She was angry. Her father Arkamun had reprimanded her for wrestling with her brothers. The spear and leather shield she had crafted so carefully had been ripped apart and smashed to bits, her blade taken and turned into a knife for one of her brothers. Arkamun wanted her with her mother and sisters, preparing food, weaving, seeing to the other mundanities while he searched for a man his age to marry her to in trade for some arrangement, maybe more land or a bull.
She wouldn’t have that. She couldn’t stand for it. She was a lioness, the most powerful, the largest of her father’s children and the strongest even over her brothers. She belonged on the plains hunting, eating fresh and bloody instead of barely sating herself with starches and rare smatterings of overcooked flesh.
She crouched in the tall grass and tugged at the woven skirt her father made the women wear. The men only wore hard half-gourds to cover their delicate dangling bits, and she didn’t feel she even required that. It bound her and slowed her down. It covered nothing when she dropped to all fours anyway, so it did little good. Losing it would anger Arkamun, but he had nothing to take from her and little else to punish her with now. She stood up and untied the ragged garment and let it fall to her ankles in a heap then kicked it as far as she could off into the field. She felt freer already, and took a moment to stretch out and breath the hot air.
The sun shone off of her, her fur bright and the shade of copper. Her nose and lips were moist and black, her firm, young breasts were each peaked by black flesh, and her lowers were hidden from view by her tail behind and a heavy tuft of fur in front. Her body was tight her legs thick and strong, her hips wide, her arms broad and muscled. Her stomach was hard, the essentially strong trunk from which all limbs gathered their strength. Her face was regal, her chin strong for a female and her eyes were a bright yellow, shining deeply like amber.
Her stomach rumbled and she smiled, letting her arms fall down to her sides as she relaxed. “As good a time as any…” She sauntered out into the distance, to the herd that she knew was running wild to the south.
She walked to where she had last seen the herd, but they were gone. They usually ranged, so it wasn’t completely unexpected to have to track them from this point. She tracked a few miles from that point, by prints and smell and trails of droppings that they left behind them. She crouched suddenly and her nose scrunched up, her lips drawing back into a snarl exposing her sharp teeth behind moist black lips. Blood wafted into her nose, blood and bile: the scent of death.
She stalked quickly through the tall grass, never breaking the top of the grass and loping light-footed so as to leave the least trail as possible. She was upwind, which she corrected quickly. As she circled around she crossed the blood trail, pools of dark, fresh blood resting in deep, broad pawprints. A lion’s pawprints, too broad and heavy to belong to a female, led to the plains, not away from their territory, but parallel to an edge.
It was rare in those days that males would trespass. Their neighbors were all friendly and mostly well-behaved. Even the most ill-tempered of their neighbors’ and their sons wouldn’t be so brash as to poach, but whoever this was, had been. She suspected for a moment it was some young vagabond, the type with rifles and such that roamed without regard for tribe or who owned whatever land they were on, but she couldn’t smell the reek of gunpowder or gasoline.
Her jaw nearly fell to the dust when she finally saw him. He was tall, taller than any of the lions she’d seen before, taller than her oldest brother and by far more than her father. His fur was dark tan like wet earth, and his mane was nearly black. The dead beast hung across his shoulders, the blood from it’s torn throat and flayed belly pouring down his back like a gory waterfall. Underneath the cloak of red he looked as though he had been sculpted from clay, every muscle and sinew rippling beneath his fur, not any hint of the soft places that plagued her father and uncles so.
She drew her lips back into an aggressive, snarling smile. He was bigger and stronger than any she’d ever seen. Killing him, proving she was stronger than him, who was stronger than any other, would earn her a place among her brothers. Her tail sunk low, her shoulders fell back as she eased her head out from the grass behind him, stepping into his trail and following his footsteps closely, walking in his prints as she closed in, closer and closer still. She’d hit him low, attack the tendon at his ankle, and make the rest easy. She would rip his throat out before he could even curse.
She launched forward with her legs, slashing out at his left ankle with her right claws. He lifted his leg out of the way in the nick of time, his claws extended to graze along the top of her arm as she followed through. She roared from the pain but kept moving. Her arm gave way as she tried to catch herself on it, but she rolled on her shoulders up onto her feet.
The lion dropped his kill behind him as he lunged forward to attack the lioness. He didn’t know when the others would come, as lionesses were never alone, so he had to put her down quickly. His left claw aimed straight for her throat, his right aimed at her belly, either one alone would be enough to end her. She avoided the other set of claws by moving her head to the outside, and she stopped the paw at her belly by grabbing his wrist with both hands. His force was enough to push her back, but she held it at bay. She was going to shift her weight to throw him, but he brought that free paw back across her face, shutting his fist to bring his knuckles right across her nose. She tumbled backwards as blood poured from her crooked nose her eyes watered.
She could only see the dark mass through her foggy vision, growing quickly as he neared her. She dropped low and let herself fall backwards, and as he came over her she stuck her foot straight out, catching him in the stomach and sending him vaulting over her, rolling through the tall grass and into a nearby tree with a loud, hollow thunk and a violent roar. She wiped her forearm across her eyes, clearing her vision as she rolled back onto her feet. She stood, watching, listening, waiting for him to emerge from the grass, waiting for the rustle of his movement, waiting for something to tell her where he was. She felt movement behind her and turned quickly, slashing at nothing before strong arms wrapped around her, a hand clutching her throat and an arm pinning her own arms to her body.
She would have roared herself, but her throat was held too tightly. He pulled her back and she felt his body thunk against the tree again, holding her tight to him. She’d seen her uncles and her father with their wives and concubines and she knew what was coming. She readied her claws, feeling his manhood against her back. She would take it. He’d rip her throat out, but she’d have his manhood. If he was a lone male in the savannah he’d bleed to death.
“Where are the others?” He said in a low, deep growl.
She stopped but left her claws out. He wasn’t going to do that at least, he was waiting for the other lionesses to come out, using her as a shield.
“Females never travel alone. Where are the others?!” He tightened his grip on her throat, bringing droplets of blood from her pricked flesh.
As different in body as he was from the other males, he thought different, as well. She didn’t know whether to be impressed or afraid that he’d rather kill her than take her for himself. “I’m alone…” She replied quietly. He could have killed her by now, or worse, but now she was curious.
The lion was quiet for a moment but never loosened his grip. “Why didn’t you extend your claws?”
“I wasn’t thinking fast enough. I should have ripped your belly open…” She could feel his breathing calm in the rising and falling of his chest against her back as he accepted that he was in control now. “What are you going to do now?”
“I should rip your throat out and leave you here. A lesson to your sisters to not go out alone…” He growled lightly and bucked his hips forward as his hands released her, pushing her a safe distance away from him. “Run.”
She fumbled a moment after being thrown away. She stood with her back to him, her tail swaying behind her as she hid a smile. “Will you be hunting here again?”
“Do you plan to send your brothers after me? Your father or your uncles?” He walked to the discarded kill, not bothering to watch her anymore, her threat diminished. “I’ll kill them. You have worth. They do not.”
“I want to see you again. To fight you again, after I’ve become stronger.” She smirked watching him bend down and easily hoist up the large kill. “I have worth?”
“You’re strong. Your senses are dull, like all of your kind, but you are sharper than them, at least. You’ll bear many strong children, if your mate is good enough to compliment your blood.” He turned to face her, his face flat, no guile, no expression, just pure point-of-fact. “Your males are worthless. They should be culled by the strong, but your way of life prevents that.”
“You have been watching us, then?” She stepped back from him, concealing her smile. “For how long? Why?”
“Before hunting in another’s territory you must take the land from them. Kill them and claim what is theirs by blood.” He started walking, intending to end their conversation there. “Their kind do not deserve the old ways.”
Not content to let him go so soon, she walked beside him, looking up into his face. “Their kind? Is their kind different from mine?”
“I take water from the river South of here. If you wait there long enough you will see me again.” He ignored her question, moving on. “Don’t follow me any longer. If you find where I sleep I won’t let you return.”
She stopped walking with him and nodded, looking to the South. “Maybe I would like that.” She said with a broad smile before turning back to her village and taking a loping run.
He stopped and turned, an eyebrow raised as he watched her run back to her people. Her copper-colored fur glowed a bright red in the dusk, like a ball of fire running through the grass. He shook his head and turned back the way he was walking, taking his dinner with him.