- Ewanaq'e's Find
Her body parted the water and her eyes adjusted to the twinkling gloom. Above, the sounds of the village receded until they were a hollow, echo of the bustle of activity that was ostensibly her home. Ostensibly, because here, underwater, is where Ewanaq’e really felt at home.
She kicked her legs, the sounds of Vila Hoa receding, and surveyed her surroundings. She was in her beloved stream, diving deep and curving away from the bank upstream of the village. She wasn’t really looking for anything in particular, instead seeking whatever might catch her eye. Just now, that was a sharp-spined billfish lazily swimming past. Her mother had enough fish for a month at least though, so she prayed a greeting to its spirit, and left it be.
Ewanaq’e had always loved the feeling of the cool water on her skin. She loved how clear the waters were, and gave a thanks to her ancestors for settling in this particular channel, and to the spirits of kelp and tide. Not many of the distributary channels of the great Poha River Delta were as clear or as deep as hers.
Hers – it wasn’t, obviously. But who else could claim to know its currents, bends, or riverbed as well as she? It was a world that changed from moment to moment, shifting at the dictates of tide and weather, and she loved it for its fickle ways.
Above the waters, change was less welcome. Her village was still her home of course. Her family still made a living smoking fish, and trading baskets, brassware, beer, and whatever else they could buy inland and sell to passing foreigners. Nonetheless, it was not the place Ewanaq’e had known from childhood.
For one thing, more and more people were going about their business armed. As a girl she had seen bows only on hunting parties, and blades had been tools, not weapons. These days though, with all the changes, people were scared. Ewanaq’e blamed the shamans. They were weak and afraid. Since the King’s representative upstream had disappeared, they had ceased to rally the villagers, and now only whispered their desires for a return to the old ways.
She let the current carry her downstream, let her thoughts drift. Here, in the clear depths her mind finally ceased its clamor and her soul lay open to the breath of the spirits. Like a bubble rising out of deep water, a thought came to her unbidden: just beyond the first bend upstream, hugging the outside bank, there was a large pile of rocks on the bottom. Last night’s high tide may have disturbed something.
How strange! When had the rock spirits last inspired her? She could barely remember. A sign she should investigate, maybe. To far though, to swim the full extent underwater – even her trained lungs would not last her that long. So slowly she returned to the surface.
On breaching, she fell into a graceful crawl. Apologizing to the river spirit for disturbing its flow, she made her way towards the first bend. A commotion was building in the village behind her. She glanced over her shoulder and saw why. Armed men, mounted, trotting along the bank into the village. She recognized their scorpion banner from an earlier visit, and cursed their passing. These new warlords seemed at the heart of Pohanaq’s ills.
Reaching the curve, she slowed her stroke, took a deep breath and dived once again. She kicked hard this time and broke through the rapid, sub-surface current with confident strokes. Her maneuver left her skimming the rocky bottom and heading upstream. A rush of exhilaration propelled her, and the scorpion banner vanished from her thoughts.
And then her knee caught on a sharp rock, and exhilaration gave way to agony. Suppressing the urge to scream and cursing her lack of concentration, she once again kicked hard, but downward this time, off the bottom, and sped for the surface.
Moments later she was scrabbling up the bank. Luckily, her knee was merely grazed. She could move the joint without too much pain and, although the skin was broken, she’d barely bled. Before returning to the water, she took a moment to catch her breath. The first thought that came to her was that her hunch regarding the rocks must be right. The one she’d caught her knee on shouldn’t have been there. And secondly, painful as it was, the rock spirits were talking to her again! Without a further thought, she dove back in.
Within moments she passed by the rock she’d cracked her knee on and it was indeed completely out of place. She patted it in passing, and prayed thanks to its spirit before heading to the disturbed mound it had been a part of for so long.
And disturbed it was. The riverbank had suffered a massive landslide. Rocks were strewn in a fan across the riverbed – among them the one she collided with. She was certain now – this was no coincidence, she was meant to look here. Treading water, she made a methodical study of the new lay of the riverbed. And then she spotted it.
Near the center of the fan of rocks - what was it? Not a rock. It was dark green, and so matte it seemed to absorb the light. She prized it out from between the remaining rocks, and sped back to the surface. It was a pouch of some kind, she thought, as she laid it on her belly, back-stroking downstream towards the village. It was made of some waterproof material, unlike anything she had ever seen before. And whatever was inside it was heavy. Very heavy. Without opening it, she knew what this was. An artifact from before the Sundering. What wonders had she discovered for Vila Hoa? She would show it to her father. She could hardly wait!
Ewanaq’e started humming a series of prayers of gratitude: to the spirits of the rocks, of the river bottom, of the bend and the mid-bend current… And then she heard a scream, and another – coming from Vila Hoa! She spun onto her front, clutching the pouch, and looked up. She was still some distance away, but there was obviously trouble. A fight? The upper edge of the warriors’ banner was still visible, over the low structures of the fish smokery on the upstream edge of the village.
Her heart sank. What evil had come to her home now? Whatever it was, she had to get to her family. But first, she ought to hide this new find. And she knew the perfect place. Taking a deep breath, Ewanaq’e dove once more…