Friday, 29 April 2016

War in an age of innocence: 10

Link to Chapter 1

All the elation that he had felt about finding the stone circle was gone. Even worse was the realization that he had been wrong. He had focused so much on finding the right way and had never worried about the possibility that Kala would not be there waiting for him. He felt truly lost. It was not the circle that he been seeking, it was Kala. How could he have been so wrong? He remembered again what Vara had told him; that the answers lay in and beyond his fears, but he had no fear of not finding Kala, so how could he face what he had not experienced? He thought about the other thing that Vara had told him: “Trust in the Oneness”. There, in front of him, was the stone circle. It was the nearest point to the centre of the universe, the Oneness from which they had all come.

He walked into the centre of the circle and stood there. He did not know what he was supposed to do and found himself just lamenting his situation. This could not be right, lamentation can take place anywhere, and he did not need a stone circle in which to feel bad! He felt angry with himself for wallowing in his own misery and tried to drive such thoughts from his mind. He remembered something about the quietness that he should experience in the centre of the circle. He remembered something about the original pairs. Could Kala be the other half of his pair? This was no good, he had stopped feeling sorry for himself, but now he was just trying to figure things out by remembering all that he had been told. This was not experiencing the quietness.

He walked out of the circle. He felt that he had no right to be there and that he was perhaps doing damage to this sacred place by filling it with his rambling thoughts and doubts. He just had to pull himself together. Facing his doubts, yes, that would be the first step. He walked around the circle and thought about how he had no doubts that Kala would be there, waiting for him. He knew that she would be there, that was why he had no doubts. What room can there be for doubts when one knows. Feeling this sense of certainty, regardless of what his eyes had told him, regardless that his calls went unanswered, he entered the circle again. Kala will be there!

He stood at the centre of the circle again. He had no thoughts but he could feel. He felt as if the wind was passing right through his body. He felt that the space that his body occupied was getting bigger. He seemed to fill the circle, then the plateau. He felt as big as the universe itself. Suddenly, he knew he was at the centre again. It was if the universe had just pushed itself inward upon him. Although the space seemed to have contracted all around him, the source seemed to come from one direction only. He turned to face it. There was nothing but the stones, the plateau, and the star-filled sky above. He looked up just above the horizon in the direction he was facing and noticed a star that shone with a slight rosy colour. This would serve as a marker for him. He started to walk toward it.

The plateau was much larger than it had appeared from the path through the cleft in the rock. He had assumed that the stone circle was at the centre, but it was actually very close to the path. The plateau was very long and he seemed to be walking across its longest span. The light from his torch did not travel very far so he found himself mostly staring at the ground, glancing upward at his star once in a while to make sure that he had not strayed from the direction that he had felt.

Some time had passed before he became aware of the fact that if this were going to take a while, then the position of the star that he was following would have moved. He felt rather foolish that it had taken him this long to realize this, and he imagined how his aunt would have chastised him for forgetting that the heavens moved. The Oneness was the centre. The sense of direction he felt was only relative to this, not to some wandering star that just happened to be at that place at that time. He stopped walking and thought about this for a few moments. If this stone circle was closest to the centre of the universe and the stone circle back home was also closest to the centre of the universe then all this meant was that a person that stood in the centre of any stone circle was close to the centre of the universe. It did not matter where the circle was. The circle, then, had something about it that enabled a person to get better in touch with the centre that was within themselves!

He had an idea. He remembered the circle game that he played with the other boys when he was little: one person would be blindfolded and turned around and around while the other boys stood in a circle. Then the blindfolded boy would try to walk in a straight line and touch another boy. That boy would turn him around again and then move away, and the rest would form a smaller circle and the process would be repeated until there was only one boy remaining. That boy would then be the next to be blindfolded. He remembered how some of the boys that were very good at that game had said that they could sometimes “feel” the right direction to pick whoever they wanted to eliminate next.

Closing his eyes, he turned round and round until he lost his sense of direction. Then he pictured the stone circle again in his mind. He felt himself growing larger, just as before, and then the space collapsed on him again and he felt the source from one direction, just as before. He opened his eyes, and although still a little dizzy from spinning around, he saw the star that he had started to follow, but it was just a little way from the direction that he now faced. It had worked! He wondered about that game. Perhaps someone like his Aunt Vara had invented it long ago to teach children about the Oneness!

He set out once again, and tried to compensate for the movement of the stars as he went. Every once in a while he would check his direction again in the same way. It did not always work, but then he would try to clear his mind of thoughts and try again. Once, he had to do this four times before he found himself facing the direction. The relative position of that star was the test. Each time it would have moved very slightly. So pleased was he with his newfound ability, that he almost forgot what he was doing there other than following a direction that he had felt. When he came, at length, to the edge of the plateau, his original purpose came back to him. He was not sure what he would find there. He had hoped, when he set out, that Kala would be waiting for him, but he was still alone. There was nothing special about this part of the plateau. It looked much like the place he had entered on the other side. He looked over the edge and held his torch high to get a better view, but saw nothing but rocks. He walked a little way along the edge, checking for a path, and finding nothing, he walked the other way. His doubts were starting to bother him again when he saw a small trail leading diagonally down a very steep part of the plateau’s edge. It seemed too small to be a trail made by people, and he wondered if it might be just an animal trail and lead through places he could not pass. There was only one way to find out. Without pause, he started down the trail.

It zigzagged back and forth until it reached the edge of the forest and then travelled straight down through the trees. He was relieved that it was a human trail, it was probably very little travelled, but it must lead somewhere. He felt no fear as he entered the forest again. He knew that if he got lost, he could always go back the way he had came, and he had left a marker to find the village trail. He smiled to himself about his bravery as he walked through the forest. The boys back home would not have entered their tiny forest in the middle of the day. Yet, here he was, in the dead of night, wandering along a trail through this giant dark forest without any fear whatsoever. A thought crossed his mind. Was he really being brave? If he felt no fear, then what was brave about that? The old Kiri would have felt fear. The old Kiri would have been brave if he was walking through the forest with all of that fear. What would scare the new Kiri? Would he be brave in the face of that fear? He didn’t know.

The trail crossed a small stream and he was glad to see it because the water-skin that he had brought with him was getting low. He tried the water in the stream and found it sweet-tasting. He filled the water skin, then drank a lot of it and topped it up again. There was a mossy bank nearby and he realized how tired and hungry he was getting. He knew that he would have to sleep sooner or later, and this spot looked perfect. He found some driftwood that had washed up past the bank during some flood and he was pleased to find that it was dry and brittle. He soon had a good fire burning. He used his axe to cut some large logs from a dead tree. He was glad that they split very easily, for he had little energy left. He looked at the green stone axe that his father had made and felt homesick for the first time. He wondered if his parents were worrying about him. Just as well that they didn’t know what he was doing at that moment! The fire would last a long time with those logs, and any animals that happened to be wandering through the forest would keep far away.

He ate more of the bread and the meat, and then some of the honey with more bread, drank some water and lay down on the moss. The fire crackled and the sound of the little stream was comforting. He thought about Kala. He was sure that he would find her eventually, but he didn’t know why. His aunt would not be expecting him for many hours, so she might not be worrying about him too much. He thought about the stone circle and how he had learned to use it. He thought about the forest. Earlier that same day it was a place of terror for him, but now the floor of the forest was his bed and the trees were his blanket. He closed his eyes and he slept.

In the middle of the forest was a Great Tree and around this tree curled the Great Serpent. Its head swayed side to side to the rhythm of the universe and its tail lay coiled on the ground at the base of the tree. In the middle of those coils lay a small figure. It was Kala. She was sleeping, and the rhythm of her breathing was the rhythm of the universe. 

[Chapter Eleven will appear here on Monday. Have an expansive weekend!]

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Thursday, 28 April 2016

War in an age of innocence: 9

Link to Chapter 1

The colour drained from Vara’s face and she quickly sat down next to Kiri and put her arms around him.

Oh Kiri, there’s no reason for you to be so upset. I had no idea that our plan would affect you both so badly. I’m so sorry.”

Kiri was still overwhelmed with emotion, but he stopped sobbing and managed to speak, but with a trembling voice.

What plan?”

Urho told me that it is well known that Kala cannot keep a secret. Everyone teases her about it and she takes the teases without being hurt by them. She even laughs along with everyone about it. That is why we picked her to…”

Vara bit her lower lip and frowned. She continued.

I had better start at the beginning. When Urho and I were discussing our plans to bring you here for your lessons, he told me about the custom of having young people go alone into the forest to search for the stone circle. You must understand that everyone here is familiar enough with the forest not to be afraid of it. Merely entering the forest is no test of their abilities. Where we come from, the forest is a fearful place and few ever venture into it. You remember Urho’s story about the reindeer? This story was about overcoming the first fears of the forest, but more important, it was about the first quest to find the Great Serpent. In my story, the quest did not take place in the forest, but deep in the sea. To our people the forest is still the place where no one goes. It would have been unfair of us to demand you to enter the forest alone and seek out the stone circle. This would be a task much greater than is demanded of the young people here.

We both thought that having you go into the forest with Kala would be test enough of your determination. We knew that you would be very afraid, even if you were with someone else. Most people here place too much importance on the forms of things, and not the thoughts that are behind them. This is natural. To do otherwise is already a great step toward wisdom. We knew that many would not take you seriously unless you knew the location of the stone circle. This is why we picked Kala for you. Please understand that we hold no feelings against her. Her faults are only of enthusiasm. She wants to share everything with everyone and her kindness knows no bounds. We had no idea that she would be so upset as well. We thought that, at the worst, she would just blush about being discovered.”

Kiri buried his face in his hands and sobbed again. Vara waited patiently for Kiri to gain control of himself again.

Oh, Aunt Vara! This is all my fault. I was angry with Kala for showing me the circle. She told me that finding it was a test. I told her that she had ruined everything and then I hardly even spoke to her all the way back to the village. She was so sad, all the way back, and when she saw that you knew what she had done it was just all too much for her to take. That is why she ran out of the house.”

Vara stood up and helped Kiri to his feet. She wiped the tear stains from his face with her hand.

You had better go and find her. Tell her how sorry I am and have her come back here.”

Kiri left the house and went searching for Kala. He ran all over the village but did not see her. Realizing that it would be sheer chance if he found her this way, he started asking people if they had seen her. After he had spoken to about twenty villagers with no success, he finally came to an old woman coming back through the gate with a large bundle of firewood. The woman said that she saw Kala running along the forest path past her. Kala was crying and the woman called out to her, but Kala did not turn around to answer.

It was strange,” the woman said “she is usually such a happy girl”.

The woman continued homeward with her bundle of firewood and Kiri just stood there. He felt his eyes fill with tears again. He could not remember a time that he had felt so bad. He thought for a while and came to the conclusion that feeling sorry for himself and feeling bad for Kala was not going to do any good. He looked through the gate to the forest path, and then back the way he had come. He knew that he would have to find Kala, even though the thought of entering the forest alone filled him with dread and he doubted that he would have any success even if he could summon up the courage. He decided that he should go back home to tell his aunt of his plan. As it was already late in the day he should not waste any time and he ran back as fast he could.

Vara was waiting for him, and was visibly sad when he entered the house alone. He told his aunt what he had to do.

Of course I will not stop you,” she said, “just be careful. Take a torch and a fire starter with you, and a bag with some food in it. If you do not find her by this time tomorrow, you must come back. Leave a trail that will help you find your home.”

I am scared, Aunt Vara, but I have to do this.”

I know,” she replied, “Trust in the Oneness, and follow your fear.”

You mean if I get frightened I should turn back?”

No. What makes you afraid makes you run from it. Instead of running, you must approach it. The answer to all of your questions lies in and beyond the fear that you feel. If you do not continue past this fear, then you will never find what you truly seek. This is all that I am going to say. Go now.”

Kiri gathered up all the things that he thought he might need, including some bread, meat and honey, although he could not imagine that he would be hungry until he found Kala, and he set off down the path toward the darkening forest. He took a spear with him as well, just in case he encountered any ferocious creatures along the way. He also knew that he might need this spear to hunt with. He had not told Vara, but he had no intentions of coming back without Kala. As soon as he entered the forest he started to leave a very clear trail by placing sticks upright in the soft ground along the path. He could have left a trail of broken branches, but he thought that the upright sticks would serve as a signal to Kala. She might believe that only he would need such an obvious trail. He started to worry about whether he could find his way back to the stone circle. He felt that this would be the most likely place that Kala would go, and besides, he did not know of any other place to look anyway.

He felt his original fears of the forest coming back to him. He had overcome them when he was with Kala, but now he was alone and seemed like they saw their chance to gain mastery over him. He cast them from his mind. These were just general fears: they had no substance. They were not fears of animals, of the oncoming darkness, of the trees themselves. These were just fears of nothing at all. He started to feel better and he picked up his pace. Better get as far he could before it got too dark. Even with his torch, the darkness would make everything look different.

He had walked quite a long way when another fear presented itself to him. This time it was a real fear that had substance How could he find the other path? He was not sure how far he had gone. He didn’t think that he had passed the point where they had crossed the undergrowth to the second path, but he couldn’t be sure. One turn in the path looked like every other turn to him. He thought about Vara’s words to him: “The answer to all of your questions lies in and beyond the fear that you feel.” How could his fears provide the answer? The solution came to him suddenly, like a blinding flash. He laughed out loud.

The broken twigs!”

He remembered that when he was afraid that he would surprise some animal he had gone out of his way to trample on every twig he came across. Most of them were too old and damp to make a sound or too fresh to crack, but some had broken with a loud snap. He started to look at the twigs along the path. He soon came to recognize those that he trod on that had made a sound: the wood was clean at the break. He would travel a distance, and then search for the twigs. Some he even remembered by their shape. At one point he could not find any more, so he backtracked, looking for the last of them on the trail. He recalled that it was just a few steps from one trail to the other, so he stepped off the path into the undergrowth and then turned back if there was no other trail there. He kept this up for a while and just as he was starting to worry whether he was following his own trail, or that of some other person, he found the path he was looking for.

Along with his great joy came hunger and he after he set up some upright sticks on the second trail as a marker for Kala, he sat down and ate some of the bread and meat. The light was starting to fade. He realized that it must be after sunset, but he did not know how long it would be before total darkness descended on him. He thought it would be a good plan to light his torch right away. It took him a while to find kindling that was dry enough to start a fire. Most of the wood was too damp, but he found that by breaking into the interior of some rotten wood, he gathered enough dry wood to start a fire big enough to start the torch. He was glad that he started when he did, for by the time he had got the small fire started, it was getting dark.

With the path lit by the torch he pressed on toward the stone circle. He did not bother to leave any more trail markers and his enthusiasm and relief made his step light and added to his speed through the forest. Even the steepness of some of the hills did not seem to slow his pace. He was nearing the rocky cliffs when he heard wolves calling to each other in the distance. He was not afraid. It was not just because he carried fire with him, but his own sense of accomplishment and purpose drove any fears far away from him.

He almost ran the last steep steps up through the cleft in the rock to the open plain and the stone circle beyond. Stars filled the sky and a crescent moon hung over the stones. A cold gust of wind swept across the plateau and made him shiver.

Kala!” he shouted, “Kala! It’s me.”

The words faded into the darkness beyond and he was answered with silence. He realized that he was completely alone.

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Wednesday, 27 April 2016

War in an age of innocence: 8

Link to Chapter 1

The trail to the forest led from a gate at the back of the village. It travelled up a gentle slope past several small fields, now just stubble. As they got closer to the forest, Kiri was impressed, and a little scared by the immensity of it. The trees were much larger than anything he had seen before, and an undergrowth of brambles at the edge of the forest presented what seemed to be an impenetrable wall. The trail looked as if it ran up to this wall and stopped. As they drew closer, Kiri could see that the trail made an abrupt turn to the right behind a large patch of brambles. As they made this turn, the entrance to the forest appeared as a dark hole in a wall of green. Kiri thought that it looked like a cave and remembered the stories of the lairs of the Great Serpent. He was having doubts about this trip. He fancied he could hear his heart beating, and wondered if Kala could hear it too, but she showed no sign that she could. He tried to present a brave front, but all that he had ever heard about the forest was very bad.

Kala was speaking to him about the types of trees that they were passing as they entered the dark maw of the forest, but Kiri heard this only as a mumbling behind the deafening sound of his heart and the flood of words and images about the Great Serpent and travellers that never came back.

Are you cold?” Kala asked. “You look like you are shivering”

A little bit” Kiri lied.

He tried to hide his embarrassment, but was relieved that Kala mistook his trembling for shivering. Answering her brought him out of his agitated state, and he started to feel a little better. He was still rather worried and he asked her about what dangerous animals they might encounter. She told him that those animals would be able to hear them coming and they would stay out of their way thinking that they might be hunters after their skins. Kiri had been walking very quietly up to that point, afraid that something might hear him, but now he realized that this was not a good idea and he tried to step on every twig that presented itself.

As they walked deeper into the forest the trees grew larger and blocked out the sky. Kiri could only see tiny points of blue above the trees. The ground was covered in ferns and huge fallen tree trunks covered in moss. Everything seemed to be wet and he saw a slug, the size of his hand, leaving a trail across a large leaf like the sun glinting on the sea back home. He paused to take a closer look at this giant slug, many times larger than any slug he had seen before, and when he looked up again he was alone. His heart leapt into his mouth. Kala had vanished.

Kala! Kala!”

He turned in all directions, but he could see no sign of her.

Kala! If you can hear me call out!”

There was silence.

Kala! Please!”

He decided that perhaps she had gone on ahead, and that she might not hear him is such a dense forest. He started to run further down the trail. He had not taken more than a few steps when a voice seemed to come from everywhere at once.

You really shouldn't run in the forest Kiri, you might surprise a bear”


Take six steps ahead of you Kiri, then stop”.

He did as he was told.


He heard Kala’s voice behind him and he swung round to see her on the trail where he had just been standing. He was relieved, but also angry.

That was mean! You know I have never been in a forest before. I thought something terrible had happened. Never do that again!”

Sorry Kiri, I could not resist it. It was just a prank we sometimes pull on visitors, but I did have a good reason. I want to show you something”

She took his hand and led him just a few steps through the ferns. There was another trail, smaller than the one they had traveled along, and completely invisible from the other trail.

Don’t tell anyone I have shown you this Kiri. It is a secret. You will probably be shown it again later by Urho and your Aunt Vara, but I wanted be the one to show it to you first, so don’t tell them you have already seen it when they do show it to you”

Why would they show me this trail?” Kiri asked

It will be part of your lessons, you’ll see, come on.”

They continued along the small trail and were soon climbing a steep hill. The trees started to thin out and become smaller as they got higher. Kiri noticed that a few large rocks were visible here and there, and that there was far less moss than there was on the old trail.

Where does this lead to?” he asked

You’ll see”.

Kiri was expecting to see whatever it was at the top of the hill, but when they reached the summit, the trail continued down the hill on the other side. Then it rose again over another hill. They climbed up that hill and down the other side. Kiri thought that perhaps they were still climbing higher. They went up and down several more hills; Kiri had lost count of them. Each summit had fewer trees on it and these trees were always smaller than were those on the previous summit. He was starting to get tired, but was pleased that at least he did not feel afraid anymore. Kala’s prank had cured him of that.

Is it very far now Kala?”

No, it is at the top of the next hill”.

Kiri was impressed by Kala’s knowledge of the forest. She knew where the trail was, and she knew exactly how far they should have to travel along it to reach their destination, whatever that was. Everything in the forest looked much the same to him. He had noticed some things: the trees getting smaller, the gradually vanishing moss, and the growing presence of rocks, but he knew that he would never be able to find that trail again on his own.

As they climbed the final hill Kiri saw that the trees were starting to thin out to the point that they must be leaving the forest. Soon, there was an expanse of rocky ground ahead of them and he saw that the trail led to a cleft in a rock cliff. They followed the trail, and just as it was about to enter the cleft, Kiri looked back the way they had come. He saw a series of hills, each lower than the last, then a large hill past that. He could not see the village, and the sea was only slightly visible between two other hills much further south. In all the other visible directions there were just more forest-covered hills. He suddenly became aware of a sense of great relief. He had not noticed how much he was comforted by open spaces before.

The cleft ran steeply between two overhanging gray rock faces. It seemed like there was barely enough room between the rocks for them to walk, but this was probably due to the height of the cliffs on either side of them. Kiri felt like the rock was closing in on him and he started to feel confined like he must have been in the forest. This time, though, he was fully aware of the fact. He was hoping that they would end up somewhere more open again. His wishes became fulfilled as he saw that the cliffs were getting lower on each side of them, or rather, that they were climbing to the summit of those rocks through the cleft.

Just as the first trail in the forest had made a sudden turn into darkness, the rocky trail that they were climbing made a sudden turn into the light. They had reached the top of the cliffs and the sun was shining down on a plain of short grass and small rocks. Everywhere was small flowers of a multitude of colours. After the dark and green of the forest, and the dark and the grey of the rocky trail, Kiri felt the colours like a burst of music from all of the flutes of his home village. In the middle of the plain was a circle of huge stones, much bigger than any he had ever seen.

This is where we come to look at the heavens and understand the times for things.” Kala said. “The circle in the village is for meeting the Oneness, but this is different. Not everyone comes here, mostly just those that can understand the heavens, and they pass this knowledge to the rest of us. There is a test though -- the children that will be taught these things are not shown the way. They are told what they must seek, and they then go and find this place themselves”.

Kiri was struck by a terrible thought.

But Kala! You should not have shown me this place. I am here to learn these things. I would probably have been told to find it for myself.”

I just had to Kiri. There are so few of them that can find it and I have seen how disappointed those were that could not. I found it myself, but I did not tell anyone. I did not want to be one of those few, and no one had asked me to anyway. Urho had told me that you would not only be studying here, but that Vara had told him that you were destined to become one of the wisest of all, and one day everyone would be telling stories about your adventures. I like you, and I owe a lot to Urho. I couldn’t bear the thought that you would just get lost in the forest and that Urho would think that it was all his fault. He deserves the happiness he has found with your aunt. I’m sorry, I had to make sure.”

Kiri could not contain his anger.

This was not your decision to make. If I was told to find the circle and I had failed or even died in the forest, then that was what was going to happen. Now how I am I going to know if I could have succeeded or not? My aunt Vara sometimes answers questions that I have, but sometimes she tells me that I’m not ready to know the answer. Everything must be in its own time. Everything must be what it is supposed to be. I feel that you have just taken my path away from me. How am I going to know if I was really destined to be what Aunt Vara thought I was going to be now?”

Oh Kiri, forgive me, please! I had to do it. I knew it was wrong, but I couldn't bear the thought that you would fail" She burst into tears.

Kiri could not comfort her. He just stood there, his arms folded against his chest, his jaws gripped tight.

Please Kiri. Don’t do this to me,” she sobbed.

We must go home now,” Kiri said firmly.

They barely spoke all the way back to the village. Kiri led the way and Kala followed behind, sometimes sobbing as she went. Kiri did not respond. He tried to find the way back to the village trail, but he could not, and after several tries he asked Kala to show him. This made him feel even worse, and she could see that. She led the way back to the original trail and then walked behind him silently, all the way back to the house.

Vara was seated by the fire, and looked up and smiled at them when they entered.

So, did Kala show you the stone circle?”

Kala burst into tears again and fled the house. Kiri felt his legs grow weak and he collapsed onto the floor sobbing uncontrollably. .”

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Tuesday, 26 April 2016

War in an age of innocence: 7

Link to Chapter 1

When Kiri awoke early the next morning, his first thoughts were about exploring his new home -- with Kala as his guide, of course. He got up very quickly and seeing that Kala was not in her room, he hurried down to the fire, hoping that she would be there. Kala was indeed seated by the fire talking with his Aunt Vara and a Danai man and woman. The Danai couple got up as he approached, glanced at his aunt and started toward the door, smiling at Kiri as they left.

“Hello Kiri”, his aunt said, “did you sleep well?”

“Yes, Aunt Vara”. He smiled at Kala. “Hello.”

She smiled back at him, but before she had a chance to say anything else his aunt spoke again.

Kala wants to show you around this morning, but such things can wait until later. It is important that we get started right away.”

Get started?”

Yes, on your instruction. Each morning I will be instructing you, and answering any questions you might have from the previous day. I want to make sure that all of your first thoughts, each day, are about the matters at hand. It will do you no good to have your head full of other ideas before you start your studies.”

Kiri thought to himself that his head was already full of other ideas, but he said nothing. Vara continued.

Yes Kiri, you can meet up with Kala after we have finished. Really! Your thoughts are as clear to me as a sky full of stars sometimes.”

Kiri just smiled sheepishly, and said nothing. Kala got up and beamed at Kiri.

I’ll see you later Kiri. Just ask for me after you have finished. Goodbye Vara”

Kiri and his aunt said goodbye to Kala and she left the house.

Before we get started, you should have something to eat Kiri. Try some of this, it is really good”

She passed him a bowl of a creamy looking mush, and he tasted it, cautiously. He liked it.

It is a Danai favorite,” she said, “it’s made from bread and nuts cooked in sheep’s milk and flavored with honey and a part of a flower that grows here”.

Kiri finished the bowl eagerly. He had not realized just how hungry he was.

Aunt Vara, I do have some questions. There were some things I was wondering about after you and Urho told your stories when we were back home. I never had a chance to ask you about them at that time.”

Then that will be an good place for us to start,” she replied, “but we are not going to talk about these things here, we have a special place where will go for your lessons. Come on.”

She got up and led Kiri out of the house and down a long log road to the edge of the village. He saw that there was a circle there, but it was not made of stone like the circle at home. It was made of tree trunks, stripped of their branches. Just before they got to the circle, there was a small round hut with an animal skin covering the low doorway. She crawled inside and Kiri followed. The inside of the hut was a single room with a fire burning at the centre. Sheepskin cushions surround the fire, but there was nothing else in the hut save for a pile of logs for the fire, and the fire was the only light. They sat down and Kiri started to speak.

When you and Urho told your stories about the Great Serpent, he said that the reindeer found the Great Serpent in a cave in the forest, and you said that the hunter found the Great Serpent in a cave beneath the sea. Later, the Great Serpent came to the wise woman in a dream. There are some things that I don’t understand: if the Great Serpent is in the forest, how can he also be beneath the sea? Also, if the Great Serpent visited the wise woman in a dream, why did the reindeer and the hunter have to go somewhere to find him? Couldn’t they have seen him in their dream? Did the reindeer and the hunter really go to the Great Serpent? After all, they both woke up somewhere else afterward. Were they dreaming too, just like the wise woman?”

Vara smiled, and thought for a few moments.

If you have never met the Great Serpent before, you have to go on a journey first. After that first time, the Great Serpent will come to you.”

But Aunt Vara, the Great Serpent came to me in a dream, just like the wise woman. I never went on a journey to find the Great Serpent.”

But you did Kiri, you went on the long Night Journey, from your home to here, in the Danai boat.”

But, Aunt Vara, surely the Great Serpent does not visit everyone the goes on a journey, what about everyone else on the boat. Did the Great Serpent also visit you on that night?”

Vara thought for while.

Your journey was very special. Before you left your home you were a boy. Now you are starting to be a man.”

Kiri thought of Kala.

But you came here to be with Urho, That is special, isn’t it?”

Yes it is Kiri, but it is special in a different way. I am still the same person as before I left. True, I am now with Urho, and I am now your tutor, but all of these things are part of what I was before. I could see the signs appearing that told me that you were ready for your special journey. What you were before was starting to wear on you, you were dissatisfied with life at home. You were starting to realize your destiny. All the Danai sailors had made those night journeys many times. It was not special for them in the way it was for you.

It is important for you to understand that when anyone goes on a journey to visit the Great Serpent, it is the place of departure that is important. The Great Serpent can be found anywhere, everywhere. Where that place is depends on where the seeker starts from. You cannot really see the place where the Great Serpent resides, because the Great Serpent lives in the place beyond all places, at the very edge of the Oneness. It is the point where the Oneness meets the world.”

Kiri suddenly felt very big. It was not big like being grown up; it was big in size. He felt himself filling the small hut, and then he saw the whole village as if he was a bird flying above it.

Aunt Vara! This is what you meant back home when you said the centre of our circle was the same as the centre of the Danai circle out here, isn’t it? The centre of the circle is the edge of the Oneness. It is that quiet place. It is where you can meet the Great Serpent when you need to!”

He could feel tears filling his eyes. He remembered the tears that appeared in the Danai sailor’s eyes when he was hearing the magic of Samo’s flute back in their own village.

Vara stood up.

You have finished your lessons for today Kiri. You need time to experience what you have discovered here. It would be wrong to try to do more today. I am very proud of you Kiri. I never thought that you would learn so fast.”

Can’t we go on Aunt Vara, I want to learn more.”

Tomorrow, Kiri, tomorrow. Now run along and find Kala. Enjoy the rest of your day. Meet some more people. I have to enter the circle for a while.”

Kiri said goodbye to his aunt and left the hut. He started walking back down the log road to the house, but his mind was still full of what had just happened. He found himself at the other edge of the village, at the big log road that followed the village wall, and he realized that he must have walked right by the house without noticing. He decided that he would find Kala later, and follow the road right round the village. He was thinking too much to have to talk to anyone, not even Kala.

This was all very well, but as he walked around, a number of Danai villagers would call to him by name and introduce themselves. He thought that he was doing just what his aunt had told him to do. He was meeting people. It was obvious that he was not going to get much time alone, and he didn’t feel confident enough to leave the village and wander into the forest, so he decided that he should go back to the house and find Kala. His feeling of bigness was starting to fade more and more as he was brought back to earth by all of the pleasantries he was exchanging with the villagers. He smiled to himself. Perhaps Kala was one of the few villagers that he had not spoken to in the last little while. He felt pleased, though, that everyone was making him feel so welcome. He remembered his long walks about his home village. He always felt invisible to everyone back there. If anyone called out to him, it was to ask him to do something, or to stop doing something else. Here, in this strange village, he felt important. Perhaps, one day, he would be invisible here too, but he was going to enjoy the feeling of belonging while it lasted.

He did not hurry back to the house, but walked slowly, sometimes turning a corner on to a new road for a while, and then coming back to the road that he knew. This village was much bigger than his own village. He thought that it must have been a lot of work to cut it all out of the forest, and perhaps there were not as many villages in this area as there were back in his homeland. Perhaps this village was like an island in the sea of forest around it. He asked about that from the next person that greeted him, a man called Sokol.

The next village is a long way away” Sokol told him. “You can get there through the forest on the old trail, but most people go there by boat. It takes half the day.”

At length, Kiri arrived back at the house, and Kala was waiting for him by the fire.

There you are!” she said, “I thought you had got lost. I saw Vara quite a while ago, and she said that she had sent you off to find me. I told lots of people where I was going. Did no one tell you?”

I’m sorry Kala, I had to think about things so I went for a walk around the village first.”

I was going to show you the village, Kiri.”

She seemed a little disappointed.

Oh I didn’t see much of the village Kala. It’s just that my lessons were on my mind, and there were things that I wanted to get clear before I came to see you. I didn’t want to seem rude because I couldn’t stop thinking about what Aunt Vara had taught me. He gave her a hug.

Can we go and see the forest? I have never walked in a forest before. Is it safe?”

She laughed.

Of course it is safe! Yes, we can do that. I like the forest and I know it very well. I have never met anyone that has never been in a forest before, don’t you have a forest back where you lived before?”

Yes, but it was dangerous, and many people never came back out of it.”


I don’t know”

When someone vanished, didn’t anyone have any ideas about what had happened to them?”

I never heard of anyone going into the forest, so I don’t know. The hunters would go to the edge of it, but not inside.”

Kala laughed.

I think they were all being silly,” she said.

Kiri felt himself getting a little annoyed, but he wondered if perhaps she was right. She was not afraid of the forest. He would be the same.

Let’s go and look at it Kala.”

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Monday, 25 April 2016

War in an age of innocence: 6

Link to Chapter 1

 Kiri watched the Danai village get closer. It was not just the appearance of the village that was strange to him, but it was also the landscape in which it stood. The village and its small fields that surrounded it were cut out of an immense forest of tall trees. Some of the trees had started to change colour and these contrasted with the dark pine trees that dotted the forest. The land was low around the village, but soon rose to high hills in all directions. He could not see any way to get to the village other than by sea, but he thought that there must be paths through the forest that were hidden from his view. The village itself was very strange: a tall fence of upright logs set tight against each other surrounded it. The houses were all above ground and were also made from logs. There were openings in their walls like small doors so that the people inside could see out. The houses were tall, and at the end of some of them he could see openings above other openings. He remembered what he was told about floors above floors. The houses were also very long, so there must be a lot of people living in each one. He had never seen so much wood used. The only parts of the village that was not made from wood were the thatched roofs of the houses.

As the boat drew closer to the land he could smell the smoke from all of the Danai’s fires, but even this was a different smell than the fires of his home. The boat entered a small bay, and he saw that there was no beach, and the land just seemed to be growing straight out of the sea. He saw that there were more logs set into the water with a walkway built on to the top of them, and this was where the boat was heading. He was standing near the bow and leaning over the edge of the boat to get a better view of everything. Urho came over to him.

“You had better sit down Kiri, we will bump into the dock and I don’t want to see you go over the edge!”

He thought he should try to remember that word “dock” and wondered how many more new words he would soon be hearing. He did as he was told, but the bump was not as hard as Urho seemed to think it would be. As soon as the boat stopped, it was tethered to a log by two ropes, and Kiri jumped to his feet again. He looked at all the people that had come down to greet them. All these tall people with their blonde hair were a strange sight. He saw women and girls, and realized that he had never seen Danai women or girls before. It was just the men that visited in their boats. Everyone was so tall. Even what looked to be very young children were taller than he was, and he started to feel rather embarrassed about his lack of height. He thought about his aunt, and wondered if she was feeling very short as well. He looked over to her, but she seemed unconcerned about anything and was helping Urho gather some of the goods that the boat had brought back from their trading voyage. Kiri thought that his aunt’s short stature would not be as embarrassing as would his own: the Danai women were shorter than the men were, and his aunt was just that much shorter still. He would be much shorter than any girl of his age would and this bothered him.

He decided to put all such thoughts out of his mind and went over to Vara and Urho.

“Can I help carry some things ashore?”

“Oh no!” Urho said, “You and your aunt are our guests, it would not be right for you to do any work – at least, not today anyway” and he laughed.

Kiri stepped on to the dock with his aunt and Urho and all who were waiting there were smiling at them A few of them made some comments to each other that he could not hear and all eyes were on him and his aunt. A girl about Kiri’s age came over to them and placed a strand of stone beads around their necks. Kiri was very pleased to see that the girl was hardly taller than he was, and Urho seemed to have understood what he was thinking.

“You see, we are not all giants!” and he laughed again.

Kiri blushed, as did the girl.

“This is Kala” Urho said, “I hope you two will become friends, she lives in our house, and she can show you around and tell you all about the village and our customs. Kala, this is Kiri, and this is his Aunt Vara.”

There were more greetings and introductions and then most of them started walking toward the village entrance. Only a few Danai sailors were left to unload the boat. It was just a short walk up a path that was made from split logs, just like the dock. Everything was so new to Kiri and he could not stop looking in all directions with wonder. Kala was walking by his side.

“Is your village very different from ours?” she said.

“Oh yes, very different”

“I would like to hear all about it later, perhaps after the feast if you are not too busy.”

“That will be nice, and you can tell me more about your village too”

They both smiled.

As the procession entered the village, Kiri saw another log road that looked as if it followed around the perimeter of the village, just inside its tall fence. The houses looked even bigger close up, and soon they entered one of them through a big door at the end. Kiri was wide eyed in the wonder of it all. His eyes took a little while to adjust coming out of the sunlight. Then he saw that all of their furniture was made of wood instead of stone, in fact, there was hardly any stone anywhere except for around the fire in the centre of the large room they had entered. It looked as if the forest had grown a village.

“Kala”, Urho said, “While we are preparing for the feast, why don’t you show Kiri around the house. He looks eager to see it all”

“Alright, Come on Kiri, I’ll show you where the animals sleep in the wintertime”.

She took Kiri by the hand and led him past a door at the end of the big room. The big room went all the way up to the roof, but when they passed through the door, that part of the house was much lower. He looked up at the wooden planks above his head, and then down again to the straw-covered floor with stalls for the animals. Although it was not yet winter, there were a few sheep inside. Kala explained that some of them were lame and had been found almost dead from hunger. She told him that a few might recover, but the rest would be brought fodder to fatten them up and then they would be slaughtered for their meat and skins. He asked what was above this part of the house, and she led him to a ladder and they climbed up through an opening in the planks. There was a smaller room than the one that they had entered downstairs, and it had a small fireplace in the centre. On the two long sides of the house were very small rooms with clean straw on their floors. They all had three walls and were open to the main room. They had various furniture and boxes inside, and a few had warm-looking blankets over part of the straw-covered floor

These rooms are comfortable for most of the year”, she explained, “but we all sleep around the big room during the winter. We have saved this one for you, It’s next to mine.”

She showed him a cozy little room that had lots of blankets, neatly folded, on a shelf.

You should find everything you need in the boxes over there”, she said, pointing to one of the corners. “I just got my own room last year. My parents were killed when a sudden storm capsized their fishing boat, and then Urho took me in. My mother was his cousin.”

That’s sad”, Kiri said, “I mean, about your parents”.

I don’t like too talk about it much” she replied.

Kiri fell into an awkward silence.

Come on, Kiri, let’s see if the feast is nearly ready. Do you eat the same sort of food that we do?”

He remembered that the Danai liked his aunt’s dried venison, and he knew that they also ate fish like them, and had sheep, but he had never been to a Danai feast before.

I think so”, he said.

Good! I’ll make sure that you get a big bowl of roasted mice then!”

You eat MICE?”

No!” she said, “I’m just teasing you”

She laughed and ran back to the ladder and climbed down.

The feast was wonderful. Kiri especially like the roast boar. He had only ever tasted it once before, because his own people rarely went deep enough into the forest to find it. The Danai did not seem to be as scared of the forest as his own people, probably because their lives seemed to be so connected with it. He wondered if he would get over his fear of it too. He was almost living in it now. There were a few dishes that he found a bit strange. The Danai ate a lot of their fish raw and he was a little surprised how good some of it was. They also ate a lot of different birds, and that was new to him. He asked if any of them were the white sea birds and everyone laughed.

We can catch you some if you really like them,” said one old man, and everyone laughed again.

After the meal came the music. Kiri found this strange as well. A number of the Danai men all sang together and their voices were even deeper than Urho’s. It was a strange sound, something like thunder, something like the wind during a storm, but it took on a steady rhythm and was accompanied by a lot of drumming. Most of the Danai owned their own drums and they joined in. Kiri found himself banging the floor with his fist as well. The house echoed with the sound. It went on for a long time and Kiri noticed that strange visions and feelings started to come over him. He looked around and saw what might be the same thing happening on everyone’s face. He felt part of it all, yet it was still strange to him.

He was hoping for some stories, but the music went on for a very long time. He found himself getting very tired and Vara noticed this, nudging Urho.

Kala” he said, “Show Kiri where he will be sleeping. It has been a long day, he needs his rest”

Kiri opened his mouth to say that she already had done this, when Kala quickly answered.

Yes, Urho, I’ll take him up there right now. I am very tired myself.”

She led him back up to his small room and as he was about to go inside she kissed him on his cheek.

I’m very happy that you came here Kiri”.

I am too, Kala” and he kissed her cheek.

He covered his straw bed with some blankets and lay down. The house grew quieter as the night closed in and Kiri smiled to himself and then drifted off into a peaceful sleep.

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