The stream at the eastern edge of the woods was an established border for the boys’ tribe, and carried by the wind, intertwined with the trickling of water was a feint, melodic giggling. Piloted by instinct the boys crouched to the ground and in a loose arrow formation delicately crawled through the woods. Before the bank of the stream, still in the cool shadows of the woods, they closed into a line, camouflaged and silent, observing what they knew to be the only taboo territory on their Peninsular that was not outside of it. Before them, a good stone throw away, was a bend in the stream where it collected into a small pool. The stream then continued around the eastern plain and into the sea. Standing by, or carelessly floating in the clear water of the pool, were four young women; more women than the boys thought themselves men.
"Plains Girls," Sunny whispered with an aching, despair.
Belly, Swifty and Lucky knew of the plains on the peninsular and the severe decree of the elders to avoid the inhabitants there, yet had never seen proof that there were living beings to avoid, healthy in body and soul, that had escaped the ’sickness’ of the past. Yet here was irrefutable proof, giving some credence to the taboo, that there were people, and even from a distance it was clear they were different; the light of bright minds shone from their steely eyes.
Sunny, with an extra year or two of age and therefore to his friends, infinite maturity, spoke highly of the young women, but in a shy whisper.
"See the tall one: Black Horse. Cunning like a fox. An artful trader. Once she traded an old bone knife for a clay stewing pot from my mother."
The tall one was six foot tall, standing naked on the bank, wringing her long blonde hair over her shoulder, the droplets sliding onto her chest and running down over her belly. Droplets clung to her skin and when she breathed and stretched her body sparkled. She closed her eyes and tilted her face to the sun. As eldest she was an example of what the others would grow to be. She was tall enough to rival most young men and her frame was that of a very capable woman; broad shoulders, wide hips, long arms and legs. Her tone was at first displeasing. Her skin was tanned by nature, days out under the sun and nights bracing the cold, and her flesh was lumpy; evidence of compact muscles guided by quick reflexes. In one moment she appeared as a half starved nomad from a vanquished tribe, and in the next, when her cool and alert gaze observed the flight of a hawk overhead, she epitomised the perfect hunter; lean and mean, hungry and merciless.
"The two in the water," Sunny’s breath quickened, "Some say they ride horses."
Belly smarted, "So they can get on top!"
"On top; man and beast, like in the stories. For hunting. Some say their horses died three winters ago, some say they still ride."
Lucky’s pulse raced. "So they are the Plains Girls," he croaked, "I feel like I’m dreaming."
Sunny withdrew, the others followed, and safely out of sight, he grunted, "They are a dream: You see it but you can’t touch it. And they are hunters and traders, playing their eyes and minds against all that come against them, and never to be trusted…"
The boys’ silent sigh was capped by the sound of a hand splashing and then synchronised, sweet and teasing laughter. In unison, the boys spun around and cast their eyes, again, to the stream.