The Eternal Song, Part Five: Gifts

Tahu-at had meant to speak with Awiyan early in the day, but she was in the temple. No man could set foot there. A small cave, nestled into the side of the valley and sacred to the Earth Goddess, it was tended by girls who brought candles and offerings every day. The girls also dusted the urns that held the scrolls chronicling the history of the People. Wiilu had complained to him, in much more detail than he really wanted to hear, all about how boring it was to dust hundreds of urns.

“My mother has been having bad dreams,” Wiilu told him, as he stood under a fig tree waiting for Awiyan. “Eldest Grandmother says that they are true visions and that she must pray in the temple. I don’t know what they are about, exactly. Something bad that’s going to happen to the village.”

“Old women’s foolishness.” Tahu-at shrugged, only to wish he hadn’t when the motion sent a twinge through his arm. The Healer had assured him that all looked well and that he should have full use of it; he was only eighteen and thus young enough to heal quickly and without lasting harm. But the bone was still mending, and any sudden movement or jostling caused him pain. He consoled himself with the thought that the settler he’d shot was probably in worse shape, if not dead.

“She really does have visions,” Wiilu insisted. “That’s why the Grandmothers chose her to become one of them. She is especially close to the Gods.”

Though unconvinced, Tahu-at decided to let this pass. After all, it wouldn’t be sensible to get into an argument with his future bride about her mother while he was waiting to ask her mother’s consent to the marriage. He glanced down at the sacks of bride-gifts he had brought: rabbit pelts, dried meat, antelope horns, shells strung on cords, and an assortment of bright feathers. Bride-gifts showed a suitor’s willingness to care for his mother-in-law in her old age, just as her daughter would do.

“She will like the feathers,” he said, to change the subject. “I brought many kinds that the Grandmothers use in their ceremonies.”

“If she says yes.” Wiilu paced in anxious circles, her sandaled feet sending up little puffs of dust in the dry heat of the afternoon. “But I don’t know what she will say. Because of her visions, she sometimes gets so distracted that it’s almost as if she is not really here. And when I try to speak with her about my future, all I see in her face is a look of sadness.”

Tahu-at frowned. “Surely she can’t believe I’m that bad.”

“No, it’s not about you at all, I think, but…”

“Hush, here she comes now.”

After spending most of the day in prayer and fasting inside the dimly lit temple, Awiyan had her eyes half-closed against the sunlight. She did not even notice Tahu-at until she was about to walk past him.

“Honored one, may I respectfully ask your favor?” Tahu-at had been rehearsing his words in his mind all morning; but he still felt awkward asking Awiyan, in the formal phrasing that custom demanded, for permission to marry her daughter. He managed to get through it without stumbling over any of his sentences or dropping any of the gifts that he held up for her inspection.

Awiyan gazed toward him without making eye contact, as if her focus might be on something else beyond him. After a long silence, she finally spoke.

“In ordinary times, I would not find you worthy. You are hotheaded and show little respect for our customs. You keep secrets from the Grandmothers. You have endangered the People with your lack of caution, foresight, and candor.”

Tahu-at kept his head down and did his best to appear meek and chastened. Although he privately thought that Awiyan was not being at all fair, he knew better than to argue.

“But these are not ordinary times,” Awiyan continued. She glanced from Tahu-at to Wiilu, who had been standing silently beside him. Then she took her daughter’s hand and put it into his, the traditional gesture of acceptance.

Because Awiyan had an encyclopedic memory of the People’s customs, Tahu-at fully expected to receive the formal—and notoriously lengthy—blessing given by a mother to a future son-in-law. Although he was not superstitious about the need for such things, he knew that Awiyan took them very seriously. He was much surprised when, instead, she spoke only one terse sentence.

“Be kind to my daughter, for as long as we have left.”

Continue to Part Six

Part Four: Midsummer.
Part Three: Hunters or Hunted.
Part Two: Rehearsal.
Part One: Beauty.

on 05/18/11 in Art/Play/Myth, featured | No Comments | Read More

Leave a Reply