A Sacrifice to Child Lake

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My mother returned home with a man and a wound.

Out of Shoemioni, Child Lake, appeared her nose, clean and moist, but only by the fresh water. Blood boiled up from her haunches. Then appeared her head, tired and stained with mud and dye, and the heads of four others: her friends, flanking her, but never touching her. Their names were Otcaor, Caertacail, Oelsimkene, and Tsiemrattol. My mother did not die that day: Her name was Siesmen, which means First Life, and she never had another one.

Siesmen is said to have given so much blood to Shoemioni that the lake dyed itself with her wounds until the next morning, the red lines of fluid trailing in her wake and remaining on the surface, refusing to become diluted by the water, already pink far out in the center with the blood of other warriors. In return for her sacrifice to it, the lake gave her victory: one of the famed Fohiramoc, the Red-Pelts, on the other side of the river where the silt is a ruddy brown, filled with metal that colours the oekinel living there just like it does the water, and gives them high worth as sacrifices to spirits of battle. This Fohiramoc’s name was Oecomits, and Siesmen said when she looked in his eyes, she saw the colour blue. Siesmen did not say much else, only that she would be the one to let his lifeblood out onto our shore for the favour of the spirits, before she left to the house she lived in where her friends bandaged her wound in private.

Oecomits did not speak, as it is not proper for a captive to associate with those who have conquered him. He was bound by expert weavers who use only their teeth, the both of them together tying his wrists and his feet and his muzzle, leaving his wound, until the morning when my mother would assuredly cut his throat with a knife and the rest of his blood would soak the beach as a final sacrifice to Shoemioni.

But when the sun rose the next day, and all of our village was looking forward to celebrating the victory of the five warriors among them, they found only cut ropes, frayed with a handheld blade, and four warriors with bandages and dyes marking their wounds. The fifth, missing, was Siesmen.

By the time the sun had set again, no one in the tribe remembered my mother as the oekin who returned bearing a great wound and a powerful sacrifice. They did not remember her as a mighty warrior, or a caring friend, or a beautiful child, all of which they would confess to me years later that she was. They only knew her as a traitor, and blamed her for every misfortune that would befall them after.

Neither my mother nor Oecomits were seen for one full month, but when she returned, her paw was lewdly in his. The tribe was happy to see her back, but their fury with her overshadowed their relief. Some of the old people said that they should both be killed, until Siesmen told them, in fear for her life and her lover’s, that she was carrying his child. It was quickly found to be true — that she was pregnant — and no one could imagine how she could have been with anyone else but the male she had captured, and was so clearly in love with, so neither of them would be put to death. A small house was built for them out of the meanest mud and sharpest branches, and the pair lived in it in seclusion, but in safety.

Meanwhile, as Siesmen’s belly swelled, there was much discussion amongst everyone, and even the Fohiramoc got in on the debate as to why all of this had happened. Some said that Siesmen had coerced Oecomits, that she had freed him so he would meet those desires she kept hidden deep down from even her closest friends. Others said Oekomits had entranced her with a spell he had used in battle, and his strangely coloured irises. A few others — and these are the ones which I believe — say that Siesmen and Oekomits had a secret romance, held in the middle of the lake for weeks, months, years, until they were forced to fight, and it was then that they knew they had to make a sacrifice of status in their respective tribes in order to be together at last. They say they knew who made certain there would be no retreat, that one would capture the other during the battle in Shoemioni.

Before the rumours could reach their climax, and before any decision on how this travesty of love could come to be, I was born. Siesman was taken to the shore, like any other woman in childbirth, so the blood from Siesmen’s womb would run into the lake. But it would be the final wound my mother bore breathing: she died giving birth to me, and my first pained cries in this world were her last. They said it was retribution from the lake’s spirits, for her betrayal of her tribe and her refusal to give Shoemioni its due sacrifice. Instead of Oecomits’s life, it took hers.

Oecomits himself was never seen again. It was said he knew what vengeance would await him, and like a coward, or like a magician, he fled the lake. The tribe forgot about him, and their worry turned to Siesmen’s death on Shoemioni’s shores: they declared war on another tribe at another lake who are said to be beloved of those spirits of newborns and the wombs they spring from. As for me, I was left on the beach to be found and cared for by Caertacail, whom I would come to call mother and who had borne another son recently, despite being much older and wiser than Siesmen. Her son's name was Rielshiot, because his muzzle appeared to be split down the middle, and he could never speak well.

Caertacail named me Rielcai, which means Stone-Nose. It has been so long it seems as though it isn’t even my name anymore, but she said it is because when I first nursed at her teat, as a newborn I was so hungry that I hurt her. I believe, however, that she named me after my birth-mother, and her stubbornness to do what seemed right in her heart, regardless of what she would sacrifice for it in the end. I will always be grateful for them both.