This offering is a bit different. It is a story, a tale that I have been pondering and working with for quite a few years now. It is not a happy tale, but it seems apt for the days in which we find ourselves.
Amongst those who lived now on the sea hugged lands was told the tale of the Crystal Bearer. I knew rumours of such a telling; and, being a collector, I sought someone to confirm the rumour or tell the tale. I spent weeks asking and following clues. One day, walking through a remote village I saw an old fisherman, and on a hunch I asked him. He stared at me, assessing. What he looked for and what he saw I will never know. I waited. In the end it was he who told me. This was many years ago, and to this day I do not know his name, he never used it and no one knew it. When I met him he seemed as old as the sea he upon which he spent most of his life.
What is age? What is being old? What is old? That was the odd part, though I did not at the beginning think much of it: How long is a life? How long can it be, might it be? The experience of the fisherman has caused me to ponder the question more and more often as I have gotten older myself. No one remembered the fisherman not being there. No one could remember when he arrived nor remember being told of his arrival. I know because I enquired. The old fisherman simply was.
But, then I digress.
When prodded he could no longer say where he heard the tale, or would not; for the coastal dwelling folk to whom the tale belonged receded ages ago into the mists of memory and forgetting.
Looking out into the distance over the sea, closing his eyes once in a while, he told the tale this way. His voice, I can still hear, husky with salt spray and the smoke of the long-stemmed pipe clenched always between his teeth.
“They say the Crystal always chose the Bearer. So it was from before the beginning of all that was known amongst the coastal peoples who are no more, who dwell no longer on these rock-strewn shores. The Choosing did not happen often, but in the years when it did the preparations started as soon as it was obvious the next Crystal Bearer must be found.
“Those of proper age were gathered from the land’s length, but only those with an affinity for the Stones of Prospect. Once each of the Prospect Stones was acknowledged the searching ended. On the designated night the Prospects came together, the Stones told them where, and if they could not hear they were not worthy of consideration. As a group they viewed the Beach of Choosing. None were allowed on the sands, which were always patrolled and protected by the Crystal Wardens, themselves chosen from amongst those selected in previous Prospectings. For any family singular honour accrued in having one’s son or daughter recognized as a Warden. It was an honour second only to having the Crystal Bearer from among your closest kin.
“The pattern of the ritual began before anyone remembered how it came to be, and remained unaltered until the last. Only one beach, of all those girthing the land was, could be, the Beach of Choosing. No one went there except the chosen from whom the Choosing would take place. For it was the Crystal’s energy radiating from that one beach that sustained the peoples’ way of life, so they said. They believed and thus for them it was so. The Spirit of the Crystal made the land fertile and the fish run in great schools off the shores. It kept the worst storms at bay. It purified the waters for drinking. The Spirit of the Crystal beckoned souls to new bodies and bid the old to move on making room for the next generation.
The Crystal Bearer was the one who guarded the way of the Crystal’s path amongst the peoples and for them. The Bearer, in wearing the crystal, wielded the power of the Crystal’s Spirit for the good of all. Only the Crystal could choose its Bearer. Only the Crystal knew the one with whom it could work, through whom it could communicate. When the light went from the Crystal its Bearer died. When the fading of both Crystal and Bearer was complete, then the process of Bearing began anew with a new Crystal and another Bearer.
The Beach of Choosing was littered with the empty and silent crystals from previous Bearers, all faded; and, with crystals that never bore the sustaining spirit. There was always one vital flawless Crystal, however, which washed up on the beach at the time of need and that was the one to be found. Always it was found, there had never been a failure of Choosing in the long memory of the peoples.”
“What did it take to be a Bearer?” I could not resist asking.
The fisherman answered, ”The question was often asked and none could answer with certainty, for the times dictated the qualities of both the Crystal and its Bearer. Size was never the determining factor in the selection. Some of the most influential Bearers worked with very tiny crystals. The power was always and only a matter of communication and communion between the Crystal and the one it chose to bear it amongst the peoples.
“So Choosing was then once more about to be fulfilled. The eighty-second Bearer had to be chosen soon. A plague threatened the people and only the Crystal could save them. The last Crystal began to fade. It had been noted that the Crystals faded and Bearers died much more quickly. It was a matter of concern, but no one spoke of it. The silence issued from the uncertainty of the Crystal Wardens who did not know what to say. Who did not know whether it was a weakening of the Crystals or a weakness growing in the peoples manifesting in the Bearers. In the end it did not matter.
“As soon as the Wardens noted the weakening of the Bearer, and she was not very old, the search for the Prospects began in secret. Watchers were dispatched to keep an eye on those who often walked the beaches and how they gathered the treasures there, the ones left and available for everyone. A list was made and hidden. When the eighty-first Bearer died suddenly, for all her gradually deteriorating state, the Prospect Stones were cast on the beaches where the likeliest would find them. It was hoped the strongest as well.
“On the designated night in accordance with the ritual the Prospects, having been tested on their own beaches with the Prospect Stones, were gathered. They moved onto the vast Beach of Choosing at low tide led by the Wardens. The Prospects could range in age from sixteen years to fifty, for none younger or older than that had ever found a Prospect Stone. At this Prospecting those on the Beach were from sixteen to twenty-seven, that was because the previous Bearer had been so young herself when she died.
“Everything moved as it always had. Representatives of the peoples gathered as the Observers on the low hills bounding the beach. They stood at a respectful distance and in silence. No one anticipated anything out of the ordinary. Nothing extraordinary ever happened at a Choosing. As a consequence, no one was prepared when a small boy, no more than four, who managed to wiggle his way from the back of the crowd, moved onto the Beach of Choosing.
“When the Wardens were apprised, only after word passed in whispers from person to person through the assemblage, it was too late. Besides, the boy moved with reverence and deliberation. Unlike the Prospects who stumbled about the beach aimlessly, he went to a particular part of the beach. He alone walked barefoot over the sands littered with spent and useless crystals.
“It was nearly dawn. The Crystal remained unfound. The Observers were getting restless. Uncertainty moved among them like a cool breeze on a hot day. Still, they remained silent.
“Themselves anxious, the Wardens moved onto the Beach of Choosing just before the sun rose. They gathered the weary and dejected Prospects together to lead them off the beach. Nothing like it had ever happened before. The fear of the Wardens and the Observers was growing like a living thing, a menace lurking and filling the space with foreboding. Everything felt different. Something rustled in the air. Change and alternation were palpable. Nothing would be as it had been. These were peoples unused to change. They resisted any alternation in the ways of tradition no matter how insignificant. Silence wreathed the whole area. The only sound was the gentle lapping of the returning tide. There were no gulls crying for they never came near the Beach of Choosing.
“Then it arose, a small wavering cry. The cry was not one he could ever have heard since he was too young. The cry flew to the ears of the Wardens, then the Prospects and lastly to the assembled Observers. ‘The Crystal found me. The Crystal claims me.’
“The Wardens stopped the procession of Prospects and those closest to the boy made their way to him. He sat at the edge of the water oblivious to the rising tide. The Wardens carried him back. He did not seem to notice, for all his attention was turned to the Crystal.
“No one knew his name. No one recognized him. No one could claim him. He seemed to have arrived from nowhere, but it did not matter. The Crystal claimed him, had chosen him. He and the Crystal were one. A single voice, a single mind.
“As young as he was he worked tirelessly with the Crystal. Day and night they strove together. For a time it seemed youth and courage were and would be enough. There were years when the peoples prospered. There was health and abundance. The people ceased to be vigilant. They took for granted the reprieve and the plenty. And, just as suddenly, after the boy had grown to manhood it all changed, again.
“In the end no amount of effort was not enough to save the peoples. The plague came. The land ceased to produce. The fish ceased running in great schools. The storms rose in anger from the depths of the sea. The waters turned foul. The peoples weakened. They wanted to find a new Bearer, but he and the Crystal remained strong. The peoples grew ever more resentful. They could deal with the weakening of the Crystal and its Bearer, but not themselves. Never in memory or telling could a similar circumstance be brought to mind. In half a generation the peoples vanished from the rock strewn shores.”
The old fisherman was looking at me when he finished. When I looked back at him he turned his eyes wearily towards the sea once more. “There are no longer Crystal Bearers, and no one for whom to bear the Crystal. No one to maintain the land, to run the fish, to keep the storms at bay, to cleanse the water or to bid the old move on. No one old to move on.” His voice trailed off like the fog now rolling along the edge of the sand.
“What happened to the Bearer? What happened to the Crystal?” I asked in a whisper that faded into the moaning wind and lapping waves.
For a long time the fisherman looked out to sea and then lowered his head even longer, waiting, deciding. When he looked up his eyes were red and watery. He reached under his shirt, drew out a tattered pouch and emptied its contents into his wrinkled, calloused hand.
He said no word.
© Aurora J Stone 2017