Stories of Old
She awoke to the smell of burning Naedran fat, an Alurian custom that she disliked. Still, she decided not to complain about it. She would have to work hard not to fight with him because she was still out of sorts from her nightmares. She had been tormented each night since the raid by sights, sounds and smells of Black Shell death. As she sat up, he walked to her carrying a bundle. He sat it down in front of her and spread it out, offering it to her like a courting gift. Gatie wondered if the Alurians had a similar custom.
He was speaking, apparently still unaware of the charm she had cast on him. She contemplated leaving him that way for her own amusement, but they would need to communicate easily if they were attacked again. She also knew that it was not the Naedrani they needed to fear. “Willing ears await.” She broke the spell.
“. . . ren’t you answering me? I can’t believe you are still angry about last night. I couldn’t believe you were really angry last night. Hey, you can’t ignore me forever.”
“Actually, I can, but I won’t because it is safer this way.”
“Well, is the fight over now? I hope so because I went to the trouble of making breakfast.” His bundle contained seared Naedran meat and raw squinkies. The taste of cooked meat will forever be a taste she associated with change- new beginnings. The meat was dry and chewy. Somehow, it made it seem less dead. As they ate, she was lost in her thoughts.
How right and easy her life had seemed just a few days ago. Her greatest worry was whether Ttikarn would ever gain the bravery he needed to ask Gatie’s mother for a marriage blessing. Ttikarn had been her closest friend in their small village and she had always thought that she would one day bear his children. Passion was not something she had ever known with Ttikarn. Theirs had been a relationship of familiarity. Passion would never have been theirs. Passion. She looked shyly in Daulis’ direction when he seemed preoccupied with trapping the squinkie wiggling in his lap, which was trying to find freedom.
The link between them was getting stronger, pulling at her in ways she had never imagined, making her wish for the impossible. She had never seen such an appealing Alurian. He was all light and darkness, with eyes dark in anger, light in amusement and shining and Beryl clear in desire. Of course, all the other Alurians she had ever met were aged emissaries who had come to her village on Beryl trade missions. It was to her father that they all came. He was head trader for the area until he chose to allow her brother Zar to take over the trade.
Daulis reached for her chest and she shrank back automatically, but he reached further and grasped the medallion that hung about her neck. Pulling it and her closer, he asked, “What is this, the new substitute for Beryl? It has no sparkle, why bother?” His face way close to hers due to the shortness of the chain and his expression was oddly merry.
“It is a protective amulet, Black Shell magic.” She wished he hadn’t noticed it, but she told him the truth about it anyway.
“And where would the sole survivor of the village of Belus get a Black Shell Protective Amulet, unless she surrendered to the Black Shells and that is how she is the sole survivor?” The words were not as harsh as they seemed. His look was of compassion.
“I did not surrender, I was captured. One of the Black Shells took a liking to me and let me go. He gave me the amulet so that I could survive if I got to a city held by the Black Shells. It only works there, not in the Wastelands.” She did not hide the tears that retelling this story brought on. She could still leave him if she needed to. She would leave him once she could be sure he would be safe.
He had been watching her face and settled on her lips, seeing the words as they were formed. Now that her lips had stopped moving, he touched them gently, feeling the irregular puckering of the skin where the Black Shell’s kiss had burned her.
“How did this happen?” he murmured.
“I don’t want to share anymore secrets with you,” she whispered desperately. Despite her fears and sorrow or perhaps because of it, his touch soothed her when she did not want to be soothed. She didn’t want his presence to cheer her. She wanted to remain in her despair until her life left her because she just stopped holding on to it.
He began to chide her, “You will share your royal Apante life with me, you will share your tears for your village and family with me and you will share your information about the Wastelands and the Black Shells with me, but you will not share how you came to be a Belurian Apante with Alurian lips? I will never understand Belurians.”
At his mention of Alurian lips, her hand flew to her mouth and felt the unnatural lumpiness. They did feel like Alurian lips now. “Do they truly look Alurian?” He opened the satchel at his waist and pulled out a flat shiny circle.
“Here, look,” he held it out to her. She looked at the circle and saw a dusty, wide-eyed Belurian girl with Alurian lips.
“How do you do this?” The girl in the circle spoke the words as Gatie did. Startled, she dropped the circle.
“It is a gazing glass,” he explained, “It won’t hurt you; it just shows you what others see when they look at you.” He picked it up and handed it back to her. “My father is a trader he got it from a Nolpar in the city. Keep it if you like.” She took it again and spent quite a long time investigating how it worked and how she looked. Again, she wondered if this gift that would have signaled courtship in Beluria had any meaning to Daulis.
That evening as the dusk wind began to die and they lay down to rest for the night Daulis risked looking up and asked, “Apante, what are stars?” They lay silently for a long time and Daulis thought that she had not heard him and had fallen asleep. When she answered, he was pulled back from the edge of his dreams.
“Among my people it was long held that the small lights in the sky, that is the stars, were the spirits of those who had gone before us. The life that we can give and take to and from one another is not all that we are. There is a part of life that cannot be transferred from one body to another. It is held to this planet by our bodies and is the last part of us to leave it. It is birth when it comes to us and death when it leaves. When it is finally freed of the body it created on this world, it floats up into the sky to be a light in the darkness.
“When we first met the Black Shells, they told us of how they came from the stars and we feared that we had offended those spirits and so, obeyed them. As time passed, we began to see that they were just bodies as we are and that the stars were other suns with other planets near to them. Their birds were made just the same way a spearhead is; ground from the stones of their own world. That is two ways of seeing what the stars are.”
Daulis liked the sound of her voice as she spoke the wisdom of her people, but as she spoke of the Black Shells, her veiled grief cut at his heart. He had begun to realize that he should listen carefully to all that she said, because she was the only one who could help him through the Wastelands. Still, his newfound concentration came from another source as well. He told himself it was part of what had come to him when the Elder had died, but he could not yet know that Gatie’s gift was changing him almost as much as Katid’s had. Her words were as ductile as the Seluth ore Beryl is set in and she wove them into the softest chain to bind them together. So comfortable were the bindings that he did not feel them at all, even as they sunk into him and took hold. He was linked closer to her with every word she spoke.
The next night as they settled down to eat supper, Daulis spoke around a piece of Naedran, “Apante, what are birds?” he asked.
“Once, this world held no bodies, but was full of life. It held life in its belly. When the belly became too small to hold all this world’s life, the world grew a mouth, out of which came all the life the world-belly could no longer hold. The life formed into Beryl, Seluth, sand, dirt, and all the things that help life to grow. Later more life came from the mouth and became tiny seeds for plants too small to see unless they are many massed together. From these seeds came the seeds for larger plants, like cartal fruit and garef grains and barloots. Once again, the mouth of the world sent forth life, which was growing in the belly. This time the life became tiny animals as small as the seeds, too small to see unless they are great in number. From these came the larger animals like squinkies, Naedrani and the deldains used by the Nolpars to carry loads of garef.“The world-mouth sent forth its life one more time, but this time the life did not roll down the hills that were the mouth, but flew up into the sky and stayed above the rest of the world. It floated all around the sky and some of it fell into the Great Ocean. When this life entered the water, it became the little blue puzats and the largest part became the Puzat Man who guards the ocean, the puzats and Vvadana’s Island. The waves in the ocean are caused by the beating of the Puzat Man’s heart that lies at the bottom of the ocean. The life that stayed up in the sky became the birds. When the birds began, they could not come down to the land. They stayed in the sky and, while they could see each other, they could not touch because when they did they had to stop flapping their wings and would fall.
“One day a male named Dau began flying near to a female named Gatie, I am named for her. Gatie was very pleased to fly near to Dau and they began to love each other. So strong was their love that they could not resist embracing each other, even though it meant they would fall. When they fell, Dau lost his wings, but Gatie did not. Dau could not fly anymore and so learned to live on the ground. Gatie so loved Dau that she gave up her wings too. As time passed, some other birds saw how happy they were and joined them on the ground. They became the Alurians, the Belurians and the Nolpars. That is how the world made all things.”
On the next day, knowing that they would soon part, Gatie began to teach him how to find barloots. “It is really quite easy once you know how. The trick is learning to focus your life all into a confined space, such as your hands. All living things are attracted by the life of others. Once your life is concentrated in a small area, you will feel the gentle pull that other life has upon you. Then it is just a matter of recognizing the differences between the pull of barloots and that of the other life here in the desert.” Daulis, being Alurian, had no idea of how to focus his life into any part of his body.
“Gatie, I can’t do it. I’m not Belurian, I don’t have the gift.”
“Daulis, our peoples are not so different as you think. Let me tell you a story told from ages past in my village:
“There once were two sisters who lived by the Great Ocean. Now, these two sisters loved each other very much. They were always helping each other and sharing their lives together. One day Vvadana, the elder of the two, was gathering little blue puzats by the waterside, and a male came to her from out of the water. He was wet, slippery, and nothing like Vvadana’s father or uncle. He came to her and said, `I see you take my little brothers out of the water to eat. Will you not come down into the water and see how it is that they live before you kill them?’ Vvadana answered, `I was told by my father and uncle never to go into the water because it holds great danger. No, I will not go. My life is above the surface.’ Then she took her puzats and returned to her family.“The next day Vvadana went again to gather little blue puzats at the water’s edge, and again the male out of the water came to her and said, `I see you take my little brothers out of the water to eat. Will you not come down into the water and see how it is that they live before you kill them?’ Vvadana again answered, `I was told by my father and uncle never to go into the water because it holds great danger. No, I will not go. My life is above the surface.’ Then she again took her puzats and returned to her family.
“On the third day, Vvadana went once more to the waterside to collect little blue puzats, and once more the male came out of the water and said to her, `I see you take my little brothers out of the water to eat. Will you not come down into the water and see how it is that they live before you kill them?’ This time Vvadana did not answer right away, but thought to herself, `Three times this one has come to me and three times he has not hurt me. Perhaps he will protect me from the dangers of the waters.’ Vvadana decided to go with the Puzat man and see how his younger brothers live.
“Vvadana followed the Puzat Man deep beneath the surface. There she saw the puzats living among the stones. ‘But, what do they live on. What do they eat?’ she asked.
“‘They do not eat anything,’ replied the puzat-man, ‘they give life to each other and that life returns to them tenfold.’
“Vvadana was amazed by what she saw when she lived among the puzats. She stayed with them for seven cycles of the moons, and then returned to her family. While she lived among the puzats, the Puzat Man taught her about life. He taught her how to use the life within her to give life to others. He taught her how to focus her life into one part of her being and how to still the waters using the life that existed all around her. She knew all of these things and more when she returned to her family.
“Vvadana’s younger sister, the one who’s name cannot be spoken, was gathering little blue puzats by the water’s edge when Vvadana rose from the depths of the Great Ocean. Vvadana’s sister was scared of her because no one had known where Vvadana had gone and they thought she was dead. Vvadana’s sister had been singing as she worked and, hearing her, Vvadana remembered that she missed her sister and went out of the water to see her. That is why we do not sing until our dead sisters have been gone nine cycles of the moons. Else, we might call them back, too.
“Vvadana looked very different when she came out of the water. The darkness of her whiskers and the lightness of her skin had blended together so that she was now a beautiful grey-blue all over, the whiskers on her head had grown long, fat and few as the water seeped into them, and her mouth became smooth and flat like that of a puzat. Vvadana’s sister ran from her until she heard Vvadana calling out to her that it was all right.
“Then Vvadana’s sister walked slowly back to the water and her sister. Vvadana told her of the Puzat Man. She told her of the ways of the puzats, and she brought her down into the waters to learn all the things which Vvadana had learned. The Puzat Man was angered by what Vvadana had done and he made Vvadana’s sister not to see or understand any of the ways of the puzats. He did this because he had asked the same thing of both sisters and only Vvadana had chosen to follow him into the depths.
“When Vvadana and her sister, the one whose name cannot be spoken, returned to their family, Vvadana was rejected by all who once knew her. They said. ‘You are not our kinswoman; you are a puzat and not worth anything but to be eaten.’ Vvadana fled her village and lived her life among people who were not her own. Vvadana’s people were the Alurians. The people descended from Vvadana are not Alurian, so they are Be-lurian. That is the story told to me by my mother and to her by her mother and by all the mothers back to Vvadana.”
As she told the story, Gatie had risen from her knees, where she was gathering barloots. She danced a strange oratory dance to illustrate and emphasize each point. Now she returned to her position on the sand, next to Daulis. He was staring, unbelieving at her.
“How can you tell such a story? It is impossible. Alurians and Belurians have never been the same people! Do not speak to me this way again.” He stood up and began packing his share of the Naedran into his satchel. “I have gotten what I came for. I know what caused the black cloud, now I am going to go back to my village and I hope that you and your Black Shell are very happy together. Goodbye!” With that, he turned heel and walked in the direction of Pedar.