iv. Rumors

The people of Achistak shared some words with people far to the north, and even to the south, past the Pajaro River, but to speak to anyone outside of the mountains, required the use of signs.   They could easily spend days down by the coast harvesting delicacies from the sea, or up in the sunnier more grassy mountain tops obtaining the year’s supply of seeds.  But life was no Garden of Eden, I assure the reader. It is not my intention to suggest their existence was in any way idyllic or pure. There were wars, more like skirmishes, that pale in comparison to the brutality of modern warfare, where a few would die and then payment sought for the family of the fallen. Life was rigorous, and demanded much attention to the calendars of seed harvests, hunting and fishing, and quite easily a whole village could be wiped out or scattered by the furious whims of the seasons. But there where often times of lengthy repose, when the rain fell, or when there was little to do but fix old snares, tell stories, and weave baskets.

The biggest excitement was always the arrival of a trader in Achistak. The remoteness of their village invited fewer of these men, who often viewed the mountain people as too poor to trade with, having little to offer the richer people of the lowlands. But savvy ones knew well to use this isolation to their advantage, and named their price knowing the Achistacas, and the other mountain groups would trade anything for the goods they lacked, like good clam shells which came from the north, and saak <piñones> and obsidian from the east.  It wasn’t long after Zalan dreamt of the vicious vines that some of these traders began to bring along wild rumors that stirred up the people. They told of giants as tall as mountains that came from the sea, felling trees with one blow, who could make thunder without clouds, and many other things.  These tales were so popular, that they became an object of barter. If they trader was a good storyteller there where headmen who would spend graciously to entreat his people to the stories of the giants form the coast.  Some traders also came to barter in wonderful new beads, purportedly originating from these strange and portentous newcomers. They were cut, with chiseled angles and with the most perfect holes running through the middle. One Rumsen trader from down south, known as Morning Star <Atólo>, once brought a whole collection of blue and green beads that looked like the eyes of a bobcat, chained together in regular patterns. He claimed to have obtained them from powerful men that came from the ocean to the west who had settled in his area. They came in magnificent ships which he described with awe and with pretension.

“They call these precious beads A-bah-lorio,” said Atólo as he held them up to a lone beam of light, projecting a colorful dance of refraction upon his face. “It means ‘Eyes of the angry God’ in their language. They use these magic beads to make their boats travel great distances, through fog and storms. I’m saving them for the people on the other side of the mountains, unless you can offer something better,” he said, stroking at his newly acquired adornment. It was often impossible to discern the wild rumors from the more modest realities when it came to a trader, especially if they were good talkers like he was.
“They are strong and cunning, and they bring no women” said another man, who carried with him many strange cutting blades and combs for the hair he had obtained down in the great Lake of the North.
Although Zalan found it hard to understand when these traveling merchants spoke, the mood of wonderment and apprehension seemed to linger about after these visits.  People, it seems, were on alert. Zalan, as many others around felt a sense of urgency about the whole matter. For years the Achistacas had seen things like gigantic floating birds breathing smoke off in the distant waters from the top of mount Hummingbird, as even the eldest members remembered seeing at some point; and dreamt with a mixture of hope and dread, that they would one day see these elusive people for themselves. “Wouldn’t they like to know of us, the true people?” asked some, “Maybe they are not so great as they are spoken of,” said another. And still, Zalan wondered what terrible meaning to make from his (and other) foretelling dreams that  would plague his childhood years.

Next chapter:

https://aulintacruz.wordpress.com/2009/06/24/v-chelcon-and-the-halsahi-the-lizard/

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~ by Francisco Nieto on June 24, 2009.

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