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The Storyteller hefted his pack higher on his back and kept walking up the mountain path. The skies had been crying now for days and it felt as if he hadn’t been dry for a week. But as his clear blue eyes took in the sky overhead, he knew that tonight the rains would finally stop. The clouds just had that look about them and tonight, he knew, he would see his beloved stars once again.
It had been a few years since he had visited this particular tribe, but it was time, once again, to see how they were doing. In the past several generations, so much had been lost. As much as he, himself was the son and grandson of a storyteller, the generations since the Blackout had survived on knowledge passed down. Not many had made it well past those days when the comforts they’d been used to taking for granted disappeared. Now, several generations later, much of what his grandmother had told him was nothing more than ancient myth. In their day to day scrabble for survival, many of those he encountered knew nothing of what had once been, back and back and back.
To them, the shell of what once transported people across the country was now used as shelter in the Villagetribes. Citytribes, which, if truth be told he tended to avoid, inhabited crumbling towers of steel and glass. But with those, they had a tendency to simply collapse without notice. The Storyteller shivered as he remembered watching several disintegrate before his eyes some years back. His great grandfather passed on a story of two other towers that had fallen and how that was the beginning of the End. The Storyteller had seen such things as planes, but to explain them to the people in the tribes was difficult. He’d tried, once, to liken them to huge birds, big enough to have people inside, but all that had done was scare them silly. It was easy to scare the gentle people he visited and that was not what the Storyteller wanted to do. He simply wanted them to remember. In an age where reading was a waste of time better spent gleaning food or hunting, most no longer could read and had little interest beyond their tribal boundaries. Oh, but they loved it when the Storyteller came and spun his stories of the world beyond. They just rarely, really, understood the specifics. Yet, if they learned the lesson beyond his stories, he was satisfied.
It was hard though. Even in this Hilltribe that he was drawing closer to, he knew that in the Hilltribe’s communal hut would be the remains of what was once a part of a computer: a flat screen monitor leaning against the wall of the hut. Before it would be berries, grains and an occasional skin offered to the putergod. He’d learned, in his many miles of travel, that this ‘god’ of the tribes was one of the few convoluted things to survive a hundred years of a thousand year step backward.
The Storyteller stopped at the top of a wooded hill and removed his heavy pack. Inside were all his worldly belongings, much of which were considered magical things. Fyn, although few called him by his real name, eased his aching body down beneath a mammoth tree to rest before the final trek down to the falls and the hilltribe known locally as the Taq. His long, grey beard, braided with bits of colored ribbon, beads and other treasures found or given on his journeys, acted now as a blanket, offering a scant bit of badly needed warmth. He looked forward to the tribefire that evening, knowing the dry wood in his pack would ensure that this night there would be a fire around which he would spin his tales. His firestarters, called bics, gleaned from odd places, would be a source of his ‘magic’ and he smiled remembering the faces of the younglings in the tribe of a few moons past. As he mused about the past, he rummaged in a side pocket and drew forth a bit of dried venison. Breaking off a small portion he let it rest in his mouth to soften. Being down to a mere three teeth, he had to let it get soft before he could manage to gum it into something he could swallow.
It was, in fact, that particular tribe, the Roits, that had prompted his journey north. He had heard from an old wise woman of the Roits that she believed that part of her family might now be with the Taq. Rare to find one who could yet read and write, he had spent many hours conversing with this woman. Indeed, he had so enjoyed his time with her that he had parted with one of his many treasures as a small measure of his thanks. While he knew he would miss his last pair of shears, or scissors, as she had called them, he knew that she would put them to good use, and that they would be protected by her very status as wise woman and not used as a weapon.
As they had parted ways, she had given him a letter to bring to her family should he find them. While doubtful that they would be able to read it, he could read it to them. He’d done this sort of thing in the past, but it was rare that they’d ever been delivered, for rumors were rarely facts and it was most unusual that he actually found those he’d been seeking. Thus he carried them about, always wondering what the writer’s had chosen to say within.
Fyn watched as a chipmunk edged closer to his pack, then sat back on his haunches, bright eyes watching his every move. He gently removed a piece of dried corn from another pocket and tossed a kernel in the chipmunk’s direction. Fyn watched as the chipmunk picked it up in his paws and shoved it into his mouth. Another kernel and yet another were aimed at the chipmunk who also shoved those into his cheeks before skittering off to dive into his hole at the base of the next tree over.
This time he was seeking a woman who was rumored to be with the Taq. She would be in her childyears, or in oldspeak, a womanchild in her mid teens. Her name, by way of being Thevri, was an unusual one, and the old wisewoman thought that she might well be a healer within the tribe. Maybe this time he would find the one he sought. But he doubted it. The wisewoman had thought that, just perhaps, Thevri might want to travel with him, and he allowed that it might be nice to have company on his journeys and one to train to take over his chosen task.
The Storyteller looked up and saw that the sky was, indeed, clearing.
Thevri looked up and smiled. The sky was, indeed, clearing as she had thought it might. She picked up the fish she had caught in the eddy below the falls and began the trek back to the Hilltribe’s gathering place. She rubbed her free hand along the side of her face. Her cheek was still sore from where the village elder had cuffed her that morning. She sighed. They just didn’t understand that there were more ways to do things than the sameways. But Dak, the tribal leader, insisted that sameways were the only ways. Thevri shuddered in revulsion. He had been watching her of late and she didn’t like the look in his eyes when he did.
She’d only been in this village for a little over two hands of moons. A year, she reminded herself. I must not forget. Just because things like counting and reading were supposedly not for the likes of her didn’t change the fact that she knew how to both read and write. Just as she knew how to use the plants in the forest, knew which would help healing and which would stop a cough. The only thing that she’d made that Dak had liked had been the honey drink from flaxseed and honey. It was supposed to break fevers and help soothe sore throats. And she knew that it must be used in tiny doses else one got the staggers. But Dak liked the staggers, only he called them nightvisions and said they told him wise things. Thevri shrugged. A headache was all it had given her if she’d had too much.
As she headed into the village, she saw a gathering of the tribe at the far end of the common. The tribe surrounded an old man with a long, long beard full of colored beads. He walked with the use of a gnarled old stick, but when he looked up she saw that he had eyes the blue of a summer sky. So his eyes were different too. Thevri thought of how her eyes looked when she peered into the water where it lay quiet in the stream. Her eyes, she’d been told by Dak, were the green of a new spring leaf. Not Dak’s though. His eyes were the same as everyone else’s—the brown of the dirt beneath the forest trees.
A ripple of excitement coursed through the tribe. A Storyteller! He disappeared into Dak’s hut. She didn’t expect him to come out until it was foodtime, and, she reminded herself, she’d best get these fish cleaned and given to Shell, Dak’s first woman, for tonight’s feast. Dak would hoard much of the elkmeat from his last kill, thus the fish would be an extra treat for the Storyteller.
Thevri tried hard to start the fire to cook the fish. But the wood was wet. She didn’t know why they didn’t build a shelter for the wood. It made clear sense to her, but Dak thought it a waste of time to build shelters for keeping wood dry. If the putergod wanted them to have easyfire then he wouldn’t make it rain so much. The first time Thevri had been cuffed was when she’d suggested that they keep the coals burning all the time. ‘Seasons of things!’ he’d yelled at her. She hadn’t understood. To her, fires were protected and always burning.
She’d searched for the driest wood she could find and used some tiny shavings she’d kept dry in her pack.
“Perhaps this might help?” She looked up and saw a blue object in the Storyteller’s hand. He removed a bit of wood from his pack and something she swore was actually paper! He moved his thumb over the blue magic and fire spurted out the end of it!
“Shhhhh.” He said with a smile. “Don’t tell!” He smiled at her and watched as the fire took hold. Thevri smiled back. She’d been so tired of raw fish. It was going to be a very good darkentime!
Thevri was curled into a ball at the far edge of the fire. The Storyteller was telling a story of times back and back and back. She liked the way he used things from the far distant past to tell his story. He was trying to let people know that some of the old ways were good, necessary even, to keep them going.
She’d watched beneath lidded eyes as the tribe had gathered and bowed down before their putergod. The Storyteller had barely nodded his head. It seemed to Thevri that he had only appeared to go along with the rite of downloading the putergod’s wishes. The tribe had been so excited when they found their putergod in a ruin of a housestead. So carefully they had carried it through the forest, little children each responsible for carrying the end of a ribbon coming from the back of the putergod’s body. It had been installed in Dak’s hut and only brought forth on ‘occasions.’ The Storyteller’s appearance was most certainly an occasion.
Thevri listened to the Storyteller’s story, but watched the younglings wide-eyed expressions as he talked of birds large enough to carry people and building huts just to hold books, let alone firewood. Most of the tribe used numbers only to indicate one, five or many. He used numbers--big numbers--and sounded as if he really knew what they meant! Oh, she so wished she had that magic.
He spoke of the oldways and how we needed them to reach our tomorrows. He told them of faraway places and called them by name. She sat up, suddenly, when she heard him mention a place called Roit. She knew that place! Her grandmother’s mother was from there! Here, all the women shared the younglings. All of the village women were mothers to all of the children and there was no sense of family, just of the tribe as a whole. She missed the sense of family she’d grown up with before her parents had gone to alwayssleep. She hoped she might get a chance to talk to the Storyteller of Roit.
The Storyteller’s voice went on and on, the deep sound of it lulling her almost to the dreamplace when Dak came running out of his hut. One look at him told her that he’d been drinking her honey medicine again. He staggered when he moved and he was talking in gibberish. His eyes were slack looking and he was alternately yelling, crying and laughing.
“I have had a vision! The putergods say that the Thevriwoman is to be my mate. Together our magics will save our tribe.”
Shell looked at Thevri with anger in her eyes. Dak was staring at her. Thevri wished she had magic strong enough to disappear.
Then the Storyteller stood up and raised his gnarled stick to the sky. Bluefire spurted forth from the end of it and everyone hushed. Even Dak stood there silently, weaving back and forth.
“Thevriwoman. Stand forth!” commanded the Storyteller. Thevri uncurled herself and stood with her head bowed. “You are the one called Thevri?” asked the Storyteller.
“Yes, I be she that is called that.”
“She cannot be your mate.” He told Dak. “This is the woman for whom I have been searching. She is meant for other than this place. “ He pulled a paper from his pack and held it up. “Can any of you read?” he asked. No one moved, and at that moment, Thevri was not about to admit that she could.
He unfolded the paper and read.
“The woman known as Thevri is one of the chosen. She is to travel to the heart of the lakes and meet there with the wisest of the old ones. No one may stop her from this quest, else terrible happenings cry down on the tribe. She must travel to the heart with only what she can carry. They await her coming.”
Dak looked at the paper and then tossed it away. “She, the Thevriwoman, is to be mine! The putergods have told me this!”
“No Dak. I am sure you must have misunderstood their message. You know how the putergods can speak in twisted ways. Usually, I know you can understand what they tell you, but in this case, the paper says it all. You know the power of words on paper, do you not?”
Dak nodded, defeated. Then he turned around and slid to the ground. He retched once, emptying from his stomach all the honeyed drink he had consumed. Thevri knew by the amount that he would wander the dreamland until well after the sun rose in the lighteningtime.
“Come child. Put in your pack that which is important to you. I will put you on the path to the heartland.”
The tribespeople stood silent, confused. Thevri bent over and retrieved the piece of paper that Dak had tossed away. She went to her sleeping space and put the few things she had in her pack. Then, with the fire dying behind them, she followed the Storyteller along the path past the waterfalls and then up into the forest.
They walked in silence listening to the forest music. The full moon above shared her light with them and they were able to travel swiftly. After several hours of walking, the Storyteller pointed to a cave set into the mountainside.
“Here we shall rest for the night. Within the arms of the cavern we may have safe fire and you shall rest.” As he built a small fire, again using his blue firetool, Thevri sleepily asked him if she could read the paper. He handed it to her and she read.
My dearest granddaughter,
Should this find you, know I am well. Know that I have high hopes
that in your travels you will see wondrous things and learn new ways.
Listen to the words of the Storyteller. He has great wisdom and shall guide your path. You are ever in my heart, dearest Thevri.
Thevri looked up at the Storyteller who was smiling at her. “This doesn’t say what you read to the tribe.”
“No, it doesn’t. But then, they don’t know that, and Dak will not…well, Dak won’t get his way. Do you mind that, Thevri?”
She smiled at the Storyteller in the firelight. “No. You are most clever, I think. And I thank you for that. So where is it, really, that we travel to?”
“It is my hope that you shall journey the paths of the forest with me, sharing the stories of our world. I cannot tread the paths forever and someone needs to walk in my footsteps, to become the new Storyteller. Will you join me, child, and become the Storyteller of Tomorrow?”
Her eyes lit up.
“Were there really birds big enough to carry people?”