The three boys awoke early the next morning, as the first rain drops from an approaching storm fell on their sleeping bodies. Joel and Marc ran toward a tree for protection from the rain, while Oak said a prayer.
Oak waved at the boys, then began to walk toward the dark green forest in the distance. Oak seemed rather pleased that it was raining, as he was whistling while he walked. Marc and Joel raced to catch up with him.
“Why did you run from the rain?” asked Oak. But neither of the boys could reply. “My guess, is that it was merely a habit you picked up on earth. Rain replenishes growing things, and if that seems trite, it also makes you appreciate the sunny days. Let the rain wash the dust from your wings. You needn’t worry of chilling your bones, on rainy days it is a custom of our people to take hot baths. This should do even for weary travellers.”
Oak made the earth-angels feel foolish for their fear of getting wet. So much so, that they went a good distance before speaking again.
Nearing the forest, they could hear people singing. Oak explained that they were preparing the baths, and this was their rain song. The women sang the words, while the men sang the refrain.
The rain feeds the leaves
And the roots of my tree.
Break down the levees,
Let the water come free.
And tell me why should we cry
While our trees wear green gowns.
A pure heart will keep you dry
While the rain is come down.
When the song reached its end, the three companions were at a large tree. The tree wore a spiral staircase that climbed its length high into the leaves. The boys began to climb the stairs, and the song began again.
As they climbed up the stairs, Oak explained how the city was divided into smaller communities. The smaller communities consisted of a hundred people, and this number stayed fairly constant. When a couple decided to get married or new comers arrived, another couple of Seasoned people would retire from the community and become part of the second level. This would allow the older generations to spend time with people of their own maturity, and at the same time keep the city’s population constant.
“The second level dwellers live a hundred feet above us,” explained Oak. “It is said that, they spend most of their day watching us. They visit us now and again but we aren’t allowed to go up there until we retire.”
Oak then went on to explain that the trees which this forest was made of were cloud trees. They were named such because they literally reached and a few passed the clouds. In dry seasons the trees retrieved moisture from passing clouds.
The stairs that they were climbing came to an end, and to a beautifully crafted platform. The wood was treated in such a way that the grain could easily be seen, but it was not overpoweringly drawn out. The platform was a street with curbs on either side that sloped down very slowly to the only building in sight.
Oak led them down the street to this lone building. As they neared the building, Marc and Joel noticed that four other streets also descended to it. Rain water that had fallen was flowing down these streets and into four separate doors of the building.
The street that they walked on sprouted, almost branch like, often into paths on either side. The paths were slightly raised from the street, probably to keep the water from flowing down the paths as well. They led to large trees and stopped directly in front of each. This, Marc and Joel found to be bizarre.
“Before we go to the baths,” said Oak, “we’ll go to my house to get some towels.”
Oak turned right onto one of the paths, while Marc and Joel followed. When the path gave and they came to a tree, Oak very gently touched the tree. It shivered and a door, that was not there a moment before, apeared and opened.
The inside of the giant tree was hollowed, and comfortably furnished with chairs, a table, and a cabinet. Everything inside of the tree, including a wall hanging, was made out of wood.
Oak walked to the wall beside the cabinet, and lightly touched it. Another, but smaller, door opened and Oak reached in and fetched three green towels, woven from leaves. Oak closed the door, and went quickly out onto the street again, motioning to the boys to follow. Marc being the last one, gave the door a touch, at which the door slammed close.
“Hurry! Or we might miss the bath alltogether,” said Oak.
The two boys caught up with Oak, and he explained how the water was filtered and heated. The water was passed through screens made of leaves and flowers, giving the water a rather pleasant scent. After the water was clean, it passed from a wooden gulleys to those made of heart stones. These special stones had the unique ability to become hot when painted with the sap of cloud trees. When the heated water reached the pool, also made of heart stones, it would stay hot until the sap would wash off. Even after the sap had washed off, there was usually enough in the water to keep the scented water warm.
Oak led the boys into the bath-house and into a changing room. To Marc and Joel’s surprise there were fifty robes made of green leaves, and beside each were robes made of flowers. Oak had not said anything about a mixing of the sexes. Seeing their obvious shock at the citizens lack of morals, Oak laughed.
“We are all children here, no-one has anything to hide,” giggled Oak. “Let go of your earthly fears. Enjoy yourselves. To me and all who will see you, you are but eight years old. You won’t be shaving for another ten years.”
Still snickering, Oak waved the boys over to where he stood. He removed his sandals and submersed them in a trough of sap, he then placed them into a shallow pool filled with scented water where many other sandals had been set. Taking off his robe, he also dipped it into the trough, rinsed it in another and hung it on a wooden peg.
While Marc and Joel did the same, Oak explained that right before the bath was over all the water would be removed from the sandal pool. When they returned to clothe both their sandals and their robes would be dry, clean, and fresh.
Oak led them out of the changeroom, back to the main corridor, and through a large doorway, about six Soron wide. Despite the dark clouds and rain outside, the bathroom was as bright and warm as a summer morning.
At first Marc and Joel were a little overwhelmed with all the people within the chamber. All about the room were Soron and Soren, who were doing various things. Some older Soren, who appeared to be eleven years in age, were weaving clothes while their mouths rambled and their legs dangled in the pool. Many Soren chased their Branches and Petals about the pool, trying to get them cleaned before the bath ended. The older Soron were mostly grouped together in a corner of the pool, talking of years passed by and their inevitable retirement. The younger Soron swam, jumped, and dove about the pool, mingling very well with the Branches and Petals.
While Joel and Oak waded into the pool, Marc’s attention wandered to a girl sitting on the side of it. She was the only person in the bathroom, besides Marc and Joel, who had wings. She had three attendants, all Soren, one brushed her hair, while the other two oiled and cleaned her wings. Her lightly blond hair fell from her head disappearing between her gold wings. Blue eyes darker than the pool’s water, but more sensitive to the touch, stared lost and scared into the water.
Marc had never been so captivated by any woman or girl. He found himself imagining to be this girl’s eternal-mate. Uncontrollably, Marc walked over to where the girl was being groomed.
When the girl saw Marc coming her way, she stared wildly into his eyes, losing temporarily the frightened look on her face. With Marc’s piercing, questioning, and demanding eyes on her, Lily Petal, felt very insecure and she ushered her attendants away and slipped into the pool.
Elsewhere in the hall, Oak was introducing Joel to any Soron curious enough to approach. Joel had met many Soron and was soon surrounded by inquisitive Branches; Oak’s son, Oak Branch, was among these.
Lily Petal swam towards her brother Oak. She was frightened by Marc who persistently followed her. Oak assured her that Marc was a friendly person and that maybe she should speak with him. He then returned his attention to Joel, leaving Lily Petal a little upset with the ease that Oak pushed away her problem. A distraught Lily Petal swam across the pool, went under the water and never resurfaced in that pool again.
Marc swam as quickly as he could to catch up, but his wings slowed his progress. Finally reaching the end of the pool, he dove under the water hoping to find her, but all he found was a wall made of heart stones. Towards one end of the pool wall was a wooden square about a metre in height. He made his way to this, his last possibility, and tried to open it, but to no avail.
He then remembered how Oak’s doors opened with a gentle touch. He managed to open the door, swim through, and close it. Marc was never seen in the Utopia again.
The rain continued to fall all day, and so the bath too continued. This was a time to be merry, and now that Lily Petal had left, there was not a gloom face to be seen. The citizens stopped the festivities only when it was time to eat and one other time. At meal time the Soron would lead in a prayer of thanks, while the Soren served the Branches and Petals. The other time that the gala ceased was when a clear bell rang three times.
Joel was kept so busy answering questions of his times on earth and his quest that he did not notice that Marc was gone. In fact, Joel only realized that Marc was nowhere to be seen when the pool was being emptied. When Joel asked Oak of Marc’s whereabouts, Oak said not to worry and that Marc was in good hands and then he laughed.
All the Soron and Soren robed and went to their homes when the pool was emptied. Joel and Oak’s family were the last ones to leave as everyone wanted to say good-night to Joel.
“Get rid of that sad face, Joel. Tonight you will sleep at my house and tomorrow all will be made clear.” Oak swept his arm around Joel and led him outside the bath-house. “Do not speak any more for the rest of the night, pray for thanks and blessings of new found friendships.”
When they returned to Oak’s house, Oak touched a wall and a rectangular portion of wood slid out. Looking at the top of the rectangle, Joel could see that it had been carved out and a mattress woven of leaves laid there. Joel lay down thinking that although this was his first night in a bed, without Marc with him, it was not so good, and he fell comfortably asleep.
After Marc passed through the door and closed it, the water flowed away down the tunnel that he found himself in. He then began to blindly feel his way down the wooden tunnel. The tunnel was perhaps a little more that a metre in diameter, keeping Marc’s neck bent as he walked.
The channel continued on an ever down sloping course. At one point the ceiling raised and Marc was able to lift his head, but he did not notice that he was doing so until the ceiling dropped again. With a loud echoing ‘thonk’ Marc lost consciousness and fell on his back.
Lily Petal, who had flown up the opening in the ceiling, heard the ‘thonk’ and the following noise caused by Marc falling to the wet floor. She flew down and landed beside Marc’s head.
She could just barely see him in the darkness. Bending down, she felt his forehead; he had suffered a gash, but it was healing already. He would not regain consciousness for quite some time.
She knew that she could not leave him here, if they drained the pool he would fall into the forest and most probably be lost for months. Therefore, she picked him up, slung him over her shoulder, and flew, one more time, up the manhole.
Marc dreamt that he was walking through a field of wild flowers. At the other end of the field was Lily, although he still did not know her name. He began to walk towards her slowly, then as he neared her he began to run. Faster and faster he dashed. Just before he reached her he fell into a deep hole. He fell for what seemed to be hours, and when he finally reached the bottom, he landed in a soft green bed.
The smell of wild flowers and plants filled his nostrils. The ceiling was covered with green growing plants. The source of light came from a stone which was fastened with vines. With all this vegetation he expected to see animals all over, but there only sat one humble little blackbird perched at the foot of his bed.
“Awake are you?” squawked the blackbird. “I hope you haven’t slept the pain off. You deserve to feel a little pain after scaring my mistress as you did.”
Marc sat up and rubbed his head gently. “Mistress? You mean the girl in the pool, and in my dreams? How can you wish me more pain than the one I have in my heart when she’s not in my sight? Even now she haunts my mind.”
“So you think yourself a qualified suitor for the Lady Lily Petal? I wouldn’t let one such as yourself court a buzzard,” cackled an obviously jealous blackbird. “Besides tomorrow she must leave the city of Utopia, thus ending your relationship before it could even begin.”
“Lily Petal? She seemed much to old to be a Petal. And leaving? Why would she leave her beautiful native city? Please tell me more,” begged Marc.
“If you must know today is her birthday, and this afternoon she will acquire the title Lady Lily. But why should I speak more of a Lady of such high lineage to a wandering pauper?” asked the blackbird.
Marc could hear the ruffling of a robe coming from another room. When Lily walked in, Marc once again found himself staring dreamily into her eyes.
“Oh Rin!” cried Lily Petal. “Have you been bugging our guest?” She walked over to the bed and gave Marc a cup of hot sap. “Now Rin you go outside and leave this boy be.”
Rin obediently flew to a knothole which seemed to be made for his size. He turned and looked at Marc with resentment and warning in his eyes. He then popped through the hole and out of sight.
Lily seeing the conflict between the two, walked over to the knothole and, pressing lightly, closed it. Returning her attention to Marc, she touched his forehead where the gash had been before, but there was not even a scar.
“Drink up, it will return strength to your body,” said Lily, motioning to the cup. “So you can speak with animals, that would probably make you an earth-angel.”
At this Marc looked up from his drinking. “Can’t you? I had thought every one could.”
“No only a few Soron possess that gift. My brother can speak a little to animals, that’s why he likes to leave the city and go on walkabouts. Besides the original Elders and my brother, I know no one else who can speak to animals… Except for Sorom.”
After the initial shock of being so close to her wore off, Marc began to feel comfortable actually looking at her. He then remembered what Rin had said about frightening her and he said, “I was told by your friend that I had scared you back at the pool. Please forgive me, but lost control. I knew that I was destined to meet you, and that you could end my quest.”
“My earlier fright only had partly to do with your following me. And although I think that you have finished a quest you must continue the other,” said Lily, sitting down on the corner of the bed. She began to unwind her tale, and Marc sat listening in a trance-like state. “When I was born everyone knew that my wings would be a blessing and a curse. But not until my four hundredth birthday, in your years, did the curse begin. I began to dream of a boy in a man’s body, whose eyes could be bluer and deeper than my own. I’ve had many of these dreams and each one more clear than the last. A man on earth, caring and loving to his family, but never taking a wife. Always waiting for me.”
At this point, Lily stood up and walked into the other room. She returned carrying a painting of Marc. The painting had him sitting on a small cloud surrounded by blue sky. In the painting Marc was a young angel with eyes lost and a patiently waiting for someone. The painting was so perfect that it could have been painted yesterday.
“I painted this one on my five hundredth birthday. By that time, I was not only dreaming about you; I felt your feelings, thought your ideas. In a way I was living your life with you. And on that day, I made an oath to my family and village that the day after my eight hundredth birthday, if you had not arrived, I would set off in search of you. Many Soron thought me insane to follow a dream, a creation of my vivid imagination. And they said that even if you were real that you would only be half my age. No Soron had ever married anyone half his age. After years of my persistence they finally began to believe me, and tomorrow was to be the day that I left. But here you are, and even though I am twice your elder we both appear to be the same age.”
“Lived my lives!” exclaimed Marc. “Then you must have been my guardian angel. Could any two persons ever have been more perfectly matched? I don’t think so. But your eight hundred years old and I am, with all six of my lives added up, not even four hundred and ten… But if you’ve been waiting for me, why did you run.”
“I had waited for centuries, and I hadn’t expected to see you for a while yet.” She sat down on the bed again. “At first when I saw you, I was relieved and excited, but your piercing eyes and your ever approaching body scared me. Watching you from heaven, a distance that your imagination can’t even perceive, and being in the same room as you are two entirely different experiences. Then I began to realize that after we met that things could never be the same for me; you brought with you and instant change. Hoping to delay the change or perhaps stop it I fled from you, but the further I fled, the more I needed to be with you again.”
As she reached the end of her account Marc reached over and touched his lips to hers. The feeling of skin to skin, was deeper and incomparable to any that they had ever experienced. To Marc it was a feeling of elation, he had finally found that which would make his being whole, while Lily felt strong, wanted, and accepted. When at last the kiss ended, and they both pulled slowly away, they found that they were forever bonded. Not only could she read Marc’s thoughts, but now he knew hers as well.
Because all angels, Sorom and Soron, aged at a very slow rate, sexual intercourse was not performed before the age of two thousand. Although sex itself was never performed by Sorom, who think it bestial. Even many Soron, including Utopians, found intercourse to be rude. Most of the people in heaven Soulmelded, which would bring about the much same results, possible pregnancy and sexual satisfaction much greater than intercourse.
What Marc and Lily had just experienced, was similar to the usual foreplay which accompanied a Soulmeld, but unlike the routine meld their minds permanently braced. It was said that these were unions blessed and ordained by God.
They continued to experiment with kisses, and quite accidentally realized that they could retrieve the same feeling to a lesser degree by holding hands. Lily jumped up from the bed wearing a slight bit of embarrassment on her face.
Turning from the bed and Marc, she walked over to the wall where earlier there had been a knothole. She placed her index finger against the wall causing the hole to return. In flew Rin, immediately landing on Lily’s shoulder.
“Oh Rin,” began Lily quite excitedly, “I have finally found him! You have a new master. And we will follow him until his quest has ended.”
“Big deal. I serve no man! And am only your willing servant, not your slave,” said Rin, although Marc was the only one who could hear him, Marc and Lily both understood him.
Lily reached within one of the folds of her robe and retrieved what seemed to be a large leaf rolled into a scroll. Lily gave it to Rin, who tucked it under his wing, and she said “Take this to Oak’s house tonight and meet us beyond the wheat field the morning after next.”
Rin hopped from Lily’s shoulder and perched himself on the sill of the knothole. Looking back at Marc he squawked, “Your not my master, and I’ll serve none other than my mistress. You had better not do her wrong.” With that Rin placed the leaf in his beak and flew off.
And good riddance, thought Marc.
You might as well say it aloud, came Lily’s soft voice from within his head, remember we share all of our thoughts.
“OK! Good riddance!” said Marc.
Lily laughed and said that they would have to get along or at least tolerate each other.
Marc was left alone thinking on the day’s events, while Lily was cleaning and packing in the other room. He knew from listening to her thoughts that they were going to go to a kind of honeymoon house, and that they would spend a day there.
When she returned, she was carrying a suitcase made of twigs. She walked to the camouflaged door and opened it. Turning to Marc she said, “If you are well enough, I think we will be leaving now.”
They walked quietly and unseen through the city. Reaching the end of the city, a two hour walk, Lily and Marc glided down to the ground. When they landed, their march continued for another fifteen minutes. The walk was very interesting if not exciting. They shared thoughts and began to play a game of trying to hide ideas from each other.
Marc and Lily came to an open field, which wore a single gigantic tree in its centre. The ground rose into a little hill on top of which the tree had grown. The tree was beautiful and unlike any that Marc had ever seen. A dark brown bark made up it’s wide trunk, while rich green leaves grew thick on all of its branches. High up it rose, and near the top there was a golden bell supported on one of its limbs.
Marc picked Lily up and walked toward the tree. When they were near enough, Lily took one of her arms from around Marc ‘s neck and opened the tree’s door. As the door opened, the bell at the very top rang out three times.
And Marc knew Lily his wife; and she said, I have gotten my man from the Lord.