Like a fleck of ash, rising in the smoke and heat of a night-time fire, like an eagle soaring up into the clouds, Tarjana slowly began to regain consciousness.
It was no small thing.
She couldn't remember going to sleep, so waking from sleep confused her.
In Tarjana's world, confusion was always a dangerous, potentially fatal thing. Worried about where she was, uncomfortable both physically and emotionally, uncertain of everything, Tarjana lay as still as she could, counterfeiting unconsciousness, doing all she could to slow her breathing to what she took to be normal for someone asleep.
If she had been left unmolested in her sleep, then it was reasonable to seem to continue that sleep as she gathered her wits.
But where was she?
Unable to remember where she was and unable even to remember lying down to sleep - last night? - Tarjana knew she had to be cautious, to persuade whoever might have taken her, whoever might be holding her, that she was unaware, not a threat.
Was she alone?
Were the others like her?
Where were the guards? Captors?
She didn't know.
Again she probed her memory, but again there was nothing more than a vague sense of loss, though even to give it the name 'loss' was to change it, to make it into something it wasn't. Tarjana felt that something had changed, something been taken, something been given, but had no idea what any of it might be, might mean.
This in itself should have scared her – and it did – but she set that aside; she simply didn't have the time to be afraid right now, didn't have the time to show her fear. If she lived through this – whatever this was – she would have the time to be afraid later.
Again she asked herself, was she alone, hoping it would trigger some memory, but nothing came to take away the black abyss of unremembering.
Yet she must be alone, for if she were not, surely there would be some memory, some sound, something to tell her if she were in the company of an enemy, a captor - or even a lover.
And if it were not another man keeping her company, then even an animal, some predator that had found her, perhaps wounded her, and was waiting for its hunger to rise high enough that she became its next meal, even that would make some betraying sound.
But still there was nothing. Nothing.
Pushing that aside as fruitless, Tarjana settled on an inventory of what she could tell of where she was now, regardless of what had happened to bring her to this place, wherever it was.
Focusing on her sense of touch, Tarjana realised she was warm, not the warmth of a fire, more the warmth of a sunny day. There was more, she realised, the warmth and the dull orange glow behind her eyelids told her it was daytime ... sometime. The heat seemed to be pretty much overhead, making it sometime within an hour or so either side of noon.
At last, Tarjana had a fact to cling to, to build on.
More, the heat was more, the sun brighter than she was used to, so she had to be on an exposed position somewhere.
But what kind of place could that be?
Concentrating on where she lay, Tarjana could feel a hardness to the ground ... rock perhaps? Slowly moving her awareness through each of the places where her body touched the ground – her arms, her thighs, her ankles, her ass, her breasts, the side of her head – each of these confirmed she was lying on some large rocks – or a single large rock - somewhere exposed, and that probably meant high ... but where?
Wondering if her sense of smell might tell her something, Tarjana slowly took a deep breath, the kind deep sleepers took – she hoped – but that told her nothing more than that there was a leafy jungle not too far from 'here'...
At once a chain of memories hit her in quick succession, their strength causing her to gasp aloud in shock despite the imagined danger she was in.
Tarjana suddenly remembered sleeping in ape nests – something called the Harrowing – caught by the Watrali – hung on an execution frame – gutted like bushmeat – dying ... dying!
All caution forgotten in the aftershocks of her memories, Tarjana's eyes opened wide as she sat upright in absolute mind-numbing shock, only then remembering she had no memory of where she was, no idea of why she was there...
But there was nothing.
Tarjana could now see she was alone atop a small rocky mound, thrust up from the jungle, one last bastion against the intractable green. Maybe two dozen strides at its widest, half a dozen at its narrowest, the crest of the mound rose up higher than the canopy, giving her an unobstructed view for miles in every direction.
Breathing hard, almost panicking, Tarjana scrambled to her feet, desperately scanning around, looking for ... what?
In every direction, all she could see was the jungle, birds, occasional and indistinct animals in occasional clearings, and the mountains that rimmed the jungle, far, far away on the horizon, and even they were the dull green of distant jungle.
It made no sense.
And those memories?
The feel of the blade, opening her belly???
Her memories were telling her she had died, but how could she have died ... she was alive!?
She certainly felt alive, felt good, felt as good as she could remember ever feeling.
Tarjana smiled to herself; she had to admit she could not remember all that much, so memories of feeling better or worse were ... unreliable at best.
Closing her eyes in concentration, Tarjana grasped at the shreds of the ... memories of ... what?
There were no such things, no such peoples.
The jungle was empty of human life, at least, life like that.
There were no tribes, no peoples, there were only families and individuals, all of them trying to snatch life from the dripping teeth of the green. Some of them came together in small groups, usually extended families, sometimes friends, but never more than a dozen adults plus their children. They were not tribes. There was no Watrali.
Again Tarjana shook her head, dismissing such thoughts.
It was time to be practical, time to concentrate on the daily battle for survival.
Looking for the first time more closely where she stood, Tarjana saw to the end of the outcrop where she had awakened and now furthest from her a collection of goods. Crossing the distance between them in lithe, easy strides, Tarjana knelt down as she examined her find. First to grab her attention was a knife, in its sheath, lying where she had been lying, just as if she had taken it off to sleep, but kept it close by in case she needed it. Beside the knife, there was a small waterskin, and a halter and briefs of some fur, a musk-cat, perhaps, from the pattern of its now tailored pelt.
Crouching down, Tarjana took the stopper from the waterskin, sniffed, found no foul smell, not even a smell of staleness, so she cautiously put the neck to her lips and took a sip. The water was ... water; still, warm, and seemingly clean. Tarjana took another sip before stoppering the waterskin. The rest she knew to keep until she could find a source to replace what she had drunk, though the waterskin was weighty enough to hold perhaps enough water for three days, if she were careful, and if she got out of the sweat-drawing sun quickly.
Kneeling on the rocks, Tarjana gratefully drew on the halter, her firm breasts too large to be unhaltered. For a moment Tarjana shivered; after waking naked, the feeling of cloth against her skin, fur though it was, was odd, almost unwelcome. But it was also necessary. Without the halter, her breasts would get in the way, and any distraction could spell the difference between life and death.
Next came the briefs, briefs that were very brief, almost not sufficient even to cover her smoothly-shaven slit. Thankfully Tarjana was not so deeply slit hat she showed above the top of her breifs, but it was only a matter of a finger's with. Again, her briefs felt odd too, but it too was necessary for her health and hygiene. Shrugging at the necessities of life – why didn't animals need such, she absently wondered – Tarjana turned her attention to the knife's sheath. Made of stiff leather, Tarjana saw it had two small straps to one side with which to secure it. Untying her briefs at her left hip, Tarjana threaded the straps on to the twine of her briefs, and retied them. The sheath was, she was surprised to discover, a good design, resting on her hip bone but allowing her to move freely. Thanking whatever demon had provisioned her thus, Tarjana picked up the accompanying knife. It was, Tarjana saw, a simple, honest, but deadly knife. With a sturdy leather-wrapped hilt some six inches in length, the basic design had a small guard that separated the hilt from a blade of about nine inches, tapering to a point, edged on the one side but dull on the other.
Tarjana turned the blade over in her hand, testing the weight, and was pleased with the result. It was a good blade.
Smiling, Tarjana dropped the knife into its sheath, making a couple of minor adjustments to the position of the now-weighted sheath so that it was properly fitted, ready to be drawn quickly, to protect, to kill, as the situation demanded.
.... There is more of this story ...