A vignette in the graveyard

TIMORA, SYSTEM ERASMUS, ER 19 APR 434

The breeze that blew past her legs was company enough for Varda as she picked her way down the slope. The wooded ridge behind hid her from the fields and the village, and no hunters were in sight. The grassy meadow ahead of her, long ago burned out of the forest, was just beginning to flower. She breathed deeply, inhaling freedom and exhaling her troubles. She could smell the wildflowers, grass crushed underfoot, and when the breeze strengthened, smoke from village cookfires.

In the clearing where Ma’Talaama buried their dead, the girl sought respite from the village’s confinement, noise, and smells. There was a brook down the center of the meadow where she could cool her feet and watch the water bugs. When she parted the creek-side bushes, Varda was surprised to find Mayana, the village scribe, on the big rock where she planned to sit. The presence of the older girl did not disturb Varda. Mayana was different from the other women. She wasn’t married. She had killed a tigerlizard. Also, the scribe did not talk down to her like the other adults. Finally, Mayana taught the children how to read and write. She was a patient teacher and, if distant, was never one to pry or nag.

“Hello ’Ana,” said Varda as she sat beside the older girl. She leaned on one arm as she considered her companion. Mayana’s necklace was tied with a maiden’s knot, and a lizard’s tooth hung beneath it. She looked form the tooth to the scar splitting her left eyebrow. That eye always looked questioning to Varda.

“What are you reading about?” asked Varda, pointing at the packet of papers in the scribe’s hand.

Mayana laughed, her tone gay. “I could hardly explain without telling the whole story, Varda.”

“So tell me the whole story.”

“That would take all afternoon. Hm,” Mayana closed her eyes. After a moment she said, “It’s about a different place, where they have lots of machines made entirely of metal, and ride in them across land and water, and one of the machines they used to bring our ancestors here to Timora.”

The younger girl laughed. “That is such a tale! The priests would be angry if they heard you tell it. Hir’beh put us here. So why are you in the graveyard?”

“Just a quiet place to read. What about you, Varda? Wandering outside the fence without an escort will get you thrashed.”

“I don’t care, the boys were teasing me. Do they ever grow up?”

“I don’t know. Maybe not.”

Varda frowned as the gaiety left her friend’s voice. “Why not, aren’t they thrashed enough by their mothers?”

Mayana laughed. “Maybe not! That’s something to keep in mind when you marry.”

“I will. Why haven’t you wed, ’Ana?”

The scar darkened, and Varda worried she had offended her companion. After a sigh, Mayana replied, “My aunt tells me I do not flatter the men sufficiently, and the women find my tongue too rough.” The big girl lightened her tone and smiled, but Varda could see sadness behind it. “That’s just between us.”

They sat, watching the brook. Varda waited until the darkness in Mayana’s brow passed. “What will you do, if you don’t have a family?”

Mayana sat straight, and looked across the field to where heavy scrub marked the start of the jungle. She spoke as if to the wind and sky more so than to Varda. “I could be a traveler, teaching the things I have learned, bringing news — births and deaths, new ways to make things.”

“That sounds lonely. How far can you travel, to all the Ten Villages?”

“The villages, perhaps further.” Mayana gave her a reassuring smile. Her teacher’s smile. “Come, let’s get you back before the hunters catch you outside the gates.”

 

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