The town of Arduhem was a beautiful town of rice paddies surrounded on all sides by impassable peaks. The snowmelt from these mountains helped their crops to grow, even though these same mountains kept the rain away from this isolated place. The people did not know what is on the other side of these mountains, but they were happy living within their village without this knowledge. Instead, they fashioned a religion around the mountains that sheltered and fed them. It was their belief that the mountains kept them safe, locked in from the endless void of space outside or other things worse that only the human mind could concoct. Each of these mountains had a name, and each villager was born under one of these names. When a villager became too old to work the fields, he or she left the village to climb the mountain of his or her birth. Some believed that the elders who crossed the mountains found the void beyond and lived in perfect freedom. Others believed that the gods took them in as part of the mountain.
One autumn, as the villagers were whispering to their grains to grow hearty for the dry winter, a sight unseen in the history of Arduhem became, suddenly, seen. Orthun, child under Sah, was seen traipsing down Byrzidah of all places! He looked tired and cold, but somehow more alive than he had ever been. When he saw the first farmers at the foot of Byrzidah, he smiled and waved.
“I’m home!” he shouted. “I’m home again!”
The farmers did not know what to do, so they went to fetch the religious leaders, who themselves were preparing for the great journey up the mountain. On the way, the children gathered around the old man, fascinated by his man who came from outside of reality. They laughed at his new clothes and asked him what he had seen on the other side. He explained that there were villages on the outside that all had different food and tools and traded with each other. The children were so delighted by Orthun’s stories that they even slowed down, keeping their chatter to a minimum, just to hear the old man’s weathered voice. The farmer’s at the lead entered the chapel, built out of stones from all the mountains, and came back with those who spoke with the mountains’ voice.
There was one voice for each mountain, nine people born under nine different mountains. When one voice left to walk upon his mountain, a new voice was chosen out of all the villagers who were born under that mountain. Orthun had almost become the next voice due to his kinship with the fields and the people, but he lost his candidacy due to Jedda’s ability to speak to the mountains. Jedda was said to know the mountain’s voice better than any before him. When Orthun approached the people, Jedda was the only one not joyous in his expression. All others were grateful for the mountains’ gift, the return of one of their beloved kin. But age had caused Jedda to become suspicious of anything the others would try to sell as a “miracle.”
“Orthun!” he cried, spittle arcing from his lips. “How dare you come back from Sah’s good graces, crawling like a beast down Byrzidah’s back! You have come back to torment us and bring bad omens for the winter!”
“Jedda, please!” Palam, voice of Hatchack, beseeched her brother. In the time before Orthun climbed the mountains, she had been his wife. She loved Orthun and couldn’t think ill of him, even in his disturbing resurrection. “The mountains have given to us as they always do. They give us water and life, and so they have given us Orthun.”
“But when have the mountains ever given us a person back? And why now?”
“I agree,” said Rumbaldig, voice of Byrzidah. “This man is a defiler. We should send him back.”
“He has betrayed Sah and so to Sah he shall return to await her judgment!” Jedda declared.
“Please, wait!” Orthun begged. “I am very tired from my journey. I just came back from the other side! I’ve seen it! It’s filled with people and the days are so long before the sun sets behind the low mountains.”
Only Jedda was not interested in his words. He did not listen but only pried a rock from the chapel. “This is a rock from Sah!” he cried, stopping Orthun’s banter. No one doubted Jedda’s words. Though the mountains were made of the same stone, Jedda was so intimately familiar with the Sah that he could tell apart the boulders it shook loose from those of the other gods. “So Sah shall take Orthun back unto her!”
Here! I’ll show you!” Orthun groped inside his jacket to bring out a red ball. He took a bite and chewed. “It’s sweet! See?”
A disgusting crunch stopped Orthun from chewing. A mangled wad of food dropped from his mouth and the red food dropped into the paddy below. “Take Orthun back unto her!” Jedda cried, throwing another chapel stone, taken from Sah. He was tired, though, and it fell short. Rumbaldig threw another stone, the first he could find, and it landed on Orthun’s chest. As Rumbaldig threw, others joined. Palam led those that pleaded for an end, but no one seemed to hear or care.
“Wait!” cried a child. “Why are you hurting him?”
Orthun’s mouth, too, seemed to ask “why?” but no sound issued from his slack jaw. He stared, dazed, as if in disbelief. The next stone felled the old man, hard, as if all the stones had hit him at once. He floated in the paddy and dark blood leaked out from his wounds.
“Take it back!” a child said. “Put it back!”
All the rice Orthun’s blood touched withered and died. Jedda reeled in horror. “It’s the curse! He’s cursed us all!”
“You fool!” Palam hissed to her brother. “Look what you’ve done!”
Jedda looked. They all looked. No one had seen a dead body before. They backed away, horrified at the crop-killing blood. Palam knew that their village was lost, and the only thing now was to keep the people safe from the curse of Orthun’s body. “Run! Everybody run to the mountains!”
And so they did. Nobody cared about which mountain they ran to, only that they find the closest one and climb before they, too, withered like the rice paddies. The few, young and strong, who managed to scale the mountains, never went back. The mountains seemed to hold murder inside them and they all knew that if they tried to climb them again, they would die.