Saga of Bohok

Chapter 1

 The river was freezing, even this late in the summer.  The water was fed by glaciers high in the mountains and never truly lost its chill. Bohok climbed up onto the sandbar and did his best to shake off the water. Soon the sun would warm the black sand and the shallow water surrounding it, but now the sand squishing up between his toes was as cold as the surrounding waters.

The swim had been miserable but necessary. The best place to catch fish was in the deep channel along the sandbar. The river was too low everywhere else for his nets to work properly.

The sun was slowly peeking over the mountains to the east as he readied his nets. His  father had told him once that the hour before the sun rose was the coldest of the day, as his quaking fingers tried to untangle the fine ropes of the his nets he believed it. He could hear his teeth chattering over the rushing waters around him.

With his nets straitened and untangled Bohok tossed them expertly into the river just beyond a series of ripples and into the deep water beyond. He hauled in the nets hand over hand then examined the contents. Several yellow perch and two decent sized trout struggled within the confines of the net. Disgusted, Bohok reopened the net and tossed the fish back into the river. While all the fish were large enough to make a meal it wasn’t what Bohok was after.

The travelling fish were going to return soon. They always did this time of year. Bright red and hook jawed they came up the river in endless hordes.  Their arrival marked a time of plenty for the Fish-Eaters, who relied on the spawn to feed them through the winter.

While the fish always came around the same time each year the fisherman who brought home the first traveler was honored by the tribe and granted a boon from the chief. It was that honor and that promise that had pulled young Bohok from his warm blankets before the sun rose everyday for the last two weeks.  He was determined to be the first to bring a travelling fish to Chief Yoosin.

He heaved the heavy nets back into the current and repeated the haul. He would repeat it all day if he had to; repeat it for as many days as he had to. It was the only way he could erase the stain of his heritage, and he would not fail.

.His body was strong and his muscles were used to the labor of hauling the nets. It didn’t truly seem like work anymore. His calloused hands hardly ever bled anymore; they were nearly impervious to the scourging ropes and lines. The rhythmic action of throwing, hauling and dumping allowed his mind to wander as he worked his nets.

He thought about the reaction of the chief when he arrived with the first traveler.  All the other men of the village would be so surprised when a half blood brought home such a prize. He would finally end his isolation and torment.

With his mind adrift he didn’t notice the black form making its way up the deep channel. He tossed his net out with a great heave, smiling to himself when he saw the distance of his throw.  As he began to retrieve the net the line went taught in his hand. His first instinct was to wrap the line around his hand and yank as hard as he could. The net had obviously caught on a rock or a branch. He quietly prayed it was something he could pull the net off of from the shore. He dreaded having to dive into the frigid waters to untangle the net from a log.

He was taken aback when the rope pulled back on him, hard. It snapped his arm out straight and his heels dug furrows into the sand. Bohok struggled against the pull of the rope, the fisherman suddenly becoming the fished. The rope slackened for a moment then pulled again. He was yanked off his feet and fell face first into the river.

Under the water Bohok could see what his net had caught, but he couldn’t believe his eyes. The creature was massive; its body almost taking up the entirety of the channel. He looked up and saw that his net barely covered the tip of the monster’s nose. It was a fish, he thought, as he looked down its dark length but different from any fish he had ever seen. Its gargantuan tail was sideways and moved up and down rather than side to side. Each powerful stroke pulled Bohok through the water at astonishing speed. The fins on each side of the creature were huge and flapped like eagle’s wings in the water.

Bohok was so stunned by the great beast that he only remembered he needed to breathe when the burning in his lungs became so unbearable that it felt like there was a weight on his chest.  Frantically he kicked for the surface, trying to move up the current in the direction the rope was pulling him.

He gasped for air when he broke the surface of the water and saw that the creature too had come above the water.  A huge gout of water streamed from the top of its head.  Bohok saw its body expand and heard the rush of air being sucked into the creature.  It breathes air, he thought, as he struggled to stay atop the water.

 The current and the speed of the creature fighting against it pulled him closer and closer to the beast. Bohok was a strong swimmer, like most Fish-Eaters he spent much of his life in the water, but he couldn’t keep himself from being pulled into the beast. 

A bare foot touched it first. Its body was smooth and hard, like wet obsidian.  Bohok put both feet against it and pushed off, pulling in rope as it slackened. It was like climbing a cliff, only sideways. Slowly he began to pull himself up to the nose of the creature. He had to untangle his net, it was his only hope.

He climbed for all he was worth; kicking off the creature each time they were pulled back together. 

Then he saw the creature’s eye, and the creature saw him. The eye was bigger than Bohok’s head, and was like no fish eye he had ever seen. The eye had depth to it; it was like looking into a man’s eye. Bohok saw fear in those eyes; fear deep enough to match Bohok’s own. 

He stood transfixed; staring into the beast’s eye until he heard and felt a rumbling. The river channel was getting shallower; too shallow for such a massive creature, its belly was scraping along the rough bottom. Its eye widened even farther, Bohok saw a look of utter terror.

He saw the tail of the beast rise high above the water then come down with tremendous force.  He was knocked off his feet as the creature rose into the air then came crashing down. Not into the river but up onto the sand bar.

Bohok too landed on the sandbar; the force of the fall knocking the wind out of him. Fighting to breathe he rolled away from the creature as fast as he could, terrified that it too may roll and smash him into the sand. 

Once he had rolled clear of the beast and as far as the rope that tethered them together would allow Bohok let his head sink into the sand and he lay panting and exhausted.

Finally he looked up. The great fish had flung itself almost completely out of the water. Its tail and fins were flapping uselessly in the air; the flippers had dug deep trenches in the sand to either side of it. Bohok could see the sides of the creature expand and contract in panicked breaths. He picked himself up and walked back up to the beast’s head. The fear in its eye was gone; it was replaced with despair and sorrow. Bohok reached out a hand and placed against the creature. He could feel each shuddering breath; he could hear each breath roar from the hole in the top of its head.

Bohok didn’t know what to do. He knew the creature was dying, each breath became more ragged and labored. He didn’t know why a creature who obviously breathed air couldn’t live on land, but it couldn’t.  It took a long time; the sun reached its zenith above his head. It burned down upon Bohok’s skin but he did not move. He felt like the creature was trying to talk to him, communicate with him somehow as they gazed at each other. He wondered what it would have told him if it could talk.

Even without words the connection was stronger than any Bohok had known since he watched his own father die of the fever so many years ago. He stood there, his hand resting on that hard smooth skin, staring into that sorrowful gaze until the breathing stopped; the great eye closed, then Bohok kneeled in the sand and cried.

Chapter 2

The tears first shed were for the strangely noble beast dead in the sand before him but the subsequent ones fell for different reasons. They were for his father and for himself. The tears for his father were tears he never dared let loose amongst the dispassionate Fish-Eaters. Theirs was the way of the river, all emotion flowed through them and they let those currents wash away all anger and grief.

Fish-Eaters never showed outward emotion, and those who could not control themselves and their feelings were found wanting. A man of the Tuitar Clan never cried and never lost his temper. He never let emotion run his live or shape his judgment. The river carried him through life never taking more than it gave. It was a simple peaceful life, and one that completely eluded Bohok no matter how hard he tried to embrace it.

 His father was a Tuitar, a Fish-Eater, and had that noble peace flowing through his blood. Bohok did not receive his father’s way; he was cursed with his mother’s temperament. His mother had been a Caryar, a Bug-Eater.  He had never met his mother, she had died birthing him. His father had never spoke of her, never told Bohok about her or even allowed him ask of her. She was a total stranger to him. Bohok imagined that she had to have been beautiful. It would have taken great beauty to seduce his father into making the half blood abomination that was Bohok. Why else would such a great and good a man as his father do such a reckless and hurtful thing?

Bohok’s life had been hard. While the way of the river proclaimed a peaceful life it did not keep the children of the tribe from tormenting him. In a way it was worse, when Bohok lost his temper at the teasing and fought with the boys the elders would all frown and blame Bohok’s foreign heritage. As far as Bohok could see there was no right answer, no way for him to win. He did everything he could to fit in to the Fish-Eater way of life. To emulate his noble father but no matter how hard he tried his temper and his emotions got in the way. They kept him from ever truly becoming a part of his own tribe.

 It was from that feeling of hopelessness that Bohok had committed the most heinous act of his life. Shortly after the death of his father Bohok was preparing to go out fishing. He had inherited his father’s small boat and his nets. All the tools that a man would need to live a good and fruitful life.

He was alone, but he sat at the fisherman’s fire and listened to the stories of the day’s catch. They told of the triumph of landing a large fish on light tackle or the heartbreak of losing one, Bohok always liked these stories. No one sat near him but he still felt like he was a part of something, despite his cursed bloodline.

It was during the spring spawn, the travelling fish were so thick in the river that sometimes Bohok thought he could walk across the water on their backs and not get his feet wet. The thought had so intrigued Bohok as he fished that finally he decided to try it. He tied a line to a tree and then to himself; so if he fell into the river the swift current wouldn’t carry him off.

He took only a moment to build up his courage then he charged out into the water. The fish were slimy on his bare feet but they held his weight for three steps out into the river, and then three steps back.  Once back on shore Bohok shouted in triumph and made a dance of his own invention. He felt a joy in his heart, the first since the passing of his father.

That night at the fisherman’s fire Bohok listened to the men tell their tales. The stories seemed different tonight. They seemed so boring, so old, so repetitive, not one man told a tale that Bohok hadn’t heard told before. He waited until all the men had said their piece then he stood up.  There was a look of shock amongst the fishermen and Bohok heard several of the younger men rumble their objections but Chief Yoosin put up his great pole and crowd went silent.

Bohok cleared his throat and told his story. He told it with all the enthusiasm and joy that he had felt upon accomplishing his feat.  He high stepped toward the fire and back away showing the men how he had tread out onto the backs of the travelling fish.

When he was finished Bohok looked into the faces of the men around the fisherman’s fire. Some looked incredulous, while others smiled and shook their heads, but most began laughing. Their laugher cut Bohok’s joy to the quick, they didn’t believe him, they were mocking him.  Bohok’s temper flared.

“You expect us to believe those lies Bug-Eater?” A voice asked.

Bohok spun to see who dared call him a liar. It was Kirso, the chief’s youngest son, who was the same age as Bohok. Kirso had always been the first to taunt and torment Bohok when they were children. Kirso had also been the first to point out Bohok’s temper before he could suffer any retribution for his words.

“I swear that my words are true!” Bohok screamed at Kirso. “I swear on my honor.”

“What honor does a half blood Bug-Eater have?” Kirso laughed even louder.

“Kirso.” Chief Yoosin stood. “You should not speak to Bohok like that.”

Bohok heard the chief speak the words but his temper had already driven him to action. He scooped a rock up from the dirt and hurled it with all his might at Kirso. The rock hit him in the temple with a loud crack. The sound of the rock hitting the boy’s head quieted all the laughter instantly. Everyone watched as Kirso’s eyes crossed and he slid slowly off the log he had been sitting on. He slid down to the ground and began twitching violently.    

The men around Kirso all went to his aid while the men around Bohok all surrounded him and carried him away. Bohok offered no resistance; his Bug-Eater temper had once again betrayed him. The non-violent Fish-Eaters had many forms of punishment that were far worse than just physical pain. They stripped him of his house, his boat and his name. Bohok did not die that night nor did Kirso, although later Bohok would wish that they had.

Chapter 3


The gulls were the first to find them, their shrieking calls bringing Bohok out of his sorrowful state of mind.  Bohok once again looked at the great dead beast and made his decision; he had to tell the tribe.  He untied the rope from his hand and let it fall to the ground. He gave the creature one last look, turned, and dove into the river. Swam quickly to the other side and started running, not even bothering to shake dry before he started.

It was a long run back to the tribe. He had been in exile all summer. He had camped alone on the banks of the river waiting for the travelling fish to come up stream and with them his redemption. He had gone as far downstream as he dared without infringing upon the territory of the Root-Eaters.  It was almost dark by the time Bohok saw the smoke rising from the scattered cook fires of the Fish-Eater village.

The village was settled into a small glade cut by a stream which provided fresh water to the tribe before it joined with the great river. Bohok looked down at the village with apprehension. He had been cast out of this place, forbidden to return by the edict of Chief Yoosin himself. Without the first travelling fish or Chief Yoosin’s pardon he could be killed by any Fish-Eater as a stranger and an outlaw.  Bohok knew the sweat breaking on his forehead wasn’t entirely from his long run.

He took a second to gather his breath and his nerve before walking down the well beaten path towards the village. He had decided what he would do; it was too late to turn back now. Bohok swallowed his fear and walked into the village.

As Bohok walked past the first wicker house he admired the craftsmanship. He had been gone so long that it was like he was seeing the work for the first time. The Fish-Eaters weaved willow branches into everything. They made baskets, and bowls, as did all the peoples, but they also made more elaborate items. A Fish-Eater house was made of willow mats weaved so tight that it was impervious to all but the hardest of rains and the strongest of winds. They made looser mats in the winter to lay over the ground to keep people from sinking into the mud and snow.  Bohok had even seen smaller versions that strapped to feet and allowed the wearers to walk on top of the deepest snows. Especially skilled weavers could make fantastic items; like duck decoys that floated in the water to attract their kinsman close enough to have a net cast over them. Bohok had taken the wicker shelters for granted until he had to weather a summer thunderstorm alone with only his hide blankets to keep the rain off his head.

As he made his way through the outskirts of the village the children began to gather around him at a safe distance. He could hear their whispers as he marched toward the center of the village. He heard excitement in their hushed voices. Something was going to happen, but the children could only speculate as to what that would be.

He made his way through the village catching the eyes of both wives and their husbands cooking their dinners on the fires in front of their homes. Soon many grown men joined the crowd of children following him. They did not try to stop him, nor did they whisper among themselves they simply followed Bohok, silent and stern.

When Bohok neared the center of the village he saw the great house. It was made of logs stacked up atop of each other instead of wicker. The house was large enough to fit the entire clan within its walls. All the men of the village worked together to maintain it and the people used it as a meeting place and a sanctuary from the strongest winter storms. It housed Chief Yoosin, and his wife and family, but they only used a quarter of the structure.

In front of the great house there was a large fire pit. The fire pit was surrounded by semi circles of log benches. This was the fisherman’s fire, the communal gathering place and the site of Bohok’s ignominy.

Chief Yoosin stood in the center of the fire pit stacking logs for the night’s fire over a bed of kindling.  It was the chief’s duty to prepare and light the communal fire and Bohok knew that the old chief took great pride in only lighting his fires once.  The chief was strong for a man his age; his muscles were well defined as he stacked heavy logs atop each other. He was so engrossed in his work he did not notice Bohok, or the crowd surrounding him. Bohok stood silently watching the chief work not daring to disturb him.

The chief finished his work and then straightened putting his hands on his lower back stretching out the tight muscles. Without turning the chief spoke, “What brings you back to the people young Bohok?”

Bohok stood silent for a moment; he was sure that he never saw the chief’s eyes turn from the fire pit. How did he know he was there? “I, um,” Bohok started he began to feel foolish for coming here, and he didn’t know how to explain what had seen. “I came here to tell you that there was a great fish in the river, bigger than any fish I have ever seen before.”

The crowd exploded into a roar of nervous laughter. Bohok slouched; he had known that they would laugh at him. Nobody would believe his tale until he showed them the fish, of course they would laugh; he would have laughed. He had thought he had prepared himself for it but the laughter stung nonetheless.

The chief turned to look at him; his eyes were not mirthful but curious. He held up a hand and the laughter stopped abruptly.   “A great fish you say.” The chief said. “Describe this fish to me.”

“He is all black except for his belly and huge,” He spread his arms as wide as he they could go.

“A sturgeon!” A familiar voice called out from behind Bohok. “He caught a sturgeon and he comes to brag. We’ve all caught sturgeon longer than our boats. It is no great feat.”

Bohok turned to face Kirso, red flashing before his eyes, but he controlled his temper. “This is no sturgeon.” He spat, then turned back to the chief. “It isn’t a sturgeon.” He repeated. “It is as big as your house, bigger maybe, it is the biggest thing I have ever seen.”

The chief looked at Bohok pensively for a moment then asked, “Does it breathe air?”

The crowd exploded into another roar of laughter. The people thought that the chief was teasing Bohok for his lies but Bohok suddenly knew that the chief knew better. “Yes.” He said loudly “Well it did before it died.”

“Where did it breathe from?” The chief asked.

“From the top of his head.” Bohok answered.

“I have heard of these fish.” The chief spoke to his people, ending their laughter abruptly.  He waited until the crowd was completely silent then he asked Bohok. “Where is the fish now?”

“On the sandbar beyond the last deep channel.” Bohok spoke into stunned silence then added. “Where I caught him.”

“You caught the great fish?”

“My net is still around his head.”

The chief walked up to Bohok and looked him in the eye. Their gazes locked for a moment. Bohok felt the same uneasy feeling he had when he was looking the dying beast in the eye, except he felt like the one who was dying now, the one who couldn’t breathe. Finally the chief spoke, “You must take us to him.”

Chapter 4

The sun had just begun to set, starting the long summer twilight. The sky reflected on the water and made the boats look like they were travelling on a river of gold. It had taken Bohok half the day to run up to the Fish-Eater village but the boats, aided by the current took but a quarter of that time.

The boats rounded the last bend in the river and revealed the great fish, a black mountain of flesh atop the sandbar. Bohok sat in the bow of Chief Yoosin’s own boat, and he could clearly hear the gasp of the other men in the boat as they first glimpsed the fish.

Bohok tried to hide his smile as he jumped out of the boat and pulled it up onto the sandbar. More boats pulled up on the sandbar, they carried most of the adult men in the tribe. Few men failed to follow the Chief down the river.

The Chief leapt over the side of the boat with a grace that belied his age. He walked slowly towards the great fish. His footsteps were careful and quiet like a stalking hunter.  When he reached the fish he outstretched a hand and placed it carefully on the creature, like he was trying to penetrate a mirage. His eyes widened with surprise at the feel of its hard flesh.

He ran his fingers along the smooth skin and walked down the length of the creature, carefully examining it as he walked. He paused to look more carefully at its giant mouth, Bohok’s net still dangling from it. He paused again at its eye, stared a moment into its depths and then moved on. He paused at the flippers and where he could see the blow hole on top of its head.  When he got down to the creatures tail he nodded to himself.

When the chief turned away from the beast he found himself surrounded by the men of the village. They crowded around him eager to hear what the chief would say. Bohok stayed back out of the crowd of men, but still close enough to hear.

“Clansmen.” Yoosin spoke using the deep formal voice he used for proclaiming judgment, “This fish is like no other fish that you or I have ever seen but it has been seen before. There are stories of this fish told by the chiefs of our people. This fish was known by the chiefs of old. So I know it too.”

“Chief Yoosin.” A tribesman as old as the chief himself spoke, “We both have seen many visits by the travelling fish, weathered many winters together but I have never heard of such of beast, no such fish has been seen by me in all my time, nor did my father or my father’s father every speak of such a fish.” He looked at the great beast. “As I am sure they would have.”

Chief Yoosin nodded. “The last time this fish was seen by a Fish-Eater was seven generations ago. Kagin, your father never saw this fish, nor did your father’s father or his father before him.” The crowd of men stirred, Bohok heard murmurs of disbelief quietly emerging from the crowd. The chief silenced them by raising a wrinkled hand.

He pulled a doeskin bag off his back and reached into it. He produced an intricately carved piece of wood, he held it up for all the men to see. “This is my Chief’s pole. I have carved on it every significant event that has happened to the people during my time as chief.”  Intrigued Bohok pushed his way through the crowd, clear up to the front, to see the carving.

He pointed to a scene on the pole it showed the trees shaking and people beneath it cowering in fear. “This represents when the earth shook two summers ago.” He pointed to another carving of a river and the fishermen holding up empty nets. “This is when the so few travelling fish came five springs ago.” The men in the crowd all groaned in unison, remembering that miserable spring, they had been forced to trade with the Elk-Eaters and the Root-Eaters for food, many went hungry and a few starved.

The chief looked apprehensively at Bohok before pointing at another scene. It was a man walking with a pregnant woman. “This is when Arnas returned with his foreign wife.” Bohok stared his mouth falling open. Arnas was his father, and the woman had to be his mother.  He had never seen his mother.

He looked at the figures carved into the pole, the man looked like his father so he could only hope that the woman’s likeness was as accurate. She was beautiful, as he always hoped she would be, but strange looking, wearing odd clothes, Bug-Eater clothes.

 The chief saw Bohok gaping at the pole and handed it to him. Bohok ran his fingers over the forms carved into the wood. Touching the likeness of his mother and father brought tears unbidden to the boy’s eyes. Bohok wiped his eyes furiously trying to stop the tears, mortified that the men of the village were seeing him cry. He looked up to see several of the men looking at him with wet eyes of their own, chief Yoosin among them. He handed the pole back to the chief with a nod of thanks.

The chief lay the pole down in the black sand and brought out another pole from his bag. It too was full of elaborate carvings. “This is the pole of my father.” Chief Yoosin announced. He pointed out several carvings and told the story of them. Only the oldest men of the tribe nodded with the remembrance of the events. The chief lay it down next to his in the sand. The chief retrieved yet another pole from the bag and held it up. “This is my grandfather’s pole.” He put it down next to his father’s. He pulled out three more poles each as elaborately carved as his own and lay them down in the sand.

“These are the poles of the six chief’s that lived since the great fish last came up the river.” The chief spoke pointing to each of the carved staves. He reached into his bag and extracted another pole. The pole wasn’t made of wood but a brilliant white stone the likes of which Bohok had never seen. The men of the tribe all gasped as he pulled it out of his bag and held it up for them to see. “This is the pole of Chief Hunnan.”

All the men pressed close to see what was carved on the pole. Bohok saw that the top of the pole was carved in a likeness of the great fish himself complete with a spout of water rising up from the top of its head.  Below the great fish the scene carved into the stone was of a great feast many people eating at a long table.

The people were all dressed differently. He saw many dressed as Fish-Eaters with simple clothes. Then he saw some with beads and feathers, the way the Root Eaters who came to trade dressed. There were men in heavy furs and antler headdresses, Elk-Eaters. Then there were others dressed like his mother, like Bug-Eaters.

“This pole is proof that the great fish has been in the river before. It is carved from the bone of the great fish itself.”Bohok stared at the pole. It seemed too hard, too shiny to be bone, but he knew the chief would not lie.  “It shows the great fish, and the great feast it provided. The last time the great fish came up the river Chief Hunnan called for a great feast. He sent runners to all of the peoples so that they could come and join in the bounty. The great fish was cut up and shared among all the tribes they took its meat back to their peoples and not one person went hungry that winter.”

All the men smiled and looked at one another. Even among the Fish-Eaters with the river and the travelling fish, famine was not unknown, winter was always harsh and food had run out before. The Root-Eaters and Elk-Eaters had a harder time of it, often coming to the Fish-Eaters to trade for food.

The Bug-Eaters had it worst of all. They lived on the other side of the great mountains in the desert. They traded for most of their food with the Elk-Eaters but they starved as often in the summer as they did in the winter. Bohok knew that their name wasn’t based off what they mostly ate like the other tribes, but what they often had to resort to eating in lean times.

“We will call a great feast. I will send runners to all of the peoples.” Chief Yoosin announced. The sun was finally gone the light fading around them fast. Bohok heard two pieces of flint being banged together and soon several cane torches burned brightly around the men. The chief dug back into his bag and pulled out three figurines, each carved from the same shiny bone as the pole.

 The chief held the figurines out and Bohok saw that they were carvings of the great fish, identical to the one atop the chief’s pole. “I will give each runner one of these. The chiefs of all the peoples will know what it means and that the runner speaks true. Each runner will invite the peoples back here where we will prepare the feast and dry as much of the meat as we can.”

The chief picked one figurine out of his palm. There was an Elk carved on one side of the great fish. “This is for the Elk-Eaters. They make their camps high in the mountains, the journey will be long and perilous. I choose my son Kirso to have the honor or delivering the message of the feast to them.”

Kirso’s face lit up with pride. He knelt before his father and took the figurine. Bohok scowled, it frustrated him that Kirso was given honor for the great fish. The fish that Bohok had caught not the loud mouthed Kirso.

The chief picked another figure out of his palm. The figure had a flower carved into the side of the great fish. “This is for the Root-Eaters. They make their camps far to the south on the plains. They live farther away than any other people but the river flows close to their lands. Yannin is best with a boat and has the strongest arms for rowing. I choose him to row down to deliver the message of the feast.”

Bohok knew that Yannin was the strongest rower. No one could ever beat him in a race but he frowned when the chief put the figurine in his hand. He was getting angry, it was his fish but all the honors were going to the pure blood Fish-Eaters. He was becoming certain that they were going to ignore him, even in this.

Chief Yoosin held up the last figurine. It had a mountain lion carved into the side of it. “This will go to the Bug Eaters.” Chief Yoosin looked around at the men gathered around him. His eyes searched the crowd for the face of the man he wished to send. They passed over Bohok and he held his breath. He wasn’t sure if he even wanted to go to the Bug-Eaters but he wanted to receive some honor for his catch. Then the chief’s eyes moved on. Bohok felt defeated. Then rage overtook him. He spun and began walking back to the boats, his eyes filling with tears yet again.

He shoved his way through the crowd.

He couldn’t believe the chief wasn’t picking him.

It wasn’t right.

It wasn’t fair.

It wasn’t…Bohok heard something fly over his head and land heavily at his feet. He looked down to see the white Bug-Eater figurine embedded in the black sand.

“Bohok.” He heard the chief’s voice call to him. “I think if you are leaving you should take that with you.”

Chapter 5

Bohok reached down and scooped up the figurine out of the sand. He knew he had just been tested. He knew he had just failed that test, horribly. Bohok shook his head, it seemed like he would never learn the Way of the River. He turned to face the tribe. They all stared at him, some faces smiling and some frowning. To Bohok’s surprise Chief Yoosin was smiling.

“I think Bohok is right. It is a long way back to the village, we should leave. Tann and Mik,” The chief pointed to two young men Bohok’s age. “You will camp here tonight. Make sure that the great fish is protected from birds and beasts. Keep a large fire lit. The bears will be here soon.” The young men nodded and went to their boat, pulling out their packs and long bear spears.  “Bohok, it is a long paddle up the river. Will you help me row upstream? I would like to speak with you before you leave.”

Bohok nodded as the chief passed him and climbed into the boat. The men of the village all went to their boats as well. Bohok shoved the chief’s boat off the sandbar and climbed into the back of the boat. He grabbed a paddle from the bottom of the canoe and started rowing.

The current was strong enough that he if he stopped rowing it quickly halted the boat and reversed its direction.  Chief Yoosin sat in the bow watching Bohok paddle. Bohok had expected the chief to help; it was almost too much for one man to keep the boat moving forward alone. All the other boats were rowed by two or more men and they quickly passed Bohok and the chief. Bohok paddled furiously, but soon they were alone on the river, the torches on the bows of the other boats disappearing around bends in the river ahead.

Sweat began to roll down Bohok’s brow. His shoulders and arms began to burn. He looked up at the chief, who was still sitting backwards in the boat watching Bohok work. “Aren’t you going to help?” He finally asked.

“It is difficult isn’t it?” The chief asked quietly.

“Of course it is difficult. You aren’t helping.” He growled as he pulled the paddle along the boat and up for another stroke.

“No Bohok it is difficult because you are fighting the current. When we were going down the river I let you row, yet you never complained.”

“I didn’t have to paddle constantly going down the river. I didn’t have to paddle at all only steer.” Bohok took another stroke. His arms were on fire. He didn’t know how much longer he could keep the boat moving forward alone.

“Thus is the Way of the River. It is always easiest to work with the current. If you follow the current you do not work so hard. You need only to steer yourself down the proper course.” Chief Yoosin mimicked a boat floating down a river with his hand. “You must learn this lesson, you must learn to go with the currents of your life and guide yourself through it.”

Panting Bohok kept paddling; he didn’t need lectures about the Way of the River right now; it took all his effort to keep the boat going upstream. “Sometimes,” he grunted as he pulled out another stroke, “you have to go upstream, Chief Yoosin.  You talk like it is so easy. It isn’t easy for me.”

The old chief smiled at Bohok and pulled another paddle from the bottom of the boat. “Yes, Bohok, that too is part of the Way. The part that you must learn, it is the easiest part for most of us because we know the secret.”

Bohok looked up at the Chief; sweat trickled from his hair and burned his eyes. “What secret?” He asked. He always wondered if there was some secret knowledge that had been denied because of his heritage, the Way of the River was supposed to be so easy, but it had always been so hard for him.

“The secret is,” The chief dipped his paddle into the water and took a stroke, “when you have to go upstream, and sometimes it is unavoidable both in the Way and in life, it is better if you have someone to help.”

“That’s no secret!” Bohok yelled, anger surging up inside him. “You don’t think I know that?” He couldn’t believe that was what the chief’s stupid secret was.

“No Bohok. I don’t” The chief said sadly taking another stroke. “When we got in this boat you rowed until your strength nearly failed you before you asked me to help you.” He pointed at Bohok’s chest. “You have been going upstream your entire life; even more so since your father died, but you have never sought out another to help you with that burden either. When you hit Kirso with the rock and I exiled you from the tribe I hoped that you would travel to another one of the tribes. Perhaps find a friend among them, someone who could help you. You did not do that, you chose to go live alone down the river and keep paddling upstream alone.”

Bohok was stunned, he hadn’t even thought about going to another tribe. “I thought I was supposed to be alone, to learn my lesson.” He mumbled.

“You were to leave the tribe, I didn’t say what you were to do, I had hoped that you would follow the way of your Father. I hoped you would be a traveler like him” He pulled the paddle out of water and made a grand gesture with it. “The whole world to explore, like your father.”

“My father?” Bohok asked.

“Your father was a great traveler. He left the people when he was young and visited all the people. We had thought he was lost to us he had been gone so long. Did he not tell you of his travels?”

“No.” Bohok answered. His father never said anything about travelling. Bohok had assumed that his mother had come to the Fish-Eater’s not the other way around.

The chief frowned and thought for a second. “Your father told me his stories. I thought he would have told you too, I am sure he would have told you in time, if the fever hadn’t taken him.”

“Well he didn’t.” Bohok grunted. He wondered why his father would keep that a secret from him.

“It does not matter. After you return from the Bug-Eater camp I will tell you the stories he told me. What matters is you need to ask people for help Bohok. Even the strongest man needs help sometimes.”

“Who would help some half-blood boy with no family, no house, and no boat.” Bohok growled.

“I would.” The chief said.  “Many men of the village respect and like you. They too would be willing to help you Bohok, but you do not ask for their help. You have to make friends. But before you can be friends with someone you need to be a friend to yourself. If you see a half blood boy not worthy of help and friendship when you look into the river, that is what others will see. You must learn that you are more than your blood line, you must learn to be the man that you want to be, not the man that others say you are.”

“If it were only that easy.” Bohok said, finally able to wipe the sweat from his brow with the chief helping with the rowing. “Everyone in the village knows me as the half blood. I cannot change that.”

“Yes, you can, I will help you if you ask.”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you want to be known as something other than half blood?”

Bohok looked the chief in the eye, there was nothing in the world he wanted so much as that, he wanted it so much that he couldn’t even answer in a full voice. “Yes.” He whispered. “Please, yes.”

“Good.” The chief anwswered. “Then it is settled. When you return with the Bug-Eaters I will give you a new calling. Never again will any of my people call you half blood.”

“Thank you Chief Yoosin.” Bohok said earnestly. “Thank you.”

“There is one thing you must do to earn this new name Bohok.” The chief cut in wagging a long wrinkled finger at the boy.

“What is it? I will do anything.”

“Really?” The chief asked, cocking an eyebrow. “Anything? This will be no easy task, quite possibly the hardest task I have ever given anyone in the entire tribe.”

Bohok was so eager to erase the stain of his heritage he knew in his heart that he could perform any task the chief could ask of him. “I am sure Chief Yoosin. What would you have me do? Tell me and I will do it.”

“Before you return with the Bug-Eaters you must.” The chief stopped and pulled the oar out of the water forcing Bohok to paddle alone again. He watched Bohok work the paddle for a long while, long enough for Bohok to feel the burning in his shoulders again. Unexpectedly the chief dipped his paddle back in the water and started rowing again.

He looked at Bohok and with a serious look upon his face he continued, “You must make a friend. You must make a true friend. A friend who will help you without you asking.”

Chapter 6


The rest of the trip was made in complete silence. Bohok focused on synchronizing his paddling with the chief’s to maximize their effort.  It still took a long time for them to make their way up the river. Bohok was exhausted from rowing so long alone and the chief’s age began to show after a while. Still when they arrived at the village the entire tribe was standing on the shores waiting for them.  

Chief Yoosin jumped out of the bow of the boat as they ran it into the bank.  He spoke to Bohok as he pulled the boat up onto land. “I must go and light the fisherman’s fire. You will stay with me tonight in the log house.  These people are eager to hear your story. I suggest you only tell them a little. Save the whole story for the fire. “

The chief scooped up his bag from the boat and walked through the crowd.  Bohok looked up at them. There were so many faces looking eagerly at him.  Several people reached out hands to help him from the boat. Bohok cautiously took them and they nearly lifted him off his feet.

Bohok found himself in the middle of a swarm of people. They pressed close, reaching out to touch him. He heard the questions but could not identify the speakers from within the mass of people. They all asked the same questions, over and over again, they came in an endless stream. “How big is it? How did you catch it? What does it look like? Where you scared? Are you proud?”

Bohok wiggled through the people, first he tried to answer the questions but he was always cut off by more. Finally he decided that the chief was right. He spoke as loudly as he could without shouting, “I will tell you all tonight at the fisherman’s fire.” He repeated the same answer over and over as he made his way to the log house. The crowd around him seemed to grow at each turn, until Bohok wondered if there was a person in the village that wasn’t crowded around him. He smiled to himself, it felt good, to be the center of all this attention.

Finally they reached the long house and the fire pit. The chief had the bon fire roaring. He was smiling into the blaze, pleased with his work. Most of the men who had accompanied them down the river already sat in their usual places on the logs surrounding the fire.

The crowd around Bohok dispersed as wives went to sit next to husbands and children went to sit at their father’s feet. Soon the bowl surrounding the fire pit was full of every man, woman, and child in the village. The air hummed with excited voices as the tribe settled in.

Bohok stood at the lip of the bowl and looked at all the people of the clan. He hadn’t seen the clan gathered since his banishment. He hadn’t realized how much he had missed them until he saw them all assembled together. These were his people, no matter what his bloodline.

The chief beckoned him down to the fire. Kirso and Yannin were already sitting down at the center of the pit next to the chief. Bohok picked his way down through the people to join them.

The chief patted Bohok on the shoulder and motioned for him to sit down next to Kirso. Bohok looked down at the log that Yannin and Kirso were sitting on. Kirso had deliberately sat far enough away from Yannin that Bohok barely had enough room to sit. Kirso smirked at Bohok as he sat down on the narrow section of log that was left to him.  Bohok teetered on the edge of the log as the chief began to speak.

“My people,” the chief held up his long pole. “We have been given a gift from the River. It has bestowed upon its people a great bounty. A great fish has come up the river and Bohok has caught it.”

The chief looked down with a smile at Bohok. Bohok smiled back, and he noticed that Kirso was fuming and distracted. Bohok used the moment to push up against Kirso and scoot him over a little, buying him some more room on the log.

“This isn’t the first time such a fish has come up the river. It happened before, long, long ago. In those times they named this great fish. They named it a whale. I so name it today. This whale will provide a bounty to all our people and even to the other tribes. It is our duty to call upon them and let them know that…”

Kirso shoved back against Bohok, putting an elbow in his ribs and nearly pushing him off the log.

“…we have received this great gift. In past times a feast was held when a whale was given to the tribe. All the peoples were invited…”

Bohok planted his feet in the sand and slammed a shoulder into Kirso knocking him into Yannin. He quickly scooted over on the log. Yannin pushed Kirso back towards Bohok and glared at both of them.

“…to share in this gift from the spirits. I have chosen three of our men…”

Kirso pushed Bohok off the log. Kirso started to shift into Bohok’s spot but Yannin grabbed his arm and held him in his place.

“…to go to the other tribes and invite them to our village. To enjoy our hospitality..”

Bohok scrambled back up on the log, careful not to draw the chief’s attention. He shot Kirso an angry look.

“…and share in the bounty provided by the whale. I have chosen Yannin.” The chief gestured to Yannin. “To go down the river and tell the Root-Eaters.” Yannin stood.

“I chose Kirso to go up into the mountains and tell the Elk-Eaters.” The chief pointed proudly to his son. Kirso stood up next to Yannin

“And I chose Bohok to go over the mountains and tell the Bug-Eaters.” Bohok stood as well.

“These brave young men will be our voices, calling our brothers and sisters from distant tribes here to join with us.”

The people cheered. Bohok felt a surge of pride like he had never felt before. He felt loved and honored, he let the feeling sink in as the chief continued.

“As Bohok caught the whale in his net. I think it is only fitting that we allow him to tell the first tale of the fisherman’s fire.” Again the crowd hooted and squealed.

“Bohok.” The chief addressed him. “Would you tell us how you captured the great fish?”

Bohok nodded and began telling his tale. He told them about swimming out to the sandbar. He told them how he thought that his net had caught a log and about his surprise at being pulled into the water by the whale. He told them about being dragged through the water and finally bringing himself to the surface. He described to them how the creature breathed from the top of its head. How its skin felt, what it smelled like. He described the awesome power of the whale as it beached itself on the sandbar. Then he described looking into its eye as it slowly died. Bohok tried to give the people as much detail as he could. He acted out much of the action, showing them the things he could not tell.

When he was done the tribe was silent. The only sound coming to Bohok’s ear was the popping of logs in the fire. Then one man started thumping his staff against the log at his feet, an acknowledgement of a story well told. Then another and another joined him. Women and children began clapping their hands, stomping their feet, and cheering. Bohok could not help but smile.

Then Kirso started laughing. He laughed so loudly that the people stopped clapping and cheering. He held on to his sides he was laughing so hard. Kirso’s friends in the crowd started laughing with him.

The chief spoke, “What is so funny Kirso?”

“That you would applaud that story.” Kirso wiped tears from his eyes. “That is not a story of triumph or bravery. That is a story of dumb luck. Did you hear the same tale as me? He did not catch the whale, it caught him.”

Bohok felt his temper rising, but he fought it down. Kirso was goading him, trying to get him to dishonor himself like at the last fisherman’s fire. Bohok steeled himself against Kirso’s words. He would not fall into that trap again. He had spent too many nights reliving that horrible night to make the same mistake twice.

 “This man is a half blood fool.” Kirso laughed. “Who was nearly drowned by a fish that caught him.”

“Kirso!” The chief glowered at his son. “You shall not speak to Bohok that way.”

Kirso glared at his father. “You are always standing up for him.” He complained. “Why can’t you see him for what he really is? He does not belong among us. He is a dirt washing Bug-Eater and a liar.”

Bohok’s fists tightened into balls. He squeezed them to keep his temper in check.

“No Kirso. He is a man, like you and I. You will treat him with the respect a man is due.”

“I have no respect for this liar. He said he caught the whale in his net. He did no such thing. He said it himself; the great fish swam onto the beach. He did not catch it. That business about looking into its eye, saying it was like a man’s eye, like the great fish had a soul. I have never heard such an outrageous lie told in my life. I have looked into the eyes of hundreds of fish and I never felt like one was communicating with me. I have had enough of his stories.” He launched himself forward and shoved Bohok’s shoulder. “I have had enough of his lies!”

“Kirso!” Chief Yoosin yelled.

Bohok didn’t remember hitting Kirso. He could remember being pushed and he could remember Kirso laying on the ground holding his bloodied nose. The only way he knew he had hit him was that his hand hurt.

“Bohok!” Chief Yoosin turned to Bohok. His face was red with anger. “Help him up.” He pointed down to Kirso.

Reluctantly, Bohok obeyed. He reached a hand down to help Kirso off the ground. Kirso slapped it away with a growl and stood on his own.

“Did you see that father?” Kirso spat out a glob of blood and snot. “That is your Bug-Eater. He does not follow the Way of the River.”

“And neither do you.” Chief Yoosin retorted. “You have brought me much shame this evening.”

“But Father!” Kirso started but the chief silenced him with an out stretched hand.

“I will hear no more words from you tonight.” The chief glared at Bohok and Kirso.

“I have never seen two people who were so alike hate each other so much.”

Bohok was shocked by the chief’s words, he was nothing like Kirso. He saw his own disgusted look mirrored in Kirso’s face.

“I have tried to guide both you boys in the Way. I have failed! Tonight I have given both of you honors that you do not deserve.”

Bohok’s knees went weak, he wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to stomach hearing this.

 “I cannot let this go unpunished.” The chief looked at Bohok and Kirso. “As the Elk-Eater Tribe lives on the way to the Bug-Eaters you shall accompany each other to both villages. You will not leave each other’s side. You will return together or you shall not return at all. Get into the house and prepare yourselves for your journey. You will leave this village before the sun rises. I do not wish to look upon you until you return.” The chief pointed to the door of the house. “Go!”

 Kirso lowered his head and started into the house. Bohok looked out at the crowd of people, and into their shocked faces. He wondered what they were more surprised by; his and Kirso’s outburst, or the chief’s. Bohok had never seen the chief lose his temper. He doubted that any of the tribe ever had either. Reluctantly he followed Kirso into the log house.

Chapter 7

They left before dawn. The light of the coming sun winked out the stars above them as they paddled the boat up the river. Kirso sat in the front of the canoe and set a furious pace for their rowing. It didn’t take Bohok long to figure out that Kirso was testing him.

Kirso had always been stronger than Bohok. When Bohok had been exiled Kirso could haul heavier nets than Bohok. He was a stronger rower than Bohok. He was a better wrestler than Bohok. When Bohok had been exiled Kirso was the better than Bohok at every skill the Fish-Eaters held high in esteem.

That, Bohok decided, was before he was exiled. He matched Kirso stroke for stroke and the canoe sped up the river. Bohok had fished hard, worked hard, fought hard to live all on his own all summer. He wasn’t weaker than Kirso anymore. He set his mind to his work and let the rhythm of the oars overtake him. He would not be the first one to break the pace, he would not tire first.

The canoe raced up the river. They flushed a bunch of ducks that had been sleeping in a calm stretch of water. The skein flew inches above the water, their wing tips touching the placid waters leaving pairs of rings expanding behind them. They flew just ahead of the boat daring Kirso and Bohok to catch them. Kirso gave a quick look back to Bohok before quickening their pace. They chased the ducks up the river until the flock finally veered off and headed up above the trees that hugged the banks of the river.

Bohok expected Kirso to slow. The ducks were gone but Kirso kept up the same pace. The muscles in Bohok’s arms were alight with pain but he swore to himself that he would not quit. Kirso stole a quick look over his shoulder. Bohok could see the same determination set in his eyes; Kirso wasn’t going to quit either.

The sun was well overhead when Bohok started to panic. He didn’t know how much longer he could keep this up. His body was screaming with pain. Each stroke was sheer agony. He knew that Kirso had to be feeling the same way. Nobody could row this long, this hard, and not be hurting. Bohok’s mind scrambled for a plan. He needed to end this contest and end it quickly.

Bohok stared at Kirso’s back as they paddled up the river; he saw the sweat pouring off it. He heard Kirso’s grunting with each stroke. He is almost done, he told himself, I just need to push him. With that thought Bohok increased his pace. Forcing himself to paddle even faster than before.

Kirso noticed the change immediately. He shot a furious look over his shoulder and matched Bohok’s new pace, then exceeded it.

Struggling to match Kirso, Bohok’s paddle just didn’t move fast enough. It seemed like Kirso was taking two strokes for every one that Bohok managed. Bohok shifted his grip on the paddle trying to get better leverage, he plunged it into the water and then, the water took it from his hands.

Bohok watched in horror as his paddle drifted away from the speeding canoe. Kirso kept paddling for several strokes before he noticed that Bohok had stopped.  He turned to see what had happened and a wicked smile crossed his face when he saw the paddle far down the river.

“I should have expected a Bug-Eater to drop his paddle.” He said with as much contempt as he could muster.

“It slipped.” Bohok said lamely. “Turn around.”

“What and waste half the day chasing a paddle downstream?” Kirso laughed. “In case you haven’t noticed we are about as far up the river as we are going to be able to paddle anyway. A true Fish-Eater knows the river. The currents get far too strong up ahead. We’ll beach here and start the walk.”

Bohok only nodded. He won’t go back because he knew that I almost had him beat and he doesn’t want to give me a second chance, he thought.

Kirso paddled the boat into the bank and they climbed out.  Bohok and Kirso hauled the boat up onto land and a good ways away from the river before flipping it over. Rainstorms and flash floods could wash a boat back into the river if it was right side up and then it would be gone forever. Kirso started piling up some large rocks around the bow and stern of the canoe to be double safe.

Bohok took out some dried salmon from his pack and sat down. The sun was almost at its zenith and he was hungry. He hadn’t had any properly dried fish in a long time, it was wonderful.

“Aren’t you going to help?” Kirso complained. His arms full of heavy rocks.

“Why should I?” Bohok laughed. “It’s not my boat, and a stupid Bug-Eater like me would probably do it all wrong anyway.”

“Probably.” Kirso nodded his agreement and kept placing rocks until the boat was completely surrounded.

Kirso pulled out some fish from his pack and sat across from Bohok. He ate in silence for a while then said, “So when are we going to do it?”

“What?” Bohok asked.

“Fight.” Kirso growled.

Bohok shrugged. “Now?”

“I figure I owe you one.” He made a fist. “Actually I owe you two. The way I see it we are going to end up fighting sooner or later on this trip.”

Bohok shrugged, his body was sore. He didn’t want to fight, but he knew it was inevitable. “You sure you want to fight me without all your friends to help you?”

“You sure you want to fight me in an honorable fight? You won’t get any sneaky punches.” Kirso stood up and assumed a wresting stance. He drew a line in the sand with his toe. “Cross it.”

Bohok stood and stretched his aching back. He twisted his arms in a circle, and tried to shake out the soreness. He walked up to the line and looked Kirso in the eye. “You ready?”

Kirso nodded and balled his hands into fists.

Bohok stepped across the line.

Kirso’s face suddenly went white with fear. He turned and started running away. Bohok laughed at him. “Come back here, coward!”

“Run!” Kirso yelled, not turning around. “Bear!”

Chapter 8

Terrified, Bohok didn’t look back, he just ran.  The forest was home to two kinds of bears. Blacks and Browns. The blacks were smaller and usually left people alone. The browns were a different story. Kirso would have yelled and jumped around if it was a black bear and try to scare it off. There was no scaring off the browns.

Kirso was well ahead of him heading for a cluster of pine trees across the meadow. Bohok put his head down and sprinted after him. He focused on lifting his knees and driving his feet downward, running as hard as he could. He could hear the crashing of brush behind him he knew the bear was charging after him.

Bohok dodged around small trees and bushes as he ran. He gauged the bear’s distance by how long it took to hear the brush rattle or the trees snap as the bear charged through them. It was closing on him fast.

Kirso made the trees and to Bohok’s astonishment Kirso managed to run up the side of the pine tree and grab the lowest branch a good ten feet above the ground. Kirso pulled himself up onto the branch and scrambled up even higher into the tree.

“Run Bohok!” He shouted down from his perch urging Bohok on.

He could hear the bear grunting behind him as it ran. Each grunt was closer, until he felt the bear’s hot breath on his back. He wasn’t going to make it to the tree.

He braced himself for the attack. He knew the bear would overtake him any moment. He stared longingly at the tree, he would never reach it.

He thought he was prepared but when the paw hit his side Bohok screamed. The blow knocked him from his feet and sent him sprawling into the dirt. The impact knocked his breath away; he gasped for futilely for air. Desperately he crawled forward on his knees and elbows; still trying to escape the bear. He could feel blood gushing out of the tears the bear’s claws had rent in his side.

Just as his lungs seemed to start working again Bohok felt a massive paw step down upon his back, pinning him to the ground. Five points like knife heads pricked the skin of his back. The bear didn’t press down hard, just hard enough to keep Bohok from moving.

The hot breath was there again. It came in gusts as the massive creature panted over him. First on his back, then he felt the breath move up his body, onto his neck, then each breath blew his hair around as it snuffled his head. The rancid meat stench of its breath was so strong, that it burned Bohok’s nose.

Bohok didn’t want to look back. He didn’t want to see it. He didn’t want to know when the killing bite came, as he knew it would.

Hot saliva dripped onto back and neck as the bear drooled on him. He could feel it pooling between his shoulder blades before it ran in warm rivers down both sides of his neck.  Bohok wanted to scream but his lungs couldn’t get enough air with the beast’s paw pressing down on him. He felt like he was drowning. His fingers were starting to bleed as he clawed in the dirt trying to get free.

Then, without warning, the bear bellowed a great roar and lifted its paw from Bohok’s back. His chest rose as he gulped in air.  He tried to get up but his body wouldn’t move. All he could do is breathe.

“Run you idiot!” He heard Kirso scream. It took Bohok a moment to realize what was wrong with the sound of Kirso’s voice. It was too low; it was from the ground.

He turned to see Kirso with a fist full of rocks and he was throwing them at the bear. The bear was starting to walk towards him. “Run!” He shouted before dropping his rocks and turning to climb his tree again.

Bohok sprung to his feet and started to run but something caught his eye as he spun around. Kirso couldn’t get back up into the tree. The branches were too high to get at without a running start. Bohok took two long strides in the opposite direction before stopping. Kirso didn’t have to climb out of that tree to help him. He could have stayed up there and let the bear eat him. Bohok couldn’t let the bear get Kirso; he couldn’t let Kirso best him in courage too.

Bohok scooped some rocks up off the ground and turned back towards Kirso and the bear; it was almost on him. Kirso scrambled desperately trying to reach the lowest branches on the tree.

Bohok hurled a rock and hit the bear in the back. It didn’t respond. Bohok screamed at it and threw another. The bear stopped and looked back at him, looked him in the eye. For a moment Bohok thought he could read its mind. The look seemed to say, “I gave you a chance and this is what you chose to do with it?”

The bear turned away from Kirso and stared at Bohok. Then the bear looked at Kirso, still scrambling to get up the tree. Bohok saw the confusion on the bear’s face, the indecision. Bohok threw another rock and hit it square between the eyes. That made up its mind.

The bear started running towards him. Bohok looked around. He was still far away from any trees that he thought he had any hope of climbing. What had he just done? He turned to run, but then he saw Kirso throwing rocks and screaming at the bear.

What was he doing? Bohok had just saved him and he was, he was… He was doing the exact same thing Bohok was doing.

The bear stopped again in a cloud of dust. He let out a roar in protest. He obviously had never had its food torment him in this manner. It stood up on its hind legs and bellowed another roar. On its hind legs the bear was easily twice Bohok’s height. The display made Bohok’s knees weak. There was no escaping this monster.

Just then a sound unlike Bohok had ever heard before came out of the woods. It was louder than a tree snapping in half but resonated like bowstring. There was a strange humming sound accompanying it.

Then the bear lurched forward and swayed in place. It looked around. It gave a confused grunt then went down on four legs again. Then, to Bohok’s amazement, the bear collapsed, flat on the ground.

Bohok was baffled. What had happened?  What was that noise? Why was the bear not moving?

“What was that?” Kirso shouted echoing Bohok’s thoughts.

Bohok only shrugged. The bear was still on the ground. “I think it’s dead.” He yelled back.

Both boys started edging toward the bear. They cautiously approached it from both sides. Bohok saw a pool of blood forming under its great body.

“Hold!” A strange voice called out from the woods. Bohok and Kirso spun towards it.

A man emerged from the forest. He was tall, taller than any man they had ever seen. He had furs wrapped around his body and leathers around his legs, like an Elk-Eater. A great beard swung from his neck, thicker than any beard Bohok had ever seen. The hair of the beard was as orange as a campfire, but that wasn’t the most shocking thing about him.

The most shocking thing was his skin. His skin was so pale that Bohok thought he must be sick; he had never seen anyone so pale unless they were deathly ill, or dead. But he didn’t move like a sick man he loped across the meadow with an easy gait.

“Hold.” He called out again, waving one arm. He pulled out a knife from his belt. The stone of the blade was as peculiar as everything else about this man. It shone like the side of a trout in the sun and it was longer than Bohok’s arm. “The first shot might not have killed it.”

The man closed on the bear. With a great thrust he shoved his long, strange knife through the side of the bear up to the handle. The bear did not move. The man freed his knife with a powerful yank. He flicked the blood from the blade and nodded, almost to himself.

He smiled a broad smile and put the tip of his knife into the ground.  It was so long that he easily rested his hands on top of the handle one crossed over the other. Bohok stared at the shiny knife. He wondered how someone could chip a knife so long and straight. He wondered why it didn’t break under its own weight; it was so thin.

Up close Bohok saw that the orange beard and his temples were streaked with grey. He was old; perhaps that was why he was so very pale. His face was weathered and his eyes hinted at secret wisdom, just like Chief Yoosin’s.

The man looked at the two astonished boys one at a time. “That was a very brave act. Both of you. I saw most of it. Impressive.” His words sounded strange, the inflections were all wrong, he had an accent like an Elk-Eater but even that was wrong.

Kirso spoke first. “Who are you?” He asked.

The man laughed, even his laugh sounded different, but it was long and deep and both Kirso and Bohok started giggling along with him. “I’m sorry boys, let me introduce myself.” He put a hand to his chest and bent his body in half in a bizarre fashion. When he straightened he said, “I am called Tymon.”

Published on October 12, 2009 at 9:36 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] a bunch of hits on this it could help me publish it, later. The best way to link to the story is it’ll take them right to the story […]

  2. Enjoying it! Looking forward to the next chapter! Thank you for sharing more of your excellent work!

  3. Loving It! Let me know when more is written!

    Pulled in already.

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