The Fifth World

Rabbit & Juneberry

By Giulianna Maria Lamanna

They met in the cattail bog where it all began.

Generations ago, a man from the Mountain Folk came down to harvest some cattails. Some Creek People found him there. A fight broke out. No one can agree who started it. They started stealing from each other, and then someone got hurt, and then someone got killed, and for generations the feud went on.

The bog provided the closest thing the two elders could find to an open vista, so neither family could hide scouts in the trees — or if they did, the scouts couldn’t get close enough to shoot effectively.

The two kayaks met in the center of the bog, where they could see each other: the Creek woman tall and thin, the Mountain man short and stocky. They scowled as their kayaks bumped, old wounds hardening into scars.

“Looking as ugly as ever, I see,” Yarrow said.

“Just like a Creeker to open with an insult,” sniffed Billy Goat. “You just can’t help getting in your little digs. Typical.”

“I wish you Mountain Folk would insult us!” Yarrow crowed. “Would that you could stop at words! My brother would still live, if you knew how to use words.”

Billy Goat glowered at her from beneath his heavy brow. “What words would have sufficed when your father killed my uncle? How could my cousin have responded in a way you savages would understand?”

“Oh, we understand words just fine. We’ve spilled lots of words among ourselves, trying to figure out how to survive your family’s viciousness.”

“Viciousness!” Billy Goat shouted, sending a flock of birds scattering. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “Our families sent us here for a reason.”

“Because we’re the angriest old cots and if even we can make peace, then the rest of them can, too?”

“Yes,” Billy Goat growled. “As much as I hate you, I love my grandson more. And he loves your granddaughter, so…”

“For whatever she sees in a smelly Mountain boy,” Yarrow snorted.

“I don’t know what my grandson sees in a Creek girl, either. But they claim to love each other—”

“Stupid kids.”

Billy Goat grunted in agreement. “They claim to love each other desperately and they want to marry. Which means we have to tolerate each other. At least sometimes.” Billy Goat met Yarrow’s gaze. “Can we do that?”

Yarrow winced and rubbed her chin. “You still look like a three-day-old mole carcass.”

“And you can still match wits with a particularly brainless turkey. Do we have a deal?”

Yarrow let out a heavy sigh. “Fine. We’ll keep the peace until the two little idiots split up. Shouldn’t take long.”

Billy Goat held out his hand. “Then shake on it, you old bitch.”

“Don’t push your luck, asshole.” Yarrow grabbed her paddle and pushed off. “I’ll see your ugly mug at the wedding.”

“We’ll make sure to throw a feast that will shame your family for generations,” Billy Goat called to her retreating back.

Yarrow dropped her paddle just long enough to wave her arm in lazy frustration, then went on paddling.