|Enemy Mine Series
Table of contents and opening scene of
A Novella by
Barry B. Longyear
"U.S.E . Force"
From The Jaren
Ahrm was but a tiny village, no more than a wide place in the road on the way to the golden city of Meydal, but its single dusty street crowded with wattle huts was the center of my universe. As a tikiruch, a carefree preschooler running naked with my mates, nothing seemed more important to me than joining in Jaren with Vastar. All the children of Ahrm admired Vastar, for even as a callow tikiruch, he stood a head or better above the rest of us, could outrun us all, and could wrestle any three of his mates to the ground. In our games, he would choose them, organize them, then win them. When we would take our water guns and deploy through the jungle to ambush phantom armies and shadow monsters, Vastar would always lead us. Even the elders at the evening meeting fire would nod at him, knowing someday Vastar would Di a Jaren, and because of that the Jaren would be great and do heroic deeds. Such would reflect well on Ahrm. I would daydream, but deep in my heart I knew that when Vastar formed his Jaren, I would not find myself one of its five. But toothless old Jevvey, my grandmother, had the faith that I lacked. She once sat before her hut tending her evening meal, stripped sa wrapped in yanna leaves baked in the ground over a bed of turawood coals. She sat as motionless as a smoke blackened carving, her straggles of thin white hair hanging at the sides of her head.
"The evening finds you sad, little one."
I looked down and nodded. "Yes, Grandmother."
"Must I pull the reason from you as the fishers drag eels from their holes?"
I sighed, then shrugged. "Grandmother, will I never be joined in Jaren?"
The old woman snorted. "You are the son of the Ice Flower and the Silver Bird, two respected Jarens. You ask foolish questions."
"But, I am small. Even you call me 'little one.' What Jaren would have me?"
Jevvey shook her head. "The ghosts of my Jaren mates weep at your foolishness. Take care, else they shall steal into your hut and rob you of your breath."
I frowned. "I am not a child, Grandmother. You can't frighten me with tales of ghosts."
Jevvey looked at me, her eyes soft and black. "Eeola, I am the last of my Jaren, yet my mates still stand with me. They will always be with me until they call me to the endless sleep." She poked at the steaming ground with a stick. "One day you shall be part of a respected Jaren, and, perhaps years from now, you will see that the Jaren is forever. We are but bone and flesh, but the Light that fills you as an adult never dies." She sniffed and began scooping off the dirt from the cooked sa. "It is time for you to go home, little one."
I stood, wished her a good night, then walked the darkening path to my father's hut. Had I not been despondent about my chances of being joined in Jaren, the talk of ghosts would have hurried my steps. Instead, my feet dragged through the dust as I listened to tikiruch being called to mealtime by their mothers.
One day a few of us joined Vastar on one of his daring exploits. The kiruchta, the older schoolers, were at a clearing deep in the jungle, practicing with shield and wand under the stern instruction of Lodar, the village fencing master. Although the wands were at low energy output, a burst or slash on naked skin would blister it. A stray beam could blind a wide-eyed tikiruch, which is why we were forbidden to watch them practice, and which is why we skulked through the jungle to observe our seniors being put through their drills.
Crouching on all fours, peering out from beneath broad yanna leaves, our disrespectful band watched with eager eyes as the kiruchta, paired off in twos and traded beams and parries. Each student wore the be, the half-dress wrapped around the waist with the tail pulled between the legs and tucked in front. Their skins were already the deep brown of rich soil, with streaks of pink on cheeks, shoulders and thighs showing where wands in quick hands had found their marks. Each student held the clear wand, each tipped with its burning blue jewel, in the left hand, while right hands clasped the grips of black deflection shields. We giggled watching the students going walleyed, with one eye on opponent and the other on Lodar. No student dared let a stray beam fall on the fencing master, for Lodar would take this as a challenge. The student would then have to square off with the master and take his licks.
Lodar strode among the sweating students, pointing here and commenting there. He wore the nabe, the forest green full-dress of an adult. His shield was slung on his back, but his wand was kept at the ready in his left hand. After a few moments of watching, we noticed one of the students being bested by an opponent obviously his superior at arms. With wand and shield, the hapless kiruchta defended himself in a blur of arms, but the coins of chance were against him. As he backed away, the tail of his be untucked and fell behind his scrabbling feet, where he stepped upon it, pulling the entire dress from his waist.
As we pained at our stifled giggles, none of us noticed Lodar slip into the jungle and come up behind us. The grizzled old master must have smiled as he saw our row of brown bums sticking out at him from under the yanna plants, but in the flash of an eye our giggles turned to yelps. Our band jumped to its feet, each one clutching a burning cheek in each hand. Lodar's skilled wand had played across our buttocks, and for the next few days there would be much sleeping on stomachs and eating while standing in the village of Ahrm. The master scolded us and sent us running back toward the village to nurse our dignities.
Each one of us bore a pink stripe as evidence of our infraction, and we were reluctant to bring them to our huts, for when we did our parents would discover our sin. Until the pain of Lodar's wand eased, none of us could bear having the hard hands of our angry fathers popping off our burned and chubby cheeks. Most of the others fled to hideouts of their own, while Vastar, Gemislor, Dob, Timbenevva and I sulked in the brush behind the village. None of the others were crying, but it was almost more than I could do to swallow my own tears. The Shikazu take humiliation hard, and our striped buttocks would be cause for jokes and laughter for years to come. Our faces burned more fiercely than did our bums.
While we stood sullenly, rubbing our humiliated flesh, I remember thinking, with the perspective of youth, that I could not possibly survive that moment. It was then that Vastar laughed. The cream blond of his mane shook, then he threw his head back and howled. Leaping atop a stump, he held out his arms. "Gather 'round me, mates; gather 'round."
The four of us stood before the stump, our humiliation temporarily forgotten in our concern for our friend's sanity. He laughed at the sky, then looked down at us. "Mates, this day we have all been blooded with the same wand, and it is no shame to have Lodar's fire kiss your skin." He smiled, then nodded. "We are one in this, mates, and I would now form my Jaren. Gemislor, will you join me?"
Gemislor nodded, his eyes glowing. The elders had commented at many fires at how slow our generation of tikiruch was in forming Jarens. Many of them thought it was a sign that the Shikazu spirit was on the wane, but the cause was nothing so profound. We were all waiting for Vastar to form his Jaren in the hopes of being among its number. "And, you, Dob. Will you join me?"
Dob's hulking shoulders pulled back as his spine straightened. "Aye, Vastar. Aye."
"And, you, Timbenevva?"
"Aye. Your Jaren I will join."
Vastar turned toward me. I was smaller than the others and the worst runner in Ahrm. My most outrageous dreams did not see me thus. I swear my heart jumped as Vastar spoke. "And, you, Eeola. Will you join me?"
My heart stopped as I felt my mouth ask the question it had to ask. "Why me, Vastar? Why do you choose me?" I waved my hand at the others. "The blind can see why you choose Gem, Dob and Tim; they are tall, strong, brave."
My lower lip trembled as Vastar stepped down from his stump and placed his hands on my shoulders. "Eeola, a great Jaren must have more than brawn and speed; it must also have brains. This is what my father has taught me, and he speaks the truth. You are the smartest tikiruch in Ahrm, except for me. What do you say? Will you join me?"
I nodded as my face exploded into smiles. Vastar smiled back, then turned and mounted his stump. "Our Jaren is formed, and we shall swear so before the meeting fire tonight."
"Vastar," called Timbenevva. "We may wear our paint now that the Jaren is formed. What shall our symbol be?" Dob admired the blue painted flying creature he had seen on the left arms of a Jaren from another village. Gem insisted on the bright yellow lightning bolts he had seen on a warrior's hairy chest. Tim and I were both shouting for attention when Vastar held up his hands for silence. "Listen, mates. Our sign shall be a single red bar," he turned around and pointed at the pink stripe across his bum, "worn here."
Vastar raised his brow at us, we stood in silence for an instant, then all laughed. We would be spared our fathers' wrath, for the paint would hide the evidence. Laughing so hard he was barely able to stand, Dob ran to the village to secure paint and brushes. In the span of a few seconds I had become locked in life with the finest Jaren Ahrm would ever see, and had adopted a curious sign that we would all be sworn to defend with our lives. Of such things are symbols made and destinies forged.
That night the five of us stood across the meeting fire from the hedman of Ahrm and declared our Jaren, our brightly painted backsides facing the people of the village. As I stood with my four tall companions, I could feel the eyes of envy dancing on my back. The pungent smell of turawood came from the fire while the pops and hisses joined the flickering light creating an aura that took us all back to the primitive ages of the first Jarens. The hedman, his deep green nabe decked with golden chains, looked up from the village book wherein was entered the signs of all the village Jarens. His voice, though strong, was rough with age. Nevertheless, he fixed us all with an unblinking black-eyed gaze. "There is no record of a Jaren of the Redbar in Ahrm." He closed the book and held out his arms. "This, then, is the Jaren of the Redbar?"
"Aye." We all responded with our heads bowed. "Do you swear that your lives, your fortunes, and your futures are now as one, in the name of the Light?"
"We swear it."
"And who shall Di the Jaren of the Redbar?"
All but Vastar lifted their heads. "Vastar of Ahrm is our Di."
"And, this shall ever be so?"
The hedman nodded, then looked at Vastar. "Di of the Jaren of the Redbar."
Vastar looked up. "l am Vastar."
"Do you swear to Di this Jaren with fairness, strength, wisdom, and to do your best to bring it before the Light?"
"I so swear."
The hedman looked down, opened the book and held out a single brush dipped in red paint. "Make the mark of the Redbar, then, Vastar, and bring honor to your village." The people of the village cheered as our Di walked around the fire, took the brush and made the mark of the Redbar in the book. When he rejoined us, the five of us turned and faced the people, our chests bursting with pride. Our fathers and mothers stood up from the seated people and came to us.
On the dark path leading to my father's hut, my mother kissed me, then swiftly ran ahead to relate the news to my grandmother. My father placed a massive hand on my shoulder. "Eeola, I am pleased for you---and proud. I can tell you now that, because of your size, I feared no Jaren would take you. But, this---it is more than I could have hoped for. Vastar will be a great Di, and you all will bring glory to the symbol of the Redbar."
I suppressed a desire to laugh and only nodded. "It is good that I pleased you, father."
We walked in silence for a time, then my father stopped, pulling me to a halt beside him. He had a curious expression on his face. "Eeola, might I ask you a question?"
"Of course, Father."
"The symbol of the Redbar; you wear it higher up than the others. Why is that?"
I felt my face flush in the dark. "It . . . it's because they are so much taller than I am ... Father.
My father's right eyebrow went up, while the other curled into a frown. A twinkle grew in his black eyes, then his face relaxed. He nodded and resumed walking down the path. "Come, Eeola. It is time we were getting to our sleeping mats."
I gulped and followed . . . ..
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