Synopsis: After a storm kills his wife and daughter, Johnny Qullio leaves his village to ask the gods on Mount Evergreen why they took the good and innocent. At the base of the mountain, he meets Kata and her daughter Marie, and they share camp at Marie's insistence. On the mountain, he finds only an old man who tells him there is only one God, who is everywhere, and that it is up to Johnny to find meaning to life.
The Gods of Evergreen
Part 5: Kata’s Story
Part 5: Kata’s Story
Johnny reached the camp at dusk. Marie saw him first, and came running, whooping for joy and shrieking, “Johnny! Johnny! Johnny! Mommy! Johnny back!”
Kata stood from where she tended the fire. “So you live on?”
“It seems I do,” he sighed, Marie wrapped around one leg and babbling her excitement. “I…”
“Don’t talk now,” Kata said. “I have supper ready. You haven’t eaten all day, I think. Eat, then sleep. We can tell our stories tomorrow.”
Johnny’s legs again felt numb when he awoke, then realized it was because Marie was draped across them. She had wandered over to his bedroll in the middle of the night. Kata stood over them, looking at her daughter with amused exasperation.
“Is she snoring?” he asked.
“Yes. I’m not sure whether to rescue you or let her sleep.” She smiled, then leaned down and scooped up the sleeping girl. “Or both.”
They ate breakfast, Marie sitting between them and taking food from both. “So you did not provoke the wrath of the gods?” Kata said. “You came back, after all. Marie waited patiently all day — she only asked about you every ten minutes or so.”
“There were no gods on the mountain to provoke, it seemed,” Johnny said. “Just an old man who told me there was only one god, not many. And that what happened to my family simply happened, and that this god gave us life and gave me the power to determine how I live.” He smiled. “This one—” he nudged a beaming Marie— “reminds me of Little Sara, my own daughter.”
“She is all I have left.” Kata said. “Jamin — my husband — was taken by a sickness that swept our village over the winter. His brother claimed title to our stead. At least he had the good grace to wait until spring to drive me away.”
“And your people allowed this?” Johnny was incredulous.
Kata shrugged. “He already had a wife, or he could have claimed me. My family died as well, or I would have returned to them.”
“And Lit— Marie? Had he no regard for the blood of his own brother?”
“Had she been a boy, he would have been bound to raise him, but… is that not the way of your people?”
Johnny scowled. “Truly not. Forgive me, Kata, but I have heard of such practices only among barbarians. Our people believe — I said this yesterday — that the gods are open-handed to those whose hands are open. We would not willingly turn away a stranger in need, man or woman, let alone one who grew up with us. We are not always friends, but duty holds where friendship fails.”
Kata was silent; even the voluble Marie grew solemn and leaned against her mother after a hug for Johnny. Johnny finally spoke: “Kata, what is in your mind now? Will you go to the mountaintop? I will wait for you here as you waited for me.”
“We have been there, Marie and me. We had barely returned when you came. I went to the altar, that — that I might leave her to the care of the gods. But as I placed her on the stone, a woman entered the plaza…”
“Greetings, sister,” she said. Her garb was simple — a white wrap held by a small brooch at the shoulder, a woven belt around her waist — but Kata had never seen such a pure white. Her tawny hair was untouched by grey, but she was neither young nor old; the word ageless floated through Kata’s mind. The beauty in this woman seemed to come from a deep well within.
But Kata’s bitterness would not be quenched. “Sister? I have no sister, or any other family,” she spat. “And I have no place in this world. I leave my daughter here in the care of the gods, and then I shall live or die as they see fit.”
“If you would give her to the gods, you have come to the wrong place,” she said. “There are no gods here. There is only one God, and he is everywhere.”
Without thinking, Kata retrieved Marie from the pedestal. “Then what would this god have me to do? Watch my child starve and die? What kind of god would throw us into this world, with no succor or appeal?”
The woman frowned. “Your people are hard-hearted, but they are not the whole of the world. It is your decision how you and your daughter live, or die. Be strong and true, and you will find a welcome and a home.”
Johnny sat in silence for a minute after she finished. “If how we live is our decision,” he said at last, “then I will begin by advising you. When you leave this place, go not east, but west. With me. Upon my honor, in my village you will find both welcome and a home. And upon my honor, I will not lay a hand on you without your leave unless it is to save you from injury.”
“Mommy go Johnny!” Marie shouted, jumping up and dancing around the two of them.