A Beautiful Friendship — Snippet 05


Yet even as he thought that, he knew he was being unreasonable. Perhaps those long-ago scouts might have approached the intruders, but before any of them had decided to do so, a death fang attempted to eat one of the two-legs.


People didn’t like death fangs. The huge creatures looked much like vastly outsized People, but unlike People, they were far from clever. Not that anything their size really needed to be clever. Death fangs were the biggest, strongest, most deadly hunters in all the world. Unlike People, they often killed for the sheer pleasure of it, and they feared nothing that lived . . . except the People. They never passed up the opportunity to eat a single scout or hunter if they happened across one stupid enough to be caught on the ground, but even death fangs avoided the heart of any clan’s range. Individual size meant little when an entire clan swarmed down from the trees to attack.


Yet the death fang who’d attacked one of the two-legs had discovered something new to fear. None of the watching People had ever heard anything like the ear shattering “Craaaack!” from the tubular thing the two-leg carried, but the charging death fang had suddenly somersaulted end-for-end, crashed to the ground, and lain still, with a bloody hole blown clear through it.


Once they got over their immediate shock, the watching scouts had taken a fierce delight in the death fang’s fate. But anything that could kill a death fang with a single bark could certainly do the same thing to one of the People, and so the decision had been made to avoid the two-legs until the watchers learned more about them. Unfortunately, the scouts were still watching from hiding when, after perhaps a quarter-turning, the two-legs dismantled the strange, square living places in which they had dwelt, went back into their egg, and disappeared once more into the sky.


All of that had been long, long ago, and Climbs Quickly deeply regretted that no more had been learned of them before they left.


<I, too, often wish we had learned more when the two-legs first appeared so long ago,> Shadow Hider said, almost as if he had been reading Climbs Quickly’s very thoughts, and not simply the emotions of his mind-glow. <Yet I also think we are fortunate Blue Mountain Dancing’s scouts saw as much as they did, especially the ease with which they slew the death fang. For that matter, we are fortunate the memory singers were able even to recall the memory song from that long-ago time!>


<You are certainly right about that much, Shadow Hider,> Climbs Quickly agreed, although he did not agree with everything the younger scout had just said. In fact, he believed it was most unfortunate that the death fang’s fate had frightened those long-ago People into avoiding closer contact. They were fortunate to retain a memory song from so long ago, however, especially when it was not one of the songs which had been important to the day-to-day lives of the People in all the weary turnings since it had first been sung.


Yet that very song’s account only fueled Climbs Quickly’s frustrated, maddening curiosity about the two-legs. He’d listened again and again to that song, both in an effort to understand what it was they wanted and because even now that song carried overtones of something he thought he had tasted for the two-legs he spied upon.


Unfortunately, the song had been worn smooth by too many singers before Sings Truly first sang it for Bright Water Clan. That often happened to older songs, or those which had been relayed for great distances, and this song was both ancient and from far away. Though its images remained clear and sharp, they had been subtly shaped and shadowed by all the singers who had come before Sings Truly. Climbs Quickly knew what the two-legs of the song had done, but he knew nothing about why they’d done it, and the interplay of so many singers’ minds had blurred any mind-glow the long-ago watchers might have tasted.


Climbs Quickly had shared what he thought he’d picked up from “his” two-legs only with Sings Truly. It was his duty to report to the memory singers, and so he had. But he’d implored Sings Truly to keep his suspicions only in her own song for now, for some of the other scouts would have laughed uproariously at them, and they might well have strengthened Broken Tooth’s suspicion that Climbs Quickly was not the best choice for his present duties. Sings Truly hadn’t laughed, but neither had she rushed to agree with him, and he knew she longed to travel in person to the Blue Mountain Dancing or Fire Runs Fast Clan’s range to receive the original song directly from their senior singers and not relayed over such a vast distance from one singer to another.


But that was out of the question. Singers were the core of any clan, the storehouse of memory and dispensers of wisdom. They were always female, and their loss could not be risked, whatever Sings Truly might want. Unless a clan was fortunate enough to have a surplus of singers, it must protect its potential supply of replacements by denying them more dangerous tasks. Climbs Quickly understood that, but he found its implications a bit harder to live with than the clan’s other scouts and hunters did. There could be disadvantages to being a memory singer’s brother when she chose to sulk over the freedoms her role denied her . . . and allowed him.


He bleeked softly with laughter at that thought.


<What?> Shadow Hider asked.


<Nothing important,> Climbs Quickly replied. <Just a memory of something Sings Truly said to me. She was not happy at the time.>


<I am glad someone finds that humorous,> Shadow Hider said dryly, and Climbs Quickly laughed again.


It was true that his sister had a formidable temper, and the entire clan still recalled the day a much younger Shadow Hider, but little removed from kittenhood, had accidentally dropped a flint knife. It had fallen perhaps a twelve of People’s lengths and embedded itself in a net-wood limb . . . perhaps a double hand’s width behind Sings Truly’s tail.


It would not have been humorous if it had fallen any closer, of course. Short Tail had lost the last hand width of his tail to a not dissimilar accident, and it could have injured Sings Truly seriously, even killed her. Shadow Hider’s reaction most definitely had been humorous, however. Indeed, he’d received his name for the way he had vanished into the shadows when Sings Truly began her furious scold at the very top of a memory singer’s mind-voice!


<She would not truly have skinned you for a rug for her nesting place, younger brother,> Climbs Quickly said now, feeling unusually fond of the other scout. <And I do not think she will skin me for one, either. Although there are times I feel less certain of that!>


<Personally, I have no desire to find out whether or not you are correct about that,> Shadow Hider replied with feeling.


<A wise scout does not venture into the death fang’s lair to see whether or not it is at home,> Climbs Quickly agreed, stretching out on his belly with a sigh of pleasure. He folded his true-hands under his chin and settled himself for a long wait, and Shadow Hider settled down beside him.


Scouts learned early to be patient. If they needed help with that lesson, there were teachers aplenty — from falls to hungry death fangs — to drive it home. Climbs Quickly had never needed such instruction, which, even more than his relationship to Sings Truly, was why he was second only to Short Tail as Bright Water Clan’s chief scout, despite his own relative youth.


So now he waited, motionless in the warm sunlight, and watched the sharp-topped living place the two-legs had built in the center of the clearing.