Weaver’s Box, part 16

 

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“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?”

“Show me.”

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.”

“Why now?”

“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

Weaver’s Box, part 15

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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.”

“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.”

“Visions?”

“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. 

 

 

Photo attribution: 

 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Weaver’s Box, part 14

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“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…”

“Now!”

“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.”

 

 

Photo attribution:

[CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Weaver’s Box, part 13

 

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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.”

“What 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.  

 

Photo attribution:

By Zde [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Weaver’s Box, part 12

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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. 

Iona’s death?

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.