Marni IV

Marni’s Story IV – The Homecoming

Thom Cantrall

Ice outlined the course of the river as the sun peaked above the rim of the mountain ridge to the east of the secluded ranch.  Slowly, the girl stood and stretched cramped muscles and smiled softly.  Today was the day she had been waiting for since that horrible day so many weeks ago when the valiant lady had emerged from the bowels of the great Shining Mountains with the Grizzly-torn man riding a make-shift, self-fashioned Travois behind his steady mountain horse.  Today, Mark was coming home from the hospital.

Since mid-summer, Marni had been on the ranch, seeing to its operation and meeting the commitments he had for packing hunters and fishermen into the wilderness.  So many of Mark’s friends had rallied to his aid, helping the girl tend the stock and do the work of the ranch.  Several had volunteered to lead the pack trains into the high country... pack trains that generated the revenue that funded this whole operation.  Although the work had been rough, even brutal sometimes, Marni had loved every minute of it.

The sigh that escaped Mark’s lips as she turned off the paved road and onto the gravel track that led to the to the secluded ranch yard spoke volumes to Marni after the comfortable silence that had prevailed on the drive back from town.  It was a silence broken only by an occasional endearment accompanied by a squeeze of the hand or a soft kiss of pure love… The man was home at long last and he knew it.  What was even more important was that his soul was home and his spirit was at peace, somewhat.  He knew in his mind that the long convalescence in that hated hospital was necessary.  Heavens, he had been nearly torn in half by an enraged she-bear, but he also knew he was there against his heart’s will.  His Spirit, the Spirit of the Great Bear, as it had been described to him by his Shoshoni Shaman those many years ago, was ill at ease within city walls.  His long weeks of incarceration had done nothing to settle the war in his soul.  For that, he needed to be alone in the wild places.  He needed to commune solo with the Spirits of the Mountains to pour out his soul to Them... to ask Them to lessen his pain and to ease his anguish.  The pains of his injuries were gone now.  The scars on his body would fade with time.  The scars on his soul and of his Spirit would remain for his lifetime unless he talked to the Spirit of the Great Bear and appeased his Totem.

If Mark was unsettled as they rolled into the yard, he was elated when the blonde woman who was his long-time friend and business associate literally flew out of the ranch house to run pell-mell to the truck.  Without preamble, Julie jerked open the passenger’s-side-door and launched herself into Mark’s waiting arms.  Laughter rang from her even as tears spilled down her cheeks.  How she did love this gentle giant of a man.  How she had cringed when she first introduced Marni to this most special of men!  If Marni EVER did anything to hurt him...  no one, no man, certainly, had ever understood her and her particular set of circumstances that made her all she was like Mark did.

“Julie!” he cried out, “how wonderful it is to see you here!  Oh, my GOSH!  This is such a terrific surprise!”  Mark squeezed the young woman tightly, allowing his mind to flood with the joy that consumed him from knowing that his special friend was here with him.

“Julie,” he finally calmed himself, looking over the head of his diminutive friend to see a broadly grinning Marni, obviously so proud of her accomplishment of surprising and exciting this normally resourceful and imperturbable man.  “Julie,” he began again, “I... I’m simply at a loss for words... and you know that is not something that happens often in my case.”  As the laughter at this gem of truth died down, he continued... “I am so happy to see you here.  Did your family come with you?  You know, I haven’t seen Rod or Bree since you were married... what?  Three years ago?”
“Almost four years now,” the pretty blonde answered with a soft smile.  “Only Bree came down with me just now.  Rod is in the midst of shipping cattle and said he’d come down as soon as they’re gone.”

“Fantastic!” he exclaimed as Marni moved to his side with a wheelchair he summarily waved away.  “I don’t need that contraption,” he stated firmly, “I’ve got the loveliest crutches in the Rocky Mountains to help and I’ll be damned if I’ll allow anything to come between me and them.”  With that, he dropped one arm over each of the ladies and, dwarfing them entirely, he led them toward the house.  When he reached the porch and the swing he had there, he stopped and, releasing Julie, had Marni help him down onto the seat, making himself comfortable there in the shade of the huge tree that grew there for that very purpose.

Pulling Marni down to his side, he motioned Julie to move a chair closer and thus began an afternoon of catching up with lost times.  The sun had slid half way down the western sky when the door opened and a most beautiful, elegant, pixie-like, dark-skinned lady emerged from the house, her hands rubbing sleep from her eyes.  A shy smile crossed her face as she advanced slowly toward the trio gathered around the porch swing.

“Bree,” Mark smiled up at her, “how nice to see you.  Welcome to our home,” he beamed at Marni, enjoying the surprise and the joy that resided in her countenance as the portent of the words sank into her.  “Marni, I’d like you to meet Bree Julison...”  He paused at her laugh then it dawned on him that Julie and Bree had been here for more than long enough for any introductions to have long since been made and acknowledged...

“OK, just how long have you three conspirators been here plotting this assault on the fair and the innocent?” he asked with a sheepish grin crossing his ruggedly handsome face.

“Oh, just since yesterday,” answered Marni blandly, a look of pure innocence the only clue to the plan that had been conceived, laid, incubated and hatched on the unsuspecting Mark.  “Well,” she continued, “we did work this out some time ago...” and, unable to continue the ruse further, she broke into laughter that proved so infectious that, soon, all three women were hopelessly lost in mirth.

Mark was soon resigned to the fact that he was the recipient of their connivery and all he could do was relax and go with the flow.  He merely grinned at the woman he had come to love while holding her hand and reveling in the beauty of his dear, if different, friend, Julie and her mate, Bree Ann.  The tall man had known Julie for many years, having shared an office with her while she was building a rather successful marketing business.  When she left to go on her own, he knew her income was a solid six-figures and she was financially sound, so he wished her well and sent her off in pursuit of happiness, secure in the knowledge that, while money will not buy happiness, it will allow one to look for it in much better places.

Things had calmed somewhat when Marni, out of curiosity asked, “Julie, I know that your lifestyle is unorthodox, to say the least, but it seems to work for you.  How do you do it and, perhaps, more importantly, why do you do it as you do?”

Julie sobered a bit and, looking questioningly at Bree, she began:  “Marni, as we have talked about before, my body is physically wired differently than yours… or most people’s for that matter.  I suspect it’s a hormonal thing.  I am a true bisexual woman.  Perhaps ‘dual-sexual’ would be even more accurately descriptive.  I have been all my post-adolescent life.  For many years I didn’t know what was wrong with me.  I could not be happy in a relationship, any relationship.  I began with purely straight relationships and I always ended them because there was something missing, some essential element was not there.”

“I had no idea at the time what it was, but, when a senior in high school, I discovered ‘girls’ and girl/girl sex, I thought I had found that missing facet of my sexuality.  I thought to myself, ‘oh, great! I’m GAY… now what?’  Well, it didn’t take long to discover that that was not, precisely, the problem.  Yes, I learned, I was attracted to my own gender and yes, that was the missing element in my sex life, but that wasn’t all of it either.  Not entirely, at any rate.  As time went by and the years passed, I explored this side of my sexuality.  I found that I, indeed, had a need for this type of interaction, but it was still not the whole answer.  As relationship after relationship with both genders blossomed, grew… then died, I just knew I was destined to be alone my entire life because, whichever gender I was in a relationship with, my body yearned for, even required the other.  Whoever I was with, male or female, I realized, at last, that I was denying half of my sexuality.”

“Wow,” an astonished Marni uttered, “that’s fantastic, but however did you come to that conclusion?  I mean, that is not something that would just pop into your head one day… ‘Oops, I’m dual-sexual!’”


As the group laughed at the girl’s wit, Julie continued, “No, Marni, it sure isn’t… actually, it was my favorite doctor of psychology in his office of the wilderness,” and she flipped a casual thumb toward Mark, “that twigged me to it.  He sat me down one day on one of our trips to the outback when I was being a Class I Grouch after the demise of yet another relationship…”

“Do you remember that day, Mark?” she asked the somber man.  At his positive response, she continued:  “He told me that my problem was not in ‘whom’ I was dating.  That I would have the same trouble with any individual after a period of time… that it was a matter of sexuality – that my dualism was making it impossible for me to be happy with either ONE.”
“At first, I thought he was crazy, but the more I considered it, the more evident it became that he was on the right track…”
“My ‘thoroughly modern man’ to the rescue, huh?” a giggling Marni uttered, literally cracking up the entire group.
“Exactly so,” Julie snickered as she continued.  “It was Mark who suggested I find another woman like myself and, together, we find a man capable of handling such a situation.  At first, I was revolted by the idea, but knowing the alternative was a string of busted relationships like I’d had, or a relationship I cheated on, which would NEVER happen and was totally unacceptable to me, I agreed to consider it further.”

“About that time, a friend sent me a book, which I still have, by the way, called ‘Three in Love’ which chronicles polyamorism throughout the ages.  It is amazing how prevalent this condition is in history.  It has been much more common in society than I would have ever believed prior to studying the condition.  Anyway, it gave me a direction to begin my search.  And, search I did!”
“I frequented many websites and chatrooms online that catered to bisexual and gay women.  The first thing that amazed me was the number of woman who were totally excited by the prospect I was presenting…”

“Well, duh,” laughed Mark, “like anyone in their right mind, male or female of that persuasion, would ever turn down an opportunity to be with you!  Beautiful, sexy, successful, witty, charming and a thoroughly Western girl!”

Julie stopped a moment, glanced first and Marni, than at Bree and, with a twinkle in her eye said… “You did… on more than one occasion…”

Mark’s face turned a special shade of crimson as Marni turned to look at her man, a wide grin on her beautiful face.  “I did say ‘in his right mind,’” Mark stammered, trying to regain some semblance of composure here.  “Actually, Jules,” he started, “the only times it came up between us was when you had just ended a disastrous relationship and there was no way I was ever going to take advantage of you like that.”

“I know, Dear Man,” she answered quietly, “and, in reality, you have my eternal gratitude and love for being so gallant at a time when I was so vulnerable.”  Turning to Marni, she continued, “Marni, Honey,” and she placed her hand on Marni’s arm, squeezing firmly, like by so doing, she could transfer the information she was trying to say by some form of telepathic wave.  “Can you see now why I was so reticent to introduce you to Mark?”  At Marni’s nod and smile, Julie continued, “Mark is the most special, dear and honest man I have ever known and, in truth, being where I was at that time, if we had come together, I’m sure it would have totally destroyed what we have in this life.  Mark would make a wonderful husband, but he’s not a man to share the one he loves with another in such an intimate way.  He is loyal and deserves loyalty.  I would have destroyed that.  Do you understand?”

“Most certainly I do,” Marni replied.  “In my past I have experimented with my sexuality and I discovered that, unlike you, and I understand totally why, I can form a perfect bond with a single other.  In my case, that other could have been a woman, but it isn’t.  Mark is my mate for the rest of our lives, if he will have me…”  Slowly, she looked around to see a light of love shining in the man’s eyes like she had never known to exist and she was, at once, comforted, convinced and confirmed in her decision.

“Exactly as it should be, Girl,” Julie said with a sigh of peaceful contentment, “exactly as it should be…”

After a quiet interlude of a few moments, Julie spoke, “Well… to continue, my plan was to match with another girl, and then to find a man willing and capable of a polyamorous relationship.  As I said, there were many, many willing girls.  So many so that it amazed me.  I can really understand how the old Mormon plural marriages worked so well.  With two women to share the workload, the duties and the pleasures of marriage, especially on the frontier, it was a real benefit to most of those who practiced it.  I don’t know how many of those plural marriages also included sex between the women, but I’m sure it was true of many more than we’d know of today.”  As she acknowledged the group’s agreement with this, she continued… “The hard part, it turned out, was finding the right man.  Oh, man after man professed to believe in what we were doing, but when push came to shove, they balked… either at the idea of sharing their mate with another woman and, occasionally, being left out for a time, or it was the idea of physically keeping two independent minded, modern women satisfied that proved daunting?

Whatever the cause, my search was failing when, by chance, I met Bree.”  Softly, Julie smiled at her mate and gently squeezed her hand.  “As you can see, she is absolutely lovely, extremely intelligent and more than a little sexy!”

“Since I knew she was married… to a MAN, even, I never thought to even make an overture to her.  I was more than content to have her for my friend.  In the course of that friendship over the next several months we came to know one another extremely well.  I fell in love with Bree and Rod both… they were so thoughtful and considerate… not only of me, but of one another, something that is sadly lacking today.  It got so that what one of us thought, the other spoke.  We got to be a regular threesome of very close friends, she, I and Rod.”

“Rod Julison is a perfect gentleman.  He has all the attributes any woman would want in a man and he is as loyal as a cocker spaniel.  It was he who first broached the subject to me.  We were at dinner, the three of us, at the Space Needle in Seattle when he said, ‘Julie, I don’t know whether you know this about Bree Ann or not, but she, like you, is bisexual… but, she is too shy to bring it up.  She, well, WE know how you feel and what you are looking for and… well, Julie, we’d like you to be our new wife.’”

“Seated as we were in a very nice, very upscale restaurant, I was almost blown away by what I was hearing.  I was staring at Rod and, catching myself, I turned to look at Bree.  She just looked at me and smiled softly, nodding her agreement to what Rod had just voiced as she whispered ever so quietly, ‘Julie, I love you’ while her faced reddened a tiny bit. 

I think I began to grin from ear to ear as the importance of the words sank in slowly… ‘Are you two proposing marriage to me?’  I asked, looking first at the one, then at the other...”

“That is exactly what we were proposing,” Bree added unexpectedly.  “We had come to love Julie very much and I could not stand the thought of losing her to someone else.  I told Rod that I wanted her to come live with us on our ranch in Montana.  She would have her own room and there would be no pressure on her for sex by either of us.  She had told me of her concerns in our private conversations about becoming merely a ‘new toy’ in an existing marriage, which was why that was not high on her list of ‘how to’ in making such a union.”

Julie picked up the narrative again… “I accepted on those terms and we lived that way for nearly five months before we set a date and were intimately joined as husband and wife, and wife…” and here she had to giggle… “Although it’s not a marriage recognized or recorded by the state, it is recorded in Heaven and means that much to us.”

It was Marni who first broke the comfortable silence with her thoughts… “I have so many questions… most of which are none of my business I know, but, really Julie, how does it work for the three of you?”

“Oh,” Julie answered with a laugh, “it works wonderfully well.  We each have our own bedroom for those times we need to be alone.  It is seldom those are much used, but they are available to us… sort of a calm haven, if you will.  Mostly we all sleep together in our huge, custom made bed.  Sometimes we all make love together, sometimes I like to just hold them while they make love… and vice versa… and sometimes we just hold onto each other and go to sleep.”

“We have a solemn list of ground rules that are inviolable and are NEVER, EVER broken… one of which is, never does any discussion ever become a two-on-one situation.  We do almost everything as a threesome, shopping, movies, nights out, dinners, dates, everything.  This said, for sex, there are times we pair off.  Often, Bree and I have time in the afternoons, before Rod is home from work.  Many days will find Rod and me alone on the ranch somewhere doing the things needed to keep our ranch in top shape.  It’s not difficult to find time to be alone together, especially in the summertime.  The results?  I have no more problems with my sexuality or my ethics as it is, in all ways, a cheerful, loving relationship, and the LADY IS FANTASTIC!”  At which Bree instantly turned a bright, beet red over her olive skin.

The conversation turned desultory at this point with the girls answering questions for Mark and Marni until a rising cool breeze drove them inside and to a dinner that had been prepared and delivered earlier by members of Mark’s church.
Soon after the sun had disappeared in a fading blaze of orange glory, Marni noticed Mark’s eyes drifting slowly shut.  “OK, Buckaroo, time’s up.  Let’s get your cute butt into bed for awhile.  You’re big ol’ bod is not ready to party with this crowd yet.”  The laughter that comment elicited was aptly punctuated by the raising of two iced glasses of Diet Pepsi and one of Diet Coke.

Chapter 2

A heavy frost lay on the meadows as the big, forest green F-350 Dually pick-up rolled into the ranchyard.  Instantly, a blonde streak, accompanied by a tiny brown streak raced from the house to the truck, each vying to be first to hug the man just climbing down from the cab.  If the reunion lacked something in decorum, that was certainly more than made up for by the enthusiasm and fervor of all the participants.  Rod was no less excited to be reunited with his two beautiful wives than they were to be with him.  Together, the three first danced around one another joyously.  They then, when their energy waned, stood in quietude, locked in a deep embrace.  Finally, that ardor spent, they turned back to the house, one woman on each side of the beaming man.

The thought came unbidden to Mark’s mind… “how in the world does ONE man keep those two HOT beauties so obliviously happy?  My God, he must be some kind of superhero…”   The sharp rap in his ribs from his own beauty standing beside him was sufficient to tell him that the last sentence had, somehow, slipped out not so inaudibly as he would have wished.

Marni grinned at the crimson tide that was inexorably marching its way across Mark’s face.  Holding his arm tightly to her side, she whispered.  “No more a super-hero than are you, my most superior lover!”  When he would have demurred, or made light of her statement, she continued, “Mark, hear me this once and hear me well.  You have been home from the hospital for a bit over three weeks now and you have loved me so thoroughly that I cannot imagine how totally satisfied I am, sexually.  Our time at the cabin was wondrous but I had attributed a lot of that wonder to the ambiance of time and place as well as the freshness of the relationship... I was wrong.  Since we have been home, there has been no diminution of the thrill, the ardor or the intensity of our love-making.  You not only satisfy me totally, generating orgasms in me beyond anything I have ever in my life experienced, but you make me feel LOVED as well.  For the first time in my life I do not ask myself ‘isn’t there supposed to be something more?’  You give it all to me, my Dear Mark.”

A bit taken aback by the intensity of her words, he answered, “yes, Honey, life with you is wonderful, but it is all I can physically do too, as wonderful as it is, to maintain myself with just you.  He has TWO ladies to keep happy.”

“I see your point!  Two of me would be a bit much for any one person, I suppose, as demanding as I am, but, seriously, Darling,” and she brought her gay mood down to a bit more somber level before continuing and said, “Rod is not totally responsible for their satisfaction and gratification…”

It took a moment for her words to sink in completely, but when they did, a light seemed to come on and a slight grin began to swell as he said quietly and slowly, “Ohhh, yes, I take your meaning.” as his grin threatened to erupt his facial muscles.

“Exactly,” she replied, “these two ladies help out considerably.  They are totally happy with one another and are as totally capable of creating their own orgasms by themselves as they are with Rod’s cooperation.  You, my Dear Man, are not built like him.  You, and me too, for that matter, are ‘one person people.’  We could not abide the polyamorous relationship in which the three of them obviously thrive.  With us, it’s me for you and you for me.  That is how you are happiest.  It is how, as Julie puts it, we are wired.”

Mark pondered this as he watched the three begin to walk slowly back to the big house.  He saw, and more importantly, felt, the truth of her words deep within his soul.  It was true, he knew, that he was totally a one-woman man.  He had never felt a need or desire to be other than what he was… That he was in love with this girl was beyond doubt.  That she was equally in love with him was also obvious, though he still questioned his fortune that such a woman as she should love him as she did.  “Yes,” he thought, “question it I may, but never would I reject it.  I’m not stupid, after all.”

Somewhat later, when the five friends had finished breakfast, had the remnants cleared and had the morning chores done, the air had warmed sufficiently in this late Indian Summer weather to allow the group to gather outside in the sunlight.  Mark was more quiet than usual this morning and Marni, sensing this, sought to draw him out.  She felt she knew the source of this solemnity, but she felt it important to allow him his own time.

As the conversation drifted from subject to subject as such was the wont of friends, Mark cleared his throat and began: “My dear friends, I cannot begin to tell you how much your being here has meant to me.  I don’t think Marni and I could have managed without you these past weeks…”

“But…” intoned Julie.

“But…” Mark nodded, acknowledging his friend’s insight… “I need to take leave of you for a few days.  Please,” he countered their projected apologies, “understand that you are most welcome here.  Both now and in my absence, I wish you to be here.  In fact, I would appreciate it if you continued help Marni while I’m gone.  But, as you know, I’m part Shoshoni and, as such, I’m part of the Order of the Bear.  The Great Bear is my personal totem, my symbol, so to speak, and his Spirit is uneasy.  He calls me to conference with Him.  Something has happened in His world that is disconcerting me.  I need three days to spend with Him, to make ‘medicine,’ as it were, to solve this discord we’re feeling between us.  I think it has to do with the death of that she-bear at my hand.  I may have to atone for that action, even though it was done in self-defense.  Perhaps her spirit is lost and needs guidance.  Perhaps it is something else entirely, but the thing is, I need to identify the problem and see what needs to be done to restore order.”

Mark had expected a reaction to his revelation, but it is doubtful he had expected the response he received.  It was Marni who first addressed him.  “Mark, do you think ANY of us hasn’t seen your disquiet?  Of course you need to speak with your spirits.  Why do you think these people are here, just to visit and keep you awake late?  I asked them to come, and they volunteered.  They are here to lend their support and keep the hearth warm while WE…” and she paused while the significance of this word settled into his inner being… “make this trek into whatever place you must be.  Yes, Love, I am going with you.  You are in no shape to travel alone this late in the year and I have talked to the Shaman and he agrees.  He anointed me your ‘mate and helpmeet’ and, as such, I’m allowed this privilege.”

Mark said nothing, but allowed his eyes to drift from one to the next, receiving the same nod of understanding and agreement from each.  With a sigh, partly of acceptance, but mostly of relief, he accepted their tacit approval and support with a simple nod of his head and a remote, enigmatic smile that crossed his face … then was gone…

Chapter 3

The sun had not yet cleared the eastern rim as the couple walked from the house to the corral where the two saddled horses, his big buckskin winter horse and her pretty paint, stood three-legged at the hitch rail, near, but not with, the string of laden pack mules.  A thin line of smoke drifted from the tall chimney of the big house out across the basin ahead of the slightest of currents in the still, chill, clear morning air.  Rod, Julie and Bree Ann had been there early to help load the pack animals while Mark saddled the riding stock.  Marni emerged from the big house, waving to Rod as he retreated to the bunkhouse where his family had residence during their stay.

All checks on gear complete, without further preamble, the couple stepped into leather, took up the lead rope to the pack string and headed out of the yard.  With noses pointed toward the shimmering white peaks that hovered, seemingly in mid air, in the background, they settled into the easy pace dictated by the methodic pack mules and the rustic trail.  Even bundled as they were, the crisp, cold air penetrated to their very core.  The bite of the frost chilled their lungs as they breathed of the fragrances the morning drafts off the mountain carried to them.  The pines had their own smell this morning, sharp, with the smell of pitch prevalent.  The spruces and cedars were not so stark, but nonetheless, there.  The few late fall blooms remaining did little to alter the background.  Instead, they added a sweet descant to the symphony of scent they were enjoying so much as they made their slow way among the huge boulders strewn like so many child’s marbles along the wintry path leading ever higher and ever snowier into the quiet, white world above them.

Game was plentiful at this level, having been forced down from their high-ground feeding pastures to this meso-elevation where they would tarry but awhile, feeding heavily here before retreating even further down the mountain when even fiercer weather pushed them into their winter feeding grounds in the low valleys.  Elk were everywhere along the trail, their numbers reaching unheard of levels as management practices seemed to favor these large ungulates.  The Mule Deer, still here in good numbers, are not as plentiful as they had been in the past and their numbers are in decline.  This, Mark reflected, was to be expected in light of the corresponding increase in elk numbers.  While the two species did not normally compete for food, the Wapiti being a grazer and the Mule Deer being a browser, but, in the late winter when food had become a scarce commodity and both species were forced to forage for anything edible and had to share the same diminished pastures, they did, indeed, compete.  At this time, it was no longer a matter of merely finding preferred foods, it was survival and anything digestible was consumed.  Unfortunately, the elk being so much larger than the deer, they could, and did, eat all the edible parts of the bushes, shrubs and trees to heights the deer could not reach.  The resultant lack of nutrition is the largest single factor in the diminishing size of the Mule Deer herd.  Loss of habitat on their winter range, especially by the never-ceasing encroachment of humans also took its toll, especially in exacerbating the food supply problem by forcing even more animals onto even less ground.  The carrying capacity of any land is strictly controlled by the number of animals it can feed in the deepest, darkest days of the worst winter.  All the myriad species are interdependent.  No one species exists in isolation from or is oblivious to those around it.

As morning waned and the sun passed its zenith, beginning its daily trek down the afternoon sky, the couple rode on with only the creak of saddle leather or the occasional snuffle or snort from one or another of their stock breaking the silence of the mountains.  Even such sounds as these or the rare, soft-spoken word was muffled and eventually absorbed by the snow that now blanketed their world like a deep, soft down blanket.

When Mark turned off the trail and began a very steep, almost precipitous descent into a snow filled glade, Marni was a bit surprised.  When they forced their way through a thick, hanging blanket of vines and leaves into a park like setting of giant pines and cedars surrounding a still, ice-free pool of water, Marni gasped at the beauty of it.  Somehow, she had assumed they would be traveling deeper into the mountains… a thought that was more than a bit daunting in this winter landscape.  The short, steep path had taken her full attention to negotiate safely, so she was wholly unprepared for the scene that awaited her at the end of the trek.

Marni sat her saddle in wide-eyed amazement at what she saw here.  She had emerged from the rugged, brush choked trail into a park… a garden even, of untold beauty.  She sat amid a stand of ancient pines and cedars of almost unbelievable girth.  Those trees around the perimeter of her park were resplendent in once-green, vine-like growth that was just now losing its leaves to the throes of winter.  This formed a barrier of sorts.  Within this wall, there was little to no undergrowth and the temperature was such that she was suddenly much too warm in her winter riding gear.  The snow scene she had been a part of all day was gone now.  Suddenly, it was as if emerging from that last cluster of the clinging vines had magically transported her to a whole new dimension.  There was the dark and somehow inviting pool steaming closely by.  The steam rose in soft waves from its surface and she could detect an odor, faint though it was, not unpleasant, but not particularly inviting either.  Her real shock came as she lifted her eyes with the steam as it rose towards the canopy of the overhanging trees.  As it rose into the cold, mountain air, it suddenly condensed to begin falling back as rain, only to be intercepted by the high foliage of the upper branches of the trees, there to be caught and truly trapped as the air temperature from above quickly froze it in place.  Slowly, the bottom of these ice pads attached to these high reaches began to sag downward in reaction to gravity and to the warming effect of the hot pool below.  With a loud PLOP, drop after drop fell back to the wavering, shimmering pool to begin this metamorphosis all over again.  It was as if, in a few short strides, she had been transformed into a woodland nymph in some strange and quizzical land with a decidedly tropical setting.

As the sensuous, if amazed, woman absorbed all of the beauty and mystery of the place, her eyes, for the first time since entering wonderland, strayed to the man sitting quietly astride the big lineback dun gelding.  He was watching her, gauging her reactions, without so much as a smile to betray his thoughts.  Slowly, she edged her bright paint pony next to the buckskin and, reaching for the hand he removed from his gauntlet riding glove before extending it to her, she spoke:  “Mark, I thought the Cirque where we dined was magnificent.  When the cabin in its setting overmatched that, I felt I would no longer be surprised by anything you could show me, but THIS… this place is merely magnificent beyond words of description.  Indeed, Dear Man, this is a place God created for His children to have audience with Him.  I am sure the Spirits you seek are here with us now, waiting only for you to attend them.”

A small smile crossed his face as he answered with a simple “Thank you.  Yes, my lady, they are here.  They have instructed me to make myself ready to be worthy to sit in their presence.  I’m afraid that would exclude any personal time or personal pleasures until this is done.  I must forgo pleasures of the flesh for now, for to deny myself of the world proves to them the sincerity of my desire to commune with them in their world.”

“I understand your needs, man-o-mine,” she whispered almost reverently.  “I am here to help you meet that goal, not to detract from it.  I shall go about making our home here and doing the things a proper Shoshoni Woman does to prepare her Warrior to walk and talk with the Gods.”

With that, she released his hand and slid from her mount.  She immediately began the ritual of setting up housekeeping here in the wild beyond as the women she was emulating had done for millennia.  She allowed Mark to lift down the pack boxes that contained their living items, but stopped him when he tried to unload the feed, packed to sustain their Cavy during their stay.  “That is all you are allowed to do until it is time to erect our tent, and if I had other women here to help, you would not be allowed to do that much either… the rest is the task set to your woman to accomplish.  Please don’t diminish me by doing that which is mine to do.”

Silently, he regarded her, admired her stern countenance and her iron will and, nodding in recognition of her logic, he then turned to his labors while she went about her own.  First, she stripped the tack from the horses, the pack gear from the mules and began the ritual of checking each animal for damage, injury, marks or chafes.  This much accomplished, she hobbled the pack animals away from their camp and turned them out into an area ample for their needs with sufficient food to keep them satisfied and content with their lot.  She then turned to the saddle stock and rubbed them down, removing all remnants of sweat and effort from their coats.  Only when they were dry, clean and fed did she turn to the chore of setting up camp.  The tent was, indeed, a two-person job, but other than that, Marni left Mark to his own regimen.

Mark was amazed at the diligence displayed by his chosen mate.  She could have easily fit in with any Shoshoni camp.  As soon as the tent was up and solid, he left her and returned to the preparations he had begun while she tended the stock.  He retreated to the side of the hot spring away from the camp.  Then, using the dry wood he had found still clinging, dead, to the ancient cedars found around the park, he built a small fire, barely more than a hat full.  He then stripped off his clothing, the trappings of the white world, and slid noiselessly into the hot water of the pool.  Although Mark did not know just how hot the pool was, it definitely ranked with the hottest hot tub of which he had ever been a part.  He knew he could not long remain in the extra-warm mineral spring, but that knowledge did nothing to diminish either his enjoyment or the importance of the cleansing ritual he was to perform here.

Quickly but thoroughly, he cleansed his body, removing all trace of impurity and corruption from his skin.  It was the work of but minutes to complete his ritual ablutions, but when he emerged from the hot pool, he was as clean, on the outside, as man could be made.

Standing as he was born, the man made duty to the six points of the compass before kneeling on the robe placed beside the small fire built for this purpose.  Intoning a quiet chant as old as time itself, Mark took two primary wing feathers from a magnificent Golden Eagle he had, long ago, collected for this ritual in the time honored way of the Shoshoni people.  Using them like small fan blades, he wafted the pure smoke of the burning cedar tree across his bare body to bathe and anoint himself to the glory of the Gods.  His chant now evoked the soul of the earth to come stand as intermediary.  He was in need of communion with the Spirit of the Great Bear and longed for that interface between himself, a mortal man and Ursa, the Great White Bear.

From her side of the hot pool, Marni watched her man as he performed the rituals of his heritage while standing naked before his creation.  She was fascinated by the smooth, almost hypnotic movements of his hands as he directed the pure smoke over his entire body.  It was very reminiscent of a Hawaiian Hula, where the hands moved in rhythm and time.  In Mark’s case, each movement brought the caress of the cedar tree to his body, making it ready to receive the visitation the man hoped would be coming.  The girl could not believe the beauty of what she was watching.   Although she had no idea what to expect from the ritual, or even how it was to progress, she was surprised when the man stood and placed the loin cloth he had cleansed in the smoke of the fire around his waist and brought it from behind, between his legs and, straightening it carefully, allowed it to drape back down in the front over his waist strap.

As soon as this was completed, he donned his ornate chest plate, the bones shining in the light of the fire, the facets sparkling in anticipation of that which was to soon come.  When he had his headdress on as well, he stood with his arms upraised to the heavens… his palms open outward as if to receive the gifts of the gods.  The girl had no idea of the passage of time as she watched him dance slowly.  The chant was never-ending as the fire burned lower, only to be replenished.  It surprised her to realize it was full dark out when she heard the call of a hunting wolf as it talked to others of its kind in the still night air.

Sometime, very deep into the dark night, Marni noticed a difference in the rhythm of the man’s dancing… it slowed… and seemed to take on the aura of supplication.  It was about this time that the girl noticed the air had changed on his side of the pool.  It was no longer possible to see the ring of trees that made up the outer limits of the park.  Instead, there was a visible shimmer in the air and it seemed almost translucent as she watched her man seemingly communicate with an unseen being.  She was amazed by the vision before her and would have loved to see more, but she knew that was not her place.  She was Shoshoni Woman now, here in support of her Warrior who was in communion with his spirit totem.  She left that alone.  She was content to watch the scene before her as he stood so tall and straight.  He was the proud Warrior of the night and he was talking to Ursa, of that she had no doubt.

In all, she had no idea how long the conference had gone on, but just as the sky began to show the purple haze that presaged morning, he bowed from the waist and the shimmer disappeared from the air.  Without adieu, her Warrior stooped, extinguished the fire and, packing his clothes, but retaining his Warrior dress, he circled the pool and returned to the waiting girl’s side.

Marni stood and silently received her man.  She stopped in front of him and waited, watching him closely as she wondered what his mind was considering.  When he opened his arms, she willingly stepped into them, allowing herself to be engulfed in the folds of his large body.  Somehow, with Mark, the woman never felt diminished or less of a person when so held.  Always in her life she had avoided this scene because she felt the man in question was attempting to make her feel small and insignificant.  For a while, she was content to stand this way, her body wrapped safely by his and her soul at rest for she could, for the first time since his return from the hospital, feel the peace in his soul.  She KNEW that his quest had been successful.
Unwilling to break the trance that seem to control them both, the girl stood, leaning comfortably into the man’s strength, waiting for him to begin.  For, she knew that in his own time, he would tell her all that had happened there.

“Did you see?” he finally asked quietly.  “Did you see the Spirits that came to visit and talk to me?”

“I could not see the Spirits,” Marni answered softly, “just a shimmering, a displacement of the light that indicated the presence of something.  I was so fascinated by the whole process, and amazed at how long it went on.”

Leaning back and looking at her quizzically, he asked, “How long did it go on?  It seemed to me to be just a few minutes, but I know it had to be more than that.”

With a slight grin, she regarded him.  “Look around you, my Man,” she suggested.  “The light you are seeing is not the end of the day, but the beginning of a new day.  You have been in your communion for a full evening and all night.  I watched, fascinated, as you pursued it.  It was a rare privilege to be allowed to witness it.  Now, tell me, Great One, what did you learn?”

The smile that crossed Mark’s face lit up his entire countenance as he began to tell her of the experience.  He had to explain that there was much he could not explain to her, some because he was admonished not to, but most simply because it was so esoteric in nature that it didn’t lend itself to translation to mortal speech.  He told her of the soul of the she-bear and that, as he had suspected, it was lost and was wandering in search of her cubs, for whom she was in agony at having left behind without protection.

All the while he was talking to the girl, his hands were massaging, caressing her body and the effect of his man she loved, dressed skimpily in his Warrior’s garb, so close to her and his hands exploring her skin was not lost on her.  His hands were beginning to feel like hot brands wherever they touched and her breath was shortening in response.  She could feel a warm, churning sensation surge through her loins as she longed for his continued touch.

Slowly, she began to respond in kind.  She loved the feel of his strong, muscular arms and shoulders in her hands as she kneaded those areas with hands that had seemingly come alive of their own volition.  This seemed to add new life to his hands and they begin to search for new areas to explore.  Not wanting this idyll to end, the woman paused in her caresses to unbutton her blouse and to quickly undo her bra, wanting so much for his touch there.  A want that was not to go unfulfilled, for her simple act of making herself more accessible to him fueled his desires and his hand found its way inside her blouse and to the rewards waiting there for him.  He especially liked to roll her firm nipples between his thumb and forefinger and gauge the response in her as the waves of pleasure coursed over her.

Marni felt as if her legs were going to collapse under her, so she led her man into the tent and to the bedding she had spread out on the floor to accommodate them.  Slowly she sank to the soft bed and pulled him down with her.  Immediately, he opened her belt and loosened her Levis… sliding them down her long, tanned legs.  It was the work of but a moment to have her totally nude here on their bed, totally nude and responding to his ministrations.  As he bent to kiss her, her back arched and she raised up to meet him… her mouth hungry on his as he kissed her so thoroughly.  As their kiss lingered, she allowed her hands to wander over him, as much as she could with her lying on her back and him above her.  Presently, she did find an object for her attentions as she moved aside his loin cloth… she was amazed to find him so rigid, so ready… and instantly, she was equally as ready… as she spread for him and pulled him to her, never releasing her grip on him.  She guided his rigid member to her waiting and ready orifice and felt him slide so deftly into her as the breath escaped her in one great gasp.  Her passion soared as he began, ever so gently, stroking her slowly, allowing her to feel all of him as his rigid manhood massaged her now erect pleasure center.  The girl was having trouble finding her breath as he played her body like a fine violin, making a rare and pleasant music rise from her soul, a symphony of love and pleasure that issued forth to meet the strains of an interlude of  passion emanating from her man.  On and on it went, higher and higher they rose as she responded to her lover.  Oh how beautiful the feeling as their climax crashed in upon them like a giant comber on the rocks of some far, rugged shore.

Slowly they came down together, she below, he above, they laid on their bed, entwined in body and in soul.  Like that, they drifted to sleep for a time… until the needs of the moment awakened the woman.  Even still, she was reluctant to break their reverie…

The sun could not penetrate the thick cover around the mineral pool even on the brightest day.  The soft, diffuse light now reaching the two lovers was many times reflected and greatly diminished in brightness and intensity.  The result was, even as late in the morning as it was, a soft ethereal glow that bathed the glade in its soft, yellow rays.

Marni giggled inwardly as she thought about what had just happened.   Her man, so seemingly mismatched when age and background were considered, had just loved her as no one else ever had or ever could.  How he did it, she did not know, but he raised her to heights she had never believed it possible for a woman to reach.  And the setting!  Never in her life had she ever thought she would even consider having sex under these conditions.  A posh suite in a luxury hotel had been her style, but here she was, naked, with a man clad in the traditional trappings of a Shoshoni Warrior… in an isolated glade surrounded by a snowy wilderness.  She giggled again as she remembered the feeling of his ceremonial breastplate as he covered her.

Magnificent, marvelous, unbelievable?  All were descriptive of what had happened, but still, they were not enough. Quietly, she paused in her movement to look at the sleeping man… only to find two bright eyes watching her from within the folds of their now demolished bed.  When he saw her looking toward him, he smiled a long, slow, languorous smile of complete contentment.  “I love your outfit, Darling,” he said softly, as if a loud voice might shatter the magic that prevailed in this place, “so nicely form fitting and such wonderful accessories.”  His smile altered subtly to a mischief filled grin as he admired her lovely female form au naturale.

“I’m glad you approve,” she answered coyly as she effected a pirouette in place, displaying her firm, warm, supple body in a highly sensuous manner.  “I sort of took you at your word that this spot was ‘clothing optional’.  It feels so good to be able to be so free and unfettered in complete comfort while around us, the snow lies so deep on the ground.”

“Lying even deeper today,” he stated matter-of-factly.  At her startled look, he continued, “It’s been snowing steadily all morning.  We’ve probably had three to four inches since daylight.”

“Oh, my heavens,” she stated in alarm, shocked that she had not noticed what was happening around them.  She realized suddenly that what Mark said was true, they were in the midst of a heavy, mountain snowstorm.  “Are we okay, Dear?” she asked with a nervous smile.  “I mean, we’re not going to be snowed in here, are we?”

Mark’s laugh was infectious as he regarded his mate standing bare in the soft light.  “I can think of no one I’d rather be snowed in with, Honey.  And with that, he rose from their bed and, discarding the remnants of his attire, he reached for the girl’s hand.  “Come with me, Sweetheart,” he intoned as she took his hand and followed him to the steaming pool.  Gently, he stepped into the warm water and turned to assist her.  Carefully, not at all sure of this enterprise, she followed Mark into the pool.  She paused often as the hot water inched its way up the heights of her body feeling, at once, wonderful and threatening.”

When the water was well above her waist, her man stopped and turned her toward him.  Thinking he planned to kiss her, she was a bit surprised when, instead, he pushed her shoulders down, indicating that she should sit in the hot water.  Unsure of what was coming, but trusting her mate implicitly, she followed his lead and was pleased to find herself sitting on a submerged stone with the water lapping nearly to her chin.  When the man sat beside her, he admitted that these stones were not here naturally, but that he had hauled them from further up the mountain and had installed them for just this effect.  The interlude following was a time of extreme closeness, one lover beside the other as the hot mineral water washed away their aches, pains, cares, concerns, and the outside world. The effect, leaving only one man and one woman, together as it has been since the beginning, since Adam sat with Eve in just such a place so far removed yet so close at hand.

All too soon, their bodies told them it was time to leave the sanctity of the pool and they obediently retreated to their communal bed to spend the rest of the day in a deep, curative, blissful slumber that was uninterrupted by anything of this world.

For two days, the couple relaxed in their own personal Eden… soaking in nature’s hot tub, exploring the marvels of togetherness and making plans for a future as a couple.  Also, for two days, the snow fell outside of their very private cocoon.  In their innocence, the world around them was converted to a winter wonderland buried under more than three feet of white.

On the morning of the third day, the lovers woke early, enjoyed an animated session together that ended with both people gasping for breath and thoroughly entwined in one another’s arms and hearts.  Slowly, they separated, took one final dip in the hot pool and dressed fully for the first time in all the days they had been here.  Subsequently they began the task of striking their camp and packing the last of their gear for loading onto the anxious mules.  As quickly as the remuda was set to move, Mark told Marni to keep them calm while he checked the steep path back to main trail.

Chapter 4

What Mark found was not anything to fill him with any kind of calm or confidence.  A trace difficult to negotiate when bare, it was downright treacherous when buried under all that snow.  After traversing the steep slope, opening a path of sorts through the snow pack, he was sincerely concerned by the task ahead.  A few minutes of quiet study, while good for the soul, had done nothing in the form of moving the pack string out of the basin, so he turned back down the slope and to the waiting girl.

If the climb out had been dangerous, the descent back down the icy trail was downright harrowing.  Step by careful step, Mark allowed the mountain horse to pick his way down into the hole.  It seemed to take forever to make the short drop and Marni watched anxiously as her man made the perilous journey.

“Honey,” the large man began slowly, “this is going to be touchy getting the string out of here.  It’s steep and there is sheer ice in places.  I think what we’ll do is take them up, one animal at a time.  Once on top, the trail is snowy, but we can travel it okay.  I don’t foresee any great problem after we’re out of this hole.  “Now, Baby,” and Marni smiled softly at the warmth that coursed through her at his use of this special endearment.  Some how, she loved the idea of being this man’s “Baby” even if she had never allowed any male, other than her father to call her that, “let’s work this out very carefully.  It’s not fun coming back down that trail, but Buck is an old hand of a trail horse and I trust him.  I’d like you to stay here until last, keeping the string under control so they don’t try to play ‘follow the leader’ in close order drill.  One at a time and we should be okay, but that whole string, all climbing out at once is a sure formula for a mule-fired disaster.  We’ll start with the older, more experienced and proceed to the youngest.  Each animal out should improve the trail somewhat.  Normally for travel in this kind of conditions, I have their sticker shoes on them, but, being laid up, I didn’t get around to it.”

“They’re on, Darling,” the girl told him, a grin splitting her face from ear to ear.  “Lars Jensen was by just before you came home… said you’d need that done, so he did the whole string.”

A look of consternation passed over Mark’s usually imperturbable demeanor as he realized he’d never checked, not expecting them, he’d not even looked at the tracks…  Rod had done the hoof check while they were loading, and Marni had done it when they unloaded here.  She also checked them last night while he was packing the pannier boxes. 

As he was sure she understood totally what he had in mind and how they were going to do it, he loosed his lariat from his saddle, shook out a loop and dabbed it over the lead mule’s head.  This was a mare of unusual size and color with a distinct carriage and more than the usual dose of Mule pride and independence.  For all of this, she was as sure-footed as a cat and as intrepid as an eagle.  Mark started up the trail, playing out his lariat behind him until he gained a place where he had good footing for his big line-back.  Here, he stopped… issued a soft whistle and watched as the big mare started up the incline, one foot carefully placed before the next was lifted.  Seeing how this girl was doing, Mark turned his own nose upward and began, once again, to pick his way out of the hole.  From time to time he looked back at the mule in her labors to make sure he did not leave so much slack in the lariat that she might come afoul of it.  Calmly, stoically, placidly, as was the wont of her kind, she climbed the ridge to the trail above, not quite understanding what all the fuss was about.

Animal after animal they came out without difficulty until Mark was beginning to believe he must have been getting old.  After all, he was becoming a real worry-wart.  It was about this time that a young mule attempted to span too great a distance and her feet went out from under her.  Instantly, the man pulled the lariat tight and dallied it around the saddle horn to gain purchase.  The mule screamed as she went down, her back legs flailing in the air over about a two hundred foot sheer drop.  Like a ROCK, Buck stood his ground, allowing the panicked creature to struggle until it found purchase for her feet, and shaken, and scraped, but otherwise unhurt, she scrambled back up the scarp and soon gained the main trail.

She was the only difficulty encountered in getting the pack string out of the glade, and, though Mark held his breath, Marni’s little colored pony came out of there like she’d been doing it all her life, never missing a step or even sliding a shoe on the icy trace.  It was a grateful man that held his grateful woman at the top of that ordeal-filled hole.  For several minutes they just sat their saddles, unspeaking, holding one another as tightly as they could from horse to horse.  Eventually, the stirring of the mules returned them to the here and now, reminding them that they had a long trail ahead of them if they wanted to avoid another night on the trail… camped in the snow.

As the caravan came down the mountain, the snow levels diminished but little, slowing them even more.  They stopped for nooning and fed the animals well, planning for them to earn their keep during the long afternoon hike.  The couple took turns breaking trail through the snow.  On a couple of occasions, in especially heavy drifts, they would use the mules to break through in order to save the horses for those areas they could handle well.

The sun was just settling to rest behind the western ridge when a very, very tired couple led a very tired caravan out of the mountains and across the snow-covered pastures of the home ranch.  If the ranch yard they had left such a short time ago had never looked so good, the waiting trio of friends who had seen them coming were a most welcome sight to the two weary sojourners.

Rod was in the middle flanked by the beautiful, blonde, Julie on his left arm and the dark, sultry beauty, Bree Ann on his right.  The love the three shared was evident to anyone who would take the time to see it.  Such a unique and unusual relationship, but was that relationship any more strange, unusual or unique than her own with the tall, enigmatic older gentleman who she was planning to wed as soon as plans could be made?