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Two Rivers

I had been travelling long when I came to the town. It lay in the valley
and was soft in evening light. I could feel the coolness gathering in the
air about me: the murmur that comes with night’s approach. Birds were
singing in the trees. Small brown, flecked birds. They flew into the
turquoise above my head. Their wings were darkened under the ochre

I came from the pass where the mountains were steep, their pathways
narrow and difficult. The midday sun had beaten down upon me and my
progress had been slow. I was making my way to Serano: on the coast.
Traveling westwards to the craggy, cliff-high shore of the Merna Sea.
Island strewn and wild. With its headlands and river-soft inlets, its small
fishing ports and wind-bent trees.
I thought of the fields of lavender in the silted estuaries. I thought of
the salt marshes. I recalled the sea flowers, the great pines, the narrow
pathways, spray soaked. Long had been my absence.

I was in the country of the north. In summer it is a dusty arid region.

Dry winds blow harsh from the southern plains. Around me rose the
peaks of the Joran. They are a ring, a defence and a natural barrier. Few
were the pathways through them. Travellers went south or came over the
Ireb. They journeyed through forest and across plains. There are the
roads and great towns and places of rest. And there were the routes used
by merchants and princes, soldiers and thieves.

I am a traveler: a wandering musician. I do not follow the way of the

world. The little known trail, the wild path, the forgotten road are my
compass. A traveller learns the world reveals its secrets, its beauty where
there is tranquility, where there is simplicity.

The sound of the birds rang in my ears. They called and whistled.
Their song was sweet: music to my musician’s ears. It spoke of orchards
and woods and the things of towns. Of gables and roofs and alleys and
the corners of buildings.
Yet for the traveller there is ambiguity in a town. A town is a refuge
from the open road. In a town are the hidden chains that bind. Chains
that take freedom.

Buildings appeared before me. A bridge marked the place where the
meadow ended. It crossed a river that ran swift. Stones, copper coloured
were visible beneath the fast flowing water. The walls of the riverbank
were high and covered in small yellow flowers. I crossed the bridge.

The sun was falling. Its light deepened and flamed in the western sky.
That marked the mountains I was yet to cross to come to the coast.

A town at evening has a sense of concealment. It wraps itself in its

private activity as though in a secret. The day is ending. There is the
return to homes. Outward actions turn inward. Windows may be open
yet the stranger is not greeted with a carefree smile. Backs are turned to
the street. Doors are closed over. Children are falling into sleep. Dreams
are beckoning. Food is being prepared. Old men and women sit in
porches and remember their many evenings: their lives running
backwards in the rustle of leaves, the play of shadows.

I walked and followed the river. It narrowed and deepened. Its water
darkened and divided. One part ran south, the other north. In the
distance a hill rose. On it stood a castle. It had high walls: pale coloured
and with sandstone turrets. A thin tower rose into the sky. Its
appearance was impressive yet somehow sombre. There was an aura of
desolation about it.

I stopped. Should I take the way south or the way north? To the south
were rows of houses. They were cramped and close to one another.
Smoke rose from simple chimneys. It drifted slowly over the river. Dogs
barked. Nearby a woman sat before a door. She wound yarn about her
fingers. I heard that she sang sweetly to herself. A bell sounded. It rang
and echoed with the murmur of the river.

I thought of the sea to which I journeyed. Is the sea not our home? Do
we not rise from a dream as the wave rises from the sea?
Why are we afraid of death? Is death not a return to the sea of our
departure? We return to that from which we came. Enriched maybe.
Carrying the rewards of our courage.
Death is a friend when life has been full. When it has risen, reached
its crest, its fullness. Then ebbs, returning to the greater dream from
which it came.
Death only breathes fear into those who have turned away from their

I walked south for I sought lodging. The open road has its charm but
in a town one wishes to be beneath a roof. I passed rows of houses. The
river widened and I saw the banks where the women washed their
clothing; the banks where they came to fill their water jars. Smoke
drifted in the air and I thought of the fires being lit each dawn. These
were the houses of those who work the fields: the shepherds who tend
the sheep, the drovers who drive the goatherds through the mountain
passes, the tailors and the shoemakers.

I came to an orchard. It was full with apple trees. They were in bloom
and thick and leafy. Two lovers sat. They were close, their arms about
one another. They spoke softly.

I came to the temple. It had a blue dome. Faded and uncared for. Its
arched door was closed. To the side there was a building. In a small
house, through an open door I saw the patriarch. He had white hair and
wore a heavy gown. An old man, his face was lined and sad. He sat
before a meagre wooden table. The evening candle not yet lit. He read a
book. The book that all in the mountainous region of the Merna read.
Perhaps he read it every night: over and over. Hoping that in the
ritual, in the custom, understanding would come: a shaft of light in his
lonely life.
Still the dust gathered about his feet. The leather binding of the book
was worn. The beggars took their place each morning before the temple

I thought of the river and how it ran past the houses, past the
orchard, past the chapel. To know a town is to walk its riverbank.
The river is connected to the town as the mother to the child. The
river is the dream from which the town takes form. The river runs down
from the mountains. It begins as a small spring of fresh water.
Such are dreams. Quiet and clear in their beginning. Growing until a
world flows from them: until they are a town, a city, a coastline, a life, a
sea, a star.

I thought of the cities I had seen. I have been north on the Hansa
delta, in Damel and Aratä. I have been in countries of great forest and
unending rivers. Before my eyes scenes arose. I saw buildings in cream
and red; I saw buildings with ornate brickwork. I remembered canals,
thoroughfares, market places, poor quarters, palaces and villas. I saw
crowds: the conceited and the wise. I saw soldiers with curved swords
and merchants who travel. I felt the years parade past me. As though
they were but pages of a book, they came and went. I wished to sleep.

There comes a time in a life when it seems the world falls away: as the
husk falls from the seed. Not when one is old. But when the years are
enough to allow looking back.
Then there is the sense of journey. The traveller is too far along the
road to turn back. There are still many steps to be taken.
The world breaks away and life shows itself. The wise see the world is
but a shadow. All its grandeur, its wealth fades; becomes paltry. The tree
grows and grows. The rock remains. The sea washes up on the shore.
The wind blows. The sun rises. Who is to say that they too are not
It was for this reason I journeyed. For under the sea-pines, along the
rocky shoreline I wished to remember myself. In Serano the sun would
rise over the islands and set, fiery and glowing long after I had gone. In
the wash of the sea, the endless rising and falling of the tides I would be
reminded of my brief stay.
It is strengthening for the mind to see itself outside the bounds of
time: to find the thread of its infinity. In the time it has taken the stone
to become sand how many lives have come and gone on the shore?

I followed the river south and it turned to meet the part that ran
north. It circled the castle. If I continued, I would leave the town. Indeed I
saw the road ahead. A shepherd came toward me. The setting sun glowed
at his shoulder. Falling lower and darkening the mountains.

I turned north. The shadows darkened. The river ran narrower. Great
trees stood, growing from the ground, their roots breaking the earth. The
houses changed. No longer were they small and cramped. Gates were
closed. The walls were high so that no passer-by could see within. These
were the homes, the residences of the wealthy. Here lived the magistrate,
the merchant and the landowner. If I was not known in the town, I was
not welcome here. Here any who wandered were looked upon with
suspicion. To these people the wandering were less than the poor. They
were providers of entertainment maybe, but no more.
The great houses, for all their splendour, had an air of collapse. Dust
lay against their walls. Stonework was broken and in disrepair. I saw the
timbers of the wooden gates rotted and darkened with decay. And above
these houses the hill rose with its strangely defiant castle. Majestic yet
closed; like a tomb. A sarcophagus.
I rested that night in an inn where the rivers met. Perhaps for that
reason I dreamed.

The castle on the hill was once the palace of a beautiful goddess. A
goddess whose body was the great river that ran through the town.
Whose hair was the grass of the meadows, the trees of the orchards and
the woods on the foothills. Her eyes were the eyes of any who could see:
her ears the ears of any who could hear. Through the mouths of those
who could speak she spoke. Her words were the words she whispered
into their hearts. And when they listened deep to their hearts they spoke
with truth, spoke with wisdom.

Yet those of the town grew vain. Their conceit was the weed that binds
the flower. Soon each thought it was they and they only who heard the
goddess’s voice. They thought she spoke only to them. Only they saw
with her eyes, heard with her ears. They imagined her favour to be their
If once they spoke with one voice soon they spoke with many. Where
once there was unity there was division. If love had been the form of their
expression now it was pride. If once their hearts were open now they
were closed. Such is our nature. When we close our eyes to truth we
imagine deceit to be everywhere.
So the goddess divided. Her body that was one became two. The river
that ran broad and swift separated and ran north and south. She split
and soon became the one thing shattered into the many. Leaving her self
in the hearts of those of the town as the sparks of the fire leave
themselves in the air in which they burn: so that all held a spark but
none the fire.
The goddess left. She wandered the wild places of the Joran. There,
she is still to be found where the water falls, where the forest is thick,
where the slopes are steep and the pathway narrow. She looks out for
those who seek truth, those who understand that the gift of love is freely
given. It cannot be divided or claimed singularly.

At dawn I rose and continued my journey to Serano. Leaving
behind the town and its castle high on the hill with its great wooden
gates closed.
I longed for the craggy cliffs of the Merna: the scent of the lavender
fields of the bay. To be in Serano with its coast-torn trees bathed in the
light of the rising sun.

Copyright © Peter Millington 2006

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