Written by: Julia Marriott, (Victorian Literature, 1996)
In the far distant future……
The sun beat down on the forest canopy, its rays barely penetrating the dense foliage. Huge flying insects darted between the dripping vines. The air was hot and humid. Far below on the forest floor, two children hacked at the dense undergrowth until they came to a small clearing. In the midst of the clearing stood a pair of large, fearsome creatures - half-dragon, half-dog - carved out of moss-covered granite. The younger of the children, a small boy, stared wide-eyed at them. The girl tousled the boy’s hair. ‘Don’t be frightened, Luca, they won’t hurt you. They’re only made of stone.’
He walked up to them and tentatively reached out to touch one of the statues. ‘What are they?’ he whispered.
His sister smiled and lifted him up so that he could more closely inspect the snarling face. ‘Well, a long time ago this used to be a sacred place’, she said, gently lowering him to the ground. ‘A mighty temple called ‘You-nee-versti’ once stood here, and these creatures guarded it before the Darkness came.’
‘What’s a temple?’
It’s a place where people used to come to worship, to pray to the gods. But that was a long time ago. The temple was destroyed by the Darkness, and all that’s left are these stone dogs.
The boy scratched his head. ‘Which gods did people worship here?’
‘Long ago, before the Darkness killed the world, it was the temple of the goddess, No-lej. Anyway, that’s what the old ones tell us, just as they were told when they were your age. It’s something called ‘sacred lore’ and it’s been passed down for many generations. They pass this to us and we have to pass it to our children one day, and then they have to pass it to theirs, so it will never be forgotten.’
‘But if there’s no temple anymore, why do we have to pass it on?’
The girl looked at her brother and placed her hand on his small shoulder, ‘Even though the temple is gone, it is said that No-lej is all around us and we must always worship her. The old ones tells us that without No-lej, the world will be in darkness forever.’
The boy, looked thoughtful, ‘If No-lej is a goddess, she must be very powerful, so why didn’t she stop the Darkness from destroying her temple. Why did she let the Darkness happen?’
The girl took the boy’s hand and led him to a large flat slab of stone. ‘Let’s sit here and rest and have something to eat and I’ll try to explain.’ She reached into a woven bag that was slung across her body and produced a package wrapped in large leaves. She carefully unwrapped it and took out a piece of dried meat and some berries. She tore the meat in half and offered a piece to her brother. The boy chewed slowly while his sister continued.
‘The old ones say that before the Darkness came, those who worshipped the goddess No-lej were given a great gift. They were given the gift of power…’
‘If we pray to her, will No-lej give us this gift, Ella?’ the boy interrupted.
The girl sucked thoughtfully on her strip of dried meat. ‘I don’t know if praying will give us this gift. In any case, I don’t think that I want to have ‘power’. I think it’s more important that we know how to survive each day, and to do that we need to learn how the world works.’
You mean like knowing how to make a fire or how to kill something to eat?’
‘Yes, something like that,’ she smiled, brushing a large insect away from the food.
‘How can we learn how the world works without No-lej to help us? You still haven’t told me why she couldn’t stop the Darkness.’ he said.
‘Well, stop interrupting,’ she laughed, ‘and let me finish. The trouble was that even though many used their power to do good things, there were others who used their power to do bad things. Some of the most powerful became rulers of the earth. As their power grew, even No-lej couldn’t stop them.’
‘What sort of bad things did they do, Ella?’
‘Killing one another, is one. But even worse than that, they killed the world we live in.’ she replied.
They sat side by side in reflective silence and finished the last of the food. The humid air around them hummed with insects. The exotic trees towered over them and sunlight filtered down through the heavy canopy of leaves.
The boy, rubbed his nose. ‘Why did they kill the world? It doesn’t make sense.’ His sister smiled and put her arm around his shoulder. ‘You’re right, it doesn’t make sense, Luca, but there were those humans who took too much from the world because they became greedy. They took no notice of what the world was trying to say to them until it became too late. Then nothing could be done to stop it from dying.’
‘But the world isn’t dead any more, Ella. Is it?’ he argued.
‘No, but that’s because all of this happened a long time ago. Many creatures died, as did many humans. There was little food and water on the earth. Some survived and had to learn how to live in the new world. It was a very hard time but humans still had No-lej to help them; without her to show the way we would have disappeared from the world. It has taken a very, very long time, but the world is healing itself slowly.’
She took her brother’s hand, ‘Come on, it’s time we left.’ she said. ‘So what have you learnt from what I’ve told you today?’
‘That power can be dangerous and that we should always listen to the world around us. Oh, and that having No-lej to help us we can survive.’
‘Good boy,’ she said, ‘you learn well.’