Of War and Peace

‘She, bundled in the rags of desperation, was set in a woven basket and sent to the skies’

There once, eras ago, was born a child. It was a young girl, the last to be born in the age of the elders, who was cast out into the wild to save her from the merciless snare of war. The bitterness and the tension flowed between the people as if it were a vapour in the air. Not a single person truly knew the origin of this divide. They knew only that it was of the same tarnished gold as the apple of Adam’s garden; as ancient as the very roots of our existence. No matter which side offered a truce, another would take the opportunity to seize a small victory. This petty fighting led to mass destruction, across the lands, and the seas, and the skies. The clouds were rife with screaming shells, and the seas turbulent with the beetled exteriors of ships. War crawled on its belly across the dusty wasteland of a broken utopia, dragging irreparable damage behind it. All hope had been lost, until the birth of the child. She, bundled in the rags of desperation, was set in a woven basket and sent to the skies, carried by the ballooned fabrics of old world homewares, catching the air and taking flight.

Day and night passed, watching as the child was carried far from home, the only set path decided by the forces of wind and weather. Time slipped by, as it always does, and eventually, from the tremulous force of the sea – the inky nothingness that consumed the earth thousands of feet below, grew a paradise. It appeared to be completely untouched by war. The weary tide lapped at gleaming beaches, the undergrowth fringing a new world where the hushed chatter of nature perpetually sang throughout the forests as if there was no such thing as destruction. The winds traversed the earthy green of the mountainside, taking the child with them. All it took was the malicious bite of a heavy cloud and she was dropped atop a rocky ledge. She cried, alone and hungry, surrounded by the wilds of a stranger place, distressed by the penetrating silence that came from a warless nation. It was then that, as her cries rumbled across the valley, a nomadic traveller came to the path passing by where she lay. He approached the wreckage of the balloon and searched beneath the heap of material, inside the splintered basket, until his fingertips met the supple skin of an infant’s hand.They travelled together, and he fed her with the milk he took from the roaming cattle and with the fruits from the trees. Never before had such a young pair of eyes encountered so much of the world. With the discovery of her voice came infinite questions, and the nomad found himself struggling to answer so many, running his calloused fingers through the greys, rusts and umbers of his beard in an attempt to contemplate the things she wished to know. The eventuality came with the sighting of the coast, polar to the one she had come from. It was then, standing shin-deep amidst the immature waves and staring out to a horizon that surely held the answers that both girl and nomad came to realise that her journey did not end there. They sat on the beach for a time, delaying what had to be done, revelling in the warmth of a fire and ignoring the clear sky that told them ‘the time is now’. Eventually, from his pocket the nomad took a drawing. It was that of the air balloon he had found her in, and as a child comes to realise the origin of its existence, she came to realise the origin of hers. With that they set to work, gathering wood and washed up old world treasures until all the necessary parts lay stark in the sand. As piece connected to piece, a storm brewed in the girl’s chest with the weight that came from an imminent farewell.

Nevah – that is your name and it has been since you came to this place. You are destined for greater explorations; you will know the greens of other forests and the calls of other native birds. You are destined to know more of the world than I or any other traveller has. Never stop asking the questions you have asked me, and never stop searching for the answers.’

With that, they embraced, half between the fighting blaze of the fire and the shadow it cast of them. There was a moment of sweet agony, that of a parent letting go of their child and then it was over. With the waning of the moon she was returned to the skies to travel onwards, in search of where she came from. All she had that let her know that time was passing was the count of the stars and the motion of the clouds. Beyond that there was only darkness. When she awoke, to the salty wind of the skies above middle-sea, she could see land far in the distance. It had taken no time to come across this new place, and as she was drawn closer an icy horror set in her stomach. She could see smoke billowing from the earth like a phantom from its hiding place. The dirt was saturated with the decay and grief that war had left. There was a presence that shrouded Nevah as she and the balloon passed into the mists of the ghost plains. This time having the wits to land her vessel, she began slowly killing the flame that held her aloft and she meticulously dropped bags filled with sand and earth to keep the basket steady. Then she watched the black island draw nearer beneath her. She felt as if she was being consumed by it.Leaving the basket behind, she looked around, squinting through the dense air, grimacing past the bitter taste that it left on her tongue. It was a wasteland, a barren desert of ash, completely void of life. Trudging through the residue of a lost society she searched for any sign of life. There was none. Eventually she fashioned a shelter for herself, found a source of fresh water in a pool not far off the coast and tried not to wistfully think of the Eden she had come from. It was a dreary sight – waking every day to the desolation that her own people had brought upon the world. She couldn’t even begin to understand how such a thing had begun, how one man looked upon the face of another and felt a burning desire to hurt him. Perhaps we humans aren’t quite as humane as we like to believe, she thought. For days and days she continued living in this fashion, finding fire wood where she could and digging past the soot and ash to find dead roots to eat. They were sweet and earthy, but nothing like the fruits she had grown accustomed to. Mapping the immediate area around her became her only task, as she did not know where to begin in continuing her journey. It seemed like there was nothing but the monotony of a dust land before her, and she began to wonder whether the feeling she had felt unmistakably in her chest while standing knee deep in the ocean at the shore of her home had been wrong. As Nevah crossed the plains back to her camp she followed the wiry line of russet earth she had made a trail from using the bags from the balloon, the heat rising from beneath her feet, and pounding down on her from above. She looked to the horizon for any sign of a direction, of an answer. Then she felt, against one of her toes, a small but rigid thing pressing into her skin. It wasn’t like a rock, it was fleshy yet smooth. Her eyes flickered downwards to identify the culprit only to discover a tiny shoot, emerging from the earth like a miniature flag pole, claiming the land for the future. It sprouted from the small amount of home soil she had brought with her, and she smiled because with that shoot, that life, she knew this unfamiliar place too could be called home. Kneeling down, dirtying her knees, she scooped away the crust of dead earth and soot and ash to reveal, in the heart of the ground, rich soil. For the next few moons she worked at this, from dawn to dusk, exposing more and more of the world beneath from which new life could spring.Then she began to travel, and new life followed her across the land like a streak of green paint from a brush. As she journeyed she came across other people, survivors, who she taught to do the same, pulling back the blanket left veiling their homeland by war to show them visions of a future. Many shoots began to grow, villages were formed and people came together as if finally emerging from the abyss of the tragedy that had befallen them. Nevah became known to people everywhere as she continued her work with the same determination filling her chest that she had felt staring out across an azure ocean, standing beside the stranger who had given her life and who she had called her father. She hoped somehow he could see the change happening. She hoped he knew it was because of him and she ached for him. The leaves and the shoots were buzzing with Nevah’s life and eventually she knew it was time to settle, and to allow time to do the rest. A vast expanse of ramshackle homes making up the last settlement she had come across became her waking vision every day, that and the people she lived with bustling to and fro, the dark times completely absent from their minds. She was filled with happiness knowing that life went on in the way it had, but deep inside her she felt sad for how her people had forgotten the harrowing trials that had ended only years before. She wished someone would remember, that people didn’t ignore it in the way they did.

Not long after Nevah fell in love with a man from the village who was kind, and funny, and clever, and remembered everything she remembered. They would lie deep into the night, beneath the stars, recounting the tales of before the war and, on particularly dark nights where barely any stars peeked from the clouds, they told tales of during the war, when all was fear and evil. Somehow the privacy of such memories made them all the more meaningful. And, just as life goes, they got married and made a home together and did what married people do with a sense of profound loyalty so that it is a wonder marriage doesn’t physically bond two people as it does their souls. Then, on one of the stormiest nights of the year, through the thick, livid air and rain, the cry of a baby could be heard. To them had been born a baby girl, part of the new generation who knew nothing of the war, and her hand lay softly in the grasp of her mothers. Again the feeling of woe filled Nevah, that her daughter wouldn’t remember the bad times as she did, wouldn’t learn or understand so profoundly the hardship her people had gone through and recovered from. Gazing into the gentle, blue eyes, at pink cheeks, she stroked the soft downing hair on her baby’s head. The thrash of the thunder outside, the tent lighting up with the electricity of lightning and moisture from the sky surrounded them. Nevah thought, and remembered and whispered to her baby smiling,‘Kiani – that is your name and it has been since you came to this place. You are destined for greater explorations; you will know the greens of other forests and the calls of other native birds. You are destined to know more of the world than I or any other traveller has. You will know this new world better than I, and you will also remember the old one.’

There sat, mother and daughter, cradled in the sheets and arms of the father the way a family should be, one bearing the name of new, the other that of ancient, suspended in the storm that both mimicked the terror of war and washed away the stains of it. They sat, safe in the knowledge that looking to the future is eternally in our nature, however a lesson will never be learned, and a means for a better tomorrow will never be found unless one remembers the past, what is gone and ancient, and what should never be forgotten.

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