The Sky Gem
by Sean Mulroy
Table of Contents|
parts: I, II, III, IV
IV: Hallowed Grounds
Surviving on ice, living off the deciduous region’s bestowments, after crossing the plains Lochan had reached his goal, even though the last day and a half had been constantly fraught by fear and self-torture.
A stream that led to the mountains continuously gained a growing lace of snow around its shore until Lochan arrived at Kailash, where large chunks of ice now greeted him in the middle of biting cold water.
Shivering and holding himself arrived the voyager.
Kailash, the mighty mountain, loomed large before him. Set deeply into it, like a spike in a rock, were the tenements of the Evadas. As he journeyed towards that constructed dangling shrine, which laughed at the gaping mouth of gravity, the fear of Amar behind did not waver.
He trekked up the winding road that clung to the mountainside by its fingernails, eventually reaching the tenements. A rough-hewn wooden door, the only way in through the mud-brick fence that blocked the road he travelled was there, obstructing him.
Lochan could see no one about. There was certainly no guard on post. He climbed it. Standing atop, he looked back in the direction he had come. The short barren plain was gone, giant towers now shut him in, and only rocky, slithering ways of hard eternal mountains filled his vision. He turned around. A large quadrangle was there below. He descended the wall to enter it.
* * *
The empty quadrangle, strewn with bright chalk markings the Evadas had made, was soon past. He walked higher up knowing eventually he would encounter someone. And so he did. Shiva’s men walked under the thatched roof of an open-temple held up by four red wooden posts at every corner. The Evadas all seemed to be aged, shuffling along under the sheltered area. None looked towards him.
Lochan walked away from the platform. He wanted to be near the edge of the tenements so he could breathe in the landscape beyond.
Away from the covered area, except for where the Evadas made their living-spaces and shrines, all was rock. Extinguished coals and battered hearths from long-dead fires littered the slope of the mountainside. Many Evadas sat near them and on them; each wore a saffron loincloth, but that was all.
Something about those figures lining the mountainside below and above him gave the boy a terrible feeling. He watched as they sat still only to move irregularly at odd moments to cover their skin and beards with the dead fire’s ash in imitation of Shiva.
The boy got a shock. Right under the wall where he perched was one of them looking at him. The Evada was old and appeared enlightened: undoubtedly a sadhu. His dark eyes told no stories. So thin he was, all his knobbly ribs could be seen and counted. The gray whitish beard that fell from his face went beyond his feet, so did his matted hair, which must have been growing for generations.
He sat near no fire and had no ash upon him; and was yet to look away. Instead Lochan looked away, letting go of the wall and turning towards the covered area again. He let out a deep breath. More Evadas seemed to be under the roof now, but still no one had spoken to him.
* * *
As years passed by, the image of the mountain-world remained unchanged. The view from that particular wall pleased him, he would always return.
Nanda, the sadhu who had first noticed him, had lived with the Evadas since the age of nine, therefore obtaining guidance as far as anyone might. Once, long after Lochan had been ordained and become Harshad, he briefly relayed to Nanda the strange happenings that had occurred as he journeyed to Kailash as a youth. Nanda seemed unmoved by the tale and unsure of its purpose.
Then Harshad told of how ten years past foreigners had greeted him once while praying at the mountain’s base and of how he learnt from them that the Stone Demon’s forest had been inhabited by the Raja’s army, and new roads to Transvurri were being constructed through there.
“Apparently there were many who had lived in that ancient forest since immemorial time. These passersby told me of one such man who’d been driven from the woods against his will by the Raja’s soldiers and taken to Eckol for slave labor. They said he possessed strange skills and much presence. He proved himself in some fashion and consequently was freed.”
Nanda sat silent.
“I have not seen these travellers’ caste before,” continued Harshad. “They may have been lying to me for a blessing. Such could have been their aims. I do not know. However, you see... They were also unaware if he was missing a finger, knew magic or carried a blue gem. So it was impossible for me to discover if that man was...”
Nanda’s old body became animated for a moment as he chuckled. He looked up, as he usually did, probably acknowledging that Shiva was above. Something profound was about to be said by him when a door opened behind and in filed six orange-clad Evadas. Harshad immediately lowered himself and left.
He wandered to that terrace he so loved. Underneath, at the base of the mountain, were Asiatic soldiers solemnly bowing in worship. They looked tired, their backs drawn, faces cast down and weary. They had been on a journey: the peregrination, circumambulating the mountain.
Harshad decided to watch and meditate on them for some time. As dusk approached they stopped praying and ate their day’s meal. When finished the sky was much darker. One of them, a large man with multiple layers of fur covering his heavy frame, seemed distressed suddenly and alarmed the others when he pointed to many flickering fires miles away.
The company of soldiers reacted instantly; quickly dispelling their own fire they jumped on their steeds and galloped away at a frantic pace. Dark shades of night riding in a darker night. Harshad turned away from the ledge; he too could feel the glow of the faraway fires.
Copyright © 2016 by Sean Mulroy