Methven - Day Thirteen - Part Two
Unlike most guys, I never have had a problem asking for directions. I'd had pretty good luck finding a bath--not to mention assorted fringe benefits--by simply stopping the first person I met and asking directions, so I tried the same strategy on the women dining at the table next to us.
"May I ask your business with the Master of Scouts?"
"We want him to teach us to See, Mother."
All three women broke up at that.
"I do not understand why you laugh at what I say."
She smiled and stood up from the table.
"You will. Come--I will take you to him."
. . .
I have a pretty good sense of direction. Even so, the woman--who told us her name was Akavasi--led us through such a maze of passages and stairwells within the Clanhome's complex of buildings that, by the time we emerged onto a narrow path that eventually took us to a small cabin set well above the Clanhome proper, I was completely turned around.
The hut we were approaching shared the same A-frame design as every other structure I'd seen in the valley, but the wood it was constructed of was deeply weathered. The incredibly gnarled and squat trees that made up its frame reminded me of bristlecone pines. It wasn't actually in all that bad a state of repair, but the place was clearly much more ancient than any of the Clanhome's larger buildings.
Sitting on a skin outside the little building's door, his face lifted to the sun, was the oldest male Vomisa I'd seen. He was ancient--so much so that the snowy fur had receded from the top of his head, shoulders, arms and thighs.
And his eyes were filmed over a solid white with cataracts.
He wished us good hunting and offered us food.
"No, thank you, Mr. Mahatna. We have just eaten."
His wispy eyebrows lifted in what even I could tell was mock surprise.
"If you do not need my hospitality, why have you come to visit me?"
He rubbed his wizened chin with a spidery hand as his gaze went from Akavasi to me and back again.
If it weren't for his cataracts, I'd have been certain he could see as well as I can. Even with them, he sure didn't act like a blind man.
"Mr. Traveler--may I know your name and that of your companion?"
"I'm Drew, Mr. Mahatna. Drew Wilde. My friend here is Pith."
He nodded and frowned, wreathing his leathery features in a mass of crinkled lines.
"I do not know your accent, Mr. Drew."
"We're from Earth. From a city called 'Berkeley'."
He cocked his head quizzically.
"I do not know this place called 'Earth'. How did you come here to Khasim Clanhome?"
"I..we came with a woman named Læ. I don't know if you've heard of her. She's from a place called 'Centra'."
He nodded and a smile spread itself across his deeply-seamed face.
"I have known Mother Læ for many years. She is a good woman and a good friend to my Clan. If you are truly her friends, then I will try to teach you how to See."
I only realized I'd been holding my breath when it came whooshing out in a sigh of relief.
"More like 'employees'."
Mahatna glanced sharply up at Pith, whom I could cheerfully have throttled. He chooses the damnedest times to indulge his sense of semantics.
"So you have a voice after all, Mr. Pith! Perhaps you will use it to explain what you mean."
Pith just shrugged in response.
After a long moment, Mahatna turned back to face me.
"Since Mr. Pith will not, perhaps you can explain, Mr. Drew?"
I shot Pith a look meant to convey just how pissed off I was at him. In response, he just batted his eyes at me.
I hate it when he does that.
"What Mr. Pith says is correct. Læ hired us to.."
I thought fast. I wasn't at all sure how much of our mission I could reveal to Mahatna without compromising it. At the same time, I didn't want to actually lie to the old guy. After all, I'd just ask him to do us a favor.
"uh..to help her bring Mr. Mantami back here to his kinfolks."
Mahatna's wispy eyebrows went up again.
"That is certainly odd. If the child Mantami is who he is said to be, he is perfectly capable of finding his way home unaided. And Mother Læ is herself quite familiar with our mountains. Surely she has no need of your protection?"
I didn't like the way this was going at all. Mahatna's inflection said he doubted we had what is takes to protect Læ from an attack by an enraged butterfly and I sensed he was about to send us packing.
"We..ah..that is, I am bound by honor not to speak of Læ's business without first asking her permission. Since you say she is your friend, perhaps you should ask her these questions yourself, Mr. Mahatna."
He grinned slyly at me.
"You speak as much of the truth as is in your interest, Mr. Drew.."
He turned to look in Pith's direction.
"Mr. Pith, you speak the truth, rather than let others twist the facts on your behalf.."
He laughed and turned to our guide.
"Thank you, Mother Akavasi, for bringing these seekers to me. The one is careful and devious, but he is not wise. The other is also not wise, but he is careful and honest. To teach them both to See will be a challenge."
"I hope you will enjoy the experience, Mr. Mahatna."
"I am sure that I will, Mother. Whether they will also enjoy it may be another matter."
"As you say, Mr. Mahatna."
She turned to go.
"Yes, Mr. Drew?"
"I..that is we..also thank you."
She threw back her head and laughed. Then, without replying, she turned and strode quickly away down the path that led back to the Clanhome.
"Mr. Drew, you say you have eaten recently?"
"Yes, Mr. Mahatna."
He shook his head.
"Then you cannot drink the Elixir of Awakening today. You must first fast, if you wish to drink the Elixir."
That was certainly disappointing.
"We did not know, Mr. Mahatna. How long must we fast before we can drink the Elixir?"
"After your evening meal, take neither food nor drink. Come to me in the morning and we will see if the Elixir can Awaken men from Earth."
"Thank you, Mr. Mahatna. We will do that."
I turned to follow Akavasi down the path to the Clanhome.
"Where are you going, Mr. Drew?"
"I..er..I thought we had to wait until tomorrow to drink the Elixir, Mr. Mahatna."
"That is true. But, the Elixir is only one part of learning to See."
"Oh? Well, then what would you like us to do?"
He cocked an eyebrow at me. With his cataract-clouded eyes, the effect was unsettling.
"Turn around and describe what you see."
"As you wish."
I turned to look out over the Clanhome valley.
"I see the Clanhome. There are five..six..seven large buildings and..uh..lots of small ones. I see the valley beyond those buildings. Over to the left, I see the Pools of Pleasure and to the right I see..hmm..what looks like a pen for livestock. I see other buildings in the distance, flanking either side of the trail. I see green fields and what look like orchards and people working in them. There are mountains on either side and.."
"That is enough, Mr. Drew. Mr. Pith, what do you see?"
I turned back to look at Mahatna. He had his hands together in that upside-down steeple shape I knew meant he was exercising some aspect of the Scout Way.
"Looks like a cradle t'me. Lotsa hearts at work, makin' a safe, warm place f'r th' fam'ly. Nice view."
"That is enough, Mr. Pith."
Mahatna grasped a plain staff of dark wood leaning against the wood pile next to him and rose to his feet in a lithe motion that belied his gnarled frame. He gestured with it toward the interior of his hut.
"Please enter my home and be welcome."
Pith and I both had to duck to get through the doorway. The entrance was scaled to Mahatna, and he isn't just old--he's short.
Inside, a small, wooden table with four backless stools arrayed around it sat in the middle of the floor. In the back glowed a fireplace with a copper-colored pot on a swinging arm steaming over its coals. To my right, snug against the wall, was a bed strewn with furs and to my left, against the other wall, stood a set of shelves crowded with ceramic and wooden containers and cloth bags. Various implements and articles hung on hooks set in the wall either side of the hearth. A water barrel with a wooden dipper hung on its side sat to the left of the doorway.
The floor was dirt. There were no windows and no back door. It was, at the same time, both cluttered and Spartan.
"So--why do you live alone, Mr. Mahatna?"
"I do not live alone, Mr. Drew. Now, sit, please, and I will bring you water."
I reached for the dipper.
"Let me help you with that."
He spun around and glared at me, pointing imperiously with his staff at the nearest stool.
"SIT, you fool! I do not want your help!"
"All right, all right..I'm sorry if I offended you."
I sat, my knees barely fitting under his table. Pith, who's even taller than me, crammed himself into the seat across from me.
"So..ah..is this a kind of office for you?"
Mahatna shook his head. He set cups he'd taken from their hooks beside the hearth in front of Pith and me.
"This is my home."
He went to draw water from the barrel by the door.
"Then someone lives here with you?"
He shook his head irritably.
Mahatna poured about an inch of water from the dipper into Pith's cup.
"You are welcome, Mr. Pith."
Mahatna went back to the water barrel.
"I don't understand."
He nodded emphatically.
He returned to the table and filled my mug from his dipper, then turned back to the barrel.
"Thanks for the water. I'd really like to understand, though. You say you live by yourself, but you don't live alone?"
Mahatna returned to the table to empty the dipper into my cup, filling it to the brim. Then he moved back to the water barrel.
"I don't mean to be argumentative, but that seems contradictory to me."
Mahatna returned again to the table and again emptied his dipper into my cup, causing it to overflow onto the table--and into my lap.
"Mr. Mahatna! That cup is already full--you are making it spill over!"
He banged the dipper down on the table.
"I know that, Mr. Drew."
"Like this cup, you so overflow with opinions and speculations that there is no room left in you for truth."
Mahatna rounded on him.
"You are no better than your friend. Mr. Drew's mind is filled with empty chatter, but yours is merely empty. He looks at everything and sees nothing, but you see everything and allow yourself to experience nothing. You are a hollow man, Mr. Pith, while Mr. Drew is filled with sabat dung. Neither of you is worthy of the Elixir."
He turned his back to us.
"Go now. Leave my house."
"But, you said.."
He used his staff to rap me a good one upside the head. It didn't damage anything but my pride, but it sure hurt.
"Tomorrow we will speak again. Now, go!"
(Copyright© 1997, 1998 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)