The woman who claimed to be his twin refused to explain anything more than that. He could understand that they looked alike, both had amber eyes, both had the same amber-set-in-silver clasps on their cloaks, but he had no memory of any twin. He could remember learning to walk, but there was no twin then. Where did she come from and why did she know, but he didn’t?
The author stopped to ponder choices. When we want to know about past generations of our birth families, we really just want to know about ourselves. The fear, of course, is that we’ll find out something appalling: a fatal hereditary disease or a reputation for criminality. But the hope is that there will be something revealing. A family treasure waiting to be given. A lost community now regained. This last looks like the best option.
The moons had crossed and set over their opposite horizons. The woman lay down in the pool of blood around her Burly lover, up against his dead and hairy side, and went to sleep. Tokas, who didn’t even know his twin’s name, went a little ways into the aspen grove and made a sort of nest out of his cloak. The raven watched from a branch overhead, At dawn she flew down to Tokas’ nest and laid an egg on his chest. She had never done this before. “GROCK!”
Carefully he picked up the white egg, the right size to fill up his palm, and when it warmed from his hand, an image formed and flickered on the side of it. The raven had laid a “seeing egg.” Tokas had heard of these but didn’t know much about them except that they showed things you should know. Before he could really focus on the little image, he was distracted by hammering. When he left the grove and approached the house, he saw that the twin had loaded the Burly onto a kind of travois. Not alone,
She had another Burly with her, this one smaller and dark instead of silvery. One whole side of the twin was caked with her lover’s blood. Without saying anything to him, without even looking at him, the woman and the second Burly -- harnessed together -- set off with their burden on the path to the notch.
“WAIT!” he cried out and raised his arm to get their attention, forgetting that he was holding the egg. It fell at his feet -- splat. Now only an ordinary broken egg, runny and two-colored. The raven made a sound that could only be interpreted as swearing and looked off into the distance for a long time. Then she ate the remains of the egg. Tokas sat down, threw his cloak over his head, and wept. There was nothing else to do. The raven flew with the travois for a while, but turned back when they neared the Notch and crossed.
The writer thought, “It’s always fun to mix the future with the primitive. Except now that seeing egg would be a smart phone or something. It could still drop and break. The raven knows not to waste resources which shows it’s a smart bird.
Tokas was heart-broken, frustrated, angry, and stricken. He didn’t try to catch anything for bounty and grew thin. But then one day a messenger came for him from the town hall. The mayor had an assignment for him. The mayor’s son had caught the “Withering.”
“Oh, yeah,” thought the author. Now she could begin to blend the dynamics between the two cultures on either side of the Notch with the class struggle on Tokas’ side. This is the one he knows, but he doesn’t really fit, and he needs to fit so he takes on this crazy chore. HIV-AIDS is the underlying pattern, of course. The pandemic of our era. Thus, blood. But the grownups will breathe fire like predator drones. They are related. The whole desire to destroy enemies while saving one’s own.
There was only one cure for the Withering. The babies of blood dragons had a thorn growing on their snouts which they used to prick the skins of animals so as to get the blood that gave them their names. They were something like vampire bats. Ir turned out that these thorn pricks could infect the victims with rabies, an old earth viral disease that was known to at least once cure cancer. Someone in this valley had discovered that their viral rabies would also cure the Withering. The trouble was that in order to control the rabies, all the baby blood dragons had been killed. In fact, Tokas had done much of that killing himself.
Now the mayor wanted him to cross through the Notch to try to collect baby blood dragons. He really didn’t have much choice, but he thought maybe it was fate, since he had been going back and forth in his mind about whether to go look for his twin. The mayor paid for rabies vaccination.
After some thought Tokas went to the saddle maker to have a special garment made for himself, half-armor and half-jerkin. It was stiff saddle leather on the outside, but when the front was held open, it revealed that it was lined with soft chamois pockets, each with a drawstring at the top. Tokas knew that the baby blood dragons would have to be brought back safely, kept warm and dark. Each pocket was about the right size and shape for a shoe, so he told the saddle maker that’s what it was, a way of storing precious shoes. If people knew he was bringing back the blood dragons that had once been so deadly, they would have destroyed the babies -- too bad about the Mayor’s son Withering. No thought for whether the Withering might be more deadly than rabies.
When he put on his strange garment and started down the path, the raven flew in a zigzag ahead of him, reconnoitering, looking for alternatives and problems. But when they got close to the Notch, it was clear where the path went -- there was really no other way across. The ramparts of the mountains were far too steep to climb. Not even rock chucks went up them. Nothing to eat at that altitude anyway. A little snow fell there all year round.
To be continued