Cetan and Tama gathered leaves into the sunset, only stopping from making their runs back and forth to the fire in order to eat what fish the women had cooked. There were no meal times. They ate when they had food until they were full and then saved what they could to eat again as soon as they grew hungry. The only rule was that they only ate when they were all together. The boy noted, as he’d watched the women work on preparing food over the past few days, that they were very quick and accurate with their hands, without seeming to pay any attention of training. Convincing the women to help with the making of the amount of rope that would be called for turned out to be the least of their problems. The women went at the braiding enthusiastically to the point that the warrior and the boy had to work full time simply to supply them with the stalks and leaves necessary for the construction.
When they were ready, with a reasonable approximation of how much of the braided line would be needed, Cetan and the boy hauled coil after coil down to the lower river bed closer to the rocks dotting along the river just above the waterfalls.
Laying the braided vines and leaves across the water proved to be more complex and difficult than either of them had considered. Although the ‘rope’ they had fashioned floated, there was still enough resistance to the moving water of the river that over the complete span of the river’s width considerable force was required to keep the whole mass from floating downstream and then over the waterfalls. Since the warrior had taken an oath never to cross the river using the rocks along the precarious edge of the waterfalls, the boy had to drag the rope over, segment by segment, and then tie the segments together and then hike upstream to the grotto where the special obsidian lay hidden. Only then could he return across the river and, with both of them pulling and tugging, take up the slack and stretch the rope to the point where it led in one angled direction. If the rope had too much slack then it was impossible to figure out just how far the raft would move downriver before it was pulled in on Cetan’s side. If the rope stretched too much or the angle of calculation was wrong, then the raft would plunge over the falls and they would be back to square one.
It took most of the day to get the line arranged, in place and the raft loaded with obsidian. The boy worked alone but he wasn’t bothered by that fact.
At first, the boy had been determined to ride aboard the first raft. The load was life-giving in its value to all of them. After considerable discussion, however, before he made the crossing, the warrior convinced him to let the raft run free since the boy’s presence aboard it would change nothing if it either broke free or their calculations were in error.
Building the raft was another matter because the boy had to do that part alone too. Cetan had worked to help him understand how to cut and then assemble the fallen dry wood of old fallen trees to form into a flat platform. The same vines used for the rope were used to bind the rough logs together at the river’s edge. The boy worked through most of the day to finally finish what looked more or less like the beaver’s lodge, except it was flat and had no mud holding it together. The boy stood back to view his work and then smiled to himself. The warrior had been correct in his conclusion that the boy should not ride the thing across the river’s fast-moving water. The raft didn’t look like it would survive the trip, even if there was no current to tear away at it. Dusk was beginning to affect the light by the time he was satisfied that he’d been able to race back and forth and load enough obsidian onto conveyance, and then tie it down using big leaf fronds and more of the braided rope, and get it ready for launch.
There could be no waiting through the night for the light of dawn, as the current was ever persistent and such a powerful immutable force. There was no way the braided rope would hold together through the night.
When everything was ready, the boy looked across the river to where he knew the warrior had to be waiting. The distance was too far to make out any features other than the general area. The warrior would not be able to see him on his shore either. There was only one thing to be done. The boy positioned the raft so that it could be pulled free when more pressure was exerted on the other end of the braided rope extending out across the river. Either that or the raft would eventually be pulled from the bank by the water that was slowly eating away the sand and mud from beneath its timbers. Not being able to do more, he sprinted back toward the rocks he would use to hop across the water, avoiding going over the falls, and reach the other side where he could help the warrior pull on the rope.
The cat lay with his big head gently resting on the forest edge, just before the hard rock showed bare on the lip of the overhanging cliff. He’d followed the boy all the way across the river, even more adroitly navigating the jumps from rock to rock that the boy had preceded him in doing. His curiosity was piqued, and there was nothing else to do so late in the day. The night would bring more activity and would also maximize the cat’s nocturnal capabilities. In the meantime, the antics of the bipedal creatures he’d never intended to be part of, but had somehow become part of what interested him.
The boy had laboriously assembled a flat surface of logs, floated it upon the water of the river, and then loaded it up about half-way with colored rocks. The cat looked across the slow but powerfully moving waters to the far shore. From his higher viewpoint, he could see the warrior working on the other side.
The boy suddenly departed, loping downriver along the bank. The cat instinctively knew he was headed back across the river and would, no doubt, be once more hopping from one exposed stone to another in order to get there. Nothing of interest. But what was on the flat floating surface of the thing the boy had put together might be of interest. He waited until he saw the boy crossing the river, far in the distance but very close to the deadly falls before he moved.
The cat approached the raft. What could possibly have caused so much time and effort to be put out by the boy? The cat went aboard the raft and then began a very slow and careful search, using his delicate nose to try to penetrate the mystery. He climbed to the top of the stacked surface of tightly packed stones to try to take it all in. There was room to lay down, so, turning and moving about in a slow twisting fashion, the cat settled into a position where he could watch the shore, where danger might come from and also think while he half-napped with his eyes nearly closed.
Without warning, and in an instant, the cat’s eyes snapped fully open. The gentle lapping movement of the raft wasn’t gentle or lapping. The raft was rocking up and down and from side to side and the cat saw why. While he’d napped the raft had left the shore and was a good way out into the current of the river. The cat jumped to all four feet and took in the entire scene. The raft was a good distance from the shore, and easily swimmable distance but then the cat’s attention was drawn inexorably to where the exposed rocks dotted the region above the falls white where the water struck them and had to bend around. The distance to the shore was swimmable but he could not likely make it before going over the falls unless he was fortunate enough to be able to clamber up atop one of the rocks and then make his way to either shore.
The cat slunk back down, laying once more but with his head fully erect and his eyes focused on the far shore where he could see that the boy and the older warrior had come together. They were pulling on something. It took several seconds for the cat to realize that they were pulling on the rope attached the very raft he was riding on. The cat looked at the far edge of the falls and then at the warrior and boy, and then back. He calculated that the raft would make it to the far shore but it would be a close thing. The cat breathed in and out carefully. The chances of swimming, arriving at the rocks exhausted, and then getting up out of the water was significantly less than if he stayed on the raft and then leaped off when it landed. If it did not land then he had a better chance of leaping to a rock as the raft went by on its way over the falls then swimming to one and getting up.
There was nothing to be done so the cat closed his eyes and went back to napping, knowing that he would be fully functional when the raft got closer to the shore.
“What is that?” the warrior said to the boy, stopping his work of hauling in the wet slippery rope, only the braided nature of it allowing them to pull on its soggy wet surface at all.
“What’s what?” the boy said, raising his right hand to shield his eyes against the powerful rays of the descending sun.
“On the raft,” the warrior pointed as he spoke, finally rising to his feet.
“The cat,” the boy replied, his tone one of complete disbelief.
Suddenly, the warrior plunged back down and grabbed the rope and began to pull with all his might.
“If we don’t get this thing in before it goes over the falls then we’re going to lose a lot more than a load of obsidian.
The boy leaped to his aid and began to pull.
The cat lay, its big front paws at rest before him and he raised his head to observe the raft’s travel and the then back to shore and the warrior and boy’s efforts.
The raft eased into the shore, the cat looking at the warrior and the boy as if he not only knew it would all the time but was in full command of the operation. When the edge of the raft touched the sandy mud of the riverbank the cat rose up, stretched, and then lightly leaped onto the drier part of the beaten weeds, fronds, and small branches.
The boy looked into the cat’s inscrutable eyes but could get nothing back at all. The cat turned, moved a bit further inland and took up a place under the protective overhang of a lower pine branch. A gust of wind coming in off the river brushed the needles against the top of the cat’s head but the creature was not disturbed, merely moving his big head down half a paw or so in distance to avoid a repeat of the occurrence. Once again the cat lay supine, as he had atop the raft, and watched to work that was going on as if he was occupying a space that had been set aside for him all along.
“What do you make of that?” the warrior whispered to the boy, untying the wet hard to handle braided ropes with both hands, his back to the cat.
“Make of what” the boy replied, moving to help him with the lines.
“That kind of behavior in a wild animal is just not quite right,” the warrior said, still keeping his back to the cat, as if looking at the cat when he spoke might let the animal know he was talking about it.
The boy raised up from the work and stared into the Hasti's unblinking eyes. The cat then blinked slowly.
“He knows we’re talking about him,” the boy said, bending down to start taking the half-a-leg long chunks of heavy flint from the stack. “That cat has given us the life here that we have, and now the obsidian gives us a chance for survival, so I don’t care whether he’s not quite right or not.”
“Good point,” the warrior concluded. “I just don’t know whether we can trust him or not?”
“To do what?” the boy replied, his voice tone showing surprise.
“I don’t know,” the warrior replied, softly, still convinced that the cat might be able to hear and understand his words.
“Where do we put this stuff so we can get but nobody will find it?” the boy asked, halfway through the unloading.
“No place here,” the warrior replied. We’ve got to haul it back to our camp, dig a pit and then hide it there where we can be right next to it. This obsidian is very valuable and we’ve got to treat it that way.”
“What about the raft?” the boy asked.
“Well, with the angle upriver back, it’s not likely we’d be able to pull it over to the other side against the current,” Cetan said, leaning back to consider and think about the problem. “We could wait for the rope to dry off and then carry it back over in segments like before. Once there we could tie it higher on the river and with the correct launch, the raft would swing back to the other side with the current forcing it across. But that has its own problems. The raft would be over there for anyone to come along and find. What would they make of it, especially if they knew about our special collection of the precious material? They’d start to search and, although we’ve hidden the entrance to the cave there’s no way a real interested human would fail to find it. No, we have to build a new raft every time we bring over any obsidian.”
The boy sat in silence. He’d never heard the warrior speak for so long. Everything the man had said had been thought out beforehand and the boy was impressed.
“Then we can use the raft now and then let it go right over the falls when we’re done?” the boy asked.
“What do you mean?” Cetan responded.
“I mean, we don't have to haul all this stuff by hand, running many loads back and forth. Our camp is upriver next to the river. We can pull the raft upriver because the shore is made up of mostly eddy areas of slowly moving or spinning water. After we unload at the campsite then we can just push the raft out and left it go down and over the falls. Nothing would be left of it at all. We can’t use the rope again until it’s all dried out, or it’d be too heavy to drag across the stones.”
The cat padded along, as the warrior and the boy worked to drag the raft upriver, from one grounding to another, from one eddy to another and through the parts where the current was so strong that they barely made headway at all. Finally, as darkness was falling, they arrived at the campsite part of the riverbank, and both collapsed to rest.
“I don't think I have enough left in me to unload and secure the obsidian,” the warrior said, after a bit.
“Me either,” Tama replied, “but I’m worried if someone comes along in the night.”
The warrior looked at the raft and its load, before commenting again.
“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” he said, pointing weakly toward the water.
Hasti had once more jumped up to the top of the load and was stretched out in relaxation with its eyes fully closed.