Chapter 2: Chapter Two

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 39

Chapter Two

The path to manhood of an Agarthan boy took the same route regardless of tribe or clan and started when a boy reached his sixth or seventh summer when he would be presented with a small, sharp, tang’i knife by his father. Many weeks would pass as the boy became skilled using the knife skinning rabbits and preparing chickens for his mother gradually improving his skills before he would start accompanying his father on short hunting trips where he would be shown the way to skin and dress larger animals like deer and boar.

A short ash spear would follow, usually on their eighth birthday, and was a treasured item that the boys all looked forward to owning in growing anticipation. Gaining their first spear was such an event that warriors with massive fists and broad chests would weep when talking of the day they gained a little ash spear. Many tribal elders would rummage around their hut and bring out the wooden spear they were given as a boy so many years ago and proudly show it off to his grandsons as if the thing were given to him by the Gods themselves.

Next came an event of such importance it would involve all the tribe when each autumn boys who had reached eleven summers would choose their first wives. Although to an outsider it seemed the boys would be doing the choosing, all the decisions would have been made by the families involved, leaving only a ceremonial choice for the boy to make. It was all high drama and the village people loved it coming soon after the crops had been gathered and animals slaughtered for winter. At the end of the choosing was a village feast ending with a huge bonfire where little effigies of the happy couples holding hands, made from plaited straw, were flung onto the fire, sending their marriage vows up to the Gods.

Of all the events in an Agarthans boy's life by far the most important event was to reach thirteen and to gain his “iti” name. Boys were known by their ‘i  name until they reached manhood proper when they would undergo initiation and if successful put ‘iti after their first name. The rite of initiation was secret and was only revealed to a boy on the day of his initiation. There would be no opportunity to practice or gain insights from the other men. If a boy asked about the ceremony the men would remain silent or they may even give the boy a firm clout around the head with a spear shaft to serve as a reminder never to ask again. If a boy were unsuccessful in the initiation he would usually be sent as an apprentice to a priest or a shaman and would never again attempt the initiation.

 Serant'i was a typical Agarthan boy of twelve summers. Tall for his age with long dark hair tied up with a leather lace, brown eyes, and a small mouth with thin pale lips. He wore a pair of buckskin trews with patch pockets and a buckskin jacket covered over with a warm wolf skin cloak tied up with a silver pin. Knitted woollen socks were on his feet finished off with calf-high, stout leather boots.

This morning, Serant’i was lazily thrashing at the weeds as he walked along the path’s edge in an unconcerned way, his other hand gripping a short-shafted ash spear which, after his iron knife was his most prized possession. Of course, it was not like the fearsome, iron-tipped weapons the men carried; it was only a stick that had been sharpened to a fire-hardened point, but it was straight and true and strong and worthy of someone who would shortly become a man. Serant’i has seen twelve summers; soon it would be thirteen and he would gain his ‘iti man’s name and move from the clan huts to join the men. He was the youngest of all the men in the Raven clan and would be the lowest in rank in the men’s hut until some of the smaller children started to become men.

Four paces behind him, were Hetatoo and Elatatoo, Serant’i’s chosen wives. He had decided on these two girls and so he had chosen them at a ceremony in the sun at the end of last summer. Since then they had left the playing children and joined him every morning to wander the village and its surrounding fields, encouraged by their parents, to become better acquainted.

Hetatoo, a small slim built woman with straw-coloured hair and cornflower blue eyes above a tiny nose and rosebud lips, had seen ten summers; Elatatoo, a little taller, apple-shaped with mousy hair and grey-green eyes, over a wide nose and thin, smiling lips, was eleven and although they would spend most of their daytime with Serant’i they would not sleep with him and would not couple with him until they had seen at least fifteen summers. The girls were both firm friends and spent the day, when not walking, combing and plaiting each other’s hair, applying earth colours to their skin, and gossiping about village life.

Serant’i when not with the girls, would go with his friends to the forest or the beach and talk about weapons and hunting and would make feeble jokes about the prettier of the unattached girls. If he went to the beach he would collect shells for his wives to make necklaces with, if he went to the forest he would collect pine cones or pretty pebbles from the stream where the older children collected water. Whatever he gave them they would be deliriously happy and, much to his annoyance would smother him in kisses.

This morning was like most others. They were walking a path that ran around the village up against the banks and ditches that had been dug to keep the village safe. They had walked this path a hundred times and though Serant’i was alert they knew there was no danger here. The girls, gossiping as usual were beginning to irritate Serant'i so he turned sharply and faced them.

‘Berant’iti’s teeth, can’t you women keep quiet for the length of a path?’

Berant’iti was the God of the Sun and he looked down on all the world from his boat, Thantul that was rowed across the sky by eight fierce wolves. He wore over his face a mask made of gold and studded with gems and precious stones that shone down on Agatha every day.

‘If you can’t stop your chatter perhaps you can discuss something of interest, like the best way to fletch arrows or how to make horn glue or how to use a blade of grass to make a duck call?’

The girls faced each other and exploded with laughter. They clutched at each other weak with laughter until Serant’i grew irritated and stalked off thrashing the path edges with renewed vigour.

When Elatatoo finally found some breath she said.

‘Our man is such a fool, Hetatoo. Horn glue indeed!’ I  wouldn’t know how to fletch an arrow if Petatoo herself jumped down from her silver horse and commanded me to.’

‘Come sister-wife we must catch up with our foolish man in case he bids us wipe his arse!’ giggled Hetatoo.

‘Or shall we use a blade of grass to call for a duck to do it?’ said Elatatoo.

At this, they both collapse into fits of laughter as they skipped up the path towards an ever glowering Serant’i.

As they grew close, they could see him peering into one of the smaller, outer ditches with his hand held up to the girls, as he often did for some dramatic pause.

‘What is it, husband? Is Berant’iti trapped in the ditch water again?

At this they collapsed with laughter again, thinking of the foolish people of the village who still believe that the reflection of the sun in puddles and ditches was Berant’iti ensnared and unable to get out.

‘Give me your spirit stone, Now!’ he barked, concern etched across his face.

A spirit stone was a powerful thing and was used to find spirits and ghosts and demons. They were found in stream beds and washed up on the sea shore and were highly prized. A spirit stone was a stone with a hole in it and the hole was the most important thing because that was where you looked to see the spirit world. Some stones were small with a hole too small to put a finger in, others large enough to pass a hand through. There was a tale of a stone so large that marred couples would pass through it for good luck, but no one had ever seen it. It was usual for women and priests or spirit guides to use them as it was thought that men were unable to see into the spirit world.

Hetatoo pulled at one of her felted wool bags and searched the contents. She found the stone, held it out to him but then pulled it back.

‘Only priests and women should use the spirit stone, husband. It is a bad thing for a man to use one. Maybe we should see what it is you are seeing?’

‘Give me the stone now woman or Thetant’iti will know of it.’

Hetatoo moved along the track a few paces and handed Serant’i the stone. He waved at her to move back down the path. The two stood together holding hands, offering a prayer to Suntoo the goddess of female protection even though they had given up their amulets when they had become bride chosen.

Serant’i peered at the body through the hole in the stone. He could see no spirits or ghosts attached to it and there didn’t seem to be any demons lurking around the ditches. He called to the girls to come to him and when they saw the body both screamed and held onto one another. Serant’i grew angry, shouting at the girls to be quiet and to pay attention to him.

‘Hetatoo, listen closely to me. Run back to the village. Bring Rarantu’i, the priest, and Sothoo, the Spirit Guide, and bring my father. Yes, fetch my father first, Hetatoo, do you understand? He’s to be sent first. Elatatoo you are to go and find flowers and herbs to keep this man’s spirit still and quiet. Do you both understand what I want you to do?’

They were both wide-eyed and trembling but each of them nodded so Serant’i pointed them on their way with his spear. He turned to the corpse and poked it gently with the end of the stick in his other hand. He gazed at it again through the spirit stone and seeing nothing that bothered him turned and looked along the path praying to Gurn’iti that his women would hurry and not leave him alone with a body whose Numa was loose in the world.

 

w

Despite everything, it was the Spirit Guide, Sothoo, and her assistant who had turned up at the corpse site before Serant’i’s father and she immediately took over, despite his protests. Serant’i seethed with anger thinking he would beat his foolish wife if his father would allow it. Now he could not be sure to secure any precious items or weapons on the body so his father would not be very pleased.

He stood a few paces away from Sothoo watching her like a hawk, determined she would not steal anything that belonged to his clan; he found the body, whatever was on it was his theirs by rights. He thrashed at the weeds on the edge of the path, all the time scowling at her. She may be older than him and a Spirit Guide, but he was nearly a man and that counted for something when he was standing up for his family's rights. She should concern herself with the Numa and leave material things to me he thought. He turned and looked down the path, wondering what was keeping his father.

‘Once he is here things will be settled. She dare not disrespect him’ he muttered.

‘Here, Lolontoo, tie these seed-pod rattles to his wrists and ankles. They will compel the Numa to remain calmly inside. Should it become agitated the rattles will attract the attention of Thetant’iti who will drag the spirit being to his frozen hall.’ said Sothoo.

Sothoo passed her the long ropes of seed pods that had been tied up with nettle string which made a wooden clacking sound when she handed them over.

‘The Numa would not want that, mistress.’ replied Lolontoo.

It was an obvious thing to say but Sothoo’s young assistant had only been with her since last summer and though clever with plant and herb lore she lacked in her understanding of the gods and spirits.

‘Indeed, and that is the reason we are attaching them, to still the Numa by using its fear of being noticed by Thetant’iti. Now hurry and tie them on, we still have much to do,’

The young girl started to her task and soon had the rattles tied. Sothoo reached into one of the two leather bags she had brought and out pulled some small pots of herb preparations and a shallow dish of ochre body paints. Taking the paints she daubed the body with mystical signs and symbols causing Serant’i to become extremely agitated.

‘What are you doing, woman? What do these signs mean? The body belongs to my family, do not daube it with marks of your ownership. I will not have it!’

Sothoo stood up from her work and spoke to Serant'i as if to an imbecile.

‘Calm yourself, boy. These marks tell the gods this body has a spirit inside and it is to be left alone, nothing more.’ Sothoo ignored the boy and went back to her work.

Serant'i became petulant, speaking in a sulking way.

‘I will allow this. But remember everything on this body belongs to my family's clan.’

Sothoo carried on with her work, now no longer interested in wasting her time talking to this sullen child. She opened a felted wool bag at her side and pulled out her spirit stone, spying up and down the ditch looking for signs that the Numa was calm and for the spirits that are sometimes attracted to the newly dead. She found nothing to concern her so replaced the stone into the bag.

‘Yes, all is well. The Numa is calm and contained. We must wait now for the Faren who will do what, Lolontoo?’

‘They will carry the body back to our hut, mistress so that we may carry on preparing it for burning and the release of the Numa to the otherworld.’

‘That’s correct, Lolontoo but they also build the pyre and carry the body on the morning of the cremation, do not forget this,’

‘No, mistress. I will try to remember.’

Sothoo began repacking the bags they had brought when she became aware of more people approaching the ditches. Along the path were groups of villagers who had come to see the dead stranger followed by a large gang of squabbling children daring each other to be the first to touch the body.

However, Sothoo had been able to set a guard to protect the body from such outrageous treatment until the Faren arrived to collect it to take to Sothoo’s hut for the vigil.

Just behind the children she briefly noticed Deran’iti, the leader of the tribe's elders. Sothoo wondered why he had come but the thought disappeared from her mind.

Beyond them all she was overjoyed to see the tall figure of Rarantu’i, the most senior of the village priests, limping, due to an accident he had as a child, slowly towards her.

As Deran’iti reached the ditches Sothoo noticed he was accompanied by other elders. She did not know what they wanted but they would be in the way so raised her hand to halt their approach.

‘You do not need to be here noble elders. This is a matter for a Numa’ta and a Priest. We will soon have this man’s body ready to move back to my hut for its vigil. Once there I will fully apprise you of a day set to send his Numa back to the otherworld.’

The elders all turned and talked to each other, nodding their agreement.

‘There is something you must know, Sothoo, something vital to the passage of this man’s Numa to the otherworld.’

Sothoo turned to Lolontoo, giving her simple instructions to stay with the body and protect it from foolish villagers trying to look at or even touch the body of the stranger.

She walked with the elders as they made a small circle around her, handing her a large, felted wool bag for her to look inside where she found a soft Doeskin pocket. They told her not to take out what lay inside, only to look at it. When she discovered the circlet, she brought her free hand up to her mouth and let out a gasp. She could feel the magikal power without touching it and realised that it was a most important item.

‘Now you must know this man’s story, Sothoo. This dead man, before he died, gave the bag containing the item you have just seen to some village children with a most amazing tale. It is one we must tell you now.’ said Deran’iti the head of the tribal Elders.

Then he told Sothoo the story the children had been told by the wounded, and now dead man.

‘Berant’iti has watched this man die and you are caring for his Numa. His deeds were watched by all the Gods, especially by Berant’iti so we must do everything in our power to return his bones to his people and complete his task.’ Deran’iti said.

Sothoo knew that the first part of this obligation was assured. His body will be washed and then anointed with oils and she and Lolontoo would stand vigil over it until the dawn when they will place his body on a pyre and burn it, chanting his Numa to the otherworld as the sun breaks the horizon to make the new day. His bones would be collected from the cold ashes and placed inside a specially made funerary jar where herbs and flowers would be placed, the top, sealed with clay and baked hard before a fire. The jar would then be decorated with the man’s clan and tribe symbols and the jar placed inside the clan spirit house.

‘His bones must be returned to his village; someone must take them and this item too.’

She pointed to the felted bag and tried to hand it back. But they refused.

It must be you, Sothoo. First, you must go to the village of the Broken Axe people to fulfil this man’s task. Then, once complete, you must go to the village of this man’s people and give up his bones to his clan.’ Deran’iti said.

Sothoo was horrified. At first, she did not know what to say she was so astonished by what she was being asked.

‘But I have never been beyond the fields of our village. I will become lost.’ Sothoo looked alarmed and pleading.

‘You must not ask this of me. I will not find my way. I cannot do this thing!’

The elders raised their hands to calm Sothoo, for even though they had only recently learned of the stranger's story they had come together to devise a plan to send her off on the task with a guide who could find the villages and return home quickly and safely.

‘We have made arrangements for you to be accompanied on your journey by an experienced tracker and hunter, a person who knows the area well and will guide you on your way to both the summer village of the Broken Axe people and to the village of the Burning Man.’

Sothoo looked relieved but was still overwhelmed by the enormity of the task the Elders were expecting of her, for although she had heard of the tribe of the Burning Man she had never heard of the tribe of the Broken Axe, and finding them might be impossible.

‘We will be sending you with Raru’iti, Sothoo. A man experienced in hunting and tracking.

I gather you know him?’

Sothoo’s heart sank. She knew Raru’iti and what she knew of him made her angry.

Sothoo grew up with Raru’iti and knew him as a disagreeable child and a boastful, arrogant teenager who made the lives of everyone around him a misery. She had heard he was known to treat his wives badly and had been a bully to the younger boys of his clan. He was taller and stronger than every one of his age and his aggressive attitude made him many friends in the men’s huts causing him to treat those weaker than him very badly. So far Sothoo could not find anything agreeable in the task the elders were asking her to undertake.

‘I know Raru’iti well and I consider him a most disagreeable man. I do not wish to give you false hope so I will not be taking up your offer to undertake this task. I am a spirit guide and cannot be bound by anyone. You must find someone else.  Now if there is nothing else?’

Sothoo looked from one to the other and seeing nothing further to discuss, turned and made her way back to Lolontoo.

As a Numa’ta, Sothoo was a senior member of the tribe so the Elders knew they could not compel her to carry out the task. They were forced to reconsider. Making a tight circle they discussed what to do next. Looking at each other they seemed bereft of ideas. Finally, Deran’iti spoke.

‘We did not ask for this solemn duty, it was thrust upon us by the great god Berant’iti, and we should not give up at the first sign of difficulty; we must not fail before we have started. Berant’iti watched the stranger die and as he did so the stranger swore to him that the people of our village will carry his duty to its end, his bones and burden both. I have decreed that the item we have been left with has, by its association with the sun god, become sacred and we have no alternative but to find a way.’

They all nodded, murmuring their agreement but unsure how to proceed.

Conra’iti raised his hand, wishing to speak. Deran’iti nodded his head.

‘It seems, fellow elders, that the problem can be stated simply. Sothoo must accompany the bones of the stranger and carry the sacred item.’ Everyone nodded.

Conra’iti was the head of mines and money and was known as a slow and precise person during tribal meetings always taking his time to explain the simplest of things.

‘However, Sothoo is incapable of finding her way to the village of the Broken Axe people or the village of the Burning Man without help?’

‘You have stated the truth so far.’ said Deran’iti, slightly irritated at the time Conra’iti was taking.

‘So, we have an experienced hunter and tracker, Raru’iti, who will guide Sothoo, quickly and safely, to the places that she needs to be.’

‘Again, you have the truth of it, continue, please. And try to come to the point.’

‘Ahem, yes. Well…The problem is that Sothoo cannot abide Raru’iti and so will not travel with him. Therefore we must do one of two things. We must make Raru’iti more acceptable to Sothoo or we must make the task so important to the village and our people that Sothoo will put aside her feelings about Raru’iti and agree to go.’

He looked around and as everyone so far was following, he continued.

‘Now, we would have more chance asking Berant’iti’s to row his boat back across the sky than making Raru’iti more appealing to Sothoo. This means that we are left with making the task so important to our tribe and people that Sothoo is forced to put aside her feelings about Raru’iti and accept her place with Raru’iti on this sacred duty.’

The elders all thought for a moment and nodded their heads in agreement but there was only one problem, how were they going to achieve this?  It was going to be difficult to persuade Sothoo to put aside her feelings about Raru’iti and find a means of setting out the task to portray it as in the best interests of the tribe of the Children of the Stars.

But they were going to have to find a way.

w

Rarantu’i was standing beside Lolontoo as Sothoo returned. It seemed to her that nothing had been done since she left despite leaving a simple list of tasks for Lolontoo. Sothoo was still shaking with anger from the conversation she had just had with the elders and so was in no mood for Lolontoo’s nonsense.

‘What in Thetant’iti’s frozen hell have you been doing since I have been away you lazy child?’

Lolontoo looked at her in the innocent way she always did but Sothoo was angry and raised her hand to beat her when Rarantu’i reached out and grabbed hold of her wrist.

‘Be calm Sothoo, Lolontoo is innocent. I am responsible for what she has been doing while you have been away. I asked her what she was doing during your absence and when she told me I bid her stop as I wished to question you about any charms or spells that you have used on the body. The child was unable to furnish me with the information I needed for me to start my tasks. That is the reason why she has been waiting for your return.’

Sothoo raised her hands to her face and wept. She had nearly beat the child for doing as she was told and it was all born of her bad temper after speaking to the village elders. Lolontoo stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Sothoo.

‘Now then, mistress, do not take on so. I would not have been so badly off for a beating. I have probable deserved it thousand times over,’

At this Sothoo wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her doeskin tunic.

‘You rarely give me trouble, Lolontoo.’

‘Except for the time I burned a hole in your best wool dress.’

‘Yes, there was that…’

‘…and the time I lost your tang’i knife…and the time…’

‘Yes, Lolontoo. No more. These are times when you have been careless, nothing more.’

She took hold of the girl and wrapping her in her arms kissed her on the head; she then stood aside, looking directly at Rarantu’i.

‘We must wait for the Faren to arrive and take this man’s body back to my hut where we can finish the preparations for tomorrow's cremation. Do you wish to carry out any further rituals, Rarantu’i?’

‘I will administer some herbal preparations and cast some spells to ward off evil spirits, Sothoo, then I will be done. Then we can move his body back to the village if that meets with your approval?’

‘It does. I have finished with the body so far and can only make further progress once we have the body in my hut. If you make a start with your spells, I will head back to the village.’

Sothoo and Lolontoo started to pack up the jars and pots into their bags.

‘If I might make a request?’ Sothoo turned to the priest.

‘If I may have the use of Lolontoo for a while?’

‘Lolontoo, go with Rarantu’i and help him in any way he asks. Pay attention to everything he does. This is a great opportunity to learn from a very senior priest.  Stay with him and return with the body when the Faren bring it back. Do you understand?’

Lolontoo nodded and skipped away with Rarantu’i. Sothoo shook her head and wondered how much the girl had understood as she shouldered the bags they had brought and began to walk back towards the village. Before she had gone very far she was stopped by Sekar’iti, another of the elders but one who had just arrived.

‘Not so fast, child. Do you think I would allow you to sneak the body away and with it any possessions that are mine by right?’

Sekar’iti was not present when the elders had put the important task to Sothoo. She knew that Sekar’iti was Serant’i’s father and therefore the only thing on his mind would be any items of value on the body of the stranger.

‘Sekar’iti, we have almost finished working on the body. When we have done so, and the body is recovered from the ditch, you may remove anything that is not associated with the man’s Numa. Please speak to Rarantu’i once he has finished working his spells. I wish you a pleasant day.’

And with that Sothoo pushed past Sekar’iti and his glowering son, Serant’i, whose two tiny wives stood behind him huddled together with tears in their frightened eyes.

Carefully, Rarantu’i cast spells and rubbed herbal mixtures onto the body and Lolontoo helped where she could, holding the arms and legs when the priest needed to mark the body with symbols, tying bundles of leaves and flowers around his neck, waist, elbows, and wrists.

Once they had finished, the Faren had recovered the body from the ditch and placed it onto a large animal pelt. Rarantu’i beckoned Sekar’iti and his son over and told them that he was finished and, as the finders of the body, to come and take any property they wanted before the Faren took the body back to the village.

Sekar’iti and Serant'i fell onto the corpse-like carrion crows and picked the body clean of its possessions; a well-made iron spear, a tang’i knife, the leather travelling bags, and some felted wool ones, a few arm-rings and other jewellery. Once they had finished their plundering, Sekar’iti told Rarantu’i that he could keep…

‘…what was left of the filthy carcass.’

When they had gone he motioned to the six men, who had gathered to carry the body back to the village, to come forward and do their work. These six men were known as ‘The Faren’ and played a crucial role in the journey the dead made into the afterlife. Working together they slipped the body onto a large animal pelt and with three of them at each side, they started back towards the village.

Now the journey of the man’s Numa would begin. And now, perhaps, with some manipulation by the Elders, Sothoo and Raru’iti’s journey would also begin.


Submitted: April 15, 2021

© Copyright 2022 agarthan. All rights reserved.

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