Home > NaNoWriMo 2011 > Day One Hundred and Sixty-six: Rainsinger

Day One Hundred and Sixty-six: Rainsinger

Jundir sat on his heels and watched his grandfather scream at the sky and the sun. The old man had painted himself with dyes that he’d made from crushed desert flowers and his own urine, in designs that swooped and swirled over this wrinkled, sun-baked skin. He shook a staff that was covered with empty seed-pods, the thin, hollow husks rattling together with a sound that was not unlike rain. The man yelled and chanted, his voice rising to angry, ecstatic heights and dropping down to a near murmur at times as he hopped and skipped and danced within the circle of stones that he had laid out. He sang and he danced for the rain to come, to sustain them on their journey of so many years.

Around him, the rest of the wanderers, the Vas’alim, tended to their tasks of preparing food, maintaining their supplies, and doing all of the little chores that were necessary for a group of people that had been living in the dry, unforgiving deserts for more than a generation.

This usually included ignoring the old man.

The position of the sun said that the water hunters should be back soon, and Jundir used his crutch to lift himself up to his feet. His foot. He wanted to go meet them, to be the first to see them return with the sun at their back and the great leather bags draped over their shoulders from wherever it was they had found water for the clan. He knew he’d never join them – a rock-snake had seen to that five years ago. Jundir’s mother told him that he was lucky to be alive, but he had to watch the other boys grow older, endure the rituals of manhood, and go off to bring life to their people while he sat at home among the children and the old.

When he finally came of age, he had begged Ralaer to let him join the water parties, if only as a searcher or a scout. The man looked at him for a long time, and then reached out and snatched away the crutch that Jundir leaned on. The boy hopped on his one leg, torn between fear and anger, and finally settled on outraged silence. He had his arms out for balance, to try and keep from falling while still looking like he was under control.

Then Ralaer hit him with the crutch, and Jundir crumbled to the ground with a yell. He tried to lift himself back up again, but Ralaer pushed him over with the crutch, and Jundir went sprawling into the dirt again. He boy gritted his teeth and looked up with hate in his eyes. With a yell, with arms outstretched and fingers curled into claws, he launched himself at Ralaer, who simply stepped aside and let the boy stumble past him.

Jundir lay on the ground and pounded it with his fist. His tears sliced through the dirt on his face, leaving clear tracks, and he covered his eyes when Ralaer came over and squatted down next to him, his crutch in his hand.

“You can do many things with your life, boy,” he said. “But going out with the Water Hunters is not one of them.” He reached down to help Jundir stand up, but the boy flinched away. He reached out and took the crutch, stood on his one shaky leg, and glared at Ralaer through a mud-stained face. “I am sorry,” the older man said. “That’s just how it is.” His hand had moved as if to clap the boy on the shoulder, but he grimaced, nodded, and then walked away to join the rest of his men.

Now Jundir watched for them to come home.

He stood at the edge of the camp, staring into the sun. He wasn’t aware that his grandfather had stopped chanting until the old man came up behind him and said, “You’ll lose your vision doing that.”

“What does it matter?” Jundir asked.

The old man made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a cough. “You want to be blind as well as crippled? Well… your choice.”

Jundir spun around. “I am not crippled!” he yelled. His grandfather looked exhausted. The old man was sweating, and the designs he’d painted on his skin were starting to run and blur. He was still wearing what he called his “rainbringer’s costume,” cobbled-together clothing that he made out of whatever he was able to borrow or buy from people who had extra. Jundir thought it looked terrible, a mockery of what the Vas’alim Water Hunters and the warriors wore.

He shrugged and ignored the boy’s accusing finger. “And I’m not old,” he said.

Jundir seemed to deflate. “Yes you are, grandfather.” He sighed and looked out at the sunset again. “Just leave me alone.”

“Boy,” the old man said. “You have to accept what you are. This is your life now.” He reached out to touch the crutch, but Jundir yanked it away. “This is who you are, and you have to learn to live with it. Make the best of it.”

“There is no best of this,” Jundir muttered.

“Sure there is,” his grandfather said. “There are so many things that have to be done to keep our tribe going, you’re bound to be good at one of them. Even without the leg.”

Jundir grimaced. “Like what, grandfather? Washing? Cooking? Taking care of the babies and the children and watching them grow up to become Water Hunters and warriors?” He spit. “I’d rather die.”

The words hung in the air for a while, unmoved by the light breeze that came in, shook the sparse desert foliage and left.

“Jundir,” his grandfather said quietly. “I truly am sorry. I wish that snake had never found you. I wish you had been given a chance to grow up to be what you want to be. But… but that’s not what life is. You can’t change the world just by wanting it to be different.”

The words were out of Jundir’s mouth before he could stop them: “Isn’t that what you do, Grandfather?”

His grandfather looked like he’d been slapped. The old man’s lips twitched as if he wanted to say something, but he simply took up his rattling staff, turned around, and limped away.

The Water Hunters came just before the sun disappeared below the horizon, and they had done well. Each one carried a leather bag that sloshed with the water they had recovered from plants and hidden streams and aquifers. The whole town cheered their return, as they always did, and a celebration was planned for that night. Jundir watched the people of his tribe surround the water hunters, and he felt the bile rise in his throat as he turned away.

The celebrations were as big as the tribe could make them. Torches flickered in the darkness and musicians drummed and played flutes for people to dance to. The women wove through the crowd, bearing platters of smoked and cured meats, spicy and rich. They passed around drinks made from the milk of their livestock, with a single drop of the newly-found water added in for good luck. The tribe celebrated the water and all that it meant to them. It was more life, it was health, it was food for their children and it was another day that they all could live.

Jundir sat under a torch and gnawed on a piece of jerky that his mother had given him. “Don’t look like that,” she said. “This is a celebration. No one wants to see you scowl during a celebration.” Jundir didn’t answer her, but watched the Water Hunters as they were passed through the crowd, given hugs and handshakes and kisses. Ralaer strode through them all, and Jundir felt a rage build in him, even after all this time.

His mother put a hand on his back, and he flinched. The look of pity on her face added a new tone to his mood, making it more about disappointment than anger. Her eyes were sad, the way they’d always been since he lost his leg and his future. He wished, secretly, that he could make her happy. But he didn’t see how.

“Your grandfather told me about your argument,” she said. Jundir rolled his eyes and looked away. “What happened?” she asked.

“He was being old and foolish,” he said.

“Your grandfather,” she said, “has been the Rainsinger for this tribe since well before you were born.” She patted his back again. “You should be more respectful.”

He turned to her, his eyes burning. “He’s a stupid old man,” he said, and a few people turned to look at them. “He doesn’t understand anything, mother!”

His mother pursed her lips and nodded. “I think you need to apologize to him,” she said.

Jundir looked at her, incredulous. “What?”

“You heard me.” She took her hand off his back and pointed across the crowd to the tent that wasn’t lit up with torches and braziers. “Go over there and apologize to your grandfather. Tell him what you said, and tell him that you’re sorry.”

He shook his head. “No. I’m not going.”

She grabbed his chin and pulled him close to her. “Yes,” she said. “You are.” He had forgotten, it seemed, that his mother was capable of more emotions than quiet disappointment. He had not seen her angry in a very long time, and the expression on her face reminded him exactly who she was. He tried to match her glare, but it was no use. He could’t even come close.

He pulled away and picked up his crutch. “Fine,” he said. He shoved the rest of the meat in his mouth, stood up, and hobbled through the crowd without looking back.

When he got to the tent, he stood outside for a few minutes. Every other tent but this one was decorated for the celebration. There were colored ribbons and flaming braziers and torches to push back the darkness, but his grandfather’s tent was dark. Jundir thought about this for a moment before he heard his grandfather say, “Come in if you’re coming.” Jundir sighed and pushed open the tent flap with his crutch.

The interior was pitch black, except for the torchlight from the celebration that came in through the doorway. He heard his grandfather grunt as he lifted himself off his bed and uncovered a small pot with glowing coals set in sand. He took a straw, lit it from the coals, and then used it to light a small oil lamp. The room slowly filled with weak amber light, and Jundir’s grandfather sat upright on his bedding to look at his grandson. Jundir stood, uncomfortable, until his grandfather said, “Sit, boy. Don’t make me hurt my neck by looking up at you.”

Jundir hesitated a moment, and then let himself down to sit on the thin braided rug that covered the floor.

“What brings you here, boy?” his grandfather asked.

“I have to…” Jundir bit his lip. “Mother says I have to apologize to you. For today.”

The old man nodded in thought for a moment. “Do you want to apologize?”

Jundir’s face felt hot, and he hoped his grandfather couldn’t see him blush. “No,” he said, a little louder than he expected to.

He grandfather shrugged. “Then it doesn’t really count, does it?” He leaned back and took out a bag, from which he took a small pipe and a pouch of tobacco. In silence, he filled the pipe, used another straw to light it, and took a few puffs. The sweet smoke soon filled the tent. He reached up and pulled a cord that hung from the ceiling, which opened a small hole in the canvas. He puffed it a few more times and then offered it to Jundir. The boy stared at the pipe for a moment, and then took it.

It wan’t a sacred pipe, to be sure. It wasn’t used in any rituals or any rites. It was just a little pipe that someone had carved out of wood and horn. Jundir put it to his lips and took a small puff of smoke. A moment later, his eyes were running and he was coughing so hard that he thought his chest would burst. When his breath and his sight returned to him, he looked up at his grandfather, expecting the old man to be rolling in laughter at his grandson’s youth and inexperience.

But he wasn’t. He was simply looking at Jundir with serious eyes. The bitter remark that Jundir was ready to throw at his grandfather evaporated in his throat as he exhaled. The old man reached out, and Jundir carefully gave him the pipe back. His grandfather took a few more puffs of it, then cupped it in his hands as he looked long and hard at his grandson. “Do you know what I do?” he asked.

The question didn’t seem to make sense to Jundir. It sounded like one of those trick questions that he’d heard in stories, where the animal-gods ask a riddle of the hero, who has to answer it correctly if he wants to live. After a moment, Jundir said, “You’re a Rainsinger, grandfather.”

The old man nodded. “And what does that mean?”

The feeling of a trap grew in Jundir’s mind. “It means… you sing to the spirits for rain. You ask the gods to -”

He broke off. His grandfather was shaking his head in amusement. “No, no,” he said with a soft smile on his face. “I wish it was that easy.” He stood up and stretched, and his joints cracked when he did. “Being a Rainsinger requires three things, boy.” He walked across to the other side of the tent, where something was hanging on one of the tentpoles. It was small, and covered with a cloth. “You need to be a keen observer, for one. The sky and the clouds and the plants and the animals – they’ll tell you when rain is coming, if you know how to look at them.” He took the thing down, carefully. “You need to be persistent. A Rainsinger isn’t always going to be right.” He chuckled. “In fact, you’re wrong more often. But fortunately, people don’t remember that as long as you’re right often enough.” He sat down on his bedding again, cradling the cloth-covered object, which kept Jundir’s gaze. “And you need to be lucky.” The old man looked up at him with a smile on his face.

“That’s what every Rainsinger needs. But it helps to have a fourth thing, if you want to be a really good Rainsinger.” He held up the object in his hands. “A secret,” he said, and he took the cloth cover off.

It was made of glass, and it shimmered in the lamplight. Glass was a rarity among the Vas’alim. It was fragile and hard to find, which made it a liability among a nomadic people. There wasn’t much you could do with glass that you couldn’t do with more durable materials. But this was beautiful. It was the shape of a great teardrop, with a tall spout coming off the front. Inside there was water, which had somehow been colored blue. That was even more of a shock than the glass. A Water Hunter was expected to find at least that much water on every trip, and here his grandfather had some just sitting in his tent!

Most of the water sat in the main body of the glass, but some of it came up into the spout. The levels were different, somehow – the water in the spout was higher than the water in the body, and Jundir looked to his grandfather for an explanation. He held the glass carefully. “My grandfather was given this by a glassmaker whose life he saved many years ago. She told him that it would tell him when the rain was coming.” He stroked the spout with his thumb. “And it did. My grandfather passed it to his son, who passed it to me. I’d hoped to give it to your father, but…” His head dropped a little, and his expression twisted. He took a great breath before speaking again. “Well, even if he’d lived, being a Rainsinger wasn’t what he wanted to do.”

Jundir was entranced by it. “How does it work?” he asked.

The old man smiled and shook his head. “Like I said, boy. A secret.” He held it up to the light and looked at the shining blue water inside. “I can tell you this, though – rain is on its way. Tomorrow, probably. Or the next day.”

“But…” The thought in Jundir’s head seemed too big to put into words, at least the right words, so he spit it out. “But you dance every day,” he said. “They think you’re a crazy old man.” He gestured to the class. “If you have this, then why?”

His grandfather thought for a few moments, and then shrugged. “I enjoy the dance,” he said. He stood up again and covered the glass. “Besides, if I was perfect about it, then they would ask me to bring the rain when the rain wasn’t going to come. And how would I look then?” He hung the covered glass up on the tentpole. “If they think I’m a relic or a fool, then let them. I know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. And that’s enough for me.”

Once again, he sat down on his bedding, crossed his legs and looked at his grandson. “You’re not going to be a Rainsinger, Jundir,” he said.

Jundir grimaced and looked at the stump of a thigh that stuck out to his side. “No,” he said. “Of course not.”

“Boy,” his grandfather whispered, and Jundir was surprised to see that the old man looked shocked and hurt. “No, boy,” he said gently. “Not because of that.” He reached out and touched Jundir’s knee. “It’s because you don’t want to be.”

The moment lingered long, and Jundir wasn’t sure how to end it. But his grandfather was right. He didn’t want to be a Rainsinger. He cleared his throat. “What can I be, grandfather?” he asked.

His grandfather leaned back and shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “That’s for you to find out.” He gave a smile, which turned into a jaw-cracking yawn. “And now,” he said, “it’s time for an old man to get some sleep. Go out, have fun while you’re young.” He put out the oil lamp, and Jundir made his way back to the tent’s entrance. When he stepped out, he saw that the celebration had died down a little, so he went back to the tent that he and his mother shared. It took a long time, but eventually Jundir fell asleep.

The next morning, everyone was bleary, but in good spirits. When Jundir stepped out of his tent, he noticed clouds on the horizon, just as his grandfather had predicted. A few other people had seen them as well, and were pointing them out to those who hadn’t. The Water Hunters didn’t have to go out that day, so they wandered around the camp, helping make repairs or telling stories, but generally just enjoying their success. On his way to the latrines, Jundir bumped into a few of them.

“Well, look who’s up and about,” the biggest one said. “More or less.” The others laughed.

Jundir looked up at him. Chatar was the youngest of the Water Hunters, only a few months older than Jundir, but he’d grown bigger during his time with them. They had never really been friends, but Jundir remembered looking at the older boy and thinking that he was someone to emulate. The girls loved him, the elders heaped praises on him, and even the older Water Hunters said that the boy had potential to be great one day.

“Good morning, Chatar,” he said. He took a step to the side to get past them, but Chatar got in his way.

“We didn’t see you at the feast last night, stumpy,” he said. Jundir’s face reddened, and he didn’t look up again. “Where’d you go?”

“I was… I went…”

Chatar’s hand flashed out and he grabbed the boy’s chin. “What’s that? Can’t hear you, stumpy,” he said.

“I was with my grandfather,” Jundir said, wrenching his face from Chatar’s grip.

The others laughed. “So you’d rather spend time with that crazy old man than with us?” he said. “You’d rather sit in that rat-hole tent of his than celebrate our success?” He looked over at his friends, who started laughing again. “It wouldn’t matter if you had three legs, stumpy,” he said. “You’d never be a Water Hunter.”

A voice called from nearby. “Leave the boy alone!” They all looked. It was Jundir’s grandfather, already painted and ready to do his dance. He had his staff at his side and an expression on his face that promised rage.

Chatar snorted and his friends laughed again. “Or what, old man? You’ll dance at us?” Without looking, he reached out and gave Jundir a shove. The boy fell over with a yelp.

His grandfather lifted his rattling staff above his head and thumped the end of it against the ground. At that moment, a low rumble of thunder rolled over the camp. He took a step towards the group, hit the ground with his staff again, and another roll of thunder came in, this time sharper and harder. Jundir sat up on his elbows and watched his grandfather approach the men. He was smaller than them, weaker than them, but covered in his strange inks and paints and clothes, he suddenly looked terrifying. He took a third step, and there was thunder once again – and this time, lightning danced on the horizon between the clouds.

The old man walked right up to Chatar, whose arrogance had faded in favor of fear, and put the rattle end of his staff against the young man’s chest. “Don’t try me,” he said quietly. “Leave the boy alone.” He glanced to the others, who were slowly backing away. His eyes snapped back to Chatar, and the young man nodded sharply, very clearly not looking at Jundir on the ground. “Good,” the old man whispered. He gave Chatar a little shove with his staff, and the rattle made Chatar jump before he hastened off after his friends.

Jundir’s grandfather watched them go and then turned to his grandson. “That was amazing,” Jundir said as he took the old man’s hand to stand up. “How did you do that?”

His grandfather rattled the staff and smiled. “Remember: Observation. Persistence. Luck. Tools, if you can get your hand on them.” He brushed some dirt off of Jundir’s tunic. “And one more thing.” He looked back over his shoulder, where darker clouds were beginning to make their way towards the camp. He raised one hand, waited a moment, and then snapped his fingers. A great bolt of lightning shot from sky to ground, and a moment later the sharp report of thunder blasted over the camp. People cheered and started preparing for the coming rain. Jundir’s grandfather looked at him again and winked. “Drama.”

The old man started dancing as he walked away to his stone circle, his voice high and happy. Jundir waited a moment, and then followed to watch. Behind him, the clouds started to roll in.

*****

Jundir’s page on 30characters.com

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