A short story about changes in the distant future, which belong to the distant past.
BackgroundMother Earth is an old crone, her children reduced to a handful of species, in all the kingdoms of life. The remaining species of plants, which are part of the main kingdom, are mostly brown or gray, with the odd display of green when a shower refreshes the land.
Marakanto has never known anything else, so it is accepted by him as being the world it should be - as it is the way it is, his being alone. It has been about eleven generations since the last of the royals and now only the descendants of serfs struggle on, their minds still dumbed and unaware of even some basic inventions that early man used. Despite their hard lives, mostly they are still serfs looking to be serfs for someone, but none exist to lord it over them.
There is little sense of community, but the ties of family are re-growing, their hard lives slowly recovering that age old instinct.
The female of Marakanto and his two children, it has been so long since he last saw them that he rarely recalls they existed. He has no mirror, so he does not see how his face has aged and this morning another tooth fell to pieces, leaving a blackened sharp stump. At twenty three he is well into his middle age and his body will remain strong enough for him to earn his food for years, but the first twinges of arthritis threaten a shorter working life than he could have had. Marakanto collects a certain kind of rock halfway up a series of hills and carrying them in a woven reed sack over his back, every five day he takes them to the village where he can exchange his rocks for food.
On the day we begin to share his life, some important changes come about in his life. We start early in the day, with the sun just creeping out as he walks the hills in search of rocks. Hearing the sound of a small rock moving, he looks, hoping it is a small animal he can catch and eat, but sees a young man of about fourteen years. They stare at each other for a long moment and then Marakanto returns to collecting his rocks. He has noticed that the young man is very thin and in desperate need of food and he cannot afford to see it, so he quickly forgets.
“I am Terist, why do you collect the green stones?”
“Marakanto. For food.”
“You eat stones!?”
Startled, Marakanto looks at him and grins. “A man in the village wants them and he gives me food for the stones.”
“May I collect a few to also be given some food?”
He stares at the young man and is surprised when he magnanimously replies, “Today. Only enough for me, so no tomorrows.” He soon realises he was not being over-generous, as the young man has nothing to carry the stones in and is able to collect barely enough to earn half a meal. He is carrying an extra sack which he uses for collecting the black stones he uses for making a fire at night. He hands it over, scowling at Terist, who accepts it with a nod and smile of gratitude.
That was the first big change and it may have been the more important one, for Terist is different from Marakanto. He may be starving and need help, but he does not carry the burden of generations of serfdom. Up in the high hills he came from, he has grown up to be free. Being free has meant he is allowed to want and attempt to get what he wants. Very unlike the Marakanto he has just met. And yet, it is Marakanto who has already made the change of allowing another to affect his life and who will react to the coming changes in a positive manner.
The next change occurred as the two of them walked to the village.
The emotional inner world of Marakanto has been muted, the sharpness of most emotions blunted by damage to his DNA, but also by the harshness of life. Although he vaguely felt that Terist is a threat, he also had an even vaguer need to help him. He did not recognise the feeling, but it was paternal. Terist was too old for him to feel that way about him, but the feelings were echoes which still floated deep inside from the days when he was a father.
A characteristic of the land at this time is the dust that covers everything. It is a pale colour, almost as fine as talc and there is often a fine haze of it in the air, which forces men to wear a scarf. This discourages unnecessary talk as they must either walk close to each other or the scarf must be lowered if they wish to be heard without shouting. At the rumbling clatter behind them, they both turned and then they moved off the path for the small cart to pass by.
Terist asked, “What is that?”
“A cart…used for carrying heavy things. In your land, there are no carts?”
“None. I think it is too up and down for carts. Why don’t you have a cart?”
“Animals eat a lot, it is better I carry.”
When they arrived by the buyer, Marakanto swung the sack off his shoulder and as it hit the ground, he had the thought that if he had a cart he would not have to suffer the pain of carrying the sack of stones, with their sharp edges cutting into him.
After the trade, Marakanto asked the trader whether people make small carts. The trader suggested they speak to the carpenter.
Terist was surprised when the older man asked the carpenter how he can make wheels without having tools or wood. It could be sensed he thought it should be possible to make wheels out of slender poles cut from the forest. The carpenter, Hasikse, explained the important points about making wheels and Marakanto took Terist aside.
“Will you take the sacks and collect green stones while I stay with Hasikse? If we have a cart, we can bring enough stones for both of us.” Terist agreed and he departed.
Marakanto learnt the basics about wheels and axles and how to make brakes. He had to promise food for one day per week for five moons to be taught, but he felt he had the better end of the bargain. It was decided he only needed two wheels, for the cart was to be very small. Hasikse had two old wheels he could repair and gave them, with an axle, as a gift after they had shared a few days getting to know each other. He asked whether Terist is his son and Marakanto found it easier to say yes, than to explain. The words echoed through his mind so that it was that Terist became his son, without either of them making a deliberate decision.
When Terist arrived with stones, Marakanto met him at the trader and he separated the share for Hasikse. The trader gave them each a small green apple as a gift, but stopped them from eating it. “Look inside, those are seeds. Do not eat them, plant them and you can grow an apple tree for having your own apples.”
Marakanto accepted what they were told and kept the seeds, but the mind of Terist came alive and he asked for other kinds of seeds. They were sent to visit a farmer. Marakanto left Terist there, with his share of the food, and promised to meet him on his return, as Terist needed time to learn how to plant and care for the seeds the farmer was willing to trade.
In the meantime, while Terist did the work to keep them fed, Marakanto weaved a cart out of saplings and reeds and gave his cart a stronger sapling in front for him to use for pulling it. From their first trip, they learnt they can take enough stones to feed more than two persons.
Then Terist stayed at home to improve their food supply. At first they had planted around the hut and had to carry water from the stream. Then Terist had the idea of digging a small canal from the edge of the stream towards the hut, with a stone to block it off so that they only allow water when the plants need it. He planted on either side of the canal and soon, a number of moons later, they were eating so well that Terist decided he would like to find himself a female.
They had five children and Marakanto was happy, for to him Terist truly was his son and he now had a big, beautiful family. The mind of Terist was sharper and he thought of other ideas that made their lives easier, but he learnt to care for the man who adopted him and loved his children.
They may not have lived happily ever after, but they did live happier than either could have alone, for life came to hold meaning for both of them.