Thursday, July 11, 2013

Worlds within Worlds #9.1

9. The Search for Sam

One thing Luntas taught me was not to fear the hills. Most of my former gang mates had no trust of the land beyond the shoreline; they would panic if they found themselves stranded in a place where they could not smell salt in the air. For them, such places were part of a woman's mysteries: not to be trusted. Men fished, and played, and prepared themselves for the Race. Women did – everything else.
Luntas taught me that the best fruits and nuts are to be found a good walk beyond the cliff walls. Water tastes freshest when taken from springs, not rain puddles. He also taught me that while women are dangerous, they are much the same as men in many ways – they have their pride and their shame, their skills and their needs. A clever man can survive well in the hills if he can gain the trust of the local clans.
These hills are as deserted as the shoreline.
Maak-em-ay-are-see is a fast learner. He doesn't ask questions incessantly, like his brother Sam; rather he watches, and copies. When he does ask a question, he listens to my words and then captures them on thin bark in a series of tattoo-ink loops and lines.
I think he also steals the essence of things in his ink marks. With a few quick lines and smudges he can capture a hill, or a worm, or a fruit, and fit it amid his squiggles ... they look so real, these sketches; my jaw slackens in awe each time he performs that magic!
We could have followed the route that Sam and I had taken before, tracking the coastline downwind towards the long house on stilts overlooking the narrow bay. But since remembering Luntas and his lessons, I have grown curious. The guardian was clear to me: the men have gone elsewhere. Was the same true for women?
'Which leaves are best?'
The voice pulls me from my thoughts. I can see he has dug a hole and performed his business. In his methodical way he has collected a selection of leaves and spread them before him.
'To clean between the buttocks? The sculler leaf – it has three points, feels soft, yes? Use it quickly, folding it between wipes. The lighter side has a sap that will sting your fingers if you press too hard, so wrap them first in that longer blade – that's right: that one.'
'And then bury them all?'
I nod, then turn away as he follows instructions. Maak-em-ay-are-see does not like to be stared at too long.
This vale is filled with trees, each competing with its neighbours to stretch its twigs closer to the sky. They offer us some welcome shade, and make a good home for a wealth of herbs and flowers, some reaching above my head. The tidiness of the made me wary at first: surely a woman had made it her garden – but this soil had not been tilled for a long while.
'Can I have the water, please?'
I turn to the man now standing by my side: 'We've not long drunk water ...'
'I need to wash my hands.'
I sigh a glance to the cloud wisps scudding above the canopy: 'Your left hand for wiping; your right for eating.'
'Oh,' he says. I hand over the water skin and return to my considerations.
My new gang mate is keen to go to the city in the caldera. He still thinks that we can get help there. I have a feeling that we may need to go there, but not yet. And I am certain that Sam will not have strayed far from the long house where he kissed me; I have a strong memory of our encounter with the flayman. That had scared Sam badly – why else seek comfort from a stranger? A scared man rarely moves far from the long house.
'Shall we collect food here?'
'Food. We didn't bring much with us.'
The man has a good point. I check the undergrowth around me, sniffing the air, but my nose offers no guidance. We are surrounded by herbs and grasses which, while useful in their own way, won't help a man fill his belly. I let my eyes wander further, looking for signs of fern stands or clambering plants wrapped around trunks. I spot some sweetmoss hanging from a bough not too far downhill from us – it will give us a snack to keep the shakes from our limbs while we cross the shallow valley to the next hill.

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