Two men waited on the small ridge ahead of the traveler. Once they knew they had been spotted they slowly climbed down from their striders and moved to take several bundles from the pack strider they had with them. Slowly advancing they also motioned for the female to dismount. Spreading a large tanned hide on the ground they then placed on it several small bundles before opening the cloth to show what was inside. Fresh fruits and vegetables such as were not normally seen in this arid region. Several beautifully tanned and worked skins for making clothing as well as two pairs on newly made, heavy soled moccasins. With these spread out before them on the hide they stepped back and awaited the closer approach of the lone traveler they had been seeking. Stepping meekly behind them was the young female.
As the traveler neared them the two males raised their right hands slowly, holding them high, away from any weapons to show their peaceful intentions. The traveler was HUGE. Well over six and a half feet tall, more than 250 lbs, his weight carried in his chest and shoulders, not his middle and rear. His light brown hair was sun streaked, long and shaggy as was his beard. His clothes showed hard and long wear. Where they had been mended the repairs were neatly and properly done. The dirt that showed on his garments and his body were merely that of a hard day's travel, not the caked on filth of a person who never bathes or cleans his apparel. Looking beyond the dirt and the shabby clothes Willow Swan saw a man who could be handsome were his beard and hair groomed and trimmed properly.
"Bringer, we seek your aid. We bring gifts to help you, to give you variety in your meals. This is your due for the services you have already provided and are about to provide. These few things merely represent what we have stowed for you on the pack strider. We ask that you turn west for at least half a day before continuing your journey north. The grasslands to the west are very dry and in need of your care. Ahead is an area that your services might injure at this time. We ask your pardon for speaking so blunt and beg of you this favor." When done speaking he dropped to his knees his eyes down cast before the shaggy traveler, followed immediately by the other two.
Upon hearing a loud snap the three looked up to see the traveler called Bringer motioning for them to rise once more.
"I speak with men, not beggars. Your REQUEST will not cause me any problems. I would not cause injury to anyone or anything therefore I am glad that you have brought it to my attention." Planting his long walking staff in the ground as vertically as possible he looked at the shadow it cast. Removing several things from one of his own pack striders he placed them on the hide with their gifts. "It is close enough to noon to stop and eat, will you share my simple fare with me?"
As the three men sat on the hide the lone female left to return with two skins. One of water and the other of rakkar. Placing the skins before them she sat also and removed a few items to munch upon. Bread and salt were among the things exchanged between the three males. A ritual from another time and another land but one to show peaceful intent and the absence of malice. Remaining silent and listening to what was being said she watched as well, trying to let nothing slip her notice. The respect that the two leaders of her people paid to this shaggy haired, shabbily dressed male. The ease with which he accepted and returned their respect, made them chuckle at his stories and shared their worries held her in awe. Who was this man they called Bringer? While she pondered this question the conversation turned serious and she missed the start of it. Why was Strong Bow doing all the talking? Swift of Foot listened, pondered and observed, but he had yet to speak, strange.
"... three days if you would. Then you can return to your original path and the trickle down should be more than enough to satisfy the area you bypassed," Strong Bow stated. Turning to her he continued, "Little Sister, we would ask that you travel with Bringer and use the skins we have provided to make him new garments. Provide other services as he requires as well."
"BOW! That is not your place," said the man called Bringer. Reaching for her hand she gave it to him. Rising easily to his feet he assisted her to rise as well. His hand was strong, callused and large. Her small hand got lost in it but the strength was only enough to assist her, not harm. Huge but gentle.
"Little One, Bow has not seen fit to offer your name yet he takes it upon himself to offer your body. What he is telling you is that you are to share my blankets as well as my company while you sew me new garments. This is a service that is done for me from time to time however... It is not HE who will be performing this service but YOU, therefore it is not his place to offer you to me. I do not REQUIRE anything more of you than the new garments you have offered to make for me. Any additional services or favors that you wish to grant is up to you, you will not be forced nor coerced," he said quietly.
"Man called Bringer, I am called Willow Swan. I will sew your new garments. We will see about any other favors as we go." There was definitely a twinkle in her eyes as she watched this man who stood up to her two leaders on her behalf. Stood up for a person he did not even know simply because he disagreed with what had been implied by Strong Bow's statement.
"Very well, Willow Swan, we will see. Gather your things as we leave in moments. Bow, when I turn back North on my original course I will send the Little Sister and the pack strider back to you. Until the next time, may the Gods favor you and yours."
With that he turned away, gathered the lead rope to his pack striders and resumed his travel, this time to the West. Willow Swan scrambled to repack the hides and other things that had been shown to him as well as the remaining food items. Taking the lead of the pack strider she mounted and gave pursuit of this long walking man.
This strange man seemed to walk along oblivious to everything yet once he caught an attacking slitherer on his staff and flipped it away so it could not harm them nor the striders. The slightest touch of its poisoned fang would have been instant death to the one touched yet he left it unharmed. It all happened before she even noted the attack. Another time he pulled a succulent leaf from somewhere on his person and placed it in front of a desert shellback that it might eat and gain the moisture from it. Listen as she could, she only heard the sounds of the striders, never him. It was as if he were not there, were not walking right in front of her.
From time to time he would stop. Not so much as to rest himself but to check on the striders, to allow them to rest and to give them a small bit of water. Here in this desolate waste water was precious, VERY precious yet he gave it to them as if it were the most plentiful thing around. He checked not only on the well being of his two striders but the pack strider she was leading as well. He took some items from the packs and moved them to his animals to adjust the load. He also gave it of his meager supply of water. The first time she tried to caution him about the water as there was no place nearby to replenish his skin. He merely smiled and said, "Tonight we can refill our skins."
"I know not of anyplace around here we can find water and I have lived here all my life." Again he just smiled.
Finally a hand before nightfall they stopped. He immediately unloaded and hobbled his two striders before doing the same for the one she led. He left the care and tending of her riding animal to her. From one pack he took hides and put up a tent, from the other he put up a shelter large enough for the four animals. He then set up several trough looking things and lastly moved the packs under the shelters and removed enough food them their evening meal.
"Man called Bringer, why do you put up a shelter? You act as if it would rain out here in this desolate country. It rains here but every two or three years, what makes you think it will happen tonight?"
"It will rain tonight as soon as we have finished our meal. It will rain slowly all night long and on the morrow those troughs will be filled and we will replenish our water bags from them. After that the animals will drink their fill and we will continue on our way."
"What leads you to believe this will happen? Once every two or three years and tonight is the night it will occur? How? Why?"
"It will happen Little One because I will tell it to happen. You still haven't figured out who I am yet, have you? I am called Bringer because it is the easiest form of my name to use. I am He-Who-Brings-Water-From-the-Sky-and-Brings-Life-to-the-Barren-Earth."
Willow immediately fell to her knees and knelt with her head to the ground. The glimpse he had of her face before she bowed her head contained a look between total horror and complete Awe.
"Forgive me Great One, I knew not or I would have been more respectful. Forgive me please."
"Get up Willow, we've been through this. I don't speak with beggars, only men, using the broader sense of the word. I told you to explain why there will be rain tonight, not to scare you, not to place you in awe. I am a man with certain abilities, certain powers, but I am still just a man, not a God, not a lord, a man. Now stop this foolishness and get to your feet."
Looking up she saw he again had his hand out to assist her. Reluctantly she allowed him to assist her. Her mind in a turmoil as to how she should act around someone with such power. Someone that her whole tribe spoke of with reverence. NOW she understood the respect that Strong Bow and Swift of Foot had paid him.
These and many more thoughts buzzed in her head while they sat eating the simple meal that he had prepared for them. At the conclusion he walked out away from the shelters he had erected and planted his staff in the ground. Kneeling before it he bowed his head and spoke in a low voice for a bit before rising to his feet and returning.
"How long has it been since you were able to totally immerse yourself in water for a bath, Little One? Tonight you will be able to should you desire."
Lights flickered in the evening sky and thunder rumbled all around them. Soon a gentle rain began to fall softly all around them. At first his two pack striders enjoyed the feel and the coolness of the water before finally moving under the shelter out of the rain. Seeing them do so the two animals that she had moved with them out of the wet.
Sitting by the small fire that he kept feeding they spoke of minor things while she worked on the clothing she was making for him. After an hour or so he walked slowly under the animal shelter and raised a part of it. The water that had pooled in the low portion ran into one of the troughs.
"Your bath awaits if you wish to indulge." Going into one of his packs he removed several items. "Soap to cleanse you, a gourd to use as a dipper to rinse and a drying cloth for you to use. You need to bring your own clean change however," he chuckled.
Putting away the things she had been working on she stood, disrobed and took the things he offered. Slowly she climbed into the trough of water. This was a feeling she had only experienced a few times. Water was too scarce, too precious to be wasted in this manner. Small amounts could be spared to wash with but not to be used so generously. This was the purest of luxuries! Abundant water! The soap he had offered her had the scent of spices. First she washed her hair and then her upper body while allowing her lower body to soak. Finally standing she washed her lower body and then using the gourd she rinsed herself before stepping from the water and toweling off.
She was horrified at first with his wastage when he tipped the trough over and spilled the water onto the ground. He only chuckled as he raised the lower part of the shelter to once again fill the tub with water.
"It will water the ground so that things may grow Little One, besides I need to refill it so I can bathe also." Disrobing he then climbed into the tub and began to vigorously wash.
Looking at his she had to laugh at the strange contrasts. While his forehead was lighter in color from being shaded by the brim of his hat it was still darker than his chest. His lower face and part of his chest were burnt very dark from the sun as were his hands and lower arms. The rest of his body was a pasty white from being shielded by his clothing.
When he hair and beard had been cleansed he began to wash his upper body. From time to time she shot surreptitious glances at his. Without clothing he seemed even larger than he did clothed! It was easy to see that the exposed flesh contained little or no fat, it was all muscle and bone. When he stood finally to wash his lower body and legs she saw it was not ALL muscle and bone. His manmeat was large also, even flaccid it was more then 6 inches long causing her to wonder just how large it would be if it became angry.
Catching one of her looks he chuckled which caused her to blush deeply.
"I apologize Little One, I am seldom in the company of others so I set up the tub near the fire. Tomorrow I will set it so we will have more privacy. I did not mean to cause you undue embarrassment."
"That is not the problem Great One..."
"Just Bringer," he interrupted.
"That is not the problem Lord Bringer, I did not expect to see such an endowment as you have and it caught me by surprise. The fire provides light, warmth and protection, set the tub close by on the morrow."
Stepping from the tub he covered himself before tipping the water out as before. Putting on clean pants he joined her by the fire and began to comb out his beard.
Pulling out scissors and a small hand mirror he began to trim his beard. Not the easiest of tasks for him to do she soon took the scissors and began to do it herself. When she had completed that task she began to trim back his hair as well. Using his drying cloth to catch the clipped hair she soon had him looking a lot more presentable.
"There, you are now fit for the company of man or beast," she kidded him.
"Ah, but what about females? Am I fit for their company as well?" he returned.
"My Lord Bringer, if you treat all females as you have treated me you are ALWAYS fit company for them. You speak softly and gently yet your actions shout. You stood up for me when you didn't even know who I was because it was against your concept of right. You aid those around you be they animal or human causing as little harm as possible as well as bring water and life to this barren, parched land. YES, my Lord, you are VERY fit company for females."
"Thank you for that comments Willow and for trimming my hair. With that I will retire for the evening. Your bedding is on the right as you enter," he said as he stood and hung up the drying cloth before entering the tent.
Upon entering the tent a while later she found as he had said that her bedding was spread out on the right side of the tent, his was against the other wall with several feet of distance between them. The gentle rain falling on the hides of the tent, while a strange and alien sound to her, had a hypnotic effect and she was soon asleep.
She awoke the next morning not to the sound of the rain falling but to the smell of food being prepared. She could detect eggs, some type of meat and what she took to be pan fried bread being fixed. After combing out her long hair, dressing herself and making herself presentable she joined his outside. The rain had stopped and now the desert flowers were springing up. With a fast growth and life cycle they needed to grow fast to present their beauty and to germinate for the next cycle of dormancy.
"I hope the falling rain lulled you to sleep and you rested well," he said gently as she exited the tent. "It takes a while to get used to the sound if one is not accustomed to it. The clean, cool morning air gives you an appetite also," he said with a grin. "All the waterskins have been refilled, the animals have been moved so they can drink their fill and after breaking bread we will fold up our tent and be on our way. I like to give the skins a chance to dry off first before folding them up, they last longer that way."
"This is what you get up to every morning? After all the heat the cool feels wonderful."
"Sometimes around noon or shortly thereafter you will look back on this morning and think the coolness was but a dream."