Tarjana's world is not our world.
Perhaps once it was, but no longer.
Instead, Tarjana's world was a primitive one where there was only one rule – survive!
To survive, man had to fight for his place in this world, fight the weather, fight the animals, fight the green, and fight other men.
The only tools men could rely on were their weapons, and the tribe. In such a world, the tribe was everything, and those who could not support the tribe found no support from the tribe.
They didn't last long.
Failure to support the tribe, was not an option; it was fatal.
And so, long ago, lost in the memories of the dead, it had been decided that, to become one of the tribe, you had to prove yourself somehow.
They called it the Harrowing.
The idea was brutally simple.
Until the age of eighteen, all members of the tribe were thought of as children. They were protected, cared for – and trained.
On their eighteenth birthday, they were sent out into the forest, into the green. Their only provisions were the clothes they stood in, and their knife. Thus the first part of the Harrowing was simply to survive, to demonstrate they could support themselves from what they could harvest and kill, that they could tell what was safe from what was poisonous.
That was the easy part.
The second part of the Harrowing was for the almost-adults to return to the tribe carrying proof that they were skilled in combat. To do this, they must return carrying head of some fierce animal, a panther, perhaps, or, more usually, the head of someone from one of the other tribes whom they competed with for survival.
Even of those who survived the first part of the harrowing, not all returned. Whether because of faults in their teaching, their learning, their skills, their fitness, or if they could not track – or avoid – their enemies, animal or human, they did not return.
Sometimes, it was simply due to poor luck.
For every ten who went into the green, only three or four came back to claim their status as adults, the right to build a home, the right to found a family.
Tarjana had been in the green for several weeks now, easily slipping into the rhythm of things.
The question of her completing the first part of her Harrowing had never been in doubt. A quick study, physically strong for her size and nimble, the only way she might have failed were if something unpredictable, something that could not be planned for or avoided, only faced, had happened to her, and it had not.
She had quickly settled into a careful diet of bushmeat and fruit, both of which she ate raw, not wishing to risk the attentions a fire might draw.
For bathing and drinking water she stayed close to the rivers, where she could also supplement her diet with freshwater shrimps when she could find them.
At night Tarjana nested in the trees, even using old ape nests where possible to help disguise her human smell. Each nest she lined with fresh leaves so they would make less noise as she moved in her sleep. The branches of the trees where she built or 'borrowed' her nest she always carefully wound around with a length of tiger-claw vine, studded as they were with three inch long spikes – protection from the attentions of snakes and other night dangers.
For protection and for hunting, Tarjana had taken the risk of cutting down three small trees with especially straight trunks, trunks which she had stripped and then, using her knife, fashioned into five foot long throwing spears. Whenever she travelled, she always took one of her spears with her. When she slept, they were hidden at the base of the tree, ready for easy access.
The final element of Tarjana's means of surviving her time in the green was her clothing. While still on the outskirts of their village, Tarjana had removed and buried her tunic, not wanting to carry too much of the stink of human manufacture with her. Diverting to the river, Tarjana had washed herself as thoroughly as she could, then smeared moss over her skin, hiding her smell as much as she could until she could kill herself some clothing.
That kill was not long in coming.
Hiding herself in the scrub and in the failing light of dusk, Tarjana had been rewarded after an hour's wait by the sight of a juvenile musk-cat creeping through the trees in front of her.
Another minute or two of patience, and the cat was in range of her spear.
Tarjana waited until the cat was looking away from her, scanning the forest for its supper, when she noiselessly rose and cast her spear, all in one fluid motion. The spear had flown true, piercing the cat's abdomen and sticking into the ground, trapping the animal in its death throes.
With practised efficiency, Tarjana skinned the musk-cat, cut off the best of the meat for herself, and left the rest for the scavengers that the smell of blood was already attracting.
Having washed and cleaned the skin in the river on the way back to that day's nest, Tarzana cut the musk-cat's fur up, fashioning it into a brief halter and groin pouch.
The halter was to help keep her breasts from getting in the way or, potentially, fatally distracting her if her encounter with someone from another tribe were to turn into a fight. Unlike the luckier of the girls of her tribe, Tarzana's breasts, though firm and pleasingly-shaped to the eye, were over-large for her frame, often getting in the way, often annoying her, and forcing her to tie them up in a halter of some kind or another.
Not for Tarjana the joys of running the green in only a loin cloth.
The groin pouch was perhaps even more important than the halter, masking, as it did, Tarjana's own human smell with that of the musk-cat.
Tarjana completed the making of her forest kini that night when, as she lay in her nest, she twisted hemp fibres into a light twine which she used with one of the musk-cat's teeth – re-fashioned as a needle – to stitch together the various pieces of its fur.
The final addition to her kini was a small pouch she carried on her hip, in which she had kept the musk glands of the cat, to 'refesh' the animal smell and disguise her own odour whenever needed.
Skittish as ever about sleeping too long, about being defenceless for too long, Tarjana woke with the first fingers of the pre-dawn intruding into the sky, opening her eyes and listening hard for the sounds of any kind of danger.
As she had slept that night, the soft green leaves lining her nest had moulded themselves to her skin, some of them sticking to her, many having released their sticky sweet-smelling ichor as she turned on them. One of the few joys of the forest, Tarjana took a moment simply to inhale and be at peace.
Returning to the present and still hearing nothing, Tarjana slowly and distrustfully turned over in her bed and, almost holding her breath, peered through the gaps between the leaves, gaps she had purposefully left for just that reason, looking for sign or spoor of animals or humans.
There were none.
Satisfied she was as safe as she could ever be, alone, in the forest, Tarjana soundlessly picked her way over the rings of tiger-claw vines and climbed back down the tree, descending from the canopy and into the stillness beneath.
Such stillness was almost mesmeric
Too much stillness!
At once she hunched down, knife drawn.
It was too quiet.
Where were the birds?
Just then, a green-plumed thrush scattered into the sky, screaming its unhappiness.
Tarjana had no time to wonder at the cause of the thrush's distress as, a moment later, a Watrali warrior crept out into view. Easily six feet tall and well-muscled, he was naked other than for the shoulder belt where he carried the sheath of his knife, a knife that, Tarjana saw, he was carrying in his right hand, ready for combat.
As she studied him, Tarjana also saw there was no torc on his arms – he was a prover just as she was – meaning he was all the more dangerous.
Slowly the warrior turned, seeking, searching, until – their eyes met! – locked! – and both knew that the moment of truth had come.
Tarjana drew her breath, reached down for where she had left a spear –
– but it was gone!
Not daring to break eye contact, Tarjana cautiously, thoroughly, felt around where all three of her spears should have been readily to hand, hidden in the undergrowth – but they were all gone.
The Watrali waited, and smiled.
Somehow during the night – and the how of it didn't matter right now – he must have taken her spears.
All Tarjana had now was her knife and her training.
She felt, not confident, but ready.
Carefully the Watrali took a step forward, his knife steady, his cock, long, thick, stiffening at the prospect of killing Tarjana, of burying his knife deep into her belly.
Still without breaking eye contact, the Watrali reached down with his left hand to pull back his foreskin, revealing the swollen head beneath, droplets of pre-cum glistening like dew as they fell onto the undergrowth where he stood.
Unconsciously Tarjana licked her lips. In other circumstances she might well have opened herself for him, but not here, not now. Now –
"Ow!" Tarjana gasped, slapping her neck on the left-hand side where some insect had chosen to bite her.
Unconsciously flicking her attention for a moment to her hand, Tarjana saw, not the crushed limbs of some forest-gnat, but the feathered tip of a dart.
Panic setting in already, Tarjana had just enough time to look back at the Witrali, only to see his companion stepping into the clearing a little to his right, blowpipe in hand, smiling, his cock terribly erect ... and then everything went black.
Consciousness was slow to return for Tarjana.
At first, all she could feel was the throbbing of her head. She turned her head slightly – and the pain in her neck brought back the memory of her ambush, but that pain meant that, at least for now, she was still alive.
Keeping her eyes closed – and doing what she could to keep her breathing long and slow as though still drugged – Tarjana focused on her body.
No pain – so she hadn't been tortured.
Beginning with her hands – planing and hoping for excape and revenge – Tarjana tried very slightly to flex her wrists – but they were bound. As were her feet. Next she tried to move her arms – but there was very little movement in them and also some numbness. Her legs were the same.
For a moment Tarjana was puzzled until, slowly, her mind supplied the explanation – she was stretched out on a frame of some kind.
A killing frame.
Finally, reluctantly, having learned all she could, having listened to the silence and smelt the clean air, Tarjana opened her eyes –
– and saw she was not alone. There were not one, but three captives, the others being one male and one female. They were all three of them bound and stretched onto roughly square frames, with the top most crossbar shorter than the bottom one. They each had their wrists and ankles bound – just as she had thought they were – and stretched so that their muscles were aching, from the position, and from the heat of the sun as it beat down on them.
They had also, at some time, been stripped of whatever clothing they had been wearing, and were naked, exposed.
Blinking against the harsh afternoon sun, Tarjana turned her head, looking around. There was something familiar about the place ... the Watrali boundary hill!
From that place, overlooking the forest as it fell away to the east, Tarjana realised she had never seen so much of the world before, never known how small she was in it.
And that smallness, she knew, was about to be snuffed out.
The hilltop itself had been cleared of all vegetation down to the bare rock, into which various post-holes had been made, and into which the uprights of her and her fellow captives' frames had been mounted.
Tarjana also saw there were more Watrali than the two who had captured her, a total of five, one of them much older than the rest, maybe in his thirties. By his manner he was, clearly, their leader.
"Awake?" asked the capturing Watrali, his accent thick and hard to understand.
Tarjana nodded groggily.
"Impressive?" he asked, gesturing around them.
Without thinking, Tarjana tried to shrug, but her arms were pulled too much for that, so she tilted her head instead, hoping he understood. Perhaps he did.
"Sacred place," the Watrali said.
"Sacred? For what?" asked the woman to Tarjana's left, her voice catching with fear and hysteria.
The leader smiled slightly.
"What are you going to do with us?" screamed the other captive, intruding, his voice shrill with fear. Tarjana turned to look at him more fully, seeing now, for the first time, how slightly built he was, scrawny even. It was a wonder he had survived any period of time in the forest alone. Perhaps he hadn't, Tarjana realised, perhaps he had been starving away when the Watrali captured him.
"Silent!" another of the Watrali barked, stepping up and slapping him with the back of his hand.
The captive whimpered, spat blood, and closed his eyes. Withdrawn. Defeated.
"Our sacred place," the leader announced, addressing himself to Tarjana and the woman. "You come here, and we go home."
Tarjana nodded. It made sense. They survived their Harrowing – or whatever they called it – by working together, not fighting alone.
"No! Please!" the other woman begged, filling the skies with her pleas. She was, Tarjana guessed, from her pale skin, her long blond hair, her deeply slit and hairless cunt, her sharp consonants, Larini.
The Watrali leader turned to her, shook his head. "No. Dagon feeds, we go home, you stay here."
The Larini shook her head.
"You," the Watrali said, turning and addressing Tarjana, "You beg?"
"No!" Tarjana said, her voice strong. There was no escape, no doubt what would happen to her, but she would at least retain her honour.
The Watrali leader nodded in salute, acknowledging her bravery.
"You!" said the leader, turning to the youngest-looking of the Watrali. "Him. Now."
The young warrior smiled his satisfaction at being chosen – clearly some kind of Watrali honour – turned to the small weapons store and selected a slender spear, made of black ironwood, and topped with a twelve inch diamond-shaped head of blackened steel.
This was no training spear.