A Letter from the Zhinin

In which my favorite character from Fourteen Stones introduces himself and his home…


Where to begin? I have no real gift with words, I’m afraid. But I’ve tasked myself with these, and so my stubbornness will have to stand in the place of skill.

My name is Ribas Silvaikas. I am the zhinin of Lida village – zhinin, in your language, I think is best understood to mean “priest,” though it isn’t quite the same. A zhinin can be many things. Sometimes we are teachers and counselors; sometimes we’re healers, to the best of our ability. Always, we are listeners.

My village, Lida, is in east-central Namora, just west of the Senai Mountains. You’ll find it on the right-hand side of the map:

Lida is in the region called Kalnu, which in the Namoran language means “forest.” In my little country, you’ll find, we are quite practical when it comes to names. For instance, the name of Pektkampe, the region just south of Kalnu, means “five corners.” Its capital, Pirkampa, is – you may have guessed it – “First Corner.”

Namora itself derives from our word for home. Our faith tradition tells us that for the woman who became our Goddess, home was the most sacred of sacred things, worthy of any sacrifice. Many of us in Namora, whether we are city-dwellers or farmers’ children like me, feel a deep link to the land itself. The Goddess’s presence lives in it and holds all of its disparate people together.

Without spending too many words at once, from my limited store, I would like to tell you about my village, Lida. As any Namoran will tell you, there are many beautiful places in this country. I’ve seen a few of them myself, particularly when I was younger and better able to travel. Lida is where I’ve lived all my life, and where generations of my family lived before me. Of course, I tend to think it’s the most beautiful place of all.

What is Lida, for me?

Sunrise: the mist lingering in the village square; the light fading from deepest blue to silver-gray to rose and cream. The sound of the birds greeting the morning, at first only a single trill at a distance, a falling note nearer at hand, and then as one voice calls to another, more join in until the air rings. Even in the village’s heart, where my wife and I live, you can hear it. On the farm where I grew up, at the village’s northern edge, my mother’s apple trees are full of song.

The mountains: the peaks of the Senai rising into a blue sky. The Senai are low and rocky, very different from the tall narrow peaks in Namora’s neighboring country, Lassar, but they stand above Lida village like sentries. On a clear morning in early spring, you can make out patches of lingering snow on the peaks, the hunched shapes of boulders, the arms of bare wind-whipped trees.

The air: I’ve been to Namora’s northern coast, and the great capital city, Sostavi. I love the ocean. But there’s nothing like the air in the mountains, the crispness and sweetness it holds even through the warmest days of Vasara, our midsummer. In Lida, banks of mint line the roads that lead from the village center out into the countryside. Mint is tenacious. It clings and spreads. When it’s cut back, the scent hangs sparkling in the air.

The farm: earlier, I mentioned my mother’s farm. My brother and I grew up there, as did our mother, and her father before her. The walls of the old house are steeped with smoke from generations of hearth fires. Its beams are as strong as stone. The apple orchard my great-grandfather planted is fragrant with blooms in spring and rosy with fruit in Derla, our harvest month. Every time I go back, I feel my roots settling as deep into that place as the trees into the soil.

And last, but far from least: Lida’s Circle House. This is our place of worship, the heart of the village. As Lida’s zhinin, this is my home as much as the house where my wife and I live. I grew up coming to this House, and I became its zhinin when I was eighteen, taking on both the rituals of the place and the life of the village that my predecessor, Zhinin Odilas, tended for so many years. When I was a boy, I wasn’t certain I could – or should – take on that work, but it was handed to me and in the end I accepted it. That’s a story for another time.

For now, I will close this long letter. In this picture, you can see the shape of a Circle House. It doesn’t show the life inside, the details of the hearth and windows, the prayer stones, the vessels of water and salt, but this is the shape of my village’s heart.

Until my next. Yours in the peace of the Goddess,

Ribas Silvaikas


[For more about Fourteen Stones, its world, and its people, visit the book’s page. Please consider subscribing to the blog to receive future letters and posts.]


8 thoughts on “A Letter from the Zhinin

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