The Chief Pt. 02 Ch. 03byamicus©
He took his evening meal on the covered deck, eating in silence as the shadows lengthened. He gazed off in the distance as thoughts he always held closely under control drifted into his mind.
Maraleesa still smiled that special smile; she still tossed her hair and teased him with her eyes.
"Sadness surrounds you, my son. I would listen."
Sahjeed twitched and blinked and sat up, "The food was excellent, as always, my mother. You take good care of me, you have for all my days."
She smiled sadly, "One day I will not be here, Sahjeed, I worry what you will do."
"It must be my day," he smiled, "Domohaas the Trader, pointed out his daughters and reminded me I have no sons to carry on. Oh, and I had news of the young couple we joined, they do well"
"I am happy for them; Domo's girls? It would be a good match, his children are quick and very practical about things," she smiled.
Sahjeed Deeda reached across the table and took his mother's hands, "I sometimes think I have lost something I can never find again. When I looked upon Maarleesa, my heart sang, I felt silly because I smiled all the time. When I thought about her as I walked I would trip over a blade of grass and bump into trees. I can see the curve of her neck and the shape of her eyes as clearly now as I did when she...." He took his hands back and turned away.
She sat in silence for a moment.
"My son, the hardest part of being a mother is finding that you cannot help a broken heart, you cannot replace a missing piece. I still believe I should be able to soothe your pain as I could when you were a child. She is gone, but I cannot tell you to let her go."
Sahjeed sighed, "It is not my choice to see her face when I close my eyes. I am reminded of her scent when I pick a flower. Ah, I must stop this. Is there something sweet to finish such a fine meal?"
She smiled and pushed lightly against his shoulder, "Always hungry is my son the Chief. There are fresh berries; a young girl stopped by and left them just for you. Do you know who she is? She was untidy and looked like she could use a bath."
Sahjeed tilted his head, "She tended my wound and I think she is the same girl that follows when I walk the village. I do not know who she is or why she seems always near."
Sahjeed and First Guard Duulaat walked side by side as the light turned a paler shade of gray. A light mist rose from the river and low clouds scudded before a westerly breeze.
"We don't often get rain this time of the season," said Duulaat.
"It smells like rain, we need it, the woods are dry. How is Rahseeta?"
Duulaat glanced at Sahjeed, "She is well, my Chief, she will be pleased that you asked."
He nodded, "Something you said, First Guard, that I would have left no one to follow me and several other things. I spoke with my mother about Maarleesa. I found myself thinking about her, about you and Rahseeta; we were all such good friends when we were young. I try to imagine all four of us together, grown up, with children of our own, I...."
Duulaat stopped suddenly, open pain on his face, "Sahjeed, I have never said...but...we cannot have children, Rahseeta recovered from the illness but something happened, she has no moon cycle...." Duulaat turned away.
"I am so sorry, my friend, I didn't know. I, uh, I have not wanted to see your mate and be reminded of those times. I didn't think...."
"She misses her too, she cries in the dark at the loss of what we all had, for what might have been. I fear sometimes that she won't stay with me, with us; sometimes she stays inside for many suns and does not speak."
They walked in silence around the village until they returned to the starting point.
"I must remind you, my Chief, that the meeting of all the Leaders is to be in our village this moon, it is perhaps one hand of days from now."
"Thank you, First Guard; perhaps you and Rahseeta would join me for an evening meal?"
"I will ask her," said Duulaat.
Sahjeed surprised both of Domohaas's daughters by holding his elbows out until they laughed and each took him by an arm into the inner room. It was then Sahjeed's turn to be startled, as he looked closely at one then the other and back to the first.
He gasped, "You are the same! Your looks, you are both this high and, and..."
Domohaas bellowed a laugh as he walked up to them, "So you finally noticed! I had them fix their hair the same and wear the same dress before and you looked through them.
"Chief Sahjeed Deeda, I would have you meet my daughters, Ceelahaas and Leelahaas, Leela has a small imperfection here on her neck just below the ear. That is how I can tell them apart until she covers it with her hair."
Smiling, Sahjeed lightly embraced both girls who giggled and left the room.
"Do I sense a change in you, my Chief?" asked Domohaas.
Sahjeed mouthed a wry smile, "Several things, you included, have pointed out to me that I grow older every day. It came as a shock to me that I might not live forever. Domohaas, I have a question for you."
"Of course. How can I help?"
"I have thought about your many trades, different items, different people and when and how much. How do you keep track of it all? How do you know for certain that you have made a proper trade and remember it?"
Domohaas's eyes sparkled and a huge grin wrinkled his face, "Ah, my Chief, how I have hoped you would ask that question. How much time can you give me?"
"As long as it takes, Trader, I want to know."
Domohaas led Sahjeed for the first time through a secret door and down a stairway. They carried candle bowls and descended into cool air.
"Under the earth?" asked Sahjeed.
"Outside my household, no one knows of this place," said the Trader.
They sat across from each other at a large square table; Domohaas lit more bowls and placed them carefully. He seemed nervous and hesitant.
"My Chief, what I show you here is the heart of what I do. I learned it all from my father. To my knowledge no one else knows what you are about to learn.
"I could not by myself or with my sons and daughters remember exactly everything we do. I could not trade as I do without this knowledge. Craftsmen and artists have tricks about how they do their work, they discover something and only they know it. They do not give their methods away.
"I will give you my, a, my magic, for surely it seems like magic. I want you to know about it, I am excited about it and proud. But I have my fears."
Domohaas reached under the table and brought forth a large skin pouch and several smaller ones. He took what looked like rolls of bark from the large container, opened the bark and placed a stone on each corner to hold it down.
Sahjeed watched with interest as Domohaas placed an assortment of thin sharp sticks and several long feathers on the table. He poured a dark liquid into a small bowl and looked across the table.
The Chief returned the gaze, and then followed the Trader's hands with his eyes.
Domohaas showed one hand with his fingers spread wide apart. He took a sharpened stick. Dipped it into the bowl and made four straight lines on the white inside of the roll of bark. He looked up and placed his thumb across his palm to his little finger and drew a diagonal line across the four straight lines on the bark.
"One hand, written down," said the Trader.
He did the same with his other hand.
"Two hands, written down."
Sahjeed's eyes widened as he began to comprehend.
"Now," Domohaas laid one hand on top of the other and drew an, X, on the bark. "Another way to write two hands."
Sahjeed blinked, staring, trying to understand.
Domohaas drew four lines again and a diagonal line, then he drew a separate diagonal line, standing by itself. He drew four more lines and another diagonal and reached to cross the first.
"I see it! I see. I understand. Those crossed lines represent two hands of numbers of things or items. I see." Sahjeed was wide-eyed.
The Trader's eyes glittered, "I have words for each number of two hands and more! Many more! Look, Sahjeed! /, One hand, or five! X, two hands, or ten, XX, four hands! And Ahjeed, here, look at this, XX/, five hands, XXX, six hands! Do you see, do you see it?"
Sahjeed was astounded, "Trader! Have you any idea how long I have thought of how to say something other than one hand or two hands? And all the time you had it here!"
Domohaas was overjoyed, "There is more, Chief! Much more. Will you hear it now?"
"My head is spinning, but yes, what more do you have?"
"Time, my Chief, the passing of each sun, that is what I have. In my trading, I need to know when something happened or when it will happen. Sahjeed Deeda, I must tell you, this is not my doing. You hear my father's words and his father's. I was but an unwilling student, even as I helped in the business, until I began to realize what this knowledge did for me.
"We have the seasons, right? The cold season, the hot season and we begin a new season in the deep of the cold when the sun is low and the light time is short. How do we know this?"
Sahjeed shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.
"The Legends of the Lights, my Chief. The chants of my family tell of men who stayed awake each dark and watched the lights and the dark sky. And those who followed the sun from when and where it rose until it set. They watched the moon as it rose and set and as it changed from small to large. They made marks on tree bark and on large hides like these."
Domohaas unrolled a large cream-colored hide with many black markings.
"In one complete season, the moon comes full and goes away many times. When the moon is half, then half of half coming and going...."
Sahjeed grunted and groaned and put his hands on his head, "Stop, Trader! No more! I must think."
Domohaas's face fell, "I said too much, too fast my Chief, I...."
"No, my friend, it is just that what you say is so huge, so important. I am overwhelmed; I have many questions. You put the marks on the bark and the hide and they are as speaking that can be seen. How much of our words can be made as marks? How can you remember what the marks mean?"
The Chief was breathing hard in excitement and confusion. Domohaas smiled and drew out yet another large hide covered with marks in a line down the side.
The Trader was proud as he explained, "I have a special mark for each that I trade with. That person carries with him the same mark on a small piece of wood or stone. He also can mark what he trades with his own figure that will match with my copy.
"We know each other by our marks." He pointed to other figures alongside the mark identifying the person, "This person brought me four, see the mark, cured deer hides of excellent quality on the fifth sun of the sixth moon. He took nothing in return." The trader pointed out each mark as he explained.
The Chief sat still for several moments gazing unfocused across the table. "You keep all this from the People?"
Domohaas frowned, "No my Chief, I do not. Those who trade with me must understand as much as they can to know that I deal fairly with them. They learn only what they need. Only you have asked. Even my sons and daughters just learn; they do not wish to study or to know. I will not burden you, but there is more, that of measures and lengths and size."
Sahjeed Deeda grimaced, "Not this sun, Trader. Domohaas, do you have the patience to show this willing but slow student that which you know? I will find a way to return the value in turn."
Domohaas grinned widely and bustled about, putting the room in order, "You are not slow, my Chief, and I will gladly share all I know. In return, you need only do as you have, impose fair trade and justice on the People. That is the greatest thing you can do for me and my family."
Sahjeed Deeda left the Trader's lodge in a daze, but did not forget to smile at each of his daughters.
The Chief continued his early walks of the village; he caught a glimpse of the girl again and motioned to her. She did not come to him but slipped out of sight behind tangled vines.
"I do not understand this girl, First Guard. Do you know of her?"
Duulaat looked to the spot where she had disappeared. "Very little, my Chief. She comes and goes from the village, the People are kind to her, she helps with children, and she brings fruits and small gifts. No one knows where she sleeps or who her family is. It is said she does not speak and perhaps cannot hear sounds, I do not know."
Sahjeed turned and continued his tour.
"Did you remember to ask your mate to come for a meal at my lodge?
The First Guard hesitated, "She was strange, my Chief, she did not say yes, but that if I chose, she would go. I have puzzled over this, but if you wish, we will come this sun."
"Fine, good," smiled Sahjeed, "My mother cooks well, but she does not share the meal with me. It will be nice to have others at my table. I will tell her at mid-day."
A village man, bare-chested, wearing only a loincloth, prodded by a short angry woman, approached Sahjeed as he walked near the area of the compound.
"Forgive me, my Chief," The man bowed his head and looked down.
"You wish to speak?" asked Sahjeed.
"Ah, my mate, she is, well...."
The woman stepped forward, "We were cheated! My neighbor's land is much bigger! It is not fair! They made an arrangement with the Land person! It's not right, we...."
The Chief raised his hand; "Show me."
Sahjeed Deeda walked the perimeter of each plot of land. One was much small than the other.
"First Guard, would you have Laabasaat, the Land Manager and Domohaas, the Trader, join us here?"
"Yes, my Chief," said Duulaat.
Domohaas brought a son with him; the Land Manager was very nervous and squinted continuously.
The Trader sent his son back to his lodge for a long length of twisted hide and writing materials. Domohaas made the measurements, a quick sketch and added numbers around the sides.
The Trader glanced at the Land Manager then stiffly spoke to Sahjeed, "Both plots are smaller than the custom has been, one is much smaller."
"How could this happen, Manager? I do not understand," said Sahjeed Deeda.
The Land Manager perspired heavily and did not meet any eyes, "I do not know, I walk the same number of steps each time, perhaps the steps were shorter, I do not know."
Domohaas swallowed largely, stiffened his body and did not look at the Chief's eyes when he spoke, "Land Manager Laabasaat controls more land than anyone in the village. He charges those who live upon it, or if it is wooded he takes part of the wood."
Sahjeed Deeda's eyes bulged and his jaws were tight, he stood nose to nose with the Land Manager, "The People would tear you apart, limb by limb." The Chief paced and saw the villagers who had stopped him.
"Your land will be measured again and you will have the proper amount. I offer my apology. You did right in telling me of this. You will leave us now."
When they were gone, Sahjeed turned to the Land Manager. "All the land you hold is forfeited and returned to the village. You and all your apprentices will serve the People on the trails for a whole season."
The Chief looked long and hard at the man; "You represented the leadership of this village. You acted in my name. You have betrayed me, and the People you serve. I do not wish to ever look upon your face again. Take him away!"
Sahjeed Deeda had spoken angrily, it was some time before he calmed.
"Trader, would you accept a position as advisor to the Chief? Your first task would be to find a replacement for the Land Manager, one that will be fair and just to the People. How say you?"
Domohaas bowed, "I would be honored to serve, my Chief. There are not many who are qualified to serve in such a way, but I will find the best."
"Thank you, Trader. I am in your debt once again," said Sahjeed. "As we are near the compound, I would have you go through the remaining areas and dispose of the goods."
"Yes, my Chief," answered the Trader.
At mid-day, Sahjeed ate lightly and told his mother of the plans for the evening meal. She smiled, "I remember when I had to feed all of you every other sun. It will be good to have them here. It has been too long, my son."
Sahjeed Deeda followed an overgrown trail alongside the river outside the village. He came to a familiar place, stopped, and turned to Duulaat, the First Guard.
"We used to swim here, my friend, those were good times."
Duulaat smiled, "Yes, I remember, the girls brought food, we would spend the whole sun." The First Guard looked at the nearly barren hillside overlooking the sandy beach and the small stream that had eaten away a large gully. He leaned forward and stared up the hill and pointed, "There is someone up there."
Sahjeed followed his gaze, "So there is, let us climb up and take a look."
An old man watched them approach. He frowned as he recognized the Chief, "This is not your usual place to walk, my Chief, what brings you up here?"
Sahjeed studied the deeply creased face, white hair and strongly muscled arms of the old man. The blue tinged blood vessels on the back of his hands stood out in contrast to the scratched and deeply tanned flesh.
"You are the woodworker, Tobosaana, are you not?" asked Sahjeed.
The old man's grin showed gaps in his teeth, "I am called that, my Chief, but few remember. There is a reason you climbed this hill?"
Sahjeed smiled as he and Duulaat squatted down, sitting on their heels. "I was curious as to who was up here and what they might be doing. I can see now that you place small trees in the dirt. Does it not take a very long time for a tree to grow?"
"That it does my Chief. I will not live to see the sun when any good will come of my work. This once was a lovely wooded hill, now the cold time rains wash the earth down to the stream."
Sahjeed sighed, "Yes, in my mind, I too can see it as it was. It is in the chants of the People that they are not to take all the trees, but to leave enough to hold the soil and drop new seeds."
The old man stood and kicked the dirt, "It is out of sight of the village, but close. People do not always act, as they should. Perhaps when the children of my children are grown this hill will be beautiful again, but...."
Sahjeed tilted his head, "But what, woodsman?"
"I am an old man, my Chief. I am not unhappy with that, but my arms are weak, it takes my breath to climb this small hill. It gives me pleasure to think that I will leave these growing trees behind me when I join the Lights. I would be happier still if there were a way that my family could enjoy the fruit of my work. As it is, anyone can come to this place and take all the trees they want. I cannot live here and protect what I have done."
Sahjeed looked down and then across the hillside, "I understand. The land upon which your lodge stands, it will be passed to your oldest son, is that correct?"
"Yes, my Chief, that is the way of the People."
"That land, where you live, is your land; no others are permitted unless you give permission?"
The old man nodded, "You say things that everyone knows, my Chief, I do not understand why?"
Sahjeed Deeda smiled, "I go from what I know to what I do not know, Tobosaana. If the land you live on is yours to do with as you please, why not then other pieces of land, such as this?
"Woodsman, I will think on this and try to find a way that you and others who care for the land can gain from it. Thank you for opening my eyes honored Elder. May this sun go well for you."
The woodsman could find no words as he watched Sahjeed and the First Guard wind their way back down the hill. They paused to rest at the bottom alongside the creek.
"My Chief, over the past hand of suns, you have said and done things that have never been done before. I am sometimes without words when I finally understand what you have said and what it means." Duulaat only glanced at Sahjeed Deeda as he spoke.