The Book of The Lost
Chapter 1 Aoide
The children of Cain were dying.
It was a mild summer night and Aoide stood off from the rest of the women attending the birth. She held a stillborn babe in her arms. As an apprentice,she cleaned the baby while her aunt attended the mother. The daub and wattle fishing hut filled with pungent smoke from the herbs Rhea, the midwife, used to ease birth pains. It was hot, stiflingly so, and loud. Older women cried out as they surrounded the distressed mother. Rhea tried to quiet them so that she could finish her work. The afterbirth still needed to be delivered, but the mother was weakened by a long labor, broken by the death of another child.
Aoide gently wiped the green fluid from the baby’s face. She wasn’t sad, exactly. Stillbirth was a fact of life since the Days of Blood. She did feel sorry for Jatem. It was her fifth child born dead. This child had gills on the side of his neck, but apparently no way to breathe outside the womb. It uttered a single pitiful mewling as the cord was cut, then remained silent forever. Aoide crooned a sorrowful tune as she worked on preparing the body for burial.
Her song beckoned Kroba, the empath. Soon he appeared at the door. His scaly body glistened a like a sapphire studded robe. Kroba was Kn’keth, a native of Mashu’s seas. He moved on two flipper like legs: slowly, painfully. Aoide knew that time on land took a great toll on her friend, as would the emotional intensity of the unfolding scene, but the call had been instinctive.
Kroba approached Aoide, enveloping her in a quick embrace, and brushed the baby’s cheek with a webbed hand. He paused to lean over her and whisper, “We need to talk later, dear one.”Then he silently approached the keening women. He reached for Jatem, beginning the deep melodic groans of some Knketh song of mourning. Jatem’s body sagged, her loud crying ceased. A sweet peace fell on everyone in the room. Some of the women, still wary of native ways, gathered their things and left. Old Rhea, the village healer, remained.
The normally gruff woman looked up, with tears in her own eyes. “Thank You”. Kroba nodded, then shuffled out of the room. The afterbirth had been delivered. Rhea led Jatem to a simple pallet and began cleaning her up.
Aoide finished her work, laying the infant in a small boat of waxy sea grass. She had fashioned it in preparation of the birth. Tomorrow Jatem would give her child’s body to the Sea, and pray that his soul would find the keeping of the Shepherd of Souls. The tawny girl left the baby and his funeral craft with one of Jatem’s relatives.
She slipped quietly out into the night, gathering up her ragged woolen skirt so that she could walk quickly. Aoide carefully picked her way through a shell garden between the huts, trying not to cut her bare feet, and went to find Kroba.
A fish salt breeze was the first thing to greet her. Aoide followed the rush lined path between the homes, taking her time now and enjoying the feel of the cool sand beneath her heels. Nets were carefully stretched over wicker fences. The village at night was an obstacle course of fishing paraphernalia. Gossiping women leaned over fences as they carefully inspected and repaired the nets. In the commons, sweaty men teased each other as they prepared an evening meal of the day’s catch. No one danced now. Music had been buried in the graves of a thousand dead infants.
The smell of the cooking fish reminded Aoide that she’d not eaten since noon meal. Aoide reached into a pouch strung to her side and pulled out another staple of the village diet: some dried, seasoned seaweed.
The girl chewed thoughtfully. She wondered briefly at her own birth. Her parents had left her in the small seaside village before she had been old enough to ask. Did they rejoice to give birth to a live child? Even then, it was a rare thing. She only vaguely remembered her mother’s long, dark hair and her father’s scratchy beard. Her throat began to tighten, but she forced herself to relax. They had a good reason. The Resistance is important. I am here, and I am safe, Rhea teaches me the healing craft and I have a good friend in Kroba. It is enough.
She swallowed the lump in her throat and threw back her head to catch the breeze.
Through the darkness, Aoide could sense that her friend was in the water near the dock. She unfastened her leather belt and pouch, carefully setting them on a pier. Quickly then, she stripped off her skirt and tunic and lowered her body into the cool water. Kroba floated up to her, scales glistening in the first slivers planet rise. Mir, the sister planet, began her ascent in the horizon. The Robin’s Egg gracefully rose, as if from the depths. The sea sparkled like a field of diamonds in its cerulean light.
Aoide allowed herself to float in the warm water as she watched, face to the night sky. She could see the Great Whale, the Ram, and the Fishwife. The Crab and the Conch were blotted out in the halo of lillac planetlight. Held in the womb of the sea, glimpsing the glory of the heavens, she was filled with awe. “ I wish I could live here all the time”
Kroba floated next to her, shoulder to shoulder. Aoide felt the warmth of his body radiate up her arm. She was young now, but she supposed she’d be his mate one day. She would live in a hut near his sea cave, and somehow THIER children would be able to breathe in sea and on land. And he would wrap those muscled arms around her and…
“You’d miss the village” Kroba interrupted her reverie, answering both her spoken words and her thoughts.
“I like being alone. Floating. Not worrying about dead babies or collecting herbs or trying so hard just to get by” I could join the KnKeth and be “alone together, always joined in thought”.
“ You’d miss the people, the noise, the conversation. You’d miss being involved with the stuff of life. We are a solitary people. I have not seen another Kn’Keth in six cycles”
“You’re not alone though. Not really. We’re friends. You talk to some of the people from the village” A school of vibrantly colored fish swam beneath them. Aoide rolled upright to study them, suddenly embarrassed by her presuppositions. She treaded water next to him.
“That wouldn’t be enough for you. It’s not who you were meant to be”
“What about you?” Her voice was muffled, squeaking past a constantly threatening lump.
“I’m KnKeth” and soon I must leave even you, little one.
Aoide could sense the wistfulness, but not the full thought. “What’s the difference?”
His next words were brutal, but his tone tender. “You are a child, a self thinking youngone who has isolated herself as much as possible from her own people. You miss your parents and do what you’re told. You haven’t learned to Knth– to pour yourself our like water– for another. You have not yet sacrificed anything. This is not the way of the KnKeth.” He filled her mind with images of many individual rivers and tributaries all pouring into the Great Ocean. Of billions of droplets, each playing a part.
“I gave up my parents. I gave up my home. I work for Rhea all day!” Aoide flushed and began to swim back toward the dock.
He dove beneath the water. In seconds he was up again, this time directly under Aoide. Before she even knew what was happening, he was upright, with her gathered in his arms. Aoide sputtered and splashed. When she calmed, Kroba began to speak again. “You have not given up anything, though much has been taken from you. Be careful, dearest friend, that you do not hold too tightly to what is left. Holding onto the things that you claim as your own is a good way to remain a child forever.”
The girl’s eyes stung with tears. She knew that Kroba loved her, but his words hurt. She wanted him to think better of her, maybe even pity her for what she had been through. Instead he called her selfish. It wasn’t fair! He didn’t understand! Didn’t she weep with the mothers! Who was it that made all the funeral crafts, and hunted herbs for Rhea. She was involved!
Kroba gently set her down into the water, still supporting Aoide with one arm. “I know that I have spoken hard words. Soon I must leave you, and I could not leave without warning my best loved friend of her greatest snare.”
“You’re leaving…?” Aoide began to cry in earnest. Kroba tightened his grip.
“It is time for me to find a mate from among my people. The call has gone out. We will soon assemble. “ He gave her the image of a sacred assembly that would take place on a small island off the coast. There were scores of KnKeth present, in every shade of sunset and planet rise. They all had eyes like Kroba–deep warm pools teeming with life.
The beauty of the image made Aoide gasp. “I didn’t know there were so many of you, in so many colors. All so beautiful. Will you come back then, with your mate?”
“No, I must leave this life behind.”
She tried to be happy for him. He was joining his perfect race once again, and would have a worthy mate. She should have congratulated him. She should have hugged him goodbye and wished him well. Instead, Aoide’s last words to her best friend were: “So you‘re leaving me too?”
Aoide pulled away from him and swam back to shore, the salt water mingling with her tears.
Kroba mouthed a silent goodbye, and began his journey towards his final act
copyright Kim Shank 2014