The End of the World...Again or Hitbodedut

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The Cleansing

By morning, Chilcoat had managed to get a few moments rest but he didn’t feel up to a full day’s work. As he sat at the morning fire trying to clear his head, the pipe lying on the hearth drew his attention. He held it up against the morning light and marveled at its unblemished form. The simple cone was an exquisitely thin tube of white ceramic. It had several bands of texture along its length but the interior was polished smooth. A skilled craftsman had spent considerable effort on creating it. Perhaps it was more meaningful than a misplaced trinket. He looked to Tarra, but she was still busy talking Chilton into a morning scrub. He returned the cone to the hearthstone balancing it on end.

“It’s a gift.” Tarra spoke from behind him.

“What? How do you know?”

“Mom had me buy it for him last year at the gathering. She gave it to him on his birthday.”

“Then it was very special to him?”

“He tucked it away in his robes saying it was too valuable to use, but I think he didn’t want to give up his old pipe. It was a friend and he had no taste for finery. It made Mom happy to give him something, and that was all that was important to him.”

Chilcoat retrieved the device and rolled it thoughtfully between his fingers again for a moment before slipping it into his smoking pouch. “Do you know of a sunburn cure? My arms are starting to blister.”

She resented him confiscating the device. She resented his assumption that she would do his bidding. She resented his arrogant attitude that had stolen any chance she had to make a new life for herself at the gathering. She solemnly thought to herself, and now he treats me as a sister he can command at his whim. I’m not his handmaiden and he can’t boss me around. I’ll not have it! I’m the daughter of Tangar, the Seer of the lakeshore tribe. I’m the one who knows the magic of the herbs, the one who can heal the sick, not because he says to, but because my father taught me this duty.

“Cure? No, I have no cure for arrogance. It’s what happens when you don’t respect Hea.”

“I was…” He caught himself responding to her hostility and simply stopped.

Tarra retrieved the medicine bag and rummaged through it for a moment. Holding two small pouches, she sniffed each in turn. She returned one to the bag and busied herself mixing the contents of the other with a small amount of morning tea. A slightly acrid smell permeated the air as she sprinkled more powder into the cup and stirred the contents into a heavy paste. She put the cup on the hearthstone while she retrieved some butter from its storage bowl. The paste soon changed to a brown salve with the distinctive aroma of a wet dog. She finally picked up the cup and held it in offering to the spot where the robes had hung and then turned to kneel next to Chilcoat.

“This will help.” She dipped her fingertips into the slime and slowly applied it to spots on his face, gently spreading it onto obviously sensitive areas. She started to apply the cream to his arm but was alarmed at the warmth as his firm muscles responded to her touch. Without saying a word, she quickly handed the cup to him and left the tent in a rush of loose morning clothes.

He could hear her dealing with the bundle of mannequin sticks he had tossed out and looked at Caran for understanding. She spoke solemnly, “She’s still young, but she’s very much older in some ways, and the loss of her father still weighs heavily on her. She’ll get better with time.”

He smiled gratefully at her consideration and left to see what all the commotion was. Tarra had gathered the sticks together and was working on lashing them into a bundle. He grabbed the nearest end and helped jiggle them into a more orderly cluster. She was startled and jerked the bundle away from him protectively clutching it firmly to her chest.

“What are you going to do with them now?” Chilcoat spoke defensively.

“I—don’t really know. Why do you care? You obviously don’t want them. You treat them like trash. You don’t understand. You think you can discard him so easily. You want me to just burn them?” Her eyes clouded again as she stood clutching the bundle.

“You can burn them if you want. I’ll leave that up to you. There may come a time when it’ll be right to burn them. For now, why don’t you see if you can make a hanger for the medicine pouch out of them? You know—a little rack we can stand near the door, so you can get to the pouch easily. Maybe it’ll bring Dad to help us figure out all the stuff inside.”

She hated his casual reference to her father. She didn’t understand their relationship, but it just isn’t right for him to speak so personally of her father. She turned indignantly and ran to the tent with her prize.

Chilcoat watched as Caran held the flap back for her and looked solemnly at him. He cleared his mind of them and turned to make his morning rounds. He hadn’t gotten to the main path when he decided to return and find a hat to cover his tender hide.

Hesitating at the doorway of his tent for a moment, he made a commotion putting his gear down before calling to Caran through the flap. “Have you seen my hat?” He pulled the drape aside after a moment and entered knowing exactly where it was. “Ah, here it is.” He tried to sound casual.

“You should cover your arms too.” Tarra spoke coldly from across the room.

He stopped for a moment considering her words, nodding and smiling, he retrieved a towel from the stack of laundry before he once again left the tent. He draped the towel over his head and fit his hat over it. With a few minor adjustments, he was able to fashion a reasonable sunshade for his shoulders. He felt a bit of a fool and had to listen to whistles and hoots from some of his hunting buddies as he walked past Rancon’s hut but he didn’t want to take any more chances.

He joined the men near the night watchman’s hearth with only a few comments on his attire. It seemed that a couple of others had similar afflictions and told of eye irritation and fuzzy vision. The heat of the last few days was the primary topic of the morning, with minor diversions to address the cat sightings and related hostilities between Rancon and the Larkon boys. The conversation then drifted back to the weather and Chilcoat offered Tarra’s services in mixing burn lotion for anyone who needed help.

As the group began to break up, Rancon smirked. “Your cape isn’t befitting a man of your stature. Maybe an umbrella would better fit the Seer. Maybe you can have Tarra carry it for you, like a temple maiden.”

“Not funny, but a shade cloth may not be a bad idea.”

“Yeah, might make hunting a little awkward, but I sure could use some shade right now.” They quickly sought cover under the nearest tree and continued to talk about umbrellas.

It was great to have the rain stop, but the continued months of the cleansing stripped the sky of any protective haze and rapidly changed their lifestyle. Hunting and fishing during midday was out of the question and useless since the creatures they were hunting were also seeking shelter from the blistering heat. Tending the fields was limited to early morning and late evening, leaving everyone with nothing to do all day but sit around and try to stay cool. A cluster of shade cloths was set up in the lake shallows but most people elected to “tough it out” in their tents. The nighttime hunting was dangerous and one of the Larkon boys reported a twisted ankle that would keep him from hunting for a while.

“Larkon,” Chilcoat called across the clearing. “Larkon, you got a minute?”

Larkon excused himself from his comrades and came quickly across the clearing shielding his eyes with one hand. He normally wouldn’t seem so anxious to comply, but the sun made any exposure something that was best hurried. “Yeah, what’s up?”

“Well, I’ll tell ya— I’m concerned about the women. They’re unprotected while they work the fields at night and they’ve asked that someone guard them. I think it’d be great if your boys would help us out there. They’re always out looking for that cat, and I think we’d be better served if they kept the cat from coming to us.”

“I’ll talk to them about it. They have a big hunt planned as soon as Laot’s leg gets better.” He turned to leave.

“If it’s for that cat again, I’m going to have to ask you to please consider what I’ve said. Your boys have brought it on themselves. If they weren’t so boastful of their exploits, the women wouldn’t be so upset and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

“We’ll be expecting you on the hunt tonight.” Rancon barked at Larkon who simply kept walking without acknowledgment.

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