Methven - Day Six - Part Three
"So, I take it your 'finding the path' trick, this 'seeing' thing and your little climbing demonstration this afternoon are all somehow related?"
"Yes, Mr. Drew. They are all part of the Way of the Scout."
"And, are there other parts of this 'Way of the Scout'?"
"Yes. Many other parts."
"Those more skilled in the Way than I can talk to plants and animals, Mr. Drew. They can tell what is true when others speak, see great distances, hide when there is no cover and find food and water where others would find none."
"How come you can't do those things?"
He spread his hands.
"I am only a child, Mr. Drew. I know only simple things."
"Oh? And what's the simplest thing you know?"
"Always, the Way begins with Seeing."
"So, can you teach me how to 'See'?"
Mantami shook his head.
"I am sorry, Mr. Drew, but I cannot."
"I do not have the Elixir of Awakening."
"'Elixir of Awakening'?"
"Always, the teaching of the Way begins with the Elixir of Awakening. The Elixir teaches you to See."
"So, where can I get this stuff?"
"Only from the Mothers, Mr. Drew."
"And the Mothers are where, again?"
"Always, the Mothers are in Vomisa Clanhomes, Mr. Drew."
"Like your Clanhome, for instance?"
"Yes, Mr. Drew."
. . .
Because we'd made our camp at high altitude, our fourth morning on Methven dawned clear, bright and nippy. After a sponge bath and another of Bruno's heroic breakfasts, we started the day by tackling the four most serious pitches we'd encountered.
Mind you, none of them was what you'd call "world class", but they all were on the order of Class 5.4 or so, American. Which is to say, given that we were climbing them a vue, they were a lot tougher than they would've been if we were familar with them ahead of time.
Mantami's little climbing trick got us up the first one, but Læ stopped him from repeating it thereafter. Apparently, all this Way of the Scout jazz exacts a pretty stiff metabolic price and Læ wanted him to save some juice to use for Seeing, when he took his watch that evening.
That left it to yours truly to play draw monkey.
I thought climbing three out of four faces on sight while towing civilians wasn't too shabby. Of course, I did a lot of rig cleaning, set a lot of protection and did lots of hangdogging.
Screw form. This wasn't sport--it was travel.
Even so, on the fourth pitch, long about midafternoon, Carleton, who is by far the greenest climber in the crew, peeled off the wall and bonked twice before he managed to stop playing eggbeater.
I'm convinced the problem was the fact that Læ had made us leave all the hexcentrics back in California. That left us stuck with using cams and, of all things, pitons where I'd've preferred using nuts and wedges. So, naturally, Carleton took the plunge because a line of pitons unzipped on him.
I hate those things.
Anyhow, he didn't actually break anything, but he did get pretty banged up, so Læ called a halt for the day and sent Bruno into his magic suitcase for some goo that looked like a cross between lime Jello and the stuff in those glowsticks they sell at Grateful Dead concerts.
The green goop turned out to be a combination anesthetic, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and healing promoter on steroids. I'd've sworn Carleton wasn't going to be in shape to travel anytime soon, but, by the time Bruno, Mantami and Pith woke him, Bill and me for third watch, Carleton's scrapes had faded entirely and his freshly-acquired bruises looked as though they'd been healing for a week.
"So, I imagine you're going to tell me that Methven has super-duper healing goo, too?"
Carleton shook his head.
"Of course not, Drew. They use magic."
. . .
The next day, it started drizzling about midmorning. Luckily, we weren't bucking gravity, because I really despise making ascents in the wet. It makes the rock all greasy and it gets in your eyes when you're redpointing a route.
Even so, it sucked the brown round. It was real cold and, not only did we have to contend with a godzillion little waterfalls coursing down the back of our necks, but the rain scoured the loose stuff off the higher reaches of the mountain and washed it over the side..and onto us.
We were all wearing brain buckets, but those do only so much good. You get bonked by a good-sized boulder and a climbing helmet becomes just so much decoration.
Luckily, the biggest rock we saw took a bounce off a finger-wide ledge about four feet over Tong's head, thereby missing him by a good two inches.
Somehow, we all managed to make it down to a high-altitude meadow without anything worse than scrapes and bruises.
And, of course, the sun (I don't care what Bill says, I'm going to refer to it as 'the sun') chose just that moment to pop out from behind the clouds. The prevailing winds were from the Southeast, so we were treated to a spectacular rainbow as the storm we'd been descending through retreated toward the horizon.
Læ called a break and we all flopped down to catch our breath, while Bruno broke out some grub. Then we repacked our climbing gear and set off across the meadow.
Around mid-afternoon, I spotted what I thought was a tacht in the distance. Mantami confirmed my guess.
"It is a tacht, Mr. Drew."
He sounded worried.
"What's the problem, Mantami?"
"Mr. Drew, the tacht is downwind. It will catch our scent."
With a gesture, I took in the party spread out around.
"There're nine of us, Mantami. What's to worry?"
Mantami shook his head.
"A tacht has no fear of us, Mr. Drew. And we are close to S'lynth territory."
I thought about that. Hearing the term "S'lynth" triggered an image of a thing like a bipedal cougar, with a big head and opposable thumbs. I guess it was a product of having learned the Trader's Tongue. Somehow, I just knew "S'lynth" were intelligent, I knew they were touchy about trespassers and I knew I didn't want them mad at me.
"You think they'd object to our messing with the tacht?"
"Killing a tacht is a rite of passage for S'lynth, Mr. Drew."
That little piece of information wasn't included in my free subscription to the Methven bestiary.
"You think they'd be pissed, even if we were acting in self-defense?"
"Who can know the mind of a S'lynth, Mr. Drew?"
"Not me, pal. So, while we're on the subject, are there any other critters I need to look out for?"
"There is the t'kalgh."
I shook my head. "T'kalgh" conjured no image for me.
"It is like a S'lynth, only smaller and without speech."
. . .
Our conversation about Methven fauna may have sharpened my attention--or maybe it was that hiking instead of climbing left me with more attention to spare--but that afternoon I started really noticing the wildlife around us for the first time.
First of all, there were quite a few flying things. You couldn't call them birds, exactly, because they had more scales than feathers and they seemed to have teeth, rather than bills. Mostly, they looked like variations on an archaeopteryx theme.
I began to understand how our nemesis, Drakenfoe, could make a hobby of hunting dragons.
The ground dwellers all seemed distinctly mammalian, (although Mantami assured me that there are reptilians and amphibians at lower altitudes). I remember coming over a slight rise to find, clustered around a pool that the morning's rains must have created, a herd of mountain goat-looking things, each of which had a single, slightly-curved and wickely-pointed horn projecting from its forehead.
Mantami shook his head.
"Sabats, Mr. Drew."
"They might be sabats to you, but they sure look like unicorns to me."
. . .
It was late afternoon when we reached a section of the meadow that was covered by a scattering of tussocky humps. I didn't think much about it until the pastoral quiet was shattered by a deep, angry, shockingly nearby roar!
I must've jumped four feet in the air. That rage-filled blast had come from only a few yards away to my right.
I pivoted that direction, backpedaled and reached awkwardly for the crossbow I had slung over my back. Something was streaking at high speed toward me through the waist-high "grass".
My left heel caught on a tangle of roots. My crossbow went sailing into the weeds as I desperately windmilled my arms for balance. At that exact moment, whatever was charging me loosed another one of those bowel-loosening roars, burst out of the undergrowth and slammed into my chest!
Mind numb with terror, convinced I was going to die right there in that treacherously-peaceful mountain meadow, I scooted backward as fast as I could crabwalk on elbows and heels.
Deafeningly, the thing bellowed again and I looked up at it, sure that, whatever it was, it would be the last thing I ever saw.
(Copyright© 1997 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)