Parren wove the iridescent feathers into the single long length of hair she kept, just behind her left temple. She had allowed it to grow, trimming around it each time. It was unusual, but some young men were already copying her style, growing a patch of hair as she had done.
"Yes, you look nice, now lets go," Jopa urged, eager to begin their first trip.
"We aren't leaving until the sun it up, so why hurry? Besides, I was thinking about visiting that pretty-"
"No! We don't have time for one of your nightly prowls," her friend grumbled. "Why can't you keep your greedy hands off the females for once?"
Parren laughed. Sex wasn't forbidden nor looked upon with distain among those who have been initiated into adulthood. Any eager man could sneak into another's home during the night to woo an unattached and willing female. If the young woman accepted his bold advance, she would pull him to her mat and they would make love. If she rejected him, she would merely face away from him and he would leave.
"You never seem to mind when you prowl with me," she teased. They had shared women on more than one occasion. "In fact, you especially like it when the woman rides you and I fondle her from behind," she winked, causing her friend to feel the instant tightening of his loins.
He cursed, then urged her to make it fast, they didn't want to be late. Parren invited him along and they headed towards one of the upper levels. Pointing to a ladder in the dim lighting, she followed him into the tanner's home.
She tapped Shalen on the shoulder, awakening her. She grinned and held out her arms.
"You brought a friend," she whispered, delighted. Parren grinned.Ý She and Shalen had met several times already this season and had enjoyed their times together. The tanner's daughter was eager to please and had an appetite to match her own.
Jopa and Parren moved into position, accustomed to one another. Parren took possession of Shalen's lips while the young man began caressing her skin. The woman moaned, waking up her father. The man glanced in their direction and rolled over, hoping they didn't get too loud.
Once the emissary had her fill of her lips, she traveled across her chest until she found a passion stiffened nipple. Jopa grinned in the moonlight and sought the other breast. Together,Ý they gave the young woman pleasure, causing her to strain and writhe under them. Parren lowered her hand, teasing Shalen's womanhood.
"Ride my friend Shalen, he is eager for your ripeness," Parren urged. Jopa rolled to his back and guided the woman over him. She impaled herself on his male staff and moaned. "Yes, ride him well," Parren moaned, straddling his legs behind her. Her hands began roaming over Shalen's abdomen and breasts, squeezing the generous mounds as they bounced in rhythm to Jopa's thrusts. The speed set, Parren took the woman's hand and pulled it behind her and to her own need.
Shalen didn't require any instructions, her fingers stroking her slick skin roughly. All three labored silently in the dimness until their passions burst. Shalen fell across Jopa's prone body and gasped for air.
"Parren, if you only had a man root, you would be absolutely perfection," she panted. The emissary glanced at her muscled rump and thought the same thing, still craving more. The idea of taking her as a man would only aroused her further. Too bad she wasn't built that way. A ray of sunlight peeked through the open doorway.
"We need to go!" Jopa hissed. Parren chuckled and slapped Shalen's rump to make her move. The woman pouted and moved off of Jopa. Grabbing their clothes, they climbed out of the house and headed for the lower levels, dressing as they went.
Their mentors were already prepared to leave and gave them impatient looks. The apprentices apologized for their tardiness and picked up the heavy packs, strapping them onto their backs. The group headed southwards, towards the River People. There, they hoped to trade for shells and special fish bones used for decorations. They also looked forward to fresh fish, something unavailable in their mountainous homelands.
From there, they planned on continuing towards theÝ Northeast, to the desert dwellers, the Shalopas. The villages located there were near an ancient sea, where long ago salt was left behind. They learned to gather and process it until it was greatly valued by others. The elder Traders had also planned to travel to an unknown region, further north, to a place rumored to have mined precious metals. They kept the secret of forging these metals, making objects of great beauty.
It was also said that they guarded their secrets so tightly that many feared visiting them. It would be Parren's first trial to negotiate a trade between their peoples. The priests had given her permission to share certain secrets in exchange, those known to herself but to no one else in the trading party.
As the day wore on, the woman was grateful for the long hours her mentor, Hanpa, forced her to carry heavy burdens around their village. Now strong of body, the weight of the packs didn't seem so severe. She shifted the pack a bit, finding a place it wouldn't rub against her as much.
"I'm glad we're traveling downhill," Jopa commented wearily. Parren agreed, wishing she could stop for a drink of cool water. The day was overly warm for a spring day. She glanced up at the double suns, noting their positions. Sister sun was almost sitting on her brother's shoulder.
"It's nearly high day. We'll probably stop soon and rest,' she said, giving Thrana a glance, silently asking for his affirmation. He nodded slightly. Several minutes later, they came upon a small brook weaving its way between a stand of trees. Grateful for the shade and water, they dropped their heavy packs and sat down.
"The first few days are always the most difficult," Hanpa grumbled good-naturedly. After living 33 seasons, he was getting on in years and would likely not travel again after this year. He would retire and help his children with their crops until he was too old for even that. But he was a good master and his children adored him. His final years would be comfortable. Parren took out the map he had drawn for her and studied it, wanting to make mental pictures inside her mind.
Hanpa had assured her that after the second year, she would have little need for the map. She was sure he was correct, but intended to learn every inch of the country surrounding her. It might save her life one day.
"Always so serious," Hanpa teased, tapping her forehead with his rough fingertip.
"Except when it comes to pretty girls," Jopa teased and nudged Parren in the ribs. Parren gave a lopsided grin which disappeared as fast as it arrived.
"No, I think one day she will meet someone who will make her serious in that area one day," Thrana predicted. "Our Parren is like the deep waters of the sunken lakes—still and dark, until someone tosses a pebble into it, disturbing its serenity."
"Hmm, so I will meet my defeat at the hands of a pebble. Interesting. Well, at least he didn't compare me to a sleeping groth," Parren said darkly, then laughed.
"Parren," Hanpa said, his voice serious, "An avalanche starts with nothing but a tiny pebble rolling down the rocky hill. Don't be so quick to dismiss the possibilities so quickly," he warned.
The emissary looked into his amber colored eyes, seeing no humor there. She nodded and took a bite of her travel bar to break the tight spell around her. She chewed the tough strip, hoping they found more easily found bounty along the way since the travel bars were like leather. They were nothing more than rendered oils from plants, dried berries, grains, and smoked meat of the lohft deer. They filled the belly but did little for the palate.
As though Ganthren heard her wish and fulfilled it, she spotted some freshly sprouted fiddleheads. Taking out her knife, she cut them from the fronds and collected them. She took them back to the others and passed them around. They were a welcomed treat, not found at their village's elevation. They were only eaten on special occasions, when groups of women left the safety of their dwellings and hunted for them.
She chewed the crisp plant, savoring its sharp taste. Once done, Hanpa reminded them to refill their water bladders, it was time to continue.
The colors were chosen long ago by those who wished to advertise their peaceful intentions. Both red and black were unnatural colors, rarely seen and quickly spotted even from a distance among the pale landscapes of their area. No enemy would choose such colors for those very reasons. Among the peoples of the region, their clothing said, I am a friend.
"Greetings my old friends," one of the men said to the elder Traders. Parren understood his speech even though his accent was odd. "Come into the shade and rest. I'm sure all of you are tired and could use some food and drink."
Thrana thanked the man and introduced their apprentices to Shantack. The man's dark eyes settled on Parren and realized she was female, her small breasts bare.Ý "What is this you old scoundrel? Have the young men of your village become so frail that you disguise women to replace them?" he teased.
"No Shantack, Parren is one who follows two paths," he explained. The leader of the River People looked at her in surprise then in awe. "Do pardon me honored one, I did not mean any disrespect," he apologized sincerely.
Parren waved off his apology, not taking offense. "If I had been offended Shantack, I would have said so. I am not known for holding my tongue when angered," she smiled. In fact, she had been encouraged to express her feelings honestly since those who follow the two spirit paths were expected to be honest at all times. Once she took her final vows, if she were to be caught in a lie, she would be buried alive, the punishment for deceit for her kind. The closest she would be allowed to a lie would be to not speak at all, and only if her silence didn't cause harm to another.
Her family thought she had become serious and introspective, but that was not the case. Parren had merely learned to curb her tongue, which could be quick to speak, and was not always kind. It was better to not say much than to cause hurt feelings.
Shantack smiled in relief, happy he hadn't angered her. He showed them to place they could sit down and asked his wives to bring them refreshments. Although they came to trade, customs must be met first. They would rest first then perhaps tomorrow they would dicker over the goods brought.
The emissary looked around, studying the structures they lived in. Unlike their stone and mud homes, the River people lived in huts built on top of stumps of large trees. Curious, she asked why they sat so high above the ground.
"Because of flood waters young trader. Every so often, heavy rains pour down and swell the river. If the huts sat on the ground, all would be ruined by water," he answered. Reaching up to accept a platter from his head wife, he told them to help themselves. The women brought out several more wooden bowls of food along with morsels of steamed fish wrapped in thick leaves. Parren smiled at the young woman who handed her a plate. She blushed, causing Parren to grin wider. She adored bashful females. Her manner charmed the young emissary and she was attractive as well, with dark eyes and reddish brown hair.
"She pleases you?" Shantack asked. Parren nodded then was surprised when he offered her the use of his wife. Startled, she glanced at Hanpa, who nodded slightly. The River People had different customs than their own. Parren only wished she had learned more before they left their own village.
Even though the leader offered, she was reluctant to accept his generosity. After all, the young woman may not be willing and Parren could not imagine herself forcing someone outright. That would be repugnant. She preferred her blanket mates to be willing and as eager as she was.
"Would it please you, wife of Shantack?" Parren asked, not knowing her name. The woman blushed again but smiled bashfully. Satisfied she was willing, Parren rose to her feet. "Is there a place for guests to sleep?"
Shantack pointed to the far hut. Parren picked up her pack and followed the woman towards the guest hut. Once inside, she allowed her eyes to adjust to the dim interior and placed her pack in one corner. The woman introduced herself then urged Parren to sit. Carlanta knelt and began untying her footwear, which was swollen from crossing many small streams. Once free of the cold, wet leather, she placed each sole upon her belly, warming them. Parren smiled, grateful for the warmth. Once they were warm to the touch, the woman lowered her feet and climbed up onto the sleeping platform and sat next to her.
Parren touched her cheek, stroking the soft skin.
"Have you ever been with a female?" Parren asked.
The blushing woman shook her head.
"Well, it's much like with men, just a little different is all," Parren reassured her. A look of disappointment crossed Carlanta's face.
"What is it?"
"Nothing. I had just hoped it would be much different. All Shantack does is pats my bottom and tells me to spread my legs. His skills as a lover are lacking," she sighed. Parren chuckled.
"Well, I think I can do better than that. Do you enjoy penetration at all?" she asked, curious.
Her blanket mate shrugged. Parren decided it was time to introduce her to the pleasures of the flesh. Leaning her back onto the hard platform, she sought her lips, kissing her softly. At first, the river woman was stiff, unused to the experience of slow love play, but she gradually relaxed once she realized Parren wasn't going to rush. Parren ran her fingertips lazily across her belly until she felt the muscles loose all tension.
Satisfied that she was at ease with her, she broke the kiss and began nibbling along her neck and shoulder. Carlanta hummed in pleasure, enjoying the soft forays her lips performed. Parren brought her wandering hand higher and lightly traced the woman's ribs, causing her skin to shudder and her nipples to tighten in response.
"That is a pretty sight," the emissary said in appreciation, then kissed each tight bud. Carlanta shifted beneath her, her body rising to meet her lips. Taking the cue, Parren teased one nipple with her tongue, tracing around it. Becoming lost in how her blanket mate reacted, she began enjoying the twin feasts, moving back and forth between them. Carlanta's fingers settled on her short hair, pulling her tighter against her breasts. Parren groaned and stepped up the pace, suckling hard on the peak inside her mouth. The leader's wife moaned loudly and arched in rapture.
Unable to resist any longer, Parren sought her nest of damp curls and cupped Carlanta's womanhood, squeezing and caressing until the woman grew wild. Using her fingers, she delved deeper into her, finding her slick nub and rubbed it firmly. It wasn't long before the woman's gasps became frantic. Wanting to enter her and bring her to her final pleasure in that manner, Parren quickly thrust into her until her own knuckles prevented her from going deeper. Her blanket mate whimpered as her hips rose in response, her words nothing more than groans and squeals. Pistoning her hand quickly, she brought the woman to the brink of pleasure and cried out with her as she discovered the fields of light for the first time.
Outside, Shantack's eyebrows lifted nearly into his hairline, surprised at the sounds from inside the guest hut, competing with the rise of his own arousal. Excusing himself from the visiting Traders, he went to his own home to seek out his youngest wife.
To Be Continued
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