The Real Reason
The sun beat relentlessly on the tent and limited sleep to fitful twists and turns. Chilcoat sat up and looked to Tarra, touching her gently on the shoulder; he smiled at her blinking response and whispered quietly to her. “I almost forgot, Rancon’s little boy, Randa, is sick from sunburn and it would be good if you can help him.”
She sat up to face him. “I’ll go see him now, it may be serious.” Quickly measuring herbs into neat little piles on a cloth, she worked diligently at the hearthstone. The rest of the family dozed as she measured and remixed different concoctions. Finally satisfied, she distributed the herbs into small pouches, bundled them in the cloth, and rose to venture into the midday heat.
As evening approached, Tarra finally returned from tending Randa, she was tired and sad. He was not doing well and the herbs had helped only slightly. She sat quietly staring at the fire considering her options. Pulling the medicine bag from its hook, she rummaged through the ointments and potions considering what she could mix. None of them seemed to fit the need.
She pulled the bundle of sticks from their pocket. Maybe I should dance with them again and beg Papa for help. The tanasin twig was still on top where she had put it. She set the bundle aside and dug into the recesses of the bag pulling out the tanasin leaves she had rolled up; they were limp and had turned a dark shade of grayish-green. She considered them for a few moments and sniffed at their apparent degradation then pulled out her kitchen knife and chopped the damaged tips from the leaves.
She couldn’t help but think how sharp the tool was and how different it was from the gift blade. Looking up from her work, she noticed that she was alone except for Chilcoat lying close by trying to get a few moments of rest. She watched him sleep and thought of her father’s faith in him. She didn’t understand her father’s devotion to him. When she was growing up, Chilcoat had always been a weird cousin who hung out with her dad. By the time she was old enough to figure out who he really was, he had moved out, and started a family of his own so she didn’t really know him. She remembered how her dad always said he was, “a special man foretold.” She didn’t know what that meant, and her father would only laugh and cuddle her saying, “You’re my special girl foretold.”
When she cried to her mother, “Dad’s teasing me,” her mother would cry with her and tell her, “you are—a special girl.”
She diced the leaves into a fine residue on the back of the new hide she had gotten on their trip. The pigments stained the skin dark green and bled to purple at the edges. She heated some vegetable oil and dusted the ball of paste with a variety of other herbs then stirred it into the oil. It took on a pale green hue and smelled lightly of pepper.
She readied herself to return to her patient and then thought of Rancon. He would be happy if Chilcoat shared his concern. She leaned close and touched him gently on the arm. Her prodding eventually roused him. “It would be good if you would help. If it doesn’t work, the boy will soon be lost and you should be there to comfort your friend.”
“He’ll sleep, to help him recover, but he may not awaken.” She spoke softly to Rancon’s family. “He’s very sick. Hea has punished him harshly for his carelessness. It should be a lesson to us all; God has chosen to test us mercilessly. I pray that the Vau finds grace in your son, Randa.”
She applied ointment to the boy’s burns but he was only vaguely aware of an angel gently stroking his flesh. Tarra chanted quietly for several minutes while the boy drifted off to sleep. “When he wakes, get him to drink honey-water, and apply more oil if he suffers, but it’s very important that you never do it more than four times a day.”
“Ran, I’m really sorry about this... Tarra’s right, we’re being tested harshly and your son is one of those tests... He’ll be all right. I hope you’ll tell others that this has happened and that we all need to respect the sun more.”
“I will, and you’re free to do the same.” Rancon resumed his vigil over the boy.
The concerned pair excused themselves from the family and returned to their own hut, carefully draped in their hooded sun cloaks. They didn’t speak until they reached the doorway. “He’s very sick,” she offered.
Chilcoat held her warmly. “I know. You’ve done what you could.”
“I just hope Daddy guided me well. I’ve never used tanasin in this way.”
“What? You used that weed on him. I thought you made up some regular sun cream.”
“No. He’s too sick. I had to find something stronger. I know the elders use tanasin leaves as a lotion for spirit-walks. It makes them sleep for many hours, so I thought that it might work to help the boy rest. If he can rest, he may recover.”
“Wait a minute. You made me eat that thing and spend two days on the throne and you knew all along it was the leaves that you are supposed to use?”
“No. The root’s the important part. I’m sure of that. The leaves are very dangerous and used only rarely—as penance for their lustful pursuit of Vau. I just grabbed them on a hunch that maybe that was why Daddy took us to that place.”
“What? You think he knew the boy was sick and that hike was just a way to get the right medicine?”
“Well, for the boy’s sake, I hope you’re right, but in the meantime, I have half of the village ready to abandon their lives and go to a temple in the sky that I saw on a spirit-walk. Woman, you are going to kill me!” He pointed her into the hut and pushed gently.
He stood looking at his half-finished cart upgrade for a moment then gauged the stars pondering if there was enough time to do any hunting this evening. I need to lay-in more meat before we’ll be ready, but perhaps the cart’s more important. On the other hand, maybe I should forget the whole thing now. If the real reason for this silly escapade was to get herbs for Randa, maybe the rest of it is just a bad idea left by the drugs and that crafty old man.
He begged the stars of Hea for a sign, but no, that would be too easy. They simply winked in somber indifference. The thought of Tarra and her sticks, potions, and prayers haunted him as her chanting softly drifted from the hut. He grabbed his knife and began cutting segments of wet cord to reinforce the joints on the cart.
In the morning, he and Lan dragged the cart to the top of the hill near the outskirts of the village and pushed it backward down the grade toward the central clearing. As the three of them hurtled out of control down the little arroyo, the cart jumped and rattled over the stones. At the bottom of the hill, the event ended with the cart turning on its side and both men stumbling to a stop, panting and laughing out of control.
A crowd from the breakfast gathering collected as they righted the cart and inspected it for damage. Chilcoat went into detail explaining his knot-work and structure modifications to anyone who would listen. He suggested that anyone who wanted to come on the trip would have to prove his cart could survive the same test.
Occasionally someone, attempting to meet the performance goal, broke the tedium of the next few days. No one got hurt but some carts, and their owners’ pride, suffered disastrous setbacks. By the end of the week, a simple wheeled platform won out as the hardiest design. Everyone quickly realized that the real test would be figuring out how to pack an entire family onto the simple flat pallet.
Chilcoat’s cautions went largely ignored with everyone, including his own family, showing up on the staging day with everything they owned piled high on rickety little wagons. “We’ll try it as we are, but the going will be very slow. When your neighbor breaks down and needs help, stop and help him. It does us no good to get separated and strung out along the trail. We must stay together and help each other.”
The first day’s walk seemed extra hot and slow. They barely cleared earshot of the village along the eastern trail. The ground haze that hung in the arroyo muddled the night sky, but the moon provided a majestic backdrop for stories of hope around an early fire. Chilcoat reminded everyone of Randa and asked them to pray for his recovery.
By the end of the third day, they were at the entrance of the long narrow hallway leading through the marsh grass. Chilcoat’s admonishment now made sense to everyone as they tried hacking at the grass to widen the trail. The morning brought no solution other than teams of cutters and haulers who needed frequent relief.The stack of cut reeds mounded higher near the camp yet the headway into the marsh seemed minimal. The process was tedious and those not involved in clearing the path had little to do but sweat and complain. Chilcoat assigned Caran to oversee the weaving of ropes from the grass cuttings. “It won’t be as stout as hemp but with good weaving discipline, they should be a real asset when we get to the cliff.”