Thunder rumbled in the distance as the storm passed by. The trees here in the hills offered some shelter from the rain, so I was not concerned. I picked my way up the animal trail through the woods, which I hoped went over this large hill.
It had been many days since I left my village; I had cut marks into a small stick I carried, one for each day. There were five hands and three hands, and two more marks on the stick. The elders said I had to take a hunter from another village as my mate. I went to my father, and he said I should go on a hunt for many hands of days. He had shown me many things when we hunted together, and I could hunt and do other things for myself.
So, I took my bow and a quiver of arrows, a knife made of something shiny and very sharp that my father had found, and a hunter’s belt my mother had made, and walked out of the village. That day, I kept walking until dark, killing a rabbit along the way for food. I made a small fire and a bed, and washed myself in a smaller water from the greater water that went by my village.
I walked for many days, guided by the great water that went into the forest and toward the hills. When I found the hills, I saw places where the rock showed from the ground, and that there were great holes in them, some large enough to walk into.
Picking a smaller one with some small trees in front, I made a bed and a place for a fire there. It was warm and dry; there I made a good bed. Berries and roots were all around, and I spent some of the days gathering it, along with more rabbits and some squirrels. The greater water was nearby, though it was very loud where it came down from the hills. There were fish in the water, and I killed several of them with my bow and arrows tied to my hand with string.
My mother had showed me how to make baskets, and how to cook food so it would not taste bad. Hunters also knew to hang food away from the bears and wolves, and away from beds. I spent many days making strings, ropes, and baskets, and making food for myself so I would not have to hunt every day.
It was sad to not have my mother and father with me, and I sometimes cried when I remembered them. I was no child; I had bled for the first time a hand of turns ago, and that meant I was a woman. My mother showed me how to make bundles of soft vines to catch the blood, and a covering to hold them against my body. I only wore coverings when I bled, or when it was cold.
I was alone, with no village, but I also did not have a man wanting to lie with me, who I did not want. I had seen others like me who obeyed the elders, and some of them died after a few turnings. Another had told my mother of being beaten, and then being made to lie with a man when she did not wish to lie with him. My father did not want that for me, so he told me to go away.
This day, I had walked more, and found a trail that went up the hill. Near the top, a narrow hole showed in the rocks, and I went to see what was inside. The rock was dark and rough to my hands, and the broken rocks on ground hurt my feet. I had made foot coverings, but I did not like to wear them unless it was cold. I went in further, and then I heard a noise like a bird’s singing. It would start, and then stop, and then start again.
I stepped around some larger rocks; it was getting hard to see, and I would need to stop soon. Then, the hole turned, and when I stepped around, I saw a light the color of grass ahead. It did not flicker like a fire, and I smelled no smoke, just something – old. A few steps more and I saw a strange hole that was straight on the sides, top, and bottom. Part of it had something the color of wood covering it, but the covering was broken.
I walked up to it, and placed my hand on the covering. It was very hard, rough, and cold to my hands. When I pulled, it broke more, and then I could see past it.
The hole was wider and taller here, and the bottom was smooth. The glow came from something that sat on a rock. It was as wide as a man could reach with his hands, and came up to my waist. I stepped closer, and then I could see a man inside. I started to turn and run, but then I saw he was asleep. Then my foot bumped something, and I looked down to see a person made of bones at my feet. There was no smell and no flesh, so they must have been dead for many turnings.
I looked at the man, and reached out to touch him. My hand hit something hard; I could see through it, and the light came from inside. The man’s skin was darker than mine, and he had no coverings. He looked to be strong, and his prod, even soft, was larger than any man’s I had seen. The bed sang again, longer this time, and then there was a sound like an axe hitting a tree.
I stepped back, and the hard thing over the man rose up and away from me. The bed sang even longer, and there were more noises that I could not describe. A sharp smell reached my nose, and I clamped my hand over my nose and mouth as something cold and wet, like a mist, went around me like water.
It went away, and I looked more closely at the man now that the clear thing was out of the way. He lay very still, and then he took a huge breath and opened his eyes. It was then that I saw some clear thing over his eye and small glowing things the color of blood on the side of his head by his eye. I stood there like a frightened rabbit, just looking at him as he took several deep breaths, closing his eyes each time.
Then, he saw me. He sat up quickly, and I stepped back, drawing my knife from its cover that hung around my neck.
He stared at my knife and said something in a language I could not understand. He held up both hands, palms facing me, and said something else. His face was calm, and he looked down at my knife, and then up at my face.
“What is your name?” I asked him.
He closed his eyes and said something so quietly I could not hear it. He opened his eyes and watched my face. “What is your name?”
“I am Rh’an,” I told him.
“I am Rh’an,” he said back.
I shook my head, and pressed my free hand to my chest. “I am Rh’an.”
He lifted his hand and pressed it to his own chest. “Tobin. I am Tobin.”
His speech was odd, but I could understand him if I listened closely. “I am Rh’an. You are Tobin.” I pointed to myself, then him.
Tobin looked down, and cried out softly. He rose, and I stepped back even further. His legs did not seem to work, and he fell on his knees besides the bones. He leaned down on his hands, looking intently at the head, and then he sat up and began to cry.
I did not fear him so much anymore, and I put up my knife and stepped toward him. “This was your friend, Tobin?”
He wiped at his face with his hand. “Friend. Tobin friend.”
“I am sorry. Your friend died long ago. Why are you still alive?”
He placed his hands on the bed, and pulled himself to his feet. “You are sorry?”
I nodded. “Yes, I am sorry that your friend died, Tobin.”
“Tobin friend Kimberly,” he said, pointing at the bones.
I pointed at him. “Man,” then at myself. “Woman.”
“I am man. You are woman?”
I nodded again. “Yes.” I pointed down. “Was Kimberly,” I tried to say the strange name right, “a man or a woman?”
“Kimberly was a woman. Kimberly died.”
His speech was better, and I nodded. “Yes, she did.”
He looked to the side, said something, and tried to take a step. He started to fall, and I took his arm to help him. His skin was cool to the touch, and I could feel the muscle underneath. He stiffened as I touched him, and then he took another step. I walked with him, holding him up like a small child.
He reached out and pulled at what I thought was part of the wall. Part of it moved, and he picked up one of the things that were sitting on several flat things inside the wall. There were three hands of things, and he picked them up one by one, looking at them and saying words I did not know. He shook his head and sighed, closing the wall part and leaving the things there. He turned and pointed behind me, and tilted his head as he looked at me.
“Out?” I pointed the same way. “You want to go out?”
“Yes, out. I want to go out.”
“Then, we go.” I turned and walked back toward the crack in the rock. Tobin was slow to follow me at first, but he was walking much better when we came out. The sky was clear, and the great light was high in the sky. It was warm, and there was no rain. I turned to Tobin and smiled. “Outside is better than in there,” I pointed to the hole in the rock.
“Yes,” he replied as he looked around. He looked up at the trees and the sky, and turned to look all around us. Then, he looked back at me and his body stiffened as if he were surprised. He took a breath; his face turned the color of a berry, and his prod rose to stand out from his body.
My mother had told me how little ones were made; it took a man and a woman, and he would put his prod into the woman’s body. I had also helped several women in my village give birth, so I had seen the place where the prod went. I shook my head and took a step back. “No. I do not want to mate with you.” He had the biggest prod I had ever seen, and I knew my finger barely fit in me, much less that thing.
“I am sorry, Rh’an. I do not want to mate with you.” He turned away from me and covered himself with his hands. “I am sorry. You are,” he used another word I did not know.
“Tobin.” He did not look at me. “Tobin,” I said more loudly. He looked at me and I pointed to where my bed was. “We go this way. There is food and water.”
“Yes, I go with you, with Rh’an.”
I walked ahead of him, following the trail back to where I slept. Tobin was slow to follow me, and I stopped several times to wait for him. He seemed to be weak. If he had slept for many turnings, then he needed food and water. We walked to where the fire was, and I pointed at a rock. “Sit.” I turned and picked up a basket I had woven to carry water, and I gave it to him. “Water.”
“Water,” he repeated, and then he took a drink. He lowered the basket and smiled at me. “Rh’an is my friend.”
I went to get the basket of food I had hung up, and walked back to Tobin. I set it on the ground, and untied the top to get the food I had cooked. There was fish, strips of dried rabbit and squirrel, and several kinds of berries and fruit.
He picked up one of the strips of rabbit, and bit into it. “This is...” He smiled.
“Good?” I said hopefully.
“Yes,” he nodded. “This food is good. What is this?”
“Rabbit.” I picked up a piece and ate it. “Squirrel. Fish.” I pointed to each of them.
Tobin ate some of the food, leaving as much as he’d eaten. “Your food.” He lifted the basket toward me.
“No, you eat,” I showed him as I picked up a berry and put it in my mouth. “Eat.” I lifted my bow. “I can hunt for more.”
I stood, took my bow and an arrow, and pulled it as if to shoot. “Hunt.” I replaced the arrow in my quiver and sat down next to him.
“What is this?” He touched my bow with a finger.
“Bow.” I lifted an arrow. “Arrow.”
“Bow and arrow,” I said with a nod.
We spent until sundown naming everything around my eating area, and then I showed him where the great water came down, and I caught two fish with my bow, and shot another rabbit and two squirrels as we went back to the fire.
I worked to cook the meat, and then stored it in the food basket, which Tobin carried and used the rope to lift it. He made a strange knot with the rope, and tugged at it to show that it would hold. “That is good,” he told me.
When night came, I took off my bow, my quiver, and my knife, and laid them next to my bed. I lay down on the bed and looked at Tobin. There was only one bed, so he had no other place to sleep. “Come here.” I placed my hand on the bed. “Here”.
He looked at me, and his face looked like a berry again. He lay down next to me, and turned his back to me. I turned my back to him, and soon I could hear his breathing and I knew that he was asleep. His body was warm, and his touch made my belly feel strange, like I was hungry, but I had eaten my food. I went to sleep with that in my thoughts.
I woke at the first light to find that Tobin was holding me like a child, with my back against his front, and his arm around me. His hand held my breast, and I felt his prod against my behind. He was still asleep, and his breath touched my ear and my neck. I should have been angry; I had not asked him to hold me, but I was not angry. My belly felt strange again, but Tobin’s body did not feel strange to me. He felt – good.
His breathing changed, and then Tobin moved away from me. “I am sorry,” he said loudly as he stood up. His prod was also standing up, and he turned to hide it from me.
I sat up and smiled at him. “Tobin, it was good.” He said nothing, but he nodded. I rose, gathered my things, and walked past him to begin the day.
We ate the day’s first meal, and then I took him to the great water to wash ourselves. I knew of a plant that gave off a good smell, and helped me to wash better. They grew near the water, and I picked a handful of the dark pods and set them on a rock near the water. The washing place’s water was quiet and slow, and I stepped out into it, and turned to Tobin. “Come.”
He walked up to me, and the water came up to just below his prod. I reached for the pods, and broke two of them open. I rubbed them in my hands, and put them in the water for a moment. They made something that was the color of old bones, and slippery. I rubbed it over my breasts and belly, and pointed to the pods on the rock.
But Tobin just stood there, his face that strange color, and his prod pointing at me again. I smiled, and, taking two more pods, I broke them and rubbed my hands across his chest. He stood still while I washed all of him that was not in the water. I turned him around and washed his back, using my hands to dip water to wash away the slippery pods.
I turned him back around, tugging at his arm with my hands. I took two more pods, lifted his hand, and gave him the pods. Then, I put my arms at my side, and looked up at him with a smile. “Will you wash me?”
He looked at me, and then nodded. “Yes.” His touch was gentler than I thought it would be; he washed me as if I were a child. I breathed deeply as his hands went everywhere on my front and my back, and I gasped softly as he washed my breasts. Tobin’s hands were large, but his touch was gentle. He did not try to touch me below my waist, as I had also not done for him. So, we both washed our own legs and middles, and cleaned off the pods.
The next three hands of days passed in much the same way. Tobin learned quickly, and then he began to teach words to me. The bright light in the sky was a “sun”, the color of a berry was “red”, and the sky was “blue”. He taught me how to count more than with my fingers and hands, using small rocks, “stones”, he called them, to help me understand. Soon, we were able to talk together much more easily.
One morning (another of the many words he taught me), Tobin and I went to the river to bathe, as we did every day. I had learned to love his hands on my body, and he had even taken to washing my bottom and legs. He still avoided my ... we had not discussed the words for that. “Tobin, you have taught me many words, yes?”
“You are a good student Rh’an; you learn quickly and well.”
“Then, what is the word for this?” I cupped my middle with my hand.
“There are many words, but one is vagina. That is where babies pass though.”
“Vagina.” I looked down. “What a strange word. What is yours called?”
“What?” I looked at him in amazement, and he laughed.
“Okay, it’s called a penis. There are other words, too, but that one is the most correct.”
“Penis and vagina,” I repeated. “Do you want to mate with me?”
“Now?” He looked like a rabbit again. What was the word? “Startled. You look startled. Why?”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“What if you have a baby?”
“I am not asking you to mate with me now. I am asking why you want to.”
“Because you are beautiful. It means...” He sighed. “It means you look very good, better than a flower or a bird with many colors. You see it and you like it very much, then it is beautiful to you. Rh’an, you are a beautiful woman.”
“To you, but maybe not to another man?”
“I think that any man who sees you would agree that you are beautiful.”
“So, it is only because I am beautiful.”
“No.” He sat on a rock and crossed his arms. “I don’t want to frighten you.”
“I am a hunter. I am not frightened.”
“Yes, you can take care of yourself, and me, too.”
“So, what, then?”
“You know how mates, a man and a woman, are with each other? I don’t mean the sex, the mating, but how they feel here?” He touched his chest.
“I know that one mate will protect the other, even if it means they might die. When one of them dies, the other cries for many days – weeks or months, sometimes.”
“That’s right, because they love each other. Mothers and fathers love their children, but it’s different with a husband and his wife.”
“So you love me, but not like your child, but like your ... husband? Or wife?”
“The woman is the wife, and yes, I do love you that way.”
“I like that you hold me at night, but you don’t try to mate with me when I don’t want it.”