I've written a short stand-alone fic about Hiywan, the First Slayer before she became a Slayer. For those of you who've read Hiywan's Story, this takes place about six months after the end of that tale. For those of you who haven't - well, Hiywan's in her early/mid-teens (which makes her an adult by the standards of her people) and has just been made Guardian of the Five Trees clan, a tribe of stone age hunter-gatherers living in East Africa about 8,000 years ago.
In this story, we discover why Hiywan's clan have learned to treat her with wary respect, both in general but especially at certain times...
2351 words, rating 15 for moderately graphic violence, sexual references and lots of blood, both human and animal. (See end for author's notes.)
Blood, Some Of It Mine
I was bleeding again. This was the third time that year, and I hated it.
Now don't get me wrong - I liked being a Guardian, and it was an honour to be chosen. When they told me that one of the requirements was not being allowed to get married, I thought the biggest sacrifice would be the not-having-sex part. As a child I'd always thought that some of the things grown-ups did were weird and stupid, and I'd giggled at the funny noises they sometimes made and the odd faces they pulled, and promised myself I'd never, ever do that when I became an adult. Of course, once I came of age myself my opinions changed rather radically. I even got a stern lecture from my aunt Samwarit when my playing around and experimenting with Tilahun seemed to her to be straying rather too close to activities that were taboo for unmarried members of the same clan - especially when one of them was a Guardian! - even if we were both newly-minted adults and enjoying our new freedoms. So, the ban on sex was a problem for me, not least because I was desperately curious to know what it felt like - but there was plenty I could do without crossing that line so it didn't feel like such a huge hardship.
What they didn't tell me was that on a regular basis I'd feel like someone was pushing a blunt flint knife into my belly.
Oh I knew why it was happening - they'd explained it to me well enough. Ever seen the ground by the edge of a waterhole during the dry season? The mud dries out and bakes hard under the sun, and then it starts to crack, little spider-webs running all over the surface. Well, that's what was happening to the inside of me, because I wasn't allowed to have sex or get pregnant like most of my clanmates were busy doing. It hurt. And I felt all oozy, and I was sure I smelled like the campsite did after the hunters brought back a buffalo to be gutted, skinned and butchered. (Esyete assured me she didn't notice anything, but I'm sure she was lying to salve my feelings.)
The first time it happened, everyone in the clan was sympathetic enough. This was an ailment that most women suffer from at one time or another, after all; and the usual treatment was bed-rest and pampering from the other women in the clan, and usually after a few days the problem cleared up. Meanwhile, the men would have a quiet word with her husband, since everybody knows that the bleeding is caused by a woman not having sex often enough, and her husband was clearly failing in his marital duties if he let his wife get to this state. They couldn't do this for me because, well, no husband - but the pampering part was nice.
The second time, I thought I sensed a bit of impatience from them - and to be fair, I was feeling angry and frustrated because of what was happening, and I probably got a bit too argumentative. I even quarrelled with Haymanot, because she was a Guardian too and yet I'd not seen this happen to her. She told me it was because I was getting soft and fat and lazy, sitting around in camp all day instead of going out hunting. That wasn't fair, because I had to stay in camp since Belatiuw was teaching me all about our history and lore and the secrets of the demons and spirits, and she was much too old to go out hunting herself. So we had a huge argument, and I ignored her for the next two days straight; and then I got all teary because she was my best friend and I missed her company. So we made up again.
The third time - well, Haymanot wasn't around; she'd gone back to her own clan and it would be months before I could see her again. Everybody else was steering well clear of me; and I wasn't sorry, because I didn't want company anyway. So I made up a bundle of some tanned leather, sinew and a couple of bone needles, and some pretty-coloured feathers I'd been picking up from the ground for the past few weeks whenever I saw them, and headed out of camp. Esyete was getting married soon - she'd made up her mind she wanted Seble, and we hadn't been able to dissuade her - and as her cousin, it was my job to make the headdress she'd wear during the ceremony. Sewing wasn't really my best skill, but I'd learned to make a passable job of it, at the cost of several pricked fingers and angry words along the way.
There was a copse of trees some way outside the camp, and I hoped to find more feathers there from the birds that made their nests in the trees. There were also a few nuts left on the branches, that the gathering party must have missed when it moved through here a few weeks earlier; enough to fill my own belly, but not really a worthwhile quantity to take back to camp. It was a pleasant place, nice enough that I almost forgot the cramps and the sticky feeling and my general outrage at the world's injustices. I worked on the headdress for a while, then as the sun climbed high into the sky and it grew too hot to concentrate, I stretched out in the grass beneath the shade of one of the trees and took a nap.
I was woken by the sound of someone coughing. For a moment I was puzzled, thinking I was back in my bed in the shelter in the early morning, among my rousing clanmates. But then the cough came again, followed by the sound of laughter. It was a cruel, high-pitched titter, and I grew angry, sure they were laughing at me because I was bleeding, or maybe because I was really bad at sewing. I opened my eyes, ready to shout at the person laughing...
Then froze in horror, because of course it wasn't a person at all. Not five paces from me crouched a giant hyena, its eyes fixed on mine. Sunlight reflected off a glint of drool dripping from its mouth, from jaws that could crunch the bones of a grown man's leg into powder. For all the heat of midday, I felt cold all over. My spear was propped against a tree, three paces away from me. Could I reach it before the hyena pounced? It seemed unlikely. I was probably about to die here... but not without a fight. I shifted my weight cautiously, grimacing as the dried blood on my thighs cracked and itched. The hyena's nostrils flared.
Then it coughed again, and my fear turned into frozen paralysed terror and I lost all will to stand, or grab my spear, or fight, or even breathe. Because the sound the hyena made in its inhuman voice sounded like a word. A name.
It said it again, and this time it was as clear as my own mother's voice. "Hiywan". It was calling me, summoning me. And then its eyes flashed unearthly green, and all human thought left me.
There was hunger, and fear, and a sense of power. I could hear the birds in the trees, calling to each other, and felt angry that they were out of reach, that I could not crunch their bones in my teeth, feel their blood drip down my chin. The wind carried unfamiliar scents to me, and others that were less strange, and I knew that the humans' camp was not too far distant. I felt myself drooling at the idea of so much soft, tender meat all in one place. But people were dangerous; they had sharp stone claws and guarded their lairs with fire. Too dangerous to attack alone.
But I was not alone. My pack-brother stood next to me, and I knew my other brothers and sisters were not too far away. We would join them, and I would lead them. Join my cunning to their strength, and together we would overcome the weak humans and feast on their flesh. And maybe satisfy other hungers too. A slow heat was kindling in my loins, and while my pack-brother here could not satisfy it, I knew there were those of my own shape who could. Willingly or not. Maybe I could even select a mate from among them, and make him join us, running free over the savannah and taking whatever we wished from those weaker than us?
My pack-brother's mouth fell open in an approving smile, and he laughed a hungry laugh, and I joined my own voice to his. Then he turned and sprang away, and I leaped up and joined him, running alongside as we went to meet my new family. The sun was warm on my back, but I felt confined and hampered by the dead animal skin that clung to my body. Impatiently I grabbed and twisted and pulled, and it ripped and fell to the ground and lay forgotten on the ground behind us as I ran free.
But then I winced in pain, and clutched my hand to my chest as something there burned me. Like a stone left out in the midday sun and then pressed against my flesh, hot enough to leave a brand. I looked down, and there between my breasts, glowing almost crimson against the darkness of my skin was the raised welt of my scar. I rubbed the heel of my hand against it... and darkness exploded into my brain. I fell forward, and my pack-brother turned to look at me in concern.
I didn't see him. I saw nothing except the shapes in my head. A great glittering cloud of blackness was rising within me like mist from the lake in the early morning, swirling and coiling, and in the depths of Its darkness sharpness glittered. I recognised It; I had seen It before, but never like this. Never unsummoned. This was the Feared One, the spirit we Guardians worshipped, the ultimate source of our power. Qusari the Destroyer, slayer of gods, untamed and held only by the thinnest leash. I had undergone the Great Summoning once, that Qusari might know me and recognise Its new bride, but never again; it was far too dangerous save in greatest need.
Yet now It came to me unbidden, unsummoned and uncontrolled. Why? But a green light glowed inside me, and the dark tendrils reached out to slash and smother, and I knew. Qusari was a jealous god, and no other power but Its own would be suffered to claim one of Its sworn and Chosen servants. The light flared and faded and was gone, and I was once again Hiywan, Guardian of the Five Trees clan, and a human woman.
But not only that. Qusari's power still filled me, and I felt burning fire fill my veins, every muscle and sinew of my body straining at the touch. The hyena turned to face me, crouching low to the ground, and again its eyes flashed green. But its power had no hold over me now. And so it knew me for an enemy, and it bunched its muscles to spring and tear and rend.
I laughed in its face.
I had no weapons, but I needed none. I leaped forwards and up, and as the hyena sprang it passed beneath me, and I fell down on its back and pinned it to the earth. I twisted around, my hands seeking its neck, and the animal struggled to shake me off and sink its wicked fangs into my arms. It was strong, but I had the strength of a god inside me. My arms were around its neck, and then I twisted, and felt its spine snap. The body beneath me convulsed, but I held on grimly and continued to twist, and jagged broken bones severed arteries so that warm red blood spurted out and covered me, and then the head was off. I stood up then, blood dripping down my body, and held the head high, and laughed again in pure triumph and the joy of slaughter.
Then another cramp, worse than any I'd felt yet, hit me low in the abdomen, and I winced and folded forward around the pain, dropping the hyena's head forgotten to the ground. And when I was able to stand up straight again, the darkness had gone from my brain as if it were never there. Qusari had left me.
I can't say I blamed him. I started to giggle then, and sank to the ground, shaking in reaction. I was alive, and I'd probably learned some sort of important lesson about not going off by myself, but I didn't care. I was alive.
I was also sat next to the headless corpse of a hyena that I'd just killed with my bare hands. Still, to be pragmatic about things, there was enough meat there to feed the clan this evening, even if hyena meat tended to be odd-tasting and needed to be cooked carefully. I got back on my feet and began struggling with the body. Since I only had my normal human strength again now and the hyena was about as big as me, it was a tough job; but I somehow managed to get it over my shoulders and began plodding slowly back towards camp. I'd come back for Esyete's headdress and my spear later.
I'm not exactly sure what my clanmates thought when they saw me come back into camp that afternoon, naked and covered in drying blood - most of it not my own - and dragging a very dead predator the size of a full-grown woman behind me. But for some reason, they were all very, very polite and soft-spoken around me for the rest of the week...
Due to various factors including low body-fat to muscle ratio due to hard physical labour, stress and malnutrition, early marriage, frequent pregnancies and extended periods of breastfeeding, it's very common for women in hunter-gatherer societies to suffer from amenorrhea and disrupted menstrual cycles. Due to lack of medical knowledge or any standard to compare against, it's not inconceivable that a stone age tribe would come to accept this as the normal situation, and regular menstruation as the anomaly.
Apologies for any details of Hiywan's situation that I've got wrong due to lack of direct personal experience. :-)
Also, apologies to anyone baffled why I would be inspired to write a story about this particular subject in the first place. I'm not sure either; the idea just came to me...