The morning sun peered over the snowcapped mountains, glistening on the dewdrops amongst the tapering shadows. Shaijo eased his hand through the thorns of the mayaberry bush. “Careful,” his breath ascended in white puffs through streaks of sunlight. “Yes…”
“Hello,” a voice called.
Shaijo flinched at the interruption.
“I didn’t mean to frighten you.” The stranger stepped forward. “Are these berries edible?”
“The season is early.” Shaijo eased his arm from the bush. “You must wait until they are the color of the egg from the gawa bird.” He opened his hand exposing a crimson sphere. “It is a small meal, but I am hungry.”
“I’m Darius.” The middle-aged man set a satchel on the ground. “I am a traveler seeking refuge and rest.” He pulled a small bundle from the top of his sack. “I offer food for your hospitality.” He unveiled a collection of tubers. “They grow on the west side of the smaller ridge.”
Puffs of smoke wafted across the waning moon as Darius prodded the fire.
“This is enjoyable.” Shaijo retrieved a vegetable from the pit. “I have not had such food.”
The weary traveler leaned against a rock. He pulled an item from his pack and held it in the flickering light. “There is much more beyond the mountains.”
“We are not allowed to leave the valley.” He glanced at the stranger. “What are you doing?”
“What is reee-ding?” Shaijo moved to the visitor’s side, curiosity widening his eyes.
“Reading is learning … the passing on of knowledge or stories.” Darius glanced at the puzzled villager. “You don’t have writings … scrolls?” he asked. “How do you know your people’s past? How do you learn the laws?”
“The elders keep the stories,” the young man stated. “Only they may speak these truths.” He gazed at the unfamiliar writing. “What form of reading is this?”
“It is the history of my people. Our stories.”
“You are allowed to keep the stories of your people?” Shaijo sat back in disbelief.
“Anyone who can read may have the stories.” Darius read a short passage.
“Will you read more?”
“Perhaps tomorrow. I have many books.” Darius closed the text and returned it to its place. “Tonight we rest.”
“I found nothing to harvest.” Shaijo dropped his empty pouch. “What is that I am smelling?” He shaded his eyes from the sun.
“Today we feast, my young friend.” Darius lifted a wooden spit from the fire.
“I cannot believe my eyes.” He stared at the rod. “We have not seen fish in our stream for many years. Where …”
Darius laughed. “Your stream feeds a small river.” He gestured toward the mountains. “There’s an abundance of life.”
Shaijo smiled as he finished his meal. “Will you read for me again?”
“Of course.” He pushed his bag of books toward the young man. “What shall I read?”
The villager shuffled through the contents. “What is this?” He raised a tattered book.
“Ah... That is my favorite.” The traveler slid the book from Shaijo’s grasp. “It’s the Bible. It speaks of God.” He began to read.
“What is God?” Shaijo interrupted.
“God? He made everything,” Darius exclaimed. “He gave you your stream, and these fish. He created all of our ancestors.” He pointed to the afternoon sky. “He gave us the sun to…”
“You say things I have not heard before.” Shaijo traced his finger across the page. “I am…”
“He speaks of darkness and lies,” a voice growled.
“Yamhee!” Shaijo’s voice trembled.
“Why have you brought this stranger to our village?” The elder grabbed the Bible from Darius. “The council is not pleased.”
“He is but a traveler seeking…”
“You must answer for this.” The elder jostled the book.
Shaijo hung his head. “He was reading.”
“It is sorcery!”
“There’s no need to punish the boy.” Darius stepped forward. “This is my doing. I…”
“You must leave now.” Yamhee tossed the Bible into the fire. “Go!” He flicked his hand as if to brush the stranger away.
Darius grabbed his satchel and headed eastward.
The traveler sipped a handful of water.
“Darius.” Shaijo ran up the riverbank.
“Why are you here?” He hugged his friend.
“I wish to come with you. I wish to learn.” The young man fumbled through his pouch. “Learn to read.” He revealed the singed and tattered Bible.
Darius smiled. “The journey will be difficult.”
“I am ready.”
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