Shrisaelte and Dani
by Christopher Edmund Nelson
Table of Contents|
parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
As morning came, the tide went out, leaving seaweed behind. She gathered it, washed it in the sea, and set it aside. First she laid some down in flat strips on the sand so that she had a place to put food; then she made a pile.
Meanwhile, she continued to make the young man drink and talked soothingly to him. When the tide had gone out farther, she dug for clams, which was one trick of survival she did possess. She cooked the clams as best she could and wrapped them in seaweed. She didn’t know whether she should feed him; she offered him a tiny bit, and he only looked at it sickly. She ate. It was crude, but in her hunger it was delicious.
The day began to heat up again. The man was throwing up less, and he slept a bit more. As midday approached, she realized that the water skin was lighter; it was nearly empty. The young man was peacefully asleep, but she must leave for water, she knew.
She tried to remember the location of the spring. “In the hills,” the older man had said; that was all she knew. The hills were nearby. She set out and prayed to Fate that the young man would still be asleep when she returned.
Getting to the hills was easy enough; once there, she looked with increasing desperation for the spring. She did have the presence of mind to pick some berries as she passed them, and she thanked the gods that she had brought clothes with pockets.
The spring, however, she could not find at first. As more time passed, she wondered if it every really existed at all. By this time she was nearly exhausted, both from physical hardship and from lack of sleep, and she was thirsty and scratched in many places from the bushes she had passed. She wondered how she would make it back. She prayed, then, to the Watcher. She implored the Watcher to show her the way.
Then she saw the creek. It was thin, and she almost missed it, but there it was, down between the hills. It was a narrow gap this creek filled, but it flowed smoothly, and the water was coming from somewhere. She went down and followed the stream.
It was hard work following the water. There were thorny bushes all along the way, and insects in those bushes. Most of all she feared snakes, for supposedly the hills around here held a great many dangerous snakes. She had never ventured far from home and knew not if the stories were true or what else there might be.
Finally, she found the spring. As she filled the skin, she thanked the Watcher for showing her the way. Once the skin was full, she drank from the spring, and then she was on her way back.
It was easier going back, partly because she was no longer near panic, but partly because the thought of the young man on the beach drew her on. She wanted to be near him again. She said to herself that he needed her help, but she knew that was not the only reason. Soon enough she was back on the beach, and the young man was lying there. He turned his face to her as she approached.
“You came back,” he said hoarsely. Then, more quietly, “Thank the gods.”
She gave him the water. He took a mouthful and handed it back, swallowing with a contented sigh.
“Thank you,” he said.
She felt his head. “Your fever is down.”
“Yes. You... sat with me in the night, didn’t you?”
He was silent for a minute. “You saved my life, then. I would surely have died of thirst. I... I must have swallowed too much salt.”
“Why were you in the water anyway?”
“I was swimming from a boat.”
Shrisaelte knew it was rude to pry but could not help herself. “Why were you swimming from a boat?”
He looked at her, and for a moment he might have told her everything about him. But the moment passed, and all he said was, “Let’s not talk of it.”
She could have pressed him but didn’t. “What’s your name?”
“Dani,” he said. “And yours?” She didn’t answer, but he closed his eyes and spoke. “Shrisaelte. That’s what you said to me. Is that really you?”
“Can I call you Shrisa, then?”
A tear came to her eye. “That’s what my father calls me.”
“I see. Did I say something wrong?”
“No. Call me what you want.”
“Shrisa, then. Shrisa, how can I repay you? What can I do for you in exchange for my life?”
“Nothing,” she answered.
“Nothing? But... I must do something. Why did you help me, anyway? And why... You’re all alone, aren’t you?”
Shrisaelte didn’t answer. For several seconds neither one spoke. He was the one to break the silence.
“You have a story to tell, just as I do. If I tell you my story, will you tell me yours?”
She stared at him. She didn’t know why he needed to know all about her. But he was a stranger, so how could it hurt? He already knew she was away from home; the rest was detail. And she longed to talk to someone.
She told of her home, and her father, and her sisters. She told of having to leave so as not to marry a man she knew was not for her. She told of her journey, of finding him, and of struggling to care for him that night.
When she had finished, he looked at her solemnly. He asked her what she meant when she spoke of the Watcher. She was surprised. This was a story she thought all had heard.
Long ago, she said, after the world and most of the creatures had been made, the goddess Tarinaes made people. The Mother of Humanity loved her children so much that she wished to protect them from all harm. But this was not to be. For as she protected people from harm, she interfered in the works of the other gods, until they were most displeased with her. At last they determined to destroy her creation.
The oceans rose, fire belched from the earth, thunder blazed through the heavens, and plagues destroyed men, women, and children. Tarinaes was grief-stricken and infuriated, but she kept her wits.
She stole from the Keeper of Knowledge and gave godly wisdom to people; with it they built dams to hold back the waters, grew crops to fight hunger, built fires to ward off the cold, made weapons to fight off beasts, and discovered medicines to cure disease. This made the other gods angrier still, for with knowledge humanity could tame nature, and Tarinaes’s creation would again be above all the others.
In a rage, the gods burst into her room and dragged her out. Some wanted to kill her outright, and others wanted to cast her into Chaos. But they decided at last that she should be presented to Order, the god of propriety and fairness.
Before long she was sitting before his throne. Order heard the case thoroughly. He consulted first the goddess Feeling and then the god Reason, and then he gave his decision.
Tarinaes, he said, was acting improperly and should be restrained; moreover, it was unlikely she would ever give up and she must be restrained permanently. However, he added, as she was a mother god, it was only right she should care so much for her creation; some compassion was in order.
He sentenced her to confinement in heaven for eternity, but with comforts, and one especially: she would be confined in a place from which she could forever watch her creation.
“She is there, now, always watching yet unable to interfere. She loves us, however, and tries to help us, and though she can do nothing, if you listen closely, you can sometimes hear the voice of the Watcher whispering words of encouragement and guidance, and if you listen in times of crisis, she will tell you which path to take.”
When she was done, Dani smiled. “It is a good story,” he said. “The name ‘Tarinaes’, what does it mean?”
“It is an old word,” Shrisa replied, “from and old language no one speaks anymore. My father says it means ‘She Who Loves All.’”
Dani nodded, thoughtful. “I think I may have heard the voice of the Watcher.”
She looked at him keenly. “Now you have to tell me your story.”
“I never promised.”
“But you offered.”
He considered. “First, I need some food, and then let’s leave here.”
“Why do we have to leave?”
“I’ll tell you my story as we leave. You’ll understand.”
She gave him a bit of the food she had made, and he nibbled a little. Then, with her help, he rose. At his bidding they started to walk inland. As he had promised, he began to tell his story.
Dani came from a large kingdom to the east, he said. His family was wealthy when he was born. That was twenty years ago. Dani was the youngest of five children, all boys. The kingdom had been peaceful once, but the current king wanted to expand his influence. He required that all families with boys give their boys up into the service of the king for a few years or else pay a heavy tax. Dani’s parents gave their first two sons into the king’s service, then the third, then the fourth. They regretted this.
Their first son did not return; they later confirmed his death in battle. Their second son came back missing a hand; as Dani spoke to Shrisaelte, the whereabouts of his other two brothers were still unknown to his parents. His mother and father decided that they would lose no more sons, and they decided to pay the tax.
The tax was indeed heavy, and as the king became more ambitious, he raised the tax so that only the very richest could pay. Dani’s parents sold almost all they had to pay for Dani’s right to remain safely with them, and finally they did not have enough. Warriors came to take Dani away, and he was put to service fighting for the king.
Dani rose quickly through the ranks. With each battle, though, he felt less and less clean. A sense of grave dishonor grew within him, and he wondered why he should do this for the king. He slept less, and food lost its flavor. He felt the blood on his hands and felt it would never come off. For were not the dead other sons such as he? Did they not have parents at home who would mourn them? The matter weighed on his soul until he could bear it no longer.
One day, he and three other commanders were ordered to sail to an island and take it for the king. Still unsure of the right thing to do, he set out with the others. His dilemma at first tortured him, but some time before the fleet reached its destination, he made his decision. His loyalty to the king could not justify these acts; his part in them had to end.
He spent the short voyage learning about the men that had been assigned to his command. The king required that no company serve under the same commander for too long, lest the soldiers become more loyal to the commander than to the king, but Dani had learned how to tell quickly how his men would behave under stress, and by the time they reached shore, he believed he had an idea of the values of each soldier.
He also believed he knew the values of the other three commanders; one of them he believed he could trust when the time came, and the other two would remain loyal to the king. With that in mind, he formed a plan.
Copyright © 2014 by Christopher Edmund Nelson