This is story written in shadows flickering across stone, deep down inside the oldest hills…
The night when the Pilgrim Woman told this story was dark and starless. Her few faithful listeners gathered around the fire with only on servant from the landlord to report back. The Pilgrim Woman passed out hot drinks before she began:
The land where the People lived had good soil. Coloured rocks came in layers of beauty like the sky at sunset. Some shades poured over each other in the way of of water in a flood. Some lay as thick the leg of an auroch, others fine as the hair of her mother, but Taffimai knew them all.
She knew the yellow and the orange and the red. She knew how to grind them to a powder with hard water-worn stone that felt good to her hand. She knew how to stick them with spit to the cave wall.
Taffimai used other pigments: the stain of bark rubbed hard against the gritty walls of the cave, blood, if it could be spared, and the black tips of burnt twigs. These she loved for drawing horse manes and the noses of bison.
The People left her to her paints. Her strange eyes marked her out and the way she crawled into the smallest spaces. She gave herself to the sacred shadows to share their stories with the ancestors.
After each tale was told, she would dedicate it with a paint-splattered hand print. She’d place her fingers against the thin, cool wall between the now and the then and spit and spit and spit until that veil melted. The soul of the story went into forever and only its shell remained.
Yet those painted shells drew the children. They wriggled into the low places and listened as she pointed to the lion with an umber mane and the hunter with burnt bone curls. Over and over again, the children insisted.
And so it was that when her hair was whiter than lime and her daughters’ daughters had worn her out by so much speaking, that Taffimai’s tales lived on beyond her in marks of charcoal and ochre.