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Sundrinker by Zach Hughes


Chapter One

In the time of the long light Du, the source, circled low on the horizon. Warmed by the benevolent light, the air absorbed the steams of the valley to reveal, in all its glory, the purplish blue sky. Sheath ice, condensed from the vapors during the weary season of dims and darks, cracked, sheered away, fell in shardy cascades into dissolving heaps at the foot of the sheer cliffs.

The birds had been arriving since long before the celebration of the coming of the long light to soar over the valley, molting rainbow hued feathers, squabbling territorially over the choice nesting nooks on the rock faces. The valley's mobile young, their musical, piping voices singing the joy of the light, earned credit by collecting the fallen flakes of color and delivering them by the woven basketful to the looms of the matrons. The bulky trappings of the season of dims and darks had been discarded, layer by layer, and Du poured his life-giving warmth in blessing, so that as Duwan the Drinker began his first scaling of the northern scarp, his mouth watering at the thought of his first feast of eggs, he had stripped away his torso covering and was dressed in the long light kilt, secured at his mid-section by a multi-colored sash of woven feathers, falling just above the articulation of his long, sturdy limbs. He knew that he was rushing the egg season, for on the lower cliff, where the source did not reach, ice still covered the rock, making it difficult for his horned toes and long fingers to find purchase. As he crossed the demarcation line between sun and shadow melting ice sheered away under his feet and only the strength of his hands, made powerful in grip by two opposing thumbs, saved him from sliding back. The tough horns at the end of his toes scraped away ice as he pulled himself upward into the full glow of Du.

For a long time he clung, legs spread wide, arms extended upward as his body adjusted rapidly to the full sunlight. He could feel the delicious energy of the source penetrating his yellow-green skin, could sense the arousal of chemical change in his blood. It was good. A clear, piping voice from below brought him out of his moment of worshipful reception. He looked down to see Alning. She, too, had shed layers of clothing. He knew that she had begun to flower during the season of dims and dark, but he was pleased to see the slim grace of her exposed torso, the surprising length of leg, the hint of new color in her face.

'Bring me an egg, Duwan,' Alning called.

'Would I forget my little sister?' Duwan called back, as he reached for a new handhold. As he shifted his weight to find purchase with his toes his foot slipped and he dangled for a moment by his strong arms.

'Don't fall,' Alning cried.

'Should I fall we will share and your new strength will graft my broken limbs,' he said, with a laugh.

Alning's face showed yellow and her black eyes closed in

embarrassment, for Duwan's light statement brushed the bounds of propriety, then she, too, laughed, and looked up at him saucily, her hands on her hips. In spite of her blush, she was pleased, for from the day of her first freedom she had admired Duwan.

'I will bring you a basket of eggs,' Duwan said, as he climbed strongly, feeling the power of the source in his blood as each of his cells knew the gift of Du. 'But now, little sister, go away, for your presence distracts me.' He clung to the cliff face and watched her go. It seemed only a season since he had tended her, along with the other fixed young. He'd been only a new mobile himself at the time, earning credit by working in the young house, but he had noticed her, had been pleased by the freshness of her face, even then. It was a sunny face, was Alning's, and there was a sense of elan in her bright, black eyes. Of all that crop of young she had been the fastest learner. Now, in her first blush of maturity, her walk was graceful, still sinewy, but the sway of her walk spoke of things to come. He felt an odd gathering in his loins. He had suspected for some time that ripeness was coming upon him, and now he knew.

Suddenly, he was not thinking of the almost sensual pleasure of being in full sunlight, or of the anticipated feast of fresh eggs. He was in need of contemplation, and he had to force himself to climb instead of descending. The rocks of the scarp had absorbed the warmth of Du and released it to him. He pressed his cheek against a flat area and watched the flight of the birds. He was nearing a nesting area. He could hear the harsh squabbling and, a lesser sound, the cooings of nesting females. He moved laterally across the cliff and a startled nester brushed his face with ruby wings as she burst out of a recess. There were three eggs in the nest. The shells were a beautiful bright green. He took only one. One did not rob any living thing of its all.

The area he had reached, some fifty feet above the topmost branches of a tall brother made lopsided by pressing closely to the cliff, was rich in nests. Eggs awaited his gathering in the sun on small ledges, in the shade of the overhangs, in small, cavelike cavities formed by thermal separation of the stone. Soon he had his egg basket almost filled. He needed only a few more. However, he had exhausted the resources of the nesting area immediately around him. Below him he saw promising irregularities in the face. He lowered himself carefully. His feet found a ledge wide enough for good footing. By moving along the ledge he filled the basket, decided that he had room for just one or two more eggs, and moved back along the ledge to the other end where a rounded rock protrusion hid a likely cavity at the level of his waist. Already tasting the feast, thinking of Alning's pleasure when he presented her

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