My first memory is of crouching by the fire, watching my mother throw rune stones. The woman who had come to see us kept her face covered but my mother called her by name as though she could see through cloth. Perhaps she could.
I was fascinated by the runes and longed to feel them in my fingers but I knew to do so would be asking for punishment, swift and sure. Once, and once only, I had touched those runes, gently taking the one which looked like a star into my hand.
“Ior,” my mother said, carefully taking it from me. Then she slapped me hard across the face.
“You do not ever touch my runes,” she said. “They are mine, they carry my energy and to defile them with yours is to put me in danger. Do you understand?”
I stared at her silently, willing the tears away. “I want to learn,” I said simply. She narrowed her eyes and peered at me closely.
“Ior,” she said again. “The water beast. It represents the World Serpent which circles the world at the bottom of the ocean. The Serpent is a dangerous beast; when it moves it can cause the earth to shake and the waters of the ocean to drown the land, ” she said.
“And yet, it is necessary, essential to the growth of crops, the cycle of birth and death, the entire continuation of the world. Even if it could be destroyed the void which followed would be worse than the Serpent’s continuing existence. What does that tell you?” she demanded.
I had not thought to be questioned and took a moment to ponder.
“That Ior has two natures, much like the beasts of the water who also walk on the land.”
There was a pause while my mother studied me.
“So wise for one so young,” she said. “Ior symbolizes the unavoidable hardships and problems with which we must learn to live so that our lives can be tolerable. When it appears it is a reminder that we should not worry about things we cannot change. Sometimes a loss can be transformed into something new.”
Many nights followed that first one as I sat at my mother’s knee while she taught me the art of reading the future. I learned to predict when babies would arrive, how close an approaching raiding party might be and how many would die when they arrived. I predicted storms, and crop failure, and marriages. Many years went by and I became even better than she at reading the stones.
As her health failed I gradually took over her duties in the tribe. Late one evening she called me to her bedside and asked that I read for her. I drew a circle on the dirt floor and cast the runes into it.
“What do they say?” she asked.
“Once more,” I said, and cast again. Then again. And again.
When the Death rune continued to fall from my hand I knew that she did not have much longer among us.
I did not see the rune for Transformation which fell behind it every time.
The rune stones did not show my fate on the night my mother died. But when she rose from her death bead and took them away from me, I read it in her eyes.