What is life but a journey, seeking our true love, the one we once knew but have not yet met, our paths through
unknown lands, across seas of despair, and fields of flowers of scents and colors that fade away so quick.
What are we looking for, and where are our steps headed? So short our memories are and blurred our vision and
what we hear is nothing but the sound of the sea of fortune, capricious as it is, calm at times but only to contrast its fury, when we need it the least, lost as we are, like stones moving through an unrelated time, carried by the flows
that try to deliver us, despite our nature, back home to the end, to the beginning, to all that we are.
We spent most of the fall by now walking back, and I could see Dedha'ar wanted very much to be home soon. I did too. This long trip was the best I could wish for, but now that it was over, my heart longed for home, my body for rest. My mind wished for its own reward. And wait it did not.
“Tell me a story Dedha'ar.”
Dedha'ar looked at me. “A story?” And after a while of silence he added: “None come to mind. But tell you what. Lets find a story. The two of us.”
I looked at him, not knowing what to say. “Where do we start?”
“Anywhere. Lets say..
.. in the old days, in a house at the end of the Old Forest lived a man and a woman. They - were not poor but rather wealthy, for they had everything they wanted. A house, and the fortunes made it that they also had two children – an older boy and a girl, a little girl, barely walking. And time passes with no attention to them, to this place, and to all accounts it is as if time did indeed go out of its order. Though everything still exists and moves to its rhythm, as nature does and to any other observer but them the story bares some progress. But to themselves the past can hardly be told from the present, from the future. The days, the moons, the years repeat, resembling each other.”
And Dedha'ar did not say anything else for a while.
“What happens next?”
He raised his shoulders. “What do you think?”
I cleared my voice, hoping somehow this would help.
“So the boy and the girl grew up?”
Dedha'ar agreed. “They should.”
“And one day,” and I kept arranging my feet or rather they kept moving without an aim, “their mother has met with a bear, a beast of great stature,” I said remembering the story of Ghror.
“Oh, no.” But he kept smiling. I continued:
They were still young then. And the boy remembered his mother for a while, then - she turned into pieces, fragments of memories, a smile, a touch of her hand, a warm kiss. And the girl, who did not remember her, asked him once – how was she? And he would tell her, with few words, the most amazing stories about their mother. And their father ..
“.. he never found her, her body.” Dedha'ar voice became dark:
And the hope, small, has dried out with every new moon. The worst kind of hope, of knowing, but not accepting it. And for a few years they went back to the monotony of every day, but now a very different one. One where time would be welcomed to change it all.
But surely time changes nothing, if not on its own whim. Hence our strongest desire to change the things at our own pace, in essence to change the time.
And then, one day, he saw her, his wife, again, while he was scouring the forest. She looked like a ghost in the light beneath the trees, lowering herself to pick things in her worn out hem. But when she turned he saw the horror, as her left side was all a deep scar, carrying the marks of the bear's paws. And it was then that he saw that she did not recognize him, looking through his chest and speaking in the tongues unknown to any man. And true as this might be, he knew by searching into her eyes then that his wife was no more. Other than in the shadows of his long past captured memories.
He did not tell nothing to the boy, nor to the girl and next spring another woman came to live with them. And another spring brought them two little brothers.
I took his cue with no pause. “And they all grew, like no other were. They grew each year as other would in ..”
“Breath Ia'an.. There's no rush at this point.”
So I did. “And they set to do things all other kids did. Mostly play. And one day they all went to the forest and there, in front of their eyes they all saw a magic place.” And I whispered to Dedha'ar – “it was a castle.” I stop for a moment for my mind to catch up with the words.
And they all rushed to reach there as their eyes have set upon its glamor and strong colors. Except one, the older brother. Why don't you go there? the story asks.
I have seen this place long ago, answered the boy. I'd like to go to a place no one has seen yet, anywhere.
Looking at Dedha'ar, his unassuming smiles told me he liked it. But then they went away.
“So, the story here,” said Dedha'ar, “decidedly testing our patience, comes forth to oppose the realm of chaos to that of coincidences, both unexpectedly shaping our lives, helping us fight for sanity, for the sake of balance.”
And Dedha'ar smiled again.
But chance too has its rules and it is now the time to see them at work. It is clearly now the time to remember the start of this story. For their house stood at an old crossing of even older roads of times removed from any and all stories of our days.
It was there, at the edge of the Old Forest, in the village of Grars, that had not more than forty and a hundred stone houses, of which all appeared to support the gray hills, drawn to the carved roads, that one day its people saw a very old woman coming to their village. She moved slowly, taking her time.
And it took her a good part of the afternoon to get there, from the time they first saw her up on the sunrise road, and once arrived she then set herself near the few of the houses that sat closer together, a sort of a center to the party set along lines thrusting aimlessly through the hill, and the people of the village following the means of their tradition, after a careful observation of her part of the burden, brought her food and water.
And time has gone by, and not more than a few moons later the old woman came to become part of the village, and children and other women often found themselves listening to her stories. Gran' Aadra, they called her.
And not long after, as the first days of summer came to pass Gran' Aadra happened to be finding herself in a bit of a quandary, having to deal with a conundrum of sorts, and not one of her choice.
And Dedha'ar threw the heavy words with a thrill.
“Of what? What did she had?”
“Well, these words were not her problem exactly, but hers was equally confusing. But ignore that. You see, since the last moon Gran' Aadra started to have some weird dreams.
And in the beginning the dreams would stop in the morning, but did not end. And they would go on the next night and the nights to come, and after some days the dreams started to stalk her – unafraid - during the day as well. Not good.
Not knowing how to rid her mind of this painful turmoil she groaned and wailed, troubling those who knew her as a quiet old woman. And they thought her time has come, her age giving them the impression no less.
What hurts? asked the little girl who sat there with her three brothers.
I looked at Dedha'ar and could at once understand the old woman, not knowing what to make of it.
He waited for a while.
“The thoughts, she said,” he said, with a whisper.
They first came after sundown and I was worried seeing them gather behind the trees, unclear, and they kept moving. And the fear grew in me, as I waited for their attack, unprepared, with no help from anywhere. An attack that never came, for it seems all they wanted was for me to go with them in their own domain, to find them, and rescue them.
And little did I know what that was but I felt I had no choice in this.
We walked for a while, not a distance but rather the time I needed to get acquainted with them, to understand, to make sense of it. And this story then started.
Great. My turn.
There was a boy. Not taller or shorter than others, neither too thin or too fat. Just that. And not knowing his name one would have had trouble pointing to him in a crowd of other boys of his age. But he was a lonesome boy. And not that he did not like the company of others and they, the others were rather fond of him. But there were so many other things that stole his attention, things anyone would have had find it hard to compete with.
This boy, he rarely had a plan - he would wake up in the mornings and wander around. Like a dog. And whenever he found something that caught his mind's eye, he immersed himself into that for a while. Sometimes long whiles, and the dark was often the one thing reminding him of this other world he had to get back to.
And in one such next morning, while wondering around the forest he saw a magic place.
Dedha'ar smiled. “Another?”
And I whisper – “this one is a castle too”. This memory comes back from deep, and I stop for a moment. How long? How many years have passed since I was telling them these pretend stories? And it's not the years, and how long it passed, but the intensity with which I forgot of this one thing. As if it never happened.
“What is this place that he saw in the forest's clearance?” I pause again, as if searching for an answer and then looking at Dedha'ar.
“How did you know?” I'm really excited.
Dedha'ar chuckled. He did remember.
“I was lucky.” And he shows his empty hands instead.
“Good guess Dedha'ar.”
He laughs. “Thank you Ia'an.”
And I continue - “So, lets see..”
Gran' Aadra went on and told the story of this boy who goes to conquer it all. A true hero. Who will redeem himself. And the old boy thought to himself - redeem for what? But asked he did not. And it was his sister who asked for more, unconcerned with the fine details of the story but rather taken by its flow: What happened next? But as it came to happen, this tale was slowly taking the life out of the old woman. That the boy could see.
“Why?” Dedha'ar was not clear.
“Well, I think usually these stories do come from different paths of life, crossed by joy, sorrow, visions, and nightmares, they're so full of .. emotions,” I say remembering Guara's words. “The act of telling can in turn become one of sacrifice, and not a few times the story haunts its teller as he suffers before he frees himself, by timely capturing and releasing the parts of the story as they come, until its end. So.” And I return to the story with no concern.
What happened next? asked the girl again, thirsty for more.
The old woman looked at them both, at her first and then at him, seeking his eyes.
The boy said ..
And they barely heard her last words.
“What if this is not my story? What if this story told here cannot continue for it is rather the end of it that prevents its present thread here from spinning?”
“I don't understand what you're saying Ia'an.”
“Mmm.. neither do I. Not quite, and I would care to say the old woman doesn't know any more. But this is what the boy said, I think.”
“So what do we do?”
Dedha'ar lowered his eyebrows. “Even if we could ask the old woman, and somehow she could still find the strength, would she be able to get to him?” And he slightly moved his head upwards as if pushing the words through the fields. “Lets think of something else.” Dedha'ar's turn.
It was now rarely remembered by them but Grars was in generations past of greatest praise than now, and if people thought of the old good times with a warm heart, they did less so when thinking of the present, for it confounded them with hardships unmatched by any desire and will to get through. For such is the world at times, what it spoils - stays that way.
And the boys and their sister came back everyday, waiting to hear the old woman's story. As for her, Gran' Aadra, she got worse and the story had stopped to a halt, a few words far in between being all she could say now.
Then they stopped. And one day, as they went on their ways through the forest, the older brother stands an attack and in that event he loses his conscience. And not only that but his sister goes amiss. He is gone for many days and when he later comes back and learns from his little brothers of his sister's disappearance he at once sets to find her.
And early through his journey the boy will find traces of her, being alive, but nonetheless taken away by an indescribable force.
And as he progresses it will not take long for him to see that his journey is not too different from the one of the story with that boy who goes to conquer it all. The true hero. And he's troubled for he sees no reason in it, and all he wishes for is to find his sister and then go back to the past, he thought. But this new world won't let him easy, and it challenges him and he has to prove himself to succeed, against his very wish.
And as he goes through all the new challenges and people, them taking turns in his mind, he will reach a castle and among all things of value this place has to offer, the boy will make a friend – the cabbage boy, a young man like himself confounded by his place in life or rather for him the lack thereof. But this boy is still flowing with energy – one that he is trying to put to good use, into a friendship he feels is the one, against all odds. But why do we care? So the boy set himself to the road with his new friend – the cabbage boy. Lets sing a song, his friend said. And waiting for no answer he started.
And Dedha'ar started to chant the words, with no music whatsoever or much rhythm.
The road was high, the grass was green,
Seen from bellow, the great blue sky,
Tried the whole day to make it through,
Who would have thought the time would come,
To run in hide that afternoon,
away from fierce, dark clouds - that filled the wide above,
In troves the trumpets shed their sound to cover our cries.
Why? Why? Just end it, called the frog, it's pain..
“What is this song about?” I asked.
“This is just what the boy asked”
What is this song about? It made no sense, ..
“No. Why is everything so unexpected Dedha'ar?”
“Why do we feel this need to twist things? I asked Gra'ard once the same thing. It's not twisting, I think – he told me. Our mind gets used to follow the common path. So it's good at times to let it run free. And so many stories today are nothing but veiled weapons. I would rather listen to the words of those children that just learned to speak, he said. But perhaps in the end it's just rebelling against the popular notion that the world ought to be in a certain way. Or just a quack remedy to balance the monotony of the things we don't like. Who knows. But we are who we are. And sometimes no amount of thinking different can change that. And he tilted his head while his eyes kept locking on mine. What do you think?
“Like the Wyry songs of Orsha?”
“I didn't like them. But there was something in the absence of rhythm..”
“Don't they beat the drum even more furiously than others? They have plenty I thought.”
“Yes, but it's not the rhythm of the drums I was thinking of. Even though they keep disturbing that for no good reason. The melody is so .. broken. You never know what comes next. My mind gets tired after a while. But then, when all hope is lost, out of nowhere comes the most beautiful, out of this world music. How do they do that? Why?”
“Do you think they know? I don't.”
And back to the story.
So they walked for a long time through some green plains of no other redeemable feature until the boy found himself on a shore, looking over a dark sea of pebbles. And above them an array of an infinite number of small creatures that looked like flying insects marched upon him. And this noise that was coming from afar, earth moving, brought with it the deepest fear a mind could conceive. For whom can escape the doom of endless tiny beasts?
What are we going to do? asked the cabbage boy.
Nothing – said the boy. For fear flies fast when disregarded. Why did he say that? The words just came to his mind, unfettered, undeterred.
Showing off again, his smile tells, underlining the words.
And many days later they reached a village. And they found that the whole village was empty, except for one destitute house raised at the edge. A man, a woman stood there, in front, on the steps, before that gate.
Need help? It's good that you stopped here, the old man said. And then he looked at them funny as if to distance himself from those words. And he went on to speak, without rhyme or reason.
I can tell you about it, well what else? You can either conform, accept it, thinking there is nothing to do. And his hands were shaping it, inconclusive as it were. It is "fate", luck, misfortune, always something else that decides on your fate. Or you can choose to believe there is nothing else but you. And you are what you think of yourself. Everything that happens then comes from it. And, and..
No. It's not that. If you expect bad things, the chance is – they might come. Prepare. But it's a balance. You can't be too positive. When you encounter bad things you need to work around them. No?
And since nothing else has been said the old man continued, his hands, his fingers twitching like a swarm of insects. His voice had changed to hollow, sinking into their ears. Then he laughed out loudly.
Oh, perhaps you want happiness? Then rather than running away you should run towards those pursuits that let you lose, and his shoulders raised in accord to his mouth' corners, up. Forget of yourself and you should aim higher - and his head, voice sprang up, both now paired with his finger - not less – and down again - but not higher than you could, nonetheless. Align your wants and keep them coming – slow.. he lingered the last word. The rushing through the words - And do not break yourself for pieces - he paused - do not always fit back. And he laughed loud again, wholeheartedly, but quite shrilling the sounds.
The woman looked at him, slightly dancing her head, with moves hiding her stance. But in her mind she weighted them. Then - finally, probably out of patience, and implying some random, casual courage - throwing her hands, she laughed short, but without any signs to tell of it other than the sound.
Forget that. Imagination, boy - is what makes you rise above this funny world. Do what you might. Or don't. Why am I wasting my words? Where's that swarm old man?
Who are you? asked the man, playing unaware.
The last thing you'll see. Wishing that you didn't, and she laughed again, this from the heart.
What I truly wish, you wouldn't hear my queen. And his eyes turned dark, mirroring his mind. Then they closed, as his fish lips slightly splashed the air circling his breath.
Let them go! she ordered him.
But the boy had already left the two, unclear on what such advise could help with further.
“I think you're not paying attention. What if it is by sheer luck that we even understand this much? You go.”
“Fine. For inside our minds, deep under the many layers built through our senses, lays the only thing that matters. Our true self. And while trying to find it we keep adding more, burying it beyond hope of ever seeing it again. But there it is.”
“Is it? Is this the story?” It was Dedha'ar turn to look at me funny. “What is our true self? Other than the words? As if who we are is not cryptic enough, so far removed from what our mind can reach. A true self? Some things just are. We should find the strength to accept that.”
“All? Anger, obsession, fear, hatred?”
“What are they but hope? Or the confusion the lack thereof brings to some. And whether destroyed, or nor yet - unfulfilled, waiting its moment, sucking us into its realm - hope is in the end lying to ourselves. Thinking we could do things without quite doing them. Once you know what to do, don't hope. Just have the courage and do it.”
I looked at him for some time, not finding words.
“I'm tired Dedha'ar.”
“I know. I'm tired too. But you're young. Imagine the old woman," he smiles, "It's fine, we don't have to finish..”
“Can you? Can you tell me how it ends?” And Dedha'ar stops, looking through the fire before he throws another log.
And as he set themselves on the road again, once more, a mighty desire was kindled within him. To stop. There. And let it all pass. He said so to his friend and the cabbage boy saw no sense in that, and his words told him of it. But this was not his heart but rather his mind that was longing for rest.
And not far from where they stopped they could see a shelter built out of odds and ends, much like our story. So there they stayed. And looking at the sky his friend said:
I once heard it can take the light of the sun a thousand generations to reach us, here. And it is not the distance but rather more of a riddle where it has to free itself from crashing into competing other bits of light. Though in the end, ironic as it is, they will all be free, for ever.
That's what that cabbage boy said. That's how he was.
And while they stayed there, it happened that our boy remembered the story the old woman told, and in return he set to tell that story to his friend. But the story did not stop where the old woman rested it. No, his story went further to tell of other things no one else ever knew of. Things of worlds where a thousand years are nothing but a moment, and of another place where there's time for everything, including nothing. And many others, where there were no words for love, and hate, for us.
He then told his friend of the Deuno Sarz, of the Nexen, the tribe of the dead who lived in one of these worlds. They spent their lives near them, the dead, searching for it, and more - tempting death at times, more than us would ever. Their long horns and large drums filled the sound of the night with an earth shattering movement. They kill with their bare hands, looking deep into their prey's eyes, searching. They burn. Not afraid.
But they are happy. They smile a lot. They laugh and live plenty. For not that many worries occupy their minds. And the earth did not care for them, letting them roam free, unrestrained, beneath regard of any form.
So it is, that by living our lives as they unravel, we sometimes let things of no substance inform us of what meanings we should seek, of where we should draw the line between what we love and hate, accept and reject, fear and trust. If I had learned one thing, it is that our senses, our time, even our mind are nothing but tools, to help us survive, as good as we can. Tools, not just imposing empty words.
And theirs, their tools were not ones you'd see used a lot, or by many. But it worked for them. They still remembered their long lost ancestors, some of whom were once of the greatest people of the western fields. Those who proudly once lived in the light before the darkness came into their minds. Not any darkness, but the sort that comes as a great light and which then keeps on blinding you.
And the only reason their story here it is told is to tell of their forefathers, who left to go to Sarz, more than a hundred years before them. Unlike their peers, these people were of great endurance, of mind and body. And their clear minds told them of the terrible danger their common path was about to encounter. Though they did little to stop it. For in a time of great wealth and happiness their people departed from themselves into the realm of their minds, and now their world became more attuned to what they all wanted it to be and together decided it had to, rather than to the few details that escaped to tell otherwise.
And, within a few generations their eyes lost their brilliance, their words decayed, abandoned, not needed, and their exchanges sounded to anyone else more foreign to the kind of any sound we expect, a shrieking of sorts, terrifying but skilled, and which further presented itself as utterly intimate, as among them you could see their warm embraces, hauntingly tight dances that accompanied the impossible noise.
They now say their minds were hollow but in truth they were more intricate than ours. The outside look, painted with thick dirt, had nothing to do with the beauty of their own, inside worlds they all were so immersed in, and in there there was no time to tell of, as to them the past can hardly be told from the present, from the future. The days, the moons, the years are just as if a series of moments keeps on repeating.
And cabbage boy said - this is not very different than the people at the castle.
Yes, said the boy, and this the people who lived for Sarz knew, and they wanted to escape the doom for with each year more have been taken by it and few if any still believed to be completely unaffected. They all could see themselves, if not – their children being already on their journey there and it filled them with terror. Isn't life about trust, about finding a place where you can be safe? From all the madness? So they went to Sarz and left these people they called Grun..
“Why is he called the cabbage boy?”
“Don't know Ia'an. He just is. So..”
“Why do they call you the cabbage boy, asked our boy?” And I looked at Dedha'ar, rolling his eyes down on me, with a mock grin.
“Well, it's a funny story.” Funny or not I wanted to hear it.
One day, long ago, when we were young, one of us came with the idea of playing knights in our own tourney. So I set to work on a great sword that took most my day to get right and left little time to find a helmet. And nothing would do for a helmet until my eyes were set, late after the sunset, on a dark patch of cabbages. I drilled a big whole in half of one until it got to fit right and there was my helmet.
They all laughed at me as it did not occur to me before that day of its strange looks for, as they say, the cabbage was more of a hair style than a helmet. But to that I did not care. My sword won all the battles. And now they're all dead. But the name stayed.
“Why did they die?”
“Who knows. Battles, accidents, sickness, ..fate.
“So, the two, their journey together is about to end. They are now so far away from anything they knew. And there he finds his sister. And whether he fought and slayed the orange dragon with three heads, remembered it is not.”
“Did they had to fight with their socks? Thrust each other in the ground? Turn into tricky-tiny-huge eyed monsters?”
“No, I wish they did though. There was no match for him in the end. He will dismantle it, conquer it all. But still without any desire to it. And free - still he was not.
Then he comes back alone, leaving his sister there with his new friend she fell in love with.
He called to them one morning and embraced them both and no later than two and a half moons he was home. But once home he tells no stories, he goes back to being his old quiet self. And they all think his sister was lost.
But before he goes back to the forest he remembers Gran' Aadra. And he told her. How the story unfolds. How it ends. All of it. He knew.
But how can a young man think as if he's already been through life? Of things he cannot know of. About how to deal with the world as it unravels, fight, choose, settle, share, having children, see them grow, growing old together, having to make hard decisions, learn to let it go. Death.”
“How can a old man do the same then?”
“Fair. But there are things you can't just imagine. It's fair to say that being confronted with these does not make one wise. But not being confronted at all? You see?”
“My name was Spurnio then, boy said. And the old woman looked at him, her hands did, touching his face, his shoulders, his hands, and she rested her ear to his chest. Spurnio, she said. How are you?
I'm not, boy said. I was.
But you're so young.
I'm not any of the others. I am Setis, the one beyond the dream.
And she could now somehow peek beyond his words. The way he talked, his smiles, his eyes. My boy, she cried. My boy. And her mind opened and for the time of a twinkling she saw it, a glimpse of it - all.
I looked at Dedha'ar, “What is all - this?”
“It has long before been said that there might be different forms reaching to breath new life into this world, that are all around us but we can't quite see. The hidden dimension of life, its spirit, without which nothing else could exist. Not even a stone.
And it is years after when word comes to them from distant lands, from his sister telling that she will come to visit coming spring. And from the few stories told by the messengers new stories emerge, each one more incredible than the other in imagining his bravery. And surprised - they all follow him, they want him.
The hero. But that is not who he is. He just wants to walk the paths of the forest, to listen to the music of its springs, to imagine of flying high into the sky with the eagles.
And he knew he had to redeem himself one day, for how else could he go back? To the time lost to the past, to the days when they were all happy?
And the people of the village in their common wisdom found a task for him to help him redeem in their own ways. They want him to kill the beast. Why? He's not afraid but does not see the point. Their point. Why kill the bear?
Then, after many days of threading it, their words tell them they're unhappy. But what did he do against them? More, he gave himself to them, to their judgment.
And then a man dies, another one worsted by the bear. Why didn't he killed the beast when they asked him? What kind of hero does that? He gave us nothing but false hope. We gave him so much. And now they all hate him with their strongest hate. And the quiet ones say nothing for what they are.
And they kill him.
Reason and imagination died down, and his thoughts were now failing, slowly falling, into a worthless form. The arrow of time stopped. Disappeared.
Unaware of possessions of self anymore, being stuck in one moment, and seeing it all from everywhere, with the eyes of every pebble, every blade of grass, his previous self dissolved into this awareness.
Then, unaccountable moments later he drained down into a new self, as if back into the slumber. But the slumber was relaxed and unassuming, a forgotten remnant of his childhood, one that would first win his confidence, become his friend before they would both dive together in the dissolving medium of nothingness that precedes the realm of dreams. And again he felt free. Redeemed.
And when his sister arrives, she cries for him and her tears bring about a seed, that will sprout into a great black tree.
And Dedha'ar stops. I look at his hands, slowly cutting the air, throwing yet another log into the dying fire.
”Are you unhappy Dedha'ar?”
“Unhappy?” He looks at me, “Why would I?” As if he wants to buy some time, I thought. “I don't think about it Ia'an. I.. I don't. The days pass and I never think of it. What happened, what will.. And I'm happy that way. Live my life, here. Even though the world that I know, where I came to be, that world seems to disappear.. faster. There is a sense of tragedy in that. I try not to mind it.”
“Does it work?”
“I don't know Ia'an. Some days more than other.”
And we stayed there, in the night, not wasting any more words. A few more days and we'll be home.