This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Ancients Return

The bigger of the moons was full tonight, and the senior of Teepu’s two wives returned after making her ritual obeisance to it. She bent low, as usual, when entering the hut; Teepu was a great chief and his wives owed him respect. But since she was the senior wife, Eljee had the right to enter only bowing low. The junior wife, Kituk, would have had to crawl in.

That was the tradition, and Teepu, though a progressive and intelligent chief, and as compassionate as his circumstances would allow, knew he could not fight and win against tradition. He had long given up trying.

“Kau,” said Teepu, using the term of affection tradition did allow him, “what do the spirits say?”

“The Ancients return tonight, Budhu.” That was the term of affection allowed her.

Teepu sat straight up at that. His jowls quivered. “The Ancients! Are you sure?”

“Never more so, Budhu. I have seen a star fall like a glowing coal from the heavens. I have heard the sound of its coming. I have seen it fall, and I know where it lies now.”

“It is just as the legends say,” whispered Teepu.

“Yes, Budhu. It is exactly as the legends say.” Eljee touched Teepu on the back of his thick wrinkled neck. “It is time.”

“Kituk,” called Teepu. The second wife – who had been sitting quietly at the back of the hut – came. She and Eljee briefly touched cheeks in greeting. “Go and call the clan together. We need to talk of what is happening.”

“If it is the Ancients coming,” Eljee said, “there are things that we must do.”

“You are the Priestess, Kau. You know what it is you should do. And I – I have things too, that I should do.”

“Be careful when you go to meet the Ancients,” said Eljee placidly.

Teepu stood beside the hole in the ground and looked down at the object.

It was a deep hole, so wide across that it would have taken Teepu nearly a revolution of the small moon to walk its circumference, and so deep it would have taken him as long to reach its bottom. It lay below him, the soil fused and blasted and still steaming with the heat of the object that now lay at the bottom.

“Ancients,” called Teepu, “have you returned? Have you come back all the way from the stars? Have you come to take us with you, as you promised our fathers and their fathers before them, O Ancients?”

He paused and looked down again at the smooth grey object that lay, mostly buried, in the soil. It still had a faint reddish tinge from the heat. “If so, behold, I am here for you, to help you and to guide you. Is it you, O Ancients?”

He listened, but nothing came from the grey object. He had not expected anything. A crafty smile broke his thick drooping lips. “Perhaps it is not you, Ancients,” he said. “Perhaps it is only a mass of rock, made round from the heat of the fall through the ocean of air.” He cocked his head and listened, and, when nothing came, he picked up a pebble and dropped it into the hole. It bounced off the grey object, and nothing happened.

He heard then the noise of the clan approaching, clapping and singing and dancing to the music of the instruments the Priestess, his senior wife Eljee, and her acolyte, his junior wife Kituk, were playing. He turned and waited until they were standing by him before he spoke.

“It is not the Ancients,” he said. “I have greeted them, you have played the welcome music for them, but there is no answer.”

They stood by the hole looking down, and the Priestess and her acolyte played a series of notes and chanted the ancient words of greeting, but nothing happened. The hole cooled and the grey object lost its reddish tinge. At last everyone began to realise nothing would happen, but still they stood around it, and at last Teepu himself clambered down the side of the road and touched the surface. It was definitely dead, and he turned and climbed up to his people. “It is not they,” he said.

And, returning at the head of his subdued throng, he was exhilarated, although not even his wives suspected this. Inside he was smiling.

He was still chief of his clan, because the Ancients had not come.  

Copyright B Purkayastha 2009

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