Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Worlds within Worlds #3.2

'Who made you the boots? Achoa?'
'Achoa doesn't like me. These are Vuanna's work.'
Geit had been quick to snatch the boot from my hands. 'You're too late!' I told him. 'I've had my feet in them already.'
'Achoa is always happy to make me new boots,' he said, not bothering to answer my challenge. He examined the needlework with some care before tossing the item back at me. 'She has better skill than Vuanna.'
'My woman has been working on these boots since before the last Race. Look at the bark ...' I held the boot with both hands above my head and tugged them apart sharply '... strong and supple. These boots will not chafe me!'
'They are too large for you, or your feet have shrunk since she measured them. You stole them, huh?'
I couldn't keep my face straight, not even in front of Geit. The raid had been well executed and I had come away from the woman's grove with more than footwear. I offered him the details as I drew the boot onto my foot and started to lace it to my leg.
He was laughing with me by the time I reached the last words. 'Ah, Kal!' he said, settling himself onto the wooden bench next to me. 'You are quick, and cunning – none of your brothers can dispute those facts. But you still need to think before you act.'
'You never praise, do you. You never take pleasure in your brothers' victories.'
'I take pleasure in your victories, little brother. I would take even greater pleasure if you had managed to steal a matching pair of boots.'
'They match! These are good boots.'
'Their patterns match,' he agreed. 'But one is not the pair of the other: they are both built for your left foot, and none for your right.'
'"Left", "right" – what are these words?'
When I looked across my shoulder to him, to watch him answer, I could see the grains of happiness leaching from his face, washed away by a smear of dampness that sparkled across the whites of his eyes. For a while he sat silent, gazing at nothing but the air.
I grew tired of his company. 'Don't answer me, then,' I said as I stood up ready to test the boots on the soil. 'I can smell the searing of fish, and my belly rumbles.'
Before I could take a step he reached out and grasped my hand, pulled me back down onto the wooden bench. Rather than fight, I accepted his decision for me. I could tell the man was in one of his stranger moods, and there might be a possibility of a story hidden within it.
'I'm sorry, little brother,' he started, offering me a wry glance as I settled my bare arse back onto the wood. 'Sometimes I forget where I am. These words I use – "left" and "right" – these are words that I used to say: to show the place of things, the direction of where they are. When you stand on top of the cliff and watch the sea, the upwind is what I used to call "right" and the downwind is "left".'
I studied him for a moment. 'So these are secret words, yes? Words used between brothers of your former gang. I have heard of such things – it is the same as the way we call the dotted stinger fish "Rappoe" because it is like our woman Rappoe, with a sting at the tip of her tongue and venom to match. But other men never call the fish "Rappoe". They call it the dotted stinger fish.'
The story brought a small smile back to his face: 'Rappoe is indeed worthy of having such an evil fish named after her. But this is different – not just a different word for a thing, but a different way of thinking.'
'How so?'
'Because if you turned your back on the sea and instead looked at the clouds that hide the High Domains, the upwind would now blow onto my "left" and the downwind would be my "right".'
'That makes no sense ...'
'Of course not,' he agreed. 'You live in a world where the wind blows always in one direction, always chasing itself in a great circle around this great island ... upwind and downwind, landwards and seawards – those are the only directions you need. But where I come from ... there is no such wind to tell me where I stand, and no sea to tell me front from back.'
The man's claim astonished me: these words had the makings for one of Geit's madder stories.
'So how could you tell where you stood, without the help of the wind and the sea?'
'Oh, that was easy – I used my body to tell me where things were, and where I moved from and to: this side of my body ...' he bashed his hand against the shoulder closest to me '... is always my left side, and this ...' he repeated the action on his other shoulder '... is my right side. They never change. And I can tell you now that this foot ...' he brought his hand down on my knee, the one touching his, making me yelp out '... is going to be very sore by the time you go to sleep, because you are forcing it to wear a boot built for the other foot. Because you stole two left boots.'
'You lie,' I protested. 'Your stories of places where the wind won't tell you which way you face. Places with no sea – who heard of such a thing?'
'You don't have to believe me, little brother.'
'I won't! I know you lie. In fact I shall wager you: if this good boot hurts its foot much more than this equally good boot, then ...'
'Then what?'
'Then I shall let you take me when we next sleep.'
'Now there's a worthy prize. And if both boots behave equally?'
'I shall take you, though the thought doesn't appeal much to me.'
Geit had laughed, then, loud enough to attract the attention of some brothers a little upwind who were busy fixing their nets.
'I shall take your wager, Kal, though my prick will not thank me when I claim the prize. And thus shall you learn your right from your left.'
I joined him in his mirth. Then, when my lungs had settled: 'Tell me, brother Geit, where is this place you speak of? This place where winds lie?'
'I can barely remember it now,' he said, letting the last of his chuckles leave his body. 'It is a place far distant from these skies.' He took a pace of thought, maybe two. 'Uekh – that was its name. The skies were so wide there, and pale – as pale as the bark of your fine new boots.'
'I can't imagine a place with such a sky ...'
He got up, stood above me and reached out his hand to help me stand. 'You know Kal,' he said, 'we're not that different, you and I. Both of us cast adrift from our homes – though you do not know it, not yet at least ...'

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