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The Final Pathway

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A Shaman's Journey to the After Life

Fantasy / Adventure
John Hester
Age Rating:

J’men at the Place of Waiting

The ancient being slowly stands up with the help of two grandchildren. He is preparing to travel from his simple abode to the honored Place of Waiting. The bed of waiting is in a ceremonial hut near that of Nacom, leader of the clan. It is guarded by two mighty Holcuns. The seasoned warriors will guard over the J’men until the ancestors open their arms to receive him.

Tito hands his papa the white linen tunic. The old man sniffs the fabric as he pulls the shirt down over his head. “It was washed in lavender, mint and basil, eh?” He says in a tired voice. Tito shakes his head and helps smooth out the tunic. “It smells of the forest, like you.” The boy smiles widely at his papa’s compliment.

Tiationa lifts the ceremonial outer robe and spreads it out for inspection. “What do you think, my great and honored J’men? How did it turn out?”

“It is a work of art. You honor me, my granddaughter.” The old man admires the bright green linen robe. It is decorated with sea shells, and red and yellow feathers. “Kukulkan himself would be proud to wear it.” He laughs weakly and smiles at her as she wraps the robe around him.

Next Tito ties the yellow sash around his waist. He raises the ceremonial knife to the old man’s lips. His papa kisses the black obsidian blade. Tito slides it into the leather sheath and tucks it into the sash. The old man pats the boy on his head. “You have prepared me well, my grandson. I am ready for my last battle.”

The old man has served as the clan’s J’men all of his adult life. The spirits have resided with him since his earliest days. As a young warrior he had earned the title “Savan Agual.”

Outside of his immediate family he is known as either J’men or Savan Agual. A few close friends used to call him “Olo Sav.” He has not heard their voices for many cycles. Most of those friends have already been called by the ancestors. It is a warm thought to know that he will soon see them again.

The custom for all who enter the Place of Waiting is to be carried in by strong Holcuns. At the J’men’s request, he will walk the distance followed by the warriors and his family. It is painful for his body to move about much, these days. He embraces the pain and honors his body for carrying him through life. He will carry it to the bed of waiting as it has carried him.

The grandchildren walk on either side of the old man as they exit the hut, he holds their hands. The path to his new home is decorated with flowers and palm leaves. Villagers line the path on both sides.

All of the clan are there to accompany their much respected elder on his journey to join the ancestors.

The fierce Holcuns hold erect their war paddles. The obsidian blades glint in the sunlight. The warriors come up behind the trio. Tito hands his papa the staff. Savan Agual smiles at this for Tito has decorated his walking staff with yellow feathers. The old man tells his grandson. “It is told that the great feathered serpent Kukulkan displays full and bright yellow feathers, as bright as the sun.”

The journey to the Place of Waiting is only a short distance from the J’men’s home. The procession moves slowly behind the old man as he takes careful steps and leans on his staff, often stopping for a few seconds. The people along the path sing songs and reach out to touch and caress him, some are weeping. They kiss his hand as he reaches to bless them. The people honor their great J’men. He is loved by his people. He will be missed.

The Place of Waiting is filled with the smoke of incense. The strong Holcuns assist the honored clan elder to his bed of waiting. The linens and blankets smell of a fresh summer breeze and of river flowers. Tito adjust the soft pillows beneath his head. Tiationa pours containers of wine and goat’s milk. She places them within reach of the bed and shows Papa where they are located as well as the container for passing water. Papa pats her head. The grandchildren kiss him and leave the room.

Savan Agual’s journey from his old life to the beginning of his new one has left him tired and weak, though he has a warm feeling in his heart. As the people greeted him, he felt their love and respect. He has never felt so honored and wishes he could serve them all for more cycles. But the ancestors have whispered to him. He will walk the path that has been placed before him as he always has, in humility and respect.

He performs his evening prayer. Though he cannot rise to stand unassisted, and since the others have left, he simply bows his head toward each direction. He announces his gratitude and offers supplication for his people. He drinks the milk and then the wine. “I await until you call for me, my ancestors. He closes his eyes. He feels content, but is tired in body. He will sleep for now.

Though it is still the dark of night, a foreign noise awakens him. It is not a sound that he has ever heard before in the world. He rest on his elbows and raises his head to locate the sound. It has faded and he can no longer hear it. He listens for a few seconds as he longs to hear it again. It seems important.

He wonders of the strange sound and what type of animal could make it. No bird or insect has ever made such a sound. The sound had a pattern to it but he did not catch it, to understand it. It had awakened him though as if it was a message. Perhaps he will hear it again.

In the early morning sun the Muwaans stand outside of the hut and listen. They hear no sounds and assume the J’men still sleeps. As the three women turn to leave he calls out, “Please enter my friends.” The women enter the hut and see that the elder is fully awake and attempting to groom himself.

The oldest Muwaan pats the J’men’s hand and takes the comb from him. “Why are you doing our duties, oh honored elder? Shall you shame us all?” She chuckles and begins removing his tunic. The other women prepare the jars of water and spice that will be used. Each morning while in the Place of Waiting, one is to receive a ceremonial bath. Those joining the ancestors will carry the aroma of spice and respect to the eternal village. The women begin their delicate and important duties.

To serve as a Muwaan is considered one of the highest sacrifices one may make for the clan. Muwaans are midwives and serve during all the births of the people. Muwaans perform their duties when a new child enters the world and when an elder is leaving to be born into the world beyond.

Many hours after the Muwaans have left, Savan Agual hears his Chieftain’s voice. “Honored J’men, may I enter?”

Smiling, Savan Agual calls out in the loudest volume he can make, which is weak and raspy, “Yes, please my most respected leader. I am honored by your presence.”

Nacom enters and kneels at the bedside of the dying elder. “We have a guest from the northern village who ask to speak with you?”

“Who would come to see an old man?” Savan Agual pats Nacom on the hand. Nacom squeezes the J’men’s hand, “It is someone who wishes to honor you, Olo Sav!”

“You honor me great Chieftain, yes, bring in your guest please, please, all are welcome.”

She steps into the hut carrying an embroidered blanket. The hood of her robe covers her face. She places the blanket on the lap of the J’men and says, “A gift to keep you warm, great teacher.”

He recognizes her voice. Savan Agual cannot hide his tears. It is Zequata, his most advanced pupil of all the years. He has not seen her for ages. A J’men must train any pupil who shows signs of the spirit. Zequata is one of many that he has trained to be a spiritual adviser to the people. She is his favorite for her gifts are even more powerful than his own and he loves her as a daughter.

She lowers the hood of her robe and leans down to kiss her aged teacher. He hugs her gently and feels the tremble in her body. “My sweet child, don’t hold back, express your sadness, I am leaving to join the ancestors. You must let me go.” Savan Agual says in a gentle and tired voice.

She weeps on his shoulder, “You have given so much to me. I am in your debt for the rest of my days, oh great elder.”

The Holcuns outside draw back the curtains of the hut’s entrance. Light pours into the dark space. The J’men looks outside and sees the people all gathered around the hut. They are sitting on the ground as if waiting to hear a great pronouncement.

Zequata stands and addresses the audience. “I was a child of twelve years when I attended the apprenticeship of this great J’men.” Some in the audience clap their shells.

“I came under the wise training of this teacher. His understanding of the great Mother’s ways, of the Gods and of the heavenly lights, is vast. He shares it with those who are willing to carry such knowledge. I have been blessed to be his pupil.” The people all clap their shells.

She continues to tell of her instruction under this teacher’s direction. Savan Agual thinks she is making him to be more than he really is. But still, he is filled with joy to hear her speak of him in such a way.

Tito and Tiationa enter the hut and stand by the baskets of gifts. When one is preparing to join the ancestors, they must give as gifts their most cherished possessions. Papa motions to a basket and Tito lifts it to Zequata. She takes the basket and begins inspecting the containers of spice and medicine.

“Oh great teacher these gifts shall supply my medicine chest for a full cycle. Each time I use them, I will do so in honor of you, my J’men. You bless me, I am very grateful!”

Nacom raises his arm to signal an announcement. All are silent and still as the leader begins, “Savan Agual has several of his past pupils who have offered to serve in his place as our clan’s new J’men. The elders will council and seek the Gods’ will in this matter. Until a new J’men is decided upon, Zequata will fulfill the duties as our honorary J’men.”

Savan Agual becomes excited, “My child I’m am so honored.” She nods her head to him. The space is filled with the sounds of happy voices and the clapping of shells.

The coughing spell begins and the J’men attempts to raise himself higher on the bed. He is trying to catch his breath. Nacom assist the elder as he attempts to recover himself. Zequata pours a container of water and hands it to Nacom. The chieftain helps the elder drink. The spell is ending.

In a weak voice Savan Agual urges, “Continue my child … please.” His eyes float around the hut as if he is trying to bring his vision into focus. Nacom stands and faces Zequata, he nods at her. She understands, the J’men must rest now.

Zequata kneels beside her teacher. She places her head against his shoulder. “You should meditate now dear teacher. I will be close to you, always. Rest, Savan Agual.” Leaving the Place of Waiting, she can feel the presence of the ancestors and knows it will not be long now until he joins them.

Tiationa attempts to get her papa to drink the milk and wine. He is not responding to her urges and seems to be contemplating other things. It is as if he is looking at something that is far away. “Papa, you should sleep now. If you need help in the night the Holcuns will call for me.” Papa stares off into the great beyond and does not answer her. As she leaves she wonders, “Will he still be here in the morning?”

The J’men wants to respond to her but someone is calling his name. It is a male voice. It sounds familiar but seems far away. The space around him begins to fill with fog. He is no longer in the Place of Waiting. He stands before a mountain.

“Kio-Taho” the voice calls again. A man is up on the mountain. It is he who calls to the J’men. The sun is behind the man, and only his dark silhouette is revealed. “Kio-Taho, my son come up here.”

It is his father who calls him by his younger name. Kio-Taho begins to climb the mountain. “Father, my father wait for me, I am climbing to you, wait!”

Kio-Taho reaches a plateau and sees his father’s silhouette behind a tall pile of stones. He approaches but his father backs away, holding up his hands. “Why can I not embrace you Father?”

“Soon my son, but not yet. You have a few tasks to complete before you can join us.”

“What tasks must I perform?” Kio-Taho asks looking at the tall pile of smooth stones. “Why are these stones here and who placed them?”

“My son, you placed them here throughout your life.”

“I do not remember every doing this.” Kio-Taho picks up a stone and sees the markings of an engraved scene. “Father, there are markings on this stone, it reminds me of a time in my childhood.”

“Yes, my son, each stone carries a painful memory from your life for these are the stones of regret.”

“Regrets, why?”

“For you to revisits these memories one last time, to see if they still have something to offer, to teach you.” Father points down the mountain to a river. “After you remember each stone, cast it into the river.”

Kio-Taho views the flowing crystal river. “My father, I have never seen this river before, it is magnificent!”

Father laughs, “You have been swimming in it your entire life. It is the river of time. It has been flowing since the beginning and will flow forever. It flows all the way to the eternal village.”

Kio-Taho examines the stone and remembers a time of shame in his life. He had disappointed his father and brothers. “Oh father, I remember this day with sadness.” But father is gone. Only Kio-Taho stands alone on the mountain. He rolls the stone around in his hands and remembers.

He was a child of seven cycles. His brothers had been teaching him to use an atlatl and spear, with fierce instructions to not use it unassisted. He must be trained properly and require the skill to be worthy of such a powerful weapon.

One day his brothers were away with father trading with the northern village. Kio-Taho took his brother’s spear and went into the forest to play. He wanted to be a great hunter and warrior.

He spotted a turtle and drove the spear through it. He watched it die and its death made him feel bad. Some older boys spotted him with the dead turtle and informed his family.

Father was very angry but he did not strike his son. He explained, “Nothing is to be killed for play or sport. We only kill to feed ourselves. We hunt and kill with respect and honor. There is a proper way but what you have done is a shame.”

Kio-Taho would have felt better if his father had struck him. He had to retrieve the turtle and prepare it as a meal. The shame stayed with him for a long time. He has never eaten turtle again.

The next stone memory is of his first trading trip with Father. He was a boy of twelve cycles. The northern village had a bad growing season and could offer nothing to trade. Father freely gave to them medicines and spices. He led a second trip to provide more resources gathered from his own village, for the people were in need.

Later that cycle, Kio-Taho’s younger sister caught the winter illness. She was only three cycles old. Father did not have enough medicine to save her. She died. Mother and father wept bitterly.

He holds the stone against his head and remembers his little sister’s laughter and smile. He has carried this stone in his heart all these years. It is a sweet weight to carry.

He ponders a stone that represents the memory of his father’s death. It was a life changing event for Kio-Taho. His father’s death led to the great rebellion and changed the course of clan life, for it had set them all free.

Would he, Savan Agual, be the man whose is honored and cherished by his people, if not that his father’s death had set him to action, to rebel and throw off the rule of the royal family? The memories are bitter and hard. He holds the stone next to his chest and weeps. He visits each stone, relives each pain and regret, and throws them all into the river of time.

The noise is sounding again and awakening him from his slumber. The strange foreign noise fades as soon as he opens his eyes. Where is it coming from? The J’men looks around the hut. He has visitors. It is his youngest son and daughter-in law. They greet him warmly.

“Did you hear that sound? It awakened me. Did you see what is making that sound?” Savan Agual begs.

“Father, you were asleep when we entered, you were dreaming, that is all.” His son tells him.

“No, no, something is calling to me, sending a message.” The old man pleads.

His daughter-in-law takes his hand, “Dear Father, calm yourself. It is probably the ancestors whispering to you.”

“No, no, I’ve heard their whispers before, this is something else. Something strange, I have never heard such sounds before.”

“Then perhaps it’s the Gods. Are they calling to you Father?” His son ask.

Savan Agual shakes his head, “If so, they are very strange Gods!”

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