The Book of Eight Sages
A Terrible Realization
As I stared, some shamans placed another body amongst them. One turned to me and chided, “They are not here for you to gawk at.”
“That woman, I have her clothes,” I said, showing them to him. “Might I be allowed to dress her?”
“If out of respect, it is allowed,” he replied.
“Out of respect,” I answered with a small bow. He returned my bow, then left.
I carefully laid out Jutuil’s clothes beside her to determine what I had, and in what order to dress her. Once I began to dress her, others in the Pavilion approached, watched what I did, then proceeded to do the same with others. Many of the others, having mostly redressed, had exited through the People’s Door, now opened again. As I dressed her, I noticed that her body was still soft and warm to the touch, though apparently lifeless like the other Taken. I attributed the warmth and pliability to the rising sun shining upon the body. Having finished dressing her, I lifted her and pressed my cheek gently against hers, then set her back where she was. I was surprised at how grief stricken I was for one of whom I had just met a few days ago. Noting that others who had dressed one of the Taken did not tarry, I rose and followed them to the People’s Door to exit.
Namdan and Sallumin both awaited my exit apparently with some anxiety, for as I exited I heard Sallumin express a gasp of relief. Nearby was Iloni’il. She looked at me expectantly and at the door. “Jutuil was taken, I am sorry.”
Sallumin stepped up and hugged me silently, but Iloni’il’s response surprised me. “Never apologize for the acts of the Great Ones,” she said in a flat tone, then turned and walked away. Confused, I looked to Namdan.
We returned to camp in silence. “Have you eaten yet?” Sallumin asked.
“A shaman gave me some tea,” I answered.
“Wait inside,” she told me, gesturing towards the tent, “I will bring you something.” I entered and found a seat. After a moment, Namdan entered. He sat across from me and looked me over.
“How do you feel?” he asked.
“It’s strange,” I replied, “over twenty were taken. In my mind, I think this a tragedy, and I knew her for only but a few days, yet it is Jutuil’s taking that strikes my heart. Does this happen at every Door Ceremony? Why do you do this?”
“The answers are yes, at every Door Ceremony some are taken, and others are changed in ways difficult to understand. But we do this because the Great Ones ask it of us, and great rewards may also be had at the hands of the Great Ones. You, for example, now speak as if born to the Nu Sing. Even now, do you realize we are not speaking in the language of the South?” Until then, I had not noticed what language we were speaking. “Tsiyangan, this I tell you is important. Among the Nu Sing, we do not grieve openly those taken by the Great Ones. To do so is to cast doubts upon the Great Ones’ acts. Even to grieve privately for those taken, which I expect you will do, not having lived as a Nu Sing, is dangerous, as the Great Ones may take offense. Nor do we speak of those who were taken. They have received the highest honor by the Great Ones, but they are no longer amongst us. To speak of them is futility. Finally, you must never speak to anyone of what happened within the Door Pavilion.”
“So we are not to speak Jutuil’s name again, and I should forget she ever was?”
“It would be best if you tried. Certainly do not speak of her in public, for others will take offense and try to silence you, lest you bring bad luck to the clan, or even the whole tribe.” I made a slight nod in understanding and agreement, and Namdan rose and left the tent. Sallumin entered soon after and gave me a bowl of honeyed boiled barley and a mug of milk. She sat next to me but said nothing, giving comfort by her mere presence.
When I finished, she informed me that we needed to pack, as the tribe would leave before noon. I was surprised at how many more things I had acquired in my short time at Sacred Balasagun, but I still needed only a few fingers to pack my things. I emerged from the tent with a bundle of my things and looked to Namdan, who looked to Sallumin. Making a show of great exasperation, she pointed to a spot out of the way to set my things. Under Sallumin’s supervision, we packed and tore down our part of the camp in but a hand’s worth of time. Namdan signaled for me to follow as Sallumin packed up the last few things of theirs, and we went to the herds to fetch my donkey and their horses. We returned to find Sallumin had tied the tent poles together in a triangular formation. Namdan showed how the tent wall could be attached to the frame, making a storage area for most of our things. The remainder of the tent wall was folded over the things and tied down, placing them in a secure, water tight package. A crossbeam near the top of the triangular frame could then be tied to the horses, who would drag the frame behind them. The frame was tied far enough back on the horses that a person can ride with only a minimum of discomfort.
Because the tribe was not yet prepared to travel, we picketed our animals and helped others in the clan. It occurred to me that the Door Pavilion might still need to be taken down. I asked Namdan about it. He told me that since we helped erect the Pavilion, we need not help with take down. As I was restless and required something to do with my hands, I insisted. Namdan gave me a strange look, but agreed. We repaired to the Door Pavilion, where many others, including some Katay, were already at work dismantling the structure. I glanced at the Taken, now mostly covered by the shamans, and Namdan pulled my attention back to the Katay part of the Pavilion. As much was already done, it took us less than a finger to finish taking down and packing the Katay portion of the Pavilion. As the others finished packing, I slipped away to take one last look at Jutuil. Because they were covered, it took me some time to find her. Pulling back a cover, I gazed into her face, a look of complete peace and calm upon her. “Tsiyangan, it is improper for you to be here,” I heard from Namdan behind me.
“I needed to see her just one more time,” I said, caressing her face. I noticed that she was still soft and warm to the touch. I took her hand. It too was still soft and warm, fingers and arm both still quite pliable.
“Tsiyangan, we must go,” Namdan hissed urgently.
“Namdan, I believe she is still alive,” I whispered.
“What! That is impossible,” he replied.
“Her skin is still soft and warm, her limbs pliable. She should have stiffened long ago.” I said. Suddenly I was grabbed from behind and pushed away from the Taken. Namdan leaped back but did nothing.
“Have you no respect for the Taken!” hissed a shaman I recognized as the one who tripped me into the Pavilion the night before.
“Please shaman, he is a Southron, yet new to the ways of the People. He meant no disrespect,” Namdan said.
“The Southron,” he said in a calm voice, cocking his head to the side, “go away, we will care for the Taken.”
I rose to leave, then turned to the shaman, “That woman,” I said to the shaman while pointing to Jutuil, “she is still alive.” The shaman looked at her, hissed at me then flipped the cover back over her face.