Chapter 1 can be found here.
During the past few hours of his journey, Kron had overheard that the manifestation of divineness could be seen near a village called Lampsack, at the foot of a hill. Carinberry trees grew there, and among the others but next to the road stood the one that had been blessed with the miracle. It bore, within the dark green fragrant leaves and thickly tangled branches, the perfect image of Greev Gromas. In this part of Bornovash, Greev had attained the status of a semi-deity after his untimely death, over two hundred years ago, at the hands of a band of discordant warmongers from an isolated mountain village. He had spent his life as a peaceful philosopher, preaching the virtues of honesty and unpretentiousness (novel ideas in this part of the world), and in looking after the needs of the unfortunate people of the region. Kron had studied about Greev during his school days and considered him a suitable hero. But now, in the depths of the district where Greev had earned his fame, he discovered that there were still those who believed that Greev was more than a human being, and that he had sculpted his countenance upon a tree in order to demonstrate that he was, or is, greater than just a legend passed along through the generations.
Kron heard no one speak who was not convinced of the authenticity of the miracle, either among those who had seen it or those who had not. They all spoke with ringing voices in partial sentences, one being interrupted by another, and each forcing upon the other a more serious insistence to be heard. Each had something profound to add, some morsel of rumor or conjecture that amplified the emotions of the others. Kron understood that the turmoil on the road waxed hysterical, putting him in the midst of religious frenzy.
Having nothing else to do, he listened to every word. He could not contribute anything to this chorus of concurrence that would not spoil the symphony, and he certainly did not wish to bring attention to himself. He was not generally disagreeable so he merely walked along, slower and slower with the crowd, holding his opinions within and reminding himself to be patient.
Midmorning came and the sun was gaining height above, though the air remained thick with moisture. The press of the throng was causing physical contact, the people having long since given up trying to maintain polite spaces between themselves and others. It did not matter to them, for they walked with their brothers and sisters. It did not matter, either, that the individual body odors, catalyzed by agitation and climate, combined in a powerful aura that, to Kron, became a significant trait of this religious movement.
“How far have you come, stranger?” a voice behind him broke into his thoughts as a finger touched his shoulder. Kron turned and saw an ill-kempt, short, fat man with a sparse and untrimmed moustache. He resembled a full barrel set precariously on thin sticks, ready to topple at any moment, his tattered loose rags hanging on him but not yet able to hide his unstable physique. The sweat dripped from his face and ran in streams down his cheeks and neck and into his blouse. His face was full and round, making his long and pointed nose appear unnatural. He was covered with blemishes, some old and scarred over but others fresh and ripe with pus and blood. He was, perhaps, the ugliest man that the young messenger had ever encountered.
“Quite far,” Kron replied after some hesitation.
“I would wager,” the man squeaked, “that you have come much farther than I.”
Kron did not answer, not believing that this remark demanded a response.
“Do you believe that to be the case?” the man persisted.
“It could well be. I have been travelling for some time.”
“Ah, yes. I knew that you had. Yes, it is apparent that you are not of this country, for we are generally very poor people.” Kron again declined comment.
“What is your name?” the man asked.
“My name is Kron. And what is yours?”
“I am called Dalamud the Impetuous. And you are Kron, eh? Now let me think about that name.” Dalamud raised a finger to his chin and closed his eyes as he moved along. He was silent for a short while before his eyes reopened and he smiled. “Do you come from Arkello, or possibly Saganetta?”
“No, I do not.”
“Ah, but then you must be from Spalda. Your words are just like those of someone I once knew from Spalda.”
Kron realized that the interrogation would not cease until Dalamud was satisfied.
“Dargrath,” he whispered, “I come from Dargrath.”
“What’s that? Dargrath? Of course! That is believable!” Dalamud grinned, exposing great gaps between the several rotten teeth in his head. “I have always had a special fondness for those from Dargrath. The women, especially, for they are quite beautiful there. I once knew a young Dargrathian woman very well. She was but fifteen, and already a sensuous woman! Ha!Ha!Ha!” Dalamud spit when he laughed, through the wide spaces between his teeth. Kron did not acknowledge these comments. “And have you come all the way from Dargrath to see the miracle?” At this, some of the others near them turned toward Kron, curious about the nature of his answer.
“I did not know of it until I reached Raqhun,” he said.
“I suppose not,” Dalamud said grudgingly. “The miracle only appeared eight days ago. But look at the people! It is a great victory for Greev! It is a great victory for us all!” He screamed this, bringing those around him to a spasm of emotion. They sang “Greev, Greev,” as they raised their arms high, and howled various slogans and phrases that had been invented along the way.
“Stranger,” Dalamud began again when the noise had diminished, “do the people of Dargrath believe in Greev?”
“Believe in him?” Kron said.
“Yes. Do they believe that Greev is divine, and that to follow him is to achieve the Privilege of the Reincarnate Virtue?”
Kron stared ahead as others again turned to watch his reply.
“We of Dargrath have great appreciation for the beliefs of others. We are aware of the importance of Greev in your history, and know that he was a particularly good and unusual man. We have the highest respect for the memory of Greev.”
“Yes, yes,” Dalamud whined impatiently, “but do you believe that he is divine? Do you understand that in order to gain future lives it is necessary to follow the edicts that Greev has laid down, and to praise him daily in some visible manner? You must admit that these are simple rules for acquiring something so valuable as future lives!”
“We do not believe that way in Dargrath.”
“Oh, stranger,” Dalamud said in a voice thick with regret, “that is unfortunate. You and your neighbors are making a horrible mistake. You are casting aside your only chance for eternal enlightenment.” He was solemn and stern.
“Tell me, sir,” Kron now asked, “have you seen this miracle tree?”
“Now that is a rather stupid question. Of course not. Why do you think that I am making this journey?”
“Forgive me. But let me ask what you expect to see when you reach your destination?”
“A true miracle, stranger.”
“And that is the image of Greev?”
“Certainly. Is that not what we are discussing?” Dalamud turned to some of the others and shook his head, prompting an outburst of laughter.
“Yes, it is,” Kron replied. “But I would like to prepare myself for it. How is it that a tree can resemble a man?”
“You sound ever so doubtful.” sneered Dalamud. A low murmur rose from the crowd around them.
“Not at all. I wish only to have a small understanding of it before I gaze upon it.”
“Very well, then. I can provide simple answers for simple strangers. The tree merely bears the perfect features of Greev among its leaves and branches, in a holy display for all believers and non-believers to see and rejoice at.” This was recited slowly and sarcastically, in the manner of an impatient teacher with a recalcitrant student.
“How did this come to be noticed?” Kron asked.
“It could not have gone unnoticed. The tree only stands next to the road where many people pass by each day. Greev wants everyone to have access to it, not only the rich and the powerful, but also the poor and the weak.”
“Are there any that cannot see the image?”
“Only the blind and extremely near-sighted! Ha!Ha!Ha!” Others joined in Dalamud’s laughter.
“And it is reputed to be a perfect likeness?”
“It is a perfect likeness,” Dalamud replied emphatically.
Kron rose up on his toes to view over the heads of those in front of him. He could see what appeared to be the sacred site ahead and a vast crowd flowing out into the trees, up and over other hills in the vicinity. There would be some difficulty wading through all that, but he believed that on the other side he would eventually find a clear path. He expected to find pilgrims there also, but his schooling in the political and philosophical nature of the districts farther to the east led him to the conclusion that this clamor would be paid little attention there.
“Yes, stranger,” Dalamud again spoke up, “when you see it you shall be duly impressed, as are all the others who have seen it.” He cleared his throat and spit a wad of yellow slime into the weeds at the side of the road, then wiped his sleeve across his chin.
“Stranger, I have been having some very difficult times. I have, for reasons entirely unknown to me, been unable to secure steady employment for more than four years. But I know, now, that this is about to change. I believe that Greev will take care of me, and that soon he will cause me to be successful far beyond my humble expectations.”
“How will Greev, dead for over two hundred years, provide you with employment?”
“Stranger, I do not like your attitude! But I can see that it is no fault of your own. You have not yet been exposed to the truth. Certainly Greev can provide employment, and even wealth if he so desires. He is more than human, and resides in a place where all things are possible, and he wishes to come to the aid of those deserving of his attention. In just a short while you shall see that there is something in all this, that what I am telling you must surely be the truth. And if you are not changed by it I will be surprised and dismayed.”
“I am well set in my ways,” Kron said, “and do not expect to encounter much more in my life that will alter my views or beliefs.”
“One should never underestimate the unknown. You do not know the power of Greev the Magnificent, our king and benefactor. Praise Greev!” Others answered in suitably jubilant fashion, and the excitement grew to a riotous nature as they drew within sight of the object of their ecstasy.
photo by Tomasz Kuran aka Meteor2017