Authors: Andrew Riley
The First Life of Tanan
By Andrew Riley
Copyright © 2014 Andrew Riley
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval without permission in writing from the author.
Cover art by Nejron Photo / Shutterstock
Edited by Anita Riley
Santhim felt like she might burst open at any moment. The baby growing inside her was dangerously close to coming out right there on the side of the mountain. Tyrim held her hand, steadying her as they moved down the rocky path. The other children followed them down the mountain trail in pairs.
Crossing the mountains was hard on Santhim. But the entire last year had been hard on the pretty thirteen year old. Her mother and father died when a spotted plague burned through their tribe. In the space of three weeks, a tribe of nearly fifty Lataki plainsmen was reduced to just eight survivors. Santhim’s boyfriend, Tyrim, was the oldest of them, and he was just a year older than her.
They had suddenly gone from carefree children to being responsible for the lives of themselves and six younger kids. Approaching another tribe for help was out of the question. The Lataki were brutal people. Any other tribe would have killed the boys, and the girls wouldn’t have been so lucky. So they had avoided other Lataki and moved west toward the mountains.
After a few months of wandering, the group of children found a crystal blue lake at the base of the mountain range and made a more permanent camp. By the time they settled at the lake, Santhim’s belly was already starting to grow. They planned to stay at the lake camp, at least until the baby came.
They were there for four months before the Komisani soldiers appeared on the far side of the lake. All Lataki knew about the Komisani. The Komisani wore clothing that turned away arrows, and they carried weapons that could cut off a man’s arm or head. And, the Komisani always killed Lataki.
When the children saw the Komisani across the lake they abandoned their camp in a panic and ran for the mountains, hesitating only long enough to grab water skins and spears. Two exhausting weeks later, they were over the mountains and there was no sign of the Komisani.
Santhim held tight to Tyrim’s hand as she walked. She hummed a tune that she had learned from her mother. She knew the baby would be coming very soon and she was starting to hurt. Humming the tune made her hurt a little less. Having Tyrim there to help her made her feel better as well.
The trail eventually leveled out and the forest became thicker around them. It was evening when the forest thinned and they came to a wide beach facing a lake so wide they couldn’t see the other side. Santhim was having regular pains and couldn’t go any farther. It was time for the baby to come.
Their water skins were almost empty and they were relieved to see the water. But they quickly learned that the water in the strange, restless lake was salty and not good for drinking. Tyrim collected all the water skins and jogged south along the beach to look for good water. Two miles down the beach, he found a small freshwater stream and filled all the skins before starting back to the camp.
Half a mile from the camp, while skirting the edge of the forest, Tyrim stepped in the wrong place and startled a snake, which then bit him on his lower leg. The bite hurt terribly, but Tyrim continued walking toward the camp to bring water to Santhim.
By the time Tyrim arrived at the camp he was dizzy and feeling weak. He dropped the water skins and sat down hard on the sand where he immediately passed out.
The stars were coming out as Santhim gave birth to her son on the beach. One of the girls cut the umbilical cord with Tyrim’s flint knife, wrapped the infant in his mother’s blanket and laid the infant next to his mother. When Santhim wouldn’t stop bleeding, the frantic kids didn’t know what to do. She bled to death on the beach surrounded by six helpless and terrified children.
One of the girls picked up the infant and laid him in the crook of his unconscious father’s arm.
The remaining six children sat around the fire they’d built, and had a talk like the adults of their tribe did when there were important decisions to be made. The Lataki were superstitious, and all of the kids agreed that the baby was bad luck, probably cursed. The child had killed Santhim, and Tyrim was also dying. The kids decided they had to leave the baby with his father and hope that the curse wouldn’t follow them.
They buried Santhim in a shallow grave in the sand.
One of the girls covered Tyrim and the baby with Tyrim’s blanket and then followed the others up the beach.
Then the children walked north along the beach, away from Tyrim and the cursed child. Fifteen miles up the beach they were found by a Komisani patrol and killed.
Anin pulled at the oars, moving his little boat steadily through the water. He had been on the water since dawn, stopping once at midday to eat a chunk of yeasty bread, and several times to stretch and drink from his canteen. He made this trip to the mainland twice each year, spring and autumn, to collect plants that grew wild along the shore and up the rivers.
Anin was an apothecary. Most of the plants he collected on these trips would be used to make medicines for the people of his village, or traded to apothecaries in nearby villages. He also collected some spices and other non-medicinal plants that he could sell.
It was starting to get dark and he needed another break. He docked his oars and stood up. He’d been rowing for several hours and it felt good to move around. The sun had slipped down behind the curve of the earth and the clouds along the horizon were shades of pink and orange. Anin clasped his hands together, raised them over his head and stretched from side to side. Stretching felt good.
He turned toward the front of the boat, his eyes skipping along the horizon and picking out familiar mountain peaks, dark against the stars that were just starting to peek at him from the deep blue sky. This was Anin’s favorite time of day. The sea was calm and the sky was clear. It was a beautiful evening.
Anin sat down and picked up his canteen. He took a long drink; it tasted good. He’d added a bit of lemon and mint to keep it tasting fresh. He turned toward the front of the boat, kicking his legs up over the bench seat, and faced the bow.
There was a little wooden box in the front of the boat that held enough food for a week. He hoped to be home in four days, but always brought extra in case bad weather delayed his return. He tore a chunk of bread from one of the loaves he’d brought, and dribbled a little honey over it from a small jar.
Anin enjoyed his simple meal under the stars. The cool autumn air felt good after a sunny day of rowing across the sea. As he ate, he gazed across the water at the shoreline. He could tell by the familiar landmarks that he had drifted a little south of his target, a place where a large patch of vivid purple berries grew wild along a river bank. The berries had no medicinal use that he knew of; they were, in fact, extremely poisonous. He would sell them to an artist friend who used them to color his paint.
His eyes picked out a fire on the beach, which was unexpected. He had never come across any people in his many trips to the mainland. He knew there were tribes of nomadic people living on the plains beyond the low mountains that skirted the shoreline, but he had never heard of the Lataki crossing to this side of the mountains. Most likely, he thought, it was a King’s Legion patrol.
He finished his bread, pulled a strip of dried beef out of his food box and stuck it in his mouth. Then, he reached over the side of the boat and rinsed his hands in salty sea water.
Anin stood and stretched again, then stepped back over the bench seat, undocked his oars and started rowing in the direction of the fire on the beach.
His body settled into a rhythm and his mind settled into its familiar rhythm as well. As he pulled the oars, He silently chanted the words of rejuvenation. The simple magic replenished his tired muscles and added strength to his effort.
• • •
Anin pulled his boat up onto the rocky beach, a hundred yards from the fire, and looped a rope around a large rock. He took a long knife from his boat and walked up the beach. It was dark, but there was enough moonlight for him to see that a group of people had walked along this beach not long before.
He moved along the beach toward the fire, expecting to find a group of Komisani soldiers. What he found instead was a sleeping boy. He moved closer to the boy, peering into the darkness around him as walked. There didn’t seem to be anyone else around.
As Anin approached the boy it became apparent that things were not right. The boy was a Lataki. He was pale and clearly very ill. There was a baby cradled in between the boy’s body and right arm.
Anin clutched his knife in one hand and knelt next to the boy, laying his hand on the boy’s shoulder. The boy opened his eyes and, seeing Anin, tried to move, but lacked the strength.
“Let me help you,” said Anin. He pulled back the blanket and found the festering snake bite on the boy’s right calf. Anin bowed his head and frowned. He could have treated the bite when it first happened, but it was too late, the poison was going to kill the boy. The only thing he could do was ease the boy’s suffering.
He examined the baby, and found it to be in good health.
“I’ll be back in a moment,” he said to the delirious boy and then jogged up the beach to his boat. He grabbed his canteen and a stiff leather bag from the bow of the little craft, and jogged back down the beach.
Anin pulled a small mortar out of his bag and pushed it down into the sand, twisting it until it was firmly planted. He began measuring out pinches of various powders from small glass vials that were tucked into pockets inside his bag. As he finished with each ingredient, he carefully returned the vials to their proper place. Then he pulled out the pestle and began to grind the powders together.
As he mixed the medicine, he relaxed his mind and began to silently chant a song of calm in his head. As his calm built, he focused it into a ball of light blue energy in his mind. He channeled the energy through his hands, and into the powdery mixture he was grinding. The grains of the medicine flashed blue for a moment, like water reflecting a shooting star.
Anin stopped grinding and pulled a glass cup and a flask from his bag. He poured a small amount of strong brown liquor from the flask, and then added two large pinches of the medicine and swirled the cup around to mix it. He lifted the boy’s head and put the cup to his lips, spilling a little of the liquid into the boy’s mouth.
Immediately, the boy relaxed and stopped shivering.
Anin put the cup aside and rested his hand on the boy’s forehead. He closed his eyes and began a silent chant of strength. Anin could feel the strength of his body gathering in his chest. He channeled it through his hand and into the boy, whose eyes suddenly opened and stared at him.
Feeling fatigued from the magic, Anin sat back on the sand and looked at the boy.
“What happened?” Anin asked.
The boy looked at him. “Santhim,” he said, “Where is Santhim?” He had a thick accent that Anin had a hard time understanding.
The boy suddenly realized that there was a baby cradled in his arm. He looked at the infant and tears welled up in his eyes.
“Is this your son?” asked Anin.
“My son,” said the boy with a smile before suddenly wincing. The pain was coming back.
“You’ve been bitten by a snake,” said Anin. “There’s nothing I can do to help you. But I will not let your son die on this beach.”
The boy slumped back down and looked at the baby. Tears streamed down his face.
Anin could see that the boy was in a great deal of pain, and his magic wasn’t going to last much longer.
He held the cup to the boy’s lips. “This will help you rest,” he said. The boy took several large drinks and then relaxed and fell into a peaceful sleep.
Anin carried the baby to his boat and climbed in. He removed the lid from a large box that was built into the side of the boat near the rowing bench. The box was full of rope and nets. Anin arranged the nets into a makeshift bed for the baby, and gently laid him down.
He climbed out of the boat, untied it from the rock and walked it through the water to where the boy slept.
Anin pulled the boat up onto the sand and tied the rope to a tree at the edge of the beach. He noticed a trail of dark blood in the sand and followed it to a mound that was obviously a grave. He understood at once what had happened.
Anin returned to the boat. He unpacked some things and set up his camp next to the fire. He lifted the boy’s head and dribbled another large dose of the medicine into his mouth, and then walked to the water and rinsed the remaining medicine out of the cup before returning it to his bag.
Anin made a quick foray into the forest and came out with an armload of wood which he piled near the fire.
He sat down and began mixing a new set of ingredients in his mortar. He had to stop several times and consider what ingredients to use, but finally he was satisfied and began to grind the powders together with his pestle. He chanted a spell in his head and put a generous magical infusion of his own strength into the powder.
When he was finished, he took a glass vial from his bag, poured most of the powder into it and then sealed it with a cork and stuffed it into his bag. The remainder of the powdery mix went into his glass cup, followed by water from his canteen. He mixed the solution well and raised the cup to his nose to smell it. He decided the concoction would provide the child with adequate nutrition until he returned home.
He pulled a delicate glass dropper from his bag, cradled the baby in his lap and painstakingly fed the child his first meal, one dropper at a time.
When the baby was fed and sleeping comfortably next to his father, Anin took a shovel out of the boat and walked into the woods where he dug two graves by the light of the moon.
When he was done, he checked on the boy, who was sleeping peacefully. Anin picked up the baby and sat down near the fire. With the sleeping infant in his lap, Anin closed his eyes and began to sing a song of rejuvenation in his head. He sat like that through the night, keeping a semi-conscious watch over the boy.
• • •
Tyrim died during the night. Anin buried him and then dug Santhim out of the sand and moved her to her proper grave. He spent an hour, with the infant child in a makeshift sling across his chest, gathering stones to line the graves.
Once the sad task was finished, Anin packed up the boat, placed the child in his makeshift crib, and began rowing back to his home on Komisan.