Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Lun'ul

    The full moon shone lordly over the mountains. Silver capped the distant peaks, flowed like molten light through the valleys, and bathed with a billion diamonds in the lakes far below. All between those glittering stars was black but for two great, dusty streaks smudging the sky beneath the moon, and a third hanging over the distant horizon, each flecked with so many more silver pinpoints that it seemed the stars themselves had gathered to witness the passing of Lun'ul.
    But, of course, the idea was lost on the five tribal children, sitting in a ring upon one mountain ledge, giggling and throwing the dust they'd been told to grind from all kinds of dried insects and herbs. Chores were, after all, a thing grown ups gave them to make sure they became as boring as they were. There was no other reason for it. So they had to work harder to ensure that they didn't.
    Their bronze skin was soon stained such deep shades of red, green and blue by those efforts that it would take a week of sand scrubbing to get it back out. A fact pointed out by one dreadlocked young man as he stopped in his own errands to frown down over them.
    Ice-blue eyes widened and turned up to him sheepishly - all the eyes of all the children, bar one.
    "Deeeehaaaaa," the fifth whined, flopping backwards against the warrior's legs, then onto the rocky ground itself when he shuffled one step backwards. She scowled up at him, upside down, but didn't call her older brother out on it. "Can't you get us out of this?"
    "No," Deha grunted. "And I wouldn't if I could. Breaking stuff is about all you lot are good at, so you can grind the dust for tomorrow's ceremony."
    "But whyyyyy?"
    "Yeah," a boy piped up while she flopped somehow deeper into the ground. "Can't we just go with you? We wanna do more battle traini--" His hands clamped over his mouth at Deha's sharp hush.
    "Mention it again," he whispered, glancing around at the other villagers busying themselves with preparations nearby, "and I'll teach you how to clean weapons rather than swing them."
    "But why do we have to do this?" His sister whined again. "The moon's already up!"
    "Yes," he sighed witheringly, "but the Winds aren't. This dust needs to be ready to purify it, and the priests can't do that if it's not been ground up."
    "Why do they need to? We don't do it every other time the wind blows..."
    Deha rolled his eyes and nudged his petulant sister roughly with his foot. She sighed dramatically and pushed herself back up. He dreaded her getting older. She was already too dramatic for a six year old - what about when she was his age? "Those winds," he sighed, crouching down beside them all, "aren't the same. This Wind is the wind of the spirits. The gust that carries the souls of our ancestors, who protect us and watch over us while they make their way to the Frozen Gates in the south."
    "Why does it matter so much tonight?" Another girl asked. Deha squinted uncomfortably. One of her eyeballs had gone blue.
    "It doesn't," he replied, deciding it wasn't his problem to fix. "Lun'ul is tomorrow night. When the waxing moon aligns with the constellation of Akiirit."
    "Akiirit?"
    "The one that looks like a rolling badger."
    "Oh!" All five children squinted up into the sky.
    He was about to rise and resume his task, joining a few others in carving bone charms, when the blue-eyeballed girl spoke up again.
    "But why does it actually matter?"
    He stifled his frustrations and wished, vehemently, that he hadn't gotten involved at all. But, if he didn't answer them now, they would just follow him and pester him until he did. Being Hara's brother meant he was more desirable for her and her friends to harass than anyone else, especially any of the very busy priestesses who could have done a much better job of explaining it than him.
    So, wearily, he shifted the hammered sword from the sling at his side and sat down on the ground, where he was quickly surrounded. A distinct pressure settled on him with the wideness of those patient eyes. "It matters," he began carefully, "because tomorrow night the Winds will drop low enough to pick up our wishes and carry them away. It's the one night when--"
    "It won't pick us up and carry us off with them, will it?"
    His eyes narrowed back at his sister. "I'll make sure it does if you keep interrupting. It carries our wishes - our messages, our love. It's the one night we can speak to the spirits, to our ancestors, and tell them all we wish to tell them."
    "Like what?"
    He shrugged. "Anything."
    One of the other boys gasped brightly. "I can tell them I'm getting really good at hatchet throwing!"
    "Sure," Deha nodded, "if you want to lie to them, that's fine too."
    The boy's expression flattened.
    "What is the Wind?" Another asked. "Why do our ancestors ride it?"
    "Yeah," piped another, "why don't they just walk? Or stay here? Why do they even have to go at all?"
    He sighed as he found himself sinking under a cascade of increasingly heated questions. It took three hushes and a threat from his sword to quiet them. "All right. I'll start at the beginning - assuming I can recall enough of the details. The story of the Wind... Well, Aya'u - you know who She is, don't you? I don't have to start right at the beginning, do I?"
    Each of the children guffawed. "We're not stupid," his sister drawled. "She's the Goddess of the Wind."
    "Thank the sands for that," he muttered. "Well then, I'll begin:
    "Aya'u, Shiya, Degon, Uq'ua, were each loved by the elements. Fire would hug and kiss Shiya, the earth would shelter and warm Degon, water would lap at Uq'oa's toes, and the winds would kiss and caress Aya'u's skin. The rampaging elements tamed in the presence of the gods, and the gods adored them in turn. But, time passed, and the elements weren't company enough - they sang, but they didn't sing the same songs as the gods; they laughed, but they didn't laugh the same way; they loved, but their passion was different. The gods weren't lonely, but...They were missing something...ehh, vital," he finished vaguely.
    "What was so vital?"
    He waved the question away. "You'll understand when you're older. Don't ask your parents."
    "Why not?"
    "Because you'll go blind. Anyway, they--friends." Deha grinned and nodded with satisfaction. "They wanted friends. Yes. So the gods came together with Their elements and made us to be Their friends. Figures were shaped from earth, hardened in fire, filled with water, and blown into motion, and then we were all taken away and put where our gods could find them easiest. Aya'u placed our tribe out here, on the path of the Gende'ah winds.
    "But, when the first of us died, when their bodies couldn't go on any longer, their spirits continued to blow forwards, and with nothing to tether them, they were flung out into the world - every one of them. The children of Aya'u, and the children of the rest.
    "But the gods, though different in Their natures, had never been quarrelsome or jealous. It was Aya'u's breath that gave us life, and it was Her breath that created the Winds to the Frozen Gates, where the elements themselves collapse. It's a place where water turns solid, where plants cannot grow, where the winds roar out of control and fire cannot burn."
    "That sounds...scary..."
    Deha watched their open expressions crease in concern, and he scratched hesitantly at his chin. "It does a bit, doesn't it? ...Well, it isn't. The spirits can't feel it, they're not touched by it, and they're carried by Aya'u's breath through the gates to the gods Themselves."
    "Then what happens?"
    "Then they live with them among the stars, and new spirits are born with the new winds, which are blown into new bodies."
    "Babies!" A girl beamed.
    "Or...us?" A creeping terror moved slowly into the boy's eyes, then jumped quickly into the rest. "I already have a spirit - what will happen if--"
    "Will I be pushed out of me and someone else takes over?!"
    "What if it happens to my mother?!"
    "What if I become a boy?!"
    He winced in a panic as they began to cry. "Wait, wait, wait, wait! Babies! Unborn babies!" He looked quickly about at the rest of the tribe, and found a few of them frowning his way in disapproval. This wasn't a night for sadness or fear.
    Then his heart jumped suddenly into his throat as a musical voice rose behind him.
    He froze, wide-eyed, for a long moment. Only when his cheeks had flushed completely red did he find the drive to rise clumsily to his feet.
    The young woman was beautiful in her pale, ceremonial hides, hides that darkened her beautiful bronze skin by contrast, which in turn brightened her beautiful blue eyes, and her beautiful lips were set into a beautiful smile despite one beautiful white eyebrow cocked impatiently his way.
    She was...well, beautiful.
    He wished he was capable of thinking of something else every time he saw her.
    "Aya'u knows what She's doing, kids," the training priestess said, turning a more heartfelt smile their way and giving him the opportunity to breathe again. "She knows each and every one of you, and loves you. There's no possible way She would ever let someone else's spirit take over your bodies! She wants to make new friends, not replace old ones!"
    "B-bu-b-but what if she makes a mistake?!" One of the boys blubbed.
    "Good job, Deha," the priestess muttered drily, then knelt and spoke up as his head dropped over rounded shoulders. "She has never made a mistake. Ever. Every single thing She's done has been deliberate. Everything all the gods have done has been deliberate. That's how the elements work together so smoothly. But," she raised a slender finger, "when we begin to doubt in Them, that balance begins to change. We all must trust."
    "But what if we can't?"
    Her smile broadened, and her tone grew almost crisp. "Then leave."
    Deha started at that.
    "Leave here, and travel to the Red Mountain. Speak with the Fa'hari fire tribe and the Traahak earth tribe on the volcano's slopes. See how their elements work in tandem, and the good that their volcano brings the world when the wind scatters its ash.
    "Then visit the Rashan Hills and speak to the Gyuils water tribe; watch the geysers erupt five hundred spans into the air, see the wealth of the land around its pools and far beyond when the wind carries that rich steam away." She smiled at each individual in turn, and Deha watched their eyes glaze with the imaginings of those distant places. "See it all working together, and then decide for yourself."
    Little Hara frowned, and turned her brother a long look. He couldn't quite read the question in her eyes, but he gave her a nod anyway. If she needed some kind of reassurance, Yia was the best person to give it.
    Her big ice-blue eyes turned back towards the waiting priestess. "What if we decide wrong?"
    She chuckled lightly, a sound like rolling water. "You can't decide wrong. It's not possible."
    "What if it is and I'm the first person to do it?"
    "Then," she said simply, "the world will stop turning. Which it cannot do while the Winds continue to blow, and nothing in the world can stop a force like the Winds. That," she smiled, "is how impossible it is. What you decide will be right for you, and you will do with it what you will."
    Their eyes glazed again, and quiet little frowns of thought descended over each of their faces. Some with more difficulty than others.
    But, before long, the soft trill of pipes rose up from further along the mountain shelf and drew them back out of their ponderings. Yai rose back to her feet and straightened out her hides. "The Night Before is beginning," she announced as they followed her up, driven more by curiosity than anything else. "Go. Enjoy yourselves and leave heavy thoughts behind." She looked over the half-empty bowls and their stained skin, and smiled. It was a more jagged one this time - amusement, not piety. "Your work is done."
    "But," Hara looked back to the bowls herself with suddenly profound reluctance, "we didn't finish..."
    "I'm sure Aya'u will believe this is plenty."
    Each face lit up with relief, and the five scrambled over each other to race off to the dance that was kicking up by the pipers.
    Yai sighed and watched them go while Deha reslung his sword. "You really shouldn't talk to children."
    "I know."
 
 

This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission.
Copyright © 2020 Kim Wedlock



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