Every year, without fail, just before the leaves started to change colour, Shine’s people would start to make their long trek south from the great grasslands of the north. No one, not even the great mammoths, stayed on the plains over the winter where the temperature dropped so low that it would kill a man in less than half a half-day.
The tribe, of which Shine’s clan was a part, moved south as the snow started to come down from the northern wastes. They would move slowly, crossing rivers and climbing to cross the high mountain passes before they were closed by the snows that came early to those high places. Once across the mountains the tribe would descend into the warmer lands where they would spend the winter. At the end of their long trek the tribe would camp where two rivers joined. Here they’d hunt for a few days before splitting up into their component family clans. Each clan would then move off separately to take up residence in the valleys that nestled between the mountains that protected them from the worst of the winter.
The valley that Shine’s clan lived in was a beautiful place. It had woods and meadows full of game and edible plants, roots and mushrooms. The river that ran the length of the valley seemed to teem with fish; you would have to be a particularly incompetent hunter or gatherer to starve in Shine’s valley. For shelter there were good caves in the cliff that over looked the river where it left the valley to make its way south across the rolling country until it disappeared to a place that none of Shine’s people had ever been.
Yet with all these advantages none of the tribe’s clans had been willing to spend a winter in this valley. Of course men hunted there and the women would venture a short way into the valley to gather food. But, everyone always made sure that they left the valley before nightfall. Anyone who got lost or who tried to stay the night was either never seen again or found dead the next day. The old stories told by the Mothers and storytellers around the camp fires at night spoke of hunters who’d stayed the night in the valley and had been found dead the next morning. Their bodies would quickly be buried, but one or two nights later the dead hunter would rise from his grave and try to eat his clan-mates. These undead were very difficult to kill, sometimes a lucky spear thrust would reduce the hunter to ash or someone would touch a burning branch to him and he’d burst into flame before turning to ash and drifting away on the night breeze.
This had all changed the winter that Shine had stopped being a girl and turned into a woman. After a day spent in the valley collecting roots and mushrooms with her mother and sister, Shine had got separated as she wandered between the trees picking mushrooms and eating pine seeds. By the time she’d realised what had happened it was already too dark to find her way to safety at the mouth of the valley. Sobbing with terror she’d hidden under a fallen tree where she’d eventually fallen into a restless sleep.
Awaking with a start, Shine found a man-creature with a hideously misshapen face standing over her. It laughed at the terrified young woman before grabbing her and pulling her from her hiding place. Terrified beyond words, Shine resolved to fight, she’d always been a brave, strong child and grabbing a loose branch from the base of the fallen tree she’d used it as a club and hit the man-creature over the head.
Of the two of them, Shine would never be sure who was the most surprised, herself or the man-creature. The man-creature literally flew across the clearing from the force of Shine’s blow and crashed to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs. Shaking his head the man-creature slowly climbed back to his feet and attacked again. Not knowing what had happened, Shine had been staring in wonder at what she thought must be a magic club when the man-thing barrelled into her and knocked her off her feet.
Screaming in terror and distress even though she knew no one would hear her calls, Shine fought to keep the man-creature’s fangs from her throat. It was only after she and the man-creature had been struggling for some time that both of them realised something was very wrong. Surely, thought the man-creature, the girl should be dead by now and he ought to be drinking her hot, sweet blood; Shine, on the other hand, wondered why the man-creature hadn’t been able to kill her.
Taking advantage of the man-creature’s confusion, Shine easily pushed him off her. Once again the man-creature flew through the air to land with a loud thud several paces away. Jumping to her feet, Shine didn’t even consider running for her life. Instead she leapt on the man-creature and started to beat on him with her small fists. Although the man-creature was hurt it wasn’t killed and by the way it fought back it wasn’t anywhere near dying yet. At a loss at what to do next, Shine got off the man-creature and backed away letting the man-creature regain its feet. Casting around for a weapon, Shine saw nothing she could use, however she did notice that although it was very dark under the trees she didn’t have much difficulty picking things out, this puzzled her greatly. But not as greatly as how she was going to save herself from the man-creature.
Luckily the man-creature made her decision for her, he turned and fled into the woods, he moved so fast that Shine had trouble keeping track of him and he quickly disappeared between the trees. Surprised at finding herself alive, Shine huddled under her tree truck again and waited for the dawn.
Later she found out that the man-creature was really a Night-Walker called Blood-Fang who lived with his mate, Dreamer in the caves at the head of the valley. Many was the time that Shine wished she’d killed Blood-Fang that night, but she’d been little more than silly girl at the time, her head full of handsome hunters and babies. Only later, after Night-Watcher joined the tribe and came to live with her clan did Shine find out what she really faced. 0=0=0=0
The following morning when Shine walked back into her clan’s camp she was met with suspicion by the clan’s hunters and unbounded joy by her mother and little sister. If it hadn’t been for the fact that she was the daughter of the clan’s Mother, Shine suspected that the hunters would have killed her then and there and she wouldn’t have blamed them. No one came out of the valley alive after spending the night there. Sitting around the camp fire, Shine told her story to her unbelieving clan-mates. At first no one believed her, everyone except her mother and sister had laughed at her saying how she’d not really been lost in the valley; she’d obviously got lost on her way home and slept the night in the woods, but not in the valley.
Glaring at her clan-mates, Shine felt her anger grow and grow in her chest, how dare they laugh at her? She was the daughter of the clan’s Mother and she’d be Mother too one day. But now they were laughing at her saying she was just a silly girl who’d got lost and had a bad dream. Jumping to her feet, Shine had snarled at Looks-Far the lead hunter of her clan who’d been loudest in laughing at her story. Not really knowing what she was doing, Shine sprang across the fire and landed on Looks-Far knocking him onto his back. At first Looks-Far had continued to laugh, but when Shine easily lifted him to his feet before knocking him down again, he stopped laughing.
After the fight that wasn’t really a fight because Looks-Far had never managed to hit Shine once while she seemed to be able to hit him whenever she wanted, a meeting of the tribe’s Mothers was called. As a woman Shine could only be judged by the Mothers of the tribe and judged she would be because no woman had ever attacked and beaten a hunter like that before. Something special and unusual had happened and the Mothers needed to find out what it was. They questioned Shine’s story over and over again, but Shine never changed any of her words always telling the tale the same way. Next the Mothers had tested her, having her lift heavy things and throw rocks and spears. When they were satisfied that Shine had told them and showed them everything they went off to discuss what was to be done. They left Shine with her mother to wait fearfully for their decision.
It was nearly evening when the Mothers returned with their judgement. A very old Mother called Wise came and sat in front of Shine and her mother. Wise had come from a tribe who lived far towards the sun rise when she was little older than Shine was now. Her tribe had different stories to Shine’s tribe and one of those stories had told of a girl hunter who was faster, stronger and better than any hunter in her tribe. This girl had protected her tribe from the night-monsters that had plagued the area where her tribe had lived and had eventually been killed protecting her people. But she had won the battle and her tribe had been able to live in peace and safety from that point onwards. It was Wise’s opinion that Shine was a girl like the girl from her tribe and she’d been sent by the spirits of the dead Mothers to protect her tribe and make the valley safe for her people. It was also decided that a new clan would be formed to live in the valley while Shine hunted the monsters that lived there.
This had been four winters ago now and every year Shine’s clan moved into their valley and every year Shine would hunt and kill the un-natural things that lived there and every year one of the monsters, the ‘big-bad’ as Dusk had called them would be more formidable than the Big-Bad of the previous winter. But on the plus side every year Shine got stronger and wiser in the ways of the monsters and had always been able to defeat the new Big-Bad; Shine saw no reason why this shouldn’t go on until she’d killed the last Big-Bad and the valley was safe for everyone.0=0=0=0
Opening an eye, Elm looked out at the dawning of a new day from under her sleeping skins and groaned. She didn’t want to get up, it was cold outside and she was nice and warm with her mate, Moon-Wolf next to her. Trying to ignore the day, Elm buried herself deeper into Moon-Wolf’s fur, she felt him start to stir and nudge her with his cold wet nose.
“Do we have to get up?” Elm asked as she rolled over to look hopefully into her mates amber eyes.
As usual Moon-Wolf said nothing but seemed to be able to express an entire argument with just a look or a raised eyebrow. This morning he managed to convince his mate of the necessity of getting up by simply yawning widely and then licking her on the end of her nose with his long pink tongue.
“EW!” Elm squealed as she wiped wolf spit from her nose, “Alright already, I’ll get up!”
Moon-Wolf opened his mouth in a silent wolf chuckle as Elm searched around for her dress, it was too cold to be sitting around naked; it wouldn’t be long before the first snows fell in the valley. Pulling her dress on over her head, Elm looked down to where her son slept curled up by her feet. Frowning, Elm reached over and shook the boy awake, she frowned because when she’d gone to sleep last night Cub had been lying next to her. He must have got up in the night and wandered around a little just like his father sometimes did. Elm hoped that he wouldn’t wander far; she knew that if the wolves found him they’d not harm him. It was part of the agreement that the clan had with the wolves that any young found wandering alone were not to be harmed but returned to their clan. So far the agreement had held on both sides.
“Come on sleepy head,” Elm shook her son to prevent him from curling into a tighter ball and going back to sleep, “Food!”
Offering him her breast, Cub responded by coming and sitting in his mother’s lap and sucking at her nipple. Although he was three winters old and had been eating solids for some time, Cub still suckled from his mother when she offered. Stroking her son’s head Elm frowned again, Cub was hairier than a small boy should be at that age. His teeth were sharper and his fangs more pronounced too and if his eyes shone amber in the firelight or his ears were pointier than normal, that didn’t make him bad. He was her little boy, but she did worry that he’d grow up to be like his father. However, Night-Watcher, who seemed to know about these things didn’t appear unduly worried by the boy and the way Shine played with him reassured Elm that no one was planning on killing her child for fear of what he might grow into.
“Come on greedy guts,” Elm pulled Cub away from her breast; he let go reluctantly and growled softly at his mother. “Don’t you talk to your mother like that, young man,” Elm warned as she climbed to her feet. “Let’s go stinky-boy, time to get you cleaned up.”
Cub whined piteously as his mother dragged him towards the cave mouth.0=0=0=0
Once actually in the river that ran below the cave, Cub seemed to forget his earlier reluctance and happily splashed about in the cold water. Sitting on the river bank, Elm scrubbed at her teeth with a frayed twig. Keeping your teeth clean kept them strong and strong teeth let you eat properly. Glancing up at the sound of footsteps, Elm saw Dusk helping Chase to sit down on the back next to her.
“Hi guys!” Elm called happily around her tooth-twig.
“Hi Elm,” Dusk replied as she slipped her feet into the water and wiggled her toes about.
“Hi,” Chase looked sick.
“What’s up Chase?” Elm moved so she could sit next to the heavily pregnant young woman, she put her hand on Chase’s belly. “Hmm,” Elm said knowingly as a clan Wise-woman should, she felt Chase’s child move under her hand, “I wouldn’t move too far from home if I were you, feels like your little visitor will be moving out soon.”
“Oh thank the Great Mother for that!” Chase gave a sigh of relief, “I thought I was going to be stuck like this forever. I mean look at what it’s doing to my figure.”
Elm and Dusk did indeed look and yes Chase did look bloated and her breasts had grown huge with big, dark brown nipples; she was in fact an almost perfect copy of the Great Mother herself. Before mating with One-Eye, Chase had always been a trim athletic looking girl hence the name Chase. Many a young hunter had tried to catch her but only One-Eye had managed it.
“You do know men don’t notice that sort of thing?” Elm explained to Chase’s unbelieving face, “The Great Mother blinds them to how you really are and they only see you as you were when they first snuggled you.”
“Unless a younger, snugglier girl comes along and they suddenly see you for real,” Dusk said bitterly; her real father had deserted her mother for a younger woman from a nearby tribe.
Elm gave Dusk a hard look, this was not what Chase needed to hear right now, she needed to hear that she was still pretty and desirable and not the fat blob she really was at the moment.
“Anyway,” Elm continued wondering if she really believed what she was saying, “as soon as you give birth and start feeding the fat will just fall off you…”
“You’re saying I’m fat?” Chase snapped.
“NO!” Elm cried defensively, “Not as such…erm…” Elm looked to Dusk for help.
“Don’t look at me,” Dusk grinned back at her friend, “you’re the one who said she was fat not me.” Dusk cast Chase a serious look, “I never said you were fat that was all Elm’s idea.”
“Look,” Elm continued forcefully as she tried to reassert her tattered authority, “Yes, Chase you are fat,” Elm held up her hand to forestall anything Chase might say, “but being fat is good especially with winter and a baby on the way and I’m sure One-Eye would love you whatever you look like.”
“Now you’re saying I’m ugly!” Chase burst into tears and buried her face in her hands.
“Nooo!” Elm cried as she glared at a sniggering Dusk, “Look,” Elm took a deep breath, she’d not mentioned this to anyone yet, “If it makes you feel any better I’ve got a baby inside me too.”
“You have?” Dusk looked up from where she was playing with Cub.
“I think so,” Elm replied.
“I’m not surprised,” Dusk tickled the struggling boy as they played on the river bank, “all that snarling and growling and whining coming from under your sleeping skins at night…” Dusk grinned mischievously, “…I’m surprised Moon-Wolf can stand all the noise you make!”
The comment made Chase forget how fat she was and made her laugh, “So what do you want?” she asked, “Boy? Girl? Puppy?”
“Fine friends you two are,” Elm sulked, “you do know I can put a spell on you, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” Dusk giggled, “your last spell was very tasty…herb and bird soup!”
“Not my fault it didn’t work out,” Elm sulked; a lot of her potions turned to soup, but on the plus side the clan seemed to enjoy eating the results of her failed experiments.
Sitting on the river bank, Dusk continued to play with Cub, looking after Elm’s little boy was good practice for when she had her own children. Cub nipped her finger with his sharp teeth so Dusk smacked him like his mother had told her to do; he needed to be broken of his habit of biting people before he got any bigger. Instead of whining or crying, Cub ignored the sharp pain of the smack and looked off into the trees on the other side of the river. He stared very intently between the trees and started to whimper before burying his face between Dusk’s breasts.
“Hey guys,” Dusk said quietly, “something’s wrong.”
“Where?” Suddenly Elm became very alert.
“Across the river,” Dusk pointed as she passed Cub back to Elm.
“Lions?” Chase asked; her friends where starting to frighten her, if there were something bad she wouldn’t be able to run very fast.
“No,” Elm shook her head, “they always drink further upstream and anyway they live much further up the valley.”
“Don’t care, frightened,” Dusk started to stand up as Elm helped Chase to her feet, “Let’s go home…”
No sooner had the words left her mouth than three shambling, hairy man-like figures burst from the trees on the other side of the river. Their faces were animalistic and they clutched primitive clubs in their large, black nailed hands as they lurched deceptively quickly towards the river bank. All three women gave high-pitched distress screams as the man-beasts stopped and made threat displays on the other side of the river.
Making the loudest, most piercing scream of all, Dusk bent to snatch up several smooth stones from the river bank. She threw them at the beastmen as they jumped up and down and uttered vicious sounding whoops from the opposite bank. Holding tightly on to Cub, Elm pushed Chase towards the path that led to safety and home. The men and Shine would soon be there having heard Dusk’s loud calls for help and the closer they got to the cave the quicker help would come.
One of the beastmen, being bolder than the others, splashed into the water. Picking up more stones, Dusk threw one which hit the leading beastmen right on the forehead. The stone made a hollow sounding crack as it hit the creature; it collapsed to its knees and then fell on its face into the water. For a moment this seemed to make the other two beasts hesitate allowing Dusk to throw more stones at them, unfortunately this time she scored no hits. Getting over their fear of the flying stones, the two remaining beastmen waved their clubs above their heads. They started to whoop even more loudly as they splashed across the river. Giving an extra loud scream, Dusk threw her last stone, turned around and started to run. 0=0=0=0