Morbrent and Tommy are late comers to the group around Auntie’s cottage. Hearing scraps of the news about Sebesh’s “attackers”, Morbrent jumps to the conclusion that real monsters are stomping their way to the village at this time. He grabs his friend’s arm in fear as he tries to make sense of what is being said.
Tommy notices Gorman emerging from the cottage door. “Why is he always in the middle of things?”
Bending his head down to avoid the low door opening, Gorman half-turns to answer Auntie’s anxious question. “I am only going to see how many there are, Auntie. Don’t worry. I will get to the mountain slope before the moon rises past the peaks.”
Gorman is taller than most of the other villagers. However, it is not his stature that quickly opens his way through the crowd. His status is firmly as the lowly mucker, so villagers are reluctant to be close to him.
Gorman was always fastidious in cleaning up his outerwear after morning rounds. Nevertheless, several of the women, young and old, turn up the noses as he passes.
The original hamlet was an accidental decision by two families who had made the dangerous trek across the mountains to the east. They were too tired to go further so they stayed in the meadow that became the Commons. One of those founding families was Grandfather Gorman’s great/great grandparents. The other family petered out over the generations. Different families were welcomed as they made their way there, either fleeing violence or searching for peace. Every new arrival was welcomed by the Gorman clan. They didn’t do so with any fanfare. They merely gave the newcomers beds and food for the night, then helped them start their own gardens and abode. The Gormans neither wanted thanks nor did they receive it for very long. Outsiders somehow found it intimidating and even suspicious that help should be so freely given. There must be something they wanted.
So, when Morbrent’s family was chased away from a town beyond the other side of the nearby lake, Grandfather Gorman’s quiet welcome was greeted with more ill feeling rather than gratitude.
As the village grew larger and some newer families did not know how to behave in a self-reliant community, disputes occurred and certain conventions fell apart. Reluctantly, village meetings were held to settle disagreements between established residents and newcomers. It was decided to begin certain village services for the benefit of all, even though these things had been taken care of by individual families in the past. The village’s growth produced previously unnecessary group actions. Conventions transformed into rules.
The Gorman family’s main contribution to the village in his grandfather’s time had been to help the community by taking on the one task that everyone avoided – keeping the packed-clay street clean of the nightly accumulation of muck. Newcomers simply tossed the contents of their chamber pots out the bedroom window as they arose. With bedrooms being on the second floor of most of the houses, a wide spray pattern was created. Telling them it was rude to do so fell on deaf ears. “Well, this is what they do in the big towns. Since we don’t have a gutter, walk on the Commons side of the street if you must be out in the early morning.”
Grandfather Gorman decided that his commitment to the welfare of the village had to be scraping the muck every morning from the street in front of the houses and pile it for use, after a year’s aging, in the far side of the Commons. This was, wisely, placed downwind of the village houses.
What was at first considered a blessing by the other villagers became the curse of Grandfather Gorman’s family. When the old man grew too ill to do his morning rounds, villagers grew upset, then angry. The elder Gorman had no son. His two daughters were forced by the constant, acrimonious blather in the village to take over from their father. When the older daughter was to be married to the new family that later produced Morbrent, her suitor renounced his troth, saying he could not live in a house which smelled all day of muck. He told this to Grandfather Gorman’s other daughter, Yolotli, not wanting to face the young woman whom he knew was now with child. Grandfather Gorman lived only another few summers. He said to his dying days that he was proud of his family’s hard work and contribution to the village. His daughters were not so sure.
As the years flowed by, young Gorman accompanied his mother and aunt on their dreary morning duty to the village. By the time he had seen twelve summers, Gorman showed intelligence in suggestions to ease their burden, and strength with his growing height and doggedness to get the work done.
Auntie Yolotli once took a break to apply a soothing salve to her sister’s hands. “Father always said that our family’s mission is to help others. Laka, your lovely son follows in that tradition. Is that his destiny? To serve others?”
“Your voice carries a hint of questioning spite, dear Yolotli. And yet, here you are, always searching for healing herbs to ease the suffering of others.”
Yolotli dropped her head. “Appreciation. Merely the hint of appreciation is all I desire. Not from you, dear sister. We understand each other.” Still holding the hand she was caressing, they leaned against each other’s cheek.
Another four summers was all the love that Laka could give to her son. Then her heart gave up.
A few days after the village funeral Gorman disappeared.
He returned the next spring. Would not speak of where he had been. Was angered when he learned that Yolotli had been left to muck the street on her own for all that time.
In their one-storey cottage, Gorman tearfully apologized to his aunt. “Dear Auntie, what has our family done to deserve this punishment?”
He was in a deep depression and decided that the only way to break the circle of torment was to leave the village for good.
Yolotli sighed. “My dear Gorman. I do understand where you are. I, too, was there after… after Laka left us. In my anger at the ignorant misery inflicted on us by the village I spent my anger on the clay pots scattered about our home. When nothing was left to smash, and our good neighbours came to see what the noise was all about, I ran off into the woods on the far side of the lake. In my mind I could only see myself slipping under the lake’s soothing water. Then, sitting on a rotting log to get up my courage, I saw mushrooms poking up under the log. Thinking they were poisonous, I resolved to ease my pain by taking a handful, wade into the water, down the mouthful and slip away, to no longer be a bother to anyone.”
Gorman was horrified. “Auntie! You can’t!”
She smiled. “I didn’t. I did wade out, but when I stuffed the mushrooms into my mouth and stood there waiting for it all to end, the mushrooms spoke to me. The ripples on the water spoke to me. The kestrel yelled at me. Butterflies gathered around my shoulders and lifted me back to the log. When they dropped me onto the nearby grass, I looked down to see my body bounce slowly as waves of colour spread out and I lay on the pillows of the meadow, and the music of nature sang to me from everywhere.” Yolotli took a breath.
“The music spoke to me in ways I had never heard before. I could not understand it, at first. Then many meanings rose in my mind. Floating above my sleeping body, I started to understand. How nature connected every living thing in ways that people could not know. They fought so hard from knowing. I saw that the harder they fought against nature’s songs, the more monstrous they became. They changed from loving the life in which they participated, to loving not-life. They lived in rooms above life. They changed to loving not-nature. Too many went on a savage quest to surround themselves with not-life. Absolutely straight lines. Square boxes. Rules that constrained creativity rather than celebrating it.”
Yolotli sat silently, remembering her time of change.
Gorman was intrigued. He wondered if something like that could happen to him. “Auntie…”
She looked up at his questioning face. “You wonder if the same reshaping might happen to you?’
Yolotli shook her head slowly. “This is not like a salve I apply to your wound, dear Gorman. It may burn through your arm. It may take you down into the depths of a black spiral from which you cannot climb out… It is dangerous. You must be prepared.”
He was confused. “How can I be prepared for something with such unknown dominion over my mind? Were you prepared?”
She shook her head. “I have always been possessed by the power of nature, so perhaps, yes, that was my meagre preparation… Perhaps I was guided by a few tendrils of nature.” She took his hands into hers. “First, dear Gorman, you must open your eyes to the many appearances that nature presents. They are not what you wish them to be. They may be terrible to your eyes, as one animal eats another. But seeing it all from the eyes of a soaring kestrel, you will see that every thing eats every other thing. A wolf pack will devour a deer, and at the end of its life the wolf’s body will be devoured by the soil, feeding the plants above it. Nature wishes only to maintain life. It passes no judgment as to which life will hold the stage at any time. There is only life, or not-life.”
Gorman nodded. “And, as you have taught me, people seem to have the power to create more not-life than has existed before.”
She smiled. “You have begun your journey to enlightenment.”