A wee bitty 2k short. In response to Sam’s Challenge #5. This takes place in the same universe as On Wings Not my Own which is part of the Lt3 Something Happened on the Way to Heaven anthology currently running on their serial site. Apologies for any typos, they’ll get worked out over time.
Wispy white clouds rushed across the sky. The wind, however, came lightly over the border mountains, as if dancing down the slopes, building up too much momentum to stop, and rushing ever eastward in exuberance. The steady soft breeze traveled over Ejis’ skin, causing the small hairs on his arm to stand up. The blue-green grasses and red wildflowers swung gently to the east, as if they wanted to be carried away with uplifting drafts in the wind. Little tufts of seed drifted by overhead, having successfully detached from the tall green stalks that created them. At times Ejis was certain he heard laughter in the breezes traveling throughout the rabbits’ meadow, and he fancied it to be the joy of souls having found their matches. Nowhere but here did the wind behave so.
The grass under Ejis was matted down with use. He tried to disturb as little as possible, so he came back again and again to the same place to lie on his back. When there were no remaining chores and the animals were happy, he came to this place, to smell the sweet grass and pine of the forest, to be amongst the rabbits and under the bright blue sky.
To his right, two speckled white rabbits moved about the clover and grass, nosing into flowers, eating the greens. Ejis hoped one day they would feel comfortable around him, enough so to come within touch. Few woodland creatures developed enough faith in him; however, simply watching them enjoy the meadow brought joy to his heart.
The rabbits stopped eating, raised their heads, and peered into the distance. Their noses twitched back and forth. They stood on hind legs. They looked left. Right. A loud crunch within the forest sent them fleeing under the gnarled roots of an elderly tree. Now Ejis sat. Watching the forest where the noises came from. Listening to hear their direction. The crunches grew closer, and whatever moved through the trees was heading directly for Ejis. Few came to the meadow; it was noted as a sacred sight. Perhaps a traveler lost his way.
The wind quieted, held its breath, and the only sounds came from the thing in the forest. The leaves fluttered then shook, and a person appeared pushing his way through the dense branches. He wore the clothes of a foreigner. But even so, they were odd and not at all fitting for walking through trees. The drab overcoat had been ripped in numerous places. The man tried to take a step forward, but the overcoat caught on several boney branches. A dark cloth covering his hair was in the same state. Underneath the headscarf, bright white hair glowed faintly.
The man saw Ejis staring and stilled. Much like the rabbits, he peered at Ejis, as if ascertaining whether or not there was a threat. Ejis smiled, and beckoned the man over. He didn’t move. Ejis expected him to turn around and vanish into the dark forest whence he came.
The breeze moved once more, carrying the scent of lavender with it. Ejis laid back into his bed of soft grass and rested his head on folded arms. The clouds moved swiftly across the sky — faster than the breeze on the ground blew. Soon he would have to return home to prepare the buildings for the incoming storm. But not yet. The sun warmed his skin, and the storm wouldn’t be upon them for several hours more.
A soft sound, perhaps the rub of grass against cloth, approached from the forest. Ejis remained calm, still, unmoving, unthreatening. The man hovered over him, a dark silhouette against the bright blue sky. “May I join you?” The man had a deep, scratchy voice. A damaged voice.
“Please.” Ejis gave him a friendly smile, but remained still otherwise. The man seemed skittish in the extreme. He sunk to the ground and gathered his legs close. He rested his chin on his sharp knees. The hand that Ejis could see was directly over a tear in the man’s robes that led to the hilt of a sword. “You’re not going to use that on me, are you?”
The man shifted his arm and gently caressed the hilt with two fingers. “Only if necessary.” On his hand was a simple indigo tattoo that stretched from his knuckles and disappeared under the sleeve of his robe. Its design was of straight lines and sharp angles that had no beginning and no end. The foreigners to the west held tattoos in a taboo light, and to see one was unexpected. “Where are you from, traveler?”
“Northwest. My name is Hondil.” The voice was hard to get used to. The stranger’s face was smooth and fair, with none of the creases won with hard work and worry and age. But the voice… it did not belong with the face. Nothing about Hondil matched what Ejis knew of their northern neighbors. Perhaps there were lands farther north and farther west than they knew of. All the maps he had seen showed a vast ocean north and west of their western neighbors.
“You have a lovely meadow, Ejis.”
Ejis laughed. “It is the rabbits’ meadow, and it is kind of them to let me lay here.”
Hondil looked slowly around him. “I see no rabbits.”
“If we are still, they will return. They were out before you came crashing through the forest.” Ejis winked and grinned at Hondil. It was refreshing to speak with someone new. Ejis saw two people on a regular basis, the innkeeper and her son, and he only exchanged pleasantries with them.
“Are you hunting?”
Ejis’ eyes widened. “Hunting?” He sat up and stared at Hondil. He knew he looked like an idiot with his mouth hanging open, but hunting? The rabbits?
“Gods no! Are you?”
“No. I do not eat rabbits.”
Ejis took a deep breath to try to calm his shock. “Good. Rabbits are sacred here.”
“I had not heard that… but I have not been here long.”
“Would you like me to tell you why?”
Ejis crossed his legs and poised himself to tell the story. He loved the mythology of his ancestors. Thousands of years later, they didn’t believe the stories anymore, but they were nice tales. And the rabbits were still sacred, even after all this time.
“Our ancestors believed that there are a finite number of souls and we live an infinite number of lives on this world.” Ejis looked up to see if Hondil listened and found pale brown eyes fixed on him. Ejis made a weaving motion up to the sky. “As humans, when we die, our bodies are burnt to free our souls so they may rise with the smoke to the sky above.”
Hondil looked at the sky and sadness flashed across his face. “We have a similar belief. Only there is no fire. But please, go on.” Ejis wondered what had happened to make the man’s voice into one giant audible scar.
“Our soul rises to the sky and mixes with the clouds. And the soul waits. As it waits it travels across the sky, circling the earth. Circling and circling.”
Hondil leaned closer to him. “Until what?”
“Until our other half joins us. The clouds…” Ejis pointed at a cloud that was rather rabbit-shaped. “Our ancestors believed that our souls take the form of rabbits in the sky when they are ready to return. They are shapeless until then, running in whips and puffs across the skies. When their other half meets them in the sky, they remember that they can have bodies and live on the ground. And so they join hands—“
“Rabbits don’t have hands.”
Ejis looked up at Hondil through his lashes. Hondil’s lips quirked up ever so slightly on the side. Ejis took a chance, hoping that the gesture wouldn’t be rebuffed, and reached out and ran his finger lightly across the back of Hondil’s tattooed hand.
“In the ancient scrolls their front paws touch as they descend from the sky back to earth.” There was movement out of the corner of his eye. “If you look behind us, you’ll see two of them.” The white speckled rabbits were back, eating clover as if nothing had ever disturbed their earlier meal. “The rabbits come down from the heavens and live together on earth.”
“Aren’t they born?” Hondil was stretched around watching the rabbits.
“They are. Our ancestors didn’t know how to locate their nests, though. So logically, they concluded the rabbits arrived fully formed.”
“How do the rabbits become human?”
“When the rabbits die, as all creatures do, their souls are not set free in flames. The souls wander until they find the seed of a human and take residence there. The souls try to stay near each other, so they may easily find one another in human form.”
“So it’s just a story of how people fall in love? To rationalize pairing two up with one another?”
Ejis shrugged. “People are destined, Hondil.”
“How can you know that?”
“You have a tattoo?”
Hondil held his hand out under the sun. He turned his hand, examined it. “No. This we are born with. We do ink it onto our husbands and wives when we marry, though.”
“Oh. We have birthmarks too.” Ejis rubbed his from atop his shirt. “The current thinking among the scholars is that the marks are a combination of our parents’. And that certain patterns are prevalent in our people. That if you put together certain families, the children will have similar combinations of markings.”
“That’s not really related to destiny or rabbits, though?”
“But it is. The ancestors believed in order for the souls to identify their other half, the souls would cause identical marks to manifest on the people they took residence in. They aren’t always on the same place, though, and can be anywhere on the body. Are your peoples’ always on your hands?”
“Yes. The designs are on our left hands at birth. We think it is the name given to us by the gods. We are not able to understand it, but our greatest mission in life is to live up to the name we have been given.”
“That sounds… impossible.” How could a person live up to something they didn’t know?
Hondil laughed. “I agree. So where’s your rabbit other half?”
Ejis took a deep breath and rose to kneel on the grass. The rabbits at the edge of the meadow scampered back into their tree. Ejis grabbed the side of his shirt and pulled up to show the skin stretched across his ribs. “My mark is very funny in our people. They didn’t know what to make of it. They try to identify who we match at birth. And me? They concluded I don’t have one.”
“That’s… that’s impossible.” Hondil stared at Ejis’ side, eyes wide, head shaking.
Ejis let his shirt drop. “I…” He took a deep breath and let it out. “I didn’t think you’d exist. Anywhere.”
Hondil turned his body to face Ejis and with his unmarked hand raised Ejis’ shirt again. He pressed his marked hand against Ejis’ torso. Ejis hissed; Hondil’s hand felt like ice against his skin.
“My priests would be very interested to see this,” Hondil said. “You are the only one with inexplicable markings?”
“That I know of, yes. There have been others before. They often take vows of celibacy. Devote themselves to the church and the people. They have been our greatest leaders.” Ejis leaned into Hondil’s touch. “I always felt rather sorry for them.”
“How lonely they must have been.” The hand on his side had warmed, and it slowly rotated on his side, probably aligning itself with his own mark. It wasn’t indigo. No, it was brown, the color of a freckle. But it was the same size and shape. “Will you stay?”
Hondil smiled and brushed a chunk of hair aside on Ejis’ forehead. “I will not go anywhere without you.”
– End (for now) –