It was foolish to expect the riverine deer to come after darkness blanketed both village and countryside, but Naliya looked for them amid a grove of great trees. Firelight flickered over gnarled trunks and the leaves and grasses flushed with its color. A night bird called to another and another, then fell silent. Terl poked at the bursting flames coming from sticks and logs, and talked to it.
“Bring rapturous energy into this night, grant us heat as chill leaves resting earth. Bless us with your beauty and power. And don’t take too long, the weather is fickle again…” She rubbed her hands over it and then held them, palm side down, above the licking, swaying flames. They jumped up in response. She pulled away from the fire. satisfied, and rested her arms on drawn up knees.
“Why couldn’t we stay inside, Mama? Lightning flashes in the east.” Naliya pulled her thick shawl about her shoulders and finely woven green robe. “The birds are still.”
“We need to be here, with fire under the heavens.”
“I know.” Still, she looked above at the sky with its tiny stars and found small comfort as another shard of light craved it into two parts.
“We will stay until I am done. Don’t be afraid.”
Naliya glanced at her mother. “I’m not afraid. When have I been? I want to be prepared. I can’t ignore natural signs; they tell me things.”
Terl looked at her daughter before adding more wood and answered sharply, “Yes, they do speak to you. But I have things to tell you, as well, and it can save your life if you listen.”
Naliya, chastised, drew closer to the fire. She was opposite from her mother so they could see one another well. Firelight illumined Terl the Mistress of Rites, a powerful woman who used well her mind and will, a woman who also had bountiful love for her daughter. “Of course, please say the words you mean to say.”
Terl sat tall even when she was slumping from weariness but now her height seemed to rival the trees. She closed her eyes and smoothed her forehead and temples, then shoulders and arms and hands, and flicked off the energy she had gathered throughout the day, putting it into the fire pit. Naliya followed suit, then waited. The fire accepted it, grew hotter.
Terl held Naliya’s clear grey eyes with her own wide and burning eyes, a mark of Mistress of Rites.
“The Grand Baraxas’ time may soon near its end. We are in need of retrieval from his poor ruling before another generation ends up with too little nourishment of the soul. Food is never enough to quell the need here. Gemstones are not enough to satisfy. A better dole house for every person would not solve the problem. It is an ongoing, mind-numbing resignation that sinks its poison deep within, a malaise they don’t even recognize as moving through mind and marrow. The Grand Baraxas has every one under his spell, under his ownership of land and the village with his punitive ways and heavy, dour energy. If he had been cruel from the start it would have been alarming enough to raise a good rebellion, but it has been a slow deception, an easy sway of one man and woman after the other. Everyone has basic needs except for those who grievously lost Baraxas’ favor. Now it is time to take charge with the Prism, the sacred Light at our center again. To wake up and see the truth and rejuvenate life.”
“Yes, so you have said, so I understand.”
“You understand so little, daughter.” Terl’s voice rang out into the night. Her beautiful face grew paler then darkly bright with manifestation of energies. “This is why we are here, in this place, in this time. You must take heed and learn, experience and discover before you can begin to barely understand.”
The fire leapt into low hanging tree limbs then fell back to a moderate burn. Naliya knew to be silent until she was asked to speak again. Terl looked far past the woods then returned her gaze to her daughter. Naliya was afraid to look though she felt a tug. She was rooted to her place, and was stilled by the desire to please her mother. And the truth that was coming her way.
“Our great- great-great grandmothers once ruled Quazama with generous equity, with daily lessons from the complexity of music and a fortifying diversity of story. The people knew how to live of their own accord, overall, with little harm to one another then. But in time power was wrested from their hands when many became far too greedy for complete sovereignty of self. Not for the common good. The grandmothers thought it best to share more power and responsibility with the others of the Prism: men, who had always been our helpmeets in one capacity or another. There have been disputes that rendered the collective wisdom weak. We have always found our way back to harmony. We’ve had just and good Grand leaders of both genders, but then the Grand Baraxas took his position by force despite Mar tram’s efforts to keep steady the trusted balance.”
She rustled her robes in irritation, pressed her white hair back from her shoulders. The trees rustled, whispered.
“There is always something to tempt human beings away from the peace of good will. It is a waste of vital energy to fight so hard and often for matters and things of so little value. I will never get used to it, though some find greed a minor flaw of life.” Her charged demeanor gave her a fierceness that caused Naliya to look down but soon it was replaced by her usual calmness as she took a good breath. “The saga is tiresome, I know, dear one, but it bears remembering that much.” She rolled her shoulders back as thunder gouged the silence. “Now here’s the current situation. You know Martram and Baraxas are bitter enemies since youthful years. And Martram was banished to Rumsfeldt for grave interference–commanding a band of rebels to conspire against him. He could’ve been executed but the Convening Twelve voted for a banishment to save him. He cannot return legally. But he can yet return illegally with help. And has decided to do so, at last.” She feared her emotion would gain the upper hand, and pressed her lips closed a moment to regain control.
Naliya saw this and was about to question her, then she checked herself in time.
Terl opened her arms in an emphatic gesture. “You have been chosen by the convening council decision to be the new Messenger and must travel to Rumsfeldt Barriers. You will meet up with Martram and escort him safely back home. Then smuggle him into Quazama. With our help here. You have the swift feet and legs. The strength and energy. You know how to disappear and how to be well seen for who you are. And you have the protection, it was ingrained in you at your beginning. You are meant to do this work not just soon but for your life. And I think you have known that awhile.”
“But, Mama, Rumsfeldt Barriers? That is at the ends of the earth.” Naliya frowned, shook her head.
Terl chortled in spite of herself. “Not the ends of this time and place, Naliya! You will go farther. It is only two days away.”
“It will feel like a lifetime….and its forbidden territory for good reason, inhabited by Roamers, the nameless ones who live there. And how will I find Martram? How will we get out without Roamers creating problems for us, demanding we liberate them all? How will we get back into the village without terrible consequences?” She was overcome with fears.
Terl stood up, her robes sweeping over the fire before settling around her tall, taut body. “A Roamer brought us the needed word! You know less than I thought, only what the prejudiced say. You now will need to learn. You will find the way because, my daughter, you are chosen to find it. There is no other to fulfill the great and pressing need. Even the Grand Baraxas is in agreement with this–so he can defeat Martram, of course. But that must not, will not happen…”
Naliya stood, also, voluminous ebony and ivory strands of hair flaying away from her face in the sinew-chilling rush of winds that were gathering up steam.
“What must I do, then?”
Her mother crossed over the fire, came to her. “You will engage in the Life Title Ceremony and then you will leave, in one day. You will bring back Martram to us, our truest leader and–”
She seemed to collapse a little under those words, her body softening, eyes going glossy, arms suddenly enfolding her daughter.
But her mother said no more. They stood thus, Naliya’s gaze probing the denser spaces between the old trees for her deer. Her soul resounded with love but her mind was nipped and turned by the nuisance of some lesser, loose spirits, their trickery meant to distract and confuse her, she well knew. She moved them away from herself but the wind was no longer just the wind, nor the dark a thing that would only protect and hide her. Naliya would have to be far more watchful now.
The lightning sliced the skies into trembling slivers of luminescence and thunder skewed the air with barbarous shouts. The fire blazed bigger and brighter, and as a torrent of rain descended, they remained dry under the creaking branches, close to the fire pit. Naliya wondered over her mother’s influence even upon a storm. But as flames danced inside dry air they told the girl what she could not put into her own words yet: Beginnings and endings, the circle will out; journey unfolds, destinations divined. The orange-golden light slipped over her feet, hands, neck, face and her skin tingled, eyes filled with water and rolled off her rosy cheeks. How would any of this knowledge or any title help her?
Her mother led her back to their house, each leaning on the other, each awash in their own imaginings, reaching for different conclusions. And they arrived still dry except for their feet, which tracked in bits of mud.
The riverine deer did not appear. Having watched from the edges, they moved deeper and deeper until they bedded down amid the tree roots and the crickets and the distant rumble of thunder. They faithfully waited, for the rain to relent and for sunrise to grace a new day.
“That is sure not what I’d want to do, so better you then me. You’re pretty tough, Naliya, you know you’ll be okay.”
Zanz was weaving willow into a small bowl by the river bank and gave her a sideways glance. Naliya fingered the necklace her mother had given her the night before, the small pink tourmaline stone glowing about her neck.
“It’s not as if I asked for anything much less Messenger. I mean, I suspected it but I thought I had more time to choose what I wanted. Instead, I get chosen, like it or not…”
“And what would it be that you’d want?”
“Healer,” she said and realized until that moment she hadn’t been certain. But that was what her heart yearned to do. How could her mother not see it, too?
Zanz eyed her with confusion, then with appreciation.”You mean the wild creatures, of course. Yes, I knew that, I guess.”
“No, I mean…anyone, everything,” she said, coming to sit closer to him but not too close. “I feel…Quazama needs a good refreshing to allow for more happiness. I could help with that.” She reached across the bank and dipped her fingers into blue wavelets that rose up and coursed over her skin. She thought the day was itself happier, since the rainstorm blew on to another place.
“Yeah, freedom from that rotten old GB. He just needs to walk into the bush and expire.”
“Shush,” she hissed, but he laughed at her.
“I can say what I think out here, with you. But I’m wondering how, when you get back from Rumsfeldt Barriers–” he gave an involuntary shudder–“how it will be. I mean, will I have to make a special request to talk with you? Will you be gone all the time running more messages to far-away places? Will I be forbidden to be your friend, even? Our old Messenger was housed in the Central Place with Sentries and cooks and all others, close to the GB and our little used temple.” He put down his basket-in-progress. “I hadn’t thought of that–but you and your mother might have to go there?”
“No, no, she never said that. We have our house. I just have to always be available, that’s all, and train harder each day for long distance running. I think, anyway. I do have to run this morning, make sure all parts are working right. But, oh, I don’t know! All the talk of a clash again, Martram being found by me, no less, and brought face to face with the Grand Baraxas . Then the Living Trust brought forward… a strange thing to contemplate, you and I have never seen that! But this is the main thing so nothing else is being explained. Makes me foggy headed, the entire thing.” She got up and twirled around and away.
“I can’t believe you’re leaving tomorrow, just like that. I’ll be repairing the looms with my uncle and tending my brothers while you will be off having adventures! I could almost resent all that.”
Naliya stopped, her soft purple robes flung around her legs, then unfurling the other direction. It was like watching a flower open, close and re-open, Zanz thought. Her two-toned hair was a mad nest, knotted but a wavy cascade down her back. The way he liked it. His hands ached to touch it so he looked down at his handwork.
“I will be going into wilderness, alone, and yet they trust me and my journey. It will be so much more than I even imagine, won’t it… But it’s Rumsfeldt, Zanz! I’m terrified and can’t believe they’re sending me alone. But then that feeling passes. I’m more excited. It’s almost the same feeling but the second one is much better. Who would have thought…”
Zanz was bent over the basket, his fingers pressing and pulling the green willow, working faster. It was to be for her. For dipping water and gathering things she needed along the way. To think of him. “It’s not the best place for your first journey, I agree… In truth, I would refuse if I were you. I will worry.”
“You would not refuse, you’re as brave as they come when it gets down to the hardest parts. I only wish you could come with me.” She knelt in the grass and looked into his serious face as it was altered with surprise. “I really do. You know by now that two minds can accomplish more, make better harmony than one.”
“I know that, yes.”
He wanted to say something more and important but instead, he smiled long and broadly at her and in this was his heart which had been given to her long ago. If she only saw it. If she did, it didn’t show itself as she turned back to the river and stepped into it. She walked deeper, even deeper until her body was submerged and only her black and ivory hair floated around her small, open, fearless face, the river lifting and carrying her into its violet blue currents of water magic. She heard a wolf calling her name but she didn’t answer. She would soon meet them on the path, she expected that if nothing else. They ran with her long after the riverine deer fell back, anxious and exhausted.
Quazama villagers’ gathering was now completed, in three circles. The Convening Twelve then circled closer about her as she stood in the center of the great room with its large skylight in the dome above. Her arms were out held out by her mother and grandfather, Sentry O. Before her feet was a magnificent white and yellow bouquet of river and forest flowers. She, too, was dressed in bold yellow; her magnificent hair was woven tightly into a long braid. To see her face so entirely revealed was a surprise to most who attended, for some of her mother’s strange beauty was visited upon it, the eyes very deep set, nose small, lips full but pale and now pressed together in a grim solemnity. It was her hair that drew others’ attention before, the wildness of it and the old clan’s coloration, which commanded respect. But they knew her as hard working, friendly with old and young, quick–minded, fleet-footed yet an otherwise as ordinary as any young girl.
This was about to change.
The Grand Baraxas waddled up to the three of one clan and was bemused. How was it that they had managed to survive all the eons? But here they were; now the youngest was to take her place among a gilded few. She barely knew what was ahead. He secretly wondered of her capability, had hoped she might fail the vote, but the convening had claimed her as Quazama’s own new– and first female in a very long while, certainly way before his time–Messenger.
She was to bring his enemy back. That was all that mattered to him.And then– then they would all know for certain whose blood would rule and whose would flood the temple and courtyards and roads in and out.
“Here is the daughter of Terl, Mistress of Rites, and the granddaughter of Sentry O, the longest ever to hold such a place in my service. They bring us the convening choice, Naliya of Terl, of the fourteenth generation. A runner from soon after birth, she is willed here, and now chosen to be our new Messenger. Her loyalty will be unyielding. Her health will be of first concern and her life will be well guarded. A Messenger flees not from trouble but challenges it with strength. A Messenger never fails to get up if fallen. A Messenger never fails to forgo the oath of truth telling. A Messenger never gives her life greater value as Quazama villagers’ safety and well-being is her first and last duty. Naliya’s word is now the trusted word, for she carries those words to us, for us, among us. Her Messenger instincts are to be well heeded. The Messenger’s presence will be honored for work well done .”
He bowed his head the barest nod to her, touched the lance and lightning symbols on his scarlet robes and then lay his right forefinger on each arm. And then upon her head.
She squelched discomfort at his touch, feeling instead the deep warmth of her family’s hands. The villagers were smiling at her, her body pulsed with adrenalin, her chest heaved with anticipation.
“May Naliya forever carry true words and run far, fast and strong as the wind!”
The villager raised their hands up and shouted out the words. “May Naliya forever carry true words and run far, fast and strong as the wind!”
Naliya was grasped under each armpit by her grandfather and mother and they lifted her, walked around the circle as each person clapped their approval and then released her onto the floor. She knelt down, facing a view of sunset sky arrayed in luminous colors.
The Convening Twelve lay down, bodies arrayed in a circle around her, making her as the center of a multi-hued flower, they the colorful petals. They clasped hands; their heads were pointed toward her, feet toward the encircled crowd. And then they began to hum. The sound flowed softly, then grew: one note filled the air magnified energy until it split into four notes to create a echoing harmony, then it became seven notes, and the luxuriant chord rose up and filled the temple, flowed about Naliya and then each villager, sonorous and clear. There came peace and pleasure, the sound a sustained resonance, the sound round, rich, dense with meaning.
This was a remnant of the ancient ways. It stilled their hearts, evoked in them forgotten wonder.
The Grand Baraxas felt it as the turning of times, a potential mending of life worn out and broken down, but he told himself it was only a pretty excuse for music, it was the trappings of ceremony and perhaps Martram’s sly influence, still, which he must destroy for good. He also, in fact, ought to consider banning music making to keep everything strictly orderly, to ensure only activities essential to his station and his greater plans were carried out. Such music had a stirring effect and that led to some very wrong, perhaps even traitorous thinking.
Naliya’s body and mind were struck profoundly by the music. It was as if she was made an instrument of new meaning and value she didn’t understand but yearned to claim. She felt courage and faith flow into her, while devotion to her village, family and the Prism’s Light made its dwelling place within, for all the days and nights to come. It was power of a new sort that she felt, if only she knew this was what it was. For now, she only knew to let herself be led by it.
And then the music stopped. Naliya carefully stood up. She caught a glimpse of Zanz as he disappeared into the crowd and he seemed very distant, too far away. The villagers and conveners parted, an opening made. Then came the herd of riverine deer. They stopped before her, the crowd whispering their amazement at such behavior. Naliya followed them out of the great temple room, out of the village, to the forest.
Terl and her father lowered their eyes, fervently and silently prayed for daughter and granddaughter a new prayer.
Blessings on Naliya’s flesh and soul, and blessings on her mind and heart for the Changing is begun, the Changing is begun.
Note to Readers:
(This is Part 2 of “The Convening”; Part 1 was posted last week. I am not certain I will go on with it in the WordPress posts, but if there is any interest, I may add Part 3 here, as there is much more to happen in the journey into the Rumsfeldt Barriers, it seems. It has been a fun story thus far for me to write, either way!
Please do not share this story without express permission from the author, as well as all other writing posted as it stated as copyrighted by this writer. Thank you kindly.)