The Spy Reveals
see chapter 1
The next morning, around another fire, a band of women gathered. Giggling and gossiping were all that was heard, until it was certain that all of the men were gone for the day's hunt.
“So what is it that our elders speak of at their fire?” An old woman finally asked. She was weathered and ancient; none called her by her name, if any remembered. She was the leader of the women, simply known as Eldest.
All heads turned toward the dark beauty shredding rushes to make baskets.
“They speak of the demons. How the war in which we live is poised to destroy us.” The woman’s voice caught. She knew what she said next would cause the rending of hearts. “They speak of harnessing a demon,” she said without stopping or glancing up.
“Demons are evil.”
“What good would a harnessed one do?”
“Perhaps they mean to plow with it!”
“Only evil can come from demons.”
“As long as they chain it far from our fires.”
The women all knew the elders were sorcerers and knew the magiks. But to harness a demon…they all shuddered to think of what the price of that spell would be. In the early years of discovering magiks, the women had learned that for every casting there was an equal and opposite cost.
“Silence,” rasped Eldest. “Jin. Explain.”
The woman raised her head, but her hands still kept busy. “They have found a spell to take a demon’s strength from it. They seek to bind it with one of our own...to make a champion who will fight the demons for us.”
This time, chaos erupted only within the hearts of the half dozen women present. Each kept their cries silent as they thought of the possible salvation this could mean for their people. At length, one of the younger women called Telei spoke.
“Who do they wish to lay this curse upon?”
Jin dipped her head and this time the reeds stopped rustling. “That is for us to decide.”
Telei whispered wonderingly, “But why would we…?”
A horrified hush fell. The men could only ask the women for one thing…children. It was the women who bore and nursed the children. Body and blood bound the children to the women of the tribe until they came of age.
Again, Telei had the courage to voice the abominable thought in all of the women’s minds. “They would seek to bind the spirit of a demon to one of our children, before they come of age?”
Jin sighed. “And if we will not willingly give, they will take that which is not theirs.”
“You are sure of this, Jin?” asked the Eldest.
“Yes, grandmother. They will ask for the child tomorrow.”
“That does not give us much time to decide who to give them.”
This statement drew an intake of breath from the younger women present.
“Come, daughters. Have you not learned that the plans of men cannot be changed by outright confrontation? This mad scheme of theirs, even if it does help save us from the demons, is formed by men and therefore cannot be directly assaulted even though it is not completely thought out.”
One woman cried out, “Yes, but if we give them a child, what is to keep them from demanding another when that one dies? As surely he will. Battles fought with demons are not often survived, even demons die in demon fights.”
“If we wish our children to survive to the next generation, the elders are right…we must find a way to fight the demons. And this plan, horrible though it is, is the one the elders have chosen. But we may yet turn it so that we do not give up our blood-right upon our children.” Eldest laid her hand on Jin’s knee. “We must know. What sort of child do they seek us to give them?”
“A man-child, one that is strong, well-trained. The rite will not be easy, to say nothing of the life after.”
Throughout this discussion, Telei had become thoughtful. “If we give them our best future hunter, what happens if the spell does not work? Or even if it does, how is he to be replaced? I agree that we must survive, but food is part of survival. We would lose a feeder of many.”
Eldest motioned for the young matriarch to continue. “You have a suggestion?”
Taking a deep breath, Telei plunged ahead. ”What is left if we to not give them our strongest man-child, but our strongest woman-child?”
The Eldest leaned back and thought. A smile spread. “I believe you have solved both of our problems, my crafty Telei.”
“”How is this?” questioned Jin, tilting her stately head in confusion.
The Eldest winked at Telei as she asked the women. “Answer me this: To whom to the children belong?”
“The women.” Everyone answered.
“To whom does the man-child belong when he has passed the blood rite?”
“The men.” Again, everyone answered.
“And to whom does the girl-child belong once she has gone through the blood rite?”
“The women.” The matriarchs replied and nodded.
This time it was Jin’s eyes that sparkled cunningly. “A girl-child gift would not be lost to us. As a child, she is ours until she is given. Once a woman, she would be ours again.”
Telei squirmed. At a look of askance from Jin, she asked, ”Surely the elders know that the battle they will send their ‘chosen one’ into will eventually kill. What plans have they made? Will we be forced to decide which child will be sacrificed each time another dies?”
“That is an excellent observation,” noted the Eldest. “And one I would wager the men have not considered, at least practically. Am I correct?”
Jin agreed. “They talked of who and how to perform the spell, but I heard no plans of what must happen after. But I would think that it will occur to my husband soon, most likely during the spell casting.” She gave a short snort.
Eldest responded with her own derisive noise. “Then it is possible for us to decide for them how this may proceed in the future. On of the first spells the Eldest is taught is a generational preservation spell. If cast before the elder’s spell, it will bind that spell to the nearest blood-spirit kin. When we decide who shall be the first daughter, I will cast this spell upon her. When she dies, all her powers, even some of her memories, will pass on to the one most like her in blood and spirit.”
“But how can we do this to our own daughters who would be one of us one day?” one of the women wailed.
Jin drew herself up from hunching over her almost finished basket. “The elders are right. If we do not do something, all of our children may be the last generation to walk the earth. I agree this is not a pleasant solution. But we are in war called life, and life is never easy or beautiful. It is ugly and hard, and it forces us to make ugly and hard decisions. We can make this spell so that it will only choose the daughters with the spirit to make those choices.”
Eldest added in a fell voice. “The elders cannot see a way to fight this battle without magiks because it is a battle of magiks. But to win a victory, they are going to give up their blood role as the Guardians of mankind. It is we, the women, who must then wear this mantle. We could not steal this from the men, but if they drop it, we will not leave it lay. If we do, all of our children will suffer, or worse, never even live. And be assured, we will not abandon it so quickly as they.”
"How shall we choose?" Jin's voice mourned. "Eldest, what is fairest, if there is to be a fair in all of this?"
"We will seek the Dreamer." Eldest faced each woman in the circle. “Will you accept the girl-child of the Dreamer’s choosing?”
One by one, solemn faces agreed. “Then we will ask the spirits to give a dream tonight to one of us and tell us who the first daughter should be.”
Drawing a powder from a pouch around her waist, she began casting pinches into the fire. The women chanted and only ceased when the men finally came back with the day’s kills at dusk.
This is the chapter I wasn't really sure about. I was trying to write a tribal culture only partially revealed, mostly because expositing on it just didn't fit in with the flow. So sorry if it is a little choppy. Constructive feedback always welcome!
Oh and cookies to those who guessed the Grinch from the last chapter.