Chester met me in the forest as always. For some reason this spot was my entry into his world. The area looked almost like a circle surrounded by tall fir trees who’s bristles created a thick canopy shading this “landing” area rather sufficiently.
Chester wore his characteristic linen pants, and stitched tunic, and as was typical of him; his feet were bare. I hadn’t been to this place in months, very close to 8 months if memory serves me correctly. He did look a bit different from what I had expected, his hair had grown out a little and he had a noticeable blond stubble.
His clothing was soft and white and I began to look at the beautiful stitching, noting how elegant and simple it was. His golden hair glistened softly in the diffused light of the forest. We smiled at each other when we realized we were both looking at what had changed about the other.
“It has been a little while my dear friend.”
“Yes it has, i don’t know how to come here intentionally.”
“And I don’t know how to bring you here intentionally.” He said with a hint of sadness, “ You have arrived at a very special time.”
“Yes; now, come, for we haven’t much time to spare.” He took my hand and led me through the forest path. The winding path was familiar to me, and though I never had to walk through it myself, Chester always came to guide me. I wonder if I could have found my way through by myself.
We walked silently at first but not too far on our journey we began to talk about the townsfolk, about other lands in this realm and all the going-ons that I had missed. He told me he’d taken to sailing since I last saw him.
When we arrived at the clearing I saw it was nearly dusk. Ahead of us lay the field where Chester and I spent many a day having picnics and conversing, it still looked the same with wild flowers dotting the lush green blanket in red, yellow, purple and white. Beyond that was the village that sat below in a sort of valley and it ran all the way toward the sea which was glistening with bits of the sun, now steadily falling in the sky toward it. The village felt as though it was my home somehow as though it should be my home anyways.
“I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen the sun set here before, have I Chester?”
“No, I don’t believe you have, at least not like this anyway.” he replied to me as he gazed at the sky with some amount of cheerful awe, “He Chases her.”
I didn’t really understand what he seemed so inspired by, I thought he might be referring to the sun chasing after its fractured reflection in the sea, he knew my mind and I could see in his expression he was about to show me,
“The sun and the moon.” he said while pointing higher in the sky.
I looked up higher and realized the magnificence of what he was trying to show me the whole while. Not much farther up in the sky, perfectly lined up with the sun, was the moon! A full moon! It seemed impossible, the sun’s counterpart chasing right behind. But then again many impossible things happened here.
So astonished by the sight, I uttered a loud, exclamation of wonder, “Wow!” I could have stood there transfixed until the outcome.
“This happens but once every year, on this day, the sun will set and one half hour later so will the moon and there will be a night which we call, The Absent Night.”
I slowly turned my attention back toward him with a million questions at the edge of my lips, but he smiled at me and said, “Come now for we must be at the palace in time for the ceremony.”
It took some doing to get to the village and then another walk through the maze of streets. The sky was already looking darker and the sunlight was golden and bathing everything, everywhere. There are no guards at the palace or gates, or high outer walls. The Palace is within the village and it sits right at the edge of the sea and when we reached the beautiful courtyard filled with trees and flowers, Chester turned to me and held my arms near my shoulder, he smiled gently, “I must change into the ceremonial dress, go with Toren and he will help you with yours.”
He turned and began walking away; it took me a second to realize, “What? Me? I have to change?”
Without turning, he shouted back, “Yes, there’s little time, didn’t I mention you will be a part of the ceremony?”
“No?” I yelled back as he walked further away and all I could hear was his hearty laughter as he disappeared down one of the corridors.
Toren was a nice old man, everyone in the village wore medieval style clothing but it was somehow prettier and timeless. “This way please, young master.”
He led me to a nearby room and when we entered and he lit a candle, the first thing I noticed was how beautifully furnished it was. Prominent in the room was a great big comfortable looking bed, at the other end sat a great wardrobe, chairs and a lounge, there was a big desk with all the necessary items for working, It dawned on me that people here had jobs too. Writers, businessmen, bakers, etc. It just wasn’t what people seemed to convey as their identity. “It’s lovely isn’t it?” asked Toren.
“Yes, magnificent!” I answered gleefully and instantly feeling as though I lived in this room all my life.
“This is where you will stay if you like, young master.”
The room only had three walls, where the fourth should have been instead opened up to a foyer and past the edge was the sea. A truly peaceful and magnificent place, with garlands of pine and flowers hanging outside, chairs, and lounges and creature comforts wherever it might be needed.
The sun was lower in the sky now, I estimated probably 20 minutes from setting and the moon looked the same size and was not far above it. There were already a few stars twinkling in the sky and the sea was a bright orange color.
“Please undress young master here is your clothing for the ceremony.”
I was about 15 and felt very awkward taking off my clothing in front of anyone, and from my silence, I suspect that Toren got the hint and said, “I will turn if you please.”
“Thank you… it’s okay.”
I took off my shirt and shoes and pants and stood there awkwardly for a minute in my underwear as Toren brought the clothing. I felt very shy and did my best to cover myself up without looking like that was what I was doing.
He gave me the pants to put on which were very fitted and made of some kind of silvery silky material. they were very pretty and very comfortable. Then my tunic, and a little hat all of it the same silvery material. The clothing felt cool and wonderful against my skin. But there were no shoes offered, so I figured being barefoot was going to be part of the custom. Toren looked a bit worried.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, “Doesn’t it look right?”
“Well, yes except your hair is very unruly and the hat doesn’t fall quite the way it should, let me see.” He lifted the hat and set it down on the bed, went over to the dresser and came back with a comb. I took it reluctantly and walked over to the dresser and looked at myself in the mirror. There was a stone wash basin sitting atop the dresser so I dipped the comb in, then corralled my hair back and parted it. He took the hat and placed it back atop my head, “There now, it fits perfectly” he said, “And might I add sir that your hair looks very nice like this.”
“Thank you Toren” I said, “do i have to do anything?”
“Yes, young master, you and master Chester are a very important part of the events in this evenings ceremony, never you worry, you will be guided through the steps.”
“Can you give me a clue about what I’ll be doing?”
He went into thought a second and then said, “But then you’ll lose the joy of discovery young master.”
“I understand. I just want to do a good job.”
“You will. Now, lets go to the Grand Square, everyone will be gathered.”
I took one more look at the unbelievably beautiful room that was given to me for my stay here, and then followed Toren out into the hall.
The Grand Square was behind the palace and stretched out some way past the palace into the sea. Three of its four sides touched the ocean and it is large enough to fit at least a thousand people, and it certainly looked as though that many people were in attendance. Everyone was dressed very well for the occasion. There was a lot of joyful commotion and people held up banners and sang songs and laughter burst out like little bright explosions amidst the sea of people. Suddenly, almost magically I thought, the sounds faded into a respectful silence and that’s when I noticed the lady dressed in white.
“Enter child of Earth, come to the place of ceremony!” she said. I turned and looked at Toren nervously and then walked forward. He smiled at me trying to assure me again that all will be fine.
Set up in a large open area was a pedestal and two large gongs. There was a multi tiered daïs that went to the edge of the square to the edge of the ocean facing the direction where the sun, even lower now, was setting. A large and beautiful oak tree grew in the center of the square. It looked very old, its bark was turning grey and it was laden with garlands of flowers, in its branches were unlit lanterns. When i walked around the tree I suddenly noticed Chester waiting for me, smiling, he was dressed like me but his clothing was shiny and of golden hue. We then walked together to the daïs and stood next to the King and Queen. They were dressed in their royal clothing except that everything the King wore was silvery and the Queen wore a magnificent golden dress.
I began to realize that i might be playing the ceremonial part of the moon and Chester, the sun. I stood next to him nervously and we both now had our backs to the tree and were facing the setting sun and moon.
“Your majesty may we begin?” Said the beautiful lady dressed completely in white. She looked like a high priestess of some kind. Her head was covered with a white cap that fell to her shoulders and down her back, and the tail that went down her back was adorned in stitched symbols or runes in silver and gold.
The king nodded his approval.
“Thank you my lord.” She walked passed me and stepped to the highest tier of the daïs toward the sea then turned and faced the audience.
“People of the realm, People of the sea, prairies, forests and mountains, we gather at this time to witness our blessed Sun and her consort, Moon as they leave this realm to the sacred place of Ura-shantye-anisharapynda; The blessed Realm of the ancient ones. There they will engage in the mysterious ceremonies that we mortals cannot know to renew their promise to the universe and to themselves.”
She paused for a moment as the gongs were struck. “The Priests of old called this moment, the Absent night. For it is a night absent of her Majesty’s consort, ever reflecting her glory as she journey’s to other realms that require her renewing and life-giving energies. Tonight we reveal the secret passed through the ages, given to the first King who was so beloved by the sun that she gave him a piece of herself to always keep him and his people safe.”
A series of gongs chimed and now the sun began to set behind the sea. The gongs continued to chime as the sun dipped completely and the sky appeared brighter just for a moment while the last rays of sunlight faded away. Now there was just the moon setting.
Suddenly there was a fanfare of trumpets! The gongs chimed once more and the King and Queen stepped forward. They shimmered in the kindling of sunlight and the now stronger moonlight and as they walked forward, two children approached them with seashells that contained a material that was on fire like candles in their hands.
“Earth lords, we bring to you this gift of light from the great sky mother, the Queen of all! So beloved was the first father of your line that this secret was given to him, her most deep secret, that of life.”
The King took one of the shells, and handed it to the queen, and then took the other. The Children, a boy and a girl, turned and walked back to the crowd. The king and queen faced each other now and then turned to the moon.
The Queen spoke first, “Great father! you were given this fire by the mother of all because she loved your goodness and brave heart so much she could not bear the thought of your discomfort and suffering when she traveled to Ura-shantye-anisharapynda.” She smiled at me, “And with this you created the Kingdom of love and made certain it would stand the tests of time and earth through out the ages. When you were certain your people would be safe for eternity, you joined your beloved queen and became her consort. Thus you are set in our sky, reflecting her majesties beauty through your silvery face. Your chase is rewarded one night every year, on this night we show you that we have not forgotten what you have taught us great father, and we will be safe as you go to be with your beloved queen.”
Now the King began to speak. “My cherished people, we have learned the secret of life from the first King. Now he awaits our sign to go with ease to the ancient lands of Ura-shantye-anisharapynda. The Children came once again, now holding two unlit seashells and the King and Queen touched the new seashells with theirs and they burst gently alive with flame. The children once again went into the crowd and very quickly, lights began to shine through out the audience as people lit their candles. Then the palace became bright as the torches and lights inside came on, and then the village and then the edge of the forest and the mountains. As all this happened the Moon quietly set behind the sea and the people applauded.
I didn’t notice anyone light the lanterns in the branches of the old tree but they were now glowing too. It was utterly beautiful. Someone’s hand touched my back and I noticed it was the priestess. “Blessed Children it is now the time for you to light the lanterns.” I looked up at her and then at Chester. “Just do what I do.”
Chester took my hand and walked up to the king and queen. Gracefully he said to them, “Lords of earth, we present ourselves before you now.”
The King looked at us and spoke, “You do not carry the fire of life, where are you from children?”
“We are the two that are one, star children, mortal and immortal. We saw a faint light from our place in the heavens and it led us to discover you, our unknown kindred.”
Now the Queen spoke, “The light you saw is the fire of life, and it was given to us by our beloved mother of all, the sun. We share with you the fire of life so that you may live as we do and be blessed.”
Chester looked at me and with his eyes indicated that I should go and get the shells. I stepped up to the King and Queen and took one of the shells, the one offered by the queen, and Chester took the other.
“Thank you benevolent lords, we accept this gift from you and show you now our gratitude. We reveal to you the secret of the universe. This life fire which you give generously to us we now share with our brothers and sisters.”
The King and Queen parted and there on the pedestal were two lanterns. We walked over to them and carefully lit the flammable disks balanced inside them. My lantern had an image of a crescent moon and Chester’s that of a sun. The lanterns began to glow and then when it was time, they lifted up away from our hands and began drifting away out toward the sea. We walked back to the Dais and joined the rest of the Royal family and the Priestess.
“They are beautiful.” I said to Chester as we watched the lanterns drift higher in the sky. He held my hand and just then into my vision came more little lanterns floating over our heads, I turned around and there were thousands and thousands coming from all over, from the mountains, the forests, the prairie, rising up and chasing the first two. The sky was a light with dots of light! People began to sing in a beautiful chorus and as they sang the great oak tree seemed to glow on its own. A beautiful bluish green light surrounded it.
The singing went on for quite a while and when it finally quieted down, the king and queen took the top tier of the Dais and the trumpets began to proudly, gaining everyone’s attention. “Now, let us rejoice and celebrate for all the revelations of the Absent Night! We give thanks for our many blessings!”
Suddenly you could hear bands strike up from every direction and people started laughing again and dancing seemed to spontaneously commence through the square. The smell of food came into the air as well! Chester and I danced several times, little jigs that we made up and arm in arm twirling around. I danced with the Queen and she asked me about my family and friends back home.
I could scarcely remember or imagine a time where I had more fun, and time seemed to stop for most of the night.
When all was quieting down and the revels continued elsewhere, I found Chester sitting on the edge of the square with a goblet of wine next to him. I sat down next to him and when he noticed me, he smiled a huge beautiful smile.
“Hello boy.” he said.
“Hello sir” I said.
He smiled. “Do you ever wonder how I always know when to go to the forest to meet you?”
“You sound like you are drunk” I said with a disapproving tone.
Chester seemed puzzled by my observations of his state.
“This, oh yes, you don’t drink do you?”
“No, but I suppose I don’t mind if you do.”
We laughed, “Well I’m glad I have your permission my dearest friend.”
I looked out at the beautiful starlit sea and said, “I just always figured you feel something in your stomach, or felt a tingle in your heart or brain.”
Chester smiled and laughed a little, “I do feel all those things, but only after I see something in the sky.”
He came closer and put his arm around my neck and drew me closer to his face, he then pointed in the sky, “Do you see those two stars next to each other right there?”
I looked up at two extremely bright stars, “Do I see them? I don’t suppose they are easy to miss, they are very bright!”
“The one on the left is visible even in daylight, and something you will never witness because it depends on you is, the second one, the one to the right, it does not shine except when you are here. And it becomes visible just hours before you arrive, every time.”
“Yes, really. We all know you are going to visit when the second star shines. I am told that the first star appeared the night I was born.”
“When was that?”
He blushed and smiled a little, “Tonight.”
My eyes widened! “It’s your birthday? Happy Birthday!”
Chester beamed and looked down with a tinge of shyness in his face, “Thank you.” He looked up at me again and with a strange look on his face said, “Now my dear friend the hour grows late and you ought to be in bed.”
“What? I’m having so much fun though! Can’t we stay up a bit longer?”
“You may. In the time it takes us to walk to your chambers and for me to tuck you in. How about that?”
I mumbled rather disappointed, “fine.” But I could already feel my entire body becoming heavy and my mind shutting down.
We walked to my bedroom, I changed into one of those long shirts that people used to wear to go to bed and Chester helped me to put on a nightcap. He set his seashell down on the dresser and mine next to his, and they flickered dimly now.
I was about to climb into bed but he half whispered, “Wait, just one more thing, come and sit in this chair a moment.” Then he brought over the stone wash basin and set it on the ground in front of my feet. He took my feet and dipped them into the surprisingly warm water, after washing them, though the water never got cloudy he dried my feet and he led me to my bed. He tucked me in, I could remember thinking that the bed was so comfortable and immediately I started to fall asleep. I remember him kissing me on the forehead and stroking his fingers through my hair, I heard him say, as though whispering it, “I don’t mind it combed like this, but I prefer it the way you usually have it.” I barely mumbled my reply, “I’ll remember that…” before I blinked out of consciousness.
When I woke up, I was back in my bedroom in my pajamas. I really wished that I had woken up in that ancient and magical place. It felt so real; I couldn’t believe it was just in my dreams. What comforted me though was that whatever was causing the dreams, it wasn’t the first, and I felt there would be many more adventures there.