They called her the Ghost Woman.
The hunters claimed to have seen her, her skin painted white, and the small bones of demons dangling in her hair. She was a demon herself, they claimed. Faster than a man, and leaving no trace of her passing. And yet, Serobi knew. It was Sineya.
She had dreamed of her.
Of her battles with the night demons.
Serobi whispered the name of her sister. She whispered it to her son, as he nursed. She whispered it to herself as the night closed in and she sat at her fire making baskets. And in the morning, when she emerged from her hut to find a fresh-killed antelope, or fine leopard skin lying in her doorway, she whispered it to the air, so that the gods would know that her sister was not forgotten.
The old men muttered and shook their heads at these strange gifts, and yet the tribe did not refuse the meat. They grew sleek and strong and none had died of hunger in almost four years. Combining the land held by their slain cousins with their own, the tribe had enough food for everyone to survive the Dry Times.
Serobi straightened from where she tended her small grove of berry bushes and wondered if Sineya knew her gifts had given birth to ambition. With the confidence that came from full bellies, the hunters were eyeing the lands to the south, claiming the tribes there were stealing too much water. In truth, the berries needed more water, but Serobi was not fool enough to claim theft.
There were simply more mouths to feed, this year than last.
She often thought if men had more to do than sit around the fire, gossiping and playing games of chance, there would be less talk of war. Her own mate spent most of his day there, smoking jiraba weed and exchanging stories of past hunts. At four, her son was old enough that he had stopped helping her in the fields and spent his day with his father around the fire.
Serobi eyed the weeds taking water from her fruit bushes and knew her day would be long and hard. There would be a meal to prepare, and clothing to repair. If the hunters did indeed take the lands to the south, she would tell her mate to take a second woman. One young enough to work a full day without tiring. There would be no hands to do all the work otherwise.
Uneasily, she considered that a second woman might be a good thing, even if the hunters did not war to the south. Serobi did not yet have the breasts of an old woman, although her son's teeth had pulled them toward her belly. She was strong, with fat on her bones, and a second child sheltering inside her. Still, she did not think she would live to see either of her children mated.
Last night, she had dreamed of the Old Man.
He had shown her visions of the night demons and the evil they spawned. He had shown her what would happen if they proved victorious. Her son and mate, dead on the hot sands, their blood spilling from torn throats. Sineya's daughter and her daughters ripped open for food. Their entrails feeding the hyenas.
Serobi had howled in despair, begging him to tell her what must be done to prevent it. What sacrifice she must make to the gods. Even, yes, even her own life if they would accept it. He had looked at her with solemn eyes and laid his gnarled hand against her breast.
"Someday soon, Serobi, the gods will ask you a question. Deep in your heart, is where it will whisper. When the time comes, be prepared to answer."