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4,500 BC Late Neolithic Period
I am Saline, daugther of the Earth Mother, born to Char-di of Cliff Clan of Adelushee Tribe. I am Saline, mother of many nations. I am born under the sign of new moon in heavenly sign. This sign has determined that I am moon priestess to my clan.
We live in the cliffs and mountains above the village of the river people ( near modern day Salzburg, Austria ). My clan lives up on the cliffs like our ancient ones did, but some of my people now live in the lowlands in well made huts.
It is time for the harvest, so I must partake of the harvest ceremony. I learn the dance and ritual, we twirl wooden fire sticks, and pour libations onto the ground. The day of the harvest bone woman chants from her cave across the valley, and we can hear her piercing screams that echo from the cliffs. Father comes with his flint sickle, it is long and curved, affixed to a wood handle. We stand together on the cliff's ledge overlooking the forest, listening to bone woman, awaiting the sign from her that the harvest can begin.
I am alone with father. I never knew my mother, she died when I was very young. I must help father so we are able contributors to our clan. Your value is determined by what you can produce . We work in the harvest now, and this must be done for the continuance of the clan. A good harvest will make our clan strong.
Bone woman begins to let out long piercing wails. Suddenly she stops. It is time to go to the harvest.
We go. Father and I walk together up on the high path that runs along the cliff ledge. Below us is the lowlands forest. We see the tree tops from here, and on the other side of the valley are more steep mountain cliffs.
Father carries his sharpened flint sickle. It looks like this:
Father looks like this, and he often carries animal hides draped over his shoulder that he trades at the market.
Saline looks like this girl in the painting: I have wavy blonde hair.
I wear deerskin clothes, sometimes a decorated pullover garmet ( jumper ) or an outfit like the one in this picture below. Note the decorative squirrel tails. I also wear underwear that look like spotted leopard's fur.
The Harvest and Celebration
The path winds along the high cliffs, past several shallow caves where my people dwell in dome huts. We pass a rugged area of immense boulders that block out our view. Then the trail descends towards the valley floor. We enter the dark, damp forest, where tall trees tower above us. We follow the path to a clearing, a part of the forest where we have felled the trees. There are long fields of grain here. The grain has turned a deep golden color. Now is the time for the harvest.
Father cuts the tall wheat low on the stalks. I gather the cut stalks and bundle them, placing each bundle in an upright position to dry in the wind. We will return in about a week to gather the bundles.
The harvest is abundant, it has been a good growing season. I help other women of my clan to thresh the grain on the barren rocks below our rock shelter. Then we must separate the wheat kernel from the hulls, and this takes time. We rub the husks in our hands, and the kernels are placed into earthen pots for storage. We store the flour up high on wooden platforms that are built inside the rock shelters.
When we have finished the harvest, there is a celebration. We have a feast of fire roasted meats and herbal drink. We are happy knowing that our granary is full and we will have enough food to last us through another cold winter.
Up high in the cliffs are the long, shallow rock shelters where many members of my clan live. We have dome shaped huts made of sewn hides.The floors of our huts are paved with flat rocks. In the middle of the hut we have a fire pit. Sometimes I cook here, but other times I cook outside, under the rock shelter.
There are many huts under the rock shelter, and near the opening of the caves there are large fire pits. We make big fires here, where oftentimes we do communal cooking. Sometimes many families share the duties of cooking meals when there is meat to eat from a successful hunt.
We sit in a circle around the fire pit. We have our harvest feast. Father laughs, and he makes the growling sound of a bear. Everyone laughs, we are all happy, after the feast we will have drums and ritual dancing.
The feast is over, and darkness descends over the mountain valley. The full moon will soon rise.
We perform our ritual dance. Two clan men beat out a rhythm on large drums. We dance around the fire pit in a big circle. There are dances for men and there are dances for the women. I do maidens dance and the moon dance.
I am one of seven young tribal priestesses. Our faces have been painted white for the harvest ceremony, and our lashes and eye brows are painted black. We wear special jewels, and a head band with the moon emblem affixed above our left eye. The moon emblem is a pearly shell that is shaped like the full moon. I wear the moon emblem everywhere; not just in the ceremonies. It marks my status in the tribe.
We worship the Mother Goddess, the giver, sustainer, and source of all life. We associate the Mother Goddess with the moon. We dance in honor of her, and to thank her for a good harvest. Now we do the moon dance. We gyrate our bodies, pivot and spin, stretching out arms towards the sky. The drum beat gets faster and louder. We dance faster, until the drums stop; then we fall to the ground. Now we raise up and throw water from a clay pot up into the air. Then we pour water into the soil. Water is the source of life, given to us by our Mother Goddess.
Gathering Nuts and Berries
The summer draws to a close and we must prepare for another long winter. It is important to store food, as much as we can.I rise from my bed in the hut and dress in my gray fur skirt and deerskin vest with dangling squirrel tails. I put on my head band, so that the circle shell moon is above my left eyebrow. I eat a breakfast of berries in my creamy gruel, the sweetness of the berries is most satisfying. I go outside and smell the air. It is time to gather nuts, I can smell the scent of ripe nuts in the forest air from below.
I grab my side bag, a deer skin pouch with a drawstring and a long shoulder strap. I am ready to go to the forest to gather nuts. I go down the high cliff trail and enter the damp forest, where there are many trails. I know the way to the nut groves easily, I have been there many times before. Many of the nuts have fallen to the ground, and I can gather these quickly, placing them into my shoulder bag. I look up and watch the squirrels playing up in the tree branches above. I know that they have already buried many nuts. I love to watch them play and that makes me smile. I walk through the forest in search of more berries. I find some not far from our wheat fields. I pick as many berries as I see ripened on the bush, and place them into another deer skin pouch side bag. This is a good day, I have found nuts and berries. Father will be pleased.
I hear a sound behind me. I wheel around and see one of the young clan warriors, Mar. He comes to me and smiles. I am glad to see him and greet him. Our warriors must always patrol our lands, or intruders will come and cause trouble. Our warriors protect us from the intruders.
I enjoy the company of Mar. He is always happy to see me. He showed me some of his hiding places in the woods; platforms hidden up high in the trees where we would sit and observe the forest, and watch birds with wide wingspans gliding across a large beautiful lake below. One could see for miles around from this high station, an effective way to spot any trespassers who might stray into our territory.
Mar demonstrated many bird calls. I was amazed by his ability to mimic every bird sound. Suddenly he put his arms around me and we embraced. He ran his fingers through my hair and leaned over and kissed me. I could feel passion that I had not known before sweep over me. I laughed and pushed him away, he tried to make advances again, but I had to resist him.
I loved being with Mar, he made me feel wonderful. But it was forbidden.
I think Mar wanted me for his mate. A priestess was not allowed to be with a man. If I were to bond to Mar, I would have to lose my status as Moon priestess.
I hoped that by helping father at the salt mines I would forget about Mar.
I decided to go with father to the mine. The salt caves were about a two days journey away in the highlands. We used salt to preserve meats and to flavor foods. Also for cleansing and medicines.
Salt was our primary trading item. We could get wonderful things by trading it at the village of the River Peoples.
The Salt Mine
I was excited to go on the expedition to the salt mines. We traversed the steep terrain through the mountains, ten of us, along with our pack goats. We were very tired by the time we reached the mine. After a day of rest in the cool cave entrance we were ready to go to work.
The entrance to the salt cave was wide and sunlight filtered in, it was not dark in that part of the cave at all. A narrow passage that opened in the back led to an open pit. Workers descended on a ladder down into the pit, torches lit, to dig for salt with an ox horn pick. I stayed at the cave entrance with two other girls. Our job was to sift the salt to get out the rocks and to make it pure. We poured the pure salt into big leather sacks. It was hard work, but we were doing our share to bring this valuable resource home.
Sometimes when we finished the sifting early we had a little free time. Then we could relax and take some tree sap on mint leaves from our pouch and chew. We also liked to soak our bare feet in the cool waters of a creek that flowed from the cave. The sand on the bottom was soft and felt good. We would splash one another and become carefree, laughing, full of youthful energy.
After three days' work we were ready to leave the area. The salt sacks were full and we secured them to our goats for transport.
We have a warrior party stationed up higher on the mountain side, they are there to watch in order to make sure that no one sees us come and go. The location of our mine must remain a secret - invaders are a very real threat. Our warriors must patrol all our lands day and night. Many outsiders want to take our land and its wealth. All trespassers will be killed or taken captive. We know our friends and we know our enemies.
We arrive back at our high cliff dwellings in the evening of the following day. All of the salt sacks are stored high up on the grainary platform. We are ready to go to the village of the River People to trade.
The Village of the River People
The day has come for trade. We pack our trade items on our goats. We have a portion of salt as payment for our labors at the mine. We will trade most of our portion at the river village. We also take the fine baskets that we have made.
Many people of our clan go. We walk with our loaded goats down the cliff trail. Father has several furs draped over his shoulder; some of these he will trade.
The day is hot, so I wear my deerskin pullover ( jumper type garmet ) with colorful inscribed designs around the collar and hem. My moon emblem head band is emplaced around my wavy golden hair. Father and I wear our leather sandals, the binding straps criss-crossed up our lower legs.
The cliff trail descends to the forest floor. The air smells of sweet tree saps. There is not time to collect the resins now ... we must press onwards to the village on the main trail.
It is almost mid day by the time we see the open fields that surround the village. These are fields meant for grazing animals. The trail loops around the south end of the fields and turns gently towards the right, so that we now walk on a bluff above the narrow river. Trees give way to a partial clearing where there are buildings. We have arrived at the village.
I am excited to be at the river village. Young children run towards us all laughing, and two little girls holding my hands almost pull me forward. They remember me. Now the older people come out of their houses and greet us.
Many people live in the village of well built houses. These houses have high-pitched inclined thatched roofs with framed walls of rough-hewn timbers. In the center of the village is a square market area in front of the largest buildings: The council and ceremonial houses.
The market is busy with brisk trading. The wares are displayed on rough-hewn wooden tables set side by side, some under a pole supported canopy. I can smell a pig roasting over an open fire pit. We will have a feast later when the days' business is complete.
The vast assortment of wares is impressive. There are flint tools from far off lands, shells from the shores of some distant sea, herbs and spices, clothing, sandals, jewelry, wooden combs, leather goods, furniture of wood, even some food items. Father is interested in the flint tools, and he trades some salt for a knife while I look at the sea shells. I trade a braided leather bracelet that I made for some shells. We use one side of the clam shell as a spoon, and the complete shell, with its top and bottom clasped, as a spice, sap, and leaf container.
Father tells me to set our baskets out on display. I find some space at a table. I am glad to find a table, usually I have to put our baskets on the ground when we come to market. People come and look at our baskets. Father comes to help me deal trades.
I see Amara, she is a girl my age and we are good friends. She smiles and comes to me. She has long, straight dark brown hair with a head band that has many attached gems. Her garment is similar to the one I wear.
"I have something for you!" she says, with her smile so delightful.
I am excited. She often brings me gifts . . .
She handed me something that I've never seen before. It was a bag but it felt very unfamiliar. It clearly was not one of the typical leather bags that was the standard for my people.
"What is this?" I asked with a puzzled expression.
Amara laughed. "It's a bag that my people have learned to make. Other villages on the Great River make bags and clothing from plants."
I could not believe it. Clothes from plants? I felt the new fabric between my fingers.
"Well, leave it to Amara to know about all the newest things!" I said.
"Ah, yes, the bag is nice. But look inside, Saline."
I opened the bag, and pulled out a beautiful moon stone ( a pearl ). It was set in a wood clasp. I could not believe my eyes.
"A moon stone! Oh, Amara, this is what I've always wanted, these are so scarce!"
"I got it at one of the large villages down the Great River. These are from the Sea Peoples."
The Sea Peoples. A fabled land so far, far away that I would never see.
I remembered when Amara set off on the trading expedition. She sat in the front of the lead canoe. I waved at her from the river bank, and she waved back. I was envious that she was going. But that was Amara, so clever and intellegent, she had so impressed the boatmen that they put her in charge of route navigation. She knew the river, and she also knew the languages of the tribes along the trade routes. I wanted to be her, to be able to travel to far away lands. I would tell her this, but she would say that she wished she could go up far in the mountains to secret salt caves. We had mutual admiration along with our strong bond of friendship.
I reached into my shoulder bag and pulled out a present for Amara. It was a fine gem stone. Her eyes lit up when she saw it. It was a purple stone, just the kind she wanted.
"I found it up near the salt mine." I told her.
"Oh, Saline, it is so lovely! I can't wait to wear it on my new braided necklace!"
I know that it will look lovely on her. She will have it mounted into a wood clasp and thread it onto her braided necklace. I will thread my new moonstone onto my headband.
Father trades most of our salt for oil. Many people in my clan trade the salt for olive oil. Our salt will be traded by the River Village boatmen in far away places. We also trade for scented body oil. We are satisfied with the trades that we have made. We have enough oil to last us for a long time.
We have celebration with dancing and feasting. At dark Amara and I dance to entertain in our jingle costumes. We love to dance to the drums, shaking and gyrating our hips. I feel so happy and excited that everyone enjoys our dancing. I love the adoration of the people as they watch.
The next morning we go back to our cliff dwellings. We store the clay pots of oil up high on the grainery platform. The following day I rise and eat fish, then I go to the forest to gather nuts, tree resins, and herbs. On my way back to the cliff trail, I see Tam-Rue. He is walking towards me. He is a warrior and he has many tattoos on his arms and back, a rough man with an unkept beard.
He stopped in front of me blocking my way.
"Let me pass!" I demanded. He laughed and grabbed me by my arms.
"You come with me to my tent! You stay with me for winter!"
"Let me go! I am forbidden to be with a man!"
Tam-Rue just laughed. "Forbidden to be with a man? I see all that goes on in the forest. I know that you have been with Mar, I saw you together many times, and I know what you do!"
He tried to pull me off the trail.
"You come to my tent, Saline!"
"Stop! No! Let me go!"
He lifted me up and started to carry me towards his tent. I kicked and hit him with my fists, and he dropped me so that I was able to escape. I ran away. As I was running, he yelled "I will report you and Mar to the tribal council. You will be banned from the Priestess class!"
The Tribal Council
When I got to the rock shelter I told father that I was not feeling well. He was working near the fire pit. I went into the hut and laid down on my bed ( a raised sinew bonded wood-frame with cushions made of deer hides stuffed with lamb's wool ) and shut my eyes. I was so afraid of Tam-Rue, he had shaken me to the depths of my being. What was I to do? What would happen to me?
The next day I made some vegetable-herb meat broth. I kept busy all day trying not to think about what had happened. After we took our broth, a messenger came. He told us that we were being summoned by the tribal council.
Father looked worried, he did not know the reason for the summons. We went to the community tent that was down in a clearing on the floor of the valley, below our cliff huts. It was a most spacious tent with great height, supported by a framework of rough-hewn beams. We entered.
The council members sat on long carved stone benches set within the round pit at the center of the tent. Lit torches on tall poles encircled the pit. The members were high standing tribal elders, six men and six women. Verdi, the head council woman, stood. She wore a long deerskin pullover garmet. She wore the tribal emblem on the upper left side of the garmet. This emblem was a red disk and displayed a crescent moon above two parallel lines ( symbol for water ).
She addressed us in a commanding voice.
"Saline, daughter of Char-di, you are accused of violating the standards of conduct established for the priestess class. The council has been informed that you have had relations with one of the tribal warriors, Mar. What do you say on your behalf?"
I could feel the anger rise within. "No, this is not true. Mar and I are only friends. We talk and that is all we do."
Verdi stood and looked to her left, into the dark recesses of the tent.
"Step forward, Tam-Rue, tribe warrior!"
Tam-Rue walked towards the council pit.
"What do you say, Tam-Rue, what are your accusations?" Verdi said.
He moved closer to the council members. "I see Mar and Saline touch, and they lay together. She has brought disgrace to the priestess class!"
"This is a lie!" I shouted. "He lies, Tam-Rue tried to force me into his tent two days ago. I had to fight him to get away, now he tells lies to cover up his misconduct. I have never brought disgrace to the priestess class, he brings disgrace to the warrior class!"
The council members discussed amongst themsleves this new accusation. Father took me by the arm. "What have you done, Saline?" he whispered.
Verdi glanced over her right shoulder. "Mar, tribe warrior, step forward!"
Mar slowly came forward from behind the council. The light from the torches illuminated his attractive face. Light brown wavy hair fell down to his shoulders and his beard was well trimmed. He was wearing his warriors vest and leather flap loin wrap.
Verdi looked at Mar, motioning for him to come closer to face the council members. He stepped down into the pit area and stood close to me.
"Mar, what do you say concerning these accusations of Tam-Rue?"
Mar looked at me, then back at Verdi. "I say that it is not true, Saline tells the truth, Verdi."
Verdi walked closer to Mar, looking him directly in the eyes. "Did you have relations with Saline?"
"No, Verdi, I did not."
"But you do have strong feelings for Saline? There was a pause. "Mar, answer me."
Mar looked into my eyes. I returned his gaze and nodded.
"Yes, Verdi, we do have strong feelings toward one another."
Verdi looked towards her right. "Atula, High Priestess, step forward please."
Atula emerged from a dark corner from the other side of the tent. She approached the council members. She wore a long deerskin vestment with red triangular designs on the collar and hem. She had a necklace of polished wooden beads with the large moon disk affixed. Triangular designs also encircled her head band, with the pearly white moon disk positioned perfectly just above her left eye.
Atula was not old, her long hair still had its light brown color. She was a very thin and attractive woman.
Verdi turned to face Atula. "High Priestess, we the high council leave the decision to you in regards to Saline."
Atula turned to face me directly. "Saline, you are so young, yet you now are coming of age where you may bond to a man. But you know if you choose to do this, you must be banned from the priestess class. This is your choice. Tell this council your decision."
I began to tremble, tears streaming down my cheeks. I had deep feelings for Mar, yet I did not want to lose my standing in the priestess class. Atula sensed my feelings of despair.
"Perhaps Saline needs some time to make her decision?" she said.
"Yes, High Priestess, I need time. I need to talk to my friend, Amara from the River Village. I am feeling weak, I need my friend."
Atula turned to Verdi. "So be it. We grant Saline the time to decide her course. I grant her seven days. Are we able to grant her wish to see her friend from the River Village?"
"Yes." Verdi said nodding. "We will send for Amara immediatly."
Verdi spoke briefly to the other council members. Then she announced: "Saline, you may go. Mar and Tam-Rue, stay!"
Father and I walked home. I knew that father was not pleased. He was silent for a long time, then he spoke:
"Saline, why did you not confide in me? Why have you disobeyed the traditions of our people? Now we may lose all of the privileges granted to us by your position." he said.
"Father, please don't make me feel shame, I did nothing wrong."
"You should have never been with Mar. You knew this was forbidden. Why, Saline? Why do you cause me this grief?"
I started to cry.
"You do not understand!" I yelled, then I ran ahead of father on the trail. I was so upset that I thought about jumping off the cliff.
"Saline!" Father yelled. "Stop!"
I turned and ran into the rock shelter and charged into the hut. I fell upon my bed and covered myself with several fur blankets.
Father ran to the door. "Saline, Saline, talk to me!"
"Go away! Leave me alone!" I screamed.
I cried long and hard. When I had stopped I layed there thinking about everything that had happened to me. Everything was falling apart, I felt torn inside. Why did I have to be born under the sign of priestess? I thought about the time spent training in the order, learning rites, precepts, traditions. Had I prepared all of my life for the priestess order for nothing?
Is this what I really wanted? I felt like I was being drawn to Mar. I could not deny my feelings for him. I had to decide, my future lay in the balance, I had to make a choice.
I slept late into the following morning. I got up and went the short distance to the stream pool where my people bathe. The cool water felt good on my body. There was a waterfall that splashed into the pool from the towering cliffs. I washed my hair and naked body under the falls. The sounds of the waterfall helped to soothe my soul as the waters flowed over me. I dried off with soft deerskin, drying my hair in the sun. I dressed and returned to the cliff dwellings.
I entered the hut. Father was cooking over a fire. "Good morning, Saline."
"Good morning, father. I see we have eggs today."
Father smiled. I knew that he was no longer angry. This lifted my spirits, we ate our eggs and talked. We remembered all of the good times, like when we gathered sprigs ( tender wood shoots ) in late winter in the forest. We dressed in our long fur coats and leggings, collecting enough branches to make many baskets. I loved to go with father into the winter wood, just as the snow began to melt and the rabbits would forage for food. We would take our bundles of sprigs to our hut, and spend days making our finely woven baskets that we would trade in the market. We laughed at how I would sometimes slip and fall as we went down the icy trail, and father would have to lift me out of a snowbank.
Father looked at me. "Saline, I want you to know that I support you in whatever decision you make regarding Mar. The most important thing for me is your happiness."
He smiled at me, and I gave him a hug for the first time in many seasons. I made his vest wet with my tears of joy. To have his support and approval meant so much to me.
Amara arrived later that same day. She came into the rock shelter and we embraced. Father came over and smiled at us. "Amara and Saline, you bring each other comfort and joy. I am glad to see you, Amara. I know that you and Saline need to talk, and I give you the hut. I will stay up on the loft."
We thanked father for his generosity. Amara and I went into the hut, and we talked all day about what had happened to me. Amara felt that Tam-Rue needed to be punished for what he had done, telling me that she knew how to shoot a bow as well as any man, and we could go and give him what he deserved. I laughed at her suggestion, but the thought of it made me feel better. I did not know what the tribal council was doing in this regard, I knew that Tam-Rue and Mar were questioned after Father and I were dismissed, but I did not know what had hapened. I wanted to see Tam-Rue punished.
Later that day, as we were talking, we suddenly heard a rustling sound against the hut. "Hello, Saline, are you in there?" It was a woman's voice.
"Yes, I am here."
The door flap opened and there stood Atula! ( High Priestess ) I was surprised to see her. She entered the hut.
"Saline," she said. "I need to counsel you. Amara, you can stay. What I have to say you both need to hear."
"Please sit down, Atula." I said. She sat on father's bed, made of wide overstuffed cushions of lamb's wool covered with fur blankets. Amara and I sat on my bed opposite her.
"It is good that you are staying with Saline during this difficult time." she said to Amara.
Amara smiled. "Yes, Saline and I look after one another, we have known each other since we were little."
The door flap opened. Father asked if we wanted some fruit juice. I told them how good it was, then father brought a juice bowl and filled our cups. It was as sweet as honey with abundant pulp. Atula and father talked about the juice, how delicious it was, then he left.
Atula took another sip of the juice. Then she spoke. "Saline, I want to assure you that the tribal council and the order of priestesses is doing everything in our power to investigate the charges that you have made against Tam-Rue. It will take time, there is other testimony that we must hear before a final decision is made."
"What will happen to Tam-Rue when you find his guilt?" I asked.
"He will be banished from the tribe for life - we will not tolerate this kind of transgression."
I looked at Amara. She nodded her approval. There was a pause in the conversation, Atula looked as though she were in deep thought.
Then she continued. "Saline, I want you to go to bone woman. Go and see her tomorrow. She can help you to make your decision concerning Mar. She can guide you, she is able to see your life's course. You and Amara go. Go see bone woman."
I looked at Amara. Her eyes were full of excitement. I knew what she was thinking: another adventure! Amara was eager to go. But I had never actually seen bone woman before. I had only heard her frightening chants coming from her cave across the valley. The thought of going up there to her isolated cave high above the forest tree-tops gave me chills.
Atula sensed my misgivings. "Don't be afraid, Saline, bone woman will not bite you! She will guide you in your journey, she will light your path. Tell her that Atula sent you. And give her this offering."
Atula handed me a large bone which was inscribed with many symbols. I recognized many of the symbols from my training in the priestess class. I realized that I was holding something very old and sacred.
"Ah, you know what it is Saline, I see that in your eyes. The symbols for the Great Mother and all the goddesses worshiped by our ancestors are there. Each is a sign that only we know how to interpret."
I rose to my feet and raised the palms of my hands forwards at eye level, my fingers together. Then I bowed my head one time. "I will give this to bone woman, you have my promise, High Priestess." I said.
Atula stood and clasped my hands in hers. "Saline, faithful daughter of Earth Mother, may Her guiding light be with you. Your heart is pure and you keep the faith, may She guide your decisions henceforth."
Atula kissed my forehead, then she leaned forward and kissed Amara on the forehead. "Bless both of you, beautiful children of Earth Mother." she said. "Remember to tell bone woman that I sent you."
I nodded as Atula left. Amara and I stood in silence. I put the sacred bone into my side bag.
We informed father of our plans. He gave Amara one of his shoulder bags. Inside was a bow with arrows. "I hear that you can use one of these, Amara?" he asked.
"Yes!" she replied. "I beat several men in my village in the shooting competion!"
Father seemed impressed.
Amara and I got up early the next morning and we bathed in the waterfall. Once we had dried off, we put scented olive oil on our skin. We felt cleansed and ready for the day.
We ate a breakfast of gruel and goatsmilk, mixed with pitted cherries. The natural sweetness of the cherries made the cereal all the better.
The sun was still low in the east when we left to visit bone woman. We walked the cliff trail to the lowland forest, then we took the west trail, which took us towards the high cliffs on the other side of the valley.
I was afraid that Tam-Rue might be lurking about in the deep woods somewhere. Every sound that I heard around us made my head turn that direction. Amara sensed my uneasiness. She quickly threw the shoulder bag to the ground, pulled out the bow and had it strung in an instant, arrow loaded! She shot the arrow straight towards a tree at some distance ahead. It struck the tree head on, dead center. I was amazed. She was as good with the bow and arrow as any of my clan warriors!
Once we had crossed the valley, we began our ascent up the mountain. The trail curved towards the south, and we climbed up some very rugged terrain. The trail leveled off, and we passed some uninhabited rock shelters. A little further on we spotted a cave. It was perched up higher on the cliff ledge, and we had to traverse a steep narrow trail to get to it. We were both exhaused by the time we came to the cave entrance. We could hear moaning sounds coming from within.
Amara and I stood at the cave entrance. She touched my arm and pointed across the valley. The rock shelters and cave dwellings of my people could be seen on the other side, although everything looked so tiny from here. Magnificent birds soared above us along the sheer cliff walls. Below was the dense forest dotted with some clearings - fields for grain and grazing.
We heard more moaning sounds. Amara seemed very hesitant to enter the cave. Perhaps she was out of her familiar surroundings, but I was not. It was my time to take the lead. I entered the narrow cave opening, Amara directly behind me. It was dark inside and difficult to see. The air felt heavy and cold with an unpleasant odor. Bones - lots of them, and skeletons - lay in rows along the sides of the small cave. I felt weak. We both turned to leave at the same time.
Someone was standing there blocking our path. Amara screamed. I had never before seen her afraid of anything. But now she held on to me like a frightened child scared of the dark.
A short woman with white hair stood before us with a wrinkled sunken face. She wore a simple one-piece traditional pull over garment. She had on a moon-disk necklace.
I took a deep breath and spoke: "We seek bone woman!"
"I am the one known as bone woman!" she answered. "Why do you enter the cave of ancestors?"
"We heard you in here and that is why we entered." I told her.
She looked upwards towards the cave roof. "You hear me mourn for our ancestors. I come here to pray and give offerings." She made a circular motion with her right hand. "You see this holy cave? This is where your ancestors lived ages past."
I fell to my knees, leaned forward and placed my hands on the floor of the cave. Amara immediatly followed my actions. I began to recite the ancient praise of the ancestors in a low pitched intonation. Bone woman placed her hand gently on my shoulder.
"Rise, child. Come closer. Let me see you."
Amara and I both rose to our feet.
"Come closer, do not be afraid of me. I do not see well."
We approached bone woman. She kept prodding me to come closer until my face was directly in front of hers.
"Ah, I see that you wear the moon priestess head band, a young member of the priestess class."
Bone woman felt my face with her trembling hands. Then she felt Amara's face. Her hands felt warm and soothing.
She stepped back with a pleased look. "Two lovely maidens, one from the salt mine clan and the other from a clan of the River Village."
Bone Woman's Dwelling
"Come, follow me." Bone woman said.
We left the cave. Our conversation continued.
"Why do you come and see me?" The old woman inquired.
"We were sent by Atula, our High Priestess." I told her.
"I see." How do I call you?"
"Saline, from the cliff clan."
"Amara, from the River Village peoples."
We followed bone woman along a trail out onto a promontory which had a breathtaking view of the valley. Here built along a very narrow ledge was bone woman's hut. It was made of wood covered with clay, so it blended in well with the cliffs. It was not visible from a distance and we would have never known it was there had she not shown us the way.
It was a small hut. The front was open, hides on the door tied on either side. We entered. The inside was covered with panels of woven strips of thin wood. Paving stones on the floor were covered with furs, and in the center of the hut there was a vented fire pit. Long strands of sea shells dangled along all the walls.
We removed our sandals and we sat with criss-crossed legs near the fire pit, where embers still glowed red.
"Atula told us that you lived in a cave." I said.
Bone woman smiled. "Ah, Atula - she tells you that? Atula, daughter of the morning star, she came to me many seasons past. Yes, in earlier times I lived in one of the caves. I was once High Priestess. Now at the end of my days I keep the remembrance of our ancestors. Tell me, why does Atula send you here to see Aivena?"
"Aivena?" I said.
"Yes, I am Aivena. I have not always been called bone woman. Now tell me, why do you come?"
She listened as I told her about the trouble with Tam-Rue, about my feelings for Mar, and the proceedings of the tribal council. As I finished talking I remembered the sacred bone, and I reached into my shoulder bag and handed it to her. She examined it closely, running her thumb over the engraved symbols which covered the bone, then she spoke:
"This divination bone is from ancient days. Yes, it will be most useful."
She unfastened a large leather bag from a roof beam. She held it up and shook it. Amara and I could tell that the bag contained bones by the rattling noise. Now Aivena placed the bone that I had given her into the bag. She placed a large square of animal hide on the floor, gave the bag another shake, then dumped the bones out onto the hide. She fell to her knees and studied the bones up close, humming in a very low pitch.
"Where is the bone, Saline? Where is the bone that you gave to me?"
I studied the bones, pointing to one.
"Yes! Yes! That is the one, Saline. You are a gifted one."
"I remembered the symbols. Aivena." I said.
Aivena smiled and continued to hum. Now her humming was in a high pitch. ""Saline, come to me."
I came closer to her, and she held my head between her hands. She began pressing harder on the sides of my head. Then she spoke:
"I see and I know, yes. Saline, I see what you are and what you become." She began to chant and sing in a low tone, then her head touched mine. "You are to be the mother of many people, your descendants will possess the land, and they will be powerful."
I felt as though I were no longer myself. Visions flashed through my mind of far away places and people I've never before known. It was as though my soul were moving forwards over the lands, mountains and streams. My soul was eternal, continuing through the ages of time, a constant flow of birth and re-birth.
Aivena was quiet. I felt drained as I came out of a trance. I had seen all that would come, all that was beyond me. My course now seemed clear.
Now it was Amara's turn. Aivena gathered the bones and scattered them once again. She read the bones, then she held Amara's head between her hands. Amara began to shake.
"I see and I know, yes, Amara. I see what you are and what you become. Yes, you are a leader, and your descendants will be leaders. You and Saline will forever be bound in spirit."
Amara's eyes were shut as Aivena chanted. Then there was a long period of silence. I felt one with the Great Mother. We recited the traditional prayers and sang the sacred songs in praise of the Great Mother and our ancestors. We felt a joy and inner peace in our hearts that we never knew before.
Amara and I stayed the night at bone woman's hut. She told us many heroic tales of the time of our ancestors. We listened to every word as the fire flickered through the long night. We finally fell asleep huddled close to one another.
The majestic birds are in flight above the cliffs, I hear their loud calls as they go in search of food. I can smell the scent of the forest below. A slight breeze caresses my face. It is time to rise.
Some men from the valley come and give us good food and drink. Aivena tells us that they come every morning to provide her with daily necessities.
It is time to go, Amara and I embraced bone woman, and we promised to come back soon to visit. And as the seasons passed, we returned for many more visits.
We took a longer route home, a trail that went around a large lake. There was a certain plant that grew there along the banks that we wanted to eat and collect. The stalk of the plant was tender with a pleasing flavor. It would not be much longer that we would not be able to eat greens, the summer days were coming to an end.
It was late afternoon by the time we got to the trail that went to the community tent. We were surprised to find many other people on the trail. Everyone seemed to be headed in the same direction.
I asked one of the women about this. "Is there a meeting tonight at the community house?"
The woman seemed surprised by my question. "Don't you know about the challenge?"
"No. We have been gone a few days. What is this challenge?" I asked.
"Mar and Tam-Rue are to fight tonight in the pit!" she told us.
I could not believe what I was hearing. "No! No! This can't be! We have to stop this! Amara, let's hurry! We have to stop Mar!"
Amara and I ran as fast as we could. We saw the community tent ahead. There were many people already gathered there, waiting to go in. I anxiously searched for Mar in the crowd. I did not see him, but I did see Verdi standing to one side with several other council members. We went over to her. I was shaking as I spoke: "Verdi, what is happening? I am told that Mar and Tam-Rue will fight in the pit? Please, you must stop it!"
Verdi looked at me with deep concern in her eyes. "I tried to stop this foolishness, believe me, Saline. This is an action of the warrior class, and we have little control of what goes on there. Tam-Rue has challenged Mar, and Mar of course accepts the challenge. The warrior council will not stop it."
"Somebody has to stop this!" I cried in desparation. "Please, Verdi, help me!"
Verdi shook her head. "I am sorry, Saline, we have tried everything. Bordith, leader of the warrior council, has not listened to our objections, he is allowing this to continue."
"Where is this Bordith? I will speak to him." I said.
"Please, Saline, do not do so. I tell you, he cares not."
"Where is he, where is Bordith?" I demanded.
Verdi pointed to a older man dressed in a warriors hide vest fastened up the front and leather flap loin wrap. Amara and I went over to him and pleaded for the match to stop. He looked at us with his rough, pitted face and full beard. "Please, Bordith, stop this contest!" I pleaded.
He spat on the ground and heaved a long hideous laugh. "And why would I do that? This is the way the warrior class settles disputes."
He looked at me more closely. "Ah, let me see, you are Saline, correct? You are the young woman at the center of this controversy. You are the reason why my two brave warriors must fight. Sit and enjoy the show, Saline. Tam-Rue is our fineset warrior, and he will take you as his prize!" Bordith let out another wicked laugh.
I covered my mouth as I felt vomit come up to my throat. Amara held me as I broke down in tears.
The people began to file into the enormous tent. I continued to cry in Amara's arms. "Please, Amara, help me! What can I do?"
Amara stood back, releasing her embrace. "Perhaps Atula can help." she suggested.
We looked through the crowd for Atula, but we could not see her anywhere. "What about your father?" Amara said. "I don't see him anywhere."
"He is probably up on the ridge above the tent watching from there. I know that he would want no part of this!"
The Community Tent where the contest will take place, and where Tribal Council meets
( Tribal Council, Contests, and Ceremonies take place in the pit area )
People sat on mats around the pit area. All of the torches that encircled the pit were lit, the flickering flames dancing on top of tall poles. Amara and I stood off to one side of the tent, at the back of the crowd.
Bordith came to the center of the pit and addressed the audience. "My people, we have gathered here tonight for a contest, a warrior challenge between two brave men. I open the contest with an initiation dance. All of these young men dancing in the ring will compete for inclusion into the warrior class. Let the ceremony begin!"
The drums sounded out a rapid beat as about 20 boys entered the pit and performed a traditional warriors circle dance. They took turns twirling fire sticks ( long wooden batons lit on both ends ). They tossed the fire sticks upwards and caught them on the down swing. This was very impressive, but I felt anguish. Bordith was turning this into a spectacle intended to glorify his warriors.
When the dance concluded, Bordith once again came forward and addressed the crowd.
"These young men are the finest qualified competitors from our tribes. Some may move on to become full warriors, others will not."
Bordith paused for a moment. "My people, now the challenge. A contest between two brave warriors to settle a dispute. We have not had such a contest in a long time; we always try to keep unity and peace among our ranks. But something has happened that eats away this unity. She is among us tonight, a young member of the priestess class - she incites my men to rash actions and foolish behavior. She has brought disgrace to the priestess and warrior class. She has defied the principals and standards set forth by our forebearers, and that of the priestess class. She has been with my men! She entices them to do these deeds!"
Bordith continued: "So this is what this is all about. Tam-Rue has exposed this illicit conduct. Mar defends the accused. Tam-Rue fights to defend his honor and the honor of the warrior class!"
"No!" I shouted. "This is not true! I have done nothing wrong! Tam-Rue attacked me!"
Bordith looked my direction and pointed his finger at me. "You will be silent! You be silent or I will have you removed from these proceedings and bound between the whipping posts!"
A murmur rose from the crowd.
"How dare you to speak to a daugher of the priestess class like this, Bordith!" Atula came forward from the crowd, she had arrived in time to hear Bordith's speech against me. She continued: "You have always resented and mocked us, throwing your insults at us on every occassion. I stand behind Saline, she has made no transgression nor is she on trial here, but your man Tam-Rue is. If you think that this contest will settle anything, you are mistaken!"
Bordith was enraged. He shot back with venom: "You cannot interfere in these matters, High Priestess. This is no concern of yours, we will settle this as warriors!"
"Then this blood be upon your hands, Bordith! There is no reason for this contest to take place." Atula spoke bravely.
The crowd began to become restless, many people siding with Atula.
"Let the contest begin!" Bordith shouted.
There was a hush in the crowd. My heart was beating hard within my chest, I felt like I was suffocating.
A drum roll sounded, followed by a slow 1-2-3-4 beat. Tam-Rue ran into the arena pit with a feathered tribal quarter cape on his shoulders, his face painted with red and black stripes. He looked fearsome, and he danced around the arena shaking his long spear in rhythm to a rapid drum beat. The crowd cheered and seemed delighted by the excessive display. Mar came into the tent and stood off to one corner. He was bare chested and all he wore was a leather flap loin wrap. His face was also painted with red and black stripes. I looked into his eyes, and he returned my gaze. He sensed my fear and anguish, and he mouthed the words "I love you!"
"I love you Mar!" I said out loud.
The drums stopped and Tam-Rue went to one side of the pit, Mar entered the opposie side and they faced each other. Bordith stepped into the pit and made introductions.
"My people, here is Tam-Rue, eagle class warrior!" Tam-Rue raised his arms and the crowd cheered. "Tam-Rue has been honored for many acts of valor, including 9 kills of trespassers on tribal lands!" More applause. " Over here is Mar, first class warrior, decorated for valor, including 2 kills of trespassers on tribal lands!"
The crowd cheered for both men.
"In this is challenge, the victor will pin his opponent and bind his hands together . The contest begins now!"
The drums rolled once again. Tam-Rue and Mar were each given a long-baton type fire stick, lit on each end.
The drums rolled a second time, then silence. Both warriors stood facing one another, waiting for the third and final drum roll. The drums sounded the third time, and the contest began.
Tam-Rue and Mar charged at one another; they fought with the fire sticks, holding the wood shaft with one hand on either end. using the center of the shaft for hitting and forceful blows. They rotated around the ring as they fought, the rapid clack of the hard blows sounding throughout the tent. Neither man was gaining an upper edge, they appeared to have equal skill and strenght.
Finally both men seemed to tire somewhat as the blows became less frequent. I had my eyes shut through most of the contest. My stomach was tied in knots.
Mar suddenly went on a furious rampage, he knocked Tam-Rue off balance several times. Mar's face looked red with rage, he was gaining the upper edge, his younger age giving him the advantage in endurance. He knocked Tam-Rue to the ground, and was about to pounce on him to claim victory. As Mar leaped towards Tam-Rue to pin him down, Tam-Rue swung the shaft of the fire stick so that it struck Mar on the side of his head. Mar lost his grip on the fire stick and he immediatly fell to the ground. He did not get up.
Tam-Rue was claiming victory, but several other warriors were chanting "foul blow!" ( an illegal maneuver of the stick ) This meant that Tam-Rue would be disqualifed, and that Mar won the match.
I ran to the pit crying. I held Mar in my arms, calling his name over and over. He laid there motionless. "You killed him!" I screamed at Tam-Rue. "You killed him!"
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