The City’s Heart
Elliam grabbed Eylithlana by the shoulders and shook her gently. “You don’t have to do this.”
“If I don’t, then who? Mother? h’Nah, who’s yet a child?”
“I would if I could, you know that.”
Eylithlana put her hands on her brother’s cheeks and held his dear face in her hands. “But that is not our wyrd.” He opened his mouth to speak but she put her thumbs over his mouth. “No. You may find a way to change it, some day. Today we need a home. I don’t want to do this. I’m frightened. I’m sad. I’m angry at the Elders who decided the Clan was too big and must split. I’m even angry with Mother for drawing the gold leaf in the lottery and exiling us. But none of that stops what must be done.”
Tears rolled down Elliam’s cheeks. “How do I go on without you?”
“You won’t be without me. Not ever. Nor will your children, nor their children. And our family will never face exile again.”
There came soft steps on the forest floor. “It’s time,” the priestess said. She spoke softly and not unkindly.
Elliam dried his cheeks and nodded.
Eylithlana stepped into his arms and hugged him tightly, drawing all the strength she could from him. The ceremony was supposed to be painless, but in truth no one knew. No Heart had ever spoken of it.
“Please,” the priestess said. “The moon is at zenith. We must begin.”
Eylithlana pulled away reluctantly, and Elliam let her go but he took her hand and held it as they walked into the grove.
The grove had been carefully prepared over the last three months. In the center the ground was bare, the earth turned, enriched, and turned again. Now seven acorns were planted in a ring. Sacred seven. Four and three. Four winds, four seasons, four elements. Three of Life: birth, life, death. Childhood, parenthood, elderhood. The builder, the keeper, the destroyer.
Eylithlana hugged her mother, then her baby sister. She dried h’Nah’s tears and kissed her on top of her head and whispered, “I will always be with you.” H’Nah could only sob as Eylithlana let her go.
She stepped carefully between the little mounds where the acorns were planted, and sat in the center of them. The priestess handed her the bowl with the White Drink. Eylithlana drank it quickly, the black liquid so bitter she gagged. It went down like fire and settled in her stomach like summer sun. She laid down and spread her arms and legs wide, even as the cold of winter tingled in her fingers and toes.
The priestesses began their chant, circling round Eylithlana and the acorns three times. Then the priestess who had given her the drink knelt beside her. With an obsidian blade the priestess opened the veins in Eylithlana’s wrists and ankles. And it was true: there was no pain. The chill of winter had numbed her legs and arms while the summer sun glowed in her belly and relaxed her mind.
Softly there came the sound of a flute. Elliam’s flute. She smiled. She knew this song. It spoke of peace, and loyalty, and strength, and love. So much love. She floated on that melody for what seems like ages, her life flowing out of her, the winter creeping further.
Then came the sound of h’Nah’s pan pipes. Their skirling notes sounded like laughter, and joy. She heard, too, old Utan’s drums, beating out the march of time. She heard others then, playing songs to bring wisdom and knowledge, to bring health, to bring safety. Last she heard her mother’s tambourine, its tiny cymbals singing of responsibility and burden.
Eylithlana felt the acorns quicken. She felt them awaken around her, sending out tiny shoots, searching for each other, and for her. She called to them, encouraged them, sang to them.
She could feel her family surrounding her, and the six other families exiled with them. Sacred seven. Each had blessed an acorn. Each had given a gift. It was her family’s wyrd to give the greatest gift and Eylithlana gave it freely.
Here the Heart Tree would grow. Here would stand the heart of their community, their city, their lives. And as long as the Heart Tree lived, Eylithlana would watch over them.
This work by Jean Headley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.