tagSci-Fi & FantasyUpon a Savage Shore Ch. 20

Upon a Savage Shore Ch. 20

byRipperFish©

Author's note 9/20/2014: I'm at a stage where I am editing and wrapping things up. The plot is set and no major changes will be taking place, so it is safe for me to post this chapter and keep my readers satisfied.

One comment and a couple of messages on the last chapter have confused me somewhat. They referred to "novel length" or 'novel length stories". I would like to clear that up. Modern novels fall into the 100,000 word range for a first time novelist. I exceeded that between chapters 17 and 18. Currently 'Upon a Savage Shore' is over 140,000 words and may exceed 175,000 words before it is complete. Novel length - Not only have I been there and done that, I have the T-shirt on order. ;)

Thanks to everyone for their encouragement. Very much appreciated, I assure you.


Chapter 20


"Good morning, Sergeant," M'pel E'kmel greeted Liam when he wandered into the kitchen just after sunrise. She had the small container they used to boil water hanging in front of the open hearth of the oven. The water was nearly ready to make tea.

"Morning, Commander," he replied sleepily, rubbing a hand through his hair. "How did you sleep?"

"Very well, thank you," she replied with a twinkle in her eye. "I assume you slept well, after a fashion."

Liam gave her a look, but could not refrain from smiling ruefully.

"In answer to the question you normally ask: No you did not keep me awake," she said and grinned at him. "Tem'Ma'tel did give Sue a fright, though."

"That wasn't my fault," he said tiredly, a light blush coloring his sun darkened cheeks.

"I am quite sure you had nothing at all to do with her outburst, Sergeant," M'pel E'kmel said. Her tail flicked and her ears twitched in amusement.

"I think the water's ready," he said in an attempt to divert the conversation to something less embarrassing.

"Not just yet," she said smoothly. Her smile was pleasant and her tone sounded almost motherly, but her tail continued to twitch and her whiskers vibrated ever the slightest bit. "Will you need three cups?"

"I... No. Just one," Liam replied, confused. He eyed her warily. "Why?"

"I thought you might like to bring tea to your mates," she said. "I doubt they slept as well as you did, Sergeant. Doubtless, they allowed you the center of the mattress. Or were there other arrangements?"

Liam's mouth fell open and he quickly turned it into a yawn. It was far too early for him to engage in witty banter. He blinked, trying to catch up. M'pel E'kmel smiled at him and took two pieces of root from the small plastic bag they used to store them.

"We are getting low on these, by the way," she said, placing the roots in a pair of cups. "We are also getting low on your potato roots and those brown roots you like are nearly gone. We're completely out of the large nuts. I don't suppose those will still be in season, though. We are nearly out of the berries, too."

"Sounds like I need to head down to the forest and collect some more," Liam said, glad they were talking about something other than the position in which he and his mates had slept. The truth was, Tem'Ma'tel had snuggled in close to him and Clot'ilda had laid on top of them both. It had been too warm for the night, but what Clot'ilda kept doing whenever he woke had made the slight discomfort worth it.

"I think that would be in order," M'pel E'kmel agreed and poured the steaming water into the cups sending the pleasant scent of honey and cinnamon into the air.

"I'll take our Fauns and Tem'Ma'tel with me," he said and sipped his tea when the water turned brown enough to obscure the bottom of the cup. "Charlie and Sue probably know more roots we could eat."

"I agree," she said and sipped from her cup. The tea really was quite good. "I think I should go down to the village and check on our patient. I'll take Clot'ilda along. Maybe change the dressings on the girl's wounds. Perhaps she will be awake."

"I think it would be a good idea to let the Fauns use their own bandages instead of ours," Liam said over the rim of his cup. "The med kits can only recycle the gauze so many times before it's used up."

"You are right, of course," she agreed. "Only, for the moment, I think it would be better to allow her wounds a little time to heal before exposing them to whatever contaminants might be in the local bandages. I'll see what I can do about sterilizing the local stuff, though. Hopefully I can teach one of them how to do it and impress upon them the importance of keeping the wounds clean."

"Other than that, what else have you got planned today?" he asked.

"I thought I might begin making fish traps," she said. There had been something pointed in the way he'd asked that question and she really didn't want him to probe any deeper until she was ready to tell him the truth. She leaned on the table with her elbows together. This pushed her breasts out and deepened her cleavage to great advantage. Blinking coquettishly she asked, "Did you have something else in mind?"

"Not really," Liam sighed, his blush returning as he averted his eyes, but he smiled. "I... um... I was... going to ask if you had had a chance to look at the ground where we're going to dig the fish pond. I'm not sure how deep it needs to be, or how wide. I was also thinking there are a couple of kinds of animals in the forest we might try raising in pens or cages. So maybe you could consider where we might build some sort of hutch or coop."

"Which animals?" she asked, interested, though she did not believe that was the direction he had intended the conversation to go. Her distraction had worked. She felt guilty about not telling him the truth, but she wanted to take a closer look at the creature they'd killed first. She had convinced herself it would be better to have all the data she could collect.

"Those two legged, green things that strut around, poking their noses under everything," he said.

"For goodness sake, why?" she demanded. The creatures had made a great deal of noise whenever the castaways had encountered them. The noise had been particularly grating for the commander and the prospect of having them in the villa was enough to turn her thoughts to the current conversation.

"Because they are small enough to keep in a pen," he said with a smile at her expression. "And I think they might make a good meal. They wouldn't need a whole lot of care. Food for them should be easy enough to get, too."

"How would you capture them alive?" she asked. Her expression was still disapproving, but Sergeant Carter had a point.

"I'll have to figure out some kind of trap." He shrugged. "It might take an overnight trip to get a couple of them. If we laid the traps and left, I think something would just tear them open and eat the damned things."

"Very likely," she nodded. "So you've given up the idea of hunting animals in the mountains?"

"No, but we already know about these," he said and sipped his tea again. "I'd still like to explore the mountains, but that'll mean leaving for months. It's not practical. Too much to do here."

"Sensible," she said with a nod. "Our new friends may also be able to tell us about other small animals we could raise."

"Next spring we can try planting the grain we found in those stone jars down in the cellar," he said and drank more of his tea.

"What about trying to plant a few of the roots you like?" she asked and poured more water into their cups. "Perhaps they will take in this soil even so late in the season. We could tend them over the winter and see what results we get in the spring."

"Okay. I can grab a few extra," he agreed amiably. "We'll take one of the stretchers when we go. Then we can carry a lot more of whatever we find."

She nodded and they sat quietly for a bit in a companionable silence, though she felt a little tense. Had they been on one of the settled worlds they would not have looked out of place in a coffee shop or café. Liam finished his tea and stretched expansively. M'pel E'kmel watched his muscles ripple under is battered shirt and smiled wistfully until he was finished and his eyes opened again.

"Well," he said. "Time to get to it. Give the chief my best and watch your back. There could be other things out in the grassland we haven't seen yet."

"Likely there are," she said with a nod. "I will be careful. And you, Sergeant, please do come back in one piece. I've had enough of stitching and healing for now."

***********

The humidity seemed to be higher beneath the trees and there was less wind to move the air, but Tem'Ma'tel did not care. Her senses were alive with the scents and sounds around her. This was what her kind were meant to do. Well, almost. She did not feel jZav'Etch were really meant to dig roots out of the dirt with a stick. However, her mate liked the taste of these things and that was a good enough reason to dig.

"Especially after last night," she purred to herself and her tail flicked with the memory, causing Sue to turn her head and blink curiously at her.

Tem'Ma'tel had awakened sore and tired, but like her other times with SarJ'ant, last night's exertions had been worth what she was feeling now. She smiled and dug out another fist-sized tuber for him, happily tossing it into the bag with the others she and Sue had gathered. Sue tossed one in and gave her an easy smile before digging out another.

SarJ'ant and the young Faun, Charlie, were down the path from her sampling a plant the boy had pointed out as one they might be able to eat. Charlie certainly seemed to like it. He'd eaten at least a bushel of the leafy greens while waiting for SarJ'ant's medical kit to analyze the plants. Tem'Ma'tel thought they smelled terrible and doubted she could stomach them, even if she were starving.

She lifted her bag of roots and shook it to settle the contents, preparing to move to another clump of the things a few paces away. And then she had a strange feeling. She was suddenly very certain she was being watched. She gave no indication of her suspicion, but her mind focused her senses on the forest around her. There was a scent in the air she recognized. Her anger began to heat up when she understood the source of that scent. Sue paused in her digging and turned wary eyes on Tem'Ma'tel.

Suddenly Liam straightened, his posture alert. Tem'Ma'tel dropped her bag and grabbed her qui'istle. Sue looked back and forth between the two of them and sniffed the air. She frowned and looked as though she would speak, but SarJ'ant raised his finger to his lips, indicating the pair of them should remain silent, and then waved them over to him. Stealthily Tem'Ma'tel and Sue crossed the short distance without making a sound.

"Sensors picked up movement," Liam said in a low voice. He pointed back in the direction from which they had come. "Three of them. Two over there and one moving off to our left ahead of them."

"Yes," Tem'Ma'tel said in a hard voice. "I go. I... deal with... threat."

"No," Liam disagreed. "They're big enough to be dangerous. We don't know what they are yet."

"I know," she said and touched her nose. "I smell. Fauns."

"Fauns?" he asked and frowned in the direction his sensors indicated the creatures were hidden. "What the fuck are they doing in the forest?"

"Danger?" Charlie asked in a low tone.

"Maybe," Liam said.

"I do not think so," Sscuha said to her son. "It is Qlik and a pair of boys."

Warrior's eyes were narrowed and his posture tense. In spite of what his mother had said Chhal took his bow and fitted an arrow to the string, his eyes intent on the patch of underbrush Warrior had indicated.

"Charlie, Sue, go," Liam said and pointed to a clump of bushes to his right. The boy nodded and crept softly out of sight, but Sue shook her head and made a soft clicking sound. Liam pointed more insistently to the clump of bushes. Sue flapped her ears irritably, but went. "Tem'Ma'tel, get in behind that tree and watch the left. That one is coming on faster than the other two."

"No, SarJ'ant," she said with a firm shake of her head. "I go. You stay."

"They're Fauns," Liam said. "Might be they aren't up to anything. Could be they're just curious."

"Fauns, yes," she said. "Faun attack me. Faun is in forest. That Faun."

Liam wasn't sure he understood correctly. Tem'Ma'tel was pointing to the Faun creeping through the trees on their left.

"He's the one that attacked you and Clot'ilda?" he asked.

"Yes," she said and couldn't prevent her lips peeling back from her long teeth in a silent snarl. "I smell him."

"You can't kill him, Tem'Ma'tel," Liam said seriously. "We just made nice with the tribe. Can't throw that away."

She ground her teeth and hissed her displeasure.

"You can't kill him," Liam insisted.

"I no kill, SarJ'ant," she said and her tail lashed violently from side to side. Then she smiled a wicked smile and hissed, "I teach."

Before Liam could stop her Tem'Ma'tel darted silently off to the right, disappearing into the undergrowth like smoke into mist. Liam tracked her movements with his sensors, noting how she climbed a tree and began making her way through the branches.

***********

Qlik, formerly called Qlikchissal, stalked silently through the forest towards his prey. He had seen the four come down the slope from the Old Place and wondered what they had been doing. The sight of the strangers had renewed his anger, the memory of his humiliation fanning it hot. Yesterday he could do nothing except hide himself away in the farthest corner of the kraal when they came to help Ssuqlik and hunt the creature that had injured her. He had not joined in the celebration until after the strangers had left, having no stomach to feast while they were in the kraal.

Seeing these creatures this morning had decided him on his plan to leave the High Grass folk. He had debated long over this idea, wondering where he could go. The High Grass folk had taken everything of value from him. His name, his hut and all his possessions except his bow, spear, bolas and knife had been given to the tribe to be done with as they pleased. It was not right he should have been so punished. He had no wish to stay among people who would treat him in such a way. Now he knew what he would do.

His uncle was a hunter among the Broad Plains folk to the west beyond the forest and the marsh. Qlik could travel there in two weeks and join their tribe if he brought something of value to his uncle. And what, other than a god tear, could be more valuable than the pelt of an animal they had never seen? He would kill the big one who had beaten him and kill the one with red gold fur. He would take her hide and go to his uncle. He would take back his name and the Broad Plains folk would cheer him and honor him with a hut. Perhaps they would even give him a wife. All he needed to do was kill these two and keep the youths silent until he was done. That would be simple enough. If they protested too much he would knock them on their heads and leave them in the forest. He could be many strides away to the west before they could tell Seschiqal of his deeds.

A soft grunt from where he had left Sstuu and Kilq made him wince in irritation. If they would not be silent his hunt would go awry. They would warn his prey and the prey would be ready and alert. Qlik paused to listen, smelling the air to see if the prey had moved. He frowned. The large one was still where it had been, but the furred one's scent was fainter than before. What was happening? He edged forward another couple of paces, an arrow on his bow, and peered through the undergrowth.

A startled cry sounded from Sstuu, loud and frightened. Qlik spun, eyes wide, fearing a blade-beast was in the forest. He sniffed the air, but there was no scent of one. That did not mean there were none around, though. Blade-beasts had very little scent and they were always very quiet. He crouched down and half crawled back in the direction of the two youths. His prey surely knew they were being hunted now. If the two boys had done something foolish to spoil his hunt he would beat them. He might even kill them. This was his best chance to leave the High Grass folk and he would...

Qlik stopped in his tracks, smelling the air again. The scent of the furred one was stronger here. It was as if she were right in front of him, but there was no sign of her. There were not even tracks on the ground. Where could she be?

A hand snatched him by his left horn and Qlik felt himself hauled into the air. Panicked, he dropped his bow and arrows, kicking franticly and grasping at the powerful arm that held him above the ground. A hiss and snarl from above him caused Qlik to look up. It was the one with red gold fur and she was glaring hatefully down into his eyes.

"Hunting me again, sneaking coward?" Tem'Ma'tel snarled. "You should have stayed down wind. Not a wise or skilled hunter, are you?"

Terrified as he had never been, Qlik voided his bowels, the stink of it rising to fill the air around him. The furred one wrinkled her nose at the smell and snarled out a laugh. Her hissing and squalling words grated over his ears like thorned branches and she shook him as if she wished to break his neck. Qlik cried out in pain and fear. He closed his eyes so that he would not see his death coming and without realizing it he began to babble, begging for his life.

Tem'Ma'tel saw the terror in every quivering limb of this fool who had hunted her. Even through the stink of his scat she could smell the stink of his cowardice. His bleating calls were like music to her and she shook him more violently to prolong her enjoyment. Then, because his weight was growing tiresome, she threw him into a tangle of spiky plants. The game was just beginning.

Qlik felt himself falling and felt the thorns of the bush tear his hide. Surely this was the end. But then it wasn't. He opened his eyes and blinked around. His tormentor was nowhere to be seen. Had she decided not to kill him? Had she simply lost her grip while shaking him? Was she even now climbing down from the tree to attack him again? Even as the thought struck him, Qlik bounded to his hooves, leaving tufts of fur on the thorns and sprinted for his companions. They would still have their weapons. They could defend him.

Tem'Ma'tel leapt lightly from tree to tree, amazed at the speed the Faun was able to achieve in this broken terrain. His fear was a palpable thing, hanging on the air like invisible smoke. Though she was quickly outpaced, she did not give up her game. She knew where he was going and knew what he would find when he got there.

Qlik rounded the trunk of the tree where Sstuu and Kilq had been, hoping desperately that they were still alive. He blinked uncomprehendingly. They were not there. His eyes darted around the small clearing, but he saw no sign of them other than a scuffed area in the forest mold.

"She got them," he breathed. Suddenly he was shaking all over again. Fear gripped him like an icy fist. What could he do?

"I see you, little coward," laughed Tem'Ma'tel from above the Faun.

Qlik didn't wait to see where she was this time. He bolted for the edge of the forest and the plains beyond. There at least she would have no trees to stalk him from. There he could outrun her. There...

Qlik woke with a great weight pressing down on his chest. Almost unable to breathe he blinked his eyes open and slammed them shut, crying out in renewed terror. She was laying on him! She had pinned his arms and was purring right into his face. What could he do? He couldn't match her strength. She was far too large to wrestle with. He couldn't run. Qlik was trapped at last and there would be no escape. He cried in his fear and torment. He wanted his mother. He wanted her to take him away and make him safe as she had done when he was a child. He begged the Wandering Child to save him. He pleaded with the creature holding him down. He swore he would never hunt her again if only she would let him live. He would go far away and never return to the forest or the hill that was her home. He would do whatever she wanted as long as she spared his life.

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