My story starts on the day I was born. I do not know everything about my beginnings, and I doubt I ever will. What I do know is that I was found hidden among bushes by the oldest woman of our tribe. I was sleeping soundly and had been bundled carefully to keep me warm, a sure sign that I hadn’t been abandoned and that whoever had left me planned on coming back. At the sound of her approach, I woke up and began to cry. She sat with me and soothed me, believing that my mother would return for me, wherever she had gone.
The story I had been told was as she sat and waited, a group of men being led by the King of the North passed by on horseback. She said that the king had a crazy look in his eyes. She didn’t know for sure who he was pursuing, but instinct told her to shrink down into the bushes and keep me as quiet as she possibly could.
Still, she stayed there with me after the men had passed by. She waited for what she assumed was two hours, and then the men came back around with a woman captive. The king had the woman seated in front of him on his horse. He had her tied there. It seemed unnecessary because she looked so tired and defeated, as if she had been through hell. Even with the restraints and the look of defeat he held her tightly. Though she was obviously his captive, there was a sort of softness in the way he kept her with him. As the wise old woman watched them intently, the young lady looked in the direction of the bushes and caught the old woman’s eyes peering at her.
“Please,” she said to the king softly, “let me go into those bushes so that I can go to the bathroom. I promise that I won’t run away. I have no reason to run anymore anyway. I just need a moment of peace and one last moment of freedom before you imprison me forever.”
“You should not have run,” the king argued, but he untied her and let her down and the woman made her way to the bushes, where I was hidden with the old woman.
By this time it was clear to the old woman that this was my mother, and as she approached the bushes and tears began to fill her eyes, the old woman felt a sense of compassion for her. She didn’t seem like any particular danger, and through past experience the old woman knew that this girl (and she was only a girl of about twenty-one) was just another victim of the way that things had become.
Grandmother (as I would later come to call the old woman, just as every child in the tribe called her) moved back to make room for my mother as she came into the bushes. My mother slouched down so that her whole body would be hidden from the group of men not far from the bushes. She held out her arms for me and Grandmother handed me to her, expecting that my mother’s distress was brought on by the realization that she would soon have to reveal me to the men and was anxious about my safety.
“Count,” the king yelled from the trail, “I want to know you are not making an attempt to escape. I need to know that you are not trying to slip out of those bushes.”
And my mother counted. Each number was choked out in a fury of sobs, and Grandmother knew at that moment, that I wouldn’t be going with her. She held me for only a few mere moments and then she handed me back to Grandmother. Before she left, she took the necklace around her neck and handed it to Grandmother. It was gold with a long chain and was molded into the figure of a lion. The lion had a small green jewel for an eye.
“This is so that in the future, people will know who she is, and where she belongs,” my mother sobbed, “do not let her lose it, and do not let her wear it until you are absolutely sure that there will be no harm in her doing so. Tell her that it is a gift from her mother, but nobody can know that she is my daughter. She is in more danger than you could possibly know.” Grandmother nodded her agreement.
“Are you still in there?” My mother had stopped counting to give this important message to Grandmother, and the king had gotten suspicious. He had dismounted his horse, and my mother hurried out of the bushes before he could make his way into them.
“I’m sorry,” she apologized, “I was just distracted for a moment and forgot to count.”
“Where is your necklace?” he demanded. My mother reached up toward her naked neck and gasped in astonishment.
“I must have dropped it along the way somewhere. I was not very concerned with my belongings as I was trying to save my son’s life.”
The king seemed to accept that statement as the truth. Grandmother found out later that there was a boy that my mother had brought into the next town to be cared for, but he could not be saved.
As soon as they were out of sight Grandmother picked me and all of her belongings up and headed for the town that my mother and the men had just come from. She carefully hid the lion necklace in her pocket and tucked it so far in that there was no chance of it falling out or being accidently discovered. In addition to it being dangerous to be found with me, it would also be an interesting topic of discussion for anyone around as to how an old tribeswoman from the forests came into contact with any little bit of gold. The tribes have always been disinterested in that sort of thing, and never carried anything on them that they wouldn’t need to live.
Grandmother stopped at the first house that she came to in the little town and knocked on the door, hoping that the people inside would be kind and offer her a hand. It had been years since she cared for a baby and, of course, she had no milk or clothing for me. She was in luck. The door opened and a sweet, middle-aged woman opened the door.
“Well,” the woman smiled, sadly, “it’s good to see a healthy baby come into our lives today. We have a poor little darling being buried in the cemetery right as we speak. He died not long ago, and then the king came and took away his mother. Poor thing was a slave. She tried to escape to freedom with her unborn child and ended up in labor along the way. Well then, what’s this one’s story? I know she isn’t yours.”
“My great grand-daughter,” Grandmother lied as convincingly as she could, “she took sick along the trail back home. She died an hour after childbirth. This one here looks strong enough, but I have nothing for her. It was a while before my grand-daughter was supposed to have her. I was hoping you could spare something to get the baby’s strength up so I can take her home to her father.”
“I will do what I can,” the middle-aged woman said. An hour later, Grandmother had enough supplies for me to take me back to the tribe with her.
She took me to a single woman in the tribe named Sheena. Sheena was young and beautiful, but hardheaded and independent. She had little time for anybody, and least of all, an infant. She had been the outcast of the tribe for as long as anybody could remember, although she contributed more than any other person. She was just not friendly like everyone else.
“Why would you bring this baby to me?” Sheena argued with Grandmother. “I cannot take care of this baby. I am too busy. I have too much to do. I will not love it.”
“Everyone in this tribe has their job to do, Sheena,” Grandmother smiled. “This job is yours now. I am the oldest and I make the rules. You have been alone for too long. Now it is time for you to learn how to contribute socially. You will be responsible for making sure this child is brought up right.”
“You know I can’t do that,” Sheena roared. “I do not know how to be social with anybody. Why can’t you take care of her? You were the one who brought her here. She isn’t even one of us. Why does she need to learn to live like us? Drop her off with town people.”
“I am too old to take care of any more children. My time in this world is coming to an end. I can’t die happily if I know that I am leaving somebody behind who depends on me for so much. She needs to be hidden. The forest is the best place for her to be so, and I know that she will be very important to us all one day. You are also the best person to care for her. You can teach her how to be independent, and how to fight. If I am right about this child, she is going to need to know how to do both. You cannot fail her in that. Besides, I only got a quick glimpse of her mother, but you look very much like her. As this child grows, she may take on that look, and it will be good for us all if she is being raised by someone who could possibly pass for her mother. It is as much for our safety as it is for hers. Finally, she might do you some good. You play it off as much as you want that you are happy being alone, but I can tell there are times when it is a burden, even for you. I’ve been watching you, Sheena, and I know that you are lonely. Don’t try to fool me, I’m very old. I know how to read people. And as for her not being one of us, I seem to remember finding you alone in the forest once, too.”
Sheena could not argue with Grandmother, she was right. For about a year, she had been feeling the weight of her independence, but no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t swallow her pride enough to let people know that she was open for company. The most interaction she had with any of the other people in the tribe came only when she had brought in a fresh kill from a hunt, or something that she had foraged. The tribe would thank her, and then turn away, because they knew she would not want to be bothered with any other conversation. Sheena would retire to her caravan and brood over how she just could not seem to make people take an interest in her. She didn’t know it yet, but all that was going to change.
So Sheena took me in. She says that the first night was the hardest of her life. She never paid much attention to babies in her life, although she had plenty of opportunities, being brought up as the oldest of twelve children. When I cried it made her crazy, but instead of being able to just escape as she had done when she was younger, she was the one who had to figure out what was wrong with me and make me stop. She says that even though it was horrendous the feeling of accomplishment she got when she finally got the hang of it was better than any feeling she had ever had in her life.
The next morning, a couple came to Sheena’s caravan. They had already had six children, and they wanted to take me. They told Sheena they knew she wasn’t equipped to handle me. They said it would be a relief when they took me off her hands. Sheena took one look at them and told them that I wasn’t a burden and that they should be ashamed of talking about a baby like that, especially about her baby. It was in that moment that Sheena knew that she loved me, and that she felt a deep connection with me that she couldn’t explain. It was that night that Sheena stopped looking like a hermit to the rest of the tribe. In the years to come, Sheena became one of the most well liked members of the tribe, as well as one of the most productive.
The night after the couple came, Sheena was rocking me back and forth in a comfortable little rocking chair she had made and was singing me to sleep. She was looking in my steadily drooping eyes when she realized something that horrified her. She had been with me for three days, and I still didn’t have a name.
“Oh, baby,” Sheena whispered, “I’m so sorry that I didn’t think of something to call you. I’ve never done this before, forgive me. You’ve had so many afflictions in your short life already. You’ve been abandoned, and there is a threat of danger that will always be around for you, and who knows what would have happened to you if Grandmother had not found you. How could I have added not naming you to that list? There is nothing else to call you, but Joby.”
And as my eyelids closed shut, she placed me in the little wooden box that had been made temporarily for my bed and then made her way to the dresser. She pulled out that little chain with the lion with the green eye and pondered it for a moment or two. She says that she thought about throwing that necklace so far into the forest that nobody would ever find it again, and it could pose no danger to me, but she changed her mind knowing that it could hold the answer to my destiny.
“How could this little trinket be so important and so dangerous to you at the same time?” Sheena asked the sleeping infant that stole her heart in a matter of hours. It would be many years before any of us would know the answer to that.