In the Days of the Star Knowledge Woman

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


Suppose Trump and his macho buddies destroy this world, what will the new world be like if the ladies step in and take over?


In the Days of the Star Knowledge Woman

 

Annette scanned the faces of the initiates seated in a group on the far side of the fire. At twelve winters their childhoods were almost over and she would give them their final preparation for adulthood. Prior to being granted their full rights and privileges, they must know the history of the towns and the reasons behind the customs that governed them. And she was the teacher.

The autumn wind howled and shook the roof of the dugout. Snowflakes swirled in through the cracks around the door and the vent openings between the low wall and the roof, but it was warm enough in the dugout that blankets or heavy clothing were not required. The flames of the newly lit and climbing fire made shifting shadows on the wall, and the buffalo and elk painted there seemed to dance. Annette closed her eyes and willed her mind into stillness. She sprinkled a finely ground mixture of seeds and sweet grasses on the fire. With a sharp “whomp” an answering puff of flame rose. A sweet, earthy smell filed the dugout – sage, sweet grass and hemp flowers – and soon induced a dream like state in those present. She was ready.

I am Annette and I am a direct descendant of the Marigan, one of the two who first brought the people to this valley. And the one who gave us the laws that we live by. The Marigan was a priestess, well trained by a learned group in Boulder, the city at the edge of the plains. In the days of the Marigan Boulder was at peace, and given over to learning and holy rites. This was prior to the ascension of the Overlords of Christ.”

The Marigan was learned in a discipline called biology, and she knew the secret of life. This had been taught to her. She was slight of build, had golden hair and was said to be very beautiful. She worked with Katigan, whom some say was a demon. But if she was a demon, she was a benevolent one who helped the people. Katigan had hair like yellow snakes, and pictures covered her body that told the story of all mankind. She drove the great white carriage, the carriage that ran without horses, wherever the Marigan commanded.”

This dugout is said to be located in the home of the Marigan. The square of stones that surrounds it, and the other squares of stones nearby, were created by the Marigan and are said to be sacred to her. The pile of metal and glass that still stands by this stone square belongs to the Marigan and that is why it is allowed to rust away, and never collected for knives or arrowheads.”

And the Marigan and Katigan gave us much knowledge, and Katigan found others and brought them in when more knowledge was needed. And Katigan is the one who convinced Shelly to teach her healing arts, what we call nursing, to the priestesses. And when Shelly was unexpectedly called into the clouds, the people retained the knowledge. But the greatest gift were the Directives, which the Marigan gave shortly before she returned to the clouds. And these are what we will examine first.”

The first Directive was inspired by the Overlords of Christ and their attempts to lure the people from their destiny. It goes as follows: 'No man speaks for God. And the Kingdom of Heaven is within you, and all around you, and not to be found in the words fools nor in houses built by the hands of men.' I will now tell why this is .....”

Later that night Annette sat on the low square of stones that surrounded the dug out, the square sacred to the Marigan. The weather had cleared and the wind had died, and she gazed up at the now clear night sky. The outline of figures were formed by connecting the stars. Birds, elk, snakes, hunters, farmers, etc. And a story helped one remember all the the figures, and the order in which they came up while spiraling through the night sky. The number of stars in each figure gave the number of points that must be covered in each lesson. Other stories gave rise to other figures, and the number of stars in those figures gave the distance between water in dry country, or the number of children in each generation of a family. Annette retraced the evening to ensure that she had covered all points for the night.

She had wanted to record the lessons with the marks that represented words, and an old woman had been sent to teach her this art. But it became plain that the old woman had only a cursory knowledge of the subject. There were 26 principle words, nonsense words as far as Annette could tell. And each the 26 words had a symbol, and supposedly all words could be made by combining these 26 words, but neither Annette nor the old woman knew how. So Annette relied upon the stars, as had her ancestors, for at least a thousand years.

She moved to the next figure and noted the number of points to be covered in the next lesson. Her lips moved slightly as she sub-vocalized what she would recite the following night, counting the points to ensure she had them all.

The full moon rose from behind the mountain and the valley was suddenly awash with cold, white light. The sky was heated to a deep maroon and the clouds were white against this backdrop. She faced the moon and made the sign for the Marigan, and then turned towards the town. Thee wasn't much snow yet and she made good time across the valley floor. The dogs and sentries knew her footsteps and ignored her as she entered the circle of dwellings. She lit a brand from the common fire and entered her home, a tent within a larger tipi like tent. She used the brand to light a small oil lamp. This would keep the inner tent warm through the freezing night.

The men rose at dawn and walked to a common area outside the camp for their first business. She could hear them out there pissing and gossiping as the sky brightened. The young boys jockeyed for a place in the inner circle and were told to go piss in the weeds with the other kids. The dogs were thrilled and joined in with gusto. Smells of roasting meat began to fill the air.

Annette was a teacher and for that reason had no husband - in the manner of Marigan and Katigan. But she was allowed lovers and was expected to produce a worthy heir. And this person would be taught from birth to take her place. She rose and exited the tent.

The air was cold and there was snow on both the east and west mountains. The creek had just frozen over and a group of elk were breaking the ice. Young boys carried silage to them and then ducked back before the half wild, belligerent creatures could do mischief. The wasn't much snow yet on the valley floor and the town's deer lure was still visible – a many mile long line of stones that deer and antelope, and sometimes even moose, would inexplicably follow. There were blinds built of brush along the lure at regular intervals.

She stood outside her tent and sang the morning invocation, as was her duty. It echoed off the mountains on both side. Most of the clan stopped what they were doing and listened. She had a good voice, and the melody, known as Celtic, was haunting.

Ben, her childhood friend, rounded the corner of the tent and asked, “Can you sing a moose call? That might save us some time.”

The song brings good luck”, replied Annette. “What you do with it is up to you.”

Ben was the same age as Annette, twenty winters, and he had a thin face and close cropped, jet black beard. His skin was light brown and he had that very curly buffalo hair one never sees in blonds. A rifle and atl-atl were slung across his back. He wore a cape of red dog skin and carried the traditional boa knife.

We're going to the ruins”, he said. “And we'd like you to come with us.”

For witchery?”, asked Annette.

Or protection from it”, replied Ben.

I think you're better off with the rifle”, replied Annette. “Honestly, I don't know what I would do if something creepy jumped out of the rubble there. Everyone needs to remember that. There is a limit to what I can do.”

You can flush game”, replied Ben. “And you can run the end and close it. Nobody else is as fast as you. The dogs won't focus if no one is there.”

Annette had planned to spend the day squinting at a bone needle and a new pair of boots. And a trip to the ruins, or basically any distraction, was suddenly very inviting. “OK, I'll go”, she said. She closed the flap of the tent and was ready.

It was the responsibility of the head hunter to ensure food was brought. Ben's four friends and a great troop of dogs were waiting on the other side of the tent. The group set off to the north at an easy trot. As they crossed the valley the group fanned out. A wide line was formed consisting of one person, three or four dogs and then another person, all trotting abreast. Annette was at the far west end of the line and Thomas, another fast runner, was at the east. They covered about four miles this way.

Suddenly, one of the hunters at the center of the line gave a yodeling call. Three rapid high notes and a falling one. Game to the west between the the arm fully extended sideways and fully extended forward. Annette saw the deer just to the east of her position. She accelerated with the dogs to cut off it's westward escape. The deer bolted to the center of the line and the line slowed, the runners began to form the shape of a horse shoe with the deer inside. The deer turned and sprinted directly away from the line. It was all over now. The deer was faster, but it had no endurance. And the humans and dogs could keep up this pace all day. After an hour of sprints, the deer stood winded and made no attempt to escape as it was brought down.

While the others sat int he sage and rested, Steve, a big, blond slow runner, much taller and stronger than the rest, immediately began the dreaded job of loping back to the village. A crew had to be summoned to return the meat. He gained status for his selfless effort, and he gloated that the job probably wouldn't be as hard as the others believed. As he expected, just behind the next low rise, a crowd of wide eyed young boys watched the hunters through the grass.

I have an important job for you”, Steve said in a commanding voice. The kids all stared at him and chewed their lips. “Can I trust you to go back to town and bring a crew for the meat?”

Yes!!”, the screamed. And set out at a run.

A few minutes later Steve popped back over the rise and announced, “Dammed town seems further away each time I run it”.

The others accepted the fact that the matter had been covered, but wondered how Steve had done it. He obviously had not run back to town. But to ask would simply invite more bullshit from Steve, one of the towns most renowned bullshitters.

The group sat in the sun and threw rocks at a circling coyote until the crew arrived. A large mountain raven landed near Annette. She assumed the proper mental state to reassure the bird and her body followed suit. The bird began to preen and make odd, fussy noises. They were her birds and seldom feared her. This one, however, fled squawking in terror when she rose to join the others and depart. The line reformed and once again headed north.

They saw no other game worth taking down at this distance from town. Annette let her end of the line sag so that two small antelope could escape around her end. It was thirty miles over relatively flat ground to the ruins, and the trip would take at least six more hours.

They rested in the shade of the bridge before completing the last leg of the trip. The bridge actually looked like a huge table. Two rows of pillars supported a flat deck twenty feet off the ground. The creek formed channels all around it. It was said that the creek once ran under the bridge and a road ran over it. But now it looked like a table for giants.

The group grew somber as they neared the ruins. The gradings for old roadways were visible and different vegetation grew there. There were more bridges, some still connected to old roadways. The ruins were creepy, but the area provided the best hunting for big game. Few people ventured there and the game normally had a tranquil life.

Annette had been taught that these ruins, known as Silverthorne, were safe. The town had simply been abandoned. No bombs had fallen here and one would not contract the bomb sicknesses from scouring the area. And because the town had not been bombed, the building walls still stood and much could be found by foraging. But the place was still haunted and dark. A window to a strange and little understood world.

Hey, why don't we stop here and not spend the night inside”, shouted Tom. The rest agreed. Nobody wanted to spend a night deep in the ruins. A fire was lit and food was distributed. As the sun sank over the mountain with a crack in it Annette stood and sang the evening invocation. She sang as loudly as she could. It would have to carry back to her town as there was now nobody there to sing it. The night temperature rapidly dropped and they had no blankets. Annette received a couple of discreet offers to cuddle up but she turned them down. She wasn't ready for the child yet. She slept upright, her back against a stone and her feet near the fire. Waking halfway to consciousness every hour or so to toss in one of the sticks she had stockpiled beside her. The men woke at dawn and had their usual pissing party just outside of camp. As usual, the dogs participated and ran madly ran in circles.

Today they would hunt the ruins. There was creek water nearby for the pre-hunt washing. The creek ran with the last of the snow melt and Annette almost screamed as she dunked herself under the almost frozen water. But the wash could not be rushed. She soaked and scrubbed as required, and for the required counts, before leaping from the water. The frigid air then actually felt warm to her. All parties stayed up wind of the fire after the washing. Soiled shirts and sweat stained breeches were left and the group sallied forth in just their capes. Fortunately, the day warmed as the sun rose.

They painted their faces and bodies with mud to further hide their scents, and break up the human lines. Annette had a band of black across her eyes with dots covering the rest of her face. Her body was a series of random streaks.

The ground was too broken to form a running line, and this time the hunters advanced slowly, into the wind, bent low so that they were hidden in the grass. The dogs slinked along beside, alternately thrusting their noses forward and then lifting their lips in a silent snarl while looking side to side. After an hour a frog like click was heard - and the line froze. A hand rose slightly above the grass and indicated two moose in a creek straight ahead. About 100 yards. A cow and a calf. “But wait”, the hand signs indicated, “The bull was there too”. The finger twirled indicating they should encircle.

Annette adjust her cape on her back so that it hung down on both sides, elk fur hiding her elbows and thighs. She let her hair hang to hide her face. She moved forward on all fours, moving her head in the manner of a dog. It took almost half an hour to silently advance the hundred yards to the creek. She came to the creek bed and could see the moose. She put her head down and lapped the water loudly, and then moved across the the open creek bed. She softly imitated the pant of a dog. The moose seemed nervous but did not bolt. In her peripheral vision, she saw others further down the creek crossing on the other side of the moose. The climbed the opposite bank. The wind held and the moose had not smelled them, but they would as they got into position on the other side.

There was a yodeling song which Annette instantly picked up and sang too. She stood and ran the final yards to her position. She waved her arms while carrying the song at the top of her voice. The dogs opened up with a savage chorus and leaped into the creek. The hunters would take the bull, that was known without saying. The atl-atl flew with four direct hits and the bull was down. Enough meat to carry a family through the winter.

They washed the mud from their bodies and began the arduous task of dressing the moose. Four people were enough for the job and Annette selfishly hung back. The ground was covered with clear, flat glass, and feeling that she should be doing something useful, she began to search for pieces big enough to make atl-atl points. A chipped glass point was far superior to a sharpened steel one when a single hunter sought big game. The steel caused a clean wound allowing the game to run for days, but a glass point shattered and caused severe bleeding, and that normally brought the animal down in a few miles. But the precious glass point, of course, was only good for one shot.

There were square stone pads on the ground with broken pieces of steel sticking out. People had been coming here for hundreds of years collecting the metal. She found several hand sized pieces of flat glass, and was about to return, when she spied a wonderful piece of flat metal under a small concrete overhang. What looked like the remains of a staircase. She pulled it out and examined it. It had lain under the overhang for centuries - out of the sun and rain. There was still paint on it. Had she been able to read she would have read the letters stamped into the metal as “Highway 6 Pizza”. There was also the remains of a strange, large plastic hoop under the overhang. She decided that the plastic was useless, but the metal was perfect to cut up for arrowheads. Returning with her treasures, she broke down and helped with the moose.

It would be a slow, happy trip back to town. Each of the party would pull a section of moose on a travois. And it was perfect hunting weather. They rested in the same spot as the night before and the cold night froze the meat. The cool days, along with a covering of grass, would keep it frozen.

As they were leaving the area a group of the western people approached on their horses. They lived near a place called Vail and many had the strange trait of red hair and beards – along with many freckles. In the summer, people from other towns would often make the trek to far away Vail just to see this. Pulling near, they nodded at the meat and the proficiency of the hunters.

You come to hunt?”, asked Ben. It was customary to relay the signs of game to the next party if your party was already successful. He pantomimed the words as the isolated western people spoke with a strong and funny accent, and they often misunderstood the words of normal people. The leader of the group extended a palm and moved it right to left – No. Making hunting signs with his right hand he explained that strange people had been seen in the area, and the party was coming to investigate. That is why they had risked riding the horses so late in the year. They needed to cover a lot of ground quickly.

Ben circled his left hand and then made a chopping motion – Enemies? The horseman's turned two palms up to the sky – Don't know. Ben place two fists on his chest and then moved his right palm upward across his face – Are we in danger? The horseman again showed two palms up.

A second horseman was intently eyeing the flat piece of metal Annette carried under her arm. He moved up beside the first horseman to see it better. Annette offered it as a gift for the information. It was accepted with a broad grin and the second horseman held it aloft for the others to see. He pretended to cut his finger on the edge and sucked on the imaginary cut. He pulled an arrow from his quiver and showed Annette the flint head. He made a horizontal sweep with his right hand – This will now change.

The exchange of information finished, the horsemen heeled off on the old road through the ruins. “Horse and haddack” they shouted in unison.

Do we hide the meat?”, Ben asked the group. Everyone knew what he meant. If they now drug the travois they would leave a slow, many day trail that could be followed by a blind man. Without them, they could invisibly run at night and be back to town in a few hours. They compromised. They risked dragging the meat to the bridge in broad daylight and then hung it there – hopefully above the reach of any animal. Steve fretted for his rope, he'd brought it to dress the kill, and not to gift it to some lucky passerby.

After securing the kill on the bridge, they posted a watchman and the settled down in a low spot to rest until night fall. As they began to settle in, the dogs turned towards the west and began an chorus of low growls. They had been trained not to bark in these circumstances. An outlandish woman suddenly rose from behind a nearby rock. “For God sakes, help us”, she seemed to cry. But with her odd manner of speech it was hard to be sure exactly what she said. Just gibberish. The group pulled weapons and instantly rotated towards the woman. They stayed low and began to scatter for cover.

Stop”, cried the woman. They understood that. “Help us”, she cried again, and a grimy child appeared from behind the rock. The ragged woman and grimy child didn't seem that dangerous, but the group remained under cover. A ridiculous looking man then appeared behind the woman. Annette noted that he would probably soon freeze to death unless he had more clothing somewhere.

The woman then tried to take a stop towards them. She had problem with her knee and walked badly.

These are the strange people the western people spoke of”, said Tom. “And they are strange”, he added.

Despite the potential danger, Annette had to suppress a smile.

Strange people”, cried Ben. “Why are you here?” And he made the hunting sign for “Go away”. The strange people just stared at him stupidly.

I don't think they're hunting”, said Steve. “They look too pathetic to hunt.”

I agree”, said Annette. She stood and spoke, “I am Annette, a descendant of the Marigan, and I can speak for our people. Why are you here?”

The woman spoke hesitatingly, “Your name is Annette?”.

Yes”, Annette cried in an irritated tone of voice. “I just told you that.”

The woman spoke slowly in her outlandish accent, “It's hard for me to understand you”.

Why do you talk that way?”, shouted Tom. Annette gave him a dirty look to silence him.

Annette continued, “Where ... are .... you .... from?”

Where are we from?”, garbled the woman.

Yes”, cried Annette, the irritation back in her voice.

Arvada”, answered the woman. The group exchanged glances. Lowlanders, but they didn't look like fighters. It was all very strange.

Why ... are ... you ... here?”, asked Annette.

To get away. It's terrible down there and we heard you could live up here and get away from the Overlords.”

The group didn't understand a word.

What ... do ... you .... want?”, asked Annette.

To ... stay”, answered the woman, catching on. Here Annette and her group did understand and they were not happy. A strange lowlander had just announced that she was moving into the lands of the valley people – without the permission or consent of the valley people. The concept was so outrageous that Annette didn't even know where to begin. “You ... are ... not ... one ... of ... us”, she tried to explain.

Go ... away”, continued Tom. He reinforced the thought by making the hunting sign for “go away”.

The woman sat down on the rock and began to sob. The grimy kid clung to her and looked at them with fear. The man just seemed lost.

I don't think they're dangerous”, noted Annette.

And I don't think I want to live with them”, replied Tom. “They can go live somewhere else.”

Annette approached the woman and asked, “Why ... can't ... you ... go ... back? Back .. to .... your .... home?”. Out of frustration she signed the words as she spoke them, but she used the sign for lowlands instead of home.

The woman replied, “They ... will ... kill ... us”.

They're outcasts”, noted Tom from behind her. “They probably stole a horse.” Annette was inclined to agree.

Why ...will ... they ... kill ... you?”, asked Annette. The woman babbled incomprehensibly for three minutes in response.

The group conferred and decided that killing the interlopers gave them a recognition they didn't deserve. Besides, they weren't dangerous anyway. Instead, because of their uncommon silliness, the ultimate rudeness, and the ultimate insult, was reserved for them. They would simply be ignored - as if they didn't exist. The woman and the man were deemed to be beneath the notice of a normal person, and the child, unfortunately, traveled with them.

Given that the strange people they had been warned of were simply silly interlopers, of no consequence, and who would probably just freeze to death in another night or two, there was no need to leave the meat - and no need to travel at night.

Steve said, “I'll get the meat lowered”, which really meant that he would recover the precious rope that he feared leaving.

The travois were assembled and the meat was re-loaded as the weird couple stood nearby and gawked. Just before they set out the woman rushed forward and made a begging motion and indicated through pantomime that the family was starving.

We have plenty and they do look hungry”, noted Ben. Customs dictated that the food be shared in this case, no matter who the person was. And it was a good custom in this harsh land, one not to be discarded lightly.

The words prompted grudging nods with clenched jaws from the rest. The decision to ignore would be violated in favor of the greater principle. Tom peevishly sawed and pried a large chunk of meat from a moose haunch and tossed it to the pathetic family. The man and woman tried to gobble it down immediately, raw, but the meat with frozen hard. Disgusted, the hunters hitched themselves to the travois and set out. Half the day had been wasted.

Annette brought up the rear, and as such, it was her job to warn the group if somebody approached from behind. After a couple of miles it was clear that the weird couple was following them. The hunters were greatly slowed by dragging the travois and the man and woman could hobble just fast enough to keep them in sight. “Your friends are still with us”, Annette sang out to Ben.

Ben turned from his work with the travois and spied the two on the rise behind them, watching.

We'll call the woman 'The Yellow Jacket' and the man 'The Black Fly' because you can't just walk away from them”, replied Ben. “

And the kid is the Worm”, continued Tom. Because he looks like he's been crawling around in the dirt.

The sun dropped behind the western wall and the temperature dropped rapidly. The group stopped and stacked the travois into a tipi in the center of the camp, but even this might not keep the coyotes off. A sleeping Annette had once been stepped on by a coyote as it tried to steal the meat. Using a flint and a piece of an ancient steel from an automobile brake system, Steve ignited a bunch of dried grass. He then used this to get the fire going. Annette sang the evening invocation, and sang it loudly. It might just be possible for someone near her town to hear it – if the wind was right.

Just as they were settling in the Yellow Jacket appeared at the edge camp with a bundle of sticks. She motioned towards the fire. The hunters ignored her. She then cautiously approached the fire, glancing from right to left as if she expected an immediate attack. The dogs snarled in a low chorus. She squatted and ignited the bundle of sticks in the fire, still shooting glances about the camp. She then scuttled back in the direction she had come. In a few minutes, another fire bloomed a hundred yards behind them.

As Annette waited for sleep to come, a vision of her great grandmother came to her. Annette was very young, too young to really learn, but the great grandmother knew her time was coming. She was trying to pass on to the child what she could before she entered the clouds. She had desperately wished the child was older.

There had been few summit people in the beginning. Only those in Katigan's coach, a number that could be counted on two hands. And this would weaken the people, and the grandmother had tried to explain how, but the explanation was lost on the young Annette. But the ultimate lesson was that people from the outside should not automatically be driven away. If they proved to be of good character, and if they proved capable of supporting themselves, then they should be admitted into the Valley People and taught the ways and customs. For this would strengthen the children of the people. Again, the exact mechanism for this was unknown, but the overall lesson was clear. And with this reminder, Annette then slept.

In the morning, after finishing the morning invocation song, she remained standing in place. “I have something that must be said”, she spoke with authority. The phrase indicated that she was not speaking as Annette, but rather as the descendant of the Marigan. The group froze in their places - this sort of formal speech rarely took place.

She began, “My great grandmother came to me last night in a vision and reminded me of something that I had once been taught - but that I had forgotten. It's important for new blood to come into the people from time to time. This keeps us strong. So if strangers arrive, and if they prove to be of good character, and if they prove to be capable of supporting themselves, and if they can learn the ways of the people, then they should be accepted and welcomed. Inferior people can always be driven away later.”

She paused for a moment to think, “It's been so long since we've had strangers here that we have forgotten this, but this is a directive, and the are good reasons for it”.

She then paused again, this time somewhat sheepishly, “But, I confess, I don't know the exact reasons. My great grandmother explained them to me before she passed on, but I was too young and too uneducated to understand.”

But those people may be outcasts”, said Tom, “And so you really think they can support themselves?”

We don't know who they are or what they can do”, replied Annette. “And it will be easy to get rid of them if they don't measure up.”

The logic agreed with the group. For in spite of their barbs against the new people, none had been really comfortable leaving them to die. And if they were given a chance, and they failed, there would be no conscience pains returning them to their current state.

Bring them to the camp”, said Annette, before leaving her position.

A few minutes later three of the hunters returned with the frightened family. They calmed somewhat when they were offered the roast meat that made up the breakfast. After eating, Annette took black ash from the fire, mixed it with grease, and drew the pentagram in a circle on the chest of each of the three, immediately below the throat. They were now under the protection of the valley people. The strangers seemed to understand the gist of what was happening and evidenced great relief, although they remained somewhat apprehensive.

Two of the hunters sprinted to a nearby stand of pines for saplings with which to build a third travois. The newcomers would immediately begin to prove their worth. The loads were divided among the three travois and the man and the woman immediately understood. The man hitched himself to the new travois and indicated that he was ready to go.

The man was not weak, and he kept up for a while, but the hunger and recent hardship seemed to take a toll. He began to fall behind after a few hours. When this happened the woman hitched herself to the travois as well and they pulled together. The hunters appreciated this effort even though the strangers' travois could still not keep up. With conspiratorial glances they agreed to be good sports and slowed down a bit. This delayed their arrival by only an hour or so.

As they topped the last rise before the town the drums and welcome song began. The hunters joined in the song and there was a great joyous chorus of howling and barking from the dogs on both sides. Dogs from the town ran mock forays against the approaching hunters and vice versa.

But the song and rhythm of the drums almost died as the hunters drew into the town proper and the outlanders became clearly visible. The people would not have been more surprised if the hunters had a dinosaur on a leash. The party drew into the town center and Ben, the leader of the hunt, mounted the wooden platform at the center of the town to tell the story.

The hunter's stories were sometimes referred to as bragathons and the crowd often ignored them, continuing to talk and mill as a hunter tried to shriek his accomplishments over the noise of the crowd. But this time the crowd fell deathly silent. A dog growled and was immediately kicked.

Ben was a good story teller. He didn't say anything for 30 seconds and let the crowd eagerly lean forward. The he began:

We ran north towards the ruins and on the first day we took a big deer a half day out.”

The crowd already knew this and the leaned further forward for the juicy parts to come. The outlanders felt holes being stared into them and tried to act casual.

We stopped at the edge of the ruins and prepared for the hunt the next day. It was cold and clear and there was little snow.” He was teasing the crowd.

The next day we advanced in wolf position and came upon three moose in the mid morning. They were in the creek near the big stone pads.” Game location was important, but the crowd wasn't interested in that right now.

We approached the three moose dog like, surrounded them, and took the male. While we were dressing the moose, some flat glass for atl-atl points was found, also a flat piece of metal good for arrowheads. “ The crowd was about to bust at sitting through this mundane portion of the report.

While we were leaving the ruins five of the western people came to us on horse back. They warned us of dangerous strangers in the area.” The crowd made an “Ooooooooo!” noise as it sucked in its collective breath. Annette hoped Ben wouldn't lay it on too thick or the strangers might have trouble.

There were only five of us and we decided to hide the meat and travel at night. We did not want to leave a trail with the travois. We hung the meat from the bridge and rested for the night travel.” He paused for effect.

While we were resting the outlanders came to us. At first we were wary and feared attack, but it became obvious that they were not there to fight. They were hungry and exhausted. We remembered the ancient directive that says strangers are needed, and are not to be turned away unless they are of bad character or unable to care for themselves. And we welcomed them and promised them a chance to prove themselves.” The story was close enough to the truth to keep Annette quiet.

Ben continued, “We know nothing about them. They come from the lowlands. Arvada. And they do not like it there. The said they want to live here, but we don't know why. They can speak our language, but they speak it in a strange way and are very hard to understand. Work must be found for them to see if they are worthy to join the people. And if they are, then they must be taught our ways and allowed to join us.” This was exciting and the crowd began to murmur with a million ideas.

The crowd surrounded the new people and examined them. Both had dark hair while most of the Valley People were blonds. Katigan and the Marigan had both been blond as had been Tom and Shelly. Ben was descended from Willy, the person who brought horses to the tribe six generations ago. He was reported to have been very black, with the curly buffalo hair, and many believed him to be a benevolent demon like Katigan.

Work was found for the couple at the home of Stephanie, an old widow now having trouble caring for herself. It was convenient as she possessed one of the grandest houses in the town and had unused room for the strangers. Her usual tent within a tent abutted the hill where there was an old mine tunnel blasted out. The tunnel had been vented and fires could be built there, giving a huge amount of warm living space. The couple began making daily treks to the western pine stand above the town to gather the winter wood pile for the Stephanie home.

The female outlander's name was Sarah and Annette found she could converse with her after a few days. Sarah's accent was already beginning to change. When Sarah found that she could be understood, she asked Annette a million questions: “How do you find food up here?, How long have you been here?, Do people come up from the lowlands? How did you get here?”, and so on. And Annette answered the best she could.

I've been asking you questions for days”, said Sarah one afternoon. “Arn't you curious about me?”

Yes”, replied Annette.

Then why haven't you asked about me? You haven't asked me a single question.”

It's not polite for us to ask people from outside the town about their lives”, replied Annette. “If they want us to know about them, they will tell us.”

Oh my God”, gasped Sarah, covering her lips with her palm.

Annette reached out and pulled her hand down away from her face. “It's not polite for us, but it's obviously polite for you. Don't worry about it.”

When the wood was finally in, Annette took Sarah to the dry back of the mine shaft where the artifacts were stored. She opened a trunk, and withdrew a large plastic bag. From inside she withdrew a decaying book. She pointed to the back cover, “These symbols are words, but we don't know what they say. Do you?”

Sarah indicated that the candle should be brought closer and she read, “A .... fun ... and complete ... history ... of ....”. She tilted the book towards the light, “I can't make out that word”. She continued, “For ... anyone ... interested in ... something, I don't know what ... early television?”. Sarah looked up, “I'm not sure I'm pronouncing it right.”

But Annette was thrilled. The woman knew more about this than anyone else she had ever met. Annette was suddenly seized with an idea and and had to restrain herself from tearing through the fragile book. She forced herself to leaf slowly until she found the picture - she then sat the book before Sarah. “This is Annette, I was named for her. What does it say about her?”

In the picture was a young woman with dark hair and eyes, who faintly resembled the Annette before her. The young woman wore a white shirt that extended up her throat, and her name appeared to be written across the front of the shirt in black letters. On her head she wore a headdress that resembled a black, inverted bowl, there were two large black circles attached to it. She had an odd, knowing smile.

Sarah studied the caption for an extended period. Annette was so impatient she found it hard to be polite.

Sarah finally spoke, “I can't read it all, but it says she sang and danced for people, and was the most beloved of her group. There were twelve. And when she grew older she appeared in a series of .... events ... or something. I don't know what. There's something about a beach and a blanket too - whatever a beach is. I'm sorry I can't understand more.”

Annette hugged Sarah. She couldn't help herself. The ancient Annette was a priestess who conducted rituals, and affected a series of historical events when she was older. This is why her picture was in the book. Annette had always suspected as much, and now she had confirmation. It was good to have a powerful namesake.

Annette immediately put Sarah to work teaching her the symbols. They weren't words after all, they represented sounds, and the sounds could be put together to make a word. Ingenious. This would be part of the learning of every priestess from now on. And everything would be recorded with the symbols, and knowledge would no longer be lost to death and bad memories. She used a mixture of blood, mares milk and soot to create an ink and trace the letters of her name across the front of her elk skin poncho. Similar to the way the ancient Annette had the name across the front of her shirt.

Annette then began a series of public works. She first had four elk hides stretched on frames. She then wrote the invocation to each of the four directions on each of the four elk hides. She wrote the words in a spiral, the same way one reads the stars. And she had old Thomson, the person who painted the learning dug out, paint the proper animals around he perimeter or each hide. The animals followed each other, nose to tail, around the outside of the spiral. These she set up at the four directions around the village. The villagers thought it was wonderful, and they admired the intricate geometric designs, knowing that a priestess could interpret them into words. A custom developed where the hunters would touch one of the shields as they left the village in that direction.

Two brothers, Edward and Taleth, next requested that she paint the story of their killing a bear, and saving the horses, at the rock overhang by the river. This was the spot where the battle took place. She first suggested that the words read that the brothers had killed a big bear. But the brothers felt this was insufficient, and asked that the bear be described as a “great bear”. She worked on the spelling, but was not satisfied until Sarah reminded her of the word “wait”. She then had it: “Here Ed and Tal kilt a grait bair”.

The brothers were long distance hunters and knew many stories for finding figures in the stars. They insisted that the words not only appear in the spiral, but that the letters decrease in size around the spiral in same proportion as the figures in the stars. Annette spent many hours tracing letters in the sand before she got this right. She scratched her design with chalk and then used a blood based ink to trace in the letters. Old Thomson drew a realistic bear at the bottom of the writing. Annette finished the work by drawing arrows and atl-atl spears to the right and left, the weapons used in the fight. She drew stars at the top, to show that the battle took place at night. The brothers were delighted and gifted Annette with a young mare for her trouble. They then invited hunters from the south to come and view the work, and Annette was immediately awarded another commission.

Robert Johnson, the husband of Sarah, was a special case. Many thought him vain for having such a long name. And he worked more than necessary, and nobody knew what to make of this. Everyone in the village was expected to work about half a day everyday, but Robert Johnson often worked from dawn to dusk. And while the people of the town accepted the benefit of this, they still thought it strange. But Annette felt that he had proved his worth with his ability to describe the world of the lowlands. A hellish place from his descriptions.

It was a world with a small, privileged upper class, called Men of Property, and a vast lower class slaving to support the Men of Property in luxury. The church controlled the lower class, who were referred to as “goobs”. The church preached that any goob could rise into the ranks of the Men of Property through hard work and obedience, but nobody could cite a case, at least in modern times, where this had happened. There were, however, many stories of ancient saints who began life as a goob, and by diligent service of their master, rose to the ranks of Men of Property. Those who questioned the system were called “soshullusts” and it was preached that they were condemned to Hell in the next life. Most goobs believed this. The soshullusts were excommunication in this life – which equated to death by starvation and exposure. In addition, a soshullust was an outlaw who could be killed without penalty by any church person of good standing.

Goobs were effectively owned by the men of property. The were free to leave, but it was forbidden to hire them without a favorable recommendation from their prior master. And it was illegal for a goob to be without a job, i.e., a position as a laborer on the estate of some man or property.

The typical goob worked from dawn to dusk on his boss's estate, and in return he was grudgingly given enough food to remain alive. But the goob had to provide for his own shelter, firewood, etc. in his off hours – which consisted of the dark hours and half the daylight on Sunday.

Why don't they revolt”, Annette once asked Robert Johnson. “It seems like there's a lot more goobs than men of property”.

That's a complicated question”, replied Robert Johnson. “The goobs are usually the most loyal supporters of the system. A lot of them can't even imagine a better life. If they've got one potato more than their neighbors, they think they're well off - and they join with the boss against the rest.”

It never dawns on them that they could keep what they produce?”, asked Annette.

Not really. They're lives are miserable and all they want to do is get to heaven – and you do that by serving your boss. And they believe the boss protects them. If the boss wasn't there, soshulusts from far away – like you – would come and make them convert to a religion without a heaven.”

We never give them a second thought”, objected Annette.

They only know what the priest tells them”, replied Robert Johnson. “In fact, most don't even know what the life of the boss is like. They've never seen it. They don't know that he eats whatever he wants and does whatever he wants. All they know is that he lives in a big house and tells them what to do.”

How did you guys see it?”, asked Annette.

The boss's mother became demented and my wife looked after her. Then my wife got me a job caring for the horses and driving the carriage. My wife then watched the boss's daughters after the mother passed on. We were part of their life and they taught my wife to read as sort of a game.”

Is that how you learned about us?”, asked Annette.

Partly, but you were already a legend. The goobs are terrified of you – think you guys are coming down to kill them any second now. Kill them and make them convert to a religion without a heaven. What we learned from the boss and his books is what you said, mostly you guys just wanted the church to leave you alone. And after seeing what we saw, that made a lot of sense to us.”

After a moment's thought, Robert Johnson continued, “The family was good to us, but the father died and his wife's brother came in and took over the estate. He sent us back to the fields, and he was very suspicious of us because of the reading and the other exposure we had. We figured it was just a matter of time until we were turned over to the church. So we left.”

Annette had little to say. What Robert Johnson said wasn't that incredible. It seemed to comport with the history Annette had been taught in her youth. History which she had now mostly forgotten, but which she would now review.

That night she sat on the square of stones the once supported the home of The Marigan. She began the verse that guided her through the spiral of stars and used them to jog her memory of what she had been taught about the origins.

Before the wars, all people had lived as Robert Johnson had described. They worked long hours, hours that enriched their masters, and in return, their masters returned just enough to keep them alive. There was a church, which also had to be served, and which dictated how they behaved in every aspect of their lives. And the people believed that if they served their master and their church well, they too might become masters with their own serfs. But none ever did. And when they didn't, they were assured that their reward would come in the next life.

They were delivered from this fate almost a thousand years ago when a leader they had chosen, a leader named The Doneld, initiated a war that scorched the entire earth with fire and killed more than could be counted.

The Merigan and her companion Katigan, who drove the white coach that ran without horses, brought the first eight to the valley. They were joined by Shelly and her husband, and together, after many generations, this group became The People. And under the Directives of the Merigan and under the guidance of her daughters, the people lived freely and never knew the type of slavery described by Robert Johnson.

Little was known about The Doneld.Was he evil? Or were the people he killed evil? Was he a great hero conquering the lands that enable The People to live freely?

She and Sarah were finding answers in a book left by the Merigan's great granddaughter. A very old, handwritten book that had been in the mine for hundreds of years. As far as they could tell, The Doneld had not been well liked in his time. And The Merigan and Katigan may have also been called Merriam and Caitlyn, if they were interpreting the sound words correctly.

Fancy that.


Submitted: January 16, 2018

© Copyright 2021 MissFedelm. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Oleg Roschin

Fascinating post-apocalyptic fiction! I love the details, especially. How things become forgotten and confused with each other, how reality turns into legend. A very atmospheric story with a strong personality and sense of style. Great work!

Wed, January 24th, 2018 7:16am

Author
Reply

Thank you.

Wed, January 24th, 2018 6:32am

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