Dark paws slice through the undergrowth, their path lit in the dawn. They come like a summer storm from the swamp with teeth that rip and fur bristling like iron. The last of our warriors are helpless against the wild things. The screams die in our ears as we cower in our cellars, buried alive with pickled roots and lily fruit.
When we venture from our holes the sun is high in the sky and the men smell of warm sweet rot. We pull the corpses to the water and set them afloat. The swamp had taken their lives, there was no reason it should not have their bodies.
No beast lies with the dead men. Just their broken and splintered spears. Around me my sisters bend to pick up the pieces. Some could be salvaged, to be used again against fish and river lizards. But not the beasts, we’ve learned the dark furred things were not dissuaded by metal or fire.
Their next arrival would finish us. They come from the swamp so swift and without provocation. And now all the warriors are gone. With our men dead we turn to the women.
They join together while the younger drag corpses into the green water. When they emerge from the hut they look among us, searching for the one who will appease the wild beasts.
My eldest sister who is bravest tells them she will go. They shake their heads. Many of the men had been brave and now they are dead.
My youngest sister, the cleverest, tells them she would go. The old women shake their heads again. Many clever warriors never return from the swamp.
Around me girls step forward, the swiftest, the most beautiful, the slyest, the strongest, the most charming…all are denied. Until I move before them and the old women nod. They pick me and my dark calm eyes. I am the wildest.
I leave at sunrise in a little boat with oilskin wrapped about my shoulders. The air bright and clean before the heat cooks the green skim over the water, the river lizards snake next to my boat enjoying the cool morning too.
The swamp is dark and warm; it lulls me into a hazy drowse. This is dangerous and the river lizards take note. They bump against my boat, testing to see if I will fall in. I do not.
I eat lily fruit and the foolish fish too trusting in the shallows. At night I tie my boat and climb the thin smooth trees. The branches are strong enough for my wiry limbs and I curl up, watching the fire bugs until my eyes close.
In the morning the river lizards are gone. They’d learned quickly that I know them and their scaly sneaky ways. I leave again in my little boat and head further into the green of the swamp.
I see no beasts my first day, or the second. But on the third they find me. They walk like people now, fur about their shoulders in long capes cut to let their arms free. Their faces are dappled in the sun through the leaves and their strong wiry limbs crouch on the swamp banks.
I leave my little spear in the bottom of my boat; it is only a weapon to foolish fish, not the beasts waiting for me.
One reaches out an arm, a beckon to me. I see her eyes and fear sinks my stomach. They are as black and wild as mine.