The childhood of Arno

Arno Tinë was born in the spring of the year 10’023 from Mounyë Iyë and Bilbo Tinë. As was the custom in Falnë at the time, Arno took his village’s name as his last name. Therefore Arno Tinë could be read as Arno from Tinë. Not a very practical system, you may think to yourself, as there can several persons with the same first name in the same village, or town. But that’s not true. In Falnë, parents go visit the village mayor to register their child’s name, and the mayor will make sure there is no other person alive called the same way. You may well imagine that in some villages that have grown into towns, it is hard to find names that are still available and that requires to stretch the parents imagination quite a bit. There are two solutions in these cases. You either can look at the list of dead people to inspire yourself with one of their names that is now available, or you can ask a name seeker to invent a new name for your child. Name seekers do not limit their accomplishments in toying with names and words, but they also can predict you your child’s future.

In Arno’s case however, Mounyë and Bilbo had given him his paternal great grandfather name as he had passed away recently, and the family had made sure to tell the mayor that only a descendant of Arno Tinë could bear his name.

Falnë has a rich and particular history, but I will tell you more about it only as Arno discovers more about his roots and his land.

Arno Tinë grew up as an only child surrounded by all his family. He lived in a little house in the middle of the village of Tinë that at the time of our tale counted no more than five thousand souls. He loved quite a lot his mother and his father, Mounyë and Bilbo, as they treated him as the sweetest thing that had ever happened to them. And he was fond to walk with them around the village, and listen to the ringing horns of the temple, and look at the trees and the plants and the old houses. On top of everything he liked to visit his paternal grandparents, Shouhimë and Jarido Tinë. He went to their large stone house, and he was treated as a little prince. Shouhimë always baked sweets and cakes and prepared lemonades and other delicious beverages according to the season. And Jarido took him on his knees and told him stories of old, that were passed on from father to son, or from grandfather to nephew. They were stories of Falnë, stories of battles and wars, stories of people, stories of magic. Arno loved these moments on top of everything else, when grandfather Jarido was telling him yet another story, and he was drinking a fresh lemonade and eating a piece of apple or almond pie. Shouhimë also sat with them in the living room, listening to the stories of Jarido, often busy with her hands, knitting, or hulling peas, or preparing figs to make them dry on the roof. And what Arno found beautiful too is that the living room had several doors on the garden, and when Jarido was done with his stories, he would accompany Arno in the garden, and tell him about the large, large trees and the plants and the wild flowers. There was a whole universe that hid in the garden, constantly changing and shifting with seasons. Jarido and before him his father, had planted the entire garden. There were tall palm trees that swayed in the wind when the ocean wind was blowing. At fall they were covered with dates that sometimes fell on the ground making a yellow or orange carpet on which Arno liked to walk. There were some small benches and tables of stone under oak and pomegranate trees. There were fig and almond and olive trees. And dozens of other varieties of trees and bushes and aromatic plants and wild flowers. The garden was Arno’s realm. There was so much to do there, so much to discover and play with. When his grandfather tired and went in the living room to nap for a moment, Arno run and jumped and crouched. The garden was so large he never had enough of it. Jarido always told Arno gravely to realize how lucky and blessed Falnë was to have such a luxuriant vegetation grew where nearly all species of trees could grow. The countries at south of Falnë were not at all so much blessed, as they were quite arid and desertic, except around the rivers that flowed from Falnë mountains there. And even the countries beyond the Fyrië Ocean at north didn’t enjoy the wealth and beauty that blossomed in Falnë.

Bilbo, the father of Arno, was a fisherman who had his own tiny boat. When the sea was not too rough, he went out all day long and came back only at dusk, or early in the morning with his catch. His mother Mounyë was a teacher at the primary school of Tinë. When Arno became old enough, he went to school in the morning with his mother, and spent the afternoon home studying or playing, or visiting his grandparents and their magical garden from the other side of the village.

Tinë was built on a hill, but the ocean was not far at all. You could climb down the hill in around twenty minutes and reach its small port that contained two dozen shipping boats. Sometimes Mounyë and Arno walked to wait Bilbo there, often on Friday evenings. They sat on the jetty or on the small tower of the beacon and waited there, watching the endlessness of the ocean, and the sunset. Arno loved these moments of quietness with his mother. He could ask her all the questions he liked, and she was all for him as she did not have other things to distract herself with.

Then his father would come back with all his catch, and his mother would help him clean and prepare the fish to be sold the next morning, and they chose a few to cook home, or at Arno’s grandparents place. Arno liked the days they ate fish that sounded like holy days, because they’d cook it outside in the embers, when the weather was fair. Parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins all met around the fire in the garden to talk and discuss and laugh and tell stories. These days Arno had all he could hope for to be happy, and they stretched endlessly, from early sunrise when he woke up, to late after the sunset when he gazed at the stars. From early morning everyone gathered at the grandparents’ house, and children played in the garden while adults helped in the kitchen, or sat around the table drinking acorn coffee, and inviting neighbours for a chat.

These were days of eternity, as Arno run all around the garden, unearthing stones, discovering treasures, picking up flowers and seeds, watching colonies of ants warring one another. Returning to the adult where they’d offer him a glass of lemonade and something sweet to eat, and perhaps even a little bit of coffee if they were in the mood. He liked to watch the dancing flames of the fire in the evening, and to listen to the breeze of the ocean, and walk in secret on the rooftop of the house and look at the ocean and the mountains and let the infinity of the landscape carry him. He dreamt of sailors and pirates and foreign towns and endless forests and dark valleys, replaying in his mind all the stories his grandfather Jarido told him.

At some occasions, for his birthday and a few times in the fair season, his maternal grandparents came down from the mountain to visit them. They still came the old fashioned way, on donkeys, trodding their way from Iyë to Tinë at a slow pace, bringing with them aplenty of apples and cherries, wild mountain grass and fresh cheese. They always gathered in the paternal grandparents’ house, and Arno loved on top of everything else this funny meeting of grandparents. He loved to see his grandfathers exchanging pleasantries and laughing together or with him, smoking a pipe, and his grandmothers conspiring together in the kitchen. Arno’s family was neither wealthy, nor poor. Both sides of his grandparents had enough land to grow all they needed, and trade what they couldn’t have, and his parents made a fair living as a teacher and a fisherman. Of course, they could not buy a larger house than the one they had, but they had all they needed, and didn’t have to worry too much about money. There were other personages in the village Arno loved, such as his great uncles who came to visit their brother Jarido from time to time, a took Arno little hand and walked in the garden with him telling him stories, or showing him some sort of grass or flowers. He had one of his great uncle who was an apothecary and knew a great deal about the use of each plant, and Arno admired him greatly and asked him a lot of questions. Another great uncle of him was a musician and knew to sing well, and he entertained their parties with old songs.

The winter was no more boring than the summer was. They took refuge in the stone house as strong thunderstorms hit all Falnë and the rain fell down in outpours that sometimes lasted all day long. The soil in the garden became muddy and so sticky to the shoes it was better avoiding walking there altogether. Fortunately grandfather Jarido had thought of disposing some stones to be able to still visit the trees and the plants when one grew nostalgic of them. The rest of the time they sat inside the house listening to the wind and the splattering of the rain, grilling chestnuts and potatoes and loafs of bread filled with salty cheese in the chimney, drinking warm teas or coffees. All the floor of the house were covered with carpets to keep the heat, and there even were some carpets you disposed in front of windows, without dimming the light that came in, but blocking the cold air that strong winds sometimes blew across the house. Winter was story times, and Jarido sometimes told Arno two or three stories while smoking his pipe in endless afternoons of downpours and drizzle. Bilbo had less fish to catch and he sometimes came with Arno and sat quietly in his parents’ living room, listening to the stories of Jarido, or discussing with his father, or napping. Arno loved to have his father close to him, listening to the stories. The larger the audience, the merrier, he thought. When his mother wasn’t too busy correcting the homework and preparing the exams for school, she too came. They all looked up toward Jarido who was self-taught, but always surprised them with his knowledge that touched to all subjects. He was also an ingenious craftsman, fabricating a tool here and there that made his life easier, or a toy for his nephew. He built him whirligigs and miniature mills. And when the fair weather would return, he’d build a small wooden hut on the roof of the house, for Shouhimë who climbed up to set figs and apricots and apples to dry in the sun, but wanted to be sheltered from the blazing heat herself. And of course for Arno who wanted to play and dream contemplating all the harvest that was stored for a time on the roof, while the summer lasted.

Arno loved the first rains of the year, when snails went out their hidings. They caught some as his grandparents and parents were very fond of them, but he didn’t eat them for his part, limiting himself to enjoy the hunt to find them. He loved the scent of the dry warm earth that tastes water for the first time after a long drought. There were other moments that marvelled him, such when they sat with the elders and sliced a huge lemon in the spring, putting on each slice some coarse salt and eating them, in a marriage of salty and sweet and sour flavours. Arno loved too the small artichokes his grandfather picked for him and peeled him with his pocket knife, eating them raw and drinking a bit of water afterward, as he had noticed it filled his mouth with sweetness.

And so went the first years of Arno’s life, years of airiness and magic and bliss.

Change started to creep in slowly, but Arno did not see it coming. His parents weren’t wealthy enough to travel, and they had everything they needed in Tinë. So the farthest Arno had ever gone was till Minë, another coastal town at two hours of bus from Tinë. Minë was larger than Tinë but it wasn’t a large town. Instead of the one or two floors houses Arno was used to, there hundreds of three or four storeys houses were huddled together, forming narrow streets, with many shops and stalls and craftsmen places on both sides. Minë’s harbour was much larger, with large ships that sometimes came and left. The docks and the market places were swarming with people, and there were also so many street vendors passing around and shouting or singing the quality of their wares. Arno found fascinating all the noise and colours and possibilities Minë offered respect to Tinë quietness. There were many cars in Minë too, honking at one another and at all the pedestrians who occupied the street space.

Arno had also been to Iyë, his mother birth town and the place where his maternal grandparents lived. It was well within the hills, at the feet of mountains Hië Mountains. Iyë was a small village, smaller than Tinë, built on the slope of a small hill above Iyë’s lake. The village was constituted by a few houses surrounded by their small gardens, and large fields all around. People still baked their bread and prepared their cheese and grew their cows and sheep and pigs in their barns. Many of the villagers there were nomads in fact, going up in the mountain as the summer’s heat thinned and burnt the grass on hills to accompany their livestock, mainly goats and sheep. At the contrary in winter when snow covered all the mountains and reached Iyë even, herders had to move their herd toward the coast, and they came as far as Tinë sometimes, since the land never froze there and the grass remained green and nourishing all winter long.

Farther in the mountains, Arno had never been. From time to time he went in the small boat together with his father, learning to fish. He liked to be out at sea and see all of Falnë from afar, with the high endless mountains covered in forests and the barren mountain tops that were covered in white in spring and fall. He liked to gaze at the clouds swirling around the mountain peaks and taking their birth above the sea over the horizon. Bilbo was quite skilled in predicting the weather, and so he explained to Arno how to read the sky. But even Bilbo had some surprises sometimes.

Therefore you mustn’t be surprised to hear that Arno knew very little about what was happening in the world at the time. His family had no television. His father and his grandfather both had little radios, but they surely didn’t listen to them all day long as they had plenty of other things to take care of, the sea and the fishes to tend, the orchard and vegetables to plant or harvest. At Arno’s elementary small village school, the programs were still what they were eighty years before, and he learnt the basis of language, mathematics and sciences without touching on the worlds’ problems. Even about Falnë, his country, Arno knew little but what the tales of his grandfather taught him, set in a distant, fantastic past.

The day in which Moustadir declared war on Falnë thus arrived as a total surprise for Arno. His parents and grandparents probably knew vaguely that at the south of the Hië Mountains, very far from the island of peacefulness where they lived, there was a Falnë political party which had been for some years worrying about a possible invasion of Moustadir, and had been secretly buying weapons in the case of a surprise offensive. Apart from them, no one worried about Moustadir. After all Falnë had always been known for its neutrality and its peacefulness, and for welcoming foreign refugees in times of direness. In a far past, when war erupted between the states of Moustawyl islands where Falnë is located, Falnë always kept itself apart from conflict, and the mountain chain that surrounded its lands were a mighty defence against any invader. One or two invasions had indeed occurred in a distant past, but they had always been pushed away as Falnë peasants and herders took up arms and defended their mountainous lands they so well-knew. The invaders from the south could not withstand a single winter there, against grim determined men defending their homeland, of a geography and a climate that was totally alien to them as they were used to mildness in winter and blazing warmth in summer.

But things had changed. Moustadir was not anymore a herdsmen and tribe lands. It had become one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world. Where Falnë, especially its mountains and the north-eastern part where Arno lived had kept a rural way of life, Moustadir had completely transformed and contained huge and thriving metropolises. Falnë had evolved slowly, as apart from its stone quarries in the mountains and its water and numerous lakes and rivers and the wealth of its agriculture and fishing and crafts, it didn’t have anything of value in an industrialized technological world. Moustadir at the contrary had first discovered its coal and iron deposits, two centuries ago. Since it had built dozens of oil wells in its large deserts and the southern ocean, and had found countless of underground resources of value. Therefore Moustadir built its own airplanes and cars and trains and ships, and it regularly launched rockets in the space. All the people of Moustadir had since long abandoned their rural lifestyle, moving into huge sprawling metropolises with all the comfort they could wish for. And nature seemed to favour them even in another way. Where Falnë’s women had one or two children in average, Moustadiri women had three. Where Falnë produced the electrical current it used in a few hydraulic factories built close to its rivers, Moustadir had dozens of coal and oil and nuclear power plants. Many people from the south of Falnë tried to emigrate to Moustadir, especially the people with a sense for affairs who wanted to get wealthy fast, but Moustadiris limited the number of foreigners who could come in their country. Thus Moustadir was not seen as a very friendly neighbour, but no one from Falnë worried too much.

Until the day when Moustadir declared war on Falnë. A presumed attack from Falnë had caused an explosion in an oil field at forty kilometres south from the border. All the oil well had caught fire and at least twenty technicians and workers were dead. According to Moustadiri officials, several long range rockets had been fired Ummyë plains, in Falnë, from the other side of Dië mountain chains that separated the two countries. The response of Moustadir had been immediate, and of the most violent. They had bombed all the border towns situated in the Ummyë plain, as a retribution, against presumed rocket launching sites and arsenals.

Of course in Falnë no one had heard about rockets. Was it an reckless act of the Falnehiyë, the political party that had been launching warnings against Moustadir since quite some time? Or was it a horrible invention of Moustadir to attack Falnë? Nobody could know for certain, and some cursed the Falnehiyë for the recklessness of their presumed attack, and others shouted and cried against the savageness of Moustadir.

Indeed, the response to the oil field attack had been massive, and at least three hundred Falnë citizens had lost their life. A wave of shock and horror swept all of Falnë, reaching Tinë. Arno was in his grandparents garden when he learned the news of what had happened. Before, he barely knew what Moustadir was. And in one afternoon, everything was transformed in his mind. Moustadir became a threat, his worst fears, and he started asking his grandfather dozen of questions about Moustadiris. Even if the border incident had happened far away, everyone was appalled. And Arno more than everyone else. He somehow intuited that there were forces in the world that he had ignored, and suddenly become aware of. His grandfather was more optimistic, or tried to be in front of his nephew, telling him the conflict would probably stop there.

And it did for a few weeks. But, out of the blue, another rocket exploded in Moustadir, and an oil refinery burned down this time. The Moustadiri government announced that such incidents could not produce themselves anymore, and that heavy retribution would be exacted from Falnë. Falnë officials tried to parley, to promise that all the results of the investigation that had already been launched would be shared with Moustadir. They proposed to conduct a shared investigation. When they saw that nothing would do, Falnë officials decided to put the Falnehiyë on ban, until proof of their guilt or innocence were found, and they started interrogating its leaders, but all swore they had no rockets, only rifles and a few land mines. Falnë also proposed to pay Moustadir for the damages. But at that very moment, a third salve of rockets was launched against Moustadir and another oil field was touched, without causing much damage. However Moustadiris officials stated it was clear Falnë could not control the situation at their border, and soon if Moustadir did not intervene in force it would get out of hand.

And thus began the first land and air invasion of Falnë. Squads of tanks as numerous as the columns of ants in the garden of Jarido began to swarm through the Dië Mountains and take possession of the Ummyë plains. Air raids were launched every day and every night against all the towns situated in the plain, but also against Fikrië and the capital, Helyë. Bridges and hydraulic power plants and factories of any kind and radio broadcasting towers were struck and destroyed, and in a few days Falnë was plunged in complete chaos and sent a hundred years backward, as there were electricity shortages everywhere, and all the main road ways of the country had been cut.

Falnë could not defend itself. The country had a small army, but it was equipped with rifles, a dozen of rusty tanks and a couple of civil helicopters. These were just flies to swipe away, and soon Falnë soldiers were either defeated or retreated into the Hië Mountains. Moustadiris occupied all the Ummiyë plain till Fikrië, threatening to take Helyë if other attacks were conducted on Moustadir, or on Moustadiris troops in Falnë. Moustadir asked Falnë troops to lay down their weapons and join them to police the lands they had occupied, or else the war would continue. Falnë officials screamed their indignation and despair before the actions of Moustadir, and the thousands of innocent victims that had fallen in Falnë. But to no avail, as no one was listening. The other countries of the Moustawyl islands barely dared to breath as they’d be swiped away nearly as easily as Falnë had been despite all being better equipped militarily speaking. But nothing would do against the Moustadiri army that was one of the most powerful in the world. And the rest of the world you may wonder. Falnë tried everything to make the world government react, but the world government was weak, and Moustadir was part of it, as were other huge powers which had their own local interests. Other nations condemned both the attacks that had happened against Moustadir and those that had happened in Falnë, expressing the hope that soon the investigation conducted by Falnë officials would find the culprits and that Falnë would be pacified again, and the Moustadiri troops withdrawn.

There was another element that Moustadir had noticed at its own expense while Falnë barely knew about that is worth mentioning. The amount of precipitations over the Moustawyl islands had steadily decreased over the last fifty years. While Falnë’s precipitations remained quite generous as it is northernmost and surrounded by mountains and mostly situated over hills and high plateaux, the rest of Moustawyl had started to slowly die, especially the southern and central parts where the desert progressed every year and peasants were forced to abandon their fields and livestock and move to the city. Moreover, Falnë counted less than two million inhabitants, while Moustadir had just reached fifty millions souls. Moustadir was blessed with all natural resources, as I’ve told you before, even water. But with the increasing droughts and the ever growing population, water shortages started to happen, already twenty years before the events I am describing. Moustadir reacted building desalination plants, but the droughts and water shortages progressed faster than the construction of plants, and soon they understood that something else was needed, or they’d have to change their lifestyle entirely. But at the time that was not even a possibility for the dominating political parties, as making such a statement to their citizens would lead to their dismissal and the election of new political forces that would have, after all, surely behaved as they did. That is how some people proposed to invade the southernmost part of Falnë that was very rich in water and could promise to satisfy all their needs for many years, if all the rivers and the lakes were diverted southward to Moustadir.

Some were horrified by that proposition, but were too pragmatic to protest, while others were enthusiast of the new possibilities that opened to them. They’d perhaps find new ways to exploit the Dië and Hië Mountains (that they called Dir and Hir) and the Ummyë plains that they did not call Ummyë but Oumstadir. Their discourse was based on the semi-historical legend that long ago Moustadir had governed all the Moustawyl islands. And the proof of that is that all the dialects that people wrote and spoke were based on the Moustadiri language and alphabet. Even Falnë glyphs had fallen out of use a couple of centuries ago, to be replaced by the more pragmatic Moustadiri alphabet, and the modern language Falnë spoke was a mixture of Archaic Falnë and Moustadiri. That was proof enough of the cultural domination and supremacy of Moustadir, and in those times of hardship with droughts that threatened to become more and more dramatic, harsh actions were needed to be taken. Thus it was secretly decided, that, ideally, Moustadir would conquer all the Ummyë plain, in addition of the Dië and Hië Mountains, Fikrië, and Helyë, the capital town of Falnë. That would leave only north-eastern Falnë as independent, or pseudo-independent as it would be surrounded from all parts by Moustadir, with Minë as a capital town. This same Minë that Arno had visited as a child, a town of fifteen or twenty thousand inhabitants, would have to welcome most of the refugees that would flee from occupied Falnë. Those were the maps Moustadiri secret intelligences drew before creating the Falnehiyë themselves, this political party of Falnë that started to buy weapons and recruit young men and women to organize a resistance in case Moustadir invaded Falnë. Moustadir were behind them, and they were behind the attacks committed against their own territory, creating opportunities to strike back with an incredible force. That is the benefit or being a large nuclear power. You can invent whatever lie you wish and order everyone to believe in it as though it were a truth.

All these things, the free people of Falnë did not know. Some, such as the lack of honesty and ill will of Moustadiris, they strongly suspected. The drought, they knew little about. But you needed to be an oliphant not to understand that Moustadiris were after Falnë’s water, and soon, everyone started to whisper and talk about the water. But no one imagined how deeply and tremendously the plan Moustadir still kept secret would affect and transform Falnë as they knew it. They all assumed the best out of the future, but this time life proved wrong their optimism. They thought Moustadir would occupy the Ummyë plains, which were far away from Tinë and stop there. They would never have imagined Helyë would fall between their greedy hands. They would never have reckoned the border with Moustadir moved from the Dië Mountains to Minië itself.

Arno was eight year old when the Moustadiri invasion started. A climate of electricity was reigning in the air. Suddenly everything was losing of its colour, his heart was too heavy and anguished to think of chasing butterflies and building some cities of rocks and mud and twigs in the garden or constructing secret huts. All day long they huddled around the radio or the newspaper his grandfather had started buying. And every week or so they’d hear that Falnë had lost another piece of land, of mountain, of water, another piece of itself. And still, grandfather Jarido kept his smile and grandmother Shouhimë baked her pies and prepared her lemonades. Still, Mounyë spoke to him gently and lovingly after school, and Bilbo brought loads of fishes on good days and no fish on bad days.

It is only after Helyë fell that Tinë started to witness the consequences of the war. Helyë fell in two days, basically the time for the tanks and infantry of Moustadiri to secure neighbourhood after neighbourhood, street after street, met with no resistance at all, letting people out, but not in. Many people escaped the city when they saw themselves surrounded with Moustadiri troops, heading west, west, toward Minë province. Many people also left afterwards, fearing for their lives and their belongings. Those who remained would be left mostly unharmed, declared Moustadiri officials, but they would have to pay an occupation tax, in gratitude of the army of Moustadiri which had delivered them of the dangerous Falnehiyë rebels and would now ensure peace, and in compensations for all the attacks against Moustadiris that had happened. The tax was not unbearably high, but it was an additional load on a population that wasn’t wealthy, and Moustadiri soldiers were everywhere in the streets, and some people thought it would be better to leave and resettle at the place of some relatives of them east or in the mountains, waiting for Moustadiris to leave their country.

But Moustadiris did not leave all the ground they had conquered. And they did not let people that had left Helyë or any other town come back, for security reasons. After all all these empty houses were less mouths to feed, more ground to eventually resettle Moustadiris who would abandon their countryside, and progressively impose their presence and culture and language in the occupied Falnë. Also, the afflux of refugees that had left occupied Falnë would be an important strain on its autonomous part, and that’d make it even less likely that a resisting movement gain momentum.

For the first time that same week, people of Tinë saw, dozens, than hundreds refugees who had lost everything arriving. Many were coming from as far as the Ummyë plains and Fikrië. They had left for Helyë, but had been forced out from their tents with the arrival of the Moustadiri army. Others were from Helyë. Many of them were entirely destitute, and they asked for food and shelter. Tinë’s mayor allowed them to set their tents in a camp on a field close to the village, and urged people to give them blankets and food if they had anything to spare.

But that was not all. Another pseudo-attack happened against Moustadiri troops in Helyë, causing more Falnë than Moustadiri casualties to say the truth. But that was enough to trigger another offensive, where Moustadir bombed the few bridges and infrastructures that were situated in north eastern Falnë, cutting the road between Helyë and Minë, and between Minë and Tinë, and damaging the harbour of Minë. The only airport of Falnë was in Helyë and had fallen under the domination of Moustadir. And Moustadir decided to set a custom at Minë harbour, which was the only harbour usable at that time for international trade, in addition to that of Helyë that had fallen.

Thus Moustadir came to entirely control Falnë in an offensive that had barely lasted two months. There still was the north-eastern part that was pseudo-autonomous, but could not pose any threat, as everything that would enter it would come either from Helyë road, or from Minë port.

That same week as the first refugees started arriving, Arno and his family heard the first bombing of their lives.

The first time the Moustadiri bombed Tinë’s province was at dawn. Arno was quietly sleeping in his bed, when suddenly dreadful bang woke him up. He sat, shuddering and sweating, wondering what was happening and what to do. When, another dreadful bang shook the walls and shook him. Arno expected the ceiling to fall on his head. Mounyë had had the time to run to his room, and she was hugging him. He hid his head in her mother’s chest, right when the third bang occurred. The floor under them trembled. Now Arno could make up the airplanes noise, filling the background with their whir, and their occasional bangs. But when the bombs weren’t falling, the droning was here to remind you that a bomb might just fall at any time, and Arno prepared his ears for the worst.

But that was all that morning.

Never again did Arno retrieve the part of himself he had lost that morning.

Afterwards, and for years, he always had an underlying fear that would come out unexpectedly. Each time he’d hear a firework, or even a birthday balloon bursting, his heart would jump in his chest and start drumming on the beat of visceral fear. Arno had never seen a bomb falling on the nearby buildings from where he lived, and yet he was absolutely traumatized by what had happened. The sound, the shattering, he felt them so deeply within himself. There were other children who didn’t mind the bombs that much. Arno would not mind them only if he were deaf.

From then on, Arno started spying on the humming of airplanes all day long, and unfortunately Moustadiri airplanes flied over Falnë almost day and night, always ready to bomb the first sign of revolt, or just at random to instil fear and reverence in people’s heart. They announced at the radio that the Moustadiri had an aircraft carrier just in from of Helyë harbour, and there military airplanes and helicopters could take off and land at will. It was also said that the Moustadiri had several boats that could bomb the land just in front of Falnë free coasts, and on clear days when Arno looked far over the ocean, he could make out a large ship silhouette right in front of Tinë.

And when Bilbo took the sea with his small boat, the Moustadiri destroyer sent him a warning shot, shouting at him in a megaphone to go back to the shallow waters and not come anymore in this direction, for the next time they wouldn’t bother to sink him and his boat. Bilbo came back home almost trembling, he the brave man of the sea that no wave or storm could scare. Mounyë and Arno hugged him for a long, long time just the three of them joining hands and arms and chests, until Arno could not restrain his tears and started sobbing. They hugged him tighter.

Few days later, Arno was in his grandparents’ garden, not managing to appreciate the trees and the fruits and the wild flowers as much as he used to. And despite the sky being of a bright blue, Arno felt that a shadow was cast upon the world. He felt a distance with the brightness of the sky, as though it was hazy. But the haze was invisible to the eyes. It took the form of the never ending buzzing of airplanes and helicopters. Arno didn’t even know if he imagined their sound, or if they were truly there, as he couldn’t see them. But the heaviness he felt across his chest is proof that he behaved as though he believed in his ears.

For a moment, Arno’s attention went to a tiny ladybug on a leaf. He observed her red mantle, and the perfect roundness its black dots that decorated her as though it was still Easter. And at that very moment to earth swayed under him, and a detonation deafened his ears. Arno’s reflex was to throw himself on the ground and hide his head, mostly his ears, under his hands. Another bang resounded. And another. Each time the earth shook under him. Then, when the false quietness wrapped them again, he went in to see his grandparents, his hands sweaty and his heart still beating very fast. His grandfather was sitting quietly in his arm-chair. His grandmother was on the couch close to him, and she looked quite pale. They were listening to the radio.

“And here you come, Arno,” said Jarido.

“What do you think they bombed this time, grandfather?”

“Well I don’t know what there remains to bomb in the region. Let’s see what they announce at the radio.”

They all fell silent and listened. They had to wait for a bit, and then there was a brief report where they mentioned bombings had occurred in the vicinity of Tinë, against a small army outpost, without doing any casualty.

They breathed more easily afterward. Shouhimë returned to her usual occupations, and came with a glass of rose syrup and some molasses biscuits she had baked.

“What is going to happen?” launched Arno to his grandfather.

“I don’t know. I don’t know. Everything we thought has proved wrong. Who would have imagined that Falnë would have been in war two months ago? Who could predict the ruthlessness of the Moustadiris? No, I cannot say anything for certain. Arno, only faith can sustain you in these moments. Pray to God. And trust to life, even if it incomprehensible right now.

“Now, I will tell you some verses that came back to my mind.”

And of his deep old voice, Jarido said these words with a rhythm that resembled that of a song.

Over the ocean’s breeze

Falnë was born

on plains, on mountains

Falnë became alive

its blood the water that carved the land

in lakes, in rivers

Proud and fair

Helyë stood in stones of white

Heart where all the roots met and thrived

Arno listened distractedly, still preoccupied with what had happened, and what his grandfather had said before. Little did he imagine at the time the importance that these verses would bear for him years later.

Bilbo started to come gardening with his father. He still went out at the sea to fish, but he could not go very far from the coast, and he caught less fish than he used to. He told Mounyë he had lost the heart to fish, with these destroyers sitting just in front of his nose.

Bilbo’s presence was comforting for Arno. His father was a strong, broad, weathered man. He dug the soil and filled wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of stones to move on the border of the field. Arno helped him to remove stones and he liked to himself push the wheelbarrow and unload its content on the mass of stones that was already there. It soothed him to work the soil close to his father, and for a time he could almost avoid thinking of the war. And sometimes to make him laugh Bilbo carried him and placed him inside the wheelbarrow, and he pushed him around the garden.

The visit of his maternal grandparents from Iyë was also a welcomed diversion. They had brought a good sack of cherries and some salty cheese and a huge box of wild honey still in its comb, and they carried with them all the peacefulness of mountains. They had not heard any bombing there, and they were still living at the rhythm of the livestock and the passage of seasons.

And Arno discovered that life continued, despite the war. At least for him and his family who were away from the zone occupied by the Moustadiris.

After the initial shock and violence, things started to settle slowly. Falnë government had been trapped in occupied Helyë. Some of its members had fled toward free Minë, and those who remained were considered representatives of the people of Falnë by Moustadir’s government. Under Moustadir’s pressure, they signed an armistice and agreed to cede the management of the plain of Ummyë and the provinces of Fikrië and Helyë to the Moustadiris, while Finë kept the rule of the northern provinces of Minë, Tinë and Hinë. The Moustadiris engaged themselves to form the ex-soldiers of Falnë into a police troop that would slowly take over security issues in these regions, leading to a gradual retirement of Moustadiris troops over the years, until all Falnë would be declared safe from terroristic threat. Moustadir recognized that a lot of economical damages had been caused in Falnë and its government drafted a loan plan to help rebuild Falnë infrastructures, and agreed on sending trucks of prime necessity goods worth two millions Moustadir pounds to both occupied and free Falnë.

 Thus the bombings stopped, and a few weeks after the armistice, the Moustadiri aviation stopped flying over free Falnë day and night, and Arno could finally rest in peace again. The military ships stopped their maritime blockade and retired to God knows where, and Bilbo could fish again to his heart content spending days and nights on the ocean by the end of summer of the year 10’031.

To celebrate the end of the war and try to cheer Arno’s spirits, Bilbo brought him on a long expedition in his small boat. He had brought with him an oil lantern that he lit at night. The crescent moon and the stars were beautiful, and the lamp cast glowing reflections over the dark and quiet body of water. Bilbo caught fish after fish long after Arno had fallen asleep on a cushion in the hollow of the boat. And the next morning Arno waked up at dawn and the colours in the sky were marvellous and tender. Slowly the sun rose, dissipating all the shades of pink and violet and mauve and green and blue and orange, until only light blue and blazing yellow remained, and the air warmed up until they both removed their shirts. As the sea was very quiet, they dived into the water in turn. The water was cool and so refreshing, and the landscape all around was beautiful with the nearest hills coloured in dark green and the farthest mountains in light blue and violet. The sea almost seemed to bath their roots, and it was of a deep blue with mauve and turquoise colorations in some places. The white houses of Tinë far away on a hill looked so, so peaceful, and for a moment of all Arno fears and worries were washed away by this beauty. The war seemed a fly buzz before this immensity that sang of eternity.

 When they returned at noon, Mounyë was waiting for them at the harbour, and they climbed the village to Shouhimë and Jarido house, where they’d all have lunch together. Not far from the village was a grazing field with small grey rocks that protruded between the stretch of grass, and now it had been covered with hundreds, no, thousands, of tents. The tents were pink and red and black and white and green and gray, some patchy like carpets, others of one color. It was an impressive and sad spectacle to see. The tents were situated at the western entrance of Tinë along the road coming from Minë, close to the Oruwyë River that stemmed from the lake of Iyë up in the mountains. At least the refugees had fresh water to drink and clean themselves, and they also used the river to throw all their litter directly to the ocean. The weather was still fair, but what would happen of them when the rainy season would begin, everyone wondered and worried. Many of the refugees tried to find small jobs in the village, as gardeners or to help with the harvest. Others were seen trying to catch fish in the river or along the sea, with improvised fishing rods. The mayor of Tinë had estimated the number of refugees to five thousands, doubling the population of Tinë. Many more were arriving every day. The mayor had given them permission to build houses in wood, or steel, or stone if they could afford it on the field where the refugees were camping, and by looking closely you could see many families who were working on constructing something more permanent than tents. God knew when they’d be able to return home, and for now it was impossible to go back from where they came, at least not from official roads. Some had tried to bribe the Moustadiris soldiers, but the Moustadiris seemed unbribable, and several refugees told how the soldiers threatened to shoot them if they didn’t back away. Their pay was high and the threats if they helped an enemy probably much more convincing than the miserable bribe of a refugee from Falnë.

Whenever Arno and his parents passed by the refugee camp, many women came to supplicate them to give them something to eat, for their families, for their children. It was a pretty tricky business for Bilbo, because he’d have willingly given one fish or two, but if he did, all the other women of the camp threw themselves on him. So this time they just passed without giving anything to the refugees who had become too numerous, too insistent, too poor.

They finally entered the village with its quiet streets and neat stone houses, arriving to the grandparents house.

There they forgot for a moment about the refugees, instead enjoying the grilled fish smell and the slight breeze under the shadow of tall trees in these last days of summer.

Arno was glad to be back on the hard ground. As much as he liked the sea, he was not a natural sailor like his father. He preferred the clay, the soil and the mud. He was at home between plants and rocks. Birds were singing merrily and bushes of mint and basil were covered in flowers and many bees and bumblebees were flying from one flower to another. There were also several bushes of thyme and sage and other aromatic plants which Arno ignored. He went to see the hens and rooster in their henhouse at the back of the garden, under the shadow of several fir trees. Afterwards they called him for lunch and they ate on a large table his grandparents had set under the shadow of an oak tree.

Arno focused on the taste of his food more than on the discussions of adults that he often found boring, especially when there were so many people. He liked to hear the hum of their words, which he found reassuring, while thinking on his own and daydreaming. That time however, he had an ear that was half-listening to them, in case they spoke of the war, or the Moustadiris, or the refugees. It was a new habit he had developed. He knew adults didn’t tell him everything, so he had to catch bits of information, here and there.

The afternoon was well-advanced when they finished eating and adults went to take a nap. Men usually slept longer than women, who rested for a short time before going to prepare this or that. Arno did not like being inside the house when everyone was sleeping. He found it gloomy in a way, as though he had suddenly became lonely, with a remainder that the feast had ended. But it had not that day, for all the family would be there for dinner too, and since the air was still warm and clear, they’d have dinner in the garden. There Arno played, while the afternoon flowed into the evening. He tried to climb on an oak tree and on a sycamore, a huge tree at the border of the garden. He watched the pomegranate that had been swelling all summer long and were now starting to become pink. He remembered their large reddish flowers, and how at first the fruit was like a small marble, smaller than the flower that was still stuck to its tail. Then the flower had passed away, and the fruit grown and grown. Soon they’d be ready to be picked. He also inspected a banana tree that had a long cluster of bananas that leaned heavily toward the floor. Soon the tree would break, with the first storms of fall. Arno had learnt that banana trees gave fruits only once, before dying, but they had many offspring around them that formed a small cluster, with some already tall, and other still infant, like parents with their children. Palm trees fascinated Enzo. They were so tall you sometimes missed them, if you weren’t looking into the air. Their trunks were well-rounded of a uniform size, with little handles making you feel like climbing them, but they were nearly impossible to climb except for Zahiri men who live in the desert where there are only palm trees and are very agile in the air. They often brought Zahiris to pick up the dates, when it was the season, and prune the palm tree to get it rid of old boughs. Now, the palm tree rose majestically into the air, with its silvery green and dark green boughs, and its orange and purple dates. There already were dates on the floor, those which the tree could not support, and those that greedy bats had already picked up.

As Arno was walking across the garden toward the henhouse, not knowing very well what he was going to do and just breathing the evening air, his grandfather came toward him. He asked Arno about what he had been doing, and Arno told him about the pomegranates, the dates and the bananas that would soon be mature. Jarido smiled affectionately. He loved his grandson. And he was particularly rejoiced about the pomegranate season that was so close. With years, he had learnt to appreciate them. He remembered overlooking them when he was a child. He also loved figs which would be ripe at the same time as pomegranates.

Jarido chatted quietly with Arno, until they arrived on a small stone that could be used as a bench for two persons, and they sat there in the middle of a bush of roses, a large rosemary plant, and a bit farther there was a small pond with water lilies under the shade of a tall pine tree. There were still roses, red and pink ones, and Jarido took a petal of red rose and he burst it with his hand, making a little noise and piercing the petal. He used to do that to amuse Arno when he was a small child. The lilies were flowering too, in pink and purple and white and blue, and there was the sound of a little toad launching one croak from time to time and jumping in and out the water. A light breeze of the sun was rustling the pine twigs, making a dry sound, as though nature complained about the lack of water. On the pine tree a bougainvillea climbed and crept, and its white and pink flowers contrasted with the light and dark green of the pine needles. It was a very quiet evening, and the sun was still visible in the distance over the sea, casting its golden reflections over the water and the trees peak, that’d soon become reddish.

Jarido and Arno were watching all this, without speaking. Then, suddenly, Jarido told his grandson that in these troubled times, he wanted to tell him a very important story he must never forget, and tell in his turn to his children. Arno fixed his attention on his grandfather, contemplating the little creases on his face, on his hands, everywhere on his skin, as though he were a really old and weathered tree. It was beautiful and scary at the same time, because his grandfather’s wrinkles spoke of wisdom and knowledge and kindness, but also of passing time and ends. Arno did not like ends. No he didn’t like them at all.

Then Jarido started singing lightly and slowly, so that each word would stick into Arno’s mind.

The first men and women arrived to Falnë by the ocean

they erred in the sea at long, before seeing a land in the distance

They were caught in the middle of a storm, when suddenly the waters quieted all around them

Falnë was thus welcoming its first inhabitants

For the fair and the wise, Falnë opened its doors and wore its most beautiful mantle

The men and women first stepped on the sandy beach

and they were overwhelmed with the perfume of spring

after having erred for so long on the ocean, inhaling nothing but sea spray

their noses suddenly filled with the most exquisite perfumes

orange blossom and rosemary and almond flowers and hundreds of other flowers

they had never heard about were embalming the air

You are welcome here, dear journeyers, the deep voice of Falnë resounded in their ears

and the travellers were not surprised to hear the land talking to them

for in times of yore the world was more than it is today

My true name is Falnë, and you shall call me in this way

and if you love me as much as I love all the plants and the trees that grow in my bosom

if you love me as much as I love the animals and the birds and the fishes that I nurture

then I shall nurture you as one of them

and you shall call me land of abundance and fairness

If instead you are cruel and wicked among yourselves and with me

I shall fade away and shrink and become a barren piece of rock

for my only nourishment is the love that flows in the heart of all the creatures that I bear in my heart

and when fears overwhelm love, poison seeps into me

Hear me well, dear journeyers, and make out a song of my words

so your grand, grand children one day remember what I have first told you, and all what I have ever spoken

for now I shall go silent, and let you discover the land where you have landed

When Jarido was done, he let silence grow and wrap them, as the sun sank into the sea, announcing an end and a renewal. Arno reflected upon his grandfather words, and let his thoughts fly on the wings of the last sun rays, without focusing in anything in particular. It was more the mood and the colours of the moment he would recall later. How the song fit perfectly into the moment, how one contributed to make more beautiful the other. It was the perfect time to have said this song. Arno thought about Falnë. Were these stories really true, was Falnë alive and watching them and feeling them. If Falnë were alive, it wouldn’t be happy about what was happening.

The sun disappeared behind the sea, and the sky became orange, then its orange faded and the pink and the violet grew, while the light blue became more visible. And soon everything was darkening and the light blue turning in dark blue which shrouded the land in a silence of colours.

Then suddenly Jarido rose and told his grandson. “Let’s walk toward the house see what Shouhimë is up to!”

And thus they were gone, leaving the rose bushes and the rosemary and the little pond and the pine tree alone together with the croaking toad and the whirling bats that had come out from the nights. Cicadas had also started singing.

Shouhimë was bustling over a kettle and several pans in the kitchen, and the scents that wrapped them immediately rekindled Arno and Jarido’s hunger and they exchanged a glance of complicity. Shouhimë’s sister and Mounyë were also in the kitchen, sitting at the table and chatting. The oil lamps in the kitchen were comforting after the duskiness that had dimmed everything outside. There was no electricity, but fortunately they were used not to have electricity from time to time in the countryside, and they all kept oil lamps and candles. Having a candle on the table gave a touch of festivity to the evening, as though it were a holy day, at least for Arno. He loved this play of darkness and light that cloaked scenes in layers of mystery and dreaminess. It felt intimate, warm, safe. The war had ended, and Arno was retrieving his joy of living and his wound was cicatrizing, or at least closing itself over the deep scars that had been left there.

There weren’t many children in the family, only the son and daughter of Bilbo’s cousin who lived in Minë’s heights, and Arno didn’t get to see them a lot. But when they came it was a feast. He invited them to his grandparent’s place and they ran all around the garden playing all sorts of games Arno usually invented. Some running and catching plays, and some more elaborate games with castles and armies and rivers and wars and trade and construction. Even when his cousins weren’t there, he continued playing these games on his own, building little cities of mud and twigs and stones, some that would try to withstand the winter, and other that would be blown away in the first fall storm. He built houses and market places and bridges and templees, and he dug canals and lakes and with the mud he had taken out he built mountains and walls. These games could occupy his hands and his imagination for hours, and he would continue them at night at the oil lamp of his room, on paper. Therefore Arno didn’t have the time to regret the presence of other children to play with. Of course, there were moments when he would have liked to share all what he was doing with someone else, but those someone were usually his mother and his father and his grandparents. He obtained much more admiration and encouragement from them, than from kids at school. Kids there were, well, kids. They liked to destroy and be nasty more than to create beauty. Not all of them were like that, but many were, and it was enough for Arno to avoid them outside school. When the schoolteacher spoke in the classroom, instead of listening to her, many children laughed and nagged and played all sorts of games. Instead Arno liked to learn, to push further and further the boundary of his knowledge. He liked to know more about language and grammar. He liked to learn about history and geography and science, to make sense of the world around him, to understand how things functioned, why they were as they were.

Arno had a few friends at school close to whom he sat during lessons, or stayed during recreations, but he seldom saw them outside school because he felt they did not truly share all his interests and they did not have as much imagination as he did. So he didn’t make the effort to invite them, and they didn’t invite him either, and he ended up spending his days surrounded by adults, engrossed in his own thoughts. Which wasn’t bad after all, as adults, in particular those of his family were wiser and so loving toward him. His parents and grandparents were his best friends, and he was always afraid to lose them. For how could he manage without them?

The war had stirred many questions and doubts that had awakened in his heart. What was the meaning of life, and what came after death? he often wondered with anguish. Was death the end, or did life continue in a way or another? And if it continued, wouldn’t it be boring to sit for all eternity in God’s light, doing nothing but meditating?

When they visited the temple and brought flowers and candles to light, or assisted to a ceremony, he started wondering if it was true, or only a ritual. He didn’t even understand exactly what Religion taught, as only people who would enter the orders learnt more about it. To common people like Jarido and Bilbo and Shouhimë, priests said that it was enough to believe in God and pray to Him and lead a good life to go to heaven. Those however who did not believe and rejected God and love in their heart would go to hell.

So Arno assumed that he, together with his family, would all go to heaven, as they were all kind. However it was hard for him to believe without proofs. There seemed to be no signs of God around, he could hear no voice of angels or prophets, he could see no miracle which the Religion spoke about. And the Moustadiris who had stolen half Falnë killing a lot of people had not been punished, yet. Where was God’s justice?

However, the possibility of a Godless world, of a world entirely born from chaos as the schoolteacher had described, was even more horrifying for Arno. He would just be an accident of nature, as would be his family, his love for them. Love would be meaningless. Everything would be meaningless. Living before dying and falling into darkness and nothingness. Nothingness. That sounded very scary.

Arno could find no answer to the questions which were troubling him. He tried to ask Mounyë, and she said he should just have faith in God, because God was everywhere and God was goodness. He asked his grandfather Jarido, and Jarido said that some were blessed with the grace of faith, and others weren’t. He, Jarido, wasn’t, whereas grandmother Shouhimë was. Jarido told Arno he believed in God, but not with the same strength and dedication as his wife. He did not for instance have conversations with God. And he concluded by saying to Arno that Shouhimë had always had the right intuitions in their long life together, and it was safe to assume she was also right too about the afterlife. And then, Jarido mentioned that if Arno was interested, before the Religion was brought to Falnë, there were other beliefs that had almost gone extinct now, and some of the songs and poetry he told him came from Old Falnë.

Arno asked his grandfather what Old Falnë taught. His grandfather said that Old Falnë taught that everything was right, and that each person would find his own way eventually.

Arno asked if there was a God or not in Old Falnë, and Jarido replied there was and there wasn’t, for we were the Gods and Goddesses, and at the same time the Void, the Nothingness, was also in us. By seeing Arno’s confused expression, Jarido told him he was too young to understand the subtlety of Old Falnë spirituality, and that he’d come to appreciate it more perhaps when he’d grow up.

Old Falnë was indeed too cryptic to understand for Arno at the time. He needed after all to follow his own journey to find his Way and inscribe it in the sand and the wind and the rock and the rivers he’d walk upon along his journey.

The year of 10’031 revealed itself cursed till the end for Arno and his family. On the last day of the year symbolizing the passage from winter to spring, grandfather Jarido fell to never rise again. He was in the garden when grandmother Shouhimë discovered him. He was standing face first on the floor.

Instead of being a feast, it became a day of mourning for Arno and Bilbo and Mounyë. Jarido was a pillar of the family, a tall tree that everyone thought irremovable. He was old, but he was still strong. And suddenly, he was no more. The doctor of the village said it was probably a heart stroke.

When Mounyë came to announce him the news, Arno started trembling. Before even she spoke, he knew a tragedy had occurred. Grandfather Jarido was perhaps his best friend, and now he had lost him. Arno started crying, remembering all his memories of Grandfather Jarido. Suddenly these memories had become precious pictures to keep in his mind. But they brought Arno so much sadness as well. To ease the suffering that came in the following days, he sometimes wished death had taken away all these happy memories that were now tormenting him.

Never again would Arno live so happy times. And his poor grandmother Shouhimë, what would happen of her on her own. And grandfather Jarido, where had he gone now, where had he gone. Was he still alive, was he still conscious. And could he look upon him, Arno, and watch over him. Those were the nature of the thoughts that burdened Arno’s mind.

And who, who would tell Arno stories of the past and of the Falnë of yore again.

Arno saw his father in tears, beaten down. It is hard to see one’s father crying, especially when you are a child. You usually are the one to be helpless, and suddenly the person you look to for protection and reassurance is crying like a child. Arno went to hug his father and cry together with him. And his mother came to hug them both, caressing their heads, their hairs.

“Grandfather Jarido is in heaven now, and he is looking over all of us,” she said firmly, “you Bilbo, he will guide you to catch a lot of fish and return safely to the haven, and you Arno look for him in all the plants all around and all the stories you hear. He is enjoying them together with you.”

It quieted both men to hear Mounyë speak with so much assurance, so much strength.

“How do you do, mother, to know for sure?” said Arno.

“Because I know, love of my heart. I am blessed with faith.”

“But the teacher at school said there was no such thing. She said that we could construct beliefs in our heads, and that nothing was proved.”

“Who, Kenyë? She is a fool. She doesn’t know what she’s speaking about. I’m going to tell her two words about what she puts in her students minds.”

“No please mama, don’t tell her anything, she’s going to know I was the one speaking against her.”

“Fine. But you shouldn’t take everything people tell you for a truth. There are people that speak about things they totally ignore.”

“But how do you know mother? How do you know for certain what you are saying is true? You haven’t seen these things either.”

“Arno. I feel these things so strongly in my heart I know they are true. Trust your mother.”

“Trust your mother,” said Bilbo in a hoarse voice after all the tears he had shed.

But then, the picture of grandfather Jarido returned in Arno’s mind, and he started crying again. Why, why did it have to happen to him? And why so soon? He could have lived for many years still, he was in good health. He could have shared many more stories with Arno. And now, all was lost.

There was a ceremony for Jarido in the temple, and most of the old inhabitants of the village came to assist and express their regret to his widow and his family. It was so sad for Arno to see all these people clothed in black with grim expressions on their faces, saying to him they were sorry for his loss. Each time he felt the knife cutting him yet another time, a little deeper. And when he looked at grandmother Shouhimë who was in such a state with dishevelled hair and red eyes so much she had cried the only man she had ever loved, Arno felt another knife cutting him too. He was suffering for himself, for his father, for his grandmother, and for his grandfather who had left beautiful Falnë forever. Wouldn’t he be sad where he was without figs and pomegranate, and without his garden to look upon every day and the breeze of the ocean that constantly blew. Wouldn’t he be sad away from the white mountains of Falnë and the beautiful colours of dawn that he could admire every morning since he woke up early. And Shouhimë, poor Shouhimë, how would he live without her. And would he retrieve her someday when she would die too? But that thought chilled Arno’s heart and he preferred to push it away from his mind.

Slowly, Jarido and Shouhimë’s garden took a more neglected expression. There were wild flowers everywhere in the spring, and the orchard had shrunk. It was beautiful to look upon, and yet very sad too because the absence of Jarido reverberated in every thing. Many windows of their stone house were closed, as Shouhimë was now alone. She continued to cook and prepare lemonades, but Arno felt it wasn’t the same anymore. Shouhimë was cooking for herself, when she was used to cook for the man she cherished. She took a more meagre and tired appearance, and she didn’t seem to have appetite. Arno went to visit her almost every day after school, and it dismayed him to see her so beaten down. Her, Shouhimë, who believed in God and heaven should have been hopeful. Seeing her so sad and miserable scared Arno even more, because he then felt that faith melted and recoiled before death. And now he was afraid Shouhimë would also go away.

Arno tried to express his worries to his parents, but they both were grieving in their own way. Bilbo spent all the time he could at sea, since in his small boat, while he cared about his nets and the sun and the wind and the waves and the direction to take, he thought of little less, as he had once revealed to Arno, and there he could forget for a moment the death of his father. Bilbo had not and had never had the force and the intelligence Jarido possessed. He was very kind-hearted, too kind-hearted for a man some would say. But he wasn’t pragmatic, nor sarcastic, and could not make up rational arguments not to suffer. Jarido for instance, would have suffered less of losing someone than Bilbo did, because he knew that each thing had its reason and he accepted it well.

Arno was halfway between the two perhaps. He was more sensitive than his grandfather had been, but he also tried to find a sense to each thing, and he was desperately looking for a sense to his grandfather’s death. As long as he didn’t find it, he would be miserable. But if he found it someday, that would set his heart at peace. If he could know for sure his grandfather was happy right now, and that he would see him again, and that they would walk again together in his garden, then, he would be content.

Bilbo’s heart just bled for his father loss and memory, and for the misery his mother was living. And instead of spending more time with his mother, he avoided her, avoided the depth of her pain.

Mounyë was tired. She loved Jarido, but he was only her father-in-law and she was less attached to him. But she saw and felt Bilbo’s suffering and with time stopped daring talking to him about it, as she didn’t want to see him crying again, but still felt its tension. She also noticed how perturbed was Arno, and she didn’t know how to reassure him. Arno, somehow, escaped to her comprehension. In some ways, his way of thinking and the questions he asked were strange, alien. All this she felt as a heavy burden, each day returning home from her school work and she didn’t go very often to see Shouhimë either.

It was as if with Jarido’s death, Shouhimë had already been buried with him. She was a ghost in her own house and all sides of her family went to see her sometimes, but also tried to avoid her pain. Only Arno continued to go every day, but he was nearly helpless, except that his presence forced Shouhimë to continue baking cakes and preparing lemonades, and sometimes made him smile.

And once, Arno mustered all his courage and asked Shouhimë why, if she was blessed with faith, did she suffer so much of Jarido’s death. While saying these words, he felt almost monstrous of pushing a weakened woman a little further in her despair, just because of his intellectual puzzles.

Shouhimë’s eyes moistened, and Arno cursed himself. But then, suddenly, he saw his grandmother sitting a little straighter, her hand standing a little taller. Suddenly all the trembling and the look of greyness evaporated from her face.

“Indeed, why, why?” she said, as though speaking to herself. And suddenly she rose, and she came toward Arno and hugged him. Arno did not understand what was happening at first, but he felt warm and cosy to be embraced by his grandmother who seemed a different person from whom she had been but two minutes before. Then Shouhimë walked away and went to the kitchen. Arno followed her.

“I have a lot of work to do,” Shouhimë said. “You are right, my darling. You are right. All my life my faith has been strong, and now that I need it so much I lose it. Even the death of my parents I sustained. But the death of my love whom I will not embrace again.” She blocked a sob. “But I will embrace him again, in a few years, and he is watching over me. What is he thinking of me, of my foolishness. He must be laughing a good laugh at me. I will be strong, I will be strong for myself and for him, and for all the beautiful family we created together.”

Arno had never realized some words, a sentence, could have this power on a person, and he felt very, very proud of himself, and very glad to see his grandmother bustling through the kitchen. It was as though one part of the weight of the loss of his grandfather had gone away once she had accepted it. Now, his heart felt lighter for the first time. They had come close to lose Shouhimë too, but now a new strength was flowing in her, and suddenly Arno felt the urge to know her more, and to help her.

At that very moment, Shouhimë told him very seriously. “I will need your help Arno. You will help me with the garden, doing a round every day and telling me which fruits and which vegetables need to be picked up.”

“Of course grandmother, it will be a pleasure.”

“You know, I cannot do everything on my own. And I will ask your father to come and plant the vegetable garden again.”

And thus Jarido and Shouhimë’s house returned to life, and Shouhimë started to invite all the family again on holy days. And nobody knew the role Arno had played in the story, but it was alright for him. He was happy to see all the windows opened again to welcome the breeze of the sea, and to enjoy the perfume of roses and that of jasmine. He still missed his grandfather Jarido with fondness, but most of the pain was gone, by seeing the sudden outburst of strength of Shouhimë’s faith. Perhaps he had not yet the faith himself, but he trusted Shouhimë to know something strong was sustaining her, and after all Jarido had once told him he trusted Shouhimë too in all Godly matters. If there hadn’t been Shouhimë at all, Arno would have been sadder. But now, he needed to try and be jolly, he helped her picking up fruits, and he tried not to think of all the memories with his grandfather.

One day however, Arno found himself thinking of these memories and not being sad, and he was surprised by himself. He was nine year old, but an eternity seemed to have passed since he was eight. He used to doubt every single thing of life and question it, and now he just accepted Jarido’s death and trusted that it was alright. In the deepest part of his heart, Arno intuited he had found something resembling strongly faith, if not faith itself. He had started to believe in the invisible and the irrational, as though he could touch it and grasp it.

A windy afternoon of fall, Arno was strolling in the garden when he remembered a story Jarido had sung him several years ago. It was the leaves of trees that were starting to yellow and fall that reminded him of the words of the poem.

One day, a rock fell from the sky into the earth

and as it could not fly, it sprouted in the moistened soil

and the first tree was born

The tree grew and grew, striving to reach the sky

trying to return whence it had come

And year after year it blossomed when the weather turned fair again

Its garlands of flowers became clouds of winged seeds

that the wind carried and sowed all over the land

Soon little trees were sprouting everywhere

all trying to return home and find their heaven

from where had come the original stone

And thus the first forest came into existence

on the Ummyë plain of the realm of Falnë

between the holy mountains of Hië and Dië

a new form of life was born

And soon the forest spread over the entire land

covering plains and hills and mountains

According to their fancies, trees assumed new shapes

broad or narrow leaves, needles and thorns

when they were too cold, they started dropping their leaves

or instead they developed a thicker coat

And when the soil was too rich or too poor in this or that mineral

they changed the colour of their leaves and their bark

and thus came into existence the red and yellow and blue and purple forests

The trees were sentient and clever, and they knew instinctively

how to behave to be in balance with the air and the soil around them

It is only much later, when humans lost the wisdom they once had

cutting the oldest trees when they should have respected them

that the forest lost its mind because of the pain

so many trees were in so much pain that their silent screams

were like horrible screeches in the ears of other trees

and in order to survive trees preferred to shut their ears and their minds

and stop thinking and shifting forms, as they had in times of yore

Slowly the most sensitive and beautiful forests died

while the most sturdy ones remained, but they were now frozen

trees could still reproduce themselves with the seeds they produced

but they had lost their ability to change form and metamorphose

And that’s how humans started to impoverish the world around them

losing access to the oldest living libraries that existed

as trees could no longer remember and tell the story of the land around them

“In Old Falnë”, grandfather Jarido had once told to Arno, “people were trained to memorize hundreds of songs and stories so that their knowledge would never be lost. The most gifted ones would memorize stories upon hearing them once. Now, thousands of years later, only few people are still capable of saying the stories that have been transmitted from father to son, and I am one of them. I am blessed with a good memory, and I had the will to train it since I was a child.”

Arno would have liked to memorize all these stories as his grandfather told them to him. But he couldn’t, he just couldn’t. He focused on the meaning, on trying to understand them, or imagine them, and the exact wording got lost to him.

He wondered if in times of yore men could really speak to trees, if they could have a discussion and if trees could tell their stories and their feelings. It sounded beautiful, and strange, because then the garden would not be anymore this place of silence and quietness and solitude. Instead it would be buzzing with voices and songs and breathes. The roses bush would tell a story of how it loves to be so beautiful and adorned with flowers spreading its scent all around, and how sad it is every fall to lose its flowers and become so stunted and ugly. At that time, he’d envy the tall trees that are dull and green all summer long but turn yellow and reddish and purple as the cold winds batter the land, and their leaves start falling in dancing flutters.

Jarido had told another poem that had left a deep impression in Arno. And now he remembered it too.

The world once was

quite unlike how it is nowadays

we are the oldest relics of the ancient world

but we will soon be gone

and then the memory of how things were

will slowly fade away

until everyone believes the world has never been different from as it is today

That is why we are making songs of all our lore

as Old Falnë had once told to the first men who came

so that our sons and grandsons may sing these songs

around fires at midsummer fair, and in the middle of winter cold

huddled around their hearths in their houses of stone

We cannot mark these words into stones

nor cast them into iron

but we will engrave them in our minds

transmitted from father to son

these words will stay alive

and will be kept safer than ink on paper

as fire and wind and water

won’t be able to destroy them

From mouth to ear, from ear to mind

these words will travel

as pure gems ever shining in the light

untouched by the flow of time

and the passage of seasons

remember these words my brethrens

keep Old Falnë alive in your hearts

for one day, in a long, long time

this knowledge will save the grandsons of this land

Sing the songs of old and dance around the fire

Sing the songs of old while tending to your nets and catching fish

and while ploughing the land and planting wheat

do not let the knowledge of Old Falnë pass

Nobody seemed to care about Old Falnë nowadays, and it was barely mentioned by teachers at school as a remote period when men lived quite primitively. Even Arno’s parents knew little about the legends and stories of Old Falnë. People around him were so focused on the now, the present, their current occupations and their lives. They didn’t seem to have this need he had for dreaming. Adults and children were all alike. Discussing about this or that event that had happened, about the weather or the fish, or about this or that person that was getting married. Why had Old Falnë knowledge been lost, Arno suddenly wondered. He smiled to himself. By asking that question, he was admitting the existence of Old Falnë, he was acknowledging that it was more than mere legends. Perhaps the things songs talked about were just images, metaphors, pieces of wisdom. Or perhaps they were more, perhaps they were real. Oh how Arno would have liked his grandfather to be alive right now, to ask him as his questions, to listen to his opinion and the other stories he had taken to the grave with him.

It was getting rather cold in the garden and the pomegranate and fig trees seemed to be losing new leaves with every fiery breath of the wind. Arno decided to get inside to his grandmother Shouhimë and ask her what she thought about the matter.

Shouhimë had laid the carpets all around the house earlier in the week, to render the house warmer and withstand the winter. She still hadn’t lit the chimney, as the thick walls of the house kept the inside mild enough. Arno loved these thick walls, and he dreamt to have such walls too for his parents house, that was modern in the modern fashion, with concrete, and had really thin walls that absorbed all the heat in the summer and all the cold in the winter. The house of his grandparents had been built at least three centuries ago, but it still felt sturdier than any house of concrete.

Shouhimë was in the kitchen preparing a soup with a lot of grains, lentils, peas, beans and other things Arno could not identify. She was slowly stirring it, while making boil another kettle on the stove. She grinned at Arno with her kind smile. Arno remained in silence for a moment, sitting on a narrow wooden chair and watching her. Then after a while he tried to ask her casually what she thought about Old Falnë. Shouhimë told Arno she preferred to think of the present. Of course she liked to listen to all Jarido’s stories, but these times were gone.

Arno tried to insist, asking her if she believed those stories were true. Shouhimë said she didn’t think so, and they were parables and myths to educate people as there were no schools and most didn’t know how to read and write. And at the time there weren’t books, nor theatres, nor radios, nor televisions, so all they had to entertain themselves was storytelling and singing and dancing.

Arno didn’t truly expect another answer from his grandmother and that’s why he had been so circumspect at first, asking his question. He kept his thoughts and his intuitions and his beliefs for himself, as he wasn’t ready to share them yet.

In the meantime, a new mayor had been elected in Tinë. Even though the central government in Helyë seemed entirely frozen and amnesiac under the Moustadiri authority, and had not even spent a word about the regional elections, the old mayor of Tinë had organized everything himself. And he had lost against his opponent, Qiroko Tinë, who had promised to make of Tinë a modern town. Whereas the old mayor, Milo Tinë, was a traditionalist that grandfather Jarido and the rest of Arno’s family appreciated. Milo had revealed himself honest and kind-hearted and foresighted and had so far managed to avoid important troubles between refugees and townsmen to occur, while making his best to make refugees conditions decent.

However Qiroko saw things under an entirely different lens. For him Milo had just been slumbering and he wanted to shake Tinë and bring it to a metamorphosis. The old values had failed Falnë, as the Moustadiri invasion had proved, and it was time to change. It was time to rise again and develop their land to be able to keep it. Qiroko had seduced the inhabitants of Falnë who had all been shocked by how easily their country had crumbled. Since when the war had ended, they had a lot of electricity shortages. The national roads were still cut and repaired at an unnervingly slow rhythm and many governmental facilities had failed. Milo had let Tinë survive, but now Qiroko wanted to make it an important place in the new Falnë.

Thus just a few days after he was elected, works started at the harbour. Qiroko plans were to transform the small shipping port into a large commercial harbour where foreign ships would be able to come and trade. He wanted to open Falnë toward all the countries of the North, beyond the Fyrs Sea. He promised that soon he’d make official contacts with Vilnen and Vatana and Gandzig and Vanar, and ask for their expertise to help and rebuild Falnë, and he would bring development to all the Tinë’s province, as well as renewed wealth for its inhabitants.

From God knows where, Qiroko got crates and bulldozers and troops of skilled workers. They threw huge stones into the sea, while the weather allowed them to work, and soon a new, much longer jetty started to emerge from under the water with the aim of closing the entire bay where the old port was located. As Arno went to wait his father with Mounyë, he marvelled at the changes that were occurring. For all his life, the sea and the coast had been identical, and suddenly they were being remodelled. It made Arno think of his small towns and constructions of mud in the garden.

Also, Mayor Qiroko decided to build a new, modern town close to the old town of Tinë, where to settle the refugees and the new inhabitants who would come. And he had the idea to constitute himself a cheap manpower from all the refugees who were living idle lives of fishing and growing vegetables and shooting birds and sewing and weaving and various other crafts. Among the refugees there were carpenters and stone cutters and blacksmiths that worked in the village when someone was building a new house, and otherwise tried to sell their handicrafts to make a living. But now they were all mobilized, women and men, to help in the construction of the city that would shelter them. Some women would work on the field work, while others would cook and clean and tend to the men who would all be mobilized on the construction sites. They’d all be formed by the dozen of workers Qiroko had brought from elsewhere, probably Minë.

Qiroko had travelled to the northern nations in his youth, after the architecture studies he had done at Helyë, and now he was himself drawing the plans of all the buildings that would rise. And he saw things in big, in bigger even than he had announced during his electoral speech. He already had made an agreement with the Vilnens and they had agreed to provide him with machines and experts to manoeuvre them in exchange of important commercial agreements, where Vilnens would be allowed to export their products in Tinë.

Beforehand Falnë had had a protectionist attitude toward foreign importations, as the government wanted to protect the way people lived and the local craftsmanship and farming. However now that the government had crumbled, Qiroko wouldn’t be stopped by old rules that had become worthless. He had went as far as secretly negotiating Vilnens military help, with modern weapons and armaments that would be sent to Tinë once the town would be ready to train its own army, and perhaps take over the rest of Free Falnë. The Vilnens were no friends of the Moustadiris, and it was in their interest to break Moustadiri hegemony over the Moustawyl islands before it became too deeply anchored. Helping the Falnë to free themselves over the long course had appealed to them, and they were now in close cooperation with Qiroko.

Minë instead had fallen from the other side, trying to please the Moustadiris to obtain some help. There were a hundred thousand refugees there that had been settled in slums around the city. And Minë tried to entreat the Moustadiris to reopen the border with Helyë. Already, they had started to be invaded by shipments of Moustadiri products and the markets of the town were invaded with wares you’d have never found in Falnë before. When Qiroko had noticed how Minë was slowly being culturally assimilated by the Moustadiris, he had felt a deep anger blazing in him. He would not allow that, he would not allow all his land to become part of Moustadir. But he needed to be prudent and artful not to awaken Moustadiri suspicion too soon, because if they started bombing Tinë, it would be the end of all his projects. He needed to develop Tinë while letting the Moustadiris relax and turn their attention to other countries.

Arno watched with a lot of interest the rapid changes that were happening in Tinë. He had always lived in a quiet village, and suddenly a new mayor had planned to transform it in a modern city. Coming back from the harbour and passing near the construction sites, Bilbo and Mounyë pointed at the fair-skinned workers who wore different clothes and spoke a foreign tongue, and they told him they were probably the Vilnens Qiroko had brought. All the inhabitants of Tinë looked at them with curiosity as most of them had never travelled outside Falnë.

The spring had already started. The foundations of hundreds of buildings were being erected. What had been endless pastures was now turning into the germ of a city.

The works of the jetty that seemed to go slowly at first had suddenly accelerated, and half the bay was already closed to the waves, with a wall of rough-hewn stones that stood where before a continuity of flowing blue had existed.

And now mayor Qiroko had come up with a new idea, that of building a hydropower plant at the outskirt of Tinë’s new city, in the Iyë River. Some people marvelled at all the rapid evolutions he was bringing to their birth town, while others were horrified of all these changes.

In the summer, large ships had started to arrive in the port and bring even more workers and equipment. The road between the harbour and the town was narrow and winding up the hill, and the mayor decided to enlarge it and make it more direct, so works started there too.

In the old town fortunately Arno didn’t hear too much the mechanical shovels and concrete mixers noise, nor smell them. However when he passed next to the new city in construction or when he visited the harbour, he was torn between his fascination and a growing disgust that with time became horror. When large pieces of the hills, huge rocks and oak and pine trees were cut without a second thought to enlarge the road, Arno started to feel this was a job of destruction before being one of construction. When the tiny rocky islands that were in the sea and that had been used for ages by fishermen and swimmers were covered in huge concrete blocks his heart started aching. When he saw that the green and airy pastures were turning gray and stuffy and where you could see the landscape to the horizon you could not anymore, and that the new-born city was already sprawling to other fields and hills around where bulldozers were working all the time, he had a feeling of loss. Tinë was being transformed and he wasn’t sure anymore it was in a good way.

One day the words of his grandfather Jarido returned to his mind in all their clearness. It was strange because it was the first time he remembered so well one of Jarido’s story. He had a school notebook close to him. He unscratched a page from there, and he let the flow in his mind drive his hand.

The mountains fair

stand in the distance

beyond the rolling hills

of dark and light green

Hië where all the water courses take birth

Hië that hides more than a-secret

Up there on the peaks

where snow sleeps all year round

the man is closer to the sky

than he is to the land

Deep down in the valley

the river is drowned in mist

and you can walk as stealthily

and silently as a ghost

No one knows all the paths of the mountains

You can come and go unobserved

and what you seek most

you will find there

Come a-light both in mind and in heart

Don’t carry all your load on your back

and learn to walk as lightly

as if you were caressing the floor

For the secrets you are looking for

hide in your core and your demeanour

Under your feet the mountain is alive

it guides you toward what you seek

but to hear its whisper

you first need to listen

The mountains. Arno had always seen them, but he had never been there. The closest he had been from them was in Iyë, at his maternal grandparents house. Iyë was already on the highest hills, at the feet of the gigantic mountains. Arno had always loved the mountains of Falnë he could see, the Hië chains. But now he remembered his grandfather story he felt with certainty he’d someday go to explore them. They were really wild and there were almost no road leading to them. That was fortunate as the Moustadiris had conquered the Ummiyë plain from the other side, and the height of the mountains prevented them from easily coming to Tinë’s province.

That summer Arno went to Minë, which had been at two hours of bus from Tinë before the war. But now it took twice longer as the sea road was still interrupted at certain bridges that had been destroyed, and the bus needed to take deviations by country roads of dirt, producing a cloud of smoke in its track and making Arno feeling sick in the stomach.

When Arno arrived in Minë, he felt even sicker. He almost didn’t recognize the town he had visited two or three years before. The old town was literally drowned in slums from all sides, houses built of cement and metal sheets and wood in disarray with electrical wires that went in every direction. There were people everywhere in the streets, dirty children and women and men, all scrawny and begging for food and money. And there was dirt everywhere, things that you wouldn’t have usually seen in Falnë a couple of years before. A lot of plastic bottles and cans, that were so common in other countries, but had not come into everyday’s usage in Falnë because of the importations policies. The people of Falnë used to all have access to clean tap water from where to fill their jugs or their glass bottles.

But now the road between Minë and Helyë had been reopened, and the long arm of Moustadiris was already at work. They had installed their own water industries in Ummyë plains where they filled thousands upon thousands of plastic bottles every day with fresh water, exporting them to Moustadir. They had also convinced or coerced the mayors of Minë and Helyë to adopt the same system, as a way to tax water. The fresh water that used to come to houses had been diverted, in large part to Moustadir, and what remained was sold to both residents and refugees. The water that was instead sent to the houses was water directly taken from the river, that was muddy and not suitable for drinking purposes. Minë should not have fell under Moustadir’s occupation, but the mayor there was desperate because of the hundred thousand refugees that a city that counts twenty thousand inhabitants cannot sustain, and he had asked for the Moustadiri help. And now Arno saw together with the other children of his school what this had led to. From one side of the street there was the old town, and from the other the slums and piles and piles of litters were scattered at every corner, together with ragged people. Despair floated in the air. The Moustadiris sometimes sent them a shipment or two of canned food, but then forgot about them for several weeks. There were another hundred thousand refugees in other villages and towns of Minë province and it was literally collapsing under this weight. Agriculture and livestock, nor fishing and hunting, could feed two hundred thousand people in total who had added to the original fifty thousand inhabitants. Most of the lands were forested and mountainous.

The school teacher that had brought Arno and the rest of his class to Minë was explaining all that to them. It was Qiroko’s idea to make it mandatory for all the children older than ten to go visit Minë. Tinë’s new mayor wanted the children, the teachers, and the parents to know how disastrous things were in Minë. He wanted to convince them of the necessity of the plans he had started executing, and gain their full-hearted support. And someday, he would need men and women ready to bear weapons together with him, and free Falnë. He needed to prepare the children.

Arno got a hint that day of how life under the Moustadiris would be, and suddenly Tinë seemed a paradise compared with the fate that had happened to Minë. He saw so many children of his age, dozens and dozens of them, dirty, ragged, scrawny, begging for some food, for something to drink under the heat, for clothes, for money. He felt the grimness of Minë’s inhabitants, taken between the misery of the refugees and the avidity of Moustadiris. And the smell of sewage everywhere was almost unbearable. His schoolmates immediately started to complain to the teacher, saying they wanted to go back home, but the teacher insisted on making them do a full tour of Minë and he offered them at the end of the trip a pastry to brighten a bit their day. He had asked for ice creams, but with all the power shortages there were no ice creams that could hold, and Minë artisans that were so reputed for them had stopped doing them altogether. The way back to Tinë was a nightmare for Arno who had been drained of all his mental and physical energy that day.

The next morning, Arno remained for a long time in his bed, still tired after his expedition to Minë. He was daydreaming more than thinking clearly, when he suddenly recalled the words of his grandfather Jarido with clarity. He jumped, and wrote them in the same notebook he had written the story he had remembered some weeks before.

Well beyond the great mountains of Dië

lived the tribesmen of Aldië

who now go by the name of Moustadiris

They have called themselves after their first king Mousta

who for the first time unified all the tribes

and stopped the endless squabbles between them

Every year they now head again to a place called Aalameddir

where Mousta once lived

and built the first town of their nation

Most of the Moustadiris still live as herders and nomads

journeying across endless arid plains in the south, not far from the Myriadië ocean

but many of them are now settling along the Aalame river

in Aalameddir and in other settlements they have built

of the yellow and ochre bricks that the sand of their lands provides

The tribes of Aldië used to look up to the people of Falnë

admiring our culture and our snow capped mountains they saw in the distance

but the Moustadiris have lost that respect

their king Mousta has told before dying that all the lands between the Fyriyë and the Myriadië oceans belonged to them, with the exception of Falnë

and that someday, when their numbers would grow they’d settle all over the continent

which he called Moustawyl in his own honour

You must now that in the Moustadiri language dir means fortress and wyl signifies island

Mousta also predicted to his people that Moustadir would wax like a pregnant moon

while Falnë would wane, and perhaps in thousands of years when all its people will be extinguished

then the Moustadiris will be able to settle even in their mountains and along their lakes

because the blood of Moustadiris is young, while the blood of Falnë is old and growing weaker

Thus the Moustadiris have started seeing us not as a great nation to admire

but as a crippled old man not far from his own grave

As you can hear it in our songs, sons and grandsons of Falnë

the Falnë you will know is but a pale version of Old Falnë

many of our greatest blessings have already gone extinct

and many others will be gone in coming years

Our only way to survive and perpetuate Falnë

is to remember it and sing it, and hope that one day it shall return

Sons and grandsons of Falnë, do not forget the learnings we pass on you

Do not forget nor disregard them, otherwise it will be your end

The history of our land, we try to engrave in our songs

and a few more words must be spent on king Mousta who has brought up many changes

he was a wise and a clever man, but he did not possess the wisdom and the blessing of Falnë

his coming has changed the fate of the Aldië who will build one of the greatest nation of the world

and become known and feared under the name of Moustadir, for many of them are much less wise than their king was

and their warmongering has already started at east and at west while our song has been sung for a generation or two

the Moustadiris are astute and clever in a way Falnë will never be

they build great machines and great buildings and bridges

and they do not hesitate to fell all the trees of the land to suit their purpose

and use their camels to cruelly fight against their brethrens

beware of the Moustadiris, beware of them, for their tongue is as poisonous as that of a snake

and their teeth are as dangerous as those of a hyena

The interesting thing is that Arno could perfectly recall the moment when his grandfather had told him this story. It was many years ago, before the war with the Moustadiris. Arno was sitting close to his grandfather by the fireplace, as a storm raged outside with lightning and thunders and hail and splattering rain that dripped in rivulets from the roof of the house to the garden. They were there talking quietly as the smell of the supper that Shouhimë prepared in the kitchen was growing. Then Jarido had told him the story about the Moustadiris, and he had explained Arno that it probably was one of these stories that had not been written entirely at the same time, because the last part of the story seemed to have been added afterward, a generation or two after the first men who had started telling that song. Jarido had explained that rare were the songs that had been modified afterwards, and that all the songs mainly dated from two or three periods, and that in late centuries the people of Falnë had lost the will or the inspiration to tell new stories of the kind, perhaps because paper had become much more widespread and the invention of printing has eased the creation of books. Perhaps also because there was less to tell.

Jarido spoke in front of six or seven year old Arno as he’d discuss with an old friend, reflecting aloud and sometimes wondering as though Arno could help him or answer him. At the time Arno understood only half the stories Jarido said, and he often daydreamed about this or that part of the song, missing its whole meaning. But now that by the strangest of miracles he was remembering these stories, he understood them well better. And Arno was struck by the truth of the words of his great forefathers. Indeed the Moustadiris were like hyenas, except that they had become much more numerous and hyenas still lived only in remote mountain places.

For Arno, it had now become undoubtable that the people of Old Falnë were cleverer, or at least more enlightened, than the people around him. The people of Old Falnë asked important questions, and they tried to respond to them, not limiting themselves to live their every day existence. In a way, Arno felt a sense of belonging to them, as he needed so much to ask questions and find answers, he needed to think and research and understand. And he wondered if it was for that reason he was remembering some of the stories his grandfather had told him. Was he some sort of chosen messenger whose duty would be to perpetuate Old Falnë now that everyone was starting to forget about it. That thought made his heart beat a little faster. But the amount of work which would have to be done daunted him, and it seemed like lost in advance. How would he ever be able to bring people to understand the value of Old Falnë when they now believed their traditions had failed them and caused the Moustadiri invasion who saw an occasion to predate on a weak and backward nation. More than ever now, Arno heard around him talks that only the modernisation of Falnë could save it. Falnë needed to become like Moustadir and the powerful Velkyrian countries of the north. And in a way Arno could not really prove them wrong, as they were right that the old passivity and peacefulness had not given its fruit and had not defended them from being invaded. Well, to say the truth it had, until when the modern world had forgotten about old songs and old values. After all even king Mousta had told the Moustadiris that Falnë did not belong to them, and they’d only possess it as all the people of Falnë would go extinct. But what did that mean? Could the Moustadiris speed up the process? And suddenly, Arno wondered what the people of Falnë meant, and he wasn’t sure anymore there still were many Falnë. It still was a confused intuition in his mind, but he understood that somehow not all the people born in Falnë were truly Falnë. Probably his grandfather Jarido would have been one, and he, Arno, was a Falnë. Perhaps the Falnë were those who remembered and sang the songs of old. But Arno wasn’t sure. And he knew of no one else around him who had this passion Jarido and him had for Falnë. Even Jarido’s siblings knew a few stories but didn’t tell them as their brother used to do, or at least Arno had never felt them that interested.

It already was late when Arno rose from his bed and went to the kitchen to have breakfast. Mounyë kissed him lightly and prepared him some bread and cheese and butter and jams and milk, while Arno looked at the plants on the balcony. Their bright green leaves were shining under the sun. There were some hibiscuses and geraniums, a rosemary and a basil. There also were two rose-apples trees that were still shrubs that he and his mother had planted, a fruit that came from the tropics but seemed to be able to grow close to the sea where the soil did not freeze. There was a rose-apple in the garden of his grandparents that had started to yield fruits.

Mounyë was quietly sewing in the living room. She liked the summer days without school, and she could relax and do the activities that busied her hands while resting her mind. Bilbo had already taken the sea, Mounyë told Arno when he asked about his father. In the distance Arno could distinguish the buzzing sound of the new city that was being constructed. Some djjjjdjjjj and triiiitriiitriii he recognized as the noise of excavators and rocks being broken. Numerous birds singing in the tall trees situated along the street where they lived covered the noise. There were several other houses around theirs, with small gardens around. Usually the houses were between one and three floors, and sometimes several families lived in them. Arno’s house was two storied, and they lived at the second floor.

Arno finished his breakfast, went to the bathroom and rubbed vigorously his wooden toothbrush the small teeth soap that tasted lightly of mint, and he washed his teeth. Then he combed his hair, kissed his mother on the cheek and went out to breathe in his lungs the glorious summer day. He walked quietly, crossing the village where he waved to many people that were sitting in their garden and drinking coffee or gardening. Most people knew one another, at least vaguely, as they all met in the temple when holy days were celebrated. Everyone around the village seemed to know Arno was the grandson of Jarido and Shouhimë.

He passed in front of the closed temples and the little garden and pond in front of it, and the flowers that were piously deposed on a small altar in front of a statue. Several old men and women were standing there, praying, and Arno didn’t stop by as he liked to be alone when he did. And he arrived into his large grandparents’ garden that was not far from the temple, heading toward the house to say hello to grandmother Shouhimë, before going to stroll around the garden. The same night all the family would reunite, and Shouhimë was busy cooking. She kissed Arno on his head and sent him to the garden, asking him for a bouquet of mint, some laurel leaves and two dozen grape vine leaves. She also asked him to go take the eggs from the henhouse. “Afterward you’ll be able to play as much as you want,” she said to him, as he was already leaving from the side door of the kitchen leading to the garden. A lot of sun came in at that time of the day, as Jarido and his father before him had been quite clever not plant tall trees all around the house. Arno carried his tasks, enjoying the simple act of cutting mint and filling himself with its scent. That of visiting the vine that had long twirling and curling branches that crept on the nearby wall and trees and bent under the weight of large violet grape that was not mature yet. And that of saluting the hens and taking away their still warm eggs, even though he felt slightly guilty about that. He then played and ran around the garden.

In the afternoon, he climbed in the secret attic room where his grandfather kept his small library. Arno had only visited it once or twice, when his grandfather was still alive, and he had never dared to step there since Jarido had passed away. That day, Arno let his curiosity guide his steps. The mere idea of being surrounded by old, sweetly smelling and dusty books appealed very much to him.

The ladder and the pavement and the shelves were all made of thick dark wood that had been weathered by time. There was one wall that was covered with four shelves of books. On the other wall there was a small table and a chair, where Jarido and before him his father had spent hours reading by the light of an oil lamp. The third wall was pierced with the small door from which Arno had come and it gave on another attic room that was used as a store for grains and dried fruits and onion and garlic and thyme and jars of jams, and there was a very particular smell of all these scents that blended together that Arno loved. And the fourth wall had a small window that let in a bit of light.

Arno came closer to the desk and he gently stroked the rough unpolished surface of the wood that was covered in dust. He passed there the tissue he had brought with him to wipe away the dust. He then opened the drawer underneath and found some old notebooks which were on the verge of tearing apart. He leafed carefully through one of them and it was covered in small and narrow characters, as if the person writing had wanted to save paper by cramming the words and the sentences and leaving no empty space. Arno had no patience to read the notebook, and he reclosed it. He then looked at the shelves covered in books. He opened some, at random. Some of the books were written in the modern script Arno knew to read, that had come from Moustadir, his grandfather had once explained to him. While a good number of the books were written in alien characters that were the Old Falnë glyphs and that had gone extinguished between one and two centuries ago. Jarido had told Arno that his grandfather still knew to read and write them, but he had not passed the knowledge to his father. Glyphs were very complex to decipher because there were thousands of characters, each representing a syllable or a word. The books in Old Falnë were beautifully written, in several colours such as brown and red and blue and green and violet and orange. Jarido had explained to Arno that the invention of printing and the spread of printing presses was one of the reasons that Old Falnë had disappeared. Indeed, it was relatively practical to build thirty-seven characters as there were in the Moustadiri alphabet, but highly problematic to create a printing press capable of transcribing texts with thousands of different glyphs. And therefore the books in Old Falnë had continued to be hand-written by scholars and historians until it had progressively fallen out of use, with the last persons capable of writing it who died. Now there still were a few researchers in Falnë who knew to read the glyphs, but they didn’t venture anymore to write books in Old Falnë. Moreover, most of the books with Old Falnë characters were not in fact written in Old Falnë tongue, but in modern Falnë which is an evolution of Old Falnë mixed with some Moustadiri influences.

Arno leafed through a book written with Old Falnë glyphs, while remembering the words of his grandfather. He could not make out any of the characters that looked like beautiful and intricate symbols. Some seemed figurative, almost like drawings, while others were more obscure. These books were beautiful with all their colours and their thick paper, when compared to the more modern books that were printed in sober black and white on thin leaves.

Arno didn’t well know what he had come to find in Jarido’s library. Most of the books that he could read sounded boring. Some old treaties about politics, another one describing the geography and climate of Falnë and the countries around a bit more promising, still other ones with old diplomatic records. A dictionary between Falnë and Moustadiri. A few books detailing scientific inventions in various fields, and the evolution of machines and technology. Nothing that truly captivated Arno. And at that moment, he remembered clearly another of the poems Jarido had told him.

The door you are looking for

reflects the light of the sky

and the water of marshes

On a small plateau

lost in the midst of the Hië Mountains heights

you will bathe your feet in marshes

and you will lie down in the grass

and watch the sky for one day and a night

and you will listen to the wind

and you will let go to the dew and the cold

without counting time, without worrying about tomorrow

Then, only then, will you be

the person you dream to become

Was he looking for a door, Arno wondered. Nearly all the poems mentioned the Hië Mountains, and suddenly Arno felt a very strong curiosity to go see the mountains from closer. But he was still a kid. His parents would never let him go on his own.

Now he had found what he was looking for in the small dusky library, an idea. He took his small oil lamp stepped out and closed the door. He gave a look to all the jars of jams that varied from the orange tints of apricot, to the purple hues of strawberries, and the brown violet colour of figs. Each was neatly labelled with the variety of jam, for instance mashed quince, or quince in pieces, with the year of production. Some were two or three year old, from 10’031 or 10’030, and Arno recognized the handwriting of his grandfather, and he suddenly felt sad and nostalgic of the past.

It is only in spring, almost one year later, that Arno managed to fulfil his wish to go look at Hië Mountains from closer. He had told his parents he would have liked to go visit his maternal grandparents in Iyë since they were coming down to Tinë only once per year and he missed them and would have liked to get to know Iyë better. Bilbo had objected there weren’t buses that went up the mountains to Iyë and that nowadays with the oil shortage there were even less cars than there used to be going up and down on the narrow mountain roads. Arno had replied that he wouldn’t mind going up on a mule or a donkey, as he’d like to look more closely at the landscape, and they had convened with his parents that they’d wait for a suitable occasion to send him, when someone reliable would make the trip. It is only later that Mounyë thought of the tinker who was from Iyë like her and sometimes came to the coastal towns in winter times to sell his wares or tell stories and give sweets to the children. Boutro, that was his name. The same winter Boutro came to Tinë and Mounyë asked him if he’d take Arno with him to Iyë, and if he could get a second donkey for Arno. They’d pay him of course. Boutro was honest and he liked Mounyë since he knew her family quite-well, and he asked only for the price of the donkey. Thus it was set Arno would go to the mountains during the mid-spring vacations.

He’d come down with his grandparents, with the hope he wouldn’t miss more than one week or two of school.

Mounyë prepared Arno’s bag with five days’ provisions, the time it needed to go from Tinë to Iyë on donkey. Boutro planned to stop in all the villages along the road to sell his wares and see his old friends, and that’s why it’d take five days. If they had sped, they could have done the trip in three days or four, but Arno was happy to go up slowly and have the leisure to observe the landscape at his leisure.

His mother had packed his bag with cooked potatoes and eggs and raw onions and bread and dried fruits and Arno had taken his gourd he’d be able to fill in mountain streams. He was really excited to go, and it felt like the first real adventure of his life.

The night before going Arno felt so restless and seething with energy he barely slept and at dawn he jumped from his bed, ate a hearty breakfast, kissed his mother and rushed out when Boutro rang him a small bell he carried in one of his countless sacks. What was part of his possession and what was ware to sell, you couldn’t easily determine.

Boutro helped Arno to jump on the small donkey he had found for him and they were off. They crossed Tinë from east to west, reached the old stone bridge above the Iyë River and took the southern road toward the mountain. The morning was fair and cool, and the sun was rising behind the mountains at east. At first Arno was a bit shy to talk with Boutro, and he focused on watching the landscape around. Arno had turned eleven but a few days ago, and he felt that he was slowly transforming from a child into an adult. He felt that each thing he saw he understood better than he used to, and he was more careful to his surrounding than he used to.

Now they turned their back to the new city of Tinë that was already rising two or three floors above ground, entirely built in concrete and contrasting in its greyness with all the landscape around. The dark green of forested hills and the lighter green of plains, the whiteness of the buildings in Old Tinë and the blueness of the sea.

Boutro and Arno followed for a while an asphalted road, then Boutro slowed down, halting. Arno stopped his donkey at the same level, pleased with himself to see that he was quite in harmony with the donkey and knew how to make it halt or walk. Boutro winked to Arno and told him they’d take a shortcut across narrow paths now, instead of following the winding road. And they set off again, following the Iyë River that was now deepening between cliffs. And they continued to follow the western bank path, which was above the cliff. Slowly the landscape grew less open and more and more forested. The forest was still quite damp and trees were an explosion of dark and light green since spring was already well-settled. But it had rained heavily in the days before, and they heard the waters of the Iyë River that were flowing happily toward the ocean overshadowing all the other sounds of the forest. They went on and on continuing to walk in the cover of the forest where little sun was filtering, going up and up and up toward the hills. Arno had never realized how many hills there were, how many times you needed to go up and down and up to reach the mountains, but the path that Boutro had chosen avoided them to go down too many times for now. After a while, Arno wished they’d stop and rest for a moment. He felt stiff for having sat for so long without moving and he needed to pee. The path continued to climb up and up, and now the river was more distant and they heard it less clearly. There were many birds singing and chirping and flying from bough to bough and from tree to tree at the top of the forest. At first they had crossed poplar and sycamore forests, and now they were surrounded by tall pine. The soil was getting drier with white-grey rocks that peeked from under the thick carpet of twigs. The air was warmer and there was more sun filtering in. After a while, Boutro halted his mount and Arno imitated him. They jumped down from the donkeys, and Boutro took care of them. There was a small spring between two rocks and there he made them drink and left them to graze in a sunny patch where grass had grown. Arno had meanwhile walked a bit to remove the stiffness from his legs, and he had relieved himself behind the trunk of a tall tree. He went to the small spring and washed his hands and his face with the cold water, and then he drunk a bit and filled his gourd. They sat on two relatively flat rocks under a pine tree, and they started eating. Arno cut a potato, an egg and an onion in slices on a flat bread he used as a plate with the small pocket knife that had been for his grandfather once and that Shouhimë had given him to help him prepare his expedition. Each time Arno used his knife, he felt happiness swelling in his chest remembering many happy memories related to the knife and rejoicing it had gone to him. When his the potato, the egg and the onion were cut, he rolled up the bread and started eating ravenously. Then he took a dried fig and a date, and Boutro offered him half an orange that was delightfully juicy. Then, they set back on their donkeys and rode again. When Arno asked Boutro about the donkey names, he said that he had named his Entarano and he patted it fondly, and Arno’s was called Ino.

So Arno rode on Ino for all the afternoon. He thought they were going farther and farther from the river, through pine and oak forests, and grass plains. As the sun was lowering in the sky, the Iyë River suddenly reappeared to their left, and they arrived in a small village called Mahië. It was built on a cliff above the water and surrounded by orchards. The hill from which they first saw Mahië was higher than the village, so they got a view on all the surrounding plains. There were a lot of olive trees and vines and almond and walnut trees. There also were some pistachio trees that were covered with red leaves. They passed one and Boutro cut the youngest branches that he ate and he told Arno to do the same. The leaves had a taste of artichokes, between the sweet and the bitter. Arno drank a taste of water from his gourd afterward, and it felt quite refreshing combined with the pistachio leaves taste. Boutro announced him that they’d stop in Mahië for the evening and the night, as he had some business to conduct in town.

They passed orchards covered with almond trees that still had some white flowers drowned in the green fast sprouting new leaves. Soon they’d be covered with green almonds. The air smelled of their flowers and the scent was delightful. The village looked really old, and all the buildings were constructed in a yellow-grey stone. There were some light red stones interspersed here and there in walls. Arno found it beautiful. They came in the village, and Boutro started greeting all the inhabitants that seemed to know him well, while singing loudly. The muleteer of Iyë has come back and he carries many a surprise in his sacks. The muleteer of Iyë has come back. Come to greet him and take a look at what he carries. Ask for whatever you need and he will provide.

Indeed soon many women went out their houses and their gardens and came to Boutro that had stopped on the main square of the village and dismounted, exchanging a pleasantry with Arno while waiting for his clients. One woman needed a large metallic spoon, another one needed candles, a man needed a pocket knife, a young girl asked him for some perfume, a priest came to demand some incense. And the sacks of Boutro seemed bottomless, as he produced out all what the villagers needed, taking the money they gave him and filling his pockets with it. At least two dozen people came to see him before the activity quieted around him. A few persons were waiting for him, chatting gaily in the square while looking at his bargaining. These had come because they seemed to be well-acquainted, and they asked him for news from Tinë and the rest of Falnë. They were quite cut from the world in the mountain, Arno realized.

Boutro said that things were changing very fast, that when he’d come down the mountains next fall, he’d find Tinë different than he had left it. Some large boats were already arriving to the new harbour that had almost been completed. Thousands of new refugees had come from Minë’s province to settle in the new town mayor Qiroko was building. New roads were being constructed and old roads enlarged. Soon Tinë would have electricity all day long thanks to the new power plant that was being built. Mayor Qiroko still planned many changes. He wanted to transform what used to be a village into an industrial city like only Helyë and Fikrië had been before the war with the Moustadiris. Qiroko had started building industries along with the new houses to provide work for the refugees. All what Tinë did not have, he’d bring from the sea, and all what Tinë would produce, he’d export over seas. Nothing of Falnë’s old values and principles was considered sacred anymore. The men who were listening to Boutro’s tale kept on interjecting, wondering if this or that was possible, if Boutro was no exaggerating his stories. But he wasn’t, he assured them, and promised them that if Qiroko remained in power and they gave him five or ten more years, he’d build a large road to Mahië and transform their village too. The men looked incredulously at him.

Then they asked him who was this young boy with him, and Boutro presented him saying that Arno was going to visit his grandparents in Iyë. A fair place indeed, a man said. His name was Arito Mahië and they followed him to spend the night in his house. They met with his wife, Nihemë, and they had a warm and hearty dinner. They had two children, a boy and a girl. The girl who was the eldest, asked Boutro to tell them a story. He shook his head saying he was tired. But the girl insisted and pleaded until Boutro gave her parents a smile of helplessness and took his head between his hands, as if thinking of a story to tell. Arno felt his curiosity increasing tenfold. The brother and the sister, Dihiro and Maryë exchanged a glance of pure happiness and Arno looked at them with sympathy. He suddenly felt these two could become his friends.

A long, long time ago

when the world was still young

a daughter of Falnë had been captured by Zamri pirates

these savage men needed young virgins to offer in sacrifices for their gods

and instead of choosing them among their people

they stole them from other lands and brought them chained

Thus by a fair morning these men had landed on the shore

and taken the young woman apart from her family

Fië, that was her name, and she was said to be the fairest woman of her village

his father who had tried to defend her they had killed

her mother and her little brother had tried to come after her abductors

but it was too late, they had already climbed aboard their vessel

and soon they disappeared over the infinity of the ocean

and Fië was forever gone, or so they all thought

They landed at the very south of the isle of Zamr, in an accursed place called Al-Zolom

there, they held their sacrifices each year

each year they built a new mausoleum in the middle of desertic plains

and once it was completed they brought the young woman to sacrifice

and all the tribes of Zamr came south to Al-Zolom to witness that holy tribute to their gods

and receive their blessings

And so it happened for Fië

when she arrived they told her it wasn’t yet the day of the sacrifice, as they needed to wait for a night of full moon, two days later

they attached her to a tree in a way she could not free herself

right next to the mausoleum they had built her

and the next morning they explained to her that the night afterward

she’d have to walk into the mausoleum and they’d enclose her there

she’d be left inside to her fate until she would succumb to her fate

and when Fië started crying they told her she needed to be proud to be a sacrifice

and they told her she’d forever remain into this grand house of stone they had built for her

and that she’d be venerated by all Zamris for one year

The same night as Fië was still tied to the tree she couldn’t move

and she started shivering because nights are cold in the desert

and because of the despair she felt

she was to spend all the night and the day alone, confined into the silence of the desert

before the ceremony of the sacrifice, and no one was to come close to her or talk to her

she was alone, alone to her fate

she raised her head toward the sky in desperation

and thus she saw the palm tree above her head that was ruffling quietly in the night breeze

there were some clouds, and the almost full moon was hiding behind them

offering just enough light for Fië to guess at her surrounding and the palms above her

She focused very intently and tried to greet the tree in her heart

Boutro fell silent.

“She greeted the three, and then?” exclaimed Maryë.

“And then nothing, it’s time to sleep,” Boutro said, smiling slyly and rising from his stool.

“Time to sleep? But you cannot stop your story like that Boutro!”

“I’ll tell you the end of it tomorrow morning.” And Boutro left in direction Arito and Nihemë who were sitting on a couch from the other side of the room.

He exchanged a few words with Arito, and then he launched to Arno from afar. “Nihemë prepared a mattress for you in the kids’ room. So that you’ll have all the night to figure out the end of the story together.”

“Come,” Maryë told Arno, “we will show you the room.”

They went to the back of the house and Arno was showed into a room with two superimposed beds and a mattress on the floor. They showed him the bathroom and they brushed their teeth, and Arno washed himself to clean away the sweat of the day. It felt strange for him to be there. It was the first time he slept at a stranger’s place, but he wasn’t as uncomfortable as he’d expect. He had liked the kids and they made him feel alright.

Arno changed into the pyjama he had brought with him and he slipped into his bed. He felt immediately glad to lie on the soft mattress under a blanket after all the tiredness of the day.

Dihiro and Maryë settled in their beds at their turn. Maryë was sleeping on the upper bed, while Dihiro was on the low one.

“How do you think the story ends?” asked Maryë.

“I think, that she saves herself,” said Dihiro, hesitating.

“How?” Maryë pressed him.

“I dunno. Perhaps she fled on the wings of a bird?”

“How many times should I tell you to say I don’t know, Dihiro? It’s neither polite nor beautiful to chew your words.”

“I’m sorry Maryë.”

“It’s fine, just don’t do it again. And yes, I suppose it’s possible Fië escaped on the wings of a great bird. What do you think Arno?”

Arno remained silent for a moment. He was a bit shy but also very interested by the story. “I think she was about to talk with the tree when Boutro stopped. I once heard that once trees could think and talk and they were like libraries who could tell the history of the world.”

“Really!?” the two kids exclaimed together.

“How do you know that Arno?” Maryë said.

“My grandfather in Tinë used to tell me a lot of old stories and songs. Before he died.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Maryë said, and Dihiro tried to mumble an apology too.

“Perhaps something magical happened for her to escape,” said Maryë. “I wish we could know the end. Perhaps one of us will dream of it.”

They continued discussing about the story and random things that crossed their minds for a while, until Arno whispered to Maryë that her brother had fell asleep.

Arno was still letting his mind roam across all what he had gone through, and he felt he had been right to undertake this journey and go to the mountains. He was really glad to go to Iyë. And he told himself he’d have to question Boutro the next day because he was curious to know where he had learnt the stories he told and if he knew many of them.

Suddenly Maryë exclaimed. “I know what we should be doing. Come, there’s a palm tree in Mahië. We’re going to think under it and try to feel as Fië has felt.” And she jumped from her bed without giving the time to Arno to agree or disagree with her plan. “Put on your clothes and a sweater, it’s going to be cold.”

Arno would have rather remained in his bed, but he felt a tingling of curiosity too, and he didn’t really have the choice so he followed her as they left Dihiro fast asleep in his bed. Maryë took Arno out the house from a backdoor that gave on the garden in the sleeping room of her parents. Before going out they took a peek at the living room where adults were smoking pipes, drinking a small glass of pistachio leaves liquor, and chatting quietly. They crossed stealthily the garden and walked through the deserted streets of the village that were barely lit by the lights inside houses and a nascent moon that was quite bright in the sky. The air was chilly and clear, and it smelt of flowers.

Maryë led him across the village. They walked through the little square where Boutro had stopped earlier and sold his ware, they passed a small fountain where Arno dipped his hands in the cold water and drank a sip just to know the taste it had. Then they arrived at the other extremity of the village and started trodding through a muddy field covered with olive trees. There were almost no sounds in the night, except the shrilly song of locusts from time to time and the croaking of a toad. Maryë told Arno there were a lot of toads in little marshes that were a bit farther, in the lowest part of the plain. They walked toward the marshes and Arno was struck with their beauty. The water was dark and quiet and unexpected among all these fields of trees that abruptly ended. It didn’t occupy a very large surface. And yet it filled the night with its presence, and the moon cast its silver white reflections of the water surface that glittered as the night breeze stroke it gently. For a moment they observed the marshes in silence. Maryë noticed Arno was shivering and she asked him if it was the cold or the fear. Arno confessed it was a bit of both. She then took his hand, and Arno felt immediately better as his cold hand was warmed into her warmer hand. She led him toward the only palm tree of the plain that stood quite tall over the olive and the almond trees. There the soil was drier and they sat under the tree with their backs against its trunk, and as if of a common agreement they looked toward the sky and the palms above them that the light of the moon helped to make out over a black sky. Strangely, the palms were darker than the sky that was lit by the moon.

For a moment they remained in that position, looking at the palm tree, resting their heads against it. They each tried to speak to the palm tree in their heart. Maryë inspected the solidity of its trunk. She also tried to speak to the tree out loud but nothing did and they got no reply. Arno tried to look up in the direction of the mountains and make them out in the night. He indicated that direction to Maryë and told her that the mountains hid many secrets and answers. She was still holding his left hand, and she asked Arno if he was going up there to discover the secrets. Arno said that he wished, one day. Maryë asked him if he’d take her with him when he’d go. Arno reflected a moment, before nodding. He had no idea when and if he’d go to the mountains heights, and surely the day he’d go there would be no harm to have a companion, especially one as fearless as Maryë seemed to be. And Arno felt a growing feeling of friendship toward the girl and didn’t want to disappoint her in that first night of their friendship. They were children after all and they still had the right to dream.

They started to get cold afterward and they walked fast toward the house. Arno asked Maryë if she often went out at night, and she said she did from time to time, usually without her brother who was still very afraid of the dark. Maryë had turned twelve, whereas Dihiro was seven.

They returned home unnoticed and slipped again into their pyjamas and their respective beds, and Arno fell asleep before long.

They woke up the next morning and they had a very hearty breakfast awaiting them with cheese and butter and cream and honey and warm flat bread that Nihemë had just baked and a walnut cake. The kids also drank some medlar juice from the garden while the adults had some dark and warm acorn coffee that filled the living room with its roasted smell. And then when Boutro wiped his mouth with his handkerchief, Maryë was there ready to jump on him if he did not continue telling his story. Boutro nodded. He closed his eyes for a moment, as if trying to retrieve his focus, to build up the dramatic atmosphere of the moment in his heart, and then started yarning his tale.

Fië focused very intently and tried to greet the palm tree to which trunk she was bound

it reminded her of the palm tree close to her house in Falnë that gave the most delicious dates she had tasted

but nothing happened, and her sudden hopes faltered and her heart fell

she started sobbing again, and no one was any close to her to dry up her tears

no one was there to offer her words of comfort

The next day she would start and thirst in the heat and in the loneliness of her heart

and when the sun would set and the world darken she would enter the mausoleum, the tomb

from which she would never get out

Her who so liked the sun and the moon light, the wind, the rain, the hail, the sea and the sight of mountains

Her who was born to be free, would died enclosed, walled, in stones

That was unfair, unfair, and Fië started crying again for a long time, tortured by her own thoughts, by her anticipation of the tragedy to come

But after a while tiredness washed away her worries and her tears, and she fell asleep

Fië was a daughter of Falnë and the spirit of the land was with her

and in her sleep she did a strange dream

she was walking among pillars and pillars that seemed like the avenue of a gigantic temple

but in fact each pillar was a tree

and their boughs formed vaults and ceilings and walls and bridges

there was a river that streamed across the temple

Fië could not jump it and did not want to dampen her clothes

so instead she went to the closest tree that had low boughs that formed like a stair

she climbed on them, and soon she passed into another tree from the other side of the river

and she found there were paths into trees too, and other smaller trees that grew into them

she continued walking above the floor on the tree branches that were amazingly regular

and she contemplated the beauty of the pillars, the trunks, the held the vaults above her head

it seemed to be neither night, nor day

there was enough light to walk and admire this strange building that was a forest

Fië continued walking suspended in the air on the tree path

until when she reached a point where the path was interrupted and there were stairs going up into an enormous tree that had a trunk as large as a house

she started climbing into that gigantic tree, and each of her step was effortless

she climbed and climbed and climbed and the tree stair seemed to have no ending

until when she reached a small platform built around the tree with many boughs that sprouted in all directions

she was still far from the tree top, but from there she saw all the forest she had crossed

and she was awed by that view, the forest was endless, and she had never seen trees as tall and broad and mighty and beautiful as these were

there was a uniformity between the trees and yet each one seemed different, by its foliage, by the colour of its leaves and its bark, by its shape

After looking at this spectacle for a long time, she walked around the giant tree on which she was and she found another stair that would bring her down from the other side

she looked behind her and saw that the stair from which she had climbed had disappeared

or was it this same stair and she was going to return on her steps?

Strangely Fië did not worry at all and just started going down the stairs at an even pace

she went down and down until she reached another tree road that she followed

then other stairs going up, then again another tree road

and suddenly the view under her changed, and instead of seeing boughs and canopy she saw a milky substance that resembled fog

she went on and on, above the fog on her tree way admiring each tree as she passed, paying more attention to the scent of their leaves and that of wood, and the dampness of the air

she walked on and on until the fog disappeared under her and revealed an endless stretch of water

but somehow the trees continued to sustain her, they had boughs long enough to bridge the water between them

Fië walked on and on and suddenly the realization grew in her heart that she was returning to her land, she was returning to Falnë

and when she woke up, she was no longer attached to the palm tree in the middle of Al-Zolom desert on the isle of Zamr

but she was under the palm tree that grew in her garden close to her parents house

and when she understood where she was she ran there and found that everybody was mourning her loss and her father loss

and when they saw her a large part of their grief faded away and they marvelled at how she had escaped and returned

Fië did not reply to that, but in her eyes they could see something had shifted

they could see she had seen and been through things few mortals had experienced

Meanwhile in Zamr, the sun was setting and the tribes were surrounding the mausoleum they had spent so many efforts to build and the lonely palm tree that was close to it

and suddenly someone shouted that the Sacrifice had disappeared

and then everyone was shouting, marvelling

She couldn’t have gone anywhere, at a great distance from her they were all sitting in a circle that closed itself around her and the mausoleum

she couldn’t have escaped her bonds

Some people started shouting it was a miracle, it was their gods who had decided to take her for themselves alive

that the prophecy of old had been fulfilled, that prophecy that told that when the gods would find a virgin with a heart pure enough, they’d take her as their spouse forever

and stop requesting the sacrifice of other girls, it was a very old prophecy, and almost everyone had forgotten about it

but suddenly all the people of Zamr started singing and shouting, and that day became a holy day

and they never captured again young virgins

In Falnë instead, Fië became known as the one who had escaped from Zamr and put an end to their pillaging raids

she was loved by everyone, but she remained very quiet all her life, and never married

and always had a sort of loneliness, of sadness, in her eyes

and every year she came and greeted the palm tree of her garden when it was laden with dates

and she ate a single date, and made a wish in her heart

a wish no one would ever know about but herself

The children wanted more, but the story had come to an end and Boutro rose in a final way, saying they needed to get going if they wanted to reach Artië before nightfall. They had a long way to travel, and quite steep too.

While Boutro exchanged a few words with Arito and Nihemë, Maryë asked Dihiro and Arno what they thought about the tale and whether they believed it was a true story or not. Dihiro nodded enthusiastically, while Arno said he thought at least part of the story was true, but he didn’t understand exactly how Fië had made her escape. Maryë said she didn’t understand it either. Then she asked them what they thought of the end, why was Fië so sad and aloof when she had escaped and returned home. Arno replied he wondered too, perhaps she had seen so much beauty in the tree temple that then the world seemed gray and sad afterwards? Maryë nodded, but she said she felt there was something else too. But she didn’t know exactly what. It was as though Fië had fallen in love with someone, or something, and had lost that love.

Arno let these words sink in him, but he didn’t have more time to think about it and continue the discussion with Maryë, as Boutro was pushing him forward toward the door telling him to hurry. They went out to the donkeys that had been rested all night long and had eaten a breakfast of straw and fresh grass. They had packed all their belongings again, and stuffed them into the saddle-bags on their donkeys.

Then Arito’s family came forward to bid them farewell. Nihemë and Arito hugged Arno and told him he could come back whenever he wished, that their house was his home too, and that the children had taken a real liking for him. Arno thanked them from the depth of his heart and told them that perhaps they’d meet again in two weeks time when he’d go back to Tinë with his maternal grandparents, but he wasn’t yet sure of the road they’d take and if they’d stop by Mahië. Maryë and Dihiro came to kiss him on the cheek, and they also gave a kiss to Boutro. And then Arno and Boutro finally hopped on their donkeys and departed.

 They soon went out from Mahië crossing its fertile plateau covered with grape vines and almond and walnut trees. The weather was still fair and springy, but there was a cool breeze that was blowing. After a moment, the plain ended and they started climbing again, passing terraced fields planted with wheat and barley and a few walnut and olive and pistachio tree here and there. They also passed some acorn, and again fields covered with wheat. All the cultivations were still green at that time of the year.

Then they entered into a forest while the slope continued to become steeper, always upward, and soon they were wrapped into duskiness. They had got far from the Iyë River and could not hear its water anymore. To Arno’s surprise, Boutro started humming a song on his donkey. Arno tried to come closer to him to make out the words he was saying.

Sometimes it’s important to accept losing your way

before finding it again

Sometimes it’s important to get lost into the forest

along which you’ve been walking

and for a moment close your eyes

and rely entirely on your feet to guide you

and when you open your eyes anew you find yourself

in an unknown place, an unknown direction

and you start walking again

When you feel your path is blocked

when your ideas are confused

when you are oppressed

just let life and fate take over for a while

surrender to the sweet voices of your cravings

explore them, embrace them, get lost into them

walk over and around mountains like a traveller who has lost his path

and lost his mind, accept your madness

accept of not making any sense

accept to be entirely wrong and to like it

accept everything you’ve been taught to despise and fear and hate

accept the unthinkable and the unbearable

accept this folly over and over again

until suddenly you feel saner and truer than you have ever been

and then it will mean that you have found your true path, your true self, at last

then it will mean that this journey is getting to an end

and that you will see the world from its top

from a perspective you had not thought possible

The song seemed quite obscure to Arno. And after a while he noticed that Boutro was humming it over from the start, and he stopped listening, slightly bored, preferring to pay attention to the huge trees and their enormous roots that went out of the floor under the paws of Ino. For a moment Arno was afraid the donkey would slip and fall. But after all Ino seemed to be quite expert in having a firm step everywhere he stepped, and Arno relaxed. There were many trees as well as the distant sounds of other animals, but nothing that seemed too big or threatening. The forest seemed very large and to stretch endlessly, as they walked for hours without seeing its end. It was mainly constituted of fir trees, many covered with creepers and there were ferns on the ground. You could make out from which direction the sun shone as the hidden sides of trunks and roots were covered in tender green moss. At a moment Boutro told Arno that the Fireliyë was a forest unlike any other in Falnë. Probably in old-times there were more fir trees, when the climate was colder, but now you needed to go on the high mountains to still find them. Strangely, this forest had remained and continued to thrive.

Afterward, Boutro started humming another song and Arno found it easier to follow it.

For a time almost endless

for lives and lives

you will roam aimlessly across the lands

looking for all sorts of treasures and adventures

gold and moonstone and philosopher’s stone

you will look for glory and admiration and acceptation

you will seek the extraordinary and the ordinary

trodding your way painfully

and galloping proudly your hair in the wind

fair and ugly, young and old, loving and vicious

you will experience it all

without knowing what you are truly doing

and why you are there

and most importantly, who you are

on and on you will go and journey to foreign lands

and rejoice of the old and the new, the past and the future

and fear them too

knowing that you are looking for something

but without knowing what exactly

is it a thing so brilliant it will make you blind to everything else

is it a thing so small you cannot find it

or so large you are contained into it

you go on and on, without a clue

oh, sometimes you think that if only you had a wife

if only you had plenty of silver and gold, if only you had a bit more to eat

you’d be happy and content

but you never find that happiness that keeps on eluding you

and you never set your heart and your mind at peace

and one day you understand you are looking for happiness and peace

but where to find them, where to find them

and you wonder if there are such things in the world

or if it’s only a chimera of yours

and you go on and on, on your endless search

on and on and on along paths you have already explored

and paths you have yet to discover

you pass from excitement to despair, from elation to discouragement

sometimes you feel you have been walking in loop

other times you feel that the green meadows you are looking for are at a hand reach

but your feet never reach to these meadows, and if they do

the grass and the flowers wither around you

and you’re left there alone surrounded by death

and so you go on and on, crossing deserts of sand and boundless stretches of water

you climb the highest mountains and go down into the deepest valleys

and still you haven’t found what you were looking for

And one day you wake up

and suddenly you understand

you understand that you’ve been looking for happiness and peace

everywhere but in yourself

you are the last part of this world you’ve not explored and discovered

you are an alien still to yourself

and now you don’t know from where to start the hardest journey you have ever undertaken

for a long time, you search for yourself, but you don’t find any door, any window

and if there are they are locked and do not have a key hole

you search and search and search

until one day you give up and fall in a long sleep

And when you wake up again

you find yourself in an enchanted place you have never visited

you wonder where you are, and you marvel at all the beauty that surrounds you

you have never seen so much fairness and light and sweetness all at once

you walk there thinking you will be disoriented and lost

but strangely you are not, and your feet seem to know exactly where to go

your hands seem to know exactly which fruit to eat and which herb to pick

you arrive on a small hill covered with orchards and gardens

there is a small pond too, with a white swan swimming on its blue and green and purple waters

and you ask the swan, ‘what is the name of this fair place I am in’

and the swan looks at you for a moment, then she looks at the water

and you come closer to see what she is looking

and suddenly you see your own face reflected in the water

you have never been so beautiful and true

you recognize your gaze, the light of your eyes

and suddenly you understand, you understand

you are in your enchanted self

you are all what you have dreamed and wished for

you sit down close to the pond and remain there

looking at all the beauty around you, within you

all this time you had been journeying, you were looking for this place

you were looking for this state of heart and mind

you were looking to wake up from the nightmares and the dreams of this endless night

you were looking to embrace the new day that you knew would come

and you could do nothing, nothing, to bring it about faster

For all of you who are seeking

the new day is coming, it is coming

all you can do while waiting for it is to continue seeking

and one day, you shall find your enchanted self

and then it will all look like a blurry night of sleep where you had had

many a dream and a nightmare you don’t remember well

Rejoice, for this day is coming soon, sooner than you would expect

and then you shall forever be into your enchanted self

and from there you shall shine of a thousand lights

and watch over the thousands of universes

and be who you were born to be, created and creator

man and god, woman and goddess

Rejoice for you will soon meet your enchanted self again

Since the day before, Arno had been constantly surprised by Boutro’s knowledge and wisdom, and by how well he had told his story. Boutro reminded Arno of grandfather Jarido. And yet, Boutro was also different. He had an aura of aloofness around him, as a man used to spend most of his time alone. Even when he had been with his friends in Mahië, Arno had not heard him laugh much. Boutro had the kind of sensitivity Arno had, and yet he was harder and tougher. Arno would never have been able to stop telling a story in the middle and resist the pleas of eager children. He wore his emotions on his sleeves, whereas Boutro was more cryptic, and you never really knew what he thought.

That day, Boutro was in a humming mood. He hummed many songs, not all of which Arno could make out. And strangely, he stopped humming once they got out of the Fireliyë forest. And when Arno asked him why he had stopped singing, Boutro replied the fir forest inspired a certain mood in him, and he didn’t offer any more explanations.

While they stopped in a clearing to have lunch and rest the donkeys, Arno asked Boutro about the story he had told earlier, if Fië had truly existed, how she had managed to escape, and why she was feeling so sad. Boutro looked into Arno’s eyes with a glow of something that resembled mockery, and he didn’t reply. When Arno insisted, Boutro told him he liked to tell stories, to hum words. Not to interpret them, for the wisdom was in the song, and any added word would be superfluous. Arno asked him if he believed in Old Falnë, and Boutro replied Old Falnë was not about believing, but about existing, being. He was less cooperative than grandfather Jarido, but he seemed to know and understand a lot, and that made Arno even more curious, even if he couldn’t understand well his answers.

Then Arno thought of singing him a song Jarido had taught him, or to be more precise, that he had remembered after his grandfather’s death. But right now nothing came to his mind. He felt it would be forced to say a story when he didn’t feel like. Arno had never sang in his life, and he felt he wouldn’t know how to. He liked to listen to these stories, to listen to them again in his mind, but he surely wasn’t ready to share them. He felt it wasn’t right. And he understood something. To sing the stories of Falnë, you needed to feel them strongly within you. They needed to be alive in your heart.

And just when Arno was making himself all these reflections, another forgotten song of his grandfather returned to his mind, and it came out from his mouth aloud, even though he had not planned it at all. And as he started singing, one part of Arno was genuinely surprised to hear himself singing a song he didn’t know and he discovered at the same time he was saying it. But he didn’t hesitate, and the words came fluently out from him, at a pace that felt just right.

All what has not been built within nature

shall one day return to nature

Oh men and women of Falnë

if you want your creation to outlast you

and your sons and your grandsons

make it part of nature

make it one with the land and the forest

the ocean and the sea

for if you stand apart from the elements

that infused the first breath in your chest

then all what you will build shall perish

Arno blushed when he fell silent, partly of shame of having exposed himself, partly of pride, and his heart swelled with excitement. Boutro looked at him and raised an eyebrow. He looked as if in a hundred years he would have not expected Arno to sing him a song of Old Falnë.

“Well, well. That was unexpected. Do you know many others?”

“No. Actually I don’t know. My grandfather had told me tens of them when I was a kid, but I never memorized them. And now from times to times there a song I’ve once heard that pops again in my mind and I write it not to forget it. It’s the first time I sing one. It came out on… on its own.”

“That is strange indeed. Old Falnë have ways to manifest that are often surprising, you shall discover my boy, if you have not already.”

“Do you know how many stories there are in Old Falnë Boutro?”

“Thousands and thousands and thousands of them, my dear boy.”

“And do you know many?”

“Perhaps a hundred, or two. But they’re not always in my mind. Some I remember more often than others.”

“Are there still people who know them all, do you think?”

“Oh, no. There are too many to learn them all. Each has a fragment of them. And if you put all the fragments together, perhaps you’ll be able to see the whole picture.”

Arno hesitated. “I didn’t expect you to be so… knowledgeable about Old Falnë.”

“Because I’m a muleteer with a single mule, and a peddler? You should never trust appearances, my dear boy (he had started calling Arno this way since he had discovered he could sing of Old Falnë). Never trust appearances. Can you guess why actually I’ve chosen this occupation?”

Arno thought for a moment. “Because you get to travel?”

“Indeed, I get to travel from place to place. Nowadays I mostly go from Tinë to the heights of Iyë, but in the past I traveled all over the mountains. I even went to Dië once and from its heights watched all the Moustadir country. I get to move, to meet a lot of people, to hear interesting stories, to see different landscapes, to discover new ways of doing things, new types of crafts. I get to spend a lot of time in nature too. And I escape the constraints you living in a place and being known by everyone around and being choked and forced to play a role that will reconcile me my neighbors good will. Do you understand the advantages of my trade, boy?”

“Yes, I do.”

“One doesn’t need to be a scholar or a literate man to be interested in Old Falnë. I barely know how to read my name. Everything happens in here,” and Boutro drummed proudly on his head, “and in here,” and Boutro placed his hand on his heart. “And indeed, your grandfather Jarido knew many a story. We sometimes told another some stories in the past.” And Boutro seemed to remember a happy moment and smiled to himself. “It’s a pity he’s gone with such an interesting grandson as you are. He could have brought you a lot more.”

Arno nodded sadly.

“But we’ve spoken enough. We need to ride again, otherwise we shall never arrive to Artië.”

And thus they mounted their donkeys and started climbing a stony hill where only a few withered oak trees still resisted to the combined action of wind and goat grazing. Along their way they met a shepherd who had around thirty black goats who were running in every direction, trying to find the spots with the plushest and tastiest grass. The steep ground didn’t seem to bother them at all in their meal.

They rode all afternoon long and arrived only as the night fell in Artië. Arno had felt a lot of excitement at first of having been able to sing a song of Falnë. His heart told him it was not an achievement many men could achieve nowadays. But as their path had stretched endlessly, always up and down and up across dozens of hills and valleys, he had grown tired. And as they stepped into Artië’s orchards he was so exhausted he barely had the energy to look at the village that was built on a narrow ridge towering over all the orchards around. But this sight was so unexpected and impressive, it raised his mood again, and he started inspecting the village from afar marvelling at how it seemed grown from the rock, instead of built. The rocky spur rose toward the sky, and the town was built in the same rock, sitting on the spur’s top as a crown on the head of a monarch. There were orchards planted all around with grape vines and olive, apricot, almond, sour apple and pear, and walnut trees, among others. When they arrived at the foot of the spur, Boutro dismounted and Arno did the same. Then, they started climbing a large stair dug into the rock that rounded around the hill. The donkeys needed all their balance not to slip on a stair and break a paw. They passed a stone gate that was open, and soon they were in the narrow alleys of the village, that was a town more than a village, at least in the way it was built.

Arno soon noticed that all the streets were dug into the rock, and that the lower halves on the houses were inside the rock. So they were half dug and half built, and Arno understood why. He had used the same technique when he built his small towns in the mud, digging a hole to create more space, and at the same time to take the mud that would help build the outer walls and the ceiling. But it was something else to be inside such a town, and suddenly it reminded him of the song he had sung that afternoon. He found it funny, if not deeply surprising, that the song that had come back to his mind was related to something he’d experience on the same day.

Boutro gave him a pat on the shoulder, as though to congratulate him for all the path they had been through, and he started calling aloud that the muleteer of Iyë had returned at last carrying wares and gifts of all sorts for everyone that cared and he also said he had sweets for the children. They arrived in what seemed the only square of the town that was also dug into the rock, and they sat on a stone bench that was just made of polished rock. There was a tiny fountain close to them and they filled their gourds again and drank some water.

Many people, women and men and children and even some cats and dogs and fowls and birds were flocking toward the square where Boutro and Arno sat. Soon the square was packed with people and they were all waiting their turn to check on Boutro wares. But instead of coming toward the woman who was asking him about a lavender soap, he quieted her with a hand, and he started singing of his deep voice that soon filled the square that was surrounded by walls in all directions, except through the narrow door they had passed to come into the square, and another door from the other direction. In truth it seemed more like a courtyard than a square, and even the arks of the door were made of the original rock of the spur that had been dug and pierced, and sustained a house above it.

As you seek your true self along your own path

others will seek their own truth too

and while you walk toward the centre of the forest where you are directed

other men and women of Falnë will take steps mirroring yours in their own forests

journeying toward the same centre where you are headed

and as you all come forward on your individual paths

a new form of knowledge and power will slowly build up in each of you

like pillars of light rising from your heads and all meeting in the place you all are seeking

and when you will all arrive at the same time

in the centre of the meadow where the spring of love flows

you will feel that you are of the same mind and the same heart than all your newly met companions

and a whirlpool of energy and light will form around you, within you

and with that power and knowledge dancing in your limbs

you shall instil the world with a new wind

that breaks nations and burns lies and cracks falsehoods like thawing ice

and then, only then, will the reign of Old Falnë be restored

which means that every man will be king and every woman queen

When Boutro finished his song, all the square went silent for a moment, and then everyone started talking and chatting anew, and the echo of their chatter resounded among the stones.

He started producing out from the sacks of Entarano and Ino all sorts of goods, earrings and necklaces and soaps and perfumes and chocolate and candies and little flasks containing medicines and essential oils. He also had dices and card games and expensive tobacco and little bottles of alcohol. And so many other things he kept hidden in his sacks. Arno felt inside a tale, when Boutro welcomed these people one after another and found what they needed. The few times he left them disappointed, he promised them to bring the item that was missing on his next trip that would probably be in the next spring. But people who lived up the mountains seemed to be quite patient.

In Artië there was a small house that was kept only for the travellers that’d come to spend a night or two in the town. And that house was specifically above the vault that led a passageway to the square. Another particularity of Artië was that all the floor of streets and houses was uneven, going up and down, and it was not smooth at all, as though it had been dug in a chaotic way. And the next morning as Arno further explored the town, he discovered that in some places the slopes were so steep they were like stairs going up and down, for no apparent reason.

They went into the travellers’ inn where out of hospitality food and accommodation were given for free. It was an old woman and an old man who took care of it. On the first floor the ceilings were very low and cut into the rock, and both ceiling and floor were uneven. It was the cellar where a lot of goods were stored, but as they climbed stairs dug into the rock they arrived to the second floor which ceiling as built in squared stones, and the contrast between the roughness of the rock and the smoothness of stones was surprising. The old couple showed Boutro and Arno into their room which contained two mattresses on the floor and heavy blankets on their tops, and they served them a generous mountainous supper with wheat and other grains and many spices that had been boiled for a long time and some sort of yoghurt added on top of them. And then they had several sour apples for dessert and some carob molasses they ate with flat bread. Afterward Boutro asked them for a glass of liquor, and the old man came to join him and sat at their table, and they chatted quietly and exchanged news. Arno was tired and sleepy and barely listened, and soon he went to bed and slept of a long sleep till the next morning.

When he woke up he had a strange sensation. It was only the third day since he had left Tinë, and yet he was feeling it was since forever he was walking into the mountains. And he liked the mountain air, and all the things he discovered along his path. Many, he had never dreamt or imagined, such as the strange town where they had spent the night.

When they left Artië that day, afoot since the donkeys could not get down the slopes with a man on top of them, he laughed about the unevenness of the town that seemed more like an anthill. To his surprise, Boutro reprimanded him, and said that Artië was a perfect town. “Perfect,” Arno asked, “but why so?”

“Don’t say foolish things out of idleness, boy. Artië was carved by the Old Falnë, and if they did it this way, it is because it is the right way.”

Arno nodded without replying because Boutro’s words bore a note of finality in them. Besides, they had arrived down the rocky spur where they could climb on their donkeys again and start their way south toward Bennië, the next village they’d spend the night in. But Arno continued to wonder about the ‘good’ reasons for which Artië had been built so unevenly, without understanding them, and wondering if after all Old Falnë were not so perfect as he thought, and that some people perhaps idolized them too much. And yet, one part of him found Artië beautiful despite its unevenness, probably the most beautiful town he had ever seen. And then suddenly, he understood why it was in this way. Or at least he had an intuition that felt like true. Just like he was wondering how the town was when it was covered with snow, he thought of rain. The unevenness of the town perhaps served to direct and collect rainwater. And what about buildings. Did rainwater drip into the rock and they needed uneven floors to get out the water. Now it was clear to Arno and he marvelled how he had not noticed and understood the patterns. He had been so busy looking at how roughly the rock had been cut, it had stalled his faculties to think, to understand the core of things. And Arno felt slightly ashamed, and he said to Boutro. “It’s the rain?”

Boutro nodded. “I’m glad you found the answer on your own boy, even though I expected you to think of it before. All the rainwater is drained into conducts and brought to a well dug in the depth of the spur that is made of a different rock that does not absorb water. That water is stored there at the bottom of the spur, and it is used to water the orchards during summer. Have you noticed the small canals dug in the soil we passed? When they open the twelve small water gates at the same time, water flows in all directions out from the cistern and it floods the orchards. They do it once every summer, and it’s more than enough for the trees and the plants that grow in the plain.”

Arno’s heart started beating when he heard that explanation Boutro was offering nonchalantly, by bits, as he had started smoking a pipe on his donkey. Boutro had been right. Old Falnë knew very, very well what they were doing. Arno would have never thought of such a system had he not seen it, and even when he did see one, he had not recognized it.

“I would have liked very much to go into the cistern to see it,” said Arno, still marvelled and a bit disappointed and reproachful with Boutro who had not thought of showing him the cistern.

“I would have, if you had asked me for it there.”

“But how could I know?”

“Well, dear boy, it’s needless to regret now. Did you pay any attention to the song I hummed in the Fireliyë forest yesterday?”

Arno nodded remembering a song about paths and dreams and nightmares. Yes the song told that what they were living right now was a sort of sleep, and that one day they’d finally wake up. And so it didn’t matter what you saw and did in these dreams and nightmares, because no matter what way you took, you’d retrieve one day your enchanted self. But well, Arno did not care much about that day that sounded like far, far away. What he wanted was to be happy now, and to explore the cisterns that had awakened his imagination. He consoled himself by making a mental promise of coming back to the mountains on his own one day, when he’d be old enough, and visiting all the places he wanted to see.

Their path was still climbing that day, and they crossed many grasslands where sheep thrived, and fields of wheat and barley, and they started to see some cherry trees, and Boutro stopped close to one that was on the path, and they picked up as many bright purple cherries as they wished for, filling two little paper bags with them Boutro had produced out his magical sacks, and they ate one cherry after another from the top of their donkeys, spitting the kernels along the road or throwing them as far as they could. And Arno imagined that when he’d return there’d be a forest of cherry trees along the path.

As they passed through a barren hill, Boutro started humming again, and Arno came closer to listen to him.

Who are you

do you burn with fire

or do you quench with water

do you crave fresh air to revive your flame

or do you need solid land to be contained

are you instead a parched desert in want of rain

or a frozen cloud who’s been abandoned by the winds

In times of yore, a Falnë was all of that and more

in times of yore, an understanding existed between the land and the man

and that same understanding existed within the man

in times of yore fire and air and water and earth

were all present in equal measure

both in the man and in the land

for it was a world of beauty and balance

But, alas, the old is getting lost and forgotten

and the new has forsaken all values

the land is drowning and burning where it should have thrived

and blackness and death are looming around

For us, last remains of the old world, it is the end

and all what we can do is leave our legacy

or our despair, in songs to be sung

in songs to be forgotten

dissolved in dust, scattered in the winds

farewell, farewell, our daughters and sons

when you shall hear these worlds

we will be gone

the last and weakest of the Old Falnë we are

we should already have departed

but we were too afraid, too scared to be swallowed by death

and so our tale is not one of glory, but one of cowardice

know that even Old Falnë could be wrong

know that even Old Falnë could know fear

for this is the legacy we leave to you

our brothers and sisters have sung of their wisdom and glory

before taking their leave, and we have been left behind

left behind to complete their grand work

It was the most depressing song Arno had ever heard about Old Falnë. For a moment he tried to think of its meaning. How did the Old Falnë disappear, and why were these people so dispirited.

Arno could not resist asking a question to Boutro. “They say Old Falnë is imperfect?”

“Old Falnë is perfect even in its imperfections,” Boutro grunted.

“How did the Old Falnë disappear though?”

Boutro didn’t say anything and he spurred Entarano, and Arno didn’t try to follow him. He felt that his question had triggered a grumbling sort of pain in Boutro, one that he didn’t want to acknowledge entirely. And Arno understood that in a way Boutro mourned the loss of who their forefathers had been once. It was strange to continue grieve for them even thousands of years ago. And Arno suddenly had the intuition Boutro was ashamed of the song he had just sung. After all, from the little experience Arno had, he had noticed that when inspiration came out you couldn’t stop it, and you could not command it either when it was blocked in. So probably Boutro had not intended to say that poem, but had been forced to. One showing Old Falnë men and women in all their nakedness and weakness before death, just like people now behaved. So, Arno told to himself, these were the last Old Falnë, but also the fathers of the Falnë he knew. They were not as enlightened and fearless as their forefathers had been.

Soon, they were walking through a pine forest again, and Boutro glum mood eased a bit. They stopped to eat their lunch. Boutro produced out from his sack a goat cheese he shared with Arno to agreement their meal of boiled potato and raw onion and flat bread. They still had plentiful of cherries for the dessert. They didn’t talk much, listening to the birds singing in the forest. It was different from the pine forest they had crossed two days ago. This forest was damper and there were many creepers on trees and ferns on the ground and even some mushrooms. They passed a marsh and Arno noticed a dragonfly.

All afternoon long they climbed hill after hill that brought them closer and closer to the feet of the mountains that sometimes appeared behind the crests of hills. Mountains were violet and blue and pink and gray and white, and they contrasted with the hues of light and dark green and yellow of hills. They passed plenty of fields planted with cereals and also some orchards with apple and cherry trees, and also some grassland that had been or were being grazed by goats, and there Arno saw the most beautiful and colourful butterflies he had ever seen.

They arrived in Bennië in the evening, as the sunlight had become orange and glowing, right before to be swallowed by the night. Bennië was a small mountain village built in white-gray stone that glowed in the sunset. It was built on a nearly flat land, at the feet of other, steeper hills. There were many houses which flat roofs were often covered in vines, and all around the village and in the gardens there were an abundance of apple and cherry and pear and chestnut trees. There were also a few olive and almond and walnut trees, but less than they had seen the days before at lower altitudes. The play of colours on leaves of the last rays of sun was beautiful to see, and Arno had the impression of stepping into a quiet, enchanted land.

Boutro and Arno rode their donkeys inside the village, and stopped again in a small square in front of a tiny temple. All the way Boutro had sung that the muleteer of Iyë was back, and people started flocking to them.

As Boutro dismounted and was about to open his packs, someone in the throng asked him for a song. It was the first time Arno heard such a request. It came from a man who seemed older than his father, but younger than his grandfather. He was about the same age as Boutro.

Boutro looked toward the man who had spoken, and then he closed his eyes for a moment. The other people of the village didn’t say anything on whether they wanted Boutro to say a story or not. Arno intuitively felt that many people did not truly understand and feel on their own skins the words of Old Falnë. So they treated the storytellers and the songs with the respect that is due to an ancient person, or a grandfather, who has lived a good, respectable life, but whose forces are now faltering. People had other more important things to do than listening to songs, but if someone sang one or two, they’d stop and listen in silence out of respect for that person, before returning to their bustling.

For a long moment, Boutro remained focused on himself, as though trying to call for a song, and then, suddenly, his voice erupted.

A shadow fell on the land and on the heart of men

what was green and pure and bright became spoiled

this shadow did not have a physical form, it could not be seen

and it could not be escaped from

and the entire world started changing after it came under influence of this shadow

In the remotest of times, some men and women of Old Falnë had sailed

carrying not in their ships but in their hearts the wisdom of Old Falnë

and in their minds they had all stocked all of its knowledge

and they helped founding the other nations of the world

Vatana and Gondzig, Vilnen and Vanar

Melroel and Alfar, Namuzaj and Janarlak

Telezch and Atriano, Bahalouzk and Min Shiflik

Lorn and Oorling, Barnabau and Zuug

Each nation had a sacred duty

Where tribes had lived in isolation and darkness

the sailors of Falnë had brought light

Falnë did not try to conquer or enslave people

as other nations now behave

Falnë was there to awaken people to their true nature

Falnë spread the word that each man could grow into a god

and each woman could grow into a goddess

And at first, for a time, peace, balance and enlightenment started reigning all over the world

The sailors of Old Falnë had completed their tasks

and had returned home, their hearts full of hope

But things did not go as they had wished

When old superstitions had prevented tribes from doing much harm

now that Falnë had showed their superstitions false

there was nothing anymore that could restrain and contain the greed of men

for the teachings that Falnë had given them were all about love and beauty and creation

and there were no fears, no threats

but these men were not ready to follow love and beauty of their own consent

and soon wars started erupting between the new nations that had been created

endless squabbles about land and gold and power

and all the teachings Falnë had imparted them were soon forgotten

Not all the men living in these lands were bad

but there were enough wicked men to spoil them all

and make them fall into the fear to survive

Shocked and desperate by what had happened

the sailors of Falnë tried to return to the nations they had founded

but they were not welcome anymore there

and they came back even more afflicted as nothing could stop the harm that was spreading

When Old Falnë had been immune to fear and doubts before

they had lost part of the strength of their faith

because of the consequences of their actions they had believed for the greatest good

and thus what had been perfect and strong for centuries

suddenly grew weaker, and the shadow started afflicting Falnë as well

We, sons and daughters of our forefathers, do not possess their strength and their faith

we still have the ability to sing new songs, but there are fewer of us in every generation

and soon this art will be lost as the other arts that have already disappeared

Younger Falnë will continue singing the old songs without understanding them

and then, even the memory of what Falnë once was will start to fade

We can do nothing to change or stop that

for we are much weaker than our forefathers were

and much of their wisdom has already been lost

even our new songs have grown less powerful than the old ones

soon we will lose even our language and our glyphs

and the world shall grow poorer and darker without them

Why to continue singing these songs if all is hopeless

you may wonder, you grandsons and granddaughters of Old Falnë

the truth is hope is never entirely lost

and perhaps in future times, after much destruction and evilness occur

there will be a rebirth and a renewal

and our words will be stored in your memories and in your hearts

to help you bring about love and beauty and wisdom once again

and avoid committing the errors that were once made

When that time will be ripe

you will know it in your heart

but it will take ages before it happens

and meanwhile all you can do is live and sing

Never forget the hope that is stored in our words

Never lose that hope, for it shall brighten even your darkest days

Life was once bright and happy

And this world that now resembles a purgatory or a hell once was a heaven

And so it shall one day be again

It was another long song Arno had never heard, and another rather sad one. He tried to inspect Boutro’s expression to see if he was showing signs of grieving like he had in the morning, but Boutro was now very focused on the people who were coming to him to ask for various wares.

When he was finished distributing all his goods and contenting the women and men and children that had come to him, the man who had spoken at first came toward them. He nodded to Arno, and thanked Boutro for his song and invited him to spend the night in his house. Arno later discovered that the man’s name was Zerto, and that he lived on his own. He had a small, untidy house not far from the temple.

“We need to maintain alive the tradition of singing songs,” he told to Boutro with a certain urgency in his voice. “After all these are dire times for Falnë.”

Boutro nodded, but he seemed way more laid back than Zerto was. Arno wondered if Zerto could tell songs.

They started discussing in great lengths of the affairs of their nations, of Bennië and the villages around. Zerto was doing most of the talking, and Boutro listening quietly and seemingly focused on the pipe he had lit. Then suddenly Zerto excused himself saying he had forgotten to serve them something to drink and eat, and that they must have been quite tired after their hike. He ran in the kitchen to repair his negligence, and Boutro looked at Arno and winked, whispering that the man was a good fellow for the most parts but he could be quite absentminded sometimes.

After a moment Zerto came back from the kitchen with a tray, carrying three cups of anise tea, some flat bread and goat cheese with olive oil and salt and thyme, and some honey and carob molasses. It was elementary, but it was all Arno needed, and he started tearing small pieces of bread and taking mouthful of the goat cheese that tasted very good. They were sitting in the old fashion, cross-legged on carpets and cushions, eating on a low table close to a brazier, but there was no fire even though it was starting to get cold. They were on the highest hills where the days could be chilly and the night cold even in the middle of the spring. Arno warmed himself placing his hands on his cup of anise. He had noticed plants that had a strong anise scent along the path to Bennië.

When they finished eating, Zerto said they must be tired, looking at Arno, and he brought him a mattress that he disposed in a far corner of the living room. He asked if he would like some blankets, and Arno nodded thankfully, as he was starting to shiver.

Arno washed himself rapidly, and went to sleep. He was not used to all this travelling, and his entire body was aching and in a state of exhaustion. As soon as he lied down, he fell asleep with ease. Meanwhile in the other part of the living room, Zerto and Boutro were chatting, while drinking a glass of liquor, by the light of an oil lamp. The government had connected the villages of the mountain to the electrical grid when the road had been built, but they seldom had any electricity since the Moustadiri invasion, and even before, they were used to shortages.

Arno woke up in the morning as sunlight filtered into the house and Boutro was humming in the small corner of the living room where there was a washbasin, and he was shaving himself. Grandfather Jarido had explained to Arno how houses used to be, before the modern era. They all were more or less like that of Zerto, with all functions concentrated in one or two long vaulted rooms. Most families even had their sheep and fowls in a separate room usually under the house. The living room was used as a dining room and even as a kitchen, and a place to welcome visitors. And the sleeping room was used as a storage room, and all the members of the family usually slept there on mattresses they could wrap and fold during the day to have more space and go about their other activities and crafts. Nowadays, only poor families still lived in this way in coastal towns, but in the mountains this mode of life was still widespread, with only few commodities that had been added such as kitchen and bathroom.

Zerto was bustling around, preparing the breakfast that was basically composed of the same things they had supped the night before. But these things were wholesome and they tasted even better in the mountains, and it didn’t disturb Arno. Zerto gave them some apples he still had from the previous harvest. They were tiny and of a dark red, and they were the best apples Arno had ever tasted. Zerto served for himself and for Arno a tea perfumed with carob molasses while he prepared for Boutro an acorn coffee that came from the oak forest at the east of the village, he said.

While drinking his sweetly perfumed tea, a song suddenly burst into Arno, and he started singing almost unconsciously, surprised to hear his own voice rising to dominate those of the two adults.

You will be happy

only the day you will learn to fly

like the bird you were born to be

You bear within you the depth of the sky

and the light of the sun

forests and rivers and seas and mountains spread in your soul

each producing its own song of whispers and silences and roars

Learn to listen to each, and prefer none over the other

but love them each as they deserve to be loved

Only when your heart and your mind will rest in balance

will you be light enough to take in the air

and explore the heights you have always dreamt of

When Arno was done, Zerto whistled with appreciation.

“Impressive, very impressive. The boy is your apprentice I see? I’m glad you are finally deciding yourself in passing on your wisdom Boutro.”

“Arno is not my apprentice. He comes from Tinë and will visit his grandparents in Iyë,” Boutro replied, with something that sounded like a note of pride in his voice.

“Then how have you learnt to sing of Old Falnë, Arno?”

“Mostly with my grandfather,” said Arno, still a bit shy and self-conscious about his new-found ability and the way it was manifesting itself, but deeply very proud. He now remembered the exact moment his grandfather had told him that song. It was a day of fall, and it was raining outside. They were sitting in the living room waiting for the lunch Shouhimë was preparing. Memory worked in strange, incomprehensible ways for Arno. “He has passed away two years ago,” he added.

“That’s even more impressive, you then are truly gifted, if you are continuing to tell stories even without the encouragement of your grandfather.”

“Do you know songs too?” Arno suddenly asked Zerto.

“I do, but I do not consider myself a storyteller. I know many in my head, but when I call them they do not come to me, and I cannot tell them aloud.”

“Why?” said Arno, unable to restrain his curiosity.

“That is how things work my dear boy. There are those who have a gift for storytelling and those who don’t. Not everyone was a storyteller or a songwriter at the time of Old Falnë.”

Arno was surprised to hear that. He had never thought about it. But it made sense that not everyone had this gift.

“Then what is your gift, Zerto?” said Arno, surprised of how at ease he now felt to share all his thoughts.

“This is a very good question boy. I do not know, I am still searching for it in a way. I have interests for many things, as you perhaps noticed, among which the lore and wisdom of Old Falnë, and I could tell you quite a bit of things I have learnt if you had the time. But I have not yet discovered my gift.”

“Have you ever tried playing music?”

Zerto seemed struck. “I used to play music,” he said, as though he was recollecting an old memory, a painful one. “But how do you know that, is it Boutro who told you?”

Why have I even asked that question? Arno wondered. “No, but I thought of m…”

“We should really be going now,” Boutro interrupted him. “I can smell a storm in the wind, this is no good news for us.” And he rose, putting an end to the discussion, and Arno felt that Zerto too regretted not to have had the time to discuss more with him.

“You will come back one day, I hope,” said Zerto. “If you seek answers you do not have, and no one knows to give them to you, always remember you can pass by old Zerto in Bennië. Visit me and I will be happy to hear your songs and share my knowledge with you. Boutro, my dear, have you told him yet about the seven lost crowns of Falnë?”

Boutro interrupted him with a gesture of the hand. “Let’s not fill the head of this poor boy with superstitions. Thank you for your hospitality Zerto, and farewell.”

And thus they departed from Bennië, while Arno felt a force that was dragging him to stay with Zerto and ask him all the questions that troubled his heart. But they had to go on, and soon they abandoned the orchards planted around the village and they entered into an oak forest. The weather was sunny but there were thick clouds all over the horizon, where the ocean was. It would probably rain before the end of the day. They were going to spend that night outside, in a tent Boutro carried in his sacks, for they were at two days from Iyë, and there were no other villages on the road. Arno did not rejoice at the perspective of getting damp.

They rode on and on without speaking much, as Boutro didn’t seem to be in a talkative mood. Arno would have liked to ask him some questions about all had been said, but he knew better than doing that. He needed to find the appropriate moment when Boutro would be more relaxed and would have lowered his guards. They passed forests and fields of wheat and barley and corn and meadows where sheep grazed. They were going up and down, but the slopes were less steep than the day before, as they were not journeying toward the mountains, but along them. It was well past the time of lunch when they arrived onto a high cliff that overlooked the lake of Iyë, and Arno saw the lake for the first time. It was very impressive to see. Its colour was lighter than that of the sea, and there were hills and mountains all around. Boutro showed him a hill in the far distance, and told him that Iyë was beyond that hill. The mountains and the hills were casting their reflections into the lake, and so it was azure with hues of green, violet, mauve, yellow and brown. For a moment they stood there, still, awe-struck by the beauty of the landscape before them. Since they were in the open, and the storm wasn’t very far anymore, the wind was blowing fiercely. They sat there on stones, in the sun that was playing at hide and seek with fast paced clouds, which zoomed through the sky, and they ate a morsel, without lingering as Boutro wanted to arrive to the Iyë River before night, before the storm truly caught them. There, they might find a shelter to protect themselves from the thunderbolts.

That day Arno could appreciate less the beauty of the places they passed by, because he was stressed by time, and felt Boutro’s stress. Arno kept on giving anxious gazes at the sky as he rode on Ino, and in the middle of the afternoon the sun was swallowed by the mass of white-grey clouds that had filled almost all the sky. They were riding in the gloom of a forest that was swishing in the wind when the first low clouds started to appear right above the trees. And then suddenly the thickest fog Arno had ever seen engulfed them, and he could barely make out Boutro and Entarano’s shapes that were right in front of him. Boutro called to him. “We need to stick together, boy,” he said. “Follow me.”

And thus they continued plodding their path through the fog of the clouds that had landed upon the land. They were going quite slowly, as Boutro couldn’t make out the path at all and he had to be careful not to end up in the depth of the forest where he’d then be entirely disoriented. The trail they were following was narrow and encumbered with the roots of trees and other obstacles sometimes. But they did not have any other choice than going forward. The wind was becoming a gale, and trees were bending and cracking under its attacks. Arno couldn’t dare imagine how it’d be to be there when the thunderstorm would be upon them.

When they finally went out the forest, they felt slightly relieved even though they still didn’t arrive to Iyë River. Boutro told Arno they should have been able to see the lake from the hill where they were, but everything around them was a milky white and they could barely make out trees around them.

Strangely, since the fog had shrouded them and muffled all the sounds of the forest, Arno had felt quieter. He had noticed Boutro had relaxed too. In a way, it was more frightful to flee from a storm, from the unknown, than to be into it.

And things turned out better than they could have expected. As they continued to ride, the fog lifted as suddenly as it had appeared. In fact it did not exactly vanish, but they simple had got out from the low clouds that were blinding them. They could now make out the lake that was covered in a milky blanket of clouds, and behind them they saw again pieces of the mountains that were not obscured by clouds. They rode as fast as they could, and just when they started being blinded by lightning and hearing the first thunderbolts over the mountains, they arrived to the Iyë River that flowed in a deep valley between two cliffs. They were on the heights and they had to go down to find the stone bridge that would bring them from the other side of the river. But they’d cross the river only the next day, Boutro said. He knew a grotto from their side of the cliff where they’d be able to spend the night. And so they went down from their donkeys as the slopes were too steep to ride in this duskiness, and they walked for a while until they left the main trail, entering into a little wood, and there, after some troubles they found the grotto entrance that was blocked with some brambles. Boutro cut the brambles with large scissors he had, and they went in together with the donkeys, to avoid them being panicked by the storm. Just as Arno wondered if there were wild animals who used the cave as their den, several bats flied over them in a flurry. Fortunately the ceiling was quite high, and soon Boutro started a fire with some pieces of wood he had taken in. Just at that moment, rain showers started falling outside, and they felt the whole cave shuddering with each thunderbolt that fell closer. Arno shivered, but he felt so, so glad to be inside, his heart was somehow kept warm. Boutro made a fast recognition of the cave that was as narrow as a bedroom, and as long as four bedrooms perhaps, agitated by the same fear that had caught Arno at first. But he came back without having found any dangerous creature living there, and their fire was barring the entrance in case a jackal had the idea to make of the cave its shelter for the night. There still were a few hyenas and wolves, but they usually dwelled higher in the mountains.

Then, Boutro warmed their bread and he grilled some potatoes and onions on the fire. He then added some goat cheese on the bread, and he boiled some wild herbs in a kettle to make tea. They sat on small mats to avoid getting cold and damp on the hard rock floor of the cave. The scent of the fire was reassuring and its flames danced and sputtered sparks each time a gale blew into the grotto. Arno observed the luminescent sparks that flew into the air and slowly fell down afterwards, like tiny gems on the floor, before losing their shine and the tiny sliver of life that animated them.

Seeing that Boutro had lit his pipe and was smoking already, Arno asked him, “who exactly is Zerto?”

Boutro looked at Arno into the eyes for a moment with a puzzled expression, as though to ask him what he was playing at, and what did he truly want. Then he spoke slowly. “Zerto is a bit of everything. An intellectual, an erudite, a scholar, a historian, a philosopher. And at the same time he’s nothing of all that. He’s an original, for sure.”

“You don’t like him a lot?”

“I do like him, but he sometimes unnerves me. He has the tendency to interpret things too much. And he’s going to tell you his wacky interpretations as truths.”

“But why don’t let me see and judge by myself, and rushing our departure?”

“If we had lingered but a moment, we’d have been caught by the storm boy. If I had all the time of the world, I’d let you listen to Zerto chatter for as long as you’d wish to. But I don’t. And my parents confided you to me to bring you safely to Iyë, not to get lost in chatter for one week with Zerto.”

Arno nodded vaguely, as he couldn’t really disagree with what Boutro had said, even if his heart felt the contrary. “So Zerto once played music?”

“Oh, it was a youth thing. He played some music, and tried to conquer the heart of a girl with. But then she left Bennië and Zerto grew more gloomy, and he stopped playing the Velkyrië. But how did you guess he played music?”

“I don’t know. It just came out from my mouth.”

“You are weird indeed, boy. Zerto would in fact absolutely love to make you the subject of his studies and his idolatry. You should come back to the mountains, when you will be older.”

“I will.”

They then unfolded their mats and took some rest close to the dying embers of the fire, covering themselves with their coats. And as Arno still shivered under his coat, he brought out from his bag all the clothes he had brought, and laid them all over him. It was a long night where he got but little rest, as for a long, long time thunderbolts shook the mountain where they had taken refuge, and when they quieted, the rain seemed to fall even harder, and some rain even streamed into the grotto, and they woke up dampened and cold and starved the next morning, with the spattering of rain on branches and leaves outside. They ate some bread and cheese and a few biscuits Boutro miraculously produced out from his sack, while Arno shared with him some dried figs and dates. And then they gloomily set off from the grotto under an overcast sky and a steady rain that promised to fall all day long. In the distance they could see the mountains summits that were colouring in white because of the snow. They went down the cliff on foot, until they arrived to the stone bridge that crossed the Iyë River where it was the narrowest. Under them the waters passed in fury, and they seemed quite deep. They were of a blue gray, and the cliff they started climbing from the other side was of a gray shade of green because of the rain that was falling and already soaking the two travellers deep into their clothes. There were scattered trees and rocks and shrubs that blocked their way, and Arno focused on keeping water out from his eyes to make out the path. His hair were dripping on his brow, as much as the trees above them that sudden blows of the wind made suddenly dump all the water that had accumulated on their leaves on them.

When they at last came on the top of the cliff after slipping several times and nearly breaking their necks, they started riding. Boutro told Arno that the other way that directly connected Mahië to Iyë was well-kept and much easier to travel on, but he had chosen the long way because he had the habit to pass by Artië and Bennië. If muleteers started following the shortest paths, then when would the world go?

They now rode on hills overlooking the lake of Iyë that was of a slate blue gray, and they could barely make out the bank from the other side because of the rain that was still falling. At lunch time they sheltered under a very large tree to take a morsel of bread and cheese, and a few dried fruits, and then they went on and on, until they arrived to Iyë at the end of the afternoon.

The village was built on the shores of the Iyë lake, in a depression, surrounded by two hills. They went down toward the village, among orchards of apple, pear, cherry and chestnut trees and terraces planted with oat and wheat. The last part of their journey they travelled on the road that came directly from Mahië, but there weren’t any cars, nor donkeys and horses.

The houses of Iyë were beautiful to Arno’s eyes. They were built of white grey stones mixed with ochre and purple stones that must have come from the nearby hills. They followed the only street of the village that crossed it along a gentle slope that brought them to the other village end, close to the lake. On its shore Arno saw several small row boats that were sheltered from the lake under trees. Iyë’s small temple was almost built on the shore. The lake was seething because of all the wind, but its waves were tiny respect to those that shattered on the ocean’s coast.

Arno had already come once to Iyë when he was a small child, but he barely remembered the village. At the time he had come in a bus and the journey had lasted half-a-day, and he had mostly stayed at his grandparents place. Now Boutro brought him there, at the southern extremity of the village. It was built on the slope of a hill, and the orchards and fields around were terraced and overlooked the village and the lake.

They knocked on the door of Milédë and Farno, and Arno’s maternal grandparents came to open the door and cried out of delight of seeing their grandson. They noticed Arno and Boutro were dripping with water and they invited both of them in. Boutro said he would perhaps go to see his cousins that lived in Iyë, but Farno insisted he stayed for the night. Soon, Milédë brought them the best fit of clothes she could find, and they changed in a corner of the living room that was built in the old fashioned way. They dried with a towel, wore dry socks and clothes, and they came to warm themselves around the hearth where Farno was sitting. Milédë and Farno were quite old, but they had the sturdy mountain look, and their bodies still seem to bear certain strength that only an active life can lend.

Arno’s visit was a surprise for his grandparents, but up in the mountains people are still used to and prepared for this kind of surprises as there are no phones and nobody announces himself before a visit. The rules of hospitality and kindness state to invite anyone who would knock on your door for a warm meal and a glass of liquor and a pipe, as well as a mattress for the night. And when it is your grandson that knocks on your door, it becomes a holy day. Usually mountain houses are well-stocked with food, as most of the things peasants produce and harvest themselves. Therefore Milédë was not embarrassed at all to have to cook supper for two additional, and famished, mouths.

They asked after the news of the family, of Mounyë and Bildo, and of Tinë. They’d soon go down for their annual trip, and Arno told them he’d return home with them. His grandparents were overjoyed to have him. Milédë brought them a kettle filled with tea that she placed on the brazier, and she served them three cups with some biscuits and apples and the first cherries of their orchards, to nibble on something while waiting for the supper.

After he had eaten and drank his tea, and finally felt warm and dry again, Arno joined her grandmother in the kitchen. Inside his grandparents house he had had some old memories flowing back to him. He had come with Mounyë and Bilbo, and he remembered where he slept, and that he went out in the garden around holding the hand of his mother. He also remembered of a game he used to play with little sticks of wood on the rough walls of stone that were pierced with cavities used as small cupboards inside the living room. In the kitchen, Milédë was cooking a large pan of lentils, and she was humming along. Arno came closer and gave her a hug and a kiss, and she kissed him back on his hair. Arno sat quietly on a stool, and after a while she started singing again.

Lentils resemble their cousins the chickpeas

however they do not need to be soaked before being used

Place them in a pan and cover them generously with water

for they are greedier than chickpeas

In times of yore, lentils needed to be carefully sieved to remove tiny stones

but in recent days, stones are usually bygone

Ask your garden for all vegetables it can give you

Lentils are tastier when cooked with rice

choose a raw rice that cooks slowly

and add around half the quantity of lentils already in the pan

Set the fire and let the lentils and the rice, the onion and the carrots

and any other willing vegetable cook together

a piece of cabbage and celery in winter and an eggplant in summer are welcomed additions

do not forget the rosemary, the sage, the laurel and the salt

After half an hour or so pass by to greet the lentils

and make sure they still have water in abundance to boil to their heart’s content

because otherwise they’ll be so depressed and withered they’ll stick to the pan’s bottom

After an hour, come again and taste them, and see if they need more time, and water to reinvigorate them

or if they’re already melting on your palate as they should

When they’re ready, serve them with a sprinkling of olive oil

you can eat them on their own

or with flat bread if you are famished after a long day of labour

If you are too warm, you might want to serve the lentils close to a salad

to refresh your palate and your mind

Lentils draw a lot of iron from the soil

and they enrich your blood

making it redder and brighter and stronger

Instead of using written recipes, women of old sang their recipes they passed from mother to daughter. Going over the song again and again was a way not to forget any ingredient and to pass the time pleasantly, exercising their voices. Nowadays, only the women of the mountains had kept that tradition alive. It was the first time Arno paid any attention to it, and of course it reminded him of Old Falnë, and he wondered if the recipes came from that time.

“Grandmother Milédë, do you know if women used to song their recipes at the time of Old Falnë?”

“I don’t know my dear boy,” said Milédë. She reflected for a moment. “I suppose they did, otherwise how would they have cooked?”

Arno laughed. “You’re right grandmother.” It was funny to hear her envision no other way of cooking than singing along with it.

After a while, Milédë started preparing a sweet, and singing another song along of it talking about milk and yoghurt, almonds, pistachios, honey and carob molasses, but Arno had stopped paying attention. He was getting cold again and he returned to the brazier in the living room, where Boutro and Farno were sitting on cushions on the floor both smoking a pipe and exchanging a word from time to time. There was a race of mountaineers like Farno who didn’t have a real need to talk. For them the mountains had always existed and would always exist, and they were immutable, and they repeated the gestures of their forefathers, and their great grandsons would once repeat their gestures. The ways of cultivating and herding had barely changed over centuries and Iyë had stayed as it once was. These people did not seem to notice that things were indeed changing, or at least they did not seem to worry about it. They just cared about their everyday life. About feeding the beasts and tending to the pregnant cow or sheep. They prepared yoghurt and cheese and butter. They ploughed and sowed their fields, and harvested them, looking at the sky to know if the next day would be sunny and rainy, and thus decide of the things they would do. For them, time didn’t seem to exist. From a side, Arno admired these people. And yet, he could not be as quiet and dispassionate as them. There was a fire, a seething of ideas in him, that needed to be expressed.

But right then, Arno was so tired he just sat close to the brazier in silence, thinking of nothing at all.

They ate and slept and when they woke up the next morning the weather had started clearing. There still were heaps of white and gray clouds but a strong northern wind was blowing and tearing at them, and carrying them away. It was beautiful to see the hills around and Iyë and the lake and the mountains behind waking up in a golden light that had made its way through the clouds. Milédë prepared them a hearty breakfast with boiled wheat and honey and raisin and walnuts and almonds, and creamy cheese and flat bread, and she served acorn coffee even for Arno, saying it would do him good.

After breakfast, Boutro changed back into his own clothes that had dried up, and he went to check on Entarano that had been fed by Farno already. Boutro then came to bid everyone goodbye, and he patted Arno on the back and told him to keep on singing. And then Boutro left, leaving Ino behind, as Arno would need a donkey to go back to Tinë with his grandparents. Boutro would stop a few days at his family’s place, and then he would go on his trip to the mountains. He had told Arno he’d try to cross the Hië Mountains, and perhaps pass from the other side to pay the Ummyë plain that was occupied by the Moustadiris a visit. Or more probably he’d just stop along the southern slopes of Hië, visiting the villages that were still free, and getting by some news, and out-of-stock wares, from the region. There were very well-reputed crafts in the Ummyë plain and the hills around, that could be found nowhere else in Falnë.

Arno watched Boutro riding away, getting smaller and smaller until he disappeared into the village street, and then he came back into his grandparents’ house.

The two weeks Arno spent in Iyë went relatively uneventful. He helped his grandfather in picking up cherries and ploughing the soil and taking care of the vegetables and tending to the sheep. He spent some time with her grandmother in the kitchen while listening to her humming songs and watching them repeat ancient gestures that were repeated year after year. One day she was preparing chickpeas and Arno brought his notebook and wrote down the song she was humming to herself.

All year round dried chickpeas are eager to be cooked

soak them in water one night long

and the next morning throw that water away

rinse them once before setting them in the pan

and fill the pan with water to cover them

Whatever vegetables grow in your garden, you can use

and the more, the tastier

In winter you can complement the chickpeas with

an onion, a red beetle, a potato, a celery

and two or three carrots all cut in pieces

and cooked all along with the chickpeas

Don’t forget to add a bit of pepper and a laurel leave

and a bit of rosemary or sage if they are still green

and a spoon of raw salt from the Fyrs sea

In summer instead you can add with the carrots an eggplant

a tomato, a potato, a peperoni and a zucchini

without forgetting the onion and the aromatic leaves

But if you plan to keep the chickpeas for two days or more

avoid the zucchini for its life is short

When the chickpeas cook, you can leave them on their own

They are quite disciplined and won’t get the water out the pan

nor burn and stick on its bottom

you can let them dance in boiling water for an hour or two

and taste them once or twice to know when they’re juicy enough

to be eaten, appreciated and digested

If many men are coming back hungry from the fields

you might think to add another recipe in the same pan

some raw rice, or some entire wheat, or some barley

you can also add brown and green lentils, and red and white beans

for this will make your dish even more filling and invigorating

Chickpeas like to be served warm

and they always love a sprinkling of olive oil on top of them

they are wholesome and will make any child grow strong

Arno appreciated even better the quietness of his life, now that he had travelled for five days in a row on a donkey’s back. Even farm work did not nearly tire him as much as his journey had wearied him, and he always had warm hearty meals to eat for lunch and supper. Sometimes grandmother Milédë came and helped them in the fields, especially when they were picking up fruits, and sometimes grandfather Farno went to the kitchen to help his wife. Arno liked this simple life, and of course, it reminded him of all the time he had spent with his paternal grandparents. He also liked the fact that the mountains seemed to be entirely out of time, and nobody was ever in a hurry. When he visited the village and went to the temple with his grandparents, people saluted them and chatted so quietly, and they all invited them into their houses to have a coffee or a tea and some pastries. Arno also never tired of looking at the peacefulness of the lake. It was quite a domesticated sea. But there was more to it. It was truly beautiful, and so, so appeasing to look at. And each time its colour was different. Golden at dawn, mauve and pink and purple with violent blues at sunset, dark blue or light blue depending on the weather, and clouds and mountains always cast their shades on its surface. It was ever changing, like the face of a very expressive person acting on a theatre stage, as in the representations Arno had assisted to at school. But the lake was even beautiful because it was truer. It weren’t pretended emotions and layers of makeup. The lake was real. It was joyful at times, sad, or angry. And all the particles of its being felt the depth of that emotion. Arno would not have been able to explain his fascination for the lake, but that didn’t prevent him from slipping away from his grandparents house at various hours of the day, rushing to the sand and pebbles beach where he’d walk, or sit down, and collect some pieces of polished wood. The ocean was beautiful, but it was aggressive and scary, whereas the lake seemed kinder and better natured, and it soothed Arno.

The mountains behind the lake were marvellous too, and their presence added magic to the landscape. When the weather was clear, Arno could imagine himself flying to them as an eagle, and landing upon the forests at their basis, or the meadows and the steep rocky slopes at their tops. The mountains seemed so close these days, almost at hand reach. Whereas on other days, they were distant and foggy, as though they were part of another country, another realm entirely. And sometimes they even disappeared beyond clouds and mist, and they were gone, and then the lake seemed an altogether different place. Every morning and every evening, Arno checked on the lake and the mountains to see of what mood they were, and he was each time surprised.

One day grandfather Farno decided to kill a sheep in Arno’s honour. Part of the meat they would eat, roasted and stewed, and another part would be dried and prepared for their journey to Tinë. Farno invited Arno to come with him to assist him, and Arno felt a bit uncomfortable at the idea of seeing one of the peaceful sheep killed before his eyes, but he didn’t dare say anything to his grandfather.

Farno brought the sheep and he started singing quietly, to Arno’s surprise.

Oh sheep of the land and of the mountain

you have given your trust to the herdsman

he tended you and fed you for long

and you gave him your wool and your milk

to warm and clothe and nourish his children

And now the shepherd will take away your life

and his pain will be as deep as your pain

for he has grown as fond of you are you are of him

His hand do not rejoice to handle the knife

and deal the fatal blow, the sacrifice

Look at the sun and the grass and the meadow

for one last time before they are in red stained

and know that your flesh will return to the earth

and one day you shall be born again

and the pain you have endeared will then be sweet

And as soon as he was finished, Farno killed the sheep with one blow, and he started tending to the meat. Arno had noticed a few tears in his grandparent’s face, and it made him want to cry too. His eyes blurred and suddenly he started sobbing about the sheep that was no more.

After a while, Farno noticed Arno was crying, and he said to him. “Come, come, son. These are the ways of the land. We do not often eat meat because we love our herd. But our life is rough and we need some meat to remain strong.”

Arno could not be upset against his grandfather. He was a good man, and even if he had killed the sheep he had sincerely loved it and mourned its sacrifice. Back in Tinë, Arno had never seen an animal killed because people bought their meat from butchers who took care of everything. He had never really thought about the dead animals he ate. For a moment, he wondered if it would be right to eat the sheep. Wasn’t it another act of cruelty to eat its flesh?

And yet if he didn’t eat it, he would hurt with grandparents, and that would be cruel too. And to say the truth, it would feel as self-sacrificing not to eat the meat grandmother Milédë would prepare, because she’s put a lot of love into her cooking. And besides the sheep was already dead and suffered no longer. So Arno decided he’d do what he felt was right and eat what his grandparents gave him.

He watched his grandmother mixing the minced meat with many fresh herbs and spices, some honey and cracked wheat, while she hummed the song of her recipe. She used as much cracked wheat and herbs as there was meat, so its taste would be lighter and more perfumed. She then placed her mixture into a large pan and she added potatoes and apples and some water, and she set it to stew.

The remaining of the minced meat she also mixed with thyme and sage and mint and rosemary and cracked wheat and she formed little shapes of them that she set over a fire to roast.

The same night for supper they invited their neighbours and ate the meat stew Milédë had prepared. Arno didn’t have to force himself to eat, because when he had returned from a little stroll close to the lake the house had been filled with the stew smell that was really mouth watering. The stew was accompanied with a cabbage salad with salt and olive oil and apple vinegar. For dessert, in addition of the apple and raisin cake Milédë had prepared, their neighbours had brought ice cream perfumed of roses they had prepared. The snow seller had passed by Iyë the day before with last sacks of ice of the season. He climbed to the highest mountains that were still covered in snow and carried as much snow as his two mules could carry, and he came down to the villages around to sell it. But lately he kept on complaining that from year to year there was less and less snow, and that his work was becoming tougher and tougher. He kept on saying that in his youth there was quite some snow to find in sun sheltered valleys even in the middle of the summer, and now by the end of spring all the snow was already melting.

Arno found these stories fascinating, because he had no idea such a thing as a snow seller existed. And it worried him slightly to hear accounts that from year to year the land was becoming warmer and drier. Despite that, Falnë still seemed very green and fertile, Arno reasoned himself to chase this cloud that shadowed his heart.

A night not long before their departure, the feast of Iyë was celebrated. Arno went to the temple with his grandparents, and they saw all the other inhabitants of the village and the nearby hills there. They had lit the temple and its surrounding with oil lamps. In the temple they prayed for peace and health and fertility, and afterward everyone sat around the temple on benches or on mats on the floor. The lake was quite and dark, except for the reflections of the oil lamps that were closest that looked over the lake surface as twinkling yellow stars, or flowers petal dancing in the night.

The children of Iyë gathered, and they started chanting a religious song while walking together.

We pray for peace

We pray for health

We pray for prosperity

Oh God, creator of all

who hears our entreaty

we kneel before you

to ask you to bestow your grace on us all

we thank you for all what you have given us and you give us

we are grateful for all the lessons you teach us

in pain and in joy

Oh God, we pray for you

Arno listened to the words they were saying carefully, but for a reason he could not understand they didn’t touch him as deeply as the songs of Old Falnë. No, that was not right. These words touched him, and Arno liked to kneel and pray. It was a humbling and regenerating experience, and he felt at peace the rare times he did it. But he didn’t feel the same magic that made him so fascinated by Old Falnë in the chants that were sung inside the temple.

He looked at the children, they were all wearing white robes, and the girls had wreaths of wild flowers on their heads and they were holding candles. They were walking toward the lake. There three row boats were waiting for them on the shore of sand. The children all climbed into the boats, there were four in each, and the boys pushed them in the water, and they started rowing. The boats were twinkling in the night thanks to the candles the girls held and waved. And when they had gone at a short distance from the shore, the girls gave their candles to the boys, and then they took their wreaths of flowers off their heads, and deposed them carefully on the lake’s surface. They sang for a moment there, and all the inhabitants of the village who were around the temple sang in unison with them, asking for the protection of the spirit of the land, of that of the lake and the wind and the mountains. And then the girls took the oars from the boys who were still handling them, and they rowed back toward the shore, while the boys held the candles this time.

They all prayed one last time, and then all went back to their homes, and for the first time Arno felt quite moved by a religious ceremony. He had liked a lot seeing the small oar boats over the lake in the night, only lit by candles. And the silence that had reigned for a moment had been very powerful, with all the people that were holding their breaths. He didn’t say it to his grandparents, but Arno would have loved to be on a boat that night.

When they returned to their house after a slow walk across the dark moors and orchards, Milédë told Arno that they would make him taste fish from the lake the next time he came to visit them, because the laws of the village prohibited to fish at spring as it was when fishes reproduced themselves. Later Arno learnt that whoever could go see the families that owned the three oar boats and they would lend them to any decent person of the village, and it strengthened Arno’s admiration for how well people cohabited in the village. There was no distrust, and his grandparents didn’t even have a lock on their door. Arno imagined that a long time ago, people all over Falnë lived like the inhabitants of Iyë continued to do, and he felt a sense of mourning for all what had been already lost.

While in Iyë, Arno woke up one morning, suddenly remembering a poem that his grandfather Jarido had told him once, and he wrote it down in his notebook.

Have you ever imagined

looking at the world’s face

and into its eyes

Have you ever thought of

speaking with the world’s mind

Have you ever felt within your heart

the fires of the world burn

No, you’re still too closed off

for all of that to occur

you still don’t know your own mind

and your own heart

and so the world mirrors you

by appearing as shapeless

and meaningless as you are

But if you looked carefully into the mist

you would see a blurry figure

of mountains and forests and rivers

forming itself

it still hasn’t taken sharp contours

and is represents an array of possibilities

more than a universal truth

but as you learn to see in the mist

and you open your body

to the winds of heaven

then you will be able to feel the world

as it truly is

At last came the day when Farno and Milédë confided their orchard and their sheep to their neighbour and set off to Tinë on two donkeys they had borrowed from the same neighbour. People helped one another in the mountains whenever they could. Milédë had packed quantities of provisions for the three days they’d spend riding to Tinë, and the weather had grown warmer and drier in the last two weeks, and Arno imagined that the journey back home would much easier than the ride with Boutro. His grandparents had also filled sacks with cherries and goat cheese for their daughter.

They set off from Iyë on a fair day of spring and Arno looked at the village, the lake and the mountains for the last time. There were a few strolling clouds in the sky, and the wind was refreshing, but the sun shone brightly. They followed the narrow asphalted road where they came across no car all day long. The road did not cross the Iyë River but instead circled endlessly around hills. It passed into pine and oak forests and grasslands. They stopped in a meadow for lunch and Milédë produced out dried meat and boiled potatoes and flat bread and she had prepared carob molasses biscuits for dessert, and they had some cherries too. Arno’s grandparents didn’t ride as swiftly as Boutro, and it felt almost like a stroll for Arno. They set camp in a small hut used by herders in winter times. The hut was empty except for a few mats, but it offered them a decent shelter for the night. They ate bread and cheese and Farno even lit a fire where Milédë boiled some tea in the kettle she had brought.

The next day they continued their ride that was as uneventful as the day before, still going up and down hills following the winding road. In a way Arno regretted they did not ride in the open country again, because the road didn’t let him feel the closeness with nature he had felt while climbing the hills toward Iyë. He felt that the horizon of his imagination was a bit constrained by the road.

In the middle of the afternoon, grandfather Farno led them away from the road, as there was an abandoned village in a valley at a few miles from the road where they’d be able to spend the night. That was the part of the ride Arno enjoyed the best. He had become really affectionate to Ino now and sometimes he whispered his thoughts in the donkey’s ear. And at other times he felt he was hearing Ino’s thoughts. And when they changed their course toward the abandoned village, Arno felt Ino was so happy to be walking again on the soft dewy grass instead of trotting on the hard asphalt road.

There were meadows all around them covered in wild flowers, and they crossed a shepherd with many goats that were grazing on the tall grass and the flowers. The goats seemed to like the flowers best and Arno imagined that they were sweeter in taste. An wind of freedom was floating all around them as they got farther and farther from the road, and suddenly Arno felt so inspired words burst through his mouth without thinking.

Have you ever been in a place where everything was silent and still

did you ever feel so frozen you thought you were dead

and yet in your stillness you could see

the entire world move around you

and grasp perspectives you had never thought of before

Have you ever dreamt instead of travelling

together with the clouds and the waves

over the immensity of the restless ocean

where nothing ever goes still

Have you ever thought of dancing in tune

with the music of the world

and flapping your feet and your wings and your fins

as naturally as you breathe

Then you have experienced the two states that are and aren’t

you have been dead, and you have lived

and you have learnt about the boundless confines of your soul

Now what remains for you to try

is marrying life and death, truth and love

and being who you were created to become

His grandmother smiled at him, but she didn’t say anything about the song, while his grandfather didn’t even seem to have noticed. Arno tried to remember the moment when Jarido had told him that song, but he could not. Now that he had said it aloud, it would remain impressed in his memory until he’d be still again to write it in his notebook.

They rode on and at some moments when they were on the crest of hills, they could see the ocean at the north in the distance beyond several ranges of hills. It cheered Arno up to see the immensity of the ocean again, and its firm blueness against the softer blueness of the sky where few white clouds floated. Everything was green around them. At the south instead stood the mountains, mysterious and impenetrable, in hues of greens and blues and violets while their tops were still crowned in white. Grandfather Farno had explained to him that the snow that was in shadowed valleys melted much slower than the snow exposed to the sun, and that’s why there were snow flow that made an irregular pattern. There were also a few clouds lazing around the mountains.

After a while, as the afternoon flowed into the evening and the sun lowered over the ocean, they arrived in a place where the ground suddenly dropped in a hollow in front of them. For a moment they had a view on the entire valley that was quite particular as it was closed from all sides with hills. It resembled more to a crater. They went down into the valley through winding paths that weren’t as bad as one would imagine from the top. After a while the paths became paved, and suddenly they saw the village behind a fold of the ground. It had strangely been built in the deepest part of the valley. The village was not composed of an array of houses as villages usually are. It was more like a single house sprawling in dozens of dwellings that could house hundreds of people. It was a sort of castle, but without the usual defences of castles, and houses instead of towers. There were some that were high and other that were low. To some you could accede by the inside while to others you could pass from the rooftops of nearby houses. And the whole construction was built of the largest blocks Arno had ever seen. It would have had a look of gloom and drear about it had the stones not been of a brilliant white. Overall it had a very weird appearance.

“What is the village called?” Arno asked.

“It doesn’t have a name. They call it the abandoned village,” said Farno.

They rode through the first building that didn’t have a door. The ceiling was vaulted and built of much smaller stones than the walls. They found a courtyard behind with some grass and stone basins that were filled with rainwater. They went down from their donkeys and were about to leave them there, when Farno noticed there was another donkey in a corner of the courtyard, and he grumbled about someone being already there. They called out and soon a child that seemed dirty and ragged came toward them and told them to follow him if they wanted to meet his father. They climbed stairs and walked into a building overlooking the courtyard that they crossed, and on its terrace that had a view on the courtyard Arno saw five women and a man sitting on the floor around a fire. Two of the women were cooking while the others were knitting and the man was polishing a knife. The man rose when he noticed there were visitors.

“How may I help you?” the man asked politely to Farno.

“I am Farno Iyë and this is my family. We are travelling from the mountain to Tinë, and plan to spend the night here.”

“You are most welcome, it is large enough to shelter all of us, and you are even invited to join us around the fire. As the men and the children will come from the meadows at nightfall, we’ll all have supper together. We don’t have visitors very often.”

“It is the first time I see other people in the abandoned village,” said Farno.

“To tell you the truth, we are refugees from Ummyë. We had no place where to go and didn’t want to remain in the camp of Tinë. So we came to the hills and found this village where to shelter ourselves during the winter. From what I heard the people from Tinë would never come to live here because they believe the village has been cursed and that’s why all its inhabitants have died or departed. But sea folks are more superstitious than we are. By the way I haven’t introduced myself, my name is Haldo Afrë and these are all my kinswomen.”

They all greeted one another. Then Haldo showed them a suitable building he knew that would shelter them from the breeze at night, and Farno thanked him.

For a moment Farno and Milédë organized the mats and blankets where they’d spend the night and they sat to rest. Arno asked his grandparents how they knew it was fine to trust these people, and Farno replied it was natural to help one another when one had been bred in the old way. Milédë added that these refugees seemed very decent people and it wasn’t right to distrust them just because they had had to flee their homes abandoning all their possessions behind.

Arno nodded, blushing slightly of having asked what he felt was a stupid question. In those moments he realized he still had a lot of wisdom to learn from life. He had been confronted to all the beggars among the refugees in Tinë and Minë, and a part of him was afraid these people would just steal their donkeys, or harm and threaten them. He still remembered the violence and unfairness of the war against the Moustadiris, and that had shown him that not all men were good-natured and honest and loving. He realized that the war had in a way made him more diffident of others, especially the people who came from far away regions of Falnë and other countries.

Arno hesitated for a while before daring to ask his grandparents another question. “Aren’t you afraid of the superstitions about this place?”

“Son, it’s been fifteen years we stop here and nothing bad ever happened. The first time we stopped by we didn’t even know there were ill-omens about the place. People were horrified in Tinë when they heard where we had slept. But your grandfather Jarido was a clever man and he wasn’t scared at all. Since nothing had happened and we had even spent a good night the first time, we kept on returning. We mountain folk are not afraid of idle gossip. All shepherds who come from Iyë will spend a night in the abandoned village along their path. It was my own father who told me about it.”

They soon rose and joined the men and women of Afrë around the fire. Dusk was falling over the land and the children had already returned. The boys accompanied their fathers to take care of their sheep, while the girls went in the fields to pick up all the roots and herbs and berries and fruits they could find. The men were also slowly returning, and the courtyard below had been packed with goats.

Grandfather Farno wasn’t talking much, as in his habit, but Arno burned to know more about the refugees’ story. Fortunately, Haldo Afrë seemed to be in a talking mood, and he started telling his story to his grandparents.

“For days, the Moustadiris bombed very heavily Afrë as it is not far at all from the border. We had a small house not far from there, and my cousins and kinsmen also lived close to us. Each day people were dying in their houses, without having done anything bad. When our neighbours were killed, it was too much and we decided to flee, bringing just a few possessions with us, with the thought that we’d soon or late return. We went to Helyë that was quieter and we camped on its nearby hills. Thousands of people were arriving every day, fleeing from every part of Ummyë. We stayed there but soon the Moustadiris started bombing Helyë too, and their army invaded Falnë and came toward us. They pointed their guns and said we had not the right to live in tents. We said our homes were in Afrë, and they replied we couldn’t go there for security reasons. We asked where we could go, and they raised their shoulders and said we had three days to go away, or they’d blow out our illicit camp. So we fled again, and came toward Minë, but when we became to be so packed in its camp we just thought of moving again. After all we are herders in the blood in Afrë and are used to live among wilderness. We moved to Tinë, but after some months the mayor announced he’d mobilize all the men to work on the construction site of the new town, and frankly speaking have you ever heard of a herder of Afrë working on a construction site? We concerted with one another, and decided to come to this place of ill repute, quite hopeful this time we won’t be forced to move again.”

His kinsmen and kinswomen chuckled. It reminded Arno of his family gatherings at his paternal grandparents’ house, but these men and women seemed even more solidary. Perhaps it was the war and the hardships they had endured that had made them grow closer. Or perhaps it simply was in their mountainous culture.

They had quite a simple meal made of boiled grains they had started cultivating on the hills above the abandoned village accompanied with some vegetables and roots, and some goat cheese they had prepared. Arno’s grandparents had brought their cheese too, and a small sack of cherries to share. The women of Afrë had also prepared some biscuits with honey and almonds that tasted really good. Arno enjoyed the evening more than he would have expected, and he liked to be plunged for one night into the intimacy of these people, listen to the conversations between parents and children and between kinsmen and kinswomen. They had concerns so different from his. They could not go back to Afrë that was occupied by Moustadir. They had almost no money and needed to survive with the milk and wool their herds provided them with, and the crops they planted. Even something as basic as salt, they did not have and every summer one of them needed to ride with their unique donkey to the east of Tinë where there are rocky shores along the ocean and fill in a sac with the salt that dries in the rock in summer times. But these people did not seem unhappy, nor desperate, and they didn’t seem to worry much about the future. Their children would be herdsmen and farmers like they were. They wouldn’t learn how to read or write but it didn’t matter, as would have said Boutro, because everything of value is already in the heart and in the mind.

The men and women of Afrë started singing in chorus old popular songs of their lands that spoke of herders and goats and harsh winters and rocks and mountains. One of the men had a velk, the smallest of music instruments that can easily be hidden in a pocket, and he accompanied the songs with his music. The velk is a sort of Falnë flute if you are not familiar with it. And it gave to the song a dancing mood and the children came around them and started dancing around the fire. It didn’t sound like a song of Old Falnë, but Arno enjoyed its rhythm a lot, and had he been less shy, he would have tried his luck dancing too. He could not make out all the words they said because it was in a sort of Afrë dialect, but he understood the essence of what they said.

In the high plains battered by the wind of Umm

several watercourses spring and the herders live

from grassland to meadow they move

in the fields they sleep together with their sheep

and when the winter cold comes upon them

they light large fires and they retreat

and to warm themselves they sing

and dance round the fire

they dance and dance and dance

and sing, oh! how their land is beautiful

they dance and dance and dance

and sing, oh! how Afrë is fair

women wait for their men round the hearth

all year long they pray for the cold to come soon

once the harvest is safe inside the barn

they pray for their men to return

and embrace them once more in their weathered arms

that smell of grass and manure

they like it nonetheless, and they pray for it all year long

and the men long for their hearths deep within their hearts

but they also are sailors over the ocean

who have no house and no town that can contain them

from river to lake they move, together with their sheep’s fleet

a man of Afrë withers once he is taken away from his land

his roots go deep into the soil and the rocks

and when the wind blows and the sun shines and the rain falls

he hears nature singing the beauty of his land

and the first night he returns to the bed of his woman

he sings to her a silent song of all the beauties he has seen all year round

his eyes and his beard and his arms tell her of all the dawns and the sunsets

and the rainbows and the lakes met along his path

and his woman sheds silent tears before so much beauty

and the next day all their kin come forth and they light a fire

and to warm themselves they sing

and dance round the fire

they dance and dance and dance

and sing, oh! how their land is beautiful

they dance and dance and dance

and sing, oh! how Afrë is fair

Arno could not retain his tears at the end of the song. They would never be able to return to their land, to their beautiful Afrë. It sounded very much unfair to him, and he felt his heart exploding under the weight of the pain. They sang several other dancing songs during the long evening around the fire but Arno didn’t pay attention to the lyrics that were in a thicker dialect even, and he focused on the rhythm, still shaken by the sadness he had felt for these people. He felt suddenly very close to them.

Before going to sleep, they all fell silent except Haldo Afrë who started humming on a very familiar tune for Arno, and to his surprise, the herdsman declaimed a poem of Old Falnë.

The Falnë of old was not the Falnë you know today

several parts of the country have been lost

and have since fallen into oblivion

Among which existed a purple lake

that is no more

There run the blood of the mountains

and it purified itself in the open air

under the light of the sun

And thus the mountains were much healthier

than they today are

When they reached the age of wisdom

the men and women of Old Falnë

visited the purple lake to blend their own blood

with the mountains’ blood

and renew their deep bond with the land

Old and sick people

were brought on the shores of the purple lake

and bathed into its waters

so their bodies could retrieve

some of the sap of life they had lost

Arno didn’t know that song, and he tried to engrave it in his mind. Just then as the silence had fallen and he thought they’d end the evening, words started pouring down his mouth and he started singing them without further thinking.

Soon the tongue of Old Falnë will stop being spoken

and its perfection will be corrupted

by the idioms of other nations

Old Falnë is not a language like any other

when you speak in Old Falnë

everyone around understands your words

for it is a language of the soul

a tongue of unity and not of division

The haze is growing around the world

preventing the sun from lighting your path

like in times of yore

and Old Falnë cannot be spoken

by hearts where shadows dwell

They all looked at him with surprise, but didn’t say anything. And then everyone retreated to their mats and Arno moved with his grandparents to the nearby house where they had mounted their camp. Before going there his grandfather looked a last time over their three donkeys that had joined their fourth mate in the courtyard, and to all the sheep who slumbered there, as if to bid them a good night.

They all soon fell asleep, but after an hour or two Arno woke up. He was feeling restless. It was strange sleeping in a house without doors nor windows, on the floor. The house must have once been magnificent. Its vaulted ceiling was very high, and the room where they were was as broad as a ball room. The walls were constructed of brilliant white stones, and Arno noticed he could make them out even during the night. He walked away from his mat to take the air on the outside balcony that gave on another house. The sliver of moon was shining in the sky, and it lit the night. Arno felt himself even more awake, and suddenly a plan stemmed into his mind. He was very curious to climb on the tallest tower of the city to see all the houses at his feet. So he started moving from one house to another through staircases and balconies and bridges. Each balcony gave on another house that was usually one floor higher. For a moment Arno worried he wouldn’t retrieve his way back, but he pushed that fear away. He felt strangely reckless tonight, and for a split second he imagined Maryë at his side. She had seemed so fond of nightly adventures and he imagined she would have loved to be with him and explore this weird place. Arno continued climbing toward the top, and the city-house appeared larger than it had from afar. At least he came to a house without balconies and he climbed two floors until he arrived to its top, and there he found narrow stairs embedded into the wall and after a moment of hesitation he climbed them and he arrived on the rooftop. There he had a view on the entire abandoned town and to his surprise it shone. The white stone seemed to be sparkling everywhere. Was it only the reflection of the moon on the walls and the rooftops, Arno wondered. He looked at the moon, interrogatively, and then to the town, and then to the slopes of all the hills surrounding the town. The slopes were dark and he couldn’t even make out if they were grasslands or forests, but the town was luminescent. It seemed to produce light, and he could even make out the small courtyard where they had left their donkeys and distinguish the animals there. A shining town? No, that was not possible. And yet.

Arno let down all the questions that had rushed to his mind and he just looked at the beauty of the place. The town was like a pale moon. And suddenly Arno wondered, had the moon been full, would the town shine brighter? In a way he instinctively felt that the stone shine was related to the moon. And then he remembered of a stone called moonstone that he had heard about in some poems of Old Falnë. Was this town entirely built of moonstone? Why did his brethrens of Tinë fear it and call it cursed? And suddenly a shiver ran along Arno’s spine. On dark nights the town disappeared. It was there, without being there. Like the black moon. You could no longer see in it. But, how did the herdsmen of Afrë do?

Even the rooftop where Arno was standing shone in white, and as Arno inspected it more closely he noticed the stone was perfectly smooth, and he had not the impression of standing or a construction of stone, but on a single stone. And suddenly he wondered if the entire city-house was a single stone that had been carved? No, albeit the stones were really gigantic, he had noticed some junctures during the day. Then perhaps moonstones had some properties that made them fuse with one another? Only during the night when the moon shone, Arno told himself. After a long time spent on the rooftop, he slowly made his way back to his grandparents’ house. It wasn’t difficult at all to retrieve his path, as he could always see the shining courtyard where the animals were and distinguish it from all other courtyards of the town.

He slipped into his bed, and he fell asleep eagerly. Early the next morning his grandparents woke him up, and they are some flat bread and goat cheese and honey biscuits and they set off on their own path. Arno would have liked to talk again to the herders, especially Haldo Afrë, but he didn’t see them again. Had they noticed the secret of the town where they were sleeping? The sheep were already gone from the courtyard, and Arno and his grandparents climbed on their donkeys and rode away. The fields were beautiful and covered in flowers, and a light breeze stroked their faces. As they got farther, Arno looked back at the town. It was very white, almost shining under the light of the sun. But it was not the same kind of luminescent shine he had seen last night. They went on, and by mid-morning they retrieved the asphalted road that Arno did not like, and there they rode toward Tinë, and by the evening they arrived in the village, not from its western part where the Iyë river flowed and the new city was being built, but from east where orchards and fields covered the hills, and some marshlands hid along the valleys and close to the ocean.

Arno felt very happy to see again his hometown and to feel the breeze of the ocean stroking his face. As much as he had loved going to the mountains, he missed the quiet comfort and the sweetness of being home with his parents, and not having to ride a mule or work the fields every day.

They arrived in front of Mounyë and Bilbo’s house, and Arno rushed up the outside stairs, knocked on the door and threw himself in his mother’s arms.

“I missed you so much my sweet boy.”

“I missed you a lot mom.”

Arno had not realized how much he had missed his mother before this embrace.

Then his grandparents climbed slowly the stairs and Mounyë rushed down to help them carry all their belongings and the usual sacks of cherries and goat cheese. Once everything was tidied into the house, they tended to the donkeys that they brought to grandmother Shouhimë’s garden where there was plenty of grass and flowers to graze on. Farno and Milédë had brought her cherries and cheese as well, and they paid her a visit. Arno was beaming to see her again, to see all his village again. He had been away for a little less than a month, but it felt like an entire age. He noticed new details he had never paid attention to before, new wrinkles on his mother and grandmother’s faces. What was this crinkle Mounyë sometimes had on her brow? What was his mother anguished about?

Arno was very happy to sleep again in his bed, and be surrounded by his mother and his grandparents. The next morning at dawn, he awoke and asked Mounyë if they could go down to the harbour to wait for Bilbo there. Mounyë prepared flat bread tartines with cheese and butter and jam and honey, packed them, and they went down the village merrily. Mounyë’s parents had remained home to rest after their journey that was quite tiring for them at their age. Mounyë asked Arno how his trip to the mountains had been, and Arno started telling her some of his adventures, and the things that struck him the most. He also told her proudly he had sung some stories of Old Falnë. Mounyë kissed him on his brow and said it didn’t surprise her, because her son was a little light of cleverness. “You’re taking after your grandfather Jarido,” she added proudly.

On the path toward the port, they passed close to bulldozers and trucks that were transformed the narrow road into a sort of highway or boulevard. Entire pieces of the hill had been taken off, without any regard for the oak and fig trees that were planted there. There was a lot of white dust everywhere, in the air and on the nearby vegetation that had remained, and the noise of piercing and digging and breaking and asphalting was almost unbearable. Trucks were being loaded with huge stones, and these same stones were unloaded into the building site at the east from the road, and Arno guessed that they were using all the rocks taken out from the hill to build the new city. There hundreds of men were swarming, welding iron and steel, laying bricks, mixing cement, heightening walls. Some buildings were already two floors high, while new ones were sprouting from the ground. Huge ships had started arriving from Vilnen carrying all the raw material mayor Qiroko could not find easily in the surroundings of Tinë. Many of the working sites were now managed by Vilnen engineers and Vilnen firms. They employed the refugees as a cheap and largely available workforce. People in Tinë were telling that the Vilnens were providing most of the funds necessary for the new city, in exchange of a monopole on all the contracts that interested them Mounyë told Arno when he asked from where Qiroko was bringing all his money. “He’s a very bright man, our new mayor,” Mounyë then added.

Arno nearly choked. “You like what he is doing mother?!”

“My little one, don’t you see that it is necessary? All the world is changing and we cannot continue living like three centuries ago, because when we do we are not even respected for our choices. Falnë won’t exist anymore in a few years if there aren’t men like mayor Qiroko who know how to take courageous decisions and implement them. It is not with good words that we’re going to keep the Moustadiris away. Once they’ll have drained all the water away from all the regions they have conquered, nothing will stop them to invade the north too.”

Arno nodded slowly, reluctantly. He was trying to find a weakness in what his mother was saying. “But it’s not a reason to destroy the hill as they’ve done it!” he blurted out.

“Oh I agree with you my sweet boy that it is a little bit sad. But tell yourself that there are hundreds of hills like this one which will remain untouched. Haven’t you see how many hills and forests there were up in the mountains? I bet you could not even count them and tell me their exact number.”

This discussion was frustrating Arno. It was the first time he was in disagreement with his mother. He understood her intentions were good. But it was unnerving. He felt something was profoundly wrong in what she was saying, but he could not explain why, at least rationally. So he let his heart express itself. “I still think it is wrong. I don’t know why. But I don’t like it.”

“Oh my sweet boy, you’re still so sensitive. But don’t worry you will toughen with age. There are things in life that we really don’t want, but which happen nonetheless. Do we want the Moustadiris to invade our country? Do we want to be sick and to one day die? Do we want to age? No, but we can’t change these things. And to tell you frankly I prefer to lose a few hills, and keep the Moustadiris away, rather than be invaded by them. What do you think they’d do if they took our lands? Do you think they’d just destroy one hill? Have you heard the stories about what is happening in the Ummyë plain?”

“No,” said Arno.

“A new wave of refugees has recently arrived and they’re telling shocking things. After doing everything to scare people away and not letting them return, they’ve started diverting the rivers and bringing all the water to Moustadir. Part of the lakes are starting to dry up, because the mountain streams do not reach them anymore, and because there are trucks that come every day pump water from there. They have started building new cities after their fashions and settling Moustadiris there. Entire mountains are being destroyed to provide cement for the construction of these new cities and also probably to send the cement to Moustadir. Understand my son, they have conquered a land that is not their own, and instead of continuing to destroy their own country, they prefer to destroy ours. They have also started throwing and burying all kind of garbage and wastes there. There were people from Afrë that said they were the last to leave their village and that everything was in ruin there and every day trucks brought mountains of garbage there and at night men set fire to them. The smokes were very toxic and many people fell ill. There’s a man coughing since he has breathed this smoke and they don’t know how to heal him.”

Tears started streaming out Arno’s eyes, becoming rivers on his cheeks. “Why, why?” he cried.

Mounyë saw he was sobbing and she hugged him and kissed him on his head and on his cheek. “Because men are greedy my son. Do you think that people are as sensitive and kind as you are? Some are, but many aren’t. They want more, always more, more than the land can supply. And so they start coveting the neighbour’s land, and one day they take it by force. But even the new land is not enough to quench their desire. That is unfortunately how the world goes. People have lost their faith in God and their fear of the final retribution. They live like there is no tomorrow. Falnë is very different from other nations, because somehow, by God’s grace, we kept our faith and our traditions. But now it is changing too, and all we can do is pray and survive. And believe me my son, we prefer to have a hundred Qirokos than the Moustadiri army in Tinë.”

They arrived to the port while chatting, as Arno’s tears were drying up from his cheeks. The port was not at all the place of quietness it used to be. There was a huge space that had been hastily asphalted all around and there were several ships larger than any Arno had ever seen in the new harbour that had been completed just before the winter. One part of the harbour had been destroyed during the winter storms, but it had already been repaired. Cranes and trucks were unloading and loading the ships. There was also what looked like an oil tanker filling one tanker truck after another. Arno wrinkled his nose because of the scent. The asphalt was already hot under the morning sun as no tree had been left over all the asphalted square. Mounyë and Arno went down stairs toward a narrow dock where Bilbo would land with his fishing boat, and in fact they saw him soon entering into the harbour by the narrow pathway of open sea that had been left, and they waved at him. He waved back. After a moment he jumped out from his ship and hugged and kissed Arno. He smelled of sweat and fish and sea and he had salt on his skin.

“How was the fish my love?” Mounyë asked him as they kissed one another on the mouth. Arno never looked at them when they kissed on the mouth because he felt too shy for that.

“Not bad, not bad,” Bilbo said. He unloaded a large basket filled with fishes of different dimensions. Then they sat on a stair step and ate the breakfast that Mounyë had prepared. Arno was glad to eat the food of his mother again, but it was not very agreeable to sit in the new harbour with all the noise and the scents and the men shouts.

Afterwards they started climbing to the village, as Mounyë carried part of the fish load, and even Arno took a small basket with some fishes inside of it. The refugees were not anymore begging for food along the road, as they had other things to tend during the day, and they were well-fed at night. Qiroko had even found an occupation for children, using them as messengers between the building sites and bringing to the men their lunch meal, with the promise that one day as the new town school would be built, they’d be able to sit on its benches and start their learning again, after three years of interruption. He had already asked all the women who were well-learnt among the refugees to nominate themselves to become the future teachers of the school. And the first lessons were expected to be held on the next fall. Qiroko wasn’t that bad after all, Arno told to himself, even if something still disturbed him deeply. But he started doubting his intuition about it, wondering if he was not simply prejudiced and wrong. Indeed the hills and the mountains seemed endless, so it was fine to cut down one or two hills to be able to house refugees, wasn’t it? It was the savage, compassionless way in which it was done that upset him, as though men had no longer any respect for nature. Indeed, in times of old people used to cut down stones to build their adobes, but they did it by hand, one stone after another, feeling it, touching it, listening to its emotions and its needs. One stone wished to be placed into the wall, another in the foundations, and yet another was lighter was begged to be part of the ceiling. Building then was almost an art. Now it was just machines more savage than any men, cutting, tearing and destroying, and building too. Arno thought again of how his grandfather Farno had killed the sheep, with respect, while singing a song in its honour, and he imagined that perhaps stone cutters of old used to sing songs in honour of the mountains and the earth. Now the only music left were the mechanical cracking and screeching of machines. How could men still sing on such worksites? And when the singing faded out, Falnë died.

Now Arno had put his finger on what his heart could not accept. By cutting the hill and bringing machines in and getting used the men and women of Falnë to behave suchlike, Qiroko was starting to kill Falnë. But the Moustadiris were also killing Falnë, in an even worse way, Mounyë had said. They were disfiguring the land, and killing its people. And yet, one could resist to the Moustadiris just by continuing to be true to one’s heart. Once people started to behave as though they were Vilnens or Moustadiris, Falnë would die, not only because its land was killed, but because the remembrance of what was good and beautiful faded away from the heart of people. What Qiroko was doing was as bad as what the Moustadiris were doing, Arno told to himself. And yet one part of him admired Qiroko’s work, and he was fascinated in a way by this new city that was being built.

A week afterward, they decided to go on a picnic with both Arno’s maternal grandparents and his paternal grandmother. All the grandparents rode on donkeys so that they’d get less tired by the walk out of Tinë toward its northern shores. Shouhimë rode Ino, Arno’s donkey they still kept before returning it to its owner who had lent it to them. Two brothers of his grandfather Jarido, the apothecary and the musician, also came by foot insisting they still could walk.

They walked for a long moment under a strong sun of the end of spring, but fortunately the path they followed was sometimes sheltered under carob and olive and pine and terebinth trees. There also were orchards with peach and apricot trees that were taking vivid pink-red and orange hues and would soon be ripe. They crossed several fields covered with orange and lemon and banana trees near marshes. At last they arrived on a narrow beach which was partly constituted of polished pebbles, and partly of rocks and reefs protruding from the ocean, and there was a small promontory at their back that provided them with some shade, and a potential playing ground for Arno. They sat there and started drinking glasses of the three bottles of lemonade grandmother Shouhimë had prepared for the occasion. Bilbo had prepared fishing dough, and he made his way through the reefs that resembled a maze and find a suitable location where to throw his fishing rod and perhaps catch a fish or two. Arno accompanied him more to explore the rocks than out of interest for fishing. He had fished a few times with a rod in company of his father, but he didn’t have the necessary patience, nor was he very deft with his fingers to wrap the dough around the hook, and he kept on pinching his fingers and the dough kept on being snatched by fishes that didn’t get caught. Arno loved the rocks, the beaches, the ocean when he was free to look at them and wander around. Remaining in the sun for five hours in the row was not really something he looked for. Fortunately Bilbo was sweet of tempers and he wasn’t offended by his son lack of interest in fishing. He had been in the same situation when his father Jarido told him about all his intellectual puzzles that tired Bilbo’s mind. And at the end Bilbo had become a fisherman also because he craved for the silence of the sea. Arno was more like Jarido, and it was fine. Beyond that he was quite good at school, and Bilbo hoped for his son’s sake he’d make some sorts of studies to earn more money than a fisherman, a peasant or a craftsman would. In those dire times for Falnë, it was safer to have some money in case one’s needed to flee from the Moustadiris.

When Arno came back to where his family had sat in a circle on mats, they were preparing lunch. His mother was cutting several sorts of lettuces and herbs and aromatic plants that she’d mix with the first tomatoes of the year and carrots and pieces of lemon. His grandmother Shouhimë was roasting potatoes over a small fire Farno had probably lit, and Milédë was helping her daughter by cutting some vegetables. Wardo Tinë, his great uncle the musician was according his velkyr, a sort of guitar with seven strings typical of Falnë, while humming alone. Atiro was not sitting with them, and when Arno asked after him, Mounyë told him he had gone around to look for medicinal herbs. That sounded interesting, and Arno tried to look for him over the little promontory where all sorts of plants almost reached to Arno’s waistline. “Pay attention to snakes!” his mother called after him. “Yes mama!” he shouted back.

At last he found Atiro Tinë who was crouching like a small boy, and looking at some sort of plant with marvel. “Oh it’s been years I’m looking for this one. The jehlenaë is quite rare.” And Arno saw a small plant drowned around larger ones that made little white flowers. Its leaves looked quite thick. In fact there were many jehlenaë all around, but they often were hidden and you needed to look for them.

“Arno, you’re here boy. Come help me pick some of their leaves. Take only the oldest and thickest ones.”

“What do you use them for uncle?”

“For all sorts of things my dear. For all sorts of things. I’d almost say the jehlenaë is magical. I grind it and collect its juice. It’s very juicy, and oily. I store the juice in little phials, and a few drops of it can do wonders. If anyone has a high fever, I’ll prescribe him to dilute a few drops in a glass of water and drink it. Its taste is pleasant and within an hour the fever will have dropped. If someone has some sort of inner infection or rheumatism, he can just massage the ailing part of his body with the jehlenaë, and drink some, and his pain will be appeased. It kills pain and it heals too.”

While Arno’s great uncle gave him all sorts of explanations, they were picking up the jehlenaë leaves.

“Why is it so difficult to find?” asked Arno.

“It is a capricious little plant. Each year it chooses other spots where to grow. For instance you can be sure there won’t be any jehlenaë on this promontory next year.”

“Why, doesn’t it have seeds?”

“It does, but the seeds are very light and can be taken very far. And I suspect there’s something to do about the soil. Some minerals the jehlenaë need and drain quite quickly. That’s why it is so efficient to heal ailments.”

After picking enough jehlenaë to last a couple of years, Atiro told his great nephew to think of him and bring him some leaves of it in case he found some on his path, now that he knew to recognize it. Then they moved closer to the ocean to pick the seeds and the flowers of a weed that was way more common than the jehlenaë and which was one of the ingredients to prepare syrup for throat pains. “Despite it being almost summer, you wouldn’t how many people are complaining of throat pains this year,” said Atiro. “It is the temperature difference between the days that are too hot and the nights that are cool that is quite bad. When I was your age, days were much milder than they are today. And still even at the time my grandparents kept saying that Falnë used to be colder even.”

“Why do you think it is happening, uncle?”

“Men are a greedy creature son. All over the world they are exploiting the land, destroying what is green and beautiful to build and build and build. If even in Tinë at the heart of Falnë we’re starting to do that, you can be sure it’s much worse everywhere else. We have lost all respect for the land and the water, and I believe it is expectable that elements start rebelling against us. Here in Falnë we feel it less because we are blessed with the presence of the ocean and the mountains, but in other parts of the world, believe me, it is not going very well. Falnë has been spared till now because we still had some respect for the things that are older and grander than we are. But Moustadir!” and he spat while saying that name, “Moustadir, they’ve transformed their country into a hell of a desert. This is why they’ve come looking for our water and are stealing it from us son. It will soon be the end of the world, mark my words. You’re not lucky to be born in such a time.”

The old man was trembling with sadness and anger as he spoke. Despite being very much interested by his words, Arno feared Atiro would have a heart attack like Jarido and he hastily changed subject by asking his great uncle about another plant. And soon Atiro had forgotten all about his indignation and he started disserting about the mikyosaë that is a sort of cactus with which blue flowers you can prepare a miraculous potion to treat any ailment of the eyes.

They continued strolling while slowly coming back toward where the grandparents and Mounyë were preparing the picnic. They could hear some notes of the velkyr and of Wardo’s voice carried by the wind. At that moment Arno looked at the sun that was quite high in the sky, and he was blinded. And suddenly he remembered another similar moment with Jarido who had told him never to look for too long at the sun, otherwise he could become blind one day, and Arno started singing.

Once upon a time

there was not one sun

but an infinity of them

shining all over the sky

Each person walking upon the land

saw only her own sun

guiding her path

toward the realm of her dreams

Nowadays the sun has become misleading

and the world has forgotten

the old way of looking at things

Don’t watch the external sun for guidance

but rather find again the sun of your heart

and let its glow shine through your limbs

and lit your mind with its sacred light

Atiro clapped his hands. “Oh, oh, the world is not so badly put as I thought my great nephew. Is it a song Jarido had taught you?”

“He said it once in front of me when I was a small child, but I had forgotten it. Now when I looked at the sun it came back to my memory.”

“That is impressive my boy. You definitely have a gift for singing. I cannot remember these poems but I love hearing them, and I dearly miss Jarido’s singing,” Atiro’s expression saddened for a moment. “It makes me think of my own gift for plants. Once I hear or read the name of a plant, and see its appearance, and learn its properties, I can never forget them. And sometimes I will have some intuitions about plants I’ve never read about that will reveal correct. There are some plants that I’ve never read about but I found a use to. Have you ever invented a song boy?”

“No…” said Arno ponderingly, “I do not think so.” And suddenly words heard a long time ago came back to his mind.

Inspiration works

through mysterious ways

that no one can explain

Some will remember

the songs of Old Falnë

and shall perpetuate them

While others will create

their own immortal songs

that by their sons

will start to be chanted

It is not one or two men

who first sung the words

you heard and repeated so many times

Old Falnë belongs to everyone

it is a universal library

of every song that has ever existed and will come to exist

it is an infinite book

where all the songs are written

and every man and woman

can close their eyes

and listen to the songs deep within their hearts

“Oh my boy, this is great!” exclaimed Arito. “This is great. My brother has been very wise in telling you all these songs, because you truly have a pure gift for them. I don’t think he could sing as well as you do at your age.”

Arno’s face burnt with pride. It was surprising how Arito’s words had triggered his remembrance a second time in such a short lapse of time. He suddenly felt much closer to his great uncle, and he had the strong feeling of retrieving an old friend. In a way Arito now reminded him of Jarido.

“You should come more often to see me my dear boy,” said Arito. “I will annoy you with the tale of every plant I know about, and you shall sing me stories. Do we have a deal?”

“Of course great uncle.”

“I won’t be surprised if you start writing your own songs one day, as the poem you’ve just sung tells.”

“Is this possible?”

“Of course, didn’t you understand the words you were saying?”

“I did, but I need to write it in my notebook to understand it better. I did not remember it at all before saying it outloud.”

They were back around the fire Farno and Milédë were tending, and the great salad Mounyë had prepared was ready. Bilbo had come back with several fishes that were roasting over the fire to complement their meal. His fish had been quite lucky.

“I found some jehlenaë!” Arito shouted. The others laughed, and they probably didn’t know or remember what plant it was. Wardo started making fun of his brother, singing a jeering verse accompanying his words with his velkyr.

Jehlenaë, oh Jehlenaë

I have found you at last

All my life, I’ve waited for you

Jehalenaë the fair and the sweet

I have found you at last

and my heart with joy swelleth

and tonight we shall sleep together

Jehlenaë, oh Jehlenaë

you have come to me at last

Everybody laughed even more as the two great uncles were quite old and bachelors as long as anyone could recall. They lived in the same house to give one another quite company. And they were always making fun of one another.

“And I have found something else too!” called Arito.

“What, What?” cried Wardo.

“This!” said Arito, pointing Arno with his finger.

“This what?” said Wardo.

“The boy is a talent! He already sings of Old Falnë as well and surely as Jarido used to!”

Arno saw Shouhimë’s eyes moistening. Was it the mention of Jarido, or the news that Arno had taken after him that moved her?

“Really Arno?” she asked.

Arno nodded, shrugging his shoulders helplessly. He wasn’t used to so be at the center of all attentions. And then something even worse happened, as another song made its way up his throat and he started blurting it.

On the highest peaks of the world

sprout the immortal trees

no one remembers having planted them first

and they are taller than anything else

providing a stairway toward

the heaven of your soul

Some say there is only one tree

others tell there are many

many seek them in vain

only the pure in heart may see them the legend yarns

The immortal trees know the history of the world

and they know the minds and the hearts of men

from a mountain top to another

they communicate between themselves

and they speak with the wind and the storms and the clouds and the rocks

One day will come when the immortal trees

will shine again their light upon the world

and the hearts of men will be lightened

like they were in the beginnings of time

and the reign of Old Falnë shall return

over lands and seas and mountains

Arito applauded, and Warito started improvising a half-praising, half-mocking strophe about the talented boy they had just discovered among their ranks.

A lost Falnë, oh!

A lost Falnë, oh!

has been found among us

still a child

but already as wise as any man can become

A lost Falnë, oh!

A lost Falnë, oh!

what are you doing here my good boy

your gift belongs to another time

have you so lost your way and ended here

among savages

who have forgotten the beauty of music and words

A lost Falnë, oh!

A lost Falnë, oh!

Something in Wardo’s jibe resonated within Arno’s chest. It was truly a difficult time for someone to discover such a gift at his. People wouldn’t respect him as they used to respect storytellers. The world was changing fast, and suddenly Arno felt the hugeness of the task to accomplish if he wanted to share his gift with others. Everyone, even his own family, was overlooking the teachings of Old Falnë, and soon no one would remember of them as the songs lamented.

When Wardo was done singing, Bilbo gave a pat on Arno’s shoulder and told him he was proud of him, and Shouhimë embraced him and her cheeks were still wet with tears. “I remember of this song,” she whispered to her grandson. “You said the reign of Old Falnë shall return. This means that if I am looking for my inconsiderate and beloved Jarido, I’ll know where to find him!” And she said these words with a fondness toward her deceased husband that warmed Arno’s heart. This was the love he hoped to one day find, he told himself.

They started eating the roasted fish and the potatoes, and they then proceeded with the salads while chatting of what was happening in Tinë. None of his grandparents, neither Shouhimë, nor Milédë and Farno, liked what mayor Qiroko was doing. They were stubborn, and had been used to a certain order in the world. Farno said that if for centuries things had been done in a certain way, houses built with certain materials, it was not out of chance, but because this was the best and the right way of doing things. Shouhimë said she remembered playing around the little port of Tinë as a child, and her heart couldn’t not mourn how everything had changed so fast. “All this noise, all this dust,” she lamented. “When I put my clothes to dry in the sun, I retrieve them with a coat of dust at night. This never happened in the past.”

Bilbo just accepted how things were, without interpreting them too much. What mattered was the health of loved ones, he said, and he was very grateful for the war not to have destroyed Tinë. Arito did not like any of what was happening, but he said the world was doomed, except if the prophecies of old were right, pointing at the boy. Wardo improvised another jibe about Qiroko imitating the mayor’s deep voice even, until when Shouhimë reproved him and told him to finish eating before.

Mayor Qiroko has as many eyes and hands

as centipedes have legs

Tinë from a small village must become a capital

and a throne must be built for our new king

throw the old out and make space for the new

Qiroko said and everyone repeated

With our tall buildings and our wide avenues

we will stand against the Moustadiris and impress them

we will stop their airplanes and their bombs

we will stop their tanks and their soldiers

we will, we will, we will, oh! we will

women and men and children of Tinë

today is a historical day

we will, we will, we will, oh! we will

we will defeat the Moustadiris and march to Alameddir

follow me, and victory shall be ours!

“Do not laugh about war my uncle,” Bilbo said to Wardo. “It is quite tragic and not a matter for your jibes.”

“Oh my dear Bilbo, since when are you so tragic that you chide your old uncle whose only consolation is to play music and make fun of others! As long as Qiroko does not forbid us to sing songs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did one day, I will continue saying all the ideas that come to my mind out in rhythm with my dearest friend,” and Wardo brushed amorously the chords of his velkyr.

“My uncle,” said Mounyë, “I think you are quite unfair with our mayor who’s trying to do his best, and at least he’s doing something.”

“Oh, oh, I didn’t know Qiroko had gained half the family to his cause! Did you Arito?”

But Shouhimë gave him a nudge to quiet him. “Eat your salad!” she said, and the topic of mayor Qiroko was dropped.

While eating his salad, Arno looked at the ants that were swarming in the grass where they were sitting, and suddenly a new connection formed in his mind, and words started flooding his throat, but this time he managed not to say the poem out loud and write it in his notebook instead.

Do not kill the ants

that come visit your dwelling

In their own way

they are showing you the path to follow

to your own ant hole

to the queen of your heart

Ants are kindled with the same breath of life as you are

and if the tide has chosen to bring them to you

it surely hasn’t done for the wrong reasons

What is life trying to tell you?

What are ants striving to teach you?

They are tiny and weak

and yet they are so strong you cannot stop them all

You eyes look around with judgement and conceit

instead of focusing on the beauty of each thing

Your heart worries about imaginary threats

that will never undermine what you deeply believe in

and who you truly are

In truth, nothing that happens around you

can truly affect you

for you are not only a body or a person

but an infinite soul that is everywhere and behind everything

and the ants are messengers of your soul

Several of the adults gave him curious looks when they saw he was writing in the middle of the meal, but nobody said anything. Only Arito seemed to understand, and nodded appreciatively. Arno wondered why he had not sung the poem out loud. He realized he was afraid to be judged, afraid his parents and his family would say he was doing too much. Arno was afraid to bore and annoy them. Saying one song from time to time was fine, but singing all the time would make of him an outcast. As in Wardo’s jibe, he’d be then considered as an object of the past, as an old man already when he was only a child.

And how did he manage to block the flow of words in his throat and redirect it into his hand? That Arno couldn’t tell with certainty. He had blocked his jaw and stopped his mouth from opening just in time. The tension in his throat eased up only after he started writing the poem.

They ate dessert afterwards, a cherry pie Mounyë had prepared, and carob molasses cakes Shouhimë had baked. There was also a fruit salad. Arno loved his mother’s cherry pie, and everyone else complimented her. It was rare to eat cherries along the coast, as the trees needed a colder climate and they only grew up in the mountains. And not everyone had relatives like Arno’s grandparents who came down from Iyë every spring with sacks of cherries.

Then men started smoking pipes, as Mounyë boiled some acorn coffee in a kettle over the fire that she served in the wooden cups where they had drunk the lemonade, after sending Arno to rinse them in the sea. It was the tradition to keep wooden flatware in each family to be carried around when people went on a journey or on a picnic, as they were much lighter than the earthenware plates and metallic cutlery they usually used at home, and they didn’t risk being broken.

After drinking a small cup of the bitter and boiling hot coffee, adults took a nap on the grass, except Bilbo who went fishing again. Arno walked to the nearby pebble beach to play. He watched the motion of the ocean and the small waves that splattered the pebbles. It was of a deep blue that afternoon, and the sky which was of a much lighter blue met the sea over the horizon, where small white clouds floated. The sun was very warm and Arno was glad to have brought his hat. He started strolling on the beach looking for sea shells, starfish shells, special pebbles, polished pieces of glass and earthenware, and other little marvels. He found some on his way and rinsed them in the sea to see them shining brighter. The pebble beach stretched endlessly, but after a while Arno came back and he started building himself a city with pebbles, while hiding the little treasures he had found in his pocket. Each time he was too hot he took some sea water and put it on his hair and his neck, as his mother had taught him. He had taken off his shoes to be more comfortable. While digging the pebbles to build a channel that’d bring the sea water to his town, where he planned to have a little harbour with a tiny boat of wood he had fabricated, he found a marble. It was quite rare to find marbles, and this one was entirely red. It shone when he looked at it in the sun light. For a moment he hefted it and caressed it, and then he preciously put it back in his pocket. It would go join the little collection of marbles he already had at home, and this cheered Arno’s mind considerably, and he was eager to announce his find to his mother.

After a while adults started waking up and grumbling that it was already late and that they should head back to Tinë otherwise they’d be caught up by sunset along the uneven road. It wouldn’t be safe to come back at night, especially for the grandparents and great uncles. Arno had to abandon his little town half finished, and he regretted not being able to remain till sunset on the beach. Dawn and sunset were moments he loved to spend in quietness, while watching nature, especially the sea or Iyë’s lake, which reflected all the colours of the sky. It was almost as if he could hear the music nature played, as notes of colours added up to the existing melodies of the sea and the wind and the birds.

On the way back home, Arno walked together with his great uncle Arito, as the path was too narrow to walk in more than two on the same line. Arito walked at the back of the little party because now and then he found a plant or a flower or a seed that caught his interest, and he went to pick some of it.

“I don’t get to walk out of the village very often anymore as my legs are old,” he explained to Arno, “so when I have such an occasion I must use it well to renew my stocks.”

Arno helped him whenever there was something to pick, and once they found a plant which bulbs and roots were much esteemed in apothecary, and they had to unearth several. Arito cut the leaves that he threw on the ground, keeping only their bulbous parts.

“I saw you writing one of your songs,” Arito dropped, “was it one of those I had heard before?”

Arno shook his head.

“Would you be kind enough to sing it to me?”

And Arno had no other choice than telling him the poem about the ant, and he found more joy in saying it out loud and sharing it with someone else than he had felt before by writing it silently.

Arito nodded appreciatively. “These songs give me a lot of hope my boy. I’m often a bit depressed about all what is nowadays happening. I had forgotten the power of Old Falnë to cheer me up. The more I grow enclosed into myself, the darker my thoughts become, and Wardo’s jibes do nothing to raise my mood, even if my poor brother makes all he can for that. I realize that only truth can really console a dispirited man. But where to find truth in such a world where we today live? This makes your gift even more precious my boy, and you need to take a good care of it. It is your moral duty to share it with others, to show people that there is a sliver of hope that remains, a shine in which direction to walk. Otherwise it is normal for people to get astray, if they have nothing to look toward. The Religion is outdated in its rigidity, and without the Religion there is no God and we are left to our own resources, to our own darkness. And a world where there is nothing higher than our own greed becomes a very bad place where to live, a very bad place indeed.”

Arito then added. “You are remembering more and more songs lately, aren’t you?”

Arno nodded. “It’s only since my trip to Iyë I started remembering songs. The first time it happened was with Boutro, the muleteer, few weeks ago.”

“It is really impressive to see how the gift is working in you my boy. I would like a lot to see your notebook where you write the poems, and perhaps copy them so that I can read them whenever I feel like.”

“Do you know if there are song books of Old Falnë, because I haven’t found any in grandfather’s Jarido library.”

“I do not think there are such books. Storytelling has always been an oral tradition. Before Jarido it was my father and my grandfather who used to tell them. I never saw or heard of a book, and I believe it is something Jarido would have mentioned.”

And suddenly words came to Arno’s mind, and this time he started singing them without censuring himself.

Old Falnë cannot be contained into a book

as long as history unravels and time flows

its poetry and its stories unwritten shall remain

Books of printed characters

make static and frozen

what should instead be shifting with the tides of the ocean

fluttering and rustling in the wind

freezing in winter and thawing in spring

Old Falnë is and will remain alive in a little part of your heart

start writing it to save and lock its memory

and it will falter away and die

Old Falnë is all around you to remember and discover

in flowers and in clouds and in beetles

you will find poems sung a long time ago

and other stories you shall tell for the first time

keep your eyes open and your ears eager

and do not trap your mind in between walls

“I believe it is the first time I hear this song my boy,” exclaimed Arito.

Arno’s face flushed because of a blend of pride and joy and shyness. He could not remember Jarido having sung this poem. He nodded to Arito. “It must then be an old song that I somehow remembered?”

Arito nodded. “Or a new poem that is just born in your imagination.”

“I don’t think so,” said Arno. “It talks of an important subject, so I am sure it has been sung over and over again.”

“Perhaps.”

“But it means I shouldn’t write the poems in my notebook…” Arno said with a note of regret in his voice.

“What are you saying, my boy. You must understand something about Old Falnë. Something I think I understood even though I am not a storyteller. You cannot take literally the meaning of each poem you sing, otherwise they will all contradict one another. One of the aims of Old Falnë is to avoid what the Religion has become. Our minds mustn’t be static, they must always stretch, discover a new plant, a new way of doing things, a new emotion in our hearts. You were very young when Jarido told you these stories, too young to understand such a concept at least. And you’re still very young. But you must understand that Old Falnë doesn’t try to make rules, and if you like writing down the songs, then it is the right thing to do. Perhaps another time you’ll remember another poem that speaks about Falnë glyphs and what they wrote with them.”

Arno nodded slowly. “This is why it is so confusing for people?”

“Yes, indeed. We generally want clear answers, we want something to be bright, and something to be dark, something to be good, and something to be evil. But Old Falnë says we each are god or goddess, and we all are co-creators of the world, so all what exists around us, the good and the evil, is something we brought into existence, and our souls are maintaining into existence this reality. Old Falnë says that love is the answer to all. Old Falnë says to listen to your heart and expand your understanding. Old Falnë doesn’t tell you what you should do and not do.”

Arno nodded again. He loved listening to his great uncle, and things were starting to make much more sense.

“But you see, my boy. Even when part of me understood all that, I am still trapped into my sadness, my melancholy of old days. I still mourn for my grandparents and my parents and my brother I’ve lost. I’m still afraid of where the world is going, and to have to die someday. We build up our wisdom only little pieces at the time, and everything we are confronted with, all our sufferings, help us in doing so. Because when the soul is born, it is barely conscious. And it is only year after year, life after life, age after age that it grows and become wiser and stronger. You my boy are probably a very old soul, one such as those who first walked this land a long, long time ago.”

These words sent shivers down the spine of Arno, and they rang into his heart as true in a way. But at the same time, he felt very young, and not old. He liked to frolic and dance in the wind like a butterfly and have fun in the grass like a grasshopper. What his uncle had said also brought new questions to his mind. The Religion said we lived once and died, either going to heaven or hell afterwards. But in Old Falnë, everyone was a god or a goddess, and logically, no god would go to hell. And it was strange to hear Old Falnë lament the loss of the good and the beautiful, and yet say there was no true evil. It suddenly sounded very confusing for Arno. The key of the puzzle was love, Arito had said. But neither Arno nor his great uncle yet understood love.

They continued walking in silence for a while. The sun was lowering toward the horizon and its light was less burning than it had been, assuming a warm orange hue instead of the blinding yellow-white with which it had shined earlier in the day.

“Why do people say the abandoned village is cursed uncle?”

“The abandoned village? What makes you think of it now?”

“We spent a night there with my grandfather Farno and grandmother Milédë.”

“Oh, yes, that’s true. They pass by there every year, don’t they? Well, from what I’ve heard centuries ago the inhabitant of the village abandoned their village and came to Tinë. They told the village had started going entirely dark at night. Not of a normal black. Even when they lit a lantern or a fire, they could see themselves, but they could not see the walls and the floor and the houses around them. It’s as though the village sucked away all the light. They tried to remain there nonetheless, but after a few weeks they also started seeing shapes, hearing eerie noises, and they could not stand it anymore and fled. From then on nobody dared to return live there, as they said the place was cursed.”

“And do you believe that place is cursed uncle?”

“I passed by it once or twice by day, but I never was there at night, so I cannot tell you anything for certain. But if all the townsmen abandoned their houses and belongings and never dared returning there, there certainly is something weird that happened. What did you see for yourself when you spent a night there, my boy?”

“I couldn’t sleep that night and I had the idea of exploring the town. I walked to its highest building and looked at the village from above. And it was shining, all the buildings, all the ceilings, all the stairs and balconies were shining of a luminescent white that resembled moonlight.”

Arito looked at Arno with renewed interest. “And?”

“I wondered if I was dreaming, if my impression was true. And it was. The stone was really shining. It was not just reflecting the sliver of moon there was in the sky. The light was too bright for that. And beyond, I just think of something. There weren’t shadows, all the town was lit in the same uniform way. If it had been the moon, some parts would have been darker and others lighter.”

“You are then suggesting the town is built in the legendary moonstone?” asked Arito with a tint of laughter in his voice, as though this was all completely absurd and fascinating at the same time.

“That’s what I thought when I was there. And I imagined the town would shine more brightly when the moon is full, and go entirely dark when the moon dies.” Arno appreciated a lot how Arito treated him as an adult and never called in question his words and his observations.

“But then it is strange,” said Arito. “Why did the people who lived there said the town grew entirely dark every night?”

“Indeed, I wonder. Could it be that only certain persons are able to see the moonstone glow?”

“Everything is possible my boy. I never heard anyone mentioning that the abandoned town is built of moonstone. And since you ensure me you haven’t dreamt, perhaps you do have a gift to see all the things that were used in old times but have now been taken away from the world.”

“There’s still another thing I didn’t tell you uncle. There were some herders from Afrë, refugees because of the war, who have made their living there. And so they either see the moonstone glow, or the town grows entirely dark to them. Or perhaps neither is true, they see it as a normal place, just as my maternal grandparents do.”

“So you’re saying some people see the moonstone shine. Other see it entirely dark, while others still see it as just vulgar stone.”

Arno nodded. “Except that people used to live in the town in the past, and I suppose it was normal, and all of a sudden, it started becoming dark at night, and they started hearing voices. Perhaps in normal times, most people see the stone as any other stone. But at the time the village was abandoned, something must have happened.”

Arito was nodding appreciatively. “That makes sense my boy. But what could have happened? Can’t you remember some songs that would shed a bit of light on this mystery?”

Arno shook his head. But just at that moment he start seeing in his mental world some colourful clouds flocking in the sky, and a new breeze rising, and suddenly he felt carried into that wind, and words started going out his mouth.

The moonstone is not a stone like any other

first you must know there are several types of moonstones

among which the mind moonstone

it is cut from deep within the mountain white

and it shines at night in bright

only wizards and witches

know to use it the proper way

A place built in mind moonstone

shall become a collective memory of all what happens

storing every thought that stems in that place

every word that is said and sung

All the mind moonstones that are assembled together

behave as one sole stone, one sole mind

What is the aim of so much trouble, you may wonder

Mind moonstones will help the world go forward

by forging a universal pool of memories and knowledge

from which each man and woman can draw at will

However that will happen only when

the wisdom of Old Falnë shall spread to all

and when the minds of men will be truer to their hearts

For now mind moonstones are still half-dormant

and beware, if there are no witch or wizard to take care of them

they might from time to time stall

overflow because of all the contradictory information they have stored

and when that happens everything goes dark

the moonstone does not shine any longer and it fills itself with ghosts

dark shapes embodying undigested memories

these shapes can do no harm, except scaring the weak of heart

and after the moon wanes and waxes in the sky for a few times

everything returns to the normal

and the mind moonstone starts shining anew

Long will be the time before a moonstone web connects the entire world

but such a grand work is worth many a sacrifice

and if you can see the moonstone shine

then know it is your duty and your honour

to bring more light into this world

“A gem, you are a gem my boy! I never saw anything like that in my entire life,” exclaimed Arito. And Arno felt very pleased to see his uncle burning with so much enthusiasm. Arito’s joy was communicative, and everything seemed to become possible when you were talking with him.

Suddenly the wind that had risen in Arno’s mind blew again, and Arno let it play with his vocal chords like with a musical instrument.

When something puzzles you

ask your soul

ask the consciousness of the world

dare to ask

and in a way or in another

sooner or later

your question shall be answered

The lesson Arno had learnt that day was now incarnated in a poem. Arito had showed him the way, by wondering aloud and having the faith that somehow life would reply to their questions through Arno’s songs. Arno had lacked that faith until then. But he was now starting to realize his great uncle’s expectations had been true. He was starting to understand how potent his gift was.

The road had passed very quickly and they were arriving in Tinë. Arito kissed his great-nephew on his brow and told him not to forget to come visit him. Wardo joined him and they walked toward their house, while the others accompanied grandmother Shouhimë, left the three donkeys in her garden and went home. That night Arno spent a long time in his bed still awake. He transcribed all the poems he had said during the day (and there were many!), and he pondered more about their meaning. And suddenly he wondered if he was a wizard, or if he would become one day. A wizard. It sounded like a mysterious word that gave free reign to his imagination. What could wizards do exactly? Or perhaps the right question to ask was what they couldn’t do. Arno thought he’d try some small experiments the next day in the garden, such as sticking two stones together using only his mind, and on these pleasing perspectives, he fell asleep.

Arno’s maternal grandparents didn’t linger for very long, and they soon bid farewell to everyone and they rode back to Iyë on a clear morning of the beginning of summer.

Arno still had a few weeks of school. Every morning Mounyë came to wake him up, and they had breakfast together before walking to the village’s school. There, they separated. Mounyë went for a moment in the teachers’ common room, before the lessons started, and Arno spent that time in the courtyard. There were already children running and jumping and climbing in trees and playing hide and seek. Usually these kids were younger than Arno was. At his age, some boys still liked to play with a ball around a field, while others quieted down and started getting interested by girls and discussing with them. Girls had already stopped playing with boys, except for one or two who particularly liked sports. In Falnë, teenagers finished school at sixteen years old, and then they either learnt a craft or a trade or they dedicated themselves to field work and herding (but many sons of peasants and herdsmen didn’t even go to school), or a few of them went to the University of Helyë. There was concentrated all the higher learning. The young adults who had the ambition of becoming town planners or doctors or scholars or engineers frequented that university.

Arno didn’t mix with any of the groups in the courtyard. When he was younger, he used to play hide and seek, and as he run very fast and hid quite well, he often was quite successful into the games. But when his schoolmates had stopped being interested into hide and seek and had started behaving strangely and falsely in front of girls, Arno had just preferred to go his own way. Of late, he always had a lot going on in his mind. He always kept his notebook with him, wrote down his ideas. Sometimes he tried to sketch them too. In this year of 10’034, Arno had felt a true shift in his life. He was a child no longer. And he had matured much faster than other kids. He already had preoccupations for his future and for the world at large. He had a gift and was conscious about it. And he wanted to make good use of it, even though he still didn’t know how. The school constituted in several old buildings of quarried stone, and a couple of more modern buildings of cement. There were open spaces all around with tall trees providing quite a lot of shade, and fields covered with grass where children could run and play. There also was a small fountain in the centre of a small paved courtyard that was shaded with several huge sycamore trees underneath which teenagers sat on benches and on which smaller kids climbed and played and built huts. Overall, going to school in Tinë had little in common with schooling in other countries where children are often encased into concrete blocks. Arno liked his school, even though he had not known any other. But he didn’t like the constraints that teachers sometimes trapped him in. He liked or loved to learn, depending on subjects, but he didn’t enjoy at all doing his homework or preparing for exams. That felt very time consuming and quite useless. You’d spend hours and hours rehearsing a subject, or learning small details and formulas and dates that didn’t interest you at all. No, that part he disliked, and as he grew up in age, he felt becoming more and more constraining, as instead of finishing school at noon, he’d finish in the afternoon.

That day he had climbed into a tree, and he was sitting on a bough just above the fountain that was gurgling with water, observing the courtyard and the other kids, when the bell rang announcing that classes were starting. Slowly he got down the tree, rinsed his dusty hands in the fountain, and winced noticing that his shorts had been stained with dark sap. His mother would scold him again for that. Not meanly, she never was mean. In a more joking and helpless sort of way. Still, Arno didn’t like to disappoint his mother. He walked toward class, where they were starting with a history lesson. Zirko Tinë was teaching that class, a middle aged man from the village. There were around forty kids in class, and most of them were already sitting when Arno got in and he quietly moved toward his seat in the front. Arno used to always be one of the first to arrive, but lately he had been a bit distracted by his thoughts, and less focused on time.

Zirko Tinë nodded to him as Arno sat. Teachers usually liked him as he was one of the few who participated in class, and could get engaged into a discussion with the teacher. He also asked many questions when he was curious about a subject. That day Zirko’s lesson was about the advent of Religion, and he launched himself in a long monologue that slightly bored Arno at times.

“Falnë had pagan beliefs until the sixth millenary. As you already know, in the first few millenaries the cult of Old Falnë was very strong, and society was structured around it. Historically speaking, we know very little certain about Old Falnë, apart from all the folk stories and legends and founding myths told by the songs. But by the third millennium already, for unknown reasons the cult of Old Falnë had grown much weaker, and Falnë became more of an array of villages and towns that self-ruled. That lasted until the sixth millennium when the Religion spread in the Moustawyl islands. Now, as you all know, the Religion was first born in Namuzaj where the Prophet received the teachings and the grace of God, and started sharing his blessings with others. In a few years all the Namuzajis converted to his cause, and many started sailing their ships to spread the Prophet’s words in all parts of the world. Some arrived to the Moustawyl islands and went among the different tribes that lived in the central and southern parts of the island and told them that a very holy Prophet would come visit them and that he would perform miracles and heal the sick and the crippled in the name of God and his boundless love. Tribesmen of course could hardly believe these words, and they reclaimed to see this pretended Prophet. Few months afterwards the Prophet sailed to the Moustawyl islands, and soon he started to fulfil the promises and prophecies his missionaries had spoken of, and tribesmen started to kneel before him and promised that every tribe of Moustawyl would hear of the God of love that was about all. The Prophet followed them and for two years he travelled across every region of Sawyl and of Moustadir, and he also passed by Falnë where he healed many people too. Soon everyone wanted to see this Prophet, to kiss his hands and his feet, but he was already gone, sailing for other lands, with the promise that each person should be good toward his brethrens and in his life, and have faith in a single God of love, and that after death the people who would have led a good life would go to a place of eternal heaven where bliss reigned. The Prophet continued his trip to Zamri and Vatana and Gondzig and Vilnen that he all converted to his faith before disappearing in front of his closer disciples and telling them they should continue his work of spreading the knowledge and love of God in the name of the Prophet. The disciples continued to spread the Prophet’s teachings, and they added their own words, describing how two angels of heaven had come and poured a glowing light on all of them, saying that the Prophet’s work had been completed, and now it was their holy duty to pursue his mission. And afterwards his disciples too performed some miracles and helped the Religion spread even more. Some say that the Prophet even sailed to Lorn, but this is not certain. It is probably his disciples who converted the southern lands.” While talking Zirko wrote some dates and some names on the black board with a white-grey chalk. “Now that I have given you an overview of the Religion’s spread, I’m going to explain to you how it affected Falnë.”

Arno raised his hand. “So the Prophet didn’t himself write a book with his teachings?” he asked, after Zirko had given him permission to speak.

“No, he didn’t. But his disciples stated in their books they had been inspired by the angels of heaven to write down the truth, and people believed that as they had already witnessed the potency of the miracles the Prophet had accomplished. Falnë had already started being converted before the death of the Prophet, and a couple of decades after his death the old paganism had been wiped out. Temples were built in every village, and ceremonies in the love and glory of God were held there. His disciples ordered the construction of the Great Temple of Mazira (the capital of Namuzaj) that would become the ultimate reference for all matters of the Religion in the world. They asked each nation to build its Chief Temple that would be immediately under the hierarchy of the Great Temple, and thus the Chief Temple of Helyë was founded, and later Helyë became the capital of Falnë for that reason. It used to be a small fishermen town at the time, but its location was strategic, and in the following centuries it became increasingly important for the trade over the lands and the waters.”

And Zirko continued with his monologue for a long time, telling about how Moustadir grew increasingly important as a nation, thanks to the Religion that had given it a way to further centralize its power in Alameddir, and subject (a second time after the work of the king Mousta two millennia before) all the tribes to a central power.

“Afterwards many wars erupted, and Moustadir invaded Zoumn and Zahir in the east, and the isle of Furuh at the south, and converted them to the Religion. On other continents there were also many wars between the nations that had converted to the Religion and the authority of the Great Temple of Mazira, and the nations which had kept their old beliefs and heathenism. Some wars were successful while others weren’t, and never the entire world could be converted to the Religion. And in later centuries, there were other men who claimed themselves prophets and created their own cults, one of them in Alfar (that is situated at the north of Namuzaj), who arose in the eighth millenia. The prophet’s name was Alfar, and he later gave his name to his nation. He incited his believers to convert the entire world to Alfarinism. Although the Religion had some good bases, Alfar recognized, it didn’t instil enough fear of God in the heart of men. The proof of his words lied in the debauchery that lied in Namuzaj. Priests who should have been the deputies of God in the world were indulging in the lowliest kinds of carnal pleasure. The Prophet had had good intentions, but he had taught only half the truth, speaking about a God of love. Alfar wanted to remind people about the God of fear and punishment. And thus Alfar invaded Namuzaj and destroyed the Great Temple of Mazira where the most corrupt priests and bishops dwelled. That is why Namuzaj nowadays follows the Alfar cult, and the central power of Religion is gone. In subsequent centuries, the powerful nations at the north tried to build a new Great Temple, but many of them had had the same ideas, and they could not convene on one lead to follow. That created many feuds and wars between them that stopped only three centuries ago, when the world passed into the industrial age. They also tried to conquer Namuzaj and convert it again to the religion, but the Alfar were very determined warriors and pushed them away. The Alfar couldn’t extend their domination beyond their continent (they had conquered and converted Janarlak at the South), with the exception of Sawyl on the Moustawyl islands. And that reinforced the distaste and the rivalry between Sawyl that follows the Alfar cult, and Moustadir that remained faithful to the Religion. Nowadays, both the Religion and the cult of Alfar have lost importance and power, but this rivalry remains. Falnë remained out of all these conflicts as we have never been a warring nation, and the initial teachings of the Prophet had not been to conquer the world, but simply to spread the word of a God of love and the promise of heaven as a reward.”

Arno raised his hand again, while the rest of classroom seemed to be slumbering in boredom. “So the message of Religion grew increasingly distorted after the Prophet’s death?”

“It is not exactly that,” said Zirko. “Some places like Falnë remained faithful to it, while in others nations the greed and ambition of men had the best over it.”

“But,” interjected Arno, “all the countries you’ve mentioned warred one another, except Falnë, so nobody respected the teachings of the Prophet, but us.”

Zirko thought for a moment. “War does not mean that all men living there are necessarily bad, Arno. Often the men who have the authority are or become the more corrupt, and then they take bad decisions that will bring evil upon their nation. And even in these countries I’ve mentioned, the war has not been continuous. I am a history teacher, and will tell you more about eventful periods where wars happened, but there were times of peace and prosperity too. The Religion helped science progress, as it contradicted all the old superstitions and limitations humans put to themselves.”

“Do you then believe Religion was a good for Falnë?” asked Arno.

“Of course I do, Arno. With the teachings of Old Falnë that were fading away, people had nothing to look up to. The Religion strengthened our society.”

But it has also made it more rigid, Arno thought to himself. The students were whispering between themselves. They usually had enough respect to remain silent (and slumber) while the teacher spoke, but when one of their number started asking questions and discussing with the teacher then they felt freer.

Zirko hushed the class and continued discussing about the development of Falnë during the centuries after the advent of the Religion but Arno could not focus any longer on what Zirko was saying, as he had too many thoughts buzzing in his mind. There was something upsetting him from the beginning of the lesson, but he couldn’t put his finger on it yet.

After a while, when Zirko went silent, Arno raised his hand again. “Why do you say we have little knowledge about Falnë during the first millennia, when there are so many songs about it?”

“Well my boy, the songs are more like a mythology, like tales that aim to teach people a moral. I like to listen to them, but they do not teach us anything real and founded. There are only few traces of Old Falnë that remain nowadays, and often they have nothing to do with what the songs tell.”

“And what about the Religion? Why do you say its texts are true? Do we have any more proofs?”

“Of course my boy, what did you think? The Prophet and the Religion are mentioned in the writings of dozens of nations around the world, and the Prophet’s venue had a dramatic effect on the world, that is still lasting nowadays. Whereas nowhere is Old Falnë mentioned, except perhaps by Melroel’s own mythology, as it is inspired from Falnë’s mythology.”

“Perhaps Old Falnë is less documented because it is older and you have taught us that only few books from that time remain.”

“Perhaps my boy, perhaps. But I am your history teacher, and I must base myself on facts and proofs and observations. Do you have any more questions?”

Arno thought for a while. There was still something upsetting him, and suddenly, words flooded to his mouth and he could not refrain himself from singing.

Helyë’s one of the shining stars of Falnë

In a proud white it rises

where the road of the sea

meets the road of the plain

and there, the Ummyë River flows into the ocean

under the Great Bridge that connects all that exists

and holds Falnë together

Helyë’s harbour welcomes ships of all sorts

coming from every corner of the world

barges flowing down the river from Afrë and Fikrië

and boats journeying from the north and from the south

its beacon lights the ocean’s dark

and when ships are lost at sea

they come take refuge in Helyë haven’s warmth

like a flurry of moths spending the night

around the dying embers of a fire

Helyë is here for all

and if your journey’s going astray

come ask the guidance of Helyë’s shining star

Nobody interrupted Arno while he was singing. At the end a few students applauded while many others sniggered. Zirko gave Arno a small bow of recognition. “Very well-sung boy,” he said. “I had never heard this one.”

Arno smiled slightly. Zirko had said that Helyë was a small town, but the song said otherwise. It was one the songs Jarido had sung to him, on a fair afternoon of spring, and for a split second Arno sensed again the perfume of flowers and the slight breeze under the palm tree where he was sitting on a stone close to his grandfather.

“You told us before that Helyë was a small fishermen town,” Arno said. “But the song says that it was already important at the time of Old Falnë.”

“Indeed my boy, and it says that Helyë shines in white, right?”

Arno nodded.

“Well, have you ever been to Helyë?”

Arno shook his head.

“It’s what I thought. You won’t find a single building that is painted in white.” The class laughed, and Arno felt his face reddening. “And on top of that, archaeological surveys show that little parts of Helyë have an ancient origin, and the town was much smaller than it is today. But I congratulate you boy, on trying to follow reasoning on your own. It is a rare quality in students, and you will be able to go far if you learn to discipline it and become a little less stubborn.” Again, many students laughed. For them the lesson was suddenly becoming more interesting. It was not anymore a solitary monologue, but something that closely resembled an exchange of blows and jibes. And Arno had bypassed what was usually considered as an acceptable behaviour among students. He had placed himself at the centre of attentions, and afterwards he noticed some of his classmates looked at him with increasing resentment. They thought that he had sung to display his superiority and his cleverness, and to gain the teacher’s favours. Arno did not care much about these boys and girls, but still, he felt hurt by their behaviour. He was just trying to be honest toward himself. He was striving to discover the truth of things. Why did they so resented him when he had done nothing bad except asking some questions and singing a song.

That day, something changed in Arno’s life. In fact it was not one sole change, but a series of shifts that had started the day Arno had sung a song of old for the first time. But when his schoolmates started rejecting him actively and sniggering each time he passed nearby, he understood his gift was coming with a heavy toll to pay. It would often make of him an outcast, because others would be jealous, or they would simply take him into dislike. And Arno did not like conflict. It weighed on his heart, even when he didn’t really care about the opinion of the persons involved. Ideally, he would have liked to be in harmony with everyone, and everything. With other human beings, and with nature too. How could you be happy otherwise? When people frowned looking at you, and deep down in your heart you knew you had only love and beauty to the world. Wasn’t that unfair and cruel? And in those occurrences the easiest way is to close yourself off when you have Arno’s sensitive temper, and that is what he did at the time. He started sharing even less of himself with others, and he participated less in the class because each time he spoke he could hear judgement rising like steam from every corner of the class, and he felt himself choking into these vapours.

Arno felt more and more solitary because apart from his great uncle Arito there was no one who truly understood his gift. Even Mounyë and Bilbo who loved him dearly could not understand how important Old Falnë was becoming to him, and Arno could not share his enthusiasm with them. His grandmother Shouhimë was somehow more understanding because, funnily, while Jarido was alive she just lent an ear to the stories he told and sang without saying anything about it, and not seeming to care particularly for Old Falnë. But since his death and Arno’s discovery of his own gift, she had taken the habit of asking him for a song or two each time he went to visit her, because it reminded her of Jarido and brought her closer to him, even though a world now separated them. And sometimes Arno could see a silent tear or two moistening her grandmother’s eyes, probably as she remembered the moment Jarido had sung that exact story. Or as she felt her deceased husband’s presence in her heart. Arno liked very much the quiet times he spent at his grandmother’s house, and it soothed him that she asked him to sing for her, because his parents never did, and it somehow offended him even though he didn’t admit it to himself.

Because of his increasing aloofness, not only on the physical plane but also on mental and emotional levels, and because of his newly discovered talent that was growing every day, Arno started singing himself stories before sleeping. He each time called to the breeze of inspiration, asking to remember a new story, and he started humming it to himself aloud, and he scribbled it in his notebook afterwards when he wasn’t too sleepy. He’d later share them with his great uncle Arito, and that was a strong enough motivation to record them. Arito never lost his enthusiast for the stories of Old Falnë. Funnily, he too had perhaps been somehow less receptive to them as long as his brother was alive, perhaps not understanding fully how many answers to his questions they could provide. But now, he fully understood their worth and saw Arno at least once a week to hear the new songs he had remembered.

One night, as Arno was in his bed waiting for sleep to take him to the land of dreams, he remembered what felt like part of a story, and that made him very curious and annoyed too, because he really wanted to know how it ended. But no matter how much he prayed and implored heaven to instil in him the rest of the story, he found only a dusty emptiness in his throat.

You were born under a rock

and from there you sensed the world

and you felt your spirit sprout

forming leaves and branches in the open air

After a long while

you felt like experiencing the real world by yourself

and feel the wind on your own skin

You left part of your soul in its original bulb

and moved another part of your consciousness

into the trees that were taking root there

For the first time you saw

how the sea and the mountains looked like

you had so much heard of colours

but until the explosion of colours

that almost blinded your eyes in awe

you knew not what colours were

As the time elapsed you grew

into your knowledge and your wisdom

and you discovered other rocks

that bore a soul in their bosoms

and you tried blowing your breath on them

and watch as their first sprout started to form

you grew attached to them and breathed on them every day

your breath of light and colours and life

impatient to have new companions with you

And one day you wondered if there wasn’t another soul

which had taken care of your first sprouts

like you were doing for the young rock bulbs

you tried to continue to take care of your offspring

but after a while you could not focus any longer on them

and you decided to go look for whom you considered to have given you the life

but, your roots went deep into your original rock and you wondered how you’d be able to move

however at the same moment you formed that resolution

your body took a new form, and many of your branches started moving at your own command

later you’d discover that your trunk had split in four to become legs

and many of your boughs had become wings and feathers

and when you moved, all your body moved at once and you discovered you were no longer tied to your rock

you bid her farewell and left, reeling and walking before taking your first flight

you discovered parts of the world you had never imagined existed

you came as close as you could come from the sun and the moon

and you flied over the mountains and you explored foreign lands where so many creatures different from the rock bulb lived

along your path you met many other birds and animals and human beings

you tasted so many different fruits and drank the water of mountain and plain springs

you landed into cities and sometimes you were welcomed as a divinity or a saviour

and other times you were received with a volley of arrows and you had to flee otherwise one would pierce through your heart

you continued flying, looking for him or those who had taken care of you when your had first sprouted into the world

you asked for them, but the indications each creature gave you were contradictory

you continued erring aimlessly, now weary to fly, until you met a tree on a mountain top

and as you felt a certain familiarity with the tree, you landed on one of its boughs

but as you landed there, you found a man living underneath the tree

and you understood your bond was not with the tree but with the man

“What brings you in this disconsolate part of the world, oh magnificent bird?”

“I was flying over these mountains, when I felt your presence, and I thought I knew you somehow.”

“I am in very much pain my good bird, and do not recognize you.”

“Weren’t you the tree soul who took care of me when I first sprouted by any chance?”

“Me, a tree? Can’t you then see that I am a man?”

“I was a tree too, and now I am a bird.”

But the man could not understand what you were telling him, and you left him to his sorrow

you continued your endless flight around the world, but now you had lost your aim even

in your heart you knew that even if this man did not remember, he had watched your first budding leaves bloom under the light of the sun

One day, you arrived in a place that looked familiar

there were small islands with forests sprouting on them, surrounded by a vast sea, and in the distance you could see mountains

and suddenly someone called you from below, and you landed on the island from where the voice had come

and it was a magnificent tree that made you taste the most delicious fruits you had ever eaten, and the tree told you you had groomed him when he was only a bulb rock

you could not recognize him, but you remembered with how much fascination and love you had observed its first leaves blooming through a tiny crack of the rock, of the palest green that later became darker and firmer

and now it was a huge tree that rustled freely in the wind

you spent one night sleeping in a large cosy nest he prepared for you

but the next morning already you felt another longing in your heart

you wished to retrieve your own rock bulb

you looked for it all over the oceans, but you could not find it

at night you came back to the magnificent tree that called you mother, and you slept on its boughs in the cosy nest

you told the tree about your sadness and your pain, but the tree could not understand

and at night you dreamt of the sad man you had met over the mountains, and you remembered the pain he had told you he felt

and you felt the exact same pain in your chest, and suddenly you understood him much better

why he wasn’t much inclined to talk, while his gaze was so deep and so dark

you felt the same longing that was burning his chest inside your heart

The next day you woke up and you were a bird no longer but a woman who woke up on the same mountain peak as the man you had met

he looked at you without recognizing you, and you looked at him without recognizing him either

you had lost all your memories of what you had once been

and all what remained inside your chest was an emptiness you could not fill

a pain you could not understand and a wound you could not heal

It was one of the hazards of storytellers’ life to remember only part of a story, and sometimes have to wait many years before knowing their ends if that ever happened. But Arno was just uncovering and discovering his gift, and he felt like when Boutro had interrupted his story in the middle afterwards. Arno wanted to sleep but his mind kept on wondering if that was the end of the story or if it had a following. Somehow he felt this story was important for him. After having thought about it for a long time, he foundered into sleep exhausted.

The next night, Arno remembered the second part of the story he had started telling himself the night before. And still he felt frustrated when the sap of inspiration dried up from his throat.

You greeted the man who lived under the tree

and you started singing sad songs

of the burning pain you felt in your chest

and that was the only thing you were aware of in this world so deep was your pain

You sang for ages under of the tree on the mountain peak

and during that time many men and women passed by

crying their pain too and unable to speak

Until one day when the well of your tears dried up

and your voice extinguished itself

Afterword you started working with your hands and became a craftswoman

and you moved down to the valley where you could live in a town and earn your living there

You were still in pain, but it was a more subdued form of pain you felt

it let you go about your life, and when you focused on other, trivial things, you could entirely forget about the pain

there you married your first husband and discovered the pleasures of your body together with him

you had children too, to whom you became very much attached

but time was taking its toll on you and your husband and you were aging

and one day you died, but soon you found yourself into a different place you had never heard of

living another life and getting to know other people

the pain still echoed in your chest, but it was distant

you lived about your life, and died, and lived again, and died again

sometimes you were a woman, other times a man

sometimes you were happy, and at other times sad

you lived dozens and dozens of different lives

always hearing the distant ringing of the bells of mourning within your chest

and you had no idea what you were mourning

you tried to fill your emptiness with men and women

you tried to drown your pain in alcohol and drugs

you try to heal your wound with knowledge and wisdom

but in vain, the bells continued to haunt your nights when you were lonely

and even when you were in company, you always felt a dark gap surrounding you

putting others that should have been close at a distance

And for the third night in a row, Arno continued telling himself the same story, and again, he felt frustrated when he called verses that didn’t come to his mind.

One day you met again the man you had already met under the tree on the mountain’s peak

and he felt familiar, and he recognized you too, who were a woman again

even though the past was hazy and blurred

you told one another all you could remember of all the lives you had lived

and to that man you felt closer than any person you had met

you felt that he could somehow understand the pain that hid deep within your chest

because he had the same pain hidden in his own heart

and for a time, you felt almost fulfilled and complete with him

But soon enough, the winds of restlessness blew again over your spirit

and you discovered that even with this man that truly felt like someone of your family

one part of yourself was still achingly empty

and when you told him about it, he said that he too was feeling that something was stirring into his wound

“What can it be? Why are we always so sad, life after life, when other people laugh and joke?” you asked him

“Don’t be fooled by other people’s mirth,” your companion replied, “nobody’s truly happy otherwise they wouldn’t be here.”

“Do you really believe so?”

“I do. I believe that they all bear the same pain we endure, and they just cope with it in different ways. Some laugh while others cry, but the pain is always here.”

These words struck you

“And then what?” you wondered, “what can be the aim of such a sad and hopeless and aimless existence?”

“Perhaps it is of finding an aim then?” your companion said, “what do you most love doing and makes your heart beat faster?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then find out. This is the place where to start. Discover what you love the most. Not in other persons but within yourself.”

Arno smiled to himself after the deception had passed. He had discovered what he most loved in life. Or at least he was on his way on that path. Singing and writing new songs made his heart beat faster.

Each day, Arno would try to call the story to his mind, but it never obeyed his will, and he waited impatiently for the evening to come, because he wanted to know its end. Somehow it felt very important to him. Even though he could not reckon how a rock had become a tree and then a bird and a woman afterwards, there was something in the story that sounded familiar. A longing, an awaiting, which echo he felt into his chest.

On the next two nights, Arno remembered two other missing parts of the story, until at last it felt complete, and his heart could be at peace again.

You continued your journey looking inward more than outward

instead of travelling from a land to another, you explored the realm of your spirit

you were trying to understand what you truly loved to do

what made your heart beat faster

and could give you an aim in life

other than mourning the emptiness in your chest

After lives and lives you eventually grew into the consciousness of your gift

and you started using it more and more

and when you did the love that swelled in your heart

was enough to bridge the dark gap that had always existed there

And you met again with the man you had first met under the tree on the mountain peak

you recognized one another with ease, and he told you he had found his gift at last

and you rejoiced together at what seemed the end of your long peregrinations in the world

you and your companion showed one another what you could do with both your gifts

and you discovered they were complementary, and you understood that by using them together

you could bring even more potency and beauty in your creation

you didn’t even need to speak or concert yourself, for your gifts did all the magical work on their own

you were complementary even without trying

you were like two pieces of a puzzle that perfectly fit side by side on bright days

however there still were days when your moods were gloomy

there still were days when the bells of mourning rang in your heart

and when you asked your companion why this sadness still devoured you from within

he told you he had the same interrogation and couldn’t think of any possible answer

One day, you remembered something very old

something of the times when you were still a rock bulb turning into a tree

when you had chosen to move your consciousness into the tree, you had left part of your soul in the rock bulb

could it be that missing part of yours that had been causing all this pain

you spoke about your intuition to your companion, and he jumped to his feet

“Yes, yes,” he cried, “I now remember it, I too left a part of my soul in my rock bulb.”

And you both went on a journey together, a journey in the inner and outer world

looking for those second parts of yourselves

were they still in the rock bulbs, or had they blossomed too

For ages and ages you looked for them

but you could not find their traces

until one day, you accepted to die to one another and to the world

you accepted to let go of the physical form you had acquired

what was the point of living with such a great pain?

As soon as you surrendered to the wings of death

you found yourself into the ocean of shapelessness

where you remained for a long time

you were aware of yourself, and you could remember of all your lives in the physical world

but despite death, you still could feel the pain and the emptiness in your chest

for a long time you remained in this state

until when, one day, you heard a voice that shook you from within

it seemed to be a voice as old as the world itself

a voice so strong it could make mountains crumble

a voice so soft it could play a melody with the strings of your heart

a voice so familiar it sounded like yours

but you had not spoken, you had not spoken

the voice resounded again and called your name

not any of the names you were called by in the world

the voice said your true name, your original name you had forgotten about

and you jumped, and suddenly your body took a more defined shape

and you found yourself floating above the ocean of shapelessness

everything had assumed sharp shapes around you, and you saw again the mountains and the sea and the sky and the light and the colours, and you suddenly felt glad to be there

the voice resounded again, in your ears, in your heart, outside and inside

and suddenly you felt wrapped into a very strong light that made you feel loved and cherished like you never had before

and then, just then, you saw his eyes, you saw him, just in front of you

you had never seen him before, and yet you recognized him immediately

for you saw your own face in his, you saw your own gaze in his

he was you, and you were him

he was the second part of your soul you had lost and mourned for so long

he was the man that had been promised to you since the beginning of creation

both your eyes moistened, and you came closer to one another, and closer still

and the landscape around you became filled with light as though you were a sun together

you had both journeyed on your own ways, never meeting and never suspecting the existence of the other

and yet your soul knew, for it instilled life in both your spirits

it knew one day you would meet again

it knew that one day you would return into the oneness of the rock bulb with an expanded consciousness

it knew one day you would stop feeling the pain of the separation, the pain of the wound where a piece of yourself had been torn off

After embracing your betrothed for what felt like an eternity, you looked around you

and you could see your friend, the man you had first met under the tree on the mountain peak

and he was embracing a woman who had his same eyes, and together they were shining in a thousand colours

and you waved to them, and they waved to you

and without speaking you could read in your betrothed heart everything he felt and thought

and there you saw only love for you, the deepest and purest love you could ever imagine

this same love you felt for him and for everything else

and it felt like the most beautiful moment of your existence

you now were truly happy, without the hint of a shadow

and you had entirely uncovered your gift too

and together you became goddess and god in the grand creation

and forever you shall continue to create worlds

and help new rock bulbs awaken to their divine nature

For a moment, Arno pondered about the story he had told himself, while transcribing it. Was it a story of his own invention, or a story that already existed? Probably a story that existed in the infinite library of Old Falnë poems, and that his mind was somehow drawing from. He would make it read or sing it to Arito the next time he’d see his great uncle.

As Arno went to sleep, he had the impression there was something about the story he was still missing, and hadn’t properly understood. But he couldn’t say what.

That night, Arno dreamt of a girl he had never seen before.

He was in a beautiful place, and there was a lot of light. He looked around himself and he saw her. She was resplendent. She looked into his eyes while coming closer to him. And into her eyes he felt something he had never felt before. He felt there a love so deep for him. And then she embraced him, and in this embrace he felt a completeness he had never felt. And he heard her silent voice promising that all his worries, all his fears, would be washed away. That she was here for him and she would always be. While she embraced him, he felt an ecstasy in all his body.

When he woke up the next morning, Arno was still feeling the ecstasy he had felt in the dream with the mysterious girl. He felt suddenly full of hope and love and joy. Who was this girl, he wondered. He needed to find her, to retrieve her. During the night, for the first time he had understood what was love, and his life seemed pale in comparison with the feelings he had felt in his dream. That day he didn’t speak much, didn’t listen to the teachers rambling. Arno just focused on the small flame that had been kindled in his heart. He focused on his beautiful feeling that was still filling him, and he wished would forever remain. He didn’t want to get distracted, didn’t want to lose the girl’s presence in his heart. And suddenly he remembered the story he had told himself the night before, and it all made more sense. He had got a glimpse of his divine counterpart, his betrothed. The night before he had had no idea it such a notion existed or not, but now his heart had felt it, and was still feeling it. And as long as he was filled with this beauty and this love, he couldn’t doubt of her existence. There was a girl somewhere in this world in whom all his happiness hid. He didn’t remember her face clearly, except that it was the most beautiful face he had ever seen. It was so beautiful the memory of his awe still made him shake.

Few days afterwards, Arno went to see his great uncle Arito and he sang to him the entire story. And Arito listened to him with great attention as was his habit. Then Arno told him about his dream, but Arito did not have the enthusiastic reaction Arno would have expected. Other parts of the story had caught Arito’s interest and touched him more than the final part where the two betrothed met. He did not comment Arno’s dream, as though it didn’t have that much importance, and he questioned him about other songs. Arno was disappointed because he would have loved to have a discussion about his dream, to see the same light and hope that were shining in him kindling his uncle’s eyes and brightening his voice. But Arito didn’t seem to understand that, and he spoke about other things that would have usually interested Arno, but that day all he could think about was the echo of the eternal love he had felt for a moment.

Afterwards, Arno felt even lonelier as the last person he thought understood him in fact could not understand what had become so important in his heart. And he started to look desperately for the girl of his dream. She surely was somewhere in this world, perhaps she inhabited Tinë too. At school, he started scrutinizing all the girls from afar, trying to catch a glimpse of what he had seen and felt in his dream on her faces. He looked for her eyes, for the purity and the beauty of their expressions. He desperately wanted to find the girl of this dream, because he had felt entirely understood and accepted and loved in his dream, and nobody around him could give him that. He knew that already, but now, after dreaming of what perfection was, it had become worse. He felt the gap between him and others growing, even with his own family and his parents. And Arno felt that only when he’d retrieve the girl of his dream would he stop being so lonely.

When before Arno had been reserved but not actively sad, actively curious but not passionate, reflective but not melancholic, now he had changed. He was capable of sitting hours by his own, on the bough of a tree or on a rock, or of walking along a seething ocean, brooding over his thoughts and the remembrance of his dream. It was very cruel and very beautiful at the same time to have felt her presence into him, around him, and now he felt so, so lonely and stranger to the world. He started going less often to see his uncle Arito, and he remembered less songs than he did in the past, so focused he was on his melancholy. He was in no mood for talking and debating. He wanted, he needed desperately, to find the girl of his dreams.

At the same time, Arno’s sexuality started awakening. People in Falnë are quite prude about sexuality, and do not traditionally engage into physical relationships before marriage, as the Religion teaches. So Arno had not been at all prepared when he started feeling certain tinglings in his body. Worse, he had blockages and fears of his own on this chapter that made him much clumsier than any other boy. There was a girl in his class that used to be skinny but who had gained a bit of weight during the year, and now had womanly shapes, and he felt his body attracted to her curves. He did not think her intelligent or interesting, or even kind, and he did not love her at all. Therefore it was very confusing. He felt his attraction for her was bad. It had nothing to do with who he truly was, with the dreams of his heart. He wanted to find the girl of his dream and marry her. Not to be with each person his body was attracted to. And yet when he was attracted the sensations were so agreeable he was capable of forgetting everything else and he abandoned himself almost entirely to his attraction.

Before sleeping every night Arno started having weird fantasies. He imagined a very thin girl that was him, that had his body. This girl liked a lot to eat and she would eat all sorts of cakes and candies and several servings at meals, and she would start gaining weight. Arno would feel the imaginary weight accumulating on the girl, on himself, on her breast, on her belly, and he imagined her clothes becoming tighter and tighter. And it excited him a lot, sending waves and waves of pleasure through all his body. He continued to imagine her eating and eating in a sensual way, and gaining weight until she became chubby and none of her clothes fit anymore, and he fell asleep.

Arno would feel quite guilty of these fantasies, when he thought of them. But the night after he’d forget all about his guilt when he was excited again, and let himself go to them, and for a long, long time in his bed picture this skinny girl getting fatter, and weighing herself, and eating, and getting rounder and softer all over her body he felt in his.

For weeks sometimes, Arno didn’t think about his weird attraction, and he just focused on the true desires of his heart, of finding the girl of his dream and retrieving the true love he had once tasted. But all of a sudden, his cravings would return and would consume him. He’d spend all day long fantasizing about this other girl eating and gaining weight, and he’d scrutinize all the girls of his school to find which ones had put on a bit of weight, which ones were curvy. And he felt something stiffen and harden in his pants and become embarrassingly large, and he tried to hide it of course, so that no one would ever know what was happening in Arno’s mind and body.

Without even noticing it, Arno had slipped from being a bright and awakened child to a more tortured teenager who still didn’t know to cope with his wishes and his dreams and his cravings.

One day, Arno was having lunch with Mounyë who for once wasn’t in a hurry to correct her students’ copies or go to a reunion with the kids’ parents. He then felt comfortable enough to ask her a question about which he had wondered of late. Bilbo was out at sea.

“Mother, how did you meet father exactly?”

“You want to know how I met Bilbo?” Mounyë smiled for a moment, recollecting her memories. “The new road between Tinë and Iyë had just been completed. It was in… 10’018. I was twenty years old at the time. Celebrations were planned in Tinë, and they told us there’d be a bus doing the trip between Iyë and Tinë, and its service was free since it was the first time it circulated. I had never visited Tinë and was very curious to see the ocean. I said that to my parents, and they told me I was old enough to make the trip on my own. The bus was filled with young people from Iyë, and we sang and clapped all the way to Tinë, on the rhythm of a velkyr and a velk they had brought and were playing with. The youths of Tinë were waiting for us in front of the temple, and they made us visit the village and we walked to the harbour. There I was fascinated by the ocean and I stood for a very long time in front of it, without realizing all my comrades had returned to the village. Only one other boy had remained close to me. I didn’t know him. He asked me if I liked the sea. I told him I did. He asked me if I wanted to make a tour on his fishing boat. Oh yes, I would love that, I told him and I jumped with enthusiasm on his boat not believing my luck. The boy took me out in the open sea. The sun was setting and there was a slight breeze rising. The colours on the ocean and over the horizon were beautiful. And then I looked toward the mountains, and I understood it was here on the ocean’s shore I wanted to live. I liked the mountains, but only from afar, in the background. I discussed with the boy for a long moment and at the end we exchanged one another’s names. We spent the rest of the evening in one another’s company as we watched the fireworks and the bonfire around which all the inhabitants of Tinë had gathered. I felt it was the most beautiful day of my life. Bilbo, for you surely have guessed whom I was speaking about, introduced me to his parents, and he told me to come back, and that the next time he’d take me longer on the sea. And I came back another time, and then he told me he liked me like he had liked no other woman, and he asked for my hand. I told him I liked him too, but first I needed to tell my parents about it. The next spring I came back to Tinë with my parents, because they wanted to personally meet Bilbo and his family before giving me their benediction. When they met grandmother Shouhimë and grandfather Jarido, they immediately liked them, and they understood Bilbo came from a respectable family who was very kind-hearted too. Then, they agreed on the wedding, even though they were a bit sad of losing my presence. ‘But that’s how life goes’, my father said the day of my marriage, as he embraced me, ‘and if our daughter is happy, we are happy too.’ And I’ve not regretted my choice, if only for my lovely son.”

But things are not always as they seem, Arno would soon discover, and despite all their good will and kind-heartedness, people cannot prevent themselves from changing and shifting and hurting others in the process sometimes. Arno had already learnt the world was not this stable heaven of peace and continuity when the war with the Moustadiri had happened, and when his grandfather Jarido had passed away. And still, despite all that, Arno still thought some things in life were immutable. One such thing were his parents.

One year had passed. It was the summer after Arno had celebrated his twelfth birthday. His grandparents of Iyë had come to visit them, with their usual provisions of goat cheese and cherries, and they were gone. Tinë had changed a lot during the last year, as whole parts of the new town had been completed and more than twenty thousand refugees were already housed there. Mayor Qiroko had built several factories with the Vilnens’ help to provide work for the refugees. And he had announced that within two years, Tinë would become home to more than one hundred thousand souls, making it the third or fourth largest city in all Falnë, when it used to count five thousand inhabitants before the war. Among the buildings that had been completed were the new school for the children of the refugees, the hydroelectric power plant and another oil power plant that now provided electricity all day long, not only to Tinë but to all its province. As wood was an important raw material in Falnë, a large lumber-mill had been built, and pine and oak wood started being exported to Vilnen, and the forests around Tinë thinned. There were in the backcountry of Tinë hills of a white chalk rock that was ideal to produce concrete, and soon they started being quarried, and the rock was brought to Tinë’s outskirt to be transformed into concrete in a large factory. The roads toward the mountain villages started being widened, in particular that leading to Mahië, as Qiroko wanted to encourage agricultural production and starting to export fruits and vegetables and meat that were one of Falnë’s main asset. A dam had also been built on the Iyë’s River, together with the hydropower plant, to create an artificial lake in the heights of Tinë and provide the town with fresh water.

Refugees coming from Minë’s province arrived daily to Tinë. Where Tinë was developing as an organized and modern town, Minë was crumbling under problems of all sorts. The old town was getting more and more decrepit, and the original inhabitants of Minë were starting to leave the city and flee to other villages of the province, or come to Tinë. The weight of more than a hundred thousand refugees living on the street and in improvised slums had been a great one. The river had become an open air sewer, and the beaches and valleys surrounding Minë had become discharges where all the refuses were thrown. The city was entirely dependent on the Moustadiris for its provisioning and they sold there at low price all sorts of canned food coming from their industries. Minë had fallen so low not only because of the weakness and lack of vision of its mayor, but also because it was too close to Helyë to be left on its own, and the Moustadiris had heavily interfered in the ruling of the city. It wasn’t in their interest that Minë became flourishing and capital of a free Falnë. At the contrary, the most problems it would have, the most tensions would divide it, the best. Moustadir could thus steal part of the water resources of Minë without meeting any opposition. The rainy season between 10’034 and 10’035 had set a new record in terms of dryness, and the Moustadiris now feared to barely be able to satisfy their needs in water during the summer and the fall.

Arno still didn’t know all the details of the dramatic situation in which Minë was, as he had not returned there since the year after the war, but he heard the rumours that the newly arrived refugees were conveying. He saw how Tinë was developing and how too many people were flocking to it every day, and mayor Qiroko had to take new measures to speed up the construction of dwellings and set some tents and huts for the families who were arriving. But he never turned them away. He had understood that part of his wealth depended on the welfare of these refugees, and he wanted to exploit it as best as he could. He had also started forming a police force that was charged to maintain the civil peace, as there had been many skirmishes between refugees and locals and among refugees in Minë, and he didn’t want that situation to be reproduced in Tinë. It also was the occasion to start training men to carrying and handling weapons. That year Qiroko made a secret agreement with the Vilnens, authorizing them to build two military bases in Tinë’s province, one along the ocean, and the other in the mountain, in exchange of Vilnen’s protection. The Vilnens would send two aircraft carriers to Tinë’s waters when the works on the military bases would start, to dissuade the Moustadiris from attacking them. The Vilnens had a more powerful army than the Moustadiris and the Moustadiris would not dare attacking them. The move of the Vilnens would grant them a presence on the Moustawyl islands, and would ensure them that the Moustadiris do not continue expanding until they match their power.

Indeed, the Moustadiris had invaded eastern parts of Zoumn and Zahir the year before, using the argument that they wanted to re-establish Moustadir’s historical borders. But, of course, what interested them mainly were the oil fields and the iron and the rare metals mines that existed in the lands they had occupied.

It was in this context that Arno started to feel that things were not alright at home between his parents. He was quite busy between his studies and his lonely pursuits of Old Falnë, and the girl of his dreams he still sometimes remembered with the same intensity as he had felt, and his strange attraction toward girls getting rounder that made him on some days very stupid and distracted. Because of all that, he did not immediately see the fault line that was tearing the ground between his parents. But one afternoon after he had finished his classes, he noticed Mounyë had not come back home, and suddenly he realized that it wasn’t the first time at all she arrived late, only a bit before supper time. And an oppressed anguished took grip of his chest and his stomach, and he felt like throwing up. Nothing had happened, and yet his sixth sense had got him into alert. Bilbo was out at sea, fishing, and shouldn’t have come before the next morning.

But strong winds had risen and Bilbo returned home at the end of the afternoon, and he had only caught a couple of fishes. Arno noticed he had an expression of aloofness and concern on his face. He hugged his father, but he could feel his father was distant and distracted. “Your mother isn’t home?” he asked.

Arno shook his head, and his spirit sunk a little deeper.

Bilbo hesitated. “She… often returns late when I am out at sea for the night?”

Arno shrugged. “I haven’t really noticed,” he lied. But then suddenly he felt a wave of shame rising into him and burning his face. “Yes, sometimes,” he slowly admitted.

Bilbo looked even sadder and more dispirited. He didn’t do anything about Mounyë, and told Arno he would cook dinner since she wasn’t there. He started cleaning the fishes and he placed them into a large pan, boiling them with many vegetables and some beans and wheat. He pressed an entire lemon, and added a lot of black pepper and rosemary and laurel leaves. He cooked silently and Arno watched him, without talking, almost choking because of the oppression he was feeling. The scent that came out from the pot would have made him hungry any other day, but that day Arno only felt nauseous at the idea of eating.

At last, Mounyë came back home, and her hair were dishevelled because of the wind, and she froze when she saw Bilbo in the living room and she smelled the scent of fish soup. Arno could see there was something off on her face. She was very nervous and uncomfortable, and as he hugged her he noticed she smelled of sweat and perfume, and he felt very much embarrassed for his mother.

Bilbo did not say anything, but he didn’t come to hug and kiss Mounyë nor did she go to him.

“You’re back, already,” Mounyë said.

“The wind became too strong, and it wasn’t safe anymore to be out in the open sea,” Bilbo replied.

“Thank you for having cooked.”

“It was my pleasure.”

Arno felt his parents were exchanging mundanities, forcing themselves to remain quiet. But the tension in the air was almost unbearable, and the echoes their words left in the room spoke of words unsaid and hurt feelings and pain and anger. They sat around the small table and they started eating without saying any word. Arno could barely feel the taste of his food, so anguished he was feeling. Bilbo was trying to contain himself, but Arno felt more and more anger emanating from him.

And suddenly Bilbo spoke. “You’ve been quite busy lately… with school.” And Arno felt all the provocation of his words, and it was something very weird and frightful, because Bilbo was almost always quiet and good-natured.

“Indeed I have,” replied Mounyë sharply.

“Aren’t you ashamed to lie in front of our son?” and Bilbo waved toward Arno.

“I am not lying. And it is you who are starting an argument in front of him.”

“You are not lying? How dare you lie with so much bluntness and then accuse me to start arguments in front of him. Do you think our son daft? Haven’t you noticed he’s barely eaten tonight?” Bilbo was almost shouting now, and there was an incredible rage in his words.

“You didn’t ask me any question,” Mounyë tried to defend herself. “All these months you noticed I was not feeling very well, but you never came to me and asked me why.”

“You were so distant with me I didn’t dare ask you questions. Why didn’t you try to talk to me? Why did you treat me as though you were annoyed by my presence?”

“Don’t you want to leave this argument for when we will be alone?”

“No! Our son has the right to know. Have you cheated on your husband and your family? Have you been with another man?”

Mounyë lowered her eyes.

“Respond!” Bilbo shouted.

Arno had never seen his father in this state of agitation.

“Yes, I have,” said Mounyë, and she started crying.

Despite Arno’s indignation against his mother, his instincts were the strongest and he wanted to console her and hug her and tell her everything would be alright.

But his mother was crying even more now, she was sobbing almost desperately.

“With whom?” asked Bilbo.

Mounyë didn’t reply.

“With whom?” and this time Bilbo shouted.

“Qiroko,” sobbed Mounyë.

“The mayor!?”

She nodded, still crying.

“Why?” cried Bilbo, and his cry seemed to come from the very depth from his heart and it shrilled into Arno’s chest. “Why?”

Mounyë sobbed almost hysterically. “I don’t know,” she whispered.

“You don’t know!?” Bilbo blurted out. “Did you see him many times?”

Mounyë nodded again.

“Why did you do that to me, why?” cried Bilbo.

And Arno felt torn between his two parents. It was horrible to feel both their pain, and this growing gap between them. Horrible. He couldn’t even cry so great was his oppression, his terror of what would happen to them both.

“I… love him,” Mounyë managed to whisper.

“You love him?! And you don’t love me anymore.”

“I was unhappy.”

“But you told me you were happy mother!” interjected Arno.

“I was lying to myself. I like your father, he is a good man, but when I met Qiroko I understood I did not love him and would be unhappy if I didn’t live my love.”

Bilbo wanted to shout again, but suddenly his eyes started tearing and he became very quiet, crying silently, hopelessly.

“I’m sorry to hurt you in this way,” Mounyë said after a moment and she placed her hand on Bilbo’s hand, but Bilbo retired his hand abruptly, and anger returned to his face.

“Don’t you dare touch me after what you did.”After quieting down a bit, Bilbo said. “Don’t you want to make a sacrifice and stop seeing Qiroko to save our family?”

Mounyë shook her head. “I cannot,” and tears started streaming from her eyes.

“What about your parents? What are they going to think of you?”

“They… will eventually understand. They always told me the most important was to be happy of what I did.”

“Even when you are doing something wrong?”

Mounyë did not reply.

“Even when you go against the teachings of Religion and God? Or have you become an atheist like our… filthy mayor?”

“Qiroko is not an atheist,” Mounyë whispered. “And God is merciful. He has given me my heart and my feelings, and I can’t do anything about it. I am very sorry to have… cheated on you. I was waiting to have the courage to tell you everything.” And she burst into tears again.

“You have destroyed my life,” cried Bilbo, “and that of our son. Do you think your excuses and your sorrow can mend that?”

Arno wanted to start crying and put an end to their dispute. He tried to call tears. He wanted to show them how horribly he was feeling and express all his trapped pain. But he could not cry, and his eyes remained dry.

“But isn’t the scoundrel already married?” said Bilbo.

Mounyë nodded and lowered her head.

“So you are destroying two families.”

“Qiroko does not love his wife.”

“Why did he marry her then? And why did you marry me?”

Mounyë kept her head lowered, trying to hush her cries.

“Oh perhaps you married me because you wanted to come live in Tinë and my family welcomed you open-armed. We had some lands to suit your ambition. But now you’ve found a better prospect. You’ll have an entire city for yourself. You slut.”

“This is all untrue,” cried Mounyë. “I thought I loved you, but I had not yet tasted love. I felt, and still feel, friendship and affection for you. Except when you are shouting like tonight, you scare me then.”

“I don’t want of your disloyal friendship! You wouldn’t have done what you did to a friend.”

Mounyë remained silent, and her expression had never been so grim and downcast.

“Are you going to go live with your mayor now?”

Mounyë shook her head.

“Oh, perhaps you had not planned that I would discover your treason and you intended to continue seeing one another in secret.”

Mounyë lowered her head even more.

“So you both are cowards.”

“I didn’t want to hurt you and Arno. And he didn’t want to hurt Anisië and their daughter.”

“Do you now plan to divorce from me? Or do you want to continue to live your secret affair without anyone knowing that you are dishonourable?”

Mounyë did not say anything.

“Oh or perhaps you plan to see your lover first to discuss it all with him? I fear for the life of my mother and your parents when they will first hear of this.”

That night, Bilbo took a mat and he came to sleep in Arno’s room. He stroked a bit his son’s hair and face, but Arno could not feel any comfort in these gestures. Usually he would have been happy to have company in his room, but that night it only oppressed him to have his father sleeping on the floor and fidgeting all night long and then snoring loudly after a certain point. Arno could not sleep at all. His heart was a tangle of unexpressed emotions and pain. And he started feeling a headache and he was nauseous too. The next morning Arno felt completely exhausted and he didn’t rise from his bed. Mounyë did not come to wake him up for school. She carefully avoided Arno’s room where Bilbo was sleeping. Arno heard her mother preparing herself and shutting the door behind her. His father too left the house a bit afterwards, and then Arno relaxed a bit and he went to eat a little of dry bread to ease down his nausea and fill his empty stomach with something.

Mounyë did not come back until night, and when she saw Bilbo was not home she relaxed a bit, and she went toward Arno and hugged him and told him she would always love him no matter what. Arno said he loved her too, even though he could only feel a ball of oppression in his throat. They ate dinner silently, and went to sleep. The next morning she woke him up for school but Arno told her he wasn’t feeling good enough yet, and she left the house. Afterwards Bilbo arrived with a basket of fishes. His expression was frighteningly grim.

“What did your mother tell you?” he asked.

“That she would love me no matter what.”

“What about the scoundrel?”

“She didn’t mention him,” Arno said on the tips of his lips. He didn’t like the way Bilbo was talking him, as though he assumed Arno was taking his party.

Well, in a way, Arno was taking his father’s party. In his mind, it was Mounyë who had faulted. How could she abandon them to go with a man she barely knew? How could she do all that in secret? And yet she still was his beloved mother, and even though he felt some resentment against her, he couldn’t just consent to throw stones at her face. Bilbo had been very harsh, too harsh. If he had spoken with more quietness, perhaps things could have gone differently. If he had shown he loved Mounyë despite of her behaviour, perhaps he could have gained her again. Perhaps in a few months Mounyë would realize she was tired of Qiroko and missed the quietness of her little family, of her quiet and honest husband. These thoughts all stemmed in a corner of Arno’s mind, and even though he didn’t know how to put words on them, he somehow understood that what his father was doing was as wrong as his mother’s treason.

All day long, Bilbo slept in Arno’s room, and just before dusk he left the house and said to Arno he was going out to sea again. And when Mounyë arrived a bit later, she didn’t see her husband, and she visibly relaxed and prepared supper for Arno.

“What is going to happen mother?” asked Arno.

“I don’t know my sweet boy.”

“Are you going to live with mayor Qiroko?”

“No, not for now.” And Mounyë’s face darkened.

Thus a routine was set of avoid one another whenever they could. Bilbo spent more time in his fishing boat than he spent at home, and Mounyë set off to school even on holy days. And Arno spent more time than ever alone at home, brooding over his fate and that of his parents. He sometimes visited grandmother Shouhimë, but he couldn’t tell her anything about his worries. His parents were keeping their dispute a secret, and he couldn’t reveal it. He didn’t want to. It would have pained Shouhimë beyond words, and wouldn’t have brought any good except perhaps everyone in Bilbo’s family starting to hate Mounyë. But things could not go on endlessly in this way, Arno kept on telling himself, and the heavy clouds that were gathering all around would one day or another burst out in thunderbolts.

Around the same time, another disgrace happened. One morning great uncle Wardo came to knock at their door, and he was crying. He said Arito had passed away in his sleep. Bilbo’s eyes started moistening. And Arno felt all his uncle and his father’s pain, in addition of his own grief for the person who had understood him the best. It was very strange to see Wardo so sad and quiet, when his usual mood was to improvise and sing jibes about nearly everything. He had not even carried his velkyr on his back, and that alone showed he was not in his normal state.

The next day Arito’s funerals were held in the temple, and both Mounyë and Bilbo came, even though they didn’t exchange a single word during the entire ceremony. Arno could imagine the large clouds that were floating around their heads. Everyone was clothed in dark, and all the village had come since Arito was a well-loved apothecary who didn’t hesitate to give for free or for very low prices his medicines when his patients were too poor to pay. There were even refugees who had come, faces that were entirely unknown to Arno. Bilbo cried during the ceremony, and Mounyë looked quite sad. At the end they walked back home in silence, and Arno noticed Mounyë placing her hand on Bilbo’s shoulder as he was sobbing again, and Arno was glad to see his father did not push her away. And for a split second he started hoping again that everything was a nightmare, and that they’d soon wake up and it would all be forgiven and forgotten.

When they arrived home, Mounyë cooked and the three of them ate in silence. Arno thought of asking his parents to forgive one another, but he could not set himself to pronounce these words. And afterwards Arno understood the funeral day had only been a lull in the storm. From the next day on his parents’ new habits of disappearing when the other was home resumed. And Arno felt caught anew into this storm that he could not escape.

At the time, Arno composed the first poem he fully attributed to himself. He felt it so deeply within his heart he decided it couldn’t come from any other sources but his soul. He wrote it amorously on his notebook after having sung it.

I saw your face

for a short instant of timelessness

I felt your embrace

through my bones and my heart

But you are now gone

Your face has been hidden from my gaze

And your light has been taken away from the world

leaving behind greyness and shapelessness

My heart is mourning your loss, oh beloved

and I am withering in your absence

And yet, far away on the horizon of my dreams

I feel your presence somewhere, somehow

and beyond my despair, there still is a ribbon of hope

glittering in this world

At times, the thought of the girl of his dream still embalmed Arno’s heart. It still quieted for a moment the storm of anguishes that was raging in his mind. It still made him forget about the dire situation of his family.

But at other times, Arno started doubting more and more of himself. How could he be sure that girl existed? And the disaccord that was now reigning between his parents seemed the proof that true love did not exist and couldn’t last endlessly. Perhaps that was the sad reality of life. Falling in love with someone and then after many years falling out of love, and starting to love someone else. These thoughts tortured Arno. They seemed true, and yet he could not accept them. He could not see himself being so inconstant in his love. He dreamt of a love powerful beyond words, and he wanted very much to find it. He felt he could not live all his life into this greyness, otherwise he’d slowly witness the death of his dreams. He needed to hope, he needed to believe. And yet, it was hard to hope and believe when all the horizons surrounding him were dark. Tinë was being turned into a modern city and was eating all the nature and the beauty around, and his parents would divorce one day or another soon enough, and the Moustadiris were lusting for the rest of Falnë and perhaps readying themselves to launch another war. Soon Arno’s very existence would be denied, as that of love and that of Falnë. And often, Arno drowned into this train of thoughts.

Sometimes, a sudden stroke of inspiration raised Arno’s spirits, as he remembered songs of Old Falnë.

Even during the darkest days

there sometimes is for a brief time

a vivid light over the horizon

when the sun sets

Even when you are sitting

in the dusk of your own emotions

for a moment try looking out

the castle of your heart

But, overall, these were dreary times in Arno’s life. He woke up each day waiting for the thunderbolts to fall and sow chaos everywhere. And there’s nothing worse than waiting for bad things to occur.

Strangely, the thunderstorm did not happen as Arno thought it would. Mounyë continued living with them, even though she came back only late in the evenings, and she presumably saw Qiroko every day. Bilbo spent all his nights out at sea, whenever the weather allowed for it. And even when the weather was unfavourable, he sometimes too risks and went out in his boat. Both had grown quite reserved and closed off, as they had their unspoken dispute weighing on their hearts. They sometimes spoke with Arno but he felt all their words were said in a half-hearted way, and he also spoke to them almost reluctantly because all the words that were said sounded untrue.

The truth is that Bilbo would have liked to storm the house until Mounyë stopped seeing Qiroko and started being with him again. But as seemed to be impossible, his second best choice would have been to move to his mother’s house and stop seeing Mounyë every day, as a cruel reminder of his lost love.

Mounyë would have liked to go live with Qiroko. But Qiroko was still not fully ready to bring about that moment. He was scared of how Anisë would react, and he was afraid of the town’s opinion on his life, if he started to display what many people would call inadequate and dishonourable behaviours. He wanted to prepare his divorce slowly, and when his grip on the town would be even stronger, and his children more aged, then he’d take a step into that direction. Mounyë was quite impatient in her heart, but she understood Qiroko’s dilemma and greatly respected him. Her next choice would have been to see Bilbo moving away from the house, so that she’d feel again at home.

But that would mean recognizing publicly that something was not going alright between them, and Bilbo had troubles taking such a step, especially that he knew almost everyone in the village, and people would ask him questions. And Qiroko had implored Mounyë to keep their relationship secret, otherwise Anisë would come to know about it. But how to force Bilbo to hold his tongue once he moved out?

Arno was in the middle of all these unspoken tensions, and he felt them tearing at his limbs and his heart. He was prisoner in a silent storm that raged within his family. And he could do nothing about it.

But the next spring the maternal grandparents would come from Iyë, and they would notice something was off about Mounyë’s and Bilbo’s behaviours. That is what at last pushed Arno’s parents to act. After the first scene that had happened between them, they had carefully avoided one another, and Bilbo had returned to his usual evenness of temper. Sometimes he made some allusions when he crossed Mounyë, but most of the times he just avoided her in silence.

One stormy day of the beginning of spring, Arno was dinner together with his parents as the sea was too rough even for Bilbo’s boat, when Mounyë spoke. “It cannot continue like that.”

“What do you suggest?” asked Bilbo more quietly than you would expect.

“What if you went to live with your mother, as there is a lot of space in her house? Arno would sleep here, but visit you whenever he wants.”

Bilbo pondered about her words for a moment without replying. He had already thought of such a possibility that didn’t seem so bad after all, except the part where he’d have to explain everything to his mother. “Will… Qiroko come to see you here?”

“I… don’t know,” said Mounyë.

“Well then I agree to move out from this house that belongs to my family only at the condition that you will not bring Qiroko here. You don’t have the right to impose him on our son.”

“That’s fine,” said Mounyë, her face tense. Arno could say she had not anticipated Bilbo accepting so easily her proposition, but also putting the condition of not bringing Qiroko in the house. Arno felt very glad about the condition Bilbo had set, as he imagined the invasive presence of Tinë’s mayor in their small house.

“I’ve learnt at my own expenses that your word has little or no value. But I swear that if you annoy our son by bringing Qiroko in, I will not let it pass easily.”

“Qiroko won’t come here,” Mounyë said. “I have another thing to discuss of with you. What do you plan on telling your mother?”

“The truth,” replied Bilbo. “What else do you want me to tell her?”

“That’s fine. But what do you plan to tell other people about our situation?”

“Oh, you don’t want me to say that you are frequenting the mayor?”

Mounyë nodded. “You could also say we are just getting separated, without saying I’m seeing another man. That will make it easier to live for both of us.”

Bilbo thought for a moment about it, then nodded. One part of Arno was glad it all was going more smoothly than he would have expected.

“Please, if you see my parents, don’t ever tell them I’ve cheated on you,” said Mounyë, and her eyes moistened with tears. “I don’t want to cause them this shame and this pain.”

“Why, are you ashamed of yourself?”

“In a way I am. I shouldn’t have married you and hurt you. But I couldn’t know at the time.”

“I won’t tell anything to your parents, nor to my mother in fact. But I’m doing it for their sake more than for your sake. They are old and such a horrible story would be too heavy to bear. It’s also better for our son if my mother doesn’t start resenting you too much.”

“I didn’t expect you to be so understanding and so reasonable,” whispered Mounyë, her face covered in tears.

“I am an understanding and reasonable man,” replied Bilbo quietly. “But sometimes the pain is too overwhelming and I can become brutal and violent. To tell you all the truth, I am ashamed of how I shouted on you last summer. Whatever you did, I shouldn’t have behaved in such a crude way, if only for my own sake. I do not like to be carried by my anger.”

“I have a new admiration for you, Bilbo, my own friend.” Mounyë gave him her hand, and he took it. “I do not deserve you in a way,” she added.

“I am the one not to deserve you perhaps,” said Bilbo and he started having tears in his eyes too. “I don’t know why… life is going all wrong,” and he started sobbing while saying these words.

And the strangest thing happened before Arno’s eyes as Mounyë came closer to Bilbo and hugged his head with hers, and she placed her hands around his shoulders. They both were crying openly now. And in a way Arno found it beautiful, even if he couldn’t shed tears as the well of sadness within with heart was fastened.

“I don’t know why life is going all wrong,” they were both saying, and they really seemed not to understand why all that was happening, and both seemed quite in pain about it.

At the end they separated and Bilbo started preparing his luggage. “Tomorrow morning I will move out,” he said. When he was done he came back to the living room and sat there and added a log and some lemon peel in the brazier and warmed his hands over it. Arno was sitting there too, and the scent lemon produced was delightful, mixed with the resin of wood. When Mounyë was done with her chores, she came to the living room too, and the three of them sat there in silence, like it hadn’t happened for so long. It was very strange because their silence wasn’t tense and heavy as it used to be in all the previous months. It was the last night of Bilbo at home, but it was hard to imagine. You’d expect both being glad to get rid of one another, but it was almost as if they longed for one another presence.

“I will miss going down to the port and wait for you,” said Mounyë, “and going out in the sea in your little boat.”

Bilbo smiled to her sadly, and both had tears in their eyes. It was as though they still felt tenderness for one another, despite all what had happened.

After a while, they started recalling old memories and holding one another hand. Arno felt in a bubble of peacefulness like he had not felt for months, or years perhaps. He felt again like a small kid looking at his parents who held one another hand and chatted quietly. It reminded him of so many memories and he would have felt very nostalgic of the past if he weren’t so peaceful. It was as though the tenderness that flowed again between his parents enfolded his body in a gentle warmth. At that moment, Arno felt everything was alright, everything would be alright, as long as his parents hugged. They didn’t kiss. They just exchanged quiet marks of affection. There wasn’t passion between them, just some sort of a silent, and loving, understanding. After a moment, they called Arno to them, and they hugged him too, in the middle of them, like when he was a child.

That night, Bilbo slept in his own room, with Mounyë, and Arno fell asleep on his own. For a moment before sleeping, he started hoping that the next day he’d wake up and that everything would be alright again, and that the broken vase of his family would be restored and in pristine conditions as though it never were broken in the first place. He hoped never to hear again of Qiroko that he imagined like a scarecrow. And then he abandoned himself to the night. But, as he was on the verge of sleep, Arno remembered a poem he was too tired to write down. And anyway he told to himself sadly, Arito is now gone, and nobody is truly interested in the songs of old.

Sometimes you think of yourself as a dove

sheen and pure like a winter snow

the whitest creature that flies under the sun

But that means you have not been confronted

to the glistening light of the moon

for there you’d have discovered

that your fur is in fact gray

The moon brings out in you

all the memories you thought buried

all the wounds you need to heal

so that you shine of a brighter light

The next morning however, Bilbo went out early to talk with his mother and tell her he’d move to live with her, and later on bring all his belongings. There was a lot of sadness in his motions, but also a quiet serenity that wasn’t there in the last months.

Mounyë too seemed quite sad in the following days, but she also seemed more serene and reassured that at last, an arrangement had been found.

For Arno it was really difficult to see both his parents so sad and miserable, and he could not understand why they imposed on themselves such sufferings. They still somehow love one another, Arno told himself, and why don’t they forget about the rest and embrace again as they did last night.

But Mounyë and Bilbo did not embrace again, nor did they see one another, and each started to lead a separate existence. The mood was lighter now at home, since they had had their explanations and Bilbo had moved out. As days flowed into weeks and months, both started smiling again, even though Arno could detect a note of longing and sadness on their faces. Mounyë seemed to be faring better, as she had her passionate affair with Qiroko to occupy her thoughts with, while Bilbo seemed more melancholic and he continued to spend a lot of time at sea, and the rest of his time gardening. It was also sad for him to live in his parents’ house with Jarido’s absence. Sometimes he shared a few words about his sorrow with Arno, and he told him he felt like life was passing fast, and part of what he had built during years had crumbled, and now he suddenly felt himself quite old and spiritless. Arno tried to encourage him to retrieve some motivation in life, and he started singing him songs of Old Falnë when he noticed they soothed Bilbo.

One day of fall, as Arno was crouching next to his father who was planting potatoes and onions, he started singing.

Milky rivers flow into the sky

giving it a whit of softness

while dark clouds prowl around

hastening to the wind’s call

The tree and the mountain

watch this spectacle they have already seen

more than a thousand times

as though it were the first

The tree feels the breeze ruffling its branches

and it starts sailing into the wind

with an enthusiasm it never lost

The man goes around his daily activities

without taking a moment to rest

and contemplate

the cloudscape of his own mind

and feel the wind of his heart

blowing in his inner ears

Bilbo didn’t say anything for a long time. Then he spoke at last, when Arno thought his father had forgotten about the poem he had remembered, and was entirely focused on the onion bulbs he was planting into the ploughed soil. “I did that mistake with your mother,” he said sadly. “I stopped listening to the inner wind of my heart for too long. I was too engrossed by my fishing, too worried about the money I was earning and the situation of the country. I completely neglected her for years.” He stopped talking for a moment, seemingly recollecting some memories that gave him an air of sadness. “I didn’t do it out of meanness or indifference. I just worried too much about things. It is in my nature to worry in silence, and now I understand I have a very mature ear in my son to whom I can share these thoughts. I worried stupidly, always anguished of another bombing, another war, of losing everything, of losing my boat, of having to flee from Falnë. How many times did I imagine while at sea taking you and Mounyë on the boat and fleeing toward the countries of the north. But in such a tiny boat we would have sunk in the first storm and it would have required a miracle to make it through. But what is better, I kept on wondering, taking the risk to escape, or becoming prisoner of Moustadir. Do you see my son? I was always busy thinking of the future, always prone to believe in my fears. And where has it led me? I lost Mounyë who found herself a more determinate man. One who acts instead of worrying. One who doesn’t let his fear paralyzing him.”

It was sad to hear Bilbo speak in such a negative way of himself. And yet, his words rang somehow true to Arno, and he was glad that Bilbo was becoming conscious of all that. Understanding and consciousness were the first steps to change, to stop worrying so much and wrecking his own life.

“I only realized all that the last day,” said Bilbo, and some tears run along his cheeks. “And it was too late, of course. I was six years too late.”

“It is never too late, beloved father,” said Arno. “It is never too late.” And then inspiration rose within him, and he started singing anew.

Have you ever picked up a cloud in your field

Have you ever seen a cauliflower travelling in the sky

Have you ever shaped matter with your own thoughts

The world you nowadays know

is much poorer than the world that

at the time of Old Falnë existed

And what was then possible for every man and woman

has now become unimaginable

and even absurd

Do not let these preconceived ideas limit you

and bridle your imagination

Do not let your mind become your worst enemy

Push away your boundaries

and create yourself an inner space where

all the dreams of your heart can be expressed

For if you are seeking truth

than it is in your heart and nowhere else that you must look

“I never realized there was so much truth in these old songs,” said Bilbo. “Oh, I liked hearing them, but they seemed so abstract and outdated to me. But now it is strange to feel each of your words resonating within me, even when I don’t understand them all.”

“I am very glad you now find meaning in them, father, because for me they are very important, and it always hurt me a bit when you all seemed not to care about my songs.”

“From now on I will always be the first one to listen to your wisdom my son. Please tell me more.”

Arno thought for a moment, then words started coalescing in his mind.

The clouds become waves

and dolphin silhouettes

And despite the evening’s growing darkness

you are surprised by the breadth of the light

that reaches to your eyes

Sometimes you are looking for a treasure

you believe to be in the bottom of the ocean

and you dream day and night to go there

but alas, underwater you cannot breathe

If you are thus seeking the mother-of-pearl of your heart

let go of your expectations of where to find it

and instead of upturning every stone in the field

lie down in the grass and close your eyes

and train to listen to the whisper of every sprout and every butterfly

and let these soft notes guide your inner hand

to the deepest treasure that lies within yourself

“Indeed, I should look into myself now I have lost Mounyë,” Bilbo said. “I have no other choice but looking into myself. This is what I am learning. Looking into myself to find a treasure,” he said, repeating these words as though surprised of having pronounced them, and trying to make sense of them. “But it is so difficult, because I feel a lot of regret and helplessness. How can I change myself? How can I stop being so anxious about the future, for my loved ones?”

Arno listened to the silence of the garden, the birds singing, a slight breeze rustling in a pomegranate tree not far away that still had some old fruits scattered on the floor around, or half-eaten by birds on the boughs. He heard the cracking noise that seeds that were falling from a tall tree did, as they snapped from the bough. He looked at the white clouds that had gathered over the ocean, and for a moment he felt again the excitement he used to feel as a child, before the first storm of fall. This year, it had taken a lot of time to arrive, much longer than it should, and the soil was dry and parched, and the small plants were not doing very well. He was glad it would finally rain in the next days. At school one of their teachers had told them about climate changes and global warming that were caused by human industrial activities, and that were getting worse and worse every year. Falnë was still faring much better than other countries, because thanks to its very high mountains and to the nearby ocean its climate was particular. Global warming had started being noticed one hundred years ago, but at first it had been slow. But in the last four decades it had considerably accelerated, and now every five years were much worse than the previous five. The Moustawyl islands were growing drier and drier, and all the countries there but Moustadir had heavy water shortage, and the only way they survived was through desalinating sea water. Arno was shocked to hear all that, because that topic had never been mentioned in school before. Sure, people complained about the weather going warmer and drier, but he didn’t know the scope of changes were so dramatic. The ocean level was also rising and dramatic changes were predicted for the next years. What remained of the poles, which had already been melting steadily in the last decades, would abruptly disappear, as each summer was warmer there. In a way, it was still a miracle that Falnë was faring so well, and Arno often asked himself if it had anything to do with Old Falnë.

But, suddenly, Arno interrupted himself in this depressing thread of thoughts. After all, he was doing exactly what Bilbo did, he realized. And indeed, it was not at all easy to get out of this anguish of the times to come, especially with such negative perspectives. Arno looked at his father who was still thoughtful, and had moved to plant another row of onions. Slowly, Arno felt novel words rising into him, and he started chanting them loudly enough for his father to hear.

Have you ever tried flapping your wings and flying

riding the winds like a bird will

swimming in the currents above the tree tops

From there you’d see much more from the world

and quite differently too

the houses and towns would seem so small

compared to the clouds and the mountains and the oceans

Don’t be limited by the walls and the cities of your heart

don’t be so blinded by them

you stop seeing the immensity of the world around

explore your infinite nature instead of taking refuge in your finite one

don’t be so afraid to fly away and get lost

because only when you allow yourself to get lost you discover new things

of a beauty you still ignored

“I then must let go of my anguished nature to discover something else in myself,” slowly said Bilbo. “Well, I will ponder about all this my son. Now you have exhausted me with all your songs. No, it is not your fault, but I feel a bit overwhelmed. I am not used to thinking in this way.” He came forward and kissed Arno on the brow, as to dismiss him.

And Arno wasn’t offended at all. He well-knew that each song needed to be pondered upon and digested, and other people weren’t so used to them as he was. For Arno, understanding and integrating songs had become a second nature. After kissing Shouhimë a goodbye, and inhaling the delightful scent of the dinner she was preparing, Arno walked back home. Along his path he stopped in front of the temple and sat under the old oak tree. There he remembered another song that he sang to himself.

In the country of your dreams

everything is blurred sometimes

when you wander there

you cannot distinguish

your wishes from the truth

One day you will wake up

and everything will be clear around you

and you will understand

your soul had known the truth all along

So everything will be clear one day, but when is that day? Arno wondered. He continued walking around the village, not heading home anymore, but letting his feet lead him. He arrived to the old stone bridge above the Iyë’s River, that used to be a place of wilderness. It still was but the more recent bridge downstream had been enlarged and there were tall buildings that were being built all around with cranes towering over them. Upstream instead he knew that behind the curve of the hill there was the new hydroelectric power plant and the dam mayor Qiroko had built, and the Iyë’s River was a bare trickle now when a few years ago it had flowed so generously. Probably within a few days, when it’d rain, it would stream with a renewed vigour, but right then its waters seemed anaemic and it saddened Arno. He looked downstream again, at the cloud of smoke the chimney of the oil power plant Qiroko had built, and Arno winced. Behind the chimney, he could see the top of huge ships that had thrown their anchor in the port, and he saw a couple of other ships out in the open sea. There was nothing to rejoice about, but the upcoming storm. Arno looked again at the river, and for a moment its lazy waters seemed yellow. And something ticked into his mind and he remembered words he had heard long ago.

A yellow river

connects all the towns of earth

it flows in a whisper

and sings of one place to another

you can drop yourself there

and to the current flow surrender

travelling where your mind has never been

whence only your heart dared dream

For a split second, Arno asked himself what would happen if he threw himself in the river. There wasn’t enough water for him to drown, and he’d probably just hurt his body. He tried to think of how his parents would react if he died there, but a wave of shame rose into him. He was having such bad thoughts because he still held a grudge against them for having shattered the warmth and stability in which he lived as a child. He was very nostalgic of the times when everybody was merry and happy around him, and when they spent countless hours chatting and laughing in the garden with his grandparents and the rest of his family. But year after year he had lost little pieces of this heaven, some had been taken away by death, other by changed feelings, and others still by time and distance, as he had not seen certain of his uncles and aunts and cousins for years now since they lived in Minë’s province. Who remained to him now? A lonely Mounyë. And from the other side Shouhimë and Bilbo, and Wardo who hardly laughed and joked since his brother had passed away. And his grandparents from Iyë he rarely saw. But, could he continue being upset with his parents? Would he go as far as throwing himself into the river to avenge himself, and cause them a pain equivalent to the one they were causing him? But, Arno thought, it isn’t even their own fault, and he remembered the tenderness and the quiet understanding that had flowed between Bilbo and Mounyë the last day of their life together. And he felt a shiver in his heart.

And suddenly he remembered again of the girl of his dream, and he felt very, very stupid. Throwing himself when she was waiting for him somewhere in the world. It would be absurd. And Arno felt a deep longing to be embraced again by her, to feel whole and entirely loved and accepted and understood. But where was she, Arno wondered, where was she. How could he find her. And this thought brought back some hopelessness into his heart. Yet, he now felt somehow reinforced, and he felt a sliver of his memory of the girl of his dream present within his heart, and he walked back home having abandoned part of his gloominess in the river.

Arno arrived home. Mounyë was preparing the dinner, and he sat with her in the kitchen proposing to help her. But she replied she was almost done, and now only had to stir the rice with vegetables she had prepared from time to time. She disappeared into the bathroom and Arno remained in the kitchen on his own.

They then started eating in silence. After a while, Arno asked his mother about her day.

“It was fine,” she said.

“You seem exhausted,” said Arno, not liking the note of accusation he heard in his own words.

“Why, do I look so bad?” she complained.

“You are often in a bad mood lately.”

“It’s not true,” Mounyë said, and her face closed itself a little more. She was starting to sulk, and Arno hated that. He hated eating in front of a stone statue, when he craved for the tenderness and the laughter of his mother.

Again, Arno felt he was about to be needlessly provocative, but he could not restrain his words. “Did you see Qiroko today?”

“Is it your father that is asking you to interrogate me?”

Mounyë’s words hurt Arno because they were untrue and unfair. “You’re wrong about father. He’s very quiet… and sad.”

Mounyë shrugged and continued eating in silence.

“Why don’t you reply to me?” said Arno.

“Yes, I saw Qiroko.”

“How did it go?”

“Well.”

“Why don’t you tell me more?”

“Why? Because you’re judging me all the time. You don’t like that I see Qiroko.”

“I’m not judging you. I’m just trying to understand you.”

“Arno, I know I’ve caused a lot a pain to you and to your father. And believe me, I think of it day and night and I feel this pain too. But sometimes life doesn’t go in the direction you wish.”

“I know mother…”

“I am trying to do my best, but it is not easy.” And tears started rolling on his mother’s cheeks. “It’s not easy at all.”

“I understand mother, but please talk to me, don’t close yourself like that.”

“I cannot tell you all what goes through in me. I have a lot of grief. You and your father think I am a monster, but I am not… I am not…” Mounyë was now sobbing.

Arno rose from his chair and embraced her. “I love you mother, please tell me what you are feeling.” But while saying these words, he still felt this note of judgement deep inside of him saying, if only .

“Now I cannot… Perhaps on another day.”

Mounyë abruptly rose and she went toward her room. Arno heard her shutting the door. She would cry there before coming back to do the dishes. Arno finished eating his dinner on his own, and he felt very grim and at the same time sad and upset with his mother who was behaving so childishly.

Later that night a gale started blowing, and early the next morning thunderstorms darkened the sky and outpoured streams of water over the land and the sea. As Arno heard the howling wind and the splatter of rain, he felt a part of himself quieting down, and he just decided to push his mother out of his thoughts for a moment. While heading to school under the rain, he remembered a song that felt as an echo of the storm that was raging over his head.

And the winds of anger rise again

and they slap you in the face

you have not honoured your words

they scream in your ears

you have been a traitor to your oath

oh miserable man, miserable woman of Falnë

you have chosen the way of lies and weakness

instead of being brave and truthful

as you ought to be

and you have brought the world we knew to an end

causing the destruction and the loss of so much beauty

May the wrath of heaven fall upon you

may you repent bitterly of the choices you’ve made

and may you and your sons and your grandsons

suffer without respite until the wrong you have wrought

is set and repaired and the glory of our nation restored

One day, as Arno arrived at school with his mother, a man came to greet them. “My love,” the man whispered winking and bowing in direction of Mounyë. After a moment of surprise, Arno recognized Qiroko, the mayor of Tinë. “Will you pass by my office up there Arno this afternoon after school?” Qiroko pointed in the direction of a nearby building, “I’d like to discuss with you for a moment. Just knock at the door if it is closed.”

Arno wondered what could be Qiroko’s business with him, and he started to imagine all sorts of things. But he felt he had no other option but nodding to the request of the mayor, especially that he had been very polite to him.

“Good,” Qiroko said, and he turned around and vanished. Arno looked toward his mother and he saw Mounyë smiling like he had not seen her for years. There was a sort of youthful happiness and pride in that smile.

“Why does he want to see me mother?” Arno asked, scowling despite his mother’s mirth. He did not like the idea of meeting with Qiroko.

Mounyë’s usual air of thoughtfulness returned on her face. “I don’t know my love. Try being nice and polite to him because he’s not a bad man.”

“I will try to,” grunted Arno.

“I don’t want to be disappointed by you.”

Arno shrugged. This mayor was unnerving him more and more. Wherever he went, there were signs of his presence. The village that was becoming a town. All the new buildings and factories he had built and was building. The Vilnens warplanes that often zoomed in the sky. All the noise and the dust and the smoke in the air. And on top of that he had stolen his mother from him and his father. An insufferable man. It was a pity he sounded so polite, thought Arno, otherwise he’d have spit in his face.

All day long Arno nervously waited for his interview with the mayor of Tinë, preparing himself for all sorts of questions he thought Qiroko would ask him. Time was passing very slowly, and Arno barely listened to the classes of physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics he had. He was more interested by history and the study of Falnë language, and these lessons went faster.

After school, Arno crossed the courtyard slowly, looking at the thousands of tiny clouds in the sky. The fall was already well-advanced, but it had rained only twice, and the weather was much warmer than it should be. Arno was still in long sleeve shirt without sweater and coat. Some days were even so warm he still put on his summer clothes. That day, the sun let in a pale, sad light, behind the tiny clouds that were hiding it, and it felt like a refreshing change for Arno. Despite the innumerable clouds, the blueness of the sky was still visible in some places. Would it rain, or would the drought continue? Arno crossed the street and climbed some stairs apprehensively. What was he going to tell to the mayor. After a moment during which he caught his breath and try to struggle against his shyness, Arno knocked on the thick wooden door.

“Come in,” a strong masculine voice said, which Arno recognized as Qiroko’s.

Arno turned the door handle and he came into the mayor’s office that was covered with maps and plans, on his two desks and on the walls. Despite the amount of things the office contained, an impression of neatness prevailed. “I prefer to work here rather than at the communal building,” Qiroko said, “especially when I want to be entirely focused. There they pass half their days drinking acorn coffees.”

Arno nodded.

“Beyond these considerations, I am here much closer to where your beautiful mother is.”

Arno still didn’t say anything, trying to embarrass the mayor with his silence. But it didn’t seem to work because Qiroko continued speaking as though Arno were actively participating to the conversation.

“Mounyë showed me your school grades, and you really are a gifted student.” Qiroko leafed through a sheaf of papers. “What age are you now?”

“I’m thirteen year old.”

“Good. It means that in two years and a half you will be done with school and ready to start preparing your career. What do you plan on doing?”

Arno hesitated for a moment. “I don’t really know yet.”

Qiroko raised his hand. “That’s normal, son. That’s normal. You’re still young. But I have an offer to make you. Tinë will need brilliant men in the upcoming years to complete its transformation from a lost village in the middle of nowhere to a thriving town and capital of free Falnë. Tinë will need individuals like you Arno. Individuals capable of thinking with their own heads, and with a certain foresight.”

Qiroko looked at Arno’s face searching for his eyes, and Arno gave an uncommitting nod.

“I can see you are very clever and quite understand my words. Tinë will need engineers and town planners and entrepreneurs and politicians. For now I am taking care of all that, but soon the city will grow beyond the work one man can perform. I already work every night till midnight and wake up at five in the morning, and I won’t be able to do more than what I am currently doing.”

Arno was horrified of hearing how much Qiroko worked every day. But, he saw Mounyë too, right? So he wasn’t working all day long after all, and if Arno had been blunter, he’d have suggested Qiroko to stop seeing his mother to dedicate even more time for his work. But Arno just nodded silently, not in agreement, but simply to show the mayor he was listening to and understanding his words.

“Helyë is now under Moustadiri occupation. The young men and women of Tinë cannot go to the university there anymore, and I need to offer them an alternative. I’ve negotiated with the Vilnens and they’re going to take every year a dozen of students from Tinë, granting them a scholarship to pay for all their expenses. I want to ensure myself that the students who are selected truly deserve this opportunity, and that they will come back to Tinë once their studies are completed, because they will be needed here. Are you still following me boy?”

Arno gave the mayor yet another nod. He felt speaking would already engage him too much, and he’d fall more fully under Qiroko’s control.

“Excellent. I see in you a great potential and talent, and I would like to see you enrol among the students that go to Vilnen in two years and a half. And I’d like you to discuss with me of your future choices so that we can do a road map together and I can advice you, as I’ve myself studied in the northern countries.”

Now Arno couldn’t nod anymore. Discussing his future with Qiroko. What a dreadful thought. Arno tried to think of something to respond, something to show he wasn’t the right candidate for Qiroko.

“I’m interested in history and Old Falnë,” Arno said.

“That’s wonderful my boy. It shows you are a thinker. It’s very important to understand history and notice how cyclic its patterns are, to be able to anticipate the future. I have myself quite a collection of history books,” and Qiroko showed one of the shelves at his back to Arno, “that I could lend you if you are interested. But,” and Qiroko looked again at the papers he had on his desk in front of him, “you are really talented in mathematics and physics, and it would be a shame not to use those talents too.”

“I don’t like mathematics and physics,” said Arno and immediately regretting his words as they sounded childish.

“Oh my boy, I’m sure it will change with time as you grow up. Don’t worry about it now. When you will see all the practical applications to the boring theories you learn at school, you will become much more enthusiastic. By the way, I’m planning to change the way teaching is delivered to children, because the school is now hardly adapted anymore to Tinë’s needs. Within a couple of years, the school program will resemble much more that of the northern countries.”

“I’m not sure I want to go study in Vilnen,” Arno said. “I don’t even know if I will go to university after school.”

“You are still young, son. You have time to come to reason, not to waste all this potential you’ve got. Now I’m sure my words will make their effect on you. Just give them some time to seep in. I too was a stubborn, ignorant little boy at your age.”

Qiroko, a little boy? That thought seemed somehow strange to Arno, and suddenly words started flowing all at once to his mind. He had a split second to stop and trap them, but he just let them flow. If he started blocking the songs because he was in Qiroko’s presence, then Arno felt he would bend to each and every desire of the mayor. And words came out of his mouth, as a proud act of resistance.

In you there is a trapped child

it tries to speak out its mind

and to move your heart

but you often behave as an irremovable tree

you don’t listen to its cries and its shrills and its laughs

and you start shouting at him

and strangling him

if he ever gets too annoying

As long as your inner child is muzzled

happiness will elude you

and your dreams shall remain chimeras

Your inner child has all the answers you seek

and you are looking for in the wrong places

For a moment silence all your thoughts and your fears

and try to listen again to the voice of your Dream

what is it you truly want of life

what is it that gives you pure joy

what is it that makes you happy to wake up every morning

what is it that makes you truly yourself

Only the day you will free your inner child

will you become the goddess and the god you were born to be

For a moment, silence filled Qiroko’s office. And Arno’s inward smile started to light his face, and his lips slightly curved and parted. He could feel that his song had disconcerted the talkative mayor, and that felt like a small victory in itself.

After a while, Qiroko seemed to regain his composure. “Well, well, well, my boy, gifted indeed. Your mother had not informed me of the variety of your talents. Let me congratulate you on how well-groomed you are, and also tell you two hard things that are unfortunately the reality of our world. Don’t imagine that you could ever earn your living singing songs, or fishing like your father does. Times are becoming more and more difficult. In five, ten, fifteen years Tinë will be a sprawling industrial city. There will be hundreds of thousands of inhabitants here. Do you think that there will still be enough fish to catch for everyone? Of course not, the city will need workers, engineers, doctors, politicians, bankers. Traditional crafts and agriculture are all doomed to disappear, as they already have in other countries of the world. Instead of a hundred farmers each cultivating his small piece of land, you will have one person owning all their lands and using tractors and other mechanical means to double the current production. Instead of a tailor cutting a few clothes each month, there will be factories producing dozens of shirts every day. Otherwise son, how do you want me to clothe and feed all the people who will live in Tinë? Go anywhere in the world, and you will discover that my words are true. Only Falnë has resisted progress and development. And look where it led us? Our country is on the verge of being completely conquered by the Moustadiris. This is not a soft world where we are living in, and if we want to survive son, we need to be strong, we need to take decisions, to embrace progress and each opportunity on our path. Ideally, I would love to maintain some singers and artists like monarchs did in times of old. But I am not a monarch,” Qiroko laughed, “and I absolutely don’t have a faln to waste. Everything needs to be useful and productive if I want Tinë to survive. It’s great that you have so many talents son, but you need to use your head to decide which ones you need to pursue for your career, and which ones will remain nice hobbies. Understood my boy?”

Arno shook his head. He felt that Qiroko was getting impatient and nervous. Their interview had already taken more time than he had planned, but Arno had not liked at all the sound and feel and taste of the mayor’s words and he’d surely not capitulate just to please him. Unheard words started flowing to Arno’s throat, and he let them out.

Century after century the darkness grows

and one day the world you will perceive around you

will only be a shadow of what you call reality

Then, your imagination, only your imagination

will be able to show you the world as it truly is

His poems were responding in a beautiful way to Qiroko’s words, Arno realized. At the height of his thirteen year, he could not argue with Qiroko directly. But Old Falnë was with him, Old Falnë was helping him, and Arno suddenly felt very grateful for the potency and the light the words of his forefathers brought within him.

“You are incorrigible my boy,” exclaimed Qiroko. “Now I’ve wasted enough time on you. My offer will remain valid until you are sixteen. Take the time you need to mature all what I have told you. Now I have other things to tend to, goodbye.”

Arno went out Qiroko’s office holding himself a little straighter. He had resisted to the mayor, and it had not been easy at all. One part of him knew that it was a draw more than a victory, because some of Qiroko’s words were already starting to dent against his ideas and to poison the wells of his heart. The worldview Qiroko had called realistic was in fact extremely depressing to Arno, and he could not accept such thoughts. And yet, everything around him showed that Qiroko was right. Just at that moment, two cars passed Arno on the road. A boat filled with cars had arrived a month before in the harbour, and there were more cars on the streets by the day. The cars that had been brought to Tinë were already well-used and worn, very old models that were in fashion some thirty years ago people said. But they were sold at a cheaper price than a healthy donkey and many people could not resist the curiosity and pride of buying their first cars. And Qiroko had arranged things for cars to be sold in the mountain towns too, so that soon all these villages would be better connected with Tinë. The hand of the mayor was in everything Arno saw or thought, and it was starting to become unnerving.

The same night, Mounyë came home and said she was proud of him. Qiroko had told her that her son was a very clever boy with a lot of potential, if only he grew up to polish his stubbornness. Arno nodded and grunted. He had heard and seen enough of Qiroko for the day, and he barely spoke during the dinner to avoid saying something provocative about Mounyë’s lover and upset her again, and then Arno retreated to the quietness of his room where he could think in peace. Even when he didn’t say anything, he felt that his silent judgements were still weighing down on Mounyë’s mood, and Arno wondered if she wouldn’t be happier if she lived with Qiroko, and he went to live with Bilbo. But his heart ached at this thought, and he felt a mixture of guilt and love for his mother. He remembered how much he liked when she was smiling and laughing and telling funny stories. He recollected how much he loved being stroked in her arms, or simply being in the kitchen with her when both were in a good mood. And Arno wondered if he’d ever retrieve this simple complicity with her, and he thought that indeed life was not a pleasant business as Qiroko had said. But Qiroko’s words were bad for him, they made him feel stung in the heart and sick in the stomach, and Arno tried to think of something else.

After he had sat in his bed putting some cushions behind his back, a song came to his mind and he hummed it to himself.

On the borders of your heart

a river flows

and separates you from

the wilderness of mountains

Have you ever wished to cross the river

and go explore those unknown lands

Have you ever dreamt to be fearless

and do all what you truly wanted to

Only beyond the river of your fears

will you find answers to your queries

only in the mountains

will you discover the strength you seek

And suddenly Arno felt he knew what he needed to do. It had been two years he didn’t see anything novel, didn’t visit any new place since his trip to Iyë when he was eleven years old. He needed to go somewhere, discover another part of Falnë. Helyë. He felt a very strong desire to go to Helyë. But Helyë was occupied by the Moustadiris, he thought glumly. What about the wild east then, Arno wondered. He knew very little about Hinë’s region that was even more backward and undeveloped than Tinë’s province was. He tried to call a song to his consciousness to guide him in some way, and after a moment Arno started humming again, but he soon felt very frustrated because the Ummyë plain was occupied by the Moustadiris too.

The plains of Ummyë are a great, great garden

where water flows down from mountains

filling rivers and marshes and lakes

giving life to its fields and its herds and its fishes

The clouds come from over the Hië mountains

distant greetings from the ocean that cannot be seen

Where the land is the driest and the bulkiest

sheltered from the whims of watercourses

villages are built in a reddish argil brick

crafted from the clay soil all around

The inhabitants of Ummyë spend all their lives

between two sacred mountain chains

bounding and elevating their horizons

behind which the sun rises and sets

In their villages they always keep a boat or two

to travel from place to place without trampling in the mud

and catch some fishes when they pullulate in the summer

as a distant reminder of the times when

their forefathers were valiant sailors of the ocean

Still, there are a few youngsters of Ummyë

who feel the calling of the boundless open sea too strongly in their blood

those will bid farewell to their land and journey to Helyë

where they’ll get aboard the ships of their destiny

Arno took the time to write down the poem about the plains of Ummyë, wondering glumly how he’d find them if he’d see them. The Moustadiris were draining all the water away and throwing all their wastes and refuses there. And they were building new towns to settle colons of their nation. Arno thought again of the refugees of Afrë he had seen at the abandoned village and the songs they had sung and how their children had danced around the fire. Why was he born in such a dark time, Arno wondered. Why couldn’t he be born fifty years or a century before, and enjoy Falnë in all its quietness and its beauty. Why had he to suffer wars and droughts. And why had he such a strange gift that was no longer needed or wanted in the world.

No, that was not true, and Arno knew it. But part of himself was doubting, and he felt in pain. He called again to Old Falnë wisdom, and words glittered before his eyes like tiny gems in the sky.

Clouds are racing up high in the sky

they are all moving toward where the wind carries them

they are messengers of the seas to the land

sit under them or lie in the grass

close your eyes and ask the clouds

what tidings they bring from distant lands

what have they seen and witnessed

and are they so eager to tell

listen to the whispering clouds

for often beyond their jibes and their lies

you will be able to discern truths

and when their shadows move away from the sun

the light of the world will strike your heart

with a renewed intensity

and you will find beauty

where you never had before

This last song quieted Arno, and he fell asleep shortly afterward. He needed to have faith in life and in his gift, even if things seemed quite gloomy right now.

The next morning Arno woke up and as he jumped from his bed to look from his window, he saw it was drizzling outside. Afterwards he had a distant image of a misty town surrounded by water, and he recalled one of the most suggestive songs he had ever heard.

One of the lost cities of Falnë was

a water town at the feet of high mountains

overlooking the ocean from its seat

Several rivers flowed down from the mountains

and the town had been built on their banks

made of several cities interconnected

with bridges and boats and birds

Each of these cities was inhabited

by a different order of wizards and witches

these were the most powerful men and women

who ever lived in the world

With the sole force of their thoughts

they could give a new shape to matter

and within their hearts they could speak to one another

without the need for words and even at great distance

These witches and wizards had built Isplendorië

with their own crafts, and each part of the town

looked different from the other

some neighbourhoods were built in quarried stones

while others were built in wood

sometimes using piles over one of the river, or floating directly on the water

there were parts of the city dug into the rock and under the riverbeds

and other places were grown within living forests and grottos

and there was so much more that words cannot tell

Isplendorië was a town of wonders

and you could get lost there for days

However as the world started changing

Isplendorië like so many other places

was hidden from the eyes of men

and its lore was lost in the graves of our forefathers

Arno would have loved to visit a place like Isplendorië. A place that would make him dream, and keep him dreaming. It was the first time a song came to him almost under the form of a vision. Before starting to hum its words, he had seen from afar a water town drowned in the mist. Arno had somehow the feeling that Isplendorië lied in the little known east of Falnë.

What did the song mean when it told that many places had been hidden from the eyes of men, Arno wondered. He had already heard about lost cities of Falnë and he tried to sieve his memory to find who had spoken about them.

It suddenly came back to his mind. Zerto. The man Arno had met in Bennië when he was riding toward Iyë with Boutro. It was Zerto who had spoken about something lost, and Arno could not recall exactly what. Since Arno couldn’t go to Helyë, nor to Ummyë, and even less to Isplendorië that had been taken away from the world, he thought that returning to Zerto could be quite an interesting alternative. Besides, Arno remembered that Zerto had called after him telling him to come back one day. The time to see Zerto again had perhaps come, but how would he go to Bennië, Arno wondered. Would he have to wait for Boutro annual expedition in the next spring and a find donkey for himself. But that wouldn’t work as Arno’s spring vacations were much shorter than when he was younger, and he’d have examinations to prepare.

That evening when Arno visited his father, he told him about his encounter with Qiroko and about his project to go see Zerto in Bennië. In a way the two things were related. The discussion with Qiroko had triggered a need to understand better his gift in Arno, and he explained it in this way to his father. At first, Bilbo was indignant about how the mayor had decided to interfere in his son’s life. Who was this Qiroko to think he knew it better than everybody else? Bilbo was also very upset with what Qiroko had said about the lack of future for fishermen. Arno knew which reactions his story would produce in his father, and he told it in a clever way, starting by what would anger him and ending by how well he had confronted the mayor. Also, Arno was careful to tie the fate of fishermen and peasants and storytellers, because he wanted his father to be from his part. He needed Bilbo to see storytelling as more than a mere hobby and to respect his son’s wishes to explore his gifts.

But Bilbo was pretty easy going about his son’s choices. As long as Arno earned his life honestly, as long as he practiced his craft with love, it was fine to him. And when Bilbo heard about the way Arno had resisted the mayor, he became even enthusiastic to hear that his son wanted to visit this mountain man, Zerto. Bilbo kissed Arno on his forehead and told him he was very proud of him, and he encouraged him to continue doing only what he felt was right and not to give in to the pressures of other persons. Bilbo also told him he’d always support him, whatever were his choices.

When Arno worried about when he would go to the mountain, Bilbo told him he knew a man from Bennië who used to have a donkey and come down several times per year to Tinë, and that man always passed by Bilbo to buy him some salted fish. Now, Bilbo had seen the man twice in a month, and had learnt that the man had bought himself a car, allowing him to cover the distance between Tinë and Bennië not in two or three days, but in a few hours. Bilbo promised Arno he’d talk with the man the next time he’d see him and arrange everything for his trip.

In the meanwhile, Arno went to visit his great uncle Wardo he hadn’t seen for a long time. Wardo lived in the same house than Arito, when he was still alive and at the lower floor of their house was the apothecary. The apothecary was situated in the innermost street that crossed the village from west to east, in the continuation of the stone bridge over the Iyë River to its other extremity where one’s could take the roads to Iyë and Hinë. That day, Arno walked very slowly in this street, and he looked closely at every detail. It was there that all the shops and stores and crafts of the old part of Tinë were located. He smelled at the scent of baking dough that came out from the bakery. Nowadays, sometimes his mother sent him get fresh flat bread in the morning. He looked at the shoemaker who was working alone in his narrow, dusty shop. All the shoes Arno had had come from there. In a shop a bit further several women were sewing and weaving colourful clothes that they dyed themselves. Another shop close to theirs sold different sorts of fabric made of cotton and wool and silk. From the other side of the street was the main grocery of the village where Bilbo brought his fish to be sold. The grocery sold of all sorts of vegetables and legumes and fruits and cheese and meat that came from the nearby orchards and fields and farms, but also some products that came from the mountains. A woman sat behind a small desk while a man was bustling around the place, and two children were sitting outside and eating candies. The grocery also sold pieces of ice that let some water drip in a basin underneath and candles and matches and tobacco and pipes and many other objects that made Arno dream. Close to it was another shop that sold spices and liquors and all sorts of syrups and another shop held by the same family had pyramids of squared soaps and perfumes and essential oils that smelled of laurel and lavender. A bit further in the street, and closer to the Iyë’s river were the carpenter and the blacksmith and the dyer shops. There was also a glass blower who sold all sorts of vases and jars and jugs. Many were transparent, but there were also some that were made of blue and turquoise and green and yellow and brown and red glass and Arno always marvelled when he passed in front of the glass blower shop. Close to it was the potter who instead of working the sand and the glass worked the clay and made all sorts of beautiful jugs and pots. Some were painted while others were in raw earthenware. Before that day, Arno had never realized how much he loved this street that contained all of Tinë’s craftsmanship and tradition. It wasn’t a busy street, and there rarely were more than one or two customers in every shop. Half the times there were none. But this allowed the craftsmen and craftswomen to work quietly. Without being busy, the main street of Tinë was alive. There were all sorts of scents and noises and colours and wares that the eye of the wanderer caught. Arno walked very slowly, stopping in front of every shop. Some shop owners saluted him and he waved back to them, making them understanding he was just passing and didn’t need their attention or their help. On the way back, a song sprouted from Arno’s lips, and he hummed it quietly to himself.

When for a moment the light of the sun

is subdued by a passing cloud

the colours of sceneries around you change

the forest where you are walking becomes darker

the texture of meadows and mountains and clouds

grows more velvety

and your gaze is drawn to details

you had never noticed before

At the end, Arno found himself in front of the apothecary. He gave one last look to the bakery from the other side of the street where he saw behind the glass piles of flat bread covered with salty or sugary garnitures. The ones Arno could distinguish were seasoned with thyme and rosemary and olive oil from one side, and honey and carob molasses from the other side. On a second thought, Arno went in and asked three breads with molasses that he paid with a faln he drew out from his pocket. The baker smiled to him and asked him to say hello to his parents. Then Arno crossed the street and entered into the apothecary dusk where shelves upon shelves covered with small coloured glass bottles and jars. Arno saluted Pino, the young apothecarist who used to be his great uncle’s apprentice and asked him if he wanted a molasses bread. Pino thanked him. Then Arno climbed the narrow stone stairs that were dug within a wall and he arrived to the second floor where Wardo now lived on his own. He knocked on the door that was ajar to announce his presence, and he pushed it open. Wardo came to greet him and made an effort to seem cheerful, but Arno could well-sense his smiles weren’t entirely genuine. They came in the living room that was an absurd mess with ashtrays covered with pipe ashes and piles of paper and books and clothes and greasy plates and empty bottles everywhere. Wardo winked at Arno and started bustling around to put some order, taking away the clothes, the plates and the bottles, while humming a jibe. From time to time he stopped and played a few notes of his velkyr to accompany his words.

When the old man finds himself alone

little does he care about what he eats and where he sits

little does he mind about how he clothes and how good he smells

So great is his grief it obscures everything else

the taste of food and the scent of perfumes

are no comfort to him any longer

Why try charming the pretty woman’s eyes and nostrils

when he has already passed the decent age to be a lover

Even the wine has lost its charm

to his tired palate and seasoned throat

and he kills the time that separates him from his last journey

a pipe in his mouth and a velkyr on his lap

playing tunes no one wants to listen to

At the end, Wardo had cleared enough of the couches and the table to sit down, and as Arno gave him a molasses bread Wardo opened the door of the stairs and called to Pino to get three lemonades from the juice seller.

“My boy, to what does your old uncle owes your visit?”

It was hard to tell with Wardo if he was jesting, or if he had been hurt by Arno’s lack of attention.

“I’m sorry not to have come sooner great uncle,” Arno said.

A moment later Pino came back with two fresh lemonades for them and Wardo gave him a couple of falns. Pino didn’t want to accept at first, but after Wardo insisted he pocketed the coins.

Arno drank a long sip of the lemonade that was very tasty and perfumed with a little bit of orange blossom.

“How are doing the divorced?”

Arno understood Wardo was referring to his parents. He shrugged. “More or less fine.”

“Don’t you want to tell me more about how it happened?”

Arno looked in another direction, from the window, without replying.

“Oh, I know the old Shouhimë would scold me to ask such indiscreet questions, but you must understand my great-nephew that I am very bored all day long and a little bit of gossip would lift my mood considerably. Don’t you want to please your old uncle?”

Arno shook his hand. “There’s nothing to say, they just preferred to split.”

“Was Mounyë seeing another man? Or is it your saint of a father that hides a scoundrel within?”

Arno became very red. “You’re wrong,” he lied, “drop this matter, or I’m going to leave now.”

“Oh, oh, I have offended you it seems. I thought you would be tougher. If I knew it’d vex you I wouldn’t have spoken about it at all.”

“It’s just hard for me,” Arno explained.

“It’s fine boy, I’m ashamed to myself of having found nothing better than annoying and torturing you.”

And Wardo started singing again.

Beware of the old man who lives alone

he starts to think the skin of everyone else

is as withered and insensitive as his own

and he starts talking out of idleness and boredom

unknowing or uncaring that his stuffy words

are poison and screeches to the ears of others

Wardo sang it twice or thrice before falling silent again, seeming quite pleased with himself, and accompanying his words with his velkyr. “You are quite an inspiration boy. It’s been weeks I’m singing the same tunes, and your visit has brought me some freshness and novelty when I thought nothing could stir me out from my torpor. So now tell me what business brings you my nephew.”

“I’ve had an interview with Qiroko,” and just then, while saying these words Arno bit his cheek and cursed his stupidity.

“You’ve see the mayor?” Wardo asked on a surprised and interested tone.

What to say, how to repair my mistake and not make him suspect the truth, Arno panicked. “Yes I mean he visited us at school, and since he heard me singing a song of Old Falnë he started talking to me.” Arno saw he had caught Wardo’s attention. “He told me that I would surely not be able to earn my living telling stories, and that within a few years all the old crafts would disappear from Tinë because he planned to make it a big city with a lot of industries to feed and clothe all the people.”

Wardo winced at these words, and then he smiled to himself and started singing again and playing the velkyr.

Qiroko has decided to make of Tinë

the navel of the world

the very place that empires lust and covet

the Moustadiris and the Vilnens airforces

are going to meet in a deadly embrace in Tinë’s skies

and there’ll be no poet left to witness and sing of Tinë’s victory

for everyone in Tinë will be busy working in the factories

This is the future mayor Qiroko has designed for us

and we must all bow on his passage

for granting us so many graces and blessings

We must all bow to mayor Qiroko

Children of Tinë and of Falnë

embrace the feet and the hands of your saviour

He who decided the heritage of our forefathers mattered no longer

he who is taking us out of our ignorance and poverty of mind and custom

bow to mayor Qiroko, bow to mayor Qiroko

Wardo winked joyously to Arno. “I wish you’d come more often see me boy. Don’t forget for too long your old decrepit uncle. He’s suspended on your lips to renew his inspiration from your words.”

“I will my uncle,” said Arno. Deep down Wardo was a good fellow, just a little queer. And suddenly Arno imagined himself going on a long journey with Wardo, travelling from town to town, from nation to nation. Wardo would be marvelled by all what he’d see, and he would sing all the way long and make jibes about each thing they encountered.

“Have you ever travelled, great uncle?”

Wardo stopped a moment to think about Arno’s question. “What do you exactly mean by travelling?”

“Well, walk on your own feet, or ride a donkey or a horse, and go from places to places you have never seen before.”

“And if you already know the places you go to, does that count as travelling my nephew?”

Arno shrugged. It seemed to be another of Wardo’s pranks, but he wasn’t getting it this time.

“Then I have not travelled, because I’ve been all my life to the same places.”

“And what about the first time you’ve been to these places?”

“I don’t recall it.”

“You never felt the need to journey and discover new places?”

“I did…” Wardo became very thoughtful for a moment.

Arno felt there was something worth digging. Wardo was after all not laughing at him. He simply seemed… regretful, nostalgic, about something. “Why didn’t you do it then my uncle?”

Wardo’s eyes became very distant for a moment, as though he were recalling a scene. Then he spoke. “My dream was to travel. To become an itinerant musician and sing along the music I played on my velkyr, moving from town to town never stopping for more than few days or few months in each place, visiting the entire world. But instead I lived all my life buried in Tinë. Buried before the time…”

“Why?”

“My mother’s heart was too weak for me to do her that,” a few tears moistened Wardo’s wrinkled cheeks. “I once told my parents about my dream, and I saw them becoming so grim and sad. For days they seemed to mourn me already. I was their youngest son and they hoped I would remain with them in their older days. And besides, I was my mother’s favourite,” Wardo found the way to say that in an almost joking manner, and then his face turned grave again. “No, I felt I could not do that to them. Leave everything and go roam around the world. And my brothers too, I loved them fondly. Especially Arito. We spent all our days together, he picking up plants and I playing my velkyr. It would have been so sad to go and never see them again, or come back only when my parents would be dead and my brothers already old. And I couldn’t just travel around Falnë and come back. I knew adventure was too deeply rooted in my blood for that. If I ever left Tinë, I’d only have returned after years and years.”

And a moment later Wardo retrieved some of his aplomb and improvised a little song for the occasion.

And the son of Tinë left

abandoning his fate

to donkeys’ legs

and ships’ sails

taking him far, far away

where towns have strange names

and people’s faces are of funny colours

and idioms are incomprehensible to the ear

With his music and his voice

Wardo would have bridged all differences

Together with his velkyr, the only member of his only family left

the son of Tinë would have moved kings and throngs

and brought in their eyes

ripples of laughter and tears of sadness

But fate has decided otherwise

and the son of Tinë has let his roots

grow deep into the soil

and away from his family he has never been

and now one after another they have all abandoned him

father, mother and brothers all gone on their own journey

and Wardo has remained on his own

with all the time of the world

to prepare for his last trip

Arno didn’t speak for a moment, letting Wardo recollect his painful memories. It was strange because it was the second time he intuited so clearly something about the past of another person. It had first occurred with Zerto in Bennië, and now it was happening again with his great uncle. And both times, Arno’s intuition was in relation with their gifts, and it went back to a distant, almost forgotten past.

“Do you regret your choice great uncle?” Arno eventually said.

Wardo shrugged, gulping down the rest of his lemonade and lighting himself a pipe, before responding. “That is how life is made I guess. You make choices. Each choice comes with its own joys and its own pains. If I had sailed away, I’d now be singing sad songs about how much I missed my family and my village. That’s how I am made unfortunately. I’ve always been thorn and never been able to take a proper decision in my entire life.”

Wardo drew a few breaths from his pipe that he breathed out in the room, and soon the scent of tobacco tickled Arno’s nostrils. “Did you ever sing Old Falnë songs great uncle?”

Wardo shook his head. “Only Jarido was gifted for that among us. I cannot remember any of these songs. I can’t even remember my own songs to tell you the truth.” And Wardo started coughing because of the smoke.

Arno had noticed his uncle looked older and less healthy since he had last seen him, but now hearing his cough worsened his first impression. “You shouldn’t smoke like that great uncle.”

Wardo shrugged. “It is one of the only pleasures that are left in my life boy. Smoking soothes me and helps me think. Anyway how much longer do you think I have to live?” And Wardo seemed to be saying “not much”.

Arno didn’t know how to reply to that. It saddened him because he didn’t want to lose Wardo too. Slowly, one after another, all the members of his family were disappearing, and it made Arno quite scared and grim. Some of the happiest moments of his childhood had been when all the family gathered in the garden and the holy day mood that floated all around them. Everything had seemed merry at the time, his grandmother bustled in every direction together with his mother and his great aunt to prepare the supper, and they all did it smiling. His grandfather bustled too, bringing out the table and the chairs, laying the tablecloth, picking up some fruits and vegetables from the garden. Everything was alive and had a function. At the time Arito and Wardo had almost seemed young, while they sat down lazily and exchanged pleasantries with other family members. Arito sometimes rose and went around the garden to inspect Jarido’s herbs and bushes and see if he could use any for his pharmacy. And Arno had to worry of nothing at all but playing and running and jumping around the garden and watching colourful butterflies frolic above equally colourful wild flowers. It was not one thing in particular that used to make Arno happy, but the whole atmosphere of these days that he remembered waiting expectantly. And now, year after year, another little piece of his beautiful childhood was dying. It had started with the war with Moustadir and the death of his grandfather. And now the separation of his parents and the disappearance of Arito were another blow, and it seemed like all the family were withering faster. As though Wardo had some of his roots in Arito, and with Arito’s departure he could draw less water from the soil and had less sap of life in his body. Wardo seemed to Arno like an amputated tree. Shouhimë too was slowly getting older, but now she had Bilbo to tend to, and that gave her the strength to continue bustling around the house preparing all sorts of jams and dishes and cakes.

And the evolution of the world seemed to resemble that of Arno’s family. It was fast changing in a way that sounded quite destructive. Soon from what Qiroko had said, the shops and crafts in Tinë’s main street would close their doors because there would be factories working a hundred times faster. Falnë was breaking up and soon what it used to be would be completely wiped off. These perspectives were really daunting in Arno’s heart and he preferred not to think of the future, not to imagine how bad things were going to become, and just focus on the present.

What Wardo had told him had triggered a new resolve in Arno’s heart. He couldn’t be like Wardo. He would never sacrifice his dream for other considerations. Of course he loved Bilbo and Mounyë and wanted to be close to them, but he would never be happy if he did not try fulfilling his dream. Arno still didn’t know very clearly what his dream was, but he could not imagine his future away from Old Falnë’s wisdom and beauty. He could not imagine giving up on his dream as Wardo had done, and slowly withering in a life he didn’t like. Arno tried to chase his fear away telling himself his dream was too strong for him to stray.

Before leaving his great uncle, Arno remembered another song that he sang to him.

When your heart is heavy

all the pain of the world seems yours

and your hands grow so weak

they can’t handle anymore the potency of your gift

you remain helpless and sad

and in your emptiness you pray for time to pass faster

and you try to fill yourself as you can meanwhile

But what you don’t realize, son and daughter of Falnë

is that this pain and this heaviness you feel

are illusions you mistake for realities

you see a darkness in your heart

and you recoil from it in fear

instead of bringing in the light of love

and discovering what you thought ugly shadows

are harmless mists of lack of self-knowledge

When you are feeling low

never forget to wield your gift

don’t let it grow cold and dark and unused

instead make it ablaze with light and fire

and see how it envelops you in a cloak

of warmth and lightness and love

that makes each step you take seem effortless

When he was done, Wardo took his hands, and Arno could read gratitude on his great uncle’s face. Wardo’s hands were warm and wrinkled, and for a moment they reminded Arno of his grandfather’s hands. It was strange to see Wardo behaving so gravely and sentimentally, when he usually took refuge behind a wall of irony. In a way, Arno liked him best in this way, and he felt closer to his great uncle.

“Come back my boy, don’t forget your old uncle in want of company and fresh gossip from the world,” Wardo called after him as Arno was going down the stairs leading to the apothecary. He saluted Pino and pushed the door open, happy to fill his lungs with the fresh afternoon’s air after the stale scent of tobacco that floated about Wardo’s house.

It is only as Arno started walking in the street that he remembered all the times he had come visit his great uncle Arito. The first few times he had been really enthusiastic and in Arito’s company he had felt that he could truly understand the world and perhaps change it. But after his dream with the mysterious girl, Arno had felt misunderstood by Arito who had not shared his enthusiasm and he had started coming less often to visit him, and when he did he had the feeling of visiting a great uncle, and not a friend who truly understood him.

Arno intuited somehow that the girl of his dream was related to his gift of storytelling. He didn’t know exactly how, but he felt she’d be part of his future. And that future seemed bright and warm and luminous, in complete opposition to the future of destruction and gloominess another part of Arno imagined. Which part of him was right, he couldn’t tell. It only depended on his mood. Sometimes he felt that walking on clouds was possible, while at other times he felt weighted down by a mass of lead.

Overall, seeing Wardo had dampened his mood. It had stirred Arno’s fears to lose all his family and his beautiful past. And it had also saddened him for his great uncle who had no longer the motivation to live. Did we live one life as the Religion taught, or did we incarnate over and over until we became conscious and wise as some songs of Old Falnë hinted at, wondered Arno. Would Wardo get other opportunities to fulfil his dreams and travel around the world in another life. Or was he going to die and rest in the afterlife forever. Was the world a place of fairness and love. Or was it more neutral. Or even worse, was it cruel and unfair as it seemed. Why did wars and evilness exist if God was a god of love and had created everything. Yes, he had given free will to men and women. But did free will include the freedom to harm and kill others, spoiling their only chance to live in a physical body. What if Arno died tomorrow. Was he ready to die? No, he wasn’t, and fear sized him at this thought. Would he be fine to rest forever in heaven? That seemed boring and scary. Infinity scared Arno, he could not understand how something existed without a beginning nor an end. But there he’d bathe in love and light, he tried to tell himself, and he would be happy. What did that exactly mean, Arno could not understand. He felt that to be truly happy he needed to do things, he wouldn’t be able to just lie down and rest. Singing songs, telling stories. And being with the girl of his dream. These two things could make Arno happy forever, he felt.

What about the babies and the infants who died very young? What was the meaning of their lives. God turned them in angels because they did not have the time to choose between good and evil. But they did not have the time or the chance to understand who they were. And they would never fall in love and meet the girls of their dreams. That was very sad. Or perhaps God would provide for them everything. But Religion did not speak about that.

What about reincarnation. Arno did not like the idea of dying and forgetting everything about who he was. He did not like the idea of living so many lives in different bodies with different thoughts, without having the control over who he’d become. But from what Arno understood of Old Falnë, each life was somehow better and more fulfilling than the previous one, and your deepest essence and your gifts were always yours, since they were part of your soul that never died. This thought soothed Arno. Even if he died tomorrow, he would perhaps reincarnate in another person, and he would continue singing the songs of his heart. But, would he retrieve the girl of his dream too? What if he reincarnated into a woman, and what about the age difference. The thought of losing the girl of his dream made Arno sick. It was a horrible feeling. As bad as the fear of death. Worse perhaps. But Arno remembered another song of Old Falnë he had sung, and he read it again in his notebook. It said that one day each person would meet his or her betrothed whose spirit stemmed from the same soul. And Arno felt that the girl of his dream was the other part of himself that was missing, and he felt an aching longing for her. The song also said that only when the soul became mature enough did the meeting with the betrothed occurred. And that considerably reassured Arno. It resonated deeply within him. He was an old soul, he had lived many times and he had grown more and more into his gift. That was why it was so developed and he gave it so much importance. Arno knew deep within him what was the true essence of his soul, and he intended to bring it out at the surface to light the world around him and counter all the ugly things that were being wrought with beauty and love and wisdom.

The same night, Arno was having dinner with Mounyë, and he was judging her in his heart as he had grown accustomed to, when inspiration stroked him suddenly and he said the short poem he remembered out loud in front of her.

When you are looking at people

imagine the true faces of their inner children

imagine when their truths will light them from within

imagine the joy you will then feel

Mounyë stroked the back of Arno’s head with a tenderness she had not shown him for long, and Arno kissed her on her cheek with an equal fondness. He could see how tired and weary and anguished his mother was. And beyond that there was something beautiful and childlike and smiling in her. This part of her was quite hidden nowadays under layers of problems and make-up on her face, but still, Arno could sense it, and he tried to focus on that part of her.

“How did you decide to become a schoolteacher mother?” Arno asked.

Mounyë shrugged. “I always liked to read and learn best. I didn’t enjoy much helping my father with tilling the soil and breeding the sheep, and it was only slightly better helping my mother salt the meat and prepare jams and all sorts of provisions all year round. So I told myself I needed to find myself something to do that’d be as far as possible from all that. And I thought I could share all what I learnt, and I became a schoolteacher.”

“And do you like what you do now?”

“It depends on days. Children can be very tiring when they don’t want to learn. If I had had the courage, I’d have preferred to study at university and then become a teacher there. But at the time I didn’t know how frustrating it would be with children.”

“Really mother, what would you have liked to teach at university?”

“Geology, and perhaps biology too,” said Mounyë. “That’s why I really want you to think of what Qiroko has told you about my love. I really want your best, and you’re so clever it’d be a pity not to do serious studies. Afterwards you will regret it if you don’t seize this opportunity.”

Arno nodded, trying to be compliant with his mother, at least in appearances. It bit at his heart to hear she wasn’t very happy of her current life as a schoolteacher, even if he somehow knew that already.

As they finished eating the dessert that consisted in a sour apple with a little of carob molasses, Mounyë cleared the kitchen and she then sat in the living room to knit. As Arno passed in front of her, he looked at her expression, engrossed on her needle and the pattern she was stitching on the cloth she had finished sewing, and she seemed much more peaceful and relaxed than she usually was. And then suddenly Arno wondered if Mounyë would have been truly happy as a university teacher. He imagined the university as a bustling place of stress that produced men like Qiroko. After all, perhaps Mounyë would be the happiest if she just could knit all day long giving free reign to her fantasy in the shapes and the patterns she created, Arno told himself.

At that moment, Arno remembered another song that he hummed to himself, but Mounyë did not raise her head from the work she was doing, and Arno didn’t know if she had heard his words or not.

There are as many gifts as there are men and women in the world

yet times will come when you will believe that there are no such things are gifts

or that there are only a few sorts of gifts

and that only a few men are gifted

but know that this is not true, sons and daughters of Falnë

there are several levels of depths in life

and the more you explore the depths of your spirit

the closer you come from uncovering and awakening your gift

if you still ignore what your gift is

it means you still live in the outer layers of your potential

once you understand what your soul’s dream is

it signifies you have grown wise enough to wield your gift at your own will

and you have discovered how unique and precious an individual you were

As always, Old Falnë words warmed Arno’s heart. They always deeply resounded within him even when he felt he did not understand them entirely.

It was a day at the end of fall that Arno finally went to visit Zerto in Bennië. This time Arno did not ride a donkey, but instead travelled in car. It was the man who often bought salted fish from his father who conducted him. His name was Hamiro, and he seemed a good-natured fellow. He did conversation all along the way to Arno, exclaiming how marvellous it was to finally be able to buy fresh fish instead of salted fish, since he could do the trip in a few hours instead of several days. Arno couldn’t truly rejoice for the man as his thoughts went to the additional pollution the car engendered and to the noise it did and how it scared wild animals that lived in the forest. He had seen images of countries where literally thousands and thousands of cars were clotting all roads and highways producing dark smoke in which cities choked. And part of Arno was afraid the same would soon happen in Tinë as cars seemed to multiply themselves lately.

During his trip in the car, Arno grew dizzy and nauseous because of all the curves of the road that was going up and down hills, and he remembered the first time he had ridden with Boutro, visiting one village after another. He thought of Marië and Dihiro, the two kids he had met the night Boutro had told the story about Fië and the palm tree, and he wondered how they were doing. Despite having seen them only once, and the two years and a half that had passed, he still thought of them with a feeling of friendship. Arno also remembered the beauty of Artië, the down that was half dug and half built in the rock, and the Fireliyë forest that had seemed quite old and mysterious. In truth, Arno had missed a lot travelling and discovering new places. There was all a magic in that which lacked in his everyday life. And it wasn’t at all the same thing to travel in the car. It was making him sick and he could barely enjoy the landscapes behind the glass. He felt completely separated from nature and from his source of life, and he didn’t remember any song along the way, while two years and a half ago he had remembered a song for the first time of his life. At last they arrived in Bennië, and Hamiro parked his car in front of the small grocery he held. He also had a large field covered with apple and cherry and apricot and walnut and mulberry trees and some grape vines too, and he kept some fowls and sheep and pigs he had proudly told to Arno.

Once Arno stepped out the car, he felt like he was breathing again. And it wasn’t the ocean’s breeze, but the mountain air and Arno inhaled it with delight. He had not realized how much he had missed the mountains and how happy he was to be back. He felt like jumping and frolicking around the village and running into the fields. It was a rather cool afternoon of the end of fall for Arno who was used to Tinë’s mildness, but as Hamiro had repeated all along the road, this was a weather of the beginning of fall, and the soil had barely received enough rain in the usually rainy mountains. Arno loved the sight of the high hills towering over the town. Bennië was built on a plain at the feet of the highest mountains. In one direction Arno looked and he knew that beyond an oak forest in a deep valley flowed the Iyë River, and a small stone bridge allowed to cross it at the bottom of the valley, and then the road to Iyë went up and down hills overlooking the lake, and Arno thought with fondness to his maternal grandparents and their little village. But now Arno had come to see Zerto and he intended to make the most of this encounter. Arno thanked Hamiro, agreeing that one week afterwards they’d meet again and he’d drive him back to Tinë. Then Arno walked to Zerto’s house and he knocked at the door.

Zerto opened the door after a moment, and he seemed lost. “Hello my boy, can I do something for you?”

“Don’t you recognize me?” Arno said with a hint of apprehension. “Two years ago I slept one night here with Boutro, and I sang of Old Falnë, and you told me to come back one day to hear all your knowledge about it.”

An expression of understanding and joy dawned on Zerto’s face. “Yes, of course, I remember! Remind me of your name boy?”

“Arno.”

“Right, Arno, come in. Boutro has already passed but a few days ago. He’s going down the coast to hibernate during the winter.”

They went in and Zerto invited Arno to sit down on cushioned carpets around a low table. Zerto’s living room was still a mess, with barrels and sacks and jars and crates all in disarray. While Zerto bustled in the kitchen, for he had not forgotten hospitality duties this time, Arno looked with curiosity at the content of a huge earthenware jar. It was filled with a liquid that looked oily and was of a greenish darkish colour. Arno smelled it, and he recognized the scent of olive oil. He resisted the temptation to plunge a finger into the oil to see its colour in the light and taste it, and he placed back the cap that was made of heavy wood on the top of the jar. Then Arno tried to guess what was inside some of the barrels and the sacks but they were well-closed and he didn’t dare to open them. They probably contained different sorts of grains and flours and dried fruits from the harvest.

Afterwards, Zerto came back with a tray covered with flat bread and a jar of honey and some goat cheese and a bowl of green olives.

“I hope you’re staying a bit longer this time,” said Zerto.

“I’m staying for one week, if that’s not too long for you,” said Arno, “because that’s when Hamiro will return to Tinë.”

“I was just wondering how you came. So it was Hamiro who drove you up.”

Arno nodded.

“For once the fat grocer does something clever.”

“Why, don’t you like him?”

“I live everyone. But I’m just tired of the foolishness of people, and he’s amongst the most idiots. The ones who go around and brag about their silliness. Does it surprise you that he’s going to participate to the next municipal elections in Bennië?”

Arno shook his head and laughed. It was true that Hamiro had something of the politician in his talkativeness. But he had seemed much more likable than Qiroko to Arno. “He regularly buys fish to my father,” Arno explained, “by the way my father is a fisherman.”

“That is an activity I most respect,” said Zerto. “I admire all the people who work the land, and those who create with their hands, and those who earn their living through the ways of nature like your father. I respect the people who go honestly about their trade, without constantly trying to make themselves more important than they are. These people end up trampling on the freedom of other people, because once they climb a rung they start craving for the next one, and they are satisfied only when they have climbed the entire ladder and they stand there on its top. And they ask of all their countrymen to hold the ladder for them, to support the burden of their actions.”

Arno nodded. “What do you do for a living Zerto?”

“Ah that is another story my boy. That is another story. I do a lot of things, and very few things, if you understand what I mean.” Arno remained silent, and eventually Zerto explained himself. “I unfortunately had no calling for one of the honest trades and activities I told you about. I could not be a carpenter because I would end up cutting my own hand instead of the timber. I have not the patience for farming and having to till the soil every season. Of course I had not the precision and the fingering needed to do works of precisions, such as being an apothecarist or a craftsman. I could perhaps do the peddler like our friend Boutro, but I am weak of constitution and it tires me to constantly travel. See how sturdy he is, and how skinny I am, I don’t have the build for that. That excludes herding too. Since ever I had a calling to learn and listen carefully to all kinds of stories and news and customs and register them. I recall when I was your age, I already tried to make sense of everything. I wanted to understand the bird and the tree and the stream and the stars and also men and their history. A logical outcome of such a pursuit is teaching you will tell me. And I tried to teach. But neither children nor parents had my patience. They want a teacher who will spoon feed their babies and only prepare them for the final examination, nothing less, nothing more, nothing different. I, of course, could not be that man they needed. I taught during some years, but I wanted children to think on their own. I took them to walk outdoors and look at rocks and grass and flowers and bees to understand them. They liked that part actually. But then I asked from them to try describing all what they had seen, and I spoke to them of something else, and I wanted them to make new links between things. I lost most of the kids into that, and they told their parents my classes were strange, and all my countrymen started asking me to be more pragmatic, to tailor my lessons for kids their age and not think myself a university teacher. I tried then to follow the books and programs the other teachers used, but this time I could not cope with it myself. I wanted to rewrite these books to make them more suitable and fill in their grave deficiencies. These books did not teach students to think by themselves. I think you must have noticed it yourself at school, since you’re a clever boy. These books just made children memorize formulas and names and concepts, without giving them a chance to discover these things by themselves, by looking at nature and looking into themselves. I tried to speak to the other teachers and show them the fallacies of their lessons, but they laughed at me and told me it had been decades the academic program had been the same in all Falnë. Who was I, Zerto Bennië, to come and decree that all the teachers of the country were doing a bad job and pretend I knew a better way of doing things. I had not even done a formation to teach after finishing school at sixteen, and I was far from having a university degree despite my pretension to be at that level. I had clearly offended the other teachers. They recognized I was clever, but thought me a mad scholar who was incapable of teaching his knowledge. And perhaps they were right. Afterwards I tried to continue teaching in the way they wanted, but I was incapable of doing it, and I eventually retired.”

“I understand what you mean,” Arno said, as Zerto had stopped talking. “I also feel this kind of frustrations with my classmates and my teachers.”

“That is unfortunately the lot of those who think with their own head, who listen to their own intuition. There are only a few of us nowadays, and the world is surely not tailored for us. Look at me. I am sixty years old already, and I’ve not accomplished anything yet. Although my mind has not stopped working and imagining since I was a kid. Oh it’s not true that I’ve not done anything. I’ve written some books, but haven’t published them. And I haven’t brought the changes in society I wished to make. But, it’s never too late, and I’m still young in my head, my boy. And you represent for me a unique opportunity to pass on some of my knowledge. To know that even the day I leave this world, there will be someone else who cares for the same ideas and is ready to fight for them.”

“You didn’t work again, after stopping being a teacher?”

“I worked for myself then,” said Zerto, “I spent most of my time reading and thinking and writing. It was a luck I taught no longer in a way, because I had more time to made advancement with all the things that interested me.”

“But…” and Arno hesitated before asking his question, “how could you earn your living?”

“For that I had some luck in a way,” confided Zerto, “my family was an important one in Bennië but now since my parents have passed away, I’m the only one who remains with my aunt Balihë, unfortunately,” his expression grew sad. “All the lands of the family, those my father owned, and those of my great uncles all came to me. I told you I had no calling to work the land myself, and I found some farmers to work the land themselves. They share half of the harvest with me.” And Zerto indicated all the barrels and the crates and the jars that occupied most of the space in the living room. “We both are winners because the farmers have more lands to work with mine without having to pay for a rent, and I have all I need to subside together with aunt Balihë and even to sell or give some to those in needs.” Zerto noticed Arno was giving him an interrogative glance. “You will see her afterwards, she doesn’t live here. So, what was I saying?”

“How you shared the crops with the farmers…”

“Right. I also became interested by the way family lands were planted and tried to study means to increase the harvest by associating certain types of plants and trees and by trying to device some irrigation techniques. But my boy, peasants are as stubborn as teachers are, even if they are less insulting. They just let me talking and nodded, but the next year they planted their fields in the exact same way they always did. I really had to battle with them to make them try my ideas in small parts of the fields.”

“Were they successful?”

“Some were and now they’re used all over my lands. Others weren’t, or perhaps we didn’t give them enough time to prove themselves. One day we will go for a walk and I will show you all the family’s lands.”

Arno nodded. He was feeling more and more grateful and lucky to have met Zerto. There definitely was a resemblance between the two of them, and Arno felt Zerto could teach him a lot, by the knowledge he had, and also with the mistakes he had done so that Arno wouldn’t fall into the same traps. Zerto sounded like the best teacher Arno had ever had.

By the end of the week the spent together, little would Arno have expected to teach Zerto as many things as he had learnt from the man.

It already started on the first day. In the evening they went to visit aunt Balihë. At the height of her eighty years she was a bustling little woman who still had more energy than many women half her age. She had prepared a dinner for Zerto and for her, but she always cooked in abundance, and Arno could eat to his heart’s content without even emptying the pans. She had prepared a solid mountain meal with all sorts of wholesome grains mixed together in a soup, a hearty salad and a spiced cake that was brown because of the carob molasses she used. It was interesting to see Zerto in company of Balihë, because he seemed to turn into a child again. He didn’t speak about all his ideas and his theories and his fears, and instead did small talk with his aunt about the weather and how the crops were faring, and he listened to her as she complained of the bad quality of this or that vegetable she had seen at the grocery.

Afterwards Zerto told Arno that aunt Balihë was really a good woman, but she had little patience for too abstract discussions. Arno who was used to another climate found the night cold as they returned to Zerto’s house.

They sat on the cushioned carpets in the living room for a moment, and then Zerto asked Arno to sing him a song, like he had done with Boutro when the peddler was waiting with his wares on the village square.

Arno gave a start. He was not used to be asked for songs so bluntly and with so much immediacy. He started wondering which song of his notebook he’d sing and he felt a bit confused and lost. There were so many it was hard to know with which one to start. But that was not the right way to do, one part of Arno felt. Instead of closing himself and panicking about which song to tell, he should open himself the winds of inspiration. And at the moment he consciously recognized this thought as true, words started forming in his mind’s heart and he let them out.

You believe there is one way to do things, one way to reach truth

but I tell you there are an infinity of ways to reach truth

You listen to the songs of Old Falnë in a reverential manner

considering yourself inferior and unworthy to sing them or invent new songs

and you try to scrupulously respect the maxims of wisdom you hear in them

but I tell you Old Falnë is not about rules and constraints

The purpose of Old Falnë is that each man and each woman becomes entirely free

bringing their full potential into awareness

The way to self-realization is far from being straight and smooth

and to bring more and more light into your consciousness

you will have to experiment and make mistakes and take wrong ways and turns

you will have to learn to follow the voice of your own soul, of your own intuition

and bring your own and unique contribution to the wisdom of Old Falnë

Then Old Falnë will grow into you, and you will grow into Old Falnë

which means that you will make part of the whole again, and the whole will come into you

and then the sap of life will flow in you and make of you a new being

with novel powers you could not even imagine before

When Arno was done, he looked at Zerto who seemed very thoughtful.

“I have not experienced that freedom nor uncovered all my potential,” said Zerto, “and I won’t do it in this lifetime I believe.”

It was sad to hear Zerto say that, and yet, he seemed almost serene with the thoughts he had expressed. And confusedly Arno felt that Zerto had spoken the truth. He had not reached this accomplishment the songs told about. And Arno felt that he was closer from accomplishing himself than Zerto had been. All these were still hazy intuitions in Arno’s mind, and he wouldn’t have been able to explain them.

“But,” added Zerto, “my life is not over yet, and there are still things I wish to understand and discover, and I think you are helping me Arno to progress along this path, because for a long time I’ve been at a standstill. Your sole presence brings new reflections to me.”

Arno blushed. He was still used to receive compliments, and he didn’t know how to take them. At the same time he felt it was the truth, and yet it was all too humbling having a man of Zerto’s age and intelligence recognizing his value and bowing before his talents and his gift. “You also inspire me,” said Arno. And as a proof of what he had just said, he started singing another poem that he now recollected.

One day the night shall be no longer

darkness will recede from your spirit

until you are entirely lit by your soul

and then your life will bear

the dreams of dawn

and the ripeness of sunset

For now the night is still needed

when the light abandons the world and you fall asleep

the wall between worlds gets thinner

and the breath of your soul strokes your face

and it tries to infuse your dreams

with new comprehensions to grasp

“Indeed, for both of us the night is still needed,” said Zerto. “But you have an awareness that I do not have yet. I can sense it. By seeing you, I understand that I still think too much with my mind and too little with my heart. I’ve had this tendency all my life. You, on the contrary, won’t argue as much as I do, and you will just sing, and each song is a perfect answer, a perfect piece of the puzzle. And each song is different from the other. Whereas when I argue I always repeat the same arguments. I now Boutro makes fun of me, saying I talk too much. He’s not the only one who says it. And in a way, they’re right. It comes from a good intention to speak a lot, as I wish to make Bennië a better place than it is. But my message is rarely impactful on others. You are much more impactful Arno. Your words stir my heart, and bring back to my memory things I have forgotten, and new understandings stem in me. I feel very clear tonight, and I’d be able to work and write all night long, not a jumble of ideas as I usually write. That is often my problem. I always have a lot of ideas but I cannot understand and explain clearly the link between them. Discussing with you suddenly infuses them all with a new strength, and I suddenly see how they all belong to the same thread.”

What Arno had said before was true, and he was feeling it more and more with his heart. Zerto’s presence and words inspired him as much as he inspired Zerto. Arno made himself this reflection as he recollected another poem he had never heard.

There is a wall surrounding our world

keeping us apart from the infinite well of power of the universe

in times of yore this wall used to be much thinner and much more porous

but now the influence of the great power has been reduced to a mere trickle

infusing everything that lives with the sap of life

but keeping away from us the power to transform and create

Old Falnë called the great power the ë

this force that is in each of us

and gives us the breath of life

both in the physical and the spiritual realms

connecting all the planes of existence together

That is why all names of women and men and places

and flowers and trees and animals

bore the ë within them

as a reminder that everyone and everything

came from the same source

and shared the same roots

In the wall that encloses you within yourself

you might discover a gate if you journey far into your depth

and then you will meet a much greater source of ë than you were used to

this power will flow in your body and in your mind

bringing both suffering and healing

for it will relentlessly uncover your blockages and your nodes

confronting you with your worst fears and wounds

until they all are eliminated and healed

and then the ë will be able to stream

between your heart and your mind and your soul

bridging them much more closely than they were before

And then new powers shall manifest in you

you will see what is not visible to the eyes

and you will hear what is not audible by the ear

and your heart and your mind will sing together

on the melody your soul plays

and your hands and your feet will dance along this heavenly music

transforming and healing all what lies around them

and creating what had never been imagined before

“Even men’s names used to finish in ë?” asked Arno, quite surprised.

“It is what the songs tell,” said Zerto.

“So my Old Falnë name would be Arnë, and yours Zertë?

Zerto nodded.

“I find it a bit strange,” said Arno, “but at the same time it makes sense. Why are the names of men the only names that do not finish in ë.”

“There’s another song about that,” Zerto said, “perhaps you’ll recall it one day. It tells that as the world changed, a gradual imbalance grew between women and men, as men took more and more power. At the times of Old Falnë, women were as important and powerful as men. But later on, this balance was broken, even in Falnë, and to distinguish themselves men changed the way names were given to their sons. The song tells it all happened on its own, as the energy, the vibration, of the world shifted.”

“You do know a lot of songs, then!” Arno said.

“I have heard many,” Zerto explained. “Each time Boutro comes he sings a few, there also were a couple of old persons in the village who knew many and used to tell them to me when I was a child. My father too sometimes recalled songs. When I hear them, I understand them, and their meaning remains stamped in my heart afterwards. But I cannot repeat them, I cannot remember their words, and even if I write them down and try singing them, they are like dead in my mouth.”

At that moment, Arno recalled a new song, and he said it out loud.

Other nations of the north and the south frown upon the songs of Falnë

calling them poems at best

or prose written in verses at worse

for our poetry does not obey any of the rules they have set

verses do not rhyme and they are of various breadths

words are not sophisticated and flowered

but plain and honest as we of Falnë are

what the critics of other nations do not understand

is that our poems are all songs on the energetic plane

and when they are sang from the heart, words are transformed

and they dance in the air and take a life of their own

that no ordinary poem will ever embody

Indeed the poems of Falnë let the ë flow between the words

and make them greater than they would otherwise be

if they were surrounded by a protective walls limiting the songwriter’s freedom

and blocking him to feel the words within the very depth of his heart

Sing the poems of Falnë

and do not care about what the rest of the world says

for they each emit their own light

and add up one to another to shine as brightly as a sun

once you have sang them all

“I had never heard this one!” exclaimed Zerto. “It’s as if the ë doesn’t flow in my words when I try singing them.”

“But why?”

“It is simply not my gift I believe.”

“But the song I’ve just said says to sing them nonetheless…”

Zerto interrupted him. “My boy, how did you recall the first song you sang? Or did you sing one you had learnt by heart?”

“I couldn’t learn them by heart. When my grandfather told them to me I was a small child and did not remember them. It’s only when I came to the mountains with Boutro two years ago that I remembered my first song, one my grandfather had said. It came to me suddenly, from nowhere.”

“See, this has never happened to me. I often think of the songs, remember the beautiful things they recall our attention on. But I never remember their exact words, nor feel the call of saying them out loud.”

Another song sprouted in Arno, and he didn’t even hesitate before blurting it out loud.

Use your voice to sing

let the air flow into your throat

swell your lungs

and don’t be afraid to shout out

your truth to the world

paint it and write it

and dance on its rhythm too

don’t watch yourself

don’t worry about the execution

just focus on your truth, on being yourself

on feeling yourself as warmth expands in your chest

sing your colours and paint your music

don’t be afraid, don’t be shy

your soul is here to support you

to bridge the gap of your knowledge and your skills

be true to yourself

and everything will become possible

everything is already possible

just let the wind blow inside you

and feel how all your body quivers with love

Arno looked at Zerto, smiling with a bit of provocation, as if to say, see?

However Zerto wasn’t taken aback at all. “Remember that everything is metaphoric in Old Falnë my boy. Always remember that. What you are singing is your own truth, that can of course inspire others. But you should not enforce it over them, otherwise it becomes another Religion. It becomes rigid when it aims not to be, and push each individual to think by himself.”

Arno nodded. Indeed he had the tendency to do that mistake, to take everything of Old Falnë too literally. “But how to know then, what is true and what is not? Is the ë power truly exists and flows in us, or is it only a metaphor?”

Zerto smiled at Arno. “That is all the beauty of Old Falnë, of life, my boy. What does it change to you if the ë truly exists or not? If you can imagine it, if its concept makes sense to you, then it exists to you. To another person it might not exist, take Hamiro for instance.”

“But one of us is right, and the other is wrong, true?”

“That’s incorrect my boy. You both are right. However, if you say to Hamiro the ë flows in him, and he doesn’t believe into it, then you are wrong. And if Hamiro pretends the ë doesn’t flow in you, when you believe in the ë, then he is wrong.”

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

“Nor to me, my boy, nor to me. I spend my life doing the exact contrary of what I’m telling you. I argue with everyone and with myself, when I should just focus on what is true to me. But it’s usually not as clear as it today is in my mind. It is really your presence, your field of energy, that helps me be into this depth of understanding that eludes me most of the time.”

It was probably the strangest conversation Arno had ever had by society’s standards. But to him it felt more natural discussing about the ë and Old Falnë than chatting about mundanities with others. He couldn’t grasp all what Zerto was saying, but somehow it all found a resonance into his own heart.

“By the way my boy, I don’t know if you’ve ever recalled songs about the plurality of these songs.”

“What does it mean?”

“You haven’t then. It means that two different persons might recall differently the same song.”

“Really?”

“Yes, but it is not always the case, and it depends of songs. There are songs that are carved into stones, while others are written into more shifting materials, and there even are some that are made of clouds. It also depends of the times in which they were written, and the persons who have sang them. There are songs that gather new knowledge in each era. There are songs that will speak to each of us in particular, depending on what your gift is, on who you are, the words will be different. There are songs that are universal. There are songs you write and will be passed on. There are songs you write but will remain for you to sing. I’ve heard several songs about all this and I wish I had transcribed them, but I don’t do it because I already have so many papers everywhere and I get lost into them,” and Zerto pointed at the other side of the house. “You still haven’t seen my room from the other side of the wall. Not that my mind is less messy than my room, but it still is more secure to store information and quickly remember them I feel.”

Arno was listening intently to Zerto. He was realizing that he knew little about Old Falnë apart from the songs he remembered, and Zerto seemed to know much more than he did, even though he wasn’t a storyteller. Perhaps the gift of Zerto had something to do with passing on information and knowledge? Arno said his thought out loud.

Zerto shook his head. “I do not think that is my main gift. But see how you’ve been yawning, it’s perhaps time to sleep for you, and I’d like to write down some of my thoughts in my book before I lose them. We’ll speak of all that tomorrow again.”

And Zerto rose from the carpet and he started to prepare a mattress for Arno. There was a clumsiness in each of his gestures, as though he was not used to do anything else than pondering and writing and walking distractedly. Zerto set the mat in the living room, but as Arno followed him he could give a peep on Zerto’s sleeping room that was cluttered with papers and books nearly everywhere. There was a small desk and a chair, that were covered in papers too. There were even some books on the bed, as well as heaps of clothes that looked unfolded, but that Arno could understand, he always had troubles folding his own clothes. Arno could not see all the details of the room as the oil lamp Zerto was holding only lit his surroundings.

Afterwards Arno washed himself hastily with a bit of cold water, he put on his pyjama and went to sleep, while Zerto had already retired into his room to write, leaving no light in the living room.

The next morning Zerto served a simple breakfast of goat cheese and flat bread and carob molasses accompanied with an infusion of dried lemon leaves that Arno found quite tasty. Zerto seemed quite happy about himself, but also sleepy.

“I spent most of the night awake,” he explained to Arno.

“You wrote?”

“I wrote, I pondered, I walked outside…”

“Do you always have trouble to sleep?”

Zerto nodded. “Some nights more than others. It depends on my mood and on the moon cycle.”

“The moon?”

“A lot of things are dependent on the moon my dear boy. Many more than you would think. In the past our forefathers knew how to use it, to infuse the moonstones for instance. But even now that their knowledge has been lost, a lot of things can be understand by keeping a careful track of the moon phases. For instance, there are days in which to plant and others in which to prune trees and others in which not to do anything, and I tried to get the peasants working on my lands to follow that moon calendar.”

“Did they?” Arno asked.

Zerto winced.

“Where did you learn about it Zerto?”

“I have a very good book about it, I’ll show it to you later if you are interested.”

“But is it mentioned in Old Falnë songs you’ve heard?”

Zerto thought for a moment. “No, I don’t recall any. Old Falnë songs do not usually dwell in scientific details. Their lore and their wisdom focus on other dimensions.”

“Why? Why don’t they tell us how they built their towns and cultivated their crops?”

“They do, in a way. But they did it in a very different way from us, as for them science and spirituality were intrinsically related. In many songs they describe things that were created with an intent thought. Whereas in our world cities and objects are built by the hands of men, and now with machines.”

“Why has it changed, do you think?” asked Arno.

“Can’t you recall a song my boy, that would explain it much more gracefully than I would?”

Arno focused for a moment, looking for a song. But he knew that didn’t work. He tried to breathe deeply and quiet and listen to the bird singing outside. He still didn’t remember any song. Zerto rose and bustled around the living room. He was filling glass jars with provisions that aunt Balihë had asked him before forgetting and being scolded for his absentmindedness. He filled a jar with green olives that he took from a huge earthenware jar. He filled two bottles with olive oil. And he filled several jars with flour, and with different sorts of grains. “I store most of the harvest of the family fields here,” he explained to Arno, “and then I bring her in smaller jars what she needs. My house is less humid than hers, and goods keep better and longer here.”

Suddenly, as Arno had entirely forgotten about the song he was trying to remember, a rush of words overwhelmed him and he started singing while feeling the heaviness of the poem’s mood building up into him.

The truce that has been established long ago

is now broken and Ychrentiyë is under attack

the men are fleeing from the gate, faster, ever faster

but not fast enough to escape the birds of prey

that are falling from the sky like launched arrows

the sky darkens and the trees lose their leaves

as the city bleeds and smokes in red

Ychrentiyë was a place of knowledge and power

and it contained one of the largest libraries in the world

all its books, all the wisdom accumulated by the greatest minds of all times

are being burnt and reduced to charcoal

and nothing can be done to quench this fire and stop the disaster

The men of Ychrentiyë have been too greedy

year after year, they bent a little further the oath they had made at the start

until when their promise became an empty vow

and now the anger of nature is falling upon their heads

the town is burning and bleeding and is on the verge of falling

and once it collapses, all the surrounding country will fall into darkness

and Ychrentiyë will be wiped away from the world

like many other places which memories have already been erased

The women and men of Falnë warned their cousins the Ychrentiyë

of the danger of their thoughtlessness

but the Ychrentiyë waved all these worries away

calling the Falnë foolish and fearful

and they are now paying dearly the price of their lack of wisdom

For our sons and grandsons who will never know the Ychrentiyë

their islands lied in the middle of the Fyriyë Ocean north of Falnë

they knew well, too well, how to let the ë flow from their minds to their creations

and this is what has wrought their loss eventually

The ë hadn’t been made available to men to gain power and control over the nature

and seek riches in a greedy way

When the ë first flowed into our bodies, the voice of Falnë resounded in our minds

“Use this mighty force only in a pure design that will augment the world’s beauty,” our forefathers heard, “otherwise great calamities might fall upon the land”

and they itched these words in their hearts and passed them to us

But the Ychrentiyë who also were sons and daughters of Falnë as the entire world was

bent their vow and used the ë to gain technological supremacy over all others

their actions have not been without consequences

and now it is all of Falnë who will pay the price of their lack of forethought

The downfall of the world as we know it has accelerated

what is possible and real for us won’t be for our sons

and much of the ë won’t reach us anymore

as, by their doings and their beliefs, the men and women of the world have started building a wall between their bodies and their spirits

a wall surrounding the world and preventing the ë from flowing in

To be fair, it is not solely the Ychrentiyë who must be blamed for this evil fate that will keep the light away

most of the nations have disregarded the teachings of Falnë, and if they have not been wiped out yet simply because they are less crafty than the Ychrentiyë were

It will take thousands of years to let the ë flow again into the world as it used to

and many cataclysms will occur before this happens

for often humans learn their lessons from hardships and disasters

For the ë to flow again as in times of yore

the light of Falnë will have to shine in the heart of every man and every woman of the world

The fate of Ychrentiyë had been tragic and Arno was still shivering for their loss.

“What happened to the Ichrentiyë, how were they destroyed?” Arno said after a moment of silence.

Zerto was still in the living room, and he had resumed the filling of jars with legumes, now brown lentils that he took from a large sack with sort of a wooden ladle. He raised his gaze toward Arno. “What was happening to Moustadir my boy before they invaded Falnë?”

“They were starting to run out of water?”

“And?”

“And without water they cannot live, and their cities will die and their society will collapse. Except if they find water somewhere else, as they did.”

“So that’s what happened to the Ichrentiyë?”

“If the ë stops flowing into humans and into their creations, I see it like water or electricity being cut. But it’s worse because we can arrange ourselves to live with very little water and no electricity, whereas they couldn’t make without the ë since all their advancement was based on it.”

“But the song says they were killed, or not?”

“Remember my dear boy, sometimes songs can be metaphoric too. But perhaps you are right. Perhaps a cataclysm such as an earthquake or a tidal wave happened at the same time.”

“Caused by the ë that had stopped flowing?”

“Perhaps. But now let’s go get all these jars to aunt Balihë. It’s been days she’s asked them of me, and if I don’t bring them now she’s going to be very upset. Help me carry them, will you Arno?”

They brought all the provisions to Balihë, and then they went walking past the village’s orchards where Zerto showed Arno some of the fields that belonged to him.

As they walked in a field of walnut trees which yellowing leaves were starting to fall, Arno thought again of the girl of his dreams with so much tenderness he felt the need to share his joy.

“Do you believe we each have one person who’s destined for us in the world?”

Arno had the impression Zerto’s face immediately contracted, as if he were closing himself to something.

“I think we must seek the completeness within ourselves, my boy.”

“Have you ever fallen in love?”

Zerto reflected for a long moment before replying. “A long time ago…”

Arno could well feel Zerto did not wish to further talk about this subject, and that made him even more curious. He wanted to know if Zerto had met his betrothed, and if he believed in that.

“How was she?”

Arno felt his words were seeping through the wall Zerto had built around himself. Deep down one part of Zerto was only waiting for such an occasion to reawaken.

“She was… incredible,” Zerto said, and for a moment a light shone in his eyes. But his expression drew suddenly darker. “She’s gone and I’ve forgotten her now. It’s important to let go of certain things in life.”

Arno disagreed with these words. He couldn’t let go of the girl he had only met once in his dream. No, he couldn’t, he wouldn’t. He would be very miserable if he did.

“How can you say that Zerto, when you believe in Old Falnë?”

“Old Falnë says to follow your own way. It doesn’t impose on you a way. And that’s what I’ve been doing.”

“But I sense you still love her.”

“Of course Arno, her memory, like each memory of my life, is still present. The memory of my love for her is still alive. But it belongs to the past now.”

“What was her name?”

Zerto shook his head. “Forget about this story my boy. Look instead at the fields we’re passing through.”

“I’m looking at them,” said Arno. There were sprouts of a tender green that covered some of the fields under almond trees that were losing their leaves. “Is this wheat?”

“Indeed it is,” said Zerto. “We have planted it a couple of weeks ago. “Ho! Bejino?” he called, as they left the path to walk on a space that had been left unplanted across the field.

Soon another voice replied to them, and after a moment Bejino, the farmer who took care of these fields came to greet them. He seemed good-natured and he started showing the crops and the trees to Arno when he heard he was from Tinë and had come on a visit. Then he showed Arno the hens he kept and told him that his son took care of the sheep and they were gone grazing on another hill, waiting for the winter cold to come and start going down to the mildest coast. Arno told Bejino that his maternal grandparents were farmers in Iyë, and that he already knew quite a bit about farming and Bejino gave him an affectionate pat on the shoulder. Then, he brought some cheese and some yoghurt his son had brought him, and he offered them to Zerto. Zerto thanked him and accepted the gift. There was mutual respect between the two men, even though they belonged to two different worlds. One lived in the worlds of ideas, while the other lived from the labour of the land. And it showed on their bodies too. Zerto’s face was pale, and he was skinny, while Bejino was tanned because of all the days he spent outdoors, and rounder and broader in stature. Arno found interesting this striking contrast and he thought to himself he belonged to none of these worlds. Of course, he resembled Zerto, but there was something about Zerto that was too much into thinking and too little into doing. Arno did not want to do philosophy just for its own sake. He sought to understand the meaning of life and to act upon it. He wanted to fulfil his dream and be truly happy.

As they walked back toward Zerto’s house in a refreshing autumn breeze, under a partly cloudy sky, Arno remembered another song and he started singing.

Inside of you the ë rages

this infinite power of the universe

floats around your mind and your heart

eager to be grasped and expressed

Wait for too long

and you will feel withered and parched

and you shall despair of your lost inspiration

Rest for a couple of days

and you will be like a swollen river

flooding the plains of your spirit

and carrying in your stream villages and trees and rocks

unearthing without mercy all the false ideas and the lies

that had made their roots there

and then, for a moment, you will feel

the extent of your real power

and how little of it you use in your every day’s life

In you lies the capacity to paint mountains and to draw towns and embody life

in you hides the gift of world weaving

Listen to the ë as it builds up in you

do not try to contain or direct it

but let it blow freely and ride it without any more considerations

do not flap your wings when you are at the forefront of the storm

for the ë will grow strong enough to carry you in its stream

only when you trust it entirely with your body and your mind and your heart

The song matched Arno’s mood quite well. Zerto was not like him. He had not the same fire within him. And Arno did not want to die a slow death like the other people he saw. He wanted to be truly alive, and to remain alive. He wanted to love and be loved. He wanted to live in the present and not in the past. He was feeling very close to the girl of his dream, as though he’d meet her before long, and one part of him started hoping it would soon happen.

As Arno was doing all these reflections to himself, riding the winds of his emotions, another song burgeoned in his mind.

The man and the woman watch one another high in the sky

they dream to bind and blend their energies

and become the perfect circle they were born to be

but the winds that in their wakes rise

clash and push them apart each time they try coming closer

slapping them in the face and stinging them in the heart

where it is the most painful

and each time the man and the woman retreat in a flurry of broken feathers

swearing and cursing against their counterpart that hurt them in such a grievous way

And now they understand, they understand they can only watch one another from afar

without trying to move any closer

otherwise they will be stabbed and hurt

They console themselves by exploring their own depths

discovering craters and valleys and underground lakes of fire

and they strive to make their lights brighter and more colourful

to communicate from afar without needing to confront the deadly winds

and with the sweet melodies of colours and light they will together sing

ensnare their guardians the winds in a very deep sleep

and rush into one another arms to become the star they dreamt of once

and when the winds shall awaken again

they will have no other choice but blowing around the newborn star

and bowing before its shining splendour

Zerto gave a strange look to Arno. “You really know to be convincing boy. That’s for sure.”

“Was she your betrothed, the woman you met?”

“No, we never were promised in marriage. She wasn’t from Bennië.”

“That’s not what I meant. The songs tell of a special person you will one day meet that is the other half of you.”

“Not all the songs say is to take literally my dear boy.”

“You’ve already told me that Zerto, and I’m starting to understand it. But I think this is not a metaphor. It is true.”

“The truth of each person is unique. My truth right now is that I must continue to lead the life I’ve been living, finding completeness within. Imagine Arno, if I didn’t do that, if I still was waiting for that woman, or for another one. I would be miserable every day, and I wouldn’t do anything.”

Arno nodded. That made sense. He so wanted someone who understood him, who also recognized the importance of his betrothed. He thought of talking about his dream to Zerto. But something held him back. In a way, the remembrance of the dream would remain more powerful if he cherished it secretly in his heart.

Zerto’s words had triggered Arno’s inspiration another time, and he started singing anew.

In the days of old

the ë used to run in greater quantities

not only in the vessels of women and men

but also in all they touched and created

Oruwyë that lied somewhere beyond Iyë’s peaks

is another of the lost towns

that once thrived

and have now departed

Oruwyë the fair stood on mountains

at the feet of greater mountains still

and the only way to visit Oruwyë was

to travel by the ways of water

Stories tell that every building of the city

but also the walls and the roads

were built in a stone that absorbed sunlight

This stone faintly shined during the day

and it continued glowing in a warm yellow at night

Its light was strong enough to see

without dazzling the eyes of wanderers

Oruwyë was alive in many ways that are now unknown to us

some say it had been grown and not built from the stone

and its towers were not needed for defence

as no enemy of Falnë could ever come to Oruwyë

but they were used to gaze at the stars and the moons at night

Not all the travellers who sought Oruwyë could find it

Oruwyë made itself visible to a few

and the others might have searched every valley of the mountain without finding it

Only the pure of heart who let the sun shine through him

could eventually find the river that led to Oruwyë

and there a boat magically appeared sailing to him without sailors

and when he dared climbing on it

the boat conducted him to Oruwyë’s splendour

To come to Oruwyë, the city of the sun

you cannot hold on your fears and your hurts and your past and your life

you need to let go of everything but the desire to be truly yourself

At night in Oruwyë

each person sees a different sky vault

some catch the sight of several moons

while others can only see the stars

And during the day if you ask two persons to describe you the sun

each description will differ from the other

for no two persons see the same sun

And you will hear music too

but each tune you dance on will be different from that of the others

Oruwyë is one of the hearts of Falnë

Oruwyë is a place where many wish to go

but few truly visit

Oruwyë requires the ultimate sacrifice to let you find it

Oruwyë demands you let go of everyone and everything but yourself

Oruwyë is not the final destination where you are heading

but Oruwyë is on the path of your Dream

Oruwyë will let the ë grow stronger and stronger in you

and bridge the gap between your body and your soul

Oruwyë is a place of loneliness where people do not chat together

but Oruwyë will help you find togetherness in your heart

so that you are never lonely again

“You are a song machine my boy, I’ve never seen anyone so constantly inspired.”

“I’m not always like that.”

“It’s enough to be a wonder to me.”

“Did you hear about Oruwyë before?”

“I did,” said Zerto, “it’s quite known here because when it still existed it wasn’t very far from Bennië.”

“Do you think we still can find it?”

Zerto shook his head.

“Why not?”

“It has been removed away from this world.”

“How?”

“If I knew, I’d bring Oruwyë back. Or I’d travel there.”

“But two years ago you told me to come back to see you, and ask you all the questions I wanted, and you promised me you had all the answers I sought.”

“I am answering your questions. Revealing my ignorance is a form of answer my dear boy. If you look at it closely, perhaps you’ll be surprised to discover all what you can learn from it.”

“Such as?”

“If I tell you it’s impossible to find Oruwyë, it’s true for me. And that means it’s probably true for a lot of other persons in Falnë. But is it true for you my boy? That, only you can tell.”

“I don’t know. But it felt close in a way, when I sang about it.”

“Then perhaps you will visit Oruwyë one day. Who knows what can happen. What I can tell you is that Oruwyë is one of the seven crowns of Falnë that have disappeared.”

“Why do you call it crown?”

“Can’t you call yet another song about it my boy?”

“It never works when you ask me to call for a specific song. I feel blocked. Songs only come to my mind when I’m not really looking for them, and when I’m not expecting one in particular.”

“Is it the goat cheese, or aunt Balihë’s food that has this effect on you boy?”

“Which effect?”

“You sound much more secure in yourself and confident this afternoon, than you were yesterday and this morning. You talk to me quite directly and bluntly.”

Arno thought again about the girl of his dream. She was lending him the strength.

Zerto saw his thoughtful expression. “But don’t worry, I wasn’t intending it as a reproach. I’m really not a person who worries too much about manners, as long as you have something interesting to offer, to say. And you do my boy, you do. May you sing all day long, and other people go silent for a while, and the world would be a much better place.”

Other words bottled in Arno’s throat, and he let them out.

Midair between the sky and the land

the woman floats

her body is woven in cloudy rivers

and her hair are ablaze with the light of heaven

she still does not possess the skill

to move her body and travel wherever she wills

she still ignores how to whisper

her thoughts to the clouds and the rivers

and make them swirl with each of her breaths

she observes the world as she looks at herself

with quiet wonderment and the puzzlement of a child

who grows and learns to master her confines

Zerto smiled. “This song is new to me. You really have a diversified repertoire. Where do you go find them my boy?” The man seemed very joyful to hear a new song, like a child who has discovered a new game or received a new toy, and he suddenly looked much younger.

Arno smiled back to Zerto, but he was still focused on the emotions he felt within, and the closeness he sensed with the girl of his dream. She was here, close to him, at hand’s reach. And Arno felt her embrace and all her acceptance and her understanding. And he tried to embrace her back. He tried to show her how deeply he loved her. But just as he came even closer to her, she suddenly disappeared, leaving only a chilling emptiness in Arno, and he sang again, but this time the words left him a bitter taste on his tongue.

The focus of your mind

is still too weak

to give proper shape to your surroundings

The crown city of your heart

is still a distant figure in the sky

and the trees around you lack substance and life

When will you stop being a pale version of yourself

and grow into the light and the fire

that are yours by right

When will the truth of Old Falnë

reign again over your heart

Beauty and happiness will keep on eluding you

as long as you turn a deaf ear

to the whispering voice of your soul

“Another one I’ve never heard,” clapped Zerto.

Arno had become suddenly gloomy, as he could not feel any longer the girl of his dream. “You didn’t tell me what were crown cities?”

“There were seven places in Falnë that were very important and each played a different role. They made of Falnë the land of magic it was. There are songs about each of these places, but also songs about how these seven cities functioned together.”

“Why had Boutro said they were superstitions when you mentioned them to me the last time?”

“Because he cannot say any song about these cities, and therefore for him they have no true existence.”

“But he can hear them from others?”

“Boutro is a pragmatic man. If he can’t say them himself, if he can’t feel them in his heart, they’re useless to him. And in fact there are very few people who can say songs about the crowns of Falnë. My father couldn’t. Only the two old men in the village used to sing them, and from them I heard about the crowns. And now it seems you too have this gift.”

Arno nodded, but he was feeling empty from within, and grumpy too to have come so close from love and having lost it just as he was about to embrace the girl of his dream.

The same night, they had a consistent dinner at aunt Balihë’s who was particularly merry because her nephew had replenished all her stocks. She had prepared a dish with grain and dried yoghurt and she had fried some potatoes and boiled some cabbage and there was a creamy dessert perfumed with orange blossom. She was growing fond of Arno, and she looked at Zerto with a mix of reproach and affection. “See, you should have married and got some children of your own!”

Zerto shrugged, but he didn’t argue. There was no arguing that held with aunt Balihë. When they left her, she gave a kiss on Arno’s cheek, and he felt her wrinkled skin on his and noticed the three little hairs she had on her chin, and he could barely resist stroking them. She was so old, but she seemed at the same time strong and cosy, making you feel at home. Indeed, Arno was almost feeling like she was his own great aunt.

“Why didn’t she herself marry?” Arno asked Zerto after they had gone out.

“I think one or two men courted her, but she didn’t like them. She has a strong temper my aunt, and she will either take a man that satisfies all her ideas of how her husband should be, or she will remain on her own.”

It was funny hearing Zerto talking to her as if she still were in age of getting married. “And why didn’t you marry?”

“For the same reasons? I didn’t meet the right person for me.”

“What about the mysterious girl you once met?”

Zerto rolled his eyes, but there was as much amusement as exasperation on his face, and that made Arno bolder.

“You used to play music, didn’t you?”

Zerto nodded slowly.

“Why did you stop?”

Zerto continued walking without saying anything.

“Was it because it reminded you of her?” Arno was feeling a force that was pushing him to ask all these intrusive questions. He sensed one part of Zerto wanted him to continue asking them.

“I used to play the velkyrië,” Zerto said hoarsely.

“I have never heard someone playing it, almost everyone plays the velkyr or the velk.”

“The velkyrië is the noblest instrument that exists and also the most difficult to play and the hardest to craft.”

“Why?”

“It was the main music instrument used in times of yore, and their fabrication requires a great degree of precision, because there are a lot of strings, many more than the velkyr, and you also can blow into it like a velk, and beat on it like a drum. It is a universal instrument. And its dimensions and the position and number of its cords differ from one velkyrië to another, because it depends on the type and quality of the wood that is used. So the velkyrië maker must be a skilled musician, and each velkyrië that he sells will be quite expensive as it quite long to craft.”

“How did you find yours?”

“It belonged to my father, and before to my grandfather. But my father didn’t like to play it so much. As a kid I saw it in our house, and it used to fascinate me. Each time no one was looking, I used to go and stroke a few cords, try to play a melody. Once they heard me, and my father immediately decided I should learn to play the velkyrië. There was an old man in the village who played it, and for a time he taught me some of his knowledge. The rest I learnt on my own. I used to play the velkyrië for hours and hours.”

“How could you stop playing it Zerto? I haven’t even seen it in your house, did it break?”

Sadness grew on Zerto’s face. “No it didn’t break. Velkyrië are very carefully crafted and they can be used for centuries. I just… put it aside.”

“You hid it?”

Zerto nodded.

“You hid the velkyrië that you loved so much?!”

Zerto nodded again, taking a contrite expression.

“Why?”

“… it was too painful.” And Arno noticed Zerto’s eyes had moistened.

“Why?” Arno asked again, more quietly.

“I used to play my velkyrië in front of her. She was the only one who truly understood my music. And when she left it just became… meaningless to play.”

“How can you say? You played for yourself too.”

“Playing music reminded me too much of her, and the few times I tried I played music that was so sad it made the walls cry. My father could not cope with that. He implored me to play other more joyful airs. But I could not.”

“Who was she?”

“Her name was Shaynihë and she came from Assië, it’s a small town from the other side of the Hië mountains, on the outskirts of the Ummyë plain.”

“What happened? How did you meet her and why did she leave you?”

“She came to visit her aunt who had wed a man from Bennië, and she stayed here for several months to help her with her baby. I met her at the temple the first time. I saw her and could not take my eyes from her. She was so fair and her expression was so beautiful and pure. I was too shy to speak to her. But one day I was playing the velkyrië on the village’s square close to the fountain, and she passed by there and she stopped and listened to me until I was done. I didn’t want to be done and I felt she didn’t want either. Before even she spoke I felt she could understand my music like no one else. There was something that vibrated on her face. It almost seemed to… change with each of my notes. Like the colours of the land change with the course of the sun. She spoke to me after I was done. Then we started meeting quite often, and I played the velkyrië and she just listened. From the start she told me she was betrothed to a man in her town, and she’d marry him the next year. I tried not to fall in love for her, but it was impossible, it was impossible not to love her. I knew I’d never meet anyone else like her.”

“And?”

“And one day she told me she’d soon leave her aunt. It threw a cold shadow on my heart. I tried to play a tune, and it was so sad I started crying, and she too cried, but she told me she could not stay, she needed to go, it was not good to cry like that, and she said farewell and left me in the middle of the fields on my own, and she never looked back once. I didn’t see her again, and from her aunt I heard she had married, and afterwards I heard she had had a son and a daughter.”

“I’m so sorry,” whispered Arno. “Did her aunt know you loved her?”

“She knew we were good friends, but I don’t think she knew the truth. Or perhaps she thought I had a crush on her niece. She was so beautiful she could not walk anywhere without getting some attention from people. But she was very modest too.”

“So you didn’t tell her you loved her?”

“No, but she guessed the truth. I think she guessed it from the beginning, the first time she heard my music.”

“Did she love you too?”

“How can I know Arno? She never said anything. But sometimes… in the way she looked at me, the way she responded to my music. It almost felt love to me. And for a moment I hoped to have her heart.”

“Do you know if she loved her betrothed?”

“I think she was fond of him, they had been friends since she was a child. But I’m not sure she loved him as I loved her. In the Ummyë plains, it is still the custom sometimes to arrange marriages between families, and that’s what happened for her I think. But she liked him.” Zerto went quiet for a moment. “Isn’t it unfair Arno, in a way, that she lives surrounded by her husband and her children, and I spent all my life on my own?”

Arno nodded.

“Now that I talk to you I realize I’m much more peaceful about it all than I used to. Years ago I wouldn’t have been able to speak so quietly about it. It still tears at my heart to remember her. But a large part of me has accepted all what has happened I think, and I must thank you for having been so insistent with your questioning. I think it is good to me to tell you about Shaynihë. It sets my heart a little more at peace.”

“Did she play music too?”

“I don’t think so. But I always imagined that if she had had a velkyrië at home she would have played it as well as I played. Oh I would have loved to hear the music of her soul. Perhaps by how I looked at her, she would have understood… how much I loved her.”

“Don’t you think you will meet her again one day?”

“… I don’t know. Before I thought that with her marriage all my hopes ended. My comprehension of life wasn’t what it is today. Now I don’t know anymore… Perhaps I will meet her again in another life.”

“Do you think she is the betrothed of your soul as in Old Falnë songs?”

“I don’t know Arno. I don’t know if I believe in that. For in other songs it is very clear we must find the completeness and the love within ourselves.”

“Can’t both be true?”

Zerto nodded. “But remember, what is true for you, is not necessarily for me. My fate was not to be with Shaynihë, so at least in this life, she is not truly my betrothed.”

They arrived home.

“Will you play me some music on your velkyrië?” asked Arno.

“No. No, I can’t. I’m going to write now, you’ve triggered again many thoughts in me my dear boy. Sleep well.”

Zerto’s tone was irrevocable, and Arno didn’t try insisting. He went to his bed, and he felt again the same emptiness he had felt after the girl of his dream had abandoned him during the day. And that made him feel cold and anguished, and to warm and reassure himself he started fantasizing about a girl putting on a bit of weight, gaining curves when she had none, and he pictured her trousers that couldn’t button anymore because of her pudgy belly, and these thoughts brought all his worries away, and after a while Arno fell asleep.

The next morning Arno woke up, and as soon as he had opened his eyes he felt the words of a song enveloping him, as though he had dreamt about it, and he sang it.

Falnë of old was more alive than you could ever imagine

not only were each city grown from the land and the rock and the forest

but all the cities together formed the body of Falnë

which functioning resembled that of a human being

each city had a different role, was another organ, another crown

and in particular there were what used to be called the seven crowns

that have now been lost and almost forgotten

at the time these crowns played a crucial role

for the men who wanted to become wizards

and the women who wanted to turn into witches

travelling to these crowns helped them grow into their true selves

and unlock all the powers that were dormant in them

Now that the seven crowns have disappeared

there are no longer witches and wizards in Falnë

and their lore is getting lost

and all the marvels they built and wrought

are becoming a matter of legend

Zerto who was already bustling around with stacks of paper he carried to the kitchen caught the song on his passage. “You surely don’t lose time my boy!” he said.

Arno laughed, still regaining his spirits and not sure of what belonged to his dreams of the night, and what was of the real world instead.

“That was exactly the song I wanted you to recall my boy,” Zerto added.

Arno washed his face in the basin and then he followed Zerto in the kitchen, who was preparing an infusion while reading some papers and adding some notes on them.

“It’s been years I don’t make as many progresses as I’m now making with you my dear boy. I’d be really glad if you could stay live here!” he jested.

“If I didn’t have my family, I would have been happy to stay with you too,” said Arno. He asked Zerto if he could help him, and he carried a tray with fresh goat cheese and flat bread and a jar of honey and two empty cups to the low table in the living room, zigzagging between his mat that was still stretched on the floor, and all the jugs and barrels and sacks that Zerto received from the lands that belonged to his family.

Then Zerto came with a carob molasses infusion and he filled the two cups with the kettle. Arno asked him if he never drank coffee, and Zerto explained it made him too nervous and restless and he preferred to drink the sorts of infusions usually reserved for children and old ladies. But funnily aunt Balihë defied all the prejudices since she drank at least four cups of coffee a day, and her house almost always smelled of roasted acorn.

They started eating their breakfast and even though it was quite frugal, Arno loved it. The cheese tasted so wholesome, of all the grass and the flowers and the thorns the sheep ate, and of the pure water they drank from mountain springs. The honey was thick and dark and creamy, and it was a delight to eat it on the soft flat bread. Even the bread was marbled and uneven in colour with patches of dark brown and other of lighter brown that bordered on beige, and it was one of the best breads Arno had ever tasted. On the goat cheese they added a bit of olive oil and salt and a few leaves of fresh thymes, as there were bushes all around Zerto’s house.

“Zerto, do you know more about the seven lost crown cities?”

“I do, but I prefer to let you discover it by yourself, as you recall their songs.”

“Why?”

“You are recalling songs at an incredible pace, and I believe the less answers I’ll give you, the more answers you will get by yourself. And I prefer you hearing of the lost crowns in your heart, rather than trying to understand them with your mind my boy,” Zerto said. Then he further explained his thought. “It is better not to be prejudiced in general, not to have preconceived ideas of things before hearing their truth. If I tell you about them, I fear it might block you in a way.”

“Really?”

Zerto shrugged. “I don’t know. Your gift is very potent, so probably one way or another you’ll discover your own truth. But I prefer not to impose my comprehension of things on you.”

Arno nodded.

Zerto added. “It’s really ironic because I try to impose my comprehension of things and my view of the world on almost everyone else… except for aunt Balihë of course. I don’t want to do it with you, because I feel you have as much wisdom as I do, if not more, and it reminds me too strongly of my own core. It makes me realize how unhappy I am while arguing with others, and trying to explain to men like Hamiro that this or that measure they want to take is not good for the village. They hardly listen, and they laugh at me behind my back. They all think I’m an old fool dissatisfied with his own life, and meddling of affairs that do not regard me. Perhaps they’re right, in a way…”

“Why don’t you play the velkyrië? I think it could help you.”

Zerto rolled his eyes, like he had when Arno was asking him about the woman he had loved.

But Arno didn’t care, he knew Zerto and him were made of the same dough and thought in the same way, and he felt he could help the man. There was a confused intuition rising in Arno, making him feel that playing the velkyrië was a crucial thing. He tried to put words on what he was feeling, focusing on his intuition as it grew stronger and stronger, until, suddenly Arno saw the song like a sailor sees a land he did not expect to see much closer to him, because it had been hidden in the haze before. As Arno saw the song staring back at him, he just surrendered to its power and let it grow into him, until words flowed out his mouth.

When the music of the velkyrië resounds

all the other sounds cease to exist

its melody is as beautiful and eerie

as the dance of emotions in the heart of the musician

one note after another

he weaves the landscapes of his inner world

and makes us travel into our own depths

Playing the velkyrië is as sacred as singing of Falnë

only few can master this instrument

and make it become their second voice

However once they do, they start speaking

not to the minds of men and women

but to their hearts and their souls

If you are gifted with the velkyrië

you have a holy duty to bring your music

to the doorstep of every heart

And remember that you have the power

to bring down walls and bridge impassable gaps

But first you need to grow into yourself

and transform your body at the image of how the velkyrië is

Let the four winds blow through you

and do not fear any form of melody

The velkyrië is open to all the repertoires

it does not shy away from the slow lament of tears

nor from the burning anger of a drumming heart

and that’s how you must become

before your music reaches its true power

And as the ë starts flowing through all your limbs

the gaps between your notes

will be filled with the light of love

Arno felt quite elated with his song, and he saw it was having a strong effect on Zerto.

“Can you believe I never heard this song before my dear boy?” he said, wiping away a few tears from his cheeks. “Can you believe that?”

Arno looked at Zerto intently, without saying anything.

“I don’t even know if it is a song that exists, or one that you have invented,” said Zerto, “but either ways it is beautiful and it resonated strongly in me.”

“I think it already existed,” Arno said.

“How do you know that?”

“It is a feeling I have,” explained Arno. “Once I knew very clearly I had invented it. But most of the times I just recall existing songs.”

“It is good you are honest my dear boy. I think many others would have attributed themselves the merit in such a situation where they sang a song nobody has ever heard.”

“From what I understand of Old Falnë, I don’t think these people would have recalled this song in the first place.”

Zerto nodded. “You’re right, you’re right, my dear boy. Now I think of it, it is strange that my father didn’t know of it. But at the same time, he hardly played the velkyrië. I’m almost sure though my paternal grandfather knew it. He died when I was a toddler and I don’t remember him at all…”

After a moment of silence during which Zerto seemed to be recollecting memories, Arno said, “so will you try again playing the velkyrië in front of me?”

“I… will think about it.”

Arno smiled. That seemed hopeful enough. He was feeling again close to the girl of his dream, and for a moment he focused on that closeness, on his bond. He tried to imagine where she was, and what was she doing right now. Did she live in Falnë? But that did not matter. What mattered most was the closeness he was feeling with her. The warmth that flowed in his heart and in his chest, the dreaminess that made his spirit find renewed beauty in everything he saw. As he stepped outside, Arno was marvelled at the sight of mountains, violet and blue and green under the morning sun that was quite bright despite the season. The air was cool and Arno inspired it with pleasure, and he felt the caress of the wind on his face, in his neck, and it sounded like a whisper of her. Arno rubbed some thyme leaves and inhaled their scent that he so much loved, and reminded him of the garden of his grandfather Jarido, but at that moment he could think of Jarido with joy and affection, even though he had passed away. When the girl of his dream dwelled in his heart, everything brightened up, and Arno could find beauty and love everywhere.

Just when Zerto went out in the garden with an empty sack tied on his back, Arno started feeling the characteristic tension of words appearing in his heart and rising in his throat, and he didn’t withhold them any longer, letting them out in the autumn breeze.

In everything I see and I touch

I feel your presence

Our roots weave and intertwine

until where there are not two trees

but a sole one

Even when I try not to look at you

and delve into my shadows

I meet you again at their other ends

Your gaze is not judging nor condemning me

it is not pitying or complaining me

it simply is here, present

staring into my depths

and seeing through me

I cannot escape you

and I don’t want to

for when I look into your eyes

I see the thing I understand the best in the entire universe

I see myself and I see you

I see the infinite love you feel for me

and how unconditionally you accept and embrace me

and I feel your embrace into my very depths

and I long for this love of myself I have not yet found

In your eyes I see the same fire and the same passion

that I feel in my heart

and your words weave the other side of my dream

I had never imagined

Again, it seemed to have a strong impact on Zerto. “I had never heard this one too,” he said with some emotion in his voice.

Arno was feeling a lot of warmth in his heart rising toward his face. For a moment he felt so close to the girl of his dream, he almost sensed she was within him. Then the sensation started fading away, but it was gradual, and he still was feeling her not far from him, and the bubble of love where he was didn’t burst out like it had the day before.

“Did you invent it or recall it my dear boy?”

“Perhaps… it is mine.”

Zerto nodded, as though he also felt that.

But Arno was not done. As they were walking toward aunt Balihë’s house to have lunch with her, he felt the girl of his dream very close to him again, and his eyes watered with tears of love, and twinkling words flowed out together with the little marbles of water.

We each see the world in our own way

and our branches interweave at the summit of our understanding

and our roots meet at our source

together we form a sacred circle of light

a sun and a star, an angel and a creator

we are two and yet we are one

we live in two different bodies

with two different hearts and two different minds

and yet we have the same soul

even when we don’t look at one another in the eyes

we are forced to hear an echo of one another’s presence

I hear your longing, and you my suffering

I read your love, and you feel my poetry

even without words, our understanding is perfect

our movements are synchronized, our dance is harmonious

our two bodies do not touch

and yet they are drawn to one another

and our minds and our hearts

long to rejoin within the sacred light of our soul

Zerto whistled, and a couple of passersby who had stopped to listen to the song waved a salute and went along their own paths.

“You’ve never heard it either, did you?” said Arno.

Zerto shook his head. “I’ve not heard many songs about this love between a man and a woman on a soul level. It feels to me you are specially gifted for them.”

That made Arno’s face glow. “They have a lot of meaning for me.”

“They resonate with me too,” said Zerto. “But I’m still afraid to hope and be disappointed afterwards. I’m not sure I really believe into this.”

Arno nodded, now understanding better why Zerto was reticent, when he felt so enthusiastic. After all Zerto had lost the woman he loved, and it had hurt him so much. But deep down, Arno intuited that one part of Zerto understood him. One part of Zerto had the same longing that he had, the same hopes in love. But in Arno that part was much more present and developed. His dream with the girl felt like a promise they would someday meet and love one another.

They ate with aunt Balihë who welcomed Arno with a kiss on each of his cheeks. “I’m growing fonder of you every day my boy, how have you the heart to already leave us at the end of the week?”

Arno gave her a sympathetic glance. “I’m going to miss you too my aunt.” The words had come out his mouth without thinking, and it felt strangely natural to call Balihë aunt. And she seemed very pleased Arno had already adopted the title Zerto gave her. That set Arno in a perplexed mood without knowing why exactly.

Aunt Balihë had prepared boiled eggs and mashed potato with mint and thyme and there was a cabbage salad with olive oil and apple vinegar and a plate of pickles and another of turnips that had seasoned in vinegar and had been coloured in pink with little pieces of red beetles. Arno loved pickles and turnips, and he picked one after another with his hands. For the dessert they had beignets they dipped in carob molasses.

Aunt Balihë always insisted Zerto took a second serving of each dish, commenting on how skinny he was. She had also adopted the same habit with Arno, and that didn’t displease him as he had quite a hearty appetite that the mountain air and all his discussions with Zerto favoured. Aunt Balihë was the only one who was stocky around the table and in her face Arno could read a blend of gentleness and firmness and generosity.

When they went out, Arno said out of the blue he thought Balihë had been his aunt in another life.

Zerto launched him a pointed look that expressed some surprise.

“Don’t you believe we live several times?” Arno asked.

“I think I do. But I never speak so openly about the matter with anyone.”

“Why not?”

“Most people follow the Religion and they believe we live only once. And as argumentative as I am, I don’t go around the village blathering about reincarnation because I think that each person has his own truth. I argue on subjects that have an impact on others. But I believe faith should really be something personal. So I was just surprised of how easily you spoke about it with regard to aunt Balihë. If you had told me about it in general, it wouldn’t have triggered this reaction in me, and I would just have picked up the discussion.”

“You never wonder if you’ve already met the people around you in other lives?”

“I don’t… My belief in it is more theoretical. It’s as if I forbade myself to think of others in these terms, because they don’t believe in reincarnation.”

“How do you know that?”

“That they don’t believe in reincarnation?”

Arno nodded.

“What do you mean exactly my boy?”

“Perhaps they have the answers deep down in them. Perhaps they somehow know the truth. I think aunt Balihë would give me a kiss if I told her I believe she was my aunt in another life.”

Zerto nodded. “Perhaps. But there are other people who are very closed off.”

They walked for a moment in silence. The weather was growing more and more cloudy, and dark low clouds were starting to make their appearance. An insistent breeze had started blowing and tall trees were swaying into it. The highest mountains were growing greyer and they’d soon disappear into the mist. “It will rain this evening,” said Zerto, “and much needed water shall fall.”

After another moment of thoughtfulness, Zerto looked at Arno. “Do you often try to investigate the bond you have with other people around you? Do you think we have already met in another life?”

“It’s the first time I do it with aunt Balihë,” said Arno, “it wasn’t even voluntary. I called her aunt, and it felt deeply familiar. So I haven’t reflected about our bond in a past life. But now I think about it you could have been an older brother, or an uncle. Or perhaps my father or my grandfather. It’s strange to think about life in this way.”

Zerto smiled. “That’s why I think we should only focus on our current life. Otherwise we get lost in too many possibilities and uncertainties that are not even useful. If you love someone, just love him or her without wondering too much about the why and the before. I tell you that Arno because I’ve kept on doing this mistake in my life. I always overthought things and it didn’t make me any happier. As aunt Balihë would tell you, I’m just a man growing older every year who hasn’t done much in his life. I don’t entirely agree with her, but there’s an element of truth in her words. And, concerning what you said. Perhaps we were indeed related, because I indeed feel a familiarity and a fondness for you. We could have also been friends in another life, because even though you’re barely fourteen, fifteen?”

“Thirteen and a half.”

“Even though you’re barely thirteen years old, and I am more than sixty, we discuss as old friends would.”

Arno nodded. That resonated with him.

They were now walking past the temple, close to Zerto’s house. The breeze was refreshing but not too cold yet, as the tension of the storm was still contained within the clouds. The darkening sky reminded Arno of the song about Ychrentiyë.

“Zerto, was Ychrentiyë one of the lost crown cities?”

“I do not think it was. Ychrentiyë was not in Falnë.”

“You aren’t sure though?”

Zerto shook his head.

“So you don’t know the names of the seven crown cities?”

“I know only some of them.”

“How is that possible?”

“Well you sang about it this morning Arno, each of the crowns was different, played another role, and its memory is contained in another song.”

“Which ones you know about?”

“I told you I wanted you to find it on your own my bow. You really are skilled enough for that. You just need a little bit of patience. Things come in their own time. Remember that in life. Sometimes you cannot force things to unravel. Always try to be at peace with who you are and what you have right now and the divine will provide for the rest.”

“Do you believe in God? I never understand if there is a God or not in Old Falnë…”

“Yes, in a way.”

“How?”

“The divine is the sum of all of us, but it is also more. It is all the creation, and more. It is the ë and the love that flow in everything, and it is more. I don’t like to call it God, because God implies he is a male, that he is a person. The divine is not a male or a female. It is everything.”

Arno let seep these words into him and he pondered upon them. He confusedly felt they were true, but there still was something that did not satisfy him. Something missing perhaps. But he liked the idea of the divine as Zerto described it.

Arno sat in the living room while Zerto napped. The man had slept very few hours in the last nights, and he told Arno he was exhausted. Arno meanwhile transcribed all the last poems he had sung in his notebook. The light was dimming outside as the sky blackened, and soon the sound of thunderstorms started shaking the house, and the air grew much colder as heavy rain started to fall. Arno shivered into his sweater, but fortunately he had brought a pull-over that he took out from his travel sack and wore. He left the door ajar to smell the scent of the rain that was rising. The thunderstorms were getting closer and closer.

When Zerto woke up and came to the living room, he found Arno staring at the spattering rain outside. Pools of water were starting to form in the garden and in the street where pavement was uneven. Arno was feeling without reasons a bit sad. It seemed a very long afternoon, and he felt like he had nothing to do. Without even realizing it, he had started changing. He was no longer the inventive child he was who could have fun observing almost everything. Well, of course, he still had a part of that. But it wasn’t anymore enough to fulfil him and give a sense to his days. And now his mood was growing gloomier together with the sky. It was a diffuse impression of holidays that were coming to an end, of growing up too fast, of times that would not come back. A certain nostalgia of his past, and of his present, and a vague apprehension of the future to come. Arno usually loved the rain, but that day it was different. He was alone in a house that wasn’t his.

Zerto brought a nice diversion, as he announced to Arno he’d prepare carob molasses tea in the kitchen, and he’d also light the brazier. Arno did not find Zerto as distracted and clumsy as he had two years and a half before. The portrait that Boutro had made of Zerto now seemed exaggerated. Or perhaps Zerto’s state of mind also shifted with his mood and seasons.

After a while Zerto came back with two cups of tea, and he placed a few logs and sticks and twigs in the brazier that he lit with a match. Soon the fire crackled and filled the living room with its light and its warmth and the scent of burning wood. Zerto opened slightly the windows to let the smoke pass. They drank their teas and Arno ate a few biscuits aunt Balihë had made. The warmth of the tea combined with the glow of the fire and the presence of Zerto rekindled some cheerfulness in Arno, and his heart lighter, he let his thoughts drift for a moment, until something recalled his attention. Arno listened intently to the whisper of his intuition, and words started emerging from the haze, and he chanted them out loud.

Ages ago two hamlets stood

from both sides of a deep cliff

and their bonds were so tight

they formed a sole village

All the inhabitants of Siruwyë were male

while those who lived in Uwyë were female

The mill was in Siruwyë

as its hill was more exposed to the winds

and the aqueduct brought the water to Uwyë

which was closer to the mountains

Two undergrounds connected the two hamlets

indeed, as the well of Uwyë replenished with water

it also filled the well of Siruwyë

and the women and the men

could chant in joy at the same time

when the water finally rushed in

putting an end to summer’s drought

Both hamlets cultivated different sorts of grain

that they stored in another stone tunnel

well-preserved from water and humidity

and the men carried the women’s sacks into their villages

grinding them at the mill

before splitting the harvest in two equal parts

keeping a half and bringing the other half back in the tunnel

so the woman would find it grinded the next morning

and the men did the same with their own harvest

giving half of it to the women

Thus the men of Siruwyë and the women of Uwyë never saw one another

even though they lived in perfect understanding

Only once during the year did they meet

one year the gathering took place in Siruwyë

and the next year it happened in Uwyë

and it took place on the longest day of the year

and together they spent the night that transformed

spring into summer

seeds into plants

hopes into acts

and dreams into reality

Women and men met during the day

and they ate and feasted together

and at night each husband joined his wife

after the children had been left to play together

Afterwards, the infants that would be born of Uwyë and Siruwyë’s union

would remain to grow up with the women if they were girls

and they would join the men if they were boys

each hamlet raised its own children

and when the children came of age

the girls and the boys would already know each other well

Each year a ceremony happened

on the same day as the great meeting occurred

and each girl coming of age would whisper

the name of the boy she desired to marry

and each boy would do the same with the girl he loved

and since ever, the girls of Uwyë and the boys of Siruwyë

had been divinely assisted

and the choice of each always coincided

sometimes a girl chose a boy who was younger and who hadn’t yet come of age

and then she would remain in celibacy until he’d come of age and could choose her in turn

When women got pregnant

they carried their baby until the end of winter

so that they would be able to plant their fields in the beginning of spring

and harvest them at the end of summer

The love that flowed between the men of Siruwyë and the women of Uwyë was perfect

nobody would ever think of deceiving or cheating their spouse

and the day they met they lit bonfires and danced and sang

but they never drank themselves to oblivion

there was a restrain and a wisdom that have now been lost

it wasn’t out of sacrifice they acted in that way

but because they knew that remaining apart all year long

would help them grow into themselves and uncover more and more of their gift

indeed the day they met husbands and wives spent all morning long

discussing of their progress in life, of their new understandings

and it is only in the evening they started the merry feast

and when women and men laid together

they also spoke their hearts with one another in the intimacy of the night

all the sadness and the anger that had been troubled them all year long

all the joy and the elation they had felt, they shared

In that way, only the most important and essential was spoken out

and all the rest was kept within all year long

for life was known to be a solitary journey

where each individual needed to understand his own truth on his own

One day however the cliff between the two hamlets became treacherous

it grew dark and eerie and instead of the usual torrent

that peacefully sang of melting snow and falling rain at its bottom

a huge wave carrying mud and uprooted trees and fallen corpses

engulfed the entire valley in its horror

destroying the bridge that connected the two villages when the feast took place in spring

And at the same time the earth shook violently and the tunnels crumbled

and thus all communication was lost between Uwyë and Siruwyë

the crops were destroyed, as were the aqueduct and the mill

The men of Siruwyë and the women of Uwyë tried to rise again from the rubbles

but fate revealed the strongest, and each time they thought they would finally bring back life to normal

a new calamity fell upon them, until when even the strongest of will surrendered

and thus Uwyë and Siruwyë were abandoned and they fell into disrepair

The men of Siruwyë and the women of Uwyë

never knew what had been the cause of their loss

for they lived at a great distance of other inhabited places

and they had no tidings about how the world was going, and why suddenly things had so dramatically changed

they ignored that the other crowns of Falnë had been destroyed

and that without them, Uwyë and Siruwyë could not live

They ignored that the ë had stopped flowing into the world as it used to

but they felt that their bodies and their minds had much less vigour than in the past

and they attributed it to the direness they were going through

The inhabitants of Uwyë and Siruwyë didn’t know that theirs was a crown city

the last crown city to fall

Uwyë and Siruwyë could not live on their own, and they needed one another to survive

to be a city, a crown of Falnë

but once the bond between the women and the men was broken

once the two hamlets could no longer reach to one another

everything went wrong, and the last times of the two hamlets were marked by very dark happenings

that are better not be recalled in songs

The fate of Siruwyë and Uwyë had been tragic, as had been the case in many other places of Falnë

All the places that relied on the ë, all the places where a form or another of magic existed

were doomed to be wiped away as their sap of life abandoned them

like a fruit cut down from its tree and left on the floor to rot in the sun

thus the crown cities of Falnë each rotted

and the wizards and the witches that had been so powerful once

grew suddenly as powerless and helpless as everyone else

except that they had the fates of cities and thousands upon thousands of souls on their hands

That is not entirely true, for the witches and wizards of old would have kept their power

but from generation to generation their understanding of truth and love was weakened

and they continued having powers because they learnt about them, and the ë still favoured them

but as the ë retreated from the world, they became like empty shells

Now if you ever visit Uwyë and Siruwyë

you will find that the valley separating them is peaceful again

and inside the hamlets you will discover the ruins of what they once had been

one day Uwyë and Siruwyë shall come back to life

and provide again a heaven of peace for all the souls wishing to grow in quietness

but this day has not arrived yet, as all the other crowns must be rekindled

before the sap of life bridges Siruwyë and Uwyë again into the last crown city they were meant to be

“Well, well!” said Zerto. “Uwyë and Siruwyë. I knew about them, but the song I had heard in the past was different and shorter. It is really strange how songs work.”

Arno smiled. “It’s simple. I just say out loud the words that first come to my mind, without any alteration. I wouldn’t be able to change them, even if I wanted to. If I started trying to control the verses I say, the song would dry out. It’s like an object, a rock that I find within me and I let out. I cannot alter it.”

“I understand that my dear boy. But why does the rock appear to you in a different form and with different colours than how it appears to someone else?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps it’s what you said the other day. I sing what I need to hear, or what you need to hear. But that would mean I’d recall songs differently if I am on my own, or with you?”

“I don’t think so,” said Zerto, “you hear what you need to hear. The song is tailored for the storyteller and not for the audience.”

Arno nodded. That made sense. In fact he knew it already. He found it strange how sometimes there was a lag between different parts of himself. One part being wiser and more knowledgeable than the other who suddenly awakened and worried about things that had already been solved.

“There is a lot of power in your versions of the songs, I feel,” Zerto said.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean your words are more vibrant and more colourful than any I’ve heard before. There’s more life in your poetry. And perhaps that will grow with time too.”

Arno’s face became flushed with pride. That was the best compliment someone could make him.

“Come,” Zerto eventually said, “I’m going to show you something… unusual.”

Arno followed him with curiosity. Something unusual? They went into the sleeping room that resembled more the messy working room of a scholar. And there under stacks of paper there was a wooden trap. Zerto lifted it, and there was a ladder underneath. “Follow me,” Zerto said, as he went in, holding an oil lamp in one of his hands. “Typical houses usually do not have secret cellars in Bennië, but this is no normal house.”

Arno went down the ladder that was taller than he first expected, and he found himself in a room half the size of the living room above. There were a lot of objects around and stacks of papers and of books. Everything seemed covered with a thick layer of dust. Zerto placed the oil lamp on a free edge of a shelf, and he started looking at books with a sort of frenzy. “It’s the collection of books of my forefathers,” he explained. “They still make me dream as much as when I was a child. I’d love to have all the time in the world to read them all over and over again.” He took a dusty, thick book that he leafed with love. Then he gave it to Arno as he looked at the other books. The one Zerto had given him was called Evolution of customs and history of the northern villages of the Hië mountains. It seemed interesting but it did not enthral Arno as much as Zerto seemed to be. Arno had always the impression reading these books would be boring, as it reminded him of his history classes at school where the teachers never went to the root of things. They spoke of different periods, of hundreds and hundreds of years of recent history, of conflicts and agreements between this and that village. There had been a few skirmishes in Falnë history, but no true war that had been recorded, and in a way that made recent history even more boring to Arno. What he wanted was to know more about the ancient times of when the Old Falnë lived, but books and teachers barely mentioned these times as though they were completely unimportant and outdated.

Then Zerto handed him other books that were covered in glyphs. “Can you read glyphs?” Arno exclaimed, and his voice echoed in the cellar. Then he also heard the distant rumbling of thunderstorms.

“I can slowly decipher them,” said Zerto. “It takes me some time, but I’ve actually read several books written in glyphs. But all those we have are in modern Falnë already which has been spoiled with the language of Moustadir. The old writing system remained for a long time after Old Falnë died.”

“Why was the language of Old Falnë mixed with Moustadiri?”

Zerto shrugged. “I don’t exactly know how the shift happened. Some say it occurred as the Religion was brought to Falnë. Some say it happened already before.”

“I’ve remembered a song about it once.” And Arno hesitated whether to tell Zerto about what the song said. But that was not a good idea. Arno did not remember its exact content, and for a storyteller it was really bad to summarize one’s song. It was like depreciating and destroying his own art, and it took all the magic out of it. Even though Arno was still young, he understood that already. And so, he did the only thing he could do, which was to sing it again. He had no troubles at all calling the song back from his memory.

Soon the tongue of Old Falnë will stop being spoken

and its perfection will be corrupted

by the idioms of other nations

Old Falnë is not a language like any other

when you speak in Old Falnë

everyone around understands your words

for it is a language of the soul

a tongue of unity and not of division

The haze is growing around the world

preventing the sun from lighting your path

like in times of yore

and Old Falnë cannot be spoken

by hearts where shadows dwell

“But,” pursued Arno after he was done singing, “I wondered if Moustadir had already invaded Falnë for this mixing of the two languages to happen.”

“There is no mention of that in history records my dear boy. But the advent of Religion was a form of, well, surrendering power to others.”

Arno nodded. “Are there books about Old Falnë among those written in glyphs? Because my grandfather has some books in glyphs, but as I cannot read glyphs I really wonder what they speak about.”

“Most of these books are not on Old Falnë either,” said Zerto, “in a few of them the times of old are briefly mentioned, but the writers never dwell into them.”

“Why?”

“I believe that writers of books are not storytellers. They are less in contact with Old Falnë and more in contact with their own times. Centuries ago, there were many more storytellers, and perhaps writers found it useless to write again what the storytellers already sang. But then the art of storytelling slowly became rarer and rarer. That makes your gift even more precious and surprising my boy.”

As Zerto placed the books back on their shelves, Arno looked around the cellar and his eyes stopped on a strange case. Arno walked toward it and he inspected it with his fingers to determine in which material it was made. There was a thick layer of dust and he tried to rub it off. But as he stirred the dust some ended up in his nostrils and he started sneezing. The act of sneezing reawakened something old and forgotten in Arno’s body, and soon he felt the characteristic light and warmth of words rising within him, and he let them out. And while singing he imagined his words like butterflies dancing among the whirling dust.

There was a time back in the past

when the dust was colourful

instead of being gray and dull

it grew in houses

like moss grows on trees and on rocks

and coral at the bottom of the sea

Back then the dust wasn’t swept away from the floor

it assumed different colourations

sometimes it was golden like gold power

other times it took a luminescence that reminisced of the moon

and shone even in the dark

it could also choose any other colour of the rainbow

and be green and blue and red and orange and purple

As the colourful dust accumulated

inhabitants marvelled before its beauty

and they thanked the heavens for so much grace

At the time the ë that flowed in houses made them alive

and that was what made dust so vibrant

whereas nowadays it is as dead as dwellings are

There were men and women who found themselves a gift

to make the most colourful dust sprout

and these individuals were called dusters

as those who tend to a garden are called gardeners

Each form and colour of dust had different preferences

some liked to be exposed to sunlight

while others were fond of seeing the rain fall

some instead needed pitch-black conditions

and others craved the sound of music the dusters played for them

There were other persons too who depended on dust sprouting

and those were the painters who prepared most of their pigments

from the dust they picked up in various corners of their and their neighbour’s houses

Painting, like storytelling and songwriting and velkyrië playing

was one of the sacred arts, one of the greater gifts

and through the channel of the eyes

it had the power of speaking directly to the hearts and the souls of others

Nowadays painting has lost some of its strength

as dust colours have been replaced

by various pigments tediously extracted from nature

and the heart of painters is not as pure as it used to be

and their hand is no longer loyal to their inner truth

Silence stilled the cellar for a moment, and Arno focused on the impression the song had left in his heart, and he imagined Zerto was doing the same. The world of old sounded like a real place of magic, and Arno would have liked very much to live at that time.

“That was beautiful,” clapped Zerto after a moment. “Colourful dust that is alive. I had never heard about it.” And then he added. “That perhaps explains why I’m so lazy to wipe the dust off the cellar. Part of me is still used to times when dust was admired instead of being wiped away.” Zerto gave a brief laugh while saying these words, and Arno laughed too. Now it was Zerto who was starting to think in terms of past lives.

But then Arno remembered what he had been doing before he remembered the song, and his attention returned to the odd case. Under the dust, Arno could now see the original material of the case. It was somehow in between brown polished wood and leather, but it was none of them. He tried to open the case, but it was locked. “Zerto, what is inside the case?”

 By noticing Zerto’s expression, Arno immediately guessed that his intuition had been right. Something very precious and interesting hid within it.

“Where are its keys?” said Arno.

Zerto shrugged. “I forgot where I hid them.”

“I can’t believe you.”

“It’s the truth Arno. I must think of where they are. I can’t remember it now. I only know I hid them well.”

“How could you lock your velkyrië away!?”

Zerto gave him an apologetic look. Arno understood why he had put aside his velkyrië. He could imagine the suffering that came with playing it. But still, it sounded absurd to deprive himself of something that belonged so deeply to his core. Couldn’t have Zerto found some consolation too, by playing music, as Arno did when he sang of Old Falnë.

For the moment Arno let the matter drop, and he continued to explore the cellar. It was an interesting place, and the feeble light made it even more interesting and mysterious. All what surrounded the lateral walls was dark. And Arno started imagining that perhaps the ceiling was just a door toward another world. Another world. Another world. These words resounded in his mind insistently, furiously. They were the trees hiding the forest behind, Arno soon realized, as his view suddenly cleared and a song started taking shape before his eyes, on his palate.

The world of old did not only lie above the surface of the ground

and its roots went well below

there were cities and hamlets and roads and bridges

that had been dug within the underground

and there were people living there too

they were men and women

but they were very different in aspect

as their skins and the plants they grew and the animals they grazed

did not need sunlight to survive and thrive

The underworld was part of Falnë

and one of the crown cities had been hidden there

In Helyë a bridge allowed to pass from the upper to the under world

and sometimes people from the upperworld engaged themselves on quests

taking them in the underworld

and other times people from the underworld

went to visit the upperworld

Within Helyë’s bridge lied an entire town

where goods from both worlds could be exchanged

and a library stored books about the geography and the history of each world

and storytellers came looking for new stories

Helyë wasn’t the only passage point between the upper and the under world

as there were many others across the world

and each was different in appearance

but all were equally interesting to explore

The connections between the upper and the under world were cut

when the ë stopped flowing into the world as it used to

and since then each world has been abandoned to itself

and now it is even ignored if the underworld has survived this cataclysm

and if it still exists somewhere within the ground

or if it has known the same fate as many other places

that were destroyed or removed from the world

“And yet another song!” exclaimed Zerto.

“Did you know it?”

“Not this one. But I’ve already heard mentions about the underworld.”

“You told me this cellar was unlike any others Zerto. Does it have something to do with the underworld?”

“Not that I know of my dear boy. The underworld was gone thousands of years ago. This house was built two or three centuries ago I think.”

“But the song says that perhaps the underworld still exists.”

“Perhaps,” nodded Zerto. “And perhaps it exists for you but not for me. And perhaps it doesn’t exist for me right now, but it will one day.”

Arno tried to make sense of these words. But then, other words came to his rescue, as if he had called them himself. But he hadn’t. He had no ideas from where they came. Despite Arno’s ignorance about how songs arose, they just came all the same.

As you grow into your own truth and your own light

your songs shall grow into their own truth and their own light

do not fall into the trap of becoming prisoner of your own songs

for they are nothing but a reflection of who you are right now

and where you are heading to

The songs you sing are not a universal truth

only the day when you will have accomplished all your potential

only the day when you will be living into your dream

will your songs reflect that state of infinite love and absolute truth

Before that moment, as you still journey on the path of life

the songs you sing will contain elements of truth

to guide you toward love

but they will not be entirely truthful

do not try to make rules and schemes out of them

do not treat them as sacred stories

for your songs will evolve together with you

just take them for the ephemeral moments of beauty they are

they are like butterflies whirling around wild flowers

watch their graceful flight, but do not try to catch them and press them in a book

let them ride freely the breeze and dance in the sunlight

and follow the trail they are setting for you

the truth is not to be found by looking closer at the butterflies

but within your own heart as you journey toward the realm of your soul

Arno nodded his understanding to his own song. Zerto’s words made more sense. In a way Arno realized he knew all that already. But it was as if this knowledge lied in the darkness, and these words had shed light upon them. A little piece at the time, his comprehension of himself and the world was deepening.

“Where were Uwyë and Siruwyë Boutro?”

“I don’t know my boy. Somewhere over the mountains I imagine? Perhaps in the north-east in the province of Hinë, as the song you sang said they were far from all other towns.”

“Could they be in another country?”

“I don’t think so.”

There was something about this that was bothering Arno. He didn’t know why exactly he had thought again of Uwyë and Siruwyë right now, or why he wanted to know where they were. It was now becoming habitual to feel words rising within him, and yet each time Arno felt as much surprise and wonder as the first time he had sung.

Zitrawyl lies in Moustadir

well beyond the Dië mountains

in the middle of an endless plain

deadened a little more year after year

by the sun and the drought

In times of old the town was called Zitrawyë

and the plain around used to be covered with thriving orchards

that yielded all sorts of fruits and vegetables and grains

making of Zitrawyë one of the granaries of Aldië

The country was still populated with tribesmen

who came from the four directions every season

and brought their milk and cheese

and meat and leather and skins and wool

that they sold at a large fair in the streets of Zitrawyë

and in exchange they could get all the provisions and tools they needed

The origin of Zitrawyë goes further back

to the first men and women of Falnë who sailed

and brought their wisdom and their knowledge to the world

in their trips they founded towns all around the world

that aimed to be lighthouses in the night

for the lost travellers and the nomads that roamed across the lands

In these lighthouses there’d always be warm hearth and a dry bed

for those who felt cold in their body and their heart

to rest for a moment and replenish their forces

Towns back then were not what they have nowadays become

and their foundation laid on hospitality and beauty and respect

instead of being enslaved to money and profitability and vying

Zitrawyl has now forgotten about its own origins

and its inhabitants have never known anything else

than the towers of glass and concrete that all around rise

and the hundreds of thousands of cars clotting the city streets

and the clouds of smoke blown all day long by the hundreds of factories

that have ended up obscuring the sky and making it permanently of a dirty light blue

instead of a crisp brilliant azure it once was

and the countryside all around has become home to highways and industries of all sorts

and the memory that it once was a thriving orchard has been wiped out

from the dry dusty flat land it has now become

“It’s the first time I hear this song,” said Zerto. “It’s strange because it seems written in modern times.” He looked suspiciously at Arno. “Did you make it up?”

Arno shook his head. “Not that I know of. I’ve never been farther than Minë and Iyë in my entire life Zerto. I don’t even remember where Zitrawyl is on a map… I think the song already existed before I sang it.”

Zerto took a book from the shelf and he opened it in front of Arno. It was an atlas. Zerto leafed through it until he arrived to Moustadir’s map, and Arno saw that Zitrawyl was at the east of central Moustadir.

“It’s strange,” said Arno, “this song came up to me when I was wondering about the localization of Uwyë and Siruwyë. But it didn’t really answer my interrogation… except if that means that Uwyë and Siruwyë were in Moustadir?”

Zerto shook his head again. “I don’t think that’s possible my boy. They were crowns of Falnë, why would they be in Moustadir then? It doesn’t make sense.”

Arno shrugged. It was better to abandon the matter for now. “Do you promise me to look for the keys of your case and play me a tune on the velkyrië? I’ve never heard to it Zerto and I know of no one that plays it apart from you.”

Zerto nodded slowly. There still was pain in his eyes.

How to help him to overcome this pain, Arno wondered. And then after a moment during which Zerto bustled around the cellar and Arno stood very still and focused, a new song stemmed within him and it rose into the air.

When there is sadness in your heart

don’t try to contain it

keeping it hidden

from the world and from yourself

Instead let it rise into your throat

and precipitate from your eyes

and your tears will rain

on the inner landscapes of your spirit

filling its rivers and its lakes

and watering its meadows and its forests

thus ending the drought

and the next season you shall bear in your heart

the most beautiful and tasteful fruits

you have ever yielded

Zerto had tears in his eyes. He nodded again, looking thankfully at Arno. “I will my boy. You have my word,” he said hoarsely. And he took a small pile of books and started climbing up the ladder. Arno gave one last look to the cellar and he followed him.

It was still raining heavily outside and the thunder was rumbling in the distance. It was already dusk as the sun set very early at this time of the year. Zerto settled on his desk and he started working, while Arno returned to the living room and observed the dying embers in the brazier and he let his thoughts drift. The boredom and anguish he had felt before visiting the cellar slowly returned to him, but this time Arno tried to question and understand his mood. And as it almost always happened since he was with Zerto, Arno recalled yet another song which words resonated with his state of mind.

The reality you perceive in your spirit

is often quite confused

you are not sure of where the trees begin

and where their reflections start

colours are too vivid sometimes

and your eyes are not used

to look at so much intensity

you do not know which roots belong to which trees

and you ignore from which part of your being do they stem

and when you are confronted with such a muddle

you sometimes retreat in fright

leaving the study of your spirit for another day

However time after time you are confronted again

with the need to distinguish the false from the true

the illusion from the reality

the expectation from the dream

and you are forced to come back to the wild gardens of your spirit

you try to touch the water surface

but it recoils at your gesture

and you are left with thin air in your hand

not only is this place confusing, but its behaviour is also tricky

And yet eventually things start making more sense

you get used to these strange lands

and you avoid hurting yourself

by scratching against poisonous thorns

and falling into bottomless chasms

you learn to walk on paths as thin as a rope

with the balance and the grace of a dancer

you step lightly on the ground, almost brushing it

or gliding on it

and instead of looking at the treacherous things around

you keep your eyes focused on your heart

And that’s how you start moving forward

abandoning the places of your spirit where you had thought

you’d live all your life

one dance of balance after another

slowly you arrive in more welcoming places

and the landscapes start reflecting

the new-found love within your heart

Unfortunately Zerto was in the other room, and he had not heard the song. But just as Arno formulated this thought to himself, he saw Zerto standing on the doorstep of the living room.

“Did I sing so loudly that you heard me from the sleeping room?” Arno wondered.

“There are words that need not to be very loud to be heard by the heart,” Zerto replied. Arno gave him a brief smile, and soon Zerto was gone again to his study.

So, Arno thought to himself, I still am in the treacherous parts of my spirit. But that didn’t mean much to him as he didn’t know how to get away from them. That evening, he didn’t feel the girl of his dream very close to him, but nor was she too far. And when Arno focused on his heart, he could feel her in the distance, and that was somehow reassuring and comforting. It gave Arno a purpose, a dream toward which to walk. But when would they finally meet? When? Arno felt a surge of impatience shaking his limbs. Why couldn’t he meet her tonight? Why had he to wait, wait, wait. Why?

And then, novel words came out his mind like colourful butterflies.

Oh eager son and daughter of Falnë

do not be too impatient in life

for each thing shall come at the right time

even if you feel a great potential within you

it does not mean it will be fulfilled

today or tomorrow

the world is no longer what it used to be

and you need to walk one step at a time

on the path toward your dream

there are things you may not understand now

but you will in some months, or many years

your being is in constant metamorphosis

but it takes a lot of time and understanding

to integrate your soul more and more fully within you

and unlock all the gifts that make your essence

be patient and try to find beauty and love

in each day of your life

and one day, eventually, you shall truly step into happiness

but not before many winters pass

on the mounts of Falnë

Oh no, thought Arno to himself. He’d have to wait many winters to meet her. No, no, that was surely not possible. He felt her so close to him lately. He turned to see Zerto in the doorstep, but this time the man hadn’t come. Was he so focused on his own work he didn’t hear Arno? Or perhaps this song touched him less, as he had enigmatically said that it was his heart that had heard what was not loud enough for the ears.

But what was happiness, Arno wondered. He confusedly felt happiness was to be with the dream of his girl. She had the solutions to all his problems, all his fears, all his darkness. She would bring him the love and the light. Arno fantasized about her, until Zerto came to tell him to get ready, as they’d be late for aunt Balihë’s dinner and she would surely scold them as she liked people to be very punctual for meals.

Arno was still engrossed into his reflections about happiness when yet another song started playing in his heart.

The day you shall finally be happy

is when all your being will understand

how to fly and dance in unison

with all what surrounds you

If you want to be truly yourself

standing out like a colourful bird

in the middle of the most ordinary fowls

is not a measure of success

At the contrary, as you transform yourself

the world around you will transform too

As the metamorphosis occurs

you will grow more and more in harmony

with the landscapes and the faces surrounding you

and you will step closer and closer

to the brightest dream of your heart

The outside is just a mirror of the inside

and when you strive to control and dominate the outside

then you are also trampling and stifling

the weakest parts of yourself

that withhold your purest light in their core

Zerto nodded. “Another song that is very meaningful to me. I think I was not born at the right time to be able to truly become the person I dreamt to be. Society is way too rigid and it’s not ready to metamorphose itself.”

“And it’s only getting worse,” Arno said.

“And it’s only getting worse. But you have such a potent gift it almost gives the illusion that we are going back toward how things used to be in the past.”

That brought warmth to Arno’s heart because it resonated with him. Deep within himself he felt he had a crucial role to play. He felt that he’d bring society to a change. But weren’t these illusions, another part of him wondered. How could a single boy have an impact, when he had none now and was surrounded with people who didn’t seem to care much about the values he cherished.

“Do you think we will ever return to how the world once was?” Arno said.

“I hope my boy, but it will take a lot of time I think. It seems to me we are going in an opposite direction now.”

Zerto’s words deepened the shadow over Arno’s heart. Somehow he would have liked Zerto to tell him the contrary, to say that yes, soon the world would grow beautiful again. And yet Arno knew that was not true. It was enough to see what was happening in Tinë and in the rest of Falnë to notice there was something deeply wrong with how the world was doing.

They walked to aunt Balihë under a sturdy umbrella to shelter them from the rain, and when they came back the air had grown considerably cooler and Arno could feel the winter breath in it. It was strange because he had not really noticed the fall, and now it suddenly seemed to be winter. And yet he told to himself it was probably much milder in Tinë, and he was feeling the cold just because he wasn’t used to the climate of the mountain. He delighted in the smoke-like vapour each of his breath formed in the air, and it reminded him of the past, of when his family was still united and it still felt perfect.

Once home, Arno changed his drenched socks into dry ones. After putting on his pyjama he lied down on his mat while Zerto went to work in his sleeping room. A moment passed during which Arno listened to the rain fall, and then he fell asleep.

In the morning Arno woke up as Zerto was already bustling around the kitchen where he had brought one of his books. As Arno opened his eyes, he had the strange sensation of having dreamt of a song. It had never occurred to him before. He sat on his mat and tried to recall the words he had heard. And then, they came back to his mind, and to his shock, the song told about him, and suddenly Arno knew no longer what was real and what wasn’t. Was it solely a song, or was it a memory he recalled as a song?

Arno woke up in the middle of the night

and he walked silently to the wooden trap

he opened it, and lo!

he already was down the scale, in the cellar

he walked toward one of the walls

and a door appeared in the stone where there was none

as he crossed the wall and suddenly found himself

in a strange place he had never been to before

a narrow tunnel where a river streamed

and a nearby path on which he stood

Arno could see as in dim daylight

despite there being no light

he walked for a while along the stream

but then he discovered he could run without getting tired

and so he run and run, but he still got to nowhere

at a moment Arno had the idea to jump

and move his feet and his arms like a bird

and suddenly he was launched into the air

swimming in the currents and riding them as if he were in the sea

it all felt very natural to him as he went on faster and faster

and then the gallery became broader and broader

until he arrived in a place where the river formed a cascade

and flowed down into the emptiness

since Arno was flying, he didn’t to follow the narrow path

that now winded on tiny stairs cut into the rock of the cliff

and he could look at all what surrounded him

for a moment he felt completely disoriented

he could not see the ceiling nor the bottom of the place where he was

but he noticed hundreds of galleries like the one he had walked in

all leading their own streams of water that joined into dozens of cascades

flowing down toward the depth of the ground

more than a room or a valley Arno felt like he was in a country or a world

and in fact as he fled up and down he discovered cities all around the enormous depression above which he floated

the cities were built into the largest galleries that bore the widest rivers

there were also cities built on spurs that appeared from nowhere in the middle of the canyon

the cities all seemed dug into the rock rather than built

and as Arno was far away from them he could not distinguish if they were inhabited or not

but he immediately had the impression that they were all alive

there were thin bridges of ropes that stretched above the canyon

connecting one town to the other

the rocky walls surrounding the hallow were also all carved with narrow stairs winding in all directions

Arno now flied toward the bottom of the hallow that he could not yet see

there seemed to be a cushion of haze rising from there

and Arno continued flying until he saw what was at the origin of the mist

he found himself flying above a wide sea

and on the sea there were several islands with marvellous towns that shimmered with strange lights

there was no sky and no sunlight, and the only thing people from down there could perceive

was the gray violet mist that wrapped their world in fumes, with some hints of blues and greens in places

Arno continued to fly toward the island he found the most beautiful

it was built on a hill and there were many towers and buildings that rose

here the buildings were built with stone and they did not seem to be dug within the rock

at last Arno ended in the middle of a narrow square

and he soon realized the stone used was very colourful and gleaming, as if buildings were built of quartz and what they called precious stones from the other side of the world whence Arno came

but he had not the time to look at their architecture and further marvel

as he soon was surrounded by many people walking toward him

men and women who looked different from all he had known

they were shorter in stature and skinnier and Arno was almost of the same height of the shortest among them

he noticed their eyes were gleaming like those of animals at night

but he read only kindness and amazement in there

and it suddenly dawned on him they could see without light

the skin of their faces was as white as snow

and Arno found their traits as beautiful as the buildings they constructed

the rest of their bodies was covered in all sorts of colourful robes

as the temperature was low enough to wear long sleeves

Now the men and the women formed a circle around him, and they bowed to him with respect

“You have come back at last,” one of the men said in a language Arno understood

“Who, me?” Arno replied in confusion

“In times of yore, there were flying angels who came from other worlds our stories tell. You are one of those, aren’t you?”

And Arno suddenly had the impression of remembering something old he knew

“Where am I?”

“This island is called Anaheriyë. You have landed in a friendly corner of our world, for we have not lost our roots as others have since the fall of Ychrentiyë occurred.”

“Am I in underworld?”

“You are, but this is for us the only world, as we have never visited other places,” the man replied

He was the only one speaking, but Arno had the feel all the people surrounding him were of the same mind as the man was

“Come visit Anaheriyë the fair. You are welcome to stay here as long as you wish to.”

And Arno followed them as they walked in narrow streets which cobblestones were shining in a thousand colours

and the houses were built with the most beautiful materials he had ever seen

The men and the women did not talk, but they looked intently at his expression

and Arno felt they were happy and proud to see how marvelled he was

after visiting the town they went down stairs and they found themselves in a lower version of the town

in face each house had a part dug into the rock and its lowest door gave on an underground lake

where luminescent ships floated here and there

it was much warmer than in the higher part of the city, and Arno discovered the lake was hot

it was above the ocean’s level that surrounded the island

and its water sprang directly from the mountains depth that were filled with molten rock, the Anaheriyë explained to him

“The famous fish of Anaheriyë swims in these waters and these you see are our fishing boats.”

They continued walking on narrow stone ridges and bridges that connected the neighbourhoods of the lower town

and here too almost everything was built of precious stones

and the reflections they casted on the lake surface was beautiful

“You have said that not all people in the underworld remember the past?” Arno asked

“Anaheriyë is the only island that has kept all its songs and its wisdom,” the man replied, “bickering and fighting have become the norm in many places, and all the towns that were not as strong as ours have fallen already. But now you are here to help us.”

“Help you?”

“Not today. You are tired and you shall rest, come we will show you your house.”

Arno followed the Anaheriyë out of the lower part of the town

there, they brought him to a tower which winding stairs they climbed and climbed

until they reached the top and had a view on the entire island and on the surrounding sea that endlessly stretched

from there Arno was surprised not to see the islands he had glimpsed when he had come down flying

and he told himself he had not realized the real dimensions of the underworld

Then they showed him his room that had windows from all sides of the tower

They brought him a meal made of fish and vegetables and fruits that grew in Anaheriyë

it was strange to see their faint glow in his plate, and they tasted delightfully

and then Arno suddenly felt very tired and he fell asleep on his bed

It was very, very strange. As Arno sang the song, he recalled each and every details of his trip to the underworld. He remembered the sensation while flying. He knew the delicate taste of their food. He remembered the face of the men and women who had welcomed him in Anaheriyë. He remembered the rhythm of the strange language they spoke and he understood while he was with them.

“What was that my dear boy?” asked Zerto who seemed nearly as surprised as Arno was.

“I don’t know Zerto. It’s very odd. It’s almost if I truly lived it and travelled to the underworld during the night.”

“How is that possible?”

“I don’t know. Let’s go to the cellar.”

And without waiting for Zerto Arno rushed toward the wooden trap that he opened and he went down the ladder. Zerto shortly followed him with an oil lamp, and that was a judicious addition as contrarily to the poem he had just sung, Arno could not see in the darkness. He waited for Zerto to go down the scale, and then he rushed toward the wall where he remembered a door had appeared. He knocked on the wall, but it was uniformly cut in the rock and there was no trace of a door. Zerto had come closer with his oil lamp, but they found nothing. Arno tried looking at the other walls, but they had all been cut into the rock. There was not the least hint of a passage or a portal.

It all was very strange because Arno still remembered vividly his trip during the night, and at that moment he almost felt like he belonged to two different worlds, and his memories in the underworld were more vivid than the remembrance of what he had done the day before with Zerto. Could these memories only have been created by a song and a vivid dream? Was the underworld truly as Arno had dreamt of it?

“It probably was a very vivid dream my dear boy,” said Zerto echoing Arno’s thoughts. “Perhaps you also remembered something of a past life?”

Arno didn’t reply. He still felt disconcerted with all what had happened. But he had to resign to follow Zerto who was already going up the ladder. On a second thought Arno rushed toward another corner of the cellar where he gripped at the velkyrië case and tried to heave it. It was much lighter than he would have expected, and he took it with him up the ladder. Zerto was waiting for him above the trap with the oil lamp and when he noticed Arno’s mischief he rolled his eyes but an affectionate smile softened his face. “What are you doing my boy? It’s not enough to have travelled to the underworld for you, and you still want to persecute an old man?”

But Arno noticed Zerto did not truly mean his words and there was a gleam of gratefulness deep within the man’s eyes. Arno laughed.

“You are incorrigible. Come, let’s eat a morsel before setting out.”

They had their usual simple breakfast of salted goat cheese and olive oil with flat bread and brown creamy honey. It was drizzling outside and the sky was overcastted with clouds. It was colder too, but the most intense part of the storm now seemed to be over.

Arno continued to be engrossed in his thoughts, thinking of the door to the underworld he had seen and that was no longer. He also wondered why he had recalled, or made up, this song. In a way the sensation of having flied he still felt in his body was exhilarating and the landscapes he had seen in the underworld were so beautiful their remembrance now accompanied him. But apart from that it was very strange. Was he really such an important and gifted individual? Or was he simply a self-delusional fool with too much imagination. That thought made his heart ache. He imagined telling about his vision to mayor Qiroko. The man would surely laugh of him.

But for now Arno pushed these thoughts away and he focused on the door he could no longer find. There was something to understand from it he felt. And indeed a new poem sang itself through him.

Closed doors and walls

are barriers only if you see them as such

while they become portals

if you can imagine in your heart

what truly lies behind

For that to occur you need to unlock

the inner doors to your own heart

and once you visit

the most sacred places of your being

then no walls of stone or haze

shall stand before you

and block the light from reaching your eyes

I have my answer I guess, Arno told to himself, there are still inner doors I have not opened in my heart, and somehow that thought caused him a pain that was almost physical.

Why was it so painful to think about these closed doors? Novel words sprouted in Arno’s heart as a response to his own interrogation, and he let them out.

I’m blocking you from myself

as you’re blocking me from you

in this deadly strife

we’ve been engaged in for lifetimes

Instead of embracing you

accepting my vulnerability

I prefer to flee and drown

this longing for you I feel

How can I be loyal to you

when you are not loyal to yourself

how can I love you entirely

when you do not love yourself entirely

how can I embrace you

when you refuse my embrace

You have pushed me into this direness

and only you can let the light shine anew

upon my heart

and bridge this gap that keeps me

so cold at night

That almost brought tears of powerlessness to Arno’s eyes. How could there be strife with the girl of his dream? He somehow knew the poem was about her. The words he had sung were harsh, but they were also hopeful at the end. Why didn’t she want to let her light shine and warm Arno’s heart and fill this gap he was feeling more and more. Why didn’t she want to live this love together with him. Arno somehow felt that once they would be together, nothing would be able to stop them. It was such a powerful love. So tender and so strong. He had never felt anything else that could compare with it in his entire life.

 Zerto didn’t seem to hear the last two songs Arno sang, since he had disappeared from the kitchen where Arno had stayed on his own. But Arno didn’t really care, so engrossed he was in his own thoughts and feelings. He was starting to feel anger against the girl of his dream, and he failed to understand why. It was a confused and heavy and fierce feeling that was starting to fill all his heart and could not be ignored any longer. There was so much anger there that Arno could almost have started shouting at her if she had been in front of him. And this anger didn’t make any sense to him. But how to ignore a boiling feeling in your heart which steam rises in your throat and invades your head coming out from your nostrils and your mouth and your ears, and making your hands curl into fists of anger and powerlessness. For a moment, Arno just drowned into this anger. He relished into it. He longed to ride it as a dragon would ride a strong gale, spitting all the fire he sensed in his chest. And then he started feeling as the dragon he wished to be, as words came out from him and filled the kitchen with their echo.

Your land is drowning

and you are fretting

trying to make Falnë sink together with you

for you do not accept your fate

and if you shall perish

then you desire to see others perishing with you too

delighting of their misery

instead of accepting and understanding yours

As hard as you try however

your wickedness can do nothing

when confronted to your truth

for your malice will die

the moment your heart stops beating

and truth shall forever live

And then you will realize the horror

of the acts you have committed

you will see the monster

you grew into

bringing Ychrentiyë to its destruction

and conducing thousands of men and women to folly

And then you shall despair

of the consequences of your acts

and of the hideous person you were

and you will be so ashamed

you will hide for long

before coming out in the open again

and asking for forgiveness to all the persons you wronged

and learning to overcome the hate of yourself

in which you have become trapped

If you still can listen to an old friend’s advice

start to repent now

and embrace death with dignity

your fate is fully deserved

it is a mercy life is doing you

to put an end to the horrors you have wrought

You have brought an entire nation, an entire people

to its fall

and with this fall

a mighty earthquake

will shake the world

and destroy a lot of the beauty

that has taken centuries and centuries to build

sending the world into a darkness

it had never before known

But do not rejoice of that in your last instants

for truth and love remain hidden

in a corner of each man and each woman

and even if the path to their dreams has been lost for now

one day they shall find it again

and bring the world to a new height

making it fairer than it had ever been

and you and me will be part of it

and that day we shall shake hands again

and entirely forgive one another

after centuries of strife

we shall embrace as the lovers we once were

and we are meant to become again

Now I beg you my love

to let go of all this darkness

that has strangled your heart

walk toward death with the faith

my words can bring back in your empty chest

the promise that one day

you shall learn to love again

and shall deserve to be loved for who you are

and that despite all the destructions you and other will bring

fairness and beauty shall return always brighter

Go in peace my love, go in peace

and I will try to cope with the mess

you leave after you

Arno was shaking when he finished saying his song. It was very strange singing a story that was thousands of years old and identifying so much with its characters. For a moment, Arno had thought he was the man of the song, and that his anger was directed against the woman of Ychrentiyë. The song didn’t say if it was a he or a she, but Arno felt with certainty she was a woman.

What did all this mean, he wondered. Was he feeling again what people had felt thousands of years ago? Perhaps to be able to say this song, one’s needed to put himself in this state of mind. But Arno’s emotions somehow felt too real to be those of a song. For a moment Arno had stopped being himself, and he had grown into that man of Falnë who so hated and loved the woman of Ychrentiyë who was bringing the world to its ruin. Arno tried to remember if in the other songs he sung he felt so intensely the emotions of the characters whose story he told. Yes, he had felt intensity, but this song was somehow different. Perhaps it was its theme and its setting that were more dramatic.

Then Arno noticed Zerto who had appeared at the door of the kitchen. “I almost believed this song was about yourself my dear boy so much anger and passion I heard into your voice.”

Zerto was echoing his thoughts. “I almost wondered that too,” said Arno.

“You definitely are a strange specimen Arno. Singing songs unheard of all day long and making us feel we have travelled back in time and in space.”

Arno smiled. He was still feeling shaken, but the anger had almost disappeared.  For some time he just sat quietly in the kitchen, listening to the silent drizzle outside and to the birds singing despite the harsh weather.

But after a moment had elapsed, anger surged again within Arno’s heart. It was almost uncontrollable, and he felt like breaking something. He formed his hands into fists, relishing the tension that was accumulating there. Anger made Arno feel powerful. But it also ate at him from the inside. He needed to express it in a way or in another, to unleash it and let it flow, otherwise it might become destructive. He felt the ball of anger growing and growing, until it exploded in words that flew out from his throat as tiny knives launched toward a target that wasn’t there.

Falnë cannot accept any longer your terms

The men and women of my nation

do not agree with your way of doing things

You watch the world in a power hungry manner

and move people and cattle as pawns of your own property

and you are fast undermining

the balance that has always existed with the land

I cannot prevent you from leading Ychrentiyë to its own loss

even though I’d mourn very much such an occurrence in my heart

and I wish you listen to reason before it is too late

But I will not let you drown Falnë in your boundless ambition

no, Falnë wants none of your experimentation

Stop meddling into our affairs and trying to gain partisans to your cause

The motives that are guiding you are wrong

they are not based on the true love

that has been our forefathers’ legacy

I was speaking to you as wiseman of Falnë to the wisewoman and tyrant of Ychrentiyë

but now I will let go of the formality and tell you

of all the despair in my heart that your behaviours are stirring

how can you so trample all what is sacred and beautiful

how could you ignore all my pleas and admonishments for so long

becoming even more enraged into the way you have engaged yourself on

if I didn’t know you as well as I do, I’d think you have lost your sanity

but you haven’t, you haven’t, otherwise I’d be insane too

you have decided to shut down your feelings, to forgo love

and throw your entire being into a vain research of truth that is not based on love

all your acts take their root in your wound that is putrefying

you have never pardoned the world to be born as an orphan, to have no parents

and need to fight all along your way to become the person you are

you felt you had a great potential and wanted to realize it at all costs

and now you think you are realizing it, but my dear let me tell you

you are living into your shadows, and each of your acts and each of your decision

is poisoning Ychrentiyë a little further

how dare you use the ë in such a way, to modify the genomes of plants and animals and men

to extract the sap of life from the earth and use it to power your infernal inventions

you think yourself clever and now you speak of subjugating the other nations who dare resist to you

with all the machines you have built and the half-bred that are now roaming your lands

and perhaps some parts of the world will fall to your wickedness, but Falnë won’t

as long as our hearts remain true to our truth you can do nothing against us

and all your attacks will bump against the shield that surrounds our land

But I’m still speaking to you as the wiseman of a nation, and not as the man who loved you and still loves you

many years ago you have cruelly rejected my love

entrenching yourself in your idea you could not be loved for who you truly were

but only loved out of fear, growing into the tyrant you have become, misusing your wisdom and your gift to torture and destroy and kill

and taking a wicked pleasure in writing me personally each time I wrote you, to further reject my undying love for you

I have seen your eyes and the true colours of your heart that have resonated with mine

I know what potential and what boundless love hide within you

If only you had been a little more loved

if only you accepted to be loved and cherished

if only you would listen to the echo my words awakened in the deepest part of your chest

but alas, you have grown insensitive

and you have stifled what you used to call your vulnerabilities, in which I recognized your higher self

I fear these words I am writing you will have no more effects on you than my previous letters and that you won’t even respond

Know that I will sing them too because I want every man and woman of Falnë to know

both the devil and the angel who dwell in you

 Arno was literally carried, sucked away, by these stories he was singing, becoming for a moment a protagonist of the end of Old Falnë. He had immediately felt it was about the same protagonists as in the previous one he had remembered.

Later during the day, after a lull, Arno remembered another episode, another song related to the same events. Strangely, Arno intuited he was recalling them backwards in time, and the last one he sang seemed to be the oldest.

I am revolted by your behaviour, lady of Ychrentiyë

do you think it fine to trample me

because I have expressed my feelings for you

and showed myself in all my vulnerability

How can you take my support for granted

in all the wrongs you are committing

You do not even bother to explain to me

the reasons for which you are acting in this way

when you know I would lend you a compassionate ear

and I would help you stop spinning this evil thread you have started

My love for you is endless and boundless

and even if you kept on ignoring me for the next hundred years

I would still cherish the true you in the depth of my heart

but you must know that inside of me two persons dwell

just like two persons dwell inside of you

and sometimes you hurt me so deeply

that you knock out the true me

and then another cold and fearful individual

takes the reins of my body

and that person is just the mirror of who you appear to be

to those who don’t know you as well as I do

this person has no love to warm him or guide him

I am scared that someday somehow you will make of me what you have become

I do not want to be a cold heartless monster

I do not want to kill and ravage

I do not want to let go to all my instincts

I do not want to resemble you

and yet I feel this part of mine stirring more and more

this part that wishes to destroy everything since it cannot love nor be loved

this part that whispers to me you do not respect me because I am weak

and if I started behaving like you, I would gain your respect and your love

and if you still were willing to ignore and disrespect me

then this part of myself whispers that I could seek revenge

and put an end to all in a bath of blood

This is the inner battle I must each day fight, my dear

and you are not at all helping me with it

I must lend my strength and my will to my true self

while keeping the shadow at bay

I must continue to find beauty in myself and in you

not to founder into the same folly you have embraced

And here I give you an edge against me

I give you the keys to destroy me as you are destroying the land

that is how far goes my foolishness of loving you against yourself

where you have embraced darkness out of fear

I have embraced love, and each day of my life I will keep hoping

that you finally see the light that humbles your heart

and dissolves the mask of harshness and hate that has hardened on your face

I beg you my dear, to let these words seep within

let them dent at the walls you have built

let them bring some warmth to your shivering heart

and retrieve this love of me you have once felt and then lost

retrieve this love of yourself you believe cannot exist anymore

love does not bear a hardened mask as yours

love is merciful and does not seek revenge

trust to love my dear, once in your life listen to the whisper of your heart

It all was very overwhelming to Arno, as for the time of a song he had felt thrown back thousands of years in the past in the skin of a wiseman of Falnë, torn between his love and his anger, his tenderness and his fear. While singing he had felt like destroying the lady of Ychrentiyë but also like stroking gently her hair and begging her to see all the beauty in her own heart. A part of Arno wondered why he was he feeling this story so intensely. Was it only the strength of the words he had sung that had sucked him away in the past, or was there something else he could not yet comprehend.

Arno fell asleep exhausted that night, so much tension he had felt in his body during the day. He had the confused impression that the songs he had sung about the lady of Ychrentiyë were somehow related to the girl of his dreams. Perhaps the wiseman had felt the same kind of love for the wisewoman, as Arno felt for the girl of his dream. But then it seemed such a tragic end for so beautiful a love. And Arno shuddered at the idea that the same thing could ever happen to him.

The next morning Arno woke up somehow disappointed he had not dreamt again about the underground world. After all he had fallen asleep there in his song two nights ago, and the inhabitants of the isle of Anaheriyë had promised him to tell him more about the underworld on the morrow.

It was strange being part of all these stories. Feeling like the protagonist of poems so intense they seemed real. You would imagine Arno to be very confused about who he was, but a good night of sleep combined with waking up in the morning without having dreamt of another song were enough to let him retrieve his clarity, and the dryness of the reality he lived in struck him. Arno lived in a world where magic didn’t exist, and where only old stories and songs could make him dream. With the exception of the days he felt the girl of his dream close to his heart and could almost glimpse her face. These days Arno saw more depths and colours to the things around him, and it almost felt like he was within a song. These days were rare, way too rare in his life. The presence of Zerto helped stir and awaken this side of his, but soon Arno would be gone, and he would return to all the problems and worries he had in Tinë.

There was no time to lose. The next day Hamiro would pick him up and bring him back to Tinë, and Arno still had important things to do. He jumped from his bed, put on his cloths and rinsed his face before running to Zerto’s sleeping room. He found Zerto sitting thoughtfully on his bed with a very strange and beautiful instrument on his lap. The case Arno had sneaked out from the cellar lied wide-open at his feet. It had been cleaned and polished and its strange material was shimmering in the morning sunlight that entered into Zerto’s room. But it was the velkyrië and Zerto’s hands which gently caressed its chords that captured all Arno’s attention. He didn’t say anything, watching the musician who had retrieved his long lost instrument. There was a different light sparkling in Zerto’s eyes. He seemed more wakeful, more present, more passionate. He looked younger, much younger too. It was very interesting to see.

But Zerto broke the tension of the moment when he carefully placed the velkyrië on the mat close to him, and he looked in Arno’s direction. “Let’s first have breakfast my boy,” he said.

They indeed had breakfast, but then Zerto was suddenly bustling through all sorts of activities he usually neglected. He did some cleaning, then he told Arno that since the weather had cleared it would be good to pay a visit to some peasants who worked his land beyond the oak forest. Arno tried to protest, to no avail. It was clear for Arno that Zerto would try to find every occasion not to sit again on his bed with the velkyrië on his lap, for he was too scared of playing it again.

And so went the day running from one place to another. Zerto lent very old boots of his to Arno for the path had been much muddied in the countryside and the mud would arrive to their ankles in some places. And indeed, once they had abandoned the stone paths of the village, there was aplenty of mud. Arno enjoyed this walk across the open countryside where the storm had brought about fall to another depth. The yellowing and reddening of leaves had sped up, and there were carpets of leaves and branches on the soil underneath trees. And now all the vegetation seemed to be shining under the morning sun, as the sky that was still quite cloudy started to clear up under the influence of a strong north wind. When a cloud passed in front of the sun Arno felt himself shivering in his coat. He could unfortunately not enjoy all the beauty of their walk, for the idea of Zerto having to play the velkyrië remained in the back of his mind. He needed to encourage, or even coerce the man into doing it, and Arno only had till the night to achieve his ends.

They had lunch with the family of peasants who worked Zerto family’s hand. It was a simple but heartening soup cooked over the brazier and they tasted some fresh cheese too as the peasants kept some goats. Afterwards they came back to the village and Zerto told Arno he wanted to show him the temple. It was an old stone building with some glyphs inscriptions over the portal. Arno noticed the stones of the lower parts of the wall had not been squared, and he found them beautiful in their unevenness. It was impressive to see the building standing so sturdily despite this somehow crude construction.

“I believe this temple already existed before the advent of the Religion,” Zerto said. “I don’t know if you’ve ever recalled songs about it, but in the ages of old there were sorts of council houses where all the inhabitants of a place could meet and discuss of many subjects touching them. These council houses had several other functions too. All my life I’ve tried to convince my fellow citizens that we needed such a council house in Bennië, that it was necessary to involve everyone in the village into the public life. I even suggested holding these meetings in the temple the days in which there aren’t ceremonies. But well, you know how closed-minded people are.”

Zerto pushed the door of the temple that was ajar, and Arno followed him. They stepped into the dark vaulted building that was lit with a few oil lamps and narrow windows in the wall. The ceiling was built in stone and Arno could see there the traces of paintings that had been scratched.

“I believe buildings were much more colourful than they nowadays are,” Zerto said. “Art was encouraged at the time and the ones gifted with painting were called to paint ceilings and walls that were covered with lime. Back then it was believed it was very important to expose people to beauty and poetry everywhere they went. There were storytellers, painters, musicians, sculptors, and various craftsmen who worked not for the money or the renown but for the truth and the love they put into their creations. Do you know that we are still repeating the shapes that had been invented thousands of years ago?”

It was the first time Arno saw Zerto in such a talking mood, and he understood better what the man’s study and books were about. Zerto seemed passionate with understanding how life was organized at the times of Old Falnë, to inspire himself to bring changes in today’s world. Arno could feel the enthusiasm of Zerto reaching his heart, and for a moment he forgot about the velkyrië, focusing on everything he had around and listening to all the explanations Zerto was giving him.

“Have you ever seen a lime kiln?” Zerto asked Arno after a certain point.

Arno shook his head.

“There is a field of kilns on a hill above the village. At this season they have stopped working as they require dry weather. There are still a few potters and lime makers who work there, even though I fear their crafts will soon fall into disuse. Come, let’s walk toward there. I think you will find inspiring this place.”

And they went out of the temple and started walking toward another extremity of the village, and then they climbed along a narrow path that sometimes formed natural stairs of rocks and large roots. It was strange to see Zerto so energetic and inspired, and Arno wondered what had changed in the man. It was as if the Zerto Arno knew had been hopeless, and today it was a younger more hopeful man he discovered.

They arrived atop the hill that was covered with many pine trees and firs and oaks. Beyond the vegetation was a hallow literally covered with kilns. It was very impressive to see. It seemed like a dead city. There were massive round constructions of the size of one or several houses that had all lost their ceilings. “This is the lime making place, not only for Bennië but also for many villages of the mountain,” Zerto explained. “They have chosen this hallow because there are the two types of stones they need to build the kilns and fill them. And there is aplenty of wood and coal supply in the forest around.”

Arno looked at the grey and the white stones that were used. The grey ones were used to build the walls of the kiln, while the interior of the kiln and its ceiling were made of the white one that would melt after a fire had been lit for three days within the kiln. Then the molten stone would dry and it was cut and sent on donkeys backs to the working sites where lime was needed. There, stonemasons threw water on the quicklime with which a violent reaction happened, making it boil again and mixing it with sand and straw and other items to use it as cement between stones or whitewash the walls with it.

It was all very interesting and it made Arno dream. Each time, they needed to build a new kiln, as the ceiling melted and fell when a fire was lit and the stone transformed in lime. That was why there were so many kilns, some looking much older than others. The day was still fresh and the sun was lowering toward the horizon and Zerto told Arno it was safer to go back home, and that another time they’d visit the potter kilns and the places where wood was transformed into coal. Anyway, it wasn’t the right season to witness it all.

They went back home and Zerto sat on his desk to write for a while, and Arno asked permission to go down in the cellar again. There, he let his imagination wander thinking of the world that hid beyond the cellar’s walls. He inspected the walls again, looking for the portal with the half hope that since he was alone this time as Zerto had remained upstairs, perhaps the secret passageway between worlds would reveal itself to him. But Arno found nothing, except a song that surged through him.

Along the path to know yourself

you will sometimes have visions and intuitions

that seem as real, if not realer than the reality around

Yet beware, wanderer of Falnë

beware of all the images you shall see

for they are not showing you the truth but the way

images, like songs, are gentle breezes of the wind

pushing and pulling you into one direction

helping you to explore forgotten latitudes of your soul

do not take every story you imagine for real

do not make hard rigid rules out of your intuitions

but let them flow in and out of you

as they carry you toward the truth of your heart

And so my vision of the underworld was not true, Arno told to himself. This thought did not disturb him. After all there was enough beauty in the songs to make them worthy of existing for their own sake. What the songs told didn’t need to be true.

However when Arno remembered the dream with the stranger girl he still felt so much familiarity and love for, his heart twisted. That could not be false. One part of Arno doubted of it all, perhaps it was just another vision to guide him. But that did not, could not, satisfy him. No, he wanted that girl to be real, he wanted to meet her, he wanted to continue loving her and feel loved by her. If she wasn’t real, then the world was all meaningless and cruel. And Arno felt the perspective of a dreariness and a greyness falling upon him that he pushed away. The sole act of entertaining these thoughts pained him too much, and all Arno could do was focus on the warmth and the love he felt within his heart and push all this reflection away. She was real. She loved him too. He could feel it.

Arno looked for a moment at the book collection of Zerto. For a moment he inhaled the scent of old pages. Among those which were written in modern Falnë and not in the incomprehensible glyphs there were books about geography and history and meteorology and botany and astrology and theology. Arno was somehow disappointed not to find written stories, and he wondered why stories were never written in Falnë. Of course, he still remembered what some of the songs said about it, about not making rigid what was fluid, about keeping all the power of the stories that arose within the storyteller at the right time. But still, it would have been pleasant to find a book that could make him dream. For all these books about various topics and fields of science did not make him dream. They spoke too much to his mind and too little to his heart.

Still, Arno tried to leaf through some books. But he soon got impatient and the cellar suddenly seemed too stuffy and dark. When Arno climbed the ladder and closed the trap, the day had flowed into the evening and Zerto was getting ready to go eat at aunt Balihë’s house.

They had supper there and before leaving aunt Balihë Arno gave her a kiss on her wrinkled cheek, and she kissed him twice, with big moist smacks. “Come back soon my dear boy,” she said.

“I will try to,” said Arno, but in his heart he wondered if he’d see her again and a sad mood fell upon him. He was feeling sad to leave Zerto and his life in Bennië. Arno told himself that these moments would never return, and it pained him. It was the same sort of nostalgia he felt in Tinë with his family and his departed grandfather and granduncle. In Bennië for a few days Arno had felt completeness again, and a happy family with Zerto and Balihë, and now he was losing that again.

When they returned home, Arno looked expectantly in Zerto’s eyes, and the man nodded with a contrite expression. But beyond that, Arno could well feel there was a lot of expectancy, of tensed eagerness. Arno followed Zerto in his sleeping room, and the boy remained standing while the man sat cross-legged on the mat where he had left the velkyrië. He took the instrument on his lap and closed his eyes. And then, slowly, his fingers started stroking one chord after another and the room was filled with an eerie sound. Immediately Arno fell in love with the music the velkyrië could produce. After a moment of trying out all the chords, Zerto whispered in a hoarse voice. “It’s still perfectly tuned, ready to be played on, as if it had been waiting for me all this time.”

And then Zerto suddenly started playing with ardour and Arno retrieved himself on a trip he would never forget. The room filled with the velkyrië’s sound that was powerful and tender and sharp, and suddenly the walls seemed to be pushed much farther. The dimensions of the room seemed to change. Arno looked at Zerto whose hands and arms seemed to be dancing on the velkyrië, and he thought that the man and the instrument formed one sole thing. The music was deep, it was sad and joyful, loving and expectant and dreamy, and after a moment Zerto started singing too. He didn’t sing words as Arno did. He just used his voice as another musical instrument producing sounds accompanying the velkyrië. Arno saw the room filling with fire and rushing rivers, and then a meadow appeared before his eyes in the middle of a quiet forest and rain started to fall. The rain transformed into snowflakes. And in the distance a beautiful shape glowing in a yellow white started to come forward. The shape was still in the forest, but Arno felt her presence as she came forward toward him. The snow was still falling but it wasn’t cold and it almost seemed like flakes of sunlight. The breeze made it swirl and twirl in dancing patterns surrounding the glowing shape. Arno felt a very strong awareness with his heart, feeling it distinctly in his chest, beating, pounding in a golden lake of warmth. And then, Arno recognized her. It was her, the girl of his dream, walking in the meadow in a dress woven into tree leaves and snowflakes. Everything seemed to be twirling around her, as if the wind emanated from her body, from her heart. She came closer and Arno could see her face was grave. But it also was joyful the next moment. And sad. And angry. And resolved. All possible expressions passed on her face like the colours of a rainbow lit by the same sun, the same love. Underneath each of her expressions was love. She looked at Arno into the eyes and all her face smiled to him. He smiled back at her and even if they did not touch he felt her embrace and her hands into his, and her brow on his brow. She was so so beautiful. But then at that moment a very strong wind suddenly rose and the sky covered in dark clouds and the girl disappeared swept away by the breeze. Arno found himself on his own in the middle of a dark forest of ageless trees. The wind that was roaring in the trees like an ocean in fury was raging and storming into his heart. Arno felt he had become part of the storm, and he almost rejoiced when he heard the cracking of boughs and the thumps of uprooted trees. Lightning started to strike and colour the dark sky in orange and violet and even darker and lower clouds erupted into violent showers of rain and hail. But after a while the wind started to quiet, and the forest rested in peace, and the showers became a light drizzle and Arno heard the mournful croaks of crows and the trees dripping all the water that had fallen on their leaves. For a long moment Arno felt a very deep despair and a mourning in his heart that was drizzling tears of pain too. But then clouds started to clear off the sky and a timid sun dawned from behind the mountains and lit the forest in glows of orange, and all the dark greenness around Arno slowly faded leaving places to fields of flowers and a quiet singing stream. Arno sat there in the grass and he closed his eyes, feeling the light of the sun warming his face and his heart.

When Arno opened his eyes again the room had fallen quiet and Zerto had stopped playing and the velkyrië had gone silent.

What had happened was astounding and beautiful beyond any word Arno could say, and he simply looked at Zerto letting his surprise and his admiration seep through his eyes. Zerto had tears in his eyes too, and he was still looking at his velkyrië with the fondness a man has for the woman he loves. Arno felt small in a way, because the music of the velkyrië had sounded much more powerful than any story he could sing. He had not imagined Zerto could play in such a way, transporting out of himself, weaving a world note after note.

“I retrieved her while playing,” Zerto eventually whispered, and Arno understood he was talking of Shaynihë, the only woman he had ever truly loved.

“I know,” Arno whispered, “it was incredibly beautiful. I felt her too.”

“You felt Shaynihë?”

Arno hesitated for an instant, but he felt a strong urge to say the truth to Zerto. “No, I felt the girl of my dream. The girl I love as much as you love Shaynihë.”

“You didn’t tell me you had felt such a love my dear boy. You’re still very young for that.”

“I haven’t met her in real life. But I’ve seen her in a dream and I can feel her in my heart.”

Zerto gave a strange look to Arno, where he could read some elation but also a trace of pity. “Oh my poor boy I fear your life won’t be easier than mine then. But to tell you the truth, I wouldn’t exchange my life and the love I still feel for Shaynihë with anything else in the world.”

These words brought warmth to Arno’s heart. He had finally met someone who could understand him, who had felt the same depth of love too.

Zerto embraced Arno before they went to sleep. “Your visit has made me more good than I could have hoped or imagined,” the man said gravely. “You are the most gifted person I have met my dear boy and you should never doubt of yourself, even though I know it will sometimes be hard, and that you will need to confront many hardships. The first one being your own sensitivity in such a harsh world. But always remember your sensitivity is a gift, an expression of the purity of your soul. And never, never hesitate to come back to visit me. You will have a friend in Bennië as long as I live.”

Arno hugged him for a long time, and he felt very close from Zerto, almost as if Zerto was another father for him, and tears started streaming down his cheeks. Arno could feel he wouldn’t meet many persons as Zerto in his life. There was a special bond between them, where both could speak their hearts and express all their feelings, and he felt Zerto cared for him with a genuine affection. Even if he came back in ten years, Arno felt Zerto would welcome him again in his life like a king, or a long departed son.

“You must not lose hope either,” Arno said hoarsely, as his eyes were still moistened with tears. “You must continue to believe in who you are, and please don’t ever put the velkyrië away from you again. Your music was the most beautiful thing I ever heard.”

Zerto nodded. “Don’t worry my boy, now that I’ve retrieved her and that I am strong enough not to drown anymore in my pain, I will play the velkyrië every day. And I will think of you too who have helped me, and pray for you wherever you are.”

Arno then went to sleep, and the next morning at dawn he woke up and packed his bag, ate a fast breakfast, already apprehensive of the long journey in car that risked to make him nauseous. He saluted Zerto one before going to the small grocery of Hamiro where the man was getting ready to leave.

And thus Arno said farewell to Bennië not knowing if and when he’d come again, and he felt this sadness of separating himself from persons he loved weighing on his heart all the way down to Tinë. Hamiro chatted a lot as his usual self was, and fortunately he seemed quite content to be talking on his own. Arno didn’t, couldn’t listen because of the sadness and the sickness he felt, trying to keep all the way down his breakfast in his stomach. Hamiro was driving too fast, and he seemed to enjoy it very much, and before each curve Arno feared the car would crash down the valley. After a while he just closed his eyes. They eventually arrived in Tinë and Arno could finally open his door and breathe a fresh air again. The weather was much warmer than in Bennië and Arno had the strange taste of being in a city and not in a village anymore. There was noise and dust and smoke and bustling where Hamiro had stopped his car, not far from the new town. Hamiro had insisted to accompany him to his house in the car, but Arno had told him he felt like taking a short walk because he was feeling sick, and Hamiro had offered him a piece of bread saying it was good for the stomach. Arno thanked the man and he walked toward his mother’s house munching on the bread that indeed helped him to feel better.

Some weeks passed and even though winter had started, weather was still spring like in Tinë with from time to time one or two days of rain, and many sunny days in between. A new girl had arrived at school in Arno’s classroom. Her name was Aletha. She was the daughter of an unusual union between a Falnë man and a Vilnens woman. Her family used to live in Inklen, an important town of Vilnen, but now that Tinë was rapidly developing itself and needed entrepreneurs and leaders Aletha’s father had decided to move to Tinë.

It was rare to cross foreigners in Falnë, let alone have a new girl coming from abroad in your class. On top of that she was beautiful. She was tall and slender and had fair hair and blue eyes, standing out in a land where most people have brown or dark features.

Immediately she struck Arno who found her beautiful and decided her reflexive face clever. She presented herself in front of the class explaining that she spoke Falnë fluently because her father had taught it to her, even though she had a slight Vilnens accent. And as the history lesson started, Aletha started asking questions and participating to the lesson, confirming Arno’s intuition about her.

For the first time in his life, Arno started wanting to catch the attention of someone else. He desired Aletha to notice him and like him as much as he had liked her. Her blue eyes fascinated him and he launched her many peeps during the lesson trying to catch her gaze. But she seemed very much focused and she didn’t notice Arno was looking at her. Another more indirect way of catching her attention was to participate during the lesson, and that’s what Arno tried to do even though he had troubles to say much as he was too little focused on what the teacher was explaining.

Since that day Arno started thinking all the time of Aletha. He was too shy to go speak to her directly. Having an interest in her made him very awkward. She somehow resonated with the girl of his dream. Aletha’s face was beautiful, and Arno wanted to know what hid behind. He wanted to know if she was indeed the girl he had dreamt of. All these thoughts were confused in his head, and without truly wishing it, he started behaving as though Aletha was the girl of his dream. His heart was beating very fast each time he crossed her in the corridors or in the courtyard and he looked in front of him instead of looking at her in the eyes as he wanted to do.

One day, the first week of Aletha’s arrival, Arno finally mustered his courage and went to talk with her as she was sitting on a stone bench in the courtyard on her own. She was very pretty and Arno trembled as he came forward and greeted her. She smiled to him. Arno felt his heart quiver with her smile.

“How are… you happy here in Falnë?” he stuttered.

“Oh yes it’s very cool,” Aletha replied, “it’s very interesting to see another country especially that it is the homeland of my father. Do you know he used to live in Tinë?”

“No, I didn’t…”

“That’s why he registered me to the school in the old town, because he studied here in the past.”

Arno nodded not knowing what to say.

“What’s your name again?”

“I’m Arno.”

“It’s funny how you all have names that either finish in ë or in o.”

“All names used to finish in ë in the past.”

“Oh really? You seem to know a lot about it.”

Arno nodded smiling inwardly. It was easier to talk about things he loved. “The ë is the great power of the universe from which we all stem, and that’s why all names of persons and places finished with ë, to recall that the ë flows in everything.”

Arno looked at Aletha to see if she was following him or if she was bored.

“Oh that’s cool,” she said. “In Vilnens we used to follow the Religion but now most of people are atheists.”

“What about you?” Arno was disappointed to notice Aletha didn’t seem as enthusiastic as he was.

“I don’t really believe in God I guess.”

“Why?”

Aletha shrugged. “Religion doesn’t make a lot of sense. Priests tried to control society in the past and they did really nasty things. Come let’s go to the class, we’re going to be late otherwise.”

Arno followed her a bit confused. Was she the girl he thought or not, he kept wondering. Just before arriving to the classroom she smiled at him and her smile made Arno’s resistances melt.

He kept on looking at her during the mathematics lesson, barely paying attention to the new theorem they were learning. Once or twice Aletha smiled at him, and Arno felt his heart melting before her smile.

Days continued to pass in this way, with Arno who thought of Aletha all the time, even when he was not at school. Her face was so finely drawn, the blueness of her gaze and her smile were magnets to him.

However Aletha soon began being surrounded by a lot of her classmates who had pushed away their initial shyness. Girls wanted to befriend Aletha because she seemed very cool, she wore strange clothes that were in fashion in Vilnen, she had a really pretty accent while speaking Falnë and she seemed very confident in herself irradiating strength and intelligence. Boys desired Aletha too, for the same reasons and also because most of them thought her the most attractive girl they had ever seen, and on top of that since she was from Vilnen they supposed she was more open than Falnë girls for certain things.

Soon Aletha became unapproachable and she was always surrounded by groups of girls and boys exchanging pleasantries with her, proposing her some outings, and Arno saw her giving in easily to all this attention. She even seemed to enjoy being at the centre of the school life and courtshiped by so many persons. As more and more classmates came closer to Aletha, Arno took more and more distance because he was too shy and the others were much more decided than he was. Arno had always felt he could not fit at school and his initial hope was that Aletha would be in the same situation as he was. But Arno had been wrong about that. He now continued to admire her from afar, not daring to come any closer, because he didn’t like to be part of a multitude. In those settings Arno felt he lost his essence, his truthfulness. All his being resisted being dragged into the main bulk of his classmates. Sometimes Arno wondered why he acted with so much aloofness, why he stayed on his own when all his classmates were having fun with Aletha. Why was he so difficult, why did he have such a complex nature that didn’t seem to fit anywhere. Shouldn’t he work on himself to integrate himself more and be better considered. Wouldn’t he miss many things of life if he continued to make of himself an alien and an outcast among his peers.

Among all this questioning that became stronger and stronger as days passed was the thought of Aletha. From time to time she still smiled at Arno when she noticed he was looking at her, as if to tell him to come take her and deliver her from all these people. But was that true, or what Arno wanted to read in her smiles? After all, she could very easily had walked away from them and come to Arno from time to time. But she never seemed to do the least effort to get closer from Arno, and he often saw her smiling and laughing with other boys.

One morning at the end of a winter that had never come alive, Arno found Aletha alone, like the first time he had talked to her. The weather was fair and mild and springy and trees were already covered in flowers, embalming the air. Arno had climbed on his usual tree above the main square of the courtyard, and now he was deliberating with a near desperation whether to go talk with Aletha or not. One part of him thought it was an occasion he could not miss. But the other part was afraid to be welcomed coldly or even rejected by Aletha, when she seemed to be warm with everyone else. And on top of that Arno feared other people would come by when he was there with her, exposing himself to situations he was uncomfortable into. Arno took the decision to go but his legs were trembling and he could not move. He tried to force himself and he started climbing down the tree, but just as he headed hesitantly toward Aletha’s usual bench, a group of boys stopped by her and Arno walked past them, feinting to be going elsewhere, with the hope that the boys would greet Aletha and move on. But they seemed there to stay, and they soon sat on the same bench as she was and on the floor in front of her. Arno cursed his fearfulness. If only he could be just a little bit more courageous and straightforward. Perhaps Aletha was just bored with all these people and she deep down wished to have more interesting discussions with someone that matched her intellectually. If only he had acted before, trying to see her more often and discussing with her.

Anger was starting to rise in Arno’s heart. Anger at himself to be so coward. Anger at Aletha for letting herself do in this way. Anger at all his classmates who behaved like vultures with her.

And so, Arno started going school earlier in the morning to have a chance to catch Aletha before she was surrounded by swarms of people.

And one day of spring it happened again and this time Arno jumped from his tree and rushed to her, even though one part of him was uncomfortable of behaving in this way. But Arno just silenced this inner voice of his.

Arno greeted Aletha a little more firmly than he had the first time. She smiled at him with something that resembled tenderness and laughter, and that made fall Arno a little deeper under her charm. Her blue eyes had so much purity in them and her voice was soft. But Arno didn’t know from where to start. How could he express to Aletha he liked her. She started asking him questions about classes and teachers and exams, and Arno replied distractedly, while wondering if he should make her a declaration, or ask her if they could meet after school. But nothing of it would come out from his mouth. And then, a group with girls and boys arrived and surrounded Aletha, ignoring Arno. They started talking loudly and saying funny things that made everyone laugh but Arno who didn’t even understand them. Aletha started speaking with them, answering their questions and telling funny things too. Arno could not be a match for such a conversation. His repertoire did not incorporate small talks and jokes. The sole thought of trying to make other laughs made him uncomfortable. It would be like going against his deepest nature, like forcing to do something for others and not because he desired it. No, he could not do it. But how could he regain the attention of Aletha. How could he compete against his classmates. How could he express his truth. And then suddenly, for the first time since Arno had left Zerto, a poem sprouted on his lips, and after a moment of hesitation he sang it out loud, uncaring to have interrupted yet another pleasantry his peers were exchanging. When Arno sang of Old Falnë all shyness was gone, all reserved were blown away. He just became the instrument, the voice of these stories and songs of old. He believed so deeply in them he felt that each word contained power in it. As he started singing it, he felt the stunned face of all the assembly turning toward him and staring at him with insistency, but during that moment Arno was elsewhere, in a place that made him much stronger, and he couldn’t care less about his classmates.

Your face is born from the haze

and as I look in your direction

you coalesce into a more defined shape

you are still asleep, slumbering, floating

in a sea of wavy colours

you still are a cloud among clouds

figment of colours among colours

and yet the presence of my gaze makes you more real

I have found you at last

and not where I thought I would

I have found you at the confines of my internal world

a hazy place in constant expansion

a chaos of sounds and colours and shapes

it is the place where everything is born and comes to life

and soon your face will come alive too

And at that very moment Arno understood this song was not about Aletha. He felt strongly the girl of his dream in his heart. It was not Aletha. She had nothing to do with Aletha. And relief washed over Arno. Deep down a part of him had been diffident of Aletha since the start. He didn’t like her tendency to enjoy being surrounded by a mass of people.

But now Arno had to cope with the consequences of the words he had sang as several people of the group started laughing out loud. They were soon joined by everyone else except Aletha who looked confused.

“Don’t pay too much attention to him,” one of the boys, Tukro, laughed. “He’s really weird. He sings songs that are thousands of years old but he barely knows how to talk. Don’t you Arno?

Arno launched him a dark gaze.

“Why don’t you reply to Tukro’s questions Arno? Didn’t your parents teach you some good manners?” teased a girl, Winyë.

“Oh his mother’s too busy by the mayor who wants to fuck her every afternoon to teach him good manners!” exclaimed Tukro and everybody laughed but Arno and Aletha.

Anger had already started building up in Arno’s chest, but now it exploded. “Shut up! Shut up!” he shouted at Tukro. Everyone laughed and Tukro continued saying nasty things. Arno could not contain himself any longer and he rushed on Tukro who was much larger and stronger than he was, but Arno could not think clearly any longer.

Tukro who was at first surprised by Arno’s physical attack soon reacted and he threw Arno down with a fist on his face and another on his stomach.

Aletha shout to stop was lost in the midst of the confusion. The bell rang and they all went away leaving Arno bleeding on the floor. Before going away Tukro shouted that if Arno, or anyone else, denounced him, he’d break his neck after school. Aletha made a movement to stay behind, but Tukro tugged at her. “Come, leave the idiot on his own. It will teach him a lesson for attacking me like that. Don’t worry he will be fine, I didn’t break him any bone, even if he deserved it.” And they soon were all gone.

Arno was gasping for breath and tears of pain and shock were flowing down his eyes. The blow on his lower belly was still very painful, and when he wiped the dust and the grime away from his face with his hand he noticed he was bleeding. The bench where Aletha was sitting was on a corner of the courtyard and nobody seemed to notice Arno’s curled shape that was lying on the floor.

More than the physical pain, it was a mental pain and a helplessness that were keeping Arno on the floor. He was abandoned by everybody. And all his peers disparaged him. His face was in the dust of the harsh floor and nobody was coming to help and rescue him. He sobbed for a moment over his fate, and afterwards his tears dried up and he rose, and he went to wash his face and his clothes in the bathroom. He had a large red mark on the cheek under the eye and his skin had been opened when he had fallen on the ground. After cleaning himself Arno hesitated to go to the lesson, but he didn’t feel like seeing his classmates again and instead he went home.

Arno did not denounce Tukro. It was not his way to denounce people, really. He imagined himself going to the professor and saying that Tukro had beaten him, but he could not picture himself doing that. And on top of it the teacher would say it was his fault since he had first attacked Tukro. What had set a dead weight on Arno’s stomach was what Tukro had said about his mother. Arno knew Mounyë and Qiroko were hiding their affair since Qiroko was still married, but now it seemed rumours had started circulating, and Arno feared what would happen of his mother.

Ironically, after that incident, Aletha started looking at Arno in another way. She sometimes came to talk to him and she smiled at him. Now that the memory of the girl of his dream had evaporated again, Arno felt confused by Aletha’s attention, and he found her smile and her eyes were still as bewitching as before. Aletha was still surrounded by all her so-called friends, but she often looked for Arno, or at least he had this feeling from her behaviour. He knew deep down she wasn’t the right person for him, and yet when she smiled him he could not resist smiling her back, and he sometimes initiated this smiling game too. It was very pleasant to be looked at by Aletha, and to look at her face. It made his cheeks burn.

As days passed, this game of looks and smiles grew in intensity, until one morning when Aletha came to Arno’s tree and called him. Arno came down to greet her, embarrassed and shy.

She placed her hand on the marks Arno still had on his face, on his cheek under his eye, and she stroked him there. It was very agreeable, too agreeable, and yet something in Arno refused to move and give way. She smiled at him and whispered. “What you did the other time was very brave.”

“But I ended up on the floor.”

“You stood up for yourself against someone who’s much stronger. You are courageous.”

Arno nodded to thank her.

“What was this song you were singing? Was it… for me?”

Arno was feeling more and more uncomfortable. He felt as if he had wronged Aletha and wronged himself. “No…” he said.

“Why did you sing it?”

“Because it came to me at that moment and when songs come to you you sing them.”

“I find that fascinating,” Aletha said as she continued caressing his face, stroking his brow and his hair. One part of Arno felt like abandoning itself to the caresses of her hand, but another part shouted to get away. Get away before it is too late. “Do you want to… go out with me Arno?”

Oh no. That was the question Arno felt coming and didn’t want her to ask. He didn’t want to hurt her but he couldn’t lie any longer to himself. “N…no, I… can’t.”

The expression of Aletha fell and she stopped stroking Arno’s face removing her hand as if she had been stung. “Why?” she asked him more coldly.

“I… don’t love you.”

“Then why have you been smiling at me all the time since I have arrived?” There was now anger in Aletha’s voice.

“I was… lost, and stupid.”

Aletha gave him a harsh push and Arno did not react. “Indeed, stupid. That brute of Tukro was right about you, then. Can I know if you love someone else?”

Arno hesitated. “I… think I do.”

“Asshole.” And Aletha spat on his face and she turned around and disappeared. Arno remained there in shock for a moment before wiping away his face with his sleeve and climbing again to the refuge of his tree. Again he had tears of helplessness in his eyes. Why, why had he been such a fool. Deep down he had known all along Aletha did not deserve his attention and his love. And yet he had silence his inner voice because, Arno now realized, he had felt very lonely since coming back from Bennië and leaving Zerto, and he was in lack of love. He craved so much to meet the girl of his dream he was ready to pick up whatever girl he found slightly pretty and beautify her and grant her many qualities she did not have. Aletha had nothing to do with the girl of his dream now Arno realized with more clearness. Nothing to do at all. She was simply not right for him. In a way despite Aletha’s outburst at the end of their conversation, Arno felt very relieved this lie he had been living was ending. And suddenly, he felt considerably lighter and he smiled to himself. Aletha and Tukro and their likes could only brush his soul. They could perhaps hurt him physically, but that hurt would soon heal because it wasn’t deep. Nobody could take away from Arno the things that were the most important for him. Nobody could steal from him his essence, his gift, his love. Arno felt he had something very precious none of his schoolmates possessed. And it felt much less important that he needed to suffer their jeers for two years, until he turned sixteen and finished school, because one day he’d show them who he truly was.

When Mounyë had asked Arno why his face was bruised, he said that he had had an argument with a classmate without entering into details. In the past, he would have said the name of the boy. But that day he strangely felt strong enough to hide part of what had happened to his mother. He didn’t want her to cause a tantrum at school, bringing even more attention on herself. It was his own way to protect her, and also protect himself from Tukro’s retaliations. It was better to let that matter drop.

Arno felt it had all happened because he had not been true to himself. In a way, it had all taught him a lesson. He decided that he’d always try to find and listen to his inner voice from now on. What had happened with Aletha shouldn’t happen again. This blind idealization and love of someone he barely knew and who gave him clear signs she wasn’t the person he hoped she was. No, it shouldn’t happen again.

And yet, several weeks afterwards, when Arno felt physical desire rising into him one part of him regretted saying no to Aletha. Arno hated that part of himself and he often silenced it, but it always ended up resurfacing. Imagining skinny girls putting on a bit of weight. It excited him a lot, and he started imagining it over Aletha. It was bad to do it, and yet somehow harmless. And yet that gave him a confused feeling and blurred the clarity he had found after rejecting Aletha’s proposed date.

At the same time, as Arno had feared after hearing Tukro’s jeers about his mother, the affair between Qiroko and Mounyë became public. Divorces were not very frequent in Falnë as almost everybody followed the religion, but that wasn’t something that could stop Qiroko. When his relationship with Mounyë became public, he decided to leave Anisië, his wife. He even made a discourse about it saying that sometimes in life people grew in two opposite directions and it was healthy and judicious to put an end to these relationships that were drying up and were not fruitful anymore for either of the partners. Divorce was not something to punish or criticize, but instead an act of courage when it was due. Falnë needed to modernize itself not only in its infrastructures and ways of living, but also in its culture. Why were divorces accepted all over the world, and still frowned upon in Falnë. And if the Falnë were right, why was their country almost entirely under foreign occupation. With that talk, Qiroko further strengthened his position, when everyone would have expected him to resign or be really embarrassed. His brutal honesty was starting to appeal to more and more people who were tired of the old ancestral ways of doing things. And for the next municipal elections Qiroko had passed a decree allowing the hundred thousand of refugees who had found a new home in Tinë to vote. Most of their votes were already gained to his cause as he had become Falnë’s strong man and only hope to walk proudly again in an occupied country. He had taken care of the refugees, exploiting their potential (and exploiting them too), when all the other mayors and politicians had drowned in that problematic. Despite his defects, most of people felt Qiroko truly was the man Tinë and Falnë needed.

And thus Mounyë and Bilbo officially divorced, and it was not anymore possible to keep the union between Mounyë and Qiroko secret from grandmother Shouhimë. Fortunately she had been prepared for a couple of years to such an eventuality, and she had taken it well, saying she was nobody to judge others and the most important was everyone could find their happiness and that the welfare of Arno would not be forgotten. Arno had hugged his grandmother after she had spoken, because in a way it removed a weight from his heart by hearing her saying these words. He had been afraid of her pain and her judgement, because it hurt him when someone judged his mother, even if she had been wrong to cheat on his father. Bilbo too took it relatively well. There had been no more fights and sour words since when Bilbo had moved out from his house. There had not been occasions for that either, except when both had walked to the priest to ask him to put an ending to their union. Arno had accompanied them and he had shed some tears, and he had felt that somehow both his parents were sad underneath the mask of indifference they had put on. It was very sad to think that never again they would be together, that Arno’s family was now irremediably broken and for many nights it prevented him from falling asleep before very late hours.

That was not the only sad news that struck Arno at the time. In fact now Qiroko had divorced from his wife, he planned to start living together with Mounyë. It was out of the question for Qiroko to come live into the small house that Arno had inhabited all his life. So instead Qiroko found himself an apartment into a wealthy neighbourhood of New Tinë that had been built not far from the harbour. And thus Mounyë started packing her and Arno belongings to move out from their little house and go live in Qiroko’s apartment. Arno felt very sad of leaving his house where all his memories were. He loved his room and he had played for hours and hours and hours in it, and he knew every nook and cranny of it. He knew of the moving flagstone that once had yielded to the pull of his hand allowing Arno to find a new secret space where he could hide his little treasures. Each piece of the floor and the walls had their own use and their own life. Separating himself from his child’s room felt like abandoning his shell to go in another place where he’d feel naked and exposed. His mother told him they wouldn’t take his bed nor the drawers because Qiroko had taken care of all the furniture ordering it from abroad. But Arno loved lying down on his bed that was neither too large nor too small, and he enjoyed very much sitting on his small but practical desk to write. Each time he looked from the window at the large palm and pine trees he saw his heart mourned this loss. They were going to move inside the town, and all view of trees and bird singing would be lost. In fact Arno was attached to each part of the house. The kitchen with its array of neatly arranged glass jar containing all sorts of flours and sugar and coffee and olives and grains and its glass bottles filled with olive oil and various syrups. The plants they had on the tiny balconies. The living room where he had sat so many times with his parents. The sleeping room of his parents where he used to join them in their bed in the morning when he was a kid and listen to their quiet chatter and the stories they told one another, and the view on the village and the temple from their window.

On top of losing his old house, Arno would have to live from now on under the roof of a man who wasn’t his father. A man Arno found annoying and invasive. A man who had stolen his mother from him and his father. Arno didn’t rejoice at all going to live with Qiroko and he started arguing with his mother about it, asking if he could sleep all week long at grandmother Shouhimë’s place with Bilbo. But Mounyë started crying saying that if Arno went to live there she wouldn’t see him any longer. After all she was his mother and she loved him despite all what was happening. When Arno saw her so deeply hurt and sad and panicked, he could do nothing else but comply with Mounyë’s plan that he would sleep with her on school days and he would instead be with his father during the weekends and part of the vacations.

 After some weeks of planning and organizing during which Arno constantly felt heart-wrenched they vacated their old house that would be rented to other people, and they moved to Qiroko’s new apartment. It was Qiroko himself who came to pick them up with his car with all their belongings (they had to do several trips to move it all). His new apartment was in the middle of New Tinë, and it was at the highest floor of a building that had just been recently finished. They went up in elevator to the tenth and last floor. It was the first time Arno took an elevator. The apartment was indeed quite kingly. The floor was all covered with lustrous wood and each room was as large as two or three rooms of Arno’s old house. There were large glazed windows that provided a spectacular view on the sea and the harbour from one side of the house and on the hills on the mountains from the other side. Arno’s sleeping room gave toward east and he could see a bit of each. It was very strange to have all this space for himself, even though his room was somehow smaller than the other rooms of the house. And even stranger, he had a matrimonial bed all for himself. Arno then visited the rest of the apartment seeing the room of his mother and Qiroko, the office of Qiroko, the room of Qiroko’s daughter when she’d come over, another guest room and a room for the house maid (they would have one Qiroko announced because he didn’t want Mounyë to spend her days doing domestic chores). The kitchen was spacious and the living and dining rooms were huge as though they had been designed to let an assembly fit, or to serve as a dancing hall. The apartment was already entirely furnished, but since it was so spacious and well-ordered Arno had the impression there was a lot of empty room. There were several balconies too, among which a small one that was accessible by Arno’s room.

The first days, Arno did not feel at all at home in Qiroko’s apartment. He didn’t get to see the mayor of Tinë much, as the latter spent the entire day till late evening working in his office close to the school. Qiroko said he still liked that place better to work, as he had all his maps and documents there. When he came back to have dinner at night, Arno would have already eaten, and he’d have escaped to his room. In fact, the maid, Lamië, took care of preparing the meals and serving Arno’s dinner and Mounyë never ate before Qiroko came home.

Arno felt like a plant that had been uprooted from the forest near the river where it had grown during all its life and planted in the middle of a luxury park. He moved around the house afraid to break or dirty things, especially when Qiroko was around, as Arno felt the gaze of the mayor hefting him and judging him behind his back. And that was something Arno could not bear. When he was scrutinized in this way, he felt as if his deeper nature was frowned upon and rejected. As if he did not have the right to exist. And that made him even clumsier. In the first days Qiroko once dropped to Mounyë that he had ordered new clothes for the boy to his tailor, and Mounyë had thanked him and kissed him, and it all happened in Arno’s presence. Arno had felt very stupid and he wanted to shout his clothes didn’t have anything wrong. But something in him made him refrain of causing a tantrum with the mayor. He didn’t really want to make an enemy of the mayor so soon. Qiroko scared Arno in a way, because he seemed to have answer to everything. He seemed to know it all better than others. And even though he spoke quietly, he conveyed a lot of firmness in each of his words and sentences, as if he could not even conceive someone would contradict or oppose him. And the most treacherous thing is that Qiroko spoke kindly enough to make it seem it always was in the other’s best interest he acted.

After that incident Arno asked his mother why Qiroko had ordered him new clothes, and Mounyë explained Qiroko attached a lot of importance to aesthetics and he took really great care of details because he liked things all around him to be beautiful.

“You should really be grateful Arno for Qiroko to take of his time to take care of you in this way,” she then added.

“But what is wrong with my clothes?”

“Nothing my dear. But these new clothes will be more beautiful and more… adapted.”

“What if I prefer the old ones?”

Mounyë shrugged. “You will do whatever you like Arno. But please always remember to be polite and show your gratitude to Qiroko because he’s a good man.”

Arno dropped the discussion but he swore to himself not to wear the new clothes Qiroko would get him, because behind this action Arno felt a judgement against his origins. His father was only a fisherman and his mother a schoolteacher and they could not renew his wardrobe every six months or so. And Arno loved to play in the garden, climbing on trees and crouching on the floor, without worrying too much about scratching and dirtying his clothes. Now Qiroko wanted to start changing him. He wanted to make of Arno a boring adult who lost all his childish spirit and his liveliness. That was how Arno interpreted the change of wardrobe Qiroko tried to impose on him. It was like an indirect message to tell Arno to grow up and become Qiroko’s good boy that the mayor would be proud to show around himself. But Arno didn’t want of that. He didn’t want to be Qiroko’s good boy. He didn’t want to become a puppet under that man’s influence. Arno valued too much his freedom of body and mind. He wanted to remain free in all of his movements and his thoughts.

However that was definitely not easy when you lived under Qiroko’s roof. The man had quite diversified ways of persuasion, and some were indirect and sounded innocuous at first. For instance after a few days Arno had settled there, the television Qiroko had ordered arrived. Arno had never seen a television and he was quite curious at first of this radio with images. Qiroko watched the international news that were in a foreign language that Arno later discovered was Vilnens. Arno could only understand a few words of Vilnens that seemed to have a shared root with their counterpart in Falnë, and he found these endless news and emissions where politicians were making discourses boring. However he enjoyed looking at the images when other countries were shown. It often was places where catastrophes were happening. Wars, droughts, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, but there were also some more quiet scenes of cities that seemed peaceful and prosperous and sometimes even natural scenes. Arno found all that scaring and fascinating at the same time. A lot more things were going out around the world than he could fathom. And that showed how little he was, even more little than he had imagined, and how little control he had on things. Arno wanted to help the world grow into a better one, but how could he ever have an impact when he was a tiny grain of sand lost in immensity. How could he oppose waves of fire and storms of stones on his own. It all seemed even more hopeless than he had thought. At the same time, the desire to travel and visit other places awakened in Arno’s heart. He had known only a small part of Falnë in his life, but there seemed to be so many different realities that it would be interesting to explore. Not to give them his loyalty, of course. Arno’s loyalty would always go to Falnë. But perhaps to enrich himself, to see other ways of doing things and of thinking that would later inspire him.

The television became a first bridge between Qiroko and Arno, because at night Arno was often bored in his large room. He didn’t like to sleep early, otherwise he’d spent two hours changing position in his bed before finding rest. So he came out of his room quietly, and sat in an angle of the living room from which he could see the television. Qiroko always had a book and a notebook on his laps, taking notes while listening to the political emissions and to the international news. Sometimes there were sports tournaments too, and Qiroko seemed to have a liking for them, and he commented each sport out loud explaining its main principles to Arno. There was a sport in particular that was Qiroko’s favourite and that soon conquered a place in Arno’s heart. It was called soccer and was played with a ball you mainly kicked with your feet with the main objective of scoring goals and preventing the opposing team of doing so.

“We used to spend entire evenings playing soccer back when I was in Vilnen,” Qiroko explained with what sounded like a hint of nostalgia in his voice. “The years you will spend in Vilnen will be the most interesting of your life boy.”

Arno did not reply. He tried to maintain the peace with Qiroko, especially that the man wasn’t that bad after all. In a way Arno felt a bit guilty to judge him so harshly while at the same time benefitting of his generosity.

At that time, the change that was undergoing in Arno started accelerating. The old games he played on his own in his room and in the garden started to fulfil him less and less. He had less energy to invent new games and play the old ones. And he often felt surges of boredom he hardly knew how to fight. Since he had returned from Bennië and Zerto’s house he had had no inspiration to sing new songs, and even the idea of opening his notebook to read again the old ones bored him. Arno who had just turned fourteen was becoming a teenager, leaving the child behind. And Arno the teenager was kind of lost in life, because he was a creature of opposites and there was no firm foundation on which he could rely anymore. He didn’t like Qiroko and yet he spent more time with him in front of the television than with anyone else. He looked for the special girl of his dream but he had attractions he thought lowly for many girls he saw.

One of them was their house maid, Lamië. She was quite young, probably ten years older than Arno. She was a refugee from a mountain town close to Fikrië who had moved to New Tinë with her parents. And now she slept in Qiroko’s house and did all the cleaning and the cooking. Her face was rather pretty and she was good-natured. When she had started working for Qiroko she was skinny, but after a few months she started gaining weight and that immediately attracted Arno. She cooked and baked many things and there were days Arno kept on coming to spy on her in the kitchen and see her small belly rounding more and more day after day. Arno had the impression she was constantly snacking on this or that, as if she had been deprived of eating to her hunger for too long, and now she was putting in reserves in case she had one day to undergo another hardship. She seemed completely oblivious and uncaring to her weight gain, and Arno often thought of her before falling asleep when he was playing in his head his fantasy stories that attracted him so much. When he did so he lied down on his stomach to hide his hardened penis. No one entered Arno’s room except Mounyë to bid him a good night, but still Arno carefully hid the signs his body was alive because he thought them shameful. He never touched these body parts with his hands, focusing on imagining things in his mind. A skinny girl getting fatter and fatter until she became chubby. And now he had his fantasy close to him, almost at hand reach. Once, as Arno was strolling in the kitchen Lamië who was in a joking mood (she often was jolly) patted her chubby belly under her shirt and she raised her shirt showing it to Arno.

“I’ve been eating a bit too much,” she said, laughing, as if it didn’t have much importance.

Arno immediately had an erection he tried to hide with strange body positions, turning his back to Lamië, and then when it was not too revealing anymore to walk he disappeared from the kitchen.

Arno was always torn between his attraction and his ideals and that created a conflict in him he couldn’t solve. And so he did the only thing he could do, splitting his personality into two. One part of him he recognized as truthful. The Arno who was clever and intense and dreamy and creative and waited for his true love. That was the true Arno. And another Arno who was bored and was attracted by Lamië and sat with Qiroko. And that wasn’t the truth of Arno. That was only his weaknesses showing up, and Arno was convinced in his heart he would one day triumph of his weaker side.

Around the same time, at the beginning of the summer, the soccer world cup started and that kindled Arno’s love for this sport even more. There was even a Falnë team participating to the competition and Qiroko explained to Arno he had founded that team one year before because the old team had been dissolved since the war with Moustadir. Most of the players were refugees from Tinë who had been tried out with a ball. The team would probably be very weak respect to other teams, but it made Arno dream to see the flag of Falnë on television, it made his heart beat faster. The Falnë players wore very beautiful shirts and shorts where a painting had been sewn. On their shirt were high mountains with seven towns that Arno recognized as the seven crowns and on their short the ocean raged with small ships lost in the storm. All the other teams had much more simple shirts with one or two colours. The difference was striking.

“Our suits are heavy, aren’t they?” said Qiroko, “I’ll ask to simplify them for the next time. It’s the old suits with which the teams of Falnë used to participate to competitions in the past and I didn’t have time to think of a new suit.”

“I find the suits really beautiful,” Arno said, doubting his words would even be registered by Tinë’s mayor. Seeing the flag of Falnë had stirred something inside of Arno, and after several months of inner drought, he felt a trickle of inspiration flowing again in his body, and he soon started humming a song.

In the past there was not a single flag to Falnë

for each painting was a hymn to beauty and love

and women and men knew there were as many ways

as there were people to truth

Of course everything resided over a single principle

the breath of the divine, the ë flowing in everything

and holding all planes of reality together

But the ë thrived in creation and diversity

and so did the inhabitants of Old Falnë

Nowadays only one flag has been chosen

as a reminder of the keys to bring back

the world of old

The seven crowns of Falnë proudly stand

in far away corners of the land

few have visited them all

and yet everyone knows about them

and dreams of their fairness

that in many songs and many paintings

is depicted

Qiroko had not even looked at Arno while he was singing, and perhaps that was for the best. Even if he sat in front of television he was always working on several things at the same time. Mounyë sometimes came to sit with them, when she finished her corrections and preparations for the next day’s lesson.

The first game of Falnë was against the island of Furuh that is at the south of Moustawyl archipelago. It was strange for Arno to hear the Vilnens commentator discussing of the games, and callings the Falnë Falnens. Furuh did not have a very strong team either and after a quarter an hour Falnë scored the first goal and Arno shouted in joy and even Qiroko smiled. Falnë led half the game, but the Furuhian players became more and more aggressive and they knocked out Morito who had scored Falnë’s goal and who created panic in Furuh’s camp every time he touched the ball. Morito tried to continue playing but he was too much in pain and he fell on the ground, and he had to be brought out the camp on a litter and the tears in his eyes brought tears in Arno’s eyes. And a few instants afterwards Furuh scored a goal, bringing the match to a tie. And then the team of Falnë seemed to completely melt down and Furuh scored three other goals before the end of the game. Arno felt so much sadness at the ill fate of Falnë and the lack of fairness of Furuh players.

Qiroko did not only sit in front of the television at night, Arno discovered. Often he invited other people to dine with him, and soon Arno understood the reason why the dining and living room were so large. All the dignitaries from Vilnen or from any other northern country who visited Falnë came to dine at Qiroko’s table. They were sometimes politicians, and at other times wealthy entrepreneurs and industrials. There were also military men, and these were the most frequents because of the two military bases the Vilnens had built in Falnë. Not a day passed now without Arno hearing war airplanes doing a round in the sky. Sometimes there were only a couple of invitees, while at other times it was a large delegation. Qiroko also made sure to invite from time to time the most important people from Tinë and from the other towns and villages from free Falnë. There also were businessmen and politicians from Helyë who came to Qiroko, and Arno could not understand how these men could have come since he had always heard the border was closed. When he dared asking Qiroko about it, the mayor had replied there was always a way to everything.

 Arno felt a bit of curiosity toward all these people coming to visit them, but he felt his presence was not desired at the table with adults, and so he only eavesdropped their discussions from his room sometimes, or found excuses to pass by the living room. At the same time it was tiring to have strangers constantly occupying your house, and on these days Arno could not watch the television and that frustrated him very much when there was a sportive game that interested him.

Mounyë seemed oddly at ease in this new life she had chosen. She liked to smile and discuss with people and laugh with them and drink some alcohol. Arno had noticed they always drank several glasses during these long evenings when Qiroko received visits. Mounyë put a lot of make up on her face and she wore fancy dresses Qiroko bought for her, and Arno had troubles recognizing his mother any longer. And yet he loved her at the same time. She still could be very sweet with him sometimes and she was his mother after all. But deep down in his heart Arno longed for the old Mounyë who was more reserved and much simpler. The funny thing was that Mounyë was not entirely changed. Just like Arno had two sides of his personality which seemed split, she two had two persons dwelling in her, and that confused Arno very much because he always was looking for the true answer and could not fathom there was none. He wished very much for things to be either white or black, and he was lost in a maze of various shades of grey.

The second game of Falnë was against Lorn, a very large country in the southern hemisphere, and it soon turned into a disaster as the Lornese scored one goal after another, winning at the end eleven goals to zero. Each goal tore at Arno’s heart, and yet he continued watching the game, and he continued supporting Falnë very much. He also watched other games when Falnë wasn’t playing and he could relax more during these games as he wasn’t supporting any other teams with the same intensity. He saw in particular a beautiful game between Vilnen and Gondzing, another country of the north, that ended up with four goals to three and made Arno want to try playing soccer so beautiful the goals had been.

The last game of Falnë was against Birsten, a small country close to Vilnen and only a victory could still qualify the team for the next round, as Birsten had lost to Lorn and tied with Furuh. Two things made Arno’s heart swell with hope as the national antennas were sang and the beautiful suits of Falnë players brought light and colour to the stadium. The first was that Morito, the striker who had scored Falnë’s only goal was back from his injury, and the second was that the goalkeeper of Falnë had been changed. The commentators were talking in Vilnens and Arno could not get much of what they were saying and he didn’t understand why Mahro who was supposed to be a midfielder was Falnë new goalkeeper. But Arno did not trust much the old goalkeeper and he somehow liked the fire he read in Mahro’s eyes.

The game started and immediately it seemed Falnë was playing with much more determination. They kept the ball and attacked, shooting many times at Birsten’s goal, but their goalkeeper did miracles. A draw was enough for Birsten to be qualified, and they seemed to be content with it. Until when the youngest defender of Falnë did a mistake and brought down a Birsten player down, causing a penalty kick in favour of Birsten, and the expulsion of the Falnë defender who got a red card and abandoned the field in tears. Arno’s heart fell. Falnë had deserved to win, it was so unfair to see his country lose now. The commentators seemed to be happy about the penalty and support Birsten and that upset Arno even more. But the striker of Birsten shot the ball… and Mahro threw himself from the right side and deviated the ball in corner and Arno jumped from the couch in joy. The stadium went quiet. It was sad to see all the national teams had their own fans, except the team of Falnë that always played on its own.

And then suddenly Falnë counterattacked Pahino stole the ball and he started running and running and he shot it at Birsten’s goal but the goalkeeper managed somehow to push the ball back. But Morito was there and he caught the ball right in time, there were three defenders who had had the time to place themselves between him and the goal but Morito surprised them with a couple of feint, overtaking them and running alone in front of Birsten’s goalkeeper with the ball. The goalkeeper hesitated then he rushed over Morito, but just at that moment, Morito gave a little push upward to the ball and Arno saw like in a dream the ball slowly pass over the head of Birsten’s goalkeeper and end up in the upper corner of his goal. And he erupted in joy at the same time all the players of Falnë came over Morito to embrace him, also congratulating Pahino and Mahro who had been heroic in their own ways too.

There were only a few minutes left to the game and to Arno’s delight Falnë continued to keep the ball and attack, without succeeding to score another goal. In the last instants of the game, Birsten’s players stole the ball and counterattacked, but Mahro dived to prevent the ball from entering in his goal and he saved Falnë.

Against all odds Falnë had qualified for the next round and it was now the turn of Birstens to lower their heads while getting out from the playground. Arno felt truly euphoric. Falnë players were embracing one another and shouting their joy to the world that observed them behind the cameras. Funnily, Falnë was perhaps one of the sole nations where no one cared about soccer, except Arno of course.

And that was not entirely true, as Arno later discovered that Qiroko had ordered shipments of used televisions that no one wanted anymore in the wealthy countries of the north, but that would make the joy of Tinë’s inhabitants. The mayor went even further after Falnë’s victory against Birsten setting a giant screen in a square between new and old Tinë where sportive games but also other kinds of emissions would be transmitted.

Qiroko had set a team of technicians who took care of all the used goods that arrived by sea. The technicians’ role was to make sure these used cars and trucks and televisions and fridges and washing machines and cell phones worked and fix them if necessary, before selling them in a huge market that had been opened not far from the harbour and that had started to attract inhabitants from all free Falnë. People could get themselves all kinds of equipments they could not allow themselves to get before the war with the Moustadiris. Indeed at the time Falnë central government in Helyë prohibited the importation of used equipments and wares, and heavily taxed the new ones as the priority was to defend the local economy and way of living.

However Qiroko had adopted the opposite policy, deciding that it was necessary for people to get all what they needed to let go of their own way of living. Qiroko’s objective was to make Falnë productive on an industrial level and to develop ties with powerful countries other than Moustadir. Of course he knew Falnë would never become a powerful country itself, as it hardly had any natural resource apart from fresh water, and its small population didn’t provide it with the pool of workforce needed to start large-scale industrial production that would allow Falnë to export its goods in any significant manner, when there were countries ten or hundred times more populated all around the world. But what Qiroko aimed to achieve was to awaken Falnë’s new generation to a technological society with the hope that Falnë would one day become a technological innovator, as the Falnë were quite renowned for their intelligence and their craftsmanship. Many crucial inventions in the past were attributed to Falnë and Qiroko saw no reason it would not go in the same way in people were given the chance modern Falnë had denied them. It was a pity to have lost all this time already, and having become the knaves of rogue nations such as Moustadir but Qiroko who was also very pragmatic did not regret the past and instead focus his efforts to make his vision become real, with more and more success.

Another one of his moves was the construction of Tinë’s international airport a few kilometres at the east of Tinë, linking the airport with the town with a fleet of buses he had bought. There was an airport in Helyë but it was under Moustadir’s control now, and all the stretch of land at the east of Helyë was completely isolated from the rest of the world, except for the harbour of Tinë and that of Minë. But nowadays the harbour of Minë as all of Minë had fallen in a state of disrepair.

For now there were only a few airplanes every week landing in and taking off from Tinë but Qiroko planned to change that soon. His aim was to develop tourism, on the coast and in the mountains, because he was well aware Falnë offered landscapes that none of the northern countries had anymore. He had lived in Vilnen and remembered how everywhere he went there were cities upon cities upon cities and beaches were overcrowded in the summer, as were skiing slopes in the winter. In short everything had been overcrowded in Vilnen two decades before, and now it was probably only worse. And that was the case in all the surrounding nations. The people who lived there longed to have again some contact with nature, to be immerged in beautiful landscapes without being tightly packed in a throng. Falnë was only some hours away from the northern country and it could become a preferential destination for tourists if Qiroko gave it the right push. Already the airplanes that were landing in Tinë were always filled with people, for now mainly adventurers and explorers who had heard of the opening of a new airport in one of the most closed off and mysterious countries of the world and wanted to discover the place before anyone else. Those were perhaps not the tourists on whom Qiroko planned to focus, as they didn’t spend as much as other tourists and would come once or twice before flying off to discover other lands. Qiroko wanted Falnë to become a touristic destination for families and he had started developing the infrastructures needed to welcome them.

At the time Arno didn’t know of all of Qiroko’s plans. The mayor wasn’t a man to brag about his ideas and he usually executed them before mentioning them. So Arno only heard echoes of all the things that were going in Qiroko’s mind, and of those going on all around Tinë. He could see everything was fast changing around him, but it had been several years things were changing and so he paid less attention to them. Arno had fallen in a sort of mildly depressed mood about his own life. He had no friends at school, no true ambition except the dream-like idea to change the world. Both his parents had changed and were getting older, and he was getting older too and he felt he was in a strange age where he knew himself no longer. The changes and the destruction of beauty around him also weighed down on his mood. And that resulted in Arno letting the current carrying him rather than riding the waves and feeling the wind on his skin. Arno’s greatest satisfactions at the time started coming from things outside himself, like seeing a win of Falnë’s soccer team, or spying on Lamië fattening stomach. And that gave Arno a mild disgust about himself but he didn’t even have the energy or the clarity to push away the cobweb that was holding him trapped.

That beginning of summer was the warmest Falnë had ever known and Arno felt sweating all the time, and for the first time he discovered the use of the ventilation grids that were all around Qiroko’s apartment as air conditioning was lit to cool down the house. Arno hated it, and despite the heat he preferred to open the window of his room. In a way air conditioning made him feel even more trapped into a box with very little air. It made him feel even farther from nature that he still cherished in his heart. One day Arno had the idea to fill some earthenware pots with soil from the garden of his grandparents, and he placed the pots on his balcony with little plates underneath so that the water would remain in the plate and not make a mess. He planted there the seeds of all the fruits he ate, and the sprouting seeds made him a little of company. Every morning Arno went out on his balcony and he loved seeing the tiny plants having made one additional leaf. He loved to water them and feel the little plants relief and thankfulness because they were always thirsty in this heat.

A week after Falnë’s victory against Birsten, another game was scheduled against Vin, a rather small country of the north. Arno was already glued in front of the television a long time before the start of the game. The commentators discussed strategy in Vilnens that was completely unintelligible for Arno, except for the names of players in Falnë’s team. The Vilnens script was also very strange to Arno as they wrote from right to left instead of left to right. The commentators, mostly men, all had blond or at least fair features.

The game started and Vins played in yellow suits, while Falnë had their characteristics mountains and ocean and seven lost crowns, and Arno could not prevent himself from laughing out loud about it. It was as if the players of Falnë carried together with them their entire country, while the suits of other nations were more anonymous. The Vins were playing well, but Mahro was guarding Falnë’s goal and Morito was leading his team with the captain’s armband and that was enough to give some hope to Arno.

For a long time no one scored even though the Vins mostly kept the ball. They shot several times on Mahro’s goal but each time Falnë’s goalkeeper saved his team, his nation. Or that’s how Arno saw it at least. His country had been on the verge of disappearing and now through this world cup on which half the world’s eyes were pointed, Arno wanted Falnë to prove its existence again, to show that despite all the hardships his people had endured they were still ready to struggle. And even if they had not fought back the Moustadiris they were not cowards. No, a boiling blood ran in their veins and only demanded to be stirred.

As the second half started a Vin player shot a magnificent ball on Falnë’s goal and despite his desperate jump Mahro could not prevent the ball from entering. And after the goal the Vins took even more confidence and they started attacking with increased ardour. Falnë defended themselves as they could and sometimes two or three of the mountains and oceans men were standing on the goal’s line to prevent the ball from entering.

At that moment Falnë’s coach removed Pahino, the winger, to insert another defensive midfielder and Arno found that move absurd and frustrating. The coach should have added another striker instead, or did he want to defend the losing result? If Falnë lost, they’d be eliminated from the world cup.

The new player’s name was Iriko and he seemed only a few years older than Arno, perhaps sixteen or seventeen year old. However as soon as the game resumed Arno understood the coach’s choice had been the right one. Iriko was running in every direction like a madman. He seemed to have twice more endurance and stamina than anyone else on the field, and he kept on stealing the ball from the Vin players as he pressed them. And each time he stole a ball he launched a counterattack delivering perfect passes to Morito who waited just in front of Vin’s last defenders. Morito shot some beautiful balls but they were stopped somehow by Vin’s goalkeeper and twice by the goal posts. As Falnë started growing on the field, the Vins took fright and retreated in their camp to defend their victory. But that was counting without the genius of Morito who few moments before the end of the game received a ball from Iriko that he shot in a volley, surprising Vin’s goalkeeper and bringing the match to a tie. If no team scored again, there would be a prolongation. But that was counting without the fury that Iriko had brought on the field. He stole yet another ball and launched Morito who was countered in corner. Then all Falnë’s team including Mahro the goalkeeper came to surround Vin’s goal. Arno’s heart started beating very fast and pride beamed on his face, the belong to a nation that fought against all odds. Iriko shot the corner and the ball’s trajectory changed at the last moment, surprising Vin’s goalkeeper, bouncing on the pole. The ball ended up between Mahro’s feet who shot it with all his strength and his rage and scored Falnë’s second goal, bringing the victory to his team. The commentators seemed almost shocked by Vin’s elimination and from their expression Arno understood Vin was a truly good team. The players of Falnë danced on the fields and their coach and the other players came to join them. Most of the spectators seemed disappointed but some applauded and that brought warmth to Arno’s heart.

Arno went to sleep that night in a state of euphoria. And the next day at school many persons were speaking and rejoicing over Falnë win. One boy had even brought a ball to try playing soccer too. It wasn’t a boy Arno knew but after a while he overcame his shyness and asked him if he could play with him. Many others joined and they improvised a field on the soil that was a bit dusty because of summer’s drought. The sun was blazing hot but Arno did not care in the least about it. He had a fascination for the ball and he loved to kick it. They had set goals with the help of two large stones from each side of the field, and Arno scored several goals. He loved to run all around the playground, uncaring of all the dust that entered into his shoes and dirtied his legs, and of all the sweat that was dripping from literally each and every part of his body and that was nearly blinding his eyes. Annoyingly the others never gave him the ball, and he had to steal it from the opposing team. After a while Arno understood he was not so proficient at passing the ball either, and when he took it he tried to score on his own, provoking many protests in his team of boys who asked him aggressively why he was playing on his own. Because you do it too, Arno wanted to shout back at their faces. But it was not entirely true, some of them passed the ball indeed, but never to him. It was as if Arno’s inability to speak to and relate with other people was also manifesting itself in such a team’s sport. He could not understand his schoolmates nor make himself understand by them, and the same was happening on the field. All he could do was playing on his own, continuing to journey along his way by himself. Solitude had been an important theme in Arno’s childhood and it continued to be even more. His hopes to relate more to his schoolmates through a common interest, a common passion, soon evaporated. Indeed he could now join in the discussions about soccer, discussing this or that game or action, but Arno did not feel entirely accepted because when it came to playing nobody wanted him on his team. It was strange to see how soccer was becoming popular when none of the kids had heard about it a few weeks before the start of the world cups and the arrival of the second hand televisions in the port, that many families who could afford a little additional expense acquired. The ones who were too poor just started going to the square where Qiroko had set the giant screen and where all the games of the world cup were diffused in Vilnens.

But Qiroko had a plan to change that, as he wanted to launch Falnë first television channel. And in fact a few days after Falnë’s win against Vin, the games of the world cup started being diffused in Falnë and Arno could finally make sense of what he was hearing.

And brilliant had been Qiroko’s intuition, as the next opponent of Falnë had been drawn… and it was Moustadir itself. That promised to be an explosive match, the closest opportunity for revenge Falnë had ever gotten. But also a risk to be humiliated again.

All of Tinë was in front of the television when the confrontation with Moustadir started. The players of Falnë all wore three armbands, a black, a red and a white one. The black one was worn in sign of mourning, the Falnë commentator explained. The red one was displayed for revenge, as a request for Moustadir to give back to Falnë what was theirs. And the white one symbolized peace, because that was what Falnë truly wished for. The players of Falnë sang an improvised song after the national anthem of Moustadir resounded. There was no national anthem for Falnë because to do so a velkyrië was needed, and there were no velkyrië players among the soccer team. The hymn of Falnë was traditionally not recorded and played again because to be fully alive, it was believed the music needed to be played on the spot. Just like Falnë’s flags, there wasn’t supposed to be one national anthem but thousands of them. Each velkyrië player could improvise his or her own music. But those traditions had been lost a long time ago and now it was mostly one hymn that was played, as there were very few velkyrië players who were left. It was strange for Arno to hear all these explanations on the television by one of the commentators who seemed quite knowledgeable about Falnë’s traditions.

The players of Falnë placed their hands on their hearts as they chanted their song of loss and shedded blood and revenge and hope and love. Arno could not hear the song very distinctly as its words were drowned in the shouting and the whistling of Moustadiris spectators, but he saw the intensity and the graveness of their expressions and he found it beautiful. Many at the end of the song had tears in their eyes and Arno too felt his eyes moistening.

The game started and it was immediately extremely rough. The players of Falnë ran in all directions as if they didn’t want to let the Moustadiris touch the ball, and the Moustadiris started pushing and knocking down Falnë players. In ten minutes the Moustadiris collected six yellow cards, and despite that they continued to push and knock down, breaking down every action the Falnë started. To Arno’s disappointment, Falnë coach had not inserted Iriko, the very young player who had changed the fate of the previous match. Despite their roughness the Moustadiris were quite skilled with the ball too and they seemed better trained than the Falnë. Soon enough the Falnë got exhausted by the pressing they were trying to impose to the Moustadiris, and they stopped running like devils to try gaining back the ball, as the Moustadiris confiscated it. And soon all Falnë players were in front of their own goal, trying to block Moustadir’s offensives, with the sole Morito who waited around the midfield line in case his teammates succeeded to break Moustadir’s attacks and launched a counterattack.

But that did not often happen as the game soon became a forcing of Moustadir in front of Falnë goal. Each time a Falnë player conquered the ball, he was knocked down. The Moustadiris were much stronger physically, way more trained, and it was making a lot of difference. And they started shooting from every possible position at the goal defended by Mahro, and each time Mahro saved or deflected the ball, preventing his team from collapsing. All the stadium was filled with Moustadiris. The game was taking place in Inklen, Vilnen’s capital, but it could very well have been in Alameddir so overwhelming was the red mass of fans who were drowning the Falnë into whistles each time they touched the ball. That was weighing on the young and inexperienced Falnë players too, the commentator said, and Arno felt his heart aching for them, and the hate for Moustadir surged in him. Moustadir’s offensive continued but Mahro was in a state of grace and he stopped every ball that came toward his goal. The second half started and the game didn’t change. The Falnë barely touched the ball. In fact Arno could well-sense they were afraid to touch it. Because each time they did the Moustadiris intervened so roughly they risked to injure them and they launched a counterattack without waiting for the Falnë player to rise from the floor. And surprisingly the referee had stopped distributing them yellow cards after they had protested to him very harshly about his unfairness. Now as the game grew older and the remaining time thinned, the playground almost became a battlefield. The Moustadiris were clearly at ease in this setting while the Falnë made themselves very small, and their eleven players remained stuck around their goal in desperate defence. And they held with the help of Mahro’s otherworldly parries and a bit of luck that made one of their shoots end on the pole. But the Falnë players had lost any wish to counterattack. They tried crude launches to reach Morito but the ball never reached him, and when it did he was immediately taken down by two or three defenders. It was a nightmare of a game and the only reason Arno was still breathing and hoping was that Moustadir had not scored yet. Their coach made some changes and he inserted another attacker instead of a defender. That further increased the pressure on Mahro’s goal, but he continued to prevent any ball from entering in his goal. And despite it all, Falnë’s coach did not make any change, and he didn’t insert Iriko. That was frustrating Arno more and more. Why did his team refuse to play in such a way, why did they all seem so scared. The game was ending and no one had scored yet. Once or twice Morito had taken the ball from his own camp and he had started running toward the Moustadiri goal, covering great distances before being taken down in forceful ways, in front of the referee who seemed completely indifferent to the rough ways of Moustadiris. Prolongation times started and Falnë were still defending themselves in lines in front of their own goal. Even Morito was now standing there. A moment before the end of the game that would be decided on penalty shootouts if no one scored, a player of Moustadir fell in front of Falnë’s goal. The images showed no one had touched him, and the referee decreed a contested penalty in favour of Moustadir. The players of Falnë protested, implored, swore no one had touched the Moustadiri, earning themselves several yellow cards. The Moustadiri placed the ball on the round spot from where he would kick it, he took a deep breath looking very confident, and Arno could no longer watch it. He just put his hand in front of his eyes, his heart trembling. And then he peeped through his fingers, just at the moment Mahro dived like a dancer and deflected the ball in corner. All the Falnë came over him to embrace him but they had not the time to celebrate for long as the Moustadiris had already played the corner. And yet, Mahro’s goal seemed bewitched and the game ended in a draw. After a moment of rest the penalty shootout started and the Moustadiris scored their first three kicks while the Falnë failed two of theirs. And now if the Moustadiri player scored, Falnë would be eliminated. But Mahro flew, and he deflected the ball just enough for it to end out. And then Morito transformed his penalty into a goal. The next Moustadiri shot his ball way above the goal, directly toward the tribune. And Mahro himself went to shoot the fifth penalty that he needed to score to keep Falnë in the game. And he did, feinting and shooting from the opposite side the Moustadiri’s goalkeeper had anticipated. That transformed the balance of the game, and the next shooters of Moustadir looked quite nervous. And indeed both shoots were weak and were stopped by Mahro while Falnë players scored twice, and thus Falnë eliminated Moustadir from the world cup and Arno jumped from his couch like a madman and even Qiroko and Mounyë and Lamië were all beaming. Falnë had won, Falnë had eliminated Moustadir. A country fifty or a hundred times larger in size and in population and in wealth than Falnë. Rogue players at the image of a rogue country. Arno hated them and he wanted to sing his happiness and shout his hate at them. He had never hated anyone like he had hated the Moustadiris during the game. And now it felt great to see them sad and ashamed and to hear the furious whistles of the stadium and the angry choruses shouted at the Falnë, railing them.

No matter how Falnë had won, it was deserved. It was deserved. And at that moment Arno felt he also dreamt one day to kick all the Moustadiris boots out from Falnë and free his country. Men like Mahro and Morito and all the other players of the soccer team symbolized the spirit of resistance. How even when you were way weaker than your opponent you could still beat him with your heart, with your passion, with your anger, because you were in the right and he was not.

That night the inhabitants of Tinë, especially those living in the new part of the town, the hundred thousands refugees who had to flee their homes and their lands, celebrated. Fireworks were shot into the air and bonfires were built everywhere and people sang and drank and danced. Arno only heard an echo of their feast, as Qiroko’s apartment was on the tenth floor, but the newly launched Falnë television channel that was based in Tinë showed the celebrations in the streets. The joy of people was almost savage, and there was a dark edge in it that almost scared Arno. They chanted slogans against the Moustadiris, improvised jibes and songs accompanied with the music of velks and velkyrs. One part of Arno wanted to go down together with them, but he was already tired and sleepy, and probably Mounyë would not have agreed. Qiroko was meanwhile busy with phone calls, congratulating Obiro, Falnë’s coach, and giving a short interview for the radio and the television telling how Falnë’s soccer team had been dissolved after the war with Moustadir, and he, Qiroko, had decided to build it again because it was important to remind the world of Falnë’s existence. And now Falnë was reaching the best results of its history, and it had just beaten their archenemy, Moustadir, one of the strongest teams in the world.

For one night Arno forgot all his differences and disagreements with Qiroko. They all were Falnë and that was what mattered the most. Arno would have been ready to celebrate this victory even with his schoolmates. He felt an invisible thread had united all the people of Falnë against their common enemy that threatened to wipe them out from the world. It was time to rebel and rise again, and Qiroko seemed to be one of the few who had the courage and the ideas to stand up against the Moustadiris.

Arno went to sleep but for long he just lay in his bed exhausted and euphoric. He relived the most decisive scenes of the game and saw again the expressions of Falnë players after the last penalty they had scored and how they had all run and thrown themselves on top of one another shouting and crying in joy.

The next morning Arno woke up to the scent of smoke and he later learnt that because of the drought some of the bonfires that had been lit had caused forests near Tinë to burn, and that cast a shadow over Arno’s euphoria. He could see from the living room window that instead of the usual green spot between the harbour and Old Tinë at the east of where the new town rose, now there were blackened fields that reeked of sadness and death. He felt it was an ill-omen and he went to school much less disposed to celebrate.

The classes started, but soon a responsible came to speak with his teacher and they said they needed to go back home because there had been an incident with the Moustadiris. Everyone looked at one another in an interrogative way, and Arno felt they were all scared, wondering what else had happened. He met Mounyë in the courtyard and they went to see Qiroko in his office from the other side of the street. The mayor told them Minë was being bombed and that he did not have time to explain, because he’d soon have a phone call with the commander of Vilnens air force in Falnë. “Go home and in case you hear bombings go down to the underground parking.” He gave a kiss to Mounyë and a pat on Arno’s shoulder and rushed back to the phone on his desk. Despite Qiroko’s urgency, Arno didn’t feel panic in him. The mayor seemed to be more at ease in such situations than normal people, despite all the responsibilities he had.

They went back home and they turned on the television. There were no images of Moustadiris bombings, only reports saying that for an hour and a half the town of Minë had been intensely pounded. The bombings had been focused on the infrastructures, the harbour, the bridges and the roads, but also on a residential neighbourhood of the town, and on the refugees’ camp nearby. There were dozens of dead and wounded people and no one to take care of them. Thousands of people on foot, on donkeys, in buses and in cars were seen evacuating the cities on the nearby roads. Some were heading toward Minë’s backcountry, but most were following the coastal road toward Tinë. Tinë was the only hope that remained to free Falnë. Minë was already a nearly dying city before that bombing, and now it was truly passing away.

It made Arno very sad to hear all that about Minë, and his heart trembled at the idea Tinë could meet such a fate too. But hours passed and no bombing was heard. Meanwhile people who had fled Minë by bus or car and who had already arrived in Tinë’s outskirt were being interviewed. In fact mayor Qiroko had placed a roadblock at the entrance of Tinë to make a census of all these new refugees that were arriving, to write down their names and origins and professions so that if they decided to settle in Tinë Qiroko would precisely know their numbers and how to assign and use them. The commentators on the television were making Qiroko’s praise, saying that the mayor truly had a unique vision, and that it was thanks to him if Tinë was still standing. The refugees told horrible stories of hundreds of bombs falling all around and dark smoke rising from everywhere and the earth shaking under their feet and corpses in the streets, projected from destroyed buildings. Minë had become a hell that morning and all they could think of was fleeing before being trapped under the rubble or killed by a bomb. Many of the refugees were crying saying they had lost everything, their houses, some of their family members, or they had no news of nearby ones they had lost in the confusion and they asked if this or that person had already registered their names. An old man who had tears in his eyes even sang a song about Minë and it gave goose bumps to Arno to hear him.

Minë the fair is being destroyed

day after day its inhabitants flee

the boots and the bombs of the invader

and all what they take with them is in their heart

memories of happy times that have turned sour

a beautiful town built on a rock above the sea

that has turned filthy and ugly

Minë is trapped between two wild fires it cannot escape

day after day its last standing stones fall

and no one cares about it any longer

no hero will try to save what remains of Minë

letting it fade away from this world

The death of a city is a very sad event to witness

and the sons and daughters of Minë

must not forget about their origins

May they continue singing about the Minë they once knew

may they remember the cry of gulls and the whispering river

the date palm trees and the rose bushes

under which they spent long evenings

and may all the prayers of their hearts rise

so that no other place in this world meets such a tragic fate

Later on Qiroko was interviewed on the television and he explained that the Moustadiris had bombed Minë as a retaliation against Falnë’s victory over their own national team they had taken as a humiliation. The Moustadiris would have liked to bomb Tinë that now had become the heart of Falnë, but they did not dare to do it because of the presence of Vilnens aviation, so they fell back on Minë that was a sort of no man’s land in between Helyë and Tinë. The Moustadiris had thought the Vilnens would not protect Minë. And indeed the Vilnens had not intervened at first because the bargain Qiroko had made with them was about Tinë and its province. However their commander could well see it was not good to let the Moustadiris murder a whole town unpunished, and after discussion with Qiroko he had asked a permission from his superiors in Vilnen to intervene in defense of Minë, and that permission had been granted. And so when the Moustadiris helicopters had returned to bomb Minë in the afternoon, Vilnens aviation immediately took off, and they sent a message to the Moustadiris to immediately quit Minë’s aerial space otherwise they’d down them. The Moustadiris had not reacted to that threat, and the Vilnens had downed two of their helicopters before the rest of their fleet changed its root and went back to Helyë. That had of course caused tension between Vilnen and Moustadir, but the Vilnens were explaining to the Moustadiris they didn’t want to start a war, but that bombing or annexing any part of Free Falnë was a red line they would not allow them to cross.

Minë would no longer be bombed, but the damage had been already done. The next day Qiroko decreed a national day of mourning calling all the other mayors of Free Falnë and asking them to follow suit. Arno remained at home, watching the television all day long, and he saw the first footages of Minë after the bombing. Around one third of it was in rubbles. There were some houses still standing and close to them there were just heaps of stones. Some craters had been dug in the streets blowing up everything around. The bombings had been extremely violent and somehow imprecise, not always ending up on what seemed their likely target. But that was probably a Moustadiri strategy to instil even more terror in people because you never knew where their bombs were going to fall. There were some residents in the streets of Minë, crying, imploring for help, in utter distress. A man who had lost his children and his wife who seemed to have gone completely mad repeating their names, calling them. A woman who had lost her twin sister with whom she lived. Arno started crying for all their misery while watching the television. It all was so cruel and sad. There were many broken pipes that spat water and in the middle of refuses and electrical wires that were torn apart and dangling around. The movement of exodus that had started the day before was continuing and intensifying. Nobody wanted to stay in a dying town and sink together with it. Nobody really trusted the Moustadiris, nor the Vilnens. How could they be sure the bombings wouldn’t start over in a few days or a few weeks. The Moustadiris had their eye on Minë and even if they feinted to stop coveting it for a while because of Vilnens threats, they would one day or another try again to lay their hand on Minë. A young man was interviewed, and his attitude was strikingly different than his fellow townsmen. He started shouting a resistance was being built and that the only way to save Falnë was to take up weapons and fight the Moustadiris and liberate Helyë and Fikrië and Ummyë. The young man called to all the men of courage to join him in Minë and help him build a resistance movement. It was no use fleeing and behaving as cowards, and too much trust shouldn’t be placed in the Vilnens because perhaps today it was their interest to stand with Falnë and stop Moustadir’s progression, but who knew what their interests would push them to do tomorrow. What the young man said resonated with the revolutionary in Arno. But at the same time it scared him. If they started a guerrilla against Moustadir there would be even more war, more violence, more destructions and more deaths. Was that what Arno truly wanted? A shiver ran along all his body. At the same time there was so much hate in him thinking of all the evilness of the Moustadiris he felt he was almost ready to lose his life and die as a martyr to save Falnë, as long as he caused great losses to them.

The new waves of refugees were housed in tents at the northern and eastern parts of Tinë where woods had burnt down. But there were so many refugees that soon a new camp was formed at the west of New Tinë. At least sixty thousand people had arrived in a few days bringing Tinë’s population to almost two hundred thousand inhabitants, when it had counted only five thousand souls seven years before. It was very strange how the fate of an unimportant village could change in such a drastic way. Before the beginning of the war with Moustadir Tinë was just a small village of craftsmen and fishermen, and now it was becoming more and more Free Falnë’s capital. Without Qiroko it would have probably remained a village with a sprawling shantytown from the other side of the river. The old village and the shantytown would have looked at one another with distrust and dislike, or perhaps they would have learnt to cohabit with one another. Each little hut of the shantytown would have had its own cultivations nearby or on its rooftop to survive, and still the men and women and children would have starved. Qiroko’s vision and ambition had brought them much more comfort and the development of Tinë had provided them with work, at the harbour, in the new industries, on working sites, at the airport. Men and women who were farmers and herders and craftsmen had had to learn a new trade, a new way to subside from scratch. But they were desperate, and they saw it all as an opportunity to continue to live and ensure a future to their children. And at the end they were grateful to Qiroko even if the working conditions were poor and the working hours many, because they could eat and clothe themselves and have a solid roof over their heads, and now Qiroko had even started to bring them some luxuries to entertain themselves too, things they would never have been to afford before the war.

These refugees were proud to be part of Free Falnë. Qiroko had done several talks hailing and praising them, saying they were the pillars of a new Falnë, that through their labour a new and stronger nation would be born, and that this was the only way of resisting Moustadir.

And now Qiroko didn’t lose a moment, and he went to visit the new refugees who had arrived in each neighbourhood of the city, talking with them to spur them. They shouldn’t cry over the past and their losses he said, and from now on their lives would get better and better. They would build themselves the town they were going to live in, as Qiroko had already designed the new extensions and developments he planned for Tinë. The fearful life they had to lead in Minë was ending, and from now on they would become free men and free women of Free Falnë.

A few days afterwards, the soccer team of Falnë was drawn to play against Melroel in the quarter-final of the world cup. Melroel was a small island in the Behynyel Ocean at the east of Falnë. Arno knew little about it, but he heard the knowledgeable commentator explaining that Melroel had very old ties with Falnë and that after all what happened in the last days it was lucky for Falnë to play with a friendly nation. The Falnë players were wearing their characteristic suits with the mountains and the rough oceans and the seven lost crown cities, and they all had black armbands. They remained a long time in silence with their hands on their hearts, and captain Morito said a few words for the fallen of Minë and the tragedy that Falnë was living and he asked for the help of all nations of good will to rebuild Falnë. It was strange to hear the entire stadium applauding and cheering him even though there were only Melroel fans and some locals who were curious about the game. The match took place in Berken, a city at the north of Vilnen. Melroel’s team embraced Falnë players before the start of the game and that was even stranger and it warmed Arno’s heart and brought him to tears. He noticed Melroel’s shirts were beautiful too. They were of a warm yellow, but they also had a small painting at the level of their chest with a few mountains among which one was spitting smoke, some exotic trees, a town built in white and the sea all around.

The match started and both teams played quite openly. Melroel scored a beautiful goal around the twentieth minute, but Falnë equalized with an even more beautiful goal of Morito before the end of the first half. It was a pleasure to see both teams playing, fast and precise passes bringing the action to one side or to the other, without having the game interrupted every few seconds because of a foul. The second half started and Falnë scored its second and its third goals with Morito and Pahino. Despite its lead Falnë continued to attack as much as Melroel, but none of the teams could score because both goalkeepers did some important saves. A few instants before the end of the game Melroel scored its second goal, but it was not enough, and Falnë won the game, and Arno was truly happy but also a bit sad for Melroel’s players who had also deserved to pass to the next turn. Some players of Melroel sat disconsolate on the field. They were a small country too and perhaps they’d never qualify again for a quarter of final. The players of Falnë came to cheer them up and congratulate them for how well they had played, and the entire stadium applauded their victory, despite being from the other side.

Melroel had earned itself a place in Arno’s heart after that game. It had really cheered up his mood to see such a match after the horrid and stressful battle that Falnë players had had to fight against the Moustadiris. If Falnë had lost against Melroel, Arno would have accepted it more easily, because there was kindness and beauty in them too. But Falnë had won, and that was even better, because they were qualified to the semi-finals.

In the meanwhile Qiroko called for a gathering of all the mayors of Free Falnë in Tinë, telling them it was important to retrieve cohesion because the day in which the Moustadiris would free Helyë was not soon, and the Falnë as they all knew it was probably forever gone. There was no point in regretting the past, and it was vital to start planning the present and the future. Most of the mayors he could reach in time showed up. There were representatives from many villages and towns in Minë and Hinë provinces, as well as most of the mayors from Tinë’s province. That made an assembly of almost fifty men that gathered in Tinë. Qiroko welcomed them with a short talk, before making them visit New Tinë and taking them to the industrial plants and the harbour and the airport he had developed. They were awestruck by what Qiroko showed them, and he thus gained many to his cause. He explained to them he would receive money from some foreign powers to help rebuild Falnë, and with their cooperation he would also launch development projects in their villages and towns. That put Tinë and Qiroko in a position of leader, and he asked if anyone had anything to object against it. But no one spoke. It had been years mayors were each ruling their own villages without any guidance, without any help, and they all were in need of a strong figure that would give them a direction in which to go. Qiroko was that man. He explained to them he planned to enlarge existing roads and built new roads so that Tinë would become easily accessible from the east, the west and the south. Qiroko also explained to them his policy of favouring trade with other nations and importing used equipments so that more and more people could afford them. He told them about their plan to start attracting more and more tourists. All this talk was new to many of the mayors who had little political culture and were farmers or herders like the rest of their villages. Qiroko patiently explained to them how fruitful it would be if foreign tourists came to sleep in their villages. A mayor said that hospitality was sacred and that they would lodge the foreign visitors for free. But Qiroko replied that for foreigners it was normal to pay a fee to spend the night in a place, and that this fee would help Falnë to develop itself. On top of that he wanted all the excesses of the harvests to be sent to Tinë for exportation, because that too would bring fresh money to the people. He promised the mayors he’d send them some modern agriculture experts together with some tools and machines to till the land in a more efficient way, to encourage farmers to invest in such equipments, and also some chemical products that were widely used around the world to make crops grow faster and healthier. Qiroko ended the day by saying that his current focus would be on continuing to develop Tinë, and that he would not invest founds in Minë as it was too close to Helyë and the Moustadiris, and the town had acquired a very mournful reputation that didn’t serve itself. But he had some projects he could not yet disclose that would perhaps bring more stability in Minë too in future. The mayor of Minë was a bit dismayed, but Qiroko promised him to send him help to clear the rubbles and make the town inhabitable again, while telling him and all the other mayors Tinë was well-equipped enough to welcome more refugees and migrants.

Arno only heard echoes of all these political happenings, as he caught a conversation from here and there. For now they all had little consequences in his life, except that Qiroko was even more busy with his new and informal position of Falnë’s leader. There often were mayors who came to visit him trying to negotiate new projects or ask funds for their villages. And Qiroko had informed all the mayors of Free Tinë that such meetings would take place every three or four months, so that the advancement of projects could be followed and better coordination ensured.

The next game Falnë played was against Lorn in the semi-finals of the world cup. Falnë had already played against Lorn in the qualifying rounds, losing eleven to zero, but at the time Morito had been missing and the team entirely discouraged. That loss had happened before Falnë’s first victory. And yet Arno had a bad feeling about the game as it started. And indeed, the Lornese immediately confiscated the ball, and showing their technical superiority. The Falnë still wore their black armband in sign of mourning, and they tried to press the Lornese without showing the aggressivity or the determination they had shown in other games. The first goal of Lorn happened after an error of Mahro. The goalkeeper did not catch a ball very well and Lorn attacker who was nearby shot it in the goal. Immediately the Falnë seemed to even more toward their goal and the Lornese settled there passing the ball among one another and shooting at Mahro’s goal from every possible position. That despaired Arno as he could not see how Falnë would ever score if they never succeeded in breaking Lornese actions to counterattack. It was heartbreaking to see his team losing and feel there were almost no hopes left to ever win this game. Falnë would then be eliminated, but Arno had heard there was a match between the third and the fourth nations of the world cup and Falnë would participate to this game if it lost, and that slightly consoled him. He continued to watch the game with gloominess weighing over his heart. And in fact the second goal of Lorn soon arrived with a masterly shot from the distance by their playmaker against which Mahro could do nothing. Falnë seemed to drown even more afterwards and it was a head goal the Lornese then scored, again with their playmaker. The first half ended with three goals to zero for Lorn and zero shoots by Falnë on Lorn’s goal. Falnë had already lost in Arno’s heart. And yet, and yet. Was it right to surrender and capitulate in this way. Where had all the players pride gone. Why were they playing such a bland game. The second half started with many changes in the team. Lorn’s coach was already resting a few of his key players for the final, also to avoid an eventual injury, and Falnë’s coach had removed a defended to insert Iriko the midfielder. The game resumed and the Lornese continued passing the ball among themselves in Falnë’s half, but now the Falnë seemed to be pressing them with more determination, without success. A Lornese player shot a lethal ball at Mahro’s goal but Mahro redeemed his previous mistake by flying on the ball and pushing it away with his fists. A player of Lorn was there to receive the ball, but Iriko tackled him with precision and he stole the ball and without losing a moment he launched it very far off from the other side of the ground toward where Morito was running. Iriko’s ball was ideal as Morito arrived on it launched like an eagle from a mountain top. The defender that was trying to keep him in check was fast, but Morito was even faster and as soon as he retrieved himself not far from Lorn’s goal he shot a ball with his left foot that ended up in the net leaving Lorn’s goalkeeper completely helpless. All the Falnë ran toward Morito and they surrounded him for a moment placing all their heads against one another. Suddenly Arno felt some hope rekindling in his heart. In fact he had smiled again when he had heard Iriko would play the next half. Iriko was so young, but there was something about him that Arno trusted very much. Iriko never seemed to avow himself defeated, and there was something blessed about his feet. The match resumed and the Lornese continued to play confidently in Falnë’s half, but the Falnë were pressing them with better results. Iriko stole another ball and he launched Pahino on the side. Pahino ran madly with the ball succeeding in crossing it toward the centre where Morito threw himself head first on the ball completely surprising Lorn’s goalkeeper and scoring the second goal of Falnë. Arno’s heart began to beat faster and he jumped from his couch in joy. Yes, yes, yes, yes! he kept repeating himself in his head. Come on, come on. And now for the first time in the game it was the team of Falnë who was playing the ball and attacking. When the players didn’t know what to do with the ball they always passed it to Iriko, and Iriko somehow knew how to create new opportunities and favourable situations, surprising the Lornese. Now all the team of Lorn had retreated into defending their advantage and it was much harder to find gaps. Pahino and Morito tried several actions launched by Iriko’s velvety passes who delivered the ball right on their feet, but they were each time blocked by Lorn’s defence, or by their goalkeeper. Time was passing and the game was coming to an end. The entire team of Falnë was now in Lorn’s midfield and that in itself was an absurd spectacle. The team that was supposed to be the weakest in the world cup dominating the game with one of the largest and wealthiest country in the world. Despite Falnë’s losing result, Arno smiled and laughed to himself several times. It was good, so good, to see his men with their strange shirts of mountains and seas and crown cities unheard of in the world intimidating the players of Lorn who had thought the game already won. The coach of Lorn did his last change inserting another defender instead of an attacker, and that made the Lornese further retreat toward their goal in the last instants of the game. A foul was committed on Iriko who was progressing toward the ball after having overtaken three midfielders and a free kick was assigned to Falnë. Both Iriko and Morito stood in front of the ball, while a golden wall formed in front of Lorn’s goal as all their players stood in a line to block an eventual strike at their goal. Arno could hardly breathe. This was Falnë’s last chance perhaps. Iriko ran toward the ball and he did a short pass to Morito who shot it with all his potency. The ball surprised everyone, including Lorn’s goalkeeper, but it ended up on the pole. Pahino received the ball on his feet and he shot it at Lorn’s goal, but their goalkeeper did an incredible save, sending it in corner. This was the last action of the game. Iriko prepared himself to shoot it. Arno suddenly had a very good feeling about it. The ball took a strange trajectory as if it was directly aimed at the goal, and not as a cross for all the players of Falnë who were standing in front of the goal. It passed the first pole still well above Lorn’s goalkeeper and the ball went down abruptly curving inward toward the second pole, and there it bounced past the goal’s line and for a moment everyone on the field was incredulous. What had Iriko done? And then suddenly Falnë’s joy erupted and all his playmates ran and threw themselves on top of him. They had done it, they had equalized a match that seemed lost at the last second of the game. They had done it. The stadium had gone very silent as most were Lornese fans. But interestingly the camera showed a small section of the stadium that was cheering and applauding and there Arno recognized the flag and the colours of Melroel. He had tears in his eyes when he saw Falnë was not alone, when he understood that despite their loss against Falnë some of the Melros had remained to offer some support and warmth to an old friend of theirs. It had been centuries since when Falnë and Melroel had had active ties, but the Melros had not forgotten history, they had not forgotten from where culture and wisdom had stemmed. And they were there in the stadium singing and shouting in their own tongue to encourage a fallen nation to continue surviving, and perhaps rise again one day. For Arno it wasn’t only about a soccer game. Seeing the Melroel’s fans brought a much deeper emotion in him. He had always had the impression nobody truly cared about Falnë in the world, and if the Vilnens were now protecting Tinë, it was as much for their own interests to stall Moustadir’s expansionism. There was after all the Shinam archipelago that lied in the middle of the Velkyr Ocean, between the Moustawyl Islands and Vilnen. Shinam islands were tiny, but very important oil and gas reserves had been recently discovered offshore, attracting the greed of the powerful countries around. Both countries wanted to be privileged into the oil and gas exploitation, as they both had the knowhow that lacked to the Shinamis. Vilnen’s implantation on the Moustawyl islands in Falnë in coordination with mayor Qiroko was a pre-emptive move to avoid Moustadir laying claim over Shinam’s archipelago as Tinë’s military bases were just at two hours flight from Alameddir, Moustadir’s capital, and that posed an important threat to the Moustadiris as Vilnens retaliation would be immediate in case of attack on the Shinamis.

The Melros had nothing to do with all these games of power. Their nation was small, alone on an island lost in the middle of nowhere. Their cheering made Arno feel someone still loved and appreciated Falnë, someone still loved him. Because in those moments Arno felt so deeply part of Falnë that he suffered and rejoiced together with his nation. And Falnë’s destruction and loss was an open heart in his chest.

After a moment of resting, the game resumed with its prolongations. The Lornese were trying to attack with more determination now. Their coach really seemed to have shaken them during the pause. It was completely unacceptable for them to lose against Falnë, completely unacceptable. Such a game would bring the sack of the coach, and the Lornese would be welcomed back in Lorn with rotten eggs and tomatoes thrown on them. Losing against Falnë would be considered as a humiliation.

So Lorn attacked, but the Falnë defended themselves in an orderly manner, and when they did mistakes fate and the skills of Mahro assisted them. And from time to time Iriko stole a ball and launched a counterattack creating open ground in front of Pahino and Morito with the cleverness of his passes. There was something about Iriko that Arno loved, that filled his heart with trust and joy. In a way, Arno recognized a part of himself in Iriko. Iriko did not look either like all these boys at school. He had an air of intense focus around him and he never seemed to do a mistake because he lived for the ball, he felt the ball as if it was part of his body. Or that was the impression that Arno got while watching him playing. Iriko, the television commentators explained, was from a mountain village a bit above the Ummyë plains called Aberdië. That village had been entirely destroyed as the Moustadiris tanks had entered in Falnë from the border road that crossed that village. Aberdië now was just a heap of stones and broken utensils and broken lives. Iriko had lost his mother in one of the Moustadiris strikes and she had told his father on her dying lips to flee together with their son. Take him away and escape she had shouted, take him away and flee. Promise it. And Barano had taken Iriko and fled to Minë, and later on to Tinë. Since the death of his wife Barano had lived in a state of complete shock, barely talking, mourning her day and night. All this pain showed on Iriko’s face and in his eyes. Each of his gestures was intent, focused, on taking revenge and bringing light to Falnë. He did not do it in a hateful, confused manner, but despite that you could see he was warm-blooded. And then Arno understood why Obiro, Falnë’s coach, had not played Iriko against Moustadir. Iriko was still very young and very much in pain, and it would have been very easy to do something very stupid against one of the players of the nation that had robbed away from him his mother and his homeland. Despite not having suffered in his life nearly as much as Iriko, Arno felt he could entirely relate to Iriko’s pain, and feel it in his chest too. And he desired revenge and to chase away Moustadir from Falnë as much as Iriko wanted it. But now both their focus was on Falnë’s game against Lorn. Iriko needed to continue to do wonders with the ball, and Arno was called to cheer for his nation and sustain each of its players in his heart. And in a way Arno felt that he was as important as any player of Falnë, because that was not a victory of better skills or better muscles. This was a victory of the heart, of fairness and truth and love. Each time Falnë won it triumphed against much more powerful nations who trained their soccer players for years, when Falnë’s players had been gathered in a refugee camp and could barely train as they needed to work on constructions sites on in manufactures most of the days to earn their living. It was a victory of the heart, and that meant it wasn’t only a victory of the players playing for Falnë, but of all Falnë, of all the hearts beating at this same pace of victory and desire to rise again.

Lorn was still controlling the ball most of the time, but their actions were not being very dangerous. Out of too much confidence in their win, their coach had set to rest their two best players after the first half, and now he was bitterly regretting it as he could no longer do changes. Falnë’s counterattacks that always started in Iriko’s feet seemed much more lethal and several times they nearly scored their fourth goal. Some moments before the end of the game and the subsequent penalty shootout, the Lornese started to defend themselves as if after all they preferred to arrive to the penalty’s lottery instead of risking to lose because of a last minute goal of Falnë. As the Lornese retreated, the Falnë became more and more enterprising, and even players who were awkward with the ball suddenly seemed quite skilled. The stadium had gone silent and many whistles of disappointment were starting to resound, and still in one part of the tribunes the small contingent of Melros were singing and clapping and encouraging Falnë and the reminder of their presence stamped a large smile on Arno’s lips. Now every Falnë player who had the ball tried to strike at Lorn’s goal, and that’s how Milino, a defender scored the fourth goal after another of his teammates had seen his shoot pushed away by Lorn’s goalkeeper. After that the Lornese tried to desperately attack but Iriko was there and he threw himself on the ball was it was passed from one player to another, and he had the time to stand again and start running between several of their players, sowing confusion between them and making them forget entirely about Morito, and the exact right moment Iriko raised the ball and passed it to Morito who was still at a certain distance from Lorn’s goal but with no nearby defender pressing him. Morito started running, ball glued to his foot, forcing Lorn’s goalkeeper to come toward him, and lobbing the ball above the goalkeeper head at that instant, scoring Falnë’s fifth goal and ending the match in a triumph. Falnë is in final, Falnë is in final, shouted the commentators. Falnë was in final. Falnë had qualified. And Lorn was eliminated. Lorn that had beaten Falnë eleven to zero some weeks ago had been beaten. Arno danced on his couch and embraced his mother and even his stepfather and fireworks erupted everywhere in the village and the night sky became a blaze of colourful lights, and bonfires were lit everywhere, and Qiroko did nothing to prevent it all because it was good to let these people celebrate for once, it was good they could start forgetting about the war and their losses, it was good they started rising their heads again proud to belong to Falnë. And all this was Qiroko’s merit. He had thought of recreating a soccer team for Falnë. He had thought of Obiro to train them. He had assisted to the tryouts of players to be brought to the world cup. And he had brought televisions to Falnë. But Qiroko was no man to rest on the praise he received and he felt he deserved. Qiroko was a man of action till the very end, and he was never happy and content with what he already had obtained, because it all belonged to the past. What mattered for him was the present and the future, how he’d make Tinë and Falnë even greater. How he’d gain even more power to bring all the changes he imagined. But that night, just for a moment, he let himself relax and forget about everything in Mounyë’s arms. It was also good to take short breaks to celebrate important victories in Qiroko’s philosophy.

Every morning Arno crossed the wealthy neighbourhood of New Tinë where towers rose before coming into the old village where houses and gardens still flourished, directing himself toward the school. During the first days he used to do this walk with Mounyë. They either remained in silence, or chatted about this or that professor at school, this or that course Arno had an exam in, carefully avoiding topics that would bring storm clouds over their conversation. However when Qiroko brought a car to Mounyë it changed their little routine. On the first mornings Mounyë insisted Arno came together with her, but Arno hated the car, he felt trapped into it, moving from a closed space to another closed space in a cage. Arno needed to breathe the morning air, he needed to walk and exercise his legs. He liked to look at the landscape around him at his own pace, to smell the scent of flowers and that of roasting acorn coffee and see the men ploughing and watering their garden before the day became too hot. The car did not allow him to do all that, and after a few mornings of being driven by Mounyë Arno said very firmly he much preferred to walk. In his heart he did not understand why his mother needed a car, but there were so many absurd things happening nowadays that Arno had renounced to understand them all.

It was interesting to walk on his own because he could change path every morning, taking longer walks to explore new places he had never seen. And one day when he came back home in the afternoon he decided to visit New Tinë he had never truly visited since mayor Qiroko had built it. Arno still vaguely remembered when all these slopes were green covered with oak and pine trees and thorny rocks and grass and wild flowers in spring. Arno still remembered when we walked together with Mounyë toward the port, watching the sun set in the ocean and colouring the landscape and the cloudscape in a thousand shades. Arno still remembered feeling the light or fierce breeze of the sea on his skin and his hair, smiling to his mother and waiting for the little white fishing boat of Bilbo to come back in the port, usually just after sunset, before it got too dark. Arno still recalled the smell of fresh fish and that of algae and the kiss of Bilbo on his forehead that smelled of sea and salt. And that gave Arno a strong yearning to go again to the harbour to wait for his father. But things could never be again as they were. Mounyë would not come with him. And everything had changed. The new port had dozens of large boats coming and going every day and it was bustling with people and cranes and trucks and cars. It used to be a place of quietness with some fishing boats and a few fishermen mending their nets or tending to their boat and bringing down baskets with fish. Now the harbour was bustling with activity and noise and smoke that made Arno feel there was no space left for him there.

New Tinë was the largest town Arno had ever seen or visited and it had been built in just a few years. Or rather it was still being built as it was constantly sprawling, and every year new neighbourhoods were completed. The wealthy neighbourhood counted many tall buildings that were built in concrete but were recognizable from the poorer buildings because they had large windows and large balconies and they were painted in white. The streets were wider and there were glass showcases on the ground floor of every building. Not far from Qiroko’s apartment two banks had opened, there was a jewellery too and a travel agency and two supermarkets. Other showcases were still empty, but from what Arno had heard many wealthy people who still lived in Helyë were now starting to move to Tinë. Large businesses and firms that had their headquarters in Helyë were now all interested to come to Tinë, or at least open a branch there. It was all moving very fast now that Tinë was transitioning from being a small village to an international town with its bustling harbour and its new airport. Qiroko set conditions that were very favourable for businesses and particulars, with lower taxes than anywhere else, and Arno had heard the mayor saying that every month new foreigners came to settle in Tinë or to open their bank account. The movement was still limited because people were afraid of Falnë’s unstable situation, but it had started already and it would only get better with time. In the neighbourhood where Arno lived everybody had at least one car parked in underground parkings and he often heard foreign languages spoken, recognizing tongues from the north.

At night only half the apartments were lit in these towers. There were still many empty apartments since most people from Tinë could not afford them, and other wealthy people had probably bought apartments without living into them. It all was very strange to Arno who was used to his small homely village to be so dwarfed by these gigantic towers, and to see so little greenery left all around. Even balconies were mostly empty and arid.

There was an interesting place that was the square between the two or the three cities where Qiroko had set the giant screen to show soccer games and important discourses he did. There from one side you could see the houses and the temple, from another side there were the tall towers of the wealthy neighbourhood and from the third side you saw the popular neighbourhoods of New Tinë where high concrete buildings rose in every direction following the levels of the ground. The central part of the square was only for pedestrians, while a road busy with cars made a ring between the houses and the central square. There rose the new City Hall of Tinë where Qiroko and his municipality would soon move. It was a tall building different from most others as it was built in glass and it shimmered with bluish and yellowish light depending on how the sun struck it. It had some beauty in it, but it felt at the same time very alien to Arno. All his life he had been used to houses and buildings of stones and that made sense because rocks were available everywhere around. But glass was a strange material to build an entire building from.

By that central square the road to the harbour passed and Arno remembered when that road was only a path between trees. Nothing was left of his old visions as buildings of New Tinë rose from both sides of the road. Arno then started walking toward the Iyë River in the narrower streets of the poorer neighbourhood of New Tinë. There were five to seven stories buildings packed together and their narrow balconies were covered with plants and Arno recognized orange and lemon trees and tomato and eggplant and zucchini plants there, among many others. There were a lot of clothes drying in the wind of strings pulled in front of balconies and windows. The buildings had not been painted and they were still a dark shade of grey, but all this life you could see around balconies and windows made them smoother to look at. There were many little shops that sold vegetables and fruits and grains and fishes and meat on the ground floors of the buildings and there were many young children playing running around the streets and playing with balls. There were some cars that passed but these streets were less frequented. Arno walked till the river that he enjoyed seeing again, but the narrow trickle of water that was flowing there worried him. He passed manufactures where steel and glass were being worked amongst the shouts of men and the screeches of machines and he walked along the river to cross it on one of the new bridges that had been built. There the car traffic was more intense. Arno passed by the new school from which many boys and girls who seemed a bit older than him were going out before continuing his way to other neighbourhood where the same grey buildings rose everywhere and in the distance he could see fields and fields that were being worked and where cranes stood already rising the first stones of the new extensions Qiroko had planned for Tinë. He then arrived in an industrial neighbourhood close to the ocean where a large power plant spitted dark grey smoke from a tower. There were large reservoirs for oil and gas around it, and a place where large oil tankers could replenish them. There were many other large buildings that looked like different sorts of manufactures and the air smelled really foul scents. At the outskirt of the industrial zone Arno saw a landfill and he was shocked to see a mountain of garbage there. All sorts of plastic bags and bottles and cans and filth and tyres and broken chairs and tables and even a few cars rose in heaps. There were seagulls flying all around it, gnawing at the rests of food. For a moment Arno observed at the seagulls who brought whiteness and purity in their graceful flights shimmering under the afternoon sun’s light. But the stench in the air was too strong for Arno to stay for long there. Before returning on his steps, he had the time to see a large truck filled with refuses unloading its content in the discharge, and a field of tents where refugees lived from the other side of the discharge. It all was a sad view, especially that Arno could remember that when he was a kid these were large sand beaches where sea turtles came to lay their eggs and wild flowers covered the dunes around, and the hills were all green. Now it was all gray and it stank. The river too worried Arno on his way back, as he crossed it from a larger bridge closer to the ocean, along the national road to Minë. Its waters had a strange colour and a disagreeable scent. Probably the manufactures threw their refuses into it too, but it also smelled like sewage. So that was probably where the used waters of many houses ended. And all this water was going into the sea. That made Arno feel sick. Since he was a kid, Arno felt the land was part of himself, part of his body. Witnessing the progressive destruction of the land made him feel as though it was his body that was being raped and destroyed. He continued his walk along the national road that separated the industrial zone from the residential ones. From one side there were gray houses with balconies that seemed a little less alive than the ones in the heart of New Tinë probably because the view from their windows was far from being cheerful, and from the other side there were all sorts of long buildings which produced or sold different types of equipments. Arno continued his walk until the national road met with the road connecting the harbour to Tinë, and he walked toward the harbour that had become an even worse place than the last time he had seen it. It was bustling with honking cars and shouting men and there was an element of restlessness in the air that truly tired him. The port had become even larger and there were hundreds of boats of different sizes stationed there or moving in and out, occupying the entire bay that used to be so crystalline and beautiful in the past. This walk had drained Arno and now his only desire was to go back home and rest for a moment, but he still had to climb back all the way toward Tinë’s hill. Sometimes Arno could not understand himself. It was as if he voluntarily inflicted sufferings on himself. Why to come on this walk through New Tinë when he knew he could not accept all what was happening there. Slowly, he walked toward home where Lamië opened him the door. For a moment, seeing her shapely body and her belly made him forget everything else. But at the end that was a suffering too because he couldn’t do anything about it, he didn’t even know what he could do. It was a stupid, shameful attraction, a part of himself he should try to repress and make disappear. Deep down Arno knew the day he would meet the girl of his dream, that part of himself would disappear, but right now she seemed as far of him as she could be. He did not feel her often in his heart, and that made his life hopeless and empty. But Falnë was playing the world cup. Falnë was in final. And for a moment Arno felt cheered up by this thought. For now his life did not make him happy, but he could live through the joys of others, he could feel the victories of Falnë on his own skin. But was this enough. Was it Arno’s only ambition in life. To have success through others, and watch the world go to its destruction without doing anything. At that moment something that had not happened for a while happened again. Arno felt the warmth of words rising through his throat, and he started singing to himself.

Each atom around you is inhabited with a soul

the walls and the floor, the air your breathe and the skin of your body

there is a countless number of souls

most of them are in a very infant stage

their physical representation, the atom, simply exists and vibrates

tying itself to other atoms, or erring freely

entirely bound by the fundamental laws of nature

As countless lifetimes elapse, some atom souls awaken to their higher nature

and instead of inhabiting atoms, they start to dwell into more complex structures

they tie themselves to molecules, and in addition of the most basic laws of nature

they experience the change of state becoming gaseous, solid and liquid

and slowly they get familiar with their new boundaries, until when the molecule soul grows mature

and the soul decides to bond itself with even more complex structures, rocks and pieces of wood and clouds and any other short or long lived element

at that stage, souls grow more and more aware of their own existence, because they come in contact with higher forms of life

rocks are used to build cathedrals and they are carved into statues and the process of being transformed, metamorphosed, not by laws of nature but by human hands stir something in them

the longing to become truly alive is stronger and stronger until the cathedral soul and the grotto soul are ready to push their limits another step farther

they will no longer be shaped by others, but they will give themselves their own shapes, grow their own bodies

the soul now starts tying itself to all sorts of plants, herbs, algae and trees

it learns to grow its own body and with it the soul discovers all the laws of the living that differ from the laws of the inanimate

now the soul has the pressure to keep itself alive, find water and minerals with its roots, follow the sun with its branches and drop its foliage in time before the first winter frosts

the soul now is active on two levels, it exists, and it controls its own shape, its own life

for thousands and thousands of years the soul continues experimenting with the confines of trees, choosing very different lifestyles, from sprouting into a pot to growing on unclimbable mountains, yielding fruits and flowers and thorns and developing comestible and bitter barks

but after being in so close contact with birds and butterflies and grazers and squirrels and humans, a new desire starts to grow into the tree soul

growing their own shape is no longer enough for the soul, it now wants to move it, it wants to dance and fly not only to obey the wind’s will, it wants to experience a new level of consciousness

and so the soul now ties itself to all sorts of animals, it tries being a mosquito and a giraffe, a cat and a dog, a bird and a fish

and slowly, the soul familiarizes itself with all sorts of new powers it did not have before

it can now hear and produce sounds of its own will, it can see all the colours of the world

as a tree, its focus was inward, but now as an animal its focus becomes more outward

it learns to move and run on feet, it learns to fly and to swim

and the need to actively survive, tracking other animals to eat them, searching for grassy meadows where to graze, fleeing from other larger animals and building its own dens develop the soul’s capacity for reflection

and it starts learning the range of basic emotions too, it discovers companionship and anger and sadness and compassion and love

by living into communities of animals and by coming into contact with humans too

cats and dogs and horses even grow into companionship with humans

and slowly a new desire awakens in the animal soul

it has now explored all the planes of physical existence, by having existed and learnt its contour, grown its body and learnt to survive, and later discover motion and emotions

but now there is something else the animal soul longs for

it has experienced basic levels of invention and presence, but most often in predetermined shapes

it has never been able to freely create, not at the material level, nor in the realm of ideas

the added complexity of humans draw the animal soul

and soon it starts experience life as a human being

slowly, it learns its new confines

not only does it grow its own body and masters motion and become conscious of its own existence and learn to survive

but it comes upon the most complex ranges of emotions that weigh more heavily on it than when it was an animal, and it discovers the full meaning of laughing and crying and loving

it also starts being able to create much more complex shapes outside from its own body, building tools and crafts and machines and temples, but also writing books and painting canvases and playing music

and the soul discovers it can even question its own existence, and the meaning of life

after having gone through stages of existence and growth and motion and reflection and emotion now the human soul starts learning about the confines of creation that can happen inside the mind and in the world, fuelled by reflection and by emotions

and one day, the human starts to intuit he has a soul, that he has an immortal essence that will outlive death, and a gift that allows him to love and create in a unique way

and then, this understanding goes further and deeper, and the human understands his soul has been ever growing for ages

and now the human has become conscious enough to meet with his own soul and let it grow within himself, and thus his exploration of his confines continue

today the human world is almost on the verge of a change where instead of being focused on rational survival instincts such as attaching a lot of importance for money and careers and possessions

it will grow on a spiritual level, and life after life, each human being will feel more and more that letting his soul, his immortal core, grow into himself, is an integral part of his fulfilment

there already are some human beings who are undergoing this process of letting go of their basic instincts driven by fear, and instead embracing their higher intuitions stemming from love

when all fears have been eliminated, the wall separating the human from the soul falls, and the soul grows so much into the human, and the human embraces so perfectly its soul that they become the same thing and the soul needs no longer to find another body for it has finally found perfect shoe to its foot

and then the human becomes an angel, a human soul who is completely awakened to its divine nature of love and truth, and who has entirely mastered its gift, and who’s ready to now experience creation at a higher level, outside from the dimension we know

The story gave goose bumps to Arno and it also confused him because it was somehow too complex for him to grasp entirely yet. In a way it was an answer to his doubts and his fears and his depression of seeing New Tinë destroyed. Arno could now somehow feel that destruction was a way to renewal, that it was part of the human experience to destroy and create. He knew it already, he realized, in a hidden depth of himself. And yet, another part of him could not accept it. He could not accept that Tinë, the haven of his childhood and his past happiness, was now changing in such a way. He could not accept that so much beauty was being forever lost. And yet, was it truly lost? Wouldn’t there be a time when the beauty would return in even more abundance as the songs seemed to hint. That idea resonated with Arno too and he somehow felt he needed to start the revolution that would bring a new way of thinking and more beauty within the world. But how?

Another song stemmed in Arno’s heart, and he let it out feeling it was an echo of the previous song he had sung.

The life of a soul within a human being is a metaphor of all the stages of existence it went through

at first it is an atom, a molecule

a spermatozoid and an ovule which have no will of their own and will move where the current brings them

when the spermatozoid and the ovule meet a new creation ensues

and the foetus becomes like a plant that grows its body in darkness, searching for the light

as months pass it grows more and more sensitive and its heart start beating and its mind starts forming

and it gives its first sign of life to his mother

and the day of his birth he pass into a new dimension, he starts to feel all sorts of emotions and instincts he progressively learns to master

and as time passes, he becomes more and more conscious of his own boundaries and of being an individual

the soul grows into the body as reflexions and emotions become natural

the child grows into a teen who grows into an adult, and each transformation is symbolic of the growth in awareness of the soul as it becomes more and more conscious of its own gift and learns to use it

until all fears of the unknown have disappeared and the man and the woman embrace the angel they will together become

Again, his words did not directly reply to his questioning, but they offered some hints. Arno felt he needed more than ever to meet the girl of the dream, because the key of his entire quest was within her. When he would meet her, everything would become clear and he would grow into himself. He would find happiness.

And yet another song started growing like a bubble in his mind, before revealing its colours to his ears.

A path is appearing before your feet

where before there was none

it is emerging from under the ocean of your spirit

bridging lands that you thought unconnected

There are trees and shrubs and flowers

sprouting on this stretch of land

as if it had always existed

and had been hidden from your eyes till now

And you journey there eager to discover

where your quest will bring you

and which other latitudes of your spirit

will metamorphose themselves

as your sight grows in depth

Arno felt more alive than he had felt for a long while. It was strange how he each time forgot the pleasure of singing during the months he went silent. The heat and the sweat and the tiredness and the frustration of his walk across New Tinë were all forgotten for a moment. Arno could now somehow feel there were still other songs at the depth of him that awaited to find a channel to rise into his throat and be birthed into the world. It was the first time he felt the physical presence of the song in his heart before it went out. It was a strange sensation. One of seeing yourself from the inside, one of getting a glimpse on the inner mechanisms that governed his body and his spirit. Complete understanding was still far away, and the amounts of things he did not know daunted Arno for a moment. But then one of the little light he had felt in his heart started ascending through his throat and it went out shimmering and filling his room with colours and light.

In life you are often confronted

to things that are incomprehensible

and meaningless to you

Your task is to keep on digging

until you discover new meanings there

try looking upon the world

with a fresh gaze every morning

let go of prejudices and misconceptions

so that you are not limited

in your thoughts and your inspirations

If you wish to go forward

on the path of self-discovery

and if you desire your dream

to become one day real

then train yourself to see

beyond the visible and the obvious

listen to the silent whispers of stones

and those of hearts in the wind

discover the beauty and the love

that lie in everything around you

Arno still had troubles to see the beauty of the destruction around him. He couldn’t see the beauty of the war with Moustadir either. And within him too were things he found ugly.

He then noticed Lamië who was on the doorstep of his room.

“You sing really well,” she said. “You remind me of my grandfather, he used to sing me songs when I was a kid.”

Arno smiled at her. For once he felt compassion for her and there was no trace of his strange attraction toward her. For once he could treat her as another human being, as another soul. “My grandfather too used to tell songs to me,” he said, “can you sing any song yourself.”

Lamië shook her head. “But I love listening to them. Now I’m going because I have some laundry to do. Never hesitate to share your songs with me.”

Arno felt good about this short conversation with Lamië which further cheered his mood up after the songs he had remembered. There were still many of them that demanded to be told in his heart.

Arno went to the kitchen to take a glass of water. He still needed to get used not being able to drink the water from the tap, but from the plastic bottles Mounyë bought. Since the development of Tinë into a town its consumption of water had much increased and the water that alimented the town was not always clean and so a lot of chlorine was added to disinfect it, making it taste really badly. Only the old house of the towns still had their own wells and cisterns, and Arno could still drink from the tap at his grandmother Shouhimë’s place. But in new Tinë plastic bottles had made their appearance everywhere with a label where it was written Iyë, the water that gives a new strength to your body. It was very strange for Arno to see branded products. In the past his mother and his grandmother used to do almost everything themselves. But now his mother had changed, she had no longer the time, nor the help of Shouhimë who did most of the jams for instance and sent to Mounyë and Bilbo many fruits from her orchard. Lamië took care of all the chores in Qiroko’s apartment but most of their products came from the supermarkets underneath their houses, and Arno found absurd that the biscuits he ate were in a package where it was written in Vilnens. The jams too came from there, and they were much less tasty than the jams of Falnë. He had told Mounyë about it, but Mounyë had explained to him that it was good to have some international products at the mayor’s house. They had many visitors and it was important to show them Qiroko was not a countryman like the other politicians of Falnë. Qiroko had ambitions and visions and that apparently passed by the brands of biscuits and jams and coffees and teas he brought to his house. That day Arno expressed his frustration to Lamië as he had become friend with her and knew she had some sensitivity and she promised him to try doing some jams as her own mother used to do them. But Lamië confessed to Arno she already barely had the time to do everything she needed to do in the house, as Qiroko had put her a strict schedule for the cleaning and dusting, and the rest of the time she needed to cook and do the laundry that was also cumbersome because the suits of Qiroko and the new clothes he had brought to Mounyë each needed special treatment. Arno rolled his eyes at that. The absurdity of the lives of people around him was unnerving him. Why did they need to make things so complicated. Why couldn’t they live with the simplicity of Bilbo. Also what despaired Arno was that he now knew where all the plastic bottles and wrappings ended up. He had seen and smelled the stench of the landfill and he imagined this was only a beginning and that it would get much worse with time. Falnë was becoming as bad as Moustadir. For two centuries Falnë had kept its traditions, its ways of doing things and it had protected its nature as sacred. But now nature was no longer sacred and human needs had grown in strong opposition with it. If in seven or eight years Tinë had changed so much, what would happen in ten or twenty years. And if Falnë was now taking in all the so-called advancement of the world, the world must really be into a bad shape. Arno imagined vast forests and meadows that became deserts or were covered by sprawling metropolises. He imagined humans growing so numerous and so greedy they had no longer enough resources to sustain themselves. That was what had happened with the Moustadiris. The war with them and their conquest was a result of their greed, of each person’s greed, as they needed way more water than they had and started stealing that of Falnë. What would happen when the entire world would start running out of resources. And Arno shivered imagining all the wars and the invasion and the destruction of smaller countries by larger ones, and the end of the world as it had always existed as at the end even the large countries brought themselves to unsolvable troubles and extension. Arno imagined the temperatures getting higher and higher each year as it was already happening, and less and less plants and animals living, because of the drought and because there was no wilderness left for animals, and the whole land covered in wastes and filth. Why was he born in such a miserable century, Arno wondered. Why did he have to witness the end of the world, as wars and epidemics devastated what remained of it. And Arno wondered how many years of relative quietness he had to live before the world grew into a hell.

And yet, there was so much beauty deep inside Arno. He could feel he had so much potential, so beautiful songs in his heart, so beautiful images in his imagination. How could the world truly be this horrid place that books and television and his own eyes depicted. Why was everything going wrong. Why were human so unwise and obsessed by material possessions. Why did each person want to have a car and a television and a washing machine and a dishwater and new clothes every season and cell phones and computers. All these commodities were almost entirely new to Falnë, but it seemed everybody around the world had all that and more. And Arno could see the hungry way in which people were starting to throw themselves on these things. Since when mayor Qiroko had built the antenna that allowed cell phones to work, many kids at school had got their first cell phones and they bragged about it. Now that cheap clothes store had opened importing clothes that came from the other part of the world and that were sewn by machines or by children from what Arno heard, kids at school had started wearing clothes in the foreign fashion and they seemed to always need new ones, even though Arno never noticed the difference because he wasn’t careful about these things. He saw it with Qiroko and Mounyë, and how his mother was changing, entirely embracing another way of living from the one she had taught him when he was a child. People were greedy, but it wasn’t only greed. It was a sort of focus on the wrong things. Giving a lot of importance to unimportant things, in Arno’s point of view. All these commodities that were brought from other countries did not interest Arno, they did not make him dream as they seemed to make others dream. He liked the old, slower, more authentic way of doing things. He still loved to look at his grandmother Shouhimë cut the fruits to prepare jars and jars of jam, and break the olives with stones to prepare them to be put into jars, set fruits to dry on the roof top and prepare her own cheese from the milk she received. Despite her age she still was as active as before. Arno still enjoyed watching his father mending his nets and ploughing the soil. There was much more beauty and truth in that, then in getting little pieces of cheese wrapped in plastic and coming from God knew where at the supermarket. This cheese didn’t even taste as real cheese. The biscuits too were much inferior to the ones his mother used to prepare and the ones his grandmother still baked. The lemonade, Arno tried it once swearing to himself never to try it again, seemed to be a juice of foul chemical products. Several times Mounyë had gone to the supermarket insisting Arno came with her and Arno had felt lost into that refrigerated immensity. There were so many different things, most of which were imported from other countries. Everything seemed to be designed to maximize sales and economic gains. Packages were much smaller than the ones you’d find in Tinë’s old grocery, or in Zerto’s house and any other mountain house. There were a lot of wrappings and pretty images on them, but the products were poor in taste and freshness. Why would people would be so fascinated by these supermarkets when they had all they could desire in Falnë. Arno had been shocked at the number of persons who were doing their groceries in the supermarket. There were also all sorts of cheap plastic and metallic objects that were sold and Arno sadly imagined that soon all the craftsmen of the village would find themselves without work, as most of the younger generation and the refugees seemed to go to the supermarket. In a way it had become a trend to follow the way of living Qiroko was showing them. Only closed-minded and ancient people would continue to live in the old way and do their own jams and their own olives and their own cheese. That way of seeing the world had brought Falnë to its destruction. Falnë needed to become productive. Mayor Qiroko had repeated these words over and over for years and now suddenly people were starting to repeat them after him, because somehow they felt he was right, they felt they needed to change and grow modernizing themselves. When you look at Qiroko’s inner life, he was not such a complicated man and he still knew how to appreciate the simple pleasures of life. The apricots that came from the east of Tinë, the cherries jam that Mounyë’s parents had brought with them from Iyë this year. When he was served these authentic things at the table, he praised them and Arno could read in his eyes that beyond the mayor there was a more simple man. But Qiroko’s priority was not the welfare of his stomach. Yes, he liked to eat well and exercise very early in the morning, but apart from that he wanted to make of Falnë a stronger nation on the international scene and he was ready to make some sacrifices for it. For him that was the way to make Falnë survive. Cutting the old roots that kept Falnë trapped. Playing at the same game that the other countries had been playing for two centuries, instead of standing apart as Falnë had always done. Those times were over. The world was now a globalized place where you needed to be connected with other countries, other cities, and Qiroko wanted to make of Tinë a connected place. The damages on nature and the lost way of living were marginal costs, necessary evils that were not so great when weighed up to the benefits it would bring Falnë.

Arno could not cope with such reasonings. He felt there was a fallacy into them and they made him feel really sick, but at the same time he couldn’t explain nor defend his point of view. He just knew there was something wrong in it. Something his mind and his body did not accept. And yet, Arno felt he too was part of the New Falnë Qiroko was bringing about. Arno felt trapped into it, because a part of him wanted Falnë to be strong, and that seemed the way to strength.

And when Arno thought about the world cup all these reasonings were forgotten. He was the first one to turn on the television he hated, the first one to cheer Falnë’s soccer team. And this lack of consistency killed Arno from within. He could be so strong when he clearly knew what was right and what was wrong. But in the latest months and years these two notions had gotten confusing and overlapping. And sometimes Arno’s instincts contradicted his ideals and his intuitions.

But what now truly mattered was Falnë’s team that was about to come on the ground of the world cup final. Vatana, a wealthy and powerful country of the north, was opposing it. The Vatanese wore dark blue suits of a hue Arno liked, while the Falnë wore their characteristic mountains and crown cities overlooking the ocean with its sailing ships, and for the first time Arno understood the ships symbolized the moment when Falnë had passed its knowledge and its wisdom to the entire world. And now Falnë was doing it again, symbolically. Falnë was showing to the world it still existed, and it had been at the origin of things, and Arno felt extremely proud of his little nation.

For the first time, Falnë’s coach had inserted Iriko from the beginning and that gave some more confidence to Arno. The game started and Falnë started attacking immediately. After many passes in Vatana’s half, Iriko delivered a perfect cross for Morito’s head and the ball rebounded on the crossbar while Vatana’s goalkeeper would have been beaten. The Vatanese launched a counterattack and Falnë defenders were caught unprepared to their striker who overtook them with ease and progressed toward Falnë’s goal alone against Mahro who had come toward him. Vatana’s attacker shot the ball but Mahro extended his leg and deviated it in corner. It was an incredible save. The corner was fast played but Iriko immediately took possession of the ball launching it to Pahino on the left wing. Pahino had the best on Vatana’s defence thanks to his speed and he tried to shoot from the side. Vatana’s goalkeeper pushed the ball away, but it ended up on Morito’s feet. With a feint, he got rid of the nearby defender and he shot a perfect ball at the top corner of the goal. Their goalkeeper could do nothing about it, and thus Falnë took the lead of the final, one goal to zero. This had shaken the Vatanese players and they started attacking with renewed determination but Mahro stopped all the balls that were directed toward him, and every time he launched fast actions, passing the ball to Iriko who always knew what to do with it. One of these times, Iriko received the ball and instead of immediately passing it to Morito or Pahino, he dribbled three opposing midfielders retrieving himself against two defenders while the two Falnë attackers had placed themselves on both sides. Iriko feinted to pass the ball to Morito, surprising one of the two defenders, then he suddenly lobbed the ball that passed high above the other defender’s head and went down abruptly into the top corner of Vatana’s goal. Falnë’s joy erupted as all the players and even Obiro came to hug Iriko. Arno was overjoyed, but there still was too much fear in his heart to celebrate. The game was still long and anything could still happen. The Vatanese resumed their attacks on Mahro’s goal, but Falnë’s defence did not crack and Vatana could not score any goal before the end of the first half. The second half started as Vatana’s coach inserted two new attackers in replacement of a midfielder and a defender. Vatana now had four attackers and their first actions were indeed very incisive each of time coming very close to scoring, if it were not for Mahro’s incredible saves and a bit of bad luck. After a difficult stop Mahro launched the ball to Pahino on the side and Pahino immediately produced a cross for Morito who was in the middle on his own between three defenders. Morito controlled the ball, turning his shoulders to the goal and then suddenly with a bicycle kick he surprised the entire Vatanese defense, and the ball ran toward their goal, rebounding against the inner part of the pole and ending up in the net. The stadium that was entirely filled with Vatanese fans went silent, while Falnë brought its advantage to three goals to zero. Vatana continued to attack with increased ferocity and their players that were in average much more gifted technically than the Falnë tried to score from every position. But there seemed to be a charm or a hex protecting Falnë’s goal. Mahro was unbeatable and the few times a ball escaped him it ended up on the poles or on the crossbar or in close proximity to the goal, but never inside. And despite their lead, the Falnë continued to try counterattacking. Iriko was still running as madly as in the beginning of the game and he stole a ball from Vatana’s playmaker launching Morito on the side. Morito kicked the ball with all his strength and Vatana’s goalkeeper had to throw himself to save his goal, but Pahino was arriving very fast from the other side and with a small lob he threw the ball into the goal. For the first time Arno jumped from the couch erupting in joy. Four goals. Four to zero. No one, absolutely no one would have predicted such a result in favour of Falnë who had never passed the first turn of the world cup in the past. The Vatana players seemed under shock and their fans looked incredulous. Arno looked for the fans of Melroel that had come to support Falnë during its semi-final against Lorn, but he could not see them. Perhaps they had already returned to their country after the loss of their team. There were some spectators who were clapping hands after Falnë’s goals, and these were Vilnens fans who had come to watch the game out of curiosity rather than to support either teams. There was some rivalry between Vilnen and Vatana so perhaps they were even happy to see their sportive archenemies lose in such a sound manner. The Vatanese continued to attack, but they now played in a disheartened way. Losing with a four goals difference left them almost no hope to equalize with only a quarter an hour to play. But the Falnë were not done with that game and now Iriko broke Vatana’s attacks with more ease, and each time he launched Pahino and Morito. On one of these counterattacks Morito obtained a corner that Iriko kicked, delivering a perfect cross for Icario, a young defender of Falnë who pushed the ball with his head into Vatana’s goal. Arno shouted in joy and he heard fireworks starting to erupt in Tinë. Falnë had virtually won the world cup. Arno’s heart was swimming in his chest. In front of the entire world’s eyes Falnë was winning with its young players that no one knew. Falnë the half crippled nation that had always refused to wage war and use force on others, that no one had come to help and rescue when another country had invaded it. Falnë was giving a sort of lesson to the world now, showing that they had the strength to rise again. And by being without mercy to the Vatanese, Falnë’s players were just mirroring how the nations of the world had acted toward them, raising their shoulders in indifference to Moustadiris’ crimes. And in fact Iriko tackled Vatana’s playmaker stealing from him the ball without committing a foul. Tarbeo, another Falnë midfielder started attacking on his own, and when two defenders came over him he passed again the ball to Iriko who made his way beyond Vatana’s defence and kicked a powerful ball that brushed the pole and entered into Vatana’s goal, scoring the sixth goal of Falnë. Now the Vatanese were not even trying to attack anymore and despite their incredible lead the players of Falnë started pressing the Vatanese in their own half, lead by Iriko’s rage. The Vatanese lost ball after ball and they started committing aggressive needless fouls on the Falnë, probably outraged that the Falnë continued to attack and humiliate them even when they had surrendered to try scoring a goal. An ugly foul was committed on Iriko, after he had dribbled a couple of midfielders. The referee gave a free kick to Falnë and both Iriko and Morito stood in front of the ball. Iriko started running but it was a feint and Morito shot it right above the wall of blue shirts that was defending Vatana’s goal and the ball ended right under the crossbar, for Falnë’s seventh goal. The last minutes of the match passed and as the game was almost ending Iriko stole another ball and he started running on his own, dribbling five players of Vatana and retrieving himself in front of their goalkeeper. He didn’t shoot the ball and instead continued running until the goalkeeper opposed him, but Iriko dribbled him too, entering into their goal together with the ball and all Falnë’s players ran to him as the referee whistled the end of the game. The soccer team of Falnë had won the world cup. Falnë had won. All the players and the coach formed a large circle in the middle of the field, heads against heads. Arno had seen them doing such a circle before their game with Birsten that had later been their first win in the world cup. And now they were doing it again. Before it had been the circle of pledge, the promise to honour their last game and do everything to be victorious. And now it was the circle of triumph, but there was no arrogance in Falnë’s players. They knew their victory was the fruit of chance, of their good fortune, and also of their hearts of course. Iriko and Morito and Mahro had been the heart and the head and the lungs of the team, literally transforming defeats into victories, but all the other players had contributed to their final win. They were all inexperienced and yet they had played as if they had always known one another. They had trusted their star players without envying them, or trying to emulate them at all costs, because they knew that their team needed legs and arms and other organs to function. Mahro and Morito and Iriko had turned the ordinary into extraordinary but with any other teammates than their own they would never have won. This victory was not the fruit of individuals, but of an entire, hurt nation. Arno could feel that very well into his heart and he knew this victory was as much his as it was Iriko’s. Arno felt as if he had played on the field too and scored many goals. It was a pure victory of the heart. Even if in a thousand years Falnë tried to repeat what it had done it would never succeed again. Arno felt that what had happened was somehow unique, and it had seemed to surprise and shock the entire world.

The organizers came to deliver the golden cup to the team of Falnë and celebrations ensued while fireworks exploded merrily and bonfires were lit in Tinë. Arno did not like fireworks as they made him think too much of bombs. Each time a firework resounded, Arno was startled and his body reacted as if he was in life-threatening danger and his legs started trembling. He found it strange that people still liked fireworks after all what they had endured. Afterwards Falnë’s players were interviewed in front of all the televisions of the world. They spoke in Falnë and Arno could understand what they were saying. Iriko dedicated this victory to his departed mother and to his father and to his hometown that was no more, Aberdië, as his eyes teared up. Morito said he had played and scored for all the people of free and occupied Falnë and he said he wanted to salute all the people of Fikrië for that was the place where he had grown up and he said he hoped there would soon be peace because he longed very much to see again his town to which he had not returned for years. Mahro said this victory was dedicated to the refugees of Falnë and those of the entire world, to all the people who were oppressed and wanted to break free. Mahro called to all the supporters of small nations who had never won the world cup to keep on dreaming, and he ended up saluting his fellowmen of Afrë and Ummyë who were still there and he hadn’t seen for years hoping they fared well and wondering if they had access to a television. Each of the players spoke, and each of them said proudly from where he was. And they thus showed their pain and their longing for a lost Falnë to the entire world. Obiro thanked each of his players and also mayor Qiroko who had had the vision to create this team despite all the turmoil Falnë had undergone. And he invited people of the entire world to come visit Tinë and discover Falnë’s culture and he prayed the leaders of other nations to grant some aid to Falnë if they could afford it.

Arno was proud of them all and it brought tears to his eyes to hear mention of Helyë and Ummyë and Fikrë and Afrë that no longer belonged to Falnë. There was a lot of sadness and pain in these men’s eyes that found a deep echo in Arno’s heart. Arno could still not believe Falnë had won the world cup and he also was in a strange state of euphoria, as if he had just accomplished something major in his life.

Qiroko who had not watched the game from home did a discourse afterwards congratulating Falnë’s heroes for bringing back their nation where it deserved to be. He also added that each man and woman of Falnë could contribute to make their country great once again and that it really was up to all of them. There were celebrations in every street of Tinë with people who walked around the town shouting and singing. There were chants about Falnë’s victories and many choruses against the Moustadiris. Death to Moustadir, death to Moustadir. It was like an invisible wave taking birth in Tinë, thousands of whispers added together, becoming a strong breeze. Arno heard that distant echo that made him shiver.

Qiroko ended his discourse by promising that all the money that the soccer team of Falnë had earned with their victory would go into building sportive infrastructures including one real size soccer stadium in Tinë. And laughing, he explained that Falnë’s players used to train on a small concrete playing ground that had been improvised in a dead end street of New Tinë. And sometimes for a change they jogged to the wild meadows on the hills above the town to practice playing on the grass and on the mud depending on seasons.

Mounyë who was sitting on the couch next to Arno was looking proudly at her husband. “See what a great man he is!” she was repeating, “a real visionary!”

Arno nodded, approving and disapproving what his mother had said, but absolutely not in the mood for arguing. If Qiroko had been home he’d have embraced him like he had embraced Mounyë and Lamië after the end of the game. They were champions of the world. Champions. It all was very strange and hard to believe.

Arno went to sleep but he couldn’t sleep as he kept on reliving the scenes of Falnë’s victory against Vatana. It had been such a triumph. Quite unexpected too as Falnë had always struggled to win its other games and for once it had entirely mastered the game from the start till the end. For a long time into the night Arno was still visualizing again the goals of Iriko and Morito, dreaming of playing and caressing the ball and kicking it with the same grace and strength as they did. And for a moment Arno could imagine that perhaps in six or nine years, he’d be one of Falnë’s soccer players and he’d play the world cup in his turn.

That summer Arno also met Qiroko’s daughter. Her name was Anaheriyë and she was as unusual a creature as her name was. When Arno had imagined Qiroko’s daughter before meeting her, the image that had formed in his mind was completely different from the reality. He had imagined a sophisticated teenager that almost looked like a woman already, a bit like his most popular classmates at school. He couldn’t have been further from the truth. Anaheriyë still was a girl and she had an air of savageness and aloofness, and she never hesitated to answer back at her father with irritation whenever he tried to impose on her his vision of things. It was very strange to see Qiroko and Anaheriyë together. They seemed to hate and disdain one another, and yet there was an underlying love that bonded them. Anaheriyë immediately made it clear enough she did not like Qiroko’s new fancy apartment. And she did not like at all that he had let her and her mother down to escape with another woman. She could not understand that and she felt a lot of anger for her father, and she barely spoke with Mounyë. At Arno she looked from afar at first, without coming any closer and Arno was too shy and too diffident to make a step toward her himself. She had something of a wild animal in her that could perhaps be sweet at times, but also very harsh and merciless if provoked and Arno felt that his sole existence and presence could be perceived as a provocation by her. He wanted to tell her that he too found it all absurd. He too was not happy to have seen his own family shattered. He too didn’t want of Qiroko as a stepfather as she didn’t want of Mounyë. It wasn’t his fault if all had happened, Arno wanted to tell her, but at first he didn’t dare to speak with her and he preferred to observe her warily from afar. Anaheriyë was far from being social. Apart from when she was in an angry, provocative mood, she looked more like a tiny forest animal that hid itself from the views of others. In fact Arno soon understood why he had never seen her at school. Anisië her mother had insisted to teach her daughter herself and Anaheriyë had never gone to school, never had classmates. Now of course Qiroko regretted it bitterly but whenever he had spoken of putting her to school Anaheriyë and Anisië had leagued together and Anaheriyë had sworn she would not attend classes and her mother had shouted she would not allow her daughter to be taken from her in this way. Anisië always repeated her daughter was a too sensitive and frail thing to be thrown into the harsh world in this way. And now that Qiroko had cheated on Anisië for several years and fled with another woman he had even less legitimacy to impose anything on his daughter. From what Arno had understood Anisië was a strange woman too. She didn’t work and with time she had grown more and more devout and spiritual in a weird way. She went to the temple many times a week but she also had some powers with stones and she had some sorts of visions. And on top of that she wanted to make her daughter participate to her schemes as she could feel Anaheriyë was gifted too. That of course drove Qiroko furious because he thought it all was inventions of his stupid, bigot wife, and he didn’t want his daughter to become like that. In the last times he still inhabited with them, he and Anisië fought all the time and Anaheriyë always sided with her mother. For Qiroko, Mounyë was a refreshing change. Where Anisië wanted to make it all according to her own whims that became weirder as time passed, Mounyë quietly admired her husband and gave him her entire affection without making his life a living hell. Arno learnt a great deal about all of this when Anaheriyë started to come once per week to Qiroko’s house, as not a moment passed without the father and the daughter entering into a discussion about the past.

When Anaheriyë came Mounyë steered clear of her. Those days she went out all day, doing some shopping into the new shops that were opening in Tinë. Arno could feel she was a bit hurt and jealous that Qiroko still gave so much attention to his daughter despite her insufferable temper. And in fact Qiroko often said harsh things about his daughter to Mounyë, but when Anaheriyë was in front of him Arno could somehow read an underlying admiration in Qiroko. In a way he was proud that his daughter could resist him with so much strength, even though the reasons for which she did it were absolutely ridiculous to her father.

The first time Arno and Anaheriyë spoke with one another happened in an odd way. But, considering their deeper natures, it could in fact have been expected. Anaheriyë was passing through the living room as discreetly as a small bird as she wasn’t in an angry mood, and Arno was looking from the window at all the fields that had been burnt by wild fires that summer, mourning the loss of trees and green meadows in his heart. That sight stirred something in him and suddenly another little bulb that he had felt in his heart for some time bloomed and let out its fragrance of sang words.

In the middle of a salt desert lies Oasië

the country all around is burnt and deadened by the sun

and no one would ever expect to find a heaven in such a living hell

When you are looking for Oasië

the eyes of the mountain guide you like a lighthouse in the night

it shines in the distance

as you journey across the desert of salt

You need not look around you for guidance

when you are lost under a tent

in endless plains

battered by a burning wind

for the light to follow lies inside your heart

and the only condition to see Oasië

is to accept to stare into the gaze

the mirror shows back to you

Only those who accept to see themselves entirely

only those who embrace both their shadows and their light

can find Oasië and bathe into its refreshing waters

and taste its delightful fruits

the peaches and the grapes

the citruses and the dates of Oasië

are famous all around the world

without mentioning its tomatoes and its cucumbers and its eggplants

which nourish themselves of all the salt within the ground

and the ever shining sun that lets no winter obscure the land

The plants reach impressive heights there

and they are always bearing flowers and fruits

for the delight of the dweller and the passerby

How can Oasië survive in a lifeless desert you may wonder

and that is one of the great mysteries of Falnë

which shows what the magic of truth and love can perform

and how the spirit solely

can reshape and brighten the land

creating thriving life where there was none

These words were powerful enough to stop the little bird in the middle of her flight.

She came toward Arno and looking into his eyes she quietly said. “You sing well.”

Arno nodded and blushed. “Thank you.”

“My mother would love to hear you I think. Do you know other songs?”

“… many others.”

“Truly? But you are so young and these songs are usually sung by old people.”

“I have some sort of a… gift with them. I can remember songs I have never heard, or even sing new ones.”

Anaheriyë looked at him even more intently. “You are an interesting boy. I can tell you’re different from others.”

“How can you know? You’ve never been to school.”

“Oh I look at people in the street and in the temple. I know how boring they are. But you’re not.”

Arno smiled. “Thank you.”

Anaheriyë’s name had from the start been somehow familiar to Arno, but he didn’t know why. And suddenly he remembered. Anaheriyë was the name of the underworld island he had visited one night in a dream when he was sleeping at Zerto’s house.

“Come into my room, I want to show you some things,” Anaheriyë said.

Arno followed her. “You have an unusual name. Do you know where it comes from?”

“Everyone tells me that. It is my mother who wanted to name me this way.” Then she chuckled. “That seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? Could you imagine mayor Qiroko ever giving his daughter such a name?”

Arno laughed. Indeed he could not imagine Qiroko coming up with such a name. “Do you know that Anaheriyë is the name of a town?”

“What? The name of a town! Really?”

Arno hesitated. “I once remembered a song about the underworld. It’s a world that used to exist under Falnë, and resembled to our world with some differences. In my song I landed there on an island that was called Anaheriyë and I visited the town that had been built there.”

Anaheriyë was now laughing. “My name, the name of a town. How strange. A town of the underwhat?”

“The underworld. It’s a long story. Have you heard of the fall of Ychrentiyë?”

Anaheriyë shook her head. “Please, tell me more about it!”

And Arno told her all he knew about the fall of Ychrentiyë and how the world had changed afterwards, and he yarned to her his dream trip in the underworld and how he had fallen asleep in Anaheriyë. She listened to him intently, her face filled with excitement.

“That is marvellous!” she exclaimed when he was finished.

Then abruptly she said, “I’m going to show you something myself,” and she rummaged through her drawer producing out a notebook. She handed it to Arno and she said, “come on, open it!” as he handled it with hesitation.

The notebook was filled with faces and paintings. Some were drawn in black and white while others were in colours. Some of the faces bore a resemblance to Anaheriyë even though they were not entirely identical to her. As if she had produced many characters out of herself that lived different lives. Then there was also another face that seemed to return quiet often but Arno did not recognize it. It looked like… a masculine version of Anaheriyë, but there was also something different about his expression.

Arno pointed at one of her drawings of the boy. “He looks a bit like your brother would look,” he said.

Anaheriyë blushed. “I do not have a brother unfortunately.”

“I know. I just feel there is a slight resemblance between him and you, but there’s also something different.”

“It’s a character, I’ve made him up.”

“Really? It is strange, I would have sworn he truly existed. There is something very real about him,” Arno said, while leafing through her notebook. “Every time he returns, he’s a bit different, and yet I recognize his… essence. You are really gifted Anaheriyë.”

“Thank you!”

Arno felt strangely at ease since he had started talking with Anaheriyë. It was as if they knew one another since a long time. The fact that Anaheriyë had heard him singing and had truly appreciated and understood the beauty of his words helped him feel at ease, and now he wasn’t stuttering or being shy as he usually was with other teenagers at school. With Anaheriyë it seemed to be flowing easily, and Arno didn’t feel afraid to share more about his inner self. He made himself these reflections as he continued leafing through the pages of her notebook. Some of the landscapes Anaheriyë had drawn, Arno recognized. There were several views of Tinë, of the ocean and the mountains but Anaheriyë seemed to have less patience to draw the little details of houses than when she drew faces. And yet despite that all her images were beautiful. There were other places that Arno did not recognize, one in particular that seemed very strange