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The Sons of Thunder

Short stories/Excerpts/Audiobooks

The Son of Nepal Audiobook- Prologue

“State your case, Aliqxis!”
“Master, you promised that you will keep my people from harm. You promised me!”
“And have I not spared your people for the sake of that which was promised?”
“Wicked people have increased in the land, and Teki will have the case he needs to chasten the lands of Asia. The good will pay for the deeds of the unjust—unless something is done.”
“What is it that you are asking of me, Aliqxis?”
“Send one of the two sons that you promised to me and my people a thousand years ago. Send him that they may restore balance, or Teki will destroy my beloved people.”
“You have asked much of me.”
“Forgive me, my Master.”
“I have weighed the heart of a youngling in the lands to the south, one with your blood flowing through him. He will be the one, but he is not yet ready.”
“Master, if nothing is done soon, we will lose them all: men, women, and our children. Will you forfeit all for the sake of one?”
“Very well, Aliqxis, I shall hasten his destiny. I shall go into the land and afflict the youngling with a burden for the sake of your people. He will become a man of great sorrow and pain, at your request.”
“Yes, Master, this is the way it has to be.”

****

It was a fair morning as usual. A woman stood in the river washing her clothes with her little boy. From the sides of her eyes, she caught the ambling movement of the old traveller, the same one who visited two years ago. He wore a hat so wide that it sheltered the basket he carried on his back.
“You again!” said the woman.
“Oh?” reciprocated a deep tone. The old traveller chuckled, “How is the boy treating you?”
“He’s getting on well. We were just washing our clothes together. He seems to enjoy helping me—don’t you, son?” The little boy nodded, and the old traveller closed in and laughed, extending his arm to ruffle the boy’s hair.
“See, I told you he would settle down.”
The woman stood on the balls of her feet and angled herself to peep over his shoulder. “So, what have you got in the basket?”
“Someone special. She’s here to meet your little one.”
“So that’s it, you have brought me another child.”
As he was about to remove the basket from his back, the old man paused, “A blind girl. You do not want her?”
“Oh no, no! I will take care of her and treat her as my very own. The poor thing, where did you find her?”
“On a roadside, far from here—abandoned, of course. Plucked this little flower up from the ground and threw her into the basket of beans. We’ve been travelling companions for many weeks now.”
The woman expressed a confused demeanour. “But she’s such a pretty child, isn’t she? Why would . . .” She extended her hands to embrace the child. “Just give her to me. Me and Johannan will take good care of her, won’t we, Johannan?” The little boy smiled and nodded with enthusiasm.
“He seems quite excited about having a new playmate.”
“What is the child’s name?” said the woman.
“I’ve grown accustomed to the name Ayushi.” The traveller kneeled down to take the girl out of the basket. “Say hello, little Ayushi. This woman will be taking care of you from now on.” Ayushi gripped onto his forearms and remained quiet. The traveller chuckled, “Err, perhaps she needs more time. The two children are quite the set, they have some kind of special bond. You may not understand this, but it was the will of the heavens to bring her here. You three belong together for some reason of fate.”
“The will of the heavens? I’ve never heard of such things before,” said the woman.
“Yes, as soon as I picked her up, the wind began to blow in the direction of this village. You have to see it to understand: the grass, the trees, everything bending and pointing in this direction. And the moment I got here, it stopped.”
The woman repaid him with her most delightful smile, “Well, I will raise them as my very own. You can be sure of that, old traveller.”
The man’s wide sedge hat tilted up towards the sky. “I know you long for a family, but these two children are very different; they will not be like brother and sister. I can sense it—it seems to be the will of the heavens.”
“Let’s get her out of the basket. Come, Johannan, come and introduce yourself to Ayushi.”
Johannan walked over and took hold of Ayushi’s hand, and they both giggled. The woman clasped her hands in admiration. “Wonderful! They like each other.”
The old traveller swivelled to face them and caressed his bearded chin. “Perhaps she doesn’t need much time at all.”
The nearby trees began to clatter; the rapid movements of the woman’s eyes exposed that she was surprised. “That’s a very strong gust of wind. We don’t get winds like that round here.”
“See! Did I not tell you?” The man pointed to the sky. “It is the will of the heavens. The sky is rejoicing that you are finally together. It could well be that the heavens have been waiting for this day to come.” He wagged his finger at her, “Great fortune I predict.”
He hoisted his basket onto his back. “Well, that’s my job done then. I shall be off.”
The woman laughed, “Just like that. You are a very mysterious old man.”

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The Sons of Thunder

Imagine you had the power to move mountains, to divide a gushing river with a wave of the hand. Imagine you could see into the future and walk in the spirit realm, where all the secrets of life on Earth have been hidden—the cures for plagues, the unseen actions behind wars, and the reasons behind broken relationships. Imagine you could see the causes of people’s pain from visions or dreams. Imagine that all the leaders of the world had a spiritual counterpart that, if removed, would change the very course of leadership and history.All these themes are covered in the spiritual fantasy series, The Sons of Thunder.

The first book, The Son of Nepal, is about the inner conflicts of a young man who embarks on a difficult journey across China to find the Great Spirit. His challenging quest is rewarded with an almighty power, a thirst for knowledge, a greater mission, and an unusual friendship.

The second book, Let the Earth Tremble, will be out mid-summer. It’s set over a thousand years before The Son of Nepal.

The Great One has descended and demolished the city of Atlantis. The god of the temple, Poseidon, and a multitude of high-ranking spirits break free from their sculptures of worship to escape the Great One’s wrath. They flee to the great lands of the East where they endeavour to rebuild their mighty kingdom. As a result of their presence, wars break out in the mortal realm of ancient China.

Unbeknown to the people, a foreign spirit of famine, the Majabuta, who resides within a charm, is given as a gift to a peasant woman during the Qin Dynasty. The spirit conquers the whole of China in the spirit realm, granting a favourable advantage in war for the mortal king. The favour of the Majabuta rests with the Qin Dynasty, but there is a cost.

A little peasant girl befriends a sullen, unfriendly old man who sits all day and night under a paulownia tree in her village. Soon, however, she discovers that he is more than just some old man, and her journey towards greatness and enlightenment begins.

Copyright © J.J Sylvester 2016

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Book 2-Let the Earth Tremble-Prologue

 

On that terrible day, the visitors of the city saw a man, a man like no other. No king on Earth was adorned in such splendour. His skin had a soft glow as if its defining lines were smudged with white chalk. He was visiting one of the temples. As he ascended up the stairway, the gleaming ends of his cloak waved, simulating the movement of a pendulum. His hair was sky blue and extended past the arch of his back, the penetrating sunlight in-between its strands made his hair comparable to glints on burnished silver.

“Sagara!” echoed a clean, regal voice, resounding through in the sanctuary.

A gravelly tone resonated from within the muscular sculpture of Poseidon.

“My Lord Teki. Have you come to observe the labour of my hands? The tillers have called it the great city of the gods. They call it Atlantis.”

The rings of Teki’s pupils ignited as he slashed the air with a swing of his hand. “Enough! This great city is about to fall. I have come to station you to a land in the East.”

A guttural grumble came from the crafted image, the sounds of fine dust being pressed and scraped against the smooth floor. A stumble upon words as shock gripped its bearer: “Atlantis… Destroyed? But, how?”

Teki raised his voice, speaking with haste. “Who is strong enough to oppose the Gods?”

 

A fine white powder fell to the floor as a hairline fracture ripped down the face of the statue. “Impossible! The Great One? H-he is here… In Atlantis?”

Teki clawed his hand in frustration, a wave of energy flowed down his body, and his hair began to illuminate. “He has been seen walking the lands of the mortals not far from here. It will not be long. Summon the other gods at once and depart.”

Another crack formed at the wheel of the statue’s chariot and crept up to join the fracture on the face. “I cannot fathom why the Great One would visit the lands of the Earth. Why would he come to Atlantis? It has taken my worshippers years to build this city.”

Teki clenched his fists. The skin on his nose wrinkled as his upper lip lifted to display his radiant white teeth. “You have been counselled against drawing his attention by the other lords. The people here have initiated too many wars and, so, you have slanted the scales of justice.”

“But even that does not warrant a visit from him,” said Sagara.

“Either way, if you all are here when he arrives, you are aware of the consequences.”

“The Great One is not a man that he should take a stroll. Something is misplaced. We must find out what the purpose is for his visit, or he could just appear anywhere in the world and abolish all our kingdoms. What of Olympus?”

“We will find out, but for now, go to the East. There is a vast land there, and it is revealed in the Everplanes that the tillers are destined to become a great nation. I will visit the temple and take the Warden of Atlantis, so that you may subdue your new land with famine.” A spinning wheel of fire materialised above Teki’s head.

An aura of smoke started to hover from the sculpture. “Your crown has manifested!”

Teki scowled at his hands. The Crown of the Origins was an uncontrollable part of his being that always appeared when the Great One was nearby. “He is already here!” said Teki, lifting the tone of his voice. “Make haste!”

 A ferocious wind interrupted them, forcing itself upon the land, and the din of screaming people followed almost instantly. Teki wasted no more time and departed for the temple.

On that day, there were reports from mortal eyewitnesses on the outskirts of the city. They said that the man of splendour crowned with fire journeyed into the temple and acquired the precious Jewel of Atlantis.

The animals in the city could sense something that no man or woman could detect. It was instinct, an undetectable event that triggered them, and the beasts stampeded out of the city into the surrounding hills.Those wise enough to escape only did so by following the beasts.

They say the statues of Atlantis crumbled and came to life that day. The skins of rock cracked and shelled like thin walls of struck slate. Colossal glowing men broke free, and their images disintegrated into the atmosphere.

The priests of the temples shouted to the people, “We are doomed, even the Gods are fleeing!” The sky was almost as orange as liquefied rock, and cinders swirled up into the receiving firmament. A dense heat was rising from the ground, and Atlantis became hidden within a barricade of heat shimmer.

To the west, three shrouded men walking in a flawless triangular formation approached the gates and nonchalantly sauntered through the commotion into the city’s centre. They were no taller than six feet. They stood in the centre of the city in all its terror and removed their shrouds. They had the faces of young men—mid-thirties, immaculate skin—with blank expressions. Their long frost-white hair whipped, exposing the presence and strength of the wind.

The man furthest to the left was well built and had golden eyes that burned like a trail of shooting stars. His extensive sideburns dropped to the inner part of his shoulders, his skin was as fair as ivory, and he had features that resembled the peoples of Europe. The man in the middle had a slim physique with strong Asian features. His eyes were green like emeralds, and the glints on their surface moved as though the winds of the Earth were bound within them. The third man had blue-violet eyes that moved like the great oceans of the world, and his skin was more of a walnut brown and resembled those in the land of Africa. Their skin suddenly ignited into an animated shimmer.

“Atlantis!” the man with the green eyes spoke. His mouth barely parted, but his penetrating voice surrounded the city and subdued the wind. The atmosphere calmed, and the people paused to listen to the three strangers. “What is this thing that you have done?”

The golden-eyed figure lifted his head and continued as the green-eyed man finished, his tone raucous. “I have surveyed the Earth and have found no land that offends me more than Atlantis!”

The last man stepped forward. “Why does justice call to me from the wilderness, and why does the blood of the lands testify against you? Why does the heavens accuse you of misdeeds?” His strident tone was different but just as frightening.

The people were bewildered; these men looked and spoke strangely. The city was not aware of what was taking place, who these men were, or what they had come for.

“For this thing. I will wipe you off the Earth, and it will be as if you have never been!” thundered all three men at once.

The man with the emerald eyes blew into the air, and a typhoon spun from the breath that escaped his lips. The man with eyes of gold stared into the sky and beckoned the stars to fall to the Earth. Not long after, a small spark twinkled and shattered across the ether as an army of comets followed to breach the land. Boulders of celestial fires reduced the temples and the homes to ashes and rubble. The third man fell to one knee, using the sides of his hand to part the dust on the ground before him. The land suddenly quivered and ripped far apart. The blackened fissures gurgled as the waters of the deep climbed to fill the cracks. The man scowled at the waters and tall geysers. Like the pointed fingers of accusation, the geysers randomly burst from the grounds and thrusted against the sky. With a gesture of the hand, he beckoned the waters, and they began to swallow the terrain. The land tilted, and the people shouted words of distress. Across the land, legs were spread wide apart as the people endeavoured to balance themselves, but the land continued to shift here and there, and they fell to the ground.

Surrounding nations far away witnessed the diadem of destruction above the waters of where Atlantis once was.

By sundown, the land of Atlantis was no more, just a wide ocean of beating waves that reflected the celestial majesty of the shimmering aurora.

Visit, Let the Earth Tremble

Copyright © J.J Sylvester 2016

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A Tuesday Review: The Son of Nepal by J.J Sylvester (Book 1 of the Sons of Thunder)

A wonderful book review

K. D. Dowdall

Visit J. J Sylvester’s website and see a sample of his books: via  https://theeverplanes.com/2017/04/23/the-son-of-nepal

5 Stars!  This intriguing novel, The Son of Nepal, by author J.J Sylvester, is a fascinating and uniquely beautiful story. It is told with a Middle Eastern flair for story-telling, that I found utterly enchanting. When a novel can transport the reader to a different place and time – that is extraordinary. It is beautifully written, with a lush cadence like prose that moves brilliantly through the entire novel.
Johannan, our hero, is very brave in his pursuit to find a cure for his beloved’s blindness and gives himself over to be used by a Great Spirit, such is his desire to return the gift of sight to his beloved. What is Johannan to learn from his quest, as he searches for months on end to find the magical cure, but only a true heart…

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The Son of Nepal Audiobook- Chapter 12

 

The man on the cloud stood still long enough for Johannan to admire his glorious appearance. His sparkling white hair swayed with the upper winds; every time he blinked, a split second of dimness blanketed the night sky like an eclipse. His robes displayed mottled shades of blue-violet that glinted like the sun on an evening tide. Johannan wondered what he was thinking; he knew that the man had heard him.

“I am most pleased with you, persistent Son of Nepal. You have overcome the challenging trials of the Ambassadors, and you did so because of your strong love for your betrothed.” A resounding and clear voice echoed down the mountain terrain. Johannan needed to hear what he had to say, but between the earthquake and the Great Spirit’s tone, he didn’t know which he preferred.

“The trials that were set before you can only be overcome with love, and it is with love that you have found me. Many others before you have attempted to seek me out and have failed not long after they started, but your love, Johannan, has brought you here before me.”

There were others? Johannan could see why they had given up; he had entertained the idea of turning back himself. The Great Spirit was right: if it wasn’t for the love he felt for Ayushi, he would have not even entered this barren place to begin with.

The Great Spirit continued, “Today, I will give you the power to restore your beloved Ayushi’s sight, but first you will travel the land and complete the tasks I have for you. I will be your guide and your defender.”

Then his eyes became brighter and his voice denser. “Call out to me in times of trouble, and I will slay all your enemies and punish those that stand in your way.”

The man stared into his clenched fist with a frightening countenance. “I declare it, that not even the sea will flow against you, Johannan of Nepal! Go where I tell you to go and do not falter, and you will remain with the power to restore Ayushi’s sight.”

It was a surprise to Johannan that he mentioned Ayushi’s name, but he was delighted to know that she was going to be able to see, especially for their wedding. He brought his hands to a clasp. “Oh, thanks to you, I am very happy, Great Spirit.”

But what is it that the Great Spirit wants me to do, that he cannot do himself? Johannan didn’t feel comfortable with the idea, but he would do anything for Ayushi. The Great Spirit seized the silence to further introduce himself.

“I am the Eternal Soburin, the be all and the end all, the Asian Manifest. I have seen the beginning and the end. I heard the first cry of the earth the day it was birthed into your reality from the realm of spirits. I have seen death pleading for life and vast oceans of the world almost drowned in the power of the Muhandae.

I was there when the garment of the sky was stitched together. When the land was formed with fire and cooled, so that all beasts may walk upon it.

I was there when the first creature stumbled as it took its first steps on the land, and the moon watched in wonder. When the stars gathered around the earth. When the grounds pleaded from thirst, and the first cloud was formed to comfort the lands.

I was there when all the names of mankind had been written, and the earth was charged to nourish man and beast alike.

I was there, when the first mountain goat ran to the peaks to greet the eagle as it soared past. When the first whale was taught to swim, before rust sought the comfort of iron, and when the last number was hidden—I was there.”

 

 

 

The Son of Nepal Audiobook- Chapter 11

Johannan wasted no time and began his journey towards the mountain. His heart pounded with expectation and excitement. He didn’t want to get ahead of himself, but he couldn’t help it. His heart wouldn’t keep silent, it kept declaring within him that his travels would soon be coming to an end, that his beloved, Ayushi, would be healed.

The ground’s texture soon began to change. It felt harder, sturdier, giving Johannan a great sensation of balance. He knew he was approaching the foot of the mountain. Johannan glanced upwards. All he could remember was the pain and the hunger to find a cure for her vision. Every moment that he stared into Ayushi’s face, he wanted her to be able to see him. His enthusiasm reminded him of all the people that discouraged him, telling him to go home and that the Great Spirit never existed.

I must bring an end to this burning desire and finally snuff its fires.

With eagerness, he took up the challenge to climb the mountain; things were beginning to turn around. He clambered up the treacherous cracks and landings, and after many hours, he finally got to the summit. He waited there, refreshing himself with the streams of waters that flowed in-between its brooks. Apart from the gushing waters in the brook, there was not a sound to be heard. He expected to hear the fluttering of birds or any other signs of life. There was nothing, no sign of the Great Spirit. Just the usual empty sky. Where could he be? The sun was beginning to descend, the gentle night winds increased, and the bright, luminous full moon took its place in the sky. Johannan sat on a rock with his chin in both palms.

A slight whisper freed itself from his lips, “He has forgotten me.” He began replaying his journey through his mind.

Anyone else would have turned back by now, why am I out here risking my life? But, I can’t return empty-handed. What would Mama say?

“Johannan!” A loud tone breached the stillness. Johannan’s heart rolled like a drum as he vaulted to his feet. “I—I thought you had forgotten me.” He was delighted—finally he was here. “Where are you, Great Spirit?”

Johannan scanned around only to find large rocks and mountain rubble.

“Look up, Son of Nepal,” echoed the Great Spirit. Johannan gazed upwards and saw nothing. The full moon was all he could see in the sky until, after a while of searching, he noticed a single white nimbus cloud floating by. It was so small. Johannan frowned. Surely, he can’t be on that. He studied the small cloud as best as he could. There was an odd shimmer and a flame burning next to it—it must be him.

The cloud drifted forward. Johannan’s hands dropped to his sides as he gaped at two entities coming towards him on the cloud. One was in the form of a man, and the other was a giant lion with a mane of flames. Glowing cinders whirled up into the night sky like fireflies before a storm. The moon’s luminous face was distorted behind a window of haze. Johannan began breathing heavily, and his heart began to pound; this was too real. Perhaps coming here was not a good idea after all.

The appearance of the Great Spirit was frightening. Johannan’s fear insisted that he make tracks, but his sense told him that he’d never escape. He preferred the Great Spirit’s manifestation out in the desert as a storm or an earthquake—at least those things were natural. He had no option but to stay in one place, just like what he did before in the sandstorms, surrendering to his fate.

The same question kept popping up in his head. What is he going to say or do?

The entities drew closer with their piercing eyes of light that were focused on him. Johannan’s attention was undivided, so much so that he didn’t notice a change in his own appearance. His long, black, bushy hair began to lose its jet-black appearance. The roots of his hair glistened, transforming into a glowing white colour. This change of colour gradually extended to the tip of his hair. The colour of his eyes also changed from brown to blue-violet. The few strands of hair that grew below his nose and on his chin became more apparent as they were not exempt from the transformation. When the bright colour had covered all of the hair on his head, he resembled a man that had been crowned with stars.

Johannan, still not noticing the dramatic change in his appearance, fell to his knees as the Great Spirit drew closer.

“Well done, Johannan of Nepal, who has persistently travelled the wilderness of Gobi and has succeeded in the trials of the Ambassadors. In you, I am delighted.”

The lion fixed his gaze on Johannan. But Johannan hadn’t come all the way out here to complete a trial for some hero’s reward or the glory that came with it. All he cared about was his beloved Ayushi. Even through the shocking awe of the entities’ presence, he never forgot what he came for, and the thudding of his heart reminded him of that.

“Master! Great and powerful Spirit, I beg of you. Please restore sight to my fiancé’s eyes.”

The Son of Nepal Audiobook- Chapter 10

Johannan, in a deep trance of reflection, suddenly came to a halt after days of wandering through the desert.

Why is the ground rumbling? He inspected the area but didn’t see anything that resembled a stampede of animals or a landslide of some sort.

He caught his breath. “An earthquake! That old man on the camel never said anything about earthquakes out here!”

There was nowhere to run, and he was trapped like a hunted animal, with no escape. Johannan felt the earth shudder as the hands of nature panned the Gobi of its golden pyramids. The vast structures of sandy hills were humbled to lie as low as the valleys they once towered over. Johannan screamed at the top of his lungs, his feet paddling against the loosened sand. His voice snapped like a high-tension wire, leaving him hoarse. He fell down so many times that he decided to stay on the ground, but that felt even worse. He had been through storms and disasters many times before, but he hadn’t realised how much comfort it brought to hear other people screaming. A comfort he now understood he had taken for granted.

The tremor released its firm clutch on the land. Johannan’s body was weakened from fear. He was still trying to catch his breath—the idea of having nowhere to run in such a situation made him wonder if he should have taken the old traveller’s advice.

“Johannan,” ebbed a voice. Johannan scanned around his surroundings, the sky was still vacant apart from the invading glare of the sun.

The long, jagged edges of the desert that touched the sky had now become a long, straight line that surrounded Johannan. It was almost as if the land was stripped of all its garments, and he was standing on a colossal plate of sand.

“What do you want, Son of Nepal? Why not consider turning back and leave me be?”

It was the voice he longed to hear. The fear that weakened his body departed, his heart fluttered. Johannan was disorientated. The words—I’ve lost the words again. What was I going to say? Quickly, Johannan, think!

He attempted to get up, but a lingering dizziness forcefully held him to the ground.

“I—I have a request for you, Great Spirit.”

“A request?” bellowed the Great Spirit. The dense chilled presence of the spirit began to thin. Johannan could sense what it meant. He slapped his forehead, “No—No. Please don’t do this! Don’t do this again—the least you could do is listen to me!” Johannan was exhausted. The spirit was very stubborn and unwilling.

How can I get him to see my plight. What will it take?

Any normal man in his right mind would have given up by now, but not Johannan. So far, the Great Spirit had appeared in a sandstorm and an earthquake. Johannan did not like either of them, but the earthquake was far more terrifying.

Johannan felt that it might be a difficult task trying to get the Great Spirit to listen to him, judging from the ridicule in his last response. He trod through the sand for days and halted as soon as he noticed the long, straight line of the horizon dancing. He gasped, “Another sandstorm—could it be the Great Spirit again?”

Johannan didn’t panic like he did before, and his heart didn’t race; he knew what he must do. He most definitely preferred a sandstorm to an earthquake.

But what am I going to say this time? Perhaps I should just come right out with the question as I never get a chance to make it known.

He tucked his head down by his knees and wrapped himself in his long cloak. The clouds of brown engulfed him. He couldn’t see past the pitch dark of the storm from under the covering of his cloak. He felt a breath of cooling breeze circulating him.

“Speak, Johannan!” The Great Spirit returned, but this was not what Johannan had expected him to say.

“M—My fiancé is blind, and I heard that you can help restore her sight. Can you do this, Great Spirit?” he said, trying to speak as clearly as he could through the wailing gale.

“Come, Johannan, find me up the mountain.” When the Great Spirit had finished speaking, his chilling presence vanished. Johannan felt the heat of the desert invading, increasing like a fanned flame.

‘What does the Great Spirit mean by “the mountain”?

He was confused—he hadn’t see any mountains nearby before the storm. As a matter of fact, it had been weeks now since he had seen anything that even resembled a mountain, especially since the earthquake.

The sandstorm disintegrated at a steady pace. The azure skies and the blazing scowl of the desert sun returned after a few hours. When the flying sand had settled, and the desert became a little more visible, he noticed, to his astonishment, a colossal mountain less than half a day’s walk ahead of him.

The Son of Nepal Audiobook- Chapter 9

Pressing onward, harder, Johannan was adamant he would find the Great Spirit, wherever he might be. He gazed far into the stretches of gold. The still, jagged outline of the boundless horizon began to dance. It seemed like the land was rising into the sky. Sandstorm!

He panicked, but plunged the balls of his feet into the sand; he was ready. There was nowhere to run or hide, just hopeless stretches of endless desert dirt. The whirling dusts of gold clambered to the heavens to cover the face of the sun, patches of thick sands turned the light to darkness, simulating a nightfall over the terrain. Johannan remembered the old man’s advice. He had to surrender to the swelling, golden clouds to proceed.

He tucked his head down by his knees and covered himself with his cloak, and the spiralling brown clouds enveloped him not long after. The whistling Gobi winds blew around him, and he struggled to keep his fluttering cloak on the ground. It was like nothing he had ever been through before. Suddenly, the whistles of the gale were blotted out. There was an eerie silence.

“Johannan.” The voice faded into the heavens—Johannan hastily searched around, groping the air as he was shrouded within a wall of darkness. Is my mind playing tricks on me? He was certain that he had heard someone call his name. But no one knew who he was out here, not even the old man on the camel. I must have been hearing things.

The voice returned to call him in its ghostly tone, “Johannan, Son of Nepal, why do you bother me? Seeking me out against all counsel?”

Johannan trembled; this voice knew him by name. He knew who he was and where he had come from. This had to be the Great Spirit. He probed the barren land for him, risking his life. He never prepared himself for what he would say or do if he actually had an audience with him. His doubts were beginning to surface. Perhaps deep down he never thought he’d find him.

“Johannan, Son of Nepal, why do you bother me? Seeking me out against all counsel?”

The question asked a second time gave Johannan no time to think about an answer. He was short of words.

“I am here—”

He clenched his fist and pounded the ground. That’s not what I wanted to say. But what do I say? He just came out of nowhere. I must come up with something before he departs, or else it would all be for nothing.

“Is—is that you, Great Spirit?”

There was a cooling presence in the atmosphere. Johannan felt a tightness on his skin, giving rise to thousands of goose bumps. He knew he was still near, but the voice didn’t respond to his question. “I’m in urgent need of your help.” Johannan clenched a handful of dirt, tightening his grip as the sand slid through his fingers. He was not happy with himself; he believed he could have expressed himself much better. “I’m in urgent need of your help.” Why did I say that? So long, I’ve been out here, and that was the best I could come up with?

The sands began to hiss, “Leave me!”

Johannan stretched his hands out in the darkness as if to hold on to something. “No, please don’t go! I—I need you.” He held his head down in distress. “She needs you.”

The noise of the whistling winds returned, and the shivery presence of the spirit had departed. Johannan was very disappointed with himself. He could have responded quicker, for a start. He let the spirit get away—he was so close to making his request known. Against all the advice he was given, he found out that the Great Spirit actually existed. This was something to be happy about. He decided to search for him again, but this time he would waste no time making his request known. He was not going to let down himself or Ayushi.

He smiled, “I can’t believe I’ve met him—wait till Nanda hears about this.” Nanda loved stories of the supernatural. Johannan thought about home: Mama Jala was probably waiting at the village gates for his return, ready to ambush him as soon as his shadow reached the entrance. “She can’t do that now. Not when I return with the cure for Ayushi’s blindness. She’ll be happy that I left to begin with.”

He continued his search for a few more days, only to collapse again from total exhaustion. Time went by, and he was still out in the sun when he heard the sounds of rattling tins and the grunting of that miserable old camel nearby.

The old traveller was passing by again. He saw Johannan in the distance, and being already acquainted he wasted no time. He nudged his camel to increase its speed towards him. The old man quickly went through the motion of pouring water into one of his pots and splashed it over Johannan.

Johannan groaned, and the man laughed in relief. “That’s right. Get up, boy!”

The camel grunted. Johannan knew who it was, but what was he doing back out here? Nonetheless, Johannan was happy to see him again.

“You’re making a bad habit of this collapsing-thing, aren’t you, whelp. You know, I’ve tried to tell you this earlier, but this place isn’t a place for young, inexperienced pups like you. Come back with me, and I’ll take you to a good village,” suggested the old, croaky voice. Johannan was only too happy to see him again, even though he had no intention of following him back.

This old man seems to have an endless supply of cool water. Where is he getting it from? And, how is he coming out this far with nearly all his water skins filled?

Johannan wasn’t about to tell him what happened, especially after the man’s last response. Not even a hint, in case the man dragged it out of him again.

“I—I can’t go back,” Johannan said as he got up on his feet. The old man responded with an expression on his face as though Johannan was crazy.

“You know, the next time you decide to take one of your midday desert naps, I may not be here to pour water over your hot head, pup. Now, let’s get back. I’ve got some camel cheese—you can have some if you want.”

“No! I can’t, I must move on. You wouldn’t understand.”

The old man swatted the air. “Suit yourself, whelp, you’re only going to catch your death out here in a place like this.” The man reached to his side. “Here take this with you,” he said as he chucked two full water skins at Johannan. They pounded against his chest as he caught them. “Make them last, whelp. They don’t grow on trees out here, you know.”

The man began to depart, leaving Johannan. Johannan thanked him and continued to trudge along the sandy dunes. He was empowered with a surge of enthusiasm by the vision that his beloved Ayushi would be able see his face when he lifted her veil on their wedding day.

The Son of Nepal Audiobook- Chapter 8

Hundreds of miles from Nepal, trapped in the immeasurable sands of the Gobi desert with a prying old man and his miserable grump of a camel. Despite the situation, Johannan felt a deep sense of gratitude budding within him, but the old man and his camel seemed to be quite the characters.

The stranger pushed hard to find out who Johannan was looking for, digging hard with questions that made Johannan feel outpourings of guilt.

The old man was right about one thing, though: he did save Johannan’s life. The unbounded blaze of the atmosphere around Johannan became cold and small. He felt like he had no choice but to tell him everything. As soon as the old man heard what Johannan was searching for, he laughed so hard he nearly fell off his camel. The camel released a series of grunts that would have led you to believe he was laughing too. This was the reaction Johannan was trying to avoid.

“A blind girl and a great spirit,” the man coughed in laughter. “Listen, child, go home! That girl is going to become a widow before she’s even married.”

Johannan’s gaze dropped to the ground. He felt ashamed and very silly. He didn’t care what the stranger thought; he was still going to continue his search. The old man would probably think he was extremely stupid if he continued, though.

“Listen, whelp, I can take you back to the nearest village. There’s food and water, and you can rest until you’re ready to go home.”

Food, water, and rest sounded good to Johannan. It sounded like the right thing to do. The man displayed an ear-to-ear smile at Johannan, bouncing his eyebrows as if to prompt him to go for the idea. “Return home and have a big wedding. You and that girl could have lots and lots of children.” He released a hearty howl of laughter, “Sounds good, no?”

As Johannan heard the man say “wedding,” a vision of Ayushi appeared in his mind. It was the same one that had driven him into the desert to search for the spirit. He saw her sitting on the ground next to him. The whole village threw flowers over them; they were cheering and dancing. A red veil with golden patterns covered her head, and he could faintly see her image underneath. The drums were loud, and the children ran around with colourful strings. There was a mild smell of sweet oils and food being prepared. He turned to her and lifted the veil from over her head, his friends cheering him on. Her smile grew as she saw her young husband looking handsome in the fine clothes Mama had proudly made. But, the greatest thing of all was that his beloved Ayushi could see. Mama cried with tears of joy. She was finally proud of her boy.

“Yes, it is all I ever wanted,” whispered Johannan, breaking from the trance-like state. “I will find this Great Spirit. I know he’s out here somewhere, and somehow I get the feeling he knows I’m here too.”

“Fine!” A sharp tone of disappointment severed the atmosphere. “If you won’t take me up on my offer, then suit yourself. I’m not going to force you to come back with me. You youngsters are stubborn these days.”

He chucked another two water skins at Johannan, knocking the air out of his chest. “Here!” Johannan caught them before they dropped.

“Thanks to you, again.”

“Thanks to me?” the old traveller laughed, staring into the scenery as if to plan his journey. “You are a stubborn whelp. But it’s the least I can do if I can’t convince you to come back with me. Without help, you are going to die out here. To be honest, you’re probably going to die anyway.” The man paused and hesitated like he shouldn’t have uttered what he just said. “Go on, whelp, be careful.”

“I will. Take care, sir.”

The camel grunted and began to move in the opposite direction. “The pup tells me to take care. I’m the one that found him on the ground half dead with no water, and I’m the one he tells to take care,” Johannan overheard him say.

“Don’t worry about me, I will find him,” Johannan said, waving goodbye.

“I will remember you, whelp, you are a funny one. Don’t panic too much if you get caught up in a sandstorm; they are not as bad as they look. Just cover your entire face and don’t breathe in the air directly—otherwise you’ll end up with a mouth full of sand. With all this scorching heat, you don’t need that.” The man laughed out loud, “You’ll wish then that you took me up on my offer, you stubborn boy!”

The Son of Nepal Audiobook- Chapter 7

Hours had passed, and Johannan was still knocked out, his roll down the sand dune had completely wrapped him in his cloak. The clattering noise of many empty tin pans knocking against each other intermingled with the complaining grunts of a camel. An old traveller had spotted him as he was trotting by. He watched Johannan lying on the ground motionless. The traveller rubbed the sweat from his face and shook his head. “Another one out here about to die.”

He reached to the side of his groaning camel to grab one of the pots and filled it up with water from one of his water skins. He prodded his camel to move a bit closer to Johannan and poured the water all over Johannan’s head and the rest of his body. Water vapour escaped into the atmosphere as the liquid touched the ground.

Johannan head started to move, almost burrowing face down in the sand. There was a few silent mumbles spitting of sand followed by a loud, excited voice as he recognised he wasn’t dreaming at all, “Water! It’s c-cold!”

The sudden feel of water all over his head and body had cooled him down from the heat that sapped his strength. His energy began to climb up his body. It was like a heavy animal sitting on his back and slowly easing itself off. He got up and rubbed himself all over as the old man generously showered him with more water. The stranger found it humorous as he watched Johannan rubbing himself down like he was trying to extinguish a fire.

“Here, drink!” the old croaky voice said, chucking a large water skin towards him. Johannan caught the skin and gulped its water down in no time, wringing it for that last stubborn drop.

“It’s obvious that you’re thirsty, whelp! Here, have another!” The man chucked another water skin at him. “What is a young pup like you doing out here in the Gobi desert without water?” Johannan was about to answer, but the man interrupted, “Are you trying to catch your death, son?”

Johannan pondered, This man is very abrupt and quick to tell someone off. Perhaps it wasn’t the best of ideas to say exactly what he was looking for. He could only imagine being ridiculed for investigating the whereabouts of this stubborn spirit. His thoughts drifted onto the fisherman he met earlier by the Yarlung Tsangpo River. He was kind, but his response had been bad enough.

“I’m searching for someone.”

The man paused as though he had heard the strangest noise he’d ever witnessed. “You are searching for someone—out here?” He stared up into the sky. “Young man, you can’t, you just can’t be serious. Are you all right?”

“Well, I blacked out until you came along and poured water over me. Thanks to you.”

“Oh, you misunderstand me, whelp. I meant that there is nobody out here apart from me and you. If it is not me you’re looking for, then you should turn around and go home.”

Go home. That’s the second person to tell him that. I’m glad I didn’t mention that I’m out here in the torrid plains risking my life to seek out the Great Spirit. The way the old man’s expression changed as soon as Johannan said he was looking for someone was an obvious sign that it wasn’t going to go down too well with him.

“I’m curious to know who this person might be you are searching for.”

Johannan sighed, “Never mind, you wouldn’t understand—no one has so far.”

“Go on, tell me,” the traveller sing-songed. “You’re crazy enough to come this far without enough water; why can’t you be just as crazy to tell me who this person might be? Perhaps I’ve seen something that may be of some help.”

“I doubt that very much.”

“Go on boy, tell me. What have you got to lose? I gave you the water and saved your life, didn’t I?”

The Son of Nepal Audiobook- Chapter 6

 

Johannan continued on his journey to the cold mountains of Altun Shan. He was always weary of mountains because of the rumours of them being used as a strategic point for bandits to steal and to abduct travellers. It bothered him that at any moment the ruthless mountain bandits could ambush him. His eyes were under stress from being wide-open and staying alert for anything out of the ordinary. He kept moving, trying to maintain a low profile in the treacherous mountains of Altun Shan. He must get to Yumen.

Yumen was the beginning of the Gobi desert. The atmosphere was silent with no sign of life. Could a spirit really be living out here?

It had been months since Johannan had left his home, and he travelled hundreds of miles through forests, rivers, and villages to come here. The real challenge was to keep believing. His feet plunged into the cracked clusters of sand and mud beneath him. The sky was a vacant blue, and the land spared a few shades of brown. That was all he could see. He couldn’t imagine a Great Spirit living out here in such a barren place, but he also knew things were never as they seemed.

The light from the sun charged the ground with a scorching heat. He felt the acidic burn from bulbs of salty sweat that had gathered on his forehead and trickled into his eyes. He held a long rope behind him, just dragging along the earth in a straight line to make sure he wasn’t walking around in endless circles.

He visualised himself back home with Ayushi, together, up in the hills. They went up there sometimes to get away from the village and enjoy one another’s company. Johannan held her soft grasp within his, “The weather is good today, Ayushi.”

She stretched her arms out, “I can feel the wind, like veils of cool silk brushing against my hand.”

He smiled. From the top of the hills, you could see the entire village and the pillars of smoke billowing from the clay ovens. You could hear the gushing sounds of the river and Comet, the goat, bleating away with the others.

“Tell me about the colour of the sky, Johannan, how does it look?”

“It’s a deep blue with lots of full, white clouds. The grass is a rich green and looks healthy.”

“Yes, the grass feels so soft.” Ayushi pointed her nose to the sky and filled her lungs. “Mama is cooking dal bhat; it smells good.”

“You can smell that all the way up here, Ayushi?”

“Yes, Mama loves to cook with different herbs. It’s her way, and besides that, I can always smell them up here.”

“Wait here,” said Johannan, rushing off. He came back panting with a flower in his hand, “Touch this, can you feel what it is?”

She rubbed her fingertips against it and chuckled, “Of course, it’s a flower, Johannan.”

“Yes, it’s the one Mama crushes to make the sweet scent in your hair. There’re so many up here.”

“Don’t tell her that, or there will be none left,” said Ayushi.

Johannan tittered, “Hold still.” He fixed the flower just above her ear. “There.” Johannan stood back up and admired her beauty. If only she could see her reflection in the waters of the village.

He broke the moment with a loud snicker.

“What is it?” Ayushi responded, with an unsure smile.

“Mama is by the river again; she’s beating the clothes against the rocks.”

“Can you really see her from here?”

“Yes, you can’t miss Mama. That woman is really big!”

Ayushi chortled, “Johannan, if she ever heard you say such a thing, the clothes won’t be the only thing she will be beating. You know she would chase you around the whole village again.”

“Yes, but she never catches me. You know that.”

Ayushi giggled, holding onto his inner arm. “She will catch you one day, you know. I hear her plotting to herself sometimes.”

Johannan shielded his eyes from the sunlight as he gazed into the village. “Mama has stopped washing the clothes now. She seems to be looking around the village.”

“Is Comet tied up?”

“Yes, I did it myself this morning.”

Ayushi gasped, “She’s probably wondering where we are.”

“Oh goodness, I wasn’t thinking. She’s cooking and dinner is ready! I’d better get you back before I get into trouble again. You know Mama would complain for days . . .”

Ayushi laughed at Johannan’s tone fading with worry and she went straight into her impression of an angry Mama chasing Johannan around.

She clenched her fist into the air. “Boy, you get back here, you slippery little eel! Don’t you worry, I will catch you. You can’t run that fast when you’re asleep. Ooh Johannan! I’m going to give you such a sweet walloping when I catch you.”

Johannan burst into a fit of laughter, “You know, you do a very good impression of her—too good.”

“Well, I have no choice but to listen to you two, almost every day. Chickens flapping their wings and clucking, probably trying to defend themselves. Pots kicked over and old Comet getting angry, because you knocked him down again while trying to escape from Mama.”

The two of them laughed, and Johannan had to stop to catch his breath.

 

 

****

 

Johannan still couldn’t distinguish a difference in the scenery from a full day of travelling in the desert, but nothing was going to stop him. He wondered how Ayushi would respond when her eyes were finally opened and she saw him for the first time. The entire village would be astounded. He pictured everyone congratulating him on his success, gathering to listen to his stories. He knew Mama Jala would be happy. Finally he would have done something good to make the old woman proud.

Time was going by, and after days of travelling, his enthusiasm to find the Great Spirit outweighed his supply of water. There was no way Johannan could make it back alive—there was not enough water to last him the journey back. Even if he could go back, the thought of going back empty-handed after putting Ayushi through so much grief only made him think about how many times Mama was going to hit him for leaving to begin with. She’d never let him out of her sight again. And every time he made a mistake, she’d bring it up how he deserted Ayushi to chase some silly fantasy.

She had a strange way of viewing things and making you regret your mistakes by bringing up the past. He could only imagine the laughter of Raman, Ketan, and Nanda overhearing her plans of what she was going to do to him when he returned.

Johannan shook his head, “Going back is out of the question—that spirit has got to be out here—for my sake.”

The soft sand beneath his blistered feet was a relief. The stubborn scenery was beginning to surrender, hundreds of golden, unblemished pyramids of sand scattered from east to west. There still wasn’t a sound to be heard for miles, not even a bird in sight. Johannan almost felt like he was the only man on earth or, much worse, the only living thing. He compared the differences in the plains behind him. The cracked, brittle grounds just behind him made it seem like his journey had just begun.

Taking a glance at his waist, he saw the three shrivelled water skins. He had wrung them out completely for traces of water that may still be sitting inside. There was one full one left, as precious as life itself. I have to make this one last, he vowed to himself.

He came to a wobbling stop, using the back of his hand to wipe his glistening forehead. I know there is truth in that song the fisherman spoke of. The Great Spirit must be here, but where is he? Surely he knows I’m out here searching for him? Perhaps he’s hiding, watching me from afar, waiting for me to die of thirst. After all, there’s no reason for him to care that I’m out here. He seems to be quite the heartless kind if he’s not testing me.

He stared deep into the scenery and frowned. What was the point? Why search so hard? It’s all the same dammed thing. It’s always the same thing, nothing’s changed. If Mama were here, she’d say I’m a wandering fool.

“Show yourself! I know that you can hear me!” The desert mocked him by throwing his words back. He fell to his knees and a tear freed itself and slid down his face. He used up his very last bit of strength, and he wasn’t even that far into the collection of sandy pyramids.

Johannan unceasingly pressed on for another two days. His water had run out, and he began to feel faint. He staggered with each step. The cracking skin on his lips pained him when he opened his mouth to breathe. He felt nauseous, like something was hitting him in the stomach.

Am I finally going to die? Is this the end? He questioned himself as he took one more step forward, joggled, and collapsed face down. His body rolled and slid down one of the steep hills.

The Son of Nepal Audiobook- Chapter 5

Johannan continued to wade through the muddied banks upstream until the waters became calmer. He felt the heat of exhaustion and the warm sensation of moisture trickling down his forehead when he stood still to examine a smoke-flavoured scent in the air. He pointed his nose to the sky, filling his lungs. The scented air carried the aroma of roasted fish and vegetables.

He used the flat of his right hand to shade his eyes from the sun’s intruding glare, trying to focus further on ahead. After exploring for some time, he saw a small boat and a cheerful man, who was nodding his head as he whistled an upbeat melody. The man was stooping down on the riverbanks. He was wearing traditional Tibetan clothing in the form of a male gown. He held both corners of the garment and continually fluttered it like a bird flapping its wings in the direction of the flames. Grey wafts of scented smoke escaped into the atmosphere and dispersed over the river. Johannan moved briskly towards him.

The man turned his head to face Johannan with an ear-to-ear smile.

“Whoa—a traveller!” The man leapt up to his feet, wiping his hands on his clothes. “You’re far out into the nothingness.” At first glance, he could see the dryness around Johannan’s mouth. “You look hungry, my friend. I’m surprised the wild dogs aren’t stalking you for your bones.”

He grabbed one of the skewers with roasted fish. “Here, take this. I just caught them, so they’re fresh, and there’s more than enough for the two of us.”

Johannan reached out and accepted; the fish looked crispy and succulent. “Thanks to you, that is most kind of you, sir.”

The fisherman swatted the air with his hand. “Come now, don’t mention it, my friend. You are hungry, and all this fish here will go to waste if someone doesn’t eat them.”

Johannan smiled. The man beckoned him to come over and stoop down next to him. Johannan fixed his eyes on the small boat; that was what he needed to get to the other side. The man passed him a helping of his fish, serving it on a wide leaf. Johannan took several bites into its crispy texture, nodding his head with a full mouth to hint that it tasted good. The man squinted and beamed with pride.

Johannan pointed at the fish in his hand, “This fish tastes really good.”

“Thanks, glad you like it. It’s my wife’s secret recipe.” He turned away for a brief moment and mumbled, “Passed down to her from her miserable mother. I was lucky to be able to find most of the ingredients here.”

“Your wife must be a brilliant cook,” Johannan said, pretending not to hear the words “miserable mother.”

“Well, she learned from her mother.” The man shook his head, gazing into the river. “God, I can’t stand that woman,” he continued in a tone above a whisper.

Johannan gawked at the man. “You hate your wife!”

The man chuckled, “Oh no, not her—my mother-in-law! She’s so . . . ah, forget it.” He handed Johannan some roasted vegetables. “Those unruly children, I can’t say anything to them when she’s around. The only time I find peace is when—well, when I’m here, miles away from them all. I keep telling her to take those brats and get out of my house!”

Johannan could see that the man’s mood had changed as soon as he mentioned his home and family. He remembered Mama Jala as soon as the man mentioned his mother-in-law. Mama Jala was a good cook too, but she was really bossy and complained for a long time when you didn’t do what she wanted. Anything Johannan did to upset Ayushi when they were younger would trigger trouble— Mama would pick up her rolling pin and chase him around the village.

“So, you have a girl?” asked the man.

“Yes, she’s at home now . . . in Nepal.”

The man gawked at Johannan. “In Nepal? Goodness, that’s worlds from here. Worlds, my friend. She must be giving you hell to drive you all the way into mainland China without eating. You’re so young too. Shame on her.” He inhaled deeply, shaking his head and tutting, “What a pity! What a pity!”

Johannan laughed; it had been a while since something made him happy. “No, it’s nothing like that, sir. She’s blind, and I’m searching for a cure.”

“A cure in China?” The man’s eyes fully sprung open. “Are you serious? There is no tea in China that can cure blindness, my young friend, you’d better be on your way . . . back home, that is.”

He glanced at the sky and sniggered, then slapped his forehead. “Travellers, only travellers—they seem to be getting younger.”
He released a loud wheezy laugh at Johannan’s expense, “Oh, the gods are generous to show me such a kindness, they must be taking pity on me.”

Johannan felt like an idiot—there was no way he was going to let the man think this of him.

“No, no, not a tea medicine, but a Great Spirit that grants wishes. They say he lives in the deserts north of here.”

“Well, aren’t you full of surprises. A Great Spirit in the north of China, who would have thought.”

The man sat still for a while, then he turned to Johannan and stared at him as if he had suddenly sprouted wings. “Hold on—just a minute, my little friend,” he said, leaning back and wagging his finger. “You are not going off that silly old folk song about the nomads in the desert that were cured by a Great Spirit, are you? It’s just a song, you know.” He laughed, wheezed, and coughed. “Travellers—rich people pay a lot to hear things like this.”

“Tell me about this song.”

The man waved his hands, “Fine, fine, but I’m not singing it. Almost everyone in China knows it. It’s about an old man and his entire family. They were a group of sickly nomads in the Mongolian desert. One day, they met a great wandering spirit who cured them. That’s it.” He stretched to yawn. “Those people were meant to have moved from the desert way of life to settle in the mountains of Altun Shan. It’s all rubbish, though, nothing but bandits up there, my young friend. I think you came out here for nothing.”

The man noticed that Johannan was staring at his boat. “So, you want to use the boat, my friend?”

Johannan grinned, scratching the back of his head. “I need to get to the other side of the river.”

“That’s not a problem, I’ll take you there as soon as we finish eating.”

“Thanks to you, I’m most fortunate to meet someone like yourself on my journey.”

“Don’t mention it, I’m only too happy to help. I’m just grateful for the company, to be honest. I’ve been fishing for hours; just having running waters for company can get boring after a long time.”

They finished eating the fish, and the man took Johannan to the other side of the river.

“Thanks to you once more, perhaps we’ll meet again,” Johannan said, standing on the sides of the bank.

“Perhaps we will.” The man was about to turn around but sprang back as if he had forgotten something. “You know, I’ve been thinking: if you meet that Great Spirit—not that I believe in such things or anything—get him to come to my house and rid me of that howling beast.”

Johannan gawked at him, “Your wife?”

“Goodness, no—“

“I know, I know, your mother-in-law. I was just teasing,” said Johannan, stretching his arms out to pat the air below his waist.

“Ah, so you’re a bit of a jester on a full stomach!” grinned the fisherman.

Johannan laughed, “It hurts to laugh on an empty one.” An expression of contemplation covered his face, and he held onto his jaw. “Say, have you ever tried just talking to . . .” He thought about what he was going to say. He imagined the man’s response would be something like, I’ve tried that and shouted too. Johannan shook his head, “Never mind—I’ll see you again, perhaps. Who knows, maybe you will be a lot happier next time.”

“Who knows, my friend, I could go back and she’s taken those children and left, or . . .” The man shivered with guilt, “No I shouldn’t say what I was about to say.”

Johannan covered his face to hide a chuckle while the man kept talking. “I had an idea once. I wanted to find someone to come and take her away, but I can’t find anyone I hate that much, not even a bandit. Would you believe?”

The man released a sigh from his stomach. “But we can dream, aye? We—can—dream.” He nodded as a form of goodbye and started to row the boat.

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