The First had observed first hand many of the universe’s greatest wonders, but the transformation he now saw in the Singing Folk after that strange conversation with Gift left him speechless. They were anything but. Almost overnight, as Gift sang to her fellow villagers, a new world seemed to open up to them. They had always had the language, of course: the potential was within their minds which, primitive though they were, were the most advanced on this world, they’d just never had the opportunity to fulfil their promise. He watched from the periphery, staying in the shadows of the rocks that sheltered their crude homes as Gift sang of a new future. The people were captivated by her vision. Their natural inclination to sing was the key. Lending itself so well to transmission, imitation, repetition and, ultimately, modification, the medium jumpstarted their evolution. Whole concepts, heretofore unknown to the Singing Folk, leapt from mind to mind, growing in power and complexity just as their verse did.
“A harmony of mind,” the First whispered to himself, his eyes sparkling as he circled the encampment. The sun was rising, golden red, and it enfolded the green plains in a glowing embrace. He felt uplifted at that moment. The life he had lost was forgotten and he saw in these creatures a modicum of the wonder he had once taken as his due. In their delighted faces and the increasingly intricate songs that filled the air around him he perceived the same awesome power that flowed throughout his father’s universe. This planet, for all its savagery and pain, was capable of producing a glory every bit the equal of the stars, and it resided in the minds – no, the souls – of these people. Perhaps, with a thousand years to grow at their own pace they might have stumbled across such an advance in understanding themselves and it was just chance that he had been here now, at this critical juncture to give them a push in the right direction. And yet…
Gift walked towards him, leading a man with her. He was older, and the First knew him as the nominal leader of the Singing Folk, called Stone. He hadn’t picked up the song that explained his name yet. Stone looked from Gift to the First uncertainly. Like all the Singing Folk, he had mostly ignored the newcomer.
“Look,” Gift said to him, her voice carrying a trace of the same melody the sprawling conversation-cum-choir had been using, “he put the fire in me.”
Stone frowned. “Fire?”
She pointed up at the sky, and was momentarily dismayed to see that the Morning Star was no longer visible. “Fire of the sky,” she said anyway, “star. He fell to the earth from the sky with the fire of the fathers. Now he gives it to us.”
Stone considered her words carefully. He couldn’t possibly make sense of it, the First thought, but she’d explained it as a song and he seemed to be replaying its rhythm while moving his lips silently. “The fire within,” Stone said, placing a gnarled fist against his bare chest. He held out a hand to the rising sun. “The fire from the sky.”
“I came from the sky,” the First said. “I can help you.”
“All of you.” He gestured around the settlement. “The Singing Folk. The people. This land can be yours.”
The concept was not an easy one for Stone to grasp. Perhaps he was too old, but Gift understood. She had the seed he’d shown her atop the rocks. “Tree,” she said, holding it out, “inside.”
“The fire within,” Stone said again, this time looking at the seed.
The First was surprised at how quickly they were making connections, leaping to conclusions that contained grains of truth. “This seed,” he said, stepping up beside Gift and gently taking it from her, “is like you. It can grow, as you have. Plant this in the ground, and a tree will grow, if you are wise.”
“Wise,” Stone said, still looking at the seed with his heavy brow furrowed.
“You are wise. The wise people. I will help you,” he said again.
“He will help us,” Gift said, putting a soft hand on his arm. The First looked down at her, and his smile matched her own.
If the change in the character of the Singing Folk was fast, the way they altered their environment was even faster. It took only a small amount of direction to set them to cultivating the surrounding area and in the following weeks as they advanced by leaps and bounds he learned much more of their ways and their history now they had broken the barrier that allowed them to conceive of abstract ideas. From Stone and the men that began to plough rough fields around the settlement he heard – through song, of course – that there had once been many bands of Singing Folk all across the land, but that now this group knew of no others. They had travelled far from their ancestral home, a distant and near-forgotten savannah across mountains and oceans, and were by their nature nomadic, as he’d suspected. But their lands had been taken from them, swallowed up by the activities of the ones they called the Silent Folk. About these mysterious others no one, not even Stone, would be drawn to elaborate further. It was clear they had driven the Singing Folk away though and they had at last come to this place, set hard against an unforgiving and impassable desert. They had nowhere to go.
“Now,” Stone said to him as the sun set over the dug over stretches of field and the two of them sat together in the shade of a tree, “we stay here. We make a home.” He passed him a skin holding a fermented drink made from the moist sap of a desert plant.
The First took a draught of the drink with a smile and nodded. “A home,” he agreed. He thought his own home was lost to him forever, but now he realised that there might be a chance for him to know peace again, for however long this mortal form lasted. “Peace,” he whispered to himself. He had selfishly squandered his father’s peace but perhaps here in his exile, irony of ironies, he might find it again. Maybe that was why he’d been sent here.
But, in the morning, news reached them that the Silent Folk had come, and the First knew his newfound peace would be short-lived.