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The Gem Sharers


Gill James

"You are old enough to come now," said Saheen. "It will be a long journey, but you must begin to learn our trade."

Karim and Alek watched their father preparing the horses the next day. They had slept little the night before. They had been so excited about being taken to the Gem Sharing. It was the same ritual every year. Their father departed three hours before the shortest day began and came back three hours after dawn on the next day, in time for the great feast.

"We must be there before the Return of the Light festival begins," he said, and waved his arms to speed them up.

"You are lucky that your burdens are light at the moment," said Saheen, as they were leaving the village the next day. "By the time you are my age, you will have many more gems to carry."

The horses were strong and sure of their way. Karim and Alek managed to sleep through the coldest, most boring parts of the journey.

Karim woke just as they were coming into the Sand City. Though not yet the fourth hour after noon, the sky was dark already. Yet the city was full of shimmering lights. She shook her brother awake.

"What are they?" she whispered.

"I think they are just lots of people walking about with torches and candles," replied Alek.

Saheen turned to them.

"So, you're awake, then," he said. "We'll soon be at the Gem Cave."

A few minutes later, the horses stopped. Saheen clambered down and started unloading.

"Go on in," said Saheen. "I'll find you when I've set everything out."

"You'll leave your stall alone?" asked Karim.

Alek's eyes, too, were wide open in astonishment.

"Of course," laughed Saheen. "This is not a market place. Nothing can be taken which is not freely given."

Karim and Alek set off. They had never seen anything like this. The Return of Light festival was always a great excitement in their village. But this was so different. Many of the Gem Sharers had already laid out their cloths and made arrangements of their precious stones. The gems were catching the light of the great torches which hung in the cave and patterns danced on the walls. As well as the gem sharers, though, there was music playing and the smell of food cooking. There were some other people their age, too, for they were at the age where new gem sharers must be trained.

"Would you like some fizzy panyan juice?" asked a cheerful lady. She smiled a big smile and Karim noticed that her eyes were glistening, dancing just like some of the gems. She suddenly felt very shy.

"We don't have any sand dollars," said Alek stiffly.

The lady laughed. "No-one pays for anything at a Gem Sharing. All is freely given and may be freely taken," she said. "Go on, try it."

Shyly the two children took the earthenware cups and held them to their lips. Karim had never tasted fizzy panyan so delicious, and she had always thought her own mother made the best in the world. Alek gulped his down.

"More?" asked the lady.

Both children nodded. The panyan juice lady poured out two more cups, stroked Karim's cheek and them moved on her way.

Karim and Alek carried on through the crowds. Suddenly, Karim spotted it. It was a small statue made out of an orange, almost see-through stone. It was of a fat, bald headed man, wearing only a cloth around his private parts, sitting cross-legged. It was surrounded by other orange coloured stones, and a few of other colours. She bent down to take a closer look. So fascinated was she by the little figure that she did not notice than Alek had carried on without her.

"Do you like him?" asked the man whose cloth it was on. Karim noticed that the man was dressed in a very similar way to the little statue, only he was much, much thinner. Karim nodded.

"You may pick him up," said the man.

Karim did so. As soon as she touched the statue, her hands felt very warm and she was sure there was a very faint vibration coming from it. She looked more closely at the fat little man. There was so much detail in the carving. She could even see the eyes twinkling and it looked so much as if the statue was smiling at her.

"I think he likes you," said the thin man. "You may take him."

That's silly, thought Karim. How can a statue like me?

"I've had him for many years," said the thin man. "But I think it is time for him to move on. Put him with your own gems and see if he doesn't bring you all calm."

Karim went to ask if the man was sure. She had nothing to give in return. But the thin man held up a hand to her and nodded slowly. Karin slipped the little statue into her pocket. The thin man turned his eyes away from her.

Suddenly, Karim was afraid. Alek was not there, and neither could she see her father. But she held on tightly to the little statue in her pocket. It was reassuring, somehow, to feel it, with its warmth and gentle vibration.

Then she saw them. They were coming towards her through the crowd. Alek was grinning and holding a large piece of blue rock.

"Alright?" asked Saheen.

Karim couldn't speak. She just took the statue out of her pocket and held it up to her father.

"That is so beautiful," said Saheen. "What clever children I have. Such a short time at the first Gem Share and already you have both gained real beauties."

A short while later, all three of them were sitting down at Saheen's stall. Karim and Alek had arranged the statue and the piece of blue rock carefully amongst the other gems on the grey silk. Karim felt completely at peace.

"I gave the three rose quartz cubes to a lady who was worried about her daughter," said Saheen. "I thought it might sooth her."

Karim stared at her little statue. It was grinning at her, and she was sure she saw it wink. The Gem Share really was lovely. Now she was looking forward to going home and telling their mother all that had happened. And, of course, to coming again next year.

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