Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Storyteller

No time for a "real" post today, as I'm scrambling to pull together and submit my grad school application. {s}

But I thought I'd give you a story instead. This one was posted previously on the Writers Forum, and came to me whole in one sitting. Hopefully it's not too long for this format!

The Storyteller
Copyright Susan Adrian, 2005, All Rights Reserved

Beaver Tooth stepped carefully across the boundary of the village. Not too silent, as if he stalked a deer, nor too brash, like jumping the buffalo. He must let the scouts know he was here without seeming to attack.

It was late, far too late for uninivited visitors. Moon had already risen, throwing her pale light across the land to help him find his way. But he was cold, and hungry—no deer, rabbit, or even mouse had been willing to sacrifice its warm body to feed him these four days—and far from home. He hoped the stories were true, and this Chief a welcoming man.

A twig snapped to his right, hidden in the trees.

Beaver Tooth sighed in relief. They knew he was here, and did not threaten him. A runner would already be in the village. The Chief would already know of him.

He strode more easily now, the smooth, packed dirt of the village path a pleasant change from the rocks that had been prodding the thin soles of his moccasins. Too thin, after this long trip. When he returned, one of the women would have to replace them.

His nostrils flared with the twin scents of smoke and roasting meat, and his belly rumbled. There…yes, there was the orange flicker of a fire. The outer ring of tipis loomed before him and he stopped, hesitant. Would they not come to greet him?

After a few moments he heard the rattle of many seeds, in time with strong footsteps. The Chief, a tall, hawk-like man, walked slowly, alone, to Beaver Tooth. He wore a ceremonial welcome robe, the bright colors dulled by night, though his hair was not braided.

Beaver Tooth waited. It was not his place to speak.

The Chief stopped before him. “You seek shelter as a guest, and one of the People?”

Beaver Tooth bowed his head in assent.

“Welcome, then. You may share my fire, my meat, and the words of my Storyteller.” He smiled, and clapped both hands on Beaver Tooth’s shoulders. “We were just beginning a tale.”

They made their way through the tipis, past family fires and many eyes. Beaver Tooth was surprised he did not feel scalded by so many thoughts directed at him, but they seemed friendly, these people. It was a large village, and even their silence was confident.

The Chief led him to the central fire. There, ranged comfortably in a ring and wrapped in blankets, was the Chief’s family: three warriors, wives beside them, one with a small child at her breast. Other children sat here and there, some already drowsing. A few young girls giggled at the sight of him. One woman stood and nodded.

Beaver Tooth’s heart thudded at the sight of her.

She was clearly the Chief’s wife, her aura of power as strong or stronger than his. She wore a red-dyed deerskin dress, the skin rubbed to a supple softness he longed to touch. A fine, blue necklace hung about her throat, moving as she swallowed.

But her eyes, and her hair. Both the deepest of blacks, the dancing black of obsidian. Her hair hung loose and long, the shine purple in the firelight. Her eyes met his, full of laughter.

Beaver Tooth looked away, embarrassed that he could not hide his hunger for her. But she laughed and sat, as did the Chief. Beaver Tooth sat too, across the fire from the woman, and humbly took the bowl of roast meat and squash that was offered him. He ate slowly, as he knew he must to avoid the fasting sickness.

The Chief made a soft call for attention. “This is our guest. Tonight he will rest and eat, and share our fire. Tomorrow will be time enough to question him.”

He turned to the woman. “Storyteller, will you begin again?”

Beaver Tooth’s gaze jumped to her. Storyteller? No woman could be Storyteller; all knew that. It was like a woman being…Chief. How could a woman be trusted with the Stories?

She laughed again, black eyes seeing into his soul. She had known he would be surprised, and had waited for it.

He flushed and looked to his food, as a thought struck him. If she was Storyteller, perhaps she was not the Chief’s wife?

She took a sip of liquid from a bowl, and began.

“In the beginning, there was darkness in the Land.”

Her voice was low and rasped, as though Raven had scratched her throat. But it was right, somehow. Beaver Tooth accepted a second bowl of food and some honey-water, and settled in a blanket to listen, wary of a Story in a woman’s mouth.

“Then the Creator made Sun, and Moon. But they, like all brothers and sisters, could not agree. Who should light the Land first? When? For how long?”

She leaned closer to the fire, and shadows showed beneath her cheekbones.

“They fought and they battled. First Sun would leap into the sky, and the light would burst across the Land; then Moon would pull him down. Moon would jump up, and her whiter light would glow, showing us the stars. But Sun would knock his sister out of the way. Each wanted to be strongest. Sometimes they both tried to hold the sky at the same time. Sometimes they both hid in their anger, and the People and the Animals had no light at all. There was no night, and no day. Their crops would not grow, and they could not do their work.”

Now everyone leaned forward, Beaver Tooth too. The Storyteller’s hands moved as she told, making the magic of the Story.

“Soon the People and the Animals grew tired of this, and called a great meeting to decide what to do. Who should go and talk to Sun and Moon, and try to settle their differences?

But all, even the great warriors and stout bears, were afraid. Sun and Moon were great beings. Would they listen? Or would they cast the spokesmen into the Great Darkness?

Finally, two brave souls volunteered for the journey: a young girl, her child-name Otter, and a Fox.

Otter wanted the day so she could play in the river, her best joy. As it was, she would just begin to play, sliding and splashing, when Sun would go away and plunge her into darkness. Otter hated having to pick her way out of the river in the dark.

Fox wanted the night so he could hunt. As it was, he would just be ready to pounce on Goose…or Duck, or Mouse…when Sun would pop into the sky, alerting his prey and ruining his meal. Fox hated going hungry.”

The Storyteller paused to take another sip from her bowl, and smiled at all the eyes fixed on her.

“So they set off, Otter and Fox, on the long journey. They walked through woods and plains, over hills and through rivers. When they grew tired they rested, though often as not Sun would then be prancing, high and bright, so that they had to squeeze their eyes tight to sleep. When Moon was up they stumbled over roots and stones, but they kept on. And as they went, they made a plan.

As they traveled, they gathered food from each place. There was little enough, with the battle, but each type of land they traveled through offered its best. The woods gave berries, both tart and sweet. The rivers gave fresh fish and water-herbs. The bees in the plains gave honey. After a very long time—of course, none could know how many days, as there were no days—Otter and Fox reached the land where Sun and Moon dwell.

First, they hid their stock of food near Moon’s house. There Fox waited, while Otter went to visit Sun.

Sun lived in a beautiful roundhouse, shining with copper and gold. He accepted his visitor easily enough, as he liked to show his fine things, and his radiant self, to others. Sun was quite vain.

Otter approached him with care.

‘Yes, small one?’ Sun asked, in a high, pure voice. ‘Have you come to admire my beauty?’

She bowed her head, unable to bear his brightness. ‘Yes, Great Sun,’ she answered. ‘And to bring you a challenge from your sister, Moon.’

Sun growled. ‘She dares to challenge me again? She shall lose. What is the challenge?’

‘She asks for a race,’ said Otter. ‘Around the Earth, and back again. To begin now.’

‘Howooooo!’ Sun yelled a battle cry. ‘I will beat her!’ And he leaped into the sky, and began to race around the Earth.

At the same moment, Fox was visiting with Moon in her own roundhouse, lined with silver and gleaming blue stones.

‘I bring you a challenge from your brother, Sun,’ Fox said.

Moon narrowed her eyes. ‘What challenge?’

'A race around the Earth, and back,’ said Fox. ‘But first, I have brought you a feast, from all the lands beneath you. See, here is fish, and honey, and berries, and many sweet things to enjoy.’

And so Moon sat, for no woman can resist such a feast.”

The Storyteller paused as the laughter rippled around the fire, and raised her eyebrows to Beaver Tooth. He drew in his breath. If she were Sun or Moon, which would she be? Moon, he decided, for her dark beauty was like that creature: of the night, yet lighting it for others. She began again.

“And so Fox feasted Moon for full half a day. Then, when he saw that Sun was far enough, and darkness was falling, he told Moon the race had begun. And she, in turn, leaped into the sky and began to race.

So Fox and Otter came together, pleased with their efforts, and journeyed back to the Land. And still Sun and Moon are caught in that race, chasing around the Earth, but never catching the other. For they are two halves of the same whole, as are Man and Woman, and their speed is equal. And the People and the Animals have day, and night.”

She sat back, smiling, as the others praised the Story. Then, as the others stood and made their way to their tipis, she stretched out a hand to Beaver Tooth across the fire.

“Shall we go,” she said, in her Raven-voice, “and see who is Sun and who is Moon?”

And Beaver Tooth stood, and took her hand.

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