I ran my eyes along the beams that held up the circular ceiling. I’m not exactly sure how it worked, but it opened in the center, the central beams never meeting at the top. Smoke was rising from a large oven set into the earth in the middle. To one side, the top was flat shale. Sitting on it were pots of boiling things. To another side, a woman was using a long wooden paddle to pull flat bread from a covered oven. Nearby, bread was cooling on a wooden rack. Women were serving and being served.
They were sitting in various spots on smooth and flat tamped earth. Some women held babies on their knees as they sat on tree stumps leveled into seats. I saw older women leaning back on log benches, resting themselves while teenage girls fetched soup and bread for them. The thing they all had in common? Watching Ruis and I as we made our way from the entrance.
Should I wave to everybody?
My belly growled.
Who cares? Go get some grub, will ya?
A girl brought us bowls. I ran my hands over it. Knobby on the outside, but smooth and shiny on the inside.
“They use the bilor of trees,” Ruis said as she saw me investigating the bowl.
“Bilor?” I asked.
“The trees have these knobs that appear as they age,” Ruis said, “When the tree dies, the women take the bilors and make use of them. Each tree has a unique design to its bilors, so bowls from one tree are known by the name of the tree that gave of its bilors. I think this might be Rowena or one of her offspring.”
The ring patterns of my bowl stood out, probably from the smoothing and oiling of a woodworker’s chisel, or simply just from use. The bowl Ruis was using was similar but not quite matching mine.
Rowena? Not sure if I like the idea of eating from something that once had a name.
Ruis saw the look on my face, “Why are you making that face?”
“It’s sort of a vegetarian thing. Don’t like to eat things that had been addressed by name,” I replied.
“But the Daughters do not name vegetables. The trees insist on being called by their names,” Ruis said, “so to honor them, they keep what remains after the death of a tree because the trees are part of how one is nourished. If you prefer, you can have a ladle of soup poured into your hands.”
Whoa, just like Isobeau I see. Snide-y much?
I held out my bowl for a woman to ladle a rich-looking yellow orange soup into it.
“Ruis, is this some type of squash soup?” I asked her, “it smells wonderful. Is it something that is only grown around here?”
Chewing a mouthful of bread before answering, she said, “Not exotic. It grows everywhere around here. It’s known as butternut.”