Mesa Top Camp
T’cumu approached the frightened young mare slowly, an offering of freshly picked berries in his hand.
“Come now, Oklilinchi, I know you are hungry. Come to me my friend.” He spoke in the soft tones he knew the mostly-wild animal liked to hear, even if they as yet held no meaning to her. At some point he hoped she would come to understand a few simple words, as his friend’s horses did. She snorted, and shied away, backing up a few feet, but not as far as the time before. T’cumu was patient, eventually he would regain her trust, there was no hurry. After all, he had plenty of time. What was a few hours to someone who had traveled millions of years into the past, if what his friend Nate had told him was, indeed, true. The very idea of a ‘million’ was new to T’cumu. His own people didn’t even have words for numbers of such immensity. It wasn’t until Nate had pointed to the myriad stars of the night sky that he had grasped the concept.
“As many years as you see stars, my friend, that is how far back we’ve come. It’s a younger, deadlier world, one that I believe mankind was not meant to see. Yet here we are,” the man from a land called Texas had told him and his cousin, Ni-T’o as they rode through the night away from the blood-stained ground of the City of the Mound folk.
Thinking of his friends, he hoped their mission to his village would be a success, and that they would return soon. It was lonely up on the mesa without them. For now, though, he had his recalcitrant little horse for company, and smiled as he gained another step closer to her. She was eyeing those berries with increasing interest. Sooner or later she would give in to the temptation. Then he would ride her again, and be the first of his people to have a horse of his own, a very useful thing indeed, in the New New World.
An hour later, T’cumu had won his horse’s heart again, and was riding her around the meadows near camp. Oklilinchi behaved very well for him, and he was able to steer her just as he had learned to do with the other horses.
“You saved my life, little friend! It would be nice not to be chased by ravenous monsters for a while. Let’s hope the rest of our day will be calm and peaceful. Now, what say we go have a look around? We need to find a good place to build a village.”
T’cumu rode in the opposite direction of the log bridge, into new, unexplored territory. After another five miles of the same mix of grassland and leafy copses of trees, he saw a range of low hills that looked like they might run all the way across the mesa’s crescent, which he thought might be near its widest point. That was his next destination. His people had learned long ago to take advantage of the terrain, and to always keep to the high ground.
Not long later, his horse had climbed the mellow grade easily enough, and they stood at the top of the highest hill. From this vantage point T’cumu could see the mesa’s far tip, and the ocean beyond. Between that and the hills lay a rugged, rocky region, covered in thick forest. That was good. Such a place would contain different resources than those they had discovered so far. The mesa had proven bountiful in its gifts. Despite its rather strange wildlife, it was the closest thing to their former home that they had found, so far.
T’cumu made a careful survey of the hill top. It was wide and flat, with a low depression between it and the next highest peak. It was nearly perfect, exactly the kind of place they could build their village, with plenty of room for expansion along the range’s summits. In his mind’s eye he could see the peaked thatch roofs, and the clay-daubed walls, smoke rising from cook fires, happy children gamboling about here and there. It would be a good place to live, a reprieve from the terrors that surrounded them in the lands below. He looked longingly at the unexplored territory on the range’s far side, but he had to get back to the bridge to wait for his people to arrive. Further exploration would have to wait for another day. With a click of his tongue and a nudge of his knee he sent his mount back down the hillside, most satisfied with his findings.
“We have found a good place, my little friend. We will know happiness here,” he said, scratching Oklilinchi’s bushy mane.
Gonzalo leveled his lance, as he waited for the charging dragon to draw near. He and the other horsemen, Nate and Ni-T’o, remained outside the circle of long spears, ready to make their move if the line didn’t hold. He allowed himself a small smile at the sight of the old wise-man, Ninak-Mkateewa, dancing around behind the spear-men, banging his drum and shouting encouragement. The women joined in the dance, brandishing their torches in a very menacing manner. The wise-man was a contrary old reprobate, but he could be helpful, and even thoughtful, at times, and so Gonzalo had grown rather fond of him despite himself. He whispered a fervent prayer that none of these good people who had given him shelter in this nightmarish land would come to harm.
The creature was close enough that they could see it in detail now, it was even larger than the one that he and Nate had managed to kill, earning them the respect and friendship of their tribesmen friends. The monster’s fang-filled maw gaped hungrily, frothing with saliva. Its massive muscles moved beneath the strangely beautiful pebbled hide, brightly striped in sky-blue and yellow. It bellowed again, an ear-splitting sound at close range. The tribe held their ground, spears at the ready.
The men facing the monster were obviously terrified, but they were a courageous folk by nature, and the wise-man’s drumming helped gird their resolve. They grimly held their ground as it loomed over them. Just before it came into range of their long spears, a volley of flaming arrows flew, striking its chest and head, but missing its eyes. None of them pierced the tough hide deeply, but they burned, and the creature bellowed with rage, using its smaller forelimbs to knock the arrows free. It glared at the massed men with its baleful yellow eyes, and considered for a moment. Despite whatever fear it had for fire, and whatever pain the burning arrows had caused it, the need for food won out. It charged the line.
The circle moved toward it, just as they had trained to do, the two closest spears embedding in its chest, those either side catching it in the ribs. The creature lowered its head, knocking the spears aside with a mighty shake, but made the mistake of opening its mouth—five arrows flew into its maw, causing it to screech and rear up. This gave the men the chance to press their slim advantage. More spear-men moved forward, pushing their razor-sharp flint-pointed tips into the softer flesh of its underbelly. The monster began to retreat then, shaking its head furiously as it tried to remove the agony of a mouth-full of burning arrows, chewing and chomping them into little bits that fell smoldering to the ground.
“Must be a bit too spicy for him,” Nate remarked casually.
“The natives do tend to have a liberal hand with those chili peppers.” Gonzalo grinned.
Just then, Ninak-Mkateewa came dancing through the front line, beating a mad tattoo on his drum and shouting what were undoubtedly appalling insults at the monster. The tribesmen were so surprised no one thought to stop him. It didn’t take long for him to get the creature’s attention, and it began to move toward the not-very-wise-after-all, old man with a curious cock of its head and a hungry look. Here, at last, was some easy meat!
“God damn that fool witch-doctor, tarnation!” Nate shouted, kicking Poppy into a gallop, Gonzalo following suit, lance at the ready.
Ni-T’o had seen the old man’s foolish action first, and was already on his way. He was behind the monster, and rode battle-hardened Bella past the thing at a gallop before it had a chance to react. The creature was fast, but thankfully, horses were faster.
“Ninak-Mkateewa! You are in danger!” the fearless warrior shouted as he closed on him, the beast in hot pursuit.
“I’m not afraid of any demons! This fiend shall feel my wrath— Hey, let go of me!”
Ni-T’o had slowed his mount just enough to catch the old man under his arm and scoop him up onto Bella’s broad back face down in front of him, where the old fellow proceeded to kick like a toddler throwing a tantrum. Nate and Gonzalo slowed their charge, forming a guard as Ni-T’o galloped between them, taking his unwilling charge to safety. They would have laughed at the sight had the situation not been so dire. They were just about to engage the enemy themselves when the circle, fronted by the line of spears, made a brazen move, coming at the thing from this side as it passed. Several spears embedded in its side, and yet another hail of flaming arrows flew, some catching it in the side of its massive head. They were trying for the eyes, but they presented too small a target, and the thing moved alarmingly fast for something so large. The beast turned toward them, frothing with rage, only to be rewarded with another mouthful of arrows and a spear stuck painfully in its neck, just missing the windpipe.
The tribe was, as hard as it was to believe, beginning to gain the advantage. Instead of pressing its attack, the great beast was cowed by the unexpected agony. It had never encountered such creatures as these before, and their fiery sting was too much to bear. It moved out of arrow range, whining for all the world like a dog that had been kicked by a cruel master. Nate realized then, that for all its monstrous size and ferocity, it was still just an animal, doing what it had to do to survive. He almost felt sorry for it, and certainly might have had it not been trying to eat his friends. Their tactics had worked, they had injured it, but not mortally. The defeated monster lowered its head and roared at them angrily, then, with one last hateful glare, it broke into a run, making all haste to escape any further torment.
“This dragon doesn’t care for fire, it seems.” Gonzalo said, stroking his bushy black beard.
“Too bad it didn’t stick around, I’ve acquired a bit of a taste for barbecued dragon steaks.” Nate carefully unloaded his pistol, and secured it back in its holster, very glad that it had not been necessary to bring his few precious bullets into play.
After the creature left, all was silent for a moment, then a great whooping began. The more-than-half-crazy wise-man, now that he had been deposited on the ground by his savior Ni-T’o, was utterly unrepentant, and began banging on his drum again, yodeling at the top of his lungs like a madman. Everyone started to dance and whoop.
Nate shook his head and smiled at the impromptu wild rumpus. “Crazy injuns,” he said, but there was no malice in his tone, only respect, and a fondness that had been growing stronger every day he spent with the doughty tribesmen.
“I greatly admire their courage,” Gonzalo said, relieved to have the encounter finished without loss of life and limb.
“Yeah, that thing would make a whole unit of US Army grunts turn tail and run for the hills.”
“Even a troop of Spanish knights would lose their courage in the face of such a foe as that. We are fortunate men to have found allies such as these in this hellish place.”
Ni-T’o rode over to them, the usually stoic fellow was grinning like a fool. “We won!” he announced proudly in English.
“We did indeed,” Nate replied, grinning himself now. It had been a close thing, but they had beat the odds. He just hoped that luck would hold, they were far from out of the woods yet.
The three of them watched the impromptu festivities from astride their mounts, sharing a moment of pride in their accomplishment.
Nate nodded, a thoughtful look on his face. “We learned something important today: A group of armed men such as these are a match for a dragon. Maybe even more than a match. I’d say mankind’s chances of survival just went up a notch.”
The Mysterious Mesa
The mesa loomed before them, a massive shadow against the painfully bright sky, growing subtly larger with each step. A hush drew over the people, and they whispered and pointed at its sheer, straight walls, wondering how such an unnatural structure could have been created.
“This is a holy place. We are fortunate to find such as this in these demon-lands,” Ninak-Mkateewa announced, his wizened face taking on an uncharacteristically reverent demeanor. He began to chant softly, his eyes glistening with whatever fey emotions stirred a man such as he.
They reached the Tilted Meadow Camp late in the afternoon, tired, but excited. Upon arrival, the men and women set about making the place habitable for their large group. The men prepared to begin construction of a path up to the spot where they would build the rope bridge across the chasm that divided the slide from the mesa’s top, while the women set about feeding them all with the stores they had brought along.
Ni-T’o showed off the shovel he had crafted from the spikes of a fallen beast. Soon, he was joined by several other craftsmen, making the rest of the spikes into spades to use in the trail-breaking ahead. Once he had his compatriots on task, he came over to where Gonzalo and Nate were standing, both looking a bit lost as the hustle and bustle went on around them
“I have taught my people to make shovels from the great beast’s spine,” he told them. “They will be good tools, but . . .”
“Not as good as if you had made them yourself!” Gonzalo and Nate interrupted, both saying the exact same thing at the exact same time.
Ni-T’o laughed, and spread his hands, guilty as charged. “I have come to ask if you would like to climb the mesa with me now. I worry for my young cousin. Who knows what kind of trouble he has gotten himself into? The people will watch your horses, they know well what to do.”
Nate and Gonzalo both jumped at the offer. There wasn’t much they could do to help down here, and in any case they needed to have another look at the chasm to start planning the best way to lay the rope bridge.
“Last one to the top is a rotten egg!” Nate said with a grin, and started up the oddly canted slope. Ni-T’o looked confused, wondering if he had heard his friend correctly.
Gonzalo looked at Ni-T’o and shrugged. “Our friend from the future realm of Texas is full of such odd jests. I have no idea what he means myself most of the time. Anyway, we had best keep our eggs fresh.” He smiled, and began to climb himself.
Despite their head start, it didn’t take Ni-T’o, his wife Hvishi, and several other tribe members long to catch up. Much to Nate and Gonzalo’s disdain, the cantankerous wise-man was among them.
Gonzalo reached out to give the old fellow a hand, but the venerable Ninak-Mkateewa laughed at the offer of help, then proceeded to scramble up the slope as nimbly as a chipmunk, cackling all the way as if it were the greatest sport ever.
“He’s full of surprises,” Nate commented, admiring the ancient fellow’s spryness.
Ni-T’o said something in his own tongue that Nate couldn’t quite catch.
Gonzalo laughed, then explained to Nate. “I believe I have heard you use this phrase from your dialect of English, ‘You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.’ ”
Nate raised his eyebrows. The Spaniard had sounded just as if he’d come from the great nation of Texas himself. By now the old man had put a good bit of distance between them.
“Well,” Nate drawled, starting to climb again, “then we have so much to look forward to.”
The wise-man paused, now a good fifty yards above, to look down at them. He cackled mockingly, then his black-painted nearly bare form disappeared into the branches of the leaning trees.
“Maybe,” Gonzalo said in a dark tone as he resumed the climb, “we should have let the dragon eat him.”
“The thought did cross my mind.” Nate spit out a mouth-full of the dust the old man had stirred up during his scramble.
When they reached the log bridge, a welcome sight greeted them, T’cumu sitting proudly astride his mesa cayuse. Gonzalo and Nate were only a little surprised that their friend had succeeded in taming the savage little beast so quickly. He certainly did have a way with her. The young warrior waved, and shouted a cheery “Hello!” to them, followed by, “Are you hungry?”
“I could eat a horse! Let’s have supper,” Ninak-Mkateewa said in such perfectly clear English that it made Nate jump in surprise.
“I bet you could, and you know damn well you had better not or I’ll tan that thick hide of yours!” Nate scolded him, feeling a bit flustered at the man’s sudden fluency in his own language. “Where’d you learn how to say that, anyway?”
Ninak-Mkateewa laughed his crow-like cackle, then told him “I’ve been listening to everything you say since you came to us. It doesn’t take much to learn such a simple tongue as yours!” Enjoying Nate’s consternation immensely, the old man trotted off after T’cumu , making sure to be first in line for the chow.
Nate turned to Ni-T’o, whose bronzed face was the very picture of inscrutability. “Did you know he could do that?”
“Beats me,” the tribesman answered in his own perfectly Texan vernacular before following his cousin.
Nate stood there for a moment in a state of shock.
“An amazing people, aren’t they? Always full of surprises,” Gonzalo said, clapping him amicably on the shoulder. “Don’t worry. Your ability in their language has improved greatly. You’ll show our wicked heathen friend up at some point.”
“Yeah, I suppose. I liked the old bastard better when I didn’t know what the Hell he was yapping about. This is definitely a revolting development.”
“The first of many, no doubt! Come now, before he eats all the food.”
They spent the night at Mesa Top Camp, everyone but the young warrior assigned first watch nodding off to sleep soon after sunset, exhausted from the day’s adventures.
Early the next morning work began on the rope bridge that would make safe travel across the chasm possible, even for their horses. Gonzalo had actually used rope bridges during his travels in Africa, so they had a vague idea of how to go about it. First they made small models out of twine and twigs to test their ideas out on. It took a lot of trial and error, but they were making progress. Everyone able was busy making more rope. A few more people joined them at the camp on the mesa, but most stayed below at the Tilted Meadow Camp.
The actual construction began at the crack of dawn the next day. They decided to incorporate the fallen log as the bridge’s base, upon which they laid a five-foot-wide path of sturdy tree branches horizontally along its length, all woven together with rope, and tied firmly around the trunk. Nate and Gonzalo could barely stand to look as some of the men fearlessly hung from ropes beneath the log while they secured the wooden path. A number of men were assigned to stand guard, waiting beside lit torches with bows and arrows ready on both sides of the chasm, just in case the flying monsters that had almost knocked Nate from his perch returned. T’cumu had told them about the monster that had followed him up there from the lands below. Hopefully that wouldn’t happen again.
Another work crew was busy clearing a suitable trail up the jumbled terrain of the slide. The tribesmen proved quite adept at finding the paths of least resistance, and with some occasional advice from Nate and Gonzalo as to what would work best for a horse making the journey, they made quick progress, cutting tree limbs out of the way here, and digging level footing out of the slope there. The work was difficult, but no one complained. They knew they had found a refuge, as safe a place for their people as could be found in the New New World, and were eager to make it their own.
After spending the day hard at work, Ni-T’o went to find his new wife, Hvshi, which meant the “the Sun” in their language. She was his brother Fvni’s widow, and since Ni-T’o was single, it was their custom to be wed. They walked to the edge of the mesa and looked out upon the vast ocean to the west, where the bloated red Cretaceous sun edged slowly towards the horizon, casting all in a ruby light.
“It is so beautiful!” Hvshi exclaimed, staring out at the panorama below. “So much water, I never could have imagined it!”
“There is much I have seen since coming to this world that I could not have imagined in our old lives. Our friends from the future told me that in our own time there were oceans such as these, although they were in different places than now. Our people just never saw them, our entire lives were spent within a few days walk from home!”
“Yes, and now much of what was in that walk is gone, replaced by these new, dangerous lands. Still, at least we have our village, and some other villages we know, here with us. We are surviving, making the best of things.”
Ni-T’o turned to her, a gentle, but sad smile on his face. “Are you happy, Hvishi?”
“Yes, I am. I have become used to our new lives here. But, sometimes I am sad, when I think on poor Fvni.”
Ni-T’o nodded solemnly. “Were you happy with him?”
“You know I was.” She looked at him with her warm brown eyes, now filled with concern. “And, I am happy now. I thank the gods I have you in my life, I don’t know what would have become of me if I had lost you, too!”
“I am glad to hear that, but . . . I am not my brother,” Ni-T’o said, looking down to the grass below their feet. Even though they had been fortunate, and there had been love in their union from the beginning, there were times when he still worried that Hvishi might still pine after her first love.
“No, you are not Fvni. You are Ni-T’o, and you are my husband now, and yes, you have my love, just as he had it.” She took his hand and held it in the soft warmth of her own.
“I am grateful for that, Hvishi. I count myself a lucky man, but at what cost? I would have gladly given my own life, died a thousand times if it could have saved my Fvni.”
“I know you would have. The gods desired otherwise. We will never forget Fvni, but we must live the life we have now. And so, are you happy with me?” she asked, her gaze penetrating him to the very soul.
“Yes, of course I am! I have loved you since we were children. If I had been older than Fvni you would have been mine! But I am not a jealous man, and I never, ever wished either of you ill. I loved both of you so much!”
“You are a good man, Ni-T’o, better than any other I know. I am proud to be your wife, and to have your love. Now, let’s make this place our home, and fill it with our children! There is so much to do, I just don’t know where to start!”
Ni-T’o gave her a sly smile. “Children you say? I think I have some idea of where to start.” He folded her gently into his arms and they both laughed, a musical sound that filled them both with joy. The sound flew with the wind far out onto the Western Ocean, where it mixed with the cries of the great flying beasts fishing for their dinner.
Two Weeks Later, The Bridge to the Mesa Top
It had taken a great deal of hard labor, but, at last, the trail and bridge were complete. A few young warriors remained below at the Tilted Meadow as watchmen, while the rest of the people moved to the Mesa’s verdant top, crossing the bridge carefully one by one, until all stood in the wildflower dotted meadows, blinking at the surrounding beauty in near disbelief. There were many exclamations of delight as their gazes moved to the green fields and hills beyond, the familiar trees full of songbirds. They felt almost as if they had found their way home to their own time. So it was until they beheld some of the many unusual animals that inhabited their new home, some similar to those that they knew, but much larger, others truly bizarre to behold.
They marveled at a creature that resembled a beaver grown to a towering height, three times larger than a grizzly bear! It watched them from a nearby grove of trees as it chomped contentedly on tender leaves in the high branches. The beast seemed docile enough, and made no move toward them, but they gave it a wide berth anyway. Strange, yes, but at least it was a mammal, and not one of the terrible lizards that haunted the rest of the New New World, which was something to be glad of. It was a good land, far better than any they had seen since coming to this unfathomably ancient time, and they would make it their own.
Once the tribe had passed, it was time to bring up the horses. The trail was a bit steep, but navigable. When they reached the crossing, Nate, Ni-T’o and Gonzalo placed blinders on their mounts to keep them calm. The bridge had evolved into a tunnel, it had walls woven from rope, and a roof of branches, just high enough to let the riderless horses pass. The additions created peace of mind and safety for anyone crossing, as well as protecting against the great flying beasts that occasionally soared through the chasm.
“Well, I might as well go first,” Nate said, working hard to inject a note of confidence into his voice. It didn’t matter if it was a covered bridge now, or not. He knew that damn log still lay beneath it, and even now crossing it set his heart a-flutter. With some gentle coaxing, he led Poppy up the slope, emerging onto the grassy meadow with a sigh of relief. Gonzalo followed with Flavio, then Ni-T’o with Bella. Now that T’cumu had a horse of his own, Bella had officially become Ni-T’o’s pride and joy. He doted on the beautiful, black Spanish mare, treating her to corn cakes filled with fruit from the mesa until she had begun to grow a bit round.
Of course, there was a bit more to that plumpness than good food. Both Bella and Poppy were carrying the foals that Flavio had planted in them. The blessed event was still long months away, but all the men looked forward to it, and were greatly relieved that the births would take place in the relative safety of the mesa top.
A short ride later they arrived at Mesa Top camp, which had grown into a temporary small village while work began on more permanent homes on the range of hills a few miles farther on.
T’cumu waited in the corral with Oklilinchi, a look of fatherly concern on his face. Would the new arrivals accept the ‘mesa cayuse’ into their herd? Would the stubborn little mare want to join? The moment of truth had arrived.
“Nate, Gonzalo, is there anything I must do?” he asked in a worried tone.
Gonzalo took him by the arm, comforting him in an elder-brotherly way. “No, my friend, and do not be so nervous. Horses are meant to live together in herds. They will sort things out for themselves.”
“I’m still not sure that candy-striped little cuss is a horse. I figure it’s some kind of tiger with hooves,” Nate opined loudly. The bruises he had suffered from her foul-tempered attentions had only recently healed.
T’cumu gave him a withering glance that could have melted glass, and Gonzalo fixed him with a stern gaze that plainly said “You are not helping!”
“Okay, fine. You better let Flavio in with her first, if anyone can melt her icy heart, it’s that randy fellow.”
Gonzalo strode proudly over to his waiting stallion, and led him into the corral, both their heads held high in the proud way of the Spaniard. He took off his halter, and petted him gently on the face. “Go now, my friend, win her heart!” he whispered, then sent him off with a gentle nudge in the young mare’s direction.
Flavio went straight to work, prancing over to the shy young thing with his tail held high, sniffing and snorting the horse’s version of a love song. Within a minute they were nuzzling like a pair of doves, the cayuse utterly smitten by her golden suitor.
Gonzalo rejoined his friends, fairly bursting with pride. “You see! It didn’t take my beautiful boy long at all.”
“Yes, Flavio certainly has a way with women,” Nate agreed, watching the always-eager stallion romance the moon-struck Oklilinchi.
“Unlike his master, alas!” Gonzalo said, laughing and shaking his head ruefully. “It seems we will be adding three foals to our herd now.”
“Well, I was hoping Flavio would take a shine to the little cuss just for that reason. Now we can find out if we’re going to get horses or mules out of such a union. Mules would not be a bad thing, by any means, but I’m holding out hope that these here cayuses actually are horses, even though they’d surely be the oddest-looking ones I’ve ever seen.”
“Then you have not seen a zebra, which these creatures remind me of. The stripes are not as pronounced, but the bushy mane, and the round ears, these are very similar. I could scarcely have believed such a breed, a horse native to the Americas, had ever even existed, if I had not seen it with my own eyes. Let us hope they can, indeed, produce offspring!”
“If it all works out, we will be the proud godfathers of a new breed. My old Grand-Dad would have sure been tickled at a chance like this. Too bad I never got to show him my pretty little appaloosa. He was always keen for something new to add to his stock. At some point I’ll mate Poppy with a cayuse stallion and see what we get. It would be one tough critter, I’ll wager.”
“I wonder if it would have stripes, or spots?” Gonzalo mused.
“I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Either or both is fine with me. The real question will be if it’s fertile or not. The suspense is damn near gonna kill me.”
“Not if a dragon does first,” Gonzalo said, then turned pale. “Oh, Nate, I do apologize! What an awful thing to say, I am sorry if I offended you! I shouldn’t tempt the fates in such a way!” Gonzalo crossed himself, then did it again for good measure.
Nate just laughed. “It’s all right, Gonzalo. I happen to be a long-time aficionado of gallows humor. Besides, you’d have to get up pretty early in the morning and walk a few hundred miles to offend a dusty old cowboy like me. Well, let’s let the rest of the girls in, before they get too jealous.”
A few minutes later Flavio was cantering around the corral followed by his three lady admirers. The horse’s masters, all greatly pleased, adjourned for a much-needed rest beneath the shady trees. Life was good today, and all four of them prayed silently in their own way that it would last.
Three Months Later, Cayuse Cabin
Nate sat on the wide front porch of the log cabin he and his friends had built near the site of the Mesa Top Camp. It was placed beneath the shady trees, looking out across the grassy fields the wild ‘cayuse’ horses favored for grazing. One day soon the place would grow into a real ranch, his very own. He hadn’t realized that was his secret desire in all his years of wandering, not until he arrived in the strange world of the distant past—an odd place to discover one’s future, to say the least. Gonzalo was staying with him, while they constructed a mud-brick house in the old Spanish style a half-mile away, in a spot just as lovely as this one.
Work on the village they had dubbed Hilltop was mostly finished, hard-packed dirt streets lined with the quaint, clay-daubed half-timbered dwellings the tribesmen favored. Hilltop housed the families and young women, all living in comfort, surrounded by the mesa’s abundant beauty. Another, smaller village, more of a fort really, had been erected near the rope bridge. This had come to be known as “Lookout,” and was the favored haunt of the tribe’s young bachelors, who were charged with the important task of standing guard at the bridge.
Word of the mesa had spread among the peoples the twentieth-century folk called Pre-Mounds Tribes, and the mesa’s population had already began to grow as more and more of them made the journey across the Drained Sea, gladly leaving behind scattered small villages and camps that had proven too difficult to defend against the monstrous creatures roaming the lands below. All were welcomed, and now the people of many tribes were coalescing into a new identity, calling themselves The Mesa People. Nate and Gonzalo were proud to count themselves among their number, and had been elevated to the status of great chiefs by their adopted kinsmen. Even irascible old Ninak-Mkateewa had come to treat them with some respect, most of the time, anyway.
Nate sat in the oak rocking chair he had carved for himself, and mused on his good fortune. After a blissful spell, he stood up, stretching his long legs with a groan. The one that he had been snared by still gave him a bit of trouble, but it wasn’t as bad, and he thought one day it might completely heal. Now it was time to go check on the small herd of wild cayuses they had corralled, and placed under the talented care of T’cumu, who they figured could tame a tornado if given the chance. Before he could get very far, he heard the drum-beat of handsome Flavio’s hooves coming across the meadow at a gallop. Apparently Gonzalo was in a bit of a hurry.
“What’s going on?” Nate called to him, feeling a bit concerned at his friend’s unexpected arrival.
Gonzalo waved, and called back. “You have a visitor asking for you at the bridge!”
“Huh? A visitor? Who?” For the life of him, Nate couldn’t think of anybody in the New New World who would be coming to see him, for any good reason anyway.
“I think you had better come see for yourself.” Gonzalo was obviously excited, and trying to control himself.
“I can tell by the look on your face that it’s going to be someone interesting, and not necessarily in a good way.”
“Just come, come and see!”
Nate rounded up Poppy, and they rode the few easy miles to the bridge at a ground-eating trot. Poppy was beginning to show, and Nate didn’t like to run her too hard. They arrived at Lookout to find a crowd had gathered. As they drew closer, Nate saw some amongst them wearing a certain cut of clothing—the kind worn by the people of the City of the Pyramids.
It wasn’t that big a surprise. He knew that at some point city folk would arrive here, and he was glad that they had their defenses set up well before such an occasion. He and Gonzalo dismounted and walked forward, the crowd parting for them.
Suddenly, Nate came to an abrupt halt.
There, at the center of the gathering, surrounded by her ever-watchful personal guard, was the Raven Priestess. As always, she was utterly captivating, dressed all in indigo, her long, raven tresses framing the other-worldly beauty of her face. She favored Nate with a mysterious smile, her smoky-amber eyes glittering bronze as they caught the blaze of the midday sun. She was a thing of the night, and even beneath the light of day she was somehow surrounded by a shimmering darkness, a shadow sojourning long past the dawn.
Gonzalo took Nate, who was frozen in place, gently by the arm, and began guiding him forward. He spoke softly in his ear. “So, as you said, ‘interesting’, no?”
“Yup, sure enough,” Nate managed to croak through a throat gone tight. He was having a hard time catching his breath; the woman always had the damnedest effect on him! He shook himself, and squared his shoulders in an attempt to ward off her stunning power over him. “Yeah, interesting, and also like I said, ‘not necessarily in a good way.’ I wonder if she even remembers me. . . . Hey, what the—”
Suddenly, like an owl swooping from its perch to fall upon its hapless prey, the Raven Priestess rushed to Nate, and enclosed him in an inescapable embrace, her lips stopping his words with a passionate kiss.
Nate’s hands flapped about helplessly for a moment, like birds that had forgotten how to fly, until they came to land gently on her back. With a visible shrug he stopped resisting, and set about returning her affection in earnest. I will regret this later, I know I will, and damned if I care! were his last thoughts as he let himself fall under her inexorable, sensuous spell.
Everyone gathered fell into a surprised silence at the unexpected event, except for Gonzalo, who began laughing loudly, quite unable to stop himself.
To be continued in The 1st Cavalry of the Cretaceous