Jandrax 84

Nightwind in turn had taken a wife from the daughters of the colony Paulette Dumezil.

She was called Moccasin for some reason Jean could not comprehend. All of the tribe except the elders took fanciful names for themselves. Why Nightwind had taken Paulette instead of one of the girls of the tribe was a mystery to Jean. She was quiet and reserved, clearly a captive rather than a member of the tribe, while the others were laughing and forward. Jean was quite unused to their actions.

One, called Miston-water, was particularly trying.

She never failed to show off her prowess with a bow or lance in Jean’s presence and offered twice daily to best him in a wrestling match, ignoring his crippled condition. It shamed him as nothing had done before and bewildered him as well. Helene watched the proceedings out of wise old eyes that told nothing.

Jean could not get Mist out of his mind, nor could he forget Paulette. His training cried out for him to rescue Paulette from her slavery but he was powerless to do so. He tried to get near enough to speak to her on several occasions, but it was a danger to do so for she was Nightwind’s woman. She in turn evaded him, perhaps in shame.

Jean kept up with the company well enough but could not hunt with them. They hunted in quintets; two would go out without warding amulets while the other three would circle about scaring game toward the waiters. Then all five would close in to share the kill if the animal was dangerous.

They did not need rifles and Jean felt worse than useless. Twice he slipped away in the night and stalked a herby or humpox, killing them with his rifle along the path the tribe must take.

The elders did not make the trek entirely afoot, though Helene and Valikili were fit enough. They often rode in the flatboats made from light wood cut in the mountains and drawn by domesticated herbies. These creatures were another of Jandraxs triumphs and they made the nomadic life easier by serving as beasts of burden. Domestic herbies were not eaten since there was an abundance of wildlife to serve that purpose. The boats were slim, flat boxes which would float in water and could be dragged like sleds through mud, allowing them to be used in the two media which were the natural habitat of the tribe.

The Old Man had gone off alone as he was wont to do and none of the tribe worried for him. Of them all, he was the fittest and the one most immune to discipline. His fierce independence had affected them all.

He would return when he chose, bringing with him prime furs, or precious wood for the repair of the flatboats, or perhaps some precursor relic.

Jean became a mass of ill concealed excitement at the mention of the precursors, but the tribe took them in stride. Jandrax had found numerous ruins of an ancient civilization and was always looking for more. What, Jean wondered, would he say to his son’s tale of the island?

*****

As a matter of full disclosure, the idea a species or civilization predating our own is a very old one, and has frequently appeared in science fiction. Atlantis comes to mind. My own strongest personal debt in that direction is to Andre Norton, who always seemed to have some elder race lurking in the background. I call mine precursors because she has already used the better word, forerunners. more tomorrow

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