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arrived in Anár. A crowd gathered to ogle Dáidu and the strange girl he carried. They lingered, stagnant with morbid curiosity, only one boy running off when Dáidu barked for someone to fetch his mother. Then came the questions. “Who is she?” “Where did she come from?” “Is she dead?” “Why is she so pale?” “Who shot her?” Oaván caught up to his brother just as this last question was thrown out from those milling around them. His face reddened when Dáidu turned to look at him, his eyes accusing. A murmur ran through the crowd and those closest to Oaván backed away from him. This was hardly the celebrated homecoming he had originally imagined. “It-it was an accident,” he stammered. “I thought she was a reindeer.” Another murmur, but this one mocking. Some snickered quietly behind hand-covered mouths, while others jeered openly. “Did you have tree sap in your eyes at the time? She looks nothing like a reindeer?” “Where are her hooves and her antlers?” “Why not skin her and mount her pelt on your wall?” Oaván dropped his gaze and could have sworn his face was on fire, his cheeks burned so hot. At least his shame kept him from feeling any anger toward his ridiculers; otherwise he might have ended up in worse trouble. “She wore a deerskin, and the sun had yet to rise. The shadows played tricks on me. It was an honest mistake,” he offered with a shrug, but he could not lift his eyes to meet their cruel stares and the volume of his voice had dropped as theirs had risen. “Klutz!” someone at the back of the crowd yelled, his bravado enhanced by being out of sight and surrounded by many others. “Brute!” yelled another, also finding mirth at Oaván’s expense.
The embarrassed young man had been hoping to find some solidarity from his brother but Dáidu kept to himself, observing the entire scene with cool distaste. He looked very uncomfortable standing there clutching Lieđđi and not because he was finding her heavy. This was as close as he had gotten to any woman since Rana had turned him away. Instead of Dáidu, it was Jaská that came to Oaván’s rescue, offering both brothers a reprieve with her arrival. She came running up, not something the robust woman did very often, and stumbled to an abrupt halt in front of her younger son, completely out of breath and her cheeks ruddy from strain. He had no doubt that she had sprinted all the way to the village centre without pause. Her eyes searched Oaván frantically. “Lars told me there was a hunting accident. Where are you hurt?” Oaván shook his head. “Not me – her.” He gestured toward Lieđđi. Only then did his mother finally notice the girl held in Dáidu’s arms. Her brown eyes widened. “What happened?” Jaská glanced back at her younger son, puzzled. “She’s not from Anár. I don’t recognize her. Where did she come from?” “Apparently your boy can’t tell a ‘deer’ from a ‘darling’,” came another wise-crack from the back of the crowd, as Jaská had Dáidu gently lower his charge to the ground where the temporary noaidi could inspect her better. She knelt beside Lieđđi. Oaván hung his head. “I shot her by accident. She spoke in your tongue, Mother. She must be one of your kind.” Those words seemed to immediately set Jaská, who had started to examine the young woman’s wound, on edge. She reached to move aside the deerskin, but recoiled again, as if avoiding tooth and claw as soon as her fingers connected with the soft white hide. “My tongue? Impossible – why would she be this far south? Why would she be travelling all alone,” a startled Jaská mumbled, directing Dáidu to gather Lieđđi up again and take her to their tent. “Were you not this far south when you met father?” Dáidu pointed out. “Were you not alone when he first encountered you?” “That was different – she is different,” Jaská insisted. “You cannot look at her and honestly suggest that we’re from the same clan.”
That much was true. Lieđđi was as thin as Jaská was thick, as frail as the older woman was muscular. While Lieđđi was almost as white as the hide she was wrapped in, Jaská’s skin had a somewhat dusky, ruddy hue. The women could not have been more unalike unless they had been separate species, worlds apart in appearance. And yet... “But I heard her speak. I answered her in your tongue and she understood me,” Oaván protested. Had all of his senses failed him? His eyes had seen a reindeer that wasn’t there, his ears had heard words that according to his mother weren’t there either. Maybe Lieđđi’s smell had not been nearly as enchanting as it had seemed, another cruel deception that had him questioning his sanity along with his senses. “We must hurry,” his mother told him. “I will need to gather some herbs to make an elixir so that we can strengthen what’s left of her blood before I pull that arrow. I’ll need to have some sinew and bone needles ready, to stitch her up once it is out, and I’ll have to have a salve prepared to dress the wound, to try to prevent infection. From there we will need prayer, lots of prayer. It will be up to Maadteraahka to decide her fate. She gave this girl...” “Lieđđi,” Oaván interrupted. “I asked her her name, in your tongue, and she told me that it was Lieđđi.” “Fine then. She gave Lieđđi her body and it will be up to Maadteraahka to choose if her soul gets to keep it. I would start praying now if I were you. Beg for her mercy and apologize for the damage you have accidently done to one of her creations.” Oaván shook his head as he followed along behind her and Dáidu, still worn ragged from his trek back carrying Lieđđi. He wished he could be more like his father, the epitome of faith, but he had never found any answers in prayer, which was why he was not likely to become the next noaidi. Not that Oaván wasn’t spiritual, but he found his connection with the divine while he was alone in natural places, meditating to the kind of silence that let you hear the sound of your own heart beating. He had never found it in the social worship of his village - not in the drumming or chants or prayer that uplifted the other people of Anár’s spirits. He liked to simply sit at one of the sacred sites - either at the sieidi, the álda and sáivu hills, or one of the blessed springs –and just feel the energies of everything that surrounded him. When Osku was still alive, Oaván’s father and mother would argue quietly over his lack of interest in prayer when they thought he was asleep. More than once, Oaván had overheard them. “It’s not right,” Osku had grumbled. “He’s the son of a noaidi. Prayer should be an essential part of his existence. Why do you think he has such bad luck? The gods turn away from him because of his lack of reverence.”
“You forget, love, that he is much Haldi as noaidi, perhaps more so, and prayer is not the Haldi way,” his mother had said in Oaván’s defence. “We attune ourselves to nature and we worship through that connection. That’s so strong in him. I think the noaidi from you has made it stronger. I believe he would make a wonderful noaidi, better even than Dáidu, if we stopped trying to force him to fight his nature. It is a constant struggle to be spirit-bound. I battle with it every day.” That had silenced his father quickly. “I know...I know. You’ve sacrificed so much to be with me and I’ll never forget that. I’ll always hold to my promise, love. My heart is yours until it beats its last. I just thought it would be different for our sons.” “For Dáidu, yes. Your spirit is strong in him. He doesn’t feel the pull from the kind of freedom I once knew. He is comfortable in his own skin. But not Oaván. He takes after me. It confuses him – it constantly causes him to falter. That would change if the people here would learn to accept him, if he learned to accept himself.” The things he had overheard had both warmed Oaván’s spirit and bewildered him. There had been mention of that word again, Haldi, the one that had been flung at his mother as part of an insult. And yet, his mother had never seemed offended by it, even thought the intent to hurt her had driven Oaván into a rage at the time. Words from Jaská brought Oaván’s thoughts back to the present. “Bring her inside,” she instructed Dáidu, holding the tent flap open. “Lay her in my bed. She needs somewhere soft and warm if she is to heal properly.” The older brother placed Lieđđi atop the furs there. “You’ll need to put pressure on the wound and help hold in what blood she has left. Oaván, I need you to find my needles and sinews. I’m going to the storehouse to find what I need for the elixir and the salve. You must be very gentle with her until I return,” Jaská said. Dáidu moved to follow through on her request immediately, reaching down to strip away the reindeer pelt, the white hide now spotted with Lieđđi’s blood. His mother tensed, snapping in response. “No! Leave that with her.” Dáidu froze in mid action, giving his mother a puzzled look. “But it’s getting stained, and it’s rougher against her skin than your furs.” Jaská sighed and gnawed slightly at her lip.
“It’s all she has with her that she can call her own here. She is badly wounded in a foreign place surrounded by strangers. It would be wrong of us to strip away that one comfort,” she said. “And it’s lucky,” Oaván added, supporting his mother. “The hide from a white animal? There’s as much magic in that than both Mother’s elixir and her salve put together. If we want any chance of saving her, we should leave her bound in that skin.” “You sense the magic in that skin?” Jaská asked, but she didn’t give Oaván the chance to answer. “Never mind – we can discuss that later. I have to hurry and fetch those supplies. Do as I ask and I’ll be back as quickly as I can.” Oaván did started hunting for the needles and sinews as soon as she had left, anxious to find them. He was willing to do anything to make sure Lieđđi lived, even give of his own blood if necessary. He had seen Osku use one man’s blood to spare that man’s brother before, when the ailing one would have died otherwise. Oaván would make that offer to his mother when she returned. As he searched, he glanced behind him on occasion into his mother’s section of the tent, making sure the girl still lived. Dáidu crouched beside her, keeping pressure in place as Jaská had demanded. Oaván envied him, remembering the smell of her hair and the touch of her skin and wishing he was the one who had been asked to tend closely to her. Dáidu didn’t appreciate her delightful proximity, still embittered as he was towards all women. Now that Oaván considered it, this was perhaps why his mother had assigned that role to her older son. With Dáidu’s current state of mind, he would have no trouble staying focussed on his task at hand; he wouldn’t become distracted by Lieđđi’s pretty face or soft skin when Oaván no doubt would have. Oaván finally put his hand upon the covered basket containing the supplies Osku and Jaská had used to stitch open wounds in the past. He pried the lid open to inspect its contents and was holding it open when a sudden startling cry of pain from the otherwise silent Lieđđi made him jump. The jarring motion sent the bone needles flying and they sprawled across the floor of the tent. With a resigned sigh, Oaván lowered himself to his knees and starting plucking the sharpened splinters of bone from the floor, returning them to the basket. Dáidu, in the meantime, was trying to shift Lieđđi about so she would feel less discomfort and experience less pain, all the while trying to maintain pressure on her thigh. “Where is Mother?” he hissed, frustrated. “I thought she said she was going to hurry. She should have been back by now.” Oaván didn’t answer Dáidu, but he had his theories. Lieđđi was a true curiosity to the people of Anár, a place where everyday life tended to be quite mundane. They craved any excitement, and this strange pale girl was plenty exciting. They had probably all flocked close to
the tent, hoping to find out more about Lieđđi and unintentionally blocking Jaská’s return in the process. He was tempted to go out there and make sure her way back was clear, but that might lead to trouble. If they offered him any resistance, and continued to mock him over the incident that had resulted in Lieđđi’s injury, he might grow angry - with dire consequences. Oaván now made a point of avoiding situations where he could lose his temper, and this one was no different, aside from the fact that Lieđđi’s life was at stake. But that was his fault, Oaván reminded himself, and not the fault of the villagers who might rile him. He crept towards the main door flap of the tent while he continued to gather the spilled needles from the floor. The closer he got to the entrance, the more he could hear a general commotion outside. He fought the urge to set aside the basket and march outside. He had to obey his mother and this was what she had asked him to do. Oaván was just reaching for the escaped needle closest to the door when he heard the crunch of dirt beneath boot soles of hardened leather, with the familiar forceful cadence he associated with his mother’s tread. It was accompanied by another heavy step, and both sets of footfalls stopped abruptly just outside the tent door. Oaván glanced over and noticed shadows by the base of the tent flap. Whoever was with Jaská had stopped her just before the door. He heard his mother’s hushed voice. “Now’s not the time to discuss this. I have work to do, noaidi work. Even you know better not to interfere.” “No – this affects all of Anár, and therefore it is my business, not just a noaidi affair. We put up with Osku’s eccentricities because he was one of us, and the best noaidi Anár’s ever had. He saved my wife and our baby from death when Rana’s birthing went so poorly and I owed him for that, but one Haldi and her two half-breed sons in our midst is more than our village should have to tolerate. That girl isn’t welcome here.” The voice was that of Anár’s tribal chieftain, Heaibmu, the man who had fathered Rana, Dáidu’s elusive love interest. He said things that Oaván had never heard before, but which might explain Rana’s rejection of his brother. It still didn’t explain her sudden change of heart. She had taken to Dáidu despite the fact that she knew their mother was an outsider. Something else had happened to change Rana’s mind and heart. “You can’t expect me to turn her away when she’s in need of my healing skills. She still may die even with my help. I’ll do my best to keep her isolated so that people are barely aware that she’s here, but I won’t send her off to her doom, not when it was my son responsible for her injury,” Jaská said defiantly. “Besides, it’s a noaidi’s duty. I can’t refuse someone in need.” “But you’re not a true noaidi, and you never will be,” Heaibmu pointed out. “You can’t take the oath because you are spirit-bound. You aren’t obligated by noaidi duty. And as for your son being responsible, you know this was no accident. That girl’s just lucky that it was Oaván
taking that shot and not Dáidu – Dáidu never would have missed. I wish it had been him firing that arrow. Anár would have been better for it.” From the growl in his mother’s tone, Oaván knew she was getting angry. Oaván couldn’t remember ever seeing his mother lose her temper. If something upset her, she would always just walk away, until she had calmed herself again. She would never have lost control the way that he had. “How dare you suggest that her death would benefit this village? She’s no threat – her nature is different from mine. I also think I’ve more than proven myself, Heaibmu. Not once have I ever been the cause of any trouble here, and I’ve helped many. You’ve never been fair with us. You are well aware of Dáidu’s value, that he is a living legacy to his father, and you knew how he felt about Rana, but you turned him away anyway. I have never called you on that, but I still haven’t forgiven you for that either. With that in mind, I’m certainly not about to let you bully me into discarding this young woman like offal, to rot in the woods.” Oaván tensed. It was one thing to defy the tribal chieftain, but it was another altogether to challenge his authority. And Heaibmu was right. No matter what their history or Osku’s status, Jaská lacked the noaidi oath that would allow her to veto the chieftain’s decision on any situation. Nobody had that ability at the moment. “You think I would ever allow my daughter to bed the likes of your son? Nobody in Anár would ever want the blood of an animal running through the veins of their grandchildren. I always questioned Osku’s sanity for bringing someone like you into our village, but he insisted and as noaidi, he had final say. Now that he’s gone, I’m not about to let that happen again. Wounded or not, that girl goes.” Heaibmu sounded offended, outraged even and disgust had dripped from his words when he had spoken of the idea of Dáidu and Rana together. Oaván knew that there was more to the story than the fact his mother was a foreigner, but he still wasn’t able to completely decipher the cross words that were passing between the chieftain and Jaská. It did seem as if Heaibmu was suggesting that his mother’s people were of lesser blood, the equivalent of beasts. Oaván considered that harsh judgement on the prominent man’s part. What exactly made the people of Anár better than hers? “You won’t get anywhere with threats, Heaibmu. I’m going to go in there and treat that girl and you won’t stand in my way. If you try to, I will be leaving Anár and taking my sons with me. You will have no noaidi, not even a temporary one who has never taken the oath, and the promise that both my boys hold for your village - that they will follow in their father’s footsteps and teachings and take the oath? - I’ll promise you that if they do, they’ll never serve you.” This did not appear to discourage Heaibmu at first.
“You think that will sway me? We all knew we would have to make do without them someday. When they go on their spirit journey in order to take the oath, we’ll be left without a noaidi for a short time.” “For a short time, yes,” Jaská agreed, “But we would return eventually. What I’m telling you now is that if you fight me on this, I will reveal everything to them. I’ll explain how and where I met Osku. I will tell them about the terrible reception I received here at Anár and about the choice that was forced upon me out of love for Osku. Dáidu will know why Rana turned him away and Oaván will know why the other villagers mistreat him, despite the fact that Anár needs them. We will go and we won’t come back – we’ll find somewhere else to live where we are more welcome, and Anár will be left without a noaidi. Think on that hard, Heaibmu. Do you really want to be to blame for that? Never mind that you won’t have a healer, you won’t have anyone to draw in the gods favour either.” Jaská offered a strong argument, and Oaván was grateful, for Lieđđi’s sake, that she had enough leverage to stand up to the chieftain, even if he did not understand what that leverage was. Heaibmu went silent for a few moments. Then, finally, he conceded. “Fine, have it your way – heal the girl then. But I want her gone as soon as she is sound again,” he grumbled. “If she survives this, and I certainly hope for poor Oaván’s sanity she does, I hardly see her wanting to stay here. Your people are intolerant, and they can be cruel. She has no family ties to keep her here, like I did, and she probably would want to return to her own family anyway. Those of her nature travel in groups, unlike my kind who tend to be solitary. I’m surprised Oaván found her all on her own, the way he did. She must have gotten separated from the others somehow.” Oaván heard the shuffling of feet. Heaibmu was moving away. “You see to it then, Jaská. I will hold you to that. The only Hanli allowed to remain in Anár are those related to its people by blood ties, like you, and they would have to be spiritbound like you as well. That hasn’t changed just because you live here now and we rely on your skills and prayers. I don’t care how you do it, just see to it she leaves when she’s ready.” Jaská exhaled loudly. Oaván knew Heaibmu was out of earshot when he heard her mutter, “We’re not lesser than you, foolish man - we’re more. You and the rest of Anár might appreciate us the way that Osku did, if you weren’t so damn ignorant. It takes an enlightened man...” Because she was in mid-sentence, Oaván wasn’t expecting his mother to charge her way through the tent flap, her face still hard and reddened with agitation. She started as soon as she
noticed him there, crouched on the floor by the door, bone needle in one hand and basket in the other. Her cheeks immediately paled and she stared down at him with an expression of horror. “I expected you to be in the other room with Dáidu and the girl. How much did you hear?” Oaván gaped up at her. He was still trying to process everything he had overheard, most of it not making much sense to him, and he wasn’t sure if he should confess that it was probably much more than she would have liked. He also felt dejected and extremely disappointed that she had deemed it necessary to hide so many things from him and Dáidu, especially when some of those things might have a drastic effect on their lives. Like the situation with Dáidu and Rana. How could their mother justify not letting Dáidu know that there was more to it than just a measured dose of outsider intolerance or a daughter’s sense of duty to her father Struggling with a mixture of emotions, he couldn’t bring himself to answer. His mother must have known why he remained silent because she seemed to deflate before him, all of the bluster that remained from her argument with Heaibmu dissipating then and there. “I made a promise to Osku. He thought somehow you could have a normal life if you didn’t know. I wanted to tell you...” she said softly, her eyes sad. “Mother?! Is that you? You need to hurry, her breathing’s growing shallower,” Dáidu called from the other room. That cry appeared to break the spell, that moment of regret that had Jaská prepared to confess all to her younger son. She took a step back, looking towards the sound of Dáidu’s voice, and shook her head. “He’s right. What was I thinking? There’s no time for lengthy explanations right now. We have noaidi work to do,” she told Oaván, as she snatched the basket from his grasp. “Finish picking up those needles and then join us in my room. We’ll need you to keep vigil and pray while we work. We might also need you to help us hold her down, if she has any strength left in her to squirm when we start stitching the wound.” Jaská disappeared into the separated section of the tent where she normally slept, her sense of urgency restored. As he gathered up the remainder of the scattered needles, Oaván wondered if she really would have told him everything had she not been disrupted by Dáidu. She had said she would explain later, but by then she would come up with some excuse or another to avoid sharing the truth with him. She would no doubt come to her senses and decide she could not go back on her word to Osku, even if Oaván already now knew more than he should. If his mother wasn’t forthcoming, there was always the option of going to Heaibmu and demanding what he knew. From the way he had spoken to Jaská, the chieftain obviously knew
as much as she did – he had even suggested he saw something in Lieđđi that Oaván had not. For that matter, what had he meant by claiming that Lieđđi’s shooting wasn’t an accident? That had Oaván all the more confused. But truthfully, Oaván doubted that he would get anything more out of the chieftain. In fact, he’d probably get in trouble just by trying to ask. Heaibmu had been keeping secrets for just as long as Jaská, which made Oaván think that perhaps he had made promises to Osku too. If that were the case, Oaván had little chance of finding the answers he now wanted. Slipping his fingers around the last of the fugitive needles, he heaved a frustrated sigh. Dáidu thrust his head in from the other room. “Stop dawdling and get in here,” he snapped. “Mother needs you to mash some herbs for the elixir. If you haven’t found all the needles they can wait.” After Dáidu withdrew his head again, Oaván struggled to his feet, clutching the recovered needles tightly in one hand. He would have to push back all the questions and focus on tending to Lieđđi for now. Considering her situation, his concerns could surely wait.