The Gantean

By: Emily June Street

Tales of Blood & Light Book One




After the Fall





Tell me a tale of Gante, people once said when they heard of my homeland. There are no tales of Gante, I would reply. We did not have tales as the sayantaq did, for making merry, for song and feast. In Gante, our stories were all locked up in secrets. What stories we had were but fragments, the pieces hard to find and fit, the words that formed them only whispers. The Elders said it must be so, to protect our ways, our magic, our Hinge. We were Iksraqtaq—the raw, real people—and our stories were not to be shared with others.

Few people ask for tales of Gante anymore. They no longer recall that I was once Gantean, a barbarian to them. Or maybe they have forgotten their curiosity, as they have forgotten that the Ganteans once stood alone, a people separate from Lethemia.

My son’s tutors say Gante is a barren island, cold and uninhabitable, without merit for cultivation or trade. Destroyed, they say. They speak with the surety of southerners, as if there could be no other truth.

I do not correct them. Silence is a long habit of mine.

I know what Ganteans protected for centuries, what lies fallow, or sleeping, or dead on my cold isle. I was raised to respect silence and secrets both, and old ways stick to me like flakes of snow on wool. I am in no hurry to delve into those secrets. Someday, perhaps. Someday, when my boy is older and he might share the burden on my shoulders. If any of my scattered people still respect Gantean ways, my choices have led me too far from them to ever go back. I have done so much they would frown upon, and keeping my own blood-son bound to me is not the least of my transgressions.

I am sayantaq, cooked like a southerner, through and through. After years living amongst the soft people, I have come to appreciate a welcome embrace and love where I have found it. I have come to love soft things, silken gowns, warm beds, and the tight bond I share with my boy. I want peace. I want an easy life.

“Tell me a tale of Gante.” He is persistent, my boy.

I brush the black locks from his forehead and take him into my lap, though he is too old for it now. His eagerness to know about Gante always brings up the memories I have tried so hard to forget.

I whisper stories, simple and clean. He thinks these are Gantean tales, my bedtime stories about warriors and sea-bears. I have made them up for him, for entertainment, in a style I learned amongst his father’s people, and they have little to tell of Gante at all.

The truth is complicated, rough-edged like unshaped stone. It is uncomfortable, and by this feature you may recognize it.

My tale of Gante is the tale of its end.





PART I





Sayantaq





One





Even though we were well into the moon of birch and berries, and the leaf buds spiked green to answer the returning sunlight, Gante’s ground remained frozen. As always, the island resisted coming back to life after winter. I’d helped Nautien set up her summer tent the day before, and the stakes had refused to go into the ground. I’d had to get three brawny men to help beat them down. The men had laughed when I’d asked for help, calling me “bird-girl,” tugging my long black braids, and making me feel like a child. Everyone treated me as though I still played in the children’s creche, what Ganteans called the tiguat, on account of my small size, though I was fully eighteen years of age, and like any woman I marked the men who came home from a hunt with a deer slung over broad shoulders and the ones who willingly hammered stakes for an old woman like Nautien. The clansmen took little notice of me—I wasn’t the kind of woman they wanted: too small, too pale, too slender, too quiet.

Gante’s cold ground sent a chill even through the thick skin of my boots as I walked to the bluffs to begin my weaving. I passed a group of men gathered by the trail to the beach, speaking to each other in urgent voices.

I shifted the net I carried in my arms, careful to avoid dragging the edges on the ground. If I let even a corner drop, the men would chastise me and say I was too small to carry my own burdens.

“Leila,” one of them called.

I stumbled and dragged a piece of net in the dirt, my cheeks flushing.

“What is it?” I asked. A chilling wind blew up the bluffs from the sea.

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