A. A. Wolfner.
I was sitting all too alone in the shade of a small yellow pinyon tree at the River’s edge. An overpowering urge to speak welled up from my tightening gut. Two months of silence had begun to unsettle the place where my neck joins my skull, at the top of my back. My joints and jaws ached for activity. I tried to remember those words I should have spoken before leaving the Camp.
“Ilwana-la,” I should have said, “my heart would gladly give you all the health of my body. My tongue would only speak about the sweet blue water of life. My eyes would only reflect happiness that I feel when I see you.” However, I had not spoken those words. I had only offered her the ritual farewell. Now words seemed hollow and painful…
— ** —
I close my eyes, so that I can see Ilwana as I had first met her. I hear her call my name, “Dalkar, Dalkar,” and sigh with a heavy heart. Then I smile, remembering how I used to call her, “Ilwana-la.” Ah, the first time she fell into my eyes – such sudden rapture – I knew in that moment that her child would bear my mark.
She called me, ‘Dalkar-li,’ her lover. I remember her last words. “I will miss you. Yet I understand why you must go. My first child comes soon, and will bear your mark. I have united with many … but … but only you gave me such deep feelings of love! I know that your love gave this child to me. Now your passion urges you to leave the Camp. The elders have asked me to say to you; please don’t take the healing rains or the warm fires with you when you go.”
My stomach again knots as I remember those words. Another heavy sigh, and more words – only words – nothing could express my true feelings.
“Don’t worry, my Ilwana-la.”
She looked up at me again, and her hand touched mine O so lightly – the shock of it was like falling from a tree and hitting the ground. I could barely speak my next thoughts.
“There are many in the Camp who can bring the rains, or ignite the sparks the sky that call the fires, and keep the world in balance. I certainly am not the only one. There were others before me, and there will be others after me. And your child will bear my mark.”
I had almost cried at those words, but added only, “and he’ll also bring the rains and the fires in their proper time, as I did.” I allowed a small tear to brighten my eye, and she had admitted a small gleam into hers. “If you chose to bring forth a girl-child, she will bring many children after her, and each will bring the rains, if their wills are strong.” I regret the selfishness that had caused me to add, “And they’ll all remember me, as you will.”
I blink away the salty tear, and a frown crossed my lips as I remember my final words to her.
“I’ve spoken the words of farewell,” I had said. “You are very dear to me. I must go before my anxious thoughts and stomach brings hunger to the Camp.”
I had then turned and left, carrying only my sturdy walking staff, a knife, my sharp club, and some food-gifts from my friends. My pack held enough food and water for a week. I would create more as I traveled – water and food would appear in the Forest whenever the need might enter my thoughts. My power was strong, and I was confident Ilwana-la would never forget me, but a hidden doubt remained
The sunrays nibbled and flashed on the River’s swift surface, and my thoughts returned to the River. I started to speak out. I looked around, but there were none to hear, so I held back my voice. “Can’t speak,” I silently warned my lips, tongue, and throat. There’s nobody to hear my words. Unheard words cause too much damage as they dash about unguided by listeners. I looked up and down the River in a rhetorical search. If I could speak to someone! Anyone…
If there are none to hear the words, they will return from the rocks and the water and there’s no telling what damage they will do, dashing about unguided by ears and eyes. It’s been so long! My very body aches so much. They must be near here, somewhere. Yes, but where? I’ve got to find them. I’ve got to speak!’
Thoughts upon thoughts raced though my head, until my head hurt and my eyes squinted in salty discomfort. Now more memories filled my closed eyes. I remember thinking this way twice before.
The first time was during the Spring Hunt, five years earlier. Our party had split up in the woods, lured apart by whispers of fawns and the distractions of pride. I was without companionship for nearly two weeks.
The second time, over two years ago, I had been alone for thirty-six days after Larwing’s flames had forced me off the hunting trail. The fire blazed through my back-brain as I remembered Larwing’s anger. Lights and noise in the sky had heralded Larwing’s jealous wrath. The hunter had shouted angrily. He wanted my skin. I had grown too hot with anger over Larwing’s burning words and sharp, stabbing tongue. Larwing was the largest hunter among us, and his dark breath had burst upon my ears.
“Fool! You distract my woman! NOW you distract my deer! I demand that you release my animals. They will never appear for me again! Not now! Not in the future! The whole Camp will starve because of you! You will kill my children with your mind! Release the animals! Bring them before my bow! Dalkar! I demand it!’
I had been humiliated and insulted, although Larwing was not altogether wrong. Later, I admitted it to Ilwana, to calm her fears that the flames would return.
“Larwing was correct about the deer but he insulted me on your account,” I said, looking down and curving an arch in the dirt. “I’m sure my childish jealousy had kept the deer away. Still, he had no right to insult me, or you!”
She nodded, but her eyes said something else. The memories are bitter.
“I urged the forest to take him away. I wanted him silenced. I wanted his words away from my ears.” Ilwana-la eyes softened and she listened to my words. “You can be sure, Ilwana-la – My jealousy did not bring the flames. It was him! His unbridled anger! Everyone agrees! Everyone!”
I could still feel my knees hitting the ground and the hem of my shirt while my whole body shook. Ilwana was stroking my thick hair. It’s darker than hers. I try to keep it matted and greasy as protection from the sun and rain, as she does, because she likes the way it shines. I do not need protection as she does, but I dislike embarrassing her with my power. On that day, she was happy that her hair was so much longer than mine was. I heard her whisper thanks to the wind; her hair covered her face, and she believed I would not see her tears.
“Calm yourself, sweet lover,” she cooed. “Be calm. If you become any more upset, my Li, the skies will dump their rainwater too soon. The River will bring deep waters to overflow the Canyon. Remember, Dalkar-li, four hunts ago? The Council of the Sun had declared that the Time of Long Sunshine had ended. Remember? It was only a brief struggle between Xalar and Gorthmont to decide who would lead the Hunt, and the rains fell for days because of that. Dalkar-li, you are more powerful than either Xalar or Gorthmont ever were! Only the old Teacher has more power, and you are the only one alive who has learned from the Teacher.”
Yes, I had remembered. Thinking about the Teacher frightened me. I still feel that hand upon my head, and hear the silent words that entered my thoughts from behind my innermost ear.
“Please, calm yourself, for all of us!”
— ** —
I sit by the edge of the same River, weeks upstream from the canyon. It was Larwing’s anger at me that had kindled that blaze, not me. I’m sure. Few in the Camp ever really forgave either of us for our deadly feud. In fact, the enmity prompted my wanderlust. My stomach churns, but I did need to leave. I’ve told myself a hundred times, the Teacher was right to insist. I do not remember what he said because he had not moved his lips. I only know that I must now find the Others. It can’t be many more days!
I find impossible to find the source of this unfathomable loneliness. The need to communicate, to make my thoughts known to others – it is part of my deepest Natural Will. This urge caused the elders to form the Camp. Those early days were lost to my memory – memory is too short and the days of the fathers too long gone. My stomach is churning again, as I remember the Teacher. The Teacher outlived all elders, but one day the Teacher left the Camp. Then he returned, and revealed his presence to me alone. He told me that my Free Will must not resist the powerful, instinctive urges of my Natural Will. He said it was the destiny of Humanity, but I cannot understand his words. Still, here I am, alone by the side of the River.
It is most important that I control and properly channel all these emotions. Personal feelings, needs, and desires are the sources of all creation. Man’s words are law, controlling the force of Nature’s Natural Will. If a man fails to control his own destiny, it proves he can no longer control and direct his own secret impulses. This is the way it is and this is way it should be; these are the rules of the Gemyndubarmatere.
We worked every day in our canyon to survive in this hostile world. We used to discuss these things, my friends and I, sitting by the edge of the River as it flowed near the center of the Camp. It was good in those times, and this River is the source of all our comforts. Women would draw water from the River without fear that their Children would disappear while she was away.
I remember that time that Swallewfond, one of our best Hunters, had squinted into the gleaming surface of the River as he spoke. His voice had been in his mouth, but his eyes were far away, searching for the truth in the glare of sunlight.
“The weak and incompetent cannot control the forces that come from our powerful emotions and energies. They have an emotional turmoil that makes uncontrollable winds. Their foul winds carry the Storms, and their harsh thoughts summon the Beasts! They die of their own weakness! They fail to control!”
“Yes,” I had agreed. “Many, like Af-lizer during the last moon-cycle, die from the fever that burns them without flame. The fires of uncontrolled passions consumed him, and they continue to burn others like him. I can feel the unending power you’ve talked about, Swallewfond. I’d manipulate the world, if only I could control my stray thoughts and unfettered passions.”
Now, sitting by the same River but so far from Camp, I feel my emotions rise up while I think of the Camp, my enemies, and my lover. My loneliness swells in intensity, distracting my Focus and allowing wild Beasts, born of suppressed fantasies and untapped subconscious passions, to appear unbidden in my personal space. I am no longer master of my own territory as I sit there on the River’s edge. I am now at the mercy of immense destructive forces. My senses, however, remain finely tuned to the dangers around me, for it is the constant awareness of all things, even during sleep, that protects me from annihilation. My body is almost on its feet, and tensed for action. Before I am full of awareness, I have heard the tiger lurking behind me.
If the huge animal attacks, his gaping jaws will have enclosed my neck and the sharp teeth will find my jugular vein before my axe-club can fly from its sheath by the command of my quick hand… Ah, the animal is not hungry. It seems cautiously curious around my unusual scent. I carefully aim my weapon and hurl it unerringly at the orange-black head of the large cat. The stunning blow slows the animal. Its knees sink. It shakes its throbbing head in confusion.
The beast knows that I have not approached it, and yet pain shoots through head and neck. Its Natural Will had no knowledge of the weapons of Men. It does not know where to attack or against what to defend. I can take excellent advantage of the few extra seconds… I pounce up alongside the stunned animal. My knife plunges into its heart. I can retrieve the fallen axe and sever the Beast’s spinal column just below the base of its brain with a sharp, powerful blow.
I am sure that the animal, which now lies motionless beside me, is still a real threat. Silent for months, I must speak to the Beast… I am surprised when my voice is a hoarse whisper – I have not spoken for so long that my speech has dried in my chest. “I am relieved by your pain,” I tell it, “so you lay there silently. But your life force must be driven away forever!”
I clear my hoarse throat as best I can, and prepare to chase the life energy out of the quiet cat. “I’ve got to release all my tensions, “I tell the cat, and myself.
My piercing shriek has enough energy to destroy the very foundations of the tiger’s existence. I yell again as I watch the birds swarm out of the treetops.
“Birds, you obey my command! You recognize my power, and bow to my authority!”
I can hear the mountains whisper, repeating my cry with weakening whimpers that fade to nothing.
“You are submissive and powerful servants!” I yell. The unmoving, unspeaking hills call out, one after the other, but can only repeat my own words over several times before their voices die.
My mind wanders back to Ilwana-la and her child. If she wanted a boy, I could teach him the ways of the rules of the Gemyndubarmatere, and no doubt he… but I must not be distracted. I look again at the silently sleeping tiger.
The tiger, whose deep wounds have put it into an even deeper sleep, will be subservient to my voice. The self-limit life force has fled from its body. I am safe, thanks to my Natural Will and my powerful voice. The strength I used to subdue the tiger was also of some importance, but few who lack the Attribute of Strength ever survive to adulthood, because it is a Natural and necessary Attribute of Man.
Thus I, and all Men like me, are the Masters of our world. Men can meet death at the hands of their own passions, when we lose control of our Focus. The forces we release into the waiting world can destroy everything we have seen in an instant. The Teacher has explained this well, to my father’s father’s father, although I admit the Teacher speaks to me only in riddles and taunts. We all understand that it is the way of things that even the best of our people will inevitably succumb, each of us to our own hidden passions. When I submit, and allow my Focus to build unstoppable foes in my path, or unbearable winds in the clouds, or torrents from the River, or shaking and burning from the ground, I will die that day.
Yes, but I wish to live forever. I will continue to take care, and be mindful of my Focus, and control all my powerful emotions and passions. This, in truth, is my innermost reason to search for the Other Camp. They had not mentioned inevitable destruction even once…
The Others appeared in the Camp last year, during their wanderings across the mountains. They said nothing of the thing we call, “Death.” They had no fear or concern about Existence or Non-Existence. Perhaps in the Camp of the Other Men, I will find the Teacher’s truth. Perhaps, I will find the peace and eternity of those Messengers of Creation who bought our lives to conscious being, as the Teacher has taught our fathers’ fathers, and the Ravens have sworn to from the clouds.
— ** —
Dalkar continued his journey to the Other Camp. He no longer sensed control of the recurrent feelings of loneliness and inner silence, nor did he seek it. The feelings were disquieting and at times confusing, but his goal was set and he would he would not let himself be distracted by any other concerns. He wanted to reach the Other Camp in time for the Harvest, so that he would be able to help the gathering of berries and wild grains. Only by lending such assistance to the gatherers and gleaners would he be entitled to prepare his store of food for the Time of Little Sun. Confidence in the Teacher’s advice mitigated his apprehension about arriving late...
It had been a quiet night several weeks before he left the Camp. He had not been able to sleep. His insomnia caused him concern. Was his inner Focus attempting to disrupt the Camp with flood, beast, or quake despite even though his conscious thoughts harbored only good feelings? A rustle of the tanned skin covering his place of sleeping stirred thoughts of Ilwana. She must have decided to… no, this was not Ilwana, or any of the other females. He sat up quickly, wondering why the spear by his side did not call him to defend himself.
A blue-robed figure stood back-lit by the clouded half-moon. It was not a woman, but perhaps it not a man, either. The stooped figure carried a long pole over its shoulder. A subtle feeling of security and friendship prevented Dalkar from acting with haste. As the seconds passed, it became obvious that this was a manifestation of his own Focus, brought to his place of sleeping to calm his inner tensions.
“I am he who some call, Teacher,” the image said to the silent scene. “I have come to you, Dalkar, because you are the one who can fulfill that which must be done. The Messengers are anxious for men to know ... but this need not concern you. Your need is known to your Focus. You remember the Others, deep in your mind. I have come to tell you that it is time for you to seek them out, as your Natural Will has been calling for you to do. Follow the River. Stay by its banks, and travel upstream, from where the Others had visited this place. Follow the River to the place where the wide waters no longer move. Search there for the falling waters, and climb alongside them to the top of the mountain that cries. There will be found a cave – enter without fear. Within you will find another entrance. Bring your Free Will into Focus at that place, and be not frightened by the pull of your Natural Will, which will find this place unlike any yet conjured by your people’s strongest Focus. There, with you Free Will to drive you and your urgent desire to meet the Others, you may walk into the light and find them beyond the Forest of the Messenger’s Eyes.”
Dalkar reflected on those words once again as he strove to find the waters that no longer move. Then an inner whisper said, Look beyond. The water rides rough upon the rocks. You have disrupted their embrace. Look beyond, and you will have stilled the waters.
— ** —
I don’t know how powerful Others are. Maybe I could keep the Sun high in the sky while they rest from Hunting, and then allow the snow to cover them. I know so little about them, these “Others” No! Even my powerful will cannot make food in the time of storage. If I disrupt their winter, they might suffer and blame me. Best if I just play my part and help with the gathering.
He peered around on the trail in front of him, as if thinking about the Other Camp might have caused it to appear here, where he needed it. He was so tired of traveling, and so tired of the unspeaking loneliness.
Although, he told himself as he stepped through the forest, he did not yet know how powerful or capable the Others were. He remembered a look of surprise or doubt when he had told the hunter of his techniques for bringing animals to the forest to transfer life forces to his people.
Maybe I could keep the Sun high in the sky while they rest from Hunting, and still allow the snow to cover them.
No! Not even his powerful Natural Will could bring food in the Time of Storage. If he were to dare disrupt their winter, they might not be as able to control any unexpected consequences of his meddling. He had no desire for a test of wills, so he convinced himself not to interfere with the Others’ harmony with their world-place.
Best if I just play my part and help with the gathering.
The Teacher had spoken of using his Natural Will, and of finding the Others by using “Free Will.” Dalkar did not understand what the Teacher meant. If there were things unknown to his Focus regarding his Will, he had better not try to be too clever at the expense of the Others.
The instincts that caused men to create the cold seasons were too powerful to challenge. Dalkar could not understand why, despite his dislike of the cold, his inner being summoned it each year. ‘Somehow, the cold weather allows food-plants to live without using life energy, so they can store it for my use when I eat after the Time of Harvest. Dalkar peered around on the trail. Thinking about the Others might cause them to appear. He kept following the River.
In late spring, Dalkar noticed changes in the land. Unusual trees, strange shrubs, and oddly colored birds told him that a will different from his own was controlling this place.
Whoever lives here has populated the land with strange plants and animals. He snickered quietly to hide his nervous uncertainty. Their passions must be quite different from mine. Probably different from everyone in the Camp. Maybe – maybe here is where I’ll find the Others. He wondered whether these men, if they were men, could teach him which passions controlled the wildlife in this place.
No, they probably understand nothing. They keep the life balance with respect for traditions as we do, although none of us remembers the beginnings of things. Then again, maybe they can answer the questions our traditions cannot answer. Like, the mystery of the essence of passion, or the secrets of how woman make children marked with the faces of some of the men they join with.
Dalkar sat down on a rock. He could master his passions and create eternal life only by understanding the mysteries. It required a new harmony between his feelings and the world’s balance. Otherwise, he, like all men, would grow weaker and eventually drain his own life force.
Nobody I know of has ever succeeded, but maybe some among the Others have.
He looked towards the River, and was reassured. Maybe it was not the Others' wills that made this place. It was possible that his loneliness and boredom perverted the forest. The Others had spoken about the forest and the mountains.
I must admit, I didn’t understand most of what they were saying. Their tongues were broken and they spoke such strange sounds. Perhaps Alsteg had meant to say something about Dalkar’s power over the rains. He kept pointing to the clouds and smiling at me. That kind of happiness can only come from knowing the secrets of eternity, I’m sure of it.
A strange cry from a treetop broke Dalkar's reverie. It was probably a large bird, but the cry was that of a human infant. He wanted to compare this creature with those created by the fathers in the canyon.
My voice and Will might have ill effects in this land.
He did not want to damage the bird. I’ll coax the creature without using my Will or my voice. He chose a large stone and hurled it, hoping to convince the thing to fly from its concealment.
What followed was quite unexpected.
There was a deep thud after the stone disappeared into the dense leaves. A loud, unworldly shriek followed, and the huge bird, wings as long as the man’s arm, swooped out of the tree. It stretched out its claws and spread its wings during a swift, gliding descent. Dalkar was so startled that he was quite unprepared fro the attack. Large talons dug deeply into his rib cage while a sharp beak punctured the skin of his tensed shoulder.
Dalkar drew his knife and simultaneously stabbed the feathery mass on his shoulder while calling out in his most powerful voice, trying to drive all the life forces from the body of his winged adversary. The bird had not been his, and he did not know the most effective voice to destroy the bird after his knife removed its blood. Nevertheless, despite sharp pain and the warm flow of blood streaming down his ripped side, Dalkar managed to stab deeply enough and scream loudly enough to render the bird motionless. It dropped to the ground in bloodied silence.
Dalkar felt himself swooning as he stumbled to the ground. The pain in his side continued to grow. His head was dizzy but his senses were still keen.
“I can heal myself,” he said aloud, as was the way of his people. His confidence expelled concern for the unabated flow of his blood. A thought consumed him as he stared at the magnificent fallen bird lying in a pool of its own blood. The relationship of this bird to the people was unknown. Dalkar regretted having spoken aloud. His stray words had called the bird to attack. He should have known better!
What will their reaction be when they see what I’ve done to one of their creations? They must have felt its pain. He would need their friendship if he wished to survive. I have to learn the essence of this place. I need to understand what acts and what commands control this place, and its creatures.
He stared at the large bird. It still had not moved. Its blood no longer flowed and most of the red life-water had absorbed itself into the forest floor to return to its source.
He had not meant to injure that bird, no less destroy its life force. It was that stone -- that stone he had chosen to strike the creature.
I didn’t have power over the stone. They are usually so passive, so subservient! Now my scream has driven the life force from the creature. Is that what the stone wanted? The people of this land must be watching, and waiting for me to prove myself. What other damage have I done?
Dalkar felt a sudden increase in the sharp pain of his wounds. He was weaker and dizzier when he sat on the ground. A deep and cold fear seized him. He began to shiver. Perhaps he had lost the ability to heal himself. He had never had wounds as deep and painful as these.
I would not have believed I could ever feel so alone and helpless.
He had never known such doubt, although he had seen more than twenty cycles of the seasons. Dalkar could no longer be sure of his power over the inanimate objects with which he had always felt so familiar. He had destroyed a creature, not of his own making, which he had not intended to injure. Had the stone hit the bird of its own will, or had Dalkar’s senses failed him? Would his internal fires consume him with a final fever? He now lay almost prostrate, barely supporting his body with his left, uninjured arm. The pain was mounting. He sank into darkness as he slowly lost consciousness…
— ** —
Dalkar’s head was throbbing when he awoke. The pains in his shoulder and right side had become a dull, nagging ache. He remembered lying near the fallen bird, feeling pain in his body, dizziness in his head, and fear in his gut. As he slowly gained consciousness, he realized he was no longer lying next to the bird. An unnatural darkness enclosed him. It was neither dusk nor dawn.
He was lying flat on his back. His eyes focused on the black, starless sky and it began to take on texture. His senses returning, he realized that he was looking at a taunt skin, stretched out above him as a kind of roof, only three or four feet above his head. He cautiously sat up, supporting his weight on his uninjured, but stiff, left forearm. He tried to move his legs but they felt weak and unresponsive, stretching out uselessly on the ground in front of his upright torso. For several minutes, Dalkar had difficulty focusing his mental faculties. Never had he been at the mercy of forces so foreign to his everyday experiences.
An oddly miniaturized hut constructed of wooden poles and animal skins surrounded his senses. There was no fur lining on the “walls,” and there were no support rods under the “roof.” Who would use a tiny hut like this? It would never shelter from winter snows, or fall winds.
Have these men lost or ignored the power to create winter?
In fact, had people actually built the hut? Why? Had the bird created it from its own will? That would explain why the hut was so small. He shook his head to chase away the grogginess.
Questions piled up as he examined his surroundings and became more aware of his own body. As he thought about standing up, he realized that even if he were only four feet tall, he would still be too weak to hold himself erect. What he lacked in weakness he made up for in dizziness. Dalkar’s being, body, and spirit were extremely ill at ease. His limbs were almost numb, except for the dull throbbing pain in his right arm. His body was naked, except for a cloth wrapped around his loins and, strangely, a cloth wrapped across his right shoulder and around his torso. The cloths were damp with sweat, and had a strange odor from some unfamiliar plant-like substance. He had lost his world and its familiar sights, sounds, textures, or smells. He tried to control his fear, concerned about what it might conjure up inside this strange enclosure.
The form of a human head filled a slit in the hut. It immediately jarred Dalkar’s attention. He still could not focus his eyes to see the details of the face. Beyond the flap of the tent, he could see the shadow of a body lying prostrate behind the head. The head peered at the structure’s inhabitant. Dalkar saw a surprising resemblance of this new head to his own. The twinge of familiarity, although based on a blurred image, salved Dalkar’s confused senses. The Face had a thick beard, a stronger cheekbone than Dalkar’s, and deep-set green eyes. The curly hair was dark brown with a tinge of auburn. As Dalkar turned his own head, Face withdrew as suddenly as he had arrived.
Dalkar heard some voices and the shuffling of feet around him, outside the walls of the enclosure. Within a minute or two, the tent had disappeared and Dalkar was lying in a small clearing. A forest of legs surrounded his eyes. He strained his neck to glance around, eyes still not adjusted to the sudden sunlight. Six or seven strangers spoke among themselves, peering at him with obvious apprehension.
Dalkar could not comprehend the sounds the men were making, but they were vaguely familiar.
Where have I heard such sounds before?
He tried to capture the mood of the conversation from their body language.
How do these men feel about the bird-destroyer?
Then one of the men pointed in Dalkar’s direction.
He recognized the gesture. It represented friendship, not anger. It had been taught to him a year earlier by the wandering stranger, the “Other.” The one he had called, “Face” was now familiar to Dalkar. This was the stranger with whom Dalkar had spent so many hours back in the canyon.
“Alsteg!” he shouted. “It’s me, Dalkar! I’ve sought you for months. I followed the River upstream, as you said.”
A broad grin broke across Dalkar’s face, and Alsteg returned it. He had found the Others.
— ** —
“So!” Alsteg exclaimed. He strained to speak words the River Hunter could understand. He knew his pronounciation was not accurate. “It is you, Dalkar! You are no messenger from Lord of the Sky – the priest was wrong. Still, your arrival must be a good omen from the Lords. The Lord of the Mountain approved when we found your canyon. Angry fire did not flow from our sacred mountains. I am pleased, Dalkar of the Canyon, Hunter of the River. May Lord of the Sky be pleased, and Lord of the Mountain be pleased.”
— ** —
The priest Za-cing had been agitated from the moment he stumbled on the unconscious man and the dead eagle.
“A message from Lord of the Sky,” he had proclaimed. “Alwaren has sent us a messenger. This man-creature has killed it as a sign for us… Alwaren is not pleased!”
I had not recognized the man from the Canyons when the hunting party had first come upon him, lying helpless in the dirt near a fallen eagle. After so many months, he had all but forgotten his invitation to the man called Dalkar. “An unimaginable battle,” he admitted as he surveyed the awesome scene. “The victor lies here unconscious, bleeding but still breathing the breath of life. The bird lies without movement. Lord of the Sky has drawn his life through the wounds in his neck and chest. This combat makes no sense!”
Timler, one of the hunters, agreed. “It should never have occurred,” he whispered.
Lom-ra, a third hunter, was Timler’s younger brother. “If the man was hungry, there’s easier and better prey in the forest,” he muttered in Timler’s ear. “Why attack Alwaren’s eagle? Its wings make it too fast, and its claws are too fierce! Alwaren protects it, because it is his own. Then again, it’s quite silent now, isn’t it? Why did Alwaren take its life force back?”
“Yes,” Timer whispered back. “This is strange. And yet, I must also ask you, why would an eagle attack a man? Game is not scarce, and the Lord Alwaren has not told us that he is angry. The fire mountain has been quiet. What explanation could there be?”
“This,” the priest Za-cing announced, “is out of the normal stream of the River. It is against the nature of eagles, and the nature of men! It can only be a manifestation of the will of the Lord of the Sky, Alwaren. This is no man; it is a messenger from the Lord. If the message were good tidings, he would not have destroyed one of Lord Alwaren’s favorite creatures.”
The other priests were not all in agreement with young Za-cing. The learned among them knew the Lord of the Sky was unpredictable, and men often misunderstood the Lord. If this messenger could explain the message, the duty of the village was to nurse him to health.
“This is wise,” I agreed. As chief of the hunting party, I was able to overrule the priests. “The nature of the message might depend on our hospitality and on our skills as healers.”
The High Priest, Jolsar, was particularly convinced. “The unsearchable wisdom of the Lords of the Sky and the Mountain, and the Lord of the River, should not be prophesized without true knowledge,” he proclaimed. “Time will reveal the course to be taken. If Lord Alwaren’s Messenger does not awaken, we will surely suffer. We must heal him, and question him as soon as he awakes! This is a test prepared for us by Lord Alwaren. It is a test we must prove ourselves worthy of passing!”
We transported the fallen messenger to the village to place him in a sacred Tent of Healing. Using the Tent of Healing would prove that the Priests of Alwaren were worthy of the Lord of the Sky. The messenger would pronounce omens of good fortune and good hunting. They treated him with the ritual medicines needed to heal his wounds. The herbs were freshly harvested for the occasion, and the workers of the village prepared the spices and incense according to the ancient traditions.
After the dressings were applied, the incense burnt, and the ritual chants performed, Dalkar rested undisturbed in the Tent of Healing for two full days. We cleaned the tent on the third day, and gave Dalkar water through his parched lips, despite his delirium. After they removed the burnt-incense from the Tent, they took the skins down from the four supporting poles. The priests instructed the men to erect a new Tent while they washed his body. They also dressed his wounds with herbs and with bandages of woven weeds. The priests were careful to guard the secrets of preparing the bandage cloths and medicine mixtures. Although the Messenger would already know all the mysteries, they took no chances with their secrets. Before he was fully awake, they moved Dalkar to a Tent devoid of mystic amulets, potions, and incense. If he were not awake by the fourth day, he would never awake. All awaited the outcome of this Test from Lord Alwaren with anxiety and prayer.
We heard stirring within the Tent on the fourth day. I hastened to the entrance slit to observe the messenger’s health. It then took only a few moments to disassemble the Tent. “Hurry!” I shouted,. “He shouldn’t be allowed to stay in the Tent now that his fever is passed!”
With all the secrecy, haste, and concern that surrounded the Healing, I still had not recognized my friend Dalkar, the man from the canyons along the River’s edge.
— ** —
Dalkar remembered our meeting. “Alsteg!” he shouted to me. “It’s me, Dalkar! I’ve sought you for months. I followed the River upstream, as you said, and the Teacher gave me the way to the Cave of Entrance by the Fire Mountain.”
I explained that Lord of the Sky, and Lord of the Mountain, and Lord of the River had set the destiny of our meeting. “But now, my old friend, there are so many questions to answer!”
The import of all that had happened seized my consciousness. I grinned broadly, offering my friend, Dalkar, the traditional greetings. The grin was not only a gift to Dalkar, but also an outpouring of joy. I felt true communion with the Lord of the Sky, as I had never experienced it before. The entire sacred plan revealed itself before my mind. My inner eye now saw with clarity what his hunter’s eye had failed to discern.
The questions and the spiritual awakening, and the joyful enlightenment that coursed through me affected Dalkar in a strange way.
“I caused to us meet, and I never knew it,” he tried to explain.
I know now hat Dalkar saw the world through the eyes of an imperfect master, whose emotions and passions interfered with his capacity to exercise complete internal harmony and achieve eternal life. I, however, know that Men see the world through the eyes of an imperfect servant. Our physical limitations and incapacity to grasp the true essence of powerful, invisible Lords interfere with our ability to convince the Lords to protect all Men for all time.
— ** —
The depth and breadth of their understanding were as a mere shadow on the face of a leaf, compared to the true significance of this meeting. Years went by. The next generation of the men of the River combined the strengths of both cultures. The emotional cauldron of the canyon people and the spiritual fire of the forest people wrought a society of searchers and seekers. They sent envoys and explorers further down the River, and came to the great walled City of Tagar, whose existence these men could not have imagined.
The inhabitants of the City of Tagar, a city steeped in the use of technology for blind, mechanical exploitation, without regard for soul or purpose, would re-shape their entire world. The meeting at the River’s source became one of the most tumultuous events known to nature: the re-shaping of human minds. The minds would then reach out to re-shape a civilization. Cosmic forces were now at play, and the future possibilities were unlimited.
Before the world had changed to its new destiny, Dalkar had returned to the hut of his Ilwana-la’s and her beautiful little girl child, who bore his mark. He never found eternal life, but men and women remembered Dalkar for many, many generations.