Thursday, September 1, 2011

Chapter 3 ~ The City of Harun

       Walking into the city was like entering a giant sandcastle. The dusky stone resembled dark brown sugar so much in color and appearance that I had to touch it, and discover that it was quite hard. I wondered how long it took to mold and shape the rock into streets and buildings. Arched doorways led to rooms beyond, or opened into little courtyards, where a fountain flowed. A few of the entrances had gates of gold grill work, in striking contrast to the dark stone. The windows were graceful oval shapes, many adorned with smaller, more intricate metalwork. Outside the residences, plants and trees stood, placed at different intervals along the way, breaking up the endless brown of the stone.
          The streets were narrow and packed with people, allowing us only to shuffle. Since our progress was unhurried, I kept peering inside the homes. The rooms were small and adorned with few items, such as vases or statues of gold, and with little furniture except for large pillows on the floors or stone benches. After puzzling for a while over fixtures attached to the walls, I surmised they were lamps. On the outside of the buildings, every so often I saw stairs cut neatly into the stone, leading upward to more residences.
          This was so different from anything I had ever seen, my head spun a little as I twisted around, trying to capture everything. I might have enjoyed it more, if the Harun who saw us hadn’t stopped and gawked at Joel and me. It looked as though every citizen in that city turned out to see us, but Kayin ignored the people as he strode forward, parting the crowd. Joel trudged along beside me, his normally cheerful face held in a solemn expression. I could see that he felt as intimidated by the crowd as I did.
          As we passed by the inhabitants, their inquisitiveness was evident as they whispered to one another, and some bolder ones pointed, especially at our sneakers. Everyone was barefoot except my bother and me, so our shoes must have seemed an oddity. All the people there looked the same. They were slim, with ebony skin and narrow features. The Harun adults wore striped robes, though the stripes were different colors, and the length of the sleeves and the gowns varied. All of the men wore gold jewelry, as did some of the women, though theirs was smaller and more discreet. Everyone wore hats of some sort, with different colors or designs, but all had three points.
We saw children in ages ranging from babies, to teenagers not much older than I. They had solid colored clothing and no jewelry of any sort. I think the children our own age stared at us the most intently, but it seemed to be in a friendly, curious way as we trudged by.
          Kayin finally hustled us into an immense, triangular area that served as a marketplace. He walked toward an ornate building that took up all of one side, and we paused at the base of its staircase. “I must go find my father. Please wait here until I return with him. Oh, this is the Temple,” Kayin said over his shoulder, before he sprinted away into the crowd. If following along in Kayin’s wake was not bad enough, now Joel and I faced the crowd from all sides, alone. We stood back to back, not knowing where to look, seeing hundreds of eyes upon us. Had everyone we encountered on the way followed us here?
The people staring at us became still. The Harun stood shoulder to shoulder, with their bodies pressed to each other, not hiding their curiosity, as they formed a semicircle about forty people deep around my brother and me. No one spoke to us, which created an awkwardness and tension. The temptation to shove through the gawking bystanders and run away almost overcame me.
But a serene young woman wove her way through the crowd and glided up to us. She was tall and slim like the rest of her tribe, her beauty enhanced by large, doe eyes, and a full mouth. Her plain red tunic was long and had pointed sleeves with gold tassels dangling on the ends.   
“Greetings, unusual strangers. I thought I would come and talk to you rather than whisper about you in the crowd.” She flashed us a bright, amicable smile. “Everyone is wondering who is important enough to be escorted by our noble Prince Kayin. What tribe are you from?”
          I stood up straight, trying to look imposing though I barely came up to her nose. “We are not from a tribe around here, Miss.”
          “Oh, please forgive my lack of manners. The name bestowed upon me is Jetta, and I am at your service,” she said, with a graceful bow. “Do you hail from...out beyond the savannah?”
          “No, we just arrived here at the place that you call the stone circle,” Joel said.
          Jetta appraised us and then her eyebrows shot up as she studied the stone and the necklace Joel was wearing. Next, she raised her arm and motioned to someone behind us. A tall, handsome, young man descended the steps and arrived at her side. “Yohance, look at who just arrived here, and see what this boy is wearing around his neck.”
          Yohance appeared as surprised as the woman was. His large eyes met Joel’s and he murmured, “Is that your stone that you wear there around your neck?”
          “Actually, the necklace belongs to our dad. Our grandmother just gave it to him. She had it in a safe deposit box at the bank, I mean, she had it stored away for safekeeping. For a long time.” Joel stumbled with his explanation. “We didn’t know what it could do or where it would take us, until today.”
          Jetta and Yohance looked at each other, then back at us again. “Young strangers, do you know what has been said through the ages? It was foretold that the Creators would come back one day, finding favor with their faithful children of this land once more,” Yohance said. “Today must be the day. Welcome Creators, welcome back to Fahdamin-Ra.” 
Joel and I relaxed, smiling back at Yohance and Jetta. I was about to reply when the crowd parted, making a path for Kayin and an older man. As the prince spied Jetta and Yohance talking to us, his face twisted in anger. He propelled himself toward us, then grabbed Jetta’s arm, to pull her away. “Get back, you unworthy child,” he growled. “Who do you think you are to be in the Creator’s esteemed presence?” Jetta tried to yank her arm free, while Yohance moved to her side.
“I may speak to the Creator if I wish.” Jetta was angry, too. Her dislike of the prince was apparent.
“Please, young merciful Majesty, my sister was attempting to make the newcomers feel welcome.” Yohance’s voice was calm, though his eyes flickered with annoyance at Kayin. Watching them, I wondered what Jetta could have done to make Kayin so angry.
A firm, strong hand clasped the prince’s shoulder. “My royal son, blood of my blood, this is not the time, nor the place,” said a deep voice. Kayin released Jetta’s arm, and she and Yohance backed away.
          “Councilor Joel, Councilor Sister Celestine, please permit me to introduce my father, King Zayas, judicious ruler of the tribe of Harun, Imperial Master of this city,” Kayin proclaimed. His words were polite and formal, though he was pouting and glaring at Jetta. Zayas bowed to us, so Joel and I bowed back. The older man’s face was impassive, staring at us with black, piercing eyes.
“Welcome, traveling children,” he said in his stately voice. He was the same height as his son, but appeared more imposing, because of his broad shoulders. It was impossible for me to guess his how old he was, but I thought he must be my father’s age. His stern face, dominated by a large nose, looked hard, as if he rarely smiled or laughed. As he scrutinized my brother and me, we studied him back. 
A huge purple hat studded with precious stones, bright feathers, and gold tassels matched his ornate sash, which hung from his left shoulder over his multi-striped robe. A massive gold necklace, shaped like an eagle, covered his chest. Zayas had the aura of a leader, serene and majestic, but also seemed serious and wary.
The king’s eyes darted to the stone and the necklace. “Please follow me,” he instructed. We trailed him up the steps, taking care not to tread on his long, silken robe, as we followed him into the temple.
The inside of the building was immense and triangular. Statues lined the walls, lit by dozens of torches on gold stands, making the Temple glow like a jewel. Several men appeared from the back, out of the dimness. They had a uniform look, since each of them was old and they wore long, flowing robes, each with the same colored stripes. Like the king, they wore much gold and many jewels. As they gathered around Zayas, he addressed my brother saying, “I see that you have the Almighty Creator’s necklace or one that looks just like it. How did you, a young child, acquire such a thing?”
Joel looked nervous, but spoke up bravely. “I don’t know what you mean about the Creator’s necklace. All I know is that this necklace and stone have been passed down through my family for generations, and after we recited a poem, it brought us here this morning.”
“Would you recite this mysterious poem for me?” Zayas asked. I fumbled in my pocket for the verse, and then Joel and I read it aloud. “How did you know the special verse to read, and that it went with the stone?”
I started to explain, but the king flicked up his hand up to stop me, as he nodded to Joel to continue. My brother told the men about the box, the pouch, and the writing on it. All of them listened attentively, until he was finished.
“You carry the Creator’s stone, but do you wear the Creator’s mark?” inquired the king. Again, Joel looked confused, so he shrugged his shoulders. “May I look for myself?” My brother was rigid except for the tiniest nod. Zayas moved toward him, and the other Harun men gathered around, closing me out. I pushed in and stood close to my brother, unsure what they intended to do. The king used the tip of his pointer finger to fold forward Joel’s ears one by one, to examine the back of his lobes. “Yes, the Creator mark is here,” he proclaimed and the others swarmed to look for themselves, leaving me to wonder what kind of mark was on the back of Joel’s earlobes. Before I could ask, all the men moved away.
Another man came out of the shadows. He was dressed almost exactly like the other men from the temple, but by their manner, it was obvious that he must be their leader. They parted respectfully to let him through as he approached us, looking down his nose at my brother and me. Though he carried himself with rigid dignity, he had protruding buckteeth, which gave him a comical look.
“My wise and patient king,” the man said. His voice was shrill and wheezy. “We know what we have to do. Despite appearances, this questionable boy may be the person we have waited for all these many ages. How do we know the beauty of a jewel from a raw stone unless we cut it? I will not presume to remind your Magnificence, of all people, what test needs to be done.”
Just for a moment, the king dipped his powerful head and looked resigned, then straightened. Kayin watched him, clenching his hands at his sides. “Yes, you are most wise, Tribe Historian Rudo, and I know of what you speak. Please, all of you follow me and we shall see if the truth will be revealed.” He turned and walked away.
The Tribe Historian impatiently motioned for Joel and me to follow, and then the rest of the Historians came behind us. We moved out of the main area of the Temple, passing through softly lit rooms with stone tables and benches. Young men in the striped tunics looked up from their writing as we advanced. One of them was Yohance, but we had to hurry along, and did not get a chance to acknowledge him.
          Zayas led us to a winding staircase, and the light got dimmer as we climbed. At the top, we arrived at a small room with two narrow slits for windows. One of the men lit a lamp, which pushed back the dark, illuminating an old man who sat on a large pillow. He rose stiffly to his feet as he heard us arrive. “Zayas? Is that your step I hear? Who is with you?”
The king went to the old man’s side and touched his arm. “My devoted Father and King before me, I bring you uncertain strangers, a boy and his sister. He is wearing a stone on a gold chain, which looks like the Creator’s stone, and he claims that it brought him here from another world. He also carries the mark of the Creators. I knew he must be brought to you, for he may be the one to fulfill your long awaited prophecy.”
The old man turned, and Zayas guided him to face our direction, but I had already guessed by then that the old man was blind. “Come here, young man,” he said, as the Tribe Historian disdainfully pushed Joel near enough so the blind man could grasp my brother’s shoulder. I moved forward too, but Rudo barred my way, giving me a nasty look. I glared back, disliking the haughty way he treated my brother and me.
The old man announced, “I am Father King Sudi and ten long harvests ago, I lost my sight. What saved me from the deepest despair was when I had a vision of a Creator returning to our world at last. It was revealed to me that to prove his divinity, he would restore my vision.”
Joel gaped at the old man and then turned to the rest of us. “I’m just a kid. I don’t know how to cure a blind person.”
Zayas pressed his lips together as he stared at my brother. Sudi’s joy faded from his face, but he bowed his head and asked, “Could you try?”
Joel paused in thought and then nodded. Catching himself, he said, “How do I do it?”
“In our history, Creators always placed their hands on the person and transferred their power of healing,” instructed Rudo in an authoritative tone. From his disapproving look, he did not expect anything to happen.
Joel raised his hands and put them gingerly on either side of Sudi’s face. The old man jumped, startled, then they both settled down again and closed their eyes. My brother’s brow furrowed as he concentrated. For a few minutes, no one moved, and then my brother took his hands away. They both opened their eyes and stepped apart.
          “I can see, I can see!” Sudi looked about, touching his eyes as if he could not believe it. ”After the dry season, the rain must fall. The Creator has returned,” Sudi continued. Joel grinned and nodded, but I could tell he was as surprised as everyone else.
          “How did you do it?” I mouthed to Joel as we looked at each other, feeling excited and relieved. He shrugged his shoulders to show he did not know, as every Harun around us dropped to their knees, except Sudi, who shouted praises and thanks to Joel, the Creator. I had to clamp my hands over my mouth to stop from laughing aloud. Joel looked bewildered as Sudi kissed his hands and bowed repeatedly, and the formerly imposing King Zayas groveled at his feet.
          I struggled to get myself under control, which was not easy. Thank goodness, no one was looking at me. Joel swelled with pride, then announced, “Please, everybody, get up.” After a lot of bowing, the group got to their feet. Sudi stopped dipping and shouting, then just stood there, looking around, as tears of happiness rolled down his ancient cheeks.
“The Harun people await such great news as this,” King Zayas proclaimed, a wide smile cracking his stern face. He led the way, and we followed along in the procession. We told everyone that we met the news of Sudi’s cured vision, starting with the young men writing, and then the crowd that still lingered outside the Temple. More people came, bowed, and held up their children so that they could catch sight of us.
After a while, the Tribe Historian Rudo came out of the Temple with gifts. Kayin draped a purple sash over Joel’s shoulder, and King Zayas presented my brother with a gold eagle statue, which was about a foot high, and had graceful lines showing the work of a talented artist. Its two emerald eyes glittered in the sun. Zayas raised his hands and the crowd was instantly silent.
“We welcome Councilor Joel, Creator Son, so compassionate and powerful. We hope he and his family will be with us forever, and indulge themselves upon our meager hospitality. Our long years of darkness have passed.”
Everyone cheered, and then the king stood aside so Joel could make a speech. Dumbfounded, my brother looked over the crowd. “I am glad to be here and to meet all of you,” he said. He stopped to clear his throat. “My sister and I want to go home and get my father, so you can meet him, too,” The entire crowd hummed, which we took for approval.
After a while, the excitement waned, so we followed King Zayas and his band back into the temple. They all crowded around Joel and ignored me, so I started examining the statues. Inscribed on each base was the same exotic script that was on the pouch. As I investigated a statue of a smiling woman with a sheep, Yohance came alongside me.
“Councilor Sister, I feel such joy to know you are here,” he said. “When you and your brother leave, it will seem an eternity until you both return.”
“That is so nice of you to say, Yohance, but we don’t know how to get home.”
His expressive brown eyes widened in surprise. “You have the verse that got you here. What about the poem to take you home?”
“We don’t know it.” I admitted.
Smiling a little, he led me toward the largest and most elaborate statue, which depicted a man with three children standing around him. Around his neck was a gold necklace that looked just like ours, with a stone pendant. Yohance pointed to the strange writing on the base. I started to protest that I could not read that type of writing, as it seemed to swim before my eyes. Then, it cleared and I could read the verse that brought us to Fahdamin-Ra, and another one:
“Take me back to the land where I was born,
Its soil is my body, its water my blood,
Land that I came from, land that I love
Take me away to home.”
“Is this what we say to take us home?” I asked Yohance, and he nodded, grinning. “Oh, you haven’t got a piece of paper or something to write this down, do you?” I pleaded with him.
Dangling from his belt was a square paddle with paper attached to it, and from a slim bag he produced some long, thin sticks of dark gray that were sharp at one end. “What kind of bumbling scribe would I be if I did not have my tools? I would not be worth my stripes,” he said as he handed the writing tools to me. I wrote down the verse and then thanked him. “Please hurry back, Sister Celestine, and brighten our dreariness with the light of your smile.” With a deep bow, he slipped away.
Joel was tired of the attention and glad to see me when I wandered over and threaded my way through the throng of tall men. They ignored me except for Kayin, who looked miffed because my brother reached out and took my hand. “I know how to get back home,” I whispered in Joel’s ear. His eyebrows raised and I showed him the verse on the piece of paper.
“We are going to return home now, and will come back as soon as we can,” Joel said. All the men looked dismayed at his abruptness, but they bowed, and then the Tribe Historian gave us a long, flowery speech. After that, the King assembled his guard who guided us through the city. Once past the city gates, more guards met us carrying purple awnings, and escorted us in style back to the stone circle.
King Zayas had Joel march along beside him, while I was stuck walking with the prince. “I am most anxious to meet your Creator father,” Kayin said. “Councilor Joel is a remarkable young man, and I am sure your father will be even more extraordinary. After all, the best tree grows the best fruit.” I did not manage a reply, so the rest of the journey was in silence.
After we arrived at the stone circle, we took our places in the exact center. The Harun knelt before us, King Zayas saying, “Thank you so much, Creator Joel, for coming here today, and restoring the hope that has become worn from the handling of many generations. We will remain here until you return with your long awaited and most excellent father.”
With that, my brother fumbled for the stone and we both touched it. As I held up the paper, Joel and I recited the verse together. The stone brightened when we finished, its shining light engulfing us, obliterating everything, and suspending us in time.
I felt something solid under my feet. It was the welcome surface of our kitchen floor. As the light faded, we saw Mom and Dad there, clutching one another, their shocked faces turning toward us as we reappeared.
There was silence for a few seconds, then Joel announced, “Hey, Mom and Dad, have we got something to tell you.”

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