The bangles on her ankles danced and sang from the tremble which began in her legs. Kiona stumbled to stop herself from falling in relief.
“Accepted? It is?” Her astonishment lifted the veil of guilt she had carried with her. She exhaled the fear that had begun to crawl up her throat and her chest lightened, her soul elated.
“Your beauty, yes. A fair trade, I agree.” Moldan allowed his fingers to part and the silty ash to fall out around the new folded paper he held.
Kiona touched her fingers to her face, the clay remained in place, “but my mask, it’s still…”
“This level of magic takes time, my dear Kiona.” Moldan offered the paper to her, the folds elegant and mysterious, “for now, you must return to your husband.”
Moldan stood facing her now, the sore stitching appeared fresh. He ran a finger down her cheek. “Yes, it takes more…time.” She moved back from his touch but not before a large clump of clay broke off and fell into his hand.
“Kiona,” he placed the folded paper into her palm, “Go home now. Back to your abode, the familiarity of your husband, the love of your Raffi. That is your true beauty.” Moldan spoke even as he turned his back to her and sat to the leather chair. It rocked only once before fading into nothing, leaving Kiona standing once more in the empty room. The floor covered with damaged feathers from the crushed bird. “Our trade, is complete.” His words followed her as she placed the letter into the folds of her dress and turned to leave.
The door opened and closed for her, without a touch to it. Kiona didn’t have to turn around to know the gold made octopus handle crawled back into its hole to lock up the hut. She smiled wider than ever as the rust colored mud fell in larger clumps. It was not the shards of dust that would signify time to reapply the mask, this was the beginning of the end. The clay she had held close to her heart, as a comfort since she was a child. Taught by Lerier to ensure her rare beauty would be protected. A snap of sadness whispered through her mind, to know she was giving up a beauty most couldn’t imagine. The end result would be worthwhile and the smile was genuine. This was worth giving up.
The end of the path was dark ahead of her, past Kiona’s comfort. The animal sounds louder without the numb of the peyote. The threat of death more real with an infant growing in her womb. Fear slowed her steps to a crawl and worry filled her legs with sand. She had to build fire, to warm her frozen toes and give herself protection until sunrise. Time had run out, Kiona accepted the fate of returning to her husband in the daylight and the anger Raffi would have.
She climbed over the tree stump railing to enter a clearing in the woods. The crowns high above her head seemed to part enough to give her a sliver of moon light. Kiona set to work building a fire before the night animals had a chance to set in closer.The clearer produced plenty of sticks, twigs and mossy handfuls of fire starter.Propping them into the damp night soil, Kiona set to work to create friction fire as she had been taught.
Clay fell from her face as her hands blistered, her eyelids dipped low and her spirits were drained after the hum of the hallucinogenic tea. Her strength ran from her chest out her arms and leaked from her finger tips as she dropped the sticks.
“I can’t do it,”she said to the empty night sky. Somewhere deep in her mind, Lerier’s voice reprimanded her and said she could. Kiona sat back, the perfect formation of fire starter in front of her but no flame.
She looked to her ancestors in the stars. The grey clouds danced to cover the near dipping moon and the landscape darkened further. Kiona dropped the sticks, she didn’t feel them hit her frozen naked toes. She closed her eyes to prevent tears from forming and pulled on Lerier’s advice, “if all else fails, ask the elders in the sky.” It took less than a down beat of her heart to recall the prayer for fire.
“I pray to the wild of the night, I pray to Thracian in the sky, I require fire. Give me light.”
Kiona forced her near numb fingers to interlace, her lips allowed frozen breathes to escape and her words echoed loud in the cooling night air. She feared suddenly for the infant in her womb, for her Raffi would wake alone to hunt her down and find her frozen in the grasses of a foreign, forbidden land. The words were repeated over and over until light pierced through the night.
A warmth grew from her hands. She opened her eyes and gasped at the sight of a single rose between her palms. Burning with the fire of heavenly blues, passionate purples and strong hot oranges. “Thank the wild!” Kiona sobbed an affirmation, ignoring the stab of a thorn which dug deep into her thumb. The elders had sent her afire rose. The luxurious lines of the flower were outlined beautifully in the life-giving fire.
The shallow crevasses on her clay mask crackled under the heat. Splintering and shattering as glass would sound. The gullies on her face felt thinner. The warmth of the burning rose reached her fresh skin below and she felt the heat dry and break the mask away further. A naked spot on her cheek felt the rush of night air mixed with the refreshing heat of the rose and Kiona smiled as she tipped the rose to the fire starter. Watching its celestial beauty move. The soft glow lit her hand lines before she dropped it.
Elation built as the flames of the rose ate away at the moss. Flickering and changing colors as it moved toward the sticks. Growing and pulsing, it came to life on the broken tree branches. The rose kept its shape for only an instant more before the small flame licked into a roaring fire. The heat drove away the near frost bite in her fingers and toes and settled her shaky heart back to calm.
Kiona jumped up with renewed energy and danced around the fire. The flames grew and lapped away the darkness, growing as it ate the black blanket of sky. The unknown behind the black blanket dissipated to simple trees and rocks. The bleeding banister of Moldan’s walkway seemed a lifetime ago and Kiona kept her back to it, as if keeping her back to the truth of his disobedience. She had still a long journey ahead of her back to the white sands where her canoe was tied. For now, she would enjoy this fire the star ancestors brought her.
Joy of her full womb, a boy she was certain. Pride, as a lion, for a successful trade. The sorrow of the falling clay mask gone, she shook her head to make it fall away faster but magic required patience. She wouldn’t allow guilt to dampen the spirits of the fire. Kiona shrieked a successful warrior cry as she threw a large rotten trunk onto the fire. Sparks shot up and crackled among the stars.
“Well, that’s a little excessive, wouldn’t you say?”
Kiona nearly fell over, “hello?” she stammered. Her face dropped to solemn as she realized she wasn’t alone. Even the distance the fire lit reached, she saw not a soul.
“Such a large fire, for such a little native girl,” the rusted voice sounded amused as Kiona whirled around, searching for the hidden intruder.
It was not Moldan’s smooth tongue and horror sunk into her at the recollection of the glowing, blinking eyes calling her name earlier.
“Show yourself!”she yelled into the dark veil the stranger hid behind. “Where are you?!” Words echoed back to her in her own voice but were not spoken by her. She wondered if the peyote was still playing tricks on her mind, it reminded her how alone she was. She had exposed her frailty.
“I am here, I have always been here, Kiona.” The voice mocked her.