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Thread: Fit for Life

  1. #201
    Defender of Downtrodden
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    Re: Fit for Life

    We humbly await your word smithing grandness.

    As always, the artisan is the one in charge of the work of art.


    And I know, if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest . . .

  2. #202
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    Re: Fit for Life

    DQ ...

    I didn't really want to put a damper on your FUN! Actually, I was rather Enjoying it, Myself!!

    However, I also didn't want our Master "Cap'n Author" to be distracted from his "Duties"!!

    Weez wantz moor Storyz!!!



    Keep smilin'!!
    Chaz
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails rabbit.jpg  
    WISDOM is the Knowledge you've gained ... After you could have used it! _Me

  3. #203
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Don Q in post 194 you were tilting at windmills again....keep this up and you will

    wake up in the whiners thread with .......XXXXXX and XXXXX (names withheld to

    avoid me being BANNED)

    Kuli. I am getting tense (and thats bad, was bad, will be bad) so damn the

    torpedo commas and type away. Many of us don't get panties in a twist over

    small grammar infractions...just the petty people do.

    ATTENTION ALL of you arm chair critics...before you bite next time try writing your

    own story....now CHEW on that.

  4. #204
    HUGS! ;-)
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Aw, Mikey!

    You're always so Subtle, and Sweet!

    Keep smilin'!!
    Chaz
    WISDOM is the Knowledge you've gained ... After you could have used it! _Me

  5. #205
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Thanks man....its the kill them with kindness principle coupled with the lead them

    to water theory. Kind of tough at times but I strive to keep the mix light and

    frothy lol.

  6. #206
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    Re: Fit for Life

    And here I thought we were just having a little comic interlude while Kuli got the next installment ready.

    Windmill, what windmill?

    And those wascally wabbits. It appears HBB's thread is starting to leak at the e-seams.

    OK, OK, back to our errant lord and his knights, squires, and other sorted and sundry characters in training . . .


    And I know, if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest . . .

  7. #207
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Windmill = read your Don Q DQ.

    Sorry, I took post 190 a little serious as it appeared Kuli did. Shdhave known better than to ASSume.

    Those wascally wabbits BUGS me too. I am beFUDDled as to how they hopped
    on to this page. Maybe better call Hung and have him get then out of hare. Or, we could just STEW about it

  8. #208
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by Lefty View Post
    Don Q in post 194 you were tilting at windmills again....keep this up and you will
    Windmills.... hmmm.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lefty View Post
    Kuli. I am getting tense (and thats bad, was bad, will be bad) so damn the

    torpedo commas and type away. Many of us don't get panties in a twist over

    small grammar infractions...just the petty people do.
    I do -- is why I go through four edits before that <submit> gets clicked.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lefty View Post
    ATTENTION ALL of you arm chair critics...before you bite next time try writing your

    own story....now CHEW on that.
    That's one reason I started writing....

    Quote Originally Posted by Kyanimal View Post
    Weez wantz moor Storyz!!!

    Post too many cute things like that and our heroes may starve -- it's hard to have them hunt bunnies when I see such cuteness.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lefty View Post
    Windmill = read your Don Q DQ.
    Don Q has a DQ? Let's go get ice cream!!!

    Quote Originally Posted by Lefty View Post
    Those wascally wabbits BUGS me too. I am beFUDDled as to how they hopped
    on to this page. Maybe better call Hung and have him get then out of hare. Or, we could just STEW about it


    Glad I got no characters who pun like that!

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  9. #209
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    Re: Fit for Life

    even striving humorist/comedians have feelings you know

    There you go Kuli...even though you just dissed me me I offer you a new and punny character for our epic novel.

    Its the least I could do since sucubus incubus didn't work out

  10. #210
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by Lefty View Post
    even striving humorist/comedians have feelings you know

    There you go Kuli...even though you just dissed me me I offer you a new and punny character for our epic novel.

    Its the least I could do since sucubus incubus didn't work out
    ??? Dissed you? ???


    Austin might suck a bus, if you paid him.....

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  11. #211
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Patterns


    Come morning, Rigel waited until everyone else had left before moving. Ryan had left sometime in the night – shortly after Rigel had found out what it felt like to have his friend come in his throat, was Rigel’s guess; he himself had slid swiftly into sleep after that. But Austin didn’t leave, he came around and sat by Rigel and stroked his lord’s shoulders. It was too sensual; Rigel rolled onto his back.

    “Morning, Squire.”

    “Good morning, lord Rigel”, Austin replied. “I’m happy for you.” Austin’s face practically oozed joy, in Rigel’s view.

    Rigel sighed. “What do you know?”

    Austin grinned. “I awoke at an intruder. I stayed awake until you both left, and until you came back, and until he left.”

    A groan escaped Rigel’s mouth. “I hoped no one knew”, he told his squire.

    “I know. Chen knows. Lord?”

    “Yo.”

    “Will lord Ryan be sharing your bed now?”

    Rigel sat up and leaned back on his elbows. ‘Lord’ Ryan? Where did that come from? he wondered. “Then everyone will know, right?” he asked.

    Austin shook his head. “There’s room. You’re best friends. You’re talking again, right? You used to sleep together – I mean, in the same spot.” He shrugged.

    Rigel sighed again. “Whatever. I’ll think about it.”

    Austin had to deliver his opinion. “You should”, he declared. “You belong together.”

    “Austin, we’re not gay”, Rigel said in exasperation.

    “I know. But you still belong together.” Austin patted Rigel on his bare chest, then stood and offered a hand. Rigel took it and let his squire haul him to his feet.

    “Go get me some breakfast”, Rigel ordered. “I’ll be right out.”

    No one favored Rigel with any odd looks, or said anything. Gradually he relaxed, allowing himself to think things were normal, permitting himself to enjoy the day. It would be a warm one, he could tell already: high, small fluffy clouds dotted the sky, enough to let the sun in but trap the heat from leaving. It was the kind of day he used to like for going to the lake, water skiing if he could bum a boat ride, soaking up rays, hitting on babes.... There was no lake here, but hot springs would do; there weren’t any boats to pull a skier anyway, and this sun was just as giving of rays as that at home. He tried to imagine the lake with people dressed as here, which was to say, not at all around the springs themselves.

    People were gathering, waiting on him. With three bites to go on his mix of fruits, herbs, and meat flakes, Rigel looked up. “What’s up?” he asked.

    “Lumina checked all the pools, lord, and marked the ones we aren’t to get in. Ocean marked two as too hot. We decided to let you go first.” Dmitri looked around at the others, and everyone nodded.

    It didn’t seem cheap, or just for form. They really mean it, Rigel thought. He felt honored and humbled both. He scooped the last three bites down and stood. Embarrassment struck: however many times he’d been naked with and in front of them all, the idea of stripping with an audience unnerved him.

    Austin saved him, tugging at his arm. “Come on!” Rigel let himself be led. Austin took him to the gazebo in the middle of the springs. Other clothes were draped across the stack of wood; Austin was out of his quickly and then helped Rigel add his to the row.

    “Hot, or warm?” Casey asked. “I’m the guide.”

    “Hot. Not the hottest, though”, Rigel replied. “Hey, if I’m first, who’s second?”

    “The Healer and Druid, then you squires”, Casey answered with a tone that hinted Rigel should hurry up so the rest could get in as well.

    “And you’re all waiting for me, Hmmm.” Rigel put a hand to his chin and tapped his lower lip with his forefinger.

    “Rigel!” Casey protested.

    Rigel scooped Casey up and threw him over his shoulder. “Okay, squire – which pool? And stop kicking, it’s not very squire-ish.” Austin was laughing, and more laughter came from where others waited by the pools they’d chosen.

    “Two pools down, on the left!” Casey practically yelped. “Put me down!”

    “Stop fighting, or you’ll fall and get hurt”, Rigel admonished, laughing. Four strides took him to the pool Casey had indicated. He stepped in carefully. “Okay, I’m in”, he yelled.

    Anaph’s laugh sang back to him, a wonderful sound. “Lady Healer?” Rigel heard, then two splashes. The moment he heard the splashes, he dropped Casey into the water, spinning to grab Austin and pull him in, too. Other splashes, and yelps at the heat, came from around. He sank down to soak, fending off Casey’s attempt at revenge with a stiff arm that popped his “Squire of the Axe” into the arms of his youngest squire. Rigel settled back to enjoy the warmth.

    “You know, if I was a lord of thousands, I’d build a Roman-like bath here.” He watched Casey almost wrestle free of Austin’s grasp, but not quite make it. They wouldn’t wrestle long in the hot water, he knew; the temperature would sap their strength. So Rigel, lord of all he surveyed – which was one small hot springs pool, a lot of vapor, and two naked boys – closed his eyes and floated.

    “Is this space taken?”

    Rigel looked up to see Ryan standing over him. Austin and Casey had both seen Ryan coming; now they say watching to see how things went.

    “Do you have a reservation, sir?” Rigel quipped. He couldn’t take his eyes off the item he’d had down his throat just hours before.

    “No, but I promise not to pee in the pool.” Ryan was holding back a grin.

    Rigel pretended to consider this, then turned to his two squires. “What do you think, gentlemen? Shall we let him in?”

    “Yes!” the two chorused, grins blossoming as Ryan’s did, and then Rigel’s.

    Ryan jumped in and landed by Rigel; he spun and wrapped arm around his best friend. Austin and Casey attacked from the back, giving Ryan a group hug of welcome.


    When Rigel got out, it signaled the start of the work day, and a general exodus began. Rigel watched with pride as everyone went to a task; no one had to be told what needed doing, they’d become so accustomed to the things survival demanded.

    He didn’t fool himself; even with the luxuries of honey and hot springs, everything they did was still for survival. Almost everything, he amended mentally. Crystal’s pipes – she had two now, one of wood, one of bone – didn’t really contribute to staying alive. He justified them to himself as part of morale, for the girl herself as much as for the group. Their food supply was presently plentiful, but shaky: they had nothing put away for winter, and no real prospects for doing so. Their clothing was minimal, though kilts were on the agenda next for deer hides. A wry smile touched his serious expression: we’re getting new clothes from the foot up, he thought. Well, except for the hats. And we’ll be getting leather armor before we get decent shirts, I think.

    Rigel didn’t bother getting dressed, preferring to give his clothes a rest. “Soap”, he muttered. “We need soap. Ocean will know, I bet.” He watched Ryan set up by a very, very yellow pool with a variety of materials – sulfur was the object, the first step toward gunpowder. Oran began sorting sticks others had picked up along the way, choosing the ones suitable for arrows, using his new talent. Chen took those and began shaving them into straight shafts, while Casey took up chipping at bones. Rigel wasn’t sure what that was about – arrowheads? fins? No, the word was “fletching”, Chen had said; could that be done with bone? On around the area by the shelters his gaze went, seeing everyone busy at something. A hand on his shoulder drew his attention.

    “Got a minute, hunk?” Rita asked.

    “Sure.” Rigel suspected the reason.

    “I like the view, but how about pants?” Rita scanned his body from toe to head, back down, and up to linger halfway up.

    “Get used to it.” Rigel stepped over and sat on a chunk of wood.

    Rita laughed. “Bold, he is. Good attribute.” She sat beside him, and went straight to the point. “It’s good to see you and Ryan together again.”

    “But he’s avoiding you – I saw. He thinks you... know”, Rigel finished lamely.

    Rita laughed. “Yes, I know, and I think it’s wonderful. I don’t mean you two having sex; I could care less about that. I mean you’re turning to each other again. It’s raised everyone’s spirits, seeing you two soaking and talking this morning.”

    “I wish we had privacy.”

    “You do. Rigel, look at me”, she asked. She had to turn his face manually. “You’re sharing that hut with your squires and scouts. They’re not going to say a word, no matter what.”

    Rigel grunted. “Maybe.”

    “Rigel Stefanos Fitz-Win, you listen to me! There’s no ‘maybe’ about it! Those kids would follow you to hell, naked, no matter what! If they’d sat there last night and watched you two... with a spotlight on you, they would have cheered silently and said nothing to anyone. Oh, they might talk among themselves, but not even that very often. Rigel, they don’t care if you and Ryan suck each other till your balls fall off, or bang each other till your dicks fall off. They care that two best friends are back together, and it makes the whole group feel balanced again.
    “Look, I doubt many would be able to put it into words, but we depended on you two depending on each other. You – we chose you as our leader, and we rely on you. We saw you turn to Ryan, and it made you....” – she struggled for words – “strong, stable. People need to see a strong, stable leader. But when you guys drifted apart, it weakened all of us. Our leader – our lord – didn’t have anyone to be his support. It was scary! I won’t say who, but more than a couple came to me to ask what the problem was, and I had no answer.”

    Rigel cut in. “He wanted me. He’s been hiding from me because he was afraid it would show.”

    Rita shook her head slightly and chuckled. “And now he’s avoiding me because he thinks I know. Neither of you really understands. But” – she took his hand, looked into his eyes – “trust me: your scouts and squires won’t gossip. If asked, they won’t say a thing. They’ve somehow been infected with an ancient code, and your honor is their honor; they won’t do a thing that either you or they think dishonors you.
    “I should tell you, Anaph knows – how, I don’t know, but I don’t understand how there can be real Druids, anyway. But he won’t say anything, either. And he is very, very glad you’re back together. He said, ‘The roots are in stone, again’.” She grinned. “I like the way he talks.”

    Rigel grinned back at her. “You know he told me I was like a spruce, or something, strong enough for us all. I guess Ryan’s the rock my roots are anchored in, so I can hold everyone else up.”

    “So now we can stand against the storms?”

    Rigel’s eyes went wide. “Did he tell you that?”

    She frowned. “No....”

    “That’s what he told me – that I would stand against the storms.” Rigel stared; Rita stared back.

    “It’s just a phrase”, she said after a few seconds. “Right?”

    “Yeah, sure”, Rigel replied, though he wasn’t sure at all.


    He did pull on pants before leaving the gazebo. Rita had pointed out that it wasn’t very lordly to be strutting about naked, besides which it would be a temptation to “more than a couple” of the guys – which left him wondering, which was probably what she’d intended.

    Rigel knew what Ryan was up to, but not what Ocean was doing with Breeze and Crystal. They had three bowls over a bed of coals, bunches of herbs spread out, and were carefully clipping and crushing things. He decided he wanted to know, and that made two reasons to see her.

    “Hail, O Herbalist”, Rigel said as he walked up behind Breeze, looking at Ocean.

    She smiled up at him, the rest of her freezing in place, which made Rigel raise an eyebrow. “It’s so I don’t make any mistakes. We’re making antidotes for common poisonous things. I should have had them ready... Oran would have had less pain.”

    Rigel shook his head. “You did fine. None of us could have guessed there was anything so... so... alien as those...” – he shuddered – “things in the gurvenpigs’ blood. Nobody could have known you’d have to give a poison to one of us to save us. So nobody could have known you’d need an antidote to the nastiest poison around.” He paused. “Um, it is the nastiest, isn’t it?”

    Ocean sighed. “Yes. And because of it, I had an idea. I’ve been watching the scouts make arrows. They don’t have arrowheads, do they? Their arrows are just pointed sticks. But if they had poison ones....” She let him finish the thought.

    “Poison arrows. Wow. Um, how nasty would they be?”

    “I can make it strong enough to drop a gr'venstut in three seconds.”

    Rigel sat down hard. “Damn! Ocean, how would it be safe to handle?!”

    She frowned. “I haven’t figured out the details yet. The tips would need a coating – two, really: they heat the tips in fire to toughen them now; they’d have to rub them in good clay and then bake them in coals. That way the poison wouldn’t get soaked up by the wood. It’s the top coating I can’t figure out: It can’t be clay, because that would soak up the poison. It can’t be grease, because that would hinder the poison from getting into the beast.”

    “What if....” A thought from high school biology drifted up from the depths. “Can you turn the poison into a salt?”

    Ocean looked puzzled for a moment, then thoughtful as she grasped what he meant. “A lot of poisons are alkali types – the opposite of acid. There are alkali salts, so I guess so. But I don’t know how to do it.”

    “I guess we ask Ryan”, Rigel replied.

    She perked up. “He would know.”

    Rigel stood and hollered. “Rye! Question!” Ryan raised a finger to signal he needed a bit of time, then came over. Rigel let Ocean explain what they’d discussed.

    “Is it oily?” Ryan queried.

    “Not prepared”, she answered, shaking her head. “After I rinse the slime, it is, though.”

    Ryan nodded. “If it’s oily, you can take lye and mix them. It’ll be trial and error to get it right. Oily means it’s lipids, which is fats. Treat those with lye, and you get alkali salts. Those will dissolve into a blood stream fast.”

    “Rye”, Rigel asked slowly, “Don’t you use lye to make soap?”

    “Soap? Yeah.” Ryan smiled. “Do I stink that bad?”


    Ocean coughed into her fist. “Lord Ryan, we all smell that bad. Lord Rigel, you’re right – we need soap. That means we need good clean ashes.”

    Ryan nodded, but with a frown. “Not just ashes – it takes hardwood ashes.” He looked into the distance. “We had lots of oak down on the savanna. I’ve seen some maple in the forest, but that was back a ways. Cherry wood be good, or holly.” Frustration showed on his face. “And there are trees out here that I don’t recognize at all – any of them might be hardwoods. Mahogany’s one, but the climate is wrong. Madrone – a variety could live in this territory, and it would work great. Really, anything that burns long and hot will work.”

    Rigel nodded understanding. “So if we go around gathering dead wood, remembering which kind of tree it came from if we can, and see how it burns, we can find one.”

    “That’s one way. If I had a bore....” Ryan sighed, yet again, over research or investigation tools he lacked. “Another way is to chop them down – hardwoods are a pain.”

    “So then we could make soap, and poison arrows.”

    “Oh, we could make poison arrows now”, Ryan disagreed. “Ocean, have you found any plants that give a milky substance when you crush them, and it dries like crystals?”

    She thought for a moment. “Yes. I don’t have any. It grows in shady places. There was a lot in that old riverbed.”

    “Good. We get a bunch of that, crush them, add a little water and boil it just a bit. Then strain it enough to get the leaf fiber out. Heat it again to thicken it. When it’s about like Elmer’s glue, you paint it over the tip of your arrow, after you dip the arrows in your poison and let it dry.
    “The dry coating will prevent casual contact poisoning. When it hits a target, though, it will flake off on the surface, so the poison spreads into the blood as the arrow penetrates.
    “Ocean, what does this poison do?”

    “It nukes nerves. When it hits a nerve cell, it kills it but causes it to send out a massive signal that overloads the system. As the signal jumps, the poison jumps from cell to cell, about as fast as the signal goes. So when it goes in on an arrow, it will paralyze the area where it hit almost instantly. It’ll keep paralyzing all the way down. And what gets dumped in the bloodstream spreads and does the same thing to every nerve along the blood vessel.”

    Now Ryan was nodding in understanding, while Rigel was staring at Ocean; the matter-of-fact way she had described the effect of her poison made him feel sick. “So really it’s not too dangerous if you just happen to rub against it when it’s dry, right?” Rigel asked.

    “Well... as long as the skin is dry”, Ocean replied.

    “Oh – right.” Ryan stared into the distance again. “I’ll figure it out.” He wandered back to his sulfur works, still staring at nothing.

    Ocean laughed softly. “He’s like an absent-minded professor.”

    Rigel sat down with her again. “He only looks that way”, he told her, though his gaze lingered on Ryan, drinking in the sight of him. His friend was back to normal – almost, anyway; there was that nervousness about anyone knowing – and he found himself feeling more alive for it. “I’ve watched him do chem homework and watch a movie at the same time. You can’t tell he’s watching the movie, but he’ll talk about it afterward like he hadn’t been doing anything else.”

    Ocean looked more interested than doubtful. “And the homework?”

    “Just like he hadn’t watched a movie.” Rigel wanted to just sit and watch Ryan, but there were things to be done. “I can’t do that. So I can’t sit here and talk to you, and get the scouts looking for your milky plants.” He stood again. “Be right back.”

    Making arrows was fascinating to him, so he stood and watched a minute or two. Chen glanced up and nodded to him; Casey and Oran just kept working. While he watched, Oran finished going through the pile of sticks, noticed Rigel and looked up.

    “I’ve finished picking kindling”, he quipped, holding up a handful of rejects toward Rigel.

    Rigel shook his head and grinned. “Those are tent pegs, scout.”

    Oran laughed. “Now do I have to make the tent?”

    “If you could, I’d have your baby”, Chen remarked without looking up from the shaft he was smoothing. “Nights are getting colder.”

    “And we’re going to be moving again”, Rigel added. “Though what would we make tents from?”

    “Talk to the girls”, Chen suggested. “Maybe they can weave some giant grass sheets. They’ve done some bags that hold water mostly.”

    That got Rigel’s interest. “What’s ‘mostly’?”

    Chen put the shaft into a pile of finished ones. “Have a sit, lord-type person.” He leaned forward and patted the ground across the piles of materials from him. “Breeze finished one she poured a bottle of water into. Took like three hours to leak out. So are you really going to have them make tents?

    “Not until they’ve got our food supply better. I want a month’s supply before we leave here. So I have a job for you.”

    “Me, or all three?”

    “You and Oran. Looks like Casey has a lot of work left here – no point in you getting too far ahead of him. What I need is a scouting mission: looking for food plants, finding a certain leafy plant, and checking trees.”

    “Checking trees”, Chen repeated, tipping his head and regarding Rigel curiously.

    “You mean like taking their pulse?” Oran joked. That got a laugh from Chen and Rigel both.

    “Ha ha. No, I mean like checking how hard they are. We need hardwood to burn, to make ashes. Once we have ashes, we can make soap – and poisoned arrows.”

    Chen sucked in breath. “I thought of that last week – forgot to say anything to Ocean. She’s got a poison?”

    “Oh, yeah. She says it’ll drop a gr’venstut in under three seconds. Come on – grab some arrows and let’s go see her.” His motion included both Chen and Oran.

    “Two each”, was Ocean’s decision when Chen wanted to test the poison. “And I’ll wrap them special. No more until you find me the right leaves. Remember the ones that looked kind of like wrinkled pancakes? spotty green with a fuzzy fold down the middle?”

    “They ooze white crud when they break?” Oran asked.

    “Yes.”

    Oran nodded. “I know the ones you mean. I broke one on accident – got some of that goop on my arm. It itched, then burned.” He grimaced. “I scrubbed it with saliva, but that didn’t help.” Casey giggled, earning him a puzzled look from everyone but Oran.

    “Okay, what did you do to deal with it?” asked Ocean.
    Casey, three meters away, still working on arrows, burst into laughter. “He had me pee on it. He said he watched some show with an Australian guy who ripped off his clothes and was dancing around in a thong, that said many poisons can be washed off by peeing on them.”

    “Did it work?” inquired Chen, quite seriously.

    “Yeah”, Oran said, “but my arm smells terrible now.” He delivered the line with a straight face.

    “Well, I could pee on your arm and wash that off”, Chen volunteered.

    Casey laughed so hard he bent the arrows he was holding. “Ow!” he hollered. No longer laughing, he looked at the arrow. “Fuck! I broke the fin!”

    Chen walked over, tugged it away from him and examined the damage. “Pry it out – ask Antonio for one of his shuriken. The tips are good enough. Just be careful.” Rigel saw that they really were using bone for fletching, though it was very small pieces, almost flakes instead of chips.

    “Aren’t those supposed to be bigger?” he asked, pointing.

    Chen shook his head. “We don’t have arrowheads. One thing fletching does is balance the arrow, so the head doesn’t weight it down. Sure, good fletching keeps an arrow flying true, and really good fletching gives it spin like a gyroscope, but you have to think of balance first. We can’t afford much weight back there, so they have to be small.” His face lit up. “Hey – you said we’re supposed to check out trees, right? Oran, let’s bring back chips – maybe one will be good for fletching!”

    “Don’t forget to bring back info on their hardness”, Rigel reminded. “Check every different kind of tree.”

    “Whoa – I’ve seen fifteen different ones out there! We need a way to write down what we find.... Um, got it: we chop out a chunk of bark from the test tree. Then we scratch the results into the inside of the bark. We don’t have to remember anything, just give the bark to Anaph when we get back. He’ll know which trees they are. We’re testing for hardness, right?” he asked Rigel.

    “Right. I though if you chopped each tree like twenty times and rated the depth–“

    Chen was shaking his head. “Too hard to gauge. No, we use a standard depth, and chop till we reach it. What we write down is the number of chops to get that deep. The more chops, the harder the wood.”

    “I like that”, Rigel said, just as Ocean declared, “Good idea!”

    She supplied them with grass bags, these loosely woven just for holding things. “Bring as many leaves as you can, if you find any”, she instructed. “And watch for plants we can eat.”

    Chen nodded. “And if we recognize any of your herbs, we’ll mark them and remember where they were.” Ocean looked doubtful.

    “Mistress Ocean”, Oran said (Where did that title come from?! Rigel asked the universe.), “We remember where we’ve been. I could turn around right now and jog back to the monolith on the hill, exactly the route we came on. I could follow it really close to get to the first monolith. And I could get back to Fort Tree with no trouble – I might not exactly retrace our steps, but I wouldn’t be far off. I know it’s weird, but I got used to it. I can do a bunch of things now I never could – my eyesight is better than perfect; I can see the little ridges on the leaves Breeze is using and the ones on that funny tree on the other side of the springs. I can see a cat at a hundred paces and tell you if its eyes are open or shut or in between. And when I want to shoot something, it’s like my eyes do a zoom thing; I see the target like it was two or three times as close.”

    “Ditto that”, Chen agreed. “Our hearing is better, too. In the forest, I can hear insects crawling across dry grass, and I can tell you if it’s ants or beetles. I know the difference between the first pool I got into this morning and the second one by their sound – by the way they smell, too. Blindfold me, and line everyone up, and I can pick out some people by their scent – Oran and Casey and Rigel with no trouble at all, Austin and Anaph almost as easy. Tanner wouldn’t be hard; he always smells sour. Antonio smells... um–“

    “Rugged”, Oran suggested. “Like – he makes me think of one of those guys who work on tall buildings, lifting big steel beams and stuff.”

    “I dunno about the steel beams, but that’s it”, Chen agreed.

    Ocean looked bemused. “You didn’t mention any of us girls.”

    Both scouts looked embarrassed. “You all smell alike to me, so far”, Chen admitted.

    Oran shook his head, though. “Rita smells different – like a queen. A queen who’s a wizard.”

    “Women are witches”, Rigel corrected.

    Oran repeated the head shake. “No, not magical-like – like someone who knows things, and can see through you, and knows the strings to pull to... to aim people, aim them where they need to go.”

    That came very close to Rigel’s feeling when she talked seriously with him. “You can smell that?”

    Oran nodded emphatically. “Yeah. If we were all dogs, she’d be head bitch.” Behind them Casey snorted. “I didn’t mean it like that!” he protested.

    Ocean had been watching them closely, especially Oran as he gave his explanation about Rita. Now she looked over at Rita intently; her subject suddenly looked up, straight back at Ocean. “You’re right, Oran”, Ocean said very, very softly. “She would be head bitch – she knows how to keep the puppies in line, and keep the young dogs from getting into too much trouble, and keep the alpha focused so he can lead the pack well.” She caught each pair of eyes in turn. “Never say that to her. She needs to learn it by herself.”

    Then she broke the serious mood. “All right – go find my plants, and food, and test some trees. Shoo!”

    With a wry smile, Rigel circled a finger in their direction, then pointed to the scant forest beyond the springs. Chen popped a salute, British style with the palm out; Oran slapped fist to heart in the old Roman manner. Without a word, they left at a jog.


    Dmitri came to Rigel late in the afternoon. “I found something, in the southwest shelter. Look.” He offered three loops of metal.

    “Torcs!” Rigel exclaimed in recognition. “And they match.” The metal was silver, badly in need of polishing; the bands themselves looked like taffy someone had twisted on way for a while, then the other, then back to the first; the ends were like great big fish hooks with a tiny oak leaf on the tip. What do you fish for with oak leaves? he wondered absently. He looked from the torcs to the shelter where Dmitri had found them, then around at the springs. “I wonder why they got left here”, he mused out loud.

    Dmitri shrugged. “I don’t think forgotten. I think hidden. Maybe murder, maybe theft. Maybe Anaph should bless them.”

    “Interesting idea”, Rigel replied. “Come on.”

    To Anaph it was hilarious. “I don’t bless things. For that, you need a priest.” As Rigel heard the word, he got the feeling that there was one in the group, not yet revealed. “I can check the feel of them if you want.”

    “Like with the monolith?” Dmitri asked.

    “Just like”, Anaph agreed. He turned from the leather he’d been stitching – bone needle, Rigel saw, and the thread was a strand of one of the vines at Fort Tree – and reached for his staff. That he rested across his knees, then reached out. Ryan handed him all three torcs. “Just one”, Anaph said.

    The Druid sat holding the band. Rigel wasn’t sure if it was intentional, but flakes of encrusted dirt fell off. He heard a high-pitched hum, and realized Anaph was making it. After a long minute, or maybe a minute and a half, Anaph opened his eyes and handed the torc to Dmitri. “The man who wore that was like the class comedian. He was good with a bow. He was in trouble over a woman – or maybe a whole bunch of women. Next?”

    Rigel was astounded. The kid couldn’t be making it up, right? But he didn’t see any way to know all that – but on the other hand, he didn’t see how Anaph had “read” the standing stone, or a lot of other things Anaph did.

    Anaph looked grim when he opened his eyes this time. “A warrior – a good warrior. I mean, he was good at wiping out enemies. He liked to wound them so they couldn’t fight, then come back and kill them once the battle was over. And he was cruel to women.” He held out the torc like he wanted to be rid of it.

    When he began his report on the third one, Anaph looked sad. “He was a young warrior. Very good at all the skills. He’d never been in a battle, though, but he was looking forward to it. And he was expecting that after the battle, these two would teach him the ways of a woman.” He surrendered the third torc; Rigel put it in his left pocket, as the first had gone in his right – he held the second tightly in his left hand.

    “Lord Rigel, they never got to that battle. Someone killed them in the night. I think the enemies of the first man caught up with him, and killed them all. They didn’t really have a chance to fight.
    “That shouldn’t have happened here. This was a... a sanctuary place. There wasn’t supposed to be any fighting, for any reason. Sworn enemies could sit here and know the other wasn’t allowed to do a thing.” Anaph looked around, troubled. “Something was very wrong.”

    Pieces connected in Rigel’s mind, or at least he thought they did. “You think the rules had broken down, and tribes were fighting desperately?”

    Anaph considered that. “Maybe. You want to know if something happened, they started fighting, and that’s why they’re all gone?” Rigel nodded affirmation. “Maybe. Maybe we should look for more things here, or around. Have everyone keep an eye out. I’ll search with my staff.”

    Rigel started in surprise when Anaph returned from the northeast shelter. The black half-robe with its disorderly fringe of ferns and vines had somehow morphed into a thing of deep green-gray all its length, which went halfway down Anaph’s calves. Inside it was gray with a light hint of green, with green ripples as the material – whatever it was now – moved from the wind and from Anaph’s stride. His pendant had taken on a hint of color also, the acorn just a bit golden, the leaf just a bit green. He wore nothing else but sandals, except from the belt around his waist a Tarzan-like loincloth hung, a pouch evident in the deerskin, another, leather pouch hanging to one side. Dmitri stared in amazement, too. Neither of them said a word as Anaph walked by silently, holding his staff just millimeters above the ground’s surface.


    Rigel began to feel useless. He was no good with herbs, he knew Ryan would work better at getting sulfur alone, all he knew about making arrows was that his scouts knew how, and he knew better than to poke his nose into anything to do with their food. It dawned on him that he hadn’t accounted for Tanner or Devon. Austin, though, knew where they’d gone, so Rigel decided to go join them.

    They were working on something he could do: cut saplings for flexible poles and strip off the limbs. He worked steadily, until Devon called a halt.

    “That’s enough”, Devon decided. “Grab as much as you can carry, and back to camp.” As much as Rigel could carry wasn’t as much as Tanner did, or even Devon. Having himself and Austin there to help meant they were bringing back more than they could have, though, and he satisfied himself with that.

    “What are you building?” Austin asked as they dragged armloads of slender poles.

    “Roof for the shelters”, Devon replied. “There’s notches around the top of the wall. The match up, straight across. If we fasten a thick pole end in each one, then tie the small ends together, we’ll have a frame.

    “Like a dome?”

    “Should be. The skinny ends will bend more than the heavy ones, so it won’t be perfect. I think these are long enough to reach almost all the way across. If they do, we can tie them together – that’ll give a smoother curve.”

    It didn’t quite work out that way. Rigel boosted Austin to the top of the wall, to take the poles and stick the big ends in holes. “They don’t line up!” the squire protested when Devon insisted he tied together two poles set in notches right across from each other. “They’re crooked!”

    To forestall an argument, Rigel got Devon to boost him to the top. He frowned in perplexity. “Dev, Austin’s right – the notches are right across from each other, but they don’t aim at each other.”

    “See?” Austin said. “It’s crooked!”

    “Sorry, squire, but they aren’t”, Rigel disagreed. “Look – they’re all slanted from aiming right across the circle, and the slant is the same all the way around. If– no, screw it. Dev, give us some more poles. Now, Austin skip a hole and put that pole in – I’ll do the same here. Good. Dev, I think I get it, but give us two more poles. Austin – skip another hole.” When those were set, making a total of six, Rigel nodded; his guess had been right. He jumped down.

    “You’ll love this, Dev: it’s like an iris. The poles go near the center, not to it. They all mist by the same amount, so...”

    Devon smiled a little and nodded. “So the part they miss is a circle, at the top. That’s like a teepee. Nice design.” A frown creased his brow. “But there goes my simple design. Now...” He stared at the six loose poles.

    “First we need something in the circle, in the middle”, Tanner said.

    “You and what ladder?” Devon asked absently.

    “I can stand on Lord Rigel’s shoulders”, Austin suggested. “But you can’t use one of the poles – it won’t bend that far.”

    Tanner had an answer. “Go back and get a pile of small branches – long ones. We can tie them together with grass, that will work.” Austin looked at Rigel.

    “Go for it, squire”, Rigel ordered. He tried to picture Tanner’s idea. “What if you braided the branches together?” he asked. “They’re flexible enough.”

    Devon nodded. “I like that – braid skinny green branches, then tie something heavier to them. Now I know why they did the iris thing – you just tie the poles to the side of the ring; that’s a lot easier than tying an end to it. It would be stronger if they’d made two iris patterns that crossed, though.”

    Austin turned out to be very good at braiding the uneven branches, which were about as big around as a pencil. Rigel got Breeze to help, too. She came up with the idea of braiding three more circles, space evenly on the poles. “It’ll be stronger. And lashing an X isn’t hard. You should lash on three cross-pieces, too. Well, at least three, to hold the base of the roof together.” Devon saw her point immediately. In the end, because they had enough poles, they lashed on the three poles in a triangle, and then three more.

    “Star of David”, Breeze pointed out, looking upward. Rigel, holding Austin balanced on his shoulders while the squire tied the last of the third circle’s grass cords in place, didn’t dare look. “And the smoke will go right up the middle, and out.”

    Devon was staring at the hole, though. “Half a meter is a big hole, if it rains”, he observed.

    “Maybe we were supposed to bend the poles toward the middle”, suggested Tanner.

    Rigel stepped in th head off any ideas about doing it over. “Well, we’re not taking it apart and starting over. If the hole’s too big, we can braid another circle and stick it inside that one.”

    “Not as elegant”, Devon said, at the same time Tanner said, “Yeah, that’d work.”

    “Be elegant on the next one”, Rigel told Devon. “Now, what do we use for roof?”

    “Grass, hides – what can we spare?”

    Rigel thought about that. “Let’s hope it doesn’t rain”, he responded finally.

    Antonio returned from hunting just before Rigel was ready to give up stripping branches from saplings. His hands hurt, his wrists hurt, his elbows hurt, his shoulders hurt....

    “I need some help”, were Antonio’s first words. Rigel groaned. “Hey! I got a buck over my shoulders, Rita’s coming with a buck over hers, and there are three more hanging in a tree about six hundred meters back. If someone doesn’t get them soon, they won’t be hanging there.

    Devon stopped chopping at a sapling. “Dude, you got five deer?!”

    Antonio grinned, and shrugged as best he could with a bloody, gutted buck on his back. “It was easy. Rita shot the first one, and they all bolted my direction. I dropped one with an arrow in its chest, another with one in its side, and a third one that got tangled with that one. Rita hit one in the ass, which slowed it a lot, so I chased it.” He grinned approval at his companion. “When I got back, she had two of them gutted and hanging on this big tree, another one gutted, and was gutting the fourth one. I did the one I had, and by then she had another almost up. I helped her get it into the tree. She’s one smart gal, too – used one of those grass sheets to drag the guts all away, downwind. Dumped ‘em in a hole where a tree fell over. Then we picked up the last two and brought ‘em.”

    “And while we’re talking, scavengers are following that scent”, Rita reminded them all.

    “Tanner, Devon, with me”, Rigel commanded. “Antonio, how’s the trail?”

    “Follow the bugs. I’ve been dripping blood all the way.” Antonio laughed. “Just be sure to go left at the broken boulder.”

    “But–“ Devon began to protest.

    “No ‘buts’. We can’t let that meat go to waste.” Rigel set off at a jog, trying to stretch out muscles gone stiff from standing too long in one place. They could, indeed, follow the bugs, he realized – not at first, but at first was just along the same trail back toward the way they’d come. Before he started being uncertain, he saw a spot on the ground covered with flying insects, then beyond it another. Tiny clusters of insects in between kept the trail certain.

    He didn’t remember a broken boulder, but he recognized what Antonio meant when he saw it. The thing looked totally out of place, not the same kind fo rock as the rest nearby. It looked like a round potato someone had whacked with a big knife, leaving a big part of one end split off. That would be nice for landscaping, he thought.

    Something was moving through the forest, coming their way. Rigel called a halt so they’d be rested when they met whatever – or whoever, he hoped – it was. Idiots-R-Us, he told himself. No boar spears, no bows....

    “Lord Rigel!” came the cry. Definitely the scouts, to be recognizing him before he could be sure they were even human. He waved back.

    “If you’re waiting for them, I’m going back”, Devon declared.

    “No, you’re not”, Rigel told him. “Go grab a buck first.”

    “I’ll wait”, Tanner said before Rigel could tell him otherwise. It didn’t really bother Rigel, so long as Tanner carried a deer. They followed the trail enough farther that they could see the tree.

    “Look at that!” Tanner breathed. Devon had stopped before he reached the tree, and picked up a two-meter branch. He approached the tree whirling it over his head, ‘round and ‘round. When he got close, dark spots broke off from the tree, then took flight. Devon waited until none were close, then hefted the nearest deer, undid the quick-release knot holding it, and came trudging back.

    “Stinking birds”, was all he said on his way by. Rigel could see where the deer’s skin had been pecked at.

    He and Tanner met the returning scouts about sixty meters from where Devon had passed them on his way back. “Check out the tree”, he told them.

    “Birds”, Oran said in a long breath; the avians had returned shortly after Devon left. “Chen....”

    “I’m with ya, scout two.” He sniffed the wind. “Circle left some. Rigel, when we reach that bush on the fallen log, walk back the way you came, but toward the tree some. Get their attention.”

    It was a thing of beauty, was all Rigel could think of to say when they got back to camp. “I went like Chen said, skipping and scuffing the ground. Tanner followed me and started whistling. I was watching the tree, but I was watching Oran and Chen, too. I didn’t even see them until they shot – they’re that good! Two arrows together” – he mimed the action – “Whoosh! two birds down. I think the birds didn’t know what was happening, ‘cause hardly any flew away. So Whoosh! and two more were down. Then they started leaving. Chen got another one, but Oran – he was like in a fantasy story, just arrow, arrow, arrow, arrow. The last one didn’t get a bird, but he got three! So we’ve got eight birds – maybe dinner, and hopefully fins for arrows.”

    “Fletching”, Oran corrected playfully. “The tail feathers look good – I think we can get a dozen arrows’ worth from a bird.” Rigel didn’t let his disappointment show; he’d envisioned hundreds of arrows per bird. “Know what we need now?” Oran continued.

    “Arrowheads!” Casey answered with a grin.

    Oran took in a deep breath like breathing some wondrous aroma. “Yeah, arrowheads. Give me some good head, and I can shoot farther–“ He broke off. “What’s so funny?” Then he turned red as he recalled his own words. “Fuck you”, he snapped, and stalked off.


    “It’s enough, lord.” Rigel looked up from his venison steak to see Chen.

    “Hey, first scout – have a sit.” Chen took Rigel’s invitation. “Enough what?” Rigel asked.

    “The deer hides we have now. It’s enough hide that when we cure them, we can have kilts. I’ll leave the hair on, for warmth and to shed water better. And guess what? Crystal was walking on the north edge of the camp, and there’s a hot spring pool there with just a trickle of water flowing through. We can bail it and use it for the hides!”

    “Does that mean more ashes?” Rigel wondered aloud.

    “Yeah but it doesn’t have to be hardwood, as long as it’s clean. Don’t worry about it, lord – we’ll take care of it”, Chen assured him, and proceeded to dig in on his own steak.

    Ocean stopped by. “The scouts found the leaves, lord Rigel. I can do four dozen arrows or more.”

    “We’ll mark them special”, Chen added. “Don’t want them mixed with the regular arrows!”

    There was even dessert: Casey, gone out to help bring back some of the ‘milk leaves’ for Ocean, had noticed deer raising their heads to a tree. Investigating, he found a tree with tiny apples. He proudly brought his shirt full of them back to Ocean, biting into one after delivering the rest. Crabapples were something he’d never heard of; the look on his face at the sour taste was proof enough of that. He spit out the rest and grabbed Ocean’s water to rinse with.

    She’d assured him that with the honey and the right herbs she could turn them into something edible. That much she’d done, and more, was the general agreement.

    Anaph came by as Rigel lingered over dessert. “I found these”, he said, and handed over two nasty-looking bronze blades. They appeared odd to Rigel: both sides had teeth like a saw blade, but they pointed in opposite directions. Rigel called Antonio and Chen over and showed the blades to them.

    “Interesting”, Antonio commented. “That’s nasty. Damn.”

    Chen nodded. “Look, Rigel – the teeth on this side rip and tear one way, like going in with a stab. The teeth on the other side rip on the way back. So you stab, lifting, and pull out and down. It makes a nasty, nasty wound, all torn up, not a neat slice. It’s a wound no one could survive without real medical care,” He glanced at Antonio and then looked right at Rigel. “This, lord, is a weapon for a cruel person who doesn’t just want an enemy dead, but wants him to suffer. Want to be really mean? You wipe the blade in spoiled food and shit before you attack. Then you stab where you only get muscle, so they don’t die fast. It would get so infected the only treatment in the Bronze Age would be to cut the victim’s throat.”

    “Assassin’s weapon”, Austin suggested. “Make the guy die, and suffer on the way.”

    “Only if you could do it without him seeing you”, Chen pointed out. “I think it’s more a vendetta knife. It makes sure they die, and they die knowing you did it. But what I see”, he went on, holding the knife up and twirling it, “is a tool for cutting things. Both sides are practically saws.”

    “Yeah, if we had a way to sharpen them, which we don’t”, Antonio pointed out. “Sharpening teeth is different than sharpening a blade.” He’d been keeping his blades sharp with a stone he’d found at the pool by Fort Tree.

    Chen ran his finger along the teeth. “If you cracked a good rock just right, you could do it.”

    “Okay, Chen, you think you can sharpen them, you take care of them”, Rigel decided. “Anaph, is that it?”

    “Nothing else.”

    “Did these tell you anything?”

    Anaph smiled, or maybe grimaced, wryly. “First scout’s description tells it well. They were used, and left.”

    Rigel though about what he’d put with his bedding. “You think they go with....”

    “Almost certainly”, Anaph replied, following Rigel’s glance at the “stone igloo”.

    “Suddenly I don’t like this place very well”, Rigel proclaimed softly. “Chen, our schedule’s on you: get those kilts made as fast as possible, and then we’re out of here.” His mind was still on the three torcs. “I have to see Dmitri – catch you guys later.”


    Dmitri was stubborn. Rigel told him so. “I’m not a priest!” the Ukrainian declared for the fourth time, arms crossed defiantly.

    “You’re the closest thing we’ve got, blast it!” Rigel felt like hitting him. There had to be a way to convince Dmitri – there had to! His mind wandered to times at church camp, youth group, the occasional Bible study, visits to cousins in Minnesota, television preachers.... Back to Minnesota: he’d gone to youth group with his cousins, and these two visiting seminarians – Lutheran, of course; everyone within a hundred miles the was Lutheran – had talked about the church being a whole... they kept talking in the sauna, later (everyone was naked, he remembered)... what was it? What had the one guy – Roy, his name had been, and he’d made a point....

    Yes! “God always provides” had been his point. The congregation had gone through problems, the pastor had left, some elders had left. Roy had told the kids that everything they needed was there, because it was the Holy Spirit who gave those gifts to the church, and the Spirit would never leave a church unsupplied – that was it!

    ‘Dmitri, listen to me: how many Christians are there here?”

    “Six – no, seven.”

    “Do you think the Holy Spirit got left behind when we switched worlds?”

    “Um....” Dmitri looked puzzled only for a moment. “No! God is everywhere!”

    “Does God leave His people without leaders?” Dmitri scowled and said nothing, so Rigel plowed on. “The Bible says somewhere that the Holy Spirit provides pastors and teachers and healers and things. Where are ours? Can you tell me?” Dmitri’s eyebrows pulled closer together, until they almost touched. “I’ll tell you – they’re here. All we have to do is figure out who. So we’re going to get all the Christians together, and pray, and then ask who everyone thinks God wants to lead. Because He doesn’t abandon His people without leaders.” Rigel left Dmitri standing there alone. Something told him he should talk first to Chen; Chen understood his anger about the problems religion brought.

    Chen’s face went from serious, to smiling, to grinning, and finally he laughed. “Perfect, lord! Let me gather everyone. At the gazebo?”

    Rigel glanced over; it wasn’t near dark yet, so there wasn’t anyone on watch. He knew wood was being gathered – if they only had a cart! “Sure. In fact I think I’ll get the fire started.”

    They all looked solemn as Chen led them out the walkway to the small fire where Rigel waited with his often-present squire. Chen, Dmitri, Oran, Antonio... and Tanner, scowling, bringing up the rear. Chen put a finger to his lips briefly where Rigel could see, but the rest behind him couldn’t. Okay, Squire, Rigel thought, you’ve got the con.

    Chen got them all arranged in a semicircle, across the fire from Rigel. Then he walked around and stood on the other side of Rigel from Austin, which was Rigel’s left. He looked along the line, meeting each set of eyes. Finally he turned to Rigel. “With your permission, my lord?” he asked. Rigel inclined his head briefly. Chen turned to face the rest.

    “Our lord Rigel has asked that there be a settling of certain things among us”, he began. “I’m no priest, or scribe, or teacher, but I‘m pretty good at getting things settled. So I declare that this first Council of all Christians under the House of Rigel is begun.
    “The first item is that of leadership. Lord Rigel says correctly when he states that God will not leave His people without leaders. Among us gathered here, then, are the leaders we need in this place.” Chen paused and looked around at the faces. “Most important, God does not leave His people without a shepherd – an under-shepherd, truly, for Christ is our Shepherd. So one of us has already been chosen by God to be that shepherd – call him or her priest or pastor, that one stands with us.” He turned and walked left two paces. “Look at the faces around you. Ask your heart, ‘Who has been shepherd to me? Who has given guidance? Who has made peace between us? Who has reminded us of the basics of the faith? Who has spoken calm words of wisdom?” Chen walked back to where he’d started. “Think on this, and pray.” He bowed his head. Rigel followed suit, then Austin. One by one the others did as well.

    Rigel counted to ninety-three while he waited. He guessed Chen was counting to a hundred, and counted a little faster.

    “Oran, do you have what I asked?” Chen queried softly.

    Oran stepped forward. “I have, um, tokens for everyone. Well, except for lord Rigel, because you can’t be lord and priest or pastor.” I could kiss you, kid, Rigel thought. “The twigs are for Tanner. I’m a wood chip. The things that look like crappy match sticks are Antonio. Chen is the bone chips. Austin is the seeds. And Dmitri is the little pebbles.” He held up a pouch. “They’re in here. I’ll pour them on my shirt and hold it out so you can grab them easier. Then I’ll come around, and the way we’ll do it is you take five different ones. When I come around again, you put three of those into the pouch and two back into my shirt. Pick three people you think you be good.. Then Rita and Lumina are going to count – they don’t know what thing stands for who, and they don’t really care anyway. That way the count is fair.” He fumbled with the pouch and his shirt. “So – darn it! Antonio, will you hold my shirt out?”

    With a chuckle, Antonio turned and took hold of the edge of Oran’s shirt, tugging it out for the tokens to be dumped into. Oran turned the pouch over and dumped it, shook it, then looked inside. Something had stuck; he reached in and pulled it out.
    “Um, I hope not everybody votes for the same person at the start”, he said as he took control of his shirt from Antonio. “I didn’t get enough tokens for that. Oh! You can only vote for the same person once, anyway. So here we go.”

    He went first to Rigel, who quickly picked five different tokens. Chen was second, then Austin, then down the line. Last he picked five of his own. He put two back immediately and tossed his three votes into the pouch; then it was back to Rigel and around again.

    “Okay – everybody got to vote. Rita!!!” Oran yelled. “Time to count!”

    Rita came jogging out the bath, took the pouch, and retreated. Chen let them all sit and dangle legs in the pools, but ordered there be no talking. Rita was back in under two minutes.

    “There’s a four-way tie”, she announced. “Wood chip, match stick, bone chip, and pebble. Twig and seed are out.” She delivered the tokens back to Oran, who looked shocked – he hadn’t expected to be in it at all!

    Rigel understood that shock, but he also understood why it had happened: Austin was considered too close to the lord, so people were picking anyone but him... or Tanner. The latter didn’t look very happy.

    They voted again, after Chen encouraged them to ask who God wanted to be their shepherd. This time, each got two votes. When Rita came back this time, wood chip and match stick were out, bone chip and pebble were in. Rigel, running estimates in his head, thought he understood: now that the field was narrower, Oran wasn’t a consideration because he was too playful, plus gone so often as a scout, and Antonio seemed too rough, while being gone a lot hunting.

    “Two choices now”, Chen said. “This time, one vote each.”

    The first thing Rita said was, “Someone didn’t vote”.

    Rigel stepped in; he wasn’t going to allow any argument here. “Could that vote change the result?”

    She shook her head. “No. Your winner is pebble.” She handed the tokens to Oran for the last time, and left.

    Dmitri was white, his knees shaking. Tanner’s seemed dark, his knees shaking. Chen went to Dmitri. “Brother Dmitri, you are called to be our shepherd. Accept this office, on Christ’s behalf.”

    “I don’t want it!” Dmitri whispered hoarsely. “Please!”

    Rigel walked over to stand with Chen. “If you wanted it, I’d be worried”, he stated firmly. “Priests who like being priests become problems.”

    “You put them up to this!” Dmitri whispered furiously.

    Rigel shook his head. “All I said to Chen was that we Christians need a leader. And that God doesn’t leave His people without a shepherd. Dmitri, you’ve been chosen.”

    Chen put his hand on the youngster’s shoulder. “There aren’t any bishops here to decide. That leaves it in the hands of God’s flock – us. He spoke through us here.”

    “I’m not even old enough to be a deacon!”

    Chen blinked at that. “How old do you have to be?”

    “Twenty-five.”

    “Thirty to be a priest?” Rigel guessed.

    Dmitri nodded. “The age of our Lord when He began His ministry.”

    “What about a subdeacon?” asked Chen.

    “I... I don’t know.”

    “What about acolyte?” Rigel asked.

    Dmitri just shook his head.

    “Our church had acolytes”, Chen told him, guessing Dmitri didn’t know what one was. “They have to be twelve or older, and know how to help the priest with the little things around the altar. If there’s no deacon, an acolyte does the readings sometimes.”

    “Dmitri, if you don’t think you can be priest because of your age, then be an acolyte”, Rigel urged. “The only one we have who is old enough is Ocean–“

    “I’ll do it”, Dmitri snapped suddenly, quietly. Rigel didn’t understand the sudden change of heart, but he accepted it. Chen nudged him aside and led Dmitri over by the fire.

    “Friends, this is Dmitri, called to lead us. He is humble, and will not take the office of priest, because of his age. So he is our Acolyte.”

    Everyone clapped – except Tanner, who just stood there.


    Rigel kept Dmitri with him and Chen. With Austin in his appropriate place trailing his lord, they went to the “stone igloo”, where Rigel pulled out the three torcs. “Dmitri, you found these. Anaph examined them – you were there. You suggested Anaph bless them, but Druids don’t do blessings.
    “I know you’re not a priest, but you’re now our leader Christian. You know rituals. I want you to come up with a ceremony to bless these or something. I’ll feel better about handing them out, then.”

    “I can change some words... “, Dmitri mused unhappily.

    “Do what you need to”, Chen assured him.

    Rigel slept badly that night. In his dreams, shadowy figures with the two saw-edged blades snuck into the shelters, killing. It took Ryan and Austin both to get him under control when he woke up screaming after a dream where he lay helpless while the shadowy figures killed his three squires. It was almost fourth watch, then, so he went out to join Chen at the watch fire.

    “Bad dreams?” Chen asked.

    “I was loud enough you heard me over here?!” Chen’s nod gave the answer. “Yeah, bad dream – you got murdered.”

    “Ooh! Well, don’t drag me into your dreams!”

    “Like I wanted to!”

    Chen changed the subject. “Tanner was on third watch.”

    “So? Oh! You talked to him?”

    “Yeah – brought a message from everyone who’s gone to any of his little ‘studies’.”

    “I hope he pays attention.”

    “He’s mad about ‘a kid preacher’ who was ‘chosen by the flesh’.”

    Rigel winced. “What did you say?” he asked.

    “I asked why he didn’t believe in the Holy Spirit and what Jesus promised.” Chen’s smile was almost a smirk.

    “Ouch.” Wince departed, giving way to a big grin. “Good for you. You know, we almost picked you.”

    Chen nodded. “That was a risk. But I’ll never make a priest – I love running all over the countryside, being naked, getting laid, getting drunk.... By the way, when do we start making wine?”

    Rigel laughed. “Thanks – I needed that. So I guess Tanner is in a tight place – Dmitri, with the Creed, is now top dog among the Christians, and the rest of you delivered your message.”


    At lunch the next day, Tanner lost his cool when he sneezed and Dmitri responded, “Bless you!” He tore into Dmitri verbally, with Bible verses and insults both.

    “He’s making a fool of himself”, Ryan commented to Rigel.

    “That’s not all he’s doing”, Chen told them, but he wouldn’t say more.

    Chen’s meaning began to show quickly. Dmitri just sat and ate, ignoring Tanner completely. Angry, Tanner turned to Antonio – who walked by like Tanner didn’t exist. “Oran!” Tanner called, because Oran had supported him in some things in the past – but Oran didn’t respond at all, just kept eating. Tanner looked scared now, on top of angry.

    “Austin”, Chen called quietly, “walk out where he can see you – go close by.” Rigel noticed that Austin swallowed hard, but went, coming within arm’s reach of Tanner on his way to Rita. Tanner grabbed at him; Austin dodged only enough to keep from being caught, and that without turning to look at all. “Like he bumped a tree”, Chen murmured. “Excellent.”

    Rita came walking back with Austin, also treating Tanner as though he wasn’t there at all. Meanwhile, Tanner called to Breeze – and she didn’t respond, either. Chen moved over to let Rita sit by Rigel.

    “Do you think it will work?” she asked him.

    “I don’t get it”, Rigel confessed.

    “Slow today”, Rita observed, watching out of the corner of her eye as Tanner tried to get Crystal’s attention for more tea – and she just walked on.

    “Okay, I’m slow today. What are they doing?” Rigel demanded.

    Rita laughed quietly. “One of the most effective things you can do to a rebel who needs to belong, but wants to control.” She looked at Rigel with a wicked grin on her face.

    “They’re shunning him.”




    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  12. #212
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Damn, I thought of Tanner so he could meld better with the group, maybe take the responsibility and grow with it.

    Double damn...now I guess Tanner is going to create a serious problem or two.

    Great chapter Kuli

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Kuli,
    Interesting imagery in the crown of the roof for the building.
    Christianity in the 7, now Judaism in the building.
    Poor Dimitri. Blessed are they who are called.
    And, one can't help but feel for Tanner, who tries so hard to hold onto what he sees as the way of the Lord, but hasn't yet been able to see beyond the prejudices of his upbringing to see the work of Him in their midst.

    Lost of foreshadowing, and food, clothing, fletchings to be had at the moment.

    You continue to do a masterful job in developing this story for us. You may focus on survival for a bit, but you also reserve appropriate segments of time for reflection, for faith, relationships, life.

    Thanks for all the work you put into this for us.


    And I know, if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest . . .

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by DonQuixote View Post
    Kuli,
    Interesting imagery in the crown of the roof for the building.
    Christianity in the 7, now Judaism in the building.
    Poor Dimitri. Blessed are they who are called.
    And, one can't help but feel for Tanner, who tries so hard to hold onto what he sees as the way of the Lord, but hasn't yet been able to see beyond the prejudices of his upbringing to see the work of Him in their midst.

    Lost of foreshadowing, and food, clothing, fletchings to be had at the moment.

    You continue to do a masterful job in developing this story for us. You may focus on survival for a bit, but you also reserve appropriate segments of time for reflection, for faith, relationships, life.

    Thanks for all the work you put into this for us.
    Tanner, along with most modern 'evangelicals', is a (NT) Sadducee at heart -- think about it.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  15. #215
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Justice


    Another day, three more deer
    , Rigel thought as he watched Antonio trudge into camp, followed by Rita and Ryan. He turned back to watching Tanner and Devon. The shunning had caught on: it wasn’t just the Christians, now; no one was talking to Tanner, or even acknowledging he existed, except Devon. Even with Devon, though, Tanner’s interaction was limited: only during work, and only about work. Tanner got fed, but no one paid any attention to anything but his bowl. He got to work, but couldn’t talk about anything but work.

    The three hunters came over. “Join us in a soak”, Ryan requested.

    “More like a bath”, Rigel responded, getting up. “Did you guys just carry those deer, or wrestle with them?” All three were coated with blood and dirt.

    “Guild secret”, Rita teased.

    In the part farthest from the shelters were three pools down-flow from all the rest. These had been designated bath pools, since all the water flowed away, hopefully taking the dirt, blood, and whatever along. Chen had provided scraps from working with the hides, to serve as wash cloths – far better than ferns or grass or sand! “I think the source is migrating”, Ryan said as he stepped carefully in. “There are dried-up pools on the other side, and the ones here seem newer.”

    “What-ev-er”, Antonio responded, rolling his eyes.

    Ryan splashed him. “You said no science commentary on the job – this isn’t part of the job!”

    Antonio squirted him with his hands. “All right. Be a bore.” He said it with a grin, though.

    Ryan ignored that and changed the subject. “You been watching Tanner?” he asked Rigel, who nodded. “He’s gotten through the denial stage nicely.”

    “No, he hasn’t”, Rita disagreed. “He’s still deep in denial. He’s over there thinking it’s all a game, or that everyone will get tired of it, or that his friends will crack and start talking again. He’s tough – he’ll be in denial another three days, easy.”

    Rigel ransacked his memory. “Piaget?” he guessed.

    Rita laughed. “Piaget is education. Kübler-Ross is grief stages.” She splashed Rigel. “What did you study in college, anyway?” she teased.

    “Being a lord”, Rigel dead-panned, “but the professor never came to class.” The four had a good laugh at that.

    “Don’t tell me – after denial is anger?” Rigel inquired.

    “Bimbo”, Ryan acknowledged. He didn’t manage a straight face.

    “Um – Short Circuit, 1985", Antonio said. “John Wayne, Meg Ryan.”, he finished with a straight face.

    Ryan hooted. “What, John Wayne as Johnny Five?”

    “Is that the one where the robot comes alive?” Rita asked.

    You got it, sister!” Rigel answered, quoting the robot from the movie. “Now, enough of that! I’m serious: what happens when Tanner hits the anger stage? He’s big!”

    “We keep everyone in camp, ready to pounce on him”, Ryan recommended. “Antonio and I are the only ones who match his mass.”

    “And have a big fight? people getting hurt? I don’t like it”, Rigel objected.

    “Better than having only a few to take him on”, Antonio pointed out.

    “Maybe there’s another way”, Rita said. Everyone looked at her. “Some of Ocean’s herbs make you numb, and not just the skin. Maybe she can make a tranquilizer compound. Then make blowguns – simple and accurate.”

    Ryan whistled. “Will you marry me?” he asked.

    “For the fiftieth time, no”, Rita replied. “You’re still not rich enough.” The two shared a laugh while Rigel regarded them fondly, shaking his head, and Antonio looked on, baffled. “Old joke”, Rigel told the chief hunter, then stood and turned.

    “Austin!” he yelled. His squire was helping with hides, which was almost as far away as possible while still being in the camp.

    “One moment!” came the reply. Rigel imagined Austin handing off some smelly task as quickly as possible – and in fact, when the youngster came jogging up, nude, he was covered with streaks of yellowish-green and gray.

    “Gross. Wash in the other pool, squire”, Ryan instructed.

    “Yes, lord Ryan.” Austin took the direct approach: he jumped, bobbed a few times and returned to the waiting Rigel.

    “Ask Ocean if she can make a tranquilizer from her herbs, one that would work on a dart to knock someone out.” Rigel gave Austin two seconds to be sure if he had the message, then pointed – go.

    “Anything else anyone can think of?” Rigel asked. “For dealing with Tanner, that is?”

    Rita raised a hand, using the motion to flip water on Ryan. “In shunning, often anger leads to flight from the group. If there’s a deep psychological attachment to the group which prevents that, the person can get seriously hurt. When flight isn’t a possibility, the result can be breaking the person’s spirit, or can lead to retaliation.
    “In Tanner’s case, he doesn’t seem violent. His way to power and influence is talk – but no one is listening. That means he doesn’t have a weapon to use. Lacking a weapon, he might move on quickly to bargaining rather quickly. He’s keeps to himself a lot anyway, though, and sometimes that kind of person tries to hurt himself.”

    Ryan cut in when she paused. “What do you think for Tanner?”

    Rita swooshed waves of water back and forth. “Well, I didn’t major in psych, but....” – she took a deep breath – “my guess is he’ll try yelling at people, and when no one pays attention, he’ll break things. Rigel, you’re going to need to have important stuff where he can’t get at it. I know, that’s almost impossible, right? But you can change the odds, anyway.
    “But let him break something. Again, my guess; he’ll feel guilty and want to make it up, and slide right into bargaining.”

    Rigel saw doubt in her expression. “Or?”

    She sighed. “Or he could loop back into denial. People are complex....” They sat pondering that obvious truth until Austin returned a few minutes later.

    “Lord Rigel, Ocean says she thinks so, but it won’t be a very fast one.”

    “Oh, wondrous fair! How not fast, does she think?”

    “Twenty to thirty seconds. Less if it hits in a good place.” Austin grinned. “She wanted to know if it was for Tanner.”

    Rigel pinned his squire with a gaze. “It’s not her business.”

    Austin laughed. “She said that, too. But she said if it is, she can make some that will work in food.”

    Rigel was doubtful; he looked to Rita, who shook her head. “We have to take him down right then of he gets violent against someone – food would be useless... well, except if he gets violent when he wakes up, and Rigel decides he needs to be kept sleeping for the safety of all of us.”

    Rigel nodded slowly, seeing Rita’s view of the possibilities. “Okay, squire – tell her to have just a bit that can go in food.” Again he pointed – go. Austin went.

    Antonio spoke up. “Rigel, there’s something I keep wondering. What are ‘druid wards’?” Rigel shrugged his ignorance.

    “I asked Anaph that”, Rita told them. “He drew that circle, remember? Very briefly it left a sort of energy along that line so when something alive came along, it suddenly wanted to turn and go somewhere else. It doesn’t work on people. Lumina just didn’t want to be distracted.”

    Antonio pressed on. “So what was with burning the blood and the carcasses? I mean, there are still thousands of those pigs out there with those parasites!

    Rita smiled. “I said that, too. Lumina said it was overkill. The things seemed so revolting she just wanted them all dead. She said they weren’t fit for life.”

    “If anything qualifies for that, they do!” Ryan agreed. “Frakking things gave me nightmares! I thought they might burrow into the ground and come back to get us, the way Lumina was freaking!”

    Rita’s smile returned. “She’s a Healer, but she’s still human.”

    “Like Anaph is our Druid, and still human”, Antonio said. “I like him better now he’s human again. It was like he was possessed.”

    Rigel looked up sharply at that. “He felt like he was. He said they were like replacing him.”

    “They’ve left him alone?”

    “Since Rigel’s challenge with the staff”, Rita assured their hunter. “Rigel’s tough stuff – they backed off.
    “I think that’s what went wrong before, with the people who built this all -- they tried to control them too tightly. My gut feeling is that they played it the way beginners do at the solitaire game Free Cell on the computer: they work to get aces, then twos, and so on. But in order to win, that has to wait – the first goal really is organization. They were pushing people to slap up the aces, and they lost. Rigel’s working on organization, and if they just leave us alone, they may see what I do a lot with Free Cell: I make a move, and zip! All the cards go up, and I’ve won, when I wasn’t even thinking about winning.”

    Rigel was interested. “So you think that if I just focus on us surviving, and then more, at some point we’ll do what they want, and not realize it?”

    Severe head shaking smashed that notion. “No. No, I think that if you keep going as we are, trying to not just survive but improve things all the time, that one day we’ll run into whatever it is they’ll need done, and realize we have all the pieces, and we just do it.”

    “Or not”, Ryan disagreed. “It depends on what they want.”

    “Good point”, Antonio affirmed. “We may not like what it is, when we find out.”

    Very good point”, Rigel agreed. “And we need to be ready in case of that, too. Besides that, though, I want to set ourselves up so that whichever way we move, whichever way things go, our kids will start off better than we did – and not vanish, like the people we keep finding traces of.”

    “Who are you going to have kids with?” Ryan teased.

    “Every girl in the group”, Rita declared, “if we want our kids to survive. We have too small a gene pool to not preserve every gene we have. And that means Austin, like it or not, has to reproduce, too.”

    Her stark pragmatism make Rigel shudder, chilled in spite of the warm water. He opened his mouth to respond, but realized he had nothing to say.

    “The gene pool will still be too small”, Ryan pointed out. “There will be bad recessives no matter what.”

    “Maybe Lumina can help with that”, Rita countered. “Maybe she can learn to tell if there are bad genetic traits.”

    “Abortion?” Antonio asked. “Tanner will love that!”

    “Not just Tanner”, Ryan said. “Dmitri would be against it, too. Shards, neither of them would go for the ‘mate with everyone’ deal, either!”

    Rigel felt a new understanding of what leaders got called on to do, sometimes. “If that’s what it takes, to survive, then that’s what we do. And if it comes to that, church will bow to state.”


    By the time the evening meal rolled around, Devon and Tanner had the other shelter framed for a roof. Ocean was still making antidotes, and had added some standard mixes to her preparations, though she had taken the time to make the requested tranquilizer. The scouts had narrowed their search for hardwoods down to three candidates, and had brought back a fallen sample of each to test. They also had stacks of arrows – “two gross”, Casey reported, though he didn’t have the fletching on even half of those yet. Food preparation wasn’t doing as well; they had lots of meat drying, but had hardly made a start on vegetables stored for the journey. Oran had Breeze had rigged a stand to try smoking some meat, for variety, but they hadn’t chosen a wood to use.

    Chen interrupted the flow of things by grabbing Rigel before Crystal started dishing up food. “The first kilt”, Chen proclaimed, and insisted Rigel shed his pants and try it on right there.”

    “Looks like one size fits all”, Rigel commented.

    Chen laughed. “Close – but not quite. Your job is to wear it and comment.”

    “Oh, the lord is privileged, but also the guinea pig?” Rigel looked down dubiously at what looked to him like a leather skirt.

    “Think of it as serving your people”, Ryan called, drawing laughter.

    Tanner waited till last to get his supper. He sat off to the side, not looking up. When he finished eating, he went to his bed and lay down on his back.

    Rigel went to Devon. “Get him out working. We need wood, and I’m not wasting his labor.”

    Devon looked worried. “Rigel, you’ve got to cut him some slack. This is hell for him!”

    “We’ve already cut him some slack, and then some more. I’m not going to have him stirring up unrest and disagreement with his small-minded, bigoted idiocy any more: he either cracks and submits, or just cracks. That was the message clear back at the start: you pull with us, or you leave. I’m not changing that now. He’s been pushing, pushing, pushing – well, I’m the stone wall; he either learns to stop pushing, or cracks his head and ends it.”

    The one person allowed to talk to Tanner looked unhappy. “You’ve changed. Where’d this cruel streak come from?”

    Rigel didn’t answer that. “Just get him working. No work – no breakfast.” He spun on his heel and left.

    Breeze was waiting to talk to him. “Lord, we want Tanner out of our hut.”

    Rigel groaned inwardly. “Why?”

    “He was sleeping by the entrance, as sort of a guard. Last night he scooped up his stuff and walked across all ours and set up farthest from the door. During the night he had to take a leak – he crawled across us to get to the exit.”

    “Shit.” Rigel understood it, too: everyone was acting like Tanner wasn’t there, so Tanner was treating his hut-mates like they didn’t exist. “No", he decided, "but anyone who wants to change shelters, can. Or sleep along the side, so he doesn’t have to go across you – and if he goes out of his way to, come wake me.”

    She nodded, looking relieved. “Okay. Crystal was ready to sleep with one of Antonio’s knives.”

    Rigel couldn’t suppress a grin at that. “Tell her she won’t have to – if he needs that, I’ll deal with him.” That made her happy, and she went to tell Crystal. Like I’d fight him, Rigel commented to himself. I’d appoint a champion – like Chen.


    Dmitri took well to being their official Acolyte. With Tanner out of the equation, Rigel’s Christian followers settled down peacefully. Dmitri took over Tanner’s occasional “Bible study”, making it an occasion for each to tell what verses he or she remembered, so what they knew of the Bible wouldn’t be lost. He made it a regular thing, too: Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday – after working out what day it was. Tuesday and Thursday became Bible says, while Sunday was Creed day. To Rigel’s surprise, Dmitri’s odd way of speaking in short not-always-sentences joined with his passion for that ancient statement of faith to impart a love of the words to others. But the better things went there, the worse Tanner was sure to get, Rigel believed.

    Rita had predicted Tanner would hit the anger stage in three days, but it was five. It was triggered by nature: clouds were moving in, the small fluffy high ones becoming larger fluffy high ones and then entire rafts of dark high ones with only occasional spots of sky.

    “We have to have shelter”, Ryan told Chen. “I don’t care if they’re not ready; we’re pulling those hides out of their pool and putting them on one shelter for a roof.”

    “Grass would be better!” Chen protested.

    Ryan pointed at the sky. “Those clouds aren’t going to wait for grass! And the girls are turning the grass we have into doors! Now get those hides!”

    Rigel had his own mission. They just couldn’t roof two huts, so everyone was going to be in the “stone igloo” and the one they could roof. It was going to be crowded as it was, but somehow they had to shelter all of Ocean’s mixes, the scouts’ arrows, the dried meat.... “I don’t care where you’ve been sleeping!” he hollered at Casey. “If you move around in your sleep, you got to the other wall – these racks are going here!” “These racks” were already there, held by Austin and Dmitri, holding drying strips of venison.

    Every few minutes someone felt a drop, and looked up. Ocean told Rigel it was going to be a storm that came slowly, the drops getting thicker and thicker until it was a downpour – unless they got thunder and lightning, in which case “the clouds could unzip and everything will hit us!” Tanner was swearing, not under his breath but without restraint. Rigel wanted to call him on it, but that would have broken the shunning, so he just kept alert.

    Things went smoothly until Casey grabbed Tanner’s stuff to move it to the hut that was getting a hide roof. “I’m staying here!” Tanner roared. “I’m not sleeping with people who hate me!”

    Casey didn’t know whether to answer him, or what. Rigel wasn’t in sight, nor was Ryan. He decided the only way to keep from talking to Tanner was to just drop the stuff, and leave. That might have been fine, except just as he did, Tanner intercepted Melanie, who was carrying a rolled wet hide to Devon for making a roof. Tanner grabbed it, and in the process knocked her down.

    Casey went cold inside. He looked to be sure she was okay, then gabbed the hide and pulled. Tanner swung, but Casey ducked faster.

    “Let me have that, you runt!” Tanner yelled. At that moment Melanie, back on her feet, grabbed at the hide, too. The fist Tanner meant for Casey hit her and sent her sprawling.

    “You may be big, but you can’t knock girls around!” Casey yelled, kicking and hitting Tanner’s left shin. “You apologize! And give her that hide back!”

    Tanner dropped the hide and swung again. Casey didn’t duck fast enough, and the huge right fist caught him in the shoulder. His grip on the hide kept him from going down. He lashed out in turn, a straight punch that went astray as Casey slipped and caught Tanner on the hip. Casey’s leading knuckle caught a pocket, ripping it off Tanner’s pants.

    Tanner was red with rage “God damn you, you fucking little piece of shit!” he yelled. This time his fist connected, and Casey went down.

    Oran’s dart hit Tanner in the gut. Confused by the pain, Tanner grabbed at the spot. He looked up and saw Oran’s cold anger. His own anger began to drain away, replaced by confusion. Oran’s next dart sank home in Tanner’s left thigh. Tanner looked down, and dropped to the ground.

    It wasn’t the tranquilizers, though, they weren’t that fast. Casey’s face was a mess, the boy whimpering in pain. His left arm had somehow gotten trapped under the rolled hide, and as Casey tried to sit, it twisted at an unnatural angle. Tanner’s face became a mask of horror.

    “Oh, God, Casey! Oh, God, Oh, God, Oh, God! Oh, God, what did I do?! Oh, God, Casey, don’t be hurt, please don’t be hurt!” He saw the arm, then, and gently, incredibly gently, lifted the hide and then tossed it away with one hand like it weighed nothing. He tried brushing blood off Casey’s face, but that did no good.

    Anaph and Lumina arrived together. From Casey’s point of view, they looked like a god and goddess with angry clouds behind, and thunder marking their arrival. He wanted to tell them something, he wanted to tell Tanner something, but his mouth wouldn’t work.

    Rigel heard the ruckus but didn’t dare set down his end of the plank with half of Ocean’s gear on it. Get on it, Ryan! he thought, wishing his friend to hear.

    Ryan had Dmitri on his shoulders when Tanner’s curse rocked the air. “Hang that hide and get down!” he yelled. Chen yelled back, “Get it right!” Dmitri tossed it up, flipping the edges approximately where they belonged, then thumped the top of Ryan’s head, the signal for “down”.

    “Tanner Tallman, do not move.” Anaph’s voice sounded like a god, Casey thought as he drifted in front of a red wave in his head. “Shelter him from the rain.” For his part, Anaph set himself windward of the two. His cloak spread to keep off wind and rain from that direction.

    When Ryan arrived, furious and bearing a limb for a makeshift staff, Anaph blocked him with his far more substantial staff. “Bide, lord”, Anaph said in a tone that chilled Ryan.

    Lumina knelt. Rain came over her shoulder and fell on Casey’s face, rain joined by a steady stream of tears from Tanner. She brushed a finger across the fallen squire’s cheek; in its path blood washed away, flowing with rain and tears. Lightly she set one palm to each side of his head. “Casey, do you hear me?”

    Casey knew his mouth wasn’t working, but he thought back at her hard: Yes. Maybe she was telepathic, maybe he actually made a sound; either way, the Healer heard him.

    “Good. Stay awake. Your nose is broken, and so is your jaw. Stay still – I’m going to check your arm.” He tried to hold his breath, but that didn’t work; he stayed as still as he could. Lumina’s left hand drifted – Casey swore later it looked like it was floating on a current, not moving like a human would – over to his left arm and down the length. Despite himself, Casey turned – tried to turn – to look. That hurt, and he screamed.

    Rigel arrived to see this tableau, Lumina’s hand reaching Casey’s lower arm, just in time for that scream. He moved to grab Tanner, but Anaph stopped him. Anger pushed him forward, but at just a touch of Anaph’s staff he found he couldn’t move any more. The Druid’s eyes, when he made contact, conveyed the message to think first. Rigel waited, seething, angry at himself for not handling it better, for letting things come to this.

    “Casey”, Lumina said softly, “your arm is broken in two places. If nothing else hurts, wiggle a foot.” His feet were behind her, so that seemed silly, but he managed to wiggle his right one, anyway. “Good. Now remember where it hurts, and remember not to move – I’m going to turn down the volume on the pain.”

    To those watching, that’s what it looked like, too: her torc glowed its silvery light, she held her right hand in front of Casey’s forehead, rested her left against the side of his head, and turned the right one like she was turning a dial. Casey sighed, relaxing muscles held tense.

    Lumina looked up. “Lord Rigel, your man is injured. A stretcher won’t do – we need a backboard.” Rigel’s mind raced, but he couldn’t think of anything that would serve.

    Chen, though, could. “There’s that split log past the second Y in the trail–“

    “I know it”, Oran said. “We need an axe.”

    “And someone to help”, Rita offered. Rigel looked at her and shook his head; he wanted her here.

    “Austin, go with them”, he ordered. He knelt beside Lumina. “How bad is it?”

    Not here, she mouthed. Rigel took that to mean it was bad. “He’ll rest better if we get him out of the rain. I’ll check again when he’s warm and dry.” Rigel nodded, knowing that was all he’d get.

    Then he looked around. “If any of you have things to finish, go do them. If you don’t, go help the ones who do.” Everyone melted away but him, Ryan, Anaph, and Lumina. “Ryan, if that roof isn’t finished, go help – please.” Ryan opened his mouth to protest; it was a look from Anaph that sent him on his way.

    While they waited, Anaph fumbled in a pouch at his belt. He pulled out an acorn, bent and placed it in Casey’s right hand. Casey closed it reflexively, opening one eye briefly to look up at Anaph. Then the Druid reached up and plucked a deep green oak leaf from the top of his staff (Now where did that come from?! Rigel asked the universe.) and set it on Casey’s chest, over the squire’s heart.

    Lumina looked up at Anaph and smiled. “There is no magic”, she whispered.

    “There is only Life”, he whispered back, in agreement.

    It was a cold and anxious near-half-hour before the trio returned with their plank from the split log. In that whole time, Tanner’s only movement was the heave of shoulders, weeping silently. Devon came to report that the hides were on, but that to keep them that way they were moving the second roof frame over to sit on top of the first. Ocean arrived to report all her gear was safe, and to dribble something like syrup under Casey’s nose; as he breathed it in, he relaxed more. Everyone else, even Ryan, stayed away – being smart and staying out of the rain, or being smart and staying away; Rigel didn’t care. He did hope someone was getting fires going, so people could dry out.

    Austin was apologetic. “It’s got a little curve, Healer”, he informed her when he, Oran, and Chen slid their plank down beside Casey. Lumina looked at it, seeing that he didn’t mean the natural curve of the tree trunk, but a concave curve from end to end.

    “It’s just right”, she assured them all. “Now – we need to lift him and set him down so nothing moves.”

    “Lift, and slide the board under him”, Rigel ordered. It was easy: Lumina took Casey’s head, Anaph his broken arm, Rigel his upper body, Chen his waist, and Oran his legs. Rigel looked at Tanner, knowing in some strange way that Casey’s attacker would put the board in place.

    “Don’t lift with his arms”, Ocean told them. “Just keep them even with his body. Lift like it’s slow motion.” She took his feet. Lumina counted. “Three... two... one... up... slow.... slow... now the board.” When it got close enough, Ocean held Casey’s feet with one hand and with the other set a rolled sleeping hide on one end of the board and gave it a push.

    Tanner didn’t make a sound, and he didn’t look up. He was swaying, and Rigel realized that Ocean’s tranquilizer was getting to him. But the board got pushed over, carefully, and Casey got set down, with just a momentary pause to tug the sleeping hide smooth before letting his full weight on it.

    Chen and Oran picked up the backboard and looked to Lumina for instructions. She led them away.

    Rigel looked at Tanner. He reached out to grab a shoulder, but at the first touch the big guy tumbled sideways and fell stretched out on the ground – snoring.

    Ocean giggled. “I’m sorry, lord Rigel. I guess it wasn’t strong enough.”

    “I think it was”, Anaph disagreed. “But his adrenaline was flowing. Now, lord, what do you wish done?”

    Rigel looked at his problematic .... subject? with annoyance. “Let’s just put him somewhere to sleep. I’ll talk with Dmitri about it – this is really his problem.” And with Chen, he added mentally.


    “If he is repentant, we forgive.” Dmitri saw it in terms as black and white as Tanner’s, just in a different paradigm.

    “I think he’s repentant”, Chen offered. “He was crying over Casey when I got there, when I left for the plank, and when I got back.”

    “He may be sorry for what happened. He may not be sorry for his anger.”

    Rigel made a half-smile, on the left side of his mouth. “You sound like a priest.”

    “Actually there are two questions here”, Ryan interjected. “The sin situation, which is Dmitri’s thing, and the assault, which is yours, Rigel.”

    “Yeah, I know”, Rigel responded softly. “And if he’s repentant, I may cut him some slack.”

    “Can’t”, Chen asserted. “A crime is a crime, the punishment is the punishment. You can’t tie government to the church, at all.”

    Rigel took a bit to think that through. “Okay – so if he’s repentant on Dmitri’s part, that can’t change my decision. But if he’s repentant in cou– um, with me, then it can.”

    Chen grinned. “Go ahead and say it, lord – ‘in court’. You’re the lord, and you hold court.”

    “I don’t want to be judge and jury!”

    “Do you have a choice?” Ryan asked. “Who’s going to be impartial on a jury? Even a jury of six!”

    “Not me”, Chen said. “Or anyone from the stone hut.”

    “Lumina”, Rigel claimed. “Anaph. Devon. Rita.” He stopped –was Ryan right? “Ocean.” There had to be one more.... “And Crystal.”

    Ryan laughed out loud. “Crystal? She wants him in her pants!”

    “So, she’s not biased against him”, Rigel argued.

    “If you want, you could do that”, said Ryan “You’re the lord.”

    “I could join the jury and make you the judge”, Rigel responded.

    Ryan shook his head. “Wouldn’t work – you’re the masterful leader of this heroic band, and everyone knows it. Make me the bailiff, if you want me in on this, but you’re the judge. And you know it, too.”

    Rigel wanted to kick his friend. “Okay, I do know it. So we’ll do it my way. I named a jury, and that’s that.”


    “Rigel?” Breeze tapped him on the shoulder. “Ocean says to come”, she said quietly. “Casey’s hypotheric.”

    “Hypothermic”, Rigel corrected. “Isn’t he in this hut?”

    “Yes, but she wants quiet – many are sleeping.”

    Ocean got straight to the point. “He needs heat from a human body. We can’t make a fire in this hut. You don’t toss in your sleep, so you’re nominated.”

    “He tosses and turns”, Rigel pointed out.

    She shook her head, and held up a small packet. “Not tonight, he won’t. He drank some hot tea for me, and this was in it – your tranquilizer. That was a good thing you asked for! Chen made an improvised splint, but nit’s not very good, so Casey has to stay very, very still.
    “And you’ll be warm – Chen brought the two latest deer hides ready to be worked on. They smell a little like sour brains, but they’re clean, soft, and warm.”

    “What about on the other side of him?” Rigel questioned. “Wouldn’t two people be better?”

    “Rita’s going to sleep here, too. She doesn’t toss and turn – she’s better for this than you are, because she can sleep in most any position, and just stays there.”

    “Okay. We move the board to where I sleep – the whole arrangement here is built around where I sleep.” It occurred to Rigel that summer camp had been the same way: everyone in the cabin arranged themselves based on where one important person chose to sleep. Ryan helped, slipping out of his sleeping hide in bare skin, which Rigel, Ocean, and Rita, just arriving, took time to admire.

    They stacked up uncured hides to raise Rigel and Rita to the same level as the board. Those had their own smell, but it allowed them to be covered by one big hide that trapped their body heat in with Casey. Cold skin made Rigel shiver at the touch; he’d never felt anyone with skin so cold. Dutifully, he scooted close to give Casey as much direct warmth as he could. Rigel, organic bedwarmer, he joked to himself. The leg he draped over Casey’s right leg met Rita’s draped over the left.

    “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?” he whispered, reaching out to stroke her leg.

    “Wishing the two men in the bed were up and able”, she whispered back.

    “Tease!” he accused.

    “Just doing my best to raise the heat level”, she countered.

    Rigel laughed quietly: the touch of her skin and her tease had him hard, and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it “You are cruel”, he charged.

    “Raised your temperature, did I?” she asked.

    “Not just my temperature, girl. It’s going to take forever to get to sleep, now.”

    Rita chuckled. “You could get Ocean to give you some of that sleepy-maker tea.”

    “Or ask me to help you out”, came Ryan’s voice from beyond Rita.

    “And what would you do with your magnificent tool?” Rita asked him.

    “Well, if I’m taking care of Rigel, I guess you’d have to take care of me.”

    Rita was silent for quite a while. “All right, but hands only.”

    “That’ll leave a wet spot”, Ryan pointed out.

    “Maybe this isn’t a good idea”, Rigel suggested. “We’re here for Casey, remember.”

    Ryan sighed. “Always the eye for duty. That’s why you’re the lord.”

    “So are you”, Rita whispered.

    Ryan made a rude sound. “Only ‘cause no one wants to call me Lady Ryan for taking care of Rigel.”

    Rita snickered into her hand. “Not many actually know, Rye. It’s just that no one was going to call you ‘lord’ while you and Rigel were at odds.”

    “Whatever. I’m a courtesy lord – Rigel’s in charge.”

    “The lord in charge says shut up and go to sleep.” Rigel counted more than three giggles, snickers, or chuckles at that: they’d had listeners. Oh, well....

    When Ocean awakened him for help giving Casey some more tea – antibiotic, antioxidant, sleepy-making, she said – Rigel breathed in relief to feel Casey warmer. The wounded squire was still cool, but a lot closer to normal, enough that his lord was confident he’d be warm by morning.


    It rained for a day and a half. The rain wasn’t cold at all after the first night. Tanner sat miserably in the “lords’ hut”, “jailed” by a line Rigel drew in the dirt. He couldn’t bear to look at Casey, especially once most of the others stripped and played in the hot springs in the rain, something Casey would have loved. He broke down and cried, not stopping for over two-thirds of an hour, when all the other Christians in the group came in with Dmitri, who laid hands on Casey and led them in prayer.

    When the sun came out in midafternoon, Rigel set everyone to cleaning up. During the storm, Ocean had remembered some plants with giant leaves growing right out of the ground, so he sent her with Chen, Oran, and Dmitri to bring back as much as they could carry, because Ocean had convinced Devon they could be used as roofing. Since with Casey hurting they wouldn’t be moving for a while, they needed something permanent, not hides thrown on in a hurry.

    He worried about Casey. Lumina’s report had sounded grim: “His nose is broken. His jaw is broken in two places. His left lower arm is broken. And he has a concussion.” None of them had wanted to believe that Tanner had swung that hard, but Lumina was their expert.

    She’d relieved some of the concussion problems, and healed the cuts on his face, the night of the assault. The next day she took care of the internal tissue damage on his face and arm. “I can’t do bones”, she’d confessed, so they’d turned to Anaph. “I can strengthen them once they start to heal, but I cannot make them heal”, he’d explained. But Casey’s eyes remained sensitive to the light, and his headaches barely submitted to Ocean’s herbs.

    So they buried themselves in work, having done what they could for Tanner’s victim. Once a row of Ocean’s giant leaves was tied onto the roof frame, enthusiasm rose enough that all but Casey, Lumina, and Chen – who drew the short straw to remain as guard – trooped out to haul in more. Even Tanner went, on temporary parole dependent on good behavior. After three trips, Devon called it enough for the roof. Anaph had helped there, calling on his Druid skill to command the leaves to fit snugly, even to join where the torn parts touched. “It looks like a green tile roof”, Austin had said when it was finished.

    Even with the other work, Chen was turning out a kilt each day. His guinea pigs talked each evening about how they wore, and made suggestions. The day the hut roof was finished, Chen didn’t complete a new kilt; he was altering all the existing ones to change they way they hooked at the waist, and putting on belt loops as well.

    But they had two dozen poison arrows coated with Ocean’s milk-sap crystals. Rigel had gone along for the test: Chen and Oran deliberately tracked down a herd of gurvenpigs. Chen and Rigel had climbed a tree, Oran taunted the pigs and ran like a banshee, launching himself into the lower limbs a bit under two meters ahead of the stampede. As the herd swarmed around the tree, the two scouts had calmly sent poisoned arrows into pig after pig. None stayed on its feet even two seconds after hit. It worked so well that Rigel, who looked at himself as possibly the worst archer in the bunch, used Casey’s borrowed bow and killed three himself.

    They also had antidotes for every poisonous thing Ocean, Crystal, and Anaph knew of. Besides that, Ocean and Breeze had dozens of packets ready to drop in hot water for headache, insomnia, runny nose, and diarrhea – at least they thought the one for diarrhea would work; as Oran had said, “Who do you think’s gonna volunteer to get the squirts so you can test it?”

    After dinner the day the hut roof was finished, Rigel held court in the gazebo. Dmitri had talked with Tanner, but as they’d agreed, he said nothing to Rigel. Nervous about the whole thing, but determined, Rigel appointed his jury, made Ryan the bailiff, named Rita as “court deputy” for administering oaths. Then he found all his worrying and effort hadn’t quite been necessary: when he asked Tanner if he had anything to say, the reply had been simply, “Guilty, your honor.” Since he didn’t want to waste the jury, Rigel assigned them two tasks: hearing Tanner’s statement and deciding if they thought he was repentant and deserved any mercy, and, secretly, each one deciding what sentence he or she though appropriate.

    As lord, he was still left with the task of assigning that sentence, though. He took a recess to talk to Rita about the suggested sentences.

    “I rule out breaking his jaw and arm, also just making him take care of Casey till the kid’s better”, she said right off. “The first is stupid, the second insufficient.”

    “Okay. But he takes care of Casey, anyway.” Rigel grinned wickedly. “I wonder if our juror who recommended ‘forty minus one’ lashes wold be willing to carry out that sentence?”

    Rita’s smile was a bit sick in response. “Never underestimate the perversity of human nature”, she said. “Besides – if you choose that, you have a bailiff to take care of the duty. Now, I like the one who said fasting for three days followed by a public apology.”

    “A public apology with his face in the dirt kissing Casey’s feet, was the rest of it”, Rigel pointed out.

    “Yes, well, if he wants to kiss Casey’s feet, they can get a room.” Rita smirked.

    “Okay, fasting yes, feet-kissing, no. What about latrine duty for a month?”

    Rita shook her head. “We’re not going to be here a month. Two weeks?”

    Rigel considered. “Every other day for two weeks. Frak, I wanted to be out of here before that!”

    “Well, what is, is. Ast one – put him in stocks from dinner till breakfast. Imaginative, but labor-intensive and unsafe.”

    Rigel chuckled at that. “Aren’t you glad you don’t know who made what suggestion?”

    “Actually, yes. It’s bad enough knowing that anyone at all made some of these.”

    “Yeah, I get that. Okay: I’m gonna make it take care of Casey till he’s better; one lash for each of Casey’s wounds – let Lumina tell us how many; three days of fasting and a public apology; and latrine duty every other day for two weeks.”

    Tanner heard the sentence and nodded. His only comment was, “That’s merciful.” Lumina declared there had been six wounds – and since no one else could see inside Casey’s body, who could argue?

    “Lord, may I surrender the whip to another?” Ryan asked.

    Rigel hadn’t anticipated that. “Who to?”

    “To one with whom Casey is bonded.” The two friends looked at each other briefly, Ryan willing Rigel to follow his reasoning, Rigel working on that.

    Rigel stood. “The interest of this court is justice. But justice includes satisfaction. If one bonded to the victim wishes to strike these blows, let him or her come forward.”

    As Rigel had expected, Dmitri came forward. He looked at Tanner. “The Lord has forgiven you, and I forgive you. But my girl – Casey’s and mine – requires of me to hit you. You hurt our Casey, now I will hurt you, to balance things.” Tanner nodded, and turned his back; he was already shirtless. Dmitri struck hard, cutting deep with the whip Chen had improvised.

    After the fourth lash, he stopped. “Melanie”, he called softly, “I don’t want to more.”

    “Okay”, she replied. So Dmitri gave the whip back to Ryan; at Rigel’s nod, Ryan gave two more lashes, putting his back into it.

    “Lumina, leave him for now”, he directed. “Tanner, you work the rest of the evening just like that.”

    Tanner bit his lip. “I understand, lord Rigel.”



    Fifteen days later they moved out once again. All wore kilts with belts and pouches; the squires, hunters, and scouts had full greaves to the knee and front on the thigh They had arrows in abundance, two weeks’ worth of vegetables, five days’ worth of fruit, five weeks worth of pemmican, and two months’ worth of meat. Casey’s wore a sling on his arm and a rig of sticks and straps to keep his jaw immobile. The two saw-edged blades were sharp, ready at need. Devon pulled a travois with a kit for setting up a hut of limbs and leaves, which he and Dmitri had shown they could do in under fifteen minutes.

    In the middle of the column, Tanner carried his gear and Casey’s, and Casey rode on his shoulders.




    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  16. #216
    In Loving Memory Lefty's Avatar
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Interesting...well seasoned...provocative

    your public will be even more avid now

  17. #217
    HUGS! ;-)
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    Re: Fit for Life

    AWESOME!!!

    I need say no more at the moment ...

    Other than ...

    Keep smilin'!!
    Chaz

    (But, you are engendering "thoughts" ... )
    WISDOM is the Knowledge you've gained ... After you could have used it! _Me

  18. #218
    Bammer's Papa
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by Lefty View Post
    Interesting...well seasoned...provocative

    your public will be even more avid now
    You just like whips.


    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  19. #219
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Kuli,
    That was certainly a BIG installment, lol.
    I had to copy/paste into my e-mail and send it to myself so I could "borrow" some time to be able to read it before tonight.

    Thought provoking.
    An interesting way of dealing with their stick-in-the-mud evangelist.
    Shun till he breaks, then watch out.
    It's too bad that Casey was so badly hurt in to explosion, but it looks as though some good may have come from it. We can hope. You can tell - as you reveal through the story, of course.

    Your world is not Utopia, certainly. They have to work to survive, and are trying their best to react to the circumstances they find themselves in, including the small gene pool. You are crafting a tale of a civilization that is the best it can try to be; the most tolerant of religious and philosophical differences, and as fair and unbiased in its judiary as possible, too.

    I continue to enjoy your wordcraft.
    I know you've said that your OCD is linked to finding out what happens with the story, but we are deeply greatful for your continued efforts, and the energies and time you are investing in this monumental saga.

    In a rustic, much more simple way, it reminds me a bit of George RR Martin's epic saga (I don't have the name of the series, it's my sons). He has left his audience waiting for the next installment for several years now.

    Thank you for not doing the same to us. lol


    And I know, if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest . . .

  20. #220
    Bammer's Papa
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by DonQuixote View Post
    Kuli,
    That was certainly a BIG installment, lol.
    I had to copy/paste into my e-mail and send it to myself so I could "borrow" some time to be able to read it before tonight.

    Thought provoking.
    An interesting way of dealing with their stick-in-the-mud evangelist.
    Shun till he breaks, then watch out.
    It's too bad that Casey was so badly hurt in to explosion, but it looks as though some good may have come from it. We can hope. You can tell - as you reveal through the story, of course.

    Your world is not Utopia, certainly. They have to work to survive, and are trying their best to react to the circumstances they find themselves in, including the small gene pool. You are crafting a tale of a civilization that is the best it can try to be; the most tolerant of religious and philosophical differences, and as fair and unbiased in its judiary as possible, too.

    I continue to enjoy your wordcraft.
    I know you've said that your OCD is linked to finding out what happens with the story, but we are deeply greatful for your continued efforts, and the energies and time you are investing in this monumental saga.

    In a rustic, much more simple way, it reminds me a bit of George RR Martin's epic saga (I don't have the name of the series, it's my sons). He has left his audience waiting for the next installment for several years now.

    Thank you for not doing the same to us. lol
    I couldn't handle waiting that long to see what happens next.

    This next installment is interesting in that I had only a vague sketch of where it was going -- until the first paragraph was down. Suddenly I saw it all.....

    If the last one was long, this next should be a relief. It's got a touch of cliff-hanger, but I knew that from the moment that first paragraph revealed the vision. This installment may be a touch rougher than most, BTW; I have a two-hour drive to make and I wanted to get it to you guys -- and get it off my brain so I can use the two hours to mentally compose (doesn't always work; would help if I had dictation equipment).

    As usual -- enjoy!

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  21. #221
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Ridge


    Three cats waited for them as they emerged from the forest onto a long rocky ridge that ran north by northwest, almost exactly the direction they wanted to go. From his perch on Tanner’s shoulders, and with his improving scout’s eyesight, Casey recognized a friend. “Cat! Cat!” he yelled, though the words were distorted by the device holding his jaw together.

    At the sound of Casey’s voice, the great beast he thought of as a friend came loping down the slope. As Rigel watched it draw near, it dawned on him that the big cats which had befriended them might be a different species than the ones they fought and killed: there was the same mane of quills, but the quills were shorter and intermingled with fur; the head was elongated though not as much. The colors seemed to him different as well; the ones he remembered attacking and being killed by the group had been tawny with irregular spots and streaks, but these were darker, redder in their basic color, and streaks dominated spots – or smudges – in a much more regular pattern Cat himself had a band of almost gray along his spine, an interesting contrast to the rest of his color, and his head was nearly black, the patterns on it a red-black so dark as to be indistinguishable except from up close.

    Cat looped around the back of the column and lazily trotted to catch up with Casey. Once there, he reared up and walked on his back legs for two paces, as though to see if his human was all right.

    “I okay”, Casey assured the beast. Comparing the two, Rigel guessed the cat massed more than two-thirds what the squire did. Momentarily he pictured Tanner’s attack on Casey as it might have been with Cat present.

    Ryan noticed his shudder. “They make you nervous?” he asked with a grin.

    “Not really. I just had a picture of Tanner attacking Casey – and Cat coming to the rescue.”

    “Whoa – yeah, shuddersville for sure. Those two sure wouldn’t be getting along as well as they are now.”

    Rigel nodded, thinking about the change in Tanner. It seemed that his own rage bursting forth, out of control, and harming someone he liked, had more than made him sorry, it had made him terrified of who he really was inside. Suddenly he was able to picture himself as what Rigel had told him: hateful, arrogant, unloving, because he’d shown himself quite plainly that he really was. He’d dived into learning the liturgy Dmitri remembered, and had fallen in love with the Lutheran prayer of confession Oran had recited for them all – and wept over the bit of Luther’s explanation of the Creed, where he said, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel....” Embracing that made a huge change for someone who’d been so sure of himself, confident in his “accepting Jesus”, proud of his rightness, arrogant in his righteousness. Now he appeared to Rigel like he thought a saint might be: quiet, kind, helpful, generous, at peace with the world, patient, dependable, willing to listen.... Rita was concerned there might be a relapse, that this might be temporary, but as he watched the bond between attacker and victim grow and deepen, Rigel doubted it more and more. She wasn’t privy to the tears Tanner shed almost nightly over his inability to ease Casey’s agony; she didn’t know about how determinedly Tanner now sought advice and counsel from Dmitri, Rigel, Chen, and even Oran.

    Oran had been a surprise, too. He’d never mentioned that he had been confirmed Lutheran, except to Chen – those two knew everything about each other, Rigel was sure. The deep friendship which had sprouted from being thrown together in the search for water had strengthened steadily. Chen’s ability to break down questions into simple pieces had helped Tanner, but Oran always seemed to have a perfect piece of wisdom to quote from Luther’s Large Catechism – and they were always pieces that turned Tanner’s triumphant, conquering version of Christianity on its head.

    In fact it had been Oran’s recitations which inspired Tanner to wood carving. He’d made Oran not just a cross, but a crucifix, an effort that to Rigel symbolized his new understanding that victory isn’t found in bashing heads, but in service even to death. Thought of that crucifix brought a smile to Rigel’s lips: Tanner had meant it to be worn, but in his effort to get detail right he’d ended up with something big enough for the altar in a cathedral – well, a small cathedral, Rigel amended to himself. When he apologized to Oran, Oran suggested giving it to Dmitri as their official cross. Now it appeared at every gathering of the group’s Christians. Rigel even found himself growing a bit fond of it, with its off-center crosspiece and strangely proportioned Jesus, whose hands looked big enough any National Basketball Association player would be envious, and a crown of thorns out of an outré science fiction movie.

    Under Oran’s tutelage, Tanner had turned the old question, “What Would Jesus Do?” from the tool of the self-righteous that it often was into a searchlight on his own heart. That searching of his own heart, more than anything, gave Rigel to agree with Chen and Dmitri that Tanner had indeed changed. Before, he’d looked at himself as conforming to some image of a saintly Christian, and from that perspective judged the world; now, he cared little how others behaved, and looked inside, striving to make himself a servant who cared for everyone without hesitation.

    Watching Tanner, Rigel had begun praying nightly, something he hadn’t done for years. At first, it was prayer for Casey. Then he started praying for Tanner, too, because he wanted this change to last. Dmitri came next, as Rigel saw him struggling with an office he didn’t want, striving to do it well, and begged for divine assistance in that effort. He found himself praying for his scouts, out daily among danger, and then his squires, and Ocean, and Lumina....

    All in all, he thought that through this crisis he’d become a better leader, and the group had perhaps at last achieved a balance – no, a dynamic equilibrium, like in ecology, that would keep them together and strong. They were a team now as they never had been before – and if for no other reason, that one was sufficient that he needed Tanner to succeed.

    Anaph moved up to walk with Rigel. “It’s the same three cats”, he said. “They’ve definitely left their territory.”

    “You’re sure they’re territorial?” Rigel asked.

    “Absolutely – it colors all their thoughts. They think in terms of ‘our places to roam’ and ‘everything else’. If it’s not part of their places to roam, it’s all the same. It could be on the moon, for all they care.”

    “So what are these doing?”

    Anaph grinned. “Want my guess?”

    “Sure – entertain me.”

    “They’ve adopted us as their pack.”

    That concept took Rigel aback a moment. “Looks to me like Cat adopted Casey and the others came along.” Rigel pointed to where Cat was loping along, occasionally bounding high beside Tanner.

    Ryan chimed in. “He wasn’t like that, before. I think it means Rigel is right – they were just helping, before. Now Cat is feeling uncertain about cutting old ties to come with us, so he’s making sure his contact here is solid.”

    “What about the other two?” inquired Rigel.

    “Females”, Anaph and Ryan said together. Ryan bowed to the Druid and motioned for him to go on. “Cat isn’t going to go without his kind. He’s Casey’s friend, but he’s still a cat. He’s got females so he can have a family.”

    Ryan nodded. “I’d say it means the other cats sent him off with approval. He didn’t fight to get those girl cats, so they were a gift.”

    Something bugged Rigel. “Anaph, when you talked to the cats before, it sounded like females were in charge.”

    “They were”, Anaph agreed. “This is different.”

    “Different how?”

    “The male’s in charge.”

    Rigel laughed at that. “Okay, I meant ‘why’?”

    “I think”, Ryan began, “it may have to do with the situation. When they’re settled and have a defined territory, the females are in charge – kind of like in a lot of human homes, where the mom is in charge of the home. But Cat is roaming. Now nurturing isn’t the primary function, survival is. The male cats aren’t as big – well, Cal is almost as big as a female! – but they’re fast, deadly machines who can run or fight well. The females are slower. Wandering, it has to be the fighter in charge.”

    That made sense to Rigel. “So they’re with us now, permanently?”

    “If Cat jumping like that by Casey means what I think it does, yes”, Ryan answered. “And that means for their sake we need to have a place to stay the winter at least before their mating season hits.”

    “If they have a mating season”, Rigel pointed out.

    “They do, but not like....” Anaph searched for a word.

    “Rut? In heat?” Ryan ventured.

    “Right – thanks. They have a mating season, when the female is fertile, but it’s pretty long. There’s no strong compulsion to mate, just an awareness that “this is the time’.” Anaph watched the two females as they loped back and forth between the scouts and the column. “I think if they wait too long, it will get urgent, but I’m not sure”, he concluded.

    “Well, if we wait too long it will get urgent, too”, Rigel pointed out. “We’ve had frost, a real storm, and some showers. We’ve been darned lucky to have had all this good weather.” And how many people did they Snatch, who didn’t get good weather, and died because of it? or do they even care?

    Anaph nodded. “Perhaps the gathering place will serve for winter shelter.”


    The view from the stony ridge was fantastic. They watched the moon do its disturbingly slow crawl across the sky. Ryan confirmed his original estimate that the disk it shows was almost twice that of their own moon. “But it’s a lot closer”, he explained, so it’s actually smaller.” That explanation came with lines drawn in s sandy bare path along the ridge the night after they’d started trending downward again. “It’s darned close to a geosynchronous orbit – that’s how close it is”, he said. “That’s really weird, but it is what it is. And its apparent orbit is thirty-six days..”

    “Ten times a year”, Crystal commented. “Neat.”

    Ryan had to shake his head. “We don’t know how long the year here is. I haven’t been watching the stars as long as Antonio, darn it, but from what I’ve seen, I think the year is between three hundred and four hundred days.”

    “Longer, I hope”, Ocean stated. “Longer would mean we have more time until winter.”

    “Shouldn’t we go south, to avoid winter?” Breeze asked Rigel.

    “It wouldn’t work”, he replied, shaking his head and shifting uncomfortably on his rock seat. “The Snatcher wants us west. It made us new bodies, I’m sure it could start grass fires and stampedes and whatever to get us going the way it wants.”

    “But we’re not going west now!” Crystal protested.

    “We are, a little”, Ryan pointed out. “And we’re also going places that are helping us survive. South would be a total gamble, now. By coming this way we’ve gotten axes, little swords, and other things.”

    “Like a Healer”, Ocean noted. “Were we maneuvered to Torc Falls?”

    “‘Torc Falls’?” Rigel repeated. “We found axes, too – why not ‘Axe Falls’?”

    “The torcs were more important. Without a Healer....” She didn’t have to say “four of us would be dead”; everyone knew it.

    “Okay, Torc Falls”, Rigel agreed. “Maybe we were maneuvered there. It didn’t take much maneuvering to get us to the hot springs, though. Or to come here.”

    “Doesn’t mean this isn’t where they want us”, Ryan reminded his friend.

    “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you?” Rigel grinned.

    “More like just because they’re out to get you doesn’t mean you can’t be paranoid”, Rita said. “They are out to get us, and just because we’re going a certain direction without being pushed around doesn’t mean it isn’t the way they want us to go.”

    “That sounds paranoid”, Chen teased.

    “Let it”, she retorted. “Rigel, think about this: Anaph got a staff and that amulet and we got a Druid. Lumina got a torc and we got a Healer. Ocean got a torc and we got an herbalist. Chen and Oran, and now Casey, didn’t get any badges of office but they’re gaining eyesight and other enhancements for being scouts.
    “When do we run across a wonderful bow to make Antonio the ultimate hunter? And when do we find something that will mark you and make you an awe-inspiring lord?”

    Expressions from amusement to anxiety lit faces of those who’d heard her. Chen merely looked interested. “Or maybe there’s enough of this stuff laying around from one of their failures that they don’t have to steer us”, he suggested. “Maybe if we’d gotten to the lake we would have found an amulet that would have worked to make Lumina a Healer. Maybe they aren’t guiding us to certain things; maybe they’re making use of things we stumble on.”

    “Or maybe”, Oran countered with a mischievous look and tone, “magic is loose in the world and we’ll find things like that everywhere!”

    “There is no magic”, Anaph said.

    “Then what’s Lumina’s torc?!”

    “A focus for the manipulation of life energies.”

    “Magic”, Oran asserted.

    “‘Any sufficiently advanced technology will be indistinguishable from magic’”. Rita quoted. Ryan joined in on the word “technology” and finished with her. “The torc, the amulet, the staff, they could all be instances of advanced technology we’re just clueless about.”

    “So if it’s technology, doesn’t that mean the things were there, and we got steered?” Ocean asked.

    “Maybe”, Chen told her. “But maybe not. If they can build new bodies for us out here in the middle of nowhere, what’s to keep them from changing something from a distance?”

    “Then why couldn’t they just drop us where they want us, instead of all this wandering?” Oran demanded. “Is this a test? do we need to build up resources? or did they just fuck up?”

    “Or all three”, Ryan responded. “We don’t have any way to tell.”

    Rigel scowled. “I hate feeling used. I know one thing: we go at our pace. If I think we’re being manipulated, I’m going to want a darned good reason. Now, everybody, one last stare at the moon, then to bed.”


    In the morning Anaph checked on Casey, as usual. His face glowed. “The arm is healed enough that I can strengthen the bone, Rigel! The lower break in the jaw... tomorrow, I think.”

    Casey was thrilled. “Get thing off?” he asked, limiting his words dutifully. After his yells of greeting to Cat, Ocean had chewed him out royally for wiggling his jaw.

    “The sling, you mean? Well, when I make the bones stronger, they can heal faster”, Anaph explained. “Three days, probably.”

    “Woot!” Casey hollered. It sound more like “Oot!’, since he couldn’t move his jaw.

    “Keep doing that and I won’t be able to strengthen that jaw”, Anaph admonished.


    That evening Lumina was furious. “First you yell at your cat! Then you try to talk! And you yell words that twist your jaw! Well, you cracked it again, just where it was starting to heal.” Casey knew he’d done something bad; she was there because he’d complained of dull pain. “Somehow it’s infected again. Now when I take care of that, you’re not going to talk, or wiggle, until those bones are healed enough for Anaph to make stronger – do you understand me?”

    Casey nodded, carefully.

    “All right then.” She placed her hands on either side of his jaw. The torc glowed just a moment, then faded to ordinary silver.

    “I really have to learn enough to do bones”, she told Rigel.

    “Are you going to fix his nose?” Rigel asked.

    “Not until the jaw is strong. I have to jerk it back into place.”

    Rigel winced. “You mean break it again?”

    Lumina’s grin was wicked. “It isn’t getting better. I tweak it every morning just enough to keep it from healing wrong.”

    Rigel laughed. “I’ll tell Casey that – probably when he gets knighted.” At that, Lumina joined his laughter.


    Late that afternoon, the fourth day since they’d left the hot springs, Oran and Chen both came running back, almost racing.

    “Just“ Oran gasped.

    “Up ahead”, Chen panted.

    “Can see”, Oran got out.

    “Destination”, Chen finished.

    Rigel decided not to give it away. “Break with a view coming up!” he yelled. Let them know what was really up, and there’d be the temptation to rush; he preferred the steady pace, especially for Casey’s sake. In fact Tanner had led the group since Casey got his lecture from Lumina; Rigel had decided it was better to make everyone walk to Tanner’s pace rather than risk a stumble that might re-crack more of the squire’s jaw.

    If he’d known what the view was, he’d have hurried himself. They came out on a large, flat shelf of rock that stuck beyond the trees that had been closing in on their trail, and could see to a valley some fifty or sixty meters below. The scenery itself was breathtaking, but it hardly got their attention.

    In the middle of the lush green of a mountain meadow sat a perfectly round pool. The pool was fed by a single stream which meandered through the meadow, splitting and rejoining itself over and again, so in two places at least there were four small creeks running practically parallel. The pool was a deep blue, sky blue, and edged with white rock that glistened in the sun, sparkling from shiny spots or minerals. Around the pool rose a row of standing stones, each with six faces yet all irregular. Thin slabs of another kind of rock topped them, reaching from one six-sided stone to the next to form a circular colonnade around the pool. And in the middle of the pool stood a lone monolith: it reared twice as tall as the columns around it, dominating the valley.

    Green surrounded this array, rich, verdant green. Across the green from the pool and great monolith were huts – stone huts without roofs, just like they’d left behind at the hot springs. But at six points in that circle the huts were stone igloos, identical to the one Rigel had slept in for two weeks.

    The scale wasn’t clear without the huts. If they were identical to the ones at the springs, then the standing stone columns were over five meters tall, and the central monolith was nearly twelve – and that was just the part above the water!

    Perhaps the best part, for tired muscles, was that vapor rose from the water of the pool.

    Leave it to a scout to see what the rest didn’t, Rigel thought, as Chen took him by the shoulder and turned him, then pointed. I see an awesome waterfall, Rigel thought But Chen meant something else. “That’s a village", their first scout said. "And there are people.”




    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  22. #222
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    Re: Fit for Life

    They are NOT alone!
    Great chapter. Great Transformation in Tanner, by the looks of it.

    Length was good. BTW, My only issue with long chapters is my (in)ability to read and post during my lunch hour. There was no way I was going to be able to get through the whole previous chapter on lunch, and I didn't want to fall behind, lol.

    The religious overtones and the transformation of Tanner into a truly meek, mild, Christ Like disciple who is coming to understand the import of WWJD with respect to his OWN actions and thought is wonderful. It is great to have the philosophical tenets discussed in the story form and molded as you see fit.

    I am sure there are many who would find the active discussion of and belief in God and Christ to be at direct odds with the site we are on, and the typical fare presented. They are not, however, at loggerheads at all. I find it intriguing and refreshing. I also find your approach and interpretations pretty close to "dead nuts on" with my own.

    Thanks, Kuli, for continuing to bring us this thought provoking story.


    And I know, if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest . . .

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Interlude




    [alert : energy alert : discontinue distribution]


    >QUERY: level?<

    {8.9367%}


    >QUERY: flux?<

    {minimal}


    >QUERY: reserves?<

    {82.4524%}


    -pause-

    >DISENGAGE MAIN<

    {main disengaged}


    >ENGAGE RESERVE<

    {reserve engaged}


    >REINITIATE DISTRIBUTION<

    {distribution reinitiated}

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  24. #224
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by DonQuixote View Post
    They are NOT alone!
    Great chapter. Great Transformation in Tanner, by the looks of it.

    The religious overtones and the transformation of Tanner into a truly meek, mild, Christ Like disciple who is coming to understand the import of WWJD with respect to his OWN actions and thought is wonderful. It is great to have the philosophical tenets discussed in the story form and molded as you see fit.

    I am sure there are many who would find the active discussion of and belief in God and Christ to be at direct odds with the site we are on, and the typical fare presented. They are not, however, at loggerheads at all. I find it intriguing and refreshing. I also find your approach and interpretations pretty close to "dead nuts on" with my own.

    Thanks, Kuli, for continuing to bring us this thought provoking story.
    I was tempted to work in a "they can be cured!" theme about our fundamentalist, but I couldn't find a way to do it that wasn't corny.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by DonQuixote View Post
    They are NOT alone!
    Of course they're not alone!

    Adam and Eve's sons found wives somewhere....

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  26. #226
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    Re: Fit for Life

    UGHHHH, HOW I HATE CLIFFHANGERS!!!

    But when they're resolved, it's oh so refreshing!

    Absolutely fascinating chapters! I didn't expect Tanner to break Casey's arm and jaw. I'm glad he's found his place and is becoming the humble, kind, introspective (to a certain extent) man every man should be.

    And the people they've found! I wonder what they'll be like. Surely they have their own social structure in place. Will our group assimilate themselves into their group? Or maybe they'll become neighboring communities, keeping the same social structure (Rigel as lord, etc.). Another interesting thing to consider is whether or not they have their own druid, healer, herbalist, scouts, priest, etc. that Rigel's group has.

    Very intriguing.

    Thank you again, Kuli, for the wonderful writing. And, as always, I await the next installment with eager anticipation!!

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by Anonymous View Post
    UGHHHH, HOW I HATE CLIFFHANGERS!!!

    But when they're resolved, it's oh so refreshing!

    Absolutely fascinating chapters! I didn't expect Tanner to break Casey's arm and jaw. I'm glad he's found his place and is becoming the humble, kind, introspective (to a certain extent) man every man should be.

    And the people they've found! I wonder what they'll be like. Surely they have their own social structure in place. Will our group assimilate themselves into their group? Or maybe they'll become neighboring communities, keeping the same social structure (Rigel as lord, etc.). Another interesting thing to consider is whether or not they have their own druid, healer, herbalist, scouts, priest, etc. that Rigel's group has.

    Very intriguing.

    Thank you again, Kuli, for the wonderful writing. And, as always, I await the next installment with eager anticipation!!
    Maybe they're cannibals, and they hang out near the Gathering Place to catch unwary travelers....

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Meetings



    A village – and people. Let them be friendly, Rigel wished.

    “Rigel, if they have cloth we can buy....” Ocean’s voice was eager. Rigel looked and saw that the group all stood looking where Chen had pointed. Only Oran seemed to really know what he was really looking at, though.

    “Yeah. We’ll attempt trade”, Rigel told her. “The question is going to be how we communicate with them.
    “Anyway, for now let’s get down to the gathering place. Devon, get one shelter roofed before you do anything else. Scouts, Austin, Anaph, ditch your gear and come with me.”

    “I’ll come as well”, Lumina said. “They may have need of a Healer.”

    “All right”, Rigel agreed. “And if they’re not friendly, we might need a Healer.”


    “Check your weapons”, Chen ordered. Everyone but Lumina was armed. For this, Rigel carried the great staff Anaph had given him.

    “Wait”, Rita told them. “Rigel, here – wear this.” She held out Casey’s scabbard.

    “An empty scabbard?” Rigel was puzzled.

    “You won’t look like a lord without one. And an empty one is often a sign of peace.”

    “I don’t care if I look like a lord – but that second reason is a good one.” He raised his arms. “Do the honors?”

    She chuckled. “Well, we care if you look like a lord. Now toss me your belt and let’s get this on – Casey’s belt is too small for you.”

    Once she had the scabbard on Rigel, she looked the group over. “You’ll do”, Rita decided. “You have to – it’s the best we’ve got.”

    “Tell Ryan he’s in charge. And just in case, be ready to defend”, Rigel ordered.

    So the small group headed up the valley toward the village.

    “It’s gonna be over an hour’s walk”, Chen estimated. “But this turf is level and soft – can’t complain there.”

    They’d been on their way maybe twenty minutes when Oran trotted back from the point position with a report. “A bunch of them are coming this way, lord Rigel. At least eight, less than sixteen. It’s too far to see weapons.”

    “We should have had Ocean make some tranquilizer arrows”, Chen said. “If we have to fight, it would be nice to be able to do it without killing anyone.”

    Rigel agreed. “We need them as friends. So don’‘t even touch a weapon unless they do.”

    Ten minutes later Chen and Oran both said they saw weapons – spears, clubs, and some very small bows. “Not that that gives us an advantage”, Chen observed. “By the time we’re close enough to tell if they’re friendly, they’ll be in range.”

    In another fifteen minutes everyone could see their reception delegation clearly. They seemed short, except for two tall fellows walking alongside an older man who bore a staff. They had simple shirts, with kilts below. The bowmen wore hip quivers for their arrows, a position Chen said was okay for their small bows, but would be ridiculous for large ones. He and Chen had shoulder quivers. Though the members of the oncoming party kept shifting about, Chen managed a count of fifteen, and Oran agreed.

    “Twelve are dressed pretty much alike – those are their escort”, he judged. “The old guy is the spokesman, and the two tall guys his bodyguards.”

    Less than five more minutes brought them face to face. “Dhrûd”, the old man exclaimed. He bowed to Anaph. The moment he was upright, his bodyguards bowed more deeply, after which the warriors bowed so deeply Rigel thought they might fall over.

    “Well, that’s a good start”, Chen opined. “So who wants to try talking to them?”

    The old man began pouring out a stream of words. Rigel caught “Dhrûd” again, that hard, hard “th” sound on the front, and a word that sounded like “gang”, another like “croak”, another like “lard”. He noticed belatedly that the markings at the top of Anaph’s staff were glowing. He pointed to it and nudged Chen.

    “I know”, Chen responded quietly. “It did that the moment oldster started talking.” A few moments later, that oldster stopped talking.

    Anaph turned to Rigel. “Elder Crûánåch says that he rejoices to see a Druid return to the Place, and suggests a feast in my honor. He asks if more of my brethren are coming. He also asks if we intend to visit the magic waterfall at the end of the valley. He offers to send maidens for my lord’s pleasure, or lads if you prefer.”

    Rigel managed not to blush. “Tell him we haven’t decided about the waterfall, and that while I don’t need any maidens, I thank him for the offer. Tell him some of my henchmen might like the company, though.” Anaph nodded and translated. That led to an invitation to the village, where Elder Crûánåch assured them that many maidens and some boys would be eager for the honor to be given. Rigel foresaw an orgy.

    Chen began a quiet running commentary the moment they were close enough to see detail in the village. There was no encircling wall, only a chest-high berm with a ditch in front. Differences in vegetation inside that barrier showed where it had been moved, expanding the village. Rude fields stretched away in all directions; these were worked by women and children. Random distribution described the huts; there didn’t seem to be any regular streets. In the middle, though, was what Chen called a lodge: It stood on a raised mound, with a thatched roof supported by massive log pillars. Shoulder-high walls unattached from the pillars ran around the lodge. The roof had a covered hole, which meant a fire pit inside. And in front of the lodge was a menhir, a standing stone.

    Anaph went directly to the standing stone. He plucked another green leaf from the top of his staff and dropped it at the stone’s base. Rigel blinked, and blinked again, when Anaph stood his staff upright and let go, because it didn’t fall over. Then the Druid touched the stone and lightly ran his fingers across the face. At length he took the staff again and returned to the group.

    “Anything?” asked Rigel.

    “Very little. They’ve been here generations, waiting for another Gathering. I think they’re descended from people who lived here just to take care of the Place and serve the Gathering.”

    “You’re sounding learned again.”

    Anaph shrugged. “That’s the way it goes.”

    “Can you make it so I can talk to them, too?” Rigel wanted to know.

    “I think so. But not now – talking through me feels like a good thing.”

    True to the Elder’s prediction, they were swarmed with girls and boys who wanted to be honored by the visiting lords. Rigel banished all those who showed no signs of being able to shave, and let his people choose if they wanted. Austin picked two boys a little older than himself; Chen ended up with four girls because two cried so hard when he didn’t pick them; Oran took four because Chen did. In a moment of inspiration, Rigel picked two for Ryan. Lumina looked on in amusement.

    “Don’t you want a good energetic lad?” Rigel teased.

    “I would love four or five energetic lads”, Lumina replied. “But I’m very fertile right now, I haven’t learned enough to turn that off, and pregnancy would be very inconvenient at present.”

    “I hear you there!” Rigel affirmed. “Hey – can you do anything to try to ensure a pregnancy?”

    She looked at him oddly. “To what purpose?”

    “Well, it sounds like the honor here for these kids is getting laid. For the girls, I bet that means the real honor would be getting pregnant. If you could ensure that all these girls got pregnant, wouldn’t that say something about us to the villagers?” He waited while she thought that through.

    “You have a point”, she conceded. “I’ll speak to Ocean. I think she has the herbs to make a tea that will encourage conception. I can add a weight of energy on top of that. Would you like any of the boys to get pregnant, too?”

    Rigel couldn’t believe she’d delivered that with a straight face. “If you could do that, I’d marry you.”

    “Healers don’t marry”, Lumina replied matter-of-factly. Somehow that didn’t surprise Rigel at all.

    On Rigel’s behalf, Anaph plead weariness, but promised to show up for their feast in three days. With daylight fading, they headed back to rejoin the rest of Rigel’s House.

    “We’re not going to make it”, Chen said grimly. “It’s going to be dark very soon, and that's not fun.”

    “I learned something at the springs”, Anaph told him. “Just a sec.” He stopped and closed his eyes, letting the staff stand by itself again. They watched as he raised his arms high and held them there several seconds before slowly bringing them down to touch the staff at the same moment with the middle fingers of both hands.

    Light sprang from the markings on the staff’s tip. Anaph grinned. “That was fun!”

    “Wowish”, Oran said. “But I’m behind you – it’s in my eyes.”

    Anaph frowned at the staff. “Um... hang on....” They hung on for a good two minutes while Anaph stood with his hands lightly touching the staff. Without warning he moved, setting his hands behind the staff and rotating them forward. As his hands moved, the light parted and retreated ahead of his little fingers, until the beam was very much like what the high beams on auto headlights made. From behind, they saw a mild green glow, something like a green indicator light on a dashboard, though distinctly paler.

    “Double wowish”, Oran declared. “Did you just figure that out now?” he asked.

    “Yeah”, Anaph replied with a boyish grin. “Kool, huh?”

    “Definitively kool”, Oran agreed.

    They walked more slowly in the dark, even with the light. The girls and boys from the village had chattered at first, but after Anaph’s production of light from the staff, and then his control of that light, they fell silent.

    Devon had one hut roofed and was working on a second; Ryan had everything in hand – not that he needed to give orders; they were all far too experienced in setting up for the night to need any direction but their own. Ocean immediately grasped Rigel’s intent for getting the girls pregnant, and set about mixing the right herbs.

    “By the way, I picked two girls for you, buddy”, Rigel mentioned to Ryan as though it were unimportant.

    “Woot! You da man!” Ryan declared, then turned serious. “But I want you tonight, too.”

    “I can do that. I feel an itch in my throat I need to scratch – think you have anything that can get down there?”

    Ryan cracked up. “An itch in your throat! Yep, I might have something that will reach. And if it doesn’t quite, I’ve got a special lotion that should take care of it.”

    “You got a deal.” Rigel looked at the two girls he’d picked. “I might even have a go with them. Fucking and sucking at the same time could be interesting....” He licked his lips.

    “Ooh, our own private orgy!”

    “Austin brought boys.” Rigel immediately knew he shouldn’t have said that, because Ryan’s kilt started to bulge in the front.

    “In a different hut”, Ryan stated after a moment of tension. “There’s enough.”

    Hardly anyone got any sleep that night.


    In the morning, Lumina checked each girl. She came to Rigel with her news over breakfast. “Well, you should be happy – all the girls caught. The village should be quite impressed with your virility.”

    Rigel snorted. “Whatever. I was thinking in terms of fertility.”

    “Women are fertile. Men are virile”.

    “Sexist.”

    “Authoritarian.” They grinned at each other.

    “At any rate, the village should feel well-honored”, Rigel said. “That’s the real point.”

    “I need to go back to the village. I didn’t even get to tell them I’m a Healer.”

    “Patience – they’re not going anywhere.”

    As a matter of fact, he was to an extent wrong. A delegation arrived within the hour, Elder Crûánåch leading but with two other Elders along. Rigel called for his ‘council’ and squires to give a formal welcome.

    Elder Crûánåch introduced Elder Geróanåch, who took over from there. Anaph translated, this elder making it easier by not saying so much all at once, but waiting for translation and response.

    “He wants to know if we’re staying one more night or two”, Anaph relayed.

    “I’d rather stay longer”, Rigel said, “and trade with them.” Anaph passed that back.

    “‘Then you must stay just tonight, and when you come to the feast, stay at our village. The Dhrûdha, of course, may remain here as long as he wishes’, he says.”

    Ryan spoke up. “Rigel, there must be some taboo about how long people can stay. I say we follow his plan.” Rigel looked over at Rita, who nodded.

    “Tell him we are delighted by his invitation, and will do as he recommends.”

    “He says our delight honors him and all the servant people. He also says that he is impressed that you seek counsel of a Wise Woman. He wishes to know to whom she gives devotion.”

    “Tell him my devotion is to my lord Rigel”, Rita stated, guessing she was the “Wise Woman.” “He is named for a star, so he is worthy.”

    “Lord Rigel, he says now he understands why you were so bold as to come unarmed in the way of peace”, Anaph translated. “With such a powerful name, you had no fear.”

    Rigel followed up on that one. “Ask him why I should have had to fear.”

    “‘In so many generations, could not outlaws’ – that’s really ‘ones cast out from the law’ – ‘have slain the servant people, and waited to ambush visitors?’”

    “Tell him I’m impressed with his understanding, and am glad this was not so.”

    “He changed the subject – now he wants to know if other Dhrûdha – Druids – are coming, and other Houses.”

    This time Rigel thought for a moment. “Say that we don’t know if other Houses still live, and so we don’t know if there even are other Dhrûdha. Say we’re journeying – no, on a quest to learn these things. Oh – and say we need a place to shelter for the winter, since we don’t know the valley.”

    Anaph’s lips moved as he repeated it back to himself before translating. Elder Geróanåch looked devastated at Anaph’s news, and stood in shock. Elder Crûánåch took over.

    “He says he has long feared all the Houses were gone, so he rejoices that we live. He invites me to examine the boys of his village for the idhrûd spark. And he knows a place of lords twenty-four days walking from here, where we should go because since we aren’t servant people we can’t stay in the valley.”

    “Tell him I mean to keep my House alive, and perhaps raise up others.” Ryan could have his own House – and should. Thank him for the invitation. And ask if anyone lives at the place of lords. Oh! Thank him for his words about the valley, because much lore has been lost.”

    Anaph’s eyes grew wide as the Elder spoke. He was excited when he turned to Rigel. “Lord, he says all the lore is in the ‘upright stone of the waters’, and I should brave them as soon as I may! Also, he fears no one lives at the place of lords, since nothing has been heard from there since his grandfather’s time.”

    “Frak. Well, say we’ll send word, so he’ll know. And that we need supplies and aid for the journey.”

    “He thanks you, and says you should visit the magic waterfall. He also says the Elders decided that your party is small, so if you aren’t going back where you came from, they’re going to send twenty ‘not-fit-for-servants’ young men with us. I think that means they won’t just settle down and repair houses and raise crops.”

    “So they want adventure. Um... tell him I’d like twenty-four. And I also want a dozen gals, to help our women.” All three Elders looked concerned when Anaph translated.

    “Elder Geróanåch asks – it’s a bit stronger than that – who will ensure the young women’s... safety and... crap. Um, purity.”

    Lumina glided forward like a goddess floating across the grass rather than walking. “I will ensure”, she declared, touching her torc. The three elders dropped to their knees, followed by their bodyguards and escort.

    “Geróanåch says they marvel, because no Healer has been known since Elzbédt K·nayz’ee.”

    “Rigel, that’s an English name – Elizabeth!” Chen exclaimed.

    “It’s in other languages, too”, Ryan pointed out.

    Austin jumped in. “That’s a weird last name”, he said.

    “I don’t think it’s a name”, Anaph responded. “The staff didn’t translate, but I think it means Healer.”

    “Tell him I beg to lend what aid I can to any who hurt”, Lumina requested. “Tell him I ache until their aches are lessened.”

    The Elders’ eyes lit up at that, and they jabbered briefly among themselves.

    “And tell them to get up – they’ve been down there long enough”, Lumina added.

    Anaph rolled his eyes. “I’m going to make that sound prettier”, he informed her, and then translated.

    Elder Geróanåch spoke again, when they were standing. “He says the Healer is gracious, and because of her word we may have twelve maidens. He asks that when she comes to the village to aid those afflicted of body, she pick the ones she wants. And she can bring along any women who will be having them as helpers. Lord Rigel, he says that the twenty and four lads you wish will be presented to you at the feast.”

    Rigel had some other things he wanted to say, but held back – that was quite a bit for one meeting, he figured, and besides, he wanted to be able to ask his own questions next time. “Thank them for com– No, ask if they’d like refreshment. Let him know we really only have trail food.”

    “If I would, they’d like me to bring them a drink from the creek as it flows out of the Stone Circle”, Anaph translated. “I suppose I can do that. And lord? We’d better keep everyone away from that pool until I check out the big menhir.”

    When Anaph knelt, his staff standing alone beside him, to scoop some water from the stream, he felt a tingle. It was an energy of some sort, seemingly familiar yet distinctly alien. A strong urge to leave the water and go to the monolith washed through him. I am Anaph, he told himself. I am the Branch, I am myself. I belong to myself; I am pledged to Lord Rigel. I am Anaph, myself. The urge faded and didn’t return.

    So the Elders got their drink. They didn’t exactly share it with the others in their party, only dipped a finger in an touched it to each tongue. Lumina called for Ocean, intending to go back with the villagers, escorted by Ryan and Antonio.

    “Wait”, Anaph told them. “Those Elders walk slow – you can catch up. First, come here.”

    He led to the place where he’d scooped up the water. “Strip and step in”, he instructed Lumina. “Keep your torc.”

    “Duh”, she responded, making two syllables out of it. Ryan chuckled.

    When she put a foot in, her eyes went wide and she froze. “Tell yourself who you are”, Anaph instructed. “Say, ‘I am Lumina. I am myself. I own myself. I am a Healer. I am attached to the House of Lord Rigel.’ Repeat it. When you feel peace, put your other foot in.” Rigel watched her lips and counted three repetitions.

    “Good”, Anaph told her. “Now, clear your mind. Think of a book, a blank book. Wish that it be filled....” As he spoke, he, too, stepped into the water, with his staff. He set the staff between them, upright and touching Lumina’s forehead. Taking his hands away, he leaned forward until his head touched it as well. The staff began to glow, from the markings at the tip down to their foreheads. They stood there, hardly moving, for over twenty minutes.

    “Wow”, Lumina said when Anaph took the staff away and stepped out of the water. “Wow, and wow, and wow.”

    “Say it backwards – wow”, Oran quipped.

    “Don’t you have work to do?” she scolded.

    “Just enjoying the scenery.” He scanned down, up, and down her body.

    Ryan laughed, but he agreed with Lumina. “Both you scouts, go be useful!” he commanded.

    “Chen, be ready in case I call”, Anaph instructed. “Now, Ryan.”

    “Strip and step in the water?”

    “No. Lumina is sensitive to the energies here, and that helped me work out how to give the language. Now that I know, all you have to do is stand still.” Ryan nodded and stepped close to Anaph. About twenty minutes later, Ryan staggered away.

    “Should I have a headache?” he asked.

    Anaph shook his head. “I was clumsy. You mind isn’t a lot like Lumina’s.”

    “Yeah, well, I’m a guy. I think I’ll ask Lumina to fix my head.”

    Unease crept in as Rigel thought about that headache. “Anaph, why the headache? Did you hurt his brain, or what?”

    “Not really. You know that your soul stirs the energies in the brain, to make thoughts and decisions?”

    “I guess so.”

    “Learning this way is like a short circuit, kinda. It puts energies where they... into places without coming from where they should. I got energy where it wasn’t needed. Then I used too much energy trying to fix it.”

    “Well, I’d rather not have a headache. Be careful.”

    No headache resulted from Rigel’s acquisition of the local language. “Sounds Irish, doesn’t it?” he asked.

    “I don’t know what Irish sounds like”, Anaph replied. “I think it sounds awesome. It has sounds we don’t.”

    Rigel sent Austin for Chen. Standing still was hard for the first scout, but he endured it. For Chen, it was far too long; for Anaph, it seemed even longer, but with each repetition he was gaining understanding of the language, which delighted him.


    Anaph waded naked into the pool. The energies beat at him, pounded at his defenses, sought back doors. I am Anaph, he chanted. I am the Branch, I am myself. I belong to myself; I am pledged to Lord Rigel. I am Anaph, myself. He repeated it over and over. Only when he felt peace did he take another step.

    The water grew deeper. The sides were steep, but he had no trouble with slipping. But a point came when the bottom was too far away. Swim, dive, or...? he wondered. As he repeated his litany he decided on another choice: he’d tread water, slowly moving himself forward.

    It was tricky. Moving forward a step at a time is easy on dry land, but doing it in water is a different matter. Anaph thought the energies were trying to confuse him, draw him too fast. The onslaught was furious, unrelenting, coming in waves, slamming in as though storm-driven.

    Suddenly he realized that the assault on his identity wasn’t a defense for the monolith: it was the whole point. To command the powers of a Druid, a person had to know himself, own himself, be himself fully and unreservedly. Unreservedly... Anaph smiled. I am Anaph, the Branch, and I am a Druid! he declared, exulting in that. Then he took a deep breath, dove under, let go his litany of defense, and swam to the monolith. Underwater he fund steps, and climbed till he stood facing it, knee deep in the warm tingling water. Now the energies beat with his rhythm, no longer attacking or disputing but establishing and confirming him, Anaph Bornsten, Jew, Druid, sworn to Lord Rigel and his House.

    He reached out and touched the face of the rock.




    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  29. #229
    HUGS! ;-)
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Pardon my "Irish" ...

    Just ... FUACHIN' !!!

    I'm thanking "Goodness" for Your OCD, Master Kuli!! I can't wait 'til "Next" either!

    THANK YOU!!

    Keep smilin'!!
    Chaz
    WISDOM is the Knowledge you've gained ... After you could have used it! _Me

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Kuli. This is fantabulous !!!
    A Great and wonderful story ... Thank you.
    I am glad our travellers have survived this far
    Please continue
    Hugs
    Harry

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Damn, its hurry up and wit time again.

    I hate being a speed reader.

    Maybe I can find a potion to cause temporary slow reader syndrome enabling me to savor the succulence of this fine tale and to ingest the many morsels of wit and wisdom ensconced therein.

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Kuli,
    The Meeting of the Servant People and the Enlightenment is great.

    I'm a bit curious as to the elders' concerns for the purity of the girls, if the whole point of the original girls was to serve the men and women fully.

    Will the fruit of their loins be welcomed by teh servants?
    Or, is it that they are two different classes of girls?

    And, if Rigel was looking for two dozen lads and a dozen girls, wasn't expanding the gene pool part of the goal in the back of his mind?

    I know, I'm getting ahead of the story and myself, lol.

    There is so much swimming through my head right now.

    I wouldn't have minded being a part of the festivities, either!

    Thanks for your continued energies and devotion to this story.


    And I know, if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest . . .

  33. #233
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by DonQuixote View Post
    Kuli,
    The Meeting of the Servant People and the Enlightenment is great.

    I'm a bit curious as to the elders' concerns for the purity of the girls, if the whole point of the original girls was to serve the men and women fully.
    "Enlightenment"?

    Ah, curiosity is a wonderful thing!

    Quote Originally Posted by DonQuixote View Post
    Will the fruit of their loins be welcomed by teh servants?
    Or, is it that they are two different classes of girls?
    Teh servants know.

    And as I used to say to my fantasy RPG players, you don't, do you?

    Quote Originally Posted by DonQuixote View Post
    And, if Rigel was looking for two dozen lads and a dozen girls, wasn't expanding the gene pool part of the goal in the back of his mind?
    Hmm. Inquiring minds want to know!

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Hmm, not only are the others friendly, but they also live to serves the Houses!

    Another beautifully written chapter Kuli. Thanks much!

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Anybody mind if not all the chapters have little pictures at the end?

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Fit for Life

    I don't mind, lol.

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    Re: Fit for Life

    the pics are your choice dude...so whatever.


    BTW, I left you a comment on interlude so it wasn't ignored either.


    Now, back to work you slacker.

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Lessons


    Anaph looked down, and saw billions, even trillions of motes of light, They hung together, filling his body but not confined to it. Is this my aura? he wondered. Am I still in my body? Is this what I really look like – the real me?

    The stone -- he remembered, in the fashion one does with an old, old memory that bursts on one unawares, great stone, towering, among other stones, a stone which he had touched -- gave him no room for contemplation: he moved, not by choice; he was moved, like an assembly on a conveyor belt. Am I really moving? How did I get here? Is this a place, or a dream? Movement ceased. Before him stood a shape like his own, though fainter, its motes fewer and less golden. In its hands was a thin book, with a crude leather cover and ragged pages. The book was made of motes, too, like a 3D version of pixels on an old television screen. What he was supposed to do, he knew, was take the book. He reached. Motes swarmed out from his fingertips to meet the offered item. When the book touched his hands, it sank into them and vanished, its motes mixing with his, spreading, diffusing through his much vaster swarms of motes, taking on the tint and then color of his own motes. Becoming me, part of me, he guessed.

    After an immeasurable moment he moved again, pulled by forces he understood less than he did seeing himself as teeming motes of light and books as three-dimensional pixel structures. Now another figure stood before him. This one held another thin book, though a large one. Its pages weren't thin, but made of leather! A leather book! he marveled But again there wasn't time to think about it; this book also sank into him as he took it, then he drifted on.

    Another figure came, then another, with more offerings that he took, one by one, and absorbed, one by one. The figures continued, a long collection of them. Some were close together, others stood apart. Were there hundreds? Surely not that few! Scrolls replaced the books, and gave way to pairs or even single sheets of leather with writing on them Some figures held out an acorn for him; those, too, sank into him and vanished, motes mixing with motes, gradually yet steadily turning from their own colors to match the gold of his own swirling motes.

    Time passed, or maybe it didn't at all, but stood still and let him pass. In an instant no different from yet totally unlike those which had gone before he realized there were no more figures, no more books or scrolls or leather sheets or acorns. Yet again he was moving, speeding up now, rising then falling. This is what a leaf feels like, he thought as he tossed and spun, powerless before massive forces, in a storm. In his head -- if a swarm of motes could really be said to have a head -- laughter arose, friendly laughter quietly chastising him..

    Or maybe I'm not powerless, he decided. Desire replaced contentment and gave birth to intent, intent to determination, determination to choice, choice to will, and will.... will gave birth to action: he moved. Even though he had no idea of where he was, or how far he'd come, even though he had no idea how movement was accomplished, in this space, he willed himself to return. Go back! Go back! the voices cried, encouraging now. For a brief endless time he flew, leaving in his wake golden motes drifting like sparks from a fire, or like fireflies, shedding them like so many leaves torn from a tree in an autumn storm. He gave them no heed, but pressed on, and on.

    Anaph shivered. He stood with his hand pressed against the Stone. His wrist ached -- had he been leaning on the Stone? But his leg and back muscles ached, too, besides his shoulder and neck. When he decided to move, stiff muscles responded only slowly to his commands.

    He remembered he was standing in water; looking down, a bit painfully, he saw that it was so. The water was warm on his feet and ankles. If I fell over, I'd be warm. Desire spawned intent spawned determination spawned choice, and will let loose of hurting muscles. He fell.

    The splash was pleasant. His read end hitting the step wasn't. That sharp pain brought him out of a daze which had seemed normal while he was in it Anaph leaned back into the warm, supporting water and let himself float. A certainty came to him, that he could sink below the surface and be fine, just like he’d floated– Puzzlement struck. Floated where? He tried to catch the thought, but like so many fleeting memories of morning dreams, the harder he grabbed the fainter it got.

    A splash back behind his head startled him. How could I have forgotten everyone?! he asked himself. What happened to me? Why am I so stiff?! He rolled and looked. Here came Austin, looking at him worriedly, doing a sloppy but strong head-up crawl stroke. That stroke changed to a head-up breast stroke and Austin’s face relaxed when Anaph raised a weary arm and waved.

    All at once it hit him: the sun’s on the wrong side of the sky! What happened to me? I stood here all night! The stiff aching muscles made sense, then – sort of, anyway, because he had no idea why he might have done that.

    Faithful Austin, Austin of the pleasure-giving hands, Austin who was a treasure to him, reminding him through ecstasy that he had a body, glided in, spun, and sat with him on the step.

    “How was it?” the squire asked eagerly.

    “Cold and tiring, I guess”, Anaph replied.

    “Huh? You just stood there all night?!”

    “I guess. I don’t really remember anything after I took my clothes off... no, I remember diving under, and I remember touching the stone. Then I was standing here, all cold. I wanted to be warm, so I fell over into the water. I wish you’d come sooner.”

    Austin shook his head. “Lord Rigel said not. We weren’t supposed to do anything unless you moved. It got cold; we sort of ruined one of Chen’s big bowls – we used it for a floating fire. He says we need to get more gurvenhide anyway.”

    “Who’s ‘we’?”

    Austin pointed to a small group by the pool’s edge. “Me, Oran, and Breeze. Crystal was here for a while – she said she bet if she swam out and fucked, you’d wake up. Chen was here a couple of times. He was here then. He told Crystal if she was really that horny, she could go with him to a hut and take care of it, I guess they did. And just about everybody stopped by during breakfast. Hey, you hungry?”

    Anaph nodded. “I could eat a gr’venstut.

    “Super-gross.” They laughed together. Austin leaned in and planted a kiss on Anaph’s lips and stroked his chest. “Okay, lets get you some breakfast.”


    “That’s all you remember?” Ryan asked. Anaph had just finished recounting his experience in all the detail he could remember, which was very little.

    Anaph nodded. “Yeah – I swam to the Stone. I went up the steps and touched it. Then I was cold and stiff.”

    Rita shook her head in wonder. “Do you feel any different? Inside, I mean?”

    Anaph shook his head in negation. “Just me. I’ve never had to pee that bad before, though.”

    That set Rigel laughing. “Well, you stood there for hours! I’ve never seen anyone stand still so long without even flinching. They at east could have let you pee.”

    “Mom said never to pee in the pool”, Anaph said with a straight face.

    “They did something to you”, Ryan asserted. “You didn’t get stuck to that stone and stand there all night on accident.”

    Anaph just shrugged. “They didn’t tell me about it.”

    “Maybe it was like a doctor visit”, Austin guessed. “They just checked him out really thorough.”

    Rita nodded slowly. “I think they did at least that, squire. But the elder said to – what was it, ‘brave the waters’?” Ryan and Anaph both nodded. “And that ‘all the lore’ was in the stone. It sounded like he expected you’d learn all the lore by going in there.”

    “ROM”, Chen suggested. “Read-only memory. Maybe they gave you some at-need ROM, things that you’ll know only when you need to”, he said to Anaph.

    Rigel got to his feet with a shrug. “They did something. Whatever it is will be useful, but we’re not going to figure it out sitting on our butts. Let’s get packed and start drifting over to the village.”

    “And I want to see that waterfall”, Ryan announced, jumping up. “I want to know why they call it ‘magic’.” He waited.

    “There is no magic”, he, Rita, and Anaph said together, laughing.


    Elder Geróanåch met them at the edge of their fields, with three other Elders – and of course their bodyguards and escorts. “I to you great thanks bring, the aid of your Healer for”, he said. Rigel, Ryan, Chen, and Anaph needed no translation, but Anaph translated for the others. With the strange sentence structure, Rigel wasn’t certain but that he might have been better off relying on their Druid – a Druid who had left the gathering place as a young man dealing with a strange event in his life, changing on the walk over to a Druid ready to take charge of events in life.

    “We for you and us pleased find ourselves that she to you of service could be”, Rigel answered for himself this time. Elder Geróanåch looked startled, while Elder Crûánåch looked pleased.

    “Now you our tongue speak!” Elder Crûánåch exclaimed.

    “Unto our Druid are due the thanks”, Rigel replied with a slight bow to Anaph, then to the Elders. “On us this capability did he bestow.”

    “And we from the old country on the boat came over”, Ryan muttered in his friend’s hearing. It was an old joke, poking fun at the odd sentence structure – odd to Americans – of many Europeans. Rigel ignored him.

    “For a lord well it is able to speak to be unto those authority over whom he has”, the Elder replied. Rigel and Ryan both blinked and looked at each other, while Chen just frowned.

    “It’s good for a lord to be able to speak to those he has authority over”, Anaph translated. Yeah, sure, that’s what I got, too, Rigel joked sarcastically to himself.

    Introductions were made to the two Elders that hadn’t met before, and to a young man named Pedhrûánåg – Elder Crûánåch’s fourth son.

    “To your service assigned he is to be”, Elder Crûánåch declared. “For a fourth son little place in a village there is. To you now to camp the place for you will he show.”

    On the far side of the village lay a fallow field between crops that looked like oats on the northwest and barley to the southeast.. Under their feet rich clover grew, thick and soft. When they stood quiet, the roar of the waterfall could be heard faintly.

    Ocean breathed deep, spreading her fingers and hands to her sides. “It’s beautiful!” she exclaimed. “Can you feel it?!”

    Lumina nodded, radiant herself. “Everything is healthy. Anaph?”

    The Druid twirled on one foot, his cloak fluttering behind him. “It’s alive! He completion two revolutions and stopped looking at Rigel, his face glowing. “Lord Rigel, the life here goes deep, deep into the earth, lots of life, all sorts of life! Anything would grow here, grow big and strong! If I thought there were gods, I’d say one lives here!"

    Rigel grasped his shoulders. “Anaph, can you give Pedhrûánåg our language?” Anaph’s raging joy receded, like it was soaking into his skin, or perhaps his soul. Contemplation crept in. Rigel gave his Druid a minute to ponder, then raised his eyebrows, calling the question.

    “Not all at once. A small dose...” Anaph stopped, and frowned. “And maybe....” He turned and motioned to Pedhrûánåg to come closer. “I to you of our words a few shall impart. Your hands upon the staff place.” He set the staff between him and the Elder’s son, letting it stand alone for a moment.

    Pedhrûánåg looked nervous, but stepped up. He swallowed hard before he touched the staff – Rigel sympathized; the sight of an oak staff, a living oak staff!, standing by itself, was unnerving enough to him; to someone who probably believed in magic it had to be terrifying – but didn’t hesitate. Strong hands grasped the wooden shaft firmly; bold eyes met the Druid’s.

    Anaph smiled. He liked the certainty and confidence – as did Rigel. Druid hands clasped above and below young man’s hands. Rigel knew Anaph would be there for a while. He decided his attention would be better turned to the camp.

    The villagers had provided stacks of poles, which Devon had gotten separated by size and length. Under his direction most of the group was busy cutting or tying poles together, or unpacking his leaf roof for assembly. Oran was just finishing a fire pit, dug with his wooden shovel, the turf carefully stacked in a circle around the edge. Ocean had picked a spot as the “kitchen”; already she had the large gr’venstut-hide stew bowl out and was arranging the rest of both kitchen and herbal gear as though a hut had already been set up. Chen had the squires’ gear, Ryan’s, and Rigel’s set out in the same way; Rigel could have sworn their packs were already leaning against an invisible wall. And just why do they need me?

    “It isn’t the lord’s job to deal with everyday details, Rigel.” Rita spoke softly into his ear. “You can dive in every now and then, but not too often, or they’ll decide you don’t trust them. This is stuff they can handle – they know what they’re doing, they don’t need any instructions. No, your job, lord, is to have a vision of the future, and to make the big decisions for getting there. What you do is like sending out the scouts: you aim them, but you don’t go along and watch over their shoulders every step of the way, you count on them to do the job, the very best they can..”

    Rigel slid his arm around her shoulders. “You really are a Wise Woman”, he told her. “Since you’re so wise, I have a question for you. Come.”

    She slipped his arm off her shoulders. “Ooh, a secret, I can tell.” She followed to where his hut would be.

    “Hey, Chen", Rigel called. "Looks good – I already told Austin, but I want you to make sure that the supply huts go up before this one”.

    “You got it! I’m just done here anyway.” Chen snapped a cocky British-style salute and was off.

    Rigel dug into his pack. “Here”, he said, handing the three torcs he’d had Dmitri do a ceremony over. “Found these at the springs. They had... memories. One was bad. I had Devon sort of bless them in a non-priestly way. Anaph said that cleaned up two of them, but the bad one is still kinda bad.
    “I was going to give them to the squires. What do you think?”

    The silver glinted in the sun, but Rigel had put their backs to everyone else. Rita held one, then another, and finally the one with unsettling memories. “Well, I don’t feel anything. Give the troublesome one to Chen – he’s the most mature. When were you thinking?”

    “I was going to do it already. It’s just there never seems to be a good time.”

    “At the feast would be good. No, seriously”, she said at Rigel's look of surprise. “It will show the villagers that you value and reward service. Besides, it will mark your squires as nobility. When you get your two dozen young men and dozen young women, that will be important. They’re your guys, not just servants.”

    “So what does that make Breeze?”

    “Ocean’s an ‘herb woman’, which has status. Breeze is her assistant, which has status.” Rita preempted Rigel’s further questions. “Crystal is a musician, which has its own status. Dmitri is a holy man. Oran is a scout, which makes him your man and not just a servant. He’s also your fire-keeper, which is important.”

    Rigel managed to jump in. “How do you know all this?”

    She grinned. “I started asking Anaph some questions on the walk here. He picked up a lot of knowledge when he touched that stone. He wasn’t even aware it was new to him.”

    Rigel whistled. “Some trick – they filled him with info, and he doesn’t know it. What’s the Snatcher’s edge there?”

    “It’s not the Snatcher, Rye. I’m sure of it. This is different.”

    Rigel considered, and decided to believe her. “So what is it?”

    “The Druids – the villagers’ Dhrûdha. I got it when you said these held memories. If they do, what about that stone? Elder Crûánåch said all the lore was there. I think he did what Anaph did, and that’s why he knows. But he’s not a Druid, so I think he didn’t get the same as Anaph did. This was their gathering place, not the tribes’. The tribes sent delegations, I bet, to honor their Druids, but this valley belonged to the Druids. And that stone is their repository, where they left their knowledge and wisdom, to pass it on to new Druids.”

    “What about what they learned after they touched the stone?”

    “Regular gatherings. I think the three-day limit wad a way of sending away outsiders when all the Druids touched the stone again at each gathering. Probably not every Druid made it to each gathering. But it steadily increased what they knew and understood. Yes, some would die before they passed on some of the knowledge – but maybe they had apprentices, aspiring Druids, they taught, too, and when they came for their first time, that knowledge would go back in.
    “When you don’t have schools, or a printing press, when literacy is so rare that it’s almost considered magic, can you think of a better way to pass on critical knowledge? And when a lot of that knowledge is subtle, esoteric, things felt as much as thought – or more than! – this is perfect. You find people who have the talent – the ‘idhrûd spark’, Elder Crûánåch called it – and teach them to see if they’re good enough. That’s not an educational system, it’s testing to see if they can use the actual educational system.”

    “The Stone.” Unthinkingly, Rigel put an upper case on the word, as Anaph had been doing. “It’s... a university. Anaph stood there going to school all night!”

    Rita grinned. “Exactly. Hundreds of years of learning, and he got it in less than a day. Super-efficient!”

    A disturbing thought hit Rigel. “What if Anaph didn’t have the spark when we got here?”

    “We’d be without a Druid, and this whole journey would be different.”

    He shook his head vigorously. “No, that’s not what I mean. I mean, what if back home he was just a normal kid, and didn’t have that talent?”
    “Oh my.... You mean they changed him so we’d have a Druid? Holy crap, Rigel! But why pick him?”

    Grim looked scary on Rigel. “Because he was impressionable, easy to mold. Because they decided his mind was weak, and he could be melted down and remolded. Because he was insecure and wanted to be something great. Because he had the holes in his armor they could stick their greasy probes into and turn him into just a tool." He jumped up and kicked at the ground. “Rita, I don’t like these... people, if they are. The more I learn, the more I dislike them. For what they were doing to Anaph, I despised them already, but this! Frak!” he yelled. “Why should we even think about doing what they want?”

    “Rigel, sit back down. You don’t know that’s true. But what if it is? No, shut it! Listen: we don’t know why we’re here. What if they’re desperate? I know it sounds cheesy, but what if there’s some enemy they need someone else to fight because they can’t any more, and so they’re bringing in mercenaries? What if the systems they’re using weren’t even meant for what they have to use them for? What if there are millions of people out there who need our help, but we needed a certain talent among us or we’d fail?
    “What they’ve done to us is bad – I’m not arguing different. But we don’t know the whole story. They may be sitting out there, wherever they are, feeling infinitely miserable over what they’ve done, but they didn’t see any other way to do us.
    “That’s something none of us have considered before in our attitudes about them: what drove them to dragging us here. Maybe if they could send us a message, it would be, ‘Help us, Obi-Wan Rigel, you’re our only hope.’
    “You tried to get Tanner to see he wasn’t like God, to see what others need. We need to do the same, when we think of the Snatchers.”

    Rigel sat silently, trying to absorb what she’d said. It was too much, all at once, a radical shift in thinking. He hoped he wouldn’t need to fall apart like Tanner did before he figured it out. A smile tugged at his lips. “Well, I guess be careful when you talk to a Wise Woman.”

    Rita smiled back. “One more thing.”

    “Um... okay.”

    “Remember this: whatever they’ve done or tried to do to us, you’ve been there. You’ve stood between us and people with more power than we can imagine, and told them where to stick it. So if Anaph didn’t have the gift before, they still didn’t get their way: he has the gift, and he’s his own person, not their stick figure. The others felt the pressure back off when you threatened to throw Anaph’s staff in the fire, remember? Ocean stopped being an airhead, remember? She wasn’t the only one who got relief, either.
    “And what we are, what’s come out of your hands once you grabbed hold and told the Snatcher what for, is better than anything we’ve ever been before. Even if somehow we all died tomorrow, we’d die better people And if there’s a God and a judgment, I’d stand there and say, ‘Your Divine Majesty, I made it because of Rigel Stefanos Fitzhue-Winchester, so you’d better be letting him in, too’.
    “Last – think about the fact that they did back down. They didn’t want Anaph’s staff destroyed. So whatever power they have, it’s limited. They used energy we can’t begin to grasp, to drag us here between worlds, even universes. But it cost them: they can’t just grab another bunch of people if we don’t work out. They can’t just throw away the investment in a scrawny kid and a stick of wood. They need us – and that’s the greatest bargaining power in the world.”

    “They’ve brought people before”, he objected.

    Rita laughed. “Celts! Rigel, these people’s ancestors got Snatched back in the time of Rome! If they could do this every day, we’d be running into the descendants of German immigrants whose ship sank in the Atlantic, and British sailors whose ship blew up in World War One, and Japanese who got incinerated at Hiroshima! But we aren’t! There are people from close to two millennia ago -- and there’s us!”

    “We haven’t seen the whole world yet”, he objected.

    “Okay, true – but we haven’t seen a whole world of people, either. They can’t bring folks in by the boat load. Then there’s this: they may need certain kinds of people. They needed someone who could be turned into a Druid, someone who could be made a Healer, someone to be the lord, helpers with outdoor survival skills....”

    “A Wise Woman”, he teased.

    “And a Wise Woman”, she agreed. “That’s probably not easy to find. So what it comes down to is this: they need us.
    “Remember that.”

    “Hey, Wise Woman?”

    “Shoot.”

    “What kind of problem do they have, that they could haul in some barbarians two thousand years ago and expect them to solve it, but when they didn’t, we got hauled in two stinking thousand years later to try again?”

    Rita had no answer.


    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  39. #239
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Kuli,
    Talk about your "independent study" programs, lol.

    The knowledge of the ages transferred from The Stone to the Druid.

    You keep engaging us and challenging our brains.

    The developments and the ponderings are great.

    Thanks for continuing to bring this epic saga to us.


    And I know, if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest . . .

  40. #240
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Ok Kuli

    Head thumping is on hold...not put away...just on hold..Mind your P's and Q's.

    Did you find the comment I alluded too?

  41. #241
    HUGS! ;-)
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    Re: Fit for Life

    And so ... The thot plickens!!

    You have me spell-bound! Great Work!, Snatcher Kuli!!

    Keep smilin'!!
    Chaz
    WISDOM is the Knowledge you've gained ... After you could have used it! _Me

  42. #242
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Quote Originally Posted by Kyanimal View Post
    And so ... The thot plickens!!

    You have me spell-bound! Great Work!, Snatcher Kuli!!

    Keep smilin'!!
    Chaz
    It thickens in ways I wasn't expecting: there are actually two clues in there to their ultimate fate!

    That wasn't planned, it just snuck up on me, so I need to note them down, so I don't forget.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  43. #243
    HUGS! ;-)
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Oh! Do keep , Buddy!!

    Keep smilin'!!
    Chaz
    WISDOM is the Knowledge you've gained ... After you could have used it! _Me

  44. #244
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Is anyone devoted to this story enough to do a bit of work to help me out? Somehow my chapter numbers in the files on my computer got screwed up; it would be helpful if someone went through and made a list of the titles in order.

    I'm busy arguing with wording and phrasing, and doing research to refresh my knowledge of igneous geology.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Your wish was my command. Check your PM.


    And I know, if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest . . .

  46. #246
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Someone has earned himself mention in the credits, should there ever be any in print!

    Thanks to Don Q, I was able to resolve a certain little problem in the current set of chapters, so here comes the next one.

    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

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    Re: Fit for Life

    Feast


    Casey let Dmitri take the pole they just tied, and wandered away. His jaw hurt, and itched – how do you scratch inside your skin?! He saw Anaph standing with the villager that Elder Crûánåch had given Rigel, doing something with the staff. Hey, Anaph – how about doing something with me? We’re having a feast, and I can’t eat! And I’m getting tired of tea. And broth is boring.

    “Hey, squire.” Rigel put his hand on Casey’s shoulder. “Hurtin’ from workin’?” Casey shook his head. “Just hurtin’?” That got a nod. “Let me grab Lumina – then we’ll see what Anaph can do.” Casey gave him a thumbs-up.

    Lumina was with a mother holding a child that to Rigel looked like it was starving. He knew better than to bother her; after all, he didn’t command her in all things.

    “Lord Rigel”, she murmured without looking.

    “Looks like it hasn’t been fed”, he observed, squatting down beside her.

    “She eats twice as much as her siblings. She’s got trouble I can’t fix all at once. This is my third time with her. Two more and I’ll be able to start on the main problem. So far I’m just taking care of secondary issues the big one caused.”

    “What’s the big one?”

    “A growth of some kind in her intestines. It’s parasitic, but it’s her, too. It soaks up a lot of her nutrition. Quiet a moment.”

    Lumina’s torc glowed intensely bright. The baby squalled. The light vanished. “Lord, hold her arms still”, Lumina asked. Rigel grabbed one and held it; he had to catch the other, which took a couple of seconds. Lumina nodded and the light returned. The child struggled and wailed. For a small person, she had a loud voice; Rigel wished he hadn’t shown up just then; he was not a baby person.

    The wail turned into a gurgle. Lumina let go contact, rocked back on her rear end, and sat with her hands in her lap. “Done, for today”, she told the mother, who smiled.

    Rigel stood and gave Lumina a hand up. “Healer, Casey’s jaw is hurting. Can you do something about it?”

    “You mean do I have time? Of course. I’m tired of being treated like a goddess, anyway – I need a break.”

    Casey didn’t treat her like a goddess – more like a mom come to take care of him: she got a big hug. “Thank you, Casey”, she said, hugging him back. "That’s much nicer than people offering me fruit and jewelry, and kneeling and everything.” She cut off her next words; they might have made Casey laugh, which he didn’t need.

    “He could come with you”, Rigel joked. “They could give him fruit and things, and he could give you hugs.” Casey nodded, grinning carefully.

    Lumina laughed. “Thank you, but no. That would hardly teach the right lesson.”

    “I know what would”, Rigel offered.

    “Yes?”

    “Tell them instead of offering things to you, they should build a hall – a Healing Hall – where people can be taken care of. Tell them if you find someone else you can teach, they’ll have their own Healer.”

    “I already have – found someone”, replied Lumina. “Two – a really strange thing: identical twins in everything except the final chromosome.”

    “Is that possible?” Rigel asked.

    Lumina shook her head. “Theoretically... maybe. But it happened – identical except for sex. They’re just hitting puberty. I found them because there’s a nasty bacterial infection going around and they had it. Elder Crûánåch admitted they had to choose carefully who to let come to you to be selected for that display of erotic hospitality. Their herb woman found something to keep it from spreading, but couldn’t get rid of it.”

    “But you can?”

    “It’s a little draining. The bacteria is eating their skin. It soaks up their DNA; that makes it hard to separate the two. Rigel, that’s a scary kind of bacteria.”

    “Have you talked to Ryan about it?”

    The Healer shook her head. “I haven’t finished all the cases yet. When I have, I’ll know more. Maybe. But I’ll be sure I know what there is.”

    “Healer.” Lumina turned her head to see Anaph.

    “Druid.”

    Anaph grinned at the formality. “How’s our patient today?”

    “A little pain. The bones are knitting well.” She shot a glance at Casey. “Now.”

    “Now that he’s been careful?” Anaph asked. Casey looked at his feet. “Well, let me look.” He set his staff balancing on its own, and set his hands gently on either side of Casey’s jaw. “Ahh... he said after a moment. “I didn’t see that before.” Even though he wasn’t touching it, his staff glowed at the tip. “Lumina, look.”

    Lumina set her hands with her fingers between Anaph’s. “Look at what?”

    “This.” The staff glowed more brightly.

    With her Healer’s vision, that awareness of life down to its smallest components, she reached out. In that Sight, white bones swam within red tissue. Mitochondria pulsed green and gold, nuclei were silver, RNA drifted in brilliant blue, drifting about delivering instructions by means of random interactions. Suddenly the edges of the bones, where they met but didn’t join, flared brilliant actinic white, blinding her at the center of her vision. Slowly it faded, revealing white bone edges thicker than before.

    When the bone strengthens, I can Heal
    , she thought. I told them that.... thought sprouted will sprouted power.

    Anaph saw the results; he didn’t see the tiny flash of particles that formed vibrant coruscating tendrils that danced along the nerve pathways toward the wound, a trickle of green motes that flashed into eruption when they met the border of flesh seeking to restore itself, an eruption of billions of motes of energy he didn’t command, but she did. What he saw was a sudden surge of growth, the recently-born cells turned mature, new cells split off, matured, divided again.... And then it was his turn once more.

    Distinct energies washed back and forth through Casey’s jaw. From the outside, Rigel, and Austin – who’d arrived with a message but decided he really ought to stay silent – saw the skin over the breaks in Casey’s jaw wriggle in a way that reminded them both of the writhing parasites from the blood of the gurvenpigs. Revolted and fascinated at the same time, lord and squire knew it meant something special was happening.

    Abruptly Anaph stepped up against Casey, lifted his right hand away and used his forearm to lever Lumina’s left arm up as he reached behind Casey to grasp her right arm and take it away as well. He caught her and looked into her eyes. “Enough, Healer”, he said gently. “Don’t drain yourself.” And don’t get addicted, a voice in his head said.

    “Wow!” Austin cried, bumping Anaph aside as he moved to grab Casey, who was sagging. “Casey, how’s it feel?”

    “He can have the brace off now”, Anaph and Lumina said together. They turned back and stared into one another’s eyes, sharing a moment of triumph in a realm of reality none of the others sensed. “Casey, just don’t eat anything you have to chew hard”, Lumina added. “And go get some fruit now – say the Healer ordered it.” Exulting, Casey started tugging at the contraption that had been holding his jaw together.

    “Let me do it!” Austin told him, laughing. “The ties are all where you can’t see them!” Casey’s hands fell away to let his fellow squire do the job.

    “How long till full healing?” Rigel asked, watching his two followers with amusement.

    “A week”, Lumina said. “If I give him a little jolt every morning.”

    “If you don’t?”

    “Five or six.”

    “Ugh – jolt him.”

    “And I’ll strengthen the bones”, Anaph added. "Make it four days."


    Rigel easily forgave his people for drooling – he was, too. The abundance of food the villagers spread for honoring the first Druid to come in generations was tremendous, and the aromas wafting from the lodge and other buildings where cooking was going on said “Delicious! Luscious!” He sniffed venison – all too familiar! – and rabbit, in stew and shish-ka-bob (he’d taken a peek in a door and gotten shooed out), and what memory told him was pork. There were apples, pears, and something that looked like a pink cucumber; there were heaps of vegetables, mounds of bread. He expected cheese by the bread for a moment, but then it struck him that he’d seen no livestock, not even goats or sheep. Sheep especially would have been nice, he thought. Wool would be great to have!

    “So where are the orchards?” Ryan asked, echoing Rigel’s own thought.

    “No flocks, no orchards. But they have fruit”, Rigel replied. “Maybe in a side valley?”

    “There’s enough of them. Maybe it’s taboo to grow any trees down here.” Ryan rolled his eye to show what he thought of things being taboo.

    “Well, as long as we can buy or trade, it’s not too important.”

    Ryan nodded. “And remember to save the seeds.”

    “Definitely. In fact, pass the word on that for today.”

    “And if we’re caught, we’re just being frugal”, Ryan said piously.

    “Of course. Our herb-woman collects them.”

    The two best friends grinned at each other.


    It wasn’t a smorgasbord after all, Rigel discovered. All his party were seated on something he found surprising: folding benches brought out from beneath the lodge. Anaph or Rita had pulled strings, or defined everyone’s status somehow in order to rank them all above merely servants or subjects. Most leaned forward with elbows on knees; that was a good position for reaching things on the tables that were lower than most of coffee tables he’d ever seen. At Rigel’s insistence, three not of the group sat with them: Pedhrûánåg sat by Rigel, the twins Lumina had found sat with her. He knew that would call for explanation – but that was partly why he’d done it, to give him a chance to claim the floor, so to speak, and talk to the whole assembly.

    A drum rolled in a staccato sequence. Those chosen to serve flashed into motion. For Rigel’s people, that meant the young men and women chosen to join his party. The boys arrived first, bringing large cups made of bone and pitchers made of leather.

    “Red is... juice... berries....” Pedhrûánåg struggled with his limited vocabulary to explain what was in the huge pitchers, then switched to his own language.

    “Lightly fermented juice of wild berries”, Ryan translated, more for the Elder’s son than anyone. Rigel repeated it for those near him; Chen and Lumina were doing the same to his right and left, farther along the tables.

    Pedhrûánåg carefully repeated back what Ryan had said, then described the contents of the other pitchers. Until the villager pointed it out, Rigel hadn’t really noticed that the pitchers were faintly colored near the top to distinguish them. The first had an uneven band of pale red, the others, which Pedhrûánåg was telling about, pale blue.

    “Blue is... juice of apple and juice of mérantthå, with...” – he consulted with Ryan – “from mountain spices.”

    “Spices from the mountains”, Ryan corrected.

    “Be careful with it”, Ocean called from the far left end. “One of the spices is a... not a hallucinogen really, it makes everything look sharper and vivid. Too much will give you a headache.”

    Ryan translated her words for Pedhrûánåg, who shook his head. “Roasted muk, eat with blue.”

    “‘Muk’ is pig”, Ryan told him. “Ocean, why would that help?”

    Her face lit up. “Oh! Yes, the fat will bind some of the... active stuff.”

    “How much is ‘some”?” Rigel called back.

    “Um... two-thirds, pretty much. But you have to keep eating your muk.” She grinned at her use of the word.

    “Casey, only one mug of blue for you”, Lumina called. She looked at the waiting serving boy – or lad, as they’d started saying while in the valley. “Blue, please.” That served as a signal: choices were stated by everyone, and the sound of liquid splashing in bone containers briefly overwhelmed conversation.

    Breeze sat looking at her cup. She’d asked for the red drink, but wasn’t touching it. “Drink up, girl!” Crystal urged.

    “I can’t”, Breeze declared. “It’s... it’s from a dead animal.”

    “You eat meat!”

    “But it’s cooked!”

    “You think they should cook the bone?” Crystal asked, confused.

    Ocean had been listening; now she jumped in. “Breeze, I don’t think it’s just plain bone. They must coat it with something. Lumina”, she called past the two girls, “would you ask how the cups are made?”

    “Sure”. A quick question went to a serving girl, who dashed to Pedhrûánåg’s side.

    “Lord Rigel, if...?” the young man asked.

    “It’s ‘may I go?’ Austin told him.

    “Certainly, Pedhrûánåg’, Rigel replied. Elder Crûánåch’s son rose, bowed, and went to where Lumina sat.

    “Step by step”, Lumina told him in the villagers’ tongue, after she’d explained what they wanted. He complied, and she translated.

    “The bone is taken from the animal. It is cut into the right pieces. The pieces are boiled in – just a minute” – she asked a few questions before continuing – “water with the honey of... call them wasps. While they’re still hot, they’re taken out and hung over hot coals. That keeps them hot and makes them dry. Then” – she asked Pedhrûánåg a question – “a mixture with boiling clay is poured in each one and back out, in and back out, seven times. Then they hang over the coals till the outside turns brown and then turns white again.
    “Thank you, Pedhrûánåg”, the Healer said. He bowed and returned to Rigel.

    “So it’s kinda like pottery in the inside?” Breeze concluded uncertainly.

    “Sounds like it”, said Ryan, who’d come to listen when he realized what Lumina and the Elder’s son were discussing. “I think the honey cleans all the pores and probably sanitizes–“

    “That honey is a strong antibiotic”, Ocean said.

    Ryan nodded. “Good – thanks. So the bone gets clean and germ-free. The clay goes in boiling to get it into the pores, too. Repeating it seven times must seal the pores and coat the inside pretty thoroughly. Don’t worry, Breeze – it’s safe.”

    Breeze picked up the bone utensil like it might bite, and sipped daintily. Ryan grinned at that, knowing that she’d soon be drinking like it was a glass from Sears.

    Then he turned to Ocean. “They don’t even have pottery – how’s that possible? No, don’t answer that; I’m just wondering. How much do you know about making pots?”

    “Well... it would be easier if they knew how to make bricks. Bricks are easiest to make an oven. Then – lord Ryan, I don’t know enough about natural clays! All I ever used was what we ordered at the Project.”

    “If your fingers remember the feel of that clay, I bet we can find something that will work. So we’ve got a project, you and I – we’re going to teach these people to make bricks, and then pottery.”

    Austin had been tugging at Ryan’s kilt. Now he spoke. “Lord, the girls are bringing fruit.”

    Ryan rolled his eyes. “Like I can’t get some myself! Okay, I’ll come back. Ocean, think about it”, he said in parting.


    After the fruit came venison in a thick gravy. The meat dish was followed by a salad – Ocean noted that it lacked carrots, and told herself to remember they could trade plants. Salad brought with it an interlude – to let food digest, Ryan guessed – and with the interlude came speeches.

    Elder Geróanåch, as eldest, made a formal welcome to Anaph, officially introducing him to the village. Elder Crûánåch followed with a recounting of how the Druids had established the Gathering Place and settled servants here to serve when the Druids gathered.

    Rita leaned close to Rigel. “Told you”, she whispered.

    “Then came the Others, who fought against the Lords. They set Druid against Druid, and clan turned against clan”, the Elder was saying. “Gatherings grew few, and then ended.
    “Druid Anaph, we are here to serve the Druids. We know of no others. For now, then, we are your servants.”

    Other elders spoke, but Rigel didn’t hear them. A war! he sat thinking. Civil war, even! That’s what took down this civilization. But did only the Servants survive? If so, can we use them to start over, and rebuild what was here? And can we defeat these Others, whoever they are, if they’re still around?
    Silence brought Rigel back to attention to the feast. Everyone was staring at Anaph’s staff, which was standing on the bare packed earth all by itself. Anaph stood beside it, with his arms raised. “I can feel this land”, their Druid began. “It lives. It thrives. Life runs deep into the soil, rich soil. The valley welcomes life, begs for things to grow in it.
    “And the Gathering Place is well-kept. The huts are sound and clean, the grounds beautiful – all is cared for wonderfully.
    “So I say you have served well. Generations have passed with no Gatherings, yet you have guarded and maintained all in readiness, as though dozens of Druids might arrive tomorrow. If any did, they would praise your work. You are worthy servants, and honor me with your service.” He paused.
    “I found a lad with the ‘idhrûd spark–“

    Cheers drowned out his next words. Villagers were on their feet, embracing and laughing and weeping with joy. Elder Crûánåch climbed up on his table and hooted – that was the best word anyone could come up with for it. Drums rolled, and silence returned. The Elder nodded to Anaph.

    “I was about to say I will undertake to teach him.” Villagers glanced at Elder Crûánåch and kept silence. “I haven’t searched the entire village yet; I hold onto hope for another.”

    Elder Geróanåch stood and raised his hands. “Druid, in the beginning it was thus: one Druid taught two, and so began the Brotherhood.”

    Rita leaned close to Rigel, excited. “That’s how this started! They Snatched a real Druid from Earth! The talent is real! They must have decided that since the Druids organized and held together this society, then we should have a Druid!” she whispered.

    “And they were trying to turn Anaph into a copy of some great one”, Ryan agreed. “Dumb.”

    “Then thus the Brotherhood will begin again”, Anaph proclaimed. “You will not serve only me for long.” This time Elder Geróanåch joined the cheering. Anaph calmed it after a minute, and proceeded to introduce all his companions; he managed to make each of them sound indispensable to their Quest – the upper case was unmistakable.

    The pitchers had been replaced with full ones while dignitaries spoke. Now the servers sprang into action again. Wooden platters of shish-ka-bobs arrived at the tables, with an herb sauce to accompany them. After those it was roast pig, or muk, moist and dripping and tasting of the red drink.

    Rigel lost track of the food. He noticed Ryan loosening his kilt, then Chen. Out of nowhere the thought came to him that if they stuffed themselves, they would be easy prey. Who to? Who would attack us, here? He chalked it up to a moment of paranoia.

    An Elder – Rigel didn’t remember his name – rose to speak. It was the opening Rigel had been waiting for: “Why do we see in your following three of the servant people?”

    Rigel kept himself dignified getting to his feet. “I appreciate your asking”, he began. “Pedhrûánåg is here because he has become my man–“

    “Has he taken oath?” the Elder demanded.

    “I thought perhaps now would be a good time, so you could all witness”, Rigel replied. From the reaction of the villagers, it was the perfect answer. “Pedhrûánåg?”

    The Elder’s fourth son did as Ryan had instructed, with flair: he vaulted over the table as Rigel carefully stepped over, and knelt. “Elder Crûánåch”, Rigel called, “Would you come and stand as sponsor?”

    Crûánåch sported a grin as he came, something none of them had seen on him, though he was the most cheerful of the Elders. He stood by his son’s left shoulder, and placed his hand on it.

    Rigel turned to his own people. “Will someone else also stand sponsor?” Ryan was ready. He took the more dignified approach of easing between tables to take up his station on Pedhrûánåg’s other shoulder.

    Pedhrûánåg put his hands together and stuck them out in front of him. Rigel put his hands around them. Ryan was supposed to have taught the Elder’s son an oath, but he wasn’t sure what it was going to be.

    “I, Pedhrûánåg Crûánåsson, pledge myself to you to be your man of life and limb, giving loyalty for loyalty, duty for duty, honor for honor, taking you as my earthly master to serve and obey, setting aside all others, for Life’s sake, until you this bond might sever.”

    Nice and direct, Rigel thought, and like the others I took. I really need to standardize this, though – or maybe that’s what Ryan had in mind.

    “I, Rigel Fitz-Win” – it had been Rita’s idea to shorten his name to the way she used it as a nickname – “receive and accept your pledge. I take you as my man; I will give you loyalty for loyalty, duty for duty, honor for honor, protection for obedience, guarding you as my own blood, for Life’s sake. This bond I will not sever except you forsake this oath, or by your request and need.”

    Ryan lifted the newest member of the House of Fitz-Win to his feet and turned him around. “I present to you Pedhrûánåg Crûánåsson, squire of the House of Lord Rigel Fitz-Win.”

    Pandemonium ensued. Pedhrûánåg was lifted onto shoulders and paraded around past all the tables, completing the circle by dropping down to embrace his father. Elder Elder Crûánåch returned it for a heartbeat, then turned and raised his arms. The assembly quieted.

    “We are joined today by blood to this noble House. Are we thus honored?”

    “Yes!” the villagers thundered, as one voice.

    But the Elder who had protested wasn’t satisfied. “Now what of these two children?” he demanded.

    “Who are they sitting with?” Ryan called out. Rigel gave him a harsh look; that had been his own question to answer.

    “By the Healer”, the answer came. Not too bright, said a voice in Rigel’s head, a voice very much like the Oracle in The Matrix.

    “Healer”, Rigel called softly, just enough to be heard by everyone, “why do the twins sit with you?”

    Lumina stood. “They have the Healer’s spark. I will undertake to train them.” She waited until the joyous uproar, almost as enthusiastic as that which had greeted Anaph’s announcement, had died down. “In return, I make of you a request: give me no longer gifts for my service, but bestow your efforts on the building of a Healer Hall, where they may learn and I teach, where all knowledge of healing may be brought together, for Life’s sake.”

    She didn’t get an uproar, but many banged on the tables – a local sign of approval, kind of like applause, she supposed. Elder Crûánåch looked thoughtful.

    Ryan stood and held up his hands. “We will aid you in honoring the Healer by teaching you ways to make the Hall strong and lasting.” No applause or cheers greeted those words – but now many villagers looked thoughtful, and interested.

    The protesting Elder sat down. Rigel couldn’t tell if he’d been satisfied by this, or not. I don’t care, either, he decided. If he’s stubborn and annoying, I bet Anaph can say he has to be replaced.

    Rigel held onto the floor while he had it. He jumped up on his table and waved for attention. Waiting till everyone was quiet focused their expectations. The addition of Pedhrûánåg as a squire complicated matters, but he’d adjusted what he was going to say, so it would fit.

    “Pedhrûánåg is my newest squire”, he declared in the villagers’ language. He joins three others, who have given good service. Squires, please stand.” Chen, Austin, and Casey got to their feet. “Chen Malik, you’re my senior squire. You’ve served well, so I have something for you.” Chen looked stunned, but came over to his lord. He looked even more stunned when Rigel pulled a torc out and lifted it over Chen’s head.

    “Squire Chen, this torc was last worn by a warrior who dishonored it. Traces of dishonor linger. Will you undertake to bring honor again to this mark of your rank?”

    Chen got tears in his eyes. “Gladly. You honor me by this. I will not tarnish it.” Anaph translated for the villagers. Chen cast aside decorum and embraced Rigel. Some of the Elders plainly disapproved, but the villagers loved it.

    “Austin Templeton, you were raised squire for valor. Since then you have given good service – and shown more valor. This torc is clean; it has no traces in it. Will you undertake to imbue it with honor?”

    Austin fairly jumped to receive the honor. “Yes! And I won’t fail you!”

    “Don’t promise what mortals can’t achieve, squire”, Rigel chided. He set the torc about Austin’s neck. Austin jumped up, grabbed Rigel, and kissed him on the cheek. “Good choice, squire”, Rigel whispered. “Lips would have been too much.” There were whistles from the villagers.

    “Casey van deKamp, you were raised squire for your dedication to service and for ingenuity. This torc is clean; it has no traces in it. Will you undertake to imbue it with honor?”

    “I will, lord”, Casey replied, standing straight and proud. The third torc settled about his neck, he jumped into the air with a whoop.

    “I’m proud of all of you”, Rigel told them when Casey had rejoined the others. “Servant People, these are men deserving of honor”, he finished. Cheers were the response; he bowed to them and sat back down.

    The feast went on. All the formal parts were done, so after, and even as, dessert was served and eaten, people mingled. Two dozen men or more converged on Ryan with questions about his ‘ways to make the Hall strong and lasting’. There were two Elders among them, Elders with sharp eyes and sharp questions. It wasn’t long before Ryan came to where Rigel and Rita were chatting with Elder Crûánåch.

    “We have a problem, Rye. They’re not allowed to build with stone”, Ryan informed his best friend. “And the two Elders there have decided that if mud is baked until it’s as hard as stone, then it counts as stone.”

    “You planned to teach them brick-making, huh? Good idea. But why aren’t they supposed to build with stone?”

    “A decree of the Gathering”, Elder Crûánåch informed them. “Nothing is to be in this valley which will not return to the elements should no one care for it.”

    “That fits with the valley, Rye”, Rigel said.

    “But stone is natural! I don’t get it!” Ryan protested. “And– no, wait: what if the bricks had to be painted or something, every year, or they’d start turning back to mud?”

    “Lord Ryan, it is best not to press them. They cling to the ancient lore, which has served us so well. Instead – come look.” He led them to the north edge of the village. “See there the small valley with the steep sides?” he asked, pointing.

    “Has a pair of huge boulders at the mouth?” inquired Rigel.

    “The same. It is close, and unused. If the Healer’s Hall were built there, your bick–“

    “Brick”, his son corrected.

    His father nodded. “We could use your brick to build it, or stone. More, the entire valley could be for the Healers.”

    Concerns troubled Rigel’s thoughts as he looked. “Elder, if they were attacked, could men from here go to their defense in time to give aid?”

    “Who would attack Healers?!” Crûánåch was outraged.

    “Who are ‘the Others’?” Rigel countered.

    Elder Crûánåch was silent for a long time. “It is said they were demons. They corrupted Dhrûdha. The clans fought them, and the Houses.” Serious, he met Rigel’s eyes. “The Houses fell. Clans fled. And Dhrûdha were slain, one by one.”

    “Were the Others destroyed?” Rigel asked quietly.

    The Elder sighed. “This is not known.”

    “Then someone might attack the Healers”, Rigel concluded.

    “You correct me in my confidence. What would you?” Rigel looked to Ryan for an answer.

    “We design the Hall with safe shelter and with defenses. Your young men who chafe at being servants can learn the skills of warriors, and guard the Hall.”

    “And will you remain, Lord Ryan, to see these things done?”

    Now Ryan had to turn to Rigel. “We’ll talk about that”, Rigel said.

    Elder Crûánåch nodded. “You must take counsel with your advisors; this I understand. Until then – what do you intend, in your stay here? Beyond supplies, of course.”

    “Beyond”, Ryan repeated. “That’s a good idea! Rigel, my friend, what say we go beyond the waterfall?”










    = = = = = = = = = = = =







    Waterfall


    From a distance, they’d thought the waterfall beautiful. Up close, it was awe-inspiring. The roar grew to thunder, the thunder to what Rigel thought an unrelenting artillery barrage might sound like. The group who’d decided – or been picked – to come stopped a hundred meters away, where they could still hear each other.

    Rigel, Ryan, Austin, Pedhrûánåg, Chen and Oran, Casey, Rita, and Crystal, plus two of the village girls now assigned to Rigel’s House and three of the young men, had set out at dawn the second day after the feast. It was another easy hike across the incredibly smooth turf. That day had brought them to a campsite along the edge of the valley, near enough the waterfall that they could sleep. This day they’d set out at dawn again, to be able to have most of a day for their exploration.

    The two girls and three young men remained at the camp. Pedhrûánåg explained it: “The Servant People forbidden falls journey. Druids, lords, this is for.” He’d been uncertain he himself should go with them, but Anaph had given his blessing, expounding that lords being allowed meant they could take members of their House – and Pedhrûánåg, a squire, certainly counted. With that blessing Anaph gave him a small pouch to take along. "When there is dark, open this. What you find inside will give you light", the Druid told him.

    Village women had supplied them with waterproof leather bags large enough to stow their clothes and gear in. Ocean had learned the waterproofing secret and applied it to their backpacks as well. Still, the idea of walking through that stupendous deluge balked them.

    “We’re gonna get flattened”, Casey claimed, awe and nervousness in his voice.

    “You could crawl, so you don’t have so far to fall”, Austin teased.

    Chen and Oran were conferring. “Lord, look”, Chen said. “On the left side: the water is thinner, and there’s an overhang that looks like it leads around under the main falls.”

    “Around, or under?” Ryan asked with a touch of teasing sarcasm.

    “Only way to know is go try”, Rigel stated. “Right, Chen?”

    “At least, to go look”, the first scout replied. “Oran and I will lead.”

    Once they reached the riverbed the footing got tricky. Ryan stopped to look at where the water went: an entire river cascaded off the cliff above, but only a small stream flowed through the valley. Yet no opening showed; there was just a vast pool of water with the little creek going out. “Weird”, was what he said before turning to catch up.

    Chen and Oran had already stripped and started in when he got there. Pedhrûánåg, Ryan saw, was definitely uncomfortable. “Nobody goes about with no clothes, in the village, huh?” he asked.

    “It is not done!”

    “Well, it is here. Listen” – he would have said “Look”, but the Elder’s son got confused at such idioms – “Druid Anaph goes naked, too. In fact he says it connects him with Life, with the whole world.”

    “Truly?”

    “Truly.”

    Pedhrûánåg’s brow wrinkled as he considered this. “Then I consider honor, this, to go Druid-like”, he concluded at last.

    “Good man”, Ryan told him with approval.

    “They’re coming back”, Casey called. “Look! Chen shows two thumbs up!” Eagerly he set about stripping and packing his clothes. The rest followed suit.

    Pedhrûánåg skinned out of his quickly, then insisted that he do Rigel’s packing for him. Austin, not to be pushed out of his attendant’s role so easily, intercepted Rigel’s clothing and folded it carefully before surrendering it to the villager. I’m going to have to have a talk with these two, Rigel thought.

    Two good-looking naked females nearby had Pedhrûánåg most decidedly ill at ease. Rigel intervened. “Austin and Pedhrûánåg, with me. Oran and Chen, you’ve been there so lead the way. Rita, Crystal, you’re next. Casey, take rear guard.”

    Casey looked unhappy. Then he looked over at Rita and Crystal, and got a grin. Ryan and Rigel, watching Casey, looked at each other, grinning as well.

    Chen pointed out obstacles; Oran demonstrated how to pass. A pool that was hip deep, a series of stones to follow; a curtain of water just heavy enough to sting; a stretch of sand and pea gravel; a ledge leading upward to four downward steps, where they had to jump into a pool and swim; another curtain of water, and they were in a cave behind the big falls. The light was dim and indirect.

    Oran made his way ahead carefully. The rocks here were slippery with algae and moss, smooth enough to be slippery even without that growth. He reached a large flat rock near the middle of the chamber and hopped up on it. Standing there, he closed his eyes and held still. “There’s a breeze”, he yelled – but no one heard him. He figured that out fast, so we waved his arms and motioned for everyone to join him.

    “There’s a breeze”, he yelled near Rigel’s ear. “I feel it on my butt and shoulders. We go that way to get out.”

    Pedhrûánåg lifted his waterproof bag and looked at Rigel. “Not yet”, Rigel yelled over the water’s roar. “Not till we’re out.”

    Pedhrûánåg shook his head and waved Rigel over. He opened his bag and dug around. Triumphantly he pulled out the small pouch Anaph had given him. "Druid gave me -- for when darkness is." He handed the pouch to Rigel.

    Rigel almost dropped it, the weight was so high. Undoing the cord, he opened it to find sticks of oak. Silver markings decorated one end of each. He dug, and found that three sticks were slightly larger, with more complex markings. He kept one for himself, gave the second to Ryan, and tossed the third to Rita. "Hand the rest out", he told Pedhrûánåg. Everyone received a stick. Rigel held his up like it was a miniature version of Anaph's staff, markings up -- and it began to glow! Immediately everyone followed suit.

    "Whoa! Casey hollered. "It stopped shining in my eyes!"

    Ryan had made his own discovery. "Mine works like a flashlight!" he called. Rigel's and Rita's were the same.

    Thus illuminated, the group moved on.

    Chen came and yelled to Rigel. “Everyone should stay two meters apart, so if someone falls, no one else will get knocked down.”

    “Pass it on”, Rigel yelled back. He turned to tell Austin, then Casey.

    By the time the word had been passed, Ryan was out in the lead with Chen. They moved slowly, carefully, often putting their bags down to sit on and spin around a small boulder, when the footing was poor. Rigel expected the algae to thin out, but when they turned a corner the reason it didn’t became visible: a small flow of water tumbled from the roof, falling and mostly turning to spray before it reached the ground.

    The cave bent sharply left, then right, then left again. Beyond the third turn the roar grew quiet enough that they could speak without yelling into ears – they only had to yell from within a meter. Another turn to the right followed, the path sloping up enough that it felt like a climb.

    “Oh... my... God”, Chen’s voice echoed from ahead. “Rigel, you’ve got to see this!” he yelled.

    “Stand here”, Ryan instructed when Rigel caught up. “Look down the cleft.” A fissure in the rock ran straight toward the bottom of the falls, with light coming through it. But the marvel wasn’t the light, it was what the light came through on its way to them. The huge crystal could have been a diamond, for all Rigel knew, but even if it was quartz or something else clear, the wonder wasn’t diminished: the crystal filled the fissure, some two meters high, over a meter wide.

    “The falls is flowing over it”, Rigel said. “Watch the way the light fluctuates – it’s just like the view from inside in a car wash.”

    Rigel let Austin take his place, then Pedhrûánåg . One by one, the little group each got a look. After Crystal, the last, Rigel motioned them upwards again.

    The passage ran straight a long way. Past the fissure and crystal the rock, now a solid surface instead of loose, round stones, was free of algae. They made better progress, leaving the roar behind. The rock of the walls was mostly black, with occasional streaks or layers of even darker material with hints of green to it. “Peridotite”, Ryan declared after examining that. “It’s almost all olivine – that makes it greenish. It’s from lava that doesn’t flow out on the surface – it’s intrusive, which means it squeezes between layers of other rock.”

    “I thought you studied biology stuff”, Austin said.

    “There was a sorority chick”, Rigel told him, grinning wickedly. “And Ryan wanted into her pants. She was a geo minor, so he took classes with her.”

    “Did he get any?” Austin asked curiously, just like Ryan wasn’t standing there.

    But Ryan answered. “Down in a lava tube, where iron pyrite and mica sparkled from our lantern”, he said dreamily. “I told her she moved like a rhyolitic eruption. She said I thrust like a lahar. I came like Mount St. Helens. We lay together a long while, watching the sparkling minerals. She asked if I was dormant. I said I detected intermittent magma movement. We made another eruption.” With a silly smile on his face and evidence of his response to the memory standing up in front, he jogged away up the passage.

    “Wow”, Casey pronounced. “Fucking like volcanoes!” Something about that hit Austin as incredibly funny; he started laughing and kept on for over a minute.

    "How many terms did he study geology just to get laid?" Casey asked.

    Rigel's grin was huge. "Seven. But the seventh was a field course -- they did it in every geological formation known to man." Casey stared after Ryan with a look of awe, unaware of the extent of Rigel's exaggeration.

    “Fuck me in the ear!”, Oran swore fervently from ahead. Everyone rushed to see what he’d found.

    One side of the tunnel – they were certain that’s what it was now, because light was streaming in from ahead – was layered in black, green, grey, white, and even bluish rock. That was impressive enough, but mingled in, resting between the layers, were many dozens of colorful crystals. Ryan started checking them out. “Shards! I need my field lens! Guys, this one could be a ruby – at home it would be worth a million or more, it’s so big! This one has to be an emerald, and that’s probably an amethyst. This looks like fire opal! And there are garnets all over....." He stopped and stared at the wall.
    “Rigel, this isn’t possible.”

    “Say why.”

    “These gems form in totally different formations. This looks like they were stuck in between the layers randomly! This can’t be natural!”

    “Can we get any to keep?” Crystal asked, tapping at a lovely deep blue gem. “I like this one.”

    Ryan stepped over. “Sapphire! Austin, have you got your axe handy?”

    “I would if I got dressed.”

    “Let’s all get dressed”, Rigel decided.

    Rita intercepted Austin before he delivered the axe. “I’m not certain that’s a good idea, Rye”, she informed their eager geologist. “You say this can’t be natural. If it isn’t natural, someone put these here. If someone put them here, there’s got to be a reason. And no one would place stones as nice as these down in an underground tunnel without a good reason.”

    Ryan stared at her. “Stinker. Could you stop being right for a little while?”

    Pedhrûánåg glared at Ryan. “You should not speak so to a Wise Woman!”

    Rigel chuckled. “No worries, squire”, he said, with emphasis on the latter word. “They’re old friends.”

    “When he calls me ‘stinker’, it means he likes me but wishes I hadn’t done something I did”, Rita told Pedhrûánåg . “It’s nothing bad.”

    The Elder’s son thought about that. “Strange customs”, he said finally.


    The light got steadily brighter. Their eyes adjusted slowly, more slowly than they moved, but they pressed on. Ryan estimated they’d come two kilometers, and Chen agreed. Chen said they’d also curved enough they wouldn’t be too far from the top of the falls, the way things were going. Then suddenly the tunnel widened into a broad cave, big enough and high enough to put a small town in. The cave continued to widen as it went , and in the opening they saw mountains and blue sky. That sight set off a rush to the outside.

    Ryan turned and looked back at the cave. “Rye?”

    “Yo.”

    “Put a wall across that, and you’d have one heck of a fortress.”

    “It would be one heck of a wall. But yeah – five thousand people could live in there!”

    “Plus livestock”, Ryan agreed.

    “Everybody quiet!” Chen called.

    Rigel went over to him and raised his eyebrows. Finger to lips, Chen shook his head. Rigel tried to listen for whatever Chen was hearing, but all he got was the distant roar of the falls.

    “It’s moving this way”, Oran reported. “I thought it was thunder, but it just keeps going.”

    “Hush – bloody; it stopped”, Chen said.

    “No idea what it was?” asked Rigel. Both scouts shook their heads.

    “Lord Rigel?” Casey was shading his eyes and looking across and up the valley. “I think there’s a building over there.”

    Rigel turned his sight away from the deeply U-shaped valley to where Casey was looking. “I think I see a bump there, squire. Your eyes are getting better. Everyone, let’s hike over to the top of the falls, then to Casey’s building”, he called.

    Unfortunately for the sight-seer instinct, approaching the top of the falls turned out to be more than a little unsafe. The ground was cracked and jumbled, with cracks big enough to swallow a person hidden by grass and weeds. Oran found the first hidden crack when he stepped on what looked like turf and fell up to his crotch. That painful lesson got them testing with spears as they went. Before long, though, Rigel called a halt to it. “We can find a way through this mess some other time”, he announced. “Today we’re doing more general exploring.” So they retreated carefully back to even, firm ground, and headed for what at that range was plainly a building, though it appeared broken or partly collapsed.

    “Freeze!” Chen called out, and they all did. He cocked his head, listening, and looked over at Oran.

    Oran nodded. “It’s back – and getting loud.”

    “It almost sounds like a flash flood, lord”, Chen reported. “I’m not sure, but....”

    “Let’s move!” Rigel ordered, setting the example by heading off at a jog. Chen led the way, picking the steepest climb. It didn’t lead them toward the building very well, but it got them off the lower ground. After a scramble up a sort of terrace, Rigel called a break. “I think we’re high enough, whatever it is”, he declared.

    “Wow”, Austin exclaimed, looking out over the valley. Rigel had to agree: across the valley were little valleys on the sides, valleys which were deeply U-shaped, valleys whose floors were ten, twenty, even thirty meters above the main valley. A waterfall tumbled from each, the streams meandering down to mingle and become the river which flowed over the falls.

    “Serious glaciation”, Ryan observed. “All these valleys are deep U-cut!”

    Neither Chen nor Oran believed much in breaks. They drifted ahead, picking the best path and marking it with small stacks of rocks. Laughter drifted down from them as they shared some joke or another. Once a shouted “Look out!” alerted the resting party to a tumbling round boulder one of the scouts – “Probably Oran”, Rita commented – had sent rolling.

    A few minutes after that small entertainment Rigel thought he heard a whole batch of boulders. He looked up the slope, and saw the two scouts racing recklessly downhill toward them, waving their arms and pointing. Rigel turned – and realized that he was hearing the thundering sound his scouts had reported before. It grew louder and louder; soon everyone was standing and looking up the valley, where the sound cam from over a low rise.

    Casey saw them first, and whooped. “Horses!”




    "Thirty-one* states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible. "

    --Jonathan Rauch, Salon Magazine, March 13, 2000

    *the number is now forty

  48. #248
    Defender of Downtrodden
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Hey, guys,
    When I was gathering Chapter names, post numbers, I noticed that we didn't comment on post# 223, Interlude - another "computer" installment. I think maybe things happened too fast and I missed ponder time - BUT, it might be worth pondering - the energy levels on MAIN seemed to be awfully low - it was an energy alert - it looks like maybe the Snatchers had to switch energy supplies to auxilliary or something - which kind of goes with the conversation Rigel had with our wise woman healer.

    Whatcha all think? Oh, yeah, if you haven't already, you might want to rate the thread for Kuli - he doesn't have any stars listed, yet - may be we're just too small an active reader base but, if we don't rate the thread, we'll never know.

    Thanks,
    DQ


    And I know, if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest . . .

  49. #249
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Roll 'em, roll 'em, roll 'em.
    Keep those doggies movin'
    Rawhide!

    Horses - Wild horses?

    Potentially Work Horses?

    Who knows what's next?

    Interesting gemstones artificially planted in the volcanic oozings.
    Questioning Servants who quickly accept explanations and join in the au natural.

    Quite a geologic eruption Ryan enjoyed in days passed! (Well, however much of the fish story is true - some at least)

    A very interesting trip - I'm sure I'm missing a lot of the hints and subtleties you have planted for us.

    You are definitely keeping us intrigued with our troupe of explorers.



    And I know, if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest . . .

  50. #250
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    Re: Fit for Life

    Hmmm ... MUCH to ponder here!

    "Computer time" ... I was under the impression "the computer" was more a representation of our Guide, and Author, Kuli's mind than it was a "Snatcher" resource in the story.

    Huge crystal under the falls ... Anaph should see this, and, yet, he wasn't along?? I thought it odd that "The Druid" would stay behind on this journey of discovery.

    "Wall gems" ... did they form any particular pattern? Was there room enough to step back and view the wall in total?? Again, another Anaph "must" ... yes??

    Perhaps I should go back and re-read a few chapters, but with Pedhrûánåg's shedding of his clothes, I was suddenly wondering about his stature/structure. For some odd reason, I got the impression that "the servant people" may be more "compact", more densely muscled, than the others. Why I was thinking this, I don't know ... And when did Pedhrûánåg become one of Rigel's squires? (I know! Go back, re-read, and find out, Chaz! )

    Where IS all the water from the Falls going??

    Horses? Or something LIKE horses? And, might they be more sentient than "regular" horses? Again ... another Anaph "thing" ... yes??

    I NEED MORE STORY!!!

    Keep smilin'!!
    Chaz
    WISDOM is the Knowledge you've gained ... After you could have used it! _Me

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