Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Worlds within Worlds #3.3

The man with the spear has caught something. I watch him fight with a fish as I bite deeply into the flesh of a redfruit that I had brought with me. He is, I decide, an idiot with no concept of how to hold a stick, no less how to use it. I wager against my speaking voice that the fish will escape before I finish my fruit: it thrashes itself back to the hug of its waves before I take a third bite.
I have returned to the sea cliffs because I do not know what else to do. These two strange wormskulls are the only living people – man or woman – that I have come across since my latest healing.
The skeleton on the processional avenue was the most complete stack of bones that I have discovered. Since then I have found a couple of skulls lodged in trees, and a half dozen more jaw bones with good teeth circling their rims. In two groves I found separate chime-traps built from strings of rattling rib bones, but those bones looked much older, as if preserved by womanly alchemies.
My other expedition had been downwind, across the hills to the coast; it took me easily a hundred-hundred paces and more to reach the next valley cutting its way through the cliffs to meet the sea in its bay. I had slept on the deserted beach alongside the remnant poles of a storm-wrecked longhouse, its furnishings as scattered as the rumours of the gang who had once lived there.
It was not a wasted journey: I scavenged for clothing and found several pairs of over-long trousers, their bark still supple. Boots, too, I took – though none were as good as the boots I had once stolen from Vuanna. Carved gourds I uncovered, for the carrying of water and juices, and a useful supply of twines and ropes woven from tassel vines. I even discovered a tattoo pricker and a fresh block of ink – I still feel naked without my gang marks.
The emptiness of these places – it grates at me. I am at a loss for an explanation, for at no time has the sky's lavender banding spoken of a Race – and even the smallest of gangs will leave many behind when the best men take up their canoe to process to the competition place. And beyond the Race, gangs do not fight: kidnap, maybe; torture captives caught unawares – but the clearing of an entire settlement? No. The women would not permit such stupidity.
And where are the women? Every glade that I have come across lies as abandoned as that first one, with goods scattered about. In one grove I found a stack of bark, harvested and roughly shaped, but as yet untreated; in two others I found the plates set out for meals and the beds prepared for the conjugal ceremonies: no woman would leave her grove during such important rituals. No woman would dare leave bark harvested but untreated. Their sisters would mock them mercilessly!
There is bad magic in the air, I feel, so I have not antagonised the elements by stealing anything from the groves beyond the essential – some medications and a couple of sharp glass knives. I have not yet slept in a woman's bier shelter; there are no women in these places to invite me. Rather, I risk the discomforts of the soils and leaves around the hearth stone, waking myself regularly to fend off the attentions of bone worms and scab beetles.
I gather my bag – a weave of kelp fronds, not the skeleton's man-skin bag which remains safely buried – and move away from my vantage, head upwind to the scarf of sand where the second man lounges.

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