“Why don’t you hunt?” asked Johnna.
“I See too well,” her father Aif answered. Between them, they held a wide, heavy board so two men could bang nails in from the roof. They were putting up a wall constructed of a series of such boards, each nearly as long and wide as the tree from which it was hewn, smoothed by machine, and chosen for this project with great care. Building an Auric hut was hard work.
“But I’ve seen hunting parties,” Johnna protested.
“Brace that!” said her father. Johnna squared her weight and the hammers commenced above. This addition to her father’s hut was going to be larger than the original building. Late spring, and the project was still only half done. Johnna wished the fourth builder had not taken ill. Holding up these planks while her father and the other two builders scooted them up and down the frame tired her arms, made them ache so that it would be hard for her to hold her bow later.
Finally, the board was stable, and Johnna and her father could let go while the men on the roof scrambled down to Divine which of the planks should go next. The order of assembly was important when the trees came infused with magic. Each piece of the wall must compliment the next in nature. Johnna leaned sideways against the finished portion, her face turned so she could rest her forehead on its cool grain. Aif tipped back on his heels and stood against it. He didn’t mind the pressure of his body against his wings the way Johnna did. Perhaps it was because he had carried his since he was born, while Johnna’s had only grown in recently, when she came to live with her father’s people for these two seasons.
Aif said, “The Sight comes to each of us differently, and some don’t have it at all. Until your grandmother started in with you, I would have said you didn’t See. Some of our hunters don’t See. Some of them See but don’t have Consuming Vision.”
“So I can still hunt,” said Johnna. It wasn’t worded as a question, but she was asking nonetheless.
“I don’t see why not,” said Aif. “I think your Vision may take you along the path of your arrow’s flight rather than into the soul of the animal you’re hunting. It has probably been happening all along.”
Johnna considered his words. Growing up among her mother’s people, who were as different from her father’s as the sand was different from the sea, Johnna had still known her true calling much younger than her peers. She had been drawn to bows and arrows and the hunt when she was barely ten summers, and she had always been precocious as the bowwright’s apprentice. She decided her Sight had guided her even before she knew how to wield it. She was only reluctantly training her Sight, and to have it steal away hunting would be intolerable. She preferred to think it enhanced her practice. She said, “Good.”
Johnna opened her eyes and stared into the wall she was resting against. The wood against her sweaty forehead had turned warm, and she stepped away to stretch. Movement at the corner of her eye made her look quickly back. The wood grains had not actually shifted, but she had learned to pay attention to these flashes.
In the wall’s brown recesses, she caught the motion again, followed it this time to See Ai’Nelba, the fourth builder, hunched over a privy hole, sicker than she had ever been in her life. Johnna staggered away from the boards, stumbled over her feet, and would have fallen if Aif hadn’t caught her shoulders. “What do you See, girl?” he asked.
Johnna whipped free and hissed at her father, a primitive reaction common to his people, one that she had never yet used. But fury overwhelmed her ingrained self control.
Aif said, “What?” and Johnna hissed again, too angry still to form the words. Her wings, moving against her will, carried her aloft before another force stilled them, drew her gently towards the ground.
“What do you See?” her grandmother Sade called, flying over from the front of the hut to join the construction crew out back.
Sade lifted easily over the building mess in spite of her own blindness, her Sight guiding her to land beside Aif as she drew Johnna down with her own considerable Will. Johnna let Sade pull her in, her control slowly returning. “You know what I See,” Johnna replied. Sade could read her granddaughter’s mind.
“Speak it,” Sade insisted.
“How dare you?” Johnna finally spat at Aif. “She has no idea. She thinks she’s dying, and you go on courting three other women.”
Dawning realization bloomed on Aif’s face. Slowly, he said, “Well color me a stag in autumn.” But then he stood slack-jawed as Johnna’s toes touched the ground and she finally made her wings stop fighting against the spell her grandmother was using to still them.
Laughter erupted by the boards, where the other two builders had stopped trying to Divine the order of assembly to eavesdrop.
“Speak it,” Sade repeated, and now Johnna saw that her grandmother was repressing mirth, too.
As she came to understand her father’s ignorance, her anger dissipated as quickly as it had first overcome her. She watched Aif, made no effort to stop it when her Sight passed through him. Always her visions had come from her eyes, but now knowledge spread through her body so that she understood without seeing that far from being embarrassed, her father was proud.
Her voice shaking, she said, “I’m to have a brother,” and then threw herself into Aif’s arms, just as the biggest of her much younger sisters did every evening when he came around front from working on the hut. The rest of them might laugh because Aif of the notoriously loose drawers had conceived again not a whole year past his wife’s death, but Johnna was overcome by a stronger emotion.
Johnna didn’t understand her father’s people, who were at once so casual and so formal in their dealings. Unmarried men and women mingled freely, and Johnna had found herself putting off advances from several of the village’s young men since she arrived. But formally courting couples didn’t approach each other privately at all. Everything was conducted in public.
Aif had been courting to find his youngest daughters a suitable mother. But now the lover he had taken in the meantime was likely to overthrow the formal process if Ai’Nelba was as willing to wed Aif as she was to lie down with him. Aif was proud to have accidentally impregnated Ai’Nelba, yes. But he was even more proud that Johnna had discerned it.
And it was this second thing that shook Johnna’s foundations. Her father routinely introduced her as his accidental daughter. Until his wife’s death, he had shown no more interest in Johnna than in anyone else in her mother’s tribe. Even her mother, whose company he had once enjoyed so intimately, only held short conversations with him. The Auric and the Arom held only trade in common. Trade and Johnna.
Johnna thought her father invited her to stay with him for this part of the year because he had a little interest in tutoring her in the use of her Sight. Because Sade wanted to meet the grandchild she barely knew. Because he needed a sitter for her little sisters after his wife died birthing the youngest of the three. Johnna did not think he invited her because he loved her. She did not think she wanted him to.
But now a ferocious joy swelled in to replace the anger that had so lately swept across her. She was not as unwanted as she was accidental in her father’s life, not some encounter to be explained away once a year when the Arom traders came to Auricstead for two weeks in fall. She was his oldest daughter, first in his soul and as deeply engrained into his conscience as her sisters. Every bit as close to his heart as the fierce Ba’aita, the laughing Li’ita, and the sickly Loma’ai.
The understanding lifted her out of her Aif’s arms and back into the sky, where she scanned the village for the right hut. As the first to See a thing, she had the right to Speak it, the right to sing it to Truth. So she flew across Auricstead to find Ai’Nelba singing out “I am here. I am here. I am here, and I belong.”
Although the story stands alone, this one, in spite of my best efforts to make it do something else, became another chapter in Johnna’s story, started with “Curve of the Tree” and continued in “Loma’ai”
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Kirsten Doyle challenged me with “Tell us about an event that forces you to abandon a belief that’s been with you all your life.” and I challenged kgwaite with “The king has died and nobody knows which of his twins should inherit the throne, because the healer who delivered them has long since passed on and the Queen won’t answer the question of who was delivered first.”
Kirsten – I tried so hard to make this one go nonfiction. There are a casual thousand things I had to give up when Sam’s spectrum related issues became so evident last year. But it insisted on going fiction, and the best I can do is link to the earlier nonfiction surrenders, Sam part I and Sam part II.
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.