Aftershocks: Ice Planet Barbarians: A Slice of Life Short Story

BOOK: Aftershocks: Ice Planet Barbarians: A Slice of Life Short Story
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Ice Planet Barbarians: Aftershocks
A Slice Of Life Short Story
Ruby Dixon
Ice Planet Barbarians: Aftershocks

O
n the day
the world shook, everything changed for the barbarian tribe. This short story goes back to the event and gives additional insight.

How do Rukh and Harlow fare through the disaster? How does the chief handle the destruction of everything he’s ever known?

This short story is a slice of life and intended to be read after Barbarian’s Taming. It is NOT a stand alone. It is, however, intended to provide extra character insight for those who want to visit the ice planet for a little bit longer.

1
RUKH

M
y mate has been sitting
at the wall again all day.

“Come away,” I tell her, putting our kit into her hands. “Rukhar wants his mother.”

She looks up at me and gives me an absent smile. “I’m obsessing, aren’t I? I’m sorry.” She gets to her feet, but glances back at the wall with its flashing lights and clicking buttons. “It’s just…I don’t like things I can’t fix, you know?”

I grunt acknowledgment, because the way her mind works is a mystery to me. I know things I can touch and taste. My world is in this moment, with her and our son. I like doing things the way they have always been done. I do not like change. My Har-loh is different, though. She constantly thinks of ways to improve how our people live. To create new things to make changes for the better. She does not see limitations. To me, the thing she stares at all day is just a wall. To her, it is full of ideas and concepts that can help, and she sees herself as the one who must unpack them.

And as her mate, I must be the one to pull her away and remind her to eat and to take care of herself.

Har-loh cuddles Rukhar, pressing kisses on his brow as she gets to her feet and moves close to the fire. I have put on a bit of meat to roast for her, and some of the roots she prefers. If it were up to her, she would eat nothing but roots, but I make her eat good red meat. She needs to stay strong.

Always, I think about how fragile she is. How close I came to losing her. I must protect her in all ways.

“What are you working on today?” she asks distractedly as she sits near the fire. She opens her tunic, revealing one breast, and Rukhar immediately leans in to nurse. “Still trying to fix those hides?”

I get one of her little bowls that she likes—she does not wish to hold handfuls of food as she eats, a concept that is still strange to me—and fill it with more meat and roots than she normally eats. I do not want her getting thin with the brutal season coming. I sit next to her and pick up one of the cubes of fresh meat and offer it to her lips. “Eat.”

She rolls her eyes but smiles at me and obediently eats a chunk, her lips brushing against my fingertips. “You’re so pushy.”

“Because you forget,” I tell her. “Always forget.”

She smiles at me, warmth in her eyes, and my chest burns with sheer joy. My sweet mate. Every day with her is a gift. “I’m lucky I have you to keep my head on straight.”

I frown, eyeing her. “Is not straight?”

Her laughter is like a warm blanket. “It’s a thing humans say.”

I smile at her. “Then I like it on straight.”

I love it when she smiles. I watch her, feeding her another cube of meat when she swallows. She nurses our son, who is old enough now that he watches her with interest and pushes his hands against her teat as he feeds. He eats a mushy version of Har-loh’s roots sometimes, but his fangs are small and not yet ready for meat. I watch as she smooths a hand over Rukhar’s hair and strokes his horns. Sometimes I am jealous of the attention she gives our son, because I want her to look at me and only me with so much love. But then he looks over at me as he feeds, and a silly, milk-wet smile curves his mouth, and I feel my chest squeeze with affection for my son.

“He looks like you more and more every day,” Har-loh says. “Don’t you think?”

Eh? I gaze at my son. He looks like me? I rub my jaw. I have never seen my own face. “My nose has…bumps.” I reach out and touch Rukhar’s small nose. “His like yours.”

“If you say so,” she teases. “But the rest of him is all you.”

I find it odd that a creature as small as my son would have my face. I thought I would look like my brother, the way Pashov and Salukh have similar features. But my brother Raahosh is ugly and scarred. Am I ugly to Har-loh? Disturbed, I push another chunk of meat into my mate’s mouth.

Rukhar finishes nursing, and Har-loh wipes his mouth with a bit of soft fur and then sets him down on his favorite blanket. He crawls about, reaching for a carved bone toy and then pops it into his mouth, biting it.

“Do you think you can watch him a little longer?” Har-loh asks. “I need to keep working on the computer. It’s a puzzle I can’t quite figure out and it’s bothering me.” Her reddish brows pull together. “It’s like there’s something missing that I’m just not getting.”

“Missing?” I offer her another chunk of food.

She takes it with a dreamy expression, chewing slow. Her thoughts are clearly with the com-pyew-tor. “The dates are all wrong. I just…I don’t know. It’s a hunch I have. Everything says that the sa-khui have been here for almost three hundred years, but when I crunch outside data, it just doesn’t add up.”

“Do what you need,” I tell her. “Rukhar and I will work on the skins.”

Her mouth twitches with amusement. “He’ll help you like he did yesterday?”

I grunt. My son is too curious. Instead of staying on his blankets, he gets into things. Yesterday, he got into the bowls of offal that I use to tan a hide. I recently learned this from Hemalo and wished to create a soft blanket for my mate for the brutal season. All of the furs I know how to make are tough, scraped clean but not very soft. Hemalo’s hides are soft like my mate’s skin. I want the best for her.

But now that Rukhar has spilled all of my tanning fluids, I must figure out another way to make the hides soft. I do not want to waste them. “I will work despite Rukhar’s help.”

Har-loh’s peals of laughter echo in the strange cave. She gets to her feet, and I do, too. Her arms go around my neck and she leans in close, her eyes soft in the way that makes my cock ache. “Maybe after we put him to bed, you can give me a tour of the furs.”

I like that thought. “I can put him to bed now.”

She giggles at my teasing and gives me a kiss. “I will leave you two to your work, and get back to my projects.”

I brush her arm as she goes, desperate to touch my mate again. Sometimes it is difficult to let her work when all I want to do is grab her and pull her leathers off her body until she is naked and under me. I rub absently at my own bare chest, glad that we are away from the tribe and I am free to dress how I please—in not much more than a loincloth.

“Da da!” Rukhar calls out and raises his arms for me.

“I am here,” I tell him, and heft him into my arms. My son. Did I think my life was not complete without my mate? I feel the same fierce love for my small son, but in a different way. He is my heart, just like my Har-loh is.

My ‘heart’ gurgles at me and slaps a hand on my jaw. “Da-da!”

“Da-da work now,” I agree, tucking him under my arm. “Come. We make leather.”

* * *

W
orking
with a small kit underfoot is not much work at all. Rukhar has a soft blanket that I place him on for him to play while I scrape the large dvisti skin I have stretched out in the snow. Since I do not have the brains and guts of the creature, I have been rubbing the skin with fat and then scraping it to try to soften it…in between retrieving Rukhar. My son is now crawling and uses every opportunity to race away.

I retrieve him out of a nearby snow drift and place him on his blanket again. It is a game he likes to play. He crawls away, and I put him back. He crawls away. I put him back. He crawls away. I put him back. Rukhar finds it fun.

And even though I cannot get much work done on the skins, I also cannot be mad when he smiles up at me, mouth full of drool and his gums punctuated by two small, crooked fangs.

“Stay for a little while,” I tell him again. “We play game later.” The suns will be going down soon, and I will have to pack up my projects and bring them back inside the cave. It is a messy task and so I do it outside, in the snow a short distance away from the cave entrance.

I sit down at my skin.

Rukhar immediately crawls away.

I sigh and crawl after him—and a shiver swells through my legs. I sway, rolling to my back, confused. Is it me? Why is my body trembling? Why do I have no strength? But then Rukhar lets out an angry wail, and I realize it is not me.

It is the ground.

It shivers again, and then begins to roll and tremble. I scoop up my son, ignoring his frightened screams as I stare at the world around me. Everything is shaking. The trees in the distance move back and forth like they are caught in a windstorm. The ground shakes beneath my feet. I hear the sound of ice cracking, and a massive gorge splits the earth a short distance away. It starts out small, and then grows wider and begins to snake across the snow, widening as it does.

Har-loh. My mate.

“Har-loh!” I scream, looking to the Elders’ Cave. As I watch, the crack moves toward the cave. I race after it, but then the ground shifts away under my feet and I lose my balance. I roll carefully, cradling my son close so my weight does not crush him, and protect his body with mine. All around me, the world groans and shudders, and the snow shakes wildly underneath me.

What is happening?

The world grows dark, and I hear the groan of something new. A crunching sound. A thick fall of snow cascades over my body, dumping from above. I shake it off like a dvisti and look up. The cave has grown in size, the strange rock it is made from uncovered. And it is…moving. I frown at it, surprised. Did Har-loh do this? Did she learn how to make it move?

The ground at my feet shakes harder and gives a strong shift, and I am knocked backward. Dazed, I pick myself up off the snow. Rukhar is wailing, his face flushed with anger, and he raises his arms for me to pick him up again. I do so, crouching low in the snow. I dare not stand and be knocked down again.

As I hold my frightened son against my chest, the shadow rises. The crunching sound gets louder, and as I watch, the cave slides into the gorge.

NO. MY MATE.
She’s inside. She’s trapped.

“Har-loh!” I scream so loudly that I feel something burst behind my eyes. I want to approach the cave as it slides, but my son is in my arms. I am torn—can I save my mate? What if I put Rukhar down into the snow and wild metlaks grab him? I cannot! I race forward, plunging through the newly deep snow, praying it does not cover new cracks or hidden dangers. All the while, the cave slowly slides backward into the gorge. As I watch with horror, the entire thing tilts and upends like a bone disc, revealing the guts of the cave on the underside and leaving a black scar underneath it where it used to be.

The entire thing is going to disappear into the ground and carry my mate with it.

I must do something.

I race forward with Rukhar, holding him tightly. With every step I take, the sick feeling in my gut grows. I wait for this moment to get worse, for the cave to slide away entirely into the ground and disappear.

It heaves upright, like a finger pointing in the air, and then gives a great shudder. It stops.

Everything stops. The ground no longer shakes with anger.

“Har-loh!” I bellow again, pushing forward. I must get to her. Is she hurt? Is she waiting for me to rescue her? Is she…

I think of my father, his dead body lying so still as I put rocks over it.

No.

No, not my Har-loh. Not my mate.

My thoughts are growing wild. Rukhar screams in my arms, but I put a hand on his head to calm him and do little else. I am focused on my mate. I must get to her.
Now.

The entrance to the cave is now high in the air. I can climb it. I set my wailing son down in the snow at my feet…and then immediately pick him back up again. I cannot climb with him in my arms…but I cannot leave him, either. I howl with frustration, and he howls with me. I must do this. I must.

For the first time, I wish the people of the tribe were here to help out. Normally I am glad to leave them behind because there are so many. Today, I would do anything for an extra pair of hands.

Rukhar grabs a fistful of my hair, wailing. “Ma ma!
Ma ma
!”

His frustration is not helping mine. I must think, but my mind is frantic. I see visions of my father’s body and imagine putting rocks over Har-loh’s smaller form…and another howl of grief escapes me.

No.

Please, no.

I cannot lose her.

I cannot be alone again.

She is my world. She is my everything.

I grip my son fiercely against my chest and he screams anew, furious at me and scared. I am, too. I press a kiss to his forehead like Har-loh does, trying to think. I need a wrap to hold him to me. I look back, but the leathers I was scraping are long gone, buried in snow or shifted beneath the broken earth. The only thing I have is my loincloth.

I rip it off a moment later. It is not long enough to act as a sling to carry my son, so I grab one edge between my teeth and rip. The leather rends in two, right down the middle. I set my son down and tie the two lengths together, and then pick him up again and tie him to my chest. I place one hand under his bottom, holding him tight against me, and then I begin to climb.

There are not many footholds on the outside of the cave, but there are small cracks. I force my fingernails into them to act as a grip, ignoring the pain that shoots up my fingers. My pain does not matter. Only Har-loh matters.

BOOK: Aftershocks: Ice Planet Barbarians: A Slice of Life Short Story
10.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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