The witch and I have settled near a river about a month's walk from where I left the tribe last. She said it would be easier on me to give birth in a place that is familiar. A silly notion, that. The heartbeat of this land is in my feet; I have never been here, but I know it's every inch.
She has set about being my midwife, and since the custom in my tribe demands every able woman to assist an expectant mother, I accept her goodwill. I suppose we are a tribe now. However, willing though she is, she is also inept.
The hot afternoon has urged me to rest my newly curved body, and my strength has waned with my appetite, but we must eat, and so I watch her in the river.
Her skirt hiked up, hair soggy, she wades in the shallow areas until she spots a fish, at which point she lunges, throwing herself upon it with a terrific splash. With only two handfuls of mud for her efforts, she re-sets herself, wiggling her fingers in malicious delight and anticipation.
If I was a fish, I would be terrified by her shining eyes, and lolling red tounge. Fish are simple, however, and only see her shadow as a warning of her attack. I allow this debacle to continue, thoroughly amused, before waddling to the bank.
"Come here please." She slogs over, briefly obedient, "I will teach you and you will learn." She scoffs, but does not retort. Calling on the wisdom of countless hunters before me, I show her. First we roll in the grass, a tricky feat for my new shape, then we wade in, neck deep, and wait. Slowly, the fish come by, pecking at the bugs and grass stuck in our clothing. Eventually I feel a very large trout swim lazily under my arm. Quick as a blink I slide my fingers in his gills, letting the water flood his lungs. It is only a moment, then he is mine, and big enough that it matters little when she claps her hands and dances around child-like, scaring the rest.
As we shake ourselves dry on the shore, I cannot resist a sly jab,
"You might be too dumb to catch fish." She topples over backwards in her mirth, giggling, but soon rolls upright with a jackal-ish grin, and a hand poised. At the snap of her fingers, a school of fish are pulled out of the river. They hover, twisting, writhing, contorting, suspended on invisible skewers, their silver flesh dripping perfect diamonds of water. When I choke on my own gasp, she barks a great laugh and drops them back in.
"That wasn't the POINT." She clucks.
My legs are cold and prickly. I had forgotten the most important rule of dealing with her; She will always have the last word.
I let her cook the prize, for she collects grasses that make the fish palatable to my finicky body. I always eat what she cooks, no matter how odd looking, for I had no fear she wanted to dispatch me. If she had wanted, she would have long ago. But after today, I am not sure. Perhaps she toys with me?
The next day we stood together in the water, and a second fat trout approached my belly. He began to nip at my shirt when the baby kicked him ferociously in the snout. He scooted backwards into the witch, who lifted him out of the water and squeezed the life out of him, with no joy, as I expected, but a grim neutrality. Slightly unnerved, but satisfied, I retired to the bank to allow the baby to work out his glee on my spine and ribcage. She followed me and spent the remainder of the afternoon prodding my baby with the head of the fish. We are certainly the strangest tribe ever.
Yet, and yet, I find myself growing proud.