The morning sun was just rising above the peak of the mountain as Mekka ran down the stone pass, dodging around a hunting group. They were just returning, laden down with skins, furs, and meat the tribe would need to make it through the bitterly cold days ahead.
“Watch it!” Tooka growled.
“Sorry!” Mekka called back. “I need to catch up with Uri!”
“She is nearly to the Cliff. If you hurry, you might get there in time,” Zeta shouted from the end of the line, Choko nestled within the fur sling, cooing softly against her breast.
Mekka’s clothed footsteps rang out as her feet slapped the ground.
Mekka ran as fast as her small legs would carry her. Soon she was running next to the Great Mother where the waters crashed over boulders that jutted out at steep angles from the riverbed.
Just a bit farther, she thought as the waters began to calm.
Up ahead, she spotted the last in a line of young women crossing the Great Mother.
“URI!” Mekka cried out.
Uri’s golden braids spun out into a fan around her as she jerked her head in the direction that she had heard her sister’s voice. Checking to see if she had time, she crossed back to the side of the Great Mother River.
Mekka came to a skidding halt in front of her, pulling a delicate cord of hemp with a small, round stone of jade hanging within a pendant of ivory.
“You forgot your amulet,” Mekka hissed.
“Thank you, Mimi!” Uri gasped, snatching the necklace from smaller girl’s hands and tying it about her neck.
Mekka hugged her sister tight before turning around and sprinting back to their tribes dwelling under the giant stone cliff.
Uri splashed back through the river, soaking her pure-white hide wrap further. When she reached the far side, she immediately began a sprint of her own, her longer stride eating up the distance between her and the other girls that she would be taking the trials with.
When she caught sight of Jenna’s dark, plaited hair, she slowed to a brisk walk until she was back in her spot. Their hike began to steepen as the forest began to close in around them. The trek turned from steep walking to climbing as the ground became a rocky cliff.
A squeak echoed off the cliff wall far above, from one of the girls who lost her footing. Uri pulled her body close to the wall and tucked her head into her arm as pebbles rained down. When no more seemed to be falling, she chanced a look up and saw that the girls had resumed their ascent.
By the time the sun had risen a hand’s width above the peak, Uri was pulling herself over the ledge. Taking the hide cloth from her pouch, she wiped away the moisture that was beginning to drip into her eyes. At the top of the cliff, a small grassy meadow gave way again to thick forest. Uri continued on.
The group of girls were deep under the cover of towering branches when Uri heard the sound of rushing water over their crunching steps and skittering animals. The trees quickly thinned a clear green meadow came into view. Entering the meadow, she saw where the sound of rushing water came from.
Towering before her was a white, crystalline cliff with streaks of vibrant red creating a jagged marble design that seemed to glow in the light of the high sun. Down the front of the majestic crystalline structure, water cascaded before crashing violently into a large basin of clear water. Spread around the edge of the basin were thirteen stones, enough for each girl in their party. Uri strode proudly through the meadow to the last available stone, climbed atop it to sit cross-legged and wait.
Three figures suddenly appeared from behind the sheet of water, walking along a narrow ledge. As they walked around the edge of the water, the thirteen girls sat a bit straighter knowing the ceremony would soon start.
All three figures were familiar to Uri. The first was Nani Urianna, her own grandmother. Even in her maturing years, she was a tall woman with a straight stance, proud face, and emerald-green eyes that were still fierce. One look of disapproval could cow any man and would send all of the children in their tribe scattering if it were pointed in their direction. Nani Urianna was their tribe’s leader and was held with great respect by all of the members of their tribe.
The second figure came to stand to Nani’s right. She was an older, heavier set woman with thick back hair, streaked through with silver and held the large spirit staff clutched in her gnarled hand. She was Beci, the spiritual leader of the tribe. Beci was held with great reverence and some fear.
The final figure that came to stand to Nani’s left was a younger woman, in the ripe years of womanhood. Where Nani and Beci were wrapped in undyed hide wraps, this woman wore two brightly dyed wraps of red. One covered her ample breast while the other was wrapped about her hips, exposing her bulging belly. She was Ilka, mate to Tooka.
“Girls of Sun’s Peak Tribe,” Nani said in a loud clear voice. “Today you will all take the trials that all women of our tribe must take. When you complete this trial and receive the Mother’s blessings, you will become women in your own right and gain the right to establish your own hearths.”
The girls all bowed their heads in reverence.
Beci rough voice took over with the words of the Mother’s song.
“Born unto the Earth, from the darkness of night, the Great eye of the Mother watches up high. The first of Her children walks across the land, planting the seeds of the plants and the trees. With this task done and the earth in full bloom, the First Child asked the Great Mother a boon, “Please give to me beauty that can think and move.” The Great Mother granted Her First Child’s request with creatures both big and small. The first of Her children smiled with delight as she nurtured the animals in the Great Mother’s light. When Her light began to fade and all was dark, the First Child experience a new emotion. The First Child returned to the Mother. “Creatures are given young ones to care and nurture, will you grant me the boon of another?” The Great Mother acquiesced with love and a bit of sorrow, for the Great Mother new what this boon would come at a great cost to her child. As the seasons went by the First Child’s belly began to grow and she smiled with delight when she felt her womb move. When the First Child’s belly was as full as the Mother’s eye up high, the First Child experienced something new, pain that told her that her child was now due. As she struggled and screamed, begged, and pleaded, the Great Mother smiled sadly as She saw people seeded. When the babe was at last, expelled from the womb, the First Child rejoiced in the love she felt bloom.”
Beci finished the song and began walking to each girl in turn, offering each a small sip of brew that was stored in a very special bladder. Uri nearly choked on the bitter liquid but swallowed without spilling a drop.
“Girls of Sun’s Peak please follow Ilka to the beginning of the path from there you will make your way through your trials. Should you complete your journey through, you will be welcomed into your womanhood by your fellow women,” Nani finished, gesturing to Ilka who began walking back toward the ledge they had just descended shortly before.
At the top of the path, a large cavern opened up behind the waterfall and each girl placed their right hand on a clay dish containing red earth.
“Follow the cavern until you come to a large cavern,” she instructed. “and then follow the path that calls to you and mark it with your hand.”
They nodded their understand and entered the cavern as one.
Uri began to feel a lightening in her head soon after the light of the outside faded, leaving them in deep darkness. The veins of red that streaked the crystalline rock began to glow but offered no light to see by.
Uri was stand close to one wall and used it to help guide the others through until the tunnel began to narrow, forcing them to continue one-by-one. The glow of the red veins disappeared, and the tunnel seemed to be moving beneath her feet, but Uri took a deep breath and pushed on.
After what seemed like a very long time of trying to navigate while her stomach rebelled, a dull light appeared at the end of the tunnel. Sighs of relief resounded behind her at the sight, and she picked up her pace, despite the tilting of the floor.
Uri gasped in pain when she finally stumbled into the large chamber A severe cramp had ripped through her belly causing her to fall onto the ground, clutching her arms around her middle. Her vision blurred as she felt a foot at her back, and she remembered that she had to keep going.
She struggled to her hands and knees and crawled to one of the many openings. Pressing her reddened hand to the wall as she pulled herself upright, Uri forced her feet to take one step and then another, the wall supporting her weight. Behind her, painful groans faded as she left the others behind.
The lightness she had felt earlier returned to replace the pain of the cramps and the path grew lighter as glowing lichen began to appear on the rocks above. Uri giggled as multi-hued lichen swirled and dance before her. She was still giggling happily when she realized that she had walked into a small antechamber where the lichen stopped short.
The antechamber was small, the only illumination coming from the exit on the other side. She giggled again and laid down on a bed of soft deerskin pelts that were covering the ground. Uri laid there smiling and wondered why the elders called these the “Trials”, feeling wonderfully cozy. When she looked towards the exit tunnel, she noticed a dark shadow in the opening. As she watched, the shadow made its way into the antechamber and knelt down by her side.
Still feeling euphoric, she felt nothing until the shadow’s large hands untied the thong holding her wrap closed and exposing her heated body to the chill air. She stiffened slightly when its gentle weight rested atop her, a stiffness pressing between her thighs. The shadow began to press that stiffness into her until she felt a small, sharp twinge at her core, After a moment, it began a rhythmic motion and pulled her legs up and around its form. Euphoria flooded back into her at the sensation this produced, and she began to see dots of green light swimming against her close-lidded eyes.
A groan of pleasure escaped the shadow as its weight settle down upon her and then rolled off and to her side. Remembering her mother’s instructions through the fog in her mind, she stood and untied the hemp cord from around her neck, gingerly laying it down where she had just been. Picking up the wrap she had been wearing, she tied her waist thong back into place before walking, unsteadily to the exit tunnel.
The giddiness she had felt before was completely gone as she stepped out of the tunnel into the red glow of the setting sun. A crowd of women embraced and rejoiced in Uri, the newest Woman of the Sun’s Peak tribe.