He veered from the path, tossing his
rifle in a bush to pick up again at a later time, practically scooping Marguerite into a firm clinch while making the move.
Roxton pushed forward relentlessly. He *meant* the shift to be unexpected. The troglodytes behind them would also be taken
off guard but would not be fooled for long.
The next thing Marguerite knew she was falling. Or more precisely, she
was tumbling with Roxton down a steep and grassy hillside. His arms were still wrapped tightly around her. The plunge seemed
to take minutes but, in actuality, could not have been more than twenty seconds. When the couple finally stopped their descent
an odd moment of “having been there” struck Marguerite. Then, when she found herself looking up into his concerned
face, there was total recall. They lay close and in a rather provocative position. “Why is it, even in this reality
Lord Roxton, you always land on top of me?” Marguerite asked, in an ironic sounding voice.
Instead of replying,
Roxton rolled onto his back and carried Marguerite with him. He then maneuvered them within a tight crevice in the hillside.
Here they lay, with Lord Roxton himself on the bottom this time, panting from fear and the exertion of their ordeal. He and
Malone had dug the hole over a month ago to bury non perishable supplies for safe keeping. Fortunately, the delay in completing
their job made for a timely safe haven.
Displeased, Marguerite lifted her head and, with a painful grunt that could
only be caused by the impact of one’s skull against stone and hard packed dirt, realized there wasn’t enough room
to move around comfortably. “What are you …?” she began in frustration but was silenced when his fingers
moved upward and covered her mouth. Roxton’s mime indicated that those who may follow on the outside did not need to
know about their hiding place. “Oh.”
Reluctant, hearing the troglodyte war cries from outside their shelter,
a defeated Marguerite rested her chin on a hand lying on Roxton’s upper chest. They silently watched as a half dozen
or so pairs of Trog feet jumped in frustration and confusion about the hillside, unable to comprehend where their prey had
Numerous moments of stillness passed and slowly Marguerite’s head rested on Roxton’s comfortable
shoulder. She knew her energies would be better used concentrating on the threat outside but Marguerite, almost without a
will of her own, found her mind wandering. She could not help feeling, considering their physical proximity, Roxton’s
well muscled arms and shoulders as their bodies rested together. ‘He must have washed well this morning,’ Miss
Krux mused. The hunter really smelled quite wonderful. Musky, as a man always does, but also clean and pleasing. ‘Well,
we’re so close. How can I help but smell him ... and feel him …’ Marguerite fiercely argued with the direction
her thoughts were drifting. Still, she felt preoccupied and guilty.
This Roxton was a virtual stranger, not the man
she had known for nearly four years … Yet – peculiarly - she felt very safe with him. Roxton, whether he was here
or in another universe or dimension or whatever it was Challenger had hypothesized back at the treehouse, was *Roxton*. He
was the man who touched her heart and had proven a countless amount of times that he could be trusted; he was brave, worthy
and kind. He was gentle, noble and safe …
“I think it’s safe.” Roxton whispered, peering out
of the crevice.
Marguerite jumped slightly, thinking he had read her mind.
“The Trogs have gone onto find
easier prey.” He clarified, pulling back a bit. His hands were on her back and he, quite by accident, breathed in the
scent of the woman’s sun-warmed hair. Roxton was more than reluctant to end the contact but, as appealing as Marguerite
was, they couldn’t stay like this forever.
Pausing, Marguerite looked down at him for a moment, meeting Roxton’s
eyes. “The temple is close, I’m sure.” She said, speaking in a soft, appealing whisper. Marguerite needed
to focus but found herself distracted. “We were running in the right direction, at least.” She chuckled mildly.
blinked. That nervous smile. Her lips were so close. All he need do was reach out. “Good.” Roxton replied, slowly
lifting his head.
Then she was moving away from him, pushing her way out of the crevice.
Biting his upper lip,
Roxton closed his eyes and allowed his head to rest once again on solid ground. He then pushed his way free, as Marguerite
had done moments earlier, and carefully walked with Marguerite up the hill.
Roxton’s regret was huge. He had
the opportunity but he waited too long. All he had to do was reach for her, take Marguerite eagerly in his arms, and touch
that luscious, beckoning mouth with his own. It wouldn’t be the only thing he did to make her his but it would have
been an excellent start.
Later, when the interlude known as “Roxton’s Fancy” had passed, he would
understand there were reasons why the women of his pasts and, most importantly this particular woman, would never become the
objects of love and sanity Roxton so desperately craved.
He had looked under the bed then rifled through
the drawer at Roxton’s bedside. Nothing. But he was certain there had to be *something*. Malone picked up a book on
jungle survival Roxton had been studying and absently flipped through its pages.
“Malone?” Pulling the
curtain back, Veronica stood at the doorframe of the hunter’s quarters. Slowly she entered, walking carefully down the
steps, and watched how the distracted journalist placed the book back on Roxton’s bedside table. “What are you
doing in here?”
Malone was honest. “That woman was in here for a good part of the morning. She was watched
only by Roxton who, these days, is delusional. I wanted to see if she left something behind. I’m looking for a clue
that will tell us who she really is.”
“What type of clue?” Veronica asked, puzzled.
Veronica. I’m convinced she is evil and has taken on a pleasing form to dazzle Roxton. She hypnotized him or something.”
mean, like Danielle did?”
Malone looked up from his search. “Yes, but this Marguerite – whatever
she is - is even cleverer.” Having spotted something, Malone walked across the room and, carefully crouching, attempted
to pull open a trunk. No luck. Roxton had it padlocked. “Where is the hammer?” Malone stood again and looked directly
She gave him an incredulous stare. “You want to *break* into Roxton’s trunk, to go through
his personal belongings?”
“I don’t *want* to do anything of the kind, Veronica. But one of us has
to keep their head and investigate all possibilities. You, Challenger and Summerlee certainly aren’t going to do it.”
Veronica exclaimed: “Ned, this is ridiculous! Marguerite hasn’t done a thing against us. She’s *helping*
“Yeah, I noticed.” Malone sniped. “Strange how she just happened to be wearing silk underwear.
That material is *exactly* what Challenger needed to get the windmill going and – coincidently – electricity flowing.
Am I crazy or is that just a bit of a leap? She *knew* what Challenger needed.”
Veronica raised her hands, walking
deeper into the room, and tried to speak rationally. “But Marguerite said she lives a similar life in her world. She
knows about it because her Challenger needed the same from her …”
Malone, not listening, feeling the jungle
beauty was wasting his time, limped passed Veronica and muttered, “Never mind. I’ll go get my gun and shoot the
Infuriated by his dismissal, Veronica twisted about and shouted: “Stop it this instant, Malone!”
sound of Veronica’s anger made the journalist halt then slowly turn to look at her.
“You may not think
I have something of value to say here, my friend. You may even think we’re all fools and dithering idiots but please
give us the benefit of your respect, as misplaced as you may think it is.” Averting her eyes, Veronica began to pace.
“Let me surprise you with something, Ned Malone. I have instincts. I’ve lived on this plateau *all by myself*
for eleven years and managed to do it quite well. I survived because I had learned skills but also a good portion of my continued
existence depended on my character, what I perceived as right and wrong. I – and the others – have used those
same intuitive emotions time and again to keep us alive. We – not any of us – are fools and precautions have been
“Veronica, I …”
She lifted a hand and indicated she was not yet finished
– “And you might also note that the rest of us are *not* so paranoid that we think it’s acceptable to go
through a family member’s personal possession! Not one of us has *ever* broke into a trunk that was probably padlocked
for a good reason.”
“What could Roxton be hiding?” Malone’s eyes narrowed once again.
*personal*.” Veronica forced her voice to remain calm, “Why don’t you wait for Roxton to come home. Then,
you can *ask* him what is in his trunk. As a matter of fact, if you talk with him calmly about your fears maybe he’ll
give you the run of the room, just to prove Marguerite *isn’t* the threat you think she is.”
if she *is* brain washing him and all of you …”
“Why do you keep saying that? Why are you convinced
everyone but you is wrong?”
“It’s not that.” Malone relented somewhat, “But in your case,
Veronica … Well, I know how much you want a female friend. Ever since Assai …” Malone faltered, seeing Veronica
suddenly straighten. Her expression of inquiry had turn into a simmer of defense. “I just think you think this Marguerite
could be a sister for you, just as Roxton thinks he’s found a lover, Summerlee a grand daughter and Challenger, I don’t
know, a disciple?”
“If that’s happening to us, Ned, we’ll all figure it out sooner or later.”
Veronica spoke tightly, hurt beyond words by Malone’s forethought and the words he did not say. “Instincts, remember?”
Then, seeing the ever present resistance in his eyes, Veronica snapped: “You don’t have to *like* any of us, Ned,
but at least respect us!”
Malone glanced at his companion; genuinely sorry, then turned from her and brought
up a mask of his own. He had seen that disguised hurt before in her expression, a reminder of the night they had been caught
by surprise and a life, as well as finding a way off the plateau, was lost. The resulting turmoil was tragic for more reasons
than the obvious. If Veronica blamed them she never said. “I understand respect, Veronica.” Malone said, almost
coldly. “Do you understand ‘letting go’?”
Now, he spoke of more than absent friends. He was
remembering a time when the two of them had shared an intimacy that was as beautiful as it was forbidden.
Veronica couldn’t help her cry. He was being purposely cruel. Why did she put up with it?
have to shout.” Malone now turned to look at her, his face like stone. “I can hear every word you say.”
wish that were true, Ned. I really do.” Slowly, trying valiantly to hide the deep pain which had resurfaced, Veronica
walked from the room.
Malone watched her and felt a regret of his own. She would never know how much he really loved
“Where the hell is it?” Marguerite spoke in abject frustration. They had walked up and
down the path five times in the last hour but she could not find the temple. “This is crazy!”
you certain we’re in the right place?” Roxton asked.
“Yes!” Marguerite growled, “It’s
supposed to be just past that boulder that looked like a tortoise and just before this bush of South American Red Fox,”
Marguerite swiped in frustration at the offending foliage. “It *has* to be here! In my world, we saw it easily from
the path, Roxton!”
With a grunt, Roxton looked up and down the path they had traveled, concerned with the reemergence
of Trogs. He then slid the rifle in his back holster. They would have to leave soon, just before twilight, if they hoped to
make it back to the treehouse before dark. Roxton doubted Marguerite would be a pleasant traveling companion if he did not,
in the meantime, figure out in which direction her elusive temple had departed.
“Could it be, in your world,
that the Chiconi don’t exist?” Marguerite hazard calmly, although the thought filled her with more dread than
she could ever adequately express.
“The Chiconi?” Roxton’s memory was unexpectedly jarred. He knew
the tribe. He was certain of it.
“Wait.” Marguerite had spotted something and touched his arm. She then
raced down the path and swerve right, “Grey stone!’ she shouted and fell to her knees near a patch of crawling
vine. “The stone deposits in this area are all brown and black. The only grey stone I saw was what this temple was made
out of … and here.” Spreading the vine, Marguerite revealed a flat grey stone that ran a long length off the path
and into the jungle.
“They must have carted it in from another area of the plateau. This slab looks like foundation.”
Roxton said, crouching next to Marguerite. He peeled more of the vine and dead leaves away.
Marguerite began to breathe shallowly as she rested her weight on the back of her legs. “This is where the temple should
be. If the foundation’s here then *where* is the rest of it?”
Roxton pushed a stone away and the answer
to Marguerite’s question suddenly became clear. Splinters of burnt wood pushed up in a misshapen stack next to a singed
ivory railing. The oak had been badly burned and the spread had been rapid.
“It burned down?” Marguerite
could feel the words choke in her throat.
“At least three years ago.” Roxton replied.
years? How do you know?” Marguerite asked, through her misery, but was unable to look at Roxton.
a long story.” Roxton spoke lowly, almost reverently. “There was a tribe here on the plateau called the Zanga
“Was?” Marguerite hadn’t missed the past tense.
“Four years ago the Zanga
split into two factions. Those who were lead by Chief Jacoba and the rebels lead by a young native called, Jarl.”
Surprised, Roxton looked at Marguerite. “You knew Assai?”
“Yes, she and her
husband, Jarl, are good friends. He became the Chief of the Zanga tribe last year when Assai’s father, Jacoba, passed
away.” Confused, and dreading his reply, Marguerite asked, “They’re at odds here in your world?”
were on the plateau for over a month when it was time for us to finally leave. We asked Jacoba to help us, to lead us off
the plateau, because he knew the way. He hated and feared outsiders and refused. But his daughter, Assai, was great friends
with Veronica and she promised to help us. Jacoba was furious and told Assai if she came into contact with us again he would
disown her. She left the Zanga village anyway. Veronica promised Assai she would always have a place in the treehouse. Jarl,
Assai’s lover, secretly swore to follow. But on the night we were to leave, the treehouse was attacked by ape men. They
captured Assai and before we could save her she was killed. Jarl was devastated and declared war on Jacoba. A horrible, bloody
civil war erupted. I kept thinking if only we could have struck a deal of some kind with Jacoba, no matter how unlikely, Assai
would still be alive and that bloody war would never have started.”
Marguerite stared at Roxton but kept silent.
to make an already long story short, the Chiconi, who were obstensively a peaceful people and friends to the Zanga, sided
in with Jarl against Jacoba. This so infuriated the Zanga chief that he had all their homes destroyed … and apparently
all their places of worship burned to the ground.” Roxton looked, once again, over at the scorched ivory railing.
in breath, attempting all in vain to hide her fear and disappointment, Marguerite asked, “What happened to the Zanga?”
Roxton slowly shook his head back and forth, disgusted by the waste of it. “They destroyed themselves. In the end there
were a few warriors and hunters, some women and children, but the tribe was nothing like it once was. Everyone that remained
wandered away and was adopted by other tribes. At least, that’s what we think happened. No one is really certain.”
horrible.” Marguerite whispered.
“Veronica was overwhelmed. She practically grew up with the Zanga after
her mother and father went missing. Now they, like her blood family, were but a memory. The terrible part, for us in the expedition,
is that we feel it was our fault. If we hadn’t come here, hadn’t disturbed what was an ideal circumstance for
the jungle tribe, the Zanga would be thriving.”
“It’s not your fault, John. Jacoba was never reasonable
and if the circumstances had only been a little different …”
“As it was in your world.” Roxton
correctly assumed, “What made the difference, Marguerite? Do you know?”
“It’s nothing I can
put my finger on.” Marguerite lied. “I’m sorry.” How could she tell him? The Zanga, including Assai,
were inadvertently saved because of her greed and, at that time, a very thick layer of self preservation?
With a sigh,
Marguerite stood and brushed the leaves from her skirt. She felt Roxton do the same by her side. “So, it’s gone.”
Marguerite lamented, “And so is the way back to my world. I can’t ever leave, Roxton.” Dazed, Marguerite
about faced and mentally, as well as physically, pushed herself away from the rubble.
Slowly, she and Roxton walked
the path back to the treehouse. They said nothing to one another the entire way home, both in deep thought.
watched her intently. Marguerite’s profound sorrow touched him deeply. She was suffering and there wasn’t a thing
he could do about it. Yet a part of him soared, knowing they - he and Miss Krux - now had time to get to know one another
better. He had wished with all his heart that she could stay … and now it looked as if Roxton’s wish had come