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       A woman sat beneath the night sky on a throne of granite, a baby cradled in her lap.  She peered down at the sleeping child and gathered the silk wrappings more closely about it.  All were gone, the people, the plants, and the animals of earth, sky, and water.  Only Valaria and the child remained.  The prophecy was fulfilled.  Now they too could leave guided by the star that would take them to the beyond and to another home.

       Valaria had packed food, water, and clothes, and jewels for trade or barter.  Everything else remained.  She had passed through her process of grieving, yet her heart felt weighted down by loss. As she gazed into the night sky she thought once more of her husband slain, even as she had been giving birth -"a world and a husband," she thought “gone in too short a time.” At least there was the child.  She gathered the bundle of silk closer to her, unbuttoned the round silver clasp at her throat, so that her cloak slipped from her shoulders, and placed the carrying device over her right shoulder.  Setting the baby in its melon-shaped pouch, the newborn nestled toward the warmth of her mother's stomach and beneath her breasts.  Then Valaria rose, replaced the fur and wool cloak about her and walked toward the horse.  Brahka stood as still as the granite throne Valaria had just left, waiting patiently for his mistress to mount. 

            The night was cold and dark, but the guiding star was brighter than her sisters and brothers, having left her a bit of their light when they departed.  Before she picked up the reins, Valaria adjusted her cloak so that it covered Brahka's rump and long red mane, creating a tent of warmth for the baby and a blanket for the horse.  As she urged Brahka forward, Valaria turned to take one last look at what had been her kingdom.  Only the dead would remain to see the land merge into itself once again, untamed, uncultivated.  The kingdom had been a temporary gift from the gods and as a gift it had been returned as promised.  She wondered how many miles they must travel before finding another home.  She had only been told she must follow the star; it would guide her.  Her people had scattered in the four directions to other beyonds, and she sent up a prayer for their safety and blessings for an easy journey.

            Then they set forward, the star at an angle just beyond them.  They would travel at night and sleep by day under the sun's warmth.

            To pass the time, and as a reminder to herself, Valaria decided to recite the stories of her people beginning with the story of creation.  As was tradition, she announced it formally. “The Coming of Light,” a pause, a breath in and out, “The First Story of Creation.”  She had an image of the circle, of how the people leaned in closer, sat stiller, waited, listening.

            "Mother Pastreius," she told the sleeping infant and Brahka, his ears pointed backwards to catch her words, "was as old and gnarled as wood that has drifted onto shore and bathed many summers under the sun's hot rays.  But she loved to stand outside letting the sun soak her joints and play a game that involved throwing a round ball among twenty-four stars to knock them down.  Mother Pastreius was particularly fond of this game for after she tossed the ball she could sit, wait for it to smash into the stars knocking them flat, and then wait for the ball to roll back to her, then, try her luck again.  "This is a good game

for an ancient woman," she often chuckled to herself, "some time to relax, some time to exercise, not too strenuous."  The ball smacked against the first star and it tipped onto its brothers and sisters pushing them to the ground. "The woman doesn't know her own strength," they muttered, and then straightened themselves.  The ball started its leisurely roll back to Mother Pastreius.  It stopped at her feet and waited to be picked up.  She stood, then stooped, lifting the ball and wrapping her hands around it. 

            The baby whimpered in its sleep and Valaria felt its small body move ever so slightly within the silken covers.  She stopped, waiting to see if the infant settled. Bending her head towards her, the mother whispered, "The next part is the most important little one, so listen carefully."

            Again Mother Pastreius rolled the ball, but this time it struck the edge of one star turning it on its side and it in turn struck two other sister stars on their points.  The impact as each hit the other caused all three to tumble from point to point leaving behind their brothers and sisters and tumbling away from the game.  Enchanted with their rotating movement they continued until mother creation opened her eyes to see what was taking the ball so long to return, and noticed the confused stars and the distressed ball.  "Ball roll back to me; stars be still!" she commanded."  The ball rushed back and the stars moved to replace the holes created by their sisters.  "Ball, demanded Mother Pastreius, when she again held it in her hand, three sister stars are missing."  The ball did not know what to say.  Was it his fault that he had struck them at an angle or Mother Pastreius's for tossing him so hard.  "Ball, I am waiting."  He decided on the simplest reply, after all, she had asked where they were, not what had happened.   "I don't know, they simply tumbled away," he responded.  He waited for Mother Pastreius's reaction, when she said nothing he rolled back.  Instead, she was looking sharply at the remaining stars.  They shuffled uncomfortably, hoping they compensated for the three that had left.

              "Twenty-one, twenty-one only."  Mother Pastreius tossed the ball in the air thinking, and each time it smacked her palm that number resounded in her head.  She could send the ball to retrieve the three or she could play with only twenty-one.  The ball had dropped and again rested on her palm as she formed the number twenty-one.  She would play!  This would make the game more challenging, more difficult.  She would need a lustier throw to knock all the stars.  First perhaps, she should expand the ball, and gave it more fullness.  It felt itself plump out, making it feel a little more pompous and important than before.

            Resting it in the palm of her left hand and supporting it with her right Mother Pastreius swung the ball back then forward and released it from her grasp.  It went hurling toward the stars and the speed at which it struck sent eight more tumbling after their sisters.  This time Mother Pastreius kept her eyes fixed on the ball when she sank into the chair.  She saw the eight scampering, cart wheeling from point to point after each other; the ball poised, unsure what to do.  She jumped up a woman of one hundred again and the strength of her command to the retreating stars blew the remaining ones after.  "Come back this instant!  I order you back!  Back to the game!"  But the stars had only known standing up and falling down, the sensation of tumbling was new and exhilarating and they continued until they were out of sight and the ball stood mournfully alone.  When Mother Pastreius stopped shouting she noticed him conspicuous on the green playing field.  His new size did not allow him to hide within the blades of green grass.  "Ball?  No, don't roll back to me, and don't just lie there; find my stars and bring them home.  I am too old to traverse worlds seeking them, but you are still young.  Here, I will give you more fullness so you do not wear away.  NOW GO QUICKLY!"

     When the ball finally found them, they were resting in the night sky of an empty land, too tired to go further.  Their lights twinkled brightly as they breathed peacefully, in and out, in and out. 

     In the mountains beyond, our ancestors walked beside caravans loaded with pots and pans, nails, dishes, clothes, also weary from the miles they had traveled.  The brightness of the stars drew their attention, and some shouted pointing it out to others. “Look! Look!”  "Twenty- four,” someone, who had been counting, called out.  “Twenty-four stars,” the number echoed from one to the other.  Everything stopped. The people stood, staring at the night sky, a gentle breeze moving, pulling clothes and teasing locks.  Finally, someone said what they all were realizing, “They form a lion. See the mane, the paws, the tail?  And in his mouth a ribbon of scrolls!”   Joy that had seemed to have vanished, to have left them returned, and as it expanded tiredness fell away, for finally what they feared might never happen had.  At last they had come home.

    "The ball, charged with returning the stars to Mother Pastreius, became our sun.  The rest of the story you know. For now the twenty-three have returned leaving the twenty-fourth as our guide.  And so, ends, said Valarius, the first story of creation.

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