Tumnil and a Departure
Spirits of Rock and Sky > The Servants' Path

Nei Lotun, Initiate of the Ninth Circle, turned his head down and away from the Lights of the Provider. He had spent too many heartbeats standing in the field of ripe seedgrass, staring up at the bright white spheres and the black Sky beyond. Spirit-lights danced before his eyes, obscuring nearby seedwraps and distant trees. Lotun suddenly recalled childhood games, young Wohken Brothers and Sisters of the Nei Family staring intently into blue flames until glowing images filled their vision. That was more than four generations ago now. Such fleeting memories made the elder Wohken feel the weight of cycles pressing down upon him. Lotun pulled on the hood of his long, gray flax robe as he waited for his vision to return.

The Order of the Provider, Lotun's surrogate Family for many generations now, cultivated ritual in the same manner as it cultivated seedwraps, trees and the other aspects of the Divine That Grows. The ritual of staring up at the Lights, high on their ancient and divine pillars, belonged to Lotun alone. He had stared at flames as child in the Gap, hoping to take some childlike conception of a flame spirit away with him. Now, in service to the Provider, Lotun hoped that something more of that greatest of divine spirits would accompany him in the jouney to come.

Almost two wakes had passed since Lotun had performed the Rituals of Preparation. He should already have departed, but he tarried in leaving the greenery of Tumnil for the dark rock of the World. Perhaps he was not as old as he felt. Perhaps there was still more to be done in the current cycle of planting, ritual observance and harvest. But no, Lotun had performed the Rituals. He stood in the central fields of Tumnil staring at the Lights, rather than directing acolytes and supplicants in their duties. Lotun's thin legs ached from standing still and the Initiates at the base of the nearest Light pillar were staring.

Lotun bent to pick up his staff, his vision finally returned to him. Touching the engravings, made by an Initiate now long dead, restored Lotun to some of his original determination. Adjusting the leather sling containing his Gift, he turned his back to the Lights and the curious Initiates. With his staff to support him, he began to walk through the knee-high seedgrass. A nearby path would take him to the Lightward edge of Tumnil, the end of the domain of the Provider.

Tumnil 243 was very angry, but tried her best to control herself. Showing anger to an Initiate of the Order was a good way to permanently postpone her own Initiation. A slight young Jentik, she had not quite reached her first full generation. Tumnil 243 had come to Tumnil little more than twenty tenwakes ago. She had stayed, entranced by the mystery and majesty of the Order. Stayed as an acolyte and made many friends, or so she thought.

"Friend Deru," she managed in a controlled voice, "you gave your word to me that I would be given a place in this journey to the High Plateau."

Deru of the Third Circle, a broad man and one of the few Enierd in the Order, frowned. The black Clan tattoo on his brow took on a disturbing shape as he did so. Deru was aware of the acolytes and robed Initiates watching and listening from behind his back. Heavy leather packs lay on the earth path and trodden seedgrass, awaiting their owners' backs. A tall Uk tree cast its shadow over the group.

"As I have already made clear, you are not needed here." Deru spoke with a deep voice. He illustrated the group behind him with a sweep of his powerful arm. "Twenty packs, twenty to carry them. I suggest that you return to the fields where you are needed." Deru executed a short, and somewhat insulting, bow of dismissal.

Tumnil 243 narrowed her lips, divining the real reason for her rejection in the number of tall, pale Susyan who waited behind Deru. Two of the Susyan exchanged glances, but said nothing. The muscular Enierd turned from Tumnil 243 and began to organize his charges.

Tumnil 243 looked at her bare feet and the earth of the path. Acolytes, supplicants and Initiates went about their business. Her anger was fading and turning to disappointment. She would just have to walk the few kloms back to the Hall of Acolytes. She would return her few possessions to the leather-walled dwelling she shared inside the Hall. She was not sure what she would say to Tumnil 146. Poignant farewells were hard to retract.

Lotun coughed politely as the young Jentik appeared ahead of him on the bend of the narrow path. He had been walking through a field of full-grown Wauken's Seedwraps. The leafy green and yellow stems stretched for a span above his head and clustered thickly, obscured vision. The Jentik, clad in leather traveling clothes and carrying a bone-framed pack, apparently did not hear him and kept walking. With her head down, she would have collided with Lotun had he not put out a hand and come to an abrupt halt himself.

"Slow yourself, friend Jentik! At my age, such inadvertant collisions can be hurtful." Lotun thought his voice sounded peevish, one of the privileges of age he tried to deny himself.

The Jentik seemed upset, distracted. She shook her head and bowed deeply. "Oh! I apologize, honored elder…friend honored elder.” She belatedly made the Sign of Respect, her palms pressed together. "My spirit was many kloms from here. I had no intent to cause you injury. Please accept my apologies."

Lotun made the slight Bow to the Unknown in return. There was a short and awkward pause while both waited for the other to speak, or to move aside on the narrow pathway. Lotun sighed, and spoke in a friendlier manner. "My Family has always held that it was auspicious to meet with a Jentik on the first wake of a journey. I am pleased that I had the honor."

"I am two hundred and forty-three." Tumnil 243 pulled a strand of dark hair from her face. "I should have been journeying also this wake, but Deru turned me away. Enierd!" She stubbed at the pressed soil of the path in momentary anger before her face fell once more. She said in a softer tone, "I was to travel to the High Plateau."

Lotun leaned upon his staff and ran a nail along one of the more deeply engraved symbols. He could hear the undercurrent of yearning in the voice of Tumnil 243 when she spoke of the home of her Tribe.

"I know of Deru. He is a friend to the Feller of Trees, but no friend to Jentik, it would seem." Lotun straightened. "My legs ache from standing. Let us walk."

A look of surprise spread across the face of Tumnil 243, and remained there as Lotun edged around her on the path. Seedwrap leaves brushed at his robe and face. "Well? Do you not think you can keep pace with an old Wohken?"

Lotun and Tumnil 243 rested atop a knoll at the darkened edge of Tumnil, shadowed by trees and span-high seedgrass. Lotun sat cross-legged. His staff rested across his knees and the Gift of the Provider lay in his lap. The young Jentik sat on her pack, her arms about her legs and her chin resting on her knees. The Lights of the Provider lay many kloms behind the elder Initiate and the young acolyte, hidden from sight by the nearest woods. Long shadows cast by the tallest, spear-thin Polpas trees stretched towards the point at which the seedgrass ended and the dark rock of the World began. The brighter stars, now visible in the black Sky, descended slowly towards the distant, unseen Great Temple of the One God.

Lotun looked downwards as he performed the last of the Rituals of Preparation. His Gift of the Provider, a small and pitted box of divine material, lay in his lap. He touched the Gift in the Cadence of Water as Tumnil 243 watched closely. After five heartbeats, it sighed.

"It is done," said the elder Initiate. He lifted the Gift in his thin hands and opened it to let water pour onto the seedgrass around him. "What came from the Provider will return to the Provider. Thus I seek His blessing as I leave His domain."

Lotun glanced at Tumnil 243. She had been watching the Ritual intently, oblivious to the beauty of moving stars and long, straight Polpas shadows that pointed to distant rock.

"One wake, it will be me." Her voice was determined and quiet.

"As the Provider wills," replied Lotun, nodding in a kindly fashion. "You know the rituals well. I believe Deru was wrong to refuse you a place." He looked outwards to the few visible stars in the black Sky, half his face in shadow as he returned his Gift to its sling. Tumnil 243 was silent, and the moment extended for many heartbeats.

Without looking away from the Sky, Lotun said "I have walked this path ten times since your birth, and many times again before that. There have been long journeys and half a generation since I walked it with another." He paused for a few breaths and turned to the Jentik acolyte. "But that is no reason to deny you as did Deru. It is tradition." Lotun began to pull himself to his feet, using his carved staff for leverage.

"Honored elder..." began Tumnil 243, but Lotun cut her words short with a wave of his hand.

"Please, friend Jentik. I am no Father, no Amral in my Family. We both serve our God, and my age brings me humility. Lotun is my name, and it will serve for now." He stood looking out upon the expanse of rock that would lead to the communities of the Enierd. "Come. We have a long journey ahead of us."

[ Posted by Reason on December 21, 2004 ]