Spring Ceramic DMô: WINNER POSTED! - Page 21
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    Thank you.

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    Round 1.4: Mythago vs. Orchid Blossom

    Round 1.4: Mythago vs. Orchid Blossom

    Lifespan


    Kanwe's music charmed him a wife from the forest many years before the children began to vanish. He had no sisters to negotiate a bride for him, no wealth to hire a matchmaker to take a sister's place, and for years it seemed as though he would always live in the young men's camp. The women of his village agreed that it could have been worse; at least he was a young man with a light heart, and he had a gift for making music that even the elders had never heard equaled. Visitors and travelers paid him well to have him play at the festivals, and there was always a lonely widow with a wandering eye ready to cook his food for him, so he would never go hungry. He had no wife, but he would manage.

    Kanwe did not want to manage. He wanted to marry.

    He made a traveling pack with his best bone flute and the little drum made from the hide of the bear he had killed in his manhood hunt. He brought the last of the barley cakes that he had carefully saved from the Feast of New Beer, three days past. He packed a stoppered horn of that beer that one of the elders' wives had slipped him when her husband was not looking. He put on the thick seal-fur cloak that had belonged to his father, threw his pack over his shoulder, and walked into the forest.

    Kanwe walked south. His boots squelched in the fresh spring mud. The breeze carried the last cool whisper of winter's breath. He walked, his little drum slung at his hip, playing his flute with his sun hand and keeping time on the drum with the other. He knew all the songs of the village, blessings to welcome a new baby, the laments sung over the dead, the work songs the women sing as they pound grain into bread, the charming rhymes children sing at skip-rope, the long chants of the deeds of the ancestors--but as he walked, Kanwe played only songs of love.

    In between the sweet piping of the flute, he sang the boasts young men sing to turn the heads of pretty girls, and played back the teasing, daring
    notes that a young girl would sing in reply to her suitors. He played the songs of courtship, the music of weddings, the joyous trill of lovers dancing at a festival. On the fourth day, as he was beginning to think no one but the rabbits and elk would appreciate his playing, he met a woman in the forest.

    Kanwe knew immediately that she was a spirit. Her left hand lacked its littlest finger and her hair was flame-red, and anyway no humans lived so deep in the forest. Although this was what Kanwe had wanted, he was still afraid. His hand on the little drum trembled.

    The woman who was a spirit smiled. "Why did you stop your music? It was very pretty."

    The people of the village were overjoyed to see Kanwe emerge from the forest ten days after he had vanished, bedraggled yet happy. They were less pleased to see the strange young woman on his arm, the spirit he claimed was now his wife. But Kanwe was loved as ever, and after all he could not have found a wife any other way. The spirit who called herself Olunwos was as friendly and likeable as her husband, and soon began working alongside the other women, grinding wheat and weaving cloth. Kanwe drove three cows into the forest to pay Olunwos's bride-price; no one asked him whether or not they would be collected.

    The excitement over Olunwos gradually faded. Over time, the people ceased to remark on the ways in which she was different from humans. She could bear Kanwe no children, which was thought a great sorrow; but Kanwe seemed happy enough without them. She could perform small charms, to mend a broken pot or soothe a baby's colic. In the winter she could start a fire by blowing gently on a pile of tinder. She could call clouds of bright ladybeetles and straight-backed praying mantises to the fields to pick them clean of insects. Trading boats stopped more and more often as word of her fine weaving spread.

    The village grew rich with wealth and children as the years passed. Kanwe played and sang for joy now, not for his supper. The traders who stayed an extra night or two to hear his music brought him strange instruments he had never seen before. He taught himself to play them, and fitted them to the old songs, to his and his people's delight. [1]

    In the twentieth spring of Kanwe's marriage, the old headman died and his son Araunt took the ivory circlet. It was just at the turn of summer that the first children disappeared from the village.

    For a child go missing was nothing unusual. Every year a few would swim too far past the mouth of the inlet, or run off into the forest and wander until they were too tired to call for their mothers anymore. But that summer, the children vanished at night, from their beds, as their families slept nearby. Guards were set around the camp and mothers drank strong tea to sit awake by their children's beds; yet the children disappeared anyway, as silently as though they had turned to smoke.

    For the first time in twenty years, the people began to whisper about Olunwos. In fear and anger they sought for any answer that might explain the loss of their children. Olunwos had no children of her own, she was a spirit, she could do magic: who else could be to blame?

    Araunt ignored the rumors as long as he could. He was reluctant to anger Kanwe and more than a little afraid of Olunwos. He stalled and delayed until his own wife informed him that his sleeping mat would be cold and empty until he found out what had happened to the children. He and his scribe entered Kanwe's house without announcing their presence. The old musician was stringing tiny bronze bells on a wire; he rose to his feet stiffly as the headman entered.

    Araunt waved him to sit back down. "Kanwe. My business is with the spirit you call your wife. Where is she?"

    "She went to the tidepools to catch crabs for supper," he said. He did not add that the other women had gone crab-catching days ago; Olunwos was no longer welcome to work with the other wives.

    "When she returns, tell her that Araunt wears his ivory circlet and speaks to her." At that phrase, the scribe unfolded a rectangle of sheepskin and began to write, preserving the headman's words so they could be read by all. His brush darted like a dragonfly over the parchment as Araunt spoke. "In three days I will assemble the village for an inquest. If Olunwos brings back our children, she will be banished from the village alive. Otherwise, we will tie an iron weight around her neck and throw her into the open sea to drown. This is the decision of Araunt."

    Kanwe's mouth worked for a moment before he was able to speak. "You know that she has had nothing to do with this, Araunt! Olunwos has grieved for the lost children with the other women! She is a forest spirit, not a demon. You must not kill her because of foolish talk and lies."

    Araunt raised a finger and the scribe's brush paused. "If I did not give her this order, she would be dead today. The women are angry. The men wager how long it will take Olunwos to drown. Now she has three days in which none of the people will touch her, in the hope that she might relent and bring their children back. Perhaps she can find the children with her magic. If not, you have three days for her to flee into the forest. I cannot help you more than this." Araunt turned and left, his scribe pulling the hide door closed behind them.

    Olunwos returned late that afternoon with a basket full of fat crabs. Kanwe watched in silence as she prepared them for their supper. His beautiful wife had not aged a day since he had brought her home from the forest. The gray in her hair was colored with lye, the wrinkles carefully painted on each morning. Away from the jealous eyes of the other women, Olunwos did not stoop or shuffle with age. He waited until they had finished their stew to tell her what Araunt had told him.

    "He did not forbid me to go with you," Kanwe said. "If you return to the forest, to the home of your father, I will go with you."

    Olunwos shook her head. "You paid my bride-price; my father's house is closed to me. Nor would I return there, even if I could; you cannot enter the spirit world alive and I will not go without you."

    "Then I will go with you into the ocean," said Kanwe. "I would drown in your arms rather than spend my old age grieving."

    "There is another way," she said. "I could change my shape, and stay with you, hidden."

    Kanwe frowned, a face he did not often make. He knew that Olunwos, like all spirits, had the power to take whatever form pleased them, but at the cost of their impossibly long lives. Becoming a woman had already taken many years of Olunwos's life. That was why she did not alter her shape, to appear to age as humans did. To take another form might mean her death. But if she did not, her death was certain.

    "I will change my shape to a small creature, and that will not cost me so much of my life," she said. "I will not be as beautiful as before, and you will have to persuade another woman to cook for you. But we will be together, in some way, and perhaps I can use my new shape to find out what has happened to the children."

    In the morning Kanwe went to Araunt's house and said that he had driven Olunwos wailing into the forest. The villagers were relieved that Kanwe was not as grief-laden as they had expected. If Araunt thought it odd, or noticed that Kanwe had developed a habit of muttering under his breath, he said nothing. No one noticed the slender green mantis that rode in a fold of Kanwe's clothing.

    Olunwos enjoyed her new shape. She slept in Kanwe's belt-pouch during the heat of the day and listened to his music at dusk. When the village was
    silent and asleep she crept through cracks and gaps in the walls of the village's homes, watching the children sleep and waiting to see what had happened to so many of them. She did not need to wait long. One hot night, when the doors were pinned open to allow cool breezes to flow inside, she heard footsteps, soft as a cat's, on the wooden planks laid across the mud of Araunt's threshold. She hopped down from the wall as four creatures moved towards the children's sleeping mats. They had pointed ears and long teeth like wolves; their heads were as bald as polished stones. As with all creatures that take human form but are not truly human, the smallest finger of their left hands were missing. They crept towards the children with terrible purpose.

    In the blink of an eye Olunwos changed her form.

    Araunt woke to the screams of his family. His children were safe and huddled in arms of their terrified mother. A praying mantis the size of a pig
    stood calmly in the center of his house, black, stinking blood dripping from its spined forelegs. The insect dipped its head in respect. "Araunt, please call your scribe," it said in the voice of Olunwos. "I have killed two of the goblins that would have eaten your children. We must talk." [2]

    The entire village was roused from sleep. Araunt dragged the corpses of the goblins out into the firelight for all to see. The grandmothers wailed at
    the sight. Kanwe, too, shuddered. He knew the old tales, had even told them on dark nights to some of the older children who thought themselves afraid of nothing. Goblins were powerful, evil spirits that dug their warrens under battlefields and barrows. They decorated their lairs with their ancestors' bones. [3] They could not bear the clean rays of the sun and came out only at night. They would eat animals, and each other, but most of all they prized the taste of human children. The stories had been told as warnings as long as anyone could remember, as a warning; no human had claimed to have seen a goblin in over a hundred years. Yet there lay two of them dead, and two had escaped to warn the others.

    Olunwos, again in the form of a woman, sat next to Kanwe as the elders argued with Araunt about what they should do. The villagers avoided her still, out of shame now rather than anger. Only Kanwe knew that the white streaks in her strawberry hair were real, now, and the dark circles under her eyes had not been rubbed in with soot. He took her hand in his, both of their fingers now knobbed with age.

    The arguments went on well past sunrise. The people gathered around when Araunt called for his scribe. To Kanwe's surprise, he pointed to the old
    musician. "Araunt wears the ivory circlet and speaks," he said. "The goblins must be great in number to have taken so many children. We cannot stay another night and risk being murdered in our beds. You, Kanwe, will lead the women, the children, the grandmothers and grandfathers, away from this place into the high steppes. The men will sleep during the day and we will wait here for the goblins to come. When we have killed or driven them all away, we will light a signal-fire that you can see from your camp, and you will lead them home." He paused. "And I remove the death pronounced on your wife, Olunwos, who saved the lives of my children."

    He turned irritably at the open-mouthed villagers. "Go! All of you who can stay and do battle, send your families with Kanwe. You must be far into
    the hills before the goblins come." They obeyed, scooping up all they could carry and discarding what they could not. There were some still who remembered the days of wandering, before Araunt's grandfather settled the people here and built the village, and they guided the young ones in preparing to leave.

    Kanwe shuffled close to Araunt and spoke to him in a low voice so that even Olunwos would not hear. "Araunt, I thank you for sparing my wife, and for the honor of leading the children to safety, but why choose me as leader? Surely one of the elders commands authority I do not?"

    Araunt drew Kanwe into a tight embrace. "The children," he whispered. "They pay no mind to the elders when they think they are not being watched. The women will be too harried to keep them all moving. But you, Kanwe, you are loved by all the children. They will swarm around you to hear your music and sing rhymes with you. You will set the pace, and the children will follow you." He released the older man and patted him on the shoulder. "Go now. We may die here, or we may drive the goblins into the sea, but you will be safe."

    At midday the long procession left the village. Kanwe walked at its head, his little drum slung at one hip, the seal-fur cloak that had been his father's carefully packed away in Olunwos's bundles. He played a merry tune on his flute with his sun hand and kept time on his little drum with the left. The
    children swarmed around him, just as Araunt had said, begging him to play this song or that one, pestering him with questions and tripping over each other as they darted back and forth jostling for Kanwe's attention. A few asked Olunwos to turn into a praying mantis again, and were quickly shushed by their mothers.

    The sun hung red over the ocean when they reached the place where the trail upward had been. Travelers from the far steppes were few; the last news the village had had of this path was many years old. It looked as though the earthquakes that came nearly every winter had struck hardest here. There had once been a shallow valley that sloped down before rising back toward the sky. Now it was a chasm that gaped like a wound. It was steep and its walls flaked with loose rock. It would have been a dangerous climb for a young man, certain death for an old man or a young child.

    The people milled about in fear. To try and walk around would take them past sunset, even if they could be sure of safe path elsewhere. They could
    not camp here and be sure of safety from wild animals or worse. The children cried and rubbed their eyes, and even Kanwe's silliest songs could not calm them.

    Olunwos gently laid her hand on Kanwe's shoulder. He felt the weariness in her. Changing her shape had robbed her not only of years, but of the
    energy of her life; she seemed older now than he. "My love," she said, "we must cross into the steppes. The goblins could follow us across the lowlands, but the chasm will stop them. We must cross it."

    "We have no bridge," he told her sadly. "The trees are too far, even if we could fell one and push it across as a bridge."

    She took his wrinkled face in her old woman's hands. There was still the sparkle of a young girl's love in her eye. she kissed him, twice, then turned and cupped her hands over her mouth. "Children!" she cried. "Who wants a ride on old Olunwos's back?"

    The children hesitated, then gathered around her with their eyes wide. She looked them over and frowned in mock disappointment. "So many of you!" she said. "We will be up until the moon's next change if I have to carry one of you at a time. I shall just have to carry all of you at once."

    She stepped over the edge of the chasm. Kanwe cried out in fear. Olunwos did not fall. Her legs grew long and thick. Her shoulders swelled. Her shadow in the setting sun spread out behind her like blood on the ground as she grew into a giant, her skin the same dull red of the earth. She knelt in the chasm and laid her head on the other side.

    "Come, little ones," she whispered, her dying voice like wind rattling over pebbles. "Climb on my back."

    And they did, Kanwe leading the way with the children behind him. They clambered over the hills that had been her hips and walked single file up the sloping plain that had been her back. [4] Kanwe did not play songs for the children, now. He played the songs of mourning and loss as his feet moved
    over earth where his hands had moved, once, when those places had been his wife's smooth skin. They followed the curve of her bent neck into the jagged steppe and walked until they reached a high hill. In the last light, they could see the village far below.

    The people woke at daybreak to see the signal fire proudly burning in the village. They made their return journey with less fear, but with great sorrow. None needed to ask what happened to Olunwos; turned forever to rock and earth, her body remained in the chasm, a bridge for her adopted people to return home. Many of the children, as they walked across, patted the smooth columns of stone that had once been her hair, and now only only made pretty lines through the flat red earth.

    Araunt was the first to notice that Kanwe was not among those joyously welcomed home. He questioned the children, but none of them remembered when they had last seen him; none knew if he had come back to the village before slipping away. The women did not know if he had stayed behind in the hills or had come home only to wander off into the forest, where he had once gone to woo his bride.

    The chasm is still there; the shifting of the earth never closed it or collapsed the bridge that many travelers say looks so much like a crouching
    woman, if you look at it just so. Few dare make that trip across the eastern steppes; the land is rough and there are high winds that scour the mountains even in summer.

    Some say that when the winds slow, as if to catch their breath, they sound almost like the sweet trill of a flute.

  3. #203
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    Whew! Now I can go read Orchid Blossom's story.

  4. #204
    The only thing that really bothered me about running Ceramic DM was the people who asked rudely why they hadn't recieved judgements yet (gathering judgements form up to 3 continents all around can be time consuming) and letting down the people who asked politely because i also assumed the wait- no matter how long or brief, was interminable.

    *drums fingers*

  5. #205
    Quote Originally Posted by mythago
    Whew! Now I can go read Orchid Blossom's story.
    The great pity is that, having matched you two in the first round, one of you will not advance.

    I'd be willing to sit through a whole lot more stories like this pair.

    Many thanks.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sialia
    The great pity is that, having matched you two in the first round, one of you will not advance.

    I'd be willing to sit through a whole lot more stories like this pair.

    Many thanks.
    You can say that again! I read Orchid Blossom's story and thought it was a shoo-in for the next round, and then read Mythago's. Talk about a close match! Best two stories so far in the competition, IMO.

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    I have been trying so hard to avoid reading any of the stories. Call me silly, but I am trying to keep my muse undistracted. But, it is getting increasingly difficult to avoid reading these stories when I have comments like this popping up!

    I'm looking forward to some wonderful reading once I am finished with the contest.

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    So far I've only read my opponent's story. No use getting intimidated too early.

  9. #209
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    Thanks so much for the kind comments. It's been a long time since I wrote anything, and it's good to know I haven't gone completely rusty.

    I've also been avoiding reading the stories, so I now have many to go back and read.

  10. #210
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    A 1e title so awesome it's not in the book (Lvl 21)

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    I know the waiting is hard. But the holiday weekend made judging a bit tricky, and we'll be back with the first judgments as soon as we can. Think of it as prolonging the anticipation.

    In the mean time, it's time for...

    Match 7 - Wandering Monster vs BardStephenFox. Entries are due 72 hours from this time stamp. More of Sialia's artwork, here, as well. Enjoy, and good luck!
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