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As I’ve mentioned in previous Peri-feral Thoughts, I’d been writing this story in patches since September of 1999, desperately hoping that I’d be able to stitch them together into some kind of coherent whole. Because of this, some of the earliest-written material occurs much later in the story, but this instalment was mostly new stuff. I left a gaping plot hole in the original composition, intending to somehow fill it in later. Unfortunately the difficulties (real or imagined) that I faced in filling in that plot hole caused a hideous delay in completing Part Four.
Because of the haphazard way these plot threads were stitched together Part Three originally had a hole of its own near the end, where the narrative skipped two entire days, because I was in a hurry to finish it. And yet those were two of the most important days in Ketrin’s life; the days when he and Sherinel and Mavrida had to plan their strategies for defeating Borvinn. I finally added the relevant scenes over a year later. Under the new chaptering scheme they are now now titled “Searching for Allies” and “Persuasion” Parts I and II respectively.
Previous introductions have established that our eponymous hero Ketrin, raised in the jungle by lupinoids - wolflike but with attitude - is strongly influenced by Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli (once again I am forced to reiterate: NOT the Disney version! There are no dancing bears here, thank you very much!).
These are not furry TF stories, since Ketrin never actually turns into a lupinoid. And yet in a very real sense he’s been there and done the whole transformation thing, because he has a telepathic link with his lupinoids. That means that when he wants to, he can experience everything - and I do mean everything - that his furry brothers see, hear, smell, touch and taste (“and they’ve got one, two, three, four, five, senses working overtime...”). He knows exactly what it’s like to be a lupinoid. It’s figuring out what it’s like to be a human that he often has problems with.
Now a word about this instalment’s plot. [Yes, there is a plot!]
I’ve noticed that most adventure heroes don’t seem to suffer from common ailments. When did you ever see James Bond with the ’flu, or Indiana Jones with a sprained ankle? Unfortunately for Ketrin, things aren’t quite that simple where he comes from. He’s lived with the lupinoids all his life, which means he hasn’t been in contact with his fellow(?) humans, and now that he’s returned to the village several trillion common human-loving viruses and bacteria that he has never developed immunity to are just dying to make his acquaintance. Oh, dear. In other words, he’s about to find out how a Martian feels. (Now that I come to think of it, isn’t it strange that this didn’t happen to Mowgli as well...?)
This story takes place several hundred light years from Earth in about AD 3501,
give or take a century or three and a few moons....
You can take the boy out of the jungle, but you can’t take the jungle out of the boy.
“My dog’s got no nose.”
“Your dog’s got no nose? How does he smell?”
--Traditional, probably 19th Century Earth
Far to the west, in a desolate mountain range, a tree was blown down in a storm. That in itself was nothing unusual, except for one thing. A small object had fallen near the tree and been buried many years before, and had become entangled in the tree’s growing roots. When the tree fell its roots and the object within them were once more exposed to the air.
Some days later, when the weather had brightened a little, a small bird flying over the spot was attracted by a flash of blue. It was a male plumebird, instinctively driven, like all males of his kind, to investigate any sudden reflections.
To attract mates, male plumebirds danced in cleared circles on the forest floor, displaying the spectacular feathered plumes that gave their species its name, and showing off whatever shiny trinkets they had managed to collect. Females seemed especially fond of blue objects, and so the males’ dance areas were littered with blue berries, blue buttons, blue insect carapaces, blue feathers shed by other bird species, scraps of blue cloth, and even occasional items of blue jewellery.
To the plumebird flying over the fallen tree, the shimmering blue crystal lying amid the exposed roots was a treasure beyond price, and it snatched it up eagerly before any rival bird could get its grasping talons on it.
In a nearby cave, sealed in forever by fallen rocks, two more of the blue crystals provided the only illumination for a strange scene. Two naked men, their faces contorted with hatred and given macabre aspect by the blue radiance, stood like statues, unable to move. Their hands firmly and painfully grasped each other’s erections, which were huge and permanent. The crystals were no longer under their control, and they were condemned to remain paralysed in this humiliating position forever. Each man was doomed to stare into the eyes of his enemy for eternity, unless some miracle should set them free.
The jewels’ immobilising influence had in fact become so great that even small creatures that ventured into the cave had become trapped by it. The two human statues were surrounded by hundreds of frozen insects and rodents.
These were indeed the two paralysed men of whom the old sorcerer had spoken to Borvinn. He had told Borvinn the truth, more or less, about how he had come to acquire the crystals. Many years before he had discovered the two men, who had already spent decades in their statuelike condition. Nearby he had found the cache of paralysing crystals over which they had been fighting. Far from attempting to set them free, he had repeatedly raped them for days on end, taking great delight in his ability to take advantage of their helplessness. Then, when hunger and thirst finally forced him to depart, he had posed them in their undignified tableau, stolen the crystals and sealed them in their cave forever.
The sorcerer often looked back on the incident with great satisfaction, chuckling with evil glee as he thought of the two men and their fate. The crystals he had stolen from them had helped him to set himself up in his position of power. The sorcerous knowledge he had acquired since that time had given him almost godlike perceptions.
Yet the old man was perhaps not quite as omniscient as he liked his clients to think. If he were, then how could he have managed to drop one of the crystals without ever noticing that it was missing?
And now that crystal was at large once more, in the claws of a small bird that could never have guessed the enormous potential of what it was carrying.
Borvinn and the Sorcerer
Same Old Witchcraft
At that moment an almost identical crystal was the focus of Borvinn’s concern as he sat within the darkness of the sorcerer’s hut.
“The last spell was a pathetic failure,” he told the sorcerer. “I don’t see why I should have to pay full price for the new one as well.”
“Your attempt to paralyse Ketrin failed because you neglected to guard your back, not because of any flaw in the spell itself,” the old man growled, pointing a bony finger accusingly at Borvinn. “In any case, you still have the crystal and can use it again at any time, so you can hardly claim to have exhausted its value.”
“The spell’s not much good if the boy won’t wear the damned knife,” said Borvinn.
The old man sighed wearily. “Strictly speaking, that is not my concern,” he said, “but were I inclined to give advice, I might suggest that you manoeuvre him into a situation where he has to wear the knife. You might, for instance, order him to take defensive training for guard duty.”
“Wouldn’t guard training be a bit too public?” demanded Borvinn.
The bundle of rags that housed the sorcerer’s slight frame heaved with another sigh. “It was merely an example, Borvinn. I am not a counsellor, and nor did you come here to waste my time with your quibbling, much as you would undoubtedly like to... were I a more tolerant man.”
The sorcerer’s body was suddenly silhouetted by a lurid green glow. As a display of power it was quite impressive. Borvinn told himself that it was just a trick, but he had a sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t.
The old man leant forward. “You want something more from me, Borvinn. Something that will weaken Ketrin, perhaps, so that he is unable to protect his friends from you.”
Borvinn merely nodded. Although the chief hunter considered the old man’s prices exorbitant, the sorcerer knew that Borvinn would ultimately pay any price to possess the wild boy, and Borvinn knew that he knew it.
The sorcerer grinned, displaying a horrifying array of decayed fangs. (It occurred to Borvinn to wonder why the sorcerer could not use his powers to fix his rotten teeth, and the rest of his rotten body for that matter.) “Good,” the old man purred. “I believe I have something that will serve you very well.”
The grin widened to encompass two sets of nauseatingly rotten gums, as the sorcerer named his price.
Borvinn and the Hunters
At War with Nature
Some days later Borvinn called the men of the village together for an announcement.
“A few nights ago,” he began, “thanks to the courage and diligence of our young guardsman Sherinel here...”
This remark met with some laughter and sneers of derision, which both Borvinn and Sherinel studiously ignored - for differing reasons.
“...our village was saved from an attack by wild lupinoids. Oh, yes, I know that some of us, myself included, have seen fit to question Sherinel’s bravery in the past, but now I have conclusive proof that we were mistaken.” So saying, Borvinn held high the spear that was caked with dried bush-hog blood.
Ketrin and Sherinel exchanged surreptitious, worried glances. It seemed that Ketrin’s plan to make Sherinel look heroic had gone somewhat awry.
“Despite being confronted with a fully-grown lupinoid, our brave guard managed to stab the beast. By some miracle -” here he shot knowing glances at both Sherinel and Ketrin “- Sherinel was able to recover his spear without injury. Unfortunately the beast did not leave a blood-trail for us to follow - which is a little surprising, given the amount of blood on the spear - but I have no doubt that it has gone off to lick its wounds and bide its time for the next attack, possibly bringing others of its kind with it. ”
Borvinn paused for effect.
“If there is one thing I have learned of these beasts -” said Borvinn, favouring Ketrin with another meaningful stare “- it is that they are extremely cunning, and we must be twice as cunning in order to defeat them.”
Then I must be three times as cunning in order to defeat you, thought Ketrin, keeping his face impassive for Borvinn’s benefit.
“And so,” continued Borvinn, “ten days from now the men of this village, under my command, will hunt down and destroy every last one of those beasts that we can find within a day’s march of the village. It is my hope that the men of neighbouring villages may be persuaded to join us in this noble enterprise. Why, with their help we might even succeed in eradicating the unclean creatures from our forests altogether!”
This was met with a cheer from all - except Ketrin and Sherinel.
Deep within the forest, Silverpaw and Shadow received a mental warning from Ketrin, ordering them to flee at once. Though they were unhappy about leaving their brother in potential danger, they knew they could not face the wrath of an entire village.
It seemed that the long-dreaded war with the humans might be starting even sooner than the lupinoids had feared, unless their two-legged brother could do something to prevent it.
Ketrin’s brothers raced off to warn the pack. But conflict with humans was not the only danger that threatened. As the lupinoids sped away from the village they caught the unmistakable scent that told them a striagon had established its hunting territory nearby.
As it happened, Borvinn was also aware of the striagon’s presence. It was all part of the plan he had worked out with the sorcerer.
No Diplomatic Immunity
That evening Ketrin went home with a headache. He thought it was merely caused by anxiety, but the next morning he woke hot and feverish, with a blinding migraine and nausea and aching muscles. As if that were not enough, his skin was covered with red blotches that itched horribly.
“What is it?” he asked Mavrida. “Is this more of Borvinn’s sorcery, or have I eaten some poison?”
“Neither, son,” she told him. “You have stipple.”
“It is a common children’s disease. Almost all children get it by the time they are ten. A few die, but most recover after a tenday or so, and once they do they can’t catch it again. I never thought you would get it because you’re older, but of course you have never been exposed to it.”
She sighed. “I should have realised that you would be vulnerable to common diseases. It’s my fault for not warning you, though I don’t suppose I could have prevented it. They do say that those who have had the illness can pass it on to those who have not for years afterward. You could have caught it from any of us. The only real surprise is that you didn’t get it sooner.”
“I need to throw up,” said Ketrin, and so, although he had not yet dressed, Mavrida led him outside.
When they emerged into the morning light, Ketrin cried out and covered his eyes.
“Oh,” said Mavrida. “I’m sorry, Ketrin. I forgot that stipple affects the eyes as well. You’d better keep them covered while I lead you to the midden.”
Ketrin allowed Mavrida to lead him blindly to the midden, where he spent several moments heaving painfully, heedless of the fact that passers-by could see him naked and in a weakened condition.
“I will take you back to the house,” said Mavrida. “I think I have some salve that will make your sores less painful. Then you can lie down in the shade while I go and get some medicine.”
“But how can I join Borvinn’s hunt now?” Ketrin complained. “I’m as good as blind in sunlight, and even if I could see I wouldn’t have the strength to run or throw a spear.”
“Ketrin, how can you even think about hunting at a time like this?” protested Mavrida. “Besides, you know very well that Borvinn is only setting a trap for you, so he can kill you the way...the way he killed Ruthyar. You are better off staying home.”
Ketrin sighed. “He doesn’t want to kill me, mother. He wants to kill my lupinoid brothers so they can’t protect me, and then enslave me, to make me his...his...what is the word? Varlet.”
The word had well-known sexual connotations. Mavrida was appalled.
Ketrin continued: “He already tried once before. He used some sorcery on me so that I could not move, but Sherinel saved me. I think Borvinn knows it was Sherinel and wants to kill him for it. And then, once he has me in his power, Borvinn will try to force you to tell him where Ruthyar’s gold is hidden. Then he will find the gold of the lost city as well. I won’t be able to prevent him from making me tell him, not if his sorcery is as powerful as I think it is.”
This was a good deal for Mavrida to take in at once. After fetching some medicinal tea for Ketrin she found the jar of salve and carefully applied it to his sores, grateful for once that he wasn’t embarrassed at being naked. Then she sat and considered the situation, while he lay quietly on his bed and tried to ignore his considerable discomforts.
Ketrin could at least take some consolation from the fact that he was not alone. Stipple was a common, highly infectious children’s ailment, but outbreaks were sporadic and it had been almost eight years since the last, which meant that all of the village children born since that time were susceptible.
Sure enough, within two days almost all the children in the village were affected. The price of salves and medicines rocketed as supplies dwindled. The disease was seldom fatal, although one or two small children became seriously ill with respiratory complications. For most of the victims, as well as their long-suffering parents, it was just a thoroughly miserable time.
Borvinn and his cohorts spent that time spreading rumours throughout the village, suggesting that Ketrin was responsible for bringing the disease.
(There was a small grain of truth in that, since the virus only became fully active once it encountered a host who lacked immunity, and this time that host just happened to be Ketrin.)
Even worse, they began to hint that Mavrida’s relationship with her handsome, wild young son might not be entirely maternal.
When, after a few days, the sickest children began to recover, Borvinn was actually disappointed. That said a great deal about his moral values, and it was unfortunate that most of the villagers remained unaware of his true feelings.
Borvinn had wished for at least one child to die, because then he would have been able to blame that death upon Ketrin for spreading the disease. That was all that an innocent life would have meant to him.
Ketrin and Sherinel
The Feral Child and His Brothers
On the seventh evening after the outbreak began Sherinel, who had drawn guard duty once more, heard footsteps approaching. He was afraid that it might be a surprise inspection by Borvinn, but instead he was surprised to see Ketrin approaching, somewhat shakily. The wildling was naked, but was clearly in no condition for sex.
“You have had stipple already, I suppose,” he said, somewhat hoarsely, “so it’s safe for me to be here.”
“Yes, I’ve had it, but what are you doing here?” demanded Sherinel. “You’re supposed to be recuperating. You look as if you can barely stand up. You sneaked away while Mavrida was asleep, didn’t you? If she wakes up and finds you gone she’ll be worried sick. She’ll think you became delirious and wandered off into the jungle.”
Ketrin gave a weak smile.“She won’t wake up for a while,” he said. “She gave me some powder to help me sleep, and while she was not looking I slipped some into her drink.”
“Very clever,” muttered Sherinel. “That’s almost devious enough for Borvinn. Your mind is obviously all right, I just wish I could say the same for your body.”
“I will be all right,” Ketrin insisted. “I am tired, that’s all. I can’t let this illness stop me joining Borvinn’s hunting party.”
“Hunting?” Sherinel protested. “How can you even think about hunting in your condition?”
Ketrin laughed wanly. “That is just what Mavrida said.”
“Well, you should listen to her. Just look at yourself! You still feel dizzy, right? I can tell by the way you’re wobbling on your feet. Your sores haven’t healed yet, and you’re still squinting. If you’re squinting this badly by moonslight, you’re sure to be blinded by daylight. And even if you could hunt, what good would it do if you kept throwing up every twenty paces? Come on, Ketrin, I know you’re the tough wild man, the naked god of the jungle, but even jungle gods aren’t invulnerable. Now will you please sit down before you fall down?”
“I have suffered worse than this,” Ketrin insisted - although, to Sherinel’s relief, he did finally sit down.
“About six rains ago,” Ketrin went on, “I ate some poisonous berries by mistake. I was feverish and nauseous, in terrible pain and too weak to move. I think I came very close to death that time.
“There must have been striagons about, and lupinoids from rival packs, yet my brothers were prepared to defend me at all costs even though I might be dying. They even brought me water, carried in their mouths, and when I slowly regained my appetite they brought me fresh meat. I will always love them for that. I don’t think there are many creatures in the forest that would show such care and devotion to their sick or wounded.”
“Well, some humans do,” muttered Sherinel. “Most of us, I’d hope. Six rains ago? You would only have been eleven or twelve at the time. Gods, Ketrin, I still can’t imagine what growing up in the jungle must have been like for you.”
“It wasn’t so very bad,” said Ketrin. “The jungle can be beautiful and exciting as well as dangerous and frightening, and I experienced all of those things.”
While Ketrin spoke, Sherinel heard a faint rustling in the bushes. He did not turn to look. Beautiful as well as frightening, he thought.
When, presently, two shadowy figures padded quietly past him and moved to sit beside Ketrin, Sherinel managed to scarcely flinch. Ketrin meanwhile continued to speak.
“When my fever finally broke and I knew that I would live, my joy was beyond words - not that I knew any words at the time, but you know what I mean. I had never felt so alive, even though my body was still weak. I felt that if I could survive such pain and sickness I could survive anything.”
Ketrin laughed. “Of course, I didn’t feel that way for long - nobody can survive in the forest if he thinks he is immortal! - but as soon as I was strong enough I stood upright, filled my lungs and howled with joy for simply being alive. And my brothers -” here Ketrin laid an arm across each of the newly-arrived lupinoids’ broad necks “- howled with me until I felt dizzy again and had to stop.
“I remember that Silvermoon was alone in the sky that night, and I spent a long time just staring up at it. Looking at that moon has always stirred yearnings in me that I could not put a name to, even now. It’s strange, Goldmoon doesn’t do that. Goldmoon is beautiful, of course, but there is something different about Silvermoon. Don’t you think so?”
Sherinel was confused. “I...I don’t know, really. I suppose...Ketrin, why are you talking about the moons right now? What do they have to do with anything?”
Ketrin laughed wanly. “I have had nothing to do for the last few days but lie abed and think,” he said. “My mind has been wandering a lot. Maybe the medicines Mavrida gave me were responsible. And yet, I think the moons do tell us something. Something about the place humans came from before this world, maybe. Sherinel, suppose our human ancestors came from a place that had only one moon. A silver moon. Then when they came here, this world’s Silvermoon would always remind them of their old home, in a way that its Goldmoon never could. I think that’s why what men call ‘one moon’ is the time it takes Silvermoon to go from new to new, and not Goldmoon.”
Sherinel thought about this. “Well, maybe that’s true,” he conceded. “It is kind of odd that people only feel nostalgic when they’re looking at Silvermoon. But I don’t suppose we’ll ever find out where humans came from originally, so there’s no proof one way or another.”
“Maybe not,” said Ketrin, and would have said more if he had not suddenly been overtaken by a fit of coughing. The lupinoids moved aside as Sherinel went to Ketrin’s side and held him until the spasm passed.
“I’ll be all right,” Ketrin insisted.
“You’re not fooling anyone, least of all your brothers,” said Sherinel.
“I will be all right,” Ketrin repeated. “If I could survive being poisoned when I was twelve, then I can certainly survive a little fever like this one. And when Borvinn sets out on his hunt three mornings from now, I will be amongst his company. I have to be there to try and protect you if I can.”
“You think Borvinn will kill me?” said Sherinel.
“Yes, just as he killed my father. I don’t know how he did it, but I have no doubt that he manoeuvred the striagon into killing him. If he could do it then, he can do it again now. I should tell you that the lupinoids have scented a striagon near the village. A big male, as far as they can tell.”
Sherinel looked nervously out of the gate, but nothing could be seen in the darkness.
Ketrin continued: “Once Borvinn has killed you he will try to kill my brothers and enslave me and Mavrida, so that he can get his hands on...on our bodies.”
For a moment Ketrin had seemed about to say something else. Sherinel was puzzled. It was unlike the wildling to be evasive.
“I could almost believe that Borvinn sent this illness to try and stop me,” said Ketrin. “If he has the power to paralyse me, who knows what other sorcery he might possess as well?”
Ketrin paused for a moment.
“There is another thing. The lupinoid memories tell me that striagons were not always as they are now. In the time of my brothers’ fathers’ fathers, the striagons would seldom attack a man or a lupinoid. Striagons and lupinoids respected each other as hunters and mostly kept out of each others’ way.
“Then - the lupinoids can’t count time, but as far as I can tell it was about forty years ago - something happened to the striagons. They became much more violent and aggressive, and started attacking lupinoids without reason or warning. Some lupinoids tried to fight back, but it takes at least two of them to defeat one striagon, so nowadays they just try to avoid them altogether. And of course the striagons also began attacking human villages. That is why the humans hate and fear all wild beasts now, including lupinoids.”
“I don’t understand,” muttered Sherinel. “What could make a hunting animal change its behaviour? It’s almost as if someone wanted the striagons to become more vicious, almost like they were being used as a...as a weapon or something.”
“As if they were being controlled by sorcery,” said Ketrin.
“Sorcery!” cried Sherinel. “Borvinn again? No, wait...it couldn’t have been him, not if it started forty years ago. He’s not nearly old enough.”
“So it’s not just Borvinn. If it was just one man we were up against we might have had a chance, but if there are more, if they’ve been spreading evil and chaos for decades...how could we ever hope to fight anyone as powerful as that?”
“And yet we must try,” Ketrin said. “If we do not, who will?”
“Few of the other villagers, that’s for sure,” said Sherinel with a sigh. “Just because you work hard for some of them and fuck hard for others, that doesn’t mean they feel any loyalty to you. Some of them are just too afraid of Borvinn, but most are only too willing to believe the filthy lies Borvinn and his friends have been spreading about you and Mavrida.”
“That’s something the lupinoids have never understood about humans,” said Ketrin. “How they can pretend to like each other and yet feel no bonds of loyalty. Lupinoids never abandon each other - until they become too old and weak to survive, that is.”
“And suppose you’re still too weak to survive the hunt? Then what?”
“If Borvinn kills or enslaves me my brothers will kill him, or die trying,” Ketrin replied, rising to his feet, “but if that happens, there might never be a chance to stop the conflict between the village and the forest. That is why I have to attend the hunt, whatever happens. No matter how weak I may feel, I must make myself strong, for the sake of what is to come.”
But in spite of his words, the exertion of merely standing up seemed to exhaust him, and he had to bend double with his hands on his knees, gasping for breath.
The lupinoids stared at their brother with expressions that were as always unreadable, but Sherinel was willing to lay odds that they were worried about him.
“If you really want to recover your strength then go home,” Sherinel commanded. “Just rest. No exertion at all, otherwise you’ll be no use to me or these two. Now go.”
Ketrin sighed and nodded and staggered back through the bushes in the direction of Mavrida’s house. Sherinel, Silverpaw and Shadow watched his retreating buttocks. Then Sherinel sat down with a sigh.
It took him a moment to realise that he was sitting between two fully-grown lupinoids, and for the first time Ketrin was not there to control them. He watched nervously as Shadow moved toward him, trying not to stare at the carnivore’s impressive jaws...and then recoiled as Shadow’s tongue rasped across his cheek.
Laughing and spluttering, Sherinel fell backward, only to find himself engaged in a flurry of shoving and buffeting. There was also some snarling and snapping involved, but he realised that it was intended partly as a game and partly as a test of strength. He guessed that he had passed the test when, bruised and nipped all over, he was finally allowed to collapse. The lupinoids sat beside him and insisted on licking his face again.
“I suppose you two realise I’m supposed to be protecting the village from you, laughed Sherinel. “Just as well, too. Most of them could never keep up with you. Gods, look at me!” he said, examining his arms and legs. “How am I going to explain all this to Borvinn? Oh - I know. I’ll tell him I was chasing you from the village and stumbled into a thornbush. What do you think? Does that sound convincing?”
The lupinoids did not (of course) reply, but suffered Sherinel to sit with his arms across their backs, sharing each other’s warmth and comfort, while the moons drifted across the sky.
“I’m worried about him too,” sighed Sherinel.
Searching for Allies - I
Over the course of the next few days Sherinel spent some time talking to the other hunters in an attempt to discover their true feelings about Ketrin. He hoped he could do so without arousing Borvinn’s suspicions, but that was probably a forlorn hope. Borvinn would be suspicious of him whatever he did, so what difference would it make?
It was clear from his enquiries that many of the men distrusted Ketrin and would be quite happy to see him carried off by a striagon. One of the first hunters he talked to was Korven, whose attitude seemed fairly typical:
“It was fate that Ruthyar got took like that,” he insisted. “Mavrida should’ve just accepted it and married Borvinn. She could of had respect and authority within the village community, but ’stead she just rejects him and goes and lives on her own. Ain’t natural, a healthy young woman like her turning her back on men’s company. And then this young ruffian turns up outta nowhere, and suddenly she’s all over him, saying he’s her long-lost son. Something funny going on there, if you ast me. I mean, she’s a single woman, hasn’t had a man for years, and then this naked hunk appears...makes you think, don’t it?”
To have agreed outright would have looked like a suspicious change of heart, so Sherinel cultivated what he hoped was a look of healthy scepticism as Korven continued: “Nah, that boy’s an embarrassment to the village. Maybe we’d be better off if a striagon did get him.”
“A striagon nearly got you,” Sherinel reminded him, “and it was Ketrin’s father who saved you.”
But now it was Korven’s turn to remind Sherinel: “We don’t know that Ruthyar was his father. For all we know, it was the real Ketrin what got etten by the striagon when he was a baby, and this wild’un is just an impostor that stole that jewelled knife and run away from the law somewhere. I reckon all that stuff about not being able to talk proper or understand human ways was just a clever bit of play-acting.”
Well, at any rate, he now talks more proper than what you does, thought Sherinel.
Korven of course had no idea that Ketrin was able to communicate mentally with lupinoids, which was something that no impostor could ever do.
“Oh, of course I’m grateful to Ruthyar for saving my life, and I’m sorry the striagon got him, but this boy what calls himself Ketrin is no more his son than you are, and if he was alive today he’d have saw through him long ago.”
Sherinel said, “Do you...do you think that might count against Ketrin in the hunt?”
Korven gave a strange smile.
“Well, lad, I believe Borvinn’ll give him every opportunity to...test his hunting skills to the limit,” he said.
Sherinel didn’t need to be a genius to realise what that meant.
So, he thought, at some point during the hunt Borvinn and his cronies will spirit Ketrin away from the other hunters. They’ll claim he got lost or killed, but in fact he’ll be paralysed. Borvinn will hide him somewhere until after the hunt...somewhere the striagons won’t find his warm, fresh body...and then there’ll be nobody to prevent the hunters from killing all the lupinoids.
Nobody but me, that is...and how long can I hope to escape pursuit?
If I were a betting man, I certainly wouldn’t put money on me....
With a heavy heart Sherinel made his excuses and left.
Ketrin and Mavrida
Persuasion - I
At the same time that Sherinel was trying to find allies, Ketrin was doing all he could to persuade Mavrida to leave the village. He was sitting in bed, weak and fatigued. His head ached so badly he could barely think straight, even if he had not been itching from head to foot, but he knew that for Mavrida’s sake he could not yet afford to sleep.
“You have to leave, Mavrida,” he insisted. “It’s just not safe for you here anymore.”
“But Ketrin,” she protested, “this is my home. This is where I spent those three short years with Ruthyar. It holds too many memories for me. How can I ever leave it?”
“Mavrida...mother,” said Ketrin, “if you do not leave now, Borvinn will come for you. You know he wants Ruthyar’s gold and there is no telling what he might do to get it from you. We’ve only known each other a little while, but you have been good to me, Mavrida, and I don’t want you harmed.”
Mavrida sighed. “Ketrin, are you certain that he means to enslave you?” she asked.
“Yes, Mavrida, I am certain. We have been over this time and again. Time is running out, and we are growing short of friends, mother. I have heard what the other women are whispering about you and me, and most of the other men in the village have taken Borvinn’s side, even the ones that I...befriended.”
Mavrida did not need to ask what he meant by “befriended”. With the sole exception of Sherinel, it seemed that none of those who had shown him that kind of “friendship” were prepared to give him any genuinely friendly support when he needed it.
“And there is more, mother. Borvinn has an ally, perhaps more than one. He used some kind of sorcery to try and paralyse me, and I’m sure he also used sorcery to give me stipple so I’d be unfit to defend myself during the hunt.”
For a moment he was overtaken by a fit of coughing, but waved away Mavrida’s gesture of help and proceeded:
“I don’t know who Borvinn got his spells from, mother, but whoever it is must be very powerful and dangerous. I believe the person behind Borvinn’s sorcery may have deliberately maddened the striagons so they would attack humans and their livestock, to make humans hate the jungle instead of trying to understand it.”
Having finally managed to tell Mavrida everything he knew, Ketrin slumped back in exhaustion, leaving Mavrida to consider their mutual dilemma.
Searching for Allies - II
Later that same day, Sherinel called upon his part-namesake Sharavel, who proved more sympathetic than Korven had been. The similarity in their names was no coincidence. Sherinel’s late father had been a friend of Sharavel, or possibly his lover - Sherinel did not think it prudent to ask - and had decided to base his son’s name on his friend’s.
For a moment Sherinel was lost in reverie. If only his father were still alive, he might have protected him from Borvinn’s abuse. But there was no help for that. With a sigh, he forced himself to concentrate on the present.
“Whatever happened to you, lad?” Sharavel asked, seeing Sherinel’s cuts and bruises. “You look like you’ve just been wrestling a pair of wild lupinoids.”
Although intended as an offhand remark, that was uncannily accurate, and Sherinel found himself wondering if Sharavel had some kind of clairvoyance. With all the sorcery that was flying around the village lately it wouldn’t have surprised him. So he laughed nervously and repeated his story about falling into a thorn bush while chasing the lupinoids away. If the older man was sceptical he didn’t show it.
“So, what brings you here, Sherinel? Looking for advice about the hunt?”
“Among other things. Sharavel, do you trust Borvinn?”
Sharavel seemed taken aback by the question. Nervously he glanced around his small house, as if he thought Borvinn might be listening at the door. “I...I’m not sure what you mean, lad,” he muttered. “Borvinn is chief hunter. It’s thanks to him that we have enough meat to eat, and don’t get eaten ourselves by wild animals.”
Sherinel could tell from the tone of his voice that Sharavel did suspect Borvinn or his friends of listening, but there was no help for it. Sherinel had to know Sharavel’s mind.
“Sharavel,” he said, “you were a friend of Ruthyar’s, weren’t you?”
“Of course. He gave his life to save mine. I’ll never forget that. When he died, it was like a part of me went with him too.”
“What about Ketrin?” said Sherinel. “Do you believe he’s really Ruthyar’s son?”
“Well, now...I’d like to think so. I mean, there’s something a bit strange and wild about him...something almost supernatural, you might say. There are times when I don’t understand him at all, when he almost seems to be a lupinoid that walks upright rather than a man. And yet, for all that...this village has done all right by him, hasn’t it? He’s a good hunter, hard-working, doesn’t get drunk - apart from that one time, I guess that taught him a lesson...doesn’t get into needless fights or beat up the younger boys. And I don’t know exactly why, but I feel like he’s trustworthy, that if I needed to I could place my life in his hands. Just like I could with Ruthyar. Maybe that’s some instinct in me telling me he is Ruthyar’s son, and because of that I should trust him. And I do. I guess, strange as he is, I even like him. There it is.”
Sherinel took a deep breath. He had to tell Sharavel his suspicions sooner or later, and if Borvinn’s cronies were listening...well, what could they do to him that was worse than they already had in mind?
He’d rather not find out if he could avoid it.
Sherinel couldn’t think of any subtle way to lead up to what he had to say, so he just came straight out with it at a run, not allowing Sharavel a word between the cracks..
“Sharavel...Borvinn wants to kill me and enslave Ketrin and Mavrida. He has some kind of spell that can paralyse people, freeze them like dolls - he actually tried to use it on Ketrin after he attended the men’s circle, but I sneaked up and knocked him out and set Ketrin free. I don’t suppose Borvinn ever told anyone that - too humiliating for him - but I’m sure he knows it was me. He wants to kill all the lupinoids because they’re Ketrin’s allies. Oh, yes, I know everyone thinks that lupinoids are mindless killing beasts, but Ketrin has actually allowed me to befriend the two he calls brothers. It’s true that they’re fierce and ruthlessly efficient hunters, but the truth is they never attack humans in cold blood and they don’t deserve to be exterminated. Anyway, Ketrin says that if the lupinoids are killed other carnivores will move in to take over their hunting grounds, things like striagons, or maybe worse. And striagons really do kill humans for fun. I mean, you’ve heard the old saying - ‘What animal has four legs and an arm? - A striagon that’s just bitten your arm off’.”
At that point Sherinel had to pause for breath, giving Sharavel a chance to jump in.
“Now look, Sherinel, if what you say is true, then what chance do any of us stand of thwarting Borvinn’s plans? I mean, suppose he uses this spell of his to paralyse us and then sets a striagon on us?”
“Sharavel,” replied Sherinel, “do you know why criminals think they can get away with their crimes?”
“Because they usually do get away with them, that’s why! If you ask me, it’s about time someone taught people like Borvinn that they can’t get away with it any more. We may only have a slim chance but it’s better than none. If there are others in the hunting party that you can trust you have to get them on our side so that together we can divert the others and get Ketrin out of danger.”
“It’s not going to be easy, lad, not even if Borvinn doesn’t try to bewitch us all.”
“No, it won’t. It certainly won’t be easy to persuade the men to give up the bounty on lupinoid pelts. But we can’t just let them be slaughtered like vermin. Most of the villagers don’t realise it, but lupinoids could turn out to be the greatest protectors and allies they’ll ever have!”
Ketrin and Mavrida
Persuasion - II
The next day Ketrin said he felt stronger, and his blemishes had begun to fade, but Mavrida couldn’t help noticing that he seemed more tired than she was, and she cast a suspicious glance at her jar of sleeping powder.
At least she had had a chance to sleep on things, and had reached a decision.
“Ketrin,” she said, “I wish there were some other way, but I realise you’re right. There is no safety here for either of us. I must leave the village. I just wish I could take you too. Are you sure you can’t come with me?”
“You know I can’t, Mavrida. I cannot leave Sherinel at Borvinn’s mercy.”
“I would take him too if I could,” she said. “The gods know I’ve thought about it often enough. The three of us could settle in a new village. We could tell everyone you are both my sons.”
Ketrin smiled at the idea. “I know Sherinel would be proud to have you for a mother,” he said, “but sooner or later Borvinn and his allies would find us, and accuse us before our new hosts of some crime or other. It would only be our words against his.”
Mavrida completed the thought: “Two men scarcely more than boys, one of them a neglectful guard, the other a wild stranger with a doubtful past; and a widowed woman who stubbornly refuses to remarry. The three of us are hardly credible witnesses against the highly respected chief hunter of a village, are we?”
“When you put it so, I can’t think why we haven’t all been arrested already,” Ketrin grinned.
Then he became serious once more.
“No, mother. You must leave without us and let us try to deal with Borvinn so he won’t be a threat any more.”
“Will you kill him?” she whispered.
“If he forces me to,” said Ketrin. “Quickly and cleanly, which is more mercy than he deserves. But if he really is protected by sorcery, and has hidden allies, it will not be easy to defeat him one way or another.”
“And you are already weak,” she said.
“I must be strong enough. I will make myself strong enough, if only by the strength of my determination. I must save Sherinel, and the lupinoids, or die trying.”
“Oh, my son, please don’t say that.”
“We cannot ignore the danger, mother. We are up against powerful people, and if we falter we will fail. I am afraid to confront Borvinn, but I am even more afraid of what he might do if I don’t.”
Ketrin and Sherinel
It was the night before the hunt. Sherinel had drawn first watch, ending at midnight, which would give him a little time to sleep before morning. Not long after sunset he heard footsteps, and when he turned to look he was not entirely surprised to see Ketrin approaching.
After they had embraced and exchanged greetings Sherinel told Ketrin: “I’ve been speaking to Sharavel and he has agreed to try and help us if he can.”
“Good,” said Ketrin. “Even one new ally is better than none, even if he just provides a distraction. Meanwhile, I have persuaded Mavrida to leave tonight. Before dawn she will slip away and make her way to her sister’s village. I have asked two of the lupinoids to accompany her and see that no one tries to stop her.”
“I’m glad,” said Sherinel. “At least she’ll be safe.”
But while he was pleased for Mavrida, he could not keep his eyes - or his mind - off of Ketrin’s moonlit body. The wildling was naked again, but this time he quite evidently was fit for lovemaking.
“And I’m glad it looks like you’ve got your strength back,” Sherinel grinned.
By way of an answer, Ketrin wordlessly slipped his arms around Sherinel’s waist and unfastened his waistcloth. Before the garment had reached his ankles he was almost fully aroused, and Ketrin’s fingers had closed about his thickening shaft.
“Ketrin” he breathed, “I’ve been thinking about Borvinn’s spell. I can’t help imagining what it would be like if I couldn’t move while someone did whatever he wanted to me.”
“I have no sorcery to keep you from moving,” Ketrin whispered, as his hands slowly kneaded Sherinel’s quivering manhood.
“Oh, but I think you do,” muttered Sherinel. “Tonight I will be your statue, Ketrin, your doll. Use me however you choose, and remember that I can not move or cry out no matter what happens.”
As a former victim of Borvinn’s paralysing spell Ketrin might have been expected to object to this idea, but in fact he was powerfully aroused by it. And so, after bringing himself and Sherinel to swift and almost simultaneous orgasms by hand (Sherinel had to use all his willpower to avoid moaning aloud and losing the game there and then) Ketrin gently lowered Sherinel’s pliant body into a crouching position and spread his legs.
This was what Borvinn had tried to do to Ketrin, but of course Ketrin had been genuinely helpless and unwilling. This was what Sherinel wanted. The guard almost cried out again as Ketrin’s impressive phallus sheathed itself in his anus, and for the next hour he fought vainly for control as his ecstasy slowly grew. He wanted to writhe and moan aloud, and had to keep reminding himself to remain mute and immobile.
When at last his sensations blossomed into the most profound, joyous and beautiful sensation he had ever known he could control himself no longer but gave voice to a resounding howl of joy. And he was not alone: Ketrin was howling with him, and in the distance could be heard the full-throated cry of an entire pack of lupinoids.
The villagers, hearing the eerie cries, huddled in their beds and prayed that the coming hunt would spare them from the threat of wild beasts (and wild boys) forever.
The climax, and the howl, seemed to last for hours, and when it finally ended Sherinel collapsed and lay spent with Ketrin lying across him.
“That was the completion of my life,” breathed Sherinel. “You are a god. What mortal could ever have given me such a gift? If I die now my life will have been worthwhile thanks to you.”
“Don’t talk about dying, Sherinel” said Ketrin. “I am no god. I am the one who has been given a unique gift. All I have done is try to pass it on to you as best I can.”
“Well, you certainly gave me something tonight, that’s for certain.”
For a while they merely lay contentedly in each others’ arms, until a nagging sense of time compelled them to get up and prepare for the future.
Ketrin looked out into the darkness and closed his eyes momentarily. Sherinel realised he was calling his brothers by thought, and wished he also possessed the wildling’s sorcerous ability. What they had shared tonight had been wondrous, yet how much more so if they could bypass words altogether and simply share their thoughts and feelings directly? If only there were some way, Sherinel thought, if only....
After a few minutes Sherinel spotted the familiar rustling in the bushes that heralded the arrival of the two lupinoids. But there something seemed a little different about them. They were moving more hesitantly than usual, stopping to look around nervously every few seconds. When they drew close to the gate they slowly edged forward and peered long and hard at Sherinel as if to be certain of his identity.
“What is it?” said Sherinel. “What’s wrong? Is it something they smell?”
“No,” said Ketrin. “Just the opposite. Something’s affected their noses. They can’t smell properly!”
“Oh, gods,” said Sherinel. “I think I know what’s wrong with them, and I’d wager good money that Borvinn’s responsible somehow.”
Ketrin was beginning to guess what Sherinel was driving at.
Sherinel said, “The lupinoids have caught your stipple! I don’t know if it makes them feel weak or nauseous like humans, but it certainly affects their sense of smell. And somehow Borvinn knew this would happen! All he had to do was make sure you succumbed to stipple a few days before the hunt, knowing that you’d be in contact with the lupinoids and pass it on to them. Ketrin, have your brothers contacted the rest of the pack since you last touched them?”
“Yes,” sighed Ketrin. “They returned to the den two days ago.”
“And lupinoids greet each other by touch.” Sherinel’s expression was grim. “So now all the pack are infected, and won’t be able to defend themselves against Borvinn’s hunters.”
From their earlier peaks of ecstasy, Ketrin and Sherinel were plummeted into the depths of despair. They felt like prisoners facing the gallows.
High above, unseen by either of them or the lupinoids, a tiny bird soared past carrying a small glowing object in its talons.
January - May 2001; additional material June 2002 - January 2003
In Our Next Astounding Instalment...
The hunt begins.
Can Ketrin and Sherinel save the lupinoids... and themselves?
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