In this chapter, Buffy and Hiywan bond over dead animals and a water fight.
Characters: Hiywan (the First Slayer before she became a Slayer), Buffy. See here for a glossary of original characters.
Wordcount: 21,642. This chapter 4765
Rating: 15 (R) (Non-explicit references to sex, nudity, animal deaths, various bodily functions, nature being red in tooth and claw, etc.)
Previous chapters: One Two Three
I rested my head a while against the antelope's cool fur as it hung there, trying to calm down (and also, my forehead hurt where I'd hit it). Then I took a couple of deep breaths, and turned to look for a knife. At which point, I discovered that Amare had, perhaps wisely, made himself scarce during the argument, so all that was for nothing. Oh great.
His tools were neatly laid out on a treestump, however, and I picked up a couple of knives until I found one that fitted my hand well, and tested the blade. It seemed sharp enough, and there were no cracks in the stone, so I took it and walked back to the carcass. As I did I glanced over to find Buffy; she was still standing exactly where I left her, but at this distance I couldn't make out her expression. I felt a pang of guilt, wondered if I should go over and apologise for getting angry with her... but I had work to do. I grabbed a handful of fur in my left hand, and forced the point of the knife into the deer's body, up near the neck.
A small drop of blood came out and smeared the knife, but not much; most of it was already gone. I started cutting downwards towards the belly; it was slow and heavy work, and I had to saw the knifeblade backwards and forwards to get it to cut through the thick layers of skin. I soon had sweat running down my forehead, and paused to wipe it away.
As I did, I was surprised to feel a hand on my wrist, and a woman's voice asking a hesitant question. It was Buffy, of course, and she had a surprisingly meek smile on her face for me as she pointed to the knife, then at herself, then at the antelope. Hmm? Well, if she wanted to... I smiled back, cautiously, and handed her the knife as if it were a peace offering.
Buffy examined it closely for a moment, a dubious look on her face, and brushed her thumb over the edge a few times. Then she took a firm grip on the flint and stepped up to take my place in front of the carcass. Then she turned around and looked at me questioningly, miming a cutting motion and pointing at the deer's belly. I frowned; surely she'd skinned prey before? But I was realising it wasn't safe to assume anything where our guest was concerned. I stepped forward, put my finger at the base of the cut I'd already made, then traced a line down over its belly to between its hind legs. Buffy nodded, then waved me back. I was glad enough of the chance to rest for a moment.
Then she grasped the loose skin in her off-hand to pull it taut... and I stared open-mouthed as she drew the knife straight down in a single clean cut, slicing through fur and hide as easily as if it weren't even there. Just how strong was she? It was all so fast, I didn't even have time to warn her before she'd laid open the antelope's belly too, and its guts came sliding out in a horrible stinking, bloody mess. She made a sound that sounded like "Awk!" and sprang back hastily, and I swear her reflexes were so fast, not a single drop of gore splattered her. In fact, I clapped my hands together in appreciation, and she looked at me in surprise, then grinned. But then she put her hands on her hips and said something to me in an accusatory tone - but she was still grinning - and she pointed at me, the knife, herself, and the guts, then repeated her accusation. Did she think I planned that deliberately? I didn't... but actually, it would have been funny if I had. So I was grinning back as I protested my innocence, and she rolled her eyes at me, and then I couldn't help myself any longer and burst out laughing, and then she was laughing too.
After a while, we'd got control of ourselves again, and Buffy approached the deer once more - but slowly, and with a look on her face that said "This is really gross". She muttered something to herself as well, and I almost set myself off giggling again as I wondered if she'd actually said, in her own language, "This is really gross". But I took pity on her, and asked for the knife back again. She handed it to me with a look of relief, and I took a deep breath - then regretted it as the stink hit me. I started to kneel down, then hesitated. This was going to be messy, and skin was a lot easier to get clean than leather. I unfastened the top of my wrap and rolled it down around my waist, just as Amare had earlier with his own.
At which point, I remembered Buffy's usual response to nudity and such, and looked round at her in curiosity. Had she turned bright red again? Run away, turned her back? Actually no; her only reaction when I met her eyes was to shake her head and sigh in long-suffering exasperation. Um, I think that was a good thing? Anyway, to work.
I reached in and started pulling out the rest of the antelope's innards, sawing at them with the knife to free them. I couldn't see what I was cutting; I had to go by feel with my arms plunged deep inside the cooling carcass. It wasn't long before my arms were coated with blood and slime, and the front of my chest was liberally splattered too. But then I'd finished, and I stepped back in relief. Buffy was watching me, but she looked a little nauseous: I pulled a face in sympathy and scraped off the worse of the muck from my arms. Then I looked around for some help; where had Amare vanished to? And where was Teshome?
I eventually found them sat by the river throwing stones into the water, and Amare exerted the privilege of his position by telling Teshome to go find Assefe so the two of them could clean out the intestines and prepare them. Teshome grumbled, but did as he was told.
When we got back, Buffy was examining Amare's tools, a look of curiosity on her face. She put them down again hastily, but I adopted a reassuring tone and told her to feel free. She had clan-right, after all; our possessions were hers. Instead, Buffy watched with surprise (and relief) as the two young men picked up the dried animal skin laid under the antelope carcass and picked it up, with the heap of guts lying in the middle of it, and began carrying it off towards the river. She looked like she wanted to ask a question, but then just shrugged. Instead, I picked up the knife we'd been using, then pointed at the assemblage of tools and gestured for her to take one for herself. She raised an eyebrow, then reached out for one of the knives - no testing them one by one like I'd done, but a decisive choice. Then she followed me back to the antelope.
I took my knife, held up the animal's left foreleg, and drew a line with my blade along the inside of the leg from ankle to shoulder, then across the chest to connect with the main cut down the deer's underside. Then I pointed to Buffy and the other foreleg. She looked at me for a moment, then nodded, indicating the leg with her own knife and miming cutting it. I nodded, and we set to work side by side to skin the antelope.
Buffy wasn't as quick or dextrous at this as she'd been at opening the belly. She had the strength, sure enough, but cutting around the legs cleanly took skill and practice as well, and she seemed a little clumsy and unsure of herself. The knife slipped a couple of times, drawing angry and frustrated expostulations out of her. I glanced over; the cuts were a little ragged, but not too bad, and I smiled and said something encouraging, then set back to work. When the front legs were done we started on the rear ones, and Buffy seemed to be getting the hang of things more. She seemed quite proud of herself when the hide of the right hind leg came off cleanly and easily, and I grinned at her.
She smiled back, wiping the perspiration from her forehead with her hand - then grimacing in disgust as she realised her hand was all covered in the antelope's blood, which she'd now transferred to her face. I couldn't help laughing, and after a moment she chuckled rather ruefully as well. Then together we set to work on the last and biggest task, slicing the hide from the animal's body. It was now drawing on to late afternoon and the sun was lower in the sky, but it was still hot, and the work was sweaty and sticky and messy. But the two of us made relatively easy work of it together; somehow we'd seemed to get into a rhythm, matching our actions to each other without a word spoken.
Though Buffy did make one comment, as she peeled back the skin with a loud ripping sound: I think from her wry tone it was a joke, although of course I didn't understand it. But immediately afterwards she seemed to cringe and add something else in an apologetic tone of voice - at least I'm pretty sure one of the words she said was "Sorry", since she'd said it enough by now I was starting to recognise it from context. Was she apologising to me for her joke? Was it in bad taste or something? I wished, once again, that I could understand what she was saying. Senayit's spell couldn't come fast enough.
But the skin was finally removed. It wasn't perfect, a little ragged round the edges, but serviceable. It would make a decent wrap for someone. Maybe Buffy herself; perhaps she'd look less strange in proper clothes?
As we took the hide over to the large treetrunk Amare had designated for scraping, he came over himself and offered to take the carcass over to the campfire so it could be cooked. I accepted gratefully; it would save time. He also, without being asked, passed me one of the antelope's leg bones. As Buffy watched in curiosity, I set it down on a large, flat rock on the ground and went over to Amare's tools to get a few small flakes of flint and a hammerstone. I scored a line on the bone with my knife, pushed one of the flakes into it, then started hammering at it with all my strength.
Sweat got in my eyes and obscured my vision; I brusquely wiped them with the back of my hand and carried on hammering until I was finally rewarded with a loud crack as the bone split. Then I inserted a second flint further up the bone and started hammering again. My arm was getting tired, and as I stopped to rest Buffy squatted down next to me and held out her hand. I didn't hesitate: gratefully, I gave her the hammerstone, stood up and stretched.
Buffy herself seemed a little uncertain, studying the first split I'd made carefully, as if she'd never hammered a bone before and wanted to reassure herself what to do. Then she addresed herself to the stone wedge, gripped the bone firmly in one hand and raised the hammerstone in the other, then brought it down in a single heavy blow. The bone split instantly and cleanly - reminding me once again just how strong she was. I clapped in appreciation, and she smiled at me, obviously pleased.
One more wedge was needed - which Buffy took care of as well as the last - and the bone was split. I mimed tearing it into two, then gave it to Buffy to actually pull apart. She made it look easy. Then I took one half of the split bone and tested the edges where it had cracked - it was suitably sharp. Walking over to the bloody animal hide stretched over the log, I pressed the blade of the scraper against it with both hands and drew it down as smoothly and cleanly as I could. The tattered bits of fat and flesh clinging to the inside of the hide came off, messily, and most of it went onto the ground. Some of it went onto me, of course. I moved the scraper back up and pulled it down in a second sweep next to the first.
At this point I looked up to see Buffy watching me, her pale pinkish-white face looking a little green now instead. Mercilessly, I pointed at the other half of the bone still lying on the ground, at her and at the hide, and quirked an eyebrow. She groaned loudly - which made me grin - but picked it up and joined me. Together we made short work of the hide. The final stage was to carry it over to the tanning pool and dunk it in there to soak overnight. By now I could already anticipate Buffy's reaction to this part of the procedure, and she didn't fail to disappoint. I'm not sure if "Eww ew ew ew ewwww!" meant anything in her language or it was just an expression of disgust, but it sounded funny. I'm half-convinced she knew it too and by now was deliberately playing things up for my benefit.
Finally we were done. I stretched, rolling my head to loosen my neck muscles, and flicked my hands down at the ground to shake off the worst of the blood and gore from them. I should probably have refastened my wrap too at this point, but I was too dirty to want to touch it just yet. Instead I mimed washing to Buffy and gestured toward the river. I'm not sure she understood the gesture, but she followed me when I set off there - and seemed positively enthusiastic when she realised where I was going.
The banks of the river in this region were mostly sticky and soft, but I found Teshome and Assefe sat on one of the drier, sandier stretches. They'd finished cleaning out the animal guts in the water and were now cutting them into shorter lengths and tying off one end of each piece. These made handy containers for cooking the smaller bits of food that couldn't be stuck on a spit to roast. The two of them greeted me cheerfully, although they politely averted their eyes when they saw I was half-naked.
I waded out into the water, then crouched down to wash the worst of the blood from my hands. Then I unfastened my wrap and slid off off my hips, then climbed out of the river again to hang it over a tree-branch for safekeeping. At this point I looked around to see what Buffy was doing.
She was standing next to the river, looking at it with huge longing eyes, holding her red-dripping arms well away from her sides. But she also kept looking sidelong at Teshome and Assefe, awkwardness and embarrassment clearly drawn in her posture. They in turn were clearly trying their best not to stare at her in too-obvious fascination.
While Buffy's odd prudishness and over-refined sensibilities still made me a little impatient, I was getting more used to her ways now; and I did sympathise with her here. It wasn't really fair to the two men either, to expect them not to look if Buffy took her clothes off. I mean, they'd all seen me naked plenty of times (and vice-versa), it was no big deal; but this odd-looking stranger was another matter.
I picked up my wrap again and gestured downriver, where the stream curved around in a bend past some trees. "I think Buffy and I will go and bathe further down there; there's a nice rock to sunbathe on afterwards."
Assefe pouted and said, "Aww", which made me tilt my head and give him an old-fashioned look - at which he grinned unrepentently. But Teshome, who was older, merely said mildly, "Be careful you don't get eaten by a crocodile."
"There aren't any crocodiles here. You know that."
"Yes, but do the crocodiles?"
At this point Assefe interjected, "I don't think any crocodile would dare try to eat Hiywan anyway. Remember what she did to that hyena?"
I felt my face heat, and looked down at my feet in embarrassment. The time I came back into camp covered in dried blood and dragging the headless corpse of a giant person-sized hyena behind me had already passed into clan legend - and I mean literally. There was a song about me and everything. I cringed every time they sang it.
Of course Teshome and Assefe knew I hated the song, which is exactly why the two of them started singing it right then. I glared at them - they kept on singing through their laughter - but at least it gave me the excuse I needed to stalk off in a huff, beckoning Buffy to follow me.
We made our way through the trees, then out onto the rock that overlooked the river. I heard Buffy say something soft next to me; she sounded pleased and impressed. I looked around, trying to imagine the place through her eyes. It was certainly pretty enough; the rock was a golden honey-coloured stone, contrasting with the deep green of the forest on either side. The river reflected the trees and the sky, deep blue and green; and the ripples as it eddied around the rocks glinted white in the sunlight. I dropped my wrap and ran to the edge of the rock, leaping off into the river below with a giant splash. The shock of the cold water was exhilarating and made me scream in mixed delight and pain. Then I ducked down into the water and started scrubbing at my skin with a handful of sand from the bottom untl I felt sparkling clean, and my flesh tingled with warmth once more.
I'd lost sight of Buffy; she was still somewhere behind the rock doing something or other. But then she stepped into view, poised gracefully on the very brink. The sun, low in the sky, turned her golden hair into something like a flame, so she seemed like an avatar of Tsehay herself. Her pale blood-splattered body glowed pink in the reflected light, as if a fire were kindled inside it. Her whole body, I noticed with a sudden grin. Granted, she was holding one hand protectively in front of her hips, and the other arm was clamped firmly over her chest, but she'd actually taken her clothes off. I hadn't been sure she even could, but clearly so...
At that point she emulated me by jumping in the river with a wild yell that sounded like "YaaaaaheeeeARGHHomygodthatscold!!" My smile turned to a yell of outrage as the impact of her landing created a giant wave that soaked me, plastering my hair to my skull.
"Ooops. Sorry." She said it in her own language, but I knew exactly what she'd said.
"No problem," I replied, with a deceptive smile... then swung my own arm back and around to create a wave that soaked her in turn. Then I added, in the exact same tone she'd used, "Ooops. Sorry."
Buffy's eyes and mouth went wide, three perfect circles as water dripped down her face... then she set her mouth firmly, swung her own arm and splashed me right back. Then added in a meek, harmless little voice, "Sorry."
"I forgive you." I turned my back on her, waded away through the waist-deep water - then swung around, my fingers interlinked to form a double fist, putting my back and shoulders into the movement as I'd been taught, and sweeping my arms around as if I were striking a killing blow to an opponent - except in this case, my weapon was water and my only victim a very wet Buffy.
She gave me a look then muttered something that sounded, from its tone, very much like, "Oh, it is on." Then flipped over so she was floating on her back, and kicked her legs vigorously in my direction creating a whole series of huge waves. Of course, this effort also propelled her away from me, so only the first few actually hit me. It still made me shriek, though.
She eventually paused, just moving her arms slowly to keep herself afloat, and raised her head a little way out of the water. "Sorry."
"It's quite all right". I waded over to where she floated, looked down into her face, then moved my hand almost gently to splash a little bit of water into it. A small gesture... but far more effective since it was precisely targeted. She spluttered, and I murmured the standard apology.
In reply Buffy took a deep breath and flipped over, down below the surface of the river. I was surprised. I squinted down, trying to make out her shape under the water, see what she was doing. I felt her hand touch my ankle briefly, then my other foot; maybe checking where I was standing? And then she burst out of the water with an almighty splash, right in my face, shooting up fast as a gazelle, clearly pushing herself up off the bottom of the river, and I was utterly soaked. I screamed - Buffy said sorry - and I retaliated.
No finesse this time, just a series of splashes with my hands. Buffy replied in kind; we were both giggling and shrieking and occasionally saying "Sorry", but I didn't really have the breath left to keep on repeating it. Buffy, though, seemed to be actually getting faster as I slowed down due to exhaustion; her splashes were coming three to my two. I paused a moment to get my breath back, and she suddenly seemed to explode into action, her arms moving faster than any human's had a right to, sending half the river flying towards me. I sat back in the water with a thump (and another splash), and muttered weakly, "Okay, you win."
She seemed to get my meaning well enough, and stopped too, the slightly faster rising and falling of her chest the only sign of her exertion. She smiled at me and extended her hand. It seemed like a friendly gesture, so I returned the smile and took her hand a little hesitantly. She moved her hand - and mine - up and down a couple of times in what seemed to be a ritual gesture of some kind, then more practically helped me stand upright. My legs quivered, and I knew I'd been in the water long enough.
I scraped off as much water from my body as I could with the heel of my hand, then stretched out on the rock to let the sun dry me. It was nearly down now, but there was still enough daylight left, and I enjoyed the feeling of warmth on my skin. I looked over to see Buffy emerge from the river and copy my actions, and I moved over to make room for her beside me on the rock. She shook her head, however, and took a seat slightly lower down, where the trees cast a shadow over the surface of the stone.
I looked surprised, pointing up in the sky, then drawing my hand along the sharp dividing line that divided sunlight from shadow and raising my eyebrows. She shrugged - then seemed to realise something, and looked a little taken aback, even wistful. She said something to me in her own language, then frowned in thought.
"Buffy..." pointing at herself, "No..." shaking her head; it was another of our words she'd clearly managed to pick up, then "(Unknown word)", and she mimed long fangs in her mouth and biting. I recognised the actions - I'd used them myself earlier - and supplied the word "Nightwalker". She repeated the word herself, then her own; presumably 'vampire' was her language's term for nightwalkers. Then she repeated the whole sentence. "Buffy no nightwalker".
"Buffy is not a nightwalker" I corrected her. Clearly she wasn't; I'd seen her in direct sunlight all day. Then I added "I am not a nightwalker". With a little repetition, we managed to get her to understand "I am", "You are" and "She is". I felt quite triumphant.
"I'm not a nightwalker", said Buffy again in our language (yay!). "But- " I recognised that word from context only - "I am (something), and I don't (something something something)." She pointed to herself, then gestured at me. Then she took my hand and stretched out my arm, then put her own arm next to mine. Side-by-side like that, the difference in colour was startling. She pointed to the sky, made a circle with her thumb and finger - "Sun. The sun", I told her. Then she pointed at the sun, at my arm, and made a soothing, stroking gesture. Then at her own arm, and hooked her fingers like claws and jabbed at it.
"The sun hurts your skin?" It made some sort of sense - I remember how alarmingly dark red she'd turned out on the open plain as we hunted the antelope; and now I thought about it, it did seem like she'd taken special care to stay in the shade as much as possible when we got back to camp, even more than people normally do. It still didn't make sense why her skin was that colour though; it seemed highly impractical. My suspicion that her people normally lived underground in caves all the time came back to me; hopefully it wouldn't be long before I could ask her directly.
Which reminded me: it was time we got back to camp. In fact we'd really left it too late, because as I was standing up to go and get my wrap the sun finally slipped below the horizon, and the shadows under the trees quickly lengthened. I felt a brief moment of panic which I sternly suppressed. We were only a few minutes' walk from camp, twenty armed warriors were virtually within earshot, and I was a trained fighter myself... but still. Night in the forest or on the savannah was not meant for humans.
I knew it better than most. I'd heard my sister's voice - not Haset, my other sister, the one whose name I rarely used anymore. Calling me to come out and join her, leave the safety of the shelter and walk out into the moonlight. Now, as an adult, I understood what she'd wanted, what danger I'd faced. When Buffy said something in my direction - it sounded like a mildly surprised question - I replied by urging her to hurry up, we had to get back to camp quickly; and the note in my voice made her give a double-take and look around in alarm.
There was no obvious danger, of course. I was letting my fears get the better of me. Buffy found her clothes after a little searching and got dressed quickly and efficiently. It was only at that point that I realised she'd lost her self-consciousness about being naked when our waterfight began, and not given it a moment's thought thereafter. Even so, I politely turned away as she got dressed, despite my fascinated realisation, from the glimpses I did catch, that she actually seemed to wear a second layer of clothing - very abbreviated clothing - underneath the layer I was already familiar with. Why would she do that? What was the point? Yet another thing to ask her when I got chance...
We set off back to camp as soon as Buffy was ready, following the river. It was already full dark before we reached it, and the water was a handy guide to stop us getting lost on the way. But then there was the welcome sound of five dozen people talking, and the glint of the flickering campfire, and the appetising smell of roasting meat. We were home.
To the next chapter