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Mail from another city ež1

by Leena Krohn ež2

Burning on the mountain - The seventh letter ež135

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Burning on the mountain - The seventh letter ež135

Behind the hillock where the amusement park of Tainaron is built rises another hillock, dim with distance. From time to time, at midnight moments, I have seen a fire blazing on its highest peak, small but very bright. ež136

How I loved to look at it once. I thought about campfires and guitars, shared meals and hikers resting and telling stories after the exertions of the road. But later I began to suspect that it was perhaps not, after all, a campfire, but some kind of beacon, for it always lit so high up and it can be seen so far away in every direction; particularly, however, down in the city of Tainaron. ež137

Some days ago I happened to mention the fire on the mountain to Longhorn, and I immediately felt embarrassed, for my question made his face grow harsh and severe. I had hardly ever seen such an expression on his calm face. ež138

'Do not look at it; it is not for you,' he enjoined me quickly. 'When the time of the new moon comes, draw the curtains and go to sleep.' ež139

The time of the new moon.... Longhorn was right. I had last seen the fire about a month earlier, and that night there had been a new moon. The earth had cast a long shadow, and perhaps it was for that reason that the fire blazed so large and solitary. And had not two cycles of the moon passed since the earlier blaze? ež140

Even though Longhorn had grown so uncommunicative-looking, I made so bold as to ask: 'Tell me: who lights those bonfires?' ež141

'They are no bonfires,' he said, and his voice did not grow any milder. 'They are not intended to delight the eye, and their ashes are not used for baking root vegetables.' ež142

'What are they, then?' I asked, and I realised my voice had dropped to a whisper. ež143

'Burnt offerings, sacrifices. They are sacrifices,' he replied. ež144

I felt I had known before I asked. ež145

'Who is sacrificed?' I asked. In admiring the blaze, had I not noted a light smell hovering over the city? ež146

'Why do you keep asking?' Longhorn cried, growing angry. 'They set fire to themselves.' ež147

But I could not stop; I went on, stubbornly: 'But who are they? What do they want?' ež148

Longhorn had turned his back to me and was pretending to examine my books. The conversation seemed repugnant in the extreme to him, and I was ashamed of my own tactlessness. Nevertheless, I felt that if I could solve the mystery of the fire I would also understand why some people chose destruction as if it were a privilege. ež149

But Longhorn shrugged his back-armour wearily. ež150

'What do they want, you ask. They are sectarian delusions. To redeem Tainaron, I suppose that is what they want. That the Tainaronians should live differently from how they do. That they should wake up from their sleep; that is what they say. Mad!' ež151

And he shook his fists at the mist-clad mountain that bowed over the city. 'How many innocent souls will they yet take with them to the pyre?' ež152

Yesterday it was new moon once more. Early in the evening, I had done exactly as Longhorn had instructed me: I had drawn the curtains across my windows. But after I had gone to bed I could not sleep, and it seemed to me that a red colour was shining through the curtains. ež153

Then I got up, went on to the balcony and immediately saw the balefire, high on the mountain in the darkness of the new moon. None of the lights of Tainaron - not its neon colours, not the lights of its Ferris wheel - burned as brightly as the fire on the mountain. There it blazed, attracting the gazes of the city-dwellers as a lamp attracts moths. Even from miles away it was dazzling, and made my face glow. ež154

Last night was calm, and the sacrifice burned evenly. It was a candle on the table, the night's focus and its terrible purifier. Who was he who was burning with such a high and unwavering flame? What did he believe he knew that no one in the valley of Tainaron knew, which was more than life, more than his own boiling tears and his scalding eyes? Was it as clearly visible to him as the fire on the mountain was to me? To me, lingering on the balcony; to me, who could not take my eyes off the fire, was no justification to him, no expiation, no comfort. ež155

And I had gazed on the blaze as if it were a midnight flower, rejoicing! ež156

No, as long as the sacrifice burned, I could not go to sleep, could not concentrate on anything. I stood on the balcony until he, whoever he was, had turned from fire into embers and from embers into ashes. ež157

Will there ever be a new moon when there is no need to light a fire high on the hill? ež158

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Author: ©Leena Krohn 1998
Translation: ©Hildi Hawkins
E-presentation: © Ralph Amissah
W3 since October 3 1993