The ring of thorny shrubs surrounding the flat rock under the holy oak tree had not been touched by the members of the wolf-clan. Not even the curious children had tried to invade the sacred place.
"Look Buri, look my bro, the feathers, the robes, they are still on the altar. There it is!" Aegir pointed to the dark spot.
"My blood? It's dried! Why did my people do this? What did I do to my clan?" Buri turned his questioning eyes to Aegir. The dark skin of his face had changed to grey and his lips were trembling. "Why?" he repeated.
"Why didn't your father prevent this deed? Didn't he get in the way when the others made you a sacrifice for the soul-eater? Doesn't he love you?"
Buri took Aegir's hand and pulled him away choking his sobbing. "He, he ....." he stammered. At the shelter with the stone anvil, he finally was able to speak again. "That's his workshop. He was the best flint-cutter around. He made the finest knives of flint, the spikiest arrowheads, and the sharpest stone chopping tools. He was just the best stone cutter of the clan. Two summers ago he set out on an expedition to purchase flints from the mines in the east. He never returned.
Aegir, remembering his own father, put an arm around Buri's shoulder to console him.
"Didn't they search for him, the other members of your clan? Didn't they send out a search party to look for him?"
Buri shrugged his shoulders, "Yes, but in vain! But it probably was too late. They waited till fall."
With an unconscious move Buri opened the clasp of his shirt and began to search. "Where is it?" he asked. When Aegir looked without understanding, he repeated, "My amulet of moon-stone, the crescent, lucky charm my father gave me! Mother's sign of clanship and regality! The small crescent-shaped knife: it shone like the moon, where is it?" When Aegir still looked blank, "Wasn't I wearing it around my neck when you found me on the altar?"
They hastened back to the holy oak, climbed across the wall of thorny shrubs and searched the altar and the place around. "It's nowhere! Somebody must have taken it!" Furrowing his brain, Buri suddenly screamed, "He did it, the shaman took away the crescent? He robbed me!" More calmly Buri added after some moments. "Now I know why he made me a sacrifice! He wanted the crescent. He often asked me to give to him. He even wanted to trade his daughter for it. But my father gave the crescent to me at the rite of passage and told me never to lose it! It's the symbol of my mother's clan and if you can show it to her folks, you will be welcome and can enjoy their hospitality." Looking into the eyes of his friend, "I have to get it back from the shaman. If necessary I will kill him to get it!"
On the way back to the shelter on the plateau they were lucky enough to catch some brown trout which were hiding among the alder roots in the river. Bloated with the roasted fishes Aegir and Buri relaxed in the evening-sun. The black-skinned teen had recovered from the shock and now both friends were resting side by side. Aegir couldn't help but admire Buri's colour, "Your skin looks so beautiful Buri, so soft! I envy you about your skin. If I get too much sun mine turns red, itches like mad and then peels off. I always have to wear a shirt. You are much luckier!"
"I get sunburn too, but very seldom, Red-head! I envy you also because of the colour of your skin, but because of another reason. When I was small that they called me dirt-boy, Lillebur! The other kids mocked me: Go and wash your dirty face, go and wash your dirty ass! The only one who defended me was my father! My dear father!" And suddenly tears welled out of Buri dark eyes.
Aegir snuggled him. He put his left arm around him, put his nose into Buri's left ear and nosed, "Your skin smells so great! It smells like a baby." Nosing his neck and fondling him with his right hand, Aegir teased him, "Take care bro or I eat you alive!"
Buri pushed him back laughingly. "Don't do that! I will get stuck in your belly and you will die!"
Back in the shelter while the moon was rising, Aegir couldn't hold back his curiosity anymore, "Your father? Was he as dark-skinned as you? Did they laugh at him too?"
"No, No! Father was light-skinned. He had brown hair. He looked just any other man of our clan."
"Then where did you get your nice colour from? Did you fall into a swamp when you were a baby or was your mother dark-skinned?"
"I do not know! I never met her. But father told me once that she was dark-skinned, even darker than me! My father told me she was beautiful. She was so beautiful that he fell in love with her at first sight! But I don't remember her. She died when I was born." Buri looked to the ground and then asked with quavering voice, "Would you like to hear what my father told me about her, about how he met her, and about how he lost her?"
Aegir lifted Buri's head, looked into his dark eyes and assured him, "Buri my bro, I would like to hear your story! We are brothers. When you accepted my proposal to be brothers, you also accepted that we share everything, our past, our present, our future!" Aegir put his arm around Buri's shoulder and steered him into the shelter, "Bro it's getting dark now and cold, let's slip under the cover and cuddle each other, then we can tell each other our life story."
Buri closed his eyes and began: "My father was a dreamer. He was the best flint-stonecutter of the clan. Everyone liked him. Everyone praised his skills. However he had a dream."
While Aegir was lying on his back staring at the rising moon, Buri was beside him on his side, with his head propped on the palm of one hand "All winter long after he had listened to the songs of a travelling storyteller at the winter solstice he dreamed of finding a stone that melts like ice in the heat and becomes hard again when it is cooled down. "Yes!" the storyteller had sworn, "I am no liar! Wuitan is my witness! Far, far away yonder were the sun rises, people have stones like this. They call them moon-stones. Their knife-makers create knives, axes and tools from the stone which does neither break nor ever get blunt."
Looking into his Aegir's eyes, Buri continued "Believe me bro, my father was so confident of finding this stone, that he left the clan at the beginning of the spring. He followed the advice of the storyteller, "First you have to go south till this small river hits the Bredd-ström. Then you have to follow the stream eastward, till it bends to the north. You have to leave the stream then and go south with the travelling merchants. I have heard the route crosses a rugged mountain range to end on the shore of a deep water that tastes salty. You have to cross the dangerous water by boat till you come to the mouth of a mighty river. The river rises in the black mountains far in the south where the moon-stone is buried deep in the hills. The river Iteru winds its way through a barren land, but the soil on both banks of the river is productive. Many, many people live there in settlements much bigger than this one with houses as big as mountains." When he caught my father's doubtful look, the storyteller swore again, "Believe me, Son! I am not a liar!"
"Father left and everyone waved good bye. As soon as father came to the big stream he couldn't find a way along it because both banks were covered by swamps and riverside forests. The river-people told him, "Make yourself a dugout boat or a raft from rush and let the water float you downstream to the mouth of the Bredd-ström." My father did and on his long way down he stopped at the villages to offer his skill as a flint stone-cutter to make a living. In every village he asked for travelling merchants that might about the moon-stone. In the villages by the headwaters people didn't know more than he did; in the villages by the middle course of the river some people did know more, but nobody knew a travelling merchant who knew the way to the place were the moon-stone is produced. When he arrived in the lowland, where the stream turned to the north, my father decided to abandon the boat be and left it in the next town."
Aegir became sleepy listening to Buri. But just when his eyelids dropped the account made him curious again.
"Market squares and pubs are places where information is traded." Buri continued, "My father was low in supplies. He therefore decided to visit the market first to barter some of his furs for food and a pair of sturdy boots. Strolling about the place he was attracted by the strange looks of man in front of a low stand. The travelling trader in a knee-length coat of a material my father had not seen before was scrawny, nearly starved, and was wearing a shoulder-length headdress. Later he learned its name was Chafiye. Reacting to my father's curios look the man asked him something in a foreign tongue. When my father responded with a smile indicating a lack of understanding the trader switched to the local language. "You are strange around here, young man! Your cloth proves it. Are you from the country in the west?" "Yes, you are right Mister. I left my clan about two moons ago and now I am looking for someone who can show me the way to the place where the moon-stone is mined." "The moon-stone?" the man started laughing, "Are you sure?" "Yes, I am! I am looking for the stone which melts when heated and becomes hard again, when it is cooled down!" "Hi young man, you have met the right man! I have seen the moon-stone it is a shiny, ductile material. They call the stones ore and the material extracted from the stones metal, filizz. But there are different metals. A dull brownish one, fitted for tools and weapon and a bright yellow one and a silvery one. Both are soft and often used for charms." "Oh so many, that's new to me!" my father explained "Have you really seen these magic materials? Can you tell me where, can you tell me how to get there?" "What can you offer me in exchange for my secret?" My father went red in his face, "I haven't much left. All I have is in my bag, two furs of the marten, five firs of the ermine and a beaver's coat." "Are the ermine's coats white with a black tail?" Opening his bag, my father took out an ermine's fur. "Precious! Do you know how precious these furs are in the country where they know how to get the material out of the ore? Maybe we can make a deal!" My father was quite experienced as a trader because of his profession as a flint-cutter. "I am interested but I need to know more, but what exactly will you give me for the furs, just a description of the route? So far I don't even know if you might cheat me!" The stranger grinned, "You are right young man, don't trust anybody. Let me invite you for dinner and afterwards I will show you some charms made of the yellow stuff and talk about an arrangement."
Dinner was a word Aegir understood too well also the word hunger. At the very word his stomach began to growl. This noise was infectious and Buri's stomach answered. "Isn't there some fish left?" Buri asked. "Yes, but just a bite and I wanted to save it for breakfast!" "Are you kidding? Let's eat it now and go fishing in the morning again!"
After sharing the rest of the fish Buri continued, "After the meal the strange merchant offered my father a small pellet of blackish tree gum, "Try it, some people sell their last shirt for it! It shows you the heaven" As my father declined, the stranger became pushier, "Just try it, the kings in the south give tree gum to their soldiers before the battle starts and the soldiers become invincible!" Father tasted the gum, "It's terrible!" began to cough and spit the pellet out. "It tastes awful. I do not need the stuff to be invincible! I am strong!" The merchant smiled. He wrapped the pellet up and put it back into his pocket, "You are a good boy! You don't drink beer, you don't take poison, you are just the companion I need for the voyage across the mountains. That's my price for showing you the way to the place where the moon-stone is made!" "But what's about the yellow charm?" Father asked, ignoring the offer. "Look!" the strange merchant opened a small pouch he was carrying on a leather strip around his neck and poured its content into the palm of my father's hand, "Look!"
"There the charms were, three little figures with big heads small bodies and tiny arms and legs. Instead of eyes they had shiny stones, some reddish, some green, some blue. Father couldn't but wonder with his mouth agape. "Touch the charms! They are mighty charms from far in the south where the sun is hot! Now will you come with me? Meet me and my four porters at sun rise two days from now at the old lime-tree where the road to the south leaves the village." He pointed towards the road and then added "Keep your furs. You may need them later for bargaining, but take one and get yourself some tough shoes, a heavy coat and a sharp lance!"
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