Friday, September 2, 2011

Chapter 4 ~ More Discoveries

          My parents ran to us and hugged us. “What happened to you? There was a bright light and then you both disappeared," Dad said. Spotting the necklace with the stone still around Joel’s neck, my father pulled it off my brother, tossing it on the counter as if it were a venomous snake.
          “Dad, that stone is great. It took us to Fahdamin-Ra, just like the poem said,” Joel explained. “Fahdamin-Ra is a world and there are people there. They want us to come back and to bring you.”
          My parents looked confused and bewildered, and then everyone started talking at once. “STOP, EVERYBODY, STOP!” The events of the morning were too much for my father. We all became silent, shocked that Dad had raised his voice. “All right now. We will sit down calmly and you will tell us, one at a time, what happened.”
          I let Joel talk first, only interjecting comments when there was a detail he missed. Neither of us mentioned the leopard. When we ran out of things to tell, my parents sat there looking at each other. "It would be hard to believe your story, except for the fact that I saw you both disappear from in front of us. I don’t understand how you could have accomplished all that when you were gone only five minutes."
          "We have been gone for hours, Dad," Joel said, baffled as well.
          We all puzzled over that, but no one could come up with a satisfactory answer.
          Mom examined Joel’s eagle figurine, which sat on the counter where he placed it. “Where did you get that? It looks like solid gold and real jewels. It is beautiful workmanship.”
          “King Zayas gave them to me after I cured his father.”
          Dad peered at it, too. “You know, Valerie, I think this is real gold. It certainly feels heavy enough to be. Did you notice that this bird design is similar to the one on the box? This is an extremely valuable piece of art to give to a twelve-year-old boy.”
          “Not if they think I am a Creator,” Joel argued. “Dad, you have to come. They said that one person in each generation is a Creator, and if you are an only child, you must be one yourself. C'mon with us. You have to see it.” Our father stared solemnly and rubbed his face. “Dad, we need to get going,” Joel urged. "We told King Zayas and everyone that we would be right back."
          “This is so crazy. If what you say is true, then we should not interfere. We can’t drop into another world and start healing people and getting involved. I think we should leave well enough alone."
          “But what about our promise to the King? He is waiting for us.” I thought of all the people we met that morning and I couldn’t let them down without a fight.
          Dad shrugged his shoulders. "What right do we have to interfere in their lives? Who do we think we are?"
          "You are a Creator," Joel debated, his cute brown face looking fierce. "In the Temple, they have statues of all the Creators before us. They must be our ancestors. Don’t you want to learn about them?”
          “They also wrote down the history. You’d like to read all about their history, which is part of ours, too. Wouldn't you, Dad?” I pleaded.
          "Raymond, as much as I have misgivings about you and the kids going to this place, you need to go. Now that you know what the stone can do, how can you not travel to Fahdamin-Ra? You have the verse to get there, and the one to get back. If you don't like it, you can leave any time you want," Mom persuaded, as excited as my brother and me.
          Dad sighed at our combined cajoling. “You are right. Let me have the stone, please."
          "Wait!" I exclaimed. "We should change our clothes first, so we look more regal. We need to pack some extra things, because we don't know how long we will be staying.” Everyone thought it was a good idea, so Joel and I ran upstairs to change into our African clothing. I was looking forward to returning in clothes that would not brand me as a stranger.
          I decided on my solid purple dress. It had narrow bands of red and gold printed fabric around the neck, hem, and sleeves, but looked similar to what that girl Jetta was wearing. While I slipped on my sandals and struggled to tie the red, purple, and gold striped scarf around my head, I could hear Dad complaining in the other room.
          “I can’t go to a strange world in my nightshirt and pajama bottoms. I’ll look silly."
          “No one will know that it’s pajamas if you don’t tell them. Isn’t it lucky that I bought those lengths of Kente cloth on sale and sewed you three nightshirts? There. You look quite African," Mom tried to reassure my father.
          I went into the attic and found three canvas duffel bags. I gave one each to Joel and my father, and then packed mine. I went into the bathroom to get my toothbrush and personal items. Joel packed quickly and came out of his room. He looked quite nice and I told him so. His tunic of multi-striped fabric had red, square designs sprinkled on it. The purple sash Kayin gave him was arranged over his right shoulder, though it clashed with his clothing. Contrary to Harun fashion, he wore black cotton pants and sandals on his feet.
          Mom sailed by us to get Dad’s toiletries, and she smiled. "You both look great. Did you remember your combs and clean underwear?" As we nodded, she asked, "Do you have toothbrushes and toothpaste, too?"
          “I don’t think they have toothbrushes, Mom," Joel said.
          “Well, pack them anyway, and hide them so no one sees them."
          I followed Mom into my parent’s room. Dad was adjusting his Kofi, a traditional African hat. Mom had sewn it from midnight blue velvet and embroidered golden suns on it. The suns glittered because of little golden beads she’d sewn into them. My father wore his white nightshirt with designs that reminded me of amoebas. Like Joel, he wore cotton pants and sandals.
          I untied my scarf and asked Mom to retie it, which she did like an expert. Everyone paused for a moment when it looked as if we were ready to go. Mom hugged and kissed each of us, then stood across the room. Fear and worry haunted her eyes, but she looked cheerful, as if she sent her family off to another world every day. Joel and I each put an arm around my Dad, as he put on the necklace. I held out the verse and we all recited it. The stone glowed, and then filled the room with iridescent light. Suddenly, the room was gone and we were floating in a serene, radiant glow, as if in a dream.
          Feeling the stone surface of the circle pressing against the soles of my sandals, I could tell we had arrived at Fahdamin-Ra. It was night, the area lit by the illumination of torches. I recognized King Zayas and Prince Kayin, standing at the edge of the circle. Guards, the irritating Tribe Historian Rudo, and an older man accompanied them.
          I looked at Dad and I could see surprise and wonder on his face in the pale light. “I think you will have to make physical contact with one of them, so that you can pick up their language," I murmured. “Maybe you should touch the king; he’s the one in the purple hat.” My father nodded, as Joel stepped forward and addressed Zayas, who was first to reach us. “Hello, King Zayas. I am sorry it took so long for us to return. We have brought our father with us.”
          “Please do not apologize, Creator Joel,” King Zayas reassured him. “Is it not said that men serve the Creators, not the other way around? We are humbly grateful to you for the honor that you have bestowed upon us by your return." He bowed and the others copied him. Then his eyes darted past Joel to settle on Dad.
          Smiling, my father walked confidently to the king and touched the side of his head. Zayas gasped as his body gave an involuntary jolt. He and the other Harun sank to their knees in awe, bowing their heads.
          Dad glanced back at us, incredulous, and we looked encouragingly at him. When he turned his attention back to the men, he acknowledged them with the bearing of a Supreme Being. "Please rise King Zayas and tribal members of Harun. My name is Raymond, and on behalf of my ancestors, I apologize for the lapse between visits. Thank you for the kindness with which you treated my children when they visited earlier.” The Harun rose as my father spoke. They kept stealing glances at him while keeping their heads slightly bowed.
          "Look at that!" Joel called out, pointing up to the sky. For the first time, I saw three moons above us. One looked like our moon, with a larger moon above it, and the smallest moon, a shade of orange, hung to the right of the others.
          Our Harun entourage looked up. "What is it about the sky that interests you, Councilor Joel?" said Kayin, mystified.
          "You have three moons?" my brother said.
          "Yes, we call them Baba, Arakunrin, and Arabinrin. The Father, the Brother, and the Sister." He paused as he realized the significance of the names in relation to us. "Are moons different in your world?"
          "Yes, we have one moon, about the size of The Brother. Seeing three is unusual for us, and beautiful," Dad said. We all stood and gazed upward for a few moments, and then Zayas took charge.
          "Councilor Raymond, please indulge me as I humbly introduce my faithful son and heir, Prince Kayin," he declared. Kayin gave an elegant bow and stood proudly before my father. Next, Zayas indicated two men who stood beside him. "May I acquaint you with Anon, our City Director, who is most wise and efficient? This is Rudo, Master Tribe Historian, who is the most knowledgeable man in all matters concerning the history of Harun. These two men and I make up the City Directorate." The men gave short bows as Zayas said their names. Anon, who was stooped with age, had heavy eyelids that gave the impression that he was bored or sleepy. I again wondered if Rudo’s lips could close over his buckteeth. Zayas did not introduce the guards who carried swords, bows, and arrows. They stayed in the background with no expectation of being introduced.
          "Dad, are we going to visit the Harun City now?" my brother pleaded, ever impatient when standing still.
          “I would be happy to leave anytime. Shall we go right now, or would it be better to wait until dawn?" Dad asked Zayas.
          "We could leave now if His Holiness wishes." Zayas waited politely for Dad’s response. When my father gave a tentative nod, the king proclaimed, "The guards will light your way." Two guards started along the path, and Dad fell into step with the king. As the rest of us began pairing up to follow, I stopped and looked behind me, trying to see into the darkness. I did not know if it was a sound, or if I felt somebody there, but I was sure there was someone watching us. I started to call to my dad, but he was gone. Only two guards remained, impatient to leave. I ran to catch up to Joel, who walked beside Kayin, and I followed close behind them.
          "It looks different at night," Joel said. “The moons make everything look silver."
          “I never leave the safety of the city at night, so this is new for me as well,” the prince answered.
          "Think of all the animals that are out there right now. It would be great to explore the fields and jungle in the dark, without those lanterns. They interfere with your night vision." As Joel finished speaking, Kayin motioned the guards to go ahead, so we were in darkness. Our trio walked slower, until we trailed far behind the rest of the men.
          “Prince Kayin, why does everyone wear striped clothing in Harun?” asked Joel.
          Kayin was eager to share his knowledge. “The stripe colors show what our occupation is and the amount of stripes denote our position. Children have no rank, so they wear solid clothing. The lowest positions start with two stripes, up to the highest, my father, who has eight colored stripes.”
          “Oh, that makes sense,” Joel replied, but I fumed because my dress was plain, like a child would wear, while my brother’s tunic was striped.
          “I wear six stripes and my grandfather wears seven, because no one, even a former king can have more than the present king. The highest ranking subjects wear five stripes.”
          “When do you start wearing striped clothes?” I asked the prince, who pretended not to hear me until Joel looked at him. 
          “Well, when we are of age and appear before the City Director. He decides our occupation. Of course, for me, my vocation is apparent. I was born to rule, so it was quite simple." He chuckled at his joke, which was lost on Joel and me.
          “You can’t pick what you want to be?” I inquired. The prince ignored me, though I knew he heard my question.
          Joel lost interest in our discussion, so he started scanning the horizon for animals. “I hope I can go out there and explore soon,” he said, pointing to the grasslands.
          “The savannah? We never go there. The only people who venture that far are the Masamba, who hunt with their leopards at dusk,” Kayin announced with distaste.
          “Do you travel on the river?” My brother was ready for exploring.
          “No, we Harun don’t feel the need to travel on the water. The Jabulani used to raft up and down the river, but we Harun have not seen them for a long time, and there are rumors that no one is left in Jabulan but ghosts.”
          “Wow! We should go to Jabulan right away.”
          “Perhaps you would consent to wait on that. My father made extensive arrangements for you to have a tour of the city. We have entertainment for you, and you have many people to meet.”
          I hoped I would meet some girls. It was tiresome traveling in the company of men. “Prince Kayin, I would like to see Jetta again,” I said firmly.
          He acknowledged me this time. “She is not fit company for the family of a Creator,” he replied.
          “Why, what is the matter with her? She seemed very nice, and friendly besides.”
          He halted and towered over me. “She is a headstrong girl, who disobeyed the Tribe Historian, and my father, the king. She has lost her place in the tribe, and it is presently being decided what will be done with her.” He stalked away, as my brother and I hurried to keep up.
          “How did she disobey the Tribe Historian?” Joel asked with great interest.
          “She refused to marry the man that was selected for her.”
          “So, someone decides who you are to marry in Harun?” I shuddered. “Is it true for both women and men?”
          “Well, the way it is, is this; a young man is summoned to meet with Master Tribe Historian Rudo, who gives choices for the bachelor to marry. The Tribe Historian has already researched the groom's family line, and the line of his intended bride. The groom selects one of the women, and then the Historian notifies her of her impending marriage. She and her family prepare for the wedding. A simple system, it has worked for us throughout our history.”
          “Why does the woman not have a say?” Joel questioned.
          "We cherish our women, but only we men are qualified to make such important decisions," Kayin said. "Men are wise and strong, whereas women are weaker, in the mind as well as the body. It is our duty to take care of them. For a young woman to question the Tribe Historian’s judgment is both foolish and disrespectful.”
          “Not if she didn't want to marry a jerk.” I muttered.
          It was near dawn and now light enough that I could see Kayin glaring at me. “You are merely a girl, and could not understand such complicated things.” He whipped around and turned his back to me.
          Kayin was so irritating that I wanted to kick him, but instead grumbled, “What a male chauvinist pig.” I focused the full force of my ire on him as he moved away, unaware of my hostile thoughts. As I glared at him, he became wavy looking, but I thought it was a trick of the light. I blinked and looked again. No, he was quivering and becoming a blob. His tall body compacted and got lighter, as his features melted, projecting here, withdrawing there. In less than a minute, he changed into a pig before our startled eyes.
          Joel and I just stared in awe at the animal. It was perfect, from its pink snout to its cute little curly tail. Joel started laughing so hard, I thought he would fall down. The pig let out a sharp squeal, which compelled the guards ahead of us to turn and look. The whole procession could see the pig now, so they came back to examine it, baffled by its appearance.
          "What is this...animal?" Rudo inquired fearfully, as they gawked from a safe distance. Everyone but Joel and I looked puzzled. My brother stopped laughing, as he went over to pat the pig’s back. Dad cocked an eyebrow at my brother, expecting Joel to confess.
          "It is Prince Kayin. I turned him into a pig," I said. The pig let out a loud squeal as an affirmation, and I bit the side of my mouth to hold back a snort of laughter. Everyone stared at me in surprise.
          “Why did you do this?” Dad questioned me finally.
          How did you do this?” asked the king. “Unless you asked your brother for help?” Denying any conspiracy between us, Joel shook his head. “Master Creator, I am quite perplexed. May I have your permission to see if she has the mark?” Zayas queried my father, who nodded.
          Now it was my turn for the king to look behind my ears and to proclaim that I carried the mark of a Creator. All the Harun were dumbfounded, and not good at hiding it. I ended up having to stand there longer, so Rudo, Anon, and my dad could examine me.
          “I must humbly beg that you pardon us for our surprise, my liege,” Zayas said to Dad.   “A Creator having two marked children has never happened in the whole history of Fahdamin-Ra.” He gazed at me, perplexed, then as it occurred to him that I had power, and he’d better be careful, he added, “Many unexpected and fortunate things might come of this.”
          “Or a catastrophe,” snorted Rudo, but gulped as I glared at him, and he became silent.
          “So, Celestine, why did you do this?” asked Dad, getting back to the point.
          “The prince insulted me, and I thought he was being a pig, and then he just turned into one,” I declared, not sorry at all for my actions. 
          King Zayas knelt before me and, like dominoes, his men fell down on one knee as well. “Merciful and forgiving Creator Celestine, I beg for compassion to be extended to my son, and that you restore him to his former self. I give you my most solemn promise that he will repent and not seek to anger you again.”
          “I will, but it is not just him. Your tribe does not treat women fairly, and,” I lectured, intending to go on and glad for a chance to air my views before the cowering men.
          Dad interrupted me. “I am certain that he regrets his actions. Please restore him.” He was not willing to listen to me at the moment. I stopped talking and I turned my attention to Kayin, visualizing him in his human form, and he began to change shape. I wanted to make him into a female, but I didn't dare push my luck with father any further. 
          The Harun men did not move as we watched the prince transform. Kayin's features softened as he became his normal self, though he remained on his hands and knees. He stirred, as though he was waking up. He looked at his hands, and then glanced around. When he saw me, he moved into a kneeling position with his head bowed.
          “I am so sorry I insulted you, O Supreme One, Councilor Celestine, the magnificent and merciful," Kayin apologized. "Many thanks upon you for allowing me to regain my humble human form. I promise to guard my tongue and to never insult you again."
          I cut off his babbling before he could say more. At that point, I felt annoyed at all of them and was rather curt. "Please get up, Kayin. Please, will all of you stand up? I am sorry, I had no idea I could do that. I will try to control my power in the future." My brother grinned at me and gave me a wink.
          As the men got to their feet, I took the lead, heading for the bridge, which was nearby. Several of the guards hastened to form themselves around me. Joel, still smiling, joined me and looking back, I saw that Kayin was careful to walk behind everyone else.

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