The gardens needed only occasional attention during winter. They prepped the ground and planted the seeds, but there was little else to do. Tarra spent more time experimenting with her concoctions and mentoring her flock of followers. The baby grew possessive of her thoughts and began to interfere with her every action. It would soon be due, and she could hardly wait, as she prayed that Yod would help her be a good mother. A mother without a father, she lamented that Shadoc was not here to join with her—with us. She caressed her belly feeling the presence of their child.
As summer approached, she found less time for Chilcoat and spent most of her time perfecting her salves and creams. She discovered that the kasis vine not only tamed the tanasin but was in itself a soothing herb. She would spice it with various different pollens and berries and make colored ointments that soothed her muscles and left warmth in her loins that helped her sleep. The baby also seemed to enjoy the relief and tumbled playfully before she slept. The only drawback to the cream seemed to be the rust color it left on her skin. It would linger for a day or two before eventually fading. She applied a liberal amount to her legs and arms after a long night’s work and was about to retire when Chilcoat bound into the room.
“What? Is someone sick?”
“No, someone is camping far to the west, about two day’s journey near the foothills.”
“Is it the tribe? Can you tell?”
“No, all I can see is a small fire just at the edge of the savanna. I’m sending a team to greet them, so we should know in a couple of days.”
“What if it isn’t them? What if it’s the Shanare coming back to take their temple?”
“Then we’ll deal with that. Lan will lead the team and be cautious about their approach.”
“Lan? What’s the matter, brother, getting too fat to make the climb?” She tried to evoke their old relationship.
“Yeah, something like that. Besides, I wouldn’t want to leave you in such a delicate condition.”
“Yeah, don’t blame me just because your knee hurts. I gave you some lotion, use it.”
“You and your creams... Has the baby been treating you good?”
“Yeah, he’s a doll.” She patted her tight belly and looked longingly at it.
They spent the next two days preparing weapons and food in anticipation of either a battle or a feast. By noon of the third day, Lannon and his band of warriors climbed the ladders with some game they had taken on their venture and word that the visitors were from the western village.
Tarra’s heart raced at the thought that Shadoc would be among them. She had prayed to Yod to call him to her but she feared that no good would come of it. The temptation of Yod’s power had pulled her in selfish allure that was “the greatest of all sins.” She begged forgiveness as she caught sight of him crawling over the edge of the plateau. She watched wistfully as he dusted himself from the journey. She dare not diminish Chilcoat in the eyes of the clan by revealing their relationship.
Chilcoat, and a large group of townsfolk, stood by greeting the travelers as they each scaled the last few rungs of the scaffolding and stepped onto the plateau for the first time. Their reaction was the same as it had been for everyone; they all wandered around in disbelief and wonder. Relatives from the tribe greeted some of them and others simply followed a friendly face to explore the citadel.
Tarra finally dragged Shadoc to stand in front of Chilcoat. “You know each other, and we’re family, so act like it.”
Shadoc solemnly extended his hand palm-up. Chilcoat hesitated a moment and covered it with his own. Chara and Chilton joined the trio as they toured the village. Shadoc repeatedly grabbed at Tarra’s hand as they explored the signs and symbols that adorned the structure but she self-consciously avoided his familiarity when others were around. They were in a world all their own as they queried and resolved all sorts of teachings they had received.
Eventually the group broke up and everyone sought shelter from the sun. Chilcoat took his kids and went to his shop while Tarra acted as courteous host to the shaman. In her apartment, they laughed and cried over their predicament. She demonstrated some of her recent lotions for him, and they rested quietly in a warm embrace. As evening approached, she rose to her regular routine leaving him to recover from his journey. He would need a day or two to get on the night shift. In the meantime, she gossiped with the rest of the townsfolk about their fate. Some wanted to get off the plateau and join them when they returned to the western village and others wanted to make them part of the tribe. We need new blood and the excitement of new, and rekindled, relationships is a welcome diversion.
Tarra reserved her opinion and repulsed several inquiries about her new friend. The baby was coming soon and she felt the need to ready her nest. She cleaned and scrubbed things that didn’t seem to deserve the attention, but it kept her mind off the stirrings she felt. As morning approached, the baby came while Shadoc held her tightly. They prayed and thanked Vau for bringing the Spirit to life. It was a perfect boy with a firm grip and skin the color of amber.
“Chilgar,” she whispered to him. “Child to the man foretold, fulfillment of the word.” She chanted gently rocking him to sleep for the first time. They lay in naked bliss enjoying the miracle that had changed their lives.
Shadoc gazed lovingly on the pair. “He’s an odd color, don’t you think?”
Tarra placed him on his pillows. “There’s nothing odd about him. He’s perfect.”
“Sure, but people will talk. Who do you know with skin so—warm?”
“He’s yours, dummy, just as the scrolls prophesy, he’s ‘the one foretold’, the golden child that heralds the second coming. Personally, I think it’s the herbs I’ve been using. It’ll probably go away in a couple of days. It usually does.” She held her palms out exposing the lingering rusty tint.
“Will you come with me now?”
She looked solemnly at the child. “We’ll talk. Now I just want to be alone with him.”
Shadoc pulled his sun-gear on and ventured into the plaza alone for the first time. A couple of his clansmen were sitting on the edge of the central platform talking. They too were still off schedule and found comfort in seeking out their friends. “How long are we going to stay? Our presence is a strain on our host’s hospitality. We have to either become productive or leave.” Shadoc surveyed the temple walls.
“We, kind of, want to move into one of the vacant apartments.” One of the young couples looked nervously at their leader.
A second pair scoffed at the concept. “I’d rather get back on the trail as soon as possible. We’ve seen the temple and I want to get back to my life.”
Shadoc was torn—he wanted to stay with his wife and son, but he needed to get back to his village just as Tarra needed to get back to her life. He climbed onto the platform and wandered around the symbol playing the game of souls from the scrolls. He chanted rhythmically calling upon YodHeaVau to comfort his thoughts. Some of his clan joined in the mantra they frequently used to ward off unwelcome spirits.
Shadoc addressed the group as it broke up. “We’ll stay for three more days and those who will return with me, will meet here at this time.” He gestured at the shadow that crept across a band etched into the plaza wall.
Climbing the garden stairs, he wandered the paths trying to get his bearing. As he rounded the squash patch, he spotted the chimney stone in the distance. He immediately headed for the altar and stood gazing into the distance looking at the sun and then across the plateau to the sighting stones. This is truly a magical place, Tarra and the boy are lucky to be here. He then realized it was not luck at all. They must be here. He knew that he couldn’t ask her to leave. She had an important duty and he was lucky to have played a small part in it. He knew all of that, but he still wanted them with him.
He wandered to the western sighting stone and gazed out across the panorama toward home. He tried to pick out the pass they had come by, but the haze made the hills a simple gray ripple along the horizon. He wondered if everyone was OK. He had left enough medication for the time they had allotted themselves, but that was only good if no one new got sick or hurt. He had to leave. He knew that. He just wanted it to be different.
Chilcoat slept fitfully dreaming of Caran and wondering what was to become of him. His knee prevented him from being an effective hunter, and the sun-sickness had taken years from his eyes. He saw Tangar hunting rats again in his dreams as he startled awake. He was sweating even though the weather was cool. The children were still asleep and he couldn’t help but think of the women in his life. The pain and loss he felt for Caran was blending into a dull emptiness that he accepted as “times-gone-by.” Tarra was now a part of that emptiness; she had changed so much in that past few months that he didn’t feel he knew her anymore. She too was an empty longing for the way things used to be. The comfort he took with Charona helped fill some of the void, but she was also a different person now that her sister was gone.
Have I grown too old and don’t realize it? My children need me only to resolve conflicts and provide food, and my hunting buddies need me only at story time… He wasn’t yet ready to leap from the cliff, but he understood how some people had taken that path. Maybe it was just their bad eyes, but more than a few had ‘fallen’ in the darkness over the years.
He pulled his sun cape on and headed out to see if he could catch a rabbit in the gardens. He took the stairs that led past Tarra’s apartment, but there didn’t seem to be any signs of life, so he continued up to the garden. He noted there were a few stragglers wandering around tending to irrigation needs, and then he spotted Shadoc over by the sighting stone. “Only works in the morning.”
“The stones—they only line up at dawn.”
“Oh yeah, I know. I was just looking out toward home. We’ll be leaving in a couple of days, and I was just seeing if I could pick out the trail.”
“Will Tarra be going with you?”
Shadoc spoke after a moment’s hesitation. “No, she and Chilgar have bigger things ahead of them.”
“Our son. Oh, I’m sorry. He was born last night. Oh, maybe she wanted to tell you… I know I’m not supposed to let on that he’s mine, but you know…”
“You’re the father; no one can take that away from you. The lie we live is for him.”
“Yes, well, we have a son. His name is Chilgar, in your honor, and he is golden brown, and I’ll have to leave him on his third day of life.” He stood solemnly facing the western skyline.
“Does she know?”
“That I’m leaving? No, she’s still living the dream of childbirth and thinks we can somehow be together.”
“We can find a place for you here. We don’t have much, but we can fit a few more people in if we have to.”
“I’m needed at home, just as she’s needed here. We knew this when we met. We knew we could never be together, but we know we love each other. It isn’t much, but it is all we have.”
“No, now you have Chilgar. He’ll grow into a fine lad. She’ll be a good mother, and I’ll teach him all that I know.”
“I’m glad you’ll take the boy. I prayed that you would. But, I must warn you, he’ll not be an easy child. The scrolls have told of many trials he must face.”“You people and your scrolls, he’s a child and he’ll learn like any other. If he’s to be a prince among men, he’ll have to earn it.”