Children of Orion - Twins Above
by Robet Ipcar
The huntsman stood knee deep in salty backwash, steadying the lapstrake sailing canoe with one hand as he shaded his eyes with the other. Where were the people? Everything else about the island waterfront appeared normal. All of Maldenh’s fishing dories had been carefully beached above the high water mark while the fine mesh nets of the bay fishermen were spread to dry on granite ledges that fronted the evergreen treeline.
Even a newly fleshed hasta skin lay stretched across a drying rack, its elongated snout, spiked twin tails and four clawed flippers still intact. The razor sharp teeth had already been offered to the village carver. But as he lugged his canoe out of the water, he worried that there were no village children crowding the gravel beach in greeting! He glanced to the crimson ocean behind him—reassuring to see that the thin white veil known as Savan T’nia’s Bow, arched peacefully across the azure sky.
What of the children?
Only a three-night ago, far out on the Deeps, he had awaken from the death-grip of a nightmare. There had been this same beach but crowded with villagers: As he hauled his canoe ashore, a distant rumble of thunder rolled overhead. He had turned just in time to see a ball of flame float in from the horizon, then suddenly veer downward, impacting between two wooded offshore islands. In his dream he had tried to persuade someone to run for the Majiska, the keeper of all-that-must-be-known. Yet, no one would listen! Indeed, no one appeared disturbed. It was almost as if they couldn't see him; that he had somehow become a wandering spirit, a T’nahyee—a witness to the past, from some future yet to be.
He yanked his ivory tipped hunting lance from the bottom of the canoe. Slinging his catch across his shoulder—a dripping mesh bag of sponge-like seaweed—he hastened up the path toward the village encampment. The evergreen shorefront quickly yielded to a thick stand of silver leafed Kay’shas, shade trees that were said to have been a gift of the goddess Savan T’nia herself, their metallic leaves on occasion bestowing a faint musical accompaniment to the rumble of the distant surf.
But as he approached the first outlying longhouse his unsettling dream again intruded: something swam through the waters toward the beach, something more terrifying than a bulbous eyed hasta cutting through the surface. He would have welcomed a hasta! What had approached in his dream should have been human. It was not...
He crept through a narrow passageway between dwellings, his hunter's lance held at the ready. He paused, deliberately pressing against the rough-hewn planks beside him, assuring himself that they were real.
He had run among the longhouses shouting his warning but there was no one to be seen. He twisted and turned, desperate to find the alleyway that led to his home. But the wooden walls slowly closed in on him, narrowing the path ahead into a tunnel that led down into the earth, a tunnel that forced him to stoop as he ran...
Anger swept him!
Was he a child to so dwell on a nightmare? Whatever the Twins Above decreed, in time would come to pass. Humankind lived each day as it came though there were some who thought it prudent to sidestep fate whenever possible. Would that he had an adversary other than his own fear…
Before him was the village common.
To his relief, most of the village women were quietly seated beneath the kayshas, working individually at their narrow lap looms, locking red, green and mustard yellow threads into intricate geometric designs. That no one among them acknowledged his presence was not cause for alarm. It would have been joked that she was bored with her husband; was casting her eye anew.
The colorful threads fanned outward from their feet, crisscrossing the common like radiant streams; each color anchored to a flat stone, stones that left protesting trails in the dust as they were drawn imperceptibly closer with each sharp throw of the shuttle. The mustard yellow dye was hard to come by which was why the hunter had been offshore so long. This particular color could only be obtained from boiling out amah'sel, a sponge-like moss that clung to the half submerged ledges out on the edge of the Deeps. The entire time he had had to sleep in his canoe between tides for the Deeps were unpredictable waters, seemly at the mercy of the three moons.
The nightmare hovered…
He willed it away!
His family longhouse loomed before him, a life-tree looming beside the entrance. He saluted the faces of his ancestors as they glowered from the wooden column. In time he and his wife would adorn the base for they had enjoyed much good fortune together, a union that had borne four children, the youngest now four-summers of age. Their first-born had been sent some ten-summers ago to be fostered by her T'samin, his wife's father. She would be sixteen summers this very night—this night she would come of age.
He stooped low, to better peer through the rounded entranceway.
There was no one within.
He retreated, pressing against the side of the longhouse.
Perhaps out back...
His beloved wife stood calmly before a wooden frame, calmly fashioning the narrow woven strips from her handloom into one of her unique tapestries. While most women of the village traditionally stitched these strips together at random, letting the angular patterns come together where they may, his wife's approach was influenced by the silver artisans from her home island of Reshegon. There they chose not to work in geometric designs but instead depicted scenes of village life in their metal creations. The hunter stepped forward, his greeting framed in the crisp clicked language of his southern people, the Maldenhs.
"T'ah na has-low ashk?"
"Are we the only two left in this world?”
She turned in surprise. Eighteen summers ago he had spoken those very same words when he had first encountered her behind her father's lodge. It was only recently that he had admitted to her that their first meeting had not been by chance at all. It had taken him almost a five-night to work up the courage to speak. He marveled at how close he had been to running from her that day back on Reshegon. That she had chosen to come south with him was a constant source of amazement; a wonder that would never leave him.
"T'sas T'ah a T'allan."
"You are one person too many!" she snapped in the same stern tone she had used so long ago. She burst out laughing... "Come, husband. Come see what I've put together. "
The dripping sack of amah'sel fell to the ground. He had forgotten he still clutched the meshed bag in one hand. Still he delayed embracing her. Instead he deliberately lay his lance against the longhouse and reached for a pale earthen dipper, slipping it from its hook beside a wooden rain barrel. He had been out almost a fifteen-day; his drinking supply had gone stale. He paused in mid-sip to give a small prayer of thanks. Fresh water was truly the gift of the Twins Above, the fiery dark gods who climbed the heavens each morning, bringing life-giving warmth to the world.
"Is this evening not to be the celebration of Rhitia's return?" he asked, adopting a gruff tone. He attempted to hide his relief at seeing her alive. "Each night the three moons have gathered closer together, awaiting the arrival of their little sister. Tonight there is to be a celebration. Yet I return home to find a village of sleepy women. Have I not counted the days correctly?"
She came to him, gently taking him by the arm.
“We sleepy women have been cooking for days. All is ready for tonight. The men have taken the children to the sands of T'edpak for the running games. Come see what I've done. Our weaving is the only dream time we women have when we lie not with our husbands or lovers!” He allowed himself to be tugged over to the frame but as he stared at her newest creation, an annoying unease crept over him once more.
Her tapestry not yet finished...
He could see the dark red that symbolized the Nameless Sea flowing across the bottom in thin wavy stripes. Thrown against a brown shoreline were smaller splashes of mixed colors which was how she depicted the people of the village. She had included the three moons, floating above the longhouses, arranged triangular fashion. At the apex was the great red moon, Nubb’laa, the huntress of the island's forests. To the lower left was the green moon Aisee, the playful daughter of Naustic, the multi-armed guardian of the Deeps. To the lower right was Aisee's always envious twin sister, the green moon known as Gynah. That they were both goddesses—part human, part fish—meant that their loyalty was forever divided between the waters of the mainland rivers and their father's domain in the Nameless Sea.
"I would have had it completed except for all the cooking I've had to do," she complained, giving him a playful cuff to the ear. "You men waddle ashore like the great wosks you are, always expecting a feast set before you. Well, so it shall be, though you deserve it not." He laughed with her; his girth not what it once was considering his thirty-six summers.
"Where have you placed Rhitia?" he asked as he examined her workmanship. Tonight was to be the celebration of the pale sister, the fourth moon's reappearance. It was a coming that might only be viewed perhaps two or three times on one's lifetime. He'd been barely six-summers when she last appeared. He has shrunk in terror at the angry display of colors that trailed the nighttime skies behind her.
, my husband. I have not only depicted Rhitia but also someone dear to us both, our first-born daughter, T’Nahla. This very night she comes of age. She will set forth on her first quest, T'sassk, the-final-walk-alone." As she clicked the first syllable of T'sassk, she imparted to it a slurring "na" sound rather than a click, an emphasis unique to those of Reshegon—he had always been charmed by her accent.
She drew from a knee-high reed basket two more strips of woven material. She held the first up next to those already on the frame. He drew closer for a look. The bottom showed a continuation of the nameless sea. High above was the white moon, Rhitia, encircled by a thin ring of yellow.
"I remember Rhitia's passing," she murmured. "I was but four-summers old at the time. My T'samin held me on his shoulder as we watched the moons come together in celebration. Though the light almost blinded me I remember that thin halo of gold that encircled her as she swept into the sea."
"Your weaving is like no other," the hunter marveled. He ran one finger across the threads, touching the pale moon lightly. "You spoke of our first-born daughter yet I see her not." She only smiled and proceeded to hold up the last strip. This time he frowned as he stared at it, trying to comprehend her vision.
The red sea for some mysterious reason now lay overhead. Just below, suspended in the mustard yellow threads, flew a figures of a woman dressed as if for a sea hunt, a woman who cradled what looked like a fifth moon in her arms. He leaned even closer for there were fine details on this new moon that were unexpected. Somehow she had managed to coax the threads into a representation of three miniature stars, the sign of the Majiska! She looked at him worriedly: "You're not pleased, my husband? I will present this blanket to our first-born daughter someday. I feel it will protect the following generations of our line until the end of time.
He turned to her. She was so sure of herself yet she always sought his approval. He was in awe of her artistry and intellect. There had been others in contention for her hand, others more powerful and wealthy. Why had she chosen him, him, a simple hunter from Mahldenh?
"I see our first-born daughter as beneath the Nameless Sea, my dearest woman. Surely you meant not to depict her fate as such." It was her turn to frown. She studied her work, trying to see it from his perspective.
"No, I don't see it that way at all," she insisted after a moment. "This night our first-born daughter will see things differently. A new world will drop into her arms." He remained doubtful. “Who is that dark figure who dwells in… is it a cave?” Except for the face and one outstretched arm, the stranger’s body merged as one with a slightly darker oval.
She felt a rare surge of exasperation. It seemed so simple to her. The red zeeprays embedded in her temples, the sign of a Wai’min first-born, began to glow like miniature jewels as she determinedly faced him. Then she relaxed, realizing that he had only expressed concern, not criticism.
She smiled once more...
“The threads have worked their will, my husband. Our daughter will be long remembered by our people. Upon her quest, she will meet no less than the son of Ram’ Hagan himself, he who was the father of all Wai’min; he who crossed the sea of darkness to dwell on our water world.”
His dream enveloped him…
He found himself desperately running through the tunnel, seeking safety, but the earth began to press inward. He was forced to crawl. The air was hot, unbreatheble. He paused for a moment to gather his strength. The earth flowed around him; he was unable to move…
He almost screamed aloud but caught himself. He was thankful that his wife had not borne witness to his cries; cries that awaken him out on the Deeps. Never would he be able to convey to her his horror and despair.
"Husband, are you ill? I truly meant no disrespect." She came to his outstretched arms; he held her. He was filled with fear for themselves and their first-born daughter. No need for a Majiska to interpret his dream. It was apparent in his wife's weavings.
Again his mind relived the horror…
Two gods had swept toward the beach, standing atop a white rock that floated over the water on a column of foam. One held a thick silver spear in his hand. They had the appearance of humans yet they were not of this world... One excitedly pointed toward him; the other raised the spear thing to shoulder level…
He and his wife kept to the Wai’min traditions, knowing that Savan T'Nia's had thrown her great bow into the sky as a reminder that their way must be maintained no matter the cost. He looked once more to that rippling veil high above the village. It appeared unchanged, yet his wife's predictions were never wrong. All was the same, yet all would be irrevocably changed as of this night. Their beloved first-born daughter would indeed meet the son of Ram Hagan. It would prove the undoing of the Wai’min people.
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