A Tale of the Fourth Lichaf
Of the Life of Eudo the Wanderer
Those who have never seen the Siwali Desert often assume that it is empty. A desert, they think, is nothing but large, hot region of sand. Admittedly, such places do exist. But there are also plants in the desert, and a few forms of animal life. There are people in the desert, as well. But one popular notion rings true: water is precious here.
With patient focus, the Naja man sharpened his sword against the rock. The rock was three feet tall, with the symbol of Naja painted on its side, marking the space behind it as the Naja homeland. By sharpening here, instead of elsewhere, the man reaffirmed his tribal loyalty. To his back lay a Naja encampment. To the west lay a Rodi encampment, with a similar stone marker on its eastern border where, no doubt, similar men sharpened similar swords. To the north-northwest lay a oasis, which held rocks without symbols, and space without people. The oasis was lush, at least by desert standards. It held many kinds of plants, and insects. And among these there was water, bubbling up from an underground spring. The Naja man stopped for a moment, and stared in that direction. Then he returned to the sword.
The tribes of Siwali are not nearly so primitive as is popularly believed. Their laws, though typically unwritten, are well-known and well-followed. The oasis in question was considered a meleki, an unclaimed region, formally belonging to no one. Tradition held that melekis were the property of the impoverished. If a tribe, for whatever reason, was forced from its homeland, it held the right to travel to the nearest meleki and live there. If it became possible to return home, the tribe was no longer considered impoverished, and therefore it would need to either abandon the meliek, or defend it by force.
The previous inhabitants had been people of the Veln tribe. But, after 2 years of exile, they had finally returned to their homeland. This was a happy occasion for the Veln, but it meant only bloodshed for the neighboring Naja and Rodi. They both desired the oasis, and they were far too proud to share. Soon, both tribes would march on the meleki, and both of them would surely leave corpses, but only one would mark its symbol on the rocks.
I stood in the distance, eying them both. How strange, I thought, that a practice steeped in charity could lead to violence. I turned South, intending to leave them be. Strange indeed. If there were no oasis, then all would be satisfied; neither is desperate for water, they only insist on having more of it than their neighbors. Or, if there were another needy tribe, then it could claim the oasis, and all would be satisfied. But there is none. A strange thought occurred, and I stopped. I looked back towards the oasis.
As the sun approached the horizon, both tribes began marching. With time, they grew close to each other, but they did not turn to fight. Neither would fight, until they had crossed the meleki’s borders. They were like two forces of the same army, marching on the same point. But the only point they agreed on was mutual distrust. That, and the laws of Siwali.
I had no love of public speaking, but there was no way to avoid it.
“Halt!” I cried. For I had gone ahead of them, and hidden among the trees.
I stepped forward and held up my hands. “I claim this land under the laws of Siwali! I forbid violence of any kind.”
They stopped. A claim to the laws was a serious matter. If my claim were found valid, they would listen. If not, they would surely kill me. And then they would kill each other.
The Rodi leader responded first. “Who are you to lay claim under the laws?”
“I am Eudo the Wanderer”
There was a murmur among both groups. I produced shinons to demonstrate my power, not as a threat (for they could have killed me anyway), but as proof of my identity. They could see my skin, too. They knew I was telling the truth.
“I have heard of you, Eudo. But you are not Siwali, you belong to no tribe.”
“My tribe is the Geo Mandre.” I did not show it, but it hurt to mention the name.
The Naja leader spoke. “Geomar is not part of the desert. The Geo Mandre have never lived by our laws.”
There was a murmur of agreement. I had feared he might bring that up.
“But we have never harmed you,” I replied, “nor your brothers, nor any other people in all the world.”
“I understand, and you have my sympathy, but-”
I barked fiercely. “We have suffered enough! We have no home! Would you deny us even the meleki? This is the law of Siwali: that any tribe, if it be driven from its home, shall have the right to choose a meleki and settle there until the danger has passed. Tribesmen, show me your honor!”
There was some feeling of shock. I was insulting them, but it was the only way to persuade them.
The Rodi leader spoke again. “You are only one man,” he said, “you are not a tribe.”
“Such is the magnitude of our suffering!” I snapped, “such is the greatness of our need!”
There was a long silence. I was near tears.
“My people, if they yet live at all, are few and scattered and homeless. I beg you, grant us refuge! I ask for no charity from either tribe; I ask only for the meleki!”
I fell to my knees and cried; I had not expected to be so passionate. I was embarrassed, in a way. Somehow I felt it was unfitting to weep.
Apart from myself, all was silent. All of them watched me; no one moved. Finally, the Naja leader stepped forward.
“I grant it to you.”
And it was done. The Rodi quickly agreed. The tribesmen sheathed their weapons, and marched back to their encampments, in the South.
I sat upon the ground, with a strange feeling of exhaustion and bewilderment. Perhaps the act of telling others had made my sorrow fresh again.
I watched the tribesmen go. Among these, as it is among most, each person had many others to call his own. Everyone had a tribe.
This is the order of the world
That the flowers be with flowers
And the birds be with the birds
And the scorpions with kin
And men, too, shall have their place among men
I looked at the oasis, at my “tribe”. There was no one, of course. No one but me.
I wondered if the tribesmen would ever realize the truth. I had only acted to prevent bloodshed. I personally did not need the meleki, and I doubted that my people would need it either.
The dead do not need much.
But still, I thought, we have a meleki. I suppose that means something.
And in that thought, I found a little speck of happiness. We had a haven now. We had a home.
I painted our symbol on the side of a rock, as the sun disappeared in the west.