Straining, I budged the dugout up on the rocky beach. As I raised my head and stretched my back, I scanned the beach again for any sign of threat.
Kah was already under a large tree, making the evening fire. Poa, as always, sat next to him gutting the fish we’d caught today. My stomach grumbled at the thought. I couldn’t see Houa, but knew she’d be gathering wood nearby. We each knew our part of our routine—the routine of survival.
Leaning into the dugout, I picked up my spear and grabbed the water bladders. We’d come ashore here because Kah had spotted the waterfall cascading over a small cliff. When wandering alien lands, the basics of survival take priority.
“I’m going to get water,” I said as I passed Kah and Poa.
“Okay, Ta’aba,” they said in unison, then laughed at one another.
They call me Ta’aba, but the old shaman had named me Tahowikio-Barwu-Uupavaba, which meant “the long trail walker” in my people’s tongue. I can still remember the old man’s face though it has been many, many long years. I remember sitting by the fire mesmerized by the glowing, warm coals as he told me that people were built by Kith for moving, and the spirits had revealed a quest to him for me. He told me this as he cooked rabbit over the fire. We then ate together, while he went on and told me about the land from which the great Sun arises—the land of Kith and the lesser Gods. Ah, the memories.
I found a small path to push my way through the thick vegetation. The hill was a small climb, but the rocks were slick and wet. My senses were strained and alert. We’d never been this far from the ice before. We didn’t know what manner of beast, spirit, or savage might live here.
When I crested the hill above the beach, I was close to the source that fed the small falls. I discovered the water ran cool and clear from out of a rock, a gift from a benevolent spirit. There were signs small animals had drank here before. I waited, listening. Our tribe could afford no mistakes.
I stretched out my mind opened to all my senses, seeking any hint of danger. I could hear Kah and Poa. Saw a flicker from above—a gray bird watched me. Leaves sighed, branches waved, trees bowed in the wind. I breathed in the smell of the moss and loam. Heard the trickling water tumbled over the rocks. As I stood rooted there, I felt the beat of my heart and my own hot breath as I slowly exhaled into the clinging, misty air.
I moved to the stream, said a prayer to the water spirit, thanking her, and dipped the neck of the first bladder under the nearly invisible surface. I was still alert, but my mind wandered as my hand burned with cold.
This was a strange and beautiful land. In ways similar to some we had traveled through and in other ways so very different. No two places are ever exactly the same.
I stoppered the first bladder and picked up the second. The breeze changed direction, and I could faintly hear the voices of the others on the beach below. The gray bird swooped to a lower branch in the tree. He bobbed there, giving me a closer inspection. Perhaps he was the spirit who guarded this place. It seemed possible. Careful then, I avoided looking at the spirit so as not to make offense.
My hand had gone numb, and I continued my private thoughts.
Though I began trekking so long ago, I still pursue the quest my father bequeathed me. My small tribe and I explore the world, free, and now quite alone. The other hunters had been afraid, did not want to leave the ice. They tried to dissuade me with stories of monsters, angry spirits, and the wrath of the Gods.
Of course, they don’t know. How could they? I’ve only ever told Houa about the shaman’s dreams.
Houa and I are getting on now. We must push fast onward. Perhaps we shall reach the land from which the Sun rises and join the Gods in the never-ending feast, as my father had once explained worlds away. But even if we don’t, we will know that Ta’aba will have traveled and experienced far more than those I’ve left behind.
I stopper the last bladder and lift their now heavy weight.
Heading back to camp, I smile. I shall not forget his voice as he croaked into the crackling wood of the fire, “Live your life, my son, for it is the one thing entirely your own.”
Copyright © 2014 Eric Schweitz
Photo linked via The Heart of Writing