#16 A Mother's Gift
I forgot how much it can rain in Arnara. It’s as if it gathered all the gray clouds in Arnwell and had them pour every single drop into the swamps.
“Lirila is gone”, Aiga laments as she buries her head under her arms, a mug of ale always within her reach. “She said she found inspiration and left.”
“Ah, but that’s a good thing, isn’t it?”, I reply as I pour more ale from the jug. Aiga keeps pointing at the mug with no plans on telling me when to stop. “I think that’s about enough.”
“I miss her so much”, the bard says as she chugs down the drink. “I’ll send her a lyrn every day.”
“It’s been half a day, Aiga.” She looks at me and the edges of her mouth curve down. “Breathe in and out, let go of those feelings, or whatever advice they give youth these days.”
“No! I hate this feeling but I want to keep it”, Aiga replied. “It’s just…” She takes a deep breath, but she doesn’t breathe out. Instead, she lets out a torrent of thoughts. “Every time I make friends they have to go away. They say they’ll send me messages through lyrn, but they don’t even respond to my lyrn. Maybe they forgot about me, or maybe they didn’t like what I sent them, or maybe I read the relationship the wrong way, or…”
I let her finish her ramblings. She takes another long chug but doesn’t add anything else.
“Will the misery of others help lift up your spirits?”, I ask.
There’s a spark of joy in her eyes, albeit almost imperceptible.
“I feel compelled to say it won’t, but it will. Oh, but please don’t give me a tale about friendship.”
“Oh, worry not. It will be about anything but friendship.”
A Mother's Gift
Jissa Von-Galnu was the local craftsman in a small town in Gorma. His parents had always been proud of him and spoke wonders about his skills. Boasting about their skilled son earned Jissa many customers, most of them neighbours and friends of their neighbours.
His humble shop was open from dawn to sunset. Like any other Gormai, he couldn’t bear the cold and hated spending too long without sunlight. He had devised a system of openings, mirrors and crystals to ensure he could keep working even after the suns had set.
Jissa accepted all sorts of requests, no matter how odd or the materials required. There was practically nothing he couldn’t craft. He specialised in Emotion, and that was what he conveyed in his creations. A wide, beautiful range of emotions and materials his customers could choose from.
One day, a customer he had never seen before came by his shop. Her reptilian eyes scanned first the shelves, then Jissa from head to feet. Content enough, she placed a single ra on the stone table that served as a till.
“I would like a necklace”, she announced, and tapped the floor twice with her tail.
Jissa cleaned his hands on a rag and looked at the one ra. Even a flower cost more than that. He looked at the lady.
“A necklace”, he repeated, thinking of all the work he had to do before the end of the month. “And that’s what you’re willing to pay for it?”
The lady nodded.
“Make it the worst necklace you have ever made. And make sure you are the angriest you have been while crafting it”, she demanded. “It must convey Anger. Disappointment. Rejection.”
“Who is the lucky one?”, Jissa asked, unconvinced. The Gormai lady pursed her wide mouth.
“It is for my daughter. She’s leaving Gorma.”
Ah, a Gormai leaving her homeland, about to embrace the perils of the world out there, only to return months later with the tail between her legs. It happened once in a blue moon, and a craftsmen worth their salt wouldn’t dare turn away such a rare request.
“So, by giving her that necklace you want her to know she’s not welcome back home”, Jissa said. He wanted to make sure the woman knew what she was doing.
“Yes. Not just home, I do not want her to return to Gorma at all. Not to Vonisa, Gontau, Honwa or any other city, town or village.” She took a deep breath, her nostrils widening as the scales on her neck contracted. “She is the opposite of what we taught her to be. She neither respects the spirits, nor the dead, nor the suns. She is unruly, and a drunkard, and even covers her body to the point the suns no longer shine on her scales. Both her father and I feel shame."
Jissa nodded, his arms folded as he listened to the lady blabber about her terrible spawn. He then eyed the materials on the shelves. They were all good quality, too good for the necklace the lady was asking for.
“Anger, Disappointment and Rejection”, the craftsman said. “Are you sure those are the emotions you wish to convey in the piece?”
“I am”, the lady stated.
“I don’t usually take requests involving rejection”, he said. Before the woman could interrupt him, he added: “I could make an exception, if you brought me the materials. Even if it’s the worst necklace, the materials still matter, as you well know.”
The lady shook her head.
“But she is leaving tomorrow. You must make do with what you have.”
“Ah, an urgent necklace. That will cost extra.”
He could feel her anger from where he stood. She ruffled her reptilian feathers and, to Jissa’s horror, she ripped off a piece off her loincloth.
“There, the necklace. Add something adequate that conveys the message. I will not pay a ra more, for you must be angry to deliver the right Emotion. That much I know. But”, she continued; “I can assure you, I will speak wonders of you to all other Gormaii I ever come across.”
Jissa could but offer half a smile.
“Hardly possible to anger me any further, even if you did pay what this is worth.”
“Good. Then I shall return by tomorrow morning.”
The last rays of light bid the day farewell as the two suns, one before the other, sank behind the endless horizon.
Jissa had a look at the irregular piece of loincloth the lady had left on the table. While one of the worst ways to show disdain was not craft an object oneself, using a scrap of underwear was taking it a step further. He was still shocked that, of all things, the lady had picked a shred of her own loincloth.
He wondered what that daughter could have done. Not even her own mother wanted to invest a second of her time in crafting a parting gift. But that’s why craftsmen like him were never short of work. They were hired to imbue crafts with Emotion, particularly when, deep down, the customers didn't really feel that emotion.
He picked a handful of discarded pebbles and minerals, and began to work under the light of the sun crystals. He managed to loosen the strings on the ripped piece of loincloth and wrinkled his nostrils. Tradition demanded that he didn’t wash the materials, though he was so tempted to. He tied the ends of the strings to a thin pole and began to twist them together. Shortly after, a proper necklace started taking shape.
Jissa consulted the chart he had carved on one of the walls, and measured the string against it. From what he’d gathered, the daughter’s neck wouldn’t stray too far from her mother’s. A medium neck size would do.
A miserable ra. That’s all the lady had paid. The craftsman looked at the pile of work that still needed doing and shook his head.
Fame. Or at least a little recognition in the community. He selected the least colourful pebbles and minerals, and incorporated them to the necklace. It was becoming a truly horrible piece, made with no skill, no proper tools, nothing. To an outsider, it was but trash. To a Gormai, how the necklace looked mattered very little.
Anger. Disappointment. Rejection. Jissa shut his eyes and thought of the worst situations imaginable he had ever lived. Being the last during the climbing races when he was little. Hurtful break-ups. Public embarrassments. Having no recognition for his creations.
He delighted in anger as he looked at the finished piece. The kind of necklace that wouldn’t loosen or break if one put it on, but made exclusively of discarded materials. Material as durable as the mother’s anger. Discarded pebbles and minerals, symbolising rejection.
The necklace itself hadn’t taken him more than ten minutes. Conveying Emotion to it, though, took him several hours.
He sat on the floor, the horrid necklace on the ground.
“Spirits of the earth and water, embrace this offering. May it never shine. May it gather dirt and dust. May these tiny pebbles hurt the receiver’s flesh and cause irritation. May the strings break when there is no longer anger, disappointment and rejection.”
He repeated the chant several times, and then hung the craft from a hook on the ceiling.
“Spirits of air, may this offering preserve its smell for the remainder of its existence.”
Jissa also invoked the spirits of day and night, those spirits who lived in the rocks and those outside them. Those who had given life to the thread and each of the small pebbles and minerals.
The colour of the thread began to change. The bright orange became a dull gray, and the minerals dimmed until they looked lifeless. Anger, resentment, frustration, rejection.
He looked at his creation and felt a flutter of pride in his chest. It conveyed the feeling of not being wanted neither back home nor in the land. It conveyed so much Anger he wondered how he, a humble craftsman, had managed to convey so much Emotion in a craft. He couldn’t help but wonder what the lady’s daughter could’ve done to deserve such a parting gift. But it was none of his business.
Perhaps his business would bloom if the lady’s good words reached new costumers.
The next morning came the lady and retrieved the necklace without uttering a word of thanks. The transaction was over, if it could receive such a name.
Later, before Jissa closed for the day, a tall, bulky Gormai approached the shop. People on the streets couldn’t help but stare not only because of her size, but also because she was wearing what they called “excessive clothing”.
Her armour clinked as she climbed the cliff to Jissa’s shop. She had a necklace in hand, the one he had made. Her yellow eyes shone as she slammed it on the rock table.
“Did you make this?”, she roared.
Jissa hesitated for a moment.
“I did, yes”, he replied.
He was nervous. His legs began to shake at the sight of that Gormai, a carnivore with the aspect of a tyrannosaurus, a crocodile and an iguanodon blended together. She occupied almost one third of his tiny shop.
It was the daughter. Of course it was the daughter. Had the mother pointed at him as the culprit of that aberration? Of course she had. Nobody would want to face the fury of that beast.
“Look, I can explain…”
But before he could, indeed, explain, the other Gormai interrupted him.
The massive, tall Gormai smiled.
“Thank you. This will give me strength in battle. It will give me the anger I need. However…” The Gormai’s lizard pupils contracted. “It was too small for me, so I’ll have to wear it on the wrist, I’ve looped it around twice, see? Do you have more of this thread?”
“I… No, unfortunately”, Jissa managed to say.
“Ah, that’s a shame! I’m leaving today.”
“I am aware”, Jissa wanted to reply, but the Gormai was already leaving the shop.
He stood, confused, in his small humble shop for a moment, wondering whether he had imbued the necklace with the wrong message.
Many years later, Jissa heard the rumours of a brave Gormai warrior whose wrath had no parallel. A Gormai who wore an armour, and who had sworn not to return to her homeland. A Gormai who wore a bracelet of wrath around her wrist until, one day, it fell to the ground, never to be recovered.
“Who is that Gormai warrior? Is she like Váxia of the Sea?”
“No, Aiga. I just made that story up”, I retort. There isn’t a single drop of ale left in the jug and it’s already dark outside. Time to sleep for those who needn’t keep watch.
The bard folds her arms and puts her feet up on the table as noisily as she possibly can.
“Very well, there is part of truth in that story”, I concede. “Gormaii do have the oddest customs when it comes to gifts.”
“And they convey emotions through them?”, Aiga asks, excited. “Have you been to Gorma?”
I scratch my chin and give the conversation a dramatic pause.
It almost seems like she’s forgotten all about Lirila, her inseparable friend-for-a-week. Hopefully this will be the last I hear of her. I’ve always disliked fake politeness.
“When are we going to Gorma?”, the bard asks.
“We’re not. But we could continue heading north.”
“You really are the worst.”