The Eternal Song, Part Six: Warning

The berry bushes on the slope of the valley had produced a good crop this season. Wiilu dropped another big juicy handful into her basket, which was close to overflowing. Because the weather had been very dry, none of the berries had been lost to mildew. The grass, more yellow than green, crackled under her feet as she turned to go back to the village.

A breeze blew down the slope, giving her some relief from the heat. It carried the sound of men’s voices: the low tones of settlers’ speech, not the whistled language of the People. Usually the settlers did not come this close to the village. There was a strange smell she couldn’t identify. Putting down her basket, Wiilu followed a narrow and twisting path upward, hidden from view by thick shrubs and trees.

She parted the branches cautiously and found herself looking at a brown ox, which stood hitched to a cart loaded with barrels. Men had taken some of the barrels and were pouring a thick dark liquid along the edge of the valley. That seemed to be where the strange smell was coming from: some sort of oil, or maybe paint. Did they want to mark a boundary-line, with the villagers in the valley and the settlers outside? No, that couldn’t be right; surely it would wash away with the next rain.

Feeling confused, Wiilu turned around, intending to go back the way she had come. That was when she saw, through a gap in the trees, the large group of settlers on the other side of the valley. She counted them on her fingers: three tens, at least. Sunlight glinted from the thunder-sticks they carried. Instead of entering the valley, the settlers were standing in a line just outside it, as if waiting. But for what?

The Grandmothers would know; they always had answers for everything. Wiilu ran back down the path, almost colliding with Riadne when she came out into the grassy clearing where she had picked berries. The goatherd’s daughter, staring with wide distraught eyes, caught Wiilu by the sleeve and made sure that she had stopped before reaching down to pluck some grass.

Riadne held out her left hand, palm up, and arranged the grass on it. Two pieces at the bottom were almost horizontal, crossing one another. Above them were three vertical lines, the central one longer than the others. It was the glyph for “fire.”

At once, Wiilu turned to look all around the clearing. A fire in the dry season would be devastating, with the wind blowing toward the village as it was now. Everything looked the same as it had earlier, though, and she heard no unusual sounds. The birds were still chirping and the insects buzzing. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, except for the smell of oil from above, which had grown stronger.

Oil was something that could burn. Was that what Riadne meant—that if the settlers weren’t careful, they might accidentally set the valley on fire? Or—could Riadne mean that the settlers wanted to use the oil to start a fire, so that they could burn the village and take the valley for their own use? If so, there was no one to stop them. The People were not warriors—they’d had no enemies on their island before the settlers came; and most of the men were out hunting or tending their goats, as usual.

Wiilu had once seen a wildfire that burned for days, forcing antelope and other animals to run before it. The tribesmen had taken full advantage of that hunting opportunity, waiting with their bows and spears for their disoriented prey to stumble out of the smoke.

Just like those settlers waiting in a line with their thunder-sticks on the other side of the valley.

“Do you mean… they’re going to start a fire, to burn us out?”

Riadne gestured agreement and, dropping the grass, beckoned for Wiilu to follow her. Wiilu did her best to keep up with Riadne’s longer strides as they ran, only one thought in mind: Was there enough time to give warning and to get everyone safely away from the village?

Continue to Part Seven

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

on 06/1/11 in Art/Play/Myth, featured | 6 Comments | Read More

Comments (6)


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