Kaithel’s Song of the Pale Stone, part 1

Building this story here as sketches with the hopes to flesh it out more. Set in the Augur’s Lore: Song of the Pale Stone Universe.

Part 1

The water bucket barely held together after years of use. Over time, the metal straps that enclosed the wooden planks had stretched and loosened, allowing water to leak out into the well again as Kaithel pulled the fifteen feet of rope back to the surface. There was really no way to fix it without rebuilding the bucket entirely, which took time and money, two things that most families in the town of Tongue’s Edge did not have. So for now it was kind of like a game to see how fast she could hoist the bucket and transfer the remaining water in intervals to the leather satchel. The satchel holds what would be five buckets, but lately it took eight or nine bucket hoists to fill.

“Yesterday I did it in six,” boasted Reimad as he ran up to the well behind Kaithel and stood, winded, blocking the early sun.

“That’s crap,” she replied in her usual matter-of-fact way, quickly pouring number four into the satchel. The water splashed shockingly cold. She continued her work as if uninterrupted, but added in a relaxed tone, “If you can do it better, be my guest.”

“Already did mine today,” he replied. Seeing that he wasn’t going to get much of a response, Reimad chuckled nervously then he ran off to join his two brothers on their way out to the field. He glanced back toward the well once, but mostly just got his long, dark hair in his eyes. She wasn’t looking, anyway.

Kaithel welcomed the return of the warm sun on the back of her neck. This close to the mountains it gets cold each night, even in the middle of summer. The well water had already chilled her hands to the bone. She poured bucket six into the satchel and finally smirked at Reimad’s attempt to impress her. Bucket seven came up quickly. “One more bucket should do it,” she thought.

Each family had their own version of water satchel, as it was the unofficial job of the eldest child to gather water for the day. Kaithel’s was made from a cured goat hide and shaped into a rectangular trough, but one of the long sides had a bump in its shape that was the perfect size for resting on her left hip. Small, wooden branches were tied into a frame at the top to keep the leather rigid, and a tough leather strap was attached to that frame. She wore that strap around her right shoulder. Other people had smaller satchels, but they had to gather water more often. Her satchel usually held enough water for drinking, cooking, and washing all day.

Kaithel paused to wipe her hands on her shirt after pouring the eighth bucket into the satchel, and the bucket suddenly seemed fascinating to her. She began to stare at the aged metal and the warped, darkened wood. She did often find herself lost in thought, but this was entirely different. It was as if she saw every facet of the water bucket for the first time. She sat like this for several moments, and then the movement of a droplet of cold water caught her eye as it traveled its warped path. She watched the droplet move to the edge of the bucket perched over the top stones of the well, and then, almost as if compelled, continued to follow that droplet of water as it fell back toward the bottom of the well. Even after she could no longer see it, she waited quietly, leaning her head into the well and anticipating the sound it would make as it collided with the surface of the water. She was convinced she could hear it. Even more, she was transfixed by the bottom of the well. The ambient sounds of the waking town around her melted away, and it was as if there was a new sound–no, a feeling–coming from the bottom of the well. It was like a rushing waterfall, or the chaotic winds atop Bright Mare’s Peak.

“Kai!” Her mother’s hand grabbed her by the shoulder and startled, spun her around. “You didn’t hear me calling you? You’ve been gone a long time.” Kaithel’s heart was pounding. She hadn’t been that jolted in a good while. Blinking, she took several moments to collect herself and her thoughts while her mother, Elseia, waited in anticipation.

“I guess I didn’t hear you. Sorry.” Her reply sounded like a question.

“Well, come on. We need the water to get the day started.” She stared intently at her puzzled child. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah, yeah I’m fine,” she replied, rejoining the waking day. She bent down and placed the satchel strap over her right shoulder, then with a bit of effort stood and hoisted the water to her left hip. “I’ll race you back,” she grunted to her mother, donning a crooked smile. Elseia laughed a sigh of relief, the kind of chuckle that eases past tension or worry. Kaithel looked back toward the well for a moment and reflected on what had just happened. “What did just happen?” she thought.

They both began to walk home together. Around them, Tongue’s Edge was almost fully awake with the sounds and smells of the morning meal. Old Man Jorell, who lived closer to the well than anyone, was singing the song “Dance of the Djenndan” as he stirred his pot of pungent vaelfruit porridge. Kaithel could see Braketh down the road headed toward the well with her own satchel in tow; she was always sleeping late. Across the way, Garn’s sheep were making noise again because his youngest, Hetrea, was tormenting them with a toy sword. The leather strap of the eldest’s satchel became painfully hot on her right shoulder, while the cold of the water began to numb her left hip. This meant they were halfway home.

“So, have you decided where you’re going for First Rite?” Elseia was still grinning in recognition of her daughter’s wit, but Kai knew her mother was asking a serious question.

“I’m not sure,” she replied after some thought. In truth, Kaithel knew exactly where she wanted to go, and that was where no one else ever went, and generally as far away as possible. Everyone always did the same sorts of things for their Rite. The tradition states that each year after the Eve celebration, certain children leave their hometown and survive on their own away from Tongue’s Edge. The child then returns home a week later carrying a flower, or a small tree, or some kind of plant or peculiarity they collected during their Rite. They replant or display their collection near their home, which is supposed to signify their ancestors traveling to and settling in Tongue’s Edge. It also is supposed to signify the transition into adulthood. Old people spend a lot of time discussing what First Rite is supposed to signify, but Kai found it all boring and meaningless. Last year, Reimad’s cousin, Freen, went down the West Kaned River just a day’s walk and collected five brown bank reeds. They’re currently dying out in the front of her family’s house. The year before that was Braketh’s Rite. She also went a day’s walk downriver and brought back vine flowers. But, from what Kai saw this morning, it looks like Braketh is still gathering the family’s water, so not much has changed there. That same year some boy named Plutte went downriver and returned with an ironwood sapling. Occasionally the First Rite takes people to more interesting places–and of course there was that one year when Voralio’s son was found in Tikon’s field half eaten by wolves–but usually everyone goes downriver because it’s safe, easy, and it’s just what everyone tends to do. When they come back home there’s a Rejoining celebration with family, friends, and neighbors, but little else changes.

“You could travel down the Kaned, toward Zarch’s Bluff. Remember when you were younger you always used to love that area? I hear there are some new blossoming trees down there….”

“Everyone always goes downriver, mother,” she interrupted, still half grunting from the weight of the water. She could see their house now, and it looked like her younger brothers were playing catch.

“Not everyone, no,” Elseia replied. “I just want you to be thinking about this, Kai. First Rite is an important tradition. I know you think it’s kind of silly, and I also know you want to have a bit of adventure.” She could see there was some truth in that. “Look, I just want you to be safe and find some appreciation in your First Rite. It only happens once in your life. Everybody looks forward to this.”

Kaithel wanted to challenge what her mother was saying. She wanted to explain that First Rite meant nothing to her because everyone always did the same things. She wanted to point out that her desire for greater adventure was directly connected to the endless sameness of things around Tongue’s Edge–just like First Rite. She thought about noting that just because First Rite was important to older people, that did not mean it needed to be important to her. But they were just about home and the water was feeling extremely heavy. “Okay, I’ve got it,” she finally replied. Elseia smiled, knowingly.

Their home was a modest one. Elseia had organized building it the summer she took Vairel as her mate and most of their neighbors helped with the labor, which was customary. The walls were made mostly of stone and river clay and were built around the log frame that supported the roof. That was made of dried Rotoka leaves and sealed with clay. This provided ample protection from the sun and rain and made the indoor environment cool and humid. The entrance at the front of the house was just as tall as Vairel, Kai’s father, but her Uncle Jaor always had to duck so he didn’t hit his head when he visited. A thick leather was hanging from that threshold, which served as the door. Just inside and to the left was the hearth where Vairel was waiting for the water so he could start breakfast. A stone shelf sat next to the hearth that was just the perfect size for Kai’s water satchel. To the right was where the family stored and preserved foods. Toward the back of the house were hanging leathers that separated the sleeping areas from the living area. The hearthfire heat was pleasantly warming.

Kai put the water satchel down on the shelf and smiled at her father, who, smiling back immediately began scooping some water into a pot. “Thought you had fallen in the well,” he said sarcastically. “We almost sent Ivalia to pull you out.”

“Funny.” Kaithel rubbed her right shoulder and headed toward her bed thinking about the water bucket, and about the well.

“Be sure you are thinking about where you’re going to go for your First Rite,” sounded Elseia as Kaithel disappeared behind the leathers.

“Got it,” she called back.

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