Main Transcendence

Transcendence

,
4.5 / 0
How much do you like this book?
What’s the quality of the file?
Download the book for quality assessment
What’s the quality of the downloaded files?
Year:
2014
Publisher:
Shay Savage, LLC
Language:
english
File:
EPUB, 609 KB
Download (epub, 609 KB)

You may be interested in Powered by Rec2Me

 

Most frequently terms

 
0 comments
 

To post a review, please sign in or sign up
You can write a book review and share your experiences. Other readers will always be interested in your opinion of the books you've read. Whether you've loved the book or not, if you give your honest and detailed thoughts then people will find new books that are right for them.
1

Uncockblockable

Year:
2013
Language:
english
File:
EPUB, 144 KB
0 / 0
2

The Shortcoming

Year:
2016
Language:
english
File:
EPUB, 133 KB
0 / 0
Copyright © 2014 Shay Savage

Published By Shay Savage

All Rights Reserved

Formatting & Cover Design : Mayhem Cover Creations

Editing : Chaya & Tamara





All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems-except in the case of brief excerpts or quotations embodied in review or critical writings without the expressed permission of the author, Shay Savage.

The characters and events in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.





DEDICATION





For all those who didn’t want a story about a man who acted like a caveman, but a story about an actual caveman! Hoh!

Special thanks to the fabulous team of people who helped pull this together: Chaya, Tamara, Heather, Adam, Ellie, Holly, Jada, Jamie, and everyone on my street team for the constant encouragement and support!





IMPORTANT AUTHOR'S NOTE

Located in the left hemisphere,Broca's Area is the part of the brain associated with the comprehension of both verbal and non-verbal language. It’s what allows you to understand English, learn to speak Chinese, use sign language to communicate across the room, or even to play Pictionary.

Yeah, Pictionary.

Reading the words on this page also uses Broca’s area to take symbols and transform them into words your mind recognizes and comprehends. This part of the brain is completely responsible for how Homo sapiens communicate.

So what if someone has no Broca’s Area in their brain?

Meet Ehd, the caveman. Ehd is a completely fictitious form of a human-like primate (we'll call him Homo savage, m'kay?), who is pretty much exactly like modern humans except he lacks Broca's Area in his brain.

What does that mean?

What it means is Ehd CAN'T learn to speak. He just doesn't have the ability. He's still highly intelligent and capable of learning; he'll just never associate the sounds someo; ne makes with any objects or actions. He might learn to associate a sound with a desired behavior - that is, he can figure out that if he makes a certain sound he can influence the reactions of others, but he'll never truly associate the sound with the action like your two-year-old will.

It is very much like your dog that might learn a whole bunch of commands, but s/he doesn't actually know the word "walk." That doesn't mean the dog isn’t smart; it will still pick up the leash and carry it to the front door. It just means it doesn’t have the capacity for language.

So, no matter what, Ehd's never going to speak English or French or COBOL. It's just not within his capabilities. He's still a bright boy, though - he'll come around in many ways.

If this doesn't make sense, or you happen to be a neurologist, and you're mumbling "BS" under your breath, just remember, while you're muttering that, I'm muttering "artistic license." ;)

Enjoy!





TABLE OF CONTENTS





Dedication

Important Author's Note

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four Epilogue

Other Titles By Shay Savage

About the Author





CHAPTER ONE





I awake to cold and near darkness like I do every morning.

Around me is the chilled stone of the rocky cavern where I live. There is warmth from the animal furs that surround me, and it’s difficult to push myself away from them to crawl across the dirt and rock and add a log on top of the glowing coals in my fire pit. Within moments, flames lick around the edge of the wood, and I wrap my fur around me a little tighter to ward off the cool air until the fire can further warm the small cave.

The faintest glow can be seen coming from outside the crack that leads to the outside, but I can’t quite bring myself to venture out just yet. My body is weakened, and there is little inside my mind that wants to push on—to survive.

It’s been so long since I’ve eaten.

As I watch the flames grow higher, the need to relieve my bladder becomes urgent. With a deep breath, I force my muscles to push myself onto my feet and move to the ledge just outside my cave. The air is even colder on the outside, but the springtime sun holds the promise of a warmer day.

I listen to the morning birds sing for a while and wonder how long it will be before there are eggs to collect from their nests. I hope not long, though I know if I wait until that time it will be too late.

I need to eat.

Not for the first time, I consider just going back into my cave, lying down, and letting the hunger take me. I’m tired, cold, and alone. I’m not sure there is any reason for me to continue to work so hard just to keep myself alive.

With a long sigh, I decide not to give up just yet.

I look at the long, straight stick propped up against the edge of the cave’s opening and reach over to grasp it. It’s sharp at the end, but I’m not sure if it’s sharp enough to pierce the hide of a large animal. I know I can’t fail again, or it will mean my death, so I bring the stick inside and reach for a piece of sharp flint from my collection of simple tools.

With the end of the stick lodged underneath my arm, I begin to run the piece of flint over the end of the stick, further sharpening the point. I go slowly, being careful not to push too hard or work too fast—I’ve already broken two other spears with impatience, and I can’t afford to break another.

The effort takes most of the morning, and I am further delayed as I start to leave the cave because I see movement across the field of brown grasses. I position myself at the entrance to my cave and watch closely as a pack of canines trot into the valley.

They are enormous, the largest male nearly the length of two of me with his long tail. They have huge heads, long snouts, and short, stocky necks. The pack of predators moves swiftly across the field with their snouts moving from side to side as they track the scent of some other animal.

Hyaenodons.

The first memory I have of hyaenodons was when I was a boy, and they came into my tribe’s area in the forest. My mother had grabbed me and two of my siblings and fled the area as soon as she saw them, and we didn’t come back until nearly nightfall. When we returned, the pack had destroyed much of the food we had stored for the winter, the meat from our recent hunt, and had killed two of the men who tried to keep them away from the rest of the tribe.

The animals are vicious predators and attack anything they encounter. Once, they discovered my small cave when the fire was low and not enough to scare them off. I had to leave my kill behind and hide in the forest until they left, but they ate all the meat from my kill, destroyed the hide, and scattered the bones.

I hold my breath, hoping they won’t notice me or my cave. Though the smell of fire usually keeps them at bay, their own hunger could drive them to ignore the odor like they had before. I grip the shaft of the spear and feel sweat from the palm of my hand collect there. The hyaenodons continue across the open area and then disappear into the trees on the far side. I let out a breath of relief to see them moving north, away from the steppes where I hope to hunt. I still wait a while longer before venturing out, wanting to be sure they will not backtrack and smell me.

Once I’m sure they are gone, I start the journey to my pit trap. The climb to the top of the plateau is rugged and difficult, but doesn’t take too long. The wind whips around me as I reach the top, and my fingers clench around the end of the pointed branch as I see the antelope herd at the far edge of the open space. I only hope the spear will be strong enough to pierce the hide of one of the antelopes coming over the horizon. Of course, they will first have to fall into the pit I spent three days digging. My mind flashes back to a time when there were others, and the hunt was much easier.

It feels like such a long, long time ago.

I am alone now.

Crouching down, I move slowly and carefully, trying to hide myself behind the rocks and stay downwind from the animals. My heart begins to beat faster in my chest when I see how close the herd is moving to my pit trap. I move into position and hunker down behind the protective boulders.

Before long, I can hear the scratching sounds of the herd as they approach. I duck a little lower behind the boulder where I hide, tense and anxious. My stomach has long since stopped growling, but the hunger is still there, reflected in the weakness of my body. In the back of my head, I know that failure this time means death—it has been too long since I have eaten. I am quickly losing my strength, and once that is gone, I will not survive much longer.

The dry air whistles around me and blows the grasses of the steppes back and forth. I tense as the herd passes me slowly, trying to hold in my breath so as not to alert them to my presence. If they are frightened too soon, they may not run in the right direction.

I time myself as perfectly as I can, and jumping out from behind the rock, I run. My throat aches as I scream and wave my arms at the beasts. Startled, they all begin to flee from the sound of my screams. I chase after them, taking in air quickly so I can yell at them again as I circle around the back end of the herd and try to force them a little closer to the cliffs. Their hooves pound the dry grass as they run, many of them swerving away from the hole I have dug even though I have covered it with long, thin twigs and leaves to hide it.

I cry out but in frustration this time. I race around to the right, hoping to at least push one or two toward my goal. They aren’t going in the right direction, and I feel a sob of desperation lodge in my throat. Just when it seems I will spend another night hungry, one of them tears away from the rest of its herd and scampers toward the hole.

A second later, it disappears with a bleat.

I breathe a sigh of relief and almost drop to my knees. Nauseated and dizzy from the exertion, I half stumble, half jog to the side of the pit. The tips of the animal’s antlers are visible as it screeches and tries to jump to freedom, but I have dug the hole too deep; it has injured its leg in the fall, and it cannot escape. Cautiously, I move to the edge of the pit, take careful aim at the animal’s throat, and thrust my spear as hard as I can.

The antelope screams again and kicks at the walls of the pit, causing a shower of dust to fall on top of it and then lies still.

As tired as I am, I can’t allow myself to rest. As the animal bleeds, its scent will attract other predators—those that are larger than I am. I have no time to waste. I jump down into the pit and carefully extract my spear from the neck of the antelope. I am pleasantly surprised the weapon is not broken, and I may even be able to use it again. I toss it up and out of the hole and then heave the carcass up and over my shoulder. My knees try to buckle under me, and another wave of dizziness hits. I try to ignore it as I shove the body out of the hole and then climb out myself.

Once I am on flat ground again, it is easier to grasp the animal’s legs and toss the whole thing over my back and shoulders, and I’m glad the harsh winter didn’t completely deplete my strength. Once I get the carcass properly positioned, I start back toward the cliffs and begin the descent to the valley below. It’s difficult to keep my footing holding the animal, but I’m driven by my hunger. Once I reach the bottom, there is only the short trail up to the opening in the rock left to overcome. I pause for a moment as my thighs and arms burn with pain and then push on. As I reach the crack between the boulders, I realize I can’t walk into the cave while carrying the beast. I have to shove the antelope through the rock first and then follow.

Just inside, the coals from my fire burn brightly though there is no longer any flame. I quickly rebuild the fire—it should keep any competition away from my kill—and sit back on my heels for a moment to breathe. My rest is short-lived, and I quickly start working on my dinner. I roll the carcass over, slice it open from throat to belly with a chip of flint, and waste no time cutting off a few strips of meat to lie across the spit over the fire. I have to force myself not to eat it raw though my stomach implores me to do so. I will only be left feeling sick if I do; I’ve been in this position far too many times not to understand the benefits of patience.

After the first few pieces are set up to cook, I immediately skin the beast and lay the hide over two large rocks on one side of my cave. I will clean and cure it another time when I have more strength. I need something to help hold the rest of the carcass up off the floor, and I look around for my spear, knowing it will be the perfect tool for the task. I do not see it, and I realize I have left it next to the pit trap.

I place my head in my hands and push against my eyes. There is so much pressure in my head that it causes my temples to pound. I can’t believe I have been so careless as to leave my weapon behind. At the same time, I’m too exhausted to even consider going back for it. I rub at the hair on my face and neck and shake my head at my stupidity.

This is the kind of mistake that has nearly cost me my life many times since I have been alone.

Wetness falls from my lashes as I lean back and wrap my arms around my legs. I stare at the fire and let the tears fall, trying to convince myself that I will feel better and think more clearly once I have eaten the meat cooking on the spit.

Memories flood my mind.

It is early morning, and I sit wrapped in furs and my mother’s embrace as one of my older sisters grinds grain against a rock. My mother’s arms are warm and comforting, but I push away from her, anxious to join the other boys and men as they practice with spears and hammer-stones.

I reach up with my hand to wipe away the tears. I have no idea how long it has been since I felt the comfort of another person’s presence, only that many cold seasons have passed since then. Though I had already become a man before I was left alone, the memories of the woman who birthed and cared for me are the hardest to keep at bay.

A pop from the fire pit draws my attention, and I go to check the cooking meat. Some of the thinner pieces seem warm enough, and I devour them quickly before adding more strips of meat to the spit. I drink out of a water flask made from the stomach of an antelope I killed the previous summer and eat a few more strips of meat.

With slightly renewed energy, I rise to my feet and head back down the path toward the steppes to retrieve my spear. With the thought of more cooked meat waiting for me, I run lightly toward the pit trap but stop abruptly before I reach the edge.

There is an odd sound coming from the hole—high pitched and terrifying. I freeze as I try to understand it. At first I think it is another antelope—a straggler who fell after I left—but the noise is not that of a beast. It is like nothing I have ever heard before. I move a little closer, and the sound becomes louder and somewhat frightening. I take a step back away from the hole, intending to turn and flee, when something about the sound triggers another memory.

Flames are all around us, the heat licking my skin and the smell of burning hair in my nose. There is a young girl—I recall her from a neighboring tribe—trapped between the wall of flame and her terrified mother. Before the mother can try to reach for the child, flames encompass them both. The forest is too dry from the drought, and the flames are spreading too quickly. The mother cries out in fear and hopelessness. A moment later, there is only the sound of the crackling fire as it covers the trees.

I shake my head to make the images go away, and I hear the sound again. I’m sure it is not an animal, and my heart beats faster as I take a few steps closer to verify my suspicions. There is movement inside the hole, a flash of pale skin and what looks to be slender fingers poking out of the hole and then disappearing again.

I peer over the side, and I see it.

Not it—her.

I see her.

At the bottom of the pit, there is a young woman not far from my own age, with shining brown hair that flows over her shoulders and down her back. She sits on the ground and leans back on her hands, staring up with wide eyes that go even wider as they meet mine. I feel a tightening in my groin at the very sight of her, and my tongue darts out over my lips.

Though I recognize her femininity immediately, the strange coverings on her body do not show her to be female. In fact, they are the strangest furs I have ever seen. I can’t determine what kind of leather might have been used to make them, and the color of the clothing around her torso is like that of the setting sun—deep purple and bright pink. On her legs is even stranger stuff—dark blue and wrapped so closely around her, I can see the outlines of her thigh muscles and calves. She wears coverings on her feet as well, and there are cords wrapped around holes in the material. Like the rest of her coverings, I can’t figure out what it is either.

My eyes move back to hers, and I tilt my head to one side to get a better look at her.

She opens her mouth and screams.

I have to take a step back from the shrill sound. It hurts my ears. I narrow my eyes and grunt sharply, but she doesn’t stop. If anything, she gets even louder. I can’t allow her to continue, or she is going to attract attention—possibly from predatory animals. Deciding to ignore her strange appearance, I step to the edge of the pit and jump down.

Her cries grow more piercing, and the sound is starting to hurt my head. I move toward her, and she propels herself backwards on her feet and hands until she hits the dirt side, sending dust all over her. She yells out again, stands, and tries to claw her way to the top of the hole. She’s too small to be successful, and her fingers only barely reach the edge.

Her shoulders rise and fall as her hands slide down the dirt walls. Her sounds stop, and nothing but her breath can be heard as she turns slowly and her wide eyes travel over me. I move closer and look down at her.

I feel the corner of my mouth turn up. Though clearly an adult, not a child, she is a tiny thing. Her head barely comes to my chest. It’s her hair that intrigues me though—it’s very straight, and it shines in the sunlight. I reach my hand up to my shoulder and grab at my own hair, which is rough, tangled, and full of dust and leaves. I had cut it down with a flint knife at the end of the last summer, but it was now near my shoulders again. I take a step closer and reach out with my other hand to touch the smooth locks around her head to see how different it feels.

Again, she begins to cry out, and I am tired of the noisy sounds. It’s dangerous to be making so much noise, and it really does make the sides of my head hurt. I close the gap between our bodies quickly and cover her mouth with my hand to silence her.

I’m surprised when she doesn’t acquiesce but begins to frantically struggle against me instead. She grasps at my arm, and her nails dig into my flesh as she tries to pull my hand away. She kicks at me, and the strange coverings on her feet scrape at the skin of my leg. She is still screaming, but the sound is muffled underneath my hand.

I still can’t properly feel the texture of her hair, so I further restrain her by pushing my body against hers, holding her up against the wall. With the increased leverage, she can’t move as much, and I slowly drag my hand down the length of her hair.

It’s so, so soft!

I have never felt anything like it. It runs all the way from her head to her waist in long, straight strands that do not bunch up together like mine do, but lie next to each other in beautiful lines. The color isn’t unusual—just a shiny, light brown—but the feel of it on my palm is glorious.

I look to her face, and her eyes are closed tightly. Oddly enough, her eyelids are blue, and there is pink and brown coloring running up to her eyebrows. There is also a dark blue, almost black line right around her eyes—both above and below.

I move my hand up and gently touch her eyelid with the tip of my finger. The bright blue color comes off of her skin and onto mine. I look at my finger a moment before trying to wipe the color back onto the skin between her eyebrow and eyelid.

She bites my hand, and I jump back, surprised at the sudden pain and not the least bit pleased. My eyes narrow into a glare, and I push my body harder against hers, roaring into her face as I grab onto her arm to show my dominance. Her eyes meet mine, and I can see and feel the fear in her. I am quickly contrite, not truly meaning to frighten her, though I do not want her to bite me again. I take her chin between my fingers and grip it as I growl softly in warning.

She goes motionless, and I know I have won her over. I turn her head gently to the side with a firm grip on her jaw and use the other hand to touch her hair again. I am fascinated by its texture. As I touch it, l look down the rest of her body, still confused by her strange, colorful clothing. My fingers run over the fabric at her shoulder, and I hear her sharp intake of breath. When I look back to her, her eyes are downcast, and her lips are drawn into her mouth around her teeth. I pull at the skin below her lip to stop her from hurting herself, and a shudder runs through her body.

The heat from her body warms me, and I think about how she is the only person I have seen since I have been on my own. She’s small but looks to be healthy. She has strong teeth, judging by the bite-marks on my hand. Even though her clothing is strange, she could make something more suited to a female from the furs I have in my cave, and I decide I’m going to bring her back with me.

Glancing up at the top of the hole, I know I will have to get her out of it though part of me wants to keep her right here, knowing she cannot move away from me. I look her over and feel myself smile again. Even out of this space, she will not be able to escape me. She is small and obviously weak. Though I am not as strong as I will be later in the summer when I have had more food, I am still much more powerful than she.

Thinking of the meat cooking over the fire causes my stomach to twist again, and I decide I need to get us both back to my cave quickly. The day is getting late, and the sky will soon turn the colors of her strange tunic.

Kneeling, I wrap my arms around her legs. She lets out a squeal, but thankfully, it only lasts a moment. I rise up and toss her out of the top of the hole, quickly following by pulling myself up with my arms. By the time I have tossed a leg over the side, she is on her feet and looking in all directions.

There’s little to see—the dry grass of the steppes and the jagged cliffs to one side. Off in the distance, the edge of a row of evergreens can be found, but the other trees are nothing but bare trunks now. There is a small creek and a lake beyond, but they are too far to be seen from here.

I take her wrist in my grasp and start walking toward the cliff walls and my home. As she had in the pit, she begins to struggle and grab at my hand and arm. She tries to back away from me, her arm extended as she turns and tries to escape through the use of brute force.

It’s…cute.

I yank her toward me, and she stumbles a bit before her body crashes into mine. Her mouth moves, and a lot more sounds come out. She’s not screaming any longer, and the odd, varying tones are not like anything I have heard before. I don’t like them—not at all. They are a little quieter than the yelling, but they are still loud enough to attract attention. I place my free hand firmly over her mouth again but only for a moment. I don’t want to be bitten.

Her eyes narrow, and the next sounds almost resemble the snarl of a great cat. Well, the young of a great cat, maybe. The thought makes me laugh, and she cringes away from me again though I do not release her wrist.

She is so beautiful—her smooth hair and her deep eyes and her creamy, pale skin. I don’t like the noises she makes, but she looks to be able enough, even if she is small. I briefly wonder if she is fertile and if she would bear a child who looks like me.

I like this idea.

A lot.

Finally, after all this time alone, I have a mate.





CHAPTER TWO





I bend over to grab the forgotten spear in my other hand. Though the woman must understand that her resistance isn't working, she continues to pull at my fingers as I drag her toward the cliffs and the cave. I don't know why she does so—it’s not working, and the sun is low in the sky. Before long it will be dark, and she has to understand how dangerous it will be for her if she is left out in the open at night. Many nighttime predators were going to be waking up soon and starting their nightly prowls. We need the safety of the cave.

Apparently, she doesn’t care because she continues to screech and make those awful noises all the way back to the rock. I sigh and trudge on, hoping once she is inside and knows she is safe from the elements, she will stop with the noises.

Thankfully, there is still some light outside when we reach the slight incline to the opening in the rock and my cave. I stop just outside and push her in front of me, pointing toward the dark crack in the rock. She looks at it and then to me, her eyes narrowed. Sliding my hand up to the top of her arm, I urged her forward and closer to the crack between the large rocks with another push. She resists, and I shove her harder, my patience waning. Her hand flies out in front of her as she stumbles over her own feet, and I wonder if the strange foot coverings are somehow hindering her movement.

She manages to catch herself on the edge of the rock near the opening, but she makes no move to go inside. Instead, she turns back to me, and her mouth opens again. More sounds come out—louder this time. She yanks her arm from my grip, and her hands ball into fists that she shakes at me as she makes more sounds. With my head tilted to one side, I listen for a moment, but it is just noise, and I tire of it quickly. I’m hungry and I want her inside where we will be safe before the sun sets.

I growl low at her and step forward, pressing her against the rock next to the cave’s opening. My hand goes over her mouth again, but this time my fingers slip around her jaw to hold it closed so she cannot bite. She looks over my shoulder, but there is nothing to be seen for miles around us. Capturing her attention, I look straight into her eyes for a moment before I step back and push her toward the cave entrance again.

This time, she complies, and I take a deep breath. At least she is coming to her senses and doing what I want. She doesn’t have to turn sideways for her shoulders to fit through the opening as I do, but her steps are still slow and cautious. Again I consider her strange footwear and think they might be the cause of her hesitation.

The narrow crack in the rocks is only a few feet long and quickly opens up into the small, single area that is my home. As we enter, we both pause while our eyes adjust to the firelight. There is still some sunlight since the cave entrance faces the sunset, but it is darker than being out in the open.

I have been here since the autumn after the forest fire destroyed my home and tribe. I have always thought it was a good, comfortable cave, but now that I have brought my new mate here, I wonder what she thinks of it. I grasp her hand and show her what I have, which takes very little time. It’s not a large cave at all, just a single room with a depression in the back where I could store containers of food if I had any to store. Along the back is a small ledge which is good for keeping items off the ground. The ledge holds my flint and stone tools as well as the stomachs of two antelope which are filled with water. A little embarrassed by the lack of food, I show her the stone-lined fire pit in the front of the cave with the meat cooking on the spit. I point to the position of the fire, which allows the smoke to go out the entrance without making it difficult to breathe inside, even in the winter.

I glance at her, feeling nervous as I release her hand. She clasps her hands together in front of her, and her head moves slowly from one side to the other as she examines her surroundings.

Does she think it is good enough? What if she thinks it is too small? After so much time alone, I hadn’t considered that I might find a mate and hadn’t collected the things she would want and need to start her life with me. Now that I am thinking about it, I realize I have very little to offer a mate, not even much in the way of food.

With that thought, I remember my cooking and kneel down by the spit on the fire, my sudden and ravenous hunger overshadowing my thoughts surrounding my mate’s first impression of my home. I tear off a strip of the meat and chew on the end of it. It is warm from the fire and nicely fat from the animal’s winter stores. I gnaw on it until I have devoured the first piece, grab for another, and then another after that.

When I look up, I see her watching me. As I chew, I wonder if she is also hungry and groan at myself. Here I am hoping to impress my new mate with the cave, and I haven’t even fed her! Choosing what looks to be the best piece, I jump quickly to my feet. She startles and steps away from me as I approach, holding out a strip of the antelope’s tender flesh for her.

Her eyes are wide again, and her hands tremble. Her head jerks from one side to the other as she continues to back away from me. I hold the meat out to her in offering again, but she starts making those sounds just before she bolts off to one side, heading back to the entrance of the cave.

Instinctively I dart after her, grabbing her around the waist before she can get more than an arm outside. It will be dark very soon; the sun has almost completely disappeared over the horizon. She would never survive the night alone and out in the open. I pull her back against my chest and drag her toward the fire.

My ears start to ring with the sounds coming from her mouth. She alternates between screams that sound as though she is in agony and the strange, more fluid sounds that come from the back of her throat. They are unusual, rhythmic, and I still don’t like them.

Her fingers claw at my arms as I wrap them both around her torso and sit down on a torn grass mat next to the fire with my mate in my lap. I hold her tight against me as I look around the cave and wonder what she does not like. She is obviously very upset about something, and she continues to twist and turn in my grasp as I try to determine what could be considered so lacking.

It occurs to me that it might be the whole place. It is small—perfectly fine for me but not large enough for her and her children. I only have one grass mat, and it’s not very well made, but she could make more of those over the winter. She has certainly noticed I don’t have any food left over from the winter and is probably worried I won’t be able to provide enough for us both. Except for my recent kill, I don’t have any food at all. She might even think I don’t have enough wood to keep us warm, but I have more in another crevice in the rock up above the cave. It is too dark outside now to show it to her, but I could reassure her in the morning.

I let her struggle against me until her movements slow down and eventually stop. I am pleased that I was right about my strength compared to hers. She would at least know I was strong enough to protect her.

I feel myself smile again, and I wonder if she will eat now.

Before I can offer her the meat once more, my mate’s body shudders from her head to her feet as she begins to shake in my arms. I quickly flip her around so I can see her face, and I notice the tears staining her cheeks as the moisture is caught in the light from the fire. I examine her quickly—as much as I can see, anyway. With her strange clothes, it’s hard to see if her legs might be injured, but I don’t think she has been hurt. She is crying, but I don’t understand why. Was I already a bad mate for her? Was my cave really that inadequate? I would find her another one—there had to be more around in the rocks. If not, I could search for a new place, one that was bigger and better and perfect for her.

I will provide for her. I will protect her. I will give her anything she wants.

Another memory rolls around in my brain, images from when I was young, and my father held my mother tightly in his arms after one of my baby sisters died. She had also cried like this, and my father held my mother close to him, making quiet sounds in her ear until she stopped.

I whimper softly and pull my mate close to my chest, cradling her against me. At first, her hands push on my body as she tries to free herself from my grasp, but she is already exhausted from fighting me earlier and quickly gives up. Her head slumps down to my shoulder, and I bring my hand up to run down her hair. The feeling of the strands through my fingers is just as intriguing as it was before though I can’t enjoy it as I might since she is shaking in my arms.

My mate continues to sob.

I hold her for a long time, rocking her back and forth, my arms gently wrapped around her. I don’t know what else to do. The strange painted-on coloring around her eyes makes dark circles all the way down to her cheekbones. It smears further across her face as she wipes at her eyes.

When I try to offer her more food, she begins to sob again, so I guess she isn’t hungry. The sun completes its descent, and the cave darkens. She finally stills, but tears still run down her face. Only the light from the fire shows me that my mate’s eyes are still open and staring blankly off to one side. I feel my own fatigue setting in as the night covers the grasslands outside.

I have to move—my legs are numb from inactivity and having her sitting on me. I lift her and place her on the ground next to me and stretch, trying to ignore how she has startled again. I stand but only take a minute to get my legs working again before I rebuild the fire, bank it for the night, and turn back to my mate.

She is watching me with red, swollen eyes. I have to swallow hard because of the strange feeling in my throat when I look at her. She pulls her knees up to her chest and places her chin on them, and her eyes move to the flickering flames. I drop down to my hands and knees and approach her again, moving slowly this time so she doesn’t startle. Her look is wary as I get closer, but she doesn’t try to get away.

I reach out and run the tips of my fingers over her leg, feeling the strange, almost rough texture of the material. There is no fur on it, but it doesn’t feel like any leather I have ever felt. I move my other hand to my waist where my fur is tied around me to have some comparison. My clothing is much softer than what she is wearing. She cringes a bit, and all of her muscles become tense as I touch her. I shift a little closer, trying to figure out just what she is thinking as I look into her bright blue eyes, but I have no idea.

Moving to her side, I reach out and run my hand over her hair again. She doesn’t try to push me away this time though another shudder runs through her body. I stroke the soft strands just a few times before I realize there are tears falling from her eyes again.

I look at her more closely, but I still don’t know why she cries. Taking a deep breath, I realize I’m too tired to figure it out now and decide to go to sleep. I get up on the balls of my feet first, then reach one arm underneath my mate’s knees and wrap the other arm behind her back as I stand. She lets out a little yelp as I lift her but then goes silent. I turn and carry her to the back of the cave where I sleep.

At least my bed is something she can appreciate. I had dug out a long, shallow trench and filled it with dry grass from the steppes. Covering the grass are several of the furs I have made over the many seasons I have been here. The bed is deep and soft; the furs are warm and comfortable, and I will hold her and keep her safe throughout the night. The corner of my mouth turns up as I carry her to the spot where we will sleep, and I kneel down to lay her on the furs. It is very dark here in the back of the cave, and I can only barely see her trying to look around me to where the light from the fire can still be seen.

She makes no effort to remove her strange clothes for sleeping, and I’m not sure exactly how they come off. I decide to let her leave them on if she wants but quickly remove the fur wrapped around my body and toss it off to the side.

My mate’s eyes go wide, and I hope she can see my strength. I smile at her slowly and then kneel down beside her to get into the furs. I place one hand near her shoulder and toss my leg across her waist.

My mate’s eyes fill with tears again as she screams and begins her barrage of indecipherable noises. Her hands come up to cover her face as she shakes her head back and forth when I crouch above her. I don’t understand what has upset her so much, and I quickly look around to make sure the bed is as I left it.

It seems fine, and I remain confused as I crawl the rest of the way over her body and place my back near the wall. As I reach out and grab for her, I am met with her struggling resistance and more shouting. She turns so her back is toward me and tries to get out of the bed. I hold tight as she wriggles against me, and my grip on her body doesn’t falter as she continues to cry and scream.

I take in and let out a long breath, wondering what I should be doing to calm her, but I am at a loss. Without knowing what else to do, I pull her back tightly against my chest and wrap my arms around her waist. From the firelight, I can easily see the entrance to the cave and further protect her from anything that might seek to harm her in the night.

Remembering the hyaenodons from earlier in the day, I hope they have moved far enough away not to hear her. If they can hear her, I hope the smell of the fire will keep them away from us. She is fighting me so much, I can’t let go of her to cover her mouth. Her fingers pull at my arms, but I don’t release her. She wrestles with me but doesn’t win. I am resolute in my desire to keep her safe even if she seems determined to do something to hurt herself. It doesn’t require much strength to hold her, and I think she is probably already exhausted from her previous tirade. Before long, she begins to slow her movements, and shortly after that, she drops to the furs.

Glad she’s finally decided to let me protect her, I relax my grip a little and pull my arm out from underneath her. I place my hand on the side of my head to prop myself up and look down at the woman who will now share my bed.

Even in the dim glow of the firelight, I can see how stunningly beautiful she is. Maybe it’s because it has been so long since I’ve seen another person, but I don’t think so. I wish I could see more of her body, but her strange coverings obscure most of her skin; only her hands and face are visible.

I inhale deeply through my nose, and her scent is unique. She smells sweet, like overripe fruit, and I realize the scent comes from her hair, but not her skin. I lean a little closer and sniff at the base of her neck.

Everything about her is unusual; her clothing, her hair, the color around her eyes, which is now mostly smudged away. I find it enticing and exciting.

She turns over to look up at me, and her eyes are red-rimmed from crying. My chest clenches to know she has been so sad, and I again wonder what I can do to make her feel safe. She stares at me with apprehension, and I decide to try to comfort her the way my father had comforted my mother in the past.

With my arm still around her waist, I slowly move my hand up and down her side. I hope the sensation of touch will calm her, but her body tenses instead. She wraps her arms around herself, and I think she might be cold; her clothing doesn’t seem thick enough to keep her warm. I reach down and pull one of the furs up around her, but she still doesn’t relax.

I have no idea what she needs, and I wonder what might have happened to her to make her so sad.

I suddenly realize that she must have lost her tribe just as I have. Though I don’t know how she got where she is, I do know there are no people anywhere near here except for me. I haven’t seen another person since the fire drove me from the forest. Though I had looked for many days through the blackened tree stumps for signs of other survivors, I had found nothing but the bones of my people.

Now that I comprehend, my heart aches for her. I know what it is like to feel alone though I have grown so used to it, I try not to think about it now. I wonder if she has been alone for a long time and decide she must not have been. If she had, she would have been more receptive to me as her mate. She is frightened of me, and though I have tried to show her I will keep her safe and provide her with a home, she is still scared.

She must miss her family and tribe terribly. Maybe she even had a mate in her tribe, and she misses him, too. There had been no females my age in my small tribe, and I had been waiting for one of the girls to begin her womanhood before I took her. I had been several seasons older than the one closest to me in age, and there were no other tribes nearby to trade mates. If an older woman’s mate had died, I might have mated her instead.

But they all died at once, and I had no one.

I remembered how frightened I had been in the beginning. The fire had destroyed the berry bushes in the forest and the homes of the rabbits I liked to hunt. I was a man but had only killed larger animals twice and then with the help of the other men. I nearly starved before finding the freshwater lake among the pine groves and figuring out how to catch the fish at the edge of the water.

Looking down at my mate, my fingers reach out and brush strands of her beautiful long hair away from her forehead. The softness distracts me from her sorrow, and I pinch a few of the strands between my fingers to hold them out and look more closely. The firelight brings out the slight tinges of red in a few of the strands, but it is the texture that intrigues me the most.

As I look back at her face, I can see she is still frightened. Releasing her hair, I reach up and let the tips of my fingers touch the tear stains on her cheeks. I feel like crying for her—lost and alone out on the steppes. I touch slowly her cheek and jaw before my hand finds her shoulder and the incredibly smooth tunic covering her. Like her hair, I find it fascinating. I have never felt anything as smooth and soft. It’s lightweight, too—as if it were made from strands of a spider’s web.

I stroke her hair again to feel the difference between its softness and the texture of the clothing and find myself again fascinated by how soft and beautiful it is. I know I am very lucky to have found such an attractive mate though I am really just thrilled to have another person with me. As I take a deep breath, I inhale the scent of her hair, and the combination of sweet fruit and possibly some kind of flower confuses me—it is still too early in the season for buds to be blooming. Pulling her close to me, I run my nose from her hairline to her temple.

Definitely fruit.

She tenses again, and I’m reminded that she is sad and frightened about the loss of her people. I look into her eyes and tilt my head to the side, wanting her to know I understand. I touch my nose to her temple again—gently bumping her skin in a show of companionship.

Her tongue darts over her lips, and she makes her rhythmic sounds again. She is not as loud this time, but the noise is strange and unfamiliar to me. I continue to watch her closely until she stops making the sounds and lets out a long breath. She sniffs and turns away from me again but seems to have settled down somewhat.

I lay my head next to hers and strengthen my grip around her body. I keep my eyes open and watch the entrance to the cave until I hear her breathing slowly and regularly with sleep. Only when I’m sure she is no longer awake do I allow myself to do the same.



I wake during the night.

At first, I’m confused by the presence of the body next to me. Though in the tribe we shared communal sleeping areas, I have slept alone for so long I forgot how warm and comfortable it is to have someone share a sleeping area. I smile to myself and nuzzle into her hair for a moment before I remember my duty to protect her.

I rise up on my elbow and look around the cave. I survey the normal, darkened shapes in each corner and verify there is nothing out of the ordinary. The fire is down to coals but still brightly burning without any danger of going out. I let my fire extinguish my first season alone, and that had nearly caused my death. I certainly won’t let it happen now that I am responsible for a mate.

The second time I wake in the night, my mate is crying out in her sleep again. At first I think she has woken up as well, possibly disoriented to find herself in a different home and without her tribe. However, her eyes are closed while her mouth makes those sounds, and her muscles tighten in distress. Again, I hold her to me, hoping to offer her comfort even if I can’t fix whatever is wrong with her. After a minute she calms, turns toward me, and lies in my arms.

As I begin to fall back into slumber myself, it occurs to me that my mate is going to need a lot of care. If I want her to like me, I’m going to have to show her that I can take the place of her tribe. I’m sure I can be enough for her if I make sure she has shelter, provide enough meat for her to cook, and of course, put a baby in her. A list of things to show her starts forming in my mind and continues into my dreams.

The next time my eyes open, there is faint light coming through the opening of the cave. I raise myself up on one arm and look down at my mate as she continues to sleep, wrapped up in my furs. Her eyes are closed, and she looks so peaceful as she lies there that I don’t wake her even though it’s getting late in the morning, and there are many things I needed to point out to her.

For a while, I also stay in the furs and just watch her sleep, memorizing the shape of her jaw and the shade of pink that covers her lips. As sunlight peers through the rocks, her hair shines around her face, and I can’t help but touch it and revel in its softness again. First, I push it off of her forehead, and then I smooth it over her shoulders. It seems to have tangled somewhat in the night, but it’s still just as soft as before. I tuck it gently behind her ears, and her eyes finally open.

My mate blinks a few times as her eyes focus on me. I smile just a little – careful not to show my teeth – but her eyes still get wide as they dart around the small cave. I can see the tears start to well up again, and I know I will have to show her everything as quickly as possible. She is obviously not impressed with what I have, and I can’t blame her. I have only barely provided for myself over the seasons and haven’t even thought about acquiring the things I would need to support a mate.

I am going to change that now.

I whimper low and brush at the corner of her eye, wiping the tears away. As gently as I can, I lean in close to her and touch my nose to hers. She startles a little, but at least she stops crying. I pull my legs underneath me and jump over her to the edge of the sleeping furs and hold my hand out.

She only looks at it, and her eyes widen again. She looks away from me quickly, takes a few deep breaths, and then glances back to my eyes. I reach forward and touch her hand with mine. When she does not pull back, I intertwine our fingers and tug at them until she sits up. I can’t help but feel some excitement as she responds to me. She has not yet screamed or made any other strange sounds, and she doesn’t seem as frightened as she was yesterday. Maybe she will accept my cave after all.

Once she stands up and takes a step away from the furs, I release her hand and grab my fur to wrap it around myself. My mate makes another sound as I dress, and I look to her for a moment. She glances away again and clasps her hands in front of her stomach, and I think about how she will look with a large, round belly. The thought makes me smile.

Crossing the short width of the cave, I head over to get one of my water bags. I hold it out to her, but she only looks at it, her eyes narrowed. She makes some noises with her mouth, but they are still fairly quiet and don’t hurt my head this time.

I tilt my head and hold the water bag out to her again, but she still doesn’t take it. I look down at it to try to determine if it is somehow unappetizing, but it looks fine to me. It is a simple water bag made from the stomach of an antelope I killed in the spring. It had been a large buck, and I managed to make a few things from its body. Between this one and the other water bag, I usually have to make the trek to the fresh water lake only every few days.

I wonder if her people carried water in a different way, and maybe she doesn’t know about carrying water the way I was taught. I bring the water bag back close to my body, unwind the sinew holding the top closed, and take a short drink myself before offering it to her again.

This time, though tentative, she reaches out and takes it from my hands. I watch her expectantly, and she slowly brings it up to her nose and sniffs. Her face crinkles up for a moment as she turns away but then sniffs again. She takes a small sip before quickly handing it back to me.

I’m elated. She took the water from me, so she knows I can at least provide that much. All I need to do now is show her what else I can offer her as her mate, and then she will like me. Reaching out, I take her by the hand and lead her to the entrance of the cave. She steps out into the sunlight of the new day with me and looks over the grass steppes. The day is warm already, and the sun shines and sparkles on the dew. It is a beautiful sight.

I look over to my mate with a smile, and she bursts into tears.

When I reach out to comfort her as I did last night, she places her hands against my chest and shoves. As she pushes me, she makes a high-pitched, screeching sound.

Startled by the noise and her physical attack, I jump backwards and crouch a few feet away from my mate as she sits with her back against the outside wall of the cave and shakes with her cries. Her hands are over her face, and her hair falls around her head like a fur blanket. I want to touch it again, to try and comfort her like I know I should, but when I try to get close to her, she screams and snarls at me.

I don’t know what to do.

So I stay where I am, sometimes reaching out to her with my hand but never quite touching her. I don’t think she notices because her eyes are covered. As the sun slowly climbs in the sky, my stomach growls as if my body knows there is food nearby. My mate must be hungry as well since she would not eat anything last night. I want to go inside and get some of the meat, but I don’t dare leave her alone.

I’m a little confused as to why I have such a strong desire to keep her in my sights. I’m afraid she won’t be here when I come back out, and I will have to track her down so she doesn’t get hurt. I’m also afraid she’ll be scared if she uncovers her eyes and I’m not there to protect her, and I want her to know I won’t abandon her. I don’t want her to be even more afraid than she is already.

My legs get tired, so I sit on the ground a few feet from her and just wait instead. I can go a while longer without food, even if the smell of cooked flesh so close to me is very tempting. It makes my mouth water, but I also know I have to take care of my mate first.

The sun’s rays creep closer to the bottom edge of the rocks, and its warmth will soon be upon us. My mate finally takes one long, shuddering breath and raises her head again. She looks at me with red eyes and a quivering lower lip. Her expression tears at me; I want to go to her, but I’m not sure if she wants me close.

For a long moment, we just look at each other. When she doesn’t make any of those loud noises again, I shuffle forward, little by little, until I am close enough to touch her. I slowly reach out with my hand, and when she doesn’t flinch back, I wipe some of the tears from her cheeks. My mate takes another deep breath and closes her eyes for a moment. Her shoulders slump, and her head drops forward, but she doesn’t start crying again. I wonder if she has run out of tears.

I move a little closer and kneel down in front of her. I don’t reach out to her again because she still seems a little hesitant. I sit there with my hands on my thighs, unmoving as she watches me. Eventually, her mouth opens and many sounds come out again, but they are the softer rhythmic noises she made before falling asleep, not the loud ones. She looks out over the steppes as she makes the noises, then pauses, looks to me, and makes more clatter.

I tilt my head and watch her lips move, wondering why she does this so much. After some time, the pitch of her sounds suddenly rises and becomes louder. I flinch at the abrupt change, and she goes quiet as she stares out over the land behind me. Her shoulders rise and fall with several deep breaths, and then her head swings around and she stares straight into my eyes.

She makes another noise. It’s not the loud noises from before, nor is it the long rhythmic noises I had just endured. When she makes this noise, she taps her chest with her finger. She’s silent for a moment while we look at each other, and then she repeats both the sound and the motion.

“Elizabeth.”

I feel my smile on my face as I understand what she is doing. Though it’s a strange one, she has a name-sound just like I do, and she’s telling me what it is. I try to make the same sounds.

“Ehh..beh.” I frown. Why is her name-sound so difficult and so long?

She frowns right back at me and says it again.

“Elizabeth.”

“Beh-tah-babaa.”

She sighs and her forehead wrinkles.

“Elizabeth. Eeee-lizzz-ahh-beth.”

“Laahh…baaay.”

She shakes her head back and forth, and I wonder if she has an itch. She repeats the sounds a few more times, sometimes combining it with a lot of other sounds. I am starting to get a headache again as she gets a little louder. She taps her chest again.

“Beth!”

The sound is shorter but still very odd.

“Beh-bet.”

“Beth,” she repeats.

I’ve had enough. I reach out and touch her shoulder.

“Beh.”

“Beth.”

I tap her a little harder and growl.

“Beh,” I repeat. I tap her again. “BEH!”

Her eyes widen a bit, and she inhales sharply. A moment later, her shoulders drop and she sighs.

“Beh,” she says quietly.

I smile as I watch her hand reach out, and a single finger touches the center of my chest. More sounds from her mouth, but I know what she wants. She wants to know if I have a name-sound too.

“Ehd!” I say proudly.

After so much time on my own, I am lucky I even remember my name-sound.

“Ehd?”

“Ehd!”

“Ehd,” she says as a small smile finally comes over her face. It is a beautiful sight, and my body almost tingles with excitement. She has given me her name-sound and asked for mine, which must mean she has accepted me. If she hadn’t, she wouldn’t have given me such valuable information. Now she will take me as her mate willingly, and we will form a new tribe with our children.

I jump up and grab her arm to help her to her feet. She stands and brushes dust from her coverings before I take both of her hands in mine. For a moment, I look at her eyes, which are still red with her sadness. I hope now that she has accepted that I am her mate, she will be happy. I lean forward slowly and run the tip of my nose over hers again, starting at the tip and moving all the way up to the place between her eyes. I look at her again, and though I can still see her wariness in her eyes, she does not pull away from me.

Then I begin to show my mate her new home.

Since we were already outside the cave, I start by showing her my impressive collection of wood. There’s a large crevice outside the entrance to my cave that isn’t big enough for someone to live in but keeps the wood nice and dry when it rains, and it’s very easy to retrieve more wood when the supply inside is running low.

Beh looks at the wood and then back to me, but she doesn’t seem impressed. I show her again, but her reaction is still one of disinterest. She looks out over the field away from the cave and up the cliff to the steppes but not at the wood. I’m disappointed that she doesn’t seem to like it because it really is the best I have to show her, but I push on, determined to impress her somehow.

The rest of the day doesn’t go any better.

I do not understand my mate.

I show Beh everything I think will impress her, but she does not react the way I think she will – not at all. I am trying, but she is just…odd. After she won’t look at any of my furs or the smooth rocks around the fire pit, she sits down near the entrance to the cave and cries half the day. Then she begins these strange little movements of twisting and turning her body around. I can tell she needs to relieve herself, but she doesn’t do it! She just keeps looking around the outside of the cave, then back at me, and then around again. I finally get tired of her doing that, grab her wrist, and drag her over to the place where I usually empty my bladder and bowels. I relieve myself to show her the best place to go and then stand there and wait a while, but Beh won’t do anything! She just starts making lot of noises again! Eventually she pushes my arm until I am standing on the other side of the scrub brush and looking away from her. Then she finally relieves herself and stops fidgeting.

So strange!

Afterwards, we go back into the cave, and Beh is finally willing to eat something. I give her the best pieces from the antelope, but she doesn’t seem to like it at all. I want to show her the last fur I made – it is the softest and covered us the night before, and I hope she will use it to make herself more suitable clothing – but when I try to take her to the back of the cave, she pulls away from me. Once I give up on that, we go outside and I show her the edge of the wooded area where there is a lot of good wood to refill the cache near the cave, but she doesn’t seem impressed by that either.

At this point, I’m frustrated, to say the least.

I don’t know how well our mating is going to work when each thing she does makes less sense than the last, and everything I do appears to leave no impression on her at all. Earlier in the morning, I had thought getting her to like me would be fairly simple, but now that I have shown her everything I have, she seems bored, and I do not feel like a very good mate.

Beh obviously agrees.

Since nothing I have around the cave demonstrates my worth, I decide to show her the nearby lake. It doesn’t take long to get there, and maybe she likes water and will appreciate how close it is. I think the area is beautiful, and I hope she will enjoy it as well. I reach out my hand and gesture toward the evergreen forest on the horizon. The lake is just on the other side of the stand of trees.

For a moment, she just looks at my hand, and I can feel my heart sink in my chest. She has not made any more noises for a while, nor has she cried since this morning, but I know there is still something wrong. I just don’t know what it is.

“Beh?”

Her eyes move up to mine slowly before she looks down to my outstretched fingers. She silently places her hand in mine and stands. Her eyes stay focused on the ground, and I reach out to touch the tip of my finger to her chin, tilting her head up so she is looking at me. I watch her throat bob as she swallows, and then more sounds come from her mouth though they are hushed. I hear my name-sound word in with the other sounds she makes.

I wish I knew what she needs from me. I have given her shelter, water, and food. Maybe I will try to give her a baby tonight, and that will make her happy. I have no idea what else she may need from me. It has been so long since I watched my parents and the other couples from my tribe; I don’t remember if there is something else I am supposed to do.

Beh’s eyes close for a moment, and she lets out a long deep breath. She’s done that many times since this morning, and I think it must be to soothe herself.

Even in the act of comforting her, I seem to be lacking.

Something in her look changes as her eyes open and her fingers clench slightly in mine. I return the grasp as I lead her out of the cave and down the trail. The air between us feels peculiarly charged to me, and I am very aware of her presence even when my eyes are on the horizon, watching for danger. I turn and look back at her as we reach the open grasslands, and she looks back at me with a small smile. The clouds choose to move out of the way then, and when the sun hits me, the warmth penetrates my skin. I smile back at Beh and run my thumb over the edge of her hand as we walk together across the steppes.

Maybe I have misunderstood her, and she does appreciate the few things I have. At least now she is receptive to me, and she offers no resistance as I guide her over the lands I’ve learned very well. I look from left to right many times, not allowing myself to be lost in thought or memories like I might have on another day. I have a mate to protect now, and I’m not going to be surprised by any hidden dangers.

Thankfully, the trek is uneventful. Beh looks around the forest as we pass through, and I am glad of it. I hope she spots some plants she can start gathering for food stores. I don’t know what plants can be eaten except for the few I recognize. Once I found a bush with berries that I thought would be all right to eat, but they made me sick instead. Since then, I had stayed away from any plants unfamiliar to me, and that left only the few that I know. There are sometimes raspberries and pine nuts, which I have collected in the past, but it is still too soon in the spring. I also know the grains that grow on the top of the grasses can be eaten, but it takes forever just to collect a handful of them! When I cook them, they are chewy and not at all tasty like my mother had made for me when I was young.

I look at Beh as she looks closely at everything we pass, and I am glad I have a woman to collect food for me again. Maybe this winter I won’t be so hungry all of the time. I will bring her meat and protect her, and she can do the other things we need, like gathering food and cooking. She can also use woven reeds to make the same kind of dishes my mother always made. I’ve tried, but I can’t seem to make them tight enough, and they always leak.

I’m sure my mate will be able to do it though.

I squeeze her hand gently as we head up the slight incline, through the rushes, and down the hill on the other side. The lake comes into view as we come around a clump of trees, and I can tell by my mate’s expression she is surprised.

It’s a large lake with lots of different fish. A stream to the north feeds it, and I have found trout swimming near its large rocks. The shoreline is covered in round stones that lead to the rushes near the woods.

Releasing her hand, I walk to the water’s edge where I can stand on the rocks and wait for fish to come close enough to catch. Sometimes I have stabbed them with a spear, but it’s not too hard to catch them with my hand once I figured out how. There is a small group of fish near the bank, and it is not long before I have caught one.

I turn and hold it up for my mate, and I feel my heart begin to pound faster in my chest as she breaks out in the first, genuine smile I have seen from her. I have no choice but to return the grin because I have finally, finally done something right, and her expression confirms it. Though it has taken me most of the day to find some way to impress her, the look on her face is definitely worth whatever effort it takes in the future to see that smile as often as possible.

She is so, so beautiful to me, and I know now that Beh will be happy with me.

I catch two more fish for my mate and lay them out on the rocks for us to take back to the cave. The sun is warm in the sky, and the light sparkles on the water as I head to the edge to wash off. I still have blood on me from killing the antelope, and I don’t like the smell.

I remove the leather straps around my shoulders that hold my two water skins and lay them on top of a rock along with the fur covering around my shoulders. I remove the fur wrap from my waist as well, leaving it on top of everything to keep it dry.

Beh makes a strange sound, and when I look over at her, she has turned around to face away from me. I look off into the distance to see if there is something out there that has alarmed her, but I see nothing. I move a little closer to her, but she won’t turn around. Even as I move around her, she keeps spinning away from me. She doesn’t seem upset but simply won’t look at me.

I don’t understand her.

I dip my hands in the water. The sun hasn’t yet warmed the water much this early in the spring, and it’s very cold. I don’t like the cold, so I only use a bit of water to wipe some of the blood off of my arms before I shake them to remove drops of water.

Glancing at Beh, I see she is still sitting on the rocks and not looking at me. She has the end of her tunic wrapped around one of her fingers, and she seems to be using it to rub her teeth though I don’t know why she would do that.

“Beh!”

She glances at me, pulls her clothing back to her middle, and quickly ducks her head and looks away again as I walk away from the lake toward her. As I get close, she looks over to me with wide eyes, gasps, and then quickly ducks her head into her hands. I come up behind her and reach out to touch her shoulder.

She jumps up off the rock and takes a few steps forward, her hands still over her eyes. I don’t understand what she is doing at all. Why is she hiding her face and eyes? I look around again, wondering if there is something frightening or dangerous that I had not noticed, but there is nothing there.

I do see her arm and hands also have blood on them from where she fell in the trap. She probably wants to get it off of her before it starts to smell too bad. Deciding there is no way I’m going to figure out what is wrong with her now, I grab onto her arm and pull her toward the water line. She comes with me though her hands stay over her face, which causes her to trip over her strange foot coverings again. Tired of the things harming her, I crouch down in front of her and try to figure out how to get them off.

There are little ties laced through them, and when I examine the knot, I realize it isn’t a complicated one and determine how to untie it fairly quickly. Whatever the ties are made of, they are much easier to unknot than leather or sinew. Beh starts making sounds again, but I don’t pay any attention until I hear my name-sound.

“Ehd!”

I look up at her and see she has at least uncovered her face and is looking down at me. She takes a step back, making more sounds with her mouth as she does. I glance up at the sky, knowing it is starting to get late, and we will need to leave the lake soon. Whatever is wrong with her, we don’t have time for it. As her mate, I must take care of her, which includes making sure the blood is off her skin. I also need to keep her warm, so I have to get the strange clothing off of her so it will stay dry. Next time we come to the lake, we will bring extra clothing so we can wash the ones we’re wearing.

I examine the unusual clothes on my mate, trying to find the ties that hold them together, but I can’t determine how to take them off. The leggings have strange loops all around her waist, but I don’t think they will help get the clothing off of her. The loops would be useful if she tied carrying pouches to them, and I wonder if that is their purpose. There is also a round bit in the center near her stomach right above where the odd cloth folds over itself, but I don’t know what to make of it. When I press my finger against it, it’s cold and hard like a stone but doesn’t feel like any stones I have encountered before.

Beh pushes my hand away, so I look to the other garment around the top half of her body.

The tunic seems to be all one piece and not even wrapped around her with a tie at all. While Beh makes more noise, I walk slowly around her and try to understand how to get it off. I finally decide it just has to go up and over her head, which I do not like at all. To remove it or put it on, her eyes would be covered, leaving her blind for a second. That is definitely not safe for my mate.

She will have to use some of the furs in the cave to make herself some proper clothing.

I reach out and wrap my fingers around the edge of the tunic at her waist. Beh makes another sound and pushes my hand away. I wait for her to remove it herself, but when she doesn’t, I grab at it again, and again she pushes my hand away and makes a lot more noise. I growl at her and grab the material tighter as I try to pull it up over her torso.

Now she is really yelling and not only pushes me away but takes a few steps backwards and shakes her finger at me. More sounds come from her mouth, and there is no doubt she is angry, but I am becoming angry as well. One thing I notice with her sounds now is the inclusion of my name-sound amongst the noise. I reach out, growling, and grab at her arm, pulling her toward me. She shrieks and hits me in the chest.

I try to grab onto her arms, but she is very, very wiggly! I only want to take care of her, help her clean off the blood from the antelope, and show her I can be a good mate for her, but she won’t let me!

I growl again and manage to catch her wrists in my hands. I hold them down at her sides until she stops struggling and glares at me. Her chest rises and falls as she slowly relaxes her muscles. When she eventually seems to calm down, I release her and start to pull at her strange clothing again, but she yells at me.

“Ehd, NO!” Beh raises her hand and smacks me on the nose.

I step back in shock.

Finally, after a moment’s hesitation, I realize how wrong I have been about her.Deciding not to take the slightest chance, I slip out from under the furs, add two pieces of wood to the fire, and peek outside the cave’s opening to make sure all is as it should be. The moon is round and bright in the cool night sky, and the grasslands surrounding the cave seem quiet and peaceful. After relieving myself over the edge of the rocks, I shiver and return to the furs.

Thankfully, my mate does not wake up as I crawl back into the furs beside her. I know she needs to rest. I take a moment to look at her in the flickering firelight. Her eyes are closed, but the blotchy remnants of her sorrow are still evident on her cheeks.

I want to touch her skin, but I don’t want to wake her. Unable to control the urge completely, I touch the skin of her face carefully. I reach down to her strange clothing again, and my fingers brush from her shoulder, over her breast, and down to her waist as I enjoy the feel of the cloth compared to the rough skin of my hand.

She stirs slightly, so I still my movements, deciding to be satisfied with leaving one arm wrapped around her. I stretch out next to her and pull the furs up to make sure she is warm enough. Her mouth opens slightly, and she makes more strange noises in her sleep. The sounds are very soft and deep in tone. Her face scrunches up a bit, and her breathing becomes more rapid. I hold her closer to me until she relaxes back into deeper sleep.

I know I must be right, and she has recently lost her people. I wonder what happened to them and if I will ever know for sure. It doesn’t matter now, anyway—I will be her mate, and I will take care of her from now on. I just need to figure out a way to stop her from being frightened of me. There are so many things I will need from her as well: she will need to gather food for the winter, cook the meat I bring back for her, and accept me into her body so I can give her children.

The thought of that brings another smile to my face and a tingling feeling between my legs.

However, she seems so frightened of me now, I don’t think she would readily position herself on her hands and knees so I can fill her. Still, I am much stronger, and if I want inside of her, I can just hold her while I enter her body. Joining with her in such a way would still feel very good, I imagine, but I don’t like it when she yells and cries, and I think she would probably do that if I have to hold her down to mate with her.

These thoughts are making my penis lengthen and become stiff. I consider stroking myself, but I am afraid it will wake her. I sigh as I look down on her sleeping face and wonder how long it will be before I can properly mate with her. I touch her cheek softly again, and I know when I decide to lie with her, I want her to enjoy it. So how do I get that to happen?

Finally, after thinking about it a long time, I decide I need to make her like me.





CHAPTER THREE





The second time I wake in the night, my mate is crying out in her sleep again. At first I think she has woken up as well, possibly disoriented to find herself in a different home and without her tribe. However, her eyes are closed while her mouth makes those sounds, and her muscles tighten in distress. Again, I hold her to me, hoping to offer her comfort even if I can’t fix whatever is wrong with her. After a minute she calms, turns toward me, and lies in my arms.

As I begin to fall back into slumber myself, it occurs to me that my mate is going to need a lot of care. If I want her to like me, I’m going to have to show her that I can take the place of her tribe. I’m sure I can be enough for her if I make sure she has shelter, provide enough meat for her to cook, and of course, put a baby in her. A list of things to show her starts forming in my mind and continues into my dreams.

The next time my eyes open, there is faint light coming through the opening of the cave. I raise myself up on one arm and look down at my mate as she continues to sleep, wrapped up in my furs. Her eyes are closed, and she looks so peaceful as she lies there that I don’t wake her even though it’s getting late in the morning, and there are many things I needed to point out to her.

For a while, I also stay in the furs and just watch her sleep, memorizing the shape of her jaw and the shade of pink that covers her lips. As sunlight peers through the rocks, her hair shines around her face, and I can’t help but touch it and revel in its softness again. First, I push it off of her forehead, and then I smooth it over her shoulders. It seems to have tangled somewhat in the night, but it’s still just as soft as before. I tuck it gently behind her ears, and her eyes finally open.

My mate blinks a few times as her eyes focus on me. I smile just a little—careful not to show my teeth—but her eyes still get wide as they dart around the small cave. I can see the tears start to well up again, and I know I will have to show her everything as quickly as possible. She is obviously not impressed with what I have, and I can’t blame her. I have only barely provided for myself over the seasons and haven’t even thought about acquiring the things I would need to support a mate.

I am going to change that now.

I whimper low and brush at the corner of her eye, wiping the tears away. As gently as I can, I lean in close to her and touch my nose to hers. She startles a little, but at least she stops crying. I pull my legs underneath me and jump over her to the edge of the sleeping furs and hold my hand out.

She only looks at it, and her eyes widen again. She looks away from me quickly, takes a few deep breaths, and then glances back to my eyes. I reach forward and touch her hand with mine. When she does not pull back, I intertwine our fingers and tug at them until she sits up. I can’t help but feel some excitement as she responds to me. She has not yet screamed or made any other strange sounds, and she doesn’t seem as frightened as she was yesterday. Maybe she will accept my cave after all.

Once she stands up and takes a step away from the furs, I release her hand and grab my fur to wrap it around myself. My mate makes another sound as I dress, and I look to her for a moment. She glances away again and clasps her hands in front of her stomach, and I think about how she will look with a large, round belly. The thought makes me smile.

Crossing the short width of the cave, I head over to get one of my water bags. I hold it out to her, but she only looks at it, her eyes narrowed. She makes some noises with her mouth, but they are still fairly quiet and don’t hurt my head this time.

I tilt my head and hold the water bag out to her again, but she still doesn’t take it. I look down at it to try to determine if it is somehow unappetizing, but it looks fine to me. It is a simple water bag made from the stomach of an antelope I killed in the spring. It had been a large buck, and I managed to make a few things from its body. Between this one and the other water bag, I usually have to make the trek to the fresh water lake only every few days.

I wonder if her people carried water in a different way, and maybe she doesn’t know about carrying water the way I was taught. I bring the water bag back close to my body, unwind the sinew holding the top closed, and take a short drink myself before offering it to her again.

This time, though tentative, she reaches out and takes it from my hands. I watch her expectantly, and she slowly brings it up to her nose and sniffs. Her face crinkles up for a moment as she turns away but then sniffs again. She takes a small sip before quickly handing it back to me.

I’m elated. She took the water from me, so she knows I can at least provide that much. All I need to do now is show her what else I can offer her as her mate, and then she will like me. Reaching out, I take her by the hand and lead her to the entrance of the cave. She steps out into the sunlight of the new day with me and looks over the grass steppes. The day is warm already, and the sun shines and sparkles on the dew. It is a beautiful sight.

I look over to my mate with a smile, and she bursts into tears.

When I reach out to comfort her as I did last night, she places her hands against my chest and shoves. As she pushes me, she makes a high-pitched, screeching sound.

Startled by the noise and her physical attack, I jump backwards and crouch a few feet away from my mate as she sits with her back against the outside wall of the cave and shakes with her cries. Her hands are over her face, and her hair falls around her head like a fur blanket. I want to touch it again, to try and comfort her like I know I should, but when I try to get close to her, she screams and snarls at me.

I don’t know what to do.

So I stay where I am, sometimes reaching out to her with my hand but never quite touching her. I don’t think she notices because her eyes are covered. As the sun slowly climbs in the sky, my stomach growls as if my body knows there is food nearby. My mate must be hungry as well since she would not eat anything last night. I want to go inside and get some of the meat, but I don’t dare leave her alone.

I’m a little confused as to why I have such a strong desire to keep her in my sights. I’m afraid she won’t be here when I come back out, and I will have to track her down so she doesn’t get hurt. I’m also afraid she’ll be scared if she uncovers her eyes and I’m not there to protect her, and I want her to know I won’t abandon her. I don’t want her to be even more afraid than she is already.

My legs get tired, so I sit on the ground a few feet from her and just wait instead. I can go a while longer without food, even if the smell of cooked flesh so close to me is very tempting. It makes my mouth water, but I also know I have to take care of my mate first.

The sun’s rays creep closer to the bottom edge of the rocks, and its warmth will soon be upon us. My mate finally takes one long, shuddering breath and raises her head again. She looks at me with red eyes and a quivering lower lip. Her expression tears at me; I want to go to her, but I’m not sure if she wants me close.

For a long moment, we just look at each other. When she doesn’t make any of those loud noises again, I shuffle forward, little by little, until I am close enough to touch her. I slowly reach out with my hand, and when she doesn’t flinch back, I wipe some of the tears from her cheeks. My mate takes another deep breath and closes her eyes for a moment. Her shoulders slump, and her head drops forward, but she doesn’t start crying again. I wonder if she has run out of tears.

I move a little closer and kneel down in front of her. I don’t reach out to her again because she still seems a little hesitant. I sit there with my hands on my thighs, unmoving as she watches me. Eventually, her mouth opens and many sounds come out again, but they are the softer rhythmic noises she made before falling asleep, not the loud ones. She looks out over the steppes as she makes the noises, then pauses, looks to me, and makes more clatter.

I tilt my head and watch her lips move, wondering why she does this so much. After some time, the pitch of her sounds suddenly rises and becomes louder. I flinch at the abrupt change, and she goes quiet as she stares out over the land behind me. Her shoulders rise and fall with several deep breaths, and then her head swings around and she stares straight into my eyes.

She makes another noise. It’s not the loud noises from before, nor is it the long rhythmic noises I had just endured. When she makes this noise, she taps her chest with her finger. She’s silent for a moment while we look at each other, and then she repeats both the sound and the motion.

“Elizabeth.”

I feel my smile on my face as I understand what she is doing. Though it’s a strange one, she has a name-sound just like I do, and she’s telling me what it is. I try to make the same sounds.

“Ehh..beh.” I frown. Why is her name-sound so difficult and so long?

She frowns right back at me and says it again.

“Elizabeth.”

“Beh-tah-babaa.”

She sighs and her forehead wrinkles.

“Elizabeth. Eeee-lizzz-ahh-beth.”

“Laahh…baaay.”

She shakes her head back and forth, and I wonder if she has an itch. She repeats the sounds a few more times, sometimes combining it with a lot of other sounds. I am starting to get a headache again as she gets a little louder. She taps her chest again.

“Beth!”

The sound is shorter but still very odd.

“Beh-bet.”

“Beth,” she repeats.

I’ve had enough. I reach out and touch her shoulder.

“Beh.”

“Beth.”

I tap her a little harder and growl.

“Beh,” I repeat. I tap her again. “BEH!”

Her eyes widen a bit, and she inhales sharply. A moment later, her shoulders drop and she sighs.

“Beh,” she says quietly.

I smile as I watch her hand reach out, and a single finger touches the center of my chest. More sounds from her mouth, but I know what she wants. She wants to know if I have a name-sound too.

“Ehd!” I say proudly.

After so much time on my own, I am lucky I even remember my name-sound.

“Ehd?”

“Ehd!”

“Ehd,” she says as a small smile finally comes over her face. It is a beautiful sight, and my body almost tingles with excitement. She has given me her name-sound and asked for mine, which must mean she has accepted me. If she hadn’t, she wouldn’t have given me such valuable information. Now she will take me as her mate willingly, and we will form a new tribe with our children.

I jump up and grab her arm to help her to her feet. She stands and brushes dust from her coverings before I take both of her hands in mine. For a moment, I look at her eyes, which are still red with her sadness. I hope now that she has accepted that I am her mate, she will be happy. I lean forward slowly and run the tip of my nose over hers again, starting at the tip and moving all the way up to the place between her eyes. I look at her again, and though I can still see her wariness in her eyes, she does not pull away from me.

Then I begin to show my mate her new home.

Since we were already outside the cave, I start by showing her my impressive collection of wood. There’s a large crevice outside the entrance to my cave that isn’t big enough for someone to live in but keeps the wood nice and dry when it rains, and it’s very easy to retrieve more wood when the supply inside is running low.

Beh looks at the wood and then back to me, but she doesn’t seem impressed. I show her again, but her reaction is still one of disinterest. She looks out over the field away from the cave and up the cliff to the steppes but not at the wood. I’m disappointed that she doesn’t seem to like it because it really is the best I have to show her, but I push on, determined to impress her somehow.

The rest of the day doesn’t go any better.

I do not understand my mate.

I show Beh everything I think will impress her, but she does not react the way I think she will—not at all. I am trying, but she is just…odd. After she won’t look at any of my furs or the smooth rocks around the fire pit, she sits down near the entrance to the cave and cries half the day. Then she begins these strange little movements of twisting and turning her body around. I can tell she needs to relieve herself, but she doesn’t do it! She just keeps looking around the outside of the cave, then back at me, and then around again. I finally get tired of her doing that, grab her wrist, and drag her over to the place where I usually empty my bladder and bowels. I relieve myself to show her the best place to go and then stand there and wait a while, but Beh won’t do anything! She just starts making lot of noises again! Eventually she pushes my arm until I am standing on the other side of the scrub brush and looking away from her. Then she finally relieves herself and stops fidgeting.

So strange!

Afterwards, we go back into the cave, and Beh is finally willing to eat something. I give her the best pieces from the antelope, but she doesn’t seem to like it at all. I want to show her the last fur I made—it is the softest and covered us the night before, and I hope she will use it to make herself more suitable clothing—but when I try to take her to the back of the cave, she pulls away from me. Once I give up on that, we go outside and I show her the edge of the wooded area where there is a lot of good wood to refill the cache near the cave, but she doesn’t seem impressed by that either.

At this point, I’m frustrated, to say the least.

I don’t know how well our mating is going to work when each thing she does makes less sense than the last, and everything I do appears to leave no impression on her at all. Earlier in the morning, I had thought getting her to like me would be fairly simple, but now that I have shown her everything I have, she seems bored, and I do not feel like a very good mate.

Beh obviously agrees.

Since nothing I have around the cave demonstrates my worth, I decide to show her the nearby lake. It doesn’t take long to get there, and maybe she likes water and will appreciate how close it is. I think the area is beautiful, and I hope she will enjoy it as well. I reach out my hand and gesture toward the evergreen forest on the horizon. The lake is just on the other side of the stand of trees.

For a moment, she just looks at my hand, and I can feel my heart sink in my chest. She has not made any more noises for a while, nor has she cried since this morning, but I know there is still something wrong. I just don’t know what it is.

“Beh?”

Her eyes move up to mine slowly before she looks down to my outstretched fingers. She silently places her hand in mine and stands. Her eyes stay focused on the ground, and I reach out to touch the tip of my finger to her chin, tilting her head up so she is looking at me. I watch her throat bob as she swallows, and then more sounds come from her mouth though they are hushed. I hear my name-sound word in with the other sounds she makes.

I wish I knew what she needs from me. I have given her shelter, water, and food. Maybe I will try to give her a baby tonight, and that will make her happy. I have no idea what else she may need from me. It has been so long since I watched my parents and the other couples from my tribe; I don’t remember if there is something else I am supposed to do.

Beh’s eyes close for a moment, and she lets out a long deep breath. She’s done that many times since this morning, and I think it must be to soothe herself.

Even in the act of comforting her, I seem to be lacking.

Something in her look changes as her eyes open and her fingers clench slightly in mine. I return the grasp as I lead her out of the cave and down the trail. The air between us feels peculiarly charged to me, and I am very aware of her presence even when my eyes are on the horizon, watching for danger. I turn and look back at her as we reach the open grasslands, and she looks back at me with a small smile. The clouds choose to move out of the way then, and when the sun hits me, the warmth penetrates my skin. I smile back at Beh and run my thumb over the edge of her hand as we walk together across the steppes.

Maybe I have misunderstood her, and she does appreciate the few things I have. At least now she is receptive to me, and she offers no resistance as I guide her over the lands I’ve learned very well. I look from left to right many times, not allowing myself to be lost in thought or memories like I might have on another day. I have a mate to protect now, and I’m not going to be surprised by any hidden dangers.

Thankfully, the trek is uneventful. Beh looks around the forest as we pass through, and I am glad of it. I hope she spots some plants she can start gathering for food stores. I don’t know what plants can be eaten except for the few I recognize. Once I found a bush with berries that I thought would be all right to eat, but they made me sick instead. Since then, I had stayed away from any plants unfamiliar to me, and that left only the few that I know. There are sometimes raspberries and pine nuts, which I have collected in the past, but it is still too soon in the spring. I also know the grains that grow on the top of the grasses can be eaten, but it takes forever just to collect a handful of them! When I cook them, they are chewy and not at all tasty like my mother had made for me when I was young.

I look at Beh as she looks closely at everything we pass, and I am glad I have a woman to collect food for me again. Maybe this winter I won’t be so hungry all of the time. I will bring her meat and protect her, and she can do the other things we need, like gathering food and cooking. She can also use woven reeds to make the same kind of dishes my mother always made. I’ve tried, but I can’t seem to make them tight enough, and they always leak.

I’m sure my mate will be able to do it though.

I squeeze her hand gently as we head up the slight incline, through the rushes, and down the hill on the other side. The lake comes into view as we come around a clump of trees, and I can tell by my mate’s expression she is surprised.

It’s a large lake with lots of different fish. A stream to the north feeds it, and I have found trout swimming near its large rocks. The shoreline is covered in round stones that lead to the rushes near the woods.

Releasing her hand, I walk to the water’s edge where I can stand on the rocks and wait for fish to come close enough to catch. Sometimes I have stabbed them with a spear, but it’s not too hard to catch them with my hand once I figured out how. There is a small group of fish near the bank, and it is not long before I have caught one.

I turn and hold it up for my mate, and I feel my heart begin to pound faster in my chest as she breaks out in the first, genuine smile I have seen from her. I have no choice but to return the grin because I have finally, finally done something right, and her expression confirms it. Though it has taken me most of the day to find some way to impress her, the look on her face is definitely worth whatever effort it takes in the future to see that smile as often as possible.

She is so, so beautiful to me, and I know now that Beh will be happy with me.

I catch two more fish for my mate and lay them out on the rocks for us to take back to the cave. The sun is warm in the sky, and the light sparkles on the water as I head to the edge to wash off. I still have blood on me from killing the antelope, and I don’t like the smell.

I remove the leather straps around my shoulders that hold my two water skins and lay them on top of a rock along with the fur covering around my shoulders. I remove the fur wrap from my waist as well, leaving it on top of everything to keep it dry.

Beh makes a strange sound, and when I look over at her, she has turned around to face away from me. I look off into the distance to see if there is something out there that has alarmed her, but I see nothing. I move a little closer to her, but she won’t turn around. Even as I move around her, she keeps spinning away from me. She doesn’t seem upset but simply won’t look at me.

I don’t understand her.

I dip my hands in the water. The sun hasn’t yet warmed the water much this early in the spring, and it’s very cold. I don’t like the cold, so I only use a bit of water to wipe some of the blood off of my arms before I shake them to remove drops of water.

Glancing at Beh, I see she is still sitting on the rocks and not looking at me. She has the end of her tunic wrapped around one of her fingers, and she seems to be using it to rub her teeth though I don’t know why she would do that.

“Beh!”

She glances at me, pulls her clothing back to her middle, and quickly ducks her head and looks away again as I walk away from the lake toward her. As I get close, she looks over to me with wide eyes, gasps, and then quickly ducks her head into her hands. I come up behind her and reach out to touch her shoulder.

She jumps up off the rock and takes a few steps forward, her hands still over her eyes. I don’t understand what she is doing at all. Why is she hiding her face and eyes? I look around again, wondering if there is something frightening or dangerous that I had not noticed, but there is nothing there.

I do see her arm and hands also have blood on them from where she fell in the trap. She probably wants to get it off of her before it starts to smell too bad. Deciding there is no way I’m going to figure out what is wrong with her now, I grab onto her arm and pull her toward the water line. She comes with me though her hands stay over her face, which causes her to trip over her strange foot coverings again. Tired of the things harming her, I crouch down in front of her and try to figure out how to get them off.

There are little ties laced through them, and when I examine the knot, I realize it isn’t a complicated one and determine how to untie it fairly quickly. Whatever the ties are made of, they are much easier to unknot than leather or sinew. Beh starts making sounds again, but I don’t pay any attention until I hear my name-sound.

“Ehd!”

I look up at her and see she has at least uncovered her face and is looking down at me. She takes a step back, making more sounds with her mouth as she does. I glance up at the sky, knowing it is starting to get late, and we will need to leave the lake soon. Whatever is wrong with her, we don’t have time for it. As her mate, I must take care of her, which includes making sure the blood is off her skin. I also need to keep her warm, so I have to get the strange clothing off of her so it will stay dry. Next time we come to the lake, we will bring extra clothing so we can wash the ones we’re wearing.

I examine the unusual clothes on my mate, trying to find the ties that hold them together, but I can’t determine how to take them off. The leggings have strange loops all around her waist, but I don’t think they will help get the clothing off of her. The loops would be useful if she tied carrying pouches to them, and I wonder if that is their purpose. There is also a round bit in the center near her stomach right above where the odd cloth folds over itself, but I don’t know what to make of it. When I press my finger against it, it’s cold and hard like a stone but doesn’t feel like any stones I have encountered before.

Beh pushes my hand away, so I look to the other garment around the top half of her body.

The tunic seems to be all one piece and not even wrapped around her with a tie at all. While Beh makes more noise, I walk slowly around her and try to understand how to get it off. I finally decide it just has to go up and over her head, which I do not like at all. To remove it or put it on, her eyes would be covered, leaving her blind for a second. That is definitely not safe for my mate.

She will have to use some of the furs in the cave to make herself some proper clothing.

I reach out and wrap my fingers around the edge of the tunic at her waist. Beh makes another sound and pushes my hand away. I wait for her to remove it herself, but when she doesn’t, I grab at it again, and again she pushes my hand away and makes a lot more noise. I growl at her and grab the material tighter as I try to pull it up over her torso.

Now she is really yelling and not only pushes me away but takes a few steps backwards and shakes her finger at me. More sounds come from her mouth, and there is no doubt she is angry, but I am becoming angry as well. One thing I notice with her sounds now is the inclusion of my name-sound amongst the noise. I reach out, growling, and grab at her arm, pulling her toward me. She shrieks and hits me in the chest.

I try to grab onto her arms, but she is very, very wiggly! I only want to take care of her, help her clean off the blood from the antelope, and show her I can be a good mate for her, but she won’t let me!

I growl again and manage to catch her wrists in my hands. I hold them down at her sides until she stops struggling and glares at me. Her chest rises and falls as she slowly relaxes her muscles. When she eventually seems to calm down, I release her and start to pull at her strange clothing again, but she yells at me.

“Ehd, NO!” Beh raises her hand and smacks me on the nose.

I step back in shock.

Finally, after a moment’s hesitation, I realize how wrong I have been about her.





CHAPTER FOUR





My nose hurts.

I blink my eyes a few times while I try to figure out what just happened. One minute I was going to help my mate into the lake to get clean, and the next thing I know, she’s yelling and…and…

Did she just…just…hit me?

In the nose?

A hundred different thoughts and emotions go through my head all at once. At first, I am angry, and I want to lash out at her—even hit her back. Then I remember that she is my mate, and I am supposed to protect her. How could I keep her safe if I hit her? I am much bigger than she, and I could hurt her if I struck out at her in anger. She will also be afraid of me if I hurt her, and I don’t want that. Then I become frustrated because I have no idea why she would hit my nose when I am only trying to take care of her.

Slowly, I begin to comprehend, and pain rips through my chest.

I think back to her reaction the first time I touched her shining hair, the way she did not want to take meat from my hand, and how she cried when I brought her to my furs. I remember how she didn’t want to relieve herself near my cave or come with me to the lake. Once we got here, she didn’t even want to look at me.

She doesn’t like me.

I thought when she gave me her name-sound that she would take me as her mate, but she hit me on the nose, so I must have been wrong. She does not want me—not at all.

Beh doesn’t want me for a mate.

I take a short step back, and my eyes drop to the stony shore of the lake. It feels like my entire body is trying to melt right into the rocks below my feet. Closing my eyes for a moment, I recall the first few hours after I realized my tribe was gone, and I was the only survivor. After searching for more people almost an entire cycle of seasons, I remember finding the cave I live in now and resigned myself to being alone.

I will still be alone.

I’m not prepared to give her what she needs, and she does not want to share my cave. I don’t have enough to offer her, and she hit me in the nose to let me know she does not find me acceptable.

“Ehd?”

I take a quick step back, realizing I have just been standing there staring at the ground for a long time. I glance up into Beh’s face for a moment, but knowing now that she doesn’t want me, I don’t want to look at her and see how beautiful she is. I don’t want to see what I can’t have.

My eyes land on the fish I caught earlier, and there is an ache in the center of my chest. For a moment, I want to hurl them out to the center of the lake out of spite, but I don’t seriously consider wasting food. I caught them for Beh, and they are still hers.

I walk slowly over to where the fish are drying out on a rock near my clothes. I grab the first of my fur wraps and tie it around my waist. I had intended to tie the fish to the leather strap that holds my water skins to carry them back to the cave, but now I don’t think that is going to happen.