It should have felt like it was all coming together- like everything I had had to do up until now was leading me up to this. But it didn't feel like it. I reached shakily towards the wooden bow, but my hand fell away at the last moment, numb.
Like a child, like a thief, like a murderer, I ran.
How could I give away what I finally had now? When will this balance and peace come again if I'd chosen to lead myself away from it all? I could not be selfish anymore. There were others in my life now, and I could not longer afford to be a wanderer.
I was never one for direction, so why was I so distraught? If I regretted my decision at any point in the future, I could always make it again. Yet by turning away from the opportunity, something flared up within me. I'd given up something for something else, but I'd made the trade without knowing what I would be giving away or receiving.
My first incentive was to search for Tsu'tey like a drowning nantang searches for air, but my legs did not obey me. I strode steadily, purposefully down the halls of Hometree, and I did not shake nor cry. I cannot seek him out like this whenever I feel weak or unsure.
So I went to my mother.
I don't understand why I did this- her advice was always biting and sometimes confusing. How would she react to my decision? Would she care at all?
But what she said surprised me.
Mother led me in wordlessly, fixed my hair, and groomed me slightly, murmuring here and there incoherently. "Why are you here?" She demanded abruptly, frowning. "I have much to do, and so do you."
"I had to give something up today," I said seriously, taking her arm and stopping her just as she was turning to walk away. She looked perplexed, "Yishat, you will be required to sacrifice much once you are mated."
I suppose I'd always known this, but hearing it from Neytiri's lips and then my Mother's… "Can't I still be my own person?" I didn't know what I was saying at this point, but I knew I needed mother to stay with me.
"You will always be your own person."
Mother cut me off suddenly, almost defensively, "I want you to go pray."
"Pray?" We were never the praying type. But then I understood why- she either didn't want to help with my problems or wanted me to figure this out on my own.
"Maybe it could be helpful for you. It helped for me when I mated your father." Mother was saying this so casually, but I knew better. Mother and father were not in love when they were mated out of convenience. Mother never had the feeling of someone being her whole tribe, despite it being the description of true love she'd taught me ever since I was small. In a way, it was very sad. I'd never considered how hard it might have been for mother until now.
I still don't know how my parents see each other. Mother would always be there for father, and he for her. But there were never any kissing, passionate words of love, or the spontaneous gifts some Na'vi males produced for their mates. Father was too quiet, oftentimes seeming lost in another world altogether. Mother never complained, so I suppose she didn't need love. I would still think she was happy.
So I let her lead me to a large rock on a hill a great many steps from Hometree. Here, I could see the wilderness of forest that surrounded the plains overgrown with wildflowers. I could see all and nothing at the same time. Mother pointed to the stretch of green across the field, "do you see the woods? The leafy heads of the trees that surround us? Are these wise heads shaking or nodding?"
I told her I didn't know. Some shook one way, some another. Then she asked, "Do you see the animals, the life, and the insects that sustain themselves in the woods?"
Again, I didn't know since I couldn't see so far. I saw only a harsh barrier of greens and yellows.
Mother and I sat down on the flat slab of rock, "What is it that stands out above all others?"
It was the first thing I noticed about this horizon of wood, "that bright red tree, the one that burns up the whole wood."
"This will be your life forever. Seeing but not seeing, understanding and then not. Others will judge you, agree and then disagree. But they all hide their essential selves from others, and you only discover their true form when you move ever nearer. The red tree is different in color, different in size and shape. This red tree is you, because only you know yourself to be separate. Yet if you took a leaf from its mighty branch, you see that the leaf bears the shape of the tree, its creator. It is the same as the others, yet different and thus beautiful to our eye. Just as the leaf, we all bare the mark of our creator."
She stood slowly, as if to leave me here. "I don't know what you have had to give up, but I know you will find solace here, as I did. I wanted the same things you do, Yishat. I wanted love and romance and a mate that embraces me."
My head shot up, taken aback by this sudden confession. Now I saw that my mother was flawed just like I was, no longer the mighty and perfect Na'vi I'd always seen her as. I was almost afraid to ask, "Do you regret it? Mating with father, I mean?"
But mother refused to answer, save to advise me to stay here until my mind has cleared. It would be dangerous, she had said, to make any important decisions in my muddled state.
I was soon alone again, staring at the red tree that stood out so vividly from its green counterparts. I understood mother's words and the reasoning behind them, but what was this feeling that I was missing something? Like I was supposed to be making some important discovery on my own, but I just wasn't seeing it. What was I missing? If Tsu'tey was here, I told myself, he would know.
But does he know what's best for me? Of course not, only I can know that!
Decisive that I wasn't getting anywhere here on this rock, I strolled towards the tree line to get a better view of this red tree. As I drew closer, I smelled the gamey scent of the forest, of all the animals and flora that lived here. Coming closer still, I could see the marks of life- a fluttering of wings here, a rustle of leaves there… Until I was stepping on what seemed like a loamy, well worn trail that led me straight to the red tree. I had not noticed this trail from far away.
I drew ever closer to the tree, and the sounds of the forest were overwhelming. Animals were howling in the distance, insects buzzing- at any point I could have twenty pairs of eyes watching me, stalking me, but I continued in my aimless journey. It was then that I stopped dead in my tracks, my breath wasting away.
Someone had tried to cut this beautiful tree down. There, cut into its thick trunk, were no less than a dozen rough and deep axe marks. These marks were made with furious, desperate hacks, as chunks of wood were gone. My fingers trailed over the mutilated bark, and I wondered silently how this tree had survived so with such a wound. Flakes of wood came from the ragged edges as I touched them, and I realized these marks weren't made by an axe. It all made sense now. Each deep cut was made of countless deliberate stabs and scrapes made by a dull hometender's skinning knife.
"I don't need you to be happy for myself."
Tsu'tey set down a bead necklace he was studying, and set his gaze on me. "That is true." I could tell he was concerned, probably worried that my shaky resolve had finally broken. "What is wrong?"
I took a deep breath, and answered his question with another. "When we are mated, will you let me do as I please? Or would you rather I stayed home and birthed as many sons as I could?"
It was an unfair question, even I knew that. Tsu'tey's face strained to form an adequate answer, "what comes will come. It is not in our control, but in Eywa's will. If no sons come, then so it will be."
"But that is surely why you wanted to mate with me, yes? To have an hier?"
Tsu'tey shrugged nonchalantly, a smile tugging on his lips, "I just wanted to mate with a certain Na'vi called Yishat." He came towards me from the table until he was a hair's width away from me, yet he did not touch me. "I have a gift for you. Close your eyes."
His presence and sure words soothing me completely, I let my eyelids fall as I anticipated his surprise. Had Mother ever wished for this to happen to her? Did she ever wish father was anyone else? What was she like, before she married and bore us? Maybe I wanted things to stay this way. I didn't want to be mated- not yet. I wanted to pursue my fate, to find what-
Something was set in my hands.
It was thin, long and warmed by the sun, and it was unmistakably wooden.
My eyes shot open.
"It's my bow," he reminded me, "I found it in the training area- there must've been a mistake." Then he started laughing at me, because I was there, holding his bow, holding his bow, holding his bow… And it was not being taken from me. I'd done everything I possibly could so far to avoid this moment for feel of failure. I had even seriously considered delaying the mating until I could get this figured out… But he was here, and he was happy. All the trouble I went through was rendered useless and unnecessary in one moment.
When I recovered my senses, I held on to the bow with both hands, delighting in the way the supple wood flexed under my fingers. I started to laugh, and Tsu'tey kissed me soundly just before I crossed the line from surprise to insanity.
"You may have it; I believe I promised it to you," he told me when we drew away, me still clutching the wooden bow like my life depended on it. "It doesn't feel right in my hands anymore."
When the initial excitement died down, I could not help but worry, "what happens now?"
"Nothing!" Tsu'tey said, surprised, "why should anything change? I still love you, and you will need to stay on my good side if I am to give you hunting lessons after the mating."
Then his voice grew dimmer in my mind as the full force of what had happened took over me… I felt faint, my hands were cold and numb from the tight gripping, and then Tsu'tey was saying something like "…we can try to hunt our own food for our mating day! …Yishat, you will never bring anything down if you shake like that…"
"What do you plan to do now?" Mother asked wearily as she took my hair and bound not one, but two braids down my back. "You understand that you may never have children if you wish to lead a warrior's life? Yet if you chose not to, there will never be a time appropriate for you to wield a bow."
"I know. But I don't feel like I'm pressed to many any choices at the moment, so I will mate with Tsu'tey."
Mother obviously didn't like this idea of me not knowing where I'm heading. "You feel comfortable with your future resting on a pinpoint like this?" She slid flowers by the stem into my glossy braids, one by one. No two of the same colors could ever touch each other- mother was meticulous with this.
Paiiyi chimed in from her seat on a stool next to mine, "why do you think you were denied it until now?"
"I… I don't know." I could not speak much, as Paiiyi dusted my lips with the beautiful powder that made me glow. I couldn't help but think that my journey had just started. It didn't make sense, to make me able to use the bow at this time- to do what? What was I supposed to do? Had I somehow missed a step? No, that couldn't be right.
I shook my head instinctively, causing both mother and Paiiyi to gasp in frustration. I couldn't go on like this anymore. I was going to live my life as I wanted, and no fear of an unfulfilled prophecy would dare haunt me.
"Odd," I mused, "it doesn't feel like something I'd wanted for so many years now that I've achieved it."
A voice from the opening to this tiny hollow startled all of us, "I sure hope you're not speaking of me." Of course, it was Tsu'tey. He was accompanied by none other than Jakesully, who clapped him hard on the back playfully. "Well, my old friend, it seems like your life is complete."
Tsu'tey fought him off and some bawdy jokes ensued that made Jakesully seem more like a close friend than chief of the clan. Eventually he backed down and left Tsu'tey alone, smiling warmly at me before a wall cut him from our sight.
My future mate shook his head with amusement, "he and Tsahik are very happy for us. In fact, Tsahik is at this moment making a charm for you to protect you in pregnancy!"
My hand instinctively flitted to my own abdomen, where my child would be. Tsu'tey chuckled, moving my head this way and that to admire Mother's handiwork, to her utmost displeasure. "One step at a time, my hard nut," he teased gently.
One touch to my cheek and mother almost fainted from anger. "Out! Out!" She took a broom and literally swept him out like an insect. "Now the powder must set again!" Despite myself, Paiiyi and I shared a few laughs over mother's almost obsessive personality. If there was one thing she would always do perfectly, it was a mating ceremony.
Jars of Opay powder, crushed from the flowers Tsu'tey had gathered, were unsealed and smoothed across my skin. I had never thought such a luxury would be possible for me. Paiiyi took care of the last details, and mother smoothed my soft leather tunic. Father had made it for me, and I knew this was true because he'd made it many sizes too big to begin with. "I hadn't realized you'd grown thinner," he shrugged, unembarrassed, when we all knew that he was preparing for the future when I would be round with child. "I suppose your mother can fix it."
"Of course I can," came the haughty reply. I kissed father anyway to show my gratitude. This was the Na'vi who had hit me for disgracing him, who had compared me mercilessly to Ma'hi. But as he was now, with cheeks warmed by embarrassment and palms sweaty with work, I could not help but smile.
A bead necklace, a necklace of shells, a collar of bones and a band of tiny flowers decorated my neck, and I was strictly instructed to smile whenever possible. Mother had to teach me to smile properly, claiming that my smile showed too much teeth and was not graceful. "Good spirits are scared away if they see your menacing face- they will think you are a beast! Smile all the time, always."
And so I did. I smiled continuously, foolishly, pointlessly. Eventually my heart lifted light into the air, and the laughter came interrupting. I was going to be mated! Me! Yishat! My thoughts wandered here and there, imagining this room filled with people… Then I thought of Ma'hi, and to my surprise my smile did not fall. "It's okay to be happy," I murmured, more to myself than to anyone else, "this is why Ma'hi does not come back. She wishes to feel her happiness through us."
While all this was happening, father sat to the side, looking into a point in the distance. Recently he had been very quiet, which was cause for concern for both mother and I. Father always gave off an uncaring attitude, but when he set his heart on something, it could always be counted on to be done well. Father delivered all the requests to come to our mating ceremony, though practically everyone in the Hometree knew about it anyway. Then he threw himself over the best berries he could find and concentrated on brewing the best batch of ale he'd ever made.
"It tired him," mother quipped kindly, "he does not mean to be so distant."
I looked at one of father's skinny, dead arms and wished I could take away the anguish that caused his back to slouch and knit his brow. I was about to say something when Mother gasped, "they are waiting for you! We must hurry!" With my limited movement, I craned my neck as best as I could to gaze out an opening at the gathering at the base of the Hometree. All these people… Came for me? Mother quipped at me to stop moving while she put on the finishing touches to my face.
Paiiyi smiled, "you won't know most of them, but they will demand food from you nonetheless."
I laughed, causing mother's hand to slip again and a curse to fall from her lips.
I stepped out knowing that I looked like a goddess, that I looked beautiful, that Tsu'tey was rooted somewhere on his feet in amazement. Somewhere. I just couldn't find him. I had somewhat anticipated all of this, but what I did not expect was the incessant teasing.
"What is Yishat's favourite time of day?" One female Na'vi would ask, "it doesn't matter," replied another giddily, "as long as she is in a hammock with Tsu'tey!"
Another would pipe in at the most inopportune time, "What is the difference between Yishat and a stream of water? Not much, because the Head Warrior gets soaked when he enters either!"
"Stop it!" I would cry, to their utter bemusement. I have never even seen some of these Na'vi women before, and now they were making jokes at me! My face was red with what could be a mixture of embarrassment and heat, and I the others found great joy in this. Finally I found Tsu'tey, staring at me from the middle of a crowd of Na'vi. As soon as our eyes locked, Tsu'tey was shoved forward by a collective effort and deposited in front of me.
Everyone grew silent, and Tsu'tey fought over his twisted tongue. His bony, thick jaw tumbled this way and that, but no words came out. "Beautiful," he finally managed to say. Loud, raucous laughter broke out all around us, and soon we were a part of it. Jakesully and Neytiri stepped lightly through the crowd, holding hands as usual. Jakesully gave an encouraging smile to the both of us. "Now now, before our friend can carry off his catch, we need to perform the blessing!"
Tsu'tey and I knelt first, and was joined by father, mother and a very reluctant A'mari'k. Thankfully, no one threw anything at him, so he remained there. One by one, Jakesully and Neytiri passed over us, sending their powers beaming through the crown of our heads. "You will be very happy," Tsahik said suddenly, solemnly, though we weren't sure to whom she was speaking to. A Na'vi appeared with two bowls, one filled with water and the other oil. Jakesully wet his fingers in the bowl of water and dabbed it onto Tsu'tey's forehead. A few moments passed before an oiled finger pressed onto the exact same place.
I witnessed Ma'hi's ceremony, but I had not heard the whispered blessings exchanged until now. "For your mind, to support your body," said Jakesully as he continued to anoint another three times, "for your strength, to support your mate. For your feet, to hold you firm to this earth." he said finally. It had been such a quiet wisp of a blessing that I'd missed most of what was in the middle. One he was done, however, Tsu'tey jumped up and gathered me to his arms. The festivities began once more, with Na'vi jumping in joy and dancing.
Father had rolled out his barrel of ale, and was almost immediately swarmed. He managed to send me a weak smile before collapsing into a stool, so I promised myself that I would do something very kind for him. The feast table was set up, but the Na'vi were more interested in us than the food, which was unusual. A'mari'k joked with Tsu'tey constantly, causing him to grow embarrassed as well. While he guffawed with A'mari'k, I slipped away to taste some of the food mother prepared. Before I reached it, I was once again outnumbered by young Na'vi women that seemed to derive endless pleasure by humiliating me. "Oh, let Tsu'tey listen to this one, too!"
And so Tsu'tey was dragged over, looking very much out of his element. "Do you have need of me?" he asked me casually, but this was enough to set off hoots of laughter. I couldn't believe this was a mating ceremony! I'd expected it to be… Much more… Serious? Surely this couldn't be! Had Ma'hi's own celebration been like this? I could not have known, for I was too upset over Tsu'tey the entire time to be paying attention. But A'mari'k and Ka'iil sauntered over, looking already a little drunk, and joined in our torture. I was surprised to see Ka'iil, the good, rational Na'vi, looking so unkempt. His hair was a mess and to be honest, he looked like he'd been drinking for a long, long time.
"A miracle hangs near Tsu'tey's thigh," one Na'vi woman began, and immediately I tried to run. Paiiyi grabbed me from behind and blocked off my escape, forcing me to listen to more of the hideous joke. "It's hard, long and its tip strong," another Na'vi added, and I was suddenly questioning if this was planned. How come every Na'vi knew the joke but us?
"Oh! Oh!" Paiiyi clapped her hands in excitement, "when he lifts his loincloth, this miracle emerges, and after completing its duty, piercing a hole-" here Paiiyi had to stop, because Tsu'tey looked as if he might die. I was not faring any better, but girlish gossip like this was surely easier for me to deal with than him. My mate turned a little green, which warranted a break from the jokes. "It is a sword!" A'mari'k laughed, throwing an arm around Tsu'tey good naturedly, "what did you think it was?" The small crowd around us laughed heartily, and clapped A'mari'k on the back. This was a nice surprise to see A'mari'k regaining status in the eyes of the Omaticaya, but I had no time to mull over it. Sure, he was drunk, but it was something. They'd forgiven him.
Tsu'tey laughed a little when he understood finally, and then we were made aware of some kind of game that involved catching us and making us do ridiculous things to one another. Casting manners and etiquette to the air, Tsu'tey grabbed my wrist and we ran laughing like animals escaping from a fire. The laughter of our family and friends chased after us for what seemed like forever until we were in the plains, quite a bit from Hometree.
Before I could take in even one gulp of the fresh prairie air, I was tackled from behind and we both fell to the ground, giddy with happiness and hope for the future and oh-! This was the Na'vi that was my whole tribe, and here –now- nothing mattered but him and me.
I asked him no more questions of why, how, when, for with his love he'd given me an answer to all questions now and even those that were still to come.
"You look like a goddess," he remarked, gazing at me with great tenderness. As he moved from his position above me, the end of Tsu'tey's old war bow struck my thigh.
"What were you planning, my mate?" I smirked as Tsu'tey had to think twice to determine of what I was speaking of. Then realization dawned on him, and his face lit up. "I did promise to teach you to hunt, Yishat. I didn't think we would need to use it, but I am hungry, and this time your sour fruit will not please me."
Though I was excited for the prospect, I was also apprehensive. "Does it not take many years to master the bow? All young hunters train for years before they are even able to be brought into the presence of an animal."
"That is correct," Tsu'tey agreed haughtily, "and that is why you should be happy that you were blessed with an excellent warrior to demonstrate to you."
"Blessed indeed," I teased him mercilessly, feeling my tail flicker here and there in anticipation. I took his hand as he reached for me, and he led me silently through the waist length dry grasses that covered the field. His eyes searched the field actively, his whole body fluid with the grace of an experienced leader. "Do you hear that," he whispered, "that is the sound of a herd of grazing talioang."
I stopped, all joking spirit having fled from me, "they are dangerous, and we are not prepared." Talioang were heavily armoured animals with a vicious protective streak, and were known to stampede when upset or startled. Killing a talioang was considered a rite of passage for any fledgling warrior, much like taming an ikran. Often times, it took a group of warriors to take one talioang down, mainly because of the tactic involved to drive it away from the crowd so the rest of the animals did not stampede.
My mate shrugged casually, "you are right. I am not afraid, of course, but a talioang would be too great a meal for us. It takes five Na'vi to drag the body to Hometree, and it would be too much of a hassle now." I was interested in his words, but my eyes kept flitting to the beautiful wild flowers that dotted this field, hidden pale and delicate in the hideous dry grasses. They smelled spicy, and I thought of Paiiyi, who still had not conquered her odd habit of consuming flowers. Tsu'tey did not seem to notice my attention drifting, and so I let it wander. To be honest, I was more interested in the movement of the muscles in Tsu'tey's back than what came out of his honeyed mouth.
"You are not listening to me, Yishat," Tsu'tey said suddenly, looking very cross.
"I'm sorry, Head Warrior."
My words had the desired effect, as Tsu'tey visibly relaxed his body. "No, I should not have done this. This is our mating day; I am your mate, not your leader. This is not a day to teach you to hunt. I am sorry."
Just as he finished speaking, an eerie hush fell over the field. Tsu'tey tensed again, and moved slowly to take his bow out of its sling. Afraid to move, I turned my gaze to our left, where several adult beasts scrutinized us from an uncomfortably close distance. "Don't move," Tsu'tey hissed low at me, and I froze. After several long moments, the giant beasts lowered their armoured heads and started to graze.
Suddenly, a twig snapped somewhere, and the herd of talioang reared up, roared and charged.
Thankfully, they went in the other direction, the ground reverberating with the impact of their hooves. When the dust cleared, we discovered what had caused this commotion. "A yerik," I whispered with awe. I had seen many of these graceful creatures being skinned and cooked, but never one alive. This six legged animal had obviously wandered away from its herd in search of its favourite food, but was badly startled by the stampeding talioangs that barely missed crushing it.
It was disorientated and stumbling. I felt pity for the poor animal, watching him wander in confused circles before promptly dropping dead as Tsu'tey's arrow pierced his throat.
"How long do we have?"
Tsu'tey looked up from the chunk of meat he had just been gnawing on, "Until we return? We have days- they wanted us gone."
"Sure. It's customary for a group effort to be exerted to get the couple out of Hometree so they can mate. I didn't think they would do it so quickly, though. Usually it's done so that the Na'vi involved don't run away or back out."
I laughed lightly, "did they think one of us was going to run away?"
Tsu'tey took the piece of fruit I was just peeling and it disappeared into his mouth. "With the way you were acting, they could've assumed anything." I bit down a whimper of guilt, thinking of if Tsu'tey had been worried that I might run away.
We stared into the fire we'd built together, now charring the scanty remains of our meal. It was dying, smoke rising thick and smouldering into the darkening sky. Tsu'tey's gaze slid to me, two shining, glassy orbs in the darkness. The specks of light on his forehead and body pulsed with his desire. "But I'm here now," I murmured, feeling Tsu'tey's strong fingers removing one by one the flowers hiding my braid. I imagined I was sweaty from the heat of the flame, the opay that made me shine like the moon was dimming, and my fingers were sticky with fruit juice. It was not what I'd dreamed my mating day would be.
I suppose I had wanted to mate beneath the tree of souls, beside a waterfall pouring into a great ocean or something like that. Most Na'vi wanted to mate beneath the tree of souls, but Tsu'tey was here, so where else did I need to be? Every fibre of my being called out to him, and when he cupped my face in his hands, a shiver ran down my spine. Why had I ever thought of denying this Na'vi?
Then his mouth was on mine, and I forgot everything but to hold on for dear life. Tsu'tey kissed like he hunted; first slow and assessing, cautious, tender. And then something would snap, and he'd come to life with all that he is, with the fiery passion of a confident warrior chasing his prey, searching for a weakness. He'd find that weakness. He always had.
I knew the basics of mating; we would connect our queues to form a bond that lasted forever, otherwise known as tsaheylu. We would then fall asleep, and Eywa would project to us in our dreams our future.
Tsu'tey took the end of my braid in his hand and searched my face for any sign of resentment. I hoped I gave him the reassurance he was looking for, because his eyes were like a beacon calling me home.
As children, we learned about the bond we would eventually make with our other half. It had been praised in innocent songs by oblivious children, joked about by those just on the brink of understanding, told in sagely manner by the old… But none of it mattered when the time actually came.
"I am a river reed," I said suddenly at the last moment before we were connected, eyes glazed over, "I bend and twist, but nothing breaks me." Those had been my father's words; as Ma'hi was the breakable pot, I was the strong yet yielding reed.
Tsu'tey smiled then, "And so I will be the wind in which you dance."
I stood in a field of yellow mist and watched what must've been my faceless mate turn round and round, in some kind of bizarre dance. The world around me started to spin, but I wasn't ready to let go yet. I stumbled and crawled to my faceless mate, and when I touched him, he turned into nothingness. I felt myself become light as air and heavy as a falling beast, paralyzed on my back, watching the sky grow dark. I was eventually held up by two strong Na'vi, but what startled me about them was that they had faces.
And they called me mother.
When I awoke, I remembered only bits and pieces of the strange reverie that had overtaken me. I did not remember the faces of the Na'vi who aided me, and as I wracked my memory, it grew even dimmer. Soon I recollected nothing but a general feeling of both horrible emptiness and great joy.
Tsu'tey did not tell me what he had seen, but the first thing he did was to pull me into a tight embrace, taking deep breaths from the nape of my neck. "Eywa did not reject our union," he whispered sadly, "but it seems-"
"Nothing," I interrupted him boldly, "nothing. We will live happily; there can be no other way. We are here now, are we not?"
He must've seen something very frightening, for he clung onto me tighter with every word. Then all of a sudden, he released me. I took a deep breath and waited.
"Nga yawne lu oer", he said with the most sincere voice I'd ever heard. He took my hand in his. "Come to me."
We were lying in a nondescript field in the middle of nowhere, but were nonetheless surrounded by all the beauty that was Eywa. We felt her thick in the air and noted her pulse in the earth. Tsu'tey beckoned to me, and as his mate, I followed him. After this night, I would love none but him, and would have no home save for his arms. I wanted the warmth of a home, wanted the love of a mate.
"Please," came a strangely desperate voice that surely did not belong to my mate, "do not ever leave my side."
"I am here now," I said again, sliding my body over his and silencing his mouth with mine. Here pressed to him, I felt once again our hearts synchronizing as one, and our bodies, made of the same earth, calling and yearning for each other. Tsu'tey slowly lifted my skirt, and we did not at last separate until morning.
Sometimes it's difficult to acknowledge that a great story of courage and love was ending before your eyes… But the morning came, and Tsu'tey's fingers were caught in my hair, my body lying pliant and warm on his. My eyes met his, and a silent agreement was made that another chapter of our life –perhaps one of the most exciting- had ended.
We would not be able to return to this exact spot again, and Tsu'tey stopped me when I attempted to take a souvenir from the flowered field. We led ourselves back to Hometree, and the path we'd took last night looked despairingly different in the day. Passing by the same herd of talioang, we did not make any effort to remain quiet or inconspicuous. The herd of beasts did not even look up as we floated by on light feet just a stone's throw from them. The entire journey back to Hometree was silent- both of us perhaps mourning for our old, familiar life. I felt Tsu'tey in my skin, felt his heart beating in my chest, felt his spirit dancing in my blood.
And so I stopped being Yishat the Hometender, and instead became Yishat, the Head Warrior's Mate.
I remembered asking mother how I would know if I'd found true love. What she had replied was both true and false. My perception of love changed over the years as other souls came into and left my life. I never did get to be a warrior, but that was okay; Tsu'tey had not made any promises, and I did not expect him to attempt to change the very structure of Na'vi hierarchy for me. Soon after we mated, it was silently decided that I had much to do at home, and so I politely withdrew myself from any further mention of warrior training before Tsu'tey had to say it himself. I overcame a delusional sense of anxiety of mating with him, finally submitting myself to a new path. That was a long, long time ago.
Now I mended Tsu'tey's shirts like I told him I would, I skinned his kills with the rest of my hometender friends, and did everything I was supposed to do. I even managed to perfect the skill of basket building alongside A'mari'k and Lady Mo'at. Tsu'tey's old bow hung at the wall above our cot, and he amused himself with crafting a sleeker, stronger bow out of the wood of the new Hometree. "The wood is not the same," he'd told me, "but wood is wood, and it will do."
Our life became a repetition of mundane chores, something that should've pleased us. We were, after all, tired of the chaos and hurry that came with something to do, right? In some respects, I suppose it did. We enjoyed being able to see and speak to each other in the early mornings and late evenings. We enjoyed each other's company tremendously, and sometimes we sat in comfortable silence, he incessantly carving his bow and I mending and crafting. I was his mate now, and though this routine took a while to get used to, I hardly minded it now.
Paiiyi mated with her hunter shortly after, and I gave what was left over of my opay powder to her. Over the time following, Paiiyi slowly ceased her habit of chewing on flowers, much to the dismay of her mate who seemed to derive humor from it. Her hunter became a warrior and eventually one of Tsu'tey's apprentices. Strangely, Paiiyi began to distance herself from me, for reasons I couldn't fathom. She was not adjusting well to the mated life and the constant pressure of eventual motherhood. I helped her when I could, but eventually we drifted apart to the point of near strangers. It was a sad event, the day she openly ignored me as we passed each other on the way to Hometree. Her young child mewled and cried from his place strapped onto her back, and she looked exhausted.
I had been there when he was born.
I guess change was inevitable; I couldn't expect Paiiyi to be the same forever. As I settled into a new niche as a mated Na'vi, I started speaking with different people, and eventually my life was filled with the voices and stories of other Na'vi. We laughed together, gossiped about our mates, and aided each other if needed. I became somewhat of a celebrity after I mated to Tsu'tey, and young Na'vi girls who sought to capture the hearts of handsome warriors often came to me for advice. In the end I always had to refer them to Neytiri, who set them straight every time.
After all, there was no greater warrior than the one she'd mated.
Ka'iil found a nice Na'vi girl; she was a meek, naïve little thing who never questioned anything he said nor did. I smiled each time I saw them walking into the forests together, hand in hand. I had no doubt that they loved each other dearly, and it would not be long until they mated.
A'mari'k spent his time running errands for Lady Mo'at or Tsahik, sometimes watching over the mundane happenings in the hometree. He seemed so at ease here now, it didn't seem as if he were being punished at all. He made sure all the tunics and loincloths were mended properly, for hometenders often had to mend things that were not theirs, and often made careless mistakes in their disinterest. Even though it was technically against the terms of his agreement with Jakesully, A'mari'k took to teaching young hometenders the proper way of skinning beasts. Most everyone had forgiven and forgotten, and even Jakesully complimented A'mari'k for his clarity in instruction.
Sometimes he ate with Tsu'tey and I, each of us sharing stories of our days apart from one another. We were happy in the presence of each other, and Tsu'tey even let A'mari'k examine his new bow once it was completed. As I'd said, no one really minded anymore. Young children were not told about what happened to A'mari'k, and he was generally accepted now as a male hometender who had a talent with weapons. What was past was past, and as long as I didn't resent him, no one else did either.
The only thing keeping him from living a completely normal life was his fear to wander outside. He feared to see the warriors again; feared to see the faces of those who had betrayed him and used him. Zuku, Ti and the rest of the warriors who were behind the plan that A'mari'k took the blame for were still serving as warriors under Tsu'tey's rule.
"They are much happier now, the lot of them," Tsu'tey was saying one night while the clan gathered at the base of the hometree to enjoy the simple nightly feast. The air was hot and bodies everywhere were glistening with sweat, shining under the warm light of countless torches. "Zuku has another son, and he cannot stop talking about him."
A'mari'k shifted uncomfortably in his seat, knowing that he may never mate for himself. Despite the leaps and bounds that the clan took to accept him back as one of them, there were some deep rooted memories and beliefs that he could never erase from their minds. "Does he, now?" I put a hand on his shoulder, feeling his muscles relax under my palm.
I quickly turned the conversation around, "What shall we name our child, Tsu'tey?"
My mate grinned broadly, making a fool of himself by jokingly trying to feed a piece of fruit to my engorged belly. It would not be long now; Father's tunic fit perfectly, and of course no one was surprised. Some of those who mated after us already had their children, but finally it was our turn.
"Well, that's a difficult question," Tsu'tey replied, "I would have to go to Neytiri and see what she thinks is a prosperous name." Of course it was just like Tsu'tey to feel the need to plan everything through. I rolled my eyes, amusing myself with the thought of Neytiri scaring Tsu'tey out of his wits with the prospect of fatherhood. She was never one for simple ask-and-respond meetings.
A'mari'k looked like he longed to say something but was ashamed as to the possible reactions to his words. I knew what he wanted to say; it was what was on my mind as well. "If it's a girl," I started, voice becoming hoarse, "can we name her Ma'hi?"
A silence stretched over the three of us as the rest of the clan feasted and laughed, blissfully unaware.
"Of course," said Tsu'tey finally, thankfully without much debate. I think he realized the significance of this as well as we did. It just felt right.
I don't think I'd ever seen A'mari'k look the way he did that night.
At the end of the feast, just as Tsu'tey and I were about to retire to our quarters, A'mari'k took me by the arm. "What is it, brother?" I asked when I noticed his eyes wet with unshed tears. "What has upset you?"
"Yishat, you have been so good to me… Thank you."
"That is really nothing to thank me about," I told him modestly, but he interrupted me with a barely concealed sob. "I loved Ma'hi, I really did. I still think of her every night; I think of the feeling of flying that I got when I was with her… That feeling of being loved and part of something so great… Yishat, that feeling…"
My breath caught in my throat.
"That feeling," he continued, cupping my hands in his while my mate watched from a distance away, "that feeling… Felt just like this."
And so 'Sour' is complete! This is the first multi-chapter story that I actually completed, and it turned out to be more than 50k words, which is unbelievable for me. Thanks to all who have read and reviewed so far, and I'm sorry for making you guys wait so long for each update. ): Here in Canada, we get freedom to measure whoever/whatever we want, and unfortunately I married procrastination.
But when it comes down to it, I definitely enjoyed writing this, and thanks so much for the continuous support in this fic that has overwhelmed my inbox. I love y'all. ); I hope everyone has enjoyed this last chapter, and please let me know what you think.
Please don't kill me for the dirty jokes! ): I thought they were hilarious, and I probably wouldn't take them away even if you come at me with an Avatar guidebook on culture or something.
Until next time,