Crei's Stairway
Spirits of Rock and Sky > The Servants' Path

"Age carries wisdom to the heart, Tumri 301." Lotun sat on the divinely shaped rock of the broad first step of Crei's Stairway. The Light of the One God, spread in whorls across three hands of the Lightward Sky, shone bright that wake despite its distance; Lotun's shadow reached the sheer rock wall fifty paces away at the Stairway's first turn. The elder Wohken Initiate massaged his left knee through his flax robe, leg stretched out before him. "My heart tells me that I will not be climbing to the Plateau in this or any other wake."

The Jentik Tumri 301 watched anxiously. The two travelers had halted at the head of Tumri's broad rock vale; the flame-lights of that mixed community flickered kloms away, near a hundred spans beneath the Stairway. Near-vertical crags towered above the two Servants of the Provider, highlighted in purple tints by the Light of the One God until vanishing into the haze and darkness of heights unseen. The Plateau cliffs made toys of the surrounding hills, valleys and Susyan communities – mountains placed next to World Fragments. Lotun sat on the first step of a divine Stairway, a path that twisted and turned its way through the high crags for vertical kloms.

"But we have come so far! You must climb with me!" Tumri 301 pleaded. It had been strange to be amongst so many of her Tribe once more in the community below the Stairs, but the High Plateau beckoned. Lotun would not be hurried, however; wakes of ritual and conversation with other Servants of the Provider had passed slowly, each heartbeat a frustration for Tumri 301.

"Calm yourself, my acolyte. Think the steps of the Three Uk Branch Observance." Lotun sat up patted the smooth rock of the step to his side. "Sit for a moment." He waited for Tumri 301 to seat herself and sighed, looking towards the Lightward Sky. "I will not be ascending the Stairway, Tumri 301. Ah, but I want to. I would have liked..." He paused for a moment and shook his head.

The young Jentik placed a hand on the elder Wohken's flax sleeve, concerned. "Why sadness, Lotun?"

"In time. Understanding comes in time." Lotun flexed his knee slowly, lost in thought for a moment. "Visit the Tale Spire for me. I had hoped to read some of the older writings, closer to the peak."

Tumri 301 removed her hand, regarding Lotun while chewing on her lip. The air tugged at their hair, dark with youth and light with age.

Lotun looked across at the acolyte. "Go, Tumri 301!" he said firmly. "How many cycles has it been since you have spoken with your mother and sister? Thirty? Forty? You should start to climb." He reached for his staff. "I will wait for you; there is much to be done in Tumri. Take as many wakes as you need."

"Thank you, Lotun." Tumri 301 reflexively bowed her head, raising her hands to make the Fourth Gratitude. She pointed to the Initiate's knee. "But should I not help you return to the guesthouse?"

Lotun gave her a scathing look as he pulled himself to his feet. He limped for a few steps, wincing, and then rapped his staff against the rock. "It is a gentle incline. I will manage."

"It is colder than I recalled." Tumri 301 shivered despite the leather wrap as the frigid wind blew through her hair and chilled her face. She nestled against Tumri 62 under the layered leather; the two Jentik huddled close to Tumri 712 at the foot of a smooth vertical cliff and the next line of Stairs.

"This is the rock on which we have always paused," said Tumri 62 as their heads rested against one another. Her lips brushed the acolyte's numbed cheek and their dark hair tangled in the wind. "My mother insists - I have argued this before." She hugged Tumri 301 under the shared wrap.

"I would have argued too." Tumri 301 pulled her legs in closer. "If it were not so cold, I would be stood and arguing now!"

From where they rested, the Jentik could see only the Sky and the nearest purple-edged, cragged spire that shielded this part of the Stairway from the worst of the high wind and the direct Light of the One God. The brightest of stars were visible, moving slowly in unison towards the High Plateau and their final destination beyond the hoarfrost at the edge of the World. At the sheer edge of this rock platform, buffeted by the high air in its passage to the World Beyond, the view was nothing less than breathtaking; Tumri 301 had watched and watched until the cold drove her into the arms of Tumri 62. A hundred kloms of mountains and high ground stretched into the gloom of distance, each peak edged with reflected, divine Light from the distant Sky. Shadows stretched far and even the greatest flames in Susyan communities were mere sparks amidst the open rock of the World.

Tumri 301 had met with the mother and older daughter early that wake meeting them a hundred spans and many steps above Jesin's Outlook. She had greeted and spoken with other, descending Jentik, but the climb passed more pleasantly in the company of Tumri 62 and Tumri 712. The acolyte was bothered by Lotun's absence, more than she had expected, but Tumri 62's attentions were a consolation. The younger Jentik had barely passed her first generation of life, yet reminded Tumri 301 of Tumnil 146 and the many cycles that must pass before any happy reunion. Tumnil's soil and seedgrass was a thousand kloms away; Tumri 301 missed the lush greenery, bright color and scent of the Realm of the Provider.

"You are sewing thoughts." Tumri 62 prodded the acolyte's ribs. Tumri 301 wriggled, but quickly gave up and consented to being held by Tumri 62.

"I hope that you are being careful with the wrap, daughter of mine," Tumri 712 called.

"Yes!" replied Tumri 62, raising her voice to be heard over the wind. She bent her head to whisper, "It was crafted by my great-grandmother." The two young Jentik pulled the shared wrap tightly, with care, and sat in silence. Tumri 62 stroked the acolyte's hip through her leather tunic.

"Why did you leave the Plateau?" Tumri 62 asked impulsively. "It seems strange to have gone away for so many tendays."

Tumri 301 thought on that. "My mother told me that I would follow the Servants of the Provider on their path through Tukarn when I was young. I do not remember, but I spoke for many wakes with the eldest Jentik who served the Provider and came and went as they pleased."

"They convinced you that your path led to Tumnil?"

"No ... I convinced myself. The stories of Tumnil would not leave my heart." She shifted position to meet Tumri 62's eyes. "I will become an Initiate one wake. I will bear a Gift. To bring food and water to those who need it, to aid the Divine Will of a God. Do you understand?"

Tumri 62 nodded. "We all support and help one another, but I do not think that I could take your path." She rested her forehead amid Tumri 301's windblown hair, her breath warm on the acolyte's neck. "I could not part from my family."

Tumri 301 dug an elbow into Tumri 62's stomach. "I have not parted with my family! They are just as important to me as your mother and sister are to you."

"I am sorry, I did not mean..." Tumri 62 spoke repentantly, hugged the acolyte again. Tumri 301 looked up to the Sky. The two Jentik watched a bright star move slowly out of sight beyond the heights of the smooth cliff wall, two identical faces turned to the spirits above.

"Have you touched a Gift?" asked Tumri 62 suddenly. "What do they feel like?" She pressed her lips against Tumri 301's ear and whispered, "What is it like to touch a divine creation?"

"The Halls of Tumnil have the feel of rock, but warmer." Tumri 301 paused before continuing, aware of her companion's breath. "I have touched the pillars which support the Lights of the Provider and felt the movement of His Divine Will. It is ... it is ..." Tumri 301 moved her hands under the wrap as she sought the right words.

"The most important truth in the World?" asked Tumri 62 softly. "I too have spoken to Servants of the Provider. I think that we all have." She sighed. "Perhaps, one wake, I will journey to Tumnil. I would like to see the Halls and the Lights, to see the leaves and curvetips as they were before they dried."

"Then go! Or you might find one wake that your chances are gone." Tumri 301 shook her head as it rested against Tumri 62's soft neck. Her thoughts were of Lotun, but she tried to put them aside.

"Did I speak wrongly?" There was an edge of concern in Tumri 62's voice. She sought out the acolyte's hands under the leather wrap.

Tumri 301 linked fingers with the other Jentik. "No ... no, you didn't. I am sorry - my heart was elsewhere." She squeezed Tumri 62's hands, and pulled them to her lap. The chill wind gusted suddenly, lifting a corner of the wrap to disperse the warmth beneath. The Jentik almost knocked heads, shivering, as both reached for the errant corner.

"How soon?" the acolyte asked, almost plaintively. "My lips must be hoarfrosted."

"Soon, I hope," replied Tumri 62, glancing at her resting mother. She leaned her head and smiled against Tumri 301's numbed cheek. "Your lips seem perfect to me..."

Tumri 301's thoughts were floating free again - it was hard not to think of Tumnil 146. Perhaps she had been hasty in thinking that her feelings had faded. Tumri 301 resolved to talk to her mother and sister - they would understand, even if they would only tell her what she already knew, that time and patience were the path of the heart.

The acolyte Dairin 472 paused before the small dwelling, hair tangled by the cold Plateau wind. Thousands of Gift Statues surrounded the dwelling, a confusion of figurines and larger works almost obscuring its ancient wooden beams. All depicted Jentik - Jentik of every conceivable age, pose, expression, mood and dress. It had something of Tumnil about it, thought Dairin 472, as though the Statues had grown over uncounted generations to cover the empty dwelling, like vines on a fallen Uk tree.

After the time of Still Sky, Lotun had given the acolyte the remaining block of scented Estin's wood. She had traded it in Tukarn for a statuette from the dwelling of her sister's companion. Jentik carved from the bone of Jentik, it had so much of Tumnil 146 in it, in the hand covering the smiling mouth and laughter-lines at the corners of the eyes. Dairin 472 had not been able to resist, and now she sat at the feet of a life-sized Gift Statue, its face serene despite the splits and dessication of generations-old wood. With the point of her small bone knife, she worked a short message into the base of the statuette. Dairin Jentik smiled at her as they passed in ones and twos, and the sound of wind flutes rose and fell from nearby dwellings. She would leave her Gift Statue somewhere close to the walls of the dwelling, Dairin 472 decided, amidst the larger wooden sculptures.

The acolyte smiled to herself, thinking of past cycles as she regarded the sculpted bone. She had yet to visit the Tale Spire, however, and it would not do to disappoint Lotun. Having finished the brief inscription, Dairin 472 rose to wind her way carefully amongst the statues to leave a Gift of her own.

[ Posted by Reason on July 10, 2005 ]