Two days ago, the word had gone out: A child! A new child is born to the House!
And Ingarra te Balamont had rejoiced.
Yesterday, the call had come: couples willing to act as Guides should submit their names.
And Ingarra and Beda, her Chosen, had made their interest known.
Today, finally, as the sun sank behind the hills, the ceremony began. Seated upon one of the amphitheatre’s sleek stone benches, Ingarra could scarcely contain her excitement. On the stage below, the three-day-old infant – a girl – was carried forward to be formally acknowledged by the members of the House.
First would come the announcement of her name, thus far known only to her parents and to Unter, the current Head of House.
Next, those in attendance would work together to create the child’s hlao.
Then her Sorting would reveal the gyftes bestowed upon her by the Power.
And finally, with the baby’s name and gyftes publicly proclaimed, and the golden blessing of a hlao encircling her wrist, the child’s Guides would be announced – the specially selected couple who would help raise her to maturity.
As twilight deepened, Ingarra directed more of her energy into the luminths that lit the stage below, and sensed others around her doing the same. In the strengthened glow, the baby’s mother was clearly visible as she transferred her sweet burden into the waiting arms of Tetralanna, First Speaker for House Balamont.
Tetralanna cradled the child, and Ingarra felt a flash of longing that was close to jealousy. For long and long, she and Beda had been placing their names on the list of potential Guides, eager to care for a little one, now that their own sons were grown. How long had it been since she’d felt the downy softness of a baby’s birth-curls against her cheek? But Guides were selected based on the child’s unique needs. Mere desire wasn’t enough. And it seemed to Ingarra that these opportunities were occurring far less frequently, of late. Back when she’d borne her sons, no phase of the moon passed without several in the House giving birth. But now…
New movement on the stage captured Ingarra’s attention. The baby’s father leaned down and spoke softly into Tetralanna’s ear, then stepped back, drawing his Chosen with him to take their place beside Unter.
Tetralanna looked out over the assembly.
The tiered rows of seated House members, already quiet, became utterly silent, every head turned with grave attention toward the child in First Speaker’s arms. Only the whisper of the rising night breeze could be heard. When Tetralanna spoke, her gyfte-enhanced voice easily reached every ear. “I present to you our newest kinswoman, Gredin te Balamont.”
A ripple of pleased reaction swept through the crowd: smiles and nods, even murmurs as some repeated the name.
Ingarra beamed in approval, savoring the sound of it: Gredin.
“Rise, now,” Tetralanna directed. “Join your efforts with mine as we entreat the Power to manifest itself on this child’s behalf.”
A slight rustle whispered through the air as the assembled House members rose to their feet and composed themselves for the effort. Ingarrajoined hands with Beda, and Focused intently on the ancient chant.
At first there was only darkness…darkness…
And then, high above the child, Ingarra spied a flicker of gold.
The flicker became a wavering gleam.
The gleam steadied in midair above three-day-old Gredin, coalescing into the slender ribbon that would become her hlao.
Gracefully, it descended until its end touched the child’s inner wrist, where the lifebeat throbbed just beneath the skin. Then, like flowing honey, it encircled the tiny wrist, absorbing into itself until there was only a deceptively slender band adorning the child’s wrist, forming the most delicate of bracelets. And thus it would remain until Gredin reached her maturity, when it would again unfurl to its full length, to be worn thereafter around her brow, knotted at her left temple, its ends trailing free.
All adult Vennans wore just such a hlao, their sacred connection to the Power itself. And now this little one had joined their ranks.
When everyone had resumed their seats, Tetralanna’s rich voice broke the stillness. “Graced by the Power, this child is now ready to reveal the gyftes she embodies. Mikata, come forward for the Sorting.”
Ingarra smiled up at Beda in anticipation, and there was love in his answering gaze.
Ingarra cherished her own gyfte of Crafting, but she sometimes thought that Sorting might be an equally delightful gyfte. Mikata’s happiness was apparent as he approached the infant. He placed one hand upon Gredin’s head, and the other around the wrist that bore her new-wrought hlao as he prepared to examine the gyftes bestowed upon House Balamont’s youngest member..
At his touch, the baby relaxed in Tetralanna’s arms.
In Ingarra’s experience, Sorting was a purposeful but not overlong process. This time, however, Mikata stayed poised over the child for so long that Ingarra felt a thread of disquiet form. What was the delay? Was something amiss with the man? Or, worse, was something amiss with the child?
When Mikata finally withdrew his hands, the child emitted a happy chirp that drew a chuckle from the crowd.
Mikata smiled as he turned to face them. “All of the normal minor gyftes are present,” he began, and Ingarra wondered impatiently why he even bothered to say those words, since it was always so. “Of them, her gyfte of Service is particularly pronounced, which will be a benefit and comfort to the House.”
Ingarra waited anxiously for him to continue
“In addition, Gredin bears two major gyftes of unusual strength and promise. The first of them is gyfte of Speech.”
“As to the other,” Mikata said, with an odd look on his face, “I have never witnessed such a gyfte before, and I am unable to identify it.”
A disconcerted murmur rose from the people seated around Ingarra, and she shared their sentiment. A gyfte that the House’s finest Sorter couldn’t name? That was unsettling. The Power was the source of all gyftes, and so there must be a purpose to this unknown ability, but how could anyone train Gredin in the use of something that couldn’t be recognized?
Tetralanna shifted the child in her arms and the baby began to fuss, and then to cry in earnest.
“The child is certainly speaking now,” someone joked as the baby continued to wail.
Beda smiled at the jest, but it was all that Ingarra could do to stay in her seat, so strong was her impulse to rise and comfort the child.
With soft apologies, the mother took the baby from Tetralanna. Wails turned to whimpers, then to tiny hiccups, then to contented silence as her mother put the babe to breast.
“And thus was peace restored,” Mikata said with gentle humor. “While it lasts, I will complete today’s ceremony by appointing Gredin’s Guides.”
Ingarra whispered, “Oh, Beda…”
He took her hand in his. “There is no harm in hoping.”
Mikata spoke formally, his voice full and steady. “Gredin te Balamont, you have been graced by the Power and welcomed by your House. Now we call forth two House-kindred to aid your mother and father in the raising of you, from this day until the unfurling of your hlao.” Mikata looked up and out, scanning the faces of his seated kinsmen, seeking, seeking… “There you are,” he said at last, with a warm smile. “Beda, Ingarra, come down to greet your new charge.”
And Ingarra surged to her feet, clinging to Beda’s hand, filled to overflowing with joy.