A Beautiful Friendship — Snippet 04


<Why should they need a nest place so large?> Shadow Hider wondered, and Climbs Quickly flicked his ears.


<I have wondered that myself,> he admitted, <and I have never found an answer that satisfies me. It required great labor by over a dozen two-legs, even with their tools, to build that living place. I watched them for many days, and when they were done, they simply went away. It was over three hands of days before the new two-legs came, and there are only three of them even now.>


<I know that was what you had reported, but now that I have seen how large their nest is it seems even stranger.>


Climbs Quickly gave a soft bleek of amusement at the perplexity in the other scout’s mind-voice, but then that amusement faded.


<Unless I am mistaken, the smallest of the two-legs is only a youngling,> he said. <I cannot be positive, of course, but if that is so, I wonder if perhaps something happened to its littermates. Could that be why their nest seems so vast? If they lost their other younglings to some accident only after they had planned their nest’s size . . .>


Shadow Hider said nothing, but Climbs Quickly tasted his understanding . . . and a glow of sympathy for the two-legs’ loss which made Climbs Quickly think somewhat better of him.


<It is strange that they live so apart from one another,> Shadow Hider said after some moments. <Why should a single mated pair and their young build a nest so from any others of their kind? Surely it must deprive them of any chance to communicate with other two-legs! Assuming they do communicate, of course.>


<I think they must communicate in some fashion,> Climbs Quickly replied thoughtfully. <The two-legs who made this clearing and built the nesting place surely had to be able to communicate with one another in order to accomplish so many different tasks so quickly!>


Shadow Hider considered that, recalling the memory song of Climbs Quickly’s first glimpse of the two-legs in question.


The clan had not been too apprehensive when the first flying thing arrived and the two-legs emerged to create the clearing, for the clans whose territories had already been invaded had warned of what to expect. The two-legs could be dangerous, and they kept changing things, but they weren’t like death fangs or snow hunters, who all too often killed randomly or for pleasure, and Climbs Quickly and a handful of other scouts and hunters had watched that first handful of two-legs from the cover of the frost-bright leaves, perched high in the trees. The newcomers had cut down enough net-wood and green-needle trees to satisfy themselves, then spread out carrying strange things — some that glittered or blinked flashing lights, and others that stood on tall, skinny legs — which they moved from place to place and peered through. And then they’d driven stakes of some equally strange non-wood into the ground at intervals. The Bright Water memory singers had sung back through the songs from other clans and decided the things they peered through were tools of some sort. Climbs Quickly couldn’t argue with their conclusion, yet the two-leg tools were as different from the hand axes and knives of the People as the substance of which they were made was unlike the flint, wood, and bone the People used.


All of which explained why the two-legs must be watched most carefully . . . and secretly. Small as the People were, they were quick and clever, and their axes and knives and use of fire let them accomplish things larger but less clever creatures could not. Yet the shortest two-leg stood more than two People-lengths in height. Even if their tools had been no better than the People’s (and Climbs Quickly knew they were much, much better) their greater size would have made them far more effective. And if there was no sign the two-legs intended to threaten the People, there was also no sign they did not, so no doubt it was fortunate mind-blind creatures were so easy to spy upon.


<Very well,> Shadow Hider said finally, his mind-glow grudging, <perhaps they are able to communicate . . . somehow. Yet as you yourself have reported, Climbs Quickly, they truly do appear to be mind-blind.> The younger scout flattened his ears uneasily. <I think that is the thing I find most difficult to understand about them. The thing that makes me . . . anxious about them.>


Climbs Quickly felt a flicker of surprise. That wasn’t the sort of admission –or insight — he normally expected out of Shadow Hider. Yet the other scout had put his claw squarely upon it, for the two-legs were a new and frightening thing in the People’s experience.


Yet they were not entirely new, which only made many of the People more nervous, not less. When the two-legs had first appeared twelve season-turnings back, the memory singers of every clan had sent their songs sweeping far and wide. They’d sought any song of any other clan which might tell them something — anything — about the strange creatures and whence they had come . . . or at least why.


No one had been able to answer those questions, yet the memory singers of the Blue Mountain Dancing Clan and the Fire Runs Fast Clan had remembered a very old song — one which went back more than twelve twelves of turnings. The song offered no clue to the two-legs’ origins or purpose, but it did tell of the very first time the People had seen two-legs, and how the long-ago scout who’d brought his report back to the singers had seen their egg-shaped silver thing come down out of the sky.


<I have often wished the Blue Mountain Dancing scouts had been a little less cautious when the two-legs first visited us,> Climbs Quickly admitted to Shadow Hider. <Perhaps we might have been able to decide what the two-legs want — or what we should do about them — between then and now, when they have returned.>


<And perhaps all of the People in the world would have been destroyed then,> Shadow Hider replied. <Although,> he added dryly, <at least if that had happened, we would not be wondering what to do about them now.>


Climbs Quickly was torn between a fresh desire to cuff Shadow Hider and a desire to laugh, but once again, he did have a point.


Personally, Climbs Quickly thought those first two-legs had been scouts, as he himself was. Certainly it would have made sense for the two-legs to send scouts ahead; any clan did the same thing when expanding or changing its range. Yet if that was the case, why had the rest of their clan delayed so long before following? And why did the two-legs spread themselves so thinly?


Shadow Hider was scarcely alone in wondering how — or if — the two-legs truly communicated at all. If they did, even Climbs Quickly was forced to admit that it must be in some bizarre fashion completely unlike the way in which the People did. That was one reason many of the watchers believed two-legs were unlike People in all ways, not just their size and shape and tools. It was the ability to taste their fellows’ mind-glows, hear one another’s mind-voices, which made People people, after all. Only unthinking creatures — like the death fangs, or the snow hunters, or those upon whom the People themselves preyed — lived sealed within themselves. So if the two-legs were not only mind-blind, but chose to avoid even their own kind, they could not be people.


But Climbs Quickly disagreed. He couldn’t fully explain why even to himself, yet he was convinced the two-legs were, in fact, people — of a sort, at least. They fascinated him, and he’d listened again and again to the song of the first two-legs and their egg, both in an effort to understand what it was they wanted and because even now that song carried overtones of something he thought he’d tasted from the two-legs he spied upon.


Shadow Hider is wrong, he thought now. Blue Mountain Dancing’s scouts should have been less cautious.