A CHRONICLE OF IS

A novel by Terry Heller

Part 4: The Festival of Midsummer 
 
 


Introduction 

Part 1: Arm's Journey Through the Waste Land

Part 2: In the Land of Marsh River

Part 3: Among the Hills
 


Part 4: The Festival of Midsummer

Fantasticoe Home Page

Terry Heller's Home Page

copyright 1991 - 2001


 
25. Peachtree's Thought

     As midsummer approached, most of the people of the back country understood and favored Arm's mission. This was not merely because they had little to lose themselves if farming of the desert ceased or was reduced. It is true that this work was of little importance to them. The growth of Marshtown was a small threat to them because some of their families were attracted to the rich and busy town, and so lost the life most back country families wished for their children. But back country people, on the whole, did not concern themselves much with Marshtown, the aqueducts, the reservoir, or the desert fields. Their life was busy and full. The town was a place for getting some special things or for meeting friends on a trading day.

     They favored Arm's mission because they saw it was necessary. Truth sang to them in their hearts, and they wished naturally to sing with the truth, to say to themselves and to others what they knew to be.

     When the midsummer festival was seven days away, a message came to Marshrat, inviting him and Arm to hear what Peachtree had thought. They returned to her valley.

     At midsummer, the little creek at Peachtree's farm was nearly dry, though it did not run dry every summer, but there was water still in the family's well that stood just outside their hut. Letting down a pail into a stone-lined hole, they could pull up clear and cool water to drink. They also watered seedlings they kept in shady beds to be set out in open gardens when the rains began. Aside from watering the seedlings at dawn and dusk, there was no growing or gathering to be done for several weeks. To work in the hot, dusty gardens would be useless. So the family sat in the shade of large trees, letting the breeze cool them as they worked fibers and repaired clothing. After midsummer, they would gather long grass to renew the roof for the rains. Now was a time for sitting quietly, working with the hands, and singing beneath the trees.

     Perhaps this was why Peachtree had her idea.

     Marshrat and Arm walked dusty and tired into the shade of a great oak, where the tethered goat cropped short grass and Peachtree and her daughters separated plant fibers and wound them into threads. Rye Grass was mending Chick's or Raisin's trouser seat, his delicate movements so quick and sure, he might have been building a flower. Though by now Arm had become used to feeling peace and being at home among these hill families, there was still a special restfulness at Peachtree's home. And on this day, there was an energy of expecting. All were eager to see Arm and Marshrat. The girls' eyes said, "Show him now, Mother!" There was a kind of eagerness even in Rye Grass's patient smile.

     But Peachtree saw how the heat and dust had wearied them, so there was an early lunch of cold water and chilled fruits and goat's milk, taken on mats beneath the oak. When the visitors were refreshed, Peachtree was ready to speak of the thought that had come to her while hand weaving on a midsummer morning, but there was yet one more thing to do.

     "Bring them out, girls."

     With glowing smiles, Chick and Raisin emerged from the hut bearing fine clothing. Chick bubbled, "See the shirt and pantaloons we have made for you, Arm! And the white cloth to tie over your head and protect it from the sun!"

     "We were sorry for your poor holey clothes from the swamp," added Raisin.

     The girls tugged at his arms to get him up and then pushed him into the hut so he could change and they could see him in their handiwork. A few minutes later, he emerged in white glory, his shining black skin and exotic hair set off in the new white cottons. The girls led him, smiling, to a seat of honor beneath the tree and studied him admiringly as Peachtree turned to the main business that had brought him here with Marshrat. She spoke slowly and seriously, the habitual smile of her face subdued. She had thought carefully about what she would say.

     "Since you have come among us, Arm, with your tales of the children of the swamp, of the singing of IS, and of the end of the water, the singing of our women has grown. This is the great reason we wish to help you.

     "You know that we are few and of little account in the crowded town. Our voices are not heard there. Not living as they do, we are not seen among them. I have thought how we might become seen.

     "Were we all to go to the Midsummer Festival, even our few would seem great. I have counted us at more than one hundred. The town is ten times or more greater in numbers, but we would be visible were we all there.

     "Still, I do not believe our being visible would make us seen. But we might become seen if we reach their ears. A person can close his ears to words he will not hear, for he knows those words by the mouth they come from, and gives them hearing only if he will.

     "But suppose we were all to sing, to make a great circle about a fire before the meeting house, and sing our songs. Though they might not listen with understanding to our spoken words, how might their hearts resist the songs that bind us to each other and that have begun to make IS of us?"

     Arm's reply was as studied and formal as her speech. "Only out of singing together do such ideas come. I hear in your voice that this is the way to the hearts of Marshtown, if there is a way."

     So, the message went out. All would gather at Marshtown for the five days of the midsummer festival. They would camp on the common ground before the meeting house, where usually there was a country fair. This year, instead of selling and trading crafts of the country, they would rest beneath their lean-tos and shades in the day, then gather around a great fire to sing the whole night. While the families of Marshtown slept, and while the young men drank liquor, played loud games, and sang their songs of eating and drinking in the night, these visitors would sing their songs of calm and rest and communion.

     Midsummer Festival had changed greatly in Marshrat's lifetime. When he was a child and came with his father, the festival had included songs and stories that enchanted him. Then, the people of the small village gathered with the back country people. They drank the old wine together, because it had to be finished before the new could be made. They sang because there was no rain and the streams were dry, as they had to be before the rain would come again. Midsummer was the turning of the year, for though the rains could not really be expected for another moon after the drying of the streams, the sun turned back toward the south in those days, and would bring the rains back with it, after following them to northern lands. One of the songs Marshrat remembered best was the song of the returning rain.

     Rain of our life,
     The grass on shepherd's hill calls,
     Like the young sparrows, all mouths on the nest.
     The plum tree seeks a full breast.
     Rain of our life,
     The green apples need their faces washed.
     The tired dust whispers for rest,
     The marsh will open her mouth when you fall,
     Rain of our life.

     Now, in Marshtown, it was never dry, and no one sang of the marsh. If it did not rain here, it would rain in the mountains. The desert fields would bear plenty. The council had changed the festival. It opened with a speech by the High Councilor, reminding Marshtown of its great accomplishments in building the dam and aqueducts, praising those who served the growth of the town, and calling on all to join in this work. This speech had never named the back country people as lazy and selfish, but this idea was understood. For this reason, the "marshrats" and other riff-raff rarely came to the first day of the festival any more.

     Then, for the next four days, there was simply a holiday, when little work was done. The townspeople played games or rested in their homes. Some traded at the country fair. Some men went hunting in the hills, though fishing for pleasure in boats on the reservoir was a cooler pastime. Much liquor and wine was consumed, especially by young men at night. In the ecstasy of this drinking, some foolish and dangerous games were played, and sometimes a fellow was carried home with a broken bone or a deep cut.

     The festival ended on the fifth day with the great dinner of the High Council. In the old days, the council would sit for a day, and any who wished, might come and speak about what Marshtown ought to do in the coming year. It was at such a meeting that the dam and the aqueducts were proposed long ago.

This meeting had become a great dinner, to which many wealthy citizens came. These citizens spoke to the council about their plans and successes. Councilors who feared they would not be chosen for another year of service also spoke, praising their own work and asking to be chosen again.

     What Peachtree had proposed then was a kind of restoration, a return to the festivals of old, when village and country celebrated their unity and mutual dependence, when most of those in the village had farms nearby or were artisans who served the farmers and depended upon them. Gradually, the lake and aqueducts had changed this, so that many people in the town lived by trade up the Marsh River, and saw the farmers, whom they did not know as individuals, as their servants rather than their friends.
 
 

26. The Dividing of Marshtown
from Chickadee's Remembering Peachtree, Mother of Song
 

     At midmorning, as the sun began to grow hot, Harvester appeared in outer balcony of the meeting hall, with several other councilors at his side. A shade was set up over them. He was prepared for us, and so his speech opened this festival in a way that frightened us.

     He said what was always said. Marshtown had added another number of solid citizens since the last festival. All were working well, and the fields of the flat land would yield well. After saying these usual things, he turned to things that had not been said before.

     "The good citizens of Marshtown, who have labored so this year to make our town prosperous, large, and comfortable, will have noticed that we have outsiders among us today. In the past, we have thought of them as guests.

     "We have always been willing to give their way to those people who were too lazy or who lacked the ability to live among the civilized. There is plenty of room in the back hills where backward people can live mean and dirty lives if they choose to. And because they make quaint curiosities in their huts, we have welcomed them to our festival and have generously purchased their wares and shared our holiday with them. Some of us who were born in their huts have even continued to welcome some of the better of them into our homes as relatives and friends.

     "But you all know that they have now turned against us. They have gathered around that black beast they rescued from the desert, a stray from a primitive tribe somewhere to the south. They have made him into the god of a childish and pagan rite.

     "You all know they have come to spoil our holiday this year, as it is said, to sing songs about how we have done wrong to drain the ugly marsh and use the water well to grow rich crops. Only the backward and demented could think in such a way. Yet here, this morning, in the common, are hundreds who have fallen to this sick belief.

     "To these I say in the name of our God, the dreamer who spoke us, and on behalf of all the good citizens of Marshtown, take your sickness back into the hills. You are not part of us. We don't want you here."

     As he said these words, there was a shout from the streets behind us, a shout that grew and eventually became a chant without music, "We don't want you here!" My mother had never heard such a bitter and painful sound, though before the festival was over, we would hear worse. It was the shout of an animal in pain, crying out against its dying, of a maddened animal that might kill in a futile attempt not to die. We cowered beneath our shelters, except for Marshrat, who got to his feet from beside Arm and my parents, leaving our grass-mat shelter and approaching the great door.

     When he stood, seeming small and unimportant, Harvester, the High Councilor, raised his hands for silence. Gradually the shouting ceased, and then, Harvester spoke again.

     "You, Marshrat, are said to lead these enemies of our town. Perhaps, now that you know the will of the town, you will lead them back to their holes and hovels in the hills?"

     Standing as he was, on the level ground and facing the meeting hall, Marshrat's voice could not reach beyond the common, so only we and a few of the townspeople closest to us probably heard his words that morning.

     "We have no leader, Harvester. We are moved here together by the force of life that we share with you. Perhaps you think that you can separate yourself from us, and that because we are the smaller part, we will die and you will live. But that is not so. Though the heart is smaller than the body, you cannot cut it out without killing the man. Each of us is the heart of the other.

     "We come as your heart to sing to you, to remake our wholeness. If you would live truly, join with us in singing. When you do, you will come to see how living is possible."

     Harvester's lips turned upward in a scornful smile, the look of one who sees not to whom he speaks. "You, who squat in a hovel by the stinking marsh, eating raw grass and grubbing seeds and nuts, you would show us here how to live! You are diseased. If a man has an infected cut upon his hand, he will cut off that hand rather than have his whole body become diseased and die. So, we cut you off. Do not stay to spoil our festival. The good citizens of the great city of Marshtown will make our disgust felt if you remain among us."

     With these words, Harvester turned away and, with his companions, entered the meeting hall. In a great quiet, the people of Marshtown returned to their homes, and we huddled beneath our shades on the hot common, unwilling to leave the ground we held. For that day, we talked little and tried to sleep. In the cool of evening, we would sing.

     We had made no secret of our purpose. When all the back country and border people gathered before the meeting hall on the first day of the festival, all of Marshtown knew why we were there. They knew we had come to sing of the water.

     There were signs of the unusualness of this event. We had come on the first day, most of us walking in the cool night, setting up our tents and shelters before dawn, and sleeping until midmorning when the town gathered for Harvester's speech that would open the festival. So, when the townspeople began to gather for the speech, they found the common already thronged with us. We were more than one hundred, more than mother had thought. There were no booths for trading, only our shelters and us. The townspeople were perhaps a little surprised to find the common not their own, for usually the country people came late on this day and opened the fair upon the next. They were not eager to mingle with so many who, they thought, had come against them.

     At nightfall, we built a small fire in the center of the common and gathered around it. The night was warm, the damp odor of the reservoir drifting over the dusty paths of the town. Sometimes in the quiet between songs, we would hear the shouts of drinking and gaming arise from one of the outlying streets. In this way, said my mother, this festival was not different from those of the past.

     On the second morning, people came to the common, perhaps to see whether the trading booths had gone up and things returned to the expected. They came and turned away in silence, finding us quietly camped and resting after our night of singing. That night and the next morning things continued as at previous festivals, except that on the third morning, some women and children of the town came to talk with us.

     These were women and children from the houses near the common, those who had been able to hear our singing for two nights. They were only a few, perhaps a dozen. A young woman with a freckle-faced boy just walking spoke hesitatingly for them, while the others stood behind her shyly. She was a small woman, her straight red-brown hair cut off so it just covered her ears, her brown eyes never looking quite at any of us, her face and bare arms covered with freckles as if shaded by hundreds of tiny leaves.

     "I am Strawberry. I have heard your singing together in the night, and it draws me. Robin awakens and smiles and sings along with you. And I think I understand his words though I know they are baby-talk.

     "This makes me think you have not come to harm us as the men say."

     Mother Peachtree came forward to speak for us, with little sister Raisin sleepily holding her hand. "Your hearts sing rightly to you. There is no harm in us, but only the desire for unity."

     Strawberry continued, with an unwilling smile. "Yet Reed, my husband, speaks harshly of you. I would not dare to approach you had he not gone early upon the lake, and had we wives not talked together agreeing not to tell of meeting you."

     Peachtree said, "Do not anger your men. Perhaps it will be enough if they can hear our singing, too, in the night. Surely they are not deaf, but only confused by the noise of their talk. If we continue to sing and they to listen, we hope they will hear."

     Strawberry said, "At dawn, as Reed dressed and ate, I found myself singing your song of the water. Without thinking about it at all, I sang of how we make water on grasses and trees. Reed spoke sharply to me, asking what drivel I was singing. At the moment, I did not know, for I was just singing, and so I told him. And he said to me that this was surely a song of the enemies that had seeped into our house in the night. He said that you would have to be quieted if you would sing filth in our dreams. He wanted me to sleep in his mother's house by the reservoir until after the festival."

     Peachtree asked them to stay and become acquainted for an hour, but they were afraid and returned to their homes. Their visit did not go unnoted in the town. Before dark, Harvester visited the common, standing before the great door with several councilors. He stood for several moments looking out over our numbers. As he did so, the streets leading into the common filled with men. He and his company carried staffs, those that hunters carry who make camps deep in the hills. When he spoke, it was perhaps more to the men in the streets than to our people in the common.

     "It has reached my ears that some in the town have listened to this rabble. We had hoped that if we left you to yourselves, you would keep to yourselves, singing your fantastic ditties, and causing little harm.

     "But it seems you have stepped over these boundaries, corrupting the young and impressionable with words and ideas that are harmful to our way of life. It appears your infection will spread rather than heal.

     "Therefore, you must leave. By tomorrow at this time, if you remain, we will drive you out."

     From the men who surrounded us, there was a cruel shout of agreement. I thought perhaps they would attack us then, for there was such anger in their voices.
 
 

27. The Question of Ruling
From "The Questions of Raisin and Chick"
in the holy writings of the Cult of Song

     Next comes the last question of Raisin. You will see, sisters, that it differs from the others, leading some among us to think that it was written down by another after Peachtree's time. Still, we have kept it here because it continues to seem of a piece with the wisdom of Peachtree.

Mother, the followers of the martyr say we are but weak women who seek by our rites and mysteries to put ourselves above men. They ask why no man rules in our chapel.

     What does it mean, oh sisters of the chapel, for a man to be above a woman or a woman above a man? This is a way of seeing that cannot be understood from within the singing of IS.

     And what are rites and mysteries? These very words are strange to us, except as describing the secrets of the cult of the martyr. We have no secrets. We sing our songs under the sky, and all who come to sing with us or to listen are welcome. We do not close our gatherings inside a building, unless it be to keep off the rains of winter. And we do not forbid anyone among us.

     What would it mean for a man to rule among us? What would a ruler do? We might as well ask why no woman rules, or why no sheep rules. Every being who sings the awakening song, whose music of voice and heart blends with the flow of becoming, adding to its harmony or varying its flow -- that being is of our chapel. That being rules insofar as ruling ever happens.

     What does such a one rule? Why, is it not clear? That one rules the creation of a thread of the singing of IS. Such a one is happy and whole. How can this one keep from singing?

28. The Song of Rivers

     A few hours after Harvester left the common, it was full dark and the stars shown above the lanterns in the tents and lean-tos. Though there was an atmosphere of expectation, there was also fear. The people did not spontaneously gather around the central fire for a third night of singing. Marshrat, Rye Grass, and Peachtree finally built a fire of their own, and as it began to burn, Chick and Raisin, and Arm joined them. Only six voices wafted lightly across the common, a tiny circle of song drifting back from the fire. All their faces were visible in the flame. Marshrat's silver hair glowed in the faint light, but his mouth was grim, his eyes tired. His new hope was bending under the force of the town's anger. It was not anger that they had hoped for. As Peachtree had said, they hoped to cleanse ears with their singing, to reopen closed hearts, unseal buried love. The songs were clear in all their meanings. They were songs of the back country women and some of the new songs from the swamp. All were like the opening of the sluice-ways that frees the water to run into the marsh and to make the world whole.

     Marshrat had lived long in despair, with only the memory of lost beauty to sustain him, and then he had known hope in this singing. Now he sang with an absent heart, the music flowing from his mouth, but coming from nowhere and going nowhere, as if a doll were singing.

     Peachtree was different. She and her daughters were the song they sang. Their eyes and their skin glowed in the firelight, partaking of its colors and of its power to push back darkness with warmth. And Rye Grass, the quiet dark man with soft, glowing hair and almost black eyes, sang with them. The joy of singing did not show in his voice as in Peachtree's, but it showed in his eyes that seemed like little flames themselves -- reflections of the fire -- and in his graceful body. He swayed gently and his delicate fingers played upon his knees, searching perhaps for a drum.

     They began with the song of rivers, one that Arm learned new in the hills.
 

     Snow River flows down from the mountains.
     Oak River flows out through the hills.
     Marsh River flows into the marsh.
     Marsh vapor rises into the sky.
     All rivers flow into the trees,
      Into the grass,
      Into our hearts,
      Into our songs.
     All rivers flow into the stars.
     All rivers flow out of the stars.
 

Each time they came to the last lines, the stars shown in Rye Grass's eyes. All rivers flowed out of his eyes and from the tips of his fingers, and then back into them again. Though he seemed not in the center of that singing, still he was its center. All eyes of the circle were on Peachtree, though, for with each repetition of the song, her voice became stronger, blending with the higher and smaller voices of her daughters. Together they swayed with the rhythm. In truth, they all were the center of the song. Arm himself was part of that center, the exotic tall black man with so much hair, wild and dark, with those narrow glints of sun in it. The firelight made him glow in his still new, white clothing.

     As the song grew stronger, people began to come together again, in the darker circles outside the reach of the fire. As they gathered, the song became stronger, seeming to fill the town. It echoed from the distant hills across the reservoir. The stronger the song grew, the more alive Marshrat became, until tears appeared in his eyes and sweat on his brow. He began to sway as the voices broke into harmonies, the many melodies of the song of rivers. Throughout the night, they sang just this one song, again and again, never tiring of it. Every voice would grow tired after awhile, and each singer would stop a moment to listen to the others sing this simple, beautiful music. But this fatigue was just of the body, not of the spirit, of which and to which the music spoke until the singing was stopped.

     As the sky began to brighten after the middle of the night, new people came to the center and joined the circle about the fire, Strawberry and her Robin, and another woman and her daughter from the town. As light increased they saw a few others join them, though it was never clear how many came.

     The morning birds were joining in the singing, though dawn was still an hour away, when the men came with their staffs, to take their women and children home.

     There may have been as many of them as there were of the singers. The singing from the outside circles changed into cries of pain and surprise. Men with staffs poured into the common from all the surrounding streets. They ran among singers, striking all they could reach, grasping those who belonged to the town and dragging them, crying, away from the common.

     Perhaps ten men entered the central circle, spreading out the fire with their staffs so that hot coals landed on Peachtree and Raisin. While Rye Grass and Arm hurried to help prevent their clothing from burning and to brush the hot ashes from them, the townsmen struck at them.

     A heavy shirtless man pulled Strawberry up by her short hair and beat upon her back with his staff. She cried out, and little Robin screamed to see his mother hurt and find himself out of her arms. Marshrat moved quickly for an old man, grasping the husband's staff to prevent more blows, and trying to free Strawberry's hair from the attacker's hold.

     Another taller and heavier man in a skin vest appeared behind Marshrat with his staff raised high and struck Marshrat across his left shoulder. Among all the screams and moans, the crack of wood and bone as the staff fell again on Marshrat's head seemed to produce a silence around it, marking the instant out of the swift flow of events during the attack.

     The blow dropped Marshrat hard, face down and spread out upon the earth, The assailant in calf skin struck him again and again, on the shoulders and on his head. Blood flowed from Marshrat's mouth and from his ears.

     Arm could hear only the sound, that to him meant pain, of that thick wooden pole, freshly trimmed, driving down upon Marshrat. Bound up inside this sound of suffering, Arm believed that everyone must be watching the murder of Marshrat. Suddenly, Arm's world went silent and then black.


29. Marshrat the Martyr
     From Arm's Chronicle of IS

     When I awakened with a whistling whine in my ears, I lay on my back with the sun boring into my aching eyes. I heard pain within my head and all around me the sounds of hurting, weeping and groans. Chick was bathing my head with warm water. She said, "I am glad you are not dead, Arm."

     "I think I am also glad," I replied in a dry voice I did not recognize.

     She gave me a sip of water, and I sat up slowly and dizzily. Only upon sitting up did I feel the other bruises on my body. I had been hit many times with sticks, but though I hurt mightily, I found no broken bones. Others were less lucky. Peachtree, with a fierce burn on one cheek, and some holes in her shirt and pants, was tending Rye Grass whose left eye was swollen shut. Raisin lay asleep on the ground next to him, with several red blisters on her shins. All over the common little clumps of battered people gathered around those who were more seriously hurt. One young woman whose child was perhaps three moons away, let out a series of short screams as her broken right arm was being set.

Only in one place was there silence. Next to the scattered ashes of the fire, spread out on his back much as I had been when I awoke, lay Marshrat. His shirt was torn from his body. His left shoulder looked crumpled. There was blood on his face and hands, and mingled scarlet with the silver of his beard. The sandals were torn from his feet, the left foot bruised black, the right with smashed and bloody toes. I noticed these things and felt pain for him, but above and beyond this pain was the sense of absence. I felt that he was not breathing.

     I looked toward Peachtree, and then to Chick from whose eyes new tears followed the ash strewn trails down her cheeks. Marshrat was dead.
 

     I do not think we remained on the common that day because of anger. Nor was our mission on our minds during the fourth day of the festival. Quiet descended upon the common as cries gave way to moans. Small groups tended their wounded, comforted them when awake, and slept with them when they slept.

     Because Marshrat had no family, no one gathered around him, except for me. Besides there was nothing one could do except to watch beside him and sometimes chase away the flies. I propped up his broken lean-to tent to shade him from the sun, and sat quietly beside him. I did not think or remember. My mind seemed numb, and no thoughts came to it, nor any songs. Mainly, I felt an aching emptiness.

     In this way, evening came by surprise. Only when Harvester's voice suddenly fell upon us were we aware that the day had passed. He stood with ten men, all carrying staffs, before the great door of the meeting house.

     "See what you have brought upon us!" We turned dull eyes upon him as he waited in silence to see our reaction. I believe we all gradually realized that the time had come when we would be driven out. Perhaps some were thinking how they would carry home their injured, who could not yet walk or who should not be moved for more days. I began to wonder who would help me put Marshrat under the ground. Could I carry him on my back to the place beside the pool of IS, where I knew I wished to place him?

     Thinking in this way or not really thinking at all, we did not hear the meaning of Harvester's words. That came to us more slowly.

     "You have aroused the righteous anger of our citizens and have suffered the consequences. And you have made us suffer, too. There are bruised children in our homes, men with cuts, wives with burns.

     "This I suppose, is what you wanted, to provoke us to anger and to bring suffering upon us all. What else could you have hoped to gain by coming in opposition to our lives and our festival?"

     With the other men close behind and beside him, he strode out into the common, approaching the charred wood and circle of stones that had been our fire, approaching me. I thought he would talk of me in some way, but instead, he came to a sudden stop, looking at Marshrat. I looked at him, too. His body was twisted despite my efforts to lay him straight. The blood had dried to dark brown, and formed crusts except on his face where I had been able to wipe it away. It was plain he had died in great pain, yet his face was calm, as if he had relaxed before departing.

     Harvester looked upon Marshrat thoughtfully before he spoke. "Now I see that the greatest punishment has fallen upon the greatest offender. I am sorry for it, but I see it is just. This one led you, using this ignorant, black savage from the wilderness here beside him for insane desires. Why you followed him I cannot understand. But surely you see now how you have been misled.

     "Return to your homes and leave us in peace. We will bury the madman. Some of you may need help in returning home. We will provide it. We are not cruel people. You will continue to be welcome in our town. But do not be led astray. Do not think that our ways should be changed. We know what is best."

     Harvester turned from us and returned to the great door. He walked with dignity and assurance. He had seen our weakness, our disarray. He saw he could be kind and lenient, now.

     At the door he turned to us again. "Last night I told you to be gone by now. I see that you are gone in spirit. Your hearts are no longer opposed to us. I am sorry this change has come about at such great suffering to us all.

     "As you are gone in spirit, I will not have you driven away in body. We have had pain enough. Care for your wounded and leave when you will. Men will come in the morning to help you."

     I felt this was wrong, all wrong. I felt that something of great importance was being lost, but I could not struggle through the cobwebs of pain in body and mind to the words that would say what it was. There was a terrifying silence at the center of my grief that pinned my tongue to my teeth. And I felt this in others. We all wanted to speak, but could not escape from our suffering to find our ways through the labyrinth of Harvester's words and speak the truth.

     Perhaps Harvester and his men felt it, too, for they looked out over us as if waiting, as if they felt in themselves there was something to be said that had not been said. Perhaps we know within us when there should be an answering voice, when all that truly is has not been spoken. In Marshtown, what most often was not spoken was the singing, the knowledge of music. Out of this silence came a voice I did not recognize at first. It was a small voice, cracked and dry, that might have been of a very old woman, or even a young one, thirsty from pain. Looking for the source, I found it in Rye Grass. His voice was small, like that of a cricket, yet he was heard in the quiet of the common. His song was not one I had ever heard among the people of the hills. I did not know they knew it. Afterwards, some said that they did not know it until Rye Grass sang it, but then they remembered it was their song.
 
     Thank you companion for singing among us.
     Your song is with us.
     You are singing our song.
     Though your face glows not in the fire,
     Though your voice enters not our ears,
     Though your hand strikes not the drum,
     Though your ears hear us not,
     Still we hear you;
     Still our hearts hear you.
     You are singing in our song.
     Your song is with us.
     Thank you companion for singing among us.
 

     This was the song to the dead. I joined Rye Grass as soon as I understood, and we finished it once together. Harvester looked upon us, upon Rye Grass and me, with the wonder in his eyes that showed me that he knew this song. But then I saw the hardness that showed he did not, that he heard another song, the one he expected us to sing. He thought we sang the song directly to him, that he was the one not of our fire, who neither joined nor heard us, but still was heard by us. He heard our song as mockery.

     When I saw this confirmed by the blood of anger rising into his face, I saw that in truth we had sung the song to him as well as to Marshrat. To us Harvester was as dead as Marshrat. Both were lost companions. We would welcome Harvester's kindness as compassion rather than as victory.

     Before Harvester could arrive at words for his anger, another voice took up the song, leading us to repeat it. This voice I recognized as Peachtree's, and after the first line, many voices joined. We all sang our song, mainly for Marshrat whom we loved, but also for Harvester whom we pitied, for he walked red and angry, dead and unknowing among us. When I turned my eyes from Peachtree's grim smile to the great door, the councilor was gone.

     That night, we sang the thank you song until dawn. We sang quietly under the warm stars and so came together again in suffering and in hope. No one came from the town, to join or to hurt us.

     In the morning, some of us wrapped Marshrat in his tent and carried him to the bank by the shrinking pool of IS. The ground there was soft, so we buried him quickly. Again we sang the thank you song, tossing a little of the loose soil from the mound above him into the pool of IS.

     The others then gathered food from his garden and returned to the town, but I remained behind awhile to think of my lost friend.

     On the evening before going to the festival, Marshrat and I had sat by this same pool of IS on what was the Marsh River. Now no water flowed through this stream. Upstream, the spillway of the dam was dry stones, looking in the scorching sun as if they had never been damp. The deep pool, which the waterroot had expanded to fill, was cut off, now. It would shrink slowly, like the water in the pail I carried here, until the rains in the mountains began to fill the reservoir again, faster than the water was needed for the mature fields. Then, when the first light rains began to fall here, there would be harvest, and then more rain throughout the cool season, and for a short time, there would be a stream where once was Marsh River.

     There was little to say that last evening we were alone together. We could not know then how our presence at the festival would change things. It was something we could do that seemed right.

     Marshrat sat cross-legged before the pool. The moon shown through the leaves and into the pool, so that it glinted softly with golden fragments above the green darkness of the waterroot. After a long silence, he spoke.

     "Your stay among us, Arm, has opened the world to me. I thought it was opened before, that only I and those like me saw it truly. I thought the big bellies of the town were eating the world up, making themselves fat while the world grew thinner. And this made me feel that the world would serve them, that it would become the thin world that made them fat. But now I see that is not true. The world will not serve against its own life. Instead, it will die.

     "I see I am not the only one who will die if the world dies. You and your friends of the swamp will die, and then the big bellies too will die.

     "Seeing this makes me want to tell them. I find I would not have even Harvester bring about his own death. I want him to understand!"

     I replied that my journey across the waste had taught me that every land creates its ways of living. "But most of all, I learned that we are creatures of the water. Our oldest song in the swamp tells us this, and we all know it. The dry lands add to this knowing, for though life is possible in dryness, it is a mean life, taken up always with the search for water and the fear of death."

     "Aye, Arm. It's a mean life here in Marshtown, too, though they see it not. The town is dry as the marsh, for though there is much water, there is little life. To live by eating, without singing, is to live in the dead marsh, on the edge of the waste land. It is to believe that more food, more garden, more house, more neighbors, more power to command will fill the spirit and increase the number of one's friends.

     "I've hated them for creating this life and for pushing it on us all and for branding my father - and me. But your being here, and hearing again the songs of the women with you among them, has changed my hate to pity. At least I mourn the passing of the silver egret. Painful as that loss is, it is a memory of living. Those who do not miss the swamp birds, have no memory of the life they have never lived. They don't know what they are."


30. Peachtree's Path I
    From Mother of Song, the holy writings of the Cult of Song

I. The Voice of Mother Peachtree.

     I will tell you now of my path to the song of songs. I speak of my path, knowing that paths are many. Any way into the one song of all that is ever singing, any road, whether of motion or stillness, that at first or at last joins the flowing of the many/one that is IS -- that way is the good way.
 

     When I heard that a prophet had come from the wilderness warning of a coming silence, I did not laugh, for my heart told me it was true the world was growing silent. The song our holy Mara heard was one song, but the songs I heard were many, mere fragments of the one. Mara had been called into the night because her sharp ears had heard the whisperings of the single eternal melody of which all our songs are fragments and harmonies. Perhaps not all could hear the song of all, but in my life before the coming of Arm, no one heard this singing of the many in one. I collected fragments that were memories, and for me they remained only memories. To sing these songs was both joy and the deepest sorrow.

     Marshrat knew of my yearning, and soon he brought Arm to me.

     This was before the midsummer festival, when the cherries were ripe. As we picked our two trees in the warming morning, two figures descended into our valley. Though I did not see them so soon as the sharp eyes of Rye Grass picked them out against the western sky before their descent, I felt something in the air of that morning. There seemed to be another sound behind the rustling of the cherry leaves and the quiet laughter and smacking lips of my girls who ate as they picked from the low branches and washed the cherries in cool water our little stream. I kept looking up into the sky and off toward the hill tops to find the source of this secret whispering. Though I found nothing, I felt the nearness of a presence, of something that wanted to grow out of me, like the new wood that soon would sprout from the tree.

     I could not help but sing, and singing eased my uneasiness, so I could concentrate on picking. I did not, therefore, notice the visitors until a deep voice joined my own.
 
     Cherry tree, sing with me.
     Your sweet fruit pleases me.
     Your red fruit pleases me.
     Cherry tree, sing with me.
 

     How can I convey the sweetness of that voice? Here was a stranger and a man, yet he knew my song and joined with me in singing it. Even more, my song came alive to me as never before. While he sang, I felt that the cherry tree really did sing with me, and the cherries dropped into my pail without my needing to touch them. The branches bent with my body, reaching down to give me their rich, red loads. Hardly an instant passed, and we were all seated together beneath the tree nearest our home, eating our lunch and speaking of IS.

     He said to me that there were no cherries like these in his home, that he had never before sung the cherry song. When I asked how he could know it, he said:

     "I have heard the one song of all songs that is the song of IS. Though I may not recall any fragment of that one song, still the fountain of all has flowed in me, and still flows beneath my wakefulness. To hear is to know."
 

     And so we talked of IS, the ear and voice of our planet.

     Like first woman, I awoke into the true joy of living. The joys of the wife, the mother, the planter, the picker, the builder -- none of these was diminished. From that moment, whether my voice arose in garden or house or I wandered silent in the golden grass, I always sang in my heart. Though I had not yet, myself, heard the singing of IS, I knew from that day that IS was singing. The songs I knew were splashings from the great fountain. A day would come when I would hear the singing of all.

     The next step on my path was to discover the barriers of words.
 

II. Peachtree and the Wordless Song
 

     On the day we buried the Martyr, I found that the song of songs was not, as I had always thought, all the songs of the world gathered together as the streams of the hills gather into the Marsh River. No, the song of IS is the fountain, the one place from which all water comes clear and pure, like the rain from the sky.

     Marshrat's burial was on the last day of the midsummer festival, the day of the council feast. During that day of mourning and rest, as I cleaned and bound the wounds of my friends and neighbors, my ears heard other sounds, not the groans of the hurt, not the quiet laughter of the uncomprehending children, whom the pleasant weather comforted better than time could comfort their elders. I heard a rustling and a whistling as of the wind in the grass when the fall rains are announced by distant lightning in north and by the soft rumblings of thunder echoing across the hills beneath the low dark clouds.

     We had buried Marshrat with tears beside the Sacred Pool, though then it was merely a deeper, darker hole in the barren trickle of Marsh River that flowed into the dead marsh in the middle of the dry season of those days. The Sacred Pool protects our fountain of IS, but then it was merely an endangered shelter for the small fragment of waterroot that Arm carried from the Holy Swamp. It was there that my whispering began, and it grew within me during the day. It is not right to say it grew, though that is how it felt. Rather, a silence spread in me around that small sound, giving it room to be heard, sheltering it as the waterroot was sheltered in a dying stream, taking root there, but still held in because the river around it ran dry.

     Around me as I cared for those in pain, there was another dry river, the sand flow of despair. In three nights of singing and one of suffering, we had produced no change, though some young women and children of the town had joined us. The fifth and last day of the festival had come. The council would not meet again for a month. In that time the stream would dry, and though we might preserve the waterroot in our homes until the rainy season, still we would send dryness and death as our offerings to the Holy Swamp for yet another year. By making dryness, Marshtown would become drier, harder, more rigid. Who would have an ear unstopped by sand after another month or two or ten?

     My friends of the hills were losing their hope, and they made a part of the silence in which I could hear the whisperings of the stars. It was then I understood that my ears and heart grew more sensitive in this silence, which is as we know the central wisdom of my husband, Rye Grass, the prophet of silence.
 

     Pecan, the sister of my mother, held her granddaughter on her lap on the shore of the reservoir, where I had come to wash myself and gather more water for those in the common. Little Plumtree's arm had just been set, and Pecan had brought her out of the crowd of pain to the quiet shore of Marsh Lake, where both could look across to the southern hills from their shade beneath a young maple. Though she cried in pain, little Plumtree would not drink her soothing cool, willow bark tea. As I watched, Pecan rocked the little girl and crooned to her.

     I know twenty songs of comforting, but this was the day I listened to a song without words, a little melody of four descending notes that touched the hurting arm and turned down the pain like peeling a woolen blanket from the bed, as my mother used to do when the night was too hot. Then I would feel the delicious coolness slowly descend my skin until even my toes could touch the cool air. Plumtree's tears flowed back into her eyes as she looked ever more quietly at the almost still leaves above her.

     Then Pecan soaked a cloth in her tumbler of tea and gave it to Plumtree to suck. Slowly she drifted into painless sleep, while the four descending notes continued, softly, carrying her into a dream of quiet.

     I said to myself than that I had not known how to listen before, because I wanted the songs. I wanted all the songs that women sing, to have them in my mind, where I could hold the words, as if the words themselves were the song. But, my sisters, we know that the words are not the song. In the words, we tell our minds what our hearts hear in the singing that comes to us. By sharing the words, we share a part of the song, but not all of it. Even when we only hum as Pecan did, we do not say to each other all that our hearts hear, though then we share nearly all the song, joining as fully as we can together in the flowing of IS,
 

     As we gathered for our singing on that last great, but short night, I said to Arm and the others that perhaps our words made the council deaf to our songs. How else can we understand that our songs of loving and unity evoked hatred and violence? It must have been that our music never reached their hearts because our words were like sand in their ears. We wanted to pour warm water into their ears, to wash them and comfort them, to make a way for their hearing. Perhaps if we were to sing without words, to let our pure melody rain upon the council -- perhaps then their hearing would awaken and their hearts yearn toward IS with us, as the new grass yearns toward the stars in the warm rains of autumn.

     In this way I learned of the silence that makes room for song.

31. A Song without Words
 

     The sun still shown hot as the councilors and other leading citizens gathered for their feast, which would begin before sunset and would last nearly until dawn, ending the midsummer festival. All of the hill people remained upon the common. No one had come to help them leave or to make them leave, either. Harvester had chosen simply to ignore them. Some who were unhurt had gone to the reservoir for water. There was firewood and fresh food. They ate well and were refreshed. They felt ready to sing again tonight, and they would have the high council as their audience.

     The townsmen skirted around the common, not passing among the gathered singers, and entered the opened great door, much as if no one else were there. They did not look at the singers, but seemed busy talking to each other. Or, if they accidently came without companions, they studied the smooth, dusty ground with care.

     As they arrived, Peachtree moved among the tents, and soon, about the stone circle where the fire would be, gathered eight strong women, some with curious, if tired, children along. Nearly all had bandages or at least scrapes with a white balm smeared upon them. Peachtree had another idea.

     "We have felt the contempt of the town, and we see it now. To them we are invisible. Yet we know our songs enter their ears. Tonight while they eat their annual dinner and plan improvements for the next year, we will sing to them of the life of the water. Perhaps our songs will finally enter their hearts.

     "I think this. Perhaps we have sung too loud and have been heard too well. Our singing has words and melody mixed together, the words telling our minds what our hearts hear.

     "We saw yesterday that the heart of Harvester is deaf and dying. He hears only with his mind, thinking we sing to it, when our song is really for all hearts. I think we might sing only to the sick hearts of the council by singing silently. We will keep the words in our minds, and we will sing only the melodies. Let the melodies find the right words in the minds of the council, just as they have found those words among us."

     Red Thrush from near the eastern flat land agreed. Her swollen right ankle was wrapped with a dusty band, and she had hobbled to the center with the aid of a short staff and seated herself among them. Her pain was not gone. Her little son had not washed his face yet that day; he lay his grimy, sleepy head in her lap as she spoke. The others followed her lead.

     They did not hope much. What would ever awaken the shriveling hearts of the big bellies? But after the shock of suffering, the loss of Marshrat, the blind victory of Harvester, and the cricket singing of Rye Grass, they felt one in their mission again. Peachtree's idea gave them another thing to try.

     The festival was nearly over. People would have to return to their huts, gardens, and orchards. Perhaps they would continue to come together. Perhaps there would be other and new ways to speak to the hard hearts, but it seemed that could only become harder. Arm thought then of how long he might remain away from his old friends in the swamp on this mission for IS, and he too welcomed another thing to try.

     As the sun set and they lit their fire, they sometimes heard a loud word or a burst of laughter from within the meeting house. Torches lit the building brightly, so the fire on the common seemed dim by comparison. When the sun was gone, they began to sing. According to Peachtree's plan, they sang no words, and they sang quietly. Their voices blended into a great wordless melody that filled the common and seemed to make the very stones of the meeting house sing too.

     The stars came out slowly as the reds and pinks faded in the dusty west and the reflections of the reservoir ceased to brighten the town. As the stars became brighter, their light seemed to vibrate in unison with the song. Perhaps they were singing that very light, receiving it and making it into song, or perhaps their singing was that light.

     In every singer's ear the words echoed:
 
     All rivers flow into the stars.
     All rivers flow out of the stars.
 

But no words left any mouth, only the music that sang those words in their hearts.

     After pouring out the song of rivers long enough, they stopped to listen. They heard no sound at all in town or hall. Not even the insects were singing. There was a deep silence such as no one had known before then. It frightened them a little, but perhaps it meant that all being was listening to them, and so they must sing. They began again, softly at first, humming the song of the waters. The darkness grew deeper and the torches brighter.

32. Question 6
    From "The Questions of Raisin and Chick" in the holy writings of the Cult of Song

Mother, you have said my next question in part. Followers of the martyr say that the songs should not change. If IS is eternal, they say, then the words must be kept always the same, and the melodies must be written down so all can play and sing them the same. Then we can preserve the song perfect as IS sings it.

     This question is filled with errors, Raisin, but I know these are not your errors. Indeed, I know you ask this question so that we may say together the truths we know, and that we may remember them always. It is too easy to fall into the error of wanting a father-god like He who Dreams of the old superstition.

     What was the dreaming god, but a great father/hunter? He made the world and stopped. Then out of his substance he fed the world eternally, denying those who failed to reverence him or who knew him not, and fulfilling those who knew and obeyed him. The dreamer was a god who cared for his children. His world was the world of the sleeping.

     But, when first woman awoke, we began to know what the singing of IS teaches us. Nothing is eternal, and nothing remains the same. If there is something, it changes. Even IS may die. We cannot have a father-god anymore.

     When we awakened, we began to hear the singing of IS and of the stars. We cannot keep the songs the same, except by becoming deaf. If we close our eyes to the world and our ears to IS, then in the silence of death, we can sing the same song eternally. But that song will prove to be silence. That is the song after the end of all that is. To sing only the songs that have been sung is to pray for silence. This is what Plumtree taught me, though I knew it in my heart before Pecan sang to her.

     So, the true song of IS is without words or written melody. Those are only our ways of catching and sharing with each other what IS pours into us. But more than that they are our ways of living our awakened nature. For we do more than just hear and sing the songs of IS. We are makers of the song of IS.

33. The Silence
     From Arm's Chronicle of IS

     We had not yet sung the song of waters enough when we stopped, in the darkening night of the last day of the festival. Something was wrong, terribly wrong, and we did not know what it was. I had lost the memory of the melody, and my memory of the words. One moment, despite suffering, grief, and a nagging voice of despair, I knew who I was and what I was doing. In the next moment, there was a great emptiness in my being, a vast silence without end.

     I looked across the fire to Peachtree's eyes, to Rye Grass, to Red Thrush. We looked at each other for a moment of searing vision, seeing knowledge, terror, shock in each other's eyes. Then the lights seemed to grow dim, for I saw no eyes at all. Instead, I looked inward, searching for -- for what? I knew only a great loss, a great absence.

     Oh, my children, this night was the greatest pain I have ever suffered, and all the people of the hills suffered it with me. How can I tell you what it was like, or how it hurt? There were three great pains, each in itself unbearable, yet less than the next. First, there was the silence.

     I could not see the world: the stars, the eyes, the torches. I only looked inside myself, inside my mind. I was like Carlo, the lonely God of Marsh River, but I could not create the world by speaking. There was absolute silence there. I heard no heartbeat, no slipping of the blood around my ears, not even the whine that had not disappeared since the blow on my head. And as I could hear nothing there, neither could I see anything. There was no touch, no smell, no taste. I floated in darkness, and there were no stars.

     The passing of time stopped. I ceased to remember when I began to sense nothing, and I saw no end to this. I believed that I would float forever, blind and deaf. And when I felt that, I saw not with my eyes, but with my mind's eye, a great lump of crumbly stone and said to myself, that is Arm. As I watched, the stone crumbled away. A piece would slide off and drift away into darkness. Then another piece, soundlessly, would tumble along its surface and slide away.

     I knew this was indeed my self. Then I saw something else. It was as if I came very close to that lump, for I saw that it was made of tiny grains like sand, and these grains were blowing up in an invisible and unfelt wind, and scattering out into emptiness. I knew I was becoming ever smaller and ever larger. Floating forever blind and deaf, I would lose myself and become nothing but dust floating in emptiness. I would become emptiness.

     Something in me said this should not be, as if there were a voice, not my voice, that said I must desire something, I must want to be. But I did not feel it. The idea fell into grains of dust and scattered away in every direction at once. I could find no desire, and so I merely watched as the lump of grains that was me poured into the vast blank of all. In the end I was nothing.

     Then I looked out upon the world again. I was nothing. All those about me were nothing. We looked upon each other as upon strangers, to whom there was nothing to say, from whom there was nothing to hear. We sat motionless around our fire.

     Eventually we noticed the diners wandering out the great door and milling about in bright torches. They looked like bubbles in a whirl on the river, circling about, or like queer silent insects swirling around the torch without daring to approach its heat. Never leaving the circle of light cast by the torches, they wandered silently and purposelessly.

     This was the great death we shared, the death of all. What else can I say? This was the death of the silence of the stars, the death of the end of all things. I do not believe this death will ever come, and yet I felt that night what it would be if it did. All of us felt that night the absolute silence that could come eventually to the swamp and then to our world. Then, perhaps, the stars would sing thank you to us, but we would hear them not.

     The sound that came after the silence was the second pain, and I thought it was the greatest pain of body or soul in my life. For the world sang to us, and we heard it not.

     Suddenly, out of the deepest darkness of that night there came a roar, a roar as of the greatest storm. There was no wind. The dust did not stir on the common, yet I wished to cower as if a flood of dead, dry dust were rushing out of the hills to wither me away. The torches continued to burn, but they dimmed. Perhaps this was because we had turned toward dawn, for gradually a little light appeared at the east rim of the hills. But that light promised nothing. It too seemed dim. All I saw was as through a spider's web or beneath water. Nothing was clear and easy to see. I heard cries in the darkness of animals I did not know. There was a buzzing of stinging insects. The dust on my shoulders itched and irritated me. Children cried in their sleep. There were shouts of anger in the town.

     We did not talk at all, but sat in numb silence, wondering what this world was and what we should do in it.

     What greater pain could there be than this, to hear the voices of being singing about us and not to hear them? The voices were as the roar of a storm, threatening us with pain and death, yet saying nothing. They were the waters of our life turned to flowing desert sand, wearing away the rocks until only sand would remain. They contained neither words nor melody, but were only the sounds of the lumps of being spreading out into the sands of emptiness.

     The stars faded until the sky was a gray/blue blank. Out of this blank came the thousand sounds of meaningless motion, the eddies and swirls of sand in a land of dunes, a land unlike the dunes I passed through, utterly without water or life. There was no passing through this land. To enter it was to be betrayed, to know despair as soon as I understood. All I could do there was die, alone and in pain.
 

     And this was not the greatest suffering we endured. Huddled on the common, feeling a dry chill, that pulled us apart and made us wish for death, we felt ourselves scattering in the rattling of the morning breeze in the leaves of the single oak at the east entrance of the common. I looked toward that desolate sound only to hear the sound of deeper death behind me.

     From the meeting house came shouts of anger, cries of madness. The councilors had gone in, and now voices of such anguish came from the meeting house that I felt my eyes compelled to look. With a will of their own, my eyes drew my body after my ears into the meeting hall. Others were drawn too. It was not desire or curiosity that pulled us into that room, but the power of despair to make us see and know what, if we cared, we would look on only with the deepest shame, and would have flown from as from the spirit of madness pursuing us. This was a terror upon which no being would look willingly. What were we then that we walked calmly into the meeting hall and gazed upon it?

     There was a long table where fifty could sit, filled with fine foods, fruits of all kinds, and flowers, of so many colors that my imagination can always make it beautiful though my memory is of terror. Of all the colors, red and white stood out most, the red of the flesh of melons and of men, the white of blankness and of death. I reeled in the vision of cooked flesh of animals, and the smell of it, cold and oily, that assailed me as I stood rapt before the scene. At the center of the table was the severed head of a white pig, all its hair removed, except for delicate pale eyelashes that I dreaded would open upon me to reveal the rage beneath that sleep. In its open mouth was a bright red fruit, oozing a little where it was cracked.

     Behind the table were the councilors. Some were struggling with each other, their silken white shirts, red with their own blood. The rest were shouting and laughing grimly, pushing each other into the fray, or pulling each other out.

     At the center of the fight was Harvester. He lifted himself, pushing away a man who held his arm, and waved a half eaten calf's thigh at the others. "This is my feast, I say." He panted between bursts of words. "My feast, paid with my wealth. I'll eat what I will!"

     "His feast!" shouted another, rising from the floor where he had fallen, covered with some yellow and orange jelly containing small red fragments of fruit. This one grasped from the table a plate of meat pudding and hurled it at Harvester. It splashed upon them all, only a little reaching him.

     But Harvester, replied in a voice that cracked with rage, "Yes, fools! I have made this wealth and it is mine!" He brandished his greasy thigh, trying to reach those who stood shouting about him, their faces twisted in anger and mockery.

     One of the fattest men present, his clothes stained in purple wine, his hair plastered with pudding, staggered and slipped to the center of the table. He tried to raise the platter with the pig's head, but could not balance it. The head slipped off the platter and rolled on its side. The ripe fruit smashed, smearing the table with yellow seeds and pink flesh. The man embraced the head, with its red and yellow mouth, and slipped across the food strewn floor toward Harvester, chanting with a clumsy tongue in a high voice: "Behold Harvester, our high councilor, the owner of the cosmos!"

     Others took up the chant, the absolute opposite of music. "Behold Harvester, eater of the universe! Behold Harvester! Behold the universe!"

     Though there was laughter, there was no joy. Every man present laughed in terror, and in the laughter was only emptiness, for Harvester was all of them. He was the universe and the eater of the universe. Their barkings and roarings were one with the dead universe roaring into a void, the grains of sand swirling in ever wider eddies in a cosmos of waste.

     Out of this maddening roar came the maddened roar of Harvester as he rushed upon the man with the pig's head, beating the air, then the pig, and then the man with his bone, the remaining pieces of cooked flesh coming loose, only to stick to the pair and the pig. Finally, the bone slipped from his grasp and he, too, embraced the pig's head, trying to tear it away from his mocker.

     They struggled, beating and kicking each other, until they fell upon the fat-slick stones of the floor, the head rolling away from them. As the fatter man awkwardly scrambled to regain the head, Harvester embraced his knees with slippery hands, tearing away the delicate fabric of his pants. Harvester sunk his teeth into the man's pale and flabby left thigh. As the man screamed and rolled away, I saw the blood in Harvester's mouth.
 

     What is worse than the silence of absolute death? It is worse to have to live and die in the roar of sound that promises but never is music. What is worse than to live in despair? It is worse to know, to witness, to be death while living. This vision of Harvester with another man's living blood in his mouth revealed the "song" of living in silence and despair. This is the song of unmusic, of unlife, of unmaking. This is the unsong of eating the world, of growing fat while others grow weak, of being dead of heart while the body moves. This is the unsong Marshtown began to learn on the day they thought to keep all of Marsh River to themselves.

34. Mara of the Mountains
     A Legend of the Cult of Song

 

     Mara walked the mountains in the night, for she was restless. When all her people were quiet and the wind in the pass was still in the warm nights of midsummer, she would hear a rustling and whistling that seemed to come from the sky. Then she would walk out over the trails the shepherds took by day, passing the flocks in their pens.

     One night she walked to a clearing to escape even the whispering of the pines and the almost silent gnawing of the mice beneath them. There on the meadow, with the clear cold sky above, the rustle and whistle became clearer to her, and she looked up.

     The sky was empty of birds, and even the insects slept. There was nothing, not even a moon, but only the stars, more stars than ever she had seen at one time, winking between the spruce and pine around her summer camp or in the winter forest, where she seldom saw the stars at all. There were more stars than sheep or even trees in all the mountains.

     At first she lost the sounds in her wonder at the vastness of the stars, and she lay on the warm grass to look up into them. After she lay awhile, it came to seem that the valley was bathed in silver light, that everything was bright as day rather than night. And then she saw that the stars were not still, that they wheeled and circled against the blue-black sky. In their wheeling and circling they made sounds, the sounds of sheep running in tall grass, when their hoofs seem never to touch the ground and there is only the soft swish of the grass against their wool.

     But no! That wasn't the sound the stars made as they danced in the windless heaven. The stars made a song, a melody she could make too with her voice. It said nothing to her, neither command nor wisdom, neither love nor anger, and yet it said all of these things. She felt this was her true voice.

     In the morning in the camp, she sang the song of the stars. This is the song that she sang.
 
Listen for the rain passing through the air.
Even behind the roar of the wind and thunder,
The path of the rain in the air is a song.
Listen to the rain passing through the earth.
Even beneath the river roaring through the gorge,
The rain seeps into the sand to reach pine roots.
Listen to the rain rising in the pines.
Even when the fire roars through the forest,
The song of the rain pulses in the fleeing deer.
Listen to the rain rising and falling in your ear.
The rain carries down the music from the stars;
The song of all echoes always in your ear.
 

     The young children were the first to recognize it, and soon they all sang the song, but not the whole song she had learned. Instead, they sang parts of it: joy when the milk was brought, sorrow when a sheep was lost, and fear when the wolf would sing. Mara said that the wolf sang too, that its singing was part of the song of the stars, but the children were still afraid.

     The women were the next to learn singing, and whenever they worked together, they sang parts of the song of the stars.

     The men who must be silent when they hunt did not take to singing, but in the evening around the fire, they would listen with pleasure as the women remembered their songs.

35. The Song for Soothing Fearful Children
     From Arm's Chronicle of IS

     As I stared in lonely despair upon the bloody pair, Harvester and the man who had fought him for the pig's head, panting in the muck of smashed food, their torn clothes slippery with blood and pudding and more, joining their breathing to the mocking laughter and the moans of pain, I felt a change. Looking up, I saw bars of rose upon the ceiling beams. The sun had appeared. The festival of midsummer was over.

     Then a new sound entered my ear. I heard a faint voice, singing a mournful song, slowly approaching. A woman entered the meeting hall through the doors that stood open to the dawn. She was of the town, with long brown and gray, untidy hair and a light colored sleeping gown that trailed on the spattered stones. She wore no shoes. She was singing in a broken, sad melody, untaught by those of the hills or of the swamp. She said, "The stars have sung me a song. Oh, if only I could sing that song to you. They danced for me like the jewelled rain of the rainbow, and the melody they made carried my sad heart out of this desert into the heart of living. When I listened I was alive. If only I could sing that song to you."

     I felt someone grasp my hand. On my right was Peachtree, pale and tired in the mixed light of torch and new sun, her burn a fiery red beneath the smeared balm. My other hand was taken. There was Rye Grass. Looking around the room, I saw that many had been drawn in by the horrors of that room. Even people from the town had come. I saw Strawberry and Red Thrush, and a few children I knew. In the gallery also people were standing, looking down upon this thing that had happened.

     Many of us were taken by the feeling, the need to grasp a hand. And when we were joined, we felt rising to our lips a song, one that we all knew, that was perhaps one of the earliest songs we remember, the song for soothing fearful children. Strawberry joined hands with little Raisin, and Raisin reached out for the dangling hand of the strange woman who was repeating her lament. Raisin smiled into the lost woman's face as she joined in our song.
 
     The wind roars and tears the trees.
     We are together in our hut.
     The rain drums upon our roof and beats down the grass,
     But soon the white starflowers will bloom.
     The thunder growls and cracks the sky,
     But the stars remain, waiting to shine.
     Fear not, little storm, for the world cannot break.
     Fear not, little one, for we are together in our hut.
     We are together, holding hands.
 

     After repeating it twice, all in the meeting hall were singing, except the feasters, even the people from the town. The eyes of Moon, Ram's sister, -- for that was the strange woman with the unsingable song -- lost their lostness, and she smiled in recognition of our song. We filled the hall with our selves, taking every space except for a circle around the scattered table. And we filled the hall with music, the quiet soothing music that calms us when fears pursue us.

     The councilors and guests at the feast became quiet. One by one they lay their heads in their hands at the table or dropped to the floor and fell asleep, like children tired by a fierce storm or by their own anger. When all was quiet and the sun shining brightly through the high windows, we stopped our song, feeling it was enough. As we stopped, I heard an echo outside and realized that most of the people of the town must have gathered for this first song after the silence.
 

     The day after the midsummer festival was spent in rest. We of the back hills did not return to our homes yet, but remained on the common, sleeping and visiting a little. In the afternoon, most of us walked down to the reservoir to bathe and swim. Many were there. Indeed, during that afternoon, perhaps every person in the valley washed himself or herself, or was bathed, in the new Marsh River lake.

     During that day, as I lay in the grass, looking at the western shore sometimes, and sometimes closing my eyes and drifting into a drowse, it came to me what we had suffered.

     IS had chosen midsummer night, the shortest in the year, to cease its song. We had felt what must finally come if, like Harvester and the councilors of Marshtown, we found a way to cease our singing and to kill the swamp. The death of our world could not be worse.

     I suppose in the endlessness of time, our world might die just as we do, and all the things we know here might cease to be. That is an unimaginable day, but I can bear to think of it. Unbearable is the thought that all singing might stop everywhere, leaving us living beings with hearts and minds in a dead place.

     By its silence, IS had shown us what this would be. Then would come Harvester's madness, a compulsion to swallow even living people so that we might regain the lost life that, in reality, could never be recovered without song.

36. A Meeting of the High Council
     From Chickadee's Remembering Peachtree, Mother of Song

     When the afternoon began to cool, Peachtree's council gathered beneath the oak on the common to consider what they must do. All felt that this was the time to talk again with the High Council to see what they would say now to our request.

     The councilors and other feasters had not left the hall, but had slept there the day through. When we entered the hall, they remained sprawled in disorder as we had left them in the morning, sleeping quietly. While they slept, we cleaned the hall, throwing away the spoiled meats and the fly-spotted white pig's head. We gathered the still fresh fruits and raw vegetables together in colorful piles on the bare boards of the tables, that beneath their long cloth proved to be seven set end to end. On each table were jugs of wine, warm but sweet smelling, that remained from the feast.

     When all was orderly and clean, we gently awakened the great ones of Marshtown and invited them to join us in a meal. It was truly as wonderful a meal as ever I have eaten. The councilors and wealthy citizens of Marshtown sat among us, ate quietly, and said little. Had a visitor come to that banquet, he might have wondered why some of us were so fat, with fine but stained and tattered robes. But nothing else would have separated the great from the ordinary at that feast. And girl children of the hills like myself sat beside the great men of Marshtown and divided fruits between them, the fat men cracking nuts for skinny girls to eat.

     After eating their fill, the councilors began to leave one by one, saying, "My daughter wishes to go out in a boat upon the lake in the cool of evening," or saying, "I am concerned that I have not weeded my beans since before the festival began."

     Seeing that soon the council would drift away without our knowing what would be done about our mission, Peachtree spoke to Harvester.

     "High Councilor Harvester, have you thought again about the mission of Arm, of the need for the water of Marsh River in the southern swamp across the waste land?"

     Harvester looked up in wonder, as if he had never heard or thought of Arm, or of anything Peachtree said.

     "You are called Peachtree, are you not? Do you know, Peachtree, that in my garden is a rose I call peach, because its color is so pink and gold. It even smells to me like the ripest peach. The fragrance of it is so perfect that I do not even think of eating when I look upon it and drink in its odor. Its being there is enough.

     "Would you walk with me to my garden? I yearn to look upon it. Perhaps there is still a blossom I could give you, for you are much like that blossom. It would please me to give you a rose."

     Peachtree's face showed her surprise, both at his kindness and at his ignoring her question. "Does this mean, Harvester, that you refuse to think of Arm's mission?"

     "Oh, Arm's mission. I do not think I know what that is, or what it means. I am not inclined to think of it at all. Let us go and look at my roses."

     Peachtree, as if speaking patiently with a dreamy child, pressed him. "But High Councilor, you and the council must consider this matter. We would not bring back the silence."

     Harvester replied, "I am not the High Councilor. I can find nothing in me that tells me what you need or how I can respond. I know only that there are beings calling to me. I hear them in my garden, and I must go there."

     With these words, Harvester arose from the table, and made his way slowly, like a child leaving his bed, but not quite awake, out of the hall and into the cooling evening.
 

     In this way we came to see that there was no longer a high council. In the days after, all understood that the councilors and all who attended the midsummer feast were no longer the rulers of Marshtown. They thought no more of progress, of growing more food and fiber than they could use and trade among themselves. They tended their gardens, played with their families, and concerned themselves little with the will of the town. Before we left Marshtown, evening singings began in the common. The women and children would bring mats at sunset and would sing out the stars. The first men to join them, though they were never heard to sing themselves, were the men of the feast. Other men came and sang too, of course, but the women led, and the former councilors remained silent. Though they had learned to listen, they would be long in finding the way to sing themselves.

     The night after the dissolution of the high council of Marshtown, we sang in the meeting house and on the common. Many of the town came to hear us, then, and some joined us as they had when we sang the soothing song at dawn. We did not sing the whole night, but only until darkness was full, as is the custom with Arm's children of the swamp. Before we parted to sleep, Mother Peachtree said that the town would meet there in the morning to discuss Arm's quest.

     In the morning, many of the people of the town were present. We easily agreed that the new south fields would be abandoned now. We walked out together, taking food with us, stopping to rest, and eat, and sing, as we walked around the reservoir and across the dam to the west aqueduct. There, we closed the water gate. A messenger was sent to Ram and the other tenders of the fields, calling them back to the town and to other work. When we crossed the dam, returning in late afternoon, we stopped to watch the water spilling into the bed of the old Marsh River, flowing to the marsh as it had not done in summer for many a year. Many remained to watch the renewed flow and to eat our evening meals together.

     Below the dam, I could see the hut of Marshrat, looking uncared for now, though it was no more abandoned than any back country hut, left alone for this long festival. I went down to Marshrat's grave together with Peachtree's family after our meal.


37. Peachtree's Path II
From Mother of Song, the holy writings of the Cult of Song

I. At the Sacred Pool

     After the Great Procession and the closing of the West Gate, Rye Grass, Chick, Raisin, and Peachtree went with Arm to visit the grave of Marshrat and the Sacred Pool.

     We must remember, sisters, that this was a moment of great sadness to Peachtree, for though the followers of Marshrat the Martyr have called us heretics and persecuted us, still Marshrat was a great hero of the coming of Arm. Without his goodness and his love of the marsh, without his love for the people of the hills, and without his sacrifice, we might never have heard the singing of IS.

     So it was in true sorrow that Peachtree shed tears on the grave of the martyr. No sister, resenting the cruelty of the martyr's church, should breathe pepper and onions to force her tears to drop in the Sacred Pool. Peachtree's sorrow was that Marshrat should have missed the peace that she and her friends had that day. Marshtown had then turned away from fatness and deafness. The town had joined the hills in the truth of IS, that all the world sings and lives. The water of the Marsh River flowed richly now past the pool of IS, and tiny green fragments of waterroot could be seen leaving the pool to join the swirls and bubbles that danced toward the dead marsh. The river lived and sang again.

     Marshrat had never really believed in the living world, though he loved the world as few can. Peachtree wept to think that he had never known the absolute depth of the silence and the joy of awakening. And as her tears fell, she looked down into the Sacred Pool of IS. That was the end of her path.

     Hear her words.
 

     When my tears dropped into the clear, calm pool of IS, my reflection in the shadows disappeared in the ripples. I felt I must drink from the pool, and I did. Then my ears opened and my eyes truly saw.

     What I heard then, what I saw then, is a mystery beyond words. I fell into the sharp lightning and throbbed with the sweet thunder. Who has followed a path, who has yearned, who has an ear, let her hear. Come to the fountain of joy and drop your tears. There you will drink the water of life, where pain and sorrow cease not, but flow into IS who sings them to the stars as the dark and stormy sides of our dazzling joys. How can the rain fall, sisters, without the splitting of the cloud? How can the babe cry out without the thrumming of the womb?
 

II. The Peachtree Chapel
 

     After Arm walked away into the dunes, Peachtree became a teacher. First she taught her daughters, and then her daughters taught us. So all of us who follow her ways and take our brothers with us are sisters of the Peachtree Chapel. This is what Peachtree taught her daughters. Harken to her words.
 

     Examine the waterroot. Fear not to take a piece from the stream, for it spreads itself across the planet as long as we remember that the waterways belong to IS. As long as water flows in the way it has of old, through the Marsh River and into the living marsh, then IS will live and sing our songs with the stars and will mingle the singing of all that is with our own small voices.

     What do we see when we take the waterroot in our hands?

     It is only a plant, is it not? See how each piece is a dark green ball, out of which radiate many delicate stems with many tiny leaves at their ends. Arm says that these stems rise from the ball as do coconut trees of the Holy Swamp. And it is my daughter, Chick, who as a child said that the world would look so if covered with gigantic coconut trees. But it was Raisin, younger and sometimes wiser in her innocence, who replied that in fact, the waterroot only looked so when tumbling through the stream searching for itself. In the Sacred Pool of IS and in every other place where waterroot grows as it wishes, the little tree-covered worlds are interlinked with each other like the balls of burrs, only more delicate, as if a great spider had woven dandelion heads gone to seed numerous as the stars into a great multilayered web, like a bees' nest. The vast web in the holy swamp is the mind and heart of IS, the center of this world's singing.

     What does this tell us?

     Is it not easy to tell that the linking by tender touch of all these little worlds pictures the linking by so many threads of love and pain of the peoples, the ties of binding song between all living things on IS and between IS and all the near orbs of the sky, and between our star and all the myriad stars that dance in our sky?

     To know this is to know all that makes us happy in this our short life.

38. Reflections by Grave and Pool
     From Arm's Chronicle of IS

     There is little more to my story. I bade my friends farewell and came again across the dry lands, returning home without accident in only eleven days.

     I lived with Rye Grass and Peachtree for several days before turning my face southward again. Peachtree and the girls prepared food and containers for my journey, and I helped Rye Grass gather tall grasses to renew their roof for the coming rainy season. On hot dusty afternoons we worked quietly beneath their shade trees, telling stories of our two lands, singing songs, and playing games. For the first time, I was able to tell all about my journey through the dry lands. I told about the different kinds of dry land, about finding water in pricklies and beneath rocks. I told of the place where there was water beneath the sand and about the friendship of Sand, who found that water for me. Peachtree's family learned about Orf and about all of you, brothers and sisters, who were living then among our huts. They asked me again and again to tell about my vision at the pool of IS, and it was in those quiet talks that Peachtree told us of her own vision at the new pool of IS at Marsh River. In this way, I learned to tell my story, which I now do each year in the fat season, as we rest in our own shade as we are doing today.

     Before leaving, I visited the pool again, with the family of Peachtree.

     We stood by Marshrat's grave, from which new violets were beginning to sprout and sang again the song of parting. It was cool and fresh there, in the deep shade and the singing water. And I thought of Marshrat, resting here beneath the grass near the new pool of IS. If he could hear with his own ears, he would hear the water bubbling past, refilling the quiet pool, and carrying the seeds of IS into the slowly reawakening marsh and into the ground on the way to the swamp. Perhaps he would hear of this change just the same, in the singing of IS.

     As we sat quietly by the grave, I wondered how this change had come about, especially the change in the hearts of the councilors. It is not what we would question here in the swamp, for if a person is ill and becomes well again, we do not ask why our friend is well. Instead, we sing our joy at his return. But traveling in other lands has shown me there are other ways to live, and perhaps there is a land in which the councilors' way is a good way. But in what land would one live only for oneself, with ears closed to the singing of IS? I think Harvester walked too far down the road of making more where there was little, but I am not one to judge how I would live in all strange lands.

     Chick was gazing into the pool and, after awhile, she wondered when she would hear the singing of IS. I told her, "Little one, you hear the singing of IS whenever you sing with another and whenever you remember such singing. You hear the singing of IS in all times and all places, when you listen. There is no place where IS is not singing, even now."

     She looked at me and at her parents with a smile of knowing. She pointed to the green-breasted bird that swooped through the green shadows and said, "Even swallow's wings are singing, aren't they?"

39. An Epistle to Marsh River
    From Arm's Chronicle of IS

 

Dear Friends of Marsh River,

     There is a song about messages that travel across the swamp. Not often is such a message necessary. We live quietly here among our friends, and there is little need to leave one's group for long.

     We have the story of Forgetting Murk who, on his way to visit a friend would meet another coming to the huts. He would say, "I have left behind my snake grass fan. Would you ask my mate, Arn, to bring it after me?" Whenever he met someone coming to the huts, whether stranger or friend, he would think of another thing he had not carried with him on his visit, his hat, a little basket of nuts, his gathering knife, the polished stone he had meant for a gift. All the day, while he was away, Arn would receive messages. All who gathered in one direction and any visitor to our huts would seek out Arn to tell her what Forgetting Murk had left behind. Arn, who remembered very well, could name everything he had asked for during the day, but she never followed him with any of them. The reason she never followed is that when he returned home, he would remember none of the messages he had sent.

     When we tell this story, the children always ask, "But why did Forgetting Murk send so many messages?" Then we sing our song about messages.
 
     Murk met a toad on his way to Deep Brook.
     Oh toad, tell Arn a message I have.
     I am without my snake grass fan and it is hot today.
     Oh toad, tell Arn this message I have.
 
     Murk met a snake on his way to Deep Brook.
     Oh snake, tell Arn a message I have.
     I am without the polished stone, my gift to Torf.
     Oh snake, tell Arn this message I have.
 
     Murk met a lizard on his way to Deep Brook.
     Oh lizard, tell Arn a message I have.
     I am without my leaf hat and the sun burns my head.
     Oh lizard, tell Arn this message I have.
 
     Snake, toad, and lizard came to sit beside Arn.
     She peeled sun fruit in the shade at midday.
     Each showed his tongue and she dropped juice upon it.
     Arn ate sun fruit in the shade at midday.
 
     I see Murk has spoken to you, said she,
     And I know he is on his journey.
     I see Murk has spoken to you, said she,
     And I know he is on his journey.
 

     A message coming across the swamp is like the night call of the silver bird hidden deep among the reeds. It says only, "I am here! I am here!"
 

     This song enters my mind now as I write to you at the command of IS. My friends of the Marsh River, it has been long since we sang together. I had thought our lives had parted in their ways and that only songs and memories would continue between us. But now, my son comes to me from deep in the swamp to say that he is to carry across the dry lands a message from me. I am to tell you the story of my visit to you so many years ago.

     I am not accustomed to writing things down, and not at all in the song of your speech. Like Murk's toad, snake, and lizard, I fear I can only hold out my tongue to you. I know not why IS asks this of me or of Alf, and so I know not how I should tell our story.

     I will write it to you as I tell it to the children of the swamp. It is a long tale, one for the fat season when gathering is easy and we lounge for long afternoons in the cool shade of a frog nut tree. Then one who knows the story tells it for several afternoons, and when he or she comes to the songs, we all sing quietly together. It is a good story for times of plenty. Sun fruit is juicier when we remember the dry lands, shade darker in the land of no shadows. Songs caress the ear when we recall the silence. And when we think of being alone, our singing is honey.

     I also think that I no longer know who among my old friends remains or has departed. I feel a desire to send you many messages about my Orf and Alf, about my children and brothers and sisters. How has it been with me since we parted? But I think that all messages sent so far really say the same thing. I am here still. Let my story be my message. Let Alf bring back stories of you. Then I will know you also are there.

From Arm

40. Farewell and Welcome

     I remember the game we played on my last day with Peachtree, Rye Grass, Chick, and Raisin, in the dry shade before their hut, with a hot wind rasping my skin that reminded me of Sand's tiny tongue. Perhaps Rye Grass noticed I was a little sad as his hands neatly gathered and held the roof grass in bundles that Chick would tie. He began the game of questions.

     "Chick, why does roof grass grow so tall."

     Chick thought only a minute, and then replied, "The roof grass grows tall because the little chicks call all summer for a roof from the rain." She turned to me and asked, "Arm, why do the dunes blow across the desert?"

     I answered quickly, but not so well, for I find this game hard, even now after teaching it to my children. "The dunes blow across the desert because they have no home and yet are always looking." We all remembered the Silence then, but I was anxious to think of home. "Where is the home of the green pear?"

     Raisin laughed from joy at her easy answer. "The green pear's home is in my stomach which is just its shape and size." She asked Peachtree, "Mother, why does the dry wind come before the rains?"

     Peachtree replied, "The dry wind comes before the rains to make the trees dusty. Then, the rain feels welcome with a job of washing to do. Why do butterflies drink at the violets?"

     Rye Grass was admirable as always. "The butterflies drink at violets to find color for their tails. Why do cottonwoods send their seeds sailing across the desert after the rains?"

     Chick replied, "The cottonwoods send their seeds sailing across the desert after the rains because they have heard the tiny toads of the swamp want to stuff their pillows." When Chick turned to me, I was already lost in her beautiful and funny idea. As I imagined toads busily stuffing pillows under the small ferns where they hide, I smiled and wandered more in my mind toward the swamp. "Why do the children of the swamp have golden stripes in their hair?"

     "There is a story about our hair."

     "No, no, no!" giggled Chick, and Raisin joined in. "You have left the game, Arm." Then Raisin said, "But do tell us. Why are there sunbeams glowing through your hair?"

     "The story is that we are all our parent's children. We come from the waterroot. One day before we lived in the swamp, two black and golden frogs were frightened and jumped far out into the pool of IS. There they became entangled in the waterroot and could not move. As they began to fear they would drown, they called out to IS saying, "Do not take our lives yet, for we have no children!" Then they began to grow. They grew larger and larger until they looked just like my mother and my father. Then the waterroot that had changed them released them, and they could walk out of the pool of IS. And when they were grown, all that was left of the frogs' stripes was my parents' flowing hair. So it is that to this day, we children of the swamp are born with hair of gold and black, and like the frog, we turn brown as we grow older. Our hair is the sign of the care of IS."

     So the game came to an end in comforting thoughts of home. These thoughts made me forget the sadness of death and eased the pain of leaving my new and lovely friends by turning my mind to Orf and the others who awaited me.

     The journey was easier for many reasons. I knew where I was going, and I knew my way. You can go into my hut whenever you wish and look upon the two large clay pots in which I carried my water, and the eleven very small ones in which I carried a paste of milk and honey sealed in beeswax. I was hungry and thirsty again in the desert, but never so hungry and thirsty as when I went to the river. My water lasted, for I used all I carried and lost little to the sun. My food was more nourishing. And I saved the seeds of the fruits and vegetables, as well as carrying some with me, so you now eat some of the best foods of the hill country.

     Most of all, my journey was easier because I was coming home to you, to Orf who became my mate and bore our daughter and son, and to all of you my sisters, brothers, and children. The thoughts of coming to you, of gathering with you in our green swamp, and of singing with you around our fire turned my mind and heart from the suffering of the long journey, and so it is well forgotten now. I remember it only as a small silence that prepared me for the song of welcome you sang to me upon my return. It was a new song, though few songs seem really new to me after my days at the pool of IS. We really had no song before for one who returns from a long journey. We still sing it only rarely for one who has visited long with another group. So, it has its place, here at the end of my story, where we sing it as part of the story. When Alf, my son, returns from his journey to the Marsh River -- that will be the proper time to sing it again.
 
     Welcome child of the swamp to the parent's streams.
     Come, join again in the parent's songs.
     There is a melody for your voice.
     There is a basket for your hand.
     There is a hut for your head.
     There is a hand for your heart.
     Come, join again in the parent's songs.
     Welcome child of the swamp to the parent's streams.
 

     Were I telling this story now to the children, instead of writing it slowly on these pages, the children would have stopped me when I spoke of Alf and began the song. They would echo little Chick on the day when I broke the game, "No, no, no, Father Arm! That is not how the story goes!" For the song always comes when the story is done, and the story really ends in this way.
 

     I have been the arm of IS, who has no arms but us. Among people, I have been the voice of IS, who has a thousand voices in all things. This has not made me different from you, my children, except that it has given me this tale to give to you. And so I leave it to you, before I take my rest. Let us sing, again.
 
 


 
 

Introduction 

Part 1: Arm's Journey Through the Waste Land

Part 2: In the Land of Marsh River

Part 3: Among the Hills
 


Part 4: The Festival of Midsummer

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