TRIGGER WARNING: Ritual violence. Child birth.
Note: Not final version. Next update will try and establish a stronger emotional connection between Tuuli and the reader. This version published to get feedback on content.
EDIT: I Never got around to rewriting this version and will probably put it off until it’s time to rewrite the whole thing again – in another few years or so. This will do for now.
Tuuli lay down in the snow with her back to the wind. She cradled the newborn cub in her arms, covering it with her fur, and pressing it to herself – trying to share some of her body heat. A few minutes later, nothing but a soft round pile of snow remained of the mother and her cub.
She’d been heavy with child for a long time. At the start, it had been just a minor inconvenience, but it had gotten worse. A month ago she’d been so big she could barely walk. She’d sought shelter in a cave in the ice shelf and then not moved from there until the cub was born.
There had been males nearby. They’d kept their eyes on her for quite a while. She’s smelt them on the wind, even though they’d stayed out of sight. One of them had stuck around for months, while others had come and gone. After she’d entered the cave, she no longer smelled them, but many a time she’d woken up to find a freshly caught fish next to her on the ground.
Normally, such rudeness would have sent her into a fit of murderous rage. Normally, no one would have been able to sneak up on her while sleeping. Normally, she’d have killed them.
Such was the way of the people. You left each other alone as much as you could, but you set your pride and privacy aside when the people needed you. With the people being but a small tribe, rarely was the need greater than when a female expected a cub. They all had to make sacrifices.
The last night in the cave the males finally came out of hiding. One by one they appeared at the mouth of the cave – large hulks silhouetted against the stars in the sky. She’d wanted to scream and roar at them to go away, but the cub had drained her of energy and all she’d managed was a low growl. It was time for it to come out. They all knew it, and that’s why they were there.
There were four of them. Tense and nervous they waited at the mouth of the cave, uneasy about being so many in one spot.
Eventually the last one arrived. Smaller than the others, but with the authority of the god in his heart, the priest lead them all into the cave. He would be the one to bring her cub into the world. He’d give her cub the god’s blessing of life – so it wouldn’t take hers.
The other males were just there to hold her down.
Darker shades in the darkness of the cave, they spread out around her. The priest raised an arm and growled.
A soft warmth appeared inside her stomach – deep down under where the cub lay. The warmth grew in heat, and, for the first time in all those months, the cub stirred. Her cub lived.
Warm and safe in the embrace of its god in its mother’s womb, it enjoyed its first moments of life and the only moments of peace and safety it would ever know. Tuuli placed her hands over her stomach, pressed her palms against it to feel the warmth, to feel the little thing moving inside of her.
Her belly began to glow. Dim light filled the cave, and her arms across her stomach cast shadows on the walls. The males all shied back and covered their eyes – all but the priest. Ismo, old and bent, with yellow streaks in his fur, just nodded at her and barred his fangs in a smile.
Of the others, she only recognized Enki, the cub’s father. She’d met him once before, when Ismo had brought him to her for their union. Now and then, she’d smelt him on the wind, near, but out of sights. They’d be mates for life now, their souls merged within the god, their bodies merged within the cub.
She looked at them all in turn, meeting their eyes, and staring them down. One after one, they shrunk back from her. They’d never approach her again. She’d not seek them out, but if they crossed her path, there would be no mercy.
For a moment, all was still. No one said a thing. Nothing moved. The only sound came from the wind outside.
The moment passed.
Ismo shook his head, snorted, and swept his arms out wide. The other males spread out around Tuuli – one each for her arms and legs. The priest nodded, just once, and the others grabbed hold of her hands and feet, pulled them straight and pressed them to the ground.
Tuuli twisted and growled, but the cub had made her weak and feeble. Her growl became a whimper and her thrashing a mere shrug. If any of the strange males crossed her path again, there would be no mercy.
Growling, Ismo stepped over her and stood with one foot on each side of her hips. The priest held his hands out for her to see. Before her eyes the fur on his fingers shriveled to dust, revealing long sharp claws underneath. With a roar, he stabbed both hands into her stomach and tore her belly wide open.
For an instant, everything became blinding white – and then the pain hit her, like a whale from blackest sky, and she passed out.
When she woke up, the others had left, but she was not alone in the cave. The cub lay on her chest, and it started to wail as soon as she stirred. She placed one quivering hand over the little body and used the other to maneuver herself into a sitting position against the wall of the cave. The cub found its way to her breast and began to suckle.
Strange new feelings ruled her heart, and she knew things she’d never known before. Her face relaxed and her shoulders fell. The god had given her not only the cub, but the power and knowledge to care for it – for better or for worse. In her mind she sang the prayer of thanks, and in her heart she knew it had been well received.
She hesitated for a moment and then slowly moved her hand down to her stomach. Where a gruesome gaping wound should have been, she felt only a faint scar. Even the blood that must have soaked her fur seemed gone. One more thing to thank the god for. It had given her a new life, and it had let her keep hers.
She owed it.
While the cub suckled, Tuuli surveyed the cave. She’d stayed there for a month, and it had been two weeks since last she ventured outside. It reeked. She’d been too exhausted to care, but now she did. The stench of bodily waste had built up over weeks, but now the scent of fresh blood tinged it.
It would be best to leave. The people were big and strong, but things wandered the icy wastes whose paths were best left uncrossed.
Cradling the cub in her left arm she got to her feet and headed out of the cave. A dead fish lay on the ice outside. With a sneer she stepped over it and kept walking. She was done now. Her giant belly that had stopped her from moving was gone. There would be no more coddling.
In the pale moonlight she got the first good look at the cub. It was a weak and tiny thing – wrinkled and without fur. Its jaws lacked teeth and its eyes wouldn’t open for quite some time yet. It was male.
Tuuli looked at her son and sighed. She wouldn’t be able to leave him alone, or he’d freeze to death. She couldn’t hunt. She couldn’t fish. Growling to herself, she went back and scooped up the dead fish. There would be more coddling.
As she started out onto the icy plain, snow began to fall.
An hour later she judged she’d gone far enough from the cave it would be safe to rest. She sat down on her haunches and put the cub to her breast. While he suckled she devoured the fish.
When they were both done, she lay down in the snow with her back to the wind. She cradled the newborn cub in her arms, covering it with her fur, and pressing it to herself – trying to share some of her body heat. A few minutes later, nothing but a soft round pile of snow remained of the mother and her cub.
For reference, the original version of this story – written a little less than four years ago – can be found here.