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Chapt. 11: A Ruah Village
By Michael Jesse
They set off again down the trail, and for a while the path followed close by the seashore, sometimes weaving out to the edge of the sand and other times cutting through deep patches of woods. Verdu was now in a much better mood and occasionally piped a few notes like someone absently humming. When the path narrowed and they ran in single file, with Riona in the lead, Verdu nudged her from behind with his horns which made her laugh, but the next time the path narrowed she made him go in front.
"We're almost there, children," Riona said. "This is the main road through our village."
It was not much of a road to Jack and Laura and more like a broad walking trail winding through a park, wide enough that the two ruah could easily trot side by side. Large flat stones were imbedded in the trail at some places and ivy groundcover lined the edges.
The road wound down a sharp ridge and from the valley below came the music of many ruah horns joined together and overlapping. At a bend in the path they could see down a steep embankment to a pasture where dozens of ruah were lined up on both sides of an open space. Five or six males ran back and forth bumping each other out of the way in competition for something small and red that soared through the air from one cluster of ruah to another. With a crack, one of them swatted the red ball before it could hit the ground and sent it soaring back as the crowd trumpeted its encouragement.
But not everyone was focused on the game. At the edge of the field, Laura noticed another group of ruah that she guessed were about Ronnie's age or perhaps slightly older based on the horn sizes. These ruah were making their own music. One stood over what looked like several carved and polished hollow logs bound together that he drummed on with his horns. Another had something shiny and metallic tied to his horns that tinkled like wind chimes as he bobbed his head to the rhythm. And both of them were piping the same melody about falling in love with that one special someone.
A few couples were dancing, the males with all four feet on the ground while the females draped their front legs on their partner's horns as Jack and Laura had seen Riona do with Verdu. The males turned in circles to the music and the females whistled and squealed as they let their feet fly off the ground. Nearby, a few other females lounged together with their faces turned up to the sun or used their toenails and teeth to meticulously groom each others' hair.
As he paused at the crest of the hill overlooking the scene, Verdu tooted a flat, disapproving note and continued down the winding pathway. Beside him, Riona swished her tail to the rhythm and whistled along.
Most of these ruah remained preoccupied in their own pursuits and did not notice Jack and Laura, but amid the crowd a few looked up curiously as Verdu and Riona passed by carrying something on their backs.
The path curved away from the playing field and the music faded as they crested a grassy hill and began going down a well-trodden path that led among little houses scattered haphazardly on the grassy hillside. Each house seemed wedged into the hillside so that part of it was underground. The part above ground was made of stacked stones and white birch branches bound together and packed with chalky clay. The roofs were logs and earth on top of which grew a lush and flowering groundcover that dripped in hanging trails in front of deep-set windows.
Perhaps because of the festivities going on elsewhere, the little neighborhood appeared to be largely vacant of its residents. In one garden, a male was busily digging with his horns while a female stood on her rear legs picking string beans with her front feet and dropping them into a basket. Neither noticed as Verdu and Riona quietly passed farther down the road. At another house, a gray-maned male lay sprawled in the grass like a big dog sleeping in the sun.
Riona led the way toward a white-painted door surrounded by abundant flower gardens. The door opened as they approached and a very small female with silvery hair stepped out gracefully, her tiny gray toenails making a gentle tapping noise on the brick path. Her face was nearly hairless like Riona's, but patterned with intricate wrinkles like the veins of an insect's wing.
"Children," Riona announced. "This is my grandmother, who is also the leader of our community. You may address her as Mother Irenia."
"It's okay dears," the old ruah whistled through delicate nostrils as she ushered Jack and Laura inside." All the children call me that– and some of those aren't much more related to me than you are. Come in, dears, I'm sure you're hungry."
Riona followed them inside, but Verdu remained on the patio and turned to speak with three or four others who had followed from the playing field.
Although the day had become quite hot, inside the little house was as cool as a basement. The floor was brick and the walls a white stucco shaped around branches. Stout tree trunks held up the sloping log roof and provided support for a wall of bluish glass bricks. Laura eagerly looked around, absorbing every detail until she saw it and gasped — a large set of ruah horns mounted on a stand like a hunting trophy.
Irenia stepped up beside her and whistled softly, "I see you've met my late husband."
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