“When the serpent is slithering inside, you will know it, but only with the gift will you understand how it lives and how it dies.”
That’s where she always began.
Like many women before her, Nattymama passed down a legend to all who would listen. There were those, of course, who would hear but would not heed her words. Others listened and they would find their rewards.
On the spring equinox at the precise time that winter turned to spring, Nattymama dusted off a tattered scroll and read aloud to the children in the center of the village. Her account began where the castle now lay in ruins to the north of the village on a small rocky mountain. She told her tale as if it happened only yesterday—or for that matter, might just happen again. Her story was known to many as The Legend of Sirok.
As a young boy, Elias sat front and center and listened to Nattymama, his grandmother, bring to life the events she traced back a thousand years. He hung on to her every word. Getting through the scary scenes took all the bravery he could muster. Keeping one eye closed during some scenes, he patiently waited for his favorite parts. He couldn’t get enough of the battle scene as well as how the story ended. For many years to come, he would hear her voice in his head just as if he was listening to her story for the first time. Oftentimes he thought of the legend’s conclusion and its meaning.
“Centuries ago,” Nattymama said, ending the story as she looked out to the faces around her, “a lightning bolt hurtled upward from the center of the Castle of Sirok. The beam split the clear sky. It was then that the thunder rumbled like a stampede of a thousand water buffalo as bloated clouds the color of dried ox blood gobbled up the open sky. All was dark—motionless. One moment passed and then another, but on the third tick of a clock, sheets of rain began to pelt the kingdom. This wasn’t like most storms. Moments later, it was clear the downpour had washed away what contaminated the gilded kingdom.
Not long after the rainstorm, curls of black smoke billowed from somewhere near the core of Sirok. The huge flames cast an eerie glow on the naked kingdom. Hours passed and the flames subsided. Still masked by smoke, the sun eventually shone through misshapen holes in the black blanket. With little warning, what was left of the suffocating smoke vanished, letting more threads of light reveal the stone structures high on the mountaintop. Without so much as a smoldering ember, Sirok was reborn.
A bird sang followed by another. The water was clean and the air was fresh. The buildings were bright and the roads led freely in and out. The people saw each other in a new way and smiled.
Filled with joy, the warrior mounted a horse and rode down the rocky path that few dared to travel. At the foot of the mountain, a hundred or so villagers looked on like zombies. They said little as they witnessed such chaos only minutes earlier turn into something new—something altogether different from what had stood before.
As the young man grew visibly larger to the masses, the only sounds one could hear were the pounding of the hooves drubbing on the rocky soil. Thump, thump, thump! The warrior raced up to where the people gathered and yanked on the reins much to the displeasure of his faithful steed.
‘What the evil one seized, the people of the kingdom have reclaimed. With this newfound will, we are now free and have washed our hands of our needless guilt. We have nothing to fear as we know who we are.’
The people before the warrior were a field of statues who said nothing, much to his surprise.
‘Don’t you see? Our misguided ways had become a way of life. We believed in the wrong things but it is a new day for us—and you— as we are the victors.’
‘So where is he? The evil one?’ a man shouted from the crowd.
‘He is victim of his own undoing and sealed his fate in the eternal fire of his own making,’ said the warrior. ‘Our resolve is golden.’
An old woman shouted, ‘But sir, what on earth will become of those poor souls who lived in the kingdom?’
‘Oh, dear woman, you do not understand me. They are free. Free! Their own spirit will make them whole. Sirok will never be the same. For those who come to know Sirok, to truly know it, will be forever changed.’
The warrior looked down to his finger that bore a ring that sparkled in the morning light. He thought of the boy who gave up one treasure for another and he raised his chin with confidence. He gazed out to the souls who stood in silence and abruptly tugged on the reins. The stallion reared back on its hind legs and then, galloped at top speed up the rocky mountain.”