The old man sighed contentedly. Months of eating forage and rations could make even simple waterleaf-wrapped fish taste like the food of kings. He studied his audience by the light of the camp fire. A big part of storytelling was getting the timing right. Children sat on laps, or bunched up in whispering groups. Some stared at him boldly, while others peeked shyly from behind fingers or long strands of dark hair. Grandmothers sat patiently, with blanket draped shoulders, tending toddlers or enjoying the silent companionship of one with whom they had grown old. Here and there old men smoked narrow pipes and birthed fragrant clouds that curled skyward.
Laughter drew his eyes to a group of young men clustered around Hekai, the Mongweh’s eldest son. They ignored the storyteller, strutting like warbirds with ruffs and tails extended. He smiled. Some things hadn’t changed, despite the long years. He captured as much of the experience as he could, binding the memories with each of the seven senses.
The old man stood. The crackling logs snapped and popped loudly in the silence that followed as eyes turned towards him. He pulled back the hood of his cham and untied the woven belt at his waist. Occasionally the story tellers of other cultures wore similar garments, an ancient reminder of their shared history, but none was quite like this one. Bits of carved stone, tinkling metal, feathers, beads and dozens of other objects hung from the robe. Within its folds cleverly sewn pockets hid many more items both utilitarian and mysterious. Tiny metal guides were sewn in various places, and threaded with sturdy silk cords tied to small rings. The cham was not only clothing, it was a portable stage, with sets, props, costumes and special effects built in.
The old man opened his robe. The firelight illuminated an unusual sword at his hip. It was short and wider than his palm. The hilt was carved of glossy wood or bone in the form of a large tree, with branches that wrapped the tang up to a winged guard. His bare chest and legs were lean and muscled. His body, tattooed with layers of scars. A history of battles fought against blade, tooth, and claw was written there. A map of a life that could not be contrived nor created by artifice. He lifted a disk which hung from a simple thong around his neck, and it blossomed with blue light. A collective gasp rippled through the people, and tears fell from the eyes of those who understood the significance of the symbol.
“I am Kiyo once of the Teogan – the First People. I am Canta’eyeh.”
Of all the story tellers of the people, none were as revered as the Canta’eyeh. It is said that they knew all the stories of life and bore the true knowledge of the world contained therein. For two nights the old man had delighted the people with tales that made them sing, and dance, and cry, yet coyly avoided naming himself. No Canta’eyeh had been in their midst, since before the grandfathers of the oldest in the tribe. Most considered them myths.
The fire flickered in hues of many colors, glinting off the symbol of the First Tree on the old man’s medallion. He looked at each of the people, young and old, and smiled. His eyes reflected stars and fire. His tone expressed his love. “I have enjoyed sitting with you these past nights and thank you for sharing food and drink. I also thank you for the gift of your beautiful children.”
No one spoke. The children, sensing something of their parent’s emotions, stared with wide eyes. Even the young warriors had fallen silent. Their bravado stilled by the evidence of battles and struggles beyond their imaginings.
Kiyo smiled to reassure them. He laid the dimming token against his chest again, then paused. “We are told that all true stories, are part of the First Story. Tonight I will sing of Komoro’mai and Merhana.”
It was one of the oldest stories and not often told. The young favored tales of monsters and heroes. Others stories that lightened the heart. These types of stories were called Yehe’yeh, the little stories. There were also Heo’heyeh, the teaching tales, which reminded people of important principles.
The Keo’heyeh were tales with roots deep in the past. Each contained special meaning and purpose, with elements of history, foretelling or knowledge which must not be forgotten.
Kiyo leapt atop a small boulder and began to sing. He tugged cords in his cloak, to extend panels, which created the illusion of wings. His hands flicked in and out of pockets producing puppets, props, and powders that flashed in myriad colors. He used his voice to create the sounds of wind, and flight, of feathers and stone, of animals and people. He immersed them so completely in the tale, that many would later claim to have seen it rather than heard it.
And so he began …
The Yahata’ai in their legends speak of the ‘Bird People’ who came to this valley. The Bird People traveled across the land with their great wings, formed from the hides of the mighty deragi, and the magic of root and bind. They mapped and explored all of the world within reach of their flight. So fearsome was their skill, that they vanquished the ancient winged Khetan who drank the blood and ate the flesh of men.
The greatest of the Bird People was Komoro’mai, a renowned explorer and a prince of his people. One day, while Komoro’mai explored the edges of the Ice Lands, he was swept up by a powerful winter storm. Ice crystals formed on the wings and the weight drove him to the ground. In vain he rubbed and polished the wings but the ice continued to form barring his flight. When the storm had past he trudged through the brilliant white landscape, heading towards where he knew the river would be, with the intent of sailing south. He kept his eyes open for the fierce Yehti’ai, the giant white wolves and bears. As he drew near to the water he heard singing and hid. Looking carefully from his vantage point, he saw a beautiful woman bathing in the ice cold waters where the river bent. He sat still, enchanted by what he saw and heard, until he fell into the sleep of ice. Much later he felt pain, and hands rubbing his arms and legs. He cried out and opened his eyes. It was Merhana, the maiden from the lake, a Yehet’ai in human form. He slept again as she struggled to bring life back to his body. Much later he awoke to find himself lying next to her beneath a fur, her warmth having returned him to life. When she opened her eyes, he saw in them his future, and an adventure greater than flight.
They spoke through the night, warm beneath the tiny shelter that Merhana had provided, oblivious to the winter winds singing inches above them. When the storm ended they dressed and Merhana showed Komoro’mai her lands and people. The world among the Yeheta’ai was marvelous to behold. Vast spires and structures of ice and steel extended above and below the earth.
Merhana gave Komoro’mai a small basket containing snowstone, a rare waxy substance prized by her people, gathered from the nests of dragon hawks. It was said that applying it to leather or cloth imparted protection from the weather, as well as increased strength and suppleness. Each day Komoro’mai rubbed it into his wings with a sapstone as he sang the words that bind. The wings grew thin enough for light to pass through, yet hard as bone and weightless as spider silk. The wind tugged at the wings, and they responded as if eager to fly. Komoro’mai took Merhana aloft with his mighty wings. The wings bore them higher than he had ever flown. They saw the breadth of the earth, and witnessed the mating of the mighty dragon hawks. They passed close beneath the Wanderer to marvel at its strangeness, and saw a distant land encircled by towers that floated in the sky.
Komoro’mai and Merhana returned to live with his people and were loved by all. The Yehti’ai abandoned their cities of steel and ice, and adopted human form. They descended from the north and joined the Yahata’ai. In the lush land of the river valley, they became one people.
Kiyo stood silently for a moment and looked at each member of the tribe.
In the final years of their lives, Komoro’mai and Merhana bid goodbye to their children. They leaped from the mouth of the waterfall in a joyous swoop (for Merhana had long since learned to fly) and climbed the great-wind, spiraling upwards until they were lost to sight. They sailed beyond land’s end, in search of the land of floating towers.
What they found, is why I am here.
[Note: This is backstory for Kiyo and ties in to the settling of Illia, the history of the Golg and things that will happen later. I’m not sure if and where it will end up yet.]