Fox IslandChapter 7
Fox wasn’t always alone in the outskirts. After a week with the Liberi, he met a man named Arvor. He was quiet and reserved, unlike the common immature Liberi. He discussed culture and habits and taught Fox the language, and for that Fox was indebted. Arvor followed him like a faithful companion, uncommonly speaking only when spoken to.
Fox journaled relentlessly. It was impossible to keep up with the new words without writing them down. Arvor provided him someone to exclusively learn from, test his theories and answer his questions; it gave him a lavish amount of information to ponder. He ofttimes woke in the afternoon after writing all night to candlelight.
The two men conferred most often at the eastern outskirts, on the edge of a precipice. It overlooked a large valley. In the distant south he could see the unsightly expanse of the marshlands; they were several miles wide, expanding into a droopy fog and shrouded by the shadow of the mountain; it was far greater than he ever would have imagined. While the two men met there, Fox recollected his ugly venture through the dead land.
If he had come a little north, it would have spit him out on the other side of a tree-line in perfect view of the Liberi village. Instead, he came out through the bahia field, behind a cropping of pepper trees. He would have missed the village altogether if not for the scouting party at the monolith, and that most certainly happened as a consequence of his startling of the birds. It was all very fortuitous and made him laugh. He mused what would have been if he kept his prior heading to the southwest. He would have missed the village and wandered for who-know’s how long into the wild.
“Out over that land,” Fox said aloud, pointing at the bog. “—that’s where I came from.”
Arvor stared resolutely. “You came through the Marshlands,” he said. “The dead path.”
Fox liked Arvor. Though he wasn’t convinced Arvor had the same level of fondness that he had. Arvor’s aloof and strict behavior made their brotherhood foremost occupational. It gave him an uncomfortable feeling that Arvor was with him as a means to an end. Nonetheless, Fox grew partial to him and appreciated his knowledge. They were friends.
With Arvor, he discussed the basic principles of the Liberi language and grew accustomed. He knew that man was viror, and woman vira. Therefore, they used the same notation as Latin descent, using “oh” and “ah” to deliberate between masculine and feminine; “i” and “u” were neutral.
Koh, or island, was masculine. But the plants Kohah, that the island produced, were feminine. Koha—here the vowel pronounced in staccato—could delineate a garden or crop. This told him that, like many other nations, the Liberi considered man dominant and woman submissive, while also the fruit bearer. Which of course brought with it many more ideas about government and rule.
As far as Fox surmised there was no leader, ruler or chief over the village. There was the idea that Arvor was instructed to be with him, but nothing supported that belief other than fantasy. He found it surprising a society that lived in a dangerous locale, facing dangerous weather, starvation and predators, could yet survive without order, government or police. Save for the sackcloth-clad men, he never knew of any difference in class or authority.
The Liberia were vegetarians, refusing to eat even the most insignificant animals or fish. Because of this, the animal kingdom (or Maioren), had no need to fear the village and occupied it often. Birds, insects and small animals pounced, crept and crawled through the village like a faithful Eden. The Liberia loved monkeys. They would play with them, fondle them, and feed them daily. They were not pets though. They came and left as they desired. They were wild, but cherished.
Most every adult in the village kept their head down and worked in the morning, whilst also playing and dancing in the afternoon and night. They served amongst themselves, both taking care of the colony and their individual person.
The women were in charge of the water supply. The Liberi hadn’t yet discovered, or at least propagated, the process of irrigation. Every other day the women would venture north on a half day’s journey to a waterfall. They collected water in enormous baskets and replenished enormous communal barrels used for drinking, bathing, and gardening.
The men were the farmers, harvesting nuts, berries, fruits, and vegetables. In this group, Fox attached himself. He best show himself a viable part of the group when he was present, rather than some vacant visitor sitting solitary on a rock and writing in his parchment.
He followed the farmers early in the morning, during messakoh (harvest, or morning). He discovered Arvor was a famous and well-versed harvester, or messaku. He could scale a twenty-foot papaya tree in less than three seconds, as quick as a raccoon. The Liberi had this talent of using their hands and feet like paws running up the trunks of the jungle; it made their traversal frightfully efficient. Fox recalled his foot-race with the islander who quickly escaped him.
Farmlands stretched in every direction surrounding the village, dozens of distinct fruits and vegetables, and each day the men traveled to a fresh crop. One late morning, after harvest, Arvor and Fox traveled at the rear.
“Who is the Liberi leader, Arvor?” Fox asked.
Arvor looked at him. He repositioned a bushel of bananas to his other shoulder. “What does Fox mean?”
“Who speaks and gives instruction to the Liberi—what to do?—how to live?”
“Fox is confusing.” Arvor responded.
“I mean—are there Liberi that are above other Liberi in the village? Do some Liberi say to do something, and other Liberi must follow and obey?”
Arvor grew silent. He bounced the question from one side of his head to the other and back again, before answering. “The cria must listen to us.” (Cria was the word for children.)
“No, I do not mean children and parents.” Fox went silent, thinking of another way to ask. “Arvor, there are different tasks the Liberi must make, correct?”
“Liberi must harvest food. Clean food. Cook food. Table must be made. Stool must be made. Fire must be set. Stories must be spoke. Homes must be cleaned.” Arvor continued to nod, waiting for the point. “If a big storm was to come to Island, or animal fought Liberi, who would keep Liberi safe? Who would fight the animal?”
“Ah, Fox is a wise fox.” Arvor smiled. “All must be kept in the village. And all Liberi must work and play to keep it. Watanei keeps us safe from the yoku (storm). And he made the animals. Why would they bring us harm?”
This name or title intrigued Fox. “Is Watanei a man or…name?” (He didn’t know the word for rank or title.)
“Fox is confusing.” Arvor responded.
“Is Watanei in the village?”
“Where is Watanei?” Fox asked. “Can I—”
“—No.” Arvor interrupted. He would ask if he could meet or speak to Watanei, but he clearly agitated Arvor and immediately relented.
Arvor stopped walking. He looked heavenward and all around him, as if fighting some internal struggle. Finally, he calmed himself down. “Watanei tells us who we are.” Arvor conceded. “We do not tell him who he is or where is he. We only listen. We do not speak.” The two men walked back to the village henceforth in silence.
It seemed that Watanei was a god-figure to the Liberi. If he had the power to stop storms, or protect from them, or whatever Arvor meant by that, then surely he wasn’t a man. Could it be that their entire civilization lived in perfect balance under the rule of a religious figure? It’s true that many tribes and smaller communities could live harmoniously. But the Liberi were nearly a thousand men and women. Surely, theft and violence reared their ugly heads up at some point in their history. Law and order were irrelevant to them, so he was to surmise every individual lived selflessly strictly out of obedience to a god?
When the Liberi were not harvesting their crops and water, they were predominantly playing and relaxing. At night the people became edacious for delight. They lit bonfires and danced about them like Bacchantes and satyrs. Song and music played through horns, flutes and drums, loud and effusive. They laughed, told silly stories, gambled, and played childish games.
The men, women, and children all drank from the same alcoholic spice Fox received when he was first greeted by the Liberi. They drank themselves silly and the oldest of them regularly woke in the middle of a path leading home.
Though they seemed at first to drink absent of circumspection, Fox observed a collective understanding that too much of the spice would have dire consequences; thus, independently, they quit the drink after a period, of which the period and amount were determined personally and privately. There was no barkeep or officer monitoring the individual and his or her crapulence; it strictly lasted as long as one desired, and it seemed to Fox that that length was never too dangerous. After all, the whole affair was to enjoy themselves, not destroy themselves. They partook slowly and reveled in the delight of dance and life, rather than absolute debauchery.
Because of this unwritten understanding, they did not concern themselves with putting restrictions on their children in the same manner Fox presumed. They encouraged the little-ones to celebrate and partake in all of nature’s offerings, including the spice-drink. Watching a little one tip over dazed or fall asleep from liquor was amusing to them. But even in this, the village had an unspoken rule of engagement, collectively discerning when the obscure line was near being crossed; the entire village watched the little ones, preventing anything truly dangerous from happening to them.
This made sense, because in all the weeks with them, Fox had a hard time perceiving where the families were. The children ran about the entirety of the village and rarely went to the same house at night. The village itself was a collective parent, all taking care of the offspring together like an elephant parade or lion pride. Too, there weren’t very many children among the Liberi. The youngest child Fox knew of was Arvor’s nephew, already five-years-old; at most he saw only a few dozen children under the age of twenty.
He wondered if a plague or terrible storm ravaged the people in their recent history. Perhaps, each evening’s party was actually a celebration of life, both of the ones lost and the ones remaining. Song, dance, and liquor spent on sorrow and joy. The thought, at first, brought a quiet comfort—this was a civilization that dedicated each and every night to that of memorial and thanksgiving, pleasure and gaiety.
Fox didn’t fully understand the language, and what’s more, had an impossible time understanding their stories, metaphors and poetry. He may be completely wrong in his assumption of the party. Instead of celebrating life and death, the dance may be some misguided and religious attempt to ward off evil spirits that sent curses through plague and natural disaster. Perhaps the party was the product of fear rather than honor. The fear of the future oftentimes is cloaked by a spurious praise of the past. It was trepidatious, humdrum; it robbed itself of all its romanticism and made the festivity irrelevant. If fear were the catalyst to joy, could it actually ever be true delight?
Fox knew enough of religious tradition to believe that both were likely true. The ritual probably began with good intent, masking an ugly ulterior meaning. Some two authorities long ago, who believed a dance and memorial were necessary, argued over the inception of it all—one believing that honor and joy mattered; the other believing that worry and appeasement of the gods was of chief importance.
What resulted was a play that passed down from generation to generation until most forgot its true meaning, causing a celebration that both the scholar and simpleton, deacon and layman, partook in. Some Liberi no doubt drank wisely and with noble regard of the past, while others danced in a fearful obligation of what may happen if they didn’t, and further most others met the drink with a wild gaiety and stupid ambivalence.
On his first night with the Liberi, Fox celebrated with them. He thought the party was in honor of himself, some sort of welcoming in the community. He basked in the presence of wild frivolity after his weeks of fearful desperation. But upon learning it happened each night, it became insignificant and further deflated and embarrassed him.
The parties henceforth felt obnoxious, merely resonating with the wild and boisterous people; he respected the culture of the tribe, but it was not his own. He regularly retreated from the festivity or sat quietly at the edge of the fire with Arvor. Neither man preferred the drink, and both sneered at the inebriation of the others—the lascivious wilds of satyrs and nymphs waiting on Bacchus and Ceres to join them. A tribe of people devoted to debauchery and delight. Its endless nightly episode stripped it of the meaning, integrity, and necessity, leaving only the product of selfish wantonness.
A blood-curdling scream broke out of the darkness. Shrill and demonic, it echoed over the fire-pit, lifted with the smoke, and split the ears of every person in the village. It was just the other side of the bonfire from Fox and Arvor. The voice of a woman—a banshee—screaming and vomiting guttural moans up into the smoke and flame. The drums and music ceased. The dancing stuttered. It immediately stirred Fox from his introspection and looked about, trying to find the source of the commotion. Silence was a thick fog that surrounded the orange-lit gathering of people.
Through the pale moonlight and flittering firelight, he saw the scuffle of a woman flailing herself about in the dirt. She was screaming the name of someone again and again, “Cian! Cian! My Cian is gone!”
Confusion stole Fox’s concern; he looked about to see the villager’s staring stoically at the woman. They were dumb and witless, like cattle. He noticed Arvor lean forward and take his staff in his hand, as if to prepare himself for something.
Whatever it was, he wouldn’t get the chance to see. The woman’s presumed husband came rushing into the circle of people and began apologizing to the crowd. He was doing his best to hush the hysterical woman up, but in the end, only made the event worse and more awkward. He finally gave up trying to give reason to her, and after grabbing her ankle and wrist, he ploddingly dragged the woman off into the darkness to wherever their hut was, all the while her screams growing fainter and fainter into the darkness.
Her disappearance left the night dense, resting on the shoulders of the assembly. No one looked at one another. They meekly picked up their things and made the journey home. Everyone understood the party was over. Fox was never told who Cian was, nor did he see the woman again after that night. But he conceded that his theory about the celebration of death and life wasn’t too far from the truth.