Sunlight sparkling off the crystalline facets of distant spires was not what roused Jord from his sleep. It would have had difficulty piercing through the murk to reach him anyway. Besides Jord was blind from birth and knew the sun only as warmth on his face. No, something else had caused him to stir earlier than usual. He rolled to his side and lifted his face to the morning air. Sounds and smells were his way of navigating through life. He had gone to sleep behind the midden, as usual, and at first his nose could only pick up the smell of rotting food. He concentrated on the sounds, but the distant honks and constant growling of the brutes as he called them were no different from usual. His keen ear picked other sounds. Lena and Marick were arguing as always. Lena’s thin voice drifted to him on the wind, cutting through the other noises. Judging from the distance she was probably out in the gathering place. Marick’s sonorous rumble could not be understood as words, it was more an attempt to placate the constant barrage of abuse that Lena fed his way. Jord realised that it was only Lena’s lack of importance in the tribe that caused her to act this way. No one took her seriously, except Marick, but then no one took him seriously either. Their arguing hadn’t woken Jord, but something unusual had and he felt uneasy. He cautiously felt his way around the side of the midden and out into the open. You never knew what the Whitefaces were going to have done to his place in the night. The tribe existed here but it wasn’t their place. It used to be until the Whitefaces came and made unnatural stuff. The tribe existed right in the middle of the Whitefaces and were largely ignored. Occasionally one of their enforcers would come and take one of the tribe away and there would be wailing and fighting. They usually came back days later talking in wonder of the places they had been. The Whitefaces had made straight caves and had wonderful food. But their hearts were with the tribe. Jord ran his fingers over the smooth edge of the midden, then twisted his body to the right and walked the three paces with his hand outstretched til he reached the edge of the canyon. Even these canyons were made by the Whitefaces. Before they came, the elders told around the campfire, this area was bush. Many of the young had gone to the bush, now far away, but for Jord this was not a journey he could make without help, and so far he had no life partner to help him.
Away from the stench of the midden, Jord's nostrils started to pick up other smells. The excrement of the brutes was acrid but not too invasive. Another smell began to permeate and his uneasiness grew. It was a smell that was harsh and oppressive, like the smell before a thunderstorm, only this was much worse. Something ominous was going to happen. Trailing his hand along the edge of the canyon wall, as he had done almost every day of his life since he could walk, Jord walked the few paces to the meeting area. This was a large open place built by the whitefaces for their open-air meetings. The tribe used a corner of it to meet. There was a sacred rock there. Jord knew why it was sacred but he didn’t care. It wasn’t sacred to him, but the elders said it was so he just agreed to keep the peace. All that stuff washed over Jord. Being blind made him more aware of reality than the others in his tribe. At least this was his belief. They were all so worried about the way it used to be before the Whitefaces came, and what they were doing to the place. To Jord, who couldn’t see, this was kind of irrelevant. He lived here now – not in the past and couldn’t understand the fuss. As a result he had never had any trouble with the enforcers, though he had once been taken to one of their healing stations. It was after the big fight. The one that had been included in the annals of the elders and its story was solemnly intoned with the rest of the tribal history every year at the big feast. Jord hadn’t been involved in the fight. That had been caused by the Whitefaces taking exception to the words of Arutha, one of the tribe’s leaders. He had protested the removal of the sacred rock from the meeting place, even going to the extent of binding his body to it. In the end both he and the rock were removed. The meeting place was filled with the hard smooth rock and the sacred rock was embedded in it, so Jord couldn’t see what the fuss was about. After all the smooth rock was easier to keep clean then the grass and dirt that had been there before. The Whitefaces said that they didn’t want to hurt the tribe, just clean up the meeting place. Anyway the fight had been long and glorious. Even Jord had gotten involved swinging a tree branch around is head and howling with delight at being involved. A Whiteface had dodged his wild swings and grabbed him pinning his arms to his side. He had been put inside a brute, and the animal had taken him to the healing station. Here he had been poked and prodded, made to lie down and stand up and had many Whitefaces talk to him. He didn’t understand most of what they said, but was able to tell them his name and his tribes name and they seemed to understand that. He did hear the word blind several times and guessed that was about his eyes. Eventually they put him back in the brute and he was magically transported back to the meeting place. The tribe hadn’t even noticed he had gone, but then they didn’t usually notice what Jord did anyway.
None of the other tribe members seemed to notice the smell the way Jord did. It burned in his nostrils now – growing stronger by the minute. Lena and Marick were still arguing; they almost never stopped. Arutha he could hear shuffling around the sacred rock mumbling to himself. He almost never left its side now and considered himself its guardian. That wasn’t true of course; the guardians were the whole tribe. They were left the task of guarding the sacred rock until the Owners returned from the sky. Some of the tribe had thought that the Whitefaces were the Owners but that had been sorted out at the big fight. The Whitefaces did come out of the sky occasionally, but they were mostly ground dwellers. No the real Owners were enshrined in the legends of the tribe as beings of light, able to move immense distances instantly and who communicated with you by voices in your head.
Old Rab said he talked to them, but no one listed to old Rab much. He drank too much of the Whitefaces poison and spent most of his day in a stupor. Jord could hear his snoring now as a rattle as he exhaled followed by a long shuddering intake of air.
The smell was now acrid like the smell that followed a lightning strike. Jord had never seen one but he had heard the thunder boom, and the exclamations of the other tribe members telling him what they saw as the earthlight leaped to the sky. It was a sign the elders said of the earth calling to its Owners. But none of the other signs of a thunderstorm could be felt. The wind was still and unnaturally quiet, there was no smell of rain, and there was no thunder. Jord was almost panicky now and called out to the tribe.
“What’s happening? What can you see? What is the smell? Is it the Owners?”
“Don’t be silly boy”, mumbled Arutha. “There’s nothing – you must have had a bad dream.”
Lena stopped her tirade at Marick to peer at the boy. Lena was shortsighted and her face was perpetually scrunched up, as she needed to squint in order to see who was talking. “Jord?” she asked. “What’s the matter boy?”
Before Jord could answer it happened. An immense wall of sound covering all the audible points of the spectrum accompanied by a sharp inrush of wind was felt rather than heard. Jord instinctively grasped for something solid to anchor himself against what he felt certain was impending doom. Not being able to see he did not turn his head toward the glow of light that materialised in the small meeting area. The remainder of the tribe members who were present, not so physically handicapped, did turn as one, and stood transfixed at the sight.
Jord felt only the screaming wail of sound fade away and be replaced by a gentle vibration, a nearly inaudible humming noise. He turned reflexively to the sacred stone, which appeared to be the source of the humming noise. What happened next was confusing for Jord as a large amount of it was visual and his normal aural and nasal senses were overloaded with strange sounds. What did go down in the tribal history was what Arutha saw. An ephemeral being, apparently constructed only of light materialised in the glow as it waxed to a brightness greater than the sun ever was. Suddenly the glowing light snapped out and the being flowed forward toward the stone. Arutha later described it as liquid light, as fluid as the tall grass rustling in the breeze.
The sacred stone increased its humming noise, until the being touched it, and seemed to manipulate it. The sound stopped. The sacred stone appeared to open and the view Lena had from her perspective was that of a large cavern dimly lit from an unseen light source. The disquieting thing was that the cavern seemed to be larger than the entire meeting area, when the sacred stone only stood 4 feet tall. The being flowed inside and disappeared. The doorway remained open. Jord had by this time felt his way across to the stone, unaware of the being or of the other tribe members who were still frozen in place. He had felt drawn irresistibly to the stone and simply followed that urge as if controlled by an external force. Upon feeling the opening, he also slid his way carefully inside and disappeared from the view of the other tribe members. The doorway instantly disappeared.
This action was enough to break the spell. Excitedly gathering around the stone they all started talking at once, yammering and gesticulating wildly to each other.
”Quiet” yelled Arutha. They fell to silence in front of the elder. Even Old Rab, who had woken when the being appeared could tell that this was an important event for the tribe. Arutha raised his hand over the stone and seemed about to talk when Lena burst into tears.
“Bloody women” he mumbled and turned away from the others.
“Where is my Jord? What’s happened to him?” she moaned.
Marick put a comforting arm around her shoulder but she shrugged it off. Dropping to her knees in front of the stone she scrabbled frantically at the rough surface trying to pry open the doorway that had swallowed her son.
Old Rab sighed. Out came a loud and deep exhalation of breath that caused more than a few to turn away due to the stench. He opened his mouth and began to recite.
From the realm of the light
Came the owner of the stone
Appearing to all
To one he would call
The least would arise
And take the prize
Though receiving the gift
He turned from his own
Yet through that same gift
He would claim the throne
The rest of the tribe turned toward Old Rab. Even Lena was stunned into silence. Arutha came round to the front of the stone and looked over at Old Rab. No one had ever heard him speak like that before. No one had heard more than gibberish from Old Rab’s toothless gums for many years.
Arutha grinned suddenly and stretched out his hands toward Old Rab in the traditional sign of the blessing.
“Old Rab tells the truth!” he cried. “For this is a tale from even before my memory. I remember now the elders told Old Rab and I stories as we sat around the council fire in our initiation ceremony. Stories of the Owners and how they used to appear to men. Stories too fantastical to be true, and in our long years we only dismissed them as fairy tales. But I have finally seen, and Old Rab has reminded me. We have seen a miracle!”