“I will be good to you,” he threw as an argument.
“Eat your own genitalia and choke on it to death.” Zaniyah rebutted.
She couldn’t believe that was happening, “you were ready to kill me just a moment ago.”
She leaned out of the tree, carefully, so he could see how dumbfounded she looked. Maybe that would clue him in on how crazy he was. Also to check he had no arrows on hand.
“Do you still wish to kill me? I assume not.”
She raised an eyebrow. Her leg was hurting, not to mention bleeding, too much for that nonsense.
“What about your friends? All those things you said?”
“I overreacted,” he said again as if it justified everything. “My friends were fungus brains. They threatened your life, you fought back. Like a beast.”
She squinted at him and left the cover of the tree.
“You are trying to trick me,” she accused.
“Do I look like I can trick anyone?” He shrugged, apparently aware that he looked simple-minded. She was simple minded as well, however, there was nothing wrong with that. “Marry me.”
“How many have you married?”
“They can all marry others if it is what you want. I want only you.”
She balked, unwillingly feeling awkward. What was that? What was happening? That was not the tribesmen she knew. The other two were, and he was too before the big cat showed up.
“You are hurt!” He exclaimed, “I have remedy, let me help you.” He stepped towards her but she brandished her dagger at him. It was bloody, still dripping small specks of flesh with a patch of the cat’s dark green fur stuck on it.
“That is fine, keep your dagger at my throat and allow me to apply the medicine.”
She guessed that was as good a deal as any. Zaniyah was really upset that she would have to lie in wait some more but the whole situation had really taken her out of her zone of comfort and predictability. She nodded absent-mindlessly and he smiled wide.
He ran to one of his friends and reached inside his quiver. He retrieved something that was rolled up by leaves. He unfolded the leaves to show a ceramic cup holding an ointment. Zaniyah recognized it, it was indeed a healing substance, but it had side-effects.
“You need it,” he reached for her but she slashed at him, making him hesitate.
“I know what it does,” she frowned, “I will not sleep.”
It wasn’t sleep, per say, but it was close enough. He seemed to understand.
“You would rather die?”
“Yes,” she squinted her eyes in response. The Hunter didn’t trust him, especially once he took her to the village. Odds are she would be tied and punished, killed, and the amulet would be lost forever.
He nodded, holding a look of awe on his face.
“I have never witnessed a woman like you.” He looked around. “I will still help you. Stay here and await me.”
She did await, she waited for him to be out of sight, and then turned and limped away. Her leg was hurting her but amazingly, the wound on her side had not opened. The beast had curled her body, not forced it to stretch, so the bandage had held.
Zaniyah had amazing luck sometimes.
“I said wait!”
The Hunter turned around, dagger in hand. Her leg wound still meant she couldn’t outrun the man. She was still considering killing him.
He came up with hands filled with petals from a flower, she recognized them. He started grounding them between his hands. He opened them and moved to grab her leg. She swiftly put the dagger to his throat.
He looked up confused, and then remembered.
“Ah yes, the dagger to my throat. Okay.”
“It is not that,” she told him spitefully, “you will ask before you touch me.”
That confused him even more. A civilized person would believe he was confused because all he wanted was to help her, but that wasn’t it. He was confused because he had never had to ask.
“Can I help you with this?” He asked, a little easier than she thought it’d be.
“You can.” She didn’t remove the dagger but did inch it a bit farther so he could breathe comfortably. She sat against a tree and he crouched, side turned to her, so she could hold his throat comfortably.
“What is your name?”
“Zaniyah.” There was no reason she had to lie.
“Zaniyah sounds familiar,” he admitted, “I think there is a Zaniyah in my tribe.”
When she left, the tribe had around two hundred people in it. Seeing as he would have been as young as she, it was actually surprising he even remembered the name, or had heard it. He was around her age, now that she remarked on it. He had a mean-looking jaw and a hard brow, but being a hard person in a tribe like his wasn’t a fault as much as it was inevitable.
His touch was gentle enough, surprisingly.
“Why did you change your mind?”
He glanced at her and smiled, it was such an enormous contrast.
“You are powerful. You fight like a beast. I have not met a woman like you.”
“From what I know, you keep women from trying.”
“It is for the better,” he stated, “you are exception to the rule, they need protection.”
Zaniyah had thought as much for most of her childhood, but life with the Wild Felids had shown her differently. She was not that unique.
“The women are tender and loving, we are hard and killers. We fight, they love. But you fight like a beast.”
“…and you like that?”
“It works for the wild cats,” he pointed out while gesturing to the big cat they had killed just a couple of minutes prior. Her cubs would likely be eaten by the other members of the pack. “I always ask: why not have them fight? More than half the tribe is woman. If they fight, we are then many more than other tribes in battle.”
Was this him trying to gain her favor? Would he speak like that if his friends were there? Would he not join them in what they would have done to her had she surrendered?
“How do you speak my language? What tribe are you from?”
“My tribe is dead,” she stated. It was the second time in her life she said it out loud, and it didn’t sound any less strange. He nodded in understanding.
“So I am wrong, women fighting is not advantage.”
“Women did not fight in my tribe.” She brought the dagger back from his neck, trusting him enough at that point. “They suffered. For the benefit of the tribe.”
“We all do,” he said, giving a brief glance at his friends.
“How can you forgive me for killing your friends?”
“You told us to leave,” he shrugged, “and we did not. You fought as you had to. I knew them and I see you did too. I know why you fought. You know why I fought. But when the tiger appeared, you fought with me.”
“I think you were the one who fought with me,” she sharply stated.
“You are strong,” he chuckled, “you attack me while I posture. Even after you kill my friends, I still consider you not a real warrior. You also would have killed me.”
“I still might.”
“Revenge will be theirs,” he told her, “death will come for you, they won’t care that it’s not from me. But before it does,” he looked up at her again and grinned, “marry me.”
The Hunter rolled her eyes and sighed.
The Jungle… it was the uttermost pit of insanity. Nothing worked like it did in the cities and that was in part due to how it affected the people. Everyone was half animal, their goals and aspirations so linked with their emotions and desires that it made them act in ways civilization would consider insane.
He kept telling her she fought like a beast and she could tell what he really wanted. He didn’t say it because he caught on to the fact she would not welcome it, but it seemed to linger in the back of his gaze. His lustful gaze.
I bet you love like one, too.
She was not in a good shape. With a few days of rest and applied medicine, she could recuperate fully, even if she retained the scars. She did not have a few days, however. She hardly had one.
Zaniyah had the need to return to civilization as quickly as possible, and return the amulet to someone who would know what to do with it. It felt so heavy in her pouch, even if her waist didn’t feel it. Her legs didn’t agree, however, it was really heavy to them.
The Hunter was angry. If Thunuk and his friends hadn’t found her, if they hadn’t forced a fight, the wildcat would never have found her. She would still be on a good track.
The Hunter glanced back in mid-limp.
“Why do you follow me still? Leave and return to your village.”
“There is nothing there I want more than you.”
She winced in disgust.
“You are sick in the head, Thunuk.”
“I am sick in the heart, Zaniyah.”
She scoffed and shook her head.
“No, you are sick in the head. That will happen when your loins command it instead.”
“It is where bravery comes from,” he said with strange pride, his teeth gleaming white in a silly grin.
“Is it? I suppose that would explain why it stands my reach.”
Her thought actually struck a chord. He was left pensive, looking around in thought. Zaniyah caught sight of a very big thing in a bush, lying in wait to strike. She turned and walked around, not knowing, or caring, what it really was. She detoured enough that if it decided to attack, Thunuk would be its first target. He either didn’t notice or care.
“You are right, that must be wrong,” he conceded, seriously. “My own mother was very brave and she did not have testicles.”
Zaniyah looked back bewildered. He really believed that? Factually?
Dear Mother, give me patience.
She didn’t say anything more. Zaniyah decided replying only made it worse.
“I can follow you. You have no tribe, yes?”
“No tribe, only family. I have one outside this jungle. In the real world.”
“What do you mean? This jungle is in the real world.”
She sighed, waving her head in half-hearted guilt. He was right, of course, it was condescending of her to think of civilization as somehow superior, or real, when in comparison to the place they were from. It was how she felt, though, things were better outside.
World-ending beasts notwithstanding.
Again, however, she did not respond.
“Unless…” he ventured, looking up, “I am not really here. Maybe I am back in my floor passed out and this is just mushroom fantasies.”
She frowned out of sight. Sounds good, go home and check.
“It would explain it,” he continued by himself. “You are strong and mighty, maybe too much for reality.”
She glanced back still not offering words.
“If I am sleeping amid fantasies, it would explain it.”
Zaniyah groaned and looked ahead.
“I simply say! You are the kind of woman that could exist in a fevered dream.”
Her head dropped.
Thunuk really didn’t leave. He accompanied her and continued talking despite the absence of her contribution. He did do everything she asked, at the exception of leaving her alone. She hated the fact he was actually being useful. Since she was in no shape to be as stealthy as she usually was, with her leg beyond hurt, or to climb a tree fast enough to avoid real trouble, she had counted on him to scout ahead and, essentially, lead her.
Like everyone else in that world, he was very at home in the jungle. He knew it, and he knew to keep quiet while scouting or when crossing an animal’s territory. It was a blessing.
Outside of that, he was a total blabbermouth. He just didn’t shut up, independent of how little she seemed to be listening, but he said things so outlandish, or so weird, that they kept getting a reaction out of her. Reactions alone, the slight head shake or scoff, or even sneer, seemed to be enough to encourage him for many more rounds of monologue.
It was one of the weirdest times she had ever had. There was a man embodying everything she hated about her life, everything that had hurt and scared her far beyond what a wildcat could do, and the things he said only fed gas to that fire. His notions, his concepts, what he understood as compliments and insults, it all harkened back to an understanding of life and humanity that she had come to loathe.
At the same time, however, he had a level of gullibility and positivity that she did not remember. He was joyous, perky, having fun doing his best to amuse her. His dedication to what he was doing, following and helping her, was confusing…but definitely real.
Zaniyah had to admit he was good at it. With all the talking, Thunuk hardly looked at her. He was constantly looking around, watchful and attentive, as well as carrying the spear in one hand and a bow plus one arrow in the other. And he was talking in whispers, though it was still loud enough to make the Hunter feel nervous about not being able to listen to the environment more properly.
When he did look at her, it was with a very strong desire. It made her feel uncomfortable, not that she had never experienced wishful stares, she simply had never been okay with them. It didn’t make her feel unsafe, however. Zaniyah didn’t feel any hostile or aggressive intention coming off of him.
And he didn’t seem to mind that she didn’t talk. Something that was extremely annoying at first, when she had expected him to be affected into silence. With time, however, she had found herself at ease with it, however. It was what she liked, after all, company that wouldn’t mind her being quiet.
In the end, she had to concede that he was bearable. But more importantly, he was useful, she would never have made good time on her trek without his help. With it, she reached the edge of the jungle after just one day.
Thankfully, there were no more incidents. Apart from the two or three Thunuk put an end to with his bow.
“Well, it should be a safe path from here-on out. Yes?”
Zaniyah nodded. Thunuk grinned.
“You are truly a woman of action.”
She was feeling better. The Hunter could finally stand up straight and proudly as they looked across the open field that led out of the jungle. The moon shone impressively.
“Thank you,” she looked at him. “With what I did…I recognize I owe you gratitude.”
“Will you marry me, then?” He immediately asked, without hesitation and very much excited.
Zaniyah shook her head but couldn’t keep half a smile from forming up.
“Not on that level, Thunuk.”
“Will you let me accompany you, then? I desire to help you.”
She glanced sideways at him quietly.