Epilogue

Ten Years Later

Talut limped out of the hut and into the darkness. He walked slowly these days, his once bright red, thick shock of hair was much thinner now, especially on top and mostly white. He felt the aches and pains of his youth, every single one of them. All the abuse he put his massive body through over the years seemed to be catching up with him now.

The spear wound he took from the Eastern Savage's spear in the hip so long ago pained him badly these days, and favoring the one side of his body just put more pressure on the other. Walking was easy enough, if he took it slow, but running was completely out of the question anymore. Talut had lost a lot of his muscular bulk over the last several years and though still a very large man, he no longer resembled the monstrous cave bear that he once did.

He felt the pleasing warmth of the smooth paving stones under his bare feet, and saw Mog-ur sitting near the central fire as usual. He had a tea basket beside him and a steaming cup in his hands cradled in his lap. Talut and Mog-ur enjoyed their early morning teas together, it was the quietest part of the day.

Though four years younger, Mog-ur looked about ten years older than Talut. His hair and long, pointed beard were both stringy and thin, and completely white now, so white they shown brightly in the soft, flickering firelight. Mog-ur's eyes twinkled as he dipped Talut a cup of tea and held it up to him as his old friend limped over slowly.

Talut stopped and leaned over, supporting his weight with his still large, powerful arms on the log as he twisted around and eased his butt down to the level of the log. He exhaled loudly from the effort, and his face was a little red as he took the offered tea. Talut's smile hadn't changed much, and he gave the Mog-ur a big, toothy one before signing a greeting and sipping the hot tea.

The fire crackled and popped, Mog-ur had just stoked it up before Talut had come out of his hut, and the fresh sticks blazed hot and bright. The two men sat and watched the flickering flames, sipping tea. The flames swerved and danced in the soft breeze, beautiful and warm.

Rug shuffled in from direction of the western guard shelter, dragging his right leg slightly and making use of the butt of his spear like a cane making a soft shuffling sound with soft thuds as he walked. He walked directly toward the fire, and Talut had his tea dipped by the time he sat down and joined them. Despite his aches and pains, Rug still carried himself with the powerful grace and dignity of the strong leader of men that he was.

It had become a habit for the three of them to get together like this for quite a some time now. All were chronically early risers, and as the years passed they seemed to need less and less sleep anyway. If one of them didn't show, the new day just didn't seem to start correctly for the other two, but that was rare.

An owl hooted from the far end of the arc of trees to the southwest. He was a local, and often joined them as well. They all welcomed his pleasant, slightly haunting songs, they went perfectly with the tea and the usual stillness of the pre-dawn mornings.

'All quiet.' Rug signed, then sipped the hot brew made with a base of alfalfa and a positive twinge of datura. Rug's habit of checking out all the guards was legendary. It was definitely not a good idea to get caught sleeping on watch duty, as more than a few guards had discovered over the years. The old Clan leader would quietly take all their weapons, then back off and growl like a panther, then watch them scramble about in fear. Few ever had to be awakened in this fashion more than once.

This tea was a mix that Etra made daily for the Mog-ur, there was enough datura in it to slightly dull the various aches and pains of his old joints. Though she wouldn't admit it openly, she knew that her mate, Rug, and Talut also enjoyed the soft numbing and lessening of their own numerous aches and pains. The last few years, Rug's knees and ankles had become slightly arthritic, probably from the relentless hunts and long journeys he had made over the course of his lifetime. For some reason, his right side was slightly worse off than his left, and he limped regularly these days when he walked.

Etra peeked out of the slanted window opening of the far west side of the main lodge, she watched discreetly as the three men relaxed and welcomed in the coming day. She was as studious as a mate could be, seeing to Rug's and the Mog-ur's every possible need. Her two men, she thought with feelings of immense affection and satisfaction, her own high status men. They all seemed content, so she went back to her sleeping platform and lay back down, she wasn't getting any younger these days herself either.

Brenan woke up from a dream, a happy dream of he and Latie in a calm pool of cool, clear water surrounded by flat, warm rocks. They had honored the Mother twice, and Brenan showed the affects of the sensuous dream as he sat up on the edge of the bed platform. As bad as his imminent need was to pass his morning water, he knew he would have to wait for a little bit before he could pull on his short leggings to go outside to take of it.

He eyed Latie in the dim firelight, the shadows only enhancing her finely drawn features. She was even prettier now than she had been in his dream of their youth. I'll never be able to get dressed and go outside if I keep looking at you, he thought with a smile and looked over to Bralut's bed. His strapping son snored, long and loud as usual. You are getting so big, he thought as he looked at the long, thickly muscled arm draped over the side of the platform and his hand resting on the paving stones below.

Brenan turned to look at the other bed, Nettie slept peacefully and quietly. Her hair was blonde with an orange-red tint, so much like her mother's. The seven year old was almost as pretty as Latie. Well, Brenan admitted to himself, maybe she would even be prettier as she grew up and matured. He watched the daughter of his hearth breath softly and easily, a wisp of hair crossing over her face moved ever so slightly with each breath she took. Brenan's heart swelled with the love he had for these three special people, his very own family.

With his swelling problem temporarily subsided, Brenan slipped off the edge of the bed and pulled on the short leggings he picked up off the floor. He walked quietly out of the lodge and around to the back where a small ditch full of stringy, fragrant moss waited. He did his business, and decided to see if there was any tea at the main fire, knowing good and well that there would be.

Brenan joined the three men already at the fire, and graciously accepted the tea Rug offered. Morning greetings and pleasantries were exchanged. He made a sour face at the taste of the slightly strong tea, these guys liked their tea a little stronger than he was used to.

"You seem awful happy this morning." Talut said softly.

Brenan grinned, little got past Talut.

"I had the best dream..."

**********

A stocky young man of the Clan ran out of the third hut from the right of the main lodge. He clutched a bow that was a little longer than he was tall and a fat quiver of arrows in one hand, and a thick spear in the other. When he saw the men seated at the fire, he slowed a little but kept going right toward them.

Rug gave him a stern look, and the youth slowed down to a walk as he got close. It was obviously a concerted effort to keep the spring from his steps, but he did try.

'Good morning, my Clan leader.' He signed respectfully, bowing his head demurely before looking up to face the other three men. When he spoke, his voice was deep and slightly clipped. "Mog-ur, Trall-uh, Bren-nuh."

"Good morning, Craag. Are you going out with the hunters this morning?" Talut asked as he signed while he spoke.

The youth nodded his head enthusiastically and took a cup of tea from Rug as he sat down between Rug and Talut. Talut patted the youth lightly on his already broad shoulder affectionately.

Rug took the scabbard of arrows from the boy who was almost five years old now, and pulled one out to examine it. It was so much shorter than what Rug was used to seeing, but it was top quality from one end to the other. The craftsmanship of the men of this camp was superb, better than he could have imagined. Every weapon made in this camp was almost a work of art, he thought proudly. Craag watched every move the older man made as he looked over the arrow, he was so proud of all his weapons.

A stocky, tall Clan man walked out of the same hut that Craag came out of. He walked slowly to the fire carrying a full compliment of weapons under his burly, thick arm. His entire body appeared to be one solid muscle, rippling and flexing with every step he took. His shoulders were so broad and powerful looking that they almost seemed to belong to a larger man. His thick, wavy hair was pulled back into a long, loose ponytail that draped over halfway down his back in shining dark waves. He set his weapons down in a neat pile then busied himself at the fire for a little bit, making a basket of tea and heating it with stones he pulled from the embers with wooden tongs. Brug had grown into the biggest, most powerful man of the Clan that anyone had ever seen, but his friendly demeanor had never changed nor wavered over the years.

'Good morning all.' Brug signed as he held out the basket to Mog-ur who dipped a cup. Talut took one as did Brenan, but Rug was still busy with Craag's arrows.

The resemblance between Brug and the son of his hearth was remarkable, Brenan thought as he looked from one to the other. Craag could be a young Brug, built the same, overly mature for his age, and oh what a dedicated hunter he already was.

It was quiet and peaceful for a while as they sipped tea and enjoyed the coolness of the early morning. The owl hooted every now and again, and some songbirds were just beginning to sing in the impending new day from the woods to the northwest. The sky darkened even more as the stars began to fade away slowly. A single star stayed visible long after the others were gone, it was the brightest, most brilliant hearth fire in the sky.

There was a small commotion as four young men and a pretty young lady approached. They spoke rapidly amongst themselves, pushing and teasing each other as they got closer. It was a rag-tag, loose group of very obviously close friends.

"Bralut." Brenan's voice was soft, but sharp. "Keep it down, it is not necessary to wake the entire camp."

All five of them hung their heads a little, but nothing could extinguish the enthusiasm of their bubbling youth. They were all fine specimens of young people that were nearly adults. Bralut was tall, handsome, and well muscled. Brydag even taller, but a little thinner. Manut was almost the height of Bralut, but thick and very muscular in his growing bulk. Werlen was thin and wiry, and just shy of Brydag in height. Lumie was lithe and graceful, with wide shoulders and well muscled arms and legs. She was also stunningly beautiful with a thick head of dark, shiny hair.

Brug grunted, getting their immediate, undivided attention. 'We leave as soon as "Troi" and others get here, quit fooling around, get ready.'

Talut bit off a grin as he watched the chastised young ones busy themselves with their gear. They were rather efficient, he thought as he watched them get their camouflaged clothing on and in order, helping each other as they did every day.

Craag got up and joined the other youngsters, blending in easily despite the obvious age difference. He was one of them in every way, that much was for sure.

Ooga walked over with a very young baby at her breast. She was a little short, even for a woman of the Clan, but well formed and she carried herself with the confidence of the high status mate and mother that she was. Ooga stopped and knelt down in front of Brug who leaned over and gave the infant girl a soft kiss on the top of her head. Brug then kissed Ooga on top of her head.

'Get me a crocodile today?' Ooga signed with one hand, her eyes sparkling.

Brug wrinkled the skin of his forehead as he thought about the request. He looked over to Mog-ur who nodded, and at Talut who smiled broadly. Rug just nodded. Crocodile meat was a favorite of the entire camp, but especially with this group.

Mog-ur lifted his hand and made a short, fluttering sign.

'Croc it is, my mate. Croc and guinea.' Brug signed, his chiseled face stern but his deep brown eyes sparkling with love and affection. The Mog-ur looked deeply satisfied.

Ooga dipped herself a cup of tea and went back to the main fire. Craag stopped what he was doing and gave his mother a brief hug, then went back to fitting fresh cut grass into the loops criss-crossing Lumie's lower back.

Druwez and Mortan walked into the circle of firelight, Crisavec and Frebec followed closely behind them. They nodded at the men on the log, and fetched tea for themselves. Druwez was a thickly built, powerful young man now. Mortan was tall, with wide shoulders and powerful looking legs. Crisavec was short and stocky, built a lot like the father of his hearth, with a short, dark colored beard. They all carried enough weapons to stay out for half a moon cycle.

Frebec sat down next to Brenan, yawning loudly. The top of his head shown in the flickering light, Frebec had a bald semi-circle that was ringed with soft, white hair. Even his abundant chest hair was white, and it gave him an almost regal appearance.

A whistle rang out from just south of the camp, near the ground ovens. It sounded exactly like a meadowlark, perfect in every detail.

Brug stood up and turned, looking to the south and made a 'come on in' gesture with his open hand. Appearing eerily out of the darkness, a tall, dark skinned man walked toward them with three slightly shorter men that looked a lot like I him closely following. They all carried spindly looking bows and scabbards of arrows, their bodies painted with greens and tans. The whiteness of his teeth almost glowed when he smiled at Brug.

As they came into the light, the three younger men went straight to the fire where Bralut and his friends finished getting ready. The tall man came directly to Brug in front of the seating log. He held his dark hand out, palm up.

Brug grasped his hand, and uttered a single, gruff word. "Troi."

Troi smiled even wider, then answered, his voice lyrical. "Brug."

'We hunt crocodile today, and guinea.' Brug signed.

Troi grinned, then signed. 'Suidae too.'

Brug nodded.

Danug approached, dressed for the hunt with a huge longbow strung and wrapped over his shoulder. He yawned as he walked, then shook his head as if to wake up quicker. Danug was almost as big as Talut had been in his prime, without the barrel belly Talut was so famous for. Danug was thick in body, but proportioned very strongly toward a heavily muscled frame. His shoulders were so broad that they made his head appear a little small. When he saw Troi next to Brug, he grinned and walked directly to them.

"Good morning." He said, taking Troi's hand and grinning broadly. Danug pulled the bow off his shoulder and stood it up on the ground next to him. It was longer than he was tall, by a full head. The arrows in the quiver slung over his back stuck up over his head they were all so long, the multi colored feathers glistening in the firelight.

The group of hunters from the fire gathered around, impatient as usual. The adult hunters all ignored them, well aware of their presence. They sipped tea and relaxed, quietly discussing the hunt strategy of the morning.

**********

Brenan watched them go, wishing them luck and safe hunting. Latie squeezed his thigh, then lay her head on his shoulder. He wrapped his arm around her waist, hugging her. Brenan missed going out on the early morning hunts, but not too much. He still went out on the big hunts down on the flats, but not too much else. Brug's hunters were so efficient that the camp was never even slightly in need of meat, in fact, there was always a substantial variety available to suit every possible taste.

Bralut was a regular morning hunter now, and Brug had come to count on him as the leader of the younger group. He had learned his lessons well, and was so good with the bow and arrows that he had taken large game from incredible distances. The only ones who could shoot farther and more accurately was Brug and Danug. Brug's incredibly stiff and powerful bow could reach out so far it was almost unbelievable. He and Danug were so deadly accurate that very little escaped them, ever.

Brenan was proud of the first son of his hearth, and suspected that one day he would be chosen amongst the leaders of this sprawling camp. Latie nuzzled his neck, and leaned in a little closer. The warmth of her body felt exquisite, and Brenan held her closer still. The smell of her hair was fresh and held the lingering scent of strawberries. Latie, Nezzie, and Matera had come up with a way of making soap that had added ingredients for pleasant scents. Strawberry was her favorite.

Nettie came up to them, and smiled down at her parents warmly. Her bright hair long and loose, cascading over her shoulders and onto her bare chest in shimmering thick waves.

"Mother, I need help with my new outfit." Her sweet smile melted Brenan as he looked up into her pretty young face. He could almost see her as a young Latie sometimes, and this was definitely one of those times.

Latie nodded, pulling her head off Brenan's shoulder slowly. She kissed Brenan softly on the lips and got up to follow Nettie, putting her arm around the slender young girl as they walked away.

Brenan watched them, he was so happy with his life and family. They were such a joy, such a source of pride.

Life here was so good. The land was bountiful and rich. Game was plentiful and varied. Troi's people were cooperative and friendly. The Land of the Sun was a great place to live and this camp had prospered so much ever since they arrived. Brenan reached up to smooth a stray wisp of hair from his face, and saw Mog-ur looking at him. He had a knowing, satisfied look on his face.

Mog-ur lifted his hand and signed slowly.

'All is good.'

Brenan smiled contentedly, Mog-ur always seemed to be able to read his thoughts. Sometimes it was a bit unnerving, but not now, not this time. Brenan couldn't have possibly agreed more as he signed in return.

'Yes, all is good.'

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Finis

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'Brenan's Search' and 'Land of the Sun' are dedicated to:

Gayla Diane Gault

3/25/61-9/30/07

Sis, yours is the brightest, most brilliant hearthfire in the sky, now and forever more.

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Thanks to all for reading and commenting.

Jack