and the Changa
From the Stardancer Stories
by Barry B. Longyear
The Stardancer: Before this night's fire
on the mesa, I see your eyes watching even as I begin this tale of a
young brave from a very distant tribe called the Lato, which to the
young brave's clan means "the people." From where the Lato, you ask?
Look up. Look higher, above the fire. Over the horizon, deep into this
night's sky, between the most distant stars, there is a world much
different than this desert land of sage and scorpions. The Lato's world
is flat as a lake and always covered with ice. Their braves, though,
are like ours. They must feed their families, protect their homes, and
honor the honorable. Their children, too, are much like you, their most
important challenges still to come.
the peopled worlds there are rites of passage from childhood to
adulthood. Some succeed at these trials; some fail. This young brave's
name was Windrunner, he had thirteen summers in a world that had no
summers, and his time was now . . .
Windrunner awakened from his nightmare to the sounds of the huge blades as they sped across the ice. They rumbled, they chattered, the sounds shaking the hull of the huge wooden ice ship. The rumble was as it should be. The chattering, though, would have Iron Toe frowning, scratching his beard, and preparing to warn the clan father that the blades need sharpening. It was a dangerous time for the ship would be motionless on the ice, prey to any outlaw clan or pack of monsters that could overwhelm the clan's warriors. Windrunner turned in his hammock and pulled the furs up over his head. Dangerous times; there were nothing but dangerous times. Life was a dangerous time.
Windrunner opened his eyes, lifted his head, peeked from beneath his furs, and searched the shadows. There were the still-sleeping shapes of his parents, Moonbow and Frost Flower, in their hammock. In the nearest hammock sleeping like the dead was his younger brother, Green Ice, invisible beneath his pile of furs. Windrunner closed his eyes tightly, forcing away the tears that threatened to shame him.
The bones, ropes, and timbers of the great ice ship creaked as the steady wind tugged on the sails, speeding it across the frozen seas. There was something different. The boy frowned, wondering at the change. The music of the blades had sung him to sleep since his birth thirteen years before. The chattering was nothing new. It happened seven or eight times every year. And the chattering this time was only beginning. There was no reason why the sounds should have awakened him. Perhaps the pilot had changed direction. Starfinder was on the ropes that night. Possibly he had seen an approaching storm or spotted a patch of snow ahead. Perhaps one of the blades had jumped a crack or ridge in the ice. Windrunner sat up in his own hammock, balancing against the swing.
His frown deepened. He knew it wasn't the movement of his clan's great ship. He had slept through windstorms, ice storms, slow snow, thin ice, two broken blades, and once when the Winter Ghost had shattered an outrigger. A mere change of direction or a small bump in the ice wouldn't waken Windrunner. He teased himself for a moment, wondering if it was the Asking that had stolen his sleep. It couldn't be the Asking, he pretended. The ceremony was something he had already made up his mind to refuse. The Asking was settled as far as he was concerned and he refused to think any more about it.
Slipping from beneath his covers, he
pulled on his leathers and furs, and thrust his feet into his fur-lined
boots. The boots went high above his knees, were thick and warm.
Frost Flower had made them for his birthday, so that Windrunner would
be prepared in case he accepted the Asking. He would have refused
his mother's gift, if he knew what she had hoped by the gift. He
would have refused, but his old boots were shabby and too small.
As certainly as the sun crossed the day sky, time was passing and
Windrunner was growing older.
The Asking was no bother, pah! Angry at
himself and his childish games, Windrunner shook his head. He
knew quite well what had taken him from his sleep. He was
thirteen and very soon Blackwater would ask him for the very last time
if he would face the Changa. He closed his eyes tightly and shook his
head. Windrunner's mind regarding the Asking was not as clear as he had
thought. He opened his eyes and finished fastening his wraps. He needed
to feed his worries to the winds......
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