Part 3 of 4
by Anne Azel
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended.
Thanks: I am delighted that so many of you seem to be enjoying this series. Your comments are very kind and much appreciated. My special thanks to Lisa my beta reader! As the stories do interrelate, it is best to read them in the order they are posted.
Warning: This story is alternative fiction, please do not read on if you are under age or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.
Important Warning: This story is based on events that are true and reflect the environment and traditional culture of the highland tribes of P.N.G. A few of the descriptions in this story are graphic and violent. Some readers might find that the traditional scenes are disturbing in that they are not fiction but real events involving ritual killing and murder.
The Seer looked out over the darkening valley aware of the eyes of the followers watching every movement. They sat around the fire, waiting. The magic hadn't worked. They had eaten the boy's liver days ago. Not cooking it, but biting into it and slicing off a mouthful using a ritual knife. They'd each eaten their share but the cannibalism had not fulfilled the prophesy. The Seer sighed and turned, "We need the liver of the older brother. We know where his soul now lives. We must set his Timp free and then capture him by eating the liver of the one that now possesses his spirit."
"That would be very dangerous!" one of the followers argued. "What if there was menstrual blood. We could be killed and our souls lost forever!"
The Seer nodded in understanding, "We have tried a blood sacrifice and it didn't work. We will try to get others to do the killing for us. I have a plan." The Seer threw dry cinnamon on the fire remembering to keep well back when doing so. The cinnamon burnt off in sparkles, filling the air with a sweet spiciness. "I have a plan."
She was in the leprosy clinic when she woke with a plastic oxygen mask over her nose and mouth. Irritated, she reached to remove if from her face. A strong hand covered her own, "Just for a bit longer, okay," came a deep melodic voice.
Mary turned her head to the left, feeling the stiff white sheets against her cheek and met sky-blue eyes. Her own eyes were blurry again and she had that dazed, not quite real feeling. She thought Jess looked tired and rumpled. She must have washed and changed but she expected that the tall woman had slept in the chair beside her bed. "Thanks," she mumbled and the blue eyes looked away hurriedly.
"That was a really stupid stunt, Giovani! You're lucky you didn't break your neck or back! Don't you dare step off this compound without my permission!" snarled Jess wrapping a blood pressure cuff around Mary's arm and pumping it up until Mary thought her hand would explode.
"I didn't mean to scare you," she said softly. She could remember the rescue. She knew that Jess was shaking and crying as she and Mone had placed her on a backboard. She realizing that Jess's gruffness was her way of showing that she cared.
"You didn't," snapped Jess and then looked at Mary when Mary reached over and covered her hand. Jess sighed, "You terrified me," she admitted. Mary smiled softly and pulled Jess's hand close to her cheek cuddling the big, warm hand like a Teddy bear. She closed her eyes. "Hey, I need that hand!" Jess protested but did not pull it away until long after Mary had gone to sleep.
For a long time Jess had just sat there looking at the blond woman that she knew that she loved. Could you defy fate and come out a winner? How many of the Others had been betrayed by their soulmate by now? Or had any of them? Maybe they could achieve what the Hosts had not.
Maybe. Or maybe you'll get your heart broken Jess. No one ever loved the orphan that grew up in a barn. Why should that change? Take care of yourself, Jess. Don't let anyone or anything stop you from having the life you've worked so hard to get.
Last night, as Jess had slept in the chair, she had been wakened again by Mary's dreams. She'd called out her father's name over and over again. What was that about?
Jess sighed, she had liked Mary's parents even if they had been rich. They had always treated her fairly. Mary's dad never talked down to her and sometimes he would ask her about the horses if Bart was not around. Mary's mom too used to send baking out with one of the maids to give to Bart and Jess sometimes. Get real Jess! You think that good Catholic, immigrant Italian family is going to accept you as a daughter-in-law?!
She gentle pulled her hand away and felt the warmth turn to cold. Her jaw set in a straight firm line and her face hardened into an unreadable mask. There was no point in thinking in circles or in second guessing the consequences, the bottom line was, she knew the moment she realized Mary was buried in the slide, that Mary had to be part of her life. I won this woman's heart once before and I can do it again, Jess thought. I hope, whispered an insecure voice from deep inside.
Mary woke late in the night and saw Jess preparing a syringe. "Hi," she whispered and Jess turned and smiled and came back to sit by the bed.
"Hi, I got something here to take the soreness away," she said lifting the needle in her hand.
"Is that the stuff you have given me before?" asked Mary pulling a face.
"Yeah, why? Does it make you feel sick or cause joint pain or anything?" asked Jess with interest.
"No, it makes my vision funny, my speech slurred and my thoughts slow," listed Mary, "and I don't want it. I've only got some minor aches and pains."
Jess frowned, "I was hoping that the patient would find this drug a much better pain reliever than some we have been using. There is no indication of addiction," reasoned the doctor.
Mary's eyes widened, "Are you telling me that this is some experimental drug that you have extracted from some hocks pocks tree?!"
"Not a tree, a mushroom," clarified Jess seriously not seeing the warning signs of a major storm brewing as she looked down at the clear liquid in the plastic tubing..
Mary shook her head angrily, "You have been using me as a guinea pig!?" she snapped.
Jess looked up from the syringe in surprise, "No! I mean we don't call it that. You were a test patient..."
A pillow came sailing at Jess's head, "You are the most calculating, opportunistic, self motivated, bitch from hell that I have ever met! Don't you dare give me anymore of that mushroom juice! Christ Jess, how could you?"
"Mary, I've done a lot of testing and I've also had work done on it back in Australia, I know it is not approved yet but up here, we don't have much in the way of...."
"Not approved! Get out! Get out!" yelled Mary pointing to the door with a hand shaking with emotion.
"Out!" Jess took the hint this time and tossing the needle into a stainless steel kidney dish she walked out.
Honest to god! Mary thought, the woman was impossible!
Jess stormed across the compound, Nice play Warrior, she thought, you're really winning her over with your bed side manner!
Mary had served Mone his dinner and had done the washing up. Then she had taught him to
play poker for match sticks. This he had thought was great fun! Jess, she had not seen for several days. She had "gone bush" to visit a few villages and provide medical care. Mary would have liked to go, if she had been speaking to Jess. Her foot was rarely sore now.
The few days had given her time to calm down some and she realized now without Jess's mushroom juice she would have suffered greatly those first few days after the crash. There really wasn't much in the way of drug supplies on the compound and Jess had tried to apologizes the next day for not getting her permission to use the drug. Still Jess had to learn not to be so damn focused on her goals especially when it effected other people's lives. Dealing with Jess was hard enough. She didn't need the issues clouded anymore than they already were.
Mone said goodnight and Mary packed up the cards and made sure that everything in the kitchen was neatly put away or locked up.
Suddenly, a huge bunch of orchards were thrust in front of her face. She gasped and stepped back and then saw Jess peeking sheepishly over them. "Ahhh, I picked these on the way back. There for you," the powerful woman explained awkwardly pushing the flowers at Mary again.
Mary was taken completely off guard, nervously she pushed her hair back. Smiling insecurely, she responded, "Thanks, Jess, they are really lovely. I'll put them in water. Have you had dinner? No, of course you haven't. Sit down and I'll get you something." I'm rambling, she thought.
The silent doctor sat down on the wood bench by the pot belly stove and leaned forward to open the gate and stir up the embers with a dry stick. Then she threw on some more wood and left the door open to watch the flames. After a while, Mary slipped onto the bench beside her and handed her a Cassowary egg omelette and a few slices of freshly baked bread. One huge, green Cassowary egg easily fed three people.
Jess tucked right in hungrily, using a chunk of bread as a spoon. Mouth full, she stopped and deliberately chewed slowly. Putting down the bread that she had been using as a shovel, Jess picked up the fork that Mary had given her. She swallowed hard, feeling the egg and bread scrap down her throat. Put less in your mouth and eat properly, she chastised herself. Mary's a lady not some ignorant hayseed! She wished like hell, not for the first time, that Bart had taught her some social graces. She was painfully aware of the fact that Mary was watching her eat. 'So," she quickly swallowed her food and almost choked, "Anything happen while I was gone?"
Mary smiled. Flowers, table manners, polite conversation, Jess was trying to impress her! It was so cute! Still she was not going to make this easy for Miss kiss and run! "Just the usual routine. Touy has been around a lot. I think we should put him on our list," Mary answered.
"What list?" asked Jess fighting to get egg on to the damn fork.
The list I made of the names of the people who might have killed Kalla," responded Mary stealing a piece of Jess's bread and chewing on it absent mindedly.
"Hey, that's mine!" said Jess looking up from the difficult process of trying to eat gracefully with a tray in her lap. Mary smiled and broke off a piece of bread and held it up to Jess's lips. Jess's heart beat accelerated into warp speed. She took the bread between her lips but Mary looked away as if the gesture was of no importance. Jess swallowed the offering with a good deal of disappointment. Did Mary not see how hard she was trying here?! Was she still mad?
Mary got up and took Jess's plate. She came back from the kitchen area with large mugs of tea and banana muffins for the two of them. "Muffins! This is great Mary! I haven't had a muffin since I got here!"
"They're Mone's favourite," Mary explained trying hard not to smile as she looked innocently at the fire.
"Mone," came the disappointed response, "You baked these for Mone?"
"Hmmm," murmured Mary feigning disinterest, "We've become close friend's while you were away. He'll eat anything I'm willing to offer him now!"
"What!" exploded Jess, "I was only gone two days!" The tea in her mug sloshed over onto the dirt floor and she cursed under her breath. All this courtship stuff was hard enough without having Mone as a rival!
"Well, they are long evenings. We've been spending them together," remarked Mary playfully.
"Oh," sighed Jess with such sadness that Mary looked at her in surprise. The usual confident woman was biting her lip and starring forlornly at the fire.
"He is a really nice man. He knew I was missing you so he kept me company. I've been teaching him how to play cards," explained Mary reaching over to touch her warrior's hand reassuringly.
Jess looked up, her eyes dancing like sapphires in the fire light. "The government does not approve of gambling, Mary," she said. Damn! What a stupid thing to say, Jess. You're a real romantic, she chastise herself.
"Some things are worth taking a chance on," responded Mary looking into those remarkable blue eyes. The expression in them changed to desire. Jess put down her mug and moved closer to Mary. Mary gave her a friendly smile and got up to put another log on the fire. She reached into her short's pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper.
"Okay, here is the list. Mone has been helping me fill out some of their backgrounds. You know he is a very bright man," observed Mary sitting down again. "I've really learned a lot from him!"
"About what?!"asked a startled voice beside her. Mary flattened out the piece of paper on her lap and then reached over to rub Jess's arm gently. Maybe she shouldn't have teased Jess. She was so confident and in control that it was easy to forget that Jess had a lot of pain inside that made her suspicious and insecure on an emotional level.
"Well, lots about you for one thing. Mone I think is very much in love with you," smiled Mary looking up into Jess's worried eyes. "He's always asking questions about you." The worry was replaced by surprise.
"He is not!" she snarled pulling her arm away and hoping that in the dim light of the fire Mary couldn't see the red creeping up her neck.
Mary hide her smile. Don't tease the warrior, she reminded herself or Jess was likely to go off all huffy or they'd end up fighting when Jess went on the defensive. "He knows all about your service record. Did you tell him?"
Jess looked at the fire uncomfortably, "I guess. You know just in talking at night. Guys like to hear about that sort of stuff," justified the doctor. She felt out of her depth in this conversation and she had a funny feeling that Mary was pulling her strings! Jess had never found it hard to find company or get what she wanted from them but this was different. This courtship stuff was proving to be real hard!
"Would you tell me?" asked Mary softly tilting her head so that her golden hair cascaded off her shoulder.
Jess leaned forward and poked at the fire with a stick, "Thought Mone had told you," she mumbled jealously.
"I want to hear it from you," Mary stated simply smoothing out the creased paper on her lap with a gentle hand. Jess watched the graceful finger tips following the lines of the paper and imagined them tracing her lines. A deep need throbbed down low inside her.
I'm in trouble, she thought. A squeak came out of her tight throat when she tried to speak. She cleared her throat and tried again. "Why?"she managed finally to articulate. You're acting like a god-damn school kid Jess, she thought!
"Because then I'll know you trust me," Mary explained suddenly turning her head to met Jess's eyes.
"I trust you!" protested the warrior in frustration.
"Not the way I want you to," the petite woman responded. "Let's look at this list," she went on changing the subject. Jess had been shaken up enough for one evening she thought. "These are the names Touy called out when he was throwing the killing stones," she explained.
"Heorn, is the mother of Rimrapasi who was raped by Turka, the brother of Kalla, the boy who was murdered here. Heorn is a Mendari but she married into the Eravey tribe so Rimrapasi is an Eravey. Turka and Kalla are Eravey too but from the Kutubu region. So, even though Rimrapasi and Turka were not related by blood, they were related by tribal links so it wasn't only rape it was incest! Turka is working in the copper mines in Rabaul so the only way to get payback would be to kill Kalla!"
"This is what you and Mone talk about?!" asked Jess in jest. Well, at least partly in jest. She was still harbouring some doubts and jealousy towards her assistant since Mary's earlier comments.
"Hey, you told him about being behind enemy lines in the Gulf War!" protested Mary.
"So!" snapped Jess.
"So, don't interrupt," responded Mary and went back to her paper. "Rimrapasi was next on the list. But I think she's a long shot. Not that she hasn't got good reason for revenge, I mean no highland male would have her, even without a bride price, after that, but Mone said she was really good looking and had a highschool education. She ended up marrying an Australian anthropologist and is now living on the coast. They have a little boy and another on the way. I think she's too busy to worry about revenge. But you never know. I mean face IS face," explained Mary getting caught up again in her story.
Jess put a booted foot on the bench and wrapped her hands around her knee. One eyebrow went up as she listened in amazement to the amount of information Mary had weaseled out of Mone.
"Next is Samalli. Now he's got motive. He's an Mendari. The Mendari were just a small clan and at the time they were at war with the tribe up the valley. So Samalli asked the Eravey to join them. He said they could use some of his land if they would help fight. The Eravey jumped at the chance because they'd been kicked off their land during another tribal war so they really needed a place to go! Now, Samalli says, the Mendari need all their land and the Eravey have to go. Only they wont. They say that they own the land Samalli lent them because they have farmed it for many years," explained Mary excitedly.
"I've heard about the Mendari land dispute," Jess drawled dryly.
"Yes, but don't you see Kalla was an Eravay so this could be Samalli's way of getting even!" Mary clarified earnestly to a skeptical looking warrior.
"Okay, go on," Jess said smiling. She really liked the way Mary's face animated when she was telling a story.
"Okay, number four is Archa. He is an Eravey but word has it that he and Kalla were interested in the same girl. Archa is much older and so he thought he had the inside track because he could afford the bride price and there was no way Kalla could for a couple of more years. But Archa had to give the tribe all his mature pigs for the Cassawary Race to end the land dispute between the Mendari and the Eravay. He might have bumped Kalla off just in spite. Word has it he is pretty annoyed about having to give up his bride price!" Mary revealed with relish.
Jess laughed, "Sherlock Holmes had nothing on you kid! So who is number five?"
"Quen. He's the shaman in the village we visited the other day," Mary stated.
"I know Quen," interrupted Jess. She liked Quen and felt Touy had only put him on the list in professional jealousy. It was well known that there was revelry between the two medicine men.
"Quen is an Mendari and he is also a traditionalist and Kalla was a Christian and..." Mary was interrupted again.
"Kalla was Christian?!" exclaimed Jess, her body becoming suddenly alert.
"You think it was Quen?" asked Mary leaning forward.
"No!" scoffed Jess in disgust, then realized she was trying to be nice. She went on more gently, "No, I don't. Quen's a good guy and a friend," she explained.
But the damage had been done. Mary was annoyed, "So a friend of YOURS wouldn't kill?!" she asked incredulously, "The woman who single handedly garotted six..."
"Shut up!" snapped Jess, her body radiating anger.
The wind rustled the leaves in the darkness and the fire cracked in a splutter of sparks. Jess breathing was harsh like that of a violent animal. Mary swallowed. This was Jess's dark side. The one that had won her the reputation of a lone wolf and kept everyone at bay. It probably also won her that medal for bravery that Mone mentioned.
"I'm sorry Jess, that was a really cruel thing for me to say. I don't like to have my ideas belittled and I over reacted," stated Mary meeting Jess's inhuman eyes with a steady stare.
Jess shrugged, "S'okay,"she muttered turning to look at the fire. Silence. "I shouldn't have yelled. I didn't mean to sound condescending. You did a great job collecting all this information."
Mary brightened immediately and moved closer in her delight. Jess looked up and smiled. Her body relaxing again. She reached out her long arm and scooped Mary in close giving her a hug and a beck to the temple. "Yeah, I think you're something else," she confessed. Mary sighed contentedly and to Jess's delight she didn't pull away but tucked up to the warrior's side.
"So who do you think did the murder?" asked Mary after a bit.
"I'm not sure yet but you gave me some ideas to chew on," muttered Jess sleepily.
Mary untangled herself from Jess and stood up to close the stove and turn the damper. She wasn't sure how to handle this. The perimeters of their relationship were shifting and she didn't know just where the boundaries were going to be. "Well, I guess I'll see you in the morning," Mary said awkwardly as she gave a little wave and turned to head over to the hut.
Strong arms grabbed her and turned her back around by her shoulders. Eyes now dark and dangerous challenged her own. The tips of Jess's fingers slowly traveled along the edge of her jaw and raised her head as the taller woman leaned down. Warm, soft lips feathered across Mary's sending chills down her back. Then strong arms wrapped her close in a blanket of warmth. A voice whispered in her ear, "I'm not leaving this time. I'm here forever or until you tell me to go." The message was sealed with a kiss as Jess buried her face in Mary's soft hair. It was a long time before they parted and walked back to their hut hand in hand.
They changed in the dark and Mary slipped into her bed. Jess stood there undecided, torn between where she wanted to sleep and where she was supposed to sleep. "Jess," came a quiet voice through the darkness.
"I don't get the nightmares when you are close," stated Mary. Jess didn't need anymore encouragement. She slipped in beside Mary and felt the woman wrap her body around her. "Jess, I need time I..."
"It's okay Mary. I understand," Jess cut in. She wasn't sure she wanted to hear why Mary didn't want to make love. It would be a reflection of herself she'd rather not see any more of tonight. She needed to build Mary's trust in her again. "Ahh, in Kuwait, a patrol got taken prisoner. No one knew where they were. I ahh, I let myself get caught. ...They r...they..." Mary snuggled in closer and held her warrior tight. Oh Jess, no, she thought. "They made it pretty hard but eventually, I ended up in the same lock-up as the patrol. Then I got us out. ...That's when I had to kill those people," Jess explained painfully.
Mary kissed Jess softly on her neck, feeling the hard, rapid pulse of the tense woman. "You have always been my hero Jess. Now even more so," she said sincerely and felt the strong woman relax a little.
For a long while they held each other just enjoying the warmth and peace of being together. Jess thought Mary had drifted off to sleep when she felt a tear drop on her shoulder. "After you left, they found out mom had cancer. She suffered terribly Jess! And dad, he just couldn't take it. He loved her so much!! He forgot all about his business and just stayed with mom. They tried every possible treatment there was but she just got sicker.
I came home from school one day and he ... He had shot her and then turned the gun on himself." Jess wrapped her arms tightly around Mary and held her close unable to think of anything to say. "He had mortgaged everything to pay for treatments. By selling everything, I was just able to cover his debts. University was out. I got a job as a waitress and put myself through college in journalism. I worked my way up from a local paper to a big city daily and now I do mostly freelance work," Mary explained.
"I'm sorry," was all Jess could think to say as she held on to the sobbing woman. It seemed to be enough because after a while Mary wiped her eyes and fell to sleep on Jess's shoulder. Jess took a deep breath and exhaled slowly letting the tension go. That had been pretty hard on both of them but it was a good start, she hoped, in trying to build a relationship. That thought sent her heart pounding with new fear. That was what she was embarking on here. Not just an affair like those in the past but a lasting relationship. She was too much in love to be scared off by her trace memories anymore. No matter what the hurt in the end, she had to try to make this work for them.
She turned her head and kissed Mary's forehead, then closed her eyes and let her breathing even out until it matched Mary's slow rhythmic sleep.
Mary woke to find Jess long gone. She knew Jess liked to start her day with a run in the predawn and then after showering and changing, she headed over to the clinic. Around nine, she would finish her rounds and go to her office to write up her reports. Mone would bring her in a morning coffee there that seemed to tide her over until lunch.
By 8:30, Mary was in the kitchen feeding Mone toast and coffee. Much to her surprise, she saw Jess striding over from the clinic. She entered the open kitchen, ignored Mone and came over to Mary leaning down to drop a kiss on her lips before wrapping a protective arm around her shoulder. "Iiiieeee," laughed Mone waving his hand up and down as if it was on fire. It was a highland exclamation for amused surprise that Mary had seen used by various villagers.
"Get lost," growled Jess with a grin and Mone finished the rest of his coffee in a single gulp and left laughing and shaking his head. Jess looked down at Mary with one eye brow raised.
Mary put her head to one side and met the look and considered. On the one hand, she was not about to let Jess treat her like spoils of war on the other, she realized that the insecure woman beneath the hero needed to reassure herself that Mone was not a threat. About some things anyway, it was not wise to tease Jess. Let it go, Mary decided. "Morning Jess," she said giving the smug warrior a hug, "Do you want some coffee?"
"Okay. You want to go see the ending of a Timp ceremony?" the doctor asked following behind Mary and putting her arms around the smaller woman as she reached for a mug off the counter.
Hmmm, major insecurity here. Mary turned around in Jess's arm's and reached up on tip toes to claim Jess's mouth in a long, deep kiss. When it finally ended, they were leaning against the counter for support. "Where you go, I go warrior," she said and felt a deep familiarity and comfort to the words.
Jess seemed to as well. Her body language shifted from over protective and insecure to relaxed and happy. She reached behind Mary and grabbed the mug and after placing one more light kiss on Mary's cheek, she went over and poured a coffee from the pot that was sitting on the potbelly stove. "The day of the murder, I had been at the first part of the ceremony. Today is the second part. The village is some distance off but it will take all morning for the men to put on their war paint and wigs. If you think you are up to it we have time to walk slowly over there before the action begins."
"That would be super, Jess!" exclaimed Mary and hurried to put things away and change while Jess throw together a picnic lunch for them. They were soon on their way following the narrow footpaths that wound up and down through the grass foot hills of the mountains or dropped down into the tall grasses or dense jungle of the valley.
"Timp cults go in about twenty year cycles. The ceremonies start on the outer edges of the tribal territory. Gradually, the timp spirits are captured or herded towards the centre of the tribe's lands. This process takes about twenty years. Finally, the Timp is killed and buried in a ritual funeral and then the process will start all over again. Each cult that moves through the valley has different magic and symbols. The cults start in the Gulf of Papua and the secrets are sold from tribe to tribe as each clan finishes off their timp cycle. Gradually, the cult ends up down in the Sepik River area and dies out," explained Jess as she carefully helped Mary along.
"Today, the last of the timp spirits will be captured. There will be a ritual bride and then funeral.
And the day will finish off with a singsing and feast. Most of the people on your list will be there today. This is the most important ceremony to take place in the last twenty years," explained Jess as she carefully helped Mary along.
Mary smiled softly and squeezed Jess's arm. Warrior was trying so hard to be charming. Jess stopped at the gently caress and leaned down to brush her lips against Mary's. Mary looked deeply into the clear blue eyes. "Want to stop for an early lunch?" she asked anticipating the answer.
"You bet!" came the immediate reply and Jess laughed. They found a bit of shade under a lone tree with a pleasant view of the grassy highlands and ate quietly.
Mary watched Jess serving out the fruit, crackers and cheese carefully and self consciously eating her lunch with her best manners. You have no idea my warrior how much I love you. "This isn't easy for you is it, Jess?" she asked gentle.
A smirk lifted the corner of Jess's mouth as she leaned forward to steal yet another kiss, "Oh yeah! It's really easy!"
Mary pulled back and Jess's eyes snapped up. Mary read startlement, then annoyance. "That's not what I meant," she stated.
Jess leaned back looking uneasy as she rested on her side propped p on one elbow.. Her eyes looked down the path. She's going to kiss and run again, thought Mary in fear. Jess licked her lips, hesitated, "Yeah, it's real hard. I'm better at seducing not courting. I don't have too many social graces," she admitted feeling very uncomfortable. Her eyes flickered about looking for some possible means of escape even though she knew she couldn't take it. She looked anywhere but at Mary.
"Why are you afraid to make a commitment to me?" Mary asked cupping Jess's profile in her small hand and turning the strong face to look at her own.
Jess swallowed hard, Oh boy! "This probably isn't a good place to have this discussion," she hedged.
"It's not a discussion. It's a question," stated Mary, her eyes serious and firm.
Jess looked down at the tough grass. "I don't trust easily. Anyone. It didn't work out for the Hosts, Mary," she revealed suddenly. "The one betrayed the other, somehow. If it happened to them then why wont it happen to the Others. Us."
"That's it!? You walked out on me because of some shared memories we had as kids?!" exclaimed Mary in astonishment.
The temper flared. "Come on Giovani! Get real here!" snapped Jess rolling away and getting to her feet. Mary got up too not wanting Jess towering over her if they were going to argue. "It was a great weekend, okay! But what was going to happen when Bart and your parents came home and found us in bed? Did you ever stop to think about that?! Your parents would have gone mad. Bart would have got drunk and beat me half to death again! It wasn't fairy princess stuff, Giovani. It was going to be ugly!"
Mary became aware of the wind rustling through the grass and realized that she had been staring at Jess who was standing miserably a few feet away. Slowly, Mary walked towards her and wrapped herself in Jess's arms. "Oh Jess, I had no idea that Bart abused you," she whispered into the tall woman's chest. The body her head rested on felt rigid and quivered with energy.
"I don't want to talk about it now," Jess muttered, "Later.... tonight."
Mary nodded against her chest and then gave her a tight hug before she pulled back. "Tell me about the wigs the highland men wear," Mary said and watched Jess sigh in relief as she turned to gather up the remains of their lunch before they headed off once more down the trail.
"The men wear human hair wigs. The women make them from the hair collected in cuttings, or when they remove the hair from the sick to let the evil spirits out. The shape of the tightly woven wig is unique to each tribe. Eraveys are the exception. They don't wear human hair but headdresses made of Cassawary feathers. The Mendi wig is rounded and they'll put a flat tower on top decorated in colour bands made from bird of Paradise feathers. The Kutubu wig is like Napoleon's hat in shape. They often decorate theirs with yellow ever-lasting daisies. There are hundreds of wig styles but those are the three you are most likely to see today," instructed Jess the slight quiver in her voice revealing the boiling emotions that were only just below the surface.
I handled this all wrong, Mary chastised herself. She had for so many years held a childish hurt towards Jess's actions that she had reduced the cause of Warrior's disappearance down to Jess acting like a jerk. She had never, as an adult, taken the time to consider the fact that there might have been more to Jess's decision than, she had got what she wanted and was leaving for greener pastures. What a hell of a place to open up a really sore wound! "Jess."
The warrior stopped and turned around looking tense and worried. "I'm sorry." Jess nodded and relaxed a bit.
"S'okay," the tall woman murmured. They walked off again in a comfortable silence until they came to the outskirts of the village.
Below the tall yar trees, the captured smoke of wood fires formed a blue mist. Dark bodies stood pensively waiting within. The men's faces were painted in bright reds, yellows and blues. They wore their ceremonial wigs of human hair that Jess had described. Mary noted, based on the wig shape, that most of the villagers there were Mendari. Into their wigs two sticks supported a flat, narrow tower decorated in geometric bands of brilliant Bird of Paradise feathers. The women stayed in the background, unadorned and murmuring softly to each other. The men stood in front listening to the Shaman chanting, tensely holding stone axes or spears with human bone tips.
Jess took Mary's hand and they moved silently forward, Mary jerking sideways a little with each step. Mary could now see the shaman through the crowd. It was Touy. He squatted on the ground before a hole. In his hands, he held the carcass of a rat. He was pulling out its intestines and examining them as he chanted the magical words that would give him insight. The light palms of his hands were covered in blood. Finishing his observations he buried the rodent quickly in the hole and then got up to talk quietly to the headmen who stood near by.
"What's going on?" Mary whispered.
Jess raised an eyebrow and looked cynical, "Touy was reading the future by examining the intestines of the rat. He's now telling the chiefs what was revealed. You can bet whatever it is, it is to Touy's political advantage. Just like the name of our murderer just happened to be Rimrapasi who was conveniently out of town," sneered Jess.
Mary looked at Jess in surprise and then got the worried little frown that she developed when she was thinking something important over.
The village consisted of a singsing ground with a few men's houses off to the sides. The ceremonial Hous Tambaran stood at the end. As usual two trees marked either side of the singsing ground. Mary became aware that two little girls had been dressed to be brides. When she asked why, Jess explained that these girls were the brides of the Timp. They were under the age of puberty and therefore, were still clean. Yet because they were female, they still had all the built up creative power in them. It was not possible, Mary now understood, to use older women for this role. Menstrual blood could kill a man. Mature females would be very dangerous for the men who were very vulnerable with the Timp so close. Jess explained that women were never allowed near the Hous Tambaran until the last day off the ceremony. The little girls represented the bride of the Timp or spirit. They wore the black net bag called a belm on their heads and their bodies were covered with oil and soot so that they shown black.
"Why are their faces painted half red and half black?" asked Mary.
"The black signifies the gaining of pigs and wealth. The red represents prosperity and health," Jess commented.
"That's why the flag of Papua New Guinea is black and red with a yellow Bird of Paradise on it!" exclaimed Mary. "It's cult magic!"
Jess nodded with a smile and continued, " The girls have to be very careful not to touch their faces. It either side is smudged that part will fail to come true. That is why the girls sit so still." Mary looked back at the little girls. They sat on a bench in front of the main pole that supported the Hous Tambaran. She felt sorry for them. What an awful responsibility for a young person to have the well-being of the whole tribe on her shoulders.
Hearing a noise, Mary turned. Across the clearing from them was a platform. On to this wood frame climbed two young warriors. They pretended to fight with axes and then the crowd shouted out for them to stop. Jess explained in a whispered that this symbolized the tribe seeking peace and harmony. As Mary watched the two young warriors put down their stone axes and picked up a rattle each. These were woven of pitpit grass and contained stones. Now the two warriors stood shoulder to shoulder going up on their toes and down on their heels to the beat of their rattles. This action symbolized the unity of the Warriors against the Timp, Jess explained.
As they watched, the men of the clan started to form rows. Each row was six warriors across. Armed with bows and arrows, stone axes and shields, they marched around the singsing ground in silence to the beat of the two rattles. Mary watched in deep fascination. It was like stepping back through time. A shiver ran down her back and she felt Jess move closer and place her big, comforting hands on her shoulders. Mary could feel the warmth of the warrior she loved seeping into her back. "It's Touy," Jess whispered into her ear. "He's heading this way."
Mary turned and instinctively put herself between Touy and Jess. She didn't know why but when ever Touy was near, she felt worried for Jess. It was silly she knew. Touy was a leper, smaller, and middle aged. He was no threat to the warrior who towered over him. And yet he looked at the doctor with such obvious hate that it brought out all of Mary's protective instinct.
She listened to Touy's fast, aggressive speech and then Jess's laboured response in place talk. Touy sneered and moved off. "What did he say?" Mary asked.
Jess's eyes followed the Shaman. "He said he read in the intestines that the two bothers would soon be united and that the people of the highlands then could take what was rightfully theirs."
"It is the origin myth. It takes many forms from tribe to tribe but the basic story is the same. In the beginning of time there are two brothers. The older brother learns the secret for pleasing the spirits but he doesn't tell his younger brother like he should. The spirits become anger at the younger brother who doesn't do the magic right like he is supposed to. So they tear the island apart. The older brother floats off on his big island with all the cargo that the spirits have given him. The poor younger brother is left on a small island with nothing but disease and war.
All the cults that come through the highlands are methods to try and find the secret that the other brother did not share. That is the reason behind the cargo cults. The highlanders now believe that the other brother sired the Europeans. They seem to have everything. These cults are to try to get the cargo back from the Europeans that they feel rightfully belongs to them."
"Jess, that's kind of scary," interjected Mary.
"Yeah, it can be. But usually it is harmless enough. Still, I'd better report it to the local authorities in Mendi once we get a new radio. Just in case," reassured Jess, giving Mary a hug around the shoulder as they stood watching the events from the side lines.
The lines of warriors disappeared into the Haus Tambaran. Suddenly, a warning was yelled and the warriors charged out banishing their weapons and screaming war cries. Mary unconsciously slid behind Jess who was bristling with excitement. "What's going on?!"
Jess kept her eyes on the warriors as they now returned to the Haus Tambaran yelling warnings over their shoulders and waving their stone axes menacingly. "There was an alarm that the Timp had escaped. The warriors ran out to protect their women. It is just the men strutting their stuff!"
Mary giggled and bumped Jess with her body just as another warning was given and the men charged out once more in mock rage. The two women shared a quiet chuckle. "Bet they wouldn't be so bold if there really was a ghost out here," laughed Mary.
"You got that right!" drawled Jess.
The men once again retreated to the ceremonial house. A few minutes later, a third warning was yelled. The men came pouring out ready for battle. This time two boys covered in grey clay and wearing bell shaped wicker frames over their upper bodies charged at the warriors. They represented the Timps last battle to defeat the magic of the villagers. The warriors bravely held their ground placing their shields of wood in front of them and succeeded in chasing the last of the Timp spirits into the Haus Tambaran where the shaman could trap them.
Outside the women waited nervously in silence. Jess whispered to Mary that inside, Quen would now be preforming the magic not Touy. Quen was strong and could spiritually fight off the Timp. Touy, as a leper, was too weak for such a dangerous job. Quen would pour palm oil into a hole through a piece of intestine from a sacrificed pig. Then he would breath the magic words into the intestine to call the Timp. Weakened from its battle with the warriors, the Timp would travel down the intestine to feed on the oil in the hole. Quickly then, Quen would seal the hole and the district would be rid of all harmful spirits until more people died and released their Timps.
Mary looked up at Jess's serious face. She delighted in her old friend's knowledge of the culture and her respect for it. Jess looked down and blue pools of sky touched green forest depths. The doctor turned and gently brushed her lips against Mary's. "You are something else Jessica Vizirakis!" commented Mary once again caught by those intense blue eyes.
A cry from the Haus Tambaran made them both start. From its depths ran out four warriors. Each pair carried a pole between them from which hung the ritual body of the dead Timp. A man dressed as a woman in mourning ran between the two bodies mourning their death. Mary realized that a woman could not do this in case the ceremony was contaminated.
The five highlanders with the two Timp bodies ran around the singsing ground with the remaining warriors following screaming their war cries. As they once again passed the ceremonial house, one of the warriors used his axe to hack down the main support beam and the Haus Tambaran collapsed in a crackling rush of snapping branches and bark. The wind sent the fire smoke spinning in wild waves around the dancing warriors. Their war paint and feathers were the only splashes of colour in a monotone world of evening blue and fire smoke.
Mary looked back at the shattered remains of the ceremonial house. A man wearing the arm bands of a shaman stood looking about proudly, then he turned and walked away into the crowd of men and women. That must be Quen, Mary realized. Mary's eyes drifted over the crowd of warriors now milling with their women folk and relating their heroics. After twenty years the Timp was dead.
"Come on. Let's see if we can beg some roasted sweet potato to eat on the walk back," suggested Jess. They had eaten lunch early. Now, late in the day, Jess was feeling very hungry.
Mary laughed, "Wow! Dinner out too. Boy, you really know how to show a girl a good time on a first date, Warrior!" she teased.
Jess's reply was lost in the sudden scream of war cries from all sides as warriors attacked. Mary was pushed down as three warriors charged at Jess. She grabbed the spear that was aiming for her gut and spun its owner off his feet. The second warrior got the wood shaft across his jaw in a baseball swing that knocked him out cold. The third warrior had used the extra time to come around to Jess's side chopping at her with his stone axe. Jess ducked and spun. The sharp stone missed but her shoulder took the blow of the hard wood shaft.
Her temper snapped and she uncoiled from a crutched position with an incredible force, smashing a right into her attacker's face. He crumbled. Turning around, she saw Mary crouched at the base of a tree covering her head from the human bone tipped arrows that shot through the air in all directions. Blood and mud mixed with dark bodies on the ground and Eravey's and Mendari fought in vicious hand to hand combat. Jess scooped Mary up and broke into a run with Mary over her shoulders. She dodged through the fighting in the singsing ground and ran off the embankment doing a graceful flip as she dropped to the garden below. Here she lowered a rather startled journalist to the ground.
Mary clung to Jess for support until the world stopped spinning. "Don't think much of the dinner entertainment," she commented shakily.
"We gotta get out of here," responded Jess looking around, "Come on." Jess grabbed Mary's arm and lead her off at as quick a pace as she dared. Mary hobbled along awkwardly trying her best to keep up with the warrior. She was soon gasping for breath from the exertion and the thin air of the high altitude. Jess stopped and Mary bent over panting and holding her side where a stitch was knifing into her.
"Can you go on," asked Jess worry in her eyes. Mary straightened up and nodded. Jess lead the way moving only at a quick walk now. She turned right and followed a well used trial into the gathering darkness. In a few minutes, they came to a wide, deep ravine with a vine bridge across it.
"The bridge is pretty old but I think it will hold us," commented Jess. "I'll go first."
"Jess, I'm not too good at heights," confessed Mary looking at the swinging vine bridge that was held in place by some old, rotten looking vines wrapped around some dead trees.
"We don't have a choice," stated Jess. "You'd better go first, then. I'll follow."
Mary saw by the set of Jess's face that there was not going to be any arguing. She squared her shoulders, brushed by Jess and making the sign of the cross when Jess couldn't see, she edged out on to the bridge. She held on tightly to the vine sides and side stepped along the single pole that acted as a foot path at the bottom of the looped vines. The bridge swung and bounced and the pole tended to roll. Where one pole ended and another over lapped it was particularly tricky not to trip. "Hurry!" ordered Jess's worried voice.
Mary could hear fighting behind her. Jess must be holding the warriors back, she realized. Mary moved as quick as she dared to the other side trying her best to look at where she was putting her feet but not beyond to the water so far below. With a gasp of relief, she reached the other side. "Jess! I'm across," she called turning to see two Eravey's on the ground and a third clinging to Jess's back with his arm around her neck. Jess cried out with rage and her voice echoed like the wail of a banshee down the jungle valley and mixed with the pathetic scream of the last warrior as he was toppled over Jess's head and hit the ground heavily.
Jess ran across the vine bridge and then slashed out with her knife at the supporting vines. The bridge collapse down on to the rock face of the opposite side. Anger warriors came to a stop at the edge and readied bows to fire arrows across. Jess grabbed Mary and they ran as fast as Mary could manage up the steep, mud path, Jess pulling Mary up when she would have slipped back. Only, when they were over the lip of the ridge did Jess stop. Mary's lips were turning blue from the effort and she felt light headed as she gasped for breath. Jess too was breathing hard.
Neither spoke, saving the oxygen for their burning muscles. Finally, Jess turned and squatted down and Mary wrapped herself around the tall, strong body. Wrapping her long arms around Mary's legs, Jess piggybacked Mary back to the compound through the moon lit night.
The moon was full and high as they entered the compound. Crickets sang songs to the rhythm of the gentle night wind as it rustled through the needles of the Yar trees. Mone had left a fresh pot of coffee on the stove. Jess snatched it up and then tucked the container of banana muffins under her arm. "You get some cups Mary and some towels from the shower hut," instructed Jess.
Mary nodded numbly, too tired physically and emotionally to ask why. Obediently she gathered the items and then followed Jess off the compound to the east. After only a few minutes, they came to a breathtaking site. A crystal, clear stream, tumbled over a small falls into a rocky pool which over flowed slowly in a white veil that dropped to the Lai Valley far below. Under the full moon the two falls glistened with fairy light and the hanging pool reflected the lunar light.
Mary placed her cargo beside Jess's on the edge of the pool and then stood to drink in the beauty around her. "Oh Jess it is beautiful here!" exclaimed Mary.
Jess smiled and took Mary by her shoulders looking into eyes sparkling with moonlight, "You are beautiful," she whispered and sealed her complement with a long, hungry kiss wrapping Mary deep into her arms. A warm, exciting rush of need swept the sleepiness from Mary's being. She parted her lips and moved closer into Jess's embrace meeting Jess's demand's with her own. She slipped her hands under Jess's T-shirt and felt her hard stomach muscles contract with her touch.
Oh yes! She thought and that was the last coherent thought she had for some time.
Jess peeled Mary's shirt off slowly. Intently watching the smaller woman's body being revealed to her once again. She lowered her head and kissed a white throat. The flesh was sweet and smelt of warm herbs and honey. A soft growl warned of her rising need. Leaving Mary's bra on, her hands flowed over a silken back and curved into Mary's waist as they slipped under her shorts and spread over a firm, round bottom. She gasped as Mary's hand boldly slipped under her bra and ran across her breast. The shorts went along with Mary's panties. Then the bra.
Jess stepped back, reluctantly breaking contact with the petite woman as she removed the rest of her own clothes. Then flesh contacted flesh and hands roved freely over each other's lands.
Mary felt her knees giving out. Raw need was over riding reason as an age old instinct demanded satisfaction. Mary moaned and Jess swept her up in her arms and stepped into the small pool hanging between two water falls. Slowly, she lowered the two of them in and Mary floated around to the front, gently pushing Jess against the bank until she lay on top of her lover. Her body tingled reveling in the contrast between cold water and hot body heat. Their mouths played across each other as they whispered words of love and need. Jess lifted the smaller woman by her hips and lowered Mary's breast on to her mouth, teasing and loving Mary's warm, hard nipple with her lips. Mary arched and ground her sex into Jess's hips. Jess rolled over pinning Mary below her. "I want to love you Mary. I want to join with you under the stars and fly you to the heavens," murmured Jess as she floated feather kisses down on Mary's swollen lips.
"Hmmm," Mary moaned, "Show me how high and far you can make us fly, my warrior," she challenged softly then groaned as lips trailed down her body.
Much later, Mary sat wrapped in a fluffy towel in Jess's arms. They shared a muffin and a cup of coffee together and listened to the night sounds sweetening the air with their rhythmic music. The moon was lower now and Mary was satiated, sleepy and so very happy. Jess stirred and lifted the smaller woman to her feet. "Come on my love, it is time for bed." They gathered up their clothes and other cargo and headed back to the compound. Then hand in hand, they walked to their hut and curled into bed together. Mary wrapping herself around her lover and falling to sleep in her strong, gentle arms.
The eyes opened to darkness. Sight wasn't really necessary. Jess's keen hearing had already identified all sounds and registered that all was safe and normal outside. She sniffed the air. It was that hour before dawn when the world was it's coldest. She didn't have to get up yet but soon. The casualties of yesterday's melee would be pouring into the clinic early.
The problem was how to handle this. If she got up and left having made love to Mary last night, it would be sending just the message that she was trying hard to live down. On the other hand, she couldn't lay here and wait for sleepy head to wake up! Jess gnawed on her lip. That left only one solution.
Mary woke to warm, nibbles on her neck and a gentle hand stroking her back. "Hmmm, that's nice," she murmured. "I had this dream last night," she observed stretching and reaching to kiss her strong, quiet lover. "I dreamt that the most incredible woman lit rockets in me that sent me shooting to the stars."
"Good, because the feel of you, the sight of you fills my universe with love," whispered Jess between kisses.
The body beneath her stilled and Jess pulled back and made eye contact with serious, intensely green eyes. "Do you love me, Jess?" Mary asked earnestly.
"I've always loved you Mary. I've loved you from grade school. I....I... just....." the warrior stammered.
"Shhh, we'll talk later. Let me just delight in the knowledge that I have the heart of the only person I've ever really wanted," soothed Mary and they made love slowly, intensely aware of every touch, breath and need of the other.
The day wore on endlessly. Jess arched her shoulder. It was aching painfully. Mary had massaged a heating rub into it before they had walked to the clinic but now hours later, she hurt from having stooped over patients all day. With a sigh she carefully supported the new cast in a sling and sent the last patient on his way. Then she crossed to her cubbyhole office and slumped down in the chair placing her head on her desk..
She didn't open her eyes when she heard the footsteps, she didn't need to, knowing Mary's quiet tread. The sound of water and then a warm, soapy cloth wiped her face. She sighed with pleasure keeping her eyes closed and enjoying being babied. Mary said nothing, letting her warrior concentrate on her actions. She caressed Jess's neck with the sweet smelling warmth. Then lifted her shirt and let the cloth trace over the tired, stiff muscles of her back.
Mary rubbed oil into her hands to warm it. Then continued to work on the knotted back muscles now warm and fresh under her touch. She could feel the tension and weariness draining from her lover, being replaced with sleepy contentment. Leaning forward she placed a kiss on the cheek of her warrior. "Mone, is warming up a stew. How about we go over and sit by the fire and have some. You haven't eaten since breakfast and its past seven now. Come on my warrior," Mary coaxed.
Jess sighed and opened her eyes as she sat up and pulled Mary into her lap. "I don't know how I lived without you," she moaned hugging Mary tight. Then she stood with Mary still in her arms.
"Hey!" Mary protested and Jess raised an eyebrow as she claimed Mary's mouth once more as she lowered Mary to her feet. Together they walked across the darkening compound to where Mone sat by the fire of the potbelly stove.
"No good day, Doctor Jess," commented Mone as Mary ladled out a cup of stew for Jess.
"Yeah, pretty rough," agreed Jess. "Thanks," she smiled taking the cup and spoon from Mary.
For a few minutes they sat and looked at the fire while Jess recharged her batteries with some hot chicken stew. Mary was on excellent cook she thought. "This is good," she said remembering to watch her manners as she ate.
"Thanks," Mary smiled looking up at Jess from where she sat on an over turned bucket by the stove. "You need a hair cut, you know," she observed looking at her lover with a smile.
"NO!" protested Mone in fear. "Doctor, must not cut her hair. Very dangerous now to do so."
"Why?" asked Mary in surprise.
"Mone!" protested Jess with a sigh.
"People try to murder her yesterday! Maybe now they try to kill her with witchcraft."
"Mone!" snapped Jess but her friend and colleague was not to be shut up.
"You must not cut your nails or hair. If they were to get a piece of your body then they could make very strong magic," argued Mone, his eyes wide with fear.
A shadow blocked out the light from the fire. Jess looked up to see Mary standing in front of her. "The truth. Now," ordered the little woman.
Jess sighed. "There was no reason to attack us yesterday, Mary. The raid was over the land dispute. It was Eravey against Mendari. It had nothing to do with us. The three who came at us had a completely different mission. They used the tribal war as a cover. In fact, they just knocked you out of the way to get at me. Someone wants me dead," explained Jess.
Mary sank to her knees and placed her head in Jess's lap. "Oh shit!" she whispered in shock. Jess stroked her hair comfortingly as the three of them sat and watched the fire die.
PNG Encounter - Part 4 of 4
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