On one of my trips with the geologist team on Darkover I encountered Bengal. He was an Orf, an almost humanoid species with an incredibly wrinkled face that gave him the look of strength as well as wisdom and one threefingered clawed hand. Bengal was the geologist of the team, although strangers are not well tended on our planet. But since the trip went into almost uninhabited areas of Darkover the terran headquarters had no objections.
This was my first encounter with an "extraterrestrial" non human. I didn't know why, but I was afraid of him. He spoke in a low voice as if he wasn't used to speaking, it sounded guttural and he moved like a gnome or somewhat prancing. But the most unusual habbits of his I only learned after the beginning of the journey.
We made up a team of five: two geographers, Tanya and Bengt, one biologist, Nikita, Bengal as geologist, and myself as guide, translator, and "medicine man" as they liked to tease me. Our aim were the Hellers, the northernmost mountains and boundaries of the Domains of Darkover.
Startingpoint for the expedition was Nevarsin where I had already made preparations for the trip. I got four horses and a pony for Bengal and two additional horses to carry the equipment, tents and luggage. They would also have to carry samples of flora and fauna taken by Nikita and geological samples by Bengal - at least that's what I thought.
I recognized after the first few hours of the trip that the problem of carrying the stones would shift to Bengals pony. After no more than half a days ride I heard the little Orf give an incredible cry that went right through my bones and he dropped to the floor. Before I could get to his rescue, he came up again, triumphantly holding a stone in his hand. "I didn't know, you had pyrite on this planet" he murmured, his eyes glowing.
"We call it by another name, but we have used it for ages to kindle fire" I answered. Before I finished the sentence my eyes went big with surprise. Bengal had swallowed - literally swallowed - the stone. I must have looked real dump because my companions gave a hearty laughter.
"Orfs live on a very scarce planet" Nikita explained when she had wiped away her tears of laughter. "That's why his ancestors were used to feed on moss and lichen. The most effective way to digest them is to swallow the stones they grow on. He will keep the stones in an extra organ and produce them at the end of our journey.
Bengal gave a satisfied grunt. I kept wondering why we hadn't left his share of food at home and got him a stronger pony. Going on like this he would soon weigh twice as much. But I suppressed the remark. He didn't seem to like me anyhow.
In the mountains night comes early and we made camp soon. We had a small tent for sleeping and a larger kitchen tent which we didn't want to put up before we reached our final destination. The plan was to get over the Heller's Peak as the Terrans call it, build up a temporary station camp and make daily tours into the surrounding areas.
We tended the horses, put up the tent and Tanya and Bengt had supper ready in no time. We were all exhausted so we dropped into the sleeping-bags at once. I had agreed to take the modern iso-bag instead of my fur bag because of space and weight. Maybe that's why I slept restless and kept tossing and turning being chased by nightmares.
I'm in the dry towns again. It is hot, the sun is burning. We have no water and no food any more. We have to rescue that girl. She's in chains, handcuffs attached to her belt. Dry towners mark their property that way. She is unhappy. We have to free her. A man is loosening her chains.
Suddenly the scenery changes. I am the girl, the man is Bengal. I have to free myself. Nobody can help me. I tug at the chains, my hands are bleeding. I hear Bengal laughing. I get my hands free, I can run. Run away! Bengal is prancing next to me. He squeals, he shouts, he will betray us. I throw the chains at him. He screams.
I woke up startled. Right next to me Bangal was sitting upright on his mat, too. He must have been woken by my screaming, or I by his? We gave each other a look and he checked his watch. It was already dawning outside so we got up. When the others got up we had breakfast ready but we had not spoken a word. The dream lingered in my mind as if it had been real. I was reminded of my slavery at the dry towns and my flight. I guess old wounds never really heal. I did not feel like talking and Bengal respected it.
This day we made a good pace. It was still going steeply up in the mountains. The air got cooler and at shady places we saw some leftover snow once in a while.
Nikita was intrigued by the flora. She kept picking up specimen and told us the Latin names and phylogenesis. I added the Darkovan names and when I remembered the use as drug or tea. The fauna was not as plenty. It was to cold for insects, birds were hiding from us and only once in a while we saw a rabbithorn jump for cover.
Once in a while Bengal gave one of his squeals and swallowed a stone or two. So all together it was a harmonic ride.
Observing the others I realized that they did not react on Bengal's cries as I did. Maybe my Laran was playing tricks on me and I heard things the others didn't. I never liked the idea of listening to other peoples thoughts and emotions without them knowing it. It makes me feel like a snoop.
We made camp at dawn on a clearing between some trees. We teased Bengal a little with his eating habits and told him we would cut down his share if he kept nibbling on stones. He took it with a good humor and I found his laughter as infectious as his screams.
That day I went to bed happily and content.
I'm in the dry towns again. My master is beating me. I'm immobilized and I know he will beat me to death if I don't find a way out. My chains are long, I can move my hands. I push myself up and hit the man who calls himself my master. He tumbles, I hit him again, then I run. I tug at the chains, I can already see the woods. It is cold, the trees have snowy tops, not like the dry towns at all. I can hear myself thinking that I miss something in this dream. Where is Bengal? There he is, at the edge of the forest. His legs are sore where I hit them with the chains yesterday - yesterday? I can hear his voice although he is much too far away for that. It's only sounds but they mean danger. I'm afraid his screams will betray us. But he's afraid, too. Why can't he just go away? Why doesn't he leave me alone? I can hear him now: "What are you doing?" he cries. What does he mean?
I run into the forest, him next to me. He cries, shouts... I get rid of the chains and throw them...
I woke up with a scream. Sweat was running down my face and my sleeping-bag was lying out of reach. I felt ice cold. Tanya opened her eyes sleepily. "Chiya, you kicked your sleeping bag off. Go back to sleep" she murmured.
Maybe that caused the nightmare about the cold. When I turned around I saw that Bengal was awake, too. He gave me an angry look and turned away. I tried to lie down again but was afraid to go back to sleep. Those dreams, they were so real...
I'm back in the woods that must be close to the dry towns. Nonsense! There are no woods by the dry towns! Bengal is next to me but this time we don't run. He holds my arm and he is afraid. What of? Of me? Why should he? I run away from him, I am the pry he is the hunter. His claws cut into my flesh. "What do you want from me?" he grumbles. "Leave me alone!" I am close to tears "Let me go!" I plead and I hear his voice like an echo "Let me go!"
"You're hurting me!" our voices sound as one.
Suddenly he lets go of my arm and I drop on the floor. I can see him run away between the trees, prancing, dancing, trying to hide. I can see him until it gets black around me and I wake up the next morning.
The next morning Bengal didn't speak a word, not to me nor to the others. I didn't feel like small talk either so I busied myself with packing and saddling my horse. That day we were to reach our final destination, the station camp where we wanted to stay for a while.
The area we entered now was unknown even to me. This was a good excuse to ride up front to "secure the path" and be alone with my thoughts.
The surrounding became more hostile each hour we rode. Less trees, more rocks and steep cliffs that made me fear we would have to turn around soon and look for another path.
All the time my thoughts went back to the dreams last night. I had thought that my past in the dry towns would no longer bother me. I had escaped never to return. What did Bengal have to do with it, anyway? He wasn't even from this planet. Right into my thoughts there came one of Bengal's bone shattering screams. My horse reared and whinnied. It tossed it's head that I almost fell. It took all my strength to turn the animal around to get back to the others and then I saw where all the panic came from. Right in the middle of the path I had come stood a banshee blocking the way back to my companions. Only a few seconds later they came into sight, driven on by Bengal who was so exited that he almost forgot our language.
Banshees are the worst predators on Darkover. They are about 1.30 m high, their skin hanging in folds around them as if they still wanted to grow into it. Their eyes are hidden by the folds and they are almost blind. They find their pray by body warmth and stun them with blood-curdling screams that evoke a deep panic in their victims. This panic is quite justified because they will turn their pray into a blood bath if they can.
This banshee must have sensed my horse and followed us. His blind eyes were turned towards me and it wasn't interested in the people coming up behind it. I was in a terrible misery. Should I let my horse run away with me? That could mean my escape, provided the banshee was hunting on it's own. But then my companions would be on their own and they didn't even know what a banshee was. I could no longer hold the horse, so I slid down and let it run. I stood eye to eye with the banshee now and my panic got uncontrollable. I tried to reach for my sword but my movements were much to slow. I felt like paralyzed. The banshee started to move closer to me. It gave another scream that made my blood run cold and I stared at it like a rabbithorn at the snake. Then I heard Bengal's voice: "You can do it, Jaelle! Get rid of your chains. Draw your sword - NOW!"
Nikita , Tanya and Bengt were still standing like statues. Only Bengal didn't seem effected by the screams.
I knew he was the only one who didn't carry a weapon but I saw him bent down and pick up a stone. Suddenly the banshee's scream seemed to double. Bengal was screaming with it, the stone flew and the banshee dashed around. It's attention was now directed against Bengal and at the same moment my panic vanished. I drew my sword and darted towards the creature. My blow hit it when it digged its claws into Bengal's thigh. The deafening sound that followed sent me into endless darkness.
I came to my senses lying on the soft ground in the woods, Bengal sitting next to me. His legs were bleeding where the banshee had hit him but it didn't seem to bad. I felt wretched and miserable, stinking blood sticking on my clothes and I trembled all over. Bengal took my hand in his claw and muttered softly: " Don't worry, Jaelle, it's dead".
"Where are the others?" I realized that we were alone, no tents, no horses, none of our companions, and most important no dead banshee. "They are o.k., don't worry" he smiled.
"Are you hurt?"
"Not much" he answered. "Don't you worry about me now. You have a severe shock by the screams. If only your telepathy hadn't picked it all up."
"But I feel o.k. Just a little shaky now" I insisted.
"Believe me, you are still in danger. You have to be a brave little amazon now. But don't be afraid. I'm here to help you."
Bengal helped me to my feet and I realized how weak I was. He supported me and we made a few steps.
"Where are we going?"
"You have to get moving"
"Oh, I got it. My blood circuit needs to run..."
"No, chiya, not exactly your body. We need your will to get going again. We are visiting the dead banshee."
I dropped to the ground. "No way!" I screamed "I never ever want to see that beast again, dead or alive!"
"You must, chiya! It has stolen your will. You killed it but now you must free your mind of it's scream of death. I know you are as afraid as I am, but you can do it! You had the power to trap me in your dreams. You can also overcome a dead banshee."
"In my dreams?" I felt dizzy again "You know of my dreams?" Suddenly it became clear why Bengal hadn't spoken to me any more. He must have been as troubled by the experience as I was. We had shared our dreams.
"I wasn't sure at first" he said "but now I know that you are capable of telepathy and you are holding a great power with this. This creature, the banshee must have something similar."
"Banshees? That's impossible. They are brutal but incredibly stupid. No way they have any kind of Laran."
"Oh yes, I think it has. It created the horror you felt. Why else did the panic vanish when the banshee turned to me? And it's scream when it died, together with my pain - for the others it was only a scream but you felt the pain and the fright. You died with the banshee."
"I'm glad I didn't really die. I know rapport with a dying person can kill me if I am not monitored." A weird feeling gathered in my stomach. In rapport with a banshee - what a disgusting thought.
"Now, Jaelle, darling, you didn't die but you are not out of danger, yet. I know your adventures in the dry towns still bother you. You went as far to drag me into your dreams for that and now the banshee..." He gave me a worried look.
"I guess, I can take it" I muttered, shaking at the mere thought. "let's go, I'll take a look at it."
I picked myself up and was even able to do some steps on my own. All the while I encouraged myself: "It is dead, I killed it. What can a dead banshee do to me anyway?"
Bengal danced beside me, ready to catch me should I fall. He directed me towards the place where I had killed the banshee.
The creature lay on the ground as if it had been no more than a few minutes ago. I had cut through its shoulder into its heart (if that was where you would expect a heart). Its body was still warm and the disgusting beast seemed to accuse me.
"What can you want?" I asked it. "You're dead, I killed you. You should have left us alone!"
Something was still amiss...
Some steps behind me Bengal was standing motionless looking at me and the banshee. I felt a disturbing thought rise in my mind.
When I fled from the dry towners a man had helped me. He had loosened my chains and had warned me once more of my pursuers. I had been graetfull at that moment but later never had the chance to tell him.
To demand help from a man is against my oath as a Renunciate and Free Amazon. I have sworn never to ask a man for help nor for protection again.
And here I stood now, owing my life to another man (or at least a male specimen of another people). Bengal had distracted the banshee, seeing that its telepathy paralyzed my senses. He had risked his own life to save mine.
"You know" Bengal said "it is o.k. to be helped by a man. I heard you Amazons offer escort to travelers. Would it ever come to your mind that the group may owe you something because you protect them? On the other hand you will not take any help by a man even if there is no second thought on slavery of the female gender at all.
I helped you because I knew you were the only one who could rid us of the banshee. I didn't just save you, I tried to save us all. We fought together as a team not as protector and protected. Do you understand that?" He smiled. "You don't owe me anything but if it makes you feel better I would appreciate tending of my wounded legs."
"Bengal, I guess you are right. The oath doesn't mean I am not allowed to take help offered in times of danger. It just means I shouldn't sell myself as slave for help and protection. Thank you, Bengal, for your help." I lay my arms around him and closed my eyes. The world went black around me.
"It's o.k., chiya. Now, come back to us. Come back."
I opened my eyes and looked into the sun. I lay on the rocky ground right were I had killed the banshee. It could have been only a few hours ago. Bengal was lying next to me, unconscious. His legs were wrapped uncunningly and looked worse than I remembered. Tanya and Bengt were building up the tent. Nikita had dragged the banshee's corpse to a plateau and was now sitting next to us with a worried look on her face. My trembling had ceased and I didn't feel as cold any more.
When Nikita saw I was conscious a relieved smile came into her eyes.
"Oh, Jaelle, that's good! We thought you would... How are you, now?"
"I'm fine" I looked over to Bengal. His eyes were still closed, he was breathing slowly.
"The banshee got him at the thigh" she explained. "He did not come back to his senses, yet."
My head went dizzy again. I took Bengal's claw into my hand and carefully squeezed it. He opened his eyes with a groan.
"I thought I'd loose you. I honestly hope this was the last dream we shared" he moaned and his wrinkled face drew into a wry smile.
© Jae, 7-97