Dance of the Ancient
The Dance of the Ancient is a tradition among the ratonga that they trace back to an ancestor named Belaska the Ancient. Is there more to the stories of the Ancient than the ratonga let on?
In the days when the ratonga lived below, they held gatherings several times a season. At the end of each of these gatherings, the young ratonga joined in the Dance of the Ancient. The story told is that it represents the pursuit of the Ancient, Belaska and how she evaded those who chased her.
Cheska could not wait for the Dance of Ancients. She walked always on the tips of her toes, graceful and swaying. She knew that only the best dancers would be selected for the secret rites that went back to the days they lived under the ground. She knew they would pick her.
Whenever anyone teased her for walking on her tiptoes, Cheska would retort, "I must practice for the Dance of the Ancient." Everyone knew what Cheska hoped for, and they would wish her well. Some seasons, no one was selected at all to learn the Ways of Belaska. Some seasons, only one or two were chosen. Cheska wanted to be chosen.
The morning of the Dance dawned bright and clear. Though they had lived in burroughs just outside Freeport for several seasons now, the ratonga retreated now to darker places to perform the Dance. All through the morning, Cheska twirled on her toes, dipping and swaying gracefully, her arms arched perfectly before her, fingertips barely touching.
There was no music for the Dance. Not since the time the orcs came through the Commonlands and slaughtered an entire tribe. The ratongas cursed the orcs, but they also learned a lesson. Under the ground, sounds echoed so that their origins were hard to trace. Beneath the open sky, sounds were easier to track.
Cheska joined the line of ratonga girls formed for the Dance. At the nod from the elder, her head snapped back and her dark eyes glittered with pride. "This is my Dance," Cheska thought. She swooped along gracefully, twirling higher than she had before and bending lower than the other girls.
As the lines continued the Dance, the elders sat watching them, conferring by the simple twitching of their whiskers. Cheska stood even straighter, her smile even more dazzling as the girls' line spun before the elders. They simply had to choose her, she was dancing better than she ever had before.
On their next turning, the girl immediately in front of Cheska skipped a step, breaking the rhythm and faltering as she tried to return to the proper Dance steps. Cheska's concentration was broken. "Left foot, left foot, glide...glide..." she murmured to the other girl, who smiled her thanks as she returned to the flowing movements.
The elders rose. Cheska's heart pounded; they were choosing now! The elders picked five boys and three girls. They did not pick Cheska. She held herself up proudly gritting her teeth to congratulate the ones selected to learn the Ways. There would be other Dances, but she would never dance again.
One of the elders called her aside and said, "Cheska, we would have chosen you, but...you failed us." At Cheska's puzzled look, he said, "To be ratonga, is to save yourself. You tried to save that girl. The ratonga will only survive on the surface if we think of ourselves. Remember that." Cheska simply nodded. It was a lesson she would never forget.