The King Died and the Queen died. The prince died. The page, the astronomer and the ironmonger died. The beekeeper, the mead maker, the herbalist and the child gathering wild berries all died. They lived in different realms and had never met.
All over the earth human populations dwindled. Oceans rose. Deserts and insects thrived. Coastal communities became inundated. Ridges became a thin strip of mammalian life wedged between spreading deserts and warmed seas. Diseases and growths never heard of before rampaged. Diseases of old returned, vengefully resistant to antibiotics.
Scientists, astrologers, seers, artists, activists and those who had never stopped living close to the earth had foretold of this time. Short sighted politicians, entrepreneurs and multinationals were the few who had profited from the barbaric practices of raping the Mother. Although the mutations of the seasons and earths’ cycles had become grotesque, unstable and unsustainable, mythologies, incarceration and propaganda had kept the majority blinkered, drugged and biddable. Just as bees willingly sacrifice their lives for the greater good of the hive the people had kept the rape and pillage machine turning, believing in its benigness, if not its munificence. Until now.
As government officials caught up in their own omniscience turned from democracy to despotism the majority whispered, protested and waited to be heard. Ignored they sulked and turned their disappointment onto those less placed. For a time governments fuelled the peoples’ resentments with more campaigns of fear and ignorance, while doing nothing to alleviate the inherent dissatisfaction. Finally, just as a bee colony will turn on their rogue queen they banded together, building tenuous bridges across their differences to unite for the common good.
It began with thin, tiny webs. Anchor lines nascently strung across global seas of resistance and alignment through a world wide web. The fragile filaments caught and held. As people signed petitions in their hundreds of thousands they saw how many others were not deceived. There was strength in this flourishing global solidarity to injustice. A dispelling of myths and a sense of community, of belonging. Of not being alone in one’s allegiances to human, animal, earth’s rights. A hope that it was not too late if all took action now.
But of course it was too late.
Meanwhile, in another galaxy, far, far away on another planet, in another solar system, another story was spun.
Thoughtless, Rabi’a whirled. Eyes lidded blissfully. One hand heavenward, the other earthward. The chanting finished. Now there was only the music, the billowing shrouds, the heavenward tilt of the head in its Semazen and the whirling meditation. Perhaps this time Rabi’a would rise and be one with all that is. At the intrusion of that thought, dizziness overwhelmed and the whirling ceased. It had only been the emptiness of her mind that allowed her to whirl without vertigo.
Rabi’a was back in her body. She thought about reloading from her last save but her disappointment was too great. She disengaged and dizzily threw herself and the palimpsest onto the shaded grass, waiting for the spinning to stop. She had been sure that this time she could do it. Rabi’a had avidly searched the archives but had found nothing more than this palimpsest that played a few holographic sensurround gif clips and barely decipherable ancient texts in html format.
After the world had slowed, Rabi’a continued to lie disconsolately on her back, watching the breeze batting at the weeping purple leaves above. She wished that she could be more like her family, more like the other kids; but she had always been different with her gnawing yearnings to know the why behind everything. It was this that had led to her latest interest in the ritual of Sema. It had started with Rabi’a asking about the origins of her name. She began with her parents Fatimah and Ali. Naming, for them, was merely a custom. A long tradition of passing on the names of their forebears and a remembrance to the spiritual practices that had paved the way for the long migration of their ancestors. But this time when the why’s started, they became impatient with their impetuous daughter pestering them with questions for which they had no answers and sought ways to appease the girl while maintaining their sanity. And so Fatimah had suggested the archives and thus had began the quest of Rabi’a.
Rabi’a turned her head to watch her family and the community now. They were laughing and wrestling in the shade of a sunbaked courtyard after the noon meal. Soon they would retire to the domed adobe sleep rooms for afternoon siesta.
Khadija had spotted her and came running. Rabi’a groaned.
‘Rabi’a! Rabi’a, I see you. Come and play with us. We’re playing Wazza Time Ms Tar Woolf.’
‘I’m tired little sister, let me rest.’
As Khadija’s face fell Rabi’a added, ‘I’ll join you at home for siesta. OK? You go and have fun now while there’s still time.’
Slightly conciliated Khadija skipped downwards to the courtyard releasing a spray of scented flowers in her wake. Rabi’a heard her resume her shrieks as Ang Lee turned and called out, ‘Dinnatime!’ before lunging and pretending to maul and devour her.
Rabi’a knew she ought to be checking the hives for excess honey to rob for the solstice and the brood box for pollen and nectar reserves for the bees in preparation for their departure and the shutting down of the hives. Sticky tendrils of guilt sought to ensnare her, but she brushed them aside and rolled out of sight pulling the bones she had found on the cracked riverbank from her pouch. She was fashioning them into tools and adornments. She had made a ladle for her mother from the ilium and a spear head for her father from the sacrum. Using her hair strands Rabi’a was weaving necklets. She used the spinous processes, interspersed with the seeds of Khadija’s favourite flowers as protective charms for her sister and was saving the incisors for herself. She hoped the gifts would all be ready in time for the solstice celebrations.
Although midsummer had seared the settlement, elsewhere on the planet some lay suspended between life and death in icy hibernation. While in the temperate regions others stirred themselves to life.
Moz didn’t do mornings.
Given a choice she didn’t do winter.
She snuggled further into the warmth of her blanketed nest. Nothing protruded, but still the chill smell of morning prompted her to her morning rituals.
Stretching, she padded gingerly through frosted grass, pausing only to relieve herself before crossing the barbed threshold to the paddock.
Moz moved purposefully to the first altar rock. Night’s drapes parted, colour bled from the east silhouetting the shapes and depths of the land. She sat quietly, eyes closed, centring herself, waiting for a sign. She rose with the morning breeze, scenting the gifts it brought, before lifting her muzzle and greeting her gods in the soprano song of her people. A brilliant ball burgeoned skywards from centre stage; uncloaking a panorama, the valley floor falling away before her.
Moz heard the echo of her dedication in the faraway prayers of other beings. Although not the same species, their beliefs entwined through the expression of their spirituality. As one the empathetic resonances of their devotions harmonised for a time, then faded.
Others looked at Moz askance, not recognising or appreciating the intricacies or purposefulness of her sacraments. To them, Moz’s rites were a foreign discordant noise.
Still swaddled in stillness, Moz crossed to the north stone and repeated her sacraments. Her heart swelling when bees underscored her song with their vibrating tenor.
In the west winged songed ones interwove intricate harmonies, and at the south rock, barrel chested hoofed ones lowed the bass line.
Glazed with the elation of her gods’ blessings she returned to the mouth of her den, dozing in pools pockmarked with Sun’s blessings before breaking her fast.
Seb’ha stalked, eyes fixed, languid sanguine limbs imperceptibly gliding. Abruptly she froze, melded with shadow, muscles taut. She knew she was downwind; how had her quarry sensed her? It sniffed for a time, ears twitching, head swivelling, finally resuming its repast. Seb’ha moved. Dropping to her haunches she flowed wraithlike. The sacrifice barely noticed its death. The air was still chill when, drooling, Seb’ha howled her thanks to her gods, the breeze acknowledged her appreciation and the earth fed on drizzled sacramental blood. Seb’ha devoutly began her feast and the sun was high when she was replete. She had been gifted the sacred altar cloth at the well and retrieved it now from the hollow beneath the altar stone, carefully laying the sacrificial bones upon it. Seb’ha was just considering a sunbath when distant sounds caught her attention. She turned her head and sighted something lumbering towards her before slipping seamlessly back into shadow.
Rabi’a stumbled, twirled again. Her family were on their migratory pilgrimage. Weary of badgering Rabi’a to keep up they had allowed her fall behind and catch to up when her foolishness was over. Food had become scarce now on the mesa. Nothing grew in this heat. The different family and cultural groups had shared their midsummer celebrations, eaten the last of the fresh produce and gone their separate ways until next spring. Rabi’a and her family carried air cooled bladders and gourds of water, hard grain bread, flour, dried fruits, fish and preserves. Soon they would reach the next well, shelter and altar stone. Perhaps here there would still be food to harvest and they could make their autumn camp, adding to the solar drier transporter that hovered along behind them like the ‘faith full dog’ of old tales. Rabi’a folded her arms and bent her head as her feet came together at the end of her dance. She stood for some time in prayer and thanks. Slowly she turned her head and saw her family, hazy silhouettes on the horizon. Pocketing her palimpsest she ran to catch up.
Seb’ha watched. She had intended leaving but was curious. The sun was setting. The herd was making camp and had not sensed her. They were larger than her last offering. Perhaps too large. She would have to break a small one away from the rest. There had been a straggler as they came in. Perhaps it was weak and needed culling. If so, her gods would be glad of her compassion for her last offering in this place.
Osa drifted into awareness. The earth was warming, not that it was perceptible within the womb of her cavern. As yet she couldn’t move but consciousness was returning and the deep sleep receding. Her dreams were fading. She reran them through her head to keep them from diminishing further, then committed them to memory. Osa had been held and kept safe by her goddess through the long winter. She must give thanks by recalling her dream visions at the clan gathering. Eventually her rigid body twitched slowly to life. It ached and cramped with disuse. She stretched gingerly. Slack muscles complained and she considered curling up a little longer. Osa’s growling belly prevailed though and she staggered free of her sarcophagus. Weak and blinded in her rebirth she waited.
As the sun fled it bled through the camp, conjuring evening breezes in its wake to greet and cool the Sufi sitting in meditative thanks. Rabi’a finished her prayers pulled on her cloak and left the camp with Khadija in the last light to gather firewood for the evening meal. They were both exhausted from their weeks of travel and today had been the longest yet. Rabi’a was glad that they had found their autumn camp with plenty of food and the well full. She hummed some of the music of the Sema as she collected kindling. Khadija was just tired and fractious.
‘I don’t want to. I’m hungry,’ said Khadija shuffling dust over her feet. ‘I want to be by the fire with mama and the others.’
‘Look Khadija, there’s a pile up there all together, see?’ Rabi’a said pointing. ‘Up there, under that tree. If you collect that and take what I have here you can go back to camp while I get that big stuff over there, ok?’
Khadija yawned and shuffled off but her pout still threatened rebellious tears. Rabi’a headed in the direction of the branches.
A shriek gouged the evening. Then the silence. Seb’ha muffled the sacrifice’s yelp, conscious that she had fallen short of her abilities. She had been over confidant and conceited in her skills. In her arrogance she had neglected her responsibilities to both sacrifice and deities. It had not been a clean kill. She went through the rituals woodenly and as she expected, received no recognition from the spirits. She left the mauled sacrifice bleeding into the earth and fled.
Osa pawed at the frozen earth, hunting for new shoots. The growling in her belly dominated and she sought to pacify it. She had found little food since her waking some hours ago. Entwined in the web of this harsh winter little had survived. She knew she had been blessed, but may soon join those that had departed if she didn’t have nourishment soon. Hunger gnawed. She had heard a bee earlier but failed to see it or scent the source of the hive. Honey would have nourished and energised. Sniffing the earth now for signs of life, Osa’s olfactories led her downhill to a copse where she tore at bark strips for meagre sustenance. This did little. She staggered to the river and sometime later roared her frustration at her weakness when she still could not break the ice, but only watch fish move teasingly beyond her reach. Her roaring had taken the last of her vigour and she fell, curled, waited; no longer hungry, she drifted. She dreamed she was at the clan gathering. They were feasting. Warmed by firelight and full bellies. Sharing their dreaming stories that all may share collectively the individuals’ wisdoms. Enmeshed in the humming warmth of belonging she dozed. She looked down and saw herself impassively. She felt ambivalence in leaving. Osa ignored the persistent tugging on the web, for a time clinging stickily to the threads that kept her anchored, then unreservedly turned and twirled away.
Rabi’a woke and for a moment was lost in her dreams. She was whirling. Her being filled with bliss and in that moment her feet lifted from the earth and she saw clearly the shared similarity of all things; was one with the revolution of electrons, protons, and neutrons within the soul of every atom. From the smallest cell to the planets and the farthest stars, she was participating in the shared revolution of all existence. She lay cocooned at the threshold of dreaming savouring the feeling. The camp was silent, but the sun was high, flooding through the access door and setting the curtained portholes of the ancestors’ house aglow. Rabi’a rolled contentedly to her side. The shadowed bedrolls of her parents and sister were empty. Why hadn’t they woken her? And then she remembered. The world spun dizzyingly. Grief shred her rapture. Guilt burgeoned. Rabi’a felt struck. Poisoned. Poisonous. Khadija would never again lie beside her as they slept. It was her fault. She had failed in her responsibilities to her little sister. She tugged at the unfinished necklet Khadija would never wear. Khadija was dead. Rabi’a had not kept her safe. Thrashing in the entombment of her bed clothes Rabi’a keened her anguish and her shame.
Seb’ha lay spurting arterial blood. Her last sacrifice to her gods. They had not been merciful. She licked feebly at her wounded side. A bee settled on her snout suckling moisture. She could hear the droning of the hive nearby. A net of weariness settled, there was no pain and she noted with gratitude that her offence had been forgiven as, with her dimming sight, she saw the breeze scurry towards her. Eddying around her body, swirling into a dusty willy willy it tenderly plucked her free and carried her spirit skywards as her body leaked its final fluids earthwards and Seb’ha released into the ecstasy of all that is.
In mid spring the heady scent of floral blossoms beckoned the bee onwards to the first altar rock. Ahead lay a hillock of fur and bone. Earlier that season in the mellow awakening rains, a seed from a carelessly discarded ornament had found sustenance in the composted mound, germinated and taken root. Mycelium fed rhizomes enshrouded the offering and webbed filaments pushed upwards supporting themselves on a ribbed trellis before brimming and budding across the earth. Now in full blossom, the nectar filled scrambler bowed under its own weight. When the bee alighted this extra burden pressed the flower stem against a button. A holograph sprung into being and a Semazen wraith whirled in the shade of a tree.