The Great Symbol
The child was soon common knowledge, as was their relationship, and the townsfolk accepted that the witch was part of their community and was not apologetic for who she was. She was the daughter of Tangar, and would not accept grief from anyone.
Chilcoat held his head high ignoring the grumblings of the old women and began spending extra time with his own children. They seemed to be growing away from him as they matured. He longed for Caran’s guiding hand but dealt with them as best he could.
“Why doesn’t Tarra come by anymore?” Chara pestered her father. “It’s always more fun when she’s around.”
“She’s grown up and wants to live on her own, just as you soon will.”
“But we needed her to help us—win the game. The other guys have Burwin and he cheats. We need Tarra on our team to keep him from cheating.” Chilton bewailed their conflict.
“Maybe we can talk her into coming over more often. She’s very busy with her classes, you know. Say, there’s an idea. Why don’t you start going to her classes.”
That was all the children really wanted, they just needed the old man to suggest it. They ran off squealing in delight and he knew they had taken advantage of him. It’ll do them good to hear the word as she tells it, he thought.
He found the kids on the central platform with Tarra and her disciples. They all seemed to be very busy cleaning the dais with brooms and water. She wore a ceremonial robe she had fashioned from colored cloth. It flowed easily with her rhythmic song and accentuated her hands. She had stained them an iridescent blue for the occasion and had matching stripes slashed across her cheeks. It seems she had discovered that the platform itself had the symbol etched into its surface. A slight discoloration peeked through years of dust and neglect and looped to the edge of the platform merging with the trim tiles that accented the little nude figures marching around the rim.
The cleaners shooed a couple of people away and scrubbed every inch of the surface. The gray stone deepened to near black under the sheen of water and a band of pink intersecting circles sprang to life across the disk. Tarra called the group together and chanted softly as the morning sun peeked over the temple wall and touched the far edge of the platform. “It’s time to seek shelter. Hea is still cleansing the world and will not allow His children to play any longer.”
Chilcoat gathered his family and walked slowly toward home. They were still excited from the diversion and begged Tarra to join them for dinner. “You’re welcome anytime, and it would mean a lot to the kids. It’s Caran’s birthday. I promised them that we could celebrate like we used to.”
“I’ll join you after I clean up.” She wiggled her blue fingers at him and pulled her hood into place.
As she climbed the stairs, a small entourage of her followers talked and laughed with her. He watched with puzzled awareness that she was very special to him and his people. It was like nothing he had ever seen. Everyone always respected the shaman, but usually it was just a cautious awareness that he knew mystical things, but with Tarra, it was different. Those who knew her were enchanted and those who resisted her felt her disarming charm.
Tarra’s appeal to the young folks grew with the season. The winter provided more hours to work the gardens, so the daylight respite became more prized. The precious few hours that remained for recreation became a great sacrifice that her followers made for her. Each person stood in different sections of the “great symbol,” as they come to call it, and explained why they thought they belonged there. Their discussions were sometimes funny and sometimes very somber. Tarra guided the dialogue to areas that ranged from stardust to her pregnancy. There’s no forbidden topic, but the explanation must include the symbol’s influence. Occasionally, a small crowd gathered to watch their antics. Some were just curious while the games their children played troubled others.
Chilcoat remained politically indifferent but he could see that there would soon be open conflict. He tried to sound gruff as he warned her. “You and your troop are starting to upset the town’s folk.”
“I know. I’ll try to keep it down. They’re kids. They just like to showoff sometimes.”
“Tell that to their parents.”
“I’ve spoken with Papa…”
“What did the old boy have to say? Are we going on another adventure?”
“Don’t be mean. No, he’s told me that what I’m doing is right. He spoke of YodHeaVau.”
“Are you putting words in his mouth or did he really visit you?”
“I don’t know. You know better than that. He’s gone before I can be sure he came. But now, I remember some of his teachings from when I was very young. Papa would take me along to his meetings and let me help set things up. He, Stafon, and Talbot would talk for hours about YodHeaVau. I realize now that they were talking for my benefit. I was really too young to understand much, but now I’m remembering some. Now I know what they were talking about.”
“Careful, now, venturing into such thinking is heresy in the eyes of the council. Claiming to know more about their game than they do will get you into trouble.”
“No, don’t you see—I was being trained as the Keeper. It’s part of the prophecy. The scrolls say that ’A witch will be born as keeper of the word, and she will learn from birth to awaken the people…’.”
“From birth?” Chilcoat looked at her skeptically.
She hesitated thoughtfully. “I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t tagging along with him. He was always chanting to me.”
“Still, it’s going to be a hard sell to the elders. Did the scrolls say anything else about this keeper?”
“Yes, but I’m not sure I should tell you. They say, ’The keeper is to bring forth a child to lead the tribes in heaven’.”
“You’re kidding. They don’t really say that, do they?”
“You can read them the next time we go to the gathering. Until then you’ll just have to take my word for it.” She left the shop in a flirtatious swirl of flowing gowns.
He lay quietly wondering at the turmoil in his head. She was beginning to consume much of his thinking. I need to find more to do. He seldom made the long trip down the cliff to go hunting. His companions had made it clear that they no longer needed his efforts, “You’re slowing us down.”
As the season dragged on, he busied himself in the shop and tended to the children and the gardens. He hadn’t taken up rat hunting yet, but he frequently thought about it. He could see Tangar proudly sitting at his hearth watching his meager catch being prepared. The vision haunted him as his knee complained about his inactivity.
He spoke to the empty room. “So you come to me again? You crafty old buzzard, you’ve got her all stirred up and you tell me I’m too old. What are you up to now?”
Charona stood in the doorway. “Need a hand there brother?”
“What? No. I was just getting ready for work.”
“So I heard. I thought I’d stop by and see if you needed anything before work.” Tradition demanded that Charona perform the sisterly obligation of checking up on him from time-to-time.
“Ah—nah, I’m alright thanks. I appreciate the offer. You need anything?” He offered after a few moments.
“I thought you’d never ask.” She pressed close to him.
The episode was brief and left him a bit shaken. He and Charona had had a long-standing arrangement, but since she had bonded with Lannon, it had been only an occasional flirtation.
“I hope your consort understands.” Charona straightened her hair and pulled her robes into place.
“She understands all too well. Right now I hope she’s more concerned with how to keep her flock from getting too rowdy.”
“Yeah I’ve noticed the game she’s made up has people arguing. Maybe that’s a good thing; it keeps them on their toes.”
“As long as they stay off mine, I’ll be happy.”
“That’s the old Chilcoat I know.” She gathered her things and headed to the garden for her evening chores.
He found Tarra in her patch of herbs. She was pulling up the last of the summer crop. There wasn’t much left she could use, but it still needed to be handled with reverence. She had to sort and trim the plants into bundles for drying or burning. She couldn’t allow any of the dangerous ones to fall in with the garden refuse. She had to burn them before the morning sun could break their spell. “The herbs willingly provide their healing gifts, but their sprits demand that they be set free before Vau can look upon them in their shame.”
It all seemed silly to him, but he was glad to help her get rid of the toxic residue before the children had a chance to play with it.
They celebrated their final demise in a cloud of smoke and sparks that chased all but the hardiest souls from the area. Tarra finished the ceremony with a somber chant of thanks and humility while he took the opportunity to leave and clean up before bed. He carried a couple of bundles of herbs and left them at her door.
Looking quickly around her apartment, he noticed the little altar she had erected in the alcove near the door. He marveled at the intricacies of Thoma’s wand and then grabbed the second stick. He considered it for a moment and tried to imagine how he could add new carvings that would tell the story of how Tarra had saved so many with her father’s ways. He decided that he would have to think about it and was about to leave when he realized that Tangar had whispered to him again.
“You old bastard, you haunt me with stories of the past, but you don’t tell me what you want.”
“He wants you to leave my stuff alone.” Tarra chided, as she entered with her clutch of branches.
“Oh, yeah, sorry, I was just thinking and sort of lost my way.”
“Here, this will help.” She dropped her load and handed him the little figurine from the shelf.
He clenched it in his fist and looked longingly at the young woman. “The kids would like it if you would come by more often.”
“We’d like it if you would come by more often.”
“I’m right in the middle of testing some new plants. I’m not sure if it’s them or the baby, but I haven’t been very good company lately. Maybe in a few days it’ll pass.”
“Are you sure it’s a good idea to mess with herbs while you’re pregnant? Can’t it wait until you’re—done?”
“I’ll not be ‘done’ for five more months and the herbs won’t wait. I need to catch them before they dry completely.”
“Still, it seems like it would be better to have someone else do that for you. Maybe Charona could help.”
“No, she’s pretty busy helping you.”
He caught the edge in her voice and tried to change the subject. “What can be so important that it can’t wait?”
“I’ve made a new sun cream. It seems to toughen the skin so you can stay in the sun longer. The only problem is that it upsets my stomach a little and makes my skin shiny. See?” She shrugged her robe from her shoulders exposing her arms and back.“Yes I see.” He reached out almost touching her firm white flesh but changed his mind, as the subtle discoloration of her freckles seemed almost to laugh at his lustful assessment. He paused at the little shrine next to the door as he left and placed his figurine next to the others. “I think he’ll be happier here.”