Breithe smoothed floury hands on threadbare apron and tied the scarf
over her hair as protection against sticky salt spray as she raced for the cliff. She knew
that tone of voice well - it meant that Tonder was in trouble again. Four years older, but
far less wise, than her pretty daughter. Yetta was dancing with anxiety at the cliff edge.
Breithe ran. And cursed the spirit that led men to take their wives and families away
from civilisation, to make do - and then die - in the wilds. But at least they still had
the tiny boat, and the children were starting to be able to help with the work.... The
wind moaned through the grasses at her feet as she ran.
As she neared the cliff she saw three masts with too many sails and a strange boat
beneath them. It reminded her of stories from her youth - of pale-skinned pirates with no
love of life, coming only to destroy. Panic fluttered at her throat; she felt the fear of
the unprotected. Yetta, ahead of her, leaped down the rocky ledges half-hewn into the
cliff face. Her womans braids - so newly made - thumping at her back as she jumped
from step to step.
Panting, Breithe faced the circle of white men at the cliff base. They stood facing
out, as if protecting something. Strangers, foreign. Pale blue eyes stared, flat, cold,
and emotionless from granite faces, whiter than skin should be. Fear lent her bravery. She
stepped forward, and a man, smaller and darker than the rest, came to meet her. He bowed.
"Folya, greetings. The young Tarro, he plays." Breithe screwed
up her eyes to try and understand the mans atrocious accent, and the strange
greeting words he used. Another foreigner. But from somewhere else, closer, it seemed, for
his skin and eyes were the proper colour. One of the men called something out, in a
language that made her throat ache just to hear it. The dark man nodded. "Folya,
Master say game is soon end." Breithes fear increased and she looked towards
the agitated Yetta.
"Mother, Tonder was watching the white men play this game with a tiny ball and a
box with holes in it - one man puts his hands on the box and another man puts in the ball
and they wait, and shout, then the other man places his hands on the box instead. Tonder
thought they were gambling and he wanted to try it and he talked to the men for a while
and then he started playing. But when Tonder shouted, it sounded like pain. Then I saw one
mans hand bleeding and he was swaying, so I peeped between their legs and - oh,
Mother, Tonders flopping all over the place like a dying fish!"
Breithe cursed Yettas inability to tell any story clearly, without close
questioning. Obviously Tonder had roped himself into this strange game and received more
than he bargained for - but what this time? Breithe stuck her chin out and tried to push
past the small man towards the ring. He was strong, and he prevented her. The men crowded
closer together, their oddly cut ballooning trousers preventing her from seeing what was
"Folya...." the mans dark eyes were compassionate "The
young Tarro - he plays. Not you stopping." Again came a guttural, barking
sentence from the man in the ring. "Folya, listening be. Ship Master wanting Folyaren."
The dark man indicated Yetta as he spoke. "As pay. For game with no Kriochor.
Much privilege. The young Tarro offered for Kriochor. As pay for privilege.
A matter of honour. Tarro is, not Tarronen. Must you wait. Soon end."
"Tarro?" Said Breithe, dazedly. The dark man nodded, pointing at each man.
"Tarro. Tarro. Tarro." Then pointing at Breithe, "Folya"
and at Yetta "Folyaren". Breithe nodded. The dark man held his hand as if
measuring, at waist height; "Tarronen, Folyaren" and then at head height
"Tarro, Folya". Breithe nodded again. Suddenly she had a vision of one of
her childhood tutors, small and dark as this man, speaking to her of his native land and
using just such words to speak of men and women, girls and boys. Tonder, at sixteen
summers, was equated a man in the strangers culture, she gathered. Her language
tutors at home had praised her grasp of foreign tongues.
"HAI!" the harsh shout from thirty foreign throats chilled Breithe. The small
man restrained her arms as she tried to dart forward again. "HAI!" Again the
cliffs around the inlet reverberated with strange sounds. "HAI-AI-AI!" Suddenly,
the ring of men was gone. Her vision was filled with the image of her son, grey of face,
still as stone. Holding his head in her lap, she raised her voice to lament the dead - but
the dark man stopped her. "Folya. Folya. Not you singing. Tarro here
is. First game. Three game makes gone. First game only"
In her lap, Tonder took a shuddering breath, and giggled. Saliva dripped from his blued
lips. Breithe, relieved, took his hand to chafe it, and gasped at the blackened puncture
wounds. "Kriochor." The tone of the dark mans voice was
disapproving. "Tarro walking, talking again, but slow always. Kriochor
not it going away. No two game, this Tarro, no three game. I telling you, I caring
be. I, Folyaren, Taronnen having at home. No game more this Tarro,"
he said, quietly, firmly.
Three men detached themselves from a group near the strange ship. One walked slowly, as
if drunk, leaning on his partners arm for balance. They picked up Tonder and headed
for the cliff face. "Kriochori Tarro." Said the dark man, pointing.
"Two game, this Tarro. Three game makes gone. This Tarro are home
remaining soon." Breithe caught her breath as the afflicted man walked straight into
the cliff face and then giggled. His nose was bleeding.
"Why?" she cried at the dark man, all the fears, all the tragic events of her
lonely life and the dashed hopes for her small familys future bound up in that one
hopeless word. The wind took it, and haunting echoes returned from the cliffs. The dark
man shook his head and shrugged. "Folya. A matter of honour."
"But I still dont know what honour means, Prasad,"
whined the small boy. "Quiet, Yamad," said his mother, securely squashed into
the priesthoods largest visitors chair. "These are teaching stories, as
the good Prasad has told you already many times, my heart, my boy." Yamad wriggled
resentfully at these endearments, and Prasad had to suppress a grin - Mother
at least, had not taken in a word hed said. But he had hopes for Yamad. "You
want to grow up to enter the priesthood my boy, you must learn what honour, and truth -
and even justice - means", she said, huffily, raising her eyes to the heavens at the
priest, in collusion against youthful ignorance.
"But why doesnt the story tell more about the drug?" asked the boy,
yearningly. "Thats the same drug that the priests use, isnt it - and -
and the priestesses? It gives dreams, doesnt it, and happiness? Doesnt it,
Prasad?" The young priest looked down at his feet. "Yamad," he said slowly.
"Everything - everything, has a cost. Taken in youth, the drug will cost your
life. But still our young men play Kriochiori.
The law says no drug on the needles until you are twenty at least. But the young men
feel they know better. And the fact that there are hundreds in the priesthood homes who
can hardly feed themselves from having used the drug too early in life does nothing -
absolutely nothing - to prevent these young hotheads from blackening their needles. They
seek a little freedom from humdrum lives, and it costs them the freedom of their bodies,
as they become prisoners of their minds, unable to reach the world."
Yamad might have taken all this good advice in and pondered it, if his mother had not
interjected; "Now thats right my son, my own. Mother says you leave those nasty
blackening drugs alone they are for those horrible women to use - not for men, - and I
cant lose you to those horrible substances, now can I, precious boy? You must listen
to the good Prasad - for hes a priest, and they always tell the truth, dont
they Prasad?" As she spoke, she heaved her bulk out of the chair, took hold of the
boy in an unbreakable grip, and floated him to the door on a river of unending sound.
As the blissful silence washed back into the visitors room, Prasad gave a giggle,
and a sigh of relief. Then calling his boy from the corner, he placed his scarred,
blackened palms on the youths shoulders rather more heavily than usual, and
supported by the boy, they wove their way back to the dormitories.