As consciousness returned, I could easily detect the smell of my own blood, which covered me. As this registered in my mind, I became aware of something else—the feeling that something, something big, was moving very close to me. I opened my eyes to see a lion. It was gigantic, far larger than its African cousins. Tawny brown with a thick black mane, it stood not more than a dozen feet from me, panting in the heat of the late afternoon. It made no move to attack. It simply watched me with a sort of casual detachment. I slowly reached for my pistol, only to find an empty holster on my belt.
Then it made a noise. I would have expected a lion to roar and I would have expected the roar from this particular lion to be a mighty and a frightening one because of its size. It didn’t roar. It made a series of moaning sounds. “Mmwuugh. Mmwuugh. Mmwuugh.” It seemed to wait expectantly, and when nothing happened it made the same series of noises again. This time it was answered from somewhere nearby. “Mmwuugh. Mmwuugh. Mmwuugh.” Obviously this lion was the leader of its pride and having found helpless prey was calling the others to feast on me.
I was far less surprised to find myself the probable meal of a pride of lions than I was at what happened next. The figure of a human being dropped from the tree above to land right next to me. It was a female, though it took me a moment to recognize her as such because of her appearance. Naked but for a loin cloth, she was covered from head to feet in a layer of thick brown mud, which also caked her hair, leaving almost nothing of her humanity visible except for two bright green eyes staring into mine. She was thin and athletic, with well-tone muscles that flexed with every move. Paying no attention to the lion, she ripped open my shirt and pressed a handful of leaves onto my wound. I winced as the foliage poked the swollen and tender injury, but froze again when the lion took a step toward me.
The strange mud-covered girl lowered her face to just in front of mine and stared into my eyes with a look of wonder in her own. I could see now, not only the brilliant green of those eyes, but could also see just around them, where the thick coating of mud had been wiped away before it dried. Her skin, revealed only in this tiny area, was very light. It was in fact, at least a shade lighter than my own.
“Mmwuugh,” the lion moaned again. Then it took several steps toward me. I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the huge fangs in the panting mouth.
“Mmwuugh.” To my surprise, the girl answered the lion with the same sound. It must have been her that I heard before from a distance. She stood up, crossed over to the lion, and gave him a shove. I expected her actions to be met with a full-on attack. But the lion, who must have possessed seven or eight times the weight of the girl, allowed himself to be pushed away. He turned and wandered away into the nearby jungle.
The girl sat down beside me again and graced me with a broad smile full of perfect white teeth. She pressed the poultice she had already applied with the palm of her hand, and reaching behind me, placed a similar poultice on the entry wound. Handily ripping a good portion of my shirt off, she tied it around my stomach in a crude bandage. Then she left me for only a moment as she walked to the river ten feet away, and brought back a drink for me, using a very large leaf curled into the form of a cup. She sat cross-legged next to me as I drank.
“Kanana,” she said when I was finished, placing her hand upon her chest.
“Kanana,” I repeated. “You’re supposed to be a legend.”
“Kanana,” she insisted. She had a deep, almost boyish voice.
Reaching over, she placed the palm of her hand on my chest and looked at me expectantly. With a vicious predator no longer looming, I took leave to examine her more closely. She was at that moment closer to me physically that most women I had ever in my life known. Though it was coated in mud, I could tell that her hair was long and had been braided together with shells and other beads, just as I had seen some of the natives do in Abbeyport. I could make out nothing concerning the condition of her skin, as it was completely smeared over, but her perfect breasts were presented directly in front of me, muddied but otherwise bare. Though her arms, legs, and torso were all well muscled they did not appear unfeminine. Quite the contrary, and I couldn’t help but stare. But my fascination was not due to lewdness or unseemliness, but a simple appreciation of beauty. She was like an ancient Greek statue of Artemis come to life.
She pressed her hand again to my chest.
“Henry Goode,” I said.
“Henry Goode,” she repeated. She looked thoughtful for a moment. “Good Henry. Good Henry Goode.”