The story takes place several hundred light years from Earth in about AD 3501, (the previously stated date of 7500 is erroneous - see above) give or take a century or three....
Sixteen years ago: secure within his mother’s den, the naked cub suckled alongside his furry brothers. As chemicals within the milk were absorbed into his bloodstream he dreamed of things that had happened long ago, when an ancestral creature that might have been called Whitebrush witnessed the arrival, through a hole in nothing, of two strange bipedal creatures that communicated by sound. Waking, the cub began to think about the differences between his own hairless, bipedal body and his furry brothers’.
Today: guarding the gate of a jungle village is Sherinel, a depressed youth who half-wishes the village would be invaded by wild lupinoids and striagons, if only to get rid of the sadistic chief hunter Borvinn who put him on guard in the first place. His reverie is interrupted by the sight of eyes watching him from the bushes. The terrified guardsman flees his post, only to be dragged back to the gate by his nemesis Borvinn. But the creature that has invaded the village is no striagon but a strange, wild and unkempt youth, wearing nothing but a knife with a jewelled hilt. Sherinel is aroused by the stranger’s nakedness, as is Borvinn, who also wonders where the stranger acquired his princely weapon.
A woman named Mavrida tearfully embraces the youth, believing him to be her long-lost son Ketrin. A year after her son’s birth, she and her husband Ruthyar were attacked by a striagon while travelling between villages, and by the time they managed to fight the creature off they discovered that Ketrin was missing. A few years later Ruthyar himself was killed while hunting what might have been the same striagon. Borvinn, who led that hunting party, always claimed that Ruthyar died heroically, but Mavrida suspected him of leading her husband into a trap. Ruthyar was a rich man, and Borvinn had always coveted his wealth.
Now Borvinn sees the wild boy’s arrival as a potential opportunity to get his hands on Ruthyar’s gold. Not to mention the wild boy’s arse.
Mavrida takes the boy in hand, cuts his hair, washes his face, dresses him in a waistcloth, shows him around the village and gives him his first cooked meal. That night, exhausted by all he has seen and learned, he dreams that one of the strange creatures seen by Whitebrush turns into Mavrida. He interprets the dream as meaning that humans are relative newcomers to this world. For the first time we learn that Ketrin, as he must now think of himself, has been sent back to the village by the lupinoids who raised him in order to help them understand humanity.
Over the following moons Ketrin begins to learn human speech, customs and behaviour. He is also taught some interesting sexual customs by the village boys while spying on the girls bathing. On other occasions he learns the village’s religious stories, whose claim that humans and animals were created together seems to contradict his dream. Meanwhile Borvinn visits an ancient sorcerer in the hope of finding a spell that will bind Ketrin and Mavrida to his will. The sorcerer shows him a pair of crystals that can produce a state of helpless immobility in their victims. Demonstrating this upon Borvinn himself, the sorcerer tells how he found the jewels in a cave in which two men had frozen each other forever in a vain attempt to gain their sole ownership.
In an attempt to win Ketrin over, Borvinn invites him to join the men’s circle that meets regularly by firelight. Mavrida agrees to let him go, provided he wears his knife for protection. What she doesn’t realise is that Borvinn has substituted one of the jewels in the knife’s hilt with a magic crystal. As long as Ketrin wears the knife he will be vulnerable to Borvinn’s spell of immobility.
At the campfire, Borvinn plies the unsuspecting Ketrin with alcohol, while recounting the tale of how his supposed father Ruthyar saved two of the hunters by luring the striagon away from them. Borvinn claims that Ruthyar was killed by the striagon, but despite being half-drunk, Ketrin is puzzled by anomalies in his story.
Then Ketrin, unaccustomed to hard liquor, finds himself surprisingly overcome by emotion at the thought of Ruthyar’s death. Borvinn dismisses the rest of the men and stays behind to “comfort” Ketrin. Then as soon as they are gone, Borvinn uses the crystal-spell to paralyse Ketrin and prepares to rape him.
You can take the boy out of the jungle, but you can’t take the jungle out of the boy.
They are the untamed. Run with them - or fear them...
--Blurb from an edition of The Jungle Book
Play with us. We don’t bite. Unless you ask nicely.
--Advertisement for Elfquest comic series (which features Wolfrider elves)
Halfway across the village, Mavrida felt a sudden chill. Had something happened to Ketrin? She forced herself to remain calm. Her son was strong, intelligent and brave. What harm could Borvinn possibly do him?
Back at the campfire, Ketrin fought vainly to move as Borvinn’s encircling arms fondled his chest and stomach. What had Borvinn done to him? He had never heard of anything that could render a living being so helpless. He could feel and smell the hunter’s drunken breath as Borvinn described in slurred detail all the things he was going to do to Ketrin’s firm brown backside.
For his part, Ketrin wished Borvinn would just get on with it rather than prolonging the anticipation. He wouldn’t enjoy being raped by Borvinn, but he would endure it. Even if the hunter were to keep him helpless for the rest of his life, Ketrin was determined to survive with his sanity intact.
At last Borvinn shucked off the last of his clothing and prepared to mount his helpless victim. The reason he had taken so long to prepare was that the drink had affected his potency somewhat, but now he was ready and more than able.
“I wonder if your animal friends ever fucked you,” Borvinn muttered, “or did you shove it into their furry arses instead?”
In fact the question betrayed Borvinn’s fundamental ignorance of lupinoid biology. Ketrin had never physically had sex with his brothers, although he had shared pleasure with them in his own way.
“Oh, sorry, I forgot,” said Borvinn. “You can’t talk, can you? Well, that’s all right. I never was one for love-chats anyway. I always prefer to get right down to it.”
And with that he tightened his embrace on Ketrin’s broad chest and thrust his throbbing erection toward Ketrin’s rectum.
Cursing his unnatural helplessness, Ketrin braced himself for the inevitable.
With a grunt, Borvinn slid forward...but then his arms relaxed their grip and he slowly fell sideways. Ketrin couldn’t turn to see what was happening, but it seemed as if Borvinn had passed out from the drink.
But then Ketrin heard a voice, and realised that Borvinn had not passed out at all.
“Come on, get off of him, you great flabby lump!”
There was a grunt of exertion, and Ketrin felt Borvinn’s unconscious body being lifted off of him. There was a thump as Borvinn rolled onto the ground by the fire.
“Ketrin?” said his rescuer, bending down to examine him. “Ketrin, what’s wrong? Why don’t you get up? Say something. I know you can talk a bit now.”
But Ketrin could neither talk nor get up.
“Has he drugged you or something? Come on, Ketrin, try to move.”
I am trying to move! thought Ketrin.
But at that moment, unseen by either Ketrin or his mysterious saviour, Borvinn’s nerveless fingers finally lost their grip on the spell-crystal, and it rolled toward the dying fire.
The spell was broken. Ketrin’s body jerked and twitched as it tried to respond to a dozen commands at once, but after a moment he regained his coordination, and was able to roll onto his back and finally look at his rescuer in the bright gold moonlight.
“Sherinel,” said Ketrin. “Where come you?”
“I was on guard duty again,” said Sherinel. “I’d heard some of the men talking, so I knew about Borvinn inviting you to the circle. I was afraid he might try something like this so I waited a while then slipped away from the gate. Looks like I only just made it in time.”
“Good you do,” said Ketrin, rising to his feet. “I thank.”
“Yeah, well...I kinda like you,” muttered Sherinel. “Anyway, what did he do to you? You were just lying there like a rag doll, as if you couldn’t move at all.”
“You right. Couldn’t. Borvinn do, but not know how.”
“Oh, gods. Ketrin, if he really does have the power to render people helpless then nobody is safe. Not you, not me, not Mavrida....”
Sherinel looked down at Borvinn’s unconscious body, and at the discarded piece of firewood he had clubbed Borvinn with. “Maybe” he muttered, “we should just....”
“No,” said Ketrin.
“Why not?” demanded Sherinel. “You know as well as I do that as long as he lives he’ll only make things bad for us and all our friends. Even if they have fur, maybe.”
“Not just kill Borvinn here. It...wrong, Sherinel. I not have words, but I know. He not win, Sherinel, but I not know how tell....”
“All right, Ketrin,” sighed Sherinel. “I’ll trust your judgement. I didn’t really feel like killing him while he was unconscious anyway.”
“I’ve got to leave before he sees it was me that clouted him. Gods only know what he’d do if he found out. Anyway, I have to get back to the gate. No telling what wild animals could be lurking out there...” at this, he grinned at Ketrin, who grinned back “...is there? Oh, and you’d beter not tell Mavrida you saw me. She’s a good woman, but if she let it slip word might get back to Borvinn.”
Ketrin nodded. “We talk again, Sherinel,” he said.
“Yes. I look forward to it,” replied Sherinel.
And then he surprised Ketrin - and himself - by drawing him into an embrace and kissing him full on the lips.
“Take care, Ketrin,” he said, turning to depart. “Oh, by the way, don’t forget to put on your waistcloth before you get home. Farewell.”
When he arrived back at the gate the first thing Sherinel saw, in the distance, was two pairs of eyes shining in the moonlight.
“It’s all right,” he said nervously. “He’s safe now. You can go.”
The watchers, he knew, could not have understood his words. Yet somehow he also knew that they did understand that their brother was no longer in danger. After a moment their eyes disappeared from view. The rest of the night’s watch was uneventful.
Ketrin staggered back to Mavrida’s house. He was hampered by his waistcloth, which kept slipping down because he did not have the coordination to fasten it properly. Not for the first time he wondered why the humans had ever invented something as inconvenient as clothing. Fatigue and relief were conspiring with the alcohol he had consumed, and by the time he reached the doorway his head was throbbing. He was not entirely surprised to see, through bleary eyes, that Mavrida had stayed up waiting for his return.
“I not feel good,” he said.
Mavrida sighed and wiped his face with a damp cloth before helping him into bed. “I told you not to drink too much, didn’t I?” she said. “Still, I don’t suppose it’s your fault. I should have warned you what too much ale would do.”
“Borvinn give me head,” muttered Ketrin, which Mavrida found alarming until she realised he was talking about his headache. She brought him a mug of warm vorn milk laced with herbs to help him sleep, then went off to bed herself, cursing Borvinn and his friends for the ten-thousandth time.
Borvinn himself woke some hours later, cursing Ketrin and his friends. He didn’t know who had knocked him out, but he had his suspicions. Somebody was going to pay dearly for crossing him.
As he gathered up his scattered clothing and began to dress, he suddenly realised that the jewel was missing. Frantically he began grubbing in the dirt for the priceless object.
He must have been searching for the better part of an hour, and had almost given up hope of finding it, when sudenly his fingers encountered a small hard object in the ashes of the fire. At first he thought it was just another stone, but when he held it up to examine it he was surprised and delighted to see the moonlight refracting through crystalline facets. As far as he could see the jewel was undamaged.
With a sigh of relief he closed his fist around the crystal. From now on he was determined not to let it out of his sight. He was only sorry that he did not have more of the crystals. At that moment he would have loved to be able to freeze all his enemies, and then make them sorry they had ever been born.
He did not realise that the heat of the fire had caused the crystal to expand slightly, creating a tiny, invisible flaw.
Ketrin slept until mid-morning, and woke with a ferocious hangover. Mavrida gave him more herbs and closed the shutters to prevent the light from hurting his eyes, but that didn’t prevent him from growling like a wounded lupinoid for most of the day. Mavrida had to make excuses for him when the chief herdsman came to demand his help. Still, Mavrida reflected, the herdsman looked to be in much the same condition, having attended the men’s circle himself.
Once Ketrin’s head had finally stopped pounding, he told Mavrida what Borvinn had told him of Ruthyar’s death.
“And did you believe him?” asked Mavrida.
“No,” said Ketrin. “I think Borvinn kill Ruthyar. Send where he know striagon wait. Striagon kill Ruthyar, not Borvinn, so Borvinn not be...ah...”
“Blamed,” muttered Mavrida. “Borvinn would not be blamed. And he was not. Oh, my son! If Borvinn ever believed you a fool, he could never have imagined how wrong he was. You must be Ruthyar’s son indeed, to have inherited his wisdom. You have seen through Borvinn’s lies, where many a man would simply have accepted them as the truth. Oh, Ruthyar, wherever you are now, look upon your son and give him you blessing! He may yet be the one to avenge your death!”
Ketrin was puzzled by Mavrida’s behaviour. “Can dead hear?” he asked.
Mavrida wiped a tear from her eye. “I don’t know, Ketrin. Nobody really knows. But we all hope that perhaps those we have loved and lost look kindly upon us from wherever they may be. Do you understand?”
“Not all.” said Ketrin.
Mavrida sighed. “Well, never mind. The important thing is, you’re right. I’m sure that Borvinn did set Ruthyar up to be killed by the striagon, it’s just that I have no way to prove it. And even if I could...widows have little recourse under village law, even if they can prove their husbands were murdered.”
“But why Borvinn kill? What harm Ruthyar do him?”
“None, Ketrin. Ruthyar never harmed anybody. But he had gold, Ketrin, and he had me. Two things Borvinn wanted more than anything else in the world.”
“Gold?” said Ketrin. “I seen gold, but why kill for?”
In answer to his question, Mavrida held out her right hand and showed Ketrin the gold band upon her finger.
“This gold ring was given to me by Ruthyar as a token of our marriage,” she said. “See how it shines? Men value gold almost above life itself, Ketrin, and men like Borvinn will do anything to get their hands on it. Ruthyar had some gold, but he hid it where Borvinn can’t find it. Only I know where it is, and nothing will make me tell Borvinn.”
“I seen very much gold. But why men love so? Is pretty, but can’t eat pretty stuff. Can’t plant it. Can’t fu -”
“Men value gold,” said Mavrida, breaking in swiftly, “partly for its beauty, but mostly because it can be exchanged for things. It has great value in terms of how much it can buy. Don’t ask me why that is, but it is so. A man who owns lots of gold can use it to acquire anything he wants. Food, yes, and plants if he desires them. Yes, and women too, or boys if he prefers. So now do you see why Borv -”
Then Mavrida broke off as something Ketrin had said suddenly registered.
“Ketrin,” she said, “did you say you had seen gold? Very much gold?”
“Yes. Many things gold, and other shiny stuffs. Caves under big place, more big than village. Many stone house above, all empty. Men long time gone. Caves under houses not empty. So much there, hard to walk between. Gold, small things light go through -”
“- knifes, swords - got my knife there. Seen men use knife for kill, cut meat, so got me knife too. Other many things there, not know what called. Stuff like cloth, thinner, soft -”
“Silk,” breathed Mavrida. “Oh, gods, it’s true then. You found the lost city!” Then she found herself chuckling. “Isn’t it ironic, my son? The only person to find the place in decades is the one person who doesn’t want any of the treasure. Except for a knife!”
Ketrin was silent for a moment. Then he muttered, “Men kill for gold...much gold in lost place...so big fight if men find?”
“Yes, Ketrin. Men like Borvinn would do anything to get their hands on the treasure of the lost city. I suppose it’s too much to hope that Borvinn and his rivals would all kill each other over it. No, someone would survive, and with that much gold there would be no stopping them. Ketrin, listen to me. No one must know about the lost city. Not even people you think you can trust. Somebody might talk while the wrong people are listening. Do you understand, son? Tell no one!”
“No one, mother. I am silent.”
Mavrida nodded, knowing that Ketrin would keep his word.
The next few months of Ketrin’s life were relatively uneventful. He continued to work mainly in the fields, tending the herds, ploughing and sowing. He became more diligent about not going naked in public, to the disappointment of some of the young women and men, although some of them made up for that with him in private.
During these private sessions he had his first sexual encounters with girls. While heterosexuality was undeniably pleasant, he found it less exciting than sex with men, although none of the girls had reason to complain. It was here also that he learned of the juice, distilled from leaves of the thaal bush, that girls drank to avoid unwanted pregnancies.
From time to time Borvinn put Ketrin on guard duty. Perhaps he hoped to catch the wild youth performing some “unnatural” activity with the lupinoids, but if so he was frustrated. Ketrin was too careful for him. Equally frustrating was the fact that Ketrin, perhaps warned by some instinct, did not wear his jewelled knife when Borvinn was watching.
Ketrin, for his part, remained wary of Borvinn and his mysterious sorcery, and communicated the fact to his lupinoid brothers, who made it plain that they would defend their hairless sibling at all costs. Ketrin urged them to be cautious. It would do him no good if they were killed or frozen.
Borvinn would sometimes strike Ketrin for some imagined transgression, as he did all the boys and men under his rule - even more so following his humiliation at the campfire. This behaviour annoyed the lupinoids no end, as it did Ketrin himself, but as far as Ketrin was concerned the blows were trivial. Ketrin pretended to be chastised by Borvinn’s punishments, but in fact he paid them no more attention than he would insect bites. Anyhow, as long as the chief hunter concentrated on punishing him, Borvinn’s younger and more vulnerable victims would win a brief reprieve.
And so the time passed.
Once again Sherinel had drawn night watch duty. Sometimes he suspected that Borvinn picked him deliberately just to spite him. It was the middle of a two-moon night, Silvermoon and Goldmoon embracing at the roof of the sky, which meant that at least he could see if any dangerous animals were approaching.
And indeed, there were two pairs of purple eyes watching him...
Don’t panic, he told himself. Those are the two lupinoids you saw before, when...
Suddeny a voice spoke quietly behind him.
“Sherinel,” it said, “it’s me.”
Sherinel almost leapt out of his skin. Turning, he saw another pair of feral eyes approaching from the direction of the village.
“Ketrin,” he said. “You almost scared me out of my wits. How long have you been there?”
“Not long,” said Ketrin. “You said we should talk again some day, and tonight seemed as good as any.”
Sherinel considered Ketrin’s words. “You know,” he said, “you’ve learned to talk a lot better since we last spoke. I wouldn’t have believed anyone could learn so quickly.”
Ketrin gave a feral grin (what else?) “Nor would I. And yet it’s true. Until I came to the village I had never known human speech. But I have learned very quickly, Sherinel, and not just words, but human customs and behaviour as well. You could call it a kind of...what is the word...sorcery.”
Oh, well, that’s just wonderful, thought Sherinel. Not only is the lad as wild as any lupinoid, but he’s a gods-blasted wizard as well!
Disturbed by the thought, he cast another wary glance at the purple eyes peering from the bushes. “Look at them,” he muttered. “Just sitting there, like...like they’re waiting for something.”
“Yes,” said Ketrin. “They are waiting for me. I’ve been in the village a long time by their reckoning, and they want to know how I’m geting on.”
“Waiting for you?” said Sherinel. “But...how did they know you were here? Could they smell you?”
Ketrin grinned. “Over the smell of the village? Oh, no. They knew I was coming because I told them.”
“Told them?” Sherinel was confused. “How could you tell them if the were in the forest and you were in the village? I mean...this is crazy. How can anyone talk to a lupinoid anyway?”
“Not in words,” replied Ketrin. “I can send out my thoughts, my feelings and impressions, to them, and hear theirs. It’s just as easy as talking to you. Actually, easier, because I’ve been doing it all my life.”
“Sending out your thoughts? But that’s impossible. I don’t believe it.”
Yet the lupinoids had come when they were wanted...
“Anyway, even...even if it is possible...how did you learn to do it? And - I’ve never really understood - what do the lupinoids have to do with you anyway?”
“Everything, Sherinel. The lupinoids are my brothers.”
Sherinel stared at the youth. In the moonslight his eyes appeared to glow like the lupinoids’. “What do you mean, your brothers? You make it sound like you’re...one of them.”
“Yes, Sherinel,” said Ketrin, with a strange smile. “In a sense I am as much a lupinoid as they are.” Seeing Sherinel’s expression he gave another wry grin. “Oh, don’t be afraid. I am not some story-monster of Borvinn’s that turns into a furry, man-eating beast whenever the moons are full. Although -” he cast a glance at the sky “- this would be a perfect night for it, don’t you think?” He chuckled.
Sherinel did not feel like laughing. He felt that he was in the presence of a deep mystery. Just who, or what, was Ketrin?
“No, Sherinel, I am a man. A woman gave birth to me and lost me in the jungle. It might have been Mavrida, though she can hardly be the only woman ever to lose her child to the forest.
“I could so easily have died that day...but then a lupinoid found me wandering in the jungle. I was small, defenceless, frightened and alone, and I would have made a decent snack for a hungry predator. Yet for some reason he decided to save me and take me to his mate to raise as one of her own cubs. I suppose it was what the priest here would call a miracle.
“The lupinoid took me to his mate’s den - I suppose it was another miracle that she accepted me as well - and laid me beside her own cubs, and I instinctively began feeding with them. And once I had suckled upon her milk I was...changed. I was never quite the same again.”
Sherinel was both astonished and perplexed by these revelations. “But I don’t understand,” he said. “How can milk change you? Milk is just milk, surely.”
“Oh, but you are wrong, Sherinel, so wrong,” sighed Ketrin. “A lupinoid’s milk does not just nourish her cub’s body. It also contains some substance - or some sorcery - that imparts knowledge and memory. The first time I suckled at my lupinoid mother’s teat, I began to ingest the memory of a thousand generations of lupinoids. From that day forth I could never be merely human again.”
Ketrin sighed and gazed at the moons once more.
“You see,” he went on, “the memories contained within the milk teach the cub how and where to hunt, how to avoid rival predators like striagons, the best way to find a mate...oh, yes, even before I could walk I knew all about lupinoid mating! Of course, my body wasn’t made to mate with a lupinoid’s, even if I’d been mature enough, so I just had to be content to play with my own body.”
Well, at least nobody forced you, Sherinel thought.
“Growing up with the lupinoid memories was hard for me,” Ketrin went on. “Their purpose is to help the cubs survive by passing on the knowledge of how to hunt successfully, avoid danger and attract the best mates. With each generation those skills are improved, because only those who survive to mate will pass on the memories to the next generation. Lupinoids don’t know all this, of course. To them it’s just something that happens, like breathing. But for me it was different.
“I remembered having sleek, powerful, furred bodies, yet my own was small, weak and naked. At first I couldn’t even control my limbs properly because they were so different from a lupinoid’s. And of course my brothers matured so much faster than me. The pack would have killed me as a runt, I’m sure, if my mother - my lupinoid mother - hadn’t fought them off.
“But then, luckily for me, it seemed that my human instincts began to take over. Gradually I learned how to walk and run upright and use my hands. I found out how to kill small game with stones or branches, and climb trees to pick berries and raid birds’ nests. My sense of smell could never be as good as my brothers’, but I could see more colours by daylight or bright moonslight, and walking upright meant that I could sometimes spot danger almost as soon as they could smell it.
“And then I learned how to swim and catch fish, and to keep a lookout from the trees. All in all, I learned that having a naked upright body wasn’t so bad after all, especially with furry brothers to help me hunt. And so, Sherinel, that is what I am: I am a man, but I can never be just a man, any more than I can ever be completely lupinoid..”
Sherinel was astonished by Ketrin’s revelations. He could scarcely imagine how it must have been for him. “But why are you telling me these things?” he said.
“Because you asked,” said Ketrin, with simple logic. “And because you are honest. And because I know you will not betray me.”
Sherinel looked troubled. “I wish I could be sure of that,” he said, “but suppose Borvinn finds out you were here? He’ll want me to tell him everything I know about you, and if I don’t tell him willingly he’s just as likely to beat it out of me.”
Ketrin stared at Sherinel. His eyes appeared to glow, holding the guard’s eyes fast.
“Borvinn does not own you,” said Ketrin. “You can resist him. You will resist him. For my sake, and for your own, you must not tolerate his kind.”
The glow faded from his eyes and he sat back. Sherinel had a strange feeling that something had passed between the wild youth and himself, but he was not at all sure what. Ketrin said, “In the end, the future of the human race may depend on how people react to men like Borvinn. The lupinoids are watching you, Sherinel. All of you.”
Sherinel wanted to say, “But I don’t understand”; but he realised that would have been a lie. He was beginning to understand what the lupinoids wanted with humanity, and why Ketrin had come to study humans on their behalf. And just that partial understanding disturbed him more than he could have imagined.
“Ketrin,” he said, “I’m scared. I mean...I’ve always been a coward, but now I’m scared of what’s going to happen. I’m scared of what the lupinoids will do. I’m even scared of you, even though I lo...” he swallowed, unable to continue.
“Sherinel,” said Ketrin, moving closer, “You are not a coward! Borvinn wants you to think you are because it makes it easier for him to use you, but if you were truly a coward you would not have sat here listening to me, with the lupinoids just outside the gate. You would have run.”
“I don’t know why I don’t run,” muttered Sherinel. “I’m still terrified of them.”
Ketrin stood suddenly and reached for Sherinel’s hand. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s see how scared you really are.”
And that was how, moments later, Sherinel found himself face to face with two of the most feared predators in the forest, the mere rumour of which had sent him fleeing in terror less than four moons earlier. But though his heart was pounding and his mouth dry, Sherinel was astonished to realise that part of him was more fascinated than terrified by the great beasts. Ketrin gestured for him to kneel down so that the lupinoids could get a good look, and a good sniff, at him.
“Don’t stare at them,” Ketrin told him. “They’d take that as a challenge. Just let them take a good look so they can recognise you by scent and sight.”
The lupinoids walked slowly around the crouching Sherinel, carefully taking in his scent. The first of the two was as black as night from head to tail, a perfectly camouflaged nocturnal hunter, although when the moonslight struck his flank at an angle Sherinel was able to make out the striped markings at the rear of his torso. The other was reddish-brown in colour, with darker brown stripes and tail, and white markings on his paws that made it look almost as if the ferocious predator were wearing linen baby-boots.
“Do...” Sherinel croaked nervously, then cleared his throat, and then hoped the lupinoids wouldn’t interpret that as a growl, then started again. “Do they have names?”
“Lupinoids don’t need names for themselves,” said Ketrin. “They know who they are. If they refer to each other in thought, they usually identify other lupinoids by their appearance or scent. The pack tends to think of me as ‘brown,no-fur,two-legs’, although these two just call me ‘brother’, and that’s how I think of them too. My brothers usually go by descriptions like ‘the-one-with-silver-paws’ and ‘dark-as-a-shadow’. So I guess a human could call them ‘Silverpaw’ and ‘Shadow’.”
The lupinoids had finished looking over Sherinel. Apparently satisfied with what they had seen, they grunted with every appearance of contempt, trotted a short distance away and sat quietly once more.
“Good,” said Ketrin. “They like you.”
I wonder what they’d do if they didn’t like me, Sherinel thought. The lupinoids meanwhile gave no sign that they liked or disliked him, but simply continued to sit languidly. But although they appeared passive, Sherinel knew they could be aroused to decisive action at the slightest threat.
“They...I never thought I’d hear myself say this,” muttered Sherinel, “but the lupinoids...they’re beautiful. Beautiful and deadly. I’m not saying I’m not still scared of them, but...I think I understand them a little better now. They say that when you understand something, you don’t fear it so much.
“ But, you know, Borvinn...he and his hunters say the lupinoids are just evil and should be wiped out. He says lupinoids and striagons weren’t made by the gods but by devils, and the only way mankind can ever have peace is if they’re wiped out.”
“You know he’s lying, Sherinel,” muttered Ketrin. “I think that gods and devils are only in stories. Or maybe they are just symbols. Symbols of mankind’s powers for good and evil.”
“You’d better not let the priest hear you say that,” said Sherinel with a grim chuckle. “He’ll have you sweeping the chapel floor and polishing all the statuettes for six moons as penance.”
“I’m serious, my friend,” said Ketrin. “It’s hard to explain, but I believe lupinoids were in this world long before men arrived. Men came from somewhere else, some land that didn’t have things like lupinoids or striagons, maybe, and the only reason men like Borvinn want to kill them is that mankind has always been afraid of what it doesn’t know or understand.”
“Well, that certainly explains why Borvinn is afraid of you. And why you should be afraid of him.”
Ketrin slipped his arms beneath Sherinel’s shoulders and moved forward so that their heads were almost side by side.
“You have to resist men like Borvinn,” he said. “If you do not, if you always give in to them, they will create the kind of world the lupinoids fear. A world in which men never cease to fight men, and the forest becomes their battleground. A world in which no man or beast would be safe. I don’t want that, Sherinel. I would rather see the day when all men and their fellow creatures can dwell together in mutual respect, in harmony, even...love.”
And with those words, Ketrin slipped his hands beneath Sherinel’s shoulders and began to caress his chest.
He knows, thought Sherinel in astonishment. He’s known how I’ve felt about him all along!
The truth of the matter was that on the day the wild boy had arrived in the village he had been able to sense Sherinel’s surreptitious glances. They had felt wonderful, like sensuous caresses upon his naked body. They had in fact given him an erection in full view of Mavrida, but if she had been surprised or shocked by that she had chosen not to show it.
Of course Ketrin had also felt Borvinn’s lecherous stares, then and since, but they had only made him nauseous.
As Ketrin continued to stroke Sherinel’s chest, slowly, languidly, sensuously, the guard felt himself becoming powerfully aroused. How many long, sultry nights had Sherinel spent fantasising about this moment? And yet, somehow he did not feel right about it....
“Ketrin, don’t,” said Sherinel. “Please. I...I don’t think you should.”
Ketrin stopped, but did not withdraw his hands. “I...forgive me,” he said. “I will not do anything unless you want...”
“Oh, Ketrin,” sighed Sherinel. “It’s not that I don’t want to. The day you arrived, when I saw you standing there, tall and proud, and all naked like some wild forest god, you were the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen. I desired you from that moment. But...Borvinn...”
“Borvinn again!” growled Ketrin. “What has he done to you, Sherinel? Tell me.”
Sherinel swallowed. “Ever since I was a boy, he’s been forcing me to...submit to him. He’s done it to lots of other boys as well. He never did anything that would leave a mark, of course, but he hurt us just the same. He said that if any of us told our parents he’d see that we were punished. A few boys told on him anyway, but the grownups just wouldn’t believe them. Borvinn was too well respected.”
Ketrin growled deep within his throat. (Nearby, the lupinoids sat up, ready to spring to their brother’s aid if he needed it.)
Sherinel spoke in a quavering voice. “There was one boy...down by the stream. They said it was an accident, but I think Borvinn might have killed him to stop him from screaming. Or maybe...maybe he was running away, trying to swim for it, but he misjudged the current...” Sherinel swallowed. His face was moist. “He was only eleven. The same age as me. I didn’t tell anyone, because I knew they’d never believe me, yet I’ve always felt guilty for keeping silent.” He turned away to wipe his face. “So you see, that’s why I can’t do this with you. It would be too much like...like...”
Ketrin took Sherinel’s face in his hands and looked him in the eyes. “Someday Borvinn will pay for his crimes, Sherinel. I swear it. But he is the only one who should feel guilty. You were a child. There was nothing you could have done.” Ketrin sighed. “If I have learned anything of humanity, it is that no child should ever have to endure the things he did to you and the others.”
Once more Ketrin stared at Sherinel with glowing eyes. Sherinel felt that some unspoken communion was taking place, and he felt his anxieties melting away along with his inhibitions.
“I love you, Sherinel,” said Ketrin simply. “I will never force you to do anything against your will.”
Sherinel swallowed. This was the moment of decision. More than anything Sherinel wanted to overcome his fears and give in to his desires. To do so willingly would not only go against village law and tradition, but would also be an act of rebellion against Borvinn.
But while Sherinel wrestled with his decision, Ketrin simply gazed at him quietly with those purple, lupinoid-like eyes, never seeking to hurry him or force his decision...
“Yes,” he breathed, after a minute that seemed like a lifetime. Oh, yes, Ketrin. This is what I want. I love you, Ketrin. Make love to me, my naked savage, my wild forest god.”
They made love gently and unhurriedly in the bright moonslight, while the village slept. Seeing that their brother had found himself a companion, the lupinoids also began to play at mating with each other, after a brief tussle to establish which of them would mount which.
The lupinoids play-mated swiftly and fiercely before settling down to a half-doze from which a falling leaf would have woken them to full alertness. But the humans went on with their languid, sensuous lovemaking until the embracing moons were halfway down the sky.
Shortly before dawn, after the moons had disappeared behind the trees, Sherinel was awakened by a hand on his shoulder.
“I must get back to Mavrida ’s house,” Ketrin told him, pulling on his waistcloth. “It would not do for Borvinn to find us both here.”
“Gods, no. I don’t know what he’d do to me, but I bet he’d try to do worse to you, lupinoids or no lupinoids.”
“Some day soon I know he will. But don’t worry about me. I will be ready for him. I swear to you, Sherinel, he will never harm you or any of the village boys again. And if he tries to harm me or Mav - or my mother - then he really will have to deal with lupinoids. Not just these two, but a whole pack of them. Now wouldn’t that be something to see?”
In spite of his misgivings Sherinel could not help but laugh.
“Now get dressed,” said Ketrin, slapping Sherinel’s bottom (not for the first time that night). “When Borvinn arrives you can tell him you saw a pair of lupinoids, but bravely scared them off with your spear.”
Sherinel laughed. “Oh, come on! He’d never believe that!”
“Well then,” Ketrin grinned, “just show Borvinn what my brothers are leaving for him!”
Sure enough the two lupinoids were squatting beside the stockade in order to deposit irrefutable proof of their presence.
“I’m sorry about the smell,” said Ketrin. “I must admit it’s a bit strong, and I’m used to it! But it will surely give Borvinn something to wonder about.” He looked thoughtful for a moment, then took a few steps outside the gate and sniffed the air. “Hmm...I’ve had an idea. Lend me your spear for a moment.”
Sherinel was puzzled, but handed over the weapon without a word. Silently, Ketrin bounded into the forest. The lupinoids merely watched him depart, and sat quietly awaiting his return. Sherinel had little choice but to do the same. Sherinel was still nervous of the great beasts, but he now knew that they would not harm him, at least not intentionally. It would probably be best not to get in their way while they were running or hunting, though.
After a few minutes Sherinel seemed to hear a distant squeal. Shortly afterward Ketrin returned with the spear, which was now dripping with blood. The wildling gazed at his brothers, evidently sharing a mental communion with them, and they raced off eagerly into the undergrowth.
“There,” said Ketrin, delivering the weapon back into the dubious Sherinel’s possession. “I just killed a bush-hog. Now my brothers have a little snack, and you have something to show Borvinn. He won’t be able to tell it isn’t lupinoid blood, and together with the droppings it may just change his opinion of you.”
“I wouldn’t be certain of that,” said Sherinel. “Borvinn has a bad opinion of everybody. It seems to save him time.”
Shortly afterward Borvinn arrived to relieve Sherinel of his duties, and was surprised to see him looking relaxed and self-confident. What had got into the lad, he wondered? Or perhaps, he suspected, the question ought to be, who had gotten into his waistcloth....
He was naturally sceptical of Sherinel’s claim to have wounded and scared off a pair of ferocious lupinoids, even when presented with the bloodstained spear and two large piles of lupinoid spoor. He suspected at once that Ketrin was involved somehow (despite the fact that Ketrin had carefully brushed out his footprints). Was it possible that the boy had somehow tamed a lupinoid and made it shit on the village’s very doorstep? That had alarming implications. If he felt he was being persecuted Ketrin might decide to take revenge upon Borvinn. The chief hunter was confident that he could handle one wild boy, however cocky he might be, but a fully-grown carnivore was a different matter.
Never mind, thought Borvinn. Those damn flea-ridden beasts won’t be able to protect the bastard forever. Not when I organise a full-scale bounty hunt for their pelts!
And once I’ve dealt with them, it’ll be time to conclude my unfinished business with Ketrin. Next time his little friend Sherinel won’t be alive to protect him, and Ketrin will be my paralysed love-doll or the rest of his life!
October 1999 - November 2000, but not necessarily in that order!
Part Three is coming!
I can’t tell you when, exactly, but I’m working on it...
In future instalments: Ketrin’s past revealed! The secret watchers! What do the lupinoids want with humanity? Borvinn’s revenge! The hidden city found! What really happened to Ruthyar? Mysterious strangers! No escape from paralysis! And (as they say) much, much more!!!