Granted

Glenn Riviera lives in Cirus, a wild and hostile land of the Wind in the world of Twyne. Here birds are revered as enhancers of the wind and some Faris are Granted that ability too. Glenn only wants to be free but soon she is tied on a purpose that cannot be avoided ...

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3. Animal

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The snow has become heavier and the light is dimming. I trudge onwards until I reach the thorny Cupid bush where I stored my kills. As I reach in the hooked barbs of the foliage try in vain to pierce my coat and I retrieve the two Hooded Gawks I shot down earlier in the day. Unhooking them from the branch, I tie the string attached to each of their leathery, clawed feet to my low belt, which is already sagging from the weight of my gear. The small birds dangle and spin, their murky grey plumage brushing against my worn trousers. Their eyes are glassy and their feathers ruffled slightly by the almost identical puncture wounds, received from my small crossbow bolts, in their soft breasts. As it was only the beginning of Fresh Winter, they are plump and fatty, a good meal for tonight. Even so, I’ll be here tomorrow again, after I’ve finished chopping wood, hunting for our next meal.

I trudge further through the deepening snow, listening to myself grumble about the slowness of my trekking. Each step is effort as I try to increase my pace evermore so, keenly aware of the looming dark. Well it’s your own fault. I don’t exactly travel light around the forest: my small twin fighting axes strapped to my belt, my hefty lumber axe across my back, hunting crossbow and, of course, my beloved wings. Anyways, travelling light would be foolish – a death wish. Dusk has come and gone quickly and the night rushes in to fill the forest with ultimate shadow. Night is an extremely dangerous time, especially in the forest, as with its opaque blackness comes the ruthless bloodthirsty creatures of the Kneene forest. Night Wolven, Child Snatchers, Stitchers and other horrid beasts find the night a prime time to prey on the less fortunate of us and if we do not cross their paths they raid our villages. Too many of the Faris of Hymll, naïve or knowledgeable, have been caught out of the village after dark and have met brutal, gory ends. However many youngers and grown Faris alike have been stolen in the dead of night from their beds by Child Snatchers. Although, they don’t trouble me… they never really have. When I was a child I would venture in to the Kneene forest and stay there for nights on end, surviving on my wits. Only then did they I realise that they couldn’t kill me if they couldn’t catch me and they wouldn’t try if they knew I fought back fiercely. I was a predator like them – an equal.

Now my weapons are precautions and I rarely have to use them. But I like to.

All the shadows have blended into one and I sense their shifting forms in the dark just beyond my petty sights feeble boundaries. They slip effortlessly through the night, hungry for food or ready to hunt. Silently I blend with the darkness, becoming one of them and moving with deft precision, feeling the fearless instinct following animal rise inside me. It squirms and stretches, testing the bars of its fragile cage and causing the civilized me to almost hand over control to this awakened, stronger me. And I want it so bad. It coils inside me now thrashing and demanding its turn, rising to its full gargantuan height and pushing the bars towards breaking. Do I imagine I hear its cage groan in agony? But I cannot allow it to seize me – not tonight – I must return home. Frantically I search for something to secure the civilised me. The animal screams in rage. Finally I find salvation – the memory. My sister’s Granting.

*****

My sister is everything I am not: beautiful, loving and compassionate. However these can be where she falls helplessly. Not tonight, though.

Jumping agilely across the village huts I land on the Meet hut with easy grace and I can’t help but smile smugly. The rough and decaying thatch scratch mercilessly at my bare feet as scramble over to the gable of the hut and peer carefully over the side. Sure enough there between the thatch and the wood, stone and mortar wall is a constricting but wonderfully convenient gap. An all too inviting entrance. Carefully, as not to be noticed by the elaborately dressed crowds below, I slip through and gingerly drop a small distance onto the thick smoke blackened beam that runs the length of the Meet hut. Instantly, I am enthralled by the smells, sounds and sights that hit me in waves and unintentionally I lean in. All the Faris here have already been Granted and they all wear their individual Granting garments, as is tradition. I have never agreed with Granting, the ceremonial event occurring on a youngers twelfth winter. The Chosen , our villages small group of seers and listeners, Grant you the bird the almighty Wind has told them to bestow on you and that bird defines the rest on your life. It is meant to express who you truly are and reveal your soul to everyone, however I strongly believe that no one who stays indoors all their life can really hear and feel the desires of the Wind. Only when you have experienced its true power and lived and grown alongside it every day of your life, as I have done, may it grant you the blessing of its power.

I have felt and heard the wind and it has Granted me nothing. For I will be free.

The Faris of Hymll are enchanting in their ceremonial costumes of their various Granted birds. I can see Water Lume capes like emerald beds of spongy moss; speckled lilac Conen feather headdresses; preened flamboyant Loraine amulets and countless others. I lie motionless on the beam as I admire the spectacular celebration. It is warm due to the large open fire in the centre of the Meet hut but every one glows for a completely different reason. Despite the jovial air and welcoming sense of belonging that radiate from the gathering, I feel no longing to join them or jealousy of the intimate felling the ceremony embeds. I am different, an outsider who shall always look in but never desire what she sees. I have all that I want.

Gradually the crowd stills and quietens in rapt expectation. The Chosen emerge from their reclusive rooms and sit decisively at the end of the Meet hut. Most of them are ancient, their creased sagging skin hanging off their brittle bones and their sunken, calculating eyes stare straight ahead. No one looks directly at them as their lofty air of respect demands. In the future I shall look them right in the eye…then I shall spit on their feet. A decision that truly alters my life.

All is silent. The Faris wait patiently, eyes trained on the main door. Suddenly the door swings open and they gasp collectively. The Granting has begun.

The seven youngers that are to be Granted tonight, as they are twelve Winters old and born in Fresh Winter, all stand in the now open entrance. The girl’s ceremonial white shifts hang almost to their ankles, hemmed with rare gold thread and fastened at the waist with plated strands of leather. The boy’s, two out of the seven, white tunics end at their knees and plain trousers continue underneath. No-one wears shoes – another tradition of theirs. Each of the seven Grantlings are pale as the ash that spirals towards me, riding on the heat of the fire. Instantly I recognise Umber standing between Eurpa – a tall copper haired girl – and Bealan – a spindly boy with beady black eyes. She sucks incessantly on her lower lip and her clear amethyst eyes blink repeatedly at the ceiling. In the fire light her hair looks like it’s braided with gold and silver and it shimmers like a halo around her head and shoulders.

Ending the silence, the slow concise beat of a drum echoes through the hut and gradually the haunting music of the ceremony begins. The notes resonate from the corner, in which the small group of instrumentalists sit, and fill the room all too easily. As if in a trance the seven Grantlings strike into a purposeful walk down the clear path between the gathered Faris, leading them to where the Chosen scrutinise their approach. The crowd watch in expectant silence, all of them knowing but then wondering what will follow. I shift my position on the sturdy beam and smile crookedly at the expressions of wonder and fascination plastered on to Faris’ faces all around the room. They believe all too willingly in this absurd ceremony, if only to grasp some real certainty in their unforeseeable lives. Trapped by this superstition and hope that they are connected to something bigger, even though they have yet to experience its true power for themselves. The wind does not really Grant them anything in here – no, not here. It only speaks out in the wild free land which it sculpts and rules. They are every single one of them fools – if they believe it – but those know otherwise, are the true believers.

After what must have been an eternity, as even I had started to fidget, the Grantlings reach the end of their walk and fan out to kneel before the Chosen. The drone of the music fades away and silence returns. Heads bowed and hands on their thighs, not one of the seven stirs. Arduously, the Head Chosen stands. She is crumbling and disjointed; a mismatch sack of brittle bones with a cantankerous demeanour. Dramatically she raises her gnarled hands towards the ceiling and begins to chant softly.

“Its Greatness sees their souls,” over and over, the five other Chosen join the chant, “its Greatness shall share them with us.”

I want to hit them. What are they talking about? What do they know of “Its Greatness?”

“Its Greatness Grants it to them,” they continue this ludicrous chant until, finally, the Head Chosen sharply brings her hands down to slap her bony thighs. Silence rings out once again. Enchanted, the Faris of Hymll stare blindly at the scene before them. As the Head Chosen shuffles forward, the other five uniformly disappear into the dark room from which they emerged. Her shadow falls ominously over the first of the Grantlings who kneel before her, a small dark haired girl. Purposefully the Head Chosen raises her hands and, placing one on top of the other, she gently touches the crown of the girls head, then each of her shoulders.

“Rise Grantling, Its Greatness has revealed to me your soul,” she says in a rough voice and I am reminded of stone grinding against stone. I would have shivered – but don’t shiver, not ever.

Trembling, the girl rises and tips her face up until she is looking straight ahead. I can’t see her face from my perch but I easily picture her frightened expression and tightly pressed lips. She’s even smaller than Umber and her thin ankles seem to shake so much that they knock against each other.

Placing her hands on the girls thin shoulders, the Head Chosen turns her to face the crowd saying “It has spoken to me in the depths of a trance…” with precise timing one of the five Chosen who left, materialises from the sacred room carrying an object covered with a white cloth. Her feet brushing softly on the wooded floor, she approaches the two standing figures and stops to their left. Now I can see that the girl is wide eyed and panicked, a helpless animal petrified by the gaze of a hunter.

“…And the Great Wind Grants you -” the room holds its breath. Swiftly, the Head Chose takes the veiled object and whips off the cloth revealing a feathered headdress.

“The Sky Conen, for your remarkable song,” and the headdress which is indeed adorned with the delicate feathers of the pale blue songbird is placed gracefully on her head. Suddenly the younger’s mouth forms a small O shape as the breath rushes out of her and she blinks a few times, her eyes dazed. Something close to relief floods her features. The Faris, their trance broken, break into smiles and mutters of approval and acceptance. The girl kneels once more, this time her pretty head facing skyward. A faint smile plays on her lips.

 The Ceremony continues in much the same way as five more Grantlings are Granted. However very soon it is Umber’s turn and as she spins to face the crowd her face is set with a semblance of calm. Her skin is like polished marble and along with her hair she seems to glow. The Head Chosen reaches for the veiled headdress. I can feel my muscles tense and I realise that for some reason I am holding my breath.

“…The Great Wind Grants you – The Snow Amyess, for your elegance and beauty.”

The Faris gasp. Looks of complete awe spread across the room. A Snow Amyess: a bird of exquisite beauty and protected by all. I allow a long expected smile of triumph to appear on my face. Did they expect anything else? I didn’t – the clarity of her heart is unsurpassable. As if moving in water the Head Chosen lifts an immaculate headdress from beneath the veil that is decorated with the crystal white, graceful feathers of a Snow Amyess. Leisurely, she places the crown of white atop Umbers head and wafts on to continue the ceremony. But no one can tear their eyes from the stunning, glowing girl, her face clearing as though the sun has risen from the horizon and everything beautiful glitters through her eyes. Gingerly her fingers trace the rim of her spectacular crown. Her smile beams light, obliterating every shadow in the room. She – my sister – has been Granted.

*****

Six years later and I remember every detail. The animal no longer threatens to reveal itself. Reflecting off the flawless blanket of snow is the warm orange glow of the torches that illuminate Hymll. I have returned safely.

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