Without a word, she dropped to the ground. Quietly, she crept forward, creeping slowly past the tree she’d been hiding in and pouncing suddenly upon the three women who were supposed to be stalking her; causing them to screech in surprise and dismay.
“Ah, Tulie!” Mara exclaimed. “Where in Gaea’s name did you come from? We’ve been searching for you forever.”
“You’re supposed to be learning survival skills,” Tulie admonished the women. “If I had been a leopard, you would have been its meal.”
“There hasn’t been any sign of big cats in the area,” Mara protested.
“That’s not the point,” Tulie retorted, “You didn’t even know I was near.”
“That’s not fair, Tulie,” Janna complained, “you only told us that you would be hiding, you didn’t tell us you were going to be hunting us yourself.”
“I didn’t tell you I would stay hidden in one place, did I?” Tulie asked the flustered girls. “I just said that you should find me. You walked right past me and didn’t even sense that I was there.”
“Where were you?” asked Luann, “we searched this entire area, twice.”
“I know! I watched you, looking behind every bush and rock, even behind the trees, but you never once thought to look up, did you?” Tulie scoffed. “ I was right there the whole time!” She pointed to the large tree where she had been perched, nestled in the lowest branch. “That should have been the first place you looked.
“Come on, then. Let’s go back to camp and we’ll try this again in the morning.” As Tulie led the women back to their base camp, she thought about other lessons she could teach them. She’d already taught them to scout out the safest areas for making camp, to provide shelter and fire for themselves, to find and replenish provisions as needed.
Her goal was to prepare them to journey, undetected and alone; to be able to travel between and among the various tribes within the region. To observe and report the activities of those tribes to Madra, the Riannan leader, who was the spiritual leader of the region, and Tulie’s mother as well.
These women were the daughters of the Kakaesian tribal leaders, chosen to be the Appointed among the tribes; though they’d not be assigned to their own tribe, for their loyalty must be to Madra. They had been chosen, not just because they were the daughters of the leaders, but also because they had shown signs of possessing the skills necessary to be Appointed; the primary skill being able to mind-speak across distances. Perhaps, Tulie considered, this might be what she should practice next.
“Tonight, we’ll spend the night in silence,” Tulie spoke within their minds, for she not only had the ability to mind-speak, but she could link their thoughts together so they could hear each other and not just one another. “Speak only through the link, and only the thoughts you want to share.”
“What, you don’t want to hear Janna’s thoughts about bedding Ronnald?” Mara quipped, “or Luann’s longing for home?”
“Probably not,” Tulie laughed, “and I don’t want to hear your thoughts about how hungry you are, either Mara, unless it is to tell us what you will prepare for us to eat.”
Tulie fetched her water skin and filled it from a nearby stream, all the while being plagued with an odd sensation of being watched, though her scrutiny of the surroundings didn’t show anything unusual or particularly dangerous. Through the link, she warned the girls to be especially aware, even as she heightened her own senses, loosening her spear from its place on her belt and bringing it to hand.
A strong, musky scent was the only warning Tulie had, drawing her eyes upward into the tree directly ahead, where she saw the leopard just as it sprang with powerful momentum in the same moment Tulie flung her spear with all her strength and speed. Tulie felt shock and fear within the link as they waited for the impact to come.
And then a silence descended within the link, as the women pondered what had just occurred, eventually they busied themselves with their chosen chores. Mara was the designated cook, and she sent thoughts to the group about starting the fire, while Luann offered to find some tubers if Mara would make a stew; and Janna sighed and thought about Ronnald, much to the amusement of all, while Tulie set about skinning the cat.