As he cast off his boat from the island with the watching elders rapidly fading behind, the tribesman looked back for a last time. The island was where he had lived his entire life. The boat lingered in an inshore eddy for a moment and then was caught by the greater current of the main stem of the river. The tribesman dipped his paddle to steady the craft and point it stern-most to that current. And then with increasing speed he began his journey down stream to he knew not where.
The lateness of the day and the lateness of the year had made darkness near as the tribesman had pushed off. It was not long before the dark was much nearer. And it was not longer still before full darkness had arrived. But he was afloat. And he was under the control of the current. And only his paddle kept him from spinning in aimless slowly spinning circles. The current with the guidance of the paddle kept the boat on a purposeful downstream vector. The darkness precluded any indication of where in the great river – where between the banks – he might be. He said something to his ancestors, asking their assistance, and put his fate into their hands. Implicitly he also put his fate into his own hands and such skill as he possessed as a boatman. And the river and the night and his destiny became one.
There was no moon. All he had, under the clear ebony sky, was the light of the stars. And, better than nothing, that was not much.
In the dark he experienced many jolts and bumps. But he never lost his boat. And he never lost his courage. And he never lost his hope. Every time he seemed to be about to be upended or sideswiped or high centered into the river and into his doom he managed to stay upright. And he managed to stay in a straight down stream direction. And the night went on and on and on.
The sun had begun to pinken the sky at his back when he awoke with a startled snort. He had been lucky. For the duration of his being asleep – which had been only seconds – the river had been clear of debris and clear of the tiny islands of accumulated silt that had almost undone him so many times in his darkness-shrouded float down stream. Now, in the almost-light grayness of the proto-dawn he could see that his way was blocked not far ahead. He was rapidly approaching an island, and an island of some size. “Perhaps” he thought “this is the island that I saw in the dream I was having just now when I awoke.” “If so” he concluded “it is good. The feeling of that island was a good feeling. It had the feeling of home. Perhaps this is where the spirits intend for me to live. Perhaps this is why I had the dream about the great tree which caused the elders to cast me out. Perhaps that happened so I would be here”
As he approached the upriver tip of the place he could see that it had a gouge cut out of it. Two great jaws of the island jutted upstream and created a sheltered area between them. The thing was a sort of natural harbor. Into this harbor he guided his boat with deft dippings of his paddle. The sun had crept above the horizon behind him as he floated into his new home.
The small boat scraped bottom. The bottom, being a course flint based sand, yielded to the thrust of the craft, and a few well directed and purposefully firm thrusts of the paddle drove it half out of the water onto the sandy beach. The tribesman was exhausted. As he rose to step out onto land he nearly fell. He dropped the paddle. He tripped to his knees. He knelt briefly and then stretched out full length on the sand and gathered what strength he had left. And then he rose and pulled the boat up to nearly the tree line, stabilized it with driftwood on either side – making it a sort of primitive bed – and crawled back in. He untied one of the bundles of furs and tools that he had been allowed to take with him and pulled one of the larger furs over himself and slept.
And he slept. The sun continued its loop from down river to upriver and the day warmed. Even the lateness of the year couldn’t prevent the sun’s warming effect. It was a windless day and the tribesman slept.
He awoke first opening one eye and then opening the other. With both eyes open he lay motionless and tried to hear again what he had heard in his sleep that had awakened him. Until he knew what it had been he chose to stay down in his boat with the scooped out sides providing at least some degree of protection from anything that might be in the vicinity that might be a threat. There were, after all, wolves and bears and badgers and all sorts of lesser beasts who often either looked at humans as food or went mad and attacked for no reason at all. He had no idea of whether any of those sorts of things could be on his island – he realized that he was already thinking of it in that way: it was his island. As far as he knew, no one he had ever heard of had been as far away from the other island as he was as he lay there in his boat. He knew that wolves and all had been banished from that other island in the time of the ancients. He was not so sure of that being true on his island.
Then he heard the sound – once heard, he recognized it – again. It came from the sky and it seemed to be moving. He rose up and looked up into the sky with its westering sun and heard the sound again. He adjusted his gaze downward closer to the water and saw a flock of black long necked birds with orange cheeks and long pointed beaks. As they flashed down the river, just beyond his reach and just above the water they shouted joyfully to the waves with high pitched croaking shrieks. They seemed to have a kind of magic separation from the water, so close were they to it and so fast was their passage.
“Fish snakes” he thought to himself. He had seen them all his life and knew how they swam like lightning under water with their long serpentine necks fully extended. In this manner they captured their prey. Always after one of their sudden disappearances below the surface of the river they would soon be seen surfacing with some sort of fish in the beak of their snake-like forward quarter. The river teemed with myriad varieties of fish and these fish snakes prospered with that bounty. The tribesman had always wondered if one of these could be captured and tamed and taught to catch fish and return to a human master. He had never heard of such a thing, but he had often wondered, when he saw them in action if such a thing might be possible.
As the ones that had just passed disappeared he rose out of the boat and began to take stock of the nature of the place.
His little harbor was at the up-river end of the island. The arms of land that formed it were deep enough and substantial enough to calm the water within their embrace. A cross wind would rile the water to some extent, he thought, and a perpendicular wind from up river would not only rile them, it would probably drive the water inward in the little bay and up on the land to some extent. That sort of wind was uncommon. The river, he had surmised during his night-time float had taken a ninety degree bend to its course downstream from his previous home. The wind frequently blew parallel down river to that course. It much less frequently blew at ninety degrees to that course. So it was probable, he thought, that he could safely set up camp off the beach into the fringe of the woods. That would allow him to start fire and find food and begin to take serious account of the place as a long term home. He was lifted by a new hope as he dragged his boat up into the first layer of trees and bushes at the edge of the sand.
But he was beyond hungry. In one of the sub bundles of one of his bundles he knew that he had brought dried fish. He rapidly untied bundle after bundle until he found it and, taking half and repacking the rest, he ate ravenously.
And then he took the flint adz that was packed in one of the other bundles and began to flake and shred tinder from the outer edge of the bone white, utterly dry driftwood that abounded on the beach above water line. When he had accumulated enough for more than one fire start he deployed the tool more like a hatchet and produced a quantity of larger pieces of wood. Then he reduced some fairly large chunks to fire length pieces for the third stage of getting a fire going. By that time the sun was directly down island from him and beginning to dip below the trees. He knew that he needed to try to kill something relatively easy to track and kill if he were going to have an evening meal worth the name. Dried fish was great in a pinch but red blooded meat burned to a turn was more to his liking. Plants and nuts would have to wait until he had become better established and had time to search and gather such things.
The squirrel had been just plain stupid. And it had paid with its life as soon as the tribesman had seen it and put an arrow in it.
The first flash from the flint caught the tinder and the progressively larger pieces of firewood had, in their turn, rapidly and enthusiastically burst into flame. And the resulting bed of coals had burned the squirrel to the degree of doneness that the tribesman considered optimal. And he ate hungrily and chased the meat with water drawn from the river.
He had eaten the cooked squirrel after the sun had set. He had performed most of his fire building and cooking tasks in its rapidly waning light. The boat would need to be bed for at least another night. But at the dawn he would awaken and have the full day to become more settled and organized. Or so he thought - or some such words to that effect were present in his mind – as he listened to the gradual transition from day birds to night birds and to the rush of the river and to the shriek of an occasional rabbit or hare being impaled on the talons of an owl.
As he lapsed into sleep for the second night of his new life he thought of how much he missed and would always miss his mate who had been left abandoned by his banishment.
The last things he thought he heard as he dropped into exhausted sleep were the words “Why are you leaving me? Are you going to forget me? What about our dreams?”