The Silent Sun is the latest offering from Florence, Tuscany based author, photographer and botanist Andrea Innocenti. The Introduction and First Chapter are offered here as a taster. The full version can be found in the usual places: www.Amazon.co.uk www.amazon.com etc
THE SILENT SUN
Many years ago, perhaps as many as ten thousand, in a territory not well identified but very similar to Europe, there is a wooded river valley with sweet hills on one side and a bitter mountain chain on the other.
Here live people who know how to make everyday objects; furniture, spears with stone points, traps to capture animals.
They are going through the phase of being semi-nomadic and they move only when game is scarce because the hunt still has a fundamental importance in meeting the protein needs of the people. The first rudimentary forms of cultivation are already appearing. The huts are becoming more comfortable. The people take possession of a territory, a water source, an area around the village. The villages are small clusters composed of just a few huts inhabited by humans almost all related to each other.
However, they already have their own culture, laws and above all a religion with men who are its custodians. Because writing does not yet exist, the important thing is not to think but to remember.
A wise man at that time was just a simple memory, a database where “truths” are kept and handed down by word of mouth and recited in continuation to be very certain that they are not forgotten.
Speaks with the Sun is the holy man of the Village of the Rock, held in high regard by all of the inhabitants of the Valley because he is the holder of the ancient words and keeper of all of the knowledge.
What would happen, however, if one day an event shrouded in mystery takes place and there is nothing in the ancient words that can help?
Surrounded by forces of which they do not understand the origin and the reason for being, these first men seek absolute truth.
For the holy man called to solve the mystery, he will have to abandon his role as repeater of the old words so that he can think of new ones, but to be able to do that he will first have to accept the need to question his role, realising that to simply remember, sometimes, may not be enough.
In his doubts, there are questions that are valid even today.
If the setting here is unusual, the structure is that of the classic mystery story.
In a way, this is the first mystery story in history.
CHAPTER 1 – THE SUN
The scarlet was becoming more and more visible and before long the ball of fire would come out from behind the blue hills and, with difficulty, make its’ way through the haze.
He looked curiously at the blue of the hills, cut in half by a low cloud. I wonder why they are that colour, so similar to the sky? He thought it must be the fault of the clouds, the small ones though, not the large ones. Those small clouds that were almost invisible to begin with but then turned into small white tufts. He wondered where they came from and, as always, his question remained unanswered. The clouds seemed to come from as many different places as they had different shapes.
Sometimes they came from the direction of the Sun, other times they were born dark and loud on the Great Mountain that gives birth to them like an animal gives birth to her young. But did they really come from her? Certainly they sometimes seemed to come from the forest, or from the slopes of the hills, or straight from the ground. At first they sleep among the trees, but then, as soon as his friend the Sun warms them up, they awaken and rise gently to complete what they have to do. They gather together and give rain so that the plants can drink and grow green leaves so that the animals can eat.
The Sun wakes up the clouds, the clouds feed the plants, the plants feed the animals and the animals are food for the people. Everything comes from the Sun.
But where do the large clouds come from? This was something he didn’t know. He only knew that they arrived suddenly, grumbling and drawing bright lines in the sky and bringing lots of rain, sometimes too much rain.
The thin air gave him a slight chill and with his rough hand he wiped his bare feet. He usually avoided the grass and made a wide circle before climbing onto the large rock that overlooked the village but this time he had chosen the shortest route because he was afraid of not arriving in time. It was a mistake. The pale light was due to the exceptionally clear air of the season, he still had to wait and he could feel his cold and wet feet.
Shuffling nervously, he watched the horizon with complete attention to catch the first ray. The low cloud was dissolving and the line of the hills was now hidden by a veil of mist, an evil fog that could deceive him. The first ray was the one that greeted him and it wanted to have the right words from him to continue to rise. It was an invitation, but also a duty.
The Sun was big and powerful. He did not obey the people and could always forget the promise he had made the previous evening. The promise to return. What would a world without the Sun be like?
Some days it rained and his job was made even more difficult. He had to watch the light and “feel in his skin” for the right time. If necessary he had to guess. If sometimes he had got it wrong, he never noticed.
Sitting on the great sacred rock that over-looked the village he pulled his legs in against his chest, looking for a position that allowed him to cover everything with his heavy fur. The rough inside scratched his skin and this irritated him. He felt anger mounting inside, giving him the heat that he could not get from outside. Little Otter needed to chew the skin more when it was prepared. When he got back he would beat her so that from now on she would remember.
It was just a moment’s thought then in his mind he put the stick back on the ground. The anger came and went like the wind in the trees. Little Otter had avoided a lot of punishment, only because she wasn’t there when he wanted to make her taste the stick.
Little Otter was not a bad companion but the stick is good for women. Everyone knows that.
The bright halo struggled to gain strength and the outline of the hills was still partially muddled with the sky. Not having anything else to do, he decided to attend to his appearance. He pushed aside the sacred and heavy bone necklaces and looked at the skin on his chest, covered with thick dark hair, marked here and there with the first tufts of white. Steam lightly snaked up and dissolved slowly in the air. He shook the soft skin on either side of his body, straightened up the necklaces, symbols of his importance, then pulled the heavy fur around his neck again, leaving just his head outside. When the cold became unbearable he would also cover his feet with large strips of fur that would hold a layer of dry grass. With these he would even be able to walk in the snow without feeling any discomfort. But for now he could feel his cold feet.
He sniffed the air, searching for any trace. The wind carries smells, sometimes recognizable, sometimes never smelled before and never to be smelled again. It was difficult to distinguish smells that came from afar. The hunters know that the wind also carries the sound of voices and so they hunt in silence. Others say that the wind brings the smell of good hunting to those that speak with him.
In some of the villages in the Great Valley there were holy men that spoke with the wind like you would speak with a man. He didn’t approve. The wind is a force not a being. You can’t speak to someone who has no shape. However, he expressed this thought delicately, a subtle fear of the unknown advising caution.
The red stripe of the horizon was now spreading in the sky, leaving in its place a clear and bright colour. One dawn after another had taught him to recognize the signs of the imminent appearance, but when the sky was generous with its colours it could still surprise him, as if every day was an improvisation.
He carefully watched the yellowish glow that thinned the fog between two hills shaped like a woman’s breasts. These hills were the mother of the world from where life was born. From here came the warm animals. From here the birds that had left the Valley returned. The hills had the soft lines of a woman, while behind him the Great Mountain pointed towards the sky like a phallus. Life comes from women, from the hunters comes death for the animals. So, if the hills are Woman, the mountain is Man and he kills the Sun every evening. That’s how it is.
It is amazing how clear are nature’s signs, to those that know how to read them.
Lost in the contemplation of these soft words, he nearly missed the first timid rays. He immediately rose to his feet, whispering the sacred words.
“Come Sun, come to us. Come to the plants. Come to the water and the animals. Come Sun, I offer you my best stick”. He shook the stick, shaking the plumes of boar bristles and marten tails that were attached to the end.
“Come Sun” he repeated, still shaking the stick in the direction of the flaming ball. “Come and stay with us. Come to us”.
The ritual complete, Speaks with the Sun quickly came down from the rock. The fresh morning air nipped at his legs, while his bare feet trampled on the abundant dew, retracing his steps along the path that brought him from his hut to the rock. He limped more than usual, his injured leg was hurting as it always did with the arrival of the first cold.
I need to start preparing the covers for my feet, he said, it makes no sense to wait until the snow comes before doing it.
Little Otter was still asleep and the air in the hut was full of her sweet smell. All the village was asleep, only one person had the job of waiting for the Sun. It was a privilege, of course, but waiting for the new day wasn’t always a pleasure. There could be a snow-storm, he would be perched on the rock like a bird without a home.
He got in under the fur and Little Otter turned to rub against him but immediately moved away from his cold and wet legs. He grabbed her arm and pulled her back to him, forcing her to open her legs so he could put his feet in between them. She obeyed in silence.
Feeling her tremble with cold, he gave an amused laugh in the gloom of the hut. Little Otter was weak and was always cold. Her body was like that of the small birds that do not venture into the hot Sun. Her voice was like their chirping and, like them, she ate very little. If she had not become his woman she would certainly have died of hunger.
“Are you cold?” he asked her. She did not reply, just pulled back the fur and looked at him. Her eyes were small, cut thin and too close together. Her nose was almost flat and her lank hair was tied behind her head, as she always did before going to sleep. She had the longest hair of all the women in the village and she was proud of it. When her hair was loose it came down to her hips but she was small and this made it appear longer than it really was.
Before choosing her he had had his doubts. She seemed small and small women were less comfortable than larger ones when you had to fill their bellies. There were hunters who were taller and stronger than him in the Village of the Rock but his position as holy man allowed him to choose. In the end he had chosen her and, strangely, he had never regretted it. At least not to the point of wanting to change.
Speaks with the Sun tried to read her tiny eyes, looking for emotions such as annoyance, dislike or devotion but it was useless. Little Otter’s eyes did not speak, or if they did he didn’t know how to hear them.
“I asked you if you are cold” he repeated.
“You have cold feet. Did you walk in the grass?”
Without answering, he reached out and touched one of her breasts, swollen or full of milk or both. Little Otter was weak but had plenty of milk. The children didn’t know hunger.
Thinking that he wanted to make love, she lifted her new born child and placed him away from her, taking care that he was covered by the edge of the fur. But Speaks with the Sun didn’t want to and so he removed his hand from her breast.
How long had she been his woman? He couldn’t remember exactly. She had given birth to as many children as the fingers on one hand but two had died. And his first woman had died while bringing his first child into the world.
He remembered the ancient words, where there were the answers to all of men’s questions.
“Women are like trees, every warm season they should empty their large bodies of all that is excess. The trees make the best part of themselves fall to the ground so that people can pick it up and eat it. Women also have parts of them that are surplus because they are smaller than the hunters and can’t hold all the power inside their bodies. So they too drop what is excess”.
It’s true, he thought, among the little monkeys there are no differences, but then the hair grows on the male bodies and their muscles get bigger and stronger. With the females this doesn’t happen. With women this force has nowhere to go and, like the fruit on the trees, leaves the body as new little monkeys. When something that is strong doesn’t find a place to stay it has to divide itself into two weak things.
The deer drop their young in the forest and the little ones run immediately on their legs. The little monkeys that come from women, however, can hardly do anything. This is why when they become hunters they kill the deer and the other animals. It is revenge for their former weakness.
At the Village of the Rock you couldn’t be a man if you hadn’t killed an animal on your own. Some never manage it, others die in the attempt. Only those who are successful can join the group hunt.
He remembered his first time. It was a large and aggressive female boar. He had caught her with her young so that instead of running away she had turned on him. He was just a boy but he had waited, stubbornly refusing the fear which advised him to run away. The collision had almost lifted him off the ground while the bone tip, that he had carefully sharpened the previous evening, went deep into the neck. A mortal wound, even though the huge animal had almost ruined his leg before he managed to kill her.
He touched the deep scar to help remember and the leg responded with a twinge of pain, as if to acknowledge that day when he had gained strength from the dead boar. He still wore a tuft of the boar’s bristles around his neck. She had caused him a lot of pain and for this he respected her.
The leg had healed slowly and for a long time he wasn’t able to walk as before. This forced him to avoid the hunts that were further away where he would have been more of a hindrance than a help.
It was hard for a boy who dreamed only of taking part in the big hunts to be excluded from the group right at the moment that he had been accepted by them. He was embarrassed by the fact that he had to wait with the women for the hunters to return. He spent the days talking with the elders and from this he developed a great knowledge and wisdom that was recognized by everybody. Perhaps this was another reason why he had been chosen to become Speaks with the Sun.
He kicked his feet to make Little Otter move away from him. By now his feet were no longer cold and he didn’t want her to be too close.
Outside, the Sun began to warm the earth and steam rose from the grass in front of the hut in thick figures of whitish smoke. He looked out trying to see a deer or a buffalo from which to draw hope for a successful hunt. He could not see anything interesting and he was disappointed, so he turned his back to the doorway while covering himself well with the fur. It was not yet the cold season but it would arrive soon; already the days were short and, in the evenings, the fire was becoming a pleasant companion.
He wanted to give in to laziness but he knew that going back to sleep in the morning makes men weak. It is as sweet and misleading as the small fruit of the wild bushes in the forest that hardly fill the stomach and make the bowels move too much. A second sleep causes a man’s body to become soft in the same way.
A ray of sunlight appeared at the doorway, shining brightly on the inner wall of the hut. His only friend was calling. He got up, rejecting the privilege of not having to hunt, and collected up the sacred bone necklaces. The necklaces gave him prestige and contained the power of the animals killed by the hunt. He took them off when he went to sleep but he would never walk among the hunters without wearing them.
He let the heavy fur drop to the ground and replaced it with a softer one, then went out into the open air.
The Village of the Rock was built around a hollowed out stone used for a fire but the huts did not close the circle. They were interrupted, according to tradition, by a large sacred rock used for rituals. Nothing had changed, even if the huts had increased in numbers, since the time he used to run and jump into the river, a skinny naked child. The huts all faced the centre, towards the fire, but his by necessity had its opening facing east, to catch the first rays of the morning. It was a good hut, built around a framework of wooden poles covered with a thick layer of clay to prevent the passage of water and wind during the storms that at that time of year were particularly strong.
It was the hut of the man who speaks with the Sun.
Reaching in large strides the natural step of land that kept the Village of the Rock out of danger of floods he went down to the river. There had been a lot of water coming down from the sky in the last few days and the river had stolen the colour of the earth and the rumbling of the storm. He jumped away quickly as a large tree trunk floated down towards the hills where the Sun rose. He stepped over a few branches that the flood had left on the bank and stood, absorbed, watching the river. It was a fickle companion, capable of disappearing during the warm season and swelling up when the land was already wet. The other source of water, however, was small, born directly from the large sacred rock and it had never abandoned them, not even in the most difficult years when the large river would leave. He liked the taste of the spring water but he liked that of the river even more, it tasted of earth and moss, and of fish and of life. When the water was clear he walked to the river to take the first sip of the morning but that water, like the river that gave it, did not deserve to be trusted. It was good only as long as the Sun shone on it but after one night it began to smell and drinking it hurt his stomach. The water from the spring, on the other hand, could be kept for a long time.
Looking at the eddies of muddy water he decided to go back slowly towards the village and the spring. A few hunters stepped aside, seeing him arrive.
He took the first sip with them, as was the tradition, for good luck. While not admitting it, he always had a small sense of envy of the hunters. The holy men took part in the group hunt only when the heat returned, having to stay in the village on the other days to repeat and preserve the ancient words and to avoid exposing themselves to the danger of encountering large and often dangerous animals.
He followed the group of hunters with his eyes as they left the village along the river to the plains where trees were sparse. At the rear of the column old Short Leg limped and struggled to keep up with the others. He had had a bad hunting accident and the bone in his right leg wasn’t straight like before. This would hamper the progress of the others but did not stop them from taking him with them and no-one questioned his right to a part of the kill.
It was now many hot periods that Speaks with the Sun had not killed an animal and his role was only to frighten and push them towards the most skilled hunters, but from his hut hung many pieces of smoked meat.
What did he do to deserve all this? From the day on which he had taken the place of the old holy man there had been many fights, even serious ones, but no hunter had killed another hunter and this was a source of pleasure for him. He was often called upon to decide who was in the right.
In some cases it was difficult to resolve a dispute, in others the rights of one of them was quite obvious. Speaks with the Sun had noticed, however, that the most dangerous quarrels are not those generated in the heat of the moment, but those that take root over longer periods of time.
Resentment for a wrong suffered is like an acorn, small at first but capable of giving life to a large tree, if given time. For this reason he always avoided giving the right to just one of the two. He knew that a humiliated man is a danger to the whole village.
Since he had been Speaks with the Sun he had resolved many arguments without any heads getting broken and he had gained prestige in the whole of the Great Valley. Holy men older than him listened with respect to his words, when they needed to.
That was how it should be. He was Speaks with the Sun.
CHAPTER 2 – LONG LEGS
The hunter was sitting on the fire rock and had the markings of the Mud Men……