Sunday, October 31, 2021

The Wandering (Part 8)


[Transcription Note: Several hides in this section were beyond recovery] 

I always feel when it was time to head to the caves. I woke up knowing. The sun still shone bright and hot on my black shoulders, but I knew. A trek to the sea told me the same. The waves sparkled, the never-ceasing foam rising and falling, but instead of warmth and sunshine it whispered promises of cold and frost. Everything, from the way my roasted vegetables and soured cheese tasted, to the fit of my shift--felt off.

“We have weeks left,” Ignose said, scooping up the gleeful, rolling Roan and dangling him across her shoulders. I handed her the warp, and she tied him to her back.

“No,” I said, my eyes on the trees. The forest chirped with noise—birds, bugs—and the sun beamed hot upon my back, filtered as it was through the high branches, but I knew. “It will be soon.”

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I couldn't tell what is was—some noise, some animal sound lost to my ears? A chita, whose call I always heard, was it missing? No—that was there. Subdued, quieter, but there. Something in me felt the call to wander, something yanked me southward. I yearned to answer, already I felt restless, discontent with the sameness. Our days were the same—wake up, forage, avoid my moon-sisters. Play with Roan, see Ogna May, who checked on all the babies—pray for good luck and hope not to be beaten. And, since I had been beaten six out of the last 10 days, I was weary of it. My back stung and Ignose also looked discomforted. 

For the loss of the goats, they had beaten us both.

Yet hope blossomed in my belly. The two week trek to the caves was something I enjoyed every year, a time of rest—everyone usually too busy to remember Ignose and I.

And oh, what a time to wander. Right before fall, right when the days were warm but not cold, and before the leaves closed up into buds. I could taste the sweet leaf nectar now, just beyond the tip of my tongue. There was nothing better. Grasslands, forests, new game and wild mushrooms of many flavors abounded on our trek. And as we traveled we met with many other woman and girls making the same progress to the caves. Trade, and celebration, and friends abounded. For each tribe had their own Blighted Maiden, and as we traveled we could all be together.

I knew the name for what I felt now. Belong. For those four hands, I belonged.

That evening when Ogna May looked over Roan, she told us. The preparations would began tomorrow, and in two hands we would leave. Ignose whined—she would, after all, have to carry Roan all the way—and she hated walking. I promised to rub her feet each night and carry her sleeping mat for her, but she still sat scowling at the fire.

The Ogna flipped Roan over, examining his manhood.

“A fine strong boy,” She said, nodding at Ignose. “You have done well. He will make the moon-daughters proud.”

Ignose said nothing, only gathered Roan up in her arms when she was done.

“And now, Solamae—how about you. Is your red moon flowing?” She asked, turning her attention to me.

I shook my head no.

“Many girls start as young as 10. But some do not began their moon-flow until their 16th celebration. When your red moon arrives, come to me, and I will tell you of the pleasure between the sun and moon, and what awaits you at the Coupling”

“I can tell her,” Ignose said. Her voice snapped like a tree whipping in strong winds, but the Ogna paid her no mind.

“This rite of passage belongs to me,” Ogna May said.

I am not interested in laying with a man. But I said nothing. All the maidens enjoyed meeting the men in the grasslands outside the caves, on the last day of the last hand in our calendar cycle. I had seen them for many winters return to the cave, their faces flushed and excited, their firs wrapped around them, but their limbs languid and relaxed, sharing nothing of the brightness on their faces. In the saunas they would speak of the pleasures, showing off their game-offerings and baubles the men left them. Yet only a few months later they would be screaming into the sea like Ignose. Like Ignose, who even now called out in the night for her daughter.

Ryia, Ryia, Ryia.

The wind seems to speak her name, rattling the leaves and whooshing forward on its journey to the sea. Our journey, however, lay south. The snow was coming.

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