She came out of the forest, laughing, singing. She was unafraid of the crowd that was waiting, unafraid now of their jeers and taunts. She’d gone in alone, afraid, untried. She emerged a month later, at the next new moon.
If you survived a month with no supplies, alone in that unmapped place, you were never taunted again. The people who called you scaredy-cat to your face or behind your back had a new name for you if you emerged, whole and intact a month later. Wisdom-woman perhaps, or keeper of the flame. Seer. Prophet. There were many names to be had then.
Women and men both ventured into these woods to prove themselves. It wasn’t required, and it wasn’t expected. About half returned. About half of them that did were never able to speak again, never able to even feed themselves. They’d returned, but in body only.
The others who never walked out of the woods? Forgotten. Their names never mentioned. Did they die? Run away to another village? Start a camp? The only ones who might know were those who returned, and they never said.