(From Donar Reiskoffer, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
He woke, heart racing, breathless, wet with sweat, in the starlit time before dawn. He shuddered when something touched his arm. It was his wife.
"Again?" she asked, rolling her belly onto him. Soon she would bear his first child.
"Again," he gasped. He waited until his breath came more easily. "The same thing. It was awful."
She waited. He would talk soon. Perhaps then he would sleep.
"There were people everywhere," he said. "I couldn't walk twenty paces without passing another's camp. Too many people. I walked and walked, and finally came to open land."
She shifted, making room for the baby. Ord was talking now. He would tell her about his dream: the same one he had each night, now. Then he would relax, and she could sleep again.
"It was a meadow, but not a real meadow. All the plants were the same, in rows." Ord frowned. "Somehow I knew that people had put the plants there, and would eat them later."
"I walked through the meadow, and through another, then another. I never saw another hunter. But there was a camp nearby. More than just a camp. The people had made huts, like we do in winter, but huge. And there were more huts than we saw when the Clan gathered."
"They couldn't live like that! There were too many people, too little land, and no one was hunting! I might be able to support me, and you, on that land, but even then it would be hard. Game wouldn't like those strange meadows. And with so many people, all in one place, there would be war soon over who would walk out and bring back food for his people. Then they would starve."
"I kept walking."
"Finally I came to another cluster of camps. It was even more crowded than the first one. I walked to the center of the camps."
"People were busy there, but they were not hunting and not gathering food. They were moving little sheets of something like birch bark around, fiddling with complicated things I couldn't understand."
"And there were so many of them. All together. All in that one place. And somehow I knew that this cluster of camps was just one of many, many clusters. More clusters than I could count, and many of the clusters were much larger than the one I was in."
"Only a few even knew how to hunt. And to them hunting was something they did for pleasure. Think! A world where only a few know the joy of the hunt."
"And then I woke up."
His wife made a sympathetic sound and put a hand on his arm. He lay quiet until she was asleep.
Then Ord, hunter, warrior, mighty with club and spear, soundlessly arose and walked to the brow of the hill where they camped. Below, in the twilight before dawn, he could see a strange meadow someone had cut out of the valley. All the plants were the same in that little meadow. He had talked with the hunter who lived there.
It didn't seem natural to him, tied to a plot of land so that one could be sure of a few bits of seed and berry. It seemed even less natural after those dreams.
The sun was up now. His wife was stirring. Ord threw down the stone spear tips he had exchanged for a pile of furs. Fire-sharpened spears had been good enough for his father, and his father before him.
Ord knew better now. He would have perhaps one more child, then no more. His descendants would never be tempted, or forced, to crowd together as the people in his dream. They would never make those strange meadows. They would never spend their lives away from the hunting grounds.
Ord turned his back on the valley and the strange meadow, and returned to the forest.
Originally posted in Brian's Attic (2001). Also posted in Drifting at the Edge of Time and Space.
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