(Apparently I like writing about naked girls dressed like animals running through the woods.)
The flickering fire in the center of the tent made the world nothing but hot amber ligh, the sound of crackling embers, and the dense smell of smoke. Kitryn breathed deeply and closed her eyes. She let the smoke, the metallic stench of a fresh kill from the cooking fires outside, and the lingering scent of the river fill her lungs.
Saera slapped her across the face for not looking straight ahead, then smeared a thin line of white under each of Kitryn’s eyes with a war paint made of clay. On Kitryn’s lips she pressed her thumb, wet with fox blood.
“For speed,” Seara whispered.
Another warrior, Kitryn didn’t know her name, came in and threw a handful of dried herbs on the fire. They sizzled and cracked as everything grew thick with sickly sweet incense as the smoke rose up to the hole in the top of the tent.
Kitryn wore the boots she’d been helping to make for almost a month. Kid leather, fitted for her legs, but with room enough to grow. They came to her thighs and it felt strange to have other women lace them for her. It was her seventeenth year. It was the night of her rite of womanhood.
In her seventeenth year an amazon warrior was expected to choose her life path. Art or the fields or raising children or herding or hunting or, like Kitryn, they could choose to be a warrior. No path held any shame, for amazons did them all to the best of their ability and each job was necessary for the community. Each had its own rite, but the warrior’s way was the deadliest.
Saera slipped the gloves onto Kitryn’s arms. They were the same reddish stained goat leather as the boots and came up just above her elbows, but they did not cover her fingers. Saera’s mate Elliza braided Kitryn’s hair and then tied in the final piece of the ceremonial garb; a circlet that could be fastened to her head by braids and knots which held two large stag antlers.
The older warrior, the one Kitryn didn’t know, bent and picked up Kitryn’s spear. Like all warriors, Kitryn spent her apprenticeship making spears. She kept the finest one she’d made for herself. The older warrior examined it.
“You make them heavy. I’ve used the ones you’ve made. I like the extra strength. One can put down a boar with one of your spears,” the woman said handing the spear to Kitryn, “let’s hope you can put down a wolf with one.”
Saera patted Kitryn on the shoulder and she stood up.
“She’s ready, captain,” Saera said the woman. Only then did Kitryn realize that the older warrior was Tamyara, the captain of the guard. It was unusual for her to come to a rite of passage, but not unheard of. It made Kitryn stand taller. It meant that Kitryn was under consideration to be selected as one of the high guards or even a stalker.
With the flap of the tent pushed back the cool air of the end of winter cut into Kitryn. She walked out into the open air in nothing but thigh leather boots, elbow length leather gloves, antlers on her head and a smear of fox blood over her lips, just as all those who wanted to be a warrior did before her. She was to go into the dark heart of the woods and come back with the heart of predator. A wolf, a great bears, or if she was lucky an unlucky male hunter who stumbled into amazon territory.
Victory meant a place among the warriors of the amazon queendom. Failure was supposed to mean dishonor and to chose another path, but in reality it meant death in the cold woods.
Looking back, Kitryn saw Elliza close her arms around Saera, whose eyes had grown wet. They had raised her together and now they let her go to be a woman, a warrior, or if the goddess willed it, a corpse.
Lightning flashed across the sky in blue-white forks and after a few moments thunder cracked loud and rumbling in the distance. In the seconds of illumination the girl’s hips and breasts looked almost obscenely naked in contrast to her covered arms and legs. With the antlers she seemed to be some forest nymph or spirit come to bring a message from the faeries.
Kitryn was thin, but muscular. Her lithe form held the scars and bruises of a life lived in the woods. Hunting, travelling hard and fast and partaking in the little scuffles and playful fights that the amazons loved. Her eyes, highlighted by the white war paint under them, shone brown and fierce.
Another flash of lightning illuminated the girl’s antlers and spear and the captain raised her hand to signal the beginning of the hunt.