Chapter 19 - The Kikah
Dusk arrived and shadowed the master yurt. It was teeming with people of different races, everyone sharing a part of Sierrow tradition. Along the back stood hundreds of men, most of them our alliance members. A small number of men were from the village. With colored paint slashed across their arms and chest, the men muttered and dug their bare feet into the soft sand.
Teshalah sat on a throne carved from the stump of a massive tree and glanced at the crowd in front of him. The women sat in long rows on either side of the throne. Autumn, the lone female giant, peered over the women, radiant in her beauty.
“Rhaida,” I whispered, “where are the Sierrow men?”
“No more. Men of Tonada make moylay.”
“Moylay?” she gestured with her hands the curve of a woman’s body.
“Moylay means Women?” I asked. “You mean your men produce women babies?”
“Yes, yes. Women babies, very much. Men babies…” She pinched her fingers together showing a small space between them.
“Little. So there are few men babies?” She smiled and nodded.
Teshalah clapped his hands twice. Everyone silenced and he called out, “Teshalah-queliegh Nouiee donay.” Immediately four women walked up to the throne, sitting two on either side.
“Teshalah call ‘Donay’,” Rhaida whispered to me. “You walk line, choose man. Queen first, then others. Tonada women last.” She pointed to a red straw mat leading to the men. “Donay. Pick Riley. Sit in middle, watch others.”
“, donay.” Teshalah called.
Upon Teshalah’s request Rhaida tugged at my arm. “Donay. Pick Riley.”
I stood and took a deep breath while Rhaida urged me on. Everyone focused on me. My feet sank into the soft sand and I hurried toward the mat. I rushed to the men and stood in front of them while scanning for Riley. My heart skipped when I did not see him.
“Donay!” Teshalah called from across the room.
Devin leaned out so I could see him. When I walked toward Devin I noticed Riley’s small stature obscured by him. I passed by my alliance members. They looked as frightened as I did. Then I noticed Wolfe. Although he knew I would chose my king, a glimmer of hope shot into his thoughts when I approached then diminished once I passed by.
I stopped in front of Riley.
“Hold out your hand,” whispered Devin. “Guide him to the middle and sit.” Riley took my hand. The paint on his arms and chest matched the fiery colors of my outfit.
When we reached the middle of the room Teshalah held out an open hand and grunted a single, unrecognizable word. We stepped off the line and sat on layers of brightly colored rugs stretching across the floor. Sae’ka walked the line next and picked George, then Autumn chose Gullane. It was Ashelle’s turn and she was frightened, glancing at me while on her way to the men. I was worried she would pick Ally, but her thoughts told me she had her sights on another.
To my great delight and relief, Ashelle chose Wolfe. They were not far apart in age. Even though Wolfe’s thoughts were about me and Ashelle’s were of Devin, I knew the young couple would enjoy discovering each other. Ashelle came close to me on the rugs and sat down while we watched the rest of the tradition. The ritual was long, but it was exciting to see the choices. Often a woman chose another woman. Some women mingled with a couple of their choice. The idea of two or more women with one man was quite natural to the Sierrowians.
Everyone sat on cushions or rugs until Teshalah stood from his throne, stepped down, and lay flat on his back upon a golden rug.
“Eeeyooah!” he shouted followed by a clap and a grunt. Suddenly, every resident of Tonada lay flat on their backs while alliance members scooted out of the way, astonished by their actions.
“They are going to do the ‘blessing of life.’” Devin quickly explained. Everyone close listened carefully while watching the men and women stretched out on their backs, their toes pointed and fingertips reaching far above their heads. Rhaida’s belly was large, but she too performed the blessing of life to the best of her ability. I remembered seeing her during our first journey across Noore stretching in the same manner though I never realized the movements were part of her tradition.
“It’s the beginning, the start of life.” Devin said. Teshalah grunted again and the Sierrow’s rolled instantly onto their bellies. “The fallen seed rests on fertile soil. It opens, turns and embraces the ground then transforms into an infant, just as a human infant rolls onto his or her belly in order to crawl.”
After a long pause they pushed up from the ground while arching their backs, their movements slow and methodical. Heads were thrown back and noses pointed into the air as though absorbing warm sunlight.
“Ey Hiewt,” yelled Teshalah. The entire group brought their feet underneath their bodies, curling into a fetal position then rose while stretching their fingers to the sky.
“The infant now stands upright just as a sapling sprouts, reaching its tender arms toward the sun.” Devin said as we watched them slightly sway back and forth – a type of dance to an inner rhythm. “The leaves fall to the ground when older and their essence is no longer green and lush, but scattered upon fertile soil.” And we watched their arms gradually drop while imagining leaves falling from their spread fingertips. They crossed their arms in front of them while continuing to sway. “Time passes and they shrink, curl, and exit the world as they began, completing the cycle of all living things.”
I had never given much thought to the cycle of our lives. Watching these people helped me understand why I loved this world so much. We were all a part of this world and each of us deserved a chance to take part.
At the conclusion Teshalah stood up from his golden rug. We had been born and died while watching the ritual. I began to clap and eventually the entire alliance filled the master yurt with applause. Devin had to translate to Rhaida that clapping was our way of expressing gratitude, so she ran off to explain.
Teshalah nodded when Rhaida finished whispering into his ear. “Kikah!” he shouted and the party began.
The village men served everyone, placing huge shell platters of food on the floor between couples, and we had a chance to mingle.
“Rhaida, what is this?” I asked while scooping food onto my wooden plate with a long, narrow shell.
“Gifts of . Eat!”
A type of grain was on the bottom of the platters slathered in a rich sauce and mixed with colorful steamed vegetables. Another platter stacked high with smoked fish and shellfish was surrounded by miniature sculptures made from raw vegetables.
After the food had been passed out, music began to play. The Sierrowians used items from the sea to create their instruments, mostly various types of drums. The men and women began with a loud boom in unison; then a spectacular show commenced. Polished sticks twirled and crisscrossed, their movements becoming a blur and the sounds absolutely invigorating.
The beat became intoxicating and everyone moved to its rhythm. Soon the people in the yurt stood along the red thatched line, swaying and bouncing to the earthly music while shouting and clapping. Our close contact smeared paint onto our bodies, but no one seemed to care.
Devin pulled me out of the line, “Teshalah wants to see you in his yurt to discuss the Patoolac.”
Riley and I left with Devin and Rhaida. We stepped outside into the brisk air and goose pimples covered my skin. Once inside we waited in front of Teshalah’s huge red cushion.
“Stand up!” Devin said as the Sierrow leader came into his yurt. Rhaida bowed and we followed. Two of the women who sat beside Teshalah’s throne during the Kikah escorted him. He stretched out his arm after sitting on his cushion, motioning for us to sit.
“Soo lou mayee…” Teshalah began. Those were the only words I remembered because soon after that, a barrage of Sierrow language flowed rapidly from Teshalah’s mouth. I thought he had been in a trance because his speech was unlike our first meeting.
Rhaida and Devin whispered to one another for a long time after Teshalah finished, trying to decipher his information. Then Devin translated the message.
“Teshalah has told us the advice the ancestors have offered to Queen Crystal of The Land.” After a quick question to Rhaida, Devin continued. “Travel north toward the sea, then east through the veins of and you will reach the people of the trees. You must travel a rugged trail leading into dark beast territory to find…” Devin waited for Rhaida to whisper a name in his ear. “Shrealock. You must find Shrealock.”
“Shrealock…Nocteen.” said Teshalah.
I knew that name, Nocteen. It was what Gullane had warned us about. The Nocteen were the winged people of the . Riley looked at me and his thought matched mine. So, what now? We wanted to avoid danger, but it seemed that our path always led us into peril.
“Excuse my asking, Devin,” Riley said, curious. “But what does he mean by ‘dark beast territory’?” Rapid words flew between Rhaida and Teshalah before she relayed the information to Devin.
“In the soft marshes of resides a light-footed beast. It is said that these large, hairy animals glide across wet mud, easily snatching prey that sinks into the marshland.”
“Ridge feral,” Riley said and gulped, looking at me. “That’s what protectors call them, but humans refer to them as Twill raiders or T-raiders.”
Devin and I stared a frightful hole through Riley. Twill-raiders were written about in numerous books though no one had lived to prove that they were real. It was clear to us that Riley knew they were indeed real.
One horrible story involved a group of men stalked for weeks by T-raiders in a marsh similar to The clever beasts caused the men to turn on each other, killing one another while others fled into the mud that trapped them.
T-raiders were depicted as four-legged wiry-haired beasts with super-sharp teeth and powerful jaws that could crack massive bones in one bite. Worst of all, their jaws would lock once they bit down, so they had to rip through flesh, gulping down what was in their mouth before biting again. They could not let go for any reason. These T-raiders were nothing we cared to discover, especially since they were believed smarter than any other animal on the planet, tricking their prey into helpless situations.
“Isn’t there some other way to reach this Shrealock?” I asked. I could already feel my cloud of darkness growing. Riley watched with concern as I rubbed my temples. Flames in the stone fireplace to our right started to rise.
“Shrealock!” Teshalah shouted, startling me. I jumped and noticed his piercing gaze. He was concerned for me and for his own people. “. Shrealock. Must go!” His vision clearly stressed the importance of my finding this winged forest dweller.
I nodded and thanked him for his help. We walked back to the master yurt, though I did not feel like going inside. I tried to calm myself, but as before my head hurt from my constant struggles. Rhaida turned to me. “This way.” she said. Devin kissed her and went back to the Kikah while she guided us to a smaller yurt far from the others. “Come, come.” She led us into a candlelit space – the inside glowed beautifully, fiery like my outfit. A large bed covered in animal furs took up most of the room while family belongings lined the inside of the yurt. “Es family home, here. They are no more, so I stay. You take now. Riley, Crystal, rest now.” She left us, flashing a warm smile.
Riley watched her leave and I beamed at him. “You talked with Devin, didn’t you?” I saw his coy smile and he nodded.
“How’s your head?” he asked. “Do you want me to get you anything?”
“No. Thanks.” I wandered around and picked up a piece of pottery, examining it in the dull glow. My head did hurt although it was tolerable. Mostly I wanted to get my mind off the uncertain future.
Riley was touching my hair again, brushing it back away from my neck. Instead of my being aroused, a pressure built in my head and my eyes watered. My emotions were out of control. I could not hide the tears rolling off my face.
“Why do you cry?” Riley asked. I hung my head low, shaking it. My caring husband led me to the bed in the center of the room and sat me down. I followed him like a soulless creature unable to move without another’s touch. What’s happening to me?
“As difficult as our journey has been I was at least in control,” I said. “I followed my visions, made decisions based on them and discovered hidden paths to guide our alliance. But now it’s gone, lost in a multitude of uncertainty. I can’t trust myself. I’m afraid, Riley.”
Riley held me tight as I thought about my future. I did not hate the protectors anymore, not as I did when departing Noore. I knew who the enemy was then, but what is an enemy, only an emotion embedded within us void of understanding? I lay down on the soft furs while Riley caressed me.
“This is nice,” my voice trembled. Riley took my hand and leaned to his side, watching me while playing with my fingers.
“Do humans always feel the way we feel? Do they feel this love we share,” Riley asked. I finally turned my attention to him.
“Well sometimes, I guess, when people are lucky.” I paused, reflecting on Riley’s question and continued. “People fall in and out of love often, but I think you and I are somehow bound to each other. We were meant to unite despite our differences and I don’t believe either of us would survive alone.
“Earlier I told Ashelle she should invest her love and time in other people, not just one person. But I’m finding it hard to follow my own advice. When you came to me as Christopher and I sensed your emotions, I knew we should be together. I had to find you and somehow be with you. Nothing would have made me return home once I began my search for you. I wanted no one else. That’s why I would have died in the woods. To live like so many others who had never found love…well, I would rather have chosen death. What we feel for each other is real and strong. We’re lucky Riley, very lucky.”
“And we’ll always be together.” he said then kissed me. My sadness faded and we finally shared a moment together – soft, sweet, and bound to each other in a way that few people were.