Winter’s hooves snapped through the bracken. His long mane and tail tangled in bushes and branches, leaving a haze of white hair behind. Often the way was so tight his big round flank scraped against the trees on either side. The ground was uneven, sometimes sloping up, sometimes down, covered in rocks and tripping vines. And yet, nothing seemed to faze him. Grinda wished she could be the same.
‘Come on, Mock. Tell me. Where are we going?’
‘Be patient, biala, you’ll see.’
Grinda thinned her lips. Why couldn’t he just tell her! She sighed, tugging at Winter’s reins as he followed behind. Mock had seen the thick band of trees in the distance as they rode Winter across the fields. A dark shadow against the white horizon. It was along their way so they plodded towards it, and the closer they got, the more excited Mock had become.
‘What is it?’ she had asked him
Mock grinned, squeezed her waist. ‘You’ll see, biala.’
Grinda shook her head as she now followed his broad back through the thick woods. It was always you’ll see, biala. She grimaced. More and more she was getting this way: angry, upset over silly little things.
‘It’s the baby,’ Mock had once told her, touching her belly with his big warm hand. ‘They can sometimes send the mother a little funny. And remember, you’re carrying a shamri.’
Still—she rubbed at her arms—she hated feeling this way.
Hurrying ahead, dragging Winter behind her, she caught up with Mock and seized his hand. Looking down on her, he smiled. ‘Can you hear it, biala?’
He paused, forcing her to stop beside him. ‘Listen.’
Now she could hear it: a faint thudding in the distance.
She raised her eyebrows. ‘The Mother?’
She sighed, and he laughed at her impatience.
They continued, and the further they journeyed, the louder the thudding became until it overwhelmed the crunch and crackle of Winter’s heavy plod through the leaves.
‘What is it?’ But Mock wouldn’t answer, just wearing that secretive smile. Whatever the sound was, it was pounding now. She could feel it vibrating through her feet.
The air thickened with moisture. Then they began to descend.
‘Leave Winter here,’ Mock shouted over the noise, and he took the reins and looped it over a branch.
‘What is it!’ she shouted back.
But he only took her hand and pulled her along. Now there was a strange hissing sound alongside the pounding. The slope turned very steep and rocky. Mock managed to stay upright but Grinda wasn’t so skilled, dropping to her arse so she could use her feet and hands to navigate the slippery descent.
She paused, seeing something strange through the branches.
‘What is that!’ But Mock couldn’t hear her, too far ahead, the pounding now an explosive hammering.
Finally, the bottom of the slope lay just ahead. Smiling up at her, Mock held out his hand, she took it and he helped her down. She stood beside him, utterly aghast at what she saw.
‘Beautiful, isn’t it!’
Grinda didn’t answer. Couldn’t answer. It wasn’t just beautiful. It was incredible, magnificent, startling. She looked up at him in disbelief. He grinned, laughed, then kissed her head.
She turned back.
So much water. So much power. The thunder of it turned the air misty. Spray, as high as the cliff was tall, hissed into the air. The water beneath churned and roiled before flowing away into a stream so blue and calm, she could see fish swimming beneath.
‘What is it?’
‘We Quarthi call it zama—the Mother’s Knuckle. But in your language it’s called a waterfall.’
‘You’ll see many more when we reach my people.’
She shook her head. There was so much she had missed stuck in her village.
Mock began to unbelt his daggers.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Going for a jump.’ He dropped his belt. Next was his kinta.
‘A—a jump?’ She craned her neck, gazing up at the top of the waterfall—the zama. She seized his wrist. ‘You can’t do that!’
He laughed. ‘Yes I can, biala. Just watch.’ He paused. ‘You should join me.’
‘Definitely not!’ She wrapped her arms around his waist. ‘And you can’t!’
Gently, he disentangled her, his hands firm around her wrists. ‘Keep calm, biala.’
Heart in her throat, she watched as he clambered over the rocks towards the pounding water, bare arse clenching and unclenching as he struggled for balance. His long dark hair flowed down his back. He took a moment to look up, and Grinda briefly admired the broadness of his shoulders, the strong cording of his neck. Then he began to climb, hand over hand. Muscles bulging in his back, veins fat and ropey. It looked easy enough, but she could see the rocks were wet and slippery with moss and every new grip sent a sharp stab of fear in her guts.
One false move …
Then he was at the top and Grinda released her breath. He peered over the edge, taking a few moments to study the water beneath. Then he looked at her and smiled.
The rush of air blew back his hair, screamed through his ears. The coolness of the spray tickled his skin. Then an explosion of noise, a surge of cold as he hit the water. He opened his eyes. It was deep, the rocks sharp beneath, all the noises of the world muffled to a dull murmur. The surface bubbled and roiled with white water. A few hard kicks and he shot towards Grinda as she watched anxiously from the surface. A fish darted away. Something squirmed along the bottom, sending a haze of dirt through the water. It was so clear. Grinda was going to love it.
Another hard kick and he broke through the surface. Grinda screamed as he seized her around the waist and pulled her in. She squirmed in his arms as they sank to the bottom. He let her go and she swam back to the top, leaving a trail of bubbles behind. He followed.
He burst through the surface, flicking his hair back.
‘Mock!’ She gave him a shove, teeth chattering, so pale her lips were blue.
He pushed down on her shoulders. ‘Keep under the water. It’s warmer.’
He shook his head.
‘Now I’m going to have to dry out my clothes.’ Angry again.
Grinning, he took her hand. ‘Come on, I want to show you something.’
She pouted her bottom lip. ‘I don’t want to see it.’
Pulling her against his chest, he kissed her on the lips, gripping her so tightly she couldn’t move. Lips and tongue, nibbling and gnawing. Soon, she sagged in his arms, neck arched and breathless. Finally, he released her. She gazed up at him, breast heaving, face flushed, lips red and swollen. She didn’t look so cold anymore.
‘Come with me,’ he said again.
He dragged her along. She squealed and bunched up against him as they entered the turbulent water. Taking her wrist, he dragged her hand under the zama. She laughed, then he yanked her completely beneath until it pounded on her head. She shrieked again, tried to pull away, only for Mock to pull her up against him. Silly, cute little faqwa. It wasn’t that bad.
He pulled her through, until the zama no longer hammered against them but echoed around them. A small cave.
Grinda looked around in wonder. ‘Wonderful!’ she cried against the noise.
Mock brushed away the wet hair away from her neck, kissed her on the throat. ‘Anything for you, biala.’
She looked at him, eyes glittering, then lay her head against his chest as she gazed up at the curtain of white water.
They lingered there for a while. Until finally: ‘You should try it.’
‘Try what?’ Grinda said.
‘The jump!’ Her eyes widened and he laughed. ‘Thought you wouldn’t.’
She took the bait: she pursed her lips, set her jaw. Pulling away from him, she passed through the zama. On the other side, she was a glittering dark blur. He watched as she looked up, then waded to the rocky bank. Mock quickly followed.
Climbing onto the nearest rock, she began stripping off, spreading her clothes against its hard, warm surface to dry.
‘Be careful, biala,’ he called to her as she began to climb.
He made to follow but she turned back with a scowl. ‘Don’t need you, Mock. I can do this on my own. I’ve encountered much scarier things then a simple zama.’
That you have, Mock thought with pride.
Pushing himself away from the bank, he floated, enjoying the view of her beautiful body making the climb: slim smooth legs, tight little backside, that little triangle of golden hair, now brown in the wet. He felt his cock stiffen. Her wet hair stuck to her narrow shoulders, curled around her slim waist. It was getting long. Soon it would reach past her arse.
She reached the top. She turned to him, legs wide for balance as she stood near the edge. Folding her arms over her breasts, she gave him a proud little smirk.
Mock smirked back. ‘What are you waiting for?’
She tried not to look scared, but her face paled as she peered over the edge. A haze of spray blurred her expression.
‘Keep to the middle,’ he called to her. She shuffled closer to the edge. ‘Careful!’
Mock felt a stab of unease. He hadn’t expected it. It was only a small jump, but there was always risk. Even as small as it was. For a moment he hoped she wouldn’t do it.
But then she closed her eyes and leapt. A small splash and she vanished beneath the surface.
Mock swam to meet her, diving and pulling her into his arms. She wrapped her precious body around him and he kicked back towards the top. They broke through the surface together.
Grinda squealed, then screamed, then laughed. She punched the air, her face bright, mouth wide. ‘Let’s do it again!’
Laughing along with her, Mock seized her face and kissed her. ‘We shall, biala. Together.’