The wind pressed its claws against the canvas, trying to enter the hut to ruffle old Mother Iwilanga's beaded hair. Her eyes were closed. She was unconcerned. No matter how hard it tried, the wind could not twist the fibers of fate. Nothing but time could spin destiny. Her fingers dug in the sand, drawing the patterns she saw in her mind, imagining those threads like gossamer lines intersecting at some distant point.
She opened her eyes and studied the picture she drew in the red sand. One line, straight and true, came from where she sat. Another curled and twisted line approached perpendicular to the straight one, turned and began to run along the other, spiraling around it. She hummed some low note as she wiped the sand clear and stood up. Her old bones ached to be sitting for so long. She pulled her multicolored shawl tighter around her shoulders as she stepped away from the darkness of the hut and under the great expanse of the open sky.
“Mother! Mother!” two children cried as they ran up to greet her with gifts of feather pampas grass. “There's a cloud to the north! Moco says it looks like a ram. I say it looks more like a pig. Which is it?” one of the little boys asked.
Mother Iwilanga gave them a knowing smile. “It is neither. The cloud is a cloud but do not be fooled; clouds take whatever shape you want to see.”
“But who is more right?” the other boy asked.
Mother Iwilanga looked to the distance where a small dot appeared. She frowned. “Children. Go to that stranger and give him these pampas. If he accepts them, bring him to me. He will not hurt you.”
The children nodded and ran off. It was not long before they returned with a skinny pale man who had a curious expression on his face. Mother smiled, her hands folded in a gesture of welcome. The children exclaimed something in their native language before running off in the direction of their tents.
“Are you the one they call Mother Iwilanga?” the stranger asked. In his hands he carried the pampas grass and on his shoulder he carried a leather satchel. Mother nodded and gestured for him to follow her into her hut. She waddled off and brushed aside the canvas door. The stranger followed her into the sacred structure tentatively.
“My name is Lysander Crane. I came to inquire about your practices Mother Iwilanga. You have great knowledge, I have heard,”
Iwilanga gave a sideways glance as she shuffled around the fire pit to gather a couple of freshly baked flour cakes. She offered one to Lysander who took it with a grateful nod. “Tell me penmaster. What have you come to learn?” she asked as she sat down opposite of him, breaking her bread.
Lysander nodded and placed his bread on the ground as he opened his satchel. He pulled out a piece of parchment and a pen. “Mother, I have heard you know the secrets of the earth. I have come to listen to your fables and learn from your wisdom.”
Iwilanga closed her eyes. “Many have come claiming to seek wisdom, child. Not all sought what they claimed and not all left satisfied. Let the wind separate the chaff from the grain.”
Lysander furrowed his brow and furiously scratched his pen across his paper, seeming to ignore her comment. “You are known by many titles. What do you claim to be, Iwilanga? A healer? A storyteller? Shaman? Foreseer?”
“Only what you first addressed me as, penmaster,” Mother answered.
Lysander nodded and continued to write. “What is it in the land that you see so clearly that others only try to understand? They say you know of magic. What do you know of the magic of the west?”
Mother Iwilanga slowly chewed over her bread. She took a deep breath. “Magic? No, fools seek magic. Magic is a dangerous word that abuses the wisdom of the earth. The earth is old, so old it causes mystery.”
“Yes. Yes, the earth is old and full of mystery. Let me tell you the story of a great snake who once swallowed the earth.”