The openness had a smell all it’s own. Loric breathed the clear, cool air above the trees with a special relish. One borne of the open spaces. He believed the stars over his head exhaled a sweetness unlike anything in his valley.
There was a rustling below him and he leaned out to see his sister Silsia climbing up behind him. He smiled at her adeptness, knowing that it represented many forbidden practice runs. Runs she would have been punished for had the men known that a downlander would dare the heights and walk among them.
Loric waited till she came along side of him and gave her a signal of greeting. He could not acknowledge her presence without penalty, but they had an unspoken code, fingertalk that they had learned in the early days of Oldsir’s blindness. A skill he never used and they never forgot.
She held her hand out for Loric to grasp. He gripped it tightly for a moment, knowing that they both had come here for the same reason. He had come to tree-top level to watch the sun set and sing a farewell to Oldsir. He sang Oldsirs song to the Spirit of the Wood, and then the traditional songs of farewell. He could have gone home then, but had lingered to watch for Oldsir’s star to appear. Everyone felt that since Oldsir had been given his second vision, his star would be a special one, even the Downlanders had dared to speak of it aloud.
There was no hope for them to spy it from the ground, and they also knew that Silsia would not have missed trying to see it. Loric tapped on her palm: “I thought you were journeying to Wood’s End?”
“That was just a rouse and you know it near-man, dear brother. I only wanted the villagers to think I was leaving, so they would not look for me up here.”
“I have passed all my tests, you can call me a man now.”
“But your Shreaving is not until tomorrow, you can lose all there. Would you have me call you a man, and add being here with a man to my list? Perhaps you’d want me to dance for you when you return? It is not unknown…”
Loric blushed in the darkness, shocked at what his sister was suggesting. Then he heard the stifled giggle, and knew that she was joking with him again.
“The wind blows exceptionally hard tonight.” he mused, halfturning in her direction. It would serve her right if he caught sight of her and let out a call of warning to the other men here in the trees. He felt her squeeze his hand tight enough to wring a cry from him, but he held silent.
“Not as hard as a boy will blow to prove his manliness!”
“A man would have made you crabmeat by now, but list! Is this how the Tolorions show respect for the dead? I have not seen Oldsir’s star, maybe he’s not gone yet.”
Silsia’s hand went limp and dropped from his for a moment and then came back. “He is gone Loric, I know it.”
She gave no anwser, but she handed something around the tree and the pungent smell coming from the soft leather bag was all the answer he needed. It was Oldsir’s hearth-fire ashes.
Water came to Loric’s eyes as he opened the bag and took out a pinch of ash. He tossed it over his shoulder, then got another and rubbed it onto his chest over his heart. He shook half the rest into his own pouch and then tied the pouch onto his belt. The rest would be for Dernhelm.
“Loric? I did something, I mean… I took some of the ash, some of Oldsir. Will that bring dishonor to his memory? When he came to me while you were taking your tests he said that the Spirit had called him and he knew you would pass because you were a Tolorion. I was so sad to see him go, that I told him I wouldn’t give this to you. He said that Spirit only knows why they don’t let women into the trees, or to have a Hearthfire, but that he knew I would do the right thing whether that was to pass his ashes along, or to keep them. So I went with him, he wouldn’t even tell Dernhelm he was going. He refused the escort and witnesses-male witnesses that was his due. I was so confused when I got back I took a pinch of the ash and threw it into my cooking fire. And it worked Loric! The magic worked for me, I’m not a preist or druid or even a man, but I saw him! He was young, and I saw mother there as a child, he was showing her how to use a river vine to stretch skins… Then it was gone and I cryed because of what I had done. I told Eadyie that I was going to Wood’s End and ran into the forest and wept till sunset. Then I came here.”
Loric had remained silent during her long communication. He concentrated closely on the words her hands formed. Not knowing what to do or say. If Dernhelm heard of this he would have her expelled from the village and then he would leave himself out of shame to the Tolorion name. Loric wasn’t sure he felt the shame that tribal law would place on him. He felt that his sister had done something daring and had passed a test of her own.
Perhaps she was more than a woman herself now, but what did the making of the Hearthfire for a woman mean? Surely his sister was posessed of more magic than any other woman in the Village-beneath-the-Trees. Eadyie herself knew only healing herbs and roots. He knew that it was the men who carried the favor of the Spirit and that made all magic theirs to command.
Oldsir had a second vision, he had gone to his hearthfire, taking only his grand-daughter as honor and escort. Then she had made her own hearthfire and had not been consumed. The portents where there, if only he could read them a-right!
“I don’t know what to say. How do you feel?”
“Terrible. Great. Awful. Glad, sad, and mad! How should I feel?”
“The decisions of a moment…” began Loric.
“Oh shush child! I know that as well as you! Oldsir did not spend all his time instructing you.”
Loric burned again and said “The night wind whispers against the past. I will not tell it where to blow next.”
“Shall I break this taboo also Loric? Or shall we keep this our secret as the others? Till our hometree’s roots reach across the plains of Woe? I can think of only one thing to do. I must speak to the Druid who lives in the valleys beyond our wood. This is a greater matter than I or old ‘quote the histories’ Dernhelm.”
Loric held her hand tight, then signed slowly giving weight and meaning to each word. “I think that is best, for I love you and would not have you leave the tribe because you can do something no one else in our village can do. A woman who can spell would not have a good chance at a husband… nor want one I beleive. But if you leave on your own then when I see you on the paths beneath the trees, I will not have to spit on your shadow, or utter phrases best saved for enemies, not beloved sisters!” With that he reached around the narrow truck that sheilded her from him and hugged her to it. His arms did not meet, but he held her as best he could. He felt her shake with silent sobs.
Loric looked beseechingly upwards and saw a bright reddish streak arc across the sky and fall to earth somewhere way beyond the Wood. “Did you see?!” He gasped.
“I saw, Loric. Oldsir did not choose to stay among his kin in the sky. He has given me a sign. That is the direction in which I must go!”
“Hoo-ya!! Hoo-ya!!” Came a call from some tree beyond Loric. It was Dernhelm. He must have been watching for Oldsir’s star also. “Hoo-ya! Hoo-ya! A!” Loric called back. Soon, all the tribesmen called out in blessing and happiness for Oldsir: “Hoo-ya! Oldsir the Second- sighted! Hoo-ya hoo-ya hoo-ya a! The Spirit of the Wood has called him back!”
Loric reached back to grasp his sister’s hand but found only rough bark. He wanted to attract her attention to a glow on the horizon that he hadn’t noticed before, but felt only rough bark. Silsia Tolorion had gone.