July 8, 2016

days – dusk

Seven days passed and the monk and the two villagers did not return. It would take a day and a half to get to the hollow and the same to return, meaning the travellers had been in the Tiger Forest for at least 4 days. The head man was disconsolate, he felt it his responsibility having let two villagers go into the tiger forest on the words of a stranger. He realised he had deferred to the complete confidence of the monk as if under a spell. As  the final arbiter in village decisions, he always tried to put reason ahead of personal concerns.
His daughter ‘Bjin’ had two suitors who she had difficulty in choosing, they were both dear to her having known them since she was a small girl. They used to be close friends and Muk’s strength and steadfastness had always helped Buk and Buk’s cleverness and lightheartedness had always been a bolster for the sometimes overly-serious Muk. However this year whenever one went out hunting, the other would usually make excuse to not be on that expedition, taking advantage of the other’s absence to woo Bijin. To her it was bizarre to have them both away at the same and being pestered by neither. Not only was she lonely, but also she started to make up scenarios where alone out in the forest a careless word would escalate into a fight or worse. Muk could certainly overpower Buk, but buk was too canny to fight toe to toe with his rival.  An arrow or blowdart or a small scratch with poison could fell the huge man.
The Headman was also concerned for their rivalry and somewhat surprised at Buk’s decision to go with Muk and the Monk. He decided he must take action, and called a village meeting. He knew his village and most people were timid, he remembered the reluctance of people to volunteer for the monk and the two most likely to do so were already missing. So instead of asking for people to go into the forest, he announced he was going and if anyone would care to join him he would be grateful. Buk’s father was the first to volunteer and soon they were a party of six with a plan to set out for the forest at first light.

They spent the evening preparing weapons, spears and knives. They all knew they were not up to the task of hunting the huge tigers that roamed the forest. Primarily they lived from gathering fruit and eating small animals such as birds and rabbits,wild boar was the largest thing they had hunted and the last time they had tried that two villagers had been severely gored. The headsman knew this expedition was a gamble and could very easily turn to disaster. But it was the kind of gamble a leader must take. If he did not take action fear and discord would take over the village and his leadership would be challenged which would damage the status of his daughter. Besides which he was a good man and wanted to do the right thing.

The six met in the centre of the village where the big fire was. Like him most of them had left sleeping family and quietly exited their huts. With their make-shift weapons and nervous expressions he felt the feeling that one has when setting out on a mission knowing it is doomed but having no honourable alternative. He greeted them with a confident smile, acting as if a heroic rescue was the inevitable outcome.

They started heading towards the mountain and were soon crossing the ‘greeting glade’ when suddenly they heard a rustle from the dark trees. The group of men all froze.
They then heard laughter, Muk and Buk strode casually into the glade holding hands. They were both carrying a stick on which were speared a dozen fish each. The monk emerged soon after his bright robes exposed as he was carrying his cloak over his shoulder as a bag.

The headman laughed and his companions soon followed, echoing the unspoken realisation that this was the best possible outcome. Despite their uncertainty and ineptitude for this mission, they had set out as heroes and without a scratch six men would return as nine.

The monk took them to be a hunting party but soon realised by their manner, that he was the cause of their expedition and apologised for any concern. The headsman dismissed the thought ;and they all set back for the village chattering. Muk and Buk seemed the best of friends and

Arriving in the middle of the village they lit the central fire and the villagers awoke to the smell of cooking fish where soon a large communal breakfast was taking place. The headsman returned to his hut to tell his daughter the good news. She bowed low to him with tears in her eyes evidently relieved.

Soon there was a calling outside the door, it was Buk. He wanted a word with the headman and asked Bijin to stay and hear it as it concerned her. The headman was a little dismayed that Buk had not waited before rejoining his courtship, but was interested to hear him out.

This then, is the story that Buk told.
I want to tell you that about our journey. We took the monk towards the forest, I was soon regretting setting out, wishing I had remained to petition Bijin for the days Muk would be away. We walked mostly in silence as our rivalry made us wary of saying too much and the monk seemed totally happy to continue without saying anything. We had climbed a good distance higher up the mountain when night started to fall I could tell even the strong Muk was worried, I have known him since he was a child and even though his outside is always strong, I know the boy inside. We were in the tiger’s hunting ground and would have to spend a night before reaching the flowers the next day, the tigers could snatch us easily and every couple of years we would lose someone to the Tigers. But the monk bid us build a fire, that will keep the tigers away he said, and we will keep our fears away by telling eachother stories. He started by telling us about his monastery and the places he has visited. Listening to the monk was like travelling for thousands of miles. Muk and I both had many questions for the monk, and I could feel the awkwardness between us evaporating. He shared his drink with us. Soon, it happened that he asked about the relationship between us and Bijin. Muk and I have never talked about it before to eachother, we just know we both want the same woman. Somehow with a smile and no pushing, the monk brought forth our story. Muk the untalkative declared his love for Bijin and I recognised his feelings as my own. I found myself speaking plainly about my feelings, it seemed to go very quiet as if we had shared a puzzle and we were all trying to think of our own solutions. The Monk then said that Muk and I should sleep and he would keep watch, being older and not needing the sleep of the energetic. Muk and I looked at eachother, I knew we were both remembering how Luk and his brothers had been carried off by the mad tigress two years ago when they were hunting boar. On the other hand I liked the idea that Muk and I would be asleep at the same time, and the monk seemed reliable. The fire was large and he would keep it stoked throughout the night.

When I awoke the monk was sat smiling as if he hadn’t slept and. Muk was checking his spear and belongings. Muk looked concerned and said that the journey so far has been easy, but by midday we would be deep in Tiger country and would have to be alert. The monk smiled and said it would not be getting more dangerous, but getting less dangerous as we approached the handflowers. Neither Muk nor I believed him, but we somehow trusted him.

In a couple of hours we crossed a shallow stream coming down from the mountain and the monk looked excited to follow it. Suddenly the Monk stopped I followed his gaze and there was an upturned handflower floating slowly down the river the monk waded in and picked it up, he held it with both hands and placed it against his forehead and his eyes looked teary. Muk was smiling I realised I was too, sharing the moment of discovery after a journey our friend had been on for years.

Following the stream up it’s course we soon came across more and more trees with handflowers high in their branches. Eventually we came across a pool at the bottom of a small waterfall surrounded by the handflower trees. The monk went to the water’s edge took off his shoes and put his hot feet in the cool water. Out from underthe trees the midday sun had heated the glade and we all just sat down on the rocks and rested.

It was then we saw on the other side of the pool a large tigress come out of the trees with two kittens following her, she put her head down to the water and start lapping away with it’s huge tongue. One of the kittens followed suit and the other one just lay down by the water’s edge and rolled around scratching it’s back. I looked over at Muk he had his hand on his spear and was unfastening the strap with his other hands all the time not taking his eyes off the big cat. The monk seemed to notice a beat later than us.

“You will not need your spear, she just wants water.”
“You don’t understand she had her kittens with her, that is when they are most dangerous, we are downwind of her, when she notices us there is no telling what she will do.”

I looked over to Muk who was nodding his head in agreement, still with his head facing the cats. I then heard a splash, looking over to my right I saw the monk was in the water and walking towards the Tiger. Time seemed to move slowly, the monk had removed his brown cloak and the colour of his yellow and burgundy robes glittered in water which came up to his knees. I looked back at Muk who now had his spear ready in his hand, but his face was mesmerised. The monk was now into the water up to his waist when the tigress lifted her huge head. Seeing the monk her ears suddenly darted back and the sides of her mouth were pulled back, but then they returned to normal. She looked down at her cubs. The monk was briefly swimming but only a few strokes as the pool was shallow and soon he was rising up at the other bank. I could feel my heart beating in my ears and realised I was helpless. I put my faith in Muk’s strong spear arm and felt he would surely make the right split-second decision.

The monk approached the tigress slowly but confidently that smile always on his face. He then sat down about six steps away from her at the edge of the water. She looked over, after a while she picked up one of the cubs in her mouth and placed it next to the monk, she then fetched the other one and went and lay down next to the monk. Seeing her next to him I realised how small the monk seemed. The Tigress and her cubs just lay there and the monk too. Then all three looked towards Muk. Muk was now standing on his rock spear in hand ready to loose it to scare the Tiger off. The Monk called out.

“Muk ! please can you help me?” Muk shouted back.
“What should I do?”
“You see my cloak on the rock by you? I want you to take your spear and cut down some handflowers from the trees and fill up the cloak.”
Muk looked puzzled and dropped his spear arm, to his side.
“Harvest the flowers can you do that for me?” I answered.
“Are you alright with the beast?”
“Quite alright”
“Okay we will get the flowers!” I was not as strong as Muk, but I was the more agile climber, I asked him to hold the cloak below me and I climbed the trees and threw the flowers down, it would be much better than him trying to hack at them with his spear. The monk had told me there was a special way to harvest the flowers and that was not to get every flower but for every three we saw on a branch we would take one. This did not strike me as the best way to do this, we could finish in a third of the time if we just grabbed the nearest ones, but I thought it may affect the medicine so I plucked one then left two and had to climb more trees.

We soon had the cloak full of flowers and tied it up as a bag. We shouted over to the monk that they were ready and we could go. By this time his head was lying down on the flank of the Tiger and there was another Tiger sitting between them at the waters edge and the tree line, we were anxious to go, surely we had used up all today’s luck. The monk called back to us.
“You have worked hard! tell me can you fish?”
I replied: “Muk can catch fish with his spear, he is the best in the village!” Muk smiled but I could tell he was expecting the monk to be talking about leaving now we had gathered his flowers.
“When I was walking over, I saw some dark shapes under the water, if they were fish they are huge! Could you catch some and we can eat before we return?”
Muk could only carry on with the same strong demeanor he had displayed up to now and nodded. Soon he was standing knee deep in the water poised with his spear. I was tired after running around the branches and lay down my eyes flitting from the look of concentration on Muk’s face to the serene smile of the Monk laying back on a Tiger with his eyes closed and a smile on his face.
I was awakened by Monk shaking me gently, his face framed by the sky and trees. I could smell fish cooking and sat up to see Muk turning sticks of three huge fish over a small fire. The monk must have been here some time as his clothes were dry and the sun not as bright. I looked over to the far bank, I had to count them, there were eight tigers. I got up and stretched.
I went over to Muk’s fire, as well as the fish he was cooking, the grass next to the fire had a dozen more.
“I am glad you proved my words right about your fishing skill!”
“It was easy they are huge slow-moving and easy to spear. I thought I would get some to take back to the village.”
“Bijin will be impressed!” I said, then immediately regretted the awkward expression on Muk’s face. I smiled at him.
“Monk, you have been right in all that you have told us, the tigers are tame; but how is it so?”
“Come and let us eat and I will tell you!”
Once we were sitting around the fire, the Monk explained it, I am not sure if I understand, but I have decided to just accept his words in this matter.
“There is a thing called an Aura, which is a kind of light which surrounds living things but only some creatures can see it. Because they have lived for years  in the forrest of the handflowers these Tigers can see it and because I have have taken the medicine of the handflowers I can see it, but you cannot.”
“What does it do?”
“It tells us how someone *is*. So in this case the tigers can see that i mean them no harm and I can see that they mean me no harm and that is why I feel safe.”
“Muk when you raised your spear your Aura grew noisey and that was a moment of danger for all of us.”
Muk looked hurt.
“Of course you were trying to protect me, she could see your aura connected to mine, as she can see the Aura connecting her to to her cubs.”
“It is difficult to believe something we can not see.”
“I could tell by your Auras that although you could not believe in what I was saying, you came on the trip because you believed in me.”
“We have come to know you, although much of what you say is strange, everything you say has proved true.”
“You have trusted me with the Tiger’s but I can see you are anxious to leave. However…”
The monk looked suddenly a bit embarrassed.
“I would like you to trust me with one last thing.”
Muk said nothing, and the monk fell silent too:
“Please continue..” I said, eager to know what he wanted.
“I would like you to stay with me in this clearing for three nights.”
“Do you need more flowers?”
“No, you have gathered plenty, thank you”
“Then what would we do?”
“We will camp with a fire and talk in the night and eat this lovely fish every day.”
I was suddenly excited, I realised that a change was happening between Muk and I from last night’s journey and was not in a hurry to get back to the village.
Muk spoke: “In the village, they will worry about us.” I am not sure if he himself was worried about the Tigers, or thinking of Bijin like I was, her face flashed into my mind.”
The monk replied: “Yes, they will worry about you for a couple of days, however at the end of those three days you will be able to convince them of the truth of what I say and that will bring a great gift to your village.”
“Can we not go back and tell them and then come back?” Muk said.
“No, I cannot say why, but you would have to trust me.”
We were both confused and looked at eachother.
“I will go and have a sleep over there, you talk about it, if you want to go back, we will set off  today; if you decide to stay we will gather wood to keep the fire going tonight and continue our talk.”
The monk stood up and walked over to a tree with moss under it and stretched himself out on the ground. He had not slept the previous night and seemed to fall asleep immediately. Muk and I were left on our own and both waiting to see what the other would say. Unusually he spoke first:
” Should we let the village worry for us? we should go back.”
Then unbidden words fell from my mouth and I addressed what we were both thinking.
“Muk agree to stay and I will give up courting Bijin.”
Muk looked shocked, it was the way of our village to not speak of courtship until the girl or elder had chosen the mate.
“Seriously? why would you do that? You love her yes?”
“She is the only girl I have loved, but I realise I do not love her as much as you. You are strong and will take care of her, you are fair and will make a good headman.”
“But what about you? You are …quicker with words, wisdom, not strength makes the better headman.”
“I have been thinking about this since our meal last night, this journey has changed us, this monk has made us better. He is teaching us, I want to know more, I am going to ask to go with him when he leaves.”
Muk was silent, as was I, I had made the decision as the words left my mouth.

When the monk woke, he saw the large pile of firewood we had gathered and smiled. “You have made your decision then?”
Muk smiled sheepishly, it was my turn to look sheepish now.
“I have a question, would you take me when you leave? Take me to this county you have told us about?”
The monk smiled ” I would gladly take you! It will help my plan a great deal!”
“What plan?”
“I will have to tell it to your headman first, but until then, for these three days, do exactly as I say and I will take you.”
“I will!”
“And Muk, do you trust to do what I ask you?”
“I do” Muk had accepted my offer but was a little troubled about staying and no doubt eager to return to the village for his unchallenged petition for Bijin’s hand.

“The first thing I want you to do is to gut and clean three of the fish for tonights meal and then take the remaining fish to the Tigers.”

We looked at eachother shocked… I imagined the tigers dragging us into the forest and the monk returning without us, surely this whole journey was not a trick? Then I heard Muk’s voice.
“I will do it” I realised even more that Muk was the man for the headman’s job and Bijin’s mate.
“I trust you, but I do not trust the Tigers!” I said, unable to dismiss a lifetimes fear of Tigers and the stories of those lost to them.
Let Muk try first, I will tell you how to do it, you will be safe, for now Buk you have the job of selecting the best three fish for us and gutting them. Muk please make the fire.
After I had gutted the fish and Muk had built the fire we sat around the fire and the Monk told us to close our eyes.
“Muk I want you to imagine your village, you are in the central area by the big fire pit. Now imagine you are walking to Bijin’s hut with a fish, you give her the fish, she smiles. Now open your eyes”.
“Could you imagine it?”
“Yes, clearly”
“Okay when you approach the Tigers I want you to remember this image”.
“That is all?”
“Yes that is all and trust in me.”
Muk had made a lifetime of braving situations that he wasn’t comfortable with as people looked to him for his strength. He knew that sometimes things were likely to go wrong, like when he dived off the waterfall that time and cut his forehead; but most of the time he learned that if he approached something with confidence it worked out. Without any more discussion Muk gathered up the rest of the fish and clutching them to his chest waded out into the water. The light was starting to fade and the woods on the other side of the pond looked black except for six pairs of eyes glinting with the reflection of our fire.
Muk moved slowly but steadily up to the Tigers until he was within striking distance, then slowly bent down to place the fish on the ground. I could see the dark shapes of the tigers shift as they stood slowly and moved towards him. As he backed away they went slowly to the fish. He was soon on this side of the pond and smiling.
For three days we lived like this, fishing, feeding the tigers, gathering berries and fruit; by night we sat at the fire talking and laughing and learning of the world beyond the village. Then we returned, I will not court Bijin any longer, she will not have to disappoint one of us and the village will be in the best hands with Muk who is now my sworn brother. The Monk wants to talk to you about his plan and then I will leave with him, to learn about the world.
The headman looked to his daughter, she had a tear in her eye.
“Thank you” she said, “I could not make the decision,” then she looked at the headman “I will be happy with Muk.”

“Good” said the headman “you may go and tell him you have my blessing and we will consult the stars for a good day, also seek out the Monk and tell him to come to me to talk now.” She left to find Muk and the Monk and I was alone with the headsman.
“Thank you for your sacrifice” he said and placed his hand on my shoulder. ”

The Monk soon entered and his smile dropped to a sudden look of embarrasment:
“I am sorry to have caused worry by delaying our return.”

“It was part of your… plan, yes?” said the wily headman.
“Yes, I needed you to believe in the power of the Auras and that proof had to come from your own people.”
“I see, so what is your plan?”

The monk leaned forward with a serious expression.
“I would like your people to have the Gift of the Auras.”
“Could we do that?”
“I can teach you, but I want you to know that my own people don’t like to share this knowledge.”
“Why not?”
“It is a great power to know someone’s Aura and it can be used for bad as well as good, if you know someones feelings you can have control over them. Having stayed with your people, I am sure that you would use it for good.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Because I can see your Auras!” He smiled. “Usually a society has a great variety of Auras from good to bad, but your people are somewhat strange in that your Auras are all mild and balanced, I think it is because you live in the forest and do not know too much of the outside world. We do not usually teach the gift of Aura Sight to groups of people, it is something I would like to try.”
“But why would you give us this gift?”
“These handflowers that you consider of no use are very valuable and I want to establish a relationship with you to trade them, but it must be handled  in a particular way. Usually when something is recognised as valuable, people strip it until there are no more. This happened in our own country. I want you to manage these flowers so that they last for many years. You will only harvest a certain amount and at a certain time of year.”
“How will we get the Aura Sight?” The flowers secrete a sap which can be made into a paste that will give you the sight, but it takes a long time and many flowers to make. You must do it steadily and respect the flowers or all is wasted, this is a great responsibility. It takes years to develop the sight, so if you run out of flowers you never will.”
“I understand what you have said, do you also agree to take Buk as your student?”
“I do, he can come with me, learn our ways and we will return every second year.”
“Buk do you want..” The headman looked at me but his sentence was stopped by my eager expression.
“Then it is decided, Buk go send Muk to me, I would talk with him.”
I stepped out into the sunlight there was a buzz in the village and people smiled at me, maybe some had heard of Muk and Buk’s engagement or maybe everyone was just still happy at our safe return. I found Muk with a group of people around him, he was not a talkative person and people were smothering him in questions about our journey. Bijin was in the crowd and I don’t think had found a way to tell him about the headman’s decision
[this needs to be cleaned up messy].
It was agreed that Muk and Bijin would be married in 8 days time and that he would be mentored by the headman to take over the village when the time came. The Monk would stay until the ceremony and then I would set off with him to Nepal.
From then the village gradually moved huts into the mountainside, but arranged them in a more spread out way according to the Monk’s instructions. Every two or three years the monk would come back and trade for the Beigematter made from the sap of the handflowers.