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The Wishing Map
Chapter Nineteen: The Naim Games (Continued)
Previously: Zack began pressing the culturally non-competitive naims to choose a “winner” in his storytelling contest.
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“Who thinks Tuber won?” he asked the crowd.
A confused beat, then the Root Naim males began to stomp their feet and butt their heads together and the Root Naim females began to fluff one anothers’ hair and scream, “Fee-hey!” A few Leaf Naims started to stomp and “fee-hey” as well, but were immediately silenced.
“Poop (eliminate) Tuber!” one fellow shouted, and the rest of the Leaf Naims quickly took up the chant: “Poop Tuber! Poop Tuber!” “Poop (Insert Name Here)!” became the cheer du jour.
Several dozen of Lyffwin’s husky leaf-squad rushed onto the field, ready to literally eliminate Tuber, but Zack stepped out in front of them.
“Wait, wait, wait! We’re not done yet! Who thinks Slipstreak won?” The previous results were repeated in reverse. The Leaf Naims stomped, butted, fluffed, and fee-hey’d with verve, while the Root Naims took up the chant: “Poop Slipstreak! Poop Slipstreak!” Once again, Zack stopped a gang of on-rushing ill-wishers—this time from Bulgy’s side—and set the crowd to voting.
And so it went. Each of the twenty Semi-Finalists received 100% approval from their own side and 100% disapproval from the other. There was no consensus. This was not going the way Zack had expected. “OK, you guys,” he adjudicated, “I gotta break this tie, so here’s the Final Four: Tuber…Thistlecress… Reetie…and Slipstreak!” In order to protect the just-pooped Semi-Finalists from the rough looking gangs at either end of the field, Zack kept them near the center. There were head butts, hair fluffs, and fee-heys for each of the Final Four. The naims had embraced the idea that there could be more than one storysmith, just as he’d hoped. And if he’d stopped there, all would have been perfect.
But he didn’t.
He had the four Finalists escorted to a waiting area inside a nearby heartwood tree, then, when all four were out of earshot, announced,
“This time we’re gonna use the same piece of wood all four times!” To twenty thousand naims, this was the equivalent of saying, “We’re going to eat the same sandwich four times.” It was impossible.
Zack waved his hand, signaling volunteers to bring in the new plank. It was smaller than the previous pieces, but even more beautiful. It had swirls of green and gray, rolling outward from a cross-cut streak of rose-pink near its center. Scattered throughout were asterisks of red, white, and gold. It was incredibly beautiful and incredibly abstract. It could have been anything, which was, of course, the whole point.
“OK,” Zack ordered, “bring out Thistlecress!”
Thistlecress Twig-Bender grinned cockily. She fluffed her hair at her family and friends. They stomped and fee-hey’d. This was the greatest moment of her life; theirs as well.
“OK, Thistlecress, this is it! For the title of Naimian’s Greaty-est Storysmith…what do you see?”
She stared deep into the beautiful virgin rainbowwood. “I see…that time long past when Rhema, Queen a’ the Fae…stretched out her hand an’ made the grass ter become green…” (It was said that in ancient times Rhema had introduced color, making the world infinitely more beautiful—and practical.)
Before she’d gotten to her second sentence, Leaf Naims were already beginning to act out the story, experiencing the exquisiteness of color for the first time. Several Root Naims ran onto the field, as well, but others called to them to return to their “own side.”
Then Bulgy’s bullies began tossing obscenities…
Thoughts: We rarely recognize the seeds of conflict when we’re sowing them.
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