Tension had been growing in the schloss of Blauwhaven all day. Ruprecht irritated himself by compulsively checking his pocket watch at increasingly short intervals, calculating the chances of the Schwarzwald train being punctual for once and the exact time the carriage would need to get up from the town, so he was confident that when he strolled out on to the terrace above the paddock he’d see the landau rattling up to the house.
It wasn’t, but every other member of his household was sitting on the rails watching the drive. There was even a small cheer from the kitchen staff when the landau finally appeared through the trees, Ludwig sitting impassive up in the boot, while the other two boys it was carrying leapt up and flourished their hats at their waiting family and friends. Mutta just sat and smiled from her seat.
There were changes evident in Felix and Gilles even after only a season’s absence. Without having to be told Felix alighted from the carriage and handed his mother down, hat under his arm, bowing courteously. Gilles was noticeably taller and more mature physically, and more beautiful than ever. As he rushed to take his bags Matthias gawped at the perfect vision of a young lord that Gilles had become, while Gilles in turn surveyed the handsome servant lad with some curiosity.
‘Who’s the new boy?’ were almost the first words out of his mouth after he had hugged and kissed Ruprecht and Joerg.
Joerg came close to giggling. ‘His name’s Matthias and he’s Erwin’s boyfriend. He’s quite the young buck, isn’t he? He’s also very bright; he’s Rupe’s valet and office assistant. I’m teaching him English.’
Gilles smiled across at Erwin marshalling the travellers’ baggage into the house with the assistance of Ludwig and the boy in question. ‘Our seneschal’s a lucky man, then. We’ve been reading about your discoveries. The Allemanic Review has a brief summary of the digs at the prefectures. Doesn’t say much other than to reproduce the plans we made at the Val de Rougiet site and suggest these may be the oldest human settlements on Terre Nouvelle. None of the really juicy stuff we read in Dr Joerg’s letters. It’s all amazing.’
Ruprecht shrugged. ‘Such momentous discoveries will fundamentally alter our view of ourselves as human beings here on Terre Nouvelle, and are better unveiled bit by bit. What are your plans?’
‘Mutta’s only staying till the weekend, then she’s heading up to Ostberg, so Kreech and I have plans for the poolside; we hope you’ll join us.’
‘I imagine I will at least. You seem to be a growing boy Gillot, and I’d like to see how much. How did Ludwig work out as a footman?’
‘Kreech is desperate to shock Ludo, but you can never get a rise out of the kid. He knows we screw and couldn’t care less, as his interests lie with girls. We think he’s left a trail of pregnancies behind us, the bad boy. His dad will be shocked when their fathers come hammering on the cottage door. We watched him do it once in the woods behind the house we were staying at in Dreiholmtz … was that bad? He didn’t know we were there. He’s got a lovely bum; you should have seen it flex as he did the girl, who was sitting on his prick. She was a bit fat and unattractive but he was strong enough to hold her off the ground, it was really impressive.’
Ruprecht looked at Joerg and laughed. ‘Well, some things about our lovely boys don’t change. You’re impossible, the pair of you. Come on in, we’ll show you and Mutta the juicy stuff, as you call it.’
Life at Blauwhaven resumed its even tenor though, with some becoming regret, the boys said farewell to their tutor, Meister Andrecht, for the time had come for his discharge. He left the schloss with their sincere thanks, generous references and an ex gratia payment Felix was sure would be put towards the financing of a marriage with the Blauwhaven librarian.
Once Mutta too had disappeared to Ostberg the boys stopped bothering to dress much beyond a shirt, and it was not unusual to find them racing each other naked across the lawns down to the pool, their well-grown cocks flapping heavily around, or to encounter them riding bareback in both senses of the word in the private woodlands and even on the open heathland above the house.
They had come back from their travels no less joyous than when they left, but more often to be found quietly in a corner, draped across each other, alternating between the book they were reading, kissing and just staring into each other’s eyes. They also made music more regularly in the evenings, not just duets for flute and voice but also with a guitar Gilles had acquired and was teaching himself to play. Joerg suggested it was a spiritual extension of their love-making.
Ruprecht kept on meeting Gilles’s eyes in the evenings as if the boy was weighing up beginning a conversation, but if so he never pursued it. It was well over a week after the boys’ return that Ruprecht finally found himself in the interview Gilles had evidently been contemplating. He was shelving titles in his and Joerg’s new project, a book-room where they could unite their collections, brought together from the various boxes and repositories where they had deposited them over the years. Even weeding out the duplicates, the resulting library was quite formidable and covered three walls from floor to ceiling.
Gilles wandered in and took one of the new armchairs the carrier had brought up from the town that morning.
‘Comfortable?’ Ruprecht smiled.
‘Easier on the bum than the feudal furniture in the hall, Rupe.’
Ruprecht laughed. ‘We’re beginning to bring this old place into the ninth century. Joerg was talking about wiring it for a voltaic generator next year. You can get lights that go on and off at the flick of a switch, just like on Hans’s boat. Remarkable.’
‘Ship, Rupe, Felix the Great’s a ship not a boat.’
‘So Hans keeps telling me. I’m sure the distinction is important if you’re a sailor; they’re odd creatures I find, very superstitious.’
Gilles gave Ruprecht a lopsided grin. ‘Then I may fit in pretty well on board.’
‘What do you mean, Gillot?’ Ruprecht had caught something odd in his ward’s tone.
‘Can I tell you something, mon père et frère?’
‘This sounds serious, darling mine.’
‘I’ll let you be the judge, Rupe.’ The boy composed himself and Ruprecht settled into the seat opposite him. ‘It began not long after Val de Rougiet and finding Jean-Charles’s bolthole. I confess I used to beat off next to Kreech at night thinking of that kid down there, naked and horned up, wandering his world without so much as a pair of shoes. Kinky, I know. But you know me. That’s what Kreech and me do sometimes, we play being savages, it’s why we ride around with nothing on. We feel so free and sexy. But in my case, it’s a bit more. It just feels right to do it. Maybe that’s why the dreams began.’
‘This is where it gets super-odd. You know that picture Jean-Charles drew on the cellar wall of him being butt-fucked by an erdbeest? I started having a dream long before what you found in Nordrecht, of being a boy held down and raped up the ass by a big bull. Then other dreams came, of me fucking erdbeest cows and human women from behind in the open air, with human kids and calves watching me do it, no one with any clothes. Then there were others of me butt-fucking male humans and erdbeesten bulls, again with the audience. I was dreaming of the world you learned about up north, but this was a long time before you worked out what had really happened between the erdbeesten and the colonists. And it was all incredibly vivid. I could smell and feel human sweat under me, the heat of the sun on my back as I mounted my fucks, and the throb as the bull pulsed his semen into my ass. Couple of nights I woke up in a sticky bed. Kreech though it was funny.’
Ruprecht was taken aback. ‘That is very odd, Gillot. But you’re a highly-sexed kid, still in adolescence. The vividness is not so odd for someone of your age and imagination, and certainly not the wet dreams. Your fantasies also might follow on from what we found at Val de Rougiet and what you imagined Jean-Charles’s world must have been like.’
‘Yeah, I went there and rationalised it just the same way. But then the new dreams began.’
‘I worked it out. It was the exact day you broke into the cellar where you found the bodies of those women and their kids. It wasn’t a sexy dream this time, just spooky. I was walking in a wood. It was night, I think, but I could still see things. The Three Sisters were blazing away up in the sky, brighter than I’ve ever seen them. There was a little kid walking in front of me on the path, and I was trying hard to catch up with him, but I couldn’t, though he was just idling along. It was very important I should reach him, but I didn’t know why.’
‘I’ve had dreams like that.’
‘It was so vivid, and I noticed things, like his feet left no prints on the dusty path, and his odd knobbly head. That really creeped me out.’
‘He had no hair, Rupe, and I could see from behind he had a weird bumpy forehead. Don’t know why I was so keen to catch him up, when I think about it.’
‘Did you come up with him?’
‘He stopped in a pool of light and slowly turned to look at me. He was a freak, Rupe: he had a human boy’s body but an erdbeest head. And when he looked up at me, his eyes were total black. That’s when I wake up in a sweat.’
‘I can imagine. Anything else?’
‘Only that the me in the dream isn’t me, but at the same time it is. It’s me as if I was your age and bigger even than you, with this enormous cock hanging down from me; must be near thirty centimetres flaccid and actually swinging between my thighs it’s so long, thick like a beer bottle with stallion’s balls underneath.’
‘Not surprised that registered. You’re walking naked?’
‘Uh-huh. Also I have body hair down my front and a thick black bush. Big muscles too.’
‘I have no idea what this signifies, darling. But that it’s creeped you out I can well understand. Let me know if the dreams change again. I’ll talk it over with our little doctor. He might have ideas.’
The appearance of Matthias on the staff introduced a new dynamic into the Von Aalst household. The two boys liked to tease him, for though intelligent enough he was socially hesitant, and easily taken off balance by their ready wit and open sexuality. Although Matthias was being bedded by another man, and from Erwin’s hints was enthusiastic about it, the openness and indeed shamelessness of Felix and Gilles was quite beyond his experience, and of course they were young lords. So when he encountered them fencing naked in the upper gallery he went almost the colour of his livery jacket. Felix’s cheerful suggestion that he get out his own weapon and join them led the boy to panic and run away.
‘Excellency, if you would put a stop to their teasing of Matthias, I would be grateful,’ Erwin confided to Ruprecht. ‘I don’t like him unhappy, and the young gentlemen don’t quite realise that other boys are not all as forward and confident as they are.’
‘It sounds as if you’re saying they’re bullying him.’
‘Excellency, adolescents are by nature insensitive and even our two gems are no exception. The young gentlemen aren’t deliberately picking on my Matthias, but they’re not seeing that they’re distressing him. Because they’re self-possessed and carefree they assume all boys are. But they’re not. Matthias was reluctant to go down to the breakfast room this morning. The boys didn’t bother to dress first thing yesterday, and Matthias found them necking and masturbating each other. They just laughed when he came in and dropped the kidney dish.’
‘I see your point. Things are getting out of hand. Words will be said.’
Later than day Joerg and Ruprecht were lying out in the sun, the boys dozing not far away. The adults were on their stomachs, the sun warm on their backsides as they sorted photographic plates of the contents of the alienware folders found in the north.
Joerg was shuffling the files. ‘The ones we found with the bodies were the personnel records of the husbands of Freya and Marta, kept with them no doubt for their children to look at their fathers’ faces. So Freya was Frau Merckel and Marta was Frau Andersen, and their husbands were respectively Franz and Willi. The Merckel children were Peter and Helga, and the Andersen pair were Adelice and Martin. Maria was unattached, we presume, as there was no record kept by them of her partner.
‘I’ll write off to Herr Walther, who was deeply affected by their fate and wished to bury all seven with appropriate tombstones. Now it just so happens that Maria’s personnel file doesn’t survive among the cache we found, but there is a roster here for what seems to be a sports club of sorts playing a game called “badminton”, whatever that was. Amongst them is a Maria Heffner, who must be our girl. So we’ll have that name placed on her tomb.’
‘Excellent,’ Ruprecht pronounced, stroking Joerg’s small buttocks idly as his erection grew. ‘It gives me closure of a sort.’
‘Me too,’ Joerg replied, ‘and don’t stop doing that. You hard? I see you are. Can you fuck me on my back?’
‘Sure. But the boys are just there.’
‘I need it now, and I want them to see you take me.’
Ruprecht complied with no hesitation, more fired up than he had ever been. As he penetrated Joerg the little man gave a deep groan. He looked over to see the boys watching them on their elbows, and got a pronounced phallic gesture from Felix and a big grin.
When Ruprecht had recovered from his climax he found the pair had edged nearer for a closer look at the coupling. He rolled on his belly and told them to come over.
They grinned and scooted to sit on either side of him. He sat up and took them both around the shoulder and kissed them. Then he explained the situation as regards Matthias.
He observed two embarrassed faces. ‘But it was just fun, Rupe! We thought he was alright with it,’ Felix protested
‘Hmm. I rather think that because you were fine with it, and because the kid’s a homo, you thought he must be happy and couldn’t imagine otherwise. Please tell me that neither of you were actually discussing seducing him into sex with you.’
‘No … well, we did have some sexy fantasies about him, but we wouldn’t take advantage like that Vinseff man did with Ludo. That was wrong.’
‘Yes, well now you see how good principles get eroded by your libido. Don’t ever congratulate yourself that you’re above exploiting other people: your dicks will always try to fool you that anything you want to do is right, and can lead you to do things you should properly be ashamed of.’
‘Wow!’ Gilles exclaimed. ‘That was as good a moral punch as Dr Joerg could give. You sure he’s the one with the vocation?’
‘Was that a sneer, Gillot?’ Joerg laughed.
‘No, no. Of course not, we love you both too much. We’re listening, honest.’
‘Good, because it’s time for rules: you dress properly in the morning for breakfast – yes, I know, Joerg and I have to obey that one too, much though it pains me. No nudity in the house, and only in the grounds on this side of the schloss.’
Felix demurred. ‘But we love the naked riding on the moors, it is totally sexy. Watching Gillot’s bum as he gallops along with a boner huger than his stallion’s is the ultimate turn on.’
‘You’re being noticed. Naked galloping only in the woodland rides, got it?’
They nodded, and Felix hugged his brother around his waist. ‘Are you angry with us?’ he asked with genuine plaintiveness.
Ruprecht kissed his hair. ‘No my little Kreech.’
‘Not so little now,’ Gilles grinned. ‘Look how big he’s got in the cock department. It’s seriously princely.’
This episode just underlined for Ruprecht that his two wards were ready for independence. Their horizons and ambitions were bigger than Blauwhaven could contain and they wanted to be strutting the big stage – which might educate them about their relative smallness in the scheme of things, even if Felix had inherited a great position in the world. Despite the absorbing sexual direction their interrelationship with him and Joerg was taking it would be a good thing when the boys left for university, which was to happen at the end of summer. After that they would be independent, and Felix must take up residence in the palaces of Ostberg as sovereign prince. He would only be back in Blauwhaven thereafter as a visitor. It would be both a sadness and a relief to Ruprecht.
Jean-Charles delighted in the power of the horse between his thighs. His years with the Herd had left him uncaring of nudity and uncomfortable in clothes, so he generally rode naked even amongst the English, caring nothing for their opinion. On days like today, when he roamed the vast Central Plain at the great Connor’s command, clothes would have been an irrelevance and a hindrance. He whistled and the well-trained horse responded to his signal, for he would not use saddle and bridle as the English did. He had too much respect for the beast.
He scanned the ground for tracks and eventually saw what he was looking for: the imprint of bare human feet on the muddy bank of a stream, walking in line, feet that had never worn shoes. His own toes were still cramped by a shod childhood, until that is he was fourteen, and after that he had worn shoes no more. It was a group of Herd-borns, maybe a dozen or so, all ages from the look of things. The prints were fresh.
He slid off the horse, patted its head and soothed it. He did not tie it, for the animal would not go far from there unless leopards came within scent range, and if the horse then ran off Godspeed to it. Otherwise it would still be somewhere around when he came back this way with his catch. His wilderness skills would find him food, drink and shelter with little difficulty, and he feared nothing that he might encounter in this world. He had been the “Leopard-killer” to his own herd when he had been its prime bull, thanks largely to the possession of the only pistol left in the Great Plains, which he’d scavenged from the wreck of La Neuve Paris and hung round his neck. It had allowed him to take ten lives, one of them the bull who had raped his sisters and killed his mother when she fought him. He had taken the girls to another herd with a less violent prime, until he grew big enough to play the herd game and himself ritually take the erdbeest leader down by strength and cunning. Then he had been the lord of over three hundred roaming humans and erdbeesten till the English had come on their horses and summarily massacred the beasts with lance and crossbow.
The English soldiers had taken the ‘liberated’ French humans south to the Great River and begun their rehabilitation in growing French-speaking villages under their dominion and protection. As Jean-Charles himself proved, their success was mixed. Like other human ex-bulls he retained a taste for roaming the grasslands and woods, joining herds and indulging his rampant and violent sexuality to the limit, with males and females, human and erdbeesten. But the English king found him useful as a scout and (as he called him) his ‘hunter of humans’.
He loped athletically along the track left by the footprints, his long and heavy cock, bigger than an erdbeest’s, swinging between his thighs. A couple of hours later he heard them before he saw them, grunting and mewing in a clearing, with the shrill crying of a human baby rising above the herd noise. Few of the children he found had any language. He came to them downwind, as their senses were acute. There were only humans, no erdbeesten. The females were scavenging the ground for grubs and legumes, six or seven of them, two carrying babies, with older children kneeling and watching or clutching for their breasts. None could have been older than sixteen and they’d each birthed more than one child; two were heavily pregnant.
A human cow looked up and saw him looming on the path. She gave a lowing shriek, just like an erdbeest, which told him she hadn’t had any human nurturing at all, or at least none since she had been a toddler. There were some like her who had been taken from their dead mothers by herd cows and had never met a non-herd human. They were the most difficult to salvage. Jean-Charles doubted it was worth the effort to try, but you couldn’t tell King Connor that. He had his mission.
A boy bull raced up at the noise and confronted him, a youth maybe seventeen and well-built for his age, his hair tangled and dark. He was old enough to have had some human upbringing, but his blank eyes told their tale of trauma. His mind had gone elsewhere, and only animal was left behind. The youth did his best to growl like a prime and bared his fine set of white teeth, throwing out his arms as dominant bulls did. Jean-Charles imitated his challenge and moved quickly, grappling the boy and using his superior strength and height to effect. He was already hard and when he had the boy turned under him he found the mark between his hot, smelly and sweaty buttocks and began impaling him. Jean-Charles was large, and the boy struggled and howled with the pain of the penetration, but it was the easiest way to have his will with the little tribe.
Properly mounted now, the body under him submitted and he began sodomising the youth enthusiastically. He did not fight the sexual excitement, all the more potent as he had himself been many times put in the same position as this lost boy. He carried on till the boy’s anus loosened, then held still till he could piss inside him to complete the ritual. He pulled out and a stream of urine followed his cock out of the gaping hole. The defeated bull stayed down and submissive. Jean-Charles bared his teeth at the other two, who lowered their heads and adopted the position. Still hard, he mounted them in turn so as to urinate inside them. The smallest one, a young teen, groaned and murmured audibly as Jean-Charles’s cock swelled through his tight ring, ‘Fait mal, maman!’
When he pulled out of this one he took the boy’s face in his hand and gazed into his clear eyes. ‘You can speak? You have language?’ The boy gazed back expressionless and no more words came, but he must at least have had human nurturing till he was five or six. One of these kids might still be salvageable.
He gave his best imitation of the triumphant bellow of a prime erdbeest bull and the females dropped on all fours, the older children too. He picked up the former prime by the filthy scruff of his neck and smacked his shit-smeared bottom hard; the boy yelped at the sharp pain, but went in the direction required. He growled at the other two and they trotted back to the rear, recognising the signal for movement and their duty to shepherd the cows forward. So the little human herd slowly followed him along the path, as their new prime.
Jean-Charles knew the herd dynamic very well. It was necessary to stop from time to time for the females to scavenge and the children to feed. Also, a new herd dynamic needed to assert itself. As he expected, a pretty young cow came over to groom the new prime and offer herself; he took her as his right, for the females needed to be marked as his now. She seemed to like the attention of being fucked from the front. Jean-Charles never turned down the opportunity to impregnate herd females, and since he began when he was a young teen there must be dozens of his offspring wandering Terre Nouvelle by now, some older than he was when the Herd rose against the colony. There was a lot of population to make up. He had bred his own human herd like a stockman, forcing mates on his sisters, the only females he had not himself mated. He had been unforgiving of any resistance. Breeding was for him a sort of victory over the erdbeesten.
One sign that this little herd was not erdbeest-led was the freedom with which the boy bulls mounted the girls on these stops, and the constancy with which they had their own penises in their hands when they were not inside the females. Erdbeesten libido was not as rampant as human, and more mechanistic. He watched the youngest boy bull satisfy himself on a girl who crouched silently under him. The boy’s face took an expression of bliss before he came and he gasped out something very like ‘Putain!’ as he ejaculated.
Sitting up as the boy dismounted and the girl crawled away, Jean-Charles growled ‘Come here, kid!’ The boy looked shiftily at him and sidled over. ‘Sit here.’ The boy squatted and looked up at him. As he crouched he pissed copiously between his feet without even registering he was doing it. Looking up, Jean-Charles could not but notice the perfection under the dirt of his face. He was in fact very pretty, though not as a girl is.
‘What’s your name, kid?’
The youth struggled for some moments but came out eventually with ‘Aar-mand.’
‘Armand. Good. You like fucking girls?’
The boy seemed to find it hard to remember how to make his throat work and eventually just nodded.
‘You remember your maman?’ A sad look and another nod. ‘How old were you when she died?’
Jean-Charles got only incomprehension at that question. He tried another. ‘Were you in a bigger herd once, with erdbeesten?’
This time Armand gave an affirmative. ‘Did you run off when you were old enough for the bulls to take notice of you?’
Words were jerked out of him. ‘Hurt ass. Human bulls fuck me, not beasties. Lots. You fuck me more?’
‘Maybe. Were there ever erdbeesten in this little herd?’
A shake of the head and a nod.
‘What do you mean?’ Jean-Charles demanded.
‘There were little ones. Run off I think. Don’t like girl milk.’
The boy shrugged. He had little sense of time. Evening was coming on, and the kids automatically squatted and evacuated themselves, even the small ones, then as automatically they moved upwind of the consequences. Jean-Charles knew his responsibility, and took guard at the tree line as the sun went down. The two older boy bulls quit the females and squatted on guard upwind of him. They stank rather badly of rancid semen, sweat and excrement; he’d better get them scrubbed soon, as their stench gave a strong hint of human presence to passing leopards. He was beginning to wonder how this little unit had survived so long.
The third and least unkempt youth, Armand, came hesitantly up to him with an odd look of yearning in his eyes. Their communication had made an emotional link it seems, and Jean-Charles found the slim boy rather attractive, enough so to commence a stirring between his legs. Armand wanted physical contact and warmth, and when Jean-Charles held out his arms the boy snuggled happily into his lap, exploring his muscular and hairy torso and playing curiously with his thickening cock to bring it to its full and impressive erection. He grinned up at Jean-Charles, got down on his knees to lick the wet head, then began suckling on it until the man let out a dribble of sweet cum in his mouth.
‘Bull milk,’ he commented, licking his lips, showing there was humour and humanity still in his brutalised head. ‘You smell good,’ he added and then climbed back into the man’s lap to sigh happily and fall fast asleep, his head pressing against Jean-Charles’s pectorals.
Jean-Charles knew it was safe enough to doze off within two hours of sunset, for the leopards only hunted the hours of twilight. So he allowed himself to drift off, still holding Armand and leaning against a tree, but he awoke soon after midnight. He could see the blaze of what the new generation of humans was calling the Three Sisters, rising in the southern sky above the treetops. A grey mist was creeping through the tree stems, though the night was warm enough. Armand had his face pressed into him and had let out a stream of his drool down Jean-Charles’s chest, wetting the hair.
Jean-Charles did something on the spur of the moment which again surprised him. He kissed the lost boy on his forehead, and then put him down gently in a nest of soft female bodies. With the herd instinct they snuggled into Armand. But Jean-Charles stood. Something was wrong, and for all his wilderness experience he couldn’t put his finger on it.
He seemed then to see movement in the woods, and walked cautiously under the trees. Some way ahead he clearly saw a child wander through a shaft of grey light that penetrated the canopy. A sleepwalking human child in the woods was likely very soon to be prey, or a broken corpse in a gulley. He pursued the child, his senses fully alert.
The slight and elfin shape reappeared on the path, stopped and turned to face Jean-Charles. It was not sleep-walking, instead it seemed almost as if it were waiting for him. Something sent him to his knees as he reached it. It was not a human child, but a male erdbeest calf. Its face was quite clear to him in the starlight. But though the face had the smooth flatness of an erdbeest and the rippled and bony forehead, the eyes were wrong; they were large and human. Holy Christ! Had the two species cross-bred? That was impossible. The woman scientist who had survived for a while in his herd had said as much; the genes of the two races were entirely incompatible, even if erdbeesten were mammalian in form.
Its lipless mouth smiled, as no erdbeest ever had done in his extensive experience of the species. It formed its mouth to speak; another impossibility. Was he dreaming? But when it reached out its thin arm and stroked Jean-Charles’s long hair he felt it as if it were real.
‘Great Bull of Humans,’ the words reached him, but not through his ears he thought.
‘What are you!’ the human asked.
‘What are you, Great Warrior Bull of the Plains? Erdbeest or human? Whom do you serve?’
‘I’m me … I live for me alone. It’s how I survive.’
‘Meaningless. You breed your females for many offspring. Is that how you survive; your way to bridge death?’
‘Isn’t that what we all do?’
‘It’s not the way of the People of the Plains.’
‘The … who? What do you mean?’
‘You live with us, you mount us as a bull, you sleep next to us and drink from our full breasts. You kill the hunting beasts who would eat our calves, yet you do not know us, man.’
‘This is crazy. You’re not real.’
The child’s grin broadened. ‘Humans brought us more than death … we know humour now. We can smile. There is laughter within the Mind and we know its joy.’
‘You’re the Erdbeest Gestalt?’
‘No more. See! Your dead have come to us. We are all one Herd within the Mind. There is survival, Great Bull of Humans, and something new. There is growth. We rejoice as you murder us. You have given us change and exalted us high. We thank you for our new Herd brothers and sisters and we await you when you too die. In us you will find all you lost. Rejoice, man!’
‘This is … incredible!’
‘Now listen, Great Bull,’ it replied. ‘Though you are the human who has the best reason to hate us and our children, it is a great thing that you do not. You have saved and cherished many of our people you might have let die. You tried to stop the soldiers murdering the lost ones under your protection. So we offer you gifts in return.’
‘Within the Mind now are those who can rebuild your colony and make it greater than it was ever intended to be. They are those we killed in our incomprehension, and those who died of the Poison. But in you their minds can live again. The Mind still has power in the living world, for all our losses to death. We have power to change bodies and minds. We will give you their knowledge. We will plant it in you, deep within, and it will pass down your line, which will be great amongst the humans, and that knowledge will one day awaken, maybe on a dark day when it is sorely needed. So it has been foreseen.’
‘You can do that? How?’
‘You will sleep, and when you awake you will be changed, though you won’t understand how. Fear not. You will not feel different, though your dreams will not be those of other men.’
‘You said gifts?’
‘Back in that clearing are two boys. They are in fact your two elder calves, though they don’t know they are brothers. They too will wake changed. We will return the mind of the handsome brute, the one you deprived today of his herd. He will know language again and wake to take you for his sire. He will ride naked alongside you as a warrior prince of the plains, and of him will be born lords, kings and emperors who will rule this world for many generations to come. His name as king of men will be yours.’
‘Jean-Charles? The other boy, Armand?’‘His name too is yours. But his fate is not to rule. Him we give you to cherish, for beauty, love and laughter burn strongly in him and will glow bright in his line. You already love him, and in loving him you will recover something of what you were born to be. He will give you back the joy we took from you. Both children will awake and know you as their father, and you will know at last what a father should be. This little lost herd is more than a herd, it is your family, Great Bull. Many of the small ones running about your feet are of your own blood by your two sons. Rejoice. That is our gift of thanks to you, Jean-Charles of the human clan called Parmentier.’