Shadow Valley

Shadow Valley by Steven Barnes

Book: Shadow Valley by Steven Barnes Read Free Book Online
Authors: Steven Barnes
like falling stars, only these flew
upward
from his groin, as if he was self-pleasuring. His root grew firm. With every breath those sparks grew fatter. He was no longer trying to direct his breath. The strange thing happening in his body was no longer under his control. It was like running down a hill that gradually grew steeper and steeper. At first, you control your feet. Then, the earth itself pulls you, and you can do nothing save run or tumble.
    He was tumbling.
    The light seared his eyes. In the midst of it stood a great antlered deer, a buck who had climbed atop a doe. He humped his hips, thrust as if burning with seed. The buck’s vast dark eyes met his own.
    “Mate, my brother,” Frog whispered. “Make your children. And then … die for me.”
    The buck’s eyes clouded, and he nodded his crowned head. Then the fire within Frog erupted, and his body was rocked with
num
enough to char his hair.
    • • •
    Frog’s eyes fluttered open. All about him, the ground was littered with the hunters’ curled bodies. Each had experienced his own powerful changing. Frog’s hand brushed his root. His fingers came away dry: there had been fire but no spend.
    Truly, this was a miracle.

Chapter Thirteen
    As dust devils danced amid the thornbushes and scrub, seven hunters prowled in search of prey.
    “I am strong. I am fast and brave. I hunt for my people.” Uncle Snake’s good right eye narrowed fiercely.
    “We will kill many!” Leopard Paw said.
    “Quiet,” Frog said. “The prey approaches.”
    “Truly,” Leopard Paw said, “Sky Woman is a mighty dancer.”
    The brush on the far side of the clearing rustled, and a hog’s bristly head poked through. They froze: the pig was still beyond spear or arrow range. It sniffed the air. Would the breeze betray them? Curse it, they were upwind and had not masked their scent.
    “You are thirsty, so thirsty,”
Frog coaxed.
“The water is cool. Come to the water …”
    Instead, perhaps sensing danger, the hog backed away.
    The shadows lengthened and then shrank once again. Although they waited with both patience and skill, they gained nothing.
    “Let’s go back,” Frog said. “Perhaps some of the others were more fortunate.”
    “If not,” Leopard Paw said, “I will be eating fill grass tonight.”
    “If only we could
find
fill grass,” Frog said.
    “If not,” Leopard Paw grunted, and spit toward the south, “then plain grass will have to do.”
    • • •
    The hunters straggled in quietly that night. The most successful of them had been Leopard Paw: three hares swung limply from his belt.
    Gazelle Tears took the fattest and hefted it by the ears, clucking with disapproval. “This won’t feed many,” the old woman said. “I thought you were a great hunter.”
    She laughed, and the old toothless ones chuckled along with her.
    “A few hares change nothing. This is worse than it was before,” Uncle Snake said. “We cannot live like this.”

Chapter Fourteen
    The afternoon sunlight glinted from the thin, oily stream running a spear’s throw from their camp. Wispy black monkey thorn trees and a single stunted baobab shadowed the water, vied with the thin grass for its moisture. A few hands of Ibandi children romped in the shallows, splashing and rolling and pushing each other as their mothers filled gourds and skins.
    Frog and T’Cori sat between the twin fires, watching the play with a shared wistfulness. Not so long ago, they were still children, surrounded by a world that could be brightened by a few moment’s play
    Now, they knew that tomorrow would come and might not bring happiness with it.
    T’Cori’s face was long. “I fear it did not work the way it should have. My magic was not strong enough.”
    “We will hunt,” Frog said. “It is not for you to say if you are strong enough. That is for Great Mother. For Father Mountain.”
    “I must raise my
num”
she insisted. “Weave it into a soul vine. Still-shadow was our strength, but now

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