The tea leaves, diffused to what could only be a bitter excess, rested at the bottom of the forgotten bone cup, steam no longer billowing gently into the cold air. Warm drinks chilled quickly in the wintry environ, but this one in particular had been prepared absent mindedly, discarded before it had even begun to steep. The leaves gone to waste, unfortunate, having commanded a high price in the bustling and energetic marketplace of Thross, clipped as they were from the exotic plants of the southern kingdoms.
Nearby, a young woman busied herself, kneeling on the pelt covered floor and running an ornate comb of carved and polished whale bone through her shoulder length hair, her features bearing the subtlest hint of an underlying tension as the teeth of the implement glided gently between the soft, dark strands. She faced the wooden door of the hydd, a small, square-shaped shelter built from layers of stone and earth, collected during the warmer summer months in which the land would partially cast off it’s gelid climate. Her people would often sleep in tents constructed of animal hide during this part of the year, such was the shift in temperature, particularly in settlements such as this, closer to the southern border.
Irn placed the comb gently, almost ceremoniously, back into a small wooden box nestled by her side. The precious heirloom, carved by her great-grandfather from the bones of a sea beast he himself had aided in hunting, was kept hidden away by the young woman, only to be used on days of great import and significance, whether they be joyous, or sorrowful.
Outside, her breath came in short expulsions of misty vapour from beneath her hood, the cloak of hide and fur already coated with a fine dusting of snow. Reminding herself to breathe deeply, to remain calm, Irn could feel the welling of heavy tears at the corner of her eyes, threatening to burst forth at any moment. But she continued to breathe, to hold them back as she trudged along the icy ground towards the huddled mass of her kin, whom she could now make out through the gently falling snow.
Several members of the gathering nodded greetings to her as she arrived, filling in a gap off to one side, not wanting to cause too much of a stir by injecting herself into the centre of the group, despite knowing that everyone had been waiting for her. She gazed briefly from beneath her hood at the collected members of the staam, her staam she thought, recognising that everyone seemed to be in attendance. As it should be.
Irn looked up and met Nera’s eyes, the warm brown of her iris’ glazed with tears. Neither woman wanted to be seen to cry, though no judgement would be placed upon them had they permitted themselves to.
The staam, their tribe, had assembled themselves by the coastal cliffs, slightly north of the village and the stony beach from which they launched their small fishing boats. Being of such a small population, approximately eighty people strong, it was not common for them to meet under such circumstances, or in such a location, but since their ancestors had settled the area, the ritual known as ‘the seeing’ had always been held atop these cliffs.
With Irn’s arrival, the short ceremony could begin. Nera, standing quietly at the cliff’s edge, knelt down onto the frozen ground beside the pelt-wrapped body of her husband as all watched on in respectful and solemn silence. Ein had served as the staam’s Scha for nearly thirty summers, loved and cherished by all for his fair and good natured leadership. Despite his duties as Scha, he had aided in all manner of day to day activities with the rest of his kin, of those other than his family, it was his brethren on the fishing vessels whom Irn believed would perhaps miss him most of all. Besides his family, and herself.
After several moments, in which the listless moaning of the wind and the rhythmic sighing of the surf below were the only sounds to be heard, Nera closed her eyes, signalling those gathered to do the same. She placed her hand gently over Ein’s face, covering his eyes with her long fingers and waited, holding back her grief, the screaming and unchained demon within her, fighting with a fevered desperation and terrifying ferocity to escape. With a calm grace, she opened her eyes, and took a deep breath.
“I see you, Ein,” she proclaimed.
“We see you,” the gathered crowd responded in chorus, opening their eyes.
Irn watched through a watery haze as Nera and her eldest son Dúnu took hold of the wooden frame of a cot upon which Ein lay, gently lifting the end and raising Ein’s top half up into the air. Slowly, the body began to slide along the tanned hide of the cot’s surface, carried gently towards the cliff’s edge, eventually slipping quietly over and down into the surf below, to be carried out into the sea.
The crowd turned to face Irn as Nera approached her, holding out a rope necklace decorated with tooth and bone, each baring an intricately carved design. Bowing slightly, Irn lowered her head towards her Scha’s widow, whom in turn, placed the necklace carefully around the young woman’s neck. Straightening herself, Irn looked deeply into Nera’s eyes, now closer than she had ever been to tears.
“Our Scha,” the widow spoke.
“Our Scha,” the staam responded.
| Tales |