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You may recall that at the end of the previous instalment I asked: “And how exactly is the author going to get Mavrida back into the main storyline?”
Well, here’s how.
I called Mavrida into my office and said, “All right, my girl, you’ve spent enough time wandering around that crummy little village moping about your dead husband and missing son. It’s about time you paid your way.”
“What are you talking about?” she said. “I’m only a supporting character. I mean, you based me on Messua from The Jungle Books, and all she ever does is give Mowgli hot milk and teach him how to speak human.”
“That’s right,” I said, “and as a result of that she’s boring. It’s ironic that the only human Mowgli loves and respects is the one who doesn’t have a smidgen of charisma. Well, I’m not gonna let that happen to you. You are gonna be a hero, kiddo.”
“A hero? What do you expect me to do, go running off into the jungle with a pack of lupi - ohh, shit. Of course that’s what you expect me to do. That’s the only option my character has, other than staying home.”
“Exactly,” I replied. “I knew you’d figure it out. I didn’t give you brains for nothing.”
Well, she scowled at me a bit - she’s so cute when she’s angry - and then she said, “Don’t you think I’m a bit old for heroics? After all, where I come from 37 is considered middle-aged.”
“Don’t worry,” I told her. “That’s all explained in the script. Suffice it to say, you don’t feel your age.”
“Is that so?” she muttered. “How convenient. Well, you’d better let me read the script, hadn’t you?”
“Of course,” I said, handing it to her.
For several minutes she studied the script in silence. Then her eyes widened, as I guessed they would when she got to that particular scene, and she cried: “What the hell is this? I’m supposed to be loyal to my late husband, and here you’ve got me doing a LES - ”
“Please, no spoilers,” I told her. “This isn’t just fanservice here, you know. It’s important to the development of your character. In order to become a truly heroic figure you have to make moral choices.”
“Oh, right. And since when is fucking somebody a moral choice?”
“I dunno,” I said. “Maybe always?”
She gave me one of those looks of exasperation that she’s so good at. “You know, I’ve a good mind to quit this whole story right now.”
“Well, that would be unfortunate, of course,” I said, “but I guess it’s not too late to reshoot all of your earlier scenes with another actress.”
“Another actress?” she cried. “Are you mad? I’m a STAR!”
And then she stormed out of my office and slammed the door.
I chuckled quietly to myself and took another drink. “Thought you said you were only a supporting character.”
Well, the upshot is, she called her agent and her agent called me and we spent some time thrashing out a new deal, and she eventually agreed to stay on. What’s more, she turned out to be a real trooper, doing all those scenes on location in the jungle with a couple of excitable lupinoids for co-stars. Anyone will tell you they’re not the easiest creatures to work with. She even did all of her own stunts too.
Anyway, that’s just one of the reasons this chapter is so far behind schedule and over budget again, but as always I hope you feel it was worth the wait.
PS: The lesbian scene was cut. Sorry.
The story takes place several hundred light years from Earth in about AD 3501,
give or take a century or three and even more moons....
This instalment contains brief, potentially distressing descriptions of violence toward animals. It goes without saying that such violence is not condoned by the author.
You can take the boy out of the jungle, but what happens when you put his mother into the jungle?
And he thought of those he angered,
For he was not a violent man;
And he thought of those he hurt,
For he was not a cruel man;
And he thought of those he frightened,
For he was not an evil man;
And he understood.
He understood himself.
Upon this, he saw that when he was of anger or knew hurt or felt fear,
It was because he was not understanding,
And he learned compassion.
--Graeme Edge, Ray Thomas (The Moody Blues) - “The Balance”
The naked man and woman watched Sherinel quietly through their purple irises. Sherinel tried projecting his thoughts at them, but for some reason he couldn’t get through.
Why hadn’t Ketrin told Sherinel that there were other wild humans in the forest? Could it be that he hadn’t known about them? The forest was after all a very big place, as Sherinel was discovering, and there was no telling who or what else might lay hidden within its dark interior.
Sherinel’s village had only learned of Ketrin’s existence because he chose to reveal himself. How many more wildlings might choose to remain hidden? If lupinoids had adopted every infant that had ever been lost or abandoned in the forest, the number might currently run into hundreds.
While Sherinel was considering these things, the man’s lupinoid companion stepped forward and began circling Shadow and Silverpaw, who crouched down and growled low in their throats while the Twins hung back. He was a big, powerful youngster whose coat seemed even darker than Shadow’s, if such a thing were possible. Sherinel decided that Night would be a good name for him. The other lupinoid was an average-sized, dark grey female with almost invisible stripes, whom Sherinel decided to call Ash.
The male wildling must have communicated with his lupinoid, because it suddenly broke off its challenge and walked back to the man’s side, with a sullen glance back at Sherinel’s companions.
+Won’t be long before we have to fight that big bastard,+ thought Silverpaw.
+Right,+ thought Sherinel. And the lupinoids wouldn’t be the only ones who would have to fight. For now, though, there were other priorities.
Sherinel told Silverpaw: + can’t send my thoughts to these two-legs. I’d like you to tell them we’re grateful for their help.+
+Done,+ Silverpaw told him. +Funny that you can think to us and we can think to them, but you can’t think to them.+
+Yeah. Maybe it’s because I drank your saliva that I can think to you and your kin.+
+So maybe you should drink these two-legs’ spit as well?+ suggested Silverpaw helpfully.
+I’m not sure that’d work,+ replied Sherinel. +I think there’s only one way that - +
Sherinel was interrupted by a deafening roar, as the last of the bridge deck collapsed into the gorge. Risking vertigo, Sherinel looked down to see what was left of the once-mighty structure.
The ancient builders would have been heartbroken to see what had become of their work. Little remained intact except for the severed ends of the trestles that had supported the bridge on either side. The rest lay in splinters down the sides of the rocky canyon, except for a few pieces which had fallen into the rapids and been swept downstream.
One thing was certain: there was no going back. Sherinel and the four lupinoids were now trapped on the east side of the river. If they managed to find Ketrin they would have to look for another way back to their own part of the forest.
The good news was that the hunters who had been pursuing them on the west bank now had no way of catching them.
Sherinel sighed and stepped away from the cliff.
Then he was suddenly struck by the reality of how close he had come to death, and he began to shiver uncontrollably.
+Hey, are you all right?+ thought Shadow.
+Yeah, I... I’m all right,+ he replied. +Just tired. All the stuff we’ve been through is catching up with me.+
The wildlings led Sherinel and the four lupinoids into the shade of the trees. Sherinel lay down, feeling fatigue wash over him, and the lupinoids lay close on either side. Their presence, which had once terrified him so, was now familiar and comforting. They were his friends, his loyal protectors, his pack.
Soon, Sherinel knew, his pack would have to establish where it stood with the wildlings’ pack. For now, though, it was time to rest.
Lulled by the warmth and scent of his lupinoid friends, Sherinel sank into the most peaceful and contented slumber he had enjoyed since before setting out on his search for Ketrin.
While Sherinel slept the Maiden came to him.
Hey, stone lady, Sherinel thought, Where’ve you been lately?+
+Same place I’ve always been, you know?+ the Maiden replied. +Seeing as I can’t move or anything.+
+You know what I mean,+ Sherinel thought. +Where were you when I was hanging on to that cliff face for dear life?+
+It just so happens, at that very moment I was influencing the feral couple’s minds, trying to persuade them to pull you to safety,+ replied the Maiden. +Took some doing, but I finally succeeded. So, please don’t feel under any obligation to thank me.+
+I’m sorry,+ thought Sherinel. +Things haven’t exactly been easy for me either, what with getting threatened by hunters and then negotiating a bridge that was about to fall down at any moment. All that would be hard enough at the best of times without having to keep four frisky lupinoids under control too.+
+True enough,+ thought the Maiden. +Well, I guess we understand each other, then.+
+Yeah. Thanks for saving me. There is one thing, though.+
+If you knew there were other wildlings besides Ketrin, why couldn’t you at least have told us they existed?+
+“Because,”+ replied the Maiden, +as a wise man once wrote, “the Jungle is full of such tales. If I made a beginning there would never be an end to them.”+
And then without further explanation she was gone, her attention directed elsewhere. Sherinel slept dreamlessly for the rest of the night.
Late at night, when she was sure nobody was looking, Mavrida took out the blue crystal that Tormis had given her and studied it carefully. She was careful to hold it in her left hand, well away from the jewelled ring on her right hand. The blue gem glowed with an internal radiance that could only be born of sorcery.
Sorcery. Ketrin had told Mavrida that Borvinn wanted to paralyse him with a spell. For all she knew Borvinn might have succeeded already, turning her son into a helpless doll for his perverted amusement. If only she could turn the spell on Borvinn himself, turning him into a helpless doll! That would be a fine piece of ironic justice.
Mavrida had no way of knowing that both Ketrin and Borvinn had already been paralysed by the spell. She would have been relieved to know that Borvinn was no longer capable of harming Ketrin, but dismayed to realise that Ketrin was equally helpless.
All that Mavrida knew was that the jewel somehow represented a connection between her and her wild son.
Mavrida put down the crystal and examined the gold ring on her right hand. The ring, Ruthyar’s wedding gift, was set with a glowing gem of its own, blood-red rather than blue. Ruthyar had shown her how to use the ring as a key to his treasure, which was hidden in a place that could not be opened, or even found, without the use of sorcery.
Mavrida placed the two jewels a respectful distance apart and contemplated them. She had no idea what might happen if she brought them together. Maybe nothing, but where sorcery was involved it was best not to tempt fate.
Somehow both her husband and her foundling son had become involved with sorcery, and Mavrida was certain that could not be mere coincidence.
As if of its own volition Mavrida’s left hand reached out to touch the blue crystal. At the same moment, without noticing where her hand was, Mavrida whispered: “I just wish I knew where my son could be found.”
The blue gem glowed beneath her hand, and she felt a strange compulsion to turn around, as if she sensed somebody looking at her. So powerful was this sensation that when she did turn she was surprised to find herself still alone. Yet when she turned away, she felt herself being drawn back to that particular direction.
Looking down she was surprised to find the blue jewel in her hand. Was the blue jewel trying to tell her where Ketrin was?
Mavrida sighed. Even if she knew where to find Ketrin, how was she to use the knowledge? She could hardly expect Chief Hunter Dorriven to organise a search party on one crazy widow’s flimsy evidence, even if Ketrin had not been a complete stranger to him and his village.
The only men who might agree to help her were her brother-by-law Valizen, and the boy Tormis who had found the blue jewel for her. Even if they agreed to help they would not make a very effective rescue party, and in any case it would hardly be fair to deprive Selvrida of her husband for however many moons the search might take.
Even if sorcery could tell her Ketrin’s exact location, it seemed there was no way she could ever reach him. And if Borvinn had paralysed him, then there was no way that he could ever return to her.
For a moment she had a vision of her son as she had first seen him, standing near the village gate, unkempt, naked and feral. He had seemed for all the world like some savage jungle god, except for some spark deep within his eyes that told Mavrida he was indeed her long-lost son.
Oh, Ruthyar, if only you could have seen him, thought Mavrida. You would have been so proud of him. I pray to all the gods that I might see him again, so that I can show him to you through my eyes once more.
Mavrida returned the blue jewel to its pouch and went to bed. Her sleep was filled with visions of running lupinoids, torrents flowing between steep rock faces, a smiling girl who seemed somehow to be made of stone, and packs of feral creatures that hunted like lupinoids but were naked of fur...
Mavrida woke. It was still dark; she guessed that dawn was still several hours away.
For a few minutes Mavrida lay thinking about the dream. The more she did so the more convinced she became that the dream was a message, though she could not fathom its full meaning.
Reaching out to take the blue jewel from its pouch, she was filled once more with an almost irresistible compulsion to go where it indicated.
Very well: this time she would not resist. Assuming that the jewel really was telling her the way to her son, then she would follow, even into the depths of the jungle.
Such a journey would take her further from home than she had ever been, into difficult and dangerous territory. It would be madness for a lone woman to even attempt it, especially at her age.
She was thirty-seven years old, and some villagers considered forty to be the threshold of decrepitude, despite the fact that many women lived to be seventy or more.
But she did not feel her age. There were certainly no signs of decrepitude upon her. Her skin was still supple, her face unlined despite her years of widowed care, and her breasts were still firm. Her eyes and ears remained as sharp as ever, and she felt strong and healthy in wind and limb.
In spite all of the hardships life had dealt her, she felt more like an eighteen-year-old than somebody approaching middle age. In other words, if venturing into the jungle was a young woman’s game, then she could at least play the part.
The more she considered it, the stronger her determination grew.
In any case, she might not need to be alone.
Consumed by her new resolve, Mavrida rose and dressed. Taking with her only a knife and a small water flask, she slipped quietly out of her small house into the village square. Nobody was about. Apart from the gate guards, every respectable villager was asleep at that hour.
I guess I’m not respectable, then, she told herself.
Grasping the blue jewel firmly in her left hand she whispered, “I wish to know where my son is.”
The compulsion reasserted itself more strongly than ever, and Mavrida found her feet carrying her toward the village’s southern stockade. The feeling was so insistent that it took a conscious effort to prevent herself from falling into the ditch before the fence.
One of the boards seemed to be loose. Careful to make no noise which might alert the guards, Mavrida prised it and its neighbour apart and slipped through, replacing them as best she could on the other side. For better or worse, she was now exposed to whatever the forest might send her way.
There was another ditch to negotiate, and beyond that the cleared path to the grazing fields. On the other side of the path the dark forest eclipsed the stars, but within it Mavrida could see other glowing pinpoints of light, and they were moving.
Clenching her fist about the blue jewel Mavrida thought: You are members of my son’s pack, aren’t you? I know that you can see me. If you can hear my thoughts as well, then I beg you to help me to find him. He belongs to you as well as me.
Four of the glowing pinpoints paused directly opposite the stockade, and for the briefest of moments something cool and fierce seemed to brush against Mavrida’s consciousness.
Mavrida stepped forward and the glowing eyes came to meet her.
The following morning the villagers woke to find Mavrida gone. The guardsmen at the gates swore that they had not seen or heard her.
Dorriven the chief huntsman immediately organised search parties for her, and for several days they would seek her in vain while her sister Selvrida would cry and Selvrida’s husband Valizen would do his best to comfort her.
Eventually the search would be called off. Lacking a body the villagers would raise a small cairn to Mavrida’s memory. They would generally agree, despite there having been no sign of a struggle, that she had been taken by lupinoids.
Which, after a fashion, she had.
But that was all some days in the future.
As the night slowly gave way to dawn Mavrida made her way through the thick vegetation, trusting her companions to keep her out of danger.
Her companions were a pair of young females. In the growing light she saw that one of them had light grey fur with darker grey stripes and white ‘socks’ on her forefeet, while the other had bright copper fur and her stripes and tail were a darker shade of red.
They seemed slightly less aggressive than male lupinoids. There was none of the constant jockeying for position that she had seen the Twins indulge in.
When they had first greeted Mavrida the females made only a token challenge, growling and baring their fangs at her, which she had met by clamping her hands firmly around their muzzles. No one who was unacquainted with lupinoids would have dared such a thing, but Mavrida’s experience with the Twins was enough to convince her that she would survive the encounter with a full set of fingers.
Releasing them, she had whispered (they were still within earshot of the guards), “Now, then - are we going to be friends?”
Their tongues upon her face had answered that question eloquently, and the three of them had set out at once, putting as much distance between themselves and Dorriven’s village as the thickness of the forest would allow.
The dense vegetation was a serious impediment to progress, and Mavrida’s clothing with its long skirt and sleeves only made things worse, constantly snagging and ripping against thorns and branches. Mavrida had no desire to journey through the forest naked as her son had once done, but her dress would certainly need modifying to make it more suitable.
A little after dawn she rested by a stream while the lupinoids went off to hunt. They returned shortly and presented Mavrida with the last remains of some small, unidentifiable and distinctly unappetising creatures.
As leader of the small pack Mavrida was expected to eat first, and so she made a great show of chewing and swallowing appreciatively before throwing what was left to the lupinoids. The fact that most of the meat was still left on the carcasses did not occur to them, and so Mavrida’s small deception went unnoticed.
She supposed that raw meat would look more appetising if she were starving, but for the moment she resolved to subsist on whatever edible fruit and nuts the forest would provide. That would leave more meat for her lupinoids anyway.
While they rested Mavrida set to work with her knife, reducing her dress to a form that would be more suitable for the terrain. By mid-morning she had fashioned a skirt whose length (or lack of it) would be scandalous to most villagers, and a halter that was just large enough to spare her modesty. Her arms, legs and midriff would remain bare. Some of the left-over cloth she wrapped around her shoulder in case she needed bandages or rope.
She finished the water from her jug and refilled it from the stream. Then she roused her furry companions and the three of them set off once more into the unknown.
Dominance and Submission
Sherinel was woken by the sound of snarling and snapping. The lupinoids were no longer by his side. Following the sounds, he came to a small clearing where Silverpaw and Night were engaged in a furious battle, watched intently by the wildlings and the other lupinoids.
Careful not to intrude on the fight, Sherinel edged around the clearing to where Shadow sat watching.
+Isn’t this great?+ thought Shadow. +Silverpaw’s getting thrashed.+
Sherinel scowled at the lupinoid. +You’re supposed to be rooting for him,+ he thought. +He’s your brother.+
+Aw, he’s just too full of himself,+ thought Shadow. +This’ll teach him not to bite more than he can swallow.+
Night still appeared fresh even though Silverpaw had managed to inflict a couple of bites on him. By contrast, Silverpaw was bleeding from five or six bites and limping badly. Despite this punishment he refused to give up, until Night finally managed to pin him down and clamp his jaws over his throat.
+I’m not playing,+ thought Night. +Give in right now or I’ll eat you.+
Sherinel’s hand strayed to his knife. Fortunately he didn’t need to use it. All of the fight suddenly went out of the red lupinoid and he lay like a limp rag, whimpering quietly. The champion allowed him to sweat for a while before unclamping his jaws and allowing him to slink away, tail between his legs.
+Beat you good, didn’t he?+ thought Shadow, and would have given Silverpaw a nip himself if Sherinel had not restrained him.
+It’s all very well for you to gloat,+ thought Sherinel, +but you’ve got to fight him next.+
+So what?+ thought Shadow, huffing contentedly. +I’ve got nothing to worry about. I once fought a stripeface, remember?+
Sherinel groaned. +Of course I remember, you idiot! I was there! The striagon killed you, remember?+
+Yeah, but I didn’t stay dead, did I?+
+That’s true,+ thought Sherinel. +But I have no idea what brought you back from the dead, and I have a feeling that it won’t bring you back a second time.+
+No. You’re not invulnerable.+
Sherinel knelt down and took the black lupinoid’s head in his hands.
+Please don’t get yourself killed, Shadow. I need you to help me find Ketrin. I need you both.+
Shadow licked Sherinel’s face tenderly.
Then he thought, +You worry too much, Big Feet,+ and stepped out to challenge his bigger rival.
The outcome was just as Sherinel had expected. Shadow was no more of a match for the younger and more powerful lupinoid than Silverpaw had been. Sherinel winced at the punishment Shadow was taking. Arguably it served him right for gloating at Silverpaw, but that made it no less painful to watch.
+Al right,+ thought Night, when his jaws had closed on Shadow’s throat. +Simple choice. Give or die.+
+Give,+ thought Shadow, whining plaintively.
While Night howled his triumph to the world, Shadow limped away dejectedly.
+Hate to say it, my friend,+ Sherinel told him, +but this time you’re the one who bit more than he could swallow.+
+Shut up, stupid two-leg,+ thought Shadow.
Sherinel let it go. It was just the pain talking, and there was no sense in upsetting Shadow any further.
Shadow staggered over to Silverpaw, and the two of them began licking each other’s wounds.
+Coulda won if I’d been ready,+ thought Silverpaw. +Then he wouldn’t be so smug.+
+Know what you mean,+ thought Silverpaw. +I was that close to pinning him for a moment there.+
+At least the big bastard didn’t bugger us.+
+Not yet, but give him time. My arse is tensing up already.+
Oh, well, thought Sherinel to himself, at least it didn’t take them long to make up. Trouble is, having them both wounded like this will slow down our search quite a bit.
Night turned to face Sherinel and advanced, snarling menacingly. Sherinel did not relish the prospect of facing a lupinoid in unarmed combat, but fortunately he did not have to. The male wildling stepped between Night and Sherinel, crouching and snarling at the lupinoid. Night responded in kind, but backed down after a moment.
Sherinel sighed with relief. A moment later, however, the wildling turned to face Sherinel and began challenging him instead.
Sherinel knew that if the wildling defeated him, he and his pack would either have to defer to the wildling’s commands, or run away. On the other hand, if Sherinel were to win, then he would have the allegiance of two wildlings and their lupinoids who were intimately familiar with this part of the jungle and could help in his search for Ketrin.
Sherinel took stock of his opponent. He was several fingers taller than Sherinel and considerably broader. If strength alone were the determining factor Sherinel would have no chance. He would have to rely on agility and cunning. He guessed that the wildling would try to overpower him with a direct assault, and would be unfamiliar with the kind of defensive moves Sherinel had had to learn from an early age when the other village boys had been bullying him.
As he had guessed, the wildling immediately rushed him head-on. Alerted by the tensing of the wildling’s muscles, Sherinel side-stepped at the last moment and put out a leg to trip his opponent.
The wildling went sprawling, and might have been badly bruised had his lupinoid-trained reflexes not allowed him to break his fall. Picking himself up, the wildling gave Sherinel a glance that seemed to say: Well, it seems I underestimated you. All right, let’s do this properly..
Choosing his moment with care, the wildling rushed Sherinel again. Once more Sherinel attempted to side-step, but this time the male was ready for the move and blocked it, almost succeeding in tripping Sherinel himself.
To Sherinel the ensuing fight seemed endless, though in reality it could not have lasted more than three hundred heartbeats. The wildling kept attacking frontally, using his size and strength to try and wear Sherinel down. Sherinel countered with distraction and misdirection, just barely managing to prevent the wildling from pinning him.
The old Sherinel - the Sherinel who had been so cowed by Borvinn’s intimidation and abuse that the very thought of meeting a lupinoid had sent him running - would have stood no chance against the wildling. But the wildling was facing the new Sherinel, lover of Ketrin, friend of lupinoids and striagon-fighter. He fought with a fierce determination, blocking and avoiding the wildling’s attacks almost through sheer force of will.
Sherinel was vaguely aware that while he and the male wildling were fighting, the female was watching intently, vigorously stroking herself and moaning. Her lupinoid, Ash, was also panting excitedly, no doubt because she could feel all of the girl’s erotic sensations telepathically.
Eventually, almost through sheer luck, Sherinel managed to kick the wildling in the midriff, knocking the breath out of him. As the wildling doubled up Sherinel leapt on his back and wrestled him to the ground, twisting one of the wildling’s arms behind his back.
“Now,” Sherinel growled, “are you going to behave yourself?”
The wildling’s body went limp beneath Sherinel’s. Sherinel was momentarily afraid that he might have killed him, but after a moment the wildling coughed and gasped and began to draw wheezing breaths. Sherinel sat up to allow the wildling to get his breath back, stroking his back and crooning, “It’s all right. Just relax. You’ll be able to breathe again in a minute.” He knew the wildling wouldn’t understand his words, but hoped the tone of his voice would calm him.
After a few moments the wildling’s breathing returned to normal and he sat up, but made sure to keep his head lower than Sherinel’s as he whimpered and licked Sherinel’s face. Sherinel replied lupinoid-fashion by biting the wildling’s ear, though he was careful not to draw blood, and then he grabbed the wildling’s face and buried his tongue in the wildling’s mouth, which tasted of raw meat.
That was not the only ‘meat’ that Sherinel tasted that day. The wild youth submitted himself eagerly to every sexual technique Sherinel could think of while the girl watched and masturbated furiously, feeding all of her pleasure to her lupinoid’s mind.
At the same time Sherinel could hear yelping from nearby which seemed to indicate that Night was taking his due from Silverpaw and Shadow.
It was still well before midday by the time Sherinel finally finished with the wildling. By that time it was as much about their mutual pleasure as it was about establishing dominance. When Sherinel finally withdrew the male wildling licked his face gratefully, then went to lie down alongside the female beneath the trees. Ash joined them. Night, who had finally finished with Silverpaw and Shadow, stepped out from where they lay exhausted and followed Ash.
Just as the big lupinoid was about to pass by, Sherinel grabbed him and stared him in the face.
+I’m leader now,+ thought Sherinel. +Got a problem?+
It was a total bluff. Night could have ripped Sherinel’s throat out without a moment’s hesitation. Instead, he simply stared back at Sherinel for a few moments, and then thought: +Guess not.+
Night made a small token gesture of submission, which Sherinel accepted as the best he was going to get. Releasing the lupinoid, Sherinel went over to where his own pack lay.
Shadow and Silverpaw were lying dejectedly with their heads on their forepaws. Sherinel knelt down and stroked their backs.
+Hey, guys,+ he thought. +Hope that big bastard didn’t hurt you too much.+
+My arse is sore, but I can handle it,+ thought Shadow.
+Me too,+ thought Silverpaw. +Big guy’s not so tough.+
+Yeah, well, if he gives you any trouble just tell me, all right?+ thought Sherinel. +I’m pack leader now.+
+That’s good,+ thought Silverpaw.
+Yeah. We like you, Big Feet.+
+I like you too,+ thought Sherinel.
+Hey, what about us?+ thought the Twins.
+Yeah, of course I like you too,+ he told them. +Come here.+
After he had hugged the Twins and received their thanks in the usual form of cold wet tongues on his face, Sherinel lay down to join their siesta.
As he drifted off to sleep once more he muttered to his furred companions, “Stick with me, guys. I’ll never stray.”
The Sad Man and the Wild Girl
Emerging from the trees Mavrida and her two companions stumbled across a scene that looked innocent enough. Beside a small stream a young couple were making love.
Mavrida smiled wistfully, remembering her first experiences with Ruthyar. She would have slipped away quietly and left them to it, but the man suddenly noticed her. With an incoherent yelp he withdrew and leapt to his feet, shivering from his sudden interruptus. Curiously, the girl did not react at all, but simply lay still.
Fumbling on the ground for his waistcloth the man stuttered, “Look, this isn’t... I mean, she... I mean, I’m not, you know...”
“What’s the matter with you?” demanded Mavrida. “Do you think I’m naive about sex or something? More to the point... what’s the matter with her?”
The girl continued to lie still, not showing the slightest response even when Mavrida’s lupinoids trotted over and began sniffing her body. That really was strange.
Kneeling to investigate Mavrida saw something glowing between the girl’s breasts.
A sudden suspicion dawned on Mavrida. “No,” she muttered, “it couldn’t be...”
But a closer inspection only confirmed her suspicion. The blue glow was emanating from a jewelled pendant that the girl wore.
“It’s a magic crystal,” said Mavrida, turning to face the man.
The man backed away as she approached him, only to find his retreat blocked by a snarling lupinoid.
“The girl is under a spell, isn’t she?” said Mavrida furiously. “She’s paralysed. She’s completely helpless, and you’ve taken advantage of her helplessness by raping her! Who did this to her in the first place? Was it you?”
“No,” spluttered the terrified youth. “No, I swear. I mean, I found her like this one day while I was hunting. I don’t think I’d ever seen such a beautiful girl, but I could tell something was up with her because she wouldn’t answer when I said hello.”
“So you just decided to go ahead and fuck her, knowing that she couldn’t do anything to stop you. Is that it? And you just went on doing it ever since. How long has it been since you started? Moons? Years?”
“No! No, that’s not it at all! Look, can you please tell your animal to stop growling at me like that?”
“That’s up to her,” said Mavrida. “Grey is my guardian, not my slave. Maybe if you weren’t acting so guilty she wouldn’t be so suspicious. Do you have a name, son? I don’t want to just keep on calling you ‘you’. I’m Mavrida.”
The man swallowed and took a deep breath. “Lendrin. My name’s Lendrin. Look, please try to understand, Ma...Mavrida?... It wasn’t rape, not really. I mean, I wasn’t forcing myself on her violently or anything. I’ve always been gentle with her. And I never went, you know, all the way... well, that is, not usually...”
“That’s all well and good, but if she can’t resist you don’t need to force yourself. You can be as gentle as you like, but that still doesn’t mean it’s what she wants.”
“But that’s just the point. I’m certain that it is what she wants.”
“You’re certain?” snapped Mavrida. “How can you possibly be certain? Look at her. She can’t speak. She can’t gesture. She probably can’t even blink of her own accord. So how could she possibly give her consent to you?”
“I looked in her eyes,” he said. “They’re purple, did you notice?”
“Purple?” Mavrida breathed.
“Yes. And it was like she was talking, really talking to me, without words. I don’t know how she did it, but I’m sure it was real.”
Lendrin looked Mavrida straight in the eyes.
“She was telling me she was lonely. She’d spent so long just lying there, all alone and helpless. She wanted to be touched. She wanted to be held. A man or a woman - it didn’t matter. It just happened to be me that had found her. And... and I was reluctant at first, because I thought it would be like you said, taking advantage while she was helpless. Only, the more I looked the more convinced I was that she really was telling me she needed it. And so... so I did. And afterward I really got the sense that she was grateful.”
Mavrida was still sceptical, but all of her instincts were telling her that Lendrin was sincere in his belief. The problem was that as long as the girl remained frozen there was no way she could confirm or deny Lendrin’s account.
Lendrin went on: “Well, after that I brought water and washed her, and then thought about what to do next. I couldn’t take her back to my village - some of the men there really would have raped her violently. There was nothing I could do but take her to the most secluded spot I could find and hide her there, and pray that no other men or striagons would find her before I returned. Well, luckily they didn’t, and it’s been almost a year now. I try to see her as often as I can, which usually means slipping out of the village in the dead of night, or doubling back on my hunting route like today. I’ve got pretty good at making sure no one follows me, and they don’t mind me going off alone as long as I bring back a good catch.”
A year, thought Mavrida. The girl had been suffering Lendrin’s attentions for almost an entire year. And just how long had she been frozen before that?
Mavrida wondered who could have put her under the spell in the first place. She might have suspected Borvinn, but for two very obvious reasons. Firstly, she was a long way from Borvinn’s (and her own) village; and secondly, from all that she knew of Borvinn, he would only ever be interested in raping boys.
Mavrida knelt beside the purple-eyed girl once more and tried to remove the pendant. To her surprise the pendant would not budge in the slightest. It remained solidly fixed in the hollow of the girl’s bosom, as if it were somehow nailed to her ribs.
Mavrida leant forward and peered into the girl’s face. She was certainly beautiful, there was no denying that. It was easy to see how someone like Lendrin would be tempted by her.
In the days before she had met Ruthyar, Mavrida had also been tempted by female beauty. Suvan...
Well, never mind that, she thought. That’s all in the past. Right now all that matters is trying to figure out what to do about Lendrin and this girl.
The girl seemed to be about twenty years old, but it occurred to Mavrida that the spell might have frozen the girl’s ageing process along with her muscles. That would make her true age impossible to determine.
Gazing into the girl’s eyes, Mavrida saw that they were indeed purple, just like Ketrin’s.
Lupinoid eyes. The girl really had been raised by lupinoids, just as Ketrin had.
That inevitably led Mavrida to the same realisation that had struck Sherinel. If something - some instinct, or sorcery, or the will of the gods - was encouraging wild lupinoids to save abandoned human infants, then who could guess how many might be dwelling in the depths of the jungle? There might be tens or even hundreds of them, living contentedly as furless two-legged lupinoids, mutually ignorant of their human kinfolk.
Only somebody had paralysed the girl, just as Borvinn had threatened to paralyse Ketrin. If there really were other wildlings in the forest, were they all doomed to suffer the same helpless fate?
The more she looked at the girl’s eyes, the more it seemed as if they were trying to tell her something. She wasn’t sure what they were saying, but they held a strange compulsion. She moved closer...
Mavrida was startled by the sensation of a warm, rough tongue rasping her cheek. She was astonished to realise that her own tongue was in the wildling girl’s mouth, while her hands were caressing the girl intimately.
Grey nipped Mavrida’s ear and attempted to pull her away.
“All right, Grey, all right,” said Mavrida, withdrawing from the girl’s body as gently as possible. “I just got... distracted there for a while.”
“I’ll say you did,” said Lendrin, attempting unsuccessfully to conceal the bulge in his waistcloth.
Mavrida’s face grew flushed.
“You shouldn’t feel embarrassed about it, you know,” said Lendrin. “It’s just like I told you. She wants a man or a woman to hold her, and in the end you really can’t resist. Anyway, you must believe me now. I really wasn’t taking advantage of her. If anything, she was taking advantage of me.”
“Yes,” muttered Mavrida. “I have no choice but to believe you, do I?”
“Anyway,” said Lendrin, “all this time I’ve been wishing that she could move. Whether she embraced me or slapped my face, I’d just be happy to see her free again. I’d love to know her name, or what her voice sounds like.”
“As to that,” said Mavrida, who had managed to compose herself somewhat, “I’m pretty sure she can’t speak, which would mean doesn’t have a name either. Those purple eyes of hers are the same as lupinoid eyes, had you noticed?”
Lendrin stole a glance at Mavrida’s lupinoids, looking into their eyes as quickly as he could in the hope that they would not interpret his glances as stares of challenge.
“You’re right,” he said. “Their eyes are identical. But does that mean...”
Now it was Lendrin’s turn to grow flushed.
“Does that mean the girl is really a lupinoid? Dear gods, what would that make me?”
Mavrida almost laughed at the thought.
“No,” she told him. “I’m fairly certain that lupinoids can’t disguise themselves as humans - though it would make a fascinating story if they could! No, Lendrin, this girl is as human as you or I, but she was lost in the jungle as an infant and saved by lupinoids who raised her as one of their own. She suckled on lupinoid milk, and it’s given her lupinoid instincts combined with human intelligence. She is as close as you can get to a lupinoid in human form.”
“Wow,” said Lendrin.
“But then someone came and put this jewel on her, or she was manoeuvred into finding it, and it cast the spell of paralysis on her. If a way cannot be found to free her she might remain paralysed for thousands of years.”
“Merciful gods, that’s terrible. But how do you know all this?”
“Because my own son was raised by lupinoids too. Eighteen years ago, when he was just a babe in arms, I lost him to the jungle and I thought I’d never see him again. Until last year, when a naked wild stranger appeared at the village gate, and I knew - I knew it was him. So tall and proud and beautiful, with those shining purple eyes... well, quite a few of the villagers felt attracted to him that day, both male and female.
“So I taught him how to speak and behave like a human being, to eat with a fork, to use the latrine, to revere the gods and to wear clothes - he never liked wearing clothes, of course. He would often ‘forget,’ just because he felt so uncomfortable in a waistcloth. But I was always proud of him. He was the son I never had - the son whom the gods had seen fit to return to me. And I taught him his name.” She sighed. “Ketrin.”
Mavrida brushed a single tear from the corner of her eye.
“But Borvinn, the chief hunter, wanted to exterminate the lupinoids and enslave my son, so Ketrin knew one day he would either have to fight Borvinn or run away.”
She said nothing about Borvinn wanting to acquire Ruthyar’s gold as well. Lendrin might be trustworthy, but the fewer people who knew about the gold, the better.
“And then both Borvinn and Ketrin vanished, along with Ketrin’s friend Sherinel...”
Mavrida smiled wistfully.
“His lover Sherinel. They never said so in so many words, but I could tell. They were always so happy together.”
“Oh, you mean... his male lover.”
She sighed. “Yes. And now they’re both gone, and for all I know Borvinn could have paralysed them both so he can rape them at his leisure. He tricked Ketrin into wearing one of the blue jewels, you see, like the one the girl is wearing - that’s why somebody was able to paralyse her, and if my son is still wearing his jewel than Borvinn could place the same spell upon him. For all I know he may already have done so. And so I managed to persuade two lupinoids of my son’s pack to help me track Ketrin down...”
Then Mavrida broke off as another thought occurred to her.
“Wait a moment!” she muttered. “I’ve been tracking what I thought was Ketrin’s jewel. But suppose it was the girl’s jewel I’ve been drawn to instead? It was probably closer to my village, so my jewel would have been drawn to it first...”
“Your jewel?” said Lendrin, but Mavrida did not hear him.
“Oh, no,” Mavrida groaned in frustration. “All this time I’ve been going in the wrong direction! As long as the girl is wearing her jewel, it will attract my jewel more strongly than my son’s will. And as long as the spell is upon her we can’t take off her jewel. That means I’d probably have to go to the other end of the forest in order to get a trace on my son’s jewel.”
Another sigh escaped her. “Just when I thought I had a real chance of finding him, it proves to be a false hope. Oh, I’m never going to find him now. Never!”
Embarrassed by her discomfiture, Lendrin placed an awkward hand upon Mavrida’s shoulder.
“Um, now wait a minute,” he said. “What was that you just said about having a jewel of your own?”
Mavrida blinked. “It’s true,” she said. “One of the hunters where I used to live found it and gave it to me as a present. He didn’t realise that it was the same kind that Ketrin and this girl are wearing. A jewel of sorcery.”
“But then I don’t understand,” said Lendrin. “Doesn’t that mean that whoever froze the girl could freeze you as well? Or... or does it mean that you could cast spells with it?”
Mavrida pondered the question. For some reason she had never considered the possibility that owning a spell-crystal would make her vulnerable to sorcery. Maybe she had simply assumed that Ruthyar’s ring would protect her with its own kind of sorcery.
Still less had she entertained the notion that she might be able to cast spells of her own. The likelihood seemed quite remote. And yet, a thought suddenly occurred to her.
Might that which was done by one crystal be undone by another?
“Lendrin,” she said, “stand back. I’m about to try something, and if anything goes wrong I want you and the lupinoids out of the way.”
“Um... you want me to stand... with the lupinoids?” he said nervously.
“That’s right,” said Mavrida. “Don’t worry, they won’t bite you. Well, not to the bone, anyway. Now do as I say and stand clear.”
Kneeling beside the paralysed wild girl once more, Mavrida took her jewel out of its concealed pouch and held it an arm’s length from the one the girl wore. As she did so the two jewels began to glow more brightly, as if in sympathy.
Mavrida was worried that while her jewel was in such close proximity to the girl’s, it might acquire and replicate the other jewel’s spell, leaving both Mavrida and the girl eternally paralysed with no means of escape. If that happened, Lendrin might decide that Mavrida needed sexual comfort as well, whether she liked it or not.
In an attempt to prevent such a thing from occurring, Mavrida concentrated on the girl’s jewel as hard as she could and thought: Move. Be free. Break the paralysis. Be flesh and blood, not stone. Run. Jump. Dance. Howl. Assume control of your body. Unfreeze. Feel your limbs stirring. Be restored. Return to life and vitality.
Nothing seemed to happen, except that the jewels glowed ever more brightly.
Mavrida was relieved to find that she could still move - at least for the moment.
Gingerly Mavrida moved closer and lowered her jewel until the two were almost touching.
There was a sudden blinding flash and Mavrida was thrown backwards. Momentarily stunned, she roused herself to a sitting position, and was astonished to realise that she had succeeded. The formerly paralysed wild girl was also rising from where she had lain.
With a lupinoid-like whimper the girl threw herself upon Mavrida and began hugging her fiercely. Mavrida tried to resist but the girl’s caresses became increasingly insistent and erotic, and her eyes began to cast their spell upon Mavrida once more.
Heedless of the fact that they were putting on a pornographic display for Lendrin, the two girls stroked and hugged and licked each other’s bodies urgently as the afternoon sun began to sink below the treeline. Eventually Mavrida was overtaken by a surge of pleasure more powerful than anything she had felt in almost two decades. As her wild lover howled like a lupinoid and her own lupinoid companions howled in sympathy, Mavrida found herself crying: “Suvan! Oh, Suvan, I love you!”
Afterward Mavrida lay half in shock, stunned both by the raw animal power of the girl’s mating (it was much too feral to be called lovemaking), and by the ferocity of her own response to it.
The girl licked Mavrida’s face and then ran across to where Lendrin sat. Lendrin was already spent from masturbating over the women’s sexual performance, but it did not take long for the girl to reawaken his libido, and this time it was Mavrida’s turn to stroke herself gently while the girl enjoyed fully mobile sex with Lendrin for the first time.
If the girl felt any resentment at the way Lendrin had “used” her while she was paralysed, she certainly wasn’t showing it, except perhaps in the form of some fairly hard love-bites.
Mavrida sighed languidly. The wild girl had given her the first orgasm she had experienced - at least with another person - since she had been with Ruthyar. She couldn’t help feeling guilty about that.
After keeping herself chaste for almost eighteen years, she had given in to the wildling’s animal lust with scarcely a moment’s hesitation. Despite reminding herself that the girl had used physical and mental compulsion to break down her resistance, Mavrida still felt as if she had been disloyal to her late husband.
I’m sorry, Ruthyar, she thought. You know that I’m only on this quest to try and find our son. Surely you can forgive me if freeing the girl helps to lead me to Ketrin.
A little while later Mavrida heard Lendrin and the girl cry out in mutual ecstasy, causing the lupinoids to howl once more.
Shortly after that the girl disentangled herself and slipped into the stream. Then, after bathing, she wandered over to where Red and Grey were sitting. She and the lupinoids spent a little time sniffing each other, and then the lupinoids moved apart and allowed her to sit between them.
“I think they like her,” said Lendrin, coming to sit beside Mavrida.
“They recognise one of their own,” Mavrida replied. “She’s grown up learning their behaviour, so they accept her. It’s a little harder for humans. It takes patience and understanding, not to mention a certain tolerance for pain - even when they’re only playing you can get nipped, scratched and bruised a lot. But the point is, people can live and hunt with lupinoids. We can learn to respect each other. They’re not just bloodthirsty monsters. If they were, they would never care for abandoned children. Oh, Ketrin...”
Mavrida fell into reverie.
“I’ve killed lupinoids, you know,” said Lendrin.
Mavrida turned to look at him.
“I wasn’t proud of it,” he went on, “but my chief hunter told me they had to be exterminated from the forest surrounding our village. Most of the time I couldn’t catch them anyway. Usually all I ever saw of them was their tails disappearing into the undergrowth. But there was one time... I chanced to look over a small ledge above a stream and saw one drinking there. It didn’t seem to hear me so I speared it from above. Watched the blood flowing into the water...”
Lendrin swallowed and shook his head.
“At least that one was quick. Another time I managed to spear one in the side, but it wasn’t a clean kill. Even though it must have been in terrible pain, it still managed to outrun me. I followed the trail of blood right to the edge of the river gorge. It had thrown itself in rather than let me finish it off. I only... only hope the fall killed it quickly.”
He swallowed again.
Mavrida could tell how much this confession was costing him, but knew better than to interrupt.
“The last one... the last one was the worst,” he sighed. “I just happened to step out from between the trees and there it was, right in front of me.”
He took a deep, shuddering breath.
“It was just standing there. It wasn’t threatening me. I think it was more curious than scared of me. If I’d done nothing it would probably have just sniffed me over and then walked away. Only I was scared, and guilty, and so I... I...”
Lendrin began shaking uncontrollably. Mavrida put her arms around him.
“I hit it,” Lendrin sobbed. “I snatched up a rock and hit the lupinoid in the head before it could run. I felt its skull cave in. Then its legs collapsed and it lay there whimpering in pain and fear.”
Mavrida shuddered at the image.
“It was horrible,” he choked. “Horrible. I’ll never be able to forget that sound as long as I live.”
Half-blinded by tears, Lendrin looked at Mavrida as though pleading for forgiveness.
“And the worst thing about it was... it looked at me. It gazed up at me as if to say, ‘Why? Why have you hurt me? I haven’t done you any harm’. And it hadn’t. It was an innocent creature, and I had destroyed it.”
For several minutes Lendrin could do nothing but sob quietly while Mavrida cradled him in her arms.
Eventually he composed himself sufficiently to speak once more.
“I cut its throat,” he whispered. “I just couldn’t let the poor beast suffer any more. But it wouldn’t have been suffering if I hadn’t been such a stupid coward. It was my fault. All my fault...”
“All right, that’s enough,” said Mavrida, and slapped his face as hard as she could.
Lendrin gasped and stared at Mavrida in shock.
“That was not to punish you for your actions,” she told him. “I want you to understand that. I will not punish or blame you. It was simply to prevent you from wallowing in self-pity. I can’t stand that and you don’t need it.”
Mavrida took Lendrin’s head in her hands and forced him to look her in the eyes.
“I won’t forgive you either. Only you can do that.”
Lendrin stuttered, “B-but... but I...”
”Listen to me, Lendrin. Listen to me. You are not a bad person. You are not cruel. You are a good man who has been forced to do evil things, and because of that you suffer all this remorse. If anyone should suffer it’s the chief hunter who forced you to do those terrible things.”
Releasing him, she sat back and spoke quietly.
“Lendrin, if there is one thing I have learned about lupinoids, it is that they have much faster reflexes than humans. The lupinoids you killed must have been old or sick, maybe half-blind or deaf too. If they had been mature and healthy you would never have been able sneak up on them, let alone attack one of them head on.”
“Maybe so,” muttered Lendrin, “but that doesn’t excuse what I did.”
“No, it doesn’t. It was wrong of you to make those lupinoids suffer so. But that doesn’t make you evil. Besides, their pain ended long ago. They only continue to suffer in your memory. Lendrin, I’ve known many hunters who have done far worse things to lupinoids and other innocent creatures. They’ve tortured and killed them for pleasure, and then boasted about it to their friends. Oh, yes, I heard many such boasts in my old village, and they made me nauseous. Those are the kind of people who should be weeping for their sins, but of course real sinners never do.
“You’re not like them, Lendrin. I know you’re not. You have a chance to make amends.”
Standing, she reached for his hand.
“Come on. If you want to atone for killing lupinoids, you can start by getting to know a couple of live ones. Come on, don’t be nervous. Come and meet my friends.”
They walked a short distance into the shade of the trees where the girl sat with Red and Grey. The girl stood up and greeted Lendrin with her tongue before Mavrida gently drew her aside.
“Not now,” said Mavrida quietly. The girl simply gave her a quizzical look.
“Go on, Lendrin,” said Mavrida. “They won’t hurt you. Red and Grey are quite gentle, as lupinoids go.”
Lendrin nervously approached the two lupinoids, allowing them to look and smell him over for a few moments. Lendrin’s body still bore the girl’s scent, so Red and Grey accepted him as her mate and allowed him to sit between them.
The girl meanwhile was gently caressing Mavrida’s arm and face. Mavrida could not help becoming slightly aroused, but she pushed the girl away gently but firmly, repeating: “Not now.”
The girl gave a small grunt of disappointment and strode off to sit in another patch of shade. Mavrida let her go, knowing she wouldn’t be upset for long.
Meanwhile Red allowed Lendrin to rest an arm across her back, then snorted in surprise as the human buried his face in her fur and began weeping profusely.
Sensing his distress the lupinoids instinctively tried to comfort him by protecting him with their bodies and licking him. Unable to reach his face, they licked his neck and upper back instead.
After a little while his sobbing subsided and he sat back. The lupinoids’ tongues washed the tears from his face.
“If these two knew what I’d done to their kind,” said Lendrin, sniffing, “they would never stop hating me.”
“You’re wrong,” replied Mavrida. “Lupinoids can’t hate. That is a human indulgence... like guilt. Lendrin, what you have done doesn’t matter to them. The only thing they care about is what you do now.”
“Well, in that case,” muttered Lendrin, “what am I going to do?”
He sat and thought for a moment, absently draping his arms across the lupinoids’ backs. They didn’t appear to mind. They just seemed happy that he was no longer upset.
“To tell the truth,” said Lendrin, “there’s not much to keep me at my old village. The chief hunter keeps threatening to have me flogged if I don’t bring back some more lupinoid pelts, and I have no doubt that most of the other hunters would love to help him do it.
“The only thing that was keeping me there was the knowledge that the girl would be waiting for me - because she couldn’t go anywhere else. Well, now that she’s able to move again I guess she can go wherever she wants. I’d go with her if she wanted, but I’m not sure I could live wild like her. So - I guess the third option is to come with you and help you look for your son. That is, if you’d have me along.”
Mavrida hid her smile behind her hand.
“Well, I suppose you wouldn’t be too much of a hindrance,” she said. “Anyway, the lupinoids seem to have accepted you, so you may as well be a part of my... pack.”
Lendrin smiled. “Thank you, Mavrida. I promise you won’t regret this.”
Then he looked over to where the girl was sitting.
“I guess the only question now is, what will she do?” he said.
Mavrida thought about that. “Well, if she decides to return to the wild, she’ll probably try to track down her old pack and try to persuade them to take her back. Seems to me her only other option is to come with us, either because she’s still attracted to you or because she’s bonded with Red and Grey. She seems content to stay with us for this evening, but what she may decide to do tomorrow is anyone’s guess.”
Lendrin nodded, then walked over to the girl and sat beside her.
Night was falling, and as Mavrida lay down between the two lupinoids with her roll of cloth for a pillow, she could hear Lendrin and the girl’s sounds of passion once more.
Almost unconsciously, Mavrida’s hands reached between her legs.
The next morning Mavrida opened her pouch and took out two blue crystals - Tormis’s and the girl’s. If the girl had noticed that her pendant no longer contained its jewel she had shown no sign of it.
Holding the crystals together in her left hand, Mavrida thought: Show me.
She immediately felt a compulsion to walk in a certain direction.
It was possible, she supposed, that the compulsion was leading her toward another paralysed victim and not her son. Yet the compulsion was the only thing she had to go on.
If the compulsion led her to another frozen wildling then she would release them from the spell, take their crystal and search again. Even if there were a hundred crystals in the world, sooner or later one of them must lead her to her son.
At the moment her crystals seemed to be directing her southward. That seemed as good a direction as any, if only because it led away from the local villages.
Once she had told Lendrin their direction they filled their water flasks and prepared to depart. Red and Grey followed, accompanied by the girl.
“Are you coming with us?” she asked. Of course the girl did not understand Mavrida’s words, but she immediately began licking Mavrida’s face, and would have got more intimate had Mavrida not gently but very firmly rejected her advances.
“Now let’s get one thing clear,” Mavrida told her. “I’m not your lover, all right? If you’re feeling horny go to Lendrin. I’m supposed to be staying chaste here.”
The girl showed no sign of comprehension, although she seemed to be quite aware that human speech was a form of communication. Still, she left Mavrida alone for the moment.
“I can’t just keep calling her ‘the girl’, Mavrida told Lendrin. “She reminds me a little of my first lover Suvan...”
“Your female lover?” smiled Lendrin.
Mavrida’s wry smile was all the confirmation Lendrin needed.
“I don’t want to call her Suvan,” said Mavrida, “but I could give her a similar name as a tribute. Hmm... I know. Suvanji.”
“Suvanji. It’s a nice name,” agreed Lendrin. “But, um, do you think we should make her some clothes? You know, in case we meet anybody on the journey? I see you have some spare cloth there. It might be embarrassing to try and explain why one of our party is permanently naked.”
“I’m saving the cloth in case we need bandages or ropes,” Mavrida told him. “Besides, she’s never worn clothes in her life and she’d hate being forced to. Does her nakedness offend you?”
“No, of course not. It’s not as if I haven’t seen it often enough. It’s just rather... distracting, that’s all.”
“Well, I find it a pleasant distraction,” said Mavrida. “Don’t you?”
“I’m just worried that it might offend anyone we meet,” Lendrin told her.
Mavrida replied: “Would it offend them more than the fact that we’re travelling with lupinoids for mutual protection, when all of the local villages are trying to hunt them down?”
“Um. Good point,” Lendrin admitted.
After a few minutes another thought occurred to Lendrin.
“Mavrida, do you suppose the hunters really will kill all the lupinoids?”
“No,” she said, without a moment’s hesitation. “Not even one in twenty. Like I said, even the best hunters don’t stand much chance of catching healthy mature lupinoids, except by luck. Mostly all they’ve done so far is to cull some of the old and the lame. Besides, there are too many wild packs living in the depths of the jungle. Even if all the packs near human villages were wiped out, their territory would eventually be repopulated by migrants.”
Mavrida paused, but she was not done.
“No, Lendrin, the hunters couldn’t do it. What worries me, though, is the fact that there’s sorcery mixed up in all this.”
“The blue jewels, like the one that paralysed Suvanji. Where did they come from? Who made them? And who knows what other powers they may have?
“Lendrin, ever since I realised that the blue jewels contained sorcery, I’ve had a feeling that they only represent a tiny fragment of something much more powerful. Something that has its eye on this forest. Something... evil. The lupinoids have a part to play in the order of the forest. If they were all killed off it would change that order in ways that we cannot guess, probably for worse rather than better.”
“But why, Mavrida? Why would a powerful evil want to strike here? What’s so special about our forest?”
“It may not be just the forest,” said Mavrida. “I have heard that the world beyond the forest is vast. Our troubles may just be a part of some greater threat.”
Lendrin thought about that. “Then what can we do if the entire world is threatened?”
“The only thing we can do,” said Mavrida. “Defend our part of it as best we can, and hope that others are doing the same all over the world.“
They walked on in silence for a while, and then Lendrin spoke again.
“You know, Mavrida, when you first talked about having an eighteen-year-old son I couldn’t believe it. I mean, you don’t look much older than eighteen yourself.”
Mavrida made a dismissive sound.
“No, really,” Lendrin insisted. “When I see you next to Suvanji, the two of you look like sisters. It’s only talking to you that convinces me you really are older than you look. I think you may be the wisest person I ever met.”
“Oh, now you really are going too far,” she protested. “I’m nothing but a middle-aged widow.”
“Maybe so,” said Lendrin, “but how many middle-aged widows would take up with a pair of wild beasts to go searching for their sons in the darkest depths of the jungle? And you were right about me wallowing in self-pity back there. If I can help the lupinoids by helping you and your son, then it will help me to atone for my sins against them. And who knows? Maybe we will save the world as well.”
“Save the lupinoids, save the world,” muttered Mavrida.
The small party made good progress through the jungle that day, with no sign of human hunters or striagons. By dusk Mavrida judged that they must be approaching the river gorge. Their progress might be hindered if the jewel pointed to the other side, but they would cross that bridge - if there was one - when they came to it.
She only hoped that the sight of the gorge would not reawaken Lendrin’s painful memories of lupinoid-slaying.
As she lay down the girl came over to her.
“Suvanji, no,” Mavrida protested. “I’ve told you I don’t want - ”
And then Suvanji looked into Mavrida’s eyes, and all of Mavrida’s resistance evaporated.
Oh, well, thought Mavrida as the wild girl began stroking her, I’m still being faithful to Ruthyar after a fashion.
At least I’m not with another man.
Lord Ral-ne-Sa Waits
Tolar sighed contentedly and let his fingers play languidly over Ketrin’s broad chest. Ketrin would have sighed as well, if he could have made the slightest sound or movement.
“Lord Ral-ne-Sa,” he whispered, “our village is truly blessed by your presence.”
Wersgor might have agreed with his chief hunter, but at that moment his mouth was occupied with Ketrin’s erection.
Tolar continued: “Your noble servants have saved our village from famine and disease.”
Still, Ketrin felt like a fraud, even though he had no say in the matter. Whatever he was, man or lupinoid, he was no god. It was only his ability to communicate with Sun and Fire, along with the beasts’ fortunate willingness to cooperate, that had saved the village. If anything, Ketrin thought, the villagers ought to be worshipping the two lupinoids, not that they didn’t already pamper the creatures to a ridiculous degree.
“But now,” Tolar sighed, “even the hidden valley is beginning to wither from drought. Lord Ral-ne-Sa, we will do anything for you, make any sacrifice, if only you will bring the rain.”
Ketrin sincerely hoped Tolar wasn’t suggesting human sacrifice. He would have said so if he could, but the problem with being a living idol was that he couldn’t speak his mind, which meant that the villagers could interpret his silence to mean anything that suited them.
+Feeling guilty again?+ thought the Maiden. +I’ve told you about that before. Right now you’re a captive audience, so you may as well enjoy the show. Whatever happens, these people will make the right moral choices. They’re not like Borvinn’s cronies.+
+Oh, yes, that reminds me,+ thought Ketrin. +Whatever happened to Borvinn?+
+His spell went wrong and paralysed him too. He’s still standing in the jungle. Don’t worry, my friends and I will make sure he doesn’t get eaten by a striagon. Anyway, I’ve told him that he won’t be freed from the paralysis until he learns genuine compassion for others.+
+Knowing him, that could take a long time,+ thought Ketrin.
The Maiden sensed an undercurrent of melancholy behind his amusement.
+You miss your friends, don’t you?+ she thought. +I know it’s hard for you, but your lupinoid soul will give you the strength to survive this.+
+Are my friends still alive, Maiden?+ he asked. +Sherinel, Silverpaw, Shadow and the Twins? Can you tell me that?+
+Yes, Ketrin,+ she assured him, +they are alive. They are seeking you even as we speak, and forging new friendships and alliances which will assist them in their search.+
The news eased Ketrin’s anxieties somewhat.
+And what about Mavrida?+ he asked. +Is she all right?+
The Maiden chuckled gently in Ketrin’s mind. +Oh, Ketrin, Mavrida is feeling more alive today than she has for the past eighteen years! She is also forming remarkable new friendships. I could tell you all about it, but I’d rather let her tell you herself. when you see her again.+
Ketrin would have sighed with relief if he could. +I’m glad she’s happy,+ he thought. +So, is that it? All I have to do is wait for Sherinel to find me and free me from the spell, and then we go home to Mavrida and try to save the lupinoids from being hunted?+
+Well... not quite,+ thought the Maiden. +There are other forces at work besides myself, things that could threaten not only the lupinoids but the future of all life on this world. Before you or your friends can think about resuming your... ‘normal’ lives, you will all have to face up to those forces. But the final confrontation is still some way off yet, and I promise that by the time it does arrive you will be prepared to meet it. I’m sorry, but that is all I can tell you for now. Farew - +
And then she was gone from his mind.
Ketrin thought about what she had told him. A final confrontation involving powerful forces? Ketrin could not imagine how those forces might manifest themselves, nor what form the confrontation might take. It was pointless to speculate about a battle against unknown opponents, but Ketrin could not prevent himself from wondering and worrying.
Very soon, though, Tolar and Wersgor’s continued lovemaking ensured that there was very little on Ketrin’s mind except for his own ecstasy.
Crossing the Line
The next day the compulsion from Mavrida’s blue crystals led her to almost trip over an object on the ground that was wreathed in vines.
Suvanji gasped and ran to kneel in front of it. Clearing away some of the vines, she revealed the unmistakable shape of a lupinoid’s snout.
“It’s paralysed,” said Lendrin. “Just like she was.”
“That’s why my crystal led me to it,” said Mavrida. “It’s wearing another of the crystals.”
Suvanji shot Mavrida an imploring glance.
“Don’t worry,” Mavrida told her, placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “Of course we’re going to free it.”
Mavrida and Lendrin spent some time cutting the vines away from the lupinoid’s body while Suvanji, Grey and Red watched in anticipation. The figure that stood revealed, standing like a dignified statue in the sunlight, was a small, handsome dark grey female. Unusually, the lupinoid’s stripes and tail were a much lighter grey than the rest of her fur, almost white in fact, giving her an odd inverted appearance.
Mavrida saw that one of the creature’s eartips had been pierced to allow for the insertion of a small gold stud, and it was this stud that held the spell-crystal that was paralysing her. Mavrida wondered how the stud had been inserted in the first place. She couldn’t imagine that any self-respecting lupinoid would stand still and allow its ear to be pierced, unless it had been unconscious or already paralysed.
“All right, stand back, everybody,” she told them.
Lendrin drew Suvanji aside and the two lupinoids followed. Once they were several cubits away Mavrida took out her crystals. Stroking the frozen lupinoid’s back, she crooned quietly in its ear: “All right, girl. I’m going to get you out of this. Just relax.”
Holding her crystals close to the one in the lupinoid’s ear stud, she thought: MOVE!
This time Mavrida was prepared for the sudden flash of light, but it was still bright enough to leave an afterimage even through her tightly-shut eyes.
The lupinoid’s body jerked and twitched beneath her hands. For a moment she was terrified that she might have done something wrong and harmed the creature, but it was simply the result of its muscles momentarily responding to conflicting commands.
Startled by these new sensations the lupinoid growled and sank her teeth into Mavrida’s left arm.
Suvanji leapt forward and dragged the lupinoid off of her. Lendrin was immediately at Mavrida’s side, kneeling to inspect her wound.
“It’s all right,” said Mavrida. “She was just frightened. She didn’t mean it.”
Mavrida hardly needed to add that if the lupinoid had meant it she could easily have torn Mavrida’s arm off.
Suvanji released the lupinoid, who immediately stepped forward to inspect the damage she had caused. Whining as if in apology, she began licking Mavrida’s wound, while Mavrida stroked her back with her right arm.
“All right, girl,” she said. “I know it was just an accident.”
“How bad is it?” said Lendrin. “Can you still use the arm?”
The coagulant in the lupinoid’s saliva was already beginning to do its work. Mavrida’s arm was scarcely bleeding.
“Yes,” said Mavrida, testing her left arm and hand. “I don’t think she did any real damage. It just goes to prove what I said, though. If you want to deal with these creatures you need a tolerance for pain.”
Once that small crisis was past, the lupinoid began revelling in her new-found freedom, howling and running and jumping for joy. Soon the other lupinoids and Suvanji joined her, and Mavrida and Lendrin drew aside to give them room.
“Frisky little thing, isn’t she?” said Mavrida. “I think I’ll call her Nipper.”
Mavrida’s wound had stopped bleeding and the lupinoid saliva had effectively cleansed it, but Mavrida tore off a strip of cloth and bound it just to prevent it being accidentally reopened.
“So...” said Lendrin, “we’re still no closer to finding your son.”
Mavrida sighed. “Not yet, but I’m not going to be discouraged by a couple of false leads. Besides, freeing Suvanji and Nipper was hardly a waste of time.”
Nipper broke off from her play to engage Mavrida’s lupinoids in a serious challenge for dominance, with a ferocity that belied her small size. After a brief struggle Red capitulated, swiftly followed by Grey, and Nipper gave a howl of triumph. Then Suvanji leapt on Nipper’s back and pinned her down until she surrendered. Finally Suvanji came over to Mavrida, lay on her back and whimpered quietly. Instinctively, Mavrida rested her foot gently on Suvanji’s neck for a few moments. As soon as she removed her foot Suvanji leapt up and began licking Mavrida’s face, and would have become more intimate if Mavrida had not gently restrained her.
“Not now, Suvanji,” she said. The girl sighed. It seemed she was beginning to learn the meaning of the phrase.
So the chain of dominance was established for their small pack. Mavrida was lead female and Nipper was in charge of the four-legs, leaving Lendrin, the only male in the pack, as literal odd man out.
“So what’s our next move?” Lendrin asked Mavrida.
“I have to use my crystals to search for the next one,” she told him. “Only before I can do that I have to remove Nipper’s crystal, to prevent it interfering with mine. Did you see where her crystal is?”
“Um, no, I didn’t,” he admitted.
“There’s a gold stud in her left ear, with the jewel set into it. See there? I can’t imagine how anyone could have kept her still long enough to pierce her ear and insert it without getting bitten to pieces, but whoever did it must have been the same one that paralysed her. Maybe the same one who paralysed Suvanji as well.”
“I see,” said Lendrin. “It’s going to be just as tricky getting the jewel out without getting bitten to pieces. It’s a pity you couldn’t have taken the jewel out while she was paralysed.”
“You know that wouldn’t work,” said Mavrida. “You must have tried to remove Suvanji’s pendant while she was paralysed. You couldn’t move it, could you? I certainly couldn’t. In other words, as long as a crystal is paralysing someone it can’t be removed.”
“Well, then, unless we tie her down or find some herb that will sedate her, I don’t see how we’re going to...”
The he broke off as a sudden thought struck him.
“Mavrida, you have two of the crystals, don’t you?”
“Yes,” she replied, “the one I was given in my sister’s village and the one I took off of Suvanji. But I don’t see what diff - ”
And then suddenly she did see.
“Ohh,” she said. “You mean that if I use one of my crystals to paralyse her temporarily, it might be possible to remove the crystal in the stud, because that one won’t be active. Then all I have to do is free her again and try to avoid getting another nip.”
“Well, that’s no problem,” said Lendrin. “Suvanji and I will hold her down when you release her.”
“No, Lendrin,” Mavrida told him. “I need you to distract Suvanji. I have a feeling that when I paralyse Nipper, Suvanji won’t understand that it’s only temporary. She might get scared that I mean to paralyse both of them permanently again. She could even run away and we’d never see her again.”
Lendrin was horrified by the thought of never seeing his wild girl again, and so he agreed to go along with Mavrida’s plan despite the risk of further injury to her.
A little while later Lendrin strolled over to Suvanji and began kissing and caressing her. She immediately responded with all the urgency and enthusiasm of a lupinoid, and it took him some effort to persuade her that he preferred to be intimate in private. Eventually he managed to convince her to follow him into the jungle, leaving Mavrida alone with the three lupinoids.
After their brief battle for dominance, the three had settled down for a nap and now lay curled up in the shade of the trees. As quietly as she could, Mavrida circled around them until she was facing Nipper’s back.
Taking the crystals out of her pouch, she tossed one of them onto Nipper’s rump. The lupinoid was instantly awake, but before she could do anything Mavrida grabbed the other crystal and thought: FREEZE.
The crystals glowed, and Nipper once more became a furred statue.
“I’m sorry, girl,” she told the lupinoid. “I promise it won’t be for long.”
Mavrida took out her knife, moving up behind Nipper so that she would not see the blade and be frightened. Unfortunately Red and Grey were awake, and they could se the blade all too clearly. Growling angrily, they tried to prevent Mavrida from reaching their friend.
“It’s all right, she insisted. “I’m not going to hurt her.”
Her words meant nothing to Red and Grey, but her tone of voice brooked no argument. They might be unhappy about her actions but she was still leader of the pack. Grumbling, they backed off.
With a sigh, Mavrida leant over Nipper’s back and inspected the ear stud. Its jewel was much smaller than the others, but was obviously no less powerful.
Mavrida tugged on the stud and felt it move. It seemed that Lendrin’s guess had been correct. Because this time Nipper was being paralysed by another jewel, the one in her ear-stud was not frozen in place, and could be removed while the lupinoid was unable to protest.
As Mavrida worked to remove the small gem from its gold mount she heard Lendrin shouting, “Suvanji, come back! There’s nothing wrong!”
A moment later Suvanji burst into the clearing, followed by Lendrin, who was still naked. As soon as she saw Mavrida holding a knife to the paralysed Nipper’s ear, Suvanji gave a wordless cry and would have tried to drag Mavrida off if Lendrin had not held her back.
Mavrida worked frantically to prise the jewel loose while Lendrin struggled with Suvanji.
“I’m... sorry... Mavrida,” he gasped, while trying to fend off the wildling’s blows. “She just... leapt up suddenly... (oof!)... as if she... knew what... was happening.”
Mavrida kept working. She could feel the jewel loosening. She was almost there...
“I should have thought of this,” she told Lendrin. “Suvanji must be able to hear the lupinoids’ thoughts. That’s how she knew. I remember now, when my son first introduced me to lupinoids, he seemed to be able to speak to them without words.”
Even as she spoke the jewel came loose. Placing it in her pouch, she quickly moved to Nipper’s rear and thought: MOVE! Then she snatched the other jewel off of Nipper’s back as the lupinoid once more twitched and jerked back to mobility, and leapt clear to avoid being bitten again.
Suvanji immediately let go of Lendrin and hugged Nipper fiercely. Mavrida followed, and stroked the lupinoid and the girl soothingly.
“There, you see?” said Mavrida. “I didn’t hurt her. I promise I’ll never paralyse her again.”
Lendrin soon joined in with the hugging, forgiving Suvanji for bruising his ego and body, and before long all three humans were making love. They were watched appreciatively by the lupinoids, who could feel all of Suvanji’s orgasms.
As dusk fell the three humans lay in a post-coital stupor while the lupinoids kept watch.
Eventually Lendrin muttered, “I think I got a bit carried away there.”
“I think we all did,” said Mavrida.
“I hope I didn’t hurt you,” he said.
“Not in a bad way,” said Mavrida. “Still... I’ve crossed the line now. As long as I was just having sex with Suvanji I could pretend that I was still being loyal to Ruthyar. But now...”
“Mavrida, Ruthyar has been dead for a long time. Do you really think he would have wanted you to be lonely for the rest of your life? You are still beautiful, strong, healthy and young-looking. You’ve already set out on this perilous journey of your own free will. Why not embrace life to the full?”
”With you, you mean?”
“With whoever you choose. You can’t act as if Ruthyar is looking over your shoulder all the time, ready to disapprove of whatever you do.”
“But that’s just the thing,” she told him. “Somehow, somewhere, I do feel as if he’s watching me. If we do meet again beyond this life then I will have to explain my actions to him.”
Lendrin replied, “Mavrida, if Ruthyar is half the man you have described to me, then he surely can’t hate you for this. And when your souls are finally reunited, the reunion can only be a joyful one.”
Mavrida sighed and lay in silence for a while. Then she said, “I wonder if you’ve made me pregnant? I set out on this journey in the hope of finding my son. It would be ironic if I conceived another child along the way.”
“Well, there’s a simple remedy for that,” said Lendrin. “There are thaal bushes all over the forest. If you chew some of the leaves the juice will prevent you from conceiving a child, though they may make you feel a little nauseous. We should give some to Suvanji as well.”
The next morning the trees thinned out into a rocky plateau at the edge of the river. The gorge was even more formidable than Mavrida had imagined. Grey cliffs on either side plummeted over two hundred cubits down to a foaming maelstrom. Suvanji took one look over the edge and refused to go near it again.
Mavrida took out the blue crystals and concentrated. This time the compulsion was fainter, as though the source was more distant, and as she had suspected it pointed in a south-westerly direction - straight across the river.
“There’s nothing for it,” said Mavrida. “We’ll just have to follow the river and hope we can find a way to cross.”
So they headed south, parallel to the gorge, mostly staying within the boundary of the forest for cover.
As he had promised, Lendrin found fresh thaal leaves and somehow persuaded Suvanji to ingest the bitter juice. While she had been paralysed her ability to conceive had apparently been suspended along with her need to eat and drink, but since that was no longer the case Lendrin did not want to risk getting her pregnant accidentally.
Lendrin also gave some of the leaves to Mavrida.
“I’m told they will prevent conception for one day after coupling has taken place,” he told her. “It’s only been half a day, so that’s not a problem.”
Mavrida nodded and accepted the leaves gratefully. Later that day Lendrin was relieved to see that Mavrida’s mouth was stained green from chewing the leaves.
But Mavrida had deceived him, just as she had deceived the lupinoids into thinking she had eaten raw meat. The stains on her lips came from teska leaves, which did not have contraceptive properties. She had secretly discarded the thaal leaves in the forest.
For better or worse, she had made a commitment. Now there was no going back.
As dawn broke over Third Hill, Sun, who had been sleeping contentedly beside Fire in the village square, was suddenly woken by a warm splash on his fur. He was instantly on his feet, rousing his companion as well.
+Whassup?+ thought Fire. +Bird poop on you again?+
Then Fire yelped as a splash hit him. +Pooped on me too. Dumb birds.+
+That wasn’t a bird,+ Sun told him. +It’s sky-water.+
As if to confirm his thought the heavens instantly opened, drenching the lupinoids and plastering their fur to their bodies.
Hearing the sound of howling and fearing some kind of attack, the villagers rushed bleary-eyed from their homes to behold an astonishing sight: two fully-grown lupinoids cavorting like cubs in the torrential rain, running, leaping, circling each other, howling and splashing through puddles in the sea of mud that the dusty square had become.
“The drought is over!” cried Tolar (as if that was not already obvious). “Lord Ral-ne-Sa has sent the rain to save us!”
The entire village erupted into cheers.
Tolar, Tharil and Wersgor went into Ketrin’s shrine and arranged his limbs into a sitting posture before lifting him out into the square and letting the rain play over his naked body.
+Hey, two-leg,+ thought Sun, as he continued to gambol and prance with Fire. +Water! Isn’t this great?+
+Yeah,+ thought Ketrin. +The last time I felt so refreshed was when I bathed in the lake.+
+Hey, come and join us, why don’t you?+ Sun suggested.
+I’d like to but I can’t,+ Ketrin reminded them. +My body won’t move, remember?+
+Oh, yeah,+ thought Sun. +Too bad.+
+Right,+ agreed Fire. +Too bad.+
+Yeah. Well you two go ahead and have fun,+ Ketrin thought. +I can feel what you’re both feeling, and that’s good for me too.+
While the lupinoids took Ketrin’s advice and continued to play, Tolar declared: “Once more Lord Ral-ne-Sa has answered our prayers! His servants Sun and Fire have saved our village from starvation and sickness, and now he has sent the rain which we so desperately needed. Let us all praise the wise, noble and infinitely merciful Lord Ral-ne-Sa!”
The villagers all cheered and crowded around Ketrin, anxious to show their gratitude by touching and caressing his divine beauty.
I don’t know what they’re thanking me for, thought Ketrin. It wasn’t me that helped them this time. It was bound to rain sooner or later anyway.
Ketrin was surprised to hear a quiet voice laughing in his head.
+You might as well take the credit for the rain,+ the voice told him. +After all, when you are a god you inevitably get blamed for all the bad things that happen, so why not accept responsibility for the good things by way of compensation? Anyway, in a couple of moons’ time they won’t be so grateful for the endless drenching.+
+And what about you?+ thought Ketrin. +Are you the real Lord Ral-ne-Sa?+
+Yes, my beloved wildling. I am the power that the villagers worship through you.+
+Well, then,+ thought Ketrin, +are you really a god, and what are the things that I should praise or blame you for?+
The voice chuckled, but without malice. +Very good, little no-fur brother. You show considerable insight. In answer to your first question, I am a mortal being, although extremely long-lived in human or lupinoid terms, but I do possess powers and attributes that humans would consider god-like.
+As to your second question, whether you praise or blame me for it is entirely up to you; but in a very real sense, I am the god of lupinoids. Every lupinoid that ever lived owes its existence to me.+
Ketrin had a sudden vision of Ral-ne-Sa as a huge, wise old lupinoid, reaching forward to lick his face like a father showing pride in his son’s first successful hunt.
+And for that reason, my wonderful, wild, human lupinoid,+ said the being known as Ral-ne-Sa, +so do you.+
+I don’t understand,+ thought Ketrin.
+Don’t you?+ thought Ral-ne-Sa. +Well, we have plenty of time for explanations.+
The huge lupinoid’s purple eyes bored into Ketrin’s, conveying such conviction that Ketrin could not help but believe when Ral-ne-Sa told him:
+Ketrin, I am your creator.+
November 2007 - December 2008
Just in case anyone didn’t spot the references
(I thought I made them blatanty obvious to aficionados),
this instalment is respectfully dedicated to the makers of...
...who tore my heart out and then gave it back, more or less intact.
(Give yourself a bonus point if this image is conjuring up a certain song in your head.)
Yes, I lied. The lesbian scene wasn’t cut. That was what I call a reliops (ie reverse spoiler). Actually you can thank Mavrida for the scene’s inclusion. Despite her initial reluctance, she later surprised me by insisting that it should be retained for reasons of ‘artistic validity’. So, not just because she wanted to have sex with a hot babe like Suvanji, then? Anyway, who am I to argue with a STAR?!
On a more serious note, I hope you didn’t find Lendrin’s descriptions of lupinoid-killing too violent or upsetting. They certainly upset me, in fact I was surprised at how much writing them affected me emotionally. I was weeping almost as hard as Lendrin all the way through that scene. (2014 addition: In retrospect I can see that the scene was cathartic for me and helped me get through a few personal issues.) I really hate cruelty and violence, but for the sake of Lendrin’s character development it was necessary to have him revisit his darkest hour. It might seem absurd to weep for a fictional animal, but if it stands for all the real animals that suffer needlessly because of human cruelty and neglect then unfortunately it’s not so crazy after all.
Actually “The Sad Man and the Wild Girl” didn’t exist at all until I started working out the plot of this instalment. All I knew was that Mavrida was going to find the girl, but then I had to work out where she came from and what she was doing when Mavrida met her, and then I realised she had to be under the paralysing spell, and then I thought about someone fondling her while she was paralysed.
Then I figured that that person had to be a hunter, because who else except another wildling would be in a position to find her, way out there in the forest? Then I had to figure out his attitude toward lupinoids - most of the hunters in this part of the forest have been ordered to kill lupinoids, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily have to like doing it. And so the plot just snowballed until I discovered that I’d written an astonishing 8,500 words about Mavrida, Lendrin, Suvanji and Nipper that weren’t in the original outline.
Anyway, I sincerely hope you enjoyed this story, because writing it has been a real challenge for me.
Until next time...
In Our Next Implausible Instalment:
The secret origin of the lupinoids (maybe)
and other astonishing revelations!
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