The Cadence of Genna

The Cadence of Genna

From Leaves


He did not look at his wife. Facing the window Geir watched the sun slant across the common, the vast treeless plains where the frost had been spun through the grass like slivers of light. He was concentrating on the peculiar quality of the dawn sky. She was very tired, his wife, he knew that. It had hurt him to see her so utterly bereft of strength. The relentless process of her labour had undone some finely woven pattern in his heart. He felt somehow he had failed her and now he no longer had a key to himself. He sighed trying to forget, to annihilate his memory of how happy he had been the morning the healer had told him that Melea would bear him twins. Now one lay dead, strangled by his birth cord and his sister lay wrapped in a bloody bundle breathing softly. What was it that the Wise had taught about twins: that it was one soul, one psyche carved equally between two bodies. Was she less than human then, his surviving daughter. The morning was reluctant to answer his questioning, there seemed no map to anything. The frost was glinting savagely in the deep hollows when he finally spoke.

What will you call her?


It is an odd name.

Melea smiled with infinite weariness, she felt her womb dying, blood pooling & seeping beneath her, these children the last of her body had torn it away. She had waited too long in that night of contraction and expansion, systole, diastole. At one point she had almost begged death to carry her over that sly hissing river. Until she had looked back in time, to the myriad of women behind her, the caverns of the past, all spinning threads toward this moment in time. There is a kind of exhaustion that is beyond tears, a quietness so heavy it threatens music. Melea heard the first bird call, somewhere the spirit of her son seemed to call. Death and life she thought, what are they but furious energies calling forth form out of chaos.

Geir finally turned toward her noting how even in exhaustion her beauty still moved like clear water in her spirit.

Why Genna? he asked. It seemed to him that she was almost beyond shaping words. He waited watching the effort it cost her. She was looking into the hills beyond him. At last she spoke.

She will have need of a strong name. Melea paused lost somewhere in time to him.

Yes? he prompted. She turned her gaze toward him as if assessing him for the first time in their shared life.

She has it, Geir she spoke carefully the Last Gift.

And then she watched as this tall man whose shaman was the eagle, whose flight had never stopped, who was driven by a strange and relentless energy; she watched as the tears slid across his strong unyielding cheekbones.

Eventually he turned towards the morning sun and said Then Genna she shall be.

A spirit clan is like a spider’s web. The Great One was shaking.

In the night of Genna’s birth Selene, the oldest woman, who lived outside the currents of time beneath the mountain had dreamed again of the ice‑palace and the underwater kingdom. She groped in her sleep toward consciousness like a fish drawn to the surface of water but the great king tide drew her down again. Neither water nor dream would consent to release her and so she drove her will together and plunged to the bottom of that dark place; a place she knew too well and sometimes she thought, too long. Here no living creature could call her name, no light could come but all was visible, a paralysis of stars fixed in the landscape of night. Selene waited. She remembered the old words: at the heart of winter the landscape is always of uncertain cast.

Do you choose? The voice was huge, infinite.

I choose replied Selene.

What would you know?

Selene heard her own voice amplified, its tones childish plaintive. It irritated her.

I cannot see this child’s path, I cannot understand her threads. The natal moon is afflicted.

What would you know? the implacable voice repeated.

The truth she replied and it seemed to her that even the Great Mother sighed.

Remember you, wise one, the truth changes much in the telling, in the mind it is clear like mountain crystal, it is in the words that it crumbles, dust. Long we have waited for the call of this child, the name of Genna was plucked on the harp strings in the days now gone. I sang her cadence with my sisters in the valley of desire under the aching moon. Her notes are pure, much will change with her coming; she sings of power, of change.

And if she should fail her purpose? asked Selene.

Something like laughter seemed to echo through the cavern, it reassured Selene, it placed everything back in perspective. We are nothing she thought to herself, not for the first time, nothing and that is the great beauty of it, we are like notes of wayward music driven back and forth across the universe, sometimes in perfect harmony, sometimes dissonant, but we will always need each other for meaning.

The Great Mother spoke: Selene, we do not fail, nor do we win, we endure, ebbing and flowing with great tides larger than you can imagine, with all your wisdom child. If now is the time for the cadence of Genna, so shall we hear it, if not, it will wait on the loom until the next shuttle draws it forward.

Geir walked home through the long bitter morning wrapped in the mantle of his dead son, it seemed to hover over him like a lonely bird. If he had been able to identify his emotional state he would have described it as something akin to chaos, a vortex of heart and mind, a place to be avoided and particularly dangerous to a man who cherished logic as a godhead. He watched the light move through the morning and he tried to remember his one solid belief in the maelstrom of his life: Even one passion lurking in the heart of a man has the power to overthrow reason. He had kept this as his light, his shield all the days of his childhood and into his maturity as he struggled to set himself free. It was a philosophy to be contemplated in the dark hours of his life. It was a legacy, a gift from his grandfather who had been the last of the great shamans who had crossed the ice and survived the Ice Wars. Now it seemed useless, a set of words, devoid of depth, devoid of strength. He felt the valley beneath him, knew the long winter was dying somewhere in the abyss but that the ice was waiting and this cycle it would not wait long. Some were saying the ice had broken the balance and was growing again, there would not be time to harvest for the next interval. In the villages fear roamed at night like a wolf, knocking and shuddering at the doors. Geir had been taught that the only possession his people might certainly claim was the lesson of the past. This morning it seemed the greatest irony, the past was a series of broken dreams as useless as a lunar eclipse in spring. He had not been born in the green time, nor in the ice era, nor had he travelled the fragile ice path where the darkness howled for the weak of heart in the geography of thaw and precipice. He had not waited for the call of the icemaster as the tribe picked its way across each new glacier, leaving the dead behind with their burdens following the thinnest line of hope that shuttled on the loom of their time. These stories his grandfather had wrought for him each night before the night fire, breathing life and terror into them, shaping and moulding each word like molten silver. And for this Geir had loved him.

Like many men who value self knowledge, Geir did not understand that he had yet to forgive the shaman for dying, logically he had, of course, but his heart had never yielded to that death. Perhaps it was the aftermath that would not leave him. He remembered how his grandmother had come to him at dawn, waking him without words and he knew immediately by her eyes, the quality of ruination that was never to leave them, that the man was dead. He remembered how small he seemed in death who loomed so large in life. Where had it gone, the force of the man? He remembered the scrabble for power that followed later in the Elder’s Council, how they had forcibly removed his grandmother from her home in order to turn on Geir’s father who was known only as the Ilex. He had been no father to Geir. The Ilex had been born under a full natal affliction but the shaman had refused to recognise this, in defiance he brought the Ilex to the central village alter and laid him on it and spoke for the first and only time of his son:

You are wise to fear him, but he will not go to the ice while I have breath. This child, my son, is a spirit incarnated out of his time, if you had wits left you would know it. He is a gift from the Mother to our tribe. So the shaman argued. But many felt he put his own feelings first. The Ilex was certainly no gift to Geir, he could only find within the man a strange emptiness, he seemed to need neither power nor love, he lived alone unable to master the dragon’s of his mind’s fantasy which would burst out of him from time to time in periods of beautiful song that no tribe man had ever heard before. Only the shaman seemed to understand his music and his mother who nurtured the Ilex like a small suckling child. Geir learnt to hate him. By law a man that has no usefulness to the tribe should settle his score with the Ice Gods and even Geir believed that it was only the influence of the shaman that had kept him beyond that law. That was, until after the old man’s death and the hunt began. Geir had not realised what fear could do to the collective mind of men, how insatiable was their need to kill, destroy and terrorise until at last they felt secure. The Elders hunted the Ilex and took him screaming to the Ice. It was only in death that Geir came at last to recognise something of the unique strength of the Ilex and to admire him. For nine days and nights the Ilex sang the Ice Gods with every fibre of his being, he sang them songs of such ferocity that the villagers cowered in their homes until the man in him began to scream. Finally his sobs subsided, his voice became a dull echo of the wind, in the end it stopped.

Geir was eight years old when they came for him, they had a great need to exonerate themselves from the death of the Ilex and they asked his counsel in the matter. He was never to forget how they could not meet his eyes with clarity. He learnt his first complex lesson on that day, the lesson of controlling hatred, of keeping passion at bay. It was not easy then, today it seemed no easier. It was with this thought in mind that Geir faced the gathering of men who awaited him at the gate of his father’s village. He noted their impatience and beneath that he felt their lack of ease, the first scent of fear. The headman, Koral, stepped toward him offering the ritual gesture of mourning. Geir ignored him. Koral’s red hair seemed to flare in the sun.

Brother began Koral. Geir interrupted him almost carelessly:

It is given to each man by the first and third laws to seek the solitude of a full moon phase in order to deliberate on matters of great consequence. I claim that right. Geir said these words casually, as if they weren’t of the slightest importance, watching the small rage begin in Koral’s eyes. Koral was struggling with diplomacy, it had never been his gift, he had been bred to power and rule. He began again with a pretence of compassion.

Geir, surely this is a simple matter, the law is clear, the girl child killed her brother, she must go to the Ice. It will be easier for us all if she goes now, not later. You must think of Melea.

Geir smiled brutally at him.

Will you break oath twice, Koral, who swore he did not hunt the Ilex? You will do nothing brother he spat until I return.

Then Geir strode through them all, past the village and the pyre of his grandfather, moving to the shadow of the mountain like a mountain cat to its lair.

Koral watched him bitterly.

Fool, fool, fool. he hissed.

Melea did not hear the blackbirds call the morning home, she had fallen into a deep uncomplicated sleep. It was Genna who watched them, fascinated by their bright unblinking eyes & the notes of their strange music. Genna contemplated this mystery while listening to her brother twist & dart with rage through the room. He would not be still though she had called & called him. She had tried to explain that the walls could no longer hurt them, they had come to the end of their journey, they were safe. He would not listen, hurtling furiously through the air. Beside her Melea’s sleep changed, Genna felt it. Melea dreamed in a flawless crystal world of searching for a bright feather, a first silver arc, a sky of green & amber. Across an empty void she heard a single voice cry imperiously It was lethal to you, child, such love. Melea could not understand it, in this underworld of glass & ice she sought an inner reflection & found none. Far above her, crossing relentlessly, she heard the talons of some large bird raking the roof of ice. The Elders came down to her & laid her gently on the alter, they cut her throat with a small silver chiselled knife. Her throat ached but there was no blood at all. The dream‑truth came to her suddenly and brutally: no longer would she sit in the circle of women weaving the threads of the making spells. Spells of the making would elude her now. It was pride she knew, but it hurt, the loss of the great magic. Beneath her dream a newer current stirred, she could not see it, only feel the rich warmth of a presence she had never known. It swam towards her: a figure in dark translucent clothes & she felt warm again. The Crone sat by her now. Melea felt secure again, dark knowledge or light knowledge, it was not a question of choice, merely necessity. She sighed in her sleep & turned waking to find Genna staring at her with an uncharacteristically bright eye for a child new born. This child would not go lightly anywhere, thought Melea and she picked her up & smiled. After she had fed the child Melea rose carefully from her bed & braided her hair. She fumbled beneath her bed for her box of herbs, paints & compounds given to her by her mother on the day she had joined with Geir. She was careful in her selection of colour; defying all the traditional prescriptions she chose for gaiety & life, fully aware that this small gesture would mark the first step in a war of attrition. With care for her aching body she moved towards the door of her mother’s birthing hut & sat down to attend to the laborious task of shaping the symbols of her decision. She shaped the first phase of the moon in red, etching a red owl above it, for the second phase she had chosen a rare deep purple & she squandered a lifetime’s supply on it, using the cat of the mountain as its name, at the third phase she hesitated but then she chose black, a heresy, and above it she painted with a kind of infinite tenderness the long green coiling sea‑snake & for the last crescent she chose gold, glory of the morning was its village name. Above the last phase she drew the simple rune of infinity.

Ayra had walked for two days across the hinterland to visit her youngest daughter, Melea, The journey was tiring but it had afforded her the time & solitude in which to contemplate Melea’s situation. Of all her children Melea had been the least tractable and it had come as something of a shock to Ayra when she had agreed to join Geir without resistance. Perhaps she knew something of the man that Ayra did not, so much would now depend on him. The news of Melea’s troubled birth, her refusal to yield up the child for judgement and her withdrawal into moon solitude had travelled the village network like spring grass fire and just as dangerously. Ayra sighed and wondered if she could prevail upon Melea to change her decision. It seemed unlikely. There are some not fashioned to yield she thought, not for the first time. Their lives pound through them relentlessly & within their wake they leave currents of turmoil and trouble. Such was the fate of Melea. Ayra wished she loved the child less, but within her heart she had always known that Melea was the pulse of her heart, the acushyla of her being.

In her hut Melea slept again, knowing that she needed to conserve and renew her energy for the battle to come. Once again the Great Mother sent her a dream, a dream of the past where Melea sat beside the chair of her natal grandmother. The old woman sat west surveying the plains of pale grass and the sun setting somewhere beyond the interior. In the shadow of her chair Melea heard the restless birds turning above the hut & her grandmother’s song; she was the mistress of the evening. At twilight everything that is not fixed is vulnerable, only the mountain moving its ancient humped shoulder into the night seemed able to transcend this law. In the dream Melea could not see her grandmother’s face, only her hands careful and still unmoving but deep like the rivers once promised them in the eternity before the coming of the Ice. Melea watched the mountain and she knew, knowledge seeping into her like water, that somehow the mountain would save them.

Beside her the child Genna lay wrapped in her own secret world. Genna sang of distant worlds, of strange hawk like birds, of green unblemished countries. She had heard the music of suns, of stars, of moons; she sang to the old ice‑heart that lay deep beneath them under the earth. And all the while she cherished the spirit of her tiny brother who had at last found peace in the music that she made. She danced them through their past lives, days and nights patterning and weaving, threading music on their shared experiences, bringing him at last to this moment in their time. He was calm, at last he understood. It was after all only a temporary gift, this the last of their existence together. He was learning to accept this weaving & it was not as difficult as she had thought it would be.

When Melea finally awoke she found her mother sitting by her bed. Ayra was tired and there was something in her eyes that spoke of profound resignation. Melea considered her for a while until the silence grew awkward.

You will have heard said Melea finally.

They say you gave birth to a two‑headed monster, that you have denied father right & made a heresy of moon‑solitude with your outlandish design.

Is that all? asked Melea contemptuously.

It is enough, replied Ayra, Enough to secure your certain death & that of this child. I do not find this amusing Melea, it is no game. I have not the heart to pick over the bones of the dead in thaw‑time searching for some sign of your passing. You must face the child’s death Melea or you must face your own as well.

Melea sat back in her bed & sighed. Genna stirred & she picked her up, unwrapping her carefully. Then she turned to her mother passing the child to her cautiously.

Here she is, look at her, your monstrous grandaughter & then tell me I can give her to the Ice Gods easily. She was not born for that. Ayra was silent. The baby’s limbs were beautifully proportioned, her face an oval of clarity.

She was an unusual child by any standard. Her eyes were remarkably clear for one so young & they had a peculiar limpid intensity.

Genna heard the song of her natal grandmother, it was of earth & planting, a clean song that had depth & complexity, a song that wanted to break free but was held back by some fear. This was a strange form of music thought Genna it must be unleashed. Whoever contained this old melody had no right to it.

Will you stand beside me at the Elder’s Council? asked Melea.

Genna heard the melody straining to escape & deftly she pulled the first chord through its net of fear.

Yes said Ayra simply I will stand with you Melea. We may all go to the Ice Gods for this child. It seems necessary to me. I had forgotten how powerful was our maternal weaving. Threads & beads of light, daughter. Melea smiled at last. It was a small victory to bring before the Gods, the matter of survival, but it was the only gift she would consent to give.

Geir endured the silence of the mountain with ease. It was supposed to be anathema to his tribe, the concept of solitude; they had built their collective tribal life on interdependence, it had been the key to their co‑existence with the Ice Gods. But it was in solitude that Geir came to find a truth that perhaps he had always known. What use are words? What use is logic he thought bitterly when the heart is always spinning lies more complex than the web of desire that surrounds us all. Within that frozen corridor of ice, deep in the mountain’s core Geir watched as each night this fragile world yielded up a thousand inconsistencies by the light of his night fire. He was trying to find the first shape of a map to himself. Each night he trudged to the surface of the mountain and watched the thin‑lipped moon grow larger. Each day he returned to an intricate battle with himself, his opponent was formidable. He was learning to accept as fact that he loved Melea & he feared this more then he feared the deliberations of the Elders. It was his first experience of self‑doubt & it confused him. Logically he knew love was like a winter storm, it would overthrow reason, unleash chaos, it was a primary forum for the loss of self‑control. And yet Geir had found that he had balanced his maturity on the fulcrum of his love for Melea.

In the mountain’s old dark heart he was beginning to find a sense of affinity a quality of strength that he could understand. On some nights he would wake to listen to his own heartbeat rising & falling like stones thrown down a deep chasm. He heard the echoes of himself somewhere. Then he would try once again to face the spectre of the spirit of his dead son who seemed to be hunting him. Of a day he would try & chart the possible webs of action & consequence. But decision eluded him. He grew tired & wondered if he had strength enough to face any of it, Melea, Koral, or the Council of Elders.

On the last night of his moon solitude he decided to keep a vigil by the night fire. For some time it seemed to him that the mountain had been trying to reach towards his spirit, was trying to translate some mystery older then time itself. As he watched the embers dying Geir began to hear a shadow of a chord, of a music that had no need of words for meaning. He stretched toward it, wondering if he slept; the music was fragile at first but rose and fell with increasing intensity. It was a dark journey this weaving towards song but the melody sang of truth & by dawn Geir had learnt it. He was awed by its complexity & yet this new truth seemed so simple. Without love, he knew now, existence was an empty charade; only love required a distinctively human leap of faith & without love man was deprived of the right to hope.

So armed Geir was finally able to face the last gift that his shaman grandfather had left him. He opened the box & tenderly withdrew the enormous feathered cape that was now his by right of blood & rite of passage. He placed it around his shoulders & chose the seven beaded armlets he would need in the trial of strength with the council. In the reflection of the ice corridor he painted the ritual symbols of his initiation & with a flourish he drew the spirit of the mountain down his left shoulder as testimony to his journey. He had put himself beyond the reach of Council & tribe. As he emerged from the mountain cave he permitted himself to smile, looking down to the valley of his birth he laughed. For the first time in his life, thought Geir, Koral will now have good reason to lose all of his spectacular temper.

What is it? Genna pleaded with her brother but he had withdrawn far beyond her. His absence was almost as terrifying as the music that thundered & clashed above her incessantly. There was no rhythm, no structure to these sounds, Genna felt as if they were trying to hurt her. She pleaded with her twin‑self again, his small spirit seething in fury. What is the noise? Genna begged. She wanted to cry badly but her grandmother’s song had been silenced by the other song & Genna was afraid to disturb some fragile perilous balance. It is hatred, her brother whispered to her from a far distance, hatred & fear, they will enjoy killing us. Genna felt the assembly of Elders gathering momentum. She began to understand the problem that lay ensnared at the core of this barbaric music. It was all major chords, each struggling to overcome the other. A macabre scherzo, it had no central balance; it did not seem to know that it needed the fierce & delicate fire of the minor chords, nor did it understand reciprocity; how one note will set the other trembling with the possibility of life & then bring it to birth fully, shaping form, dance & motion. It began to annoy her & she reached within herself to find a counter melody.

Above her Melea stood unflinching & Genna marvelled that the Council could not hear the sheer constancy of Melea’s song. She sang of a waterfall, of movement in its perfect chaotic cadence, repeating each chord in a new key returning effortlessly to itself again & again in order to renew itself. Among the Elders Genna noted there was a man with red striking hair whose song was more powerful than his brothers, it was deceptively loud thought Genna, for underneath its strength came a song more skilful in design. It reminded her of a watersnake attacking itself, driving itself forcibly to new heights of ferocity.

Will you yield judgement to us, Melea? Koral’s voice was quiet. The Elders sat in silence.

I will yield nothing, Koral, nothing.

Then you must cede judgement to Geir. And he in turn must yield to the Council. Koral’s voice had taken a dangerous twist, Melea knew it well.

Are you still a snivelling child, headman that I must repeat myself? Shall I teach you again. I will not yield.

Koral moved towards her, she had been an irritating child; he should have foreseen how dangerous a woman she would become in maturity. That fool Geir had yet to beat her into submission. He was almost as annoyed with Ayra, the old woman should have had more sense, she had not the strength of mind for this game. He smiled at them both, attempting a paternal stance that immediately disgusted Melea.

Woman have you considered the difficulties of your circumstances?

I have Melea interrupted him and I have considered the traditional right of the Elders to judge this matter. You have none, this matter lays between the Great Mother & I.

There was an audible stir at this statement. It was a most unusual case & the young woman was forcing matters to an unpleasant head. One of the younger men moved towards Melea decisively. Melea pointed at the circle of black she had etched around her mother & child.

No living man has crossed that threshold, kinsman, if you attempt it I will not await vengeance of the Great Mother I will kill you now.

Before she could complete her threat, and Koral had absolutely no doubt that she would, the circle of Elders began to murmur in anticipation. Koral turned & saw the tall figure of Geir approaching the village. He turned back to Melea who was shading her eyes against the sun in order to see Geir more clearly.

Woman Koral said venomously Your judgement approaches.

Yes Melea agreed calmly he does.

Genna heard the song of her father long before he arrived at the Council. She had heard it many times before but never had she heard it shaped with such power & clarity. It rang through the air & it demanded an answer to its question. Her mother’s song danced between its crests & lows like a bird catching wind drifts. Here at last was harmony, but for Koral whose song clawed towards fury.

Geir stopped at the edge of their circle & smiled directly at the headman. His smile was irreverent, taunting & Koral began to recognise the psychic strength that had grown in his old opponent.

Koral exploded Brother by what right do you appear in this council as shaman to this tribe?

By right of dark moon passage Geir replied Headman will you try me by the hinterland of the Ice Gods. I am more than ready for my Gods, Koral, are you?’

Geir turned slowly, surveying the gathering, feeling the web of the poisonous air; he saw the brief bright flame in Melea’s eyes, and he judged each man present by their ability to meet his eye. Behind him the sun receded by the mountain. The day was dying. Geir continued to survey them with a laconic contempt.

Well tribe‑brothers, is there not one among you who will contest my right to shaman? If so I would know it now, not later. It is past time I fought the spirit of the Ice.

A long silence greeted his words. It grew. Few things change, thought Geir, here at the edge of the world. He watched Koral struggle to control the last of his composure. Stepping forward Koral spat at him viciously.

I suppose you have come to put this woman & her spawn beyond the Law? Your grandfather was like minded with his son.

Yes replied Geir, he was as wise as you are stupid. I will take the weight of my dead son as I took the weight of my dead father. I have strength enough for both. It is my blood right. He waited. I will take your silence as consent, my brothers, shall I?

He was slightly shocked to hear a woman reply.

Well said Geir, Melea is fortunate in you & it is past time for you to draw the mantle of your family’s cloak about you.

At the outer edge of their circle Selene stood, backlit by the rays of the departing sun. The tribe fell into an awed silence, few men could recall her last visit, some of the young said that she existed only in legend, that her power was no more. Selene noted the timbre of the gathering, felt their fear and anxiety; she watched the shift of eye & limb & she allowed the silence to grow accordingly. But the tension of the gathering was broken by a startled cry from the child Ayra held in her arms who began to sob as if her heart were broken. With the coming of the old woman Genna had heard echoes of the largest song of her dreaming life; she could barely contain it; it sang of the measured stately cadence of time itself, it shone like a jewel as it danced across the yawning darkness & it changed everything it touched transforming worlds, shaping new threads on the loom & pulling them in & out of existence. Within nothing was ever lost, all energies found a new meaning. Genna had let it sweep through her like a great sea‑wave, she had yielded happily to its weaving but when the tide receded she found that it had taken her brother & without him for the first time she felt the burden of a great loneliness. She would not be consoled, her sobs rose & fell over the gathering.

What have you done to her, Melea demanded of Selene I have sworn three generations to the loom for the safe‑keeping of this child!

I have released the spirit of her brother Selene replied calmly I have opened the gateway of time for him. In this incarnation he learnt the first lesson of trust again. He need not suffer more. Selene turned to Geir His spirit will rest easy now. Too long has his troubled heart hunted this village. The spirit of the Ilex is at peace Geir. Your long vigil is over.

In the silence Genna continued to cry. It was only when Ayra handed the child across the circle to Geir that she finally subsided.
She is lonely Selene said simply comfort her

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