The moon, pale and round, casts its cold and silvery light upon the world. A shadow appeared at the edge of the clearing. A camp of the Choney people, nomads, lies fifty yards away. The shadow continues on without pause. It covers half the distance to the encampment, yet despite sentinel fires around the camp, none saw the Man who owned the shadow. He made no attempt at stealth but stealth had become a part of him long ago. Behind the Man, a Boy bounded out of the woods with an excited cry. A Choney woman hanging laundry by a sentinel fire looks in his direction and finally sees the Man. Surprised, the woman raises a cry that alerts the camp to the threat. The Man stopped, grabbed the Boy coming near him, and prepared to flee. Perhaps he could smooth over the situation but he was not a man to count on the good will of others. At another time he would have poised himself to fight rather than for flight, but right now time is his enemy, not the Choneys.
Six adult males formed a line in front of the Man. The oldest, about 50, held a rust spotted musket. Another loosened a hunting knife while the rest held bows, arrows notched and ready. Standing beside the old man was a huge man with a well trimmed beard and black hair. Deep chested, he held the largest of the four bows. It was he that spoke first, projecting his rumbling voice to the Man.
"Don't move! No sudden motions and we'll let you live long enough to answer our questions."
The Boy took his startled, confused gaze from the big Choney to look up at the Man.
"Easy, I won't blink without your say so." The Man spoke in a cool, even voice.
"Good. Now be quick and tells who you are and what you are up to."
The Man slowly threw back the hood of his dark cloak so the Choneys could see his face. It was difficult for the Choneys to place an age on the Man. His long, straight brown hair, his tanned complexion and the frame of his faces spoke of a man in his early thirties. The lines on his face and his deep set eyes, though, claimed many more years. The maturity of his stance and the set of his face rarely come to men under fifty. His striking gray-green eyes spoke of experience that goes beyond the years of middle age.
"We are only travelers passing through. We have no business or intentions concerning you."
"So the boy is yours?" asked the Choney with the knife. The Man hesitated only a moment before nodding. The Boy again looked up at him.
"Night is a dangerous time for travel. How can we believe you?" the knifeman continued to prod.
"Our time is short. We must travel by both day and night out of necessity."
"What weapons do you have on you?" asked the big black bearded archer.
"Two short-shooters and a hunting knife," replied the Man. He did not include the thick oak staff in his hand. He didn't need to. His blunt openness seemed to relax them. For several minutes they did not speak to him but considered him and the Boy. Black Beard spoke with the old Choney with lowered voice. Some wondered about the two shooters the Man claimed to have. Short-shooters were rare and only a couple in the camp could claim even seeing one. The clan was doing well to just have two muskets. Many of their other clans had none. What they did not know was that the shooters the Man had were very special. Rarities among rarities.
Finally, Black Beard spoke, "Come. Let you and your boy warm yourselves by our fire." The Choneys relaxed and lowered their weapons. The Man also exhaled with the release of tension. No doubt it was the presence of boy that convinced them not to prematurely end his journey. The Choneys are a friendly people but are no less cautious than others.
"Thank you," replied the Man, "but we cannot stop. As I have said, we have a long way to go and little time."
"Please, can't we stop for a little bit?" pleaded the Boy. "I'm cold and we haven't rested in hours."
"Yes, come rest for a while. I brought down a deer today. My sister will give you some venison," said Black Beard.
"No. I'm afraid we cannot."
"Please Rowan?" the Boy pleaded.
The Man looked down at the Boy for a minute. Rowan was not the Man's name. The Boy was at least eight years old yet he could not pronounce the Man's name. The Man wondered what made his tongue stupid. The moon light was good. He should push on. But, he is also tired. Maybe they could afford a thirty minute rest.
"OK, we can stop for a little bit. But you have to spend the time resting, not getting yourself lost."
The Boy flashed a smile at him. "Alright." With that the Boy broke from the Man's hold and started towards Black Beard. The Man followed. The line broke up as they neared Black Beard and the camp resumed their activities.
"I heard the boy call you Rowan. I'm Kaleb. I'm responsible for the clan until my father return from the nearby town," said Black Beard as he led them to his wagon. The Man did not bother to correct Kaleb. A name is a name. Kaleb continued, "What is your boy's name?"
"I'm Peter," the Boy answered.
"Well Peter, I think my sister will be very glad to meet you, " Kaleb said as he tugged at the boy's light hair. "Anna makes the best venison pies this side of the Point."
The Man decided to stay the night at the insistence of Peter and Kaleb and his sister. He figured that they shouldn't lose too much time. By turning in early, they can get an early start next morning. Well rested, they should be able cover a lot of miles. Besides that, they save time by not having to make and break a camp of their own. He plans the next day while smoking his pipe by Kaleb's fire. The venison pie was very good and gave the Man a content feeling. Kaleb and Anna talked the entire time he and Peter were eating. It felt good to be around these people although he hasn't been very sociable in many years. They asked the travelers many questions. The Man answered curtly if at all. Peter did double duty in talking in order to make up for the Man's silence.
As Kaleb predicted, Anna adored Peter, listening intently to everything Peter said. Anna is a pretty woman in her early twenties. She has her brothers jet black hair but hers falls straight down her back to her waist. Her complexion is slightly lighter than that of Kaleb's leather brown skin. She is unmarried and has a fondness towards children but has none of her own.
Kaleb asked the Man to see his short-shooters. When the Man showed him Kaleb looked at them with awe. The only guns he ever saw was his father's and Dawson's muskets. Kaleb explained to the Man that the old man with the musket tonight was Dawson who is one of his father's closest friends. When Kaleb asked to handle the shooters, the Man said no with such blunt force that Kaleb and Anna fell into an uncomfortable silence. The boy diverted their attention with questions about the Choneys, the clan and the Choney kids playing around the camp.
When dinner was finished, the Man let Peter loose to play with the other children but made him understand that they were going to turn in early. The boy was what was slowing him down. What was he doing with him? He is no father. Why did he tell these people that he is his father? How could Peter possibly fit into his plans? He has to do it alone. He can't afford the baggage. He must direct all his energy in preparing himself for the confrontation of Raw Face. Besides, what if the boy becomes a casualty? How could he face being responsible for two deaths? He should have left him in Lu'Maz. No. He could never have done that. But he could leave them with the Choneys. Maybe not. He hardly knows these people and he told them that he is Peter's father. But he could explain the situation to them. They would understand and he is sure they would take good care of him. Yes. This is what he must do. He will approach Kaleb tonight. He can explain to the boy tomorrow. The boy is not his responsibility!
November 25, 1995