Monday, 21 December 2009

Sun Return

Sun Return
(A Tale for the Solstice)

It was cold, and a soft flurry of snow had drifted across the settlement, lightly dusting the rooftops. Ayesha's knuckles ached with the cold, and her joints felt stiff. Life was a struggle, she reflected, as she trudged across the hardened earth towards the greenhouses.

The greenhouses were doing well. They had salvaged glass, and metal frames, and built them in the summer. They were the key to the difference between mere survival, the subsistence economy, and being able to begin the slow climb back to civilisation. But, she thought, as the wind bit savagely into her face, there was still much drudgery and painstaking hard work to be done.

Nearby, on the other side of the hill, lay the ruins. This was the legacy of their civilisation; a source to pillage for items which could no longer be renewed. How far they had fallen, she pondered. All the shining metal toys, all those wonderful gadgets, now all gone, or useless with the limited power available to the community. They had salvaged a small generator, powered by the icy winds that swept across this mostly barren land, but that was all.

Would they return, Ayesha pondered, as she watered the plants. Or would she live and die here, bones buried beneath stones, for the ground was too hard to dig in winter time? Yet green shoots did grow, their farming was beginning to flourish, and the earth, enriched by the earthworms with which they had seeded it, was turning into a rich fertile loam.

The watering was done, and she returned to supper. By the smoky glow of the burning oil, the family sat in silence, and ate hungrily the warm stew. And then it was time, this day, the festival of sun return. They left their cottage and joined the other families in their small settlement, and climbed the hill top. At the top, they stood, and looked out, down the steep cliffs, across the roaring spray and waves, as the ocean reflected the bright moonlight, and dark seabirds flew high, casting giant shadows onto the white foam.

Idris, eldest man of their community, took the taper from a candle, and lit the bonfire, as was his right. The soft orange thread moved slowly across the wood and leaves, growing, until bright yellow flames flared out in the night, and smoke soared above them. Then they began to chant the tales of old, of how Prometheus stole the sacred fire from the gods. After that, there were even older stories, of how this world began, with light flaring in the dark, so brightly that it was painful to watch, and how they had lost their green and pleasant land, and now had to toil with the soil to restore their lost Eden, and make their slow return.

And there were songs, of green hills far away, of shining streets, and royal cities, and love unknown, and dancing when the earth was young, and they sang in glory at the memories come alive. Then Idris took bread, and broke it, and they all ate. And then stood, holding hands, in the dark, beside the embers of the dying fire, in silence.

For this was the shortest day of their year, and the darkest night, and that was why they had climbed this hill. And the time was very nearly there, and the most precious and sacred telescope was passed from hand to hand. Ayesha took hold of it, and placed it to her eye. This was the hope, the sun return, and she was filled with exhilaration and a fierce joy!

As she peered into the mass of stars, she could clearly make out a golden yellow speck, twinkling so many millions of miles away in the vast ocean of the night. She lowered the telescope and passed it on, looking down in the moonlight, at the great silver wreckage of their star ship, and wondered if her children would return to their home, their sun, and walk again on green fields; a memory they kept alive now only by the festival of sun return, and the songs of distant earth.

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