As the sun touched the peak of the gray mountain, the last rays hit the large tent that had been erected as a banquet hall in the center of the nomad city. The last of the light turned the tent from orange to gold and then to a pale yellow.
As the last light disappeared into the dark night, the pale gray tent glowed yellow from the lamps lit inside. It was a gathering that only happened once a decade. The Ahrah gathered together to eat, drink, laugh, and sing. They would trade stock and this was where the younger men could meet potential brides.
Shira slid into the noise and stepped through the opening. Young women and children were serving lamb seasoned with hot red peppers, garlic, and onions. The heat in one bite would burn the mouth and warm the belly. Each family brought their own signature dish to the feast so the tables groaned with carrots, potatoes, peas, beans, and corn.
Shira had help set up the tables for the feast. One of the Counselor’s advisers had come up with a table that could be easily assembled and disassembled. Usually in a family setting, Shira and Oor would sit on blankets and eat cross-legged. It was strange to see tables. Instead of blankets, the families set on chairs. It was a novel ideal.
Oor had told her once that their neighbors didn’t sit on the ground. That they used tables and chairs all the time. Who would have the time to assemble or disassemble the things before moving on? It just didn’t make sense.
She wouldn’t pass up the chance to sit on the things even if they looked too rickety to hold an adult’s weight. Shira ambled around the tables, going to the big table at the other end of the opening. She greeted friends and non-friends alike, keeping a simple smile on her face.
Oor was fond of saying that she was not old enough to have enemies. So instead of showing her disdain, she nodded politely to the more powerful council members.
Unfortunately she would have to walk by Malkiah’s mother, Cianne. His mother kept her face covered in a transparent white veil, which moved back and forth with her breath.
“Sit with me,” she said. Shira could not afford to upset Cianne. She was one of the most powerful members of the Council. Also she was a traditionalist, hence the white veil.
Her stated position was that the Ahrah needed more men in powerful positions. She had been politely angry when the Ahrah had selected a woman as the Councilor.
Before the veil had fallen obscuring the Ahrah from their neighbors, many of the best warriors died in the border wars. Corsindor wanted their land.
The border veil changed all that. Corsindor had forgotten them. Still there was a shortage of men. The birthrate of boys was low and many of them died before they reached puberty.
Women stepped into the void to lead the people.
Shira bowed her head politely to Cianne and sat down on one of the rickety chairs across from her. She waited for Cianne’s pronouncements.
She had heard it all before. Cianne thought she was blessed above all other women because she had a boy, Malkiah and that her boy was now a man. It would only be advantageous if Shira would pledge herself to a strong man. Cianne would point to her son with her chin.
Shira knew were this would lead so she tried to head Cianne to other topics. Shira’s direction must have been clumsy because Cianne’s eyes gleamed. Her mouth pursed as if she had bitten into something sour.
Then Cianne shifted her body to the other council members at the table. She waved her hand sideways at Shira like an afterthought. “This is Shira,” she said.
Shira stood and made a formal bow to the elders, who were looking at her as if she were a rat caught stealing grain from the stable.
An old man with a long white beard sprinkled with crumbs sneered at her. “She has taught you well,” he said. The white haired lady with blue highlights bobbed her head as if the old man was a wise. She put some more meat onto his plate. He stopped and took a bite.
When he looked up at Shira, she knew he was going to say something cutting.
“She’s not one of us,” he said. Shira waited for the scriptures that was supposed to cut her down to size. “Woman is a bright jewel. Speak not. Her beauty radiates.”
She could tell he was quoting from the book because of the sonorous ring to his voice. Shira wanted to turn away and head to the table where her friends were. The meat wafted to her nose and her stomach growled. Instead she nodded politely as if he had made a hit.
Then she said, “Man is the ox of the family. He feeds and protects his family.” Shira knew she had made a hit when he jerked just a little.
Before he could roar at her, Cianne intervened. “Canroh was wise,” she said.
It was the gleam in Cianne’s eyes that warned Shira. She held herself still and waited for the blow.
“You had an audience with the Councilor.”
Shira nodded her head, yes. She stared into Cianne’s eyes, which reminded her of a snake. After a moment Shira said, “The Councilor is wise.”
The silence lasted until Shira bowed again and backed away. She could feel their eyes boring into the back of her head as she turned away.
She blew out a breath of air as she saw Oor at the table. There was a crooked smile on his face as he moved pulled a chair next to him. “Sit,” he said.
“So, the elders cornered you.”
There was nothing to say. Shira filled her plate and listened to Oor and one of his students argue about the merits of stick versus sword. She settled into the warm companionship and ate.
Who knew when there would be this much to eat again?