The Rite

March 11, 2011
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Perhaps it was the heavy snow that burdened her, though she knew even the uplifting spirit of spring would hold the same. It was the inside – not out – that faired Tristan so ill. So, why had she let the priestess’ Rite of Passage get in her head? Because it was the way of the Prairie Tribe, because every girl would become a woman with their Ritual of Passage, and because it had been four years and Tristan had yet to pass the Ritual of Passage.
Men in the Prairie were considered part of the Tribe from the moment of birth, but women were not. Females of the Tribe had to wait until their thirteenth year, before they could undergo the Ritual of Passage. The Ritual is given to each girl by the Tribe’s priestess. Once they have successfully completed the Ritual, they are given the talisman of the tribe – a light leather rawhide necklace, with a sparkling blue gem hanging from it – and then they are finally considered part of the Tribe. It usually took a girl a week, to a month of time, to complete their Ritual of Passage. So, Tristan was ashamed because it had been four years, and she still hadn’t passed the Ritual.
So again, she pondered her dilemma. It was four years ago, on Tristan’s thirteenth year, that she was called to the tent which held priestess Alana. This tent was large – almost as large as the chief’s – there were beautiful songbirds surrounding it with their songs of glory and good morning. The tent itself was nestled into a corner among trees and wildlife – almost as if it were a part of nature. Like it was meant to be there.
Priestess Alana’s tent was all but a black hole when Tristan entered it. All that kept the tent lit were three aging candles and a small open fire, which gave light to Alana’s old and weary face – her eyes seemingly closed. Alana had been hunched over the fire, her black dusty robe covering all but her face and fingertips.
“Hello, Tristan,” said Alana, her eyes still closed. Tristan was in shock. She had never laid eyes on Alana – let alone spoken to her, and the priestess’ power was staggering. Tristan looked down, trying to push away her fear of the Tribe’s priestess. Tristan had always been kind, stubborn, and funny all at once, but there was something about Alana which had her stuck with shock. “Sit down, girl,” Alana demanded dryly. Tristan was in shock at the sudden demand, it was as if the voice of the priestess reached Tristan’s very soul.
Tristan dragged her feet, like it would somehow slow her down and prevent the Ritual of Passage. She was less than excited to start her Rite. Tristan knew of countless girls who walked into their Ritual, only to be told to give their lives to the souls of the Prairie – which they did so gladly, so they could die as part of the Prairie Tribe. But Tristan didn’t wish to hurry to her death.
Alana breathed heavily as Tristan sat to the ground. The raspy breaths escaping from the priestess’ mouth were obvious signs of aging, she noted. Would the time for a new Priestess arrive soon, she wondered?
Alana turned around and started looking through a time-worn wooden box, with carvings of elk and brown bears flanking its sides – two of the many animals of the Prairie. Tristan slowly grew anxious – did the woman plan to take her time during the entire Ritual? After what seemed like hours, the priestess turned back around with chopped up herbs and greens in the palm of her hand. Tristan instinctively opened her own hands to accept the mess of herbs into her own palms.
“Fire,” murmured Alana, staring through Tristan’s eyes. Tristan tried her best not to falter, for the old women scared her out of her wits. Tristan quickly poured the herbs into the small open hearth, “Breathe in scent, then I shall tell you your Rite of Passage.” The priestess had said quietly, not giving Tristan another word.
Tristan breathed rhythmically and inhaled the smoke that came from the fire – she knew not to disobey Alana. The smell stung, she realised, as it caused her to cough. Within moments, her mind became hazy and she had felt distant from the world. Alana suddenly had Tristan’s head in her wrinkly palms and spoke slowly but steadily, so Tristan would understand while she was in her trance. “Save the life.” She had said, and Tristan had no time to ponder this, for sleep quickly claimed her into its welcoming arms.
So here she was, four years later, and still she wasn’t part of the Tribe that she held so dearly. “Wake up, silly Tris,” said a female voice, that then kicked a small tuft of snow at her. Tristan’s eyes fluttered open and she grabbed her neck after it strained from being leaned up against a tree for so long, “That wasn’t a very good awakening, Anissa,” mumbled Tristan as she staggered to stand up. “Oh hush,” said Anissa, flashing a smile of white teeth at her best friend.
Tristan often heard whispers of beauty whenever she and Anissa walked by. Anissa, with her golden brown eyes and her equally golden brown hair let loose down her back, and her slightly tanned skin – and Tristan with her clear blue-grey eyes, pale skin, and dark long hair, which was always fastened into a side bun.
“So,” said Anissa, snapping Tristan back into the present. “The lot of the Tribe is going south for food, and we’re bringing the children to teach them hunting. The problem is, the old folk must stay here. You wouldn’t mind staying here to take care of them, right Tris?” Anissa said all this joyfully, obviously trying to convince Tristan to stay and take are of the elders. A twinge of happiness opened up inside Tristan, today will be the day! Her mind clamoured, but she easily shooed that idea away. She had learned to ignore false hope. “You know I’ll be fine, Ani!” she said, returning the stunning smile Anissa had given her, and she kicked a small ball of snow at her – it was a playful revenge.
Tristan eyed the priestess’ tent as she and Anissa walked by, and she frowned. Everyone had noticed – especially Tristan – that since the day of her Ritual, the birds no longer showed.
Without another word, the Prairie Tribe trekked off into the snowy cold, leaving Tristan alone with old folk who could barely remember their own names. Tristan could hardly wait for Anissa to return – she already missed her.
She woke to the harsh howls of wolves, followed by another quieter cry. Tristan froze. The noises from the animals were close, and dangerously close. Without even thinking, her quiver was on her back and her bow at hand, and she was running toward the dangerous animals. Tristan’s body ached with each step into the downy snow, “Another rude awakening,” she said as she continued her hard jog.
Tristan would never be forgiven if she allowed a pack of wolves to ransack the village, especially if harm came to the elders. She knew that she would quickly have to solve the problem before it was too late. If she couldn’t, it wouldn’t matter if she was a part of the Tribe or not.
She knew she was close enough when she heard the sound of animal footprints. So she climbed a tree to stay safe, while being able to do what she had to do. Easy enough, she thought.
With a quick twang of her bow, an arrow caught one of the animals right in the side – the poor thing was done for. She reminded herself that she would thank them for their sacrifice after. As she eyed the wolves, she realised she had caused panic for them. She quickly released two more shots from her bow, pinning two more of the creatures. The last wolf – very young, she assumed – dashed off in an everlasting panic.
Once Tristan knew she was safe, she dropped from the tree with a heavy crunch onto the snowy ground. She briskly walked over to the dead animals and kissed their foreheads, whispering apologetic words and thank-you’s. Before she walked away, she gave the creature’s one last glance. She hated hunting, though she knew it was a part of survival. It saddened her to see their grey-white fur tinged with red, but she forced herself to look away.
Quietly – but loud enough – she heard a cry behind a bush. She quickly grabbed another arrow and walked forward toward the sounds. Tristan cursed at herself, the idea of having to kill another animal sickened her. As she made her way toward the noise, it was not a wolf that she found, but a bear cub. Tristan felt an instant connection with the wild animal, forgotten in the cold winter. The brown bear’s captivating eyes watered as it limped toward her. The poor creature was wounded, but it also felt safe and a connection with Tristan immediately. The movement felt quick and mechanical when she scooped the bear up and headed toward the village so the bear wouldn’t fall ill.
Once she arrived and tended to the bear, she looked up to see Alana walking toward her with a smile on her face. Tristan remembered how she thought that death was close for Alana and laughed at the thought. Tristan and Alana had grown close over the years. Alana realised that Tristan was more stubborn than quiet, and Tristan had found out that Alana was acting old just to fool the village. Alana had called it ‘fun’.
Alana looked into Tristan’s eyes, and before speaking she fastened a leather necklace with a blue crystal hanging from it around Tristan’s neck. Tristan’s eyes welled with tears as she murmured her thank-you to Alana. “You have saved the elders,” said Alana, never leaving Tristan’s eyes, “and for that, I thank you. Also, I see you have made a friend.” Alana smiled as the bear made a noise of contentment and cuddled into Tristan as Alana scratched its ear. “Good night Tristan and her friend, young lady bear.” Alana said softly as she walked back towards her tent.
As Tristan watched the frail women walk away, her eyes fell upon something around the priestess’ tent. She smiled and cried once more to see four songbirds singing their songs of glory and good morning.





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