Lost Colony Ch. 13-2

Now, advancing along the trail, they didn’t know if the other hunters were fifty meters ahead, or five hundred. They could only jog forward, hoping to get the timing right.

They didn’t. Just as he and Waii got the slavers in their sights, Sparr took an unlucky step, cracking a branch with his foot. The three men spun around and, after gawking for a heartbeat at the man and woman following them, rushed to attack.

Waii strode forward to meet them, Sparr half a step behind. The brief jog had begun to restore a sense of warmth. The staff felt solid in his hands, dangerous. His gladiator training surged, eager to burst forth in violence. Cut and sore, shivering, and weakened by imprisonment, he would still put up a fight.

“Klee to battle!” Waii sang out, twirling her spear as the groups crashed together. Two of the men closed on Sparr, thinking him the more dangerous. Swinging and blocking with the staff, Sparr held them off but couldn’t press his attack. The staff was too slow to wield. By the time he blocked one man’s attack, the other was already upon him.

Her weapon a blur, Waii met her attacker. Like her, the man was a skilled fighter, and plenty fast. He was taller, but Waii’s spear gave her an edge. She drove him back, feinting and sweeping the barbed weapon. The hunter slashed at the man’s legs,forcing him to hop back. He stumbled free, but the respite gave her an opportunity. Waii flicked her spear, opening a cut in the leg of one of the men attacking Sparr.

For another few heartbeats the odds were evened. Sparr’s attackers still pressed him, but with one already injured and cautious, he held his own. Fatigue crushed him, but the men pursuing them were also tired. It was late at night, the light poor, and the trail uneven. No one was at their best. As the skirmish slowed, Sparr swung the staff in an arc, crunching against the shoulder of the other attacker. The man hissed in pain and stumbled back. Both of his opponents were hurt, and Waii seemed to have the edge over her attacker, having once again driven him back.

Suddenly, the man with the cut leg abandoned his friend to lunge at Waii. She raised her spear in time to block the blow, but his blade stuck in the shaft. Before Waii could free her weapon, the man’s weight carried them both to the ground. Panicking, Sparr spun the staff again, this time cracking the knee of his remaining attacker. The man collapsed, writhing in pain.

He would be too late to help Waii. With one attacker laying on top of her, she was defenseless. Blade raised for the kill, the other attacker moved in.

“Klee to battle!” Seemingly from nowhere, Sianna bore down upon the man with the blade. He hastily raised an arm, but the hunter found an opening, planting her knife between his ribs and knocking him from Waii. He staggered back, clutching futilely at the wound while his blood pumped out in a gruesome stream.

The man who had crashed into Waii rolled to the side, desperate to pull his knife free. His eyes were wild, feral, looking for an escape. There wasn’t one. Before he could free his blade, Sparr’s staff found his skull.

***

The Klee camp was as different from the one Sparr had visited on the tundra as a spring day is from winter. A canopy of trees circled the clearing, giving protection both from the wind and sun. The tents were more permanent as well, with foundations dug into the earth and supported with roughly-hewn timbers. The cook circle was well established, with concentric rings which mirrored the tribe hierarchy. This was not the camp of nomads.

“Eyes down when they pass,” Hew said. “You are too bold.”

Sparr had been placed into the young man’s care shortly after Waii led them to the camp. Hew had brought him a change of plain but practical clothing, ensured that he was fed, and let him get some sleep during the day. The flight along the stream trail had taken most of the night. Now, as evening approached, the two helped prepare for dinner by fetching wood.

“You seem to eye them when you wish,” Sparr replied. His companion had been referring to the tribe’s alpha hunters.

“I am not a threat to them,” the youth said urgently. “They say you fought well. You are a foreigner, and a man.”

It had been the same on the tundra. Fighting well and sharing his kill had earned Sparr fleeting respect, but hadn’t changed his status. “Will I have to fight again?” He dropped an armful of firewood at the edge of the cook circle.

Hew looked at him quickly, dark eyes catching the firelight. “I don’t know. I thought you were to be turned over tomorrow, but there has been more talk than usual.”

“Of course,” Sparr muttered, more to himself than Hew. Nothing on Kaybe was ever easy, ever simple. He couldn’t just be rescued, it had to be fucked-up in some way. He couldn’t just fly into the Odysseus camp and land among friends. The way had to be littered with bodies.

“Those two in particular,” Hew whispered. With the barest nod he indicated two hunters speaking outside an ornately decorated tent. “Waii and Mille. One of them will lead when the Mother’s time comes.”

The two were of an age, no more than thirty. Both had straight, dark hair, but where Waii wore hers in a single braid, Mille’s was unbound. And both were fit, but where Waii was compact and taut, Mille was a whisper taller, willowy and slim. Both carried themselves with unquestioned authority.

“The Mother?”

“You will not see her,” Hew said. “The Mother is rarely outside lately. The whispers say she is not well.”

Other men stoked the fire, brought out freshly butchered venison, and began to cook. The meat had been rubbed with spices both familiar and foreign. The scent was exotic, but Sparr’s hunger was all too common. He and Hew foraged for one more load of firewood, then, as evening overtook day, found their place at the circle. Woodsmoke swirled around them.

“Look,” Hew said softly. “It is Sianna’s first time in the Womb.” The young hunter who had rushed to the aid of Waii the previous night was stepping from the ornate tent, a shy smile on her face.

It took Sparr a heartbeat to realize that the Womb was the name given to the tent. He took a guess. “It is a sacred place?”

“Very,” Hew said somberly. “For her to be invited was an honor.”

Evening unfolded around them. Children shrieked and played, game roasted on spits, hunters cared for their weapons, and the stars revealed themselves alongside sparks dancing from the fire. Just as on the tundra, the hunters ate first, followed by the other women, then finally the men. Sparr hardly cared. When at last he tore into the dripping venison it tasted heavenly.

Later, Hew left Sparr while he served an astringent spirit that the men distilled from aromatic roots. Sparr was allowed a small sip, which, as with other spirits he had encountered on Kaybe, proved to be both potent and complex. Bitter and spice notes lingered long after he had finished.

Sparr thought the evening might go as the one on the tundra had, with inebriation and boasting. Hew served another round of the spirit, and indeed several of the hunters had a wet gleam in their eyes, grinning with restless energy. But before a more boisterous atmosphere could spread, the crowd became distracted by a scene unfolding in front of the tent known as the Womb.

“You will,” Waii was saying to Mille, “and him, too.” The two were confronting each other, standing inches apart.

“I don’t need your help interpreting the Mother’s words,” Mille said. She stood just tall enough to look down on Waii.

“Then do you need help with your hearing? We have no more than fifteen minutes, and you’re wasting them!”

“Watch your words, sister!” Mille’s tone was sharp, but she shot a telltale glance toward the cook circle, toward Sparr. “Fuck!” she said, before storming off to the women’s tent. A cluster of other hunters scrambled to follow.

Shaking her head with frustration, Waii approached. She drew Hew to the side, whispered in his ear, then herself strode toward the women’s tent. “Explain to him!” she shouted over her shoulder.

When the young man returned to Sparr’s side, he looked pale. “You must bathe,” he said, “quickly!” He half led, half dragged Sparr away from the cook circle. At Hew’s word, several other men jumped to follow.

“What the hell?” Sparr was being taken beyond the edge of camp, toward the stream.

“You have to bathe,” Hew repeated. “They’re taking you into the Womb.”

“But I thought you said-“

“I know,” Hew interjected. “Few men enter. I’ve never seen a stranger invited. But we mustn’t question the Mother’s will.”

For the second time in less than a day, Sparr found himself stripping at the edge of the milky, glacial stream. The other men caught up, one of them carrying a jar of what looked like fine sand. He showed Sparr the trick of dipping himself into the water, then rubbing his wet skin with the sand. When rinsed away, the abrasive grains left behind smooth skin.

While Sparr scrubbed himself, Hew offered a stream of instructions for his coming encounter. “Say nothing!” he insisted. “Do not speak while in the Womb. If you are asked a question, speak as few words as possible in reply. Say nothing else, and never offer an opinion. You are nothing to them.”

“I’ll keep it zipped. Noted.”

Hew gave Sparr a quizzical look at ‘zipped’, but pressed on. “And do not raise your eyes unless asked. I cannot stress this enough, Alain. You aren’t a prisoner, but as long as you are in the camp you are property.”

As Sparr considered the rising peril of his situation, a third man hastily trimmed his hair and beard. It was nothing like the luxurious, erotically-charged baths he had taken at the temple of the Origin, but when the man finished, Sparr at least felt presentable. At last he rose, and was presented with a light wrap to fasten around his waist.

Waii, along with several of her hunters, was already waiting outside the tent. She had changed into what appeared to be a ceremonial robe stitched from fine cloth and decorated with bits of smooth glass, shells, and metal. To Sparr she looked positively regal. Gathered farther back, the rest of the tribe’s women had formed in a half circle, just as curious as Sparr. Hew and the other men slipped away.

A ripple of whispers spread through the crowd. Mille was approaching, head held high. Like Waii, she had changed, but not into a robe. Instead, the slender hunter wore only a silky diamond-shaped top tied around her neck, and behind her back. The clingy fabric did little to conceal her body. Tied low on her hips, accentuating her flat belly, she wore a wrap similar to Sparr’s, but cut high on one side. The hunter’s skin shone in the torchlight, scrubbed fresh like Sparr’s. Gleaming, jet hair spilled across her shoulders. The stern woman who had confronted Waii just fifteen minutes earlier had been replaced by a beguiling, feminine beauty.

But if Mille was pleased by her transformation, she didn’t show it. She stood, brow furrowed, glaring at Waii. “I assume this pleases you,” she hissed.

“It is the Mother you must please, not me,” Waii said flatly. “I will say it suits you, though.”

Mille’s face reddened, but before she could speak the tent flap opened, pulled back by an unseen hand. Mille mastered herself, exhaled, and stepped within. Waii took a moment longer. She lingered behind Sparr, then unexpectedly lifted his wrap to slip her fingers around his balls. Sparr felt her rubbing on some sort of cream, cool against his skin.

“Make her work for it,” she whispered, before following Mille into the tent. Sparr took a deep breath and entered.

Sparr remembered to lower his gaze, but not before he took a quick glance around the tent. Though dim, with only several oil lamps for illumination, he could tell it served both as a residence, and a ceremonial area. Tucked in back was a narrow bed, stool, chest, and weapon rack, each piece as utilitarian as the next. But if the Mother’s furnishings were spartan, the rest was sumptuous. The walls were hung with tapestries, some portraying the hunt, some landscapes, and others abstract beyond comprehension. The floor of the tent wasn’t covered by a single rug, but rather by a pile of them, laying at odd angles, overlapping, and folded against the sides so that it was impossible to say exactly where the floor ended and the walls began. The lamps gave off an exotic scent which called to mind sandalwood.

In addition to Waii and Mille, Sparr caught a quick glimpse of a greying woman seated toward the back. And it turned out to be Sianna who had pulled back the flap. With his eyes lowered, Sparr could see little more than feet and legs, but the young hunter seemed to be keeping herself pressed against the back wall.

“You brought him.” The Mother’s voice was thin and strained, weakened by age or illness.

“As you wished, Mother,” Waii replied. There was a cautious, subdued note to her voice that Sparr hadn’t heard before.

“Tell me,” the Mother asked, “how did he fight?”

“Well for a man,” Waii said, “bravely.”

“Mmm,” the Mother said. She took in a raspy breath before continuing. “You are shy with the details, child.”

“We submerged ourselves in the stream as the men passed. The stranger made no sound, even when his man parts hit the water. We followed the men, then fought them. The stranger kept two occupied with his staff, while I-“

“A staff?” the Mother broke in. “Why not a blade?”

Waii didn’t hesitate. “He is right-handed, but injured in that arm, and weakened from captivity. The staff gave him the best chance to fight without losing his grip.”

“Yes,” the feeble voice said, “good. And Sianna fought well, too.”

Sparr could picture Waii’s proud smile. “She leapt in without fear, Mother. Her first kill.”

“Mmm,” the Mother repeated. For a moment the tent was quiet, the only sounds were the matriarch’s strained breathing and the brush of the evening breeze against the tent’s sides. Sparr’s thoughts wandered. Why am I here?

He didn’t have to wait long to find out.

“Tell me, Mille,” the Mother said, breaking the silence, “what does he look like?”

It seemed an odd question, given they were all in the room, but Sparr could feel Mille’s eyes on him.

“He’s tall,” Mille began, “almost too tall for the tent.” She was speaking cautiously, deciding what she would describe, what she would omit. “He is scarred from recent wounds, but recovering, able to fight.”

The Mother made an impatient sound. “Is he fat? Thin? Old?”

“No longer young,” Mille said, too hastily for Sparr. “But no, not old. He still has his strength.”

“And his looks?”

“Dark hair and eyes. Another scar. A strong chin.”

“Is he handsome?”

Mille hesitated a second too long. “Answer!” the Mother snapped. “And do not lie to me, child.”

“Yes,” Mille admitted. “Not in the way our people are, but he is handsome.” She meant that unlike them, Sparr didn’t have Asian features.

“Raise your head, stranger.”

So accustomed to being spoken of as if he wasn’t even there, it took Sparr a heartbeat to realize that the Mother meant him. What he saw when he finally looked up almost tore a gasp from his throat. Sparr had expected an older woman, weakened by years, possibly ill with a malady common among the aged. Instead, he saw a woman of no more than middle years, but broken by disease. She sat upright, her bearing still that of a leader, but her flesh was retreating from an already diminutive frame. Where Waii and Mille were blessed with smooth, pale skin, the Mother’s was blotched and sallow. Once black hair was heavily streaked with white.

And she was blind. The stricken woman’s eyes were milky, swollen nearly shut, and weeping. Her gaze, though steady, was unfocused. “Am I what you expected?” the Mother asked.

A hundred responses popped into his head, but Sparr remembered Hew’s exhortation to be as succinct as possible. “No.”

“So what do you see then?”

“A woman whose years are being stolen by illness.”

The Mother nodded, her head held at a slight angle. “Stolen, yes.” She drew in a labored breath. “And do you know what the illness took first?”

“Your sight?”

“The hunt.”

Sparr cringed inwardly. He knew little about the Klee, but enough to know the hunt occupied the center of their existence. “Your people will carry on.”

“We will,” the Mother concurred, “starting tonight.” She turned in the direction of Mille. “Are you ready?”

The hunter shifted uncomfortably, shot a glance at Sparr then back toward the Mother. “As you asked, Mother, but I have already claimed a man.”

“I hear you’ve claimed two,” the Mother said, smiling. “You have an appetite.”

“But he is not of our blood,” Mille said, this time with more urgency.

“I have ears, child! I hear his foreigner tongue. He is brave and strong, you say. Do as I ask.”

Mille drew in a deep breath, exhaled slowly, then repeated. “As you command, Mother. I will take him to the-“

“No,” the Mother broke in. “Here. I can no longer bear a man’s touch, but I can still share in the moment. Claim him here.”

Realization shot through Sparr. He and Mille would fuck in the tent while the others watched or listened. He almost laughed. Only on Kaybe could casual sex be made to feel perilous.

“Sianna,” the Mother said, “have you touched a boy?”

“No, Mother.” The young woman’s voice was soft, almost imperceptible.

“Come forward, child. Tell me what he’s wearing.”

“A wrap only,” Sianna said, coming to stand just in front of Sparr.

“Remove it.” Once again those in the room were talking about Sparr as if he wasn’t there.

Sianna fumbled with the simple clasp, clearly nervous. When at last the garment slipped free she seemed reluctant even to look.

“Is he large? Small? Describe it.”

“I don’t know,” the hunter began. “Not small. Wrinkly. There are some veins.”

“Mille,” the Mother said in her thin voice, “Sianna is inexperienced. Tell us, is he large?”

“He is soft.” Mille hesitated. “Yes. When he is ready, yes, he will be bigger than most men.”

“Mmm. Touch him, Sianna.” The Mother leaned back, more of a bystander now than a leader.

The young woman did as she was told, tentatively slipping her fingers around the base of Sparr’s organ. Sianna’s skin was calloused from handling weapons, but her grip was delicate. “It’s heavier than I thought.”

“Yes. Now, stroke him.”

Sianna complied. Keeping a light grip she slid her fingers away from the base, lifting the soft shaft. When she repeated, Sparr felt a predictable spark of pleasure. By the fifth stroke he was beginning to swell in her hand.

“Don’t spare the details,” the Mother urged.

“It’s getting fat,” Sianna offered. “Still soft but… oh. Yes, he’s bigger.”

He was getting hard, but more from the oddly erotic scene than Sianna’s grip on his flesh, which felt subdued. It occurred to Sparr that the cream Waii had applied was dulling his sensation.

“Ancestors!” Sianna was cradling Sparr’s cock in her hand, no longer stroking it, but staring with an astounded expression. “Does it even fit inside?”

The Mother chuckled. “Child, have you claimed a man yet?”

Sianna was still gawking at Sparr’s cock, but managed an answer. “No, Mother.”

“Go then,” the matriarch said. “Go find a boy you like. Go learn just how nicely it fits inside.”

“Yes, Mother!” Sianna took a final look at Sparr’s cock before she left, pressing it down then watching how it bobbed back up, eager for her touch. With a smile, she slipped away into the night.

“You know she’s going to think they’re all that big,” Waii said, a little smile finding its way into her expression.

“If he is like she described, it will be a relief to learn otherwise. Now,” the Mother said, turning to Mille, “you may take him however you like, but you will describe it to me. When you cannot, Waii will.”

For a moment the surreal scene crawled almost to a halt. Smoke from the oil lamps still spun and curled into the air and tent walls rippled in the breeze, but no one moved. Sparr stood naked and hard, with Waii to his left and Mille to his right. The Mother reclined expectantly.

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