The waters drank in the snow, and the smoke was far, far away.
Ffenyi chuckled to herself as the dark waves lapped against the side of the boat. “You move too slow, Benya!”
Her partner in the other boat roared back, “You rush! You must be patient for the best fish!”
“And you must know when to strike for the best fish!” answered Ffenyi. Her breath hung in the air like a cloud as she tied the sail back to slacken her pace. Benya was a stubborn old woman; she would never change.
“I see you listen to my wisdom!”
Ffenyi raised an eyebrow. “I listen to the nets and know you’re not worth as much as they are!”
Benya shook her white braids at her partner. “I am worth ten nets!”
“Ten broken nets!”
The boat tugged back in the water. Benya’s smile met Ffenyi’s. Another tug.
Both turned their sails to catch the wind just right. They turned in toward each other. Ffenyi took the interior route. The net that stretched between the boats circled and captured their catch. Ffenyi tied off the net and turned the sail on the little boat to take her back toward land.
The two boats beached fifteen minutes later. Fish bones littered the white shore and the air stank of fish oil. Bird calls filled the air. The women dragged the net onto shore.
“Ah! Thirty-six fish! A fine catch!”
“Thirty-seven!” Benya corrected. “Your impatience leads you to miscount!”
“Your eyes fail you, old woman!”
“Our hair is the same color, daughter of a wave!”
“Yours is far whiter!” Ffenyi laughed.
Benya joined her.
The horn sounded from the camp. “They’re home!”
Benya gestured. “Go to your husband, dear one. I will take care of these thirty-seven fish.”
“You’ll have to catch one more, then!” Ffenyi raced up the white shore and over a rise to the caves in the side of a nearby cliff. Her joints hardly complained at all. It must be a good day.
Men, women, and children gathered around a group of men shrouded in furs. Ffenyi picked her way through the group and threw her arms around her husband. They stared into each other’s eyes with joy.
Djellian released her and shouted to the group, “Yes, it is a stranger! A stranger!” He waved to indicate a man of pale skin wearing dark furs.
He held up a hand in greeting.
Djellian continued, “His name is Nick Graston. He comes from a place called the Pits. He says there are hundreds, thousands of people there! Imagine! We’re not alone!”
A cheer went up, praising the sky beyond the clouds.
The village peppered the visitor with questions.
Djellian whispered to his wife, “We shall go visit and see who they are, Ffenyi. Perhaps they will help us survive. We shall not be cursed forever.”
Read more of the world of Snow and Smoke here.
Read the previous story, Into the Wilderness, here.
Read the next story, At the Emporium, here.