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Story 1

Tala Bar

Tala Bar is a writer and artist who lives in Israel. She studied Hebrew and English literature and holds a Master of Philosophy degree in literature from London University. Before her retirement, she was a teacher of the Hebrew and English languages and literature. She is particularly interested in fantasy and science fiction and has written and had published stories, novellas, novels and essays both in Hebrew and English.

This is the story of a Huntress who offers an unusual gift to the Goddess of the Wood in return for plentiful game.






Tala Bar


The Huntress listened to the forest. It was a mixed wood of various oaks, pines and fruit trees that spread over some low hills well below the snow line. It had a variety of animals and birds and she could hear them all, large and small, going about their business. She knew that business well – the flight of the jay and the knocking of the woodpecker; the call of the woodcock and the hiss of the snake; and the rustle of the little rodents hiding from fox or ferret. But more than anything she listened to the majestic deer that walked gently over dry leaves and twigs.


The season was between Midsummer and the beginning of autumn. The chicks in the nests were beginning to stretch their little wings, and the animal young were walking beside their mothers, having been born in spring. It was hot, and at this hours toward the end of the day, many of them came down to drink from the pond. It lay beyond a thin line of trees that separated it from the Huntress, where she stood, and was fed by an underground spring and never dried in summer.


The Huntress listened to the deer, their hooves stepping gently on the dry fallout, waiting with her bow raised and the arrow lying on the string. Here they came. A mother doe and her two fawns, a male and a female. She had been spotting them since springtime, and now was the season to take one of them down and bring home her kill. She had decided to kill the male, leaving the female to breed. She watched as the mother’s neck came out from among the trees, then the female young, then the male.


The Huntress held her breath as he turned his head to look, right at her, inviting. She let the arrow go and it buzzed through, hitting him in the neck. He fell at his mother’s hooves. She skipped, and vanished among the trees, the young female after her. The Huntress came up to her kill, bowing over it for a short inspection.


“Hey, Huntress,” she heard a call. A man came from the direction of the pond. He was naked, showing off his brave manhood, as if ready for anything. A tall, muscular young man, with dark hair and eyes and a strong aquiline nose. She knew him, and the unusually tamed dog that followed him everywhere; he had reared it from a puppy, having found it abandoned by his band. The Huntress had always liked the man, who passed the Camp frequently on his wanderings through the woods; now, she felt, she had her chance.


“Dogman!” she cried, softly. “Have you got your knife? If you help me with my catch, you can have your reward afterwards.”


“What would you like done with your kill, then?” he asked, playfully.


From nowhere – perhaps from the long, thick, dark hair on his head – he produced a knife, and they worked together on the corpse of the deer. They first skinned it; then they opened up its body and the Huntress took out the stomach and put it on a cleft of a tree.


“What is that for?” the Dogman asked.


“A gift to the Goddess of the Wood,” she said. “It may encourage her to make the forest plentiful, and allow us to hunt in it.”


The man remained silent, being unfamiliar with her ideas. They then cut the rest of the body into separate parts, to make it easier to carry back to Camp, and the man through a few scraps to the dog. The body of the deer contained useful parts for her family, which consisted of the Huntress’ mother, sisters, and any children that belonged to them, as well as the only brother who preferred to stay with the family to wandering off, as many men did. There was the meat to eat, and bones, intestines and sinews to make various tools of. The Huntress handed the Dogman the deer’s eyes as a special delicacy, a rewarding gift for his help. When they finished, and she had put what she needed in her basket, she looked at her bloody body and said, “Let’s dip in the pond. The water must be cool and pleasant now.”


He grinned at her, watching as she removed her short grass skirt from her waist and appreciating what he saw. She was not as tall as he was, but had a lithe, slim body with rounded breasts, dark hair and flashing dark eyes. Her nose was straight and her lips full, and there was no man around Camp that did not covet her body.


She ran to the pond and splashed in it, then came up to the man, who had come in and was swimming around; she collided with him on purpose and began a splashing match. Games led to other games, some in the water and finishing up on the grassy bank, until they were satiated and it was time for her to go home and for him to wander off on his way.




Getting pregnant was the Huntress main purpose in lying with Dogman, although having pleasure was not to be sneered at. She was one of the few women at the camp on the edge of the forest who knew the connection between sex and children; that secret was well guarded from the men, keeping it as a power over them. The Huntress, however, had spent most of her life in the forest, watching the beasts and the birds living in it, thus enhancing her scant initial knowledge about that connection. She saw no need to share that secret with anyone. When she found out that her mother knew, she talked to her often about it, and they became better friends for it.


Getting pregnant did not change much in the Huntress’ life style at first. At the Autumn festival, she still took part in the traditional Hunt dancing. She added decoration to the beauty of her body by tattoos, feathers and various animals’ skins, with the fawn’s skin as the prize decoration.


During the winter rains and cold weather, as her belly grew larger and heavier, she stayed home on cold and rainy days. The women had woven branches from the forest’s trees into thick mats which they used as shelter, from the sun in summer and from the rains in winter; otherwise, they lived out in the open, at the edge of the woods.


The Huntress had taken on the job of cutting the fawn’s intestines into very needed strings, a job that was gladly left to her by her sisters, who preferred weaving baskets and mats; but most of the bone carving was done by their brother, and others of the men who preferred the Camp's sedentary way of life to wanderings through the woods.


At last spring came, and she gave birth to twins, male and female. ‘Just like the deer,’ she thought to herself with satisfaction. She presented them at the Spring festival, getting praise from all sides for her well-taken effort.


But the Huntress had her own idea about her progeny, which she found unnecessary to share with anyone else. Being a huntress taught her to be on her own most of her life, taking decisions on her own with not much consultation. Not everyone at Camp liked her way of living, but as usual, she had the strength of mind to keep her ideas and fulfill them as she willed.


Thus, on the first day she went to the forest after her delivery, she took both children with her, kept in a sling and carried in front of her body. Her mother tried to argue that she’d better leave them home – one of her cousins had just given birth and could even suckle them if needed – but the Huntress would not listen, and as usual, she had her way.


It was a glorious day, though not yet hot; caressing warmth kissed her body and the sunrays fell on the dark heads of the babies, and the Huntress felt success was accompanying her in what she had to do.


The golden rays filtered through the sprouting leaves of trees that have stood naked throughout winter. Little rivulets of water still ran through the undergrowth among the trees from the last rain, but she knew they were going to dry out very soon. She went to see the pond, whose ripple played gold against the blue sky and naked sun. She dipped her hand and sprinkled droplets on her children’s heads. They made sounds that seemed to her like happiness, though she knew well they were as yet too young to express such feelings.


She then went back into the thicket, walked some way until she reached a particular flat rock she knew. It lay under the naked sky, the trees standing a little way away from it. Sunrays fell on it, warming up its top, and the Huntress sat down on it. She took out her Son from the sling and gave him her breast; she cleaned him with some broad leaves and fondled him, rocked him until he was asleep. Then she rose and put him, naked as he was, on the warm rock face. She stepped a little backward and gave homage to the Goddess of the Wood.


            “Here is my most precious gift to you, oh Goddess.

            Take him to your bosom and care for him,

            And grant us plenty for this gift,

            Your fertile gift in your precious wood.”


The Huntress was not gifted with great poetic words. But she was able to talk from her heart and from her needs, and never knew the Goddess of the Wood to turn her back on her.


She then turned her back on her precious Son and went away to the village, carrying her even more precious Daughter, who would take an active part in her life. She would bring her up to take her place as a Huntress, as no one else in the Camp was ever interested in doing that job.




As long as her Daughter could not walk, the Huntress carried the child in the sling with her into the forest. Hunting was not easy in this way, so she spent her time gathering food. At first it was the season of bird nesting, and she collected eggs and newborn little animals, as well as new, succulent roots. There were also blossoms that served for a variety of purposes for the Camp’s women.


When the Huntress’ Daughter started to walk, she accompanied her mother into the forest; the woman’s hands were free now to use her bow and her knife, and she could teach her Daughter the ways of the forest. The Huntress took great pleasure in doing so, showing her Daughter its birds and animals and explaining to her about them, even before she could teach her to shoot with the bow and arrow. Thus the Daughter also learned about all the dangers of the forest, in the same way the Huntress herself had learned about them when she was the same age.


All that time, as they were walking through, and resting in, the woods, a strange feeling always accompanied the Huntress that she was unable to understand. When five double seasons of summer and winter had passed, and the Daughter was able to talk well and had learned many of the secrets of good hunting, she said one day, “Mother, did I have a brother?”


Frightened, the Huntress crouched by her Daughter’s side, looked at her intently and said, “Why are you asking?”


“I heard Aunty One and Aunty Two talking about it; but when I asked Gran, she would not tell me. Did I?”


The Huntress kept silent for a long time, and the Daughter began to think she asked the wrong question. It happened sometimes, and that was how she learned what not to ask. Her mother, in the meantime, was remembering how her own mother behaved when she came back from the forest on that day without her Son. She knew, straight away, although the Huntress tried to tell her sisters some fabricated story about a disaster. They tried to believe her, but her mother was too wise for that. However, she said nothing, but scooped up in her arms the son of another of her daughters and fondled him until he was fed up and got away from her. No one had ever spoken of her Son.


“Daughter,” the Huntress said now as they both sat down on the bank of the pond, “You tell me why you ask and I’ll be frank with you.” It was a pleasant autumn day and they had been gathering nuts and berries that grew in plenty, filling up their baskets. They had not been swimming in the pond, but dipped their bare feet in the water, munching on some of their finds.


“Because,” the Daughter said, not looking at her mother but at the wood on the far end of the pond, “I’ve always had a feeling someone was following us in the woods. But today he spoke to me.”


“He?” The Huntress asked in astonishment, as it suddenly hit her. That was it – her Son’s spirit had been following them all that time when they came to the forest, gathering and playing and hunting together, games from which he had been excluded because he had been sacrificed.


“Son, he calls himself, and I thought he was the Son of the Goddess of the Wood. But today he told me he was your son first, and I wondered.”


“He never spoke to me,” the Huntress whispered. “Is he angry with me?”


“No, he’s never angry. But sometimes he’s sad, when he can’t join us in what we are doing.”


“I hoped the Goddess would looked well after him. I was sorry to part from my Son, but I couldn’t care for him because I had you to think about, and I couldn’t look after both of you together.”


“You wouldn’t give him to Gran to look after, or one of my Aunties?” asked the Daughter.


The Huntress shook her head so vigorously that the girl fell silent.


“I wish he’d talk to me,” the Huntress said at last, shaking her head.


“He can’t,” her Daughter answered, “but I can give you his words. He loves us, and sometimes he sends the hunting our way, but he can’t talk to you as you’re an adult and would not hear him.”


“Give him my love, then, and we’ll talk more about this in the evening. Now we have work to do.”


That was that for the day, and they did talk about it in the evening, but they soon dropped it in company of the family. Since that day, though, the Huntress was aware of her Son’s presence in the forest, and always remembered to give him homage, calling him Son of the Goddess as she addressed him, although she never heard him talking to her directly.




Time passed, the Daughter grew and became more and more adept at finding her way through the forest, knowing the ways of its plants, animals and birds. She learned to use the various tools the Huntress had been using – different kinds of knives for cutting and peeling, a trowel for digging in the earth and all kinds of ropes; and at last she learned to make her own bow and arrows, and to use them for hunting.


She grew taller and taller until she had surpassed her mother in height, looking more willowy in shape, not just slim and flexible but also fluid and slippery in all her movement. She was a dancing creature who was able to slide through the trees and the undergrowth like the wind rustling in the leaves.


Ten double seasons had passed since the day of her birth, as you could count on the fingers of both hands. That was as much as the Huntress could count, and she knew it was when the girl stopped being a Daughter and required a name for herself. When the Huntress had had ten double seasons, winter and summer, her instructor in hunting, who had been a cousin of her mother, said she was an accomplished huntress and there was no name more suitable for her, so it was hers.


That instructor was called Windy, because her method was to follow the wind wherever she went. What name, now, should her Daughter be called? There should be a great party at Camp. The choice would be mainly the Huntress’, particularly as she was the girl’s instructor. It was up to her, then, to suggest a suitable name. It was going to be a big affair, and it was time she told her old mother – or perhaps some of her sisters, who were not as frail as the old woman – to start preparing for it.


“You know that you’re almost grown up, Daughter,” she said. “We are going to have a big party for you, give you your own name, and then you’re going to go out to the forest as an accomplished huntress, to do the work all by yourself. Do you feel you’re ready for it?”


But it seemed that the Daughter had different ideas from those of the Huntress, and instead of answering her she said, “I’ve seen the Goddess of the Wood.”


The older woman stopped and looked at her Daughter, not knowing how to respond to this new situation. She had never forgotten the appearance of the spirit of her Son to her Daughter, of which she herself had been deprived. The same thing seemed to occur now all over again, raising again the image of her Son left behind on that rock... That image had disappeared a long time ago, the Huntress sensed that the presence of her Son’s spirit had gradually faded until it was no longer there. This new apparition, however, sounded like something completely different.


“Let’s sit here for a moment, and you tell me how it happened,” she invited. They sat down on a rock jutting out of the forest’s floor not far from the pond, which was the Huntress favorite spot.


She was watching the water, while her Daughter faced the light breeze as she said,

“She appeared suddenly from among the trees a couple of days ago, when we were separated on our different tasks. You wanted me to find certain plants on my own, and she was there.”


“What did you see? What did she look like?” The Huntress asked. It was true that she had never aspired to see the Goddess, but it did not mean that there was no tinge of envy in her question. Still, that was her own Daughter who had been privileged, and it certainly rubbed on her own merit as well.


“It was very difficult to say, as she merged so well with the trees and the undergrowth,” the girl answered.


“And how did you know who she was?”


“She told me, and I couldn’t not believe her. She told me a few things that I may tell you one day but not just now. It was awesome!”


 “Well...” the Huntress was sighing. Time was getting on for everyone, especially for her Daughter and for herself.


“You are blessed, my Daughter, and may it help you pass your life in happiness. Do you think it should affect the way we choose your name for you?”


The girl pondered for a while. “I’m not sure I want to tell it to everyone right now, I’d like to keep it as a secret for myself for a while, with you as the guardian of it.” She leaned toward her mother’s body and hugged her waist. They did not often hug these days, now that she was almost completely grown, but once in a while they still felt the need for closeness, as they did when she was a child.


“What do you think, then?” the Huntress asked.


“I have an idea but I want to think about it a little more, and hear other people’s ideas. Then, at the end of my thinking, I’ll ask what you think. I want to know, but I have an idea we think very much alike.”


Yes, the Huntress thought, they did have similar ideas, most times, although their behavior was rather different.


The big day of the Party arrived. Food was prepared, and strong drink made from the fruit of the forest; the Camp’s clearing was cleaned of rubbish, and new flowers suddenly appeared as if by magic. People who intended to take part in the dancing put on new grass skirts; young and old, men and women, were arranged separately for their performances. The musicians picked up their reed pipes and their wood drums and the ceremony began.


Then, in the center of the dance, the Huntress’ Daughter appeared with a new dance performed by her feet and her agile body. That was a declaration, the Huntress and everyone else knew that a name had been chosen and no one could suggest anything else. From that day onward the Huntress’s Daughter was to be called Dancer, and no other name would suit her.


Later, when they were sitting by themselves together, as they used to do sometimes in the old days, the Dancer said to the Huntress, “I did not tell you before, but it was when I was dancing in the forest that the Goddess of the Wood appeared to me. That’s why I had to have this particular name.”


A few days after the Party, after both mother and daughter had recovered, the Huntress said to the Dancer, “You know all the ways of the forest as I know, and you are as perfectly skilled as a huntress as I was at your age. Now it’s time for you to go on your own and fulfill your calling there, and it’s time for me to stay behind. I’m too old for the job and cannot fulfill it properly, so I’d better do easier tasks from now on, join the gathering groups and do light chores as befits my age.”


“I’m sorry we won’t go out together anymore, Mother,” the girl said, her dark eyes shining with standing tears.


“Once in a while I can still come with you, Daughter,” the Huntress said, fondly, “but from now on you’re in charge and I’ll do what you say. Good luck to you, Dancer, and may the Goddess of the Wood have you always in her sight.”





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