A picture, indeed, is worth many words.
|First Place in the February 2016 "Journey Through Genres: Official Contest"
Craija sat small, huddled into a crook in the rocky wall of the cavern near the homespace. This was forbidden territory. No female was worthy of entering the dominion of the male warriors, the home of the ancient spirts who protected their tribe or the place where the gods communed with the tribal leaders. Chewing her lip, she knew she should leave but she was so close and she wanted to see for herself where the stories kissed the hard granite and stayed for all time such that the leaders always remembered the once-was.
She wanted to watch as Ganth carved the pictures with his magic rock, telling the tales of the bravest warriors. Ganth was, to her mind, far more important than a mere hunter for he would let the other tribes and gods know that they had been and that their clan had triumphed. He was putting down the pictures that told of the great hunt, of how her elder brother, Nyleh, killed the giant beast thus ensuring her clan would live through the cold times ahead.
Ganth was spans of moons older than Craija, having passed his rites, killed his first kill and survived the time ‘away’ – alone in the forest of the high hill. She, now newly rejoining her tribe after her first moon-spell in the women’s cave, was eligible to be married, having achieved her woman’s ways. She wanted none other than Ganth, would have no other. If he would only see her. Know her for the woman she now was. But for some reason she was naught but his little shadow, good for a moment of distraction.
When Ganth finished his work for the day and strode out of the cave, Craija stole closer to the far wall. She crept silently and traced her fingers over the pictures that told her brother’s story. She was proud of him, yet she, too, knew how to track the wild ones, how to fit the stone to leather thong and bring down the running hare or the spiraling hawk. None but her knew, of course, for it was a forbidden thing, but she’d watched and she’d learned. She’d wondered how she knew and learned for often she was berated for being a stupid woman, a sun-dazzled ninny, a chipmunk of the people, running here and there doing all else save her gathering of wood or tending of the young ones. But she knew inside that she could do what the men did, that she too could draw the pictures on the wall for hadn’t she drawn them herself in the sand at water’s edge?
Retreating from the cave else one of her brother’s friends come in, she walked down by the water’s edge just beyond the farthest hut in their homeplace, and stared at herself in the calm of a silent pool. Seeing Ganth’s face in the water, she turned, smiling at him.
“You were watching me,” he said with a stern look on his face.
“I always watch you,” she responded shyly.
“Because I see you. I see what you do. You are the one I see.”
“Because you have magic that the others do not, yet it is a magic we share. I give to you that piece of me.”
“What do you mean that we share. Show me.”
Scared now, she squatted down to the soft wet mud at the edge of the river, picked up a twig and drew the sun and a figure of each of them standing together.
“I can show you a journey,” she said continuing to draw. She showed foot prints crossing a hill with three crescent moons above it. “I can show you leaf fall,” she continued, drawing bare bones of a tree. “Or summer when the tree is full,” and demonstrated this too.
“This is strong magic, but it is not women’s magic.”
“Why cannot this be so? Why would the gods show me this if it is wrong?”
“I do not know this,” he answered. “Can you show me other things?”
She smoothed the mud with her palm and drew him a storm, many hunters returning with meat. She showed him a flower and the big horned bison. She showed him a woman full with child. Then, braver now, she smoothed the mud once more and drew him. She showed his long brown hair resting in curls on his broad shoulders, his smile when he was happy after a good day.
Ganth looked from the drawing into the still water reflecting his face. “You draw me,” he said, a tone of wonder in his words.
“I see you,” she said simply.
“I must think on these things,” he said turning away. “Tell no one of these unseemly things,” he said over his should as he walked away.
Her shoulders slumped as she, after one last moment, smoothed the mud again. She flung the twig into the water causing ripples to mar the surface and then went to gather wood for the fire.
Days passed and she talked no more with Ganth. She looked for him and watched for him. She did not go into the cave, but kept herself busy doing all the woman’s things she was expected to do.
One early morning as she wandered by her favorite place near the water, she saw marks in the nearly dry mud. She saw a crude sketching of a man with curly hair walking towards a flat-topped mountain. She saw a full moon and some stars. She knew he was telling her he was going to do an away, to have a time at the place of visions. Craija was not sure if this was a good thing or not, but knew she would have to await his return to find out.
Later that evening, she heard the village elders speaking about Ganth and how he had permission to go to the place of visions and how he had to find some answers. They sounded unsure, she thought, but she did not know just why Ganth had left. Did it have something to do with her drawing the pictures? Did the fact he left a message meant clearly for her mean a good thing or … Craija shook her head. She did not know.
A few suns later, Taraq, another of the young men in the homeplace brought her some meat. She shook her head when he tried to give it to her. She did not want meat from him. She only wanted a gift from Ganth. She uttered a sound of dismay and ran into the forest.
When she returned later, Taraq had left the meat for her on a flat rock near her sleeping space. She was hungry, but not hungry enough to eat what he’d left her. She didn’t know what to do. She wished Ganth was not away. Picking up the rock with the meat on it, she walked across the camp and left it outside the men’s hut.
She watched at night for the moon to grow fat. It was as broad as the belly of the spring fish when she saw Ganth return to the homeplace. Craija wanted to run to him, but she knew she could not. She had to wait for him to come to her. She watched as he entered into the fur-covered hut of the tribal elder. She knew he would be in there a long time, for the elder did nothing in a quick manner. She also saw Taraq enter.
Just before it was time for the mid-day meal, one of the women came and told her that the village elder wanted to see her. She walked to the biggest hut in the homeplace and waited to be told to enter. Inside, her tribal chief was seated by the fire. His two favored warriors were seated on either side of him and both Ganth and Taraq were there as well.
“Craija,” spoke the elder, “you know that Ganth has traveled to the place of visions. You know that Taraq has offered you meat. You must choose between them.”
Looking to Ganth, from beneath lowered eyelids, trying to read his face, Craija wasn’t sure what to say. Did Ganth want her? Did he see her?
“Craija, which do you choose?”
Taking a deep breath, and daring to look Ganth full in the face, she answered, “I choose Ganth. I see Ganth.”
Taraq rose angrily to his feet and ran out of the hut. Craija looked to the elder, not daring to so much as breathe.
The elder stood and asked Ganth, “Do you see Craija? Do you, in turn, choose her to be your mate?””
Ganth stood now and coming over to Craija answered solemnly, “I choose Craija. I see her as no one else before has seen her.”
“Then you two will be life-mated tonight when the moon rises. Will you now share with us what you saw in your vision?”
Ganth took Craija’s hand. “I saw pictures in the cave that were drawn by more than one hand. I saw Craija with these,” he said, spreading his hands and showing the elder the calloused fingers that were his badge of his work. “I asked the gods why it was that only a man can tell the stories. I asked the gods why Craija cannot tell them as well. She has eyes that see true and she has the gift even as I have this gift.”
“What did they answer you?”
“In my vision, I saw the two of us together. You know that our village is getting bigger. We have talked about having more than one village, about having one closer to the big waters. What if Craija could teach others? We could then have a way to carry our words to others, let them see and understand. We could have a way to let those who begin the new place to not feel so apart from those left behind. This is a true thing. This is a good thing. The gods have shown me this.”
“Craija, show us.”
Using her finger in the sandy floor of the hut, Craija drew a figure of herself and one of Ganth together. Their hands were touching. She drew another of footprints leading from their camp to the water, of a great many figures meeting. She showed more men eating meat together.
“We can leave more than just our pictures, our story on the walls of the great cave. We can … can be connected. There and here,” she said hesitantly.
“This is a true thing. Ganth, Craija, I see you both. I see you as one. Go now and prepare.”
That evening, in front of the village, Ganth and Craija spoke the words of joining. Then, taking her hand, Ganth led her to the new hut that he and his friends had that day built for them. Standing inside, in the light of the newly kindled fire, they stood and once more spoke the words of Joining before Ganth took her in his arms.
“I see you,” he said.
“I see you,” she responded happily. “Let us share meat together.”
“First, I have a gift for you that I found at the place of visions.” He handed her a large leaf rolled up and a stick of charred wood. Unrolling it, she saw it was covered in his drawings. Of his leaving. Of the two of them and the big waters. It showed them before a hut and her with her belly full of life to come.
She looked at him and her face was a smile. Placing a hand on either side of his face, she said, “Ganth, I will always see you for you are all that I want to see.”
Together, they sank down on the pile of furs near the fire. Neither of them was thinking of drawing for a long, long while.