Blood Spirit

It was a decision made by the elders, only by the elders, and one that was an honor, a privilege. Gathan Go’Hallad desired only the brave. Gathan Go’Hallad desired me.

H’shap, Elder Cha’kah’s daughter, had birthed unto me a son, Ra’gar, in the dead of winter. A Winter’s Son, it was foretold, would bear the mark of Thana’ Ahun’ de, the goddess of the deep. She watched over the harbor, granted the icy breeze permission to grace the treetops and our faces during our hot season, and spoke softly as to urge the plants and animals to sleep in our winter. In her greed, she took H’shap with her that snow-blanketed night in exchange for the son she left. My son. My heir and my pride. He would, however, always be a child of Ahun' de.

Ra’gar grew slowly, as are all things inclined to do when the ground is frozen, though his mind became sharp and clear like the frost-bitten breeze. “Father, where does the wind go when it’s not here?” he’d ask; he knew the answer already. “Father, does the blood contain the soul, where it is constantly cleansed and renewed, or is it in the head where it matures and seeks truth?” In his adolescence, he became a slight young man, but powerful of intellect and insight. He became a trusted advisor to Tragatch, our leader in Wisdom.

I regret that his childhood was filled with a failing peace between us and the Untu. It was said that before the land was partnered with the sea, Hthraa and Ahun' de roamed the earth as husband and wife. It was through their love that Enda'gad was born. He raises our sun into the sky every morning. Hthraa and Ahun' de also begat Enda'gonan, the goddess of the night and the carrier of the darksun. For millennia, Hthraa and Ahun' de filled the world with their children, and the more children Ahun' de delivered, Hthraa fell further and further out of love. He, while Ahun' de was feeding her children, left to the universe and found another wife, one that was virginal and capricious. With her, the sky expanded, and their children came back to the earth, following their father. Ahun' de, upon seeing Hthraa had found another life became angered. She swallowed the sky and Hthraa's children with it, and became the oceans. Enda'gad and Enda'gonan gave unto the earth the Inwit, my people, the first of our kin to be Gathan Go'Hallad, and we are known as the Children of Sun and Night. The children of Hthraa that Ahun' de did not devour became the Untu. Naturally, we became enemies, though our embattled pasts were not ours. I have always struggled to find a reason to continue the war that began because of our ancestors.

Ra'gar and Tragatch also felt this way. While he was becoming a man, he would venture out into the North with Ghen'got, one of our wisest Elders and skilled warriors. I worried that Ra'gar would not return. But, he did each time until the last. He was alone. We thought Ghen'got was captured after many years of negotiations, but we were told that he was going to stay longer. There was unfinished business.

On the day before Und’Chall, our annual celebration of Light, Ghen’got brought back news that the Untu were finally willing to negotiate peace. His horse was shaggy and unbrushed. His hair had grown long on his face and his head. He had lived with the Untu for eight months without contact, long enough to forget most of our customs. He ate like the Untu, he drank like the Untu, and he made love to his wife like the Untu, hastily and loudly. Regardless, we were thankful that their leader, Uhnhummun the Gracious, had been willing to let old debts be dissolved. My son would begin the process of uniting us. The Untu would remain in the north. We would retain our lands in the south. Our holy men would beseech our seas to no longer interfere with one another. Their god, Hthraa, would no longer seek out our goddess. But, old lovers seldom stay apart.

On this day, the Und’Chall brought together men and women of both lands. The Untu were happy to be eating with us, and we were happy to share. We roast pig and root vegetables. We drink the fermented cane, and our celebrations would surely last well into the morning hours.

“Father,” my son leans toward my ear. “Father, why is it that now we have become friends of these people?”

“Son,” I tell him. “We have been at war for so long, that we have forgotten why we fight.”

He grabs me by my tunic and points to the horizon. “But, the battle has only begun,” he says. There, in small numbers, then growing rapidly, are the flames of war. I turn to my son, and he has disappeared. I hear, then, the horns of the Untu. I am pulled back by a strong man, his arms wrapping around my throat, and he drags me from my seat. In front of me, Yan’chanta has her throat slit, another’s head is twisted past breaking, and I begin to feel myself losing sight. Then, I remember I have my ceremonial blade in my sash. My hand slides to my waist while I fight to remain conscious. I grasp the handle and slash the blade through the air at my enemy’s arm. I make contact, and he loses his grip on me. I turn and bury the blade into his throat. He is not someone I recognize, but the markings on his face tell me he is Untu. My son's shadow has left, and I am alone. I run.

Behind me and in front of me I see several of my kinsmen. We know where we are going. We will not stop running until we get there.

I run until the sun is hoisted onto the horizon by Enda’gad. Ahead, the cove comes into sight. I already see it has been filled with the shivering bodies of eight dozen Inwit men and women. Sha’gama, the witch woman, sees me first and stands up.

“Ra’garan, my son,” as she referred to most men in our village, “did many more follow you?”
I turn to look back, and the smoke lay thick under the clouds. “I did not take notice, dear earth-mother.”

She slumps back onto the ground. Tragatch is nowhere. Gan’ddett catches my eye and waves me over. I join him.

“Tragatch has not made it back. Neither, I see, has your son.”

“I feel as though my son was complicit.” As I say it, I feel my soul drown, my bones burn, my muscles weaken, and I think, for the first time, that the soul is present in the blood.

“There is but one alternative,” says Sha’gama after silence had fallen over us. “The Bahog, the entrance to the home of Gathan Go’Hallad, is but a day’s walk from here. We must beseech our first and mightiest king. We must do as our ancestors and send a man, a strong man, into his home to request his assistance. This man must be of pure heart, hale and wise.” Since Gathan Go'Hallad had been defeated in the Battle of K'Latta, in which the Untu and the Inwit divided the land in half, we had chosen only the bravest warriors to keep Gathan Go'Hallad company. We have not sent a member of our tribe in several generations; our elders had received a vision in which Gathan Go'Hallad had amassed an army enough to reclaim the land in the name of his mother, Thana Ahun' de. He would train his army until it was time to unleash his fury.

“But Tragatch has not come with us,” says Yor’hin, the son of Ya’haad.

“He was slain,” says Mor’Gorath, son of Mor'Godrathan. He and twelve have come through the trees at once. “His body…” He motions toward a mangled mess of flesh and hair. Sha’gama begins to cry as she rushes over to him. The death ceremony must be performed quickly.

This night, we do not sleep. We instead talk about who we would send into the Bahog to find the ever-burning soul of Gathan Go'Hallad. It would be a risk, but convincing him must be done. I stand up and announce, “I shall be the one to find Gathan Go’Hallad’s spirit.” Sha’gama looks up at me from Tragatch’s broken body and smiles. The men and women in the cove shout the hoorah. I feel like I have found purpose once again.

We set out early the next day to the Bahog. The land is treacherous, miles of shattered stone and undergrowth. By eventide, the Bahog appears. Sha’gama showers me with the burning incense of the locak bush, some she picked up on the way. Mor’Gorath hands me the black clay of our land. I paint my face so that Gathan Go’Hallad will recognize me as being Inwit. I turn to my clansmen who have joined me and nod my head. They touch their chests and nod back.

I notice, then, the first arrows. One strikes Sha’gama through her heart, and she falls to her knees. Her eyes plead that I hurry. Mor’Gorath runs for cover. I turn on my heels and run toward the Bahog as an arrow flies past my shoulder.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see a body charging toward me. I speed up. I am nearly there.
“Father!” he shouts. “You will not make it to Gathan Go’Hallad alive!”

He dives toward me and catches me around my waist. But, he has never been a strong man, so I grab him by his shoulders, touch the edge of the Bahog with my left foot, and leap off into the darkness.
It was only if I were to retrieve the soul of Gathan Go’Hallad were we going to be able to reclaim our land. If I was going to be able to reclaim my son.

End of Part 1


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