Sacred Dance: Chapter 1

“Once there was a giant who lived in a cave and terrified all the land around him. He emerged from his home to steal their food for himself, and if anyone tried to fight him, he took off their head with one swing of his sword. For centuries this giant lived, and bred a race of giants after his likeness, until at last he grew old and frail. A warrior came to slay him, but hesitated at his bedside, feeling pity for the old monster. The giant had been sleeping, but now he opened one eye and said, ‘If you have come to kill me, so be it! But I would be sorry to die before I have told you the secret of my birth.’

“Now the warrior knew enough to be wary of the cunning of giants, but he was curious and permitted the giant to speak.

“‘I thank you,’ said the giant. ‘I am old and ready to die, but I wish to tell you first of things you have no doubt forgotten. The first father and mother of mankind emerged from their tree and wandered across the earth, looking for a place they could live. When they settled in Gorob, the children of their son Neevak multiplied and danced the sacred dances he had been taught. But he was not their first son. Another had been born and abandoned in the wilderness. He had grown to a great size and become master of beasts, but he remembered how he had been left to die, and he hated the children of Neevak. He took what he could from them, regarding it as his own, but he never obtained the thing he desired most: the sacred dance. So dance for me now, that I may know what my brother was taught in the beginning of days.’

“The warrior danced the sacred dance, and as he neared its end, he sprang into the air and drove his sword down into the giant’s heart.”

“Now don’t listen to your uncle,” said Votli, as she picked up little Bvebvekso. “Those are stories from long ago, but today the giants are peaceable enough. If you don’t trouble them, they won’t trouble you. Hush and listen to the rain, Vuvudru’s gift to us.”

This seemed to comfort Bvebvekso, but Awab glanced at Votli’s husband, who nodded at him. He leaned closer to Awab and whispered, “Word from the Misre is that the giants have been fighting among themselves. They aren’t as friendly anymore, and ghosts walk among them.”

A thrill went through Awab, both because Geruwwa trusted him with this news and because of its ominous nature. “We’ll meet with them, the same as usual, won’t we?”

“Not if I have my way. But it’ll all be discussed in council. I’m afraid that our greed will destroy us.”

Awab didn’t want to argue with Geruwwa, but he wondered what they would do without the honeygem that the giants brought them. His sister didn’t seem to be much concerned as she toyed with the honeygem amulet around her neck to amuse Bvebvekso.

“But enough about the giants,” she said then. “What about Elyvvu?”

“What about Elyvvu?” Awab retorted, folding his arms over his chest.

“Haven’t you been aiming for her?”

“She’s pretty and sensible, yes, but I haven’t made up my mind to aim at anyone yet.”

“You’d better hurry, or she’ll be caught by someone else. You’re far from the only man who’s noticed how pretty and sensible she is. Delay cost the ape his tail.”

“And he who rushes forward falls in a pit. I will do as I think best. I remember you asking my advice more than once in the past!”

“It is easier to judge another than one’s own self,” she said, at which point Bvebvekso began to cry, putting an end to that argument.

The next day the rain was held back, so Awab went out to hunt with Geruwwa and Oryk and Bovveb, the group of them slipping deep into the forest north of the camp. Awab followed Guruwwa as they walked through the brush, holding his bow at his side, his eyes glancing about for any sign of movement. Suddenly Bovveb shot an arrow ahead, and a porcupine fell dead at the entrance of its burrow. Geruwwa grinned and clapped Bovveb on the back, but kept silent. As Bovveb was going to collect the animal, Awab sniffed the air, smelling something new and hearing a faint noise.

“Elephant,” he whispered. Garuwwa nodded and gestured for the others to fan out so as to surround the elephant. From the sound of it, there was only one, a lone male wandering from place to place. Awab kept his eyes wide as he stepped forward and set his bow over his shoulder, lifting his short spear from his belt instead. Though there were only a few of them, if they killed an elephant, there would be celebration and feasting for days to come. He only wished that Oryk was not there –

And then the saplings broke apart in front of him as the elephant charged, bellowing and waving its trunk. But it was the tusks that Awab saw most clearly, ivory spears aimed at his neck. He jumped back but lost his footing and fell, and screamed in his mind that this was worse: the elephant would trample him without even seeing him. But there was no time to move.

Then something like a tongue of fire rose from the ground before him, scorching the hair on his head. The elephant turned aside and plunged into the forest behind him, and the fire vanished in a burst of light and heat. Awab lay still, uncertain what had happened, until Geruwwa and Bovveb helped him to his feet. “Did you see that?” he asked.

“You were lucky!” Geruwwa said. “Tyrag himself wouldn’t have been able to stop that beast!”

“The fire, I mean. Did you see the fire?”

“You aren’t feeling well. Let’s go back to the camp and you can get some rest.”

“It must have been a spirit,” Awab said. He was feeling tired, enough that Geruwwa’s words appealed to him, and willingly he went with them, Bovveb picking up his porcupine along the way. When Awab reached the camp, little Bvebvekso ran up to him demanding a story, but he shook his head. “Not now,” he told Bvebvekso, though he did pick him up and spin him around once. Then Awab went to his hammock and fell asleep, dreaming of an elephant that spoke to him in a human voice, telling him that he was a bird plucked from the nest.

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