Memory was a strange thing in the Northern Forests
A small group of Sa Di Sani panther girls ventures too close to the Forest Moon camp and is surrounded. Some pasangs later they arrive at the entrance where Red hair awaits them.
Two-feathers shrugged off the hands of her Forest Moon captors sharply as Red hair’s orders took effect, stumbling toward where the Forest Moon chieftess was letting her slave girl rise and standing behind her, glowering.
Vanka brushed snow off her leathers, composed once more. “I am Vanka, of the Sa di Sani. This is Two-feathers”
“And I am Arore,” interjected the third Sa di Sani panther girl, her back pack slid to the snowy ground with a muffled thump, heavier than seemed possible for the girl’s delicate frame to support.
“Your business here ?” Red hair’s tone was even, her spear held more like a staff than a weapon now.
“We come seeking news of Selki, we have searched many lands” she said, spreading her hands as if welcoming.
The snap of a cold breeze seemed to break the stalemate as Red hair’s smile came back, a small edged thing that spread into a welcoming grin.
“Come into our camp then, there’s bite on the wind, Sa di Sani travelers. You are welcome, though on such short notice it’s no fit feast for our guests.”
Arore tilted her head to look the red-haired chieftess in the eye, a look of curiosity on her face. Opening her mouth to speak, she had barely made a sound before Red hair turned sharply, motioning to lead them all back to the huts.
“Come, come.. your questions can all be answered inside! But first, a welcome fit for our travelers!”
“Our thanks,” Vanka smiled as she began making her way through the snow with the welcoming Forest Moon panther girls, her companions alongside her.
Aimee caught up with her chieftess as she waited by the side of hut entrance, waiting for the others to stream in. She crossed her arms as she propped herself against the wooden structure.
“I knew Vanka when she was a tiny thng hidden under her mother’s skirts… but I’ve also known you, chieftess, from when you were a young panther. You’ve always hated lies, why are you lying now? You bear no welcome for these Sa di Sani strangers… you’re no more pleased to see her than you would be to see the Sa di Sani Priestess herself.”
Red hair’s face was unreadable as she looked out over the snow, listening to the noise of her approaching tribe. The dark brown of her father’s eyes finally narrowed as she gritted her teeth, a moment before Vanka came over the hill.
“I don’t know what to make of her. All of a sudden she comes for this little legend, looking for Selki. She’s so calm, so sure… her face hides things. I don’t trust it.”
There was stewed bosk meat to pass around, with chunks of mushrooms and thick, whitish root vegetable that had been brewed so long in the pot it mashed easily at the edges when picked up. Two-feathers sniffed appreciatively and smirked, features stretching into a wide grin while Arore slipped in. A Forest Moon huntress looked up and grinned, while another giggled.
“Tal,” she smiled, kneeling onto the edge of the firepit. Red hair spared the young panther a glance, then set down her spear and turned to smile at Vanka, who was looking around with upturned, wondering eyes at the spears and skulls on the wall, linked with leather strips in braids and hung with shining glass beads.
Two-feathers was examining her spoonful of stew with the same meticulous smirk.
Aimee was the one doing the talking, passing around mugs of paga and leading the cheers with occasional nods and smiles from their silent chieftess, who looked happy enough as she sat at the head of the little bit of clear ground by the other fireplace.
“…and you say you’ve come for news of Selkie?” Aimee was saying, while a cheeky slave refilled their cups with paga.
“Yes.. I have indeed,” Vanka said, smiling. “Will you tell us, please?” she said whilst paying discreet caution to a lanky, fur-bundled Forest Moon panther. She looked steadily at the chieftess.
Red hair shifted, straightened in her chair and slowly took off her chieftain panther feathers, setting it to the side as she reached to pick up her own mug.
“What is it you want to know?”
“Where is Selki? Do you know if she lives?” The girl’s voice was soft and berry-rich, and she sat with a strong back and demurely placed hands on her knees.
Memory was a strange thing in the Northern Forests. There were old, oldest things that no one needed to see, but were just there in the backs of skulls, hidden behind the snow but felt. There was the hot slash of now and the faint hiss of the last few days on its fading embers. And then there were pictures emblazoned in the ash, sung and sworn true and never forgotten until and unless another roll of the greatest wheels of time turned, in which panther girls forgot their names and found them again.
Such a one was Selki. Legend and still within living memory for many, but taught well to those who had not been born in her time.
Red hair looked back at her sister under heavy lids, and the Sa di Sani at her side faintly creased her brow under her curling brown bangs.
“Selkie is gone from our lands. Some eight-times-ten moon cycles now. Gone.”
Editorial comment: this story is based on the avatar Silkie Rayna