Jean watches in silence, careful to copy Ororo's movements
precisely as they minister to Rogue's body. She understands
that the small piece of bark in her mouth is to protect her
spirit, and tries not to gag at the bitterness. Professor
Xavier's psi-link has provided a quick initiation of Baoule
culture and traditions. In moments, Jean is submerged in a
ritual decades old as easily and completely as if she were
born to them.
Ororo carefully cuts a single lock of Rogue's hair. Jean
delicately removes a bit of fingernail. In true Baoule ceremony,
these would be used to determine why she had died. Storm lifts
her hands to the heavens, summoning cool rains to wash over
and purify their bodies. Rogue's skin and hair are carefully
cleansed with a fragrant mixture of herbs and roots, before
being thoroughly dried.
I am sorry I could not protect you, little one.
Robes woven of the softest cotton are slipped onto her body,
traditional gifts presented by the friends of the departed.
Ororo fastens a thick, gold collar around Rogue's neck. Dozens
of thin, gold circles are slipped onto her wrists and ankles.
Jean, as her gift, adds a pair of gold and ruby earrings.
They both quickly prepare her hair in several tiny braids,
weaving in gold bands and nainglaiman beads among the strands.
A moment of silence.
Perhaps, if I were the goddess men believed, you would
have lived as you were meant to live. You would have been
initiated as a woman now, Rochelle. Your mother and I would
have shown you the rituals, prepared you for the responsibilities
you would assume as a woman of our people. You would have
had many children for the village.
Ororo's throat tightens as tears slip to her cheeks.
As much as you have been my child, so they would have
been my grandchildren.
Finally, Ororo reaches for the pot of white kaolin paste.
She accents Rogue's face with an intricate pattern of bold,
dotted lines. She follows this with simplified streaks of
white on Jean's face. Then, handing the paste to Jean, allows
her own face to be ritually marked.
From a small pottery jar, Ororo strokes perfume on all three
of their bodies. Jean flinches at the sudden feel of the cold
liquid against her skin. Her discomfort vanishes as she inhales
the exotic spices. The scents evoke thoughts, strong enough
to be memories, of distant savannahs.
She can almost feel the thundering earth beneath her feet
from a stampede. After weeks of drought, welcomes the taste
of cool water as a godsend. Senses the pure joy of stepping
from burning sands to sparse grasslands. With a start, Jean
realizes that these are memories, not her own, but
another's. Ororo's. Although she senses no anger from her
companion, Jean carefully dampens her psychic power.
Continued in Chapter
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