Dheem, a freckly faced young woman with auburn hair, idly threaded the pebbles in the shimmering water. She wore a blouse riddled with patches, a skirt, tattered and bundled up around her waist, and a pair of shabby beige bloomers underneath. As a shaft of sunlight hit her, prickling her skin with heat, she stopped and looked around. Her eyes shone with admiration. The gorge she was in was narrow and shadowy but it was pierced with slants of light from above, like a cathedral. Dheem listened as the gorge echoed with watery murmurs, the gentle coursing of a rivulet rushing past strewed rocks and centuries old walls. Dheem looked up at the folds in the walls. They looked like the backs of withering giants. She closed her eyes, imagining them as guardians sheltering her like a princess. She savoured the warmth of the sunlight, and breathed in deeply, relishing the dampness, the smell of time.
“Do you believe there is another world out there Nyaneh?” Dheem asked and glanced at her right. She had been pondering the question for some time.
“Hmm?” A diminutive woman several feet away mumbled distractedly. With her back towards Dheem’s, and a hair bun visible, Nyaneh was clearly elderly for she had a hunched form and a staff held in one hand.
Nyaneh’s was stooped over something nestled between two head sized rocks on the river bed, around which the river sluices with a gentle babble.
“Suppose there’s another world where people could glide in the air like the Aegals, or go for many sunsleeps underwater without having to surface like the Salmonites? Is it possible Nyaneh?”
“Hmm? Ahah!” Nyaneh had apparently found what she was looking for, and it now lay within her clasp. She held it high in the light, her eyes squinting. In the distance Dheem saw it was a flower with three yellow petals, a smaller one lolling out like a tongue from between them.
Nyaneh drew it to her nose and inhaled. Moments elapsed as water coursed past the women’s ankles, and birds chirped resoundingly within the gorge when at length, a smile cracked over Nyaneh’s wizened face. She was gleaming with a triumphant look.
“This is the plant. This will sure give your grandfather the boost tonight!” exclaimed Nyaneh, glancing at Dheem.
Dheem was relieved that the trip to this isolated gorge was not futile after all. But her expression was perhaps too subdued, for Nyaneh’s jubilant look on her had subsided, replaced with a kindly smile.
“Anything’s possible Dheem,” Nyaneh said, her many creases multiplied as she smiled, and this cheered Dheem until, “like your grandfather winning the wailing contest!” Nyaneh said.
Dheem cast her eyes heavenward and sighed.
Nyaneh stowed the flower into a pocket, and said, “Come, help me pluck these flowers and search for more”. With haste, Nyaneh divested the stems on the rocks off its flowers and bustled around. “They’re close because they normally sprout in community. Don’t pick ones that look almost wilting. They can be poisonous. We need to gather enough to brew an infusion of this before sundown. Hurry!” Nyaneh ordered. She scoured the surrounding area as swiftly as her wobbly legs could carry her.
Up the gorge Dheem stared, through the chiaroscuro void streaked occasionally with sweeping birds, past the moss and fern-covered walls, beyond its forested opening and towards the sky. It was blue, a beckoning celestial blue, and Dheem wished she could soar towards it, and venture into the lands of another world devoid of disquiet and doldrums.
After a prolonged stillness, Dheem dropped her gaze and drew up beside her grandmother, following her lead in search of the yellow-not-wilting-flower.
Dheem scanned the area as her grandmother set off in a different direction. Glancing right, she espied something. On a rock set against the gorge wall, lighted by a slant of sun, a patch of green and yellow plants thrived. Dheem came up to inspect and discovered, to her disappointment the yellow plants were of different species. These were smaller and orange. “A community all right — of other flowers!” she huffed.
She started to leave when she caught sight of something at the foot of the rock. Flat and mossy, a peculiar stone lay. It was triangular with a corner so sharp, it seemed hewn. One of its sides was rough and it looked as though it was broken from a larger piece. Dheem crouched down, soaking part of her bloomers. She tried to lift the stone but it was heavy, so she leant it against the rock with the jagged edge down. She brushed off the moss and to her surprise, engravings began to emerge. Lines of texts ran parallel with the top edge and upon closer look, there were letters she did not recognize.
“What are you doing over there?” Nyaneh called out. She had found another large cluster of yellow flowers.
“Grandma Nyaneh, come here. I want you to see this.” Dheem enthused.
Hustling over, Nyaneh’s shadow fell upon her granddaughter as she stared at where Dheem intimated. She drew close and appraised the now cleared stone silently. Finally she drew back and said, “This is a relic of the ancient kingdom, before the turn of time when the first kings of Riolh came and peppered our culture with their own. Leave it. Some histories are best left unremembered.” Nyaneh didn’t wait for Dheem to respond, returning to her flowers hurriedly as though eager to depart from the find.
Dheem followed Nyaneh, etching the spot of the stone in her mind. As she helped Nyaneh with the flowers, she couldn’t help looking at the place from time to time. There must be other stones nearby, she thought.
Before long the sun had crept west, and the shafts of light dwindled, dimming the gorge as though it was eventide.
“We have enough I think,” Nyaneh said, her pockets bulging.
Dheem straightened up from a sore back and looked round at her aunt. Oh we have more than enough all right. She too felt her protuberant pockets.
With a swing of the fist, “We need to get back and get cracking!” cried Nyaneh.
“Let’s get going then,” said Dheem. She waded over to Nyaneh and turned her back, dropping to one knee.
“I can walk,” Nyaneh said dismissively.
“Indeed. You can hobble. Do you wish to make granddad the drink before the competition, or would you want to arrive there when they announce the winner?” Dheem said over her shoulder.
Dheem heard Nyaneh sigh resignedly as she latched on to Dheem’s back. Rising, Dheem took hold of the staff, and set off, nimbly negotiating the rocky and ragged riverbed, towards the mouth of the gorge.
Dheem and Nyaneh emerged from of the cavernous gorge into a still bright day. Strengthening her grasp on Nyaneh’s leg, Dheem left the trail of the river in measured strides, and entered the wood, following an almost invisible path, between parted undergrowth and branches. Her pace was quick. The route was uneven, and unpredictable, but she avoided concealed burrows and protruding rocks, scaled down hillocks and followed clear passage between trees with practiced grace.
Dheem and Nyaneh’s fused shadows trailed behind them as they trotted down the valley of Illim. There, nestled amidst two hills, was home, the village of Eimah. The village was protected Westward by the hulking mass of Regud Mountain, and its two shoulders, the rolling hills of Reg and Gud enclosed the settlement like protective walls. A river connecting the two shoulders bordered the outskirts of the village and the sight of it heightened Dheem’s excitement. She kept glancing at the bridge connecting one side of the river to the other.
She was ready for another burst of speed, when someone emerged in the distance. Dheem hastily slowed her pace to a stroll, while Nyaneh slipped down from her back. They had come from the direction of a forest that was feared and shunned by the rest of the village and to be discovered doing so, particularly on Clayal Day, would raise a lot of questions. Dheem and Nyaneh exchanged glances. Nyaneh looked a lot more composed than her, Dheem thought.
As they drew nearer to the person, Dheem hastily wiped the sweat on her face and contrived a smile. It was a man, and Dheem recognized him from the back of his head. Nyaneh was already ahead of her, smiling jovially.
“Ori, Ori… what are you doing here,” greeted Nyaneh.
The man jumped, and turned round. “Nyaneh! Where did you come from?“ Ori looked to his left and right. “I thought I was the only one around here!“
“Oh no, no, we have just arrived, taking a stroll through the South fields.” Nyaneh chirped.
“On this day?” Ori eyed Nyaneh dubiously.
“All the more reason to get away from the mad crowd. What are you doing?” Nyaneh said airily.
Ori glanced at Dheem, but she quickly looked skywards at flying birds and scudding clouds, smiling tautly.
“Almost everyone is in the village preparing for the festival,” said Ori.
Dheem dropped her gaze and to her relief, Ori appeared unsuspicious.
“Dido told me to gather more Morning Glories for the festive decorations,“ said Ori, indicating a bunch of blue flowers in his hands.
“Splendid,” Nyaneh said.
“Decorations, my rear!” Ori huffed. “They’re for his seat. The chieftain’s throne needs sprucing up and I went all this way just to get flowers!” He had thrust his arms out in exasperation.
“Flowers indeed!“ Nyaneh nodded at Ori.
Dheem rolled her eyes.
“Well we better get going. We wouldn’t want to stall you in delivering the chieftain’s errand.” Nyaneh said, and set off.
Dheem grinned apologetically at Ori, whose humph offended a passing bee. She zipped down the gentle incline after Nyaneh and they crossed the arched wooden bridge that spanned over river. Its limpid water reminded Dheem of the stone back in the gorge and her curiosity was itching for a relief. She tore her eyes away, smelling the river scent in the breeze, the rustle of the meadow whispering behind her.
Dheem and Nyaneh’s walk took them to a beaten path of barren ground, with strewn patches of stone work embedded in. Thatched houses lined one side of the street they were on, overlooking the river. They followed closely to the edge of town, both knowing the need to avoid other villagers.
*******work in progress*******