Yeseph sat on a bench in his courtyard, head nodding toward his chest. All around him the gentle sounds of evening crept into the air. The sun had slipped behind the hills of Dekra, and though the sky was still a brilliant blue, streaked with orange clouds, long evening shadows cast the clean-swept courtyard of the esteemed elder into deep gloaming.
Beside him a young laurel tree rattled its fragrant leaves in the fitful breeze. The feathery notes of a lilting melody drifted over the wall and fell into the courtyard like delicate petals of a flower. His cup sat untasted near his hand. He sighed heavily.
There was a slight pit-a-pat and the rustle of clothing, and Karyll, his wife, was beside him. Yeseph could feel the warmth of her presence as she stood looking down on him.
“My husband is tired from his day’s work,” she said. “Dear one, awaken. Our evening meal is ready.” Her voice was as light and soothing as the breeze that played in the tree.
Yeseph raised his head, and she saw his eyes gradually take in his surroundings as awareness returned. She saw the deeply etched lines of concern furrow his brow and crinkle around his eyes. He smiled when he saw her, and she noticed that it was a sad smile with no light in it.
“Husband, what is wrong?” She waited for him to tell her.
“I have had a dream,” Yeseph explained simply.
“And your dream has troubled you, for it was a dream of darkness instead of light.”
“How much you women see. Yes, it was a dream of darkness—a vision. I saw . . . ,” he began, and then stopped. “No, I must not tell what I have seen just yet. I must ponder it in my heart for a time.”
“Then you may eat while you ponder. Come. Your supper will be getting cold.”
She turned and padded back into their dwelling. Yeseph watched her go, thinking how lucky he had been to find one so wise and understanding to share his old age. He breathed a prayer of thanksgiving to Whist Orren for his good fortune. Then he raised himself slowly and followed her in.
As they lingered over their meal, Karyll watched her mate closely. He did not eat with his usual fresh appetite, but dawdled over his plate. In the lambent glow of the candles on the low table, Yeseph sank further into pensive reflection. Twice he brought a morsel of food to his mouth only to return it to the plate absently.
“Yeseph,” Karyll murmured gently, “you have not eaten well tonight. Your dream has upset you. If you will not tell me, perhaps you will tell the elders instead.”
“Yes, that is what I must do.” He got up from his stool at once and went to the door, where he paused and turned toward her, his form a dark silhouette against the evening sky. He seemed suddenly to come to himself once more. “I am going to call together the other elders. We will meet tonight. Do not wait for me, my love. It may be very late.”
“I do not mind. I have some work with which to occupy myself while you are gone. Now, away with you. The quicker you go, the quicker I will have my Yeseph back.”
In an inner chamber of the great Ariga temple, Yeseph waited for the elders to join him. It would not be long, for he had sent runners, three of the young men who served in the temple, to fetch the other Curatak leaders. He had merely to wait for their arrival, and the meeting could begin. Yeseph busied himself with lighting the many candles that stood on their long holders around the bare room.
In the center of the room, four straight, high-backed chairs sat in a circle facing one another. When the candles had been lit, Yeseph took his place, folding his hands in his lap in quiet meditation. In a few moments the curtains that overhung the chamber’s entrance parted and the familiar form of Jollen entered, smoothing his council robes.
“Good evening, Elder Yeseph. Your summons saved me from quite a distasteful chore—I had promised to begin translating a song for some of the children.”
“That, distasteful? Surely, you do not mean it. If you do, perhaps it were better you went back and got right to work.”
“Oh, do not misunderstand. I love the children and would give them anything. But the song they have chosen is of the old Ariga dialect. A very dreary piece about an unhappy youngster who is changed into a willow because of his complaining. I tried to persuade them to choose something happier, but their hearts were set on this one and none other.”
“You will be better for it in the end, I am sure,” laughed Yeseph. “An excursion into the old dialect will sharpen your wits.”
Jollen made a wry face. “If I did not know better, I would suspect you of having put them up to it. It would be just like you.”
The next to enter was Patur, the unofficial leader of the group. It was he who most often took it upon himself to inform the Curatak of the elders’ decisions in matters of public import. He was a most able and influential orator and often led the worship in the temple. He was well studied in the religion of the vanished Ariga.
“Greetings, my learned friends,” he said, adjusting the robe he had just donned upon entering the chamber. His eyes gleamed in anticipation of the evening’s work, for, whatever it was, it would involve him in close communion with other sharp minds, a thing he dearly loved.
“Greetings, Patur. Thank you for coming along so quickly. We only have to wait . . . ah! Here he comes now.” Yeseph nodded to the curtain, and Clemore, the most recent addition to the group upon the death of Asaph, the oldest member, entered, bowing low.
“Good evening, brothers. I pray you are well.” The others nodded, and they all took their places.
Yeseph looked from one to the other of their familiar faces. These were his most trusted friends; yes, Clemore was right: his brothers. He could tell them his dream, and they would shoulder the burden, no matter how small or great it would prove in the end. He felt better just being in their presence and wondered if any of them ever felt the same way about him. He supposed they did, as often they had sought his counsel singly or with the others. Now it was his turn to put a problem before them.
“Good Yeseph, do not keep us in suspense any longer. Tell us what disturbs you, for I see in your eyes that your spirit is distressed by something,” said Patur.
“You are right; I am troubled.” He paused as he collected his thoughts and looked at each of them in turn. “This evening I had a dream. Very brief it was, and very strange.”
“You believe it to presage something of significance?” asked Clemore.
“And have you an interpretation for us?”
“No, that is why I have asked you to come here tonight. I thought perhaps together we might seek understanding.”
“Very well,” said Jollen, “tell us your dream as it came to you. We will ask the Most High to enlighten us with its meaning.”
Yeseph nodded slowly and, closing his eyes, began to recite his dream.
“I had just stepped into the courtyard when a great drowsiness came over me, even though I had not eaten. I quickly fell asleep where I sat and began to dream. And the dream was this:
“I saw a river running through the land, and wherever the river touched the land, it sprang forth abundantly with green shoots and trees and food for all living things. And the water was clear and good; men came to the river’s edge to drink, and the wild creatures drank and were satisfied.
“But then a dark storm came out of the east and began to blow. The river still ran, but the water began to change, becoming the color of blood. At first just a trace of red clouded the clean water, but it deepened until the water ran black and the river became foul.
“Now no one could drink from the river and live; men who drank of it died, and animals too. And all the trees and grass and flowers which had sprung up along the river’s banks now withered and died. The land became desolate, for all things depended upon the river for their life. The winds came and blew away the dust, and dust filled the air in great clouds, covering the land, and the river dried up.”
Yeseph paused, drew breath, and continued. In the silence of the inner chamber, his words sounded like the toll of a bell.
“Darkness fell upon the land, and I heard a voice crying out. It was the voice of a terrified child, saying, ‘Where is my father? I am afraid. Where is my protector?’
“The darkness rolled up in answer to the child. It spoke with the voice of the night and said, ‘Your father’s bones are dust and scattered to the winds. Your protector’s sword is broken. You will live in darkness all your days, for now you are a child of the night.’
“I wept to hear those words. My tears fell like a mighty rain upon the earth. And the rain of tears washed over the land, which had become a bowl to catch the tears and hold them all.
“Another voice, mightier than the first, called out and said, ‘Where are my servants? What has become of those who are called by my name?’
“I answered, saying, ‘I am here, and only I—all others have perished.’ I fell on my face in my grief.
“The voice answered me and said, ‘Rise up and take the bowl and pour it out.’ I took the bowl in my hands and poured it out, and it became a sword of living light which flashed in the face of the darkness, and the darkness fled before it. ‘Take the sword!’ the voice commanded.
“I began to tremble all over, because I knew I could not take up the sword. ‘I have never touched a sword and do not know how to use it,’ I argued.
“Then give it to the child,’ the great voice answered. ‘He will use it, and you will guide his hand.’
“But when I looked for the child to give him the shining sword, he was gone. The night had swallowed him up, though I could hear him crying as the darkness carried him farther and farther away.”
Yeseph opened his eyes once more and looked at his brothers in their council robes. They sat unmoving as they pondered his words. Their eyes were grave, and their faces reflected the concern they all felt at hearing Yeseph’s dream.
“Brothers,” intoned Patur deeply, “this is a most unsettling dream. I hear in it a warning of some urgency. Let us now ask the Most High to guide us in our interpretation, for I believe it is given us this night to oppose the power of darkness bespoken in the dream.”
At that the elders of Dekra joined hands and began to pray.