Terror gripped my soul as I watched the Invaders attack my father’s uncle. Blood wept from the wounds they inflicted onto his flesh. Despite this, he kept his mouth closed firmly and stared directly into my eyes. I could not look away as the man who taught me how to shoot a bow held my eyes. His gaze didn’t waver, and he made no sound as the Invaders continued to beat him, even when they began to use sticks. Blood began to fall from his body, and I tried not to cry.
My father’s uncle refused to give in to the physical abuse, even as the Invaders began to scream horrible-sounding words at him.
I nearly wept in relief as the cruel men stopped, and I ran to my long-time teacher and friend. Women hurried out to care for him, and I glared at them for not putting a stop to the horrible attack.
The rest of the day went by in a blur until my parents sent me to my sleeping pallet. I closed by eyes, but sleep did not come. I listened to my parents speak quietly to each other. My belly froze in terror as they spoke of what the Invaders said.
They said cruel words about how my uncle loved other men instead of women. They said he may as well be a woman, himself. They swore to kill him and any other man who loved other men, and they swore to make it hurt.
Burning tears cut paths down my cheeks, and I began to tremble in fear. The Invaders never broke their oaths, and I was terrified. Surely my father’s uncle would be killed! My parents looked over to me, and father walked to my side and pulled me into his arms tightly. I had no idea how he knew, but my father always knew when I was upset. I held tightly to him, and mother walked away. After several long moments, I spoke. It was a struggle to avoid crying. “If they hate your uncle so much because he loves other men, will they hate me too, because I don’t like women?” I buried my head against father’s bare, tanned chest.
Father stroked my hair. The sensation of my own long hair sliding along my back soothed me, and I closed my eyes. “They cannot hate if they cannot find out.” he murmured. “We will keep it a grand secret from them, and you and your uncle can live apart from us, because the Invaders do not go into the forest without a guide. You and your uncle will live in the forest, and hide there when the Invaders come.” He smiled at me. “Do not be ashamed, for to love another man as most men love women is a sign that the spirits love you too much to share you, and they will aid you in many ways.”
His words calmed me, and bravery settled into my heart. “Is that why your uncle did not cry?”
“That is why he did not cry. He knew that he was well-loved, and that if he did cry, the spirits would become angry that he had been hurt.” Father squeezed my shoulder, and I smiled up at him. “I think he will be very happy if you visit him in the medicine house tomorrow, but tonight, you should sleep.” His strong arms laid me out on my pallet, and his muscular hands pulled the blanket up to my chin. “Good night, bear child.”
I laughed quietly and adjusted the woven pillow. “Good night, bear papa.”
True to his word, Father moved me to a small house in the woods with his uncle, and I learned more about how to hunt. We came into the village every day, and left when we saw Invaders coming. Life was filled with peace, and eventually we had to make our house larger, as a pair of women joined us. When the Invaders came into the village, we pretended to be two couples of man-and-woman.
I was ten when the two women joined in marriage, and at thirteen, I found a boy from another local tribe. A year later, we became married as well. We helped the couple of women lovers to each have a child, on the condition that we would raise the children all together. Only after the birth of a pair of twins and a roly poly little boy, did my father’s uncle pass away quietly as the hands of Old Woman Seasons sang him a peaceful lullaby.
The years went on, and the nearby villages regularly invited us to celebrations and brought us gifts. We were very happy and thankful, and often cared for orphans.
The sun rose on a balmy spring day one year when the children were three years old. A boy wearing the attire of the Invaders, and with their dark flesh approached our hidden home. I walked out alone to meet him. He was only twelve, and covered in bruises. “Are you hurt, young one?” I asked quietly.
“The villagers said I should live here, because my people hate me for puking into the mouth of a woman I’m supposed to marry.” He looked lost. “They say I’m a freak, but your people say I’m blessed.”
I knelt in front of him and wrapped my arms around him. “You are blessed, and we welcome you. this house is safe from your people, who fear any who are different.” I smiled, hopeful that I was as reassuring as my father had once been.
The boy shifted and fidgeted nervously, as though he couldn’t quite believe me. “Why would they be scared of me? I’m a weak little wimp.” His accent was atrocious, and he refused to look me in the eye.
Finally, the boy looked up at me, and I saw something strange in his eyes. This wasn’t right. I suddenly felt the same cold terror in my belly that hit me so long ago, and I slowly turned around to warn my families.