|it was theatre night in clan comri, a biweekly event that caer never missed. she walked along the lane from the commonplace, the lovely cluster of stone thatched-roof huts where the clan’s shared property was housed, and which included the windfarm and the solar heaters and the clan’s last remaining computer, with its rich naÔve history of the ancient civilized world, in the old, awkward tongue that, when ‘spoken’ by the elders who still knew how, scared the children with its gruffness and severity.
the new generation of the clan had evolved a new language, which was sung rather than spoken, with each sound, depending on inflection and tone and duration, representing an idea, object or action and its qualifiers. the elders said that it was only natural that the comri invent a language based on song, since their old tongue was sing-song-like anyway, and everyone knew the comri had the best voices in the world. the young had picked up and enriched this new language, and, through the nomad network, had spread it to other clans. it was said that the comri could understand and communicate with the birds.
caer loved this lane, rich with wild berries and currants and surrounded on all sides by the deciduous forest that had reclaimed most of the great british island since the demise of civilization over a century before. she spread her arms wide to touch the leaves and branches of the trees on either side as she walked, and delighted as the cool drops of a recent rain showered off the leaves into her hair and onto her breasts and legs.
<<ye walk like a wild filli, so ye’re perfect for the role of the black beauty>>, one of the elders had told her, and after her experience acting as that famous horse on theatre night, caer had fallen in love with acting, and studied each performance she attended with delight and intensity.
nearly all of the sixty members of clan comri were there for theatre night, along with several young nomads, students from other clans who were visiting, learning the comri ways, sharing the learnings of other clans, and bringing the disks with the latest lore for the computer. as the actors set up in the round clearing surrounded by the flat limestone outcrops on which the audience would sit, the members of the clan sang to each other, and were entertained by musicians and magicians, to the delight of the rosy-faced children.
the chef-artists had prepared a vegetarian feast of leeks and cabbage, potatoes and onions, apples and pears, wild mushrooms, berries, and oats, and of course bara-lawr, the exquisite bread made with oats and native seaweed that had sustained the comri peoples since long before the civilization had come and gone. at one time these feasts included lamb and bacon, but since the time of the prion-diseases the eating of farmed animals had become deadly, so comri resourcefulness had substituted vegetable oils but otherwise kept the recipe unchanged from what it had been for over a millennium.
in the centre of the stage was a wicker-framed coracle boat, a prop that indicated that the play was set in a foreign land near the sea. a tartan draped over the boat suggested that it was set in the loch-lands. caer had spent some of her nomad time at clan moray in those lands. some of the actors were wearing kirtles and doublets — so strange that the ‘civilization’ people saw fit to wear clothes, so uncomfortable and disguising of the beauty of the human body! caer had had to wear a costume when she played the black beauty, and found it frighteningly constraining and uncomfortable. and it covered up all her tattoos, adornments and body jewelery, the very epitome of her individuality! never in her twenty years of life had she felt so imprisoned, and by mere cloth.
several of caer’s friends and lovers had joined her on the limestones around the grassy stage, and now the play began. it was the story of a laird and his wife, rich and ambitious people from civilization time. when the actors sang their parts, the children in the audience shrieked with laughter at the trills and flourishes that they added to the words of their songs, as their parents explained to them that such extravagances in language and fashion and manner were common in those days. the story was very violent and disturbing to caer and the other young members of the audience — the laird, urged on by his wife, killed many people to become and stay as ‘king’ of their clan.
the next play was meant for children, and was a short play based on an ancient fable about creatures called ‘tribbles’. at first the tribbles were cute and adorable, but soon they multiplied so much that they overran the stage and got out of control. the play was traditionally used to introduce children in the clan to the importance of using birth control.
after the theatre, there were drinks and potions and more magic tricks, and then the people slowly made their way back to the communal sleeping area. caer played with her friends for awhile, and then went for a walk with zan, a young man she was especially fond of. she presented him with a poem in the old tongue that she had found on the computer, and which, she said, blushing, reminded her of their time together. she loved him, she said, and the red lipstick she had used to paint and accentuate her pubis was an expression of the joy that love brought out in her. they then made love, slowly, gently, caer laughing and joking and urging zan on with loud joyous songs, zan more restrained, focused, serious.
as they lay in the afterglow zan sang that he wished he could have her all to himself, and caer began to cry.
<<ye nae like yeself much, that ye must hae me as a personal trophy, as a possession>>, she sang, miserably, her voice breaking. <<i’ve said before, tis unhealthy, that>>.
<<i just can’t bear others hae’ing yer body>>, he replied plaintively. <<the thought of ye laughing and coming with them as they’re inside ye, just makes me crazy! i can tolerate when yer loving wit’ the girls, but not wit’ other boys>>.
<<there be lots of me to go around>>, she sang back, with great distress, <<tis not like ye have to wait in line for me! i’m here for you and we can play whenever you like. but look ye i have to be free. ye lock me up for yer exclusive use i’ll just be miserable, like a caged bird, no good for ye nor anyone. don’t ask me to make such a sacrifice!>>
they lay down and slept at the edge of the commonplace, in the comfort of one of the solar heaters. when caer awoke, zan was gone. he had left her a note.
. . . . .
<<he’s gone>>, she sang to her mother. <<become a nomad again, he has. what is’t wit’ some people — the jealous young and the senile old and the angry in-between — that they be obliged to make others so unhappy, and for naught? is’t a disease of the head, and what causes it? haen’t we learnt enough from the history stories, like the show last night about ambition and last month’s show about ishmael and the great forgetting? is’t some tragic flaw of gaia that she inflicts on us to make us wary, or what is’t?>>
her mother thought for a moment, and then replied: <<i think it’s gaia’s trick on us. she is a great experimenter, always inventing those that is a little different from the rest, to see what works and what doesn’t, in her evolutionary way. that is what has led us to be what we are now, you know. as she learns what works and what doesn’t, so do we, and that’s important, learning, to keep us from another great forgetting, such as those poor folks back in civilization had to endure, before they blew themselves up in despair, and most of gaia with them.>>
<<your poor boy zan>>, she continued, <<tho’ I know ye love him dearly, is a messenger to ye and to us from gaia that we must never again forget who we really are, never allow others to imprison us in a world pretend-controlled by humans. your friend’s departure is gaia’s trickster wink at us, my love — she is teaching ye, and us, the critical art and skill of letting go.>>
caer hugged her mother, crying, and walked away, along the narrow lane between the thick woodlands towards the commonplace. and soon she heard the whisper-song of invitation, the laughter of her young friends and lovers seducing her into the forest and away from the sadness. she sighed, smiled, reached out an arm, and was drawn in, surrounded by hugs and kisses of love and consolation — and then suddenly tagged with the yellow die that made her ‘it’. she gasped in surprise, andlaughed, and chased after the others to join the game.
(As regular readers will have guessed, this story segment is practice-writing for one of the chapters in The Only Life We Know.)
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