Authority Weighs In: Sixth Tourmaline (part two)
Authority Weighs In
A type of horn the herdsmen used to signal each other could be heard from three directions. The tightly stretched tent cloth vibrated with it, a low melancholy menace. The Utdrife did not feel themselves menaced. Utdrife these visitors must be, and the scornful vocalisms they exchanged showed their regard for this instrument of their fathers.
“What is it called, that horn?” he whispered to Mary.
“Well, Swisshelm calls it a type of haikhorne…traditionally, any mountain ram that has passed its fifth breeding season…” She gave him this in a fair echo of Swisshelm’s lecturing tone. She meant to launch on, through the burgeoning melee outside the tent’s membrane, and Herward couldn’t much blame Byrnes.
“Oh, shut up!”
But Mary, who’d come here sacrificing so much, only to help and to teach, forgave resistance. She let her voice drop to a whisper. “This is one of those things they do not name to outsiders…”
A lot of carry-on, involving a degree of weapons-clashing. Now, after repeated salvos of horn blasts, and one or two rifle shots that found no audible marks, had simmered down into grumbling, orders were given sharply. Then came a multi-voiced hail.
“There! He’s with them!” Mary said.
A leader must show himself at such a moment, and so Herward ripped the velcroed flap. Because awkwardness was unavoidable, he dug with expedience, not grace, and tottered onto his feet. He had seen the Ftheorde on televised news, never in person. There was no great ceremony to mark him. Faces were bare, ringed alike in fleece, costumes unmarked by color or trim, to distinguish the Father herdsman from his lieutenants.
He had, to prove his power, only that mien of the powerful…and Herward understood that if he had this himself, he would not have glanced at the women, climbing from the tent; he would not have signaled to Byrnes to keep her seat, and Mary to hold her tongue, and offered byplay with an eyebrow, when respectively his companions grimaced.
A strong man of authority moves alone.
They had, even when their territory had extended all along the lowlands skirting the mountains, been herdsmen, making no other living. The homes the Hidtha erected for themselves were encampments, structures whose frames were bone fitted together by carved joints, intricately counterpoised, their patient assembly a sort of genius, as Swisshelm said…skins used for walls, for blankets, rugs, clothing, more often than the cloth Hidtha women wove from marsh grasses.
Swisshelm had it that these primativisms were the pragmatic concession to a nomadic culture; that the Hidtha were not, by some racial inferiority, an unlettered people—singers, but rarely musicians; storytellers, but rarely poets—rather that, for every waking moment, Hidtha life was unforgiving labor.
“And were we to go back two millennia, we would find all of Europe in this state. Only when the Roman roads permitted trade, when one tribe’s commonplace was another’s marvel, when one might have a thing, thus, without making it oneself, did the leisure to make additional things become possible.”
Swisshelm was probably right. That the Hidtha were not cherishable, as in Mary’s view; that they were groping towards ordinariness, and had been, as long as Herward had been alive.
It was well back, in the royalist period, when the Aae-Ftheorde, grandfather, or great-grandfather, of this present one, had yielded, allowed that his people had only blood to spill for machine guns and landmines, and had withdrawn their remnants to the peninsula.
A law among the Hidtha required every father have three sons. This was a sort of minimal citizenship, and those who did not, had no say in councils, their wives disgraced. There was a sort of death by retreat into the mountains, and slow starvation, that—to Palma’s scorn, and Mary’s pitying wonder—Hidtha women inflicted on themselves.
The phenomenon began with this suffering, the tribe hemmed in, without the marshlands they’d driven their herds to for winter grazing; younger sons now forced to servitude under elder brothers, unable to marry. At first there’d been a series of fratricides, then defiant guerilla fighting conducted from mountain caves. Some young Hidtha had gone away on their own, taking work under the Jocelynist regime on road crews, his projects to drain the marshes. Their language barrier had been immaterial.
These new workers had money. Paltry wages Mary’s social justice group would deplore, but to the Utdrife, unprecedented freedom. Officially, only those banished by the Ftheorde were so designated, given this name for a lost sheep. But traffic among voluntary and involuntary exiles took away the distinction.
Under Jocelyn, the Utdrife had discovered their strange calling…lured by brokers of their own race, who touted largess and dared the Ftheorde’s borders, they too became mercenary soldiers. The wartime uses Jocelyn’s army had for Utdrife were those his professional soldiers would not be spared for—sentry duty in the occupied towns, guarding of prisoners.
Prisoners, thousands as the war progressed, presented the usual problem. Neither Jocelyn’s generals nor his governors found it fair, once feeling the G.R.A.’s stranglehold on supply lines tighten, to feed and house them, provide doctors for them. Many were allowed to die.
Authority Weighs In
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Authority Weighs In (part three)
(2017, Stephanie Foster)