I have taken a mate. There must be life, I have decided. I am now content with the responsibility of remembering, and our numbers have stabilized. If I perish – the fates being kind – perhaps my sons will take my place. She is called Krytay, my mate. She is tall, proud, and silent. Few of our women are as silent as she. Krytay will make for fine sons – long, with muscular lower limbs for climbing like their mother, and with broad backs and strong hands from me. We will breed here, and become of the mountain as we were once of the dry lands that the herders have claimed as their own. I have lived twenty suns. I no longer believe it to be one sun too many.
We stand at the mountains’ clearing, nearing the end of our journey. The valley before us is strange, rife with rock and greenery. The jagged cliffs intersect here, with white-capped mountains both behind us and distant beyond the valley. As we descend to the valley floor, we can see water that slides alongside the mountains like a child with its parent. We have no word for this water among my People. We are fortunate to pull a day’s water from the few plants that survive in our homeland. This place has more than is needed, an obscenity of riches.
Though winter, it is not as cold in this valley, and the floor is coated with a carpet of low, green plants. They are cool and soothing against our feet. Perhaps if this plant had marked our path, more of us would have survived. Hundreds, perhaps, died of infection caused by blisters on their unsoled feet. Still, we would refuse their soles again.
“There, you lot,” grunts the lead herder.
I am careful not to meet his gaze again. Krytay fears I will not survive another beating. I cannot tell her I take his anger with purpose. Ire will help me to remember our dead. We are marking time, all of us. There will be a day, one day soon on which I shall sing the songs of the dead. Until then, I wait, as Krytay asks. She is mine, and therefore, I am hers.
The lead herder points to a ragged, rocky face that is carved from a mountain. Within, there is a gaping pit as deep as ten men are high, and as wide as a half-hour’s march. The black rock is visible everywhere, dotted with the green stone. The greenery stops short of this place, as if it knows that it is unclean. Diop-cha, the teacher, suggests that the herders’ machines have torn this stone from the mountain in search of the green stones. They are worth nothing to us, but the herders would move the heavens to this pit to have them.
Some of the People tremble at seeing the black rocks. These are not merely mountains. They are fire mountains that belch the black stones. Even to our homelands are the stones carried. They are the source of the black dust that streaks our beige sand with midnight hues. They are the origin of the sacred obsidian paint we use to adorn ourselves for the night hunts. Interspersed with them are lighter rocks that turn to paste when crushed. The paste we wear like flesh, shielding us from the roasting sun. These are the life-giver stones that allow us to live in the dry lands. From this mountain, we are born. From these stones, we are given the world. We are the Cji’kopt-chja – the People of the Day and of the Night.
Without the stones and the rocks, our People would have never prospered. The herders wear their cloths that shine like pools of water in the sun. They marvel that we can survive the elements with only our flesh as protection. However, the life-giver paste is our “flesh.” The intruders do not understand, because we do not tell them. The stones are life. The rocks are sacred.
We should not be in this place.
Krytay takes my arm, in secret, and buries her nails within my flesh. It is good. My blood runs with her anger and my own. I have chosen well.