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chorus of evening birdsong laps at the edges of my hearing, but my thoughts are elsewhere. I’m overlooking the field with my back to the shelter. This evening has a particular smell about it, like that which precedes rainno- more like fruit that is soon to ripen, fall and splay its flesh and future to the soil that grew it. I turn around and my father hands to me some of the food we had salvaged from the withering plains. No more great hunts for us, no planning on providing for more than just ourselves. It’s been this way for some time. It wasn’t always, but what doesn’t change in this place? Something about tonight is different. As we sit still, yesterday seems to have never existed, nor the cycles past. Tonight, as the stars are called out from the dark one at a time, I can feel my ancestors’ blood whisper in mine. I can see the mountains rise and fall. I can almost feel something greater call all these things in this place to come forth, grow and die. This is what they named the Earth’s call... As three small leaves are carried by the wind to the edge of our shelter, they bring with them a faint smell not of hair or feathers, nor water or wood. Looking at my father for some kind of explanation, I see him look away from the stars, as though they had spoken to him, and he asks me whether I know what exactly is that which we name the Earth’s call. I want to answer, but I do not have the words, just the feeling. I know that I would not name it the Earth’s call; I would call it a prayer. “Even as you enjoy what feelings you have and as you bring about what knowledge you have of this world, child, there is such a depth to things that you cannot know. At the same time, things are only ever simply what they are.”
He looks at the evening light, and of the figures in the sky he makes people and places. They talk to him and ask him to remember. He bestows on me, from that sky, the tale of the events that happened near here, though far in time... because it has happened before. Three were brought together out of selfish need, not knowing they would give each other so much. Spurred away from a small, sandy settlement and changing forever in the process were the hunter, the fisherman’s son and the unknown girl.
CHAPTER 1: FOOTPRINTS OF HUMANS She awoke to the rays of the sun caressing her cheeks. As it descended from the top of the sky, light slowly filled her shelter. The first thing to greet her was a sense of unfamiliarity. She had come to expect it. This place and these people, even the food, were all so different from those she knew. Fear had also been waiting for her to wake. This, too, was expected. She remembered running through the trees in the rain while the ground crunched underfoot, then there was mud, and then there was this place. She lay motionless for a while, listening to the voices and happenings of the place outside, chatter, footsteps, until her rested body couldn’t bear to stay so still. Crawling towards the parted leather sheets at the shelter’s entrance, she slowly exposed herself to the world outside and all of its possible dangers. She was in a small settlement on the high side of a sloped clearing. The shelters were made of mud and straw, the powdered ground was yellow, the air held the scent of rich leaves. Nearby, three women were preparing rich leaves for a meal with a cup of bark. They turned to her as she emerged from the shelter, then returned to their task in the shade of a strange tree that held no branches, but giant leaves, each one shaped like a bird’s tail. The lower end of the clearing continued to a wide path that disappeared around large stones. The sun was descending toward a distant hill, past the trees that surrounded this new world. She took in the air of the place with a deep breath. Despite her initial worry, it was deliciously new; all of these surroundings were full of things that she hadn’t taken the opportunity to see before.
She looked around some more, there were some freshly sharpened spears ready for use. Further on, across the shelters, she saw a small clump of trees outlying a forest. She recognised them immediately. That forest was where she emerged on the night that she started upon this place. She couldn’t remember what it was she was running from, but there had been something so very dark in there that she was somehow still trying to escape. The comfort of the shelter seemed increasingly inviting. She had only parted the leather that covered the opening when she heard a small noise that wrenched tears from her eyes; a giggle, a squeal of glee, the sound of successive little stomping feet and a quick gasp for air, then running again. The children were expending the last bits of energy they had before the day would end. She had not the faintest idea why her eyes filled with tears upon the sound of that one child, but she had known that laugh... She took a step away from the shelter, and another, following the distant shouts and screams down the wide path lined with bird-tailed trees. Where the path disappeared behind large grey stones, she found her own shadow, the sun now behind her. The trees immediately fell behind at the bend, and she was standing in a field of yellow grass, adorned with massive rocks that were orange in the light of the falling sun. There were so many boulders it was as though the grass ran like rivers through and between them. In parts the grass had been trampled in further small paths that ran in every direction. Though the rocks were too high to look over, she could hear the rustle of steps as the young ones ran around trying to catch one another. Where was the little voice that she knew? She followed the sounds deeper into the maze of stones, following any one of the trampled paths but the source furthered itself from her more and more. Eventually it faded completely, and she was left only with the lament of the wind and the unfamiliar song of a solitary bird. She sat against one of the large rocks and in discouragement and despair, gave up. She could stay and sleep right there, she wouldn’t go back. The birds could pick at her bones after the night, for she came to realize that she had nothing left.
The sun fell behind a tall rock she was facing and, in her vacant state, something on the face of it caught her eye. Maybe there was something for her yet. Scratched into its surface in basic shapes sharp and black against the grey was the figure of a man. He was standing with his arms outstretched, singing to the sky. Next to that one, one another rock, she saw a flock of birds, returning after the cold moons. There was a smaller etching she couldn’t distinguish from afar. She leaned forward and crawled towards the little picture. As she drew closer, its tiny shape came into focus, two tall people, two small people; a family. She immediately stood up and looked away, fighting back the tears, and then she saw it… On the rock face where she had just contemplated her death, was the shape of a herd at full gallop, of an endless storm, of purest joy. In as many colours as there were emotions, a beautiful spiral was painted to the stone and she could see things inside of it that could have been known only to her. It glinted in the sunlight, intensifying the feelings it evoked; swimming in the pool of a waterfall, dancing in firelight, standing in an open field during the fragrant moons, the big meal after the hunts, and then that one feeling she could never explain, right there painted on the rock. All her truths were exposed to this creation on the tall stone, as it spoke in words closer to her than any language. They expelled her imaginations of loneliness as, for that moment, she fell in love with its creator. Overwhelmed with discovery and hope, she no longer felt like a stranger, but part of a greater family, whose connections were based in a deeper mystery of the Sky-born human core. As she started back she noticed that there were a few more of those stories painted on the larger rocks- strange how she hadn’t noticed them before. . . .
I’ve seen this village, the gathering of shelters far on the other side of the mountain. Some cycles ago, passing them on our way here, we offered food in exchange for shelter. There had been more of us then. My close friend and I had also explored the forest of stones, though the grass was green from the fragrant moons when we walked its paths and shapes. There was nobody there, it was as undisturbed as the riverside too far to reach, or the young things that have not learned yet
to fear. Captured by this place, and the images on the rock surfaces, we walked for a long time until we saw a young boy standing in front of a big stone, scratching at it with a small stone. He was crying. He was carefully drawing in its surface, line by line, wiping tears away while he did so. When he saw us he stepped away from rock, then, with passion, he struck the large stone with his carving point, many times, with rage and despair in his actions, ruining what he had begun to create. We later came to know that the young boy had lost his mother to illness... and that the forest of stones was used to remember those who had been lost. As the unknown girl had learnt, all people have things in common so deep to us that they are simply lost on the surface. My understanding of the place expanded her discovery, and told of something she hadn’t perceived. We all die. Past the sunset hill, a low set shelter sat at the top of a steep riverbank. Around it, black feathered birds waited on the trees; a smell on the air had beckoned them to the secluded shelter. Inside of it, a young man sat beside his sleeping mother and his father. It had been some days now, and they no longer looked like they would wake. His nights had been full of tormenting images and his days full of tortuous thoughts. Sometimes he would sit on the mossy rocks of the riverbank and throw stones at the water, reminding him of when his father would fish. Sometimes he lay in the rain, knowing nobody would be curing his shivers the next day. Now that the birds had come, he could no longer leave the shelter and walk the outside as if walking inside his mind. If he did, as was so easy, when he returned there would be nothing left of his only loved ones but bones and scraps. It was a cruel reality he was forced to realise that morning when he opened the entrance and was met by the gaze of the black feathered night, full of intent. He was made now to contemplate the very real bones being exposed with all reason to scream at him the reality of what had happened. For all those suns, for all the emotions he had felt, not a tear did he shed, but then the tears just rushed at him like a torrent, and he began to cry over them. They had lived a secluded life in their shelter. It was built strong and the river’s providence of fish allowed them to live without any help from
others. The children of the settlement always had strange games that he didn’t understand. The marshlands had been his solitary playground. Beyond that, his parents had provided all the care, instruction and experience he had ever known. After their departure, he found that for all they had given him, now he had nothing. He couldn’t know what to do, deprived of their guidance and knowledge. Through his misty vision he saw movement at the shelter entrance. A black bird pushed itself under the thick leather sheets and hopped towards a cold soil caked foot. He grasped for the bird and it retreated to the leather entrance. As it began to push itself under the sheet, he pounded at it with one quick fist and a mangled bird noise emitted as it was hit with bone shattering rage. The shelter had become very different over such a small time; there was fear floating on the air inside, the screams from his nightmares remained in the walls, and there must have been such a stench from the decay. He couldn’t remain in the comfort of their presence, but he feared so much a world alone. As the two alternatives bounced back and forth in his mind, the idea of a world that belonged to him alone slowly coated the walls of his mind, growing richer with each internal conflict. Taking the first truly independent action of his life he clutched and pulled to tear off a large leather sheet lining the inside of his shelter. Mournfully he laid the fabric over his mother’s body and tucked its sides under her arms and legs. Who now would he go for consolation or comfort, other than himself? Forcefully he tore off the only other sheet large enough for its purpose; the shelter entrance. The birds swarmed in as he covered his father’s body. Through the relentless beating of wings and greedy pecks, he tucked the heavy sheet under his arms, under his legs. He knew there would be nobody to instruct him on how to live, what was to be done and when. Despite the mayhem, the cuts and scratches he received from the indiscriminate birds, he moved over to his mother’s body and carried her outside of the shelter. The world was, at the same time, under his sole control and in overwhelming control over him. The shelter had been full of chaos, but that was only a fraction of the mass that waited outside. They descended with a rain of leaves and
feathers, beaks and claws, but he held tight the sheet against the body of his loved one even as they pecked at his arms and ribs. He carried her to the bottom of the steep riverbank, and under a cyclone of ravenous chaos he lowered her body onto the river’s flow. The body sank a little below the water under the weight of the sheet. He finally let go of her, and she was taken steadily by the current. Even then, they followed her, cawing, like a black mist that she did not deserve. The ground was now covered in feathers and leaves. Most of the birds had gone down the river, but some that had been in the tent remained. When he reached his father’s body, they had started pecking through fresh holes in the leather. Regardless, he lifted his father’s body, with effort, and slowly carried him away. Less in numbers, they were more fearful to approach, instead watched him from afar as he reached the edge of the river which swept over his feet. He lowered his father’s body onto the surface and let him go. He was taken by the river, leaving a red trail behind. The young man looked at his hands; they were covered in blood. He sat on the riverbank for a long time, watching the river flow. He was at the same time unburdened and weighed down; the suns ahead were his own. What were they to be full of? Confronted with this new space that was frightening and alluring, he longed for something smaller. Crawling back to the shelter, he remained in the dark and the feathers and something else, until the sun fell under the earth and sleep covered him like a shadow. . . .
The suns ahead are born from our actions now, and our actions now are born from the choices we make. Maybe in the way of the world, by chance, the birds nested on those trees, and so his choice was luck upon luck, and by chance and understanding, made. . . .
It was a cold and misty morning on the sunset hill between the settlement and the pastures where the horses were to be grazing. A hunter navigated its rocks and grassy slopes, walking slowly in the fog.
He carried an ornamented spear and a shield adorned with grass and leaves to hide his scent. Now they simply burdened his journey, for they had been of no use at all. The previous moon, they had hidden in the cold, expecting the horses to be sleeping at the last light of day. The field was dark, with not even a clear sky to spy by. They searched, but could find no herd, nor any clue as to where the horses had gone. Time went by and their silent hunt persisted past the middle of the night. The hunter with the grassy shield had been following a faint trail through the grass. It led him to a slow moving body of water fed by a river and he could hear that it fell away down a small cliff. He leaned over and peered into the darkness, and saw something moving on the ripples. A whistle sounded from a distance behind him; they were returning home. The sun’s dawning light would have been a blow to anybody’s pride. He whistled back; He would return in time. Examining the edge of the water, he saw a stained and torn leather sheet. Looking further on he saw the grass was heavily trampled on the other side of the water, with many hoof prints in the sand on the bank; a stampede. The sun had begun to break the clouds far away. If something had spooked the horses, there was no use trying to hunt until later in the day. . . .
He walked up the hill through the fog that had settled on its side, carrying with him his shield and spear. He had been hunting for more seasons than he could count, and carried many proud scars on his chest as a result. Though his experience in the hunt had helped him in the long grass, now in the fog, he was at the mercy of the hill. The further he walked, the heavier the fog became, until he could only see the ground where his feet were about to tread. He stepped onto a large flat rock, and assured himself he would soon reach a vantage point, when the sun rose over the clouds and into the blue sky. Immediately, entirely, the fog was imbued with a bright yellow light, blinding him to the world around. He wished he could see where he was, but he was incapacitated. For all his strength, he was held still beyond his will. Anywhere around that rock could hold a slippery footing, a snake in the grass, a plummeting fall. With no avenue for him until time itself
decided, he waited, and in stillness his mind began to speak to him. “You can only ever see, what the world around you allows you to see. To navigate this place, you will judge it by the situations presented to you. But how do you see beyond what you can?” He thought he saw something, the shape of something, in the misty light. “You only see what you want to see, but what is it you are looking for?” ... He tapped the ground and looked around. Slowly the fog began to thin until he could discern dark leaved trees climbing up the hill, and the sharp rocks through which he had clambered. Between these, continuing a gentler slope, bushes showed the way around the hill back to his home. The clean white fog withdrew and he was brought out into a clear warm day. He could see the fields far below, and, in the distance, the horses grazing. All was clear, except for the trees up the hill that still held some mist. He looked at the bushes that would lead him home, and then to the distant fog that beckoned him like an old friend. “What is it you are looking for?” It would be a harder path, but it would still lead him home. He stepped off the flat rock and slowly made his way up through the trees. The fog thinned out of existence, and he began to wonder why he was even walking that way. As he climbed the slope, it became steeper until the trees could no longer find root and he was walking on thin pieces of fragmented rocks. Forced to walk around the hill, its slope now a wall, he found, once again, his choice of actions determined by his situation. If only he had known, if only there were a way to have seen this far ahead, he would have gone the other way. No longer able to cross the hill, he had to pass through a part he had never before seen. The ground was covered in fragmented flat chips of rock that crunched under his feet. There were many trees around, but they all were black and leafless, branches sharp and pointed at the sky. There was stillness in the air and it was so quiet that each of his crunching footsteps travelled back to him from the trees. He walked arduously around the unexplored slopes when something downhill caught his eye through the grey, brown and black surroundings; a soft
shape, colour like skin. It became clearer as he approached. Some part of him must have known, to come this way. Some part of him must have wanted him to see the beckoning in the fog. A man was among the trees, on his stomach. Around him, black patches covered the ground in a pattern like blood spurts from a wound. The hunter grasped his spear and shield, and, with all senses alert, made his way down to the bloody scene. The man’s head was tilted sideways, his eyes open and his jaw agape. His hands were covered in strange bruises like illness. Through his side was a large wound, but one man could not have bled that much. Looking at the bloodstained ground, he noticed pieces of colour strewn about, scraps of clothing. He stepped towards them. At the bottom of a tree, he found a blood soaked dress, but nothing else. There was no body. He stepped back and a low branch of the tree caught the back of his head. He briskly turned, spear in hand, and saw a bangle hanging off the branch. On a far tree, a small tunic hung, decorated with beads, black when it should have been brown. His heart pounded in his chest; he had seen people die, but this was something worse. He could feel the screams on the still air. They shivered his spine and rattled his spirit. He wished to leave but he could not do so yet. He looked on the dead man, and dug a small hole among the rock chips. He took his shield and pressed it against the man’s neck, removing his head. He respectfully covered it under the earth. There was no more that could be done there. He walked with an empty feeling in his heart. What horror those people must have known, for their last moments to have been so dreadful. He tried to make sense of it, find a reason for such pain. The sound of rock chips under his feet sickened him, for each time he was reminded that he was in that foreign place, home to such a wrong thing. The grey, black and brown world was draining the colour from him. He didn’t even want to breathe the air around there, nor have its sounds in his ears, but could not bring himself to walk faster than a mournful pace, out of respect for those who had met such an end there, in the middle of nothing. The sun had reached its peak and, tired, he sat down. He closed his
eyes to at least keep out the sights, when out of the eerie silence came a sound that resonated within his hearing. Carried on the wind from over the hill, birdsong reached his ears. Never before had he heard such a peaceful sound, such a comfort, as to be closer to home. He got up, and, standing right between joy and despair, it became very clear, the reason that had eluded him before. For joy to even exist, for birdsong to be bliss, there must first be pain, else the birdsong is but a sound.
CHAPTER 2: SOIL AND PEACE She sat on the dusty yellow ground and laughed at the children’s antics as they played around her. Although they did not speak the same words, they shared a special sort of communication. She did learn one word, a greeting. The girl who had been caring for her those past few suns taught her other words but she had forgotten them. Of all the people in the clearing, this girl was the one with whom she could feel safest. There was a warmth to her that came from her core, that reminded her of family. One young boy walked to her side; this was the friend who’d found her at the field, the one whose laugh was so familiar. He touched her arm and yelled something, then smiled. Just as energetically he ran off as the children began a game of which he wanted a part. She was content, although nearby, always in view, was the clump of trees outlying the forest. Sometimes it would catch her eye, whispering to her that not all was well. The dark thing that had wanted to claim her had not yet moved on. At these thoughts she couldn’t help turn around, towards the forest and look into the depths that held those dark promises. She thought she saw she shadows move, but reminded herself that she’d imagined it before. There was motion again, as the shadows lingered behind. She could no longer hear the children play, so intensely focused was she on the trees. Branches parted and leaves gave way. Tears began to run from her eyes as an inexplicable terror gripped her body, and she tensed. It was not a shadow, it was reality, and on the cusp of her nightmare, she saw a form emerge... “No, no,
no” she thought. She screamed and got up to run. She stumbled in her panic, tried to pick herself up from the ground. The children had stopped playing and simply stared at her. She heard footsteps. When she got up she was met by a warm hold and arms thrown around her. She recognized the soothing voice, although the words were lost on her. Crying out of pure fear and anguish, she held tight that one person she thought of as safe, with her back to the trees, not knowing what was coming out of that dark place. She began to shiver, and as memories of that night flashed at her, she desperately did not want to go back to them. Her legs gave way and, together, they fell slowly to the ground. She had her eyes closed tight, her fists clenched, and she breathed in gasps. The memories were returning to her, and she couldn’t stop them. . . .
She grew up in a large settlement with a small family. She lived with her parents, her grandfather and her younger brother. Her grandfather had been able to, for all his life, speak with the world above. His eyes could see beyond the face and witness the spirit behind it. His son, her father, had not been gifted as such, but had been drawn to somebody with another gift. Her mother had the ability to turn stagnant rocks into the freest animal forms. With small, sharp rocks and a state of trance, she carved small things, lizards, owls, and sky shapes that guarded their shelter and the shelters of friends. For the last few cycles, she had been carving a large animal being in the wall of a small cliff. It was almost finished; all that was left to complete its wolf form were its feet. Until then, the wolf was to be held to the stone. It was the last of seven sky statues in their settlement. Each one was made through many cycles of one person’s life, designed to reflect one of the forms of the great watcher and provider. By looking deep into this reflection, people would find strength, comfort, or purpose. ‘Follow the river against its course, when you return you will find me’, is what her grandfather heard the statue say, on the day that would determine their journey. When he got back to the main shelter, he was enthused but too worn-out to speak. From his body’s weakness from age, illness had crept into him and when he told the settlement what he had heard, they did not trust him. The people said that the spirits were
displeased with him, and that was why he was afflicted with disease. After that moon, while all were still sleeping, her grandfather left the settlement. Her little brother had followed him, and once the sun appeared, a panic had taken all in the shelter. Her mother and her father hurriedly went in search of them, not knowing how long it had been and how far they had gone. She too hurried after, but finding them did not take long. Standing on a flat portion of grass at the edge of a river, her little brother was standing by their grandfather’s side. It appeared they hadn’t walked much, but had been calmly waiting for them. Her mother reached out to hold her only son, when something imposing echoed from up the river. It was a tremendous howl, like a wolf’s. Seeming to come from the sky itself, they all heard something more in that howl. Some suns later a band of seven faithful left the settlement to seek the great watcher and provider. They followed the river upstream, to where it had cut a deep path through the ground, leaving two steep walls to line its banks. As if to correct their heading, the howl was again heard, only it was not upstream, but some distance across the river, past the cliffs of the riverbank. Though there was no way to cross, eventually they passed a point where the ground had held fast and bridged one cliff to the other. They crossed it and walked on that new land, as the sun rose, shone high in the sky, and began to fall. One whole day had passed when they somehow found the river again. Its waters were faster, clearer and refreshing. They resumed their upstream journey, until the deep shadows of night began to appear, and her father spied a safe spot to rest across the river, some distance up a hill. It was a clear area that faced the moon, with only thin trees to obscure vision. With a clear sky and in numbers, there should have been no danger. They crossed at the edge of a jungle and the clearer, steeper hillside. The sun had just hidden itself away and was taking its light with it as they reached their resting spot. When the howl resounded, it was much closer. It was too dark to see where and what it was, but a terrible fear took her heart when, from such a small distance away, she could hear something behind the howl; it had never been a wolf’s, it was a human sound.
Lying on the lap of the girl who cared for her, she shivered and cried, spasmed and twitched, as she retreated into her nightmare. There was also a man who knelt by her, contemplating the tragedy of what had happened to her. He was the only other who knew. When the hunters left again for the fields, he remained behind, looking on the younger girl with pity and regret. He knew what had happened to her, but could not fathom it. Something, within or outside of him, had led him to the truth of what had happened, that message in the fog. He did not know what to do with such a strange gift of circumstances, other than remain by her side. She looked asleep but her eyes stared blankly at the empty space around which the shelters sat. She felt as far away from the watcher than she had ever been. She felt that no part of her was sky; she was purely earth, as simple meat and bones as a bird. Her faith was almost broken. Had they not listened to the call, or even the statue’s calling, all of their lives would have still been under the sun. So what good had following the watcher and provider’s will brought? Why would they have been even asked to go? If there was a purpose behind the watcher’s providence, she did not know it. Her mother had devoted herself for cycles to bringing out the image of the watcher and provider out of that cliff face. She had imbued it with love and purpose. Her grandfather had sacrificed much of the joys of his life, to be a vessel for the watcher and provider’s voice. Same could be said of the two faithful that had come with them. But what of her brother, too young to have even seen a hunt, so harmless and playful, he had a laugh that could clear a cloudy day. What kind of watcher would allow such grief to the people that had placed their lives in the sky’s hand? For such a trick to be played on them that their faith would be turned on itself, with the wolf’s howl, was something so unusual that it hurt. The sun had begun to fall when the pack returned. Two horses were being dragged with them, lifeless, limp and covered in scratches from the rocks on the hill. The hunters were tired but relieved and proud of their catch; one grown mare and an adolescent. The horses were dragged further to one of the shelters. Somebody called out in their
direction, and the girl on whom she was lying said something soft to her, and sat her up, before walking to the small crowd gathered around the horses. The girl’s limp body only kept her sitting for a few moments before she began to fall back, but somebody caught her. They were hands not soft but hard, and a support not so gentle but caring. Her trance was broken and she was aware of the world around her; it was the third person who had been waiting with them. Brought back into her body she sat herself properly, and the stranger did not move. . . .
The hunter looked on the fruits of the hunt being prepared. The younger horse’s eyes and jaw were wide open, and he was reminded a similar scene. He watched as they drained the blood from the horses, and removed their organs. He watched as, with sharpened flat stones, they removed the hard skin, and they cut the muscles off limbs. The girl, too, watched the people work around the two corpses. Blood stained the grass where she had once laxly watched the sun’s course. She looked as the gentle girl calmly and slowly removed the pieces of the youngest animal, and it looked like less and less of a horse each time. She didn’t know why, but what she looked on hurt her immensely. Where before she had asked “what was the will of whom that would allow such pain?” now she looked at the answer in its graphic truth. The other girl’s hands were now covered in blood, as her bright and soft face was directed as the next piece of the animal to prepare. The same hands that had held her just before were now tearing the horse to pieces. “Why, what is the excuse?” she asked out loud. She could not let her faith slip any more. Driven by hunger, they exposed the secrets that hid under the tough skin of the horse. The violent actions of the girl were not guided by cruelty, they were for the better of the people. As she watched the person she loved commit the same actions that were inflicted on those she loved, she realised the rule that all living things have to obey, the way of the world. She felt the soil under her hands, and the thousands of grains that were in it, each responding to each other, responding to the wind, responding to her fingers, and she passed the reason from the watcher to the
world. . . .
The man had seen many hunts and done much killing in his life, but for the first time, he questioned it. These fresh deaths were all so horrid. But in order to prevent the chaotic nature of the wild world from consuming them, his people worked to keep their peace. The order they exerted on the world, born from the world, in order to remain in the world, there was a word for it; justice. The goal of it was simply to be allowed to exist, to minimise the weight of chaos, to create peace. As he looked on the girl in the midst of her pain, that same pain he felt at the bloody scene, he realized he was tied to it, now that he knew. At the end of the sun’s journey, as the meal fire was being prepared, he thought he wished for peace in the world, where what he actually sought was peace in himself. His hands grasped the soil, as if taking the way of the world into his hands, and in doing so, sought to claim justice on the child of chaos. . . .
The feast had been prepared and all the families sat in the clearing. The firelight flickered on the faces of people laughing, talking, eating and resting. When the firelight caught something moving against the black of the forest, the hunter rose immediately. A young man walked towards the people of the settlement, dishevelled and sluggish. ‘Hey! Who is that?’ The people turned towards the young man, the faces of those closest to him dark in the shadow of the fire. ‘River’s Eye’, he answered. His name came from that form that, when several currents meet, shows as an eye on the surface of moving water. ‘You knew my parents,’ he pointed vaguely in the direction of the place he called home, ‘near the river’. There was hushed surprise, all wanted to ask the obvious question, but none could break the sudden silence. Unyielding, he stood in front of them, tired and hungry, when the hunter made a motion of beckoning. The fisherman’s son, finally free of his own whim, walked around to him, as the meal and gossip slowly resumed. The girl lifted her head to the newcomer. He was taken aback
by the gesture; Her eyes shone like sun through falling water, her expression was lit perfectly by the firelight, and her form was small that hid something much larger. For a moment he was captured; he had never known such an emotion could be instilled in him by another person, for it was the first time he had seen such a beautiful being, ‘You can sit here’. The hunter’s voice broke his trance, and only briefly did he perplex himself with his own emotions. He sat on the other side of the man that had called to him. The man reached for a piece of meat off a stone slab and offered it to him, ‘Here, have some food’. The famished young man took the cooked meat without hesitation and, driven by a tongue deprived of taste for too long, took big bites out of the neck of horse. Juice from the cooked food dripped down his chin as he nodded to the hunter in gratitude. It was the first proper food he had eaten since his life changed. All had not occurred as his mind had decided. He had thought to control his own future, but had been unable to. Food and safety had become secondary to a larger need, a fundamental part of him that he sought and could not find; a refuge of sorts. ‘River’s Eye, what happened to your parents? What brings you here?’ ‘I could smell the food from my home, I haven’t eaten something good in so long, since there’s nobody there anymore.’ The hunter remembered the fisherman. While his family never came to the settlement much, when they did, they had always been treated as one of their own. He looked to the fisherman’s son who had wandered from his empty home near the river, and realised his being there was as important as that misty morning. The hunter offered him another share of the plentiful food. ‘Look here,’ The hunter signalled to a picture drawn into the soil in front of them. It cast shadows on itself from the small ridges and troughs that were its form, two large lines with various smaller features around and between them.
‘…this,’ He pointed to the outside of one of the lines, ‘… is where we are’, He pointed to the outside of the other line, ‘and this shows where her home is.’ The fisherman’s son looked towards the young girl, who glanced at him with faint hope in her expression. He wondered who exactly this girl was, she who seemed as much a stranger here as he. ‘You know the river more than I, and I, more the plains and forest than you, and I cannot understand where this would be...’ The fisherman’s son looked at the image while chewing intensively. After some time, he noticed the first line ran between where they were, and what could have been a hill. There was only one place this could be found, whereupon the significance of the lines became so obvious; they were rivers. ‘I think I understand; these are rivers, this is that hill,’ he pointed to the sunset hill, ‘and that is the dark blue mountain. Can you see? There is your settlement, and the plains would be here’. The girl watched him as he gestured at the marks she had made, and he seemed to understand it. Both men were engrossed in the design that was to lead her home. While at the clearing settlement, the gentle girl cared for her, and the children loved her, there was a fundamental part of her that she was desperately missing; a refuge of sorts. She raised herself from the ground and moved towards the drawn marks both men were deciphering. They both looked up as she approached. When she was close enough, she looked at the younger man, lifted her hand, and began to trace the journey. She started on the far end of the map, at her home, and moved her finger to the river and up its course. There was a crossing at a bridge, and then a large dark shape. She followed the path with dispassionate calm, but the boy still could not believe the sense of beauty from her. The invisible path drew
to the other river, the one familiar to them, and travelled up until a path of stones, then crossed it. She traced up and around a hill, the side of the hill the hunter had walked that same morning. Her finger began to shake as she traced around it. Before she could continue, her hands were cupped by two larger hands, the warmth holding in the dread, as the man slowly withdrew them from the map. She looked up at him, fear showing in her eyes, but it soon faded into only sadness. ‘The furthest I know is that large shape, it is a giant thing I’ve seen from a distance, but our river, in that entire part, is not easy to cross,’ ‘I will find a way,’ This hunter seemed to impose his own desire onto the world, an ability fuelled by a strong will, something the fisherman’s son was excited to witness. ‘So why is it you want to reach there?’ ‘This girl...’ He tilted his head in her direction, an expression of regret and determination casting shadows over his features. ‘...she has lost everything, and I’m trying to give her back some part of what she lost’. These words resonated inside the young man’s mind; so sadly did he seek a small taste of what had been lost. He looked into the fire, then at the people speaking and smiling in the light that shone up at them. He was out of place, but there was some purpose to his being there. There was a purpose to his being, he could feel it, but he was lacking a will to move himself, for he simply did not know where to go. There, at that fire, in that settlement, in front of those two, he saw both aspects of what he sought. One had the will to mould the world and the other was headed to a place called home. ‘What is your name, hunter?’ ‘Far Shade,’
‘I can show you how to reach this place,’ . . .
Home... I look around at the moonlit borders of these rocks that are my home. From the mouth of this cave I can see the clouds floating light and lonely against the river of stars. Inside of our shelter I see our work, the walls, the etches in the leather, the matted grass and the two people, us. We have seen many shelters, all kinds, on our way until we found this one. It wasn’t through chance, but through realization. If I was alone here, there would have been no difference from a reflection of my mind. What is different is that I allow others to be in this feeling with me, and that is what makes it home. . CHAPTER 3: SKIES So began the pilgrimage, each for their own reasons and each for the best reasons. That night’s sleep would have to be full of rest, for arduous travel lay ahead of them, at least one sun, and some of the moon, through a nameless land between two rivers. In the world they slept in, they dreamt, one near a dying fire, one in a crowded shelter, and one on the soft grass. In the world of the sky, the three stars of which they were reflections had begun a journey, driven by a purpose that would expose their human reflections to the most violent changes and wildest truths. As, caught in sleep, the barriers between sky and earth began to fade, they were bestowed dreams; vision through the eyes of their deeper selves. . . . . .
River’s Eye woke up somewhere far above the trees. All around him was sloped rock, some steep mountain. Ahead of him, a flatter path led upwards into a cloud. The cool air smelt of berries, and the sky winds sang long chants in tunes that were old as the moon. Walking through the cloud, his hair became wet, and so did his clothing. He emerged
above it to a flat and empty expanse of rock; the mountaintop. There was nothing there but a dead bird splayed on the ground. Its small eyes had begun decaying. He was walking towards it when, from behind the wind’s chant, he heard a voice. While he’d never heard such a voice before, he knew that it was that girl from the fire. It came from ahead of him, from beyond the limits of the flat mountaintop. Walking toward the edge, he peered over and saw a vertical fall into rocks and a forest far below, but there was nobody. He knew he had heard her. Perplexed he straightened up, looked around for her, when his stare met the dead bird’s eyes. It had its head lifted into the air and its dead gaze fixed on him. There had been no voice. There was nothing on the mountaintop but him and something arcane and wilful. Stepping back out of terror, from being caught alone in the loneliest of places, he unthinkingly retreated off the edge and fell. Pale Sky called and called for somebody, but no one could find her. Lost in a nauseating sea of colour, she longed for something tactile, so she opened her palms in the hope that somebody would reach for her. She was alone and in need of human contact, and there was no abating her distress. Then something happened; the waves of colour began to melt away, until she was standing on a flat stone, surrounded by countless other stones in the midst of a river of colour. The sky was black, though all was illuminated, and far on the horizon, trees swayed in an unfelt breeze. Close to her she saw, though she had not known it before, the hunter was stranded on one of the rocks with his eyes closed, alone and in need of human contact. She hopped the stones, over the watery colours, to him. As she reached out, he began to smile. She held onto his hand, and his eyes opened, full of colour reflected from the water. Far Shade heard music beside his ears. He opened his eyes and saw a young boy, his features dim and pale, as though there were fog between them, where there was none. The boy was sitting on the ground, against a background of large dark green trees, holding something in his hand; long and little bones tied together in a row. He held the instrument below his mouth, and when he blew over it, the most haunting sounds would emanate. The sounds would travel through the trees, into the air, around his body. Sitting in front of this boy, he fell
asleep inside his dream, captured entirely by the music. When he woke up, there was nobody. He rose to his feet and looked around. The large green trees lined a large dusty path. He found the boy standing where the path disappeared downhill, against massive mountains grey and blue. Before the boy disappeared down the other side, he lifted his arm with the wind instrument in hand. Looking directly at him, he posed the instrument on the ground. It was a gaze that could be felt even over that great distance and it simply meant, ‘This is for you’.
“You see all these things? This rocky floor, this sky, these trees; where did they all come from? What controlled the wind that caused that distant tree to grow in such a way, that its shadow in the moon is now directed toward us? What placed that moon in the sky, casting light and folly on the world, and for the nature of each thing under it to be directed to any inspired action? What of a long past childhood occurrence made me become this man who tells you this now? What original howl began everything upon everything, leaving it only to the rule of chaos...?” “But now as you confront this truth, don’t you feel something more? As you recognise and accept yourself as part of this existence, and one with its one law, you may feel you are a reflection of something more. Just as the moon’s energy says something more about it, than just being a faraway rock, and the earth’s breath, if you hear it, resonates at your frequency, caring like a mother. That is the world of energy, from which we draw love, hope, faith, and all the various translations of those purest states.” . . .
Some seek peace and some seek justice, but all are tied to the uncontrollable chaos of everything in existence. It is as unescapable as the blood in our veins; we are a part of this world. Peace not from the absence of the wild winds of the world, but from the simplicity of accepting them. I can hear the earth’s prayer loud and clear; it echoes
in my body. . . CHAPTER 4: THE CONTENTS OF A HOME The hunter was in his shelter, equipping himself for a journey he had chosen but hadn’t yet completely accepted. He picked up his shield, still dark at the tip, and he picked up a leather sack of provisions. It felt like he was dipping his feet in muddy water, not knowing how deep he would sink or what he would find. Some deeper part of him sought a meaningful reward from the large unknown. The fisherman’s son and the unknown girl waited outside. She glanced every now and then, hopefully, to the horizon, towards where she remembered home to be. He would look at her, briefly, before casting his eyes back to the ground, for the dream of the previous night had not left him. He found her mysterious, and that very unknowing would instil both fear and fascination for he felt he was still falling off that lonely mountaintop. He felt a desire to be close to her while his spirit would shudder at the idea, and she, oblivious, would look at him every so often with an end in mind, of which he was the means. The hunter appeared, holding his stained shield and a large hollow deerskin which he gave to the fisherman’s son. He went back inside to fetch his spear, and also emerged with an axe. The axe was old and used, the splintered wood showing between the unravelled cords that had been wound around the handle and axe-head. The head was a dark stone, white at the edge where it had been chipped into a damaging item, although now a little blunt from all the cycles it had seen. The hunter tucked the axe in a cord around his waist, took one long breath, and looked at the jungle ahead. He motioned to the fisherman’s son, ‘Let’s go’, and the younger man, with his deerskin bag, proceeded to lead them as best he could, and hopefully on the way find an element of what he was after. . . . .
They approached the jungle that bordered the settlement. The girl
slowed down the closer it was. She could feel herself back in the same place, in the dark of night, her legs covered in mud, her eyes wide open and darting, as if to themselves scream. She watched the younger man walk through the veil she feared to cross. Behind her, walking on, was the hunter, whose battle scars and shield seemed to reflect the protection she already felt from his presence. Things were not as before. This time, her fear weighed evenly against the hope of providence. Facing the murky future, she glimpsed a path and was spurred along it. So, bravely, she stepped through the threshold that once challenged her, passing from the clearing of the settlement into the jungle of her dark dreams. Beyond the calm of the settlement clearing, the world immediately adopted a different nature. Bird calls bounced back and forth through the trees, and a rustle of activity permeated the lower shrubs. The mud was cold around their feet, but the air was warm and damp on their shoulders. The sky only revealed itself to them in glimpses through the dense leaves. Each beam of light seemed to intrude on the air into which it travelled and the ground on which it fell. The fisherman’s son was wary in such a dense jungle; anything could hide that would violently rip their lives from them. Emotions and thoughts fell silent, as they stepped into the territory of the world’s wild animals. The hunter clutched his weapon tightly, senses alert to the sounds. While the mass of noise was chaotic, there was a pattern, an elusive melody that the sounds of the jungle followed. A bird’s call would be answered by another, a large motion would create smaller motions, mostly unseen. Each interaction meant a different thing. It was a complex throng of noises he had only come to understand from cycles of hunting, but he could read it, and he read of no danger. Of course, the things that live by tooth and claw can play a safe sound, too. They waded through the thick air, disrupting it from stillness and through the noise and the scents as foliage brushed constantly against them. The unknown girl thought to herself that the safe neatness of the settlement had been so easy to perceive and understand. In its controlled environment there was an easiness and comfort where it could have been simpler to remain. Even as she thought these things,
she did not yearn to be there at all; across the danger and away from neat simplicity was home. The fisherman’s son led the way towards the river, gauging his position, weaving around landmarks. Eventually he smelt something faint on the air, a small freshness from a moving source. He smiled to himself, and turned to them. The girl was looking down, watching her footing, when the younger man in front stopped. When her regard met his, she saw a smile. What she didn’t expect was that she found herself smiling back. The fisherman’s son was lost in that small moment, until the figure of the hunter came into focus behind the girl. He was also looking at him, expressionless. Startled somewhat, he turned around and proceeded towards where he knew small fast waves were crashing perpetually against a path of stones that crossed the river. . . .
Her small smile radiated within him. He was proud to have been the cause of such a beautiful thing, and he was newly refreshed. He couldn’t help marvel that what he prized as beauty could be found, not in the world, nor in an event, but within a fellow person. He had only begun to revel in her company when he spied something among the ferns ahead, lying in a patch of mud. It was a small dark shape, splayed limbs, what may have been wings. It could have been anything, but it put a fear into his bliss that poisoned it dead; those feathers and dead eyes, an invisible animal of tooth and claw, watching him from the jungle shadows. He averted his eyes, for he could not risk introducing that silent horror to his reality. Those eyes could not find him if he did not see them. As he continued walking past it, he shuddered, his spirit banging at the walls of his body in panic. They walked onwards, further away, leaving that muddy secret far behind. When they walked out onto a sparser jungle, with the sound of a distant river floating to them on the air, he could feel no relief. The greenery around changed became lighter in form and colour and the sky revealed itself to them slowly; small light-filled clouds that shone yellow on their edges. The mud gave way to yellowish green grass, only ankle high, and the jungle’s melody turned into the easier song of a
forest. The trees fell away when they reached the riverbank. The fisherman’s son knelt by the river, the mother he had been away from for so long. She flowed fast and deep, but the rounded boulders that broke the river’s flow would make it safe to cross. On the further bank, an empty field awaited, flanked by rocky outcrops and large trees. The hunter looked at the young man, ‘Thank you, River’s Eye…’, he unwound the cord that held the axe and gave him both items, ‘I hope you are safe in returning’. The fisherman’s son returned the deerskin of provisions he had carried, then the hunter, with a small nod, turned away. With determination, he looked to the empty field and walked towards the stone bridge. The girl only looked back briefly at the fisherman’s son, who was still holding the axe as it had been given. He watched her jump onto the first stone, nimble and capable. As she stepped from stone to stone, further and further away, he began to admire her motions, and was reminded of the danger of doing so. That deep feeling was a siren’s song that would lure him over the edge; an ungraspable notion that was the territory of unsettling things. While the other two were concentrating on their footing, aware that one careless motion could be death, he was lost inside his mind, standing before the rocks of another kind of bridge. Something about her, unspoken and unperformed, reminded him of the happiness he had only known in that place called home. Once again he was to make a choice, absolute and significant. He could return to his own world where he, alone, moulded the cycles ahead into the happiness he sought... Or he could proceed to a shared reality, where, together, he thought he could exist within his happiness, beside her. The choice seemed to make itself. Despite the threat of pain, the fear of loss, and the risk of torture, at that point he accepted those things, for he realised that while his demon and his love were interwoven, he would rather have both than neither. Echoing the determination just seen in one other, he dropped his fear as a vanquished foe, clutched the axe in his fist, and hopped onto the first stone. The hunter had just reached the far riverbank and, as he looked back to the girl’s progress, found an unexpected figure crossing the river to join them.
The new field sloped and sank in wide waves, the shadows of the swift clouds seemed to float on them. It was a world unknown to them, and it cultivated uncertainty in their minds. As their feet trampled the grass and broke its blades, no animal was roused. There were no herds in that rich field. There was life, but its activity was reserved and watchful. To the hunter, the melody of that place was nothing but eerie; subject to rhythms that were unfamiliar and bizarre. There was an unnerving silence between the small noises, where a single word uttered might be a beam of sunlight pervading the dark of a jungle. As they walked on, the sun began to cast smaller shadows under their feet, reminding them that it would eventually begin its fall. They would need to find higher ground, to find their next objective; what the fisherman’s son knew as a giant rock that was almost a mountain. They continued away from the river, towards a small wood at the base of a hill. From the top of it, the direction of the mountain rock might be found. Through the woods, the ground became softer than soil. Layer upon layer of leaves, fallen but never foraged, were left to rot under the trees to nourish them. Their feet sank through its crisp surface to the rotting foliage underneath. In their immediate space all was quiet but for the crunch of their footsteps. Sometimes, from the trees, an unfamiliar animal call would sound to them. They walked through the sludge and when they reached the foot of the hill they found a grassy slope. The fisherman’s son began to climb to the vantage point. Gauging the slope, its variations, placing each hand and foot in succession, the unknown girl followed his ascent. She climbed until she was well above the ground, where the grass on the slope receded into the rocks that formed the core of the hill. Where it rounded over, she hoisted herself up and found the younger man looking on the newly revealed landscape. The land was covered in small hills and sloping fields, interspersed by cliffs and outcrops of white rock. Any flat portion of land was claimed by trees that grew tall into the sky. She looked in the direction of home, and her attention was forced towards something that stood massive and still
against the moving sky. Its black form seemed to intrude upon those hills and cliffs of white stone, like a tooth embedded in flesh. It was their next objective, and it was not as far as she’d thought it would be. The three of them now, with their definite and more desperate purpose, were able to cross the expanses more briskly than her wandering troupe had, no more than a handful of suns ago. Without realising, her eyes began to follow their old journey from home, across the first river, to the rock, through the land. She turned around slowly, tracing the paths as their journey had continued, and when her eyes met the river, she also saw the hill, its dead slopes waiting for her to return and meet the fate she had escaped. In that moment, all the thoughts and regrets she had of home were wrenched from her, further than her mind could reach, and replaced with grief. She only saw the hill, far away, dark, and imbued with a dreadful memory. She collapsed on all fours, fists clenched and tears pouring out of her, uncontrollably, onto the rocky ground. The silence that pervaded that place between rivers dug into her as she longed to hear something familiar. The fisherman’s son turned to see the young girl caught in a terrible grief. He was reminded of his own thrashings of agony from all too recent a time. As they stood on that small hilltop, alone, it became apparent to him that he was not the only one with a deep shadow. ‘What’s going on?’ the hunter shouted from the bottom of the hill, ‘We can’t wait longer; the sky is darkening’. Rivers Eye looked up; where yellow edged clouds had swiftly drifted past, now they grew still and heavy and the sun could no longer illuminate them. They would have to hurry. The girl’s tears had dried, yet the image of grief still struck her features. The young man knelt down, touched her chin, and gently turned her regard away from the hill, towards her home. That is where they would take her. He looked into her eyes and nodded, his eyes pleading necessity and action. Finding some hope, with newfound conviction she rose to her feet. They walked up and down slopes, through untrodden woods, under an increasingly ominous sky. The whole time, they crossed no animals, saw no motion. The sway of the trees in the storm-tinged wind was the only sign that the earth hadn’t stopped. Their pace was hurried and their
legs were hurting but they did not slow. They each could feel the twisted energy of that place, as though there was a foreboding entity that imbued all the elements, and they were pressed to leave its territory. So they did not slow. They were much closer to the massive rock. Its dark grey colour was broken by vegetation that somehow had found sustenance in its elevated vertices. Here and there, its surface was pocked by dark crevasses and caves. These were visible, but they were not close enough when the first drops splashed against their moving bodies. Falling from the single cloud that now enveloped the entire sky, the rain compelled the three to immediately seek shelter. The ground became slippery as they clambered up a grassy slope. When they reached the top, they found, almost a gift, a small rock hill far at the bottom of the field and, in its side, a cave. As the cloud released more water upon the earth, the rhythmic fall of rain became increasingly intense. Quickly they travelled down the slope, their garments already soaking and their vision obscured by the torrent, half sliding from the ground turning to mud. At the mouth of the cave the ground was rough to their footing where the hill had come apart and its pieces littered the ground. Negotiating the spaces between the rock fragments, they stumbled into the hollow in the hill. The rain’s rhythm echoed from the walls of the cave. Light struggled to pierce the storm cloud, and what small amount that could, failed to reach them through the veil of rain. They sat in darkness, breathing heavily, as they looked out to the only light. After the hunter had caught his breath, his thoughts returned to him, ‘We should start a fire’. The other agreed, ‘How?’ He unwound the cord that bound the deerskin bag, and from it he produced various provisions; dry grass, dead branches, three large pieces of wood, some fruit, some flat stones, and a smaller leather bag that he replaced into the deerskin. ‘We pile it up, the branches and the dry grass, like this, and we will start the fire from these,’ he showed the two flat stones to the fisherman’s son. ‘You draw the fire out... with force and patience’. Soon after, a small but warm fire had caught the branches and begun to set the first large piece of wood alight. They sat around it, protected
from the outside storm and the cold. The walls of the cave were revealed in the firelight; rounded surfaces that flickered shadows on themselves, forming a secure embrace around the visitors. This place would be safe until the storm dissipated, but that would leave them travelling in the danger of night. There was not much they could do at that point, but sit around the fire and profit from its warmth. While the hunter tended to the fire, the fisherman’s son took the axe from his waist and set it on the ground. With a small round stone, he began to chip at the blunted blade of the axe. As he did so, the edge did not whiten with a fresh edge, as he had hoped, but slowly turned brown. Upon doubling his efforts, a loud snap resounded, as the rock he had held broke into two. Embarrassed, he turned around to face his company, to find an increasingly amused expression on the hunter’s face. He threw the treacherous pieces out into the rain, as the hunter chuckled, then laughed. When a new, more jagged rock bounced to his feet, the hunter was still smiling. The unknown girl was startled at their interaction. It felt like so long since she had heard laughter, or been in its presence. The sound was even unfamiliar at first, but, somehow, it brought her into that moment and she couldn’t help but smile. Inside that cave, away from everything, it almost seemed like a different world, one where she was removed from pain. As the two men exchanged words, every now and then a laugh would bounce of the caves walls, and, each time, she felt more removed from the ghosts that haunted her. When the large piece of wood had caught fire, the hunter took the smaller pouch from the deerskin. He opened it slightly, and from it, poured a liquid onto the flames. There was a brief stench, but once caught in the fire the odours were suffocated. From the pouch, he tipped into his hand an organic item, more bone than flesh, which he lobbed to the younger man. Additionally from the pouch he produced a piece of jaw, and some more offal. The girl looked slightly repulsed but they were all famished. The fisherman’s son held his item of food over the fire. The hunter impaled the piece of offal onto a branch, and held it over the fire. The girl did the same, carefully, and as the food cooked, the smell of it filled the cave,
‘Have you ever done something like this, River’s Eye?’ It took the fisherman’s son a few moments to understand what the hunter meant, ‘Well, I remember, as a child, I used to find such strange things, important things. As I got older I could see less of them. I think, perhaps, that this is one of those things, somehow returned to me’, in speaking of childhood, he was reminded of his dear parents from whom he was separated. ‘So you are the fisherman’s son. I am curious, what is it that brought you here?’ He could not help glance at the girl when asked this question, but avoided answering in complete truth. ‘Since I lost my parents, I have been searching for what to do... I want to find the best way to live, and some spirit has pointed me, willing or not, to you. But I, too, must ask, why do you take her home?’ The hunter looked at her, as she watched them speak, and looked then to the rain outside. After some time he answered, ‘There are things we simply have to do, if we are able to do them... There is a harm that is so heavy on us both, that I may not find good in the world if this harm is not undone, somehow’. A piece of branch broke and the firewood fell through, coughing up ash. The younger man retreated his food and blew the white dust off of it. There was still some of the white and black powder on its half bone surface. He began gnawing at the piece of horse, trying to retrieve from its structure what nourishment he could. The girl leaned forward, and said something to him, slowly, which he didn’t understand but in her eyes were the gleam of a smile. The younger man replied, ‘what?’ she repeated herself, louder, and began to laugh. She eased back with a shine in her eyes, like water to the parched. So too did he snicker, more confused than offended, when her taunting was joined by the hunter. ‘How do you know she’s not laughing at both our expenses?’, the young man retorted, throwing a scrap of bone at him. The hunter almost dropped his offal branch, and, in recovering his hold, ascertained that it
was ready to eat. The girl checked her own scrap. It was dark where it hadn’t been, but some parts still looked raw. Regardless, she was very hungry, nor did she want to food to burn, so she proceeded to brave its taste... As her teeth dug into the wet flesh, the mouthful made itself known, with conviction, to her tongue. A loud cry of disgust drew their attention, as she recoiled from the taste. She was assailed by hysterical laughs, and she stared disappointedly at that thing impaled on a branch. The hunter took it off her, replacing it with his properly cooked item. An air of levity had somehow kindled in their bodies, happiness from just sitting in the cave, enclosed from the world by a blanket of rain. . . Though they might not have known it, inside that moment there was some element of what each of them sought. Among each other, and barring every chaotic element of the world, their deeper selves could not help but emerge; it was an earthly reflection of home. As the shelter from the world separated them from the wild winds, they were easily able to mould their own joy, away from fear, but away from reality, so too does such a weak construction fall. There is one thing that would last, however; Actions, footsteps sounding in the melody of the jungle. We identify the elements from the senses, and act and react to influence the jungle’s song. We are the melody sung by the sky. . . . .
CHAPTER 5: DEATH’S QUESTION The laughter had run thin and the fruit had been eaten. The fire was dying and they waited for the rain to stop. The unknown girl lay sleeping on the soil and the hunter leaned against the back of the cave, humming long and low notes, a song to the rain. The fisherman’s son sat near the wall of falling water, looking through it, as he sharpened the axe with quick successive motions. He looked at the storm and its grey clouds, absorbed in its many facets. There was a beauty in its nature that grasped him. What had been many small clouds before, had grown
into a storm, and the gentle winds that drew them together, now made way for the stormy gales. He watched the raindrops fall from height in the sky, to each briefly bend leaves and move the soil, soaking into the ground to one day re-emerge. There were so many elements to a storm that had somehow culminated to catch them on that day. Life’s events were unpredictable and innumerable. How many things were to have happened so that he would be sitting in that cave, with those two people, watching a storm whose beauty he could find peacefully asleep on the soil behind him. Events impact on each other in such a complex way, and yet, he could not deny there was order. He was not sure what controlled his present state, so he looked at the storm’s clouds and silently asked if they had meant to form. The rain had lessened such that he could discern the silhouette of the giant rock. Through the hum of the rain, he thought he heard a different sound, but when he listened again, nothing new reached his ears. . . . The hunter felt a duty towards the girl that was stronger than any purpose he had ever known. As long as he was in service of replenishing her peace, he did not feel sorrow. Once the rain stopped, they would continue toward the large rock, and from there find the second river. The home she sought would then be waiting for her, and she would be happy. But was he to simply return after so dedicating himself? Though he was rectifying an injustice, bringing peace, he had begun to see her as the means to find his own peace, his own personal shelter from the chaos; a tempting quiescence. She stirred her sleep, and he thought to lie down as well. He slid his hand behind him when his fingers were met by something unfamiliar. They felt like bones, small as fingers. It was hidden between two of the rocks that lined the wall. Moving to allow the little light emanating from outside, he peered into the dark. They were small wing bones tied together in a row. His eyes widened and his voice failed. He could simply stare at it; he had seen this thing before. He reached with trembling hands to what had lain in the dark this entire time. He was taken back to the dream of the boy, that gaze he had felt over such a distance, ‘this is for you’. The instrument now answered his
previous question. His eyes looked to the haze outside, but his mind saw the fog on hill; he was being indicated the next step of his journey. After returning the girl, he was to return to this place. In that moment he was changed from a man who was creating his own justice out of the world’s order, into something that was a part of the world and that order. He thought of the wisdom that had him follow the fog that now allowed him to see the importance of the wing-bone flute. Now it was directing his return to this place, away from his peace, away from her. Holding the instrument in his hand, his shock and fear gave way to anger. What is such a destiny even for, that we can’t understand it? It was him, not some wisdom deep within, that was forging justice out of a cruel world. His own actions, born from his hands, were what created the fire in the cave and brought the brief refuge they’d found around it. . . . The fisherman’s son was sharpening the blade, when, between strokes, he heard the sound again. Unmistakable, it was a howl coming from the far rock. He appreciated it, for it was the first animal noise he had heard since they’d crossed the river. . . . The hunter recognised that part of him knew what he must do. It was as though he were a simpler animal, being taken to some destination by trails of food and guiding feelings. Was he even in control of his own body? He looked at his hands holding the bone flute, and couldn’t fathom that he wasn’t. When he flexed his fingers, they did not disobey, but only his senses could give him this knowledge. The world he perceived was like the melody sung by a jungle. Were something to truly exist beyond his senses, then who was to say his actions, over which he thought to have control, had not been orchestrated from far beyond. He wondered what it was that decided these things, that controlled his present and future. In the face of it, he did not want to follow this destiny, for his heart made him want to remain with her. He was torn, was he to be the instrument of his inner wisdom, a flute for the wind to play? Or was he to reject what signs he saw, and grasp at the
world with his own hands? . . . The fisherman’s son heard the howl again, but on hearing it, his heart sank, and a wishful denial filled his head. It was much closer, and no longer sounded like any animal. The hunter was on the verge of snapping the flute to pieces, when a panicked figure approached him. He had barely a chance to speak when a freakish howl pierced the wall of rain and entered the cave. The young girl woke up with a start, fear widening her eyes; it was happening again. It had found her and was going to kill her, just as it had her loved ones. She was pulled to her feet by the hunter’s rough hands. He yelled something to them both as he picked up his shield and spear. As the younger man began to run, she, too, was pushed into motion. They passed through the watery wall of the cave, out into the slopes that were now muddy and filled with the rhythm of raindrops. There were shadows moving around them. Far Shade started toward the rock when River’s Eye stopped him, ‘No! That’s where it’s coming from!’ The hunter’s eyes darted around but only found a wall of white mist. He searched the surroundings from memory, to know where next to go. The water ran in rivulets over their still feet. The shadows in the rain moved everywhere around them. Like talons and wings swooping down to an open field, fear caught each of them by the heart, tormented by the sky and the earth, the shadows and the light. When the howl resounded it would be too close to escape, and only the girl knew what kind of death would find them then; horrid teeth and dark desires. In a plea, out of necessity, she screamed. It was an anguished prayer to life, love, and peace itself. In that instant, fear stalled and let loose its talons. They knew their goal, for themselves and to the world, and, though death, hate and violence pursued them, they knew they could not succumb. The fear left them and they ran. The rivulets broke under their frantic paces. They ran through woods, away from the giant rock. The distorted human sound echoed off the hills, coming from the cave entrance where they had just stood. Through slippery mud and sharp underbrush, they pressed on, pushing
their limbs harder, fighting through pains, scratches and exhaustion, only ever moving forward. The unknown girl’s scream was heard again, but from another body and from ahead of them. Like an echo with a purpose, it came closer. Far Shade turned abruptly, but River’s Eye stumbled, his knee catching a dead stump. The girl ran to him and pulled at his arms desperately. When he had recovered, Far Shade was no longer there. They followed his last course as damp footsteps were heard; something travelling aggressively towards them. They doubled their frenetic effort, their desire to escape matched by the wish to find Far Shade. Suddenly, the ground became flat and the trees less dense. The torrential rain gave way, only for a blink, to a clearer day, whereupon they saw a field and a man in the distance, running into where the trees began again. Just as abruptly, the rain resumed its torrent. A third howl found them, coming to catch them on their side. They ran into the field, navigating it from the glimpse they had been granted, hazy and segmented like an old memory. Their feet sank into muddy floor of the field, and though they tried to press on, they sank through the grass and the mud until there was no motion left to take. They were trapped. The girl was going to meet the fate she so dreaded. The fisherman’s son dropped the axe, completely vanquished by despair. In sharing his most intimate pain with another, this most special other, he let himself go and began to fall back into the muddy field. As his eyes met hers, their regards locked and she fell with him. The rain fell on their faces, on their bodies, and they looked at each other, searching for comfort in the face of death, but with none to be found for the fear of such pain. The rain fell, but no footsteps were heard. After long, the mud let their trapped legs go, and death had not come. Only when the first patches of blue began to show in the sky, did they look away. The young man lifted his head carefully and looked around. The field, that old memory, came to life, now clear, refreshed and familiar. He saw the place where the hunter had entered the woods. They would have to find him. They made their way out of the mud, the fisherman’s son tied the axe to his waist, and they walked towards what they could now see was a deep forest. They had only reached the middle of the clearing when the girl stopped walking. She froze and was fixed on
something behind them. It stood on the edge of the clearing near where they had just lain. It was a low set animal, black, the size of a boar, its back covered in bristles made of muddy leaves. Their hearts pounded as they stood in complete stillness. It moved to them slowly, growing taller, standing upright, the size of a man. They glanced at each other, and turned to run. It let out a voice that was hoarse and gargled and ran at them. They started their tired bodies again, finding no solace from these creatures so ravenous. Where they ran, the grass was already trampled everywhere, and where there was no grass, were messy footprints in all directions, and what looked like blood. Their pursuer fell behind, but while their bodies screamed in protest, they had to keep running. They ran through the deep forest, into where the trees were large and old, until the surrounding footprints thinned, and the grass was undisturbed. They ran past the heart of the forest, until the trees were less dense, and a new solitary trail could be found weaving its way through the grass and the trees, which they followed. After long, they reached a small lake in the midst of the forest, where yellow sunlight welcomed their tired and drenched bodies. The lake’s surface was clear and still; it was no longer raining. The fisherman’s son collapsed next to the lake’s waters. The young girl was short of breath, but her senses remained alert. Any fear she had previously felt was drowned out by the blood pulsing rapidly in her body. The last raindrops dripped off the leaves of the trees, and the panic that had taken them so violently began to fade. They were not yet clear of danger, but for the moment, they were too tired to carry on. There was a rustle of leaves, and they both jumped at the sound. Leaves kissed the lake’s surface, as Far Shade’s voice carried to them, ‘You made it!’ . . . There are forces all around us, the most important of which are those invisible. They are at one time both love and chaos, and control all smaller forces. A human spirit can sometimes call these forces to their purpose, much like one moulds justice from chaos. . . . The fisherman’s son sat beside the lake, staring at its surface. The girl
cupped a handful of water, creating ripples on the surface, warping the reflection of the trees. He looked at the blade he had sharpened; useless. For all his thoughts of defeating fear, they had only fled and he had proven nothing. He watched the ripples on the lake recede and the image cast on it was clear again. They hadn’t fled from pain, but from death. In fact, they had endured pain to escape death. . . . The girl sat beside the lake, looking at the water which, from her perspective, was crystal clear. They had survived. They had dodged death’s closing fingers and were free again. She breathed more easily and her heartbeat had slowed, but the other did not calm so quickly. He stared at the water, fists clenched tight, breathing deep and sharply. She was made to remember how he had turned her face away from tears, and now he seemed to be caught in his own deep shadow. Under the giant trees, to the sound of the drops of the old rain, she moved closer to the fisherman’s son. She touched his chin and turned his head. He immediately seemed calmer. With the same gift as her grandfather’s vision and her mother’s craftsmanship, she spoke without thinking, ‘This is what we call life. Earth, days and nights’, she put her hand on her heart, then moved her hand to the lake. She swirled slowly, creating waves. She reached out to the old axe, as the ripples began to fade, ‘When you leave...’ she pulled the blade to her neck, ‘...it is like this’ she tilted her head, indicating the surface of the lake. It was still and peaceful. The hunter watched the two from a distance, his senses alert. So that was what had stalked her people. That was what he was supposed to return to face. Watching the girl swirl the water, he was reminded of that astral hand that was making ripples in his own life. His old questions revisited him. In the face of such commanding forces, was his life even is? He saw in his mind her hand being removed from the water as it then stilled; should his greater self, his inner wisdom leave him, would he even exist? Perhaps his body truly was just a melody reflecting his inner wisdom. It was not some strange power moving his limbs, directing his course, it was himself.
The fisherman’s son put his hand over the water, and tapped it. The small waves were alive, but only briefly. Death is a return to peace. It is a form of justice on the body, the cost of being alive. It was a fearsome thing, and he couldn’t know why. He tapped the surface again, and the small shapes worked against time to fulfil their true course. . . . The lake water dripped off her fingers and onto the soil. She watched the younger man create ripples on the lake and she wanted for its surface to calm. She still yearned for peace. She still sought shelter from the chaos. Her sky told her to yearn for something more. She looked at the two who helped her, and realized that it was only by that greater direction and motivation that they were there. Events had conspired, like a storm born of clouds, each of them following the wind that was born from the single force that controls the sky. There was no further understanding, and none of those notions brought her solace. All she could do was to travel to where she believed she would find love and joy, that place she called home, a simplified reflection of her sky’s unfathomable desire. So, spurred on by emotions and dreams translated through the capacities of their bodies, they left the lake, the cave and all that remained behind, and walked towards the place at the end of their dream. CHAPTER 6: CHASING A MIND’S WHISPER By the time they got out of the forest, the sky was orange as the sun dipped closer to the shadows. They walked out onto a field of long grass, where a large herd grazed in the distance. The giant rock was still in view, heavy against the light filled horizon. Tired steps pressed into damp grass as they walked in an unknown direction, pushed ahead by the weight of the dark rock that cast the memory of its howling screams to them. Much further ahead, the grass was interrupted by a sudden growth of shrubs and trees that marked the edge of the plains, curving like a snake; it was the second river. With their goal now in sight, they quickened. Birds settled on trees, calling out and, from the grassy
ground, small animals scurried around, retreating to their homes. The day was coming to an end. When they approached the shrubs, they could hear the river sweeping loud and fast. They pushed through the bushes, until, among vines and trees, the opposing bank taunted them from across the dangerous flow. The fisherman’s son watched its waters fall over each other wildly and violently; this was not the same river he knew. There was no way of crossing, but, as the girl had shown, further downstream would be a bridge. They walked down its flow eagerly, for finally their efforts had begun to bear fruit. The calls of the beasts of the field followed them for a while, then fell far behind. The river dug deeper into the ground, creating a steep and shadowy crevasse that they followed at a careful distance. Even out of sight, the fisherman’s son could hear the waves crashing against the walls of the cliffs, thrashing around like a wounded animal. Eventually they found that point where the soil and rock had stayed strong between the separated worlds. The ground had held with the interweaving of tree roots which poked through the structure where it dangled over emptiness. The top was a narrow and twisting form. As they stood before the bridge, the sun shone red through the spaces in the trees. The girl looked to the other side, so close, and hope took her; she would soon be home. She walked over its narrow surface, each step toward fulfilment, barely able to stop herself from running ahead. The other two looked at each other briefly; this was it. The fisherman’s son looked to the falling sun, and walked toward its light. The hunter watched as the young man’s outline disappeared into the radiant surroundings. He looked back on the land behind him, towards the mountainous rock that was now bathed in a dark red. He stepped onto the bridge and the last of them left the land of silence that slept between two rivers. . . . The remains of the day drifted into night and the air cooled. Large walls of white stone had begun following their path. The unknown girl looked on these cliffs with hope. They walked upwards through the underbrush which was dark blue in the night. The moon behind them cast faint
shadows before their selves, long and blurred, onto the shrubs of the slope. Suddenly the shadows dipped forward, as the slope fell away as open air greeted them to a great blue vista. Bare cliffs fell from the edge of a valley onto the floor of a gigantic rocky riverbed. Far above them, they could see the forest at the top of the cliffs, swaying its dark forms in the higher winds. The rocky valley was completely moonlit, as were the smaller cliffs contained within. At the farthest end, water fell from the heights, a thin gleam, into a small pool. It was only visible from the distant ripples in its surface; white circular forms in the moonlight. The unknown girl cried out across the expanse with disbelief and excitement. Running towards the valley floor, she left the other two who struggled to maintain pace. She ran down to the rocky ground, shouting and yelling through her uncontrollable smile. From behind a drop in the valley floor, voices shouted back, sounding into the big empty air. The cliffs surrounding them repeated every voice and cast each higher to the sky. She recognized their voices and she recognized their words. As she ran towards the elevation, figures clambered up from behind it. They peered to the three, whose fast footsteps had filled the quiet of the night. The unknown girl slowed down, caught by emotion, and called out, ‘It’s me, Pale Sky!’ The strangers gasped as their curiosity was met by elation, and they called to others, spreading the news. Their smiles glinted in the moonlight as they crowded to meet their once lost sister. Tearfully, she was met by warm hugs, thankful voices and faces she thought would never see again, from another lifetime. They spoke to her in familiar phrases, familiar expressions, touching her clothes, touching her hair, holding her arms. The flock of chatter and joy took her lovingly by the heart and hand, and they all disappeared down the elevation, leaving only the hunter, fisherman’s son, and one other man. He wore a furred fabric on his back, and his torso was decorated with a peculiar structure of bone. He had a thick and long beard, and wore a slight smile under an old visage. The man turned around and gestured for them to follow. He walked to the edge of the elevation and stepped down to the other side. . . .
Now alone, they walked even slower, soaking in each unusual and beautiful element. The journey was to conclude, they had reached their destination. They climbed up the granite of the elevation and discovered what they hadn’t been able to see from the slope. They were overlooking a plateau, defined at one end by a massive drop, and at the other end, by small rocky walls. On this wide platform of blue stone, a settlement was awakening from fresh sleep and a crowd of activity had surrounded the young girl. The two men stepped down the rocks and walked to the settlement. The shelters were not just made of leather, but gigantic bones, from an animal they could not fathom in their minds. Amongst and beyond the shelters, giant statues were lit by the moon, each gloriously reminiscent of what animal they captured. A bear gazed permanently at the stars, in the middle of the settlement, and a fox bounded at its edges. There was a horse and its calf, and an eagle preparing to fly over the plateau’s edge. From where they now stood, they could see more streams of water falling down the cliffs. Far below, a lush green garden grew where the water met the earth and, as the streams converged, the garden flowed into a forest, its waves of greenery crashing and clambering over the cliff walls far below. The world was unfolding to them, and each time it seemed to unfold greater. Such a place had existed that they had never known, so it was hard not to wonder what more secrets the world kept so quietly. In the sky, the stars held their own secret, though they sang it as loud as they could, but the three were learning to listen.
. . . “We seek beauty in things, for they are a mirror for our ability to love.” The moon, appearing much larger near the horizon, shines through me. It is slowly falling away from sight. I stand up and step towards the opening, and the stars above greet me. I am beginning to understand, but, just like the clarity of the moon will soon fade, I am afraid I will lose the meanings of those connections. I put my hand against the wall and watch as the moon slowly falls, taking with it my state of mind, towards
oblivion. The tale continues though, certain as the wind that sways the trees in the field and rustles the grass. Soon they would meet, the sway and the fall, and I can do nothing but watch them both, from a want of answers that has been stirred up in me. . . . Despite night time, there was too much hope scintillating in the air for rest. It filled tired lungs and illuminated dull eyes. People were drawn from their shelters by the jubilant commotion that was herald to an uplifting sight. Emotions channelled from the highest winds to imbue into silent hands claps of joy and drumming on stretched leather, each loud beat chasing the sleep of night further from their bodies. The girl slowed at the threshold of the settlement, trying to realize she was home. Familiar faces, glowing with smiles, spoke to her, laughs of pure joy surrounded her, and she smiled at all the old things she had not seen or heard in so long. As she went with her people further into the settlement, the two followed some distance behind. Around them were children, intrigued and cheeky youths, and some curious adults, who talked to them and to each other. Neither of the men could reply but with smiles that reflected the most festive spirit that was being instilled in them. Perhaps it was the moon that night, or the new sensations, that caused them to feel that way. Perhaps it was the intense happiness felt by all there that caused the sky itself to sway to the drums. The space around was vibrant with energy, noise and motion. The fisherman’s son was exhilarated; he was looking forward to where they were being taken, for it would signify all they had worked for. The hunter saw their faces that were so different to theirs, but whose smiles were joyous and genuine. As he looked around, his eyes met those of a woman whose unique features caught his attention, and her attention seemed caught by him. She was beautiful. Smiling even more, the hunter made himself to walk just a little bit taller. The drums’ sounds, of which there were two, followed the crowd. The girl had forgotten the search for home, for the smile that she was now made to shine had cast out of sight any deeper notion. That happiness was stronger from the multitudes of smiles around her. It seemed that this was the place they
had sought; that feeling of happiness with no thought, of joy with no pain. Each small event was uncontrollable, each action unpredictable, and they basked in the freedom of abandon. The commotion took them through the settlement to an empty expanse on the other side. A bull stood at its edge, guarding the precipice of the massive cliff. Its stone hooves were covered in fresh flowers. Along with the statue, three windbreakers marked the clearing, and near each was a pile of wood inside a circle of stones. One by one each fire was started and people began to sit in a wide circle around them. The two drummers played a combined rhythm that lifted their spirits and cast them higher into the air. Some of the people began to move to the rhythm, in the mixed light of the fire and the moon. They were no learnt or preconceived ritual dances. It was as though they were releasing the motions from inside of them, like fire from stones, with no fuel but the drumbeat and their deep expression. The three were seated, watching the dances, though the girl sat with her friends and family. The dancers’ shadows moved in unison with their source bodies, as three bags were brought out. Each was presented to the bearded man who had bid the two men welcome. The image of the bull was visible over his shoulder. He reached behind to an animal skull and gathered a handful of powder that he cast onto the contents of the bag. He poured a little onto the ground, brown water, and returned it to the carrier. With the second one, he met the powder with the liquid, then drank some of it and passed it to the woman next to him. The carrier gave the first cask to the girl, ‘Here, sister Pale Sky, to celebrate the gift of your return’. The girl put its opening to her lips and slowly lifted, pouring a small mouthful of the drink before passing it next to her. The third cask was taken to the unexpecting hunter. He peered into the cask, slightly wary of the contents. Seeing as the girl had drank some and that the two casks were now being passed from person to person, he took one last look at the cloudy liquid before drinking it. The drink slid easily to his stomach, such that he had several gulps of it, and it was only when he passed it to the fisherman’s son that the bitter aftertaste arrived to him. He tried his best not to grimace, for fear of insulting the carrier, the chief, or the drink’s deriver, but control over his face was
overpowered by such a taste. He coughed once, before looking to the boy just as this one had taken a mouthful. The hunter expected some source of satisfaction from the other’s reaction, but the fisherman’s son actually seemed to like the taste. So much, in fact, that he lifted the cask two more times before passing it along. They sat in each other’s company among all the strangers and couldn’t help commenting on the peculiarities of this foreign culture. They were the strangers here. As they talked and the drink passed around, they found themselves laughing more and their focus became undirected. A woman walked towards them from the dances and as she drew closer, both men’s gaze was drawn to her. She sat next to the hunter; it was that same woman he had noticed before. From so much closer, her features seemed perfect, her eyes infinitely alluring, and her fragrance was like a drumbeat to his senses. She said something to him, in a voice that echoed down his spine, and she stood up, with his hand in hers. She let go slowly as she walked towards the centre of the fires, among the dancers. She motioned to him with her hand, and in a language so basic it was impossible to misinterpret. Without thinking, he rose to his feet but lost his balance slightly. He quickly recovered, but all the faces around him were as though one, and the chatter and laughs accompanied the drumbeat. Confused by this new sensation, he looked around, and it felt as though the individual stars moved with him. When his senses cleared, he saw that many of the strangers, as well as his fisherman friend, were watching his ordeal, amused. Someone took his hand with a warm and firm touch, and he found himself among the dancers, with this mysterious beauty in front of him. She held his hands and swayed to the drumbeat while looking in his eyes, like a child spying a new river. Even with all the motion around, he could see nothing but her, and as his own motions began to reflect the drumbeat, it became as though they shared the same pulse. Left alone, the fisherman’s son looked at the hunter and the woman. The world seemed to give itself away to him, to yield to his strength. How had he thought a fisherman’s son could compare? He’d hoped to grasp at the world with desire and strength, control his future, but all he had wished for and worked for was nowhere near him now. He looked
beyond the dances. Across the motion, and moving shadows, the unknown girl sat among her people. He saw her laugh, and, though he could not hear it, he knew what it sounded like. As she smiled, he was reminded of the first smile she had given him in that place so far away, yet not so long ago. He remembered the choice that he’d made at the first bridge, where, at the risk of pain, he had gone with her. He felt betrayed; while he had endured so much for her, she was effortlessly removed from his presence, lost from him in words he did not understand. His thoughts were interrupted by a brief shout. He turned to the drink being passed to him which he stretched to receive. He drank it down with persistence, trying to somehow quell his fiery emotions. His vision blurred as he looked through the dances and he could no longer see her. He passed the bag of drink on to the next person, who received it with a kind and concerned word. Without looking at them, he nodded. It was as though neither the light of the moon nor that of the fires could reach him. She belonged so much, among these people with whom he had nothing in common. He remembered the cave where they had found shelter, that small home, except now he was outside of it, watching the moments he prized, watching her in the midst of that feeling he wished he was part of. He was the outside world now; he was the shadow, howling in the rain. What he had hoped to find at the end of their journey, he had hoped to find in her, but now that she was part of a home, there was no place for him. In the face of this unexpected circumstance, the thought of action whispered at him again, the same voice that had prompted this adventure. He could no longer look at her for want to be those around her. He could not look at those around her for want of belonging. A brief shout came to him and he was brought back, wrenched from his innermost turmoil. He reached out to the bag and passed it on to the next person. They drank from it, but, save for a few drops, only a thick juice was left. He stumbled to his feet, and walked around the outside of the circle till he reached the fires near where the girl sat. He pushed through the
circle until he was standing in front of her, and her troupe fell silent, curious, grateful. Now arrived, he wasn’t sure what to do. She looked up at him with a smile. “Thank you, so much. You have given me back my home,” River’s Eye spoke in turn, as he unravelled the puzzle of his emotions. “Where we are, tonight, it’s not where I want to be…” Pale Sky got up, touched his hand, “I don’t know why you did so much, but I’m grateful” The firelight caught her features like the first time he saw her. “…this is all I want, I’m at home, here, whenever you are close” He stepped forward and held her outstretched hand. The touch felt right, the warmth, the connection, but then she withdrew, apology in her eyes. The people around immediately became protective, though it was hidden behind their smiles. “I see…” Someone patted him on the back, he turned and Far Shade and his companion were there. A younger man from the dances followed. He spoke congratulations to him and the hunter, before bounding up to Pale Sky, holding both her hands. As she passed by River’s Eye, her face glowing with excitement, she quickly held his shoulder, as thanks, as she was taken to the dances, but she did not look at his broken expression. The hunter, however, did. “Are you alright?” “Yes, sure, I‘m not used to this, I need some quiet.” Eventually the drink waned and the stories had all been told. The girl sat among her friends and family as the excitement from before had calmed to a grateful enjoyment of each other’s company. The chief had honoured the two who’d brought her back, but neither had been there. Families had retreated to their beds, and, after long, the dances receded and the drums fell silent. Some people remained, scattered in small groups, allowing themselves some more moments of the night. As the fires died, so too did the glow in the faces around her, and with their fading smiles, that vivid happiness she’d felt somehow carried away. She looked around in the quieter night. With silence now creeping into the air, she finally had a chance to absorb that elusive realization; that
she was where she wanted to be. She saw the statues, the valley and the shelters. She closed her eyes and breathed in the air, heard the distant fall of water, the whisper of the wind passing over the plateau. There was no sensation of truth, no impact of realization. Her joy from before had been so loud, but now each thought echoed across the silence she now felt inside. There was something missing, something she couldn’t quite find. She got up from the soil and stepped away from the comfort of people, which to her now seemed like a safe lie. She walked away and when her young friend, Water Paw, began to follow she asked him not to. She left the ghost of the celebration with the valley at her back. The animal figures observed her as she came across the places she remembered. She passed the last few people going to sleep as they bid her the night, past the weaving antlers and the untreated piles of leather. For all the familiar sights and sounds, none gave welcome. She was once again a stranger in a foreign settlement, unknown, searching. She walked through the sleeping settlement as small stirrings sounded from shelters and, in each home, invisible lights shone. She came to a stop at the front of one shelter; she knew no light shone within. Its walls were made from the ribs of a mastodon and leather that weaved in and out. A sheet was stretched across the entrance, held shut by a rock. The home that had once meant safety she now faced as if caught in front of a hulking black bear. The size of the entire sky did not rival the magnitude of what she might find on the other side of its walls. Her notion of all things waned as she knelt down in front of the entrance, and removed the rock that kept the shelter closed. The leather sheet flickered and her heart flickered with the same motion as she was granted a glimpse of the darkness inside. For fear of losing what small hope she had left, she parted the sheet, lowering her stance, and crawled into where she had not been for a long time. . . . As she stood in the dark, her senses adjusted, but she recognised more than just the scents and sights of the empty shelter; she was standing in the very emptiness that perturbed her. Her mother was not etching at leather to decorate a shelter, her father’s friends were not laughing with
him, her grandfather was not telling her to spend more time with Water Paw, nor was her brother spending the best of his energy as only children can. Nothing had been found at her settlement, nor anything of lasting value with her people, and, finally, inside her own home, she found nothing. The night drew on, she faced the void that was left in her, the empty home, and longed to fill its unlit walls with the light of loving people, of anybody who could love. Though there was nothing left of it, she couldn’t let go. In the safety of her heart, she would introduce strangers even, after having been so cruelly deprived. She lay on the floor, watching the starry sky through the opening. The world must have some glow to give her, something meant for her, at the end of a journey, or the start of another. . . . The hunter was staring at a leather ceiling, slightly nauseous from the drink, the memories of the celebration fresh on his mind. He remembered being caught in the whirlwind of that woman, but the memory brought to him only regret. He remembered her eyes, her features, the smell of her hair. He remembered his entrancement in these things, but could not recall why. He sat up, caught in guilt and shame for having reached for a ghost of love that had never been. Though it was love that had brought him to the valley, in the end, he gave in to an immediate kind of love. In being distracted by the body, he had looked away from his greater wisdom. In that earth-dream state, he found that which resembled what he wished to love, and, without the wisdom of his Sky, he could not tell truth from lie. When he had danced with her, he was not himself; disconnected from his deeper element, he became a poor reflection. Lost and sabotaged, he punched the dirt. There was nothing of a home in that shelter, only an easy solution for a childish mind. He got up, ignoring the gentle murmur from behind him that asked him to stay. Casting off his self-defeat, he removed himself from the shelter, the confines of the desires of his mind. Outside, the wind whistled very softly, like a flute. He had begun that journey in search of justice, the moulding of peace, but gave it up for his small desires. However, the wing bone flute was still there, behind the
rocks of the little cave, awaiting him. If the woman at the three fires had given anything of value, it was the realization that he was more than just a body and he had more than just a mind to satiate. His true future waited for him, at a craggy rock that was almost a mountain. This far, he could see. . . . The moon fades, with no sign of day. The shadows it casts darken the trees. That same shadow begins to enter our cave from the ledge. The magic of the night has receded somewhat, all left of it is the tale that continues on. There is no longer the vision of mountains rising and falling, they stand quite still. I, too, am made to feel smaller, a speck controlled by the sun, time and the wind. The air I breathe has been breathed before, and my thoughts are but happenstance. As the moon dips out of sight, the earth becomes indiscernible, completely black. I am left with only his voice and the tale that carries the memory of the night. In the dark I listen. . . . CHAPTER 7: THAT WHICH LIFTS THE SUN River’s eye left the three fires, walking away from the settlement and all that was to be found there. He walked until he came across a small cliff. To the distant drums, he climbed, rock by rock, up to his solitude. He climbed to where the ground was flat again, then lifted himself over the edge. The clifftop was flat, dusty and dark. The drums had stopped, the night was suddenly quiet, and there was something else up there with him. He first thought the dark shape to be a cloud, but as he moved forward, he realized it was much closer than that. The drums had left behind ghosts of their rhythm and they were pounding. The tenebrous form’s wings drew him in slowly, and when he finally faced its true shape, he was beyond retreat. He stared at the giant bird’s dead face, its wings of stone containing him. The vain hope of escape was somewhere beyond the edge of that cliff, his lonely world. Within the same journey, he had discovered the closest love and the
closest fear, and at his destination, he had come to find they were both born from within. He’d travelled in accordance with his deep expectations, his principles, and they had not fared well. Here was neither home nor power. He realized, humbly, that he couldn’t remain as he was, he would have to change, bend and twist to conform to the strong forces now imposed on him. He sat and closed his eyes, in the middle of the circle designated by the statues’ wings. They enveloped him gradually, tightening his breath, slowing his heartbeat short of being silent. The earth’s call is a wild howl, and that safe feeling he sought was a fragile raft protecting him from the truth. The ideas, the symbols that he’d used to navigate and structure his endeavour, the girl, the dead bird, the storm, all helped him understand by simplifying but also subverting what he should have known. That is why he’d failed. In the desire for control, she was that uncertain element that birthed chaos. She defined his need for safety, peace. Without his want for home, the world would be a simpler place, a torrential storm of possibility. He longed to dip his feet in the water. He felt in touch with the world, in a way he had never felt before. He was an element of it, he had no will. He only lived by the whim of the current. He felt himself diffuse into all of reality, and the more he witnessed the void inside, the less of himself he felt. By giving himself to the earth, he could see a shadow, with no body. In a trance, and at the brink of feeling nothing of his own, he saw a tiny glimmer. It was like starlight, comprised of a dream substance that shone deep in the mysterious darkness within. As he peered into the point of light, it was met by another that carried a familiar sensation. He knew to whom this second star belonged. He opened his eyes, looking past the floor of the clifftop, knowing that she was somewhere down there. Her heart’s call reached him from the beyond edge of the cliff. This time he would not go to her. His actions would not be defined by glimmers and visions, he would not step off the edge in terror. When stood up into the still night, he no longer felt at the mercy of its
fading light anymore. Seeing it all so clearly, he did not need home or shelter from fundamental fear. The giant crow behind him seemed to crumble and crash to the ground. Inside of his mind, in the thick dust that was kicked up, he knew precisely the one thing that would prove all his notions. He knew how to subdue the world to his will. . . . The hunter walked through the verdure and up the hill, away from the settlement and the valley canyon. The moon was no longer in sight. With his spear and shield in hand, he walked strong with purpose and duty that he had been given, that he had, in fact, sought. The gift was a vision of what ignorance would bring him. This consequence prompted him into motion, filling his footsteps with something wise and humble. . . .
The faintest breezes of morning bring the scent of dewy grass up to us. The stars now glaze over, as dreams are replaced by hopes. “As a hummingbird ends when its wings stop beating, so does the chaos that is tied to infinite love, at the counterpoint extremes of reality. All existence is change and pure existence, pure being, is like a river choosing its own path to the ocean.” . . . Pale sky awoke to a soft wind caressing her face. As it entered from the shelter opening, the sheet at the entrance flicked. The first thing to greet her was a sense of unfamiliarity that she had not expected. This place and these people were all so strange to her now. Longing had also been waiting for her to wake. She remembered searching at the sunset hill, at the labyrinth of stones, the hunter’s arms and the fisherman’s eyes. She’d searched in the rain, in the firelit shelter, and in the rain again. She’d searched across two rivers and a hundred faces and then this place. She lay motionless for a while, listening to the sleep of the place outside, wind, rustling, until her she couldn’t bear to stay so still. Crawling towards the leather sheet at the shelter’s entrance, she slowly
exposed herself to the world outside and all the secrets it had safely kept. She walked through the settlement, the glow in each shelter almost visible. She felt so dark in comparison. Softly her steps sounded on the ground, her eyes painting everything with her seeking gaze. She looked for them but neither was there. All she desired was to see one of them. She wanted somebody to be there, someone from whom she could feel a real presence, just enough to free her from despair. When it became apparent that she would not find them, she changed her course, to the only remnant of that irredeemable love called pure, love that had once belonged to flesh and voice, love that had been poured onto a rock face and there remained. She hoped that the carvings left on the stone wall would remind her of the forms in her own heart... and towards her mother’s statue she headed. The wolf seemed to watch over all before it with unnatural precision. It sat deep in the rock, a pale wolf with a sleek body and a downcast snout. Its coat was vibrant with detail and, in the faint light, it could almost jump off the rock had its feet not been trapped. It was incomplete, as its feet were still encased in crude stone. She saw all the love and attention that had gone into all of its compositions. Every etch, every smooth surface, was a reminder of that person she wouldn’t see again and that lost lifetime that had once been the firm soil to her thoughts and feelings. Now she was boundless, dust on the wind, with only the memory of the things she’d considered important. In this larger world of pain and trials, she desired only the slightest reminder that there was an absolute hidden somewhere in the treacherous conditions. She stood before it in the dawning light, and waited to feel. Nothing gave answer, as once more the silence reached her like a grim hound with a taste for her sorrow. She fell to her knees and her spirit receded. Averted from the statue’s hollow beauty, she noticed a dark coloured flower on the ground. People would come to find within these totems, through open hearted reflection, hope, strength, or providence. It was through these statues that the watcher and provider gave. Why then
could she receive nothing, in her most deprived state? A faint breeze shook the flower. It was withered and dry; nobody came to see this one. She thought she heard a voice, faint, as though over a massive distance. Poor wolf was as abandoned as she. For the first time, she turned her perspective outwards, and was able to look at her own reflection, a view of her place in the world. The statue no longer held the features of the watcher or her mother. As she looked into the statues eyes, the eyes looked back into her. Its paws encased in rock were as imprisoning as her need for home. She sought safety, and in so seeking safety, she would never be free. The wolf’s eyes looked deeper into her being. She sought love, and in seeking love, she would never find it. To attain was to be, the search was an illusion. The statue became alive with light, illuminating the depths of her being. All she could see was the love that had been freely given, love that could imbue a simple rock face with a power of its own. Her mother had given love to nothing, and from that, the watchers gift was carried. Her sky self revelled in a place away from time and that indelible feeling trickled down to her earthly self in an emotion, not a notion, that caught her body like rolling thunder. She finally found the cure for the silence and it was more than a sound; it was music. . EPILOGUE: Far Shade walked through the light of the morning, finding his way back through the faint trail they had walked not one sleep ago. Now night would, in turn, retire, as dawn rose from the soil. In the cold of that pale morning, before the sun had risen, he arrived in front of the bridge. Coming up from the shadows was the sound of the river rushing far below. The fresh light did not allow him to see how far, but it was certain death. Now that he had reached the precipice, he found himself unable to walk forward. Thoughts swarmed him; what if the bridge was to crumble under his feet, or what if a sudden wind was to topple him? He . .
tried to move one foot forward, but was held fast. The thoughts that restrained him hid the real reason; up ahead, through the trees, its contour made sharp by dawn’s light, the monument that marked his destiny awaited him, still holding its savage howl. His dreams and the strangest of signs had ushered him to where he stood and with such a dutiful pace he had walked there. Yet he now he found himself immobile, for, standing on the other side of the bridge this time, he was looking towards his death. He turned to where the settlement would be; there was a source of real happiness, and a life that bore fruit of bliss. But he knew to grasp at that bliss was to curse it. He knew he had his inner wisdom to cater for, despite his body’s fear of the justice soon to be imposed on it. In the end, death was justice. It was the return to peace, from the chaos of change in a living being. It was the price of being alive. Standing at the bridge to oblivion, he began to fear it was too high a price for such a small life. Regardless of the scars held on his chest, regardless of his conquests, he had not nourished his spirit, and so he relied on the strength of his body. His own avoidance of pain was what nurtured and raised his fear, ultimately, of death. His body was only a melody to his being, and yet he feared losing that melody. In such devotion to his own song, he neglected to make the choices towards growth, and he knew this. This is why the price of death was simply too high; his life was not yet worth it. But as time would continue forward, he knew that he wouldn’t change, and some cycles from then, when death did find him, he would still be unworthy. So, like ripples in a pond, vying to complete their forms before returning to stillness, he would grasp and grasp for hollow phantoms, those that he decided would give his life worth, and avoid those things that would diminish him. In being granted this honest and sorry sight of himself, he could not deny it, and he hoped it would not prevail over what he knew was right. It was a choice, the most important choice, the options defined by that small earth bridge. On the other side, in a small cave, a wing bone flute directed him to the peace he sought; to face the perpetrators of one violent chaos, the murderers and defilers of the wise and peaceful life. They hid in the caves that pocketed the immense rock that was their
lair. Fierce howls they harboured, like wild creatures of the wind, and in his mind, he saw them descending upon him, trailing behind them the shadows from their abode. His shield and his spear would be directed by his purpose, neither angered nor fearful, and fighting with all his strength, he would no doubt die, but die in creating a peaceful calm where violence spilled. It was the fighting of all the world’s wrongs, to him, and for the flourishing of all things right. But to reach this, he would need to render himself to torture and horror, relinquishing his own good for the sake of something better. But it was not some ideal human standing on the edge of the bridge, it was him. How could he make such a difference from the remnants of a dream? He would simply die fighting and that would be the end of him. Behind him, that girl perhaps rested, one that he had risked his own to protect, and in her he found, crystallized, the emotion of eternity. Among the fires and the dusty drink, under the blue moon and among the echo from the far cliffs, there was a happiness waiting to be found. If he returned, her company would grant to his life the potential for the greatest happiness and comfort. It seemed, in his mind, like a garden where fruits would fall into his hands for him to enjoy and throw their seeds to the soil. The sun would rise and fall on his breathing body for cycles to come and, in such time, he could forge his patterns to an ideal shape. Across the bridge was death, and before it was life. He wished better than to fail himself, but, in the end, which of his selves would he obey? Just moments before the sun caught its first sight of him, on the new day, the hunter’s feet found motion again. . . . The light slowly illuminated the valley full of trees that stretched below the circle of cliffs. The tall walls, too, relinquished their shadows to misty light as they overlooked a sleepy settlement. The wolf’s shadow was cast onto the rock, its eyes and long snout glinting as the sun steadily rose. A fragrant wind billowed the dust and lifted the girl’s hair off her shoulders. She looked to the sunrise. Nobody was around to see, but the pale yellow light filled her eyes. Along with her illuminated features, she wore a smile. ...
In the mist of the morning, the fisherman’s son had climbed down from his nocturnal perch and finally found her. Receded he stood, pressed against the cliff. In the morning silence only the waterfall and waking birds could be heard, so he stood very still, watching her. There she was, the element that made his entire reality quiver with the nauseating feeling of uncertainty. ... She looked on the shelters as the valley slowly woke. Clouds beyond the cliffs rose into sight, pink in the morning light. She no longer felt the yearning for home, for all around her, she felt it. The refuge and peace she had travelled so far for had reached her, and she was reached for by even more. ‘Follow the river upstream, when you return, you will find me’. All things past made sense, as did the chaotic elements of the entire world. ... Love was his star speaking to hers, but he’d cut his sentence short at the vital point. Clouded by the want for control, controlled by fear of the unknown, he could not discern the lights of love from the dark in between. All people shone, their constellations becoming increased in constitution, until, at the end of time, all would be light. But he saw differently, for his wings were dipped in the void that gaped between the stars. ... She was turned around forcefully by a tense hand and she lost balance. The young man stood very close to her, against the image of her mother’s statue, his body tense, his eyes fixed and deflecting her heartfelt expression. He grabbed her shoulder and pressed her towards the ground. Confused, she complied, until she saw the axe unwoven from his waist, its handle held in a firm grip. She screamed, but found his hand covering her mouth, pushing her backwards. As her back hit the stone floor, he dropped to his knees and, with pain and anguish, lifted the axe. She gasped for breath as he removed his hand. As the axe swiftly descended to her neck, its sharpened blade caught the sun’s rising light, glinting gold, and time slowed down until it almost arrested.
... He was taking one final action of servitude to love, and with it, he would be free. Her body, assaulted and beneath him, held the love that he would remove. He was so close to this goal, but the closer the axe fell, the greater his terror grew. The dark between the stars was greater than he had ever imagined. Against motions unstoppable, his spirit cried at his arms to stop, for only his deeper self knew what nightmare awaited him. His axe, steadily and surely, was on the way to taking him there. There, was not a place, but a fear that would find him in the last moments of his forsaken life, and in those moments lay upon him an eternity of torture, but he could not stop what was started. ... He sat above her, holding the axe that was swiftly falling to meet her end. In the expanded moments, she watched his eyes for some sign, and there it was. Terror grew in his expression; worry, regret and pity for his fate, as the instrument of his perdition bore down on a decisive journey. Her pilgrimage would end before it had a chance to begin, but she had one thing to teach. As she looked into his eyes, in the spirit world, one star, for just a moment, radiated brighter than all others, such that its light reached far across the expanse of darkness, to catch his fading star that was falling away. Her sky self held his panicked spirit and calmed it with forgiveness, bringing him back to her constellation, showing him the truth he had narrowly missed. Love may be the foundation of home, but what she’d learnt that morning was that it was not the receiving of love that painted peace on its walls, it was the free giving of her own. To love all of creation, is to make existence into heaven. She had found home at last, and, so safe, with the last action of her life, she saved him. . . .
“If ever you are blinded, see love for what it really is; the thread of common existence connecting all beings.” Arms of light embrace the sky from the edges of the land in hues of green and yellow. My father looks there and takes a long breath. Still
sitting, he looks at me, and before he speaks, casts his eyes to the back of our shelter. His gaze moves slowly downwards, setting the tale to sleep, returning to the realm of dreams the hunter, the fisherman’s son, and the unknown girl. . . . Though the characters fade to dust in reality and are set to the wind, something remains... the elusive truth is so familiar, when told. The night before, I was captured by the earth’s prayer and the timeless emotion. I had feared that with the passing of the night I would forget its revelations, but I can still hear it.
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