Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Chapter 4

The first night I couldn’t sleep much. Everything was new, and new was scary. The room had an aroma of spice and dust. I slept on a bed, and not the ground. The softness of the mattress seemed another example of unnecessary excess. The roof prevented me from seeing the stars. But I supposed that it was for the better.

About midnight, or so I estimated, rain began to pelt the roof. It wasn’t winter, to my knowledge, so I was unaccustomed to hearing rain outside of the proper season. The sound sent me bolt upright in bed.

One of the other girls in the room turned in her sleep and muttered in her alien tongue. I settled back and stared at the ceiling.

Daimosk had explained that I was to share a room with other priestesses in training. Apprentices, he called us. Then told me he got the floor in the kitchen. He sounded so displeased with that option, and I think just about then I envied him.

He had the fire near. He rested on the floor, hard as earth. things that were so much more familiar to me. I couldn’t help but think I’d have slept easier that way. But even as those thoughts had passed through my head, and some emotion must have flitted through my face because Daimosk had assured me that the situation was “temporary” and he would have a room and cot.

I understood that the Priestesses didn’t want him to be placed in the same rooms as uncommitted girls. My people--while not using rooms--would have kept them separate too. There were all sorts of kinship bonds that could not be violated by impulsive choice. I got that. Perhaps there were some things the Lartiena and Togan would agree on.

Eventually the lack of sleep and the rhythmic patter of the rain eased me into slumber. I didn’t realize it of course until light hit my lids and I woke.

The other girls stood. Some spoke to each other, rambling jangle of consonants. No joking and laughter this morning, not like the night before. Instead, they seemed bleary eyed, sleepy, and muddled through a routine. I tried to mimic their patterns.

It earned me a smile from a yellow-haired girl. She gave me a robe and demonstrated how to fasten it. She spoke with gestures, and didn’t bother with words. I appreciated it. I wanted to forget for a minute, just how different our tongues were.

We splashed water on our faces, and brushed our hair. Mine was difficult to mannage with their brushes, but effort was not beyond me.

My companion gave me a ribbon, and I watched her bind her hair into a knot with the slender fabric. I did my best to imitate but my hair was considerably thicker.

She pursed her thin lips and then circled around to help. When the first attempt met with sheer disaster we both started laughing. There was something so silly about how hard a knot was. Then I thought of how my mother wore her hair, bound in braids and then secured, so she needn’t worry about it while working during the day. I thought of a quicker variant and held my hand up to stop my companion. She nodded, and stepped back. I took two locks and wrapped them together from scalp to end. I held up as an example, and while my companion looked a touch confused, she obliged. We spun the strands together, and then I pulled it into a tail on the top of my head. I gestured to indicate a circle around the locks, and my new friend tied the ribbon there, knotting it twice. I braided the twined locks and then wove the ribbon in and out like weaving a saddle blanket for a Genn. I knotted the whole thing and shook my head to test.

It held. I grinned at my companion. She smiled back, then reached to touch my hair.

“Chaya,” she said.

“Chaya-daom?” I asked, touching hers.

“Un,” she shook her head. “Som,” she touched her hair and then repeated: “Som,” touching my hair.


She nodded. “Dat som chaya,” she said and then leaned toward me conspiratorially and pointed out a particularly thin-haired girl with all sorts of lumps in her bun and loose hair, “Gat som bayut. Un chaya.”


“Un.” She repeated.

I started to guess that un meant no. Som meant hair. Chaya and bayut were opposites and descriptors, but their meaning still eluded me.

“Yeada,” she grabbed my hand and led me from the room.

So Yaeda was “let’s go” or “come.”

We left the shared room for a larger room. We all wore pale blue robes and knotted hair.
The Lartien girls had paler hair than I did, some as light as my companion’s others as dark as the priestess who greeted us at the door yesterday. I was astounded by the diversity of shades between pale yellow and tree-bark-brown. I sidled nearer my companion, seeking an ally in this strange assortment of girls.

“Viad,” she said, pointing to a small round seat. It was not a complete chair, as there was no back, but it was similar. Many of these were arranged around the room. My companion sat in one to show me. I sat beside her in the one she’d pointed out.

I tucked my knees together, and balanced with my feet placed on either side, and my back straight. Just as my companion did.

She smiled, letting me know I got it right. “Zoa,” she said, hand to her chest. “Dat?”

Dat must mean you, indicating me. “Elessa,” I said.

“Achan,” she said.

Then the Priestess came in. Only then did I realize what I and all the other girls in the room had in common. We all had green eyes. We were all Chianic -in-training. Or, perhaps more appropriately, “Chianic Apprentices.”

The priestess looked behind her where Daimosk wandered in. He shuffled his feet, and hung about the edges of the room. He nodded when he saw me, then jabbed a thumb in the priestess’ direction to indicate that I should keep my attention on her.

I did so. But still heard him kneel behind me, where he could whisper in my ear, translating the lesson.

At first hearing his familiar voice and the Priestess’ odd language was a bit disorienting, but I managed. My first lesson was on the history of Lartien. Apparently, the priestesses felt this knowledge would help us to manage our abilities better. I had no idea. My magic had never expressed itself outside of my eye color.

In short, Lartien history was one of conquest and reconquest. War seemed as common as wealth. And, from my biased perspective, no body seemed happy with what they had. Then I immediately felt like a hypocrite for entertaining these thoughts. I didn’t want the expectations of my people on me, certainly not the way they had saddled me with them and then sent me away.

And I didn’t like everyone in my clan. Nor did everyone always pull their own weight, so sure, sometimes greed and laziness reared their heads. But the whole group--there certainly weren’t that many of us--came together and dealt with it. There was nothing nearly as affective of curtailing unwanted behavior as shame induced by public embarrassment and ridicule. My people used those things to good ends. Or mostly good ends.

We weren’t perfect. But we didn’t really go around fighting over territory. I mean, the desert was very large and there always seemed plenty of land for us. We rarely even came into contact with other groups outside of the yearly Meeting Mound rituals. Thinking of so many people so densely located, not moving, with access to such luxury...

I wondered if the combination drove them to madness. Or something. I don’t know. I was being judgemental.

I really needed to stop that. These people took me in, and Zoa over there--she was nice. Should I judge the people harshly from their history and because they didn’t do things as I would? That wasn’t fair, and I knew it. The history should be telling me that with different circumstances there are different outcomes. Yes. I could choose to interpret it that way.

How Lartien did things wasn’t good or bad. Their history was in the past, and could not be changed, so what cause did I have to impose desert-sahped morality on their river-valley and wood-laden mountainous realm? Their realm was different, their people were different, and a different set of skills were needed to live in Lartien than in Togan.

And I needed to learn those skills fast. I couldn’t soak them up so quickly if I sat there passing judgments on my new hosts.

So I renewed my attention and learned precisely what Daimosk had meant last night. Sanara was just as wealthy as Lartien. They grew a lot of the same things. They sold these things to Videsse, Kwenda, Togan and the islands beyond the Sea. They threatened each other, and the only way that would be solved was war.

In the past, when war came, the Priestesses and Priests, all of whom possessed a variety of magics, were called on to assist battle.

I looked at Daimosk. His expression was sobering as he translated her words, no emotion touched his tone. My blood chilled as surely as if the strange out-of-season rains had managed to reach my veins.


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