When Flashbacks Are Flashbacks on a Couple Levels

flashback-clockI have mentioned my Dump file before and how I use it. Mining for nuggets of insight, story fodder, and even scene snippets or dialogue is helpful when you feel like you’re stuck in a creative rut.

I have been working on some scenes that involve more of my desert people: the folks introduced in my story Kasima’s Gift, and I decided that it would be a good idea to insert a flashback from the land’s ancient history to elucidate some of the current happenings.

“How ancient?”

Quite.

Many things have changed between then and now in the land’s history, but I’m a believer in cycles of time and things going around and around, especially in my fictional escapades.

So here’s a bit that I cobbled together from things I’ve written in the past and hung onto. It’s a flashback view of something that happened a very long time ago and is going to be nestled somewhere important in the book when I get it finished.

I just really enjoyed writing this and wanted to share it.

desert-at-night

Bafgh Desert at Night — Photo by Mohammed Reza

 

Long ago….

The setting sun hung low in the western sky, a wavering orb of deep orange that cast long shadows over the caravan roads. The dying light left the heavens bruised with deep purple clouds lingering close to the horizon. The tribes had been making these journeys and taking these routes for as long as anyone alive could remember, and much longer than time could forget. Now it was one family in particular who took the time to make a cautious trip from their normal grounds just at the fork of the Eagle’s river west towards the Waste. It was for a single purpose that the horse lords traveled. One of their number, a woman, was with child and sought the words of the tribe’s Shuvani to tell her what would befall the baby in the years of its life.

The Shuvani held untold power and respect. Even among those tribes who saw the male as superior to the female, none would dare defile the sacredness of her station. The desert people did not record their histories with ink and parchment, quill and books bound in animal hide inscribed with many strange markings. For them, all that was needed was the campfire, the stories, the Shuvani’s sacred wisdom, passed down from mistress to student through rites unknown to those outside of her circle.

It was a mystery.
It was sacred.
It was the old way.

Suddenly the wind gusted and a cloud of sand lifted from the forsaken earth to sting the eyes and choke the throats of the travelers. They huddled together, turning their backs to the desert’s bite in unison, wheeling horses around with expert practice. Not a word was uttered, not even a spoken command. A circle was formed and they stood there, twenty or so riders, shielding one another as best they could, each waiting for the wind to die so they could continue.

As quickly as it came, the storm stopped and the group turned around to carry on. The pregnant woman rode in the center, surrounded on all sides by her family. Hardly a word was spoken, or had been. Each person present was caught within their own thoughts. It was bad luck to speak once the trek had begun unless it was absolutely necessary. It was known the gods spoke with one another this night, arranging the stars for the child’s destiny. None wanted to offend them with an offhanded comment and doom the unborn.

Finally, the dying light of the sun was replaced by the gentle glow of a full moon. It illuminated them from behind, casting a teasing array of shadows on the ground before them. The mother-to-be watched them with the dizziness that followed a long fast. Yet despite it all, she stayed upright in the saddle, one hand lightly grasping the rein of her horse, the other resting on the swell of her belly just beneath the folds of deep ruby colored silk. She smiled. What could the Shuvani say that would deter a woman from the excitement of her first child’s birth?

Not a single word.

The troupe of travelers approached the ring of wooden stakes and lit torches that marked the boundary of the Shuvani’s tent and stopped. In a few moments, the mother arrived at the head of the line. Two men slid from the backs of their horses and approached her, the younger, a dark-skinned warrior of about thirty years helped her down. She took his hand to steady herself as he guided her to the ground. Years of experience had taught her balance, grace… but now she moved clumsily, with her back arched and her stride wider.

The older man approached her. Though he said nothing, there were unshed tears in his eyes. A smile lay beneath them. He took her in his burly embrace and kissed her lingeringly on the forehead. With a final glance back to the crowd of familiar faces who had escorted her, the mother gave a deep nod of silent thanks. She then took a breath and began to approach the tent.

Alone.

* * *

Within the tent, there was a small fire ringed by apple-sized stones of deep amber. The flames were low and little smoke was offered. This was a good thing as the Shuvani’s tent afforded little extra space and no real opening for the smoke to escape once the tent flap was closed. As Arani entered, expected, the Shuvani rose to close the flap.

The woman was ancient. Her skin was dark burnished copper and the young mother could see the ridges of veins and bones beneath the paper-thin flesh. Her grey hair was arranged with several braids hanging behind her ears, each decorated with bits of bone, feather, and beads of clay, the ends of which landed at her waist while behind her it seemed the Shuvani’s locks ended just past her hips. She shuffled past the young woman, neither bare foot leaving the ground between her steps. The Shuvani closed the door with the release of a simple tie that had been holding the flap back. It shut with a quiet swish of fabric, sealing off the light from the ring of torches outside and leaving the young mother alone facing the Shuvani across the flickering embers of the central fire pit. The old woman smiled a toothless grin, the light of the fire catching in her deep brown eyes and revealing the active mind hidden in the withered form. She spoke and her voice was the sound of a dry wind moving fallen leaves over the ground.

“What do you seek, my child?” The woman reached into a pouch tied at her hip and withdrew a handful of sick-sweet scented herbs. Tossing them into the fire, a dozen small sparks jumped into the air between them.

She had received no foreknowledge of what this particular ritual entailed and had only been told to trust the Shuvani, speak from your heart, and do not be frightened. It took a few moments of heavy silence for her to gather her thoughts. The potent herbs made that difficult and even now, she felt her awareness lingering on the border between wakefulness and the promise of peaceful slumber. She began to perspire. “I seek the wisdom of the ages, passed through our people and given voice through your knowledge.”

The Shuvani nodded and with a single gesture, signaled by raising her hand, the young mother responded and let the length of red silk fall from her shoulders to leave her nude in the dim firelight and swirling perfumed smoke. The swell of her full belly glistened as rivulets of perspiration beaded on her sun-bronzed skin.

Her eyes closed now and she felt herself sway on her feet. I must stand. I must stand… But the heat was becoming difficult, strenuous to bear. She had not eaten in the day previous and had only water to drink. Now, the Shuvani approached her, humming a monotonous chord from deep within. It seemed odd to hear so powerful a sound come from the small woman, but it was there, deep, coursing, pushing through every thought the young mother struggled to hold. She felt hands on her shoulders, dry hands sliding over her arms as the sonorous humming continued. She felt her baby almost leap in her womb. Between the intoxication of the herbs and the humming, she had drifted beyond normal consciousness. The feel within her flesh of her child responding to the Shuvani jolted her eyes open. The Shuvani’s hands slid over the mother’s breasts and down to the roundness of her lower abdomen. There they rested and the chanting continued. The child moved again.

They are speaking to one another! She didn’t say it, but in her heart, the young woman knew it was so. The Shuvani spoke to the unborn child, reaching her soul even though she had not drawn a breath and had no voice. They spoke. Arani wished she knew what words passed between her baby and this mysterious keeper of the tribe’s history. Finally, the Shuvani’s humming stopped and she let her hands fall back to her sides.

The Shuvani opened her eyes and met the gaze of the young woman evenly.

The Shuvani spoke. “Your daughter will be here in six days’ time. I have read the stars. She is born under the Lion. She will be strong. She will carry on the destiny that you have begun, my child.” She took Arani’s hand and held it between both of hers, patting it gently as she continued. “I gave similar words to your own mother when you were to be born.”

Arani was puzzled and as if she knew, the Shuvani continued, explaining. “Each of us is born to a destiny we choose before life. You chose your path just as assuredly as your girl chose hers. Fate is intertwined, more than simply yours as a mother and daughter. All who meet you are touched by your destiny and thus, your fates are joined.

“You were born under the sign of the Horse. You traveled beyond the borders of our lands. You have sought to join people in peace, fight for justice. You are a leader, a unifier of people. You have chosen a father for this child who is not of your own tribe, just as he chose you. Strength burns within you and your name will not be forgotten among the Children of the Sands.” She gently guided her to sit and began wrapping the red silk around her shoulders once more. “Elarisho has done the same, bringing his tribe back from the edge of destruction. The Alidevoma are again mighty warriors of the desert, proud and unconquered. He has claimed his name and place as Kalim of the Alidevoma. You and Elarisho have joined two tribes together in your union.”

The change in the Shuvani’s tone was like the glow in the sky that grew before the sun was visible. It shifted, but you couldn’t tell at what exact moment you left night behind. The old woman’s voice moved into a sonorous tone of prophecy as she continued, “Your daughter will bear that on, joining our fractured tribes, bringing the Children together again, and on through the line of your blood. The child of Elarisho and Arani will bear the lineage of both your lines into many generations… Though in time they will forget this …” The Shuvani’s words trailed off as her eyes rose to stare into the space above the young woman’s head.

Arani’s brows furrowed. She waited for the rest of the old woman’s words. They came with the scratching whisper of an old woman once again.

“She will die in this cause, my child. There is no avoiding that. She has chosen this path.”

The mother’s breath caught but still, she listened.

The Shuvani continued. “When she dies, she will not join the rest of your ancestors. She will wait. When our people need her the most, she shall return. She shall fulfill her destiny… And she shall remind them we are One.”

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