Part 4 of 4
by Anne Azel
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended.
Thanks: I am delighted that so many of you seem to be enjoying this series. Your comments are very kind and much appreciated. My thanks to Lisa my beta reader! As the stories do interrelate, it is best to read them in the order they are posted.
Warning: This story is alternative fiction, please do not read on if you are under age or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.
Important Warning: This story is based on events that are true and reflect the environment and traditional culture of the highland tribes of P.N.G. A few of the descriptions in this story are graphic and violent. Some readers might find that the traditional scenes are disturbing in that they are not fiction but real events involving ritual killing and murder.
Jess slipped into bed beside Mary and sighed with contentment when Mary immediately snuggled in to her tall frame. She felt very tired tonight and yet she knew that there were issues that Mary was not going to let lie forever. She tried to relax. Let Mary decide to get into this or not, she thought.
Oh boy! That was quick! You'd better get this right Jess, this is important, she warned herself. Out loud she responded,"Hmmm?"
"I've taken a real emotional chance letting you get close to me again. Do you understand that?"
Mary asked softly, in a voice laced with sadness and concern. Jess rubbed Mary's back reassuringly and tried to think how to respond to that. "Jess?!"
"I know what I am and why you shouldn't get involved with me!" Jess responded with a little more edge to her voice than she intended. She felt Mary stiffen then pull back slightly. On shit!
"I..I want to be ...involved with you. I always wanted that but..." Jess floundered for words feeling herself getting sweaty and tense.
"Hey, I'm here," Mary responded stretching up to place a kiss behind Jess's ear. "I need to understand Jess, that's all. You just tell me in your own way, okay my warrior?"
Jess had an uncontrollable urge to bolt for the door. Instead, she took a ragged breath and tried. "My old man, he liked fast cars and women. My parents, they were killed in a car crash 'cause he was driving too fast. Bart, he did his duty by me but he didn't want to be saddled with a grandchild at his age. He was okay you know. He taught me a lot about horses and he made me read and stuff. But when he'd been drinking he could turn nasty. I could have killed him, Mary. Even when I was little, I was strong and a good fighter but it wouldn't have been right to hit an old man who had given me shelter and food. So I used to just let him hit me. I promised myself as soon as I was old enough I'd enlist and I did." Mary didn't say anything she just gently rubbed her hand in a slow figure eight over Jess stomach. Jess relaxed a bit.
"It's hard for me to believe in love. I never knew it," she confessed awkwardly and Mary kissed her shoulder.
"I love you Jess," she said simply.
"I know that now. I ...It meant a lot to me that you trusted me to handle the payback. I am not sure why it was so important to me, that you trust me to do what had to be done, but it was. I just want to be able to live up to your loyalty and love. It's something new for me, commitment."
Jess pulled Mary tightly into her arms and kissed the top of her hair breathing in the sweetness of a hot summer day that seemed to be part of Mary's being. Sweetness and light that was what she was like, Jess thought. "You smell nice," she said and smiled when Mary giggled happily.
The sound encouraged Jess to go on, "The Hosts, I know where they are," she revealed and Mary propped herself up and looked at Jess with growing interest in the dim light of the moon. "Their tomb is in Turkey. I can sense them. Feel the tomb calling. I saw some Others too."
"What!?" exclaimed Mary in surprise forgetting not to interrupt.
" They look kind of like us," Jess went on, "Not identical or anything but side by side you'd know we were closely related. They seemed happy together but I know the Hosts' love...well, it didn't work out. I think it ended real bad for them. I don't know..." stammered Jess uneasily. She wished Mary would snuggle back into her side again. It was easier to talk when Mary was close.
There was silence in the darkness for a few minutes. Maybe that will be enough, Jess hoped, her heart beating a little too quickly. "Go on," Mary urged softly amazed at what she was learning from the woman she loved.
Jess couldn't stand it anymore. She reached up a hand and stroked Mary's temple. Mary seemed to understand. She turned her head and kissed the hand that shook just a tiny bit. Then, she lay back down her head comfortably resting under Jess's chin. Jess sighed in relief and hugged her close. "I'm...I'm afraid. The Other, in Turkey, she's lame and I think they all are. I think. I just get feelings, bits of memories and dreams. You know?" she questioned worriedly.
"A little," confessed Mary. "I think my Host had a child and your Host hated it. I get this repeating dream...It scares me."
"I scare you?!"asked Jess in a voice shaky with pent up emotion.
"No. Even my Host wasn't afraid of you just of what you might do. I don't think my trace memories are as strong as yours. Except for that one sort of confused nightmare, I only get sort of vague feelings about the Others and our past," explained Mary stroking Jess's belly again.
She felt more than saw Jess nod. " The tomb...it well...it's kind of alive. You know, it radiates energy but it's icy cold to touch. It doesn't have the real names on it. The Others, they must have had it changed or something because it is their names, Jamie and Gunnul Dedeman.
I think I know the name of another one of your Others too. I saw her picture in a paper when I was stationed in the Middle East. She's a big shot archeologist. Her names Malone. I thought it was you at first, that you'd married but it wasn't."
There was silence for a long time as Jess tried to figure out how to confess the worst of it while Mary digested all the information that Jess had revealed. "Mary, I don't think you would have been lamed if you hadn't run into me again," the doctor stated bluntly.
Mary's hand stilled then continued its comforting movement. "Why do you think that?" she asked.
Jess licked her lips. "It was one of the reasons I left. I suspected that the Others like you were all lame but you weren't. I thought maybe it wouldn't happen if I wasn't around. I think there is a pattern we all gotta follow. You know, we're fated," Jess tried to explain painfully.
Mary shifted onto her back but made sure she held on to Jess's hand. She realized that this was an awful tough thing for Jess to do and she was only doing it to show her love. Mary squeezed the hand affectionately. "Why, do you think that is happening?" she asked.
Longer silence this time. "There is a darkness in me. I have to control it. I could...I have done some really.... I think, I've always hurt you. I didn't mean to Mary!! Honest!" Jess pleaded sitting up and looking worriedly through the darkness at Mary.
Mary reached up and pulled her warrior down so that Jess's head rested between her breasts. "It might mean you have hurt me. It might mean our relationship is undermined. It might mean that at some time our relationship was crippled. It might mean nothing," whispered Mary stroking Jess's soft hair. "I'd like to understand better what it all means Jess but I'm far more concerned with us in the here and now. You know what I think?" she asked ruffling Jesses hair playfully.
Jess leaned back and shook her hair back out of her face, "What?"
"I think that we can do the past more good than they can do us harm," she stated firmly.
"If we travel through life together, there could be trouble," Jess warned.
"That's what friends and lovers are for Jess. To help each other," stated Mary confidently.
Jess smiled. Mary sensed it in her heart more than she could see it in the darkness, "Okay, friend." They settled down together again. Their friendly embrace turning slowly into the caresses of lovers.
It was very late at night and Mary was warming water on the propane stove to mix with powdered milk and chocolate to make a hot chocolate for the two of them while Jess was getting an fire going in the potbelly stove. Try as she might, Mary had no success at building fires in the stove. She usually got Mone to do it if Jess was not around. They had made love, slept a bit in each other's arms and then hunger and a need to be close now that the barriers were falling had driven them out into the quiet night in search of a midnight snack.
Mary carried the hot chocolate over and slipped in beside Jess, who immediately wrapped a long arm around her lover. "Jess, about what Mone said tonight, are you in danger?"
Jess sighed and considered, stretching out her long legs and crossing her ankles. "Some danger, I guess. I know who killed Kalla and who is now trying to kill me. I think I know the motive for the killing. What I don't understand is why me? Maybe I read it all wrong," muttered Jess leaning forward to pick up a branch to throw on the fire.
"You know who killed Kalla?!" Mary exclaimed in surprise turning to look at Jess in irritation.
"And you didn't tell Mone and I! Jess!"
"Hey! Wait! I just sort of figured it out yesterday. But then when I was attacked...I don't know it just doesn't make sense!" clarified Jess.
"What doesn't?! Tell me!" demanded the impatient blond.
"Nope." smiled Jess looking into the flames.
"Why?" demanded Mary pulling back to look at the classic profile of her strong lover. Lover. She liked that. The sound of that name sent shivers of excitement through her.
"Because I think it would be really fun for you to try and make me!" laughed Jess leaping to her feet and heading off. Mary was only a few paces behind her as the two women played like children dodging around the buildings of the compound in the night, their laughter echoing eerily down the valley.
Jess dodged once more away from Mary's grasp, making sure that she did not make the game difficult for the crippled woman. She slowed and turned when she got to just the right spot. With a giggle of delight, Mary tackled Jess and the two of them rolled to a stop in soft moss. They lay, catching their breath on a small outcropping under an old gum tree. The moon washed the valley below them with silver and a warm breeze rustled the leaves above them covering them in a kaleidoscope of patterns.
"I mean to make you sing, warrior," murmured Mary softly as she slowly stripped Jess of her night shirt. Easy here, Mary, she thought. Playing out this love fantasy was like stroking a wild black panther. It caused a heady rush of excitement mixed with the fear of the explosiveness of the situation.
Jess allowed her shirt to be undone and peeled back and off her shoulders. It fell and pooled around her naked hips as she sat waiting, watching Mary. I started this, she thought. I've never put myself in this role with a lover before. Normally, I'd have found it threatening and a real turn off, but this game with Mary, this was different, physically exciting and yet a little scary too.
Mary gently pushed her back following Jess down so that she lay along side Jess leaving her lover room always to escape. "I am going to do things to your body, my love, that will make you want to share everything in your soul with me," Mary whispered as she picked up Jess's hand and nipped and kissed the soft underside of her thumb. Jess watched in fascination as the velvet tip of Mary's tongue tickled the sensitive flesh between her lover's first two fingers.
"Oh boy, I'm in trouble, Jess thought feeling the heat of passion starting to pulsate through her body.
Mary felt the shiver of desire pass through Jess's frame and smiled as she sucked one of Jess's long fingers into her mouth and caressed it with her tongue. Slowly, she pulled back letting the digit run gently over her tongue and lips. Her eyes met her lover's and Jess saw the sexy challenge in the half hooded eyes. Mary slipped up onto Jess's body, pushing the taller woman's legs wide as she settled her own hips over Jess's sex. The older woman arched in need and Mary leaned down and kissed the sensitive, pale flesh under the captive warrior's jaw.
"I love you Jess. I am going to show that to you now. I'm going to hold you not by force but just by the will of my love. Surrender, my warrior, surrender to my love as I surrendered to yours," whispered Mary feeling the throbbing of Jess's pulse on her lips as she dropped caresses on the soft skin. Her one hand now let go of a wrist and slowly curved down the underside of Jess's arm, then across her shoulder and down the lean, harness of her lover's side. The body under her jerked with a rush of excitement.
"Shhhh, slowly my love," cautioned Mary sliding forward to look down at Jess. Like a feather drifting down, she lowered her lips until they touched Jess's and the world exploded in a hot ball of desire. Their lips tasted each other hungrily and they entered each other's mouths and tasted the promise of sweeter fruits to come. Jess's head followed Mary's as the petite woman leaned back. They're lips still eagerly seeking contact.
But Mary had other plans for her lover yet, she now moved lower and nibbled playfully along the underside of Jess's breast as her hand slipped down, floating over the curve of a hip and feeling the muscles bunching in a strong thigh. Her hand glided over a knee and then moved up caressing the sensitive inside of Jess's thigh. Her lips whispered onto a hard nipple, "I am the keeper of your realm, my warrior. I am the one who holds your heart. All I will ever claim from you is this sweet surrender of your heart." It was in the pink glow of sunrise that they finally moved sleepily back to their hut entwined in each other's embrace and forever, one.
"Touy! You think it is Touy!" smiled the smaller woman as she lay the next morning in Jess's embrace. "Wow! I was right!"
For an answer the silent warrior kissed the golden head. Jess was blissfully happy. Last night, she had entered into a world that she thought she could never have. She wasn't a lone warrior anymore now she was a couple, part of a household. Household, she liked that. Maybe they could buy a small horse farm back in Australia. Would Mary like that?
"Ahhh," came the startled response as Jess realized she had been far away in her daydream.
"I asked you why you think it is Touy," Mary asked kissing Jess's still swollen lips. "Where were you?"
"Would you like to have a horse farm, Mary? We could buy a little spread and build it up over time. I could look around for a community practice," asked Jess earnestly.
Mary sat up and looked at Jess in wonder, "Are you offering me a commitment, Jess?" she asked in a voice shaky with emotion.
An ice ball formed instantly in Jess's gut, "I...I thought...I mean, I guess I should have...will you stay with me, Mary? Be my partner?" stammered the insecure warrior searching Mary's eyes for an answer.
The eyes danced with joy, " Oh Jess, yes!"
Jess pulled Mary into a tight embrace feeling her heart start to beat again, "Did I just propose?" she asked with a shaky laugh.
"Hmmmm, and you need to know warrior I'm a forever sort of girl," giggled Mary.
"Good," whispered Jess swallowing a lump that had just formed in her throat and rubbing her cheek in the fresh summer heat of Mary's hair.
The Seer watched the two women making love and then walking naked back to their hut. Europeans looked like ghost, the colour drained from them. He suspected they were like this because they knew the magic that let them communicate with the spirit world. It was this bond that allowed them to get the cargo. The whiteness was to the Seer a mark of the older brother's betrayal at the beginning of time.
He knew that there were women who like other women. This was because their mother's had slept with another warrior and not just her husband! There were men too who liked men not women. They had sucked too long at their mother's breast. But this tall woman, it was because the Timp off the older brother lived within her. He had often felt the Timp. The energy of it radiated from the doctor like the heat of a fire when she was anger.
Capturing her Timp would not be easy. The three warriors he had sent had failed miserably. Touy's magic was not strong enough now that the doctor had sent the sickness to numb and eat at his body. But the Seer had a new plan. One that would deliver the doctor to his doorstep. The followers of the true fire would not fail again!
The two women dressed, the process made slow by the need to caress and hold each other close. "Mone is going to wonder where I am! I'm surprised he hasn't been over here yet to see what is going on," sighed Jess reluctantly pulling herself out of Mary's embrace.
Mary giggled and placed a quick peck on her warrior's cheek. "Mone, is not stupid, Jess! He knows exactly what is going on!" She bit her lip in amusement as red crept up the warrior's neck.
"Great! Just what I need is that big, grinning Papuan teasing me all day," groaned Jess as the two of them headed over to the kitchen area. Mone had left a pot of coffee on the stove and Jess poured while Mary sliced bananas to put on the oatmeal she had simmering. They ate in companionable silence, enjoying their first breakfast together as a couple. Then Jess leaned across the table and kissed Mary gently, "See you later sweet-one," she murmured.
"Hmmmm," sighed Mary, "I'll clean up and be over later to help in the clinic. Jess nodded and Mary watched her lover lope over to the hospital. Mone met her at the door a big grin on his face and slapped her on the shoulder. Careful, Mone! Mary thought. Even softened with love, the warrior was still not someone to push too far!
Days went by in a pleasant routine of daily life. Jess still got up early and ran but then she would have a quick shower and return to her lover's bed. She left the morning rounds to Mone and had her breakfasts with Mary. They talked a lot about future plans and dreams or whispered words of love, each delighting in romancing the other. The days at the clinic were busy. Jess and Mone had their regular leper patients and general treatment clinic for the villagers plus the casualties of the tribal war returning for check-ups. Mary had finished her coding system and was now involved in the complex process of organizing the medical stocks and lab.
In the late afternoon, after her coffee with Mone, Mary would leave Jess working in her office or lab and Mone cleaning the clinic and walk down the ridge to where the village women met to barter their garden produce. Mary had now learned enough Pidgin to bargain for a good price. She had learned to be careful as well. She knew never to step over the small piles of food that the women piled on the ground in front of them. To do so would contaminate the produce and it would have to be thrown away. Worse still would be for a woman to step over a baby or the legs of a child playing on the ground. That would be seen as murder by the highlanders. She would have been instantly attacked and killed as payback. Mary would wander through the small and crowded market carrying the belm that she had bought. These village made net bags were tough and durable and never seemed to completely fill up no matter how much you stuffed into them. The village women always carried one, the long net straps knotted over their forehead and the bag hanging down their backs. This too was how they would carry the heavy loads from their gardens often bent over with the heavy weight of sweet potato.
In the traditional highland society, the women did all the daily work. The men would clear a new garden for their shifting agricultural practices every five years or so and they handled the political and religious ceremonies of the village and made war. Although a matrilineal society, the highland cultures were male dominated in the extreme. Jess had explained that in worth men were at the top, followed by male children, then pigs and then the women and female children. Mary followed the taboos because it was their country and their customs but she hoped that with improved government education, such beliefs would change over time.
One night, Mary did cut Jess's hair making sure that she dropped every strand into the fire so that no magic could be used against her lover. Jess had teased her about this but Mary had burnt the hair anyway explaining that Mone would worry otherwise. In her heart though, Mary knew that she just didn't want to take any chances when it came to the woman she loved. It was the first time that she had felt truly happy and whole in a very long time and she planned on keeping that feeling all her life.
Returning to the compound one day, she was distressed to hear screams of pain coming from the clinic. She dropped her belm on the table in the kitchen area and then limbed hurriedly over to the hospital to see if she could do anything to help. Mone was leaning over a village man who was raving about in agony on a gurney. The man had a strange mad grin on his face and drool foamed at the corner of his mouth.
While Mone held the man down, Jess was in her lab looking at a slide under her microscope. "Damn, it's Kurukuru alright Mone!" she called straightening up and coming back into the clinic area. "Mary help me get restrainers on him. Mone, once we've got him secure, you'd better go talk to his family. We are going to have to report this and find out what the hell is going on around here," the doctor ordered as she got out the retaining straps.
She and Mary slipped them over the man's chest and legs and fastened them down tightly while the villagers watched from the door way or looked with concern and interest through the windows. "What's wrong with him, Jess?" Mary asked as Mone got up with a sigh and moved off to talk to the family outside.
"He's in the last stages of a disease known locally as Kurukuru or laughing sickness," she explained as she tried to get a blood pressure reading. " The weird smile is caused by lock jaw. His muscles a spasming so tightly that they can actually break the bones."
"Oh Jess, is there anything you can do for him? He must be in agony!"
"Yeah, it is a hell of a way to die. No, I can't help him other than to easy the pain." The tall doctor was now busily filling a needle. "Hold him steady," she ordered and Mary had to use her body to pin the arm long enough for Jess to administer the shot.
In a few minutes, the man calmed and developed a far away look in his eyes. With the locked hideous grin on his face, he seemed quite mad. Jess sighed and learned against the counter looking at the man. "Laughing sickness is caused by a virus that attacks the brain cells," Jess explained, "The only way to get the disease is to eat the brains of someone that already has the disease."
"Cannibalism!?" asked Mary in shock.
Jess nodded. "There hasn't been a case around here in years. I've got a really bad feeling about this Mary."
"Why, Jess?" the smaller woman asked as she wiped the sick man's forehead with a damp cloth.
"Kalla's liver was missing. Originally, I thought that it had been taken for some sort of Timp ritual. I've heard rumours of other villagers disappearing over the last year or so too. And Touy talked about the 'older brother' returning soon. I think we've got a dangerous cargo cult forming. One based on ritual cannibalism.
Mary shivered in disgust and then her face tightened in fear as she walked over to Jess. "My god Jess, they tried to kill you! You don't think that they planned to..."
Jess pulled Mary into her embrace, "Yeah, I think I'm next on the menu. I just don't understand why!"
"Jess, we have got to get out of here!" exclaimed a frightened journalist clinging tightly to her lover. "I just got you back. I'm not going to loss you! I can't!"
Jess held her partner close and swayed gently back and forth as she dropped kisses on Mary's head, "Hey, its okay! Don't worry. Everything will be fine. You'll see! Come on now. We've got to care for this guy. Let's make his last hours as comfortable as possible."
Mary nodded and after another tight hug she went back to trying to keep the man's fever down. Jess took some blood and made a few more slides for her records returning every now and again to monitor the man's vitals or to give him a shot.
The Seer smiled. They had lost a number of the followers of the true light with this strange disease. When they had first shown signs of sickness last year, after they had cannibalized several of the enemy killed in a tribal war, the Seer had refused to let them come to the doctor's clinic. The Seer had explained to them that the Europeans had used witchcraft to cause the disease to prevent them from following the true way. One by one recently, those inflicted had died. Now this was the last one. The family had only been allowed to bring him to the clinic when he was beyond talking. That was important, even the most loyal might talk of secrets when the pain got too great. They were so close now to understanding the secrets that would make them able to please the gods and get the white man's cargo. It had been the Seer that had realized the answer when he had gone to the mission station and had stood and watched the faithful take what the missionary called communion. They had pretended to eat the blood and flesh of their god, Jesus.
Then the Seer understood. The white people used cannibalism to please their god! That was why they passed laws that said cannibalism was bad. They didn't want the highlanders to discover the secrets that would let them get their cargo back from the decedents of the older brother. But knowing the secret did not mean that you knew the magic to go with it. The Seer and the followers had tried many methods over the last few years but all had failed.
They had tried the Timps of warriors but that had not worked. Then they had tried a Christian warrior but his life force had not given them the answer either. No, the answer was only known by the older brother. And the Timp of the older brother was caught in the heart of the tall doctor who could defeat an army of warriors by herself! Only by eating her brain, heart and liver could they gain the knowledge they needed to get the cargo back! Soon, very soon now. The plan was going to work this time. It had been so easy now that the Timp of the older brother had been so badly weakened by being too much with the little woman with the hair like fire.
The Kurukuru patient did not last long. He died several hours later and Jess and Mone had slipped the body into a body bag and returned it to the mourning family. Now the three of them sat around the stove fire and ate the soup that Mary had prepared. None of them had felt much like eating, it had been a grizzle death. "Did you find out anything from the family, Mone?" asked Jess at last forcing herself to deal with the issues and put the hatred of losing a patient behind her.
"Some, Doctor Jess. The family was afraid to talk. They said that Torgamonga had been sick for a long time. They said that he got the sickness from the caves. He went there often they said and knew how to go deeply inside. The spirits that lived there made him sick. They said others used to go with him to make magic but most of them are died now too of the same illness."
A fire flamed in those ice blue eyes, "The cave, huh? I've always wanted to explore that cave."
Mone looked shocked, "No! No, you must not go there! A very bad and strong Timp lives there, Doctor Jess! You no go!"
Now Jess smiled and laughed bitterly, "Believe me Mone, there is no spirit as bad or powerful as mine. I have within me a Timp that has lived on through the darkness of time."
Mary reached out and rubbed Jess's arm. She didn't like to see Jess like this. It was like she was giving in reluctantly to some monster that lived deep within her. It scared Mary and fascinated her at the same time. But she knew that what ever was going on in Jess's mind and soul it was upsetting her soulmate deeply. It seemed to upset Mone too. He said no more and shortly after he said good night and disappeared.
Mary snuggled into her warrior's side and felt the strong arm wrap around and pull her close. The crickets chirped in the night and occasionally the fire would flare up and snap. The smell of wood smoke and wet earth permeated the air. "I'm going to have to go and check out that cave," Jess finally admitted.
"Not without me," Mary stated firmly.
"You're staying behind with Mone to take care of the clinic while I'm gone," responded the doctor with determination.
"No, I'm going with you," explained the petite woman looking Jess in the eyes and not blinking at the coldness she saw there.
"It might be dangerous, Mary. Last week, when we were attacked at the village, I realized how venerable you were with a lame leg. It really scared me. I'm not going to put you in that sort of danger again!" confessed the warrior awkwardly looking down at the fire.
Mary leaned forward to look at Jess. She took her hand and turned the tense face towards her so that their eyes once more locked. "Jess, I'm crippled. I can't say that doesn't bother me. It does. But I also know that if you hadn't been there to help me I would probably have died of infection or at least have lost the leg. I am going to be lame for the rest of our lives. I've come to terms with that why can't you? You have to treat me as an equal, Jess. I'm not going to be over protected by you. That would not be fair to either of us! Where you go, I go, warrior!"
Tears rolled down Jess's face and she pulled Mary close to her. "Okay," she muttered in a voice choked with conflicting emotions. Mary held her lover tightly and stroked her back, calming the violent soul that she knew was a part of the complex person she loved.
Later, they made love in bed. It had been slow and gentle each giving more than they were taking. Now they lay in each others arms waiting for sleep to claim them. "Jess, when are we going to go?" asked Mary.
"Soon, we'd better not wait too long. Whoever, is behind this is very powerful or I would have known long ago that something was going on. Whoever is leading this cult doesn't just have control of one tribe but many. Touy shouldn't have that sort of power. Maybe, he is just a middleman for the real power but I haven't got the slightest idea who that could be.
With the Timp cult going on and the Mendari land dispute, tensions have been running pretty high between the various tribes in the valley. I don't know of any villager who could move easily from one tribe to another spreading his or her doctrine. Whoever it is has access to all the tribes or at least most of them. That is really unusual. I might have badly underestimated Touy."
"If we find them in the cave, what are we going to try and do?" asked Mary.
Jess squirmed uncomfortably, could she trust Mary to understand? This time, if there was killing, it wouldn't be ritualism. Mary seemed to sense Jess's reluctance. " I know that if it turns violent then so will you, Jess. I am not comfortable with physical force but I think I'm a big enough girl to understand that sometimes violence can only be defeated by violence. What I'm asking is what we can do to try and avoid getting to that point," Mary clarified slowly stroking Jess's belly trying to keep the building energy in check.
Jess was amazing when she got like this. A power just seemed to radiate from her. Her eyes seemed to become inhuman reflecting light from within. Her skin was hot to touch not with fever but with a raw energy that seemed to pulsate from every pore. Mary wondered what the Host must have been like if this was the power her decedents possessed. Who were the Hosts she wandered? And what did they need from the Others?
Two days later, they were ready. They each carried a knapsack. In Mary's were clothes, a small camp stove and dehydrated food and in Jess's sleeping bags, fuel packs, water flasks and miner lights. Into her deep pocket, Jess tucked another item, after much thought, that she hoped she would not have to use. They left a worried Mone in charge and headed off down the main trail in the early morning light. "You ever spelunked before Mary?" asked Jess as they walked.
"No. I've been in a few caves that have been opened to tourist though and they don't really bother me. And I've done a bit of mountain climbing," responded Mary honestly.
Jess nodded her approval and lifted her head to catch the early morning light on her face. The more time she spent with Mary the more she realized how well they suited each other. She couldn't remember being so happy. Please don't take this away from me, she thought fear gripping at her heart. Her hand wrapped around Mary's as they walked and she held on tight to the smaller woman who bounced up and down with her uneven gait.
Mary saw Jess's face change from joy to insecurity and reached for her lover's hand just as Jess groped for hers. Mary let her small hand be wrapped inside the big capable fist. Jess was like that, fearless and powerful on the outside and insecure and yes, sometimes even defenseless on the inside. Her tall lover was a complex individual who carried some real issues from her past on her shoulders.
Mary was short of breath and very tired when they finally reached the cave entrance in the early afternoon. Jess called for a stop and Mary gratefully sank to the ground in the shade of a gum tree while Jess pulled out some fruit, cheese and crackers for them to eat. "They have tried to cover the trail but this path has been used recently," Jess observed.
Mary nodded. Now that they were here the tension and fear was mounting in her gut. "Jess, you be careful, okay?" she let slip in an anxious voice.
Jess got up from re-packing her pack and wrapped her arms around Mary. "I've never had anyone to love me before. I'm not going to throw that away by doing anything stupid. I promise. But you gotta promise me too that you'll stay out of trouble!"
"I promise. I'll just be there right behind you all the time. Okay?" soothed Mary feeling so much safer now she was in Jess's arms.
"Okay," smiled Jess softly brushing a truant lock back into place in Mary's bang. Then she bent and picked up her backpack slinging the heavy bag effortlessly over her shoulder. She took the two oil burning miner lamps that she had removed from her pack and showed Mary how to wear the head gear and attach the fuel pack to her waist. Then Jess showed her how to light it and tucked a flint striker into a button down pocket in Mary's jacket. "Lets go," she said when she was finished.
The cave was the result of the slow erosion of limestone by the daily monsoon rains. It twisted and turned on itself in a strange world of distorted rock formations that suddenly loomed out of the darkness into light and then faded away as their lights passed over them. Jess pointed out that the low ceiling showed clear markings of torch smoke and Mary could smell too the damp, burnt smell of old wood fire in the closed spaces. After groping through a narrow low passage using their hands as much as their feet, they came out into a fairly large cavern half of which was filled with a subterranean lake. Here dim light illuminated the rock cavern from a few small eroded holes above.
Jess helped Mary through and then they stood and slowly surveyed the space. Stalagmites and stalactites produced weird shadows. Over the lake, roots from trees on the surface choked the holes looking like long, crippled fingers made white by the glare of the torchlights. Water trickled down into the black waters. The other half of the cave floor rose sharply in a high slope to the cavern roof, only a narrow area where they stood was truly flat.
"Stay behind me," Jess cautioned pushing Mary back with her hand. Her head turned, now standing at the other end of the narrow flat was Mone and two warriors. More warriors appear from out of the shadows high up the slope, their bows and spears ready. "I thought I left you taking care of the clinic," stated Jess trying not to show her shock at seeing her trusted assistant there. To give herself time, she casually removed her backpack. Can't trust anyone, she thought in disgust and then felt Mary rubbing her back gently. Except for Mary, Jess's thoughts modified. "I suppose if we went back down the tunnel we'd meet some more of your friends," Jess smiled.
"Yes, I make no mistake this time," Mone said returning the smile.
"Why, Mone? Why are you doing this?" asked Mary, emotion making her voice shake. Jess reached back and took her hand.
"All my life I have seen the wealth of the European. I must put up with their orders and arrogance in my own country. I think Mone, you get a good education then you learn the magic to getting cargo. But instead, I do not learn my own ways and I am an outcast of my village and the European society does not want me either. So I learn my own magic. I see you fight off a whole tribe and then I understand. The Timp of the older brother lives on in you!"
Mary moved to Jess's side, "Mone..."
"Shut up slut!" the Papuan snapped.
Mary grabbed Jess before she could charge her assistant. "No, Jess!" she cautioned feeling her warrior fighting to control the violence within her.
Through gritted teeth Jess managed to growl, "Surrender Mone, you have seen me in action. I don't want anyone getting hurt."
Mone laughed and signaled to some of the warriors who waited up on the rock slope to come down. In the next instant, all eyes were wide with shock, as Jess stood with a lit stick of dynamite in her hand. She had pulled it from her leg pocket and lit it by the flame of Mary's torch. "So lets play for keeps, shall we?" she said and then hurled it up the bank. Grabbing Mary, she tumbled into the water just as a terrific explosion lit a fireball of light in the carven. Shock waves bounced off the walls and rock fell like depth charges around Mary and Jess as they surfaced. Jess grabbed Mary and pulled her under again.
Water poured into Mary's mouth and she fought against Jess's iron grip. She felt herself pulled deeper and she fought to keep her mouth shut and not gag in more water. Her head pounded and her chest felt like it would explode. Against her will she gasped for breath and felt herself drop into darkness.
Jess pushed Mary through the tunnel and let the current take her as she followed close behind. Breaking out into the open, she grabbed at the limp and sinking body of her lover and pulled her to the surface. "Mary! Christ!" Jess swore treading water as she closed her mouth over Mary's and forced air into the water filled lungs. Jess wrapped an arm around her unconscious partner and stroked for where she hoped the shore was. As soon as she could stand in the water, she started mouth to mouth again. "Come on, come on," Jess whispered in near panic between breaths.
Mary choked and coughed and Jess pulled her over on her side and let her cough up the water. It was some minutes of retching and coughing before Mary was able to function. Then she hauled off and belted Jess on the arm hurting herself more than the warrior. "Ouch! You almost drowned me, you big, dumb warrior!"she gasped.
Jess stroked back her hair, "Hi, I can't see you but you sure sound like the woman I love," she responded her lip still quivering with stress and fear.
Mary took the large hand in her own and kissed the palm, "You want to tell me what happened between the explosion and me almost drowning?" she asked.
"It wasn't safe in the cavern. We could have been hit or buried by falling rock so I pulled us under and through an underwater passage to another cave. I've explored the lake before so I knew generally where it was," explained Jess pulling Mary into her arms.
"Next time, Jess would you mind saying, please take a deep breath Mary!" the petite woman sighed cuddling deeper into Jess in the darkness.
"You wouldn't have heard me," reminded the warrior practically.
"Do they know where we are?" asked Mary.
"I don't know. But they can't follow. The tunnel filled in behind me," responded Jess calmly.
"Oh good," said Mary more confidently as she caressed the large hand she was still holding.
"Nope, bad. I don't know the way out yet," revealed the older woman. Silence.
"There is one, right?" asked Mary tentatively.
"Has to be," stated the warrior confidently and then continued, "It just might not be off this passage."
"You had to tell me that didn't you?" groaned Mary.
Jess stiffened indignantly, "You said we had to have honesty in our relationship!" she pointed out.
"Here we are trapped in a cave surrounded by cannibals and we are having a tiff about honesty!"
"You started it!" Mary ended it too by covering Jess's lips with a heart felt kiss. Jess sighed good naturedly, "Okay, you win! Here, I'm going to pull us up to higher ground slowly. I'm not too sure of the terrain although I seem to remember a fairly flat floor in this chamber." Jess felt a head with her foot and finding secure ground, gently pulled Mary completely clear of the water. "Okay, now I'm going to let go and search to see if either of us still has a light," Jess explained.
"Mine slipped down. I can feel it around the back of my neck," stated Mary and I think I still have my fuel pack."
"I've got a fuel pack but my light feels smashed. I'm going to take yours and see if I can feel to attach it to my pack. Then I'll have to try and dry it out enough to get it lit."
"Okay, but I'm going to hold on to you, alright? This dark is really spooky," stated Mary nervously as she felt about and then grabbed on to Jess's arm.
"Here," said Jess softly and transferred the small hand to her ankle, "I need that hand." Jess worked for some time trying to attach and dry the system in the dark. Then satisfied, she took Mary's striker and after many tries finally got a spark. It flared brightly for a split second and then went out leaving red spots in front of their eyes. Finally, Jess managed to get a weak, flickering light in the lamp. As the wick dried, the flame became stronger. Mary sighed in relief and Jess smiled smugly.
"Better Giovani?" she asked.
Mary smiled up at Jess, "You're my hero. Just one suggestion, next time we are facing down angry cannibals, do you think you could think of a more appropriate weapon. I don't know, maybe a small cannon or flame thrower!"
"It was the only thing back at the clinic that was remotely useful as a weapon," grinned Jess, "But I'll keep the flame thrower in mind for the next time!" Mary rewarded her with a wry look and then a broad smile.
"Nice to see that smile again," observed Jess reaching down to cover the hand that was still clutching her ankle for dear life.
Mary let go and took the hand, "You're a sight for sore eyes too, Visirakis! Jess leaned over and they kissed softly each painfully relieved to see the other safe.
They worked together, to wring out and sort what was still usable in Mary's small knapsack. The big knapsack, Jess had slipped out of as soon as she had realized they were in trouble. They had enough food if they were careful for a number of days but they had no water except what was available in the cavern. "Wont matter," observed Jess, "Our best option is to follow the river anyway if we can. We might be able to get out the same way the river does."
"What if we can't," asked Mary wringing out the canvas knapsack.
"Then we come back here and I dive back down that tunnel and try to clear a passage in the dark," muttered Jess playing with the pieces of the cook stove to get them back together again. Mary frowned but said nothing. She noticed that Jess had checked their fuel supply carefully and she wondered how long it would be before they were without light.
They headed off a short time later, moving slowly and staying close together to share the illumination from the miner's light on Jess's head. It was late evening by Jess's watch when they stopped to camp. Mary used the small single flame stove to heat soup in the tin pan that the stove was stored in. They had lost any other utensils and had to take turns sipping out of the pan. Too tired to talk, they ate in silence and with few words cleaned up and settled down to sleep. The darkness was absolute and the slow movement of the river sounded loud in the deep cavern, once Jess blew out the light. Mary snuggled as close as she could to Jess's warm body and Jess wrapped her taller body around her lover. It was a long night, as they slept fretfully, each concerned more for the other's safety.
Two days later, they came to a dead end. The passage now was very narrow and low and they had to travel bent over wading through the water. The underground river was only three feet wide at this point and about the same in depth. The river disappeared under a low lip and there was no indication how far it traveled beyond that point.
"We'll go back," said Jess grimly and I'll try to clear the tunnel back into the main chamber," she looked at Mary who was shaking with cold and soaked to the skin. She was pale and had lost weight. "I think we'll have enough fuel for the miner's lamp to get us back if we are careful. We'll find away, Mary," she tried to reassure.
The petite woman moved forward and wrapped her arms around Jess. Holding her tight. She could feel her lover's ribs more sharply now and feel the slight shiver from the cold that had even chilled Jess's warm body. "I love you," she said having nothing else to say to raise their hopes.
"I love you too," responded the taller woman hugging her close. Slowly, they slogged back through the water, their backs brushing against the rough rock ceiling in places. For Mary, almost a foot shorter, it was easier going but she worried about Jess.
Finally, exhausted and cold, they drank some lukewarm tea and ate the last of the biscuits before curling together in sleep. It was some time later when the sound of bats startled Jess awake. She carefully untangled herself from Mary and lit the miner's lamp. Thousands of bats flew past in a steady stream. "Mary! Mary! Come on wake up!" yelled Jess, the bats now reacting to their movements with high pitched squeals.
"Wha...Oh God!" Mary yelled burying her head into Jess's chest.
"Come on, we're going to follow these bats to the way out!" Jess explained pulling on Mary to get her to her feet. Quivering with fear and loathing, Mary followed Jess as she edged along the cave beside the shadowy swirl of bats. Occasionally, one bumped into them and Mary bit her lip to stop from screaming. Jess tried as much as possible to protect Mary from the leathery wings. She grit her teeth hating the close proximity to the bats as much as Mary. The bats disappeared through a narrow crevice in the rocks that appeared to be little more than a shadow.
The two women followed wedging through the rocks as bats collided against them. Once through, they found themselves in a chimney of rock. High above was the night sky. Exhausted, emotionally drained and suddenly relieved after being trapped underground for days, they sat on the muddy ground and Mary sobbed in Jess's arms. "Hey, its all right. I gotcha," Jess whispered gently rubbing Mary's back.
The sun was well up when Jess woke to the smell of fresh earthy air. She blinked in the intense light even though they sat in the shade cast by the massive rocks around them. Looking down at the light bundle wrapped in her arms, she realized how much Mary had been put through.
Green eyes blinked open and for a slit second, blue sky was reflected in them then they scrunched closed. "Hey, we made it didn't we Jess!" Mary giggled weakly.
"Yup," agreed the taller woman giving her lover a hug. "All we gotta do is get to the top."
Mary sighed and sat up looking around her, shielding her eyes with her hand. They were in a deep narrow chasm that rose about thirty feet above them. They sat on a muddy floor some four feet in diameter. "Any ideas?" she asked.
"I'll climb up and go and get help to get you out," said Jess.
Mary looked up at her exhausted partner. She was beautiful even with dirty ragged hair and a muddy face. "You got any better ideas?" she asked looking stern and raising her eyebrows.
Jess smiled and kissed her head, "Sorry love, I think it is the only way."
Mary nodded and smiled bravely back. "How is your back?" she asked.
"S'okay," the warrior responded looking away.
Mary laughed and got up awkwardly offering her hand to the older woman and watching her get up stiffly with the assistance. "Visirakis, you lie like a rug!"she stated shaking her head.
Jess blushed through the mud, "Well, its going to hurt anyway by the time I get to the top," muttered the embarrassed warrior.
Mary gave her a final hug, "Be careful!" she ordered and Jess nodded as she put her back to one rocky wall and braced her feet against the other. Slowly, she worked her way upwards. Mary watched her go and marveled at Jess's fortitude and strength. At the top, Jess placed her hands on the surface, gave a mighty push and shoved with her feet. Mary saw her friend disappear over the top, only her feet now hanging over the edge. The feet disappeared and a head reappeared.
"Mary, I think I can get you up with a vine. Stay there!" The head disappeared.
Hands on her hips, Mary shook her head as she looked up at the inviting blue sky, "So where do you think I'm going to go, Visirakis?" she sighed. Long minutes later, a stiff vine started to wiggle its way down the side of the rock chimney. The head popped up again. "Tie it really tight around you Mary and I'll pull you up," instructed the warrior.
Mary didn't argue. She made a loop and tied it off twice then slipped it over her head and around her shoulders. "Okay," she yelled to an invisible friend and slowly she was yanked to the surface.
Jess sat in the coarse grass her feet braced firmly in the dirt. Her biceps bulged as she pulled up the vine hand over hand until Mary's golden head appeared at the rim. Then she leaned forward and with one arm pulled her friend up to safety. Mary collapsed beside Jess in the grass and let the warm tropical sun, now almost directly over head, beat down on her. "This feels wonderful!" she exclaimed and Jess sitting quietly beside her smiled.
This must be love. The petite woman laying beside her smelt and was streaked in mud and bat dirt and yet she was the most desirable being that Jess had ever seen. She stretched out propping herself up on one elbow and leaned forward to kiss Mary softly on the lips.
"Hmmmm," responded the blond teasing Jess's lower lip with her teeth. "My hero. My warrior.
My love," the journalist whispered and Jess became aware only of the sensation of hot sun on her back, a fresh breeze and the intoxicating scent of the woman under her. It took all her self control to eventually pull away and sit up to survey their situation.
"We've traveled north. The clinic is on the other side of that ridge," she observed pointing down the valley. We're about ten-twelve miles away."
Mary groaned, "That's a long walk back."
"We're not going back. I probably killed a few with the dynamite and you can be sure that if I wasn't before, I'm sure top of the list for payback now. We gotta get out of here."
Mary sat up, alert now. "Where should we go?" she asked looking at the tall, dark woman beside her with worry.
"The mission station, "Its about fifty miles west of here. A four day walk if the terrain isn't too rough. First, let's get cleaned up and steal some food. Then we'll head out. We want to avoid human contact as much as possible."
Sometime later, they sat naked in a clear, cold stream rubbing the filth off their bodies while their clothes dried a bit in the afternoon sun. "Jess?"
"If I wasn't with you, would you be going to the mission?"
"Why did you ask that?" asked the older woman getting up and offering her hand to her lame lover. Mary accepted the lift up and the quiet support to get over the slippery rocks to the shore.
"Why haven't you answered me?" countered Mary as the two of them shook as much water as they could off their bodies and then put the uncomfortably damp clothes on over their still wet bodies.
"If you weren't with me, I'd go after Mone," Jess answered with aggression roughing her voice.
Mary looked at the warrior she loved, searching the ice blue eyes that could turn so viciously cold when she focused on strategy and yet could soften to the colour of a blue summer sky when she reached out to touch her. She nodded. "Then we forget the mission and go after Mone."
"No!" snapped Jess angrily, the eyes flashing white fire.
"Yes!," responded the fiery strawberry blond.
"No," stated Jess sitting down to lace a boot on.
Mary looked down at Jess who was pretending not to notice her. "Are we partners?" The hands lacing the boot froze and then finished their task slowly while Jess thought.
"Yes, we're partners. But this isn't ever day stuff, Mary. This is combat," the warrior explained getting to her feet and looking down into the serious green eyes.
"All the more reason for me to be there," concluded Mary "You think he is alive then?"
"Maybe. It's hard to say," responded Jess realizing that a decision had somehow been made without her knowledge. Damn. I'm henpecked, she thought in amazement!
"Can we capture him?" asked Mary moving closer to reassure her warrior. She could see the look of uneasy bewilderment in Jess's eyes.
"That would be best. Listen Mary...." a delicate finger touched her lips and Mary moved closer wrapping her other arm around her waist.
"I will do everything you say. I just need to be with you," Mary pleaded ever thought she knew she had already won. There were bounders that Mary understood that Jess's ego had that could not be crossed, at least not openly! She felt the stiff body relax and Jess wrapped her close in her arms. Gotcha warrior, she thought.
Jess sighed, the woman played her like a trout on a line and somehow, she didn't care a bit! This has got to be love! She sighed and kissed the wet, sweet hair. "I'll hold you to that promise Giovani, so you had better be good!" she growled. Then sizing up the distances and her options, she went on, " We need to get a few things then we'll head off." Mary nodded. There was a time to stand up and have your way and there was a time to go along meekly.
"Pardon me! Excuse me."
The village woman looked up from tending her garden to see the small blond standing between the mounds of sweet potatoes. She leaned on her digging stick and scratched a spot under her drooping left breast smiling broadly at the European with the hair like sun. Then an unbelievably strong arm wrapped around her throat, a sudden pain and she knew no more.
Jess caught the slumping body and dragged the village woman into the tall grasses. "She'll be okay, wont she?" asked Mary.
Jess nodded focused completely on the mission now. "The choke cut off the jugular vein stopping the blood from reaching the brain. She'll have a headache when she comes around but that's about it. Come on, we haven't got long."
Jess picked up the woman's belem of sweet potatoes and Mary her paddle shaped digging stick that was also used for fighting and they headed over to the hut. Jess had already ascertained, from an earlier scouting, that no one else was near. She took out the wood slats that barricaded the low door and disappeared inside while Mary stood waiting, scanning the area for any sign of people. In a few minutes, Jess returned with a stone work axe and a coil of rope. "Let's go," she muttered and Mary lumbered along behind trying not to slow Jess down.
Jess didn't go far. She stopped by some banana trees that grew near the hut and snapped off a ripening bunch. Then she moved on a little farther and used the axe to cut some lengths of sugar cane. "Here, this will have to hold you until later, I'm afraid," she said. They hadn't had anything but water since the tea and biscuits the night before. Mary used her teeth to strip off the hard outer bark and then bit off a piece of the fibrous pith. The warm, sweet sap trickled down her throat as she chewed. When she could get no more from the pulp, she spit it out and then bit off another chunk. Jess did the same as they walked along keeping to the ravines, high grasses and shadows as much as possible.
That night, Jess caught fish in the river much to Mary's delight. The fish would make a super meal but more than that the activity brought back happy memories of when they were young. They shared some of those memories as they ate bass and roasted sweet potato and then chewed the remainder of their sugar cane. Then exhausted, they curled up in a small hollow and went to sleep. When the moon rose, Jess eased away from her lover and stood. In the moon light, she cast a dark shadow and her eyes were the colour of ice-cold steel. Once away from their camp, she broke into an easy run.
Mary woke to the sunlight and the wonderful feel of her lover still wrapped behind her. She blinked, trying to clear the fog from her thoughts. It wasn't like Jess to sleep late. She hoped that she wasn't sick! Then her eyes fell on a large belem filled with items including fresh clothes. She spun around and met serious blue eyes. "Jess!" she sighed.
The eyes filled with laughter. "We needed a few more things so I just ran back to the clinic and got them.
"Was Mone there?!"asked Mary, her voice filled with apprehension.
Jess shook her head, "No, the place is deserted. I was actually surprised that none of the stores have been rifled yet. It's an awful tempting target.
Jess built up the fire and made instant coffee from the stores she had brought. They ate bananas for breakfast, then headed off again. "Do you know where we are going? asked Mary as she limped along uncomplaining.
"I've a pretty good idea," stated Jess offering her hand to help Mary over a log bridge. "I think they are probably up on that peak," she said stopping to point out a high craggy outcropping. "There is a dream house up there. It is very old and very sacred. "
"Why there, because of its religious value?" asked Mary resettling her load of the supplies in a more comfortable angle on her back.
"That and there are caves associated with the site where a secret society could meet. Also there is a legend that it was on that peak that the older brother discovered the secret of the magic," explained Jess.
It took them two days to walk to the peak and another to slowly climb to the top. This had to be done at night now to avoid detection. The moon was waning making the night dark and hazardous. Mary struggling over the rough ground with her uneven gait, fell a number of times adding to the number of cuts and bruises she already had. Jess had brought back some basic medicines and had carefully cleaned every cut and given Mary a shot against infection. Mary found Jess's grumpy care adorable in the extreme.
Jess was very over protective and caring and tried her best to cover her soft heart with a protective layer of indifference. Mary was never offended by Jess's ways. She knew how hard the woman was struggling to make their relationship work even though she had little experience in making an emotional commitment. When Jess growled "Giovani!" her eyes lit up with love and Mary's heart melted. God! Her warrior had a sexy growl!
"Giovani!" Jess whispered. "Are we sneaking up on the enemy here or are we just going to announce our arrival by knocking boulders down the mountain side? You all right?"
"It was a pebble. I slipped and yes, I'm okay," responded Mary allowing Jess to take her hand and pull her up on a rocky ledge.
"You stay here while I scout ahead. I'll be back in a minute," instructed Jess.
Mary opened her mouth to protest but stopped when she saw Jess raise an eyebrow. "Okay," she said meekly. The eyebrow rose a bit higher and Mary smiled innocently. Jess snorted softly and leaned forward to drop a kiss on Mary's cheek before heading off.
Mary looked around for a place to sit and found none. For while she stood and looked out into the night. Then she started to explore about a bit. Hearing a noise, she moved along the ledge and looked around an outcropping of rock. Silhouette against the star lit sky, was a warrior moving slowly over the uneven terrain towards where she stood. She gasped, pulled back and turned to see Mone now standing on the path. "Mone!" she said nervously trying to regroup, "Jess just stepped around the corner," she lied pointing behind her.
Mone smiled and raised his ceremonial axe over his head ready to strike. Instead, an arm wrapped around his neck and with a gasp he dropped to the ground.
"Am I glad...ugh!" grunted Mary as Jess pushed her aside and met the warrior who had come running around the corner. Jess was off balance from pushing Mary out of the way and the warrior used the opportunity to slam Jess against the rock face. Blood dripped down Jess's face from a gash over her eye as she groggily tried to fend off the attacker.
The next instant, there was a dull thud and the man who had held her in an iron grip slumped forward onto her. Jess pushed him off in disgust and he slid to the ground. Looking up, she saw Mary sanding there shaking with rage and banishing her fighting stick.
Jess smiled and tilted her head in question and Mary looked suddenly embarrassed. "No one, picks on my woman!" she protested and Jess laughed as Mary flew into her arms. They tied the prisoners up and Jess explained that she had met one guard and then returned to take out Mone and the other guard. They seemed to have caught them unawares. No doubt, they had felt safe that Jess and Mary had drowned in the underground lake.
"What about the other followers?" asked Mary as she dabbed at Jess's eyebrow trying to stop the bleeding and disinfect the area.
"I think they'll be no problem if we can convince Quen to take a stand against this cargo cult movement."
"Can we do that?" asked Mary stopping her administrations to meet Jess's eyes.
Jess shrugged, "If we can't we'll probably looking forward to a shallow grave. Maybe you should walk out to the mission while I handle this."
"Visirakis, don't even go there!" responded Mary determinedly. Jess sighed in defeat.
They walked down the mountain the next morning, their three prisoners tied in a line on the rope.
Drums soon started echoing along the valley with the cry of voices. "What's going on?" as Mary nervously.
"The long, narrow valleys have great acoustics. The village headmen are calling out messages that bounce down the valley from one village to the next and then are passed on again. They are saying that we have captured Mone and that we are heading to Quen's village.
"Did they happen to say how they feel about that?" asked Mary instinctively moving closer to the woman she loved and keeping her new weapon at the ready.
Jess shrugged, "Well, we are still alive!"
A large crowd of angry villagers met them in the singsing ground banishing axes and spears. Quen stood quietly waiting. Jess walked forward and handed him the rope. For a long while, they talked to one another in Pidgin. At one point, Quen yelled at Jess and the crowd responded by raising their weapons at her and giving war whoops. Mary moved forward, fighting stick up.
"Will you keep that temper of yours in check, Giovani!" muttered Jess grabbing the fighting stick and wrapping a protective arm around her champion.
"Hey, they were threatening you!" grumbled Mary pulling free and giving the crowd a dirty look.
"How would you know!" grumbled Jess refusing to let go of Mary's weapon. Suddenly, Quen snarled something and laughed. The crowd, after a moment's hesitation followed suit. Jess went beet red and stiffened.
Ah oh, thought Mary, Jess was mad! Quen yelled some orders and several warriors stepped out of the crowd and lead the prisoners away. Then Quen deliberately turned his back on Jess and walked away while the crowd laughed and pointed at the two women.
Jess looked down at Mary with a positively murderous look, then her mouth tight with rage, she turned on her heel and walked off. Mary followed in an awkward hop-run, "What did I do!?" she asked in frustration.
Jess spun on her. "You...took...my...face!" she spit out hands on hips.
"Oh boy," whispered Mary in a small voice and biting her lip she asked nervously"Are you really mad?"
"Yes!"snapped Jess and then seeing the look of worry on her lover's face relented a bit with a sigh. "Giovani, come here," she ordered. Mary moved closer and Jess grabbed her up and threw her over her shoulder.
"Hey!" yelled Mary and then "Ouch!" as Jess's hand came down firmly on her back side three times.
An iiiiiiieeeee rose from the crowd as they laughed and pointed at the two women and shook their hands back and forth. Jess moved off with long strides, Mary still firmly over her shoulder.
"Hey, what was that for!?" grumbled Mary. "Let me down!"
"You probably saved our hides Giovani, you know that?" revealed Jess as she walked along with her human cargo still over her shoulder.
"I did?" exclaimed Mary in surprise bouncing along upside down.
"Yeah, Quen had just threatened to kill me as the evil spirit of the older brother when you stepped in and started henpecking me," Jess grumbled.
"Shut up Giovani. Then Quen laughed and said he'd made a mistake that anyone as weak as I was from a love charm couldn't have the spirit of a great warrior inside them! He said Mone must have been wrong."
"Oh boy." Silence. "You'd probably would have preferred to die, right?" Mary asked nervously.
"Just about," responded Jess walking on steadily.
"I know," Jess responded softly stopping and lowering Mary to the ground. She looked into those soft green eyes framed by a blowing curtain of golden hair, "Tell me, is my whole life with you going to be like this?"
Mary smiled challengingly, "Most of the time, I'll let you be the warrior, I promise,"and Jess laughed and bent to kiss the woman that she loved.
Jess lay in the sun looking up at the blue sky and listening to the two water falls. Mary lay asleep beside her, naked and contented. Jess smiled. She had a friend, Jo, back in Australia that she used to go spelunking with when she was in medical school. Jo, she knew had a large ranch in New South Wales, maybe if she contacted her, she would know of a place that might be for sale...
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