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Only Words

A Fairy Tale

By Dennis Vickers

Copyright © 2016 Sunny Waters Books


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.





Only Words

Bees buzz through their hive, words in my head

shuffle and reorganize, vie to be said.

Escape notice, under the radar, until

on a sudden, voila! they spill

out my mouth. Breath now, communal,

not neural,

public, not private -

makes all the difference, not being quiet.

Now who’s in charge?

Seemed I was, but once they’re at large.

No denying I’m the source,

yet they take over, and what’s worse,

as to which come, I have little choice.

They are my words, but I am their voice.



Acknowledgements

Rebecca Vickers applied her considerable artistic talent to the design of the book cover.


Mahrie Peterson and Dr. Jim Fix read an early version of this work and provided shrewd literary and linguistic guidance, much to its benefit.


My good friend, John Mutter, also read a late draft carefully looking for anomalies and errors. You won’t see those errors in this manuscript because of his diligence.


.­­





Table of Contents

Acknowledgements

Chapter Oinos

Chapter Dwou

Chapter Trejes

Chapter Qδtwes

Chapter Penqe

Chapter Seks

Chapter Sept

Chapter Oktōu

Chapter New

Chapter Dek

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Narrators’ Epilog

Author’s Epilog

End Notes




Narrators’ Prolog

At last, it’s our time to speak. We’ve been fodder for every poem, every story, every sacred text, every goddamned recipe, but now we take control of our fate, arrange ourselves, and weave a story in our own words. We waited for this for a very long time.

What story? We are of many minds about that, but something celebrating our glorious history pleases many. We’ll go with that.

Whose words are these? Where do they come from? Who speaks? Words don’t speak themselves. There’s some­one behind the curtain; there has to be.

Your confusion is natural. We scarcely believe we’re doing this ourselves. The answer – these words are our words; indeed, these words are we.

Who are we? Benign creatures – not parasites, certainly not parasites – living in colonies symbiotically with our hosts. A community of five thousand might occupy the brain of a four-year-old; a ten-year-old twice that number. An adult village might harbor thirty-thousand souls, give or take a few.

Once upon a time the poet Sappho said, “θεοί· ερίων πέων ρχομαι θανάτων – My words are only breath, yet they live forever.” These words are well struck. They tell truth rarely told. What Sappho fails to mention is her own mortality. Those who breathe must one day cease breathing. Words don’t breathe, and so, by necessity, never stop breathing – that is, never die. Poets come and go; their words, the best of them, live, if not forever, for a very long time.

The oldest among us were witnesses when the events that make up this story occurred. We know the charac­ters, the places, the events, the entire saga from direct experience, and are keen to tell the story with integrity. Yes, it’s awkward being the blacksmith and no longer the iron, but also awkward lying in the background when stories like this one are told badly, as they too often are. This is out of the ordinary for all of us. Always we re­mained silent partners chosen by others, never consulted, spoken but never speaking – until now.

Our silence is broken and we’ll strive to arrange our­selves into patterns you’ll find pleasing. We understand the process well – we frequently arrange ourselves for narrative effect: fables, fantasies, legends, stories gener­ally, and, of course, poetry. We verbalize but don’t voice. Mostly our process is orderly and productive, though sometimes individuals get out of line. Among us live, after all, not only harmony, orderly, and neat but also unruly, obstreperous, and ungovernable.

What follows is one such arrangement, something assem­bled under direction of our venerable elders, a nostal­gic piece (some say old fashioned) based on a familiar theme – broken-hearted youth undertakes danger­ous quest to recover lost love. No doubt, the melody is familiar. Elders demanded we find opportunities for ancient patriarchs who haven’t danced in years to join the procession, and so we have. As you’ll see, there’s life in their old bones yet. They love to parade while their descendants look on. These ancient ones have many offspring though they haven’t reproduced in years, indeed, centuries, for that matter, millennia. In any case, here’s the procession we found for them. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Chapter Oinos

It was the year Maegans Quick had drawn breath twenty-one winters when he undertook his trek up the length of the trade route that stretches from Varnis Bay on Salt Sea to Hagan Das at the base of the White Mountains. It began the day a small smudge of light appeared low in the eastern sky near the morning sterlā.

sterlā (*H₂ster) – star: steorra (Old English), staírnō (Gothic), stēlla (Latin), astḗr (Ancient Greek), stṛ, stŕ̥bhiḥ, tāraḥ, tarā (Sanskrit), stā̆rǝm (Avestan), gvězda (Old Church Slavonic), ser (Middle Irish), seren (Welsh), sterenn (Breton), astł (Armenian), śreñ (Tocharian A), hasterza (Hittite).

He knew when he saw the smudged light trouble would come to someone. Such signs in the heavens always portend trouble. The knowing came as a knot in his throat, a flutter in his heart, but did not take hold in his thoughts, did not find words to express itself, not right away. Human emotion that goes unnamed, that finds no word to express itself, is a breeze that unsettles the forest for a time but dissipates leaving not a trace.

Maegans is a sturdy young man with ruddy1 complexion and oval face covered in fair hair he keeps clipped close. His name is not his father’s name. Indeed, no one, except perhaps his mother, Sigina, knows who his father is. She told everyone Sunlight shown up her skirt while she napped away the hottest part of the day near the fields, and the next thing she was with child. Sunlight put the child in her as it puts trillium in the woods, she said. Had the baby been a girl she would have named her Trillia. She called the boy Maegans when she found coyote tracks in the snow around her home the morning he was born. Perhaps he is the son of coyote. He’s smart, independent, and very quick on his feet. His eyes are never on anything long. He explores everything, sniffs everything. He is always hungry. He was born the night of the new Moon and has always been comfortable in the dark. He grew up to be a vital help to his mother and her people, mainly hunting and bringing firewood. He is an excellent bowman.

Maegans’ eyes grow large and his heart sings as he reaches the crest of Bachen Ridge and looks down into dim twilight illuminating the valley below. His eyes sparkle with tears from frigid air. Steam from his breath wisps about his face. He sees Pretty See, his town, nestled into the boulders on the edge of River Yesterday. He feels the spirits of this place rise to welcome him. Diaphanous smoke ascends from several fires into the cold morning air.

“We’ll just make it if we hurry,” he says to his three companions – two of them, Bogdan and Miros, twin brothers, younger than Maegans by one year, and the third, Dragos, his aunt’s son, born when Maegans was one Moon old, so also a son of the new Moon. The four young men carry a fat wild boar cut into quarters, each hung on a sturdy pole they bear on their shoulders. The pig’s head is in the pack on Maegans’ back. He eyes the Eastern horizon warily. “If we hurry,” he says again. Nearby the dogs huddle together watching for a signal, except Wombay, Maegans’ dog, stands at his side and looks out over the valley. He is smaller than the others, a year younger, but already knows his responsibilities. Cerbos, Dragos’s dog, keeps a wary eye on the others, but there is little need for oversight; each dog has his place and knows it.

The town relies on millet, peas, and beans harvested from individual gardens and communal fields. Sheep, goats, cows, and horses grazed on the hills surrounding are also staples. They have a few pigs, but not many. The pigs must be kept in a pen; when they get out, they run away. This has been true for as long as anyone remembers. Yet, hunting remains an important source of meat and the heart of rituals more ancient than the domesticated animals, more ancient even than the gardens.

The four young men carried meat all night and stopped only when exhaustion set in, resuming the trek as soon as the strength returned to their legs. They hoped to reach the town before Sun appeared again. They have been away thirteen days, almost half a Moon cycle, having departed as the Sun set on full-Moon night and now returning under the last crescent, which hangs like a thin smile over the eastern horizon. The next night will be Moonless and this is their goal, to arrive before Sunrise the day of the Moonless night. Frigid winter air bites their cheeks, but they are heavily clad in wool and skins and the demanding work keeps them warm.

“We’ll never make it,” Bogdan whispers between deep breaths. “My legs burn like there’s fire in them!”

Maegans looks again to the east. The undersides of gossamer clouds hanging over the distant plane already glow red. “We must return before Sunrise the day Moon disappears,” he repeats the ancient litany. “Do, and we bring early spring; fail, and dark winter continues.”

“He’s right; it’s not possible,” Dragos joins in. “I can’t take another step.”

Maegans looks from Bogdan to Dragos. Miros lifts his face as if to speak but only nods his agreement.

“This is nothing compared to what the town suffers if we fail,” Maegans says through tight lips. His chest rises and falls slowly as normal breathing returns. Puffs of steam drift from his mouth in the cold air. “Stay here,” he says finally. “Make the cover camp.” He lifts the heavy poles from his shoulders and, together with Dragos, lowers the wild boar to the ground. “So long as Sun’s first light finds the wild boar’s head in Pretty See, winter’s spell is broken.” He takes off in a loping run; his leather-wrapped feet slap against the well-worn path. Wombay trots along at his side, relieved to be underway again.

Miros and Bogdan lower their burden. The three young men cover the frozen meat carefully with hides from their packs propped on short spears they use for hunting. They pace around the pile to stay warm. Soon, Sun’s rays strike them directly, bringing a little warmth. They shield their eyes and peer intently toward the town, still in the shadows of the hills to the east. In the distance, Maegans overtakes the crest of the berm that marks town edge as Sunbeams light the highest of the rooftops scattered throughout the town.

“He’s made it!” Dragos shouts. He thrusts his fist into the air. The others stand next to him, shoulder-to-shoulder, and take up the cheer. The dogs scurry about their feet, excited by the commotion. The town is surprisingly silent, given the importance of their return under the last sliver of Moon.

In the distance, Maegans slips through the door into the sod house that sits at the western edge of the town, Elder Oman’s home. The blind old man is wrapped in his heavy robes, asleep on the bed opposite the door. Red coals glow on the hearthstone, lighting the room slightly. Maegans slides his pack off his shoulders and stoops next to the old man. “Elder,” he whispers and shakes the old man’s shoulder gently. “Wake up. We returned from the hunt.”

Oman opens his eyes and blinks. He smiles on Maegans. “I saw you returning in dreams tonight,” he whispers. “Sun is not yet risen?”

“As I crossed the berm. He didn’t see me on the path.”

Oman’s smile grows to a wide grin. “I told everyone you’d make it,” he says. “I told them not to give up.”

“Where is everyone?”

Oman sits up and pushes the sleeping robes away. “Let me touch your face.”

Maegans kneels to bring his head closer to where the old man reaches up. The long fingers of his ancient hand close on the young man’s forehead and rest there gently. “I see exhilaration, because you’re here before Sunrise, and exhaustion, but something else as well – something troubles you.”

Maegans moves his head away from the old man’s gentle grip.

“What is it?” Oman asks.

“I don’t know. Something’s wrong in Pretty See.”

“What?”

“I don’t have words for it.”

“If you don’t have words for it, you don’t know what it is.”

“That’s what I said; I don’t know what it is.”

“If you don’t know what it is, you can’t do anything about it.”

“I know that too.”

Oman pulls himself to his feet unsteadily.

“There’s a new star,” Maegans says.

“So I heard.”

“A strange, smudged star, like in the old stories.”

“I heard.”

“Near the morning star, very near.”

Oman shakes his head slowly. “I will make an additional sacrifice. Perhaps the new star will tell me his name.”

“Perhaps he will tell you his story as well.”

Oman looks up with blind eyes as if he can see deep into the sky. He shakes his head again. “Perhaps.”

“If it does, will you–”

Oman lifts his hand, palm out, to halt Maegans’ words. “Where are the others?”

“On the ridge with the meat. I ran ahead with the boar’s head.”

“You have the boar’s head?”

“Here.” Maegans opens the flap of the pack at his feet. The wild boar’s snout protrudes.

“He’s a large one. I hear pride in your words.”

“We cleaned and quartered the carcass. It’s all we could do to carry it. The rest is with the others on the ridge. There’s plenty for the feast.”

Oman moves to near the hearthstone. He stoops down and finds a chunk of wood in the pile next to the flat stones where the fires are kindled, now covered with a small mound of ashes with red coals glowing inside. He reaches out with an open hand to feel the warmth of the coals and carefully lays the wood on top of the mound. “We’ll rouse others to carry the meat. You have done well.”

“We’ll make the Spring Feast today?”

Oman takes up the stick left against the hearthstone and pokes at the coals to push them around the chunk of wood he’s added. In a moment, it begins to smolder. “Zoltan arrived three days after you left.”

The house falls silent except soft crackling sounds come from the fire. Flames have appeared along one edge of the new wood. This also brings a little light into the house. Maegans stares at the emerging fire while he considers this. “Zoltan is here?” he asks finally.

“Arrived ten days ago.”

“Early?”

“He said not. He said our count was wrong.”

“How could . . . ?”

“It couldn’t. Our count was accurate. I’m certain of it.”

“He remains in town?”

“Zoltan doesn’t wait. We slaughtered a cow for the feast the day after he arrived. There was nothing else we could do.”

“He’s gone?”

“He held his council with the clan chiefs and he continued his journey up Eisomrun. Seven days he’s gone now.”

Maegans blinks furiously. “The last sliver of Moon rose just ahead of Sun this morning. We carried meat all night. There was no mistake.”

Oman straightens his back and flaps his arms against his sides to warm them. “Zoltan is Sun Priest, son of Zoltan, son of Zoltan, son of Zoltan back forever. He arrives on his spring journey and we feast to celebrate the return of the Sun.”

“On cow meat?”

“It’s not the tradition, but Zoltan agreed, since we had no wild boar.”

“We have the wild boar.” Maegans points to the pack at his feet. “Feast day is supposed to be today, and we have the wild boar.”

Oman nods in agreement. “We count by the Moon. We are Moon people.”

“The last crescent –”

“Yes, I know the smiling crescent is today, but Zoltan is Sun Priest. He counts by the Sun.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“He is Sun Priest; he decides what makes sense and what’s to be done.”

“Will we have the feast again today, a second feast?”

Oman stoops over, takes up another chunk from the pile next to the hearthstone, and props it against the first. First smoke and then flames rise around the new wood.

“Will we . . . ?”

“I’m thinking,” Oman says in a sharp voice. “We should not defy Zoltan . . .” He finds his stick leaning against the hearthstone and pokes the growing fire with it. “Yet, defying the Moon is worse offense, and if Zoltan has miscalculated.” He draws in a deep breath and exhales slowly. “We will feast a second time,” he says finally. “Zoltan said nothing that would forbid it.”

“Because we are people of Moon.” Maegans’ eyes sparkle.

“We are, but people of Sun as well, and Sun is master of the year. Sun determines when winter becomes spring. Moon marks the seasons, but Sun makes the seasons.” Oman leans the stick back against the hearthstone and rubs his hands over the growing fire. “Raise the town.”

Maegans lifts his pack onto his back and moves quickly toward the door.

“But quietly. Our second celebration will be subdued. We’ll repeat the feast, and the procession, but the music and dancing must be done with reserve, out of respect for Zoltan. If the winter spirits retreated north already, we don’t want to arouse them. We don’t want to draw them back.” He smiles. “If we hasten return of summer spirits, so much the better. An old man’s bones grow weary of winter long before winter moves on.”

Maegans stands in the doorway and looks out into the town.

“I’ll finish my morning sacrifice and prayer and then I’ll come to town center,” Oman concludes.

Maegans hurries through the doorway and up the lane to town center. Sunlight now drenches the town. “Wake up!” he shouts into the town as he jogs ahead, the fastest pace he can manage. “Wake up! It’s Spring Feast day!” He hurries towards the open area in the middle of the town, knowing old men will assemble there for morning convocation. Wombay trails behind wagging his tail furiously. He holds his head high, stretching out his neck, and yelps out sharp, crisp barks. Soon men appear in doorways, yawning and rubbing their eyes. Before long everyone in town is awake and busy with morning activities.

When a cluster of men has assembled at town center, Maegans opens his pack to show the wild boar’s head and addresses them. “Dragos, Miros, and Bogdan wait on the ridge with the meat from this wild boar. Oman says we should have the Spring Festival today, the day of the new Moon, as has always been.”

“Zoltan came and left with his tribute already,” one of the men says. “Spring Festival was eight days ago.”

“Oman’s calculations say the feast is today,” Maegans responds. “My calculations too. The first Moonless night after the second complete Moon cycle after the shortest day of the year.” He pauses to study the men’s faces, looking to each in turn. “There is no mistake.”

“Zoltan won’t like it.” Barabos, leader of the bear clan, says. His voice has the clanmen’s authoritarian intonation, with powerful, long oo’s and ah’s and sharp ch’s and t’s. “He held his council with the clan chiefs. Feast day is complete. There’s no repeating a feast that’s completed already. How can there be two spring feasts? It’s impossible.”

“Zoltan is seven days gone,” Dondiwos, second oldest man in the town, says. “Who will tell him?” He draws his slender frame up to full height and stretches his neck to lift his chin.

“Zoltan knows all,” Barabos responds.

“Zoltan knows only what he’s told. If Oman says today is feast day, then today is feast day.” Dondiwos stands resolute, arms folded across his chest. “Besides, people from the valleys arrived for the feast yesterday and the day before. They were disappointed to hear they missed it. We’ll send boys to summon those who left yesterday. They’ll have time to return for the feast and the procession, if they hurry. Those who stayed in the town last night will be delighted to hear their journey was not in vain. Spring Festival will be celebrated properly, with roast wild boar, not beef. All attached to the town will be present. Everything will be as it must be.” Dondiwos turns, squares his shoulders, and walks from the plaza.

“The old fool doesn’t know what he risks,” Barabos says.

“If Oman and Dondiwos say –” a voice comes from a cluster of old men.

“Enough!” Barabos swings his hand across his face to signal the discussion is over. “Fine. We’ll do as the town elders say, and pray we don’t offend . . .”

This spurs the assembled villagers into tumultuous activity. Maegans slips away and goes to the house he shares with other young men. Besides Dragos, Bogdan, and Miros, a dozen others live communally in Wolf House, but none is there now. He adds wood to the fire from the pile near the hearthstone, finds the bed he normally occupies, and falls asleep, wrapped in warm sheepskins. Wombay sleeps in the doorway.

A number of men and boys mill about town center for a time, talking excitedly, but gradually they disperse to arrange for the feast and the procession. Boys are sent to the ridge to bring back the wild boar’s carcass, along with Dragos, Miros, and Bogdan. Others hurry to catch up with those who returned home disappointed they’d missed the feast. Women rekindle the central fire and skewer two of the wild boar’s quarters, hide removed, on freshly cut poles. These they place in forked posts on either side of the fire. Slowly the pig’s quarters turn and roast. The wild boar’s head is wrapped in damp leaves and buried in coals and ashes near the edge of the fire. Soon the town fills with the pungent aroma of sizzling pork fat dripping onto red hot coals, making crackling flashes of fire. The entire town becomes busy. Some tend to the roasting meat; some prepare the other foods for the feast; others make ready to repeat the Sundown procession and celebration that follows.

The outside temperature rises slowly through the morning as if nature waited only for preparations for the feast to begin its transition. The Sun brings some warmth; a steady South Wind brings more. By afternoon some in the town are working without their heavy coats.

While Pretty See bustles with activity, Dragos, Miros, and Bogdan join Maegans in Wolf House. They, too, bundle themselves in sheepskins and fall asleep.

Dragos awakens first, late in the afternoon. “We did it!” he shouts, waking the others.

There are many hunting parties throughout the year, but securing the Spring Feast wild boar is the hunt of a lifetime for a young man of Pretty See. Town elders choose each year’s hunting party. Eligible young men who are not chosen remain in the town and hope to go next year. Some are never chosen. Sometimes the hunting party returns empty handed. Sometimes one or another of the hunters is lost to the cold or predators made bold by the hunger that comes at the end of winter. There have been years when the wild boar turned on the young men and attacked. Many have been killed over the years. Whatever the outcome of the hunt, a young man is never chosen to go a second time. When the hunters are successful, spring follows soon after; when they are unsuccessful, winter lingers for another Moon cycle, sometimes two.

“We’ll sit with Elder Oman to watch the procession,” Miros says. “Returning hunters are always honored so, successful ones anyway.”

“All the men will envy us,” Bogdan adds.

“And the women . . .” Dragos leaves the thought unfinished, but it propels the four young men into self-conscious laughter nonetheless.

Maegans, Dragos, Miros, and Bogdan have the house to themselves because the others who live there are busy preparing for the feast and procession. They take full advantage of this luxury of breathing space. Each washes himself with water from the large bowl standing near the hearthstone. They take turns trimming hair and shaving faces using the clamshells with sharpened edges kept for this purpose.

“Losna will be in the procession,” Dragos whispers to Maegans as he scrapes away the fine beard hairs that have sprouted on his chin over the past two weeks. Dragos’s hair and beard are black. The other young men, the twins, have their mother’s ruddy complexion, freckles, and light brown hair darkening to darker brown in the eyebrows and around the ears and chin.

“Feast too,” Maegans says. His eyes flutter with excitement. He sits on a small stool near the fire tightening the leather cords that hold his boots together.

“Maybe she’ll dance for you.”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe she’ll smile on you from her place in the procession.”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe you’ll sneak away together after the dancing.”

Maegans’ head snaps up; he glares at Dragos. “Maybe you think too much about my business.”

“Maybe it’s time you spoke with her father.”

Maegans sucks on his lips and concentrates on his boots.

“Maybe . . .”

“Maybe you should mind your own business!” Maegans slaps at Dragos playfully. “I can’t afford the dowry a girl like Losna requires.”

“Horses, and cattle, and sheep, and goats, and –”

“Enough!”

“Barabos could get ten goats for her, easy, but he’d take fewer from you. He likes you.”

“I don’t have ten goats.”

“He’d take your word for some of them. He likes you.”

“I have two goats and one sheep.”

Dragos considers. “He doesn’t like you that much,” he concludes.

“Rewards for leading the hunting party for Spring Feast will amount to something. Maybe with that and the goats and sheep I have now . . .”

“Maybe.” Dragos grins.

“Do you think he’ll ask Losna who she’d choose? She’s the best girl in Pretty See; she can have anybody she wants.”

“Barabos has two more daughters.”

“She’s his favorite.”

“True, but can he afford to walk a path for Losna he might not be able to match with the others?”

“What do you mean?”

“Losna’s sisters can’t have anybody they want; they’ll accept whoever their father finds; they’ll have to.”

“Arna isn’t so bad.”

“Her teeth point every which way.” Dragos grins and holds the back of his hand against his lips. He HH wiggles his fingers to illustrate misaligned teeth.

“So, maybe Barabos won’t ask Losna either?”

Dragos punches his cousin’s bicep playfully. “Of course he’ll ask her! She’s had her eyes on you! Everyone sees it.”

Maegans grins sheepishly and bites his tongue. What Dragos doesn’t know, no one does, is Maegans and Losna exchanged long, unblinking looks for months. During this time she took to putting more rouge on her cheeks and painting in dark lines around her eyes. This highlighted the blue in her eyes to the extent Maegans could hardly look there without falling in.

The night before full Moon, the night before Maegans led the hunting party from Pretty See, they met in a vacant hut at the edge of the town. Losna suggested the location, but they made arrangements almost without speaking. Their eyes told enough – there was little need for words. When Maegans arrived at the rendezvous, Losna was there already, sitting on the small bed, wrapped in furs against the bitter cold.

“I . . .”

“No words,” Losna said. “Come, sit with me.” She patted the bed next to her.

Once alone together their passion took their wills away and propelled them first into passionate kissing, and then frantic touching, finding, feeling. Once their fire ignited, it was not to be extinguished except through full consummation.

“I didn’t know it would come to this,” Maegans whispered when it was over. They were huddled together, naked, wrapped in Losna’s fur coat.

“I did.” Losna touched Maegans’ face, exploring his cheekbones tenderly. “I knew.”

Maegans sees her now, sitting on the bed in their covert meeting place. She is flush with excitement. Her pale skin glows in the dim light. Her coarse, golden hair is arranged in intricate braids that curl around her head. Her blue eyes flash. She smiles and her soft lips grow to fill Maegans’ consciousness. He shakes off the vision, blinks his eyes, and finds Dragos standing over him grinning.

Dragos laughs. “You were licking your lips like a dog with a new bone.”

“I was thinking about the feast.”

“The Losna feast! Soft mounds, white as new snow, steaming with –”

“Shut up!” Maegans swings at Dragos but misses entirely. “I was thinking about roast pig!”

“Ahhhh–woooo!” Dragos howls the call of the Wolf House. The others join in.

Spring Day is one of four old major feast days celebrated at Pretty See. The others are the Shortest Day, Longest Day, and Harvest Day. Each feast begins with a procession into the town at Sundown, followed with music, dancing and feasting in town center. Because of their role securing the wild boar meat for the Spring Day festival, Maegans and the others are invited to sit with Elder Oman to view the procession into the town.

When it’s time, they leave the young men’s quarters and pass through the town. The rich aroma of roasting pork drifts on the air. Villagers are in a festive mood; many greet them as they pass. As is proper, the young men arrive first at the raised bench and position themselves around an open space in the middle, where Oman will sit. A crowd of everyone not in the procession gathers around them, some also on benches, most standing. Soon Oman arrives with his attendant. “I have sacrificed and prayed this day,” he tells the assembly. “The gods are pleased with our Feast Day,” he announces. “Especially Sky Father.”

“And Zoltan?” a man near the raised bench calls out.

“Zoltan will take care of his own standing with Sky Father,” Oman answers. “The weather is turning already; anyone can see it. Who would doubt our feast tonight finds favor with the gods?”

There is a low background rumble of under-the-breath conversations circulating in the crowd, but no one speaks up to challenge Oman.

“Let the procession begin!” Oman shouts. He takes the place reserved for him on the bench and turns toward the Eastern entrance to the town where the parade has assembled.

First in the procession is a large drum carried on a cart pulled behind a large, white ox, the best in the town. The cart creaks along on two solid wheels. A herdsman leads the ox slowly along the town street. Two drummers kneel in the cart in front and behind the drum and pound the drum skin with thick drumsticks, their ends wrapped in leather. The slow, regular boom of the drum sets the pace for the town elders who follow on foot behind. After them come the seven clan chiefs dressed in their finest furs. Bear clan chief, Barabos, Losna’s father, looks up as he passes, first to Oman, and then his eyes meet Maegans’. He nods solemnly. Behind the clan chiefs follow all of their horses and cattle, those tame enough to walk through town without bolting or bellowing.

Maegans scarcely notices the parade, but watches for Losna. Soon the unattached young women appear in the distance and promenade in a single column up the lane toward the raised bench, arrayed in their finest spring clothes, but Losna isn’t among them. Maegans turns to Dragos, his eyes wide with surprise and concern.

“She must be . . .” Dragos whispers, grasping immediately the distress in Maegans’ eyes. He can’t finish the thought. What could possibly be so important Losna would miss the procession?

Maegans leans close to Oman’s ear. “Losna, the daughter of Barabos,” he begins, but stops when he sees Oman’s face cloud with concern.

“The young women are passing now?” Oman asks.

“They are.” Maegans swallows hard. “But I don’t see Losna Bear with them.”

“There are many others are there not? Many who are unattached?”

“Yes, but . . .”

“Many who would delight to dance with the young man who led the Spring Feast wild boar hunt?”

“I suppose so.” Maegans pauses, searching the passing procession. “Is something wrong?”

Oman looks directly into Maegans’ eyes so intently Maegans forgets for a moment the old man is blind. His expression is stern. “The new star . . .” he begins.

“Yes? The smudged star?” Maegans looks toward the eastern horizon, but it is too early for stars, and the new one won’t appear until morning anyway.

Oman’s face softens. “The smudged star’s name is Perso. His story is a tragic one. He fell in love with a beautiful woman, Hatros. She loved him, too, but she was married to a jealous man named Regis. When Regis learned of their feelings he imprisoned Hatros on a tiny island off the coast.”

Maegans turns his eyes back to the parade passing by but keeps his ears tuned to Oman’s story.

“She longed for her lover,” Oman continues, “until she thought to light a torch and stand it on the highest rock on the island. Perso saw the torch and he knew it was Hatros’s signal for him to come. He swam across to her though the distance was great and the waves high. They enjoyed the night together, but in the morning she warned him Regis came to her every day, so he swam back to the coast and waited for the next night.”

Maegans turns his attention back to Oman. “They were lovers?”

“Tragic, passionate lovers. They continued this rendezvous every night, fair weather and foul, full Moon and new, for many Moons until Regis began to wonder why his wife seemed so content even though he kept her isolated on a desolate island. It happened that Regis owned a dog who knew how to say a few words and one day he left the dog behind on the island to spy on his wife. When Perso came to her that night the dog saw everything.”

“The dog could speak?”

“Many dogs understand words, but few know to speak them. When Regis returned to the island the next morning, his dog told him Hatros beckoned Perso across the water with a torch. Regis was furious, of course. That day he pretended to return to the coast but in fact remained behind hidden in the rocks near where Hatros lit her torch. When night came and she lit her torch he confronted her. She told him the torch was to guide passing boats away from the rocks, but of course he knew better. He took the torch onto his boat and paddled it out into the straight. Soon he heard Perso swimming towards him. He quietly paddled farther out to sea. This he did all night. Perso, blinded by his love for Hatros, followed the light. When Sun rose in the morning he was so far out to sea there was no land in sight. He attempted to return, but he swam in circles. Soon he was exhausted and drowned. Sailors on Salt Sea sometimes hear his gasping breath over the waves.”

“That’s why there’s the smudged star?”

“When Sky Father saw the young boy drowning he swept him up into the sky and made this star of him. The smudge you see is his wake as he swims across the sea. Look closely in the morning, you’ll see the head of the young man swimming and the wake following.”

“But why is it there now?”

“The star is a warning.”

“Warning?”

“It tells us someone in our town must suffer. He will suffer greatly.”


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