She dipped her fingertip into the mud and painted a circle on her forehead representing the eternal hope.
Fires burned in the bellies of small stone statues forming a circle within the Kiva. An orange glow warmed the chamber to the center of the gathering. In the back of the crowded cave, Awena sat against the wall resting her arm across her stomach. The baby kicked. Soon, her life with Cedrick would change. What kind of world would their child find? Cedrick's talk of fulfilled prophecies and the cycle of death scared her.
Steady beats of a drum echoed within the chamber. Cedrick stepped to the center of the circle. He sat upon the teaching stone and the drumming stopped.
"Ojal pulled her poncho tighter and steadied her steps with the twisted staff," Cedrick started. He glanced at the intense faces, young and old. "The chilled mountain breeze tugged wisps of steel gray hair free from thick braids draped over her shoulders. She stopped, leaning against the sheer rock wall. Cold seeped through the thick, hand-painted animal skin, but it felt good; this trek was almost more than her old bones could endure. She flexed her foot and secretly cursed the malformation."
A nearby group of girls huddled and whispered. "She was the last of the Augurs," the oldest said.
"There will be another," the girl beside her piped up, "chosen from among the Windwalkers."
Trinak, Awena's aunt, leaned forward and tapped the girl. "Hush!" She settled back into the shadows. "Listen and learn."
Cedrick cast a glance in their direction and smiled at Awena. His dark hair gleamed in the firelight as he turned his attention to the other side of the room. "The joints in Ojal's fingers burned," he said, "her age-spotted hand clutched the staff that served more as a cane than an amulet."
A murmur spread through the crowd.
Cedrick stood. "The time for discussion follows the telling." The missing Augur's staff remained a popular debate throughout the land. Each head bowed in respect awaiting their Potent's permission to look up. The Potent glanced at his Jonnick guests. The Jonnick healer shouldered a hump on the left side of his back, yet bowed out of respect. His brother Philander also honored Stygian ways. If only all Jonnick behaved like them. Cedrick walked the circle and touched the head of each man. They glanced up at their Potent and in turn touched the heads of their women and children. One by one, heads rose.
Philander's blind eye glowed in the firelight as he looked up into the Stygian leader's face. Cedrik paused with his hand on the Philander's thinning white hair. Time would reveal if he was the one. He stepped backward to the teaching stone without turning his back on his listeners and took his place.
"Rivulets of melting snow trickled in zigzag patterns, diverted by the spiny-leafed shrubs that grew at that altitude," he continued. "A cluster of delicate yellow flowers with white centers sprung from the rock wall and caught her attention. What do we call these flowers today?"
"Ojal's Hint," the people answered in unison.
Cedrick smiled and nodded. "Ojal's gnarled fingers reached toward the delicate petals while she inhaled the light scent. It took her mind off her discomfort and released her to think of Kynan. The young Potent led the tribe well. She loved him as a son."
One among the group of girls stood.
Cedrick tipped his head in the girl's direction as he got to his feet. "You have a question, Guese?"
"Yes, Potent. Did Augur Ojal have to take her mind off herself to walk on the wind?"
Guese fiddled with the end of the long dark braid draped over her shoulder.
Cedrick sat again and waited for the girl to approach and take her place at his feet. "Augurs travel upon the physical plane with much discomfort. Born of a Windwalker, a true Augur is marked by a bumble foot. Throughout the ages, people debate why Ojal didn't wear the body of one of her metots. We don't know the answer. It's not part of the telling. Some say that if she took the form of a bird, an archer might have shot her through, and she'd be no more." Cedrick smiled at the girl. "What we hear in the telling is what we need to know. Ojal's trek to the site where she could see Kynan was most difficult. Remember, an Augur, while in human form, must see the person she plans to visit or have an invitation to join them.
"Guese, take your seat." He glanced around the crowded cavern. "Please withhold anymore questions until the time of the telling is complete."
Awena shifted her weight, and folded her hands across her stomach.
Cedrick perched one hip against the teaching stone at the center of the Kiva. "Ojal leaned against the mountain pointing her staff toward Kynan in the distance. Sunlight glistened on the three small stones on the pendant hanging against her chest. Each stone marked a symbol. The characters etched in the silver outlined steps that opened her eyes to know the future. As the wind carries sparks from a fire, Ojal's gift carried her to the cliff jutting precariously toward the sea. A stiff sea breeze clawed at the hide draped across her shoulders. She stepped beside the young Potent, resting her hand on his shoulder.
"'Kynan, the ships of which I foretold will be here soon,' she said.
"He nodded and turned toward the old woman. His dark eyes studied her. 'We've expected them for decades. You told my father's father of this visit . . . this merging. It is the time of the thaw.' His attention drifted to the rolling waves of the sea below. 'This may be the year.'
"She ambled closer to the edge of the overhang and leaned on her staff."
Within the Kiva, Guese bent toward her companion mumbling about the unknown whereabouts of the staff.
Cedrick sat straight glancing in her direction.
"Forgive me, Potent." She tucked her chin to her chest. The girl's father reached out and placed his palm on her head. When she looked up, he placed his finger to his lips. She bit her bottom lip and nodded.
Cedrick continued. "Ojal said, 'It is different this year, Kynan. I'm not here to tell you it may happen, or that it will take place in the month of the thaw twenty-four moons from now. The time is now. Four moons ago I saw them in a vision. Men, women and children filled four great ships. Hunger and disease chased the Jonnick from their homeland but a lingering menace travels with them. Be cautious of the magic of the Mage, yet show them hospitality, for the skies and seas have dealt a harsh journey.'
"Kynan had heard this familiar telling from childhood. 'They don't sound dangerous,' he said, 'but in need of help. The land can support them as well as us. It would be wrong to turn them away.'"
Cedrick watched the humpback Healer and his half-blind brother from his peripheral vision. They nodded with the others.
"'Yes, it would be wrong,' Ojal said. She propped her weight on the sturdy staff. 'The difficult path.' She smiled. 'They search for new beginnings.' Her dark eyes searched the horizon where the blue sea melded with the sky in an indiscernible line. 'They arrive on these shores soon.'
"Ojal pointed toward the crashing waves at the base of the mountain. Dark sandy shores lined with boulders stretched to the right for as far as they could see. 'The land' she said, 'will sustain them in spite of their ways.' Visions of stockade walls flashed through her head. In her mind, noisy crowds spilled onto the tiny outcropping where she now stood with Kynan, but in another time; a future time. The unsettling faces of the future scared her. She massaged her temple. 'Their alien customs shall change the land. In their tongue, they call the land Ranaan.'
"'Ranaan.' The foreign word rolled awkwardly from his tongue. Kynan stepped directly beside her. 'They've named the land,' he repeated flatly, 'as if they own it.' He shook his head. 'So, they do not understand the relationship?'
"With the tip of her staff firmly planted, she turned to look at him. 'Correct. They do not understand,' she said. 'The Jonnick clan will stake claims.'
"Kynan stood straight. 'Don't lose hope. I will teach them to live in harmony with the land. They can migrate with our clan or join another. They will--'
"Ojal raised her palm to interrupt him. 'You will be a good teacher.' She nodded and stared at the sea. 'Do your part, Kynan. Teach them to let go of the hatred; have faith that the joining brings unity. You have been prepared for this day.'
"Kynan adjusted his poncho. 'Ojal.' He cocked his head slightly. 'Does this mean that you will make the journey to meet your forefathers?'
"She nodded and tucked a loose strand of gray hair behind her ear. 'I travel to a place of rest until the Cycle of Death. At that time I'll return to the land, called to guide, while another takes my place.' Tears brimmed along her lower lashes and quietly followed the creases of her wrinkled cheek. 'Trouble, Kynan. Trouble before the joining.' She swallowed hard. 'And a time of silence.'
"'But that's not in my lifetime, Ojal.' Kynan shrugged one shoulder. 'I can only teach them our ways. I'll welcome them and offer the new beginning they seek. The land will provide. I cannot be responsible for choices others make.'
"'You are right,' Ojal said. 'During your lifetime Jonnick and Stygian shall live in harmony, working together. However, Stygian life in the land shall wax worse and worse until the time of silence.' A smile lifted the folds of time on her face. 'Do your part, Kynan. Write down what you've been taught. For it is from your loins the Arich shall come, and one day rid the land of the division about to be forged. The eye will guide the ones who want to see.'"
Cedrick glanced at the two Jonnick seated among his clan. Philander's blinded eye shined like a silver orb in the firelight.
"Warmth from Ojal's palm rested on Kynan's shoulder," Cedrick reached out and plucked a twig from the fire in the closest statue, "her touch grew hotter, burning his skin." He waved the burning stick through the air. The red ember streaked through the darkness until he pressed the glowing tip against the rock floor crushing it to ash.
"Kynan pulled away and rubbed his shoulder. Sometimes Ojal's powers unnerved him, but he didn't tell her so. Roaring waves slammed the base of the mountain drawing his attention to the sea and out to the horizon.
"'What does that mean?' he asked. 'The eye?' He turned, didn't see her, and twisted in the opposite direction. 'When will that . . . be?' He threw his hands in the air. She'd disappeared again. He massaged the sting of her touch."
The crowd within the Kiva laid one arm atop the other in front of their chests slapping their forearms in applause. Philander glanced at the Healer and leaned close enough to whisper something in his ear.
Cedrick stood, lifted his water skin and shot a stream of water into his mouth. "Add fuel to the fires, for within tonight's telling a new revelation shall unfold."
Muted sounds of excitement mingled with the stirring of bodies settling down to hear more. He smiled and resumed his seat.
"Back on the mountain trail, Ojal leaned forward and inhaled the light floral scent of the yellow blossoms. The aroma caressed her troubled soul. She turned to see Kynan in the distance standing on the cliff. The wind lifted his dark hair away from his face like the mane of a stampeding stallion. He watched for the ships. In time, he would see the mark of the eye and understand his place in history. The birth of fulfillment of the words of the ancients had come to pass and the seed of his loins would save the Stygian race from extinction. This Arich would bear the same mark.
"Water dripped from the scraggy branch of a shrub growing from the side of the mountain and formed a pool near her foot. She mixed the light brown dirt with the toe of her deformed foot. In her visions she walked without a limp, could even run, jump and fly. Would it be so while she awaited the joining? She dipped her fingertip into the mud and painted a circle on her forehead representing the eternal hope.
"A sigh whispered past her lips. She'd never bore a child, had missed the pleasure of a man's touch." Cedrick cast a glance in Awena's direction. "People flocked to Ojal as Augur but a deep-seeded loneliness served as her companion. She'd surrendered these pleasures for long life. All these years, people thought it didn't bother her and soon it wouldn't. She'd witnessed her end to this existence and that of many others. It arrived with the ships and the sickness stowed like cargo. No different than Kynan, she had choices to make.
"Using the tip of her mud-coated finger, she painted the line of life from the Spirit circle down the bridge of her nose. 'Life is the breath,' she said."
Cedrick stood. The crowd did the same, slapping their forearms furiously. "Tonight," Cedrick announced above the noise, "we have an honored guest to give forth a telling. A Teller with a tale never told within this clan." The applause died. People glanced at one another wide-eyed. Cedrick gestured with his arm for the one-eyed Jonnick to join him at the teaching rock.
Cedrick motioned for the people to sit. A handful of men hesitated, but sat one at a time when they saw they stood alone. "Most of you know this man," Cedrick said. "Philander of Chock comes from the clan that arrived on those ships. Tonight, he presents a telling of the Jonnick's arrival to the land. A telling Jonnick, today, ignore." Cedrick stepped to the side and pointed for Philander to sit upon the teaching stone.
He sat in the seat of honor, bowed his head to the Potent, and turned toward the crowd. In a gesture of humility, he looked down, honoring his brother and others while clutching a brown leather book to his chest. "Thank you, Potent, for this opportunity. My forefathers owe their lives to your ancestors. I have their stories here," he lifted the book to face them.
Murmurs and low-voiced chatting peppered the crowd. Cedrick's voice boomed within the Kiva. "I expect you to show our guest the same respect you offer me."
Conversations ended abruptly.
"He doesn't have to present a telling. If you prefer to remain ignorant, I will not require you to stay." One by one, the people lowered their heads. Cedrick walked the circle, touching each man's scalp. From oldest to youngest, the people sat united. Cedrick bowed toward Philander, walked to the back of the circle to touch Awena's head and that of her elderly aunt, Trinak. He crouched and took his seat beside his wife.