Fifty suns gone.
The years run quickly, and the village changes.
So big, and filled with children.
Soon the village will split.
Villages must stay small, so everyone is known.
This is our way.
My sister, Shanir, is in both councils.
Like elder mother before her.
Elder mother left this world two suns ago, and Shanir is sick.
Her days fade.
I whisper to Shanir that we must go climbing together, become children, again.
She laughs, and then the smile turns sad, and fades.
“We lead now, Jaina,” she says.
“Our days belong to the village.”
“Who is too serious now?” I ask her.
“How can we serve the people if there is nothing left of us?”
She smiles, takes my hand, and looks me in the eyes.
“Now, who sounds like elder mother?”
“We will climb again, Jaina.”
“In this world, or the next.”
She walks away.
The next week, she senses death coming, and goes alone to the forest.
She marks the place, so we can find her bones, after the cats take her life.
We make a great fire to remember her, and help her spirit move to the next world.
My children grow up, and make this chief proud.
I pretend to my children’s children they are too many to count, but I know every name.
My hair is gone, but my heart is young, and my first wife still fills me with joy, even when I am troubled.
The great cats, the shape shifters, touch the edge of the village every day.
They harm no one, but they stay until I come to greet them.
I stare in their eyes, longer each day.
Then they go.
The orange fire drifts around me, stronger every day.
Hint of Madness
Nanik jokes with me, as she often does, but something is wrong in me.
I feel rivers of anger.
For weeks the anger comes, and I let it go.
Then, for three days, the anger will not go, and my arm wants to strike her.
I hold the arm as steady as stone.
Will the arm be stone tomorrow, or will it be water, impossible to hold?
The madness comes.
I see it.
I fear little, but the madness hunts me.
It will take me in days or weeks.
There is no time now for sickness or age to bring me death.
Soon I will act with dishonor, and someone will kill me.
The fire dreamers find me.
“Chief Jaina,” they say, “do you see the madness?”
“How do you know?” I ask quietly.
“The Kalmil visit every day,” they answer, “and the fire grows around you.”
“You are too strong for death.”
“It cannot defeat you in battle, so it sends the cats to bring the madness.”
The fire dreamers and I are quiet together.
“We can pray for death,” they suggest.
“No!” I answer.
“I choose my death.”
“I will die in the forest, with the Vigla.”
I make a great celebration.
We tell stories half the night.
I do not drink.
I do not trust my arm.
The people ask why we celebrate.
“Life and children are reason enough,” I answer.
The next day I rest, and prepare to go.
Spirit and Change
I tell no one but Nanik.
We hold each other a long time, and bathe each other in tears.
Then I go.
I wear little, and carry the long knives.
I go to the river and look for Vigla.
Once a Vigla gave me his life as a gift.
Today I give my life to one of his brothers.
I wait, with food and water for one day, but Vigla are few, and none come today.
I make a fire to guard the night.
I will not die during the night.
I will face the sun, and see death coming.
In the morning, I go to an old place.
“Two cliffs”, we call it.
Two sharp cliffs, 30 feet apart.
Fire Dreamers say this is a place of spirits.
I know it a different way.
I found it when I was four years old.
It is here the Kalmil picked me up and carried me home.
I wait two days by the cliff with no food, until I am weak with hunger.
I can barely move, but my head is clear.
The Kalmil comes, and stands on the other cliff.
She watches me.
The world looks strange while I wait for the attack.
The Kalmil stands still as stone on the other cliff, its eyes dull.
Something white and sparkling leaps toward me and knocks me down.
I get up.
I feel light.
Hunger and thirst are gone.
The orange fire roars around me.
The world looks brighter, but the colors are dim.
I look down.
My body is lifeless on the ground, and the orange fire burns the flesh off the bones.
This must be death.
“Come, Jaina” says a familiar voice.
“Leap with me to the Kalmil.”
“I was Shanir,” says the spirit.
What else can I do?
We easily leap or fly from cliff to cliff.
When I land, the spirit turns toward me and exhales orange fire upon me.
I feel strange.
It takes a moment for my vision to clear.
I feel solid and heavy again.
I am low to the ground, near the Kalmil.
I look into its eyes, and I see another shifter reflected within.
I am Kalmil now.
They have brought me home again.
“Follow,” she says.
She turns into a bird, and I do the same.
“Can I ever go back to being a man?” I ask as we fly.
“No,” she says.
“Child changes to man.”
“Man changes to chief.”
“You were always change.”
“You are change, again.”