My grandfather used to say war conditions us. Actually, he’d never use the word ‘war’, he’d talk about conflict or game. He taught me this: should we ever forget there must be another side, our people will believe in extermination. I was still just a child when the war ended — the one we refer to as ‘The Last War’; which means we exterminated our enemies: the Silent Folk, whose speech was unable to convey the Light. My grandfather wasn’t a prophet or a seer, he was just a good listener.
Ever since The Last War, the Stars have been silent. Our own language is losing its Light. Our habits are slowly misplacing our rituals.
My father was the last one of a long family line among the Star Speakers, the Itumian. I was still young when he died. I often wonder what he would make of the things his daughter lived to witness: our people have turned our warring instincts against ourselves. While our frontiers are in peace, our very heart — Uquirá, our biggest village, located at the top of our world — is in turmoil.
The only words we have to guide us are the ones the Stars whispered before they turned their voices away from our ears. But we’re living in times that resemble nothing that has happened before, so our people feel completely lost.
The one who leads us these days is Tûcops, the oldest son of the warrior lineage whose responsibility is shouting orders in times of conflict. After the war ended, as the Stars became silent, Tûcops’ family screaming verbiage suppressed the voices who were arguing that it was already time for the warrior line to go back home to sharpen their blades and leave others be. There used to be a time for calls to order, for war hierarchy; in the absence of real conflict invading our borders, such hierarchy breeds war within us, among our own people, in order to justify its power.
This knowledge, which was once common sense, two generations ago was labeled ‘subversive’.
We’ve been under the rule of violence for only two generations, but our people already believe it’s been like this since time immemorial. And yet, I’m still here — I’m old, but I remember. I lost my children, but I remember them. Our lives under the Light weren’t controlled by violence, we weren’t led solely by these impulses.
Alas, our watchful eyes weren’t turned upwards towards the skies. By the time the people of Uquirá saw the Silent Ship, it was already too late. The Silent Weapons were armed and ready to destroy the entire village.
Tûcops’ family and the Silent Folk became locked in a standstill, facing mutual annihilation.
“Their cannons are Silent, their bombs are Silent, their threats are as Silent as their voices”, Tûcops would yell with his thunderous voice.
The people of Uquirá, however, understood there was a real threat looming large over their heads; they remembered the stories about the Silent Folk, who were supposed to be dead, but were now casting an enormous shadow over the village.
All my life, I’ve always done what my father and grandfather taught me: I give. People know my time is theirs, my thoughts and words are for them, I have no possessions other than what people give me so I can give them back. Therefore, in a silent way, the leadership my family used to represent — to mediate — hasn’t vanished, for I stand here, a survivor of Tûcops’ numerous attacks; I remain a part of the cycle, which hasn’t been destroyed yet.
When I heard the news about the Silent Ship, I felt it in my bones: the season of war must be coming to an end. We had a choice before us, either die along with this season, or find the places within ourselves that hold meaning beyond violence and reshape our bodies from struggle to exultation.
I make my choice and I sing, going against the rule of Tûcops and his many prohibitions, vocalizing the words the Stars used to whisper to us. As I journey from my village to Uquirá a crowd gathers around me — my people are dancing and singing with me. Our dance is both my shield and my blade.
From afar, as I climb in its direction, I see the frightful immensity of the Silent Ship. Though its metallic outside appearance looks very much like one of ours, it sounds different than our noisy vessels — there’s a soundless menacing aura around it, I shiver as I contemplate it. While our crafts are controlled by voice, the Silent Folk command their technology through touch.
My grandfather used to say that the divide between us and the Silent Folk is in fact two parallel branches that sprouted from the same path. I can perceive the truth in those words. We look almost the same, but we speak in different manners. Nevertheless, their silence hurts our ears.
I reach Uquirá during the night. Our entrance into the village feels like one of our lost Star Festivals albeit without the presence of the Celestial Voices over our heads — the Silent Ship stands in the way of our communion with them. We pray that our voices manage to reach over the craft.
Tûcops and his strongest warriors stand in front of us.
“You’re not welcome here, Iananô. We have left behind the teachings of the Itumian, like a snake sheds its skin. A body that sings and dances becomes soft like the wind, and we are as hard as the mountain you’re standing over.”
“The wind is everywhere; it’s why you breathe. The wind breaks the mountain little by little, turns it into dust. Your blades and shields are also drums and we need your beat, for we dance and sing but there’s no rhythm to ground us.”
One of the warriors raises her voice, “Are the Stars talking to you right now?”.
“They’re not. But I believe we’re going to get them to listen to us tonight and know we’re still here, ready for their Light to end this terrible Long Night.”
The warriors know there’s truth in my words, for they can see the way the growing crowd is dancing — our blood is boiling in anticipation, our nerves sense that our people are about to enter a blissful trance for the first time in two generations.
“You’re not going near that Silent Ship, Iananô,” Tûcops yells.
“The only way for you to stop us is doing the thing you’ve been planning behind everyone’s backs for years: you have to kill me.”
The skies bring laughter to my lips, it fills my chest with so much joy, like I haven’t felt in a long time.
“Besides, if you kill me, how can you be certain that my own Star won’t be able to talk to the Silent Folk?”
“No one can talk to the Silent Folk. Our words fall silent to their dead ears.”
Even though I don’t know how it was that my family used to talk to the Silent Folk, I know how to answer Tûcops.
“Tûcops, you have a voice of thunder. It’s a real gift among the Star People, especially in times of war. But in order to communicate with the Silent Folk, you would need to have hands that are soft as the way water mirrors the sky.”
I raise my own hands and mimic the way my grandfather’s hands used to move to the sound of the warrior’s rhythm, for some of them are already beating their shields.
“Stop! This is war, not music. Our hands are meant to attack and kill our enemies.”
“Can’t you see we’re already celebrating the end of your war?”
Our dance takes us directly under the massive Silent Ship. When we were alone, looking at the ship up there, so huge and not making a sound, it was frightening. But now we’re together and our bodies sing the stars.
A distant memory flashes before my eyes. It was before the Last War. I’m walking in the woods with my grandfather; he’s talking to me about the Silent Folk.
“We have to respect them. Their roots go as deep as the ones in this old tree.”
I’m just a little girl and the tree reaches so far high among the treetops that I’m in awe of it. I understand its roots must be really deep so they can support it.
“Old trees are silent. But if you know their language, you can talk to them, and they will answer.”
My grandfather dances around the tree and I follow his steps.
“I still can’t hear the tree, grandpa.”
“One day, you will.”
He takes me in his arms and holds me up.
“Trees are a way Nature found to connect the ground with the skies. That’s also what we are, the Itumian, we’re a bridge, a connection; we are in-between.”
I look at the Silent Ship and it’s like there’s an ancient tree right in front of me. Their vessel has roots. So I retrace the steps my grandfather taught me, the in-between dance, our way of speaking about peace without words.
My people’s voice, the beating against the shields, the hammering of our feet over the ground, it all starts to sound like an echo from far away. Is it maybe the trance that’s upon us? As I wonder to myself, a beam of light carries me inside the Silent Ship.
In the Silent Ship, the flow of time feels like being inside a tree. I become at the same time the little girl with her grandfather, we’re dancing around an old tree, and the ancient tree they’re circling around — then I’m not Iananô anymore. I see me and my grandfather as dancers and also as the warriors they turn into during the war; he’s a little older by then, she’s a young woman by then, I’m the Silent Folk they’re killing because they can’t hear our Silent Voice. I whisper something to them as they dance around me like they’re one of us. At the heart of the tree, there’s no beginning or end, but circles and layers.
I am Iananô again, though I never entirely stopped being myself, one of the Star People.
As my mind tries to make sense of what’s happening to me, I understand I’m unable to process it. Even though I can perceive this event, the only way for me to understand it is to interpret this experience the same linear way my people see/feel/the universe/pluriverse/around us/within us.
One step, and then the other, like a dance or a sentence, I make sense of things. Although I have already reached the conclusion of the events inside the Silent Ship, they’re still unfolding. I’m like the water mirroring the skies, I have the ground deep in one side of me and the winds on the surface of the other.
I am guided through the branches of the vessel. Despite its impressive dimensions, the ship is almost entirely empty. The air in here smells like a forest on a rainy day. The people gathered near me are the last remaining survivors of the Silent Folk; I realize they’re starving. And yet, they still have hope — I’d wonder how they manage to keep their faith, but I already know.
Deep at the heart of the ship, at the center where all the layers and knots converge, there’s a young girl. She looks just like one of them, that is, hungry and silent. Her eyes sparkle as we finally meet.
One of them signals that she’s one of them, she’s her daughter, but they can’t understand her. What she says is a mystery to them — even though they know what happens before and after this, they still can’t comprehend her.
Her voice is like a stone breaking the surface of the water, like the wind ripping a tree from the ground. Just like mine, like my people’s way of expressing ourselves.
“My name is Nadí. The Stars told me about you, Iananô.”
The Silent Folk deactivate their weapons and land their ship. I take Nadí in my arms, like my grandfather and my father used to carry me, for she’s one of us, an Itumian.
My people are still dancing and singing, celebrating. Without the Silent Ship to block the skies, we notice that the Stars are burning brighter than before. As our song reaches its climax, we enter a collective trance.
Nadí speaks with the voice of Stars, and we hear her. They tell us it’s our duty to nurture the Silent People and learn from their rituals, as the Silent People learn from ours, for what will flower from our connections, this crossing of paths, will last until there isn’t Light anymore to bridge a way through the Night.
My grandfather would say it was never a war to begin with — that is has always been a kind of game we’re all playing, a dance that our bodies were born to perform. I tell that to Nadí and she finds truth in my words, then agrees with me, for that is the way we Itumian learn.
“The Silent People never needed to talk like the Star People, Iananô. But since you wouldn’t understand our language, we learned to communicate with the Stars so you would hear us.”