Continued from Chapter Five
["The Mastodon Diaries" is rated NC-17 for Violence, Language, and Graphic Sexual Content. Chapter 6 contains explicit descriptions of consensual sex between adults. Reader discretion is advised.]
“Sister?” Klizzie repeated, trying to get the stranger’s attention. She felt Gini’s small hand slip into hers. The girl was shaking and wide-eyed. The strange woman was wide-eyed, too.
Klizzie had never seen a woman who looked like this one. Not only was her hair the color of fox fur, her eyes were as blue as the sky, and those sad, blue eyes gazed at Klizzie and Gini for only a heartbeat before returning their focus to the dead man on the ground.
Cradling his jaw in her palm, the fox-haired woman bent to kiss his lips again, making his chest rise. Then she sat upright to pound his breast with clenched fists. She mumbled foreign words, possibly a prayer, or a curse: “Pleasemulderpleasemulderplease...”
Klizzie was certain the woman’s prayers were useless. The man’s spirit had clearly flown from his body. His skin was grayish-blue, his eyes glazed and unseeing beneath half-closed lids. But this woman was stubborn. She continued her chanting, her shoving of fists, and the strange kisses that made the dead man’s chest rise.
Suddenly a weak cough sputtered from his throat. He gasped, squeezed his eyes shut, moaned. Great Spirit Mother! Klizzie began to tremble.
The strange woman sat bolt upright and stared at the man’s creased face. “Mulder?” she said.
The foreign word hung in the air, unanswered. Although Klizzie didn’t understand its meaning, she could hear both hope and fear in the woman’s tone.
“Pleeeassse...,” hissed the fox-haired woman, dropping her ear to the man’s chest.
Listening, she began to slowly smile. Her reddened eyes flooded with tears. She wrapped her arms around the man, gripped his shoulders, cradled him to her breast. A cry broke in her throat like a stone tossed into a pond.
Much to Klizzie’s surprise, the man’s arm lifted, little by little, quaking like a newborn foal’s legs, until the palm of his hand came to rest on the woman’s wet cheek.
Spirits be praised, the dead man was no longer dead! It was unbelievable! Without a doubt, this fox-haired woman possessed powerful medicine.
“Dah-de-yah,” Gini whispered, sounding afraid and awestruck. “Kut...na-dzah! He came back!”
It was true! They could see the man’s fingers moving ever so slightly, caressing the crying woman’s cheek, smearing but not stopping her tears.“Gini, run and fetch Dzeh. Hurry!”
* * *
“I told you she was a Spirit!” Tse-e cried. He squatted next to Klesh behind the cherry bushes, a stone’s throw upland from Red Hair and her companion. He pointed a trembling finger at the impossible scene down below. “She has snatched the dead man’s spirit out of the air and put it back into him!”
“Quiet!” Klesh swung a brawny arm, striking the smaller man hard in the mouth to silence his blathering. “Do you want them to hear you?”
Tse-e hid his bruised mouth behind quaking hands and crouched even lower.
Klesh could not deny what he had just seen with his own eyes. Red Hair had somehow breathed life back into her dead companion. Was Tse-e right? Was she a Spirit? Or did she merely possess powerful totems, like a Shaman?
Reaching into the pouch he wore around his neck, Klesh fished out the tiny amulet he had stolen from Red Hair. The unfamiliar symbol looked like two crossed sticks and it glittered more brightly than any rock crystal. It held magic, he was sure, and once he discovered how to release its power, then Li-chi Tse-Gah would do his bidding. Maybe others would bow to him, too. Klesh pictured himself as chief of his Clan, no longer living his life as an outcast. His first order would be to have Red Hair’s companion killed, and then Klesh would take her as his mate. Next he would cast Klizzie from the Clan the same way he and Tse-e had been turned out. Seeing her humiliated and shunned would be even more satisfying than forcing Red Hair to her knees.
Down in the field, the girl -- Dzeh’s puny sister -- was rushing off in the direction of Toh-ta Lodge. That meant Dzeh and his chindi uncles would be arriving soon.
Klesh watched Klizzie drop to her knees beside Li-chi Tse-Gah and the dead man who now lived.
Tse-e whimpered, “Klesh, let us leave this place.”“And where shall we go? Thanks to Red Hair, we have no shelter, no supplies.” He almost added, “and no Clan,” but caught himself before the words were out. No matter how much he might want to blame the strangers for all his misfortunes, he couldn’t hold them accountable for his and Tse-e’s exile. That had happened four Mastodon Feasts ago, long before Red Hair’s arrival. Dropping her totem back into his pouch, Klesh wagged his head. “We will stay here.”
* * *
Scully pressed her ear to Mulder's chest, relieved to hear the drumming of his heart. Silently, she repeated “thank God, thank God” timed with with each steady beat, grateful beyond words for his miraculous recovery.
When the feeble caress of his hand against her cheek abruptly stopped and his arm fell to his side, she sat upright, startled, thinking maybe she had only imagined his heart’s beating. But when she examined his face, she could see that his color was returning, though his eyes were now closed.
He didn’t respond, so she clutched his wrist, feeling for his pulse.
The flow of blood thrummed beneath her fingers. He was alive. Thank God, thank God, thank God...
A puff of wind rustled the grassy meadow and siphoned some of the heat from Scully’s fiery cheeks, causing her skin to tighten as her tears dried. Crushed strawberries spattered the ground around her, looking like blood clots, and the midday air was so thick with the smell of the ripe fruit that even as empty as she felt she was certain she would never eat another strawberry as long as she lived.
She glanced at the kneeling woman, who stopped talking as soon as their eyes met. The woman didn’t appear dangerous -- she was perhaps only eighteen or nineteen years old and carried no obvious weapons. She sat about ten feet away, her palms held flat atop her tanned thighs. Two woven baskets lay tipped on their sides beside her brown knees. She wore an animal skin wrapped around her narrow hips. A small pouch dangled from a strip of rawhide between her bare breasts. Her skin was the color of coffee lightened with cream and her hair was almost black, long and braided into dozens of neatly woven strands. She had a straight nose and full lips, which quirked up at the corners where two crescent-shaped dimples punctuated her uneasy smile.
“Who are you?” Scully asked.
The young woman blinked at her, evidently not understanding.
It dawned on Scully that the woman’s friend, the little girl, was now gone. Pivoting, she searched the edge of the woods and then the upland field for the missing child.
“Where did she go?” Scully still straddled Mulder’s hips. Feeling protective of him in his vulnerable, unconscious state, she reached for her weapon and let her hand rest on her holster.
“Na-dzah.” The woman pointed at Mulder. “Na-dzah.” She smiled more widely, showing white, strong teeth.
When she made no attempt to rise or approach, Scully released her hold on her gun. “Well...” Keeping her eyes on the woman, she swung off Mulder and positioned herself on her knees between them. “What now?”
“Wha nauw?” the young woman parroted, a crease forming between her straight brows.
“Do you have a name?”
“Name. Uh...I’m Dana.” Scully pointed to herself, tapping her breastbone with her finger, all the while feeling rather foolish, as if she were an actor in a jungle movie. Me Tarzan, you Jane. “Dana. Daay...nuh.”
The woman smiled and repeated, “Day-nuh.” When Scully nodded, the woman pointed to herself and said, “Klizzie.”
“Lahn.” She nodded enthusiastically. Then her eyes fell onto Mulder.
Scully placed a hand on his chest, relieved again to feel the beat of his heart there. “Mulder,” she said.
“Muhl-dar?” asked the woman.“Yes. Mulder.”
* * *
“Muhl-dar,” Klizzie repeated, satisfied they now had something to call one another, although these new names were foreign-sounding and meaningless to her, unlike ordinary Clan names that actually stood for something. Her own name was the word for “goat” and Dzeh meant “elk.” Gini was “chicken hawk.” Dzeh’s uncle Lin was “horse.” And so on for everyone. Maybe “Day-nuh” was the foreigners’ word for Fox Hair or Sky Eyes. And “Muhl-dar”? Klizzie hadn’t a clue, unless it meant “Man Who Does Not Die.”
Neighboring clans sometimes spoke unfamiliar words, but usually they could understand each other at least a little or, if they came from a great distance away, they would use hand signals to make their ideas known. This woman, Day-nuh, appeared to recognize neither Klizzie’s words nor her signing. So Klizzie guessed that Day-nuh and Muhl-dar’s clan must live many day’s run from here.
Exactly which clan they might belong to puzzled her. Klizzie had been born to Badger Clan. Now, as Dzeh’s mate, she was a member of Owl Clan. There were many clans: Bear, Deer, Rabbit, Cat, Wolf, Eagle, Turtle...the list went on and on. Different clans gathered together in winter for Messenger Feasts or in summer for Mastodon Feasts, like the one coming up in half a moon. Klizzie had attended these feasts all of her life, but couldn’t remember ever seeing anyone with red hair or blue eyes before. Nor could she remember hearing such a strange language or seeing such unusual clothing. Looking at the hide of Day-nuh’s finely made cloak, Klizzie wondered if these newcomers might come from Eel Clan, a clan she had heard about but had never actually met.
She noticed that both strangers wore lovely bracelets made from a shiny material that was quite striking and finely worked. The man’s belt glistened, too, at the front of his waist. As did the little glossy holes in his extraordinary footwear, and the gleaming decorations in Day-nuh’s pierced ears.
The man’s ears were not pierced. How odd! All men wore decorations of bone or animal teeth or stone in their ears. Another strange thing: the hair of his beard was very short -- shorter than that on the muzzle of a wolf pup. Was he a boy just becoming a man? Day-nuh’s son perhaps, not her mate? Or did he scrape his beard with a flint blade the way women cleaned hair from deer hides? It could be that Eel Clan kept their hair trimmed short to look more like eel skin. The hair on both the newcomers’ heads was quite short, which seemed to lend credence to the idea.
There were so many things Klizzie wanted to ask. And so much more she wanted to tell! Perhaps most of all, however, she wanted to wash the disturbing expression of worry from Day-nuh’s face.
“Gini has gone to fetch Dzeh and the others,” Klizzie said, trying to relieve the other woman’s anxiety. “They will be here soon to help your...um...Muhl-dar.”
At the mention of his name, Day-nuh bristled like a she-bear protecting her cub, and Klizzie wondered if she had inadvertently shown disrespect. She decided it might be best to lower her eyes and bow her head to the ground.
Klizzie kept her head down.
She felt the tap of fingers on her arm and finally lifted her gaze to find Day-nuh had moved closer. She was gesturing toward the man named Muhl-dar and saying things that made no sense.
Then, from the direction of the camp, Klizzie heard Dzeh calling her name. Thank the Spirits. Klizzie was at a loss how to help these strangers. Dzeh would know what to do.
Gini was running at a gallop toward the strawberry fields, leading Dzeh, Uncle Lin and several of Dzeh’s male cousins. The men were armed with spears and knives. They wore frowns on their faces as they jogged upland from the water’s edge.
Dzeh sounded angry and a little nervous when he shouted to Klizzie to “Move away! Kut! Now!”
She scrambled to her feet and backed away, putting several paces between herself and the strangers, not because she feared them but because she was used to obeying the orders of her mate.
The men rushed forward, their spears hoisted shoulder high and aimed at the fox-haired woman who still squatted beside her unconscious companion. They formed a wide circle around her and she twisted her head first one way and then the other, trying to keep her eyes on them all. She placed a protective hand on the chest of the man named Muhl-dar. With her other hand, she pulled a gray fist-sized object from behind her back and pointed it at the men like an angry finger. She shouted a string of strong sounding words.
Uncle Lin ignored her yelling and stepped close enough to touch the tip of his spear to her chest. “What is the name of your clan?” he demanded. Lin was the oldest member of Owl Clan and the leader. His beard was streaked with gray, yet he was solidly built and tough enough to break a ram’s neck with his bare hands. He had the final say in all debates and his words were obeyed without question because he was both very wise and very strong.
Klizzie stood off to one side with Gini, biting her tongue because she knew Lin would be cross if she interfered, but she desperately wanted to yell out to the men that they had no reason to fear these newcomers. Her stomach churned at the sight of the fierce, yet desperate woman surrounded by six angry men.
“What is the name of your clan?” Lin repeated, his voice roaring like a bear about to charge. He prodded Scully with his spear, hard enough to puncture a small hole in the hide of her pretty cloak.
Although tears rose in her eyes, Day-nuh squared her shoulders, clenched her jaw and used both hands to point her gray object at Lin’s chest. “Back off,” she said.
The foreign words had no meaning for the men, but the hardness of her voice and the direct way she stared into their eyes made them nervous. She faced them like a male, like an enemy.
They would kill her for sure.
Strangers cannot be trusted -- Klizzie had heard this saying all her life, had seen it proven true on more than one occasion. But she knew firsthand that sometimes kin could not be trusted either. Her cousin Klesh, for instance, and her own brother Tse-e. The memory of their transgressions could still knock the breath from her lungs. People were people, some good, some bad, and she felt certain this fox-haired woman was a good person. She had worked hard to save her companion’s life. Clearly she had a caring heart, as well as the favor of powerful Spirits.
“Do something, Klizzie,” Gini whispered as the men tightened their circle.
Lin raised his spear.
“Stop!” Klizzie shouted, then, realizing her breach of etiquette, she dropped to her knees. “Please,” she added, eyes fastened on the ground.
“Klizzie!” Dzeh growled, making her flinch. “This is men’s business!”
Blood rose in Klizzie’s cheeks. Men’s business, men’s business! Everything was men’s business! Anger took hold of her and, ignoring the consequences, she rose to her feet, strode over to the men, and shouldered through their circle to stand between them and the strangers. She stared straight at their astonished faces, and said, “There is no threat here. She is but a woman. Her companion is unconscious. Please, do not harm them.”
Dzeh glowered, embarrassed by her outrageous actions, and it hurt Klizzie to disobey her mate this way. She could scarcely believe she was doing such a thing. It took all her willpower to keep her feet planted where they were.
Lin huffed his disapproval and warned Dzeh, “Remove your mate from here.”
“Why kill them?” Klizzie demanded when Dzeh reached for her arm.
“They are not Owl Clan,” he said.
“I was not Owl Clan either until I became your mate.”
The fierceness faded from his eyes. She knew he loved her and she felt a stab of guilt for causing him this trouble, bringing the disapproval of the Clan down on both their heads. He glanced at the other men, at the strangers, and then back at Klizzie. “You are Owl Clan now. They are not. They cannot be trusted,” he said as if talking to a child.
Then an idea struck her. “But what if they become Owl Clan? Like I did.”
“Klizzie, no one in Owl Clan will take either of these two as mates. They are too strange. They will never be our kin.”
Lin announced, “We must kill them. Dzeh, get your mate out of our way.” The other men nodded in agreement.
“No, wait!” Klizzie couldn’t believe she was about to argue with Dzeh and his Uncle Lin. The Spirits must be giving her strength, wanting her to help these strangers, because otherwise she would never have dared to stand up against six clansmen this way. “The man could become your Trading Partner, Dzeh,” she suggested.
She knew Dzeh needed a new Trading Partner -- he had gone four winters without choosing a new alliance, reluctant to take on another partner after all the trouble with Klesh. But it was custom. Trading Partners strengthened clan ties, made for peaceful negotiations, provided food in times of starvation. There had been many winters when the people of Owl Clan could not have survived without the help of their partners in Deer Clan or Turtle Clan or Badger Clan. If Dzeh accepted the man named Muhl-dar as his Trading Partner, the strangers would be considered kin.
Dzeh studied the newcomers, particularly the man. “He is too sick. He will not live long enough to make the first trade,” he said, shaking his head.
“Only the Spirits know that,” Klizzie whispered.
“Move out of our way, Klizzie,” he warned, “or I will move you myself.”
Just then little Gini surprised them all by plowing into the circle to join Klizzie. Everyone’s eyes rounded at the girl’s impudence. “If he dies,” she said, her voice high and as clear as the call of a bird, “then all of his possessions become yours. Isn’t that right, Dzeh?”
Ah, Gini was a smart girl! The man’s clothes, his footwear, the unusual bracelet he wore on his wrist -- these were unlike anything the Clan had ever seen, making them worth a great deal. And who knew what he carried in his packs. If Dzeh agreed to become Muhl-dar’s Trading Partner and then the man died, Dzeh would become the owner of these many fine things. And if he lived, so much the better, because it was obvious his clan was clever and rich. A partnership with them could be a lucrative arrangement. Dzeh and Owl Clan could not lose by agreeing to ally themselves with these strangers.
“He is too sick to agree to a partnership,” Dzeh pointed out.
“We are not leaving Toh-ta Lodge for several days,” Klizzie said, seeing that Dzeh was considering the idea. “If we feed him, he might get well enough before we go. And if he gets well, he might show his gratitude by agreeing to become your Trading Partner.”Lin suddenly burst out laughing, a deep hearty laugh. “Your clever mate has worked everything out, Dzeh. She may be impudent, but she is right. The plan is a good one.” He lowered his spear. “Let’s carry the man back to camp. The woman...” -- he glanced at Day-nuh -- “she can follow or not, as she wishes.”
* * *
Scully had no idea what had just happened, but she wasn’t about to argue. Obviously Klizzie and the girl had intervened on her and Mulder’s behalf. Whether they’d simply been persuasive or had negotiated some sort of agreement remained to be seen. As for now, the big brute with the gray hair was lowering his weapon and laughing, while several of the others were bending over Mulder.
“Wait, wait! What are you doing? Be careful.”
Her words fell on deaf ears. The men lifted Mulder and began carrying him in the direction they’d come. Klizzie was smiling and the little girl looked about to burst with excitement. The tallest man, the one who had done most of the talking, scooped up the two packs she and Mulder had brought from the basin. He eyed her suspiciously but said nothing when she rose to follow after him and the others.
“Please, be careful,” she begged, seeing Mulder’s head loll. “Where are you taking him? He’s very sick.”
They headed for a path that ran along the lakeshore. Klizzie and the girl hung back, walking with Scully. They chattered with each other, obviously in good spirits, despite the dire circumstances. They repeated her and Mulder’s names several times. Perhaps they knew of a way to help him, although for the life of her she couldn’t imagine what it might be. Mulder’s condition was precarious, he needed medical attention, he should be in a hospital where he could get antibiotics, oxygen, fluids...not carried to who knew where.
After a few minutes, the group arrived at a tidy campsite overlooking the lake. At least half a dozen structures formed a semicircle beneath the trees not far from a sandy beach. They looked similar to the one that had belonged to Scully’s captors in the basin. Some of the dome-shaped shelters were larger than others, as if whole families lived under the same roof. Several dozen men, women and children came running from various locations to get a look at her and Mulder. They gathered around, all talking at once, blinking in surprise.
A balding man with a heavily tattooed face came forward out of the crowd, which parted to let him stand beside Mulder. He inspected Mulder’s pale face, listened to his raspy breathing and then directed the men to carry him to a small tent set apart from the rest.
Scully trailed after them, pushing her way inside the shelter, where she found Mulder was being laid on a bed of furs. Baskets and bowls of unidentifiable powders and liquids were lined up along the hut’s outer perimeter. Drying weeds hung in bunches from the shelter’s oversized bone supports.
The tattooed man knelt beside Mulder and began chanting. He picked up a rattle adorned with colorful feathers, and shook it three times over Mulder’s head. Then he reached into one of the small bowls, removed a pinch of reddish powder and sprinkled it over his chest.
“What are you doing?” Scully asked, but the tattooed man ignored her. His chanting grew more insistent.She hoped that if he was this tribe’s medicine man, he was a good one. Mulder was hanging on to life by a thread and needed all the help he could get. Selecting a place by his feet, Scully knelt to watch over him.
* * *
“What now?” Tse-e asked. He stood beside Klesh not far from Owl Clan’s campsite. They kept to the shadows while they spied on the Clan’s comings and goings. “Lin has accepted Red Hair and her companion. Now you must forget the idea of taking her as your mate.”
“Maybe, maybe not.”
Old Lin’s actions made no sense. The Clan should have killed the strangers, or at the very least, killed the man and taken Li-chi Tse-Ga. It was the proper thing to do. It was custom.
Not that Lin and Dzeh and these other Owl Clan chindis always did what was right. Klesh seethed with fresh anger over his unwarranted exile. The Clan had turned their backs on him and Tse-e, forcing them to live on their own. And they were kin! Bound by blood! Why adopt strangers and toss out family?
Taking in these two outsiders made no sense.
Once again the red-haired woman had managed to slip like a sleek eel through his fingers.“We will camp on the opposite shore where we can keep an eye on things,” Klesh said. “I am not ready to fly away just yet.”
* * *
“Day-nuh?” Klizzie waited at the entrance of A-zey-al-ih Lodge for Day-nuh to invite her in. When no invitation came, she ignored protocol and entered anyway. She carried a tray of food, hoping to coax the stoic woman into eating something. It had been two days since the newcomers’ arrival, and the woman named Day-nuh had eaten almost nothing in that time.
As usual, Gini followed close on Klizzie’s heels, curious to see how the man named Muhl-dar was doing. The girl seemed inordinately inquisitive about him and asked Klizzie uncountable questions, most of which she could not answer. “Where did he come from?” “When will he wake up?” “Why does he not have any tattoos?” “Why are his clothes so strange?” “Is he going to live or die?”
“Only the Spirits know these things, Little Chick,” was Klizzie’s unvarying response.
It was obvious friendly Spirits had blessed these strangers. Although Muhl-dar remained very sick, the speed of his recovery was astonishing. And Day-nuh seemed determined to make him well. Klizzie hoped that their good fortune would continue and the man would soon be up on his feet and healthy.
Day-nuh sat cross-legged on the skins beside Muhl-dar, who was sleeping on a silvery mat of wolf fur. Sweat slicked his pale face and his bare chest. His breathing was labored and he coughed frequently. Day-nuh had been watching him continuously through the last two sunsets, making sure to pour a little water or put a little food into his mouth whenever he happened to be awake, which wasn’t often. Mostly he slept. Occasionally he cried out in his sleep, as if he were struggling against evil Spirits in the Dream World. He often shouted a word Klizzie didn’t recognize, “skuh-lee,” which never failed to seize Day-nuh’s attention. She would then talk and sometimes sing to him while he wandered fretfully in his dreams. More often, she just sat quietly, looking exhausted and fearful.
“I brought you some strawberries. And roasted rabbit and fresh dandelion greens.” Klizzie set her tray down beside the skins.
Day-nuh ignored the food and seemed not to hear or notice her visitors, even when Klizzie stirred the ashes of the hearth, bringing the coals back to life. It was well past sunset and most of her kin were busy settling around the hearths of their various lodges, putting their children to sleep and getting ready for bed. Tomorrow was an important day. Owl Clan would be packing to move to Tabaha Lodge on Turkey Lake for the summer season. Klizzie had been hoping the man named Muhl-dar would be well enough to travel with them, but now it looked as if he wouldn’t recover his strength before the Clan’s departure. He would remain behind and Klizzie had no doubt Day-nuh would stay with him.
“Will they be okay here by themselves?” Gini asked, as if reading Klizzie’s thoughts. The girl hunkered close to the man’s head to get an unobstructed view of him.
Klizzie’s heart went out to the strangers, particularly the fox-haired woman. She looked bedraggled and exhausted. Her bruises were fading, but the shadows beneath her eyes grew darker each day. Her skin was as pale as a pickerel’s belly and was dotted with inflamed mosquito bites. She needed a bath and her clothes could stand washing, too. Her odd garments were covered with mud and smelled a little sour. Klizzie noticed there was blood on her leg-coverings, a large, dark patch between her thighs that looked fresh. Day-nuh must be having her Moon Time, she realized. She was bleeding into her garments without seeming to be aware of it.
“Day-nuh?” Klizzie politely tapped her arm and pointed to the blood.
Day-nuh looked down. “Dammit...” Her eyes filled with tears and she gave Klizzie a pleading stare. She was obviously apprehensive about leaving her sick companion unattended, but she knew she had to do something about the blood.
“Gini, you stay with Muhl-dar while I take Day-nuh to wash up.”
Day-nuh cast troubled eyes on Muhl-dar.
“He will be fine,” Klizzie tried to explain. “Gini can fetch us if he wakes up.” Frustrated by their lack of common language, she pointed again at the blood and waved Day-nuh toward the lodge’s entrance.
Reluctantly, she rose and followed Klizzie outside.
Because the strangers had arrived in the strawberry field carrying nothing but two hunters’ packs and two spears, Klizzie suspected Day-nuh didn’t have the necessities for her Moon Time. Sympathy settled like a stone in her stomach when she considered that Day-nuh might have let herself bleed into her garments not because she was intent on the sick man but because she hadn’t known how to ask for the things she needed.
Taking her by the hand, Klizzie led Day-nuh first to her own lodge, where she gathered clean skins for her to wear after she washed up, as well as her traveling pack. Dzeh wasn’t in the hut yet, but several of his cousins were already bedding down. They peered at the fox-haired woman with curious eyes, but said nothing. The newcomers made everyone nervous. Strangers were not kin and could be dangerous, stealing food, weapons and women, sometimes killing the men. The Clan would not begin to relax until the man named Muhl-dar officially became Dzeh’s Trading Partner. Until then, he and Day-nuh were considered outsiders and would continue to be regarded with suspicion.
“This way.” Klizzie smiled and took hold of Day-nuh’s hand once more. “You can bathe in the lake, then dress in these clean skins.”
The fox-haired woman allowed herself to be towed out of the lodge and down to the lakeshore, which wasn’t far, just a few rabbit hops. She stumbled as she walked, looking dazed and exhausted. Klizzie worried about her. She was like an orphaned child who had gone too long with too little care. Without a good meal or a long night’s rest, she would soon become as sick as her companion.
For now, Klizzie was determined to help her, at least until the Clan left the day after tomorrow. She felt in her heart there was nothing to fear from these newcomers, no matter what the rest of the Clan might think.
Up ahead, the small crescent-shaped beach glimmered beneath the moonlit sky. The shore was sandy and smooth; it felt cool and soothing against the soles of Klizzie’s feet as she padded along its length. Waves gently lapped the shore and the air smelled wet and silty and soft, like the lake itself. This lake was called A-ye-shi, because on nights such as this it glistened like the black, glossy egg of a frog. It held life inside it like a frog’s egg, too. Fish, turtles and mussels, beaver and otter, water birds, other things. Gifts from the Spirits.
“You can undress here.” Klizzie stopped beside a large, branched log of driftwood where she set down her pack. Intending to bathe, too, she unwrapped the furs from her waist and draped them over the log. Giving a quick silent prayer to the spirits, she removed the pouch from around her neck and laid it reverently atop her clothes. Naked, she turned to face Day-nuh.
Day-nuh slowly removed her eel-skin cloak and placed it on the log next to Klizzie’s things. Then she stood staring at the lake as if uncertain what to do next.
“Do you need help?” Klizzie gave a tentative tug at her strange tunic. She wasn’t sure how this garment was supposed to come off. It had no apparent fasteners and it felt strange to the touch, elastic like the stomach of a gutted deer, but dry, like lamb’s wool.
Evidently the garment needed no unfastening. Day-nuh removed it by pulling it up and over her head in one easy motion. Underneath it she wore another garment, the likes of which Klizzie had never seen. It was a small, tight-fitting scrap of black, shiny material. More eel skin, perhaps, shaped into some sort of vest. Reaching behind her back, Day-nuh unfastened the odd garment and let it drop to the ground, revealing nipples the color of pink rose blossoms. Klizzie couldn’t help but stare; her own nipples were brown, the color of acorns, as were all of the Clan women’s. And Clan skin was tan, not white like Day-nuh’s. She was as ivory colored as a mastodon tusk. Paler than a person who was about to fly away to the Spirit World, she seemed to glow with the silvery luminescence of the moon...except where she was bruised, which was in many places. She was also spotted with insect bites and crisscrossed with welts and scratches.
It suddenly dawned on Klizzie that Day-nuh wore no totems around her neck. What sort of clan did not wear totems? And which Spirits would help people who prayed to none? There seemed no end to the strangeness of these foreigners.
Indifferent to Klizzie’s wonderment, Day-nuh knelt to unfasten her footwear. Once the lacings were untied, she stood and kicked the coverings from her feet. Then she removed her thin inner footwear. Next she loosened the waist of her bloodied leggings, which she let drop to her ankles, exposing another odd undergarment. This one was black and shiny like the upper garment, although it was wet with fresh blood.
“I can wash your clothes,” Klizzie suggested, “while you clean yourself.”
Hesitating for only a heartbeat, Day-nuh slipped out of her strange undergarment. With Moon Blood staining her inner thighs, she shivered and looked hesitantly at the lake.
Klizzie gave her a reassuring smile before digging two amole bulbs from her pack. “Take this.” She handed Day-nuh one of the soap-weed roots. The pale fox-haired woman stared at it as if she’d never seen a soap plant before. Klizzie realized that maybe she hadn’t. It was possible soap-weed didn’t grow in Eel Clan territory “It will get you clean and will take the sting out of those insect bites. I will show you.”
She waded into the water, enjoying its coolness on her skin. The surface rippled around her plowing legs, bucking the reflection of stars and moon. Somewhere in the velvet black of the opposite shore, a loon warbled a love song to its mate. Klizzie glanced over her shoulder to watch Day-nuh, lunar-white, trailing behind her.
When the water bumped the undersides of Klizzie’s breasts, she gasped at its chilliness. “This is far enough,” she announced, laughing as she began scrubbing the soap-weed root between her hands, working up a frothy lather. “See? This is how it is done.”
Day-nuh watched her for a moment before mimicking her motions and sudsing her own hands with the root.
Klizzie approached her with soap dripping from her cupped hands. “Hold still,” she murmured, and tenderly washed the soot from Day-nuh’s face, careful not to press too heavily on her bruises. She half expected the ivory-white skin to feel as strange as it looked, maybe cool and hard like a mastodon tusk, but instead she found it was as soft and warm as her own brown skin.
Day-nuh flinched when Klizzie’s thumb grazed her swollen, split lip.
“Sorry,” Klizzie apologized. She circled behind her and began wetting and washing Day-nuh’s fox-colored hair. Working up a thick lather, she massaged soap into her scalp, while Day-nuh scrubbed her own arms and neck.
“Rinse,” Klizzie said, once she felt satisfied that she had removed all the pine pitch, dried blood, twigs and leaves. To demonstrate her request, Klizzie made a show of holding her breath and ducking beneath the surface.
Day-nuh ducked beneath the water, too, sending soap bubbles spiraling to the surface.
When both women came up for air, Klizzie moved them to shallower water. “I will wash your back.” She twirled her finger to indicate she wanted Day-nuh to turn around. “You do the rest.”
She seemed to understand and turned her back. Klizzie lathered her shoulders, her spine, the backs of her arms, treating every injury with extreme care and wondering how Day-nuh had gotten so many welts and scratches.
“You finish while I clean your garments,” Klizzie suggested, satisfied that all the cuts on Day-nuh’s back were clean. She waded to shore, leaving the pale stranger to scrub the remaining dirt from her arms and the blood from her legs.
By the time Day-nuh emerged pink and clean, Klizzie had her clothes soaped, rinsed, wrung out and hanging to dry on the driftwood log.
“Let’s get you dressed before you bleed all over yourself again.” Klizzie rummaged through her pack and pulled out a Moon Time belt and a dried cattail. She handed Day-nuh the belt, then burst the cattail open, producing wads of fluffy, absorbent down.
The belt consisted of two parts: a soft deerskin strap about three fingers wide and two hands long attached at both ends to a rawhide cord that was long enough to loop around the waist. After a quick inspection, Day-nuh slid the strap between her legs and held it in place by cinching the string around her waist. Klizzie handed her a clump of cattail down, which she tucked between her legs inside the strap.
Klizzie offered her the remaining cattail. “For later,” she said.
Day-nuh took the down, retrieved her jacket and stuffed the wad into a pocket. The pocket itself amazed Klizzie. A hidden carrying pack, nearly invisible! How clever!
Because Day-nuh was shivering, Klizzie didn’t take the time to inspect this wondrous carrying device more closely, but handed Day-nuh the fur skirt she’d brought for her. When she fumbled with the fastener, Klizzie hurried to help, showing her how to loop the knot at her hip.
Klizzie donned her own skirt before announcing, “Next, I will rid your hair of all those snarls.” She searched her pack again, this time for the comb Dzeh had given her. The comb was well made, the tines even, straight and smooth, the handle intricately incised with the symbols of Owl Clan. Other than her totem pouch, it was Klizzie’s most prized possession.
“Sit,” she ordered, pointing at the log. Day-nuh did as she was told and Klizzie began combing the tangles from her hair. She hummed a little song as she worked -- a child’s prayer to the Fox Spirit, because Day-nuh’s hair reminded her so much of the hair of Ma-e, the Fox.
“E ha e... yo e... yo... he ye ye--”
“Klizzie! Klizzie!” Gini’s voice came from the woods. The girl arrived breathless on the beach. “Muhl-dar is thrashing in his sleep. He yells the strange word ‘scuh-lee’ over and over. Come quickly!”Before Klizzie could gather their things, Day-nuh was already running toward the camp.
* * *
“Scully, you *have* to be willing to see!”
“Mulder, the case is over.”
“No, no, you have to believe me. You *have* to. No one else will. Please.” Mulder struggles against restraints that bind both wrists to bedrails. He is back in Calumet Mercy Hospital, confined in the Psych Ward. The sheets of his bed have been washed in harsh chemicals to kill germs, and are stiff and rough against his exposed skin. The room smells like disinfectant and fear. Everything is white, white, white. Except for Scully. She is wearing her black satin bra and panties, and nothing else. Her lower lip has been recently split and is swollen. A bruise surrounds her left eye. She massages his chest with her palm while he begs her to help him. “Untie me, please. Scully, please unfasten the restraints.”
Mulder can smell smoke; he hears the crackle of fire. Hidden flames create flickering shadows, animated Rorschach’s inkblots that look like demons on the curtain encircling his bed. Panic balloons in his gut and rises to his throat, threatening to choke him. Balling his fists, he struggles against the restraints.
Scully leans over him until her brightly lipsticked mouth is only millimeters from his own dry lips. “I’m going.”
“Going where? When will you be back?”
“I won’t be back.”
No, no, no. Anything but that. He wants to grab her arm as she turns to go, hold onto her as tightly as he can. Losing her is the worst possible thing. Damn these straps!
“You’ve been a child, Fox.”
She peers back at him over her shoulder, but she is no longer Scully; she is Diana, and an ugly frown cuts across her face.
“You’ve been a child with only the responsibility of a child...to your own dreams and fantasies...”
Her goodbye speech, from years ago, before she walked out of his life, before the divorce papers were served -- their last fight. She looks just the way she did that day. Achingly beautiful, despite her disappointed expression. He feels the dead weight of his wedding ring on his finger. He wanted so much for her to understand him, to love him.
“I have commitments,” he tells her. God, he’s repeated these words so many times. “To the X-Files, to my sister--”
“You think you know what that means -- commitment. But you won’t know the true joy of responsibility until you plant your feet in the world.”
“Meaning?” He knows what she means; he knows exactly what she’s going to say, because she’s said it dozens of times, fighting for her dreams just as often and hard as he’s argued for his.
“Becoming a parent, Fox. Having a child.”
“*No* children, Diana. We’ve been over this. A father needs to be able to protect his children. And I don’t feel I... I can’t...” He couldn’t save Sam. He couldn’t. He can’t...
“You have to let go of the past, Fox.”
“I’m just supposed to slip into domestic bliss? Just like that?”
“It’s not possible. Not for me.”
Her expression turns sad. Tears glisten in her eyes. She looks away and walks to the door.
“Diana?” Please don’t go! Please, don’t leave me! He struggles against the restraints.
But she has passed beyond the door into the hall. The skin of her back is milky white, framed by the black silk of her bra and panties. He wants to put his hand there, but his hands are tied, and besides, someone else is putting his hand there. The stranger’s hand is scarred. The man stands with his back to Mulder, but Mulder can see he is muscular. He wears his hair long. He bends to nuzzle Diana’s neck and she laughs when his beard tickles her skin.
The man’s fingers stroke the tattoo on her lower back -- a snake devouring its own tail. Oh, God, it’s Scully.
“Get away from her!” Mulder shouts, his hips arching off the bed, straps cutting into his wrists. “Scully, don’t leave! Scully? Scully! Come back! Come back, Scully! Sculleeeee!”
She glances at him and shakes her head. “Not everything is about you, Mulder.”
Then she’s out the door.When he tries to call to her, nothing comes out of his mouth but a silent scream that tastes like woodsmoke.
* * *
“Mulder, wake up.”
Scully’s voice came from beyond the black of Mulder’s closed eyes. He struggled to lift his lids, which felt as if they were weighted by sandbags. When he finally managed to open them a crack, he discovered he was lying on a bed of furs in a low tent-like structure. Only Scully’s pale, bruised face looked familiar.
She leaned over him, shoulders squared as if prepared for disappointment. Tears glossed her eyes and the way she trapped her lower lip between her teeth made his stomach clench. She was clearly worried about something. Very worried.
“That bad?” he whispered. The words scoured his raw, swollen throat.
She shook her head, knocking loose a tear. “You’re going to be fine.”
The tear skated down her cheek, and he reached up to wipe away its shimmery track, but she beat him to the punch, eliminating all trace of it with one quick swipe. Sniffing quietly, she transformed into Doctor mode, or maybe Special Agent mode, whatever it took to conceal her fears from him.
Craning to see past her, he tried to make sense of his surroundings. Smoke rose from a small campfire off to her left. The place was dim and cramped and smelled like...what was that smell? Mint? Over his head, the roof was made of animal hides stretched across several curving bone supports.
Like the Neanderthals’ hut.
“Where are we?” He tried to sit up, feeling panicky. Scully hushed him and pressed her palm against his chest, prodding him back down onto the furs.
“We’re at a camp not far from the field where you...” -- her composure wavered -- “where you passed out.”
How long ago was that? Hours? Days? If those bastards touched her while--
“Mulder, they’re helping us,” she reassured him, as if reading his mind.
“Who? Conan the Barbarian and his weasely sidekick?”
A humorless laugh chuffed from her lungs. “No. A woman named Klizzie. She found us two days ago. Her people brought us here.”
“Her people?” He could feel a cough building in his chest and he cleared his throat in an effort to avert it.
“About fifty of them -- men, women, and children. They live here by the lake, at least temporarily. Klizzie convinced them to take us in.”
“*Convinced* them?” Now he did choke. Deep, wet coughs that doubled him in half. Jesus, his lungs ached. Scully massaged his bare chest while he gasped for air. After several painful minutes, his cough subsided and he was able to speak again. “They didn’t want to help us?”
“That’s a bit un-neighborly, given the circumstances.”
“Strangers in general, I think.”
Mulder recalled Dr. Diamond’s words from several years ago when he and Scully were investigating the Jersey Devil case: “Humans tend to be tribal and aggressively territorial, oriented by selfish sexual and reproductive drives that make cooperation beyond the family tribe extremely hard.” If Diamond was right, it made sense that these people would be leery of him and Scully.
Scully reached past his shoulder for a shallow bowl. Bringing it to his lips, she urged, “Drink.”
“What is it?”
He took a sip and then eyed the odd container. It was roughly circular, about six inches in diameter, and appeared to have scales. “What is that?”
“Turtle shell.” She set it back down and picked up a basket full of ripe strawberries. “You hungry? You should eat, try to regain your strength.” She held a berry up for him to inspect.
It looked delicious. He opened his mouth and she fed it to him.
God, it tasted wonderful. Like summer at Quonochontaug. Strawberry pie and grilled hamburgers and his mom’s potato salad. Seagulls screeching for handouts, pinwheeling in the clear blue sky. The air smelling like the ocean. Sea salt speckling his bare feet and legs. Sam begging him to help her search for seashells and beach glass.
None of which had happened yet, he realized, feeling queasy.
“More?” Scully asked.
He shook his head. “Tell me about them...our hosts.” Another cough rattled his chest.
She set down the berries and shrugged. “They speak a language I don’t understand. They appear healthy, well fed, happy, for the most part.”
“For the most part?”
“There was a lengthy, somewhat intense discussion before they brought us here.”
“Which is where?”
“A camp of about half a dozen shelters near the lake we saw from the top of the hill. They sleep several to a tent. Cook and eat in groups. Seem to have a complex system for divvying up food.” She nodded at the basket. “They’re skilled artisans. They make baskets and jewelry and stone tools. They wear furs. Seem to love their kids, who have the run of the place.”
So they weren’t all brutes like Conan and his little buddy.
“Klizzie and a girl named Gini keep bringing us food and water,” she continued, nodding at the strawberries. “Some sort of medicine man drops by every now and again to chant and leave offerings. The mint came from him.” She indicated a posy of drying greens that hung like mistletoe from a bone support beside his head.
“So that’s what smells.”
“Wild spearmint. I suspect he thinks it helps you breathe better.”
“Actually...it’s been known to have antiseptic qualities, which are most likely contributing to your recovery. He gave you an herbal tea that suppressed your cough enough to let you get some sleep, then another that acted like an expectorant to help clear your secretions. He treated your burns with a salve and so far there hasn’t been any sign of infection. His knowledge of medicinal herbs is impressive.”
“Well, tell him to bring on whatever he’s got. I’m feeling as weak as a baby cat.”
She stroked his cheek, her palm making a scritch-scratchy sound against his sprouting beard. “You’ve been very sick, Mulder. You still are. A full recovery will take time.”
That wasn’t the news he wanted to hear. He was eager to get up and out of bed to start looking for a way home. He’d had about all he could stand of the Pleistocene.
He noticed Scully was barelegged and wearing some sort of fur garment beneath her leather coat. “Going native?” he asked, fingering the soft material.
“No, I...” Her eyes dodged his as a flush of pink crept up her cheeks. “I needed to clean up.”
Was she embarrassed? Over what? “I wouldn’t mind cleaning up a little myself.” He ran his palm over his whiskers.
“Not until you’re stronger.”
“Are you talking about my smell or my health?”
That coaxed a tiny smile from her. She took hold of his hand and gave it a quick squeeze. “Tell you what, I’ll wash your clothes tomorrow. We’ll worry about your personal hygiene once you’re feeling better.”
“You could always give me a sponge bath.” He waggled his brows.
“You are clearly hallucinating again.”
Deciding to go with the idea, he gently pulled her to his chest. Gathering her into his arms, he stage-whispered into her ear, “Make all my hallucinations come true, Scully.”
She snaked her arms around his ribs and surprised him by clutching him fiercely. Her show of affection spawned a lump in his throat that swamped his eyes with tears. Not quite trusting his voice, he returned her embrace, held her, sank his fingers into her still-damp hair. If he could have strung more than two comprehensible words together, he would have told her how much he needed her...how much he loved her...how much he had always loved her and now couldn’t imagine his life without her.
“Scully, I--” was all he managed to say before his voice gave out.
“You need to rest,” she murmured against his collarbone.
She started to rise, but he found he couldn’t release her. Not yet.
“Stay,” he begged.
She hesitated, then nodded against his neck. “For a little while,” she promised, her words sounding watery and unguarded.She shifted her position so that she lay beside him, her head pillowed on his arm, and he rolled to face her, curving his body to fit with hers. Pressing his lips to the crown of her head, he realized the ache in his chest had nothing at all to do with the fire on the mountain, and everything to do with the fire in his heart.
* * *
Noontime. Mulder scratched his naked chest and rose on unsteady legs to empty his bladder while Scully continued to sleep on their bed of animal skins. He couldn’t believe she’d spent the entire night...and morning...wrapped in his arms. Too bad he’d slept through most of it. Damn smoke inhalation. He shuffled on bare feet out of the shelter.
Outside, he discovered half a dozen similar shelters in various stages of deconstruction. Men, women and children chattered in an unfamiliar language around dismantled tents while they rolled up animal hides and packed baskets. The smell of roasting meat drew his attention to a sizzling carcass that was propped up on a wooden spit over an open fire about thirty feet away. Jesus, the aroma made his mouth water.
Pee. He’d come out here to pee. Better do it before anyone noticed he was up and about. Ducking behind the nearest tree, he unzipped his pants and took what felt like the longest piss of his life.
“Muhl-dar!” A child suddenly appeared behind him, startling him so badly he nearly sprayed himself.
He peered over his shoulder. Shit, it was the girl. Gini? Is that what Scully said her name was?
“Uh...I’ll...uh...be right with you...Gini...in just a jiff--”
But the girl was already running off in the direction of the tents and shouting to the others, “Muhl-dar yeh-zihn! Muhl-dar ha-neh-al-enji.”
He finished his business as quickly as possible and had just barely gotten himself tucked back into his pants when a small crowd began to gather around him. At least twenty people stared at him with unblinking, brown eyes.
He offered them an embarrassed smile. “Hey,” he said, feeling dizzy and weak. His legs felt like they might give out any second and he couldn’t quite catch his breath no matter how hard he tried to suck in a lungful of air. He decided to sit down -- uh, away from the tree -- and took three shaky steps before lowering himself into a squat. All twenty of his curious visitors squatted, too.
Except Gini, who ran off once again, presumably to bring back the rest of the camp to watch him either puke or pass out.
So now what?
“Anyone know any good jokes?”
“We could sing All Along the Watchtower.”
More onlookers joined the widening circle. They seemed to be settling in for some sort of show, although he had no idea what they were expecting from him. He wished Scully would wake up and get her ass out here. Better than that, he wished he would wake up to find out this was all a bad dream.
A young woman with braids approached, flanked by a tall guy and an older gray-haired man. The men looked all business as they sidestepped through the crowd, closing in on Mulder. The taller guy moved to the front where he squatted an arm’s length away.
“Dzeh,” he said, tapping his chest and staring straight into Mulder’s eyes. Then he pointed at Mulder. “Muhl-dar?”
“Dzeh. Muhl-dar.” The man pointed back and forth between them.
“Okay, so now we know each other’s names. What next, Mister...uh...Dzeh?”
Dzeh pulled a knife from his belt. Mulder tensed and reached for his gun, but Dzeh set the knife on the ground between them.
The knife had a serviceable stone blade and what appeared to be a bone handle. Dzeh sat back on his haunches and looked up expectantly. Jesus, what the hell did this guy want? Was Mulder supposed to pick up the knife and admire it? Or was it a warning? Everyone in the circle was watching. He guessed that whatever he decided to do next must be very important.
Too bad he was clueless about what it should be.
Klizzie came to his rescue. Amidst protests from the onlookers, she scurried forward to hunker at Mulder’s feet. Keeping her eyes downcast, she tentatively tapped his wristwatch, and then pointed at the knife.
Ah! A trade! Mulder unbuckled his watch and held it up for Dzeh to see. Dzeh reached for it, but before he could take it, Mulder shook his head and withdrew the watch.
“Mulder, what the hell are you doing?” Scully had joined the outer fringes of the crowd, standing with hands on her hips and an expression of incredulity on her face. “If he wants your watch, give it to him.”
Mulder studied the crowd’s reaction. Scully’s interruption had produced frowns all around. The women looked apprehensive and crouched lower to the ground. The men sat up straighter with hands poised over the handles of their knives. Knives that looked very much like the one on the ground in front of him.
This was a not a simple trade but a test. And everyone watched to see if he was going to pass or fail.
“Scully, I know what I’m doing,” he said firmly.
“Mulder, these people saved your life. You--”
“Scully!” Mulder barked at her, putting as much anger into his voice as he could muster.
This was a patriarchal society. These people, men and women alike, weren’t apt to respect a man who allowed a woman to tell him what to do -- or a man who made a lousy trade -- and at the moment, respect was absolutely essential.
“Scully, do *not* say another word.”
He would apologize to her later. Right now he fastened his eyes on Dzeh’s necklace.
Large, curving claws, maybe from a bear, lined a rawhide cord around Dzeh’s neck. Intricately carved bone beads separated the claws, making the necklace a showy piece of jewelry. Mulder guessed it was worth far more than an ordinary knife.
Mulder held up the watch and pointed at the necklace.
Dzeh took a moment to consider the trade. Mulder hoped he was reading this situation right. Otherwise he had ticked off Scully for no good reason and they would probably both be killed before he could apologize.
Finally, Dzeh nodded his head and ceremoniously removed his necklace. He held it up, high enough for the entire crowd to see. Mulder imitated his gesture and held his watch aloft, too. Then Dzeh leaned forward and with great deference draped the necklace over Mulder’s head. Relieved, Mulder returned the gesture by fastening the watch around Dzeh’s wrist.
A wide grin split Dzeh’s bearded face. He gave Mulder several appreciative whacks on the shoulder, nearly toppling him. He laughed a great belly laugh before rising to his feet, and then everyone began talking at once, coming forward to clap Mulder’s shoulder, looking pleased with the outcome of things. Best of all, someone was carving the delicious smelling roast.
After the last person had come forward to congratulate him, Scully approached with arms folded across her chest. “What was that all about?”
“Looks like a par-tay, Scully,” Mulder said, avoiding her frown and pointing at the roasting meat. “I’m hungry enough to eat a mastodon. Aren’t you?”
Scully’s anger melted into concern at the reference to his hunger. She crouched beside him. “How did you know what to do?” she asked.
“I didn’t. Just went with a gut feeling.”
She pursed her lips as she watched Klizzie approach with two platters of food. “You know I hate gut feelings.”“I know.” He accepted a plate of juicy meat and fresh greens. “Thanks for going with it though,” he said around a mouthful of the most delicious roast he’d ever tasted.
* * *
Klizzie's heart felt lighter than goose down. Muhl-dar and Dzeh were Trading Partners! That meant the newcomers were no longer strangers but kin, official members of Owl Clan.
She chuckled to herself. It was silly to have become so attached to the newcomers, but, like two lost children, they had needed her and she enjoyed helping them. Caring for them was like caring for the babies of Dzeh’s cousins, a task she enjoyed. Since she had no children of her own, her arms were empty enough to lend a willing hand to others in need.
Which was exactly what she was doing now.
The Clan would be leaving at sunup, so Klizzie was putting together some necessities to leave behind with Day-nuh and Muhl-dar, since he was not yet well enough to travel...certainly not all the way to Turkey Lake, which would take seven or eight days of strenuous walking and climbing. Today’s simple celebration feast had worn him out; he’d had to retire to his skins at dusk to rest.
Klizzie surveyed the items she’d gathered. Flints for fire, scrapers for cleaning furs, a sheep’s bladder for carrying water, a buffalo blanket, three bone hooks and catgut for fishing, two new points for their spears, an amole root, cattails for Day-nuh’s Moon Time, a brand new men’s garment made from deer hide, and a supply of food that included dried meat, last year’s nuts, some greens, berries and four fresh squirrels killed just yesterday. She packed everything but the food into her best travel pack. Then she put the food into a basket.
It didn’t seem nearly enough. They would have no cooking skins, medicines, axes, snares or bolos, and Klizzie had none to share. Would Muhl-dar and Day-nuh be okay without these things? She wished she had more to give.
Taking a deep breath, she tried to calm her fears about the newcomers’ uncertain future. They would be fine, she told herself. They had lived many seasons without her help. Obviously they were skilled and intelligent.
But to be left alone...
No one wanted to be without the protection of their clan. Being without kin meant certain death, sooner or later. And the loneliness would be the most difficult thing of all. Thank the Spirits they at least had each other.
Deciding to add one more item to the meager collection of supplies, Klizzie searched her own travel pack for her comb, her Joining Day gift from Dzeh. When she found it, she held it for a moment, tracing the carefully incised design with her finger while she recalled the moment Dzeh had given it to her. He had smiled at her with his handsome, crooked smile. His affection for her had made her heart feel like a pond when the ice goes out, ready for spring and the return of ducks. That feeling had not left her once in all the seasons they had been together.
Without regret, she placed the comb in the pack for Day-nuh.
Supplies and food ready, she carried them to A-zey-al-ih Lodge.
Inside the medicine tent, she found Day-nuh and Muhl-dar sleeping together on the animal skins, his arm curled protectively around her shoulders. Not wanting to disturb them, she set the pack and basket by the entrance as quietly as she could. When she began to tiptoe away, she was stopped by the sound of Day-nuh’s voice.
“Klizzie?” The fox-haired woman sat up, her blue eyes curious.
Klizzie whispered, so as not to wake Muhl-dar, “I brought you some things.” She gestured at the packs, trying to get her point across. Day-nuh nodded, so Klizzie once more turned to go. But before she could step outside, Day-nuh was off the furs and coming toward her.
“Klizzie...” she said, her gaze grazing the packs. Day-nuh opened her arms and embraced her, bringing tears to her eyes. “Thank you. For everything. Thank you.”
“Thahn-kew?” Klizzie repeated, returning her hug.
“Yes. Thank you.”“Yah-a-da-hal-yon-ih Muhl-dar,” Klizzie whispered, holding Day-nuh tightly. She could not bring herself to say the word goodbye.
* * *
“You’re poking me.”
Mulder jerked his hips away from Scully’s backside, opening up a space of several inches between them on the animal skins. “Sorry.”
She turned to glare at him over her shoulder. “Not your...” -- she waved a hand in the general direction of his lap -- “Your teeth!”
“My tee...” Now he was really confused. He ran his tongue over his front teeth.
“These.” Scully reached around to give Dzeh’s necklace a tug. “Could you take this thing off, please?”
“But I like it. Brings out the caveman in me, don’t you think?” He grinned and rattled the bone beads.
“Go back to sleep, Tarzan.”
“Tarzan was a *jungle* man, Scully, not a caveman.”
“Call him whatever you like, I’m sure he slept through the night. Now go to sleep,” she said, giving him a slitted, sidelong glance.
He let the necklace drop back onto his bare chest. “All I’ve been doing is sleeping...for *days*. I’m feeling...” -- he snuggled closer and prodded her ear with his nose -- “wide awake.”
God, she smelled good.
She rolled over to face him. He tried to read her expression. Sadness? Fear? Longing? Certainly not dismissal, which was what he was expecting.
Her next words were sad and deadly serious. “Mulder, you almost died. You *did* die.” Imagined loss wavered in her voice and her obvious anguish cut off his own breath, threatening to strangle him as surely as the smoke that had invaded his lungs several days ago.
To steady himself, he stroked her bare shoulder with the backs of his fingers and focused his blurring eyes on the slim strap of her camisole. She must have retrieved it from his coat pocket while he’d been sleeping. What had gone through her mind when she found it there? Memories of her kidnapping? Worries that, if he had died, she would be alone in the Ice Age?
That was his greatest fear. Not of being alone here, necessarily, but of being left anywhere without her.
Images from his recent dream arose in his mind: Scully leaving him, walking out the door...the way Diana had once done.
He felt the need to anchor himself to her, so he folded his arms around her and hugged her to his chest. Urgency ballooned inside him. The words “don’t leave me, don’t leave me” unnerved him from fingertips to the soles of his feet. He wanted to hear her say, “I’m right here. I will always be with you.”
Instead she said, “Mulder, I can’t breathe.”
“Welcome to the club,” he mumbled, and tried to relax his hold.
“Are you feeling okay?” she asked, sounding alarmed. She’d evidently taken his comment literally and thought he was suffering a relapse because she sat up and reached for his wrist to check his pulse.
“I’m not having a heart attack, Scully.” I’m having an attack of the heart. He couldn’t tear his eyes from her lips. “But you’re welcome to try mouth-to-mouth, if you like. Just in case.”
Her right brow arched as he inched his mouth closer to hers. He paused, a millimeter away. Would she let him kiss her? She exhaled, a quivering puff of air warmed by her lungs that fired his skin. His bones turned liquid and his muscles went numb. He leaned in and nudged her lips with his, feather-light. Jesus, sweet Jesus. So little pressure, but enough to set his heart pounding.
Please, Scully, want me as much as I want you.
The tip of her tongue skated tentatively across his lower lip, jolting him with its unexpected warmth. She teased him with it, advancing and then retreating, only to advance again, delicately skidding into his mouth.
How many times had he wished for this...imagined it?
God, don’t let this be just another dream.
Her fingers settled on his chest, timid, inquisitive and so damn fucking hot it sent a tsunami of blood to his groin. And when her nails grazed his nipple, oh, Christ, he was lost. He rolled her underneath him and plunged his tongue to the back of her mouth.
Get inside her, inside her, inside her...
Oh, God...could he?
Not waiting for God’s answer, he thrust a hand beneath her camisole, found her left breast and squeezed. She arched into his palm and her nipple puckered as he alternately clenched and released her. She parted her legs, knees raised on either side of his hips, causing his pulse to roar in his ears. She actually wanted him. She wasn’t pulling away. She was going to allow him to do this...to make love to her. He ground his hips into the cradle of her thighs, nipped at her neck, ran his tongue from her collarbone to her jaw, and growled when her lips met his once more.
“Mulder.” The word echoed inside his mouth.
He reluctantly broke their kiss. Had he misunderstood?
“Are you up for this?” she asked.
Shit, he couldn’t be more “up.” His erection was straining against the fabric of his jeans. Too many clothes. They had on too damn many clothes. “You’re the doctor, Scully,” -- he swallowed hard -- “You tell me.”
“I think...” She finger-painted an invisible stripe down his spine from neck to tailbone, sending a lightning bolt of desire to his crotch. “We need to slow down.”
Of course. He was rushing things.
“I want you more than I’ve ever wanted anything, Scully.” The words spilled out, heartfelt and uncensored.
She took a deep breath and said, “I want you, too.” She sounded as if she meant it...*really* meant it. “But let’s take our time. Okay?”
“Okay. I can do slow. I think.” He leaned in to kiss her, but she halted him with the touch of her finger to his lower lip.
“One more thing.”
“What’s that?” He sucked her finger into his mouth.
“I, uh...” She paused, looking embarrassed.
“Wha ish it?” he asked around her finger.
“I’m having my period.”
“Oh.” Big deal, a little menstrual blood. Did she really think that would turn him off? She was frowning. Maybe the idea of having sex during her period turned *her* off. Or maybe she was physically uncomfortable. Cramps or something. He released her finger. “Would it...uh...hurt you?”
“No. It just might be, you know...messy.”
“Scully, the linens aren’t ours. Who cares?” He almost added that sex was always messy -- hell, even masturbating was messy -- but then thought better of it. “I’m fine with it.”
“Well, it’s just...I thought you should know.”
“Doesn’t bother me if it doesn’t bother you.”
“Then lose the pants, G-Man.” The husky way she said it made every hair on his body stand at attention.
He wasted no time rising to his knees and unfastening his belt and fly. He quickly stripped out of his pants and boxers. Completely naked, he said, “Your turn.”
She sat up and slowly drew her camisole up and over her head, exposing her bare breasts. The left one was red where he had clutched her a moment ago. Jesus, he could see the pink silhouette of his fingers branded into her white skin. “Did I...did I hurt you?” He pointed to the mark.
She looked down, an expression of uncertainty on her face. Then shook her head and traced the pattern of his hand with her index finger. The sight of her topless, touching herself, increased the pressure in his groin. She was stunningly beautiful in the half-light of the dying fire, naked from the waist up, nipples puckered to rigid points.
“The rest...” Mulder implored, waving at the skins she wore around her hips. He assumed she’d gotten the skirt from Klizzie, something to wear while her own clothes dried. Her pants and turtleneck were hanging from the shelter’s bone supports by the hearth. Right next to her sexy black panties and bra.
She fumbled with the knot at her left hip, causing her breasts to joggle delightfully as she worked at it. They appeared heavier than he’d imagined, maybe due to her time of month, and it was all he could do not to grip his hard cock and stroke himself to orgasm while she stripped.
“I can’t seem to--”
“Here, let me.” He crawled forward, erection bobbing as he knelt in front of her. Nudging her hands aside he took hold of the skirt and yanked. It tore easily away, pulling Scully toward him at the same time. Her breasts bumped his chest and he dropped the skirt. His hands climbed her back, kneaded her ribs, returned to her hips, her ass. He pulled her into his lap and kissed her deeply.
She returned his kiss and gripped his arms as if she never intended to release him. God, he was so grateful for that. For her.
Hands roving across her backside, he discovered she still wore a slim garment slung between her legs, fastened around her waist by a string of rawhide.
“Scully, you’re not naked.”
“Feminine hygiene protection, Pleistocene style.”
“Ah.” That got the better of his curiosity. He pulled back to examine the garment, which looked like a deer-hide g-string. “Makes you look like an Ice Age stripper. Kinda sex-say.” He tugged at the belt.
“Hardly. But it’s keeping your lap clean.”
“I don’t want my lap clean.”
He found where the belt tied in front and pulled the bow loose. She gathered the garment and its contents, and set it aside, out of view.
“It’s not disgusting, Scully.”
“I didn’t say it was. I just don’t particularly want to roll in it.”
Now she sat bare-naked in his lap, with nothing at all between them. He could feel the heat of her sex and longed to be inside her.
“Scully, it’s gotta be now.” He barely recognized his own rasping voice.
By way of agreement, she leaned back on the skins, knees drawn up, legs separated just enough for him to get a glimpse of curls and pliant lips. Rising onto his knees, he positioned himself between her legs and brushed a knuckle across her curls before sliding his finger into her humid depths. She watched him, wide-eyed, surprising him with her bold stare. He had half expected she might hide behind lowered lashes while making love. But the more he thought about it, the more sense her unabashed gaze made. Scientists are curious and she was above all else a scientist.
He delved more deeply into her, making her gasp. Then, desperate to make her gasp again, he pushed even deeper. She rewarded him with a small groan.
“I want you inside me,” she said.
“I am inside you.” Heaven help him, he was actually in her and she felt even more wonderful than he had imagined.
His pleasure increased when she reached down to curl her hand around his rigid cock. “I want this,” she said, squeezing him, stroking him. Oh, Jesus.
“I thought...you said...you wanted to go slow...oohhh, Sculleee.” He inhaled as deeply as his congested lungs would allow.
“I’m in no hurry.” She lay supine, legs splayed, her hand gripping him, his index finger lost in her depths.
He grazed her clitoris with his thumb and felt her inner walls contract. She was slick with a heady mixture of desire and her monthly flow. He stirred her juices, and was enchanted when his touch inspired a soft moan.
“Is it okay if I use two fingers?” he asked.
“Mulder, I want this!” she said, sounding desperate and giving his erection a not-so-gentle tug.
“We’re getting there.”
He inserted a second finger into her and her hips lifted to meet his inward thrust. Wanting to see her come, he began to rhythmically glide in and out of her, applying calculated pressure to her clitoris with his thumb on each down-stroke. Her breathing quickened. A sheen of sweat slicked her flushed cheeks, her chest, her abdomen. The palm of her hand felt fiery hot on his erection. And all the while, her eyes never left his. She must have wanted to see his reaction to her orgasm every bit as much as he wanted to see her climax. She was so beautiful. So open. He could scarcely believe they were here, doing this...that she trusted him in this way, wanted him as much as he wanted her, was allowing him to touch her there. The feeling was extraordinary. The emotion overwhelming. He hadn’t realized he could love anyone this much.
Without warning and almost before he had a chance to appreciate it, she was climaxing, teeth clenched. She inhaled and then held her breath, while her hips rose upward and her eyes finally squeezed shut. She bore down on his hand and he felt moisture seep across his palm. She released her hold on him to grip the fur blankets while waves of pleasure contracted her muscles.
“Mulder!” Her lungs expelled his name, and then she was breathing again, gulping for air, relaxing her grip on the furs, pulling back from his hand. “Oh, God.” She opened her eyes and caught him staring at her.
“Jesus, Scully.” His fingers slipped from her. “You...are...”
“A mess?” She frowned at his bloody hand. “Sorry.”
“For what?” To be honest, he found her blood erotic. Her menstruation was just another facet of her femaleness, like her breasts and her satiny skin and the mind-blowing cleft between her legs. His perfect opposite, alluring because she was nothing like him. He loved their differences -- had always loved their differences.
He moved up over her body on hands and knees, and before he laid himself on top of her, he painted the outline of a heart above her own heart with the moisture on his fingertip. “I love you,” he whispered to her marked breast.Her eyes brimmed with tears at his quiet confession, and seeing her tears, his own vision blurred. To keep himself from crying, he lowered his body onto hers, and reveled in the feel of her beneath him.
“My turn?” he asked.
She chuckled. “Yes, Mulder, your turn. Although, I do plan to participate, too, you know.”
He lifted his hips enough to snake a hand between their bodies to guide himself into her. She tensed when he pressed against her opening, and then relaxed again as he slid into her, pushed forward, deeper. She wrapped her legs around his back and moaned. Jesus, she felt so...god...damn...good.
He’d wanted her for so long and it turned out she had been worth every minute of the wait.
It was unthinkable to withdraw from her, even a millimeter or two, and yet the desire to start thrusting was unstoppable. Ten thousand years of animal instinct steered this act. Copulation required movement and no amount of restraint could hold him still now.
So he withdrew from her, nearly disconnecting their bodies, only to ram home a split second later, causing her to bark out his name. Her fingers dug into his back when he thrust a second time, but he barely felt the bite of her nails. He was focused on nothing but the part of him that was joined to her, driving hard, pushing into her as deeply as he could possibly go. Again. And again.
The woman he loved...spirit and body...was under him...around him.
While the beat of his heart thrummed in his ears, desire stung his eyes, numbed his fingers, hammered his ribs. He hoped his frantic pounding felt as good to her as it did to him. He rocked against her, relentless and swift, jarring her beneath him, while satisfaction overran him and gratification seemed only a heartbeat away.
He felt his orgasm approaching and a pang of guilt slowed his movements.
“Scully...I’m not sure...I can hold out...” He felt selfish. Knew he should pull out, slow down. “I... You... Oh...”
“Mulder...you talk too much.”
Oh, Christ, he was at the point of no return. Semen throbbed out of him as the words mine, mine, mine roared through his brain.
When there was nothing left in him, he rolled off her and onto his back. They lay there for several minutes without speaking, a sticky mixture of his semen and her blood drying slowly on his thighs. He felt drowsy and sated and happier than he’d felt in a very long time. Maybe happier than he’d ever felt in his entire life. Beside him, glossed with sweat and smelling delicious, Scully was tracing delicate circles on his damp chest with her index finger.
So this was “basking.”
“I’m rethinking my theory,” he said, gathering her closer.
She continued to languidly stroke his chest. “Which theory?”
“The one about us.”
“You had a theory about us?”
“Yeah, the one where we were physically altered on a genetic level when we traveled back in time, affecting the way we felt about each other. I don’t believe that now.”
“Because my attraction for you is normal, not paranormal. You’re sexy. There’s no X-File in that.”
Her fingers froze over the spot on his shoulder where she had once shot him. “Mulder?”
“Where is your scar?”
“What?” He pushed her hand away to search his shoulder for the familiar, nerveless knot on his skin.Unbelievably, the scar was gone.
Continued in Chapter Seven
Thank you once again, Dr. “Guts,” for the super fast, super fine beta. You are awesome! (Any mistakes that remain are my own; it isn’t Guts’ fault I can’t leave well enough alone.)
See The Mastodon Diaries Dictionary for an explanation of the paleo-indian terms and names.