The Eternal Song, Part Seven: Shards and Dust

Leaving Wiilu to raise the alarm, Riadne took a short detour to her potter’s shed just outside the village. The long shelves held jars, bowls, and other crockery. She spared them no more than a brief regretful glance; obviously they would have to be left behind. The empty sacks in the far corner were what she had come for, along with the smaller sack that held her paints and brushes. These she would carry; they weighed little and would not burden her.

When Riadne entered the village, everyone was gathering in the central clearing where the Midsummer festivities had been held. She passed Awiyan, who was bent almost double under the weight of several bags and baskets of food. Eldest Grandmother, leaning heavily on her walking stick and holding Awiyan’s arm, carried a much lighter bag of clothing across her stooped shoulders.

Riadne held up her sacks and pointed toward the temple.

“Yes, get the scrolls.” Awiyan looked at Riadne for no more than a moment before turning to give instructions to another young woman who had a group of wailing children in her charge.

Ducking her head to go through the low doorway, Riadne took a breath of fragrant air. Candles surrounded by red and white rose petals occupied both ends of a natural stone ledge at the far end of the cave, which served as the altar. The Goddess icon, big-breasted and pregnant, had the central place of honor. Sculpted of creamy marble and about the size of Riadne’s two hands, the Goddess gazed out from the altar with bright eyes of turquoise.

Adobe tiles in warm earth tones lined the path from the doorway to the altar. In long rows on both sides stood the urns that held the entire recorded history of the People. Each one had been painted with detailed scenes from the ancient stories, along with glyphs identifying the date and contents of each scroll inside. The urns were tightly sealed to protect the goatskin parchment.

When she had been a child tasked with dusting the urns, Riadne often had run her fingers over the ancient markings, daydreaming that she might be transported by the scrolls’ magic to a long-ago time of myth when the Gods walked the earth hand-in-hand with the People. She had rarely seen the actual scrolls themselves, which could be taken out only by the Grandmothers and only on certain occasions, after an elaborate unsealing ceremony.

For the last time, Riadne fell to her knees beside the altar and reached to touch the cool, smooth surface of the nearest urn. She closed her eyes and said a brief prayer in her thoughts, asking the Goddess to forgive her for what she was about to do. She had no choice; carrying the urns herself was impossible, the other villagers could not be expected to carry them instead of food and clothing, and there was no time to unseal them properly. Even if there had been enough time, anything left intact would only become loot for the settlers.

Riadne got to her feet slowly, trying to clear her thoughts of everything but the task before her. Then she picked up the urn with both hands and smashed it against the stone ledge. The violence of the sound was multiplied as it echoed from the walls of the cave. As the parchment fell out, Riadne grabbed it, heedless of the rough edges of the shards as they fell away. She went down the first line of urns, methodically breaking open each one and filling a sack with the scrolls.

Soon the air smelled of clay dust instead of rose petals. Everything looked hazy now, as Riadne’s tears ran down her face unchecked to fall on her hands, stinging the cuts made by the shards. The air grew darker and harder to breathe, tasting of failure and the end of days. Only then did she realize that smoke was coming into the cave.

Nothing could be heard from outside, and she had no time to go and look; there was still another row of urns. Tearing a strip of cloth from the last empty sack, which was one more than she needed to carry the scrolls, Riadne tied it around her nose and mouth to filter the air. She broke the remaining urns and gathered up their contents. Then she carefully lifted the Goddess icon from the altar and put it into the sack that had the most space. She made her way outside along the path of adobe tiles, now covered with shards and dust.

The hillside where the women had picked berries that morning was now engulfed in flames, sweeping downward on a brisk wind. At this time of year, the stream at the bottom of the valley was at its narrowest and was not much of a firebreak. Already burning leaves and twigs had blown across the water, and the thatched roofs of the villagers’ huts were aflame on both sides of the stream. The smoke made it hard to see much else; but even if she had not heard a child’s cry in the distance, Riadne would have known the way. There was only one place where the People could go—upstream, into the fog-shrouded rainforest that surrounded the volcanic mountain at the island’s center.

Continue to Part Eight

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

on 06/8/11 in Art/Play/Myth, featured | 3 Comments | Read More

Comments (3)


  1. Stephanie says:

    A brief criticism: I had to read this passage through more than once to pick out the highlighted detail “Leaving Wiilu to raise the alarm, Riadne took a short detour to her potter’s shed just outside the village.”

    It took me a bit to realize how the villagers knew they were in danger.

  2. Gwen McKay says:

    Sorry about the confusion… you’re right, this would have been clearer with a short description of what Wiilu is doing when Riadne enters the village.

  3. Stephanie says:

    Minor problem, easy to fix…you’re doing great! 😀

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