This is Chapter Four, Part One of Life Loves Death, the unedited first draft. If you haven’t been following along, get started with Chapter One, Chapter Two and Chapter Three. When you’re finished with this, move on to Part Two
The fourth chapter I dislike for its lack of a character piece. It is as difficult as it sounds to cover six thousand years in five thousand words and still have meaningful character development. In the end, I just had to make it my narrator’s story. I hope there is some human emotion and empathy towards the end, but I can’t be sure.
For the remainder of the month, I need to work very, very hard on this. Fortunately, I believe that is in the cards. I will also be travelling on the 28th, 29th, and 30th to Calgary for work, so hopefully there will be a lot of time in airports and planes and hotels to make the final sprint to the finish line.
Life Loves Death
Chapter Four (Part 1/2)
by Geoffrey Micks
I switched off the tape recorder, and I’m sorry about that. I do not have a verbatim transcript of the conversation that follows, but I had to switch off my tape recorder to have it. I’ll do my best to summarize it for you, now that she’s gone.
I asked her if she was joking.
She assured me she wasn’t.
I asked her what she wanted with me.
She said I knew exactly what she wanted with me.
I did. I’ve known for a very long time that I am not supposed to be. One day, someone was going to call me on it. I just didn’t expect it to be a pretty young blonde from Minnesota.
She laughed when I told her that.
Honestly, my friends, that was one of the eeriest conversations of my life. I’ve sent her back down to the village for the night. My hope is that when she comes back tomorrow, she’ll let me record our next conversation. I seem to hold more cards than Death is used to dealing with: I am not a blubbering wreck when confronted with my own mortality. If she lacks the will or ability to kill me, then I’m going to record what Death has to say to me.
For tonight, at least, I’ve bought more time to tell the story of my life. I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do with myself. As I said, running doesn’t seem to offer me a better option that staying. She said she would not harm me. Doesn’t that suggest the threat must lie elsewhere? Perhaps, fleeing in the night, I slip and dash my head against a rock, dying as my first wife did? Perhaps I make it off this mountain and catch a train, only to die of a heart attack before I reach my destination?
No. I knew before I spoke to her that my end is near. I decided there was something I wanted to do with my final hours before I had any inkling that Death could come visiting in the flesh, sit down across from me, drink my tea, and then chat amiably about the weather, or my many past lives, or a hundred other things that seem so uncharacteristic coming from… What do I call her? I predate the idea of a grim reaper, and I doubt very much anyone thinks the grim reaper wears her hair in a pony tail and speaks with a Midwestern accent.
So I’ve sent her back down to the valley. She says she’ll be back. I told her I was going to switch the tape recorder back on, and she didn’t say another word after that. I can see her receding form still, although the light grows dim. I have one more night at least, it seems. My hands are shaking…
So where shall I resume my story? I suppose I’d like to pick up where I left off, but I ask you to forgive me if I skip over centuries the way other autobiographers skip over their childhoods. There isn’t enough time to tell you everything I could say. I must triage my tale, lingering only where I think it is important, giving only enough attention to the rest to give you context. I should have done this years ago, but I’ve left it too late. Too late by far to say all that I would want to say. Perhaps that is for the best.
So, yes, I walked away from the Jazuz, and I have no idea what happened to them, but I can hazard a guess, thanks to the work of historians and anthropologists and geneticists: You, dear listeners, are in all probability descendants of the Jazuz.
Quite seriously, the odds are heavily in my favour that you —whoever you are— are descendants of my people. I’ve read that anyone alive in the year 1500 BCE is an ancestor of ever person alive today. Math more complicated than I can easily fathom apparently proves that point. What can you say, then, about people who lived during the last Ice Age?
There were probably less than a million human beings in the entire world when I was born. Even though the ethnic group were not the Neolithic peoples who built Stonehenge, and those people —whoever they were— were not the Celts who invaded Britain in the earliest days of recorded history, and the Celts were overwhelmed in time by the Romans, and then by the Angles and the Saxons and the Danes and the Normans, there is a truth that has been born out throughout history: People don’t disappear entirely. The conquerors eventually bed the conquered, and the children are both, both and neither.
Yes, I am sure descendants of the Jazuz survive to this day, and over time my people’s prodigy have gone to every corner of the world to beget and beget and beget again. Even in Australia and South America, it is very likely that some small part of my people’s genetic contribution has been made at some point in the millennia between then and now. The story I just told you is as much your story as it is my own. Pedj is as much your many times great-aunt as she was my first wife. That’s worth thinking on.
As for me, I just walked the earth. By the first snowfall after my father crashed to the earth I fell in with a group who lived on the banks of the ancient Severn River who called themselves the Creen. I stayed two or three winters, then I walked on again, and I forget who I stayed with next. Years went by, too many years. It occurred to me gradually that I did not grow older, and that frightened me. For many, many years I thought it must somehow be related to Drew’s death. Was he really Jazi after all? Did I somehow kill the Sky God? In killing him, did I somehow gain a supernatural power?
Sometimes I lived with a people for a generation or two at a time, and their stories became my stories, but I cannot tell each tale in its turn. There are not enough words, and there is not enough time, and for many centuries the story would be variations on the same theme, over, and over, and over again: I prefer to think of those lives as happening to someone else. Keer came to a new people as a stranger. They took him in, for he was a mighty hunter, and he had much to give them as a man who asked for nothing except a home and offered them whatever skills and labours he could give in exchange.
Eventually he always had to take a wife, for nothing binds a man to a community like marriage, and people will only tolerate a solitary stranger for so long before he must commit to becoming one of them heart and soul in a very real and tangible way. All too soon, though, Keer’s wife grew old, and people wondered why he did not grow old with her.
Sometimes as much as ten years could go by without anyone remarking on it, but one day someone would point out that the Keer they first met had not aged a day from the Keer who appeared before them. First they considered Keer merely fortunate, but when the children he met upon his first arrival had grandchildren of their own, and still he did not age in any way, eventually —inevitably— they feared him.
There was something magical about this Keer, and where his magic gave him an advantage over them that magic must be some kind of evil, surely? Where had he come from, really? Was he even a man, or was he some spirit who appeared from nowhere to work some unknown mischief among good, honest folk? Keer heard them whisper and plot during the long winters, and eventually Keer would have to leave them.
Sometimes it was an amicable banishment. Sometimes Keer was driven away with spears and burning torches. Sometimes he just walked away in the spring without a word and never came back. It was always hard. Eventually, Keer became an unusual name, and so he took others.
Yes, it’s easier to think of those centuries as having happened to someone else. It’s that easy to dismiss half my life, thousands of years. What can I really tell you? What stands out in my mind as important enough to linger on for a moment? Nothing comes to mind. Would it surprise you to hear that I didn’t even notice the end of the Ice Age?
It happened over such a long stretch that it somehow passed me by unnoticed. One day there were no more mammoths, and it seemed like the next day the steppes of Europe were a dense forest, so you had to climb a hill to see a horizon. It happened so gradually, I only realized the change had occurred after a hundred lifetimes had passed. There were deer and oak forests everywhere.
I remember I was hunting a deer, not the hundredth or even the thousandth I had tried to kill, when suddenly I was struck with some awful vertigo: I was using a bow! What had happened to my spear? Some cataclysmic change had somehow gone by without my noticing!
I was so troubled by this realization that I tried to explain it to my wife of the time. What was her name? Seebl? Amma? Mekkin? Who can remember? I do remember she thought I had suddenly gone mad, and she turned to her family for help dealing with the outlander who shared her sleeping pallet. Her father tried to exorcize me by resting heavy stones upon my chest while the whole tribe sang songs, begging the evil spirits to leave me. I publicly renounced my ravings, and they claimed to forgive me, but they never forgot. I left those people in the late autumn: I didn’t fear being on my own in the winter anymore. Once you’ve survived hundreds of winters than last six or eight months at a time, a mere four-month season is a trivial matter to do on your own.
I fear I am a useless first-hand account for any historians who wanted to talk about the earliest days of agriculture. That happened in the Middle East, and I lived in what is now England and France when men must have first learned to plant and sow and weed and harvest. I was a hunter among hunter-gatherers for more than half of my life, and my first glimpse of the future was not a field of emmer wheat. Would you believe me if I said it was a clean face?
A man came into my tribe’s camp, but that was not a rare occurrence. The vast forests of France were full of wanderers at that time, and people came and went as they pleased. It was an easy time for me: I rarely stayed with any clan or tribe long enough for my longevity to be noticed. When I saw this man, though, I wasn’t thinking of old age, his or mine. I thought he was just a boy, although a peculiarly tall and strong one.
He was blond, and that was a rarity in our part of the world at that time. He also had blue eyes, and that was rarer still. Geneticists today suggest blue eyes are the result of a single mutation, dating back to around the time of my own birth. I think on that often: At the same time a random genetic fluke created me, a sterile freak designed to last forever, somewhere else a baby was born with blue eyes.
Where my fate was to make me an outcast, eventually banished from wherever I came to rest, those blue eyes destined their original owner to be sought after wherever he or she went. All blue-eyed people are descendants of that first freak, and the number of blue eyes in the world today is a testament to how attractive that mutation is. All I can say is thank goodness blue-eyed people are not as sterile as I am: I’m quite fond of blue eyes.
Death —Jennifer White— has blue eyes…
Anyway, this man-boy came into our camp, and I call him a man-boy because there was no way to tell how old he was. He was full grown, certainly, but how can you tell the age of a man who has no beard? It was as strange to see a man of his size without a beard as it would be to see a woman half his size with one. He looked twelve years old.
He waited for the people of my clan to gather around him, and then he set down the pack he carried upon his back with the help of a tumpline around his head. He undid the bindings of his burden to reveal a series of wonders, neatly spread out upon the aurochs hide that made up the outer cover of his luggage. The man-boy made his living as a trader it seemed. He had nautilus shells and sea salt from the distant coast. He had amber and jet jewelry from places so distant, they had no name. He had flint and obsidian and bone spear points and arrowheads. Most importantly, though, he had bronze.
It glinted in the sun in a way I didn’t quite understand. I thought it was a stone, but no stone was ever so finely knapped as this implement was wrought. Would you believe the first metalwork I ever saw was not a knife or a spear or even an ornament? It was a series of straight edge razors. The man was a traveling barber: For a meal and a place by your fire he would cut your hair and shave off your beard. For a haunch of venison and a brace of rabbits I found myself clean-shaven as I hadn’t been in thousands of years. Natt was still alive and laughing his booming laugh when I had last run my fingers over my naked chin.
That was my first experience with modern civilization, but within a couple of generations of that shave, bronze was an utterly unremarkable thing. By then, the wealthy had gold and silver bangles at their wrists and throat. We went fishing with bronze fish hooks, and every man who counted himself able-bodied had some weapon of bronze on his person. I set myself up as a trader, and I wandered far and wide peddling things, and no one ever noticed that I didn’t age.
I had begun to have visions of the future by then, although I couldn’t control them. One of my earliest prognostications that I decided to act upon was related to bronze: I saw myself pouring bronze into a mould, and although I didn’t understand what was happening, I knew it was my destiny.
I had obtained my bronze trade items through a series of middlemen up to this time, and so I began to head in whatever direction they said they were coming from. I knew I had to learn the secrets of bronze. That was my future, as far as I was concerned. I walked towards the greatest mountains in the land, which even then were called the Elpes.
On the far side of them —although whether that was Austria or Hungary or Croatia, I could not tell you— I found a town with a wooden palisade that brought copper and tin together to make bronze ingots. Traders came and went from there, and the people lived well. If I brought them food, they would give me bronze. It took me decades to graduate from trader to tradesman, but eventually I married a smith’s daughter, and I was inducted into the mysteries.
Move on to Part Two, in which our hero learns three arts: bronze, sailing, and moving on.