One Big Happy Family
The morning light was clean and sharp as people ventured slowly into the plaza in reverence of the freshly washed stones. The subtle tones of the colored rock leapt out in vibrant splashes that revealed the charms and ornaments of the architecture like never before. Tarra’s chanting interrupted the normal breakfast shuffling of people and things. Her followers quickly dropped their tasks and started to assemble around the altar stone as she continued the chant descending the stairway. She had her formal ceremonial robes on and did her floating routine, brandishing her spear in wide sweeping arcs, which brought her to the center of the altar.
She called out above the din. “All are welcome. The Seer has called for everyone to attend. Spread the word, all who are able should come.”
The fire pit in the center of the stone was still full of water, so she brought a small clay pot that wafted a ribbon of scented smoke across the plaza. She began chanting again and beckoned her followers to join in.
Chilcoat appeared in his doorway with his robes wrapped tightly around him. Walking slowly to the altar, he ascended the wooden steps that leaned against the platform. Tarra approached and bowed slightly offering the scepter to him from her now purple stained hands.
The crowd murmured with excitement as Chilcoat began to speak. “Hea has smiled upon us with this rain. It has come in the right season and now it has passed, just as it should. The time of the gathering is upon us again. I’ve spoken with Yod about this for many days now, and I believe the time has come for everyone to consider their future. This place is very special—but it isn’t a plentiful table. We’ve struggled for years to make the gardens grow, but as you know, it provides for only a few. I think the time has come for us to rejoin our clans. We’ll go to the gathering as we did in the old days. Everyone who is able, and willing, will return to their families. Those who are unable or unwilling to rejoin can remain here to tend the Sky-temple of the Shanare.”
The murmur of the crowd grew to a general clamor of shouts and hollers. “What of our tents? We’re not prepared to resume as we were.”
“It’s true we’ve lost some of what we were, but we’ve learned much and we’ve survived. I think that Hea will smile once again on our ways. We should give thanks that this refuge protected us during His wrath, but now it’s time to once again live in the daylight. We’ll still have to guard against his fury, but our children will grow to love the healing light.”
A voice rang from the crowd. “It sounds to me like the witch has had her way with you.”
Chilcoat turned quickly to face the challenger. “It’s true that I’ve seen wisdom in Tarra’s ways. If I am bewitched, so be it. I have felt the power of YodHeaVau here in His temple, and it is our salvation. As I’ve said, this place isn’t big enough for all of us. It is enchanted with symbols and carvings that no one yet understands. It’s magic in its own way, but it will only sustain a few. Many fewer than we are right now. We’ll journey to the winter village and meet with the elders. Tarra will again read the scrolls of knowledge and she’ll return here to serve as the keeper of His wisdom. Perhaps others will visit and help provide for those who stay. If you’re one of her followers, you may return with her, if you don’t want to return, no one will blame you. The Shanare left this place; there is no disgrace in leaving.”
The crowd continued to challenge his decision. “You would have us depend on the generosity others. What kind of a leader is that?”
“I’ll not steal your dignity by having you depend on others. This place will support only a few, and our lives will be poor, but we’ll not depend on anyone’s charity. If the faithful come to learn and visit the sacred grounds and bring gifts to exchange for medicinal herbs, they will benefit just as we will. No, this place has served us well, but the time has come to rejoin the tribes and leave this place to those who feel the bond with YodHeaVau.”
“Will you be one of them?”
“Yes, I’ll return with my family.” He gathered his children to his side and pulled Tarra and Chilgar under his arm. “And I want all of the bravest youngsters to join us. This place should not be a place for the old to die, like the winter village. It should be a place where the brightest can come to learn and teach.”
“I, for one, don’t want to leave my home here. You’ve stripped me of all that I have except for this patch of dirt and the cave I live in. I can’t go back to my clan empty handed. They don’t need another burden.”
“If your clan is so weak that they expect you to come bearing gifts to buy your way home, I don’t blame you for not wanting to return. If you wish to blame me for your plight, that’s your right. You can blame me, or Hea, or yourself. It doesn’t really matter. It is what it is, deal with it.” He turned to Tarra and spoke softly. “I think we’re about done here.”
She rolled her eyes meaningfully at the scepter.
“Oh, all right, the Seer has spoken.” He shouted waving the wand first to the rising sun then to the west where it will set.
“Not very convincing.” She admonished under her breath and began chanting the wedding song beckoning to all with gestures normally reserved for the newly joined couples. The crowd that had started to disperse paused to see what she was doing.
Chilcoat stood watching her graceful gestures then realized that she had captured the attention of everyone. As she finished the short verse, she again spoke. “All of you who are to be joined in the word and serve the temple, I want you to realize that you are wed to one another in a single family that must share their hardships and faith.”
She smiled proudly and sang the short song again. Some of the skeptics wandered off muttering and giving scoffing gestures to those who remained. Those that stayed behind stirred nervously wondering if they were to partake in some sort of a bonding ceremony. Chilcoat wasn’t sure if they were glad or disappointed that he simply held Tarra tightly for a moment then released her and descended the wooden steps. The general upheaval that followed included several arguments and much speculation about how the witch had woven her spell.
The trip to the gathering was slow due to the hodgepodge collection of carts they patched together, but Hea was kind and sent favorable weather. There was much adulation for their valiant effort, but the other tribes had no sympathy for their loss of goods and people. All had suffered greatly through the cleansing. Many had died from the sun-sickness.
The elders held court to listen to Chilcoat, but had already decided that only their council would consider the mysteries and symbols of the temple. Tarra sat for many days talking and drawing figures for them but in the end, they dismissed her as a novice seeking approval for her fantasy. Talbot had passed away and Santos, of the enlightened school, dominated the council and found her interpretation of these signs blasphemous. The cherubs on the altar stone, however, were the subject of endless speculation and crude excursions through the memories of the old men.
Tarra excused herself after she had sketched representative figures and explained the numbers and seasonal variations she had observed. Nothing was resolved, but the elders had a great time reminiscing about their past exploits. She stocked up on herbs and seeds that could be found only at the coast, but her heart wasn’t in it. She exchanged stories and recipes with the elders but they held her at a distance.
As the bonding ceremony drew near, Tarra dressed in her finest robes and brewed a batch of iridescent rose stain to dip her hands in. She called her followers together and they went through one of their ceremonies. They drew the great symbol in the sand and little clusters of people mingled and shifted from section-to-section arguing attitudes and perceptions. Some of the other tribesmen gathered to watch their antics and giggle at their expense. A couple of the onlookers showed interest in the dance and joined with awkward quips about their lives and dealings. The band welcomed them into the fray and tried to explain the significance of the symbol. The finer points were largely lost on them, but the opportunity to join in a social exchange with near strangers was too exciting to pass up. Most of the crowd soon drifted away, but a few new recruits lingered in heated discussions and quiet introspection. Tarra did her fluttering dance as she chanted the closing hymn. Chilgar joined in, scurrying around her in synchronized dashes and leaps that kept him just out of her embrace.
One of the elders stood by watching as the group dispersed, he approached Tarra as she laughingly gathered her son and started to leave. “You speak too freely of things you cannot know. You and your bastard son should be careful.” The old man looked sternly at her and scuffed at the lines of the symbol as he left.
“It’s written that my son will someday be the savior of your lost children. You would be wise to respect him, lest He find you unworthy.” She called out for all to hear as she wrestled Chilgar into submission.
Chilcoat spoke with Lannon solemnly as they wandered across the clearing. “The elders called me aside today. They said Tarra’s making trouble and they want me to stop her.”
“Can you do that?”
“Probably not, besides, I don’t want to... What she says makes sense to me now. She’s just a little too—colorful for their taste.”
“She does have a flare about her.” Lannon reminisced about his snake tail and wondered where it had gone. Charona had probably disposed of it. “Are you going to talk to her?”
“Of course, I’m going to talk to everyone. We have to get a few things settled about our return.”
“Talk to who?” Tarra approached.
“Oh, good, you’re here. The elders have turned on you.”
“I know. They sent a messenger.”
“Why are you still dressed?” Chilcoat looked up from his pipe.
“The bonding ceremony, I’m officiating, remember?”
“Is it that time already?”
“You can’t be that dumb. Get dressed; it’s part of your job.”
“I know. I just like to hear you ask.” He smirked at her aggravation.
The entire tribe gathered along the path leading to the temple. They draped garlands and the children gathered in order. Tarra went to the head of the line of young women and began to chant softly at first, then rhythmically built to the traditional bonding call. She danced and gestured evocatively to the young men standing around as she pranced down the path toward the temple. The other girls followed in like fashion with varying levels of skill and confidence until the entire line of eligible women disappeared through the mysterious temple door.
Chilcoat waited for the entire entourage of families and friends to file in through the tunnel that led into the temple grounds. He pulled his robes tight and walked quickly, flanked by Lannon and a small band of his friends. The noises and smells were intoxicating. Chilcoat and his little army strode confidently to the center clearing.
Ironically, the stone of Hea stood draped with decorations before him. He leaned on Lannon and climbed to the top of the stone. “Can I have your attention?” He called out repeatedly across the crowd. “I’ve something to say before we continue with the ceremony.”
The elders had already ascended their knoll and sat proudly on their pedestal. The eligible women sat quietly on their respective hill and the boys jostled each other on their platform trying to get a glimpse of what was going on.
“I’m sorry to interrupt the ceremony; I want everyone to hear this at the same time. You can go back to the party in a moment, but first I have something to say... My people, and I, come to you now with a problem. We’ve lived for several years in—the Sky-temple of the Shanare.” He hesitated a moment considering his resistance to the concept.
“It’s truly a magical place but it isn’t able to support many. We, like you, have struggled under the trials of Hea. Many have died or grown old before their time, just as some of you have. It’s been a hard time for us all but now there are signs that Hea is nearly finished with his cleansing and wants us to again live in the harmony of His ways.”
“You speak of signs, but you have only the word of this harlot.” Santos barked from his hilltop.
“I’ll not have you speak that way of my wife!” Chilcoat proudly replied as Lannon and his band formed up a barrier around the base of the rock. “I’ve lost Caran, my wife and the mother of my children, to the cleansing. The sun-sickness took her and Tarra has consented to be my wife. She’s not a harlot; she’s as close to an angel as I’ve ever known. She has ways that heal and enchant and ways that make me question all that I am. I’m not here to argue her beliefs; they are what they are, just as your beliefs are yours to hold.”
Chilcoat gestured to the crowd. “The cleansing has changed things. No one can deny that. Families have grown apart, torn by grief for old and young alike. I think the time has come for the tribes to rejoin and bend to the way things are now. We need people of the right skills and age in each tribe, and the tribes need to be of a size that fits their village. Even the simplest mind knows that our communal ways of shared burden can support only a limited number of willing people and some of us yearn to leave the misery of families torn apart.” Chilcoat gestured to some of his tribesmen.
“As I’ve said, it’s a meager table for those who live at our temple and many of our people wish to return to their families and friends, but that may not be possible without putting undue burden on the lakeshore tribe. Perhaps some can stay here in the winter village but it too is a delicate balance of skills and burdens. I ask the other tribes to consider their needs and perhaps come to a better mix of people and skills... That’s all I have. I just wanted to let everyone know what I’m proposing.” He started to climb down from his platform.
Santos barked from his pedestal. “This is a matter for the elders to consider not a public address?” He had moved from his throne to face Chilcoat. Several of the lesser council members descended the elder’s mound and approached the stone where Chilcoat stood. Lannon’s band of warriors drew weapons to stand guard.
Chilcoat returned to the summit of the stone. “I spoke with the elders when we arrived and they were only concerned with the images carved in their memories. They need the advice of the people on this; it goes beyond spirit-walks and herbs. Each of us needs to decide what is best for ourselves and not listen to a bunch of old men who have forgotten the ways of YodHeaVau.”
“We’ve forgotten nothing. We guard the ways of Yod so that you, and others like you, don’t make mistakes like this. You believe what this woman has said and now your people suffer. No! No, the tribes will not take your refuse. You’ve made your bed, now sleep in it.”
“Show me... show me where it is written that ’the Keeper shall know the word and will be the mother of a new beginning’.” Chilcoat stood defiant.
“How do you know of such things? You see, that’s just what I was talking about, these are just half-remembered stories in the lost scrolls and shouldn’t be taken seriously.”
“Then why do you fill a young woman’s head with such things? You’ve told her she is the Keeper and now you say there is no such thing. Well, I think there is—and I think it’s her. I am her Seer, and I see a bunch of old men that are worried about losing their jobs. I see a new people who don’t need a bunch of herb smoking lay-abouts to stand between them and their god. These people want a real god. One they can talk to, one who cares about them, not a bunch of mysteries and drugs that lift you above them.”
Tarra broke into a haunting rendition of the wedding song. Everyone stopped their grumbling and turned to see what was going on. She was standing on the steps of the women’s platform with her hair flowing like flames in the breeze and her arms stretched out to expose the iridescent blue flesh of her stained skin. She beckoned all to gather in the joining ceremony as she finished the song. Some of the eligible candidates gathered on the platform behind her muttered in confusion. The ceremony wasn’t finished so the song was out of place.Tarra stepped to the top of the stairs and spoke in a clear voice. “Look at the person next to you. You are all now married to each other. Some of you will be good husbands and wives, and some of you will not, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are wed to one another in blood and spirit. You can choose to carry on in the ways of the enlightened council, or you can choose to seek the ways of God. Just understand that the ways of YodHeaVau will go on with or without you. They don’t need sacred scrolls or magic herbs; they are simply the way it is. You are all part of it, whether you want to be or not.” With that, she broke into the wedding song again and slowly descended the stairs and walked down the hill toward the stone where Chilcoat stood.