Lives change, interests change. Now I have a new blog. See me at : Weaving Threads Together
Photo: By DKrieger – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2681622
Lost History, Mystery, and Yarns
Lives change, interests change. Now I have a new blog. See me at : Weaving Threads Together
Photo: By DKrieger – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2681622
In a creative slump and it is all the fault of that nasty “LIKE” button.
Feeling obliged to hit it every time someone posts;
Waiting and counting the number of “hits” I get.
What’s my motivation anyway?
Creating for the love of creating or to get more LIKEs?
That durn LIKE button permeates my life:
Always at the back of my mind: Where to post my creation?
Who will see it?
How many LIKES will I get?
I think about it when I
It has taken the creative joy out of my day.
Yes, even as I put these thoughts to paper,
Will you LIKE it—
Thumbs up or thumbs down?
So trying to disable the LIKE button in my head and
Create for the joy of creating.
Let the rest of it be.
Acknowledgement: Venerable Thubten Chodron’s guided meditation Generating Beneficial Motivation on the Insight Timer app.
Nanna stood on the narrow beach with Gryffud. “How close are they?”
“Almost to the top of the cliffs. One more grappling hook and they will be ready to scale the tower walls.”
“How will they get her out?”
“She will have to be very brave.”
Nanna worried. Would Sonsee be able to cling to the man who would bring her down? Would she hold her panic at seeing the height they must descend. Nanna did not know. And one false move could doom them both to a thousand foot fall.
The earth rumbled again and shook, this time more violently.
“I do not like this,” Gryffud grumbled before turning to the man next to him. “Did you tell the men to tie themselves well with the ropes. And the girl. And blindfold her well so she does not see. We do not need her to panic tonight.”
The cave shook violently just as Toko turned over on her cot, whispering,
A window, a window, give me a window.
Fresh clean air, a sea breeze, escape.
M’Lady gabbed the vial hungrily from the chemist’s hand.”Are you sure this will work?”
“Yes, M’Lady. As you ordered. She will be confused but able to walk for at least tonight. It will take a week for her to die. I only regret she will suffer so. But I do not know any way to make her last days more pleasant.”
“One more thing,” the chemist said. “Do not have her drink it or she will die within minutes. Pour it on her skin. In her hair would be best. It will absorb more slowly.”
“How quickly will her senses leave her?”
“That is immediate. It just takes a long time for death to occur.”
M’Lady tucked the vial into her ample bosom. It was time to get the girl.
Sonsee’s father climbed into the small row boat and rowed toward the shore as the two strongest crew members swam to the rocks just beyond the sandy shoreline. With each stroke of the oars, he murmured,
Gods of land and sea,
Hold back your fury,
Hold back your tempest,
Help me find my Sonsee.
But then the earth shook so violently the rocks cracked allowing a large boulder to tumble into the sea. Sonsee’s father thought he heard a man scream and, from the corner of his eye, he saw a figure fall from the cliffs above. Was it a man? No, he decided, just a bird soaring away.
Gryffud felt Nanna grab his arm. But he patted it softly. “Let us hope his harness held.” He would not blame the man for turning around now and refusing the try again. That is, if he survived the fall. Then the earth shook again, this time even more violently.
M’Lady held her kerchief over her burning nostrils as she made her way to Toko. She felt the earth shake and small bits of rocks and dust hit her as they fell from the ceiling above. She shook her fist at the gods.
“Hold back,” she demanded. But the earth shook again and she heard rock grate on rock and then a crack as if the rock itself was splitting.
The crack of the splitting rock woke Toko. She smelled the sea air, fresh, clean, salty. She opened her eyes to see a hole in the cave wall where the rock had split asunder. And there were stars shimmering in the indigo sky.
Toko took another deep breath and wondered at the clear open feeling in her head. It was as if the cobwebs had been removed from her senses. She could think again, after days in the horrid caves. She swung her feet from the bed and climbed over the low wall that remained between her and freedom. She rejoiced in the feel of the cool sand between her toes and took off toward the sea, not knowing how she would find her way back to Nanna and Poppa, but rejoicing in her first real glimmer of hope in—how long had it been? She had lost all track of time since entering the caves. But she was Sonsee-array again, not Toko any longer.
Nanna was the first to see Sonsee’s father as he climbed out of his small boat. She motioned to Gryffud.
“Should we hide?” he asked.
“No. We will need his help,” Nanna replied as she strode toward him. She did not know why he was there, but she suspected. Had he traded the tiles for Sonsee?
M’Lady smelled the clean ocean air before she reached Toko’s room. Holding her small lamp in one hand, she lowered the kerchief from her nose as she entered only to find Toko gone. She shook a tightly clenched fist at the gods above. “Damn you!” she shouted and turned to leave the room. “Damn you.” Now she would need force to take those tiles from her half-brother. And the vial of poison tucked into her breast.
Sonsee let the water lap between her toes as she scanned the beach first in one direction, then in the other. To her left there were rocks and she could hide in them. But M’Lady would surely send others to search for her. To her right was nothing but sand. And nowhere to hide.
She turned left toward the rocks and climbed up onto the one nearest. They were rough, volcanic, and scraped at her bare feet. Why did I not remember my shoes? But there was no turning back now.
The earth rumbled again, this time kinder than the last. But still it knocked Sonsee off her feet and she sat for a minute, waiting for the trembling to stop.
When it was quiet again she thought she heard voices. From the other side of the rocks. What to do? Who was it? Friend or foe? Maybe a sprint across the sand was not such a bad idea after all. At least her feet would not be cut and bruised.
“Woman, I told you I would handle it,” the man shouted.
It had been so long but Sonsee was sure it was her father. “Poppa,” she shouted as she stood and limped toward the voice. “Poppa!” The rocks tore at her feet but she did not care and hurried her pace.
But it was a strange man who appeared and caught her up in his big beefy arms.
“Poppa,” Sonsee screamed one last time before she felt his rough hand clamp over her mouth. She tried to bite it, but his strong thumb clamped under her jaw, holding it firmly shut.
“Shhh,” he whispered. “I came with your father.”
Both Nanna and Sonsee’s father turned toward Sonsee’s voice.
“Shhhh,” he whispered as he turned toward the rocks on his right. “Was that Sonsee?”
“I think so,” Nanna replied as she turned to head toward the sound.
Sonsee’s father grabbed at Nanna’s arm as she passed him. “I have two men hidden there. They will get her.”
Nanna watched as a shadow appeared holding a bundle in his arms. When the man reached the sandy shore, he gently set down the bundle and Sonsee raced to her father and her Nanna. She was crying great pools of tears and her body shook with what Nanna could only suspect was relief. For many minutes the three of them held each other as they huddled on the shore.
“Are you alright?” Sonsee’s father repeated over and over. Sonsee would nod her head yes, but the shaking seemed never to stop.
“You have your daughter. Now where are my tiles?”
Sonsee’s father was the first to stand. He reached into his jerkin and pulled out a velvet bag. “Here,” he said, tossing them to her. M’Lady watched as her brother grabbed Nanna’s arm tightly, holding her back from racing to the tiles.
The bag landed on the sand just out of Brachaia’s grasp. She stepped forward to pick it up and put them into her ample bosom. As she did, she grasped the vial of poison. It would not do to have Toko tell tales of her time in the temple. She uncorked the top, palmed it in her left hand and, right hand extended, walked toward her brother. “Peace be between us,” she said.
Sonsee’s father pushed Sonsee behind Nanna. “Peace be between us,” he replied.
The earth rumbled again. Sonsee looked up to see the cliff face tumble into the sea, taking her tower prison with it.
Turning to the man who had carried Sonsee, her father said, “Get the ladies to the boat. I will deal with my sister. If I do not follow in 15 minutes, turn the boat to the sea. There will be a tsunami, I think. The captain will know what to do. Now hurry.”
Sonsee watch as her father walked toward M’Lady. But then strong arms gathered her up and put her in the boat.
But Nanna refused to get. “Gryffud,” she called out. He did not come. “Gryffud!”
“I should have guessed Gryffud would be here, too,” Sonsee’s father said. “Now go with Sonsee.”
“Your Lordship, we must not leave the tiles with M’Lady.”
“They are fakes,” he replied. “Now go. I cannot deal with Brachaia and you both. The tiles are safe.”
Unsure what to do now, Nanna followed Sonsee to the boat and climbed in.
Sonsee’s father strode toward his half-sister, hand extended. “Peace be between us,” he repeated yet again.
Just as he was within a foot of her, he saw Brachaia take something from her left hand into her right. Quickly stepping aside, he said, “No, sorcery, remember?”
But there was only fury on Brachaia’s face. “And nobody was to come here but you. You have broken your word.”
Brachaia swung the uncorked vial at her brother and Sonsee’s father saw the liquid arch into the air straight toward his face just before a great force hit him from his side.
He and Gryffud landed in a heap just out of Brachaia’s reach.
Two more men came limping along, ropes looped over their shoulders.
“Your Lordship, we need to get out of here. The rocks are cleaving.”
“I have a ship just out to sea. Can you swim?”
Hours later Sonsee lay in a soft bed as she felt the ship rise and fall, rise and fall again. Her father and Nanna sat at her bedside reassuring her all was okay. One day she would tell them what had happened, but not today. Today they needed to ride out the storm in the old ways. In a ship built to withstand the tsunamis; in a ship that would hold parallel to the shoreline allowing the waves to rush under it but never pulling it with along.
She slept on and off until a great crash thundered through the ship and she heard her father shout, “The island is gone. Move us out to sea. Now! We go to the land of Ion’s people.”
Photo attribution: By Antonio Maria Marini [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
“I am coming with you.”
“No,” Gryffud replied. “You are not. It is too dangerous.”
“I do not ask to scale the walls, only to wait on the shore.”
Moon Dark had finally come. Tonight they would place the grappling hooks to climb to the tower and the next night the men would rescue Sonsee. That was the plan.
“Will you wait in the boat?”
“I will wait on the shore,” Nanna replied.
“So be it, then.” Resigned, Gryffud turned to ready the boat and instruct the men on their assigned task just as the earth rumbled beneath them.
M’Lady had struggled the entire day. There must be a way to keep Toko and yet get those tiles. Idea after idea stormed through her head. Bring another girl in Toko’s place and feign ignorance. “But my brother, how was I to know? I thought she was your daughter.” No, that would not do. He would not give up the tiles so easily.
Snatching the tiles was an option, but that took brute force. And would not stop him from storming the Temple, further humiliating her.
She could just have him killed there on the shore. But what if he brought men with him? In fact M’Lady was sure he would have men hidden in the rocks. Still, he was an honest man. If he said he would trade the tiles, then he would do just that. And the men would remain hidden.
Perhaps she should just trade Toko after all. She was skinny, sure, but not yet damaged by the fumes in the scrying cave. M’Lady thought long and hard about what Toko might reveal to him. Until Toko had been brought to the scying cave, M’Lady had been able to distance herself. “It was the others, not me. I did not know what they were doing.” But she had been present in the scrying cave. She could not deny that.
No, she decided, the only way was to render Toko mute somehow. Drug her and make her incoherent. But give her poison, too. One that would take a very long time to work. Weeks if that was possible. She felt the earth rumble beneath her, Yes, that was the answer. The omen was good.
M’Lady rose from her desk, walked out of her office, and called to the first priestess she saw. “Bring me the chemist.”
Sonsee’s father paced his office. “What do you mean you cannot find Gryffud?”
“He is not in the blacksmith shop, nor at his cottage,” the young servant replied. “Nobody has seen him all evening.”
If not Gryffud, who could he bring? Someone strong, someone dependable. “Who is in the smithery?”
“Nobody, my Lord. The smithery has been closed all afternoon.”
Angry now, Sonsee’s father bit his tongue. Stay in control, he reminded himself. Stay in control. He felt the earth rumble beneath him. “Not now,” he whispered to the god of the sea. “Not now. Let me get my daughter first.” Still he knew the rumbles were growing stronger. It was time to send the ships out to sea, away from the island, away from the tsunamis the quaking earth might cause.
“Bring me my captain of ships,” Sonsee’s father instructed. And in that moment he knew what he should do. He would take his captain, his strongest ship, and a small crew to his meeting with Brachaia. The darkness would hide the ship off shore. He could row in while two of the crew made their way to hide in the rocks. It was a good plan.
That same night, Toko curled herself into a tight ball on her cot. Even here the fumes were relentless. She hungered for the sea breezes, the fresh clean air after a storm, even the hot steamy smells of the smithery would be better than this.
The earth rumbled all around her, shaking dust and small particles from the cave ceiling above. She almost wished it would come crashing down upon her, killing her. Anything would be better than the sulfur fumes and the clinging darkness that perpetually surrounded her. Anything. Was it day? Was it night? She could no longer tell.
A window, a window, give me a window.
Fresh clean air, a sea breeze, escape.
Her stomached rumbled now, and then the cave shook, and then her stomach rumbled again. Repeating her chant over and over again, she finally fell asleep.
Photo attribution: By Peko [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons
“We had a bargain. Iona for the tiles. You broke your word!” M’Lady felt the old hatred rise from her belly. This was the man who stole everything from her and gave her nothing in return. Her mother, only the mistress, had been displaced when his lordship’s father married another. Now she was little more than a bastard in the eyes of the islanders. It hurt that she was M’Lady only in the confines of the Temple. She stood, confronting her half brother but was careful to leave her desk between them. He seemed calm now, but M’Lady had seen him enraged. Even when he was but a small child, it had scared her. No, best to have distance between them.
“I told you I would bring them to you if I had them. Until now, I did not have them. Brachaia, enough squabbling.”
“M’Lady. My name is M’Lady now. Call me M’Lady.”
“Brachaia, do you want the tiles or not? If you do, the price is the return of my daughter.”
“What makes you so sure I have her? Didn’t I hear she was taken by the crocodiles?” For a moment M’lady rejoiced in the pain she saw on her brother’s face, but he kept his gaze steady, staring her straight in the eye.
“I did not come here to squabble with you. Are you trading my daughter for the tiles, or must I use force to get her back?”
“I do not believe you have the tiles.”
M’Lady watched as his Lordship reached into his pocket and pulled out a wadded handkerchief. “If I have the tiles, do we have a bargain?”
His lordship opened the handkerchief, careful not to touch the tile. “Take it,” he said.
M’Lady grabbed the tile hungrily. Was it real? What of Toko’s vision? Was it buried or was this it?
“How many more are there?”
“I did not count them.”
“How do you read them?”
“There is a parchment folded in the box. It has the meaning of all the pictures.”
M’lady inspected the tile more closely. An erupting volcano. “What does this mean?”
“Is it not clear? Destruction. Do we have a deal or not?”
M’Lady sent her senses out to the wooden tile, asking only if his lordship had told her the truth. The earth rumbled beneath her. A good sign.
“I heard they were buried on the shore,” M’Lady said.
“Were buried on the shore.”
“How did you get them?”
“Nanna brought them to me.”
“I do not know. Do you want them or not?”
“Can Nanna read them?”
“No! Enough stalling. Do you have my daughter?”
“I might know where she is.”
“Do we have a deal?”
M’Lady inspected the tile again. Again the earth rumbled beneath her. She would not need Toko to read the tiles. They were talking to her, she was sure of it.
“Perhaps. I will see if I can get her back for you.”
“I am confident that you can. Tomorrow night bring Sonsee-array to the shore beneath the Temple. If she is alive and well, I will give you the tiles.”
“How do I know you will not have your men there, ready to ambush me?”
“How do I know you will not bring sorcery to the meeting?”
“You do not.”
“And neither do you. Brachaia, I am Lord of the Island now, not my father. Do not toy with me. I made a promise to you. I have found the tiles after all these years and I shall honor our bargain because I am an honest man. I only ask for my daughter in return. Do you accept, or shall I have my men come and take you?”
“On what grounds?”
“I am Lord here. I do not need grounds. ”
M’Lady knew that was true. Her choices were obvious. Kill Toko and dispose of her body before his Lordship searched the temple, or trade her for the tiles. She wanted those tiles.
“I know who has her. I can get her here. Tomorrow night. Bring the tiles and I will have the girl.”
“I will be at the shore below the temple. We have a deal then?”
“We have a deal.”
Photo attribution: By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons
When finally Toko awoke, it was to the smell of sulphur. Her eyes stung. One small lamp burned on the stand next to her. She rolled her feet off the bed. Where she was, she could not tell. This was not her tower room. This room smelled of dampness, of mold, and of the gases that poured from the earth when the mountain shook. It was warm, too, not like the coolness of her own room. She tried to stand, but her head spun.
“Give it a minute. The potion will wear off in a minute.”
Sonsee peered into the darkness. Hunched in the corner she could make out the form of a young girl. “Where am I?”
“In the caves under the Temple. You are a seeress now, one of the forgotten ones.”
“Yes, once here, nobody will see you again. Except for us.” The girl stood and took two steps toward Toko. Even in the dim light, Toko could see the girl’s yellowed skin, her patchy hair, and the sores that ran up and down her bony legs. The girl gave her a tentative smile and Toko saw her rotting teeth, just like the woman who had given her the drink. “One day soon you will even look like us. Now eat.” The girl picked up a tray from the floor and Toko wondered if it had been a bug that she had flicked off of it. Then the girl stepped on it and popped it in her mouth. “They do not give us much protein down here. Starvation makes the visions work better, they say.”
“Yes, dearie, that is what we do down here, have visions. But let me warn you. Only tell them nice visions. If you tell the truth, they will say you are a liar. Only tell them good things if you want to live.”
“What kind of place is this?”
“You will see.” With that the girl placed the tray on Toko’s cot and left the room.
Toko nibbled at the bread and drank the water, moistening her dry cracked lips. It was gone all too fast. She stood and surveyed her new room. Cave walls and a stone floor and little else. The door was open but when she looked out it was blacker than she had ever seen. She got the small lamp and carried it to the door, but it did nothing to penetrate the darkness. Fearful of getting lost if she ventured out, Toko replaced the lamp and fell into the bed crying.
Toko did not know how much time had passed when she awakened to someone shaking her shoulder.
“Get up, lazy girl. M’Lady wants to see what you can do.”
“Can I get some water and some food, maybe?”
The woman was short and all bones. Her gown was ragged and soiled. She looked like all the other women here.
“Water when you get to the pit. As for food, look for bugs, girlie.” The hunched woman laughed as she led Toko from the room.
Toko was brought to a warm water spring where she was told to bathe. “You get the royal treatment, your highness,” the woman said as Toko stepped into the spring. It felt so good to bathe again. She wondered why the other women did not use it, too. But did not ask.
When she had dried herself off, a gold cloth was draped over her body and tied under her breasts. A red velvet scarf was draped over her head and she was handed a laurel branch and a bowl of water. “Come,” the woman said, leading her down the long tunnel.
Toko tried to memorize her way, but her head was fuzzy and she could not concentrate. Finally, after what seemed to be miles, they arrived at the end of a tunnel.
“In there, sit on the gold stool.” A hunched old woman pointed the way into a misty room but did not enter. When Toko stepped in she understood why. Sulfur fumes stung her nostrils and caught in her throat. She turned but the hunched woman was gone.
“Come in, my dear. I am Meioni. It is time to start your training.” The voice came from in the sulfur-filled room.
“But I am trained. I am a weaver,” Toko replied, but with little hope that would save her now.
“No my dear, you are the strongest seeress we have yet tested. Sit on the stool.”
Toko did as she was told, trying to avoid inhaling the fumes that drifted up from the crack on the cave floor.
“She is ready, M’Lady. You may come in.”
M’Lady stepped in from the far corner, draped in white and holding a white cloth to her nose. “Toko, it seems you have taken after your mother. Your powers are strong. Let us see if you can find those tiles for me. The others have tried but failed.”
“What tiles?” Toko asked. She only hoped they would not drug her. She did not think she would be able to control her tongue if that happened.
Meioni approached and took the laurel branch from Toko. Dipping it in the water, Meioni then flicked it about the room and finally into the hole beneath the chair. “Gaze into the bowl. That is where you will find the answer to M’Lady’s question.”
Toko did as instructed and watched as the water seemed to glisten, then move. She was holding the bowl still, yet the water rippled and this surprised her, but not as much as what she saw next. Her father was in his study. He was sweeping the tiles back into the box and walking away with them. Does he know? Will he find me now?
“Answer me Toko, where are the tiles?”
The water shimmered and seemed to vibrate. The next picture gave Toko some hope. She saw the same box on the shore. It was being tucked under a fallen log and covered with driftwood. Nanna and her mother were there. They were so young, she hardly recognized them. Toko looked straight at the veiled figure in the corner. “They are hidden somewhere on the shore. A log covers them and driftwood. I saw my mother and Nanna place them there.”
“Describe the shore.”
The earth below them rumbled again as Toko peered into the bowl. The vision cleared, now rising out of the water and hovering above the bowl. She could see more detail. “There is a huge upright bolder and a fire there. Mother is wet. So is Nanna. Some men come and watch but neither Nanna nor my mother see them.”
“Impossible. We searched there.”
“They are buried under the log,” Toko quickly added, hoping they had not thought to dig there.
M’Lady turned to Meioni. “Work her every day.”
“But, M’Lady, if I work her everyday and she won’t live a year.”
“But think of what she can reveal in that one year. It is worth the price. Every day, do you understand?”
“Yes, M’Lady. Everyday.”
“You did well today, Toko. I am proud of you.” M’Lady spun on her heels and left the room just as Toko felt her stomach heave. But nothing came out.
“Now you know why we eat so little here,” Meioni said as she helped Toko off the stool and back to her room.
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“You should have told me years ago!”
Sonsee’s father roared in a voice Nanna had never heard before. When he pounded his fist on the desk, Nanna winced and backed away from him.
“My Lord, I was only following Iona’s wishes.”
“Then you both should have told me!”
His face was red and Nanna saw one large vein pop out on his forehead. She feared he would have a stroke, or heart attack, or goodness knew what else.
“My Lord, I apologize, but we must find Sonsee now. I can only imagine the plans M’Lady would have for her.”
Sonsee’s father picked up the amulet and inspected it one more time. “Do you really think Sonsee made this?”
“Yes, My Lord, and smuggled it out for us to see. Sonsee is a smart, resourceful girl.”
“Bring me the tiles,” Sonsee’s father replied, placing the amulet gently n the desk.
“But My Lord…”
“I said ‘Bring me the tiles!’” He glared at Nanna but she refused to move even one muscle. “Now!” he screamed. “If you want to save Sonsee’s life, bring me those tiles.”
“My Lord, they are dangerous if in the hands…”
“Yes, yes, I heard you the first time. Now bring them!”
As Nanna turned to leave the room, she did not know what to do. Men were not allowed to touch the tiles. It would rob them of their power, it was said. Would his Lordship understand that? She was not so sure. Or maybe it was time for them to lose their power. What had they brought to anyone but misery? The King’s greed for the tiles had forced Iona, Nanna, and their families to flee their homeland, and what had that brought them? A ship wreck, all killed but the two young girls unable to care for themselves. Then M’Lady’s greed. Would it never end? They should have been thrown to the sea long ago.
Nanna grabbed the box, now certain they should be destroyed. But first she needed to get Sonsee back. She walked resolutely back to his Lordship’s office and set the box on the table.
“Open it,” his Lordship said, his anger having cooled down.
Nanna poured the tiles on the desk. There was a rumble deep in the earth beneath them. Nanna was relieved to find it was only a short one, not long or strong enough to take notice. The earth rumbled all the time. Surely it did not mean anything.
“May I handle them?” Sonsee’s father asked.
Confused, Nanna looked at him.
“Iona may not have told me about the tiles, but she did say there were many magical things in your homeland that men could not touch. May I touch these?”
“Men have never touched the tiles,” Nanna replied.
“Good. Spread them out and let me see them. Picture side up, please.” His lordship studied the tiles for many minutes before asking, “How do you use them? They are just symbols.”
“You turn them up-side-down and ask a question. One tile will call to you somehow. You turn it over and the symbol will give you the answer.”
“Show me. Ask whether I will get my Sonsee back.”
“Yes/no questions are not easily answered, My Lord.”
“Then ask how I get my Sonsee back.”
“I am not as good as Iona was, My Lord, but I can try.” Nanna turned the tiles over, then gently moved them around with the palms of her hands. “Concentrate on your question, as I will, too.”
Nanna moved her right hand over the tiles. Nothing was calling. She moved her hand closer, now just an inch above them. The sleeve of her gown hit one and it flew off the desk.
Nanna bent to pick it up. “The volcano,” she whispered. “It means destruction.” Nanna could feel herself shaking now.
“How do you know that was meant to be the answer?”
“Because it is the third time I have gotten that tile when asking about Sonsee,” she replied.
“Put the tiles back in the box. It is time to stop this charade. I made a promise to Brachaia. I promised that, if I found the tiles, I would give them to her in exchange for letting Iona go. It maybe too late, but I intend to keep that promise.”
“Brachaia? Who is Brachaia?” Nanna asked fearing the answer.
“My half sister. The Mistress of the temple. You call her M’Lady, but her name is Brachaia.”
“But My Lord?”
“Do as I say. If you both had come to me sooner, this would never have happened. I thought Iona’s death would be the end of it. I see I underestimated Brachaia.”
“Touch the tiles, My Lord. We must destroy their power.”
“No, we need them yet.”
“But My Lord,…”
“If you will not do as I say, leave me,” Sonsee’s father ordered as he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and swept the tiles into the box.
“But My Lord…”
“My Lord, please listen to…” Before she could finish her plea, Sonsee’s father had turned and left the room, taking the weaver’s box with him.
Desperate now, Nanna turned and left the room, too. She hurried to the smithery and called out, “Gryffud, I need you.”
Just as Gryffud appeared, the earth rumbled again, this time stronger than the last.
An hour later Nanna and Gryffud were on the beach looking up at the Temple’s tower.
“Are you sure Sonsee is up there?” Gryffud asked for the tenth time.
“I cannot tell you how I know, but I know. She is in that room and we need to get her out.”
“If we could scale the cliffs, maybe. But we would need a grappling hook and a very good arm to throw it through the window.”
“We have to try. Tonight, can you get the men together for tonight?”
“I do not know, My Lady. It is dangerous. What if we are caught?”
“Gryffud, please. We have to rescue Sonsee before his Lordship does something he will regret. I know M’Lady. She will stop at nothing to get what she wants.”
“We must wait until the moon is dark. It will take one night to get the ropes in place to scale the cliff, and a second to enter the tower. I will get the men together.”
[CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Toko spent the next three days locked in her room. Fresh water was brought every day—but only enough for drinking. Though she begged many times, she was brought no food. And all she could do was to lie on her bed and chant “Food, food, bring me some food.”
On the fourth evening, Marta came with a small loaf of bread. Toko tore at it like a ravenous wolf. It felt so good in her stomach. By the time she had devoured the loaf, Marta was gone.
That night and all the next day, Toko chanted, “Meat and cheese, please, oh please.
That evening one of the priestess from the weaving shop showed up. Determined not to give up her chance, she took the bread but did not devour it. “Why am I being punished, do you know?”
“No,” the priestess said, then held her finger to her lips. She leaned forward and took a small bundle from her ample breasts. “Do not tell or we all die,” she whispered.
Toko shoved the small bundle under her blanket and tore off a small piece of bread. She savored it.
As the priestess left her room, Toko heard her say, “M’Lady, may I go back to my weaving now?”
So M’Lady had been outside her door. Listening she presumed. She’d have to be more careful in the future.
Toko ate only half the bread this time, saving the other half. She waited an hour to be sure M’Lady was not returning, then she pulled the small bundle from under her blanket and opened it. Inside were slices of cheese and wrapped in the cheese were pieces of meat. As she put each morsel into her mouth she gave a prayer of gratitude. She marveled at how little it took to make her content.
For the next few day, Toko kept up her chant and, although a different priestess came each evening, she received the same small bundle of meat and cheese.
On the eighth morning, a priestess Toko had never seen before showed up, carrying her ration of water in a small pitcher, but also carrying a cracked and dirty chalice. The woman was scrawny, her eyes sunken into dark cavernous rings. As the woman approached, Toko caught her smell, first of sulfur and then unwashed hair. Then Toko noticed the sores on her arms and how her hair seemed to have come out in patches, leaving her scalp dark and mottled. The strange woman’s skin was pale, almost yellow, Toko thought, as she took the chalice being handed to her.
“Drink it,” the woman said, her voice raspy and deep. She almost seemed to gasp for air, as if even those two words took her breath away.
Toko took a small sip. The liquid was bitter and Toko wanted to gag. “I can’t,” she said, setting the chalice down.
“Then you get no water today,” the woman hissed as she took the pitcher and left the room.
“No wait,” Toko called after her. But the door remained firmly closed and locked.
All day Toko looked at the chalice, sometimes smelling it to see if it was really so vile. Each time she left it again, refusing to drink it. Finally she poured it onto the floor, hoping it would dry by the the time anyone came back to see her. Are they poisoning me now?
By evening her throat was parched, her tongue so dry it stuck to her teeth. Nobody showed up that evening. She almost wished she had not poured out the chalice. At least it would be something in her stomach. As she crawled into bed, she felt weak, dizzy even. Whether she slept that night or not, Toko did not know.
The next morning the strange priestess showed up again, and again Toko was handed the chalice. “Drink it or you get no water,” the woman growled and Toko saw her rotting teeth, now barely more than spikes sticking from her gums.
Toko took the chalice. “What is it?”
“Herbs to bring about the powers.”
The woman just glared at her.
“Will it hurt me?”
“Stupid girl. If I drink some, will you drink the rest?”
The thought of drinking from the same chalice as this smelly woman with rotting teeth made Toko’s stomach turn. The woman scratched at her head, then inspected her ragged finger tips.
Toko held her nose and drank the vile liquid down, gagging as she did.
“Good girl. Have some water. It will take the taste away.”
Toko took the pitcher and poured it into her burning mouth.
“Bring more water,” the strange woman called out and a second scrawny woman entered, carrying two more pitchers. “Drink plenty of water tonight. It does not burn so much if you drink plenty of water,” the older woman said as she sat on the floor watching Toko.
Light-headed now, Toko sat on her bed and placed the empty pitcher on the floor. Toko felt herself passing into a dreamlike state, the world now getting fuzzy and losing its edges. Before she could curl up on the bed, the second woman brought over a dirty rag. “You’ll want to place this between your legs, girlie.”
Unable to control her body now, Toko fell back and felt the woman stuff the rag up under her shift before settling Toko onto her back. The last sensation Toko felt was warmth as her bladder relaxed into the rag.
By Zde [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons
Many years had passed since anyone had tried to consult the tiles. Iona had the gift, not Nanna, but she did know how to work with them. She had always known she would one day teach Sonsee whom, they both hoped, had inherited her mother’s talents. But now Nanna needed to try. It was the only way she knew to get an answer.
Each tile had a picture on it. Each picture had a meaning. The trick, Nanna knew, was in putting the pictures and their meanings together to get the answer you sought. Iona could do that perfectly. Nanna could only follow the steps and hope the tiles would talk to her, hope she would understand their true meaning. She could only do her best. But would that be good enough to find Sonsee?
Nanna thought back to what Iona had taught her. The first step was to phrase the question precisely. Ambiguity in the question meant ambiguity in the answer. And yes-no questions were the hardest to decipher. But Nanna decided she had to try anyway.
After pouring herself a goblet of wine, Nanna sat at the table in her apartment, pushed everything out of the way, and dumped out the tiles. First, she surveyed the pictures on each, remembering as best she could each meaning. Then she turned them all up-side-down and took a sip of wine.
Is Sonsee-array still alive?
Nanna moved her open palm over the tiles, waiting for one to call to her. None did.
Is Sonsee-array alive somewhere on this island?
Again she moved her palm over the tiles but none called to her.
Maybe I need a connection to Sonsee. Nanna pulled the amulet from her pocket and removed the bronze embellishment. She held it in her hand as she once again scanned the tiles. One pulled at her consciousness. She picked it up and turned it over.
Death, she pulled the tile for death and sat back with a gasp as once again, her grief overwhelmed her senses. Her vision narrowed and she stared at the tile next to the embellishment. Iona’s embellishment.
She scanned the tiles and one called to her, so she picked it up. It was the mountain shrouded in purple mists. Iona meant “purple jewel” and Iona always said this tile was her special one. Relief flooded over her, but Nanna did not want to let her hope run too high.
She picked up the amulet and studied it. The middle bead, the one she had made all those years ago, might taint the reading. She could cut it out, but if a spell had been woven around it, that would break that spell. No, she decided, better to cut some of the yarn from the braided ends and hope Sonsee had put energy into them.
This she did and tried again. Tell me about Sonsee-array.
Before she could even move her palm across the tiles, the light of the candle twinkled on the surface of one. Nanna smiled. It was a sure sign this would give her the answer. She turned it over. Iona had called this tile the cyclone hole and it meant “look deep within for the answer.” Deep within Nanna had always felt Sonsee was alive, but what if that was just wishful thinking? Even now she did not know how she felt deep within. It was all so confusing, trying to separate her emotions so she could read the tiles properly. She tried again.
Tell me about Sonsee-array.
This time she got the seven pointed star, Venus, Sonsee’s birth star. But it also meant the gateway to the above and beyond, or perhaps the spiritual home of Nanna and Iona’s people far across the sea. Again only confusion. If only Iona was there, she would know which meaning was the right one.
But Iona was not here. Nanna put Sonsee’s tile face up on the table and asked again.
Please clarify the last tile. She moved her palms across the tiles again and one called to her, even stronger than had the others.
The blowing leaf. It was part of a trio of tiles representing the parts of a tree. The trunk was sturdy and strong because of its roots, the top healthy because all the leaves and branches worked together. But the leaf blowing in the wind had become unattached to its roots and would die. Would die, Nanna reminded herself. Not dead now. The leaf was very much alive.
She turned the leaf and the star over and placed them in with the others, then moved them around three times with her hands. Three times, Iona had told her. If you change the subject, your must move them all about three times.
Tell me about this amulet.
This time she picked the bird—a message. From Sonsee, she was sure of it. But where was Sonsee? Without thinking it through, she asked her next question.
Where did it come from?
Nana picked another tile and when she turned it over, her heart seemed to pause, and then open in relief. It was the seven pointed star. A confirmation Sonsee had sent the message.
It is all in how you phrase the question, Iona had told her. Nanna placed the two tiles face down and stirred them three times.
Where is Sonsee now?
When she turned the tile over, she saw the devil tower, a picture of a devil guarding a tower of stone. The underlying meaning was “evil” but was the message more solid than that? Was the answer the tower where Iona had been imprisoned? It was so hard to know w/ the tiles. Iona had once told her to simply open her mind and she would know which meaning was true. It would be the one that comes so strongly she could not ignore it. In the old country it was said Iona’s mother and all their mothers had all carried the gift of knowing. But Nanna did not.
Certainly the tower could be Iona’s prison tower, the evil could be M’Lady—but was it a different evil? When nothing more came to her, Nanna replaced the tile and stirred them three times. So far she had asked about the past. Now she concentrated on the future. But as she stirred them, one fell off the table and onto the floor. When she reached down to retrieve it, her eyes flew open in shock. The volcano—destruction. She picked it up and placed it back with the rest, trying hard not to focus on its meaning. Just to be sure she stirred them three more times.
How can I get to Sonsee?
The tile she picked was water, the element of water. By boat. The tower was located high on the cliffs above the ocean. But how could she ever scale the cliffs.
How do I get Sonsee-array out of the tower?
Almost beyond her volition, Nanna’s hand reached for the next tile. The volcano—destruction.
Frightened now, Nanna quickly scooped all the tiles back into the box and left to find Sonsee’s father.
See it true.
It is just for you.
Toko chanted and chanted and then chanted it again. Each time she pictured Nanna at the market, Nanna picking up the piece, Nanna asking about it. She tried to picture Marta telling Nanna about a girl named Toko who had come to the Temple all those months ago. But the picture was never vivid, never real.
But still she continued her chant. Only once did her vision waver. Only once did the piece come flying out of the scarf to fall at Nanna’s feet. But even that time, Nanna took the piece and put it in her pocket.
Toko continued for what seemed like hours, never wavering from her chant. Whether it worked or not, she did not know. But it was her only chance.
The lunch gong rang and Toko’s stomach growled. She thought about going down to eat, but worried that Nanna had not yet found the amulet. So she stayed and chanted even harder, until she felt herself drifting off to sleep. But still the pictures in her mind continued. Nanna grabbing the box from under her bed covers to find the green and rust amulet gone. Nanna seeing the tapestry colors, but most of all, Nanna recognizing the brass embellishment, and knowing Sonsee lived.
But then her dreams turned to more frightening things, to stormy seas and fires, and to swamps with crocodiles. Until she startled awake to the sound of M’Lady screaming.
“Where is that lazy girl? Good for nothing, spoiled creature.”
Half awake, Toko saw the door to her room burst open and M’Lady fly in. “Get up! Get up now! Who are you to sleep all day like some princess while everyone else must work?”
M’Lady grabbed Toko by her hair and pulled her from her bed. Trying to twist away, Toko felt M’Lady’s pointed shoe hit her shin, and she toppled to the floor.
“M’Lady, please,” Toko pleaded. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
“Sorry, sorry,” M’Lady screamed. “That’s all you have to say? Sorry?”
“But I was sick.”
“Sick? That’s your excuse?” M’lady stood over Toko shaking her fist. “I give you a warm bed, clothes, and food and this is how you re-pay me? By being sick?”
“Please M’Lady, I’ll do what you want, just tell me.”
“I want those tiles and I want to know the secret of weaving spells. I have waited long enough. If you cannot give me those, you are of no use. None. Enough playing games, tell me about the tiles and tell me now or I am done wihth you.”
“But M’Lady, I know nothing of those things, I swear.”
M’lady bent down and grabbed Toko’s chin, twisting as she tightened her grip. “Are you sure? I could send you away today, you know. And it won’t be to your father’s house, or to the priest’s bed chambers either. Oh they would pay dearly for such a whore as you. But I have another fate in mind for you, unless you give me what I want now!”
Toko’s vision swirled and when it cleared, she felt far away, far from M’Lady and from her trembling body. And she saw crocodiles tearing at her flesh. “The crocodiles,” she whispered, fear gripping at her chest.
“Yes crocodiles,” M’Lady repeated and then looked her up and down for a long minute. “I was thinking of the crocodiles.” M’Lady took a step back continuing to look at the girl huddled on the floor.
“Perhaps you were born with your mother’s gifts after all.” She turned and left the room, locking the door firmly behind her.
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