“It began in the middle of nowhere, with the birth of a Hero.”
Seb’s ears perked, aware of how this story goes. Its timeline ends somewhere wonderful, but at the moment Kokopelli always begins his story, Seb is slapped by the recollection of that which led up to it.
“Koko, don’t bother the children with that old story. What about that one with the magical seeds?”
His long dreads shifted as he looked up at her. They were like great black vines, recently with veins of silver hair as well. He was sitting, back curved, his flute dangling from a chain around his neck, the silver shining against his ebony skin like stars against the sky. A bundle of children, all between the ages of two to ten, sat in one way or another on the thick carpet in front of his stool. Their eyes shone with the promise of quality entertainment, which Kokopelli always provided with pleasure.
“Grand-Koko already told us that one.” One of the older ones piped up.
“Grand-Koko?” Seb echoed dubiously, raising an eyebrow at the man.
He grinned, mischievous and affable. “Like grandfather.” He explained, his eyes telling another story.
“Mm-hmm.” she countered. Even the youngest child could tell she wasn’t convinced.
“I’ll continue this story! You can listen in too, Seb.” Still that stupid smile. He didn't realize what he was doing. He was a trickster deity, but he wasn’t cruel.
“No thanks. I’ll rejoin at the fun part. Do you kids want summer rolls?”
Between the chorus of “yes!”’s, a young girl with curly green hair piped up to parrot something she’d obviously heard somewhere else: “You can’t just have the fun part without the sad part, Seb-tan*.”
Seb held back the snap in her voice as she said: “Well I don’t want to have to live the sad part again.”
The younger ones looked confused, the older ones dawned with realization. Koko’s smile fell.
A kid who couldn’t be older than three broke the silence, saying, “Go the story, Grand-Koko.”
“Continue the story, please.” His older sister corrected him.
Koko smiled again, less wide but no less sincere. Seb went to grab her basket to get vegetables for the summer rolls: carrot, cucumber, bean sprouts, oak lettuce, and some herbs (basil, mint, cilantro).
She heard the beginning of his story as she wrapped her shawl around herself, shoulders protesting. He began with himself, as usual.
“Kokopelli is perhaps best recognized by his curved back and the magic flute that he carries with him wherever he may go. He travels through the land, turning winter into spring with the beautiful notes from his flute, and calling the rain to come so that there would be a successful harvest later in the year. The hunch on his back represents the bag of seeds and the songs he carries. As he plays his flute, melting the snow and bringing the warmth of spring, everyone who hears his notes is so excited about the change in seasons that they are inspired to dance from dusk until dawn.”
Seb saw how he noticeably left out the part where after one village’s night of dancing to Kokopelli’s flute, the people discovered that every woman in the village was suddenly with child.
He continued: “One particular day, Kokopelli was feeling rather out of sorts. He wanted to find inspiration for a song, so he went to a beautiful forest to listen to the living which took place in a season perfectly between summer and autumn. Kokopelli was a friend to all, so he met a bird in the forest-” -he pointed to a spiraled silver tattoo on his forearm of a bird with its wings spread- “with whom he shared some travel, and music. He listened to the birds, the animals, the plants, and the insects, all making their own merry music which became a symphony of symbiosis. But then!” He leaned toward the children with a look of suspense as they held their breaths, and he continued in a harsh whisper: “Then, the woods went silent.” He paused dramatically, a superior look in his eyes and a gleam in his voice. Seb sighed as she tied up her gardening boots, the memory of the moment hitting her in the heart. “Then there was a feeling, a feeling about the air, like something terrible had happened.”
“Uh-oh.” said one of the kids.
“Uh-oh is right. So I- I mean, Kokopelli wanted to find out what it was, so he could help. His bird friend told him something was happening up ahead, in a clearing. Something with lots of blood.”
Seb’s fingers throbbed. He generally skipped this part. She grabbed her basket and rushed out the door, panic swelling.
Seb could hear the rumbling of his voice from inside the house, going up and down with the story, a boat on rough sea. His words were unintelligible, despite her impeccable hearing (which refused to deteriorate even in her old age), but she knew how this story went. She could see it from behind red eyelids as clearly as when it had happened. She squeezed them shut till the images swam with black, into that abyss of recollection.
The sun was bright today, and she was grateful for her wide-brimmed hat as she walked the few metres distance to the greenhouse. She gathered the herbs, cucumber, and leaves with trained hands and went directly outside the glass building to the rows of root vegetables for the carrots, the cool, damp soil proving yet again how her fingerless mechanic’s gloves were useless for gardening. Her muscles were old, as were the memories, but unlike muscles, memories can remain fresh forever.
It was clear in her mind: the clearing. The arrow. The death of a hero. Their eyes. The passing. The piece of paper, drenched with thick crimson in the pale grass.
It’s more than
Seb sucked in breaths through her teeth.
Think of the happy ending, she told herself. But was there truly any happy ending, without Hiro? Had she truly been able to be as successful a hero as her friend would have been? And so the rabbit hole these questions dug for her tunneled into a grave into which her mind happily fell, and Seb crouched down in the sun by her rows of carrots, body, and mind finally agreeing on a common state: protest.
Subsequent to this performance, Seb found her mind peaceful as an ocean post-tsunami. The scent of salt and sea still rode through her nose, but the waves were tranquil and tame, the winds reverted to a cub-like state as opposed to a lion. She focused on this image for several moments, determined to imagine every detail as her breathing slowed. She attempted to convince herself that the attacks were shorter now, less destructive. So why was she still haunted by the horrors when she already had her happy ending?
Kokopelli was still in the dark about this, despite being in the light or making light of everything else (something Seb appreciated about his personality, most of the time). His jocular disposition made it difficult to comfortably open up to him, for fear of not being taken seriously or him treating the information loosely. Wagging his tongue was indeed something Koko was very skilled at, and Seb didn’t particularly want him sharing her deepest traumas with everyone else, even if causing her more discomfort was not his intent.
But if she told him that just before they met her best friend had died before her eyes, he might not tell that story anymore. Then she wouldn’t have to excuse herself from the house, dawdling in the gardens, the scent, and feel of the earth soothing her itching hands.
Kokopelli was of the sort to have many talents and interests, some concrete and some fleeting, and the which’s of these more apparent the better you got to know him. He had recently adopted an affinity for cross-breeding vegetables, falconing, and ornate braiding. Seb knew his real identities as a minstrel, a spirit of music, a storyteller, a rainmaker, a healer, a teacher, a joker-magician, a seducer.
The one who came like a chilled breeze on a sweaty neck, who came running through the woods with a flute and a bird, fanning away the silent haze clinging to all in locality.
She was kneeling in a field of pale grass, shocked too much at other things to worry about the location of the bleeding body that had been there moments before. The ground was dry but for patches of desperate morning dew, the thick red lake of ooze thoroughly missing. Her tongue was sandpaper in her mouth; swollen, dry, and rough. Her throat was tight from sobbing, tingling, and burning slightly due to a pale blue orb of power freshly swallowed.
Koko’s young face was as perplexed as it could be for someone as carefree as he, his tendrils of black hair shoulder-length and tied back from his face in a half-braid. His hand on her shoulder, warm and strong for his age, fingers used to being used. Like hers, without the black fingertips. Without the blood and tears and piece of paper in her fist.
He spoke in a tongue too jolly for the occasion, his tone going up and down like ski jumps, making clicks and purrs like a true person of the forest. He only realized much later that she couldn’t understand him, because she said nothing.
She said nothing for a long time.
That sat well with Koko, happy to hear his own voice. He vocalized enough for the both of them, filling the air so she wouldn’t be filled with her thoughts. He sang and whistled, joked and hiccuped, shouted and chattered, a bird’s voice box inside a human’s body, and he gesticulated wildly, speaking with his hands and expressions as well. She most liked his flute, because it brought the forest to life.
Life is sound, music, a forest bursting with animals for instruments, a symphony for the ears. If there was just a moment of silence, Seb would feel her wall crumble, her fingers twitch, her eyes burn. So the sound of Kokopellis flute was gentle waves, gentle wind, gentle magic. Soothing the senses like a sigh, sweeping away the ashes of bad feelings. The fires were burned out, the coals lacked glow, the embers of emotion tidied.
They became a funny duo, a curious pair of opposites. The silent girl, the boy who wouldn’t shut up. She followed him as she collected her wits, as he carried out his ‘duties’. Kokopelli had a large rucksack which made him walk rather hunched-like, the beloved ‘bump’ contains seeds, plants, and sacred or medicinal artifacts. While sowing the seeds out of his bump, he sang and played his flute, blowing the breath of life. She grew to like him, as he reminded her of the handful of friends she used to have, back when her life was plain and promising. He had the voice of a bird, the energy of a squirrel, the cleverness of a fox, instincts like prey and predator alike. A good soul, although he did appreciate mischief here and there.
Seb trusted him. So she told him of the power she had, this blue magic inside her stomach, which he would later compare to a seed, sprouting roots to her limbs and supplying her with energy. She told him not of where she’d gotten it, and he did not ask, as in their world it is natural for a select few to be Chosen for Greatness, or to carry out the will of the universe. Seb later excused her behavior as an aftereffect of her having received the power, to which she claimed she knew not the origin.
“The birth of a Hero, then.” he’d said, eyes wide with delight, and at last she could understand what his musical voice was saying. The Passing of her friend’s power unto her had ultimately given her the ability to understand anyone, anything, whether the parlance of people, the argot of animals, or the tongues of trees. She had awakened this ability within herself at the inclination to not just hear her companion, but understand him. Once he found that his comrade could actually respond to his antics and questions and so forth, Seb found her ears fuller still.
After several months of doing much more than walking and talking alongside Kokopelli, Seb discovered an ache in her heart not caused by the loss of her friend as she had initially thought, but by the branches of the blue marble seed in her stomach. Its roots, sunned by the light of laughter and elation, watered by the secret tears she shed at night, had been slowly seized by this acquired power, and her purpose as an understudy-now-lead Hero held her thoughts fast. Kokopelli understood, was enchanted, even, at the prospect of seeing a Hero in action firsthand.
“Will make for some wonderful stories!” he’d said. He did say a lot of things, that one.
After she’d saved the world and all that, with the emotional support of her positive divinity of a confidant, she traveled the lands with Kokopelli for several years. She found she’d come to rely on him, on his loud presence and his clever impishness (which never brought about misfortune but supplied a steady income of shenanigans).
And in return Koko had grown to rely on her as well, thinking of her as a living puzzle (and how he did love puzzles), finding her hidden talents, and coaxing her hidden smiles. He found her a bright soul, but a wounded one. Despite his lack of a filter, Koko was able to filter the world, and was more perceptive than most people would think a personality of his sort would be able to be. It was also rather palmary of him to never bring up his intuition to Sebylthran, some might think, because he loved pranks but never pain, and would especially never wish it on someone who had become his dearest friend. And in spite of his acumen, he never came to realize how his telling of how they met brought Seb such discomfort, as he thought himself to be the one who stripped away the walls to her great mental fortress (a feat of which he was particularly proud, above even the Caper in Capriael). He also never told her of how he’d found a piece of crumpled paper lying next to her one night, clearly fallen out of a pocket or a hand, soaked in dried blood just enough to not make the writing illegible. He could not read it, but there were tears dried to her face that night, and it was then Kokopelli remembered that not all could be mended with music. He, too, had his demons. They can haunt even the best of us.
So our sidekick-who-became-a-hero (Seb) and our hero-who-was-more-of-a-sidekick (Koko) continue to travel the lands, though not as often as they used to, in their old age. They are always popular with the children, one of them not always as popular with the parents (he tends to give the kids seeds which do comparatively chaotic things), and one of them has a heart of gold undeterred by his passion for prankishness and the other has a heart overgrown with the roots and sinew of a secondhand seed of power. The only unhappiness in their lives is the trauma of one which goes if not unnoticed than untouched on by the other, and the incurable squeak of their back door.
It does not happen often anymore, but it will happen on occasion for as long as he lives: in the springtime, guided by the wind and sky, the musical notes of a particular flute may be heard, blowing away the winter to welcome new life, cleaning the earth of chill, misery or heartache. So may you, like all he meets, be charmed by the tunes of Kokopelli’s flute, and may your heart be lifted by the scarcity of silence.
*Kokopelli and Seb’s cabin and garden at the beginning of the story is in a land called Jaepora, where it is respectful for them to refer to all older women they are close to with their name accompanied by the end fix ‘-tan’, which means ‘aunt’ or ‘friend to mothers’. Likewise, ‘-onel’ is used for men, meaning ‘uncle’ or ‘friend of fathers’.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a story which takes place after the happenings of my previous story, ‘Clockwork’. While ‘Kokopelli’s Flute’ is intended as a standalone, it may enlighten you to Seb’s trauma. The appearance of Kokopelli comes supposedly a few minutes after the storyline of ‘Clockwork’, while the beginning of this story takes place many years later.