The War for Ak’ta
She was a lithe woman, slightly smaller than those around her but with quite the boisterous posture. She kept herself high, her dark eyes sparkling with a sort of mischievous juvenile charm. Even when my father had known her— long before I was even spoken of— she had had her cunning ways. That was even my father’s explanation for falling in love with her. He had blamed her trickery for it and would tease quite often.
Still, even when I was young, I knew it was a jest. Just the way his auburn eyes rested upon her figure— the stolen glances from across the table at supper. The way he would hug her every morning when he left, and sweep her off her feet every evening when he returned. It was love as true and pure as the water running through the river among the fields. As beautiful as the emerald grass spreading out across the hills just below the mountains. As deep as the Ak’ta valley and as vast as the Sootmire Sea.
My father was a kind man. Darker of skin than my mother but still lighter than the darkest of the workers. The sun hadn’t been kind to the majority of them, but then there were those decently dark already. They didn’t seem to mind the sun. Whereas, on the other side, the paler of them would cower away from its brutal rays. Their light skin, almost as pale as the pure sugar itself, would grow red if they stayed out too long. Luckily, I never had that issue. My skin was dark— not dark enough to compare with molasses, but more of a caramel color. I took after my grandfather. At least, that’s what my father had told me. I never actually met the man.
Although everyone said his son resembled him almost perfectly, with the exception of the skin tone. His face was less angular than my mothers, and his body was more filled. It was from work, he had told me, but even as a young boy, my body was filled as well. Not that I doubted his words or doubted my active days as a child, but it seemed odd. Even my sister held the same tone— never working a day in her life. Instead, she was occupied with works of poetry.
The rest of us questioned her at first, but each day when she had written a new hymn, we sat around the fire and asked her to read to us. Not that we couldn’t read them ourselves— just her voice suited them. She was older than I was. Older and, looking back, wiser. Each one of her creations fascinated me, and each story she wove sent chills up my spine.
I miss my family. Not to worry, though. They are all safe in Kahari’s Garden. I’m sure she is taking good care of those whom I love. It’s the reason I pray every night and every morning. The reason I offer the first of my kills to the goddess of the dark, and why I leave an extra plate out at supper. It is why I leave no candle left burning in the halls at night, and why the fire must be out due sunfall. Other followers of the night goddess abide by these rules as well, which is why I have no doubt she keeps safe those I held close. She knows what they mean to me.
Why do I worship the dark? Oh, yes. You must forgive my ignorance. For you folk usually see the dark as a bad thing, no? Let me explain.
Kahari is beautiful. In your language, it means darkness. Even mystery. But in mine, it means the unknown. The undiscovered. The moment your world turns black and then it is your turn. For at day, the sun shows us the world as it is. We can see every highlight and every shadow jumping off of every object. However, in the world of Kahari, we can not see. Do you know what that means? It is our turn to make the world as we wish. In the night, nothing is laid out for us. We now have control. We can imagine the world as we wish.
Kahari grants us this freedom, and it is for that I worship her. It is for that she has us.
Looking back, maybe that is why my sister wrote. Maybe that is why she let her mind wander— why she stared at the ocean for hours on end. She was one of those special people who could channel Kahari, and even in broad daylight, see the world as she liked. Your kind calls it daydreaming, yes? We call it a state of enlightenment.
I was always jealous of my sister’s creative mind. The village, as well. For she had the blessing of the night mother herself. One of the few strong enough to resist the sun’s charm and dream during the day. I myself was always the more logical thinker. As was my mother. My father claimed he used to have that creative gift, but it had been long forgotten. He had resisted the charm of the night mother, regretted it, and in turn, Kahari had blessed his child. We were forever thankful.
However, there are things the darkness does not bring, that only the sun can. Keep in mind, personally, I am not against the light. I only just prefer darkness. In turn, there are those that leave those candles burning, and those fires climbing. To me it seemed like a sacrilege, but my father explained that people have the right to worship whom they wish, and I have to abide by that right. For it is theirs.
The sun people, who worship the man named Bahuma, lived in our village as well. We got along, contrary to assumption, for we all understood there is no light without dark, nor dark without light. I never knew the real reason they worshipped the sun, so the answer I told myself was that they were scared of the unknown. It was a naive guess, but how was I to know? I had never asked.
Bahuma brought us our warmth, which fought with Tibutl’s rain, and died in Kahari’s night. Not to mention Ruhmarta, who spread our crops’ seeds with her sweet breeze, and Hiy’alt, who first birthed the soil in which those seeds lay. We all knew our lives relied on more than one higher deity, yet each person will always have their favorite.
Kahari, the great goddess of the night, was mine. Thus why I trusted her with the souls of my loved ones. I’m sure she is taking good care of them now.
What happened? That is a long story. Perhaps it began when Ak’ta burned, and the river ran red. Perhaps it began when Sootmire filled with those ships, and the mountains trapped in the smoke. I had always been skeptical of Bahuma’s ways, but I had never hated fire until that day. Hate is a strong word, but I say it with truth. I despise its mocking heat. I prefer the warmth of a hug or a hand in my own, as opposed to the dancing flames in a hearth.
Forgive me for trailing; this is a sensitive subject. I will try my best to recount the days to you, traveler. The days I could watch as Bahuma rose higher into the vast sky he called home. The way Ruhmarta would carry my soul up from my body and allow me to swim across the valley, far from the shackles of my figure. The way Tibutl would wash me in his spring water, and the way Hiy’alt would draw me back to my body when my adventure had finished. I will take you back to the time when my family sat on the beaches of Sootmire, listening to my sister’s voice drift melodically. I will take you back to before the color of the world inverted, and before I was lost. I will take you back to when the people of Ak’ta were free. When we were whole.
Like my sister taught me to do, I will tell you my story. And like Kahari allows, I will paint you my picture.
So sit back, traveler. Use the night mother’s blessing.
The War for Ak’ta
Maybe it was the way the sun fell later than usual, or the way the rain felt as warm as a mother’s touch, but I had never understood the draw of the summer days. To me, it was just Bahuma’s way of pushing Kahari from her rightful pedestal. Although, it was also the Sun God’s way of cradling the water Tibutl manifested and calming the breeze in which Ruhmarta blew.
Although, nothing could defend what the god had in store for Hiy’alt. Her crops all died in the summertime, even the grass. There were few survivors within the floral world, and when the plants die off, we are threatened as well.
I was infuriated at the sun until my father told me this story.
“What if there was a set limit to this world, my son?” he had asked, his voice so calm as he held a shriveled leaf in his hand. It looked like it belonged within his palm, both of them holding lines embedded from a long lifetime. “What if people were created, and that was it? No deaths, no new life.”
To me, it sounded like a wonderful thing. My family would never have to leave Ak’ta, and we could be ourselves forever. It sounded beautiful. I would never have to say goodbye to anyone I loved.
Although, before I could explain myself, my father continued.
“Consider this first, ombreo, before you answer,” he cooed, his voice elegantly suiting our language’s word for a young boy. As he turned to me, his skin glistened like the fish we drew from Sootmire, though his eyes rested as gently as a patron bird to his flock. “With no death, there would be no new life, see? And those who are offered the afterlife would never get to meet the gods in which they pledge. Do you understand?”
I was starting to, but the uncertainty must have still shone through, for he carried on with the lecture.
“Life is a cycle, yes? Bahuma allows the old plants to die, so new ones can grow in their place. It is a gorgeous thing.”
It was for that I nodded, but the sun still blistering my skin seemed far from the beauty he spoke of. Although the thought of eternal life still seemed wonderful, the world was how it was, and I had to learn to accept it that way.
Of course, there were times in which I cursed the cycle like one curses sudden pain. One time I screamed to the heavens, questioning the ways of the gods who so closely watched over my being. While I see the situation through clear skies now, nothing could describe the amount of hatred I felt then.
I never truly understood until I was older, until I had a child of my own, the importance of that event— of that cycle. My reasoning was deemed selfish and laced with juvelinity as my mindset changed, and as I came to know the sheer importance of death.
Surely you understand, traveler, the fluid mind of an adolescent. Or perhaps you were this intuitive even in your youth. How jealous I would be.
I would never describe myself as a dull child, though. In fact, my curiosity is what drove me to learn everything I know now. I asked many questions, but the only answers I saw were the ones people told me, and how I altered them to my own reality. It wasn’t until I started questioning my reality, and questioning the given answers, that I became able to think like I can now.
You see, it isn’t until we start to question ourselves do we begin to grow. It may seem counterintuitive, but you must believe me. Our own reality may seem cozy within its walls, but imagine what you could do once you built a door! It’s wondrous, no?
But please, traveler, do not misunderstand. Juvenile innocence is something to be savored, just like aged wisdom. How I wish I could see life through the eyes of a care-free child! I love the young very much. They can be so creative, I tell you.
My daughter is one of them— one of those blessed by the mother of the night. One who could dream in the harshness of day. She reminds me greatly of my sister. I told her to never lose that beautiful gift. She listened.
I wish I could remember my sister’s poems. I know one by heart, but I’m afraid my voice, and my abilities, would never do it justice. If you wish, though, I can try to recount it as best I can. If I falter, I do not doubt for a second she will tease me when I finally enter Kahari’s garden. If I don’t, however, I will gladly look forward to jesting praise. I believe it went something like this.
To the dawn I put forth my worries
The fire of the sun enveloping what I no longer hold
An inker in my hand, the night an untouched slate
I take dusk’s hand in the writing of my fate
Beautiful, to me. It speaks volumes— spoke volumes— to my family. Oh, I can’t wait to see them again.
For the sake of your imagination, I will not explain the lines. You do with them what you wish, but I’ll leave you with the line: dreams are only what we make of them. Perspective is an interesting thing.
My sister was a genius in my eyes. I remember, on a cold winter’s evening, she told us that poem. My family sat around a soon-to-be-put-out hearth, awaiting Bahuma’s descent. Her voice cut through the air like a songbird’s, singing the most beautiful of words. She told many others that night, leaving us in the darkness with just our minds. The second the sun drifted below the horizon, she began this one.
“Oei ohhar,” she had said happily. My brother. “Do you wish to hear a poem about the mother of the night?”Not yet being a child able to form my own words, I may have said something along the lines of ah, the abbreviated version of ahyen. It’s our word for “yes.”