Once the sun was low we camped, folks sitting with new-found friends around tiny campfires. Already a rock had been chosen for a resting place. new guards had been chosen for the night’s watch.
I wandered amongst the fires. Those I used to eat with had been of a different camp. One that had been destroyed a few days ago. Now, I found myself gravitating towards the fire where fellow guards of my tribe sat. They were shuffling to make space for me as I approached. Yet before I could reach them, I saw H-‘s fire beyond. He was watching me. at his side sat a red one, but not the red one.
I gave in to the tug of the string within. Waving good night to my friends, I walked on to H-‘s fire. My fellow tribe warriors waved back, so obviously relieved that it stung.
I marched on, refusing to let it show. Be determined, be determined, Mara’s words repeated in me and I was quite determined when I reached H-‘s fire. So determined that he smiled in relief at the sight of me. It must have shown that I was ready to speak now.
A spot had been saved for me, so no one had to shuffle aside as I sat down.
“We are so glad you could make it,” H- said in his deep gravelly voice as I crossed my feet under me. I nodded, watching the fire. From the edge of my vision I saw those who were here. The red one was that tribe’s magician. Not seer. This one was jealous of our seer in unknown ways. Then there was one from H-‘s tribe. One who was neither woman or man, thin and willowy with its braids falling down with beads and stones over their shoulders. Their lips were tinged purple, the special tattoo accorded to them by their seer- who had long ago passed away.
It was this one who spoke first, introducing themselves while holding up a hand. “I am D-, glad to finally meet you.”
“Xira,” said the jealous magician, offering a hand that I did not even look at. It was far easier to watch the flames. The hand waited a moment, then withdrew sourly to rest on its owners knees.
“Can you tell us about the jug?” H- asked cautiously. I nodded, my own braids rattling softly on the back of my neck.
And I tried to speak. “Th-th, the jug, the jug,”
“It was a jug!” a sneering voice crowed from behind me. I startled, yelping as I spun my trident around. It whooshed through the air and sent me off balance as it struck nothing. Laughing, Ch- straightened from the duck she’d dodged my trident with. I regained my balance, scowling.
H- sighed loudly. “What are you doing here? I told you to stay away. We are trying to get her to talk.”
“Well I want to hear it too. They say she sounds like a crow and a frog all at once when she does make a sound, so how could I miss out on that?” Forcing her way between the special one and the magician, she sat into our circle. I flinched as the magician slid closer to me. Now I just wanted to be alone. I could go hungry – but the string inside pulled me along. What I knew needed to be said. I wrung my hands over the leather grip on the trident as the hated one tossed a nod my way. “So tell us. What about this fated jug?”
I wanted to tell them. So I stared into the fire. No words would come. I couldn’t even open my mouth.
“Here, perhaps we should all eat,” H- said gently, stirring the coals around the fire. Little nuggets of desert food were being baked there in all their dryness. The smell of it turned my stomach.
I would leave, I told myself as slow conversation began around me and the food was shared. What good was it to stay in the hated one’s presence?
Yet I stayed. The food was hot, burning my sensitive fingers as I tried to pry it apart. The conversation spiraled on around me, vapid and useless. Every few sentences hopeful hints were dropped in invitation for me to speak. After I had finished the last of the food I waited for the next pause. Having gathered my courage, I tried again.
“Jug,” I blurted as the special one had hardly finished contemplating the moon softly. Instant silence fell- enough to hear the hated one snigger. I gulped and wrung at my trident. “The jug- belonged to Mara-”
There was a snort of laughter- and a yelp as she was flung out from her shoulders by the special one. “Go on,” the purple lips said surely as the body shifted aside to keep that red one out of our circle.
This time I did not miss a beat. Like rhythm, the words were flowing now. They came as pictures to my mind, and I did my best to speak them.
The jug was a beautiful thing. Mara made it so. Mara made it so it held her wisdom, and she served it to her guests. Mara- and the words ran out.
I stared into the fire.
The urge to speak had gone. My mind whirled on, remembering scenes of Mara laughing, serving bountiful food and leading prayers. But the meaning of the jug was no longer lost on me. It was her last gift. To me.
Around the fire, everyone was expecting more. But how could words describe all that I knew? It was simply not enough.
“What does the jug mean? Why is it with us now?” the one that was neither man or woman asked, leaning forward on their knees.
I shook my head. It was a gift, but gifts had many meanings. Spite, rudeness, a beg for forgiveness, Mara had given many gifts.
“Do you know?” H- asked. I shook my head again.
The jealous magician heaved a sigh. “I don’t think she does.”
“But she knows it’s a j-j-jug!” a voice called out from behind me. I whirled, and this time my trident struck true. In the stomach. I laughed, a stuttering giggle as the red one doubled over, gasping for air. She stumbled back, then straightened with a wince.
“Serves you right,” the special one called towards her. “Leave her alone. She’s done her best. That much can’t be said of you.”
Ch- hissed at all of us. her fang-like horns rose around her ears, the pointed fangs showed clear amongst her teeth. “She is a disgrace! She ought to have died by now, the weakest ought not to outlive the brave and the strong.”
“She’s as brave a fighter as you! She’s turned away the white cloud several times!” H- called, but already the red one was no longer listening. Her back spun to us and she marched away.
“Don’t listen to her,” D- said. “You are very powerful. As worthy as anyone to live.”
Xira huffed and adjusted her scarf around herself. “You are just odd. That is all.” But that did not sound like a good thing. Had she expected me to be some seer? Some person bearing extraordinary gifts? I was just a cripple of the mind. That did not give gifts, surely.
Rising, I turned shape into the golden orb we all called home of the skin, and flew away to rest. The next day would be grueling, though I did not yet know how much.