Lightward Susyan
Spirits of Rock and Sky > The Servants' Path

Lotun and Jeu 4 rested on a broad, uneven ledge high on the flank of a steep hill. A stairway had once offered an easier path, but little remained now save for brittle, desiccated wood shards. The Light of the One God had dimmed over the last ten wakes, the two travelers now far enough Godward for their shadows to preceed them as they entered Susyan territory. All but the brightest Lightward stars were still obscured by whorls and sheets of ever-fainter purple light, but the Sky was black over Susyan rock. Dim stars became visible as they wheeled down towards purple-tinted mountains. The far distant, scattered flames of Susyan communities made it seem as though the Sky were viewed through great holes in the rock of the World.

Lotun's voice broke the silence. "Can you see Mera's Mountain, Jeu 4? My eyes do not reveal it to me."

"The Light is too dim this wake, Lotun." Jeu 4 shook her head in disappointment. "Perhaps we could not see the Mountain in any case. It must be a hundred kloms from here."

"I know this hill well, Jeu 4. I have stood here in past generations and seen the shape of Mera's Mountain by the Light of the One God." Lotun leaned back against the rock of the hill. "There is no need to travel further this wake. We can wait."

Jeu 4 shifted to straighten the uncomfortable folds in her leather clothing. She looked out at the distant flame-lights. "You are in no hurry to journey among the Susyan, Lotun."

The elder Initiate had closed his eyes and folded his sleeves about his thin hands.

"Lotun?"

Lotun sighed. "I have no great liking for the Susyan. As a Wohken, I am liked little in return."

"But you are an Initiate!" Jeu 4 exclaimed. "The Order has the respect of all of the Tribes. Your heritage should not matter!"

"It matters all too much, alas. It is possible to respect and dislike at the same time, Jeu 4. As a Jentik, that is something you may become all too familiar with." The old Wohken reached down to wrap his robe more comfortably around his legs.

"To the Susyan, I will be a Jentik before I am a servant of the Provider?"

"The Susyan have their own views of your Tribe, Jeu 4. They admire you and seek you out, but their legends place your ancestors above their own."

"They are jealous?"

"Respect and dislike, my acolyte, respect and dislike. Such is the worst you can expect from the Susyan."

"I am not an innocent, Lotun. I know what it is that the Susyan want from me." Jeu 4 looked down at the leather pack on the rock beside her. "Deru knew too," she added with a touch of bitterness.

"I was implying no slight." Lotun moved his hands within the flax sleeves of his robe. "But there are more subtle motivations at work for the Susyan than mere physical or emotional attraction." He smiled to himself and stretched his legs. "Ah, but many tens of cycles have passed since those wakes!"

Jeu 4 could think of nothing to say in return to this last remark. She sat in silence and watched the movement of the stars.

"What are they doing, Lotun?" Jeu 4 looked down from yet another ridgeline at the Susyan below. The terrain had been uneven in this last wake.

"The resolution of ... a dispute, I imagine." Lotun was out of breath, the result of a scramble and fall on the steeper side of the ridge. His heart still beat fast and his knee ached from a hard knock against a projecting spur of rock. The marked routes did not get any easier with age, the Initiate reflected, limping to catch up with the Jentik acolyte. Once beside her, he leaned on his staff and attempted to regain his composure. Below the Servants of the Provider, in the long shadow of the ridge, two Susyan slowly circled one another at the edge of an encampment of small tents. One lashed out, and the two combatants suddenly strained against one another, chest to chest. The fight did not seem to have the attention of more than a few of the other Susyan.

"They are violent." Jeu 4 shook her head.

Lotun nodded as he rested on his staff, taking the weight from the dull pain in his knee. "Yes." He paused, seemed about say something else. "Yes, they are."

"Will we descend once they have fought?" As Jeu 4 spoke, the Susyan clashed again and thrust apart from one another. One stumbled, almost falling - the other stepped forward to take advantage.

Lotun sighed, his breathing still labored. "We will. But I must rest a moment more ... I am not as young as I would like."

Jeu 4 turned to regard the old Wohken with concern. He waved her away when he saw her expression. "No, Jeu 4, I need no aid. Merely a few moments to collect myself." He smiled reassuringly.

"Of course, Lotun." Jeu 4's look of concern remained. The old Initiate winced as he bent his injured leg, but nonetheless eased himself gently down to a seated position.

"But the skin is not broken, honored Servant. The binding must not be loose if you are to walk." Rela, a broad and scarred Susyan, pulled the leather binding more tightly. The elder Wohken's knee had swelled and bruised atop the ridge. By the time Lotun and Jeu 4 had descended to the Susyan tents, the Initiate had barely been able to walk.

Lotun gritted his teeth as the leather tightened painfully. "Enough, I said!" he growled, and wrested the loose end of the leather away from Rela. "Do you want to sever my leg?"

"He is practiced, Wohken," an older Susyan called, slapping her carved bone armor for emphasis. She watched with some amusement from a nearby tent, the leather freshly inked in the Susyan style. "I would let him continue if I were you." She chuckled.

"I did not ask for your opinion, friend Susyan," Lotun snapped. He bent forward to tie the end of the leather himself, still in some pain. "Practiced ..." he muttered to himself.

Lotun sat on a leather cushion in front of a tent that had once belonged to a Lord, if the faded Midrin was to be believed. Rela shrugged and stood. "As you wish, honored Servant." He adjusted the ties securing his bone-reinforced leather, watching as Lotun finished the last knot.

Few in the camp gave any attention to the Servants of the Provider. From the prayers softly chanted on the far side of the encampment, it seemed these Susyan were pilgrims, more concerned with ritual than visitors. Lotun rested his weight against the leather of the Lord's tent and tried to ignore the pain. The pilgrims probably journeyed to worship at Bones of the Ancestral Sky Spirits, the remains of divine beings from whom the Susyan claimed descent - a view of the past very different from Wohken Family teachings. Lotun surveyed the camp, looking between the small tents. An older warrior dispersed the young Susyan who crowded Jeu 4. He would apologize to the acolyte later, once he felt up to standing, but she seemed to be conducting herself well enough for the moment.

Jeu 4 had been an unwilling center of attention since she assisted Lotun over the last paces of the slope above the Susyan camp. She had wanted to stay with the old Wohken, but the he had clearly been embarrassed to need her help in descending the ridge. Three young men had been only too happy to maneuver Jeu 4 away from Lotun while older, armored Susyan examined his injury. Most of the Susyan seemed lost in their devotions, for which Jeu 4 was grateful. Still, after the formalism of relationships at Tumnil, the lack of subtlety in the approach of the young Susyan - one barely old enough to grow hair on his chin - was disconcerting. The Jentik acolyte attempted to remain polite. It helped that her thoughts were elsewhere; she wondered how Tumnil 146 was faring. She missed her companion less of late, as the tenwakes continued to pass. It bothered Jeu 4 that her emotions could fade so quickly; was Tumnil 146 feeling the same way? The three Susyan continued to guesture, boast and proposition, apparently oblivious to her disinterest, but Jeu 4 was pulled from her thoughts as a man joined the group to order the young Susyan away.

"I said to go, Nateve! You will not enjoy it when the Sky Spirits recall this wake. Return to your devotions!" This new Susyan, tall even for his Tribe, wore many-layered leathers scored and shaded with Tun Abstracts. He towered over Jeu 4, beardless and longhaired as seemed to be the fashion among these Susyan pilgrims. He watched the three young men walk away, casting sour backward glances, before turning to Jeu 4. He made a slight bow. "I apologize for their lack of respect. Young men do not think with their heads." His voice was deep.

"Thank you," replied the Jentik, now distracted from her thoughts of Tumnil and her lover. "I had thought that I would have to tolerate them for many more breaths." She looked past the tall Susyan to where Lotun sat, apparently resting, his eyes closed.

"You could have told them to leave you in peace. Even Nateve would have respected that."

Jeu 4 inclined her head politely. "I will remember that for the next time."

The tall man smiled down at her. "I imagine that there will be many next times. Where do you and your Initiate journey to?"

Jeu 4 noticed a thin trail of blood winding its way from a leather wrap on the Susyan's lower arm. She had assumed the wrap was decorative, but it seemed it served another purpose. "You were fighting," she said, frowning as she stared at the blood. "We saw you from the top of the ridge."

The Susyan followed her gaze to his bandage. "By the Sky Spirits..." he muttered, pulling at the wrap before continuing in a more normal tone. "It is not easy to tie these with one hand." He looked enquiringly at Jeu 4. "Might I borrow your hands before my blood wets the rock?" He held his arm up to divert the dark trickle as it ran past his wrist.

The young Jentik was hesitant. "I am not sure that I should, friend Susyan." She paused for a few heartbeats. "Why were you fighting?"

"Help or not, this must be redone," said the tall Susyan matter-of-factly. He gracefully sat on the rock before Jeu 4, crossing his legs as he held his injured arm level. "My name, which I prefer to 'Susyan,' is Vasun." He began to untie the thongs and leather on his arm with his teeth and free hand. Jeu 4 watched, still standing. After ten breaths, Vasun paused and looked up at the silent acolyte. "You are judging me. I am not sure that I like that."

The Jentik shrugged. "You ignored my question. I'm not sure that I like that." Conversing with confidence was easier now that Vasun no longer loomed over her.

"I see ..." Vasun smiled to himself, holding the half-untied bandage over his wound. "I will make a bargain with you." He returned his gaze to the Jentik, waiting for approval.

"I am listening." Jeu 4 adopted a tone she had once heard Tumnil 146 use, trying to keep her expression neutral.

"Help me with this," Vas'un inclined his head to indicate his arm, "and I will explain to you why I challenged Usor..."

"Yet he seemed genuinely concerned I did not see it his way, Lotun. I feel that I disappointed him." Jeu 4 and the elder Initiate remained awake, but most of the camp slept.

"Would you want to agree with him?" Lotun asked, quietly. Nearby, two Susyan women meditated in silence, sitting crosslegged in front of their tent.

"No ... but that is not the point," Jeu 4 sighed.

"I think that you have lost the point," Lotun smiled. "You did not disappoint me, Jeu 4, and you should not worry about disappointing the Susyan. You handled the warriors here all too well without me." Both Servants of the Provider followed their own thoughts a while under the dim purple Light. The stars slowly changed direction overhead.

"Will you be able to walk next wake?" Jeu 4 looked at Lotun's bound leg.

Lotun spread his hands, palms turned upwards. "I do not know. But if not the next wake, then the following wake will have to suffice."

Jeu 4 nodded.

"I'm sure that we can both survive another wake here with the Susyan." The two sat in silence, watching the movement of the Sky and the changing Light of the One God as the Susyan slept.

[ Posted by Reason on February 5, 2005 ]