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“New Rhythm” by Tanya Hanamaikai

As soon as she made it through the gate, Morah pulled off her sandals and jumped into the bobbing crowd of red and blue dressed girls, grounding herself in the feeling of the hot stone floor under her feet. Here, she was safe. She would dance and forget him, his words, those strange words. Just a few strikes of the drummer’s beat and her synchronization would be set, surrounded by her Lamanite sisters, cut off from that Nephite’s words, so many words. And what a grace from the Sun that she made it home with just enough time. The drummer was still beating out the morning practice.

The House for Noble Brides owned a single drummer. He had blind, clouded eyes that couldn’t be tempted by the girls’ training in attractive charms. When he wasn’t drumming, he sat with the dust at the corner of the courtyard. Under the shade of the House’s towering red walls, as if burdened by them, he hunched with his arm bones hanging over his knees. Loose gray hairs wisped across his face whether a breeze blew by or not.

Ah, but when he drummed, he controlled the whole court, and Morah could succumb and have relief.

He hit his stretched ring of sheepskin, pounded out a rhythm, rhythm, rhythm with his mallet. Step and step and step and feel your beat combine with Earth’s. The drum blended and replaced the thud of everyone’s pulse, gave their hearts permission to relax, flow in unison, and remember their connection, through Earth, to one another.

Had he really said Sky?

Father in the Sky.

Though the stress on his words was all wrong, Morah was certain the Nephite meant to say Sky. But why would anyone dwell in Sky? As she tried to look into the open, empty, elusive Sky, her neck resisted the awkward angle. She had to drop her head to where it belonged, and she bowed in respect to the foundation under her feet.

All the Lamanites had was their Earth. Rain and the Sun and the minor spirits of the land played their roles, to be sure, but whether there was food sickness, war—it all depended on what Earth, the Great Spirit, decided.

Morah hadn’t ever thought much about the Great Spirit while dancing before. She tried to give herself up to the drummer’s song, to fall into the hypnotic summons of his beat and turn, bow, pull her arms to whatever direction they led.

The drum beat picked up speed, forcing the girls to hop faster, sliding their feet across the dusty stones rather than lifting and stomping. The dry, old man sagged his head back, closed his blind eyes and chanted. Something in the ancient fathers’ original Hebrew no one understood anymore.

The friction of their different paths shuffling the dirt shoved Morah even deeper into her thoughts.

Nephites were liars. Liars are cunning. Maybe everything he said was all some kind of lure to take her away and murder her somewhere by the river where no one would have heard her scream. She knew all this, what Nephites were capable of. She should be stamping his words from her mind. Stop letting them repeat again and again with the pound of the drum. Stop the urge to go out to the forest again and find him and make him explain what he meant by everyone living again after death.

She hadn’t grasped anything he rambled about regarding god, spirits, laws and promises. What she did understand was that he knew more about her heart than a stranger could have, especially a Nephite.

He was a Nephite.

She bumped into someone, losing both their steps with the music. The other girl found her stride quickly and twirled on. Morah tried, but she couldn’t connect with the drummer’s beat again. Not anymore. Instead her thoughts kept pulsing under the Nephite’s words:

God’s daughter, his daughter, his daughter.

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A Q&A with Tanya Hanamaikai about this story is here

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