Zurak could only watch, stupefied and numb, with Oshi sleeping soundly in her arms. She was safe inside the circle made by the blazing bonfires that kept the wolves away; the acrid smoke was so thick that it became an unpleasant flavor on Zurak’s tongue. The dancers had been chanting for hours now, ever since the sated wolves moved off and the tribe could safely get near Taeyo’s corpse.
Her leg throbbed beneath the poultice and bandages, but Zurak would not have joined the dancers even if she was uninjured. Dancing was for times of joy and the Wanderer’s joy had gushed out of her wound along with all that blood. Watching Taeyo die so brutally felt like a punishment to Zurak, the wrath of an angry goddess towards her most faithful servant.
Elune kept taking away things that Zurak loved; the moon goddess took both of her parents and both of her little brothers named Taeyo, and for what? Sola took something from Elune and Elune used Zurak to get back at her sister, it was all so pointless. After the Well was claimed, the sisters would find something else to fight about and some other person would be forced to do the dirty work.
All the gods were churlish, childish beings; demanding absolute devotion without sympathy for those under their dominion and Zurak wanted no more to do with any of them. She had sacrificed over and over for the glory of Elune only to be literally thrown to the wolves, and now she knew their secret. The gods had no power, not really, they were just as helpless against the vicissitudes of life as everyone else, but they were bigger. The gods had greater strength and used it to bully the small people like Zurak.
Zurak could not say any of those things aloud; she could not tell her family that she had changed her mind about Elune after they worked so hard to get her here. Churashom’s tribe adopted Elune into their family of gods because of Zurak, they had altered their lives to accompany her on this journey and they had all watched Taeyo die together.
The pyre was burning low, but the stench of burnt hair and flesh lingered around the clearing, filling up Zurak’s nose with the last earthly remains of her beloved brother bear. The dance would not end until the last ember had eaten itself alive and Churashom never slowed down. Taeyo had given his life to save the lives of Churashom’s wife and unborn child; Churashom danced to show his gratitude and respect.
Zurak watched the sun come up slowly, cursing Sola with hateful eyes as the pile of orange embers became grey dust for the winds to play with. Oshi was beginning to stir, rousing Zurak from her vigil of anger; she got up to follow the other women back to camp because there were many preparations to make. Once the fire was out completely, the men would carefully gather up the ashes; the women would prepare a ritual feast and they would all walk the ashes to the cave after sunset.
This was the night for Zurak to finally claim the Well of Provenance; to finish the quest that Elune started on the beach so many years ago. This was the night that Zurak had lived for, planned for and cried for; but she thought this would bring her happiness and not eternal grief. As she crossed the stream, seeing her blood still staining the grass around the boulder, Zurak made a new plan.
Taeyo’s ashes had been gathered into an elaborately decorated leather pouch; under normal circumstances it would have been the tribe’s leader Mohiwalip that carried the remains. But Taeyo was Zurak’s brother, her protector, and Elune was Zurak’s god; so she held the pouch and walked alongside her father. The torches they carried cast dancing shadows on the rocks as they moved up the path and chanted a traditional tribal funeral song.
This was the first time that the whole tribe was in the cave together; they stopped in the first chamber to say the first prayer of commitment before squeezing through the tunnel to the cavern of stars. The lights from the torches sparkled off of the golden chunks that lined the streambed fed by the well, long veins of the glittering metal streaked through the walls embedded with milky crystals. They said the second prayer together before Churashom climbed up into the well chamber with Mohiwalip and the tribe’s medicine woman.
The Well chamber was small, filled with the sound of rushing water and the gold glowed warmly beneath the torchlight. Zurak had said very little since the attack, she was quiet still in the Well chamber as the elders led the final prayer of commitment. Part of her felt like she was not there at all, that she was outside her body somehow and watching from a safe distance. Zurak barely heard the prayers, it was all breath wasted on an uncaring goddess and Zurak would waste no more breath on gods.
Finally the prayers were over; once again Mohiwalip stepped aside to allow Zurak the honor of being the first. If she could feel anything, it might be guilt for taking advantage of Mohiwalip’s affection for her, but Zurak was still numb as she reached into the leather bag for the first handful of ashes. Tears leaked from her blue eyes again as the soft ashes reminded her of Taeyo’s warm, soft fur and Zurak did not try to stop them.
Instead she mixed her salt tears with the ash, forever binding Zurak to Taeyo, and knelt down beside the Well of Provenance. Lowering her hand into the freezing water and releasing the ashes, Zurak claimed the Well in the language of the Wanderers.
“Since the rising waters stole the Islands of Savage Ice, we have searched on behalf of Elune. We wandered in her name and at her bidding, but we do not claim this well for her. I, Zurak of the Western Wanderers, claim the Golden Lands for the golden bear, I claim this well for the Wanderers and the monkey people. This is our Well, this is our
, and it belongs to
us now.” Golden
With that, Zurak wiped away her tears and watched as the water carried away Taeyo’s ashes, to spread them over the land and anoint the dirt with her claim. Her family would never know the truth and she would pretend fealty to Elune for the rest of her days, but Zurak would always know.
The moon goddess already knew, but Zurak no longer cared.