Well, I keep saying the end is near, and yet it never seems to get any closer... Having said that, this instalment does finish with the first stirrings of a major conflict, suggesting that the endgame may finally be in sight. Also in this bit, Suvanji’s family reunion continues with the introduction of yet another new character, but one I hope you’ll like, and the education of Pyrri continues. Read on if you dare. Read on if you don’t dare.
The story takes place several hundred light years from Earth in about AD 3502, give or take a century or three.
You can take the author out of the jungle, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Anyway, the author’s trying to cut cholesterol.
Once the meal was eaten Ralvin drew aside to talk with his newfound daughter. Keino and Wenric went out to join the lupinoids, leaving Lendrin with Tajumi.
“Did you truly not know?” she asked.
“No, I swear,” said Lendrin. “She never hinted at any such thing. She told me she’d had a vision of her birth and her mother’s fate, but she never spoke of her father on the way here. All she told me was, she felt she needed to come this way.”
Tajumi shook her head. “I don’t know how much of this to believe. Visions. Feelings. I’m still not convinced it isn’t some sort of trick.”
Lendrin sighed. “We have no reason to trick you, Tajumi. What could we gain? All we’re asking for is trade and cooperation with our adopted village. I’m sorry if you feel we’re intruding into your private life, but if Suvanji really is your stepdaughter then surely you should be happy for Ralvin, and for her.”
Tajumi did not reply, and the two were left with their thoughts for a while.
Presently Ralvin and Suvanji rejoined their partners and Ralvin suggested that they step out of the stuffy hut for a breath of fresh air, since the rain seemed to have eased off.
In the village square they found Keino and Wenric sitting with their lupinoid friends, observed by curious villagers. Nipper, who had been sitting nearby, walked over to join Suvanji. As she did so, a boy steped out from the shadow of one of the huts. He was a handsome youth of about fourteen, but there was a somewhat blank expression on his face, and he walked with a halting gait as if he had difficulty keeping his balance. Seeing the lupinoids, however, his face brightened and he staggered toward Nipper saying, “Hello, lupi.”
“Oh, Rukim, be careful,” cried Tajumi, but Suvanji placed a hand on her shoulder.
“It’s all right,” she assured the older woman. “She won’t hurt him. She’s used to playing with village children.”
With great care, since he was wary of falling and hurting himself, Rukim lowered himself to his knees beside Nipper and threw his arms around her in a fierce embrace.
Kneeling beside him, Suvanji spoke gently: “Don’t hold her too tight, Rukim. You wouldn’t want to hurt her, would you?”
The boy looked at the strange newcomer a little uncertainly, then eased his grip. Nipper responded by licking his face.
“I like her,” said Rukim.
“She likes you,” said Suvanji. “She’s called Nipper.”
The boy gurgled with laughter. “That’s a funny name. Hello, Nipper.”
He laughed again as Nipper once more responded with a wet tongue.
“Our son,” said Ralvin. “He’s an affectionate boy and he means the world to us, but as you can see, he’s a little... slow. We tell the other children they mustn’t make fun of him, but it’s been hard for us sometimes.”
“I’m sorry,” said Lendrin.
Suvanji sat thoughtfully. She could feel the presence in her mind once more, but she wasn’t sure what it was trying to tell her.
Rukim spent some time hugging and patting Nipper before Tajumi told him it was time to eat. Reluctantly the boy disengaged himself and said “Bye, Nipper,” before carefully standing and following his mother into the hut. Nipper watched him depart, then yawned and settled down for a nap.
Ralvin meanwhile excused himself and went off to conduct some piece of village business, leaving Lendrin alone with Suvanji for the first time since their meeting with the chief hunter.
Lendrin could have held a telepathic conversation with Suvanji earlier, but had decided to give her time with her newfound father before discussing the situation with her.
+Did you know?+ he asked. +Did your presence tell you why it was sending you here?+
+The presence is my mother, Lendrin, I’m sure of it. She doesn’t speak to me in words, just feelings. I felt that this was where I needed to come. But I think meeting my father wasn’t the only reason she sent me. There’s something else. Something I need to do before we leave.+
Pyrri’s friends (and Kemmet)
When Mavrida learned of Pyrri’s desire to learn archery her reaction was almost identical to Kemmet’s.
“Pyrri, what makes you think Tolar would ever agree to such a thing? In villages it’s traditional for men to do the hunting. Women look after the children, wash clothes, clean the huts...”
Facing Mavrida defiantly, Pyrri replied telepathically. Mavrida’s mind translated her wordless thoughts into far more eloquent phrases than the wildling’s broken speech could ever supply.
+I don’t want to spend all my time cleaning things. The lupinoids never tried to stop me hunting just because I’m female, why should men? Anyway, if Suvanji is allowed to hunt for the village there’s no reason why I shouldn’t. And don’t tell me I’m too young either.+
+Well, you are,+ replied Mavrida. +Look, Pyrri, I can feel your determination, but Tolar is going to take a lot of convincing.+
For a moment Pyrri continued to stare at Mavrida, but then her defiance broke, and like a lupinoid she lowered her head and whimpered quietly.
Mavrida sighed. “All right, Pyrri, all right,” she said, giving the girl a reassuring hug. “Since it means so much to you, I’ll help put your case to Tolar, but after that it’s up to him.”
Pyrri grinned like a lupinoid.
To Mavrida’s surprise, Tolar did not reject the idea out of hand, although as usual when presented with a controversial decision he turned to Tharil for advice. In this case, Tharil reflected Pyrri’s own opinion: “If Suvanji can hunt why can’t she? Yes, as well as being a girl she’s undoubtedly on the young side, but she is a wildling, don’t forget. If she’s not afraid of the jungle, what terror can a village hunt hold for her? I say give her a chance.”
So Tolar did. That meant there was only one more person to speak to.
As Mavrida approached Kemmet, he grunted what seemed to be his idea of a greeting.
“Come to talk me out of training your little friend?” he asked.
“No,” said Mavrida.
“Pity. So why have you come, then?” he said.
“I can’t help wondering why you agreed to it in the first place. I thought you didn’t even like her.”
“Did you, now? Well, she may be a stubborn little bitch -”
“Language!” snapped Mavrida.
Kemmet sighed. “That’s ‘bitch’ as in ‘female lupinoid’. She’d get it. Probably laugh too. Anyway, I guess her stubbornness reminded me of me.”
Mavrida regarded him thoughtfully. “Is that the only reason?” she asked at length.
He sighed again. “All right, you really want to know why I decided to take her on? Because for all the crap I’ve given her, the little squirt actually trusts me. Me, Kemmet, the village screwup! So call it pride or arrogance or whatever, but I am going to teach Pyrri the annoying little wildling how to shoot a bow, and if I don’t succeed, then you can all call me a screwup. Only you won’t, ’cause I will succeed. Satisfied?”
Mavrida stood in silence for a few moments, before replying: “Let me know when you’re ready to begin her lessons. Erennya and I will make sure she attends.”
She turned to go. “Maybe I’ve decided to trust you too. Maybe.”
He muttered something in acknowledgement. It might have been “Thanks.”
After Rukim had eaten he emerged from the hut once more, followed by his mother. Tajumi was still a little nervous about letting him near a lupinoid, but had apparently decided to trust Suvanji to keep him safe.
In the event, when he emerged he found Nipper still asleep, so he snuggled alongside her and followed suit.
Lendrin had joined the other wildlings, giving Tajumi a chance to be alone with Suvanji for a while. Looking down at her son, she spoke without looking directly at Suvanji.
“I don’t mean to sound unkind, Suvanji, but... I’m jealous. All these years I’d thought Ralvin and Shendra’s child had died in childbirth, and then you show up out of nowhere. And you had to turn out to be so perfect, while the child I had with Ralvin had to be so... different.
“And the worst of it is,” she continued, turning tearful eyes to her newfound stepdaughter, “it’s my fault. The flaw lies in my blood, not Ralvin’s. You’ll always be a reminder of that, and I don’t... don’t know how to deal with it...”
For a moment Suvanji had no answer, but then she once again felt Shendra’s presence in her mind, and a new insight dawned.
“No, Tajumi,” she said, taking her stepmother by the shoulders. “You can’t be sure that the fault lies in your blood. If I had grown up in a village I might have been like Rukim too, slow to learn. But I was suckled by a lupinoid, raised as her cub, and her milk changed me somehow. It gave me the ability to share thoughts with lupinoids, and it also made me quick to learn, because I needed to be to survive.”
“Well, that’s fascinating,” said Tajumi, “but I don’t understand how it could help my son.”
“What was in my lupinoid mother’s milk is in my blood,” said Suvanji. “If I were to mix my blood with his, it would pass to him as well.”
“And you think... you think it could make him able to learn... like you?”
“I think so,” said Suvanji. “I don’t believe it could do him any harm.”
Tajumi considered for a while. “I’ll speak to Ralvin,” she said. “We will give you our decision later.”
Later that afternoon Lendrin rejoined Suvanji. +Well,+ he told her, +I’ve spoken to Ralvin and he’s agreed in principle to an alliance with Third Hill. As a goodwill gesture he’s going to let us have some of their cheese and ale, and he’s also agreed to lend Tolar assistance with hunting and defence if needed.+
Suvanji in turn told Lendrin of her discussion with Tajumi.
+Do you think Ralvin will agree to it?+ asked Lendrin.
+I think so. If I’m right about this, Rukim will learn rapidly, just as I did with you and Mavrida.+
Pyrri and Kemmet
In Third Hill, Kemmet found himself only partly surprised when Pyrri turned up on time for her first archery lesson, for once unaccompanied by her lupinoid friend. He was more surprised to see her wearing a ring with a red stone on her right hand.
“So, where’d you get that?” he asked.
“Mavrida give me it,” she replied. “Said, ‘red goes with red’.”
“Huh. Well, what she gives you is her business, I guess. Only, if you’re gonna draw with your right hand you’d better wear the ring on your left so there’s no chance of it catching on the bowstring.”
“A’right,” she said, and uncomplainingly transferred the ring to her other hand.
“Right then,” said Kemmet. “First things first. Safety. Always make sure to aim straight at the target, and make sure there’s nobody nearby who might get hurt. And don’t look at me like that. I know I screwed up with your pal Lendrin, but how was I to know he wasn’t an attacker? All right, make sure the area near the target is clear and let’s get started. We’ll begin at a distance of ten paces.”
Pyrri’s lesson proceeded uneventfully. In her hands the bow looked a little oversized, but for once Kemmet saw no reason to mock. For all his carefully-cultivated cynicism, he had no doubt as to the wildling’s strength or stamina.
Sure enough, once she had mastered the correct stance Pyrri had no difficulty drawing and holding the nocked bow until it was time to loose. All that was in question was her accuracy, and after the few expected false starts she began to make rapid progress.
“All right,” he said at length. “That’s all for today. You’re still an annoying brat, but I might just make an archer of you after all. Now get out of my sight until tomorrow.”
Pyrri grinned hugely and slapped Kemmet on the arm. “Thanks, grump. You’re all right.”
“Yeah, right,” he muttered. “Now get lost.”
Only when Pyrri was out of sight did Kemmet wince and rub his bruised arm, muttering, “Dumb wildling doesn’t know her own strength.”
Later that day he was approached by Mavrida.
“So, how’s she doing?”
“By the end of her first lesson,” Kemmet told her, “the little brat managed to score ten out of ten hits at twenty paces, three of them dead centre. So - how would you say she’s doing?”
“Well enough to continue at any rate,” said Mavrida. “You’re probably not used to hearing this, but well done.”
As she tuened to go, the hunter asked her: “Why’d you give her your ring?”
“Oh... I thought it suited her,” said Mavrida casually. “Matches her hair, don’t you think? Well, keep up the teaching. At this rate she’ll be a hunter in no time.”
Kemmet watched as Mavrida strolled away. “Matches her hair, my arse,” he muttered.
In spite of himself, he had actually begun to like Pyrri, but he suspected that the innocent-looking ring might have something to do with sorcery.
“Damn, I knew the brat was trouble,” he told himself.
“All right, Suvanji,” said Ralvin. “Let’s be very clear about this. What exactly will happen to our son if we allow you to mingle your blood with his?”
The chief hunter and his wife were seated within their dimly-lit hut, while Rukim slept placidly nearby.
“After our blood has been mingled,” Suvanji replied, “he will sleep. While he sleeps he will dream - I believe these dreams are meant to help lupinoid cubs learn about life in the wild before they encounter it.”
“You mean,” said Ralvin, “when he wakes, he will think like a lupinoid?”
“Yes, partly,” said Suvanji. “But because he is living with humans, he will also be able to think like a human. I believe the stuff that’s in my blood will alter his mind so that whatever he needs to learn, he will, just as I have. And there is one more thing: he will be able to share thoughts with lupinoids and wildlings, and anyone else who has shared blood with a wildling, like Lendrin here.”
“Share thoughts?” mused Ralvin. “Fascinating. When I was hunting with Killer I often felt as if I could sense what he was thinking. If only I’d been able to really talk to him, though. That would have been amazing.”
“But he won’t be the same,” said Tajumi. “I’m afraid of what it might do to him. I’m afraid I won’t recognise him as... as my son any more.”
“It’s true he’ll be different,” said Suvanji. “He will be better. He will gain the ability to learn and grow and understand. But he’ll still be your son, Tajumi, he’ll never forget that. And... he will still be my brother. I would never do anything to harm my own brother.”
Tajumi looked thoughtfully at the wildling.
“Raised by lupinoids, yet possessing human compassion... it’s true, isn’t it, Suvanji? You have changed and grown since meeting humans. And if Rukim can grow in the same way...”
She took a deep breath. After a long moment she said, “All right. If you agree, Ralvin, then so do I. How is this to be done?”
“I need to make a small cut on my hand,” said Suvanji. “I’ll have to cut him too. That’s the tricky part. I don’t want to frighten him.”
“Best to do it now then, while he’s deep asleep,” said Ralvin.
Tajumi gently folded back the bedcloth from her son’s shoulders while Suvanji nicked her own hand with her knife. Then she carefully made a small cut in the small of Rukim’s back and placed her bleeding hand upon it. Rukim stirred and mumbled, half-waking, but Tajumi stroked his hair and crooned gently in his ear and soon the boy was asleep once more. Suvanji removed her hand and Tajumi cleansed Rukim’s wound with a damp cloth before doing the same for her stepdaughter.
“Now we wait,” said Suvanji.
Ralvin gave her a fatherly embrace. “Whatever happens, lass, thank you for trying.”
Secure within his parents’ hut, Ralvin dreamed of things that had happened long ago...
Next morning Rukim woke after the others, sat up in bed and looked around the hut curiously. “M-mama?” he said shakily. “I feel funny.”
Tajumi was by his side in an instant. “Do you feel ill, Rukim?”
“N...no,” he said. “Just... I don’t know...”
Tajumi flashed an anxious glance at her husband and stepdaughter. Suvanji said, “I believe it’s working as it should. He just needs time to adjust.”
“Funny dreams,” said Rukim. “I had four legs. I was running.”
Then his face brightened as realisation dawned. “I was a lupi! Mama, can I please be a lupi?”
Tajumi sighed with relief. “No, Rukim, you have to be a boy. But you can say good morning to Nipper if Suvanji says so.”
Suvanji nodded. And so, as soon as Rukim was up and dressed, he toddled out to find the lupinoid. The others noted that he seemed more sure-footed than before.
Suvanji silently called Nipper over. The lupinoid greeted her new friend enthusiastically as he dropped to his knees and threw his arm across her shoulders. After a moment his eyes widened, and he called to his parents: “Mother? Father? She... she talked inside my head, and I talked inside hers.”
“That’s good, son,” Ralvin told him. “Lupinoids can be powerful friends and protectors.”
Then Rukim looked troubled. “I can’t talk in your head, father,” he said with a frown.
“Don’t worry, Rukim,” said Ralvin. “Not all humans can do it. Suvanji, can, though. She lived with lupinoids for a long time, and she knows a lot about them.”
Rukim turned a fascinated gaze toward his stepsister, and the others watched while the two communed silently for a few moments. Then he gave Suvanji a fierce embrace and walked back to his parents smiling.
“Father,” he said, “I would like a lupinoid friend.”
“I thought you might,” said Ralvin. “Suvanji, could you use your thought-sharing ability to help Rukim find a new companion?”
“I can try,” she replied. “It might take some time, though. We’d need to find a young lupinoid, preferably a lone male, who isn’t averse to humans.”
“We don’t know how long that would take, though,” Lendrin observed. “Suvanji and I can’t leave it too long before returning to Third Hill.”
“Then I’ll do it myself,” said Ralvin.
“Ralvin, are... are you sure?” said Tajumi.
“I’ve befriended a lupinoid before,” he reminded her. I’m sure I can do it again, and not just for Rukim. Seing Nipper reminds me how much I used to enjoy Killer’s company. Although...”
He turned to Suvanji, who completed the thought: “Although it would be easier if you could exchange thoughts with them. All right. I can spare a few more drops of blood.”
“Well, then,” said Tajumi, “I hope you have a drop or two to spare for me as well.”
Ralvin was momentarily surprised, but then smiled and nodded. “Only, once we are able to share thoughts, I hope you still love me knowing what’s inside my head.”
“Well, it seems to work for Suvanji and Lendrin, so why not us as well?” she smiled.
So it was agreed. Suvanji performed the blood exchange that evening, so that by morning they had begun to adjust to the change, and then she and her party made ready to depart.
Suvanji embraced her new family and all four of them exchanged telepathic farewells.
+I will return as soon as I can,+ she told them. +Farewell.+
+Farewell, daughter,+ thought Ralvin. +Be safe.+
Tajumi and Rukim echoed the sentiment, and then Rukim knelt to give Nipper a farewell hug and she licked his face in return. Then Suvanji’s party gathered up their gear and departed.
Ralvin and Rukim
Within You, Without You
As night fell Ralvin led Rukim out into the forest, and the two of them sat in a clearing by a stream and waited. There were faint rustlings in the undergrowth, and they could feel eyes watching them.
Rukim projected his thoughts for the benefit of any lupinoids that might be in the vicinity:
+I am a friend to four-legs. A four-leg saved my life and we hunted together for a time. Now I bring my son, who wishes to have a four-leg companion, as do I. Will any join us and befriend us and be a part of our pack?+
They did not have to wait long for an answer. In the fading light it was hard to see what was happening, but the humans could sense the lupinoids’ approach.
+Show no fear,+ Ralvin told his son. +Remain calm and still. These lupinoids are not like Nipper. They are unused to humans, and if we startle them they might attack us. Sit still and let them examine us.+
The lupinoids, two or three of them, approached the two men one by one, circling and sniffing them. Finally one of them halted before Ralvin and made contact with his mind.
+You have a four-leg inside you,+ it said.
Inside me? thought Ralvin. Could they possibly mean... Killer?
At that moment he felt the presence of his old lupinoid friend and knew it to be true.
Oh, Killer, my friend, he thought, Has your spirit been watching over me all this time, guiding and protecting me? But he already knew the answer. A tear came to his eye as his old friend’s fiercely protective love enfolded his mind.
The watching lupinoids also felt their ghostly fellow’s emotions, and the human’s love for him. It was all they needed to know.
+We trust you,+ said the pack leader, and projected a command to a young male who had been watching from concealment. The youngster padded over to Rukim and examined him.
+So,+ thought the lupinoid, +we gonna be friends?+
+I’d like that,+ Rukim told him. +Can I hug you? I’ll try not to hold you too hard.+
+Um, I suppose,+ thought the lupinoid, and Rukim threw his arms about the lupinoid’s neck. The lupinoid was obviously unused to the sensation, but quickly decided he liked it.
Meanwhile one of the other mature males approached Ralvin and they exchanged greetings and soon bonded, with a little encouragement from Killer’s spirit.
+There’s another two-leg in you as well,+ the lupinoid told Ralvin.
+Yes,+ Ralvin agreed. +I feel her.+ For a moment he had a vision of Shendra kneeling with her arm across Killer’s shoulders.
You’ve both been watching over me, he thought. All this time, and I never knew. And now you’ve helped my son and reunited me with the daughter I never knew I had...
Feeling rather than seeing his father overcome with emotion, Rukim sent a telepathic query.
+I’m all right, Rukim,+ projected Ralvin. +Come along. Let’s take our new friends back to the village.+
Pyrri and Kemmet
Pyrri’s third archery lesson began uneventfully enough. Kemmet watched with outward stoicism as the wildling prepared to shoot. Three-leg sat watching from a nearby stump, with Howl at his side. Pyrri had managed to persuade Kemmet to let them stay, as long as they didn’t get in the way.
Pyrri raised her bow, nocked an arrow and took aim carefully. What Kemmet could not realise was that she was transmitting her muscular sensations to Three-leg as she did so in order that he could learn simultaneously.
Thunder rumbled in the distance, but Pyrri was not allowing it to distract her. At a distance of thirty paces, her first arrow struck less than a handsbreadth from the centre of the target. Kemmet felt an unfamiliar emotion at the sight. Could it possibly be that he was feeling pride for the wildling’s achievements?
Aloud, he simply said, “Not bad, but even that small a span could mean the difference between a kill and a lost catch. Try again and let’s see if you can’t do better.”
“Know what I done wrong,” said Pyrri blithely as she nocked another arrow. “Better this time.”
The arrow flew straight and true, striking the target dead centre... and then, with a brilliant flash and a shattering concussion, the target exploded.
Pyrri acted instinctively, throwing herself upon Kemmet and knocking him to the muddy ground. In doing so she probably saved them both serious injury from flying splinters.
“Shit,” cried Kemmet over the ringing in his ears. “It’s an attack! That old sorcerer friend of yours is going to kill us all with lightning bolts!”
Pyrri scarcely heard him. She could feel the heat of the glowing ring on her finger, and a benign presence in her mind that was directing her to act. Slinging her bow over her shoulder, she raised her arm and concentrated, remembering how it had felt when she touched Mavrida’s ring back in the tunnel. A moment later a hole appeared in the air before them. Pyrri grabbed Kemmet’s arm and dragged him complaining through it, with Three-leg and Howl close behind.
Thousands of cubits away, Suvanji and Lendrin saw the flashes emanating from the direction of the village and turned to each other in alarm. A moment later they received Pyrri’s alarm call, magically amplified by the ring.
Realising that Sherinel’s group would also have received the call, Suvanji’s party immediately abandoned their plan to meet up with them. Instead, they struck out for the beleaguered village by the most direct route, offering a fervent prayer to Ral-ne-Sa that they would be in time to save their friends.
September 2014 - Christmas 2015
TO BE... CONCLUDED‽‽‽
Comment on this story
Well, as always this instalment took a lot longer than expected, and sadly there’s no guarantee that the next one won’t either.
There really is an ending. I know that by now that claim must sound a lot like the boy who cried lupinoid, but please try to believe me. If you do, then maybe I will too.