The forest was alive with spirits. Cannibal spirits. All men knew this. And all men were afraid. Or so a woman of the People had once told him.
Now, standing motionless at the shadowed edge of the primordial woodland, the solitary hunter reminded himself that he was not a man of the People. He was a man of the far north, of the vast Barrenlands and open skies of the distant tundra, a man of many potent spirit names and magic amulets, a man who had dared to hunt white whales on the Great River of the North, a man of the True People! He was not afraid of the ghosts and demons of lesser tribes. The spirits of his Ancestors were with him in this eternally dark and hostile realm of sky-eating trees and legendary monsters. The Ancient Ones would protect him. He would not waste his thoughts worrying over the warnings of women. His enemy was out there
! Somewhere to the south, White Bear was moving his followers north.White Bear! Warrior of the True People! For over a moon I have seen you dead within my dreams. Now the shaman Inau has come from the Cave of the Winds to foretell your coming. It seems that it has not been enough for me to ask the spirits of our Ancestors for your death!
The hunter ground his teeth until the muscles in his jaw bunched and crawled like serpents writhing beneath his well-greased skin. Bad spirits walked with White Bear's band. Dangerous, malevolent, man-and-woman-and-dog-eating spirits.
He could not let White Bear bring them north. Not when he had at last seen a way of stopping him!
The hunter's head went high. He had told no one of his plan. And wisely so. There was not a single member of his band who would approve of it; it was far too dangerous. But sometimes, for the good of all, a brave man must be willing to risk all. And so he had come alone into the forest on the pretext of seeking solitude in which to better commune with the spirits of the game. It had not been a lie. He had simply neglected to inform anyone that the game he sought was man, not meat.
No one had questioned. No one had followed. With the wind at his back and the spirits of the Ancient Ones at his side to guide and protect him, he had made his way southward from the wide arm of the great river and the sprawling
encampment of his band. A day and a night had passed upon the long and often circuitous route. Now, in the thinly diffused light of morning, he had come at last to this long-remembered break in the trees.
His wide, meaty lips tightened into a down-curving smile. It was good to see the open sky again, and to look once more upon the meadow. The broad, undulating span of grassland was as he remembered it. Only its color had changed. Although summer was young, after two consecutive moons of little rain the grasses were already bleaching from spring-time green to autumn sere. As he had hoped they would!
A shiver of excitement tingled up his spine. Everything was going almost exactly as planned. Except that there were deer on the meadow. This was a surprise. And a pleasant one! He had not eaten since yesterday, nor had he partaken of fresh meat since leaving the river camp. Salivating, he willed himself to remain motionless as, finding himself fortuitously downwind of the herd, he summed a full hand-count of bucks and twice as many does, many with fawns at their teats or gamboling close by.
His heartbeat quickened. The wind was stinging his face. There was grit in it, a fine, sharp, granular sand that he recognized as the airborne residue of the far north, of his birthplace, of an immense and distant land laid bare to decomposing bedrock by the grinding retreat of ancient ice sheets. He fortressed up his eyes but did not turn away. Not from North Wind! Not from Winter Wind Blowing in Summer! Not from this cold, perverse, potentially deadly river of air that had come blustering down across the world in the tender light of yesterday's dawn to awaken and inspire him. This wind was a gift from the spirits of his Ancestors! This wind was the weapon with which he would dare to drive back his enemy . . . or kill him.
Excerpted from Spirit Moon by William Sarabande. Copyright © 2000 by William Sarabande. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.