S’ilu stood motionless at the shore in the center of the ring of priestesses. She gazed upward at Sav, full and shining in the clear midnight sky, ignoring plump Mel in the western sky and the ever-present newcomer in the east. An ecstatic smile spread across the high priestess’s face. Sav’s light shone on her outstretched arms.
The priestesses saw S’ilu turn her gaze to the newcomer. After a time, she returned to Sav and said one word: “yes”.
From the cover of the nearby trees, Usaygo watched the group, a satisfied smile on her face. Yes, she thought, this would work.
Hours earlier, S’ilu and the others had made their preparations. The basket of choice fruits, an offering to their goddess, was ready, as was the incense they would burn that night. As the sun set, a priestess handed S’ilu the pipe.
S’ilu recalled Usaygo’s warning to keep a clear head tonight. She took what she hoped was a convincing deep pull from the pipe, holding the smoke in for longer than usual before breathing it out. As she passed the pipe to another priestess, she hoped the others would not notice that she’d held the smoke in her mouth and not her lungs.
Usually Sav spoke through her. Tonight she needed to speak with Sav, and the clan needed to hear a command from Sav come morning.
* * *
“Mother,” Koro said to Efa over dinner, “is something wrong in the clan?” When Efa’s silent gaze was her only answer, he continued. “A lot of the kids can’t come out and play any more. They say their parents are scared. And there’s a rumor that they ejected one of the priestesses. What’s wrong?”
Efa sighed. “I guess you’re old enough that you should know. Especially if…” She paused, then started again. “D’ara has done some…unusual…things of late. We are all concerned.”
“Did she really send the warlord against one of the priestesses?”
Efa nodded. “She did. Sometimes priestesses turn out not have Dal’s best interests in mind. Ala did a bad thing, and D’ara reacted.” Koro stared at her in silence. “I tried to prevent that, but I was not successful.”
“People are afraid,” Koro answered. “Who’s next?”
Efa nodded. After a time Koro spoke again. “Is D’ara fit to lead?”
“She is not,” Efa replied. “And you must not tell anybody I said so. It will be hard enough already to take action without worrying about rumors.”
Koro nodded. “I understand.”
He’d better understand, Efa thought to herself. If we are to remove D’ara, I am the most fit to step up. And that means he will one day need to serve the clan. He’d better learn what that means before he needs it.
* * *
Captain MacPherson addressed the men seated around the table. “We’ll make port tomorrow, and we’ll turn them over to the chief. He can figure out what to do from there.”
“And you can retire on time.”
“Yes. I’ve spoken with him, so this is a plan and not just a wish. Doc, you’ll handle the transfer. I know there haven’t been any medical concerns for days, but they sort of know you.” Ben Richardson nodded. “It’s a pity we couldn’t take them back where they came from, but they can’t tell us. The night sky didn’t do any good. Navigation charts didn’t do any good. And language…”
“You did all you could, sir,” Dr. Richardson said. “They’re not going home until somebody can figure out how to talk to them. That’s not us.”
“Right. And if they can’t go home, they’ll still be ok. The chief will find a family to care for them. And anyway, once they get used to the modern world, they won’t want to go back!”
Dr. Richardson was the only one who didn’t nod.
* * *
The warlord of Sav stood with Eril in her garden. “You are not in trouble,” he stressed. “You struck Dal — that’s a good thing! Sav approves.”
“Then Sav should return my son to me,” she barked at him. “I did a good thing and my family is being punished. Sav has not heard my prayers.”
“She has,” the warlord responded. “She sent me to you, to find out where you sent them, so we can bring them back.”
“Why does Sav care about the Dal girl?”
The warlord smiled. “Because Sav can turn her against Dal. And because you deserve to see Rufi again.” Eril smiled for the first time. “Now, will you tell me where you sent them?”
* * *
Sav sank in the west as the first rays of the morning sun fell on the shore. “Sav spoke to me,” S’ilu said quietly. The other priestesses came closer to hear.
“Sav welcomes her new sister, Kir” she continued, gesturing toward the newcomer. “She is from Dal and rejected by Dal. We must help her, Sav says.” The group was silent. “Kir requires a priestess from Dal. I know just the person.”