In The Deep Forest
“It was a chilly morning, much like this one”, Hir’s eyes wandered a whole circle over the heads of the group huddled over the thinning fire, “I was new to the planet back then. We had spent the night exchanging stories, like we did today.”
In the deep heart of an ancient forest lived a small community of old-tongued people that nobody knew much about in the main centres. Soyru was the head of this village.
Soyru used to wake early each morning and tear a small fresh twig off the Neem tree with which he would clean his teeth after he had stripped the fresh leaves into the simmering water in the metal pot which his young son had put on embers for a warm bath.
He would spend ten whole minutes with the twig between his teeth, waking up the rest of the household and helping with the preparations for the morning meal that would be carried to the fields. The men and women who spent the night on the cold fields were treated to breakfasts for their service.
That morning however as they neared the fields, one of the kids running back and forth in play, came screaming that she had spotted a red flowing garment that seemed to be seated right among the people of the clan.
“Intruders!” Soyru murmured, “This can’t be good.”
He handpicked a dozen young men and women who had proved themselves good fighters on multiple occasions and instructed an elderly clanswoman to retreat to safety till one of his fighters or himself reported back.
The band of thirteen then began to proceed towards the fields with abundant caution. A five minute amble took half an hour but they were soon in the earshot of the company. To their amazement their clans-people were jovially laughing with the red-robed figure sitting with his back towards them. A single intruder?
“Has he put a spell on them, miserable sods?” he managed from between clenched teeth.
“They look pretty normal to me. I think he’s telling them stories.” a young woman ventured.
“Like we’re short of stories here” snorted Soyru.
The others were too afraid to argue further, and the young woman gave up.
“We will now form a big circle around the group and surround him. For the plan to succeed, we must all attack at the same time, so hide behind the bushes at a four-hand distance and attack when you hear my koel song imitation.”
The plan was simple and in another half hour they had surrounded the intruder with the bewitched group. Suddenly there was chaos.
“What do you think are you doing?”
“Why are you pointing spears at your own?”
“Is this how you treat your vigil parties?”
“Would our ruler then kill us for talking?”
“Silence” shouted Soyru, “You’re clearly under a spell to be entertaining an intruder. We’ve all heard stories of what havoc they’ve created in the hills to the west. Why are you bonding with him?”
“Hello! I’m Hir”, the red robes politely said, “I’m a storyteller.”
“We need no storyteller in our village, we have enough stories to keep us company on a million starless nights.”
“That’s true, why else do you think am I here?”
“So you want to steal our stories then?”
“But Soyru, Hir is a good storyteller. Hir means us no harm!” a young man pleaded.
“I’d say exchange but if even that bothers you, how about borrow? I’m only a vessel.”
“You’re a fancy man. I don’t know how you know our tongue, but we don’t like fancy men around here. Please leave the same way you came.”
“I’m neither a man, nor fancy but if my presence bothers the community then I’d leave.”
“It does. Please leave.”
Hir looked at Soyru with stern kindness, “You’re an able warrior Soyru, and a good man and you’re anxious to look after your community; but you’re not the community.”
“My community respects my opinions.”
“It might not always want to follow them.”
“It would have to.”
He signalled his people to follow him back.
“We should take Hir with us, Soyru. We don’t know what the others would want.”
“They would want what we want Huta. Moreover, they don’t even need to know about this conniving outsider.”
“He might be an outsider but he knows us well. We spent the night talking and exchanging tales. We want to take him with us. He’s our guest.”
A tiny rebellion had begun to simmer among the ranks, much like the simmering water scented with neem leaves that Soyru had bathed with in the morning. This scent however was obnoxious to him.
“You will all be excommunicated once the whole clan has thrown the invader out.”
They all walked back towards the village in silence.
Within the hour, the whole village had assembled. The whole story was narrated again, and the people asked to collectively decide whether Hir should be allowed to live amongst them.
“I think this event has triggered a more important question. Does Soyru rule us completely? If not, what are the decisions he can’t take for us?” This was a thinking young villager. She had often been accused of shirking labour but everybody appreciated her knack for coming up with the most creative ways to lessen the burden of laborious work. It was she who had started spreading cloth-pieces under berry trees so they need not be picked individually.
“That’s a good question. Please answer it for the both of us” said Soyru, gravely.
The villagers soon had an answer. Soyru would lead them, but he couldn’t control them. If more than 20 members disagreed with him, the matter would be discussed by all. They agreed in favour of keeping Hir out of the village for their safety against an alien who looked far more advanced than them. There was no bar on interactions with Hir outside the village.
“It was the first time I felt happy for a village despite being disallowed to live in it. Though they did accept me eventually, of course. Took 45 years. The upside was that I learnt to imitate monkey calls.”
“You brag, fancy clothes! Go ahead, do us an impression then!”
“It’s been a long time fellas! I’ve forgotten what monkeys look like.”
“Don’t forget your convincing tongue somewhere or it will take a lot less than 45 years for people to kill you.”
The sun was a bright orange. There was laughter, tea, and contentment in the knowledge that a new day will bring a younger night and more stories.