Chapter X.

14 Jun

“I am a seeker of truth, wherever it can be uncovered,” Ranid said to Tadige one evening in the latter’s cottage.

The young fugitive described his disillusionment with the leaders of the Salamandrites.”There is terrible hypocrisy in their higher circles, I have witnessed it with my own eyes. It is a discouraging situation.”

“No one anywhere can carry out and fulfill the highest spiritual ideals,” asserted Tadige. “Whether of one denomination or the other, no human can reach the highest pinnacle. That is impossible for even the best of us. You will understand that as you grow older, my friend. But we must never despair of progressing, or stop learning more about the odyle and its visible face in this world.” He stopped for a time, then resumed again. “Have you ever seen a prosoponic mask?”

The young man admitted that he had not.

“I will show you mine.”

The host rose and moved to the back of the cottage. He then returned holding a bright green object in his hands.

“This mask, given me by my father, has been passed on for almost two hundred years. So, this is a very old symbol of adhesion to the Anuran faith. And these masks, shared by the oldest families, have a deep meaning. When this is put on and worn during a holiday, it stands for a prosopic union of the odyle with our sacred frog. It makes us think about our own prospective union with the highest spirits when our lives come to an end. This is the face of an odyllic frog.

“Some day, when you complete long studies, you can be granted a prosoponic mask of your own. But the requirements are very high and demanding. Do not cease, my boy, until you win your own mask.

“The best way to reach that plane of achievement is by entering one of our coenobia, the special settlements of those seeking enlightenment. That is the path I hope that you take, Ranid. It will lead you to sublime illumination in both your mind and your spirit.”

Yes, the visitor meditated. That has become my life’s dream, too.

Ranid realized that it was no longer only a matter of finding a safe haven. His goal now transcended personal security. There was within his mind a growing thirst of curiosity about the faith of the Anurans. He saw it in a light never experienced by him before. Though still occupying a Salamandrine base, he was starting to explore uniquely different spiritual territory that held an unexpected fascination for him.

He had become an explorer in territory that had earlier seemed alien and unfriendly to him. His Salamandite education had taught him fear and revulsion toward the people who had befriended and sheltered him.

His view of the Anurans had been completely reversed through contact with them. He now identified with them and the lives they led.

There was no warning the morning that the patrollers in orange uniforms arrived. They went from cottage to cottage, asking questions about any strangers seen. A half dozen drawings of criminals’ faces were shown to the inhabitants of the clachen. No one made any identification, although one countenance that was pictured was a quite familiar person. Everyone kept silent about it.

Ranid received a message in time, so that he succeeded in hiding on the far side of a local lagoon. He stayed there in a swamp grove till dark, when Tadige came to inform him that the patrollers were finally gone. He could now return to the spare cottage he was using, for the time being.

The two men discussed the grave situation as they walked back to the clachan together.

“Someone reported having seen a stranger some leagues away, moving in this direction. For all we know, it might have been some other person, but not you. There are always people fleeing into these parts. The patrollers were trying to confirm the rumor. All of us said that we had seen no one and knew nothing. We have no traitors in our midst. All of us know you and cannot consider you a criminal. We recognized the charge against you to be false.”

“What was it, may I ask?”

“The accusation was nonsense about embezzlement from an archive. You are supposed to have taken some historical documents away with you. But we can all vouch for your honesty, if we had to. I take it that the Salamandrian officials are the ones persecuting you.”

“That is the truth, Tadige.”

The pair came to the cottage where Ranid was staying. They halted, facing each other.

“What shall I do now? They will surely be back here. Has the time arrived for me to travel onward?”

“If you are to leave us, it must be quickly. There is no time to lose, for your safety.”

The swampman stared through the darkness at the fugitive. “I believe you should go to the district centrum and find refuge at the Anuran fane there. I will accompany you and introduce you to the missioner in charge of the templum. He is a person of solid integrity and can be trusted. But your departure for the centrum must be tonight. There can be no delay.”

“I must pack my things at once, then,” said Ranid. “It will take me only a little while to get ready. I will, of course, miss you and the clachan all my life.”

The two stared at each other in silence for a moment.

“I have preparations to make for our night trek,” smiled Tadige. “I shall return here in half an hour or so. Then, we go to the centrum to hand you over to Frater Joal.”

Ranid did not happen to ask why his companion carried a backpack. It seemed to be an empty one. Not until they reached their destination did he learn what was in it.

After hours of treading swamp trails, the district’s central village appeared.

Tadige, leading the way, stopped and turned toward the second man. He spoke to him in a soft, intimate whisper. “I have something in my pack that I wish to give you. It will remind you, in the future, of your stay in our clachan. My hope is that it will also encourage your further study and advancement in the faith I hold.”

He bent over and removed the backpack, placing it on the ground, then opening the flap.

Ranid watched him in awe. What was this about? Then he saw what Tadige pulled out for him to see. It was the ancestral prosopic mask with the frog’s face.

“I cannot take that from you,” stammered Ranid. “It has been in your family for generations, for many years. Who am I to go off with such an heirloom?”

The swamper gave a laugh. “I have too many sons, and cannot possibly leave it to all of them. So, if you take it as our gift, much brotherly strife in the future will be nicely avoided. Do you understand me? Taking it will be a favor to my family after I am gone. Do not insult me with a refusal.”

“Very well, then,” said the wanderer, taking the green mask in his hand.

Tadige helped him to store it away in the large backpack, where he kept the two diaries from the Archivum.

Traversing a swamp grove of dense trees, Ranid occupied his mind identifying the regional birds he had already come to know. His sharp eye caught sight of the fabled lovebird, the ortolan, lorikeet, spotted peetweet, peahen, perdix, trichoglass, and brush-tongued lorry. I have become a traveling birdwatcher! the fugitive told himself. Indeed, this journey of escape to safety had allowed a number of noticeable transformations in him. All of nature now seemed to have meaning as its infinite aspects revealed themselves to him. Why had there never been this wide interest within his mental apparatus? Everything seemed fresh and crisp. His senses were newly born, with unprecedented impressions making their way through them to his innermost mind.

A black and green tree snake stuck out its lengthy tongue from an encinal oak, frightening an olive brown and blue kea to take instant flight into the cloudless sky.

Ranid avoided stepping on a testudo, seeing its grass-colored tortoise shell in time.

As he carefully proceeded onward, his nose caught the strong odor of a fraxinella bush. But within only seconds there came the pleasureable scent of a spicebush.

In the short time until the two left this area of trees, Ranid noted fiddlewood, devilwood, basswood, and satinwood. He had learned to distinguish them accurately by individual traits.

But, from time to time, his thoughts returned to his future course.

How was he going to span the gulf from his Salamandrine past into a different type of existence? Where was this quest of his taking him? Curiosity was propelling him on an unpredictable path impossible to chart ahead of time.

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