So I found this necklace at a garage sale. It was a crude jade carving of an owl attached to a strip of leather. I really love jade, so I bought it to add to my collection.
The man that was selling it to me seemed to be making some enigmatic plays on words about the necklace, saying that it was "special" and should only be worn when ready and stuff. I asked him about it, and, after I paid a significant amount of money, he told me that the necklace is a way to travel into my own thoughts. I asked him how, but all he could say was that I had to think about an idea really hard and stroke the owl. If I took the necklace off, I would come back to the place I left. He warned me that it was like a dream, but once you were in your own mind, you couldn't change it. He also warned me that some people get lost in there own minds.
Well I took the necklace home that night and thought I'd try it, as safely as I could think of. The safest place I could imagine was into my book The Shelters of Stone. There was a healer, and the people were friendly.
I brought out my book and started reading it, letting my imagination wander as I did. While that was happening, I stroked the face of the owl. Nothing happened.
I started to think that the man was only messing with me and I got pretty mad, but still kept on reading. There was a sudden jerk on my neck as the necklace pulled me in an unknown direction. It felt like I was being squished into a single point right at the base of my skull.
I started falling, than hit the ground with thud. My head hit a rock, hard, and I blacked out.
I woke up to the feeling of warm and wet on my face. Opening my eyes slowly, I saw a blonde women looking down at me. She was very pretty, with a well formed bone structure and, in general, very beautiful features. In fact, we looked alike, though I wouldn't say that I was beautiful. It was similar to looking into a mirror, with only a little warp. I could tell that she was pregnant from the way she held herself over me, dabbing my forehead and cheeks with a piece of, what appeared to be, absorbent leather.
"Zelandoni," the woman said, turning around, "she's awake."
A very plump yet attractive woman came over to my other side and looked down at me. I felt very strange and realized that I was completely naked. Where were my clothes? Did I even have any with me?
"Good," the woman named Zelandoni said. She was examining me critically for any sign of excess injury. I tried to shift my position to cover myself, nearly sitting up. But the work sent a terrible pain to the place were I had hit my head and I had to lie back down and give up modesty.
"Here," said the blonde woman. She helped me to a sitting position and handed me a wooden cup of tea. She motioned for me to drink, than pointed to the place on her head that matched the area of my wound, as if to say that the drink would help the pain.
I took a drink and grimaced. The tea was bitter. There was no sugar like I had at home.
"I…" I coughed, not trusting my voice, "I understand you." And I did. It was strange, because I knew that the language wasn't English, but I was as comfortable with it as I would be with my own language anyway. It caught me off guard actually, knowing something that I hadn't know before, out of the blue.
"Ah, I am Zelandoni of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii, First among the Zelandonia." said the plump woman as an official introduction.
"And I," said the blonde woman, "am Ayla of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii."
As I listened, I remembered more and more of the story and knew who each person was. Hitting my head had knocked some of my memory out of me, but I had read the books, numerous times, and the information was in my head somewhere. It was just waiting to be brought out. I was like the Clan, needing only a reminder before I knew exactly what was going on.
"I am Kate." I said simply, not really knowing what else to say. They waited for more. After an uncomfortable moment, I added, "I am pleased to meet you." The two women took this as a sign that my brief introduction was done.
"You speak the language very well, and yet you name no ties." Zelandoni stated pointedly. "You are not Zelandoni?"
"No, I came from…" I hesitated, not knowing what to say, "Very far away. I, truthfully, don't know how I know the language."
"You must have hit your head harder than I thought." said Zelandoni.
The pain in my head had subsided, but I noticed that there was still a dull throb were I hit it.
"How did I get here?" I asked, looking at the structure were I had been lying.
"Wolf found you while I was emptying my water." Ayla said. She looked in the direction of a wolf lounging behind her next to a flap that I assumed was the door. He seemed to perk up the sound of his name.
"You were cold and had no clothes. Jondalar carried you to Zelandoni." She continued, as if her explanation was all that was needed. In my case, it was. The name triggered the memories and stories, so I knew exactly what Ayla was talking about. But I had to hide that knowledge for now.
"My sincerest thanks to Jondalar and Wolf." I leaned my head in the animal's direction as I said his name.
"Would you like to meet Wolf?" Ayla asked, measuring my response. She expected fear, or apprehension, but I had none. Animals were long domesticated in my world. I think I surprised her when I nodded my head fearlessly.
Ayla made a motion and the wolf trotted forward. She took my hand in hers and held it up to his nose to smell. When Ayla let go of my hand, I reached to scratch behind the animal's ear. He wagged his tale and licked my wrist. I couldn't help but smile. The two women did nothing to hide their surprise at my bravery. But neither said anything.
I stroked the beast as Zelandoni explained what was wrong with me. I had hit my head pretty hard and got some bruises. Other than that, it seems that I was just very cold in the fall weather without any form of clothing. I finished my tea, which I found out was just willow for the headache, with only minimal grimacing. I preferred not having anything, but I didn't know how bad my head hurt yet and if I could take the pain or not. It seemed like there was no permanent damage.
"Am I allowed to get up?" I asked hopefully. My feet were starting to fall asleep, and I wanted to get out and explore my favorite story.
The two women shared a look. "If you feel well enough, you may." said Zelandoni.
I stood up, too quickly. I blacked out, but stayed standing until my vision returned. I found that I had been caught by Ayla to prevent my falling again. She looked concerned.
"I'm fine. I just stood up too fast."
I stood taller and realized that Ayla and I were the same height, and both of us were taller than Zelandoni.
Zelandoni handed me some water to clear my head. It was in a sack. When I took a drink, the water tasted vaguely like leather, but it was better then the willow tea, so I didn't complain.
"I brought extra clothes for you." Ayla said, handing me a bundle of folded leather. "And Zelandoni has some old boots for you, as well."
I started putting on the pants and tunic. I had never worn leather before, and it felt curious on my skin. I also noticed that the tunic had no support, which was uncomfortable. But at least I had clothes. Zelandoni even showed me how to belt the waist of the tunic with a nice, beaded belt.
"There, now, you are dressed as if you belong here." she said, standing back. Then she moved closer to look into my face. I hesitantly met her gaze. She seemed to want to say something, but didn't.
Ayla spoke up to break the uncomfortable silence. "You are welcome to share a meal at my home, Kate, as are you, Zelandoni." I nodded silently, but smiled my thanks.
"Come." Ayla held back the flap for us to go out into the cave.
I looked around intently, taking it all in. There were about a hundred people milling about that I could see, but I assumed there were more hunting or inside there own lodges. Some of the people that were around looked at me intently, and I could tell that my story had been spread around the cave. It was about midday, and I wondered, briefly, how long I had been asleep.
Zelandoni was watching my every reaction. I met her critical gaze with a smile. I was used to this many people at once just in my cafeteria during lunch. She seemed impressed and confused at the same time.
"This is the Ninth Cave of the Zelandoni." she said. "It is the biggest cave of our people."
I could only nod. What would she say if I told her that I had been to places with thousands of people more than this? This was not the reaction Zelandoni wanted. She seemed unnerved by my acceptance of size.
"Ayla," she said, looking for a way to ease her discomfort, "perhaps we should show our guest the horses, so she knows what to expect."
Ayla nodded and headed at an angle from the direction she was going. She nickered as we approached another structure, similar, though different form the others. A horse peeked its head around the wall and nickered back.
"That was very good." I said, impressed. I looked at Zelandoni, watching her watch me. She seemed a little more at ease now that I seemed impressed by something.
Ayla strode easily over to the animal, with her wolf loping at her heels. She put her arm around the horse as a darker horse came out behind her. There was a comfort there. I had to smile.
"This is Whinney." The woman nickered the name of the tan horse. I nodded again. "And this is Racer."
Ayla affectionately scratched and patted the horses, making sounds and gestures that only she knew, though I got the gist. It seemed as though I knew her secret language like I knew Zelandonii.
There now, Whinney, she was saying to them, it's been a long time since I've seen you. You are going to meet someone new right now. She's from very far away. She already met Wolf, so now it's your turn.
As I watched, I realized that I knew the Clan signs she used to, as if she reminded me. It seemed as though I was able to translate and use any language I had read, including the unspoken ones. Cool.
"I get to meet them?" I asked, excitedly. Zelandoni looked uncomfortable again at my excitement, not fear or awe. Ayla looked surprised. To her, it seemed as though I read her mind.
"Yes, of course." Ayla motioned for me to come forward. I reached for the tan horse, which reared a bit with the new smell, but calmed immediately, as soon as I started stroking her nose.
"What a good horse you are." I said in English so the two women couldn't understand me. "And you're strong too."
Both Ayla and Zelandoni were amazed this time. I saw their reactions and was pleased. It was so fun to show them just how comfortable I was with animals.
"You seem to know horses." Zelandoni said. I could tell that I was almost like an Ayla clone, with all that I knew.
"Not really." I responded, once again, enigmatically. I looked to Ayla instead. "What do you use them for?" I hoped that her response would give me a chance to see if I knew the unconscious signals that Ayla sent to Whinney while she was riding. It was similar to a language.
"We use them to carry things or drag things." Ayla said. She looked at Zelandoni. "And we ride them, too."
Zelandoni looked triumphant as I pretended to be awed. I was having so much showing off my acting skills.
"I would love to try riding them." I said with feigned disbelief.
"It has been a while since I took them out." Ayla said thoughtfully. "Would you like to try? Whinney is pregnant, so you can ride her. She won't go as fast unless she is told. Jondalar can take Racer out later."
"Oh!" I said with genuine excitement. It had been so long since I had ridden a horse. "Can I?"
Ayla led me over to a stool to help me get on. When I was settled, she stepped back.
"Lean forward to go faster, and sit up to stop." She said, and then gave the mare a whack on her backside.
Whinney trotted forward, down the slope to the pasture below. I wondered how far she would take away from Ayla, and how far Ayla would let me go. When we reached the flat ground below the cave, I leaned forward. Whinney started picking up her pace to a full canter, nearly a gallop. I felt my hair streaming behind me and laughed out loud. I angled my body toward the river on my right. Whinney followed my silent direction and I rejoiced inside. It seemed proof of my theory that I knew nearly all spoken and unspoken languages within the story.
I sat up a little and the horse decreases her speed. The cave behind me was farther away than I expected it to be. I saw the rock above it leaning precariously over the lip of the cave, as if I were about to fall. A shiver traveled down my spine as I envisioned the rock tumbling into the cave below. Whinney sidestepped nervously under me and knocked me out of my reverie. There was nothing I needed to worry about. The rock was secure.
I lead Whinney back up the slope to an amazed looking Zelandoni. Ayla looked impressed herself.
"You rode that horse nearly as well as Ayla does." Zelandoni said, amazed. "If I didn't know, I would have thought it was her."
I smiled and slid down the horse's side.
"We understand each other, it seems." I patted the horses flank affectionately.
"Where did you learn that?" Ayla asked.
"I don't know. It just seems like I know, like a memory that I just needed to be reminded of." I looked at Ayla, trying to get her to understand that it was largely like a Clan memory. Recognition flitted across her face, but was gone in an instant.