Before going to sleep Wergenget told Kickaha that he’d have to pick a wife from the eligible females. There were five nubiles, all of whom had stated that they would be happy to have him as a mate. Theoretically, a woman could reject any suitor, but in practice it didn’t work that way. Social pressure insisted that a woman marry as soon as she was of childbearing age. If any woman was lucky enough to have more than one suitor, then she had a choice. Otherwise, she had to take whoever asked her.
The same pressure was on a man. Even if he didn’t care for any of the women available, he had to pick one. It was absolutely necessary that the tribe maintain its population.
Two of the five candidates for matrimony were pretty and well-figured. One of these was bold and brassy and looked as if she were brimming over with the juices of passion. So, if he had to take unto himself a wife, he’d choose her. It was possible she’d turn him down, but, according to the chief, all five were panting for him.
Given his pick, he’d have wived the woman he’d proved his manhood on. But she was only borrowed for the occasion, as was the custom, and her husband would try to kill Kickaha if he followed up with a repeat performance.
As it was, the woman, Shima, could make trouble. She’d told Kickaha she’d like to get together with him again. There wasn’t going to be much opportunity for that, since she couldn’t disappear into the woods by herself without half the tribe knowing it.
Ah, well, he’d deal with the various situations as they came along.
Kickaha looked around. Except for the sentinel on top of a platform on top of a high pole in the middle of the fort, and another stationed near the apex of the giant tree, the tribe was snoring. He could open the gate and get away and be long gone before the guards could rouse the others. In their present stuffed condition, they could never catch him.
At the same time he wanted to get out and look for Anana, he felt a counterdesire to stay with these people, miserable and wretched as they were. His moment of weakness, of longing for a home of some sort, still had him in its grip. Some moment! It could go on for years.
Logically, it was just as likely that if he stayed here, she’d be coming along. If he set out on a search, he could go in the wrong direction and have to travel the circuit of this body of water. It could be as big as Lake Michigan or the Mediterranean for all he knew. And Anana could be going in the same direction as he but always behind him. If she were alive …
One of these days, he’d have to leave. Meanwhile, he’d do some scouting around. He might run across some clues in this neighborhood.
He yawned and headed for the leanto assigned him by the chief. Just as he got to it, he heard giggles. Tbrning, he saw Shila and Gween, his two top choices for wife. Their normally flat bellies were bulging, but they hadn’t eaten so much they couldn’t see straight. And they’d been pretending to be asleep.
Shila, smiling, said, “Gween and I know you’re going to marry one of us.”
He smiled and said, “How’d you know?”
“We’re the most desirable. So, we thought maybe …” she giggled again… “we’d give you a chance to see whom you like most. There’ll never be another chance to find out.”
“You must be joking,” he said. “I’ve had a long hard day. The rites, the hours with Shima, the feast…”
“Oh, we think you have it in you. You must be a great wiru. Anyway, it can’t hurt to try, can it?”
“I don’t see how it could,” Kickahasaid, and he took the hand of each. “My place is rather exposed. Where shall we go?”
He didn’t know how long he’d been sleeping when he was wakened by a loud hubbub. He rose on one elbow and looked around. Both girls were still sleeping. He crawled out and removed the brush in front of the leanto and stood up. Everybody was running around shouting or sitting up and rubbing their eyes and asking what was going on. The man on top of the platform was yelling something and pointing out toward the sea. The sentinel in the tree was shouting.