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Old 02-18-2005, 01:41 PM   #325
Hilde Bracegirdle
Relic of Wandering Days
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Child of the 7th Age's post: Ráma and Narika

Ráma stood on tiptoe as she slipped the traditional filigree over Narika's brow, carefully centered it, and then stepped back to view her handiwork. The band was fashioned of silver, engraven all around with a medley of birds, beasts and other living creatures of the earth and the heavens. At its apex was an Eagle outlined in tiny jewels with wings and talons extended as if about to pounce on its prey. Thorne would be wearing a similar headpiece. Used only for ceremonial purposes, these treasured bands passed from one clan leader to the next and were said to depict all the true forms that had been granted to the Eagles at the beginning of Arda.

Ráma finished adjusting the long silken veil and spoke to reassure her sister, "You are lovely. Beautiful inside and out. Mother would be so proud."

"But...?" Narika could hear the unspoken reservation underlying her sister's tone.

Ráma's voice quavered as she responded, "Mother is not here. And this is all so different than what we imagined. No time to sew the traditional gowns. No time for the display of the dowries or the days of feasting. You deserve more."

Narika shook her head, "No one can replace mother, and the shadow of war hangs over all our heads. Yet otherwise I am content. I love him, Ráma. I would happily marry in rags. All these years, you and he would ride out together to tend the herds and only, at the very end of the day, would he stride into the tent to bid me an awkward and solemn goodnight. I did not even know how he felt. It was only after he voiced his intentions to mother that I understood the meaning behind his silence."

"I am happy for you," Ráma responded without hesitation. "Once I dreamed and thought it might end differently. But in my heart I knew even then. I am not ready to settle in, not with Thorne or anyone else. I only wish I understood what I am meant to do."

The silence between them hung heavy in the air. Finally, Narika spoke, "You did not listen to what that fool said in front of the Elders, surely? All that was long ago. We have had no time to talk, but Yalisha said that you had mastered another form during the time you spent in Umbar."

"Mastered another form? I would not quite put it in those terms. The forms seem to come and go at their own bidding, and I have little control over them. In any case," she added, "it was not one form, but two."

Narika stirred uneasily and wished she had more time to help her sister. The Elders maintained that, with the exception of the clan leaders, no Eagle could hold onto more than three changes in shape. With Ráma there had been the one unfortunate incident from her past and now these two in Umbar. Clearing her throat, Narika continued, "When things settle, I will certainly help you gain more control over your skills. Perhaps one of those two in Umbar was the Eagle shape?"

"No," responded Ráma tersely. Unwilling to talk about the subject any further, she handed her sister the few paltry blooms that Miri had found at the edge of the waterhole. "It is time for you to go. The whole clan awaits you. With so much sadness and doubt, we all need something to bring hope. Your love and concern for each other is a clear token of that hope." With that Ráma kissed her sister and guided her over towards the spot on the edge of camp where the rest of the clan had already gathered.

************************************************** **************

Hilde Bracegirdle's post: Thorn

It was dark and the heady smell of smoke and incense filled the air when the people gathered again. When the couple had taken there places one by one they approached Thorn and Narika who were standing now apart with their backs to the fire and a small group of clay pots some distance in front of them. After depositing a handful of grain in one or the other of the pots, the members of the Eagle clan filed past them both, offering their blessings. Thorn thanked each in turn. Straight and strong he looked, the fire glinting off the silver band that encircled his brow. He smiled calling each by name, warmly clasping their hands as the flames bathed the familiar faces with an orange cast.

Narika, he knew, stood beside Ráma just as he stood with Yalisha, but the sisters were screened from his view by a grass mat to his right. And as the guests disappeared behind this screen he could hear Narika’s silken voice as she too accepted the blessings of her people. As the last of the assembly found their places in the circle surrounding the fire, his sister left his side to take a small portion of grain from each of the four pots, handing them to their mother, who then rapidly parched them over the glowing embers.

Rolling up the mat that separated the couple, Ráma cast it on the fire, and accepted the small bowl of parched grain that Thorn’s mother offered to her. As the screen blazed briefly, Thorn watched Ráma carry the bowl to where Fador and Barakah now stood by the clay pots. So grave the elders’ faces were. Indeed strange and solemn this gathering seemed, lacking the merriment that normally accompanied a union within the clan. What would Suri say? He knew that his friend, given a half a chance would fill his ears, lecturing him that this was not the proper way to celebrate such joyful moment in his life. And he would have to agree, but it was not to be helped. But searching the crowd, Thorn could not find Surinen, though old Dinsűl sat there with his thin legs crossed under him.

Yalisha touched his elbow and he looked over to where the screen had been. There stood Narika clothed not in the elaborate garments of tradition; yet beautiful she was for her simple dress and handful of bright flowers, like the bloom of the land after rain, and the strength of her spirit shone in her bearing. The thought that he had waited far too long pierced his heart. For now this day would be mixed always with grief and thoughts of war, in memory. Moving to her side she let fall the veil from her face and he took from his sash the necklace he had recast for her so many years ago in Umbar. Laying it about her neck he spoke to her softly as if she were a songbird he did not wish to frighten. ‘I would that we had been bound to one another in better times than this, Narika. How can I ask you and your sister to be happy when you have suffered far more than the rest of us….” He looked out to where Ráma waited alongside Barakah. “It does not matter to me what difficulties we must face so long as we face them together, but know that I will always be sorry to have deprived you of the proper ritual.”

“Do not worry Thorn, I do not require a week’s ritual to learn of your worth.” Narika whispered, smiling as his gaze returned to her. “But as for better times, together now we will work toward them and toward our clan’s survival. And all the more precious will peace seem to us then.”

Thorn’s serious expression softened. “Then let today itself mark the beginning. Let it become a true turning point for our people.” And he took her hand leading her to where Fador and Barakah waited for them.

Narika and Thorn both sat upon their heels opposite the two elders. And between the four of them, Yalisha placed a broad shallow basket with symbols woven into it. She glanced at Fador several times as she adjusted it. Finally the elder nodded, satisfied with its correct placement. After she withdrew, the elders spoke quietly with the couple for several minutes before they began taking it in turns, reciting the same ancient words that had been recited to them when they too had taken a spouse, and to their parents before them. As the clan looked on Barakah began this ancient portion of the ceremony. Taking a handful of millet from one of the pots in her thin knotted hand, she let it spill into the basket drawing a narrow line toward the south. Then uncoiling a long cord she looped it once about their upheld wrists so that the bottom portion of it dragged in the dust, saying,

Now you will not feel the heat of midday,
for you will be a shelter each to the other.

Fador then withdrew barley from another of the pots, and quickly drew another line in the basket, this one very straight, pointing toward the north. Taking up the cord from their outstretched arms he made a second loop a little smaller than the first, as he spoke the next phrase,

'Now you will not feel the cold of darkness,
for you will be as warmth each to the other.

With rice Barakah traced the third line east, and speaking these words as she made another loop still shorter,

'Now there is no more loneliness,
for you will be companion each to the other.

Taking wheat from the last of the pots Fador made the final line toward the west. And after making the final loop he took the two ends of the cord and tied them together tightly around their wrists saying,

Now you are two persons,
but there is only one life before you.
Go now to enter into the path of your life together.
And as thread is strengthened when intertwined,
may each of you also be strengthened.

Ráma then put the bowl of parched grain in the center of the basket, and watched as Thorn and her sister, their with the two hands bound, fed each other from it until the small bowl was empty, and the assembly clapped, shouting,

'May your days be long upon the earth!’

Fador spoke again and the crowd quickly quieted, for this was the signal that the end of the ceremony was to come. For it was customary that the newly joined couple should transform themselves into all the shapes at their command, so that they might always recognize each other and be recognized also by their clansmen. For many, especially the children, this was the favorite part of the ceremony, though it sometimes proved long and tiring for the participants. From the least to the greatest creature they would shift forms as the crowd watched. And it could sometimes be amusing when the couple or the animals they became where particularly mismatched.

But Thorn, knowing what to expect, quickly squeezed Narika’s hand before he felt the cord slip from his wrist and he lost hold of her, standing now as a plump sand rat before the people. He struggled to resist the strong urge to run, as he heard the crowd chuckling and as Ráma and Yalisha rushed forward to spread the cord into a circle about them. Waiting for a moment he quickly mastered the rodent’s instincts before moving to the next form, that of a thrush. But he saw that Narika had already accomplished her third, and he immediately let go that shape, moving on to the next. It was only a short while before their list was fully exhausted and two eagles stood side-by-side staring calmly at the assembly with their keen eyes.

When they allowed themselves to slip back into their given form, Thorn felt exhilarated rather than tired. He had missed the strong sense of purpose and freedom he felt in these forms. But it always was the eagle who left the longest lasting imprint. And again the clan clapped as he and Narika caught their breath. Smiling they held hands and as one they made a shallow bow before the people they were to serve. Thorn then caught up the cord in his hand and winding it quickly he presented it to Narika before lifting her chin for a kiss.
************************************************** **************


Latah arrived after the couple’s guests had been received and the ceremony had begun. Creeping quietly along the edges of the raucous crowd, like a shadow cast by the flickering light, she avoided the notice of any who might call out to her. She did not wish to speak with anyone, but felt distant and strangely guilty. And though it was not the cause of her discomfort she remembered with sadness the last time Fador and Barakah had performed this rite, when she and Narayad knelt before them. She should have been proud, for Narayad had not only shown considerable prowess in the contests of skill leading up to that moment, but also obvious pleasure at being granted her hand. But as she had knelt beside him in her heavy raiment, she had felt empty as if she moved in a dream carrying out what she knew was expected of her. Her feet had been set upon this unexpected path, and so soon Narayad had been sent from the Eagles and her father’s protection. Away from her.

Suddenly she heard a sharp ‘Hsst’ to her right. There was Dinsűl trying to get her attention as he sat in the crowd. She was cheered to see her elderly uncle, and with a smile she threaded her way over to him. “Ah, what a beautiful evening,” she sighed, looking at the faces around her as she tucked her skirts under her and sat beside him, “And so significant too. Even the stars seem to crowd the sky to watch!” she said looking up. “But most of all I am glad that you are here so that we may watch this together.”

“And I am glad that you are as well. I had been looking for you,” Dinsűl replied, pale eyes shining in the dim light. “Where have you been hiding all day?”

In truth, she had thought it better to remain aloof until her father told her it was safe to answer any question regarding the Gondorians, but curiosity had brought her out of her tent, for her father had returned in the afternoon saying Ayar’s daughter was to be married and receive her commission as soon as the sun had set. But Latah’s uncle knew her too well, and she felt self-conscious as she now avoided his glance. “I have not been hiding, but have only kept busy,” she said, hoping he would not ask after the sea captain or his first mate.

“Hmm, busy is it? It is a good thing for you to stay busy now that Narayad is gone, but you have missed much that you should have heard!” Dinsűl said patting her knee to draw her attention back to him again, just as he had done when she was young and easily distracted. “It concerns you my dear girl, just as it concerns all of us,” the old man said looking into her warm eyes.

“Ah but nothing it seems should be of concern to me,” she let escape, looking away as her father tied the cord tightly around Narika’s and Thorn’s wrists. “See, I am here to witness as Narika and Thorn are united and the Eagles are delivered into their care. I have not missed a word.”

“I do not mean this, Latah. The elders have said that we can no longer ignore our troubles with this Wyrm. They have said that for the good of all maenwaith we must rise up against her leadership, especially now. I heard that word has come this afternoon that another leader has been killed by her. Latah, in all my years I have never heard of such a Wrym as this, trickier than a trader from Khand she is!

“Narika and Thorn are planning to leave as soon as they have talked to the Owls. They want to collect the remaining clans that are faithful to the old ways and rebel against Wyrma. Even Ráma is leaving to try to find the Great Eagles, to ask for help and advice.” The news fell heavily on the young woman. Stunned into silence, she hung her head and sat mutely sorting through what her uncle had told her. Cocking his head to one side Dinsűl brushed back the wavy curtain of hair so that he could see her face. “Not everyone was quick to decide, of course, but it is true.”

Latah saw that Dinsűl guessed that her father had neglected to tell her this news and that he was cautious and worried; with Surinen gone the old man had no one to help ease his mind. But Latah did not know what to say to her uncle. Her immediate thought was neither of herself or her people, and as the crowd shouted their wishes to the newly joined couple, her mind was very far away, not wholly grasping what this war would mean to those surrounding her. These conflicts had always been something that had been diligently avoided. All that she could think of was the little caravan making its way slowly across the desert, and the two tall northerners.

“What of Surinen?” she suddenly asked turning to face Dinsűl. “Will they send for him?”

“Oh Suri, Suri!” the old man sighed, visibly distressed. “Where has he gone? Do you know? He did not send me word when he’d be back, only that he’d be gone for quite some time, and I have not heard anyone mention him. But isn’t Narayad also wandering? I have seen bad times before this and he of all people should not be rootless in the days that are coming. No one will risk helping him!”

Narayad! Latah thought. What Dinsűl said was true. Chances were that her husband would not learn quickly enough of the Eagles’ decision or even of the changing nature of the struggle. And it troubled her that she had not thought of it immediately. Latah wanted to unburden her heart and tell Dinsűl all that she knew, but as she looked furtively toward Fador she saw that the ceremony was over. Indeed, as her father was occupied arranging for the contents of the clay pots to be emptied into sacks and removed, Thorn took the importunity to walk over to them.

“Latah! Dinsűl!” Thorn cried as he approached. “I am glad to find you here.” He took both their hands in his, as he had not done before the ceremony. “I have missed Surinen, do either of you know why he has not come? Is he not well?”

Dinsűl’s brow furrowed. “He is as well as usual, I expect. But didn’t you send my son on some errand?” he asked, “For he left the encampment, and I am told he won’t be back for some time.”

“It was not I that sent him,” Thorn assured him. “Why? Where has my friend gone that he can not be here tonight?”

Before Dinsűl could speak, Latah touched the old man’s arm. “It was my father that has sent Suri, to act as guide.”

“Guide?” Thorn echoed. “Who is he guiding and to where?”

Latah took a deep breath. “He has gone to act as guide for the Gondorians, but do not worry, Uncle,” she said placing a gentle hand on Dinsűl’s back. “He is not alone. Yemnya and Zahur have gone with him. I do not know any more than this, but I think that they must be headed north.”

“Heading home, I should think.” Thorn said, “That is good.” And he asked her when they had left. She explained that it was just the day after Narayad had set out.

“Dinsűl, it seems that no one has told either of us about the elder’s decision to send the Gondorians away. But after tonight I should be better able to keep you informed regarding your son’s whereabouts.” Thorn turned to see that the elders were waiting for him, so that the second ceremony might begin. “But if you will excuse me Latah, I see Narika and your father desire my presence.” Looking up, past Thorn, Latah saw her father stood steadily poised watching them, and suddenly she felt ashamed.


Child's post:

"Thorn, although time is short, there is something I would share with you." Fador stepped over to the young maenwaith, leading him to a spot a few paces distant where few guests lingered, and then spoke in a lowered voice. "We must start the ceremony. Yet I would be remiss if I did not mention one thing. The times are difficult. It is hard to know what to do. You are brave and hardy, yet still young. I merely want to let you know that I am here to help. If you should need me any time, day or night, do not hesitate to ask for counsel. For my own part, I will do everything I can for you and your wife, to offer advice and support that will bring our clan through this time of trouble. But now it is time for us to begin. Step forward with your wife to assume the leadership of the clan." He turned and smiled encouragingly at Narika who had walked up during the latter part of their conversation.

The young couple made their way over to the embroidered mat in the middle of the gathering on which Barakah had already set out the few simple things that would be used in the naming cermony. On the rug sat a beaker of water, a pearl of great beauty and luminescence, and an ornate dagger with its hilt emblazoned in jewels.

Fador hurried to the front, hastily brushing Barakah to the side, and raised his hand to the assemblage as he asked for silence. "We come now to our final task. Our dear leader Ayar is gone, but she has left us with good counsel. It was her wish that Thorn and Narika should wed, and that these two jointly take on the headship. Narika will protect our customs and lore that we may follow the ways of our ancestors, while Thorn will be the bulwark of our defense, shielding the clan from its enemies. Together, with my assistance and that of the other Elders, these two will make the decisions that must be made in these hard times. Narika, my lady, would you go first?"

Narika walked onto the mat and sat down cross legged. She reached over and picked up the pearl cradling it gently against her body as she intoned the traditional words, "May I guard and protect the traditions of our clan just as I shield this pearl today within the safety of my palm. For like this gem, our traditions once gone can never be replaced. They are part of who we are and, without them, we are but shifting sand."

At that moment Thorn came over and sat beside her, reaching out his hand to lift up the dagger and brandish it before the assembled guests. "May I fulfill your trust in me. I will not take up any weapon lightly, but when danger assails the clan--whether from beast or invader--I will stand true until that danger has passed. And I pledge to do so even at the cost of my life."

Finally, Thorn picked up the cup of water and drank from it, and handed it to Narika who did likewise. For a final time, she spoke: "This cup is filled with water, that which is deemed most precious. For desert dwellers, it represents the boon of life. May Thorn and I make wise decisions that will preserve the life of our clan as well as the lives of all who make up this circle today."

Fador came forward and placed a hand on each of their shoulders, motioning them to rise. Then he turned the couple around to face the crowd, calling out in a firm voice, "What say you then, Eagles, would you confirm the choice that Ayar and the Council have made?"

A loud cry went up from the gathering, a cry of jubilation and hope that rang through the assemblage and thundered out onto the sandy reaches that surrounded the camp. Holding his hands above his head, Fador responded in kind , "It is so ordered then. May Ayar's wish, and that of the Council and the people be honored. Thorn and Narika, you are awarded the headship of the clan. Your fate and that of the Eagles is bound together as one. And may I be the first to share my good wishes."

The Elders crowded in to offer congratulations. Barakah was the first to reach Narika and extended her hand in welcome, "You are our hope, little one, a promise that better times are possible. May that hope find its fulfillment in the coming months and years." Then she turned and hugged Narika and Thorn as the crowd surged forward to offer its wishes and support.

Last edited by Hilde Bracegirdle; 05-01-2005 at 01:35 PM.
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