“Tell me of your wanderings,” my sovereign said, as I bowed before them.
“I bring gifts and I bring tidings,” I said. I gestured to the pallet of goods from the land I had recently visited.
“Have you found a worthy place?” my sovereign asked, ignoring my gifts.
I raised my head, but kept my eyes lowered. “Yes, sovereign. Worthy, but…I encountered a great challenge.”
My sovereign sighed, knowing now that it would be necessary to hear the full tale of my journey.
Brief though that journey was, I knew that any account beyond the words, “I have found a worthy place,” would greatly test my sovereign’s short patience.
But I was curious too, as to how my sovereign would respond to what I had encountered in the realm beyond our own.
When first I wandered through the portal, the realm into which I stepped appeared much like my own. A golden sun shown above in a sky that was colored pale blue. I heard the trilling of what sounded like a bird, and when I glanced toward the sound, I spotted a small, feathered creature perched upon a post, preening and crooning.
She raised her wings to me. And so I raised my wings to her.
Then I hid my wings, for in my realm, not all beings have them, and those who don’t are on occasion envious of those who do.
My purpose was to remain unnoticed and unremarked upon by those who resided in and ruled this realm.
After only a day of observation, I learned what I needed to fulfill that purpose. I learned the languages of the people who lived in the realm. They were indeed wingless, but they walked upon two legs as I do. So too was the rest of their form a symmetry of reflection. Two upon two for the most part. Eyes, ears, limbs. Though, not a single one whom I encountered was perfectly symmetrical. In that way, I felt even more at ease among these people. For I have never been perfectly symmetrical, since the day of my birth into my world.
On the second day, I explored the new realm, and amassed the gifts that I would bring back to my sovereign. Gifts of glossy glass and garish gowns. Sweet foods and drinks. Stones and ores. The gifts required by custom as well as those desired by preference.
On the third day is when I encountered my first and only challenge.
A fierce and cutting wind began to blow.
The sky changed.
Gray clots appeared and loomed above all, so thick they darkened the sky, and blocked the very light of the sun.
Some light seemed to filter through at first. I could sense it upon my skin. Even later, when the commotion began, I could sense the sun struggling to pierce through the dark and menacing veil that shrouded the sky.
A sense of dread gripped me, for I felt something, some tension, some expectation, in the very air. I took shelter within a tavern. Unsure if I should ask about the new, troubling development, I did what I had been doing for two days. I listened. I stood before a window, watching the sky, and I listened.
I heard someone comment on the “clouds moving in.”
Something struck the window and I jerked.
A small trickle told me what the something was.
Another drop struck the glass. And another. I took no more than three breaths before a steady patter sounded from outside. And a steady drumming sounded upon the glass window. I wanted to flee and find some sturdy place, not wood, but stone or metal, where I could take shelter from the barrage.
Where is it coming from? I wondered.
My first thought was of attack, and it seemed to bear true when a couple burst through the door of the tavern, shut it quickly, and shook the droplets off their outer garments before removing those garments and huddling together, rubbing their hands to warm them, as they moved further into the tavern.
But the tavern-keeper greeted them warmly and asked what he might serve them. I had expected that he would have them lie still while he tended to whatever injuries they had surely suffered from being struck by volley after volley from above.
The more closely I watched the people in the tavern, the more curious I grew, especially about the people who arrived, dripping and chilled, the people who tolerated being pelted by the relentless rain.
That’s what it was called, this torrent that struck from the sky.
“Have you ever wondered what it is and where it comes from?” I quietly asked the tavern-keeper at the end of the night, after the rain had been steadily falling for hours. “Or what causes it?”
Though I had become accustomed to the sound of the drumming on the windows and on the roof, I still felt anxious. Too much so to enjoy any sleep that night.
The tavern-keeper wiped a glass clean, waving to a departing patron who—like so many others—retrieved his coat and ventured back out.
I dared myself to watch him leave, but I could not.
To willingly stride out into the rain…it was unthinkable. But perhaps I had stumbled upon a tavern frequented mostly by warriors.
The tavern into which I had ducked remained open all night. That was why I had chosen it when first the sky turned gray, expecting that I would spend but a few hours sheltering there until the rays of the sun succeeded in piercing and slicing through the dark clouds.
“Have you ever wondered if it’s bad or good?” I asked, hoping that my question was not contentious in any way.
The tavern-keeper didn’t realize that I was speaking about the rain. He thought I spoke of luck, for one of the patrons who’d come in had regaled all who listened with his tale of enjoying the best of luck and suffering the worst, all in the span of a few days.
“No one knows,” he said. “And it’s both, of course, but that’s an interesting question to ask about luck.”
I dared to glance behind me. “I meant…the rain.”
I turned to the tavern-keeper. He looked puzzled at first. Then he gazed through the window behind me, peering at the merciless torrent that drummed and dripped against the glass.
He took a breath, and kept his gaze fixed upon the window as he spoke.
“When I was young, my mother told me a story about the rain. I was afraid of it, you see. And what she told me didn’t help much with that.” He winked an eye at me. “My mother was quick to embrace and kiss her children, but she wasn’t one to coddle or lie to us.”
I found myself leaning forward. “What did she say?”
“There are great beings who live in the sky. When enough of these beings weep, their tears fall to the earth as rain.”
“How can they weep so much?” I asked.
The tavern-keeper chuckled. “I asked my mother the same question.”
His company and the drink he poured for me gave me much comfort. “What did she say?” I asked.
“Some of those great beings abide to watch over us. Some to trouble us. They have greater powers and greater purposes than we who live below. But like us, they are born, they live, and they die. And when one of them dies, their loved ones mourn. They weep. And greater beings have greater tears.”
“I’ve never seen such weeping,” I marveled.
“Of course, it’s just a story,” the tavern-keeper said, with another wink of his eye.
I sheltered in the tavern, tired, but unable to muster the will and the courage even to move closer to the door. Such weeping did there come from the sky that the tavern’s roof was breached in several places. And though only gentle infrequent drops fell into the many buckets that the keeper placed beneath, I feared that the small breaches would give way to vast cracks. I feared that the force of the rain would batter the roof to bits. My only shelter would give way, and I would succumb.
Though I was tired, my attention was keen. So I noted when the tumultuous hammering eased into a constant tapping. I noted when the tapping too eased, then faded. The sky brightened.
Morning had arrived, and with it, the sun at last triumphed over the clouds. Some remained, but their quality changed. As if transformed by the sun’s touch, they turned white and puffy.
I hesitantly left the tavern.
All the next day, I watched the skies with suspicion, as I set out on my new challenge. To learn even more about rain.
The questions I had asked of the tavern-keeper, I asked of another, one who I had learned was a scholar of the weather, one who even had the power to predict when rain would arrive.
“We know what it is and where it comes from and what causes it,” the weather prophet said. “But I’m glad you asked. So many take such common occurrences for granted. They bear no curiosity for clouds or rain.”
I had gathered that rain was not rare. But not that it was common.
I listened as the weather prophet explained that rain was common in certain seasons, as she spoke of a something called “condensation.” Of how clouds were not merely the heralds of rain, but the bringers of it. I had thought that the tavern-keeper’s story had been troubling. Greater beings living in the sky, watching and weeping. But the weather prophet’s teachings were more terrifying still.
“Whether there are greater beings in the sky, I cannot say,” she said. “And whether there weeping becomes part of the rain, I cannot say. They only way I could know for certain is if I could travel far above and see for myself.”
As a winged being, I could do what the tavern-keeper and weather prophet could not. I could travel up to the sky and see for myself. I would be obliged to do so according to the mandate of my mission. I dreaded the thought, and listened to the weather prophet, hoping for some new bit of knowledge that would allow me to avoid traveling up.
“What I can say,” the weather prophet continued, “is that the rain is part of a pattern of weather within our whole world, some of which can be predicted up to a point, and some of which cannot. Some patterns repeat. Sometimes we can detect the signs of a change.”
“As when the gray clouds gather,” I said.
She nodded. “As for whether rain is bad or good…it’s both. It can cause damage. But we need the rain for so many reasons, providing fresh water for drinking and for growing crops.”
I was aghast. “You drink the tears?”
Inconceivably, the weather prophet laughed. “Well…I suppose we do.”
She spoke for a long time. I should have been listening and noting and learning. But I was distracted by dread.
When the sky again began to darken with ghostly gray clouds, I again took shelter, this time in an inn. I again stood by the window, watching for the first drops to begin falling. I glanced at the people walking about outside. None were running to find shelter. Some carried shields called “umbrellas” that they would raise up to the sky against the pelting of the rain. Their shields seemed insufficient, flimsy.
And from what I had gathered thus far, there was no weapon against the rain.
A man in a green hooded coat strolled toward me and asked if he might join me.
“I welcome your company,” I said, to which he smiled and bowed his head.
He stood beside me. I gazed up at the sky, the once-blue open sky, now a looming gray firmament.
“I hear it’s going to be a bad one,” the man said.
I peered at the sky. “I’m afraid.”
“I have to fly up there.”
“Fly? No one should fly in this weather.”
I turned to him, not yet letting myself hope. “Then you advise against it? You maintain that it is dangerous?”
“Of course it’s dangerous. This isn’t just rain, it’s a thunderstorm. You don’t want to get hit by lightning.”
I wanted to ask what he meant by “thunderstorm” and “lightning.” Neither the tavern-keeper nor the weather prophet had spoken those words.
I relayed the tavern-keeper’s story to the man in the green hooded coat.
“If rain is the weeping of the gods,” the man said, “this coming storm is their wrath.”
A strange feeling pierced my heart, one that I did not quickly recognize, for though I had felt dread and worry, long had it been since I had felt true terror.
I spoke, with a tremble in my throat. “Then…there is worse than rain. Of course. Sadness is frightening. But more frightening still is wrath.”
The man turned his head toward me, and being a head taller, he leaned down a bit to bring his face level to mine. “Say, friend, are you alright?”
“There is no rain where I come from,” I said, somewhat absently.
“Ah, I see.” The man nodded and straightened. “Doesn’t rain much where I’m from either. I like a little bit of rain myself. But I forget about how much trouble a really bad storm can cause.”
I could not fathom that anyone could be fond of such a thing as rain.
“Many things have I encountered in my travels that are chaotic,” I said. “Many things that are menacing. Many dangers. Many threats. But…I am not fond of the waters to begin with.”
“I get the feeling that’s an understatement,” the man said. “You have a…phobia?”
I asked what he meant and he explained. I would not consider my reaction to rain to be irrational.
Just then a flash of light illuminated the sky, and before I could hope that the sun had overcome the storm, a terrible boom resounded.
I gasped and stumbled back from the window.
The man reached out to me. “Hey, maybe you should get away from the window and go lie down.”
Again the sky flashed, and this time, in the distance, I glimpsed a bright jagged shard pierce the clouds, splintering in three directions. One of those directions was straight down. A giant spear of light had just struck the ground. And I knew that light was not the sun.
Again, a crack and boom resounded, as if the gray clouds did cackle and roar.
Again, I stumbled back.
“I must go,” I uttered. And I fled into the innermost spaces of the inn, praying to deities I didn’t believe in to protect me from the ordeal that was to come. Already the rain fell, and I could not return home unless I stood under open sky.
I had thought myself loyal and brave for staying in this realm. But I had been reckless. As much as I loved my sovereign, no sovereign was worth the suffering of such torment.
I did not speak my unworthy thoughts about my sovereign when I relayed the tale of my explorations.
“Their people have indeed suffered and even died because of storms,” I said. “Struck by lightning, drowned in rushing waters. Most do the best they can to protect themselves and each other. But there’s only so much that can be done when facing such forces.”
I had noted the sovereign’s unease, the shifting upon their throne, the fiddling with their favorite ring, the drops of sweat forming under the crown upon their brow.
Sometimes, I had decided, it was necessary to cast discomfort, even dread, upon my sovereign. So I pressed on. “A people so courageous that they go about their day while cosmic powers flash above them. Such are people are not to be trifled with.”
I fell silent, but raised my head and gazed at my sovereign as I had the right to do when expecting their response. I waited for many long moments, while the sovereign gathered their thoughts and recovered themselves.
“Very well, scout,” the sovereign said at last. “We will leave this realm be, and hope that they or the great beings that watch over them do not discover us.”
I lowered my eyes and bowed my head.
“Take your allotted rest, and then continue your quest.” The sovereign rose and turned away, and I allowed the relief I had held at bay to flood through me.
“Find me another world to conquer,” the sovereign said, descending with great sweeps of their robes. “A worthy realm. A realm without rain.”
Copyright © 2021 Nila L. Patel