The Revolutions of Time, Chapter 03
Zards and Canitaurs
My eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness, and once they did I saw that the trunk was hollowed out to the extent of eight feet in diameter, with two stairways, one up and another down, filling either corner of the small entry room in which I found myself. Observing that my vision was returned enough to see, the strange creature which had greeted me led me down the descending staircase for a short way, until we came into a cavern which was delved beneath the roots of the tree.
The walls and floor of the cavern, or more accurately, the sitting room, for such it appeared to be, were paneled with a thick, heavy wood with an almost artificially symmetric grain, and the ceiling was done in diagonal boards of the same. Sitting in the center of the room was a brick-laid pit in which burned an illuminating fire, and around it was placed an odd covering frame that caught up the smoke and channeled it via underground passages to some distant wilderness, where its sightless remnants would dissipate into the atmosphere unnoticed. On the near side of the fire was a round table flanked by four large, comfortable chairs, padded by cushions made from the same material as the various carpets and tapestries around the room.
There were two more of the strange creatures seated at the table, called Canitaurs as I later found out, and as they are closely entwined with my story, being prominent participants, I will describe them in some detail here. They stood erect like a man, yet were quite contrasted in appearance. Their skin for one was covered in a thick, impenetrable coat of hair, much like a dog or a bear's. Their hands, also, were less distinct in the fingers, though but slightly, and their limbs were a little longer and thicker than a man's. The two most notable differences, however, were the formation of their shoulders and chest, which were very pronounced and muscular, and their faces. The latter's features were brought to a point in the short snout, or muzzle, that formed their nose and mouth, taking their chins with it and leaving a long line from their neck to their chest open. Humanity prevailed in the rest of their features, though, giving them the look of a man and canine hybrid.
By then I had overcome my initial perplexion at the sight of the Canitaurs, and I endeavored to put a strong check over my emotions in order to prevent another outbreak of panic and to remain cool and candid, come what would. Yet it was, ironically, the product of my rashness that I had found their habitation at all. This I successfully did, and as I entered the room, led by the Canitaur who was on watch, the others stood politely and greeted me with an apparent intrigue.
Our conversation proceeded at follows:
"I am Wagner of the Canitaurs, my friend," said the one who appeared to be the leader, "And these are Taurus and Bernibus," the latter being the one who had led me down. "Welcome to Daem."
"I am Jehu," I told them, "It is a pleasure to meet you."
"Indeed, and under such circumstances as well. Tell me, how did you come to be here?"
Here I smiled nervously, and replied, "I am a traveler from a distant land, and came here by the advice of a friend."
At this somewhat false answer, more in character than in content, Wagner looked at me wonderingly, as if detecting my falsehood, but did not follow his look with any probing questions, to my great relief. In order to steer the conversation away from this point, I added quickly, "I am not at all disappointed, either, for the landscape is beautiful and the trees and foliage are wondrously large, but I was surprised to find that, from the prairie to the lake, I saw no one living among these quaint locations."
Wagner looked at me closely, with a hint of almost reverencing respect and said, "You were very fortunate in your travels, I assure you, for had you arrived at any other time, you would have fallen into fouler hands than ours by far."
"I do not understand what you mean," I said.
"Of course not, I am forgetting your new arrival has left you unacquainted with affairs that I am faced with everyday. Let me explain: we, that is, the Canitaurs, have been in open hostilities with the other group of people on this island, the Zards, for as long as we can remember. They have great military superiority in this section of Daem, and when we come here we are forced to live in hiding, in outposts such as this one."
"Why not just make peace?" I asked.
"Because it is our ideologies that conflict, neither group of us will yield, and the solution can only be decided by force, military force. It is fortunate that you have come among us first, for they would have mistreated you."
"So you have said, though I do not see why I was not captured by them on my journey through the plains, if they are as powerful in this quarter as you say," I replied.
"As I said, the timing of your arrival was very fortunate," he said, "At any other time you would have surely been caught, and then your fate would have been uncertain, but yesterday was the Zard's new year, the Kootch Patah, on which they spend all night in celebrations and revelries. Because of this, they were all soundly asleep on your trip through the prairie, very possibly laying at your feet, covered by the tall grasses."
So my fears were not as unfounded as I had thought, was my predestined deja vu, then, real as well? Only time would tell.
"I am indeed lucky then, as you have said, not only in the Zard's unattentiveness, but also in finding of your secreted habitation, as well as your friendly welcoming of me," I said.
"I must confess," he chuckled, "It is not merely from a one-sided hospitality that you are welcomed."
"Indeed?" I said.
"Indeed," he answered, "For your appearance and the circumstances of your arrival are almost uncannily the realizations of one of our most ancient prophesies, one which we have longed to have fulfilled."
"Is that so?" I rhetorically asked.
"Surely it is," he said with a smile, though from happiness or humor I could not tell. He went on soberly, saying: "The prophecy is concerning the kinsman redeemer, one of the ancients sent by Onan, the Lord of the Past, to redeem us from the destruction of this polluted world."
"What do you mean by 'one of the ancients'?" I interjected questioningly.
"Exactly what I said," Wagner replied with a light hearted smile, "Let me explain."
But before he could, we were interrupted by a violent scratching and pounding at the door, along with some grunting voices which I could not understand. The Canitaur's ears, which were quite large, though more erect and postured than floppy, quickly rose to attention, and they had spent not a moment listening when they uniformly chorused, "Zards," in a hoarse whisper. My earlier fear, then mysterious but now understood, returned in full force, and my face writhed in horror as I ejaculated remorsely, "Then we are lost."
Wagner turned gravely towards me and said, "Perhaps, but there is still hope. Come, follow me," and rising from his chair he led the way to the furthest corner of the room. A primitive tapestry was hanging there, and Wagner lifted it up while Bernibus and Taurus hit two hidden switches, one being on either extremity of the room, to avoid discovery. That unlocked the wall behind the tapestry. It opened along lines previously concealed by the wood's grain and revealed a small cubbyhole built into the wall, probably meant for its present use, concealment. Wagner led us into it and no sooner was the door, or wall, latched again than the Zards, having broken down the outside door by brute strength, flooded into the room.
We could see them as they did, for the wall that concealed us had many small holes, and the tapestry as well, so that on the inside we could see all that happened in the well lit room, while they could not see us, as there was no light to reveal us. Indeed, I had been sitting facing the hidden compartment during our brief dialog and had not detected it at all. The situation was quite different at that time, though, for the Zards were actively looking for us, whereas I was merely glancing occasionally at the wall.
Now that they were closer, I could easily understand their conversation:
"Blast it, they aren't here," said one,
"Probably deserted the place after Garlop saw them, he should have kept watch."
"Why? He couldn't have stopped a group of them, and they're too keen to be followed."
"Aye, he did right to hurry off, but it would be a shame if they escaped," another joined.
"The King is here though, and there's no fooling him.
"Hear ye, hear ye," the others assented, that being a common phrase among them which was the equivalent of an 'I agree' or 'Amen'.
A larger, more commanding Zard, whom the others looked in deference to, then came down the stairs, saying as he entered the room, "Let us not celebrate prematurely, gentlemen. There is nothing of interest above, so we will have to search carefully down here."
"Sir, is it true it was a hairless one he saw?" one asked him.
"We are all hairless here," he said, laughing with the others, "But yes, it is reported that Garlop saw one of the ancients, and with his sharp eyes and knowledge of history, it is assumed to be true. I need not remind you, then, the need to find them before they are too far away, it is imperative to the cause that the ancient is not brought to the hidden fortress of our adversaries."
The Zards then set to work with great assiduity searching for any clues of the Canitaur's whereabouts, examining everything meticulously, yet quickly. They tore the furniture apart to look for hidden compartments, followed the smoke pipes through the ground to their outlets, tore off the floor boards to look for secret passages, and did the same to the ceiling.
Before I continue with my story, let me pause for a moment to describe to you the appearance of the Zards, for you are probably curious as to what they look like.
Quite different from the Canitaurs, they were, in fact, completely hairless, being almost lizard-like. They stood erect, about the same height as a man, that is, about six feet or a little over that, and their bodies resembled those of alligators, with short, thickset legs, stout arms, and a long body with a tail draping down to the ground, looking like a giant tongue, though covered, of course, in scales. Their heads were small, having a little skull on which were the eyes and ears and with a long snout that, like the Canitaurs', held their noses, mouths, and chin. Huge, sharp teeth filled their mouths and gave them an odd, fiercely sophisticated look. Their hands were thick with long fingers, and though their overall appearance had an air of awkwardness about it, they set to their tasks with great dexterity, though if it was natural or the result of their excited state, I could not tell. Indeed, I began to grow worried when the Zard who was removing the walls, to check for holes or tunnels, drew near to us as he methodically pried off the panels with a metal bar and looked for anything suspicious.
He moved along quickly and was just about to put the bar to our covering and pull when another Zard, on the other end of the room, held aloft a piece of paper, calling the attentions of the others to it. Our almost discoverer went himself to the other Zard, and we were, for a moment at least, saved from being exposed. Having read the paper, the taller Zard, the King, said to the others, "Well done, lads. We have here a map to the Canitaur's hidden fortress. Let us go to Nunami, gather some troops, and surprise them. Today may prove victorious, so let us hurry."
The others assented and as a body they went up the stairs and out the door, hurrying forth, it seemed, to do their dastardly deeds, and in their ardor not leaving behind even a single one to guard the hideout. Despite our good fortunes, my spirits were damp, for my sorrow of the Canitaur's ill fate was as a wound in my bosom, knowing that I had been the sole reason for their discovery. What a good kinsman redeemer, I thought, for my coming may have ended the wars, or put its completion in motion, yet not in the favor of my hosts.
To my chagrin, however, the Canitaurs, led by Wagner, were buxom, seeming to find great humor in what had happened. Turning to them in a zealous perplexity, I said spiritedly, "How can you laugh? You may have escaped, but your brethren are doomed, and you yourselves will not last long around enemies without the protection of the other Canitaurs."
But my rebuke only seemed to make their laughter and mirth more hearty, and they raged on without ceasing for a time. After a while, when they were reduced to a smiling remnant of their former pleasure, Wagner turned gravely towards me and said, "Forgive me, Jehu, for not explaining it to you. You are right to chastise us, but the situation is not as you seem to think it, for the map they found was a fake, and will lead them to nowhere of importance, while we affect our escape. We are lucky that they left no guard, but come, let us not tempt fate and remain any longer in this compromised outpost, to the fortress we go!"
He finished and met with the approbations of the others, and accordingly, we exited the cubby hole and made our way through the rummaged room, up the stairs, and out of the tree. It was now early evening, and the temperance of twilight, with its soft and mellow splendors, only increased the pleasantness of the area. A slight breeze prevailed and rustled the leaves and boughs of the giant trees just enough to render it pacifying and comforting. Being quickened by the breeze, the lake danced on in its earlier smoothness, only in a faster tempo, improving the ruggedness of the watery wrinkles. The last visiting rays from the sun were congregated on the eastern shores, saying their good-byes to the glowing trees, and giving their parting respects before being whisked away to their native lands of fire, to come again in great numbers on the morrow.
We set off around the lake, making our way northward towards the rugged mountains rising before us in a grand show of might. Wagner and Taurus walked before and behind us, respectively, Wagner leading the way and Taurus erasing the marks of our passing, and both watching for any signs of ambush. Bernibus walked abreast of myself, keeping me in pleasant company, for he was a very enjoyable companion.
During our walk, Bernibus and I had an insightful conversation, of which I will relate to you the following, as you may find it interesting:
"Tell me," I said to him, "You seem to be a jovial people, despite the war that you find yourselves in, but are all of your people of the same attitude?"
"Very nearly, yes," he replied, "For though we do not wish war, the principles at stake here are important enough for us to sacrifice an easy life for them. We've grown used to it, everything is done in such a way as to promote secrecy and stealth, those being our main advantages in the conflict. Out of hundreds of outposts like the one we were just in, for example, only four others have ever been discovered, and the Zards still have no clue where our fortress is." This he said in a boastful manner, but as he did a faint spirit of sorrow spread across his face for an instant, as if in memory of one of the raids of previous times.
"That explains their rapture when they found the false map," I returned, "But I must admit that I am still ignorant of the cause of the wars. It was said that it was conflicting ideologies, yet that is self-evident, as all conflict is at heart just that. I don't mean, either, the actions that caused the most recent inflammation, but what exactly your conflicting ideologies are? What is it that keeps you from harmony?"
"You have a knack for hard questions," he said with a smile. Then he paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. At length, he continued, "The Canitaurs have a profound respect for all that has gone before us, we honor the traditions of our ancestors and revere their beliefs and their ideas of truth. The past, in the guise of history, is the key to the future, we believe, and we hold strictly to the worship of Onan, the Lord of the Past," at this my attention was perked. He continued, "Our adherence to the ways of our ancestors is based on the idea that what has continued throughout the ages has continued because it is right, that it has remained steadfast because it is based on the immovable foundations of reality. We follow Onan because he is real, because the past has existed, and it is certain that it will continue to exist, and because that existence dictates the operation of the present. Although we may seem ritualistic and entrenched in tradition to the outside observer, we enjoy the comforts of knowing that we are on a well tread path, that we are not alone in time but in company with our forebears. We are called the Pastites because of our beliefs, because of our tradition based lives that instill in us a reliance on history, on the events of the past as a light by which to guide our own actions, as a road paved by the flesh and blood of our forefathers which leads to happiness and peace."
Bernibus paused for another moment, as if in contemplation once again, before he continued, saying, "The Zards are followers of the future, or Futurists as they are called. They believe that the past is just that, the past: the ignorant and selfish times of the unenlightened who were too shrouded by prejudices to understand the world clearly. Instead they place their faith in the scientific and philosophical ideas of the day, believing that while history and the past were delegated to the control of the unsophisticated whose ways were superstitious and outdated, the present contains truth in its pure form. Reform and revolution are their watchwords, for they tinker with the very foundations of society and life in an attempt to cultivate it. Zimri is their Lord, of the Future, and they follow him loosely, for he doesn't require the strict adhesion that Onan does, which suits their independent and relaxed world view very well."
He went on, in summary, "In a word, the Pastites believe that history, the reality of the past, governs the present and the future, while the Futurists believe that the future defines the present and the past."
"I begin to see the differences," I replied in a humble, questioning manner, "And yet they seem to me to be passive, secondary differences, the kind that result in a conflict of subtle disagreements here and there, argued over dessert like tariffs or taxes, not at all violent. How is it that they take such a prominent role in everyday life that they can only be resolved by force? What is it that takes it from the fireside to the battlefield?"
Here I was slightly taken aback by the expression on Bernibus' face, it was one of surprise mingled with apprehension and questioning. He said, "Then you do not know?"
He laughed, "I take it you do not." Becoming solemn again, he continued, "Our land, Daem is on the edge of ruin, and has been for all of my life and those of many generations before me. About 530 years ago there was a great war on earth, one in which no restraint was used, no mutually assured destruction, for nuclear weapons came into the hands of those who cared not for any life, not even their own. Tensions were high for a decade, and in the following segregation, the peoples of the earth lost their personal connection with their enemies, and, as always happens, ceased to view them as equals, but instead as evil ones bent on their destruction. Things came to such a crisis that at last a little flame was lit and it grew and grew until it became a full scale nuclear war. The destruction was total: no one was exempt, as almost everything, and everyone, was destroyed. The only surviving place was this island, which is the sole habitat of the delcator beetle, a small insect that digests nuclear waste and neutralizes it. The first few decades were horrible, before the atmosphere recovered enough to return to normal, and in that time things mutated and grew gigantic. The trees and foliage, as you see, are an example of this, even the redwood trees of old were nothing compared to the trees of Daem. And the Zards and Canitaurs grew and changed as well, and, as we lived on either ends of the island, as we do now, our forms morphed into the separate forms that they now take.
"And that is where our conflict turned violent," he continued, "For it is our desire, on both sides, to return the earth to its previous state. The Pastites want to return through time and stop the destruction before it happens, because we believe that the past is what must be changed in order to change the present and future. It is the actions of the past that brought about the present woes, and it is they that must be undone. For their part, the Futurists want to change the present through the future, to go into the future and bring back its completion, in the form of restored RNA cells, which is congruent with their belief that the past is the past and all that matters is that which is yet to come, that which still has the hope of existence."
I looked at him as he finished and said, "But, why not do both. Wouldn't that be more effective than fighting each other? How can continued destruction revert previous destruction inflicted in the same manner? Could not both ideas be tried?"
"If only they could," he replied. "It goes back to Onan and Zimri, you see, for we ourselves cannot do such things, but the gods whom we follow can. Shortly after the worldwide destruction, we, meaning both the Zards and the Canitaurs, received the prophesy of the kinsman redeemer, who would be sent to help us change the earth to its former majesty. He was to be one from the time right before the beginning of the final firefight, one of the ancients who still kept the pure human form. Our hostilities broke out in an attempt to control the entire island, so that when he should come, the dominant force would have him. Each side was convinced that theirs was the right way, the only way through which the end of restoring the earth's ecosystem could be reached. You are the kinsman redeemer, Jehu, for you fit the prophecy perfectly, and I am glad that you have fallen in with us."
After his discourse, Bernibus fell into a silent meditation, as did I, and the rest of our walk through the now dark wilderness was one of silence and solitude. Given the cessation of action in my narrative, I will take this opportunity to describe the circumstances of my arrival on the island of Daem, about which you are no doubt wondering.