Something Sacred - Caela's Story

Something Sacred: Caela’s Story

"I am an old woman," she thought.

The image appeared before her of the wasting away of time, waves upon sand. Then, a parade of dioramas, scenes on a storyboard, acts from her life.

"Very early on, it was like that. A play of images to watch, hear, feel, uncensored, undefined awareness."

Cross-legged, in softly hued flowing dress, barefoot, straight-backed on the wooden floor, she mesmerized her audience. Strong, simple words and resonate imagery effortlessly sent forth capture them.

"I am who I have always been. I have followed an impeccable path to this time and place. At each juncture the awareness has arisen to guide me through enough of the journey to find what I needed. For the greater part of my life I had no consciousness of this process. Now I see the path before and behind leading inexorably. I happily share whatever is asked of my vision. Come, see with me, as far as you choose to go."

The children playing in the garden outside of the transparent wall of her classroom showed no sign of interest of concern, involved in their energetic game. Had the visitors not known their story, they could have seemed merely a playful backdrop to the old woman's magical poetry. Had they not heard the stories, though, none would have travelled to this place to experience the magic.

It was a story that started long ago, almost, as the poets say, in the mists of time. Perhaps a branch of the prototypal story of mankind, the beast who tells histories intermingled with legend, but the woman's current tale was not taking them back that far.

"I was born in a shining city to a family of honored position in a time of peace and plenty."

She almost sings. The images show a heavily stylized, idealized sketch of the thriving city. The child she had been smiled from a window of a well-appointed home. In her background were happy, smiling adults, gracefully yet busily attending to their day. They saw a well-loved toddler's happy memories of a time when all was sunny and calm.

For all children, as they grow, life gets more complicated, less monotonally bright (or dark). By the time this child was big enough to carry herself on sturdy legs, her whole world had tragically changed. Her family was no longer honored, but castigated and cast out, part of a fearful, resentful, barely provisioned exodus of close to two hundred of varying ages and walks of life. The image of so many sad, bedraggled, carrying what they could, learning to succumb to a strange lifestyle of movement, preparing and sharing simple meals in unbroken fields, learning how to travel as nomads in the woods.

Even those who had some knowledge of this history, maybe even knew those who had seen it, been part of that time, had never thought about how it must have been for those unwilling bitter exiles thrust from comfortable, normalized lives. Those were not the memories of the city they had grown up in. Common knowledge was that those exiled were sneaky, dangerous possessors of secret power, unfair advantage, unable to be trusted. It was the goodness, the kindness, of those in charge to exile rather than imprison or (as some few expressed the necessity, to execute), or allow to remain until they died out, only at the lowest level of society, unprivileged to bare young.

Such were the choices offered in the panic of that time. It was kindest to cast them out, require them to travel by foot for months, to keep moving until they were far away from sight, mind, influence. There had been unfortunate incidents. Not murders; murder is a word for destroying one of one's own. The threat was both palpable and realized, strong enough to send so many from their homes out to the unknown.

Some, if they hadn't been discovered, braved it out. They pretended to be as those who considered themselves normal. They became very careful to exactly fit in, not expose any cause for suspicion. Not an ideal way to live, but a way to stay alive without losing property or position.

It is a newly dawning revelation to these visitors. This horrible, evil talent that forced the exile and brutal deaths of these reviled people was the wonderful magic they experienced now. It was the same gift given by this wise old woman whom they had travelled to see.

It occurred to some to ask, and one did: "Do you hate us for what was done to you by our elders back then?"

"Look into me, child," she responded, opening freely to those who would see. "There is no room or cause to harbor hatred for a tragic misunderstanding. It did lead me and my people to becoming who we are. Hatred is a shield of fear. Shielding fear keeps it from effective expression that will allow it to safely dissipate. Fear has something important to tell us. We are better off to listen intently. It will go on its own once we work out useful solutions to what fear has warned us of. If we don't learn that, fear can become a brutal master, when all it wanted was to be a humble servant."

The graphic story emerging with the words evoked a terrible vortex of pointless destruction, a cowering monster reduced to shameful tears, sputtering its flame.

The old woman closed this session with an offer for individual counseling after a break for refreshments and contemplation. As the visitors were led away, she herself turned inward to contemplate those twists and turns in her path that stood out with fond memory.

"Who am I, this particular organization of actions, ideas, experiences?" She thought, again, ready to take in the object lesson of the memories stochastically evoked.

There had not been much time to be a child. Mamma was so sick after unnamed baby sister died, after the long march, the exodus. It was a family image mind to mind of people walking, straggling, bodies unused to such forced exertion moving inexorably. Dejectedly, humbled, humiliated, they travelled mile after mile from their erstwhile homes to land far enough away that the good folks of the city need never think of them again.

That time took its toll on many families. Daddy tried to explain, to answer questions she was too inexperienced in life or language to ask. He tried to calm her, the panicked images she projected soothed by his message of strong, gentle love. Eventually she felt secure in his message that their life would be as they made it in these new circumstances. Mostly he seemed happy to be busy, working with the other able-bodied adults to build sturdy shelters that would, with familiarity over time, become homes. There was so much to do, to make that new life far from what they had known for themselves and the children to come. The few children among them mostly did what they could, helping and learning from their elders as children are meant to. This was not a community of leisure where children could be idle play things to dress up, show off, complain about and cuddle. She never thought to miss that version of childhood. Busily living is not conducive to missing irrelevant alternatives.

She could feel the presence of the small frightened creatures that hid from her in the woods. It was easy to find one simple mind and hypnotize it with projected imagery. The creatures would respond from a place of which they had no awareness, the way fish are unaware of water or humans are unaware of the chemical stew bubbling out commands through our bodies. Calming the creatures, she felt a sympathetic calm, helping her to learn correspondences between the feelings within her and others. People were more complex, but also more familiar. The problem was more in keeping the separation along with the intimate connection so she could find the way in to help, to heal, without being overwhelmed or trapped in the shared pain. That was part of her problem in trying to find her way into a healing position with Letta. Her mother was too much a part of her, too easy to get lost in the sharing and fall forever to no one's benefit. So far, at least, the delicate balance escaped her abilities. Again and again she was made aware that she was still a young child with a great deal to learn about, well, everything. Children often feel an urgency to grow up, to become smart and important like the grown-ups who inform their world. She didn't feel frustrated and impatient so much as willing, willing her self to absorb the knowledge and skill she needed.

But it was not all like that. There was so much more to being a child, including the everpresent possibility of pure wonder, pure joy, great exhausting laughter, strong arms to lean into and feel safe.

It's not about where we are or what we have. Children don't start out with expectations, but with simple basic needs and a readiness to make what sense they can of whatever presents itself as their life.

Old Caela watches young Caela at play, from a great distance of time and circumstance. Memories, experiences, that came between separate them. Old Caela recognizes the child and that they share secrets from which she can still learn, take a special kind of comfort, see a shining thread of something she wants to call truth.

There were other people back there/then, bound up in who she was, who she has become. Now she is happy to pick out their voices in this visit to her past, her child mind.

Her memories drifting, focus in on Maris, strong hands, open caring face. "Singer's mother, but in so many ways a mother to me." Maris had taught her to sew, a strangely relaxing use of her hands and so practical for keeping garments in repair. She did not have Maris's talent, nor her daughters', Singer's sisters, for the magic of the cloth. She did not seem to have the necessary patience. She did enjoy those times of womanly intimacy among Maris and her girls, sharing reminiscences, studying together in their conversation worlds of ideas and discoveries. The instance that occurred to her now was from when she was of the age still a child but starting to become aware of the intricate charms of romance. Puzzled by what was not evident from Maris's reminiscing, she had asked:

"Why aren't you angry, bitterly angry, when you speak of Aron? He betrayed you, deserted you and your children to keep his happy easy life."

Aron had been Maris's husband, father of her girls (but not Singer), back in the city, before the troubled times that marked her community's history. Aron had left Maris rather than be exiled with her. He was not of the marked group except by marriage. The marriage had to go, not him.

"There is no need to annoy myself with anger." Maris had pointed out. "He is the one who has missed out on this life, caught in the intrigues and unfortunate values we left behind. He is quite angry, ashamed, disappointed with himself, and does not have me to help him sort out his frustrations and confusions. I must admit, looking back, that a good part of why I was attracted to him, why I married him, was that he felt so needy at a time when I was consumed by the need to be needed. Having kids makes that nonoptional, puts it into immediate focus. Aron's needs were no longer so important to me. Now, I'm not sorry that I loved him. I am sorry for him for giving up on himself, what he could have been if he'd ever really believed he could. When we're young we take so much on faith in the future to make up for our ignorance."

That was the kind of thing Maris would say. It all made sense in her clear, deliberate imagery, punctuated by wisps of passionate emotion that Caela had not understood at the time.

What would Singer say? The very young Singer when they were children working out together what must be the meaning, the appropriate attitudes toward life; Singer through all the years until the years that no longer held him. He was always with her still, in a sense by her side. She could feel his strength, unwavering sincerity, light gentleness of being. She could hear him lapsing into song as an integral part of whatever task or frivolity engaged him. He had always been so present in her life, from very early years. They had grown together such that his physical presence though missed was never essential to their bond.

Children together, parents together. Felicity had something of her mother's gift for healing, though not her intensity. She was more her father's easy-going side-kick, bright, flirtatious, friendly in that way of caressing openness, that sunny temperament that everybody loves. See her loving her life in the chaotic home she creates and shares with so many busy friends, constant activities, every day a celebration. Singer and Felicity always bubbling over with fun, enticing Caela to let go and enjoy the merriment. Just thinking of them always lightened her heart, widened her smile, brought laughter to her eyes.

He would say: "There is so much beauty, in here, out there, everywhere. Come, enjoy it all with me. Open your senses, feel that everpresent amazement when you take it all in. Feel me experiencing with you, my most precious friend." Yes, he would be dancing, hugging, exhorting with melody and rhythm, imaging a clownish comedy of musical movement, hyperbolized flowering woods filled with glorious natural delights. She could feel his dancing eyes, sunlight smile, adoration, fused into the Singer center of her mind. Always.

Lev was a good guy, generally acknowledged. He loved his little almost motherless daughter, Caela. He tragically loved Letta, his strength, his shining beautiful other half, his courage and moral compass. She was gone, worse than dead. Right there so he could touch her, but she wasn't there, wasn't her, to be touched.

Maris was. And sometimes others. He loved them, each for the special people they were, the feeling of sharing of intimacy they allowed for him. They weren't Letta; nobody was, least of all Letta herself.

For young Caela it was all just part of the life around her. She felt loved and protected by Lev, and she felt his sorrow. She felt the uplift of his mood when he and Maris played in the easy jocular way they had come to together. She felt her mother's terror, the inchoate creature she had become, unable to take part in the lives that continued around her.

So many tragedies, not little to those for whom they are daily deep suffering wounds holding down, holding back, severing hopes and possibilities.

Singer always made her feel lighter, so matter of fact and invested in having fun. Really, isn't that the way, salving wounds with healthy living joyously engaging? Yet wounds, chunks taken out of all of us from time to time, need, deserve, tending. Learning who she was, what she valued, Caela grew to understand that loving the wounded meant for her an attunement to discovering ways to heal. It's not about denying the wound, but helping the wounded to find a way back to wholeness. Who she was, influenced by her time, tribe, circumstances, DNA, not some preordained destiny, carried her moment through moment, creating the weave, the fabric she lived, as Maris created beautiful works of woven wearable art. Enjoying the feel, the weave, of such a perfectly fitting radiant garment, Caela's consciousness dances. Like all art, this dance tells an enthralling story to those with the will to see, to feel resonance.

Let us go dancing into ceremony of joy and tribal cohesion. I see, smell, feel a firepit on a cool evening. Shared sacred time for histories secured to memories, mingling ideas, fears, fantasies, the reassurance of the constancy of love. Why do we think that we need more? Ah, yes, man is built to defy the capacity for satisfaction that we may ever be hurtling forward in our grand endeavors. Drama requires friction. But does not enlightenment require an eternal flame? These are not Caela's thoughts. They are thoughts that surround her, always within her reach, perhaps awaiting her perusal. They are not conscious thoughts, but of the philosophies that shaped her. Self-evidently, what happened happened. This does not imply destiny. If the story had turned out otherwise, we would simply have told a different story. There was a time she had to traverse a forest. Thoughts from a close surface may manifest as traveling companions when regular companionship is scarce.

Singer loved to explore, or rather wander into serendipity, in the vast woods surrounding the community. There had been a great enterprise of clearing space for shelters and farmland, as well as, as different projects were conceived, commons for whatever needed accommodation. Wood cleared for space was a major resource as well for buildings, furniture, fire fuel, whatever could be fashioned from it. Very little dent was made in the deep, deepening, deeper acres of forest which had long dominated that part of their world. The city from which they had come and its outlying farmlands and open fields had been cleared forest, developed over time and perceived need for open space in which to grow, build, civilize.

The exiled, at the beginnings still of their epic march, upon reaching the outlying farming area thought to exchange the money they carried, as they were leaving a social market system in which it could be of value, for tools, seed, livestock. They understood they would need to start a new farming community far within the forest still to come on their journey, once that land could be attained and cleared. Ready food and food preserved for future readiness on their way to their new home land was also purchased, as well as grazing pack animals, adapted to the local flora, appropriately accoutered to help in carrying the load.

This forest had never evidenced harboring creatures with any interest in preying on man. The local wildlife were mostly small and herbivorous. Those who were carnivores were content with the smaller forest creatures upon which they had always preyed. Even the large farm animals brought with man as frozen embryos to eventually be bred for foodstock (as who could know if indigent species would be nutritive to man) were not part of the dietary plan of indigent carnivores. For the most part, they preferred to lie low, maintain an invisible noninterference compact.

Singer felt in tune with the natural world, the living planet. It gave him a constant flow of music he could feel throughout his body, rhythm, melody, sweet sweeping choruses, in constant improvisation. He loved wandering in the woods, singing along. Caela knew to find him there when he hadn't already dragged her along proclaiming on beauty and the sensual thrill of it all.

Making love on a bed of wet, slippery leaves, at one with the glistening beat of the rain, she could feel the smile inside her expanding into ecstasy. Singer's smile, where she felt rooted.

Of course there were the never-ending flow of chores. Everyday was the cooking, cleaning, tending to livestock, cultivating crops, repairing clothing, furnishings, tools. Then there were always adjunct chores to bigger projects, buildings, planting and harvesting, manufacture of what useful items had been designed, even preparations for celebrations fell under the category of chores, work needing to be done.

Caela also found herself spending much time with the historians. The ability to share their stories mind to mind was better than an oral tradition keeping their people's history alive for those who found such information fascinating or useful. Those who collected and maintained these stories enjoyed nothing better than sharing them with the curious. They were happy to answer young girl Caela's serious questions as she worked to figure out such issues as her place in the grand scheme, but more urgently how her people had dealt with illness and the mental instabilities of the kind that had taken her mother's nurturance from her. She found she wanted to know about all manner of her ancestors' dealings with adversity, the connections and decisions that led to her creation, that she might better understand her talents and developing goals. She didn't know why it felt so important to her to gain these understandings, only that it was for her a hunger. Singer was not bothered by this particular hunger. He enjoyed the stories she shared with him, but as entertainment more than education.

As Caela's growing talent for healing became recognized, by herself and others, she became more and more called upon to help out with medical emergencies. Working with those injured by accidents, overtaken by infections, childbirthing, she slowly became familiar with how to respond to panicked, hurting people desperate for reassurance as well as an easing of their pain. Singer she found to be bursting with pride for his Caela's special abilities so gratefully treasured by their community. She found him always truly happy to be able to help her sort out and deal with her feelings, sympathetic suffering and exhausted sensibilities. He helped her to reach within her own neural system to renew energies outpoured for others. He seemed boundless in energy, love, enthusiasm to share. Thus, she needn't fear depletion or falling into despair from surfeit of vicarious pain. She could concentrate on the healing, the powerful and precise energy she could freely give. As with any sincere practice, over time it became who she was, how she was perceived by herself and those she knew.

Letta's physical death, her body finally letting go, while Caela's body was in the throes of adolescence, was a sad reminder of what had long since been lost. It could not be more to those who had said their good-byes bit by bit over the years when all they could feel from her was emptiness. Caela had never quite given up on trying to reach her mother, who somehow zombie-like managed to go through the physical motions of life without engagement, thought or any but primitive private fear and sadness. Letta had apparently departed from any attempt at salvation, could not be reached, brought back into her life. Bit by bit, Caela became less convinced that she could help. She allowed herself to give over her time and thoughts and energies to more immediately real healing and relationships. Lev too had long since given over his hope to a self-sustaining realization that allowed him to live his life for present projects and future possibilities, not promises lost to the past. They cared for her shell lovingly, devotedly, without demanding what wasn't left in her to give. When her body too left them, no longer taking breath or circulating blood with heartbeat, they said their final good-byes and gave her shell back to its natural part in the cycle of growth and decay.

Back at the beginning of her people's history, Caela's ancestors were bred according to parameters not interested in reproduction. This genetic weapons project had to be closely controlled. There was no room for rogue breeding. These human weapons were not produced sexually, but technologically. To make sure they were fed chemicals that prevented sexual viability.

Once they became free to live as human beings, they discovered issues with natural methods of achieving parenthood. For many it was difficult or even impossible to conceive. In their captivity both women and men were used to lives of hard work, service, not subject to childcare responsibilities; in freedom they tended toward producing as a community small numbers of children who were cherished by all. Over time these people assimilated with the greater population and took on the more normalized nuclear family patterns. Still a large percentage of these families were career couples without children. Even if a couple were fertile, women who decided they were not ready to take on a pregnancy had the ability to convince the newly forming life to dislodge before any sentience became a possibility. When that embryonic sentience did emerge, the gestating mother found herself suddenly a pair-bond, in total empathy with her developing child.

Caela had assisted with difficult births, calming mother and child as she helped them to separate. It wasn't until she experienced pregnancy with Felicity that she was able to understand, finally and too late, the answer to her mother Letta's undoing.

You are Letta. You have known all your life that you have an exceptionally strong sensitivity, even among people for whom hyper-sensitivity to others' emotions is the norm. You have learned a kind of control, an ability to use reason and rules developed of experience to make of this what had sometimes seemed a curse a gift. You have made a good career for yourself as an admired and respected healer. You have made a good marriage with a man you love and respect who loves and respects you. You have a wonderful, adorable little child and another on the way.

You are forced from your happy secure home into total chaos. You are forced to endure months of hardship when physical hardship is something you had never known. You are afraid; the fetus is terrified. You try to find calm, but instead the terror keeps escalating in perpetual feedback. There is terror all around, within and without. This goes on and on as if it will never change. When it does change, it is a tragedy. The baby dies, despairingly panicked mom trying desperately to protect, give comfort, to that little dying life falls down, down, beyond recall. The march is over. She doesn't notice. Life is over. There is nothing left of her to return. Some physical form that was once Letta goes through what to her have become arcane motions, when bidden. She swallows food, processes air and nutrients, doesn't actually sleep because she is no longer actually awake. It's not that she meant to desert her loving daughter, sever that bond. It's just that there's nothing left of her to bond with. There are wounds that never heal, never even have the consciousness to try.

By the time Caela has found this understanding, she is so joyfully in love with the child growing in her womb that the realization she had so long sought comes as mere information, not some holy treasure at the conclusion of a quest.

Caela could call up her memories, flip through them like sequential cards to show a movie of brief scenes synthesized from the years. Felicity appears infant, small child, young woman, active energized multi-faceted adult. Caela is in awe of this miraculous creature, feels honored by her part in this creation. What can be more fulfilling than a child's hand, safe and trusting within yours, letting go to reach out to a great shining world of living? Reminders of Singer, Maris, Lev, herself in unconscious poses, sets of expression, features of face, form, characteristics of speech, inflections, yet so much more than a summary of parts cut and pasted from doting family. Felicity had a well-decided mind of her own which she was always ready to give a piece of to make a point, or just keep the argument going. She loved to laugh, especially at her own foibles, easily dissolved into tears at a touch of sadness, especially the shared sadness of a friend. She could plant an affectionate kiss, a warm hug, a strong eager to help pair of hands, dance away with merriment in her eyes, enlarge the heart she had opened to snuggle into a place she conjured, sweet and savory, gently unyielding, a force to be reckoned with wielding her enchanting smile.

They were a happy family, blessed by each other.

Of course life never goes smoothly, predictably, moment to moment. That wouldn't be living, but some kind of preordained hell. We may think, especially in the throes of terrifying chaos, that we want that smooth predictability. We need the thrill of intense emotions. We need the unexpected to shake us into awareness of just who we are, how far we can go, how much we can do. Drama doesn't negate happiness. If anything, it deepens it, freshens and sweetens. Shared emotion is continually reinforcing bonds. Caela was often, irregularly, called upon to deepen skills in coping with drama. Accidental injuries would require her to find her own calm healing instructions for sharing with the aggrieved suffering injured party. Young Felicity often accompanied her mother, an apprentice healer in the making. It was so normal to her, even from the womb, to be giving this service, refining this skill. It was not like young Caela's desperate search for the cure that would return her mother's loving presence to her life. Felicity, like her father, Singer, took naturally to the blessings of her life. Joyful self-determination emanated from her like the invigorating peace of a pristine waterfall.

Singer, Caela, Felicity, good people all, integrated into a community that loved and respected them. This is not a lesser challenge nor tribute than that of warriors against a deadly foe.

When Caela went into the forest to reverse the original great journey of her life, she was alone. It was because she lived alone, closer to the forest mouth than her community's center of activity, and because of the reason she did so, that she went into that forest journey. Her extraordinary sensitivity had been harnessed and honed to the purpose of healing. There grew to be other quite competent healers, most with the help of her training. The younger crowd, now of age for responsible leadership and self-rule, had a quicker style, somehow both more formal and informal than Caela liked. They were certainly happy for her company, and advice, any aid she gave. She was certainly happy to give what she could, enjoy their companionship, but not all the time. She found she craved a luxury of solitude to listen to the natural sounds, and the lyrics of her own voice. She liked the kind of thinking akin to dreaming that told her old tales mixed with memories and sudden discoveries all weaving into moments of delight without need to share. Thus, tuning her sensitivity away from the people she knew, loved and let go their own way, Caela was able to discern a far away call they never noticed. At first she may have thought it the call of her own spirit to take up a new adventure. Of course, it was that, her spirit in synchrony with other forces of events.

When Singer and Caela had played as children, and then as lovers, and then as old loving partners, in the woods, it had not been the forest of the long march. They had played in the beginnings of the great uncleared woods on the other side, further still from the city. This was land their people would slowly move into as they grew to have use for more cleared space, making sure to keep the forest they had marched through in their escape an unmolested barrier against any possible contact with their fellow colonial descendants. The city folks could expand in their sector. Those they had exiled could grow into the land further south of their tiny settlement. The large buffer of forest land must be kept between them. They had agreed, even if under extreme duress. They had no need or desire to return to where they were so clearly unwanted.

Since woodland was cleared as needed for building, farmland, various projects, community activity tended to focus toward their southern edge, further and further from the forest through which they had traveled to this place they were making their home. As was common, Singer and Caela, with the help of family and friends, had built a cabin on land newly cleared at the time. Singer's father, Jase, had always been a loner. He enjoyed time with his friends; and everyone was his friend. He loved his kids and their mothers, and his lovers who did not bear his young. He loved his solitude, enjoying his anti-social twitches of behavior without concern that he was causing annoyance or inconvenience. He enjoyed being as wild and free as he pleased without suffering pained looks or rebukes from the less unrestrained who sincerely loved him but could not understand how he felt he had to be. They could understand enough to let him be, in all his temperamental glory. He built and rebuilt, expanded and rearranged, his cabin just inside the forest through which they had arrived. This worked out well. He fancied himself and was treated as a kind of sentinel, watching over the last outpost before approaching foreign territory. Because there was an almost legendary feeling of despair associated with that forest, it was left, and Jase with it for the most part, to its own fate. There was no other reason to go there but specifically to visit Jase. Fortunately for all involved, it was easy to check in to make sure he was in a good frame of mind for visiting, even without the electronic communications equipment they had long left far behind. For Jase did enjoy the company of visitors, whom he gladly beckoned to join him in play at whatever project was currently engaging his attention. He was always quick and happy to join in with others' projects if they should ask his participation. He was loud and jovial at celebrations, pulling his friends into gaily dancing as he encountered them along his galumphing path. He enjoyed the companionship of others and the companionship of himself as long as both were available from which to choose. Singer and Caela as children often enjoyed spending playful hours with Jase, a bigger kid with wonderful, often challenging, ideas for having fun. The tasks involved never seemed like work.

It was Jase's old cabin, abandoned when he abandoned this life, to which Caela had moved, away from the gaggling crowd. Once she was no longer caught up in her long-practiced daily devotions to family and work, she found she was happy in her own company. Like Jase, she felt better able to stay easily involved with those she cherished while keeping separate time to herself in a contemplative place of her own. The main activity of the community had moved further south into land cleared over the years since Jase's tenancy. Caela had plenty of room for her own gardens, one for herbs and one for fresh vegetables. She had plenty of room to take a longer view. Not so compulsively active as Jase had been, Caela could arrange her little piece of the world as she chose and quietly grow within it.

In essence our lives consist of a great deal of caring for, looking after what we cherish. Do we know what we cherish by noticing the direction of our gaze?

Dancing in his arms, because where Singer was there was music, eyes shining into shining eyes. Her gaze belonged to Singer. It widened to include Felicity once their daughter expanded their life.

She had been barely more than a toddler, barely walking on her own. It was good that she had sturdy legs, the boundless energy of exuberant childhood. It was good that Lev and Letta had been so loving, so eternally there, in the scant few early years, in their happy life together of her infancy. Sturdy little legs, sturdy little girl losing her world. Not the place, only real as vague impressions now, but the people who were no longer dependably who they had been, that was the strangeness that frightened her. Dreams of angry, panicked ghosts, spooks in the forest, were her childhood nightmares. Singer soothed her. He sang her baby lullabies that turned her dreams into sweet twinkly songs.

Mamma was losing her grip, drowning, bit by bit, detaching from Caela's mind in her maelstrom of inexorable terror. Daddy was overwhelmed, trying to stay calm enough in all the chaos to be a strong, calming presence for Letta as he felt her obvious disintegrating. Nothing was left for Caela but to concentrate on moving along. There was not room for her to try to make sense of what her short experience had no reference for. In all that insanity, she could feel a bubbling of music calling to her. A child so small, he was carried by his mom and sisters in turn. A natural ebullience so contagious, he was their salvation in the wilderness, keeping the whole family buoyant, unafraid. Somehow, in all this massive confusion, he had found her too. He had projected his song and silly imagery into Caela's stoically marching mind.

She smiled, even laughed a little. Soon her steps gravitated toward the merry little band led by Singer's song. Somehow, in this mass of confused, frightened people, he loved her. She knew not why he chose her. She knew she felt loved and blessed in the midst of all the emptiness and barely staved off fear. Something wonderfully good had entered her life. Caela and Singer grew together, minds entwined. They were each other's miracle, salvation in the darkest hours, taking root and blooming through the years. They taught each other how to be everything that was in them. So many people live long lives without profound connection. Caela and Singer knew to value their miracle with profound enjoyment, a special category of bliss.

Maris's youngest daughter, Singer's sister Mirra, was a few years older than Caela. At first this was a big difference. Mirra had quasi-adult status to her younger charges when she was assigned to watch over Caela and Singer, keep them from too much mischief, while the grown-ups worked. Once they were grown, of course, the age difference was negligible. Caela and Mirra became great friends. As it happened, their daughters, Felicity and Maea, were much closer in age than Caela and Mirra. The cousins grew up more like sisters within their close and complicated extended family. They shared secrets, and giggling pranks. They honed their social skills through their squabbles and reconciliations, honed physical and mental skills through fierce competition, learned the consequences of their actions after daring each other into ill-conceived adventures.

The girls were fascinated with learning to find, refine, expand their potential healing abilities as they watched Caela, and experienced directly her skill in encouraging the healing of their broken bones, contusions and wounds. Eventually she merely supervised as they practiced on each other's active child injuries. Caela was happy to teach them what she could, answer their curious questioning, open her own memories of learning to their eager perusal, let them watch, when convenient and appropriate, as she worked with others' wounds and illnesses. Thus both girls grew to be healers themselves, as part of the service they could offer in their community.

"We get to be wonderful," Felicity was remarking.

"We are wonderful!" Maea mirthfully chimes in.

"We are wonderful," continuing on her train of thought, Felicity ironically marvels: "because we revel in all the pain and suffering no one else wants to be near. Kind of like compost keepers."

"Though we all get that honorable chore from time to time." Maea points out. "We get to be especially wonderful because we went through the initiation to learn the (shhhh) secret ways. We can protect ourselves from the pain and give that protection away."

"Have our calmness, and share it as well?" Felicity remarks as querent.

Caela laughs with them, a deep chuckle at some impossible mystery that binds them. This mystery for them is mundane reality, yet serves to remake reality for those to whom they are seen as special.

Singer too is special, in his own charming way.

"We have a special family," Caela allows, still chuckling with a merry twinkle. "Witchy we might be called in another time and place." But that thought brought shudders from some protomemory she has no desire to pursue. Rather than become quietly thoughtful and put a damper on the get together, Caela rallies her true interest in the goings on of Felicity and Maea's current gossip.

It is a brightly sunny day. They are outside Caela and Singer's cabin in impromptu picnic formation. Felicity, of course, moving about dramatically, striking poses, flourishing her arms, then flopping down close to share an intimate giggle. Maea, more languid, lies on her stomach in soft weeds shaded by a large, wide-leafed tree. Caela sits beside her, back leaning comfortably against the living wood. Singer has gone off to play in his merry woodlands, leaving the women to their own conversational recreation. Maea and Felicity live in the House, a large many-roomed multi-purposed well and lovingly made structure for the many and multi-talented men, women and children who created this home for themselves. Of course, there are still many families and individuals who prefer their own small cottages. The main thrust of this still newly self-creating society these days, however, is to an energizingly interactive while securely nurturing group arrangement. Still, Felicity and Maea have discovered living apart from their parents that they enjoy their company as lively, intelligent people, so visit often.

"So, what about your love lives?" Caela pulls them in with an impish grin, knowing that young women (or anyone) like nothing better than to swoon over the virtues of The One, or the one who makes them giddy at the moment. Mirra has joined them, meandering over from her cabin nearby with a delicious beverage she has concocted from fermented fruits and herb teas. Passing around the jug, the younger women regale their mothers with heartfelt romantic glimpses of the gorgeous House-mates they each are developing eyes for. Mirra and Caela, happily ensconced in their decades old romances, vicariously enjoy these youthful fancies.

Mirra's Doren, Maea's dad, is her half-brother Singer's half-brother on his father's side. The oldest of Jase's scattered seeds, Doren is a historian, learning their people's stories from infancy directly from his mother, Narda, Jase's wife in the before world. That time has become an extension of the history Doren carries, that deep forest of lore we continue to learn from, roots to our scattered lives.

Though closer in age to Mirra's sister Cali, Maris's middle daughter, Doren had early been captivated by the younger sister's easy smile and impish humor. Their young love grew with them into abiding magnetic affection. Maea may gently mock her parents' shining glow in each others' presence. She does this partially because she knows she wants this sweet enduring kind of romance for herself.

Maea is a'bubble these days over handsome and dynamic Larn. He is a young man already generally known as a leader, the kind who inspires with his own passion. He has an idea about art, creating space and audience for performing artists to generate performances -- a synergistic pursuit. He has been part of the driving force of the House as a place of learning and creative projects. Maea is filled with admiration, enthusiasm, tender adoration, ravishing attraction. The bubbling of her blood, percolation of joyful molecular transforming of her metaphoric heart, is because he has been steadily showing her that she quickens his blood, enhances his days.

Felicity too has got herself an artist. Teren, sweet and shy, in his own world of brilliant visions, creates beauty in color and form, in magical emotional performances, in any and every medium he can fid his way into playing with. He has been clearly showing his admiration of the archly dramatic young woman who has joined him in his dreams and playful waking life flirtations.

Singer returns to join his family in lightly dionysian merriment. His musical charms move them into giddy dance. Taking hands to hands, twirling into bumbling graceful laughter, expending any pent up coagulated energies into welcome release, celebrating this beautiful day. In a short while appetite turns them to devising a quick yet sumptuous feast from gardens and larders. Doren returns from teaching his regular history seminar at the House in time to join in.

After the food, the silly repartee, earnest conversations, cleaning up and good-night hugs, all make way to their own beds, their own private places, for the night. Caela and Singer, making love, though every act between them is an act of love, expressing the blessing of their human life celebration, drift lazily together in the afterglow.

In the way of human destinies, it was not more than two seasons before Maea and Felicity were full of the wondrous news that they both were with child. Sharing their happiness with their parents in the superior manner of the young who seem to believe they have invented biology, they also share their courageous trepidation in the throes of new experience. Caela reassures them. This is just another adventure they will have together.

Entering a forest only seems more courageous than entering life because of the illusion of choice. We hear a calling. That compelling cry will not cease without an answer, no matter how we may try to quell or override it. What we answer, how we comport ourself over the journey, that we may choose. That choice may still be illusion, but of the kind extolled as prophetic in dreams.

Maea's paternal grandmother, Narda the historian, had been part of history herself. She had been one of a small council of negotiators sent to plead the case of what were called the witchfolk to a council of leaders from the city's government. The city leaders didn't want bloodshed on their watch. They wanted a peaceful, prosperous reign. It was concluded that the small minority population causing all this excitement by their existence in the city must be banished. No problem. This planet has plenty of land thus far free of humanity. The native creatures have not shown signs against encroachment in all these centuries since men began doing business in this enclave. Send them far enough from here that they become a distant memory, eventually not even that. No need to be cruel. The elderly and infirm can live out their days in their familiar homes. Certainly they can do no harm in the time they have left. But we can't allow the young and strong to have technological tools that might facilitate a future return or ongoing communication. The contract was made with the understanding that the witchfolk historians would remember and honor it, carry it forward to their historians to come. Being a small, out of favor, minority, they agreed to a contract of exile in return for freedom and life.

Fearful as exile had been to those who lived it, for the younger generations it has become more of an opportunity. They have been born into a society with few overt rules and an appreciation of creative innovation. The basic, primitive material conditions, depending on their own muscles and skills rather than elaborate machinery, makes for immediate appreciation of good ideas.

Larn had good ideas. He was idolized by his peers for his audacity of vision, and ambition. Maea is prouder than proud, higher than the stars, to be carrying their child.

Felicity as well is (surprisingly, more quietly) glowing in that rapture of love and hormones. Felicity and Teren are so sweet together. Caela's heart pitter-pats to see them. They share a larger room in the House now, with an area they are preparing as a nursery. Family arrangements are flexible and fluid within the House. There are shared nursery and children's rooms for less unitary families. There is plenty of loving nurturing to go around. As Felicity and Teren become more closely bonded, though, they are talking about perhaps moving into a cabin near the House eventually. Right now they are comfortable where they are, busily involved in the House community projects. There is the theater, and the classes they teach, and the classes and workshops they attend. Of course there are still the farm chores on rotation and the day-to-day hands on with whatever those hands are being asked to do. Felicity and Maea know they can be called to accidents at any time. Then, Teren, like Felicity's father, Singer, seems to be compelled to irregular and unscheduled calls from the muse.

Contractions to crowning to birth, and Caela showing off their grandchild to Singer's tears of overwhelming joy. Felicity, after screaming her head off in amazingly colorful language, and otherwise expending her legendary energy in biological abandon, now is blissfully happy to let her mom and dad extol her virtues. She smiles, though wanly, at Teren, sharing this moment of deep satisfaction. New mother and baby daughter, Solia, trade in their well-earned exhaustion for sleep.

Caela knows that where Felicity has gone, Maea won't be far behind. She too takes this opportunity to nap between birthings.

Singer, with more emotional high than even he knew possible, makes for the woods to compose appropriately expressive song in collaboration with nature. She is certainly in a receptively collaborative mood, brewing up a storm. Loving the musicality of storm winds, driving rain, crashing thunder, cracking electricity, Singer exults. What a beautiful day!

Maea's child, though clearly moving toward being born, has moved into an inappropriate position for ease in exit. Though not the norm, this situation is not one with which Caela is unfamiliar. She knows all it will take is intense concentration into this newly forming consciousness to guide the child into position. First casting an aura of calm through Maea to enhance relaxation, she calmly links to the baby, so gently he feels only the relaxed presence of mother love.

Despite the wildly loud storm picking up outside, within the House all is secure.

Deep crack of thunder and accompanying swath of light outside suddenly coincide with crashing painful agony so loud it reverberates throughout, it seems, the world. In an instant lives are shattered as one is lost, killed by the woods he loves.

There is nothing but screaming, blinding pain. Caela can always feel it if she looks there.

Maea, in shock and overload, suddenly freed from the woozy peace of Caela's ministrations, goes through the motions necessary to complete her separation from newborn Larik. He appears a healthy, if inconsolable, child. All his parts in their right places seem to be functioning as expected. Maea is in no condition to notice what is missing, her mind overtaken with Caela's silent screaming.

Caela of course knows what is wrong with Larik. She was right there with him when the world exploded. She knows, but such knowledge, all knowledge, has been cordoned off from her consciousness. She is only conscious of great, wet pain, crushing into hard, damp ground, crushing out of breath and life. She is no longer alive. All the places throughout her being that have always been filled with Singer are gone. There is no more screaming.

Larik was silent. Suddenly Maea knew. The bond was absent. That part in her people's minds capable of sending and receiving immediate perceptions, memories, raw emotion and emotional bonding, had been horribly wounded in Larik by the circumstances of his birth.

You are always going back into the forest. It helped to form you, as did your father's seed, your mother's womb and milk. What forms us, becomes us, we must explore, if only in dreams or strange obsessions, or unnatural silence.

Caela and Larik are quite a pair. Old and young, female and male, hyper-sensitive and numb to sensitivity, working out who they need to become in the cabin once a happy home to Caela, Singer and Felicity (with Maea and friends of the moment in tow). It naturally fell out that they be together. The boy who could not bond, could not fathom what was common to those around him, was bonded to Caela. She alone made sense to him. She had always been a part of who he was. Caela too felt a strong and special connection to this child. She also felt a need to find a way to heal him of the affliction resulting from a wound she also needed to heal within herself. Larik's mother, Maea, meanwhile, was having difficulties and unpleasant awakenings of her own.

"He acts like I got pregnant on my own. Now it's all my situation to deal with. As if he had no part in it at all." Maea is speaking bitterly of Larik's father, Larn, whom she clearly still adores. He has shown considerably less interest in her since it started to become evident that she would be more of a drain than an energizing inspiration. It's not that he didn't care for her; but there are many for whom he feels great fondness. All are subservient to his brightly shining visions, his grand plans and their imperatives. It is not that he is any different from the man she has known him to be, loved him for being, all along. Yet she feels bitterly disillusioned. She has lost her anchoring, her way, her understanding of and belief in who she had thought herself to be. She no longer feels part of the House community. For awhile she tries staying with her parents, spending much of her time with Caela and Larik, attempting to be a family. It is clear that Larik greatly prefers Caela, is shy and confused around Maea. Mirra and Doren have become set in routines to which Maea feels an outsider. She feels their love; but Maea feels awkward when she needs to find a respite of serenity in which to reconnect to herself, discover where her next steps need to lead.

Maea's grandmother Maris's place had been left behind, not too far from Jase's outpost, as building moved further outward. The house is surrounded by plenty of land for their grazing animals, crops for fiber, feed and food for the household (supplemented by trade). It was a large house, built onto over the years to accommodate people and projects. Maris and here older daughters, Arla and Cali, still kept up their busy textile workshop. Cali's longtime lover, Lilia, does her part as well, including her magnificently intricate and lovely embroidery to their bag of tricks. Lev, who has been living with Maris for decades now, assists with his carpentry, building equipment and furniture for the household and as part of their stock for trade. Always plenty of work for another pair of hands, and Maris informally takes in whoever wants to stay for as long as it all works out for them all. There is plenty of room in which to enjoy solitude, and plenty of companionship, easy-going or intense, depending on what one seeks. Caela comes around frequently with Larik. He likes the more private simple chores as he learns them, working with the animals and plants, away from the main farmlands of the community. His family knows not to pressure him, not to overwhelm him with expectations he has no ability to comprehend. Maea is getting better at dropping her own expectations for how life is meant to be.

Less enthusiastically involved with Larn, though still sympathetic to his vision, Felicity and Teren now live in their cabin near the House with little Solia. Solia, beautiful entertaining, entrancing, cuddly imp, is their perfect muse. They are developing their own project, based on their combined talents. Felicity's knowledge of healing and Teren's experience with creative expression have given them ideas about exploring the realm of possible expressive therapies. Working with others who are excited about possibilities of working out personal issues, improving health and attitudes, getting more intimately in touch with their inner muses, they are figuring out together how their theories can best be turned to practice.

A life expands into other lives, energies combining and recombining, creating human ecosystems. Like trees, each living through its own cycles within the cycles of the forest, we create our stories, our lore, our social networks.

On the other side of the forest, beyond the open fields of the less socially enclosed, changes in situations and attitudes moved slowly. Of course they continued the long tradition of slowing enterprise through the perceived requirement that all must move through the viscous medium of money. Psychologically this tradition was beneficial to tamp down escalation of anxiety and panic known to accompany rapid change in a society founded on desires for stability, safety, clear and consistent rules of the road to a successful life. We did not come all this way, brave all this unknown and inconvenience, start from scratch in an alien wilderness, to accept anything less.

Red brick roads.
Centered in a park of verdant glory, a fountain statue of a mythical god of the sea.
Bright colorful street lanterns shine bringing out the patterns of iridescent threads fashioned into clothing, flowing, open, light and merry.
No one hungry except by choice for the experience. None without their cubicle, apartment, palatial estate.
Comedies, tragedies, play out in street and theater. Venders sell their succulent or fanciful wares.
This is a city self-consciously fulfilling the needs and ambitions of a people who strive to be worthy of the style and livelihoods they embrace.
Earnest scholars comment upon every aspect of their cosmopolitan endeavors. Social commentators dumb it all down for easy access. Everybody knows what everybody knows. Everybody knows we all get along a whole lot better if everybody agrees to know only what we should. Not to say we don't happily indulge in heated debate and individual choice. It's just that everything has its proper place, that we may all fit securely in our urbane scene.

Sira's parents had not even been born at the time of the exile. Their parents had been of the fortunate ones too unimportant to be pointed out, too meek and quiet to be concerned about. Really, there were lots of them. Being different only counts if you're seen as a threat. The mainstream folk are perfectly happy to have lesser empowered dweebs with embarrassing secrets to feel above. You, freaks, don't be threatening my position, my possessions, my profits, my popularity, and I just might let you go on your miserable way. Is that how it was? How it is? As her parents had been by theirs, Sira was warned, had bitterly sown into her earliest lessons in belief, don't be noticed. Don't let anybody know what you can do. This is inner family business, not for outside consumption. We are who we are; but no one else can know.

In fact there were a rather large group of them. A very small percentage of a large number can still be a large number of ones and twos in a small world of who we know, those people we carry in our minds between meetings. Sira's friends at the academy, the private school they attended, were also of the secret society who could always know each other by reaching mind to mind. There was never need to speak of the secret aloud.

Harmonic Academy's philosophy of encouraging a variety of learning styles and peaceful self-expression was a positive nurturing environment for children who might feel pressured by social stigmatization of any kind in their neighborhood lives. With gorgeous rolling grounds, just far enough north of the hub of the city to be out of the way, it was a wonderful world of play in which to grow. The witchfolk children knew not to shine, not to stand out, to get along enticing no comment. They knew which teachers they could trust to help them with academic or personal concerns.

Out in the harsh eastern drylands, no one wanted to build their futures. Land more dust than loam, weeds more yellow bristly rough to the touch, creatures less shy, more mean, stinging angrily at whatever may disturb hard fought for and unforgiving territory. Sira had never been beyond the city to the east. She had been given warning images in her catechisms against careless disclosures. They might not exile someone like Sira if she should be fount out. They well might imprison her in horrible conditions, a much more viscerally palpable threat. It was in the harsh glaring sun of the unproductive east land that prisoners, pariahs from city justice, were sent for penitence.

All societies need prisons, don't they? Time-out holes to hold the dangerous, or repositories for the politically and socially incorrect are hallmarks of civilization. Aren't they? Well, not in a community in which a wrongdoer is immediately hit hard with the emotional toll wrought; not where the governing structure is more libertarian than democratic and disputes are honored by settling them through well-argued compromise. It is easier, of course, to settle disputes and prevent the welling up of criminal intentions within small enough social confines so that all parties are mutually well known. Once factions set up against factions, arguments intractably settled into place, disputes become institutionalized, and so do the losers.

Sira's favorite teacher, Merin, was secretly a historian among her people. He was also a learned historian of their colony planet and of the home world, Earth. He was generally a favorite among the teachers and students for his easy friendly, yet passionately fierce manner, the way he made what might seem difficult concepts so immediate and real, the way he readily listened and deeply appreciated what was said to him. His intense mental thirst had led him to acquire a broad range of knowledge which it was his great joy and privilege to share. That Sira's best friend, Reag, was Merin's son only added to her estimation of them both.

Outside of their formal schooling, Sira and Reag spent much time with Merin, and Reag's mom, Vika, also a teacher at the academy. Vika also wrote and directed plays performed by the students. Others of their students, as well as Reag's older sister Neris and her friends, were often about taking part in vociferous discussions and impromptu entertainments. Sira's younger sister, Jenia, soon became a regular there as well. It was not just the kids. Other teachers, even some of the parents, would drop by as schedules permitted. It was good that Merin and Vika had such a large lovely home just beyond the academy grounds in which to enjoy and entertain their many friends.

At home Sira and Jenia were not so merry. Their parents' fear, and loathing of their subservient lifestyle, permeated the rooms, the walls. The girls were not cruelly treated. They were loved, cherished as the hope of a dearly desired future. It was the here and now, day to day, grinding away at aspirations, at any chance of joyful prosperity or even honorable integrity that made this home a little taste of hell. It was so good for Sira and Jenia that they had their school, their friends, their own growing lives. For some, with only mini-hells to build on, life at best is merely unbearable. Sira and Jenia are built of much more. They have the potential to build a future more suited to living than dreading.

In the due course of time, Sira and Reag's magnetic friendship blossomed in the strong bath of maturing hormones, into true love. The idealism they imbibed in their academy garden of knowledge matured in Sira, Reag and Jenia into studies leading to caring careers. Reag and Jenia developed their loves of learning and children to find teaching positions in a neighborhood low in hope and ideals. Sira, strident and self-assured, found working with the troubled and disempowered rewarding when her efforts made a significant difference in more empowered and self-defined lives going forward. Reag and Sira found a large rambling home, full of character and charm, near their respective jobs at the high school and community center. They also found themsleves to be expecting parents. They were living an emotional high, giving them incredible energy necessary to maintain the activities underpinning their high emotions.

Jenia and her young man, Toriv, primary teachers, had a cute little apartment nearby. The sisters, as close as ever, entwined lives, shared the excitement of the baby. Jenia and Toriv were hoping to have their own child as well soon. Their love of nurturing young children was a strong bond that had helped to bring them together. They were also concerned, it was a mostly unspoken but growing concern among their people, that their population was dwindling. After the devastating diminishment of the exile, the numbness of being so overwhelmed with emotion and the fearfilled introversion had been their major theme. Time and routines had mellowed that fashion of thought. Perhaps a group identity so maligned that it must remain a secret link shared by a secret few is in no position to demand continuation, survival as a kind. Perhaps assimilation into the accepted norm is the saner, ecologically sounder way to go. Jenia, Toriv, their friends and family, could never be convinced of that.

Jenia's tragic miscarriage helped to sever her bond with Toriv, separate their lives. There was no fault, no blame. She turned to her more fortunate sister, by now mother of both a bright, caring, naturally responsible and mature little boy and a younger precious precocious marvelously charming little girl. Jenia enjoyed her niece and nephew, the comfort of her sister and brother-in-law's home, being family. Not enough, but enough for now, along with her if hectic and often frustrating inherently fulfilling work. It was a deep solace to her, sharing her knowledge and love of learning with the amazing children it was her privilege to teach.

"Not just food and a roof," Sira was explaining. "People need dignity, respect, a feeling like we matter. We want something to believe in, to belong to, to hold sacred. It's not enough to have the basic biological necessities. That's only a small nugget of being alive, like an embryo. Unless that innate potential has its chance to be realized, there's not much reason to be born at all." She was working out these ideas, this logical progression, almost a political platform. It felt compelling, this desire to figure out what was wrong and how to right it. All these broken people, day after day, it was her job to help find strength to move forward. She often thought of it as working through the knots binding their potentials. More and more she could see so clearly that this was not a matter of individual failings to thrive, but systemic disease. If she kept working at the equations, cause and effect rationales, common denominators, kinks in the social fabric, perhaps she could discover appropriate treatments to apply. Her children, Lukin and Tela, touchstones and joys that anchored and expanded her life, were so young and vulnerable. Increasingly, every day, a deep and growing part of her demanded a better world for their future, as well as for hers and for everyone she loved.

Love can be such an infinitely gentle and suffering thing. It can demand more than simpler emotions, much more than would make sense from a standpoint of survival. Sira stealthily plants within herself, without her conscious knowledge, a seed of political ambition. For politics at its core and best is the art and science of moving the vectors of social change.

Meanwhile, back at the Harmonic Academy, small stage social evolution moved at a different pace. The school was no longer seen so much as an experimental answer for parents of nontraditional learners. It had become a well-loved learning community for students of expressive and performing arts. As such, a certain amount of social experimentation was expected, and therefore accepted. What a bunch of crazy artists do in their sheltered little school out, away from everyday decent living was just a colorful footnote to real life. Let the creative kids sow their oats and have their petite revolutions of the mind. They'll get straightened out by real responsibilities soon enough.

Reag, Sira and crew enjoyed frequent visits with Merin and Vika. Neris too taught at the academy and had her own ménage not far from her parents' family home and playground of idealists and their ideas. Pera, another former academy student of the group who grew their minds and ideals in Merin's salon along with Reag and Sira, had moved in with Merin and Vika. Her daughter, Noria, was close to Lukin in age.

In their developing friendship, Lukin and Noria secretly stayed close in mind over distance to share private jokes, consolations, working out together puzzles and curiosities in their lives. It was for them a game and a comfort in a confusing world. No one outside the inner circle knew Noria was in fact Lukin's aunt, Reag's half-sister, one result of Merin and Vika's exploration of polyamory to boost the witchfolk's possibilities of progeny and future.

Neris and Sebia, lovers since their teen years, not outgrowing their experimental young crush, had taken into their fold another of Reag and Sira's crowd, Jal, who happily served to father the so far three youngsters of that household. Sebia’s son, Serg was only slightly younger than Noria and Lukin. His half-sisters, Neris's girls, Safa and Tamis, were one a bit older, one a bit younger, than Tela. Merin was jolly about his pater familias role. Vika, typically, enjoyed the constant high drama and turning it all to farce at the appropriate moments. "The fun never ends while we enjoy the play," she liked to say. Not the best people to go to for a reality check, they were always happy to argue any proposition, brainstorm up a gale, love and support without reservation, point out the structural flaws of any proposal while offering creative alternatives.

Lesa had been another of the old academy crowd (or would that be young academy crowd, now older?) who had stayed to teach the younger kids coming in. Back in the transitional times, when the confused youngsters who didn't know what to make of their standard schooling were the prime customers, needing her patient care, Lesa felt fulfilled. She was where she belonged. But where she was was changing. Toriv had been her friend for, well, forever, from their own early academy days. He was somehow now part of Merin's extended family, and often about visiting the academy. After the miscarriage, he needed consoling. He needed a woman who could give him a child. Lesa needed to be needed. After he left Jenia, Toriv moved in with the Lesa, now the mother of his child to be, and picked up some classes teaching the younger kids at the academy as Lesa did. But the academy was changing. Lesa and Toriv had talked with others of their friends about a community that had been started down in the libertarian farm lands to the south. Looking for something to belong to, a way to make their mark and make a life with meaning, Toriv and Lesa moved south to start a school for children like their own within the still newly forming community of former city misfits.

"You left little sister, but you're still trying to please great god Merin." Why had Lesa said this to Toriv? Back in their school days they had called Jenia "little sister." Reag was Merin's son, Sira his sidekick. Jenia was Sira's little sister, along for the ride. Merin was their hero, of course. Yes, he was here in this strange new pioneering way of life because of what he believed Merin was preaching. But she was being ironic, angry, because he did not show the courage of his convictions. He wanted his school, his traditional family. She wanted to join the mainhouse, be part of a brave new world.

Toriv thought about Jenia, reaching out for a familiar comforting presence. What he felt was icy fear and raw, searing pain that did not originate with him. Well, maybe, in a very tenuous sense of effects and causes, his behaviors were in the mix. She was sad, at a loss for self-comforting, depressed over their loss, over feeling that her life was going nowhere, over not being good enough.

Not fully aware of her surroundings in the immediate here and now in a sometimes unruly neighborhood, she was ill-prepared to protect herself. There were too many of them, too muscularly advantaged. She blasted out fear, rage, warnings of danger, but they were already too angry, keyed up, lost in chaos, to much care about the added pain her mind impinged on theirs. Later they would remember, talk about that weird witchy bitch, add to the rumors. Maybe, had she been trained, or even experienced in broadcasting her energy and imagery, they might have been dissuaded, turned away from prey too difficult for easy pickings. Instead, she had been trained, even pre-birth, in restraint, staying hidden, meek acceptance.

Sira felt her sister's agonized screaming, found Jenia torn, bleeding, battered, trying to drag herself home. Reag felt Sira's screaming and came running; they carried Jenia home, tended to her wounds.

When Jenia realized she had conceived a child, despite her family's very real concerns for her, and her realistic concerns for herself, she knew she wanted the child in her life. It was a clear, fierce bond even before this baby was much more than an idea. Sira, after her initial worry, completely supported her sister. Soon this new child became another layer of their family life.

As the child slowly yet inexorably grew within Jenia, an idea was slowly growing to obsess Sira, teasing her in reverie long before it was consciously formed. She wanted to, believed she could, get elected to the City Council. In a very small way this was tied up in her desire for her people to have more power, a basis for respect that would allow them to be openly who they were. After all of her years of experience in hiding this part of herself from the official world, she didn't actually believe her efforts would get them there. Much more immediately importantly, she wanted to help to shape a better set of policies, better governance, for all the people she felt she could represent responsibly. She wanted to help empower an active citizenry, to help create a better city with so much less fear and hatred. She wanted to clean out the ugly emotions permeating too many squalid city streets so nobody need have their lives overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness, oppression, helpless rage. Sira had always been the responsible one, smart, strong, brave, caring, reliable. She had early on taken charge of sweet, dreamy Jenia, seeing how hopeless their parents seemed to be. To a large degree these sisters had formed each other, raised each other to be as they had become. They each felt strengthened, encouraged, by the other.

Kesia, Jenia's little girl, was growing to be a quietly thoughtful, loving child. Her intense temper and stubborn streak melted at any thought that she might be causing pain. As for Sira's project, eventually there would be papers to file, fees to pay, a campaign to run. Long before any of that could be of any use, she knew she must take a long time building up information, supporters, a clear plan flexible enough for contingencies. Most importantly, she needed to take the time to build up a reputation for being the kind of strong representative on whom voters could count to promote their interests. She has been thinking, talking about respect, appreciation. “It's not that people don't want to make reasonable compromises when they harden into set positions. They want their positions respected. They want voiced and palpable appreciation for what they choose to give.”

Merin and Vika were proud of Sira's gumption, and did what they could to promote her cause with those among whom they had influence. The whole family felt proud, excited, somehow solemnly touched, each doing what they could. The seven children of this extended family, Lukin, Tela and Kesia in their city home, Noria, Serg, Safa and Tamis at the academy, were developing among themselves their own secret network to share, comfort, inform, bolster each other through the dramas and changes of their seemingly accelerating lives. The grown-ups were busy, did not need to know and possibly forbid or be concerned. It is good that they have their silent support system. It is good that they grow learning clearly, deeply, certainly, who they each are, how they can best collaborate.

It wasn't that Sira was naive. How could she be with all her worldly experience? To some extent she was sheltered. Always surrounded by loving family, often knowing the joy of making them proud, had left her mental defenses against conscious opposition flimsy at best. She had long known how to get her way so graciously that none would find offense. She was so caught up in her inspiration and ambition to do very good for very many. She knew that there might be obstacles, stubborn loyalties to the status quo, countering ambitions of opponents, mistakes in planning, misunderstandings to watch out for and be made right. She did not, stupidly, plan on the opposition being so mean, so vicious, so entrenched, sneaky, or no holds barred. It was hard on them all.

Kesia was so proud of being a big girl, going to school. She was not prepared for this greater world in which she was not automatically beloved. Due to the trickle down of incomplete information, children thinking they knew of some fault in her family teased Kesia unmercifully. She was used to silly sparing with her extended cousins at home and several miles away. She shot back the most nasty imagery she knew, not realizing the effect she would have on these children. Frightened children told frightened parents who prevailed upon frightened authorities.

Sira was all damage control commander. The kids got dropped off to stay with Merin and Vika at the academy to keep them out of harm's way. Sira put together a media blitz campaign showing her opponents to be using scare tactics to hide their own serious crimes of corruption. She personally calmed the local parents, children, teachers, using her special charm to move their fears into the realm of hyperbole easily released with some well placed jokes. The kids knew they were being mean, that they did so out of irrational fear, that they overreacted to Kesia's tantrum out of guilt. They understood it all once Sira explained so warmly and clearly. Perhaps it would all be ok. Sira, finally, knew better. The family would have to come up with a plan to take the kids someplace more anonymous and safe than regally flamboyant Merin's lair. She could feel rumors already spreading about those weird academy people related to Sira and Reag.

Lukin and Merin knew what Sira knew. Anxious since his exile to the academy, Lukin has been monitoring his mother's progress and anxieties. Lukin and Merin had been developing a meeting of minds. Smart, shrewd and meticulous in his knowledge, like his grandfather, Lukin had not the years of idolatry and indulgence to mar the clarity of his vision. Merin, shaken out of his self-obsession by the seriousness of their immediate peril, could still indulge in grand pride for his grandson's gifts. Merin, for all his grandiosity, had never even considered the kind of distant and multi-leveled mind to mind communication that came so easily to Lukin, developed with the extended cousin network but originating with Lukin's own natural talent. In times like these, when normal methods of communication are far too open to surveillance, Lukin's talent was made to order. There's some kind of saying: When the student is ready, the teacher will come. Perhaps when the times require it, the talent will come.

The Harmonic Academy, being a somewhat wealthy, prestigious facility at this point in its history, had an arrangement with a farm not too far south of the city, to provide fresh produce and such. Part of the agreement involved periodic field trips so that young students might experience the bucolic realities of food production. Fortuitously, such a field trip was scheduled in the not too distant future, just before the end of term school vacation period. Even more fortuitously, Merin had several former students who had formed a conscious experimental community down in farm country.

South of the city, several families had decided to make their own way, thank you, outside of restrictive city laws. They produced the food necessary for all those city folk in return for high profits and an unspoken agreement that they were to be left alone. To the east of the farm lands, outside the arable zone, were the military/police academy and barracks. This school of martial arts and military discipline was the original City Council's solution for useful deployment of aggressive youthful energies that could not be adequately addressed within the city frame. Once properly disciplined, indoctrinated, these otherwise troublesome youth became excellent enforcers of city civility, or if not tame enough for that, excellent prison guards out east. On occasion farm folk and police cadets would find commonality in raucous celebrations or simple conversation while gaming or otherwise socializing. Mostly, each group kept to itself, that being part of their misfit natures.

Of Merin's merry band of misfits now farming in the south, one was quite familiar to Lukin. Toriv had been an uncle to him for the years Toriv had been with Jenia. He now apparently ran a school for the kids of his community and others of the farm land who wanted to attend. He had a son a bit older than Kesia called Kirin who lived at the school with him. Merin might not mind-talk over distances, but he had plenty of other sources of information. Those would not be of help now. They needed to make contact with the farm folk and arrange for shelter for seven witch kids about to find exile preferable to the likely alternatives.

Lukin reached into his memory to find what he knew of Toriv's mind. Reaching into a familiar, inarticulable process in his own mind, Lukin created a conduit. Before long, he was there, feeling Toriv's presence questioning: "Is someone there?"

Not sure of what level of "voice" he needed to negotiate the distance and unfamiliar with the mind he was sending to, unlike the familial children he was accustomed to, Lukin considered the situation. Anyone who picked up on his message would be by definition of their kind, on their side. Keeping it simple, direct, an opening volley, Lukin called to Toriv: "Help! We need your help. We are of your kind; and we need you." Soon Lukin felt the response he was seeking. Toriv, sending a clear signal of willing agreement, asked what was needed of him. Thus, the conversation proceeded. The pertinent information was exchanged, along with planning for continued dialogue as the venture should solidify, move forward.

Lukin's pleas also reached another whose response was much less direct. Like a melody carried from some far off transmitter, Caela felt the call as she stood, mind open to the breeze, at the edge of the forest. It was a call that carried some element of distant past completely caught up in the immediate now. Caela felt something of a destiny calling, perhaps from her future. She walked into the forest because it was the next obvious thing to do.

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