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The female was about four fifths of the way along her dais and I knew the hunters would be back soon. There was little gathering necessary, as the extensive plantings in the garden could easily be supplemented from wild fruits outside the cave. I was going to miss mendri, but expected there would probably be something almost as nice to replace it.
Branai gave a happy little cry as I pushed my way through the hanging blankets, pouncing upon two objects lying on the corner of the rug he was sitting on, apparently waxing a roll of thread. He handed them to me with a hopeful look in his eyes as I sat down next to him to try them on. Like Horban's head, they were initially a little tight fitting, but I knew they would loosen up in quite a short time. They were perfect and if my broad smile didn't tell Branai what I thought of them, then perhaps the hugs and kisses did. He crowed with delight as I hastily finished lacing up the thongs and dragged him outside to watch me walk, march and run up and down.
We returned to the workshop with our arms linked around each other's shoulders, sitting cross-legged on the mat together while I examined Branai's handiwork. He must have started making them almost as soon as I'd left him earlier that morning as each shoe was exquisitely fashioned, even to the extent of being slightly different in size to fit my somewhat mismatched feet and moreover, being definitely a left and a right. Tamori's influence was obvious in the beautifully even stitching and I felt quite humbled to think that all I was going to give him in return was a string for a catapult.
I thanked Branai for the shoes and said they were wonderful, which brought a happy grin to his face. I almost had to laugh when I realised he was actually trembling in eagerness, waiting for me to fulfil my part of the bargain. His eyes kept flicking to the bag sitting beside me on the rug and he cooed with excitement as I reached into it and took out the catapult.
'It is bigger than Porrhin's!' he said with a gasp, his hand reaching out involuntarily, then suddenly withdrawing as its owner realised what it was doing. 'David use this to kill Horban?' he said in awe, whistling with amazement when I waggled that I had. I handed it to him and he took it hesitantly, as if afraid it would suddenly loose off a stone and hurt him.
Within five minutes, he was using it as if he had been born with it in his hands, firing leather patches and balled-up thongs all over the workshop with quite deadly accuracy. He wasn't strong enough to pull it to anywhere near full stretch, but it didn't affect his obvious delight in the weapon. When inevitably he ran out of ammunition and had to stop, his reluctance in handing it back to me was obvious but I disregarded it in view of both his age and the lovely shoes he'd made me.
Branai inspected the wood I'd fashioned the catapult from and he said he didn't know of the tree I was referring to but expected he'd find something suitable. When I pointed out he could get Teshshin to make him a metal one, his eyes brightened at first, but then he nodded firmly and said it wouldn't be real. For some strange reason I found myself agreeing with him.
I gave him one of the sonta strands I'd cut into two pieces and as I was showing him how to attach them to the stick, we heard the familiar din of the hunters returning. From the amount of noise they were making they'd had quite a good time and Branai and I went out to greet them. I noticed both Corkai and Fyrsh were with them and only then realised I hadn't seen either of them since Mahrham had left.
All the hunters were bearing four or five croki and Mahrham kissed me happily, saying they'd left at least as many in the larder. It had indeed been a good day. I showed him my new shoes and knife and his grin broadened as he said it looked as though I'd had a good day as well.
He dropped his croki by the already glowing fire, following me into our sleep chamber. As I helped him off with his belts, I told him about the conversation I'd had with the lame one and he confirmed what he'd said about the scratcher was quite true, but laughingly agreed I'd chosen the better option. He lay back on our blanket and wriggled, saying it almost felt like being out on the plains again. Then his arms shot out to grab me and he pulled me into a tight, licking cuddle, which relaxed only long enough for me to take off my clout and trousers. He was manoeuvring to take me when I recalled the female's summons for us to see her in the morning. If I'd known what effect it would have on Mahrham when I told him, I'd probably have kept quiet for ten minutes but I didn't.
'It is time? Female say this?'
When I waggled in confirmation, he collapsed on top of me with a groan.
'What does it mean?' I squirmed out from underneath him to get my breath back.
'Mahrham is fifteen years. Female want Mahrham to breed.'
'Tomorrow morning?' My eyebrows tried to become part of my hair.
'Female always does breeding in morning. No fuck now,' he sighed. 'Mahrham must wait.'
I burst out laughing at the forlorn look on his face. My poor Mahrham was going to have to go a whole night without sex.

Mahrham decided he'd keep busy to take his mind off his recent disappointment, so we sat around the fire with the youngsters, helping gut the croki. He admired my new knife, though when I told him I'd yet to find out what the price was, he said knowing Teshshin it would be hard physical labour of some sort. He thought my new shoes would be very useful in the cold but doubted the wisdom of giving little Branai the means to make a catapult. He had to admit he might have been wrong only a short time later, when a small commotion burst through into the communal room in the shape of Branai with an enormous legless lizard draped around his shoulders. We listened together with the excited knot of youngsters he'd gathered as he vividly recounted how he'd brought the animal down from a tree with only four shots.
He showed us the catapult he'd made and I readily acknowledged he'd done a good job. If his results were anything to go by, then perhaps I should be using my own more for hunting. I'd concentrated so much on making and training with the net, the possibilities of using the catapult as anything other than a weapon had somehow escaped me.
While we helped Branai skin and gut his strange lizard, I asked Mahrham if Fyrsh and Corkai were now considered big enough to go on the hunt on a daily basis and he said it was due to the terrain. Down on the plains, the croki could run faster than the youngsters, but up here in the mountains, the rocks and shrubby trees meant the croki tended to try and hide rather than run away, so they were easier to catch when they did eventually bolt. When I asked whether the young ones were strong enough, Mahrham smiled wryly and said I'd obviously never been kicked by Fyrsh. When I raised an eyebrow, he hastily advised me not to try it.

We enjoyed the meal with our clanmates, little Branai basking in the glory of his tasty addition to the fare, then retired to our sleep chamber. As I cuddled into Mahrham's warm fur I had a thought, pointing out that he was one who had to mate tomorrow, whereupon he frowned and said I might have misunderstood. After all, I was sixteen already and had not bred, so it was possible the female had plans for me too. It was such a silly idea that I had to think about it for a while before exploding with laughter.
'Mahrham … I can't! I'm a different species!' The concept was so ludicrous, I had tears coming out of my eyes, but they stopped with a bit of a gulp when Mahrham looked straight at me and waggled slowly.
'David not know what female want. Best to wait and see.' I grudgingly admitted to myself he might possibly be right and reluctantly settled for kisses and licks.

I woke a bit earlier than usual, probably because I had to use the metal bowl. Since it was empty, I decided to go outside instead and test out my new shoes in the cold of the garden. After relieving myself around a no-doubt grateful bush, I wandered past the waterfall and bath, finding myself at the foot of a winding path at the rear of the area. Another little waterfall rushed down the wall behind two huge, dirty clay pots, almost as tall as I was. I thought maybe they were for warm-weather plants as there was currently nothing growing in either of them. Ifshin was still up, but a lightening of the horizon behind the holt showed that Ifshah was about to assert its dominance.
I wondered where the little path went and started climbing. It was quite steep in places but my shoes gave a good grip and though I stumbled once or twice, I managed not to fall, reaching the top of the path to be greeted by a glorious view over the chasm with the glacier winding its way down, looking like a golden ribbon under Ifshin's soft light. It was so quiet; just a breath of wind hardly stirring the scrubby vegetation, but there was another noise, or rather a number of noises. Dad had once shown me how the icicles that hung in rows on the rooves of the colony buildings in wintertime, often rang with a clear, almost bell-like sound if tapped with a metal object and that each one gave out a different note. I could hear that now. It seemed to come from the far side of the valley, pinging and tinkling. It took me a while to realise I was listening to the glacier itself, as it crept slowly towards the plains below.
I stood on the narrow ledge watching Ifshin sink towards the horizon as Ifshah suddenly shot its first rays directly towards the top of the glacier. As I turned to leave, something flashed just beyond the valley's far edge. It could have been anything but for some reason I made a note of where the flash had come from, relative to a distinctive outcropping on the far wall of the canyon.
Going back down the little path actually proved more daunting than the climb had been. It looked a lot steeper from above and I was quite glad to make it back to the garden without serious mishap. Raucous noises greeted me as I neared the bathing area, where Tesharah and Fyrsh were both impossibly crammed into the bath together, clearly having a great deal of fun. We exchanged cheery greetings as I passed by on my way back to Mahrham's warmth.
I was rather disconcerted not to find my mate in our sleeping chamber and quickly dressed before going to look for him. I eventually came upon him sitting on the edge of the female's dais with one knee raised and his chin gloomily planted upon it. He looked up as I approached, but my appearance didn't seem to raise his spirits in the least.
'Why is Mahrham so sad?' I sat beside him with my arm around his shoulder. 'Is breeding so hard?' I'd have thought he'd be pleased, but then I'd had some strange ideas about how exactly one might have sex with such a large, wobbly mass. Slowly smothering to death featured prominently in one version.
'Not hard,' he replied, with a sigh. 'First time good. Second time hurt, like croki-bush inside.'
'Ouch! Poor Mahrham!' I had to giggle, though the thought of my poor love having even a small croki-bush shoved up inside him made my eyes water.
'David still not understand.' He nodded his head slowly. 'First time good for Mahrham. Second time bad for David.'
I didn't have the faintest idea what he was talking about, but I didn't like the sound of it at all. Bad for me? I tried to think about what he could mean but there was an annoying twittering noise getting louder in my head and I realised the female was growing a little impatient.
Mahrham rose to his feet and pulled me to mine, my mind still racing with visions of possible ghastly fates as together we placed our hands on the female's skin.
'Ah … Mahrham, David. I have been waiting since dawn.' She sounded a little peeved which I thought was a bit unfair as it was still dawn as far as I was concerned. 'Mahrham; you are fifteen and it is time for your first breeding. Do you wish it to be from David?'
I could feel Mahrham give the mental equivalent of a nervous swallow and gave one or two of my own. How could he breed with me?
'Yes, female,' said Mahrham. He was so nervous, I could feel him shaking.
'David …'
'Er … yes … um … female?'
'You are sixteen. Your thoughts tell me you have not yet bred. Do you wish to?'
'I … I'm a different species …' I inadvertently took my hand off her skin, almost smacking her in my haste to replace it. ' … I don't think …'
'Leave such things to me. Your genetics seem fairly straightforward. I am used to dealing with our triple spiral. Your simple double helix looks quite crude by comparison, though I must admit the coding is strange and there is a great deal of redundancy.'
'Oh.' I said, showing off my great intelligence.
At the same time I heard Mahrham say 'Oc!' excitedly, and understood that the female was having separate conversations with each of us.
'David; although as you have already realised, you cannot father a full Ifshiri child of your own, I have just told Mahrham that it might be possible for me to arrange for you to father the one child together. Would you like me to do this if I can?'
'Oh, yes please!' I said, and felt Mahrham's thrill as my response registered.
'Very well. I will see what I can do. Mahrham, you know where to place David.'
I felt Mahrham withdraw his palm from the female's surface and followed suit. He took me by the hand and led me to another section of the female's body where he drew me to him and slowly undid my breechclout and trousers. He turned me around to face me towards the female. I was horrified to see a mass of writhing tentacles reaching out towards my face, but Mahrham urged me forward into them until I felt them touch my cheeks and forehead and clamp on tightly.
I felt Mahrham enter me and instantly knew what it was like to be Mahrham fucking me. The female transmitted every nuance of his pleasure as he penetrated deeper and deeper and I felt and shared his ecstasy as his ball slowly rose through his contractions and exploded inside me.
I was gasping with delight as he started to withdraw and only then did it occur to me that something must be wrong. Mahrham was supposed to be mating with the female, not with me! I felt him leave my body and suddenly sensed something moving between my thighs. I looked down to see the female was growing a very long, thin penis. I tried to pull away in shock, but the tentacles held me firmly.
'Do not fear, David,' came her soft voice. 'I shall be as gentle as possible.'
I felt her positioning at my hole and then pushing her way inside. Deeper and deeper she went, tickling maddeningly and causing the occasional thrill to course through my body.
'Ah!' I heard her say and then it was just as Mahrham had said it would be … someone pushed a croki-bush deep into my insides and I screamed.
'I am sorry, David. I will try to be fast and remove all the seed … there!'
The pain stopped abruptly as the female finished sucking Mahrham's semen from my innards. As she slowly withdrew, I knew why the Ifshiri preferred mating to breeding.
When the female's tentacles finally released me, Mahrham said it was my turn, but my knees were still shaking so badly from the effects of the female's attentions that I had to tell him that I wasn't sure I'd be able to take him. A few minutes of determined licking and kissing ensured that in fact, I probably wouldn't last thirty seconds. I soon heard Mahrham's shrieks and moans of pleasure as he found out what it was like to be me fucking him and then his screams rivalled mine as the female took somewhat longer to remove my seed from his innards than she had his from mine.
When she finally let go of him, he fell to the dais in an uncoordinated, gasping heap and I had to cuddle and kiss him for quite a while before the shuddering stopped. The female was twittering urgently and we both reached out to touch her.
'Mahrham, I am sorry for the delay.' Soothing waves seemed to emanate from her and I started to feel almost recovered. 'I realise that must have been very painful. You should have told me that it moves, David.'
'Moves? What moves?'
'Your seed, David. The little wriggly things with tails.' She giggled like a little girl. 'I had such trouble getting all of them. They were so fast!'
'Doesn't Mahrham's seed move, then?'
'No, of course not. It does not need to. Now, please come back tomorrow and I will tell you what I have been able to do.'
We thanked the female and left her to her genetic engineering, Mahrham cuddling me as we walked somewhat unsteadily back to our sleeping chamber.
'Mahrham glad no more breeding for nine, ten years,' he said, nodding determinedly. 'Mahrham glad have one son together.' He kissed me gently, stroking my cheek. 'Mahrham think this very good.'
I hugged him and nuzzled his nose. 'David think so too,' I said, tickling his nostrils with my tongue. 'What will son's name be?'
'Female will give name. Son's name will be part of David, part of Mahrham.'
I remembered little Porrham, Mahrham confirming that as I'd assumed, he was Porrhin's son from Mahrham himself. 'Porrham made when Mahrham here last year.'
'Why Porrham still small?'
Mahrham shrugged. 'Female make sons grow when warm. Female will keep young one small until warm time to grow.'
'Will female keep our son small?'
'Mahrham does not think so. Warm time coming.'
'And Teshshin?' He was about to answer, when I stopped him. 'He is Tesharah's son … but who from?'
Mahrham grinned. 'From Porrhin.'
'From Porrhin?' I was too surprised to laugh.
'Yes. Tesharah, Porrhin mates then.'
I didn't mention it, but I thought the female was probably very glad we hadn't lost Porrhin, because from what I'd so far seen he was one of only four or five males currently capable of breeding and she must surely be getting a bit worried about it. Then I thought about Porrhin and Tesharah together and was still giggling when I heard noises from the communal room, realising it must be getting quite late in the day.
'Will Mahrham go hunting?'
'Not today.' He grinned at me and started gently forcing my shoulders down onto the blanket. 'Today Mahrham's breeding day. Not hunt on breeding day.' He knelt between my knees and growled into my mouth. 'Today Mahrham fucking day.' I squealed as he started to take me and when he was deep inside and panting, I bit his ear.
'Mahrham … forget,' I gasped, as he yelped. 'Today David's breeding day, too.'
'Oh no,' he grinned, wickedly, 'Mahrham not forget!'

[To be continued.]
Link to part 25: [link]
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