The following evening a breeze flowed through the village carrying with it a breath of expectation and a flutter of excitement. One by one the village families gathered in the clearing. Some brought food and drink with them, others blankets and pillows, and others still carried musical instruments and strange looking objects. A fire had been lit and its flames sent flickers of light and shadow dancing over the people and surrounding huts.
Lilanthro wandered around the clearing feeling relaxed and at home. She stopped and greeted the families, chatting warmly with each one before moving on to the next. She smiled to herself as she realised that she felt as if she were in Talas’s garden carrying out the morning ritual of tending to the plants. Talas himself was also present, engaged in much the same practice as she. When Lilanthro and Talas met at last in a space between the huddled family groups, they greeted each other as equals whose mutual respect for one another warmed the air around them for all to feel.
Once all the families had arrived, settled themselves on the blankets and shared out the food and drink, the evening began. Onari’s father Enu, who not surprisingly was one of the village leaders, welcomed everyone to the gathering and spoke words of gratitude and gladness for the meal. He thanked the villagers for their generous preparation of the food, he thanked the forest for its bounteous riches of animals and plants, and he thanked the night itself for sharing its wondrous beauty with everyone.
With much talking and laughter the villagers ate their food. Lilanthro and Talas sat together with Enu’s family, enjoying the meal and conversation as much as everyone else. As they ate, Lilanthro became aware of a shift in the feeling of the air and pulsing of the ground. She looked enquiringly at Talas, but he shook his head to indicate that he was not the one creating the magic. Lilanthro continued to eat and listen to the conversation around her, but she also gently sent her inner senses probing outwards into the spaces between people and the silences between words.
An enchantment was taking place which Lilanthro breathed gladly into the core of her being. The ground was full of the presence of people, the air was tingling with the warm words being spoken, the spaces between people were alive and the silences were full of promise. The good will of everyone present was flowing freely out of them, cascading through the space and impacting on every particle of matter around them. Lilanthro could feel a joyousness vibrating in every drop of air and earth. Even the flames of the fire pulsed with renewed vitality. As this exuberance touched lightly upon matter, it was instantly intensified and reflected back. Lilanthro sensed an upward spiralling of energy filling the villagers with waves of happiness and peace. Like drops of rain which become rivers, flow to the sea, evaporate into the sky and fall as rain once more, the energy replenished itself. Lilanthro realised that this was the first time she had experienced such a richly nourishing connection with humans other than Talas. It was so powerful that she felt it unify everyone into one joyful organism pulsing with one heartbeat. She looked at Talas again and smiled with gladness at the decision which she still held inside her.
Once everyone had finished their meal, the music, stories, singing and dancing began. Lilanthro and Talas, along with everyone present, were treated to a magnificent display. Some of the children performed dances inspired by Lilanthro’s first visit to the village. Some of them told stories which were woven into song just as she had done on her second visit. The adults performed a vibrant mixture of storytelling, juggling and music. Laughter, tears, concentration, awe and smiles flowed freely in and out of the audience’s minds and hearts.
Then it was Lilanthro’s turn. She sat in the light of the still flickering fire and told the story of a tiny seed that germinated into a fragile, young plant, which grew slowly but surely into a tall, majestic tree, until it was the tallest and oldest tree in the forest. As it grew it learned to accept the passing of every season and it learned how to be itself without wishing to be something else. It learned that by being itself it could give freely and gladly to others, providing food and shelter for many creatures, and could receive plentiful nourishment in return. It learned how to know its place in the world as well as the place of every other living being in the forest. It learned to feel the connection between it and the other creatures and plants of the forest, the rock and soil beneath its roots and the air and light moving through its branches. It knew that its time on this earth was finite and it also knew that life would continue onwards in an infinitely overflowing dance. It was a simple version of the story which Talas had told Lilanthro on the day they had ventured far into the depths of the forest. When she finished telling it, she looked at Talas, who gave her a knowing and respectful smile.
And then it was the turn of Talas himself. The villagers hushed each other into quiet stillness. Talas had been their guide for many long years. They trusted him, were in awe of him and loved him as a child loves his kindest, wisest grandfather. They wondered what wisdom he may have for them tonight, wrapped up in humour and merriment. Instead, he said only,
“There was once an old, old star shining in the heavens. The star was bright and strong, it burned with love and knew the secrets of existence. Some creatures, who lived on a planet far away, loved this star for it seemed to talk to them in their sleep, whispering stories that helped them live their lives. They were glad of the star and hoped it would never leave them. But, the star was old, and one day it knew its time had come to fade from the sky and travel far away to another place and time. It was sad to leave its place in the heavens but happy to obey the laws of life which told it it must depart. Luckily, its sadness at having to leave the creatures alone was comforted by knowing that a new star had just been born which burned with as much love as it had once down and also held the secrets of existence within it. The old star knew that the new star would continue burning brightly in the sky for many a long year and that the creatures would grow to love it and would one day forget the loss of the old star.” Talas sat back into the shadows as he finished telling his story, leaving an uncertain silence hanging in the air.
Luckily, Enu filled the silence. He thanked everyone for their contributions and at last turned to Lilanthro to ask her the question she had been waiting for all evening. “Lilanthro, we hope you have enjoyed this evening. It is rare that we gather together like this and share so much of ourselves with each other, but I hope from now on it will become a more regular event. We are all so happy that you have become our friend, but we know you have sacrificed another life in order to stay with us and we know you have your own path to follow which may now take you far away from us to distant lands. We would love for you to settle in our village, but we would understand if your visit with us will soon come to an end. We wonder, are you ready to tell us your choice?”
Lilanthro replied, “Whatever I have had to give up to become a part of this village, I have gained threefold from being here with you. I know I could choose to leave and return to my life in the forest or venture onwards to see what lies beyond the most distant mountains. But neither of those choices is the one which I know is my rightful path. So I choose to stay and live my life here with you.”
Instantly, the gathered families erupted into cheers and claps of delight. The children ran to Lilanthro throwing their arms around her and begging her to live with them. The adults waited their turn and then went to her, hugging her warmly and indicating that she could share their home if she so chose.
Lilanthro waited for the excitement to die down and then said, “Thank you all for your generous offers of a home. However, I already have one in mind. You will find me there tomorrow morning. But for now, the night is old and the children are tired. I thank you all for the most wonderful of evenings and I will see you all tomorrow.”
And with that, one by one, the families dispersed and disappeared into the darkness of the night, walking tiredly back to their homes. Lilanthro and Talas were the last to leave. “You are sure of this?” Lilanthro asked Talas with a note of deep sadness in her voice.
Talas nodded silently. “Then I will stay in your garden tonight,” Lilanthro said, “And in the morning we will greet the day, tend to the plants and have breakfast together for one last time before the old star must fade away.”
“Yes,” Talas replied, “I would like that very much.”
And with that they walked together towards the hut and garden on the edge of the village which had been Talas’s beautiful home and sanctuary for many a long year.