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"weaker" sex

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I have an idea that the phrase "weaker sex" was coined by some woman to disarm some man she was preparing to overwhelm. --Ogden Nash



Kronar's son was named Beth, and she knew from very early on that she was different. She wore the Bow of Honor, after all, and none of the other kids got to fight wolves until they were at least three. Beth's teachers called her a prodigy, or they would have if they knew any words of more than two syllables.

She could fight with the best of them, break heads and arms and teeth, but people treated her a little differently. First of all, there was the "she" business. She thought maybe she got different pronouns because she was the chief's firstborn. So she went to ask her giving-birth father about it. While she was there, she asked him also why her name was Beth. The other kids had names like Alrik and Sigvid, great names to scream in battle. She felt a little cheated.

Papa looked embarrassed when she asked, and even shouting at him didn't give her any answers. So she went to find Kronar.

Kronar patted her on the head, mashing her bow, and told her that she was a woman, but she shouldn't worry about it. She was his son. And he had picked the name Beth because he heard it was a woman's name, but she could pick a warrior's one when she turned sixteen. Now, she should leave him to his conquering and go fight some more wolves.

Satisfied, she did. Life among the Sons of Men was not complicated.


When Beth was twelve, she began to bleed from the inside. Disturbed, she went to see the shaman. This did not look like lifeblood, and she hadn't lost any fights lately. Plus, she had been bleeding for two days straight, and hadn't died yet. The shaman blinked several times and said, "Beth, you are a woman."

"I know," she responded. "Father told me not to worry about it." And because he hadn't, she didn't, although sometimes she was concerned about her penis being too small to penetrate a conquered enemy.

"Yes, but..."

The shaman went to the back of his tent and dug through to the oldest scrolls. Beth waited impatiently. The blood was dripping down her thigh and it itched. She scratched it.

"According to the old legends," the shaman said finally, "a woman bleeds from her... woman parts once a moon. This is how she knows she is grown."

"I am much too small to be grown," Beth said, crossing her arms and spitting in disgust. She was comfortably muscled and wiry, but still a full head shorter than her fellow young warriors. The only place she seemed to be growing now was on her chest. She had to wrap it so that her fat didn't get in the way. It was shameful to be flabby instead of muscled, but her fathers had not scolded her. Perhaps it was also a female thing.

"Nonetheless," the shaman said uneasily. "You should..." He read a few more faded runes. "Block your bleeding with rags, and get rid of them afterward. The blood will attract wild animals."

"Finally, some good news," Beth said, and smiled.


When she was sixteen, Kronar took Beth with him on a raid. She fought well, along with the other young men. She received one deep cut in the shape of the shrinking moon, which would scar beautifully and make for a great story later. Kronar clapped his son on the back and poured her mead sloppily. They told dirty jokes that the rest of the camp roared at, and although small, Beth was very good at holding her drink. She and her father were awake around the fire long after everyone else had passed into a drunken stupor.

A tear gleamed in the light of the fire; her father had let one escape.

"I am very proud of you, Beth," he said. "You are the best son I could ask for."

"You're just saying that because I slit that man's throat before he could hit you with his ax," Beth said. She wasn't comfortable with it when her father became emotional like this. She scratched her thigh and then smelled her hand, but the blood under her nails was not womanblood. It was someone else's blood, which was the best kind. She sucked at her fingers thoughtfully.

"Not at all," Kronar said gruffly. He got up and stamped into his tent. He returned after a moment with a bundle wrapped in hides.

"You are a man now," he told her. "A full member of our tribe. These gifts are from myself and your papa. Thorald is also going to make your favorite stew when we get back, with plenty of fat. What will be your warrior's name?"

"Úlfr," she answered promptly. She'd chosen it years and years ago, like all of the other kids. It meant wolf. She still had a particular talent with them.

She unwrapped the bundle, uncovering an interesting harness and a well-polished bone. There was also armor hammered in the shape of her unbound chest. She gave her father a dirty look. No man wore chest armor. Everyone should have an equal chance at a heart wound.

"I don't need to be coddled, Father," she said. He held up a hand in apology.

"You can't blame a father for worrying," he said. "As for the other--"

She held it up in the firelight. The harness seemed like something that would fit around her waist, and the bone hung down, smoothed down to the end.

"You made me a penis!" she said in wonder.

"I knew you'd like it," Kronar said.

"Of course," Úlfr said. She put it on and fastened the straps, admiring the way that it swung out in front of her. This was totally better than what her best friend Bjorn had gotten when he came of age. Who wanted a new cape, even a flatbear one, in comparison?

Kronar was trying not to cry again. Úlfr ignored him. Already she was planning how she was going to test it out tomorrow, perhaps with one of the new slaves.

"Thanks, Dad," she said, adjusting the Bow of Honor and flashing him a gap-toothed grin.

That was when the wolves attacked, but they handled it, father and son.