Thirty Circles of the Suns: Goodbye
Here you’ll find another fragment from the Caethlyan Legend Thirty Circles of the Suns.The story is enacted in the southern part of the Caethlyan continent Aethya, a barren desert area with small and scattered dwellings near the wells. I wrote the story as a birthday present for an American friend of mine.
Thirty Circles of the Suns is a frame story about the great Althorian magicienne Yanaraia Althaior against the background of the adventures of Zippo the Mythecantor and Synthe the Wanderer, two main characters of the Caethlyan Legende cycle.
This fragment contains the story, told by Yanaraia the night before she's leaving her home town behind.
The day already got to an end when Yanaraia arrived in Finah Al Aqvivan with her herd of goats. As usual she loved the panorama of the village at sunset when she came down from the grassy hills in the north. About sixty little white houses were arranged in a few small dusty streets on both sides of the stream. Small walled-in gardens that were protected against the heat of the suns by the shadow of palm trees and low cypress-like bushes lay like patches in a patchwork blanket between the houses. Flowers spread a sweet and drowsining scent and the low Zahr bushes were full of the dark berries that the people here used to produce a kind of strong wine.
It was clear that the Ahrbs of Finah Al Aqvivan had some engineering skills when you looked at the irrigation system, they used to carry the water from the stream to their gardens. A paddle wheel that was driven by strong oxes carried the water up and drained it away in a large basin that fed the gutters. The walls of the basin contained the slides that shut off the gutters. Opening the slides, one or more gutters got their water and guided it to the gardens.
The material for these gutters -mostly wooden boards that were held together by means of sturdy twigs from the willow trees along the stream and with joints made water-proof by tarred cloth- was scarce in this region, so only the lands and gardens that were situated at some distance away from the stream were irrigated this way. The fields on the banks of the stream did not have this facility. There the men and woman who farmed the land had to carry the water from the river with buckets.
All streets of the village ended on the square of the well. The well was the centre of the village. Here everybody drew the water for drinking and cooking. Here the Ahrbs of the village met each other and discussed the daily things of life. They mostly met in the evening cool, after a day of hard work from sunrise. Near the well stood the Community House. Her people contracted and celebrated their marriages, mourned their dead, administered justice and discussed matters that were important to all in the village.
There they celebrate the Rites of the Second Trentelyane, Yanaraia thought, and there they force people into marriage right away, if necessary.
Yanaraia smiled acridly, thinking about this less attractive aspect of the Second. To be fair, the Noventale was not different for men and women in this case, although some bragging bachelors who were still far away from their thirty Circles contradicted this. So it was a complete surprise for both future partners if community made the selection for marriage.
Often a marriage that was arranged like this, still was successful. The necessity to make a living mostly kept the initially unwilling partners together, particularly as soon as they found out, that a single life appeared to be more lonesome after all. So nobody had been expelled from the community for a long time because someone did not comply with the rules of the Noventale concerning this subject.
But Yanaraia definitely felt that se was not going to comply. So she might be the first one in a long time to be expelled after entering her Second. This situation in fact made no difference for her. Whether she left voluntarily or forced by an expulsion, in both cases she had to face life alone.
Still she wanted to leave voluntarily. She did not want to invoke the annoyance of the complete community, because they had treated her mother and her children -including Yanaraia herself- well. There would be ample gossiping as a result of her sudden departure in secrecy. Maybe some people would feel relieved that the Fa'minha Al Faeryan departed, because superstition took a major place in the minds of the Ahrbs of Finah Al Aqvivan.
But I want to say goodbye to Laëndryan in peace, she mused, I am sure, that she understands me. I think she can tell Thaëse better than me, Thaëse would not understand me and fire reproaches at me.
She drove the goats into an alley. A few men and women peeped out of their doorways as soon as they heard the bleating of the goats. Yanaraia waved friendly and the other people answered her greetings. There was little hate and envy in Finah Al Aqvivan. As long as everyone complied with the accepted.
She arrived at her mother's place that was hers now. The goats knew where to go and crowded near the little gate in the garden wall. After Yanaraia opened the fence, the goats went inside with almost joyful bleating and lay down on a comfortable place in the dry grass in the shade of a few palm trees.
Yanaraia went inside as well, closed the fence, went into the house and fetched a bucket. She milked the goats and poured the milk in a large clay jar, that she could carry on her shoulder. The milk was for Laëndryan, her "eldest" sister -of the twins she came to the world first-, she just had a baby this Circle and could use some extra. After she finished milking, she put the jar on her shoulder and went to Laëndryan's house at the other side of the village.
She walked a few alleys and walked past the well where a few old people relaxed in the shade of the palm trees and a few men and woman filled their jars with water from the well. Then she turned into a street in eastern direction and within a few moments she arrived at the house, Laëndryan and her family lived in.
A few children spotted Yanaria's arrival and gladly capered around her. "Auntie Yanaraia!" they called her exuberantly, "will you tell us a story tonight?"
Yanaraia nodded and shot a sad glance after the thought that this might be the last story for them in a long, long time. But this goodbye was inevitable. She hoped their mother Laëndryan could explain things satisfactorily to them.
Laëndryan sat inside with her youngest child at her breast. Mother and child both enjoyed the moments of a peaceful sense of belonging to each other. The mother relaxed and quietly caressed the head of the baby and the child enjoyed softly smacking the fulfilment of its first necessaries of life.
Sometimes Yanaraia felt melancholy with a sight like this. If Fate had been more favourable to her, she might have had the same as her sister had now. She sometimes dreamt of raising and teaching a child of her own, so that it would set out for its own path of life well prepared. She also had imagined the pain that letting a beloved child go to find its own way, would cause to her. Laëndryan had this experience, the two eldest of the six children she got, had their own life now. She had told Yanaraia all about her feelings in this matter.
Yanaraia could get along with Laëndryan very well. From Yanaraia's early youth, Yanaraia and her eleven Circles older sister tagged along with each other. For Yanaraia, it was very hard to accept the facts of life when Laëndryan fell in love, married and left her mother's house, seeming to have given her heart and attention exclusively to one strange man. It appeared unreal and frightening to the nine Circle old Yanaraia, even though her sister did not live far away. It was a hard time for their relation, because Yanaraia appeared a little jealous.
But Laëndryan understood her and endured the expressions of Yanaraia's fear to be left alone with love and understanding. Bit by bit Laëndryan and her husband overcame the broken confidence. Thus Yanaraia became a frequent guest in Laëndryan's house when she grew up further.
Yanaraia visited her sister regularly and they discussed everything that was important to them. That was the reason that Laëndryan knew about Yanaraia's plan. She had said, that she felt deep grief about her decision and that she would dearly miss her, but that she would accept Yanaraia's choice without resentment.
Yanaraia was very glad with Laëndryan's answer. It amply compensated the worries she had felt before she found the courage to tell her sister.
There was far more distance between Yanaraia and her sister Thaëse and the regular friction between them made things worse. Still it had taken Yanaraia a long time to make the decision, not to say goodbye to Thaëse personally, but to have it Laëndryan tell her after she left.
Thaëse followed the few rules of the Noventale quite strictly and had admonished Yanaraia more than once, that she should lay the basis for founding a family before her Second Trentelyane. Usually she did this when Yanaraia's current attempt to do so just failed. Thaëse's admonitions put their relation to a test that failed many times.
Thaëse had always been very popular with the men of Finah Al Aqvivan and the only thing she had to do was choose. Possibly the great number of suitors was the only reason that Thaëse actually made a selection. Because Yanaraia could hardly imagine that Thaëse was very flexible with respect to her demands concerning a possible partner.
Towards Yanaraia this popularity amongst men was quite different and she did not like it to be reminded of this again and again in a hardly subtle way. Thaëse was an inveterate blabber and said -if need be before a greater audience than strictly necessary- everything that came to her mind and she did not fail to dictate Yanaraia in public how to organize her life in an appropriate way.
That was why Yanaraia did not want to announce her departure with Thaëse, even not at the very moment that she had her packs on her back and was ready to go. She might trumpet this news all through the village, with all consequences of that. She wanted to leave in peace, without hate and scorn of the villagers that would turn the goodbye into a torment. There was a fair chance that the public at large would be hardly enthusiastic when they found out what she was up to and would interpret her flight as withdrawal from responsibilities.
Laëndryan looked at Yanaraia when she heard her entering. She happily smiled at her, because she was always glad when Yanaraia visited her. Yanaraia returned the smile, a greeting that was more heartily than could be expressed in words. But Laëndryan's sharp look did not miss anything, Yanaraia's glance told her, why Yanaraia was here.
The baby sighed contently and released the nipple. Its eyes closed in a quiet satisfied slumber, the child nestled itself against Laëndryan's breast. Laëndryan got on her feet carefully, laid the baby in its cradle in the room next to the living room and tucked it in. Then she fastened the supporting lappets of her breasts and walked back to the living room. Meanwhile Yanaraia had put her jar down and sat down.
"So you come to say goodbye?" Laëndryan softly said, "your resolution is fixed, now?"
Yanaraia nodded: "I have to do it now. My Second Trentelyane is due and afterwards I cannot leave any more."
Laëndryan sighed and looked down at the floor to hide her grief. She loved her younger sister dearly and the fact, that she might never see her back again, hurt her a lot. The thought of the coming goodbye and possibly a permanent loss smirked at her. How she had wished that Yanaraia would have found her destination in this place. That she could have shared her happiness with her as she tried to share hers with Yanaraia.
She considered matters feverishly. This very moment she could prevent Yanaraia from leaving. What if she reported to the Old Wise, that Yanaraia intended to leave before the Second Trentelyane would establish her fate?
If you do that, you will really loose her! her conscience protested, she will forever blame you, that you did not give her a fair chance to search her own destination.
Laëndryan reflected on the question of conscience, she asked herself when she found out for the first time, that Yanaraia considered leaving, a discovery that had shocked her profoundly.
Some say, that love fulfils itself in cherishing and holding on, others state, that the real test of love is letting go, she remembered her reflections on this question, if you really love her, can you let her go? Can you bear the fact, that she'll search her destination herself and possibly find it? Without your protection and outside your reach? With nothing else than your hope and prayers for prosperity and luck on her path to accompany her? If you have to choose between letting go, so that the other can find happiness, or holding on because that gives more joy to your own life, what would you choose? What should you choose?
She thought about the dilemma that arose from this question. The same dilemma she already experienced when the eldest of her children left home. The same dilemma she would meet with all remaining children. And with her dear sister as well. Laëndryan sighed. She already knew the answer of this dilemma. She remembered the pain, but joy as well, because her choice had been the right one.
Love is letting go and releasing as well, she thought, Love Is, and She has to be free to flourish: you cannot retain Her, create Her from nothing, or shape Her after your own image, because She will die if you try to.
Laëndryan looked up and her glance met Yanaraia's. "When do you want to leave?" she asked.
"Tomorrow morning, before sunrise", Yanaraia answered, "all preparations are completed. What I need, I’ll take with me, the goats and the things I leave behind in mother's house are for you and Thaëse. I guess the community has a purpose for the house when it becomes clear that I have left."
"But," Laëndryan commented, "what's the use of handing around your goats and household goods? Don’t you ever plan to return her?"
"If I return here, it will be temporarily", Yanaraia said, "and I guess it will not be sooner than that I found my own place where I can return to."
Laëndryan nodded slowly. She understood. "I will be there tomorrow, to say goodbye", she said, "but at least stay for dinner. That gives me some time to get used to the idea."
Yanaraia consented to her sister's request. She liked to be here and she did not have much for packing. Laëndryan went to the fireplace and stirred in a cauldron filled with stew. The contents of the cauldron gently boiled and spread a delicious smell, that made Yanaraia feel hungry. The smell of the fresh bread that Laëndryan brought in added some extra to Yanaraia's appetite.
It seemed that the other inhabitants of Laëndryan's house sensed the right moment. A man entered with a chattering bunch of three kids in his wake. Two boys and a girl each tried to get attention for their story of the day. The oldest boy suddenly spotted Yanaraia and his eyes started to glitter: "Does Auntie Yanaraia stay for dinner, mother?" he exclaimed enthusiastically. Yanaraia nodded and his mother affirmed it.
The man put his shovel, rake and hoe against the wall and kissed his wife.
"Had a good day, Aqven?" Laëndryan inquired. The man reported in a few words. The field was ready for sowing, with a bit of luck they could harvest again before it became winter.
"Yanaraia stays for dinner", Laëndryan whispered softly, "it’s the last time, she will leave tomorrow." Aqven looked at her and he saw the grief in her eyes because he had learnt to see her heart in the depth of her glance. He already knew about Yanaraia's intention. He caressed her and said nothing. But Laëndryan felt his compassion and was comforted.
Aqven let her go and warmly greeted Yanaraia. Then everybody sat down at the table and enjoyed their meal. They were not finished until the suns had disappeared behind the western horizon and a soft rosy light came in from the windows.
"Will you tell us a story tonight, aunt Yanaraia?" the oldest boy asked. The other kids watched and waited in expectation.
"I think aunt Yanaraia is tired now, Edquan", Laëndryan interrupted him, "she has to set forth tomorrow on a travel that is too long to see its destination, so that we can only hope for her return."
The boy looked confused and the other children sighed in disappointment.
Yanaraia waved aside Laëndryan's objections. "I guess I now have a good reason to tell them a last story because of my leave, Laëndryan", she opposed her friendly, "after the dishes I will start and I think that I will stop as soon as my eyes close."
Laëndryan and Yanaraia cleared the table and washed the dishes. When they were finished, everybody sat down near the fireplace and Yanaraia told her story as she promised the children.
"Once upon a time there lived a goatherd on the grassy plains in the north. She spent her days in the struggle for the daily needs. She kept her goats, sold milk and meat when available and travelled from one village to the other with her flock.
She had a hard life, but she carried this weight cheerfully and everywhere she went, she had a smile and a friendly word for everybody, without respect of persons . Moreover she helped whenever she could. Many people liked her, quite a few were kindly disposed towards her and some loved her, beit in vain, because she did not notice this.
Everyone who met her was convinced that she had to be perfectly happy. In what other way can someone remain so aimiable despite the trial of everyday life?
How poorly they fathomed her deep in her heart! There she felt that she missed a single thing that would make her completely happy. She did not exactly know what it was and she would give everything to obtain this knowledge.
When the goatherd was a little child of about eight Circles old, her mother had complained to a friend that happiness seemed to pass their door, never entering it. The goatherd had been surprised at this statement. She had asked her mother in the practical and direct way that is characteristic for children, what someone needed to obtain this happiness.
A clear answer to this question -which was rightly in itself- never came. Possibly her mother had considered her too young for a straight answer, or she had missed the right words to explain this difficult matter to her. Isn't the question about happiness a Question of Life?
"If you find the Most Precious in the World, you will be happy", was her only answer. After that she continued her jeremiad.
To the little child, the answer seemed to be extremely vague and mysterious, but she did not dare to ask for more detail. At that very moment, the lack of a comprehensible answer had filled her heart with unrest and incited the desire to find this Precious. That had remained with her when she grew up and later on, when she lived on her own out of necessity.
Her unrest grew and grew in her heart and became that predominant that she decided to leave her daily life behind on a travel in search of the Most Precious in the World. She supposed that if she possessed this Precious, happiness would follow, just like her mother told her.
Thus the goatherd sold her flock and used the proceeds to buy the necessary travelling clothing and equipment. She took off and roamed the world. And she roamed the desert, not only the physical one, but also the desert in her own mind.
After a long travel she arrived in a city in which on the top of a central hill stood one particular splendid house. This house could be seen from afar, because the roof reflected the rays of the Suns in gold. The building was a pinnacle of architecure with walls made of precious rare stones, windows made of beautifully crafted stained glass windows, and roofs that seemed to be made of gold. Around the house there were magnificent gardens with softly splashing fountains that were shaded by palm trees and bushes with many coloured flowers. Around the garden was a high wall with a single gate that gave access to this splendid residence.
The rest of the city was completely different from this house. Numerous small, humble and almost ramshackle homes leaned against the walls of the palace. The goatherd suspected that life in these slums was hard and cruel as a consequence of want and poverty. She wondered what could be the cause of this and suspected that the beautiful house was there by the grace of the poverty of the others.
But the goatherd neglected the things her intuition told her. She got blinded and delighted by the pomp and splendour of the big house. The one who lived there had to be perfectly happy. She decided to ask the owner of the place about the origin and the secret of his happiness. Who owned a house like this, had to have found the most Precious in the World.
She arrived at the gate and made inquiries after the owner of this splendour. At first glance, the gatekeeper wanted to send off the woman who was dressed in such simple travelling clothes. The goatherd, however, pressed the matter and spoke to the man in such an amiable way that he did not see any harm in it to call his master.
His master soon appeared. He was definitely handsome and wore the finest and most exquisite clothing, the goatherd had ever seen. Everything on him seemed to be splendid and rich. But from his dark eyes radiated nothing more but sheer empty desire and greed. This view chilled the goatherd to the bone and she almost regretted her curiosity. In her heart, the wish to find the answer, however, was stronger than her regret.
"Greetings and blessing, possessor of all this splendour", the goatherd said, "looking at your house, I am disposed to envy you. You must have found the Most Precious in the World to achieve and obtain all this. Would you be willing to tell me what it is? I have undertaken this journey to find the answer to this question."
The man was very flattered by the interest, the goatherd showed towards him. He was zealous to give an answer. He took the purse from his belt and emptied it in his hand. Gold and silver coins glittered in the light of the suns.
"This is the Most Precious in the World", he said, "this enables you to obtain and achieve everything you want. This opens every heart for you, even the most reluctant one."
The goatherd marvelled at this answer and inquisitively she asked: "How does one obtain this Most Precious in the World?"
The man frowned and a chilled expression marked his handsome face. He certainly did not intend to tell his secret to the very first beggar woman, he met. If everybody possessed what he held, he would not be the Richest any more.
"Buy for little and sell for much more", he answered cautiously.
The goatherd understood what the man meant to say. She saw the way, he took advantage of the inhabitants of the city and made them work for pittance day and night. For him, the Most Precious in the World came to giving nothing and taking all. That was his happiness. The goatherd felt that this answer was not the right one for her.
She thanked the rich man and hastily left behind the city. She sighed for relief after the gleam of the roof of the rich man's house had disappeared behind the horizon.
On and on travelled the goatherd. She left the desert and travelled through hills that were covered with dry and tough grass.
She arrived at a fortified city in which on the top of a central hill stood one particular splendid edifice. It was a castle, a high citadel with numerous towers on which pennants flew on their poles, painted with symbols of impregnability and power. On the battlements the gleam of the spears of many watchmen formed a painful glittering for an eager eye. This had to be a building that could withstand eternity and would never fail, no enemy could take this fortress. The remainder of the city was like the citadel, high, impressive and unassailable.
But inside the houses and on the streets one could hear no sounds of joy or cheerful laughing. The goatherd did not see any gladness on the face of the people. She suspected that life in this fortress was hard and cruel and that the inhabitants lived under the shade of fear. A cold hand seemed to embosom her heart as soon as she sensed this athmosphere.
The goatherd heard applause and cheer from the distance. It seemed as if in the city a crowd was cheering a benefactor, a kind person they owed everything good that they got.
The goatherd neglected the things her intuition told her and she got blinded and delighted by the power of the fortress and the city walls. The one who ruled there had to be perfectly happy to achieve this all. She decided to ask the owner of the city about the origin and the secret of his happiness. Who owned a city and a fortress like this with such an enthusiastic and grateful folk within its walls, had to have found the most Precious in the World.
She entered the gates of the fortress, but the guards stopped her. "Where do you want to go?" they harshly demanded an explanation of her destination.
"I want to honour the ruler of this city and I wish to ask him a question that is very near my heart", she answered aimably, "I have got the impression that he is so powerful that he very well might know the answer."
The guardsman did not see any harm in the goatherd's intention and let her pass. One of the soldiers escorted her to introduce her to the ruler of the city. Together they arrived on the main courtyard of the fortress.
On a central place in the courtyard she saw a platform with a beautiful and impressing throne on it. A man in armour was seated on it. Around the platform, a host of guardsmen stood aligned, an impregnable wall of spears, swords and shields. The rest of the courtyard was packed with common folk.
On the platform stood another man in formal dress. The goatherd thought he was a kind of advisor. From time to time he gave the crowd a sign to direct the testimonial. The man seemed to be imperious and haughty, but in some way the goatherd saw that the man's attitude expressed a groveling that was caused by mortal fear.
On his sign, the crowd burst out in congratulations and blessings. This was the applause and cheer, she had heard from the distance. On another sign, the crowd fell to his and her knees as a sign of the reverence the people had for their ruler who owned their lives.
While the crowd was cheering, however, the goatherd saw soldiers walking amongst them. They took the purses with the little money of many people, despite their pleas, which were drowned by the roar of the jubilations. They took the freedom of many people and forced them into slavery, because the ruler needed money for the sake of his reign. Their lamentations drowned in the congratulations of the fearful folk. They took the life of some people, because these men and women saw through the ruler's game of power and oppression and revolted against him. Their last gasps disappeared in the sound of the hymns, the people sang for their First and Most Powerful.
Meanwhile, the soldier had announced the goatherd and the lord of the city permitted her an audience. The soldier returned and led her in front of his master.
"Greetings and blessing, possessor of all this splendour", the goatherd said, "looking at your house and your subjects, I am disposed to envy you. You must have found the Most Precious in the World to achieve and obtain all this. Would you be willing to tell me what it is? I have undertaken this journey to find the answer to this question."
The man was very flattered by the interest, the goatherd showed towards him. He was zealous to give an answer. He drew his sword from his sheath and held it up. Death and suffering glittered in the light of the suns. The weapon was Power.
"This is the Most Precious in the World", he said, "this enables you to obtain and achieve everything you want. This opens every heart for you, even the most reluctant one."
The goatherd marvelled at this answer and inquisitively she asked: "How does one obtain this Most Precious in the World?"
The man frowned and a chilled expression marked his helmeted face. He certainly did not intend to tell his secret to the very first beggar woman, he met. If everybody possessed what he held, he would not be the Most Powerful any more.
"By taking everything and paying only the Wages of Fear for someone's possessions, services and life", he answered cautiously.
The goatherd understood what the man meant to say. She saw the way in which he oppressed the inhabitants of the city and deformed them for the sake of his own needs. For him, the Most Precious in the World came to giving nothing and ruling all. That was his happiness. The goatherd felt that this answer was not the right one for her.
She thanked the powerful man and hastily left behind the city. She sighed for relief after the battlements and towers of the powerful man's fortress had disappeared behind the horizon.
On and on travelled the goatherd. She left the hills behind and travelled through high mountains that were covered with green fields, woods and ice.
She arrived at a city that completely consisted of simple but well built houses and other premises. Cupolas and pointed towers made a wonderful skyline against the blue sky above the distant sharp-peaked and ice covered pinnacles. She got the impression that here something had to reside which strove after neither riches nor power.
The fields in the valleys around the city were green and fertile and seemingly the farmers worked them with joy. The growth on the fields, and the trees, shrubs and flowers looked miraculously beautiful. Animals that were in perfect good health pastured on the meadows. The Menlin she met seemed to be perfectly happy. A shallow observer would conclude that these people here had found the ultimate happiness on Caethlya.
But the goatherd sensed that there was no satisfaction on this place. She sensed a strive in the air to get to the bottom of everything, even of the last secret and far beyond. There was no peace on this place, only an infinite searching in which every answer invoked a new question.
She felt a resonance with her own ambition, the reason why she had set out, after all. Would she find anyone here, who could help her finding the answer? She became curious and decided to enter the city.
The gate-keeper greeted her friendly and asked her to what place she wanted to go.
"I want to honour the ruler of this city and I wish to ask him a question that is very near my heart", she answered aimably, "I have got the impression that he has so much knowledge that he very well might know the answer."
"I will escort you to the Lady (so it is her and not him)", the gate-keeper offered and he guided her to a building in the centre of the city. Within the city walls, the goatherd saw many Menlin, some very occupied with studying books and scrolls, a few writing documents while they were bent over a desk and others involved in passionate discussions about various matters. None of these Menlin spoke to her, so absorbed they were in their own pursuits and affairs.
The gate-keeper brought her to a woman in a simple dress. With a sharp and analysing glance she scanned the goatherd from top to bottom.
"Greetings and blessing, keeper of all this splendour", the goatherd said, "looking at your house and your subjects, I am disposed to envy you. You must have found the Most Precious in the World to achieve and obtain all this. Would you be willing to tell me what it is? I have undertaken this journey to find the answer to this question."
The woman was very flattered by the interest, the goatherd showed towards him. She was zealous to give an answer. She picked up a book from the table and opened it. Its pages were full of characters, the goatherd could not read, leave alone understand. Her solution was Knowledge.
"This is the Most Precious in the World", she said, "Knowledge enables you to understand, obtain and achieve everything you want. This fathoms every heart for you, even the most reluctant one."
The goatherd marvelled at this answer and inquisitively she asked: "How does one obtain this Most Precious in the World?"
The woman frowned and a chilled expression marked her handsome face. She certainly did not intend to tell her secret to the very first beggar woman, she met. If everybody possessed what she held, she would not be the Most Knowing any more.
"By studying everything and finding a new question after every answer", she answered cautiously.
The goatherd saw through the meaning of what the woman said. She saw the way this sage looked at the world in terms of long sequences of dull and rational facts, without acceptance of those things that are beyond understanding. She even rejected the existence of things that were beyond her eagerly searching mind. For her, the Most Precious of the World was the rational analysis of everything in terms of knowledge and science, while she forhot about the actual insight. That was her happiness. The goatherd felt that this answer was not the right one for her.
She thanked the lady of knowledge for her trouble and hastily left the city behind. She sighed for relief after the cupolas and pointed towers of the sage's city had disappeared behind the horizon.
Onward she travelled, she left the mountains behind and descended to the hills near the sea."
It became a night, all those present would remember. Yanaraia told quite an other story than she normally used to do. The tale was completely different from the fairy tales, she usually recounted. That was not that strange, because Yanaraia in fact explained the reason why she took off on a journey that would take her to her destination in the end.
At that very moment she did not know, but after many leagues and Circles of wanderings she would become Yanaraia Althaior, the great magicienne and fighter against evil, she that still lives in the legends and the songs of the Kingdom of Althoriande. What she would find in her heart at the end of these Circles of Peregrination, would determine her destination.
Laëndryan interrupted the tale for a moment to fetch the baby and breast-fed her. Yrenne, her one but youngest child, nestled on her lap. Then Yanaraia continued her story.
It was strange to see how her story affected the others in the room.
Yrenne fell asleep against her mother's breast, with in her dreams the wondrous fairy tale of the quest for the unknown that seemed to be so far away because her world still was small and familiar.
Her older sister Kyren stared in the distance, like she saw the events happen before her very eyes. Some things surprised her, others filled her heart with fear. The Most Precious in the World seemed to be hidden in a impenetrable mist. That mist of insecurity frightened her most.
Edquan listened with an intensity as if he sensed beforehand the quest for himself, he had to complete when coming of age. His consciousness already reached further and was willing to search.
Laëndryan and Aqven understood that Yanaraia described herself. Deep in their hearts they wished her the fulfilment of her quest, because they loved her. It seemed to ease the stabbing pain of the separation to come that they felt when Yanaraia told her story.
"She arrived at a vast city on the banks of a river", Yanaraia continued, "from afar this city seemed to be packed from city wall to city wall with the most splendid and precious architecture. Silver, gold and jewels glittered in the light of the suns and every home was even more abundantly beautiful than any other she had seen. All the houses in the city had one thing in common: they were sheer beauty.
Thus it was very difficult to observe that one house on a high hill in the centre was the most beautiful of all. If you perceived well, however, it was possible to notice the small but subtle difference. The goatherd sighed in admiration, this city was so beautiful, and this beauty seemed so unassailable, she had to be able to withstand all eternity.
When she approached the city and passed a few suburbs, the citizens that she met surprised her even more. The Menlin who lived in this land embodied -men and women in the same extent- pure beauty. Their faces shone and there was cheerfulness all around. But their glance did not radiate the fire from within that usually nourishes real beauty. The mirth was a fake and only served the purpose to compensate and to hide jealousy. She suspected that life in this city of beauty was hard and cruel and that the inhabitants were even envious of the light in each other's eyes. A cold hand seemed to embosom her heart as soon as she sensed this athmosphere.
The goatherd redirected her vision to the outside of the men and women that she saw. She neglected the things her intuition told her and she got blinded and delighted by the beauty and erotic charisma of the people and the splendour of their city. She decided to ask the ruler of the city about the origin and the secret of his or her happiness. Who owned a city filled of beauty like this with such a fair folk within its walls, had to have found the most Precious in the World.
She entered the city gates, but the gate-keepers stopped her. "Where do you want to go?" they demanded an explanation of her destination. Meanwhile they mustered her and jestured amongst each other. The goatherd's appearance -in their opinion she really was a dull, grey and almost ugly country girl- appeared to be a good reason for mocking her.
"I want to honour the rulers of this city and I wish to ask him a question that is very near my heart", she answered as aimably as she could, "I have got the impression that they are so powerful and beautiful that he very well might know the answer."
The guardsmen did not see any harm in the goatherd's intention, they were even amused about her futile quest (it would not make her less ugly than she was, anyway), and let her pass. One of the soldiers escorted her to introduce her to the rulers of the city. While she went through the streets, she was stared at and she heard people openly chuckle out of enjoyment of her mishap, that her beauty was so meagre in comparison with theirs.
Together they arrived at the most beautiful house in the centre of the city. A man and a woman waited at the gate.
"Greetings and blessing, keeper of all this splendour", the goatherd said, "looking at your houses and your subjects, I am disposed to envy you. You must have found the Most Precious in the World to achieve and obtain all this. Would you be willing to tell me what it is? I have undertaken this journey to find the answer to this question."
The man was very flattered by the interest, the goatherd showed towards him. He was zealous to give an answer. He straigtened his back and drew her attention to himself, in order to emphasize his own appearance. It was a sure sign of vanity. He wordlessly silenced the woman who wanted to say something as well.
"Beauty is the Most Precious in the World", he said, "with Beauty you obtain and achieve everything you want. This seduces every heart for you, even the most reluctant one."
The man frowned and a chilled expression marked his handsome face. He certainly did not intend to tell his secret to the very first beggar woman, he met. If everybody possessed what he held, he would not be the Most Beautiful and Handsome any more.
"By watching only yourself in the mirror and pass your days in strive, struggle and strife for beauty", he answered cautiously.
The goatherd saw through what the man actually meant to say. She saw the way he deformed himself and others to satisfy his needs. For this man, the Most Precious in the World came to seeing himself only, and place himself above any other. That was his happiness. The goatherd sensed that this was not the right answer for her.
She thanked the handsome man for his trouble and nodded to the woman who looked at her with burning envy, because the goatherd was able to flee from this place, while she had to stay forever, caught in this struggle for vain beauty. The goatherd left the beautiful city in great haste. She sighed for relief after the houses of the city had disappeared behind the horizon.
Onward she went, she walked along the beach and reached a spot where she could see an island in the distance. This unreachable land drew her attention and curiosity and she looked all around to find a way to pass the waters of the rough sea that separated her from the island.
Soon she found a number of fishermen who had tugged their boats on the shore and were busy with curing and salting their catch. She asked then if one of them would be willing to take her across to the island. None of the men, however, showed any urgency to grant her wish.
"That place is cursed!" they warned her, "but if you really want to go..", they pointed at a boat that was some distance away from them, "ask him", they advised her, "he has more courage for and urge to the unreachable than we have.."
The goatherd was very surprised when she heard their evasive answer, but her desire to examine the island was greater than her cautiousness. She went to the solitary fisherman. He sat back, leaning against his boat, and quietly repaired his nets. When she came close, he looked at her and caught her glance. She recognised his look, it was the inquisitive glance of a Searcher, just like she was. But there was a tiny difference, by his look she presumed that he knew something of which she lacked knowledge of.
"I want to take you across", he answered her request for a passage, "if you want to stay over there, it will take the price of your life, if I may bring you back again to this spot, it is for free.."
The goatherd stared at him. Was this an announcement of an attempt for murder? Or was this a promise, that she would find there what she was looking for? She was puzzled, why would this cost her the prize of her life?
"What is the value of my life to you?" she asked while she picked up her purse, because she expected that he wanted money, "expressed in Rayls?"
The fisherman shook his had' "You are invaluable. I cannot express that in an amount of Rayls. The choice is yours. Either I sail you hither and tither, or I bring you tither and never hither. If you, however, really understand the meaning of what's living on that island, well, in that case you will return with me. If there is any virtue to your searching, you will have to find out that it is important to realise yourself that finding such a destination as the Most Precious on the World is not the end to your strive. Once found, the Most Precious on the World must be laboured with."
His answer called for her curiousity. She was not sure, her curiosity was justified, so she made some reservations concerning her decision.
"Bring me to there first", she answered, "I’ll choose later, I cannot see into the future."
"You are right, there is no seeing into the future, there is only choosing in the present", he replied decisively, "it is one or the other. Return or single. Life or death."
The goatherd got in two minds violently. She suspected something very precious on the island, but was it worth to leave behind her whole life for it? Wouldn't she deny the meaning of her existence on this world if she went there and stayed there? Wouldn't she run away from her responsibilities, then?
"Do you know what's on the island?" she asked the fisherman.
The man nodded thoughtfully.
"Did anyone took you ever across under the same restrictions?"
The fisherman nodded again.
"You did not choose to stay there?"
The fisherman shook his head.
"Very well", the goatherd decided, "I choose to return after I have stayed on the island."
"As you wish, dear lady", the fisherman replied, "you put your faith in me and trust my words. Trust and faith are two of the main pillars of what lives on the island."
He made a gesture towards his boat. Together they pushed the vessel into the breakers and jumped aboard. The fisherman hoisted the sails and after a short passage they arrived on the isle.
The goatherd jumped out of the boat. As soon as her feet touched the beach, she got the feeling that her choice had been the most difficult out of two.
The fisherman saluted her with a nod. "Have a good trip", he wished her, "I’ll wait here for your return."
The goatherd travelled across the island. The beauty of nature and the wealth of life touched her and moved her deeply. She passed forests that were full of sparkling love of life. She set foot upon meadows in which coloured flowers waved in the wind and showed her the most splendid dyes without any reserve. She travelled through villages in which the Menlin welcomed her and entertained her hospitably.
After a long journey, she arrived at a city. It stroke her that this city had no walls and towers, everyone could freely enter and leave the place. The Menlin -both men and women- looked at her in open-mindedness and greeted her on the streets. The goatherd sighed for astonishment. This city gave her such an impression of comfort and ageless safety, it had to be able to withstand eternity without the need for defense against violence or time.
There were no gate-keepers at the city entrance, there were no obvious officials, she could ask the way. After some time of searching, she decided to ask the first passer-by that she met. She walked to a little group of Menlin on the corner of a street.
They immediately comprehended what she wanted to ask. "Where do you want to go?" they inquired for her destination. Meanwhile they mustered her and treated her with a friendship that she had experienced in no other city she had been to.
"I want to honour the rulers of this city and I wish to ask them a question that is very near my heart", she answered aimably, "I have got the impression that they are so powerful and aimable that they very well might know the answer."
The Menlin smiled. "We do not have kings or rulers. The one who rules us all, lives deep within our own heart. Ask us what you want to ask her!"
The goatherd was completely surprised. "Looking at you and the other Menlin of your people, I am disposed to envy you. You must have found the Most Precious in the World to achieve and obtain all this. Would you be willing to tell me what it is? I have undertaken this journey to find the answer to this question."
"Love is the Most Precious in the World", they simply said, "with Love you obtain and achieve everything you want. This opens every heart for you, even the most reluctant one."
The Menlin observed her friendly. They obiously intended to tell her their secret, without restraint. If everybody possessed what they held, they would experience more and near its fulfilment.
"By loving others as and like you love yourself and keeping balance in this", they answered, "but be careful, because keeping this balance is the same as walking on a horse's hair above a deep abyss."
The goatherd saw through the meaning of the words of these people. She saw how too much love of self would cause that you could never give to others what you intended for yourself. But she also noticed that too much altruism could lead to self-destruction, because a Menlin needs love himself and will fail as soon as he starts thinking that he can buy love from others by loving them.
For them, the Most Precious in the World was what they described her. That was their happiness. Despite this, the goatherd sensed that this answer might not be completely the right one for her. She had to think of what the fisherman told her.
"Have you been living here all your life?" she asked them.
The Menlin shook their head. "No, this place is reserved for those who return here. If you come here for the first time and you don’t understand that you will have to leave again, then the things will happen to you as they happened to those Menlin over there."
They pointed at a little group of people who sat down near the fountain. They stared and saw nothing. They stayed alive by the grace of the Menlin who took care of them.
The goatherd looked in the indicated direction. She spotted the ones who had thought that they had found their destination after getting acquainted with the Most Precious in the World. They had gotten lost in oblivion inside themselves. They had reached their destination, but forgotten the goal of the Most Precious in the World. That was the poor fate, the fisherman referred to.
"Will they be released some day?" the goatherd asked with a voice that trembled for shock.
"Maybe the fisherman takes them ashore some time", the Menlin replied, "sooner or later he takes everyone to shore. Thus they return and are enabled to search for the Most Precious in the World anew, or propagate it in a better way than they could do in a previous life."
"I see", the goatherd remarked, "I will return as well.."
She went back and the fisherman took her across. She went into the world to tell about the things she experienced and the story does not make further mention of her."
"Did she ever return to the grassy plains in the north?" Edquan asked.
Yanaraia shook her head. "I don’t think so, but I am not sure."
"Do you search the same thing as the goatherd, aunt Yanaraia?" the boy suddenly asked her.
"Edquan!" Aqven reacted sharply, "it is not appropriate to pose intimate questions to grown-ups!"
Yanaraia smiled and soothed matters. "Edquan apparently learns a lot from the both of you, Aqven, else he would not pose questions like this."
She addressed the boy. "I am looking for the same, Edquan, because I would like to find it myself rather than that it is forced upon me."
Edquan nodded and kept silent, because he understood from the things he overheard while his parents discussed about Yanaraia's plans for the future, that talking about this revolt against the dogma that the Noventale prescribed concerning the Trentelyane, was no subject for a broader audience yet.
The hour was late when Yanaraia finished her story, said goodbye to Laëndryan, Aqven and the children that were still awake, and went home. When she arrived home, she went through the rooms for the last time and found all kinds of memories that were hidden in every nook and corner. She took them, lived through them again and refreshed them, all pages from the Book of her Life. It was her baggage that physically weighed nothing, but sometimes was heavier than lead.
Then she laid out her travelling garment and baggage and after that she went to sleep until dawn would paint the eastern sky.
She woke up before the suns rose. Outside the white frost glittered soft rosy in the light of dawn, the nights in the lands of the desert were very cold. But soon the suns would wipe out the memory of the cold.
Yanaraia put on her travelling garment, girded on her knife, bow and quiver and strapped her back-pack. Then she sighed, took a last look in the rooms of her mother's house that would be empty now, walked outside and closed the door.
She walked through Finah Al Aqvivan, where everybody was asleep, and followed the twisting track to the north. There Laëndryan and Aqven awaited her.
They spent little words, saying goodbye, because words might cause doubt in Yanaraia's heart. Neither Yanaraia nor Laëndryan cried, because tears were too limited to express their sadness. In a certain sense both had to let each other go, so that they understood each other's grief.
"I do hope, you will find what you are looking for", Laëndryan said, "have a good trip and please take good care of yourself. And goodbye for now, although I cannot tell when you will return. But I trust, that I will see you ever again."
"I will take good care of myself indeed, my dearest Laëndryan", Yanaraia answered, "I thank you for your confidence, it will help me on my quest. And I thank you, that you have tried to give me a home. I will remember that when I am sad of homesickness, because it will comfort me. The best of luck for you and your children!" Yanaraia hesitated for a moment: "Greet Thaëse from me and say, I am sorry. I hope to be able to explain it to her some day. Goodbye!"
Then she said goodbye to Aqven and she walked away on the trail to the north. She repeatedly looked back to Finah Al Aqvivan and the two figures along the path that waved her goodbye. It looked to her as if she went through the first escape again, the one before she was born. But now her own legs carried her away. She could not fathom whether this made things worse.
The distance between herself and her old life got wider. She looked back for once. Then she turned and decidedly walked into the desert.