Dark Heart (The Seeker Chronicles Series)by Betsy James
Kat has spent one year dutifully
Having fled the tyrannical rule of her father, sixteen year old Kat now lives among her mother's people - a society that is joyful and caring, as well as conformist and bound by superstition. Kat has lived her whole life by the sea, but this new world is all stone and sky. It is bare and spare and high, ringed by mountains.
Kat has spent one year dutifully preparing for her initiation rite, a ceremony that involves a live bear. Kat is frightened and uncertain, but only by completing the ritual can she be accepted into the circle of women.
But what of the young blind man she feels herself drawn to, who is handsom and artistic but also belligerent and scornful? And what of gentle Nall, the man she left behind?
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By Betsy James
Simon PulseCopyright © 2005 Betsy James
All right reserved.
Noisy as starlings, the unmarried girls of Creek poured out of the north gate, their empty water jars on their heads. By the forbidden, smoky lodges of the Loom Holds they surged back laughing, because the young men blocked the way.
They always blocked the way. The young men sang,
Waiting at the den,
Maybe the bear comes.
Waiting in the winter,
Maybe the spring comes.
Kat staggered in the jostling crowd. The young men never bothered to tease her, because although she was seventeen she was not a woman yet. She rescued her wobbling jar and held it in both arms.
All the girls except Kat wore embroidered dancing skirts, and even on this frosty late-winter morning their blouses were cut low to show the blue tattoos on their breasts. Kat wore childish culottes, and a pinafore. The young men strutted like peacocks in their kilts and greatcloaks, short cudgels shoved into their sashes.
Tossing their spindles, the men locked shoulders and laughed. One of them yelled, "What will you give us to let you through?"
"Cold rabbit pie that the dog won't eat!" shouted Jekka, Kat's cousin.
"We'll warm it." That was handsome Set, the headwoman's grandson. His cloak and coxcomb hair were scarlet, his long legs insolently bare. "Hey, darlings, we'll warm you!"
The girls shouted back, "Naked rooster!" "Set, where are your stockings?"
"Jekka jaybird, who'll kiss such a big beak?"
"Watch out, rooster! With my beak I'll steal your spindle!"
Laughing, Set drew from his fist a length of carded wool, flicked his spindle down, wound up the new coarse yarn, and answered, "Don't bother, jaybird. I want a sweeter girl."
"Set has a honey!" The young men whistled and stamped. "Who is it? Show us, Set!"
Set strolled in front of the girls.
He looked them over, and stopped in front of Kat.
"She's a little red cub," he said. "Not grown yet, a first-moon bear's child."
Kat stared at him blankly.
Jekka leaned over and hissed, "Answer him, Kat!"
"It's you. He's courting you. Answer him quick!"
The young men catcalled. "Set loves a cub! A cub!"
Kat clutched her jar. Shame swelled into her arms and face until she was as red as her curls and could not feel her hands.
"Tell him, 'This cub has claws!'" whispered Jekka. "Shout this: 'This cub eats naked rats!'"
But Kat stood dumb, as though the frost had frozen her. With a crow of laughter, Set tossed his spindle into her water jar.
The men roared.
Kat snatched the spindle out and threw it on the sand. "Stop it!" she said, like a child.
Plump MIa took pity on her, shouting to Set, "Come throw your spindle in my pot. I'll test your yarn!"
"I'm not stupid." Set grinned. MIa was as tall as he was. He picked up the spindle and tapped it clean against his long thigh. The wall of shoulders opened and the girls ran through, laughing and shouting insults, past the Loom Holds and onto the wide plain of the mountain valley.
"You'll have to be quicker," Jekka said cheerfully to Kat. "Set has a wicked tongue. But his legs are nice."
Still crimson, Kat demanded, "Why did he do that? Nobody ever -- "
Esangi cut in. "Don't think it means he likes you. They always bait the girl who's going to her bear. You'll have to learn to handle it if you want to be a woman."
"Oh," said Kat in a small voice. Struggling to balance her jar, she followed the girls down the path to fetch water from the sacred spring. The water was for her, because she was going to be eaten by the bear.
Text copyright 1992 by Betsy James
Excerpted from Dark Heart by Betsy James Copyright © 2005 by Betsy James. Excerpted by permission.
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Raim needs more story! Excellent book-love the culture!