Saturday, November 6, 2021

The Wandering (FIN)


In the caves, Ignose laughs at Roan toddling. She's wrapped in furs, against the cold, even our fire doesn't drive it all away. Roans waddles over, wraps his arms around me and plants wet kisses on my face. 

“Solamae,” He lisps. “Sing song.” I smile at him and gather him up in my arms, lifting him off the ground to swing him around and around. This plating season, he would be two red moons old. But I would not get to kiss him on his blessing day.

Soon he would be leaving us. I wasn't ready.

Ignose added more wood to the fire, quietly watching me.

“You've grown, Moon-daughter,” She said. Her eyes seemed to weigh and measure me, and I try to stand taller.

“Thank you, moon-sister,” I reply, setting Roan down. He runs to his mother. “Up, up, mama,” he babbles, lifting his little arms high with anticipation.

“Tsk,” She clucked at him, but picked him up anyway. “It is time for you to go to sleep, little sun.”

“No!” he whined, but he doesn't complain as she changes his clothes and bundles him into his furs. The cave flickers with our fire, making the walls dance with shadows. This far back in the chambers I could not even hear the thrum of the village as they made their nightly ablations around their own low flames. 

Everyone was getting ready for sleep. Tomorrow was the Met, and the women were excited. The Coupling happened once every two hands over the winter, and next spring the women would all be fat with child. Perhaps Ignose, too. I studied her as she smoothed Roan's hair, crooning a tune. Twice she had gone to the Met, and twice returned with something akin to satisfaction on her face. What was it like? Being with a man?

I couldn't imagine.

As my eyes roamed the darkness, I tried to imagine what a man looked like. Were they tall? Hard? Or soft, like the moon-daughters. My gaze returned to Ignose. Her hands were trembling, and tears slid down her face.

“Moon-sister,” I whispered, drawing near as she arranged Roan's blankets once again, “I am sorry.”

“I am sorry too.” She sobbed, leaning her head upon my shoulder as I sat next to her. “This is wrong. How do they do this every year?”

Roan's eyes were closed, and I could hear his even breathing. He slept. Ignose buried herself deeper into my frame, and I wrapped my arms around her.

“The sisters, they do not speak of their sons after they go,” She said, as I smoothed her hair. “At least, not from what I hear.”

“Not even at Tide?” I asked. Ignose raised her head, looked me in the eyes.

“Not even at Tide,” She answered. “Come, let us sit by the fire for awhile. I must speak to you.”

She rose, wiped her face, and pulled me gently by a hand. We both walked back a few short steps to our fire. If I stood underneath the flame, I could just look up and see the holes in the cave ceiling where the smoke drifted lazily up and the red moon shone down upon us, marking Roan's second ageday and my twelfth, while bathing everything in rose. We all aged with the moon; even if our blessing day was different.

Ignose pulled me down beside her, our feet stretched towards the flames. She glided me back till I lay reclined on her chest, something we used to do when I was much younger.

“You are growing up so much now, Solamae,” She said, smoothing my hair. I felt a smile tease the corners of my mouth.

Her voice stilled as her hands busied in my hair, both of us listening to the crackling of the fire and the hollow sounding of the cave.

“Did you ever think what you would be if you had not been born a Blight?”

Her tender caresses calmed me, and I felt myself melting against her.

“A weaver.” I said. 

Her hands froze. Maybe she hadn't expected me to respond. Suddenly I felt uneasy, or had the night grown colder? Was that a breeze in the air? My skin prickled. 

“Ah,” Ignose said. She must have felt me shiver, because she reached back and pulled one of our leathers off the nearest woven mat. With a smooth motion, she draped it over me, and resumed combing my hair with her fingers, massaging my scalp.

“I would have been a spear-sister,” Ignose said, and I knew it was true as soon as she said it.

Silence descended. I thought of Ignose, fierce Ignose, roaming the fields with her spear and sleeping in on the communal mats with the other spear sisters. It fit.

“I was never angry until you came along,” Ignose said, interrupting my dreams of her hunting Elk and running on the hunt. “I was like you. Compliant. It wasn't until you were born that I started questioning everything. It's one thing to know I'm blighted and to accept my own wrongness—but it is another to see a little child hurt and abused.”

I curled my arms around my legs, pulling my knees into my chest. Why was she talking about this? 

“I've never been abused,” I said. “That's what the men do.”

Ignose snorts.

“You are abused every day,” She said, “But you do not see it.”

“When?” I ask.

“When you are beaten. When you are deprived food. At Tide, especially at Tide. I should not have let you go again.”

“But, Ignose,” I twist in my seat to look at her. She's crying. I reach up to touch her face, wet, but she jerks away from me. “I deserved that. I am blighted. I must carry the shame.”

Ignose's back is to me and her shoulders are shaking, shaking. Is she laughing? Sobbing? I put my hands on her shoulders, trying to comfort her, but she nudges me away.

“You are not blighted,” Ignose says. “You were born in the sea.”

I hear the sounds of waves crashing in my ears like we are back in our summer home, the sounds of seagulls and sand. The ocean is foamy with froth and undulates, combing the shore like the sun bakes the land. I see Ignose, heaving in the water, her belly full with child, moaning into the waves as she pushes and pants.

“I am blighted,” I say. My stomach flips. I would believe it tied in knots like the ends of my woven grass mat, if I could not feel it settle beneath my hands.

Ignose hides her face. She speaks through her fingers.

“When I found the baby on the shore, I went into the village. She was so helpless. So little. She quieted under my shirt. Everyone was sleeping. I didn't know what I was doing until I had already done it.”

“I went into the tent of the weavers, and saw the mats with sleeping figures to the left and the right. Three woman had already birthed that week. Their baskets were full of their babies, black and fuzzy in the light of moons. I reached down and took one. I put the baby I found on the shore in its place and I left.”

Ignose's voice ends in a croak. My heart is a rabbit being chased by spear-sisters.

“I thought,” Ignose says, looking at me, “I thought. This baby won't be like me. This baby deserves something better. I was going to just put that other baby, the one that wasn't blighted, that one that wasn't cursed, back out on the rocks and go home. I was going to leave you to die. To suffer for all the wrongs that had been done. But I couldn't. I couldn't. I failed. All it took was one look at your eyes to know what I had done was wrong. I was horrified with myself.”

“I tried to put you back. But the Ogna saw me and she saw what I had. She thought it was the baby from the rocks. And she was kind.”

I breathe in. Everything is the same but everything has changed. 

Who am I? 

Who is Ignose?

“Can you-- can you ever forgive me?” Ignose croaks out, pulling herself away from me. “Can things ever be the same?” She whispers.

“Who is my mother,” I ask. It sounds like my voice comes from another person, from outside myself. I don't recognize it.

“A weaver named Paoe,” Ignose says. Paoe. My mother is Paoe. A weaver.

“And the woman who gave birth on the sand?” I ask.

“Cinna.” Igonse mutters.

Cinna thinks she is my mother. But she is not. She is not my mother.

I feel a freedom as high as the clouds for a moment before it all comes crashing back, like a wave returned to the shore but bloated with bracken and brine.

“I forgive you.” I say to Ignose. Of course I forgive her. I love my Ignose. She is everything to me, she is the twin of my moon. She has always been there for me. She is my moon sister and I am hers. I will always forgive her.

Ignose nods, I feel her shift behind me. She crawls forward, she falls at my knees, bending her head to the stone. “I am sorry, moon-sister. Ocean born. Solamae, daughter of the sea.”

I smile. This is the first time she has ever called me sister. A full sister. I don't know how to feel about that. I feel...wrong.

“I will carry your shame.” I say.

Something tugs me towards the darkness, to the cave. I need to wander for a bit. I need to be alone.

I shrug off my furs and take a step away.

“I'll be back,” I say over my shoulder. “I love you.”

I think Ignose understands.

When I turn around, I see her hunched near the fire, staring into the smoke, her chin on her knees. The flames flicker like tiny sea-foam waves. She looks so small, like a bug afloat, a leaf on the wind. Part of me yearns to turn back and hug her. Instead I follow my own thoughts into the darkness of the caverns.

The Caverns stretch out before me. I could go to my people. They would not welcome me. Yet I feel a strange yearning to be among them, to see them again in the light of the news I have received. My feet turn towards where they have laid their fires and spread their mats and furs.

The light of their flames reaches my eyes before the noise. I hear a low hum of voices. I make sure to stand far back, ever silent and watchful. This feels wrong. I feel wrong.

Who am I?

The villagers sit together, close, wrapped in furs, heads leaning on shoulders. I see a crop of baskets at the feet of many and imagine the curly haired wonders that sleep within. Babes, only a few months old. Treasured, ocean born children. 

The moon maidens seem merry, if subdued. Many a soft hug is being exchanged between tidbits of roasted root veggies and dried game. Others are stretching sleepily, and arranging their warm leathers more deftly around them. I see many whittling, bone-knifes working at hunks of wood.

I feel a deep pain in my chest. An unfathomable ocean of dark waters stretches between me and them, yet I could be there in just a few steps.

My heart is beating so loud I am sure someone will hear it. Just as I am about to go, a woman stands. It is Ogna May. She is gesturing around the fires, speaking. I cannot hear what she is saying, but everyone is listening. Some are nodding, rocking their baskets with absentminded toes, hunching together for warmth. They listen with rapt attention.

How did I get closer? I don't remember moving, but here I am, crouched at the edge of the shadows, listening.

“And she climbed the vines. Up and up it went, higher and higher, until the leaves were spun of moonbeams. The tree and its garland twined towards the heavens. Kogialili's arms ached. Her sides ached. When she looked down, moon-daughters, she could see the sea spread like a vast droplet hung suspended between the firmaments, drooping as a woman's breasts heave in labor.

I had never heard this story.

“At last she reached the pinnacle. The alabaster moon. Where she would make her petition to the Creator. She prostrated herself before the temple that rests upon the white moon, where lives the ambassador, he-who-would-go-between.”

“And here, here, moon-daughters—here she poured forth her lament.”

“'Oh great one, he-who-sees-the-creator, take pity on us. My sisters toil endlessly under the sun. We are forced to eat the second-bread and wear the Kaerma. We are beholden to those-you-have-created. Take pity on us and end our afflictions, for we are without hope.'”

“And he-who-would-go-between prayed to the Creator on our behalf and poured out many offerings and wrote many songs. For two red moons he prayed.”

“And the Creator saw all the evil men had done, under the sun and the moon. He had counted up all the hurt and wrong men inflicted upon us and our daughters, and the sum was more than the stars in the sky and more than the hairs on our heads. And thus he smote the man, that when they reached 10 hands and saw their 10th red moon rise over the waters, they would be mute and without speech.”

“Thus did he free women into tribes.”

“For our own transgressions though less than man, numbering as the ants in the hills or the fish in the streams—he banished the moon-daughers to the valley we now call home,” Here Ogna May pauses, looking up. I think her eyes meet mine, but not a drop of recognition crosses her face.

“And Kogialili descended the vine. On her way down she spoke an oath, and promise we hold to still. She promised to birth within the ocean, to offer her womb-blood and her daughters womb-blood to the Creator in thanks and memory of his judgment. To not be born in the waters, sisters, is to be blighted and to bring dishonor upon us all.” She had seen me. She must have.

“And thus we have always been. The Creator placed around us this ring of mountains—oh and how the earth did shake, daughters, for 2 hands it shook and quaked like a woman's afterbirth. But as the tulmalt subsisted, a valley was born. This very valley that we now live in, where none can enter except through these caves.

“So are our woman safe from our oppressors forevermore.”

“Oh, moon-sisters, this is how our world came to be from my mother's mother's mother's time. And may it always continue.”

“Let it be as you say,” Droned the villagers as one, almost making me jump. “Let us carry this memory, Ogna May, and let us never forget.”

One by one the woman began to go to their mats, still smiling and swaying a bit, speaking to one another in hushed towns. I sit on my rock and watch.

After many had laid down, the Ogna stirred. She turned and looked right at me again. I look back, and nod to her. I watch as she turns and walks into the darkness, and after a few heartbeats, I follow, edging around the camp so as not to disturb the sleepers.

“Solamae,” She said when I arrived, “ Moon daughter. Why are you watching us?”

I sink to my knees, trying not to shiver. This far from the saunas a chill wind blows and reminds me of the snows that blanket the outside.

“I am lonely, Ogna May,” I answer simply. She sits and lifts my face from the ground until I perch on my haunches next to her.

“Yours is a hard lot, Solamae. I wish the blighted ones did not have to carry so much shame.”

I don't speak.

“Remember your place in the great ocean. We are all part of the wave and we all have our crests to carry to the shore. Yours is to serve as a reminder of our Creator's judgment, and the oath our sisters took to thank him for his freedom.”

I nod. “I am blighted,” I say. Though, not with as much certainly as I said yesterday.

Ogna May reachs out and hugs me, crushing me to her ample chest.

“You are, yet you are still beautiful, Solamae. Don't forget that. In time your turn will come. Remember in here you are cursed, but out there—when the men come over the hills to lay with their chosen, you will be just another woman.”

I shiver, and she mistakes my thoughts.

“Don't fear it. As soon as your red moon begins to flow, you can join us on the hills, and then it will be your turn to heave in the waves on a moonlit night.”

No, I tell myself. Never.

“Go back to your mat,” Ogna May commands. I watched her bulk amble away in the near dark, heading back toward the tribal fires. My heart burns with something I can not name, and I realize belatedly that I no longer feel the cold.

It was only when I am halfway to my woven mat and my own fire that I understand I am angry. I don't like how it makes me feel, like a smoldering ember tossed about in a clay oven, or like a sharok quietly prowling the sea.

The cold quells my anger quickly. I move down the tunnels, deeper, deeper, until at last a bit of warmth sneaks back into my sea-yearning bones. Here, at the caves, the sea is so far from us. Ice will have covered our huts and the fire-pits in our summer home will be barren. Yet spring will come.

The cave saunas are a place of warmth and gathering for all the women. Here there is trade, and bathing, and games, but not for me. Now the area is vacant, empty except for the faint hiss of vapor and the smell of sulpher, pungent and thick. It is warm here, the air moist, and the light from the lichen and moss glows an eerie green in the dampness.

This hot spring is what allows the moon-sisters and I to live in these caves through winter. Without them, the caves and us would be frozen tombs. I breathe in. Bliss.

The pools are empty. Everyone must be asleep.

I shed my clothes eagerly, sliding into one of the smaller cisterns until I am up to my neck in warmth.

Relax.


I close my eyes and let myself float.


Many hours later, I feel ready. All the anger has been soaked out of me, I am wrung like a cloth. I am ready to meet Ignose with open arms. I now can extend to her true forgiveness. I am ready to carry the shame, ready to shoulder the weight of my blighted past. Ready...to discover the small ache that is budding between my breasts. It is new and foreign. I dip one finger in the cleft of my ribs, and feel my heart still beating there.

I do not know what to call it this. The feeling I cannot name. It puzzles me as I dress, dripping sweat and salt and steam. Is it being awake so late? Is it being alive so long? Is it knowing the truth? It is Roan? Is it Ryia?

I take a breath of hot air, and the mote between my breasts swells within me. Everything is beautiful.

My outer firs gather like soft foam around me, I follow the paths home, almost skipping, no longer feeling the cold, my euphoria mounting. I will tell Ignose the tale I heard Ogna May share with my moon-sisters. Something new, something delicious to share between us. Over breakfast, she will ask me to tell it again. Together, we will tell it to Roan.

I'm humming, I'm warm. I was not born on the rocks, but in the sea. Ignose saved me. I am not cursed. I am not blighted. Paoe is my mother. I have a mother!

I am fr-

I crash to a halt, my gaze leaping over our campsite. 

Where is Ignose? Where is Roan?

He is gone. She is gone. Where her mat should be, an empty rock lays, the nettles and mat-weaves strewn about. Her basket is gone. Her firs are missing. Our cooking supplies are in a heap, and the tidy arrangement of our bathing things are spilled over, topsy-turvy. Her pack is gone. The fire is almost out.

I gasp, my hand to my throat.

Her snowshoes are gone.

I turn and run. This time the slap of my feet against the stones cry Ignose, Ignose, Ignose. Or is that my voice? I can no longer tell.

-------------

The End of Part One

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