by Louis Bertrand Shalako
Gombhi sat at his grandfather’s side. The two of them were on the edge of a great cliff, looking off across the valley. Down below could be seen the glistening sphere where the newcomers lived, as well as the cuts in the land they had made with their beasts-without-legs. The two had walked up here in friendly, contemplative silence; although Gombhi was troubled by the grey hairs on the older cat’s muzzle. He also noticed, not for the first time, that his grandfather’s tail dragged in the dust most of the time.
He could remember a time when that simply wouldn’t be.
“Never accept the judgment of the mob, Gombhi,” Laughing in the Wind told him,
his paw on the young cat’s shoulder. “Truth is often lost by the will of the many. Do what you know to be right, even if you find yourself alone.”
“I…I fear, grandfather,” confessed Gombhi, trembling at these words, which he had never spoken aloud to anyone.
His grandfather nodded sagely, turning to look upon the youth’s troubled face.
Gombhi had never heard these words, or this tone before.
“I have never met a brave cat,” he said gently. “And for that I am truly grateful. You will never lead the Ni-Annanni into a war of our own choosing. You will never risk all for a goal that is unworthy.”
How to put it in words? Perhaps if he went about it another way.
“I heard that you thanked your mother, and your grandmother, for your upbringing.”
That showed a maturity beyond his years.
“Have you given any thought as to who you are, and who you might become?” he
Gombhi just shook his head in the negative.
“Before you command, you must learn how to obey.”
His grandfather paused in silent thought.
Gombhi heard the words, the voice no longer the strong voice of a young cat, but the shaky and soft wise words of the very old. The two stood silently with just the wind for company, and the land for their friend.
“I want you to take the two newcomers to the place where stones stand upon one
another,” his grandfather instructed him. “Show them where words are scratched on the
stones, so that they might see how even the mighty may be laid low, by history, by time, by fate. Show them how their own greed and ignorance may be their undoing.”
“Who made that place?” Gombhi asked his grandfather. “Is that not an evil place?”
“No one living today knows, but it is to be hoped they never return,” stated Laughing in the Wind. “As for evil; your heart is pure and that will suffice to protect you.”
“See,” said Gombhi excitedly. “The world is a ball — you can see it from any big hill.”
“But not everyone can see it, Gombhi. You look at the world differently, and it is your greatest strength.”
He felt his grandfather’s big paw, still strong, squeeze his shoulder.
“I will tell you who you are, Gombhi.” the old one said. “You will make a good
father. You will be honored to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves, the
children, the elderly, the women, the sick, the weak, and the cripples; and those people as yet unborn. Did I ever tell you about your father? In thirty-five winters, I never saw your father raise his voice in anger, I never saw him strike another cat, I never saw him lose control over his temper.”
Gombhi contemplated this awful truth. How could anyone ever live up to such an
example? And yet his father had been killed in battle, defending a fording-place while his warrior-brethren retreated in the face of superior numbers.
“Do not hate the Ti-Arranna, Gombhi,” his grandfather advised, “Seek to understand your enemies, and to avoid conflict with them. That battle was about nothing; a misunderstanding.”
The pair of them thought about that for a while.
“The most important thing a cat can have is his name. A cat must have a good
name,” his grandfather told him seriously. “Think on how you wish to be known.”
Gombhi had no words to answer this truth.
“After you show the new people the words-on-stone, take them back to their home.”
“Yes, grandfather,” muttered Gombhi.
“I cannot tell you, for words do not exist, just how proud I am of you, my grandson,” said Laughing in the Wind.
His tired old eyes drank in the scene of the valley, the desert.
“Why do you tell me all this?” Gombhi asked, his fears rising to the forefront.
“Because I am old, Gombhi. Because I am old,” and the old cat would go no further.
After some silence, his grandfather made a request, startling in its stark simplicity.
“Sing me a song, please, Gombhi?” the old chief asked. “Any song. Sing the first one that comes into your mind.”
Gombhi cleared his throat, and took a deep breath. He had one already.
“What is it that we mean,”
“When we say we know?”
“What is it that we mean,”
“When we say we mean?”
“Who is we?”
“And what is what?”
“What’s done is done,”
“What is, is”
“What will be, will be.”
“What little we know,”
“When we say we know.”
“The time has come:”
“It’s time to go.”
Gombhi’s words spun around on the air, falling off the cliff into the valley below.
The old chief grinned, nodding in approval; watching clouds gather across the valley.
“And to think I was worried about you,” he laughed.
The youngster was right; another few days and it would be time to pick up the village and follow the suns as they fell ever-lower in the sky.
Louis Bertrand Shalako lives in Canada. He studied Radio, Television, and Journalism Arts at Lambton College of Applied Arts and Technology in Sarnia, Ontario. Louis enjoys cycling and swimming, and is a lover of good books. He lives with his elderly father, in a small war-time bungalow filled with books, cats, and model airplanes. Louis feels extremely fortunate to have retired early, and to have the opportunity to write full-time. He still has his self-respect, and that's the main thing.