Sun Quest - Part 2
by Ruwen Rouhs
The boat-builders were still busy with Buri and Aegir's dugout, caulking its body with birch tar, mounting a cover to keep the equipment dry and stowing away the provisions donated for the voyage by the villagers. Everyone at the jetty was busy and nobody paid attention to Canto and Hermo. Judging the situation the two took the opportunity to jump into to Hermo's dugout and take off. After an short discussion the two had decided to run away without asking their parents and to join the sun-seekers on their dangerous quest, knowing they inevitably would have forbidden the boys' embarking on such a dangerous journey.
In only three strokes Canto manoeuvred his dugout to mid stream. So as not to attract the attention of the boat-builders they had decided to take along only their fishing gear, bow and arrows and a blanket. Their food supply was stored in a small bag. It consisted of dried hazelnuts Hermo had pilfered from his mother's storage chest.
Just when the boat had picked up speed the yelping of Blue-eye made Hermo turn his head. "Blue-eye has sniffed out our plan! Look, he is paddling like mad to reach the boat!"
"Leave him behind! He is still too small and inexperienced to be of any help!"
"Please Cantu, stop the boat! We have to take him on board. The boat-builders are already noticing and will tell our parents!" Cantu grumbled but realizing the problem, he slowed down the boat and Hermo picked the wet dog out of the water.
The current of the tributary brought the boat and its enlarged crew of three to the Bredd-ström in no time and when the sickle of the moon showed up above the lowland forest the boat reached an island in the river with a small shed on it, the runaways destination for the night.
Around the same time Hermo's mother began to look for her son all round the house. She called on Cantu's mother. "Is that night owl of mine with Cantu? No? What are these cheeky devils up to again? It's more than dark outside, already! "
"They certainly spy on our guests. They have left to meet with Ver, Kester, Ailis and Molis down by the river." Not waiting for an answer she asked her neighbour, "Did you get what was going on last night? I prayed to Freya, because I thought the house would fall apart! Ailis and Kester took the law of hospitality too literally!" She grinned at her neighbour, "I guess the six are down in the old outlook for a hot farewell party!"
"Do Cantu and Hermo spy on them? I know my snoopy Cantu! Boys of their age should not witness that kind of game!"
"Let's go down and fetch the two of them! They are up for a good hiding!"
But Hermo and Cantu were not down at the old lookout, as the mothers found out soon and both mothers went wild with fear! They only calmed down slightly when Kester and Ver promised to search the river for their brothers. The mothers didn't trust the strangers, because of the stir they had caused at the celebration of the equinox. No, they vowed secretly never to trust a stranger!
While Ver and Kester were already out on the river speeding into the dark, Aegir and Buri, said good-bye the villagers; promised the wary mother to find their sons. "Please go home, don't worry we will find the boys! We swear by the deities not to give up our search, till we find the boys! We will send them back! We pledge by the Almighty Gods!"
Before hopping on their boat Aegir kissed Ailis good-bye and Buri did so to Molis, not without feeling her up a little bit! "Remember me! I will always think of last night!"
Leaving the landing stage a loud voice broke the silence of the night, "Wait! Wait!" an unknown voice shouted, "Wait! Don't leave without me!"
In the dark Tsemo dashed down the shrubby hillside south of the village to the landing stage. Small as he was he stumbled over a root and hit the ground head-first. "Wait, wait!" he shouted out of breath, "Wait! Don't leave without me!" For a moment he lost consciousness. After recovering his senses, he dashed forward again, leaving his packsack behind. Hollering with all his might, he dashed forward, "Wait, you can't leave without me! You need me to find the sun!"
Tsemo's mind was not blank when he was unconscious. Like lightning his life up to this moment flashed through this mind. He couldn't remember the moment he was born, nor what happened in the hours to follow. His life actually began, when an old star-blind spinster found a handful whimpering flesh and bones about fifteen years ago at the foot of the lime-tree on the village green. The first thing I thought I had found was a baby lynx, because you miaow ed like a little cat, she told him later. "She", that is Hermo's nearly blind great aunt, was to be his foster-mother. But you were a boy and raising you made me happy. I was tired off caring first for my sisters' kids and later for the nieces' kids . Now I had a baby of my own, she always told him and I called you Tsemo, because you are the highlight of my life, the peak of my life.
Tsemo grew up much slower than any other nurseling in the village. After five years he still looked like a three year old boy. His body was kind of feeble but his big eyes were absorbing the world around as eagerly as a tuft of dry moss absorbs water. His half blind foster-mother defended the foundling against all dangers, against stray dogs, ravenous cats and even bad boys. "Tsemo is a whiz kid!" she told everybody, "Look at him! He is a miracle! He is my boy, the fair haired kid I never had! All my babies died in childbed! They were big and strong, but died! But he! He is just a trifle, but will outlive them all!"
When she died, five years later, Tsemo was ten but still looked like a six year old boy. He was not able to do the same chores the other boys of his age did. Hermo and Cantu, although nearly three years younger, had already outgrown him and contributed to the subsistence of the village by tending sheep and goats, fishing in the river and hunting small game in the wood. Tsemo's big vivid eyes stood out to everybody but still he couldn't care for himself nor contribute to the maintenance of the village. He preferred to help his adoptive mother or to listen to stories told by the aged or the shamans and the bards visiting the village. When his adoptive mother died, it was quite natural that he became the youngest novice of the High Shaman, who had taken a fancy to the boy because he was outstandingly bright.
At first Tsemo liked this privileged position and the attention he got from the High Shaman and the other priests. But another five years later after he hit puberty Tsemo ached to become an ordinary teenager. He got restless and at midwinter he decided to leave the shaman's quarters and live on this own. He just wanted to contemplate of the rest of his life without the pressure from the shaman community. One dark night he left the community and ran away without a good bye.
Tsemo found a small cave in the woods in the foothills of the high mountains. For nearly a month he stayed in the hideout without food awaiting illumination about his future. He was nearly delirious when by accident his hideout was detected by young hunters from a nearby village. They were taken aback and confused because everybody had been looking for Tsemo for weeks now and people believed he had died, perhaps killed by wolves or a bear or drowned in a river.
The young men were excited and glad to find Tsemo alive. They urged the weak youngster to let them carry him to their hamlet. But he refused to come along and pleaded with them to leave him alone or at least not to disclose his whereabouts to the shamans. Finally the young hunters agreed upon condition that he began to eat again.
During the next weeks the young hunters nursed Tsemo back to health with game they brought down or food pilfered at home. In exchange Tsemo taught the young hunters all he had learned in the shaman's community. As time went on their respect for the wispy looking Tsemo increased to a degree that they secretly worshipped him as a teacher and holy diviner.
Asked by his new friends to take part in the spring celebration Tsemo refused, afraid to meet with the High Shaman, the other priests and the novices. On the night preceding the spring equinox he prayed in front of his cave. Awaiting the rising of the sun he suddenly felt confident that the solution of his problem was close. Impatiently he waited for his new friends to return from the spring celebration. Finally a day later they visited him still excited and told him enthusiastically about the sun seekers and the miracle of the stopping of the sun.
The leader of the hunters recalled the miraculous event: "The red-haired traveller and the dark-skinned traveller made the rising sun stand still on the horizon. Sol, the invincible, the ruler of the day, the generous donor of prosperity and well-being greeted his emissaries! They fell unconscious to the ground and when they rose again everything they touched was blessed!"
Now Tsemo knew what to do, what he had to do! In the darkness of the night he began the long walk from the foothills of the southern mountain range to the landing stage of the village at the tributary river of the Bredd-ström.
Tsemo was dead-tired when he finally arrived at the southern end of the village after a walk of more than one day. He hardly could move his feet anymore. He just was stumbling through the dark night trying to catch the strangers down at the river. In despair he shouted, "Wait! Wait! Emissaries of Sol, you can't leave without me! I have to find the light too! Wait! Wait sun seekers!"
Buri listened into the dark, "Who is this?" He turned to Aegir who was coxing the dugout into the dark river, "Who is that calling on us?" Buri asked again. This time he shouted, "Who are you? What do you want? We are not the emissaries of Sol, the invincible, we are just simple people!"
The desperate voice called again, "Wait! Wait"
"We are already in midstream! We cannot turn back! We are in a hurry!" was Buri's answer.
"Stop! Stop in the name of…..!" suddenly the voice was drowned by a big splash, followed by gurgling noises!
"Let's turn! The fellow fell into the river! Quick! Let's rescue him or else he will drown!"
Aegir turned the boat to head back for the landing stage. Already some strokes later a frantically struggling bundle drifted alongside. Buri caught the coat of the drifting body with one hand and pulled the struggling boy into the boat.
"You could have drowned, silly kid!" he said, surprised by the childlike size of the guy, "It's not the swimming season. Anyway, what is that all about? Asking for a ride in the middle of the night? We aren't emissaries from Sol!"
"Lets put him back on the river bank." Aegir called from the stern, "Kester's dugout is already out of sight! We have to hurry!"
"Please not! Please not! Let me stay! I have to go with you! I am in search of the sun also! I'm Tsemo!"
Wrapped up in Aegir's coat Tsemo told his story while Aegir and Buri did their best to catch up with Ver and Kester. That wasn't easy at all as Kester's boat was fast and less heavily loaded. They couldn't see the boat in front of them while riding down the tributary river because of its bends and turns. For miles and miles down the Bredd-ström Kester's boat stayed out of sight because of the darkness. Only when the morning breeze cleared the sky in front of the new moon for a moment Buri spotted the boat ahead further downstream. They kept following it the rest of the night down the dark river. Shortly after sunrise a long island emerged in the morning fog. About halfway along the island Kester was waiting on the beach. He waved them ashore, pointing to a shelter among the poplars.
"Cantu and Hermo did spent the night in there." he called over, "They know the place from our fishing expeditions. Blue-eye is with them!" and Ver called from the shelter, "So far they seem to be alright! They are gone ahead; they probably left at the break of day! Let's have a meal and a short rest. We are still two days from the rapids and we have a fair chance to catch them before then."
Looking out of the shelter Ver's eyes nearly popped out of his head, "Who's that guy? Where did you get him?" First he shook his head in disbelief but then he beamed, "Is it you Tsemo? Are you alive? Hey Kester, Tsemo is alive and the wolves haven't picked his bones!"
Tsemo looked like a boy of ten when he struggled to leave the boat wrapped up in Buri's coat which was far too big. Kester, who was busy gathering firewood further down the beach, let the branches drop out of his arms, rushed to back and lifted Tsemo out of the boat. However he didn't put him down. No! he held him high up in the air and spun him around. He was all smiles! "Brother, brother we missed you at our marriage! We missed you the whole winter long! Don't you know we all love you, little brother! Everybody loves you!" Then he turned to Aegir and Buri, "Where did you find him?" not awaiting an answer, "Now that Tsemo is with us, we know we will find Hermo and Cantu and bring them back safely! He is our good luck charm!"
While Tsemo's clothes dried by the fire, he told the others of his whereabouts after his getaway from the shamans´ residence. "But why did you leave the High Shaman, why did you leave the community of holy men? Why didn't you just come back to our village! It has been your home since your childhood!"
Tsemo didn't answer the questions Kester asked. For a long time he looked to the ground as if to contemplate the answer. Then he looked to Aegir, "Boy from the North, do you know your parents?"
"Sure I do, but I left them. I had to leave my dear parents because I decided to live the life I chose! Now my parents are part of my past! I still love them and one day I will meet them again!"
"And you Buri, boy from the South?"
"I just remember my father! He is gone as well as my dear mother!! I loved my parents too, but I will never meet them again. All I can do is put flowers on my mother's grave." smiling sadly Buri stated, "I am my own master!"
"And I?" Tsemo pursued his train of thought, "I do not know either my father or my mother! I loved my late aunty, I love my family because Kester's family is mine also. I love you Kester my big brother, you Ver and Hermo and Cantu. I even love the High Shaman and the others living in the shamans´ quarters. However when the midwinter solstice came around the Three Norns told me it was time for a change in my life!"
Then he turned to Aegir and Buri, still looking shyly to the ground, "I know I am invading your friendship, but please let me be the third in quest of the sun, the third of the sun seekers!" Making eye contact Tsemo asked, "Please Aegir! Please Buri, let try me to become your companion, your friend, your brother, please!"
They left the island around noon. For the next two days they kept in midstream, taking advantage of the fast current. There was no trace of the two boys or their boat, anywhere, neither on the left or the right of the river, nor on any of the many islands they passed by. They passed by some villages but they couldn't make out the small boat at any of the landing stages. Cantu and Hermo had to be in front of them.
In the early morning light of the fourth day a mountain ridge became visible in the distance barring the valley like a threatening wall. Around noon they were close enough to be able to discern tall jagged mountain-ridges protruding out of the dark forest. When the Bredd-ström entered the wooded foothills the pace of the current increased, the bed of the stream became shallower, sandbanks and shoals narrowed the watercourse and big boulders obstructed the passage of the stream. It was only early afternoon but the air went misty and chilly.
All of a sudden the stream seemed to run against a wall of ragged rocks. A moment later a dark door in the wall of rocks opened and the water forced its way through a narrow gorge down an apparently never-ending chute between sheer rock walls. In some places rugged boulders and dead trees blocked the passage in others the surface of the rushing water was smooth and waveless.
In no time the two dugouts made it down this first rapid and at its end plunged into a deep pothole surrounded by fir trees. They paddled to a small sand-bank to catch their breath and went ashore to discuss the next move. The roaring of the water was deafening. They were unable to communicate by words and had to do it by gestures. Tsemo deciphered Ver's and Kester's sign language and translated the meaning to Aegir and Buri! "They are desperate! They don't believe their brothers are skilled enough to manage the next passage! That's the most dangerous part of the rapids, it is steep and narrow and obstructed by sharp boulders. Just one mistake and the boys are dead!"
Buri closed his eyes to assess situation! Then he shouted to the other boat, "We go! We go down the waterfall, we have to take the risk! That the only chance to find them!"
"Yeah, we must risk it! I have mastered the boiling sea! I have mastered monster waves! Let's go!" Aegir pushed the boat into the strong current heading into the water cascading down from ledge to ledge in the dark gorge.
Buri in the bow of the dugout already had seen the light at the end of the narrow gorge when Tsemo's alarming cries scared him out of his concentrated attention, "A broken boat! Look over there at…."
Buri couldn't see it anymore because they had already passed the scene of the accident where the wrecked boat of the boys was jammed between a giant boulder and the sheer rock face. "Did you see any sign of Cantu and Hermo?" he shouted to Tsemo.
The next moment the rapids spat the boat into a small lake. The fierce current drove the boat straight across the lake where it ran aground on a bank. They had to wait a long time for Kester's boat. When the water current finally spit out Kester's dugout its left side was torn and severely damaged. The boat was still floating; however it was partially filled with water. Ver and Kester had lost the paddles and had to direct the boat with their hands. Wet to the skin, with slouching shoulders Kester stuttered, "Ver saw the damaged boat and at the last moment we were able to turn by. However our boat was hurled against the rock and got wrecked."
"It is Cantu's boat up there, but neither Hermo nor Cantu were there. The boat is turned upside down. We scanned the shrubbery all around the site of the accident but we didn't see a sign of the boys. Blue-eye is also missing! I am afraid they are drowned!"
"Surely not! We didn't see a sign of them either! I know they are living. I tell you, my little brothers are alive! I just know!" Tsemo tried his best to uplift the mood of Ver and Kester!"
"Let's check the lake! If they are dead, they should be here carried down by the current. If not they are alive!" Aegir tried to turn their attention to the most obvious task, "You scout the woods on this side of the lake, while we paddle to the other side to search there."
Taking a wide arc across the lake, Buri pulled the boat aground on the opposite side, jumped out and broke into the dense underground. Next moment he called to Buri and Tsemo "Here is a narrow trail, hurry up!"
Tsemo, boring his way through the thicket, hit upon faint traces attracting his attention. "There are tracks, tracks of two people! Look Buri, two youngsters came along here!" than he rushed back to the lakefront, "Kester! Ver! Your brothers are alive! They left tracks on the trail leading from the rapids!"
"I'm coming over." Aegir shouted across the lake, while he made the dugout ready for take off, "Wait, I will come and get you! Don't use that wrecked boat! Wait! I will be over in no time!"
The two brothers and the sun seekers headed down the narrow trail along the edge of the gorge staying away from the cliffs overhanging the boiling water. Halfway down the tracks of the two boys vanished as the slippery trail merged with a creek.
Suddenly a desperate voice was to be heard drowning out the thundering of the water, "Cantu, please open your eyes! Cantu, please look at me! Cantu! Cantu! Please stay awake, Don´t die!"
Then a desperate groaning was to be heard, "I can't, Hermo I just can't! My arm hurts like hell! I can't bear the pain anymore! Please leave me Hermo! Leave me, go back! Try to fetch some help!"
Like a whirlwind the five broke through the thicket. Ver was the first to recognize the grave situation. Cantu was sitting bent forward on the ground his back against a tree. Tears were running down his face and he was whimpering softly. With his left hand he was pressing his right arm to his chest while the shoulder was sticking out. Hermo was kneeing beside his friend, cooling the upper arm and shoulder with a wet cloth.
"Don´t faint again Cantu! I have to stay with you! I can't leave you alone, not now!" Detecting the approaching men Hermo flinched, then took stand determined to fight back any enemy. Realizing Ver and the others he sighted deeply and his eyes filled with tears of relief. "Blessed are you Freya, you Wuitan, divine helpers!" Hermo stammered, "Cantu look! Your brother is here, Ver! He and Kester and the sun seekers! Look even Tsemo is here! We are safe now!"
Cantu looked up. He tried to smile, but instead his tears welled up, and he began to cry even more. His body was shaking because of his uncontrollable sobbing.
"What happened? What …?" Ver knelt down beside his brother and tried to wipe off the tears with the back of his hand.
"I slipped while climbing down the rocks and broke my arm! Look, Ver! I can't move my arm anymore!" and he tried to lift his right arm with his left.
"After our boat broke, we were lucky! We managed to hold onto some branches and climb ashore." Hermo explained meanwhile, "But the water took Blue-eye downstream. We tried to follow him and began to climb down the slippery rocks along the gorge. Then Cantu slipped and fell down a cliff!"
"Let me check your arm, little brother." Tsemo bowed to Cantu, "The High Shaman was a good healer!" he spoke into the woods, "If that old man was good for something, he was good for teaching me to heal and cure fractured limbs and ribs."
Touching Cantu's arm he said, "It's not fractured; it's not even dislocated from the joint fully, just partially, I guess! Let me fix the arm to your body and steady it!"
Singing an incantation Tsemo began to treat Cantu while Aegir held the boy down:
Phol and Wodan were riding to the woods,
and the foot of Balder's foal was sprained
So Sinthgunt, Sunna's sister, conjured it
and Frija, Volla's sister, conjured it.
and Wodan conjured it, as well he could:
Like bone-sprain, so blood-sprain,
Bone to bone, blood to blood,
joints to joints, so may they be glued .
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