It is such a stupid song Rei thought. Who sang about caterpillars in order to bury their dead?! She wanted to scream. It was bad enough that the snow was already crusting on the faces of the deceased as if they were quickly becoming one with the earth. If they were left there, by morning they could probably be mistaken for five rolling hills on the otherwise flat surface.
She had only recently been brought back to her tribe. Having been taken when she was very young and forced to live a life of slavery among a rival people. Somehow Rei had found favour with her captors and over time she enjoyed life as one of the Kaptu Clan, even being allowed to marry a lesser hunter when she came of age. She was one of four of his wives and the one at the lowest place in her household, but this had never bothered Rei. She had been a part of something; she’d been one of them, a Kaptu, that is, until the Sadori tribe attacked.
Rei remembered it so clearly, she could almost reach out and touch the memory, even though it was now many moons since the Sadori had first arrived in Kaptu lands. The fighting had lasted for many days, but in the end the Sadori were victorious. They had massacred Rei’s friends, her respected chief and beloved husband. They had murdered them all in cold blood and though she was born of them, Rei spat on their kind. She did not know these people, she was raised Kaptu and deep down she was determined that she would be one until she died.
She had thought of retaliation in the beginning, but something prevented her. Something stopped her from vengefully cutting the throat of the head tribesman, Dax, who called himself her father, before slicing her own throat. Rei was with child.
She rubbed her stomach now, remembering the tender moments that had made it round and heavy. Rei would do nothing to jeopardize her baby’s growth.
“Come now, walk with me daughter,” Rei had been standing near the tree-line where Sadori gathered their fruit in warmer months, when he had called to her. She grimaced as she followed the order. Dax no doubt felt her resentment each time they interacted, but he either did not care or chose to ignore it.
“Where are we going?” Rei asked after they had passed the huts made of wood and animal skins in the village and turned toward the sea. Dax said nothing at first, but continued to walk, his bare feet treading the inch-deep snow as if he could not feel the cold. Rei wore leather boots. Unlike the Sadori, she was unaccustomed and her feet would most likely freeze.
“There,” Dax said. Rei followed his hand which was led by a pointing finger across the frozen water. She could see nothing and soon grew irritable as the silence deepened.
“What is it?” She asked, a little more sharply than she had intended. She had seen Dax kill and was well aware that his leniency seemed only to extend to her because she was his offspring. He looked at her, his expression hardening as he did. His dark skin contrasted against the white of the outdoors and Rei found herself thinking that she must look much the same. Rei’s alternative origins had been obvious among the Kaptu. Their skin was fair and spotted with hundreds of brown freckles, while Rei’s was ebony and flawless, their eyes were green or gray, while Rei’s were hazel and, their straight thick hair was nothing like Rei’s tangled, curly mass. Dax finally spoke,
“It is there you came from,” he said simply.
“I don’t understand,” Rei said, trying to keep her voice neutral. Dax looked at her again, as if searching for some deception behind her words.
“My woman dies, the caterpillar blooms, and Rei is born.” More about the caterpillars, Rei thought bitterly. She nodded her head, not trusting herself to speak. His crazy talk made her miss the soothing tones of the Kaptu chief Goloran all the more. He had always been good to her and his kindness had made the other Kaptu accept her more willingly. She felt tears threaten at his memory, added to the old knowledge that he was gone for good.
“I must rest, the baby makes me tired,” she said to Dax instead, swallowing the pain that fought to crush her will to stand strong. Dax looked at her for a few moments, his expression saying things that Rei could not understand, before he nodded, accepting her words.
Inside the hut was warm. It was lined with animal skins that made up both the walls and floor. There had been food prepared for her and though Rei did not like to eat the nearly raw meat and bread that seemed a staple in this society, the baby often had another idea and she dug into it hungrily. She remembered the spits of slow cooked rabbit and stews she had dined on among the Kaptu. They had lived further south where the food was plentiful and lands good for hunting. Sadori lands on the other hand were not conducive to those accustomed to easy living. Their winters were harsh and other seasons barely passable.
Rei ate heartily, leaving nothing in her bowl but the wild boar’s blood that she refused to drink. The other women said it would make her baby strong, but here Rei drew the line. The Kaptu believed it was bad luck to drink the blood of another being and Rei refused to start now. She wrinkled her nose at the remaining liquid and put the bowl aside.
“You have eaten, now sleep my little one,” it was something she always said to her unborn child, quiet words that comforted her more than the one who could not yet hear her.
Rei woke the next day to a sound that made her unaware of where she was and what was happening. There was cheering, that much was sure, but the sound fighting to be heard amidst the uproar the adults were making could not be mistaken. Babies crying.
She clutched her stomach, at first wondering foolishly if they had taken hers as she slept. Then, relaxing as she found she was still with child, Rei stood, wanting to investigate the commotion outdoors. She pulled the flap of hide that was the door to her hut aside, and went out.
At first she could not see what was causing the commotion. There was no clear view and no path to go through to take her closer. What she could tell though, was that the entire village had gathered. Men, women and children alike were clapping their hands, singing and hugging each other near the place where the burial had been the day before. A pyre had been built and smoke wafted up to join the celebration. Rei waited, her anticipation growing, until she spied a small hole in the bodies that she could squeeze through.
“What is it?” She asked to anyone who would listen as she went along, but no one paid any attention to her. They were all focused and almost as if in a trance because of what was before them. What are they all looking at? Rei wondered, her mind jumping to conclusions as she frantically tried to make her way to the front. The babies’ cries grew louder with every step she took and Rei hoped with a growing feeling of dread that they hadn’t been taken in another raid. She soon abandoned this thought, as though the Sadori were always attacking weaker tribes, they never took prisoners.
“Doesn’t mean they won’t start now,” Rei mumbled to herself, using her smallish hands to make one final push at the last obstacle of flesh and animal skins in her way. What she saw as the view cleared made her wish she had kept on sleeping, that she had not been so curious and have to find out what was going on.
Where there had been five graves, were now shallow open holes. In them lay five babies, naked, covered with dirt and snow and crying. Beside the holes were crude shovels thrust rudely into the earth, while the fire burned brightly dark orange, a worthy backdrop against the disturbing scene. Dax, who presided over the festivities from the far side of the now open graves, broke off his own merriment and looked at Rei knowingly. He turned and pointed to the sea, in the same direction as he had before.
Rei followed his hand, which was led by his pointing finger. She touched her stomach, feeling her baby move. I am not Kaptu, I am not Sadori, I am a caterpillar, she thought. It was the only thing that resonated with her over and over as the babies cried and the people cheered. ~