They found several patches of lee’dah along their path, and at these places took breaks in the lessons to eat and rest. The air smelled sweet with pine, and the mysterious tang-air brought healing strength to Ron’s weary limbs. He noticed even Ke’a would lean her head back, and close her eyes to breathe in the wonderful air.
Ron’s vocabulary was growing, and included such words as: I, you, sun, mountain, ground, stone/rock, tired, rest, boulder, man, woman, cloak, dagger, shirt/blouse, pants, boots, water, food, and many dozens of other words. He had never been very good in school with foreign languages, but he had never had a teacher like Ke’a, nor so great a motivation as that which now drove him. Then, too, it helped him that Ke’a’s language was built out of short words compounded into larger, more complex words; Ron could pretty well figure out an unfamiliar large word by smaller syllable-words he already knew. Already they were beginning to carry on simple conversations.
Ke’a also taught him survival skills. She showed him ground-hugging leafy herbs, carrot-like tubers, and healing plants. He learned to recognize each of these, as well as certain poisonous plants to avoid. Food could also be found on scattered berry bushes. One he especially liked was “co’ort”; he thought it tasted like a pleasing combination of coconut and pineapple, a natural Pina-colada tasting fruit. Ron was soon passing little tests Ke’a was putting him through, such as the name of the monster spider: Gorhaaddon.
They wandered mostly in the small valley at the base of a now-familiar set of mountains. Nights were spent huddled close for mutual warmth against the chill nights. Ron knew little about starting a fire, except with matches—and he had none. One misty morning—the thirteenth since Ron had come through—Ke’a taught Ron how to set up some snares for small game.
That night, when they settled down to sleep, Ke’a nestled her head against Ron’s shoulder. His heart beat rapidly as he slipped an arm around her waist, and she snuggled to him. His longing for a fire to keep away the night’s chill now paled beside the gladness of holding Ke’a close by his side. She gently fell asleep, and Ron was just about to doze off himself.
Suddenly, seemingly all around them, a terrible living roar erupted as loud as thunder, a soul-chilling cry that was answered by a veritable army of like explosive roars. He snapped awake, jarring Ke’a as he bolted upright, straining wide-eyed into the darkness. The hair on his neck stood, and his blood pumped in readiness to flee, though he knew not from what. The cries resounded and howled, like and yet unlike the haunted howling of some impossible wolf pack, a horrible shrieking and roaring of lost souls filling the air with consummate fury.
Ron grabbed Ke’a’s trembling hand to run, but she violently resisted and shook her head. “No one escapes the Nihaar, the Dread Hiders in Darkness. If they do not find us, then we are safe,” she said.
The roars began to fall fewer and grow more distant. Ke’a’s fingers were clenched tightly in Ron’s, drawing reassurance, and he held her protectively.
Finally, a single roar cried aloud, now more distant, its howl ending in a shriek that snapped Ron up and sat him staring into the dark again, all his hairs on end. He grew aware of Ke’a’s pleading tugging at his arm, and sat down beside her.
The terror passed.
As he gave silent thanks to God for their safety, Ke’a touched his hand, and he realized a special bond had passed between them. In the starlight, Ron could see her eyes, her expression odd.
“Ron,” she said, softly, “with this night, I have realized I cannot hide the truth from you, not anymore.” She hesitated, and her hands found their way into his; he gently squeezed them and nodded, waiting. “There is something I must tell you.” She paused. “I am fleeing some men who seek to capture me. I first thought you were one of them when I attacked you. Now it has been many days, and I have not seen them. I think I am safe now. I need to return to my father Kelain and my mother Hejah in Kelain’Na, my home.”
“How did you come to be away from your father and mother, and chased by these men?”
She looked at him again with an odd expression, as if there had been some critically important information she had just given him, and he had missed it. “My father is great among men. The Saa-Maa wanted power over him, so they said I must go with them to become a Saa-Maa. I did not want to, for they are bad.” She stopped, struggling to find words to overcome his limited vocabulary. “I want to go home.” She paused again, eyes hopeful. “And I want you to come with me.” The stars reflected in her eyes as she looked at him.
Ron struggled to express the concept of his world in the little language he knew. “The time for truth has come for me too. I would not—I could not—withhold truth from you, but I don’t know how this will sound to you.”
He paused, imagining the irony of what he himself would say if someone back home were to walk up to him and tell him they were from some other planet. “I am not from your world. This—what you called Fefn’la—is not the world of my birth. I came from my world, Earth. The sky is bright blue; the sun is bright yellow. There are no Nihaar there, no Gorhaaddon. I do not know how I came here, or how many more days I will stay, but as long as I am here, I will help you.” He paused. “And I want to come with you.”
She smiled a different smile, as if the nature of his origin did not concern her, but only that he would come with her, and that knowledge thrilled Ron with a warm joy like none he had ever known. That he had pleased her was a special thing unto itself. She sighed and rested into his shoulder as the night air blew a cool breeze past them.
“It is strange,” she said. “When I first met you, I could not understand how you came to be in the wilderness unarmed, with no knowledge of the language and no skills to live outside. Your clothes are strange, and the very cloth they are made of is strange. I would like to see your country someday, where there are no Nihaar or Gorhaaddon—it must be very peaceful there.”
Ron gave her a smile, but thought sadly, Yes, it’s real peaceful there, if you don’t mind pollution, crime, war, and atomic bombs.
They talked a little more. Then, as the fears of the night wore off, the light of morning found Ke’a nestled in Ron’s arms.
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