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Dragon Oak   1499.06.03  
Creators: Deirdre / Wyld_Dandelyon (Writer), Non-Member Artist (Patron), Non-Member Author(s)
Rai-Kunabei takes time out from school to do readings on marketday in nearby Tiffikumiyi, and has to figure out what to do when her traditional spot is already taken.
Posted: 06/22/11      [1 Comment] ~ 3249 words.

Rai-Kunabei walked down the path in the chill pre-dawn quiet, Hat Trick following her, occasionally snatching leaves from the bushes they passed. Kunabei had decided to do readings at Tiffikumiyi's market, a decision that gave Tladithii fits. Tladithii was the teacher stationed by the Empire's to teach Kuleilyi's children. "You don't have a travel license!" was her first protest, followed by gape-jawed astonishment when Mayor Vraito issued the license for the asking.

"You'll miss school!" was her second protest.

Rai-Kunabei had nodded. "You're reviewing this week; it's all stuff I passed the tests on. And it's not my choice that market day is midweek."

Vraito had also nodded, saying mildly, "It's good to send the Rai down to remind the lowlanders that Kiffumik has sent us a priestess."

The poor teacher had thrown her hands up in defeat and exasperation. "The Kiffumiyi hardly qualify as lowlanders, you know."

Remembering the encounter, Kunabei laughed. The teacher was from the wide plains below the mountains, and had studied in Affabreidalam. It was practically a different world down there, a world that had never known Kiffumik, and which scoffed at wraiths and priestesses alike. Even the prospect of having to write an essay about her day--a requirement within the scope of the teacher's responsibilities--didn't dampen her mood.

The goat was reasonably content following her, except when the path went uphill for a little ways. Then Hat Trick bleated unhappily and turned to try to nibble at the leather pack on her back. The pack held Rai-Konalei's divination disks, plus the handful of the new ones made for Rai-Kunabei.

"Silly goat." Kunabei pushed Hat Trick's sensitive nose away from the leather. "You'll get to play with a horde of new children, ones who don't know to keep their hats away from you, when we get there." She scratched the goat's ears. She had some dried apples to bribe her with, but wanted to keep those for the return trip.

As if her words had woken them, birds started to chirp and trill from the trees around her, and Kunabei sighed. Vraito had advised her to arrive early to the market; she should sit under an oak tree by tradition, but with no one expecting her, those spots (or at least all the ones with a comfortable flat place to sit) could be taken if she wasn't there by dawn. And taking a lesser spot would not help foster the respect a Rai must inspire in the people--but Kunabei was still a teenager, too young to gracefully demand that some farmer or craftsman should move their goods once they were already set up.

Rai-Kunabei had seen the sense in those words, but the morning had been chilly, leaving her reluctant to come out from under her blankets. Then old Hat Trick had fought being harnessed to carry the disks, and then it had been so pleasant to be out away from everyone with only Hat Trick that Kunabei had dawdled, staring at the fading stars, the moons, and the tiny mushrooms that glowed on the sides of some of the trees.

Now she was still more than a half-hour from town, and the sun was rising.

A late-flying dragon moth fluttered by, its iridescent purples and blues bright in a world still mostly grey, and she couldn't help smiling. There was her challenge--the dragon, one of the seven myths depicted on the disks. The moth didn't signal the same level of danger as a true dragon, of course, but the meaning was still clear. The challenge would be there, all set up, by the time she arrived.

Hat Trick caught up to her while she stared at the moth, and nibbled playfully at the fringe on her shirt. She laughed again, startling the birds into a moment of silence. It was a beautiful morning. She would deal with the dragon when she got to it.

She walked along the road, between young groves of fruit trees, enjoying the heady scent of the flowers. Another dragon moth flitted by, and then the first dizzy butterfly, so often used as the symbol of natural movement. Movement would be her key, then. She would have to suggest the image to Arimithia for the next installment in her own set of disks, if the day went well.

As the sun crested the horizon, color crept into the trees and bushes around her. The sky went from grey to blue, the clouds glowed gold and lavender, and the flowers on the trees gleamed pale pink. More butterflies appeared, flitting through the air, careless and carefree. Rai-Kunabei smiled and danced with them for a few steps, swinging her prayer staff, and laughing with the cheerful sound of the bells.

Dancing sped her up enough that the goat complained again, turning her head the other way this time, to nip at Rai-Konalei's burnt ball-whistles. Kunabei's grandfather had insisted she take them, so no one would doubt her status. Kunabei had protested. Her own proof of an encounter with a wraith looked significantly different than her great-grandmother's; Kunabei didn't see how anyone could mistake them. Her grandfather pointed out that the Kiffumiyi didn't see them often enough to remember one from another.

She slowed, rubbing the goat's ears again. She was getting close enough to town that she should modulate her steps like a responsible adult, even if she felt more like a child on a school holiday. But it was such a beautiful day, and it had been so long since she'd been out walking alone, that it was hard to restrain her joy.

The orchards gave way to small houses surrounded by kitchen gardens, each family planting both their traditional foodstuffs and the many and varied foods Obo had brought with her. A few families planted imports from the Empire as well. Lines of tall trees separated the gardens, serving as boundaries and wind breaks.

People waved from a distance as she walked by, doubtless thinking she had cheese or bells for sale. It was nothing like the greeting Rai-Konalei had gotten during the last trip to Tiffikumiyi she'd made with Kunabei at her side, before her final illness. Clearly, if word had reached these people that there was a new Rai, they didn't realize that was her. The feeling that here she was just another goat girl, at least until she set her staff in the oak roots and took out the divination disks, cheered Kunabei even more.

Soon, larger buildings appeared: a school that was easily three times the size of the one Kunabei attended, an inn, a drinking house, other buildings whose purposes Kunabei wasn't certain about. These were interspersed with larger homes, each of which had a kitchen garden enclosed in a fence. People were up and about their business, picking vegetables and fruit or weeding their gardens, carrying parcels to and fro, or setting out food or milk for the town's cats. Only about half of the people, most of them grey-haired, carried prayer staffs, though the buildings and trees were festooned with bells at their highest points.

In the center of town was the marketplace, a wide open area filled with tables and awnings. People were arranging their wares on the tables or already sitting behind them. A woman mopped her forehead with a rag and sat down heavily, sighing, as Kunabei walked up to her table. One side was filled with fresh herbs and vegetables; the other held hand-made papers, some with herbs or flower petals around the edges.

Kunabei picked up one of the pages, and ran her finger along the decorative border. The flower petals were somehow part of the textured paper. She raised it to her nose--she could still smell the delicate scent of the apple blossoms.

"That's a very fine paper for a bit of poetry, miss. Would you like to buy some?"

Kunabei looked up in surprise. "Um--no, not now, at least. I've barely seen anything here yet." She set it down carefully on the table. "It's beautiful, though."

"I'll be here all day. I'll still be here once you've sold your cargo there." The woman nodded at the pack on the goat's back.

"Thank you." Kunabei nodded politely to her, then moved on to the next table, and the next. The old oak tree was in the center of the market, and she turned so she could check out all of the tables before trying to settle herself in.

As Vraito had warned, the tables crowded close to the Oak. There was barely enough room to stand next to the hollow between the roots reserved for the Rai's prayer staff; Rai Kunabei pretended to look at some bells while she considered her options.

The spot where Konalei had sat, her back supported by a twist of the oak root, was occupied by a heavy wood table covered in glass sculptures. The other side of the old, twisted oak was occupied by barrels of vegetables, watched over by a frowning old man who glared at her as if being young were a crime.

She could try the other side of the oak, but it wouldn't have a spot for her prayer staff. Besides, even from here, she could see that there was a table stretched across the width of the oak there.

She stood, staring at the oak, exasperated. This was her spot--she was supposed to have plenty of room to sit, let the person consulting her relax with her for a few moments, and spread out the disks chosen for view. To say nothing of room for an assistant and a goat or two. Even standing wouldn't be comfortable--unlike the Kuleilyi oak, this oak had low, twisty limbs. If she left any room at all for someone else to consult her, even standing, she'd have a branch in the small of her back.

Staring at the oak, she suddenly smiled. She pulled Hat Trick away from the bells and walked firmly to her spot, placing her prayer staff in its designated receptacle. Then she tied the goat to the oak, well away from the fragile glass, and released the heavy bag from the harness on the goat's back. It took only a moment to lift the bag to a crook in one of the oak's wide limbs and lift herself to sit on the same branch, back far enough to lean against the trunk.

"Hey, girlie, get away from there!" It was the unpleasant-looking man behind the vegetables.

Rai-Kunabei leaned out to make sure her ball-whistle was prominently displayed on her prayer staff, and opened the sack enough to show the gleam of the metal divination disks.

"Girlie--take your goat and move on!" The man was now standing in her space, what little was left of it, glaring up at her.

"Are you talking to me?" She looked down at him.

"What other dumb kid with a goat do you see near here?"

"I don't see any dumb kids with goats around here. And this is my spot. If you don't have a question for me, please move away to make room."

"Your--" He snarled. "We'll see about that. And you'd better keep your goat from eating my produce, or I'll have you for theft." He strode off, not at all affected by the beautiful day.

The old woman selling the bells walked over, petting Hat Trick absently. "Klovi is headed to the monitor's station, you know." She bent to peer at the ball whistles still attached to Hat Trick's harness. "These were Rai-Konalei's!" She peered up at Kunabei. "You're the little girl who used to follow her around, aren't you?"

Kunabei nodded. "I'm Rai-Kunabei. I'm sorry, I don't remember your name."

"I'd heard a rumor that the Kuleilyi had a new Rai. I didn't realize it was someone I'd actually met. Where are your scorched balls?"

Kunabei waved toward her prayer staff. "I'm afraid great-grandma's aim was better than mine. I only hit the wraith with one ball."

The woman reached up to run a finger along Kunabei's ball. "It is good to see the power of Kiffumik, active again in the world. The monitor is a lowlander. These won't be proof enough for him--do you have the proper licenses?"

Kunabei nodded again, reaching inside her bodice for her license pouch. She had laughed when Vraito first drew up a license granting her the position and title of Rai--the piece of paper seemed silly to her. But when Tladithii had refused to use her title if she wasn't carrying the license, Kunabei started to carry her license pouch everywhere, like a regular lowlander.

The woman nodded. "I'm Norla." She batted at Hat Trick's nose to keep the goat from Klovi's cabbages. "Would it be all right with you if I took your goat to the pasture? There's an enclosure just down the way a bit, for sellers to keep their transportation out of trouble. That license entitles you to use it, while you're here--and though you could argue that your goat is entitled to eat anything in your spot, I doubt the lowland monitor really understands our local traditions."

"I'd appreciate that--if you'd hand me Grandma's ball-whistles, that is."

Norla unhooked them from Hat Trick's harness and handed them up to Rai-Kunabei.

"Thank you for taking care of Hat Trick."

The old woman laughed. "Hat Trick, huh?" She ruffled the goat's ears. "If I get any customers, tell them I'll be right back, would you?"

Kunabei smiled. "Of course."

"Once you're done with the monitor, I'll be by for a reading."

Norla had barely got Hat Trick moving when Klovi returned, followed by a tall woman with very dark skin and shiny black hair. A small crowd of people followed them.

"Citizen, my name is Arviito. May I see your licenses?"

Rai-Kunabei handed her license pouch to the monitor and held her tattoo out for inspection as well, watching while Klovi started pointedly counting his potatoes and pea pods.

The monitor examined the licenses carefully. Her personal license was standard, and the woman quickly placed it back. The licenses for travel and for owning and herding goats were likewise glanced at and put away. Her license as Rai, however, perplexed the monitor. Her dark brows pulled together and the woman peered up at Kunabei, letting her see a purple iridescence. Kunabei realized the woman must be of Mayaloi descent, and she wished, not for the first time, that she could visit the Rainbow Rainforest. She wondered if the monitor had ever been there.

"This license," started the monitor, turning to an old man in the crowd. "Can you verify this thing?" She waved it in the air, showing its multiple pages.

The old man took it and glanced at it. "This is Mayor Vraito's signature."

She frowned. "The Mayor's signature? But--"

"Up in the mountains, they don't have a separate licensing official. This is valid." The old man handed the license back to the monitor, then stepped up to the oak tree. "I am Mayor Mraiffo. Welcome to our town, Rai-Kunabei. You honor us."

"Thank you, Mayor Mraiffo. You are gracious. Would you like a reading, for yourself or your people?"

"We do things a little differently than the Kuleilyi--I do not claim the right of first reading for my people. Instead, the citizens here are welcome to ask, or not to ask, on their own. But I may return, once my official duties for the day have been satisfied."

Rai Kunabei smiled. "You will be welcome."

"I do apologise, Rai, that your space was occupied when you arrived."

Klovi looked up in alarm. "Her space! But--"

Norla's voice came from behind the mayor. "Klovi, your license allows you to claim a spot that has no prior claim, just like mine."

"And I got here first, fair and square."

The monitor flipped another page on Rai-Kunabei's priestess license. "Ah--here it is--the ten feet around the oak in the center of each town is reserved for the priestess' use." She smiled at him, flashing white teeth in her dark skin. Kunabei was glad the smile was not directed at her. Absently, the monitor handed her the license and pulled out a notebook. "Let's see, you have set up in a space you were not entitled to, causing the rightful occupant of that space to--"

"But she wasn't here! I've been using this space for three years!"

"Three years? And that's setting up, what, twice a tenday, from spring to autumn?" Her pencil scratched across the paper.

Behind the monitor, four burly men very quietly picked up the table full of glass pieces and moved it away from the oak tree, the anxious women who had been sitting behind the table now standing on either side, reaching to steady pieces that wobbled.

Rai-Kunabei felt her cheeks turning red. "I didn't mean--"

Mayor Mraiffo shook his head at her, and she stopped, confused.

Norla stepped forward. "Excuse me Mayor, Monitor," she bobbed her head respectfully at each of them, "but the Rai promised me a reading in return for taking her goat to the enclosure.

The Mayor turned to the people gathered to watch. "All right, move on everyone. The Rai will be here all day--" He paused and looked at her, and Kunabei nodded. "And it's rude to hover while someone's getting a reading. You can come back when the priestess is free."

The monitor pulled out a measuring string, and measured ten feet from the oak to determine how much of Klovi's goods were in violation of his license, and making more notes.

"This isn't fair!"

"You took the classes for the license, right?"


"So you had notice of all prior claims. Now, if you want a fine for interfering with a Monitor in the pursuit of her duties, you just keep talking. Otherwise, you can take these things," she pointed at the barrels that were more than ten feet from the tree, "to another spot, I'll figure your fines, and also what you owe this young lady in back rent for using her space."

"But all the good--" He stopped as the monitor reached to flip her notebook to a new page. "Er, yes ma'am." He picked up a box of greens and started carrying it away from the center of the market.

Rai-Kunabei found herself in the center of a quiet area, with Norla standing nearby. Norla was smiling.

"I really didn't mean to cause trouble for anyone." Kunabei said.

"Oh, don't trouble yourself about it, girl--this isn't about you. Klovi has been a thorn in everybody's side, playing the rules every which way for his own benefit and taking up a lot of that Monitor's time with his complaints. It wouldn't matter if it were the dragon whose license rights he'd violated, she'd be happy to hold him to the same strict standards he demanded the rest of the world be held to."

"Oh." Kunabei wasn't used to anyone but the teachers paying much attention to licenses.

"Do you need a little time before doing a reading?"

It would take time to consider the scene she'd just witnessed, but that could wait. Maybe she could make it the subject of her essay--it would give her an excuse to get the teacher's perspective on it, if nothing else. But for now, she had a job to do, a job she had found she was good at. Rai-Kunabei smiled. "I'm always up for a reading."

Author's Notes

This was written for the March, 2011 Muse Fusion.

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