Sinagua Skies, part 3
Sorry about the long delay. My Muse still hasn’t returned from vacation so I’m plugging away at this without her. If you spot her (I suspect she headed for the Bahamas) Paste her to an email and send her to email@example.com
“Hanpa, earlier, when he offered me his wife, I sensed something like a warning from you.”
“I was wondering if you understood emissary. It was important that you didn’t turn down his offer even if their culture was different from ours. If you had been polite and said no, he would have been very offended.”
“Why?” Parren asked, trying to understand the dynamics of these people.
“It is considered polite to offer a woman to travelers. If you had refused, it would mean you considered his offer trivial, his woman unworthy of admiration. You would have been saying to him that he had poor taste in women.”
Parren chuckled. “Then it was a good thing I took him up on his offer. I almost didn’t. But I think I ruined her for him Master. She was less than…impressed with his skills in the blanket,” she smirked. Hanpa shook his head in good-natured exasperation.
“Parren, remember, you are not to go around collecting conquests. We don’t have the room for them. Be nice but don’t be greedy. But I must warn you, when we reach the Hannocks, you had better keep your hands off the women there. There’s no sex between people unless they are wed. If they catch you with a woman, you’ll both be executed.” The older man said seriously. Parren nodded sagely. Keeping track of all the different customs was getting difficult.
Hanpa could read her face and reassured her it would come easily in time, patting her leg before rising.
She decided to join her friend over by the river. Jopa was bent over some task but she couldn’t see. Nearing him, she saw that he was whittling something. “What are you making?”
He jumped, tried to hide it, but seemed to change his mind. He held up a piece of wood that he had been carving. Glancing at it, she thought it looked like a fetish.
“What are you carving Jopa?”
“Oh, just a small image of a jeogga. I figure I need all the help I can get since you’re grabbing all the pretty women before I have time to. I’m going to have their shaman bless it for me,” he said with a grin, not really mad or jealous over her success.
Peeking at the fetish, she noticed its extremely large phallus. “Whew, if you aren’t careful, you’ll frighten them away, not draw them closer!”
Jopa laughed. “No, but if you had one to impress the women with, you’d never get any sleep. I, for one, am very happy you are a woman and most women still prefer men over your sweet words.”
Parren poked him in the ribs. “Sometimes I wish I were a man. Just sometimes,” she teased, but Jopa could hear the more serious tone beneath her words. They both knew Parren wanted children. Hating to see the sadness in her eyes, his mouth worded a jest without thinking about it.
“Well, I could always carve you a man root and have the Shaman bless it.”
“What? Jopa, you’re crazy. Will it let me piss on bushes too?”
Suddenly the idea seemed not so crazy. “No, listen, I could make you a man root out of wood, then you could use it on Shalen when we get back,” he grinned, nudging her ribs.
“She wants to be taken like a man would, how could a piece of wood do that?”
The young man thought about it. “Hmm, if it was attached to you somehow…I got it. Leave it to me!” He took off into the woods to search for the right type of wood. Parren just shook her head, wondering if the suns had stolen his wits.
The bartering came to an end with every one pleased with the trade. Thrana packed their new goods into the packs. They would leave after midday, when the day wasn’t so hot. Some of the items gained through the River People would be kept for their village and the rest bartered for other goods.
As Parren struggled to position her pack, Carlanta rushed up to her, kissing the emissary goodbye. Chuckling at the young woman’s blushing cheeks, the Traders left in good humor, heading for the Shalopa territory.
“Another conquest for our young Parren,” Hanpa teased, making the other men laugh. Turning to his apprentice, he ruffled her short hair. “Do not fret Parren, you will no doubt find another woman or two with the Shalopas. Just remember to save some for the rest of us.”
“Yes Parren, please do. After all, there has to be some benefit to our grueling lifestyle and the women is one of them,” Jopa said with a serious tone although his eyes twinkled. The other men nodded in agreement. It was true. Their long dangerous treks actually did little to make them wealthy men. It was just a living, but the life of Traders gave them new experiences and ideas for their villages.
New techniques, inventions, and products would benefit all, but for the Traders, it was the thrill of meeting new people and finding excitement around every bend. Traders needed to be excited or boredom and fatigue quickly sent them home to live quiet lives as farmers or weavers.
“Master Thrana, tell us more of the Shalopas,” Parren asked.
“Well, they are much like ourselves except they live near the Great Ocean.” Anticipating her next question, he continued. “The ocean is a wondrous thing. Water for as far as the eyes can sea, with roaring waves of water crashing upon the shores of red sand that sparkles like the stars in the night sky. Once you see this place, you will understand how vast our world is and how small we are under Obansa’s gaze.”
Hanpa added his own knowledge, seeing his brethren’s thoughts were lost in memories. “The Shalopa worship Shalnar-pa, the God of Seas. Each time they take their boats into the Great Ocean, they give him tribute and thanks for the bounty of the waters. They toss grains into the ocean and beckon to the creatures who live there, asking them to sacrifice their lives so they might eat.”
“Then they, too, thank the spirits of the animals that give their lives. It is good,” Jopa commented. He understood some villages had different beliefs, merely killing and taking the bounty of their lands for granted. Those who didn’t acknowledge that everything had a spirit, even the stones and soil. To take a life or use an item without thanking the spirit was horrifying to the young man. How long could the bounty last if the spirits were offended?
“Yes, unlike their former neighbors, the Pisa-tinocks, the Shalopas give thanks. The Pisa-tinocks lived all around them long ago, taking from the land without thought. Ganthren became offended that her children had become so unfeeling for the spirits of her other creations and cursed them, and the spirits left the lands. Now, it is all wasteland, with little growing there. The Pisa-tinocks died in great numbers until they left, shunned by all who knew of their punishment by the Goddess. No one knows where they went to. It is said in the tales that they went far to the North, beyond even the land of greens, to the frozen wastelands,” Hanpa told them gravely. It never hurt to remind the youngsters of their village the tales of the Old Ones so they didn’t forget the lessons they taught.
Many days later, the Master Traders stopped and removed their packs. Jopa and Parren were told to fill their water bags and collect as much food as they could. Realizing that they had reached the edges of the desert, they quickly obeyed. Until they reached the ocean, there would be no place to find food or water.
By midday, the lands became nearly barren, with nothing but hills of sand and dust devils. When the wind picked up, Hanpa pulled out a length of cloth and his eye shield. Everyone else in the group followed suit. The eye shields were nothing more than the sap of the pata tree that had been collected, molded, and dried into crude goggles. The secret of the molding was held only by the Traders and no others knew how to harden the sticky sap. Items made of the pata sap were highly prized, even more valuable than even salt or numon, the soft metal they used for making their jewelry.
Tying the strips of cloth around their heads secured the goggles over the eyes and covered their faces. Now protected against the sting of flying sand, they continued on. It would take several more days to reach the Shalopas. By evening, Jopa spotted a place they could camp for the night. It was nothing more than a small indent inside of an eroded hill but it would do.
Thrana told the apprentices to gather whatever they could to burn for a fire. He doubted they would find much and knew he’d have to burn some of his precious coal to even start one. The group had collected bits of wood and such earlier but couldn’t carry much, not with all else they were burdened with. The fire would be quite small and he hoped it would be enough.
Heat wasn’t his main concern, for even the evenings were of a tolerable range for the mountain dwellers. It was the few creatures that still roamed the area he wanted kept away. Flesh biting insects, lizards, and spine rocks were all prone to gather around anything living. He had already warned the apprentices of the poisonous creature that looked like rough stones. They crawled so slowly that eyes couldn’t detect the movement, but step on one or even brush against it with bare feet, and you’d die. The poisons in their spines were powerful, paralyzing their victims immediately. The toxins were not lethal, but unable to move, the victim was unable to prevent the spine rocks from crawling onto him and eating his flesh, inch by inch. Other spine rocks would gather around him and join in the feast.
Shuddering, the Trader began making a circle of protective rocks and clumps of earth around their camp. Perhaps that would be enough to keep them out. The spine rocks weren’t very good climbers. The youngsters returned with their pitiful finds. Some dried dung, a few small sticks, and some dead plants.
Grunting, Thrana took the tinder and placed it within the fire pit he had dug out. He removed a few coals from the waterproof bag and added them to the pile. The coals he carries were sealed in tree pitch to ignite better. Perhaps with the small amount of kindling and some luck, they’d have a fire tonight.
Taking out his fire making tools, the Trader strung his miniature bow. With it, along with a rock carved into a small bowl, he twirled a stick against a small piece of wood. Within moments, smoke misted from the tinder. A few light puffs of breath and the smoke ignited into a flame. Satisfied, he added bits of larger pieces and added the coals. Once the coals were hot, he’d add damp leaves to create smoke to keep away insects.
“I wish we had some fresh meat to cook,” Jopa said wistfully.
“Yeah, and pappas to roast too,” Parren added, her mouth watering at the thought. Nothing tasted better than the fire roasted vegetables that had been soaked in brine.
Hanpa grinned and handed them each a travel bar.
“You are a cruel man, Master Hanpa,” Parren groused.
“We are getting close to the ocean,” Thrana said aloud, picking up the faint scent of the salt water in the air.
“What do you note that could confirm what Master Thrana has said?” Hanpa asked. Every Trader needed to see the clues others did not. Once they learned to see, they would notice more each trip until it became instinctive to watch for the smallest of clues. When they were first taken as apprentices, they were isolated within a small building. There, wax was pressed into their ears so they were almost deaf, and then blindfolded and left naked.
It wasn’t done as a punishment or even to make them stronger. It was done to teach them to gather knowledge with more than with eyes or ears. It was important to use every sense. Instructed not to wander from their cushions, they only ate if they found food by scent left nearby. Only drank if they smelled the wet crockery, only slept if sensing the night. If they fell asleep during daylight, they were struck with thin branches. Their teachers would toss stones at them randomly until with time, the apprentices could feel the tiniest of air changes and slap away the stones mid-air. Many hopefuls failed these tests of perception and were rejected, but these two easily learned what they needed for survival.
“I see more vegetation,” Jopa offered.
“I hear the cry of birds far off,” Parren added.
“The air smells different, damper Master Hanpa,” Jopa commented, “and the soil seems softer.”
“It’s slowly changing color as well,” said Parren.
“Very good. But also notice the sky. It reflects light differently near water. Which way do you think would be the shortest route to the ocean?”
Both apprentices stood quietly, and in tandem, pointed in the same direction. Pleased, Hanpa and Thrana followed the younger members towards the Great Ocean.
To be continued...
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