The Mother's Grace
Every death is a tragedy. A mother’s death even more so. If a man died, the tribe would move on, and other men would take his place among the hunters, the artists or the warriors. But a mother’s death tore a hole into the social structure of the group, leaving orphaned children who had to be raised by their uncles or aunts, keeping them from doing whatever they had done before.
There were stories that in the past some tribes had put orphans to death for that reason. Salamoon didn’t believe that. It was a story, told to ward off the impulse that might exist in some people to do exactly that. As Nietta’s oldest brother, it was his duty to take in her two children – a little boy and a newborn baby girl; the child she had died giving birth to.
In the rain – why did it always rain? – the tribe was gathered around the burial tree, watching as Salamoon placed his sister’s wrapped corpse on the platform erected around the trunk at head height. Gently he tucked her into the woven reed craddle and sprinkled white needles from the tribe’s holy tree over her. Underneath, the Shaman sang the funeral dirge, calling the spirits to take in Nietta’s soul and guide her to the afterlife. Above, the ghost birds gathered, ready to begin their duty...
“Rest well. Go back to the other side... I will take care of the little ones.” He placed his hand where he presumed the dead woman’s heart to be and added a silent benediction, before he climbed down and took his place in the throng.
Finally, the dirge was finished. Everyone was thoroughly wet and miserable by now, but they weren’t done yet. Ylermi, the Shaman, stepped forward, followed by Mirkka, the healer. She carried the little nameless girl in her arms, while the boy clung to her skirt.
Salamoon shivered, and it wasn’t from the cold.
“As a mother departs, her children stay behind. We, who remain, owe it to her to take care of those she gave life to, as we have been given life by our mothers. Who among you will take these orphans and raise them as his own?”
Salamoon hesitated for a moment. Sometimes, it happened that someone else would step forward, be it because one of the children was especially close to their own, or because they had recognised an aptitude for a craft in one of them.
“I’ll take the girl.” This was Sannu, the chief’s sister, who stepped forward. “As you know, my baby boy died of the fever last week. I can still nurse.” She placed a hand on Salamoon’s arm. “It’s better that way.”
He nodded, relieved. “Thank you. I don’t know what I would have done with her.”
Sannu took the girl and went to stand beside the chief again.
Salamoon readied himself to accept responsibility for the boy – after all, he was almost old enough to learn a craft and there was no reason for him to shirk here...
“Juhani stays with me.”
Everybody – really everybody, even the Shaman – stared. It wasn’t Salamoon who had spoken, but Mirkka. The healer took the boy’s hand.
“Why?” Salamoon had to know. Was it that nobody thought him capable of taking care of his sister’s orphans? He might have hesitated, because there was no other woman in his family, but he would never have shirked.
The older woman pushed her greying hair out of her face and pulled the boy close. He stood very still, wet and bedraggled, and looked at his uncle without expression on his face, neither sadness nor relief. He had inherited Nietta’s almond shaped blue eyes, but his mother had never looked this way.
Salamoon went down on his knees before his nephew and put his hands on the boy’s shoulders. “Why?” he asked again. “I would take care of you, I really would.”
Slowly, the child reached out with a small, cold hand and touched his uncle’s cheek, brushing away tears Salamoon had not been aware of crying. “I know.” He turned slightly, to look at the woman who still shielded him from the rain with her beaded skirts. She gave him an encouraging nod and he continued.
“But you can’t. Mirkka will teach me to be a healer, so I can help others, like I helped my mother.”
The man looked up in confusion. Nobody had helped Nietta, she had died.
Mirkka smiled sadly at the expression on his face. “He stayed with her. The entire night. Despite the blood, the screams and the pain. He held her hand, he sang to her, he soothed her. And when she died, she was calm. There is more to a healer’s work than fixing broken bodies. Sometimes, all we can do is fix broken souls.”
Juhani embraced his uncle fiercely and Salamoon held him close. He felt the boy’s warmth and calm radiating from his thin, fragile body. “He is a born healer.”
Salamoon nodded, understanding dawning. He got up, still holding the boy. “So often, all you can do is watch your patients go home.”
“Indeed.” Mirkka stroked Juhani’s hair. “Learning about herbs and fixing bones, almost everybody can do that. But to stay around when you have seen you will fail, accept it and still go on without despair, and help your patient to do so also that is a great gift and a rare one.”
Salamoon remembered the old stories, the old lessons. “So he is touched, isn’t he?”
The healer nodded, taking the child from him. “Yes. He carries the Mother’s Grace.”
Last edited by Liliedhe; 02-23-13 at 06:53 PM.