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Yon and Tinu

Sun 23 Apr 2000 by mskala Tags used: , ,

There are settlements in the great Western forest where people are born, live their whole lives, and die without ever seeing a road or a cleared area bigger than one household's vegetable garden. Why not? It would be more than a week's hard riding from the middle of the forest to the nearest civilized land, and the forest folk just aren't interested in the world beyond. They live comfortably on what they grow, gather, and hunt among the trees. People seldom ride out from their own settlement.

And strangers like ourselves are well-advised not to ride into the forest seeking contact with the inhabitants, either, because some strange stories are told about what may be found there. The people of the forest like their isolation and may bitterly defend it, but human threats are the least of a traveler's worries. Not everyone who lives in the forest is human.

In one part of the forest, in a human community of about one hundred households, there lived a young man and woman named Yon and Tinu. Yon was 22 and Tinu was 20. They were not particularly friends, just acquaintances, but they did have one thing in common that set them apart from the other young people thereabout: they had each been born with legs severely deformed, nearly useless. Yon and Tinu could not walk, and could only barely ride. Their peers sincerely tried to include them in the doings of the settlement, but it was often a struggle.

It was late Summer, and a group of young people rode out on an overnight expedition to collect the luminescent giant shelf fungus their people used as a craft material. [1] They talked and sang as they followed the course of a little stream toward one of the oldest parts of the forest, where the shelves grew most densely. The sun was shining brightly, but as the trees grew taller, the path became more and more gloomy. Yon, who had a gift for imitations, amused himself by hooting like an owl at opportune moments to startle the others, until they got sick of his antics and forced him to ride at the back.

As the sun started to go down and the tree canopy closed above, the gatherers started noticing the pale glow of the shelves overhead. Soon the group started to dissolve as its members headed off into the undergrowth, usually two at a time, seeking the best pickings. Nobody was in charge, and nobody gave much thought to who was where, or whether anyone had been lost. They were all at the age where they felt independent of the entire world, and they all in theory at least knew the way back home.

Everyone in the group was basically well-disposed towards Yon and Tinu, but nobody would carry that as far as taking personal responsibility for them, or curtailing their own activities to see that the less mobile members were having a good time. So, inevitably, they found themselves riding alone.

Lacking anything better to do, for their shared disability made actual fungus-gathering too painful and difficult to contemplate, the two kept riding along the stream, further than they had ever gone before. Soon the trees thinned out somewhat, revealing the occasional glimpse of the starry sky and full moon. Soon after, the stream thinned to a trickle, and then they reached its source.

In a little clearing they found a pool of clear water, welling up from some underground secret place. The stream emerged from one side and flowed back the way they had come; there was no clear indication of how to proceed further. Since they had become tired anyway, they decided to unroll their sleeping bags, and then in the morning start retracing their steps. Perhaps they would rejoin the gathering party, or perhaps they'd just end up home again, with a story to tell.

Having heard several too many old stories about enchanted springs, they drank only the water they had carried with them. That was perhaps unnecessary, since the spring was simply the source of the stream that would eventually become the river that supplied their drinking water at home anyway. A rational person would have to suppose that they'd brought with them any enchantment that might exist in the place.

Late in the night, as Yon and Tinu lay sleeping by the spring and their horses rested nearby, three centaurs stopped to rest at that same place. They were a mated pair and their young foal, two days out from their home on what was to be a five-day journey to a certain place in the forest that would look, to you or I, just the same as any other patch of forest. For them, it had religious significance. Centaurs, as you may know, take no notice of other creatures or what we think.

That applies to adult centaurs. Young ones are more inquisitive. This one took particular interest in Yon, Tinu, and their mounts; she had never seen living humans or horses before, and the resemblance to her own people was intriguing. After a thorough examination of the sleeping strangers, and a drink from the spring, she lay down near her parents on the opposite side of the spring.

Maybe there was something special, like a meteor streaking across the sky, that triggered it; maybe a certain star passed a theoretical line between houses of the night. Only an astrologer could say. But at some certain moment in that dark morning, with no warning they knew, Yon and Tinu and the juvenile centaur were transformed into the bodies of fishes. The three flopped around gasping on the soft ground near the spring, then fell into the water.

They were carried awkwardly, tail-over-fin, by the flow of water which had looked so gentle to human and centaur eyes. Eventually they became accustomed enough to their new bodies to regain some measure of control, but even so they continued to move downstream. After a few days they had floated far past Yon's and Tinu's homes, out of the forest entirely, and out to sea, where they joined a school of similar fish. All three were sorely missed by their families.

You don't know what it's like for fish in a school. The whole school moves in unison, one muscle at a time all together, as if one animal with a thousand bodies. I don't mean they lack individual minds or will power or anything like that, it's just that so many independent creatures could all decide to move at exactly the same time. There is some special link between the fish. For if one body should die suddenly, the others will pick up the slack, sharing out that soul among the entire school so the dead member is never lost or forgotten. Life will start again, and it will not be any different. It's like Heaven in salt water.

[1] The LGSF, like other fungi, does not photosynthesize in the way that green plants do. But it does absorb light and convert it to chemical energy during the day. At night, that energy is converted back to light in the sticky spore-forming cells on the underside of the shelf. The light serves to attract beetles that propagate the spores to other trees. Children conceived by the shelves' light are thought to be specially blessed.

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