Tamisan Within the Great Gap
Spirits of Rock and Sky > The Servants' Path

Tamisan 14 rubbed her neck. A dwelling-wall of honored ancestral bones obscured the nearest flames to cast her in near-darkness. She could see far beyond and above the Gap community of Tamisan. Tamisan 14's view climbed the perfectly smooth, vertical wall of rock far above; she leaned her head back to stare once more at the bright stars and kloms-distant reflections of the Light of the One God at the uppermost reaches of the Gap.

The Jentik acolyte had gazed upward to the slow-turning blackness of the Sky since sleep overtook Imis Batih, Initiate of the Second Circle and her sole present company. The Initiate's wake had drawn long indeed before meeting Lotun and Tamisan 14. Now his flax robe fell awry against the wall of honored bones, and his back slipped from the cracked Uk wood post supporting his weight. His hands rested about a small painted pack, his flax-wrapped Gift upon the smooth Pathway rock beneath the fading inkwork of ancestral wall-bones.

In earlier breaths, the two Servants of the Provider had talked of woodcrafting and art. Batih had devoted himself to a crafting Brotherhood before his initiation into the Order; he carried the tools of a woodcrafter in his travels as a Servant of the Provider. His decorated pack contained half-completed statuettes and engravings; the Initiate had been only too pleased to show Tamisan 14 a small Polpas wood figure of the Father of the Imis Family, a gift for a future wake. Their conversation had lapsed, however, as the Initiate dozed.

Tamisan 14 found herself wishing that the Namekeeper of Tamisan, a kindly elder Jentik, had stayed to keep her company. The Namekeeper's clothes bore unfamiliar inked patterns, and Tamisan 14 had wanted to ask of their origin. The Namekeeper had duties to attend, however, and left with a smile and few words.

Heartbeats and breaths passed. Tamisan 14 wondered, not for the first time, how long it would be before Lotun returned. This darkened reach of the community was quiet, and the young Jentik was bored. Lotun had asked Batih to wait with Tamisan 14 while he visited his granddaughters in the Nei Family. The acolyte was curious, and more than a little offended at not having been invited to join the elder Wohken. Despite wakes spent with Nei Tesin in the Realm of the World Crafter, and despite the cycles of travel with Lotun, Tamisan 14 still knew very little about the Nei Family. Lotun had become almost evasive about the matter as the Servants traveled through the Godward territory of his Tribe. The young Jentik had given up her questioning as the High Gap Mountains drew near: jagged silhouettes against the Sky and far swathes of the Light of the One God.

Now, seated upon the divinely smooth rock of the Gap Pathway, wakes had passed since Tamisan 14 had seen the Light of the One God in the Sky rather than as reflections upon the vertical kloms of the Gap walls.

Traveling Lightward through Wohken territory was far different from the long Godward kloms among the Susyan. Lotun was greeted with respect and deference in every community, with ritual and formalism to match that of the Order of the Provider. Wohken took great note of Lotun's status and position within the Order and his Family. Even elder Fathers and Amrals were courteous.

Initiates of the Order of all Tribes had been a common sight upon the open Godward rock of the Wohken. Lotun and Tamisan 14 had met an aged, pale-bearded Seer of the Order at the Tasam Family Shrine, where the Light of the One God sometimes vanishes behind the bulk of the High Gap Mountains. Lotun and the Seer had conversed for an entire wake and long into the sleep that followed. Tamisan 14 had slept restlessly, half-waking at times to hear the Initiate and Seer speaking of duty and the Provider in low, serious tones. Lotun's mood was different in the wakes that followed, but the Jentik had not yet asked why. Now she wondered.

Brought back to thoughts of sleep, Tamisan 14 watched the slumbering form of Imis Batih. The fingers of his left hand twitched slightly; he dreamed of matters more interesting than watching a sleeper, the young Jentik supposed. She tired of being alone with her thoughts and the view of the divine Gap above Tamisan. Tamisan 14 climbed to her feet, looked around and stretched. Lotun had not expressly told her to remain with Batih, she reflected. The Jentik picked up her pack and walked towards the nearest pathway through the close-spaced, sprawling Wohken Family dwellings.

Lotun moved slowly through dark and narrow ways between low, leather-walled Tamisan Family dwellings. He still favored his left leg, but now from habit rather than injury. The nearest flames burned fitfully some fifty paces away, leaving but a dim glow to spill over the enclosing walls.

Not since the death of his partner nearly a generation ago had Lotun come to Tamisan, the community of his birth. Tamisan 14 had asked him of that time in his life - in the rushing manner of the young - before the travelers had even reached Naskal in the territory of the Enierd. Lotun had never wanted that conversation with the Jentik acolyte, however. Knowing that he would rejoin his partner, when their spirits returned to the World to serve the Provider once more, was little comfort during lonely wakes of travel upon the open rock.

Lotun and his partner had visited Tamisan many times as Initiates of the Order. The cycles passed into generations; their children, and later their grandchildren, grew as honored members of the Nei Family. Lotun sighed as he walked, recalling past cycles and happier wakes. He touched his thumbnail to characters deeply engraved in the age-worn wood of his staff.

Children rounded a nearby corner and sprinted past Lotun with the exuberance of youth, the foremost giggling as she ran. The oldest and last paused hastily to make a sign of respect to the Servant of the Provider before running to catch up with the others. Lotun halted, his reverie disturbed. He leaned upon his staff and watched the rapidly retreating backs, recalling games that he and other children had played in the twining paths of the community. Generations had passed, he and his companions had parted and grown old, but Tamisan remained the same. Here then were new children and a new generation of the World, spirits returned from the World Beyond to new lives. Lotun nodded to himself. Would the respectful child journey to Tumnil to become a Servant in some cycle yet to come? Would he return to Tamisan in his old age, to this same narrow path between Family dwellings?

Lotun tapped his staff on the smooth Pathway rock at his feet. "Foolish thoughts," he muttered to himself, and returned to walking. No more than a few hundred paces remained before he would reach what had once been his home, but his pace was ever slower. The elder Initiate had not yet thought of an appropriate greeting for his Family - a formalism of great importance, coming as it would from one absent so long. The passing of time in service to the Provider had brought Lotun few regrets, but those few rested here in Tamisan. Lost once again in his thoughts in the now-empty path between ink-marked leather walls, Lotun walked on.

Tamisan 14 frowned as she turned one way and another, her bone-framed leather pack hanging from one shoulder. Seven flames lit this busy junction of passages between dwellings, burning on bone pipes atop carved wooden wallposts. Shadows flowed over the ornate leather, engraved wood and inked flax of passing Wohken, over the walls and smooth Pathway rock; a distracting net of light and dark.

Tamisan 14 was lost again, just as in Godward Wohken communities of past wakes. No sense lay in the placement of dwellings and branching ways between; a plait of leather woven of generations, and not for the Jentik eye. Wohken found the way easily enough, perhaps by means of the intricate motifs upon every wall and corner, but the twisting paths confused Tamisan 14. She sighed.

"Might we aid you?" A friendly voice inquired. A few of the passing Wohken had stopped to speak with Tamisan 14; two young men bowed formally, while a woman politely pressed her hands together in greeting. Their leather shirts and trews bore similar Tribal motifs, clear in the dancing flame-light.

"I seek the Nei Family dwelling," said Tamisan 14, spreading her hands, "but it is not easily found."

The foremost of the young men nodded in understanding, and glanced over his shoulder at the woman. She made a gesture of demurral, and the young man turned back to Tamisan 14. He bowed again, and the Jentik fought the urge to bow in return, settling instead for a brief inclination of her head. Her hanging pack was beginning to rub, and she set it to the smooth Pathway rock.

"I am Busai Wane, Second Lutnen," he touched an ornate sewn-leather design on his chest, "and First Lutnen of the Tamisan Brotherhood of Woodcrafters." He brushed his hand across other motifs sewn to his shirt, painted to the semblance of engraving tools. Tamisan 14 now noticed small ornamental bone tools hanging from a necklace. "I," continued the Wohken, "will guide you to the door of our honored friends, the Nei. That is, if you will permit me."

"By all means," replied Tamisan 14. She had been subject to far longer and more ornate introductions in past cycles from Wohken seeking to impress her - or Lotun. Her elder companion had told her the more Lightward-dwelling Wohken found such boastful formalism amusing.

"Return soon, Wane," remarked the woman, pointedly. "Our Father will be angry if this meet is delayed by the absence of a Second Lutnen."

"Of course, Sister," Wane replied respectfully. The three Wohken briefly clasped hands. The other young man gave Busai Wane an envious parting glance before falling in behind his Sister.

His Brother and Sister gone, Busai Wane looked at Tamisan 14 more carefully, his eyes following the lines of her clothing in the flame-light. In the first Godward Wohken communities visited by Lotun and Tamisan 14, where priests of the World Crafter preached from wooden platforms and the Light of the One God was far and dim, this constant inspection had been disconcerting. Lotun had explained with amusement - after the Jentik had been more than impolite to a staring Wohken boy - that her lack of motifs led people to suppose they had simply missed her Tribal markings. Perhaps her motifs were small or subtle, as would befit high ranks in certain influential Brotherhoods; Tamisan 14 should treat such attentions as a compliment.

The acolyte waited for Wane's gaze to return to her face. He was short and thin in comparison to the Jentik build, but his loose leather shirt concealed much of that difference. His dark, straight hair was neatly cropped short in a common Wohken style, and framed a not unattractive face.

"I bear no motifs," Tamisan 14 said. "I do not dwell among Wohken..."

"Then you must be the acolyte brought by Nei Lotun," interrupted the Wohken, nodding as he spoke. "I am honored to provide some service to you." He bowed his head, pressing his hands together, and then pointed to one of the many gaps between the dwellings that surrounded them, a pathway flanked by two of the seven blue flames. "You have almost found your way, but must first circle the Low Hall of Scrolls."

Wane led the wayalongside the Hall, pointing out inked wooden panels that marked the doorless structure as the territory of the Brotherhood of Knowledge. "See - the looped and knotted rope over the Formal Representative scroll curl? Scribes of the Brotherhood climb into the Dwelling through the Wisdom Hole in the roof."

"Why?" asked Tamisan 14. "Do they fear the scrolls will escape them?"

The Wohken laughed. "Perhaps. But it is tradition, and so best we respect the elder Amrals of the Brotherhood. I would show you the fine-woven rope ladder, but that would take us from the pathway - and too many breaths." He shrugged. "The Families of Tamisan have heard my name shouted by Busai Dijin too many times already in the past cycle."

"Busai Dijin?"

"Our honored elder Father. I am ill-thought, lazy, and an impossible choice for any potential partner." The Wohken smiled as he said this.

"I cannot see why." Tamisan 14 spoke without thinking, regetting her words in the very next heartbeat. She sought to find some tactful words in the awkward breaths that followed.

"Ah, but if only I were Nei," sighed Wane eventually, spreading his hands. The Wohken looked at Tamisan 14 in a more openly appraising manner. "We must turn here."

The two entered a broad, darker path between Family dwellings and the cracked wooden wall of the Low Hall of Scrolls. A pale-bearded elder Wohken passed them by, long leather robe hung about with carved bone motifs. Busai Wane stopped to bow deeply, receiving a curt wave of the hand in return.

Wane waited for the elder to run the nearest corner. "You have traveled with Nei Lotun," he said thoughtfully, and set to walking once more. "The Nei of the Brotherhood speak of him with great respect: the Nei who well serves the Provider. What is his spirit?"

Tamisan 14 thought for twenty paces or so, recalling the recent cycles of travel. "Wise," she said, finally.

Wane looked at the Jentik, half-smiling and expecting more. "Wise?"

The acolyte nodded. "Wise."

"I see." The young Wohken gave Tamisan 14 an uncertain glance. The Jentik's attention was upon the next junction, however.

"Which way must we take now?" The wall of the Low Hall of Scrolls came to another corner ahead, lit by a single small blue flame, its bone flame-pipe projecting from the wall of the Hall. Narrow paths between dwellings led in different directions. A tall wooden block rested on the flat Pathway rock, dominating the small open area beside the Hall corner post. Lines of Midrin Expressive characters ran across every part of the block, obscured by deep splits and cracks in the ancient Uk wood. A line of Wohken, each with a long braid of hair laced in the same style, bowed to the script in their passing.

"Walk the leftmost way," said Wane. "You will see the Nei dwelling between the fine Polpas wood of the Tamisan Meten and the poor ancestral leather of the Won."

"My thanks, Busai Wane. You have been most kind, and without need." The Jentik and the Wohken paused as the braided Brotherhood passed, their uneven shadows cast upon the path behind them. Tamisan 14 looked to her left, along a straight, dark gap between two smaller, leather-walled dwellings, both extravagantly inked with scenes of Tribal history.

"There stands the dwelling, beside the flame-lights beyond this dark," declared Busai Wane. "Please - be first upon the path." He swept his hand to the inked walls.

"You will be late for your meet," said the Jentik, looking askance at the Wohken as she started towards the Nei Family dwelling.

"A guide should not abandon his duty in the final steps, whether it is to Brother, Sister or honored guest," said Busai Wane, with a smile. "Our friends of the Nei Family would not know you walked a trustworthy path."

Tamisan 14 nodded in understanding. What minor favor it was that Busai Wane wanted from the Nei Family? That thought would not have occurred to the acolyte but a few short cycles past.

The script-carved block and blue flame-light behind her, Tamisan 14 turned her attention to the lit dwelling at the end of the slender, darkened path. Was that Lotun's robe among the Wohken gathered before the Nei Family dwelling? The acolyte quickened her pace, past the intricate art of prior generations; Busai Wane followed silently. Who were the dark-haired women with Lotun, their backs to her?

Tamisan 14 emerged into the open space before the engraved wooden panels and tall bone posts of the Nei Family dwelling. All was lit in yellow by a wood-flame of welcome, and fragrant smoke rose to be caught by the Gap wind above Tamisan's dwellings. Lotun was leaning to speak with one of the dark-haired young women. The other turned, and smiled when she noticed Tamisan 14.

"Sister! Welcome!" the young woman called. She put a hand on Lotun's arm, the sleeve of her loose shirt rich with Wohken symbols. "Grandfather!" She tugged at Lotun's arm. "Sister! Who is she?"

Tamisan 14 came to an abrupt halt; Busai Wane almost walked into her. The acolyte put a hand to her mouth in surprise. Both young women were Jentik!

Lotun and the other Jentik turned to look at Tamisan 14. The elder Servant's expression moved from surprise to what might be sadness. Tamisan 14 now saw other, older Jentik, also dressed in the Wohken style, amongst the Wohken of the Nei Family in the gathering. Busai Wane put his hand on Tamisan 14's shoulder, concern upon his face, but the acolyte could only stare in silence at the scene before her.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Tamisan 14 demanded.

Lotun raised a veined hand in defense. "Was it wrong of me, Tamisan 14?"

"Yes! You decided my spirit without even looking to my voice - no less than Deru in Tumnil. Everyone in Tamisan knows that Nei partner with Jentik. Even the Namekeeper! Everyone except me!" Tamisan 14 sat down on the smooth rock at the base of the side of the Nei Family dwelling and rested her face in her hands.

Lotun shook his head. He leaned on his staff and looked down at the young Jentik. "I was not protecting you from anything. My reasons were selfish. I did not want you to think that you were here, on this journey of the Provider's duties, because you were Jentik. I did not want you to think that because my partner..." Lotun sighed, and lapsed into silence for a few breaths. "You are as gifted as the best of your Tribe. You know what I did not want you to think."

Tamisan 14 raised her face, resting her chin on her palms. "That would not have occurred to me, Lotun." She shook her head as she spoke. "You have been a teacher, a mother to me. You should have told me - at least after a few cycles, when we came to Susyan territory."

Members of the Nei Family were talked nearby but out of sight; their voices blended into the sounds of the community. Crafters hammered wood upon wood somewhere in Tamisan, the sounds carried by the wind above the dwellings. Lotun ran his thin fingers over the engraved characters at the top of his staff.

"Perhaps you are right, Tamisan 14. Perhaps you are not. But now that you know, do not turn your spirit against me for doing what I thought to be right. The Seers tell us not to look backward and desire to change the past...

"...but to look forward to the duties of the future. I know. Tumnil 146 taught me that chant many cycles ago." Tamisan 14 looked up at Lotun. "As a wise elder who has partnered with Jentik, you do not know me as well as you should."

"You and your sisters are not as alike as you would have us believe, no more than any two curvetips atop the Provider's soil. I know that, at least." The Initiate looked at Tamisan 14's face, almost sadly. "I would have liked for you to meet my partner."

"Future duties, Lotun," said the Jentik, gently.

Lotun nodded. "Future duties." He looked at the rock of the Gap Pathway at his feet for heartbeats, and then stood as straight as the weight of generations allowed. "Come. With all we have spoken, you should meet with my Family. You will make this journey alone in generations to come, and the Nei will always welcome you to Tamisan..."

[ Posted by Reason on September 2, 2006 ]