22. The Journey Omen

"Cold Ground" by Jasvena

The Unfinished Song: Initiate

Irrigation ditches and low stone walls divvied up the fields. The sparkle of willawisps blinked on and off against the night sky. He decided he would walk as far as he could by dawn before he stopped to consider camping. He had no sleeping roll, no pack, no water gourd, not even a weapon.

When the moon rose, he started to scan the valley for the journey omen. He admitted he was vain enough to hope for something noble, a nighthawk or a cougar, but no living creature crossed his path. All he found was the shed skin of a snow snake, luminous white, perfectly intact and as long as his arm. Snow snakes were rare creatures, which lived high in the mountains, but once a year they shed their white skins for jet black scales and descended by the hundreds to mate in the hot desert valleys. A poor omen, he decided. Even after he found the skin, he kept an eye out for a cougar.

He had walked most of the night when he heard footsteps paralleling his. He tensed.

Mother stepped out from the rows of maize. She seemed to glow white in the moonlight. He felt absurdly glad to see her, surprised yet not surprised to find her out here, just where the tilled fields gave way to wild forest. He quickened his step to join her, but when he saw her face, full of pain, he stopped short of embracing her.

She had not forgiven him. Aching inside, he mulled her painful words to him during their fight. You can’t even do this one thing for me.

He remembered reaching toddler-chubby arms up to her, commanding, “Fly with me!” She would sweep him up, as her wings spread behind her, until they rode the wind. Father hated those flights; Mother and Father always fought about it afterward. To stop the yelling, Kavio had learned to stop asking her to fly.

When he’d been seven years old, she’d sewn him his first dance costume, the most wonderous thing he’d ever seen, of spider silk and parrot feathers, cowrie shells and rainbow stitches. He’d ripped it up in front of her. She’d never sewn him another one.

Little by little, over the years, he had pushed her further from him. It was the price he’d paid to please his father.

He wanted to say: I’m sorry. To say: I love you. He wanted to say: Fly with me

Instead, his words tumbled out like stones on a slippery moutain trail, hard and impatient. “Just before the trial, you said you wanted me to look for the Vaedi, that humankind would perish if I didn’t. I can go now.”

Mother’s chalcedony bracelets chimed when she shrugged. “I don’t remember saying that.”

“This quest was supposedly so important you told me it was worth dishonoring myself to flee in secret rather than attend my trial. You don’t remember?”

“I thought they would execute you.” The scent of ripening corn…

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