It was a busy day today, so I’m only carving out some writing time now at 11pm, but I hope you’ll forgive me if the writing turns out as well as I hope it will!
This isn’t exactly a prompt per say, but the idea hit me like a bolt of lightning after I read fellow blogger Blair’s inspiring post on The Shameful Sheep tonight called “Lighting your fears on fire,” about a cancer survivor’s yearly ritual of writing her fears on a plate and throwing them in a fire.
There’s another ritual coming up in my story, this time done by the hunter-gatherer band of my main characters, and I thought this would make a wonderful centerpiece. It’s a yearly occurrence, so I’m going to write about a time many years before the events of the novel. Enjoy!
<<All right. I’m going to cheat and “publish” this post, unfinished, right now so that it counts as Monday……. but I can see I’ve got to work on better time management if I’m going to stick to my new posting schedule. (Today was hard though, I had to do our taxes!) Please forgive me, and if you’re seeing this, please come back later to read more!>>
(And by come back later, I really mean I decided to continue this on 2/15/16, if you’d like to see where it goes!)
Black Kite and Azur Dove ran across the grassy plain as fast as their legs would carry them, trying to emulate the birds they were named for as they raced back to camp, the sun just beginning to fall behind the western mountains behind them. “We’re going to miss it!” Kite cried in dismay, but Azur reached back and found her friend’s hand, trying to pull her along without tripping them both up.
“No, no, we’ll make it,” Azur said confidently as they crested another rise and she could finally see the conical tents dotting the open plain in the distance. Thin wisps of smoke were visible over a few of the tents, but the largest column was now rising from the bonfire being built in the center of the camp where Azur knew the whole band would be gathering for tonight’s ritual.
Pushing themselves to run faster than either of them ever had before, Azur and Kite were able to clamber into camp and weave their way among the adults to find their fledgemates, Water Pipet and Winter Wren, sitting on the smokey side of the bonfire just in time. “Make room,” Azur hissed at Pipet, who rolled his eyes at her but was able to scoot over enough to let the girls sit between his twin and himself.
Azur’s mothers were standing with Kite’s mother a little way around the circle, and both girls gave the three women a small wave in apology for almost being late. Kite’s mom just smiled back, but Azur’s mothers both looked quite relieved at seeing their daughter finally making an appearance. Before Azur could figure out what they’d been so worried about, though, Dawn Plover stepped forward to begin the ritual.
“Tomorrow, we will arrive at the yearly gathering of the bands of the Sky Territories,” she said as those gathered around the bonfire, the whole of the Small Wing band, hushed to listen. Plover’s back was to the sun now falling behind the mountains and turning the open skies overhead all the colors of the fire dancing in front of her.
“Tonight, as we have done for generations, we gather here to talk about our hopes and fears for the coming year as we make our way around the track of the Small Wings,” the elder continued, “and we send these hopes and dreams up to our ancestors, so they might share them with the spirits of the plains.” Just then, a boy about their age stepped up next to Dawn Plover, holding a beautiful woven basket filled with dry herbs out to her.
Spotted Redshank. Azur must have made some small sound of dismay, because Pipet turned and shushed her and Kite grabbed her hand again. Azur and Redshank had the same father, but the two had always been more rivals than friends, and the fact that he’d been chosen for the place of honor in the ritual bothered Azur more than she wanted it to.
Plover took a small handful of herbs from the basket and raised her fist above her head. “I hope for a dry gathering,” she said, smiling, “because these last two years have been terrible for us old folks.” This drew chuckles from many in the rest of the crowd, and with a flourish, Plover sent the dry herbs into the flames, and watched as they caught and rose into the darkening sky.
She took another handful of herbs, and then became more solemn, her voice growing soft. “And I am afraid this will be my last gathering,” she said, more for the spirits than for the crowd. Azur knew that Plover had been visiting Kite’s mom, who was one of the most skilled healers in the band, more often lately, and wondered sadly if the elder might be right. As she threw her second handful of herbs into the flames, Plover’s partner came up beside her and put his hand on her shoulder.
He took a handful of herbs for himself as Plover stepped back, and said simply, “I hope for more time.” He didn’t share his fear aloud, just threw another handful of herbs to the flames, and then he and Plover made their way toward the back of the crowd, as everyone else started to come forward to take their turn in the ritual.
Some people shared their hopes and fears, others did not, as they all tossed their herbs into the flames and watched them spin up to the sky. A trio of young hunters who had grown up together and were all attending their sixteenth gathering threw their herbs together, hoping for favorable conditions during the upcoming competitions, and sharing their fear of being separated if any of them should find a partner in another band.
Even the youngest band members got to take part, and Azur watched her mothers take her baby brother up to the basket next. Each woman hoped for happiness for their children and tossed a handful of herbs into the flames, and then added a pinch for the baby. Then, with a meaningful look over at Azur, her mother Hazel shared her fear with the spirits.
“I worry my daughter, all of nine years old,” she said, looking up at the darkening sky, “will take tonight as a challenge, instead of the honor it is meant to be,” Hazel Grouse finished, meeting Azur’s confused gaze again before flinging her herbs into the fire. Hazel’s partner and Azur’s other mother Laughing Lark, holding Azur’s baby brother on her hip, then stepped forward.
“And I fear,” she intoned sweetly, shooting Azur a conspiratorial wink before facing her partner and not even bothering to address the sky, “the exact opposite.” Lark kissed Hazel at the same moment she tossed her herbs to the side into the flames, eliciting another chuckle from the crowd.
Azur was completely confused now. What under Sky were they talking about?
(To be continued…)
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