Tim, Alex, and Bob made their way down-River, covering about 100 miles a day. Stopping 2-3 times a day to fill their grails, they encountered mostly friendly residents along the bank. Those who were not-so-friendly were easily bypassed.
The group was struck by the uniformity of the Valley. Although the River twisted and meandered, and its width varied between its usual average of a mile down to narrow rapids about a quarter-mile wide and up to island-dotted lakes five miles or more in width, the basic features remained the same. Always there was the strip of open plains, the forested foothills, the towering cliffs, grailstones spaced evenly every mile along the bank. And the people. There were no stretches without people. Population densities had begun to vary as people congregated in one area or another, and signs of settlement were visible in areas where there was sufficient flint to permit wide-scale lumber milling, but there was never an area devoid of at least a few hundred people.
After a couple weeks on the water, along one such sparsely-populated stretch of bank, the group encountered another ship. They had seen fishing rafts before, but none that traveled far from home. Here now was a double-hulled catamaran, like the sort Captain Cook and his Hawaiians had been building. The ship and the canoe signaled to each other and put in onshore.
The ship was called the Hadjii and it was captained by Sir Richard Francis Burton, late of Her Majesties’ embassy in Trieste. He was accompanied by a rag-tag crew that included a strange alien creature named Monat. Claiming to hail from the star known as Tau Ceti, he told a doleful tale of the extermination of human life on Earth (along with his own) in the year 2033.
Of perhaps greater interest to the group was Alex spotting marks on the side of the great cliffs—a massive, two-mile-high arrow, to be precise. The group and the crew of the Haadji journeyed up to the cliffs, where they found three smaller arrows and strange runic markings similar to the kind found on everyone’s forehead (and likewise visible only to Alex—although Burton’s bodyguard, a Neanderthal named Kazz, also seemed able to see the marks).
The area, the group learned, was sparsely populated due to a recent battle that had erupted in the area between two competing factions. Those who hadn’t died in battle had left in advance of the conflict, leaving only a few hundred people in the area. The group decided to go for broke, fashioning bamboo shovels and pick axes and drafting the locals who would to help dig under the arrows. After three days of digging, the groups’ effort paid off: three massive metal deposits (one of iron, one of copper, and one of sulphur) were uncovered!