The fire burned brightly and like glowing butterflies, sparks sailed into the heavens. Above the fire the carcass of a deer was turned on a spit by Mujugatu, the only one of their number who could claim to be a cook without lying. It was a good night, thought Xubachu. The river gurgled behind them as it splashed over rocks in its path, and the face of the moon seemed to smile at them. Amid the laughter and banter of his scouts he heard some of them break into impromptu song.
The return of the girls they had rescued was easily done. Their people were not far, at least on horseback, and were stunned to see their daughters again. Xubachu believed they made some friends that day. Food and treats were pressed into their hands and the people would hear nothing of refusal. One of the treats was a sort of crusty brown powder in a crunchy shoot that was impossibly sweet. It seemed so much like honey, yet it was nothing like honey. What the shoot was was anybody’s guess.
Laughter swelled again from the scouts, and with rhythmic hand-clapping a couple began to dance.
Getting up off his blanket, Xubachu went over to his horse and carefully removed a rolled-up leather. He returned to his blanket and unrolled it to reveal six small pottery bottles. This was a gift from Osta-Kahn before they had parted, “for a special occasion,” he had said. Each bottle contained some of the fiery liquid that Osti was so fond of. What better time to break it out.
Xubachu got up and found Cho, then handed him a bottle telling him to share it with four of his friends. He found others and gave each a bottle, with the same request. With the last bottle, he squatted beside Mujugatu and popped the cork. There was not enough of the liquid to get them drunk, but there was enough to put a sweet edge on the night. Now, if only he had his wife here, it would be a fine celebration.
Mogwai stood beside the horses with his spear in his hand and sipped from the bottle Cho had brought him. The fire looked warm and inviting, and soon he could join the others when he was relieved. Ye gods, there was fire right there in the bottle! The warm glow spread out to his limbs and made his station a little less onerous. He didn’t feel so abandoned. He kept his vision away from the fire as best he could; he didn’t want his night vision spoiled, and the prairie stretching away from him seemed so quiet. The stars were beautiful, a mass of swirling strings and patterns of the brightest of lights, yet so small they did not chase away the darkness. Behind him he could feel the cold light of the moon against his back. One of the horses snickered and shifted, then grew quiet again. Over the sounds of revelry he couldn’t hear the sounds of the prairie, but the sea of grass was not a noisy place. The heads of the ripening stalks took on a silver hue from the moon and almost took the texture of a rough blanket laid over the rolling hills. At this time of year the grass became dry and fires could be a problem. If he saw a glow in the distance his shout would rouse the whole camp from their party and send them into the river. But no glow; the silvery expanse stretched on to the horizon. The moon made for good vision.
Soon they would be on their way again to find the Heck’r’we. But for tonight there was only good feeling, and a celebration of the land’s bounty. The water was clear and clean, there were animals in the grass and on the banks, and fruits could be found along the river. The world could be a truly magical place, filled with peace and plenty.
Mogwai took another sip. Yes, this was a good day.