The Eternal Song, Part Eleven: Scout

The morning sun seemed too bright to Iwai’s mistrustful eyes as he emerged from the thick fog surrounding the forest. He had gone hunting with his brother many times on these grasslands and had played with the other children here. The landscape looked familiar; but something had changed in ways that he could not describe, other than to say that it had once been his home and now it wasn’t.

His instructions from the Grandmothers were clear: go to the valley and watch from a safe distance to find out what the settlers were doing there. Then hurry back to the forest, making sure he wasn’t followed. This was a job well suited to a ten-year-old boy, the Grandmothers had assured him, because he was small and quick and therefore not likely to be caught.

Iwai had felt surprised to be chosen for such a task, no matter how well he could do it. After a few hesitant tries, he finally blurted out what was bothering him.

“It was my fault the settlers burned our village, wasn’t it?”

Awiyan, who had been shelling nuts while the senior Grandmothers told Iwai his duties, put her bowl down with a thump as she turned to face him. Iwai looked at his feet, expecting to hear a recital of all his shortcomings. Although she was now his aunt, Awiyan still made him feel nervous with her blunt manner of speaking. But instead of lecturing him, she gave only a simple explanation.

“No. They wanted our land. If it had not happened the way it did, it would have happened some other way.”

Later she poured all the nuts from her bowl into a leather pouch for him to carry, along with a generous handful of dried figs and several strips of jerky, telling him that a growing boy should not go hungry. Iwai thought it was likely she meant to go hungry herself; but if so, he knew that she couldn’t be talked out of it.

The pouch hung at his side as he came closer to the valley. It was much lighter now; he’d eaten half its contents before he even set out. Soon the site where the village had once stood came into view. Iwai took up a position next to a fire-blackened tree, peering out from behind it.

Several solidly built log houses now occupied the space where the villagers’ huts had been. Ruts and hoofprints clearly showed where oxen had dragged the logs across the bare ground. Another building, considerably larger, overlooked the valley. Its windows were narrow slots that bristled with long metal cylinders. Iwai stared at them for some time before he realized that they were weapons like the thunder-sticks that the settlers carried, but bigger and more powerful.

Saplings had been planted on both sides of the valley. They all seemed to be of the same two or three varieties, which Iwai didn’t recognize. At a guess, they were fruit-bearing trees from the settlers’ homeland, wherever that might be. In flat places, fields were being plowed. Steeper areas were being terraced and planted with vines.

A settler girl of about Iwai’s age, with thick dark braids dangling from a white bonnet, had been sent to fetch water from the stream. She filled her buckets and stood up with the yoke across her shoulders, glancing in Iwai’s direction as she did so. He shrank back behind the sooty trunk of the tree, which didn’t give much cover to his pale skin. If anyone saw him there, he could run—but did the weapons in the building have enough range to shoot that far?

Stillness, silence, the Grandmothers had told him: be like the rabbit in the shadow of the hawk. He stood motionless and closed his eyes, replaying in his mind all he had seen. The largest building was rectangular and had weapons on all sides. There were four terraces with vines and seven plowed fields, with saplings planted between them. Ten log houses had been built—or was it nine?

Iwai scowled, going over his mental images again, but still unsure of the number. He would take another quick look before he turned to leave, just to make sure he got it right; but he knew that it really didn’t matter. The People wouldn’t be going home any time soon.

Continue to Part Twelve

Part Ten: Lost.
Part Nine: Mountain.
Part Eight: Forest.
Part Seven: Shards and Dust.
Part Six: Warning.
Part Five: Gifts.
Part Four: Midsummer.
Part Three: Hunters or Hunted.
Part Two: Rehearsal.
Part One: Beauty.

on 07/6/11 in Art/Play/Myth, featured | No Comments | Read More

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