It’s happened again.
Barbado continues to approach our village, offering goats. He seems to think that his goats are worthy of replacing our swine. I fear he will come with the others soon, wielding spears to take our stock by force. Giving him our swine for the goats, he says, is the only way to prevent this. He calls it a “trade”.
The elders have told us that if we heed Barbado’s attempts, we will weaken our supply of livestock. They say the meat from our swine is necessary to feed the village. Yet I cannot help but wonder if his proposal is worth considering. The hunting season is coming to a close, and it has been fruitful one. We have amassed more livestock than we will likely need for the winter, and the elders plan to use the surplus for breeding. I find it difficult to understand their assertion that Barbado’s proposal is ill advised. Surely the extra swine can be spared, as they are our most plentiful stock. Our goat supply is lacking. The women continually comment on the low supply of milk being produced for the young ones.
I find myself asking why we must safeguard our swine so closely if we can replace them with the goats. Barbado’s idea is a new one, surely, yet it seems to help both of us. Our village can use his goats to produce the milk we need, and his people would surely benefit from the meat of our swine.
I am convinced that our elders’ judgment is clouded. I must do something to preserve our milk stock. Am I misguided for this? Will the Gods punish me if I break their will? I know not. We have survived here for generations, and this land has been bountiful.
Yes. I must do this. We need the milk. It will help our village. Our women. Perhaps even our elders will see the benefits of this “trade”. I must find a way to contact Barbado.
“Rickar, come! The beasts await!”
Trou is right. The feast is tomorrow and I must make the preparations necessary to welcome the winter. We do this every year. I find it tiresome. When the autumn colors give way to the pale white of winter, the village feasts upon the hunting season’s yield. One, big meal to welcome the cold that is to come. As a young one, I never understood why we celebrated the beginning of such a harsh season. Why do we celebrate that which helps nothing? Sometimes the others come with their spears and take things during the coldest months. People, even. The winter is a dangerous season, but it begins with a feast – and I must make preparations. But I cannot forget Barbado’s proposal.
Walking into the swine-hold, the pigs look healthy. This is the best yield I have seen. These pigs will be more than enough. But we need milk. I heard Trou’s mate say that we don’t have enough milk. I need to speak with Barbado. How can I, though? I am a mid-tender. Not an elder, not a leader, as I would like to be. Barbado is a chief. How can I speak with the leader of an entire tribe? I m
The Eldest is the leader of our village. We call him Traycorn. He has done magnificent things for us. We have had seventeen seasons without incident. He has always assured we have plenty to eat and drink.
It is night now. The elders do not know of my plan to help the village. We must have milk. The young ones will surely expire if they are not tended to properly. I am packing what I can for my journey to Barbado’s village. I know it lies in the west. The elders say his lands are littered with game and fruits. Perhaps I can take something back if Barbado allows it.
I shall take five pigs. That was the request Barbado offered. It is good that the swine are not tended to throughout the night. I would have difficulty obtaining them if a mid-tender were present. The pigs are used to me. I tend to them every day. I have picked the five. It is good that they are not alarmed.
We are walking. I am unsure how far west Barbado’s village lies, but we are making a steady pace. I fear that my journey will be intercepted by the fanged ones. They have been absent for weeks, but I have not ventured this far out of the village before. The pigs are behaving. They follow me as if I’m a shepherd, but they do not know what outcome lies ahead. Nor do I. Barbado told us he needed swine, and we have plenty. I believe it is just to take these pigs for goats. Their milk is needed. To “trade” them, as Barbado says. The wind is strong. I must continue.
Wait. There is a voice. Have I reached the village?
Whispers. They’re surrounding me. I do not want to turn out like those that explored. They were eaten.
He recognizes me. He saw me tending to the swine, he must have, and learned my name.
I must kneel. That’s what we do when we see a chief.
“Come Rickar, we must speak.”
Speak? He wants to speak with me? I did not think this would happen. Five pigs, five goats. That was his proposal. Stand up! I must follow him.
“Rickar, sit down. Tell me, why are you here?”
What do I say?
“Barbado. You came to our village and offered your goats to us. For our swine. I….fear our elders are not prepared for the winter. And that your proposal was the right one.”
He’s staring at me. Right into my eyes. Sitting there, on a log, leaning over the fire, just staring. Why?
“Rickar. You have done your village a service. Now, you must listen. Take the goats, the ones just over there, to your village. Tomorrow, during your feast, make certain that your elders know how plentiful their stock of swine is. And then you show them the seven goats I have just given you. You tell them that were it not for those seven goats, that half of their babes would expire before winter’s end. And you tell them that this “trade” with Barbado is what kept them alive. Do you understand?”
“I understand, Barbado. Thank you. For the goats.”
“Go, son. Go before the fanged ones come out!”
I must go now. Seven. Seven goats. It is more than I had planned for. But tomorrow I will surely gain the favor of the elders.
The feast is tonight. My return was a late one, as I reached my village just as the night sky’s glow-orb was being overtaken by its bright, yellow ruler. My trip was not without peril. The orb’s light illuminated my path ahead, and helped me narrowly avoid a group of fanged ones. I can only imagine what fate would have befallen the goats and I had they seen us. Upon my return, I hid the goats in my small abode. I do not want the others to know that I have disobeyed the will of the elders. Not yet, at least. I must first speak to the eldest in solitude, away from the others. The feast shall be my most opportune time to approach him. I am confident I will be able to convince him that this “trade” with Barbado was not ill-advised. It was for the good of our people, and I must assure that it is viewed as such. I am not worried that the goats will be discovered prior to my addressing the eldest. The section of our village reserved for the mid-tenders is not frequently visited, and it is well-known among my peers that we do not enter each other’s abodes.
The others, those who fill roles other than mine, will not strand into the area in which my abode lies. Those in my village are separated into groups. We all have jobs for which as are assigned. The elders are in charge of choosing our roles upon our tenth birth ceremony. Every child born during each span of the four seasons is put in a group with one another. As each group turns ten, we have the Assignment Feast, where we learn what work we will do and where we will live. There are three classes which the elders use for all jobs – low, mid, and high. The low-cleaners are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the elders’ abodes. Low-growers raise the crops which we use to feed our village. My role, mid-tender, is in charge of caring for our beasts and animals. We use the beasts for our work, and use the animals for nourishment, along with our crops. High-breeders are the ones who lay with our women to produce the young ones. I have always wondered how young ones are created, but this knowledge is not passed down to anyone until they become a high-breeder, a role that most of us never achieve. Many of the elders were high-breeders before they became elders. There many other roles in our village, these are but a few. There have been times when the elders have granted one of us a new role, but this is uncommon. This seems to happen only as a reward when someone contributes significantly to the village or does something that greatly pleases the elders. It is understood that the lows must obey the wishes of the mids and highs. It is also known that the mids must obey the commands of the highs. All of us, no matter our role, must obey the elders, who in turn obey the eldest. If members of our village ever reach disagreement, the judgment of the elders is called upon for resolution. There have been times when the elders have difficulty agreeing, and if necessary, the eldest shall render final judgment. It is a good system, I believe. Yet I ask myself on occasion what the rules of other villages might be. Sometimes, most often during the times I lay in my abode unable to slumber, I wonder about many things. I question much of what I am told, but I know I cannot voice my questions. The others would surely tell the elders, and I fear what punishment may be rendered as a result of my doubts.
There have been times when members of our village have violated the rules which we have abided by for generations. These members, without question, are sent to what the elders call an abyss, after a shaming ceremony. They are bound to a stake in the center of our hall of ceremonies, and are openly shamed and beaten by the rest of the village. Then, the high-banisher uses a spear to penetrate both eyes, sending their spirit to the abyss.
We are taught from our early years of being a young one that the afterlife is something we should gleefully await. Yet many of us do not fully understand it. Our high-learners, those who pass along knowledge to the young ones, have given lessons in the importance of the afterlife, and have attempted to describe what it is like. I find it difficult to understand how they know such things, though. How can the elders claim to have spoken with the gods if they are unable to do so in front of us? How have they learned of the afterlife? This puzzles me, as I know they have never been there themselves. I often find myself questioning other lessons of the high-learners, as much of what they say has never been shown to us. Rather, we are simply expected to believe their lessons without question. I attempted, many seasons ago, to describe my doubts to others in my birth group, but was only met by fear of punishment of speaking such things. This is why I remain silent on such matters.
Yes, the afterlife is what awaits us after we depart this world. We are told that those who disobey, however, are stricken from the reward those who obey will enjoy and instead are cast into the abyss. They tell us that this abyss is filled with those who disobey, and that their spirits are eternally at war with each other. They have described the agony and sadness that the abyss makes its spirits feel, and I cannot ignore the terror I feel when considering such things. If the high-learners and elders speak the truth, I shall be careful to earn my place in the afterlife, for I shudder to think of the alternative.
The beginning ceremonies of the feast begin soon. I must make my way to attend now. I can only hope to find opportunity to speak with the eldest. Despite my fears of what will surely happen if the tale of my actions invokes his wrath, I am convinced the good that may come is worth the risk. This “trade” will surely change the way we view our neighboring villages if we are able to consider even more transactions with them in the future.
I shall pray for my spirit now, as it is time to begin my approach.