Methven - Day Thirteen - Part Five
Takati buried his face in his brother's chest, sobbing in great, heaving gulps. There was a long moment of silence as Katakari stroked his twin's heaving shoulders while tears streamed down his own face. Then he slowly turned his devastated sibling to face the magnificent double doors at the far end of the hall.
Other than the sound of Katakari whispering reassuringly to his brother, the room was utterly silent as, with Katakari supporting Takati, they made their way down the aisle and into exile. Even after the great doors boomed closed behind them, the silence remained until Akavasi thumped her staff of office on the stage.
"The time of judgement is done! Now, let us gather 'round and sing the stories of our people and our Clan. The Mothers have spoken!"
As if her words granted permission, the silence suddenly lifted and the gathering hall filled with chatter.
"That's it? A kid is convicted of saving his brother's life, so they kick them both out of their home..and now we're all supposed to join hands and sing 'Kumbaya'?"
"Yah, dude--that's, like, totally harsh."
Læ shook her head.
"Look, kiddo, those kids committed what these folks regard as a mortal sin--a couple of mortal sins, in fact. The Moms could have sent them into exile separately. Or forced them to go South, which would be as close to handing down a death sentence as the Vomisa get. Instead, Akavasi let 'em go into exile together and she let 'em go West."
"What Bruno is attempting to convey to you, Mr. Wilde, is that, due to the compassion Akavasi displayed in setting the terms of their exile, those young men will very likely survive the experience..and that the Mothers were under no obligation to be so accomodating."
"I don't understand."
"Were they to have been sent into exile separately, Takati, at least, would not have survived..and his brother's prospects would not have been a great deal brighter. Cut off both from their people and from each other, those young men would very likely have died from what you would call broken hearts. Together, however, they stand an excellent chance of survival. You cannot have failed to notice the closeness of their relationship--it is that which will sustain them."
"And, since the Moms let 'em go West, they'll eventually find a place to stay--in Dolby, with the Fallin, or maybe down in Loado with the Crylin. If they'd've been sent South, they'd've been S'lynth food inside of a ten-day."
"Think of a two-meter-tall, bipedal feline with opposable thumbs and a strong sense of territory."
"And that's what's to the South?"
"Big as life and twice as hungry."
While this conversation was going on, the Mothers had descended from the stage above the doorway into the refectory to occupy one side of the first row of benches, immediately in front of our seats. They were joined by a swarm of children, who took up the remaining front row space and covered the floor with squirming, cross-legged bodies, as well.
Without ceremony, a middle-aged Vomisa male stood up and began to sing--in the Trader's Tongue--a cheerful ditty about a a time of war when "the blue men"--whoever they were-- "covered the plains in their numbers" and challenged the Vomisa for control of their mountains. "Our Ally, Winter, fell on them" and, by the time it was through with them, "their corpses clogged the streams and the tachts gorged upon their meat."
Charming image, that. Naturally, it got a big hand from the hometown crowd.
Given enough time, I suppose I could eventually grow to tolerate the harsh growls and barks the Vomisa call "singing". Say, two or three hundred years, just to be safe. However, being able to understand what their song-stories were actually about went a long way toward making the experience bearable.
Well, almost bearable.
Læ was next to sing. She yelped and snarled her way through what could only be an authentic Vomisa lyric--albeit delivered in the Trader's Tongue--about a time when Clanhomes contended with each other for control of their mountain land..and how the Mothers took command and ended the war by exchanging the children of each Clanhome as hostages.
Her performance was met with a general murmur of approval and an enthusiastic ovation. I could tell she'd made big points with the audience and even Akavasi deigned to incline her head approvingly.
A naked young girl sang next. Her childish soprano softened the harsh Vomisa music, but her song spoke of the most brutal winter in memory--one so vicious that only two children--a girl named Itakani and a boy named Mahatna--survived the Ordeal to reach Khasim Clanhome. I had to wonder if the boy in her song and the wizened Scoutmaster I'd met that morning were the same person.
"Is that the same Mahatna..?"
"Yes, Mr. Wilde, it is. And the girl, Itakani, was Grandmother before Akavasi."
Bruno sang "Danny Boy" again--this time in the Trader's Tongue. The lyric lost a bit in translation, but his haunting tenor still sent a chill up my spine and the crowd ate it up with a spoon.
Akavasi herself followed Bruno. She sang of a time of great tragedy, when the Home of the Takhnim clan burned to the ground in the dead of Winter--and of how its inhabitants were forced to scatter, trekking across the mountains, to seek shelter in other Clanhomes. The song didn't say so, but I gathered from context that the Takhnim's misfortune was the genesis of the tradition of the Vomisa Ordeal.
It was Læ's turn to incline her head in acknowledgment of Akavasi's mastery of Vomisa history. The spectators hooted and slapped their palms against the benches in appreciation.
Carleton stood and delivered a bad, bad rendition of "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown", stumbling as he gracelessly translated the lyrics into the Trader's Tongue. His effort was rewarded with a bare smattering of unenthusiastic applause.
Atanami, the Mother we'd met on our arrival the previous night, treated us to a refrain about a Vomisa patrol that had been ambushed by a party of bandits from the lowlands--and how the lone survivor of the Vomisa had tracked down and killed each of the bandits with his bare hands. She stared at our group of auslanders the whole time and practically invited the assembled Vomisa to cast us in the role of the bandits.
I was glad to see that Atanami got only a polite reaction from the crowd--barely more of a response than Carleton's essay, in fact.
So, not everyone thinks we're the bad guys.
Then Tong and Blandy stood up together and launched into a rap song about our adventures so far--an improved version of the one Tong had sung days ago around the fire with Natasi's Rangers. Their voices bobed and weaved around each other like prizefighters seeking an opening for a knockout punch, alternating counterpoint and unison as they built to a collective shout.
"So we wuz illin' an' chillin'
Some of the Vomisa reacted with wild applause. Some reacted with bitter outrage. Others seemed stunned or thoughtful, while still others looked to the mostly stone-faced Mothers for clues on how they should respond. It was Baccarat crystal-clear that they'd never heard anything like it before--and that Tong and Blandy had managed to turn their cultural assumptions about music completely upside-down.
The hub-bub took several minutes to die down. It wasn't until another of the younger Mothers was well into a song about the founding of Khasim Clanhome that the buzz of conversation faded away.
While the assembly gave the tale their polite attention, I got what I thought was a bright idea. I leaned over and whispered it in Pith's ear and he nodded his assent almost immediately.
After the audience clapped polite approval of the Mother's story, I stood up and began singing.
"Row, row, row your boat
Pith stood and began the round from the top as I swung into the "merrily, merrily, merrily" bit. Then Blandy joined me on the second go-round and Tong chimed in with Pith.
What the hell. I started waving my arms and urging the Vomisa around us to sing along.
And they did. Hesitantly, at first, then with greater and greater confidence until the entire hall--easily more than a thousand voices--was caught up in that silly children's song.
We kept it up for a long time--certainly more than five minutes, perhaps as long as ten. By the time the last echoes of "life is but a dream" faded away, the whole place was on its feet and even the Mothers' eyes were glowing. After the song ended, there was a moment of silence as we all just looked at one another and then the multitude burst into a spontaneous cheer that went on for another goodly while.
Bill said something to me that I couldn't make out. I pointed to my ears and shook my head. He leaned close, cupped his hands and shouted directly in my ear.
"I said, 'So much for the Prime Directive'!"
. . .
The story-songs went on for quite a while longer. Bill got his turn and did a quite-acceptable rendition of "Sixteen Tons", but, after that, it was all Vomisa music all the time and my endurance flagged as the parade of performers lengthened. Long before the line-up of singers was exhausted, I found myself nodding off where I sat.
Læ laughed when I asked for permission to pack it in.
"By all means, Mr. Wilde. You certainly need your beauty sleep."
Gratefully, I sidled out of our bench and threaded my way through the thinning ranks of sleepy children between me and the dining hall doors.
Pith, followed me out of the gathering hall, pulling yet another joint from behind his ear.
I shook my head.
"Whatever floats your boat."
. . .
I managed to get pretty thoroughly lost on the way back to my cell. Twice I found myself back in the refectory, but I persisted and eventually discovered the Northwest Passage to my bed.
It was occupied by the young woman, Itakami, who'd led me from the Pools of Pleasure to breakfast in the mess hall.
"Now we will mate!"
I shook my head.
"Now I must sleep."
She pouted sexily.
"But, Mr. Drew, you promised! Do you not remember? You said we would mate all night!"
"I did, didn't I?"
Sometimes you just have to cooperate with the inevitable. So I did.
. . .
Despite my exhaustion and the aftermath of my romp in the hay with Itakami, I woke up a couple of hours ago and couldn't get back to sleep. So, rather than simply lie here and stare at the ceiling, I fired up a lamp and began catching up on this journal.
My internal clock tells me that it will be light, soon. I think I'll turn back in and see if I can put in another hour or two of shuteye before dawn comes along.
Something tells me that Itakami is an early riser.
And I know what she's going to want for breakfast.
(Copyright© 1997, 1998 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)