A collection of the youngers come running down from the hills early, driving the goats ahead of them.
"Ganai runs," the eldest of them says when questioned, and, in fact, this is easily confirmed. Over the crests of the hills the dark storm clouds are rising, and the low, uneven rumble of Ganai's hoofbeats among the clouds is already penetrating down into the valley.
So some gather the goats into their pens, and prop the doors of the sheds so the animals might take shelter from the driving rains. Storms, as one of the Great Forces, were not things to be taken lightly, and it had been known for some time that those improperly reverent to Ganai were liable to have their homes blown over in one of the violent tempests that roiled over the hills.
As always, the Neh-Ganaire stands in the center of the village, his ceremonial black horsepelt settled over his shoulders. He oversees the gatherings into the homes, and then stands, face gazing upwards, hair free to the wind, to await the oncoming storm.
The women cluck, as they always do, for the Windlord was known to let the skyfires that sparked from his hooves to strike the less reverent or those of his devotees that were no longer fit vessels for his wild spirit. However, the Neh-Ganaire tended to stand thus, in the storm, and let the Windlord make his choice. It was said, of course, that the Shamans of the Horse were perhaps a little insane, but such is the magic of the Storm. "Tempting Ganai," they call it, for the Windlord is also known as Fate.
Every so often, the Shaman would be joined in his devotions by some youth or other, who wished to prove his devotion in the hope of being selected as an apprentice to the Neh-Ganaire, or to prove his valor before his compatriots or the young women of the village. The Windlord struck those down who were too arrogant, on occasion, and on others blessed them with the Gift of the Storm, granting them that wild passion that drives all the Neh-Ganaire, the Chosen Ones of Ganai.
This time there were no youths, however, and the Neh-Ganaire stood alone, letting the beginnings of the rains wash over him. It is a good storm, he judges, and the crops would do well of it. He mutteres a soft incantation of praise into the wind, letting the gusts carry it upwards to be heard by the Windlord. He smiles, slightly, drinking in deep of the storm, staying in the center of the village until the last hoofbeats rumble away in the distance.
Then, giddy from the Gift, he makes his patient, careful way back to his own hut, which stands westmost of the quadrangle of little shacks that are the homes of the village Shamans.
One watches, who has always watched, the singular rituals of the Shaman of the Horse. She is of age, in the way of these people, to be wed, having shed her Moon's Blood for two full turns of the seasons. Her dark hair is not bound in the braid of a wife, nor in the patient adornings of a maid seeking suitors. Instead, it is free, in the manner of a Shaman, or a child.
Rhahrle is visible, again, the great Cougar that is the Sun, settling for his night's rest behind the hills. The sky glows a rich red with the remnants of his great heavenly hunt, and the cat grew slow and happy, and settles himself at last into the darkness for sleep. The Neh-Rhahrlere finishes his appointed duties for the day, and cast the meat given up to the Cougar for his evening meal out to the dogs. With a small shrug, he settles the slightly worn cougarskin back into position, it having slipped somewhere in the rituals accompanying sunset.
"Once," the Shaman of the Cougar says to nobody in particular, for he was getting old, and wandered in his mind, "the folk forgot to put out the evening's meat for Rhahrle, you know."
"So you've said, Honored One," says she, for indeed he has said so.
"And the next day," the old Shaman goes on, not taking note that this time for once someone answered him, "when noontime came, Ragabe came and took his place.... the Coyote instead of the Cougar wheeled across the sky, and Darkness came."
She nods. Ragabe and Rhahrle were old friends, indeed, and Ragabe took most opportunities to joke with humanity. She was wily, indeed, and played an excellent foil to the Lightlord, She of Darkness.
The shaman nods, pleasantly, to the space beside the watcher, and slips into his hut, the southern one. The Shaman of Coyote lived in the northern one, in opposition. She was an odd sort, and appeared at the oddest of times. The watcher had, in fact, never seen her appear twice in the same guise, but this was more or less normal.
Slowly, the clouds in the east begin to glow with faint white light. It is a Viere-night, one where the moon rides full, and it is never a good omen to have one of them obscured by clouds. The watcher smiles, and greets the Moon-Wolf with a silent smile.
The moonlight is a gentle draw to her, and she slowly gathers herself to her feet and paces eastwards, eyes upwards to observe the fullness of the orb. Her walk is not straight, mind you, for she took off her sandals a while back so she could sink her feet into the gentle dust by one of the fences, dust which since Ganai ran has become thick, brown mud. She was at the time avoiding some of her agemates, who wished to do up her hair in feathers and beads so that she might entice a particular one of the village boys that they deemed was suited for her. She might have agreed, of course, had they not been so insistent about it, and she had traded bemused looks with the boy in question and slipped her friends' grasp, so that she might be free a bit longer. In any case, now barefoot, she walks in the zigzags of someone who knows where the rocks are that she ought not to step on, splashes her way across the ford of the little stream, and finds herself on the fringes of the stretch of evergreens that borders the lands where this village grows grain from the lands where the next nearest village grows wine-grapes.
The moon is a beautiful beacon, in fact, and she contemplates this thought for some time.
"Closer to moonlight," she decrees at last, under her breath, and works her way up a small hill that is bathed in the silvery glow.
She smiles, now, up at Viere, who has by this time climbed rather high in the sky. The cool moonlight scatters across the small clearing, and glints in faint highlights off the darkness of her hair. She runs one red-brown hand through that free mass of hair, still looking upwards.
Closer to moonlight, the thought slips across her mind. She frowns slightly, wondering about this, then selects one of the tallest trees she can find. With a quick stride, as rapid as she can take without removing her gaze from the Skywolf, she moves to the foot of it, and frowns somewhat as she realizes that to climb she will have to remove her gaze from the heavens.
Closer to moonlight, her mind repeats, so she climbs. The tree is an accomodating one, with branches close enough together for climbing, but not so close that the needles and twigs make progress impossible. In any case, she is a more than competent climber of trees, and makes quick work of the job.
Here, moonlight is everywhere, scattering above, below, and around her. She smiles. This is a fine thing, indeed, to watch the beginnings of the night, where the Coyote and the Wolf do the things appropriate to women, leaving the menfolk to their own devices for the most part. She curls one arm about the trunk of the tree and settles herself, letting her mind drift once she is certain that she will not fall. Not to be so certain would indeed be tempting Ganai.
Closer to moonlight.
The thought is still insistent.
She frowns again, not sure of how to manage this feat. This is, in fact, the tallest tree for a goodly distance around. She would also not have the time to walk to the mountains and get back again before the Cougar awakes, and she had things she ought to be doing at around dawningtime. But still, the insistent, nagging thought shimmers at the back of her mind. Closer to moonlight, it says, it repeats, until it is a drumming mantra against her temples.
She looks up, meeting the moon's eye as it were, and asks the Skywolf the question, now. Closer to moonlight, her mind thrums, and she smiles a little, reaching out her free hand to cup the falling droplets of light.
It seems to her that moonlight pools in her hand, dripping over her fingers down the tree where it runs like the white shining sap down towards the ground. Perhaps that is what the sap truly is, she thinks, and her mind says only, "Closer...."
With a smile upwards, she brings the cupped hand forwards, gazing down at it. In the glow of the night, it is filled with some insubstantial fluid, and, on some impulse or other, she brings her curled fingers to her lips and drinks moonlight.
The thrum in her head explodes with a sigh, and the Gift of the Moon settles into her soul. She feels the cool strength of the Skywolf run chills through her veins, and smiles again up at the moon.
After some time, she climbs down the tree again, and begins to pace her way back towards the village. As she enters the clearing at the top of the hill, she sees something, shining white-grey in the westward-leaning light of the moon. She takes a step in its direction, then two, then the rest of the way, and gathers it into her arms. The thick fur of the wolf pelt envelops her slender frame, and she shifts it until it rests around her shoulders.
Perhaps now she finds her senses keener, her hearing sharper and more intent. Perhaps she is surer of foot, and lopes back towards the village, the easy, ground-eating stride of the Wolf in travel.
The Neh-Vierere is old, and is standing at the door to the eastern of the huts, watching the girl climb up from the stream, looking for her sandals. She smiles, for this is what she was waiting for.
The girl notices the Shaman of the Wolf standing, her own wolf's pelt a deeper grey, darker, and smiles, not sure of her presumption. The Shaman smiles, more broadly now, and speaks, her soft voice carrying to the other's ears as clear as a call in daylight.
"You know all that you need to know, Neh-Veirere," the old Shaman says.
The girl starts, and her easy stride fails her. "I?" she asks.
The Shaman does not answer. Instead, she gathers the cloak of the pelt about her, and draws down the Gift of the Moon in a shower of pure silvered light.
When the dazzle fades, there is no woman there. An old wolf, smoke-grey, meets the girl's gaze for just a moment, before loping away into the forest, brushing past her like a ghost.
The girl stands, gazing after the wolf, for a long while. She settles the pelt on her shoulders again, the giddiness fading slowly, and with careful steps, enters the eastern one of the four huts that house the Shamans.
Return to the Book.