Walking through the woods, I hastened my steps and my pet wolf kept up with me. I had been a fool again, testing my luck out here, and had strayed too far away from the other women. Though I wasn’t sure if the noises that I heard where them, I wasn’t about to find out. Getting back to group was my safest option, and so I hurried along until I was eventually running. If they didn’t know I was aware of them before that, then they knew now.
As I reached the clearing where I had left my group, I was met with nothing but an empty meadow. The other women must of returned to the village, never noticing that I wasn’t there. I gasped when I heard the sound of breaking twigs behind me, only to find my wolf, Fergo. My heart throbbed in my chest, and I took off where I knew I would eventually see the huts of my village.
I didn’t want to drop my basket, I had collected many fruits and nuts that day and it would be all I would have to eat for the next week. Without it, I would have to do chores and favors for the other women. Keeping my quickened paces, I ran towards the north knowing that my village wasn’t much further ahead. Fergo thought we were playing a game, and he would occasionally nip at my heels.
Turning my head slightly, I looked over my shoulder, and there they were. Seven males with spears, dressed in nothing more then loin cloths and leather moccasins. My people were the Tehegas, we lived a peaceful life with nature. Women were allowed to stay within the villages, but few men could. They either had to show a vicious dominance towards the other men who would throw them out or get a female in the village to claim them as their mate.
The women didn’t care much for taking a single male as their mate, as it limited their food options. Males were the only ones that hunted and fished, so if their mate didn’t do well that particular day then they would also starve. Where a female without a mate, could offer herself to a male in exchange for the meat he had caught.
At the age of sexual maturity, any males where sent out of the village. They could return when they were older and claim dominance, or they would become part of the Exiles. They were a group of males that would hunt together, whether that be pray to eat or stray females that had gone too far from the village, like I had done. Sometimes they would take a female so they could give her a child and then they would be able to rejoin the village, and other times they would use her until she died. Death could be from many things, starvation and blood loss happened the most often.
The seven men behind me where no doubt the Exiles, as I didn’t recognize them from the men of my village. There were around a hundred people in my community and only twenty of them were males, I knew who all the men were. As soon as they saw me, they began to chase me. I had to get to my village quickly or at least in sight of it, where I could call out to the protecting males there.
I heard them calling me to stop, as if I was stupid enough to do as they ordered of me. The village wasn’t far now. I could see the top of the huts, and I began screaming as loud as I could.
“Exiles!” I cried out again and again.
The approaching village didn’t stop the men from chasing me, as long as no males came out to protect me they would be alright. Sometimes when the men were away they would attack the village and rape any women. I was too young the last time they did that, after so many women were hurt, the men never again all left at the same time.
“Exiles!” I screamed and saw one of the women from my village run towards the large bonfire, most likely to tell the males.
I knew that if I could get into the village that the Exiles would stop chasing me, but what I wasn’t aware of was that one of them had caught up. He tackled me to the ground, sending my basket of fruits and nuts flying. Fergo had a fear of men, after my father had kicked him several times, so he was of no use. The wolf merely stuck his tail between his legs and ran into the village, probably to hide in my hut.
Flipping me around, the dark haired, dark eyed stranger looked me over briefly. My blonde locks covered my soft features, he ran his hands over my thin form as if he were inspecting me. My only hope now was that the female that went to get help, would bring a male here before this Exile took me back to his camp.
I noticed that the other men that had been chasing me were now leaving. It was as if this one had won, and now they conceded to their loss. Most males in my village fought over a woman, but the simple act of chasing me seemed to inform them of the victor.
I continued to scream the word exile until my captor put his hand over my mouth, which I then bit. He didn’t flinch or even jerk his hand away, it was as if he was expecting me to bite him.
“Shut up.” He growled, shoving his hand further into my mouth.
Looking up at him, I was nearly stunned. I knew this man, I hadn’t seen him in at least eight winters… not since our thirteenth summer. We use to play in the fields together as children until my father had decided that we were becoming too close. He had been the one to scare this man from our village. I reached up and pulled his hand from my mouth, and he allowed me to do so.
“Rashe?” I asked.
He looked at me suspiciously, unsure as to how I knew his name, no doubt.
“It’s me, Akilah.”
Quickly, he brushed my hair from my face to reveal my familiar facial structure. I inhaled deeply now that my hair was no longer slowly suffocating me. Rashe looked like he had been through much since I had last seen him. There was a large scar starting at his left upper forehead and cutting across his face to the right side of his chin. His face was still sharp and masculine, but he looked angry. Not like the light hearted boy that I had befriended so long ago.
I knew trying to make him remember me would do nothing for me. He had been an Exile for eight winters now, and probably hadn’t given our old friendship a second thought. I was proven correct when he placed his hand back over my mouth, and ordered me into silence again.
Standing up, he grabbed my hair to pull me up as well. When I cried out in pain, he again told me to be quiet. I can’t say what happened as I had been looking at the ground, or rather he had my face pointed towards the ground. But suddenly Rashe let go and he tumbled to the ground with another male atop of him. I stumbled some and was caught by the large hands of my father, Gruke.
The man who had tackled Rashe was one of the younger males named Daico. He hit Rashe at least four times, before the Exile stood up and began to run towards the woods. I shivered some when Rashe yelled that he wasn’t finished me with and would be back.
When he was no longer in sight, my father pushed me forward and growled. “You know better then to wander off on your own.”
“I’m sorry.” I bowed my head to appear more submissive.
“The next time this happens, no one will help you.” He barked then turned around to head back to the community bonfire.
With a deep sigh, I released my fears and began to pick up the fruit that had fallen out of my basket. Daico stayed to help me and to ensure that Rashe didn’t come back. He was a young male around my own age. He hadn’t been forced from the village due to his large size and that he kept to himself. Most males didn’t want to fight anyone larger then them. By the time that Daico was suppose to be sent away, he was nearly the size of most of the males. I believe that the growing female population was adding strain on our males, so they also were somewhat welcoming of a new larger male.
Daico was smart enough to stay away from the high standing males, and never bothered the females unless they offered him themselves for meat. I never had to do such a thing, as I was always the one who ventured furthest and collected the most vegetation. My sister, Suke, was a small female and hated to forage. So, she would instead offer herself to gain a great deal of meat and then would trade me some of my fruits for her sun dried meat.
“Thank you.” I said to Daico when he offered me the last of my berries. I grabbed a handful of them and some nuts and offered them to him. “For helping me.” I said when he looked at me curiously.
He nodded his head and held out his hands.
I placed my smaller hands over his own and dropped my handfuls into his palms. Both my handfuls filled half of his cupped hands. With that done, I spun around and ran to my hut where I knew I would find Suke.
---***--- My small hut made from the large leaves of the banana tree was close to my father’s. One may wonder how I know who my father is, but most women chose who the father of their child will be. Those active in mating eat a plant that we call Inferta, which makes them unable to have children until they stop taking it. Normally, if a woman wants to have a child, she will only mate with one man until she becomes pregnant. It is important to know who has fathered your child, so that he will protect them.
Inside my hut, I found Fergo and Suke laying down on my fur bedding. In front of her was my share of her meats. I smiled at her when I entered into the room, and she returned the gesture. Suke and I are sisters only that we are related by the same father. Which in our village is the only way that we can be considered related, those that share the same mother aren’t called siblings.
She carried the face of her mother, dark brown hair and eyes. Nothing like my green eyes with gold hair, of course I am a rarity in my village, as was my mother. Most of the men think that the light haired females are unattractive and won’t touch them. My mother told me that Gruke, my father, liked it a great deal. She had eight children in her lifetime, and all of them were fathered by the same man. To say such a thing was rare is to do it an injustice, as it was the first time it had ever been done. Except by those females were had accepted a mate at a young age.
I had seen twenty one summers, and Suke had been through eighteen. Already she had given birth to a child, where I had never even pursued mating. Whether there were men interested in me, I couldn’t of cared. I treated all the males with respect, and since females were the ones that decided mating rights in the village, I was perfectly safe to not do so. I knew it angered my father, but I had seen the pain women had gone through during their first time and during child birth. None of it appealed to me.
“I heard what happen.” Suke said as she sat up.
With a quick look around my small hut, I realized that her infant was not with us. “Where is the small one?”
“With my mother.” She answered me, “Since she can no longer have children, she has been stealing mine often.”
I offered her the basket and she frowned as she looked it over. “I had to give some to Daico for saving me from the Exile.” I told her and sat down beside her, before petting Fergo.
“Daico saved you from having to give birth to an Exile’s child, and you gave him fruit?” Suke rolled her eyes.
Since I didn’t mate, there was no need for me to take Inferta, so there was a chance I could of become pregnant if Rashe had let me live. “The males know that I am not for mating.”
“Then what are you for?”
“I do many chores around the village. Making clothing, leather, and taking care of the children.” I was offended by her words, but tried not to let it show.
Suke sighed. “We both know that your mother was our father’s favorite. He wants to see you continue her beauty in your children.”
It was true that out of eight children, I was the only one who carried my mother’s face. I had two other sisters, and all my brothers had been driven out by my father. My sisters took the face of my father, and though I wasn’t the only light haired female in the village, I was the only one that was his daughter.
My sister sighed when I did not respond. “Let me get you some Inferta from my hut. Then you can thank Daico properly in a couple of days.”
“I already thanked him.” I growled, “Now, take your share of the berries and leave.”
She filled her small basket up and then quickly exited the hut. Laying down, I began to stroke Fergo, allowing myself a moment of peace. By now, most of my people were out by the bonfire, enjoying each others company and exchanging food. However, I never joined in on the festivities, as a non-breeding female, I was not welcomed. The same went for young children, but not any of the older adults who no longer could bare children. They provided wisdom and told stories.
My hut flap opened and I sat up to look at Suke, who set a small bag beside the entry way of my hut. She said nothing else, and only disappeared back outside to go to the bonfire no doubt.
Standing up, I picked up the bag and looked at the Inferta inside. They were long hallow sticks that had to be eaten daily to stop a woman from baring children. Growing in the nearby stream, they were in ample amounts for our people to partake in. I rolled my eyes and threw the bag back down. Tomorrow, I would take them back to her, tonight I was just to tired to deal with anything.
I don’t know how long I was asleep, but I was awoken by a strange sound. With a yawn, I sat up and stretched my arms out. I could hear the whispers of distant crickets, informing me that it was late in the evening. Yet, their sound was not what had awoken me, my eyes wandered around my small hut, but it was still dark. I allowed my eyes to adjust for several moments, before I made out Fergo’s gray form across the hut.
“What are you doing?” I asked, when I realized that the sound was coming from him.
Standing up, Fergo immediately threw his tale between his legs and ran from the hut. I watched him with my brows pulled together, before heading over to the spot where he had been. When I saw what he had been doing, I had to hold my breath to stop myself from screaming. That wolf had eaten all the meat my sister had given me. Now, I would need to wait another week before she would have enough to give me and that I would have enough fruit to trade for.
With a heavy sigh, I blamed myself. I should of known to put the meat out of Fergo’s reach. It is not as if he hadn’t done such a thing before. I picked up the empty basket and threw it next to my fruits. I could leave those on the floor, he wouldn’t touch those.
I was too worried about my food situation to sleep, so I decided to go for a walk. I stepped out of my hut and headed away from the village center. It wasn’t so late in the evening that everyone had gone to bed, and I could still hear them singing and pounding on the drums. When I was a young girl, the sounds were lullabies to my ears, now they only made me jealous.
At one time, I had dreamt of joining them at the bonfire and choosing a mate for the evening. Now, I spent most of my time in my hut, doing chores, or learning the ways of medicine from the shaman. She was an older woman and knew her time to leave the earth behind was coming. I think she thought because of my lack of interest in mating rituals that I would be the best fit to take her place.
In truth it didn’t sound too bad, at least then I would have a purpose in the clan. I disliked the thought that my only duty to my people was to pick a strong mate and ensure my children survived. I had seen too many women die during childbirth to want that for myself. It was more then that, however. After they died, there was nothing left of them but a body. They were buried and forgotten, no one cried for them, and no one ever mentioned them again. Only men seemed to be remembered in our prayers or the village shaman. I wanted to be a name said in prayers, and not just an inconvenience to the village, because they had to rid themselves of my decaying body.
As I grew closer to the edge of the village, I saw Daico’s hut. He never went to the bonfire either, as he wasn’t a breeding male. Some women would offer themselves to him if he had an abundance of meat, but it certainly wasn’t anything they would brag about. Daico was in no position to reject any female who offered herself to him. Unlike my father, who could send a woman away if he didn’t like the way she looked.
When I walked in front of his tent, the leather entry flap opened and Daico’s large form emerged. He looked frightened to see me, and I felt compelled to tell him that I was just walking past.
His dark eyes saddened when I said so, and I felt as if I had hurt his feelings.
“Would you like to walk with me?” I asked him, and he gave a light nod.
Without much more said, we began our short journey around the village. We eventually ended up on a hill overlooking our beautiful home, and in the distance we could see the large bonfire.
“It’s almost like we are there, isn’t it?” I smiled at him, and he returned the gesture.
Daico was never much for talking, at least not now that he was older. He had learned that if he didn’t want to be chased from the village that he needed to stay quiet. At least until he had a child or mate that would give him some footing in the tribe.
I remember when he was younger or rather when I was younger, and he use to play with the children. He was at least four summers my elder, and had always been a large person. We loved when he would come to play with us, spinning us around in the air and throwing us into the lake.
Leaning back on my elbows, my back was beginning to get tired from just sitting there. Daico must of realized this because he stood up, and so I followed his lead. He confused me when he sat back down, and grabbed my arm. I wanted to jump back, but knew I would only hurt my arm from the tight grip he had. He gently eased me down towards him, my back to him, and he allowed me to rest my weight against him.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid or tense. I grew even more frightened when he began to run his fingers over the skin of my shoulders down to my elbows. The thought of jumping to my feet and running back to my hut shot through my mind, but for reasons I will never understand, I stayed. His fingers made their way back up my arm, and I sat frozen in my current position.
I did not melt only stiffened more when I felt his lips touch the skin behind my right ear. Daico had to know that I was afraid of this situation, it would have been impossible not to notice my rigid form. When I began to shiver in fear, he stopped. Standing up on his feet, he offered his hand to me.
Suddenly the idea of running to my hut was once again appealing, so I did just that. Not looking back at the man I left on the hill, just running as quickly as possible until I made it back to my hut.
Throwing myself on the fur bedding, I closed my eyes as tightly as possible. Wishing the evening and its memories away from my mind. I was only too pleased when sleep took me for the rest of the night.
---***--- “Wake up!” Suke barked when she entered my hut. Her eyes fell to the ground, and she picked up a small bouquets of daisies. “What’s this?”
With a loud yawn, I sat from my bed and glanced over at what she held in her hand. “It looks like flowers.”
She gave me a dark glare, “Obviously, I mean what are they doing here…” She smiled, “I bet they are from one of the males.” Her smile only widened as she came over to my blankets and sat down at the edge, throwing the flowers onto my lap.
“I don’t know who would do that.” My eyes betrayed nothing.
“I have decided to become with child again this summer, and I would be most pleased if you did as well.” Suke folded her hands in prayer and waved them at me.
I rolled my eyes and threw the flowers into the empty meat basket.
“Where is all that meat I gave you?”
“Fergo ate it.” I frowned, “I go without this week.”
“Or you could get it the way everyone else does.” She giggled.
I glanced over at her with one eyebrow cocked high, “Yes, I could, and then you could start foraging.”
Her smile faded, “Point taken. Seriously though, most of the males have given away their share of meat from the hunt. I could find out what males have some left, if you want… of course, there is always Daico. He always has plenty of meat.”
“No, thank you.”
She ignored me, “I think he does that on purpose. Doesn’t involve himself in the bonfire rituals, so that he will have women begging him at his hut.” Standing up, she grinned again. “I’m going to go tell some of the men that you are out of meat.”
“You forget that I am of the fair haired females, males do not throw themselves at me.” I stood from my blankets.
“If you were a little more friendly, you would find that is not true. I am at the bonfire every night, and I see fair haired females take some of the men. I also hear much talk about you, and how honored the person will be who takes you for the first time.”
I tried not to look appalled, “And why is that?”
“Because you have fought so hard to keep it, and you are considered a challenge… like your mother apparently.” Her upper lip twitched slightly, which informed me she was either lying or keeping something from me. The sure way to know whether it was a lie or hidden knowledge was to look in her eyes.
When I did so, she kept the gaze, “What aren’t you telling me?”
“What is it?”
Suke sighed, “Our father has recently been joking that he will give his best bow to the man who leaves you with child. We all laughed at first, but now I think he is starting to become serious.”
“How is that amusing? And how is it that I’ve become a joke to our people? Am I not submissive to males, and equal to the females? Do I not do as I am suppose to when it comes to chores and foraging? I do not see why my mating status makes me inferior!”
“This is why I didn’t want to tell you, Akilah.” She sighed, “Come along, we need to do the clothing today.”
At the lake, the other women and I gathered around to wash the clothing and blankets that belonged to us and the men. Though we mostly used leather goods, we did have a great deal of weaved items. I knelt down beside the lakes and began to wash some of the clothing in my basket, as the men came towards the lake carrying their own goods. They didn’t do it themselves, but instead had to convince a woman to do so for them.
Well, I shouldn’t say convince, they would bribe and some of them even had a woman so close to them that they could demand it. It was a blessing that few men ever asked me. In all my time doing the clothing, I think I have had a total of four different men convince me. Mostly they would give me shiny rocks, sometimes meat, and one had even given me his necklace.
I positioned myself further away from the women’s group, mostly so that I wouldn’t be spotted by the males. I could still see everyone and everyone could watch over me, but I had to be looked for to be seen. Suke was at the end of the line and was asked by three males, all of which she accepted.
Kneeled down our leather dresses would reveal our thighs, and in certain positions our bottoms. I was always aware of what my dress was doing and tried to ensure that I did not show anything. Though after we were all finished, we would all jump into the lake and wash the clothing we were wearing. Except for the leather, which we would take off.
As I scrubbed one of my blankets, I looked up to see Suke pointing at me. The man standing beside her was Daico, and he bowed his head before coming towards me. I tried not to act afraid. I didn’t want the others to know anything had occurred between us.
He kneeled down beside me, setting the basket between us. I did not look up at him, only continued to wash my blanket. I had tucked my dress between my thighs and feet, so that nothing was revealed. From the tilt of his head, that I could see out of the corner of my eye, I believe he was looking at the tucked away hem.
“For meat.” His deep, husky voice said.
It startled me, I hadn’t heard him speak in many summers. I looked up from my blanket, and ran my hands over the items in his basket. “How much meat?” My sister had something to do with this, and I would deal with her later.
“A piece for every item, so six… yes?”
“Depends on the size of the pieces.” I was trying not to look at him, so I returned my eyes to the blanket in my hands.
I think he grinned, but I couldn’t see his face, but I did hear the humor in his voice. “My largest.”
I nodded my head in agreement to the deal and expected him to leave. He remained, watching as I finished my blanket and hung it on the low tree branch behind me. “I will bring your items to your hut when I am finished.” I said as I kneeled down and tucked my dress between my thighs and feet again.
As I pulled another item from my basket, I felt warmth on my lower back. It was the outline of his hand pressing against my leather covered flesh, which then moved downward to cup my bottom. Twisting around I slapped his hand away and frowned. “Do not touch me.” I growled.
“Be my mate.” He sounded more like he was demanding it then requesting it.
“Your mate, no.” I whispered angrily, not wanting the others to hear us. I looked up from his hands which my eyes had been deadlocked on, only to find his deep brown eyes capturing my own.
“We both have much to gain and nothing to lose from this.”
He grinned, “You get meat and no one will bother you about mating anymore. I will have a position within the tribe, no longer afraid that I can be chased away.”
“I can get meat without having to mate.” I broke my lock on his eyes and turned back to the clothing.
“How long do you think your sister will be willing to do this for you?”
“As long as she is unwilling to forage.” I replied, never looking at him.
His fingertips traced up and down my arm, and though I wanted to tell him to stop, I didn’t want to attract any attention. “I have known you would be my mate for a long time, Akilah.”
I snorted, “I gave my answer…”
“Are you afraid? Is that why you do not mate?”
The questions shocked me into silence, it was true that not only was I afraid of mating but of childbirth as well. Though I would never admit it to anymore. “No, I am not afraid. I am just not interested.”
He seemed to ignore everything I said, obviously aware of the fear I could not hide in my eyes. “I can be gentle. You will never be afraid of me. Did I not show you this on the last eve?”
I swallowed, “I don’t want to be mated, Daico.”
“Then mother my child?”
My eyes glanced over to him, “Ask someone else, I am not interested.”
“There is no one else. Without permanent standing no women wish to give me a child, and all of the other fair haired females have males.”
“That makes no sense, tell them that you will be permanent once they give birth.”
“And what if I am chased out while they are with child? That is why I asked you to be mated with me first.” Daico sighed and looked out across the lake.
“The other males are leaving, I suggest you go with them before you draw undue attention.” I tried to sound like I was concerned, but I might of hissed my response.
He looked behind him to see if it was true, “My offer remains open from this day until I become a permanent male of the tribe, Akilah. This will be good for both of us.” He stood from his position and returned to the village with the other males.
I could see my sister beaming a smile at me from the distance. There would be retribution for this act of betrayal, I swore.
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