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John Norman (34 page)

BOOK: John Norman
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The word “Brenda,” of course, in the language of the Men, had no meaning. Tree, or Spear, or one of the other men, could eventually give her a name in the language of the Men. In the meantime the noise “Brenda” would do. It provided a means by which, when she was wished, the beautiful slave could be summoned.

Tree rose to his feet. He indicated that the beauty should clothe herself.

Hamilton wrapped the brief skirt about her and tied it over the left hip, tying it as she knew her master desired, that it might be loosened with a single pull.

She stood across from him, some eight feet from him, on the floor of the high cave. She was barefoot. She wore a brief skirt of tanned deerskin. She was bare-breasted. Her hair was long, loose and dark. About her neck, twisted and looped, four times, was a necklace of claws, shells and thongs, and, threaded among them, part of the necklace itself, the small squares of leather, bearing on them, clearly, the sign of the Men. Brenda Hamilton stood proudly, a primeval female, one of the women, facing a primeval man, one of the Men, one of her masters.

“Come, female,” said Tree, turning about and going to the ledge.

He grasped the knotted rope.

Brenda Hamilton came, too, to the ledge, and put her arms about his neck.

In an instant she was swinging, clinging to him, over a drop of more than one hundred and seventy-five feet. But she was not afraid. Quickly, seeming hardly impeded by her weight, he climbed up the knotted rope. He drew the rope up after him, freed it from a small, stunted tree, and looped it over his shoulder. Then, scrambling and climbing, moving from ledge to ledge, he gained the height of the cliff. To Hamilton the view was breathtaking, the sight of the fields and forests, and two rivers, extending to the horizon. Then, rapidly, she followed him.. He was moving across the top of the cliff, one of a series of such, and, then, making his way downwards, in a roundabout fashion. In some places steps had been chipped from the stone. In other places a branch of a small tree provided a handhold. Taken with care the descent was not dangerous.

Brenda Hamilton smelled meat cooking.

The slave, hungry, no longer fearful, delightedly, followed her master.

 

18

Tree, kneeling beside the roasted carcass, cut with the edge of his stone knife through the hot meat, fat streaking and bubbling at the edge of the flint blade, severing a huge, steaming chunk.

Antelope and Cloud knelt behind him. Then another woman thrust herself in front of. them, kneeling behind the hunter.

Cloud, with a cry of anger, seized Brenda Hamilton by the hair and pulled her back. Like a tigress, screaming with fury, Hamilton turned on her, striking her with her fists across the face. Cloud stumbled back, startled, scrambling, and Hamilton followed her, striking her twice again, and kicking her. Then Cloud whimpered, and fell back, astonishment in her eyes, and tears, and fear. Hamilton took a step toward her and, crying out, Cloud, on her hands and knees, scrambled away. Then, seeing Hamilton did not pursue her, she crept away, shrinking back, driven from the side of the hunter.

Hamilton felt the swift, hissing slash of a switch on her back, and turned, wildly, in fury, to see Antelope, her hand again raised. Hamilton’s back stung. But Antelope did not have time to strike again for Hamilton had leapt on her, and the two females rolled, screaming, scratching, biting, pulling hair, clawing, over and over, among the bodies, even to the edge of the fire. The men and women, and children, separated, to let the females fight. Then, panting, bleeding, hair awry, scratched, bitten the two females, now naked, rose to their feet and circled one another. Then with a scream of rage Hamilton leaped on Antelope, and had her hands, both hands, in the other’s hair. She jerked Antelope back and forth, and swung her about, while Antelope, screaming in pain, tried vainly to free Hamilton’s hands from her dark hair. And then Hamilton threw her by the hair to her feet on her back and seized up the switch, and began to lash at her, and Antelope rolled to her stomach, weeping, head twisted, Hamilton’s left hand still fastened in her hair, Antelope’s hands futilely on Hamilton’s wrist. Hamilton, with the switch, again and again, struck Antelope’s extended, exposed body, and then Antelope, weeping, struggled to her knees and put her head down, her hands over her head. Twenty more times Hamilton struck her and then, by the hair, she hurled her to her feet. Then Hamilton stood over Antelope, her hand no longer in her hair, but the switch raised.

Antelope shook her head, tears in her eyes, and held her hands out before her, to shield her from any blows which might fall.

“Please,” she cried in the language of the Men, “don’t hit me again.”

Hamilton lowered the switch.

Antelope, tears in her eyes, crept away.

Suddenly Hamilton saw Short Leg, first woman of Spear, leader of the women, facing her.

Short Leg put out her hand for the switch.

Hamilton, frightened, sought the eyes of Tree.

Hamilton put the switch into Short Leg’s hand and then Hamilton, naked and bleeding, knelt before Short Leg and, submissively, put her head to the ground, her hair in the dirt before Short Leg’s feet.

Short Leg turned away, and threw the switch into the darkness, and returned to her place behind Spear.

Suddenly the Men, looking upon Antelope, and Cloud and Hamilton, began to laugh, with the exception of Stone, who, too this time, once again, seemed amused. The women reddened and were much discomfited. It pleased the men to see the women fight. They looked so foolish. Hamilton and Antelope tied their brief skirts about their hips.

Then Hamilton knelt down behind Tree, smoothing her hair.

Runner said to Cloud. “Kneel behind me. I will feed you.”

Cloud went and knelt behind Runner. Runner had long had his eye on Cloud. He relished her short, thick body, her sturdy ankles. He found her juicy. He wanted to feel her hair on his manhood.

Antelope looked about from face to face. She seemed agonized.

“Lift your body to me,” said Wolf, “and I will feed you.”

Antelope lay before Wolf and lifted her body to him. He threw her a piece of meat.

“Come to my cave later,” he said.

“Yes, Wolf,” she said.

Behind Tree Brenda Hamilton knelt. She opened her mouth and pointed her finger to it. He held meat to her in his mouth and she, biting into it and holding it, tore free her portion.

The meat that the Men ate was always rare or almost rare. It was juicier that way, less crusted and burned. It was also, though they did not know this, more nutritious. Another thing that surprised Hamilton was the amount of fat eaten. The fat was very important, and she was hungry for it. She ate much of it. In her normal civilized diet fats had been available in dozens of sources, such as oils, milk, butter and cheese, but, among the Men these foods did not exist, and the essential need for fats must be, and was, satisfied by the fats of slain animals.

Hamilton also noted the Men, and their women and children, splitting bones, and scraping and sucking out the marrow.

Tree gave Hamilton a small piece of the animal’s liver. This, though she did not know it, was a rich source of vitamin A.

Then Tree began to cut other meat from the carcass, and to gorge himself upon it.

He paid the slave little more attention.

“You beast,” she said, “I am still hungry.”

After a time, smiling, Hamilton began to whimper, as she had heard the women doing sometimes.

The hunter turned to regard her.

She opened her mouth and pointed her finger to it.

He turned away.

“You beast,” said Hamilton. She really wanted more to eat. What did he want?

Then she lay on her back, and whimpered. He turned and regarded her. She lifted her body to him. “There, you beast,” she laughed.

She felt a piece of meat strike her body, and she took it and began, getting up and kneeling, to feed on it.

He grinned at her, and she, chewing on the meat, smiled at him.

“I am a prostitute,” she thought. “I, like the others, have lifted my body for a piece of meat.” It was quite good.

She saw his eyes. She knew he would make her pay him well later, for such meat, given to a female, was not without cost.

She was not unhappy. She was, rather, much pleased. She knew she would be made to enjoy paying for it.

Then the hunter turned about and, flint knife in hand, again fell on the meat.

Hamilton looked about. She saw the men eating, and the women and children. The firelight cast wild shadows on the cliffs, containing the shelters, looming above them. The trees, behind her, the beginning of the forest, were dark. The men squatted, or sat cross-legged chewing, their bodies large, their hair long, powerful, intelligent men, like animals. Their females, their properties, knelt behind them, chewing on meat given to them by the men, the masters. Here and there there wandered a dirty, naked child, holding a bit of bone or gristle. Several of them clung about the large, fearsomely ugly fellow, with the extended canine, and he gave them bits of food. The girl, Butterfly, had distributed the meat to the children, with the exception of what she kept for herself, which seemed considerable. The older boy, to whom she had been cruel, crouched to one side, watching the hunters. He seemed hungry. The girl did not share the meat with him. It was hers, as oldest of the children, to divide and give out, except for the very young children, who were fed separately. Butterfly wore a garment like a simple, brief dress of deerskin, which covered her breasts. Hamilton noted that her legs were trim and shapely. Hamilton also noted that Spear watched her. She had little doubt that the girl Butterfly would, by the spring, be told to bare her breasts and beg with the other women. She would no longer be a child. She would be then only another woman of the Men. Doubtless, then, a necklace, too, would be found for her, one bearing the insignia of the Men.

Hamilton studied the faces. She would learn later the names of Spear and Stone, and Wolf and Fox, and Arrow Maker, Runner, Knife, Tooth and Hyena. She already knew the name of Tree, though she knew only, of course, the sound in the language of the men, not what it meant. Too, she regarded Short Leg whom she feared, and Antelope and Cloud, and Nurse and Old Woman, and the others.

She was startled, and troubled, to see the face of Knife, as he regarded Spear. She saw in his eyes envy, and hatred. Yet, clearly, Knife was the son of Spear. Hamilton wondered at the hostility. Spear, she knew, was the leader. The younger man, Hamilton supposed, wanted to be first in the group. Her own hunter, Tree, seemed unconcerned with such matters.

Hamilton saw Flower behind Knife, distracting him by caresses.

Flower looked angrily at Hamilton.

Hamilton looked away. She did not want Knife. He frightened her.

On the outskirts of the group, little more than a hunched, kneeling shadow, Hamilton saw Ugly Girl, waiting for the feeding to end and the group to disband, that she might creep forward and poke through the ashes for scraps of meat or drops of grease on the half-burned wood. Hamilton shuddered. How horrid Ugly Girl was.

Ugly Girl was not of the women. Ugly Girl was not even human.

Hamilton finished the meat.

Soon the fire was built up and the group cleared a circle about it. The men drew to one side and the women to the other. The children remained behind the women. Hamilton knelt with the females. None of them gave the least sign of objection. She realized, suddenly, she was accepted as a female among them. They were all slaves, and she among them, but she now no more than they.

Runner brought out two sticks and be beat them together. Arrow Maker had carved a flute. Tooth had a small hide drum. The men began to sing, a repetitive song, in which responses were sung to something shouted by Tooth. The women did not sing words, but they uttered noises, carrying, too, the melody. They swayed together at times and clapped their hands rhythmically. Later, Fox leaped to his feet and danced, to the clapping of hands and the slapping of knees. Then Wolf, too, joined him. Together they joined in a narrative dance, in which Wolf played the role, apparently, of a large bear, or some such animal, which Fox, after much moving about, and swaying and stalking here and there, apparently managed to confront and slay, but, when Fox turned his back, Wolf, to the delight of the children, leaped up, roaring, and chased him from the circle.

“Put the new female before the fire,” said Spear.

Tree gestured that Brenda should stand before the group, in the open space, before the fire. She did so, erect and beautiful, a lovely, bare-breasted slave, in the necklace which proclaimed her as being a woman of the Men.

“What is her name?” asked Spear.

“She calls herself Brenda,” said Tree.

“That is not a name,” said Spear.

“True,” admitted Tree. It was surely not a word of meaning for the men. Thus, for them at least, it was not a name.

“Give her a name,” said Spear.

Tree rose to his feet and went to stand before Hamilton. She looked up into his eyes.

He then crouched down and, picking up a stick, drew a picture in the dirt.

It was the picture of an animal, as seen from above, a symbolic representation but clearly recognizable. Brenda looked down and saw the ovoid shell, the head and tiny tail, the four small legs sticking out at the sides of the shell.

Tree pointed to it. “It is a turtle,” said Hamilton, in English.

“Turtle,” said Tree, in the language of the Men.

“Turtle,” repeated Hamilton, this time in the language of the Men.

Tree pointed to her. “Turtle,” he said.

“No,” she said, “please.”

Tree again pointed to her. “Turtle,” he said.

Then he forced her to her knees, and gestured that she should kiss the sign he had drawn in the dirt.

She fell to her knees before it.

Tree grinned at her. The name Turtle, to the men, was not a demeaning name. In fact, to them, it was a rather attractive name. They regarded small turtles as pretty little beasts. Tree made a motion with his mouth. Hamilton understood. Turtles, too, were delicious. And then Tree, grinning, put his hands together, and flipped them over, and wiggled them. Hamilton looked down, reddening. The turtle, too, when placed on her back, is almost helpless.

BOOK: John Norman
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