Why does the human species survive? Because it constantly warns itself that it is going to be wiped out. Some ancient ancestor, some first higher consciousness, imparted its fear of dying onto us and now these primeval memories are stored in our dreams. We have to hope we survive for future generations.
We are in a competition with our fears. If they survive, how will we? So we attack. We make useful that which scared us once before. The trees in the night were tamed along with the shadows that hid them. We built fire and shelter and, soon after, built more than we could ever hope for. Amidst the chaos, we saw order and imposed it on the world around us. When you close your eyes, do you see the vorpal fractals that spin further and further into the space behind your eyes?
At first, it was only important for the individual to survive. When the first consciousness woke, it looked at everything else and became afraid. It was naked and sought clothing. It saw suffering and found understanding. It would survive. The instance of consciousness was not a solitary event. Does receiving the voice of god mean that one must live in loneliness?
The awakening of consciousness eventually had to spawn the awakening and recognition of self in others. If one is to fight for the survival of the self, is it an entirely separate thing to protect others to ensure our overall survival? We protect those who we consider close to us. Our family. Our friends. Our tribes. Our countries. Our world. We are at the time when we must dream a common dream. Together we will overcome all odds. And we shall not be found afraid.
- From “Meditations” as written by Iranon, King of Aria, the City of Golden Flames
E’Schat made his way to the Sculptor. He packed his meager possessions and said most all his farewells, though not to the Mother. He would not say goodbye to her.
He passed Mooncalf Fa’teem on his way to the stones, but she would not catch his eye. The news of his exile had not been universally well received, but there had been a collective sigh among most of the Sisters. Mooncalf Fa’teem had not sighed in relief, but E’Schat could not understand her stoicism either. She pulled her cloak up over her horns so that E’Schat could only make out the soft brown of her snout fur. He thought no more of her. He had one last responsibility before he left.
A’Lif, Sculptor of the Dead.
She was the only Sister who allowed him to learn the rituals as well as actually perform them. He did not need to produce milk to wield a mallet and chisel nor to learn the meanings of the statues. So wield mallet and chisel and learn the meanings of the statues he did. He learned how to read the stories of the ancestors, to tell their deeds and know their flaws. He remembered the dead. Their lessons gave him new insights into the world beyond.
The Sculptor was deep in thought when E’Schat arrived. She was considering a monolithic block of stone that was soon to be in the garden. The Sculptor of the Dead was able to look within the stone and see the form of the statue just as she was able to look into the life of the newly deceased and see the essence of their character.
E’Schat stood and watched for a few long minutes, himself considering the block of stone. Could he see what the Sculptor saw? The stone came to life under his gaze and shed excess basalt in heaps on the ground.
The recently departed Sister Dor’vil, a steadfast healer, would be given the markings of her order. She had found a new use for the lichen that grew on the northern Jub trees, so her hand would be posed to show her as an innovator. Dor’vil had been found with calf as a young cow though it had been taboo. The calf had been banished as soon as it could walk and her statue would remember her pain with a tear and a hand on her swollen stomach.
The Sculptor of the Dead turned from the stone and faced E’Schat.
The stones marked the final rest of the People, and the practice continued to this day. E’Schat wondered what his stone would say about him after he was gone.
The Sculptor appraised E’Schat as she had the stone. Her gaze was a lance that cut E’Schat to his essentials; he was naught but his deeds in the eyes of the Sculptor. Then again, who is not? Actions, not words. When our energy is dispersed to the trees, the forest will only know what we did to change it. Did we plant new trees or did we fell them under our axes?
“It is good that you have come here to reflect. It is important to remember the dead. If you forget their lessons, you are sure to reap the same sour fruits they did.”
“By the stones may we always remember those who came before,” replied E’Schat. The speech was overly formal but such was their way when they worked together. The dead were to be revered, and when in their company you took the time to say what you meant.
“And which will you most remember?” The Sculptor asked.
E’Schat looked at the garden trying to see whose lessons he would miss the most. There was E’Brah, the First Father, whose story taught that sacrifice of one’s self was vital to the creation of the herd. There was Pree’ta, Companion of the Godhorn, whose broken horn told that those who endeavor to achieve perfection will never understand perfection. But then he saw, silhouetted in the distance, N’abu, the Announced. N’abu’s statue, carved of basalt, had the third horn of wisdom and was the first to have achieved it. He carried the hammer and chisel in his clasped hands, which marked him as not only a Sculptor but as a pious chronicler. The stories say he was the first Sculptor in the times when The People who Came Before roamed the world in a great herd.
He turned back to the Sculptor. Her eyes were as blue as the lake and always pierced deeper than the chisels she wielded. She had not taken them off E’Schat as he had considered the garden. He pointed out N’abu and her gaze slowly followed his arm and then his finger to rest finally on the stone sculptor.
She considered the statue. “N’abu. He is said to have written the destiny of the People. He was foretold and he foretold that which would come after. But this you already know. An interesting choice, E’Schat. Interesting indeed.”
E’Schat had not thought the choice too profound. Nor had he found it hard. While learning the stories of the stones and the meaning of their various stances, hand signs, and personas he thought often of the first Sculptor. He wondered if it was N’abu who had set down and codified the language of the stones or those who came after that refined it. E’Schat, as a calf, had long decided that it was surely the First Sculptor that had given such depth to the story of the People. He hoped to one day give that depth himself.
A’Lif beckoned and began to make her way through the garden of stones. “Come, E’Schat.”
They walked past statues, some ancient and worn, others new and freshly cut, still smelling of distant quarries. The garden was vast. It contained more knowledge and stories than leaves on a tree. E’Schat knew them all by face and name. At least those that the Sculptor could remember. Those that she could not remember, E’Schat simply named, contemplating their statue until he had a story that made sense.
They talked quietly amidst the dead.
“Do you have fears of the World Beyond?” asked A’Lif matronly.
“The dead have prepared me with their stories. Fear does not trouble me.”
“Only in death do we find release from fear, E’Schat.”
“What about those that could live forever?” rebutted the bullcalf.
“As someone who will not live forever, it is beyond my ken, little philosopher. But it does not excuse you from my question.”
“Very well.” E’Schat closed his eyes, trusting his hooves to the familiar path. “I fear the open forest and the lands beyond. I fear that I will not be able to accomplish the good works that are important here. I fear that I will never see you again.” He opened his emerald eyes and turned to hold A’Lif’s gaze.
“You are powerful in ways that have not been tested yet. In your honesty with yourself lies your truest strength. Our fears show us the things we must confront within ourselves and overcome. Only by going into the strange forests and lands beyond will you find out that the stones and trees will give you their power no matter where you find them. You will find that good works will always be done by the People, and by your hand wherever you go. You will find that even if you never see me again, I will always be with you, guiding your hand to find the heart of the stone.”
The Sculptor stopped in the middle of the garden before the tall statue of N’abu. She touched E’Schat on the shoulder and then looked up to the stone guardian. She began reciting his litany of deeds, as was tradition when asking those that came before for guidance, E’Schat joined in and did not miss a word.
“N’abu, the Announced, Third of the Good Judges, Wisest of the Black Furred, First Sculptor of the Dead, who knew the Strength of the Herd, we call to you for wisdom.”
A’Lif continued alone before they finished together, “Help this calf find peace on his journey and give him the Strength of the Herd.”
“The Herd is Strong. The Herd is Good.”
When they finished, she brought the shovel to bear and began to dig in front of the statue. E’Schat watched carefully, his face not hinting at the sheer confusion mixed with excitement that lie beneath the surface.
What was she doing? What could possibly be kept in the ground before the wise N’abu?
His answers would have to wait. The digging was hard and eventually the Sculptor passed the shovel to E’Schat and instructed him to continue. By the time he was covered in the dirt of the earth and the sun near set, E’Schat was drained. But then he felt the shovel stop unexpectedly, enable to travel deeper. A few exploratory pokes confirmed some object beneath the dirt as metal rang against metal. He dug with more zeal to find what lay beneath his feet. Before long, he had uncovered a large iron box, about the size of a yearling boar.
Using every remaining ounce of his strength, he wrestled the box up out of the hole and climbed out himself. If not for the excitement boiling inside of him, he would have been too tired to open the enigmatic container. He looked to the Sculptor. She simply nodded, permitting whatever was to follow.
E'Schat knocked the remaining dirt off the box and considered the construction. He ran his calloused hand along its side and found a simple seam. Using the shovel, he pried the lid open. Inside was a large mallet and chisel, untouched by time. They were eloquently engraved with a matching yet undecipherable script. While he could not read the inscription, he was sure they were the owner’s mark. These were the tools of N’abu!
As he held them aloft, the Sculptor’s breath caught but her eyes remained calm. She had expected the gift before she had started digging, but still, the tools were magnificent in their craftscowship.
The tradition of leaving behind the prized possessions of the dead had continued on in some fashion, but usually they were left at the foot of the statue. More often now, they were passed on through family ties.
E’Schat was lost in the implements. The mallet was a mushroom of polished granite bound to a handle made of treated hickory, the grip wrapped in a supple leather. The chisel was made of clear and colorless crystal that shined in the failing light. It too was wrapped with leather still soft to the touch.
He turned to give the tools to A’Lif who, though not without a small pang of envy, pushed the tools back into E’Schat’s chest.
“These are for your new life. Keep them safe for they are sacred. I am sure they have chosen you as much as you have chosen them. May they help you carve out a new future.”
“I could never accept these—”
“You can and you will. Mother be damned if even I will send you away without a gift of the People. Now go, before you are seen with them.”
The Sculptor took the shovel from its resting place and began to fill in the hole. The bullcalf offered to help but A’Lif shrugged off his assistance. E’Schat stood in awe of the old cow but slowly turned away and walked in the direction of the lake.
He could hear the rhythm of the dirt being apportioned back into the earth, as slow as it had been taken out.
Ͼ Ѻ Ͽ
E’Schat pushed toward the setting sun. As it crept toward death to sleep beneath the horizon, it bled in bright reds and oranges that shimmered on the surface of lake. He sat, muscles stiff and sore, losing himself in the colors, pondering something he had mused about with A’Lif.
What about those who could live forever?
There were many ways to live forever. One could live forever through their works. The large statues in the garden were testament to both the subject they depicted and the hands that had crafted them. There was N’abu, for example, and the litany that E’Schat had memorized, one of many lists of deeds and cautionary tales that E’Schat carried with him from the annals of his people.
N’abu was one of the original Fathers of this forest valley. The People of the Black Furred tribe had been displaced and it had been N’abu who was a boon to his People when they needed a guide. He had wandered alone as a calf and knew of solitude and knew of the stones and trees and the power that lay latent within them. This was one of the reasons E’Schat had chosen N’abu. His memory, his living story, would give E’Schat strength and one day E’Schat would tell his calves about N’abu.
But what happened when neither cows nor bulls remembered the litanies, and the moss covered the statues to make them unrecognizable, and the energies that were left behind had long since dissipated back into the land? What happened when there was nobody left to remember the People of the Forest? Even then, we would exist within the latent energy of the forest, within the stones and trees waiting to once again be released.
E’Schat knew that the Mooncalves hid magicks from the world. That they called upon these forces within the forest and used their rituals to channel the energy of the forest into healing or fertility.
He could even now hear the Mother saying to him when he first started growing his buds, “The milk is our ability to nurture. The horns are our ability to harm.”
It was why they would not teach him the ways of the rituals. Because he had no milk to give. No way to nurture or draw forth the energy.
E’Schat felt the deep despair come over him and he sank into a cloud of regret and pain. Why had the sisters abandoned him? It was not enough that they had forbidden him from learning the true secrets of the stones and trees. They had exiled him to wander as N’abu did. He saw the shadows of the dusk deepen as the sun dipped below the horizon, taking his hopes of an early night to the lands beyond as well.
The wind picked up and dark clouds threatened what little light remained.
He rose, still in a gloomy haze, and set about in the sharpening darkness to gather what dry tinder he could find to at least make a fire.
Making camp came hard. The clouds quickly turned to rain. E’Schat was able to find an armful of dry wood but even then, the damp kept the warmth of the fire from penetrating his tired muscles. The grain he had brought also suffered, and, instead of cracking between his teeth to release the sweet kernels, mushed soggily as he chewed. He had learned to be better than this and he would not let the night's events break him.
He gazed into starlight obscured by moving clouds and felt the wind bite at the corners of his eyes. The moon had shown herself, then was hidden, and appeared again. E’Schat watched Mother Moon dance with the clouds and felt less alone.
He didn't remember closing his eyes but he could tell he had been sleeping. Not long. Maybe an hour or two. It was colder. E’Schat could see his breath steam into the chill. But it was not the night air that gave him shivers now. Alert, he peered into the shadows of the night, trying to glimpse the source of whatever had him on edge.
“Uhk uhk uhrk gu gu gu squeeee!”
Under a Jub tree laden with fruit, a sounder of six boars rooted together, stomping at the ground. He did not have to see their quarry to know what prey now rattled its last warning, a warning that may as well have been a call to dinner.
E’Schat quickly bounded up a neighboring tree. Though the snake was not dangerous to the boars, E’Schat could be cast asunder by a single dose of venom. Not even the Milk of the Mother would be enough to bring him back.
He watched as the boars worked together to subdue the creature. The snake did not go quietly, rattling and hissing death knells at the sounder of hogs, biting at the faces of the swine that got too close.
Finally, one boar got underneath the rattler and snatched it up in his mouth. The boar, with a shake of his head, tossed the snake into the air. The serpent writhed until it reached its zenith where it hung frozen for a still moment, the eyes of the boars lifted in anticipation. The moment was lost in the next as the snake fell into the waiting jaws of two pigs of the sounder that tore the ropy beast in twain.
Others tore at the thing and before long, there was little left of the snake save a bloody rattle. A moment later, even that was gone. The sounder rooted about a bit more before turning to leave the area.
He waited a short while before climbing down his tree. He investigated the Jub tree and picked one of the ripest fruits. He bit into it, appraising the damage left in the wake of the boars.
E’Schat saw how the group worked together. He knew what he had to do.
The herd was strong.
The herd was good.