An interesting day. As I feared, I awoke this morning as stiff as one of the planks on the wall of my cottage. Thinking it might help to move about, I set off for a stroll around the village, but by the time I reached the Meeting House, my neck and shoulders ached unbearably and I had to sit. I never dreamed that I was so unfit. Muscles hurt that I didn’t even know I had.
Kattan came along while I was sitting and asked if I was unwell. Maybe it was the way I was sitting, maybe I looked pale, I don’t know. I’ve noticed his keen perception on a number of occasions. It was more than a little embarrassing to tell him my trouble, but he showed only concern and immediately sent a young boy off to fetch the Treespeaker.
I had heard tales of the healing skills of the Arrakeshi Treespeakers, but now I have experienced them first hand. Jakan simply placed a hand on my shoulder and it was as if he had given me a deep pain-killing draught. I could feel the stiffness ebbing and within a minute my muscles returned to their normal laxness. He did not massage or manipulate my shoulder in any way. It was a simple, gentle touch. At the same time, Jakan seemed to stiffen as if taking my pain into himself. Yet when he’d finished, he looked as relaxed as before. Had I simply observed this procedure, I would probably have concluded that the cure was of a psychological nature - the patient's belief in the Treespeaker's power allowing his muscles to relax. But having experienced it myself, I can only say that there was definitely a force outside myself bringing about relief.
I tried to thank him, but he shook his head and advised me with a smile to admit to my limitations next time I was invited to help. As with Kattan, there was no judgement in his words, only kindness.
Later in the day, Jakan came to check on me, to ensure that the pains had not returned. I was busy at the time, writing notes on some fungi I had found on a tree trunk just outside the village. He seemed fascinated by the drawings and writing alike, never having seen anything like them in his life before.
For the rest of the afternoon, we talked – of the uses of fungi amongst the Arrakeshi, but also of more personal matters. After much encouragement from me, he tried to explain how his healing powers work, but as it is an intuitive thing for him, he had difficulty in putting it into words. The healing, he says, comes from his close connection to Arrakesh, the spirit of the forest (I find this interchangeable use of the name for the physical forest and the spirit very interesting). It is Arrakesh, he says, who gives him the power to heal. He has had the ‘gift’, as he called it, since he was 16 years old and took over after the death of his father, also a Treespeaker, when he was 17.
He is still hesitant to tell me much about the role of Treespeaker, but I sense a relaxing of his initial distrust. Maybe during his healing, he was able to sense my good intentions? Whatever the case, I did feel that we will be able to converse more deeply in future. I hope so.
I am exhausted. I don’t know if I’ve ever done so much physical work in my life. For too long I have sat at my desk studying, without ever testing my physical powers. Kattan asked me yesterday, if I would like to help with wood-gathering and I agreed, thinking it would give me further chance to study the forest and learn more of the Arrakeshi ways. Had I realised that the wood-gathering would go from dawn until dusk, I might have made an excuse. Yet the Arrakeshi men and boys involved didn’t seem troubled by the work. They dragged, chopped and stacked with energy, working together to get the job done without sign of tiring.
With winter only moons away, a stockpile of wood is needed close to the cottages. Gatherers went out of the village in all directions, collecting the wood into small handcarts and trundling it back to stack it in the pile on the east side. We had to walk quite a way before we found a fallen tree ready for gathering. The wood stack is far away enough from the village not to present a hazard should it catch alight, yet close enough to be easily reached for household use. So, much energy was spent in walking to and fro as well as chopping.
Something I have observed since I came is the use of metal axes, knives and, to a lesser extent, pots amongst these people, yet I have seen no sign of the working of metal anywhere in the village. Kattan tells me that these things are brought back as gifts by those taking their sharesh in Carlika and are highly valued. Knife and axe handles are carved with interesting designs, each unique to its owner, an Arrakeshi stamp on Carlikan metalwork.
I must sleep. Somewhere on the other side of the village, the sound of a wooden flute carries on the breeze. It’s a plaintive tune that seems to hold the forest within itself. A soothing background for my aching limbs. I wonder if I will be able to move at all at sunrise?
I have been here less than a week and yet I feel at home. The communal feast last night helped me to get to know a lot more of the villagers, and my summation of them as a gentle, generous people is confirmed. As soon as my plate emptied, there was someone at hand offering me more. When my mead needed replenishing, it was done before I could ask (and a lovely drink it is, I must say).
When the feasting was over, the villagers – around 150 in all, I would guess – sat around and listened as Jakan, the Treespeaker, told a story. At least, to me it was a story. To the people of the Fifth Tribe of Arrakesh, it is part of their history. I will attempt to tell it here, as best I can remember it. The Arrakeshi use no form of writing. All history is passed down from generation to generation orally, as it was last night.
"In the days before Man walked the earth, or birds flew in the air, or trees shaded the ground, Arrakesh the Creator had a brother, Maganark the Destroyer. Everything Arrakesh made, his brother would destroy. The world was a barren, joyless place because of it. Arrakesh pleaded with him, but it was Maganark’s nature to pull things apart, to uncreate. He felt no guilt at the distress his actions caused.
At last, Arrakesh could bear it no longer. He devised a plan. During a long period of darkness caused by Maganark, he secretly created seven types of creature, which he named collectively the 'jikhoshi'. These creatures obeyed only him and were able to make themselves invisible. Each creature of the jikhoshi owned a sound, a note that it could sing with such purity and clarity that when the creatures sang their notes in harmony, they created a solid, clear wall of music. Drawn to their song in his yearning to destroy it, Maganark became trapped by it. Together, the jikhoshi took him in this prison to Neteknesh, The Place of Darkness. There, they forced him into a hole in the ground that Arrakesh had created, pushing him deep down into the bowels of the earth. Arrakesh sealed the hole, imprisoning his brother forever. Over the top, he formed a deep lake.
Then Arrakesh created a forest to cover the land, with men and plants and animals living in balance with one another. But around Neteknesh, which became known as the Black Lake, not a plant or animal would grow. Still Maganark attempts to free himself, shaking the earth and raging through the rocks. Never has he managed to free himself, but Man must take care to do as Arrakesh wills, not to lose his temper or wish ill on others. For such destructive thoughts give strength to Maganark."
Though the villagers must have heard this story many times before, their attention didn’t stray from their Treespeaker’s face as he told it. Even the children, who would normally have been sleeping, stayed awake, wide-eyed and curious. When he finished, they stood and returned to their cottages without a sound. I looked out of my cottage window a good time later and only Jakan remained, still seated, staring into the dying embers of the fire.
I have moved into my own cottage. Though small, it has all I could need; a fire for warmth, a shingled roof, dirt floors, a small table with cushions for seating, a wooden chest in which to stow my belongings and a mattress with furs for sleeping. It will allow me to write without disturbing anyone, while at the same time relieving others of the ‘need’ to accommodate me. Megda insists that she will see to it that I am fed, but I hope that I can soon persuade her of my ability to look after myself.
The cottage is right next door to that of the Treespeaker, Jakan. I knew it to be his even before I saw him there, for there is a carving on the door of a tree, exactly like the tattoo he bears on his wrist. He remains aloof, but Kattan tells me this is probably because as Treespeaker, Jakan could never take his sharesh and so knows nothing of Carlika as the others do. The Arrakeshi believe that should a Treespeaker leave the forest, he would die within a very short time. As soon as he stepped through the Veil, his spiritual tie with Arrakesh would break, a loss he could not survive. I hope that I can befriend this man, for he is the holder of the lore of these people and belief systems are of particular interest to me.
These villagers are such a gentle, giving people that they seem childlike. Their small stature adds to this image. Yet they’re not weak. The children argue and play rough and tumble, just as our own young do. The adults have disagreements and I have heard raised voices from across the village. Such arguments though, are resolved without resort to real violence. There is a certain strength in their ability to resolve issues amicably. Whether this is something to do with Kattan’s gentle leadership or the spiritual guidance of Jakan, or whether it is a general Arrakeshi trait, I have yet to determine.
A boar was captured yesterday and all day today it has been roasting over a fire in a clearing at the centre of the village. Tonight everyone will gather to feast on it. My mouth already waters at the smell wafting in through the window.
The women went out first thing after breakfast, ten of them in all, with a few young girls and smaller children in tow. Each carried a woven shoulder bag and a sharpened stick about two fingers in thickness. Megda seemed to be in charge of the group, but each knew what she was doing without being told.
We followed a path leading away from the village to the south of the Meeting Hall. Not far along it we reached a glade where there stood an enormous oak tree. The young man I met last night, Jakan, stood beneath it, obviously deep in thought. He didn’t seem to notice us passing by and none of the women or children disturbed him. In fact, they seemed to be doing their utmost not to disturb him.
Past the tree, we took another path more to the south west until we reached a place Megda told me is called Triffin Glok. There they laid down their baskets and began to dig beneath a vine that grew quite prolifically there. It not only covered the ground, but trailed over trunks and branches making it quite difficult to find a place to kneel.
The holes they dug went quite deep before they began to pull out small tubors, varying in size from a child’s fist to that of a grown man. The women banged them on the side of the rough shoulder bag to remove most of the dirt before placing them inside the bags. As they dug, they sang a song with a regular beat to aid their digging. The words were, as far as I could tell, without meaning – a series of sounds, rather like a lullaby. Megda tells me it is one that has been handed down from generation to generation and it’s not unusual for someone to change a ‘word’ for the fun of it. Any original meaning has, therefore, been lost.
From memory, the ‘words’ went something like this:
Kabi, kabi, kabina
Sooji, sooji soorum
Hopi, hopi, hopina
Baji, baji, boorum
Chiki, chiki chikina
Pati pati poorum
Nipi, nipi, nipina
Joti, joti, joorum
After two hours, with the bags full, the party returned to the village. Each woman poured her bag into a large, communal tub of water and they sang again as they scrubbed the yams clean and laid them on a woven mat to dry.
Before the sun got too high (but the yams had dried from their washing), the women stowed what they had gathered and washed, into open baskets and took all but a few (for their own meal tonight) into the storehouse.
Unlike the tubors gathered by the Kutira people of the far western island of Gyri, the yams in Arrakesh contain no poisons and require no special treatment before being cooked – boiled, baked or roasted. They are sweeter than potato, though a little more powdery on the palate.
Tomorrow, I am to see the cottage that has been prepared for me. I am a little embarrassed at how much effort has been put into seeing that I am comfortable in my new surroundings. Even when I have my own place to stay, Megda tells me that I am to be fed by the villagers. I must watch for a way that I can repay their kindness without going against their traditions in any way.