Chapter 18 - Living with the Land
A number of cabins below us had been swept away with the rush of water and alliance members ran after anything caught in the flood. Luckily no people were thrashing in the furious currents, only pieces of dead trees and broken roofs floated downstream.
“Lets go.” said Edward after stillness settled. The destructive storms ceased, but a gray cloud lingered over me. “We’ll have the others help for now. Better not dawdle, though,” Edward said to Riley while helping me onto my cart. “They know nothing of the Queen’s power and won’t suspect us. Still, it’s best not to linger.”
I spent hours in the back of my cart, hiding like a frightened animal. During the brief cleanup, I overheard numerous people asking for their Queen. Riley covered for me, telling them I was resting and should not be disturbed. When we left the area and headed west, I looked out from my rolling cage and saw the dark cloud following us. Riley noticed me staring at the sky. He tried to mask his feelings, but I knew as he did, something was terribly wrong. For two days I spoke infrequently with my alliance or closest friends. Even Riley and I shared only light conversation during quiet moments. The cloud followed me by an invisible thread and was a constant reminder of my evil bloodline. To have demons spilling out of me beyond my control was most frightening.
Late afternoon, a week after the incident at Masanner Dam, our cart stopped.
“We’re here. Rhaida has gone to find someone.” said Riley. He was in charge while I stayed in the cart, too worried to glimpse the evil cloud above me.
“Riley,” I said. “I know we have avoided talking about what has happened to me. But what can I do? I can’t hide forever in here and I don’t want to hurt any of Rhaida’s people. We must have a plan in case…in case I lose control again.”
“I’ll talk with Rhaida,” he said. His thoughts pushed for optimism, but they also revealed that my eyes glowed weakly, a sign of my fragility. “Maybe they’ll have an idea how to help.” He offered a meager smile.
That evening we were welcomed by Rhaida’s people, the Sierrowians, and spoke with their ruler Teshalah-queliegh Nouiee. Tesh-a-la, (meaning - ancient ones) combined with Kay-lay, (meaning - link) was the ruler’s title. Nouiee was his actual birth name, although his people always addressed him as Teshalah, a name of great reverence for those Sierrowians residing in Tonada.
The language was hard to follow, though Teshalah’s thoughts were not. Devin translated for everyone in his yurt. The interior was surprisingly large and rich, with beautiful ornate carpets, paintings and sculptures. It was quite the opposite of every place I had visited on Noore or even Palleo, warm and intimate rather than hard and formal.
“I have told Teshalah about your unfortunate situation,” Devin said while we sat in a semi-circle around Teshalah on firm, orange cushions. Impressive as a leader, Teshalah was brawny and his clothes were sparse, the same as Rhaida’s when we first found her in the desert. All the Sierrowians were dark-skinned, contrasting greatly to our milky texture.
“He must patoolac?” Devin continued, but turned to Rhaida for guidance. They muttered softy before he explained. “Patoolac…means to seek wisdom from the ancient ones. It’s similar to how you have your visions, but he must eat and drink from the earth before he can gain guidance. He has told us that he will do the patoolac tonight and share his visions with us tomorrow. He has also invited us to a type of party, Kikah. It will be held tomorrow night in the master yurt.”
“Kikah.” said Teshalah, addressing Riley and me. “Ta ku, eeh…est?” He raised his arm in a questioning gesture. He was asking us if we would come to the party. I nodded to Devin who translated our acceptance of his offer.
We bid good night to Teshalah and stepped outside into darkness. Numerous, glowing yurts lined a glistening moonlit lake and a walkway of stones paved our way back to camp. I was relieved that my cloud seemed to have disappeared, even though I imagined it was hovering above me, hiding in darkness. Not until the next day, in the sunlight, did I discover the beauty of these people.
A few Sierrow men wandered the village that morning while women spread across the valley doing a multitude of chores. Rhaida was our host, showing us how her people lived harmoniously with the land. She explained the properties contained in roots that had been harvested and various leaves picked from plants, both were used for medicines.
Their staple food was fish and shellfish trapped from , an enormous lake west of Tonada valley. The lake stretched for miles until reaching a mountain range along the western ridge of Palleo.
While watching Rhaida I was soothed by the life around me, and hope began to trickle back into my heart. Could we learn to live with the land rather than destroy it?
Once again I noticed no horses or oxen to carry supplies. I finally realized that riding a horse had been a foreign concept for all the races of Palleo. That was why people were so confused by our travels on horseback when we entered a town or village.
The Sierrowians were doing fine, providing for themselves without artificial energy or special machines. But something was different in the thoughts of these people, compared with the Miserlains’. There seemed a different spirit within them, a connectedness to all things rather than the detachment I sensed from the Miserlains. Not until our Kikah did I understand the true spirit of Tonada. My alliance would witness an ancient ritual performed by the Sierrowians that had been passed down for generations.
That afternoon Devin stopped by our tent to tell Riley and me about the event. “You must change your clothes,” he said. “The entire alliance has been invited, but the men are not allowed to wear shirts or shoes to the Kikah, only pants. And the women are requested to wear traditional Sierrow garments. They’re quite revealing, so I hope it won’t be a problem. Rhaida and other women are prepared to dress the females, whenever you’re ready, my Queen.”
“Very well.” I left Devin and Riley. Rhaida was waiting for me at the opening of my tent and we walked through camp, gathering our female alliance members. There were at least thirty women in my group and we were led to a small yurt. Two-thirds waited outside while I was dressed for the occasion. My dresses were always long, covering most of my arms, and often I wore clothes like a man: pants, shirts, boots and leather armor. I undressed while Rhaida went to work, designing an outfit for me. The clothing was made from scraps of colorful fabric: patterns of swirls, blobs and stripes mixed with colors like fiery red, bright yellow, burnt orange, deep greens and blues.
My outfit was red, orange and yellow, like a dancing flame. Deep red sashes were tied just above my ankles and a mix of swirled reds and orange barely covered my mid-section. Orange sashes were tied above my wrists and yellow on my upper arm. Two long strips of yellowish-orange swirled fabric covered my breasts and they were tied in the back, under my arms. My hair had been worked on the entire time. Yellow tufts of fluffy fabric had been woven into long braids – about six braids total. The yellow was a bright contrast to my black hair. Throughout the fabric were swirls of black, contrasting the bright colors. I felt naked when I stepped outside and the women stared at me, shocked by the transformation.
“Now that’s an outfit!” said Sae’ka while I glanced around for Ashelle. Sae’ka’s leather strapped uniforms were always revealing, something she had been used to. I gathered from her thoughts that she was eager to add color to her wardrobe.
“Thank you, Sae’ka. Have you seen Ashelle?”
“Over there by the other yurt. Rhaida had someone help her already.”
I thanked Sae’ka and headed for the hut. Before I went inside Ashelle came out with the same strips of clothing, but her colors were shades of green. They looked beautiful with her green eyes and light brown hair.
She screamed in delight when she saw my costume for the party and I screamed back. We were young giddy girls completely out of our element.
“You look like a flame!” she yelled.
“You look like a leaf!”
“I feel so naked.” Ashelle said while holding her hands in front of her, covering her bare skin.
“You’re beautiful, Ashelle.” She blushed. “Don’t cover yourself. There’s no need. I must tell you about tonight though, since there’s a tradition that we will take part in.” I grabbed Ashelle by the hand and walked her down to the lake.
“Aren’t you almost sixteen?” I asked Ashelle.
“In three months,” she said. We cursed under our breath at the painful, jagged rocks under our bare feet. “I never had the chance to tell you how sorry I was that I disobeyed your command.” She continued after mumbling three ouches in a row. “It was wrong of me, but we were already two days into the desert, so I just thought I could hide in Devin’s cart.”
“That’s all right, Ashelle.”
We found a soft patch of grass to sit on. Although my cloud of evil was smaller, it disturbed me to see it following us down to the lake.
“No, it was wrong and I made you angry.” Ashelle sat next to me, pouring her heart out. She looked at the cloud above us. “Look what I’ve done. Your eyes glowed like that when you saw me hiding in the cart and the bag caught on fire.” Tears were now streaming down her face. “I wanted to tell you how sorry I was, but I was afraid. I did this to you. You must hate me!”
I scooted close to Ashelle, hugging her. “I could never hate you. You did nothing to cause my condition. My magic would have unraveled no matter what the circumstances. Actually, I really admire you for following your heart. Riley did the same when he saved me at Bear Ridge.”
She wiped her eyes and looked at me. “Really, you admire me?”
“Yes, I do. I’m also impressed with your commitment to Uncle Ally. Remember when Riley was my servant?” Ashelle nodded. “He seemed so young and fragile, and I felt that I was the only one who could take care of him. But we shouldn’t underestimate the people close to us. They can grow and build relationships without our help. It’s also important to find love in others instead of saving it all for one person. There’s no guarantee that one person will always be with us, so we must invest in other relationships. I’m telling you this because tonight you will have to make a choice.
“At the Kikah every female will pick a man from the party and he will be her companion for the evening. It is a type of formal ceremony.” I noticed Ashelle’s worried expression and I read her thoughts. “No Ashelle, it’s not what you’re thinking. You won’t have to have any intimate contact with him.” She was relieved.
“You will merely choose a male companion to share your time with. To talk, drink, eat, or dance. Whatever else you may want…well, it’s a woman’s choice. But considering we have no place to enjoy a private moment, I believe that everyone will stick with dancing.” Ashelle laughed nervously.
“So I have to choose a man to share my evening with?” she asked.
“Yes. I know how much you care about Uncle Ally, but this time is for you. He needs to discover new people too, so I hope that when the time comes, you’ll choose someone new. A man you’d like to learn about. Plenty of handsome men are in the alliance. They won’t be Devin, though they’re handsome nonetheless.” Ashelle’s crush on Devin had not faded.
“I’m really glad you’re here and don’t worry about what happened to me.” I said while brushing back her braids and disrupting her thoughts of Devin. “Just remember that I love you dearly.”
“I love you, too.” She glanced up. “I didn’t just follow Uncle Ally. I followed you and Riley. You’re like parents to me, as well as a big sister and brother. I didn’t want to see you hurt again, but I thought I caused your pain.”
“No, you just witnessed the inevitable. I had been breaking long before you disobeyed my command. Consider building new relationships, Ashelle. Sometimes we put all our effort into one relationship and, if lost, we have no energy to build again.”
“I believe I understand.” She smiled brightly.
We walked back to camp and noticed men staring at us. Their gaze made us self-conscious. Their thoughts were not for innocent minds such as Ashelle’s. She left for her tent and I rushed into mine, closing the flap quickly.
“Hey, what are you doing? I’m working,” Riley turned to see who had blocked the sunlight. “, is that you?”
“Yeah, it’s me.” He stepped closer to examine my new look. I was about to say something until he placed his index finger on my lips.
“Is this…what you’ll be wearing tonight?” I nodded as he touched my braided hair and ran his fingertips across my back. Goose pimples rose on my skin. “Can you wear this all the time?”
I laughed. “No, this is just for tonight.”
“Too bad, I really like it. It’s easier to touch you, to feel your skin.” His hand lightly brushed over my arm.
“You…you like it?” I was light-headed from Riley’s caress.
“Well, maybe I can wear it more often.” I said softly as Riley pulled me toward him. “I guess…Ah, I…”
“You could,” he whispered in my ear. His lips touched my neck and sent a wave of excitement through me. A second later my arms were tight around his neck, and I kissed him passionately. My mind drifted as a tingling sensation took over my whole body. When our lips parted I spoke.
“Riley, I can’t stand this anymore. We have to be together. I’ll go mad if we don’t have a chance to be alone.” Riley did not worry about anyone interrupting us. He was about to kiss me again when Sir Edward walked in.
“Sorry if I’ve disturbed…why look at you!” Sir Edward came up to me and spun me around. “Wow, if any man got a good look at you he’d be melting on the floor.” He laughed in the manner of an extremely proud parent. “You’re a lucky man!” Edward looked at Riley, reading his thoughts. “Sorry, I’ve disrupted your time together, but don’t act too quickly on those thoughts since Devin will be here any moment. You look lovely my dear!” Edward kissed my hand and backed out of the tent.
As soon as Edward left I kissed Riley.
We parted and I touched his lips. “I better leave before Devin gets here.”
“Can’t you stay?”
I heard Devin speaking outside. “I better go now. Maybe Devin can help us find a more appropriate place?”
“What are you doing?” Devin said once he stepped into the tent. “You’re not supposed to be here.” He grabbed my arm. “Rhaida has been looking for you. You must not speak with the men before the Kikah. All the women stay together and the men do the same. Go to the yurt that made your costume and if I find Rhaida I’ll tell her where you are. By the way, my Queen, you look beautiful.”
“Thank you, Devin.” I blushed. Riley stared at me, longing to touch me again, and his thoughts told me he would ask Devin for help. “See you both tonight.”
I dashed off to find Ashelle. What was I thinking sending a half-naked teenage girl through the camp?
“Ashelle, where are you?” I called from outside her tent, but I heard no reply. I walked to the back and heard a voice.
“She followed one of the women back to the village.” It was Uncle Ally who responded, “She told me what you said about not picking me in the line-up of men. I cannot help wondering if you’re trying to take away the one being that I care for.” He sat on a rock while sharpening a razor.
“Ashelle is young and she needs to be with other people. But, something you just said is quite important. You called Ashelle the “one” being you care for. Why only one? Are you afraid to interact with other humans?”
“No. Maybe…yes.” He was confused and angry that I had tried to keep Ashelle away from him.
Originally I asked Ashelle to stay with Trixie at the castle when we were embarking across Noore, although she convinced me that Ally needed her. Then she disobeyed my orders to stay in the Valley of the Giants. Now he was convinced I wanted Ashelle to stay completely away from him.
“If you care for Ashelle you must let go of her as any parent would.” He looked at me quite alarmed. “You know as well as I that she thinks of you as a father.”
“But this form was your father. Why would she feel that way about me if I am not her real father?”
“Because she lost her own father and needed another. Humans are not as complex as you might think. We become attached to others, especially if suffering the lost of a loved one. Even though you are not blood related it won’t make a difference. The fact remains that Ashelle is attached to you and she thinks of you as a father.”
“There is much I do not understand about humans.” Ally spoke quietly. “At times I want to be alone, yet when I am, I think of how I want to be with her.”
“There is no doubt you and Ashelle need each other, but you’d both benefit from interacting with other humans. That’s how we learn and most parents reluctantly let go of their children. I believe Ashelle saw something in you that I never noticed in my own father.”
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Love and compassion. It’s a part of our lives, although some people seem to lack both.”
“She told me the story about your father, how you killed him. Did you love your father?”
I was afraid to bring up those horrible emotions, frightened my cloud of chaos would thicken. But, I swallowed and answered his question. “Yes, I loved my father.”
“How could you love someone and kill him?”
“It was my choice to kill him so I could save others. Sometimes we have to make decisions that will hurt us forever, but I could not ignore my visions. If my father had survived and I died instead, The Land would have been destroyed, along with other kingdoms. Father had no compassion for anyone, including me, and he attempted to strike me down. That’s why I feared him and the reason you are now this form.”
“Sorry.” he said.
“And that’s why I do not fear you.” Ally glared at me, confused. “My father would never have been sorry. You care about Ashelle. But, she is just one of many beings who could benefit from this love you have discovered in yourself. Others might benefit from Ashelle’s love as well. She has been a fine teacher. I wonder if all protectors would be able to learn as you have.” I turned to leave, but paused. “Thank you for doing something my father could not, for loving a young girl who really needed a father. Just give her space to grow.”