mountain would find another tree to bless with height and longevity. But that would come in its own time, and until then the eastern furu needed respect. Maybe the watering from the hunters had not been generous. Or had the stream, in yearning to serve the mountain, diverted itself to strengthen the tree? In that case they should honor the stream’s wish. Both stream and furu had been born long before the village.
The voice of Anika’s would-be suitor pulled her attention back to the crowd. Berke, the woods keeper, bearded and tall, stood as near the edge of the group as she. He was sturdy and sinewy, but his years, like hers, showed in his face.
“Only a look upstream can tell us if the water can be diverted again,” he said. “Even with a trip down to the river, that news might come too late. I agree with our sibyl, but more is needed. We need constant, daily trips to the river, and new rain barrels. Our people will be spread thin, but with persistence, we may still make it through the harvest and into winter. Then the snow will give us all the water we need.”
Anika nodded, seeing the necessity in his words. Berke had more than earned his title of woods keeper, a vocation Anika herself had once expected to share, having been in line to train as a woods-keeping apprentice before the stream’s first dying. But the ashes of the children and elders, the warm piles of them in her palms, planted in Anika a seed more sensitive to the soul than to the body, be it a human’s soul or the mountain’s, a soul of the dead or of the living. There would always be births and marriages and deaths whose spiritual weight someone needed to bear, and few in the village approached such things as serenely as she. This past summer, a boy had died of a snake bite, a rare occurrence this high up the mountain, and for weeks the parents hid in their house, away from the heaviness of loss, leaving Anika to carry it.
“As for redirecting the stream, I’d like to go up myself,” Berke went on. “To read the land for signs one way or the other. But I put to the village that if the stream can’t be diverted, it’s foolish to pretend we can stay here beyond winter. As much as it pains me to say this, we may need to migrate in spring.”
A chatter rose from the gathering: resettling as a village elsewhere on the mountain would mean setting some of the animals free, leaving behind their crops, and surviving through the spring on hunting alone until they could find new fields to farm. Many elders might be too weak to travel so long.
Anika knew Berke was right, but whether to migrate was beside the immediate problem. Talk of it would lead to more quarrel than they had time for.
She rose to her feet. “Let’s consider more urgent things, please. The question of leaving for good isn’t here yet, but the need to extend our supply of water is vital. If we can make it through the harvest and into winter, we’ll have ample time to decide as a community about migration.”
The faces, all familiar, looked back at Anika, many still uneasily. Berke still stood in his place, awaiting other responses.
One of the village midwives stood up then, a younger woman Anika thought might show promise as a future sibyl once Anika moved on to eldering. Anika would reach that honor soon if her bleeding stopped entirely.
“If there’s really a chance the mountain is changing to the point where our village needs to move,” the midwife said, “it might be good to send the sibyl with you, Berke. I know there are unresolved matters between you, but this concerns the soul of the mountain, not just the lay of the land. Even if the stream can be diverted again, we ought to consider closely which is better for the mountain: to move the water or ourselves.”
Berke’s and Anika’s eyes met, and Anika saw maturity in his calmness. He did not look angry at the allusion to their unresolved courtship.
Anika spoke to the gathering: “If the village feels right sending me up with our woods keeper, I’ll go. This midwife is right that the intention of the mountain can take discernment, and I’m willing to do all I can.”
She and Berke seated themselves, and silence fell until an elder addressed the village.
“If no one has anything more to say, I think we’ve come to clarity on the need to go down the mountain each day for more water, no matter how thin it spreads our farming, and to ration all of the water carefully. Concerning resettlement, we must wait and see what our fellows find uphill.”
He allowed a pause for response, and got none.
“Then let’s begin preparing. Berke and Anika, do all you can to understand what we face.”
Anika bowed and turned to Berke.
“I have things to gather,” she said. “I’ll meet you at the trail.”
He disappeared quickly into the crowd of men and women heading for their houses. He was no younger than she was, but had gained a youthful vigor ever since he’d begun courting her. His advances came many years later than she’d expected, he occupying himself with the land from before daybreak until after sunset most every day. The village rarely saw him outside of meetings, though occasionally Anika heard his excited voice rising from the carpenter’s house, and stopped outside to listen to him tell where the best trees for woodworking grew, and how many were old enough to cut. In that way his work was as spiritual as hers, he making sure the village’s use of the land didn’t encroach too far on the rest of the mountain’s life.
It was only this past summer, at the first mild wind of autumn in the air, that he showed his face at her door with a basket of herbs he’d gathered. The age in his face made her start. How many years since she’d seen him this close?
“I’ve been wondering,” he said, “if you enjoy solitude as much as I do, or if the truth is that both of us would gain some peace from companionship.”
She accepted the herbs and put some aside for tea to brew over the fire later. Then they went out and followed the perimeter of the wheat field and talked in the shadows of the pines.
She asked him, “What makes you think I get as much solitude as you do?”
“I’ve been talking to people. The truth is, I’ve been gone so much I’ve even missed weddings. For all I knew you might have got married yourself. But you didn’t. People always come to you for counsel, and you give it, with friendship. But there’s no one you tell your secrets to. People see your soul”—and here he blushed at himself—“but never your heart.”
She laughed. “Are you a poet now? Tell me, if no one knows me that well, how do you know it’s my particular companionship you want? And why didn’t you ask for it when we were young?”
Berke watched shadows move in the woods as they walked. “Passion for the land can be overpowering,” he said. “It makes me forget other things. You used to have the same passion. I see you meditating among the trees now and then. I always leave you to yourself because you talk to the mountain. I can’t interrupt.”
Anika picked a wildflower whose petals she could add to the tea later. “And this morning you decided if you didn’t tell me soon, we’d be elders before you got around to it.”
“If you’ve been talking to people, you must know I’m already there. A few moons, I expect.”
Berke stopped walking. “No, that I hadn’t heard.”
Anika spun the flower by its stem. Berke’s blue eyes gleamed under his bushy brows, the skin wrinkled around them. Anika said, “You want children.”
He rubbed the leather sole of his boot on a fallen branch, his face downcast.
She said, “I’m sorry.”
Anika filled a knapsack with root vegetables, a corked water jar, medicinal plants, her extra cloak, and a set of wooden chimes given her by the previous sibyl for meditation. She shouldered the sack and met Berke at the tree line uphill from the village. He waited for her next to the trailhead, a dusty way now half hidden by brown leaves and needles.
“Have you been up the trail this season?” he said.
She continued past him into the shade and cool of the forest, watching her moccasins as she stepped over roots and sunken rocks. “It’s been a few moons,” she said. “I climbed it on a pilgrimage toward the peak early this past summer.”
Berke stepped light and quick, and would soon pass her. “How high did you get?”
“The head of the southern ridge. The wind made it hard to get further.”
She’d climbed after offering last rites for the village boy who’d passed from the snake bite. To the parents, when at last they let her speak to them, Anika could offer only a weak assurance that the boy’s soul was at rest. Afterward, on the ridge, she’d searched for some deeper solace for herself, feeling that in recent years, excepting the occasional marriage, her sibylline duties had lost interest in the souls of the living. On that pilgrimage she’d sat and held her hiking stick upright in front of her, the wooden chimes singing and clattering atop it in the wind, their sound rooting her to the moment. The tree line ended further down the face, no animals in sight, only rock and nooks of old snow. Alone with the mountain, she’d waited for it to speak.
“I’ve seen that ridge from below,” Berke said, interrupting her recollections as he passed her now on the trail. “But I’ve never been up it. Sometimes I wonder if you sibyls know the land better than woods keepers.”
Anika said, “I’ve been everywhere it’s possible to be on the southern face. I know the mountain’s present state, its spirit’s mood. But reading the past and the future out of trees, rocks, water, and animals, I doubt I’ll ever learn.”
Around her and her would-be suitor, the twisting birch trunks after which he had been named grew patchy with leaves turning orange on their branches. Ferns and aspen shrubs sat red and bushy on the ground, and the rocks that poked through the rug of leaves and needles shone green with moss. Here and there a spotted lemming skittered in the brush, and the woods echoed with calls of ptarmigan and grouse. To Anika these signified overflowing life provided and sustained by the mountain, but Berke read them in a different language, their qualities and positions telling stories inferable only from the study of their patterns. Those stories, taken together with others from across the mountain, told the condition of natural cycles and food chains. A day in the forest could reveal, to the right eyes, a history of years and a multitude of possible futures of a season or more.
Able to see only the present, Anika noted that all the plants and animals Anika saw looked free from blight, the water clean, soil dark. The mountain stood powerful in its health, its inhabitants in cooperation.
“Berke,” she said. “Do you have an instinct about the stream?”
He climbed the trail in front of her. “An instinct? I suppose.” He said nothing more.
“You think it can’t be diverted.”
“I could be wrong.”
“But I have the same instinct. Everything around us lives in the abundance it’s earned. The stream likely surges with the same abundance. It goes where it will, and the mountain lets it mold the land as it sees fit.”
“And there’s more abundance to come,” said Berke. “The crops, if we keep with them, will be more than we need. The animals are as fertile, and everywhere. Take these lemmings and voles we keep startling. There will be more of them in spring than the mountain can provide for, and the predators will eat well. The spring after, there’ll be more predators, too many, and not enough game to feed them. Some will die, or migrate to other mountains, and it’ll be the scavengers’ turn to flourish. A different abundance each year until the balance swings back to the lemmings. This is only if the plants stay strong, but to use your sibylline term, I have an instinct they will.”
Anika noticed the heat hadn’t come to her body as hard, not since leaving the village. It would burn fiercely during the night. Not everything would stay fertile.
They came to the top of a ridge in the forest, and took a rest for water.
“How long has it been?” Berke said. As if she’d spoken aloud.
Anika drank, then corked her jug. “Five moons.”
“Then you still can’t be certain. Women in the village have conceived after that long a lapse.”
“You listen to some things the midwives say, but not others. No, I can’t be certain it’s permanent yet, but even if it’s not, my body is old. It’s foolish to try.”
“Is it foolish to want?”
“You be the judge.”
They rose and followed the ridge until the stream bed came up beside it. Want was moot. Anika’s body had decided it was finished, and so it had begun transitioning. She would give it a smooth course. The evening sun dimmed, and the forest grew steeper and more rocky, the trees thinner and more widely spaced.
“We won’t make it there tonight,” Berke said. “Let’s find a place to camp.”
He brought them to a stone hollow out of the wind, roots from nearby young furus forming a partial nest around them.
“This should be a good distance from all the predator dens I know of,” Berke said, sitting down.
Anika had seen a wolverine once on her previous trek up the mountain, but there were plenty of deer and rodents to keep such animals content. A hare after the parsnips in her knapsack would fluster her more.
Anika laid her extra cloak on the rock while Berke chewed on a fist-sized barley loaf spread with sheep’s milk cheese. “If I get up in the middle of the night,” she said, “let me be. My heat tends to burn harder, and I might need to sit in the wind. There’ll be a moon, so I can find my way back.”
She sat on the cloak to relax her mind and faced away from him.
Berke swallowed his bite of bread. Anika felt his eyes watching her from behind.
She turned around. “Is there something else?”
He smiled. “I was just admiring your hair.”
She shook her head. “You were the one who allowed the years to slip by.”
“No need to remind me.”
“Berke, listen. If you want children, please court someone you know can have them. I told you I was sorry months ago. I will not try.”
“You don’t want companionship either?”
Anika breathed deep. “Death has been keeping me company a long time. Its companionship is more than I need.”
In the night, as she expected, the heat came sharply. Her body soaked itself until she peeled off her cloak, tunic, and underclothes, gathered them up, and rose naked from the hollow into the wind and woods. Berke slept. By moonlight Anika hung her garments on branches to dry, and sat on a boulder that jutted from the forest floor, the rock a solid cold beneath her. She set her hands to her knees and closed her eyes. With the wind and the rock, the heat grew bearable.
At once came the memory of her pilgrimage to the southern ridge, of waiting for a message of solace from the mountain, and of feeling led that summer day to open her eyes. She had found an unexpected soul looking back. The ridge sat level with the top of a lone craggy spruce growing a distance down the face, and atop the dead broken tip of it perched the Kongeørn, dark with gold feathers circling its nape, amber eyes fixed on Anika, woman and eagle both still as marble. The wind had gusted harder, Anika’s wooden chimes whistling, and she closed her eyes again, the swoop of wings beating once as the Kongeørn took flight. Anika had not watched, reverent to its reign over the mountain’s prey, hunting whatever and wherever it liked.
How this pertained to the boy who died, Anika had questioned. The eagle was the most invulnerable of the mountain’s predators, devouring such snakes as bit villagers, yet the boy, having no such invulnerability, hadn’t known he’d been playing with his life by not looking where he stepped.
The memory of the Kongeørn vanished as Anika’s body heat drew away into the dark, and she jumped from the rock and took her clothes from the branches. They had dried, and she bundled herself in them again, and returned to the hollow where Berke slept. Out of the wind, she curled behind him, a body’s distance between them. Her shivering told her to move closer, draw heat from him, but she stayed where she lay.
She found him gone in the morning, and waited in meditation for him to come back. The morning had brought gray skies and kept the cold air of the night, a reminder of winter’s advance and of the harvest the village needed to complete if they were to survive.
Berke returned while the morning was young.
“Where have you been?” Anika said, standing and shouldering her knapsack.
Berke smiled. “Tracking a wolverine. The tracks led up, and up further, and up still.”
He grabbed his bag and they made for the stream bed. Here in the wild, his boyishness came through stronger, as if all his time checking growth in plant life and charting animal territories, the peak of excitement to him as a younger man, had kept the burdens of aging away.
Anika said, “And is up unusual for a wolverine?”
Berke stuck his arm straight out in front of him, pointing up the mountain. “I followed it until I saw the southern ridge a few rises distant. And still the tracks went up! I’ve got a hunch this crazy brute had a craving for Kongeørn eggs.”
Anika stopped on the trail, then caught herself and kept moving.
“You look speechless, sibyl. Tell me your mind.”
She said, “I’d always thought of the Kongeørn as invincible.”
“Only after it fledges. I’ve found egg shells with wolverine tracks before. And believe me or don’t, but years ago I witnessed a wolverine take on a moose. It was a lot like watching a villager hack at a tree, if the tree could fight back. But the moose came down.” Berke glanced over his shoulder at Anika. “Still, if I had to crown a king of the mountain’s predators, the Kongeørn would come in first.”
“Because of its flight?”
“Because of its mate. Wolverines are loners. Eagles keep a companion. When one is weak, the other is strong. They help each other survive.”
Anika ignored his smile, his words behind the words. A village of two was not needed in a village of a hundred.
But an image stayed with her of two birds returning to a nest, their eggs stolen and eaten.
After a time the rushing of water rose through the rustle of leaves. Anika and Berke followed the stream bed in silence. The rock now formed great steps as high as their heads, and after circling around them up the slope they stood at an overlook, watching the water below. It ran hard and heavy, and the stones and logs the villagers had used to block off the fork had washed away. Piled boulders the size of bears blocked the water’s route to the village.
“There used to be a tall ledge here,” Berke said. “That’s now the boulders you’re looking at. When we first diverted it, the water caused some erosion underneath, but the ledge looked strong. I never thought it would come down in my lifetime.”
They circled back down and crossed the dry stream bed below the landslide to look at where the water was going.
“This is still surging from the rains,” Berke said.
Anika watched it flow in short falls down the gully it had traveled once before.
“Berke,” she said.
He turned to her, and must have seen in her face what she felt.
“I know,” he said. “It can’t be done. We’d have to change to whole landscape to route it back to the village.”
“That’s what we should tell them?”
“Yes, although the thought of migrating stirs up something sour in me. The southern side of the mountain is all I know. In a new place I’ll be as useful as that dam was. I can learn the subtleties of the land after a season or so, but never the way I know these woods. I don’t have enough years left.”
Anika looked downstream. The heat had come back inside her, and was distracting.
“I’m going to the eastern furu,” she said. “If the mountain has any guidance to give beyond the need to migrate, we’ll get it there.”
Berke stood looking back as if held by the sight upstream, the rocks too large to lift.
Anika hiked downhill next to the water, and Berke followed. They walked in silence. After they’d traveled past several bends in the stream, Berke said, “It’s odd to think how many years I’ve been scouting. To think I’ve gotten so I can’t do anything else.”
Anika watched her footing. She said, “Every life has a peak.”
Berke snatched up a dead branch and picked bark from it as he walked. “So I’m a villager hacking at a tree that’s fighting back.”
“And if I were to foolishly agree to try for children with you, the villager is both of us. I’d be fighting to force my body where it doesn’t care to go.”
Ahead stood the furu, thick and gnarled at its base, roots reaching in and out of the ground and over the stream. Its trunk stretched up through the canopy of turning leaves and climbed toward the sky. Anika bowed, and stepped carefully closer, at last sitting on one of its thicker roots. Berke sat beside the water, and watched it run. He made circles in it with the branch he’d picked up.
Anika hung the wooden chimes on her hiking stick, bowed again to the furu, and closed her eyes. She cleared her mind of words. She waited for images.
The villager bit by the snake. The snake carried skyward by the Kongeørn. The Kongeørn egg devoured by the wolverine. The wolverine tracked by the villager. Only a circle, leading everywhere but nowhere. A circle of death, without solace.
She cleared her mind again. Started over.
The village sustained by the stream. The stream diverted by the mountain. The furu sustained by the stream diverted. The village left to itself. An exchange, the life of the village for the life of the furu. Yet the mountain didn’t need the furu, only chose it. The village needed the stream, or needed to move. An unfair exchange. Was the mountain casting them out?
The sounds of the forest surrounded her. Leaves in wind, animals darting, water running where it must.
She started again.
The village needed the water. The water needed a path, needed rain or melting snow. The rain needed nothing, fell everywhere, gave water to the village and the soil and the animals. Rain, as always, aplenty. The animals followed the stream wherever it went. The animals, already numerous. Soon to multiply. Too many for the mountain. Their abundance enough to sustain the village through spring, migration, and planting, until in summer the harvest began again. This year the surge in game, and next year the predators. Game would fall scarce, but by then the village, migrated to new water, could sustain itself.
A Kongeørn fledging from the nest, when the time was right.
If Berke was right about the animals in spring, there could be no better year for migration.
Anika rose to her feet.
He started, then stood in turn. “What is it?”
She smiled. “I believe you’ve helped to teach me something.”
It was what to say to the dead boy’s parents, though the message had taken a long time coming. The words wouldn’t heal an open wound, would have meant nothing in the days just after the boy’s death. But they might speed the fading of a scar: A different abundance each year, Berke had said, until the balance swings back. Even the Kongeørn fell prey, but one had only to be aware of the circle to be able to ride it like a current. Even the animals grieve the loss of their young, but when it is time, they heal.
Berke hopped the stream and came to her. “Don’t leave me wondering.”
“I don’t know that I can explain it simply,” she said. “But teach me something else—when you say companionship, what is it you’re after? Besides those children that will never come. Besides that human touch. What’s the root?”
He looked into her eyes, sensing her openness to compromise, to a childless companionship, maybe, eventually. He gestured up at the sky and around at the forest. “All this,” he said. “I know the southern face more closely than I know any villager, and it knows me in equal. No secrets between us. Or at least, so few that we’re willing to let them go.” He looked into the canopy of branches far above, sunlight glowing through the red and yellow. His face grew soft. “Leaving this side of the mountain will be losing family. Growing too old to climb it will be losing everything.”
“And still you’ve never scaled the southern ridge? You’ve never tracked a wolverine all the way to the eagle’s nest?”
“No,” he said. “I keep within the tree line. There aren’t even shrubs that high.”
“Then you don’t know what secrets you’re missing. Maybe it’s time you went.”
She leaned on her hiking stick, watched his blue eyes open.
“You mean now.”
“Are you getting any younger? We can’t make it to the village before nightfall regardless.”
Berke found no words.
“They have water enough for a week, and we’d return tomorrow,” Anika said. “Come.”
She held her hand out.
Berke looked at it. Her palm was calloused, wrinkled, welcoming.
He glanced over his shoulder at his nearly empty knapsack. “We’ll need to spear some fish upstream,” he said. But his worried tone paled beside the boyish thrill that lit his features.
He took her hand.
#Unreal #Fiction #AfterItFledges #Nature Village
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