Historical Fiction

 The embers of the fire were still incandescent. Everyone had gone to bed, but he sat immobile, staring into the fire. Watching as small shadows of flames danced up and down the hearth. Soon, he knew, the spirits would talk to him. Soon they would allow him to glimpse the future, not as a fully formed image, that was not their way, but as shards. Never a coherent picture, only flickers, all jumbled up like a nightmare.

His work was to interpret these fleeting images, to gain an insight into what lay ahead for his people. Now there was an image of flickering pale blue-grey shot through with frothy white. Was it the sky or the sea? He saw a fleeting image that was definite. It was mountains with the ever-present snow. Now it was back to fragments of images as before, but this time he was sure there were flecks of green, grass, or the depths of the sea?

He believed his ancestor's lives were more comfortable, more straightforward. He knew where they lived in the snowy mountains. Since this fragment of the original tribe had set off towards the setting sun many seasons ago, they were now too far away to return. So he had never been there, had never seen their enormous main cave, or the two smaller side caves which lead off it at the back. He knew it was so big it could accommodate the entire clan and have an area at the front for the horses to shelter from the worst of the winter storms and provide space for the stone knappers and once in the time of shaman Guta, for the basket weaver.

Slowly he felt he saw the sea. Several generations ago, his group of people had left the cave and travelled towards the setting sun. They still followed the tribal pattern of travelling in late spring and summer, but instead of returning to the home cave, they always sought another cave to shelter through the long, bitterly cold winter. They knew the seasons were changing. The winters were not so cold. They noted the changes to the great glaciers. Now they showed signs of melting in the summers. He wondered if this was why the spirits had urged them to move. Some, like this group, travelled towards the setting sun while others had moved the other way towards the rising sun.

  As the midnight blue sky lightened to a deep grey, he lay down for a short sleep. He needed to speak to the elders to inform them of his confusion.

“Last night, the spirits spoke to me. As you know, they only show glimpses of the future. This time I saw an image of flickering pale blue-grey shot through with frothy white. We need to decide if this was sky or water. If water, it must be a big body, much bigger than the lakes we have encountered on our travels. It could be the sea, the place the travellers with shells and obsidian talked about when they visited the groups of people.” 

After much arguing, they decided it was more likely the sea. The land seemed to go down; they had left the mountains. This idea of the sea made sense.

Shaman Gai said, “We think the sea might be ahead of us, are you happy to continue or do you want to go back into the mountains?”

Hearing the sea might be ahead, the young men urged the shaman to travel in that direction. It excited most of them at the thought of seeing so much water. Soon they attached two poles to their sturdy horses with a sling of rawhide between them. This contraption allowed their possessions to be safely transported. Then the group moved off toward the setting sun. 

The land around changed. They left the mountains and foothills now there were rolling hillocks, covered in scrubby grass and dotted with shrubby vegetation. Far in the distance, they could see yet more mountains covered with snow, but for now, they were in a cold, bleak windswept landscape. The hunters were delighted there was so much wildlife here. They had seen a herd of mammoths pass far over to their right. However, the hunters felt, for now, it was better to concentrate on the smaller animals, less dangerous and more chance of getting their prey, their dinner. 

One day as they always wandered onwards, the little ponds of freshwater seemed to become more frequent. They assumed there was a gradual dipping of the land. This wonderland of freshwater and plentiful game made them want to tarry.

Shaman Gai shook his head and pointed his staff forwards. “The spirits showed us the sea, we must keep moving forward.” He had a feeling all was not well in this land of plenty. He was right when, weeks later, they came to a marshy area. After the people and the horses had passed over, it was a slushy, muddy mess, but they pushed on.

He stood taller than the rest of them, pointing his staff in the direction they were to go. His black feather cape was flapping in the wind, making him look like an oversized raven.

 Continuously in the background, they could hear strange noises, a deep grinding sound with the occasional sharp, loud crack which echoed around them. Gai had a deep sense of unease and forced his people to move faster. “We might not know where we will end our journey, but the spirits are saying we must move faster. We must not stay in this area.”

Days later, the grinding seemed louder, the cracking sounds more frequent. He urged them on, no time for hunting, no time to admire their surroundings. They finally reached slightly higher ground. His sense of panic lessened a little. “We can rest here for a few days. The wind is so cold it would be best to put up the tents. Guard the horses against any predators, we have seen enough of them but let the horses graze too.”

 That night the grinding and crashing noises grew almost deafening. The land itself was shaking. The people looked to him for guidance. He had no explanation for these strange sounds. He sat awake all night, listening to these terrifying noises. Then he heard the sound of water, rushing water.

As the sky lightened, Gai called, “I need two scouts to go back the way we came. See if you can find the reason for the sounds of the rushing water.” 

It was not long before they rushed back, white-faced. “Gai, the entire area has changed, the place where we walked only a few days ago is now deep water. It is not freshwater. It has become the sea.” 

With a pounding heart, he called, “The scouts have said where we crossed is now sea, this is a sign from the spirits, but now we must move away from this place. Who knows when where we are standing now will become the sea too.”

The people did not need much urging to make them hurriedly pack their belongings and once again load up the horses. They were afraid. Was this sea going to pursue them? Why was it dry when they crossed and now it was the sea? Then a scout came back from south of their present course.

“Shaman Gai, I saw the cause of the grinding noise and the water. The glaciers are breaking up and falling into the surrounding waters.”

The elders and Gai looked at each other. The spirits had warned them of this with that image, of flickering pale blue-grey shot through with frothy white. The blue-grey of the glacier falling into the sea.

Now they knew they had to head for the mountains, where they had to make a new home. The path behind had turned to sea. Each day as the glaciers melted, they knew the sea would drown the land. This was now their new home.  

September 25, 2020 17:23

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