He looked up from the fire to see the frame of the Tawa man leaving the copse and walking towards Parker’s bivvy. Outside the bivvy he crouched next to two other Tawa men, one of who rose and went under the woollen canvas. After a brief time Parker emerged and spoke to the three, scratching his beard and looking around the Herd. His eyes settled on the Older Man, and accompanied by the Tawa man from the copse, he picked his way across the field past the sleeping or prostrate forms. Parker sat next to the fire and asked, “What is ‘goal’?”
The Tawa Man leaned forward, “Nah, ‘gold’.”
“Gold?” replied the Older Man, “Dunno. Why?”
“This Ocker, he says, ‘keep you damn gold bastard’ many times before he pass out.”
“Gold?” He looks at Parker, “I never heard it.”
“Yeah.” Parker states as he stands. Before he turned away he looks at the Younger Man, “Get you and the slingers. Before dawn the Tawa men will take you near Tahi Bay.”
The Younger Man nods to Parker, who lopes back to his bivvy and crawls inside. Turning back to the Older Man, he asks, “What happens at Tahi Bay?”
“You wake them Ockers up boy. A few stones kill their sentries, make some noise. Harass them, make them jumpy. Works well.”
The Younger Man nods, then looks across the field to where some more Jonsville Men are sitting around a fire or sleeping. The turns back and asks, “Why these Ockers come here? Why not stay in their country?”
“You know the tales boy. They haven’t changed.”
“Tell them again so I remembers them well.” He smiles, “Who knows what tomorrow brings?”
The Older Man breaks a wry smile, and rising onto his aging legs, lifts his arm and raising his voice he says, “This is the Tale of the Harrowing! The Tale of the End, and the Beginning of all things!”
A few rise from other fires and walk nearer, and some who were lying closer sit up to hear. A voice replies, “The End, and the Beginning!”
He looks to the edge of the field and sees a sentry standing on a low rise, framed by the thousand souls of the departed rising to cross the bridge of the sky.
“There was a day when all people lived the lives of Gods. Their hearths were never crowded, their villages never dark. A day when food was plenty, and none went hungry. A day when sickness was no fear, when crops never failed. A day when death was a stranger to the people.
“On that day all grew old as a crone, all grew withered and grey, but all stayed strong of body and mind. The people grew older, and older, and older but they stayed mortal, and boredom was the great enemy. They called their young before them to always dance, to sing. Their lives were easy.
“But old is old, and people still feared the great killer, the cold. And fearing the cold they lit fires to warm each other. Great fires in their hearths and fires on their paths to light and warm their way. Their great houses had stone walls and stone roofs, and hid they hid to ward off the cold, they huddled and feasted, watched their children and counted their days .
“And there the Lying God found them hiding, and he fed their fear of his brother the Sky God. Our God, the moody Sky who brings rains and winter hail. The people heard the Lying God, and they build their fires higher, and the smoke clouded the sky, and still he lied, and the fear became madness.
“But the Sky God, he saw smoke and worried for the people. Not knowing the tricks he brought light rains to wet the fire. But when he brought rain, the people heard the Lying God, and the fires were heaped higher and higher, and the the Sky God rained, then stormed.
“Soon, the water filled streams, then rivers, then harbours, and still it rained. Then waters began to rise. Slowly, slowly they came up, rising to the doorsteps, then to the closed doors, then to the closed shutters.
“The flood destroyed the houses of the people, destroyed the crops, drowned the animals. Feeling hunger for the first time, the old people saw what they had done. They thought they had been abandoned by the Sky God, and in their fear and anger they fell upon one another, first blaming, then hating, then murdering.
Then the first Ockers took to boats. The Harrowing was a wicked, dark day. The Ockers brought their Lying God to this land, and he ate our people in his hunger, emptying the souls of people and flinging them in the wind in handfuls, and like leaves in the Spring gales they were raised to the sky. It was the End of day of the old people…
“And now their souls walk from edge to edge of the sky every night…
“But without death, there is no life, and with the End came the Beginning. The old people were too weak to fight. When they were all dead and gone the young woke, turned on the Ockers together, drove them into the sea and ceased the killing.”
The Older Man, raised his arm again and pointed to the sky, “The End and the Beginning.”
A low murmur ran through the Herd, “The End and the Beginning.”
The Older Man whispered, “Is it Death? It is Life.”