Epilogue: Beloved

Sig'dan and Sally sat at the table they shared with the cluster of small dark-locked younglings, each with distinctively mottled skin and each one worming around in her chair attempting to stay still. The squigglers were trying to be on their best behavior as directed by their Bearer and her mate. They had been granted the honor of dining at their Bearer's table in her quarters as a reward for recent excellence in their studies.

The meal arrived via aseigan, a large bowl of nutritious lean rawness for each pup, accompanied by a side of naxa. Politely they waited until all were served and then eyed their Bearer and hostess waiting for her odd fork to signal the start of the meal as she cut into her unappetizingly charred meat. When it did, all talking ceased as small clawed hands grabbed gobs of meat which soon disappeared into eager little maws. When the final fruit was gone and the last morsel of flesh devoured, Sig'dan sat back in his chair watching as the pups dutifully wiped blood and fruit juice from their faces with squares of cloth in regard to their Bearers version of manners when seated at her table.

"Would you like to hear a story?"

"Sei, Honorable Sig'dan, we would!" a chorus of small clicks and alto grunts arose in agreement as all the short-locked heads nodded in affirmation and tiny tusks clicked affirmatively in excitement. Honorable Sig'dan's stories were always welcomed!

"Honorable Matriarch, would you allow me to tell a tale?" Sig'dan always modeled the best manners to the group of little females during one of their frequent visits.

"I would enjoy it, Honorable Hunter," Sally replied, nodding and smiling at her pups. They expressed pleasure back to her in their native Yautja way with a widening of the upper mandibles.

Sally had picked up an understanding of a large amount of the Yautja spoken language from her immersion in it over the years, but of course she still could not speak it correctly. As the Yautja had necessarily become multi-lingual in order to communicate with the many languages of their human mates, it was not un-natural for the new females to be taught Sally's English. When around the Matriarch, Sig'dan spoke almost exclusively English out of respect for her.

"It is a true tale involving the original home of your Bearer," he spoke dramatically to the pups, "the mysterious Blue Planet."

All the young female's heads turned to look at Sally, in awe for the moment's reminder that she was not their kind, and then swiveled back to Sig'dan as he began the tale by solemnly stating the title: "The Saga of the Huntress A'glæ'ca."

"Long, long ago, before your Sires were born, or their first, second or even third ForeSires, there lived an honorable and formidable Huntress. A female like one of you, but all grown up. She enjoyed the challenge of the hunt greatly – so much that she put off taking a mate for many seasons in order to continue to enjoy the stalk and kill. Her trophy wall groaned with the weight of the many skulls mounted there.

"On this cycle, the Huntress was irritable. Another mating season was about to commence and she needed to get off the ClanShip onto a hunt very soon. Her sisters had all taken to the rut long ago. She alone declined as her joy in the pursuit of prey she held high above the pleasure of mating and rearing pups.

"Which I cannot imagine, can you Matriarch?"

The Matriarch smiled her agreement with him and small chitters of amusement interrupted the story as all the female pups enjoyed Sig'dan's teasing. He nodded to them and went on with the tale.

"All the available hunts were already gone from the ClanShip, in a hurry for the Hunters to complete their expeditions and return to breed. In desperation, she begged her Sire to be allowed to command one of the smaller worthy craft by herself and go on a solo tracking quest. Annoyed with her begging and her lack of desire to procreate, he granted her use of the ship.

"Anxious to be gone from the growling, aggressive males, she hurried her pre-travel check of the ships functions and controls. Blessedly soon, she was hurtling through space on her way to a favored hunting site – the Blue Planet.

"A normal entry into the sphere's atmosphere became abruptly rough as the little ship malfunctioned. Unable to regain control, she was forced into the confines of a drop tube and ejected just as her stricken craft began to break up. The drop tube plunged into the planet below, coming to a booming halt with its tip buried in the ice and snow.

"The Huntress was now past irritable, she was angry with herself. Angry for hurrying her leave and not ensuring the ship was in normal function. Now she was alone on an alien world, there was no way back and she had no way to summon help as her com was broken in the hit of the heavy tube landing as was the forearm that held it. She thrust out from the ship through heavy snow and discovered that her environmental mesh was also damaged. Sobering to her fate, she set out walking certain she would meet Cetanu shortly.

"She was found by a group of ooman men - the soldiers of a great Elder called by the oomans King Ro, whom she later gave our Yautja name Hr'oðgar. They captured her easily in her cold and miserable state and drug her before their Elder in his great Hall. He was moved to show mercy to her and ordered her to be placed before a warm fire and had blankets and meat brought to her. It was charred meat, just as Matriarch Sal'lee prefers.

"The frozen Huntress nearly choked on the cooked flesh, but it was sustenance and would make her strong again. Slowly she recovered from her hypothermia and frostbite, and sought to repay the life debt she now owed the Elder through service to him.

"Being much stronger than any male in his army, he gave her warm furs to wear and took her with him into battle. She slew many with sword, axe and bare hands, never letting any enemy near the ooman Elder under her protection.

"She taught Elder Hr'oðgar many of her fighting techniques, especially the construction and use of her battle axe. He found the short lines that she decorated all her weapons with most fascinating. He practiced them and began to use them as adornment on his helm, and shield. But surely she whose life he had saved was his great shield of safety.

"After a time, she began to understand his language, and he a bit of hers and so he learned her name, A'glæ'ca.

"She was always with him. When not in battle or guarding him during the day, she slept on a mound of furs on the floor of his quarters at the foot of his bed. She was his ever-present guardian that all other oomans feared.

"As she lived on the Blue Planet for many cycles, her need for a mate came upon her more strongly than ever before. One night, A'glæ'ca enraptured the Elder and forced his submission to her. Out of her great debt to him, she was able to restrain from severely injuring him in her zeal. In the morning, he was greatly ashamed of the passions she had taken from him and vowed her to tell no one of their pairing. For several nights she seduced and took him. So pleasured was he that after the second night he was the one to seek her out.

"The Huntress A'glæ'ca found later to her great astonishment that she was with pup. Rather than feeling prideful and honored, the ooman Elder banished her from his Hall, so that no one would learn of his shame. In anger and sorrow, she took to the seaside caves living off fish and game. She lived very primitively and nurtured a resentment of her dismissal by the Elder and the affront to her honor and also the welfare of his unborn offspring.

"Her pup was born – very small, too small. But she cared for him anyway. He appeared quite Yautja, but with a smoother crown and odd locks of fine hair. His mandibles grew smoother and shorter than one of pure blood. He would grow to be stronger and larger than most oomans and appeared quite monstrous to them. The Huntress named him Gren'del.

"She cared for him and taught him to spar and hunt, nearly as well as any full-blood Yautja. She taught him about his Yautja ancestors and what little she knew about his ooman sire. She was proud of his quickness and abilities. However, there was one thing she could not give him. She could not give him his Chiva, nor could he earn his Clan mark. Without these, even if she somehow could take him back to Yaut, he could never become accepted as part of the Clan. Perhaps if his ooman Sire saw how intelligent and skilled he was, he would reconsider his banishment and take him under his roof as his own, she reasoned.

"So when he was of Chiva age, she took him with her to the Elder and boldly presented his offspring. Elder Hroðgar was speechless with horror that she should publicly claim this monstrosity as his. He banished her and her pup from his kingdom. She backed away, wary of a challenge with his many spear carriers and archers, especially when accompanied by her battle-green youngling.

"Over the years, she taught Gren'del even more about how to fight and to use all the Blue Planet weapons. She told him repeatedly of his proud Yautja heritage, his human Sire and how they had been cast off in shame.

"Gren'del's rage grew as he took in his Bearer's stories and remembered how shocked and outraged the Elder had been when his Bearer had presented him in the great hall. One night, as he lay in his furs trying to find sleep, the sound of oomans singing a great celebration could be heard traveling from the Elder's hall down to the sea caves. Gren'del grew enraged and, leaving his Bearer asleep, crept up to the light-filled hall.

"Breaking the oak door down, he strode in and began tossing the bodies of the male oomans, seizing them and breaking them in his growling rage. The Elder and some others ran to the top of a tower and barricaded themselves in. Grendel was unable to follow the too narrow winding stairway inside the tower. So he howled his anger below and then left.

"Elder Hroðgar was desperate to find a solution to this problem as several times a year Gren'del would visit his hall, always at night, and slay any who were foolish enough to confront him. Word of his misfortune spread, and a young bold warrior came to stake his courage and honor against the monster. The young warrior, Beowulf by name, was unusually large for an ooman. He asked all to sing in the hall that evening and make a great noise as that seemingly attracted the beast he wished to slay.

"Later that night just as sought, Gren'del came. He broke down the door and came into the Elder's Hall, taking the fighting stance his Bearer taught him and looked around roaring for any challenger. There alone stood Beowulf who roared his own challenge back. So the jehdin-jehdin ensued. Gren'del was pleased to find his opponent great with strength and an honorable fighter. They wrestled and swung at each other for a great space of time. Finally, the ooman Beowulf succeeded in ripping an arm off Gren'del bleeding him out. He went to his place of honor with Cetanu. Taking the body to the edge of the land, a group of oomans threw down the body of Gren'del to the sea below, and that was where Gren'del's Bearer found him.

"The Elder was overjoyed! He showered Beowulf with valuable weapons and trophies, and invited him to stay on in his Clan. Meanwhile, the Huntress was in great sorrow over her young UnBlood's loss of a challenge and his life, and wondered what ooman could have bested him. That very nightfall she traveled up to the Hall from her cave. Her ooman coverings had dwindled and she wore only a tattered loincloth made from skins.

"The feasting oomans were greatly surprised at her appearance. The protector of the Elder was legend and had not been seen in many long cycles. She stalked into the hall and approached the Elder as Beowulf grabbed his weapon and moved to intercept her. All were startled to her hear her speak in their language.

"'Oomans! I come to take what is mine – the life of your King. He is the cause of the death of my youngling who was his also. His crime cannot go unpunished.'

"The room was silent with her accusation. Beowulf approached his Elder and asked, "Is this so? Was the monster your own pup, spawned from this hideous dragon-like demon?"

"The Elder's bowed head was all the reply needed to confirm the truth. In his defense, the Elder unworthily tried to cast the blame on Beowulf by saying, "Great A-glæ-ca, this warrior before you is the one who killed your Gren'dal. I welded no weapon against him."

"With a growl that shook the Hall's timbers, the Huntress was upon the cowardly Elder, snapping his neck before any could move. She then gave a great twist and claimed her trophy but then, realizing it was of no worth, cast it aside. Then she turned to Beowulf.

"'I challenge you ooman! I challenge you on the death of my UnBlooded pup! Fight me, if you dare!'

"Now Beowulf was brave indeed, and he came at the Huntress with his sharp long blade which she caught in her hand and held, unyielding to the deep cut it made in her flesh. With the other hand she caught her enemy by his neck and gave it a quick one-handed snap. The ooman was dead. The other oomans in the hall thought to flee, but the Huntress had barricaded the door with several tables after she first entered.

"She brought them all to a halt with her words, 'I have no quarrel with any of you others. All I ask is to be allowed to live here in peace with you. The caves bring me sorrow when I remember being with my offspring there. I wish to live among you as your ruler. I will be benevolent, ruling fairly and I will defend you against all enemies. To this, what do you say?'

"So the Huntress and the oomans struck a bargain. She became their Matriarch. She taught them her ways, even some of her language to the more clever ones. But she never again sought to produce a pup. She lived in sorrow the rest of her days, mourning her Gren'del.

"And so, young pups, you must consider this tale as there is much to learn from it. And how do we know this tale is true? A hunting party to the Blue Planet came upon the record she kept, engraved in stone, of her exploits. They brought the stones back and you can see them in the Great Hall of History to this day," Sig'dan finished his story with a quiet look at the rapt faces surrounding him.

"I wonder how much of what she taught the oomans remains," Sig'dan mused aloud. "Did you enjoy the story my young prodigies?"

"Sei, Honorable Sig'dan, we did!" came the reply in several variations and all at the same time.

"Now, what have you learned from this tale?" He clicked to himself, as entertained as ever by their eagerness and intelligence. The experiment to recreate the females of their kind appeared to be successful. Each one's growth was carefully attended to, and their future fertility seemed to be in place. Many Hunters already vied to be allowed to begin to impress them, but the young females were wisely kept sequestered under the care of the High Elders, who took turns as their trainers, the Matriarch and himself. In addition to functioning as trainers, the highly disciplined High Council Elders were allowed to frequently visit their blood offspring and be, along with Sally and Sig'dan, the role models they needed. He was grateful to the High Council for allowing his own youngling to join the group of pure Yautja females to be raised and trained properly.

Little feminine Yautja faces became focused and some even scrunched a bit as they each thought about the story and what could be learned from it. Sig'dan and Sally waited patiently for them to consider and then answer the question. One small clawed hand finally went up and asked to be recognized. Sig'dan nodded to her and a small voice answered.

"Honorable Sig'dan, one learning from the story is that the Huntress should not have become so emotional that she neglected to check her ship properly before takeoff."

"Excellent! That is a true lesson from this story. Anyone else?" Sig'dan questioned them.

Arndís waved her arm excitedly in a hurry to proclaim her understanding. Sig'dan nodded to her.

"Honorable Sig'dan, another learning from the story is that it is better to stay home and get pregnant than to go out hunting by yourself."

Sig'dan clasped his mandibles tightly and Sally nearly choked as they made valiant attempts not to laugh at Arndís' comment. Sally decided she'd best answer the young one. "Well, that is one idea you could take from this story. However the Huntress of this story enjoyed hunting very much. Not all Bearers like to Hunt, but it is quite permitted and I encourage it for those that do. What do you think about that, Arndis?"

Arndís tapped her diminutive tusks thoughtfully while her full sister Ulfrde made faces at her when she thought no adult was looking.

"Honorable Matriarch, I look forward to learning the skills of the Hunt to see if it is anything I shall be interested in."

She is a born politician, Sally thought. Sig'dan gave a sort of snort and replied, "Arndís, what if you don't like to Hunt, but one of your sisters does? Do you think she should be allowed to do so?"

The young female thought for a second and grinned, "Sei, she should be allowed to do whatever her skills and desires lead her to do."

Sally clapped at her answer, but then caught herself – clapping was a human response, not a Yautja one. "Very good answer!" she praised.

"And," Arndís continued, "that will leave more males for me!"

Sig'dan had to excuse himself from the room for a moment, as Sally covered the lower part of her face with her napkin. When she had recovered a bit, she praised the little females for their attentiveness during the story and their good manners during dinner and the after-dinner conversation.

"Now off to sleep with you!" the Matriarch commanded, and they obediently left her quarters for their communal room. She would be by in a short while to wish them good sleep and run her hand over each little brow with affection.

When the pups had left, Sig'dan returned, having had his fit of chortling outside the room. "Can you believe them? I never know what one of them is going to come up with!"

"No, it's a new surprise every day," she agreed. "I have sent them off to bed."

He came to Sally and ran his claws fondly over her now long and locked hair. The honor rings that he and Ulfr had gifted her were cool and smooth under his fingers. He looked adoringly at her, this female who had changed the path of his life from simply Hunter and Healer to also include the role of surrogate parent as well as her continued passionate lover. He remained her continued rock in this still sometimes strange world.

The High Elders were already setting their sights on the coming of age of her children. Something she admitted to herself that she looked upon with some horror. But she would find a way – she always did and reminded herself that to couple with Hunters as well as to provide leadership was the reason they had been created.

"Have the pups worn you out today?" he asked his voice low and soft. "Or do you perhaps have some energy left for me?"

She smiled and lifted her eyes to his, "I do, Honorable Hunter, after I have finished putting the girls to bed. Will you wait for me here?"

"Sei," he said. "Why do you always 'put them to bed'? What does that mean? They are old and large enough to enter their sleeping furs without assistance."

"It's only an old Bearer custom from Earth, and I see that it does them no harm here and…I enjoy it…it does me good. What I do is go to each one as she lies in her furs, and brush my hand over her forehead and wish her a good sleep. That's all. A human mother might even kiss her child as she does this, but I refrain as I think that's too human. What do you think of this, Sig-dan?"

"I think you care for each one of them very much, Matriarch. They are as important to you as they are to me, and the rest of my race. I will wait for you here as you finish your good sleep custom with them. I will wait…impatiently," he said this last with a good humored growl.

"You know, I've heard the story you told this evening. It's a tale told on Earth, with some alterations of course, but it is much the same. I think you might be surprised at how much your culture has influenced mine." She smiled at him, the beckoning light of the smile of a woman looking at her beloved, and then went to tuck her children in for the night.

A/N: And so ends the first part of this tale with a sincere thanks to you, honorable reader, for without you there would have been no story. Also great appreciation to everyone who took the time to review. Your comments, opinions and questions were most appreciated.