Never read before festive extract from JC. Norman’s epic fantasy series Sphere’s Divide….
Snow glistened off the leaves of the forest like sugar encrusted diamonds and chilled the night air. The trees around them stood tall and naked, with long, cold branches that stroked the night sky to shake the snow off their fingers. Everything was white around, from the crunchy ground from the fresh snow, all the way up to the valleys and mountains in the distance which seemed to be covered in snow all year. The whole world glistened and sparkled above and below. It seemed the snow and stars above were in competition with each other. The two full moons sat in parallel on the east and west of the sky and shined down more silvery light down on the cold, winter celebration. A large fire burned in the centre of a clearing setting an orangey glow around, cackling like laughter. Only the Evergreen standing in the centre of the village still had colour in its leaves. Small illuminated acorns from other trees had been placed around the tree for decoration. The tree stood tall and proud, shining like the fire, illuminated from its decorations and the snow resting gently upon its spiky leaves. The village had all gathered outside to attend the Lifemas celebrations. The lupi all huddled up close to one another. Being descendants to ancient creatures called wolves gave them a thick fur but still clothed themselves in thick wools, leathers and cottons, especially on this cold night. Each lupus held a candle, its fire gently flowing in the wind. Mothers held onto their young and fathers with one arm around their wives. They sang together, a song of life. To remind themselves all that they, the forest around them, the wildlife; even the vulpi, the wise and terrible tokage all lived in unison with one another. A great feast was prepared and sat on long tables, waiting for the song to finish. When the singing died down with one note that echoed a message of peace across the snowy lands a single lupus stepped forward the address the crowd.
He was a tall lupus with dark fur and dark brown, aged eyes. Dressed in a warm underlay and a ceremonial black kimono. He lifted his furry, paw-like hands and spoke to his people. His name was Tangetsu, he was the pack leader of their small town, but more importantly, he was the Clan Alpha.
“My fellow lupi. We gather today to celebrate our most holy day of the year. For Lifemas has come again, and again we have done a grand job in readying the village for the festivities.”
“Here, here!” the wolf-people agreed, clapped and applauded.
Tangetsu continued after calming his crowd again, “As is tradition, before we eat and continue with our celebration, comes the most important thing of all, The Gratitude. Everybody, please hold up your candles.”
In unison, like they had done it a hundred times before, everyone held up their candles. Some put their hands on their hearts and others closed their eyes as if in prayer and listened to their alpha.
Tangetsu held out his arms and repeated a prayer he had said for years now, “Great Home, we thank you for the bountiful gifts you have given us this year. We thank you for the elements essential for our life. We thank the carpenters for our shelters and tables. We thank the hunters and gatherers for the food on our tables. We thank the tailors for the clothes on our backs. But most of all we thank life, for without life we would have no trees for shelter, no wildlife for clothing nor sustenance. We live our lives ever eternally grateful for the borrowed gift we have received. And like the plants and animals we take to ensure our survival, we promise to one day give back our lives to you. So we may feed the plants and animals who have given their lives for us to live on. Hear our prayer Home and know we are grateful. We thank you, life.”
“We thank you, life,” the lupi each whispered out loud, the words echoing around them all. In the distance, over the mountains came a howling. A soft singing howling of a neighbouring pack of their clan came from over the horizon. They too were celebrating Lifemas.
Once the prayer had finished and the distant howls reached their ears, the lupi all looked up to the starry sky and added their voices to the chorus. Each one howled until the sound seemed to vibrate all around them and further over the forest, where another, distant pack heard their celebrations and added their voices.
Over the dark sky over the whole of their land, the land howled, a howl of gratitude to everything it had. Life was sacred and it was the annual, unified howl of the lupi who were the masters of their world that reminded it of its importance. Tangetsu however only lowered his head and closed his eyes and listened to the wave of gratitude now humming in the sky above them. He did not howl, for this was a howl of joy and happiness. There was no place for his howl tonight. For when Tangetsu howled, the land wept.
A few moments later and the great feast had begun. Tangetsu gathered his clan around the tables to begin the Lifemas feast. The tables were already set with courses of soups, bread with cheese, wild roast goose or cow, lemon soaked duck and salted lizzier; stuffed peppers with rice, onions and spices and sweet pies of hand-picked apples, pears and wild berries with cream. The lupi all sat alongside each other in the cold air, a large, wooden communal gazebo sheltered them from any more falling flakes of snow and many small fires burning neatly and responsibly around them to warm their thick furs. Their feast went off without a hitch and at the end of one of the tables sat Tangetsu. Smiling at his lupi people all happily eating and chatting away. Children with full bellies of warm food began to leave the table and play and dance in the snow. Innocent and drunken laughter echoed off the gazebo and all around them. Tangetsu loved his people, but he disguised his sadness with a constant smile, nodding to others around him and drinking rich wine until he found the cold no longer bothered him this night, stood up and bowed before leaving the table.
He made his way across the soft, crunchy snow and stood before the Evergreen, lighting up the darkness around it and illuminated a gentle, warm glow to the cold and dark surrounding it. He sighed and forced another smile looking up at the great tree.
“Alpha! Alpha Tangetsu Maiyo!” called a young and familiar voice. His heart suddenly sank and quivered but he shook his head away from the pain in his heart and turned to smile at the young lupus running to him with his arms out.
He knelt down and picked up the young cub and embraced him, “Why, if it isn't the young Cassa? You should know by now not to call me by my full title. How do you like it, Master Cassa Ishi?”
The young cub laughed when Tangetsu prodded his belly, “Mother said I should come and thank you for Lifemas.” He then hugged onto his neck and embraced, “Thank you, Alpha.”
Tangetsu just nodded and turned back to the tree. From the corner of his vision he saw another lupus approach. Her fur was dark like the pup in his arm, from the top of her head and down to her pointy nose though was white. Small grey hairs began to appear around her small cheeks. Her eyes were brown and her gentle smile sank his heart. Dressed in a white and red kimono she stepped forward and bowed.
“What are you doing here?” Cassa asked innocently as his mother appeared and bowed to her alpha.
Tangetsu smiled and nodded back before pointing to the tree for Cassa. “I was just taking a moment to appreciate the tree this year. Everyone has done a fine job, yes?”
Cassa smiled and nodded.
His mother Cinda continued. The second he heard her voice his blood shivered and his ears pricked up alert, even her scent was perfume to him. He avoided her eyes though, he had learned that the hard way.
“Yes, certainly. I feel the village has really outdone themselves this year.”
“Do we know why we have the tree though?” Tangetsu asked the young cub on his arm and held him like a father.
“It's a Lifemas tree!” Cassa innocently replied.
They both laughed. “Yes, very true, but why do we have it?” he asked again.
“Because it's Lifemas.”
Again the two adults laughed and Tangetsu pointed to the tree to explain and give the young cub a lesson. “We have the tree as a symbol of life. The Evergreen is called that because it is green all year round and doesn't shed its leaves like most trees in winter. Even in winter, when life is hardest this tree continues to grow. This is why we celebrate Lifemas. We celebrate in the middle of winter when the days are the darkest and the nights are the coldest. This tree is to remind us that no matter how dark it gets, life will continue and spring will return. It is knowing this that we celebrate life more than any other time of the year. For life is precious and equal.”
“Is this why we celebrate this by hunting down animals, skinning and eating them Alpha?” the dark furred Cinda asked with a slight cheek to her question.
Tangetsu couldn't help but smile. Cinda never did eat other animals, she relied for sustenance solely on the plants and vegetation.
“I can understand the irony of what you're saying, for that is the irony of life itself. Yes, we eat other animals, we cut down trees for shelter for we cannot live without them.” He turned and looked back up at the tree still shining in the darkness around it, a true symbol of life shrouded by a dark and cold, unforgiving world, like a force of darkness being fought back by a light of optimism.
“Life, as we know it anyway, cannot survive without the death of other life.”
Cinda again bowed but argued, “Pardon me, Alpha. But how can you say that? We only kill life for food and shelter. Trees and vegetation photosynthesise from the energy of the sun and so do not need to kill life in order to survive. It is the flaw of the animal kingdom that we need plants and others to live while plants only need themselves.”
“That is not entirely true,” Tangetsu countered. “For trees, much like most other vegetation need nutrients in the soil. Nutrients they receive from the decay of other life forms or faecal matter from other animals when they too eat life forms to survive.”
“Yes, Alpha that is true. But there are some life forms that do not even need such things in order to survive.”
“That is only because they require much less heat and energy. Yes, we owe our entire existence to the plants and protists for they were here first and oxygenated our home, but that does not mean they do not need us equally as much as we need them. All life is equal, and plant life, animal life, fungi, protists and all forms of bacteria all live and depend on one another, in one form or another.” He turned again to young Cassa and gave him another lesson. “Only the archaea, a very old and resilient form of life can live by eating sulphur and methane gas, but even they become part of the food chain. For they represent another great and masterful lesson. That even if everything that we know were to die, life itself would never perish, under any circumstances.” He prodded the young Cassa again and smiled, “That is the meaning of Lifemas.”
Cinda crossed her arms, admiring his explanation but still remaining in her meatless resolve, “Well, I still don't believe it's necessary to murder and slaughter countless animal lives when we could all happily together.”
Tangetsu put down Cassa who ran back to the feast. Tangetsu let out a small chuckle, “I love that you choose not to kill and eat animals, Cinda. You have a big heart for all living things, but also question your logic. For you claim to refuse to eat animals because you believe all life is equal but then only eat one particular kingdom of life. For your statement is true and life is equal but you depend solely on one food source, branding them as less important as every other life form.”
This time Cinda bowed again, again her perfume wafted over to him and sank his heart. He turned back to the tree and wore the same smiled mask.
“Again you misunderstand, Alpha. I do not choose to only eat vegetation because I believe that they are not equal. I eat them because I know that I am not harming them by doing so. A carrot does not flinch from pain when cut with a knife as a duck would.”
Tangetsu sighed and smiled, “So you base your philosophy by your perception of what constitutes as pain? I can understand that. For they have no pain receptors as we do, nor brains to calculate pain. But since pain is subjective to the individual and temporary, does pain even exist?”
Cinda laughed, “But of course pain exists, Alpha. And I live my life, devoted to not causing pain to any living being.”
This time his heart sank and his chest hollowed out. This time he could not wear a smile as a mask and could only turn his head toward the bitingly cold darkness and closed his eyes. So it really is only I whom you decide should feel pain? he thought.
He turned again, feeling done with the conversation and forced a gentle smile as best as he could, “Well, you got me there, Cinda. I apologise, I never meant to question your life style. For it is Lifemas and I should be celebrating life, not questioning it.” He bowed this time and stepped back, “Happy Lifemas, Cinda. Please enjoy your night.”
READ THE NEXT PART AT JERA'S JAMBOREE (goes live 6th December)
About JC Norman
J.C. Norman grew up and currently lives in Milton Keynes Village in the UK where he works in the food industry. He has studied martial arts all his life and has worked to incorporate this experience into his writing.
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