Adashk paused and listened intently to the sounds of the jungle. The back of her shirt stained dark with sweat, flecks of mud and dried blood caked her legs below the hem of her simple tight skirt. It took a full minute to calm her own gasping breath and hear past the blood pounding in her ears. No sound did she perceive but the frogs and insects and monkeys and night birds of the high canopy above her head. The men that followed her into the edge of the forest hours ago had made enough noise to frighten every bird for a kilometer around and silence every chattering monkey in their path. The crash and stamp of their hard soled feet as they pushed their armored torsos through the low brush had urged her on like a frightened rabbit. Adashk had once been of the forest people. She stepped lightly on the ground with uncovered feet and left behind no broken twigs to mark her path. Still they had pursued up the steep sided foothills and into the open floor of the deep rain forest jungle. They must have a tracker with them she surmised.
The noisy strangers with their bellowing smoking pack wagons had approached the village at midday. As large as the tusked beasts of the far plains these beasts moved on wheels bellowing from deep inside as the riders urged them on. The trusting dull witted people had simply looked and pointed with curiosity until the first wagon flashed smoke and fire from its nose and the nearest hut disappeared in a cloud of smoke and dirt mixed with the shattered wood and thatch. The impact knocked those nearest from their feet and some did not get up again. Adashk knew warriors when she saw them and had started moving towards the safety of the bush as soon as the others had been distracted. They now began to scream and scatter Adashk was already half way up the first hill, turning briefly at the top the village was now engulfed in flames and more and of its inhabitants were lying still on the ground. Movement caught her eye as a warrior at the edge of the carnage pointed at her and raised a stick to his shoulder. The stick puffed smoke and an instant later the soil at her feet sprayed up around her. She spun and bolted, above her head she heard the patter of rain in the thick leaves though no cloud marked the sky and sunlight pored through the little round holes that appeared in the leaves. Those who were still able were following her into the thick brush followed by the strange attackers. At festival time the elders would catch rooting animals at the edge of the village for the feast. Not looking back again she could hear the same noises made by those small animals. The panicked scream turned to high pitched shrieks and deep gurgling gasp before the silence...
She squatted at a patch of rock and felt no vibration through the ground with her finger tips. Placing her ear to the nearby soil she detected no distant feet approaching. Her pursuers had either turned back or set a camp in the enveloping darkness of the jungle floor. As her racing heart slowed she could hear the sound of moving water and was instantly aware of her thirst and the ache in her legs. Moving slowly she found small rivulets spreading down a jumbled rock face. Above bathed in light from the small ice moon of her world was the fresh naked cliff face from which the jumble had recently fallen across the stream. It's larger dusky companion moon would not rise again for another three days and gave little light even when full in the sky. Mixed in the jumble were shattered trunks of the high canopy trees and their now accessible branches bearing dark hard hulls of sweet nourishing kush fruit normally reserved for the chattering monkeys or those brave and agile enough to climb the twenty five meters past the venomous reptiles and other unfriendly inhabitants of the high jungle to snatch at them. Making a basket of her blouse front she gathered several and moved cautiously up the hill. At the top she found the rock dam had made a large still pool at least forty meters across and reaching back into the deep shadows. The bright face of the cliff was mirrored perfectly and the brow of bright white night blossoms at its crest caused Adashk to shade her eyes at first.
She strained her ears again and again heard only the reassuring cacophony of the jungle. Smashing the heavy husk on a sharp rock edge the hull yielded expertly into two pieces. The meaty sections were then easily pulled and eagerly gulped down. Adashk went to the edge of the still water, dark ripples spread out as she cupped cool water to her lips then sparkled as they reached the moon light across the pool. Breaking open a second kush fruit she waded waist deep into the water and rolled on her back and took more leisurely nibbles savoring the taste and enjoying the feeling of her belly filling up. Stripping her blouse off over her head and vigorously scrubbing at the dried salt from her sweat she laid the garment on the rocks and removed her skirt for the same treatment. Next she set to scrubbing the dried mud and thin lines of blood from the scratches on her legs, pulling at the remnants of small thorns still embedded in her skin as she went. Feeling refreshed Adashk lolled easily in the water paddling out to the line where the harsh light of the ice moon met the dark shadow of the night. She marveled as the beaded drops on her arm glittered like the tiny eyes of the jungle creatures as she moved her hand in and out of the shadow line.
Water ran in rivulets down her smooth dark skin and broke into drops on her smooth breasts and thighs. Stepping out of the water into the bright white light now reaching the bank where she had entered, her entire body was devoid of hair, shaved perfectly smooth just the past evening in the custom of the now destroyed village. Looking around she soon found a leafy fern with thick waxy fronds and broke off a large piece. Rubbing the frond between her hands she began rubbing the wax over every inch of her body, starting at her head and working quickly down her body. She paused, her fingers over her belly then lower past her smooth mound, and remembered the man making ceremony just the night before. The wax mixed smoothly with the water beaded on her body and the substance would serve to conceal well her scent from the many biting insects and the few predators large enough to consider her as a possible meal.
She could still see his fresh young face and wide eyed fear. She had almost laughed but softened at his panicked expression. Tanad, son of Tanada, who was now Tanada himself had appeared so bold and filled with new found masculinity at the hand taking. As soon as they entered the making hut he dissolved into the trembling fearful little boy she had always know him to be. Adashk, who had once been Adash and would never be called Adasha had little reason to care for the feelings of some well off village boy. She was mountain born and had watched as her older sisters, one by one by one had each entered into the offering and became in their turn Alisha, Amanha, and Atarha. Adash knew she had been her father’s favorite, but when he fell ill and owed a debt to the healer she was Adashk and soon traded to the filthy people of the filthy village and slept in their filthy bug ridden straw beds. Despite her disdain it was not in her heart to be cruel. She took his face in her hands, stroked and calmed him, laid him back and when he closed his eyes and ceased to tremble she had quickly mounted him before he could realize or pull away. His eyes flew open and his pleasure mixed with her pain as his emission mixed with her first blood soaked the gathering cloth beneath them. He had jerked up with a gasp and fallen back with a shudder and was by the law of the village now a man. Tanada emerged once again the picture of confidence holding his trophy above his head and Adashk had quietly crept out the back to spend what would turn out to be her last night in the filthy straw of her bedding keeping her self made vow to shed no tear feeling them rain down inside her heart instead.
Again running her hands over her belly she knew she was two. No movement or swelling would be seen for weeks but she had known it was so from the moment Tanada had withdrawn from her belly. She did not hate him nor had she felt any joy when his limp body had fallen three meters from his legs just a few hours ago in what seemed like another world or perhaps a bad dream. The warriors were strangers, not mountain born, not hill village dwellers, nor even from the stone cities of the lowland plains. While raids and disputes and takings did occur among these peoples, the utter wanton destruction Adashk had seen was unknown. Also unknown to her were the belching bellowing beasts and the weapons which reached farther than any bow and were more powerful than any club ever wielded. Looking around she noticed the moon light had at last reached the rock dam holding back the lake water. As it touched the rocks they began to blossom with the white flowers that adorned the crest of the cliff above. She had never seen such flowers before and watched as the carpet of white spread in the advancing light. Each bloom opened in an instant as the moon light touched the tiny vines she could now see were tangled in the fallen rocks. The heavy night air filled with a sweet fragrance and Adashk knelt down, pulled a blossom to her face and inhaled the delicate aroma. At the base of the flower was a small swollen node, as she plucked the flower from its stem small barbs inside the bulb pierced her fingers and the flower gave off a cloud of pollen. She felt her finger then hand begin to go numb and the sounds from the jungle suddenly became distant...
Adashk's eyes opened to daylight, an arm was wrapped firmly around her waist and a hand clamped tightly across her mouth. "I won't hurt you, be silent and don't move!" She stiffened and fought to keep from trying to bolt as the arm clasped her tighter. Looking down she saw they were high above the ground and below the men she had eluded last night were gathered. One held her clothing as others stood at guard around the edge of the clearing. She did not yet know what this stranger intended, but she knew quite well what those below would do. She nodded and relaxed, his grip on her loosened instantly. She tensed again as the men below looked up scanning the trees with their eyes as well as with objects they held up to their eyes. "If we don't move or make a sound they cannot find us." She decided to take him at his word for the moment. The warriors all looked the same, covered head to toe in clothing that matched the jungle colors and wearing dull armor over their torsos and heads. One emerged into the clearing who did not match. Wearing only a loincloth wrapped around his waist, a single line of hair ran from the top of his skull down to the small of his back. His body was covered with angular tattoos that if he stood quite still would make him almost invisible to the hurried glance whether in the forest or out in the open fields. The tracker, it had to be. Adashk had never seen a tracker but he must be the one that lead them here and again she began to tremble.