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Chapt. 12: A Voice Remembered

By Michael Jesse

"Your husband?"

Irenia nodded. "Thurdom passed into The Spirit many years ago."

"But why do you . . . why do you have his . . . ?"

Irenia laughed. "Oh, I suppose that may seem quite strange to you. I understand you witnessed a funeral this morning. One year from the day of his death, that ruah's loved ones will go back to his grave to retrieve his horns and present them to his widow."

Irenia walked over to the horns and sat in a low chair next to them. She placed her head against the inside of the base of the massive horns so that it looked as if they were her own despite being far too large for her to have carried. She took a deep breath and music came from the horns — the same low music they had heard from Verdu and the other males.

Irenia played for several minutes, singing a song about undying love and her long wait to see her husband again in The Spirit. She wept as she played and then withdrew her head and wiped her eyes with the backs of her wrists.

"It's so nice to hear his voice. Whenever I'm missing him I just play these and he's with me again. Of course in life his voice was much stronger. I really don't have the wind to do it the way he did, but the tones are just the same."

"That was beautiful," Laura said. "And they are beautiful to look at also, ruah's horns. Every one of them is different isn't it?"

"Oh yes, very much so," Irenia replied. "I remember the first time I saw Thur. We were so young and he was just the handsomest boy I had ever seen. Now, back in your land you probably have your own ways of deciding whether a boy is nice looking, and I'm sure those are good ways. But for us, well, it's the horns — and the voice, but those go together of course. Some ruah are okay-looking but rather plain, just the same set of horns everybody else seems to have; a little different from each other but not in any special way. And then you have the gifted ones who inherit from their daddies the most elaborate pipes and the deepest tones. Thurdom was like that. Stronger than all the other boys. Faster. Louder. Have you seen the duels? No, of course you haven't; you've only just arrived. Well the boys, mostly when they are young, they pretend to fight each other. No one gets hurt; it's just ceremony. They knock those big horns together and they blow their deepest notes and it is something to see."

For a moment, Irenia's large, blue eyes went somewhere else, but then she looked back at them. "So," she said. "Are you hungry?"

"Yes!" Jack quickly said through his flute. Laura jabbed him for being rude and he added, "thank you," and then jabbed Laura back.

"And you, Riona?"

"Yes, please, and if you don't mind I'll help myself to some wine."

"It's rather early in the day, dear, and in your condition–"

"The doctor says one glass is fine, and it's been . . . an eventful day."

"It has indeed," Irenia replied with a glance at Jack and Laura. "Pour one for me too, will you? I'll see if the pies are done."

Although the children had seen Ronnie pick up objects with his mouth and the thick, hoof-like toenails of his front feet, they had only observed him locked in a cage with nothing but straw and a feeding dish. Now as they watched, Irenia and Riona bustled around the little kitchen, Laura was reminded of a documentary she'd seen about people who were born with no arms and who learned from infancy how to get along using their feet and mouths. Riona easily gripped the handle of a jug of wine with her teeth as she tilted the jug with one foot to pour wine into stoneware bowls. Irenia opened her oven with one foot and held a wooden spatula in her mouth to lift out four small pies which she slid onto the table in front of the children, followed by cloth napkins and stoneware bowls of fruit juice that smelled of strawberries. There were, however, no utensils and the children looked at the steaming pastry and wondered how to eat it.

By this time Riona had wine for herself and Irenia and was sitting in front of her own plate of food. In unison, they both rotely whistled "with gratitude" and then lowered their heads and began to eat like horses directly out of the bowls. As they ate, they continued to talk through their noses.

"Try the pies, children," Riona said while she chewed.

Jack used his fingers and thumbs to poke a hole in the crust and to tear away the top level of pastry, but he had to pull his hands away quickly to avoid being burned by the steam that rose from inside. He picked up a chunk of the crust and took a bite of it as from a slice of pizza, but then dropped it onto the plate because it was hot.

"They use their little toes for everything," Riona explained. "Try giving them each a stirstick."

"Oh, good idea," Irenia replied and from a cabinet she produced two wooden utensils shaped like celery stalks. Jack and Laura quickly used them as spoons and the two ruah chuckled.

Laura also noticed that the ruah did not pick up their wine bowls to drink from them, but put their mouths over them and lapped. Jack held his bowl of fruit juice with both hands and gulped thirstily from it.

"Aren't they cute?" Riona whistled softly in the ruah equivalent of a whisper.

"They're amazing to watch," Irenia replied.

"Thank you," Laura whistled between bites, causing Irenia and Riona to burst into laughter.

"These are lovely plates," Laura remarked as she finished what remained on hers. "Did you make them?" The plates and bowls were both heavy stoneware covered by a baked glaze of a pretty blue color.

"Oh no," Irenia replied. "I tried to learn when I was young but didn't have the patience for it. We have a wonderful potter in the village. Riona works with her sometimes, don't you dear?"

"Once a month to help with market day. I've made a few things for myself, but nothing good enough to offer for trading."

Verdu came in, ducking to clear his massive horns through the doorway. Laura realized he had been out talking to a crowd of ruah gathered outside the little house. She now saw through the window a dozen of them walking away towards their own homes, their horse tails swishing.

Verdu sat heavily on a sturdy wooden bench in the garden patio outside of Irenia's kitchen door. The bench was next to an outdoor table and Irenia nudged Jack and Laura to sit also. She went into the house and came out carrying a blue wooden tray in her teeth. On the tray was Verdu's dinner — a plate of vegetable pies and a cup of wine, both of which he quickly consumed. Afterwards, he leaned his head backwards, resting his heavy horns against the stone wall of the house, and from them he made a low honk. "Excuse me," he said.

"I was wondering," Laura began, choosing the moment. "Why do they call us ‘saviens'?"

"They shouldn't!" Riona snapped. "That's just a stupid, old-fashioned word used for anyone who is different or who comes from a different land."

"That is one definition," Verdu stated. "And there are others."

Riona glared at him. "It's not an appropriate word for these children."

"I heard someone say we're the children of Savien, like that was a person." Jack put in. "Is there someone named Savien?"

"No!" Riona insisted. "Savien is just a character from an old story and was never a real person."

Verdu exhaled a low, breathy note like a sigh. "Actually, no one knows for certain whether Savien ever lived. Some people believe he did, while others do not."

Irenia snorted a little laugh and wiped her nose with the back of her wrist. "Why Verdu, dear, I'm impressed by how carefully you worded that."

"Let's just say, "Verdu replied, "that your granddaughter and I have already had one religious debate today and I am much too tired to start another one."

"Oh, go ahead and tell them the story," Riona said. "I won't bite."

"You do bite occasionally, sweetheart," Verdu said.

"Just tell them, Verd."

"Yes, tell us," Jack urged. "Who was Savien?"

"Well," Verdu said. "I suppose the simplest way to put it was that Savien is believed by many to have been the firstborn son of God."

"That . . . sounds like it should be a good thing," Laura said. "Isn't it?"

"No," Verdu replied. "Not really.

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