Hey look a prequel! Yes this is indeed a prequel to last weeks story. Quite different in tone and composition, I think. Whereas last weeks story was action this is more about the events, truncated and told by someone who was not present.
Just to recap though for those who read the story last week, this is what led to the animosity, which was alluded to, between the two tribes. And for those who haven’t this is a fantasy story about what different peoples react to a poor situation.
Apart from all that I hope you enjoy, Days In Short Supply!
For the last eight winters the Ymbal had been starving. They were not alone in this but seemed to be struggling with the successive string of failed harvests more than the Tsuaru who they shared the region of Simarachi with. In fact Vinen, home of the Ymbal in Simarachi, has had need, due to the deaths suffered from starvation, for Tsuaru to settle alongside them. It is closer than the two tribes have ever, in recorded history, lived with one another.
The peoples are similar in many ways except one, the Ymbal believed that these lands were cursed and as such felt it might be the best course of action to abandon them. It is not a conclusion the Ymbal would take lightly but as time went on and the harvests continued to fail that is where many of the Ymbal families, which remained, sat. Alas, leaving the lands of your birth, the only lands you have ever known, is no easy task. The story which follows is that one. It is not a happy tale. It is the truth of what happened from the perspective of one young Ymbal woman, Kazka.
To say more would be to give away the story before it has been told. If that was done then it wouldn’t be a story now would it? Especially as to tell a story you have to start at the beginning. And we start on a cold winter’s mourn. Kazka, a woman with long black hair and pink eyes wrapped in thick layers of linen atop which are furs of animals hunted years prior, is on her way to the fields. The same fields which have failed the people of Vinen more times than any of them would like to admit. The air is biting; Kazak can feel it in her fingertips no matter how hard she tries to keep them shielded. She is aware she must be cautious for her fingers are what are needed most for her to work the land. With the crops having failed earlier than previously the decision by the peoples of both tribes living together in Vinen was that it would be best to tear up what had been planted so a new selection of crops could be freshly sown.
The young woman was not convinced this would have a better outcome than what had come to pass already, especially as there was unlikely to be little growing achieved during the remaining season due to the weather. However, she could not fault her people and the Tsuaru who refused to give up hope. They were all that continued to drive Vinen.
At one time the town had been a prosperous place filled with life, laughter, colour and good spirits. Now, when the spring and summer months finally come, there would be only colour. Everything else has long since past. As have many of the people Kazka used to see on a daily basis. She wishes she could say that they moved on. Settled elsewhere whether in Simarachi or not, but if she did she would be telling a lie. Those people, their families, they are no more. Starvation took them. They could not sustain through the successive failed crop yields and by the time they realised it they were too weak to alter what came next. It’s a fate that may, she thought, befall all in Venin, perhaps all in Simarachi and yet the Tsuaru, as ever, remained vigilant. They truly believed this misfortune would pass. Kazka did not, though she never believed it a part of some curse. Something she never did say out loud for if she had it would only have complicated matters. But in a story of recounting one does not have to worry about the repercussions noted down for they are not spoken aloud. As a result Kazka felt that the reason for the harvests failing was simple, the land could no longer sustain those who dwelled upon it. She has heard tell of things, from long in the past, and did not perceive they would ever be a worry for her. How wrong she had been.
Passing the still closed market stalls, not likely to open either with supplies as short as they were, the pink eyed woman caught sight of two men arguing. It was yet another sign of the decline in Venin. Where once disagreements were settled with even conversation they were now undertaken, but rarely settled, with screams and accusations.
Kazka could hear every word being said as she approached, and she had been a good ways away from the men.
“You can’t give up! What is the point in giving up?” One of the men shouted.
“What is the point…? What do you mean, what is the point? Do you not see? The land is dead! We cannot grow a single crop! How are we supposed to survive winter without food?” Is the reply that came from the other man who was incredulous, his hands shaking.
Kazka would like to say rage was why his hands were behaving the way that they were, but she could not for it could just as easily have been the cold. If it were the temperature then the man would have needed to warm and soon to avoid frostbite to his fingers.
“By working the land, by persevering, that is how we get through this.”
“We’ve tried, for eight years and what do we have to show for it, well?”
No response was forthcoming at least verbally. Rather, the man, who Kazka first heard the words of, shook his head from side to side. He had dark hair like her but from the side profile she was afforded of him it seemed he was devoid of additional nostrils around the section of the nose where the wings and dorsum meet. That told the young woman he was Tsuaru for all Ymbal males have four nostrils. It is one of the few differentiations which can be made between the tribesmen. In the case of the women, like Kazka, it is much more difficult to tell one tribeswoman from another. Even eye colour cannot differentiate. It is said that at one time it was a metric for safe assumption but that was long ago. The tribes had mingled a great deal since then. Not something you could overly accuse either side of much these days but then it seems at the moment days are in short supply. That’s an old Ymbal saying not meant to be taken literally. Instead it is meant to suggest that things are close to an end, or a change.
“Exactly Tsuaru, you don’t know how we’ve suffered, struggled…”
“Outrageous! Tsuaru have suffered just as much as Ymbal. We just refuse to give up.”
“Give up! How dare you suggest that Ymbal would ever…”
The statement was never finished. It was left in limbo forever more for a small group of mixed tribesmen came right then to break up the disagreement before it had chance to descend into something potentially physical. It happened just as Kazka went passing by.
For her proximity she was met with an eyeful from a number of the men involved, on both sides, yet none said a word. At least no word she could hear anyway.
With the show over, the pink eyed woman returned to her thoughts. Quickly she decided they were not to her liking or fancy, likely only to bring her mood down. She felt there was no need to lower her state of being further than the world was forcing it and so she settled on replaying happier days, when she had been younger, a child, carefree and running about laughing at anything, everything. Memories of her brother, Teeson, leaping and diving most recklessly as they played are what she thinks were most vivid in her head. Those were far simpler days when they had been children.
Suddenly a voice reached her ears and pulled her from her thoughts.
“Kazka, over here.”
The young pink eyed woman wrapped up as warm as she could manage looked up to see one of the women she worked alongside, Eifa, waving like some crazed banshee. The sight brought a thin, short smile to Kazka’s face.
“Morning to you Eifa.” Kazka recalls saying once she was within several body lengths of the far older woman whose head was wrapped in linen concealing any hair she may have had atop her head.
“Yes, yes, morning to you too Kazka.” The older woman was clearly distracted by something as she replied but by what Kazka had no clue.
There looked to be nothing out of the ordinary, apart from the turned over soil which normally would have crops lancing from it, if the harvest had not failed again. “Have you heard?” The excited frail looking old woman quickly spluttered.
“Have I heard what?” The younger woman was confused by the question. If there were something of import then she was not aware of it but wondered how Eifa might have learned about it if there were. Then again it should not have surprised the young Ymbal for Eifa was a nosey sort who often managed to dig up titbits of knowledge. How, Kazka to this day continues to have not a clue for the woman spent more time on the fields working the land than almost anyone, which frequently meant she was alone with her thoughts. Perhaps not surprising when you are the last of your family; her husband having died a couple winters ago in what was meant to be a hunt for food but which saw many instead end up as the prey, damned pack animals. Then there was Eifa’s son. He’s been dead a long time by this point.
Kazka does not remember him, though with her failing memory Eifa often believed otherwise. The young woman recalls tending to play along as it had become clear Eifa was not a sharp as she once was. Whether it was the result of the pains suffered in her life, the losses, or the current circumstances of food shortages Kazka could not say. Still, Eifa carried on best she could.
“There is to be a massing later.” The old woman sounded excited as the words passed her thin blue lips.
“There is. Yet to learn as to where but we should all make ourselves present. It would be best for we all are entitled to our say as people of Vinen.”
Without realising it Kazka had began to nod in agreement. Something about the words from Eifa didn’t sound right however. Not because the old woman was lying but because… Well, it seemed she was confused again and had affixed one event to another. It had been happening more frequently around that time and with no family to care for her Kazka felt it prudent to offer what comfort she could and so suggested, “Then best you don’t overexert yourself isn’t it Eifa? You’ll need plenty of energy for the massing. Best you learn what you can then take a rest because you’ve been out here since…”
A leading question, Kazka had learned, was the best and easiest way to get around the old woman’s defences without her realising it and to get her to agree. After all, there were at that time, enough hands to work the fields. Well, there likely weren’t but Eifa was old and the loss of one pair of hands would not, in the young Ymbal’s eyes, have hampered the towns’ efforts to a significant enough degree that it would be the final nail in their collective coffin. And yes Eifa, like Kazka, had been Ymbal. She had lived in the town all her life but was not best pleased when the Tsuaru moved into the vacant properties of those who had so recently died.
When that day came she had became hysterical. Thankfully, over a series of weeks she forgot the change had taken place. It was for the best but remained a sad sight for Kazka to see all the same.
“Since the first breaking of dawn I’ve been here, working this land.” Was the proud reply from the old woman as she struggled to straighten her back to what should have been her full height.
“Then you should go to a fire, get warm, see what you can learn.” The young woman did her best to keep the concern out of her voice. It largely works, she thinks looking back, but only just for Kazka remembers feeling a deep concern for the older Ymbal. She should not have been out here, likely alone, in what would have been largely darkness since the dawn first broke. That was hours ago and it was cold as the pair stood there talking so must have been perishingly so when Eifa first set to work.
Thankfully, Eifa had offered no refusal. Rather, she flashed a weak smile, probably the best she could manage, and then pottered off in the direction of one of the fires. A few of the men were stood around it. They were yet to begin their days in the fields but would soon start once they felt their hands were warm enough to operate the machines which they would have to drag the blades of through the soil to turn over what had been cleared of failed crop. That clearly of what had failed was the job Kazka, Eifa and many of the other women were undertaking. It was backbreaking work regardless of which side you were on, but not all in Vinen undertook it.
Men who did not work the fields were out hunting, baking, scavenging or tending to livestock while the few women not out in the cold were caring for the towns children, sowing, fishing or checking on the food stocks. Vinen, unlike the Tsuaru ‘village’ of Pensaftu, had no castle or defensive walls to speak of. Instead Venin was an open town through which livestock and wild beasts could roam as they saw fit. Yet, it had been a long while since anything wild had come wandering through and what remained of the livestock was dwindling.
With the issue of a potentially freezing Eifa having been dealt with Kazka turned to her work. She thinks she decided she might as well pick up where the old woman had left off, seeing as Eifa had done a stellar job, as always, of digging over the hard frost burnt soil to free the failed vegetables from the ground.
What remained of the crops, dead and withering to rot, pulled free were piled up nearby in a neat roughly pyramid shape. The sight of the pile brought a smile to Kazka’s face as she grabbed a hold of a fork and began to turn over the soil. Three attempts it took for the prongs of the fork to break through the hard surface.
She shakes her head wondering how ever Eifa managed as well as she did, but then she recalls how stubborn the old woman had been. And she had to be to have survived the loss of her son and husband. The thought having re-entered Kazka’s head breeds enormous sadness compounded by the sudden memories of the loss of her own parents. Her mother died while giving birth to Kazka and Teeson, twins but identical in no way shape or form. Their father on the other hand had died shortly before the first failed harvest due to natural causes. In fact, he simply dropped down dead, no warning, no signs, no explanation. After that Kazka and her brother were raised by their ‘aunt.’ She wasn’t their real aunt but had cared for a number of Vinen’s orphans for she was incapable of siring children of her own. Sadly, by the time Teeson and Kazka came into her care she was old, forever kind, but lasted only a few short years. Thankfully, the siblings were grown by the time of her passing and yet Kazka did not regard her life, up to that point, as having been a sad one. Yes, she had lost a number of people close to her, but her life had been a happy one, filled with love.
At least it was until the successive failed crops became a reality. Since maybe the fifth year there has been little hope, except from the Tsuaru. They seem to have an abundance of it.
Unintentionally it was then that Kazka recalled the pair of arguing men, one Ymbal and the other Tsuaru. Both had made good points and both had been right.
Following that she believes she shook herself free of her thoughts to refocus on the task at hand; digging, clearing the spoilt crop and adding to the pile.
She took a brief pause to look up some time later and found the sun higher in the sky. It explained the cold afflicting her fingertips. She rubbed her hands together vigorously which did the trick and then returned to her efforts while the men loudly pushed the plough through the loosened sections of dirt. It would be many hours later when Kazka would be done, she knew. During those hours, she cannot recall when Eifa came back, spoke of the massing and gave a place but no time for its commencement. Following that she looked decidedly tired. Kazka urged her to return home to rest. To the pink eyed Kazka’s surprise Eifa accepted. That left her quite concerned, which is why she felt it best to check on the old woman on her way home. It would be on her way and anyway it was doubtful Teeson would be there when she returned. He was rarely home anymore for he was either hunting or conversing. He never informed her as to what he was conversing about, only that that was what he was doing.
Asking never afforded her progress on that matter and so by this point she had stopped. They lived very separate lives and that saddened her, but his choices were his own. She was not his keeper or his mother and so had to respect him and the path he walked. That is how she felt then; she notes she regrets it now, profusely. Thinks she should have done more.