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A Christmas Gift

Merry (belated) Christmas!

I hope that you were and are able to spend time with family and friends this week.  As a Christian, I marvel at Christmas.  The thought of an all-powerful God even deigning to acknowledge lower life-forms is staggering, much less the incredible mercy he showed when he, who owed us nothing, made a willing sacrifice.  When I give gifts at Christmas, I am always pleased to give freely, but I could never come close to the grace that was shown to us when Jesus was born in this world.

Today I have a Christmas gift for you.  Since Christmas is a celebration of birth and hope, I have a passage from this year's NaNo about a birth.  It is rough and largely unedited, I just tweaked a few things.  Hope you enjoy!

The light was soft.  It filtered through the narrow gap in the roof of the cave-like enclosure that housed their village, warm and gentle.  The First Elder smiled and nodded at Delo's parents.  Together, the three of them approached the Lifebed.
Delo watched from the small group of friends and family that had come with the procession.  Her parents looked lithe next to the much reformed body of the First Elder.  They were no larger or smaller than he, but the subtle lines across the surface of their bodies had been folded and pulled many times less than his, and were stark in comparison.  His lines crossed and recrossed again, twisting and splitting so often that, to trace one from head to foot would be as futile as trying to catch a lightflier with no bait or net.  It made him seem fragile, as if he had been a single thing, broken and reassembled infinite times.
They were at the edge of the Lifebed now, the sacred ground surrounded by a ring of ever present guards.  The Fifth Elder, the First Mother, would not have come herself.  Indeed, few but the guards and the Elders themselves ever saw her.  But her second smiled broadly at his perfect ring of guards.  They closed the circle immediately once the small group passed onto the granular surface of the Lifebed.  As if moved by one force, every other guard snapped around, facing the three inside their circle, the great harpoon crossbows they wore slung across their backs swaying slightly with the abrupt change in momentum.  And the line again was perfect and still.
Delo squatted briefly and stretched her newly reformed legs.  She had really gone farther than she should have in the last light, and had needed to spend longer in the Reformery because of it.  She stood up.  All the kinks and stiff places were gone, and the surface of her body was no longer sticky, a dangerous sign of exposure to the wet air for too long.  But she didn't think she would ever get used to the feeling of being stretched beyond the point of feeling, and then suddenly snapped back into place.
The three had reached the center of the Lifebed now, and the First Elder spoke to her parents, although his voice was loud enough for all present to hear.  "At the beginning of this light, we welcome this new life, this new Neif, as all were welcomed.  May this Neif learn all that it can, serve the Elders and the village to the best of its ability, and honor those that brought it from the Lifebed."  
Delo's parents bowed at their heads and waist in recognition, to give great honor. Delo and those standing with her merely bowed their heads, which was less formal.  Then, the group of onlookers, the guards, the three in the center of the Lifebed, and the entire village stopped what they were doing and spoke as one, as the great ball of light pulled itself out of the trees and into full view in the gap of the enclosure.  
"The First Elder arose to an unknown bidding.  Four Elders arose at the bidding of the First.  The Neif arose at the bidding of the five Elders.  Perhaps today the First Elder will meet the one who bade him into existence."
While the words had once held wonder in them for Delo, they were rote this light, as they had become every time the great burning circle crested the even greater trees that surrounded their village.  Raising her head, she looked towards the First Elder and her parents, and set her jaw.  This was the part she was not looking forward to.  
Her parents faced each other, removed their craftsman gloves, and folded them under their belts beside their identity cords.  And then, the scandalous part, Delo thought, they joined hands.  As they faced each other, her father took her mother's right hand in his left, and her mother took her father's right hand in her left.  There was nothing wrong with joining hands, per se, and her new sibling could not gain life without its occurrence.  But she despised the thought of it in public display.  Her parents loved each other, and the joining of hands was a part of that, certainly. But why was its public display necessary for the life come into this world? Why could her parents not join hands in darkness, in private, as they did normally? She had mentioned this to her mother a few lights before, very civilly and logically, she thought, and her mother had only laughed at her, and smiled the smile that had grown bigger and bigger across her face as the Lifegiving ceremony approached.  She had told her that every Neif born to their village came from the public joining of hands, all the way up to the Elders themselves. Scowling, Delo had left their shop that light without the customary head bow of respect to her parents.  But her mother had said nothing, and indeed, acted as though nothing had happened.  She was too focused on the gifts of the future to hold grudges over the transgressions of the present.  
The First Elder, who never wore gloves, as his entire life's work depended upon the touch of his hands, raised his arms above the heads of her parents. Lightly, he touched them both at the tops of their heads.  Upon the touch of the First Elder, both her parents seemed possessed with a new, throbbing, driving, leaping energy.  They plunged their clasped hands deep into the Lifebed, and immediately pulled upwards, hands still together.  When their hands came free of the white, spilling granules, they pulled up another form.  A girl, it would seem, as there was no third glint added to that of her father's and the First Elder's ridges. Her father glanced in Delo's direction for one triumphant moment, and then beamed with joy upon his new daughter.  He had told Delo he thought she would have a sister, while she had argued that the life to come forth was more likely to be a brother.  Straitening her scowl, she approached the entrance to the Lifebed to wait for her parents and the First Elder to leave the circle.  The small group of friends and villagers that had been watching with her started to buzz softly in conversation, some milling along behind her to offer congratulations, some turning up to the path towards the village to begin their work while there was light to be had.      Delo, along with the other villagers, bowed head and waist to the First Elder as he passed.  He returned the bow of the head to them, and continued to the path up to the village, to return to the House of the Elders.  As her mother and father half lead, half dragged her new sister from the Lifebed - it was very difficult to walk on the surface of the Lifebed on legs that had never been used - every other guard twisted back around to face out from the Lifebed.  Their harpoon crossbows swung again, less menacing when they could not bee seen.  They were not to be used against other Neif, unless as a threat if one was foolhardy enough to approach the Lifebed without permission or accompaniment from the Elders.  Time and again, the guards had defended the Lifebed, the village, and the Neif themselves from invading creatures from the Outside.  Time and again, they had drove them back out of the enclosure around the village.  In the next light, Delo would be heading right out into that wet air.  
As Delo's parents approached, she adjusted her scout’s gloves on her forearms.  She reached out and grasped her sister's shoulders, catching her as she tripped and almost fell.  Her sister looked at her with a wondrous smile, as if the simplest act of stopping a fall was a feat truly miraculous.  Delo, in spite of herself, returned her smile.  Though smaller and not as wondrous, it was the only outward sign of the strange trickle of feeling she felt steadily growing in power inside her.  Delo's parents had been all smiles since the night before, and were both pulling back on their own gloves.  When they thought no one was looking, though Delo saw, they squeezed each other's hand before slipping them on.  Ducking away and pretending she had seen nothing, Delo stood and bowed at head and waist to her mother and father.  They both returned the honor, and her father leaned forward slightly to touch his forehead to hers affectionately.  Delo jerked upright, surprised, then calmed herself.  
"It is a great honor to witness this Lifegiving of my sister," she said, formal.
Her mother smiled and nodded in acknowledgment.  "Her name will be Onjen."
"Onjen," Delo repeated, feeling the name in her mouth.  "She is happier than I was on my Lifegiving light."
"Yours was filled with great drops of wet that poured in the crack and threatened to wash us all away," her father told her, his face a wry grin.  "It was fortunate we were able to construct troughs to divert the wet out of the enclosure and back to the Outside."
Delo's mother knocked her hip into him playfully as they began the walk back up to the village.  "Rakee, you left as soon as your feet were off the Lifebed.  It's a miracle you remember Delo's first light at all."
Delo’s father looked back at her, a farce of incredulity. “Was it not you, Apto, whose fleet steps were right behind mine? Our Delo’s first three lights were spent with us on those troughs. Perhaps that is why she has been so serious all this time, eh Delo?” He smiled over at her.
Delo remembered. The blinding light as her parents pulled her from the Lifebed, and then hurried shouts as the three of them rushed off, bowing to the First Elder and then skirting off in their haste. They had donned cloaks of the clear tarpaulin and rushed away. The drops of wet had stopped coming in before the end of that light, but time could not be spared lest they should start again at any moment. Words had meant nothing to her yet, but when they came, her first words were “wet,” “tension,” “trough,” and “again.” Like most new Neif, she had nearly all her words by her third dark. However, unlike most, she had spent all three of her first lights away from her parents’ dwelling. She had watched them working, and when her limbs would do her bidding, she lent her strength to theirs and that of the other craftsneif. They had constructed the system of troughs that kept the wet out of their enclosure much better than the small gangways that had been in place before. Her three lights with her parents before her training and choosing began had been swallowed up by the construction of those troughs. Delo had learned work before she ever knew the concept of play. While other new Neif spent their first three days in the company of their parents alone, in their dwellings, she had spent it learning their work, and watching the world outside the enclosure through the gap. Her earliest memories of joy had been in seeing the great shining circle trace its path along the gap, or when a winged beast would flit by, high up in the air. When her parents had tried to interest her in some bauble or even a lightflier on a lead those darks after the three of them would come home from the Reformery, she had asked them what the purpose of the thing was. Baffled, her father had exclaimed, “For amusement! For fun! To make you smile!”
She nodded back to her father. “I have only less than three hundred lights to my life yet. There is still time for me to learn what it is to smile as you do.”
Her father’s face fell a tiny bit, and then he smiled all the greater. “It seems we have finally convinced you, then.”
Her parents moved to greet and thank their friends and colleagues that had come to watch. The Third Elder was first in line, anxious to pay them honor and then scurry after the First Elder. He did not mean them disrespect, but his life was not dedicated to their study.
Delo looked at her sister, still gazing around wondrously. She was shaped the same as any other Neif, new or old, the same height, the same build. The smile had not left her face, which automatically set her apart from Delo. Also, to her disappointment, Delo noticed that her sister’s grooves seemed to curve gracefully along the surface of her head, while Delo’s were wide and largely straight, as her father’s ridges were. The surface of her body was smooth, unmarred as yet by the constant reforming. Delo’s, reformed twice as many times as any Neif her age, reminded her of the First Elder’s next to her parents as she stood next to her sister. But she did not regret the choice that caused her so much reforming.
As her parents and their friends finished giving their honors and congratulations, they turned to look back at their two daughters. One, silent and scarred. Another, unmarred, unjaded, unafraid. Uninitiated, Delo thought.
“Come, my lovely daughters,” their mother called, and their father waved his arms, beckoning them. Delo stepped forward, and Onjen watched her curiously. After a few paces, Delo noticed that her sister was not at her side.
Her father approached. “You will probably need to lead her, show her, for the first few days,” he called.
Delo looked at her sister, bewildered. How could you talk to someone who had no concept of language? There must be some way to make her understand that they must go, short of throwing the girl over her shoulder.
Delo looked down at her sisters hands, ungloved, naked for the world. She would not wear gloves until she chose her way to honor the Elders and the Neif, at the end of her training. Until then, Delo was uneasy about her nakedness. Grimacing, she reached out and took her sister’s ungloved hand. “Come with me,” she said, pulling gently and pointing towards her parents.


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