The City at Sunrise
“You have done well, my love.” Essie did not look at him, but continued to face the roaring surf. Random could just hear her words over the sound of the waves.
“Why didn’t you wait for me?” He pleaded in exhaustion.
“I have been your guide here. We cannot talk here my love we must go eento the city to a place I know.” She spoke flatly and her voice faded in and out of the waves hiss a weak radio station through static.
She rose and walked steadily down the beach. Random struggled in the soft sand trying to step in her tiny footprints, to glide as she did without success.
In the distance the golden brown walls of a great city glowed in the sun’s crescent that had just begun to rise over the glistening waters beyond the breakers.
As they walked the light around them strengthened and shadows stretched toward the immense arched gate, golden doors thrown back the light catching warmly on the raised figures of fantastic animals and people dressed in flowing robe swimming in a broad river. Random barely had a moment to gaze in awe at the fine metal work at the hinges the size and shape of muscular giants whose arms held the door, but hurry on he must as Essie passed them without a side glance, moving with a steady pace as if she were familiar with her surroundings and had no time to waste.
Random staggered, exhausted through the narrow, rock-strewn, maze of the ancient city. Essie walked ahead, carefully avoiding the piles of dung and puddles of scum covered mud. Random missed most of it by luck, but every now and then his foot landed in either mud or dung. As they made their way through the confusion of carts, horses, people in robes, hooded and chanting gently, clamoring children, sad mangy dogs and a diversity of fowl and chicks pecking at the spaces between the road bricks. An old raggedy woman sidled along calling, “Stones and bones! Stones and bones for your fortune.” Whirling motes of dust twisted down unpaved alleys. Stale and disturbing smells and sounds assaulted him.
Essie stopped at a corner and waited for Random to catch up.
“Show me the map. I tink we are close,” she said as she held out her hand impatiently. Random shrugged a small pack off of his back and dug around inside, and produced a frayed and tattered square of paper. He unfolded it. It was covered with patches of bright color and a grid of lines. Essie studied the map, every now and then looking up to confirm something. She turned toward and got the attention of a young woman with a baby strapped to her back. They spoke in a language Random had never heard before. The woman pointed across the intersection and made a few quick gestures, but said very little.
“Deesway,” Essie said handing him back the map and pointing into a maze of alleys.
She immediately crossed the street, while Random struggled to fold the map, stash it and get the pack up on his shoulders as he started to follow her.
A group of burly youths came romping up pushing and jostling like puppies. They were dressed hooded shirts and loose pants covered in bright yellow, purple, and deep blue in complex web designs. Large curved knives glimmered at their sides tucked into thin leather straps. They pushed past Random almost pushing into the rough red brick wall that enclosed the alley. They obviously found Random amusing as a couple of them turned and smiled making comments to a companion, laughing as they bounced into the distance.
Essie led Random zigzagging through the maze of alleys for a while. Just when Random was about to ask for a minute to rest, she stopped at a doorway. On the arch above was carved a crescent over a pine tree.
“Dees ees de place!” she said with a smile.
“Oh, good. I was thinking I would have to collapse out here in the street,” Random responded his spirits lifting a little.
She pushed through the door, Random close behind. Essie quickly strode across a courtyard, which was littered with pieces of scrap wood and tall deep shelves filled with jars, large polished stones, and boxes of various sizes. There were also many barrels upright and fallen haphazardly scattered about. Random scurried behind Essie at a nervous trot. A large dog with a head the size of a lion’s dozed in a patch of sun. It was chained to a post that did not look as if it would hold such a beast, but the dog took no notice of them.
Essie started to push through the door on the other side of the courtyard when Random grabbed her wrist.
“Shouldn’t we knock or something? It’s not like they know we are coming.”
“dey knew we were coming before we deed.” She smiled and touched his cheek tenderly.
He shook his head doubtfully.
On the other side of the door there was a long hall with many closed doors on either side. At the end of the hall they could see a doorway and a ways further a deep red brown wall with the patterns of sunlight reflecting off of water glimmered in ringed and shifting patterns.
He followed Essie quickly down the hall.
In center of the room was a square pool on which lily pads floated. In the middle sat a turtle the size of a manhole cover, its head was tilted up into the sunlight. Its eyes were closed.
Random flopped down on a bench carved with ornate figures of cats and snakes and fish all intertwined in a dark red wood with swirling grain.
“Ahhhh. . . “ the turtle groaned, “My children you have come just in time.”
The turtle spoke each word like a complete thought with force and clarity. Random’s entire mind snapped to attention, the fog cleared out. Everything seemed clear and bright. Essie sat cross-legged in front of the turtle.
“Yes, Random deeid well, but eet was a lot to ask of such a youth.”
The turtle nodded, “We must all do what we can. You have both done well, but now I must lead you to the Prozantia, the great tree at the center of world so you can wake the ancient sleeper.”
“I know we must, but I am not sure why, oh wise one.”
“He is the only one who knows. We must trust in old knowledge to make the new way.”
“Yes, you are right, ancient one.”
“I saw the great tree,” Random interjected softly, “It filled the valley on the other side of the mountain I climbed.”
“Hmm,” the turtle adjusted his head slightly in Random’s direction, “To see the great tree takes a lot of desire and courage, but to get to it you will have to be patient and come to the edge of your hope and will.”
Essie turned back toward him, “You weel try with me, no?”
“Of course, anything with you,” he answered, “I am sorry I gave up on you. I didn’t know how to stay with you.”
“I left you, sweety,” She said through forming tears, “Eet was I who gave up on you. I am sorry, too, but we are together now. Let us not geev up on each other again, OK?”
“OK,” as Random answered a great golden swell of warm love welled up from in him. He felt like the passion was gone only love came out from inside like a soft shining.
“You are ready, my children,” the turtle bowed his head. “Go out the door and follow the path to the tree. You will find it now.”