‘You are a child of the stars, Chonirobytz.’
The Guardian sat cross-legged on the river-bank, facing Johnny. They had done this every morning since he had arrived at the village.
‘I have taught you what I can regarding our laws and customs, and now it is time to talk of our history.’
Johnny fidgeted. These lessons on the riverbank were only slightly more interesting than having ones teeth pulled out. He had expected great insights about what had happened to the ship’s former inhabitants; perhaps a clue as to where he could find the Star. Instead, he had sat through three sessions on the etiquette, habits and customs of the gods, which he really didn’t care much about. The Guardian sensed this.
‘Chonirobytz, I have taught you what I have in preparation for this, for it is within our history that the truth may be found. It is here that perhaps you will find the answers you seek.’
Johnny perked up slightly as the Guardian continued.
‘In the mists of time, the gods came to this Earth, and they found a planet teeming with life. There was water – so important to life, and there was life – the indication that this Earth was fertile, and so here they settled.
‘They made their home here, and for a time, they were satisfied. They built cities and created their own civilisation.
‘Eventually, however, they became restless. Amongst the gods, there were those who were tired of the menial, everyday tasks such as sowing and reaping crops, tending the herds, and digging for minerals. They requested an assistant – a helper.
‘It so happened that there were those who had the means to create new forms of life – to alter the shape and bearing of a living creature,’ he said.
‘They set about this task and created man from animal. There was a creature of almost human dimension and form – half-ape and half-human – which would have probably achieved its own status independently over time. However, the gods intervened and manipulated this creature into their own form. From ape-man, it became human, and that is what is meant when we say that man wears the face of the gods.
‘At first, this was a good thing for the gods, as it meant that they had a servant to perform their labours for them, but again, as it was with them, they became restless. It occurred to some that the women of these new creatures were comely, and they took wives unto themselves.
‘This infuriated the other gods, and a great war erupted in the heavens, and on earth – god against god, and man against man. It was at that time that the supreme god – the god to which all the other gods submitted, let forth his wrath and the Earth convulsed and was in agony. A large wave swept over the Earth, swallowing up all mankind. A few survived, and the gods anger cooled.’
The Guardian paused before continuing.
‘Over time, man repopulated the Earth, and the gods withdrew from daily view. They appointed select humans to speak on their behalves and these men became great kings and priests.
‘It is not known when or why, but one day the gods departed, leaving mankind divided and leaderless. These ancient kings and priests warred against each other, and to this day, man has become an animal that thrives off warfare and greed.’
Johnny listened intently. ‘Guardian, much of what you have just told me is known and taught by my people as well. We have a different way of telling it, but it is the same story.’
‘Of course, my Lord, that is how it should be,’ the Guardian replied. ‘Across the globe, every nation must surely remember our common history. I am not surprised that the way in which it is told has changed over time, just as ours most surely has, but the truth is what it is, and if certain cultures have different names for the gods, their versions will be no less accurate than ours.’
‘But my people believe their version to be the only truth, to the exclusion of all others,’ said Johnny. ‘My people believe in only one God, and they believe that to say otherwise, is blasphemy against God himself.
‘A few hundred years ago many, many people died as the church expanded its power and influence. They sought to have complete control over mankind and even sent their emissaries across the seas to destroy the local beliefs and replace them with their own.’
The Guardian looked troubled. ‘That is not the way it should be. We can learn much from each other and better ourselves through that,’ he said.
‘My people are not interested in changing. They hang onto their beliefs like a child with an old toy, scared to discard it in favour of a newer and better one. I do not know why this is,’ said Johnny.
‘Perhaps they are scared,’ the Guardian suggested. ‘They withhold the truth, in fear that the truth will unseat their power. It is unfortunate for your people that this is so.’
He continued with the lesson. ‘Where the gods went, we do not know, but they left behind them a legacy that still lives with us today. They taught us everything we know. They clothed us and fed us, so that we in turn, could clothe and feed them.
‘They taught us how to harvest crops, how to domesticate the birds and the beasts. They gave us laws and numbers, and taught us the names of the stars. They showed us which herbs and plants would heal, and which ones would kill, and they gave us art and music.
‘Of all the things sacred to the gods, wine and gold were of the utmost importance,’ he said. ‘Wine was their sacred drink, and gold was their sacred metal. Alas, the art of wine-making is lost to us, as is the art of finding and producing gold, but we have retained the memory of these things.’
‘My people still make and drink wine on a daily basis,’ said Johnny casually. This simple statement rocked the old man to his core.
‘You speak the truth? Your people have the art of wine – the nectar of the gods?’ he asked, eyes wide.
‘Yes, and gold too. In fact, if you think about it, wine and gold are probably the two most important things in my world as well.’
The old man looked visibly shaken and sat muttering to himself. The two things that were as rare and sacred – and mythological – as the gods themselves, were common knowledge elsewhere.
‘Chonirobytz, tell me, what is wine like? How does it taste?’
‘I’ve only had it during mass, but I suppose it’s okay,’ he replied.
‘You know Guardian, wine and gold are the two things in my world that have brought more pain and suffering than anything else in history. We fight wars over gold, while wine destroys homes and families. If these things were held sacred to the gods, perhaps the gods were more like my people than yours?’
‘I cannot say, my Lord, though it comes to me that perhaps your people are gods themselves.’
Johnny certainly didn’t think so. He sat silent for a time before speaking.
‘Guardian, there is something that weighs heavily on my mind, and is at the heart of my quest,’ he said finally.
‘Do you refer to the Star?’ the old man asked with a faint smile.
‘Yes! How do know of this?’ asked Johnny in surprise.
‘Jade has mentioned to me that you have been eager to talk about our relics, and she has overheard you speaking in your sleep. I have made the assumption that you seek a relic you refer to as the Star,’ he replied.
‘Yes, Guardian. It is of the utmost importance that I find the Star. Without it I cannot hope to complete my quest,’ said Johnny excitedly.
‘Alas, my Lord, I have spent many hours pondering this riddle, and I am most embarrassed to say that I can find nothing in my memory that resembles this Star of which you speak.’
Johnny felt his spirits plummet. Without the Star, he was lost.
‘Are you sure?’ Johnny asked in desperation.
‘I am certain, my Lord. We have no mention of the Star, or anything remotely resembling it within our lore.’
The Guardian watched Johnny closely as he digested the news.
‘What will you do now, my Lord?’ he asked.
‘I don’t know,’ he replied quietly, ‘I really don’t know.’
Johnny and Jade splashed happily in the cool water of the river before retiring to the bank to dry off in the sun. Johnny had tried to put the issue of the Star out of his mind, and was still enjoying the novelty of this place, and the novelty of his new, beautiful companion.
He had now spent several days in conversation with her and the Guardian, and despite the fact that he was just a kid, they still considered him a god, and nothing he could say would shake their conviction.
He had explained step-by-step his arrival at their village, and although they understood and believed him, their confidence in him never wavered.
Johnny had even divulged the intricate details of his life before he stumbled upon the ship to Jade, talking about the dark street he lived in, the rumble of the trains at night, and the miserable school he went to, but yet she still called him ‘Lord’, and treated and respected him accordingly.
They gave him advice, told him how to act, what to say, and when to say it. They educated him in the myth and legend of their religion – in the hope that he would be able to solve the mystery of his being there – but not for one moment did they ever doubt his ancestry.
‘You are a Child of the Stars,’ the Guardian had said to him. ‘There is no other explanation.’
Jade had been more subtle, ‘My Lord, I see it in your eyes, and I sense it in your heart. You are fair and kind, yet there is strength and violence in you that would make the earth shake should it be aroused. The ship you found answers your call, just as I too must also answer your call.’
So Johnny gradually came to accept his lot in life, as dreary as it may be… being served upon hand-and-foot, being bowed to and worshipped… Johnny chuckled; not bad my son, not bad at all.
Johnny and Jade were alone now at the water’s edge, where all their talks had taken place. He lay back with his head in his arms, looking at the blue sky above him. The sun shone in his face, and he could hear the sounds of the forest that were now becoming second nature to him. He watched a monkey leap from branch to branch, with her new-born clutching to her stomach as if its life depended on it, before finally stopping on a branch and chattering at Johnny in consternation. Never in his life had he experienced such unadulterated peace and wellbeing.
Jade had heard his chuckle and asked, ‘Is everything alright, my Lord?’
‘Everything is perfect Jade,’ he replied. And it was. It really, really was.
She lay back down again and asked, ‘Is it true that there are no trees where you come from?’ She was appalled by the concept.
‘Jade, where I come from is the same planet that you come from,’ Johnny replied, ‘but it is in a different clime than yours, so yes, there are vast tracts of land that have no trees.’
‘How did you bear it, my Lord?’ she asked innocently. ‘I cannot imagine a world in which there are no trees.’
Her naivety was so unaffected that Johnny fought the urge to grab her and hug her until her breath ran out. He was spellbound by her, and if it weren’t for the fact that she was so absolutely in awe of him, she would soon have realised it.
‘Jade, when you only know the sun, how can you imagine ice falling from the sky? And when you only know pain, how can you picture yourself lying on the banks of a river in the glow of the sun?’ He was a god. Jade knew it as she knew herself.
To her, he was the most beautiful being in the world, and he had a way of offering insights into life that she had never before considered, despite the rigorous teachings she had undergone for most of her life. Generations before her had gone through the motions, passing down the lore, until it seemed empty and pointless. But here she was, laying side-by-side with a god, and the reality was so much more fulfilling than the dream.
She could smell his hair and his skin, and she longed to reach out and touch him; she longed to tell him about the depth of her feelings. But she knew she had to restrain herself. After all, he was a god, and she didn’t know how he would react to such familiarity.
He turned his head towards her, and she felt her chest tighten. Looking into her eyes, he said, ‘Jade, I come from a place that you would not want to visit. It is grey, colourless and dreary. The people there are also cold and grey, and don’t have the warmth that you do.
‘Oh, they think they do, and they try to prove it by smiling unfeelingly at one another as they pass in the streets, without even taking the time to learn their names. They pretend to care by making half-hearted attempts at giving to those less fortunate, but the world I come from is governed by only one thing, and that is selfishness.
‘They are selfish with their time, selfish with their money, selfish with their personal space, and selfish with their love.’
Jade wasn’t sure she quite understood. ‘How can people be selfish with their time?’ she asked naively.
‘Jade, if you were to walk through the middle of your village and you fell down senseless, what would the people do?’ he asked her.
‘Why, they would rush to see that I am taken care of,’ she replied promptly.
‘Do you know what happens in the streets where I live?’ Johnny asked, ‘They would walk on and pretend that they didn’t see you.’ Jade sat up and looked down at him.
‘Now I know you are teasing me,’ she said shyly, ‘no society could be that cruel.’
‘I’m serious Jade,’ he replied, sitting up to face her. ‘Where I come from, people are so jealous of their time and privacy that they would rather let a stranger die than go through the hassle of being the one that tried to help them.’
Jade looked at Johnny with an open gaze, as if she were searching for something in his eyes.
‘So how is it that you are not that cold?’ she asked finally. The question caught Johnny off guard, and he had to think about it for a moment.
‘I guess that for most of my life I have been the one lying on the ground watching people pass me by, and knowing that none of them will help me,’ he replied.
Published Titles in the Johnny Roberts Series:
Book Two: Johnny Roberts and the Gods of Eden
Andrew Noble © 2012
Cover artwork: Adam Van Der Riet © 2012
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© 2012 Andrew Noble All Rights Reserved