Nahanni ran. She had been running since shortly before sunrise and had covered a couple of miles along the path that ran along the river bank. She came to the ravine where the creek—swollen to a torrent by the spring run-off—tumbled down over the rocks, and turned away from the river to follow it. She ran up along the creek, climbing the ravine to the top of the cliff. The path she would normally have taken was mostly flooded, but that wasn't a problem for her. She leapt as agilely as a mountain goat ovr the flooded portions, finding footholds in the rocks that would have eluded nearly anyone else. She turned back when she reached the top, following the edge of the cliff overlooking the river until she came to the clearing.
She stopped. She took a couple more deep breaths, and her heart pounding beneath her breast calmed. She stood on the cliff top with the river below her. The morning sun had risen a little way over the horizon to her right, and the frost was starting to melt under its warmth. The snow was gone from the clearing, but there were still drifts of it lingering in the shadows under the trees. The trees were just starting to show the green buds of new leaves. The sky was bright blue, without a cloud in sight. She could hear the roar of the waterfall just a little farther up the river, and see the mist from it around the outcrop of rock. It was louder now than it had been for months, with the river at the height of its spring flood.
Nahanni sat on her rock, listening to the world around her. She could hear a doe moving through the underbrush behind her, with its fawn. The summer birds were returning to the trees, looking for good nesting sites, and singing for their mates.
She reached out with her other senses, trying to feel for the presence of the wendigo, but she could feel nothing, as she had felt nothing since she had killed her father. Part of her always felt that way: she knew that her father had died many years before, but in her heart he hadn't truly been dead, until she had cut his head from his shoulders. Her hand went to the knife at her belt. It had been refashioned: its blade was only half as long as it had been before it had broken, but it was still a good knife. She hoped to get many more years of use from it.
But she wouldn't be using it here. This might be the last time that she sat on this rock, looking out over the land in which she had spent all of her life, and to which she might never return. She had never travelled beyond the horizon that was stretched out around her. She knew the land that she could see well, but beyond that horizon was a mystery that she had only heard stories about.
One of those stories had come down the river shortly after the spring breakup—much earlier than travellers normally risked the river, but the need was great. There was a demon stalking another village, several days journey upstream. They had sent the message as soon as it was possible, much sooner than any prudent person would have braved the icy river waters.
She and Ashiwut would be going soon. It might have been foolhardy to travel down the river during the flood, but it was quite impossible to travel up it. They would have to wait for another week or two for the waters to recede, but they were going. Nahanni knew that she would miss this cliff. She would miss her friends in the village. She was nervous about the thought of travelling farther than she had ever thought she would, but this wasn't her home anymore. It wasn't her village. She didn't have just one home or village anymore; she had to go where she was needed.
She was the Protector.