by London Lampy
I turns out that after I left with Llando and the children Mathi sent Tula to find Vio and show her where the bathing pool was too, assuming that if I wanted to wash she would as well. Unfortunately Vio arrived right at the moment I threw myself off the top of the waterfall. A couple of other girls around Tula's age have also come with them and they're currently staring at me and nudging each other, hiding giggles behind their hands.
"I take it there's no private bathing then?" Vio sighs, looking at the pool. The children now seem to be playing a game that involves pushing one another under the water.
"I don't think so, but it's nice in there, it's clean water and it feels good."
"Hmm," she says. "I've got no problem with the pool, it's getting naked in front of a fuck load of people who're all going to stare at me 'cos I don't look anything like them, that's the issue here."
"Welcome to my world."
"Good point mo...mate," she just stops herself in time. "If you can do it every day at home then I can fucking well do it here, although it's not like you're actually naked in front a load of strangers in Parnell."
"Only occasionally," I reply. She gives me a look, then starts to remove her clothes, folding them up and placing them on the rocks.
"Exit," Tula says, moving closer to me, then looking back over her shoulder at her friends, who giggle again.
She does a little mime of jumping off the rocks into the pool."Good," she smiles at me. I think I might have just impressed the wrong twin.
The children have gone silent, most of them are treading water and staring open mouthed at Vio, who's now naked and standing slightly self-consciously on the rocks behind me.
"Come on," I say to her, easing myself into the water again. She follows, letting out a satisfied sigh when she's fully in.
"You're right, that is fucking good."
We swim together to the other side, past the children who gape at her as we go. On this side of the pool are a group of submerged boulders and we sit on them, the water comes up to my chest and Vio's stomach. Llando, Tula and the other two girls come and join us, Tula very deliberately sitting herself next to me with her friends on the other side of her, while Llando perches beside Vio.
His little sister breaks off from the group of children who have now begun to resume their games, swims over to him and clambers onto his lap, then slowly puts out a hand and strokes Vio's arm with her fingertips. When Vio looks around to see what's touching her the little girl pulls her hand back rapidly and hides her face in Llando's chest. Peeking out she says something to him that sounds like a question. He replies to her with a shrug then turns to us.
"She..." he frowns, unable to find the right words. He holds his own arm against Vio's and points to it then to hers, then he touches her hair, Vio doesn't seem at all bothered by this, simply puzzled, as am I. Then I get it, they've never seen anyone Vio's colour before, never seen anyone with pale skin, white blond hair and light blue eyes.
"Where I come from...where I live, quite a lot of people look like that, it's not unusual there."
"Sa," Llando nods, then says something to his sister. I'm not sure how much of my explanation he understood but they seem satisfied with my answer.
Without warning I feel something wrap around my waist, I look down under the water to see that it's Tula's tail. I'm not sure what to make of this, the people here do seem to touch each other much more than we do at home, and I have no idea if her doing this means anything or not.
"Exit," Tula says, prodding my side with the tip of her tail. "Again?" she points to the top of the waterfall.
"Not today," I shake my head.
"Not ever again," Vio put in.
Llando removes his small sister from his lap, stands up, climbs out of the pool and starts to make his way back up to the top of the waterfall. Tula shouts after him in a dismissive tone of voice, something that I swear must mean "show off", although the pair of girls next to her don't seem to think like her and chat and point at him enthusiastically until she cuts them off harshly.
"Fucking idiot," Vio mutters. "All boys are fucking idiots." But I don't pay any attention to her, I'm much too busy admiring just how damn good Llando looks.
Once we finish bathing all the others disappear back into the trees but I don't want to leave Vio on her own so I walk back to our hut with her. I've put my trousers on but I haven't bothered with the shirt, I can't really see the point, most of the people who live here are near naked and it's not like it's cold. I'm also thinking about chopping the legs off one of my pairs of trousers to make them into shorts, I wonder if Barney would give me my pocket knife back? I can't do much damage with it, perhaps I could use it to take someone hostage or something, but what then? Ev would most likely shoot me and I don't ever want to get shot again.
"We should check on Sampson," Vio says, bringing me back from my thoughts of shorts and pocket knives.
"Yeah, I guess we should."
"Your enthusiasm is overwhelming."
We enter Sampson's hut quietly, he's alone this time and he appears to be asleep, but then his eyes suddenly pop open and he stares at us.
"You're not my angel," he says in a hoarse voice.
"Um..." Vio and I glance at one another.
"What angel would that be?" she asks him.
"The angel who brought me back from the dead...a beautiful naked woman with golden eyes."
"He's got to mean Eline," I whisper.
"She helped me fight the daemons, took me to a god's house, I spoke with god..." he goes on like this for some time.
"Fuck, I think he's come unhinged," Vio mutters quietly while he rambles.
"He wasn't that hinged to start with."
"Here she is...my special one...my angel," I turn around to see Eline entering the hut. She nods to us then kneels beside him, mopping his face with a damp cloth.
"How is he?" I ask her. I'm not sure if she can understand but she launches into a long explanation in her own language, pointing to a selection of small pots and bottles on the floor and even unbuttons Sampson's shirt and shows us his chest, I think she's proving that his rash has gone. When she's finished Vio looks at me questioningly.
"I don't know," I shrug. "I only speak a few words, but it's clear he's getting better."
"Physically at least," she replies. We thank Eline and step back outside, leaving Sampson to her care.
Sitting on the ground in front of our hut Vio puts another couple of the red berries in her mouth and chews, looking up at the village in the trees. "How long do you reckon we're going to be stuck here?" she asks.
"Until Barney says we can go home I guess. I can't see that Sampson is important enough for the whole of the Twin Islands to stop importing slaved stuff just to get him back. I'm hoping once Barney's made his point he'll be done with us, this has got to have made it to the newspapers by now. Perhaps a couple of weeks?"
"Think that might be a bit fucking optimistic," she sighs. "Caddy's going to be thinking all sorts, I wish I could let her know I'm alright."
The lower branches of one of the near by trees suddenly start shaking violently and we watch as Barney clumsily descends a knotted rope ladder and drops into the small clearing with a thud.
"Hello," he says cheerily as he walks over to us. "Settling in?"
"What, you think we're on some sort of fucking holiday?" Vio scowls at him. He ignores her and carries on.
"Is there anything you want?" he asks.
"To go home," I reply.
His face takes on a disappointed expression. "I really screwed you up, didn't I drumeri?"
"Don't you fucking call me that, don't you ever call me that!" I say sharply enough for Vio to frown at me.
"It's not an insult," he holds his hands up.
"I know exactly what it means and you don't have the right to call me it."
"I want something," Vio interrupts us. "I want to write a letter home."
"And I want my pocket knife back," I add.
"What kind of letter?" he asks her.
"A letter letter, I want to let my girlfriend know that I'm still alive, and will be home as soon as possible."
"I suppose that could be arranged, although you understand I'd have to check its contents?"
"I wouldn't have expected any fucking different."
"Exit, I'll find your pocket knife for you too," he nods at me.
"Thanks," I mumble. I feel a little bad for swearing at him, he doesn't know why I don't want him calling me drumeri.
"Some of the men have gone hunting today," Barney addressed us both. "There should be a feast tonight, Gui willing. You are both invited to come up to the big house in the village and join us."
I look at Vio, I'd like to go, but I know how she feels about heights. "Thanks," she says. "We'll be there. You don't eat insects here do you?"
"Good grief no," he shakes his head. "This isn't Kipp, with any luck the hunters should bring back some wild pigs..." that sounds fine. "...and maybe some monkeys too."
"It is not cannibalism," I say to Vio for what feels like the hundredth time. She looks at me and giggles, she's had too many of the red berries again. It turns out that the dried meat we've been eating for more of less every meal since we were abducted is monkey meat. I thought it was beef but Barney pointed out that cows need pasture to graze on, and the forest is kind of short on that.
"Come on, we're suppose to be up there by now," I point at the village.
"I'm sure they'll save you some tail," she laughs. "Keep your knickers on."
"They're shorts." Barney kept his word, providing Vio with a pencil and paper so she could write to Caddy, and giving me back my pocket knife.
"They're fucking short shorts, you might as well be wearing on of those leather thong things that the rest wear."
It wasn't easy to cut both legs to the same length with a none too sharp pocket knife. I kept trimming bits off to try and even them out, and they kind of ended up a lot shorter than I intended.
The problem now is how to get Vio up to the village. Under normal circumstances it wouldn't be easy, but her being somewhat stoned on red berries makes it harder.
"What made you change your mind about going up there?" I question her as she attempts to haul herself up the ladder.
"I wanted a proper meal," she pants. "That was before I knew it was going to be roasted monkey."
She needs help so I climb the tree itself, hang above her and offer her my hand. She takes it and I pretty much pull her onto the first platform.
"Fuck," she collapses into a heap. "How much further?"
"Barney said the big house, I think it's a couple of bridges away." It's starting to get dark and people are out lighting the oil lamps amongst the trees. Close up I can see that they are simply some kind of oil with wicks floating in them, but they are housed in glasses of all kinds of shapes and sizes, most of them look expensive, many are cut crystal and the small flames inside them make the cuts shimmer in the twilight. Halfway across the first bridge Vio panics and refuses to go any further until I take her hand and lead her the rest of the way.
"Thanks," she mutters gruffly when we reach the other side. She fares a bit better on the second one and makes it across on her own, taking tiny baby steps until she's onto the platform, her knuckles white from gripping the rope handrail.
We eventually reach the big house and Vio follows me in, there are a about a hundred people in here, and ninety nine of them turn and stare at us as we enter.
"Shit, this thing going to hold?" Vio questions, looking around at the number of people and the construction of the building.
"I guess," I shrug. "Unless they all decide to jump up and down at once."
Oddly the room is lit by a candle filled crystal chandelier that's been hung from the roof beams by thick ropes, it looks even more out of place here than Vio does. I can see Barney coming toward us, picking his way between the seated groups.
"Come and eat with us," he calls out when he's close enough for us to hear him.
We follow him over to a group that consists of him, Sora, Tippet, Mathi, a woman who I take to be Mathi's wife, and unfortunately Ev too. I haven't seen him since we arrived and I was sort of hoping he'd gone off somewhere else, but here he is, looking as menacing as ever. As we sit a young woman hands us plates of food, and another passes us cups filled with some sort of thickish looking white liquid. The plates are mismatched but come from what must have once been expensive dinner services, and the cups are tea cups with a patten of delicate blue flowers on the side, mine has a broken handle.
"Roasted wild pig, pounded roots and vegetables," Barney points to our plates.
"No monkey?" I question.
"No," he grins. "I told them not to give you any."
"What the fuck is this?" Vio sniffs the contents of her tea cup.
"Palm wine, it's mildly alcoholic, you'd most likely have to drink a gallon before you felt any effects, however you..." he looks at me, "...should go easy, I don't want you getting drunk and falling out of the village."
"What makes you think I can't hold my drink?" I protest. I can't, but he doesn't know that.
"Son," he says. "Echobacks may have the physical advantage over humans in most areas, but one thing you cannot do is tolerate drink."
Vio and me look at one another. "So that's why you're such a fucking lightweight," she laughs.
"I suppose so," I shrug.
"You didn't know that?" Sora asks.
"No," I reply. "I know I get drunk really easily, but I never knew that was why."
The food is good, better than anything I've had for days, the palm wine is...different. The flavour is alright, kind of sweet, but I don't like the texture, it's thick and lumpy. We eat with our fingers, wherever they got the other stuff from they must have left the cutlery behind.
"Food...taste?" Mathi asks me once I've finished.
"Tasty? Yes, very," I nod.
"Good, good," he grins. "Hunt catch many pigs, many monkey. Pigs good, monkey better." I'll take his word for it.
"Exit," I hear a pair of voices from behind me say. I turn around to see Llando and Tula looking down at me.
"Hello," I smile at them. They sit down, one on either side of me. Llando touches my leg, pulling on the bottom of my newly made shorts. He says something to the others, which Barney translates.
"He says you are better dressed for the forest now."
"Thanks," I smile at him, ignoring the look Vio gives me.
"We have...story now," Mathi says, pointing to an old man who has just climbed onto a small wooded platform a few yards in front of us.
Every part of the man's skin save his face is completely covered in inky tattoos, his eyes are painted with black rings around them and many multi coloured feathers are woven into his hair. His body is tight and wiry and despite his age, he must be at least ninety, he looks very fit. The old man clears his throat, the room goes silent and he announces something that's met with a small cheer.
"He's going to tell us of how Gui created the forest, the animals and the people," Sora explains.
As he starts to speak I feel a tail wrap around me, I look down and am slightly disappointed to see that it's Tula's again. I glance around the room, most of the tribe members are sitting with at least one other persons arm, or tail, or both around them and this doesn't seem confined to just couples or parents and children.
The storyteller begins to speak, his voice seems to fill the room even though it's not that loud. He uses every part of his body to tell the story and even without understanding his words I can tell he's acting out the parts of different creatures, it's almost as if he becomes a bird, or a snake, or an ant. Llando shifts a little closer to me and drapes his tail around my body too. Barney, Sora and even Tippet occasionally explain bits but it's hard to follow, the old man is hypnotic to watch though, his voice is like some kind of instrument and the way he twists his body and face into different shapes to become different things is like nothing I've ever seen before.
When he's finished a loud cheer goes up and many people bang on the floor with their hands or feet, causing Vio to look around with concern.
"What did you think of that?" Barney asks me when the cheers die down.
"It was amazing," I answer honestly.
"Sosa is a very skilled storyteller, and he has many other skills too, hopefully you will get to experience some of the others."
While I'm trying to puzzle out what Barney means by that he starts to speak to Llando, he's asking him something that Llando seems to be agreeing to. Once he's done Barney turns back to me. "Tomorrow Llando has said he'll show you further afield, show you some of the wonders of the forest."
"We...go," Llando says, making a sweeping gesture with his arm to indicate outside, then smiles at me. He has a nice smile.
"Sounds good," I reply, smiling back.
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