High Desert Dreams
Copyright 2018 Brian Davis - CC-BY-NC-SA
A story of a mysterious traveler who joins a high desert tribe as told through the eyes of a boy in the tribe. His powers and wisdom are mysteries to them. Detached, yet compassionate he protects this tribe from neighboring warmongers. Until at last passes the mantel to our protagonist. The story is about seeing through the eyes of the "other". About seeing ourselves as others. About seeing all of us as one.
The thin, dark figure stood out sharply in the setting sun. On top a rocky outcrop, the figure wavered, swaying slightly to some unheard music. The mass of running figures approached from below, waving spears and whirling slings. Their shouts were angry and carried easily across the sage brush dotted desert. The army reached the rocks and began to climb. Maybe 100 feet of broken rock separated the little man at the top and the angry men below. The sun fell behind the distant mountains and I broke cover to run for safety. That was the last time I saw the wizard Tahgi.
I was a young boy. Years from birth are not counted by my people. I was old enough to run with the other boys instead of going with my mother to the fields. But not old enough to carry a spear with the men. Strength of arm, and swiftness of feet, are counted by my people where other's count years.
We had run off into the trees after our morning chores. To set snares and try to catch fish. The little sticks we threw into the water to skewer the brook trout were not counted as spears. But the glittering prizes we brought home were still praised, and delicious.
I was hiding behind a rock. Waiting for Po to come down the small game trail we had followed. Waiting to surprise him and gain standing by my stealth. These were the games we delighted in. Instead of Po from west, it was Tahgi from the east who came padding down the trail, humming to himself. Our people did not know music as such. We beat rocks, or the ground with our feet and danced but melody and music were not a part of our world. In that first moment, Tahgi's first act of magic, was to open my mind and heart to new worlds. I named him instantly, "wizard".
Without a thought I lept into the path. A strange and magical being, thin and bony, where I was stout and muscled, I would tame, capture or kill and gain standing with my friends. I was armed with my fish spear and the unshakable faith of youth. He carried no weapon.
He did not pause or flinch, or even acknowledge me. He only kept on. As he came close I yelled and thrust my spear at his face. In a flash his hand closed on my spear and it flew from me into the trees. His humming unbroken he continued past, still not meeting my eyes! I turned mouth gaping, and saw him glance back and pierce me with a look. It penetrated to my soul, I felt. He knew me to my bones. He face was neutral betraying nothing. Finally he paused midstride and beckoned me to follow. He faced back around and continued on his way. I stood a moment, my mind a whirl. What? Who? How? Questions ran each other over in my mind and I couldn't help myself. I ran after him.
Said nothing to me that day. I followed him for hours. Chattering and peppering him with questions. He only hummed, and sometimes clapped a little, or danced a few steps. I was captivated. I did not leave him, not until that last day.
Eventually he did speak to me. His voice slow and quiet. He taught me music. We made music with voice, with rythymn, with magic instruments we fashioned of reeds, or gut strings stretched tight over wood. He taught me of animals and plants, rocks and trees, water and sky. These were already my world. I thought my most intimate friends but he knew so much more I realized the world I had thought was known was instead full to the brim with mysteries. Most of all, he taught me to see the mysteries, and to love them.
He did not keep me from my people. That first day he returned to my village. There was much wonder and consternation. He was darker of skin than us. His hair long and ratted together in long, thick tendrils. His eyes very dark and full. Where we were all short and squat, sturdy and full of power, he was reedy thin. Our faces flat, his angular. So different he seemed another sort of creature altogether. Yet in the end all of us loved him because he would give us things to think about that made or hearts and minds expand.
Then came the warmongers. My people had never fought another. We traded with other tribes. Sometimes a young man or woman would go to live with another tribe and be part of us no more. These times were sad because they went away, but also joyous, for we were proud they were sought after.
But the warmongers were another thing. First a rumor of a fierce people who killed an enslaved. Why did they do that? Did they not have a place of their own? Taghi explained to us that sometimes a place was not enough for a people and they sought to take from others.
Others we said? Can you take the forest from the deer? The stream from the trout? Or the sky from hawk?
He shook his head sadly. You see the deer, the hawk and the trout, and you love them for the wonder of what they are. They have their place and you have yours. The warmongers see you as "others". Others do not deserve a place, or wonder, or love, they think. Only themselves deserve these things. Others, they think, are bad.
We were shocked. Arguments and scuffles we knew, between brothers, or sisters or between tribes. But these were resolved one way or another. Winner and loser if it got that far, or the elders might pass a judgement if necessary. But "others" who should not have place or things or life? We knew other tribes, they each had a place. Some near the great river where they caught the big fish. We in the desert caught deer and antelope and traded the skins for the fish. We each had a place and a purpose and wonder and life and love...
This discussion lasted long into the night and some the next day. We felt unease in our hearts. What would we do when the warmongers came? Why do they hate others so?
Many reasons Taghi said. They are afraid. Afraid that if they don't kill others they themselves will be killed. They feel small and so are greedy for power to make themselves feel big. People are not so simple that they must have one reason. Yet not so complicated that we cannot related to their reasons.
What will we do?
What will you do?, he asked us back. And looked sharply from one of us to another. Will you fight back? Defend your people and your land? Will you run into the mountains and hide? Will you try to appease them? There are many things you could do. I can not tell which you will do.
We thought long and hard about it. Some were for fighting, some for running. No one really believed we had anything to give them to go away.
It was then that Taghi walked away into the forest. Just walked off. I followed him. He did not stop for two days. At the end of his walk was a cliff. He told me to hid in the forest and watch. He told me to run when the sun went down. And that was the last time I saw him.
Our people split over what to do. Some went into the mountains to hide. Some young men sharpened spears and went off to find others to join with to fight the warmongers. A few stayed in our place, hoping they would be missed by the warmongers.
I wandered in the forest, wondering at Taghi standing on the cliff humming to the warmongers, climbing the rocks, coming to kill him. One day I met another boy. He did not look like my me. His skin was lighter, but he had Taghi's angular features. He carried a man's spear. He looked like the warmongers.
He raised his spear. I asked him his name. He advanced, a fierce look on his face. I am Bahrago I said. He blinked. I am Bahrago he said. Yes, my name is Bahrago, I replied. No, I am Bahrago, he said. And then he laughed. He threw his spear on the ground and threw back his head and laughed. Why is your nose so flat?, he asked. Why is yours so sharp?, I replied. He laughed again and I smiled. Where can I find some food he asked. I am hungry. So was I. Come, let's catch some fish.
Humming I led my friend to the stream to find some trout. My friend, the other Bahrago.