This is Part I. For Part II, click here.
Under a perigee sun, in a desert village twelve kilometers west of the great metropolis, Sher’tlaa, in the stoney, black foothills by the sea, there lived a young girl. She had the aspect of the mythic Amazon; tall, tightly muscled, but lean; the hardened body of her father, Kuwshad, no doubt, and filled to her fingertips with the uncompromising compassion of her mother, Zengwap.
The village was small and intimate; six dirt huts, arranged at different heights, clung to the boulders like squat mushrooms with straw hats that hung two feet out over the sides of the hut’s dirt exterior. Each door was cut to face east. In their thresholds unique displays were arranged, signifying to the other families the identity and nature of that hut’s residents.
The young girl’s baby sister had not yet grown into her name, but she liked to call the infant Buchwek; little pig, because the child rooted so intently at her mother’s breast and snorted as she drank, never eating her fill, and always remaining a small, skinny child.
Buchwek had not lived a month before her mother grew wide with child again. To this, at least, her father rejoiced. His opportunity for a son had arrived; he had not been cheated by the gods, his blood was not doomed to die to dust. He could not risk to lose his unborn son. After a third child his wife’s health would make it difficult; if she survived the birth at all.
Zengwap struggled to feed herself enough to nurture Buchwek, but had not succeeded in keeping either of them healthy. She could not hope to feed a new child. She wept every night. Her sorrow was so much, that one day, the mother grew very ill; so ill that she could not stand up from bed or lift her head to drink water from the cup. So the girl’s father took her aside and said to her, “Your mother is ill, and shall loose the child if something is not done. We have no money for the medicine from the city, but I am not without hope.
“Zengwap is underfed and requires a medicine that I can mix, but its ingredients come from rare plants. I cannot hope for you to aquire them all in time, as much as I cannot expect a girl of twelve to go on the hunt and bring home food while I acquire the plants myself . . .
“I must hunt, or the village will exile us for not participating, and then we shall all die. I will be gone for several days. You, daughter, must go into the high mountains. There you shall meet Hazarchereh; Goddess with Many Faces, and you will ask her what it is we shall do.”
The girl cried out in grief. “But father,” she said, “the mountains are full of snakes and I shall be killed if I venture into their wilderness. I have not yet become a woman of the village.” She held his hands as she told him, wringing them, turning them slick with her tears.
Kuwshad saw the despair in her face and his heart ached. He said, “If you succeed in this, you will be a hero, not just for your mother, but for the anyone in the village who might still fall ill. You will have secured your family’s survival. You must do this thing. I must go to hunt.” His daughter had questions, but Kuwshad refused to speak of it any longer. He gave his daughter a copper blade, hung it in the crook of the her elbow; he gave her protective amulets, rocks of the far valleys, and bones to wear around her neck and ankles. Kuwshad kissed his daughter on the forehead. Before the sun climbed the sky on the next day, the girl’s father and the rest of the able men of the village left on the hunt; gods willing, to bring home life to their people. The girl, meanwhile, had only the weight of three lives in her hands, her mother’s, her unborn brother’s, and baby Buchwek; not a whole village of men and elders and women and children like her father, but she couldn’t help but feel like the weight of the universe had been lashed to her back and crushed the air from her words.
The evening that her father left, the young girl kissed her mother and sister goodbye, allowing them to lay hands on her head, and for her mother to cry over her and say the hunter’s prayer, only changing the words so she spoke to, “strike not down my [daughter] to the dust”, instead of the usual, “strike not down my [warrior] to the dust”, and leaving out the more gruesome specifics of the referenced prayer.
Then, after all was said, the young girl set off, determined to find Hazarchereh; Goddess with Many Faces; hidden somewhere in the high mountains, and persuade her to save a mere mortal woman’s life, offering no more than the sweat on her back in return. The young girl disappeared into the cool of the night, shivering as she stepped, not knowing who she might meet, or if she was ever to return home again.
This was a fun story sketch I worked up this morning and have been playing with today. I hope you enjoyed the read; if so, please check back soon for Part II of this story.