Story for the Day: The Game of Red Crabs PT1
The Haanta have many games, most of them strategy or sowing games, but there is one racing game taught to children which teaches them about an important discovery made when the Haanta first made their settlements-- a game which Rautu hates with his whole soul: Akaaphu: the game of the red crab.
As the children were fawning over the new games before them, Varthrasta said his quiet salutations to Baronous and to Martje, who was just returning with the daily shipment for the larder in hand. He placed the bag that he was carrying onto the table and went to assist, though Martje would deny all assistance, leaving the children to marvel over the hand-carved stone playing pieces in Varthrasta’s effects, begging to shown their intended use. Had Varthrasta still been on the islands, and had there been no one to lavish the children with such exquisite gifts, he should have brought them to the temple in Diras where they were certain to have similar games if not the very same ones, but as the articles before them were so superior in craft and quality, Hathanta could not have asked for a more favourable outcome. His said his quiet and profuse thanks to his mate when he returned to them from the larder, and the proclamation from Martje of “Sure, what’s that you got there?” recommended the beginning of their lesson.
“Our Anonnaa have sent us two of our most prominent games,” said Varthrasta, gesturing toward the table.
Martje regarded the silks and seeds strewn out before them, and though she had little idea how the pieces and the cloths were to be employed, she marveled at the skillful hand that had glazed, had dyed, had embroidered every article. “Sure, what’s this for, then?” she said, her voice laden with curiosity as she took up one of the blackwood sticks from the table.
“This is for a game called Yunoraas, which means the game of seeds.”
The children hushed one another and listened as Varthrasta began to illustrate the rules of the game.
“When the harsh winds from the Eastern Sea would damage certain crops, Mhandalari, our planters and gatherers, used the damaged seeds to make a game. They used blackwood root eaten by the vastathaa to create these,” he said, taking the carved sticks from the table, “and they took discarded patterns from their homes to create this,” motioning toward the square of embroidered red silk. “The damaged seeds are used as playing pieces and travel around the silk chasing after one another.”
An aspirated awe escaped Martje’s lips as she observed the vibrancy of the dye and the quality of the silk. So lavish a gift to be sent, but then she recollected that wealth meant little to a society that so freely shared their natural riches, and was comforted. “And what’s this here?” she asked, pointing to another silk portraying a different set of patterns.
“This is for Kuronaas, a game played by our women.” Varthrasta took up some of beads from the table and showed them around. “These are placed in an alternating pattern around the cloth. These are from our Vhindari, our jewelers. When the items they make break due to wear, they use the beads for Kuronaas, or the game of black stones. The pieces are used to leap over and capture other pieces. It is a simple game to learn, but I greatly enjoy it.”
And he instantly began demonstrate how each board was set up, how each game was easily learned but so not easily mastered, until a piece from the game that Varthrasta had left upon the table had caught Brother Baronous’ eye, and he unknowingly took it up that he may admire it. “Beautiful,” he mouthed, his gaze unblinking. “Varthrasta, did you make this?”
The stonecutter looked up and studied the piece in Baronous’ hand with a tapered look. “I did,” he said, his complexion darkening from Hathanta’s proud expression.
“This is really somethin’,” the Brother professed, showing the piece all around. “What game is it used for?”
Varthrasta smiled and introduced the piece with, “Although the Haanta settled on two islands when we arrived from our home in the east, there are actually many islands that form our settlements. Many of these islands are too small even to build one home upon, and some like At-Khosselin are considered sacred, but one of the islands discovered,” reaching for a large, circular stone board, “was already inhabited when we arrived.” With a gentle gesture, he took the piece from Baronous’ hand and placed it in the centre of the board. There it stood, triumphant and magnanimous, keeper of its own kingdom, with raised claws and stern expression, a small crab, carved from red clay, its every detail etched into the smooth surface, prepared to defend its territory by whatever powers within its means. “The akaaphu, the red crab, lived on this small island, but when we began to study them and judge whether we may hunt them for meat, we discovered another species on the island.” His hand rifled with his bag and from it, he produced another crab, fashioned from rough sapphire, and placed down beside the first. “The Aophu, the blue crab, was fighting for dominance on the island. The two species were warring over reign of the phanun, the geysers that pour forth noxious gasses made by the nearby volcano. The crabs wait until the phanun are about to erupt, and then try to push one over them.” He demonstrated by placing the red crab over one of the marked spaces on the board and then taking the blue crab and forcing one against the other until the red crab slipped to an adjacent space. “To teach our Mivaari about our discovery, the game of akaaphu was created.”
“What is the crab island called?” asked Dorrin.
Varthrasta’s lips wreathed in a smile. “Muu.”
Tinkling laughter rang out from the children. They reiterated the name many times over amongst themselves and giggled after every repetition.
“What’s that mean then?” asked Martje.
“It is the expression we use to describe something unpleasant,” said Hathanta, trying not to laugh.
Martje paused, and then with a look of affected understanding said, “I know how you mean and all. So if I say muu to the monster, it means I’m callin’ him somethin’ terrible.”
It was said with a raised voice and a raised brow as she eyed Rautu then entering the kitchen from the training yard. He had heard her, for he must have done, but had disregarded any affront she might have wished to make. He only stared at the akaaphu board with circumspection and glared at the various pieces scattered about the table.
“You are teaching them this game?” he demanded, stabbing his finger at the board.
“Aye, they are,” said Martje, determined to be noticed. “And that there game has lots of little crabs what look just like you, scowlin’ and humphin’ and all.”
Rautu glowered at her smirking countenance. “I am not a crab, Mhojhudenri.”
Martje would not agree to this, however. She fleered, huffed a curt “Crab Asaan”, and turned her attention back to the table where the children were just beginning their first game.