The Journey

Told by Denis Sivack

One by one they had come down into the Valley of Shadows in wagons of fear. They were led by a fisherman, his wife, and their new child. The fisherman had been away from the sea for many years. And in all their days of marriage, the fisherman and his wife had been childless. It was not until the journey that the couple came to have a child. On their way through the mountains, the fisherman’s wife found the infant in the woods. Perhaps another couple making their own pilgrimage had left the child behind. The fisherman and his wife regarded the child as the answer to their prayers, and knew that they must act accordingly.

They had reached the bottom of the valley at eventide. The lake at the valley center had no name. But it was known to them that when the rites were over, the lake, the valley, and they themselves would have new names. The fisherman led the caravan into a circle near the water’s edge. The men prepared a fire, and did what they had to, while the women looked after the children and made the necessary preparations. The fisherman’s wife kept apart from the others. Seated by herself, she drew the dress from her shoulder and the child to her breast. The infant had slept for many hours, but now that the travelers had stopped, the children were awake and hungry. When the child had been found, it had not been abandoned for long and showed no sense of fear or illness. Nothing had been left with the child. There was not even an animal within the caravan range when the child had been found. All these things were taken as signs that their journey was not a vain one.

The fisherman had it in his heart to keep the child as his own, but he knew the terms of the covenant, and he had to honor the petition as he had made it over the years. It was with a heaviness of spirit that the fisherman pondered the ambivalent price of his doubt: he believed that if the journey had not been undertaken, his marriage would always be barren; but he knew also that, if the journey were undergone, nothing that would come of it could be claimed as his own. It was most firmly written, as a law of his people, that the earth has given and the earth takes away.

It might have been that the fisherman had been paying his penalty for having given up his life at the sea. But this was not certain. And no one held the fisherman accountable, as each felt, in his own heart, that the journey had to be taken. The fisherman arranged all his people in formation between the center fire and the outside wagons. His wife continued to sit apart from the others. The child was sleeping now, and the woman kept to her own silence. Everyone understood that the woman was not to speak, and no one was to address her.

As the fire continued to burn throughout the vigil, shadows were cast of the people to the mountains beyond the lake. As these shadows moved, flutes played out the plaintive songs of their past, and meditations upon good fortune spread among the people. At the appointed time, as if to give him strength, the fisherman drank from the skull that had been left him by his grandfather, a man of the land, who had never seen the sea. Without any discussion, the patriarchs cleared a path to the lake, and the child was taken from the woman and carried out to the waters. A small raft had been made out of the fisherman’s wagon axle. Many years before, this axle had been a mast on his last ship. When this child had been placed on the raft and set to sail, the fisherman’s wife began her keening.

It is thought that, though the people never left that sacred spot, they were happy. When the eldest died first, this story was carved into their bones, and so the people came to be called the Calcites. It is not known whether they themselves had given a name to the lake, but as they left no survivors, the lake came to be called the Lake of Remembrance. The valley, as legends would have it, has been named by as many people as pass through it, though one hears of it most often as the Vale of Spathes, because the flowers growing at the side of the mountain remind one of a child wrapped in bunting. Some say the flowers might have grown long before the fisherman passed through, and that their sepulchral shroud-like shape had originally given rise to the name Valley of the Shadows. This was never written in the records of the Calcites, and each one going through these same mountains is free to interpret what he sees according to his disposition. I prefer it this way, as the only verse left by the Calcites reads:

 

Be true to the dreams of thy youth.

The earth gives and the earth takes away.

Our prayers and our wishes rise as fire

above waters,

Each man must plant according to his need;

his sustenance is offered back

as light to the sun.

At night he must make peace with his wife.

His tribes shall be called blessed,

and nations to come after, shall build

on the dust of their bones.

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