Part One Part Two
Part Three Part Four
Part Five Part Six
Part Seven Part Eight
Part Nine Part Ten
Part Eleven Part Twelve
Kipling and Ketrin
and Mowgli and Me
Jaskri and the Maiden
The Sculptor’s Model
Copyright © 2006 by Leem
This story may be posted on other sites provided that all of its instalments to date are posted, that Leem is identified as the author, and that no unauthorised changes are made to the text
Previously on Ketrin...
In Part Six the two lupinoids summoned telepathically by the paralysed Ketrin succeeded in finding food for the drought-stricken Third Hill, where he was regarded as an incarnation of Lord Ral-ne-Sa, god of lupinoids. The grateful villagers began worshipping Ketrin with their bodies, and he could neither resist nor complain - assuming he wanted to do either. Meanwhile Sherinel, more or less recovered from his wounds, left Mavrida to rejoin four of Ketrin’s lupinoids, and set out with them to search for him.
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This episode addresses a couple of plot points that only occurred to me after I’d finished part 6:
I hope the
- If Ketrin is still carrying stipple shouldn’t the Third Hillers also get it?
- How did Silverpaw find his way back to Sherinel? Wasn’t he on the wrong side of the river?
rationalisationsexplanations given herein will satisfy these questions. I’ll discuss a couple of story-related issues at the end to avoid spoilers.
The story takes place several hundred light years from Earth in about AD 3501,
give or take a century or three and a few more moons....
You can take the boy out of the jungle, but you can’t take the jungle out of the boy.
ARTHUR: There it is! The Bridge of Death!
ROBIN: Oh, great.
--Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975
“We will not come,” Grey Brother growled. “Hunt alone, Little Brother. we know our own minds. The skull would have been ready to bring by now.”
Mowgli had been looking from one to the other of his friends, his chest heaving and his eyes full of tears. He strode forward to the wolves, and, dropping on one knee, said: “Do I not know my mind? Look at me!”
They looked uneasily, and when their eyes wandered, he called them back again and again, till their hair stood up all over their bodies, and they trembled in every limb, while Mowgli stared and stared.
“Now,” said he, “of us five, which is leader?”
“Thou art leader, Little Brother,” said Grey Brother, and he licked Mowgli’s foot.
“Follow, then,” said Mowgli, and the four followed at his heels with their tails between their legs.
--Rudyard Kipling, “Letting In the Jungle”, 1895
Ecstasy and Anxiety
Life in Third Hill slowly returned to normal as the villagers regained their strength. Accompanied by their new lupinoid companions the hunters made another foray into the hidden valley and returned with more food and water, but this time they reported no sign of striagons.
+Bit boring really,+ Sun told Ketrin. +No stripeys to fight. Still, the hunting was good.+
+Right,+ added Fire, chewing a bone. +Good meat.+
By now the villagers had become used to the lupinoids’ presence and were content to let them wander freely through the village, although they sometimes had to be physically dragged away from food that was reserved for humans. By then the hunters had learned just how much force - and kindness - to apply to keep the beasts under control.
Ketrin envied the lupinoids’ ability to hunt and eat, but at least his telepathic link enabled him to share their smell and taste of food as they ate.
As for his other senses, the villagers were taking care of them.
They had constructed a small wooden shrine around Ketrin, and while the hunters returned to the valley, the remaining villagers had taken it in turns to worship him there.
Though Ketrin had always preferred men to women, he was perfectly capable of being aroused by the female form. That was just as well, since over the course of several days he was visited by more than twenty of the hunters’ wives and older daughters, as well as a few of their older sons for variety.
“Lord Ral-ne-Sa,” they would beg, “bless our humble village with fertility. Bring us the gift of children, we pray.”
There was little danger of their prayers going unanswered. One of the paradoxes of Ketrin’s paralysing curse was that although he no longer needed to eat or drink, his body continued to produce sperm in abundance, and certainly had the means to deliver it.
Each of the women spent some time just looking at Ketrin’s face and body before embracing him. Ketrin was still a little puzzled by the amount of time they spent examining him. Despite all his sexual experience, he did not yet fully understand the effect that his beauty had upon people.
After scrutinising him, the women would profess their undying love and obedience to Lord Ral-ne-Sa, lord and saviour of Third Hill. Then they would disrobe and display their bodies, often dancing or at least turning slowly before him. By that time he would already be aroused, but the sight of their bodies always reinforced his readiness.
Then they would lower him onto his back or straddle him in a sitting position and the worship would begin. From that point on there was absolutely nothing Ketrin could do but enjoy the ride as they did their very best to give him and themselves as much pleasure as they could. None of them seemed to mind doing all the work, and they would manipulate his hands and feet so he could feel every part of their bodies.
In this way the days and nights passed for Ketrin in a haze of climaxes. None of the women brought him to less than two orgasms, and as soon as one would leave she would be replaced by another. Often the next in line would grow impatient, enter the shrine and join in, favouring both Ketrin and his current partner with intimate kisses and caresses and arousing them even further.
It was not surprising that he lost count of the orgasms he experienced over the course of four or five days.
Although Ketrin did not know it, the lupinoid milk he had suckled as a child had done more than give him a telepathic bond with the creatures. It had also made countless subtle and not-so-subtle alterations to his physical and mental development. He had the milk to thank for his sexual potency, and within a few moons its effect upon his fertility would also become apparent.
After providing this service for the women Ketrin was almost relieved when he picked up Sun and Fire’s telepathic calls informing him that the hunting party was returning.
Of course, when the men did return their womenfolk did not speak directly of the manner in which they had worshipped Lord Ral-ne-Sa. In the moons that followed the men might suspect the truth, but nothing would be said. For how can a man be jealous of a god?
After the hunters returned they decided to celebrate their success. Ketrin once more found himself worshipped to distraction, this time by the men.
A few days after the hunt Ketrin had other things on his mind. He had been seated upright and garlanded with flowers, and as the villagers walked past his shrine they bowed and mutter quiet prayers. The villagers seemed happy and healthy, yet something was nagging Ketrin at the back of his mind. He had a vague impression that there was something he had forgotten.
And then one of the villagers brought her child before him. The boy was about five years old; he was coughing and crying and his body was covered in red sores.
“Lord Ral-ne-Sa,” wept the mother, “Heal my son, I pray. He is our only child. Do not take him from us, I beg you.”
Ketrin’s heart sank. He knew what he had forgotten. Although he had recovered from stipple disease, it still slept within his body, ready to infect anyone who had not developed immunity. While Third Hill had worshipped him as their saviour, he had unwittingly brought a potential killer into their midst.
Wasting no time Ketrin summoned Sun and Fire to him. Seeing Lord Ral-ne-Sa’s lupinoid servants arrive, the woman bowed and took her son aside, knowing that her prayer would soon be answered.
Ketrin was doing his best.
+The two-leg cubs are going to get sick, like that one over there,+ he told the lupinoids.
Sun padded over and sniffed the child, while its mother bowed respectfully.
+Yeah, smells sick,+ he projected. +He gonna die?+
+Not if I can help it. I want you to find some leaves that’ll help fight the sickness.+
+Aren’t any leaves,+ thought Fire. +Plants round here are all dead from no sky-water.+
+Right,+ thought Ketrin, echoing Fire’s catchphrase. +I want you to find them in the Valley.+
+Aw, do we have to?+ complained Sun. +It’s a long way back to the Valley and we’re tired.+
+Listen,+ Ketrin told them, +this sickness doesn’t just affect humans. You’re going to get it too.+
Sun’s ears pricked up. +We gonna die too?+
+Probably not,+ Ketrin conceded, +but in a day or two you’ll start feeling weak and sick and you won’t be able to small anything.+
The lupinoids looked at each other for a long moment.
+No smell?+ asked Fire.
+No smell at all,+ Ketrin told him. +I’ve seen what this does to four-legs, and you won’t like it one bit. Oh, eventually it will clear up, but from your point of view you’re going to be very uncomfortable for a very long time. Unless you eat the leaves too. So, are you going to the Valley or not?+
There was another brief pause, and then the lupinoids crouched submissively before Ketrin’s passive body.
+What kind of leaves?+ Sun asked meekly.
Ketrin projected a mental impression of fresh teska leaves: their size, shape, appearance, smell and taste.
By this time a small crowd had gathered. If Lord Ral-ne-Sa had summoned his servants, something significant must be afoot.
After a few moments the beasts turned and bounded out of the village gate. The woman with the sick boy spoke to the others, and they formed a semicircle and bowed low before the shrine.
Ketrin couldn’t help reflecting upon the irony of his situation. He had far more responsibilities now than he had ever had while he was able to move.
That evening Wersgor slipped into Ketrin’s shrine and embraced him.
“The boy’s doing a little better now, Lord Ral-ne-Sa,” he said. “A couple of the older hunters remembered seeing something like this when they were children. Tharil said his mother used to make a salve from pulped gal tubers, so we tried it. It seems to have soothed the boy’s sores, but his breath is still very wheezy. The other parents are worried that their children are going to get it too, so we took all the gal tubers we had and made more salve from them.”
Wersgor knelt to face Ketrin. Leaning forward, he placed his hands on either side of Ketrin’s face and looked straight into his violet eyes.
“Lord Ral-ne-Sa,” he prayed, “You and your servants have saved our village from starvation. Now we beg that you save our children from this sickness. And if my humble offering can move you, then accept it now.”
With those words Wersgor kissed Ketrin full on the lips and began caressing him all over. After a while he lowered Ketrin onto his back and began making love to him in earnest.
Once again Ketrin’s conscience was in conflict with his physical responses. Wersgor’s tongue and fingers were giving him the most blissful orgasms, yet he felt a terrible sense of guilt for endangering the village children, however inadvertently.
+Oh, stop that,+ said a voice in his mind.
+Maiden?+ he thought.
+Stop feeling guilty about things you can’t control,+ she told him. +It’s not your fault your body carries stipple disease, although admittedly it’s unfortunate. The only thing you can do is have faith in the lupinoids, just as your worshippers do. I can tell you that they’ve reached the valley now, and there are no striagons in the area tonight, so nothing should distract them from their search.+
That came as a huge relief to Ketrin, and he thanked the Maiden for the news.
+You’re welcome. Now, speaking of worship, your friend Wersgor is giving you a terrific fuck, so just stop feeling sorry for yourself and enjoy it like you’re supposed to.+
Ketrin would have smiled if he could. +Yes, Maiden,+ he thought.
+Come to think of it,+ thought the Maiden, +I think I’ll stay and enjoy it with you.+
Some time later Wersgor made Ketrin come slowly and powerfully and drank in his salty male essence before lying down beside him and slowly caressing his chest.
“You are so still and so silent,” breathed Wersgor. “How I wish that I could be granted such stillness.”
+That’s not impossible,+ thought the Maiden. +There are other spell crystals in the world, if one knows where to find them.+
Ketrin knew better than to press her for more information, so he changed the subject.
+I love Wersgor so much,+ he told her. +He’s so like and yet unlike Sherinel. I’d love to lie with them both at once. Oh, but right now I just wish I could see Sherinel again. Maiden - +
+All I can tell you,+ she replied, +is that he is safe, and the four lupinoids are with him. You will see him, and them, again. I can’t say anything else right now, so please don’t ask.+
+All right. It’s enough to know that he’s alive. Thank you again, Maiden.+
And then Wersgor finished resting and resumed making love to Ketrin in earnest.
Sherinel was deep in the forest, fighting his way through thick vegetation to try and clear a path for himself and his furry companions. They were making for the river and doing their best to avoid human villages.
Sherinel envied the lupinoids’ thick pelts. Since entering the jungle he had been scratched by thorns and spines of every description, developed rashes from poison leaves, and been bitten by what seemed like every single insect and arachnoid that had crossed his path. He had also stepped in more types of animal dung than he knew existed.
One of the arachnoid bites had left him feverish and too weak to move for two days, during which time the lupinoids had foraged for him and brought him more water in their mouths. Sherinel regretted the delay, but he soon realised that the fever had brought an accidental benefit. Drinking from the lupinoids’ mouths had caused him to ingest more of their saliva, along with more of the substance that made their telepathy possible. His mental link with them, which had been slowly fading, was restored.
Sherinel had been worried that the telepathic bond might fade away completely, leaving him to rely on gestures and body language for communication. Telepathy made it so much easier to let his furry friends know what he needed from them. So timely was the restoration of the bond that Sherinel suspected the Maiden might have somehow arranged it. On the whole, a couple of days of mild fever seemed a small price to pay for the benefit it had brought.
+You all better now?+ Silverpaw asked him.
+Pretty much,+ he replied.
+Good. Twins’re foraging for small game. We eat soon.+
+Fine. While we’re eating I want you to try and remember which way you came after you left Ketrin.+
Silverpaw grunted petulantly. Lupinoids generally lived for the moment and did not dwell on the past. Nonetheless, Sherinel knew he would have to persuade Silverpaw to do so if they were to have any chance of finding Ketrin.
It took several long, frustrating sessions to retrieve any useful information from the lupinoid’s memory. On more than one occasion Silverpaw had attempted to walk away before Sherinel was finished. Eventually Sherinel became so frustrated that he actually tried to hold Silverpaw down, which was not easy considering the lupinoid’s size and strength. Fortunately, once he realised that Sherinel wasn’t going to let go Silverpaw stopped thrashing. Sherinel, bruised and slightly nipped, released Silverpaw and hugged him. As in any lupinoid conflict, there were no hard feelings on either side, provided both survived.
+I know it’s hard,+ he told Silverpaw, +but you have to try for Ketrin’s sake. Please, Silverpaw. I know you can do this.+
At the thought of Ketrin Silverpaw had set up a mournful howl, which meant the other three lupinoids had to join in, and Sherinel had no choice but to add his own voice to the chorus. When they were finally done Sherinel was not surprised to hear other, more distant, voices echoing the call. Sherinel’s companions had been scenting other lupinoids for several days now although they had not caught sight of any. One or two lone lupinoids would not give them any trouble, but they were anxious to avoid running into any full-sized packs that might resent the presence of intruders.
At last Sherinel had managed to coax Silverpaw into recalling useful memories of his trip, which gave Sherinel a pretty fair idea of the route the lupinoid had taken.
Silverpaw remembered himself and Ketrin being swept downstream by powerful currents and choosing the left fork in the river, before being washed into a wide body of water, probably a lake. Some distance away was a huge spray that Sherinel recognised as a waterfall, probably fed by the right fork that Silverpaw and Ketrin had luckily avoided.
After Ketrin had become paralysed and ordered him to leave, he had followed the bank of the river upstream for several days before turning west and searching for familiar scents. It had taken him several more days to pick up Shadow’s trail and follow it to the woods outside the village of Mavrida’s sister, where Sherinel had been recovering from his wounds.
That was all clear enough, but one important point was missing from Silverpaw’s account. Silverpaw had followed the river upstream, in other words northward, keeping it on his left as the bank grew higher and steeper, until he had turned west. That meant that unless he had learned to fly, the lupinoid must have found a way to cross the gorge.
When Sherinel pressed him on that point, Silverpaw could only conjure up a vague memory of a fallen tree. Sherinel knew that could not literally be true. It was unlikely that a tree tall enough to span the gorge would have happened to fall straight across it, and in any case the rocky banks did not support tree growth. What Silverpaw thought of as a fallen tree must in fact have been a man-made wooden bridge.
Staying on the west bank would only lead them alongside the west fork, to the top of the cliff beside the waterfall. Climbing down the cliff would be difficult for a man, and probably impossible for lupinoids. There was nothing for it but to find and cross the bridge, preferably under cover of darkness to avoid being spotted by humans. And since Silverpaw could not tell him the bridge’s exact location, they would have to search every step of the riverbank until they found it.
+Well, guys,+ Sherinel told them, +I hope you’re feeling fit. We’ve got a lot of walking to do.+
Why Did We Have to Do This Again?
The morning after they left, Sun and Fire returned carrying sheaves of teska leaves in their mouths. They were not before time; three more children had come down with the symptoms of stipple overnight.
By the time they reached Ketrin’s shrine the lupinoids were all too grateful to spit out the leaves at his naked feet.
+We’ve carried these bitter leaves in our mouths all the way from the valley,+ complained Sun. +I don’t think our taste will ever recover.+
+Right,+ thought Fire. +Why did we have to do this again?+
+To stop you and the two-legs getting sick,+ Ketrin reminded him.
+I hope you remembered to eat some yourselves.+
+Yeah, we did,+ thought Sun. +Tasted like shit. And believe me, I know.+
+You’ll thank me one day,+ Ketrin told him, somewhat optimistically.
By this time a small crowd had gathered to see what Lord Ral-ne-Sa’s servants had brought, and when they saw the teska leaves they wasted no time in distributing them to the sick children. Tolar and Tharil brought the lupinoids bowls of water, and they were only too grateful to wash the leaves’ bitter residue from their mouths.
“Looks like the lupinoids carried all they could manage,” said Tolar. “The leaves even stained their teeth green. It wouldn’t be fair to ask them to bring any more. I’ll go gather some more, but I’ll need a couple of guards in case any striagons have returned to the valley. We might as well look for more gal tubers as well, while we’re about it. Who’s with me?”
Mere minutes later Tolar and three other hunters set off for the valley carrying spears and baskets. Meanwhile the villagers brought Sun and Fire fresh meat, while the parents persuaded their protesting children to eat the bitter leaves. Afterward the children slept a little more comfortably, while the lupinoids curled up at Ketrin’s feet and dreamed of fat, juicy prey.
Days passed while Sherinel and the lupinoids searched upriver for the bridge. Although they remained alert for human presence this part of the river seemed devoid of human habitation. The ground was rocky and unsuitable for cultivation, and the gorge was too high for fishing.
They also kept a lookout for striagons, but the rocky ground was no more suitable for hunting than it was for farming, as the lupinoids discovered, and they were periodically forced to break off their search and forage inland.
On one such occasion Sherinel heard a yelp and turned to see one of the twins bounding away from what appeared to be a twig sticking out of the ground. A split second later realisation dawned: the twig was an arrow that had narrowly missed the twin.
“Hunters,” growled Sherinel.
When the three men emerged from the trees they were astonished to be knocked off their feet by four angry lupinoids and a madman. Sherinel did not recognise the hunters. Borvinn’s idea of a bounty on lupinoid pelts had clearly spread to other villages, although there was no telling how widespread it had become. Sherinel picked up the archer’s fallen bow and snapped it against a rock.
+Kill them,+ thought Silverpaw.
Shadow agreed. +If we don’t kill them now, they’ll kill all of us four-legs, maybe you too.+
+Wait,+ thought Sherinel.
Sherinel knelt beside the archer, who was lying terrified beneath the snarling Shadow.
“You see this scar?” said Sherinel.
The man glanced away from the lupinoid’s slavering jaws and nodded hastily.
“This was given to me by a hungry striagon,” Sherinel told him. “The only reason I didn’t end up in its belly was that this fellow saved me.”
Sherinel placed a hand on Shadow’s back and the lupinoid licked his face. The hunter was astonished by the beast’s sudden change of mood.
“See how friendly they can be?” chuckled Sherinel. “Lupinoids are not the cold-blooded killers you have been led to believe. In return for saving my life I’ve vowed to protect theirs. Therefore you will not be taking their pelts today, nor mine neither. You will leave us in peace. You will not return or threaten us in any way or we will kill you. I’ll leave you your spears in case you meet any striagons. If you do then may the gods and lupinoids protect you, because the striagons really are cold-blooded killers. At least that’s how they behave now, though that’s because they’re under a spell that makes them more aggressive.”
“A spell?” croaked the hunter. “Do you know how crazy that sounds?”
“I may be crazy,” Sherinel replied, “but I’m not the one who’s lying on the ground with a lupinoid at his throat. All right, Shadow, let him go.”
Shadow stepped back, keeping a wary eye on the hunter as he rose to his feet.
“So,” muttered the archer, “you must be the one they call the wildling. Who else could command these dumb beasts?”
Sherinel grinned like a lupinoid. “No, I’m not the wildling,” he said, motioning the other lupinoids to release their captives, “but I’m the next best thing. These are the wildling’s lupinoids, and he - and they - taught me everything I need to know about surviving the forest.”
The hunters and lupinoids stood facing each other warily.
“Anyway,” Sherinel continued, “if these were just dumb beasts you would all be dead by now. It’s only because they’re intelligent that I can persuade them to exercise restraint.”
“All right, so you’ve got the bastards under your thumb,” said the archer. “So now what are you gonna do with them?”
“We’re going to let you go,” said Sherinel. “We’ll leave you the rest of your weapons in case striagons or rival hunters attack you. I would advise you not to double back and follow us. If you or any of your friends return we will kill you.”
There was a good deal of grumbling from the other hunters, but the archer silenced them.
“All right,” he said. “We’ve got better things to do than waste our time with feral madmen anyway. There’s plenty of wild lupinoids we can hunt.”
“Maybe,” said Sherinel, “but just bear in mind that if you’re attacked by a striagon, the only creatures that could protect you are lupinoids. Now get moving.”
The men departed, muttering darkly amongst themselves.
+Bad mistake,+ thought Silverpaw. +They’ll turn back and kill us in our sleep.+
+I’m sure they will,+ Sherinel replied. +That’s why we’ve got to get out of here fast. As soon as we’ve eaten we’ll run straight back to the gorge and head downstream. The hunters will expect to find us in the forest, so with any luck we’ll be well away before they figure out where we’ve gone.+
That was a lot of information for a lupinoid brain to absorb at once, and Silverpaw spent a few moments mulling over it.
+So we’re going back the way we came?+ he thought at last.
+That’s right,+ thought Sherinel. +I’m pretty sure by now that we’ve come the wrong way anyway, so there’s nothing for it but to go back downstream.+
+Great,+ thought the lupinoid. +You know how much I love running over sharp rocks.+
+Hey, I’ve got bigger feet than you, you know,+ thought Sherinel. +You think I like rocks any better?+
Sherinel gave the lupinoid a hug and received a wet tongue in his face for his troubles.
The sun was setting by the time Dorriven’s hunters returned. Watching from the door of her house Mavrida could see that they carried some pelts, but she could not tell if they had belonged to lupinoids or to some other creatures.
She knew that the hunters had managed to skin several lupinoids during the past moon, and she could not help but wonder if the beasts had once run and hunted alongside Ketrin. Dorriven claimed to be doing what he thought was right, but Mavrida could not help but hate the man for slaughtering the magnificent creatures whose kind had raised her son.
While most of the hunters were discussing their hunt with the other villagers, one of the younger men surreptitiously detached himself from the crowd and walked over to Mavrida.
“What brings you here, Tormis?” asked Mavrida.
“Well, mistress,” said Tormis shyly, “I... well, I found something, see, and I... well, I thought you might like it.”
Tormis was carrying a small bag on a cord around his neck, and while he spoke he reached into the bag and brought out something that glowed a brilliant blue.
Mavrida gasped in amazement. It was a small blue jewel, just like the one she had seen in Ketrin’s knife.
It was in fact the one jewel of many that the old sorcerer had overlooked countless years ago. It had spent decades buried in the ground near the root of a tree, until a storm blew the tree down and unearthed both the root and the jewel. Then it was found by a plumebird and used as a token in the plumebirds’ mating rituals, fought over and passed from talon to talon before being dropped into the water and lost once more.
Tormis quickly covered it with his hands so that its glow would not be visible to the other hunters who were gathered in the square.
“You see, Mistress Mavrida,” whispered Tormis, “if the other men saw it they’d say I stole it, see. But I found it. You know I’m honest.”
“Yes, Tormis, I believe you,” said Mavrida. “But where in the world did you find such a thing?”
“Saw something glowing,” Tormis replied, “in the dried mud by the edge of a lake. ’Course, the lake was pretty shrunk by the drought. Someone must have dropped this in the water before the dry season came and uncovered it. Anyway... when I saw it, somehow it reminded me of you, so I thought you might...”
“Hey, come on, Tormis,” came a shout from the village square. “Stop chatting up the widow and come over here. We’re just getting to the part where you heard a lupinoid howling and shat your waistcloth.”
“Hey, don’t let them intimidate you,” said Mavrida, placing a hand on his shoulder. “You’re a lot wiser than they will ever know.”
Tormis swallowed, nodded, and wordlessly placed the jewel in Mavrida’s hand.
“It was a very thoughtful gift, Tormis. Thank you.”
Tormis nodded again, then reluctantly went back to face his peers. Mavrida sighed, wishing there was more she could do to help him, then turned her attention to his gift.
Silvermoon was just rising, and the jewel’s radiance blended harmoniously with the moonlight. For some reason looking at the moons always reminded Mavrida of Ketrin, and she sighed wistfully. Clutching the jewel firmly, she thought: I wish I could see my son again. I pray that he is alive and safe.
The jewel seemed to grow warmer in her hand....
Far to the south, seated in his shrine in Third Hill village, Ketrin seemed to feel warmth emanating from the jewel in his knife. Silvermoon was rising, and for some reason he found his thoughts turning to Mavrida. He felt certain that she was safe and well and that he would see her again soon, although just how was a mystery. He could scarcely go to her as long as his body remained inanimate, and he was certain that she could have no idea where to find him. Yet for all that, something kept telling him that he would be reunited with her before long.
Ketrin would have asked the Maiden if his feelings were true, but she had been absent from his mind for some time. He supposed that even a stone girl occasionally had pressing business elsewhere.
Before Silvermoon had risen much farther Wersgor entered the shrine and bowed before Ketrin. He was naked in readiness for worship, and was carrying a small clay jar from which a pungent aroma wafted to Ketrin’s nostrils.
“The children are recovering, Lord Ral-ne-Sa,” Wersgor said. “They are all breathing more easily thanks to the teska leaves the hunters brought back from the Valley, and the gal tuber salve has eased their skin rashes.”
Wersgor reached into the clay pot and brought out a handful of aromatic paste.
“As you can see,” he told Ketrin, “we had some of the gal salve left over.”
Wersgor leant forward and began to apply the salve to Ketrin’s chest.
“I find that the salve feels quite pleasant to the touch,” said Wersgor, and began to smear it all over Ketrin’s body and his own.
Wersgor was right: the salve did feel pleasant. It produced an agreeable warmth wherever it touched his skin, and as Wersgor continued to smear his arms, back, chest and abdomen with the paste that warmth became increasingly erogenous.
Eventually Wersgor reached Ketrin’s groin, and took his time smearing the salve all over the frozen wildling’s tight scrotum and hot, rigid phallus. The sudden increase in sensitivity was so astonishing that Ketrin almost came there and then, but with a superhuman effort he managed to hold himself back.
Wersgor gently laid Ketrin on his back and lowered himself on top of him, sliding his tongue into the wildling’s mouth while pressing his glistening body tightly against Ketrin’s. Their erections throbbed sensuously against each other, and Wersgor began to squeeze them together with one hand while continuing to stroke Ketrin’s back with the other.
Outside the shrine Sun and Fire were sensing everything that Ketrin felt, and Sun excitedly mounted Fire. Of course Ketrin could also feel what they were feeling, which only served to heighten his own ecstasy.
Ketrin managed to hold off for as long as he could, but before an hour was half-done he gave up the struggle and allowed his climax to take him. Even as he did so he heard Wersgor moaning, and felt Sun’s and Fire’s climaxes as well as his own.
+Wow,+ thought Sun.
+Right,+ thought Fire.
Ketrin was barely able to think at all.
For a while Wersgor lay quietly, his breathing shallow, languidly running his fingers over Ketrin’s arms and torso and kissing him gently, while outside Sun lay atop Fire and occasionally reached down to lick his partner’s muzzle.
Ketrin thought that Wersgor might sleep after such a powerful experience, but he was wrong. After only a short rest the villager was ready to start again.
This time Wersgor rolled Ketrin onto his stomach, slid a finger smeared with salve into the wildling’s rectum and slowly rotated it. Ketrin was instantly and blissfully erect once more, and his pleasure intensified immeasurably as soon as the salve began to take effect on his prostate nerves.
Intense as his sensations were, they were not quite strong enough to block out the lupinoids’ thoughts.
+Aww, you never let me,+ complained Fire.
+Quit whining, you big cub,+ replied Sun.
+Hey, stop... mmm... arguing there. We’re supposed to be... ohhh... having fun here, remember?+
+He never lets me go on top,+ Fire told Ketrin.
+Sun, let him go on top,+ thought Ketrin.
+But why should I?+ thought Sun.
+Because if I can go on the bottom I don’t see why you shouldn’t,+ Ketrin replied.
Sun growled a little, but reluctantly allowed Fire to mount him, even as Wersgor finished applying the salve and did the same to Ketrin.
Wersgor spent the better part of an hour slowly thrusting into Ketrin’s anus while stroking various parts of the wildling’s body with his hands. Meanwhile Sun was astonished to discover how much he enjoyed being the recipient of Fire’s thrusts, and allowed the red lupinoid to stay on top for the rest of the night.
Ketrin of course could feel everything that his four-legged friends were doing, overlaid on his own sensations like a reflection on the clear surface of a pool. The lupinoids’ raw animal sexuality, combined with Wersgor’s slow, sensuous lovemaking, resulted in an astonishing mixture of ecstasies that almost made Ketrin feel he really was a god.
+Yeah, well, close enough,+ thought a voice in Ketrin’s mind. +Being a god isn’t always everything it’s cracked up to be, but as you’re discovering it does have some compensations.+
In his hypersensitized condition he couldn’t tell if the voice really was the god speaking to him or just some kind of hallucination, but it caressed his mind in just the right place to trigger a paroxysm of ecstasy that proved to be the most explosive sexual experience of Ketrin’s life. Wersgor groaned quietly as he simultaneously came long and hard, and the lupinoids howled.
When at last it was over Wersgor lay spent. By then it must have been well past midnight, but after a short while two more men appeared at the shrine entrance.
“Hey, Wersgor,” said Berran, “were you planning to keep Lord Ral-ne-Sa to yourself all night long? Sarvan and I have brought some more of the salve.”
Wersgor was so exhausted that he could no more move than Ketrin, but the others had brought enough salve for all four of them....
How to Cross a River with Four Hot-Headed Lupinoids
Bridge Trouble Over Water
For several days Sherinel and the four lupinoids had been running southward alongside the river gorge, scarcely daring to stop for food or rest in case the hunters were pursuing them.
Finally the five companions reached a boulder-strewn defile close to the edge of the cliff.
+All right, we can stop now,+ thought Sherinel. +They’d be mad to keep following us for this long. I hope.+
One thought that he did not share with the lupinoids was that the hunters had probably given up chasing them because it was easier to find other lupinoids in the forest.
Although he did not remember any landmarks they might have passed heading north, Sherinel was convinced that they were now south of their original starting point. There was still nothing resembling a bridge, but Sherinel prayed they would find it before long. In his fatigue he had found himself wishing that he and the lupinoids might grow wings just for long enough to fly across the gorge, but since that wish seemed unlikely to be granted there was nothing for it but to keep looking for a crossing.
For four more days they searched, making brief side trips into the forest to hunt. Then, on the afternoon of the fourth day, Sherinel chanced to peer over the edge of the gorge. What he saw would have delighted him, but for one small detail.
“What in the seven hells is the bridge doing down there?” he exclaimed.
There was a broad wooden footbridge leading across to the densely forested east bank, but at this point the east bank was about twenty cubits lower than the west. Gingerly looking over the edge Sherinel could see that the bridge appeared to run straight into the cliff wall twenty cubits below.
That’s ridiculous, Sherinel told himself.
Maybe the bridge’s original users had raised and lowered themselves on a rope ladder. Yet if that were so, surely some remnants of the ladder and its anchoring posts should still remain. The same would surely be true of wooden steps set into the cliff. Stone steps would have been more secure, though more labour-intensive, but as far as Sherinel could see the cliff was perfectly smooth.
Sensing Sherinel’s frustration, Silverpaw padded over.
+What’s up?+ thought the lupinoid.
+Seems I’ve found your tree across the river,+ thought Sherinel. +Only trouble is it’s way down there and I can’t figure out how to get down to it.+
Silverpaw looked over the edge. +Nope,+ he thought. +Can’t jump down there.+
+So,+ thought Sherinel, +unless there’s another one that’s more accessible, we’re still stuck on this side of the river.+
Silverpaw sat on his haunches and scratched his back.
+Maybe not,+ he thought. +There’s something... maybe I remember... gotta think about it.+
Sherinel patted Silverpaw’s head. +Well, I hope you think of something before long, friend. I get the feeling it’s important we find Ketrin soon.+
Sherinel walked a little way back from the edge and sat in the shade of a rock. Although he had meant to remain alert he fell asleep from fatigue.
He might have been asleep for two hours when he was awakened by a mental call from Silverpaw.
+Hey, two-leg pal, wake up! Wake up!+
He woke feeling stiff and groggy. It said something for his developing familiarity with lupinoids that he did not start back in alarm when he opened his eyes to see Silverpaw’s grinning jaws right in front of his face.
+What’s up?+ thought Sherinel, rising awkwardly to his feet and rubbing his aching back muscles. +Are the hunters back?+
+Wha -? Oh, them. No, we’re safe for now. No, I woke you up because I think I’ve remembered how to get to the tree over the river.+
+You have?+ thought Sherinel in astonishment.
+This way,+ thought Silverpaw, walking away from the gorge. +Found my scent on the big rock back here. It’s faded but I’d recognise it anywhere.+
Sherinel and the other lupinoids followed Silverpaw. The “rock” that Silverpaw had marked appeared to be a large boulder with a sloping top, but as he rounded it Sherinel was astonished to see an opening on its far side. The opening was clearly man-made. There were remnants of carvings and inscriptions around the opening, but they were too badly worn to make out any details.
Inside the opening Sherinel saw steps leading downward into blackness.
+This way,+ thought Silverpaw, unhesitatingly starting down the stair. +Cave.+
+Cave my arse,+ thought Sherinel, and then chuckled at his unconscious pun.
It was a tunnel down to the bridge. It must have taken years to carve out of solid rock, but it looked as if it had been abandoned for centuries. At least by humans.
As Sherinel peered nervously into the tunnel he was beset by primal fears of the dark, of the unknown, and of confined spaces.
He supposed that in times past the tunnel must have been used by tens or hundreds of people crossing the bridge daily. In those days the tunnel would have been brightly lit, regularly cleaned and kept in good repair. Now it was so dark he would have to feel his way, and there was no telling what might be lurking inside.
+You coming, two-leg?+ Thought Silverpaw.+
Sherinel took a deep breath, telling himself that if any large predators were sheltering in the tunnel he and the lupinoids could take care of them. Then he forced himself to start walking down the stone stairway.
+Follow me, guys,+ he told the other lupinoids.
+Where else would we go?+ thought Shadow.
+Watch your step, Big Feet,+ thought Silverpaw. +Ground’s all mucky.+
Indeed the steps felt slippery and Sherinel had to watch his footing carefully. Leatherwing droppings, he thought disgustedly. The stairs were more than a finger’s breadth deep in guano, and the stench was appalling.
Fortunately the leatherwings themselves were out foraging for ripe fruit. Fighting his way through a nest of angry, screeching flyers armed with sharp claws and loaded bowels would not have been pleasant in the slightest.
+Yeah, droppings.+ thought Silverpaw. +Bugs too. Lots of bugs.+
“Lots” was an understatement. The walls and floor were literally crawling with countless species of insectoids, arachnoids and creeping things of every description, not to mention small reptiles and mammals that fed off the bugs. Most of the creatures scurried away from Sherinel’s lumbering feet, but a fair few of them resented his intrusion and attacked his feet and ankles. Fortunately most of them were too small to cause any serious discomfort, but being bitten by creatures with guano-covered mouthparts probably wouldn’t do his health much good.
As Sherinel descended the steps curved toward the river until there was no trace of light from the outside. Shadow and the twins, in their impatience to get through the tunnel, kept bumping into the back of Sherinel’s legs. His footing on the slippery, uneven steps was already shaky, and the last thing he needed was for one of his pack to knock him off balance. If he suffered a fractured skull inside the tunnel they’d never be able to drag him out.
+Slow down,+ he admonished them. +I can’t go as fast as you.+
The lupinoids grumbled but did as they were bid.
A little further down Sherinel came to a spot where the steps were covered in jagged stones that had apparently fallen from the ceiling, and he had no choice but to crawl over the obstruction on hands and knees. Some of the stones gave way under him, and he slid helplessly down the slope for several cubits. Further down the stairway, Silverpaw yelped as his rump was struck by several of the stones that Sherinel had dislodged, and then by Sherinel himself.
+Sorry about that, Silverpaw,+ thought Sherinel.
Silverpaw picked himself up and shook himself, snorted, and padded on down the stairs. Sherinel caught a brief mental flash that translated roughly as: +Clumsy furless two-leg. What’s the point of walking upright in the first place if he’s only going to keep falling down again?+
Sherinel rubbed his bruised legs and carefully stood up, chuckling wryly. Silverpaw wouldn’t stay angry for long, he knew. That was one of the nice things about lupinoids. They didn’t bear grudges.
In any case, they were near the bottom. Sherinel was relieved to see light on the curving tunnel wall below.
+All right, you three,+ he projected at the other lupinoids. +Try not to knock any more stones loose as you climb over.+
In the event, the lupinoids could not help causing more small rockslides as they clambered over the pile, and all of them ended up slipping downstairs and collecting more bruises and abrasions en route.
+We really hate this place,+ thought the Twins accusingly. +Why did you bring us here, two-leg?+
+To find Ketrin,+ Sherinel reminded him. +Your two-leg brother. This is the only way to get where he is, remember?+
+Oh, yeah,+ they replied.
+Hey, come on,+ thought Silverpaw. +I’m out of the cave and on the tree.+
Sherinel breathed a sigh of relief as he reached the bottom of the stairs and faced the tunnel exit. The descent could not have taken longer than five minutes, but it seemed like an hour. A warm breeze was blowing into the tunnel, replacing the stink of guano and insects with lush forest scents, and Sherinel and the other lupinoids almost fell over each other (again) in their haste to get outside.
The twins and Shadow shook themselves in an attempt to dislodge the bugs from to their fur, then padded onto the bridge to join Silverpaw. Sherinel brushed the bugs off of his own body, then paused in the doorway to examine the structure of the bridge.
The bridge was about five cubits wide and had a span of about a hundred cubits. It was composed of stout wooden beams and was fenced along each side, but in many places the boards were missing, as was the fencing. Through the gaps it was possible to make out parts of the huge trestles that supported the bridge from either side of the gorge.
When the bridge was built somebody must have been lowered from the cliffs on either side to laboriously carve out niches into which the support beams could be slotted. Once again Sherinel found himself wondering who could have performed such a gargantuan task, and why.
The gaps also made it possible to see how high the bridge was above the jagged rocks and churning rapids, and Sherinel was overtaken by an awful vertigo.
The four lupinoids were already standing on the bridge waiting for him to follow.
+Come on, two-leg,+ complained Silverpaw. +You tell us we have to hurry and then you stop. Are you scared or something?+
Sherinel took a deep breath. However scared he might feel, he couldn’t show it before the lupinoids for fear of losing their respect. Silverpaw’s tone had been decidedly insubordinate, and Sherinel knew he had to reassert his authority quickly.
+Yeah, I’m coming, four-legs. You lot can barely find your own paws without my help, anyway.+
With that, Sherinel scraped his feet against the edge of the doorway to remove as much of the leatherwing guano as possible. The going would be tricky enough without having slippery soles. Then he gingerly set foot on the strongest-looking boards in front of him.
The boards creaked and shifted a little, but they held his weight. Carefully Sherinel made his way forward to where the lupinoids waited.
+Took you long enough,+ thought Silverpaw. +Hope you’re not this slow when we get back in the forest.+
+That’s enough, Silverpaw,+ thought Sherinel, with all the assertiveness he could muster. +I’m not some newly-blooded cub you can bully into submission.+
Silverpaw crouched low and bared his teeth, but Sherinel stood his ground.
+I said I’d help you find Ketrin,+ he told the lupinoids, +and I’m going to do it if it kills me. It very nearly did already, remember? Take a good look at this scar and tell me I was too scared when I faced that striagon.+
Sherinel stared round slowly from one lupinoid to the next, finally returning his gaze to Silverpaw.
+Just because I’ve only got two clumsy feet, it doesn’t mean I can’t keep up, and it certainly doesn’t mean I’d ever abandon you. If you still think I don’t have what’s needed you can feel free to try and prove it. Think you can succeed where the striagon failed? Well, do you?+
Silverpaw countered Sherinel’s gaze for a few moment longer, then lowered his eyes and rolled on his back, exposing his throat and whimpering.
Sherinel knelt beside the cowering lupinoid and clamped his hands firmly over the beast’s muzzle.
That was all it took. Sherinel released Silverpaw, who licked his face, all thought of insurrection forgotten. Sherinel hugged the brown lupinoid and projected one simple thought: +Trust me.+
+All right,+ thought Silverpaw.
+Well, then,+ he told the lupinoids, +let’s get over this damn thing before it falls down.+
As the five companions started across the bridge they could feel the boards shifting and swaying under their weight. The lupinoids were at an advantage because their weight was more spread out. Sherinel would have preferred to cross on all fours, but then he wouldn’t have been able to keep pace with the lupinoids.
There were two or three places, though, where the boards were missing or rotted through. The lupinoids managed to jump the gaps without too much trouble, but Sherinel was forced to crawl along the narrow support beams that the missing boards had rested upon.
He was acutely aware that nothing but a few handsbreadths of rotting wood lay between him and the rocky rapids two hundred cubits below. He had trouble avoiding the temptation to look down. It didn’t help that the wind, channelled by the walls of the gorge, constantly interfered with his balance.
When he did make it to the far side of a gap, his relief was soured by the knowledge that there were still more to cross, and he wished he could jump like a lupinoid.
Eventually, though, they reached a gap that was too wide for even the lupinoids to jump. It looked as if the only thing holding the bridge together at that point was a pair of narrow beams, and Sherinel was amazed that the structure was still intact. Once those beams failed he felt sure the whole of the bridge deck would follow.
+No problem,+ thought Silverpaw. +I crossed it coming and I can cross it going back.+
Sherinel knew the lupinoid’s self-confidence was put on to impress him and the others. Beneath the swagger Sherinel could feel Silverpaw’s fear. Still, no matter how afraid he was the brown lupinoid wasn’t about to lose face, and so he stepped onto the nearest beam and began walking.
Sherinel held his breath as Silverpaw trotted precariously along the creaking beam. The wind ruffled the lupinoid’s fur and buffeted him savagely, but with an effort he managed to keep his balance. A few moments later he reached the relative safety of the decking on the far side, where he stood panting with relief.
+That’s easy,+ thought Shadow, and stepped onto the beam.
He was soon forced to concede that it wasn’t as easy as it looked, but after an equally precarious crossing he joined Silverpaw on the far side, and the black and brown lupinoids licked each other’s faces while Sherinel breathed another sigh of relief.
Two down, three to go... he thought to himself.
+Um, you can go next, two-leg,+ one of the Twins told him.
+Yeah, no rush,+ projected the other.
Sherinel swallowed and looked at the beam. It was more than twice as long as those he had negotiated so far.
+All right, you four,+ he told them. +No taunts now. I need to concentrate on keeping my balance. I may not be quick or graceful, but I’ll get across as best I can.+
With that, he crawled out onto the beam and held tight as the wind buffeted him, feeling the beam sway beneath him. He kept his gaze fixed on the far side where Shadow and Silverpaw waited, in order to avoid looking down. As he inched his way along he felt sure the beam was sagging beneath his weight. In places the wood felt slimy, and he hoped that was only guano and not evidence of fungal rot.
He told himself that if the beam could hold the weight of a fully-grown lupinoid it should have no trouble holding his weight. Unfortunately another part of himself suspected that the beam might have been weakened by the weight of the two lupinoids crossing before him, and possibly also by Silverpaw’s weight when he had crossed the bridge previously.
Feeling certain that the beam would give way at any moment, Sherinel crawled along it as fast as he could manage. He was panting furiously and drenched with sweat by the time he finally reached the end and clambered onto the boards beside Silverpaw and Shadow.
Once he had recovered his composure a little Sherinel sat up and looked back along the beam. Was that a crack he could see halfway along it? If it was, then it did not bode well for the safety of the bridge as a whole.
Carefully Sherinel stood up and walked across to the other edge of the bridge so that he could take a look at the other beam. Originally there would have been five or six, but now only two remained.
+All right,+ he told the Twins. +This beam looks stronger than the other one. You’d both better come over this side.+
It was a perfectly sound idea, but unfortunately the Twins had another. One of them padded over to the second beam, but the other remained at the head of the first one.
+We’ll do it together,+ they thought as one.
+No, you idiots! The first beam isn’t safe any more!+
But it was too late. Both of the Twins had already started across the beams simultaneously.
+See, two-leg?+ they thought. +We’re not as dumb as we look.+
+No,+ thought Sherinel as he hurried back to the end of the first beam. +You’re dumber!+
+It’s fine,+ thought the Twin on the cracked beam. +Perfectly safe.+
The lupinoid got about two-thirds of the way across without incident. He was lighter than either of Ketrin’s brother lupinoids, though the beam had been weakened since they crossed. Then, Just when it was beginning to look as if he really was safe, there came a loud crack and the beam dropped by a handsbreadth.
+Maybe not perfectly safe,+ thought the Twin.
+Jump!+ projected Sherinel. +Jump now!+
The lupinoid jumped with all his might, just as the nearer half of the beam fell away and clattered into the depths. The Twin landed with his forelegs and front torso on the decking and Sherinel knelt down to pull him up. As he did so the section they were on, bereft of its support, began to sag. For a moment it seemed as if both of them would slide over the edge, but fortunately the subsidence stopped after a moment. Sherinel tugged at the Twin’s body as hard as he could and finally managed to manhandle him onto the boards.
+Sorry,+ thought the lupinoid.
+No time for blame,+ thought Sherinel. +The deck’s still shifting. We’ve all got to get off the bridge before it collapses completely.+
+Yeah,+ thought the Twin. +Guess I should be grateful for those long foreleg-things of yours.+
+They have their uses,+ thought Sherinel. +Now let’s run!+
The other Twin had crossed safely via the stronger beam. He and the two larger lupinoids were already running for the far end of the bridge, and Sherinel and the Twin he had rescued were not far behind. There were a few more gaps, but most of them were short enough that even Sherinel could leap across.
The bridge shook as they ran. The loss of all but one of its central supports had weakened the structure almost to the point of collapse, and there was no telling which part might go first.
Sherinel felt a powerful sense of relief when they reached the end of the bridge. The deck had dropped about half a cubit, but the lupinoids had no trouble jumping up onto the stone lip of the gorge.
“Thank the gods we’re safe,” muttered Sherinel.
No sooner had the words left his lips than the boards beneath his feet lurched, throwing him painfully to his knees. Once he managed to stagger to his feet he was dismayed to see that the clifftop was now a good five cubits above him.
The bridge was still settling. Sherinel knew he had only one chance for survival. Screaming his defiance at the gods, he leapt upward and threw his arms over the ledge.
At that very moment the bridge finally gave up the ghost and dropped away into the abyss with an almighty roar.
Sherinel was left hanging from the cliff edge with his arms outstretched on top. The stone was smooth and he couldn’t pull himself up, and the sheer cliff afforded no footholds. Elsewhere along the cliff wall were indentations that had held the ends of the bridge beams, but they were out of his reach.
Maybe if he called one of the lupinoids over he could hang onto its tail and pull himself up. More likely, though, he would only succeed in dragging the creature over the cliff with himself.
Sherinel felt a profound sense of despair. To have come all this way, survived so much, only to fail just when he thought he had reached safety... it wasn’t fair.
“Damn you, gods,” he screamed. “What right do you have to play such cruel games with a man’s life? All I wanted was to find Ketrin and help him stop the lupinoid hunts. Was that really so much to ask? Was it? Well, I guess I’ll be meeting you soon, and when I do I’ll demand a reckoning!”
For a moment he was blinded by tears. It was futile to keep hanging on, yet some stubborn survival instinct refused to let go. He couldn’t help wondering how long he could keep hold before his strength gave out.
In fact it was not the gods who were responsible for his current predicament but the evil old sorcerer. At that moment the sorcerer sat in his hut watching and laughing as he contemplated the destruction of Ketrin’s ally.
+Not this time, old man,+ thought a voice in his head.
+Don’t interfere, Maiden,+ replied the sorcerer. +Stone can shatter as easily as flesh.+
+You’ll be shattering neither today,+ replied the Maiden.
Then she was gone from his mind, but the image before him grew blurred and he felt his control slipping away.
+Damn you, Maiden,+ he thought. +You think you can defeat me, but you have yet to witness the full extent of my powers. Yes, you and all your friends will be truly damned when I am done with you.+
Sherinel couldn’t hold on much longer. +You’ll have to go on without me,+ he told the four lupinoids. +Head downstream and try to find Ketrin’s scent. Then, if he is free of the paralysis he can join you, and if he is not... well, maybe he can tell you what to do.+
Sherinel sighed. +I’m sorry I won’t be coming with you. It’s been really great to know you four. When you see Ketrin, tell him... oh, you can feel the emotions yourself. Just pass them on to him.+
He could feel himself slipping. He prayed that the fall would kill him quickly, and not leave him broken and in agony upon the jagged rocks...
Then something grabbed his arms.
Before he knew what was happening, powerful hands were tugging at him, lifting him up and setting him on his feet, where he stood shaken and bewildered on the stony clifftop.
+See, two-leg,+ thought the Twin. +You were right. Long forelegs really are useful!+
Wiping his eyes, Sherinel saw his rescuers for the first time, and staggered back in amazement (fortunately not in the direction of the gorge).
Although wild, ragged and unkempt, they were unmistakably human. There were two of them, a man and a woman. Sherinel had no idea who they were or where they came from, but it was quite obvious what they were. They showed not the slightest shame or embarrassment at being completely naked, and were accompanied by a pair of lupinoids.
The four newcomers watched Sherinel warily, careful to make no threatening gestures. The man had a ragged beard and moustache. His hair was even longer and more unkempt than Ketrin’s had been when he first arrived at the village, as was the woman’s. Both of them looked to be in their early twenties.
“Who are you?” whispered Sherinel. “Do you have names?”
The strangers made no answer.
“No, of course not,” Sherinel muttered. “You’ve never lived in a village, never learned human speech, probably never known any humans except each other. You’re just like Ketrin was before he returned to humanity.”
Sherinel studied the strangers. Like Ketrin, they both had astonishingly beautiful bodies, and he found himself becoming powerfully aroused by their nakedness. But before he had time to feel embarrassed by this, he was staggered by another realisation.
They were older than Ketrin.
“I always thought Ketrin was the only human who’d been raised by lupinoids,” breathed Sherinel, “but now I find... he wasn’t even the first!”
April 2005 - November 2006
So I knew I’d need a scene where Sherinel and the four lupinoids are trying to cross a rickety bridge, and of course the first thought that sprang to mind was that it should be a rope bridge. But come on, that would be such a cliché. I mean, it seems like every movie I’ve ever seen that had a jungle in it included a scene where our heroes had to cross a dangerous rope bridge.
Instead I came up with the idea that it should be a big wooden bridge supported by trestles on each side of the gorge. Then I had to figure out why it would be so hard to find such a big structure, and that was where the idea of the tunnel came from. The bridge and tunnel were built hundreds of years ago and they used to be cleaned and maintained thoroughly. Obviously no one would build such a large piece of civil engineering without a good reason, and that reason ties in nicely with the plot of forthcoming episodes.
Now, though, the original builders have been gone for at least a century, during which time the tunnel’s become infested with the local equivalent of bats as well as millions of creepy-crawlies. Meanwhile the bridge has fallen victim to damp and fungus and large chunks of it have already fallen into the gorge. In other words, what used to be a major thoroughfare has now become a serious obstacle for my heroes to overcome.
If anyone from Disneyland is reading this, I think the Abandoned Bridge could be a pretty cool attraction for anyone who doesn’t suffer from vertigo and has good life insurance. I’m not greedy, I’ll just take five per cent of the profits.
And then there are the wildlings. In my original draft, back in September 1999(!!!), Sherinel finds Ketrin frozen in the jungle and then meets the nude couple, but that was written long before I even conceived of the Third Hill storyline. In that original version it was the wildlings rather than a bunch of villagers who were looking after the paralysed Ketrin and giving him sexual relief. When I added the Third Hill plot I was faced with a problem. For a long time I kept the idea of Sherinel meeting Ketrin and the wildlings in the jungle, but that would have meant first getting Ketrin back out of Third Hill somehow without the villagers trying to follow, and I couldn’t figure out a way to do it that didn’t seem totally forced.
So eventually I decided that Sherinel and his band of lupinoids would meet the wildlings and their lupinoids in the jungle on the far side of the bridge. It was only while I was writing this story that I moved their meeting-place to the end of the bridge itself. During the bridge-crossing scene I had to keep upping the ante with the suspense until I discovered that I’d written myself into a corner with Sherinel’s literal cliffhanger. There he was, hanging helplessly on the edge with no way to get himself to safety and his strength running out, and nobody left to save him... what can an author do in a case like that except write “With one bound Sherinel was free!” and pray that he’ll get away with it?
Well, what I did was to summon the wildlings from their forest home so they could lend Sherinel the only helping hands for miles around. Is it unrealistic to have them show up exactly at the moment Sherinel needs their help? Not necessarily, when I’ve got the mysterious Maiden to arrange my deus ex machinas for me.
In Our Next Bizarre Instalment...
Sherinel is face to face with a pair of sexy, uninhibited, naked, wild humans who have just saved his life. How do you suppose he will choose to reward them? Will he have time between bouts of rewarding them to continue his search for Ketrin? And how exactly is the author going to get Mavrida back into the main storyline? Does he even know himself yet?
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