The dawn watch began the waking-song, low voices warbling at the edge of Sfza that faced the sea. In the row houses, the hearth-wardens tending the fires took it up, singing softly, and brown bodies stretched and scratched, yawned and rose to make water outside. Some were already up and about, stepping quiet as could be between the other sleepers for pre-morning chores, couples engaged in quiet lovemaking. Those whose shift it was took up the song as the wardens went to find their own beds, feeding dry sticks into the fire to raise the flames.
Daana Sendaugha kissed her lovers as she rose, and reminded herself to take the bitter herb today, because she still did not yet feel ready for a child. She opened the skins tied to the walls to let in the light and the air. The Daughters in the Grafza house were already at their exercises, women moving through the slow rhythms and poses of the moving meditation; the Sons sat a ways away, braiding each other's hair, the old men painting the faces and bodies of the young men. Their Speech was still strange, words clipped and full of new words, and Daana liked to listen to their stories, for their Mothers knew tales of Orbach that none others in Sfza had heard.
Taking her basket, Daana headed down to the beach with the others, with their wooden rakes and stone knives, part of the throng who combed the shores and shallows for the clams and the skittering crabs; to hunt with net and spear for the small fish and sharks in the deeper waters. The children came behind, herded by the old men and women, to gather driftwood, salt, and seashells, singing their own songs. A small group brought a fire-pot, which curled with smoke, and set up by the smoke-tent on the path from the beach to the Sfza, beside the great shell-middens. Through the morning the baskets were filled and taken to the tent to be cleaned, salted, and set to smoke. Daana's stomach growled, but the best crabcakes would wait for a few hours, when the old mothers had crushed the herbs and stoked the fire and set the tubers to bake near the coals, and the porters would bring the beer so that the sea-gatherers could break their fast properly.
Daana returned as Jonze was being untied from the pole. Black shit caked his thighs, and his lips were cracked and parched, and none would meet his eyes as the old women unthreaded the rope that had been tied through a hole cut in his lips. Three days was too little for what he had done, but it was the penalty that had been assigned, and perhaps now he would learn to ask before taking.
Flabby-breasted grandmothers cackled obscene jokes while rolling cigarillos of strong herbs as Daana passed, and the men tugged at their beards and shook their heads at the youths of today, who did not wish to join the Society of the Great Elk, but formed their own crude gangs, the Black Crabs and the Blood Wolves and other outrageous names. Daana laughed at the laments, and wondered if she would bitch as much should she live so long.
In the bathing-pool, Daana stripped and scrubbed, gossiping with the other men and women, watching a few young girls disappear together into the rushes for sport with a smile. When she was a girl, her own elders might have seen them beaten for such behavior, but times changed. The coming of the Grafza, the debate on the Sayings of Orbach, which recognized the Maiden's Rights, the overthrow of old Tmoch who had taken too many liberties during the puberty rites...and with him, many of those Elkers who had sworn by him, and hung their heads when they heard what he had done.
The news came with a yell as bright-eyed Yonya ran up to the shore, his eyes blacked to protect them from the glare of the sun, shell-beads woven into his hair. Daana listened as he said that the Sal-Tzona were three days away, and wished to hold moot on the grassy hills beyond Sfza. Daana felt her heart quicken; the tally-counters had said they would be by this moon, and there was much to prepare. The Sal-Tzona brought the most popular songs from the villages to the east, aromatic woods that did not grow near Sfza, amber and copper too, and that strange beer that everyone always drank too much of. The noise level grew as Yonya ran on, carrying the news.
There was much to do before they arrived - to set up the hearth for the sacrifice, the timing and preparation of the feast, the invocation...she remembered last year, when she had watched them doing their leaping dance by the fire, and dragged down a wiry pale-limbed boy with the most beautiful strange eyes...and sat up debating the Sayings of Orbach long into the night with a warm little thing that she was tempted to beg to stay. She had woken the next morning with a sore ass, a hangover, a Sal-Tzona sun-sigil tattoo'd on her arm, and three of her best shell-bracelets missing. With a smile, she shook the six shell-bracelets on her wrist, listening to them clink against each other, and hoped this year she would remember more...
Behind the glass, a bare-breasted plaster woman sat before a fire, her back to the wall of a rough cave. She wore no ornaments, her dress was little more than a dearskin frock. On the back wall of the exhibit was painted a great savannah, where a family unit of mammoths roamed; a man with a spear was just visible in the tall grass. Held up on a plinth nearby was the dirty brown-and-yellow skull, broken and missing teeth, a small dead thing.
"We still don't know much about this culture," the melodic electronic tour voice droned musically, "because little of their material culture has come down to us. Anthropologists can only speculate as to what their immaterial culture and society might have been like..."