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During the next three days I became more involved in the routine life of the holt, spending some time with Branai, hunting with our catapults in the surrounding shrubby thickets. He was already a deadly shot, rarely missing what he aimed at and I learned a great deal from him about the local wildlife, most importantly what not to shoot at rather than what would actually be edible. Apparently there would be even more animals around as the weather got warmer, but as it was we usually managed to add some variety to the evening meal. Sometimes it was some sort of fruit, which Branai could shoot out of the taller trees with uncanny accuracy while I usually ended up turning my targets to pulp, still firmly attached to their branches.
I had also started helping Teshshin in the smithy. For some reason, the noise and the acrid smells excited me and I gained a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that in some way, I was helping forge the knife I'd asked him to make for me. He'd examined Corkai's and had drawn up some plans based on the very rough details I'd given him. I made only one change which he thought was sufficiently intriguing to agree to, which was to make a curved guard for the hand. It had to be fairly flat of course to fit into the belt-sheathes without making an uncomfortable bulge, Teshshin's final design including a great deal of intricate piercing work which I frankly thought was a bit too much for such a tool. He grinned at my protestations, revealing that Corkai had promised to slice his head off with the finished article it if it wasn't good enough and besides, he said, I would certainly pay for it.
Mahrham and I also visited the female twice more, though thankfully no breeding was required. She eventually said she'd had some trouble getting useful data from my seed, as the poor little things were so fragile that most of them had died before she could find a way to keep them alive. Nevertheless she said, she had managed to extract some information and had incorporated it together with Mahrham's codes into the child. We were both thrilled of course, though it did occur to me we might have created some sort of chimeric monster. Naturally the female caught my thought and tutted severely at me, assuring both of us that the child would be Ifshiri
with some differences. Predictably, when we almost begged her to tell us what they would be, she coyly said we'd just have to wait and see.
The female also told us what name she'd chosen for the child, saying she had decided on Mahrvid, as he would be mostly Mahrham with small bits of David. We agreed it was an excellent name and thanked her for all her work. She replied we could easily repay her by collecting some of the phosphorescent fungus and placing it all over her body. We spent quite a while making sure she got a good covering of little sparkling pieces which she wasted no time in absorbing. Apparently they were delicious.
On the morning of the fourth day after breeding, Teshshin came to collect me well before Mahrham left for the hunt and said it was time for me to help him as I'd promised I would. He was running out of metal and needed my help to get more of the stone. I told him if he wanted someone to carry heavy bags of ore for him, then he'd probably chosen the wrong Ifshiri.
'David can carry only four croki.' I shrugged my shoulders with an apologetic grin.
'Then Teshshin, David make two carry,' he replied with a smile, beckoning me into the smithy. He handed me a long pole which I thought at first was metal, but then realised must have been made of wood as it was quite light. He told me to take Horban off, slinging a yoke make of hide over my head and settling it onto my shoulders.
'Too big for David,' he said with a giggle and indeed, the thing hung halfway down my arms.
'David is very small Ifshiri,' I said with a sigh, as he attached four empty bags to points either side of my neck so that two hung down my back and two down my chest. I put Horban back on as I watched him check the fastenings of the four bags on his own yoke. I only really appreciated the spread of his chest when I noted that he'd attached the bags to his yoke at the extreme ends, which barely reached his shoulders.
We set off up the ramps to the holt entrance, then turned back towards the mountains to start the descent towards the glacier. As we got closer, the footing on the narrow, snow-covered path became increasingly treacherous and Teshshin showed me what the long pole was for, testing the ground in front of him before each step.
'Path most times good, sometimes fall down,' he explained, as we inched our way towards a small, dark hole in the side of the canyon. 'Get stone there,' he said, pointing towards our destination. I had to admit I was pleased the trip was almost over. We had been walking for a good part of the morning and I wasn't looking forward to the return trek, knowing I was going to be weighed down with a small mountain of ore, or stone as Teshshin called it.
The entrance to the mine was only a short distance from the glacier's edge. The tinkling noises I'd heard from the ledge above the garden were much louder now, sounding more like tortured groans and grumbles, with occasional ear-splitting twangs and pings as the ice fractured and cracked. The glacier no longer resembled a thin, gleaming ribbon of smooth ice, but showed itself for what it really was; a vast expanse of sharp needles and deep blue crevasses, looking truly foreboding.
We turned our backs on the ice river and entered the mine. The same fungus which illuminated the holt provided dim lighting in the narrow, twisting tunnel leading to the stone deposit. It was only a short distance in and when we reached it, Teshshin dumped his yoke and bags on the ground, indicating I should do the same, so my belts, waterbag and carefully rolled cloak joined his clothing in a neat pile. There were three long-handled tools resembling double-headed pickaxes lying on the dusty floor and Teshshin immediately picked one up and started using it to attack the wall in front of him. I assumed I was supposed to do the same, but Teshshin paused in his labours and stopped me before I could begin. After I assured him I knew how to handle a pick, he watched me for a while as I worked my way into the seam, then resumed his own digging without comment.
The stone was surprisingly soft, an orange-brown, friable rock with yellow crystals embedded in it. We dug with only short rests for a drink or a stretch until we had enough to fill the eight bags, though my four admittedly contained a lot less than Teshshin's did. He warned me not to try to carry more than I really could, given the treacherous nature of the long walk back.
Before we put our belts and yokes back on, we gathered little pieces of the glowing fungus, pressing them into cracks in the ceiling and walls around the area where we'd been digging. We walked back down the tunnel towards the mine entrance, where I was surprised to find it was a lot later in the day than I'd estimated it would be. Ifshah was low in the sky, its slanting rays illuminating the entire glacier, making it almost too painful to look at.
We started the climb back up the narrow, winding path, but I found I had to rest frequently. Although the yoke was well designed to distribute the load, the bags tended to sway around if I tried to move too fast and somehow, they seemed to have at least doubled their weight since I'd first picked them up. On one of the short stops, I leant against the rock wall to rest and looked back at the glacier. It was already starting to resume its shiny, ribbon-like appearance and I could see the huge, strangely shaped outcropping I'd noted from the ledge above the garden.
What caught my attention however, were two shiny spots close to the glacier, near to where I'd seen the first one from the ledge. They sparkled and gleamed intermittently, as if something was obscuring them every so often and it took me a while to figure out they were actually moving. I pointed them out to Teshshin who shrugged and said he'd sometimes seen things like them before, but didn't know what they were. He thought they might be ice crystals trapped in one of the little avalanches of crushed rock that constantly trickled down the valley beside the glacier. As he turned to continue his climb, a third shiny spot flashed into view and I watched it for a moment or two until Teshshin said we'd better keep moving, as it would be getting darker soon.
We continued our ascent back to the holt, reaching it just as the evening meal was being prepared. Dumping our bags of stone outside the smithy, we both headed wearily towards the bath in the garden, waving away the good-natured taunts from the youngsters gathered around the fire-pit, gutting croki, who shooed us along, complaining that we were making the meal dirty. I was too exhausted to worry about the water temperature as Teshshin and I washed all the stone-dust off each other. Poor Teshshin was hardest to clean up, as the stuff had caked deep into his fur and even getting it all out of his ears took much too long for it to be any kind of fun.
As we hurried back to the warmth of the communal room, I asked Teshshin if we would need to get more stone the next day and was greatly relieved when he grinned and nodded, saying he had enough to make about ten things. I asked if I could watch as he made metal out of the stone and he readily agreed, provided I got there early enough to help him and the twins with the process.
The female had already started her laborious progress to the other end of the dais as I reclaimed Horban from outside the smithy and took him into the garden for a good shaking. After I'd finished, I regretted not doing it before I'd had the bath, but I certainly wasn't going to have another one.
Mahrham was sitting by the fire, talking to Tamori as I joined the rest of the clan for the evening meal. My mate pulled me down into his lap and promptly started cleaning my ears.
'David get big, strong today,' he grinned, showing me the stone he was digging out of my head. 'Big, strong and dirty.'
'Mahrham forget tired,' I said, with a sigh. 'David very tired.'
'David not want fuck?' I knew he was joking, but he still sounded a little disappointed.
'Not too tired for that,' I said, nestling back into his hairy chest.
As it happened, I must have been far too tired, because we went to bed as soon as the meal was over and the last thing I remember was Mahrham taking off my belts.
Morning arrived much too soon in the shape of Mokrit, to tell me they were about to start turning the stone and if I wanted to see the whole process, then I should come soon. Mahrham protested sleepily as I slipped out of his arms, but I'd spent far too much energy getting the stone to miss its transformation into metal.
Mokrit waited as I dressed, gathering Horban around me to ward off the early morning chill. I followed the little twin out into the communal area, turning left towards the smithy as Mokrit turned right towards the garden. I realised with a sinking feeling that the metal-making must be going on outside and trudged after the youngster through the morning frost. He led me past the bathing area towards the path at the rear of the garden, where Teshshin and Moktor were busily working around one of the tall clay pots. They'd already brought out three bags of stone and were loading lumps of burnt wood into the top of one of the pots, which I now realised had to be a furnace of some sort.
Teshshin handed me a curved metal object and asked me to clean out the waste pit, indicating a hole in the side of the pot at the bottom. It was blocked with a fitted boulder which I removed and started hooking the ashes and rubbish out, tossing them in handfuls around the nearby bushes.
The twins had gone back into the holt, soon reappearing carrying the huge treadle bellows between them. I watched as they fitted a strange-looking bowl onto the long wooden handle which now linked both treadles into one and then started helping Teshshin load the stone into the top of the pot. Finally, the twins made a second trip back to the holt, this time emerging with great wooden paddles, heaped with glowing embers from the fire-pit which they also tossed into the top of the pot. This they repeated a number of times, with Teshshin examining the pieces of charcoal and occasionally flicking bits away.
Smoke started to rise from the top of the furnace as Teshshin and the twins positioned the bellows behind it, fitting the adjustable nozzle into a small hole at about knee height. They moved the bellows so water from the waterfall ran into the basin, causing the bellows to descend and blow air into the furnace, while the water simultaneously ran out of the basin causing the bellows to rise again. I watched intrigued as the twins spent quite a while nudging the bellows to and fro to change the amount of water falling into the basin, thus varying the bellows speed. Teshshin meanwhile was carefully examining the flames now coming out of the top of the furnace until they were a smoky blue with no yellow at all and he seemed satisfied.
'Too much air make bad metal,' he explained, washing his face and hands in the waterfall. 'Now we wait all day.'
'All day?' I said in disbelief. 'Why does it take all day?'
'Pot get too hot too quick, make bad metal,' he replied. 'Must watch all day, so fire not go bad.'
'And Teshshin want David to watch?' At last I understood with some disillusionment exactly what I was here for.
He grinned slyly at me. 'David not be sad. Watch important. Fire must stay blue or metal will be bad.'
I waggled at him slowly; I knew what was going on from my lessons with Teacher. The iron ore had to be reduced to metal using heat and carbon monoxide gas. The charcoal provided the gas as it burned and too much air would just tend to oxidise any metal back to oxide. And carbon monoxide burns blue. If I'd had any sense, I'd have realised the furnace would have to be somewhere outside or Teshshin would end up poisoning the entire holt.
What I hadn't known was that it would take so long. I stood watches in turn with the twins and Teshshin. The spells would have been shorter if the twins had taken theirs separately, but as usual they refused to be parted for too long and took one shift together. My two shifts were almost uneventful, except for one point when it was nearing midday and I noticed the bellows was starting to speed up a bit, so I grimly took matters into my own hands and did a bit of bellows-nudging myself. It took longer than I'd expected to get the flames burning a nice wispy blue again, but I got it in the end. Teshshin came to relieve me a little while later and I told him I'd adjusted the burning rate. He waggled in acknowledgement but made no changes, so I must have done it right.
Mahrham had just returned from a longer than normal hunt and evening was fast approaching when Teshshin finally decided the metal must be ready, stopping the furnace in spectacular fashion by pouring large bowls of water into the top. My mate and I held hands and watched in delight with the others as great gouts of steam and sparks shot out of the furnace, then we all ran away, yelling and giggling as a shower of hot, dirty water and little lumps of ash and charcoal rained down all around. Teshshin had been too close to get away and had sheltered by crouching down next to the furnace and inverting the bowl over his head. He was a bit scorched in places but shrugged and grinned, saying it was all part of being a smith.
Teshshin left the metal to cool down while we all washed and went to join the others for the evening meal. Fyrsh was proudly telling everyone of the three croki he'd killed, while Branai handed around some shrivelled little berries he'd shot down from a tall tree. Everyone cried with delight when he produced them as they were apparently a rare treat, belying their unappetising, wrinkled appearance, with a taste that was very sweet but sent a delicious fizzy feeling up your nose. I had a quite a few of them and only afterwards thought to ask Mahrham what they were called.
'We call staggerfruit,' he said, with a grin and it wasn't until I tried to stand up that I found they were well named, as my knees refused to work properly and I had a tendency to giggle at the flimsiest provocation. Mahrham collapsed onto his back, screaming with laughter as he watched me wobbling about, then stopped with an 'oof!' as I fell over him in a heap. We lay there giggling, cuddling and occasionally sneezing as the fizziness came and went, watching the youngsters laughing and yelling as they played a favourite chasing game, trying in vain to catch each other while staggering around. Every so often one would totter towards the fire and a long adult arm would uncoil from somewhere and drag the little one away from the embers.
As usual I ate too much croki, but I was well aware by this time that my metabolism was a deal faster than an Ifshiri's and as much as I wanted to be an Ifshiri myself, I knew in many ways I never would be. My body had long ago adapted to just one big meal in the evening, though I usually supplemented it by eating fruits or berries during the day if I could. I was starting to fill out as well and fancied I was growing a little taller, though Mahrham hadn't said anything.
We propped each other up as we reeled towards our sleeping chamber, still giggling and fizzing away and I think we must both have fallen asleep rather quickly.
[To be continued.]
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Fizzy drinks, an uplifting experience, until.. Earth seems to have a bunch of fruits one can make in to "staggerfruit" juice though have never seen an Ifshiri label on a bottle, yet. This part of the book, excluding the cringe factor in the previous chapter, made me giggle a lot.
I'm glad I can make you laugh as well as cringe, my friend. I guess having a cactus up the bum isn't a happy thought!
Eons ago, when dinos walked the earth, and I was a kid, there was a number of cacti who encountered my Levi covered rear. Before 501's, stone washing, and relaxed fit, bluejeans were tested in a real world full of cacti, dirt, rocks, rattlesnakes. There was no room for "Made in China" bluejeans back then because they or you, just would not survive. In any case, a number of species of cacti 'jump' at an object that is causing vibrations, which explains my encounters, before I talked my father in to removing it.
Oh, absolutely! I understand that some Mexican species are like their beans and that a Saguaro can actually leap a distance equivalent to its own height. However, I know too that the 'jumping' of the beans is due to the presence inside of an insect larva of some sort, so maybe the Saguaro jumps because it has a rattlesnake inside it.