For years the man called Sailor lives with his wife Junie and their twin sons in a woodcutters’ camp in the forest beyond Christol’s Pass. Shortly after one of the twins, who was married and had a child, is killed by a landslide in a clay pit, the other red-haired twin goes north into the Rebeillard country to cut fir trees and raft them down the river. When he fails to return two months later, Junie becomes alarmed and sends her husband to ask help of Antonio, who lives on the isle of jays.
Antonio is a fisherman, a fierce, hardy, yet strangely compassionate fellow, wise in the ways of streams and the weather. He carries three scars on his body—a knife wound, a man’s bite, and the slash of a billhook—for he is as reckless in a fight as he is daring in making love to the maidens and wives of the river villages. Men call him Goldenmouth. He promises to help Sailor search the river and creeks for some sign of Danis, the red-haired twin.
The men start early the next morning, Antonio on one side of the stream, Sailor on the other. Both are armed, for the Rebeillard region is wild country beyond the gorges. There Maudru, the ox tamer, keeps his great herds, and his word is the only law. The wind blowing from the north is chill with frost as the two men work their way up the river. Although they find no sign of Danis or his logs, they see some of Maudru’s drovers and hear their horns, which seem to signal the coming of strangers into the district. Antonio wonders why Maudru’s men are on watch.
At nightfall, he swims across the river to join Sailor. While they sit by a fire that they build to warm themselves and to cook their food, they hear the moaning of a creature in pain. Investigating, they find a young woman suffering in childbirth. Following the directions of a drover who was spying on their fire, they carry her and her newborn child to the house of a peasant woman called the mother of the road. The next morning Antonio learns that the woman he helped is unmarried, blind, and named Clara. When he sees her for the first time in the daylight, he loves her. That day, over the protests of Maudru’s men, he kills a wild boar to provide meat for the house. Four drovers come to the house at twilight. They are sent to the fields near the river gorges to keep two travelers from leaving the country. Because Antonio and Sailor came into the district, the watchers are uneasy. While Antonio and Sailor wait to see whether the drovers will make a fight of the matter, signal beacons flash on the northern hills. From what is said, Antonio realizes that the red-haired twin, for whom the whole country is searching, was sighted or captured.
Antonio asks the mother of the road to keep the blind woman for him while he and Sailor travel on toward Villevielle, where they hope to have some word of Danis’ doings from Junie’s brother Jérôme, the almanac vendor and healer. On the way, they overtake a cart carrying Mederic, Maudru’s wounded nephew. Danis shot him, Antonio learns from a drover, and the young herder is...
(The entire section is 1250 words.)