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IC:Eywaat And Japikoa The Unbending

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The Abayla settled down with her daughter in her lap. The young girl squirmed around until the older woman gave her a sharp, harmless smack to the top of her head. Japikoa giggled and settled immediately, knowing that her mother would follow it with a not-so-harmless smack if she continued to disobey. A moment later the Abayla separated tiny locks of her daughter's hair and began the time-consuming task of braiding it. Where other nine-year-old girls might have cradled a doll in their lap, this little Suli girl held a dagger and whetstone. She began carefully sharpening the blade.

"Tell me my story again," Japikoa said, a smile in her voice and on her lips.

"You have heard it, you, a hundred times," her mother chuckled, ending the first braid with a small pinch of wax.

The girl snorted. "And if I have my way, I will hear it a hundred more," she giggled. "Please, ayma?"

The Abayla sighed, but she knew well enough she needed to keep the girl entertained long enough to get all of her hair braided, and the story of her namesake was the easiest way. As her daughter began the rhythmic scraping of the blade against the whetstone, the Abayla calmed her voice as she was taught. She had a clear, sweet soprano that was greatly honored among the Suli, and she began the story of Japikoa.

"Many years past, the Wayhali of the Suli had a beautiful daughter named Japikoa. She was the youngest of his children and strong-willed, a jewel among the tribe's women. She became a gifted healer by the time she was only fifteen, and spent many hours each day tending the wounds of the hunters and warriors who battled the Eypharians for control of the oases.

"One day an old warrior came to the Wayhali's daughter for care. He bore scars from battles fought decades earlier, his hair grizzled and white and his face deeply seamed. His body had betrayed him, as it often does to those who live long enough," she chuckled, flexing her fingers as she continued her work, "And he suffered from the swelling of the joints that often strikes those who spend their lives fighting. There is little that can be done for the pain, but Japikoa had a gentle touch, and the warrior often said that when he laid his hands in hers it was as if his pain were stolen away.

"An entire season went by, and each day they spent together, sharing stories, sharing their hearts. Finally came the day when Japikoa no longer looked on him and saw the snow-white hair or the wrinkles that criss-crossed his face. She saw only a man who held her heart in his gnarled hands. On that day she took his face in her healer's hands and pressed her lips to his, and when she drew back again and opened her eyes it was no longer the elderly warrior who sat before her.

"It was Eywaat's face she held now, and his strange hazel eyes that met hers. The old warrior was the mask he wore to learn her heart, and once she gave it to him he let the mask slip away and revealed himself to her. ‘My love’, he said to her, ‘Though you knew my heart, now you know also my face and my true name. Come away with me and be my wife, and I will love you for all of your days.’"

"But she was wroth with him," her daughter interrupted, glancing over her shoulder to find her hair nearly half finished.

"But she was wroth with him," the Abayla chuckled, gently nudging the girl's face forward with a knuckle. "Japikoa was infuriated that he would trick her, though it is well known that Eywaat will often disguise himself when he woos a mortal woman. She felt that he had lied to her, deceived her and broken the trust she'd given him along with her heart. And so she refused him - but she told him that she loved him, and would never give her heart to another but him.

"And so Eywaat, entranced by this strange turn of events, began to woo her in his own form. Every time he came to Japikoa, they spoke for long hours. He would lay beneath the night sky with her in his arms. And each time before he left, he would ask her to be his bride. And she would always reply: ‘Not yet.’"

"Not yet," the girl replied, a little dreamily - it was her favorite part of the story.

The Abayla smiled softly as she gathered the last few strands of hair together to make the final braid. "Weeks passed, and then seasons, and still he came to her, and still she replied ‘Not yet.’ The seasons turned to years, many, many years, and Japikoa kept her promises to Eywaat. She loved only him, would stand no other man's touch upon her skin, but still she refused him.

"As the years passed, the girl grew into a fine young woman and an accomplished healer. More years passed, and more, and the sun and wind carved their own lines around her eyes. Strands of white began to touch her black hair, and then became streaks, and then there was no more black to be found. Her slim figure softened and sagged as it must when age encroaches," she chuckled dryly, gathering the mass of tiny braids and weaving them together to keep them up while the girl trained. "One day, Japikoa lay beneath the night sky with Eywaat, and the tables had turned, for now it was the god whose body was young and hale and fit, and the mortal woman whose bloom of youth had passed. But there was no less love in their eyes as they gazed upon each other. And on that day, when Eywaat said, ‘Come away with me and be my wife.’

Japikoa said yes. And so the god, enraptured by her unbending spirit, took her as his bride. And they were together the rest of her days."

(Contributed by Japikoa)