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9. Contemplation

Updated: Dec 18, 2020



The approach to the master can be made by four straight roads, each terminating at a table-like mountain. Pilgrims tend, when close to the mountain, to stretch their heads upwards and examine the upper reaches of the peaks. There is, unlike those Greek monasteries you have seen, no large complex at the top of the mountain; pilgrims who follow the spider-like lattice of the rope bridges to the top of the mountain are greeted by a small wooden hut. Despite its size, the hut impresses because it glistens like the sleek coat of a fine young horse. The walls of the hut are decorated by elaborate ideograms and spirals that cannot be traced to any point of origination. Professors from the academy have made repeated requests to study these forms, but each request has been denied. The master, who sits in contemplation in the hut, is well aware that there is danger from the academics. Each time a request is made, even if it is accompanied by an elaborate offering, he shakes his head and becomes demure. Afterward, he has been seen to shuffle to the well. Here he ladles water into a small bowl, gulps it, and then spits in a wooden dish. Observers do not know why he does this, but it is said to be connected, in some way, to the grail that was brought to the mountain from the white islands a long time ago.

Clouds obscure the mountain for about half the year. The men in the villages below say that it is the breath of giants; and the children know when the first clouds appear that this is the signal for the autumn games that will soon begin. During these games children dress as monsters and mildly terrorise the neighbouring villages until, at last, a man wearing a beard, usually the oldest man in the community, arrives to offer the children sweets from a deep burlap sack; such ceremonies, in different variations, are familiar to us in other forms. An old woman told me that she saw the man of the mountain, the master, high up by his hut watching the games one year. I find this hard to believe, since this is the very time that the mountains are swaddled in clouds and, besides, the top of the mountain is exceptionally high. How could this woman possibly see up there? She grins at me when I gently object: “You men, you only see with your eyes; but we women of Cheminois see with the other eye.” She tapped the side of her basket in an enigmatic way when she told me this, and then waddled off towards the market.

This way of thinking is not uncommon among the villagers around the mountain. After all, it is a magic mountain and so we must expect magic things to happen there; but it is still difficult for us city people to accept that this is how life is around the master. This man’s presence is felt as soon as you enter the valley where the mountain lies; it is as gentle as water tension. The master would never intrude upon a person, but some report that, when fights breaks out in the local taverns, a glowing orb will appear over the participants and split them apart. One man, menaced by a dagger, was saved this way.

Did I reach the master? I knelt before him. Nobody else had made it up the path that day. My only companion, an elderly German professor, had to turn back. I cupped my hands before the master, and he landed water into the hollow of my flesh. I raised my hands to my face and rubbed the water into my eyelids; when I did so, colours exploded in the darkness. I kneaded the water until it had dried. When I opened my eyes and looked up, the master had gone. I could see through a small hole in the hut towards a far mountain range.

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