Jean sat beside the fire one night as Vapor made the rounds of the young girls, teasing each in turn and caressing where they would allow it. The girls were as fiercely independent as their brothers and their prowess as hunters and survivors was no less. Vapor dropped beside Jean with a grin and began his customary teasing. As always Jean took it in serious silence.
“Jean Dubois. What a name; you need a good name like mine. Vapor – now there is a name.”
“Vapor is the promise of substance which fades away when confronted,” called one of the girls who was watching from the edge of the firelight. Vapor snarled back at her, then turned his attention back to Jean.
“Let’s see, what would be a good name for you? Turtle for your speed, hey. I’ve never seen a turtle, but you remind me of the tales the Old Man tells.”
“1 am happy with my name as it is.”
“Ha, girls, do you hear that? I try to do him a favor and he is ‘happy with my name as it is’,” Vapor mocked. “What you need is a name to suit you. Let’s see, Mud? No. Herby? No, you aren’t domesticated.” The girls broke into laughter at this.
“I know what I’ll call you – Stubborn. Then every time you refuse to answer to your name you will be proving it.”
Jean looked straight at Vapor and said, “Go ahead. Call me Stubborn and I’ll call you Big-mouth-without-teeth.”
Vapor dissolved into laughter, rolling on the ground and leaping up to pound Jean on the back. Jean smiled within himself; he was learning to hold his own with these wildly independent people. He knew that his solitary march had been watched for weeks before he was contacted and that if he had not made it on his own, they would not even have bothered burying him. But he had made it, and they were willing to accept him because he had shown himself not to need them. It was backward logic by his own life-way, but he respected and understood it.
Mist-on-water stood up and cast her knife aside. Even around the fire the tribe seldom went unarmed. “Stubborn-Jean,” she said, “I think I’ll call you Afraid-of-women. Eleven times I have said that I wrestle better than you and eleven times I have been spurned. I swear, Stubborn-Jean-afraid-of-women, that I will never ask you again.”
Jean realized that the entire camp was silent, watching, and he knew that there was more to this challenge than met the eye. Helene sat near the fire, watching, her eyes sparkling slightly. He stood up, casting his blade aside also. Vapor whooped and Mist-on-water charged.
She hit him low on the left side, driving her shoulder into his scarred thigh and striking up at his crotch with her fist. Completely unprepared for this, Jean took both blows and went down in agony. His head swam and his throat tightened on the surge his stomach sent rising. He rolled over and looked up to where she stood, legs straddled, her firm breasts pushing against her fur vest, head cocked to one side, taunting. The others were hooting their derision.
He staggered to his feet and ignored her, starting back toward the fire. All around him were taunting voices. Mist turned away in contempt and he moved when she turned, lunging forward on his good leg and reaching for her. His fingers caught in the waistband of her hide trousers and he heaved as he fell, jerking her down so that her rump hit the muddy ground with a splat.
He was upon her before she could retreat and they fought in earnest. She had been schooled by Jandrax himself, but Jean’s training had been but little worse and he was both angry and aroused. She was vicious, kicking, biting, and tearing his hair, but he would not be moved. He forced her back to the mud and overcame her. more tomorrow