The Longest Walk (2)
Characters: Lineal, Rahona, Fog, Lihona, Barr, Denna, Nalin, Neke, Tahna, Linli, Vaheri, Vidon, Jardon
Description: The riverboat crew and their holder relations bury Jesten
Location: Elsewhere on Pern
Date: month 6, day 5 of Turn 4
Jesten is brought ashore
A thousand journeys, his father had said only a couple of sevendays ago, and Lineal had mentioned it in his eulogy, but now was the worst of journeys. Not in flood or low water, not when the Sungazer was crying out for repairs or when passengers and cargo were scarce. This journey had no return and it was the one most riverboat folk least wanted to make.
They were taking Jesten's body ashore; giving him over to the care of the hold folk because they were river folk and had no place for their dead.
Dry-eyed and hurting Lineal stood back and watched it happen. He could have been among the men carrying the body, but then - He couldn't. He'd been away for Turns. Over half his life while these men had sailed with Jesten on many of those 'thousand journeys'. They'd more than earned the right to carry the old man off the riverboat on which he had been born.
It was strange, the new captain of the Sungazer thought, that so many of the traditions and so much of the culture was just _there_, waiting in his mind, having lain dormant since he had left the riverboat life as a thirteen Turn old with a desire to see more of Pern than the Nettleweed River.
Of those thousand journeys he had shared too few, Lineal thought as the men stepped onto the wharf with their burden, but he had come home in time to share the last of them. It didn't feel like enough.
He hoped it would ... in time.
"Lineal?" Jardon stepped toward him, his face solemn. "Do you need anything before we join the others? A drink? Food? You look as if you've been awake most of the night."
For a moment Lineal didn't recognise the young man, then he smiled, remembering his cousin's son. "Jardon" he held out his hand to the younger man. "Good to see you - and no, I don't need anything. We all ate before we docked." He glanced up at the hills the confined the flood plain of the mighty river. "I can remember it being a long walk."
The land-dwelling cousin nodded. "My grandfather always called it 'the longest walk,' though it was the one that wasn't made under one's own power. He said that's why everyone accompanied the one who had passed on, shortening the final walk with their company." Jardon glanced at the crowd, still growing in number. "Grandda would have been pleased that his brother had so many to escort him." His gaze lingered on Vaheri.
"Though he'd have been saddened that Grandmum was the last and that she'd have to go on without him and Jesten and your mother. The group of them were so close."
She wanted to tell them to be gentle with him. She reached out her hand as they moved down the gangplank, Jesten covered but his outline visible as they carried the dais ashore. She almost called out as the board seemed to tilt at an angle as one after the other took the final step from boat to shore.
Tahna stood resolutely by her side, her face not showing any emotion.
Pale, her eyes almost hollow as she watched them; Neke slipped an arm around the girls shoulders, and pulled her closer, Tahna turned her head into Neke's side and her shoulders shook.
Neke glanced across at Fog and saw Linli standing on the far side of him, her hand in his - finally they were building bridges. Strange, Neke considered, it had taken Jesten's death for Linli to become closer to her father - but she doubted Fog would complain.
The crew and holders set out for burial caves
Linli's little hand hadn't released his all through the eulogies, she hadn't left his side in more than a candlemark. She had even hugged him tightly to her when they had taken Jesten's body from the paddleboat and handed him over to the Hold.
Tahna had reached for him then as well, squeezing his hand tightly on one side and linking her arm around Neke's shoulder on her other. The four off them joined together bearing each other up as they left the boat and followed the cart along the walking track to the burial caves.
He glanced across at his sister, her eyes rimmed red from the tears she had no longer been able to hold in. She had reappeared from Jesten's room drawn and grey, preparing him for his final journey she had managed to keep her emotions under control, but in the last candlemark or so, her reserve had left her and they had only each other.
"You should ride, Mum," Vidon came along side her, gesturing to one of the carts.
"I need to stretch my legs and prove that I can still walk on land,"
Vaheri told him, her eyes fixed on the cart that carried Jesten's body.
In truth, she needed to prove to herself that she still lived, that she still went on, though almost all of the others on the riverboat of her generation were now gone.
"Then at least take my arm." His look implored her as he suggested it, his own need to reassure himself of his mother's health showing in his eyes.
Willingly she leaned on him for the long walk to the burial caves.
Last updated on the September 13th 2007