The Goat-Girl of Ardit
It was spring and the nanny-goats moved slowly with their swollen bellies, as they are today and may tomorrow. The goat-herds of Ardit waited, watched, and helped as expectant parents, greeting each new member of the tribe. So the valley increased.
Taml, daughter of Gamaz, watched the flocks by day, wending them on their course from the sweet grass, which they ate, to the bitter stream, where they licked the stones, and to the goat-towers, which they climbed to look out over the valley of Ardit. Her wife, Daanl, daughter of Whenz, had stayed to midwife the kids, as she had many days since the spring.
Taml and Daanl had watched the ram, their goat-husband, as he seeded their tribe. Alone, Taml had watched her love draw a lingering hand against the growing flanks of the she-goats, to feel the stir of new life. At night, home from the fields, with the fire burnt low to glowing red coals, there was passion and heat, wet mouths and seeking fingers. Yet Taml knew she could not fulfill her wife’s need. They had lay awake at night in each other’s arms, not speaking of it, and it followed Taml and her tribe as they made their ways to the goat-towers in the morning.
There were men, of course. Many spouses had welcomed a new child, and turned a blind eye toward where they had come from. Mothers welcomed strange sons, fathers accepted daughters with different eyes. There were a thousand names for it, a hundred tales to stand in as the truth. Taml and Daanl had their own household, and none would say a word against Daanl unless it was her wife. Such were Taml’s thoughts when she saw the goat-girl.
This little tower was one of the oldest in the valley, not built but carved into the living stone of a short cliff. The goat-girl stood at the top, hugging a lamb to her. She was skinny and tawny of skin, near-naked with a perfect tangle of matted brown hair, and strange yellow eyes the color of a goat’s. When she saw Taml had seen her, the goat-girl dropped the lamb and ran. Taml gave chase.
Now Taml was sleek and fleet, and could climb as well as the wiriest and wiliest of the wild billies who lived in the mountains, but the goat-girl was small and scampered from hidden ledge to mountain-crack, where Taml could not go. So it was a slow and careful chase of wits on the wall of rock, Taml edging her prey to where she wanted to go, the goat-girl carefully cornered on a tiny ledge against a slope of scree, with no way down. Taml, reached out with her long crook; the goat-girl fought but Taml hooked her neck and guided the girl as she would a lost goat. The fight went on until the stars began to come out and it was time for Taml and the flock to return.
When Taml came home, the half-asleep goat-girl in her arms, Daanl was exiting the goat-pen, bloody up to her elbows. When Daanl ran to them, and Taml passed her drowsy burden on her wife. They pass a tense and quiet evening. The goat-girl did not speak or answer when spoken to, but answered the goat-calls from the pen with uncanny mimicry. She was not scared, but was coiled and wary; she ate without thanks or letting her eyes leave Taml, who sat at the door with her crook, and fought and tussled with Daanl when she tried to work the knots out of her hair. Finally, exhausted, they slept, each one alone—Taml sitting at the door, Daanl in their bed, and the goat-girl snuggled up in a ram’s fur by the hearth.
There was quiet talk the next morning, while they milked the goats and the goat-girl slept, but again there was much that neither gave voice to. Yesterday’s mood had fallen from Taml, and now she felt as if it was she corned on a narrow ledge, feet slipping on the scree. There was a child, now, and Daanl wanted her as their own daughter. There were Laws and Customs—the child might be recognized, have a family that wanted her return. Old Zaalz might object, though Taml thought their chances of keeping the goat-girl were good, there were many arguments of custom to be made—widowed mothers; Gaz and Daz, who had adopted their nephew after his father’s death as their own son. There was the goat-girl herself, the feral child. Taml knew of raising kids, but not girls. She was obstinate and full of fight, like a wild goat taken from the mountain, and Taml did not know if she could be broken to valley-life…or if she wanted to.
Taml and Daanl finished the milk, and came inside. The goat-girl quickly closed one eye, pretending to still be asleep. The women looked at the furry mound, and then each other, smiled and laughed.