Doorway to the Void
Open the door to find a universe that feels a little like home, but also a little wrong.

Story Time: A New Name

A New Name

A story from the Diikos (Diikofatumen Diviners) of the Southeastern Continent

Faint clouds of smoke blew down the dirt paths that snaked through the small village. The soft breeze was the only sound that broke through the otherwise absolute silence of the early morning. The sharp smell of ash in the air mingled with the cool, moist breeze that blew in from the west. Most of the black had dispersed, but in-between the densely-packed huts that surrounded the village center, a haziness lingered, staining the ornate carvings that decorated the little houses.
Though the wind had blown hard throughout the night, the ceremonial fire had still burned all the way until morning. Maab bent down to pick up another handful of sand, then threw it on the remnants of the fire, which crackled a few last times before finally dying. She looked up at the horizon just as the sun was peeking up over the mountains far beyond. One fire dies as another is sparked, she thought, and expunged the last of the embers beneath her feet.
This was the loneliest part of the day, but the most peaceful. Everyone in the village was still asleep. In the quiet morning breeze, the songs, the music, the resonance of bass drums, the rhythm of chants, the cheers of joyful crowds, and the cries of frantic voices from the night before seemed to have been carried away long ago. All that was left were the faint echoes that Maab heard in her head.
She paced around the remnants of the fire, restless. The ground seemed to vibrate underneath her feet, as though the dirt itself was recalling the pulsation of music, and the many feet that excitedly danced upon it’s soil. No, it was probably just her weary imagination. She could never sleep after a naming ceremony, though she was mentally exhausted. Various herbs had been gathered, and then combined and crushed, to be made into various teas, incenses and tonics that would be drunk or smoked to induce her so-called “Communions with the All-Knowing.” It was traditional, and therefore necessary, but Maab hated the jitteriness that came afterward. Her whole body buzzed with irritation and fatigue. But despite how ill she was, Maab also valued these solemn hours alone. It was a time for contemplation, meditation and grief. And hope, she thought determinedly, There’s always time for hope.
The faint scent of the herbs clung to the air, and it pierced her nostrils, instantly making her head ache. These ceremonies were draining, even to the villagers whom attended her, and most especially for the person who was to be given their new name. Last night was no exception, and she knew that it wouldn’t have been, no matter what had occurred. As sad as the outcome of some of these ceremonies were, she had to stop questioning herself and remind herself that it was sometimes necessary. She had to keep her head up. Some of her people needed the disappointment, the disillusionment; it was one of the first things she learned when she became Maab.
She knew the rumors. The rumors that most of the villagers were still skeptical of her abilities. She was a young Maab after all; the youngest in nearly a century. She could hardly condemn them for having their doubts.
Her ears still rang painfully, and the tumbleweeds that casually ran across the plains were deafening in the subdued atmosphere around the village. Maab took a relaxing breath as she brushed her long, black hair back from her face and neck, and looked down to examine the intricate tribe-necklace, the same type that she had given to Sikh last night. She chided herself a bit for using his Birth-Name, even in her thoughts. She knew she should try harder, and get used to thinking of him by his new Given-Name, but quickly brushed off the idea. She’d known Sikh since they were children, and she could hardly break the habit now. Even if she’d have to start using his new name in public, to her he would always be just little Sikh.
A slight smile crossed her lips as her hands toyed with the silver circlet that sat around her neck; the delicate metalwork design of lotus flowers, for rebirth and renewal, and evergreen leaves, for protection and longevity, tickling the pads of her fingers. Maab took great pride in seeing her tribe’s symbols sitting there upon her chest, the bright metal contrasting nicely with her darkly bronzed skin. It hadn’t been more than a few years since it’d been given to her, and the designs still shown brilliantly in the morning sun with no dullness of wear. Her hands trailed along the intricate beadwork that flowed down from the circlet on either side, and met back together at the bottom, just below her breastbone, where an elaborate pendant, also silver, was carefully inscribed with her given-name. The plate was inlaid here and there with the rarest of stones and jewels, setting off the undulating engraved knots made there. It was truly exquisite.

Maab sighed and delicately touched her face, recalling her own naming ceremony, and all the apprehension and hope that she felt then. A sardonic smile crossed her lips. She had been a bright and precocious young girl, filled to the brim with potential and high ambitions. With childlike eagerness, the girl Kai had been ready to doff her birth-name and begin her adult life.
When she closed her eyes, she could still hear the booming sound of the pulsating drumbeats, smell the heady blend of incense. She could still feel the weight of the ceremonial headdress, so heavy as it had been placed on top of her head. It had tugged painfully at her elaborately styled hair. Her mother had spent all day stiffening and shaping her hair with the grossly pungent-smelling mutton fat, then letting it dry until Kai wore two large braids off the crown of her head, molded into many elegant, swirling knots, and held in place by ornate hair clips of silver, turquoise and coral.
The effect was regal and striking, but Kai couldn’t wait to take down her hair, not only for the pain, but because it felt like her head weighed twice as much as the rest of her body. Her neck and shoulders were not meant to stand so much weight.
She remembered the awkwardness in the size of the giant engraved silver hoop surrounding her like a halo as it rested behind the back of the headdress, cascaded down with bright red satin streamers, and secured to a belt in the small of her back. The belt support was supposed to take off some of the burden of weight, but it was definitely less than sufficient. It was too heavy in the back, and if she wasn’t careful enough, her body would automatically start tipping backward when standing still.
On top of everything, her body was wrapped in the elegant, bright-colored silks that flowed gracefully around her small frame. When she looked down, she could see that the fabrics pooled on the ground around her feet, making it nearly impossible to walk without assistance. It was inevitable that she would fall flat on her face at any moment if she moved even an inch from where she stood. Fully garmented, she was nearly the width of three grown men and stood taller than anyone in the village. Kai couldn’t wait to take it off. Yes, the garment looked stunning, and she’d been looking forward to wearing it since she could remember, but now that she felt all the weight, the pulling, and the constant balancing, she’d had quite enough.
She had been sixteen, full of life and expectation, and the ceremonial garb had made her feel huge and the center of attention. How could she not have been? With all this esoteric and enormous clothing, with all the weight of metal, beads, jewels and tradition, anyone would feel bulky and nervous. All eyes were upon her, and whereas on any other given day she would have yearned for the kind of attention everyone was showing her now, she could hardly do anything but look at her feet, or stare at a fixed point off into the distance and hope not to catch someone’s eye.
This was to be the most important day in her life, the day when the Gods themselves would choose a name for her, sending it gently down to the earth upon the summer night wind and into the Tribe Elder’s delicate, distinguishing ears. In receiving it, the entirety of her destiny would laid out before her and the path her life would follow would be revealed for all. The influx of questions of what would be tomorrow would be all but answered, for good or for ill.
But none of these abstract thoughts of the future filled her head at that moment. All Maab could focus on at that moment was how utterly dumb and stiff her limbs must look, swinging about like weird, heavy, flesh-covered pendulums. And how was it that she had suddenly forgotten how to walk? Every step felt entirely alien, as though she was a fat, young toddler trapped in a grown woman’s thin, lanky body.
She had two attendants at the back to help straighten out the silks as she walked, but it still took all of her concentration to take even one step forward. She ended up nervously shuffling her feet, just to be more cautious. However, even if she collapsed in the middle of the crowd, no one would dare call her unrefined that day. This was one of the few days of her life where the Named would be put on ultimate display, for all the world to admire and for all the Creators to see and accept.
Maab’s smile dwindled, remembering how she had nervously watched the old wise woman quietly exit the Communing hut and make her weary way back to the center square and the watching crowd to bestow her Given-Name. The traditional dances had been performed, speeches by family and peers given, the music loudly and extravagantly played. Now all was eery silence as the old woman steadily made her way up to the center platform. Kai tried to kneel, which was customary, and stumbled from the weight. She ended up falling most of the way down, landing directly on her knees, and clenched her teeth to hide the sudden pain.
The Elder stopped in front of her, and the old woman dropped her cowl to reveal her ancient face , surrounded by a long mane of coarse, wavy white hair, haphazardly done up in many braids. Kai was surprised to see a single tear escaping from the corner of one of her cloudy eyes. Kai had never seen this before. Something was wrong. She’d never seen the Elder so emotional before. Her body stiffened with fear; surely the Elder meant to hand down some deeply wicked Name, the Gods condemning her to some awful fate that she couldn’t imagine.
The Elder stretched out her arms, and carefully placed both of her wrinkled, gnarled hands on either side of Kai’s young face. Her gaze was pulled gently up to the old woman’s eyes. She spoke slowly and quietly, and her voice wavered with age, but every member of the crowd could hear clearly, hardly breathing from their attention.
“You, my dear young friend, have a long and difficult road in front of you; one that I have known and walked for many years. I do not lie when I tell you I do not envy your journey. You will have to attend carefully not only to your own life, but to the lives of all those whom you will come to hold dear. I do not bestow this title lightly, and it is with deep reverence, faith, sadness and joy that I bequeath it to you. There is no one else in the entire tribe I would trust with this responsibility; only you, the truest and bravest soul that I know. It is rare for one so young to be able see the truth of others; even my own Naming Ceremony did not take place until I was three and twenty. You are a unique child indeed.”
Kai didn’t breathe, her body completely frozen with tension. Not a single thought ran through her paralyzed mind. The Elder took a steadying breath, paused, and then a second. Another tear rolled down her wrinkled cheek, and she shook slightly as she continued, “Tonight, I give to you the name that was given to me so many years ago. You shall be named Maab, the Tribe Speaker, and in giving you this name, I give to you the power to name others as communicated from the Gods. To give a name is to give power. In doing so, your touch will resonate with your people and will shape the lives around you. You are the key, and they, the lock. Know thyself, and know your fellow man; I trust you will learn this in time, and I will teach you all I have learned from those before me. Trust in yourself and in she, The-All-Knowing, for guidance.”
The old woman removed her hands from the young one’s temples, and as she did, the new Maab felt her face burn where the old one’s fingers had been on her skin; An echo of her touch and of her heartfelt words. Maab’s body felt incredibly heavy, and it felt like a rock had lodged itself in her throat, as well as one that sank low into her stomach and seemed to painfully expand there.
She tried to take a breath, but her lungs felt tight and insubstantial. Breaths came quick and shallow. All that registered in her mind was complete and utter incredulity.
While it was true that she credited herself as a rather decent judge of character, and somewhat more spiritual than her peers, she could in no way figure out what it was the elder Maab saw in her. True? Brave? These weren’t the words she would use to describe herself. She was just a young girl, and she knew nothing about the world. She’d barely even ventured outside the village. She would often look to the Elder for wisdom and guidance, but Kai, her successor? The idea seemed ludicrous.
The Elder Maab turned to the crowd and gestured for them to rise. She placed her two hands open on top of eyes with closed fingers, a symbolic gesture of the unknown and the unseeing of innocence. She breathed deep and low before extending both her hands up and turning her face to the starry sky and opening her eyes wide. The crowd followed suite. Kautaliyatehkt! The shouts of the crowd echoed in the darkness, We are ever present, mindful, accepting.

A strong breeze blew into the village, and blew some loose sand and dirt into Maab’s eyes. Cursing under her breath, she rubbed at irritated eyes and shook herself awake. The breeze died down as suddenly as it had erupted, and blew gently off to the east, taking Maab’s memories away with it. She sighed and set herself to picking up the little bits of debris left upon the dirt paths in the center of the village from the night before.
She walked around the back of one of the huts to grab a broom for sweeping up the loose ash around the bonfire. Suddenly, a faint flapping sound broke the morning silence. Maab’s head snapped up in alarm, and she peeked around the corner of the hut to investigate. She scratched her head in confusion as she looked around at all the huts, not seeing where the noise could have come from.
Gods, who would be up at this hour? Not even the dogs are awake yet!
As though in answer to the silent question, a sonorous clang rent the air on the east side of the village and she ducked back behind the hut, pulling her cowl up and over her head to obscure her hair and face. She normally dropped it in the early morning because she was alone, but otherwise it was indecent for a woman to show her hair in the daytime publicly, and the thought made her nervous. She looked over to where the noise had come from, only to spy a large, metal something spinning on the ground and making an echoing racket as though it had just been thrown there from the hut nearby. Her eyes squinted as she focused on the object on the ground. It was the metal, halo-like hoop from the Naming ceremony.
Maab’s heart wrenched at seeing such a priceless tribal object being defaced upon the ground and smeared with dirt. Even so, she kept herself hidden. Just then, the door to the hut flapped open and a young man stepped out.
Maab had forgotten that the hut had been delegated to Sikh after his naming ceremony last night, and she saddened at the anger in his eyes. There was a faint redness to his face and his eyes looked a little puffy, most likely from a night of crying. Of course, it could have also have been from the inflammation of the newly created swirling designs, now permanently adorning his face -- A “reward" for all men who receive their Given-Names.
She watched in horror as he gave one great sob, then angrily kicked dirt on top of the metal disc. With one swift push of his foot, he sent it careening loudly down the dirt path. It was fortunate that most of the village had feasted and drank heavily early in the evening before the ceremony, or else they would have been running out of their huts to see what all the commotion was about.
He hadn’t slept at all, she could tell that much from looking at him. Still such a little boy, she thought, staring at him violently wipe his tears away.
She wondered whether he’d actually been working through his frustration all night, constructively thinking about his future, or if he’d just spent the hours pounding his fists into whatever was around to take it. She hoped for the former, but really expected the latter.
Whether he was angry with the Gods, or angry with her was the question, and the answer would tell her exactly how far along in his progression he was. She remembered the villagers placing him in the hut the previous night, kicking and screaming, his loud words of outright denial piercing. His face showed utter astonishment and shock as they had left him alone with his thoughts. Perhaps it was too soon for him after all. Maybe she should have waited longer for him to be put through the ceremony.
He stomped back into the hut and out again after only a minute, this time carrying with him the ceremonial headdress, the male counterpart to her own that she had worn not so long ago. He gathered up the huge, beautiful mass of metal Lotus flowers, Ivy and evergreen, adorned with so many jewels that it was easily worth the whole of the village, and perhaps more. She watched the muscles of his bare arms flex as his fists clenched in the latticework. He screwed up his face with anger as he brought his arm back. She flinched, almost crying out as he let it go.
Maab watched in terror as it soared nearly thirty feet into the air before landing in a heap near the village gates. Sikh sobbed again as his body gave out and he fell limply against the side of the hut. He gathered himself up, crossed his arms over his knees and hid his face. His shoulders shook, and his continued crying caused Maab’s horror to quickly evaporate.
She took a deep breath in resignation and made her way quietly back to her own hut, unnoticed by the young man behind her, too concentrated on his inner turmoil. She quietly entered her home and looked around expectantly, trying to remember where she had put the pack she had made the night before. She smiled as she spied it on a corner shelf. She gathered it up in her arms and was about to make her way back, when she suddenly stopped. Spying her grandfather’s sash of woven beadwork hanging near the door, she paused for a moment, deciding. Before she could think too hard about it, she reached out, grabbed it, and threw it into one of the large pockets on the front of her dress. She headed out the door and back down the dirt road to the boy.
Maab’s heart started beating faster in nervous anticipation as she slowly walked up to the boy on the ground. She tried shuffling her feet a little to make a bit of noise, so as not to frighten him. Even so, he didn’t even look up at her approach. She paused for a moment, then gave his foot a soft kick to get his attention.
“What do you want?” he groaned, his head still buried in his arms.
Maab didn’t answer, waiting patiently for him to look up. Eventually he did, wiping the tears from his face, and his eyes went wide as he realized who it was. Apparently, she wasn’t exactly the person he expected, nor wanted to see. Maab raised an eyebrow at him.
“K-Kai?" He just managed to say, the words stumbling out of his mouth before he could catch them. He cleared his throat, but his voice still cracked on the first few words. “That is, uh, I mean, um, my Lady Maab? W-What are you doing out here, awake this early?”
Maab ignored his politeness and said nothing, but cast a speculative eye over his plain clothes. Though the headdress and metal halo were taken off at the commencement of the ceremony, the rest of the garments were customarily worn through the night and into the next day. This morning he was clad only in his under-tunic, upon which the brightly adorned costume was placed the night before. That critical brow of hers went up again as she spied the little tears at the bottom of the shirt, and the abundance of dirt spattered all over the sleeves and the rear, upon which he was sitting.
Realizing his mistake, Sikh quickly stood up and awkwardly attempted to brush himself off. He started wiping his dirty hands on the front of the white tunic, but stopped suddenly when he saw that he had only succeeded in making two muddy, smeared hand prints down the front of his already ruined clothing. He tried to pat down the tangles of dark hair that looked like they had been angrily pulled all night, but sneezed as leftover dirt from his hands fell into his face. He resigned himself to stand there motionless and stare furiously at the ground. Maab almost laughed at his sheer childishness, but resolutely kept it down.
Bahktari,” Maab called him by his Given-Name at first, but seeing his face go slightly red, she rolled her eyes. “Sikh," she conceded, and he looked slightly mollified. “Where are your ceremonial clothes? The ones your grandmother made for you I might add?”
He looked extremely sheepish and mumbled something under his breath that she couldn’t quite understand.
“Excuse me?”
He cleared his throat. “I said it’s, uh, out behind the hut. By the dogs. And the chicken coop.”
Of course he would throw his nice clothes away, in his own selfish frustration. Maab gave a loud groan. Without saying a word, she headed to the back of his hut. It took a minute of scanning the area before she caught sight of a dirty lump of cloth by the coop, that was currently being used as a bed by one of the dogs.
She stomped over, secured the pack she carried to her belt, and without preamble, yanked the clothes out from underneath the dog. The mutt gave a frightened yelp and ran over to its fellows on the other side of the coop. Maab shook out the garment and held it at arms length for inspection. From the myriad of tears, dirt, broken beadwork and flyaway threads, she could tell he had taken out a lot of his anger on it last night. She saw Sikh out of the corner of her eye as he rounded the corner of the hut and slumped doggedly up to her. She gave it one more shake, intending to rid it of some of the dirt, and a large heap of beads fell to the ground. He was already flinching when she turned and glared at him. She closed her eyes and gave an indignant sigh.
Sikh took a deep breath and opened his mouth to speak, closed it, opened it again, closed it, then stared at the ground angrily. Maab waved a hand at him, imploring him to speak. He looked up and scowled at her before speaking very quickly.
“Is it really the Gods who send you our names?” He nearly spat the question at her, and it took a moment for her to realize what he asked. She took a moment to think through her answer. This was ground where she had to tread carefully.
“Well, that depends. What do you think the Gods are? Where do you think the Gods reside?” Maab tried to say this with calm wisdom, as the Old Maab had taught her, but instead it came out as badly-disguised barb.
The Elder always spoke slowly, with infinite patience, and the skill was still foreign to the young Maab, even with all her training. She was really not too much older than the boy in front of her. The Man, she internally corrected. Even so, there were innumerable years between them that couldn’t be counted on a calendar. She was one of the youngest to go through the ceremony, and he was among the oldest. He didn’t reply to her question, but visibly clenched his jaw and sighed in frustration.
Perhaps he is starting to understand, then. He’ll be more angry with me than anyone, sooner or later.
He looked shyly over to her. “What do they say to you? Do they whisper? Is there any chance that you were mistaken, or, uh, perhaps misheard, maybe?” he said , hopeful.
It pained her to see that look in his eyes, but she looked resolutely back at him. “No Sikh, this was the true name chosen for you. No mistakes. I-I am sorry.” She stopped abruptly before going any further, biting her tongue to cut off any more words.
There was silence between them for a long moment. Abruptly, agony seized his features, and his voice broke on his words, “I guess -- I guess that’s it then. I can’t stay here. I’ve got to leave, like the others.”
Maab’s heart clenched at his words, even though she knew they would be said. Hands on her hips, she stared at the ground for awhile before saying, “Very well. Where are your regular clothes?”
He looked up at her in faint surprise. “Folded on top of the nightstand, like they always are. You should know that.” She gave a little laugh at his response, finding it amusing that he always took such care with his clothes regularly, but treated his ceremonial clothes with about as much respect as a pile of dirty cleaning rags.
She excused herself briefly, and went back to his hut to grab his clothes, which were indeed sitting on the nightstand newly washed, folded and pristine as ever. She packed them carefully in the sack at her belt, taking care not to wrinkle the items. He would appreciate that.
She walked back to find him sitting on the ground with the dogs, gingerly stroking their coarse fur, as if it were the last time he planned on ever petting one. Maab unhooked the pack from her belt and held it out to him hesitantly. “Here. I went ahead and packed this for you. Last night. After the ceremony.”
His eyes widened as he reached out to take it from her. Tears filled his eyes, and he clutched the pack to his chest as though it was the most precious thing in the world. “H-How did you know? Why did you--?”
She smiled and bent down to place a hand on his rough cheek. “I know you. I knew you when we were both young. I know you as Maab, and I know you as your friend.”
There, that sounded like something an actual Maab would say, her training finally showing through. And the words were unerringly true. Though she knew how deeply she cared for him, it was slightly astonishing how easily the words came to her lips.
One side of his mouth turned up in a slight smile. He looked down at the bag, then back at her, silently asking if he could open it. She nodded and sat down beside him on the dirty ground.
He unlatched the metal buckle on the front and pulled back the flap, beaming at her as he saw how carefully she had folded his clothes. He took them out and put them gently on his lap. Next he pulled out a large wrapped paper package, and carefully pulled back a bit of the corner to see the contents. “Let’s see...Dried boar meat. And stale bread!” Sikh made a sarcastic sound of pleasure as he fingered the dense, dry and crumbly bread. Maab rolled her eyes at him.
“It’s Chengat Bread, for traveling. It keeps you full, you know that. Don’t finger it too much, you’ll ruin it.”
He nodded. “Thank you. Really. I didn’t expect this.” He wiped his face as a tear ran down his cheek. She pretended that she saw nothing and gestured for him to keep looking. He pulled out a few hunting and skinning knives, a utility belt, a warm crocheted sleeping sack and blanket, flint and tinder, a great number of coins for trade, leather gloves and --“Did you make these?” He looked simultaneously charmed and disgusted as he held up a woven alpaca hat, with matching sweater.
Maab felt embarrassed at she looked at her handiwork, which in the morning sun looked a lot more pink than the red she remembered weaving into it the few nights before. She made a mental note to pick out her colors and do her weaving during the day next time.
She gave him an agitated look. “Sorry, I suppose I was meant to name things, not to create them.”
He smiled approvingly, and thanked her. Maab scowled though, as he placed them underneath the rest of the items, as though to hide them from view. Well, she supposed could understand. It was a rather bright pink.
The last item Sikh brought out was a small drawstring leather pouch. He pulled the strings to reveal a set of four intricate wooden dolls, carved delicately with faces that held warm expressions; A man, a woman, a boy and a girl. These Maab knew he would recognize, and, of course, he did. He didn’t try to stem the flow of tears falling down his face anymore, but made no noise as he looked upon the small childhood toys clutched in his adult hands. He picked up the little man and the woman first, and ran his fingers lovingly over their small faces and tiny limbs. Beaded eyes looked out from those wooden faces, but Maab felt their gaze as though they could really see, and she knew Sikh could feel it too as he cried silently beside her. Little wooden avatars, for the remembered that lay beneath the earth. She felt her own tears prick her eyes, but tried not to let them overflow.
Calming down, Sikh set the man and woman on his lap and picked up the little boy and girl. He sighed deeply as he rested his head comfortably on Maab’s shoulder and held the figures out in front of their eyes. The sun was almost all the way up now, and it caught behind the wooden children, outlining their forms in a halo of bright, orange sunlight. They were silent for several minutes, taking in the morning air, enjoying each other’s company. The air was warm with Sikh’s familiar sandalwood scent. Maab could feel herself sinking into the comfort. He smelled like home. Sikh touched the little girl’s wooden lips. “Will she watch out for me when I’m gone?”
She laughed nervously at his question. “Of course, you dummy.” She gave him a friendly punch on the thigh.
Her smile slowly faded and she breathed, “Just keep her close to you.”
Maab struggled for the longest time, her throat closing up and burning from the effort it took to not cry, not show any emotion. In the end, she could do nothing to stop her tears falling onto her cheeks. Her chin shook slightly as she reached out, wrapping her arms around him. Sikh held her in his arms, holding her head to his chest as she finally let out her sobs into his dirty, torn shirt. He rocked her, back and forth slowly for several minutes, quietly humming a soothing tune to comfort her. It was the same tune that Maab’s mother used to sing to her when she was a child. In last two minutes Maab had gone from the wise old sage back to an infant, weeping like a little girl. She felt ashamed of herself.
After some minutes, Maab was able to gather herself and awkwardly sat up, not looking at him. “I’m sorry. I’m supposed to be stronger than this.”
He shook his head at her and smiled. “Of course you are. You’re always the strong one. You’re just being silly.”
They laughed together, a bit nervously. She looked over at the horizon and realized that the sun was up now, and soon the entire village would be waking. Looking over at Sikh, she saw that he was realizing the same, and their faces fell a little. Clasping hands, they helped each other stand, taking care to pick up the items from the pack, and took turns dusting each other off from sitting on the ground. Carefully unfolding his pristine overclothes, Maab stared at the dirty under-tunic that Sikh wore. It would have to do. They were running out of time.
She helped him brush the rest of the dirt off of his underclothes and, rather clumsily, assisted him to get into the rest of his traveling clothes, trying to be quick, but as thorough as she could manage. She faltered a bit in her pace, her hands lingering at the little buttons and clasps on his jacket, stalling for time. It hit her suddenly that she may never again button up this jacket. She may never again comb through his coarse black hair, as she did now, trying to flatten the flyaways that always stuck up at the crown of his head. She might never again give him comforting words, and wipe the tears away that ran down his face, as she did now. They just stood there, silently staring at each other. Both were at a loss for anything to say.
The moment was quickly broken as the air around them was disturbed. Fearfully, they looked around themselves, hearing faint rustling noises coming from some of the huts. The village was beginning to awaken with it’s normal stirrings of morning routine. They looked back at each other, then without saying a word, simultaneously took each other’s hands and started to walk briskly towards the gates.
The outright oddness of the situation struck Maab as she hurried with Sikh down the winding path. How strange it was, in the midst of such a heart-wrenching moment, to be hearing and seeing all the usual things that the morning brought with it. The sights and smells that she had grown accustomed to for all the years of her life were all around her, so familiar she could almost predict the miscellaneous barks, clucks, squeals, bangs and groans as she passed them by. But she experienced them anew this morning, every sound and smell forever written on her memory. How sadly bizarre, knowing that tomorrow she wouldn’t have Sikh there, adding his own signature to her everyday world. She kept having to remind herself that he wouldn’t be there tomorrow, stomping around in quiet frustration, lamenting the dirty monstrosity that was her house, cleaning as he went. No more angry exclamations at her deplorable cooking. She would no longer hear the happy yipps of the dogs, a signal of his approach. How unreal everything seemed; her mind couldn’t even take in the change that was coming, like he was just going out for the day and would be back by sunset.
They ran the rest of the way, reaching the gates just as she was beginning to hear the yells of the villagers. They were shouting their usual morning greetings to neighbors and passersby. Out of breath now, they turned to each other trying to find something to say. Clearing her throat, Maab reached down to check that his bag was clasped to his belt securely, gave one final adjustment to his jacket, pulled together the sides of his collar, and brushed some lingering lint off of his shoulder. She took a deep breath and looked up at him expectantly. His eyebrows drew together sadly. Unable to find anything to say, he roughly wrapped his arms around her and held her to him one final time.
After only a moment she pulled away and wiped away the tears on her face. She gasped as she suddenly remembered, and reached down into the front pocket of her skirt, bringing out the woven sash. She draped it around his shoulders and straightened the length. Sikh inspected the cloth with his fingers, and then looked questioningly up at her. “Wait a minute, I recognize this. Is this yours?”
Maab nodded, smiling when he remembered. “Yes. And no. It’s actually Grandfather’s. He died before you were born, but I know that he would want you to have it.”
“Why do you think that?”
Maab took a deep breath. “His Given-Name was Bahktombu - Great Sacrifice.” She saw the shocked look on his face, but continued on. “You can see it written on the sash. See? There.”
She pointed down and he nodded at the beautiful writing woven into the cloth. “He left after his ceremony as well. He didn’t mean to return either, and didn’t accept the name the Gods had given him. He said he’d decided to abandon the tribe and find his place in the wider world, to make his own destiny.”
“His name is so similar to mine,” Sikh said under his breath, “But he came back? He obviously came back, otherwise you wouldn’t have gotten this.” Sikh picked up a corner of the sash. “But why? He couldn’t have come back unless he’d accepted his name, right?”
Maab smiled hopefully at him. “Yes, he came back. He told me that he came back and accepted after realizing that his destiny was here.”
Seeing the puzzled look on his face, she added, “That's why I’m giving it to you. Perhaps in time, you will find that you can accept whatever fate is given to you, be it good or bad. I have faith in you, Sikh; you will learn to make the best out of anything that happens.”
A myriad of emotions crossed his face; Anger, confusion, frustration, grief. And she felt so deeply for him, and wished she could help, but there was nothing else she could say.
Footsteps sounded nearby. She looked up at him, and silently yelled, “Go! Go! Now! You must go!”
He looked so hesitant and scared, but she needed to get him out before the rest of the villagers showed up. An adult that hasn’t accepted their Given-Name was dishonorable, sinful, and sacreligious. If the other adults found him here, there was no doubt in her mind that they would rush to harm him with more than just their words.
As quietly as she could manage, Maab gently dragged open the right gate. Pulling it back no more than just enough to let slip him out, she fisted the back of Sikh’s jacket and pushed him roughly through the opening. He staggered on the other side, then stumbled back up to her and grabbed her two hands in both of his. He sobbed, tears falling relentlessly. “Remember me. Please. I don’t know if I can do this on my own.”
She took one of her hands from his and reached up to stroke his cheek, looking deep into his eyes with resolve. “You can. And you will.” Then she pulled his face closer so she could quietly whisper into his ear. Before she could stop herself, she breathed, “Don’t forget, I have given you this name. And I know you will be back.”
Sikh looked momentarily confused, but Maab gave one final abrupt push to his chest. “Go! Now! Please!”
Wiping his face with his sleeve, he gathered himself up, standing at his full height. He gave her one final nod, then turned and ran towards the horizon, his footsteps pushing up dust clouds as he went.
Maab watched him for a long time, until she couldn’t even see his silhouette against the sunrise. She slowly closed the gate, her whole body trembling uncontrollably. She noticed absently that she was holding in all of her breath. As the gate closed with a resounding noise, she suddenly lost all her nerve. Her hands still gripping the gate handle, she fell limply to her knees, squeezing her eyes shut. Her throat burned, and the pressure in her head was agonizing, pushing at her skull, nearing a breaking point. For a long time she sat there, her body shaking all over, her muscles aching sharply from the seizing. Minutes passed as all she could register were the dim rattles coming from the handle as her hands shook.
No more tears, no more childish crying. She had to put it all behind her. She had to grow up.
Suddenly, and without any warning, her pain finally burst through and she cried out, not caring who heard. All the agony she’d been holding in for so long cascaded out of her every nerve. She sobbed and sobbed, screaming as her sadness overflowed from the sudden emptiness that overwhelmed every inch of her. On her knees, Maab began clawing at the dirt on the ground, her fingernails sinking into the soil. A part of her was gone, a part that she never knew was separate in the first place.
Memories flashed through her mind, so oddly clear. A little boy and girl, dancing around a bright bonfire, hand in hand. Running through tall grass on sunny days, excited and out of breath. Rolling clumsily down hills together, stumbling and falling down from being completely dizzy. Wrestling playfully in the dirt, drawing muddy designs on each other’s cheeks. So much laughter. Always laughing.
Pain, sudden and acute. A hole seemed to have formed in her chest, and she clutched at it, at a complete and utter loss for how to stop the ever-expanding void.
Gentle arms wrapped around her, pulling her back. The arms held her, rocking her ever so slowly. She turned and cried into coarse white hair, while soft, wrinkled hands stroked her face and the back of her head. A comforting scent, of lavender and sage. The Elder Maab enveloped her like a warm blanket, calming her every nerve. The Elder breathed in and out deliberately, coaxing her. Maab tried to match the Elder’s deep breaths with her own, but her lungs felt too small for her body, and hurt from the effort.
It took a long time, but eventually, the younger Maab’s sobs slowly became more and more silent as she gradually relaxed into the old woman’s warm and familiar embrace. The pain was still there, but it felt more seperate from her body somehow. She felt like she was looking down on it from a distance, not able to scrutinize it yet, but able to acknowledge it’s presence without totally succumbing to the pain entirely. Maab looked down to see the abundance of dirt under her fingernails, and absently started wiping her muddy hands on her skirt to clean them.
“That’s it dear, you have done so well,” the old one said, “You did what had to be done. Do not fret now, child.”
Maab looked up at the Elder. She tried hard not to waver her voice, not to lose control, and it was difficult. “Was it really the right thing to do? Did I really do the right thing? He’s so angry, in so much pain--He will be in so much pain! What if he never comes back? I’ve hurt him. I’m so.....ashamed. Everything is all my fault!”
The sadness and guilt inside threatened to overcome her again, but the Elder stroked her face and wiped away her tears. She spoke softly, in case any villagers overheard. “Worry not. The Gods know that you knew him better than anyone else in this village; knew him, perhaps, better than you know yourself. You have given him his true name, chosen the correct one. You have faith in him, do not question it. The rest is up to him, and he will fulfill his fate, whether he is aware of it or not. This was a lesson both of you needed to learn.”
Hearing this, Maab felt the pressure in her head abate somewhat, and her breathing eventually returned to normal. Maab nodded and together the two women rose to their feet. They embraced for a long time, then the Elder Maab pulled back to look at her, and gave the warmest of smiles.
She whispered,“Do not doubt your abilities, little Kai. This is why I chose you, no one could have done better. I am so proud of you.”
Maab tried to smile, finding some comfort from the Elder’s words. She nodded at the old woman, and the Elder gave her hand one more gentle squeeze before turning and walking back to the center of town.
Maab turned to face the front gate. She looked up and let the morning sun shine on her face. The warmth wrapped softly around her like a silken cloak. On an impulse, she walked up the gate, grabbing the handle to pull it back just enough to see outside.
She thought about what the Elder had taught her; how to speak truths with calming peace, to channel the wisdom from the deep well inside herself. She thought she finally understood a little of how the Elder Maab looked at the world. How she could see the truth in the people she grew close to, see the good in those around her, especially when they could not see it in themselves. How she could know instinctively when they have the power inside themselves to accomplish great things. It was all just about having faith, nothing more.
Maab thought of Sikh, out there all by himself, not knowing what he should do next, or where he should go. Looking at the horizon, she felt the words come so easily.
“You will journey far. You will go many places, see many things, gain more knowledge than everyone you know. You will know the greatest pleasures, and you will experience the deepest of pain. But you will overcome your fate. You will come back. And you will be the strongest of us all.”
Maab spoke, as though by speaking the words she could make them all true, and perhaps they would be. She could have stood there forever, looking out at the sun rising over Sikh’s path down the road. After a minute or two though, she slowly pulled the gate closed, shutting out the view.
She spied the headdress on the ground nearby that Sikh had thrown there earlier. Maab walked over to bend down and pick it up. She brushed it off gently, seeing the bright metal shimmer again in the sun, good as new. She felt the edges of the hole in her chest soften slightly, and her heart lifted, if only just a little.

The End

-Many Thanks to Megan Lacera, for her great editing talents, advice and support.

Copyright 2010, by Laura Zimmermann
No portion of this writing may be copied without expressed permission from the Author.
All rights reserved.


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About Me

While remaining devoted to the pleasure and agony of creating art, making a callow but enthusiastic attempt at writing fiction, and being gainfully employed by Irrational Games in Boston as an Environment Modeler and Concept Artist, Laura now devotes her time to chronicling the misadventures of certain characters within the parallel universe familiarly referred to by the masses as "The Void." Along with sharing these various tales, stories, narratives, records, allegories and anecdotes, she also provides colorful sketches in order to paint a vast and complete picture of this strange and wonderful place.