Glade and Ivory Ch. 07bybradley_stoke©
"I hate the bastards!" growled Mimosa the following day, employing the worst insult available in the Knights' language. Illegitimacy was the ultimate stigma in a society that attached so much importance to child-bearing.
Glade paused from shaving her fellow slave's crotch. She was aware of the vehemence of Mimosa's remark. "I hate them too," she said, although by now she'd got so accustomed to being a slave in their society that she'd almost forgotten what life had been like before.
"They killed my mother!" continued Mimosa bitterly.
"They killed my mother, too," Glade reminded her.
"But hers was a lesser death. My mother was the chief of our village. If the bastards hadn't attacked our village I might well be chief now. Indeed, now that my mother is dead I am the chief. But it's a hollow claim. The village of which I am chief is now the haunt of hyenas and vultures and my people are enslaved. I detest the Knights. They steal everything. They stole their religion from Quagga's tribe. They stole the art of flint-knapping and weaving from my tribe. They stole their skill in hunting from the Little People of the Savannah, who must all now be dead. And worst of all, they steal and enslave free people and treat them worse than animals. They are thieves, murderers and bastards: every single one of them!"
Mimosa told Glade that the savannah was once home to many tribes of which the Knights were but one. They originally came from a desert land a long way far to the East. Then one day the Knights grouped together under one King to conquer their neighbours' lands and enslave the survivors. Over the passing generations, their conquests spread ever wider until they'd overrun the whole savannah. Then their range spread beyond the savannah in the pursuit of fresh slaves as their existing ones died.
"They even conquered our tribe!" said Mimosa angrily. "We kept the bastards at bay for years. Under the leadership and wisdom of our matriarchs, including my mother, we outwitted the bastards. We forced them back every time so they had nothing but bruises to show for their debauched savagery. But then they conquered a tribe from the Long Grass Savannah to the South and stole from them the skill of archery and the use of shields. They descended on my tribe in huge numbers and one by one each of our villages succumbed to their ravages. My village was one of the last to surrender. We lived in a mountainous valley at the far edge of the savannah and thought ourselves safe. How could a tribe of bestial shaven-headed plains-people ever conquer a terrain as treacherous as the one we knew so well?"
Mimosa' tribe was wrong, of course. Although the Knights didn't benefit from the element of surprise that had made the conquest of Glade's people so very easy, they had the advantages of the new technology they'd purloined and of their overwhelming numbers, supplemented by the slaves that were used as the front line of their defence. The slaves and the shields protected the Knights from the barrage of stones and spears Mimosa's tribe threw at them. In response they rained down a shower of arrows on the unprepared mountain people that wounded more people than they killed and caused a panic that turned the battle into a rout.
This hard-fought conquest had cost the lives of many of the Knights' warriors including a chief, Lord Noble's predecessor, so their revenge was accordingly the more vicious when they took control of the village. Mimosa's mother was one of those most cruelly murdered, after having been raped and tortured. The Knights understood well how the humiliating death of such a revered leader would extinguish the last vestige of spirit in the defeated villagers.
"They cut off my mother's head and spiked it on a stake in the centre of the village. They urinated on her mutilated face and forced my villagers to follow suit. Those that did not were tortured and killed. They then took us into captivity and the booty was shared between the Knights' villages who'd banded together to attack us."
Quagga's memories of her own capture were hazy. She'd been a child when the Knights conquered her village—too young to be raped even by them. Her mother survived, but Quagga had no idea whether she was still alive or even, if she was, where she might now be living. Her hatred of the Knights was no less fervent than Mimosa's. The life of a child slave was no better than that of an adult and she came to know only too soon the rapacious sexual appetite of her captors.
As her mastery of the Knights' language steadily improved, Glade became acutely aware that what most unified the slaves in the village and, no doubt in all the villages of the savannah, was a shared hate of the Knights. This hatred was reinforced every day by the indignities and cruelty the slaves endured at the hands of a tribe that denied them any consideration of humanity, let alone of equality.
"You must have despised the black Knights at least as much as Mimosa," Ivory commented. Glade and she were walking across the village along the dusty ground between the scattered tepees and the detritus of settled life. They'd been summoned to the bedside of young Hyena whose parents hoped that the shaman had the medicine that would save the boy's life from the fever with which he was stricken.
"I did hate them," said Glade, "but as I later discovered Mimosa's spite was greater than mine. Quagga had very few memories of her previous life, so she was the most resigned to her fate. My hatred was ameliorated by the pleasures of regular sex with Lady Demure. Mimosa resented even that. She despised our mistress more than she did anyone else because of the sexual humiliation she visited on us."
Glade pushed aside the horse-hide door flap of the tepee. A small fire threw shadows against the walls of the cramped quarters. In the dim light the shaman and her apprentice could see a small boy lying delirious on a bed of musk ox and mammoth furs. All around him were gathered a handful of women, one of whom was his mother, and alongside them Grey Wolf, the father. This usually cheerful man was reduced to gnawing anxiety. The women silently parted to let Glade and her apprentice walk by.
"I hope you don't mind me bringing my apprentice with me," Glade said to the sorrowful company. "She needs to learn all she can of the ways of the spirit world."
Grey Wolf stood up and addressed the shaman: "My son's been like this for two days now. I worry that he might die. He is my only son. Surely the spirits will be merciful."
Glade nodded and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "None can answer for the whims of the spirits. May I attend to young Hyena?"
Glade crouched down by the ailing child while Grey Wolf looked on fretfully. He wrung his hands together and seemed nearly as ill as his son. His wife, Elm Tree, stood by his side and put a comforting arm around his shoulders. Glade meanwhile asked the two worried parents some very precise questions about the fever's symptoms and the circumstances by which he'd caught it.
"It is very much like the fever of the swamp spirits," she remarked. "Has he been near the poolside where the mosquitoes gather?"
"He often plays there," said Elm Tree. "Is it an accursed place?"
"The swamp spirits are at their most malevolent in the summer when the days are long and the mosquitoes bite," said Glade. "He must drink much water to make amends for the spirits' spite and it must be clean water from the spring's source. He must stay warm even though he sweats as if he is already too hot and," Glade shuffled about in the leather pouch she brought with her, "he must chew on the leaves of this plant whose taste is bitter but which pacifies the spirits within him. His fever will very likely persist for a few days more."
After giving more practical advice of this nature, Glade placed a deer skull on her head. Both eye-sockets were stuffed with herbs. She then incanted in a strange tongue what Ivory now recognised as a comic verse in one of the many languages she spoke about a hunter whose spear had got stuck in the ribs of a wild boar. Despite the absurdity of the incantation, Glade chanted solemnly and it had the desired effect of comforting Hyena's family and friends. It had no similar effect on the young boy's fever. Glade scattered some oak leaves and petals on his face and made some strange hand movements which Ivory could see were totally improvised.
"I have called on the spirits of the hyena after which your son has been named," said Glade. "If the spirits heed my call, they shall rally to his side and take battle with the malevolent spirits of the foul waters. The boy may still be delirious but with luck he will soon be well. If he still sweats after a handful of days call me again."
The parents showed their gratitude for the shaman's visit by presenting her with a recently slain hare which Glade grabbed by its long ears. After she made another shorter solemn incantation, the shaman and her apprentice left the tepee. Ivory hadn't heard this incantation before and asked Glade what it signified.
"It's a limerick about a slovenly cave bear."
"How can you make such fun of those poor people?" Ivory asked as they walked back to Glade's tepee in the dim evening light. They pulled their furs close up over the chin to ward off the chill summer breeze.
"It really doesn't matter what incantations or gestures I employ," said Glade with a smile that was just about visible through the fur. "What matters is the advice I give. I've seen this swamp illness many times before. Sometimes it is fatal, but rest, fresh water and the pain-killing effect of the herbs I've given usually fends it off. Some people say it is the fetid air of the waters, others that it is the malevolence of the water spirits who prefer not to be disturbed, but I think it is poison carried in the mosquitoes' bite."
"Where did you learn your medicinal skills?" wondered Ivory who, despite her reservations about Glade's blasphemy, was nonetheless very impressed by the shaman's extensive medical knowledge. "Did you learn it in the forest? Was it imparted to you by the black warriors?"
"I gained practical knowledge in both places," admitted Glade as the two women entered the warm interior of their shared tepee. She slipped off her furs as soon as they were inside. "Everywhere I've lived or travelled by, I've learnt new things. Some of it has practical use and some of it is superstition and foolishness. My tribe was no better. We often mistook illnesses as the symptoms of the tree spirits' temperament even when it was apparent that the symptoms spread from person to person. We treated it by isolating the ill and diseased like one would use a fire-break to keep the flames of a burning forest at bay. However, I learnt most of my skills when I was a shaman's wife."
This revelation comforted Ivory as she also shed her clothes and slipped under the furs beside her naked lover. There was a history to Glade's shamanic skills which validated them and invested her with the aura of spiritual awareness. Despite her scepticism of the spirits and her mischievous incantations, she had been passed the wisdom of the spirits through her shaman husband's seed.
"It was when I lived with a tribe of Cave Dwellers to the south," Glade continued as she put an arm around her apprentice's bare shoulders. "Those may well have been the happiest days of my life. That was when my two children were born. My husband was a kind and generous man. He was a shaman and much venerated by his tribe. Men of a shamanic and mystical calling are accorded much respect in his tribe. And, yes, the Cave Dwellers do believe in the spirits, just as your people do, and my husband shared none of my irreverence. He made due obeisance to them and his incantations were not the nonsense I employ: although I don't think they were any more efficacious."
"How long did you live with the Cave Dwellers?"
"It must have been for about four or five years. This was a time I thought would last forever. I truly loved Flint, my husband, as I believe he loved me. Of course, I didn't speak his language at all at first. It was as different as any language is from another but the better I spoke it the more I came to respect and love my husband. He had true wisdom however much he attributed all his success at helping the diseased and injured to the blessed spirits of water and earth and all his failures to the malevolent spirits of fire and ice. Even in those days I paid more attention to what he did and how he did it rather than to his explanations of why the medicines worked."
"Was this many years after you left the black warriors who enslaved you?"
"Several years later, yes. I was an older and wiser woman then. Not a child. I'd become accustomed to fending for myself and it was a pleasure indeed to share my life with one man and to share his hearth. His tribe placed great store on fidelity and was harsh on those who strayed from the ways of virtue. As you can imagine, this was something of a strain for someone like me who'd been brought up in a much more liberal sexual climate, but I respected the stability it brought to the community."
"Was it because of your sexual promiscuity that you no longer live with your husband?"
Glade cuddled Ivory close to her and peppered her face with kisses. "You'd think so, wouldn't you? The girl who was the most promiscuous fuck in her tribe. The girl who spent several years as a sex slave. And the woman who now prefers the body of a woman to any man. But no. I was more than willing to sacrifice the dictates of my lust for the love I felt for Flint, although I occasionally and very discreetly erred. No, my nemesis was one with whom I was already well acquainted when I was a slave."
"And was it through your husband you learnt your shamanic talents?"
"I have many things to be grateful to Flint, and not just my two children and the security and love he gave me. But he never trained me to be a shaman as I am training you. Only men were destined to be shamans in his tribe. I learnt what I did only by observing and asking questions. If I have advice to you that takes precedence over any other, it is that you should also look and learn. Don't expect knowledge to come from instruction alone. Study everything and don't accept too readily the explanations that you're given. No question ever has a simple answer. The world is an infinitely large, monstrous and mystical place. And it most certainly isn't a world governed by spirits or gods."
"Is this what your husband told you?"
"No! Not at all," Glade laughed. "He was the most devout man you could ever hope to meet. His whole life was dedicated in the service of the forces he believed to govern the universe. And you can't blame my scepticism on my forest tribe who were as spiritual and pious as any other, despite our very different notion of sexual morality. I believe that the origin of my disrespect and blasphemy comes from the time I served as a slave."
The lovemaking that followed was more intense and more heartfelt than any Ivory had enjoyed with the shaman before. Somehow, the knowledge that Glade had once been a faithful partner, and could perhaps be one again, excited Ivory more than even the smell of her moist vagina or the probing of toys within her moist lips. When the two lovers disengaged, Ivory's crotch throbbing from the breach of Glade's fist, she nuzzled her nose into her lover's voluminous bosom with a contentment that she'd not felt since before her mother died.
The following day, Glade was engaged in the preparation of potions and intoxicants for the forthcoming visit by the Reindeer Herders. Ivory, meanwhile, was in the company of the other village women in the woods where they foraged for a rather more mundane harvest than that required by the shaman. These were the truffles, nuts, roots and other fruits of the forest scattered unevenly about its mossy floor. Along with the odd slaughtered fowl or hare these made up the greater part of the village's daily repast. Some women were gathering the field-grass seeds that could be ground down to add extra body to a stew. Ivory was assigned much more mundane tasks that bent her head low and muddied her fur-covered knees.
Ivory approached her duty with a light heart. Her thoughts returned again and again to Glade. Although she was still reluctant to admit it, she now treasured her lover as much more than just a sexual companion. Although she still believed that such love should be shared only with a man, her chief misgiving was how much her love for Glade was reciprocated. Surely, the passion of their lovemaking, the memory of shared orgasms and the closeness of their conjoined flesh excited as much love in the shaman as it did in Ivory.
"You seem very cheerful," said Sycamore who chose to forage near the young girl. "Does the life of a shaman's apprentice suit you well?"
"I think it does," said Ivory. "I'm learning so much. And not just about the spirits or of the medicines they've bestowed on us."
"You mean the ways of love, don't you?" said Sycamore in a soft voice. "I knew you would find pleasure and satisfaction in the shaman's arms. She is truly an exceptional woman."
"It's not just..." said Ivory bashfully. "She's not just a lover... I mean, we make love... but it's not like with a man... I don't know, I just..."
"I know. I know," said Sycamore, placing her hand on Ivory's. "I'm sure a man's love is a different, perhaps even a better, thing. For some women, the love of another of their sex is all they need, but for others the woman they love has to be more than just a woman. The shaman is skilled in the arts of love..."
"It's not only her skill at lovemaking..." protested Ivory.
"Maybe. Maybe not," said Sycamore. "Have you fallen in love with her?"
Ivory paused. She raised her head and gazed into Sycamore's sympathetic eyes. "I suppose I have," she admitted.
"Be careful, sweet one," said Sycamore sadly. "The shaman isn't of our tribe. She has different customs. She isn't going to be exactly the lover you might want her to be. She'll be the best lover you'll ever know, but she isn't going to offer you the love that I think you seek."
Ivory dismissed Sycamore's advice. After all, what could Sycamore know? Ivory was sure she'd made love to Glade more often than had any other woman or man in the village. And anyway, Ivory now knew that Glade was a woman who had known a more permanent love with a husband in the distant south where she'd worn clothes every day as did the Mammoth People. Perhaps it was the licentiousness of habitual nudity when she lived in the tropical forest that had led to her promiscuity. Now she lived amongst those who would never contemplate nakedness, mostly because the elements dictated otherwise, surely she would become a woman who could temper her lasciviousness. Especially when the person with whom she shared her bed was Ivory.
Clouds gathered ever more densely in the sky as the day passed and they began to be tinged with a threatening yellow. Very soon it was almost as dark as it would normally be at dusk. Before long it would rain and heavily enough that the women's lives could be at risk from the impending tempest. Word went round that it was time to head immediately back to the village before it was too late. The women then raced back, weighed down by the provisions they'd gathered, anxious not to be soaked by the raindrops that fell ever more heavily as they run.
Ivory's furs were soaked by the downpour. They protected her from the worst of the rain's chill but were now weighed down by damp and made progress ever more arduous. She pushed aside the leopard-skin door to her tepee, glad at last to be out of the rain and happy also in the expectation of being with Glade. She'd been occupied the whole day in anticipation of this moment.