Beyond the Dreamtime
Chapter Eight - The Old One
When the baby came, it was not a birth like Yat's. Tahi laboured for a long
time, breathing out the child inch by inch, slow, slow; crying, shouting her
pain, feeling the living, pulsing thing coming away from her.
After the torture eased, she lay back, her eves closed, listening to the fragile
wail of the baby curled upon her abdomen.
Tahi had not the courage to open her eyes; she feared too greatly at what they
Then the voice of Cros came to her, and his words were gentle and soothing.
She felt his hands against her body, the trembling of his fingers.
For a while she listened to his breath, now the only sound that invaded her dark
world, and felt the warmth of the tiny creature that was theirs; the thing that,
between them, they had made.
At last she summoned her strength of will, and opening her fluttering eyelids,
gazed up at Cros, and then down to the baby.
Even before she was aware of its sex, she looked at the tiny hands, matching the
fingers to hers.
Weak, upon the verge of faint, Tahi allowed herself a smile of satisfaction; the
child was not as Yat, but as she and Cros, and it was a girl.
Yat came to see his mother and his half-sister, curling his too-many-fingers
about the day old infant, allowing the mask to slip and reveal, for a fleeting
moment, a broad grin.
Tahi watched his hands on her baby and saw, in the shadows about his head, and
ever after could not be sure of the truth of it, the horns.
Then, as he returned the naked child to her breast, it came to Tahi, in the
moment of his flesh against hers what she must do.
Those of The Elders who opposed Tahi, shrieked in consternation at her
They claimed, in garbled, agitated animation, that she was first his mother and
second, an Elder.
They spat into the fires, hawking out their venom.
They raked their fingers across their bellies and thighs, railing and hooting
until Cros appeared; taking up the seldom used option of observer at the rear of
At this, all were subdued for some moments, until the most venerable of the
clan, a women of almost fifty-two winters, greyness cloaking her hair, face,
body, the whiskers of her chin and under-arms, began to berate in carping,
yapped-out barks. She railed and angered them to the point where those
half-hearted were moved to her side; not only because of the vehemence of her
stand, but also the frailty underlying her every, trembling, indignant word.
Muk, Mother Elder of The Tribe, near consumed in her own efforts, was close to
tears, and the wailing, tearing of hair and flesh that marked the only avenue of
frustration left to her in order to get her way.
The Mother Elder was nearing that climax, Cros stiffening in anticipation of the
tantrum and confrontation to follow, the other Elders preparing to vote on Muk's
side; if for no more reason than to pacify her, when a faint movement from
seaward distracted several of those present.
In a matter of moments, this was communicated to the congregation, and their
attention diverted from the old lady where she knelt drumming her knotty fists
upon her thighs, oblivious to the arousal of the rest. Until one of their number
lifted an arm, the fingers of the extended hand visibly shaking.
From the waters beyond the fires an apparition loomed; black against the
moon-washed ocean, and for a space those who watched were silenced, as even Muk
was silenced when she observed them gaping toward what was advancing behind her.
Then realisation dawned upon The Elders and Cros where he sat cradling his
daughter in his arms; this was Fire-Yat, who had no business with the gathered,
nor had he permission to attend this special meeting of the high, and yet dared
again to breach the law of the clan.
But in spite of that, none made protest or rose against him. In truth, they were
intrigued as to how he might explain his presence, and of what bearing he could
have to dissuade the Elder Mother from her course.
When he gained the circle of light on the seaward side of the fires, all,
including Muk who had turned with some effort upon her haunches to stare at him,
let out a low, unified and protracted sigh, similar to the drone of the wind
through bamboo thickets.
Yat came to them leaning heavily on a driftwood staff, shuffling up the sand in
a slow gait that appeared to represent the movement of an injured or exhausted
person. Though once revealed by the light, it became apparent to the onlooker's
eyes that before them, hunched over, was the weirdly garbed and painted figure
of an old man.
His hair was not his hair, but long, glistening strands of seaweed that hung
about his head and shoulders, clinging to his arms.
His face and body bore the greyness of age etched out in ash, and he rasped with
the coughing of an ancient; swaying, the staff clutched to confront them.
For a long time, or so it seemed to all there afterward, he held their attention
with only the merest of movement; each gesture, each slow stirring of his legs
animated by the flames flickering across him like the stop-start motion of an
early twentieth century film.
Unbeknown to the watchers, Yat 's intuition and guile was at work, transforming
him into a master of improvisation. He had planned little further than his
disguise, aware of the growing resentment against himself and his vision to take
the clan across the waters to new lands beyond. Although he guessed the
importance of this head-on conflict, and had determined to somehow maintain his
status as Fire-Yat who could not be challenged, even as he challenged the
forbidden council of The Elders.
Now, in mime, drawing upon his imagination, and the desperation to hold his
audience without allowing them the means to counter-attack, he began to hobble
closer to the flames which separated them. Groping blindly forward, the staff
poking and prodding until it stirred living coals, so that showers of sparks
flew into the night.
Then he tottered his way around the leaping fire to eventually stand, bent and
coughing, before Muk.
Muk, still on her knees, lifted her hands; her open mouth made no sound.
Her eyes widened.
This was a first time.
Fire-Yat had never before crossed the boundary of the flames to the side of The
Tribe; at least that she could recall. Now he was not beyond them, but joined,
however unwillingly on their part, with them. And yet he was not Fire-Yat, but
an old man leaning upon a stick.
In the pantomime of their minds, for a time, the youth had ceased to exist, and
in his place stood someone else. And this someone else struck deeply at a root
memory of their forebears.
Of course they knew it was Fire-Yat, and beneath that layer a youth hardly grown
to manhood; but they yearned toward and rebelled against the tangible surface of
the presence before them. And thus were torn between actual reality and what was
represented; for here, it seemed, was the archetypal Father, the Ancient of
Ancients: The Elder of the first born of The Tribe, indeed of all Man.
Yat guessed at their confusion, and grasped the moment. Bending, he took Muk's
arm, and unexpectedly sank beside her, the crude staff still anchoring him
upright so that his face was tilted down toward hers.
Their eyes locked in an unswerving gaze that set the others rigid, almost
paralysed with anticipation and bewilderment. Here was the young mystic, the
familiar stranger in their midst, joined in silent battle with the Elder Mother.
But no, another vision crowded out all else; here was an old woman, staring into
the living face of The Eldest, The Father: He who had Fathered all the World.
Even before Muk lowered her head, her hands still encircled by Yat's
too-many-fingers, the watchers were convinced: The Father, the Fire-Yat, the
stranger in their midst, had converged into one.
He was not a babe, not a child, a youth, a man, nor an Elder. He was a part of
all these; he breathed air and fire and water, he dwelt in the creatures of the
earth, in the trees and rocks and mountains, in the valleys and forests, in the
food they ate and in the dreams of sleep.
And Yat was victorious.
Without a single word, Yat had overpowered their resistance against him.
The Elders would follow his path, forsaking theirs, for he had convinced them
that there lay the way of The Old One. The way they must travel was new to the
clan, but old, as laid down by the First-Born: so old that all had forgotten.
Now that forgetfulness was to be erased, their eyes and minds made clear again
to their coming home: home, somewhere across the ocean which first need be
Tahi and the others shivered at the prospect; images of floating over the deeps,
of terrible unknown creatures, of falling into the sea, mouth and nose filling
with gushing water; the rush of death crowding out all else.
Fear, and the resignation that they must soon face that fear, choked them, yet
each, afraid to break the sound of night and ocean and the collective trance
woven by Yat, remained silent.
It was not until the Old One released Muk from his grasp and slowly arose,
propped by the staff, that the watchers allowed the sound of breath to escape
their bodies. But the drama had not ended.
Again he hobbled to the far side of the fire, there to turn and stare blankly at
them; stooped with the weight of all their tribal past upon his bent shoulders.
Then, the Old One straightened, letting go the staff so that it fell with a
rattle into the flames, as he shook off the vestments of seaweed and drew his
hand across his face, exposing dark lines through the ashen mask.
Yat's eyes flared in the light, as the image of the Old One dwindled into smoke.
Somehow, his fingers seemed to slough the image, even the memory of that
apparition, so that it blurred and slipped between he and the clan, wavering,
tugging at their hidden desires ;the deepest imprints hammered across collective
regeneration reaching back and down into the morass of eternity behind.
For this was where their conscious and unconscious minds dwelt.
They smelt the future furtively, and prepared each day to meet it, but they
revered the past; its mystery, the ancient origins, the old that begat them and
They guessed at the new, and longed for the old; for the old was secured in a
way that could not be altered: and they were confronted by sudden, and
conflicting choices that stretched their mental capabilities to a pitch of
This may, at least impart some reason as to why Yat's further vaunted daring
succeeded, since he glimpsed and was, in fact, a part of it.
The watchers witnessed a transition from old to new within Yat's performance;
but still they could not see him as he was.
He was, to them, not young, nor old; but The Being; and in their confused hopes,
their only hope.
He, and they, enlarged his image.
It had built over the years, over the seasons of his life, against all that
those who opposed him could muster. It fused and culminated in his meeting and
overthrow of the last bastion, the old lady Muk.
The Old One was gone.
But the watchers knew that He lived within the Fire-Yat who stood, and walked
out of the smoke.