Luke saw the change in me and he kept watch over me thoseearly few days after I first ingested the dust mix. He didn’t understand. How could I explain something like that to him? I didn’t even try.I knew he cared about me and he knew I cared for him too, but there was a new and gaping difference in our relationship. True to his character though, Luke followed where I ledwith my new perspective and never questioned me.
I had been going through the various foods at my disposal in The Gulf for almost two year at that point. And though the meals I had been presenting to the Imam were still being received with stunned shock, I decided to push out further than I ever had before. My farm had been progressing well, with goats, cattle, chickens, all fed on specific foods only, and crops flourishing. Not to mention the access to all manner of fruits and imported foods stocked in the Imam’s kitchen.But even with all those resources, I was unsatisfied. And so my search intensified.
With the Imam’s permission I left Luke to run the farm, then took a small amount of each serumwith me on a trip to the next town over. I had to go by boat, which I arranged to return for me on a specific day. It was intriguing to see a new place. Though most of The Gulf looked like barren land, dusty with nothing more that occasional outcrops of palmsand some mountains, the settlements were churning centres of activity. There was a market in every single town or village where often one could purchase anything from weapons to fruit. There was also always a mosque, around which most settlements seemed to have grown – only the very remote villages sprang up around wells.Religion was woven into all things there, from art to social structure and from commerce to politics. I headed straight for the market, hoping to find some nice cuts of meat and some fruit to enjoy that night. It was a culinary nightmare.Livestockand animals in varying stages of butcherywere all spread out in the heat of day.Puddles of blood and dung were congealed on the ground on which the market was held, often trod upon and so further spread around. The smell was strong anddispleasing and the noise immense. When I found a spice stand I remembered the Vizier’s indulgence at my expense and had to chuckle to myself. The scent there was pleasant so I stood by the spices and watched the crowd for a few moments. Once I had found some fruit, I made my way out of the market and found the address which the Vizier had explained hosted the Imam’s people when they were in that village. It was a compound with walls the height of a man. Grotty and sullen on the outside, when the gates opened and I entered I was met with a sense of beauty. Bushes ringed by rockssheltered chickens that hid from barefoot children. A gaggle of women sat in the shade of the wall, each in vibrant coloured dress and two bearded men sat reading and sipping from tiny cups. It wassilent too,so after coming from the market the absence of sound was sweet music to me. The young man who had let me into the compound led me to the single storey house where he pointed to my shoes and then pointed to a row of other shoesjust inside the door of the house, then he offered me water with slices of orange in it. We spoke and Dirikexplained, in impressive and fluent English, that he recognised me from my description. Others who had stayed at those lodgings had mentionedtheir leaders’ descriptions of my meals and of me. Dirik shook my hand and asked me to cook for them, but I declined as I was in the service of the Imam alone.The young man was dismayed, but heagreed, of course, and showed me to where I would be sleeping. Once I dropped my pack of clothes on the sleeping mat Dirik offered to take me for a walk around the village and tell me more about its history. An offer I was happyto accept.
At first I only half listened as he detailed the history of the region and the settlement,and as we went my mind wandered. It was such an old place. Hundreds of years of countless generations of families all battling the bitter nights and broiling days and each other. So much blood had been spilled on the sands of that region, so many souls loosed from their mortal trappings.It was a place of hardships survived and lives struggled through. And yet, it was not without its spirit. There was a bond among those people who carved out their existence there. They all sharedin the knowledge of being capable of what is required of them by the most powerful force of all, nature. And they were as rugged as the land too. All of them were aged far beyond their years. Even the children. It was not a place to live alone, I thought. And that is what had brought aboutthe most profound of ideas.
I dismissed it at first. But that night, as I sat out in the compound gazing up at the stars andpondering the depth and breadth of time and the heavens, that strange concept began to flower in my mind. For hours that night I walked the compound wall, lapping the house where the others all slept. I tried to imagine what would happen and what I might learn if I attempted such madness. As always, I had to know. I had to push myself. And so, after sleeping through most of the following day I waited for everyone to go to sleep and then I prepared the serums.
Laying out a blanket, I placed a bowl between the two cups of the serums and sat cross legged. I imbibed the first serum, rolled up my cuff and took a sharp knife to my palm. My blood pooled in the bowl and when I had enough I wrapped my palm with cloth. After the ten minutes I lifted the bowl to my lips and closed my eyes. It was cold, I had expected it to be warm but it was cold. As was the sensation which it brought on.
It was like as shiver that shot through me. A great chill seizing my mind and my body. And then my soul.As I had when I first tasted Sky Fire I felt myself bursting into another realm. A wide open place where I felt as though I did not belong yet, somehow,I felt welcome. I didn’t see anything, but I sensed many presences with me. It felt as though I was watching strange but familiar beings as they watched me. Like shadows wavering in a mist. I knew that they surrounded me, but I also felt as though I surround them. It was not a place of body, but of mind. Of feeling. Then, just as I began to feel as if I knew what was happening, one of the beings emerged as more prominent that the others. It drew near to my mind, growing in strength. I could feel that it was female, and though I could not see it, nor could I hear it, it spoke to me. It spoke into me. It shed itself and let a pieces of it pour through me like smoke. I could feel it urging me to be calm. I could feel it trying to soothe me. But in the same moment as soon as I felt that warm effort I awoke alone in the sand.
For the rest of that night I lay on my sleeping mat in the house and struggled with what had happened.I wasn’t that it was a negative experience, nor had it been apositive one – it had been a shock. I knew what had happened, even though it was indiscernible and inconclusive, I knew. And after the fossil water experience, and the Sky Fire, all the new knowledge I had acquired wove together and wore me down. I almost wished that I had never learned the real value of the heavens, and time, and I all but hoped that I had that just imagined that strange cold place. But I was not to be dissuaded.
Dirik saw my distress the next day and brought me food and water and put the children out of the house to let me rest in quiet. To his credit he never asked what had happened. He was a good man, young but wise. And so, after a few days I returned to the palace and the farm and told Luke about what had happened. He was disturbed by what I told him, concerned for my wellbeing and also afraid, I think, of the meaning of what I had seen. To be honest, I was too. We never said it, but we both knew who it was that I had met in that cold place.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey