Summer Growing, Trapper’s Day 17, Year of the Lion number 427; June 26, 1738 Agathon
West. West. West.
Despite the well-used road, the going was still slow. Steep climbs strained the horses terribly. Several times we had to tie several horses together to pull one wagon up, then at the top, unhitch, bring the horses back down for the next wagon. The only solace was the beautiful landscape that surrounded us. The valley for which the region is named is more of a canyon. The variety of color is astounding, as is the variety of wildlife. Great eagles, fascinating goats and deer, squirrels and raccoons sporting colors I’ve never seen before on animals, curious reptiles of all shapes and sizes, including snakes with colorful patterns in their scales, insects… The list goes on. We even saw a family of mountain lions, though their sand-colored fur made them almost indistinguishable from the terrain.
We remained on guard, however. Not all the creatures we saw were friendly toward us. A swarm of giant mosquitoes attacked us. Lena called them stirges. As large as rats, these things were vicious! One of the guards was sick for several days after three of them managed to penetrate his armor.
Another day we stumbled onto a den of snakes that made this strange rattling sound with their tails. One of the guards’ horses was bitten, so we had to kill it to put it out of its misery. After we killed the snakes, however, Lena carefully harvested both their venom and the rings at the ends of their tails. Their meat was cooked that evening, which made a tasty, but unusual meal. Lena explained that their venom was used in a variety of potions and would earn us quite a bit of gold. The rattles were affixed to small sticks and given to me. “Use these with some of your dances,” she instructed.
Ten days under the relentless sun took its toll on all of us. By the time we descended the mountains into the foothills on the west side of the mountain range, we were exhausted to the point where a night’s rest was insufficient. Our supplies were almost gone, and where not covered in hair and clothing, the guards and drivers skin had become red or bronze. We all looked forward to the shelter of the forest, level ground, and, of all things, civilization. And Lena said we had made good time.
Despite the conditions, Alani still drilled me. I was becoming so familiar with the melodies and their associated dances that I could do them blindfolded. Adding the rattlers to some of the songs enhanced the performance. Alani stressed the importance of my facial and body expression. The moves were becoming rote, allowing me to focus on the less technical aspects. My timing improved, as did my anticipation of the way the music worked. Alani explained that there were times when I would be asked to dance to an unfamiliar song played by other performers, and I would have to improvise. She gave her drum to one of the guards and asked him to set a rhythm. I could tell he wasn’t very good as the beat changed. Sometimes it would go slower, but more often, it would gradually speed up. In order for me to stay with it, I had to be ready to react to and accommodate.
Lena said it would be about three or four weeks before we arrived in Wailee. We’d follow the Angwell River through the northern part of the Lalszu Forest. “It’s all downhill from here,” she quipped.
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