Tanti fingered the ear of the man she had just killed.
“It will be dark soon,” said Anka. “Take your tribute and let’s go.”
The ambush had succeeded beyond expectations. Sacred ground had been trespassed. Lessons must be taught. Tantii took the man’s left ear–the one that did not listen– and put it in her deerskin bag.
Men were fools when it came to sex. Letting this one think he had stumbled across an easy conquest had been his downfall. Anka had played the scared but compliant, curious girl. Tanti had been quick and deadly with the knife from behind.
Now the canyons were cooling as the sun moved lower in the sky. The way back would be hard to find if they waited much longer. Anka lead the way, reversing the hand and footholds up the steep canyon walls the tribe called the Invisible Way. Each hold had been placed by the Old Ones so that only The People could use them. Tanti started the Going To The Sky song that recalled the first leg of the trail up the stone face.
Left hand to the sun, right foot high
lean left and a look for a lizard sign
Same to the right, toes on toes
Two deep breaths and reach high as you can
The sun balanced on the canyon rim. As she moved higher Tanti saw her shadow stretching away across the face of the stone giant beside her. Her shadow was a separate self who could detach from her at the slightest mistake and find its own way home. “You won’t leave me today,” she told it as she reached for the next handhold.
The Teaching said always look up on the Invisible Way, never down. The Giants permitted passage if you sang the song as you went and showed your respect at the top by giving thanks. Tanti felt strong, stronger than she had ever felt.
Looking down. What could it hurt? She was a warrior now–one of the few women called. She had killed a man today.
She took a quick look down between her legs at the canyon floor far below in the blue black shadows of the late afternoon. It was a view that belonged only to the birds. It was a mistake. She knew it immediately. A greasy, watery feeling crept into her legs.
The Song. Where was it? Nothing came. She looked up for Anka but she was out of sight by now.
The day shrank down until it was only the patch of speckled grey rock in front of her. Her ears started to buzz and her mouth became bitter and dry. Fingers grew numb. Her left foot started to bounce with a mind of its own.
Her stomach fell first. Away to some place deep inside her leaving a hole for the wind to find and fill. In her mind she watched her shadow self leave the wall and float like a leaf, drifting back and away.
“find the tree that lives in the wall
a root will guide you to it …”
Over her shoulder, a voice, steady and calm. Her shadow self sang the Song for her. Everything sharp now. One hand, one foot and the tree found her and brought her to it.
She rested at the tree and steadied her breath before continuing. She had made a grave mistake, but today was not the day she would join her ancestors.
“What kept you?” asked Anka when she reached the top.
Tanti debated telling her what happened and decided against it. Why give her mistake a life of its own by speaking of it?
“My deerskin bag got caught on the tree root,” she said.