Still… she put her axe in one hand and her knife in the other. The first man to come up fell back with a split skull. The second slid back with two fingers chopped off. The others decided that it was best to retreat. They went back into the water and split into two groups, each swimming a hundred yards in opposite directions. They would come up at the same time, and she could only attack one. That one would dive back into the water while the other came at her on the ground.
By then ten others were swimming across. Some of them were several hundred yards downstream; others, the same distance upstream. She had no chance to get beyond these. Flight to the mountains a mile away on this side of the channel was her only chance. But she’d be caught because of her steady loss of blood.
She shrugged, slipped off her ragged shirt, tore it into strips, and bound them around the wounds. She hoped the tentacled things hadn’t injected poison into her.
The Horn and the axe couldn’t be hidden. The knife went into a pocket on the inside of the right leg of her levis. She’d sewed the pocket there shortly after she’d entered the gateway into Earth. That was a little more than a month ago, but it seemed like a year.
Then she sat, her arms folded, waiting.
HER CAPTORS WERE a short, slim, dark people who looked as if they were of Mediterranean stock. Their language, however, did not seem to her to be related to any she knew. Perhaps their ancestors had spoken one of the many tongues that had died out after the Indo-Europeans and Semites had invaded the Middle Sea area.
They numbered a hundred: thirty-two men, thirty-eight women, and twenty children. The moosoids were one hundred and twenty.
Their chief clothing was a rawhide kilt, though some of the men’s were of feathers. All the warriors wore thin bones stuck through their septums, and many bore dried human hands suspended from a cord around their necks. Dried human heads adorned the saddles.
Anana was brought back to the other side of the channel and flung half-drowned upon the ground. The women attacked her at once. A few struck or kicked her, but most were trying to get her jeans and boots. Within a minute, she was left lying on the ground, bleeding, bruised, stunned, and naked.
The man whose two fingers she’d severed staggered up, holding his hand, pain twisting his face. He harangued the chief for a long while. The chief evidently told him to forget it, and the man went off.
Urthona and McKay were sitting slumped on the ground, looking even more thrubbed than she.
The chief had appropriated her axe and the Horn. The woman who’d beat off the others in order to keep the jeans had managed to get them on. So far, she hadn’t paid any attention to the knife inside the leg. Anana hoped that she would not investigate the heavy lump, but there didn’t seem much chance of that, human curiosity being what it was.
There was a long conference with many speeches from both men and women. Finally, the chief spoke a few words. The dead men were carried off in travois to a point a mile away. The entire tribe, except for the few guards for the prisoners, followed the dead. After a half an hour of much wailing and weeping, punctuated by the shaman’s leaping-abouts, chanting, and rattling of a gourd containing pebbles or seeds, the tribe returned to the channel.
If these people were cannibals, they didn’t eat their own dead.
A woman, probably a wife of one of the deceased, rushed at Anana. Her fingers were out and hooked, ready to tear into the captive’s face. Anana lay on her back and kicked the woman in the stomach. The whole tribe laughed, apparently enjoying the screams and writhings of the woman. When the widow had recovered, she scrambled up to resume her attack. The chief said something to a warrior, and he dragged the woman away.
By then, “dawn” had come. Some men ate pieces of one of the moosoids killed by Urthona, drank, and then rode off across the plain. The rest cut off portions for themselves and chewed at the meat with strong teeth. The flesh was supplemented by nuts and berries carried in raw leather bags. None of the captives were offered any food. Anana didn’t mind, since she’d eaten but a few hours ago, and the beating hadn’t improved her appetite. Also, she was somewhat cheered. If these people did intend to eat her, it seemed likely that they would want to fatten her up. That would take time, and time was her ally.