The Journey of Shadow
Published by CS Dunn
Copyright 2016 CS Dunn
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Sweat trickled and rolled and tickled down her face and neck, her armpits and breasts, her back and legs as R’Cci trudged up the hill towards Aramel. Her sandals ticky-tacked with each step lifted from the crushed black granite of the roadway. The heat-shrouded city shimmered when she looked up; the blistering white reflection of limestone walls stung her eyes, made her rapidly as tears tried to ease the brightness of sun and the burn of hot wind.
Why couldn’t she remember why she had to be here? It was important, she knew it was important. Her body was so old, so very old, her bones so weary, her mind so scattered. But this was her song-story. R’Cci had created it; she was the only one who knew its full and true meaning. She had moulded it from the five hundred languages of her people, as they once were. They were less now; there would few who knew what the words meant, and none who knew the depth below the words. She was the last singer of this song-story.
I am still here, and I will be strong enough for this.
R’Cci had sung the story into being, she had created the legend, the prophesy – and this was the time, and this was the place, and this was her role. She had to be here, to keep her mind alert to the beginning, to shape the events to meet the needs of the end. Her mind reached out to Injuwu and found the link. She sensed her way to him and took from his energy.
Injuwi slept. She knew her dragon slept. They all slept. They would not awaken to this world until her prophesy was made real – their enemy vanquished, and the seed of the prophesy, planted and tended so long ago, was harvested.
The colours around her brightened, her thoughts cleared. She stepped out along the track with vigour, each step taking her closer to her goal. She felt the power of the spirits, the force of the Mother, the tingle of vitality in her body. And his energy; the only thing left that could truly keep her feet on this path.
From the time she first dreamed of the possibility, the hope for the dragons, she had worked towards this moment. Her spirit dream showed the chink in the chain, the weakness they hadn’t allowed for, the unintended consequences of the constraint they had placed on their beast.
R’Cci shuddered. No one in this world had seen the beast, but she kept his story alive in her songs. She instilled in her people the knowledge of the beast and his creators. How many seasons, how many hundreds, thousands, of seasons had passed? Would the people remember? She had taught the elder lore-tellers of this tale; told them how important it was for the song to remain with the People, told them how important it was to remember. Now they were all gone, and only the young remained. They had to be reminded of their role in the task.
The world would return to dragons, dragons would return to the world. It had to be that way. It would be that way. She would do this.
On her first spirit walk, as a young Yamadgi woman, she had met Injuwu. She had left the west coast of her people and walked across the dry summer plains of grasses and sands and stony dry rivers and scorching hot air – her goal was to reach the dreaming caves of the mid-desert. She wandered north, then east, more north again, following the water holes. She didn’t reach the caves.
What she had seen was beyond dreaming. The mirage against the hill, the bright lightning flash, and a hole in the world – a hole where dragons entered this world. She knew she was dreaming; the creatures that flashed in front of her were not in any of the stories she knew, and she was a student of lore. She knew all the stories; she had listened carefully to the stories sung to her by the elders; her role as a lore-singer was to remember them, to become a lore-teller, to pass her songs on to the ones who came after her.
She stood still as a tree, until one of the creatures came to her, spoke to her mind. He asked if she would be his keeper – he said ‘kender’ but R’Cci hadn’t known what that was; said he liked the power of her mind. She had said “No,” because she wasn’t free to take on a task for a dream. She had her own task, her own dream at the time. He had persisted, and she eventually said “Yes,” and he had shared with her – his blood, his scales, his heart, his knowledge. She lived as his kender, but more.
The story she told the People was of dragons; she told them the story she had seen in the mind of Injuwu. Others of the people became keepers.
When the beast came for the dragons, many of the keepers died, many of the H’Rucca died, and many more fled in terror. R’Cci was the last keeper. She had undertaken a final vow to Injuwu – to bring dragons back into her world, to bring them out of exile from the plane between planes, and back into the life of her people.
She knew the prophesy was unfolding when she was told of the missing woman – a woman from her own kin clan, her own tribe. R’Cci was the one who found her, barely alive, her body broken and bloody at the bottom of a sinkhole. R’Cci had asked the air, the trees, the soil, and they told her what she needed to know, and where to find her.
One of her own bloodline, one of her children’s children, down so many generations – too many for an old woman to count – but R’Cci had recognised her features, cried for her, healed her. They had moved her, gently, to the camp by the lake. R’Cci had called on Injuwu to heal her, to keep her alive, to keep the seed within her alive. R’Cci gave the woman the blood of a dragon, but even that was not enough to save her, only enough to save the seed she carried. R’Cci had stayed with her, sung the songs to her, told her of her role in the prophesy, mourned her when she died birthing. R’Cci had taken her body and cleaned it, prepared it, and given it over to the spirits, sent her home before her time. She gave the seed to the saltwater people.
The magic of the saltwater people was not her magic. They knew what they had to do. They would do as the song asked.
R’Cci mourned as her People mourned their loss. The body would now be at rest, her soul placed in the rocks of her land. R’Cci hoped the ceremony to remember the woman’s life was still being sung. She sang some of her own memory of the woman, hoping it would be heard by the spirit of the People who had gone before, who would now welcome the spirit back into the beginning of all.
Her task was at hand. She had only to be in the right place, at the right time.
The rocks on the side of the track, with t wo large stones in the centre, with three smaller stones stacked on top, and two white stones to the front – that was the sign. A red daub of dried, crusty dirt striped onto its surface. The way-stones of a water station. She looked to see where the opening was, saw it. The flat stone would be the cover, and the pump would be there. The water canals had been dug by the once-lost.
They seemed to be a breed of miners, digging under the ground to make water flow to them, rather than digging to find the water. Not like the H’Rucca. H’Rucca would mark a water point for all to see, but they still had to dig for it. The rivers only flowed when it rained; otherwise, they were all upside-down, with the water below the surface.
A flat-stone seat under the half-shade of two blood-wood trees provided rest for her body. A little rummage through her pack brought out the makings of tea, another of the good things from the once-lost. She listened to the leaves, the grass, the air – their song. She listened, and sang a greeting to the trees, the air, the spirits; she sang of justice and love and patience; she sang of endings and beginnings and the journey between. R’Cci pried open the lid to the water pump and filled her little billy, not even puffing as she pushed and pulled at the pump.
Not a billy – the people this side of the fingers call it a dixie. She would have to remember that, the way the same people named things differently, simply because some space separated their camps, their cities.
Deep scratches showed in the trunks of the few trees that surrounded the pump. She dug some dusty packets of ochre from her bags and wet them in her palm, using her fingers to put four creamy-white dots in a semi-circle on the largest stone, facing away from the road. She added one red dot in the centre of the semi-circle. Anyone coming here would now know to protect food from the shadow-cats. The little wild cats lived well with the once-lost, feeding from their refuse, and their farm animals. And stealing from travellers.
As she boiled the billy, dixie, she again looked up the slope to the city. The haze of the midday heat hung over the trail, over the gentle hills, over the fenced and guarded orchards grown in sandy ground next to the smelly compost mounds. She heard the night-carts rollicking down the stony track on the other side of the hill, there to deposit their manure in the deep composting pits; she heard the orchardists stacking crates and cracking branches, she heard singing that was better heard at a distance, she heard the joy of the birds as they stole from the trees, she heard the life of the city as it fed into her land. She could smell the salty marsh farms that bordered this peninsular. The slight breeze brought her the smell of fish, and seaweed, and she thought she could hear the salty waves as they pounded on the shores over the hill to the west.
There were no people travelling along this road. It was not the time of year for that, the heat and dust of high summer was when people stayed where it was cooler. The interior was for the wild animals, for the herders who watched them, for the eagles that feasted on the creatures that didn’t survive, for the lost souls who journeyed through a dream. It was not the time for travelling, but she needed to be at the right place at the right time, to wangle everything to the right path.
She shuffled her sore feet, rubbed at the dust that had become sweaty mud between her toes. Her brown skin looked red from all the dust of her long journey. Her people, the H’Rucca, were coloured to adapt to this harsh land. Every colour of skin from dark honey to blue-black, hair colour from towheads to the flat black hair of the crocodile people – a flat black that reflected no light. The only People left with the lore of the Wandajaa dream – the lore of death and the law of the dead. She shuddered. Wandajaa lore was not for her, and the Crocodile people condemned her for her choices.
A cockatoo landed in the branches above her; its raucous squawk split the silence. She shooed it away, and it flew off towards the orchards. Another creature that had done well off the hard work of the farmers who had first come with the once-lost.
She drank her tea, ate what was left of her travelling supplies. She would eat when she reached Aramel. They would give her accommodation. She was coming here for her own purpose, but the price would be to undertake a role for them as well. It was the way things were done in Narrung. The People were welcomed into the cities of the once-lost. And she was here to finish her task, to bring dragons back into her world.
But she was old, so old, and it was time now for the young to take on their tasks.
I will do what I must; my task is my life; my task is the life of Injuwu, and he will be of my world once again. I will do what needs to be done, Injuwu, for you, my love, for all dragons, and for my people.
Shadow, lost waif, wants to be special in the country of Narrung; R'Cci, eldest of the elder song-line singers, wants to bring dragons back into this world. This is their journey, brought to you in a week by week serial (chapters). The world is a harsh place, the slavers across the sea always threaten the free world of Narrung - this is what Shadow thinks she trains for; R'Cci holds her secret, and knows that Shadow is much more than one of the once-lost. She is the seed of the future - for dragons!