THE BOOK OF MUTATIONS 4/16: HE WHO SLITHERS

Noah’s had lots of jobs, he’s harvested and sold sesame-oil for women to be anointed with, he’s smelted metals to make weapons for men to fight with, he’s fought, he helped dig the sewage-works, he’s been in gangs and armies, he’s planted trees and chopped down trees, he’s been a guard, long cold nights up in the watchtowers with shooting-stars and hyenas for company plus occasional spikes of adrenaline. He’s been an orderly at the hospital during outbreaks of swamp-fever, he’s dug graves for the casualties, he’s been a builder: yesterday he and his crew finished work on the biggest bridge ever, a new route open to the northeast; the king himself came to the opening-ceremony and sacrificed a bull. “Our king from Heaven!” mutters Noah, imitating the prancing bards: “Our deathless king!”

The man in front of him in the queue turns around: “Pardon?”

“Nothing. Thinking out loud.” That man turns back, he stands, they all stand, in silence, obeying the unwritten rule that everyone must be miserable while waiting to collect their wages. Occasionally Noah gets to shuffle a few feet forwards. To one side of him is a wall, his boss’s huge house; at the other side is a busy street and above him’s the sun, no shelter or shade, the only retreat for Noah is into his mind, his bridge, the bards and priests introduced the king:

“Your great-grandchildren,” King Noah told them, “will cross this bridge and think of you! Men from distant, ignorant lands will travel by this road and worship our gods at our temples and learn what civilisation is: because of you.” The king applauded his subjects. That was one of only half-a-dozen times Noah’s seen the man whose name he shares. Sometimes he hates his parents for that, sometimes he loves them for it, naming him after the kings: it’s brought him good luck and bad, and some of his fellow subjects, his brother citizens, have never been happy with it.

Noah shuffles forwards, towards the door into the grand house, into it, into a room decked with ornaments and artworks; the boss lounges on his couch: “Ah hello.” He wears a long dark robe, his hair is in plaits, beads have been sewn into his beard; he says the same words he says every week: “And what is your name?”

“Noah.”

“Of course! …Yes. The boy who would be king, eh! Should I bow, should I kneel?”

“My parents meant only to pay their respects to the ruler.”

The boss frowns: “Yes, perhaps that’s only what they meant. Well, never mind! Here,” he gestures: on the carpet in front of Noah is a disposable earthenware tub filled with bread and grain and metallic coupons which can be exchanged for beer or wine. “Your wages. Minus taxes, we’ve done all that for you. Excellent work, incidentally; I was hoping the king would name the bridge after me but he didn’t, did he.”

“No.”

“Our new bridge, named after… what’s his name… who sailed beyond the edge of the world and was never seen again. Perhaps he found the land where the gods live, as he desired. Or perhaps he drowned: maybe he is a great man, maybe he was a fool.” The boss shrugs. “There’s more work if you want it.” Noah nods obediently. “Something a bit different. The filthy Amurru have overrun Mari, they’ve slaughtered the natives and occupied its buildings, every one of their shrines is now a shrine to the secret god of those bastard fucking Amurru. They killed my brother, you know.” Noah nods. “They’ll kill each of us, given time, given the opportunity; it’s all they know. Their raids and their kidnappings, their sick rites; Mari should belong to us, to the good not the evil. That’s the plan, anyway: and there’s a part for you in it. I won’t lie, the chances of your personal survival are slim, but if you die on this mission we’ll guarantee you safe and direct passage to Heaven, you’ll be a god among gods and everyone shall sing of you as such; of course your family will be provided for.” Noah nods.

Mari, evening gloom: most men are slaves now, they hurry through the dank littered streets from one workplace to the next, they prostrate themselves when their Amurru masters pass, they wonder where their wives and daughters have gone.

Prostrate themselves: men fall to their knees on the dirty pavement, the pavement with grass growing through its cracks, men bow down as seven priests walk past, they wear dark cloaks and are hooded, their faces must never be seen but their voices can be heard as they walk solemnly through their town: “Our god has eaten your gods and spat them out. Our god is the Horrible One in all of us: he rules, whatever you think.” They walk, they reach their destination; the rest of the holy-men stay silent as their chief continues: “The rite of the Sick Spirit will take place shortly: we will receive your offerings.” The hooded men stand between thick stone columns under a stone roof, here where earlier today the latest batch of criminals and subversives were disfigured and crucified; the citizens line up carrying grapes and garlic and chickpeas and lentils and lettuce, onions and eggs and mint, cress and coriander, it all goes on a pile of timber which is set alight: “This is sustenance for the dead to eat; otherwise your ancestors would have nothing but dust to consume for eternity, eternity alongside hideous demons who punish you for what you did and did not do.” The priests don’t just take, they give too: the high-priest listens to men’s dreams and tells them what they mean: “In the future people will live shorter lives and will eat less. There shall be too much rain or not enough rain.”

Their offerings taken, the men of Mari depart; the priests leave too, they walk past the ruined courts and overgrown gardens, through the wastelands on which representatives of the town’s clans fight one another for prizes, by the offices where accountants work out how much everyone owes, along past the grain-silos, empty but there are always more territories for the Amurru to take. They walk to the cemetery: they’re alone, just seven hooded men and all these corpses under their feet; headstones and treasured trinkets have all been looted.

Curving stone steps lead downwards: down to a candle-lit crypt, red and black walls, sacrifices: disembowelled geese, water-snakes starving in cages, and there among them on the stone floor is a boy. “This child,” says the high-priest, “must die so that night follows day.” The high-priest has a knife; the jagged-walled pit is small, damp; the candles rise like phalluses from rock ledges. The high-priest lifts his knife; a naked little boy, hands tied behind his back, ankles strung tightly together, whimpers; the high-priest smiles: “Fear nothing. Fear nothing.” A swish of his arm: “I am Nothing,” the blade enters the boy’s throat again then again, the wide-eyed boy gurgles, spasms, the high-priest reddens his hands: “I,” he hisses at the ceiling, “shatter-God God-killer in the Darkness, I coil inside you, I plot inside you.” There’s a cup, the priest sips from it, a mouthful of old wine: instead of swallowing he spits it in the face of the child, the last sensation the kid will feel, these are the last words he’ll hear: “There is a Light which comes not from the sun nor from flame nor moon nor stars: I will extinguish it. My children shall suck up the Earth’s blood. Enemy of everything; soul-eater.” The high-priest hacks with his knife at the dead boy’s throat: “I, master of the east and west! I, lord of the within and the without! Commander of all, I war against all; I torment even the dead, there is no peace.” He holds up the decapitated dripping head, he screams. “All-choking, all-poison! My name… is… Apep. That which is to be denied shall be denied; that which is to be trampled on shall be trampled on; that which is to be spat on shall be… ggrgkll…”

A knife in the guts of the high-priest: a knife, another knife, blur of arms and blades, screams, falling bodies: then only two cloaked-and-hooded men remain standing. “Did you get that?” asks Noah, as he and his comrade sheathe their weapons. “‘Apep.’ Let’s get out of here: we’ll go different ways, hopefully one of us will make it.” They climb the stone steps, out into the evening, Noah walks, back onto Mari’s broken streets, if anyone challenges him he’ll kill them then run but none of these citizens notice anything’s wrong, they bow down as he passes. Noah reaches the outer-wall, slips through, it’s dark when he reaches his army: he tells his superiors the name of their enemy’s god.

A squadron led by Noah heads back to Mari, to the gate: they say they’re here to undertake Apep’s business and the way is opened for them, the gatekeeper is killed and the rest of the army arrives, storms through on foot, men in bronze breastplates and helmets, men bearing bronze swords and spears, torches and slingshots, they cry: “Apep is shit!” as they slaughter every last Amurru they find, “Apep is shit!” as they occupy the temple, “Apep is shit!” as they take the streets. “Apep is shit! Mari belongs to us!”

A few days later Noah’s home, he collects this week’s wages and accepts next week’s work, he’s allowed a few days to celebrate first, everyone is. A festival: Noah drinks himself into a blessed delirium and listens to the music, the speeches, listens to his high-priest declare: “Praise our lord, praise the king, praise our godly king! His parents were not of this world; he’s been places nobody has been. He owns all of us and all the land.”

“Praise,” mutters the man next to Noah, “Apep.”

“Huh.”

The priest continues: “The gods are just like us: they try as hard as they can and then they fail. Let’s kill the old king to make space for the new!” The people cheer.

“Apep!” they cheer, Noah laughs, the priest says:

“New taxes on everything: a tax on birth and a tax on death.” The whole city seems to be here, in the city’s central-square, another cold evening, fires to keep them warm; the men drink and drink and when they’ve emptied a mug they throw it in a random direction then grab more from anyone who’s got more; the priest continues: “Let’s grow crops on all the fields all the time, let’s not ever leave them empty. Twice as much work for everyone! The old ways were wasteful.”

The priest stands at the centre of his men, they cheer. Except Noah: through his pleasantly-awful spinning inebriation he formulates a thought then says it aloud, “No that, that doesn’t work. The soil, you can’t…”

Not loud enough: “Let’s forget everything we used to know. Life was better when we knew nothing at all!” Noah tries to stand up but he falls down. Around him men start chanting:

“A-pep! A-pep! A-pep!”

“No…”

“Yes!” The end of evening: the priest lifts a flaming stick out of the fire nearest him and holds it high: “Apep! Exalt the stupid and the vicious; glorify the barbarian! Apep!” Everyone follows the example of the authorities, everyone grabs burning wood and waves it and shouts: “Only sacrifice! Apep! Shit in the wells and canals; trash the irrigation-pipes; call plagues and drought on ourself! Apep! Let the dead rot where they fall; spend our wages on Apep. Apep! Smash babies against rocks; make women cover their faces. Apep!” Noah stands, adrenaline overrides alcohol, he grabs his friends and shakes them, tries to shake sense into them but they screech and giggle, dribble, listen to their holy-man: “Everyone fight everyone all the time; sell yourselves into slavery. Apep! Burn down the cedar-trees, burn down the prisons! Apep! Destroy the calendars, smash the windows! Apep! Build more prisons! Who is king, who is not king? Apep! Apep! Apep!”

Noah dashes towards the priest but he sees it’s too late: flames lick wooden tables and chairs. “Apep! Apep!” Noah turns and runs, away from the central-square but not away from the flames, in all these streets men and women are calling their new god’s name and setting fire to anything that will burn, they proclaim Apep’s empire and force poison down babies’ throats. Noah runs past, they try to grab him, they throw things playfully-viciously but he dodges every attack, sprints past the palace where the king’s loyal followers are having him eviscerated with hot spikes, Noah passes statues of the heroic ruler’s heroic ancestors, passes the royal stables and apple-trees and the fountain and… Noah stops running, turns back, dashes back to the stables, he frees a terrified horse, climbs awkwardly up onto it, he tugs the horse’s hair and slaps its flanks to get it moving, points it towards the city’s wall, the gate is wide open, the watchtowers deserted: Noah gallops from the burning screaming Apep city out into the night, there’s stone underneath the steed’s hooves then soon just soil and soon only sand, only the encroaching desert.

TO BE CONTINUED…

THE BOOK OF MUTATIONS 3/16: MAKE IT NEW

The celebrants climb steps, up past level after level of the temple-precincts, wide stone outdoor spaces usually bustling with minor-priests and astrologers and snake-charmers and amulet-vendors and epileptics and foreign mystics and musicians, they’re empty today though, oddly quiet: everyone is either invited inside the temple itself or they’ve been excluded from the Holy Place altogether.

At the summit of these three hundred and sixty stone stairs there’s a large arched doorway. Most of today’s guests rarely get to come all the way to the top: so they turn in a slow circle, this is what the gods see, vistas of brick houses and shops below filled with unlucky citizens luridly imagining this afternoon’s ceremony. Beyond them and their residences, beyond the farms in which workers on ox-driven carts battle motion-sickness as they hurl handfuls of seeds, there’s the circular city-wall, thick stone, guarded from atop fortified watchtowers. Outside the gates, outside the city proper, its territory continues: orchards and vineyards and fields on which cattle graze, shepherds swelter, there are travellers too, coming and going on foot or in animal-drawn wagons along roads which are paved near the city but which degenerate into mud-tracks as they reach for the horizon, reach past unclaimed meadows of grass and shrubs, past occasional ponds and streams, towards faraway little villages full of little villagers who still fight with sticks and stones, and towards other cities too, new cities which have assembled themselves in imitation of the city.

The temple: looking down on everything. At the peak of level after level of empty precincts is this stone cube, built directly over the ruins of the old temple which was itself built on the ruins of an older temple. People pass silently through the arched doorway, through darkness into light, the light of flames at the sacred hearth, some sun enters through hole-in-the-wall windows too, into this enormous hall crammed with people, with ministers and princes and soldiers and their wives plus the heads of various trades, representatives of the shepherds and the date-growers, the blacksmiths and ox-herders and builders and tailors, the fishermen and farmers and fowlers, artists and writers and of course the priests, here in this holiest of sanctuaries are the devotees of the Lords of this world, the gods of good fishing and good hunting, gods of water and marshland and desert and vegetation, gods of animals and seasons and boats, man-gods and woman-gods, moon-god and sun-god, sky-god, rainbow-god, gods of regeneration and charity and tragedy, the son-god who loves and suffers, here in this great hall are their separate priests bearing their separate emblems plus offerings of fruit. There are clunky statues of the gods as well, and friezes and mosaics on every wall, there are engravings and portraits of sideways-facing warriors; the Seven Sages are present in the form of small glass fish and birds.

These people bustling within the sacred walls, these allies and rivals: apart from their shared citizenship the men agree on only two things, they adore the king and they all want his daughter.

The butchered-lamb stink of sanctity. The altar: wide smooth stone, like the steps outside. On it are two figurines made of materials Noah’s never heard of, lapis lazuli and glass, they are placed on each other as though copulating. Next to them is an ancient animal’s-horn and a sea-shell collected from the ocean this morning, plus clippings from a hallowed cedar-tree and two silver rings.

Behind the altar stand the king and his daughter, and by them the royal bard: “I!” declares Nemmo, the fabulist, “proclaim the crown and the throne; I exalt the sceptre and the measuring-rod. Pray be silent and I will relate to you a Truth beyond truths,” he tells them about the time a goddess got the city-god drunk and slipped away with his Virtues, our Lord pursued her but the Love-goddess gave the goods to someone else and the city-god ended up having to share. The storyteller ends with a prayer to commemorate the occasion: “May new reeds and shrubs and grasses grow; may deer and oxen multiply; may well-watered gardens bear honey and juice; may the excellent loins of the king’s daughter be praised to Heaven; may vegetables fill the commons; may there be long life in the palace. Now hear the king, King Noah will speak!”

The monarch nods appreciatively. He’s ancient, the oldest man alive, he’s forty, although across the city they say he’s six hundred and he’ll never die. “Death,” says Noah, “approaches: I hope I have done good. Grey death approaches and I have a decision to make.” His audience all want his favour, they want the girl standing there. “The gods know best, we are here to ask them: to whom should I give the princess?”

“Me,” says the storyteller: the hall makes one noise that is simultaneously amusement and contempt and anger and disgust and hurt, Noah makes that sound too then he says, he jeers:

You?” The crowd snorts. This ratty weakling isn’t even from here: impudent upstart bard from an impudent upstart city far away.

“Because,” says the storyteller, “I and I alone know her name,” that shuts everyone up: he steps towards the king and, with his hands cupped around his mouth, whispers into Noah’s ear.

A silence. Sunlight and flames.

“This man,” announces the king, “is today my son, is the new prince,” the girl stares shyly at her bridegroom, the stranger with the words, who turns to face the crowd and barks in their faces:“Whoever would fight me for this honour, whoever would fight me for her, fight me now: the king and therefore the gods have chosen their man.”

The celebrants stare and seethe and slowly they stop seething, they stare: the ministers and princes and soldiers and shepherds, the date-growers and blacksmiths, the ox-herders and tailors and builders, the artists and scribes and priests break into cheers, a royal wedding! The bridegroom receives every blessing, receives a new and auspicious name, is given the king’s own copy of the Laws; then he and his princess are alone.

“I,” he tells her, “will treat you like the Goddess you are.”

She opens a palace-door for him. “How does the story end?”

THE BOOK OF MUTATIONS 2/16: WORKS

Today they counted forty-nine fish in their fishing-net and there were still more after that, they need new numbers: later the king and his men will meet to decide what comes after forty-nine.

“We,” says Noah, “are civilised. It is our job – our destiny – to civilise,” everyone around him nods, they continue their inspection of the huge clay pots at the edge of their territory. The men are satisfied: the urns are in good condition, the rainwater inside is safe until they need it.

The group turns back, walks back over soil, these fields: in half of them men are working, some hold large sacks while others take seeds from those sacks and throw them onto the mud, they step forwards then throw again and again…

“I,” says Noah, “have an idea.” He tells the group that more crops could be grown if all the fields were utilised instead of only half of them: more farmers could be…

The Overseer of Food waits for him to finish then tells Noah a lesson they learnt the hard way, tells him about the fields on the other side of their city, the soil they overworked and which is now useless.

Noah nods: “I see.”

Past the farmers, then past a different kind of worker, men with tin-and-wood shovels are digging a ditch. Behind them other men stand watching. “They,” says the Overseer of Water, “shall make a canal from here to the river.” Noah already knew that but he pretends he didn’t:

“I see.”

Blunt tin shovels thud into the earth; those men standing watching are armed with whips and copper daggers. Noah’s group walks awkwardly past.

Noah reads their minds: “But,” he says, “these barbarians attacked us once, we caught them and reasoned with them and let them go, they attacked us again! What can we do? We could kill them but this is better: they’ll learn our skills and our ways, they’ll live among us and see that we are superior. Then, when it is time, we shall free them and give them some land on which to build a house.”

The Overseers keep walking: the fields end at tough huts where more armed men stand on guard-duty, they nod deferentially as their bosses pass, walking now on cobbled streets, past squat homes and shops made of reeds and timber, past people: more and more people. Mostly when they see the Overseers they humbly lower their eyes, keep their distance, a few men and women come close though and smile and congratulate Noah on his newborns, the twins: a boy named Noah and a girl whose name is a secret.

Noah smiles back: “Thank you,” he says.

In the doorways of houses mothers wipe snot from children’s noses and give them toys to play with, wooden shapes with string threaded through, as sheep- and goat-herders clop with their flocks out to the plains to graze them or into the market to sell them; across the market vendors shout, their customers haggle and maybe buy meat and barley and date-palms, figs and wheat and jewellery, fish caught this morning in the sea to the south or the lakes all around, there are stonemasons and plasterers, metalworkers, leatherworkers, builders and musicians and priests: some are dressed in sheepskin cloaks or fine linen tunics or robes, others wear rags and scraps. Within workshops around the market’s edge men hammer boats into shape or burn things in furnaces to see what happens, there are word-workers too, sitting at desks drawing up contracts and inventories with scratchy markings on clay tablets.

A basket-weaver whacks his earnest young clod of an apprentice over the head then smiles apologetically at Noah and his associates as they keep on, through the market, towards the city’s centre: they pass men pushing their produce or their purchases on carts, on one of those carts is a wooden cage with a goat in it, the goat headbutts the wood trying and failing to get out. Noah says: “The chaotic old dances and rituals have been tamed; men’s energies have been focused on what is good and right; our stories have been catalogued and aligned into a common continuity.” They walk: here: a stone bowl filled with holy-water, each man dips his hands in it before he proceeds.

Here: the temple. The only building in the city built of bricks, the bricks are all the same size and the same grey colour, they form this gateway, this narrow dark chilly tunnel which opens into a not-quite-so-dark chilly hall decorated with emblems of Hwu and Ua, the Sky Lord and the Queen of Heaven, the god of possibility and the goddess of making-babies. The space within these limestone-brick walls is occupied today by the king’s council, the master-craftsmen and the high-priests and the Overseers. Later they’ll enjoy a ritual-feast of shellfish but first there’s work to be done: “We,” says King Noah, “need new numbers.”

The council debates the matter and comes to a conclusion: the head scribe records this new word, it will be added to the official list.

“There’s more,” says their ruler. He tells his men he’s been thinking: he wants to create a written record of his kingly wisdom.

“I,” offers the head scribe, “will set down your words if you wish to dictate to me the…”

“No: I have dabbled in the art of writing all my life, I can…” He looks across at the head scribe and then down, looks down at his own hands, he says: “No, you are the best writer, of course you must write,” soon Noah is speaking as the scribe makes markings on clay tablets, spelling out the king’s lessons:

“MISTAKE. NOT. TWICE.”

THE BOOK OF MUTATIONS 1/16: RUNNING A WAY

“Suicide,” says the priest, “is a crime punishable by death.” Noah, kneeling on grass in the daylight with the rest of the worshippers, doesn’t laugh out loud. None of the men around him even see the humour, Noah can tell: he knows everything anyone else knows, he knows what people are thinking as they’re thinking it, he knows too much. The priest sighs then continues: “I must deliver bad news, the worst news.” Sun overhead: the first hot spring day this year, the people sweat and their holy-man sweats too as atop his three-step stone pyramid he looks down on his flock; Noah feels the priest enjoying the tension. “A mighty flood is coming.” Muffled anguish. “Aa is angry, we have not been all that we could be, we have not always aspired to goodness. There comes this retribution: but the gods are merciful, they have allowed me to warn you. We have perhaps four days to prepare. The gods are on our side!” Today’s sermon ends: the panicked congregation rises to its feet.

The priest descends his three stairs. Urgent though the situation is, no breach of ceremonial decorum will be allowed: the worshippers form the usual line, single-file to their magus, a long queue through this holy grove at the heart of the town, there are rows of trees on both sides plus a small reed hut off to the left, there are stone steps: the little pyramid has an altar upon it, on the altar are sacred fish-bones and beads and gems and a fat clay bowl filled with water. Stone steps: the priest stands at their base and one man after another passes in front of him, thanking the holy-man and kissing his snakeskin amulet, they ask questions – “In the future, when you’re dead, judge-gods will weigh up every choice you made: don’t take any chances,” he answers – and they proffer dried dates and meat to the Fraternity.

“The long winter is over,” beams one grateful farmer. “A flood? No matter, there are always floods. With Aa’s help we can grow again!” The priest smiles, bids him goodbye, bids each man goodbye: hurriedly they radiate from the shrine back to do what they can to secure their huts and crops and families from the coming deluge.

Noah remains, just Noah and the minister of the gods: “Why do you tell them that?”

“Hm?”

“A hundred miles away, snow on a mountain is melting: your scouts have told you. The water pours down the slopes and the rivers will rise and soon there will be flooding. It has nothing to do with…”

“You will anger the gods if you keep talking like that! I am an initiate, as you will be an initiate too, soon; it’s what we do. We wrap up facts in fables to make them easier to understand.”

“Are you sure? How is this easier to understand, it’s…”

“People can hold fantastic things in their minds much easier than they can live with the mundane. This way they won’t forget. With our stories stuck in their head they’ll…”

“But you don’t tell the people they’re only stories, why don’t you tell them that?”

“You’ll see. After you’ve been doing it for a while it makes sense.” The priest grins: “You know too much, Noah. That’s why I offered you a place in the mystic Fraternity, the Hierarchy: a smart young man like you, you’ll fit right in. Are you ready? Are you ready for the ceremony tonight?”

Tonight: there are torches but they’re unlit: a starry darkness, the shrine at the heart of town, the grove is cold now and there are just half a dozen men, plus the Candidate in the small reed hut: the Candidate is bound, gagged, blindfolded, but he can hear: “O Spirit of All, O Soul in the Water: self-transcending One who is many.” The high-priest walks up the stone steps, kisses his snakeskin amulet, bows before the altar and recites: “We worship you, the creative all-Water, origin of everything; fertilising Water, soul of the Deep! Never staying still, ever flowing! Water inherent in everything; everything inherent in Water! We salute you, Lord of the Deep, Aa, God of gods! O Fate, give Aa victory in his long battle against Apep, inverted snake Apep, Apep of the shameless and the obscene, desert Apep: Water will win!” On the altar is a liquid-filled clay bowl; below, two robed men step towards the hut.

The Candidate knows what the high-priest is saying and what he’s going to say; no-one who has not been initiated is supposed to know but Noah made sure to find out. The Candidate clears his mind of the priest’s lovely empty words, he concentrates…

The high-priest continues: “Great Aa!” The night is cold, they shiver, a distant jackal howls. “Aa, be ever exalted! Rejoice inside us! Bring us new Light! Strengthen us! There is a future and it is ours!” The subordinate priests reach the hut. “O Candidate,” cries the Aa’s minister, plunging his hands into the clay bowl, into the water, his hands emerge and each one’s clutching the throat of a furious snake. “Candidate: fear nothing.” The Candidate will be offered to the snakes, to Apep: if he survives, he joins the Brotherhood. They open the little hut’s door:

Where’s the Candidate?

…Noah hurries through the darkness, he wants to run but he won’t risk extinguishing the burning torch he’s carrying, he walks as fast as he can, following a star. The fields are cold and hard against the cow-skin slips he wears over his feet, the fields go on and on. A fire through the night: keeping an eye out for sudden drops or marshy puddles, reptiles to bite him, shrubs to trip on. Far ahead there will be forests and mountains and dangers and people: other settlements or passing nomad tribes, Noah will find others, he knows skills, he’s useful, he hurries, sacks slung over both his shoulders and another in one hand and in the other is his torch, a sun for himself.