By Karin Edman
As I reach my 17th year and have spent my last year being plumped up by my mother and my mothers mother I am ready to come with other youngling, and walk the distance to the sea. The sea, they tell me is the biggest lake I will ever see and the water is undrinkable and tells you so, by its taste of salt upon your lips.
Many times have my hardened fingers tied and untied ropes of our traditional rafts. The simple kinds, built from trees you fell the same day, and the more intricate ones who can sail for days and even keep you and your belongings dry as you go.
I am ready, plump and learned. I am ready to see with my own eyes and experience how other people live, and to maybe even see men.
The raft was broken when we dragged it from where our teachers hid it last, and had to be mended for half a day, but I was pleased with my knot work and was given much praise. Which was all to well because once we were out on the salt water, I was overcome by the constant waves and expelled the rabbit we had eaten earlier, and then the nuts, and finally yellow gall. Mika sat with me and consoled me, telling me tales of how she herself used to spew as a dog even when training on the lakes and creeks back home.
We did sail true, because not far from where the raft was covered by branches, we found one of the many fishing camps that were spread along the coast, and it was populated. But the raised tents were all very quiet, unlike the buzzing that would arise at one of our hunting or fishing camps. Where there was sand or soft dirt, large animal tracks could be seen, and Mika whispered to me, that it was horse tracks, such as she had shown me picture of.
There was a sudden excitement among the younglings, and Mika raised her hand to silence us, out of one of the tents, a small girl game, she might be four, or a large 3 year old. I readied myself, and tried to both keep my eyes on the girl and on Mika. My chance had come much earlier than any one could have guessed. Mika nodded and I sprinted as silently as I had trained and swooped the girl up in one stride, clasping my hand over her mouth but not her nose. She tensed and struggled as I made a large circle in the terrain and returned to my people.
Immediately, a woman appeared out of the tent. Rather than screaming at finding the child gone her eyes were first at the ground, noticing my booth prints. And then she followed my tracks back from where they came with her eyes, barely moving any muscle beyond her neck. Her face was in shadow from us, under her veil, and then she moved it back to reveal not only the lines of her many years but also a familiar tattoo and a bruised lip.
An Amazon tattoo. She knew exactly where we were hiding. But she raised no weapon, yet motioned to someone inside the tent. Out came a teen girl, carrying a bundle of cloth. The older woman said something to her and the teen started making her way up to us while the old amazon went to the next tent and the next. Out of the tents came women of all ages. We did not know what to do. Mika broke the cover at last. But they did not know how to speak our language, and we did not know theirs, until the Amazon woman came.
“I have waited long, all the summers I came to the coast, and now we will come with you. Me and my daughters, and my daughter’s daughters and all the women of my family. As I have promised them.”
They more than doubled our numbers. They touched our hair, and our faces. Drew their fingertips over our tattoos. I found out through the grand mother that the teen girls name was Aki, and in the bundle she was carrying, and later tied to her body was baby Asi, a tiny girl born early. Grand Mothers name was Sufiya. Grand Mother and Mika spoke, and when they were done it was decided that Mika would take them all to our raft and start to build another, and me and Grand Mother would stay to take care of the empty fishing camp.
As the others had left us she asked me to wait with her until they were some distance away, and then that we burn the camp to the ground.
“I want it to look, like other men came to take us when our husbands were away. I want to leave nothing of myself here for them.”
I saw sadness and anger in her dark brown eyes as she said it, the true spark of a warrior, and in unison we walked with fire from tent to tent and made sure that every part of it flashed and burned, turning into soot and coal. The pillar of smoke telling of times past that would never come again, when someone who had heard it’s calling appeared on the ridge above the camp. It was not a woman, but the shadow of a man on a horse. Just hearing Grandmother whispering “no” at his appearance made me immediately raise my bow and my shot had both strength and accuracy, as he fell from the horse with a arrow in his bowel.
“You must retrieve the arrow.” Grandmother ordered me, and I set up the ridge on nimble feet. The man had fallen badly, and was dead. It was the first time a saw a man, and the first time I had seen a horse. I put my hand on the horse, bewildered and overwhelmed. It gazed at me, unnaturally calm and then I sharply pulled the arrow from the man on the ground. The horse set of and I slid back down the ridge. Grandmother was already ahead of me.
I worked with my hands all evening, tying knots and making more rope for the second raft. I had a lot of help from the other younglings, but I felt as sick as I had out on the sea. After some hours Mika and Grandmother came to me.
“He was Asis father. But he was also Akis husband.” Grandmother told. “Do you know what a husband is?” I shook my head and continued tying my knots.
“It is a man who is given ownership of a woman by his tribe. He owned Aki, and he beat her when Asis was in her belly. This is when I decided we would leave. But Asis came early and we had little time to prepare. We could not have done it if the goddess had not sent you.”
Then Mika spoke.
“Aluja, today you are a woman. You did more than save just one girl.”
That night was a night of a full moon and we sailed the big raft home with the new raft I had worked on tied carefully behind us.
I was still sick on sail home, and I threw up on myself.