Wolf's Bounty Page 13

Chapter Four

Larsson raised one hand weakly and let his fingers trail down the side of Tarr’s face. Without warning, Larsson grabbed his ear and twisted—hard.

“Ow!” Tarr surged backward, trying to get away and Larsson followed him down, still twisting the ear savagely.

“You’re tearing my ear off!” Tarr yelped, and Larsson grinned down at him.

“Do you give up?”

“Yes, yes, damn you, I give up! Let go of my ear!”

Larsson let go and stood back on his feet, dusting himself off. Tarr sat up on the ground by his feet glaring up at him and holding a hand protectively over his ear.“You just pretended to be knocked out!” he said accusingly. “There was nothing wrong with you!”

Larsson tapped his forehead and smiled.“Brains, Tygerian. They win over brawn every time.”

Tarr continued to glare up at him, just as a whizzing sound and a soft thud filled the air. Tarr glanced around in confusion and then back up at Larsson.

Larsson had a strange look on his face, and his eyes had glazed over. As Tarr watched, he slowly and gracefully collapsed forward, falling into Tarr’s arms. To his horror, Tarr saw a dart imbedded in his back. He pulled it out savagely and gathered his lover close to him. He was still breathing, thank the gods, but he seemed to be deeply unconscious. Backing away warily, with some half-formed idea of getting his back to the cliff wall and using the lean-to as a shield, Tarr saw movement in the trees. He growled deep in his throat, a fierce rumbling sound that was answered almost at once from more than one shadowy patch in the trees. One by one, figures stepped from the foliage and showed themselves.

There were at least six of them and they were tall, some as tall as Tarr himself. All had wild manes of hair in colors ranging from gold to an orangey red. Powerfully built, they wore animal skins around their waists, leaving their chests bare and displaying lean muscles and a wide expanse of golden brown skin, with black tiger stripes running just beneath the skin. As they stalked closer, Tarr saw they all had slanted eyes of gold-green. Tygerians! There was no mistaking their distinctive appearance, but what could they possibly be doing here? Dressed like this? Putting Larsson down carefully on the ground behind him, he stood to face them as they approached.

“Holayo,” one of the ones in the front of the group said, using an archaic form of Tygerian that once served as a greeting on Tarr’s home planet.

Tarr nodded, a slight inclination of his head. These men had injured his mate, and if Larsson was dying, he would take great pleasure in ripping out their throats. “Holayo,” he replied in Tygerian.“Who are you? What are you doing here?”

Their leader, or at least the one who seemed to be the spokesman for the group, tilted his head slightly.“You speak strangely. I understand your words, but your accent is odd. You are Tygerian, correct?”

“I’m Tygerian. And if you think I speak oddly, you should hear yourself. Who the fuck are you? Why have you attacked us? Ifyou’ve injured my nobyo, I’ll take great pleasure in killing you.”

The man looked surprised, and several of the ones closest to him made a snarling sound and stepped closer in an uneasy fashion, darting savage looks at Tarr. The leader shook his head and held up a hand to stop them. They stopped where they were, but still glared at Tarr with undisguised hostility.

“I am Rabb Seneca.” He glanced down at Larsson briefly before gazing back into Tarr’s eyes.“Your nobyo? But he is Lycan, yes? We saw you struggling with him and thought he had injured you. The dart we shot into him is not lethal.It will only make him sleep.”

Tarr grunted a response and bent down to check Larsson again. He seemed to be breathing all right, but Tarr was still furious that the group had attacked his nobyo. He tried hard to swallow his anger and stood to face them again.“He seems to be all right for now. You should pray to your gods that he is.”

The man nodded carefully.“I apologize if I damaged your property, but he should be fine.”

“What are you doing here?” Tarr asked again. “Where are your ships?”

Rabb tilted his head again in that odd fashion.“We live here. Our ship wrecked on this moon many cycles ago, and we’ve lived here ever since.” He glanced over at the wreckage of the shuttle, still on the shoreline behind them.“I can see that you’ve had some difficulties of your own.”

“Yes, you might say that,” Tarr answered, as noncommittally as possible. He wasn’t sure if he believed the story of a shipwreck or anything else this man might have to say. They were undoubtedly Tygerian, and they did seem to speak in an older, archaic form of the language, but it was a form that hadn’t been spoken on his home planet for hundreds of cycles. Surely he wasn’t to believe that they’d been here all that time. Until he knew what and who these people were, he needed to be careful and tell them very little.

“Are you with the other group? The ones who landed here four days ago?”

Tarr’s head came up sharply. “Other group? What other group?”

“They claimed to be Nilaniums. They said their planet was destroyed when their sun supernovaed a long time ago, and they’ve been voyaging ever since.”Rabb glanced back over at Tarr’s wrecked shuttle. Their ship had similar markings.”

“My crew?” Tarr said excitedly.“Yes, I think they must be a part of my group, as you say. Did you say they landed here?So their ship is intact?”

Rabb nodded carefully.“Yes, the ship is fine. We have, of course, confiscated it, and have them in custody.”

Tarr took an aggressive step forward, noting the bristling of the Tygerians standing behind Rabb. “You confiscated it? It’s my ship. And those are my men. You’ll release them immediately.”

Rabb never flinched, just looked serenely back at him.“You’ll need to speak to my father. He’s our commander, and the decision is his.You can make your case to him.”

Tarr nodded.“Where is he? Take me to him.”

Rabb inclined his head rather regally, Tarr thought and made a motion to his men.“My warriors will carry your nobyoback to our camp.”

Tarr stepped in front of the one closest to Larsson.“No, I don’t believe they will. I’ll take him.”

Rabb smiled at him.“As you wish. Follow us then.”

“I need my clothes—for my nobyotoo.”

When they’d been surprised, they’d both been naked, and though Tarr was comfortable unclothed, he didn’t like the way the others kept stealing glances at Larsson’s beautiful body.

“Your nobyowears clothes?” Rabb looked down at him and then back up at Tarr. “Why?”

Ignoring him, Tarr stalked back the few steps to the lean-to and slipped into his pants. He found Larsson’s as well and quickly pulled them on his still limp and unconscious body, then gathered Larsson in his arms and hoisted him over his shoulder.He didn’t like carrying him like this, and knew Larsson would hate it—which kind of made him want to do it—but his nobyo was too damn big to carry any other way. The idea of the others having their hands on him didn’t set well with him at all, so he had no choice in the matter.

Rabb started back toward the trees with Tarr following him and the others filing along behind. As they left the shore of the river and entered the forest, the trees seemed to close ranks around them. Dense and an intense shade of green, they grew close together, and at first, Tarr could make out no discernible path through the undergrowth.

Finally, as his eyes began to adjust to the gloom he could just make out a faint path. Rabb seemed to follow it unerringly, so he stayed close behind him. Going deeper into the forest was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of time, when nothing but foliage rioted on the planets and the moons and the big trees were kings. It was silent all around them, sound seeming to be muffled by the dense vegetation. The air was warm, thick, and sluggish. From time to time, a slight break in the canopy of the trees let in a single slash of sunlight that penetrated the gloom like a spotlight.

But the stillness around them wasn’t peaceful or restful. It seemed almost alive, like some huge implacable force brooded in the silence around them, plotting their destruction. It was unnerving, and Tarr shifted Larsson’s body closer to him, holding onto him tightly.

After an interminable time, they came out of the dense forest onto a broad plain, filled with tall grass that was a strange shade of orange. It felt dry and burned up, rustling around them as they walked through it and tangling in Tarr’s legs as if trying to stop him. He could see a settlement of some sort just beyond the thick grass. It consisted mainly of small timber houses arranged in a circle, with a larger house in the middle. The roofs were thatched with the thick orange grasses, giving the small village a distinctive look. Children came out of the small houses and ran to meet them as they came into the settlement, and Tarr was surprised to see both boys and girls, mixing together.

On Tygeria, the sexes never mixed. Procreation was accomplished by artificial insemination. The females lived in their own sectors, and were only seen in the male sectors when they were there on business or to visit their male children who lived with their fathers and his nobyo.When a pregnant female emerged from one of the houses then and one of Rabb’s warriors went over to stand protectively by her, Tarr stared around him in amazement. Many of these warriors seemed to live with their females.

Another of the warriors with Rabb peeled off to go to stand in front of a small house and called out loudly to someone inside. A young human male emerged, naked except for a scrap of cloth over his groin and quickly took the Tygerian’s weapons from him, standing on tiptoe to kiss his cheek and then bowing submissively from the waist—his nobyo, then. Nobyos and female mates living side by side with each other—this definitely was something Tarr had never witnessed or heard of before.And what in the gods’ names was a human doing here?

He saw no sign of his men, though it seemed like everybody else in the village came to gawk at them. He felt Larsson squirming on his shoulder and stopped to ease him down to his feet. His knees buckled under him, so that Tarr had to wrap an arm around his waist, but he seemed to be waking up. His beautiful long lashes blinked furiously as he tried to open his eyes, and his breath came in quick little puffs.Tarr couldn’t resist dropping a quick kiss on his lips and then murmuring in his ear.“Quiet now, baby. Let me handle this.”

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