Nehma spent his spare time searching for pearls. Mostly he searched the food preparation areas. Pearls were usually left to drop to the sand where they disappeared. Digging and sifting the sand caused it to billow into his eyes and gills, but he was able to find many pearls in a short time using this method. He got permission from his mothers, his grandparents, and even his mated siblings, to search their work areas, bringing each a special gift — a mink sponge. Jorn suggested the work area of the north cave, and late one evening they took Treliss their last mink sponge, and told her of their pearl search. Nehma found plenty of pearls that night.
The evening before Jorn and Nehma were scheduled to go back to Flying Elk Island, Breeze flew into the work room, landing right inside the cavern. Jorn jumped up from the study table where they were going over their medical information, copying pages for Zander and Dr. Ryans. Nehma rolled his eyes. He’d hoped they’d cured the flying elk of seeking Jorn out in his cave. They hadn’t come here since before their last visit to Zander.
Breeze shied nervously near the entrance as if afraid of a reprimand. Jorn stalked to her and then caressed her head. “I guess it’s okay, this time, little one,” he said. He withdrew a rope from around her neck and then held it out. A closely woven bag dangled from the center of it. “Looks like Treliss sent her.” He tossed it to Nehma and then caressed Breeze some more.
Nehma discovered almost as many pearls as they had gathered all week. “I wonder how she managed this?”
“Elsue can swim when they want to,” Jorn said with a slight grin. “I better escort Breeze home.”
The next day Dr. Ryans and Zander were impressed by the amount of pearls. They were particularly awed by a number of thumb-sized and larger pearls. “It’ll take us a few weeks to go to Shade and back,” Dr. Ryans said. “Let’s plan to meet in three weeks.”
“It’ll be colder then,” Nehma observed. “It may be our last visit until spring. We’ll try to bring more paper and octink.”
Dr. Ryans chuckled. “Zander’s going to be the best informed apprentice entering Alexandria’s Teaching Hospital. I don’t believe anyone requires that their students write out all their textbooks. Maybe we’ll have enough money to buy you a set of books.”
“But they couldn’t get wet,” Zander said. “And I would want to make myself a copy if we bought books.”
Dr. Ryans patted Zander’s shoulder. “We’ll see.”
During their visit, Dr. Ryans began instructing Jorn and Nehma in math. Zander had apparently learned much more in his schooling than the Mersue people were taught on the subject. Nehma knew counting, adding and subtracting, but Dr. Ryans got into much more, saying that it was essential that doctors knew it to calculate dosages correctly. Nehma tried to explain that they knew measuring dosages, but it apparently seemed crude to Dr. Ryans. Dr. Ryans also insisted they call him Owen, even Zander, because he said they were all friends now and mentoring each other.
It did indeed get colder over the next three weeks. Jorn and Nehma finally tried to get into the main library, but they were denied access to all but the elementary texts by the elderly Elsue in charge. They debated about going to Thenorn and Belna over the denial, but decided to wait until the weather made hunting and gathering an unbearable option. They went more to the north, now, often stopping into the north cave on the way home and letting Treliss help with any food processing. The music lessons were moved to the north cave for the duration of the winter also.
Thenorn met them as they were leaving the medical ward one afternoon. “Belna and I will meet in your gather room.” Then he left abruptly.
Jorn and Nehma glanced at each other. Nehma shrugged. It wasn’t unusual for Thenorn and Belna to meet with them, and they were going to be going back to Flying Elk Island in a few days. But Thenorn had seemed so abrupt, that it made Nehma wonder if something was wrong.
Thenorn and Belna were waiting for them when they arrived home. Nehma turned toward the work room. “I’ll be right back with something for you to eat.”
“No need, Nehma. We aren’t staying long,” Belna said.
Thenorn focused on Jorn. “You’re spending too much time with Treliss.”
Jorn jerked back as if he’d been struck. “You said we were to take items there to process….”
“And leave them. There is no need to stay.”
Jorn’s face became impassive, much as it had when his elfather had lived with them. His whole body stiffened.
“The flying elk live there,” Nehma said, trying to come to Jorn’s defense. “We’re hoping to bring back the items she needs to fly on them.”
“We know you are only trying to help Treliss, Nehma,” Belna said. He did not seem upset, although Nehma had no doubt that Thenorn was.
“Nehma,” Thenorn said, keeping his gaze on Jorn, “you are both unmated men. It is not proper for you to spend time with unmated women.”
“But Treliss will never be mated,” Jorn said, his voice icy. “So why does it matter?”
Belna stepped closer to rest his hand on Nehma’s shoulder. “We’re worried you’ll become too attached to her and not want a set of sisters who will be best for you.”
“I’d rather have a woman who will work with me, than one who will nag and try to control me.”
Thenorn snorted. “Your elfather would say that all women were controlling nags, but it was only jealousy. No one ever tried to control him unless it was his own elmother in his youth. Do not let his poison continue to rule your life.”
Jorn stayed stiff and refused to speak.
“Nehma will be denied a mate if you refuse proper sisters,” Belna said softly.
Jorn glanced at Nehma then, and his stiffness seemed to leave him. “I never said I would deny us mates. I would never do that to Nehma.” He focused on Nehma and not Thenorn. He took several deep breaths. Then he finally turned back to Thenorn. “I will not speak of matings to anyone, not even Nehma. He will choose for the Flying Elk cluster when he feels the time is right, and I will do all I can to properly fulfill all my obligations to cluster and the community as a whole.”
Thenorn seemed a bit softer then also. He touched Jorn’s shoulder. “You need to love her.”
Jorn shook his head. “But that’s just it. I can’t love her unless I know her. I can’t know her until she is here. As you have said, I do not know my elfather’s ravings from fact. Nehma can choose. He knows how these things should work.” He paced a few steps and then focused on Thenorn once more. “But my anger isn’t for me when you talk of Treliss. She is alone, and all you want to do is keep her from any friends at all. I may not know reality, but I do know what it is like to be alone.”
Thenorn gave a weak smile. “You are like my own son, Jorn. I only worry that your compassionate heart will betray you. Please be careful, and try to limit your contact. I think your music lessons should end also.”
“What? But Treliss . . . .”
“Treliss will continue with elders Katarn and Fenna and their wives. She also has classes with the young students.”
Jorn faced the wall and bit his lip.
Nehma hated to see him so upset. “But Sirs, with winter coming on, there will be far less for us to do. We’d rather not waste our time in the south as some others do.”
Thenorn and Belna exchanged a glance. Belna shrugged. Thenorn sighed. “You can go to the library. I’ll arrange clearance.” He turned to leave and mumbled to Belna. “We’re going to regret this.” But he lifted into the air and Belna dived. They were gone.
Jorn stared after them from the far side of the room. Nehma wasn’t sure Jorn had heard Thenorn’s last comment, and if he hadn’t Nehma wasn’t sure if he should tell him. After all this time, Nehma had thought that Thenorn and Belna trusted them, but that comment implied that they did not. What had they done wrong? Why couldn’t they be trusted in the library?
“Let’s go sailing,” Jorn said abruptly. They only had another hour or so of daylight, but Nehma decided that it would be better than mulling over the reprimand they’d just received.
Two days later they went to Flying Elk Island. Zander, Lady, and Owen met them. Zander grinned as he walked to them. His limp was almost gone. “I’m still in a little pain. They had to operate. But see? My legs are the same length again.” His grin left. “We had to give them some of your gold. I didn’t want to do that.”
“But this is great!” Nehma said. “You’ll have to tell us all about what they did.”
Zander shrugged as they walked back to Owen and the fire he had made. “Dr. Ryans . . . Owen will have to tell you that. They knocked me out. I just woke up after it was all over.” He stepped ahead of them and reached for a large, bulky item. “But we got your saddle and bridle. And a book about wingdeer. I read it. Didn’t get it all copied, but I learned a lot.”
They sat and crouched around the fire. First they spoke of the book, the saddle and the bridle. Then they talked more about Zander’s operation, and then about the City of Shade. It was Zander’s first trip to Shade, and Lady had followed him everywhere they went. They also gave Jorn and Nehma a copy of their accounts. They’d not sold all the pearls at one place, and still kept a few in reserve. They also listed each time they had spent any of the money.
Jorn studied it carefully after Nehma refocused on Zander and Owen and their adventures. At a lull in the conversation, Jorn said, “You won’t have enough for another saddle. We’ll look for more pearls, and hopefully, we can get a second saddle in the spring. Or at least these metal parts.”
“Yeah. I have to make a lot of carvings so I can get one for Lady. Did you know that I actually sold the two carvings I brought? I got a lot more for them than I thought I would. Used it for the operation this time, though. But still, I’m going to try to work through the winter on some.” Zander shifted his leg and hip.
As the day wore on, Zander’s enthusiasm was replaced with quiet grimaces as he shifted his sore leg more and more. Nehma stood when Zander shifted once more. They usually stayed longer, but Zander was in pain. “We better go,” he said. “We will return in the spring. In fourteen weeks. Unless that week is still extremely cold or there is a storm.”
Owen stood. This time when he held out his hand, Nehma took it and grinned. “I look forward to it,” Owen said.
Jorn helped Zander to his feet. It appeared he really was in a lot of pain. “Are you going to be okay,” Jorn asked. “We didn’t think to bring any medicine.”
“I just gave him some in that last tea he drank,” Owen said. “It should start working soon. But you’re right. He is still recovering, and the last few days have been long. We just got back to Worthington yesterday afternoon.”
The sun was still above the western rim of their home island when they returned. “How can we take this to Treliss if we’re not supposed to see her?” Jorn asked in frustration.
“Go get Thenorn. Tell him we have the saddle and we need to work with both Treliss and Wind.”
Jorn rolled his eyes, but said nothing.
“It’s so he knows you’re not going against his wishes, but that this is part of what we’ve already spoken about. Tell him I’m taking the boat there. Maybe he won’t worry about me being with her since I’m a Merree. I know you want to do it, but if this is the only way . . . .”
Jorn snorted and jumped into the air. Nehma watched until he was sure he was headed to Elder Thenorn’s home. Nehma played the cold air currents and directed the boat to the North Cavern. He wished the elders hadn’t made an issue of Jorn and Treliss. She was easy to get along with and seemed interested in any of their projects, although they couldn’t speak to her about the Fulls — or anyone else. That restriction Nehma had understood immediately. The elders didn’t want anyone else attempting contact. The reprimand still stung, and as far as Nehma could conclude, going to the Full homeland was the only thing Jorn and Nehma had done that could be considered disobedient.
Jorn and Thenorn swooped into the North Cave right as Nehma docked. He’d wanted a quick dip in the water, as the wind had depleted him, but even Treliss, Wind, and Breeze knew they were here now. And then Belna popped up from the waters.
Jorn grabbed the saddle, bridle and book, taking them to the back edge of the work platform. Wind and Breeze followed him, and he gave them attention, ignoring the elders and Treliss. Treliss seemed nervous also. Nehma wondered if she’d been questioned about their visits and told of the restrictions. But there was nothing to be done about it now. And she was the one to be taught to ride.
“We got everything we need, even a book,” Nehma told her. “But it’s a book not to get wet. We were going to copy it.”
Thenorn had grabbed the book and flipped through it. “Make a copy for you and for Treliss, and put this in the restricted section of the library.”
Nehma thought Treliss may need the information sooner, but resisted the urge to say so. Instead he focused on Treliss. “We’ll have to figure out how to do this together the first time. It’s in the book.” He indicated it, and Thenorn reluctantly handed it over.
They followed the directions and slowly got Wind used to the blanket which had come with the saddle and then the saddle before tightening it on. Then they did the same with the bridle. She was a little nervous at the strange contraptions on her, but she trusted Jorn completely, and it seemed she trusted Treliss, as her ears flickered her way whenever Treliss spoke.
“We should do the next part outside,” Jorn said. “And I should go first on her back in case she tries to throw me off.”
They all went outside. Stars lit the darkness now, and only one of the planet’s four small moons was visible. They led the flying elk to a grassy clearing. Treliss held the bridle and whispered to Wind as Jorn placed his weight in the stirrup and swung himself onto her back. Wind twisted her neck around, trying to see him.
“Put on the leg straps, like Treliss will have to do,” Nehma advised.
Jorn complied as Wind pranced nervously. Then Jorn tried to signal her into the air. Nothing happened. Nehma flipped the book open to the correct page. “It says that usually another person on a trained wingdeer, I mean flying elk, is assisting.”
Jorn undid the straps. “Treliss, read over those directions to fly her. When I say Up, you urge her up, and I’ll fly up. When I signal right, you signal right and so on.”
Thenorn sighed when the book was handed to Treliss, and she studied the diagrams and words. She glanced briefly at Nehma as if to inquire about the book, but Nehma shook his head. It’d be better she didn’t ask. She seemed to understand and refocused on the words. Meanwhile Jorn did manage to get Wind to turn left or right while he was atop her back.
When she felt she was ready, or maybe it was when she felt the elders were starting to get exasperated at supervising a study session, she handed the book back to Nehma and approached Jorn and Wind. Jorn dismounted and then helped Treliss into the seat, not paying any attention to the rolling of Thenorn’s eyes. “She won’t have your help tomorrow, Jorn. You should have let her mount on her own.”
Nehma who was closer to the two saw Jorn give Treliss a slight smile and then a wink before he stepped back. Treliss smiled as she set straps securely over her thighs. Then Jorn gave the signal and they were flying. Treliss’ laughter filled the air as she flew away from them on Wind’s back. Breeze jumped into the air to follow them.
“You two have gone to an awful lot of trouble to see that she flies,” Belna said softly.
“We’re just grateful she has the time to spend with them,” Nehma countered. Belna did not sound accusing, but Nehma could not forget that they were being reprimanded because of too much contact. “Besides, won’t it be good for all Elsue who can’t fly because of injury or illness? Even a Merree could fly in an emergency.” He grinned at Belna then. “Maybe someday I’ll get a turn in the air.”
Belna laughed. “I noticed that diagram that showed two riders on the elk. Maybe I’ll go up with you after you’ve mastered it.”
“I look forward to it.”
Belna watched them returning. “But there is no hurry, and I understand it is most important that Treliss spend time alone with the animals to bond with them.”
Nehma didn’t point out that bonding with flying elk happened in a matter of hours, and Treliss was well bonded by now. He guessed it was Belna’s subtle way to warn him about unnecessary contact with Treliss.
They landed and Thenorn stepped forward. “I see you were successful, Treliss. It’s time for us all to go home tonight, and you may practice more tomorrow.”
Treliss fumbled with the straps and then slid down off the huge elk’s back. They all went back into the north caves.
“You must remove the saddle and bridle when you’re not riding her,” Jorn cautioned. “You must watch for chaffing and sores, especially as she’s new to it.” Nehma guessed he’d memorized the book during those times he’d dropped out of the conversation with Zander and Owen and studied the book. “I’ll get you a copy of this as soon as possible.”
“He’ll get it to me, and I’ll get it to you,” Thenorn corrected.
Treliss focused on Jorn, though, in spite of Thenorn’s disapproval. “Thank you, Jorn. Now I know why the Elsue are a special people.” Tears filled her eyes, and she ran the few steps back to Wind, pressing her face against her neck.
Thenorn raised an eyebrow. “She did not know this?” he asked as they walked to the boat.
“How could she when she had never flown?” Jorn countered. “How could she truly understand her restrictions to function as a woman without knowing what needs to be preserved? Now she will do what’s best for all with understanding, and not because the elders deem it best for her.”
Thenorn gave a soft chuckle. “You’re right, Jorn. She couldn’t possibly understand, could she?” He clutched Jorn’s shoulder. “I care about you. Remember, you can’t possibly understand what I’m trying to save you for, because you haven’t experienced it yet.”
This time Jorn let himself relax under Thenorn’s grip. “I sometimes wonder if I am not as content as I can be with Nehma as my brother. There is no anger or tenseness in our cluster now.”
“But remember, you didn’t want to bond, either, and I was right about that, wasn’t I?”
Jorn gave a low chuckle. “Perhaps so.” But then he looked straight into Thenorn’s eyes. “But I am not sorry that we helped Treliss to have flight and purpose.”
Thenorn gave a slight nod. “Yes, Jorn. But don’t be afraid to communicate your plan to me before you set out to do it!” He gave his back a slap and then leapt into the air.
Belna chuckled as his brother flew from the cavern. “I better go,” he said, but he waited for Jorn to board the boat.
Nehma handed Jorn the book. “I need to swim back. I’ll see you at home.”
Belna and Nehma dived at the same time, and Belna only looked back to see that Nehma was pushing the boat out of the cavern so that Jorn could catch the wind.
Go to Chapter 18
© 2013, 2006 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.