Or so I thought.
To me, the Genna-ko was a living Goddess. Her dark hair hung long and loose, bound just a bit with twine, to keep the ends from straying into her face. Her skin was an earthen-color, and her eyes a golden-brown. I always wanted to grow up to be just like her and knew that I wouldn’t.
I willed this journey on the spring of my thirteenth year to last forever. My first blood had marked me a woman in the midst of dreary rains while we huddled in the winter home on the edges of the farmers’ lands. This time the Midsummer would mark change. I didn’t want change to come. So rather than look ahead, I watched my earth-brown feet in twine and Genn-leather sandals, moving of their own accord. I begged them not to.
The sun rose over the gold-splattered Hadhen plain every morning, just to spite me. Sunlight dripped down the broad backs of our Genn, finding golden highlights in the short russet fur. The Genn moved. The Genna-ko called. And off we moved into another day, though I willed every bone to remain, willed every muscle to refrain from moving, and never actually seemed to will stillness successfully. The sun always rose. The Genn sought water and so we continued toward the Gathering Mound. I travelled with the rest, despite what waited for me. I trudged on to the Gathering Mound, to inevitable adulthood.
When the Summer Sun rose, earlier than ever that year, I had not slept. I watched the stars twinkle to nothing and then be swallowed by the day. I didn’t want to be renamed. I didn’t want to know what my green-eyes meant. I knew they marked me as different. I had always known. No one else looked like me, not even my parents. I feared that on my woman-rites the Genna-ko would stand and raise her gnarled, use-polished staff and declare that I was not Togeni and had never been. I feared being cast out like I feared nothing else.
I plodded behind the Genna-ko as the Summer sun rose. The others of my people the ViKa, fell behind. It was customary for the leader and the new-adult to walk to the Gathering Mound together. The Genna-ko announced the arrival of the ViKa, and my presence announced that we had three to commit to adulthood rites--myself and two boys.
The rites were not daunting. Their meaning swallowed me, however.
“It is exciting, Elessa!” my cousin Ishane said when she found the rags in a wooden bucket, “You get to marry!”
“That is not required,” I returned. “And it is not the only thing that can happen.”
“Pah,” said Ishane, dismissing my concerns with a flutter of a hand. Her eyes, however did not meet mine. My odd eyes.
She hadn’t tried to console me again. Sometimes it crossed my mind that she had spoken to someone older. Someone who knew what was coming.
Fear squashed my curiosity. Perhaps that made me a coward. I didn’t want to be a coward.
The Genna-ko led me to the Shan-tent, where the girls waited to become women. The boys went to the Bhan-tent. There were two boys from the ViKa who had walked at my side up the path that wound up the sun-seared side of the Gathering Mound. I did not look up to see them, but I felt the hot burn that said at least one of them watched me vanish into my place.
The Genna-ko stood at the center and looked down her wide nose at me. I fought not to squirm under her regal gaze. “Elessa KaViKaTogeni dies tonight,” she declared.
“Tomorrow...someone new will rise.”
It was custom. Oh, I knew the customs of my people. But fear rose inside me. It clenched my throat tight and it battered wings in my chest. My stomach about dropped to rest in my ankles.
“Mourn tonight. Tomorrow, you rejoice.”
“Yes, Genna-ko,” I said.
She pounded the ko-staff once. Then left. I sat alone in the dark, with finality hanging thick in the air.
That was a long night. At dusk another girl from a different group was ushered in by her Genna-ko. I listened to the same speech I had been given, but remained still. When she and I were alone, our gazes met. We said nothing.
I laid down on the hard-packed ground, and stared at the canvas. There would be no stars to keep my focus. I knew sleep would be the wiser option, but agitation kept me awake. My companion slept. I could hear her breathing even out as the night dragged on.
I tried to count her breaths, because they were more audible than mine. I got to a hundred twenty before light began to creep about the edges of the tent. I suppose I started too late. Or perhaps my companion had been awake longer than I realized, her own nerves must have failed when faced with exhaustion.
My nerves won out.
The two Genna-ko appeared with real dawn. We stumbled into the daylight, and were ushered before a large bonfire.
Opposite, all the clans of our people gathered. They wore their brightest beads, their longest feathers, necklaces of polished bone, and hoops of ivory. White shone against dark skin in an impressive display. If I didn’t know how important this ritual was last night, I knew now.
But really, I’d always known. Knowing had never made me dread it less.
“Before you are Elessa and Kimata,” droned the Genna-koi, their tones and voices matched pitch for pitch, syllable for syllable, sound for sound making it seem that the words echoed. We were surrounded by valley, making the effect awe-inspiring. I felt my knees weaken and I wasn’t even standing, but kneeling. The two Genna-ko continued to speak together, “Yesterday they were girls, seeking guidance from their elders. Today they are women.”
Then my Genna-ko was quite, only the other spoke: “I bring to you Kimata. As a girl she showed a keen instinct when tending the Genn. She helped some to give birth last winter while the rains and storms scared them. She found a stray foal last spring and guided it back to the heard. She, I name my successor. She will be Genna-ko. She is now named Kimata kaGennakaTogani. Rise, Kimata Genna-ko.”
I stared at my companion. She shook head to toe. Envy rose like a sandstorm starting in my belly and lifting toward my eyes.
Our community greeted her with the respect due a Genna-ko. Congratulations circled the community gathered. Beads and bangles rattled, hands clapped, and the sound built until it sounded like a stampede. And when it quieted, when the community was again silent, Kimata was woman and Genna-ko.
“I bring to you Elessa. As a girl she demonstrated little. But we knew the signs when she was born. The green eyes. Her spotty ability to predict a sandstorm in a clear sky, or to know when a preadtor approached before the Genn knew, only reinfiorced our knowledge. Unfortunately, our people have not seen one like Elessa for many generations. There is not a man or woman with the ability to train Elessa, not in the whole of Togan.”
I trembled like a foal who’d caught scent of a sand-bear.
“After much consideration, we have elected to send Elessa kaTogani to Lartien for training in Chia--the magic of the Old Ones, and of Chiadina itself. I name her Ellesa Chianic kaTogani.”
I was being sent away. My worst fear. I watched the Genna-ko, dreading whatever might come next. I didn’t expect what actaully happened. I thought I was being rejected, cast out, abandoned.
But no, the Genna-ko knelt. My Genna-ko, my idol, knelt before me. Then Kimata’s genna-ko joined her. Other genna-ko, from all the tribes of my people came forward and knelt.
“We have not been privileged enough in many generations to have a Chianic to guide all of us,” said all the Genna-ko at once. If I had thought before this decision was only up to my leader, that illusion vanished instantly. “The legends say that when a Chianic is born,” all five Genna-ko continued in unison, “times for either trouble or greatness are upon us. We send you to Lartien, to train, Ellessa, and hope that upon your return you bring greatness to all Togan.”
Then they touched their foreheads to the sand and rose.
“Rise Ellessa Chianic kaTogani.”
I stood. My knees held me up, surprising me to no end.
“Make all Togan proud.”
My people broke into such thunder that I jumped. Then my family surrounded me. I was being hugged and kissed and applauded and spoken to, all in such a rush that it blurred together. by the end of the night I feared going away less than I had before. I would still be welcome back home, after training. If they didn’t have to send me to Lartien, they would not have. But they had no choice to send me, and I had no choice but to go.
I never expected that when I ventured abroad, I would carry my people’s hopes with me. I wondered how I’d always known. Was that the magic? I suppose it didn’t matter. That was the first night in awhile that I slept.