Once the Traders were far from the ship Thrana asked Parren if she understood what the strangers had spoken of.

“They found something they want, something that will make them wealthy. From what little I understood I think it needs to be dug up but the man said it would be dangerous. The other man suggested using our people to do the work. I say refuse his request. There is nothing they could offer worth risking the lives of our people.”

“I agree. I will pass on your warning to the High One. In the meantime, why don’t you both go home. I will send for you if I need either of you.”

Parren and her friend agreed, tired and eager to relax. They bid the two older men good-bye. Jopa was winked at Parren and headed for Shalen’s home.

The Emissary climbed up to her mother’s home and found the women of the household preparing for the evening meal. Hyenta smiled at Parren and invited her to join her on the woven rug. The Achaian was shelling najanta pods while Parren’s sisters were grinding flour.  Sopan greeted her daughter but didn’t question her about her duties, learning many years ago that her daughter would only speak if she wished to share her knowledge.

Parren leaned over and placed a kiss on her mate’s cheek, amused at the slight flush that rose to color her face. “Need any help?” Parren offered.

“Not with those dirty hands. Clean up then help me shell these pods. If we have enough time afterwards perhaps we can take a short nap,” she grinned. Hyenta knew that would get the work done quickly. 

Sopan watched her daughter nearly fly down the ladder into the house and grunted. “Hmm, she never offered to help me do chores that eagerly,” she said petulantly, sending a wink to her daughters. The young women giggled and reminded their mother that some forms of bribery worked better than others did.

Hyenta blushed a deeper red but grinned, pleased at the acceptance she got from her new family. Parren returned to the roof, a silly grin on her freshly scrubbed face. Yes, acceptance was very, very good.

Fernando lowered his field glasses and wiped the sweat from his brow. He had circled for hours around the ship for nearly an hour before he found the faint tracks of the natives. He rested for a minute, taking a drink from his canteen as he looked up at the dwellings built into the cliffs.

His thoughts ran to the fanciful as his imagination played with the fact that the natives looked very human and the adobe and limestone homes built into the cliff looked like the ancient cliff dwellings of North America. He shook his head at his own imagination. The mechanist shifted his pack and continued up the steep incline. He had hoped to meet with the natives before dark. But Fernando hadn’t known how far away their village actually was. The Captain said to find them and make nice.

Pete reluctantly got up. “Shit, I’m exhausted. Why couldn’t they build their damned village at ground level?”

“They hardly had visitors in mind when they built their village. Can you think of a safer home than one high in the air? Animals can’t bother you and it’s easily defendable,” Fernando lectured.

“I’m gonna be pissed if they yank in the welcome mat and refuse to let us in,” the man grumbled.

The Spaniard laughed. “If they knew why we were here they’d drop boulders on us and kill us off one by one.”

“Don’t remind me that they’d happily slit our throats in the middle of the night. Frank’s little jail bait looked like she’d do it for the fun of it with him at the head of the line.”

“She looked friendly enough to me. As long as we behave ourselves and try not to break any social taboos we might find them very helpful.”

”Yeah, I know, keep our eyes off their boobs.”

“You got it, Pete. Now, let’s see if the welcome mat is out.” Fernando stopped about thirty feet from the base of the cliff and pulled out the translator. “Hello!” he shouted up the rock face wall.

Heads popped out and dark eyes looked down at them. Fernando had expected grown men to inspect them but saw the faces of children. He waved in a friendly manner and the faces disappeared.

“Think they’ll let us in?”

Fernando shrugged, “Tal vez, maybe.”

Suddenly a long rope ladder was tossed over the side of the cliff. It snapped loudly as it uncoiled, making both men jump back in surprise.

The Spaniard cleared his throat. “I think that means ‘come on in’.”

Pete looked up the cliff and swallowed. “You first,” he suggested.

Fernando huffed in annoyance and grabbed the rough twine rope and began climbing the unsteady ladder. He was about twenty feet up when he felt Pete get hold of the rope and climb onto it too. At the top of the ladder he felt hands grasp his arms and help him onto the ledge. Fernando didn’t know that they had watched him climb the rope awkwardly and thought him clumsy.

Muchas gracias,” he told them, forgetting for a moment they didn’t speak Spanish--or English for that matter. He straightened and noted that a group of men armed with spears and clubs stood back, watching their movements. This assignment would be harder than he thought. The natives were already wary of them. He pulled out the translator from his pack and turned it on, hoping it had a large enough language base to make them understood.

He held it up and began speaking slowly and carefully. "Hello, my name is Fernando," he began, placing his free hand on his chest. He then pointed at Pete, introducing him. "May we speak to your leaders?" Fernando inwardly grimaced. He sounded like one of those terrible sci-fi movies from the 1950's.

The two men were led to a limestone building nearby. The setting sun made it appear brighter than the surrounding dwellings that were much higher. A quick glance told the visitors that at least a hundred families lived within the cliffs. The Spaniard entered the building, noticing that it was much cooler inside. Torches lit the interior to a warm glow. Their escort of guards pointed to a stone bench so the men sat down and waited.

Kopna entered the room a few minutes later after donning his ceremonial robes. He wanted the strangers to have no doubts of his influence over his people. Walking behind him was Parren who had the communication stone tucked into her ear. She would attempt to aid the high priest to speak with the strangers. Once she saw who was in the atrium, she whispered to Kopna.

"The darker one, he is the nicer of the men. The other strikes me as somewhat weak willed. He does as he is told and no more." The priest nodded slightly and faced the men.

"Why have you come here?"

The translator still needed more input and only gave the possible wording as, "Here? Why?"

Fernando cleared his throat after bowing politely. He once again introduced himself and Pete. The later then pulled out a small chest from his pack and handed it to his co-worker. Fernando took a few slow steps closer to the priest and opened the box. "We are here to learn about your people. We want to become friends. This is our small gift to you," he explained.

One of the guards stepped forward and inspected the box before taking it to Kopna. The priest looked inside but the items were so strange that he had no clue to their function. He took one shiny object from the box, a flattish item that was smooth. He brought it to his nose to sniff it and detected something sweet. He glanced at the men who mimed eating. He almost took a bite when Pete stopped him and said to remove the paper, what ever that was. It must be a wrapping of some sort. he noticed a overlap in the outside covering and tugged it, tearing a hole into it. Inside was something dark. He broke off the corner and carefully nibbled at it. Sweetness and something unknown saturated his senses. At first he was unsure he liked it but another tiny bite made him change his mind. He nodded and placed the remainder into the chest.

Parren was watching the men intently, straining her ears to listen to whatever they whispered between them. She saw their eyes glance towards her and knew they spoke of her.

Kopna decided to watch these men and invited them to spend the night within their walls. The men accepted and suggested to Parren that she take the men to her mother's dwelling since she had extra room and many males in her household. The Two-Spirit woman nodded and motioned to the men to follow her. She knew Kopna really wanted her to try and spy on the men for him. The strangers would no doubt choose when and where they used their box that spoke words.

Parren led them up the series of ladders to Sopan's home. Her family was located on the roof, eating their evening meal. Sopan stood up when she saw the strangers with her daughter and questioned her rapidly. The older woman listened then excused herself to prepare the spare room for the guests. She told her daughter, Konen, to serve a meal to the men in her absence. Parren pointed to one of the benches and the men sat down, unsure what to expect.  They kept an eye on the bare-breasted female, sensing she had more importance than they first believed. She sat down next to a lovely woman and took her hand.

Bowls were handed to them and the men ate without comment, feeling the eyes of the people on them as they chewed.

Topa studied Fernando with slitted eyes. She leaned towards her Rangar sister. "He is quite handsome, is he not?" she whispered. Even though Fernando's features were different from their own, he was still dark-haired and tanned from the sun. He wasn't like the pale one next to him who resembled a dead fish in color.

"Have you yet thrown your husband's belongings from mother's home?"

"Not yet but if this stranger proves warm-blooded, I may have a need for a new mate soon," she said with a leer.

"I wouldn't risk my heart on any of these strangers. I don't trust them," Parren warned.

"He has kind eyes," Topa murmured, not allowing herself to become discouraged.

Parren ate her own meal, her eyes focused on the men. Once they finished eating she put her bowl aside and escorted the men to the village's latrines. Large narrow ditches were carved into the limestone where people did their business. They were sprinkled with ashes several times a day and once full, would be emptied and disposed of away from the village. The men quickly urinated, realizing they'd never find the location again in the dark. Parren then led them back to Sopan's home and to the spare room that was next to her own sleeping place.

Her mother had set out padded cushions on the floor and woven blankets to keep them warm. An oil lamp had been lit and a crock of water was set to one side. She left the men to their privacy and joined Hyenta in their sleep space.


Pete couldn't sleep. Fernando was softly snoring next to him but the lack of the accustomed ship noises kept him awake. He was trying to find a comfortable position when sounds of passion from the next room caught his attention. He strained his ears and realized that it was the sound of two women going at it hot and heavy. His imagination kicked in and his body reacted, leaving him in a painful state.

Unable to resist, he carefully got up, doing his best not to make any sounds. He slipped through the curtain and tiptoed to the next room. The sounds of their activities increased in volume. Pete did his best to control his own panting and slowly parted the curtain so he could peek inside.

The girl who had brought them here was upon the one she had sat next to early. Their bodies rocked against one another as their mouths and hands were kept busy. He watched Parren in the dim lighting as she buried her face into her lover's neck and emitted a muffled scream as she reached her climax. The woman under her writhed a few more times then joined her. As both women panted in the aftermath, Pete realized he needed to leave before they heard him. He quietly hurried back to the room and crawled back onto his pallet, cursing his own condition that would leave him aching for a long time.


To be continued...



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