I found them after wandering the wild alone. I woke up in the heat not knowing who I was or why I was here. I was sitting in red dust and the rocks all around me were burning hot. I got up and started walking downhill the path at my feet. It was leading me closer to water, that is all I cared about. I walked down the Red Mountain for days through the hot rocks and sharp edges. I could see oranges, greens, yellows and pale grays in the distance. After the sun had set on the third day, I found a desert laying at the feet of the Mountain. Just as hot, just as dry than the path behind me. I fell unconscious like the night fell on the Earth wondering why I had come so far. But I woke up again laying on a comfortable fur to a humid herbal smell. I opened my eyes and I saw a roof made of a dried dark green plant with thin blades of grass. Everything else seemed made of the same green material but dried. There was a jug of a fine design, made for one portion of water, I supposed. A round cup sat next to it. A Fresh Flat Bread was served on a tray made of wood evidently old of hundreds of years. Time and use had patinated its surface. I found, surprisingly, a golden bracelet to my right wrist. It was a thick lace forming a snake with two heads. The curtain separating me from the outside opened and a severe woman armed with finely carved silver blades of different sizes and covered in a forest green vegetal leather came to view. Large straps of that sticky material covered sensitive parts of her body. Her wrists and ankles. Her waist, her stomach. Her heart through a belt across her shoulder. And her fists. She kept her fists closed tight. Surely she had earned a nickname for such weapons.
– Get up, she said, You are next to meet the Queen. She looked at the tray at my side. Do you need anything first?
I cleansed my thoughts while I took a breath.
– I have many questions.
– Do you need anything in relation to your physical being?
Oh, right. Priorities.
– I wish to wash. In hot water. And dress.
– It will be done.
She turned her back and exited the tent. I took the bread and smelled it, tasted it and finished it. It was good to eat. It felt like such a blessing. I drank it down with the whole portion of water directly from the jug. I took a deep breath. I stood and pushed the curtain to join the community I was hearing chatting outside. I was among the Elders. A dozen of white haired crones dressed in gray cloth and silver chains turned to stare at me.
I heard in my head: you cannot go back
It was followed by a loud bang! I jumped to attention. The children were running in a regular wave of cheers and screams in the many paths down hill. I walked toward where they came from and left the scary ladies behind without looking back. I hoped I would not have to return here again. Down the dirt road marked with yellow fences was a wooden house mounted on wheels, coloured in bright yellow and red flaky paint. The bead curtains suddenly opened before me and a woman wearing paint on her face, in her hair and on her body stepped down a few steps, approached me at lightning speed and stood a thumb from my face. My body became hard as stone and refused to move.
– Have you come from the Mountain? she said.
– Yes! I answered with much relief.
At last! it is all going to make sense. She will tell me all the answers.
– Good. She squeezed my face, turned it in all directions and stopped when I rolled my eyes and exhaled loudly.
– Oh! You can go…Go, Tempestuous one. Nothing can keep you here.
And she suddenly let go and disappeared behind the flapping curtain of beads.
I sighed asking Father for Patience.
What is this?
The guard woman was behind me when I turned to face the path.
– Your bath is ready and hot. Follow me.
Yes. Hot water. hmmm, I remember that.
She led me through the village. It was so peaceful. Except for the children male and female running, studying, training, everyone else was female. The Youth represented certainly half of the population. The rest were Warriors, clustered on one side of the village, guarding the way to the desert. Behind them, the Southern Mountain on the horizon. At the core of the community were elites visibly treated differently than the rest. It was behind guarded restricted areas and heavily guarded tents. I was led straight through it by my escort. The guards stared at me. At the center of it all, surrounded by everything else, was a burning ash pit large enough you could run through it in four strides. Pregnant mothers and their little ones were busy walking in circles by the fire to help dry the pottery set around it. We marched on to the other side of the community to the fields of blades. Further, the desert turned into a humid marsh leading up to a Dark and Dense Forest. The humid air was breathable but a long way from fresh. There, the herbalists were cultivating the green blade, cutting it, smashing it, drying it to be used later to make everything else. I saw a cluster of young girls sitting by the field, braiding the beautiful strings they wore around their necks. It seemed they valued work well done and were competing among themselves for quality.
We stopped by a mud house that could host four persons. The owner opened the wooden door, invited us in without saying anything. She pointed at the fuming bath sitting in the back yard. On the main room’s table were jewelries made of battered metals, coloured wooden beads and bells, weaved with a dark, green durable tread. Pieces of leather and woven cloth were aligned with silver pins, silver blades and woven belts. I headed for the bath without looking at anything more on my way. The water was delicious beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Thank you Father for hot water. I rested there until there was no heat left. The guard stayed to drink a hot cup with my hostess and talked the whole time about the brouhaha the presence of the girl from the mountain caused. They said it explained why so many children had not slept the night before. It all made no sense to me so I just focused on the birds singing in the tree branches above my head and hanging over the yard. Their songs was complex actually. It was easy for me to forget the women inside the house when the melodies rivaled in complexity, origins, tonalities and rhythms. I sang with them with pleasure but I was no match. I stepped out of the metal tub and had a good look at the garments. I put on all the necklaces that were there. That is a lot. I closed some leather straps around my wrists and ankles with decorated pins. I added patches of leather around my waist and belts to hold them. I felt ready. I turned to my guard and confirmed I was ready. She finished her glass, put it on the table with the rest and headed out the door. I bowed before my host to show my gratitude.
-You have a wonderful home. I said before leaving.
After passing the field and exiting the village’s inhabited area, the Guard took me on a path down stairs made in the ground bordering the Forest. We walked through tall corridors, a person wide, dug inside the earth. Then, we reached a guarded camp, a square two meters square occupied by four guards. Those ones were in thick cloth armor, broad swords in hand. We took a hard left into the forest through the way dug among the roots of the Centennial trees above. The smell was divine. There was such a freshness in the air. And there it was; A majestic purple crystal formation sitting in a wide hole of dirt under the forest’s floor. I turned and saw guards aligned around the edges and in the path behind me. All stood still. So I started walking straight for the Giant Amethyst with the clear intention of touching it but was interrupted by the Queen herself which I had not seen there a moment ago. She had to be her. She had the most intriguing face and eyes I had ever encounter. Her olive skin and jet hair were the canvas for her fine traits and sharp gaze. Her muscular but delicate body was covered with symbols burned into her skin. She wore precious stones on her neck, ears and fingers. She wore nothing else.
– Before communing with our crystalline sistar, you must present yourself to her keepers. She said.
– Of course, my Queen. But I have more questions to ask than answers to give.
– Well, now we know. She said as she came closer to my face.
Time stood still for a moment. I took a deep breath. The air was filled with her scent. Something about it made me weaker. I shook my head.
– I just woke up from lying at the Summit. I made my way to the desert and collapsed. Your people welcomed me here and nurtured me back to health with thoughtful actions, my Queen. I am grateful for that.
– Hmm… You wear no silver blade on these belts. Why?
– I need no weapon but the one inside.
I stopped thinking for a moment. It seemed these words had escaped my mouth without me agreeing to them. I smiled. I thought maybe I had seemed aggressive for a brief moment claiming I was a weapon. I did not want to provoke this army for any reason.
– Go ahead. Do what you came here to do.
She turned to the Giant Amethyst and I followed her gaze into the infinite facets of the crystal. I walked toward it with my fingers extended. How beautiful. I stepped forward. Does anyone else see that? How could I ever look away? Father? Is that you inside? I touched the gross surface but was already feeling numb, dizzy and sick to my stomach. I tried to turn the head toward the Queen for support but I could not control my body. I could only see I was being carried from the cove to a huge pyre, young smiling faces watching from above. It was dark and the paths were lit with torches. I felt such vulnerability. They put me by a bonfire where a crowd was gathered, dancing and drumming. At last, I could take a short breath. I thought it might just be the last one.
I am about to reach it. Almost there.
But I woke up by the ash pit, the sun shining bright over my head.
Thank you, Father. It’s over.
I was at the Queen’s Fire Pit. The only tent standing near was hers. I was alone. I observed it and found it was unique just as she was. My gaze was pulled in to see the curiosities hanging everywhere inside. I took a step forward and my Guard appeared from the side.
– You have been assigned a lot. If you accept it, you will care for it and share its fruit with all. Yes?
– I accept. Lead me home, Sister Guard! She looked at me funny. I thought enthusiasm was not a common thing here.
– I have no name, I said after a moment. Tell me all of your names so that I may decide my own.
The Guard turned to look at me without slowing down the path.
– Of Course. It will be an honour.
– Start with yours.
She continued on the path.
– Wow. I like that. But I would never use your name, Myriam. My guard had started squirming at my enthusiasm. Better I made it clear I would not take anything that would not be mine.
– Ok. Let’s hear it!
– Of course, Golden one. She lowered her eyes to the golden lace around my wrist. I know it is not your name but that is what we have called you before. That is why you wear this. Everyone knows the Golden One.
– I have been here before?
– You take many forms whenever you descend from the Mountain.
– I have more questions now.
– Well, I have a long list to cite here. Questions later.
– Diotime, mother of all. Dion, first Lieutenant. Her daughters; Ammon, Laminni and Adam. Ammon’s daughter; Abaanadi. Laminni’s daughters; Nilala et Arima. Adam’s daughter; Seti. Abaanadi’s daughter; Lagrima. Nilala’s daughter Arica. Arima’s daughter; Séfane. Seti’s daughters; Inaya, Alvi, Lilith. Arica’s daughter Jezabel. Séfane’s daughter Mirima. Inaya’s daughter Serkaya. Alvi’s daughter Sra. Lilith is without daughter. Jezabel’s daughter; Méran. Mirima’s daughter Anesala. Serkaya’s daughters; Helene, Cirène, Massala. Sra’s daughter; Ali. Méran’s daughter Sadi. Mirima’s daughter Kose. Anesala’s daughter; Mari. Helene’s daughter; Sara. Cirène is without daughter. Massala’s daughter; Rosar. Ali’s daughter; Rose. Sadi’s daughter; Myriam. That is me, by the way. Kose’s daughter; Lila. Mari’s daughters; Anna, Alice, Deb, Bri, Serena. Sara’s daughter; Briana. Rosar’s daughter Loreta. Rose’s daughter; Essa. Myriam’s daughter; Clorissa.
– Your daughter also has a beautiful name. Who name you?
– Our Mothers.
– I will not find my name among your kind. I know that now. How many generations do you know?
Myriam seemed humbled a moment.
– A hundred in the line of Dion, First Lieutenant. I also know a hundred generations of daughters in the line of Alma, Knowingness and Nephi, seer. There are many other clans I know nothing about yet we all have a common mother in these names. My daughter is the Last of them. Of us. She corrected. I mean those names we all know. I am the daughter of Sadi; Daughter of Mérane; daugther of Jezabel. Daughter of Arica; daughter of Nigala; daughter of Nilala, daughter of Laminni, daughter of Dion. First Lieutenant. By the Mother of All.
We walked to the limits of the inhabited area again close to the Forest. The land we were facing when we stopped was a square plot of dried field with interspersed little weeds hardly higher then the knee and a lot of rocks. The land around it was swamped and thorned vines prospered. It was definitely discarded from the village and abandoned. A few hundreds meters away was the outskirts of the Dark Forest.
– No one comes here. I said.
– Until now. This land is not for anyone. Many of us will not stand near it. There is a black stone underneath, here where the land is dry and rocky. The vine only grew recently. Nothing grew before that. Certainly not our dearest green blade. We are wary of this stone and its effects on the land. You seem to have a thing for stones. I saw you with the Crystal. So see what this land can give. There is a chest here with tools, provisions for seven days and anything else the village will share with you. Clarissa will replace it at dawn on the seventh day. Leave a list of what else you need with her.
– May I move as I please through the village? I would sleep some and explore more of the village in the morning.
– No wandering until your land bares fruit. We know this land is different but with love, it will open itself to you. It is the wish of our Queen that you extract the secrets from this place.
Oh my. I guess I do want to dig this dirt and see that black stone under there.
– Ok. Thank you, Myriam. I will start digging. You have torches in there? Anyone one else stay up all night these days?
– Sit. I will be back with more tools. And probably with help. There is a game we like to play.
She turned and went away. I walked around the plot. I had water up to my knees had the farthest edge. There were places I could not reach because of the sturdy vine branches. I returned to the place where the stone sat and listened to the sound of the rocks I kicked around. The ground suddenly rumbled, the stones turned. I sat where I stood and took a deep breath.
At least it is dry here.
– Golden One.
Myriam startled me. She was standing on the path by my lot.
– Golden One. They are here.
She turned to let a long line of children and youngsters forward. Each in turn silently dropped a bucket of water on the ground and stepped, in order, on every bit of land in that dried out area among the swamp. The first ones to do it were the oldest. They had a serious look on their face like this was an important ceremony. Their face were painted. They looked at me in the eyes all the while walking. The young ones started running and bouncing off the delimited edges of the dry land. Soon they were dozens running in all directions. I stood by with Myriam and the oldests to watch with a cup of hot mead they served me.
– This is so much fun!
The bright moonlight was soon obfuscated by rain clouds and lightning! The children screamed just as loud as the thunder and jumped hard like they were themselves electrified. I jumped in there! We jumped hours under the heavy rain reducing the ground to mud splashing everywhere. When energy left our bodies the rain subsided. We all fell flat in the mud. The mothers approached with the toddlers who were let loose to tickle and play with their siblings.
They played among us. But mostly among themselves. A boy toddler eventually knocked on stone and turned to his mom with such pride in his eyes. It meant he had found it. The women looked at each other and baskets of breads started circulating around us. We ate and helped each other up. Finally, we left the muddy lot passing by the squad of soldiers heading toward the stone. The four of them, each in their time, pushed the mud with a paddle on a stick. They were taking a few steps back, then ran and sprayed the muddy waters as wide as possible in all directions. It frankly looked easy. They were competing for the form. The children had done the hard work. So I stopped on my tracks and stared at them until everyone had left but Myriam. When morning came, the stone was completely uncovered and one meter of land around it had dried up some. We had effectively pushed the swamp a few steps back.
– Well. I think you are all set. My work here is done. Give my Love to my daughter. And she left.
I looked the Stone at my feet. It was obviously a cube under there. I could feel its mass.
Woah! Do you see that!
I touch the fine lines carved covering the surface in a complex weaving. It was going to take a lot of time to follow each thread. I sat and sighed.
Well, now what? It must bare fruit. How do I fire that wonder?
I sat at a corner. I pulled the pine and release the piece of leather at my left wrist. I start ed cleaning up the cracks thoroughly. There was a flash of Light and Sound. A man asking for help.
Oh my. I just stared at the sky after that, my head completely empty. No more cleaning. It could wait, I thought. The sky was so dark and yet shining from inside. I could not stop staring. Morning came with songs on the wind. With first light came the birds and the women’s song. A song that gets you going. I loved it. I wanted to sing it with them. I listened to the tones and the words carefully. I decided I would add some new tones to this talent show and make silver bells to hang on my ankles and wrists. With silver from the blades but I had none!
I have to get my portion of silver. Why would I refuse such a precious gift?
I also need something to trade. And wood for fire while we are at it. A lot of wood to burn.
I started walking the path toward the core encampment where the biggest fire was.
I am not eager to see the Queen. Only collect the silver and trade for stocks.
At the first crossroads at Noon, there was a Guard.
– Stop. She said. Why do you come?
– I am trading supplies. I need a forge. I have not seen one yet.
– Of course! There are many! Just head straight, you will find everything you need, Golden One.
I passed her and was heading on my way but my gaze was pulled to a large path on the right heading into the forest.
We will be going there next.
– Golden One!
– This path leads to the crystal. The way is restricted to us. But you have all access, of course.
– No. I have business to attend to. What is your name, young sister.
She seemed strong of body. She was heavily armed like all guards I saw before her with two silver blades and a broadsword on her back. There was an innocence about her.
– Judith. I am a daughter of Alma, Healer. I am a Cavalier from the Crossroads.
– Is your mount roaming about, Cavalier?
– Indeed, Golden One. It is. Let me show you.
She whistled through her teeth so loud the echo from the forest startled me. Out of the forest came a giant wild cat. Red fur, black on the tip of its ears.
What is that? There is enough space for two riders! It could snap my body in two with one snap of its jaw.
I was scared for the first time since I awoke at the summit. The beast had a sharp look in its eyes. It seemed fierce. I was utterly transformed by that encounter. I was transfixed while Judith petted it and was shoved a couple of times of her stance. She turned to me and offered I touch it. I was not sure if the creature really agreed with that from looking at its eyes.
– NO! I shouted. I took a deep breath and calmed down. I prefer to be on my way. Thank you. Goodbye.
I walked on with haste. I had thought I would have given in and headed for the forest but I had then seen what could roam in there. I had to think more about that one.
The path was easy. The right choice obviously. There was increasingly more people gathered the closer to the core I got. I stepped away from the main path and simply walked along the fires. I followed the heat. The women on the way grew ever more muscular. Everyone seemed very distracted by my presence. I had enough of the staring and I had already seen two forges on my way. I had a few ideas already for useful tools to craft Silver Bells with. I headed back to the Main path toward the General’s tent guarding the Queen’s Fire Pit. A large and thin cover was stretched with four poles. A large wooden table under it. Officers and other Officials were standing around maps, notes and lists. When I stood before the table, a Guard asked.
– What do you need from the Council?
– I would like to collect my portion of silver.
– We were ordered to send you directly to the Queen’s Tent for silver.
I was silent for a moment there. I stood up and walked around the table toward the only tent by the Fire Pit. The air became salty and hot. It smelled of Sulfur. I had a brief vision of a fuming and burning volcanic land. I walked to the entrance of the Queen’s den and saw the trinkets hanging from the ceiling. Thick black furs on the ground. It was like nothing I had seen thus far. It was luxurious and distracting. The Queen walked up to me.
– You wait for an invitation?
– I am here to claim my portion of silver.
She smiled and turned away toward the back of the hut. She sat on gold and silver threaded cushions, moved her thin legs in such a way that she appeared to me as an insect for a moment. Her green skin was puzzling to look at. It could be shimmering or I could be nervous from being in her presence. And also confused. I could not think straight.
– Why you not take it the first time offered?
– I saw no use in it.
– You saw only form and not matter. Young Lady.
– I prefer Golden One.
– It is not your name either, is it? Who cares?
She pulled a blade from the cushions and put it on the colourful rug on the ground between us.
– This is yours. We all get one.
She waved in my general directions.
– Now go.
I exited the tent, sheathed the blade in my waist belt. I left the Queen’s lot passing by the Table of Generals heading for the second forge I had seen on my way. It was held by an old woman and her grown man son. They were obviously strangers. their cloths were of a different style and material. The man acted oddly. He seemed to only care about the flames burning under the cast iron. I approached after observing them for a moment, when the old woman nodded in my direction. She was a sculptor it seemed. There were many fine iron tools and molds. There were multicolored spheres of glass on iron stands on display.
– I am looking to work with the silver I have here. I wish to melt it in flat disks to make bells. Will you trade me a space at your forge, using your tools for a quarter of what I will produce?
– That sounds like a good deal, my child. When Pietr here finishes with this batch, he will take a well earned vacation and let you work, darling. Come back in two days.
She looked briefly at the golden bracelet at my wrist and smiled. I smiled in return and offered her my blessings before going back to the Main Path where the wood supplies were mainly located. All the women I saw around me, and there was hundreds of people there, were muscular and carrying heavy loads. Men and Old Age were not from here. The team handing out the portions of wood were young compared to the others. Also smaller and their voice were high pitched. I would always know when and where wood was being distributed in the village. I learned from one of them that I was allocated three bundles of logs and one bag of twigs each seven days left with the Crossroad Guard.
I carried that day’s load all the way back to my land. It was nightfall when I reached it. One day to get wood when the forest is right there in front of me.
I dropped the bundles next to the large chest included in the lot sitting right by the edge of the stone where grass had dried up some. I used the last light to open the chest. I found blunt blades for gardening, a wooden plate, a mudcup, iron utensils, iron pots and clay jugs. Seven portions of bread, of water, olives, a jug of oil, dried fruits and an orange squash. It had been slowly cooking in the rattan chest sitting in the sun all day. I smiled and jawed right into it. I held my warm meal while going through the rest with my right hand. Flint stones, long ropes, threads, bone needles, a brown fur, a meter square of that thick glassy vegetal leather and a small clay pot filled with a green paste. I took the flint stones, closed the chest and started preparing the fire right in the middle of that perfect black stone square at me feet, 4 meters wide. I stood there while chewing and creating a grid in my mind categorizing each section of the complex amalgame of lines in smaller blocs. I was going to burn it all. Square by square starting from the middle to move next, to the corners and finally burn one section at a time. I started laying the branches and some of the oil on top and stroke the stones together many times unsuccessfully. After a while I sat and only tried to light with one spark one branch the end of which was dipped in oil. It was not the greatest fire I had imagined but I still got a flame from it that seemed like the most beautiful thing ever since hot water. I kept the flame alive by laying the end of the strand in the olives plate which I used as a lamp. Delicious they were, the olives. So fleshy. There was no way I was going to try lighting a fire all night. I turned to the center of the stone from my comfortable position lying on the chest and the fur eating fruity olives. FIRE! I screamed out loud. I felt a strong pulse in my chest and the branches at the center of the stone lit with white fire. I knew they were not burning. I needed no wood or oil for this flame.
– Good Fire. About time you show up!
– Of Course.
– Nice colour, by the way. Who’s idea is that?
– It was ordained.
– Are you even hot?
I walked up to it, spiting an olive pit off the stone’s surface. The Fire grew suddenly like wind had just blown on it.
– Woah. A different kind of hot. What is that?
The flames returned to their original camp fire size and became very quiet. I knew I would get nothing more out of it.
I can talk to fire. I expected it to answer too. What is that about? I was not even surprised. What was it that I saw in the flames… Like a vertical, moving, light tapestry. There was more…
Suddenly extremely tired, I turned my back to the fire and laid down on the fur facing the chest putting my last olive in my mouth. I finished it quickly and dug the pit in the dirt between me and the chest, right by the stone’s edge. I had enough for the day. I fell asleep.