This year's Summermeet was on the south side of the River Veselta, a little beyond the Great Salt Springs. It was less handy for the White Horse Band than for some. However, they had easy going much of the way after crossing the upper river. A vague trail followed well above the brush and bogs of the river bottom, skirting around the more rugged hills to the south that gradually rose toward cold mountain peaks. The river frequently came in sight, giving them a reference to navigate by.
Radovin was happy to pull his fair share, no matter what the terrain. Nothing could weigh down his lightened heart. This was his first time to travel with the band at this season. Everyone was well, there were two new babies, there seemed to be nothing to trouble their spirits. So what made Zhamavi lag and drag more and more as they went on? She was nowhere in sight now.
He wondered if anyone else had noticed. "Hai, Koro," he said to the young man just ahead of him. "Can you take the drag for me now? I have to go behind a bush." It was true, he needed to pee soon. Korovel laughed and maneuvered smoothly into place. Radovin fell back, pausing to whisper a few words to Ottavar, the band's senior shaman. No, he was not the only one who had noticed. Then he trotted off, following the trail back.
There was plenty of cover, with every leaf at the peak of growth. The land wore a rich garment of green sprinkled with flowers. Fragrant blossoms covered bushes along the beds of small streams. When the band came back this way, the stream beds would be dry, the grass yellow, and the leaves full of bug-holes, but there would be plenty of berries. Radovin took a quick splatter, then backtracked up and over the last rise.
He found Zhamavi seated on a large boulder, just beyond a tiny steam hidden by low trees. The hillside behind her was a riot of bloom, all aglow in the late afternoon sun, but she looked tired and downcast. He didn't think that it was the weight of her pack that bothered her. She was as strong as many younger women, and her pack was not over-heavy.
An inner vision overlaid his sight--Zhamavi as a young woman, her braided and coiled hair all dark auburn, her skin as fresh as the sweet flowers that framed the view. Ah...eveyone is young once and always, he had heard a wise old woman say.