The Meet at Naskal
Spirits of Rock and Sky > The Servants' Path

"But…is it not our duty, given to us by the Provider, to use the Gift for all who request it?" asked Basir 1.

Five wakes had passed since the elder Initiate and Jentik acolyte had entered Basir, a small Enierd community. There were no Jentik in Basir. Tumnil 243 had been elated to become a Namekeeper, even for such a short time. The burly Chieftain of Basir had laughed and told the acolyte she was welcome to stay should she so desire. Basir 1 was clearly pleased with her new Common Name.

"The Susyan were ill mannered. They intended to raid Naskal during the Clan Meet," replied Lotun. "I saw no reason for gifts of the Provider to help them in their endeavor." The travelers had met a Susyan raiding party on the open rock. Lotun refused the warriors water and food once he learned of their destination. "The Seers tell us that we have responsibilities, friend Jentik," Lotun continued, pointedly. "We cannot provide for those who kill themselves in pointless fighting."

"You are lecturing, friend Lotun." Basir 1 smiled timidly. "You had asked me to tell you if you began to sound like a Cru tutor again."

"You are impertinent, friend Jentik, but I shall not hold it against you. I understand the exuberance accompanying a new name among your Tribe." Lotun paused to gather breath before ascending a gentle rise of undulating rock. It was treacherous footing for the careless.

Lotun and Basir 1 had adjusted slowly to the purple gloom after cycles spent under the Lights of the Provider at Tumnil. The shifting whorls and paths of the Light of the One God had dimmed over past wakes. Shadows were ink-black in the territory of the Enierd. As Basir 1 also paused, Lotun said, "You have not yet told me your Birth Name. I admit to a certain curiosity."

The Jentik turned. "Tukarn 784. An unlucky number." She chewed at her lip. "My sister would tell me so from my earliest cycles." Basir 1 waited for the old Wohken to start walking again.

Lotun sighed and hefted his staff. "You were born on the High Plateau," he said. "A second daughter at that. Now you are serving the Provider. I would not consider that unlucky, friend Jentik."

The rock ahead of the travelers led upwards to the top of a broad hill, broken by many shadowed hollows. Lotun and Basir 1 ascended in silence, concentrating on their footing in the dim light. Lotun halted when they reached the hillcrest. He pointed towards distant mountains, dim purple-edged masses that obscured the lowest stars. Below the mountains, in the shadowed darkness beneath their foothills, were the flickering blue and yellow lights of a large community. "Naskal," said Lotun, with feeling. "There will be route markers. We should find them, as there are many ravines below us."

Naskal sprawled. Basir 1 stared as she followed Lotun between buildings and past groups of solid, stocky Enierd. The most distant parts of the community must have been kloms from the two servants of the Provider. At half that distance, the great Chieftain's Hall towered over surrounding dwellings. Large open flames cast flickering shadows on the Hall's patchwork leather banners, each inked with the current Chieftain's symbols. Other, smaller flames burned throughout Naskal. Shifting blue and yellow light illuminated the wood, bone and leather of Enierd dwellings. The Sky was an unbroken expanse of darkness; stars and the Light of the One God remained unseen in the flame-light.

Everywhere Basir 1 turned, bulky and muscular Enierd moved purposefully to their destinations. Ink-black tattoos were proudly displayed by Enierd of all ages. Children darted between the older Clan members, shouting and laughing. Warriors or crafters stood outside dwellings and conversed loudly with one another. Flames cast long shadows that danced on walls and the black rock underfoot. Many Naskal Enierd wore armor of layered, patched leather bearing faded Clan tattoos.

Lotun paused to speak to Basir 1 as she took in the sights and sounds of Naskal. "Many Meets are held here. Naskal is a Causi community, but watch carefully and you will see Jatu tattoos." Broad, armored Enierd moved aside to allow the Initiate and the acolyte to pass. Many inclined their heads or raised their hands to show respect.

"I must find the Namekeeper, friend Lotun," said Basir 1, a little anxiously.

Lotun nodded, and called out to the nearest tattooed figure. "Friend Enierd! My acolyte seeks another Jentik. We would be glad of your help."

"The contests of the Meet will be held below the Fourteen Towers. The circle has been forming for two wakes, so I am told." Lotun was speaking to Fasius, a Susyan Initiate of the Fifth Circle, a full two hands taller than the elder Wohken. Fasius deliberately slowed his pace as the two servants of the Provider walked through a more peaceful section of Naskal.

"It will be a Meet worth seeing, by all counts, friend Lotun," rumbled Fasius. "My fellow Susyan would have made a heroic raid, but I am glad that they will choose another wake." The Susyan Initiate nodded to himself. "The Sky Spirits will not cease their vigil for one missed opportunity."

"I suppose not," said Lotun, while slightly inclining his head. "Friend Fasius, it has been good to speak to you once more. We both postpone duties that must be performed."

"You are of course correct. As before, my humble frame is honored by your presence, friend Lotun." Fasius bowed in a surprisingly deft Fifth Acquiescence. "I hope to greet you again before you depart Naskal."

The two Initiates made the proscribed Gestures of Parting. Fasius strode away at his normal pace towards busier parts of Naskal. "Sky Spirits!" Lotun muttered irritably under his breath. He chose a route that would not cross Fasius' path and set out to find Basir 1. She had promised to meet with him below the seventh of the Fourteen Towers before their wake was finished.

The Jentik that had been Basir 1 and was now Naskal 27 awaited Lotun beneath the seventh tall wooden tower. Blue flames burned at the top of each high structure in the line of fourteen. A great and noisy throng of Enierd had gathered beneath and around the Fourteen Towers - thousands of stocky, tattooed figures crowded the normally open rock before the Tower. Hundreds more were arriving or leaving. Further beyond the Towers, the crowds had formed a great open-centered circle aound an ancient platform built of bones and skulls.

Even though used to the Supplicants' Shelters at Tumnil, Naskal 27 found the noise and bustle of the Meet disturbing. Finding the Namekeeper of Naskal had not taken long, but the very elderly Namekeeper had been unfriendly and brusque. Naskal 27 was trying not to let it bother her further.

"Friend Jentik!"

Naskal 27 heard Lotun's voice above the noise of the crowd. She looked for the elder Wohken, but could see nothing but Enierd. Three spear-bearing warriors moved, one to draw aside a staring child with a darkly tattooed face. Lotun stepped through the resulting gap to the base of the tower, accompanied by a tall, striking Enierd. This newcomer wore engraved wooden armor, his bare arms richly inked with abstract shapes and Midrin characters.

"This is the eighth tower, friend Jentik," said Lotun in a tone of annoyance. "The Enierd count from the outskirts of Naskal inwards."

"I am sorry, friend Lotun..." Naskal 27 frowned. She seemed about to say more, but did not speak further.

"It is of no matter." The Enierd spoke with a deep voice. "I am sure that the Provider Himself would pick the wrong tower to count from, no?"

Lotun glanced briefly and pointedly at the Enierd beside him. "This is Oraet of Clan Jatu."

"And Chieftain of Harisa. My friends still require sustenance, at your convenience of course." Oraet bowed as to an equal. The leather straps of his armor creaked.

Lotun sighed. "Very well. Now that I have found..." he looked inquiringly at the Jentik acolyte.

"Naskal 27," she said, still frowning.

"...Naskal 27," Lotun continued, "I may perform my duties for your Clan. Lead on, friend Chieftain." The elder Initiate placed only slight emphasis on the word "friend." Naskal 27 glanced at Oraet and then Lotun but remained quiet.

The Jatu Chieftain led Lotun and Naskal 27 through the crowded edges of the great circular gathering. The noise of ten thousand gathered Enierd was constant and unbroken. Warriors sparred in practice for Meet competitions while others exercised or prepared alone. The young of the Clans mingled with adults throughout the Circle. In places, children organized their own preparations rather than assist older companions.

Oraet and the two servants of the Provider passed an old tattooist working her art on a member of Clan Causi. Under her bone needle and patient eye, a rippled semicircle of skin slowly darkened. Nearby, a warrior carefully and painfully sewed up a cut in one thigh, the leather of his armor peeled back, dark and glistening with blood. Raised voices around the injured Enierd argued over responsibility for the injury. A hundred paces further, and three standing Enierd locked hands and arms in a traditional form of wrestling. Friends and younger Enierd surrounded the wrestlers, jeering and calling encouragements.

Further still around the Meet circle, an elder of the Tribe recounted a tale of battle for a rapt audience of old and young. He shook a plain bone club for emphasis, speaking passionately of the crack of wood striking wood.

As Oraet passed each group, he nodded and called out in response to greetings and raised hands. Lotun, silent, did not seem to pay attention to the Meet crowds. His left hand rested upon the Gift that hung from his shoulder within its sling of supple leather.

Naskal 27 trailed behind the two men, looking about her at the many new and strange sights. These Causi and Jatu were so different from the few Enierd of the Order of the Provider. They were different from the restrained and respectful Enierd crafters who came to Tumnil as supplicants. The atmosphere of the Meet was so vibrant and alive, the participants enthusiastic and eager. Naskal 27 wondered again why it was that both the Namekeeper and Lotun seemed so on edge, yet as she became used to the noise and spirit of the Meet, she began to enjoy herself despite the moods of her elders. Enierd in the circle smiled and sought her attention as she passed. Naskal 27 smiled in return.

Lotun sat cross-legged on uneven rock, surrounded by Enierd from Harisa. Most of the Enierd also sat, waiting patiently. Some of the youngest threw leather pouches back and forth behind their older peers. Oraet stood beside Lotun and watched. The Gift of the Provider rested upon the rock in front of the elder Wohken. "From the Provider comes life," intoned the Initiate. The two broad Enierd men seated in front of Lotun repeated the phrase in their deep voices.

Meet competitions had already commenced in the open center of the circle. The noise of the assembled Clans rose and fell with each new event. Lotun made the three Gestures of Gifting, his thin, veined hands forming long-familiar patterns. He leaned forward to touch the Gift firmly in several places while bowing his head and closing his eyes. His lips moved soundlessly in one of the Gift Devotions. The Gift itself sighed loudly, drawing breath. Lotun straightened to open the small, dark box. The closest Enierd leaned forward to see more clearly.

"We thank you for your gifts, honored servant," rumbled the first of the Enierd in traditional response. Lotun removed two lengths of divine food from the Gift. The Enierd gratefully accepted the flesh-like strips. He stood and a scarred Harisan woman took his place in front of the elder Initiate.

Lotun closed the Gift and shifted his position on the rock. His legs were already growing numb and there were many Enierd to provide for yet. Lotun closed his eyes for a moment and tried to banish his weariness. In earlier times he would have thought little of two wakes without sleep, but the prospect had become far less attractive with age. A generation ago there had been another Meet in Naskal, but then he had been with a different companion...

"Friend Lotun!"

The Initiate was pulled from his drifting thoughts by the strident voice of Fasius. Opening his eyes, he saw Harisan Enierd turn their attention to the tall Susyan as he strode through the Meet circle. "You seem tired, friend Lotun!" Fasius called. "I myself awoke but a short time ago, and you have been traveling for most of a wake..."

Naskal 27 stood beyond the crowded Enierd, fifty paces from Lotun and Oraet's companions. She had picked out the flax robes of at least twenty Initiates in the Meet circle, but it seemed as though Enierd appetites could never be slaked. The Jentik acolyte was becoming tired.

The attention of the gathered Clans focused on the competing Enierd at the center of the Meet circle. A thousand voices shouted with each success and failure. The rush of noise and feeling was unlike anything Naskal 27 had ever heard. Despite her fatigue, she felt caught up in the spirit of the Meet. She imagined herself, tattooed, broad and muscled, competing with other skilled Enierd inside the circle.

A great flame had been lit at the center of the circle, rising from the large bone platform to illuminate competing warriors and crafters in blue and yellow hues. Naskal 27 watched four Enierd who fought, laughing, with hair-padded clubs. Elsewhere, tall, bearded Causi men hefted and threw great spheres of wood. The single great flame cast shadows of the competitors that shifted and danced over the assembled Enierd of the circle.

The contrast of dark and light between tattoos and skin fascinated Naskal 27. If only she could stay awake, the acolyte felt as though she could watch the display for wakes on end. As she watched five Enierd wrestling as a group inside the circle, Naskal 27 caught sight of a tall Susyan man in the flax robe of an Initiate. The Initiate approached Lotun through the waiting Harisans. He called out, but Naskal 27 couldn't make out the words over the noise of the crowd. The two Initiates conversed, it seemed, and the Susyan took Lotun's place amid Oraet's hungry companions.

Lotun slowly rose to his feet with the aid of his staff. He paused for a moment before tiredly walking through the crowd towards Naskal 27. Behind him, the Enierd roared as a favorite fell in one of the staff-contests.

Later, the Wohken Initiate and the Jentik acolyte rested, seated against a wooden platform at the edge of Naskal. Lotun's staff lay against the old, cracked beams between them. Sounds of the Meet were muted by distance and intervening buildings, but still carried the fevor of the crowd.

"I must apologize, friend Jentik, for my mood this last wake. As we get older, I am afraid that we suffer fools, the impatient, and tiredness less gladly. I have had my fill of all three this wake."

"An Initiate does not need to apologize to an acolyte, friend Lotun." Naskal 27 paused and rubbed at her eyes. "You don't consider me a fool or impatient, do you?"

The old Wohken smiled and glanced at Naskal 27. "You are young, friend Jentik. I think that you will have to admit to impatience. It is only natural. But no, you are no fool."

"Then the apology is accepted, friend Lotun." Naskal 27 made her acceptance with a mock tone of formality, accompanied by the appropriate ritual gesture. She stifled a yawn. "How much longer will the Meet continue?"

Lotun yawned himself. "They will still be testing their skills when we awake, friend Jentik. There are many guesthouses in Naskal. We should find one before our eyes close of their own accord." Lotun rose, his knees cracking loudly as he straightened. He took up his staff and adjusted his robe as Naskal 27 climbed to her feet. "An Initiate should always apologize for slighting an acolyte." Lotun said after a few heartbeats of thought. "Just as a Camnel should apologize to the slighted Unranked. Power and influence..." he paused as he stretched his thin arms and yawned again. "Power and influence can wait for another wake. We should sleep."

[ Posted by Reason on December 29, 2004 ]