Day 19, late evening.

Lots to take in lately. Too much. Will anyone believe me? Even with this feather I hardly believe it myself.

Got to try.

That feast the Davai have been preparing for the last eight days was today. Only see now just how extensive those preparations were. The food has just been the last few days – lots of it. Hunting, first – never knew so many beasties around here were edible. They’re economical about it, too, using everything they can, right down to tanning the hides. Stews and cuts of meat, spice breads, at least a dozen kinds of fresh fruit – incredible variety, all of it freshly harvested or found within an hour or two’s walk.

Setting up the site took up the first half of the time. Impressive place just on its own – an amphitheatre that could fit five hundred, and counting all the children the Davai are less than half that. Woven banners, bead garlands, any one piece might be dismissed as simple or even primitive, but with that many pieces, just getting them installed would be a major undertaking. These weren’t just put in haphazardly, though. They made the whole place a mosaic of sorts, an abstract pattern almost too big to comprehend. Sure looked impressive, seeing it from the top of the bowl at sunset.

Then there were the costumes, and those probably took more work than the food and the decorations combined.

No simple kilts or plain leathers today. From sunrise, everyone was dressed in a riot of colourful fabric, flowing around them or trailing scarves. Any brighter and seeing them all together would’ve hurt my eyes. As it is, it was dizzying, especially against their dark skin.

That’s just the “normal” people. The focal figures of the feast were even more impressive.

There were three of them – two men and a woman. Not just colourful, their costumes had so many layers and slits that the colours shifted with every move they made, and more streamers than a peacock’s fan. Especially the headdresses – if I hadn’t seen one couple making those feathers I’d never have believed they were fake without cutting through one. Each one had a big crest of false feathers – more control in the placement of them; each one had a different pattern. Don’t know what the significance of those patterns is. With so much to learn, haven’t paid much attention to their spirituality.

Should probably start.

Headpieces shaped like a hawk’s or eagle’s, hooked bill and all. Arms had so many streamers on them they really looked like wings as they danced around.

Thought I’d be excluded as an outsider, but they treated me as an honoured guest. Brought me right down to the front row, offered me wine – just sipped at it, wanted to stay alert and that’s strong stuff. Meal started with fruits and breads – could’ve stuffed myself just on those if I hadn’t known more was coming. All of it carried along the rows by the happiest kids I’ve ever seen, proud to do their part. Apparently they got their share when people took something from their own trenchers and fed it right to them, or just took what the kid was carrying and popped it right in his/her mouth. So they were stuffed by the end of the meal, too. Might be part of why they were so happy.

After the fruits and breads the bird-people came in, whirling around, trailing colour – almost looked like they really were flying. The Davai all got up – told me to stay where I was – and onto the stage, forming a bunch of circles around the trio, some turning one way, some the other. Chanting – didn’t recognize the words; not sure they were words at all, might have just been sounds for rhythm. Drums. Had me swaying in my seat.

Then there was a flash – never seen anything like it. Like the space between them was trying to outshine the setting sun.

When they parted again, there weren’t three people in bird costumes. There were three bird-people. The eyes weren’t holes in the masks, they were actual eyes, gold like no human’s. The beak had a matching lower half. No cloth streamers – every last one of them was an actual feather.

We’ve been dismissing their tales of their gods as myth and fantasy. We were wrong. The Sky-Dancers, at least, are real. Saw them in the flesh tonight, or at least their avatars. Not going to say the others aren’t, the Harvest Mother and the Wild Twins. There’s feasts for them, too.

The Davai got back to the main course like everything was normal. For them, maybe it is. Always talking like their gods are right with them, now it was just more literal.

They could see I didn’t believe it. One of the men invited me to take a closer look. Maybe he knew I’d liked to watch him before – don’t know. Then, he was one of the weavers. Fit – did a lot of swimming. Long hair, black as coal like all of them, lots of braids with beads woven in.

Anyway, he made it pretty clear that he wasn’t just offering to let me have a look at the change. Didn’t accept any more than that – too much, too fast. He said that’s fine. The other two had partners, several each, not all the opposite sex. Weren’t shy about what they were getting up to, though I left before it got too far.

Anyway, Astana. Still much the same build, yes, but those feathers go right to the skin. Hands are odd – only two fingers and a thumb, and they’re partway along the wing. Guess the other fingers made the rest of the wing? More like a bat’s than a bird’s, that way. Thumbs have nasty claws on them. Feet like a bird’s.

Feathers even more vibrant than before. In fact the colours flow right over them. He actually plucked one, said to keep it. Said their hunters fletch arrows with these feathers, use them when hunting for all their major feasts. So it’ll last even though he’ll be back to normal in three days. Will see. Might help convince people this really happened. No bird shed this feather – can still see the pattern flowing over it.

Not quite bold enough to take up his other offer yet. He’s a good man, probably be a good father, but the very notion of marriage is foreign to these people.

They’re right about their gods. Maybe other things too? Kids all seem happy and well-cared-for, and they never get in fights. Maybe everyone’s married to everyone else, so there’s less pressure on any one partner, and everyone can relax? Could be worse I guess.

Too much to take in at once. Will have to ask more about the Sky-Dancers in the morning.

Hope my thoughts don’t keep me up all night. This is big.