by Kaerutobi Ike (蛙跳び池)
illustrations by Lord Mune
The shout was shriek-like in a way no human voice should ever be. It plunged the longhouse into silence, everyone straining to hear what was going on. Then a very loud, very sharp and very brief sound resounded outside. Suddenly, it was madness all around. Calls turned to shouts, soft footsteps to a loud pounding of feet. In the chaos, a hand took hold of Yahto’s wrist and dragged him along. Mother shouted “RUN!” and so, he did. Inside, on the battered earth, it was easy enough. Once they left the construction for the uneven ground of the forest, things became more complicated. Roots, stones or nothingness under his foot when he had expected solid ground were traps to which he never failed to fall. Each time, the hand would tug upon his and keep him more or less upright. Around them, the forest was filled with the rustling of leaves brushing against running bodies. Behind them, more shouts, more thundering. His mind came back to it, wondering what caused that sound. The distraction meant more fumbling, more jerks of surprise when a branch hit him. Until there was both a root to trip him and no earth to help him regain his footing. He felt himself fall forward, felt the sweat slicked hand lose its grip on his wrist and, finally, felt the pain as his body landed harshly on the ground. “Up, Yahto,” said Mother’s panicked voice “Get up and run!” she ordered while pulling him to his feet. Before he could be up and running again there came another voice, shouting. A man’s voice. His words didn’t mean anything for Yahto who had never heard any such word before. But his mother stopped her tugging and abruptly pushed him back on the ground. She joined him there, her body on top of his, her voice begging, her words suddenly just as impossible to understand as the man’s had been.
Feet, crushing twigs and dry grass around them, warned him that there were several people about. His mother was still blabbering and pushing him against the ground. He let her, let his body relax and fold like a heap of blanket. A soft, worn blanket, like the one he had left in the longhouse. Blankets didn’t have anything to fear or to run from.
They were brought somewhere. Yahto didn’t know where exactly, just that it wasn’t back at the longhouse. Oh, and wherever it was, it had no trees to shield him from the sun. He was growing hot. And thirsty. There were soft wails around him. Babies mostly, a few children, even some grown-ups. His mother had told him to stay put and had left. He had listened to her voice while she soothed, nagged, reassured. At some point, she had come back and pushed a bundle in his arms. He had nearly dropped it when it had let out a loud cry. She had called him an idiot and re-arranged his arms to hold the baby better before ordering him to hold it close and not let go. She was gone again before he could ask what he was supposed to do with it, beside holding it. The baby’s cries had continued, people around him had started a shushing sound that hadn’t made any good. Finally an irate voice had ordered him to rock it. He had obeyed. The baby had stopped.
After awhile, he got worried that no sound was coming from the bundle. What if he had done something wrong and it was dead? He didn’t dare bring the baby closer to his ears to make sure it was still breathing. What if he dropped it? He waited and waited, but there was still nothing and his mother wasn’t coming back. He couldn’t even hear her voice anymore. In the end, he couldn’t bear it any longer and lifted the baby to his ear. A soft breath tickled his cheek. The baby was asleep.
He held the little body there until his arms tired. Listening to the tiny breathing. The baby moved a few times but never woke. As light as his charge was though, his arms ended up protesting so he lowered them on his lap, baby still safely tucked against him. Moving a little, he managed to curl a hand over the baby’s face so that he could still feel the soft puffs of air emitted by the little creature.
Men passed amongst them, talking their meaningless words. Following their wake was the familiar sounds of munching, chewing and slurping that came with food ingestion. One of those men spent a long time talking in front of him. He didn’t move, so as to not awake the baby, and tried to make himself as unobtrusive as possible. The voice got angry. It started talking louder and louder and attracted other voices, all men voices, not any of them speaking words he could understand. Feeling the fear return, he started hunching over the baby protectively, amazed that it hadn’t woken yet. It would though, if the men didn’t lower their voices. Finally he caught something amongst the babble. “…food.”
He looked up “What? What did you say?” His question was followed by a lot of loud words, with the kind of voice people had when they were surprised and didn’t like what was going on. Someone talked, louder than all the others and made them all go quiet.
The words came again, funny sounding, like the mouth that was speaking them wasn’t used to talk. “They want you take the food,” it said not unkindly.
Yahto’s stomach growled hungrily at the mention of food, but Yahto’s mind reminded him of the baby his mother had ordered him to hold. Only terrible things ever came out of him not listening to her. On the other hand, he was very hungry, and maybe the baby would be too, when he woke up. The voice came again. There was a little bit of annoyance in it this time. “Take the food.” There was an order there, he was sure. He wanted to follow it. People were less likely to shout at you or call you names when you did what they told you. But there was still the baby.
“I can’t,” he answered as meekly as he could, in the hopes that they would understand he wasn’t disobeying just to spite them. There was silence and then the man ordered again. Only, this time, it must not have been directed at him, because he was using the meaningless words again. Voices muttered, but they muttered while going away so it was okay. Soon, there were more munching sounds. He was abruptly brought back to his own fate when someone sat heavily next to him.
“What you hold?” the kind voice asked. Yahto was glad that if anyone had to stay, it would be this man. This one he could understand at least. Since the danger had passed, he straightened his back, thus showing the baby. The little thing wiggled in his arms but didn’t make any sound. Next to him came an appraising sound and then the man asked, “Yours?”
“No!” Him? Owning a baby? What stupid man could believe such a thing? At his indignant cry, the man let out a low chuckle. Which only served to outrage him further.
“It isn’t funny! Babies belong to mothers, do I look like a mother to you?”
He realised, too late, that he shouldn’t use full sentences. Because he didn’t know what a mother looked like and he didn’t know what he looked like, so maybe he did look like a mother. And then, he realised that he had shouted at someone. That, of all the things that got you in trouble, was the one that did it the most surely.
Rustle of clothes next to him made him cringe. But, instead of the expected blow, there was a sound, that of someone chocking on their laugh just before failing completely to keep it in. Just as he thought that, the stranger’s laugh escaped. Wild and deep and good to the ear. Some people had really horrible laughs, but this was one of the nicest he had ever heard. Only, it finally woke the baby. If the shout it let out was anything to go by, it wasn’t happy to have been roused from sleep.
Yahto knew he had to make the shouting stop, he could hear people starting to complain. But it seemed the more his mind scrambled to find the proper way to do it, the less answers he could come up with. He was still struggling when a pair of hand took away the baby. Then his mother’s voice cooed and soothed and the stranger next to him was asking something in his own language. She answered him in the same way, took the time to chastise Yahto for not doing anything to quiet the child, and just like that she was gone again. At least, she took the baby with her this time. Though it did feel a bit lonely without the warm bundle in his arms and the tickling of baby breath on his hand. Silence was broken after a while, reminding Yahto that he was not quite alone yet.
“You take the food now?”
Good idea. His stomach agreed with it. Hunger made Yahto forgo carefulness, the hand he extended toward the voice hit something. Whatever it was crashed on the ground. The man spoke hurriedly, in the manner of someone cussing, surprised and angry. Yahto had broken something again. A hand landed on his knee and he flinched away, enough that he almost lost his balance. Another hand grabbed his shoulder. Yahto lifted his arms above his head and shrunk, ready for the blow. It didn’t come. Instead, the hand righted him before letting go.
“Afraid?” asked the voice, still surprised, but no longer angry. “No need. I not hurt you.”
Yahto hesitated, but then lowered his hands. “Sorry. Did I spill something? I’m sorry if I did.”
The voice was hesitant this time. “You… you not see?” There was a rustling of cloth, the tell-tall breeze of someone waving a hand in front of his eyes. “See that?”
He wanted to reach and grab the hand, make it stop, push it away from his face. Instead he forced his voice to hide his frustration. “No.”
“Oh.” There was no scorn in the man’s voice, merely pity. “Wait here.”
When the man came back, he took Yahto’s hands and pushed a bowl in them. Then he guided Yahto’s hands to the spoon, to the piece of bread he put on Yahto’s knee and, finally, to a goblet of water, explaining what everything was as if Yahto couldn’t guess on his own. The thanks were difficult to push out of his throat. Suddenly, Yahto didn’t find the voice as soothing anymore.
“I am François,” the man said. “You call name if… for help?”
While his mouth said yes, that he would, that he was very grateful, Yahto’s head thought that he wasn’t like the baby earlier. He was very capable of taking care of himself if the man would just leave him to it.
Once alone, Yahto sated his grumbling stomach rapidly and drank the water left for him. He had just put the things in a neat pile in front of him when his mother came back, this time with two children plus the baby and strict orders to make sure they wouldn’t be allowed to disturb other people.
Children came and went for the rest of the day, sometimes brought by his mother, once or twice by another woman. When the children were all gone, he was made to follow old Wamblee around and carry everything the old man would put in his hands. And when that was done with, he helped some more, until, finally, he was left standing alone, surrounded by low murmurs, soft snores and the cracklings of fires. He knew better than to try to move in a crowd so he sat where he was and waited. After a while without anyone telling him anything or guiding him away, he laid down and tried to sleep, despite being just far enough from any fire to feel cold. There was nothing else to do, he didn’t want to be hit if he walked on someone or shouted for Mother.
Hands shook him roughly to wake him up. A woman pulled him by the hand to his mother, who didn’t waste any time in strapping things on his back. She then put a small, grubby hand in his with strict order not to let go. The child whose hand he was now holding protested at first, but Mother ordered him to stop it and the child did. Then Mother grabbed Yahto’s other hand and pulled forward. He followed.
The weight on his back was just starting to slow him down when the child at his side started lagging behind, pulling him backward. For a while longer, he ignored his tired legs and shoulder and dragged the child along, until the kid started crying. Mother slowed down, but the people behind them kept stomping on their heels, telling them to go faster. After they pushed Yahto for the second time with orders to stop being lazy, Mother turned around and gave them a piece of her mind. Her piece of mind was loud and attracted the men with the unknown language. They said something which didn’t please Mother and she gave them a piece of her mind too. A horse came by and François’ voice joined the shouting. Soon, there was no more arguing and everyone was listening to him. When he was done, everyone resumed the walking. Mother didn’t tell Yahto what had been said. She yanked his hand, he followed.
They travelled all day long. When they finally set up camp, Yahto felt like his legs were about to fall off from the rest of his body. His feet and shoulders hurt as well. Mother didn’t listen and put him to work right away. First, he helped fetch wood. Then he was once more entrusted with small children, the babies who couldn’t pull their weight alongside the adults. “Just like him,” someone whispered behind his back. People always whispered to badmouth him. Sometimes, Mother told them to leave him alone. Most of the time, she remained silent and so he did the same.
The third day started much like the second had. Yahto resigned himself to another day spent walking. It wasn’t so. When the warmth reached its hottest point and the child he had been assigned started to slow down, Mother lead them away from the midst of the travellers. There, away from the brunt of the noises, the voices of the crowd were suddenly echoed by those of another crowd, far away. Not just voices. He could also make out the whinnying of horses, the yapping of dogs and metallic clatter. It was the sounds of a village.
“Yahto, keep walking!” said Mother with sharp tug on his hand to urge him forward.
“Are they taking us to the village?” asked Yahto. It was the first words he had pronounced that day. The child whose hand he was holding had also been very silent, but it seemed that the sound of Yahto’s voice made him change his mind on that last point.
“What village? We’re in the middle of a deserted plain,” complained the child.
“Really?” asked Yahto. “I can hear people.”
“We are surrounded by them!” answered the child, not sounding impressed at all.
Yahto was feeling his own patience dwindle. “I mean I can hear people other than us. Much further in front of us and…” He listened again. Something else had caught his attention.
“There is… something that rumbles.” The child snorted but he ignored it. He was so close, that noise was… “A river. There is a river in front of us.”
“You are lying,” protested the child. “There is no such thing in front of us. I can’t see it.”
“Well, I can hear it.”
“You two stop it right now. If you can’t get along then walk in silence”, interrupted Mother.
Yahto noted smugly that she hadn’t told him to stop lying. If she hadn’t believed him she would have.
There was a village and they were headed its way. Even better, it was a village where people talked words Yahto could understand, despite the strange way they sometimes pronounced them. Of course, there was much to do once they reached the village. Many children to keep away from the working adults, wood to be gathered. Mother gave him two babies and three toddlers. They asked for stories, so he talked until his throat was sore and his voice nearly gone. Then there were people to follow, things to carry; he tripped his way along the best he could, endured while they called him lazy, clumsy, useless, until whoever he was following entered a cloth-house and didn’t come out. Around him, the voices had gotten muffled as people took refuge in their new homes from which smells of food wafted to his nostrils. Yahto’s belly made noises, Yahto’s mouth filled with saliva and Yahto’s tired feet set in the direction he had come from. After ten paces, he continued in the approximate direction he had come from. After thirty paces, Yahto resigned himself to raise his hands in front of him to feel for any incoming obstacle. Slowly, very slowly, he made his way through the maze of tents.
When Mother finally found him, she wasn’t very pleased that he had been left alone. She led him inside another cloth-house. It was warm and smelled funny. Not unpleasant, just different. He was glad when Mother sat him on a pile of blankets that was to become his bed and gave him a bowl of food. While he ate, she busied herself inside their new home and talked. Everything was a matter to discuss, as far as Mother was concerned. Yahto didn’t mind. He rather liked Mother’s voice.
“They are keeping the warriors away,” she said after a long complaint about the inability of the elders to cope properly with the current situation. “They were brought here before, but I looked everywhere and didn’t find them, so I asked Yellow-Hair, the man who orders the other white-faces around. He said they are already being brought to the new hunting grounds. We will be going there in a few days as well.” She sounded sad. Not heart-shattering sad, but a deep, steady sad. “I think this time we have lost the lands for good. Things will probably never be the same again.” Though Yahto had never seen the land around the longhouse, he felt as attached to it as everyone else. But it wasn’t because of its loss that he crawled to Mother to hug her clumsily. It was because she was in pain and Father was away and couldn’t comfort her. Hugging her was the only thing he could do for her. She felt smaller and frailer in his arms than he remembered. She welcomed the attention with a hug of her own. “Sweet Yahto. I am so glad those eyes of yours kept you by my side. If only your father could understand how worthy you are.” Her voices trailed into silence.
Yahto kept to himself his doubt about that supposed worth and enjoyed the soft hair under his cheek and the warmth all around him. There would be no more comfort to be had or given when Father came back.
There was no more walking the next day, but Mother still woke Yahto early to make him follow her through the cloth-village. Everywhere she went, she asked other women if their families were in good health, if they knew of children or ancients who were without a family to care for them and if they needed for anything. Yahto held young hands or supported old arms as people were shuffled around to free overcrowded families, or were left in the care of women who had lost everyone.
He was holding a very thin hand when the voices around Mother and him became hushed and somewhat hostile. “Yellow-Hair,” warned Mother in a low tone.
“Alsoomse, good day for you.” Yahto wasn’t sure, but this voice sounded a lot like the voice of the François person.
“The same to you, Yellow-Hair,” greeted Mother stiffly.
“Do you need for thing?” asked Yellow-Hair in a way that made Yahto think that it wasn’t exactly what he meant. Why was he not talking in his own language? Mother had been able to understand it. Surely, it was easier for him. He sounded stupid when he used Yahto’s language.
“I will be sure to let you know if we do. What about you, Yellow-Hair, do you need anything?”
“I need help. I think maybe the person can help?”
“Who? Him?” Mother sounded startled. “You can’t take him. He’s blind, he can’t help you.” She was chiding, but deep down in her voice, there was pleading. Blind meant Yahto, he knew. Why anyone would want his help though… Only Mother ever made him help.
“He can do… tisk? taks?”
Yellow-Hair… François? He sounded really silly. “Task?” asked Yahto. “I can do your task? What is it?”
“Yes, task. Help with man with wound? One of your.”
Mother’s grip on Yahto tightened. “Who?”
“I not know.”
“What does he look like?”
François snorted. “Brown, black hair, not many cloth? I have bad eyes for you.”
Mother didn’t know what to do, Yahto could feel it. He gave the child’s hand to mother and made a step toward François. “I’ll help. You guide me. You’ll have to explain a lot but I can help.” Mother huffed but she didn’t protest. A very big hand took Yahto’s wrist and gave a gentle tug.
François walked more slowly than mother. He was very careful with Yahto. It didn’t feel like gentleness though, more like caring for a helpless child again. Yahto quickened their pace: he knew how to do it so that people never noticed until they were walking at their normal speed. “Where are we going?”
“White camp. House for… uhm… people we not want go your camp?”
“No. Tree-house. Very close now.”
The ground changed, the grass was stamped, the ground very bumpy. A lot of horse and human feet had passed here. A man spoke and François answered. Water sloshed. François asked Yahto to carry a heavy bucket. Yahto was then lead into the hearth. Or at least, that was how it felt. It was cold, it smelled damp and the sounds from outside were blocked.
“You keep someone here?” Yahto didn’t know if he liked that idea.
“Yes, wait, I open door.”
When François opened the door, they were welcomed by the clanking of chains and loud hissing. It sounded as though a mad cat was living in there. François had to drag Yahto inside. The young man had frozen when he heard the noise. Water sloshed and landed on Yahto’s tunic, so he put the bucket down on the side before he continued behind François.
“Calm down,” the soldier ordered to whatever was living behind the door, “you put fear in my friend.” François stopped and Yahto rammed into his back. The racket didn’t stop, but a definitely human voice shouted an invective, followed by an order to be left in peace. François tried to say something, but the voice didn’t let him. It just pronounced a string of curses, interlaced with orders to leave, to let him be, and for all of the white-men to die. Trying to get the prisoner’s attention was useless, so François stepped aside and pushed Yahto gently forward. Instantly, the noise stopped.
“What is that?” sneered the voice. “What is he doing here?”
Yahto finally recognized the voice. “Nanka?”
François took advantage of the silence that followed. “I bring friend to help. Not hurt him or I hurt you more. Promise?” His voice became cleared as he turned to Yahto “You walk five steps, he…” Yahto didn’t listen further and took a first step, but François took hold of his shoulder. “Wait! First he promises. Nanka, yes? Promise not hurt.”
Yahto wasn’t sure he liked the situation anymore. “Why wait? Nanka, what’s going on?”
Nanka swore, but his voice lacked the spite from before. “They chained me to a wall, Yahto. Chased me, captured me and then tied me like an animal. Why do you let them walk you around like an obedient dog?”
“No!” Whether he was denying the animal treatment or the dog comment wasn’t very clear, even to his own mind. Instinctively, he tried to shake François’ hand off of his shoulder. The grip strengthened instead and François gave the arm a shake.
“Not like that,” he said calmly. “He make mess in your mind.”
“You do not believe me, Yahto? Come here and touch the chains. Or the wounds. Come here, Yahto, and tell me if I am lying.” Chains clung again in Nanka’s general direction.
Yahto didn’t move. Even if he had wanted to, François’ hand was still holding him in place. “I can hear chains,” stated Yahto, more for François’ benefit than Nanka’s, “and you told me yourself we were going to help a wounded man. What is the meaning of this?”
François sighed. “He attack us when we come to house. We fight, hurt him, take him with us. Not want him to die. We try help him. But he hurt people who try help him. Bite and kick. We put chain, keep him away from door. But he need help and he not let me close to help. So I ask you. But only if he promise not hurt.”
Yahto felt anger stir in his belly. “Nanka won’t hurt me!” he stated firmly before shaking François’ hand off of him. He then advanced slowly, hands raised in front of him. Chains clanked nearer and nearer, until the ground under his feet let place to something that gave way under his weight. Something that felt like fabric. Yahto stopped and went to his knees to feel with his hands the strange thing under him. Nanka was close, he could hear him breath. Yahto’s fingers groped forward and forward until they reached fever-warm skin. The breathing hitched, the chains gave a clang. Yahto enjoyed the warmth under his palm for a brief second before he asked, “Where are you hurt?”
Nanka growled. François answered for him. “Leg and shoulder. Push hand more… ahh… how say, side where use hand more?”
The hand he used the most? Yahto lifted his left hand. “This one?”
“Uh… No, other one.”
Yahato lifted his right hand. “This hand? I don’t use it much.”
“Well most people do,” murmured Nanka next to him. Yahto was hurt by the comment, but just then his hand landed on a patch of skin particularly hot and clammy. The contact made Nanka hiss and trash. Yahto withdrew his hand quickly.
“What was that? Nanka, are you alright?”
“Yes,” said the warrior through clenched teeth, “just don’t put your hand there again.” Behind them, François moved, probably to fetch the bucket of water they had brought with them; because Yahto could hear liquid slosh against metal. The bucket was set next to Yahto. François retreated rapidly, before Nanka could move.
“There is cloth to clean his wound. I go for… cloth to bind wound? Nanka not hurt. Promise?”
Yahto wanted to answer that of course he wouldn’t, but Nanka talked before of him. “Yeah yeah, Nanka not hurt,” he said dismissively.
François left and the door was closed and locked with a loud click. Suddenly, Yahto wondered if it had really been a good idea.
When the sounds from the outside could no longer reach their ears, Nanka shifted and groaned. “I thought he would never leave. Pass me that rag, I’ll do my shoulder and then you can hep me with the leg.”
Yahto obeyed. He found the bucket without tipping it over and fished out the dripping cloth which he offered to Nanka. With much hissing and swearing, the warrior took care of himself. Sometimes, he would pass the cloth to Yahto to have it rinsed, but the two words needed to make Yahto understand what he wanted were hardly a conversation. When he was done with his shoulder, Nanka handed Yahto the cloth. “Be careful,” he ordered briefly, “the wound is infected, so you’ll have to drain it. I’ll help you.” Then lower he added, “if I can.”
As it turned out, Nanka wasn’t much help. After Yahto dabbed the wound a few times, Nanka told him, in a very strained voice, what he had to do and asked for something to bite. Yahto was left to work pretty much alone while the warrior moaned and grunted in pain each time Yahto’s hand came near his leg. Soon, Nanka wasn’t making any sound anymore, and so Yahto’s world was reduced to his own shaky breaths and the sloshing of the water in the bucket. His nostrils were filled with the smell of blood; he couldn’t tell whether he was cleaning anything anymore or just smearing more blood. Again and again, he rinsed, wringed, cleaned. His body mechanically going through the motion, while his mind struggled to keep at bay the thought that he was trying to wash a corpse.
That’s how François found him. Yahto became aware of his presence when the man pried the bloodied cloth from his grip, one finger at a time. He was talking. Gibberish, pronounced with a soothing tone. It was only when relief flooded his mind, that he realised how panicked he had been. He was very glad to let François handle Nanka now that the warrior wasn’t in any state to protest. He edged to the nearest wall where he curled in a ball and let his body shiver all it wanted. When François pulled him outside, he followed without a word. The sun felt very good on his skin. He wished Nanka would soon feel it too.
Mother shouted at François when they found her. She did it in his language, so Yahto didn’t understand the words. François kept repeating sorry sounding words. Yahto wondered distantly what the man had done.
He didn’t feel very good. His tunic still felt damp, but he didn’t want to think about it because his nose was still filled with the smell of blood and he could still feel it on his hands and, really, he didn’t want to think about it. He was so busy not thinking about it, he let Mother herd him to the river without a word. Mother undressed him, washed him and he didn’t try to stop her. He felt better once the smell of blood left. Even better when Mother brought him back to their house of cloth and gave him something warm to eat and a scratchy blanket to hide under.
Mother chuckled and patted his head. “Don’t enjoy it too much. I have a few things I want to do alone, but I will come back soon to make you help.”
Yahto mumbled his agreement and let her go. Then he napped for a bit.
Mother made good on her promise and came back later. Yahto spent a long time following her through camp again. It was boring. Yahto couldn’t help thinking of Nanka, chained to a wall in a cold place. The warrior didn’t deserve to be treated like that. He was strong and courageous, renowned in Yatho’s village for his skills in battle and during the hunt. Women encouraged their daughters to court him and their sons to be like him. Even Father never had anything bad to say about Nanka. As for Yahto, he liked Nanka’s voice. It was the only thing of about that Nanka he knew well. Until today. Now, he realised Nanka had nice skin too. The part that wasn’t burning to the touch and sliced open was smooth and soft. Besides, Nanka didn’t order him around or mock him. Even if that was because they rarely crossed paths, it was nice of him all the same.
Yahto tripped, Mother told him to concentrate and that was the end of his Nanka centred thoughts. For that evening at least.
The next day, Yahto occompanied Mother on her tour again. He was walking alongside her, back to their cloth-house, when he heard his name being called.
Mother stopped. “Yellow-Hair again. I wonder what he wants this time.” She didn’t sound too pleased. “Do what he says, listen well and tell me if you hear anything about when they are going to move us. And be careful.”
Her hand left Yahto’s arm, his skin felt cold where her hand had been, until François’ warm palm covered it again “Happy I see you, Yahto. Come with me?” François gave Yahto’s shoulder a light push and started leading him along. “Your friend not eat. I think he say food is wrong. He talk fast. Many word I not understand.” François sounded frustrated.
Yahto was glad to hear that Nanka was still alive enough to fuss. “You want me to feed him?” The idea was amusing. Fragile Yahto, feeding the strong warrior like a toddler. It made him laugh.
“You are good mood,” François remarked. He sounded in a good mood too.
“Yes. I like being useful.” A smile stretched Yahto’s lips. “Mother let me help most of the time. It is kind of her because, sometimes, I think I make things more complicated. But she tries to be nice to me, and I like helping nice people.” In a show of affection he would have never permitted himself a week ago, he patted François’s hand. “You too. I also like helping you.”
“Kind from you. I like your help.”
At the door of the tree-house, François stopped again to talk to other people. Someone with a very low voice exchanged words with him and then approached Yahto to put a plate in his hands. Then, whoever it was patted his head as if he were a dog. Yahto thought about doing like Mother and give a piece of his mind, but he was all-alone here and he didn’t know how wise that would be. To stay on the safe, side he decided to say nothing. He was glad when François lead him further.
The way to where Nanka was kept was just as scary as Yahto remembered and just as cold. François had barely stepped into the room when the insults started again, with, amongst them, more cries to be left alone. Nanka was in a bad mood.
François didn’t answer Nanka’s shouts. He pushed Yahto to the side, where Nanka could see him. “I bring friend again. He has food.” Then his voice became clearer as he turned toward Yahto. “I leave and come back. You shout if need help.”
Nanka remained silent while the door closed and François’s footsteps became fainter. Yahto decided that he might as well get close. He advanced a few steps and then he crouched.
Nanka’s voice, sharp as a knife, stopped him from coming any closer. “Why are you here again?”
“I was asked for help. Fran… Yellow-Hair,” it felt bizarre to say François in front of someone from his own people, “said you didn’t want to eat.”
The chains clunk. Nanka sounded sulky. “That’s because I can’t trust them. What proof do I have that they didn’t poison the food?”
Yahto laughed. “After they spent so much effort bandaging you? Don’t be stupid. How are your leg and arm? Do you feel better?”
“It hurts, but it doesn’t smell so bad anymore. I think that I have a fever as well.” Hands pried the plate of food from Yahto’s. “I don’t understand why he went to get you. Doesn’t your mother need you?”
“Mother said I should come help and listen for information. She wants to know when the white-faces will bring us to the other warriors.” Yahto hesitated “Are you the only wounded?”
“No, but the others are either dead or the white-faces took them away. I think most of the wounded departed with the others to the new land.”
“Was… was Father with the one who left?”
“Yes. Him and my father and many others. He was wounded as well but it was only his shoulder and the white-men said he should be able to walk. Have you heard of my mother?”
“She walked with us. Mother spoke to her the other day. She agreed to take care of one of the youngest of Ominotago.”
Mother would be glad too. In the meantime, Yahto should be taking care of Nanka. He sat straighter and mustered his best impersonation of Mother when she was making the village do what she wanted. “Now you need to eat to get better.”
Nanka snorted. “Scary. I shouldn’t really. It’s worse even than what my mother cooks and she is quite bad at it. But if you insist.”
“Pushy little thing, aren’t you?” The words were a bit mean but there was a smile in Nanka’s voice. Then, the chains clanked again and Nanka started chewing and, for a while, it was the only sound in the room.
Suddenly, even that stopped. “Why aren’t you talking?” asked Nanka.
“Was I supposed to say anything?”
“I stay here all day, with only white-faces coming two or three time to throw food at me and push me around to see my wounds. So yes, as my only source of entertainment, you are supposed to say things.”
The request was flattering, if not the way it was worded. Yahto racked his mind for something interesting to say. “They put us in a village made of cloth-houses. Mother and I have a rather small one all to ourselves, but all the others share. They are more or less ten people in a house.” Yahto went on to explain how he had followed Mother, and everything they had done. It wasn’t very interesting, but Nanka didn’t ask him to stop, so it was probably better than silence.
“You certainly know a lot, for someone who has to be led around by his mother like a toddler,” remarked Nanka after a while. Yahto decided to take it as a compliment. It was probably meant to be one.
“I don’t have much to say so I listen a lot,” he said demurely.
Nanka chuckled. “Coming from someone who rambled continuously for so long, that’s a little hard to believe.”
“You were the one who asked me to speak,” retorted Yahto, “but if you are done listening and eating I should probably call Yellow-Hair.” Despite those words, he didn’t want to go quite yet.
He was glad when Nanka protested. “Don’t leave yet!” said the warrior quickly, “you just arrived and once you leave I will be alone for hours. Speak some more. What you say is very interesting.”
Yahto had no doubt about just how interesting he was, and whether Nanka would still be speaking to him if given the choice, but, for now, Yahto was the only speaker around. Besides, it didn’t happen everyday that he could talk without being interrupted. He might as well enjoy it while it lasted.
“You know, I told you everything about the cloth-village, but, if you want, I can tell you about the visit of the shaman last spring. You missed him because you were hunting. He told many stories. I remember some of them. Would you like that?”
Nanka made a noise that could be a yes. Yahto decided it was one and that if Nanka wasn’t happy he should say so more clearly. Yahto spoke for a long time. Until Nanka’s breathing took the rhythm of sleep. Yahto had to look for the plate of food with his hand and thought he would awaken Nanka if he kept brushing against the warrior’s skin. But he never stirred. Yahto found the plate and the door, and François answered when he called and brought him back to Mother. Just before they reached her, François stopped Yahto.
“Yahto help again tomorrow and day tomorrow from tomorrow? More things need help if Yahto want.”
“What kind of help? Do you need me with Nanka again?”
“Yes. With Nanka. And more help. Yes?
Yahto smiled. “Okay.”
François took Yahto to the wood-house three times a day. Low-Voice, who had little manners -even François said so-, made it a habit to pat him on the head whenever he was around. When Yahto finally snapped and batted the hand away, the man laughed, waited until Yahto had forgotten about him, and pet his head again. Then he laughed harder. Yahto decided to let it go. Even he knew better than to fight a battle he couldn’t win.
As the days passed, Mother worried more and more about the fate of the warriors and urged Yahto to stay close to François and try and make the man talk. It wasn’t normal, she said, that the white-faces weren’t bringing them after the men yet. Yahto agreed, but François never once said anything useful to him. The more Yahto asked, the more the man mumbled excuses and pretended he didn’t understand the words.
When Yahto wasn’t following François around like a puppy and treated like one by more and more white-faces, he was with Nanka. The warrior was usually sulky in François’ presence, but as soon as the man was away his mood improved drastically, to the point that he was sometimes even better to be around than Mother. He was funny. Yahto laughed a lot around him. Strangely enough, Nanka also laughed quite a bit around Yahto. To his shame, Yahto started hoping the warrior would stay under the heart for a long time.
Still, he was glad when François decided that Nanka was well enough – and well behaved enough – to be let out in the cloth-village. Yahto was put to the task of helping the warrior walk. Nanka joked about him being the perfect crush. Yahto dug his fingers in the warrior’s side for it. François laughed and Nanka’s good mood evaporated.
As soon as the women spotted Nanka, they gathered around them and pried him away. Before he could understand what was happening, they had disappeared. Yahto remained alone with François on the path.
“Women like Nanka lot,” remarked François.
“A lot. And yes, they do.”
François’s big hand squeezed his shoulder gently. “Come help me? I have thing I need help for and thing I want word for.”
Yahto tried to smile but it felt weak. “Sure, lead the way.”
The hand positioned him in the direction of the tree-house and Yahto went as bravely as he could to face more pats on the head.
After three days during which Yahto didn’t go back to the tree-house for Nanka’s meals, Low-Voice became lonely and hunted him down to get his fill of head-patting. Or something. He might have been in the cloth-village for another reason, but the facts remained that Yahto’s head got patted again, in the middle of a crowd and, more specifically, in front of Nanka. Other people muttered names, Nanka jumped on the offender while uttering threats to cut the man’s hand if he didn’t keep it to himself. Yahto was the only one who tried to pry the warrior from Low-Voice. He got to enjoy all the elbowing -and there was a lot of that to be enjoyed while turning around the two men, trying to find a good grip to separate them- he also got the satisfaction of hearing Low-Voice become Very-High-Voice when Nanka gave a particularly sharp hit with his knee. That would teach the man to treat people like puppies. Of course, Yahto didn’t say it out loud.
François had to come from a nearby set of cloth-homes and get Nanka away from Low-Voice. Nanka’s shouts went from “I will cut your hand!” to “Let me down!” so quickly Yahto didn’t understand at first that François wasn’t putting the warrior down nor was he planning to. Instead, Yahto had to scramble to follow them all the way to the tree-house. The guards at the door were talking fast and loud, people had followed Nanka and were shouting too, but, while Yahto followed François inside the tree house, the shouters were blocked at the door. Nanka’s threats had become strained, his injuries must have reopened while he fought Low-Voice. He was still valiantly insulting François’ courage and whole ancestry-line like a madman.
Yahto was relieved when they reached the room under the heart. Nanka gasped and whimpered when François put him back on the ground none too gently. The brief silence was put to good use by François. “Stone head! Badger! You can not hurt warriors. They kill you if you do! All my work for… for… You can not do that. You need not do that!”
François was panting, Nanka was breathing just as hard and Yahto still felt frightened for reasons he couldn’t grasp. Now that everything was making sense again, his legs felt weak. He sat down in a graceless heap. “What happens now?” he asked François weakly.
Nanka made a noise to let know just what he thought of Yahto asking the white-face for advice, but Nanka wasn’t in charge of anything. François was.
And François wasn’t happy with the situation. “Now he stay here for day. Then give excuse. If not want give excuse then wait more day until do” he said gravely.
Nanka, of course, refused.
So Yahto went back to bringing Nanka his meals, Low-Voice went back to patting Yahto’s head and Nanka spent his days pacing his cage, as if hoping it would open a path to the outside. He refused to make the excuses, Yahto refused to talk to him in the hope that it would make him surrender sooner and everyone was unhappy -except for Low-Voice.
Nanka lasted four days. On the fifth, François brought him from the small room, into the kitchen where Low-Voice spent so much time, and Yahto was witnesses to the warrior’s surrender. On the way out of the tree-house, Low-Voice mumbled vicious-sounding words. Yahto promised himself that he would never let the man pat his head again.
François left them at the door once he had made sure Yahto could support Nanka’s weight. It was a close thing, but Yahto managed to keep the big warrior up and walk straight.
Nanka didn’t talk for a long time. So long Yahto thought he might still be angry. But Nanka was just thinking very hard. Yahto’s clue was Nanka’s very soft voice when he asked, “why do you let him treat you like that?”
“Who and like what?”
“Yellow-Hair, you let him treat you like his dog. Following him obediently around and letting his men pat your head like that. Don’t you hate it?”
Yahto felt his cheek heat. “What would you rather have me do? Trip my way about? Insult them and spend time in a tiny room with a locked door? I would be even more foolish to refuse his aid.”
Nanka made a strangled sound, like he had been about to say something but stopped at the last moment. Yahto heard him breath deeply once, twice. After the third one, Nanka sounded calmer. Barely. “But does it have to be him? He is an enemy, a white-face. He leads the men who hurt our people, who keep our fathers and brothers away from us. I…” he faltered, paused, then gathered his courage. “I could help you. If you let me, I would help you. You don’t need much help anyway. I have seen you sew, tan hides, cook food. I have seen you gather wood and bring it to the longhouse without any help.”
Yahto was surprised that Nanka had been looking at all. Father didn’t know he was able to do those things. But what had been true in the longhouse and its surrounding wasn’t in the village of cloth. “I need more help than you think. I need help to walk, help to get food, sometimes even help to get dressed.” That wasn’t entirely true, what he needed help for was to find the clothes when mother put them away without warning.
“But there are still a lot of things you can do. May I point out that most of them I cannot do for the time? Let’s make a deal. If you’ll be my legs and my right arm until they heal, then I’ll be your eyes.”
Put like that it didn’t sound too bad. “I won’t promise to refuse the white-man’s help. But if it is offered, I will always accept yours first.”
A warm hand took hold of Yahto’s. The skin was callused and the grip strong but gentle. “Deal.”
It felt better to help around the camp when Nanka was helping him. Ever the clever one, François didn’t ask him away as much anymore. He still did, at least once every day, if only to be taught new words, but, most of the time, Yahto was making every girl in the cloth-village jealous by spending time under the cloth-house Nanka shared with his mother, his little brothers and the children they had agreed to watch. They were all very nice to him, though Yahto spent more time telling stories than being really useful.
One day, François came to Mother’s cloth-house very early in the morning asking to talk with Mother. Yahto was exiled to the outside while they talked inside. They talked loud enough for Yahto to understand, but they used François’ words. Mother sounded excited in a good way. She interrupted François several time with the same question. Or so it sounded. Each time François said his language word for yes – after so long in the tree-house, Yahto had learnt a few words.
They talked for a long time. When François came out of the house, Yahto had given in to the ache in his feet and sat down. The big man almost tripped on him when he left. François, unlike every other instance where they had met before, left without taking time to talk with Yahto. Yahto wondered if he had come to tell Mother that they were leaving. If he had, then there were many things to prepare and, of course, he wouldn’t have time to pretend he needed Yahto’s help. Yahto shouldn’t feel bitter about it.
Mother did walk on him when she got out, but she excused herself profusely. Then she announced the good news, “They are taking us to the men. We won’t be staying here anymore”.
And that, Yahto berated himself, was very good news.
He only allowed himself to feel a tiny bit bitter when one of the children Mother put under his guard peed on him. But that was because he smelt like baby pee and not because he thought he would be the only one to miss this place.
They walked for many days. In the plains, where it was easy to walk, and in the forest, where Yahto tripped so many time that Mother exempted him from holding a child’s hand. They crossed two streams. He was almost chosen to help Nanka cross the first one, but a girl proposed her help at the last moment and, of course, a girl was better than the village’s cripple. Yahto stopped counting the days they had spent on the road when his shoulders stopped getting better during the night. Now, they just ached the whole time from carrying children when they got too tired to be dragged along.
The white-faces who accompanied them left them at the third stream. They crossed, and then Mother took the head of their group and lead them the rest of the way. How she knew where to go, Yahto didn’t know. Maybe François had told her, or one of the white-faces. Or maybe she could feel Father or she had dreamt the location of their new village. What mattered was that she knew and that, at the end of the umpteenth day, the men were where she had said they would.
Yahto made himself as unobtrusive as possible during the whole reunion. There were many shouts and tears of joy, and many of sadness. Mother was amongst the joyous ones, which Yahto felt glad for. He could spot Nanka’s voice nearby. The warrior was busy greeting his own father and his uncles. Father must have felt particularly happy for he gave Yahto a pat on the head on his way to speak to someone else. Mother remembered to pull Yahto along with her. Not so long ago, he would have felt relief at not being left alone in the crowd. Now, he couldn’t stop thinking that, if he were alone, Nanka might come keep him company.
The men had built another village. After so much walking, Yahto was happy to find a spot out of everyone’s way in the longhouse his family would occupy. He hid there, under his blanket, and slept as much as he was allowed. It was so good to be home. He wasn’t bitter about leaving the white-faces’ camp.
“…but already, the parent Thunder-birds, alerted by the cries of the baby birds, are coming back to the nest. Winnabojo is already climbing down the mountain. Lightening burst out and around the Thunder-bird’s eyes, thunder rumble from their beaks… ”
Yahto paused and waited, surely enough a little voice rose to his right. “What happened next?”
Yahto hid his smile, he couldn’t show it without braking the almost trance he had the children in. “Next…”
“UWAAAAAA!” Too bad that trance didn’t work on babies. Talking while trying to feed a baby didn’t make it easy to keep the children’s attention. Especially with one big, dumb warrior snickering nearby. Nanka wasn’t expected to care for the children so he never helped. He said it was far more amusing to watch Yahto struggle while he pretended to make arrows. He did listen attentively when Yahto told stories though.
Eventually, the baby fell asleep, the parents came back and Yahto sighed with relief when the last child was given back to its mother. Nanka came to sit right beside him too. It made things feel even better.
“You would be too, if you had to care for children. I don’t know how their mothers do it all day long.”
“They don’t, they give them to you instead.”
Yahto thought about that. “Not all of them do.”
“Because your mother set the limit at five children. You should see all those women run to your longhouse in the morning, hoping their child will be one of those five.”
“I guess it’s easier to get work done when you don’t need to make sure they won’t run in a ravine.” Yahto’s left shoulder was a bit stiff, he should have shifted the baby to his other arm. It was in a bad spot to be massaged away too, Yahto’s hand could barely reach it.
“Want help with that?” Nanka’s hand touched his back, brushed his neck and reached the right spot. Yahto groaned when the hand started kneading.
“Thank you. Don’t strain your own shoulder.”
“It’s okay. The healer said I would be good to go back hunting in a few days.”
Yahto’s heart missed a beat. “Oh, you must be glad then. No more children to cope with.”
“Mmhmm, no more stories either, I’m afraid. Relax a little, your shoulder is getting tenser.”
No more time with Nanka? How was Yahto going to last through the day? “Maybe you can come listen to stories in the evening?”
Nanka laughed. “You sound so defeated. Is that such a big deal?”
Yes, it is! “Not really.” Why was it that everyone always found better things to do whenever Yahto got used to have them around? And Nanka… not having Nanka would be worse than not having François. Actually, he couldn’t think of anything worse than not having Nanka. It wasn’t just that the warrior was good company and made him laugh. He was also gentle, and cuddly, and… okay those weren’t good reasons. He listened to Yahto! There. He took him seriously, just like mother did… no, more than mother did, because mother took him as seriously as she did children. Which was rather seriously compared to some people, but still not very seriously. Nanka treated him like a man. Like someone important.
But not like a friend.
No, not like a friend. Yahto had heard Nanka talk with his friends. It was all about boasting and teasing then. When Nanka talked to Yahto, he was thoughtful, funny and kind. He never boasted. Wasn’t Yahto worth boasting to? But Nanka boasted with everyone. Heck, Nanka boasted to Father! Not that the big lump would call it boasting. But he did make sure that Father knew just how good an archer he was and how much prey he had caught last year. The only people Nanka didn’t boast to were girls and children… and Yahto. And Yahto was definitely not a girl, which meant that Nanka was actually treating him like a child.
“Yahto? You’ve been making faces at me. Did I say something wrong?”
“I feel like you are angry with me.”
“I have no reason to be, do I?”
“Yahto, what’s the matter? I’m not letting go until you tell me.” It might have been literal too, because Nanka was holding Yahto’s shoulder like he didn’t plan on letting go anytime soon.
“Do you think I am a child?”
“No.” In his favour, Nanka didn’t miss a beat. He did sound uncertain though.
“I have to go to the river.”
Mother had installed a rope for him that went from the back of the longhouse to the river. This way, Yahto could bring back water for cooking. After a few days, Yahto could almost make his way without it. He didn’t try this time. As angry as he was, he might step into a tree. Nanka didn’t say a word but he didn’t need to. Yahto knew he was here. He could hear him breath, could hear the faintest of sounds when the warrior stepped on twigs. His ears were so attuned to the kind of noises Nanka made that Yahto could have picked him out of a crowd without any effort.
There was no one at the river. At this time of day, there never was. Just Yahto, slightly out of brearth, and Nanka, cool like a fish, standing side by side on the shore.
“Are you still pretending to not be mad at me?”
Abruptly, Nanka had a hold of Yahto’s wrist, which he squeezed harshly. “Pardon me? When did I ever lie to you?”
Yahto ignored the warning in the warrior’s voice. “Just now, you did! You think I am a child! I know you do, why don’t you just admit it?”
He tried to pull his wrist away, but Nanka was holding on with all his strength. And his shoulder was feeling better. Yahto felt like his bones would get crunched.
“I just told you I did not. Why won’t you believe me?”
The hand was squeezing harder. Yahto had to make the big lump let go or he would really hurt him. Come on Yahto, that’s not how you get things done, you don’t fight, not when they are all so much stronger than you. “I am sorry.”
Clearly, Nanka hadn’t been expecting that. “What?”
“I’m sorry Nanka. I was stupid. Of course I trust you.”
“Yahto, what are you saying?” Nanka sounded suspicious. Why was he sounding suspicious?
“I do trust you. Sorry for that little outburst. I was just a little surprised when you said you were well enough to go hunt again.” What am I doing? “I guess I just realised that I wouldn’t have as much time talking to you.” Stop this, stop now! “I’ll miss you.” Yahto finally regained control of his mouth and shut it was an audible clap. Oh shit! Now Nanka would think he was some girl, pining after him. Why had he thought it was a good idea to say that out loud?
He waited for Nanka’s reaction with no little amount of trepidation.
“Miss me,” repeated Nanka slowly. “Why, Yahto, I’m touched.” Was that irony in his voice?
“You don’t believe me.”
“Because you seem to do just as well whether I am present or not. So, yes, I do find it a little hard to believe.”
“Well excuse me if there are so many people who think I need babying that one less doesn’t make a difference.”
“I DO NOT think that you are a CHILD!”
Yahto was pushed to the ground. Nanka straddled Yahto while he was still dizzy from his fall. His arms were immobilized to his sides by Nanka’s knees. For the first time since he had started interacting with the warrior, Yahto was a little frightened of what the man would do. But he didn’t let it show. It never helped to show fear.
Nanka shifted, leaned down until he could put a hand on Yahto’s shoulder and, with his other hand, combed Yahto’s hair out of his face. Yahto waited for that hand to grab a fistful of hair and tug. Or to slap his face maybe. But Nanka merely continued his gentle ministrations.
“I do not think of you as a child,” Nanka repeated again. His voice was soft, as soft as the caress of his hand in Yahto’s hair. “I want your body too much for that.”
Nanka’s hand left Yahto’s hair, he shifted his weight again, his knee moved from Yahto’s arms to settle between them and Yahto’s body. Yahto still felt like his stomach was twisted into a knot, but it wasn’t from fear anymore.
Nanka crawled to Yahto’s side. He helped Yahto get into a sitting position with a hand on Yahto’s shoulder and the other on his leg, just below the hem of Yahto’s tunic. The warmth of Nanka’s hand felt good on Yahto’s skin, where it was moving up on his leg. A sudden pooling of heat in Yahto’s belly echoed its warmth.
“I always wondered,” purred Nanka, “how you were made under those skirts of yours.”
“I don’t wear skirts,” mumbled Yahto. His cheek felt warm too. His whole body did.
Nanka’s hand climbed higher on his thigh. “Of course you don’t.,” he whispered very near Yahto’s ear, so close that his breath tickled. His hand had reached the junction between Yahto’s leg and his hip. “What do we have here?” The hand slid between Yahto’s legs. Knuckles brushed skin, sending a shiver down Yahto’s spin. “Ah, what was that?” asked Nanka teasingly before he gently took hold of Yahto’s testicles and rolled them against his palm. Yahto couldn’t help the sound that escaped his lips as he reflexively grabbed Nanka’s arm. “Mmh, that seems to feel good.” There was a laugh now in Nanka’s voice. He massaged with his fingers, each motion increasing the warmth inside Yahto. It did feel good. A foreign and slightly aching good. In answer, Yahto’s hand tightened on Nanka’s arm. “Nice. Should we see what else I can find?” Nanka came closer, his hair brushed against the side of Yahto’s face. “You’re going to like that,” promised Nanka in a raspy whisper, the sound of which sent another wave of warmth to pool low in Yahto’s belly.
It was nothing, though, compared to the feeling of Nanka’s hand when it took hold of his shaft and squeezed. The hand around him pumped once, then twice, Yahto’s hips bucked into the third stroke as if they had a mind of their own. “Aaah!”
“That’s it Yahto,” encouraged Nanka a breath away from Yahto’s ear, “sing for me.” A finger pressed the head of Yahto’s shaft to rub the wetness gathered there further down. Yahto couldn’t hold in the noises anymore. His moans seemed to please Nanka, who hugged him closer and nuzzled his neck. “Good, Yahto. Very good. Come here now, come closer.”
Without stopping his ministrations, Nanka moved Yahto until he was sitting between Nanka’s legs, Yahto’s back leaning against the warrior’s chest. The hand that wasn’t occupied with pleasuring Yahto yet was put to use, climbing under Yahto’s shirt to go rub his belly, tickle his side, explore ribs and, finally, tweak his nipple. Another spark went through Yahto’s body. It felt so good, his body arched on its own to get more of it.
“Where do you think you are going?” Nanka’s arms tightened around him, bringing his whole body flush against the warrior’s. For the first time, Yahto noticed the bulge between Nanka’s legs. Nanka let out a low moan and ground his hips into Yahto’s ass. “Nhh, do you feel that? Do you feel how much I want you?” Even the hand busy between Yahto’s legs seemed to want to push their bodies closer.
Yahto couldn’t bother to think in words. Instead, he arched even more, rested his head on Nanka’s shoulder and reached back for the warrior’s hair. He ignored Nanka’s grunt when an irrepressible full body jerk made him clutch down on the soft strands and pull. The warrior took his vengeance by biting Yahto’s neck. His hands tightened around Yahto’s shaft and pumped harder while he licked and sucked on Yahto’s neck. Yahto twitched and moaned in the warrior’s arms. He felt the pleasure that had been pooling in his loins tighten into a knot, become incredibly small and focused and, suddenly, come undone all at once. With a moan that was nearly a shout, Yahto came. All of his muscles became rigid, there was more pleasure, so much of it he felt dizzy and he let everything go.
Afterward, with his limbs feeling heavy and relaxed, he felt so content he could have fallen asleep right where he was. Actually, if Nanka hadn’t been making noises and moving behind him, he would have. The warrior’s voice still containing laughter but it was also rougher and the warrior was obviously out of breath. “…had fun then I take it. It feels like I am holding water.”
Yahto managed some kind of agreeing noise. Water was a good way to describe how he felt. Not so much Nanka’s state. The warrior was taut as a bow against Yahto’s back and still hard lower down. His hand was wet where it was holding Yahto’s hip. Yahto tried to wriggle a little, see if that made the hand leave. It didn’t but it attracted Nanka’s attention and produced a chuckle. “Trying to leave already? You’re not very grateful.”
Yahto was very grateful. He was also sleepy, and Nanka’s hand was wet and cold and keeping him awake. He would have explained, if words hadn’t become too complicated to pronounce. He settled for a groan.
Nanka laughed some more. “That good eh? So maybe you won’t mind helping me with a little something?” Nanka took Yahto’s hand and guided it between his legs. “I really, really need to come.”
That woke Yahto up. Under his hand Nanka was hard and hot even through the cloth. “Wha- what should I do?”
“Well, if you ask, would you mind taking off your shirt?”
It was a reasonable demand. Yahto got rid of his tunic, listening with half an ear while Nanda wrestled with his own clothes. An alien thought crossed Yahto’s mind. He wanted to touch Nanka’s skin, wanted to give Nanka some of the pleasure he had been given.
He sighed contentedly when the warrior took him in his arms and their whole body touched. Nanka’s skin on his felt good. Better than good. And the warrior was strong and large. It was both intimidating and exciting. What Yahto liked the most, though, was how tall Nanka was. Tall enough he had to lower his head to whisper into Yahto’s ear. “Lay down.” Yahto did. Nanka followed him and took him back in his arms. Rolled them so that he was on top. He was heavy but he was also warm.
“It is. Spread your legs a bit please.”
Yahto wasn’t quite sure about that part. No, that part made enough sense, It was whatever came next that he didn’t know anything about. But the trepidation wasn’t enough to stop the warmth from pooling again in his belly.
Nanka nuzzled his cheek, rubbed their noses together, then he bent his head lower to lick and nip at Yatho’s neck like he had done before. It felt just as good too. Yahto didn’t really notice that Nanka’s hands had moved until one of them was positioning Nanka’s shaft between Yahto’s legs. Nanka told him to squeeze them close. As soon as Yahto complied, he flexed his hips down. His erection slid against Yahto’s testicles sending sparks of pleasure through him. Nanka’s hard belly rubbed against Yahto’s erection. Soon, Yahto could feel the knot gather once again low in his belly. Nanka thrust again, harder, making the muscles in Yahto’s thighs clench which in turn had the warrior grunt and moan.
Yahto tried to concentrate more on Nanka this time but he felt so good it was overwhelming. Nanka was doing well enough on his own anyway. The warrior was panting and murmuring words of appreciation. Nothing with more than one syllable, which what tiny part of Yahto’s brain wasn’t enjoying their activity took as being a good sign, since what was coming out of Yahto’s mouth didn’t even count as words.
Nanka made an especially lovely sound just as he broke the rhythm he had been building. The inside of Yahto’s legs was suddenly slippery and wet, which granted Nanka’s last few thrusts an extra edge. Yahto squeezed Nanka’s shoulders and pulled the warrior against him to muffle a moan against his shoulder.
His orgasm left him boneless once again and even more ready to just fall asleep. Which Nanka allowed this time.
Instead of making Nanka stay close to Yahto’s side, the events at the river made him even more eager to go back on the hunt. As soon as the healer gave him permission, he disappeared on a hunting trip, leaving Yahto to wonder what had gone wrong. Hadn’t he made it clear enough that he wanted Nanka to stay close?
Nanka came back long enough to give his family the game he had hunted, all but two hares with very soft furs that he gave as a present to Mother.
“That’s really nice of you” remarked Yahto suspiciously once Mother had left to skin the hares.
“Not of two hares. I wouldn’t say no to a walk near the river though.”
Yahto felt a touch on his cheek that moved slowly to the corner of his mouth. A finger was pressed to his lips. “Walk near the river hey? So I didn’t scare you too badly?”
Yahto nuzzled the finger and captured the hand in his own. “If someone is scared it’s not me. You’re the one who suddenly decided to disappear. And for what? Hares for my mother? What are you up to?”
Nanka brought his other hand to cup Yahto’s cheek. “There is something I want, I’m just making sure I’ll have it.”
“What is it?”
“That’s for me to know and for you to find out.”
“Does that mean you’ll be leaving again?”
Yahto turned his back to Nanka. “Don’t be. I should go back to Mother, she’ll want help with those hare skins.”
Mother skinned the hares, made a very tasty meal of their meat and treated the skins. “Those are really soft skins. What do you think?” she asked Yahto. He had to agree, the fur was very soft under his fingers, it felt really nice. “Maybe I should make winter shoes with them. Your moccasins certainly won’t last you much longer.”
Yahto shrugged. “They were given to you. You should make something for yourself.”
Mother had a strange reaction then. “Poor Yahto, you two certainly deserve each other.” She then left without explaining. At the time, Yahto didn’t think too much about it. He had a stupid warrior to loose his sleep over already.
Nanka spent a whole moon hunting. Every time he came back, most of his game went to his family, save for one or two catches, always the best ones, that he would religiously offer to Mother or Father. With all the presents she got, Mother sewed Yahto a brand new tunic, complete with girly decorations of bone, beads and feathers. The idea that he would want to wear the thing was laughable. The way Mother hid all his other clothes and forced him to wear it to greet Nanka back was downright ridiculous.
“Come out, Yahto,” encouraged Mother. She was cooing like he was some scared animal instead of just a guy forced into women’s garb.
Yahto wanted to assume there was a point to the whole ordeal besides humiliating him… he couldn’t think of one yet… it would come to him in a minute… “Shit, I hope it won’t last too long,” he murmured to himself.
Yahto made his way stiffly to the entrance of the longhouse. Father was there, talking to Nanka.
“I agree to the offer. It is an honour to welcome you in this house.”
The strangled wheeze – a laugh killed before it could get free – must have been Nanka spotting Yahto. And to think the last time they had talked, Nanka had teased him for wearing skirts. Yahto’s face suddenly felt too hot.
Father put his hand on Yahto’s arm like the dress wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. “Yahto, Nanka has something for you.”
Nanka coughed. “Hum… I… Here is a present that I hope you will receive.” The words were monochord. The speech had clearly been rehearsed. “With the benediction of the spirits, of the elders and of our families, I ask that you come share my house and my life.”
Oh yuk. Was that a marriage proposal? Had Mother put Yahto in a bride outfit and sent him to hear a marriage proposal? Yahto didn’t want to get married. If they did, one of them would get treated like a girl for the rest of his life! And by one of them, he meant himself. Nanka was big and strong, no one would think he was the girl in their relationship. Mother hadn’t, Yahto had the dress to prove it.
“I promise to…”
Yahto switched his attention to his surroundings. He may have had to stand there and look like an idiot, but he didn’t have to listen to the idiocy. Instead, he concentrated on voices, bird chirping and the howling of the wind. After awhile it became difficult to ignore a big idiot’s voice whispering frantically. “Come on don’t just stand there. Yahto? Will you accept my present?”
The speech was done. “Yes, yes, give it here,” Yahto whispered back. He heard Father’s disapproving grunt. Well Father could rant about it to Mother tonight while Yahto made himself comfortable in Nanka’s bed. “I accept,” he said loudly. Someone in the crowd cheered. Nanka sighed in relief. Had the big lug thought he would say no? Yahto would say yes just to make sure that this might never happen again. Something feathery was pushed into Yahto’s hands.
Then Mother made her presence known and assured Nanka that “everything Yahto will need is in that pack.” Since she wasn’t handing it to Yahto he hoped it meant Nanka was carrying it.
He was welcomed at Nanka’s house by his whole family. Mother, father, uncles, brothers, sisters, Yahto realised how empty his own house had been. He also realised that here were a whole bunch of virtual strangers who would be watching Yahto share Nanka’s bed every night. Oh and he was being presented to them while wearing a dress. Why was this thing happening in the first place? How could he have not known Nanka would pull something like that?
“You’re doing great, don’t panic on me now.” Murmured Nanka in his ear, with the hand now on his shoulder it was enough to keep Yahto going.
“Are they going to pretend I’m a girl for the rest of my life?” he asked in a panic after Nanka’s brother actually said she while congratulating Nanka on his lovely bride.
“It’s just pretence. That’s how every tribe does it.”
“I don’t suppose walking around naked would make much of a difference?”
“You’ll get cold?”
“Why did you even want to do this? Did you think about it first?”
“I thought about it. I thought about you being mine for the rest of my life. It was a nice thought.”
Yahto had plenty of time that day to think about this. It was only when a strong arm circled his waist and a wide chest settled against his back that night that Yahto thought that even though the day had sucked – and because of that day, a lot of the days to come would suck – having Nanka just for himself for the rest of their lives would make it just slightly worth it.
Author’s note: First, a big thank you to lord_mune for illustrating this story.
Then, this story isn’t historically or anthropologically accurate. Don’t take it too seriously and don’t get offended if something is wrong (do point it out to me, I like learning new things). Now, I did some research on Native-American customs and I had heard of some stuff. All is not to be believed equally though.
About marriage: in certain tribes, it was custom for the groom to offer presents to the bride/bride’s family and if they were accepted it meant the proposal was accepted. Now depending on the kind of tribe, the groom would take the bride in his family (hunter tribes with a more patriarchal system) or would go live in the bride’s family (agricultural tribes with a more matriarchal system).
About homosexuality: I read a few things like homosexual people were considered to have more spiritual power or something. Fucking a guy in the ass didn’t make you gay and was only considered a real proof of masculinity. Boys were encouraged to “learn homosexuality” because of the whole spiritual thing. It was considered good luck and a great honour to have homosexuals in a community. But all that was read on the internet and I don’t have any proof so it might be myth. What I did read that I had already heard somewhere else was that gay couples were usually treated like a heterosexual couple by pretending that one of the partner was a girl (dressed up as one and all). Then again, maybe some tribes did it, maybe no tribes did it (who knows, all of them might have done it) so don’t take it at face value.
About this story: Yahto is a Sioux name that means blue. Yahto is blind because he has cataract which kind of makes your eyes look bluish, hence the name. Nanka should have been a name from somewhere only I can’t find it again. François is obviously a French name. It is possible that at some point I was going to make Yahto’s tribe Huron from Canada (they used to live in longhouse too, making it even more plausible) I even think that the French deported the Huron at some point though I am not sure. The story further up with Winnabojo and the Thunderbird is taken from the legend of how the silver birch came to be. I do not know which tribe this legend come from. The story was part of a book called ‘Mille ans de contes’ and has a lot of tales from very different origins. The story was just presented as being native-american.
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I got hit with the urge to reread this a few days ago and I finally remembered enough to do a proper google search. I love that we saw this from the POV of Yahto and even though he can’t see there is still so much description and we still know what’s going on.
I do think my favourite parts are when we can see that Yahto is fed up with people treating him like a child and his personality gets to shine like when Nanka gets upset with Low Voice and asks if Yahto gets fed up and it’s clear that it doesn’t necessarily make a difference to him and he finds the alternative dumb. I also really love reaction to the wedding, LOL, he seems so over it and makes Nanka sweat a bit which he should since surprise proposals/marriages are not fun, lol.
The illustrations were also amazing and beautifully drawn. I really like that it shows their first time alone together as well as their ‘first time’ together, lol.