This one is another one of those vague memories that keeps coming to me in maddeningly scarce detail. It was a paperback book that I read in English in the United States, probably in the mid 1990s. The protagonist was human, probably from Earth, and visiting an alien planet, I believe as an explorer, surveyor, or ambassador. At the beginning of the book, he's at the top of a snowy mountaintop and one of the natives he's with, a warrior, dies. For some reason, he is designated as the person who will carry that person's soul across the mountains to its final resting place as a religious ritual, and it turns out that what they consider to be the soul is the intestines.

I believe that he was in contact with a ship in orbit, and he sometimes considers having them come down to pick him up so that he can travel more easily, but he's afraid of offending the natives and their rituals by doing this improperly. My memory of the aliens is that they're considerably larger than the protagonist and I want to say that they have a sort of Norse barbarian culture in terms of technology and their beliefs, all furs and greatswords, and very religious in a way that centers on personal glory, particularly in battle.

Ultimately, the protagonist succeeds in his quest (and it bothers me that I don't remember any details of the difficulties he encounters), and comes away with it not only with a degree of renown among the native people, but also a genuine appreciation for their culture, which he had previously regard with a certain disdain as being primitive.

  • In my memories, they were basically large humans, but my memories of them are so vague that I cannot be certain.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 13:03

1 Answer 1


Update: Found it! It is called "Holy" by Orson Scott Card in a collection called "Maps in a Mirror."

A human ambassador is trying to secure mining rights from aliens and during a journey with the natives a native dies. The native is special and the ambassador undertakes a mountain climb to place the intestines on the sacred mountain, make a blood sacrifice and drink water from the sacred mountain. Also, the ambassador is banned under pain of death from using his weapons, called "splinters."


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