Sanyel, p.1Michael Puttonen
Copyright © 2012 Michael Puttonen
All Rights Reserved
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Table of Contents
With its wings spread in full grandeur, a razok circles languidly overhead, gliding in graceful arcs, diligently cutting invisible patterns into a clear, pallid sky. Above the bird’s flight a high and vigorous sun flames, casting down malignant rays without conscience or compassion. Far below, a perpetual wind streams torrid breath across wretched, arid lands, whispering its secrets to quivering heat ghosts that rise to perform their ethereal desert dance.
It is time. The green hills, the green plains, the green forests are of the past. At fifteen, I, Sanyel, stand on the edge of an unfamiliar world; it is a world bleached of color and scoured of mercy. For the crime of breaking strict tribal and religious law, my clan has banished me to the unforgiving Desert of Bones—in effect a death sentence. When I departed camp, council chief Barkor allowed me a full skin of water and the meager food pack now draped across my right shoulder. I have three days to find further sustenance. If I fail in that quest, only a circling razok and an aloof sun will witness my last stumble and fall. Then one will remain indifferent to my demise as the other descends to feast on flesh and blood and bone.
The basic framework of a story, no matter its quality, consists of a beginning, an ending, and what lies between those poles. A compelling tale, compellingly told is the narrator’s aim—at least according to those skilled in the art. I, Sanyel, do not claim the gifts of a natural storyteller, but I will try to present this account in as engaging a manner as I can.
To begin it properly, I must go back in time. My father, Nanki, spoke often and in detail of the remarkable events surrounding my birth, and even now I can recite what happened as if from personal recollection. It was on that long ago day that many of the crucial elements of this tale had their origin. Therefore, I must go back, back fifteen years to the day it all began.
I was born on a dismal spring morning as a hailstorm raged and my mother fought for her life. Irregular chunks of ice, some the size of an infant’s closed fist, pummeled the ground outside our family tent. Inside the enclosure my mother lay upon a thin bed of piled mats, unconscious and bleeding. Unforeseen complications to an already difficult delivery had pushed my father's medical skills to their limit, but by the dim light provided by the tent’s open entry, his persevering, trembling hands managed to guide me into this world.
As I drew my first breath and uttered my first defiant cry, the unprecedented storm departed, the sky retrieved its accustomed blue, and Ra-ta, the sun, appeared. Persistent beads of sweat dripped from my father’s brow as he cradled me in gentle hands and then placed me aside. Turning back to my mother, he waged a desperate battle to stem her hemorrhaging.
He did not succeed. The futility of his heroic struggle became clear within minutes, but he continued the fruitless effort long after my mother's final breath. When he at last acknowledged his defeat, my father covered his face with bloody hands and commenced to moan, a despairing wail to rival that of the doomed souls drowning forever in the black waters of Fuld.
In time, my plaintive cries broke through his grieving. He turned damp eyes to my squalling form, and then he smiled as he lifted me from the dirt and cleansed me of birth’s residue. After wrapping me in a thick-woven blanket, he placed me upon a stack of animal furs far removed from my mother’s still body.
Turning his head, he glanced back to where she lay. He wanted to go to her, to look again upon her familiar, reassuring face. However, he knew the vision sought and the one he'd find would not be the same. He knew his eyes would betray him and fail to recognize the quiet form lying upon the hard ground as the woman he had loved for the past ten years. Spirit had departed and no longer animated her delicate features, so there would be no response to his smile, no reply to his words, no reaction to his touch. He cursed his inadequate hands for letting her ardent and unwavering light slip through them, and he later described feeling a shudder in his soul as he contemplated a life forever bereft of that radiance.
Fighting his grief, my father bathed, washing away blood and sweat; then he shaved and donned his best shaman’s robe. For despite a compelling desire to suspend all outside duties, he could not ignore their pull. Important tribal business demanded his attention. Mourning my mother's tragic loss and celebrating the precious new life she had left in her place would have to wait. He knew that informing the tribe of the events surrounding my birth took precedence, for in the details of those events my father had seen the portentous.
Later that morning, in the large ceremonial tent, he held me close as he faced a group of men unsure why my father had summoned them.
“It is the first sign of the fulfillment of an ancient foretelling,” Nanki told the tribal council. He reminded the council of a prophecy often told around our campfires. All present knew the prophecy well, the story of a shaman and warrior who would come in a white fury, born of ice, only to become as the sun to lead the people in a time of great troubles. The prophecy said this one would be born of a healer’s hand and the mother would die giving birth.
“All of these things have happened, my brothers,” my father told the council. “My good wife, Brisa, has given birth. She has—”
My father did not want to say it, for the finality of it was almost too much to bear, but he willed himself to continue and with a strong voice said, “She has died giving birth to our child. I believe my daughter, Sanyel, is the one of whom the prophecy speaks.”
The tribal councilors stirred uncomfortably over my father’s words but offered no response. Veteran hunters and warriors all, they sat on a bench behind a crude wooden table, and upon each face registered undisguised shock. Brisa had been beloved, but even so, it was not that tragic news that had left them stunned and speechless; it was Nanki’s presumptive statement about me. An awkward silence lingered for a moment, and then the spell lifted when the head huntsman brusquely voiced what the others hesitated to utter.
“You are without senses, shaman,” scolded Barkor, a foul-smelling, dark-bearded man with a square, brutish face. His long black hair shone from sweat and accumulated grease, with its filthy strands knotted together in matted clumps that would break the teeth of a metal comb. Massive shoulders, no perceivable neck, and a voice that threatened like low thunder reinforced the council chief’s intimidating appearance and bearing. “A female tribal leader? A female as shaman? Why are you wasting our time with this foolishness? We understand that you have just suffered a tragic loss, but has your wife’s death taken your wits? No female will ever become a leader or shaman of any tribe, certainly not this one. The sun god, Ra-ta, has pre-determined their role in life—as you well know. Perhaps years of drinking your own potions has made you loose in the head.”
Barkor’s last remark engendered a slight riffling of laughter from several of the seated men. The humorless council chief turned a baleful eye to those responsible for the outburst, and with them duly silenced, he shifted his gaze back to my father. With an air of dismissal, he said, “Your daughter will content herself with being a good wife and producing strong warriors for the hunt, nothing more. We will celebrate her birth, of course, and we will mourn the loss of your wife—it is our way. But you will speak no more of this prophecy nonsense.”
Angry words tugged at my father’s throat, but they were words he lacked the courage to voice. So, he said nothing, turned away and walked out.
My father’s reactions to the events of that critical day were significant in that they determined my path in life, a course that would sharply diverge from that of a typical female of our tribe. For on this day my father decided to defy the council and our sacred tribal laws and traditions. The consequences of that defiance for me would not manifest for many years, but the day would come when I would pay the price for my father’s transgressions.
Sanyel by Michael Puttonen / Fantasy / Actions & Adventure have rating 4.5 out of 5 / Based on36 votes