The below story was written as a creative response to Pemulwuy Weeatunga’s The Fethafoot Chronicles: Nyarla and the Circle of Stones. I recommend his works!
By wite reckoning, this year is 4518, four and a half millennia since the man called Jesus tried bringing compassion to the harsh and punitive societies of his time. Like Multuggerah and Pemulwuy, he fought to keep the balance. This story is about how our hero, who kept our balance, began life and the two-spirits who saved her.
2,000 years ago the weather had already changed with the land scorched in year-long summers or submerged under year-long floods. Mother tried to wash herself clean. Our warrior began life with horror heaped upon horror but became our saviour. She could see more with one eye than a clan does with twenty.
June 2518, Bundjalung Country
On Dreaming walkabouts the spirits had shown Babarguri many changes over the millennia. He never told the elders how often he walked the silver path through the Dreaming, that would make too much trouble, but what he had seen was a revelation. Long ago there had been ‘blaks’ and ‘wites’ but no big floods and no big fires. There were so many animals and plants and Mother was serene. Returning from one walkabout he saw different parts in all the faces of the clan: eye, hair and skin colour, shapes of eyes and noses and lips. He would never have considered that these things could divide a people. He was glad he never lived in those old times.
Babarguri had been training with Fethafoot clan elders since he was 5. He had shown natural instinct for teasing and tricking the other children and he sometimes out-smarted the adults too. But, for all that, he was quite lazy in his studies and didn’t improve quickly. The elders decided to send him on his first mission at 17, young for a first mission but not unheard of, to help him find his place.
His mission was to investigate someone bringing imbalance to her own and other tribes. The elders were worried. Fethafoot powers weren’t diminished in these times – they cannot be diminished – but the constant swings from fire to flood and back made navigating songlines difficult, as if there were people always calling out your name or pushing you sideways as you tried to get to a safe place. He was to investigate a shameless one gaining power, dark power. The elders instructed Babarguri to work with one of the local clevermen.
Babarguri left camp that morning to sing the way to the cleverman in southern Bundjalung country. Not far but he wanted to announce his arrival in advance. Investigating was only ever the preamble. There’s no need for hurry – just good observation. He found a cave and sat cross-legged on the damp earth. He allowed the falling raindrops outside to build a tapestry of distance around him. He sang the mouth of the cave and the rain, the puddles and the creek and the mountain. Singing across the flooded plains and up the hills he found the tribal cleverman waiting for him.
‘You have entered Bundjalung lands. State your purpose, young Fethafoot.’
‘I come to investigate a woman approaching your lands. I am Babarguri. May I enter Bundjalung lands, elder?’
‘I am Gulihi. You may enter. I await your arrival, Fethafoot Babarguri.’
Babarguri sang himself back to the mouth of the cave and wondered. There was a strange tingling as he spoke with elder Gulihi. His face was open and smiling. Perhaps the clan had already made contact. Babarguri stood and began his walk.
Like many community entrances, this one was a cave. The cleverman was waiting for him there and again he felt a strange tingling.
Perhaps this cleverman has unusual powers.
Babarguri approached with eyes downcast and presented a small gift in honour of his host. Gulihi accepted it but his raised eyebrow and smile went unnoticed.
‘Good day, young Fethafoot. Welcome to our camp. This way’, said the old magic user.
‘Thank-you, elder’, said the young warrior.
Gulihi led him down the entrance tunnel. Their footfalls were gradually joined by the sound of talking and singing and their way was lit by biolight. Bubarguri’s Fethafoot training allowed his ears to guide him while his eyes adjusted to the dim interior.
‘I have prepared food while we discuss the investigation.’
‘Thank-you, elder.’ Babarguri could feel warmth in the old man’s words.
Gulihi sat in a corner by some leaf-wrapped food where biolights were bright enough for eating.
‘Young Fethafoot, may I address you by name?’
‘You may call me Gulihi, Babarguri.’
Respect shown and returned, the men discussed the investigation.
Searching for Resolution
The pouring rain again! Fire, rain, fire, rain!
She dragged long fingers with chipped nails through her ragged hair, slicing her scalp. Light red mixed with the rain and ran down her face and back. She had reached halfway through Bundjalung before her Dreaming path wavered and she was back to trudging through the mud and rain. Her last sacrifice didn’t last long. It was too old and she didn’t have enough time to prepare it properly before use. Yesterday she identified two new-borns with their umbilical cords just cut, still covered in their mother’s primal juices.
With those two she could refresh her own body and gain the freedom to part-live in the Dreaming. She would escape this vindictive land of men and hunger and pain, fires and heat and rain and damp. Just a few more hours and she could snatch the twins and begin her new life.
Life in the Dreaming!
Both men rose and looked toward the north-east. Magic had been used roughly, leaving splinters about like a tree hit by lightning. They glanced at each other and dashed back up toward the entrance but Gulihi touched the younger man’s arm.
‘Not that way’, he said, guiding Babarguri through a crevice and down a long thin corridor of stone.
Entering a small chamber the elder took a rock and a piece of fruit from his pouch. He crushed some of the rock in the centre of the chamber then squeezed some drops onto it. The sacred blue fire lit. They sat across from each other and began singing the Dreaming for vision. Gulihi reached across and tapped Babarguri twice on the forehead and they were looking through the lands toward the origin of the broken magic.
A woman was struggling through the soaking lands near Wiyabal carrying two small bundles. Determined and moving faster than the average warrior, she would make the local caves in short order.
‘Should we go?’ asked Babarguri.
‘There ya go, little bundles a life. You my ticket away from horror. Nah don’ cry.’ Buwulmang took two pieces of bush wattle bark from her pouch and placed one in each mouth. As their crying became sucking noises she built the sacred fire with its blue flame. She felt the approach of men and snatched up the nearest babe, tossing his coverings aside. Dangling the boy over the flame by one leg she sang his name.
‘Bulajana! Bulajana! Bulajana!’ she called.
The piece of bark fell from his tiny mouth into the flames and just as he began his first cry, she slashed his throat. She poured his blood around the fire. His life force was held above the flames and she sang it into her. Buwulmang flung the carcass away as the baby’s essence merged into hers.
The dust in the air glimmered blue, the grey stone walls were translucent, her skin sparkled like stars on a calm ocean. Dreaming paths opened to her mind in every direction.
It worked. I did it!
She snatched up the second babe as two men exited the Dreaming path just outside the cave entrance.
‘Buladubah! Buladubah! Buladubah!’ she called.
The bark slid as the baby’s spittle oozed.
An intake of breath.
The flint blade poised.
A rush of air.
Movement in the corner of her eye.
The gurgle of a baby’s cry.
Buwulmang slashed at the baby’s throat just as her arm holding the babe filled with terrifying pain. Her call for the second soul contorted into a primordial scream as she collapsed to the floor.
Two men stared down at her laying in the dust and blood.
Panic filled her.
‘Shameless one’, said the younger one, ‘according to lore you are given one chance to redeem your shameless acts. Children you have slain to attain power and now justice is with you.’
Buwulmang’s right arm was still there but all sensation gone. Shock congealed into furious resentment. Burning frustration twisted into rage. The old man was holding his hand over the baby’s right eye. Blood was leaking from between his fingers.
No! My chance gone! Stolen! By MEN!
The young man kneeled beside her: ‘Shameless one. This is your last chance. Release your fury and pain. Accept what you have done to these newborns. Have shame.’
A little closer, young male, and my blade’ll have ya! Sad eyes but they should be happy. He should be laughing –
She used all her power to twist toward him. Her fist clutching the blade flew through the air and into the bloodied dust by his left foot.
He moved –
Babarguri swung his woomera into her temple and her Dreaming on this Earth ended. The old cleverman waited for her last breath to exit and he called the dead baby’s name. The young Fethafoot lifted the small body from the floor and held it over the blue flames.
‘Bulajana! Bulajana! Bulajana!’ The elder’s tears joined blood and dust.
The baby boy’s essence left the magic woman and returned to his body one last moment then he too joined the next Dreaming.
Questions and Answers
Dreaming travel was even smoother now. The tingling between the two men became a thrum and they stepped almost instantly into the small rock chamber. They both looked at each other, startled.
‘Gulihi, is this link normal?’ asked Babarguri but the old man seemed distracted. His face seemed to grow an even deeper shade of black and with Fethafoot training could see the man’s pulse quicken.
‘Yes, perfectly natural. Let’s tend to the baby downstairs.’
Wiyabal flowed with grief and horror and fury when the two men returned with one-eyed Buladubah. Gulihi gave a short account before speaking with the elders. The young Fethafoot seemed taken with the infant. Her parents were found but lost to grief. The clan would need to help them survive. They could no longer care for their lone remaining child.
Something else was bothering the young Fethafoot warrior. On finding the shameless one, hand poised to slash the innocent child’s throat for mere power, Gulihi and he seemed to flow as one. They became one being with four arms, four legs and four eyes. Even now Babarguri could see through the old magic user’s eyes and hear through his ears. He could even feel his stomach rumbling. He could also feel, an urge?
Before he could identify that feeling the elders returned and placed hands on the babe. They felt a core of power in the child and requested she be cared for by the cleverman. He glanced at the young warrior, yearning for something. The clan thanked the two warriors and preparations were made to retrieve the two bodies from the cave.
‘How can I feel this way? I’m not a father and she is not my baby.’
‘Connection of the spirit transcends human definition.’ The elder could not stop the corners of his mouth from twitching.
‘You love me.’ Babarguri said slowly.
The old man stood in patient silence.
‘I love you’. Realisation blossomed in the young man.
At this the clever man looked the warrior in the eye: ‘What is love but connection?’
His smile beamed.
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