A Suitable Offering (Part Four) by Shona Kinsella
Sunrise had been and gone by the time Amondi stumbled into the village, weak and shaking. All was quiet and, at first, she feared that she was too late, that the chief had taken them all to the floating city of the Osenai. She staggered toward the hut her family shared. It was empty, but there was a jug of water on the table and she grabbed it thankfully, sipping so as not to vomit.
The fact that there was water meant that her family were still here; she had made it in time. But where was everyone?
Without pausing to eat, Amondi headed back out in search of her father and brother. She did not want to die without wishing them farewell. She made her way to the centre of the village, hoping to find someone who could tell her where they were. Instead, she found the whole tribe gathered together. The chief was speaking.
“I see no way for us to continue,” he was saying. “Each day it is harder to find food and water. Each day more of us become ill. Our only option is to move to the floating city, where the Osenai will share their resources.”
“But won’t we be slaves?” someone called from the crowd.
“Not slaves,” the chief snapped. “Warriors, indentured servants, but not slaves.”
“What is the difference?”
“At least we’ll be alive,” the chief answered. “Which will not be the case if we remain here.”
A muttering went around the tribe but Amondi knew that they were all too tired and hungry to put up much of a protest. She pushed her way to the front of the crowd and spoke up, her voice strong despite her days of thirst. She felt Vash close to her, lending her strength to act.
“There is no need to go to the city. I have found the solution to our problem.”
“What is this solution?” the chief asked, frowning.
“I have spoken with Vash. I have heard the voice of our Creator and I know the offering that will bring the rains.”
“You’ve been without water for too long,” the chief scoffed, his bead necklaces clicking together as he shook his head. “Even your grandfather did not hear the voice of Vash.”
“Each Nganzu finds his – or her – own way to the Creator.” Amondi squared her shoulders. “I do know how to bring the rain back, but first I must say goodbye.”
Amondi scanned the crowd, searching for her father and Duma. Garnet was over to the side, her face distraught. There; her father was behind Garnet, making his way forward.
“Where are you going?” he asked. “Off on another quest?”
“No, Father. Today I must go where I cannot return. I go to join the ancestors.” She heard gasps as she pulled the knife from her belt.
The chief’s son made to move towards her, but his father put a hand on his chest, stilling him.
Amondi placed the blade against her wrist. “The old ways have been gone from our tribe for too long. The Creator grows weak and so, to bring life back to the desert, a life must be given. I do this freely out of love for all of you and for the Creator. Please do not mourn, but remember Vash and bring him back into your lives.”
Amondi’s father leapt forward, grabbing her wrist and forcing it backwards until she dropped the knife.
“What are you thinking?” he demanded. “This will not save the village – you are just a confused child!”
Amondi struggled, trying to get free of her father. “Don’t you see?” she pleaded. “Grandfather was training me to replace him. This is the way, I know it.”
‘You’re confused,” he said again, a stubborn set to his jaw that she had seen all too many times. “You have been without water for days. Your mind is playing tricks on you.”
“Father, stop.” Duma placed a restraining hand on their father’s shoulder.
Amondi looked at him gratefully, stopping her struggle.
“We have to protect her from herself,” her father said, looking at his son.
“Would you do that by selling her to the Osenai?”
“Better to live.”
Amondi looked back and forth between the two men in her life and saw just how deeply her father cared for them. How frightened he was of losing them.
“I believe her,’ Duma said softly.
‘He can’t have her. Vash already took your mother. He can’t take Amondi as well.” Her father’s voice broke and he let go of her, covering his face as emotion made his shoulders shake.
The assembled villagers all looked on in silence, some looking curious, while others were wrapped in sadness, perhaps feeling her father’s pain.
“I love you, Papa,” Amondi said, using the name that she had called him as a small child. “And you, Duma.”
Amondi kissed her father’s cheek, then kissed Duma too.
“I love you,” he whispered, passing her the knife.
She looked out over the crowd once more, then turned to face the chief. “For all of you, and for Vash.”
She drew the knife down her arm, cutting deeply. The pain was a line of fire that quickly spread deep into her forearm as blood rushed to the surface.
She heard screams and her father shouting and that voice again, rumbling through her.
Your gift is received with love.
Amondi sank to her knees and watched as her blood began to splash the sand. Someone grabbed her shoulders, but she did not look up. Her gaze was locked on the sand and the spots of moisture that were appearing beyond the splashes of her blood. Was it…?
“Rain!” Garnet shouted.
Amondi kept staring at the ground, where fat drops of water were landing with increasing frequency. She laughed and tipped her head back, letting the rain fall onto her dry, cracked lips. She could feel her life force pouring out onto the sand and she was filled with joy and a deep peace. She knew she had done exactly the right thing. She was only sorry for the pain it would bring her father and brother. They were crouching at her side now and she realised that she had tipped over and was lying on the sand, big, fat drops of rain falling on her skin. Her eyelids fluttered and the last thing she saw was Duma’s worried face hovering over her.
“Amondi! Amondi!” Her father was patting her face and shaking her shoulders.
I’m sorry, father. I had to. Just let me sleep now.
“Amondi, your arm!” her father’s voice was full of wonder.
She peeled her eyes open and looked down at her arm. It was no longer bleeding. In fact, where she had cut almost to the bone just a moment before, there was now a thin silver scar. Water ran off her arm and her father pulled her to her feet and crushed her against his chest. She wasn’t sure if the moisture on his cheeks was from rain or tears.
That night, after everyone was sleeping, Amondi sat just outside the doorway to their hut, letting the rain soak her to the skin, and reached out for Vash.
“What happened today? Why didn’t I die?”
You were never supposed to die.
“But you asked for my life. I thought that meant…”
What good is a wasted life? No, the life I want from you is a life of dedication and service. You will be first among my Nganzu. You will travel this land and bring the Emeni back to me. Guide them home.
Amondi thought about this for a long time. Instead of her life being over, as she had thought, Vash was offering her a life full of adventure and service to her people. “I am your servant,” she said at last. “Can I ask something?”
“You said that the story my grandfather told me wasn’t quite what happened. What bit was wrong?”
The Emeni were made when Okora left, as the story says. But it was the Emeni that trapped me here, and it was my choice. Okora and I both knew the cost for creating life together and we did it anyway. That is how loved you are. We chose to be apart so that we could create you together. Now, bring my love to the Emeni and help me return to them, Nganzu.