Chilcoat stirred in the late afternoon when the bugs returned and wouldn’t leave him alone. The last smoke bombs had already been consumed so he had little alternative but to get up and start his day. Charona drew his attention as she moved listlessly. He couldn’t help but admire her beauty lying quietly beside her mate. He missed their occasional intimacies and paused to remember the warmth of her presence. Pulling his cloak over his head forming a tent, he turned to gather his hunting gear and noticed that Tarra was sitting up watching him.
She had grown into a beautiful young woman in the past months. She was no longer the little sister he had saved from suffering at the hands of Bartan, but now she was suffering in his tent. She turned to hide her nakedness while he quickly brushed past and left the hut. She couldn’t rest either and rose to get her evening started. Once outside she remembered her ritual and the stick she had decided was a sign. She returned to her bed and retrieved the trophy. She couldn’t help but look at the heart she had given the mannequin standing near the door. The twisted little wand nestled comfortably within the chest of the stoic figure.
She held the tanasin stick tightly and considered its secrets as she again stepped into the stark rays of the sun. She held her cape in place with a scarf twisted tightly around her forehead and peered through a small slit for her eyes. Underneath she wore as little as possible and relished the occasional breeze that would stir through and caress her skin. They all looked pretty silly, she thought, as she joined the line of similarly dressed specters picking their way carefully down the path to the shoreline. It took on an almost a religious aura.
Tarra arrived at the shade cloth Chilcoat had stretched across a small patch of sand and followed it into the lagoon several feet. She pulled her cape off and quietly settled waist deep in the water, then laid back and soaked her hair. As she scrubbed the last vestiges of sleep from her eyes, she noticed that Chilcoat was busy tightening the rope that held the cloth in place.
She turned to face his guarded gaze. “Do you think the heat will stop soon?”
Staring vacantly at her form for a moment he awkwardly looked away assessing her words. “No, I am afraid that Hea has other plans for us this season. We’ll have to tighten down a little, but I think we’ll be alright.”
“I talked with Daddy last night.”
He stood silently staring at the sky then turned to gaze at the young woman he hardly knew. “What did he have to say? Or should I ask?”
“I don’t know. I danced with the guide sticks, just as he showed me, and he gave me this one.” Her water-darkened hair fell in a rope across her shoulder as she extracted the twig she had used to pin it in place. “It’s called tanasin, but I’m not sure what it’s used for.” She held the stick out in the palm of her hand.
“I noticed you gave him his talking-stick to play with.”
“Ah… yeah, I didn’t know what else to do with it. It makes me sad, so I gave it back to him. Maybe he’ll be happier and speak with Yod for us.”
“Maybe—maybe he will… ” He chose his words carefully trying not to offend her.
“Maybe he has.” She held the twig out to him.
“What does that stick tell you? You said you don’t remember what it is, and I sure as hell don’t know anything about it.”
“Maybe if I saw some of it, I’d remember what he used it for. Maybe then we’ll know what he is trying to tell us.”
“Don’t you have some in one of those little pouches?”
“No. The loose sticks are those things he doesn’t have in the pouches. You must always dance with the loose sticks. They’re special. He called them ‘spirits of knowledge’. He used them only when he had to, and he had to hike in penance to get them.”
“Hike… what are we talking about here? You want to go for a hike in this heat?”
She gazed over the early evening crowd that had now gathered in the lagoon. The excitement of the day’s business filled the air as everyone readied for another night of toil. She looked down at the twig she held in her open palm and noticed the beads of water on her naked breast. “No, I don’t want to hike in this weather, but I don’t know what else it could mean. The stick is definitely tanasin. I know that, but it looks like a three-week walk according to the stick.”
“The stick, see here it has three sections. Each one is a week’s journey. Then you get to where it’s telling you to go and you should be able to find some tanasin.”
“Oh, I see. Well, that’s great, but we’ve got things to do here, and being gone for months is quite a commitment for not really knowing where you’re going.”
She twisted her hair and piled it on the back of her head jamming the twig back into place. “I know. I just thought you should know. Daddy said it’s your job, not mine.” She pulled her cape on hastily and peeked out from behind the slit adjusting the headband and smoothing the cloth against her still damp skin. It clung to reveal her firm young body and left Chilcoat wondering just who this young woman was.“I’ll think about it. You stay out of trouble.” He called after her trying to sound as brotherly as he could under the circumstances. He doubted he had impressed her as she glanced dismissively over her shoulder and headed for the gathering of field workers that were beginning to assign tasks.