Image: "The Story Teller" by Rima Staines. www.rimastaines.com/www.hedgespokenpress.com
This is the opening of the novel "The Other Land," by Marie Goodwin. It has been a labor of love for almost three years. The story is a gift to me, for it comes from some other place -- a creative well or source -- that has bestowed itself on my mind unbidden and demanded that I write it. I hope you enjoy this teaser.
It is said by the Bandrui that a dream is a door without a key. While that may be true, a story is also a door without a key, and can be walked through again and again, unlike dreams. We can revisit the far-away places in our stories at will, and memorize them so that we can share this door with others throughout our entire lives, enriching the lives of all those who come our way.
I have a story to tell. There are so many ways to begin a story. I’ve told this tale dozens of times since we first settled in this land, some thirty sun-cycles ago. And as I look over the faces of the Pennacook and Duhare alike gathered around the fire in this longhouse, I ask myself where I should begin.
Should I tell of my birth, of my mother and father and grandmother, of all the grandmothers before her to carry the name Bandrui? Should I recite their names? I could describe the land of Erenn that sits far away over Mother Ocean toward the rising sun. It is the place where I was born, a place of impossible beauty, a place so green with life it would take your breath away; a place where the animals are tame and live among people, and offer their lives and their pelts willingly. I see in your eyes that you don’t believe me, that such a thing can be true. Are not wolves and crows tamed by our hands sometimes?
I am old and tired though, and the story is long, so I think I will begin with the dreaming. I was nearing twenty sun-cycles then, still in training at the hand of my grandmother so that I might attain the Three Illuminations. She was known by many names then: Manya the Knowledgeable, the Ollam Bandrui, the Woman who Turns Back the Streams of War. She was the greatest teacher, seer, and healer of her time. And with this great woman as my guide, my world was one of contemplation and the honing of memory. I was not only intent on my studies, but also participated in the healing of those in my community. And there was always so much work to do on the land. It was never-ending, much as it is here.
But a great deer-woman in a dream spoke to me, and it continued to come until Manya sought answers by walking the spiral. The rest of Erenn outside Cruachu — for that was the name of my home — was caught up in a never-ending struggle for control over the land and to expel the foreigners who sailed to Erenn from the north and never left, killing our men and trading the women and children into slavery. But our primary concern was to discern the meaning of this dream, so bright in my mind, and insistent with its message.
It is all so far away now. It seems almost like another dream to me. But I will recite the story, here, during these cold winter nights when stories keep us as warm as the fire. Fix this story well in your mind, for it is my last telling. I will not live to see another spring. Oh, you can't be surprised. I am older than a person should ever grow to be! Even my children are old and grey and my grandchildren have grandchildren. I recognize my time is growing short here, among the living, because my dreams have stopped. The Gods refuse to talk to me for the first time in my life. They no longer have a need to keep me focused on my fate, so they have abandoned direction and comfort for me and wait to call me to their side. I sleep better for it, and welcome still nights and days untroubled by visions. So heed me. I trained many of you in the art of memory, and several of you have attained the Three Illuminations, as I did before you. You must pass the learning to your children and grandchildren. You should tell this story to them, as well as the stories you learned from me and from Aga over the years about all of the Gods — those of this place and of our homeland. They have so many faces, but instruct us to take similar paths. Tell as many people in this wondrous land who will listen. Go to them if they will not come to you. Become the story. Use this knowledge to understand the world, and it will guide you home.
My story is one story of many. I tell it here with the hope that one of you will return to Erenn with the Four Treasures, since I failed in that task the Gods set before me. Perhaps one of you can make right what the Gods promised and then, in the end, denied to me.
My grandmother Manya once said to me of story, “This story is alive in you and, from you, will be alive in your daughters and their daughters. Learn the lesson of it well, and ask it to guide you when the path is obscure or when strange times assail you. It will guide you home." I now say this to you. Use this story, all of my stories, to guide you home.
In the coming nights I will ask you to walk through this door of memory with me. I am opening it for the last time, and there is no key. Do you see it now? It is here and waiting for us all to enter together.