Face Up to It
Lannon took pity on Chilcoat’s awkward appearance. “I think she’s got you there.”
Chilcoat turned to face him. “She’s—oh never mind. Why aren’t you out hunting?”
“I was just listening to the wife give me a ration about not being attentive. It’s hard to be attentive if they won’t leave you alone.”
“Bliss—that’s what us old guys call it, you’ll get used to it in a few years.”
“Yeah, well I can do without it.”
Chilcoat reflected on his years of marital ‘bliss’. It wasn’t always fun, but he missed it, nonetheless. “You just need to go hunting. By the time you get back, she’ll be glad to see you, and you’ll be horny enough to screw a goat, so it’ll all seem worthwhile.”
Lannon looked unsurely at his weapons. “Speaking of which, why don’t you come with me? We’ll see if we can add a notch to your talking-stick.”
“Weren’t you listening? The princess wants me to go stumble around the altar with her barfing up my guts.”
“I heard her challenge you to get off your ass. You’ve been moping around here long enough. You can mourn all you want, but at some point you have to move on or get out of the way.”
“Harsh words from someone I call a friend.”
“That’s what friends are for… Are you coming or not?”
“I can’t leave the kids.”
“Let Charona take care of them. She deserves some bliss of her own.”
“Alright, I’ll do it. It’ll keep Tarra off my back for a couple of days and do me good to get some exercise.”
“That’s the spirit. You can bring some smoking herb and maybe Yod will fill you in on what to do with her.”
“Oh, I know what to do with her, but I’m not sure a public spanking would get us very far.”
The trip down the cliff face was precarious in the dark, but it made him feel like a man again. His muscles complained at first, but soon responded with a strength he hadn’t felt in months. The sweat poured down his chest as they trotted out across the savanna. The blue handprint ran in streaks down his stomach and soon disappeared into a vague smudge as it dribbled down his groin.
The hunt was moderately successful near dawn when they finally cornered a small herd of antelope. Lannon let Chilcoat take a young buck on the second shot. It wasn’t a particularly clean kill, but it was good enough, and it gave him a boost that made him feel better about himself. He remembered how he had done a similar thing with Tangar. The old man lost three arrows trying to bring down an elk but he was finally successful while Chilcoat tried to look busy doing something else. It gave the old boy a chance to brag around the fire again and no mention was made of his missed shots.
“Not like the old days, but I finally got him.” He nodded appreciation to Lannon.
They laughed and smoked around the fire as they dressed the kill for transport. The conversation stayed away from Tarra and her mandate, but it still loomed heavily in Chilcoat’s thoughts. The sun was starting to make itself felt as they gathered what they could carry and got ready to leave. The remaining carcass would make a good breakfast for the scavengers, he thought, as he pressed his hand onto the moist flesh. The blood was thick and sticky as he pulled it away and made a single handprint on his chest.
Lannon smirked at the gesture as the pair headed back across the savanna with their burden. By the time they reached home, the handprint had turned nearly black with dust and grime from the trail, but didn’t lose its distinctive shape. They celebrated their kill around the fire with accolades going to the brave hunters. Lan gave full credit to Chilcoat for the kill, but Chilcoat tempered the tale with the truth that he had missed the first shot and nearly lost the prey with the second. It wasn’t a necessary confession, but one that showed his acceptance of his age. A younger man, perhaps, would have relied on his companion to keep his secret, but he felt no shame in admitting that he wasn’t the warrior he had once been. The humble gesture was largely lost on the crowd that gathered for the meal.
Tarra smiled knowingly at him and held Chilgar’s hand quietly while he told the story. She brought him a cloth and water so he could wash up and said nothing while he washed his arms and face leaving the handprint for the last. He expected her to make a comment but was pleasantly surprised when she said nothing. She obviously took note of the marking but simply rinsed the cloth and handed it back to him so he could scrub his chest. When he had finished, she scrubbed his back vigorously while he held Chilgar on his lap playing keep-away with a game stick.
The feasting crowd ignored their little bonding ceremony, but he felt warmth in her actions that touched him deeply. He realized that he loved her despite the nagging grief over the loss of Caran. He couldn’t imagine life without Tarra’s... persuasion. It was easier to face her when she was openly hostile to him, then at least he didn’t feel like grabbing her and holding her close. He was somehow more at ease if he felt like turning her over his knee. “Thank you,” was all he could think of to say.
“By your leave.”
“Stop that. I don’t want you to treat me like that. I’m your…”
“My what? My husband? My brother? My friend?”
“Yes, my friend... my best friend. What would you have me do, friend?”
“I told you. You must speak with Yod.”
The contempt he felt for the unfeeling god that had taken his wife somehow seemed less as he gazed upon her angelic face. “OK . What are we talking about?”
“Let me go get the snake.”
“All right, I’m sorry. I know you take this stuff seriously; I’m just uncomfortable with it. I never got the training you did.”
“Papa trained you for what you do, so do it.”
“What about the herbs and the snake? Can’t we just sacrifice a goat or something?”
“You would force Vau to leave her chosen home to try to please Her? No, the sacrifice you must make is in your heart.” She pressed her hand warmly on his chest. “Hea and Vau care nothing for you, they simply are... Yod is the only one that will listen to your supplication.”
“You and your spirits... Tangar warned me not to go there.”
“See, you do remember his lessons.”
“I remember him sitting around talking to rocks. Is that what you want? You want me stay up all night and talk to the stars?”
“If it helps... You must talk with God, if Hea will help you, then you should accept the gift and be grateful.”
“Are we back to snakes?”
“Why don’t you start with smoking herb? You’re comfortable with that.”
“Will you be with me? I want that.”
“Of course, it’s my job.” She gathered Chilgar and her other things and headed for her apartment. “I’ll drop him off and we’ll meet at your place. Bring some friends.”
Lannon and Charona were the only friends he could think of, but he didn’t want to impose on them. I don’t need an audience if all I’m going to do is sit around the house smoking and drinking, I pretty much have that down. He sent his kids over to their friends and tried to clean up some of the clutter. There wasn’t much hospitality he could offer, but he had an ample supply of wine and herb.
She arrived in the late afternoon dressed in her ceremonial robes and carrying a small medicine bag. She had again stained her hands and arms. This time it was a rose color. He was speechless and bewildered. “Did I miss something? Do I have to dress up?”
“No. You’re fine. You can wear whatever makes you comfortable.”
She began clearing the large worktable, dusting the surface, as she searched it for blemishes. A smile came across her face as she confirmed what she had suspected. She got a damp cloth and polished the platform revealing the great symbol in the center flanked by some decorative floral designs on either end. The drawings stained into the surface were light pink and didn’t appear until the water soaked in.
“You sit here, and I’ll sit here.” She gestured to the floral designs. “That looks like tanasin, so I think you should sit there with the little man. This is kasis, the peacemaker.” She climbed onto the table and settled onto her designated spot facing the center of the symbol.
“How did you know that this was here? I’ve been working on this table for years and never noticed it.”
“This is the temple of the Shanare, so of course they have the symbol here.”
“Temple? No, this is my shop.”
“This is your shop in the temple of the Shanare, now sit and let’s get started.” She spread the medicine cloth in front of her and began arranging little packets on the cloth.
The delicate pink tears that stained her cheeks and the warmth that radiated from her partially exposed torso mesmerized him. He grabbed his herb pouch and flask of wine and crawled up on the platform. Straining not to grunt, he hoisted his considerable bulk onto the table and awkwardly moved to the center of his designated area. He loosened his robe and sat expectantly across the slab from her.
She kindled a small fire in the center hollow of the symbol and scented it with incense then looked up at him. “Aren’t you going to smoke?”
“Ah, yeah, sure... I just thought you were going to say something or chant or something like that.”
She looked at him for a moment then shrugged her robe from her shoulders exposing her torso. She raised her arms exhibiting the pink stains that ran down them and framed her breasts in almost perfect symmetry. She softly chanted a familiar song and made evocative gestures with her hands.
“Is that enough, or should I go on?” She asked as the song ended.
“No, I’m good.” He bent to light his pipe with a twig that he returned to the fire. “I’m glad you came. I’ve missed having you around.”
“I’m here for the asking.”
“No, don’t you see—I don’t want to have to ask you to come. I want you to want to be here.”
“You didn’t invite anyone else?” She changed the subject.
“No, I don’t really have any friends, except Lan, and he’s probably sleeping.”
“And Charona, you seem to be good friends with her.”
“Yeah—she’s probably sleeping too. No, I just figured if I’m going to do any spirit-walking, I’d rather do it by myself.”
“Suit yourself. Here, drink this.”
“What’s in it?”
“Tea, you dolt—I’m not going to give you anything you don’t ask for.” She pulled her robe back on shaking her head in exasperation.
“So, what’s next? Do we sacrifice the goat now?”
“Here, let me get the snake.” She started rummaging through her bag.
He knew she was joking but was relieved when she extracted the two figurines she had brought. She had spent many hours carving the little figures to represent people more closely. Their stubby little bodies were nude with exaggerated sexual attributes and large flat feet. She stood them up on the edge of the symbol staring at the fire.
“Here, this is you. Place him.” She moved the chubby little figure toward him. It had what he hoped was an exaggerated belly and a small but distinctively erect penis.
He picked up the figure and inspected it critically. “Thank you, I guess.” He traced the protruding outline with his finger and looked curiously toward the other figure. “Is that you?”
“Yes, for now.” She obviously carved the second figure while she was pregnant and showed her appreciation for the condition. The oversized breasts lay placidly on an equally oversized belly and the hips were excessively wide. She picked up the figure and scanned the symbol before her, delicately placing the doll in one of the arching elements of the diagram. “I am.”
“No, ’I am.’ That’s what you say when you have decided where you belong on the symbol. Then someone will ask you to defend your choice. It’s a game we play to help us understand our feelings.”She proceeded to explain the rules of the game, and they played several rounds with much dispute about where certain thinking had come from. He consumed several pipes of herb and most of the wine he had brought. They laughed and cried as they questioned each other’s motivations and beliefs exploring the symbol.