Reincarnation, p.1Suzanne Weyn
For David Levithan.
Thank you, thank you (thank you) for yet again
taking a chance on me and always “getting” what
I’m trying to say. It means so much.
(On the Wheel of Rebirth)
Egypt, 1280 B.C.E.
(On the Wheel of Rebirth)
Athens, 399 B.C.E.
(On the Wheel of Rebirth)
Salem, Massachusetts, 1691
(On the Wheel of Rebirth)
The Battle of Honey Springs, Indian Territory, July 17, 1863
(On the Wheel of Rebirth)
New York, the present
And the next thing I knew
I was a baby.
So I begin.
We begin …
The flickering campfire played across the full belly, wide hips, and torso of the faceless figure chiseled into the cave wall. May stood beside her fire, staring up at the goddess, mesmerized by the vision.
The shadows moving over the uneven rock surface made the engraving’s left hand appear to caress her swollen midsection. Her raised right hand shook the crescent-shaped bison horn she clutched. For a fleeting moment, the formerly featureless head flashed with a face of unspeakable beauty and power.
May wondered if this was truly a trick of light and shadow. Or was it a delirium produced by sleeplessness or the trapped smoke of the fire?
No one knew any longer who had chiseled this image of The Great Mother into the cave wall. Yona, May’s mother, said it had been in the cave since the time long, long ago, when the thundering slabs of frigid whiteness first began to thaw and allowed The Growing World to return.
This conversation had come on the first night of her monthly blood. All the clan’s young females spent it alone with The Great Mother. It was also the night of Yona’s big news: “After the glowing sky creature devours itself thirteen times, and thirteen bloods have passed, you will be ready to leave my fire and join Lenar as his mate.”
“Lenar has asked for me?” May had inquired eagerly. Yona nodded, causing May to shiver with delighted excitement. Lenar was strong and pleasant to look at. The other young males followed his lead. As Lenar’s mate, May would be highly ranked among the females. A high ranking meant a place in the cave closer to the big fire, a chance to partake of the kill right after the males had finished, and all the best of clan life. May welcomed the chance to attain this status. As the female child of a female without a mate — Yona’s mate had died hunting — May would only acquire status if she was well mated.
From that time onward, May had watched Lenar with acute interest, trying to hide her glances, though not always succeeding. She could tell when he was aware of her eyes upon him from the way he pulled his broad shoulders back and swiped his thick brown hair away from his forehead. He postured for her benefit, she knew.
Lenar seldom spoke to her, for it was not customary for the young males to spend time with young females. Yet May saw enough of him to slowly become disturbed by what she observed. He repeatedly mocked and struck a young male who seemed to have stayed a child though his body grew as the others did. Once, she saw him kick the hare that old blind Asa kept as a pet, just because it had crossed his path as he was passing by.
Gradually, painfully, her delight at being the one selected by Lenar faded. She wished it had not, for she desperately wanted the privilege he offered. Still, the idea of being mated to him did not fill her with joy.
But when she told her mother of her misgivings regarding Lenar, Yona insisted that nothing could be done. Her unbreakable pledge had been given.
Besides that, Lenar was the best match May could ever hope for. The Great Mother would curse Yona and May both if May rejected such good fortune, which surely had come from The Great Mother herself. Angering Her was something to be avoided at all costs. If they enraged this powerful force on whom all their lives depended, who knew what disaster She might bring down upon them in Her fury? Even worse, She might abandon them, plunging the world back into The Time of Ice. Did May want to risk that?
May stopped questioning and gave herself over to the ecstasy of the vision she was now seeing of The Great Mother on the cave wall. It had been sent to her. Done with doubt, she lifted her arms to The Great Mother. The moment had come to ask for what she needed.
“Would you curse me, Mother, if I did not become the mate of Lenar?” she asked. “They say you would, but I do not think that is so.”
This wondrous mother who cared for the whole of The Growing World surely saw how wrong it was for her to be mated with Lenar. Surely May hadn’t been born to spend her life serving such a self-swollen, boastful mate, cringing at his touch.
“Mother, how do I escape this? Show me a sign that will tell me what to do!” May hung her head miserably. “I swear that I will serve you all the days of my life if you free me from this fate.”
The smoky air stung her eyes and she shut them. Moments later, when she gazed up at the sacred engraving again, The Great Mother stood as She had been, faceless and unmoving. Her hand had returned to its resting place on Her large belly. The etched bison horn in Her upraised hand was still.
Had the magic passed, the holy moment been lost, with no response to her plea?
Maybe not: May stepped closer to better see the spark of crystal green stone embedded in the rock. It was flecked with gold and shone. And it sat directly in the center of The Great Mother’s belly!
It gleamed with the colors of The Growing World, rich with the many greens, both the deep and the light, of the grasses and leaves, the mosses and ever-changing riverbeds.
It was the sign.
The Great Mother was answering her.
But what was She saying?
Kye squatted on a flat stone outcropping above the gorge. The warming sun felt good on his broad, sloping brow. It made him linger a bit longer before returning home with his catch of three hares, which he had bundled together with vine.
Many feet below, the white, crashing water raced along in a thunderous torrent of foam and spray. Nearby, an insect’s trill was high and steady. What interested him most was the chattering birds coming from the forest behind him with their pattern of call and response. They were talking to one another as surely as The New Ones spoke to one another.
It seemed to him that he was encountering The New Ones more than he ever had before. When he was younger, his group hardly ever crossed paths with theirs. The exclusive territories of the two clans were unofficially defined but mutually understood. Or at least they had been. More and more, there was conflict when The Ancient People and The New Ones endeavored to fish the same section of the river or hunt the same herd of bison.
The Ancient People would surely be run off their territory by these New Ones if they did not find a way to possess The New One skill of meaningful sounds.
These things were in Kye’s thoughts as he left the rock and lumbered home, the meager results of his afternoon’s hunting in his hands. On the steep rock path leading to the cluster of three caves where his people lived and worked, he met his mother. Across her shoulder, draped to her waist, she wore a rabbit-fur sling crammed full with the tall, bendable grasses she used to sew fur skins and weave basketry. Reaching out, she thumped her son on the back affectionately. He grunted good-naturedly and rubbed her hand in reply.
When Kye and his mother arrived
His younger brother, Ato, punched his arm excitedly and gestured for Kye to follow him into the main cave. There he waved his arms under the drawings of the thundering bison that roamed the valley. This was the time that every male in the clan anticipated with enthusiastic exhilaration. The number of the giant beasts they could bring down now would determine if they lived abundantly in the time to come or would have to survive on reindeer and hare until the next migration.
Kye’s mother joined her sons. Looking at Kye meaningfully, she placed her hand on the cave drawing, and he knew what she was telling him. In the next light they would hunt and the males would have their eyes on Kye. It was his first bison hunt. If he hoped to be leader someday, as was his right as son of the leader, it was crucial that he hunt well.
With the first dawn, May emerged from the cave. Blinking against the gray morning light, she stepped onto the rock ledge that jutted out just wide enough to allow passage around to the side path that led back into the forest. At its edge, the cliff plummeted nearly a mile before it reached a racing, white-foam gorge at the bottom. Beside it, a forest thick with towering trees let out to a wide, open valley of rolling fields.
Something scurried from the cave. May smiled down at the gray weasel that had been drawn to her fire. He’d brought her a tiny dead rodent as a gift, and May had let him stay.
Now the weasel curled up a short distance away as May gazed out at the land stretching before her. Sure-footed, she was unafraid of falling from her elevated perch and went out to its very edge. Fog rolled through, obscuring the treetops and the curving hills beyond. The glowing sky torch rose higher into the sky, sucking the earthbound cloud up with it. Faintly, the rumble of rushing water reached her from the distant gorge. Gazing into the open fields beyond the forest, she realized something was moving down below — dark shapes, and many of them.
May realized what she was seeing: These were the huge beasts whose immense, furry carcasses provided so much to her people. Every cycle, they passed through at this time of the season. Having been away these last two nights, she had missed the preparation and had nearly forgotten.
Much smaller figures soon emerged from the forest. Hunters. Lenar would be among them. It would be his first bison hunt since passing his initiation rites. She tried to pick him out from among the figures, but it was impossible; he was too far away. They advanced on the bison, fanning out along the edges of the herd.
From May’s high vantage point, she spied something the hunters could not yet see. Other figures ran out into the field from the forest some distance away. This group might be more Clan People hunters coming in from a different direction, though this would have been unusual — the hunters usually stayed close to one another. But if they were not of The Clan People, were they from the other clan, the frightening Ice Beings who had roamed the world since The Time of Ice?
Crouching, May leaned forward. The two groups moved toward the animals on diagonal paths that would soon intersect. They did not see one another for a long while — and then suddenly, they became aware of one another’s presence. It was clear from the way the two groups suddenly ran toward one another.
The Ice Beings and The Clan People had both hunted the mighty creatures for many cycles, living far enough apart that the beasts passed through their different hunting grounds at different times. Lately, though, the numbers of Clan People had increased. They had moved into larger and larger caves ever closer to The Ice Beings. There had been many skirmishes, though none as big as the one May was now witnessing.
As she watched the battle below, a hopeful thought came to her. Instantly ashamed, she snuffed it out before its tiny spark could light into flame. She’d thought it, though; there could be no denying that.
Perhaps Lenar would be killed in the fight.
Maybe this was the gift, the release from living death that The Great Mother meant to bestow on her. If so, May would be ashamed to have caused his death. Still …
… it would make her life much better.
Kye opened his eyes and slowly turned his head, taking in the nearby field visible through the forest. The sky torch was low, throwing long shadows. He lay at the base of a tree, his arms and legs outstretched. Pushing up slowly on his elbows, he remembered being wounded in the fight and fleeing into the trees before collapsing here.
Pain banged in his head, traveling like a line of fire along the sides of his skull into his jaw. When he touched the spot where it ached, he winced sharply and pulled his hand back, alarmed at the hot liquid he’d felt. His palm dripped red. He wiped it on his chest.
Where were the others? Even the thundering beasts were gone.
It was not the way of The Ancient People to simply leave a fallen companion behind.
Perhaps they could not find him.
Staggering to his feet, he leaned heavily against the tree. Had he been dead and come back to life?
He had not seen spirits of his ancestors. They had not come out to guide him to The Great Bird who would carry him to the spirit world.
This was what he’d been led to expect in death. It was what the old ones sought when they went on their dream walks, preparing to depart for the spirit world.
For Kye, there had been only blackness — and now he was back.
He forced himself to move forward. This part of the forest was unfamiliar and the day’s light was dying. All he knew for certain was that he should travel in a direction away from the sinking sky torch. If he didn’t find his way before that one guide was gone, he’d be deeply lost.
Memories of the battle cascaded a torrent of images into his mind.
He’d locked eyes with The New Ones hunter just as he had raised his spear. The lean, flint-eyed male had towered over Kye, his muscular arm raised, white-knuckled hand gripping his spear.
Kye had lowered his head and charged in the way of the butting mountain ram. If he knocked this foe off his feet, he could easily overpower him. But at the moment he made contact, The New One thrust his spear down hard. Kye bolted to the right as the spear cut him across the forehead.
The New One thrust his spear again, this time jabbing Kye in the throat. Gasping for breath, and with blood from his forehead blinding him, Kye stumbled away. Another jab would finish him.
He ran for the cover of the forest.
Remembering how he had fled made him flush with shame.
Had he disgraced himself? Would The Ancient People think his cowardly actions made him unworthy to be their next leader? Would they be right?
Perhaps it would be better if he didn’t return home at all, if he let them continue to believe that he had been killed fighting The New Ones.
He trudged along with no clear direction. In the dying light the forest was alive with the movement and sound of darting creatures and rustling leaves. Wings echoed overhead and Kye was not sure if they were birds or bats.
He was not going to make it out of this forest before dark, not with his mind cloudy from the head injury he’d suffered. The movement of animals in the undergrowth made him mindful of finding some kind of shelter for the night.
He walked a bit farther until he came back to the gorge where he’d lingered the day before. He spied a natural rock bridge seeming to lead into the vertical face of a rock cliff. Looking up, he saw that it ascended very far up but that there seemed to be a cave above its ledge.
On the other side of the bridge, a narrow path ran along the base of the cliff and turned inward, entering the mountain. Perhaps a more gradual ascent lay within the rock in the way that melting ice often carved paths and caves within stone. Maybe it would bring him to the cave above.
A night spent in a good cave would let him heal and give him time to consider what he should do next. He’d have to be cautious and make sure the cave was uninhabited, which meant hiding and watchin
Lenar stood in the entryway of the central cave, arms folded, nodding agreeably to the passing well-wishers who offered him their praise for his part in the successful hunt. He watched as they crowded excitedly around the massive, horned beast that he and the other Clan hunters had brought down once they had defeated The Ice Beings on the hunting field. Though it had been a group effort, Lenar had been the one to first plunge his spear deeply into the bison’s side, dropping it to the ground.
The admiring people held torches against the darkening sky. In the eerie jumping light of the moving fires, the immense creature threw a huge wavering shadow as though its spirit were hovering protectively outside its carcass.
Word was spreading through The Clan of how fiercely he’d fought against The Ice Beings. Even when one of their squat, hairy hunters had charged him, barreling into his stomach with his misshapen, bony head, Lenar had managed to wound the savage and chase him from the field. He’d killed two others by the time the whole pack of them retreated into the forest.
In truth, he had been startled by the ferocity and vigor of these Ice Beings. The wild fury in the eyes of The Ice Being as he raced toward him, growling and with his thick, muscular arms outstretched, had truly terrified him. He was able to bring his spear down on his attacker’s head in time, before the powerful beast-man could rip him apart with his massive hands. It made him proud that he’d thought quickly enough to survive the attack.
Gaj, their leader, was approaching, the edge of his reindeer-skin cloak trailing in the dirt. He had already donned the heavy elk horn necklace that he wore for the traditional celebration after the kill.
Gaj put his hand on Lenar’s shoulder, a signal that the younger male was permitted to raise his head: a sign of approval. He spoke words of praise to Lenar, and Lenar responded with humble thanks. Gaj’s mate had birthed only female children. Gaj was watching the males carefully in order to select his successor.
He kept his hand on Lenar’s shoulder as he steered him over to their great prized bison. Lenar’s eyes traveled among the cheering crowd, searching for May. He’d pinned his hopes on this moment. He had been counting on this day going well as a way to impress her.
Reincarnation by Suzanne Weyn / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes