-The Guardian & the Girl-
As the old man reached the top of the pyramid, Johnny smiled kindly and held out his hand. To his dismay, the old man fell to his knees and prostrated himself. Embarrassed, Johnny hurried over, took the old man by his hand, and pulled him up back onto his feet.
He started speaking rapidly in a language foreign to Johnny. He seemed frantic with excitement, and kept touching Johnny’s face and arms, as if to reassure himself that this was no dream.
By this time, other people had arrived at the top of the pyramid as well, but strangely enough, although the old man was white, the others were Indian in their features; darker skin, hair and eyes. Some bore unmistakable characteristics of a mixed race; a beard here, blue eyes there, but one young girl stood out from the crowd, with startling white skin, blonde hair and blue eyes.
Johnny wasn’t sure how to handle the situation. He figured the ship could probably help, so he took the old man by the arm and led him up the ramp and inside. The old man left the rest of his people outside as he followed Johnny, completely overcome with awe. Johnny took him up to the third level and sat him down in the dining area. He gestured for him to stay where he was, and then walked over to the control interface.
Placing his hands on the controls and closing his eyes, Johnny asked the ship what to do, that he could not understand the old man, and that he did not understand his behaviour towards him. To his amazement, the ship downloaded a series of impulses into his mind at a nearly supernatural speed. It felt like he was staring at a series of lightning flashes occurring every second, or a strobe light flashing in a dark room; Johnny felt like his mind was about to burst.
After a few seconds, it stopped, and Johnny fell back in the chair with his mouth hanging open. Sweating slightly, he got up from the chair and returned to where the old man was sitting.
‘What is your name, old father?’ Johnny asked, surprised at his word usage. I don’t talk this way! he thought.
‘My name is unimportant, my Lord. I am known by my people as the Guardian. I keep the ancient secrets.’ The old man held himself with a frigid dignity, yet kept his gaze averted. Johnny was still trying to come to terms with the fact that the ship had somehow taught him to speak the old man’s language in a matter of seconds!
‘But by what name am I to call you?’ he asked again.
‘You may call me servant, my Lord,’ the old man replied.
Johnny paused. The old man obviously retained the memory of the blonde gods that had once occupied the ship, and had mistaken him for one of them.
Johnny leaned forward. ‘I will call you the Guardian,’ he said. ‘My name is Johnny Roberts, and I have only recently come to have possession of this craft. It has brought me here on a quest, and if I am to solve this mystery I will need your help.’
Johnny sensed that the old man had started to thaw out slightly – even though he was still reserved and subdued – so he pressed on.
‘Guardian, who are those people outside? Who is the young girl? Who are you, and how did you come to be here?’
‘We are the people of the Sun,’ the old man replied. ‘In times long past, we gloried in the presence of the gods, and they took favour upon us, but we were abandoned. We have waited all these long years for your return, and now that you are once again among us, we pray that you look favourably upon your subjects and submit us once again to the glory of your presence.’
‘Why is your appearance so different to that of your people?’ prompted Johnny.
‘I am a direct descendant, through many generations, of the first people. It is our law that the first-born may only marry within this bloodline, and so this tradition has endured.
‘It was decreed ages past that the second-born may intermarry to maintain the strength of the tribe, and so you will see some of mixed heritage. However, the first son and the first daughter must keep the blood pure. Over many years, this has become more difficult to achieve, and so our numbers have dwindled. But, thanks to our neighbours, the tribal line has stayed strong, though the royal line has weakened.’
‘And the girl?’ Johnny asked.
‘The young girl is my granddaughter, the first-born of her line, and I have chosen her to follow in my footsteps once I have gone from this earth. She is willing and able, and I have trained her in your ways since she was a young child.
‘Alas, her parents were both killed in the last raid, and she is now our only hope. There are no more of us. Her blood is pure, but I fear there is nobody that she may wed. Your coming is most beneficial.’
Johnny couldn’t believe his ears. A few hours ago, he was trying to escape the clutches of his abusive father, and yet here he was, in the middle of the jungle in South America, in an alien ship, on top of an undiscovered pyramid, speaking to the leader of an undiscovered tribe, who – for all intents and purposes, was proclaiming him to be a god!
‘Guardian, I do not believe that I am who you think I am. I am merely a child myself, come happenstance upon a craft belonging to a people unknown to me, and I find myself in need of your wisdom.’ The old man puffed up almost visibly.
‘Young lord – for that is what you are,’ said the old man, looking Johnny in the eye for the first time, ‘are you not attired like a god?
‘Do you not command a lightship of the gods? Do you not wear the face of a god? Despite your doubts regarding your achievements, mere mortals cannot fly the ships of the gods. That is among our most sacred tenets. It is sacrilege to consider otherwise. To attempt it is to die.’
Continuing, the old man said, ‘Among the many things a Guardian of the lore must be taught is what we consider to be the practical aspect. In this regard, it is the practical aspect that concerns us, but you must surely understand that we, the lore keepers, keep many aspects of the gods. Among them are the spiritual, physical, natural, and the practical.
‘Spirituality considers the immortality of the gods. In short, they do not die, but remain among us as our Guardians and protectors,’ he said.
‘The physicality of the gods is expressed in song and art. Their beauty and power is beyond our understanding.
‘The natural aspect of the gods is that as we need them, so they too need us. Without us, they weaken and die. As the cub needs its dam, so does the dam need her sire. Who would reap their crops or tend their cattle? Who would build their homes or serve their wine?’ he asked.
‘And lastly, but most importantly, we have the practical aspect. The gods’ will is theirs alone to enforce. What dire fate should befall us if one of us decided to set himself up in opposition to the gods? It is among our most sacred of principles that should a mere mortal attempt to use a ship or tool of the gods; he shall die a most painful death!
‘You are in command of a lightship of the gods – hence you are a god,’ he said with finality.
Johnny wasn’t sure how to argue against this twisted logic, so he let it drop. He decided that questioning the old man about the Star could wait until he had learnt a bit more about these people, but made a conscious decision to find out more the first time the opportunity presented itself.
He gestured to the old man, and they rose, made their way slowly down the stairs, and descended the ramp together; facing what was now a fairly large crowd.
‘Come! We will celebrate tonight! The gods are amongst us once again, and the time of rejoicing is at hand!’ the old man announced.
They were standing at the top of the pyramid, facing a congregation of about thirty people, with the old man in front, and Johnny standing just behind him. He glanced down and noticed an imprint on the outer side of the ship, next to the ramp. Wanting to avoid sharing this intimate space with snakes, tarantulas and other denizens of the jungle, Johnny placed his hand on the imprint and the ramp closed.
Johnny made his way down to the foot of the pyramid and followed the tribe as they headed into the twilight of the forest. To his delight, he found himself in the company of the blonde girl, the Guardian’s granddaughter. She was nearly as tall as he was, and though he could see she was young, she carried herself with a casual grace. He tried to strike up an awkward conversation with her.
‘What’s your name?’ he asked. She seemed slightly overawed, but still answered boldly.
‘I am Jade, my Lord. It is a nickname, and when I assume the mantle of Guardian from my grandfather, I will be given another,’ she replied.
‘Jade. I like that. It suits you,’ he said. She was humble enough to lower her head and blush slightly. He was captivated by her beauty, despite the torn rags that she wore.
They walked on in silence for a while before Johnny tried again.
‘How old are you?’ he asked.
‘I will be twelve summers soon, my Lord,’ she replied, keeping her head bowed. She was just a year younger than he was!
He felt slightly giddy. He was somewhere deep in the South American jungle, in a UFO that had taught him how to communicate with a tribe of partially-white people who believed he was a god! … And now he was on his way to their village.
Johnny hadn’t thought about it before, but these last few hours he had spent behind the helm of a seemingly invincible spaceship had endowed him with a feeling of omnipotence that he was suddenly feeling the lack of. He was on foot, in the middle of the jungle, with no protection whatsoever, and his only surety was that these people believed him to be a god.
What would happen when they discovered the truth? When they realized that he was just a kid from Germiston who had stumbled across a craft that had brought him here by no skill of his own, and that he wasn’t even worth his weight in bananas?
They finally arrived at the village, and Johnny found himself standing in a clearing in the middle of the jungle. Arranged loosely in an open circle around what he perceived to be the communal centre of the village was a group of grass and timber huts.
In the middle of this circle was a large square hut on wooden stilts, and in front of it was a massive fire pit, obviously used in communal feasts and as a focal point for village festivities.
They led Johnny to the large central hut, and the old man gestured humbly for him to enter. Word of his arrival must have preceded them, as he noticed several older women completing arrangements obviously meant for him. The hut was clean and prepared with what seemed to be their finest.
He spent the rest of the afternoon having various fruits and dishes presented to him, some of which included grubs and other nasty things which looked very much like overgrown worms and maggots!
By nightfall, Johnny was restless and bored, and looked up eagerly as Jade entered his hut and bowed herself before him.
‘My Lord, my grandfather, the Guardian, begs your presence at the village fire. Tonight will be a great celebration, the likes of which we have never seen before. We are in your debt, my Lord, for having deigned to grace us with your presence.’
‘Ahh … well, yes – of course, Jade. You can tell your Grandfather that I will be honoured to be there, and I look forward to it,’ he replied, feeling a little awkward.
She bowed again and let herself out. A few minutes later she returned, and gestured for him to follow her.
The entire village sat around a blazing bonfire, and they started cheering and clapping when Johnny arrived. The Guardian stood up and gestured for silence.
‘My people, today is a glorious day, for we who have been chosen to be the gods’ representatives on earth, have been rewarded beyond our greatest dreams. Today will be remembered as the day the gods have returned, and it is to us that they have returned!’
Johnny squirmed slightly, feeling uncomfortable being referred to in this way.
‘Furthermore, we have in our presence the god Chonirobytz, and from this day forward, his veil of protection hangs over us like the Sun once more!’
The village erupted in cheering and clapping, and Johnny realised then that the Guardian was doing this as much for them as he was for Johnny himself – reminding me what my duty as a god is, he thought wryly.
Realising that he they expected him to say something, Johnny rose to his feet and cleared his throat. Not entirely sure of what to say, he surprised himself. Holding up his hands, he addressed the village in a solemn voice.
‘My people,’ he intoned, ‘it is true what the Guardian has told you. He is a man of great wisdom and understanding. It is for this reason that I have come here to be amongst you once more. Many things have been lost that were once known, and I have come in search of the greatest lore-keepers. My search has taken me far and wide, but I believe that my quest is now over, for I have found what I have been seeking!’
The villagers cheered, proud to be associated with the greatest of lore-keepers in the world.
‘I will retire with the Guardian for many days, and perhaps, once we have spoken, it may be that I have to renew my quest, but rest assured that for now, I am amongst you. That is all.’
Johnny sat down and felt his body tremble slightly. He couldn’t believe how easily this little piece of drama had come to him; he almost believed it himself. Deep down, it felt completely natural to address the villagers in this manner, and he wasn’t sure if it was because he finally had the opportunity to be something other than the victim, or if it was something far deeper within his psyche.
Nonetheless, he relished the sensation of respect and authority, and decided he liked it.
Johnny drifted slowly out of deep sleep and, for a second, he wasn’t sure where he was. He lay with his eyes closed for a moment trying to figure out where he was.
Of course! He was camping with his father! But something wasn’t right, and then he twigged. It smelled funny. There was richness to the air that was unexpected. It was warm. He was smelling warmth – not the clear, clean, fresh warmth of an alpine lake stocked with trout – but hot, moist, oven warmth.
He raised his head and it all came flooding back to him; the previous day’s events, the ship, the Guardian, the jungle, and the fact that he was a god. He let his head fall back down onto the bed.
‘Oh my sack! What now?’ he whispered to himself.
He realised that he wasn’t alone, and lifting his head again, he saw Jade sitting with her back to him, at the entrance to his hut. Sitting up, he ran his hand through his hair and cleared his throat. Immediately Jade turned around and stood up.
‘Master! I am sorry if I have disturbed your rest,’ she apologised, bowing low.
‘Jade,’ he replied, ‘I was awake before I realised that you were here. There is nothing to apologise for.’ She straightened up and entered the hut.
‘Did you sleep well, my Lord?’ she asked.
‘Like a brick!’ he said. Jade looked confused for a moment.
‘Forgive me my Lord,’ she asked innocently, ‘but how can one sleep like a building block?’
Johnny burst out laughing, and try as he might, he couldn’t stop. He left all his tension and stress behind him as he laughed and laughed, until the tears ran down his cheeks. He had never felt this good in all his young life.
Jade seemed embarrassed and hurt and Johnny realised that he had breached etiquette.
‘I’m sorry Jade. I am not laughing at you,’ he said, his shoulders still shaking, ‘I’m laughing because I’m happy. I’m laughing because I’m content and at peace. I’m laughing because I have just realised that of all the places I could be, I would rather be here, with you, in this village.
‘I would never laugh at you, Jade, you are too beautiful,’ he finished, still chuckling. She blushed furiously and Johnny sensed she had forgiven him.
‘How is it that you came to be sitting at the entrance to my hut, Jade?’ he asked.
‘My grandfather feels it important that as I am to be the one who spends the rest of my life in service to a god in the flesh for the first time in living memory that I begin at once,’ she replied.
‘I have been well trained. What is it that you may require, Great One?’ she finished.
‘Well Jade,’ he said, ‘how about showing me around a little? I could also do with some food, and maybe a bath?’
‘It shall be done, my Lord,’ she replied, bowing again. She turned to leave, but Johnny stopped her.
‘Um, Jade, I… err.’ Johnny suddenly felt awkward. ‘Get someone else to arrange it,’ he said finally, ‘why don’t you stay here and help me get ready?’
‘As you wish, my Lord,’ she said with a shy smile.
Later, as she showed him around the village and introduced him to some of the villagers, who all bowed down to his intense embarrassment, he questioned her.
‘Jade, if your people have been isolated for so long, and only the first-born among you are required to keep the line pure, where do the other people of your tribe find mates?’ he asked.
‘We have, for centuries, relied on our neighbours to provide us with fresh blood. So it has been done in these parts since time began,’ she replied.
‘The Guardian, your grandfather, told me that your parents were killed in a raid. Were your people seeking new additions to your tribe?’ he asked tactfully.
‘No,’ she replied, ‘my parents were killed when members from another tribe sought to capture our ancient treasures.’ Johnny’s curiosity was instantly aroused… the Star!
She paused for a moment and then continued. ‘I’m not sure how this should be said, but it is our belief that there are those beyond our borders that seek our treasures for their own,’ she explained.
‘They are aware of our beliefs, they are aware of our bloodlines, and as we are the only tribe with the ancient relics, they would seek to enhance their own standing by capturing them.’
‘These treasures you speak of, what are they?’ probed Johnny.
‘They have been with us since the beginning of time. The gods entrusted them to us, and it is our solemn duty to protect them,’ she replied.
‘What are they?’ he asked again, hoping for a clue that would lead him to the Star.
Jade gave him a shy look. ‘I haven’t seen them, my Lord. Perhaps this is something to speak with my grandfather about,’ she replied. Johnny controlled his impatience and said, ‘Of course, Jade.’
‘Come, my Lord. My grandfather awaits, and would be pleased to talk with you once more concerning your quest,’ she said, smiling.
As they walked, Johnny soaked up the beauty of his surroundings. Monkeys chattered in the trees, a flight of brightly coloured parrots wheeled overhead, and in the distance, he could hear the burbling of a fast-flowing river. Johnny felt at home here; he felt like he could live here forever. Only ever having known grey days and black nights, the village of the people of the Sun seemed like a garden of paradise to him.
They made their way through the dense forest and Johnny saw the Guardian seated on the bank of the river. He was sitting cross-legged with his back to them, facing the river. His snow-white hair matched his white robes, which he had obviously donned for the occasion. It occurred to Johnny that this was the kind of scene that must have inspired the artists and poets of old. It was a perfect picture of tranquillity.
Johnny couldn’t help but feel a stab of envy for having been denied this basic human right to sit and smell the flowers, have the sun warm one’s face, and the wind caress one’s hair. He glanced over at Jade and saw that same tranquillity in her gaze, and felt the poorer for it.
What he could not know was that Jade saw in him an intensity and focus that was alien to her people, and it held an incredible attraction to her. He has the eyes of a god, she thought.
For the rest of the afternoon, the three of them sat and relaxed in the sun, as the Guardian and the girl taught Johnny the ways of the gods.
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