In the middle of the forest sat a stone hut, and always from this hut came the scent of amber. Within the hut there lived what the nearby villagers believed was an old god. A god so ancient that none remembered his name, what he was the god of, or even if he was a “he.”
The Amber God, some called him.
It was rumored that this god sometimes walked among the villagers. Whenever someone wore amber perfume or burned amber incense, their friends and neighbors would tease and ask, “Are you the Amber God?” The villagers fancied he was their guardian.
One day a stranger came to the village. His clothing was strange and it gleamed like black water. His face was strange, for it was milky pale but painted with black tattoos along his cheeks and forehead. He had a strange ring on his finger, made not of metal, but of wood–sandalwood some said who had seen it. He settled in the village’s only inn and no one could suss out what his business was.
He arrived with the new moon and though it waxed and waned and he did nothing further to disrupt life in the village, the villagers remained curious and wary. They watched and they wondered. Soon the rumor spread that the stranger had developed a rivalry with one of the villagers, a man who lived near the border between the village and the forest. This man was neither loved nor hated nor was he special in any way. He was known mostly for the old-fashioned cloak of coarse wool that he wore and the long bushy beard that he kept.
When the stranger and this villager passed in the street, they would each stiffen and ignore the other. When the two came into the pub, they would glare at each other. The stranger would sit on a barstool by himself. The villager would take a table in the corner. How it started and what the feud was about, no one knew. But after a while and for no apparent reason, the villagers began to take sides. The stranger soon had a group of men and women who regularly join him at the bar. The villager had his own group of supporters at his corner table.
Soon, some villagers began to mark their faces with black ink and fire soot to copy the stranger’s tattoos. Others began wearing wool cloaks and growing beards, like the villager. Soon, it seemed that everyone was either favoring the stranger or favoring the villager. Those who wished not to be involved were coerced by friends or family to choose. The two rivals did nothing to stop such behavior. Even most of the village elders had chosen sides. The few elders who had not chosen sides worried that the village would fall to riot and ruin if the feud did not end. And so, the three elders who remained yet untouched by the feud met in secret to discuss what should be done. The three elders had noticed another change that disturbed them. The villager and his followers had begun to smell of amber. The stranger and his followers had begun to smell of sandalwood. The three elders feared that their village was in the grip of a struggle that was beyond their earthly power to control. And yet, they were the elders and they loved their village and their people. They resolved to act, to bring the stranger and the villager to their council and ask both men to leave the village. They feared the village might fail anyway, becoming abandoned as the people left to follow the man to which they were loyal. But they hoped that the spell of the feud would be broken once the two rivals left, and that the villagers would regain their reason and be unified once more.
But the morning after this secret meeting, the three elders found their fellow villagers in the streets. The villagers were armed with butcher knives, mops, wooden beams, and the like, and were arguing as one. In the center stood the two rivals, the stranger and the villager. The elders could see there were no children in the crowd, but before they could give thanks for that and before they could utter any pleas for reason and peace, someone was struck, someone yelled out, and the villagers surged toward each other.
The riot lasted till nightfall.
By some miracle, no one was killed. But there were broken arms and legs, and blood everywhere from stabs and cuts and bruises, and one woman could not move her limbs, and one man had lost an eye. A few buildings burned. And the three elders were thankful it had not been worse, for they had feared that by nightfall, there would be no one left in the village who was not a corpse.
The three elders found the stranger and the villager, and restraining their great anger and their great fear, they asked the men to leave.
The stranger and the villager declared that their feud was not yet over, but agreed that they would settle their differences without involving the villagers. They gave no apology and no reparation.
They simply left.
And the villagers, their might spent and their senses stunned, went home to heal themselves.
That same night a storm broke out of a clear sky. A sudden gust unfurled a blanket of dark clouds that poured water and ice onto the village. The elders watched from the inn where many of the villagers had gathered to have their wounds tended. Lightning crashed around the village. Thunder boomed. The pelting of ice and the drumming of rain became the music of their days and nights. The villagers were hardy and their stores of food and fuel were vast. They took care of each other and rarely ventured out.
Some claimed they could see figures in the clouds, and arms hurling lighting or giant fistfuls of hail. But most were tired of such stories and wanted only to see the blue sky and the yellow sun. The villagers had grown weary of the commotion and of their own feud. They longed for respite. And one morning, their longing was finally fulfilled. As suddenly as it had come, the storm vanished. A gentle sun rose and melted and dried and warmed the village.
The villagers rebuilt their village and went about their lives. To the approval of the three elders who had refused to take sides, the villagers had learned to be kinder to each other, gentler with each other, and slower to anger. Sometime later the villagers ventured back into the forest. And in the middle of the forest, they found the stone hut. Untouched by the storm.
And from that stone hut came the scent of sandalwood.
Copyright © 2013, by Nila L. Patel. All rights reserved.
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