CEREMONIES by Lida Broadhurst
Even when the massive rock at the edge of the field began writhing and shifting, the tribe of unicorns stood patiently, a gleaming silver ribbon in the moonglow. Only the young Nameless One whinnied with fear, almost an echo of the grating noise of the rock.
A vision came to her of the stone falling to crush the Tribe, of fur dappled with blood and thin legs crushed to bone. Even the spirrels of the Tribe would snap under the weight. Nothing would protect them. "We'll be crushed," she whispered to Bruno, her row mate.
Bruno glanced nervously at the Tribal Ten. Lunera's eyes were red slits, arrows pointing at him. "Sable and I warned you to be silent," he hissed.
She knew that without a Name she could never be a member of the True Tribe, never join its constant search for truth and beauty. She desperately wanted to understand those words spoken with reverence by Mallow who read lessons from the Scrolls. She had even asked a few timid questions.
But afterwards, three from far above her on the Ladder, had spoken angrily.
Tawn had muttered, "You are rude to keep interrupting Mallow."
Her friend Pavo had added, "Besides your silly questions shatter my concentration.
She said softly, "But Mallow does not mind. How can I learn if I don't ask?"
Cian, the oldest of the three, rolled her eyes. "I don't care if the Tribal Ten allowed it. Without a Name you're but a thing and shouldn't be allowed to hear the Scrolls."
Pavo shoved his thin face close to hers. "How you expect to understand the Scrolls, when you don't seem to understand that the True Tribe has never accepted a nameless unicorn. Soon Lunera will tell Albedo to banish you beyond the Barrier. You'll be mired forever in the swamp with nothing but thorns to eat."
The Nameless One saw reflected in his eyes the image of a young unicorn lost and wandering. Icy with dread, she looked away, shook her head as she felt tears spilling.
Thank Eohip, Sable galloped over. Although she stood a rung below the Three, already a spirrel sprouted from her forehead and her mane hung to her shoulders. "Idiots. If Mallow hears you, you'll be the first unicorns to descend the Ladder. And there's no Ceremony for that. So it's you Albedo will banish."
Cian pawed the grass, kicking clods of dirt at Sable. "You're as stupid as Nameless. You know our Tradition. A unicorn must have a Naming Ceremony."
The Nameless One nuzzled Sable's neck. "They're right. I can listen, I can ask questions. But without a Nameâ€¦Why won't they give me one?"
"Because the Ten don't want you," Cian taunted. "If I were you I'd just leave. Save a lot of trouble."
Mallow ambled over, her tail swishing. "Sable is right. Maybe we will hold the Ceremony of Descent for you. Be off with you and study the sin ofâ€¦"
Without listening to the rest, the three tossed their heads, galloping away, as if they were on an important mission.
Mallow said, "Poor child. It's true you ask more questions than any other colt, but very soon you will have the right to do so."
Something fluttered inside the Nameless One. "I will have a name?"
Mallow nodded. "The Ten have learned that the moon will be full tomorrow night."
The Nameless One said, "Thank you, thank you." She raced about in circles, joy flooding her body. Suddenly she thought, I'm acting like a new-born after a first taste of grass. Cian is right. I am silly. She cantered back to Mallow's side.
The teacher did not seem angry. "No need to thank me, little one. The Ten make the decision, but we can have no Ceremony unless the moon is at the full. That's why you've waited so long for a First Naming."
The Nameless One did not understand. "But Scrolls say, the moon rolls swollen at least once a month."
An odd look passed between Sable and Mallow. "Yes, but since your birth, a dark cloud has obscured the moon's full face six times, a sign so terrible thatâ€¦But you're too young to worry about signs. Just remember, no matter what you see or hear, you must be silent. Otherwiseâ€¦"
"Otherwise, what?" she asked.
Bruno had joined the group and heard her question. He shook his head in disgust. "How you will ever climb the Ladder of Life. Just listen and obey if you hope to have more than the shadow of a spirrel."
She butted him flank. It wasn't her fault that the black cloud had covered the moon.
But Bruno tapped her with the tiny spirrel that had recently sprouted from his forehead and she gasped with pain and rolled on the ground.
Bruno nuzzled her. "Oh I hardly touched you." He glanced at Mallow and Sable. No unicorn was supposed to hurt another. "I'm sorry, really. But you never accept anything, just ask another question."
Mallow said, "Really, Bruno, her questions seem childish but she is a child. There can be no learning without questions. You should feel shame. As a punishmentâ€¦"
The Nameless One held her breath. Already her shoulder had stopped aching. But would Mallow send Bruno beyond the Barrier to eat thorns? Her tongue prickled at the thought.
Bruno hung his head. "I really am sorry, Mallow."
The older unicorn nodded. "I know. You must learn patience with those who are less knowing. Words can hurt like the tongue of a snake too. You may remain Bruno. This time I will not rename you a child of the darkness. Howeverâ€¦"
"But," Sable spoke up, "why do those three escape punishment? They said worse things than Bruno."
"I know," Mallow snorted. "But they will ascend the Ladder just so far because they do not understand their wrong doing. I should not tell you this, but I doubt they will ever receive their Names of Light. They will wander ordinary pathways. But you and Bruno in time, and perhapsâ€¦" Her eyes rested tenderly on the Nameless One.
Another pause. But the Teacher only said, "Now, Bruno, I want you to stand next to the Nameless One during the Ceremony and see that she behaves."
The nameless unicorn shifted from hoof to hoof. She was trying to behave. But the rock still shifted and heaved, the rasp and scrape, disturbing her thoughts.
She gazed at the moon. Although its motion ruled her life, she thought it a vast white uncaring eye. I am of no interest to it, she thought. I belong to no tribe.
With a final boom and crash the rock settled into the shape of a huge unicorn. A cry burst from a hundred throats. "The Elder, the Eohip, we are blest."
The Elder paced the perimeter of the Field, three times three. while the Tribe waited expectantly. But the youngest unicorn worried that she was not to get her Name and the Elder had appeared to explain why.
As if reading her thoughts, the Elder stopped pacing. In the moonlight she saw that its fur lay wrinkled and its beard wreathed its muzzle. Its horn had faded to dark ocher. Its eyes, solemn and sad, gazed straight at her and she felt power flowing from this oldest descendant of the Eohips, the ancestors who had kicked their way from the Creator's swamp.
The Elder spoke. "Listen to the Tale I tell, listen ye of the Tribe."
The voices responded. "The Tale, the Tale."
The Elder said, "So many eons ago, that even elephants cannot enumerate their number, The Creator stood in a Swamp."
"The Creator, may his Name echo for eons yet to come," the Tribe responded.
The Nameless One sighed. She thought the Elder would pronounce a revelation. This Tale was as rubbed and worn as the Elder's spirrel.
Again the Elder seemed to read her thoughts. He said "Your enthusiasm is most welcome,but the rocks release me now only for a short while. Soon I shall become one with them. Now listen with silent hearts to the Tale so we may begin the Naming for which we are gathered."
A hundred heads nodded and the Elder continued. "The Creator stood in the swamp, balanced on Its myriad legs. It began Its plan of creation. Thus came whales and creatures of the sea. With these we have little to do. Thus came animals of the land and the greatest of these were the elephants. At least in size which was impressive. But time passed, the Creator left the Swamp and, for who could fathom Its wisdom, became dissatisfied with these elephants. Something more graceful was needed to carry out Its plan, something smaller that could run faster and be of even more help to the Humans, a Creation he was contemplating."
Lulled by the beautiful voice, the Nameless One felt she wandered into a dream. Her head bowed and she swayed from side to side. But the word Human was something new for her to ponder. No one had ever mentioned the name. She glanced at Bruno, but he shook his head.
Again the Elder answered her thought. "One of you tonight does not understand about Humans."
A collective gasp arose from the Tribe's throats. The Elder stamped his hoof and there was silence. "This unknowing is not shameful. The Nameless One will understand the bond between our kind and humans when she has listened to her Teacher." The Elder's eyes bored once more into the face of the Nameless One. "You must learn patience, child, and through many repetitions all will become clear. I know you long for your mossy bed. Ah you are fortunate to sleep where it is soft with your row mates. Listen, now, as the Tale winds to a close."
"So the horse came galloping straight from the Creator's dream. Graceful and wild, yet tameable, capable of obedience to the Human will, yet lacking something.
Then did the Creator smile and from that smile arose our Tribe, like smoke from a fire. For we are not meant to aid Humans with the ordinary business of living-the elephant and horse are enough for that-but to inspire them. To help them find dreams and enrich their lives with Beauty."
"Thus we live hidden behind the Barrier from most mortal eyes and spend our lives learning of Beauty and its many Truths. Thus are we given names of darkness at birth, symbols of our unknowing. Thus do we attempt to ascend the Ladder, ever moving toward the Light that shines from our Creator's Being. Thus are we granted names of colors, growing ever lighter, until at last we burst forth into our final Naming for our nature has become one with the color of our fur. Those of us who reach this exalted state, and many never do, become our leaders, the Tribal Ten."
So tonight we gather to continue that tradition. Step forth, little one, born of darkness, who will be our newest Seeker of the Light."
The Nameless One's legs trembled and her eyes were frightened. Sable nipped her gently. "Go without fear."
She walked the length of the field, her head hanging low, hooves slipping on the damp grass, until she saw the massive legs of the Elder. Timidly she raised her head and looked into Its gentle eyes.
"My child, you have some destiny to fulfill. For six months after your birth, the Creator cloaked the Moon in darkness. We can only hope it is not a portent of a dire event. "
Another collective gasp. The Elder did not understand the Creator's meaning!
Albedo, the leader of the Tribal Ten, spoke with a voice as sharp as the wind. "Remember, my tribe, that our lives lie tangled with mystery. The higher we travel on the Ladder, the more we learn. And the greater our lack of knowledge."
The Elder nodded. "Well said, Albedo, but it is time to give this sleepy one her name." His eyes smiled at the Nameless One. "It is well for you unicorns only name with colors. Else we might call you Slumber"
Sable gurgled with laughter. Unicorns further down the row made odd choking sounds.
The Elder's huge head bent close to the Nameless One. A rough beard flowed about her face. "Many years ago flourished a tribe whose dwelling place lay overshadowed by mountains and forests which even the sun's strongest rays rarely penetrated. From its dark and gloomy aspect, they named it Cimmeria. It has vanished from our Annals and it is unclear whether these people created greatness or destroyed it. Just as we do not know your destiny. But I hope by the Rock that binds me, that your journey will let you soar toward the Light."
The Nameless One wanted to ask the Elder to speak with clearer meaning. But she dared not interrupt, not when she was close to receiving her Name. "Still if you heed and follow the lessons of Albedo, Lunera, and the Tribe, I have no doubt you will prove to be a worthy inheritor of our Tradition. Thus do I name you now Cimmerian. Little one, raise your left hoof as a symbol that your journey up the Ladder has begun."
As her hoof left the earth, she felt it split the air around her. She saw unicorn heads, their spirrels bent and broken, wearing masks of gargoyles. Terrified, she whirled to seek comfort from the Elder.
But only the eyes of Sable and Bruno looked into her own, shining with the gladness she should be feeling. No one must know her Naming had bestowed not peace, but confusion. She thought, "Tomorrow, I will ask Albedo to explain my vision. "
She raised her muzzle high. Until the new dawn, she must pretend to hear with joy the welcoming chant of the Tribe.
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