Daughter of the Moon
Kaera had been in labor for over twenty hours. At this point, the contractions had become so constant and predictable that she managed to drift into fitful sleep. Three different midwives had come and gone, exhausted, as they waited for the baby to emerge... but through it all had been her beloved husband, Ingo.
Ingos strong hand held hers when the pain became too great... held hers when there was no pain but the boredom of laying outstretched on a bed of animal skins for the last day. His warm smile had greeted her every time she opened her eyes. But now, he too was asleep and dreaming, getting some much-needed rest.
Kaera frowned and glared down at her swollen belly. Stupid baby... when come out Kaera name you Togoun for big pain... unless you girl then Kaera name you Cuggla for daughter of ouch! She sighed and laid back. She was constantly sweating... she had long ago ditched the covers even though the tottering old midwives had insisted she keep them on. The small door flap had been tied open, allowing the cool night breeze to aerate the stuffy hut... even still, Kaeras hair hung in strands down her back and she felt feverish.
What time it now? She muttered. Sun gone long time... moon high in sky... near midnight... A sudden contraction made her squeeze her eyes shut and gasp for breath. Ingo shot awake, and dazed, gripped her hand tighter while calling for the midwives.
Ulla!! Yonka!! Come quick!!! Baby come soon!!
Kaera was breathing even harder, the midwives set up bowls of hot water and soft ratskin towels and held her legs apart. The oldest one, toothless and missing an eye, took charge. Take babbysh head... pull shoft and shteady... good...
Finally, at exactly midnight, the piercing cries of the infant rang out the hut door, and into the village. The cries of the midwives soon followed, announcing the birth of the chiefs child. The villagers groggily shook off their covers, and stumbled to the birthing hut... their tiredness soon dissipated as they looked upon the most beautiful infant girl.
She was smaller than was normal, but not so as to be unhealthy; her arms and legs flailed about, slowly and clumsily, reaching for some warmth, some safety... and on her head was the first few strands of the lightest, silkiest hair ever seen.
After a brisk scrubbing by the midwives and having her umbilical cord severed and tied in a knot, the child was handed, gently, to her mother.
Ingo and Kaera glowed with pride as they cradled the girl, who had stopped crying and made soft, cooing noises. The assembled crowd was silent. Kaera peered thoughtfully at the child, and announced; Born midnight. Hair soft as moonlight. Baby name Ayla... for moon daughter. She handed the baby to Ingo and collapsed back onto the bed, exhausted.
Ingo stood, and as gently as possible, held the baby out and upwards to face the moon. So be it. Ayla be chief when Kaera die. Kneel to chief. Ingo crouched down onto his knees and bowed his head, still holding the child aloft. The villagers followed suit, stretching their arms up to the night sky.
* * * * *
Ayla crashed through the forest, giggling wildly. Under her five-year-old feet twigs would snap, and frogs jumped for cover. She held her hands cupped together, containing something inside... every so often she would stop, crack her fingers open a bit, and peer inside to make sure her catch was still there. Satisfied, she would run a little further and repeat the process.
She was out of breath by the time she reached Ioka village, her hometown. Her goal in sight, she crept as silently as a stalking cat towards a small boy making doodles in the sand by the central firepit. Closer... closer... A wide grin split her face and with a shriek, she flung her prize towards the boy. He jumped five feet in the air and whirled around in surprise... but froze as he noticed the big, hairy caterpillar crawling up his chest.
Ungaaa!!!! He squealed, and shook his hands in futility... not daring to move lest the monstrous caterpillar bite his head off. Ayla no fair!!! Ayla no fair!!!
Ayla, meanwhile, was laughing her head off and rolling on the ground in hysterics. Hyaaah hah hah!!! Kino silly!!! Hyahhh hah hah!!! Just caterpillar!!!
Kino was scared... the caterpillar had made its way to his cheek, and his eye twitched in fear. Get pillar off!!! Off off off off off!!! He hopped up and down.
Satisfied that she had inflicted enough terror on the boy, Ayla sauntered over and flicked the caterpillar off his face. Kino deflated in relief, but then glared at Ayla. Ayla mean!!! Ayla know Kino no like icky-crawlies...
Kino, you such baby. Boys supposed to *like* icky-crawlies.
Kino not like other boys. Kino smart, not brave.
Kino not smart.
Shuttup, stupid girl! He pouted.
Commin get me, baby Kino!!! Ayla taunted. Unable to resist the girls obnoxious behavior, the boy began to chase after her, following her through one hut after another until they made the mistake of dashing into Aylas house, the chiefs hut. Not paying attention, the little girl was surprised when a pair of strong arms lifted her up into the air. She yelped in surprise, but grinned broadly when she realized it was her father, Ingo. Ingo tried to keep a stern face, but he could never resist his daughters smile. He laughed in pleasure, and began to tickle his little girl. A-ha ha... Ayla filthy!!! Where Ayla been last hour? Running through town, bothering evryone an scaring all dogs away!!!
He then noticed Kino, who was standing in the doorway, trying to decide whether to be frightened, happy, or confused. Kino!!! Boy come here!!! You filthy too... must give both bath!!! With a deep chuckle, Ingo scooped Kino up in his other arm and carried them both, kicking and squealing, to the river.
* * * * *
It didnt take Ayla long to realize that lessons were boring. She sat huddled in a circle with the other women of the village, learning the finer points of tanning skins, making bean mash, and painting petroglyphs. She had been grinding the same pile of dried beans with the same two stones for nearly an hour... her arms were aching miserably and she longed to hop up and run through the forest like when she was younger.
Being fourteen had its advantages and disadvantages, she decided... the disadvantages being that she was now expected to marry one of the villages eligible bachelors, and to learn all the skills of wifery even though she was going to be chief. The advantages were... well, she had been trying to think of an advantage for the last three months. She had been so excited about her fourteenth birthday, but now that it had passed... she felt like she had nothing left to look forward to.
Kino lucky... She mumbled to herself. He turned fourteen a mere month before she had, and since he was a boy, he got to begin to learn how to fight and do math and make a good husband... Ayla was jealous. She would have traded in her mortar and pestle in a second if she could have carried a spear instead... She knew she wasnt like other girls just as Kino had constantly complained about not being like other guys. When he received his first spear, he used it for a walking stick... he delighted in cooking and painting and all the things that girls were supposed to do.
She peered out at the crowd of women around her, all working silently, all eyes cast down to their work, and Ayla was instantly reminded about how bored she was. She broke the silence. Ayla want learn to fight.
The other women looked up from their work-- except old Hunnya who was deaf and hadnt heard a thing-- and some gasped in surprise. Her mother, Kaera, was one of these. Ayla!! How many times Kaera tell Ayla women no fight? Men stronger, faster, expendable! Now grind beans.
Ayla had had enough of no... she threw the beans to the ground. Ayla not take this. Ayla think she deserve chance to do what want! She stood, and stalked away.
Her mother, enraged, yelled after her. Fine!!! Ayla no expect home to come to when sun set!! Ayla banished from Ioka!!!
These were not the words the teenager had expected to hear... she had been leaning more towards Kaera sorry, Ayla right... but she had made her decision and so, dejected but standing proud, made her way into the forest. Once she reached a safe distance, she collapsed to the ground and began to cry.
* * * * *
By the age of twenty, Ayla had learned nearly all there was to know about survival. She could catch and kill nearly anything, build a shelter out of two sticks and a big leaf, and start a fire with just a couple twigs.
Her strength had grown incredibly while she was living the life of an exile... she had even taught herself a fighting style based on wild cats and dinosaurs. She had turned into a lean, mean, wild beast...
While stalking an Avian Rex one day, she came across the body of a human. It was the first human she had seen in six years, so, understandably, she was excited. Ungaaa! She yelled. But she received no response. Hesitantly, she approached the body and questioningly uttered Ungaa again, a little softer.
Still the person remained quiet. He was laying where, presumably, he had fallen; one arm still outstretched, reaching for something he had never found. Rot had not yet begun to set in, and Ayla could see no wounds on his back.
With a gentle touch, she rolled the body over. The wounds which were not apparent from the back glared out at her from the front... his chest had been split with numerous clawmarks and his thighs had been bitten. The poor soul had bled to death.
Suddenly, realization dawned on her... Ayla gasped, shook her head, and tried to prove herself wrong... but the man at her knees coated in his own coagulated blood was her father.
His strong chin... his dark brown hair, now streaked with gray... and those gentle hands. Papaaaa... She wailed, cradling the body in her arms. She did not know what had killed him, but it didnt seem to be a creature she had seen before. She didnt care. Her papa, the most important person in her life, was dead. Papa, what happened? Ingo looking for Ayla? Ayla here, papa... wake up, papa... She broke down into racking sobs, and held her father deep into the night.
* * * * *
Several hours later, Ayla tramped through the forest, on the warpath. She had sworn revenge on whatever had killed her father, and she beat a path to Ioka village to find the culprit.
No fires burned in the little cluster of houses, no voices or dogs could be heard from this distance. Everything looked deathly still; if it werent for the leaves swaying ever so slightly in the breeze, she would have sworn time had frozen.
As she drew closer, however, she did hear sounds... muffled sobbing, the wails of untended children, and a slight steady crackle from the near-dead fire in the center of town. Everything looked disused, coated with a slight layer of dust and puddled in rainwater. Wary, Ayla entered the town on her guard. No dogs scurried about her legs, no curious children peered at her from the doorway. But there was a voice in every hut... sobbing, crying.
Ayla was reminded of her father. With his spirit to back her up, she walked into the town, and headed straight for her old hut. It was as she had remembered it... except Ingo wasnt right there to give her a hug and a stick of maple sap candy.
The hut was dark as death inside. This fire, like the central fire, had cooled to glowing embers. A form was huddled in the corner, not crying, but staring out into space. It was Aylas mother, Kaera.
Mama? Kaera, mama? Ayla knelt down to her.
The woman turned to face her, and Ayla noticed that her eyes had turned milky-white. Her face, so young and beautiful before, had been scarred and burned. Most of these wounds had yet to heal. Ayla? That you? Her voice was raspy from crying, and every breath rattled in her lungs.
Ayla reached out to grasp her mothers hand. Yes, mama, it Ayla... Ayla here... What happen?
Her mother grasped her hand so tightly it made Ayla wince. The Reptites come... men fight, men die... all women left here frightened. Reptites come, torture us... we not know how fight and we easy targets... Ayla you right, women should learn fight... but too late now.
Ayla turned pale. How you escape? All men dead?
Reptites not kill women... They say it not honor to kill woman... Some men gone on hunt. Ingo, Kino and few others... They not return. Kaera hope they live... At that, the blind woman withdrew her hand and held it tighter around her knees. She rocked back and forth slowly, humming an ancient lullaby.
Ayla stood, and with tears in her eyes, ran out of the hut and gasped for breath. This couldnt be happening!!! Who were these Reptites? Who from the village had been spared? Had... had Kino made it?
She dashed to the other huts. She gathered the women together. Most of them were in perfect health, just in mourning for their lost husbands, while most of the older villagers had toppled over, their hearts failing, during the surprise attack.
Ayla beseeched her mother to come out of shock and resume her role of chief... Ayla had never led anyone before and had no idea what to do. Unfortunately, Kaera was beyond the reach of words and continued humming in her stupor. Ayla was frustrated, and left the hut to compose herself before attempting to keep the few survivors alive.
Unnnh... She moaned, pacing back and forth in the forest. What to do? Half the village had been wiped out, and the rest were so dumb from shock that they were useless... Ayla needed help badly. But where could she find it at a time like this?
Just then, she heard a rustling in the bushes a hundred yards behind her. She dodged behind a tree, but kept her eyes focused on the moving bush. She heard a groan, then started in surprise as Kino stumbled forward, dragging his leg, and leading a small, bedraggled group of eight other men.
* * * * *
Several minutes later, she had situated the nine hunters in the hut. The lucky women who had their husbands back immediately dropped their grief, and tended to their charges happily. The other women wailed all the more, reminded that their husbands were gone for good.
Kino was the only unclaimed man, and he sat alone against the wall affixing a splint to his busted leg. Having finished her business with the others, Ayla noticed Kino and slid onto the floor next to him.
This was the first time she had seen him since she was exiled. He had been a very thin, pale, clumsy youth, with knock-knees and a slouch. His hair had been as unruly as a lions mane, and the women could do no better than keep it trimmed to a uniform length. Now, however, Kino had changed... he was a full head taller than Ayla, who was no shrimp herself... his shoulders had broadened, his face had grown angular, and his hands had been callused from the soldier training. His blond hair had been pulled into a tail at the top of his head, and though it was still as spiky as when they were children, it was very handsome. He was still wiry, but looked very strong... she could see the muscles bulging in his arm as he fitted the splint.
Finally, Kino noticed her scrutiny, and their eyes met. .....Ayla?
.....Kino. She smiled. His eyes were still the same, wide, innocent, as blue as a summer sky. They were also very sad, and though his voice sounded his happiness at seeing her, the sadness behind it was apparent. Ayla frowned. Kino, tell Ayla what happen.
Kino sighed, and looked away from her. Beasts attack us in night as we make camp. Six men die right off, but their screams wake Kino and others and we ran. We made it far, we bout one day from village when beasts attack again. Ingo and Kino and others fight, we kill all beasts but we injured very badly too. Ingo injured too badly. He stumble off, shouting bout you, he said Must find Ayla and go. We yell after him, but he not hear... we all too scared to chase so we tried make it back here. We did. You find us and we finally rest. He stifled a sob, and quickly wiped tears from his eyes. Kino so sorry, Ayla, he let Ingo die... Kino should be dead instead...
Ayla was deeply moved by Kinos story. She was crying too, although much more gently than Kino, who was shivering. It okay, Kino... you not able to do anything. Ayla understand. She slowly circled her arms around Kinos shoulders, and leaned against him. He buried his face in her golden hair and they both soon fell asleep.
* * * * *
The next few days, Kino and Ayla made their way around the large hut, helping where they could. They fortunately had a large supply of food in the root cellar underground which made it unnecessary for any of the wounded men or inexperienced women to hunt.
Kaera had begun to wake up from her trance, although she still was not well enough to lead the villagers. One calm morning, Ayla decided the time was right to tell her of Ingos death. She sat beside her on a warm stone in the sunlight as Kaera mashed berries with unsteady hands. Mama, it time Ayla tell something bad.
The woman looked up at Aylas voice. Her eyesight had not returned, even though her wounds had begun to heal. Kaeras skin had lost its color, turning yellow, and her dirty blond hair had tuned nearly white. Even though she was no more than forty, she looked nearly eighty. What, Ayla.
Ayla pitied her mother, but she needed to know. Mama, Ingo die in attack.
Kaera said nothing. She crushed the berries with a slow, continuous motion, hair covering her face. Ayla saw tears splash into the bowl.
Mama, Ingo die brave... he search for Ayla. He fight strong, Kino say he kill two Reptites himself. She tried to sound as happy and reassuring as possible.
Kaera sighed. It Kaeras fault Ingo die... he want find Ayla and return her home... Kaera chief so had to say no even tho want Ayla back... She sniffed violently. Ingo leave hut, live with Kino on other side of village. He leave whenever could, looking for Ayla. He join every hunting party. He age fast, so much work... Kaera apologize, but still not go back on decision...
Mama, it not your fault. You chief, you have stand by word.
You chiefs daughter. You exception to rule. Kaera know you right about everything. Ayla make better chief than Kaera. Kaera old, guilty...
Mama, dont say that!
Leave Kaera, Ayla... Leave please... She still ground at the berries, but her thoughts were far away. Ayla had no choice but to heed her mothers wishes so she quietly turned and returned to the hut.
* * * * *
Ayla had begun to worry. Kaera had not returned after two days, and a grief-stricken blind woman did not fare well in a jungle at night. Ayla had taken to standing outside of the hut, calling her mothers name...
Finally, she could take it no more. She enlisted Kino, who could now walk without crutches, to help her search. They had been in the forest for nearly three hours and the sun was hovering low over the horizon when they finally spotted the woman.
She was sitting on a tree stump, slouched and silent. She did not move as they approached. Mama... Ayla muttered. She brushed the hair aside that was covering Kaeras face; her eyes were closed and her face stretched into a gentle smile.
Ayla felt of her cheeks, which she found to be cold. Kaera was dead. Aylas eyes began to fill with tears. First her father, then her mother!!! Ayla clenched her fists and sobbed. She looked all around, frantically, searching for something, anything, that would tell what had killed her mother.
Kinos hand touched her shoulder gently. Ayla... look! He whispered, awed.
Ayla took control of herself, and peered up to where Kinos finger pointed. A beautiful picture had been painted on the rock overhanging Kaeras body. It looked weatherworn, but still new enough so she could tell what it was. It was a picture of Ingo, Kaera, and a very young Ayla seated together on a grassy hill. Underneath the picture, a handprint defined the artist... Ayla knew at once that it had been Ingo. He must have painted the picture when they were still together, and the future looked bright...
Kino cradled her in his arms. Kaera come here to die. She know here, she find peace... Ayla find peace now too.
Ayla sobbed one last time, and pulled her gaze away from the picture. She looked into Kinos eyes. He smiled gently at her, and held her tighter.
Aylas attention was drawn to her mothers hand, which clutched something. She knelt down and gently separated the fingers. A shiny red stone fell to the ground, and Ayla picked it up, curious. It dreamstone. She smiled sadly. It symbol of chief. Now Kaeras gone, Ayla chief now, so she need this... Ayla clutched the dreamstone and turned back to Kino. They returned to Ioka village together, just as the sun set.
* * * * *
The next two years passed quickly. Ayla was chief now, and all her time was spent rebuilding the village and the broken lives of the inhabitants. All had recovered fully from their wounds, all except Kino, who would walk with a limp for the rest of his life.
Ayla took it upon herself to teach everyone to fight, cook, paint and do math... soon every villager was skilled in all these things although most chose to take one and extend their knowledge of it. Kino chose the way of a painter, although he was an excellent cook as well. He had sworn to himself that he would never lift a spear again as long as he lived. He and Ayla remained close friends, for neither would admit to the other that they felt any different.
Hunting parties were now formed from equal numbers of men and women, and it was one of these that returned from a hunt one evening, panting and tired, with news that the Reptites had been seen again.
Aylas head shot up at this news. What?!? Reptites... The creatures that had killed half the village, her father, and indirectly her mother still taunted her, always just out of reach... she had never actually seen one, but she had gotten so many descriptions she knew she would know one on sight. Where? As she said this, she hopped up from the floor where she had been scraping the hair from a strip of leather.
The woman in charge of the group, Terol, took a deep breath and explained. In Mystic Mountains, Ayla. Large group there, we find them accidentally and they try to attack us but we lose them in forest. We run right back here, to tell chief.
Good job, Terol. Ayla go take care of Reptites. She strode out of the hut. Terol, shocked, ran after her. Ayla no can take all them by self... they stronger, faster, have claws and hard skin!
Ayla stopped, and turned to her. They kill half village. Ayla have hate built up to kill hundred or more. Trust Ayla... she be back. Have good feeling bout today.
As she was leaving town, Kino jogged up beside her. Ayla!!! Kino hear what you going do. Be careful!
Ayla smiled at him. Kino no worry. Ayla be back... promise! With that, Ayla slipped her hands around the back of his head and pulled him close. She kissed him, full on the lips. Kino was surprised, but soon got into it, holding her close and kissing her with just as much enthusiasm. Finally, they reluctantly parted and smiled at each other. See? That Aylas promise she be back. See ya, Kino!! She waved and sprinted further down the path. Kino stood there, with a foolish grin on his face, until Ayla had been out of sight for more than fifteen minutes. Then, he turned on his heels, and skipped happily back to town.
* * * * *
Ayla reached the Mystic mountains a half hour after her encounter with Kino. She smiled, recalling his surprise and then his enthusiasm... she had wanted to do that for a long time, but could not work up the courage. It was the one time Ayla would ever lack courage. But she had conquered her fear, and now she had a boy to return home to who loved her. She couldnt wait to get the Reptite battle over with.
Just as she was thinking these thoughts, she heard the sounds of a battle just around the bend in the path. Her mind cleared, and she spotted the first of the green-skinned reptiles. This was her enemy? They looked nearly--human. She was expecting a savage beast, not these creatures... but they matched the descriptions perfectly... She grabbed the reptile, and held it still. You Reptite?
Yeah, whats it to you, cavewench? The creature snarled.
Satisfied, she flung the Reptite as hard as she could towards a tree... It hit with a crunch and fell to the ground, dead.
She heard the sounds of the battle again, and reminded of her curiosity, she parted the trees...