The next morning, I helped Papa feed Rapscallion, then cleaned up the tent for Mother before helping her with breakfast. We had sausage, so I was in a good mood all morning. Mother still looked tired, and I started to get a little worried. I decided to ask her about it the next time I got a chance with her alone.
Papa was going hunting with most of the men that afternoon. I had always wanted to go hunting, not caring that it was just not a thing women did. I had begged every time he went, and he had always told me that maybe I could when I was older. Year after year it was the same. I soon forgot to ask him, and then stopped caring so much. The camp was considerably quieter without the men, and I missed Dartagnon's company those days. However, I was always happy when they came back. Each man hunted for himself, bringing back whatever he had killed, but if a man did not manage to get anything, everyone always gathered to divide the mean evenly. Our tribe was so considerate and sharing; it always amazed me, and I was so glad I am part of it.
Sometimes, when I thought of it—though I tried not to—I realized that hunting is another thing Dartagnon was better at than me. I was sure that if I ever went hunting, I would kill as much as he did—and he always managed to bring back something. Kinyla was very fortunate to have two hunters in her family to bring back all the food she needed.
After Papa, Mother, and I finished eating, I went to the stream to wash the dishes. When I came back after a few minutes, Mother signaled me.
'Kinyla came and wants you to go visit her. I swear, she is your second mother. I know she loves you almost as much as I do.' Mother pulled me close and planted a kiss on my forehead. I smiled at her and returned the gesture.
'And I love her almost as much as I love you.'
'As long as you keep it that way, I'll be happy.'
We both laughed together before I put the dishes away and made my way over to Kinyla's tent. I scratched against the tent flap and heard Kinyla call for me to enter. I stepped inside and let the flap fall closed behind me.
'Vishanti, love, how are you?' Kinyla asked, smiling and opening her arms to me. I returned her hug and smile.
'I am well, and yourself?'
'Doing fine. Come sit.' She gestured to the place on a rug beside the bed. This was our favorite activity to do together whenever I visited. Kinyla would brush out my hair and play with it, trying elegant styles, or practical fashions, or ones that she dreamed up. I loved having my hair played with, and having Kinyla style it was very enjoyable. Kinyla started braiding my hair in seven pieces, then wrapping it around my head in a halo. After I felt it to see what it looked like, she took it down and started on another style. This went on for some two hours. We laughed at some styles, so ridiculous were they, but we also loved others. By the time Dartagnon burst into the tent, my hair was silky-smooth from all the brushing.
'Vishanti, the children are out of the swimming hole. Now is our chance if we want to swim before I go hunting with the men, and without wading through little people and being extra careful not to drown them.'
'Tanya,' I said, calling him by the name he hated. 'Can't you see I'm a little busy?'
'Mother…?' he asked, his tone implying that he wanted her to convince me to go with him.
'Can't you see I'm busy?' she said, repeating my words.
'Fine,' Dartagnon said, pretending to glare at me. Then he shrugged and a nonchalant look came over his face. 'If you want to swim with the kiddies and crush one or two trying to baby-sit, then by all means, be my guest,' he said, turning and opening the tent flap.
'Wait. I'm coming, as soon as Kinyla finishes with my hair.'
His mother continued working on my hair as if she had all the time in the world. I smiled. Dartagnon and Kinyla were complete opposites, though he favored his mother in looks. After finishing the unique coiffure, she quickly wove my hair into a simple, long braid down my back that would stay out of my way. We exchanged goodbyes, and after quickly kissing her cheek, I sashayed to my tent. Ignoring the fact that Dartagnon was watching me impatiently, I took my time. That was the way it was between us; we teased each other constantly and spited one another. It was fun.
I changed clothes, dressing in a light attire that would be easy to swim in, and took a towel. Dartagnon had already gone ahead, and I walked to the swimming hole leisurely. When I reached it, I stepped out of my boots and looked down the slight hill at Dartagnon. He was swimming laps lazily around the pool. Carefully laying my towel where it would not get splashed, I shallowly dove into the water. I surfaced and smoothed the hair out of my face, looking around for Dartagnon. One thing that I didn't like right off about the swimming hole was that it was murky, for the dirt at the bottom was stirred up easily, and you could not see far down. I knew that Dartagnon would probably surface in a way that would scare me, so I was wary, and moved my legs around in hopes of kicking him.
Suddenly, something came up under me, and I found myself sitting on Dartagnon's shoulders. I laughed and raked my hands through his hair, making it stick up crazily. He lifted my feet up, causing me to spill backwards into the water. This time I stayed under, and found Dartagnon's legs. I wrapped my arms around them and yanked, making him splash under.
Dartagnon and I started dunking each other, pushing each other underwater for as long as we could keep them there before they fought their way to the surface. Once, Dartagnon got an arm under my shoulders and an arm behind my knees, and dunked me under once. He pulled me back up and said, 'Breathe,' before submerging me again, then heaved me up and said, 'Breathe.' He did this again and again. I tried to talk to him during the short time I could take a breath.
It was no use. I started to laugh, and did not get a good breath when I went under. He pushed me far down this time, almost touching the bottom. I had no air in my lungs, however, and my chest started to heave. I sucked in water. Something was wrong. Black spots started to swirl before my eyes, open in my panic. I kicked against the bottom, trying to resurface, and I think I did, but the black spots became solid, and the light did not filter through the water anymore.
When I came to, I was lying on the ground and something was pressing against my stomach. I had no idea how I got there, but I was soaked, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw the swimming hole. Just then, I became aware of someone leaning over me with a hand on my stomach and a mouth pressing to mine. Someone was pinching my nose and blowing air into me. Dartagnon. My stomach heaved and, thoroughly humiliated, I shoved him away. Rolling over, I threw up water and coughed, then collapsed wearily on the ground.
'What…happened?' I asked, trying to catch my breath. I gulped in deep mouthfuls of air. It had never tasted so sweet.
'I dunked you too deep,' he admitted. 'You were unconscious. I didn't have a choice…I'm sorry.'
I looked at him, leaning back on his hands in the position I had pushed him in, staring at me with such a worried look on his face, I had the urge to laugh. It was a good thing that I didn't have enough breath to do so. He looked sincerely remorseful.
'What else could you have done?' I asked. 'Thank you.'
We both sat on the ground for a few more minutes until I felt I could breathe without gasping like a fish out of water. Dartagnon helped me up and wrapped my towel around me. My legs were weak at first, and I collapsed against him, but hastily straightened in embarrassment.
'I'm all right,' I reassured him. 'We can go.'
He had no objection to that.
Dartagnon carried my boots for me, because I was working on walking in a straight line without getting dizzy. I made it back to camp and felt significantly better. Dartagnon walked me to my tent, and as soon as my mother saw me, she flew to me.
'What happened? Are you all right? Look at you—you're pale and shaking!'
'I'm all right, Mother. There was just an accident at the swimming hole. Nothing to worry about.'
'Get inside and change clothes.'
I started to do just that when Dartagnon began speaking, and I stopped.
'It was my fault, Ryn. We were dunking each other, and I went too far. When she came up, she wasn't breathing, and—'
'Mother, he saved my life. He gave me air. Don't be upset with him, please don't!' I cut in. 'I'm alive, and it won't happen again, will it, Dartagnon?'
He shook his head vehemently, and I knew he was fearing my mother's anger as much as I was. Mother sighed, brought a hand to her abdomen, and looked at me. 'Well, I'm glad you're all right. Just be careful next time, all right?'
'We will,' we chorused, and I gave Dartagnon a quick hug before heading inside to get dry. I was still a little shaky--after all, I had almost died. Suddenly, I was more grateful for Dartagnon than I had ever been in my whole life. If it was not for his quick thinking, I would not be here. I'd have to thank him as soon as I could.
When I was finished dressing, Mother came in, and wearily lay down. I pulled back the curtain dividing the tent in two, and knelt by her cot. She smiled at me from where she was. I took her hand in mine. 'Mother, is everything all right? You seem very tired all of the time? Are you well?'
To my surprise, she smiled at me. Reaching up, she brushed some hair off my forehead. 'Yes, I am well, Vishanti, and I thank you for caring so much. I suppose now would be a good time to tell you some very good news. I was tired all the time when I was pregnant with you, too.'
'You mean,' I breathed, hardly believing, 'I'm going to have a little brother or sister?'
'That is absolutely right. In about seven months, you will be a big sister.'
'I can't believe this! Do Kinyla and Coppert know?'
'No, I wanted to tell you first. Would you like to tell them?'
'Yes! Does Papa know?'
'Of course! Do you think I would keep something this big from him?'
'No,' I said, smiling. 'Oh, I'm so happy! This is wonderful. I'm going to tell Coppert and Kinyla now.'
'I think only Kinyla will be there. The men were just about to leave for hunting when you and Dartagnon came back.'
'Oh, well, Kinyla can tell Coppert when he comes back. Can I go now?'
'Yes. I love you.'
'Love you, too.'
I raced out of the tent and skidded into Kinyla's. I stood before her, breathless and grinning. 'Is Coppert gone?'
'Yes, he went with the rest of the men, and Dartagnon.'
I could see she was puzzled at my entrance, but I didn't care. I wrapped my arms around her and squeezed hard. 'Guess what! My mother is expecting!'
Kinyla didn't seem surprised, but she smiled and returned my excited embrace. 'I suspected so for some time. She was the same way when she was pregnant with you--weary and sometimes short of temper. Oh, I am so happy for you all! A new baby! That is exciting.'
'I know. I can hardly wait. Seven whole months! What am I going to do with myself during all that time?'
'You're going to be the loving, caring daughter I know you are, and take good care of your mother. Make her comfortable in every possible way, don't get her riled, and help her as much as you can. I'll have to go over and visit.'
'She's resting now. Maybe you can come later.'
'I'll do that.'
When I left the tent fifteen minutes later, I was confident that I would put Mother at ease in every possible way. She would have nothing to worry about. A new baby! My little brother or sister! Oh, I was excited. All events of the afternoon faded from my mind. I was going to be a big sister!
The men came back that evening, laden with meat. Women rushed to meet their husbands and fathers. I ran to Papa as soon as I spotted him on Rapscallion. Before he even dismounted, and I was there, smiling up at him and fairly jumping up and down with excitement.
'Papa! Mother told me about the baby. I'm so happy!'
Papa grinned and swung down to stand in front of me. He wrapped his arms around me, then held me at arm's length with his hands on my shoulders. Pretending to be gruff, he said sternly, 'You're going to be a big sister. I expect you to measure up to the title in every possible way.'
I laughed, and he did, too. 'I will, Papa, I will.'
I helped him unload Rapscallion in front of our tent for Mother and I to cook for dinner and to put away, and then led the hinee away to be tethered for the night. After the weekly hunting, the whole tribe gathered to have a feast. It was a good time to spend time with friends and have fun. Of course, the women prepared the food, while the men held contests. Then we all sat down to eat together. Papa's family and Coppert's family always sat together.
Thinking of Dartagnon reminded me of what happened this afternoon, and I began looking for him. I saw him trudging toward the back of his tent to tether his hinee. There was no meat on the back of his mount.
I hurried to catch up to him, and fell in step with his gait. He looked at me and smiled.
'How did hunting go?'
'Not very well. I was so worried about you and what I had done that I didn't kill anything. Fortunately, my father brought in enough.'
'You don't need to worry about me; I'm fine.'
'I know, but I still feel so guilty.' Dartagnon stopped and started to unsaddle his hinee. I helped him, and we worked in silence until the animal was ready for the night. Dartagnon crossed his arms and kicked at a tuft of grass. He spoke to the distance. 'I thought about what would have happen if you had drown. I would never have been able to live with myself if that happened. Not to mention your parents and my parents.'
'I know.' I smiled. 'They wouldn't be too happy.'
This drew a grin from Dartagnon, and I continued. 'But I didn't drown, so you don't need to worry. You saved my life, and I'm perfectly all right, which brings me to another thought. I need to thank you. If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be here.'
Dartagnon looked down at me, and I detected a soft twinkle in his eye. 'If I had let you die, it'd have meant suicide for me. I'd never survive your father.'
I punched him in the shoulder, but he dropped his arm around my shoulder and squeezed.
'That was a joke. Of course I wouldn't have let you drown. What would I do for entertainment around here without you to beat at Grino?'
I shoved him, and he laughed as he stumbled away. I leapt at him, and tackled him around the legs, bringing him down. I jumped up, but he was already on his feet. He grabbed my arm and twisted it behind me so that I was pressed against his chest. He started tickling me mercilessly, and I gasped for breath as I laughed. Being ticklish was a big weakness, and I hated it. I begged him to stop, and at last, he did.
We joined our families around a bonfire for dinner, and everything about that afternoon was forgotten. We were still friends, and both were still alive--I had not drown, and our parents had not killed Dartagnon. I was going to have a little brother or sister, and now we were sitting down to a delicious banquet. Could life get much better than this?