Moccasin looked beautiful in her finely cured hide vest and trousers and her thigh-high white moccasins. By the standards of the tribe, who came near to worshipping fertility, she was even more beautiful for her round belly, sure indication of her pregnancy.
Jean dropped beside her where she knelt at Nightwind’s fire. Nightwind was out on a hunt and Jean had chosen to make his advances in full sight of the tribe. He could not chance a clandestine meeting but this might be taken as innocent conversation between childhood friends.
Moccasin looked shocked to see him and turned her face away. Suddenly he was unsure of himself and unwilling to pursue his intentions. “Paulette.”
Her head came up sharply. “Do not call me that; I am Moccasin.”
“Paulette, do you wish to stay here? Would you rather return to the colony?”
“Why do you taunt me; you aren’t of the tribe.”
“I am not taunting you.”
“Are you asking if I want you to rescue me?” She cocked her head in the attitude of derision so often affected by the girls of the tribe. “Well, what do you offer?”
Now it was Jean’s turn to hesitate, for he was not sure how far his duties to her ran. He had known her when they were children and had desired her as a young man, but much had passed between that time and this.
Moccasin gestured toward the others. “They mock me, they belittle me, but my day will come. I have talked to the older women who were captives in their time. They made their own paths here and so can I.”
She looked around her again, at the lushness of the eternal melt just visible beyond the firelight. “Could I leave all this? This wild freedom, this eternal beauty. Could I exchange all this for a drab wooden cubicle and a man who is brutalized by too much slaughter in one season and too much leisure in the other? I can be one of them,” she gestured toward Mist-an-water and her comrades. “How could I ever go back to being what I was?
Night closed about the town, enfolding it in arms of darkness. Anton Dumezil, the elder, lay silent in the apartment that his own father had occupied and stared at the ceiling. Anton Dumezil, the younger, lay beside his wife staring likewise. Each wondered in the privacy of his own mind how went the machinations that each had set against the other.
Anton the elder swung his feet to the floor and paced his rickety way about his apartment. His feet crushed the fur of the same rug that Nightwind had wrapped himself in a year earlier. His arthritic hips would not let him sleep, nor would his own son’s knowledge of those same hips. He could not hunt again. The preparations had been made, the barges were loaded, the melt was on, but Old Anton would not make his kill this year. His own son was leading barge number one.
His mind rushed back over the years to the night he had stood over his father’s corpse, knife in hand. Young Anton didn’t have that kind of nerve. He was a weakling. If he wrested power from his father, he would not hold it long.
Old Anton was tired of power, tired of the responsibility of leading his fractious following, but he dared not relinquish it. He had taken this scepter by midnight murder and now he could not let it go if he wished to remain alive. more tomorrow