The night sky was clear with not a single cloud, just the inky darkness enveloping everything. I was sitting in front of my window, staring out at the almost full moon; tonight, she was stunning, shining so brightly that her light was enough for me to make out the mountains in the distance. So, yes, she was beautiful tonight. But she also frightened me in a way because I knew that tomorrow night, she would be completely full.
It would be her twelfth full circle of the year.
And during that twelfth full moon, my mother would send me off to the same mountains I was looking at right now: Asclan Peaks. I was sure of it. This year would be different from all previous years. This year, she would send me there!
I'd never been there before, never even left my own town. But I knew about the place and it was surreal to think I'd be heading there soon. The mountains were orcs' territory, and it had been that way for many, many centuries.
Only once a year were humans willing to cross Asclan Peaks' borders. And only once a year were they welcomed.
And for sure, the twelfth moon was the cause of that.
The breeding moon.
This was when the fertile women—one from every family—would be sent out to walk the Trimar Pass, crossing borders to the mountain kingdom to meet and breed with Asclan Peaks' notorious inhabitants.
These annual gatherings between the two species weren't without good reason. Due to the severe lack of human males and the complete extinction of female orcs, there was no other choice but to crossbreed to produce offspring. It was not ideal, but things had evolved that way. The strange thing was that the babies born would be either orc sons or human daughters. Only very occasionally would a human son be born, and people considered this a wondrous miracle, a cause for tremendous celebration! The baby boy and his family would gain great fortune and lead a good life since everybody worshiped boys and having one in your family would be a ticket to the elite.
Why no orc daughters or mixed half-bloods were born, nobody knew. It just didn't happen.
So now, I was sure that it had come to my time to travel during the breeding moon, something that had been long coming since at twenty-six years of age, everyone considered me an old maid. Most women my age were mothers already.
I was not, but I was secretly yearning for it if I was honest. My mother knew this, yet she had never let me go to visit Asclan Peaks. She, as the head of our family, was the one to decide.
Sometimes, it felt as if I missed out on all the things that motherhood had to offer. I could see the unconditional love between my sisters and nieces, also longing to give such love to a child of my own. Of course, I loved all my nieces to death and had my hands full with them, being their favorite family member. But still... I wasn't their mother.
And in quiet, in secret, I believed I would be a good mother too, that I deserved a chance.
So, yes, a part of me was excited about tomorrow, but the other part of me was hellishly scared and intimidated. So afraid of what had to happen to conceive that child of my own...
And the fear came because of the orcs. People always said that these orcs, members of the Azuk clan, were disgusting and aggressive barbarians by nature, that they were vile and mean, hostile to all but their own.
I had once seen them too, long ago, when I'd accidentally encountered a pair. I was playing too close to the borders and saw them from a distance. It was only a glimpse. Yet that glimpse was enough to terrify me to such a point I honestly didn't wish to see any more of them. I had goosebumps just remembering!
Their rough, cracked skin was a sickly shade of grayish-green, adorned with bruises and scars. They had razor-sharp teeth with two lower tusks way too big to fit in their mouths. These tusks looked quite bizarre, and the thought of kissing such a hideous creature was repulsive. Pointy ears and square jaws they had, too, making their heads look ridiculous. And tall as giants they were at almost seven-foot-tall, and not even skinny. No, their grotesque bodies were a massive immovable block of muscles, solid and bulky, a vast frame carrying enormous weight that caused tremors whenever they walked.
"Please, Luna..." I whispered at the gentle moon. "Please, bless me with a human son. It would bring great fortune to my family." I held my palms together as I prayed. "And if you cannot bless me with a son, then please let me be blessed with a healthy baby girl. Anything but an orc son. And...please keep me safe. Luna, dear Luna... I am sorry for asking for such personal things. I hope you won't find my request unfitting. It's just that I am scared, Luna."
And hanging over all of this was also the thing I hardly dared think about, which was that it was not only a physical thing. There was more to it than that. More reasons to fear... I'd heard that some women never returned from their journey. But where did they go? And what if I was next? What if I would never return home?
The thoughts terrified me but had no other choice. If I did not go, I would face a lifetime of childlessness and isolation. It was the only way for me to conceive, coming as I had from a peasant family; I would never be able to marry a man, or even meet one. No, this was my only shot at getting a child. I needed to undergo this, not only for me but also for my family.
Luckily, things were so much better now than they had been centuries ago. Because before this annual meetings, the orcs had simply been taking our women and making them slaves. And how could anyone fight against that? They were strong and powerful, and we had almost no men to go into battle on our behalf. So why would the orcs wait for women to reach out to them and have those women for only one night? This was where Mother Moon and nature came in, because for some reason, all the orc babies conceived in hostility would die.
After that discovery, things had gotten a lot safer. If an orc wanted a son, he now accepted he had to wait for a woman to come to him, a woman who would lie with him willingly and without too much stress to her—though it probably was never a great experience for the woman despite all this.
"Please, protect me, Mother Moon," I whispered again before I stood and crawled into bed. "And help me through this. Protect me against whatever may happen to me tomorrow."
I knew that breeding was almost always successful, but was also still a subject that nobody wanted to talk about, and thus, nobody did. At least not in detail.
But I hoped I would get at least some information tomorrow! My mother and sisters surely wouldn't just send me off into the mountains without at least some knowledge of what was going to happen to me during the breeding moon! Right?
I tried to ignore the questions creeping into my mind, haunting me night and day, even as I tried to gain much-needed rest. I needed to sleep well tonight, craving the energy as I did not know what awaited me tomorrow. But sleep, as usual, was refusing to come, leaving me awake well into the night.