I awoke, body creaking in pain. I was so cold. It felt like my bones had been replaced with ice. I wondered if it were possible I fell unconscious on the plain or near the river. That was only way I could fathom being so cold. And if so, how did I survive?
Yet there was some sort of soft, warm skin blanketing me. Something like I’d never felt before. Clearing away a heavy, blurriness from my eyes, I tried to pull at the skin, soft on both sides, but no kind of fur I could recognize. I tried to pull at it, but my arms were weak and restrained by strange vines. They were clear and solid like ice, but warm and moving like snakes. I called out for help, someone to release me from this strange, inexplicable magic.
I was surprised when two foreigners came to my side, trying to push me back to the soft bed I was on. It must have been the softest straw in the land because I could barely feel it. The strangers looked unlike anyone I had ever seen in my clan, or anyone else’s. One of them was obviously an old man, but his face was hairless like a woman’s. And it looked like he was wearing flat wheels of ice over his eyes. Their clothes were strange and thin, white and blue and a single stripe of red like blood down the middle of the old one’s front.
Such mysteries fell away from my thoughts because the elder’s companion took me aback and pained my already struggling chest.
He looked something like a male youth before manhood, but was unspeakably beautiful. The sun, coming from somewhere I couldn’t tell, lit up the youth’s face until his eyes shone like the sky after first light. His lips were little and plump and red like fruit-flesh. His skin was clean and smooth and unmarked. His hair was shorn, but so was the other one’s, so I assumed it was a mark of their clan, but it was so clean and brushed, shining in the light despite how dark it was. He was royalty of some kind, undoubtedly.
Several options came to my mind. If I could communicate with the youth, I could parley with his chief and make negotiations to be taken back to my clan. Or I could hold the youth hostage and make demands, but that would only work if the youth were someone’s son. From the look of him though, so kempt and pretty, he was undoubtedly someone’s concubine. Possibly the old man’s.
The foreigners were making sounds that sounded like speech but no tongue I could identify.
I demanded they speak in my tongue, but they looked at me dumbly. The youth came forward with his foreign sounds soft and smooth, brazenly touching my shoulder and my neck like he belonged to me. Even in front of the old man.
Forgoing the fatigue in my body, and the strangeness of my surroundings, putting all the unknown to the back of my thoughts, I leapt off the soft bed I’d been trapped in. There was a sharp sting in my arms as the strange vines bit me, trying to hold me back, but I pulled them off. The foreigners were panicking now, getting louder, but backing away. I was pleased to know that even weakened these foreigners found me intimidating. The old man backed away from his youth, which was just as well, because I intended to take the youth anyway for my claim, to barter or keep should the bartering fail.
I grabbed the youth by the neck and pulled him to my chest. He fit snugly under my arm. He didn’t resist, but just made his quiet sounds and lightly pushed on my chest and shuddered under my touch. I smelled in the boy’s deep, sweet scent and felt around his body. Firmer in the shoulders and chest than in the belly. I grabbed the boy’s rear with both hands, still unable to take my nose out of the youth’s sweet-smelling hair. He was firm and pliant and jumped at the sensation, but did not scream or beat his molester.
Definitely a concubine.
The youth finally pulled away when I began to take his strange wraps off to inspect his genitals. The youth said foreign words in a more frantic tone, but still holding his hands up in submission. He was still close enough that wrestling him down would have been easy if needed, but when I looked for the easiest mode of escape, I took in my location properly for the first time.
I was in a house of finer making than I’d ever seen. The walls were clean and straight and painted a bright white like I’d never seen. Someone had harnessed fire into sheets planted on the roof, yet there was neither smoke nor a hole for the smoke to get out through. Just when I thought the insanity had reached its peak, I turned around to see an entirely clear wall. It reflected my pale image like water, but stood strong like stone. For a moment I thought nothing was there, but I touched it and it was firm. It was the same kind of ice that was over the old man’s eyes. But I could see through it clear as thought it weren’t even there.
On the other side of the wall were huge houses made of stone, as far as I could see. I had to be in some kind of realm of witches or gods, for no animal had the strength to set up stones of the size of these houses. Or perhaps giants, though I could find none as I looked through the wall.
The youth’s hand startled me away from the see-through wall. It was a relief if only to see something I could understand in this foreign place.
He gave me more soothing sounds. He kept pointing to his chest and repeating the same sound. I assumed it was his barbaric way of introducing himself.
“Tshaaarls,” he said, touching his breast. “Tshaaarls.”
I placed my hand over the spot he’d touched. “Tshaaarls.”
He said it again, this time slightly differently, “Tsharills.”
Tsharills’ lips spread into a dizzying smile. I wanted his mouth on mine and only for me. It was unexpected luck to find a concubine so fair. The idea of bartering him away was less and less appealing. He took his hand from his chest and put over mine, the space where the heart beats loudest. He touched his chest again with his other hand, saying “Tsharills” again, and patting my chest with gentle fingers, looking at me with keen eyes.
I looked around, but the old man was near the far wall, watching expectantly and fearfully. I had a hatred for him, because I suddenly understood what was happening.
During my hunt, I’d wandered into some foreign land. These people were obviously afraid of me. As well they should have been. I was the best hunter in my clan since well before my father’s lifetime. Perhaps they’d heard rumors of my reputation and my fearsomeness. Perhaps they feared I was scouting for an invasion. That didn’t matter. What mattered was that they were giving me Tsharills to appease me.
That much was clear with Tsharills’ hand language. We couldn’t communicate through words so he was trying to let me know he was giving his heart to mine.
I felt conflicted. I had planned on taking him anyway, but capturing one’s prey was honorable. Simply being given a concubine when I was just a hunter, not a chief or a priest, seemed liked cheating. But the elder was cowering in the corner, just waiting for his offering to be taken. And Tsharills was such a handsome gift. I doubted that if I lived to kill every deer that existed I’d be given another gift so beautiful.
So I accepted. I covered his hand on my chest with mine and told him I would take him.
“Ayer-ich?” He said, trying to invoke some of my tongue.
I didn’t think trying to sort out the differences were important at that moment. After all, I’d heard nothing I could discern in his words and he seemed deaf to mine. But since it was an important phrase, I decided to repeat myself.
I nodded. “Yes, you are mine.”
He smiled again and it was truly dazzling, like the moon shining off the water. He spewed off a rapid flurry of his words and patted my chest in delight.
“Ayer-ik! Wee kahn kahl euoo ayer-ik!”
Whatever Tsharills had attempted to say was badly butchered, but I supposed I needed to commend him for the effort. So I nodded and patted his head, like a child attempting his craft for the first time. He babbled something at the elder, who looked relieved I had accepted the gift. I barked at him and decided to take my Tsharills and leave.
No sooner did I throw my prize over my shoulder in order to depart than the foreigners started wailing. Tsharills was making harsh noises for the first time but holding onto my chest tightly. His sounds were similar to the tone my mother used to scold me in when I misbehaved.
I sighed. If they were going to be so picky about their customs they needed to find someone who spoke my tongue. Even though I knew I wouldn’t be understood, I complained loudly about not being able to do what I wanted with my property and put Tsharills back on his feet.
The old man suddenly came back to show his stones, stabbing me with something sharp. Unluckily for him, the pain was very slight and the wise woman had protected me against evil magic before my hunt. I pulled his magic ice stick out of my arm, about to thrash him for his attack.
But I fell to the ground instead.
My senses started to fail me. My only comfort was that as everything faded to blackness, Tsharills held me in his arms and cooed soft sounds at me again.