Mideer has successfully come through her first ordeal. And now she knows, at least in outline, what she must do to complete the prophecy to unite the Three Lands. But in the meantime, here she is on the isle of Macara, amongst people fully unfamiliar to her . . . Read on
It was now that the truth of my circumstances slammed into me. Though, as I’ve said, I had regained my trust in Hean, yet I was alarmed by the absence of my corps. Where were they? They’d been assigned to protect me. Further, it wasn’t until I registered their absence that I realised I’d no idea where I’d be spending the night.
All through the days of waiting, back on Madjaria, nothing had been said of the practicalities of my visit. I’d been allowed to assume that Hean would take care of it all. This was his venture; it was at his request. Then, on the journey, the seasickness, the lack of a woman-in-waiting, then Hean rehearsing me for the imminent meeting with the headman, I hadn’t once thought this far ahead. I had swept it into the box that, figuratively, Hean carried for me.
Now, entering the village, all heads turned, all eyes upon me . . . I felt exactly what I was. A stranger, an outsider, walking into a unfamiliar place that didn’t, in any sense, belong to me. I didn’t know what to say, what to do. I prayed Hean would direct me and help me through it. For without my corps I’d no other help.
The headman stood—he’d been sitting by a communal fire. He turned to a grass-thatched hut at the back of him. And he called.
I didn’t know the language, so I didn’t know then what his words. Except they did sound like a summons,. And it was as it seemed, for three girls emerged from the hut behind him to arrange themselves into a clear order of height. They each held their hands demurely before them. All three I judged of an age with me, though I deemed the tallest to be the youngest judging by her lack of feminine development (none were covered from the hips up, at which I was glad that my corps was not here).
The headman beckoned the middle girl closer. He said something too softly for me to hear. Not that I’d have understood it. The girl smiled, first at the headman, then at me. I smiled in return, eager for this small sign of a welcome. She tossed her head back: it was to beckon me. She signed that I should join her group, to join them in their hut.
“They will not hurt you,” Hean whispered to me when I didn’t immediately move. I believe he was teasing me.
“Zee-ane,” the middle girl said, pointing to herself. She then looked at me.
I was annoyed she’d given me no time to take in my surroundings. Yet I couldn’t refuse this offer of friendship.
“Mideer,” I said. But she struggled with that. I said it again, this time breaking it into component sounds as she had done with her own name: Zean. “Mi’-dee-er.”
This naming passed to the other two girls. The tallest (but youngest) was Sheena. The other was Schola.
“All ‘shusses’,” I said forgetting they couldn’t understand my Madjarian. Yet they must have caught the meaning for they laughed.
Zean—clearly the spokesperson—took up the theme. “Susses,” she said with a sweeping gesture to include them all, including me. “Henses,” she said and mimed a masculine strut.
“Ah, girls have names beginning with ‘Shus’? While boys have names beginning with ‘Hens’?” I added some obvious gender gestures. She nodded vigorously. I had it right.
“Hean?” I asked. At which Schola and Sheena fell together in laughter. They landed, plonk, on a rush-mat. Apart from that there wasn’t much by way of furniture here.
“Hean, Zean,” Zean said with gestures to suggest they were kin.
“He’s your brother?” I asked, surprised.
She nodded, though I doubted she’d ever heard the word before. She repeated it, using a deep resonant voice, “Broo-the-er. Broo-the-er.”
Before we ever sought out our beds that night Zean was already speaking several words of our Madjarian tongue. She had a keen ear, and was fast to learn. Perhaps not so the other two, but Zean seemed happy to act as translator.
During the next few days, as Zean was acquiring our language, she told me snips and bits about her brother.
He had been apprenticed to Honapple, the old man–Honapple the Holy Man, she called him. But it wasn’t in Hean to be content with waiting.
“Waiting?” I queried it.
She shrugged. “Waiting, is what he said.” She shrugged again.
I figured maybe he had wanted to be the Holy Man, which position couldn’t be had until this Honapple died. And still this Honapple, most ancient of days, refused to oblige.
Zean continued her brother’s story. Restless, unable to settle, his head not turned by the eligible girls in the other bands, Hean had said he would leave. Their father had tried to reason with him, to persuade him to stay, but he would not. He went away, having found passage aboard a Glyntlander-vessel.
“And this is the first he’s returned?” I asked.
But Zean shook her head. “Many times now. Once he returns, every year.” She nodded. “I had four years when he left. I now have ten more. I wait now the big feast.” Her face glowed at the mention.
“And what happens then, at the big feast?” I asked her.
She grinned ear to ear. “All bands come together—all but the Demons. And girls –” she indicated the three of them, so I guessed she meant girls of their age, “we find our . . . our men.”
“Wed-men?” I said seeing her struggle to find a word.
“You find wed-man?” she asked me.
I shook my head. I didn’t want to explain why there’d be no ‘wed-man’ for me, only a child not yet walking.
I stayed in that village near a month round. By that time Zean truly had our language. She answered my every question about her people. I accompanied her everywhere. I learned of gathering foods, and preparing their simple cloths from bark-fibres. I learned some of their stories. I learned of the Demons.
“They came,” she said, her usual cheerful face turning sombre, “in the days of my father’s . . .” she stopped to recite names while counting on fingers then flashed up her fingers, twice.
She nodded. “My father’s twenty mothers before.”
I didn’t work it out then, but I figure that dates the Demons’ advent to around 700 years ago.
“They came here like Glyntlanders, strutting and taking. Our holy man said no, we must not let them. We must raise our arms. We must drive them away. And we did. Many were the deaths in that battle. Yet we drove them back into their boats. But those boats went not far. The Daughter raised a high sea-wave. Violent it was, snake-stirred. And it smashed their boats. But all did not drown. Perhaps a half of a half of the Demons survived. Yet they no more trouble us.”
“And where are they now? You say they’re still on Macara?”
“They have hunting-range west of here. Far-far west. Mountains rise, valleys fall. They come not to our feasts. Not welcome. Yet they find some women from somewhere though they are not many.”
I could guess where they found their women. I’d wager these ‘Demons’ are the Macaran of our oldest traditions, those we accuse of stealing our women.
Hean didn’t remain in the village. I thought perhaps he was visiting the other bands, looking there for a wed-woman—and yet, by Zean’s telling, the time for that was at the big feast. He returned to our village three times. Each time he sought me. Each time he took me walking, so we were alone.
The first time he wasted no time but asked me again if I’d yet decided how I would show my people that there is no ‘good, better, best’, that we all have the same value, just our ways are different.
“I’ve been thinking: Your sister Zean might return home with me.” Though I admit my thoughts hadn’t yet progressed beyond that. I mean, how could I present her to required effect . . .
“No,” he said in a tone not to be challenged.
“Because she’s your sister?”
“No to any woman alone, not one of her age.”
“But—” I didn’t understand. She was of the same age as me.
“No,” he repeated.
“Yet it’s fine for me to come here alone?” I didn’t quite rant, but I was annoyed.
“Oh I do not see you come here alone. You have crewmen. You have ten corps. You have me. You are not alone. But you take Zean to Madjaria, who is there with her? Just you. Just me. And your Madja-lords are not Macaran to care to honour a guest.”
“I said no.” He would not be gainsaid and I did not push.
Perhaps I’d have said more, tried to persuade him, if I’d had some plan of how to make use of Zean’s presence. But I did not. And I could see what Hean was saying, I could imagine Zean at our court. Imagine our Landed-lords, the young, the old—the whole lot of them—imagine their attempts to disabuse her of what they’d think was her innocence. Then how could I blame Hean if he stepped in to prevent it. No, with Zean there, I could see there would soon be an incident. Her presence would have the opposite effect of what I wanted.
“I have for you a better idea,” he said. “Though I did want you to find it yourself. Yet now I see it was unreasonable of me. How to find a solution when you see but a spot too tight. No, you need see a wider scene, and so there’s to be a feast. No!” he held up his hands before I could speak. “They do not know this feast is for you; they believe it for me. It is only for three bands—mine and the two neighbouring either side of us. It will not be the big feast such as my sister has mentioned. You need not be afraid any man will molest you.”
He refused to say more of it. “I don’t want you armed with your preconceptions. I want you open. Open, and trusting.”
What feast is this that Hean has schemed up, in honour of Mideer though her hosts do not know it? And what’s to happen that he won’t tell her more lest she arms herself with her preconceptions? Next episode, He Wears The World, 19th July.