Dawn of the Flame Sea (11 page)

“Not to mention it's too hot in this climate to keep even cheese for long,” Halek agreed. “Here I suspect cheese must be confined to the rain seasons, which are probably shorter here than anywhere. Back in our old lands, we had two deep-earth caves that were moist and cool, and could store the curds safely even in high summer. Here? Nothing is cold during high summer except the dead of night, and even then, it is only cold by contrast, I suspect.”

“Kaife has plans on how to build an icehouse,” Éfan dismissed. Or started to dismiss it. As the locals gave him puzzled looks, he took a moment to explain. “You need a series of water tunnels, which we now have, and an east-west wall to cast shade, and a great thick dome with a spiral trench that goes down the outside, then into the pit on the inside, where wind tunnels funnel air inside, particularly at night, when the wind is cold. The water trickling down the outside evaporates and cools the whole structure, and what makes it to the bottom will freeze overnight in the deepest depths of winter, which is then broken up and carried deeper into the ground, into deep pits where the ice is stored for later use, and foods that don't fare well in the heat can be safely stored for a long while. Like cheese and milk.”

Halek wasn't the only one to blink in the daze of trying to mentally picture exactly what the tall blond man was talking about, but at least the explanation sounded logical when he thought about it vaguely. “That sounds like you can make ice without using any anima.”

Djin-taje nodded. “We often visit regions where the, ah, anima is difficult to access, and have learned many ways to make our lives comfortable without any anima use at all, though it is very pleasant when we can use plenty of it, as we can here. Still,
we
can use the anima to build these structures, but you cannot do so quite as easily, so it would be kind of us to show you the nonmagical way of doing it. Keeping cool in this climate and having foods preserved for later are important survival skills.”

“Yes, you won't live forever, and then who will be our magical anima-people?” Eruk added dryly.

Halek frowned at him. “Eruk, that was rude. Apologize!”

“I did not mean disrespect,” he stated, though it sounded only somewhat sincere. “I feel your powers are more important for things like securing our new home against intruders. Yes, you can build, and we are grateful, but there are hostile, jealous tribes out there, thirsty tribes, and we—or rather you—have an abundance of water. We should be thinking about protecting ourselves in this new home and think about it now before the traveling seasons come. Unless you would rather we left, in which case tell us so now, so we can start making plans for when traveling is easiest to manage. But of course, I trust you will not kick us out immediately?”

Djin-taje smiled softly. “I think we are getting along well enough, Eruk. Your people may stay.”

“That
is
a point, though,” Halek stated. He had to silently, if grudgingly, concede Eruk's point about defenses and traveling seasons, which meant warfare seasons. That was a topic for later, however. “If we are to stay, we are no longer the White Sands. We do not make the fajenz that gave us our name. Ah . . . we
could
ask Kaife, the stone shaper, to give us the quartz we need, but . . . it would not be the same. This is your home, and we follow you. Naming it should be up to you.”

Djin-taje frowned thoughtfully at his words. Finally, she looked at Ban. “You have explored the farthest of all of us. What would you name this region?”

The inscrutable, skin-painted man shrugged and adjusted his poncho. He had taken to wearing the skirt-wrap thing, which he called a kilt, instead of trousers, and a poncho that shielded much of his skin from the desert heat while allowing the open sides to flap and cool his body. The materials were cloth, not leather, but he dressed far less elaborately than the Fae did, for both Éfan and the taje were clad in flowing robes of lightly layered and gracefully draped cloth.

“The terrain is a mix of narrow canyons and broader valleys surrounded by rugged, low cliffs and other hard desert features—hard meaning the ground is hard,” he added in clarification, “not in terms of how difficult it is to walk it or live in it. If I were to walk it at a normal pace, a selijm per hour . . . half a day to the south, two and a half days to the north, and a day and a half at its widest. The land looks like an egg that has had its shell cracked, and then buried in sand.” He slanted his brown eyes at Halek. “But calling this place ‘Cracked Egg Land' would not be dignified.”

That statement, coming from the inscrutable, almost dour man, was an unexpected piece of courtesy. Halek managed a nod in return. “I thank you for avoiding it.”

“Quite. The land
around
the hard desert is nothing but soft sands and dunes for days and days of travel . . . and in this heat, the sun shimmers off the sand like waves on a sea. As Djin-taje once remarked to me, it looks very much like the waves of a sea, yet it is one made of heat, not water.”

“Oh yes!” Djin-taje exclaimed softly. “I remember, now; I called it a flame sea. Would that be a dignified enough name, Taje Halek?”

“Flame Sea,” Halek murmured. The others did, too, testing the name.

Tulan looked at Eruk. “I like it. I think it speaks a warning, that to try to attack us, one has to cross through a very inhospitable place to reach us, but it is a passive defense, rather than an active one like the Water Spear Tribe's name. I for one would not make war on anyone, nor suggest that we would, as we do not have the strength or the supplies for support . . . but neither do I want people to think we are weak.”

Eruk had to nod. “It is a fierce-sounding name, and that will help make the others wary. We do not produce fajenz, as the taje reminds us,” he added, looking at Halek, “but then we are no longer a tribe that produces anything. One day we might again, but for now, we simply exist, as the flame sea of the sands and their heat mirages exist.”

Turning to Zudu, Halek gestured at her. She shrugged. “It is auspicious. Flame is a strong producer of anima, as is moving water. And moving air. Stone is the hardest to coax into life, but then stone can be used to ground animadjic attacks. To call ourselves the Flame Sea Tribe suggests we can tap into three of the five primary sources—the fifth is always ourselves, our own inner anima, which is represented in the word
tribe
,” she added to Éfan. “We talked about it once, if you'll remember.”

He nodded, giving her a soft smile. Halek noted it but did not speak. The Fae animadj and his animadj were not interested in a mating ceremony, despite the fact the two had proven fruitful. Animadjet rarely mated; their abilities were often used on behalf of the whole tribe, and thus the whole tribe supported the animadj so that he or she never had to hunt or gather if they did not want. In certain seasons, such as the early rains, they were kept so busy scrying for flash floods, they did not have time even to cook . . . and that season was almost upon them.

“Then we shall be the Tribe of the Flame Sea, and the Oasis of the Flame Sea . . . instead of the Cracked Egg,” Halek stated, making the others smile in humor. “Since we are surrounded by a sea of sand as hot in high summer as any flame.”

“I think we should celebrate it,” Zudu stated. She nodded to the members of the pantean. “We usually have a celebration after the first full rain has fallen. It is held under cover, of course—this thee-ah-ter you built into this cliff will be a good spot for it—and there are stories and dances, music and whatever good food we can find.”

“Lots of water, and things that can be fermented in water, including ourselves,” Eruk told them, grinning. When he wasn't intent on proving himself stronger, faster, and purportedly smarter than others, he could be charming. “We now have a beautiful bathing place and can use it daily, but usually after the first full rain is our big chance to bathe for the first time in months.”

“To bathe, to don new clothes . . . It is the time of renewal,” Tulan agreed. “The celebration starts with music as we dance in the rain; then everyone goes inside to dry off and start cooking; then there is the feasting and the cleaning and more feasting and cleaning.”

“It sounds wonderful,” Djin-taje said, smiling. “If that is what is done, then this is what we should do. Zudu, you and I should speak on how to do a tribe-naming ceremony. You shall be the Tribe of the Flame Sea, and we shall be the Pantean of the Flame Sea, as it is getting close to the time when we should be naming our own settlement.”

“I will scry to see if I can foresee when the rains will come,” Éfan promised. “And if they will not come right away, then we can have Parren and Fali ‘make' it rain. Such a celebration should not be put off
too
long, after all.”

The others nodded in agreement, including Halek. A celebration of the joining of the two groups into one settlement might seem like a formality at this point, but it was an important one to the mind and the heart. Without a firm sense of identity, his people were surviving, but they would not think of themselves as a group that could prosper. Even if their new name was simply a location, not a purpose, it was at the very least an identity they could grasp and hold on to as they figured out what to do in their new home.

Chapter Six

“If that is settled, we must turn our attention to the coming rainy season. I am not certain how often it will rain here, but it will,” Halek warned them. “When it does, there will be flooding. As much as I wish to trust Parren, for she is a taje of water shaping, I must insist that all of the animadjet scry for the coming rains and scry the surrounding lands to make sure no one will be caught in a flood.

“It is convenient to live in walls of stone that never need repairing and are shaped with but a thought from the taje of stone shaping,” he added in deference to the absent Kaife, “but normally we would place our homes on high ground to avoid flash floods. Here our homes are tucked within the walls of the wadijt and tucked low enough to drown.”

“Parren is aware, as is Kaife and myself,” Éfan reassured him. “She has been working off and on in concentric circles and arcs to make channels and tunnels and cisterns. Every wadij leading to this section, whether a tiny crack in the wall or a great valley, has been prepped to guide the water away from paths and homes. With Zudu and her apprentices assisting us, we will be able to monitor these things.”

“Kaife has been working to create high-level homes, however,” Djin-taje said. “They will be ready within a few days for those who wish to move up out of potential flooding reach. They will be plainer than the lower homes, but that is because for now, they are intended to be temporary housing. I am told they have beautiful views, though, so if some wish to settle up there permanently, they can be molded into something more artistic than just merely functional.”

“Why can it not be done all at once?” Eruk asked.

Éfan smiled with his mouth, but his eyes gave a slight wince. “We find it
too
easy to manipulate anima in this region. I am still studying how it affects us. Until we know for sure what the long-lasting, long-term effects will be, none of us are allowed to shape magic for more than so many days in a row, and must rest for so many days in between. Since the flooding season may require a lot of magics cast in a hurry to reshape the various stone catches and basins Parren planned for but could not yet fully test, it is best if she stops making alterations now.

“All of us will undergo a period of rest,” he added, “so that your apprentices, Zudu, can access outside anima for their scrying needs without it being drawn to a Fae attempting to work magic. You know better than we do what to look for when it comes to the first signs of a flash flood, after all.”

“A wise man knows to stop and seek the advice of others when he does not know how to do a certain thing,” Zudu agreed calmly. A brief look exchanged between the two of them ended with a faint hint of a blush on the Fae's cheeks. Halek was intrigued but decided within seconds that it was not his place to know.

“I am concerned about the defenses of where we now live, not just how easily they might flood,” Eruk stated, changing the topic. “Granite is one of the toughest rocks available and cannot be smashed by heavy clubs, as the old mud-brick houses could be, but anyone with enough archers can just walk up to the tops of the cliffs and pick targets at ease in the narrower canyons.
Up
isn't even the word for it,” he reminded them. “To the north, the wadijt are in terrain that rises up and forms jagged, hard-to-cross rocks. They are roughly a full day's walk away, however. That would be too far to retreat to, unless we have long-distance warning.”

“The chances of anyone attacking are narrow,” Zudu scoffed. “Only two tribes know which direction we went, and it takes several days of hiking through hot sands to reach us. Plus, the rains will be coming. Anyone with any sense would stay home and not bother trying to attack us until spring.”

“There is no danger of flooding in the sand dunes,” he countered.

“Eruk has a point: they could cross the dunes, stand on the walls, and shoot at us even as our canyon homes flood,” Tulan pointed out. “But on the other hand,
this
chamber has stone doors to block out the heat and the wind. Why not build more for all our homes? Bar the doors with stout logs in brackets, make shutters that are the same, and it will take a great deal of effort for any attackers to break into our homes.”

“Stone shutters might be awkward,” Ban offered. “Try metal.”

Djin-taje narrowed her eyes and spoke in a liquid string of syllables. It sounded firm and somewhat chiding.

Ban's reply came simply and steadily, without inflection and in Halek's own tongue. “I meant bronze, not faeshiin.”

“Ah. My apologies, then.”

“That presumes we have the ores for making bronze,” Halek was forced to point out. He presumed the
fay-sheen
the tall man spoke of was the golden but not gold metal of the Fae. “Stone would be easier.”

“Kaife can summon any ore he wishes from the ground,” Éfan dismissed. “That was not the problem. Metal might be heavy, but it would be easier to open and shut than stone, and easier to repair in many ways. It is something I will have him consider—and that I will have him install on the upper homes, the ones for emergency in flooding weather. I will grant him an extra day to make them defensible.”

“I should like to speak with him on how to do that,” Tulan said.

“As would I. We are the best warriors of the tribe,” Eruk asserted. “We have fought and survived several times. Our knowledge will be useful.”

“Adan is our own expert in all things attack and defense,” Éfan told both of them. “At least until the pantean can bring in one who is trained for warfare. Kaife will be consulting with him as well. You should speak with Adan tomorrow morning about your thoughts and concerns. He will know how to translate that into ideas Kaife can use when building protections.”

“Warfare is good to plan for in terms of defense,” Puna said, speaking up. “But I should like to get back to speaking of living here, not just surviving. That requires herds and farmland. There are wild animals we could trap and tame, especially with the rains bringing the birth of young animals, soon. Is there a way to increase how much pasture is available?”

“I believe Parren can make the big valley to the north a bit greener and wetter for pastures,” Djin-taje offered. “And there are some semiwide valleys to the west that can be turned into farmland. Their sloped sides can be terraced like giant steps to retain water during the rains, or made wetter from irrigation flows, and they can be planted with a variety of things. I should like to see olive trees growing; the oil one presses from the fruit is very healthy and good for many things, not just for eating or burning in lamps . . .”

***

Year 0, Month 4, Day 21

Outside, the rain slashed down from a sky of low, dark gray clouds. Gusts of wind tugged it at angles that weren't purely vertical. This was their second day of rain. The water did accumulate and pour down the valleys that served as their streets, but all of it quickly found itself diverted into channels cut in the ground, and from there to culverts and covered trenches where it was carried off to the settling reservoirs. The most any place accumulated water was about the depth of a thumb's length, and even that had been quickly diverted by Parren and Kaife on the first day as the pair conscientiously walked all the valleys throughout the rainfall, checking for and correcting any anomalies found.

Ban studied the rain, breathing the clean air of the bench-lined colonnade outside the theater. The natives of the newly blessed Flame Sea Tribe had done their best to get clean, but since they didn't have the concept of soap yet—though Jintaya had expressed plans to teach them how to make it—the results were still a little on the odiferous side. In small numbers, the smells weren't too bad, but with all of the tribe in this hall? He breathed deep again and reminded himself he had smelled worse by far. The Fae all swore they liked it even if it was a bit strong, but even so, he could not see the appeal.

Music started up again. The instruments used by the natives were wooden and bone flutes, rawhide drums, and primitive plucked stringed instruments made from twisted, dried strings of goat and sheep guts strung on crude frames or long sticks attached to wooden boxes. Even the children played curious little round gourds strung together on thongs with little rattles inside. One nutshell was held in the palm with the thong exiting between two fingers, and the other was flipped around the hand back and forth; with just the right length of string, the two nut gourds cracked into each other no matter which direction the free end was flipped. One elderly man had even brought a wooden box on which had been fastened rows of carefully lengthened and bent bronze tongues which, when strummed by a finger, released a pleasant plinking sound.

The Fae had brought instruments with metal strings, some of which were bowed, not just plucked, which Éfan and Fali played. Kaife and Rua played wind instruments that involved the use of buzzing reeds, and chimes. Those were instruments Ban knew. The one he wasn't familiar with was a curious metal dome with divots of different sizes dented into their sides. The Fae had brought four of them, and they rang something like a bell when struck by the hand, producing an ethereal yet earthy sound not too dissimilar from the old human's tongue-box. Jintaya and Adan played those, striking with skill.

Everyone had played together enough over the last few hours that they were now blending rather well, picking one instrument to carry the rhythm, one instrument to carry the melody, and the rest to fit themselves in wherever they wanted. Except . . . he could only hear one player of the dome drum, and from the way it was played, it sounded like Adan, who preferred little skipping beats in his rhythms. Curious, Ban headed into the hall, passing the crude clay lamps that had been set on alcove shelves built into the theater walls.

The place still reeked a bit, but in a different way now: the strongest note was the fruity, nose-itching tang of
palraca
, some sort of drink fermented from a combination of starchy roots found in streambeds that flowed at least half the year, sap from some thorny tree that grew at the edge of oases, and flowers that grew on a plant described as a sort of spiky, narrow-leaved cactus. When it had first been brought out for consumption, the children of the tribe had been herded off to the small rooms under the theater tiers to be given stories and encouraged to sleep on the blankets and cushions that had been brought earlier.

That had been over an hour ago. In the time that Ban had spent staring out at the rain, the reason why the children had been ushered out of sight was now clear, for the second strong scent in the air turned out to be the musk of sex. More blankets and cushions had been spread out on the tiers and on the dais . . . and the brown-tanned bodies of the humans weren't the only ones indulging. Adan was still playing his metal drum, Keppa the animadj apprentice was playing a set of pan pipes, and two more whose names Ban hadn't bothered to learn were patting drums and plonking on the bronze tongue-box, apparently still caught up in the trance that often came with a good session of music making.

Well, the musicians seemed mostly oblivious, save that Adan gave his mate, Fali, a smile now and then while she indulged herself horizontally with two of the human males just a short distance away. The Fae didn't marry in the sense of possessiveness; they took mates to support each other in companionship, shared resources, and deep friendship. Permission could be sought and usually granted to share pleasures with others. Judging by the intermix of bodies scattered around the fan-shaped hall, it was an acceptable practice among the humans of this world, too.

Turning to head back the way he had come, Ban stopped when his eyes fell on a pale-haired figure indulging in another swallow of palraca from a green-glazed fajenz bottle. It had been molded in the shape of a fertility figure, big breasts and big rounded belly on one side, strong back and broad buttocks on the other, with small legs and arms tucked into the body as if seated in contentment. The stopper, a thick piece of spongy wood, served as the head, but Jintaya did not replace it. Instead, she poured more into the open mouth of one of her partners and laughed as he snapped at it, making the liquor splash.

Ban watched for a long while, to make sure she was not being harmed, then gave up and moved back down the tunnel to the outside, to stand watch against the rain.

A voice reached his ears, young yet wise. “The man named Death does not participate in life?”

Turning, he found Zuki standing at the entrance to one of the little rooms under the tiers. She had the hazel eyes that were not uncommon in the tribe, and the curling black hair, and from the shapes beneath her breast-band and loin-skirt, she was starting to gain curves of a young woman. Being the youngest of her mother's mage apprentices had clearly given her a poise beyond her normal years, for she swept her hand at the interior of the theater behind her.

“We all know what the palraca does,” Zuki added. “It loosens the tensions of mind and body so that life can be celebrated, and perhaps even new life be made.”

She sounded far older than her, what, thirteen, fourteen years? Ban clasped his hands lightly behind his tattooed back. “You look old enough to consider participating, given the ages of some of the younger men in there.”

“Not quite,” Zuki dismissed, flicking her hand over her shoulder. She strolled up to join him, tucking her hands behind her back in unconscious imitation of him. “I would rather
remember
what I am doing, and with whom. Mother told me that, as an animadj, I will be able to sense and even call upon the anima raised by the vigors of lovemaking, so I determined that it would be best if I were fully awake and aware each time, rather than letting something like the palraca distract me. And it is recommended that a girl who becomes a woman wait a year before indulging, to make sure that her body is strong enough for childbearing. I have not had a full year yet.”

Other books

Plainclothes Naked by Jerry Stahl
Kal by Judy Nunn
Surrounded by Enemies by Bryce Zabel
After the Stroke by May Sarton
My Fair Mistress by Tracy Anne Warren


readsbookonline.com Copyright 2016 - 2022