Black Sea Region of Anatolia (ancient Turkey)
My name, Na’amah, means pleasant or beautiful. I am not always pleasant, but I am beautiful. Perhaps that is why I am trundled atop this beast like a roll of skins for market and surrounded by grim-faced men. If my captors had bothered to ask me, I would have told them that their prize is of questionable value because my mind is damaged. But they did not, and I lie draped belly-down across the back of an auroch, a large black ox with an eel stripe that runs down his spine and a stench worse than a rutting goat. My mouth is parched and swollen with dried blood, and every step the animal takes sends a jolt of pain into my chest. Snatches of ground appear between the cloven hooves--a succession of earth, grass, and rock obscured by the dark tangle of my hair--all I have to measure the growing distance from the life I have known. Savta, my grandmother, believes a narrow birth passage pinched my head. A skilled midwife, she convinced the Elders that my disfigurement would right itself, and they allowed me to live. Tubal-Cain, my brother, would prefer it otherwise. He claims I tore our mother from inside and killed her. I did not intend to do such a thing, but if I did it, we are even, since she squeezed my head. Well, perhaps not even, as she is dead, and I am not. The auroch stumbles and I grunt from the jerk. The tall man with fiery hair who leads the auroch looks back at me. My village sees many traders, so the strangeness of these men’s dress and speech means they are from a distant land. Where are they taking me? As much as I hate the days, I dread the nights. The tall man pulls me off when it becomes too dark to travel, and I can barely stand. It is a chance for food and water, but I am fifteen summers, and I know the intent of men who steal a woman. So far, they have not tried, perhaps because I smell like the auroch, but when they do, I will fight. I am small, but my teeth are strong and my legs have climbed the hills since I was very young. My hills. How I miss my hills. To distract me from the aches in my body and my heart, I will put together the words of my story. I remember everything. Memories and thoughts appear as images in my mind. Each word-sound I hear has its own color and shape and fits together with the others in patterns that I can recall as easily as I can name every sheep on my hillside. This story will be truth. I speak only truth, unwise as it may be, since lies distress me.
And it will be for my own ears, as my words and manner seem odd to other people. I am more comfortable with animals, who do not expect me to be any way than the way I am.
I will start with the day three summers ago when Savta told me I had a secret:
It was my twelfth summer, and Savta and I sought refuge from the sun in my father’s house, which sat on the outer edge of the village, near Deer River. We tied the door skins aside for the breeze. Though we were alone, the sounds I knew so well came clearly through—the patter of children’s bare feet on ground worn free of grass, women’s silvery chatter as they prepared food or sang to the Goddess, the chip-chip of stone knapping stone to shape it. I heard those things even through the plaster-mud walls. My hearing was very good. Savta coaxed thread from the pile of soft, cleaned wool, while I gnawed my lower lip at my clumsy sewing, frustrated with the thin bamboo needle that seemed determined to prick my fingers. We had dug out cool places to sit in the floor of the house, and the smell of earth mingled with the sweet odor of cedar chips soaking in heated oil. The smell soothed me, and I let my mind float to my favorite place on the hills where I could see Deer River twisting like thread into the Black Lake. Behind me, clustered mountains rose into the sky, their slopes painted the eternal green of conifers, their tops capped white like old women. Below, grey-brown sheep speckled the grazing slopes. From my perch, I could watch the Black Lake’s moods. Winter winds stirred her surface with such violence that she swallowed any boatman foolish enough to try and fish. That was why she was named “Black,” but in summer, she was smooth enough to catch the sun when he melted into her.
“What are you seeing?” Savta asked me. She knew that sometimes I saw images of what I was thinking, and then it took me longer to speak, because I had to translate what I saw into words. Often, this was good, because there were things in my mind that I should not speak, even to Savta.
“My sheep,” I said, as though they belonged to me.
In the distance, a dog barked. The rusty sound identified her as Dawn, the aging bitch whose puppies had supplied our tribe with so many good shepherd dogs, she now wandered the village, fed anywhere she decided to linger. Dawn saved her voice for important announcements, usually a stranger’s arrival or perhaps returning hunters.
Annoyed at my needle’s obstinacy, I dropped the sewing into my lap. “Why do I have to learn spinning and cooking? I am too clumsy. I am much better at herding.” “Beauty may tempt a man,” Savta said predictably, “but a full stomach and warm blankets keep him. Grown women do not watch sheep. When your blood flows, you must marry and start a family.”
This was not the first time I had heard these words. I pouted. “If my father and brother are typical of men, I prefer the sheep as company.”
Savta snorted. “Besides, I practice with my sling almost every day, and Yanner says I have ears as good as the dogs, and he would take me hunting if Hunter Clan did not forbid it.”
Yanner was my only friend. We were born two days apart. On evening watches, we shared shepherd duties. Like me, he was beautiful, but his eyes were green as spring grass and his hair the color of honey held to the sun.
“I like Yanner,” I said. “Maybe I will marry him. He would let me watch sheep. His mother can make blankets and cook.” Before Savta could object, I added, “I will take my turn in the wheat and barley fields too, of course.” “It’s not for me to say who you will marry,” Savta said, but her mouth pinched in a funny way that always made me think she was trying not to smile. Savta rarely smiled. She said she had too much to do, caring for me, my brother, and father, but I think it was because she had lost all her children, my mother the last. I suddenly realized that she would have no other woman in the house when I married. “Maybe I will not wed Yanner,” I said. “Maybe I will just stay with you.” Her mouth softened. “You are a special girl, Na’amah.” The phrase had sung in my ears so often, it calmed me, a counter to Tubal’s constant taunts. I spoke my ritual reply. “How am I special, Savta?” This time she surprised me with her answer. “In a secret way. When your blood flows, I’ll explain, but you must never speak of it.” “Why?” I asked. “Always with the ‘why?’ I remember when you were a tiny bit of nothing, you toddled out into a storm to see how the butterflies dodged the raindrops.” She sighed, a peculiar swishing sound, because one side of her mouth did not work right. “For once, listen. If anyone learns, you’ll be thrown in the pit.” I took a quick breath. Two moon-cycles ago, the Elders had stripped Nigel, the potter, and cast him into the deep hole in the center of the village. For days, he called and cried, but no one could speak to him or give him food or water, because he had broken tribal law by making a clay Father God image wrong. Elder Kahor claimed it resulted in a sickness that made a bear attack his hunters. My heart beat a faster tempo. “Why would knowing my secret make the Elders pit me?” She lowered the weighted stick that twisted the thread between her fingers, and considered me, the left side of her mouth drooping lower than it usually did. That meant she was either very sad or thinking hard. “What wrong have I done?” I asked. Her stern eyes softened. “Nothing, child. You’ve done nothing wrong.” “Then why?” A great sigh. Savta sighed a lot, as if a pain in her needed escape. “Do you know the story of First-Woman?” she asked me. “I know the pieces I have heard on washday.” On washday, the women gathered in the river to wash clothing and to gossip. I did not like washday. People avoided me because I said things they did not expect. “Our ancestors, First Woman and First Man, lived in the Land of Eden,” Savta said, her voice taking on the soft singsong of a Teller, “where mist rose to water the land, and the earth was lush with trees and fruit. Mother Goddess spoke to First Woman in a secret language that First Man could not understand, telling her where to find nuts and seeds and all the Earth’s bounty.” “Is that why men had to hunt animals?” I asked. “I never heard that part.” “Of course you haven’t. You’ve only heard the man side of the story.” I loved stories, though many of them were not truth. People pretended they were, so sometimes I did too, but I had never seen Mother Goddess or Father God. I did not understand why. Even the wind, which was hard to see, carried leaves in its arms and tickled my ears to proclaim itself. The moon never said, I am a manifestation of Mother Goddess! It just hovered in the night sky. I did not say these things aloud, though it was very difficult not to say what I was thinking. Speaking such thoughts would get me thrown into the pit. My mind might be damaged, but I was not stupid. At that moment, I heard footsteps and raised my knuckle to my lips to warn Savta. My hearing was sharper than anyone I know. Savta often said I heard too much. The footfalls belonged to Tubal. My older brother’s left foot hesitated a bit, a heritage from a snake’s bite when he was seven and stepped over a rotten log without looking at the other side. The deeper thud of his stride meant he carried something heavy.
We worked in silence until Tubal entered the hut with a dead fawn draped over his shoulder.
He dropped it in a bloody heap before me. “Clean this, Ugly One,” he said with barely a glance at me, striding to the oak barrel to dip his bowl for a draught of beer. The glazed eyes of the young creature stared at me. A spear wound opened her flesh behind the front shoulder. The smell of blood mixed with the scent of cedar chips. A piece of her ear was torn, an old injury. I wondered if she had already escaped one predator only to fall to another, and if her mother mourned her loss. “Well done, grandson,” Savta said, “but there’s no need to bring a carcass into the house. Hang it in the tree, please.” He took another drink and stared at me with displeasure, his normal habit. “Don’t let Ugly One wander off and leave you with the work, Savta.”
My back stiffened with anger. Tubal used to trick me into leaving my chores, telling me I was supposed to be doing something else. I believed him. I was too young to understand lies, but finally Savta explained, and Tubal could not fool me again. So, I was not confused when Tubal called me “stupid” or “ugly.” I knew he said lies to hurt me. I was not ugly. When Savta combed my hair, she said it shone like the Black Lake on a moon-full night. She rubbed olive oil into my skin to keep it soft, and Savta always told me that I was not stupid; I was special. I did not speak for the first two summers of my life, even though I understood what people were saying. I was just distracted by the rainbow of colors the sounds made. Perhaps that was why Tubal thought I was stupid. At two summers, I started speaking in whole sentences, so he should have known better.
Now that I was older, I knew what a lie was, and I could tell one if I wanted to, but I did not understand the rules for lying. For example, if someone interrupted what I was doing and asked if she were interrupting, I was supposed to say “no,” even though she was. This rule, however, did not always apply. If I interrupted Savta, she told me so and scolded me. This was confusing, so things were simpler if I told truths. It was my habit, like walking the same path to the river to bathe. Changes made me uncomfortable. I pressed my lips and pretended to study the tear I was mending. The needle’s sharp prick brought a whimper to my lips and a bead of bright blood to my finger. Shaking his head in a gesture that proclaimed my uselessness louder than any comment, Tubal grasped the fawn’s legs, swung it over his shoulders, and strode out.
When he was out of hearing, I sucked my finger and returned to our conversation to take my mind from the needle’s bite and Tubal’s scorn.
“What happened next in the story?” I asked Savta. She lifted the stick and set it spinning again with a deft twist. “First Man was jealous,” she said. “He bade First Woman speak to the serpent guarding the Tree, so he could overhear and learn the secret, thinking he could gain the ability to understand Mother Goddess’ language.” “Oh.” A strange thought that a man would be jealous of a woman. Women bear the pain of childbirth, the discomfort of moon times, and the feeding of babies who pull on their breasts. I did not look forward to any of those things.
“Because of love for First Man, First Woman did so,” Savta continued without further prompting, her nimble fingers twisting the strand into a fine, even thread. “But when she spoke to the Serpent of Wisdom, First Man did not learn Mother Goddess’ language.” She paused. “What he learned was fear.
“So enraged was Father God that he cast them from the land and burned it, so they could not return. The earth in Eden is scorched and no man or beast can live on it.”
“That was mean,” I said.
Savta snorted. “The gods are the gods.”
Her explanation was as difficult to understand as the gods themselves. I frowned, returning to the part that dealt with me. “So, if Father God and Mother Goddess meant for woman to have this secret, and I am a woman, why should I be pitted for it?”
“Oh child, you have much to learn. The man-story lays the blame of angering Father God on First Woman’s back.”
“But First Woman did it at First Man’s bequest.”
“That is our story, passed from First Woman to her daughters to her daughter’s daughters. Man’s story is that First Woman forced forbidden knowledge from the serpent and that angered Father God.”
“How do we know which story is truth, man’s story or woman’s?” I asked. Savta looked at me as if she wanted to open my head and pour sense into it. “You are chosen by Mother Goddess. How could you have her gift if her story wasn’t true?” I did not understand why Savta thought I was chosen by Mother Goddess. I had no idea what this secret gift was--I had no unique knowledge of foraging or planting. I was good at watching sheep.
Savta reached over and arranged the wool shawl I was mending. “You must decide yourself where the truth lies but, if you value life, you will keep the secret of Mother Goddess’s gift and woman’s story. Revealing either could mean death.”
I did not understand why truth should bring punishment, but it seemed linked to Father God’s anger at First Man seeking women’s secrets or First Woman’s willingness to share them.
Savta recognized my frown of confusion and said, “You will understand better when you are older, but if people knew, especially the men, they would fear you.” “Because I would be powerful?” I asked, thinking it would not be a bad thing to have Father afraid of me for a change. “Because they would fear you’d find the Serpent’s Tree again and bring the gods’ wrath upon us.” That was not likely. The Tree was somewhere very far to the south in Eden, and why would I go to a land that was a scorched, barren desert? I did not even like to wander far from our village, as I was used to what things looked like here. “The rest I will tell you when your blood flows and not before,” Savta said in dismissal, pulling the raw wool and twisting it with fingers that seem to know their task without guidance from her eyes or mind. I had to explain everything to my hands and they still were clumsy.
What readers say about
"Noah's Wife was fantastic. It tells the whole story of Noah and the flood in a much more believable story! Historical fiction at its best. If you like Jean Auel, you'll love Teresa Thorne."
~M. J. Nickum
"I read this riveting book in a weekend. Well researched, it transported me to an entirely different eon. Like Wide Sargasso Sea, this book takes a familiar tale and retells it through the wife's perspective. Surprisingly feminist! Highly recommend...."
Awards for T. K. Thorne
"Jim" - Chattahooche Valley Writer's Conference Contest
"Freedom Manor"-Eugene Walters Writers Festival Termite Hall Screenplay
"The Other Gold"-Eugene Walters Writers Festival William March Short Story
"Untitled" -On the Premises mini-story contest
"Trouble" -Sidewalk Film Festival’s SideWrite Contest
Snow Dancers of Veld -Del-Rey’s Online Writer’s Contest
"Alabama Dreams in Black & White" -Alabama Writer’s Conclave (for poem); Collection was named 2008 Southern Independent Booksellers Award Finalist for Poetry.
"Sea" -Magic City Writer's Contest