The humid air lay heavy upon the land. The bright sun, sliding towards the horizon through the seemingly interminable mid-afternoon was a fierce white beacon in the hazy summer sky. Animals having sought the shade, the earth lay somnolent, waiting for the cool of evening. Walking with measured stride through a field of wild grain, Fors paced himself, occasionally taking sips from his canteen. Summers in the lowlands were days to be endured and Fors looked forward to the cool air of his mountain home. The good thing, he mused, was that the long days meant he could cover a lot of distance.
A stand of trees at the edge of the field provided a brief respite from the heat of the afternoon. A small stream ran among the trees and Fors decided to take a rest. Examining the water, he saw it ran steady and clear. Tasting it with his fingers, he decided to fill his canteens. As he leaned over to submerge the container, he studied his reflection. His face, beginning to show the lines of age, was weather-beaten and deeply tanned, which emphasized the silvery sheen of his close-cropped hair. His body, also browned by the sun, bore many scars, the remembrances of a life hard-lived. The canteens filled, Fors, after taking a hard look around, removed his heavy boots and with a contented sigh, lowered his feet into the cool water. Leaning back against a tree, Fors emptied his mind and tried to relax. After a few moments, a stray thought of impatience entered his mind, to which he responded with a comforting thought of his own. Shortly afterwards, his hearing, still keen after all these years, detected a familiar careful tread. A plaintive grumbling meow sounded behind him and a moment later the graceful form of the big hunting cat sunk into the grass at Fors’ side.
Nira had become Fors’ companion in the way of his mother, Lura. Lura had been Fors’ companion for over 15 years, accompanying him on his journeys across the wide land. They had shared food in front of countless fires, fought battles against foes, both two and four-legged. They had saved each others’ lives more times that memory could reliably count. But as the years passed, it had been hard for Lura to come to grips with her advancing age, rendering her once-lithe muscles stiff and sore. One day, while Fors labored in the Star House, Lura limped to the doorway, Nira by her side. Together they approached Fors. As they stood in front of the Star Man, Lura gazed intently into Nira’s eyes. After a few moments, Nira walked to Fors’ side and stood as if on watch. Lura’s gaze went to Fors eyes, and like so many times before, he caught a flash of emotion—sadness, and yet satisfaction. Lura then returned to the house they had shared. When Fors and Nira returned hours later, she was deeply asleep. Fors knelt down and gently stroked her still-beautiful coat, to which she responded with a deep purr. Sometime later that night, in the soft glow of mountain starlight, the great cat passed peacefully from life.
Fors was disconsolate. Certainly he was no stranger to death, but the passing of one so close was painful.
Like Lura, Nira’s coat of cream and chocolate was the clear sign of his Siamese ancestor. He had been trained well and over time helped to fill the void left by Lura’s passing.
Presently, Fors removed his feet from the stream and placed them in a patch of sunlight to dry. Trusting Nira, he closed his eyes and took allowed himself to drift off. As he slept, disjointed bits of memory surfaced in short dreams. After a time, Nira impatiently nudged him awake, anxious to be on their way. Fors rubbed the sleep from his eyes, put on his boots, and with a slight groan and the cracking of stiffened muscles, rose to his feet. He stretched briefly, then retrieved the canteens and Star Pouch and resumed his journey. From the angle of the sun, he estimated that about an hour had passed. He wasn’t sure at what point he had needed short naps and the need for them grated on him. You could not stop time; age was inevitable. As one who had spent his life seeking far trails and new horizons, he dreaded the day when the advancing years would no longer permit him to travel. Even now, as he strode steadily and confidently, he tried to ignore the occasional twinges of pain from his knees.
Fors traveled well into the evening, finally stopping when the sun was just disappearing behind the low hills. A bluff rose above another stream and there were places where rock overhangs provided shelter, some deep enough to qualify as small caves. Fors had stopped here many times over the years and as he crossed the stream he felt the comfort of familiar surroundings. He was perhaps half a day’s journey from the Eyrie.
Nira took a quick drink of water from the stream then bounded away to begin her hunt. Stringing his bow, Fors began to explore the areas along the stream. Within a short period of time, his search was rewarded. Several turkeys emerged from some underbrush. Quickly, Fors picked out the largest one and let fly a steel-tipped arrow. His aim was true and in short order he was on his way back. Stopping some distance away, he butchered the bird, leaving the remains where they could be easily found by night-roving carnivores. He jogged back to his campsite, lit a small fire, and roasted the meat. Some time later, he relaxed in his cave watching the fire die to embers. As he drifted off to sleep, again he was visited by his memories. Nira slept nearby, her senses sharply alert.